Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Britain remains proudly prochoice

I am pleased to report that today is a great day to be a woman in Britain. Health minister, Anna Soubry, has announced that the government no longer plans to undertake a consultation on abortion counselling - more accurately, that would be the counselling that women undergo before deciding if they want to have an abortion or carry an unplanned pregnancy to term or, in some cases, before terminating a pregnancy where there are serious foetal abnormalities. "Abortion counselling" is shorthand for what can be a complicated process.

It was Nadine Dorries' bizarre idea to ban abortion providers, such as BPAS and Marie Stopes, from providing such counselling. Never mind that their counsellors are accredited by the British Assocation for Counselling and Psychotherapy and trained to go through all options with the women who come through their doors. Dorries instead seemed convinced that forcing all women who want counselling to seek it elsewhere would not only reduce abortion, but would also reduce late-term abortions. This would cause many women to delay an abortion because of the additional hurdle of finding another counsellor and attending another appointment. How this would reduce late-term abortions is a mystery to anyone who can count off the weeks of the first trimester.

The even better news is Soubry's announcement that ministers would look at recommendations into an inquiry into unwanted pregnancy that is being held by a cross-party group of MPs. This would be the inquiry I blogged about on October 17, the inquiry that has received scant coverage from the mainstream media. It seems the din of Dorries is more newsworthy than an inquiry which is looking into the causes of unwanted pregnancy, the abortion rate and how mothers who didn't plan to be pregnant are faring.

Could this be the end of the road for Dorries and miscast Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, trying to drop the time limit from 24 weeks to 12 weeks? Given I've already pointed out why that idea is idiotic, I really hope so.

Unfortunately, the adversarial shenanigans of politics, such as Tories versus Labour, Lib-Dems versus Tories and Nadine Dorries versus pretty much everyone, are considered sexier than a sensible inquiry that involves the cooperation of the three major parties.

If Nadine Dorries is at all serious about lowering Britain's abortion rate, it would behoove her to support this inquiry, carefully consider the recommendations, which are expected to be released before Christmas, and start looking at this issue from a whole new perspective. Instead of Dorries' unique brand of evidence-free hysteria, it is time to look at the issues surrounding unplanned pregnancy armed with facts, statistics and an open mind.

Like it or not, access to birth control and open, shame-free, dogma-free sex education are widely considered to play a big part in the low teen abortion rate in Germany and the Netherlands. Trying to prevent the unplanned pregnancies in the first place is a far saner approach than Nadine Dorries' arse-backwards dream of making life harder for pregnant women in difficult situations.

Image courtesy of

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Exterminate the annoying minutiae

My apologies. You'll have to bear with me today. I am tired, I am in denial over a cold that is about to attack my throat and nasal passages and I am in the throes of PMS, even though the Daily Mail says a woman doctor says there's no such thing so clearly I am just a narky bitch. There is plenty of idiocy to fume over - the suggestion that denying disabled people minimum wage is a good idea, for example - but I've had one of those days where I need to vent about stupid first world pains nonsense. And then I will feel better, get some perspective back, and resume normal Rant Mistress transmission.

Here, in no particular order, is a list of things that make me go "Gah!".

- Wearing tights under shorts. You might put this get-up on and think: "Yeah! I am one foxy lady!". I will see you and think two thoughts. Firstly, do you not know if it's hot or cold outside? Secondly, you are surely percolating a minging yeast infection in there.

- Self-checkouts. Frankly, I am not convinced these bastard wannabe Daleks are actually denying people employment because it is nigh-on impossible to use one without requiring the help of a human. Today, a member of staff had to verify that it was OK for me to buy an 80p box of "restricted"cold and flu tablets. Just in case I was on the verge of becoming London's lamest drug dealer. And of course the infernal machine told me that there was an "unexpected item in bagging area". Yes, my groceries. How very unexpected. Now, if there was a bespectacled aardvark playing a ukulele in the bagging area, I might believe it. Also, depressingly, I am only ever asked for ID to buy wine these days by these machines.*

- Kids trick-or-treating in the pub last night. Yes, the pub. A particularly rowdy Irish pub where grown-ups go to drink booze and check each other out and listen to a bloke called Wayne Devine sing "Dirty Old Town". I found myself morphing into a pearl-clutcher, demanding to know where the parents were and contemplating telling them to get off my damn lawn too.**

- People who take James Bond too seriously. It is because of these very people, the ones who have actually read the books and form very strong opinions on why Daniel Craig is true to the narrative, that I maintain that the best Bond was eyebrow-acting, double entendre-peddling Roger Moore.

- Toddlers on scooters on busy high streets. Parents of Britain (and, in particular Wimbledon Broadway)! There are very sound reasons why we don't let kids drive cars - they are too small and they have not got the required spatial awareness or motor skills required to be in charge of a motorised vehicle. As such, they also haven't got the required spatial awareness or motor skills to accurately control a bit of metal on wheels down footpaths full of people with traffic running alongside them. Let them ride scooters in the park. One day a kid will scoot right off the footpath and under a bus. And the parents will probably blame the council.***

- Women describing food, such as cake, as "naughty" or "wicked". No. A child who did a poo in the bath is "naughty". "Wicked" is the witch in the Wizard of Oz. Or for true wickedness, look no further than Robert Mugabe. As long as you're not having cake for every meal, you can probably enjoy that damn slice of cake without feeling like you're the culinary equivalent of a genocidal kitten drowner. Also, some people don't have any food. Go check your privilege.

Right. I'm done. I will be ranting about actual issues next week sometime. But now I must go make up the guest bedroom and guzzle some of those restricted cold and flu tablets. Or sell them to some random kids on the streets, who knows?

* A woman with poor eyesight, who struggles to recognise 10p coins, who works at the Tesco Express in South Wimbledon, was the last real person to ask me for ID. That doesn't count.

** Yes, I am a non-parent who is berating parents on this occasion.

*** See above. And deal with it. I'm grumpy today.

Photography by Paul McMillan

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Airline food: it sucks but it's not oppressive


Like most stupid press releases, this one is the result of a survey. According to, "the business travel network for professional women" (who clearly don't care about the virginal undertones of the website's name) and "dedicated to highlighting pre order and buy on board airline meals" (whoever wrote this press release only has a passing relationship with punctuation), "76% of women surveyed feel that airlines are not doing enough to cater to their needs."

The survey of "professional women around the world" aimed to find out what women really want from airline meals. Personally, I'll take "edible and with free wine" but clearly I am a carb-guzzling, alcoholic failed female. The 76% of furious women surveyed felt that airline food is too carbohydrate-heavy and "suited more to male consumers". I travel a lot and I can honestly say I've never felt gender-oppressed by airline food. I have endured airline food that is tasteless, bland or boring, but I haven't sat there fuming about gender discrimination because the food sucks.

This whiny 76% (and I'll make an exception for anyone with special dietary needs because I'm not a complete bitch) win today's prize for Ultimate First World Pains Complaint. Crap airline food isn't a gender issue. Airline food pisses off people equally, regardless of gender. It's not just women freaking out at carbs, it's diabetics, coeliacs, vegans, Muslims who want halal meals, Jews who want kosher meals, people with allergies, parents of fussy eaters, grown-up fussy eaters, people with tastebuds...

