Thursday, April 28, 2011

New Pseudo-Scientist

Terrible article in this week's New Scientist about the royal wedding. The link is here but sadly you have to register which is a bit of a pain. Here, anyway, is my letter to them complaining about it:

I was intrigued when I saw [P36, Issue 2809] your coverage of the royal wedding and hoped to read something that explained the public and media excitement about a relationship between two people who most of us don't know at all. Sadly the article seemed to be distinctly lacking in science. Firstly author Geoffrey Miller claims "male brains will be sparked by Will's military titles", without offering any evidence of this. I happen to be married to a former military journalist but when I asked him what William's titles were he said "I dunno, something over the top that he doesn't deserve". He didn't even seem interested in finding out.

Then we are given the classic outdated theories about sex appeal. Will likes Kate because she's attractive (obviously) but also because of her sense of humour which indicates fertility. Speaking as a professional comedienne I can assure you than men who find my jokes funny are rarely overwhelmed by a pressing need to impregnate me. You might well argue however that it is pretty logical when committing to spending large amounts of time with someone to pick someone whose company you enjoy. Perhaps it's not evolutionary prerogative at work here but conscious common sense?

Then we hear about Kate's cunning in convincing William to marry her because of the benefits to her potential children. We seem to have forgotten that William's genes also stand to benefit from his commitment to the wellbeing of their children. The notion that men only make good fathers because women have lured and tricked them into doing so is an insult to the many great caring dads in Britain.

Of course the true agenda of the piece emerges about half way through. Apparently the media fail to give Kate the credit she deserves for bagging herself a future king. We are (allegedly) tripping over ourselves to praise Oprah, Meryl, Hillary and Nigella but not Kate. Has Miller bothered to open up a single page of the national press in the last three months? Articles praising Kate for every outfit she chooses, every comment she makes, every smile she throws at a waiting paparazzo take up page after page of coverage that could have been dedicated to a tsunami or human rights crisis. And the only coverage I can find of Nigella recently is a nasty article in the Daily Mail calling her fat (which surely ought to be a compliment for a chef, but clearly isn't intended as such).

And whose fault is this mythical lack of coverage of the royal bride-to-be's evolutionary man-bagging prowess? According to Miller - feminism. Yes those pesky equal rights campaigners. Can Miller give a single example of a feminist who has criticised Ms Middleton? Evidently not. I'll explain why: the pay gap in this country is wide and not closing, the latest round of government cuts are set to hurt women on an unprecedented scale, rape has a 6% conviction rate against reporting and two women a week are murdered in Britain by their male partners or ex-partners. We feminists have bigger fish to fry than attacking a (probably) lovely posh girl about to marry a (probably) lovely posh boy she met at college.

[I hope they publish it though probably they'll edit it down to the line "...feminism. Yes those pesky equal rights campaigners." and leave it at that!]

Friday, April 22, 2011

Late-term abortion privacy debate

I had a very serious piece published today on The Guardian's CiF website. It's about the Information Tribunal's decision to release detailed breakdowns on late term abortions for medical reasons to the Pro-Life Alliance. [Yes, I can see the flaw in this plan too!] And extra extra special thanks to the women who were kind enough to let me interview them yesterday about their own experiences and feelings.

I'd advise NOT reading the comments if you want a calm stress-free afternoon. And if you want to comment on it here where I get to moderate the comments and won't be publishing* lies, derailments or other general hate mail, go ahead!

*Unsure about my comment policy? Think my refusal to publish your comment "probably a lesbian, has fat arms" might be infringing on your freedom of speech? Do read this.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Dear Cru - How Should I Vote on AV?

A fan* writes: Does anyone else (like me) just not get how AV is supposed to be better than FPTP??? I have had it explained about the 50% of the votes bit, but how does ending up with someone who may have been many peoples 2nd or 3rd choice getting elected, become better? also it's hard enough with todays lot to even find a credible 1st choice! how the hell are we supposed to find another two???

