In other news….

// 17 July 2008

For the first time the Suzy Lamplugh Trust has issued safety advice to men. Not sure whether to view that as a victory for parity or just a way of ensuring we all feel vulnerable all of the time (note I think SLT does wonderful work, but I also feel women are taught to feel afriad disproportionate to the risk they face and in a way which doesn’t help them avoid it, just makes it easier to blame themselves if something does happen).

The Fabian Society has called for an end to the use of the word Chav because:

It was an example of the middle classes using language to belittle the lower classes. “The middle classes have always used language to distinguish themselves from those a few rungs below them on the ladder – we all know their old serviette/napkin, lounge/living room, settee/sofa tricks. But this is something new. This is middle class hatred of the white working class, pure and simple.”

Tom Hampson, Fabian Society in BBC News

The BBC visual selectors of course use a female image to demonstrate this – Little Britain‘s Vicki Pollard. Yet again gendering the discourse – way to go BBC!

Meanwhile one-fifth of MPs have admitted to mental health problems based on a sample of around 15% of MPs. Why should F Word readers care? Well because the WHO and others have pointed out experience of mental health problems is a very gendered one with the ratio of women to men diagnosed running at around 1.7:1. We also know some diagnoses are strongly gendered and ethnicised, like schizophrenia and combined anxiety/depression conditions. And we know that mental health issues have historically been used, and still are, to problematise non-conforming behaviours by women (see amongst others Phyllis Chesler, Susan Williams and Rebecca Shannonhouse, this article by Arlene Istar Lev. Here are a couple of feminist blogs on mental health issues – Mental Feminist and Crazy Like Us?.

Comments From You

katarina // Posted 17 July 2008 at 11:15 am

re: safety advice to men:

I for one am very pleased to see a big fat media outlet recognising that men are at risk too.

The myth that it’s mainly women and girls who get attacked is bad news for men and boys, who are actually more likely to be attacked, and for women and girls who are forever being told not to go outside/travel/work late/breathe without a man to accompany them.

Regarding the female image used to illustrate the idea of a chav, I can’t see how we can fault the BBC for using a female image to illustrate a concept that includes both genders.

SM // Posted 17 July 2008 at 12:08 pm

I know this is slightly beside the point, but which is the “posh” and which the “common” word out of the examples given(settee/sofa, napkin/serviette, lounge/living room) ?

Jess // Posted 17 July 2008 at 12:37 pm

I agree completely that the word “chav” is offensive and classist.

But I also don’t get/am not convinced by the sofa/settee examples(!) My middle class family uses the terms sofa, living room and napkin.

Saranga // Posted 17 July 2008 at 12:46 pm

How is using a picture of a woman proof that the BBC is gendering the story? Would you also claim that if a picture of a man was used?

I really am not trying to be rude, I’m curious as to your reasoning and thoughts behind this. Sometimes I need things spelt out for me!

Lara The Second // Posted 17 July 2008 at 12:51 pm

I always wonder if people writing about how “chav” is a middle-class insult for working-class people have actually looked at the way the word’s used.

When I was at school my friends and I used it a lot, and we were working-class ourselves – it was to describe a subculture we weren’t part of, it was a derogatory term but the chavs called us freaks so we considered it fair enough. I think Tony Thorne’s description of it being like “skinhead” is more like the reality I experience.

I don’t use it so much nowadays because I worry that other people will understand it as a class slur – people expect me to be middle-class because my accent’s pretty BBC most of the time – but sometimes it’s appropriate.

Louise Livesey // Posted 17 July 2008 at 1:12 pm

I too come from a working class background but would never dream of calling someone a “chav”. But I also think we should be careful about generalising the use within working class contexts to use in middle class contexts. For some working class people it denotes a certain group. Often in middle class conversations I’ve heard it substituted for “working class”.

There is also something about the linguistic appropriation of Romani too which sits uncomfortably for me. It means “friend” in it’s original language and so it’s use is rather difficult. A friend to a Roma person is a subculture seen as being worthless, work-shy and irresponsible.

Louise Livesey // Posted 17 July 2008 at 1:17 pm

Good question!

Their embodiment of the story was through a purportedly female form (made more difficult by the “drag” nature of that character). So the embodiment of “chav” is Vicky Pollard. Women’s bodies are often presented as embodiments of concepts (see my past one about the representation of trafficked women) and their use as such should be problematised. We use visual illustrations almost unconsciously and absord images and messages through them. So that’s my problem with it – in a story which is ultimately about class and elitism they decided to use a female body to exemplify it. A female body which is actually a parody of a certain sort of woman played by a middle-class, white man.

Catherine Redfern // Posted 17 July 2008 at 1:46 pm

I think it is good that the Trust is giving advice about personal safety to men – about time.

Interesting to see their advice on the BBC article. I wonder if women are also advised that ‘keeping fit can help as “good posture, stamina, strength and tension control can all aid personal safety”. ‘ ?

George // Posted 17 July 2008 at 2:14 pm


Although I completely agree with you that women’s bodies are used to embody concepts, I don’t think that this is the case here.

I think the simplest explanation is that Vicky Pollard is the most ubiquitous fictional “chav” at the moment – as evidenced by the cry of “Yeah but no but…” echoing around offices all over the country – so the character provides a universally recognised reference point. I don’t think that would be altered if the character was male instead.

I think it might be more interesting to focus on how gender and class interact in our idea of a ‘chav’ – for example, in how we view pregnant teenage mums.

I also think we shouldn’t lose sight of the main point that ‘chav’ is a belittling, jugmental term, and question our usage of it…

Laurel Dearing // Posted 17 July 2008 at 2:20 pm

i dont know… in school we had “grungers” or “townies”, the latter included “chavs” but basically they were people that were superficial, wore make up, played football, were constantly drunk, hung around shouting at people for being different (which is why we started calling them back) and most of them were middle class actually. the people in our school that WERE the working class versions that got pregnant and stuff were very rarely people we had anything against. if anything it was the townies calling them “skanks.”

if you were not one of them they would make your life hell. a girl in my class was very plainly dressed and liked the beatles, never swore, drank and you know, the perfect grades angel and they decided she was a grunger so she was dirty and slit her wrists.

however thats kids stuff and tbh i think everyone enjoyed the rivalry on some levels. i think everyone i know stopped using it when the media started coining it to mean the working class rather than the other aspects. its not something i would use now. we used it as sub-culture groups but using it now would just be derogatory to the working class people we wouldnt dream of insulting.

also when youre older you can see there are problems behind the way people are. as a kid you want to distance yourself from people like that to stop yourself becoming the same and trying to live upto the same hierarchy but as an adult you want to know why people behave this way and what can be improved. plus a lot of the “middle-class townies” grew up when they got to college and apologized for their behavior. the ones that didnt dropped out. its a different story for the years below that set my hat on fire and spat on my friend but thats a different story.

people are very easy to anylyse (my US spellcheck is confusing me) and categorise and 9/10 times i’ll find what i thought about someone was correct. this makes it a very tough habit to break to un-group people and treat people as individuals. i know i have a long way to go.

Anna // Posted 17 July 2008 at 3:42 pm

Only reason I have any problem with chavs at all is because they are the ones who are far more likely to harass me when out on the street [sexually/physically for males, verbally for females]. A chav boy has just moved in next door to me and the first and only thing he’s said to me thus far [when I was outside and smiled at him as he walked past] was ‘fookin’ jitter’. One example, yes, but I suggest an example that typifies the way the chav subculture treats anything it doesn’t approve of or finds a bit different.. look at Sophie Lancaster.

ConservaTorygirl // Posted 17 July 2008 at 8:36 pm

Libby Brooks in the Guardian wrote a really good comment today about rape and vulnerability. I thought it was quite interesting.

Hannah // Posted 17 July 2008 at 11:23 pm

Is Vicki Pollard really that much of a gendered image when she’s a man in drag? if I was the BBC, I’d reckon I’d hit on the middle ground there! ;)

SnowdropExplodes // Posted 18 July 2008 at 1:30 am

1 in 5 MPs suffer from mental health problems? Given that 1 in 3 people in the general population are reckoned to be affected by some form of mental health problem in their life, that sounds like being an MP must be very relaxing!

(Points about the unreliability of self-reporting in statistics notwithstanding, of course!)

Sinead Whelan // Posted 18 July 2008 at 9:53 am

In response to some of your comments here with regards to the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, we try to put fear in perspective and have for the last few years pointed out that 16-24 year old males are more at risk than women of violent crime. We dislike the use of scare tactics in safety advice, we simply advise both men and women to remain vigilant, as common sense is not always common practice when it comes to safety.

Our mission is to raise awareness of the importance of personal safety and to provide solutions that effect change in order to help people to avoid violence and aggression and live safer, more confident lives.

We have a number of guidance sheets free on our site at

Louise Livesey // Posted 18 July 2008 at 1:10 pm

Thanks for taking the time to comment, Sinead and for the links. That’s really great!

I am a big fan of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust. I guess my problem is the way every time they are brought up in the media it’s by way of scaring women. I’ve long been critical of those who think it’s advisable to say “women be scared” such as this and others I’ve blogged about previously.

Louise Livesey // Posted 18 July 2008 at 1:22 pm

You call him a “chav”, he calls you a “jitter” (note to readers, it’s a colloquial term for people dressed in “skate” style often associated with post-punk music and DIY clothing customisation). Thing is you are both doing the same time here – relying on stereotypes to mediate conversations rather than getting to know someone.

But, not to be too challenging, at least he noticed something about you other than a class presumption! The Sophie Lancaster murder was atrocious but, partly, stems from social exclusions which pits non-compliant groups against each other to prevent concerted social action. Your neighbour has been taught to distrust anyone who looks different – so have you, we all have. What we need to do is move beyond that through feminism, through anti-elitist work, through anti-racist work and create something different.

Sarah // Posted 18 July 2008 at 1:53 pm

“You call him a “chav”, he calls you a “jitter” (note to readers, it’s a colloquial term for people dressed in “skate” style often associated with post-punk music and DIY clothing customisation). Thing is you are both doing the same time here – relying on stereotypes to mediate conversations rather than getting to know someone.”

I agree with the general point here. But to be fair, in Anna’s story, she didn’t call him anything, she just looked at him and smiled, and he responded with verbal abuse. That is never acceptable behaviour.

Anna // Posted 18 July 2008 at 2:24 pm

Maybe I didn’t make my point clearly – I have never, and would never, abuse or dislike anyone based on how they dress, how much their parents earn, or whatever -if people are nice to me I will be nice to them- but I do receive a decent amount of abuse from people in public (mainly on buses and the street, especially in the evenings) and it has only ever, ever been off people from the chav subculture. I don’t even dress that unusually..

Sian // Posted 19 July 2008 at 1:14 pm

In answer to SM, serviette, settee and lounge are/were? non-U. It was originally put forward in an essay by a professor of linguistics in the 1950’s, and was popularised when Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh wrote articles about it. Probably needs updating by now though! For a full history and more U/non-U words look at the wikipedia page:

SM // Posted 20 July 2008 at 7:14 pm

Thanks for that, Sian.

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