Sure, there may be room for improvement with the food on many airlines, but some perspective is required. If you are travelling by air for business, you are probably well-paid, have a rewarding career and your standard of living is probably pretty good. You are probably aware that plenty of airlines allow you to pre-order meals and you surely must know that even if you don't have special dietary needs, you are perfectly entitled to ask for a special meal, such as a diabetic meal, if you think it might be healthier. Hell, I'm a committed carnivore but if my bowels are quaking at the prospect of an airline chicken salmonella festival, I just ask for the vegetarian option. I assume that if you are a professional woman who travels regularly for work, then you are not a complete idiot.

The airline food experience is usually no more than three meals, depending on how long the flight is. Indeed, in this inane press release, one Nikos Loukas from explains why airline food is not Michelin star cuisine: "Airlines tend to look at passenger demographics on each route to work out what will be offered on their buy on board menus."

Exactly, Nikos. And this demographic analysis would equally apply to food served by airlines as part of the cost of the ticket too. Airlines have to feed a large number of people, they want to do it in a cost-effective manner, they need to serve food that tries to appeal to a broad range of people. Airlines are not charities, they are not airborne detox retreats, they are not able to easily offer every single passenger exactly what they want to eat.
Worldwatch Institute estimates that only 5% of the world's population has travelled on an aircraft. So if you are part of the fortunate 5%, you might want to check your privilege next time you start feeling oppressed because the airline is serving too many bread rolls.

Image courtesy of

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Jimmy Savile's victims and other sticks for bashing the BBC

Are allegations that the late Jimmy Savile has abused many innocent children worth investigating? Yes.

Do any victims deserve compensation as the result of an investigation? Yes.

If anyone still alive is found to be in any way culpable, should they be held to account? Yes.

Could the BBC have handled this appalling situation better? Yes.

Was it inappropriate to run Jimmy Savile tributes when allegations of abuse were widely known? Yes.

Was the original dropping of the Newsnight investigation into Jimmy Savile wrong? Yes.

Has George Entwistle had an excruciating time in front of incredulous MPs today? Yes.

Is this whole sorry saga a good reason to try to bring down the BBC? No.

The Jimmy Savile story is a sick gift for the likes of Sky News and the Daily Mail. It is the perfect stick with which to bash the BBC. It is easy for right-wing commentators to demand to know why we pay our licence fee and, in the case of Sky News this morning, interview an alleged victim of Jimmy Savile's abuse. It was a hard-to-watch attempt at sensitivity that only served to cause an obviously upset grown man to become tearful on live television. 

Liberalism has also come in for a beating. Melanie Phillips wielded that stick this week in a column for the Daily Mail blaming the "liberal left" for encouraging the sexualisation of children and how this created the culture that allowed Savile to allegedly abuse children. Her evidence is the now-defunct (and, yes, very wrong) affilliation of the Paedophile Information Exchange with the National Council for Civil Liberies (now known as Liberty), and the "liberal left" allowing kids to see sexualised images such as Rihanna gyrating in music videos. Yes, that'd be the images left-leaning feminists have been criticising for years while the Daily Mail has no compunction in running them on a daily basis. Phillips is referring to images that are used so that music company owners, capitalists of the highest order, make money. Hardly beacons of the left. 

Phillips continues her string of non-sequiturs with a spot of BBC-bashing. By running a documentary 10 years ago about children as young as 11 being preoccupied with "fancying each other" and exposing the parents and teachers who encouraged such behaviour, this was evidence in the mind of Phillips that the BBC was part of a culture of sexualising children. But she provides no context and her column collapses with the flabby conclusion that "paedophile bogeymen [arise] from a grossly displaced sense of personal responsibility". 

In Phillips' world and that of her disciples, a documentary on the BBC that exposes bad parents and teachers is somehow an example of the BBC's left-wing bias and paedophile-enabling. Except that stories condemning parents and teachers are the kind of thing that keeps the Daily Mail and its ilk ticking over. Witness the hysterical coverage of Jeremy Forrest, now charged with abducting one of his students, complete with large photographs of the 15-year-old at the centre of the story, for example. Or any opportunity to slag off single parents, drunk parents, parents dressed inappropriately, benefits-scrounging parents, celebrity parents...

The BBC is constantly under attack for left-wing bias and the Jimmy Savile story has been used to further push that tired barrow. Whoever says that clearly has never seen Andrew Marr in action or watched the other week as Jeremy Paxman mercilessly skewered up-and-coming Labour MP Chuka Umunna. 

Yes, folks, this is the organisation that broadcasts such extreme left-leaning programmes as Songs Of Praise, Antiques Roadshow, Top GearHomes Under The Hammer, Bargain Hunt, The Great British Bake-Off, New Tricks, Nigellissima, Strictly Come Dancing, Don't Tell The Bride, Great British Railway Journeys, Be Your Own Boss, Midsomer Murders and the Formula One races that haven't been lost to Sky. If ever there was a collection of programmes that will inspire militant revolutionaries storm Buckingham Palace, demand the overthrow of the Queen and barbecue the corgis, that'd be it.

Instead of using the Jimmy Savile affair to try and portray the BBC as nothing but a taxpayer-funded pack of lefty, decadent paedophile enablers, how about focusing on what justice can be achieved for the people who are making the horrific allegations. In the midst of the agendas of noisy people who would like to see the BBC torn down, the real victims are the people who could end up being forgotten. 

Photo by Pink Sherbet Photography

Monday, 22 October 2012

Donald Trump, Alex Salmond and a load of balls

The bulldozers have moved in and acres of once-unspoilt rugged Scottish land have been destroyed so that Donald Trump can build what he claims will be "the world's best golf course."

Except this allegedly amazing course in Aberdeenshire only sort-of opened on July 10, 2012. It's just one of two planned courses, it's served by a temporary clubhouse and the rest of the development, which was to include a hotel, holiday villas and luxury homes, is now on hold. Apparently, Trump is upset that the rest of the course will have to suffer with views of a proposed wind farm if construction continues. In his world, a sustainable source of energy is uglier than flattening a glorious landscape of scientific significance.*

Determined residents are still living on the Menie Estate amid the half-done development, constantly under threat of eviction by compulsory purchase orders. Trump decided not to build a hotel with a view of what he called "a slum". Obviously, Trump has never been to an actual slum because then he would realise that Michael Forbes' farm, with assorted outbuildings and machinery that is either operational or set aside for recycled parts, is not a slum. Indeed, plenty of people who live in real slums can only dream of living in such a property.

Over the course of the development, residents were deprived of electricity and water, earth was moved to build massive berms to both hide the houses from the sensitivities of rich golfers and to obscure any shreds of remaining pleasant views from the recalcitrant residents.

The 6,000 jobs that were supposed to be created have not materialised.

