by Guest Blogger // 22 October 2014, 11:55
Veena Chandar, 18, takes issue with 'All About That Bass' and its implication that we should only appreciate our bodies if boys admire them.
"So whaaaat? It's catchy!"
Welcome to the 21st century where, according to many, sexism is obsolete and feminism is a wasted movement. Yet, a song placed at no.1 in the UK charts, being blasted at every radio station for all to hear is filled with body-shaming sentiments. But, hey, it's catchy right?
The world is already so good at tearing women down, picking at anything from our image to our quirks, without the added internalised misogyny that Meghan Trainor presents in her new song. What I see happening lately isn't a celebration of larger bodies but, instead, a tokenistic de-humanisation of smaller ones. It's encouraging one group of de-humanised women to step up and degrade and dehumanise another. This is flawed because thin women were never the oppressors holding all the power in the first place. Women have always had their appearances critiqued by men. It's just that thin women have tended to experience this less. However, 'All About That Bass' seems to reflect a view that it is only right to overthrow those awful "skinny bitches", because "How dare they be critiqued less by our beloved oppressors?"
Of course, it's clear thin privilege still exists, with larger women and men facing discrimination every day and thin people being given a pass. But supporting retaliation in the form of hatred is a useless cause when we need to all be working towards the same goal of body-positivity for everyone.
And what happened to body positivity in this song? Why should thinner bodies be deemed unappealing because they don't have that "boom boom" that all the "boys chase"? Since when has body positivity had anything to do with boys chasing you? Self-acceptance is exactly what it says it is: you accepting yourself. Why should any group of women be dismissed as "stick figure" "Barbie dolls" complying to the media's expectations? After all, there are lots of women, regardless of size, who don't care what the media or boys think.
Let me paint you a lovely picture of the future. Fifteen years pass. I am sitting across the dining table from my little daughter and, as she reaches for the vegetables, I smack her hand away and put chocolate on her plate instead. "Why, Mummy?" She asks me. "Because," I say looking at her straight in the eyes, "boys like a little more booty to hold at night."
I realise that's a bit far-fetched, but you get my point. Children are listening to this song being played on the radio and, in my opinion, it is arguably as toxic as a song promoting being skinny would be. Both stances promote one body type and dismiss another. Even worse, they imply we should only appreciate our bodies if boys admire them.
It's no surprise that Meghan Trainor doesn't consider herself a feminist. If the values and internalised misogyny towards 'skinny' women in 'All About That Bass' are anything to go by, I don't think she would make a very convincing one. It seems that, according to this song, you should love yourself... unless you're a skinny woman, in which case, you're going to die alone just because men apparently don't want you.
Being a woman nowadays is a lot like the lyrics in Kelly Clarkson's song 'You Can't Win':
If you're thin, poor little walking disease
If you're not, they're all screaming obese.
And those are the only two we can be apparently. Nothing in-between.
Well, the world is definitely changing. We no longer need men to objectify and de-humanise women and portray them as only for men's entertainment because we have women to do that as well. Not all men? Well, apparently it's men and some women too.
Meghan, I don't really care if you have "all the right junk in all the right places". Because yet another voice telling us what's right or wrong when it comes to women's bodies is just more misogyny and I'm tired of it.
Front cover for Meghan Trainor's 'All About That Bass' single. This is pink with the shoulders and right hand of a woman (possibly Trainor or intended as a depiction of her) with a baby blue top and matching nails holding up an peach coloured sign with the name of the artist in white at the top and of the song at the bottom. Two speakers are pictured in the middle of the sign. Shared under fair dealing.
by Guest Blogger // 21 October 2014, 23:24
News broke recently that some of Silicon Valley's top technology companies, including Facebook and Apple, will be offering an egg-freezing service as a benefit for female employees.
The big Silicon Valley players all have a low percentage of female employees relative to other industries. Facebook has 31% female staff, and Google 30%, with other companies reporting similar statistics. Facebook's concern over lack of female talent, particularly in senior management, prompted them to begin offering the procedure to employees in a bid to attract more women. Basketball courts, free food and pool tables might bring in the bright young things, but are unlikely to retain talent when people's priorities start to change.
Young women get confusing messages - on the one hand, society sneers at young 'welfare mothers' who get pregnant in their teens or early twenties, often with partners who skip their responsibilities (which is, of course, the woman's fault for not choosing wisely enough) and have no means other than state benefits to support the resulting children. On the other side, there is plenty of hand-wringing about women who work hard, build a career, get themselves financially stable and find a stable partner, only to find that all this time spent doing the right thing has meant it's too late biologically. I have seen friends go through this and it has been heartbreaking for them. Egg freezing seems like it might be the perfect compromise.
