This means war.

This post was written by @ANewMother and originally appeared in her blog Motherhood and Other Misnomers.

It’s Friday! Let’s talk about something light and fluffy, like misandry. It’s my new word. If you want to look it up, I’ll save you some time. It’s a noun meaning the hatred of men by (but not limited to) women.

I’m not talking about a woman letting off steam about the man in her life who lets her down in numerous, heartbreaking ways, and who is possibly the latest in a long line of men who have treated her badly. In my opinion, this is not the same thing. (In some cases, no doubt it leads to hating men. But that’s not what I’m interested in).

There seems to be a trend in advertising and the media to portray men in a less than favourable light. From  a recent campaign by Boots in which two women are discussing their numerous tasks for the weekend, all to be completed whilst bravely soldiering on with the flu (whilst their partners are in bed with a cold), to this article in the Telegraph here, in which the paper conducts a straw poll, the message is simple: men are a little bit useless.

Why is this acceptable?

The implication of the question, “If you are a woman, would you trust a man to take the male contraceptive pill?” is that men are inherently more unreliable than women. Where is the evidence for this? Do we ask men if they trust their girlfriends/partners/wives to take the pill?

I’ve been so busy thinking about the example I set for my son that somehow I hadn’t really noticed this stereotype, persistent and reinforced at every turn. I can see that it’s not enough to watch my colour choices, or encourage him to play with both cars and dolls, or to try to model equality. I will have to be alert to these kinds of negative messages which tell him that because he’s male, he’s not expected to be reliable, or capable, or any any other positive character attribute the media deems unnecessary based on his gender.

I was sort of prepared for the nappies. (Ok, that’s a lie.) I wasn’t really prepared for this. Nonetheless, as my title suggests, this mean war.

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really? Not in my world. What do our readers think?

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Does My Ego Look Fat In This?

This Post was written by @HannahLMSmith and first appeared in her blog MamaBearWithMe

WARNING. This blog post comes with a hell of a lot of sidebar of shame. The Daily Mail.

Recently on a walk with Ed’s playschool we went to look at some ducks. Nice. We had a police escort to do so. I lie not. Not just Community Police Support Officers either. One was a proper copper. I have previously talked about the Duck Pond Mafia of the village. The angry little mob of old women who camp out by the duck pond, their angry beady eyes watching for you from behind glasses, their hearing aids tuned to the rustle of a plastic bread bag, ready to pounce (sort of) and start banshee wailing about the encouraging of RATS. RATS! It encourages the RATS! Whereas some villages have youths drinking cider in their bus shelters, we have a coven of little old witchy bitches that sit in ours. Not cider they drink, but rattling bottles of assorted shared pills “oooh Joan, try this (mysterious) pink tablet for your cellulitis” washed down by flasks of Earl Grey and gaviscon. Maybe the police were escorting us on our walk for our protection? But this is by the by and I digress.

Walking back from the duck pond with our security patrol, Ed pointed at our Police escort and said

“LOOK at that FAT policeman mummy!”

My face did that thing Alan Patridge does when he pierces his foot on a spiiiiiiiiike “eeeeeeeeeeeeee”.

Luckily the policeman didn’t hear. But the playschool worker next to us did. I rolled my eyes at her and did a “kids eh” face. You know the face. She smiled an understanding smile. And then Ed said;

“OH MUMMY! Your tummy is almost as FAT as HIS!”.

Silence.

This, the playschool worker didn’t smile at. She avoided any eye contact. This was awkward for her. Because she knew that I had heard my child say it. Because she was embarrassed for me. Because, if I had been stick thin, she would have not thought twice about it because kids say awkward and embarrassing things all the time that are not true. But because I am not stick thin, and have a little paunch going on, she was embarrassed for me. Because Ed told the truth.

GASP.

How did I feel? Well, I was embarrassed. I was embarrassed for Ed. He was only repeating what he had heard me say endlessly – that I was fat. I was to blame here, not him. This was all my fault. And it crept up on me and hit me in my bigger than it should be but NOT fat ass.

