‘Guiding girls…’ gets noticed!

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Guides’ decision to sign up to the No More Page 3 campaign.

The piece was picked up by an editor from the Opinion Panel, which brings together young people’s voices on a variety of issues.

It was published on their site today, and you can read it here.

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New venture: scotspolitics.com

I recently wrote my first post for what will be a regular blog on scotspolitics.com, an online magazine which started last year – but it’s about more than party politics, or the referendum.

In fact, I wrote about Kate Nash and the power of words (sounds a bit like a 60s girl group…) which doesn’t, in a strict sense, have anything to do with Scottish politics.

I’m chuffed to have joined their fantastic lineup of contributors and look forward to sharing my posts with you all in future.

If you’re not familiar with the site already, I particularly recommend Talat Yaqoob’s writing on women’s issues, Gavin Marshall’s music-centric articles, and Andy Davis’s coverage of politics at Hollyrood and further afield.

The school of Mean Girls

Mean Girls is nine years old (technically, its birthday was yesterday, but I’m going to blame the transatlantic time difference for putting me behind).

Like many of my generation, and those after me, the film’s been a huge influence on my life. It’s the gift that keeps on giving, a film whose meaning resonates even after leaving school and as my teens draw to a close.

Here are just a handful of things that Mean Girls has taught me:

‘Whore’ is a bad word
Innocent me, having just seen the film, had a friend visiting my house. In the course of conversation, I saw fit to reply ‘boo, you whore’ to something she said, just as my mum walked in to the room. Needless to say, both were shocked, and I was embarrassed. I had never heard the word before and thought it was spelt ‘hoar’ and meant something like ‘pig’. Its true meaning wasn’t revealed to me until a good few years later.

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Mini Plastics are a thing
Still in primary school, and oh-so-self-conscious of our social standing, my friends and I decided one dress down day to assert our perceived authority at the top of the pecking order by dressing like the Plastics. Even in their ‘villainy’ there was still something twistedly desirable about them. Though I didn’t think it at the time, kudos to my mother for vetoing my outfit choice.

Don’t take lunch tables literally
In many ways, the cafeteria map of cliques prepared me for the social hierarchy of secondary school. Group mentality and culture is something particularly strong in that environment, but being young, I think I read too much into it. Janice’s cafeteria map shows a group to suit everyone, but I was never really in one – by the time I found a solid, normal-sized group of friends, we were over the concept of cliquishness. As a teen, I spent way too much time worrying where I fitted in, not realising I did fit in already, I just didn’t need an entire table for my crew.

There’s always a Regina
No group is free of politics. While the film idealises the process of overthrowing established order, it also shows there are ways to make room for yourself, depending on the price you’re willing to pay.

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It’s possible to quote an entire movie
Stick Mean Girls on, and I can pretty much follow it through word for word. I’m sure this isn’t exactly a unique skill, let alone a marketable one, but something I pride myself on nonetheless.

Finally:
It makes the best mash-up memes

lesmeangirls.tumblr.com

lesmeangirls.tumblr.com

Happy Birthday, Mean Girls!

Guiding girls to awareness

This article features on The Huffington Post.

In a true display of girl power, Girlguiding UK now officially backs the ‘No More Page 3’ campaign, a testament to an adaptable, forward-thinking youth organisation. Despite my own short fling with Guiding, I think this demonstrates the enduring potential for the group to give a solid grounding for young women in the UK.

A quick skim of their website proves that they’re not stuck in 1910. They offer peer education schemescovering issues like alcohol and sexual health, and have developed ‘Give Yourself a Chance’, an interactive tool confronting the pressure girls feel to look good. They also conduct the Girls’ Attitude Survey, and this coupled with signing up to No More Page 3 only emphasises the wish to stay in touch with girls growing up in the 21st century. As ‘Give Yourself a Chance’ says, ‘If an issue worries girls, it worries us’.

In engaging with issues like No More Page 3, they’re not becoming ‘politicised’. In this context, endorsement should not equal indiscriminate endorsement: it should, however, encourage discussion and debate amongst Guides UK-wide, leading them to form their own opinions on the issue, something which surely falls under their rubric:

We give the girls the confidence, skills and information to make informed decisions. We show girls how they can speak out and take positive action to improve their lives and the lives of others.

Girlguiding UK is simply remaining aware of the issues of the day, rightly trying to cater to girls in a Britain worlds apart from when the Guiding movement first began. The group can provide an ideal space for young women to discuss with their peers and adults the issues they face in everyday life, alongside maintaining the more ‘traditional’ obtaining of badges, community work and outdoor activities (which remain important).

They provide the chance for personal and social education in a real-life, extra-curricular environment, in a more comfortable space than a classroom, learning alongside peers and guided by adults not viewed with the same contemptuous label of authority teachers often are.

