Thursday, 22 May 2014

Mothers Lost in Time: Women Shunned from Marriage Certificates in England and Wales

I was outraged to discover recently that only your father is included on your marriage certificate.  In 2014!!  Listening to the Woman's Hour podcast (not exactly Feminist but has some interesting stuff on it) they had a family historian and record specialist Audrey Collins explaining the law, and Caroline Criado-Perez explaining why it needs to change.  

Since 1836 when marriage certificates were developed women were the property of men; when you got married you went from being the property of your father to being the property of your husband.  This piece of paper represents the exchange of a woman from man to man as if she is an object.  Is that a symbol you want in your life anywhere?  If you feel like you are equal to your other half in every other way, why is it that in the symbol of your union it is fine to still have this archaic symbol?  What if you were brought up only by your mother(s)?  What if your father is dead, absent, or you don't have any kind of decent relationship with him?  

The statement from the Home Office is that it is too expensive to replace the bits of paper in the churches and registry offices; when I spoke to my other half about this he told me that if you work in the council and you have any kind of relationship (including a drunken snog) with one of your colleagues, you now have to fill in a form reporting this.  Now I wonder how much it cost to print out all of those ridiculous forms??


 

If you don't think that women should be wiped from history via marriage certificates, if you think that women are equal to men, or if you think that you will be pretty pissed off to be excluded from your child's marriage certificate in the future then go and sign the petition.  It's free and it takes 2 minutes at the most.

https://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/mothers-names-should-be-on-marriage-certificates

I know that I for one will not be getting married until this is changed; most people don't realise until the day of their own wedding, when it is too late, so I am glad to have found out in time.  Those of you who are friends and family reading this - you may be getting a little holiday in Scotland!

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Film Friday: Feminist Foughts

Yesterday I watched 3 films whilst lounging on my sofa wearing my ‘Vote for Pedro’ t-shirt with one shiny swollen hand in some cold water and sweating like it was actually desert hot.  Pregnancy is aalllll glamour.  Anyway, maternity leave is some valuable time in which to watch films because, as far as I understand from others in the know, I won’t be able to do this again, ever.  I enjoyed all 3 in different ways and I thought I would share my feminist/gender issue type thoughts with you.




I had wanted to see this for a while, ever since I heard Mark Kermode of 5 live review it when it came out.  Kermode is my favourite film reviewer (as well as one of my favourite people, I even have his books) and the weekly podcast released on a Friday is something I very much look forward to absorbing.  Not that he loved the film mind you; but I liked the sound of it from what he did say.  It is about a woman called Frances who is trying to make it as a professional dancer in NYC and is set in the present day.  It was all shot in black and white which would usually put a philistine such as me off watching, but I didn’t even notice there was no colour; the plot and characters were so engaging it made no difference.  

From a feminist point of view this film gets a big thumbs up because the lead actor Greta Girwig wrote and assistant-produced, as well as starring the in the film.  Also, the film is all about her character (not a male lead) and she carries that lead role brilliantly; I found her struggles to be cringe-inducing, endearing, realistic and relatable as a woman of the same age trying to figure out myself and the world.  It also has a brilliant ending that is positive, but in no way reliant on her finding a man; this is a film more about female friendship than romantic relationships.  Definitely passes the Bechdel test (a film that has two women having a conversation that is not about a man) and has my seal of approval.




The other end of the spectrum when it comes to films with female lead roles; or so it would seem.  I’m sure far more of you have seen or are aware of this film as it is a lot older and very popular.  It is still about a female figuring out herself and the world, but in a very different world and at a different stage, because she is still in high school.  There are some obvious feminist issues with this film due to how shallow the characters are and that one of the main plot points is the need to make-over a fellow student in order for her to ‘fit in’ at school.  The good bit does come later though when Cher (Alicia Silverstone) realises that she has ‘created a monster’ by changing this girl’s appearance and attitude and by the end of the film Tai (the made-over girl) goes back to her original taste in fashion and men, and all is good, proving that being yourself is much better than changing in order to fit in.  

Therein lies the other issue with Clueless; it is all about the pursuit of a man and the big happy moment at the end is Cher realising who she really is in love with.  But again there is a flip-side to this tired old plot point; previous to this Cher is not really interested in getting a boyfriend and is happy to be a virgin and wants to wait for the right person to do the horizontal dance with.  This is a pretty positive message to be portraying for teenage girls who might feel pressurised into having sex before they are ready.  Also, the man she realises she likes is not in any way who she thought she would fall for and she likes him for who he is, rather than his appearance or money.  For a girl from Beverley Hills in this exaggerated version of real life, that is an achievement.  Obviously there is a lot of emphasis on how the girls in the film look and they are all of one body type and conventionally attractive; but we forgive the film for being so much fun and a reminder of how hormonal and dramatic I’m sure a lot of us were as teenage girls.