OK listen carefully. The problem with politics is (I agree) that there are never any good candidates you really want to vote for. Why not? Well here's the trouble: imagine you have brilliant ideas and want to be a politician. You have two choices right? You could spend 20 years sucking up to one of the major parties even though you disagree with most of their policies and think their leaders are a bunch of corrupt dickheads. OR you could run as an independent or part of a smaller party (maybe your own, new, party) with a list of policies you actually want.

But here's the problem. Option one won't get your brilliant ideas into politics. It will just waste your life working for stuff you don't believe in.

But option two is worse. If you stand for election under the current system (FPTP or first past the post) you will simply split the vote for the party who is nearest to you. So lets say you're against student top-up fees. People now have to choose between you (no top-up fees), a "reduce the top-up fees" candidate, a "keep the fees the same" candidate" and an "increase the fees" candidate. So every vote you get is one less person voting "reduce the fees" or "keep the fees the same" and good news for the "increase the fees" candidate. In fact running as a candidate yourself significantly increases the likelihood that the ultimate winner will be someone who you completely disagree with.

However with AV your supporters can vote for you #1 and maybe that's enough to win and they can put "reduce the fees" #2, and "keep the fees the same" at #3. What they're saying is "if I can't have exactly what I want, I'd like the nearest thing available". Which should surely go without saying.

And importantly it means that new and independent candidates are encouraged to stand. Bringing more ideas into the system and giving us all more choice and more likelihood of finding a candidate we do believe in! And you can vote for them without "wasting" your vote. So you don't have to resort to "tactical voting" to keep hated parties out! You can actually vote for who you want to win and put your tactical choices as #2, #3,...

It's loads better than the current system. You should support it.

*not necessarily a fan of mine.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Some Snippets

(1) The Whistleblower by Kathryn Bolkovac with Cari Lynn. You should buy and read this book. I was very kindly sent a review copy ages ago and read it in more or less a single sitting. Been meaning to write a proper review for ages but there isn't much to say apart from "HOLY CRAP, that's terrible, everyone should know about this, something should be done.". I hear there's a film coming. You should go see that too.

(2) I had a rather interesting, if somewhat after the event, email about the debate I did on Islam on The Big Questions the other month. The author (who claimed to be an Algerian muslim woman, but this being email I can't verify) says I am wrong to criticise Islam's treatment of women. In fact, I am assured, in 95% of life Islam treats men and women the same. And even if that's true that's still the problem isn't it? Cos 95% isn't the same as 100%. I do't want to be rated as the equal of a man in 95% of situations, I want full equality. I want to be regarded as as much of a human being as everybody else, men and women. Doh!

(3) Comedians - don't ever gig for a Daniel Lewis/Lasserman. Everyone else - don't ever go to a gig run by this rogue. In over 7 years in this industry I've only walked out of a gig once* - and it was last Friday at the Marble Hill Pub in Richmond at a "gig" organised by this Daniel Lewis/Lasserman**. It seemed dodgy from the outset - no contract, not much info, etc, but having said "yes" I figured I didn't want to let anyone down. I arrived to discover no separate comedy room, no mic, no lights and no other acts booked - all of which my manager had been assured there would be. Instead I was expected to perform in the corner of the pub within a few metres of family meals - children, dogs, etc. Not wanting to let people down I approached the "audience members" and explained this was going to be a weird gig but if they were happy to be friendly and have it as a "chatty" gig I would do my best for them. They responded by shouting abuse at me. So I left. As I was leaving one of them even grabbed me (yes, physically, while the landlord stood by and did nothing, luckily I was able to shove him off and shout at him til he backed off) and urged me to come back and "fight harder"! Ha ha ha, even the audience thought it was a "fight" rather than a "performance". I didn't think it needed saying but if you plan on running a comedy night, first you should probably go to a few and make some notes on how they work (and how they don't work)!! Now I have a lengthy angry phone message about how it was my job to "control" the audience*** and about how he's going to be running comedy nights in 200 pubs and he knows lots of top acts who will want to perform at them. But trust me top act or total newcomer - you definitely don't want to work for this douchebag. If by some freaky chance you were one of the audience members who wasn't shouting abuse (and I would recognise you, there were only about four such people) drop me a line and I'll be more than happy to guest list you for a real comedy show I'm performing at some time, plus you can enjoy the rare thrills of a mic, lights, other acts, no dogs, etc!