As women we berate ourselves constantly to our friends “Oh, god I am so FAT right now” *grabs chunk of tummy blubber* “LOOK!”. I hold my hands up, I do it all the time. Or I DID do it all the time. What has stopped me from doing it is whilst I may have expected my children to call me fat, I didn’t expect them to do it so negatively.

And that negativity is totally my doing. Not the papers, not the magazines, but me. I have taken a word and made it bad and ugly in my house. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying throw down your salads and fall face first into a bath of donuts and eat your way out, I am saying, be healthy but dont make out you are FAT and FAT is ugly and that your body shape is wrong.

I always swore if ever I had a girl, then I would be positive about body image. I would not flaunt diets in front of her, I would not say derogetory things about weight and would always make sure we didn’t look at touched up pictures of celebs in magazines and long to be “just like them”.  I didn’t think I would need to do this for boys. How sexist of me. It never even occured to me.

Let me explain…

Up until quite recently, I used to be a slave to celeb magazines or the showbiz sections in crappy newspapers. I would look at photos of Jessica Alba, four months after having her baby and looking the mutts nuts and wonder WHY ISN’T MY BODY LIKE THAT?! I would get sad about it. I would judge myself and stop having pasta with my spagetti bolognaise. Then, I would get hungry and binge eat on Ginger Nuts and old easter eggs (easter was 7 weeks ago. That chocolate is rank).

Amanda Holden was my tipping point of being obsessed with celeb mums (for want of a better word) and and comparing myself to them and their fab skinny post baby bodies. She was my peak. When she came back to work, less than 3 weeks after having a really traumatic delivery and almost die-ing, wearing a pair of hotpants and in one breathtalking about her brush with death and in the next talking about BGT, I thought “that poor cow”. Poor her. I genuinely felt for her. What pressure must she be under to return to work when she was that ill. She must have been terrified of some young hot whipper snapper swooping in from the wings and stealing her job. For someone despertately hoping she eats a bluberry muffin and does a Violet Beauregarde and starts swelling up.

In the sidebar of shame today was this article. I high five you In summary it is to do with Bollywood believing a popular actress letting her fans down because she has not lost her baby weight like a western actress. What is interesting is “Cinema professor Shohini Ghosh added that women in India were up against an almost impossible task.

‘There is a glorification of motherhood in India and Indian cinema,’ he told the paper. ‘But people are confused because they don’t know whether to glorify Aishwarya in her new motherhood or lament that she is not looking like a runway model.’  ”

Hmmmm…

Lets end on some actresses who have not popped back into their size zero frocks. Who may be taking their time, struggling to lose the weight, being normal, not caring, not wanting to, whatever.

I am not the woman I used to be. I am more than that woman, in more ways than one. I am probably half again the woman I was once was. HA! And I wont affect my sons futures by making them think their girlfriends need to be stick thin skinnie minnies. Shant.

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Innapropriate

This post was written by @SarahMo3W and first appeared on her blog Mum of Three World. Do you have any advice for her?

Recently I have noticed some inappropriate behaviour creeping into my house. I suppose I might have to call it ‘sexualised’, although I hate to link that word with my kids. It’s hard to know how to react to this sort of thing. Do I make a big deal out of it and ban them from ever saying those words/ behaving in that way again? Or do I just completely ignore it? Do I have a calm conversation with them about it? Well, guess what, I don’t have the answers.

I’m not naive enough to assume that my eldest doesn’t know a certain amount about sex through playground gossip. I remember when I was in Year 6 (or J4 as it was called back in the day) the streetwise kids (or naughty kids as they were known then) talking about ‘sex’ and ‘virgins’ in hushed tones to get laughs. With the internet and the blurring of what should be shown on TV after the 9pm watershed, I’m sure today’s Year 6’s are far more knowledgeable than the naughty kids of the 80s.