This is an entirely different film as females barely make an appearance; Liam Neeson plays a wolf-hunter who gets stranded with a group of men in a snowy wasteland, fighting for survival against a pack of wolves.  The only time we see women are in flashbacks and in the shape of a flight-attendant (a well-worn trope used in many films time and again).  In the flashbacks the women are idealised characters used as motivation to survive, which is quite nice, but they are not real or rounded characters with actual personalities, they’re just symbols.  Would it have been appropriate to include women in the gang of men stranded in the woods?  The flight-attendant could have survived and proved to be way tougher and braver than any of the men, but would that have felt too shoe-horned in?  Maybe.  Anyway, that didn’t happen and this definitely comes no-where near passing the Bechdel test, but I enjoyed the wolf-punching action none-the-less (Bechdel is not a test of good films after all).  There are a couple of things that the film had to say about masculinity though.  

Firstly, there is a point when the characters are talking about whether they are scared or not and one character, who is a particularly stereotypical tough-guy, says he is not scared and Liam quite rightly calls him out on that bullshit.  Good start; fear is a natural physical response to a vicious pack of wolves chasing you in the wilderness and anyone who says they are not scared is lying to maintain some sort of gender-based societal demand.  The next point on the pressures of being a man is made near the end of the film is when the same tough-guy character has softened from the trauma.  In a touching moment he finally introduces himself to the other characters using his first name.   Now we are all familiar with the mainly male tradition of bonding via humour and using surnames or nick-names rather than first names; this moment highlights that rather than creating a bond this tradition mainly serves to distance men from each other.  It is only when this man realises he might not be long for this world that he shows affection and gratitude to the men he has shared the difficult journey with and he does this by telling them his first name.  This creates a bond and some affection between them as they shake hands and share the names their families would use.  A nice moment and proof that male camaraderie can be alienating bollocks.

Have you seen these films?  What were your thoughts on the points I have made? 

Did you enjoy this feminist take on films?  Is it something you’d want to see regularly?  This was supposed to be brief as it was about 3 films in one post but more in-depth analysis of single movies would be the aim in future.

The main reason I wrote this is because feminist criticism on films is something I would like to see but if no-one else is interested then I’ll keep it to myself! 
Twitter: @MyFeministLife              

Sunday, 11 May 2014

That Name Business: Part 2

Equal in every way...


So you know when I wrote all about taking your man’s name and it seemed like I had that sorted...not so much. 

Since then I have been contemplating the whole thing some more and come up with a final plan.  Buster (our unborn child – don’t worry, nickname only!) will have both of our names in a double-barrelled fashion, and, for now at least, me and my partner will keep our own names.  I like the idea of us all having that double-barralled family name but won’t be faffing around changing mine until he agrees to change his too.  I am not being difficult or having a tantrum, or even trying to make a point ‘for the sake of it’; I just want us to be totally equal, and the name of our child to reflect that.  I came to that conclusion because of how strongly I feel about equality in society at large; I just couldn’t choose a surname for our little boy that didn’t reflect my values and beliefs about equality.  It just didn’t sit right with me.  And my partner is fine with that.

In some ways it was my his determination not to change his own name that inspired me.  He just doesn’t feel right about changing his name, so he won’t.  Too often I feel that women are pressurised, mostly subconsciously, subtly and unintentionally, into things purely because that is how everyone else does it and they don’t want to stand out or be seen as 'difficult'.  Historically, attractive qualities in women are not those of assertiveness or being opinionated; and unfortunately this still affects how we behave today.  We are too often persuaded to bend to other people’s convictions instead of having, and sticking to, our own.  This is not to say that if you change(d) your name I think any less of you because I do believe firmly in freedom of choice.  Although, in saying that I also can’t deny that I wish that a wider variety of choices were made regarding this issue...

Anywho, thought I’d update you as this seems to be my most popular post to date.  At least a handful of people were vaguely interested/bored enough to click and possibly read!

As always I welcome your thoughts on this topic and the ideas I have expressed.

Comment below, tweet me @MyFeministLife or email me at myfeministlife@gmail.com 


Friday, 9 May 2014

Blurred Lines: Is Misogyny Real?