However, there have been warnings, notably from the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), that it might not be as simple as it sounds. It's not just something you can go and do in your lunch break. Injections of powerful hormones are required, and the procedure is far from simple and painless, and nor is it risk-free. Getting pregnant using frozen eggs requires the use of IVF, which carries its own risks. Medical News Today warns that IVF is "a procedure with a high failure rate that is linked to risks of stillbirths, cesarean sections, preterm deliveries, multiple gestations and higher risks of fetal anomalies". The ASRM's recent report into egg-freezing technology reported in 2012 that egg-freezing was unlikely to deliver significant advantages, except for women who have a medical reason to use it, such as cancer treatment, and it cannot be recommended as a method of delaying starting a family.
There is a darker side to all this as well. Female employees might feel pressured to undergo the procedure, because they may worry that their employer will see them as less committed to their career if they don't. This may even extend to spouses of employees, who may also be eligible. It's difficult enough already to balance work and parenthood - the fact that employers are offering this tacitly acknowledges and supports the view that motherhood is incompatible with building a successful career, rather than challenging it. Is this really the message we want to give young women entering the workforce? If you are serious about your career, you'll put everything else on ice - literally.
Family responsibilities are also not just about women and children. We're living longer, and the demands of caring for elderly or sick parents can also be difficult to juggle. You can't freeze your parents and have them get old later and you can't defer serious illness, as I recently found out. Life doesn't happen either at our convenience or the convenience of our employers.
I'd rather we looked at changing our working culture wholesale, with help from the numerous technologies out there, to help us achieve our career and life goals simultaneously. I know from the recent challenges I've just experienced trying to balance looking after my health with meeting the needs of my employer that most places of work don't embrace deviation from 5x 9-5 readily. My team recently took on two new staff, both of whom needed slightly altered working patterns because of childcare but had been afraid to mention it at interview. Flexible and part time working is possible but often granted grudgingly, and you may pay a price in pay and promotion prospects for prioritising your human connections and loyalties over your corporate ones.
Women are always being told that we can't have it all. While this is certainly true, it is true for all of us, including employers. We need to start talking about how we normalise reasonable balance between family and work; chances are it will involve some compromising on both sides.
The photo is by Sheena Jibson and is used under a creative commons licence. It shows five hens' eggs lying in a line on a dark wooden table. The one in the middle is paler than the others.
by Holly Combe // 21 October 2014, 11:02
Helen Monks considers the continuing unreasonable pressure on female pop stars to be role models.
Remember when Lily Allen wrote that great feminist song about how women shouldn't need to get naked in order to get attention and then objectified a load of naked, mostly black, women in her music video in order to get attention?
Remember when Beyoncé penned that great article titled 'Gender Equality is a Myth' and then appeared at the Grammys a few days later, smiling along as her husband rapped at her to "eat the cake, Anna Mae", a reference to the violent domestic abuse and rape of Tina Turner by her husband, Ike?
Remember yet another wave of disappointment rippling our way when, in the wake of the debut of her 10th studio album, Sinéad O'Connor controversially claimed, in an interview with The Observer, to not be a feminist?
In the midst of the online anti-revolution of the anti-feminists (most noticeably using their freedom to speak freely about how they don't need it), this declaration could not have come at a more annoying time...
Image description and credit:
Beyoncé, with microphone, on a polished black stage at the Dublin 02 on 4 June 2009. She looks slightly downwards to her right with a pensive expression. She wears a fur-trimmed wedding dress with a slit at the front, with a veil framing her head and shoulders. By Caroline Delaney and shared under a Creative Commons license.
by J Whitehead // 20 October 2014, 17:05
Believe the hype! Sleater-Kinney, the feminist wonder-group, have revealed a new single titled 'Bury Our Friends', announced a new album titled No Cities to Love which is due for release in January 2015 and confirmed a north-American and European tour, beginning in February 2015.
The news came as a surprise for fans who discovered the new single enclosed with a recently released limited edition vinyl boxed set of remastered versions of their previous seven albums.
You can download the new single for free here, by signing up to Sleater-Kinney's mailing list.
The black and white image is a side-shot of Sleater-Kinney guitarist, Carrie Brownstein, singing and rocking out with her guitar on-stage. Image by Damon Green, shared under a Creative Commons license.
by Holly Combe // 13 October 2014, 12:54
The music women make when left to their own devices is often sidelined. Julia Downes, editor of 2012's Women Make Noise, previews an upcoming discussion in Sheffield on 16 October about DIY feminist efforts to counter this.