And I also know that whatever my eldest knows, or thinks he knows, he will share it with his brother because they share a room and are very close.

A few weeks ago, a burlesque artist ‘Beatrix’ appeared on Britain’s Got Talent. I am unashamed of my family’s addiction to TV talent shows (see TV talent in March), but I wasn’t sure about this particular act. As stripping goes, it was pretty tasteful, but my kids found it hilarious and fascinating. It was rude! It was a lady’s boobies! (Albeit covered up with digital stars.) The next morning I was upstairs getting dressed, my eldest was at his friend’s house down the road and the younger two were downstairs. They were rather quiet. I went to see what they were up to. Endlessly rewinding and re-watching Beatrix and her boobs. So I told them they weren’t to watch it any more. Later on my eldest came home with his friend (a girl, a year older) and they were quiet too. But then again, they usually are. And they were watching damn Beatrix and her boobs too! So I deleted her from the Sky box. And her semi-final performance too. This doesn’t stop my kids continuing to talk about her or do impressions of her.

This week, my eldest got home from school and (he will kill me for telling you this) went into his little sister’s room and put on loads of hairbands and hair clips. And eyeliner. Except I don’t think she has eyeliner. It was probably mascara, applied under his eyes. In fact all over his eyes. Why did he do this?

‘Because I’m pretending to be gay’.

OK, how to take that? Tell him there’s nothing wrong or funny about being gay? Ask him gently if he has feelings towards other boys or if he’s ever wished he was a girl? Ignore him? Or just tell him off?

Well, we were late for my daughter’s dance class and I didn’t have time to deal with it, so I just told him to take all the stuff out of his hair and stay in the car until I’d had time to remove the make-up from his eyes. Parenting at its best, I’m sure you will agree.

Recently my younger son has started singing Rizzle Kicks’ ‘Mama Do the Hump’ accompanied by rather inappropriate dancing. I don’t think this is the actual dance from the video, it’s his own interpretation (or possibly the interpretation of his best friend’s 13 year old brother). Basically it’s a series of very quick hip thrusts with him jumping around the room. He does it constantly from the moment he gets up to the moment he goes to bed. It’s been going on for weeks now. We’re not laughing at him, but his brother and sister are, so he carries on. And now his sister is joining in…

Perhaps foolishly, because now it looks like we are encouraging him, we filmed the two of them doing Mama Do the Hump in their pyjamas. My son did a particularly big and hilarious thrust at the camera. When I watched it, I said ‘Oh B2!’ in surprise at this movement. ‘What?’ shouts my eldest. ‘Has he got an erection?’

Silence. Oh my God. How to react? We didn’t say a word. It was just too inappropriate and horrible. I certainly hadn’t heard THAT word when I was his age, proving my theory that kids are getting more streetwise. I didn’t react because I know he was just saying it to shock and I thought if I ignored it he was less likely to say it again. I’m also not ready to have a conversation about erections – and the fact that his 8 year old brother doesn’t have them.

So that’s my kids. Growing up fast. They are still laughing at weeing, pooing and farting, but now I’m left wondering how to deal with this new strain of ‘comedy’ which has entered our lives.

Posted in Anatomy, Communication, Masturbation, Sex Education, Sexual Diversity, Talking to your kids about sex | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

“O” no thanks

(This post was originally posted at Dillytante

When you are wondering along the beach with your kids this summer and you see the I-Scream van be sure to take your kids along for a free ice cream? What topping would they like? Raspberry Ripple favoured lube, or Toffee Apple flavoured lube? If you can persuade them to perform an orgasm face then post it on Facebook they could win £200 of Sexy Goodies. Yes, Ann Summers, in its usual pursuit of good taste is taking a tour with an ice cream van, where is is offering free ice cream with flavoured lube. And offering incentives to people to perform sex faces. And when we say people, let’s be honest, it’s women. Ann Summers markets itself towards women.