Finally, a documentary that directly discusses issues of sexism and misogyny being aired on mainstream television.   Blurred Lines: The New Battle of the Sexes was on BBC 2 last night (Thursday 8th April at 21:30; I watched it at half 5 this morning (my body is getting me ready for those sleepless nights with baby!), thanks to a friend who alerted me to its existence.  The good thing about this documentary, compared to others I have written about lately, is that it seemed to follow a much more logical line to the actual relevant issues than anything else I have seen thus far (a part from a series on BBC1 a few years ago that I never remember the name of so cannot find – at least part of it was about how women function in the home and that they still do all the childcare and housework as well as having stressful full time jobs, something like ‘Can Women Really Have it All?’; if anyone knows of it, let me know!). 

Obviously, in the one hour slot provided by BBC 2, the presenter Kirsty Wark did not cover everything relevant to the topic, but she got in a lot of the relevant  issues and recent events that highlight these issues.  This means that even though they have been well publicised events such as Steubenville and the controversy surrounding the song the name of the documentary is named after, most people would only be aware of these things as separate isolated elements, rather than all part of the same insidious societal problem

And that’s the main thing I wanted to say about this documentary.  I have known, followed on twitter, and been aware of the work of some of the activists interviewed in the programme for over a year now and when I went to see how they felt about the programme on twitter, I was not surprised.  The girls interviewed in the programme were pleased with their involvement, as they should be, they are doing amazing work and this publicity is much needed.  However, there did also seem to be a sense of dissatisfaction with the programme from other people in the community, as I suspected there would be. 

I believe their issues come from the fact that what the programme was pointing out to its viewers was obvious; as Kirsty Wark said in the programme there is a wealth of feminist activism to be found on the internet.  But they are only obvious to us.  By us I mean those that are aware of, have researched and been involved in the feminist movement already in recent times.  To us who live and breath these issues, they were pointing out nothing new.  To most other people in the general public this was a very good introduction to those issues.  Compared to Jameela Jamil’s offering about the dangers of porn for young people on BBC 3 a couple of weeks ago, this was new information for a lot of the public.

We, as active feminists, need to accept, as I wrote in my last blog, that many people are ignorant to these issues, or at least don’t see them as a major problem in their own lives; until it is pointed out to them in a certain way.  I’m sure that seems very patronising; it isn’t meant to be.  There are many awful issues with the world that don’t catch my interest and therefore I am completely ignorant about them; race relations, drug trafficking, the environment being destroyed.  The difference with sexism and misogyny is that it definitely affects us all.  Women are half the population of the world so these problems are relevant everywhere and for everyone.   As *** says at the end of the documentary “If we think about sexism and misogyny as air pollution; we're all breathing it in...regardless of much we're contributing to that air pollution, we all have a responsibility to fix it”.  Even if it is not something that naturally catches your interest, as it does for me, and even if it's not something that you would spend lots of time campaigning, reading and writing about, you are still involved in it, every day.  We need to change the way that we behave, speak, and bring up our children in order to improve life for everyone, not just women.


Did you watch this programme?  Are you intending to?  What did you think of it?  Did you learn anything you didn’t already know?


Comment below, tweet me @MyFeministLife or email me at myfeministlife@gmail.com

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Porn: What’s the Harm?


 First aired – 10th April 2014

Ooo - another documentary for me to dissect, but this time it is on the BBC and it is about children and the affect that pornography has on their minds at a crucial time in their development.  I’m afraid being a bit lax with the blog the programme is no longer available to watch on BBC iplayer, but it looks like you can find it in full on youtube. 

Jameela's serious face.

 It has been widely reported that children now have much easier access to pornography with the rise of the internet in our homes and of mobile phones as an essential accessory.  This programme brings nothing new to light.  Usually it is Channel  4 who approach the subject of sex quite openly from many different angles: The Sex Researchers; Porn on the Brain; Date my Porn Star.  None of these, including this recent BBC offering, have ever really covered the main issue for me, and that issue is how this extensive consumption of explicit material in our society, in general, affects the fight for equality and how it contributes to rape culture.





















Jameela's mildly shocked face.


The BBC 3 documentary was a thing for good due to the fact that it reached a slightly different audience because of the channel it has been aired on, and the person that has been chosen to present it (Jameela Jamil – female and a person of colour that young people can relate to).  This, amongst the channel 4 documentaries mentioned, is the only one to have the female perspective covered, so there’s one plus, but apart from shock and mild disgust she does not really have any hard-hitting opinions on the matter.  The programme did not really explore anything particularly new or ground-breaking and the issues for women and young girls were barely addressed.  They interviewed young men and women and involved a few different organisations, including Rape Crisis, but did not delve into the hard facts of the extreme affect that pornography has on how women and men co-exist in modern society.