Trump took it upon himself to rename the Menie Dunes "the Great Dunes of Scotland." That would be the dunes that have been bulldozed beyond recognition and turned into Technicolor golfing greens.

The website for the development** features a gallery of idyllic, heavily PhotoShopped images of golf courses by the sea. There are some images featuring earthmoving equipment, parked alongside greens that are being wastefully watered or sitting by flattened out sand. They look like Matchbox toys rather than brutal beasts of ecological destruction. There are pictures of smooth stretches of sand with footprints - they look like those cheesy "Footprints" posters you get in Christian bookshops, only they are shots of areas where only the privileged can leave footprints these days.

Kevin Cameron, the photographer, should be ashamed of himself but he was probably paid well enough to abandon the luxury of principles. Just as Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond, abandoned any pretence of respect for the natural environment or the rights of residents when he let this whole shameful development go ahead unchecked, when he did nothing about journalists being arrested on the site for trying to do their job, for maintaining a lack of transparency by refusing requests for interviews about the development.

But Trump has now bitten Salmond on the bum. A tacky image of battered wind turbines is the only blatant propaganda on the website - with Trump's spruikers saying that Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond wants to build "8,750 of these monstrosities". This is how Trump rewards loyalty.

Salmond is too busy these days flying the flag for Scottish independence - but he is in charge of a country he is not fit to run.


* To see more on this complete and utter disgrace, here is the excellent BBC2 documentary You've Been Trumped

For people outside the UK, here are some helpful links to the You've Been Trumped documentary

The documentary on YouTube:

How to buy the DVD:

** In case you feel like being a little bit ill, here is the golf course website in all its glory:

Image courtesy of

Friday, 19 October 2012

What does Nick Griffin have in common with Paris Hilton and sharia law?

Congratulations, Nick Griffin. With just two mindless tweets you have managed to align yourself with not only a bigoted bed-and-breakfast owner but also noted airhead, Paris Hilton and sharia law.

Griffin, leader of the far-right British National Party and a Member of the European Parliament, yesterday tweeted the address of the gay couple, Michael Black, 64, and John Morgan, 59, after they won £3,600 in damages after Christian bed-and-breakfast owner Susanne Wilkinson told them they could not stay in one of her double rooms because of her religious beliefs. The couple will be donating the damages money to charity.

In response to this sane ruling, Griffin felt the need to tweet the following from his now-suspended Twitter account:

"A British Justice team will come up to [the couple's address which I am not going to share because I am not a colossal twat] and give you a... bit of drama by way of reminding you that an English couple's home is their castle. So No to heterophobia!"

Wow. So not only did Griffin reveal the address of two private citizens, he did so with the purpose of making a threat. Yes, he reckons a "British Justice team" (complete with capes and underpants over tights, I hope...) will come over and give Black and Morgan "a bit of drama". As pathetic as his BNP lynch mob sounds, it is still a threat as well as an invasion of privacy. And then he claimed that this whole sorry affair was a case of "heterophobia." So he truly believes the rights of oppressed, hard-done-by heterosexuals across Britain are going to be threatened if gay couples are allowed to stay in B&Bs.

It all comes down to Paris Hilton's narrow notion of homosexuality. She was secretly recorded in a taxi last month saying that "gay guys are the horniest guys in the world" and described them as "disgusting". She later claimed, via her publicist, she was expressing concern over unprotected sex in the gay community but with compassion like that, all she managed to do was fuel a stereotype. Such comments reduce the lives of all gay men to sexual acts and rampant promiscuity, and ignores the fact that plenty of gay men and women are in stable relationships or are celibate. Indeed, Black and Morgan have been together for nine years.

Susanne Wilkinson needs to be reminded that homosexuality is no longer illegal here in Britain. If Black and Morgan were dealing drugs in their room, committing murder or making child pornography in there, then yes, she'd be well within her rights to kick them out and call the police. But as far as we know, the couple just wanted a bed for the night. Hell, they might not have even planned to have sex under her precious roof. Nine years is a long time to keep up that early relationship level of shaggery.

Given her conservative Christian beliefs, does she also ban unmarried heterosexual couples from staying in her B&B? Or adulterous couples? What if she found out that a heterosexual married couple partook in anal sex in her premises? Or if two heterosexual couples stayed in two rooms, turned out to be swingers and did a midnight wife swap? None of what actually goes on in her rooms is any of her business as long as it's consensual and legal.

"But it's her house so it's her rules!" I hear the voices yell from the peanut gallery. Except that she has voluntarily started a business in her house. A business, like a hotel, whereby couples of all persuasions may see your property advertised and fancy a nice weekend away. If the judge ruled in her favour, it'd set an idiotic precedent for anyone running a business from home. What if a Christian accountant who worked from home decided he or she didn't want gay people as clients? Could a Christian architect refuse to design a house for a gay couple if he or she worked from a home office?

In a civilised, progressive, fair capitalist society, people have the right to run a business but they don't have the right to discriminate on the grounds of sexuality. How exactly are the rights of business owners being infringed upon if their have to offer their services to and make money from people they disapprove of? They're not. They can continue to hold whatever views they like, they are free to express those views, they can worship at churches where other people might hold those views, they can continue to maintain heterosexual relationships - and they can still make money.

And what is hilarious is that Griffin has effectively echoed the views of strict proponents of sharia law. By being perfectly OK with a gay couple not being allowed to share a room, he is encouraging the very society Islamophobes like him are terrified will come to Britain. It is, quite simply, an own goal from a proven buffoon.  

Image courtesy of

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Pregnancy! Now with an inquiry nobody's talking about!

Unwanted pregnancy! Now there's a topic on which everyone has an opinion! It's a surefire way to set off a fiery Facebook discussion or a pub debate. Simply drop into the mix an opinion on anything related to this topic - birth control, abortion, single motherhood, sex education, abstinence, pregnant teenagers, benefits et cetera, et cetera - it's easy! So many conversational bombs just waiting to go off!

So why is yesterday's inquiry into unwanted* pregnancy in Britain getting about as much attention as a brunette in Rod Stewart's bathtub?

Just to get you up to speed because none of the major newspapers or TV news programmes are giving this inquiry a whole lot of airplay, the cross-party inquiry is being chaired by Conservative MP Amber Rudd and she is assisted by Labour MP Sandra Osbourne and Liberal Democrat MP Lorely Burt. It is being supported by think tank 2020health with Dr Jonathan Shapiro, the think tank's head of policy and a senior lecturer in Health Services Research at Birmingham University also asking questions alongside the MPs. The MPs plan to present their findings to the government before the Christmas break.**

Rudd, one of the more progressive Conservatives in the House of Commons, set the wheels in motion for the inquiry in July, hot on the heels of Nadine Dorries sticking her hypocritical head over the parapet on the issues such as abortion and sex education.

But we're not hearing much about the inquiry at all. A Google News search for "Amber Rudd" brings up precisely nothing from any of the major national newspaper websites on yesterday's events at the inquiry. Indeed, the newspaper that is offering the most coverage seems to be Amber Rudd's local paper, the Hastings and St Leonard's Observer. It appears to be a perfectly fine newspaper but why is it so hard to find anything much about this inquiry from the Guardian, the Daily Mail, The Times or the Telegraph? Why is this not zooming along the newsbar on Sky News? Why is it not being given the same prominence as the Leveson Inquiry?

Then again, after that inquiry's endless celebrity testimony, the session on the portrayal of women in the media was given less than a whole day in front of Lord Justice Leveson. The easiest way to keep up with that day's events was via Twitter. Disappointingly, the Guardian didn't bother with live updates on its website that day. Was it a case of: "Oh, it's just a few feminists having a whine, why bother? No clickbait there! Hugh Grant's testimony is clearly has so much more national importance."?

In the same it's-only-women-why-bother vein, has the issue of unwanted pregnancy become a fringe issue? Whether you're tired of right-wing demonising of single mothers, concerned about there being too many abortions, concerned that not enough people are availing themselves of abortions, keen for more women to take advantage of Britain's access to free birth control, interested in how many of your tax quids are helping bring up the results of unwanted pregnancy, opposed to comprehensive sex education, fearful that abstinence-only sex education may become part of the school curriculum, a fan of Nadine Dorries or completely terrified of Nadine Dorries, this is an inquiry that you might find just a little bit interesting.

Perhaps there will be findings from the inquiry that won't suit the competing agendas of different media outlets. The Hastings and St Leonard's Observer has diligently reported that Jc Mcfee, the manager of Respond Academy, a youth project told the inquiry that for many young people, an unwanted pregnancy actually isn't unwanted at all, but a lack of support after the baby is born can then lead to problems. Mcfee also said that despite this, there are "amazing stories of mums against the odds, it's not all doom and gloom."

I can see how some voices from the left and right might be nervous about addressing different aspects of Mcfee's testimony. Some from the left may be unwilling to admit that some teenagers do fall pregnant deliberately because of the emotional and financial benefits on offer, while some from the right may not want to promote the teenaged mother success stories that have been achieved, often with help from the British taxpayer and for those who did it alone, there's no benefits scrounger angle to be milked either.

If organisations such as BPAS and Marie Stopes reveal that not every woman who shows up at their clinics with an unwanted pregnancy decides to have an abortion and plenty choose to carry to term after going through the counselling process, that'd be a thorn in the side of the conservative agenda that infiltrates the Telegraph and the Daily Mail on the abortion debate.

But I am merely speculating on what might have been said at yesterday's inquiry because it is proving very difficult to find any good coverage. Why has this inquiry been largely sidelined by the mainstream media? It is not a secret inquiry. There is a real need for an open conversation on unwanted pregnancy, abortion, birth control, sex education and the social and economic impact of it all. It is a big deal.

It would be great to see Amber Rudd and her Labour and Liberal Democrat colleagues from this inquiry become as loud as Nadine Dorries or Louise Mensch, both of whom are never shy of publicity. It would be a terrible shame if yesterday's events are not reported. Here's hoping that when the final report is published before Christmas, the inquiry might get more attention from the mainstream media, from the nationals and the TV news programmes, as well as Amber Rudd's local paper.

More importantly, however, it would be good to see any recommendations taken seriously by government and properly discussed. Or am I being too optimistic? After all, the embarrassingly brief time devoted to women in the media at Leveson has achieved precisely nothing - the cellulite, baby bumps, weight loss, weight gain and breasts of female celebrities still pass as news. But, sadly, looking into unwanted pregnancies in Britain in a sane and even-handed manner, not so much.


* "Unplanned" is probably a better term than "unwanted" for this inquiry.

** For more information about this inquiry, including the organisations called to give evidence, either verbal or written, please click on these two links:

Image courtesy of

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Brad Pitt and the high school drama club of the damned

We've all seen this now, haven't we? The most baffling perfume ad ever. This is even more confusing than that old J'Adore commercial where that blonde model walks through what looks like a pool of thick wee and sneers "J'Adore" at the camera while pulling that face one pulls when someone has farted on the train.

This time, it's Brad Pitt in his newfound role as Chanel No. 5 shill. So many unanswered questions. Why is he flogging a woman's perfume? How the hell did he reel off such a load of unrelenting tripe without once saying: "Oh, for fuck's sake, who wrote this? A rejected scriptwriter from Dawson's Creek?"? What does any of the nonsense about life being a journey have to do with the perfume Marilyn Monroe wore to bed without feeling the need to say anything this pretentious? What is inevitable? Why does he appear to be sporting one of Tori Spelling's old haircuts?

I have madly Googled to try and find out if his multi-million dollar fee has gone to one of his worthy causes. I hope so. Otherwise precisely no good has come from this shower of shit and we are all doomed.

We are Malala (except for the idiots who just don't get it)

Malala Yousafzai has already achieved more than many of us ever will in a lifetime. In 14 years, she has become a globally recognised advocate for girls' education. In her home country of Pakistan, she has stood up to the Taliban, the warped, psychotic misogynists who believe that only people with a penis have a right to an education, a very narrow, theocratic education.

And now she has been shot in the head and neck by the cowardly Taliban, who have vowed to kill her if she recovers from her injuries. Fortunately, she is recovering from her injuries in Birmingham's Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Unfortunately, there are pond-scum idiots, chronic underachievers, intellectual bankrupts and tiny, little sad minds, out there who are critical of Malala being cared for in an NHS hospital. They hide behind the anonymity of the online world, devoid of courage or the ability to see past their own puny worldview.

Across assorted online forums, Malala was accused of being a health tourist, of using the British taxpayer-funded NHS for her own convenience. As if Malala deliberately got herself shot by the Taliban just so she could nab herself a free bed in Birmingham. Seriously, to compare her to people who deliberately make their way to Britain for the sole purpose of obtaining free healthcare is offensive and moronic.

And then there are the willfully ignorant purveyors of incorrect information. The Daily Mail, like every news website, stated quite clearly that the Pakistani government is footing the bill for Malala's transport and care costs. But this did not stem the relentless tide of idiocy as hundreds of kneejerking readers demanded to know why their taxes were paying for Malala's treatment.

A Special Stupidity Award goes to one Hannah of Sussex, someone who I am going to assume was able to exercise her right to an education without fear of a Taliban bullet. She wrote this under yesterday's story about Malala in the Daily Mail: "my hubby is not allowed an op on his leg for a varicose vein (he's in constant agony) because of funding. They will not carry out the op unless it ulcerates or he is is unable to walk (words directly from dgh consultant)! So, they would rather my hubby gets so bad that he would be unable to work and be on sickness benefits (we have always worked and have not claimed anything in our lives) before they will do anything?!!!"

Hannah, really? Obviously, your husband's condition is deeply unpleasant and your story does indeed expose a flaw within the NHS whereby people who cannot afford private cover may have to wait until a condition worsens significantly before they can have surgery. But Malala being in a specialist unit in Birmingham, at the expense of the Pakistani government, does not have any bearing on your husband not being able to have a varicose vein operation in Sussex.

Frankly, I don't mind if my taxes are helping Malala recover. It is the right thing to do and we are very lucky that in Britain there are great doctors on hand who will give her the best possible chance of surviving so she can continue to lead a healthy and productive life.

Other kneejerkers are up in arms because police at the hospital in Birmingham have had to prevent people claiming to be relatives of Malala from trying to visit her. The auto-pilot response to this has been along the lines of: "Well, clearly they are all members of the Taliban trying to break in and kill her! Sharia law is here in Britain!". Except that in this very special case, anyone who has not arrived with Malala from Pakistan needs to be carefully vetted because they may well be idiotic extremists. Or they may be misguided well-wishers who need to be told that the best thing for Malala right now is for her to rest and receive medical treatment, rather than turning her room into a concern troll sideshow.

Oh, and some fools are whining because our taxes are paying for the police officers protecting Malala. They are failing as human beings. I trust that if these pea-brained buffoons ever need the help of police in another country, they'll either turn it down or offer to pay for their time, right?

And straight from the "Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right" files come howls that Malala being treated in Britain is just a US-appeasing propaganda stunt. So what if it is? If Malala can get the care she needs and Britain can send a stern message to the Taliban that this nation supports the right of girls to be educated, that's great. Yes, I know the Taliban doesn't care about any stern messages from Britain, but that doesn't mean the message shouldn't exist.

Can we please focus on the positives and be grateful and proud that we have NHS hospitals that are still capable of achieving amazing things. Instead of whining, I have provided some helpful links at the end of this blog post for anyone who wants to do something useful to try and improve the world.


Inspired and moved by Malala's story? Want to do something practical?

To send Malala a message of support:

To support the education of girls globally:

And here is Malala's blog:

(Photo courtesy of Amnesty International)

Monday, 15 October 2012

"Honour" killing, the N-word and the power of language

"I have a dream!"

"I did not have sexual relations with that woman."

"A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle."

There are three famous quotes from three different people - and they all illustrate the power of words. Sometimes political correctness truly has gone mad when it comes to word use - such as the insistence by some feminists that "women" should be spelled as "wimmin" or "womyn" to remove the pesky "men" word from it all. This is silly, counter-productive and a moronic distraction from real issues that affect real women's lives. Do these same women also want to remove the "men" from "menstruation" (minstruation? mehnstruation?) while they're at it?

But there are other times when word use is important and powerful.

When it comes to discussing "honour" killing, for example, it is important to constantly hammer home the point that there is nothing honourable about such vile murders. That is why I always put inverted commas around "honour" or refer to them as "so-called 'honour' killings". It is a clunky and inelegant use of language and punctuation - but it is important that the jarring inverted commas remain so they fly into the reader's eye like cinders*. It makes the reader pause and think about the real horror of an "honour" killing, to realise that "defending honour" is no defence at all for these sexist, hateful, brutal murders that are based on a warped notion of what honour really means. "Honour" killings can never be defended or explained away by "cultural differences". Not here in Britain, not in any country.

Then there is the conundrum of racist language. For years, Australian cricket commentators thought nothing of cheerfully braying such tripe as: "The Pakis won the toss and have elected to bat!" on national television whenever Pakistan played my home country. They seemed to think it was exactly the same as referring to Australians as "Aussies". For years, "Paki" was trotted out by the embarrassing, boorish commentators, with what seemed to be blissful ignorance of the hurt that word has caused many people.

However, the flipside is that a total censorship of such language has the potential to stifle creativity and hinder opportunities to make important social comment through such mediums as film and literature. Take the latest idiocy from the world's most overrated actress, Nicole Kidman. Given she has the acting range of a slightly animated department store mannequin, her career has always baffled me. But I digress...

In her latest movie The Paperboy, she plays a toxic character, a salacious, rapacious redneck. Despite this, she refused to use the word "nigger" because she didn't think it was appropriate to her character. Except that there are plenty of instances in movies depicting race relations where an actor acting in a racist manner, including using racist language, brings home just how ugly and vile racism is. It would seem that Kidman is worried cinema-goers might mistake her character being racist for her being racist. Yes, and everyone who watched Monster left the cinema thinking Charlize Theron is a serial killer...

May we choose our words wisely. May we not stifle creativity and free speech. May we appreciate the power of language for good and evil. And may commonsense prevail when we make these linguistic choices.

* Thank you to American writer Florence King for that fabulous turn of phrase. I wish I could claim it as my own.

Image courtesy of

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Same-sex marriage: it's good and it's conservative...

Ah, Boris Johnson, you mad-haired goofball, you. Pretty much most of the time I look at you and wish Siobhan Benita was the mayor of London but once in a blue moon, you make sense. In your own buffoonish way, of course. In last night's Evening Standard, there was a jolly old column by London's Conservative mayor that I agreed with wholeheartedly. BoJo wrote in support of same-sex marriage, recalls that he once thought it was already legal and was chuffing-well surprised to find that it's not. Well, not yet. 

Other leading Conservatives including Prime Minister David Cameron, Culture Secretary Maria Miller and Home Secretary Theresa May have all publicly voiced their support for marriage equality in Britain. Maria Miller got a round of applause (mostly from younger Conservatives, there were also some pursed lips in the crowd) for her positive statements on the matter yesterday at the Conservative Party Conference. 

Miller said: "I still believe in marriage. It's part of the bedrock of our society. The state should not stop two people from making the commitment to be married unless there's a good reason. I don't believe being gay is one of them."

Good. Now can we please just get on with making it legal and then we can all move on with our lives?

It is precisely because letting gay couples marry shouldn't be a big deal that it should become law. Live and let live. Peace out. If some churches don't want to conduct same-sex marriages, that is their business. I believe the conducting of same-sex marriages should be down to the conscience of the individual minister. I know of vicars who'd happily conduct such weddings and others that would not. 

Why would anyone want to be married by someone who clearly disapproves of their relationship is a mystery anyway. As there are no plans to force ministers of any religion to conduct same-sex marriages, if someone's only objection is "The Bible says no!", there will still be plenty of places where they can go and hang out with likeminded people. The issue of "Where will I find a cake topper for Cedric and Barry's wedding?" will probably never be an issue in their lives.

Marriage is, first and foremost, a civil contract. The religious bit is optional. You will still have to sign a civil document saying you're legally wed. This is where the "But if we let gay people marry, next we'll have people marrying their dog or their toaster!" argument is completely ridiculous. Dogs and toasters are not consenting adults. They are not capable of signing legal documents. Why are people even trying that argument on?

Likewise, the argument about marriage being about having kids is stupid. Yes, starting a family is a big deal for a lot of couples. But what about infertile couples? Couples who choose not to have kids? Couples who are too old to have kids? If you're making marriage all about baby-making, you're going to have to tell these people as well that they'd better call the wedding off. And given that gay couples can already adopt and society hasn't crumbled as a result, surely it'd be a good thing if same-sex parents want to make the big public commitment statement in support of maintaining a stable family life.

David Cameron said he supports gay marriage because he is a conservative. And let's face it, no matter how cool any of us think we are, getting married is a pretty conservative thing to do. At least outwardly. What married couples get up to behind closed doors is nobody's business, even if it is, shock, horror, gasp, cover the kids' ears, an open relationship and they consensually involve other people in their sex life. Yes, this is how some heterosexual married couples behave. Get over it. You're not required to join in. Equally, what gay couples do behind closed doors is nobody's business but theirs. The obsession some gay marriage opponents have over the mechanics of gay sex borders on that of a curtain-twitching stalker.

Once same-sex marriage is legalised here in the UK - and I do believe that will happen - life will go on much the same as before. Nobody will be forced to have a same-sex marriage. Plenty of gay couples are probably perfectly happy remaining unwed, just as plenty of heterosexual couples are - but the difference is that everyone will have the choice to get married or not. 

Civil partnerships for gay couples were a great leap forward in equality but letting such couples call their relationship a marriage would be a way to show respect, to honour their relationships. To say: "But I tolerate gay couples and their civil partnerships!" is, frankly rude. People we "tolerate" tend to be people we don't get along with or don't really like, but we have to be polite to them because they're colleagues or family or a friend of a partner. Nobody wants to be merely "tolerated".

I haven't got much new to add to the debate suffice to say that I look forward to the day when I can look back at this blog posting and laugh at how bizarre it was that we used to deny a significant proportion of the community the right to get married. Britain has an economy to fix. Let's quit farting about with gay marriage arguments and let it happen. And with the average wedding in the UK costing a rather insane £21,000 these days, not to mention the expenses guests face just to attend the damn things, more weddings can only be a good thing for the economy. What conservative can argue with that?

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Internships: the new cheap labour

A friend of mine has just graduated from university with a journalism degree. She is passionate, bright and hardworking. She already has some practical experience - essential if you are going to impress any potential employer who may otherwise think you just spent three years smoking joints in your pyjamas in between a gruelling eight-hour week of classes - and she has not yet found a paid job in the media.

But she has been offered an unpaid internship with a publishing company. She is taking this opportunity because she feels it could be of value. She is not a workshy idiot and she would be delighted if the internship turned into a paid position. But it won't be easy. She is not from London and, like most internships, it is based in the capital and only covers daily transport costs. So she has been working in retail in her hometown so she has enough cash to ensure she doesn't have to sleep on a park bench and live out of restaurant bins.

At least it is a step up from the internship I saw advertised on Gorkana that only offers to cover transport costs for London's Zones 1 and 2. So not only would there be no proper financial reward but that particular employer expects the intern to live in the most expensive part of London without an income. Whoever is in charge at Beach Tomato deserves to have rotten tomatoes thrown at them.

In short, internships (and not just in the media) have become white collar exploitation. I work for a small publishing company and I understand times are tough. The prospect of someone young and keen working for free for anything up to 12 months is appealing. But it's not fair. Even if the employer cannot afford to pay the London Living Wage of £8.30 per hour or the Cratchit-like UK minimum wage of £6.19 per hour* (and given that some of the companies advertising for unpaid interns are big media organisations, I suspect this is often not the case at all), the least they can do is offer accommodation assistance for interns who are not Londoners. Whether it is putting the intern up in cheap accommodation or, hell, letting the intern crash with a member of staff, it would be better than no help at all.

But let us not forget that unpaid internships, unless they are for credit towards a degree are illegal. Oh, wait. We already have forgotten that and nobody is power is doing a damn thing about it.

And it's not as if the current government is likely to help. With George Osborne trumpeting - to rapturous cheers - cuts to housing benefits for unemployed people under 25 at the Conservative Party Conference yesterday, it is clear that they are not serious about fixing the nation's unemployment problem. Will the Liberal Democrats step in on this one? The short-sightedness of compounding an unemployed person's struggles by putting their basic right to shelter at risk is appalling.

The "well, they can just move back in with their parents" mantra is equally unhelpful. This is useless to anyone whose parents are dead, anyone whose parents are abusive, anyone who is estranged from their parents, anyone whose parents live in a bedsit, anyone whose parents live in an area where jobs are hard to come by and so on and so forth. There are so many variables that mean the move-back-in-with-folks solution is no solution at all. An engineering graduate, for example with skills and qualifications to work in the oil industry will be better placed to find a job in a city like Aberdeen. If their parents live in, say, a small East Anglian village, that's not the best place for that person to be in order to get to interviews, undertake internships and ultimately become a productive professional.

I get that the housing benefits cut is a stick rather than a carrot - the rationale being that if someone isn't getting any state assistance for housing, that'll be the kick up the bum they need to go and get a damn job. Except there aren't enough jobs out there. And unpaid internships, which keep young people economically inactive, are masquerading as alternatives to actual employment.

The internet is full of stories about vile interns - the entitled brats who throw hissy fits because they had to go and get the coffees or waltz into workplaces and expect to run the place - but these are not the graduates I've come across. They just want a damn break.

* Just so we're perfectly clear on how Cratchit-like the minimum wage is, at £6.19 per hour with a 40-hour working week, that equals £246.80 per week or the pre-tax annual salary equivalent of £12,833.

Image courtesy of

Monday, 8 October 2012

Why Caitlin Moran and Lena Dunham can't win

This weekend's Twitter brouhaha centres around Caitlin Moran's response to a question about a question she didn't ask Lena Dunham. "I literally couldn't give a shit about it." was Moran's answer when asked on Twitter why she didn't ask Lena Dunham about the lack of people of colour in her new sitcom Girls.

Moran was crucified, left, right and centre as if she was the new poster girl for the English Defence League. And all over an interview for The Times that Moran herself hardly touted as hard-hitting journalism when she plugged it in a tweet thus: "Girls starts in Britain this week, and I went to talk to Lena Dunahm about why I love her face so much."

There has already been plenty of criticism of Girls for the all-white lead characters. Would Moran asking the same question have added anything at all to the discourse? Was she under any obligation to ask a question that is already out there? It reminds me of the time, as a 21-year-old journalist, that I asked a recently separated politician in Australia about her break-up. She didn't want to talk about it. She was perfectly polite about not wanting to go into details and I felt like a bit of a dick for asking the question. It wasn't relevant to the interview and it was a topic that had already been given plenty of airplay in the media at the time.

Dunham telegraphed why she didn't include any women of colour among her main characters when she told NPR: "I am half-Jew, half-WASP, and I wrote two Jews and two WASPs."

It is not unusual for any writer, regardless of race or religion, to write fictional pieces about stuff they know about. If Dunham didn't feel qualified to write authentically about the experiences of people of colour, she could perhaps be accused of lack of imagination. Or accused of not getting in some ethnically diverse co-writers to help her out. But what if she did include a non-white character and it didn't ring true? Would this cause the same people who have jumped down Moran's throat this weekend to then accuse Dunham of tokenism?

I'm a journalist and an editor, I deal in non-fiction day in, day out. As such, I'd be perfectly confident in interviewing a woman of colour about her life experiences for a journalistic article, but I'm not so sure I'd be as confident writing a work of fiction from her point of view. I am not about to write a novel or a TV series about a woman of colour but that's no reason why anyone else, with a better imagination than I have, or with that particular life experience, or anyone more confident than I am, shouldn't give it a go.

Maeve Binchy, the late and lovely Irish writer, was frequently quoted as saying that her books didn't include explicit sex because it was something that was not part of her experience. She was worried that if she invented elaborate sex scenes, they would be unconvincing. That was a wise move and it saved her from winning The Literary Review's annual bad sex awards. There was no backlash from the bondage and discipline community, who felt Maeve ignored their experiences.

Of course, I am being churlish in comparing public misunderstanding of the B&D scene with the absence of ethnically diverse characters in a TV series. But while it is important for the media, for TV producers, film-makers and book publishers to be mindful of diversity and to try and give voice to as many people as possible, it is ridiculous to try and force every single writer to include every single group in the community in every work of fiction.

It is important for the people who commission TV series, who decide what books get published, who produce movies to think outside the square, to seek out stories that might not otherwise get told. Fear of bad box office stifles the diversity of movies and fear of poor ratings stifles the diversity of TV scripts. Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show have been criticised for not having a diverse enough bunch of people in their respective writing teams. Yet nobody ever really questions the lack of diversity in, say, the films of Judd Apatow. (And he is the executive producer of Girls...) Why do some writers get a free ride while others are put under scrutiny?

My mum would have said Moran could have been more polite in her response to the question. But the 140-character world of Twitter doesn't lend itself to nuanced responses on serious issues. It was an honest response and it doesn't make her an instant Klanswoman. Moran pointed out that other issues, such as sexuality and class diversity, are also poorly represented. Hell, perhaps she also should have asked Dunham about lack of a B&D storyline or why Girls doesn't feature regular outings to Cannery Row...

The situation, as these things tend to do in the online world, snowballed and suddenly people were criticising Moran for blocking people, for not apologising, for the tone of her responses (in a format where tone is often sadly lacking except for excessive use of exclamation marks and emoticons). Then there were the accusations of "privilege". It was odd that the "privileged!" accusation was levelled at someone who came from a poor background, worked hard to get to where she is today and writes extensively on the misconceptions of poverty in Britain based on her own experiences.

And what is truly sad is that this whole Twitter shitstorm has seen women, all of whom identify as feminists, turn on each other to the point where the original race issue has become secondary. That is always an unedifying spectacle. When that happens, it means plenty of people literally won't give a shit - about feminism.  

(Photo courtesy of Chris Scott)


Sunday, 7 October 2012

Exactly what is Jeremy Hunt's problem?

Sky News reporter, Joey Jones, looked a little hapless as he reported today from the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham. He said that a gaffe-free conference would be a good thing for the party. Except, too late, Jeremy Hunt has already happened.

After his colossally inept turn as Culture Secretary, British Prime Minister David Cameron rewarded Hunt's failure by giving him the Health Secretary position - and now he has shown his true colours on the issue of abortion, a hornet's nest that didn't need to be kicked when Britain has other things to worry about, like unemployment and a stagnant economy. To be fair to Hunt, he was put on the spot in an interview with The Times and asked for his opinion on abortion. It wasn't an official policy announcement. It was just his opinion, to which he is perfectly entitled. 

This is what he said: "I voted to reduce the time to 12 weeks. I still have that view. There's an incredibly difficult question about the moment we should deem life to start." He went on to say there is a "fundamental moral issue" in wanting to halve the limit from 24 weeks to 12 and said the issue "cuts across morality." Which is true - there are left-leaning prolife people and there are prochoice conservatives - it is a polarising issue. Among my own diverse circle of friends, the full spectrum of abortion opinion is represented. 

But what Hunt doesn't seem to realise is that, for the most part, his ideal 12-week limit is already happening without any change to the law. According to Department of Health statistics, 91% of all abortions in the UK happen within the first trimester. This indicates women are making timely decisions. There aren't queues of women at clinics demanding elective abortions on a whim at 24 weeks. 

The abortions that happen around the 20-24-week mark are almost always the result of heartbreaking scan results. Just ask any woman who has been presented with an ultrasound showing a foetus with anencephaly how overjoyed she was upon realising this is a condition that is incompatible with life. 

In any case, while Hunt made grand statements to The Times about morality, it was a remarkably un-nuanced statement of opinion. Does he mean dropping the 12-week limit to cover elective abortions only? Does he have any considered, science-based views on later terminations for medical reasons? What if the mother's life is in danger after the 12-week mark?

Furthermore, as Health Secretary, does Jeremy Hunt have any real solutions in regard to reducing unplanned pregnancies?

If he is so horrified at Britain's abortion rate, can he guarantee British women will continue to have access to free birth control as long as he is Health Secretary? Can he pledge to improve sex education, at school level, at a doctor-patient level, at abortion clinics, and, hell, even at crisis pregnancy centres (because surely they are serious about preventing future unplanned pregnancies, no?), so that women are armed with accurate information to not only make the best contraception choices for their individual circumstances but also to ensure they use birth control properly? 

Plenty of unplanned pregnancies happen via incorrect use of birth control - the figures vary and are hard to pin down but a study of teen pregnancy in the US state of Missouri, released this month*, attributed half these unplanned pregnancies to either contraception failing or being used incorrectly. The same study also found a direct relationship between providing free birth control and lower rates of unplanned pregnancy. Why this finding would come as a surprise to anyone is a mystery. 

Across the world, low-income, poorly educated women have more unplanned pregnancies than more affluent women. Can Hunt challenge his party to find real solutions to poverty in Britain? Is Hunt committed to ensuring every child in Britain has equal access to good quality education? Improvement in both these areas would certainly help reduce unplanned pregnancies and subsequent abortions.

For women who choose to carry an unplanned pregnancy to term (for truly prochoice people support women who make this decision as much as they support women who choose to have an abortion), will Jeremy Hunt advocate for improved benefits for mothers? Improved child benefit perhaps? Is he as scandalised as I am that hospitals across the country are facing the prospect of losing maternity units despite a growing population? Is he in favour of less bureaucratic processes for women who would like to put their babies up for adoption and for prospective adoptive parents? Does he have any coherent thoughts on any of these issues?

Then there is the awful issue of sex-selective abortions, which overwhelmingly results in the abortion of female foetuses. Does Jeremy Hunt - or indeed his colleague and cheerleader, Minister for Women, Maria Miller - plan to call for cultural change in the UK, among all communities, and on a global level to ensure that every "It's a girl!" ultrasound is an occasion for joy, not shame or sorrow?

These are all big picture issues but they are all issues that need addressing by anyone serious about reducing the number of unplanned pregnancies and abortions. Addressing some of these issues may require even more U-turns in current ConDem policy. Jeremy Hunt's comments to The Times are heavy on rhetoric and light on detail. And, given most abortions in the UK already happen in the first trimester, his comments are pretty damn pointless.

(Photo courtesy of The Conservative Party)

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Not all boobs are created equal

Breasts have been getting plenty attention lately. First, there was the mass hysteria of Kate Middleton's royal breasts getting snapped by a paparazzi photographer. Then she was deemed a jolly good sport after she was greeted by bare-breasted women in the Solomon Islands.  Meanwhile, there is a campaign to get The Sun to drop the Page 3 girls. And, in case you weren't aware, October is Breast Cancer Awareness month

The outcry over topless Kate Middleton was hypocritical and hilarious. Unless she was a vocal campaigner against topless sunbathing, those photographs were not in the public interest. But the sanctimonious outrage of newspapers and magazines who routinely get copy sales and clicks from stories about famous women's body parts was pathetic. Close-ups of cellulite, speculation over baby bumps, scrutiny over weight gain, mock concern over weight loss, expert commentary from cosmetic surgeons as to whether implants/Botox/fillers/facelifts have happened - apparently these invasions of privacy are completely newsworthy and not at all demeaning. But as soon as a French magazine published topless royal boobs, the pearls were clutched so hard they were ground to a fine powder.

Then Kate met topless women in Solomon Islands and she was congratulated on how well she handled that encounter. Naturally, she smiled demurely and averted her eyes. Did anyone seriously she think she would point, guffaw and say something completely heinous like: "I was hoping to get mine as tanned as yours!" like a grotesque female equivalent of Prince Phillip?

And the women of the Solomon Islands were consenting to being photographed bare-breasted. As are the women on Page 3 of The Sun. There is a reasonably lively online campaign to get The Sun to ditch the Page 3 Girl. As of today, about 40,000 people have signed up. But The Sun is a business, not a charity. If they are not haemorrhaging advertisers over the Page 3 campaign, the topless lovelies are likely to stay, regardless of online signatures from people who probably don't buy The Sun and don't click on the website.

The Sun could quite possibly lose the Page 3 Girl from the print edition (but keep her on the website where there is money to be made from mobile phone downloads at £1.50 a pop...) without any real impact on revenue. Perhaps that large chunk of page 3 would be better dedicated to actual news. Hell, what is more offensive here? The bare breasts or the little caption alongside featuring a made-up intellectual quote attributed to Michelle of Essex? Because obviously a woman couldn't possibly be hot and have the capacity to form an intelligent opinion, right?

There is a part of me that is always amused whenever I have a greasy breakfast at the cafe around the corner from my house and the tradesmen reading The Sun don't appear to particularly notice the Page 3 Girl. I've never seen one of these men openly leer at her. She has become part of the British landscape - it could be argued that it is good that breasts are not freaking out people in a puritanical manner. Others might argue she has become invisible and that is equally degrading to women.

Page 3 mostly strikes me as something that was a bit cheeky and mildly amusing in the 70s but these days, it's all a bit tired, like some lame joke your dad might tell every Christmas as he carves the turkey breast. On those grounds, I'd probably retire the Page 3 Girl if I was editor of The Sun. But I'm not, and I doubt Dominic Mohan is losing sleep over the Stop Page 3 campaign.

These last seven paragraphs have been devoted to tits as titillation, to the morality and public interest of photographs of breasts. The debates that rage over these issues focus on breasts as sexual things, as objects to perve on great and small. But it's Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The notion that most of us are already aware of breast cancer is a cynical viewpoint steeped in westernised privilege.

There are plenty of places where there is poor awareness, poor screening and a culture of shame surrounding breast cancer. It is the opposite end of the Page 3 spectrum. A fabulous, feisty friend of mine in the United Arab Emirates used to give breast cancer education sessions to Emirati women and she told me how so many of them would get embarrassed. Women would giggle, run out of the room when the video was played and freak out at the thought of self-examination.

Supporting breast cancer education in countries such as the UAE, and indeed anywhere in the world where it can be culturally difficult to talk openly about breasts, would be a fantastic way to get behind Breast Cancer Awareness Month (or, indeed, at any other time of year because, you know, cancer doesn't stick to a schedule). Please get in touch with me if you'd like to do this, I have contacts.

Or you could make a direct donation to a research facility rather than buying something pink and then finding out that only a tiny proportion of profits actually go where it's needed. Or buying pink-branded make-up for breast cancer only to discover that it contains carcinogens (this has actually happened...). Be smart about your cancer charity donations. A direct donation is better than a Facebook in-joke about handbags or shoes to raise awareness. The voyeurs will certainly appreciate the preservation of breasts, but good human beings will just be glad if women's lives are saved.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Beware the armchair detectives

Arise, the armchair detectives! These are the people who have no connection to awful crimes but still seem to know whodunnit. Usually, there is a healthy dose of victim-blaming added for good measure.

At the time of writing, five-year-old April Jones, abducted outside her home in a small Welsh town, is still missing. A man has been arrested on suspicion of abduction. The search and investigation continues.

This has not stopped people, who until yesterday had never heard of Machynlleth, claiming they knew who abducted her. Concern trolls on social media and, unsurprisingly, the Daily Mail erupted. It was ugly to watch. In the wake of the Tia Sharp case, where her step-grandfather has been charged with her murder but has yet to stand trial, plenty are convinced a family member has taken April. She has two parents, Coral and Paul, but this didn't stop Daily Mail readers from assuming that the missing girl had an absent father. Because, clearly, single parents somehow deserve to have their children abducted. 

Then there were the inevitable questions asked as to why April was playing outside at 7.30pm and why wasn't she in bed at that time. A quick, albeit unscientific, poll among my Twitterverse revealed that parents of kids of a similar age to April are sending them to bed any time between 6pm to 10pm. Now is not really the time to question what time Coral and Paul Jones should send April to bed. 

I remember staying up as a kid until 8.30pm watching The World At War with my father. Does that make him a bad parent? Then there was the time my mother stormed out of the house because my sister and I were fighting. She grabbed her handbag and keys and drove off, telling us we were awful girls and that she had enough of us. All she did was drive around the block, leaving us aghast in the living room, my seven-year-old self not realising she wasn't going to get far in a 1971 Mini Clubman with just her handbag and the clothes on her back. She was back within a few minutes, my sister and I were stunned into behaving better, Mum had some much-needed alone time, life went on. Anyone who says: "Well, you're lucky nobody abducted you!" is not only being ridiculous but they have a poor grasp of probability. The most likely outcome of that event was my sister and I remaining perfectly safe.

And what about the helicopter parenting from afar? Today, people are still demanding to know why April was outside at 7.30pm. Machynlleth is a small town, population around 2,100. If this is anything like the rural Australian town or the tiny East Anglian village where I lived as a child, it wouldn't be at all weird for kids to be playing outside their own houses after sunset. Indeed, murder rates in the UK are currently at their lowest since 1983. For April Jones to be taken outside her own house is for her to be extremely unlucky, for the odds to be stacked grotesquely against her.

Coral and Paul Jones, along with April, wherever she may be, are the victims here. Blaming any of them for this horrible event is cruel. Trying to assume we already know who is responsible, before we actually know if April is still alive or not, is unhelpful. If there is a trial in the future, this, along with the selection of an impartial jury, could be prejudiced. But these fundamentals of the British justice system - which exist to protect us all - are not the concern of the idiotic, irresponsible armchair detectives who already think they know best.