When I first started writing this post I wrote a few paragraphs to head off any accusations of prudery or being a dried up old prune. But I deleted what I wrote because I really shouldn’t have to list my own sexual proclivities in order to be able to criticise a high street marketing campaign which infantilises an adult activity and encourages the exploitation of women.

Sex is fun, but it is also a serious business with many emotions attached to it. In my younger years I was quite taken with Ann Summers as a shop. I thought that having a shop on the high street where you could pop in and pick up a new vibrator on your way back home was great and enlightened, normalising sex and empowering women. Now my view has completely changed. Instead of normalising sex I think Ann Summers cheapens it, with their tacky underwear, poor quality vibrators and disgusting edible lubricants. Rather than empower women to have control of their own sexuality, it portrays a sexual environment where women feel they should changing their behaviour to please men, whether that is by dressing up, using bondage gear or this BJ strap. Not particularly empowering is it? The mainstreaming of this sort of shop creates expectations of sexually permissive behaviour, women, and even girls, feel they have to live up to the naughty nurse, or saucy air hostess fantasy instead of just enjoying loving, mutually satisfactory sex.

But the very worst thing about this campaign for me is the enticement for girls to win a goody bag full of Ann Summers tat if they just take a picture of themselves making an “O face” i.e. a picture of themselves pretending to orgasm, then posting it to Facebook to be rated. So not only are they to be exploited by posing like a porn star, but they are then to be judged on the quality of their pose. I wonder what makes a good orgasm face? Presumably as close to a porn star as possible, seeing as it likely that the people who will vote on this particular portrait gallery will never have seen a woman orgasm in real life.

I wonder at the women who want to share these sort of pictures with friends, family and strangers. Like my just woken up look, when my sleep wrinkles are trying to unstick themselves (which is sadly taking longer and longer these days), my expression when engaged in orgasm is a sight I would only want to share with my partner. The women and girls who will end up taking part in this Britain’s Got Pornstars competition are a product of today’s society. The media is full of girls who’s only achievements are to have slept with a celebrity, or parade about in skimpy clothes. Like a naughty child who acts up when they realise they only get attention for behaving badly, these girls get the message that they will only be valued for who they sleep with and how they look. So they dress in what they think is the male fantasy, and act out the male sexual fantasy, or whatever it is that will get them the attention they desire.

We as a society need to start proving that we value women as more than just sexual objects. We need to give them more to aspire to than life as “that girl who slept with a footballer then went on Celebrity Big Brother”. Only then can they have confidence in who they really are and have a sexual relationship that they really want, with someone who respects them, and not feel the need to feed into the sordid, misogynistic view of sex that Ann Summers promotes.

I think women being open about sex with each other and with their partners is a good thing. But there is a difference between being open about sex and being public about it. I don’t want to have to explain to my 4 year old why she can’t have an ice cream from the van peddling cheap sexual expectations. By the same token, I think anyone engaging in sex should be mature enough not to need an ice cream van reminiscent of their childhood to explore their sexuality. Finally, I think Ann Summers should really think about what they are asking of the women who they want to pose with their “O face” and realise how demeaning an exploitative it is. Of course women are mostly free to make their own choices and could choose not to, but these choices are not made in a societal vacuum, and we have created a society where people think this sort of behaviour is except able, and even to be expected. I hope anyone with a sense of integrity realises that it isn’t. I implore you to stop shopping in Ann Summers, the shop that thinks a strap with which men can control a women giving him a blow job is acceptable and even empowering. Stop buying the ridiculous magazines and the Daily Mail, which celebrate women as objects of desire or ridicule depending on their face, body or dress. Teach your sons and daughters that sex is wonderful, and should be explored with someone you trust, and not Ann Summers or Facebook.

Posted in Body Image and Self Esteem, Pornography | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Wonder women

Today I took my 8yo daughter to see The Avengers Assemble. I was a little hesitant, I don’t really do superhero films, all that macho posturing, camp suits and overblown special effects (literally). Plus it’s a 12A would it be suitable? And did I mention the macho posturing?