Now let’s get one thing straight; there is nothing inherently wrong with watching images of sexual intercourse.  Sexuality should not be dictated, controlled or impeded and if you enjoy watching pornographic images that is fine and dandy.  The problem comes when we consider the nature of the pornography being consumed and the age at which our young people are now exposed to these images.  The BBC documentary had many statistics (all of which conformed to the idea that males enjoy porn and females do not) without dissecting them and looking at the factors which may affect the responses given in the survey undertaken.  In The Sex Researchers (from Channel 4 June 2011) an experiment was recreated that proved that women are aroused by a wider variety of images than men are.  This means that in no way could women be described as being less sexual than men and in fact could be described as being more highly sexed than men.   



Jameela interviews the kids.

So, why is it that when young people are anonymously answering a survey about pornography more boys than girls will say that they enjoy watching sexually explicit images?  This is something that has to be down to cultural factors, not physical factors.  Young men are free to explore their sexuality from a young age and, even now after various feminist movements and other leaps in equality, women are judged and harassed for showing that they enjoy sex with anyone but a long-term partner, and sometimes even this can be frowned upon.  Certainly during the teenage years girls are publically disgraced for participating in sexual acts and even expressing enjoyment for any form of sexual activity.  I find in my role as a teacher to teenagers I often have to inform boys and girls that sex(and masturbation) is natural and acceptable for everyone so long as consent and enjoyment is involved.  I find that words like ‘slut’ and ‘hoar’ are almost exclusively used for girls and only jokingly used for boys.  Still, in 2014.  That is why girls would not admit to watching or enjoying porn; they have always been told that is not acceptable openly enjoy sex if you were born with a vagina.












Jameela caring about an ex-porn actress.

Another thing that is not in any way explored by Porn: What’s the harm? is the fact that the worst way in which porn affects females is not just that they feel pressure to look and act a certain way, but that males are being encouraged to see women as sexual objects, which in turn makes them far more likely to commit sexual harassment and rape.  It is scary the amount of women that I speak to that are reluctant to associate themselves with the word feminism (my definition of which involves believing men and women should be equal as we clearly still are not); if they realised how serious inequality is in society, and what this inequality leads to on a daily basis, then I think, nay hope, that they would be more outraged, and possibly more comfortable with the idea of being a feminist.  If you think that the plethora of images of naked women all around us, and the fact that women are still more valued for their appearance than anything else, does not contribute to rape, then you are deluded.  I understand that not everyone sees the whole world in the way that I do, but I have noticed a disturbing lack of anger about how women are treated in society.  Pornography is just one of the elements in our culture that contributes to men seeing women as sexual objects alone(as well as women expecting to be treated like one) and therefore men finding it much easier to treat women as if they are not human beings with feelings, but things to use for their own sexual gratification.  This is how rapists think.

Back to the documentary.  There are many elements that are lacking in all of these programmes when it comes to the fight for equality and the improvement of women’s lives, but there is a message right at the end of the programme that is correct and very important.  Jameela Jamil said that we should “...protect children by discussing it and educating them about what they are seeing”.  Communication is the key with all of these things when it comes to our own children; your child needs to feel that they can come and ask you about anything they come across; you will not be able to control everything that they consume, but you can help them to understand it. 

In Channel 4’s Porn on the Brain a local authority representative trying to improve sex education said “we all have a body, we all form relationships throughout our lives, we’re all sexual beings, from birth, and therefore we all need to be talking about these things.  So that when it comes to the stage when children may be accessing porn, it comes up as every day conversation” which I firmly believe; when bringing up my children I want them to always feel that they have all the information they need and they can discuss anything they want to with me and my partner.  I don’t want to have ‘The Talk’ I just want open and frank discussion with my family whenever it feels relevant.  

What do you think of pornography?  Do you watch it?  What about Feminist porn?
Comment below, tweet me @MyFeministLife or email me at myfeministlife@gmail.com 

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Too Right, Pretty Fucking Hurts.

 
BeyoncĂ©’s feminist anthem Pretty Hurts is a relief to hear; it’s about time that someone in her position verbalised this message.  There is no point in her having all this power and not using it for good (as I’m sure she would agree).  She has always been behind songs that empower women, but this song really gets to the heart of the matter when it comes to the objectification of women in today’s society.  I have included the lyrics at the end of this post if you wish to read them for yourself but I would also highly recommend the song as the emotional message is obviously far more effective in this format.  If you have already heard the song I am sure you know all this already.  This post is about the thoughts I had when I was listening to the song one day in the car and it made me cry; I am pregnant so that is a definite factor in my emotional response but the point is that it perfectly summed up something I have always felt inside of me, as I’m sure many women have.  This is how music works a lot of the time and why we as human beings love it; this time I felt that there was more to be said on this topic.

The idea that ‘Pretty Hurts’ has multiple meanings in my eyes and I want to outline a couple of them.


Pretty hurts when you have to pluck, shave or wax sensitive areas of your body in order for them to be deemed acceptable for public consumption.  I’m not sure if any woman who chooses to ignore the rules about female body hair imposed by our society would be considered ‘pretty’.  It hurts when you put bleach on your scalp, have to squeeze ‘unsightly’ in-growing hairs or blemishes or poke yourself in the eye with various make-up products.  Now, I personally enjoy wearing make-up and only do so when I feel like it (for the most part), but how many other women out there do it because they don’t feel they look like ‘themselves’ without it?  Or don’t feel they would be attractive to men?  Or acceptable at work?  It hurts to have to get up earlier than our male counter-parts, losing vital sleep, just to make our image acceptable for the day ahead.  I have no experience with such things myself but I’m pretty sure anal bleaching, facial peels, Botox and other more extreme plastic surgery hurt too.  A lot.  To feel so unhappy with your appearance because it doesn’t look how we are told it should.  It hurts to feel your body is so unacceptable in its natural shape that we punish ourselves for eating some cake and berate ourselves when we don’t look how others do in a bodycon dress. 

But this is just the surface of how much pretty hurts.

Pretty hurts when you are considered to be ‘naturally’ attractive, beautiful or even stunning, with no cosmetic assistance.  It hurts when you are leered at, groped and harassed in the street.  Didn’t you know it was their right to do that to someone who they find attractive?  It’s a compliment, it’s what you should expect if you dress, or even if you look a certain way and you have a vagina.  Being considered pretty by a large amount of people because you have big eyes, a socially acceptable figure or long blonde hair hurts just as much as what other people have done to attain pretty in the first place.  It hurts when people won’t take you seriously in your career because they are too busy looking at your arse or are so overcome with sexual desire they can’t see you as a human being, they can only see you as a sexual object.  You were sexually harassed, or even raped because they wanted you.  They desired you as that sexual object and they couldn’t help but take what they wanted, despite what you wanted, because you are not quite a human being with feelings of your own.  You are an object to be taken.  Yes, being ‘pretty’ fucking hurts. 



Pretty also hurts when it is the word that haunts you, the one that is never used to describe you.  It is always your friend, your colleague, your sister, that is ‘pretty’, desirable and wanted.  If you’re lucky someone will tell you that “you look nice today” like it’s a surprise and a massive compliment because you have made an effort to put make-up on or wear something bright and flattering, but no-one will ever swoon over you.  They won’t all look when you walk into a room.  You are not naturally socially-acceptably beautiful, you have a big nose, no tits, a fat arse.  Your hair won’t grow all over your head, but it sure as hell wants to populate your chin.  You are a ‘paper-bag job’, a whale, the pity fuck.  ‘Pretty’ hurts when it is something you will never obtain because you don’t match up to those standards that the world you live in has set up for women.  No matter what you do you won’t emulate anyone’s icon, be anyone’s fantasy, be on anyone’s ‘list’.  If you are lucky you will meet someone who loves you because of who you are, but you will still be considered invisible and worthless in society.

Clearly I don’t think these things mean shit because we all know that being yourself, being comfortable with who you are naturally, and spending time with people who love you as just that is more important than anything.  But these ideas are all there, all the time, haunting us as women who move in the public sphere; and they are hard to ignore.  Especially when you are young and these things rule your world; being a teenager is tough and this is when a large part of our self-image is formed.

We need to change the way that we see ourselves and the way that we judge each other.  We need to teach our children to do the same.  The less we objectify women in this world, the less ‘pretty’ will hurt.



"Pretty Hurts"

Mama said, "You're a pretty girl.
What's in your head, it doesn't matter
Brush your hair, fix your teeth.
What you wear is all that matters."

Just another stage, pageant the pain away
This time I'm gonna take the crown
Without falling down, down, down

Pretty hurts, we shine the light on whatever's worst
Perfection is a disease of a nation, pretty hurts, pretty hurts
Pretty hurts, we shine the light on whatever's worst
We try to fix something but you can't fix what you can't see
It's the soul that needs the surgery

Blonder hair, flat chest
TV says, "Bigger is better."
South beach, sugar free
Vogue says, "Thinner is better."