When you’re dealing with young people there can be a fine line between discussion and indoctrination, but endorsing ‘No More Page 3’ is in no way a slippery slope. ‘Experiencing the great outdoors’ will not become ‘harrassing old ladies in the town centre to sign a petition’ (at least, not on the organisation’s watch). The aim of the Guide movement – at least, by my understanding – is to provide girls with the skills and experience to become active, engaged members of society, and as long as it continues to do this, then it’s doing its job.

Lad culture IS culture

This article appears on The Huffington Post

Let’s talk about lads. Specifically, lad culture.

Call it what you like, say what you want about it, but it doesn’t hide the fact that it’s just plain misogyny and sexism, with stereotypical, age-old notions of masculinity at the core.

A damning critique of a sub-culture, you might think, but consider this: lad culture is not a sub-category. It is the whole. It reaches out to all males, and tries to tell them how to act.

Lad culture is patriarchy, taking its values and making its sons Frankenstein’s monsters of cobbled-together cultural expectations.

In seeking to define themselves so strongly, men oppress women. Like women, men have been socialized to passively accept sexist ideology. The female sex is the most ‘obvious’ abode of feminine traits, all that masculinity does not stand for, therefore women must be suppressed. Similarly, men cannot be anything but masculine, because that would be feminine, weak, ‘gay’.

But ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are not concrete, separable categories. We do not exist independently of one another. What affects one inevitably affects the other, and as such lad culture and the sexism which drives it is degrading to us all.

In many ways, it’s identical to the female stereotype of pink-kitchened housewifery. It is the existence of check-box standards for what it takes to be a man: being a property owner, the breadwinner, a sports fan, enjoying a good pint, owning a suit… from the legal to completely arbitrary, all through history exists a cut-and-dried definition of masculinity and manliness.

It is the other half of the double standard: girls are meant to be alluring, but chaste. Boys are meant to get out there and sleep with every girl they can, as perfectly illustrated by that classic programme, Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents.

In one episode, two of the young men featured were attempting to have sex for the first time. The programme portrayed them as ‘failed lads on tour’ as they didn’t achieve the coveted one night stand. The stepfather interviewed at the end of the holiday said that he was ‘proud’ of his stepson, for being ‘capable of taking part in laddish behaviour’.

This is a prime example of lad culture in action. Individually, the members of the group were nice people, but they seemed consumed by pressure to define themselves by the notches on their bedposts. This is little wonder: the programme and the stepfather’s spiel together exemplify the kinds of attitudes handed down in and by society.

But men aren’t without agency. At any age, they can learn to resist, no longer feel they need to look or act a certain way, and stop displaying the external behaviours. But that doesn’t render lad culture harmless. If left unchallenged, what’s more difficult to change are those internalised notions of how society is structured, the idea that the sexes have different parts to play, and men are on top. It runs much deeper than pet names, groping or sandwiches.

I don’t agree with men’s rights activists, but they are right to a degree in saying that lad culture, masculinity, is oppressive to men. But it’s not just lad culture, and not just men.

The norms of masculinity, dictated by patriarchy, are oppressive to everyone: male, female, gay, straight, cisgender, transgender, young or old. It’s an issue in a world which has no norms but still peddles them to its people and forces them to fit moulds that ultimately don’t exist.

My Vagina Monologue

This article originally appeared on The Huffington Post here

I went to an audition today, for my university’s Feminist Society’s annual performance of The Vagina Monologues. I did really want to take part, even if I didn’t get a part in the show. As I sat there, through the door I could hear another girl reading. And then I realised I couldn’t do it. What follows explains why: this is MY angry vagina monologue.

I sat there, and I could hear her read. Not all of the words. Only one in particular stuck out, and shame jabbed me every time she said it: vagina.

I have been a bad feminist. I thought I’d come so far and I have tripped and fallen flat on my face at one of the biggest hurdles of being a feminist- hell, of being a woman. Why can’t I say it? Why can’t I say any of those words? They’re mine, these ‘things’ belong to me. But I can’t say them out loud.

Everything to do with THAT AREA of my body, all these years I’ve been taught that I’m not meant to talk about. They’re bad words, and you shouldn’t say them in front of people. At first, we all accepted this because we were young and awkward and why on earth would we ever want to TALK OUT LOUD to anyone about anything to do with genitalia (giggle)?

In primary school, the school nurse took us girls off to a separate room to explain the ways in which we could soak up the blood that could start spurting out of us any time soon. For one week every month at school, I was paranoid that I would stand up and be horrified to see that I’d left a smear of blood on my chair. When you couldn’t go swimming, everyone knew full well why, but still you told the teacher you’d forgotten your kit or ‘didn’t feel well’. Even amongst female friends, we used the evasive, yet effective ‘time of the month’ (sometimes shortened to ‘TOM’) or my personal favourite, ‘the painters are in’, instead of just coming out and saying what we all knew.

My human biology class in fifth year was the first time I felt like I had a handle on what was going on at ‘that time’, but out of the people in my year at school, few girls (and many fewer boys) would ever learn. Even then, it was all about what was happening on the inside on the woman’s end- never once did I see a diagram of the outside.

Once it became apparent that pretty much everyone was having sex, still nobody said a thing. There’d be gossip about people outside the group who’d apparently been ‘up to things’, who was pregnant, or who maybe had an STI, but we were still all too damn embarrassed to tell our closest friends about our personal experiences of owning a vagina.

Reflecting on all of this only clarifies the VAGINA SHAMING that I’ve been exposed to for my whole life. Maybe there’s something in the very anatomical detail of it being ‘hidden’ (compared to the penis) that means you’re just not allowed to talk about it. It goes along with the idea that women ought to keep calm and carry on, suffering from month to month from excruciating cramps that ensure they can some day bear children. The word ‘vagina’ and its associated anatomical terms are on that invisible ‘bad words’ list that somehow everyone knows exists. Vagina, labia, clitoris are all words just as descriptive as penis, testicles, foreskin, but somehow deemed so much more shocking and offensive when used out loud. Offensive to who? Men are allowed to openly boast about penis size, some even scratch their balls in public (which is disgusting, by the way), while women have to tiptoe around the fact that there is more between their legs than a space to impregnate.

So why shouldn’t we talk about it? All I am asking is that females are allowed an environment in which they feel firstly that they can use real terms when referring to periods and other vagina things. Secondly, they should feel able to talk out loud to others about these things. Finally, they should know they never need feel ashamed for having a certain anatomy.

It might take me some time to get over my squeamishness (and my upset that I even feel squeamish in the first place), but dammit, it’s my word and I’ll use it if I want to. I have a vagina. And that is ok.

Starting out young: the dangers of Tumblr sexism

This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post here

If you’ve been pretty much anywhere on the internet in the past year or so, you’ll undoubtedly have come across the phenomenon that is the meme. From Overly Attached Girlfriend to First World Problems via Bad Luck Brian and Socially Awkward Penguin, there’s myriad memes to suit every amusing social comment anyone could possibly wish to make. From time to time, new ones pop up with varying degrees of success.

One more controversial example sprang up in June 2012- an Instagram post from ‘Sabrina’ offered a pearl of wisdom to fellow females: ‘Girls, did you know that, uhm, your boobs go inside your shirt?’

You can view it here.

Several responses appeared, mostly on Tumblr, along with a handful of Facebook pages devoted to curating this meme-based ‘advice’.

What is now known as the ‘Hey girls’ meme calls girls out on their online behaviour. The most prevalent by far follow the message of the original, and instruct girls to cover up their breasts. Other popular slogans include ‘crayons are not for your face’ and ‘keep your legs closed’. By their very nature they impose a certain standard of behaviour on young women, implying that even online, where one can supposedly find freedom of expression, they must censor themselves, altering the way they act so as to render their appearance socially acceptable.

While some responses tackle the issue at heart, many seem to ignore the motivation behind the meme (hating the meme itself, not the ideas it promotes) showing how easily, from such a young age, people can fall victim to internalised misogyny. It becomes the norm, and their perception of gender roles, relationships and sense of morality are founded in ideas they are unaware of having picked up.

It’s easy to write these memes off as just another stupid internet fad, one of those which comes and goes and is replaced as quickly as yesterday’s viral video. But there’s more to it than that. The memes are symptomatic of the culture of slut-shaming rife amongst young people. Despite being a social group noted for progressive ideas about sex and relationships, antiquated attitudes are surprisingly common.

I grew up with words like ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ being thrown around by my peers, used in reference to both genders, but more typically slanted towards girls. Only a handful of boys gained reputations as ‘man-sluts’, and even then they tended to be held in high esteem and the badge was worn with pride. For girls, on the other hand, wearing certain clothes and make-up was enough to be branded slutty. It was always a shameful label, and any girl was free game for defamation.

Instead of being united against victimisation, young women themselves can be found pointing the finger. Many of the ‘Hey girls’ memes feature girls condescendingly offering advice to their peers. Rather than working together to stop women being unfairly labelled, they interchangably assume the role of ‘slut’ or ‘shamer’, perceiving sexual freedom for women as negative and perpetuating the twisted sexual double standard, where the labels of ‘prude’ or ‘virgin’ are seen as being just as shameful as being branded a ‘slut’ or ‘whore’.

While the impact of these particular memes was comparatively small, nevertheless they continue to be shared freely on Tumblr and other social networking sites, available for young people to see and be influenced by. They highlight very fixed views of how women should behave, the seeds of which, if left unchallenged, spawn a very regressive attitude towards women.