*I did once walk offstage many years ago at the Live Bar in Deptford after being physically threatened (with a lit cigarette, back when you could smoke indoors) by an audience member but the promoter and landlord swiftly removed this man from the premises and I agreed to go back on and finish my set.

**You can always trust a guy who needs to change his name from time to time!

***Presumably including the dogs, children and the drunk abuse-shouters.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

But Daily Mail - who should I blame?

Hey gals, are you up to your eyeballs in housework and caring responsibilities and no idea who to blame? Well fear not - the Daily Fail is here to help - check out this classic piece "Think your man doesn't pull his weight at home? Maybe it's YOUR fault". Really. Yes. That is actually the title of the piece. Needless to say while my dirty pots and pans just sit there, I'm doing a line-by-line...

"Today, women outperform men at school and university. They make a success of their early careers and enter into relationships on their own terms."

Wow who knew a two-person relationship could be established based on one person's "terms". Mine are half board, all bills and cunnilingus on a Wednesday afternoon, who's in?

"So why then, once children come along, do so many women end up ‘holding the baby’, to the detriment of everything else in their lives, while their partners’ lives seem to carry on as before — relatively free of childcare responsibilities?"

Well given that 94% of pregnant women say they return from maternity leave to a worse job role than the one they left, maybe it's because employers discriminate so much against pregnant women that many feel de-incentivised to put in so much effort on their return. Maybe it's because with a pathetic two weeks of paternity leave available men are overtly discouraged from bonding with their babies and learning how to care for them. Just throwing some ideas out there.

"Could women be their own worst enemies when it comes to the balance of modern family life?"

Yeah that'll be it. I probably built my own prison cell and climbed inside. No doubt in the 250 year history of the fight for women's rights all we really needed was one woman to go "oh stop it girls, you've only yourselves to blame" and we could all have been CEOs and Prime Ministers centuries ago.

"There is a photograph of me holding my son when he is two months old. He is in rude health. His complexion is peachy, his eyes shine with liveliness and curiosity. In contrast, I appear to be in the grip of a life-sapping disease. My skin is sallow and drawn, the grey offset only by aubergine accents below the eyes. My cheeks are hollow."

There's a reason for that - if you have a peachy complexion and are holding a sallow, drawn, grey and aubergine child, social services tend to pop round.

"A few months later, I appraise myself in the landing mirror on the return leg from a night feed. There has been no improvement: I still look deathly. My dressing gown is covered in an applique of baby snot and nappy cream. My T-shirt is stiff with stale breast milk. What has happened to me?"

You don't wear heels and mascara to breast-feed your baby in the night? Personally I pop on something from Stella McCartney's wipe-clean-nightwear-with-velcro-tit-flaps collection.

"I worried about being a parent long before I became one. I had a decent job behind the scenes in television that, though it didn’t make me rich or powerful, allowed me to think of myself as an independent, capable woman and gave me just enough cash and free time to live a varied and spontaneous existence."

Maybe you really were an independent capable woman. Maybe you deserved more than a decent job. Maybe you deserved the opportunity to become rich and powerful. Actually sorry, based on your journalism skills, scratch that. Clearly you got away with it for a few years.

"I fretted about the inevitable compromises to my life and relationship with my husband that having a child would bring. We wrestled with the issue off and on for a few years. Then, as I hurtled towards the wrong end of my 30s, like many couples we took the plunge and I hoped for the best."