As a kid I didn’t notice or mind that women seldom took centre stage – Leia reduced to that bikini, E.T. a tale of male bonding, the one token female in the Goonies, Indiana Jones’ trio of sassy sidekicks waiting to fall into bed with him. James Bond. Women just silhouettes and bodies.

Things seemed better as I grew up. First Molly and Ally, Demi and Winona cool, aspirational leading ladies. Then 90s romcoms starring Sandra and Meg, women I recognised , women not reduced to shopping and cocktails robots but fleshed out with jobs, ambitions, life. Later, I didn’t go to the cinema so much, I could stay home and watch Buffy kicking ass, C.J coolly directing the media, the moment Abby Lockhart became the top billed actress on ER. When I returned to the cinema it was to U rated films, small child by my side.

When did kid’s films get reduced to a bunch of stock characters? The jock, the geek, the princess? Should we blame The Breakfast Club? At least there were two female characters in that detention room (am I the only one who much preferred Ally Sheedy pre ‘makeover’?). And why are all the stock characters usually male with one saucily voiced princess? Nemo, Shark Tale, Madagascar, Ice Age, Monsters Inc, Cars. There are exceptions of course, interestingly in films aimed solely at girls we get strong, aspirational lead female characters. But how many boys are going to see Gabriella step out of the shadows on her way to Yale (go Gabriella!) and Hannah Montana learn that fame isn’t everything? I unashamedly adore both HSM and Hannah Montana the Movie for their celebration of strong, talented, brilliant girls.

But Avengers Assemble is written and directed by Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy, feminist (let’s skim over Dollhouse especially as I missed the end so there could have been a point to it). I knew that only one of the Avengers was female and that she was played by the very beautiful Scarlett Johansen, I had to trust that she wouldn’t be reduced to token love-interest-in-need-of-rescuing. Much blowing up, fighting, posturing later we left the cinema. Verdict? ‘The lady was brilliant.’

Further questioning elicited the information that the lady was so cool because she didn’t have super powers like all her male companions, she had to use her brain, kick-ass fighting skills and bravery to win, not a large hammer (no euphemism), an iron suit or gamma ray enhanced strength or something – I got bored during those bits. She also approved of the Shield second in command, another brave woman with brains not super powers. Yay! Okay the percentage of females were small but at least they weren’t token.

Sadly none of the films previewed were so inclusive of 51% of the human race. I only saw one female face in the ten minutes of shooting, exploding and heavy handed one liners. Apparently the huge amount grossed by films like Mamma Mia and Bridesmaids (which for the record I hated, hated. Is this the best we can do? Those women were horrid to each other childish, bitchy, needy.) don’t show how positively women and girls respond to strong, female characters.

Looks like I might have to let 8yo watch The Hunger Games after all.

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Dear Parents and Carers- Re. Anne Summers- I-Scream Campaign

Dear Parents and Carers*,

So Ann Summers has caused a furore by their really grim “I-scream” campaign.  Already lots of blog posts on it hereherehereherehere and here. Rather than replicate the other fine posts on it, I was having musings of a slightly different angle.

When I was about 7ish I saw some people with bald heads giving away free papers. Knowing how much my dad loved free papers to make spills for our fire, I pulled his arm and drew attention to the men with the free papers, “Daddy daddy, free papers- let’s get some!”.  My dad pulled me away and explained that those skinheaded men were actually neo-nazi’s or the BNP (if it existed back then) and the free papers they were handing out were going to be horribly racist and he would never take them, not even to burn on our fire (although as an aside, I distinctly remember a cheeky double standard there, as my dad used to put up Labour Posters everywhere during run ups to the election- and he “kindly” offered to help the Tory campaigner doing the same with his Conservative posters, by claiming he just did it as a dayjob he wasn’t affiliated to any party. The stupid arse believed him and our fire burned happily with Conservative posters for a while! HAHAH!)  I digress but when my dad explained what the newspapers were I distinctly remember claiming I wanted to go and get one and burn it in front of them (yes I was a 7 year old political activist, I was a member of the Woodcraft Folk- we kept trying trying to free Nelson Mandela- I knew that racist shit was wrong.) Yes, my dad did pull me away in case my 7year old head got kicked in- or his for having such a bolshy daughter!