Just another stage, pageant the pain away
This time I'm gonna take the crown
Without falling down, down, down

Pretty hurts, we shine the light on whatever's worst
Perfection is a disease of a nation, pretty hurts, pretty hurts (pretty hurts)
Pretty hurts (pretty hurts), we shine the light on whatever's worst
We try to fix something but you can't fix what you can't see
It's the soul that needs the surgery

Ain't got no doctor or pill that can take the pain away
The pain's inside and nobody frees you from your body
It's the soul, it's the soul that needs surgery
It's my soul that needs surgery
Plastic smiles and denial can only take you so far
Then you break when the fake facade leaves you in the dark
You left with shattered mirrors and the shards of a beautiful past

Pretty hurts, we shine the light on whatever's worst (pretty hurts)
Perfection is a disease of a nation, pretty hurts, pretty hurts
Pretty hurts, we shine the light on whatever's worst
We try to fix something but you can't fix what you can't see
It's the soul that needs the surgery

When you're alone all by yourself (pretty hurts, pretty hurts)
And you're lying in your bed (pretty hurts, pretty hurts)
Reflection stares right into you (pretty hurts, pretty hurts)
Are you happy with yourself? (pretty hurts, pretty hurts)

You stripped away the masquerade (pretty hurts, pretty hurts)
The illusion has been shed (pretty hurts, pretty hurts)
Are you happy with yourself? (pretty hurts, pretty hurts)
Are you happy with yourself? (pretty hurts, pretty hurts)

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Is it feminist to ... take your man’s name?


Bump and ring highly visible for work.

I am pregnant and engaged; both things involving the same handsome man (just to clarify).  The pregnancy was entirely unplanned, but in no way unwanted (we are thrilled and excited), and the engagement was entirely planned (not due to knocking me up, so he assures me).  Obviously at the moment my partner and I have different surnames.  The first decision about surnames we must make will be the surname of the wee one, as he (yes, I had to find out) will arrive before we get married.  But that is irrevocably tied up with what my name will be in the future.  I had always, even after discovering feminism, been comfortable with the prospect of changing my name at the time of marriage.  Although that has not changed as such, I now have a dilemma.  Due to recent deeper involvement with feminism (research and starting this blog) I find the idea of changing my name to his rather troubling.  The reason I was fine with it before recently is because I was never that attached to my given name and, due to re-marriage, always had a different surname to the rest of my nuclear family.  I didn’t want this to happen when I made my own family, I felt very strongly about the symbolic nature of a family all having the same name.  I was fed-up of being the odd one out for the first part of my life.

                                            Me, him and our first baby purchase for the boy.

Recently though, as my involvement with feminism, and therefore my feelings about the cause, have deepened, it has lead me to question this.  As well as a family all having the same surname, what I also think is very important, mainly when it comes to bringing up my children, is teaching them that men and women are equal.  When two people create a child it is a 50/50 effort.  Ok, so men don’t have to surrender their bodies to the cause, but that’s not their fault, and my partner for one is making up for that by looking after me as if I were royalty.  So if this is a 50/50 thing then shouldn’t the name be too?  I like the tradition of having a double barrelled surname with one name from each parent.  Nice and equal; symbolically representing the forming of a new family by creating a new name.  The fusion of both of our families to make a new one.

We've known each other for a while...



“But then what’s the problem?!” I hear you cry.  The problem is, he doesn’t want to change his name; not at all, not one bit.  I am more than happy to put our two surnames together in a pleasing order and for all of us to take this on as our family name.  As a woman, I was brought up in a world where surnames are flexible.  Keep it, add to it, change it all together; whatever you like really.  My mother has been married twice and has a child with each man, and both times has chosen to change her name and give me and my brother the names of our fathers.  It was her choice to do so and she is very comfortable with said choices, but she has always emphasised the idea of choice to us.  So, in essence, I am used to the idea that one day I will change my name; most men are not used to this idea.  For most, they haven’t even considered it due to the patriarchal society in which we live.  One in which, historically, men rule and their names are more important than ours.

Even though changing my name does not trouble me, what does irk me is the idea of completely surrendering my identity for the sake of tradition.  A lot of the time I see traditions like these to be the practice of doing something purely because loads of other people have before you.  But I wouldn’t consider asking my partner to surrender what he considers his identity either.  His name has very strong family ties and connotations; he is very close to his whole family and they are so often known by their surname to friends and aquaintences that I think it would just be too odd for him to change it.  We also cannot ignore the fact that in society it is still unusual for men to change their surnames; however subliminal this may be as an influence, it cannot be dismissed.  My lovely man is more than happy for the kids and myself to have the double-barrelled version of our names, but he will not (at this point in time, things can change) change his name at all.  So if the baby and I both had a double-barrelled version this would then leave my partner as the odd one out, which takes us back to square one.

The source of so much debate; how he looked at 20 weeks.

So I am left with a dilemma.  Either I change my name to his and we all have the same name, or I stick to my feminist values and go for the option where the kids and I have (what I deem to be) the feminist version and he has a different name.  I am unsure whether I feel so strongly for the double-barrelled version due to wanting to set my children a good example and have that symbol of equality, or whether I am worried that I will no longer be considered a feminist if I ‘just’ take his name.  BeyoncĂ©, always a strong female icon, but especially since her recent forays into outspoken feminism, has changed her name to Knowles-Carter.  But, so far as I can tell, her daughter Blue is simply Blue Ivy Carter.  No Knowles in sight.  It would trouble me for my children to have a different name to myself; after everything I will have been through to create them, surely I deserve an input into their family name?  Although on the other hand my mother is no less my mother just because she has a different surname to me, and in no way was I ever made to feel like I was the odd one out amongst the three people I grew up living with, despite them having a different family name.

Does the symbol of equality that a double-barrelled surname provides really matter?  Or are the actions of how you live your life more important?  I am filled with rage if anyone ever calls me Miss and I’m sure Mrs will bother me just as much after I am married.  Ms and Mr are equal titles for men and women; they represent equality.  But that really is my choice alone; the surname of my fast-developing family is not only my choice.  I want to, and must, consider the feelings of the man who is my best friend and partner through life. 

After much discussion we recently came to a deal that I think could suit everyone.  If I compromise my feelings on the matter and we all take his surname, then I get final say on the first names of our future children.  What do you think?  Does that seem fair or logical?  How would you, or have you dealt with this situation?  Is this business of names really important in the battle for equality?  Do I still get to wear my feminist badge if I take my beloved’s name and discard my own?  How far should your beliefs affect the decisions you make when it comes to the feelings of the one you love most?  Will it make me a bad role-model to my children if I concede?


Comment down below, tweet me @MyFeministLife or email me myfeministlife@gmail.com

Monday, 20 January 2014

Living Dolls: What do extreme male fetishes say about women's place in society?


After watching the recent Channel 4 show Secrets of the Living Dolls I had many questions fizzing around in my brain: What's the appeal of this?  How popular is it?  Why have I never heard of it before?  Is it sexual?  What's the difference between this and transvestism?  But the main question was, as always; How does this affect women and their place in society?

That's right.  As you can tell from the name of my blog, I'm a feminist.  This is not just a set of beliefs about equality but also, a world view.  Whatever I am doing, whether that's consuming any kind of art or culture, or going about my day-to-day life, I am always considering the effect that what people say, do and produce have on women.  Why?  Because I believe that all of these things affect how women are perceived, and therefore how they are treated; in public spaces as well as their private lives.

So, back to the Secrets of the Living Dolls.  Another interest of mine, as well as feminism, are the various quirks of human life.  I love finding out about the plethora of human behaviour around the world and delving into why people do what they do.  It is definitely what makes life interesting and Channel 4 are well-known for producing shows that explore many different types of human interests and behaviour in documentary form.  I find them fascinating because I love learning (being a teacher by trade) and I am a humanist; to me there's nothing more interesting than the individual, unusual, weird and wonderful.

Men that enjoy dressing as 'living dolls', a hobby also known as female masking, largely keep it a secret from the outside world, even their own families.  This is a past-time that is not necessarily out in the open or widely accepted in society.  The focus of this documentary was on men from the UK and the US, the latter being where the company that makes the female body suits (known as Fem Skins) is based, which has clients worldwide.  The reason that they feel they must hide their alternative life-style, shock-horror, is because it does not conform to the norm of how men (or indeed people) should dress or behave.  It is against the status quo and can, as we see in the documentary, attract a very hostile response from members of the public.

An employee of Fem Skins working on making the nipples more realistic for the German market.

My issue with female masking is most definitely not one involving a disagreement with them wearing Fem Skins or dressing in 'women's clothes'.  In fact the reason that I put that phrase in inverted commas is because I don't believe there should be such a thing as 'men's clothes' or 'women's clothes' just clothes, that anyone can wear if that's what makes them comfortable.  The issues that occurred to me whilst watching the documentary were what female masking represents, and how it reflects the place of women in society.

Firstly, there is the issue that the majority of masks and body suits created (completely custom-made based on clients' requirements) represent a very particular image of 'woman'.  They all have curvy but slim bodies with accentuated hips, bottoms and breasts, and they all have angular model-esque faces with large eyes and a lot of make-up, which of course, is permanently on their faces due to them being masks.  In no way do the range of masks depicted in the documentary represent a range of women that can be seen in the real world. Many of them do refer to their alter-egos as 'dolls', but even dolls are representations of the female image, and they are made by design which is inspired by real life, like the Fem Skins are.  Mostly, the men seemed to have designed a suit that represented their 'ideal' woman; whether that's because they wanted to be that woman, or because they wanted to be with that woman, it still represents an ideal of what the opposite sex should look like.  The dolls created in no way represented the variety that exists in real life, but a very narrow representation with qualities that identify women as objects of the male gaze, and make anyone that does not possess these aesthetic qualities feel like shit.

Now onto the men themselves.  One comment made by 70 year old Robert from the US, when discussing women he has recently dated was particularly disturbing "...some of them are in good shape for 55-65 (years old), but they don't look anything like this.  And it's very difficult to date when you have this to come home to".  This is clearly a more extreme reaction to the fact that his expectations of women are extremely unrealistic; he wants, and thinks that he should be spending romantic time with young slim women that conform to the stereotype of 'beautiful' that is constantly shoved down our throats.  This may be one end of the scale when it comes to reactions to not being able to find a woman you fancy, but it highlights the fact that many men see women in terms of their looks rather than their personality.  Then in turn, this is all part of the pressure that women feel to look a certain way in order to be deemed desirable.

Robert enjoying some alone time with Sherry in his garden.

On the other hand, 28 year old Neil from the UK does not relate female masking to his love life; he has a girlfriend with whom has just moved in, and they seemed to be as connected and happy as a couple could be.  She in no way conforms to the ideals of female beauty present in the dolls, and she is whom he has chosen to be with.  Good stuff.  Although Neil did say something that highlights another of society's issues with women.  When asked what he gets from his hobby he replies "...it's kind of like an extension of a persona within me that wants to go out and have fun".  This implies that his down-time leads to him wanting to adopt a female persona; that somehow being a man is too serious.  Again, this reinforces women's place in society as creatures that are here to be attractive and think about kittens and babies rather than deal with serious 'man issues'.  Women can have more fun because they don't need to, or aren't capable of, thinking about anything too serious.  Now I'm not one to deny anyone their fun, and perhaps Neil just sees it as escapism, but the implications are there.

Neil enjoying the escapism of female masking.

Back to America; John a well-established female masker who has six daughters, said "...I loved women, I used to collect pictures of swimsuit models" with regards to his days as a lonely teenage virgin.  Was that supposed to be a compliment to woman-kind?  This, again, reinforces the fact that if you love women it's because you love how they look, because that's all there is to the female sex!  It seems so far that the Americans of this documentary are trying to (to paraphrase John) emulate the female that that they could never have, in order to fulfil their sexual desires.  The need to spend time with their ideal female is so strong that they have to become that female to satisfy the craving.  When put like that this is a very disturbing outcome to the objectification of women.  The feeling of entitlement to a beautiful woman is so strong they pay someone make them out of rubber, and wear them.

I'm sure this is great fun if they're not attached.

Another thing that the female maskers in the programme, from America especially, have got very wrong about being a female in public spaces, is the effect of the male gaze.  Vanessa, 51 year-old father of six, said "when I'm in my male mode... I go out in public and I just blend in...by putting on the mask it allows me to have that little bit of fame for a little while and...get all that attention".  In dealing with this quotation we have to put aside the fact that people may also be staring because they can see a six foot rubber doll walking around the streets (not something you see every day), and consider that the reason people now look at them is because they are 'female'.  That's certainly how these men feel they get attention; as we all know, women are subject to the male gaze when moving in public spaces far more often than vice versa.  To further justify that point, when Robert goes out in public dressed as Sherry for the first time, he was verbally harassed as soon as he left his car.  A man in the car park shouted "Show me what you got" whilst stopping and staring; despite clearly not being a biologically valid woman, it was still acceptable to shout demeaning and derogatory comments at this person in public, due to his appearance as female.

Robert (as Sherry) on his first trip out in public.

Therefore, if we deem the female aspect of their costumes to be the reason for more attention, I can't help but feel like they are slightly taking the piss.  They can choose to wear those suits and those 'revealing' outfits for attention when they want to have fun and 'be famous' for a while.  What are us real-life women supposed to do?  We have no rubber mask we can remove to blend in better.  Even covering up our body, wearing no make-up and not washing your hair for three weeks is no guarantee that you won't be subject to leers and sneers from men on the street.  As a woman, if you don't conform to the stereotype of attractiveness you are shunned and made to feel worthless, and if you do conform to it (whether by natural or cosmetic means) you are subject to constant harassment.

So to conclude, I guess all I would say to female maskers, if I ever meet them, is - have fun with the imitations of woman that you admire so much, but please remember; we suffer this every day, and we can never take off the mask.