Women Make Noise: A Discussion
Thursday 16 October 2014
Coffee Revolution, University of Sheffield Students' Union, Western Bank, S10, 2TG
It has been almost two years since the book I edited, Women Make Noise: Girl bands from Motown to modern, was published on the Supernova imprint of the woman-run independent publisher Aurora Metro. The book was sparked by what seemed to me to be an obvious gap in the dominant narrative of popular music: the persistent underrepresentation of the all-girl band.
There is something peculiarly dangerous about the all-girl band. We are almost not allowed to know that they exist. In music culture, as all-girl bands are given very little visibility, it would be easy to assume that there are just not that many around. For instance, a recent survey of UK summer music festivals suggested that all-girl bands made up a mere 3.5% of total acts playing compared to 43% of all-male bands, 15.9% of bands with men and women and 16% female solo musicians. However Women Make Noise is a testament to what happens when you start to push music history a little further, to see what women create together when left to their own devices...
Image descriptions and credits:
Flyer for Women make Noise: A Discussion. By Neil Holmes and shared with permission. This shows a close-up of a drawing of a black vinyl record with a yellow label showing the details of the event. A proportion of a description of LaDIYfest Sheffield as an inclusive DIY anti-capitalist community helping organise socials and fundraise for local community groups can be partially seen around the edge of the yellow label. The yellow label contains the name of the discussion at the top in white, with black text in separated boxes (from left to right and top to bottom) underneath. Most of these details have already been shared above but boxes containing the following are also included:
A drawing between "Presented by:" and "LADIYFEST SHEFFIELD 2014". This shows three waving figures. The left person has medium length hair, a heart tattoo on their right arm and is sitting in a wheelchair, the middle person has short hair and stands, while the person on the right has short hair, a distinctive black and white striped top and is standing. By Emma Thacker and shared with permission.
"All rights of the owner and distributor of this record are unreserved and quite friendly / WMN-161014 / Verbal advertising and excitement for this event are highly encouraged by no laws at all."
by Ania Ostrowska // 10 October 2014, 10:46
BFI London Film Festival opened on Wednesday and I am offering you a very subjective preview by Sophie Mayer, who is is currently writing Political Animals: The New Feminist Cinema.
Sophie is delighted by the fact that 53 out of 248 features in the programme are directed by women and her preview is delightfully biased in this direction.
You can still get tickets to most of the screenings via BFI website.
by Holly Combe // 9 October 2014, 08:30
Power trio Ex Hex comprises a blend of talented musicians who cut their teeth in the riot grrrl scene of the 1990s. Cazz Blase checks out their forthcoming album, Rips (released 13 October).
Ex Hex's press release describes them as a "Power Trio", conjuring up aural memories of old Magnapop records and Sonic Youth at their more accidentally commercial. Composed of Mary Timony (Helium, Wild Flag), Laura Harris (The Aquarium, Benjy Ferree) and Betsy Wright (The Fire Tapes), they have made the kind of record that will not so much start a revolution as induce a particular variety of sullen rebellious attitude and arrogant rock'n'roll swagger in skinny-jean-clad girls, while putting a nostalgic smile on the faces of many other folk. Ladies and gentlemen, have your boots, studs, leather and lurex at the ready because the girls are back in town.
The aptly named Rips starts as it means to go on with the excellent 'Don't Wanna Lose', a sea of crisp reverb fuelled guitars, pounding drums and sneery post-Kim Gordon vocal delivery. As a calling card from a new band, it would take a lot to beat it; as a single, it is one of the highlights of the year and, longer term, the song is a worthy successor to Sleater-Kinney's 'I Wanna be Your Joey Ramone'. It also has the spectre of Richard Hell in there somewhere: specifically an energetic echo of the yelping 'Love Comes in Spurts'. The question has to be asked after these dizzying first few minutes, can the pace be maintained?
Second track 'Beast' delivers a fast and furious slice of stroppy 1970s New York punk, all energetic riffs and attitude, whereas 'Waste Your Time' suggests the band can slow it down a bit if needed and deliver an energetic melodic slice of pop punk that is reminiscent of summer days and denim cut offs. But the hectic pop punk energy of 'You Fell Apart' smacks of The Go-Go's circa Beauty and the Beat, not just in its energetic post punk pop energy but in its lyrical phrasing, if not vocal delivery. This is no bad thing, quite the reverse, and it's nice to see the biggest and best selling US girl rock band being acknowledged in this way, albeit not necessarily intentionally...
Cover of Rips, shared under fair dealing. This shows the title and bandname in large, jagged-shaped, orange capital letters going up in a diagonal angle in the middle of the page, over a brightly coloured background with miscellaneous frilled and angular shapes and thick lines in orange, yellow, green, blue, pink and brown.
by Lizzie Atkinson // 9 October 2014, 07:16
Psychologist Dr Nina Burrowes talks to Lizzie Atkinson about her online video project that opens up the conversation on sexual abuse
Nina's first online video Why are sex offenders able to get away with it? heralds the beginning of an accessible and organic campaign that addresses the reality of sexual abuse, along with society's attitudes and preconceptions - and most importantly, invites our response.
So Nina, with the project already making a real impact, what's the background to it all?
To be honest, the main background is probably just my experience of meeting people in a social situation - of course someone asks you what you do for a living and when I give an answer, the phrase "sexual abuse" is in that answer.
And my experience has been that people normally meet that phrase initially with fear (and I think a genuine fear of sexual abuse is a sensible stance to have against it).
But then if I'm able to show my enthusiasm for the subject area and actually make it okay for them to ask me questions, we end up having a long and very interesting conversation. And I think they surprise themselves with how much they were actually curious and wanted to know.
by J Whitehead // 8 October 2014, 13:39
I'll come clean: a ticket to see First Aid Kit would not have been my first choice. I loved 'Blue', and thought their harmonising beautiful, but as someone who tends to like music with a bit more bite, I wasn't falling over myself to catch them live. Due to family sickness, however, a pair of tickets for their performance at the Royal Albert Hall during the last week of September fell into my ungrateful hands. The friend who I gave the second ticket to was elated, whereas I felt somewhat lukewarm. The evening would prove to be delightful surprise.
It was my first trip to the Royal Albert Hall. What a venue! I wholeheartedly encourage all readers to try and make the journey there at least once in their life. It was impossible not to be awed by the incredible surroundings, so we were off to a good start. The audience was a happy mix of young and old, indicating the band's appeal across the age spectrum. Swedish sisters, Johanna and Klara, who make up First Aid Kit, strode onto the stage, both resplendent in gold attire, and supported by a string section, drummer and lap-steel guitarist. From their first track 'Stay Golden' from their third album, released earlier this year, they were impossible to resist and I - along with the rest of the audience - were entranced by their flawless, pitch-perfect harmonies. For one song, they switched off their mics, their powerful and soaring voices filling the immense space with ease. The pair spoke of their delight at performing at such a renowned venue and of the presence of their Swedish family, that evening, not least their father, who as their sound engineer, is responsible for ensuring their sublime voices sound perfect.
The pair performed two covers: 'Love Interruption' by Jack White and 'America' by Simon and Garfunkel. My companion felt the latter choice to be a little ambitious, but I couldn't have disagreed more: a beautiful song, beautifully sung, it reduced me to tears. I'm in good company: First Aid Kit covered Patti Smith's 'Dancing Barefoot' at the Polar Music Prize in 2011, the year Patti Smith won the prestigious prize. Footage from the event shows Patti with tears rolling down her face at the end. A year later, when Paul Simon won the prize, the pair sang 'America'. At the end of the track, he stood to clap the women, mouthing the word "great". You can check out the footage here, learn more about the band here and read a fantastic article here in which the pair discuss feminism and the role of women in music. Don't forget the tissues.
The image shows an upper body shot of Johanna and Klara of First Aid Kit. Johanna is stood behind Klara, her head resting on Klara's shoulder, eyes downcast and long, blonde hair streaming down. Klara's face arm is reaching up to her temple, obscuring part of her face. She gazes ahead. Image by Neil Krug, shared under a Creative Commons license.
by Guest Blogger // 6 October 2014, 22:57
October's guest blogger Holly Grigg-Spall discusses body literacy and its relationship with technology.
Let's get one thing straight - apps cannot predict when you are fertile or when you will get your period. Somewhere along the line, our growing enthusiasm for period tracker apps has caused us to talk like technology can somehow independently figure out our menstrual cycles via algorithm alone. The thing is - that's just a modern, digitized version of the rhythm method and I'm pretty sure most of us know the rhythm method does not work and should not be trusted.
The uproar surrounding Apple forgetting to integrate menstrual cycle data as part of its new Health app shows that we are getting to a point of accepting periods as a normal, natural part of life and maybe even seeing them as an important indicator of good health. But it also shows how we have accepted apps as our saviors when it comes to managing the previously thought unpredictable, tempestuous, anxiety-provoking female body. It's great to see women interested in their menstrual cycles, but not if it's only compounding the menstrual taboo. Much of the coverage of Apple's failing suggested such data is only useful insofar as women can avoid staining their jeans in public (thanks, The Verge). Yet, seeing the need for it to be included in an app for 'Health' at all is a great start.
For April Fool's Day TechCrunch published a satirical news item on a new phone app - 'Pokr' or 'The Dongle That Touches Your Cervix So You Don't Have To.' Pokr is a blue, plastic finger that connects via your phone with apps like Glow and Clue. The woman puts the finger in her vagina and it tests the consistency of her cervical mucus. The post notes that these apps cannot accurately support what is known as the fertility awareness method or natural family planning if they don't have women input data themselves every day, including basal body temperature and cervical mucus consistency. Only then will the app have a chance of helping you know when you are fertile and when you will get your period. Without the presence of cervical mucus, you cannot get pregnant. But, will women be okay with checking their cervical mucus? The post suggests Pokr can help those with busy schedules and the squeamish get the job done.
Like all the best satire it's not so far-fetched what with technology like the OvuRing, a vaginal ring that detects your temperature and sends the information to your phone, and the wireless-connected Smart Diaphragm that monitors changes in the cervix during pregnancy.
Period tracker apps that don't ask for this data - basal body temperature, cervical mucus consistency - and suggest or provide ways to learn how to interpret these three variables are misleading women. There is a calendar-based method, named Standard Days, which has a high effectiveness rate for perfect use, but it requires you consider 12 days of your cycle as fertile days and take precautions. Most apps, aside from Cycle Beads, appear to "predict" much shorter fertility windows, leaving women with too much trust in the tech with a big window of opportunity for an unwanted pregnancy. If you're checking your temperature and cervical mucous accuracy increases and therefore the length of your fertile window decreases.
The problem with apps attempts to predict your fertile window or the timing of the appearance of your period is there are many things that can delay ovulation and therefore change the window and your period. Things like diet, sleep patterns, illness, some medications, stress. For example, one month I had a terrible UTI and had to take antibiotics. I did not ovulate until the day after I stopped the antibiotics and was well again - some five days after I might have "predicted" I would ovulate on my otherwise regular cycle. Not telling women this seems like it might lead to way more stress than the app is offering to counter.
Two German exports are currently encouraging body literacy - one is the Berlin-based app Clue and another is a movie released last month, Wetlands. Whatever you think of the protagonist Helen, she is extremely body literate, making observations about her cervical mucus and her menstrual blood throughout the book and the film adaptation. I came across the book when I was coming off the Pill after ten years and it was perfect timing as it introduced me to the reality of the fertile body - with all of its secretions - in a humorous and challenging way. The film begins with Helen discussing the changes in her cervical mucus as she uses the bathroom.
Helen gets herself sterilized in her late teens and so she does not need to monitor her body to know when she is fertile. However, she knows that these bodily fluids, how they appear and when they appear, can provide indication of your overall health, regardless. At first she worries that her cervical mucus is a sign of an infection she's picked up from her body experimentation - something a lot of women are led to think in their teens and twenties. Her doctor lets her know that's not the case and it's normal. When she reads up about it alone she finds that normal cervical secretions are the reason women are told to wear perfumed panty liners and douche every day. However, she reports, joyfully, that this is the wrong message:
"It was the result of a healthy, very active, slime-producing mucous membrane."
Clue does not present itself as a means to optimize your chances of getting pregnant, like Glow, or a means by which you might avoid pregnancy either, but rather as a health app. In Clue, cervical mucus is just called "fluid" and that fluid comes in four consistencies to choose from. The site tells users to learn more from the book 'Taking Charge of Your Fertility' before trying to interpret their fluid.
Both Clue and Wetlands promote the idea of communication between a woman and her body, rather than domination or management. The discussion around the Apple Health app makes management the primary goal of monitoring menstrual metrics, which suggests it's a woman's responsibility to keep track of her bodily fluids, but not too intimately, for the sake of avoiding surprises. For The Verge, being able to avoid a stain on your jeans is "revolutionary," but there's more hope for revolution in women seeing they can like, listen to, and learn from their bodies, with or without an app.
The image above illustrates a woman with a red marker crossing off days on a calendar. Thanks TipsTimesAdmin for the photo.