But my point is this- yes kids are going to see unpleasant things on the high street. It’s unfortunate but true. The very existence of Ann Summers on the high street may need explaining at some point. As it happens I live very near a sex toy warehouse (as you do!), the sign outside makes it fairly clear what the company is.  We walk past it most days and at some point the kids will ask what the sign means, and I will tell them, an age appropriate version of the truth, “they sell toys for grownups” or something.  What I am trying to say is that yes Ann Summers is wrong and grim for this particular campaign but we can’t let such things abdicate  our responsibility as parents is to explain controversial things they may question us about.   If anything it highlights the increasing need for parents to be prepared and equip themselves for such difficult conversations.

 

 

Don’t get me wrong I do think Ann Summers are disgustingly cynical for running this particular grim campaign, but I think we are all falling into exactly the publicity trap they want by getting so hysterical about it.  It’s the Daily Mail Technique all over again. Ann Summer’s couldn’t give a stuff that “the mums” are up in arms about it- we are not really their core target audience- they really want the bright young things- the 18-30-somethings the ones who don’t want to be “the stuffy prudish mummy types”, so by alienating us, they increase their core rating with their chosen demographic. Or am I being cynical?

When pondering how to write this post, I was talking to @Itsmotherswork about the Ann Summers I Scream Advertising campaign as she is a mum and activist whose opinions I deeply respect.  She wrote the following which basically sums up exactly how I feel in a far better way than I could ever write, so I paste it below (reproduced with permission).

 

I think it’s deliberately provocative in a deeply unpleasant way. I think it draws together themes/images of sexuality and childhood in order to provoke a reaction; it does so knowingly having seen other similarly questionable campaigns raise the profile of other brands without taking a reputational hit to their brand value, and it’s because basically the people who buy into the Ann Summers brand aren’t the same demographic as those who get apoplectic over children’s exposure to sexualised images. For that reason I think that hysterical ’anti’ campaigning only feeds the publicity machine in a way that they will be quite happy with. I’d prefer a subdued shrug of the shoulders and a “what a pity they’re prepared to walk that line just to court publicity” stance. (There’s no other possible reason for the theme of the campaign.) I do think that parents need to be ready to explain all sorts of images and ideas to their offspring, perhaps earlier in their lives than they imagined, and I do consider that a responsibility that they should take seriously. But I absolutely don’t think that it’s a responsibility that parents should shoulder alone. In a way that means that other adults who aren’t raising children can out whatever images they like into the world and leave parents having to deal with the explanations. What I’d really like to see is the Ann Summers team who commissioned the campaign and the agency that developed it, sitting down with children and answering the questions that the children have, which the campaign provokes. I think they should be required to confront the consequences of their provocation and deal with them honestly, and ideally while the parents of the children asking the questions watch them do it, and see how they manage. :-)

Her final point is SHEER GENIUS!  Let’s call them to account in that way. Let’s ask them to sit down with the children and answer their questions about the campaign. Let’s confront them with the reality of their advertising.  In fact maybe we should call upon the ASA to set up just such a group for all advertising, it might just help to reign in this runaway “sex sells” technique, for I personally can’t see a advertising executive being very comfortable explaining what lubricant is to a 6year old. Can you?

Yours Sincerely

LadyAsking&AnsweringDifficultQuestionsCurd

 

P.S. *”Dear Parents and Carers” reads like a letter home from school- not sure they would ever send one like this home! but maybe schools should send letters home with tips and advice on where to get help and support to deal with difficult conversations like this?

Posted in Sex Education, Sexualisation, Talking to your kids about sex | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments