by Holly Combe // 20 December 2014, 10:26
Channel 4 describes Viktoria Modesta as "inspiring, unique and very hot" with "a difference that sets her apart from the idealised form of a pop artist". Gemma Varnom asks, can a disabled performer only be noticed or valued if her performance centres on her apparent otherness?
During an ad break in last Sunday's X Factor final, just after Ben Haenow had flashed his best spaniel-eyes at the camera and reminded us what a normal bloke he is for the 84th time, our screens were apparently "invaded" by Channel 4's BornRisky initiative.
"Forget what you know about disability," the blurb in the build-up said. (This, for me as a disabled person, would take a bit longer than your average ITV ad break, but then I am not really the target audience.)
There followed a promo for 'Prototype' by Viktoria Modesta, "the world's first bionic pop artist" and BornRisky collaborator. Modesta, a DJ, model and multimedia performance artist who chose to undertake a below-the-knee amputation at the age of 20, has, according to her website, "a mission of establishing new ideals in the media concerning sexuality and disability".
In the full-length video, Modesta strides around in several impressive creations from The Alternative Limb Project -- including a striking knee-high black spike -- as she uses her difference to overthrow a totalitarian regime. A young girl watches a cartoon Viktoria on TV and, enraptured, tears the leg off her doll. A 'VM' symbol gives hope to the oppressed. She is subversion. She is defiance. She is the face (and body) of the revolution...
Viktoria Modesta stands on her bionic leg (left) with her right leg bent to the side and a black ballet show on her foot. She wears a black ruffled net/tutu and black mask. Promotional image for 'Prototype' single and BornRisky campaign. Red background. Taken from the Viktoria Modesta website. Shared under fair dealing.
by D H Kelly // 19 December 2014, 11:10
This week, the European Court of Human Justice has ruled that, in some cases, obese people may count as disabled under anti-discrimination law. The ramifications of this result have been quickly exaggerated, not least by Jane Deville Almond, spokeswoman for the British Obesity Society, who is quoted on the BBC News website:
"I think the downside would be that if employers suddenly have to start ensuring that they've got wider seats, larger tables, more parking spaces for people who are obese, I think then we're just making the situation worse.
"[It is] implying that people have no control over the condition, rather than something that can be greater [sic.] improved by changing behaviour."
Whenever fat people talk about ill treatment, there's someone around to tell them that it's for their own good. The recent #diagnosisfat hashtag on Twitter, demonstrates how the very opposite is the case.
The cultural and legal definitions of both fatness and disability are nuanced. Under the British Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), a person doesn't need to have a functional impairment such as being blind or unable to move her left arm. All that matters is that a person is perceived to be have some impairment and that they are treated less favourably because of this. For example, a person might experience discrimination because of a cancer diagnosis before any symptoms present or a history of mental illness long after recovery. At least one non-disabled mother of a disabled child has won a disability discrimination case against her employer after she was treated differently because of her son's condition.
There's not a special category of people who are protected by disability discrimination law based on a list of conditions. We're all protected. In the same way, the law forbids homophobic bullying in the workplace, even when the staff are straight.
Fatness is highly subjective. The media often speaks of "obesity" which has a clinical definition, based on the measurements of an average Belgian man in the early nineteenth century (one reason why women, tall people and some non-white ethnic groups are more likely to find themselves classified as obese). As Kate Harding's BMI Project and the Photographic Height/Weight Chart demonstrate, it would be quite difficult to guess who is obese just by looking at them, and yet fatness is all about appearance.
However, a woman doesn't have to be a particular size before she experiences discrimination and harassment based on her weight; the vast majority of Western women will have felt a real and personal pressure to be thinner. There's some evidence that bigger women earn significantly less than thin women, a difference that doesn't occur among men. The pressure on women to meet cultural standards of beauty means that women's fat is seen as far more subversive, if not monstrous, than men's.
There's a massive overlap between fat people and disabled people and most of this group are women; women are more likely to be identified as fat (both by clinicians and others) and they are more likely to be disabled. Disabled people are more likely to be fat than the general population, whether because of difficulty with exercise, stress, poverty, inadequate care provision or the fact that weight-gain is both a symptom of many medical conditions and a side effect of many drugs.
Yet there's a widespread perception that you can't be both fat and disabled. I despair at how often I hear complaints about people seen using Blue Badge parking spaces or mobility scooters just because they're fat. There are regular Too Fat To Work headlines over the number of obese people on incapacity benefits, as if anyone is incapacitated by their size alone.
Meanwhile, ironically, fat people are generally assumed to be deeply unhappy and physically unfit. Earlier this year, Karsten Kaltoft, the Danish childminder whose employment case brought about this EU ruling, was forced to deny reports that he couldn't bend down to tie children's shoelaces.
And thus, while a fat person may have no other impairments or health problems, the fact they are perceived to be physically limited would suggest they are, in many contexts, disabled.
I want to return to the comment by Jane Deville Almond, from the British Obesity Society:
"[It is] implying that people have no control over the condition, rather than something that can be greater [sic.] improved by changing behaviour."
Happily, in most circumstances, pregnancy is not a state which a person has no control over. Wearing a hijab or having a photograph of one's same-sex partner on one's desk aren't things a person has no control over. Anti-discrimination legislation doesn't say "The law has your back, as long as you've done everything you could to make other people regard you as normal."
Meanwhile, let's think about Karsten Kaltoft, the Danish childminder, who was fired because of his weight. Let's presume that his weight is both a significant health problem (many fat people are in good health) and something which could be dramatically changed if only he put the effort in (many fat people have tried hard to lose weight). Quite how does it benefit Kaltoft, his employers or the children in his care to sack him because he's fat? When has losing one's job - or any other form of discrimination - been good for one's health or well-being?
Even if it did somehow help, it is simply not up to employers or service provides to bully people into changing their personal habits when the only external pay-off is just that; the fat person looks less fat. The fact it doesn't help at all makes such a mentality downright cruel. In September, a study of 3000 UK adults demonstrated that such treatment did nothing but harm:
"There is no justification for discriminating against people because of their weight," said the lead author Dr Sarah Jackson from UCL.
"Our results show that weight discrimination does not encourage weight loss, and suggest that it may even exacerbate weight gain.
[The image is the painting Flora by Titian (Tiziano). An over-weight red-headed white woman wears a white smock that drapes from one shoulder, exposing most of her left breast. She has a thoughtful expression on her face. This work is in the public domain and can be found on Wikipedia or at the Uffizi gallery in Florence.]
by Holly Combe // 17 December 2014, 13:39
Kate Bonynge looks at the third series of BBC3's Some Girls, a comedy about three 18 year olds that marks a change from the male dominated programmes we've come to expect.
Now about to come to the end of its third series, Some Girls, written by sitcom stalwart Bernadette Davis, is a hidden gem among the current plethora of male-dominated comedies. For those used to the familiar toxic entertainment formula, where female characters are pigeon-holed into the role of doting wife, 'slutty' mistress, ditzy 'airhead', romantic interest for the male leads or all of the above, this BBC3 show is a well-timed antidote.
Bernadette Davis herself has said of the show:
As far as I know, there aren't any other comedies about girls of this age. Inbetweeners has shown what a rich area for comedy this age group is - but girls are very different and I thought they should have their own show.
Set in the fictional Greenshoots Academy in South London, the series is advertised as "a comedy about the kind of girls more usually seen in worrying documentaries about inner city teens". Just like by Davis above, the series is often compared to E4's The Inbetweeners due to the similarities in format -- four friends trying to navigate school while dealing with their burgeoning sexuality -- and the use of visual humour, snappy one-liners and witty dialogue. However, there is one main difference between the two: while The Inbetweeners perpetuates lad culture and portrays women as little more than sex objects and vehicles to further the protagonists' storylines, Some Girls not only features a female-led cast but also champions female sexuality in a naturalistic, realistic manner...
The central characters from Some Girls (left - right): Amber (Alice Felgate) with her arms folded and mouth wide in a ghoulish pose, Saz (Mandeep Dhillon) with her eyes crossed and poking out her tongue, Viva looking upwards to her right with her tongue out (Adelayo Adedayo) and Holli looking disgruntled, with her right arm on Viva's left shoulder (Natasha Jonas). Image via BBC and shared via fair dealing.
by Holly Combe // 15 December 2014, 11:16
Lots of important feminist-related and intersectional news/commentary this week, including Disabled People Against the Cuts' open Letter after the 8 December High Court ruling against their challenge to the closure of the Independent Living Fund, plus discussion of the how the new legislation prohibiting a range of sexual acts in online media impacts on women...
Disclaimer: As with all other content on this site, this material does not reflect an "official view from The F Word". All links are simply an indication of what the F-Word editing/writing team and/or poster have been reading over the past week.
Content warning: We add content notes when sensitive content is not adequately indicated in the title of an article but you are advised to approach the links with caution, as they go to external websites and comment threads we have no control over.
If you have something to say about any of the pieces or a link you would like to share, please feel free to comment through the form below this post!
How to Uphold White Supremacy by Focusing on Diversity and Inclusion (Model View Culture)
European Union releases analysis of the situation of Trans people in Europe (International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia)
Remembering Comedian and Disability Rights Activist Stella Young (Bitch magazine)
Somalia sexual offences bill hailed as vital step towards lasting change (Guardian)
Legislation addressing rape and other sexual violence - often committed by armed forces - will be presented to cabinet by year end.
It doesn't really matter what the bill includes because, to Frances Fitzgerald, it doesn't really matter what the law does - whether or not it "works", whether or not it harms sex workers. Sex workers themselves do not matter. This is why their views have been so readily ignored throughout this process: because as far as Irish policy-makers are concerned, the law is not really about them anyway.
The rights of sex workers (Aljazeera)
#saveilf: Open Letter to Ed Miliband, Rachel Reeves and Kate Green (Disabled People Against the Cuts)
We ask you to imagine what it will be like, for people who have been enabled to live a full life, be with friends and family, go out, work, study and enjoy recreation, to have all that taken away, and find themselves trapped inside, all day, every day, with choices over what they do, when and how, removed.
Changes in Pornography - Discussion (EQ View)
The goal [of the legislation] is to censor freedom of information and access to knowledge. These regulations will not affect the big media conglomerates who peddle mainstream porn; it seems to be targeting and censoring forms of female sexuality that are not normative... The legislation threatens perfectly lawful domestic trade, the livelihoods of many self-employed people, many of them women... It is crushing independent, creative views of sexuality in favour of a one-size-fits-all mainstream heteronormative porn. - Itziar Bilbao Urrutia
Porn protest: I organised today's mass face-sitting outside Parliament because I'm not willing to give up my sexual liberties (Independent)
Porn Censorship Protest Outside Parliament (Sky News) [after the event]
An ode to those who love themselves too much (That Pesky Feminist)
5 Things Straight Women Should Stop Saying to Queer Women (everyday feminism)
Russell Brand tells Question Time debate Nigel Farage is a 'pound shop Enoch Powell' (London Evening Standard)
Irish cereal cafe owner posts online rant about Channel 4 reporter (Irish Independent)
New Film Opens Debate on Sizeism and the Gay Community (Favor Phoenix)
Channel4's latest collaboration with world's first bionic pop artist (viktoriamodesta.com/)
Most of the coverage I've seen of the last item in this round-up has concentrated on the piece's 'invasion' of the X-Factor's ad break and Channel 4's framing of the video as "an alternative to painfully dull manufactured pop". Do add a link to the comments here if you know of any articles offering a more detailed analysis, particularly by disabled writers, or give us a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org or TV@thefword.org.uk if you'd like to write one for us.
Disabled women's protest march in 1967, when over 200 members of the Disablement Income Group gathered in Trafalgar Square to hand a petition to Prime Minister Harold Wilson. This is a sepia shot showing a mixed gender group of wheelchair users and walkers holding signs with the messages 'BRITISH DISABLED HOUSEWIVES DENIED EVEN NATIONAL ASSISTANCE' and 'DISABILITY + POVERTY = DESPAIR'. A number 59 bus is visible at the back.
More information can be found in 4.1 of Tony Baldwinson's report 'Unacknowledged Traces: Exploring through photographic records the self-organisation of disabled people in England from the 1920s to the 1970s'.
by Guest Blogger // 12 December 2014, 10:57
Amelia Handy muses on the aspirational formula behind The Apprentice and argues that quotas recommending the 'add-woman-and-stir' recipe to companies are not good enough when we have an economic system that values profit over people.
After watching a recent episode of The Apprentice, it became apparent to me that we, the British public, are living in an Apprentice society where every successful person (read: business person) has supposedly "started from nothing"/"worked their way up". The familiar implication is that there is no excuse; if you don't have a job, you are simply not competitive enough ("it's dog-eat-dog!") and you only have yourself to blame. This pervasive attitude is symptomatic of the rampant capitalist system behind the myth that you unquestionably deserve your place in the social order. Heck, the show's Karren Brady was even the managing director of Birmingham City FC at the age of 23: apparent proof that women can do whatever they want now and just need to catch up with the boys! But as much as Brady is an ambassador for women in business, the entire corporate system is male-dominated for a reason.
Our socio-economic structure in Britain serves an elite few. Globally speaking, it has been seen that, despite some improvement in the last decade, men still easily overwhelm the best paid positions in the FTSE 100 companies, with women constituting barely 7% of senior executive positions within these. This imbalance has been called the "patriarchal dividend" by renowned gender scholar, Raewyn Connell, who has theorised how men as a whole economically benefit from the oppression of women. It is obvious enough then that unequal distribution of wealth also creates hierarchies among men, with poor men occupying the lower economic rungs of the masculine order. What is the solution then? Is gender equality in the work place, as my professor once rhetorically asked, a simple case of add-woman-and-stir?
I think not. Surely then, it is necessary to turn our socio-economic structures inside out and upside down. Quotas that recommend the add-woman/POC/LGBTQ-and-stir recipe to companies are not going to be good enough when the companies themselves are supported by an economic system that values profit over people. On top of this, simply adding a woman of colour or a gay man to an executive board is hardly going to mean anything for women of colour or gay men in general. It is a structural issue. To state that having women on a team makes good business sense comes with its own set of problematic assumptions that are founded on the idea that women are fundamentally different from men, "because femininity". Or something like that.
As I write this, The Apprentice has seven candidates left, three of which are women. I admire their hard work and intelligence. In my fantasies, I secretly hope one of these women is a revolutionary who will bring down the City from within but, when I consider reality, I think of the migrant women caring for my grandmother and the often unacknowledged impact of their work. Both the racialisation and feminisation of poverty need to be addressed and a surge of women in the boardroom is not going to change that any time soon.
Amelia Handy majored in gender in her MA in Middle Eastern studies. She is particularly interested in masculinity studies and intersectional feminisms. She cooks a mean vegetarian tagine (always add almonds!) and enjoys time with her family and Chihuahua in the south of England.
Karren Brady, in black, sitting at a table, leaning slightly onto her right elbow on the table, with her left hand raised on the arm of the chair. Blue background. Shared by Taylor Herring PR, under a Creative Commons Licence.
by Guest Blogger // 10 December 2014, 12:02
Guest blogger Jan Nadarajah writes about activists arrested for staging a protest against women driving in Saudi Arabia.
Two prominent female Saudi women's rights activists were arbitrarily detained for staging a protest against the country's female driving ban.
Loujain al-Hathloul, 25, attempted to drive a car across the border into Saudi Arabia from the UAE on Sunday, November 30, after posting a YouTube video on Saturday announcing her intentions.
"Let's see what's going to happen," she said in the video. She did not get very far; Saudi officials confiscated her passport then subsequently held her at the border for 24 hours. Al-Hathloul tweeted on Monday that she was still being detained. "They aren't giving me my passport back, nor are they letting me cross the borders (sic) and the Ministry of Interior remains silent. Complete silence from all officials."
Her friend and fellow activist Maysaa al-`Amoudi, 33, traveled to the border the next day to provide her with supplies for the unexpected lengthy wait but was also detained on arrival, though she had not intended to drive into Saudi Arabia, an activist who declined to be named said. Both women had previously been outspoken critics of the ban, and have also been heavily involved in the movement "Women2drive" which has gathered considerable support in the past few years. The movement launched several campaigns encouraging women to drive and publicize themselves doing so. On October 26 last year many women took to the roads posting videos and pictures of themselves driving, in some videos male drivers are shown to be giving the thumbs up sign in support.
Al-Hathloul has also posted numerous videos of herself behind the wheel while encouraging other Saudi women to defy the ban.
The activists have since been taken to Al-Batha-a port Police station where they were interrogated and arrested by the authorities, activists told Human Rights Watch. They are now currently being held in separate prisons, al-Hathloul is being held in a juvenile center for girls and al-`Amoudi is being held in the al-Ahsa central prison, according to the activists.
"To imprison them is illegal and is a breach of human rights," says one well-known Saudi activist who declined to be named. "Loujain had only asked to enter Saudi Arabia, and therefore had not yet broken any religious law. As for Maysaa, she had only been driving to the border to provide al-Hathloul with a toothbrush."
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world to restrict women from driving and imposes strict penalties for women who flout this fatwa (Islamic legal rulings). One Saudi Sheikh has even gone so far as to say that women who drive will suffer physiological problems as the ovaries are damaged and the pelvis is pushed upwards resulting in children with clinical disorders. (1) It is also feared by the Grand Mufti, the country's most senior religious authority that it will result in social chaos, encouraging contact and exposure between the sexes. (2)
The Monitor for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) believes that the targeting of activist Maysaa Al-Amoudi and Loujain Al-Hathloul forms part of an ongoing systematic policy of harassment by the Saudi authorities against activists who demand the women's right to drive a car in Saudi Arabia. Many activists have already been detained and have had their cars seized.(3)
Many womens rights activists have rallied against this highly restrictive ban which forces women to rely on paid drivers or male relatives for any mobility outside the home, even to go to the doctor.
News of Al-Hathlouls' detainment has caused widespread dissent, with many women again this week taking to the streets in a car and posting videos up on YouTube.
At present, Saudi officials have yet to comment on the charges laid against the three activists in custody. It is unknown what their punishment will be.
The photo above illustrates a vintage photo of a woman sitting in a car. Thanks to the Library of Congress for the photo which was used under the creative commons license.
(1) Driving "could have a reverse physiological impact. Physiological science and functional medicine studied this side [and found] that it automatically affects ovaries and rolls up the pelvis. This is why we find for women who continuously drive cars their children are born with clinical disorders of varying degrees," Sheikh al-Luhaydan. Quoted on Saudi news website sabq.org.
(2) 1991 fatwa issued by the late Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia Sheik Abdulaziz bin Baz. The Grand Mufti claimed that allowing women to drive would result in public "mixing" of men and women, put women into dangerous situations because they could be alone in cars, and therefore result in social chaos. Wikileaks cable 09RIYADH357_a
(3)Gulf Centre for Human Rights Website
by Josephine Tsui // 8 December 2014, 23:31
We're counting down to the end of the year. Here's this week's round-up and open thread. Here we include links that we found interesting. Linking does not mean endorsement. Please tread carefully if there are topics that may cause trigger.
If there are any links we've missed, feel free to post them in the comments below.
- What Girls Are Good For: 20-Year-Old Nellie Bly's 1885 Response to a Patronizing Chauvinist (Brainpickings)
- The length of my skirt is none of your business (The Independent)
- I read 50 books by people of color this year (Bitch Media)
- Monica Jones: from transgender social worker to national threat (Guardian)
- Nigel Farage says breastfeeding women should sit in a corner (Guardian)
- NEW MUSIC: 'Public Unrest' - the new AFROPUNK mixtape (Afropunk) [F-Word blogger, Stephanie Phillips' band Big Joanie is featured on this new Afro Punk mixtape alongside Neneh Cherry and Mykki Blanco!]
- This Pregnant Woman Just Delivered The Most Epic Smackdown To Anti-Abortion Protesters (Huffington Post)
- [Filmed by former F-Word guest Sunny Hundal]
- It Wasn't Just the Chokehold: Eric Garner, Daniel Pantaleo and Lethal Police Tactics (NY Times)
- The new online porn regulations and how they disproportionately affect women (Another Angry Woman)
- No spanking or bondage: why the government's new porn laws are arbitrary and sexist (New Statesman)
- Jian Ghomeshi harassed me on the job. Why did our radio station look the other way? (Guardian)
- An Open Letter to Kate Pierson, From a Trans Woman and Fan, About Your New 'Trans Anthem' Attempt (Huffington Post)
The illustration is of grafitti on a wall picturing a small girl sitting on her feet, blowing a red flower which turns into hearts blown in the wind. Thanks bixentro for the photo! The photo was used under the creative commons license.
by Ania Ostrowska // 6 December 2014, 10:42
Director/producer Diana Whitten and her team introduce their documentary Vessel thus:
"Vessel begins with a young doctor who lived by the sea, and an unlikely idea. Rebecca Gomperts, horrified by the realities created by anti-abortion law around the world, felt compelled to challenge this. Her method: to provide abortions on a ship in offshore waters.
Her project, Women on Waves, begins as flawed spectacle, a media frenzy, faced with governmental, religious, and military blockades. But with each setback comes a more refined mission, until Rebecca has the revelation that she can use new technologies to bypass law - and train women to give themselves safe abortions using WHO-sanctioned protocols with pills.
We witness the creation of an underground network of emboldened, informed activists, working at the cutting edge of global reproductive rights, who trust women to handle abortion themselves. Vessel is Rebecca's story: one of a woman who heard and answered a calling, and transformed a wildly improbable idea into a global movement."
The picture is Vessel poster.
by D H Kelly // 4 December 2014, 16:11
Content Warning: This post refers to a variety of sexual acts.
In July 2013, David Cameron outlined various steps his government were going to take in order to protect children on-line. These included amending the 2003 Communications Act to bring on-line pornography, produced in the UK, in line with the British Board of Film Classification's R-18 certificate. Cameron said;
"There are examples of extreme pornography that are so bad you can't even buy this material in a licensed sex shop, and today I can announce we'll be legislating so that videos streamed online in the UK are subject to the same rules as those sold in shops."
This legislation came into effect this week.
The BBFC and their classifications have undergone a slow and inconsistent evolution since the early days of cinema. The sexuality of men and women has always been treated quite differently; female nudity was relatively commonplace long before cinema-goers ever saw the front of a naked man. In the 1990s, no erect penis could be shown on general release unless it passed the Mull of Kintyre test (which is nothing to do with whether arousal can be sustained throughout the song).
Currently, the BBFC bans video featuring female ejaculation. It seems ludicrous that in 2014, we could be criminalising people who record and distribute video of a healthy anatomical event, describing it extreme pornography. Fisting and face-sitting - an act so depraved, it was celebrated by a a Monty Python song - are also banned. Most of the other rules are around kink, such as urinating on another person, spanking and whipping, which could be very disturbing for a child to see, but not necessarily as disturbing as penetrative sex to someone who never knew people did that. After all, it is still quite legal to spank a child.
Some of the BBFC's rules are firmly about consent, the only aspect of content the law needs to worry about. For example, the BBFC has long forbidden video where anyone is gagged, because this removes the possibility of their withdrawing verbal consent. There are arguments about whether non-verbal consent can be adequately demonstrated, given the ability of lovers who are deaf, mute or don't share a language to navigate consent successfully. However, these matters are everything that's important about the contents of porn; does everyone involved want to be there? Is everyone involved happy with what's happening?
If porn is to exist at all, there can be no child protection argument around the content. Children simply shouldn't be able see the stuff. If we believe it is inevitable that children will access pornography, it would be difficult to argue that any one adult fantasy is more or less corrupting than another. Is an S&M dungeon scene complete with strange and spiky costumes more damaging than the coach having sex with all the cheerleaders, or films which pretend to spy on girls masturbating in the shower? Are any of these things more damaging than often two-dimensional and highly sexualised portrayals of women in mainstream cinema, television and advertising? And what about sexual violence or the commonplace use of murdered women to romance and titillate us on prime time TV?
Which brings us to the second most important point about porn, after consent. Context is how we look after everyone else.
Feminists are often portrayed as censorious, but freedom of expression lies at the heart of all egalitarian movements. As Oliver Burkeman recently wrote about so-called "political correctness",
"Mainly, it's not that there are things you can't say. It's that there are things you can't say without the risk that people who previously lacked a voice might use their own freedom of speech to object."
For example, the No More Page 3 campaign doesn't seek to ban breasts from British Newspapers or anywhere else, but to demonstrate that there might be good social and commercial reasons for the Sun to drop its tradition. Feminists approach their various (and often differing) concerns about porn, not by seeking to ban things, but with attempts to address our culture, advocating for better education, seeking to have sexual imagery placed in appropriate contexts and even making our own porn - including some material now threatened by this legislation.
Our culture remains fairly screwed up about sex. On the one hand, sexual imagery (especially sexualised imagery of women and their bodies) is ubiquitous, sex is in every other news headline and there's a tremendous pressure on adults to be both sexually attractive and sexually active. On the other hand, our culture continues to portray sex as something very narrow and heteronormative, something men demand and women acquiesce to, the preserve of young, slim, able-bodied beauties.
Further restrictions on what consenting adults can get up, record or view, to doesn't strike me as a step forward.
[The image is a photograph of a white resin bishop chess piece, in the Staunton style, standing on a wooden chess board. It was taken by Michael Maggs, shared on Wikimedia under a Creative Commons license.]
by Guest Blogger // 2 December 2014, 10:32
This is Nat Newman, our November guest blogger's last post. She has been writing about women expats. In the past month, her posts have discussed herself, why women expats leave, juggling family, and what women expats tend to be doing in other countries. This last post focuses on women in diplomatic careers.
In this post, we meet a 'career ex-pat'.
Nicole Davison is the Deputy Head of Mission of the British Embassy in Zagreb, Croatia. She is two and a half years into a 4 year posting in Croatia's capital.
We meet up in a cafe near the British Embassy and as we walk through a curtain of smoke I ask her how she copes with the persistent smoking in Croatian bars.
"I'm used to it," she says, in a simple and direct way which I will come to realise is how she operates. "It's part of life here."
Immediately, I realise that Nicole has probably lived and worked in places where cigarette smoke is the least of her concerns. She joined the Foreign Office in 1988 - straight out of school - and her first post was in South Africa. Since then, she's gone on to work in Bangladesh, the Ukraine and China, interspersed with stints back in the UK. It's the normal routine for a career diplomat in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Nicole has been lucky with this posting. Her partner is with her, and they're really not that far from home. Her partner's mother is elderly, and knowing that she can hop on a plane and spend some time with her is a great relief. She even has her two cats with her. They were born in the Ukraine and I am disappointed to find that they are not named Vasili and Viktor, but rather Max and Fred. They have travelled with Nicole ever since and don't seem to mind moving every four years.
"Do you ever wonder," I ask. "If they have to learn the language when they move to a new area? A new cat language?"
"Maybe," Nicole says. "They are having a scrap at the moment with another cat in the neighbourhood."
We agree that perhaps they haven't learned Croatian yet, as it's a very hard language. Nicole learned it for two years, but feels like she never quite got a grasp on it.
As we discuss our various experiences as ex-pats, I reflect on the fact that there aren't many women who feel that travelling for work is an option for them. Expat groups and resources seem to be geared towards 'men and their wives'.
In the Foreign Office itself, Nicole says, there's a lot of work going into recruiting British minorities, as well as ensuring that senior management is broadly representative of British society.
The FCO has a "Fairness for all" strategy which aims to have 28% of senior management positions held by women. They're currently behind schedule, but the latest diversity report seems optimistic. There is, as ever, a drop off of women from around middle-management upwards.
"It's not easy," Nicole admits. "Women have traditionally put their careers on hold to have children, and so there's fewer of them moving up the ranks."
In general, life in Croatia hasn't been too hard. Nicole and her partner have found Zagreb to be a great city and they've made friends with locals. For a capital city it's very relaxed. We joke that sometimes it's too relaxed - Zagrebians always seem to be at coffee.
"You've been in a lot of places," I say. "What will you take away from your experiences in Croatia?"
"Learning to relax. Things don't always have to be rushed," Nicole says. "Croatians are always present. If they're having a coffee with you, they're there. Whereas we're always rushing off to the next thing." Nicole feels that Croatians invest more in their friendships and take time for important things. She also thinks that Croatians are more spontaneous than British people. I'm hesitant to agree.
"You don't think so?" she says. "In England, if we wanted to meet up for a coffee, I would look at my diary first and say, a week Tuesday. But here I'll get a text message saying 'coffee in ten minutes'."
As we finish up our coffees, Nicole asks if she can take my photo. I agree but wonder why. It turns out that Nicole is a keen photographer, and likes to take a photo a day.
All these cool places she's lived, I think, as I pose awkwardly. All these interesting people and wonderful things she's seen. And yet she keeps finding a reason every day to take a photo. She keeps finding something new to learn wherever she goes. And that sense of wonder really is the joy of the expat life.
*The graphs used in this piece are from the 2013 FCO Diversity Report, which you can download here.
The photo above illustrates a woman wearing a business suit staring straight into the camera. Thanks Steve Wilson for the photo. It was used under the creative commons license.