Ooops, maybe you should have tried campaigning for equal maternity and paternity rights and more employer flexibility for parents rather than hoping for the best.

"The result has been both much better and worse than I’d imagined. I have discovered the intense joys of parenthood. But I have also learnt that the inequality mothers experience in raising their children is not simply the cause of occasional bouts of angst, but the foundation on which our existence is built and future prospects determined."

I agree mothers do experience inequality, as a society we need to do better.

"My husband and I may have bought all the baby equipment and read all the right books before our child was born, but I was still entirely unprepared for the fundamental undoing of the life and identity I’d carefully constructed for myself over the previous 15 years and, in particular, the demolition of the equality that I’d thought to be at the heart of my relationship with my husband."

Right again - big issue. The personal is political, etc, etc. It's all very well men claiming to be in favour of equal rights in the workplace, they need to step up to the plate in the home and actually pull their weight.

"We walked home from hospital a new family of three. My husband took his two weeks’ statutory paternity leave. We spent that fortnight in a jet-lagged haze, barely getting any sleep, but surviving on exhilaration and adoration for our child."

Yes paternity leave is a good thing. Two weeks isn't long enough. See: what all feminists have been saying since the dawn of time.

"But then my husband went back to work, our baby ceased sleeping all day and the music stopped."

Clearly you needed support.

"My devotion to my son was unshakeable, but I was now faced with day after day in which for 12 or more hours I was solely responsible for an infant who was entirely dependent on me, utterly resistant to being put down and never seemed to want to nap."

So your husband was working 12 hour days the week after returning from paternity leave and arranged no other support network/nanny/au pair/etc? Yes that is unreasonable.

"Abruptly, the severe challenges of motherhood were brought home to me. Having been used to environments where I mixed with women and men of all ages, circumstances and life stages, I now lived in a world where I only ever seemed to be in the company of other new mothers and their young charges."

Other mothers? Eww, they sound awful. I can't bear socialising without men there either.

"Collectively shell-shocked, our topics of conversation appeared limited to the merits of various pram models and how to tackle colic. I vacillated between a desperate hunger for tips on encouraging my child to sleep and a head-pounding boredom with this narrow baby-centric world."

And no doubt the other mothers felt this way too. Perhaps you could have talked about it, or would that have been breaking the sorority rules?

"Every day, I was pulled up sharp by the dismantling of my former life. En route to my mother-and-baby activities, I would pass young women heading off to work dressed immaculately and with the luxury of a solitary bus ride ahead of them. I was filled with envy."

Is there anything you want back from your working life apart from the outfits? Really, stick a frock and a bit of lippy on and stop it.

"I’d known that life with a newborn would be tough, but what made it hard to bear was the disparity that was emerging between my existence and that of my husband."

Yes inequality is infuriating isn't it? Welcome to feminism!

"Up and out of the house by eight in the morning, scrubbed and suited, I suspected that he was only too glad to flee the domestic disorder he left behind."

Was it a designer suit? A silk tie? If only your self esteem was built on something other than your dress sense we could talk about other ways of dealing with the issues here.

"In my thoughts, I jealously shadowed his day: a day in which he had time to himself, exercised his brain and kept his career on track. No wonder, then, that when he came through the front door in the evening as I was clearing up the baby’s wreckage, he was sometimes met with tears or sulking. Bound up in my enforced domesticity, I gave no thought to my husband’s own entrapment in the world of work."

So he was entrapped in work? Ok so time to talk about automatic flexible working for parents and more paternity leave? Clearly you need more help here. And if he's being greeted with tears and sulking and he's not responding by asking questions about post-natal depression and also what he can do right away to help he's a dick. He can start by clearing up that baby wreckage for you and sticking the kettle on. And when he's done a foot rub might be nice. Remember - it's should all be in the terms you set out when you met him.

"When a couple choose to have children, all the gains women have supposedly made over the past few decades seem to vanish, as the time machine of motherhood transports us back to the Fifties."

Yes and while the stupid "men's rights" campaigners want to legislate to allow absent fathers to dictate the behaviour of the mothers of their children, none of them has started a campaign to get men to take responsibility for the real hard work of childcare. Revolution needed!

"After my son was born, my husband wanted to share the care as much as possible. But when he was around, I wanted him to experience how hard it could be to look after a young baby."

Of course you did. You've every right to share the tough bits with him as well as the fun bits.

"Perversely, I willed our son to puke and scream when he was with him."

Luckily with babies you don't have to will too hard to get puking and screaming. But if you get stuck a quiet spoonful of Sunny Delight should do the trick.

"When this wish was granted, I would look on coldly, offering no assistance, glad that he was finding it difficult."

Why should you have offered assistance? Your husband knows how to mop up puke. You get a bit of kitchen roll, mop up the puke, bin it. Remember this man is a dashing executive in a Ferragamo neckerchief. (Honestly I don't even know how to spell Ferragamo, that is how little I care!)

"On other occasions, when he was changing the baby’s nappy, putting him in the pram or dressing him, I would bossily interject, scolding my husband for his ineptitude and taking over the task."

Well either he was doing it wrong. In which case a quick "that's not nappy cream, it's Deep Heat" would be fair enough. Or he wasn't, in which case see under post-natal depression. Of course it's infuriating to see him coping with the job when he only has to do it once a week and you have to do it twenty times a day. You must be thinking that he doesn't appreciate the work you put in.

"I wanted him to understand how gruelling it was to live my new life. Yet I risked discouraging him from getting involved."

Why is it your job to encourage him to get involved? How would you do that anyway? Write the latest Arsenal results on the kids' arse? He should be encouraged to get involved by (a) sense of fairness, (b) the fact that you are visibly exhausted (look! no nail varnish!) and (c) the fact that the kid contains 50% HIS genetic material.

"Looking after children can be tedious and gruelling. For many men, if it’s a choice between spending an extra hour at the office or getting back home in time to wrestle irritable offspring into a bath, they will take the former."

But it's precisely because it's tedious and gruelling that mothers need help with it, need nights off. If your husband is deliberately leaving all the tedious, gruelling work to you, he is a dick.

"Time your return right, however, and the children will come running to the door, calmed down, scrubbed up and ready for sleep, greeting you like the Railway Children reunited with Father. Then all you have to do is help them potter off to bed and give them a kiss as they tell you they love you, Daddy."

Sadly once they've gone to bed you may notice your wife looks like death and is still crying after a month and a half. This is your cue to remember that the Railway Children was a work of fiction for a bygone era and step up to the plate a bit.

"Fathers’ reluctance to get involved in the day-to-day graft of childcare is rarely challenged. Men have too little resolve to resist the cultural norms, government policy and employer practice that herds them into a secondary parenting role."

Right so we need to change cultural norms, government policy and employer practice. Go!

"And as mothers, we don’t always help ourselves. We begin to use the role of expert foisted upon us as a weapon against fathers."

As (ridiculously unsupported) mothers don't women have enough to worry about already without having to pretend not to be an expert so we don't upset the idiot who's overtly avoiding doing his cut of the housework and parenting?

"It starts from the first weeks of motherhood. We begin chiding our partner for the way he fastens a nappy or holds a bottle, and the criticism continues down the years as we throw up our hands at the school shoes he buys or his inadequate attention to detail over holiday club arrangements."

What do men need? "Yeah you put a nappy on!", cue fanfare and dancing girls. Yes parenting is pretty thankless. Does he whoop and holler with joy when you do these things (wrong)?

"I can recall grabbing the pram from my husband’s hands in order to strap in our baby to my satisfaction and making critical comments about how he chooses to spend the days he looks after our son."

Hey here's a great idea - just head out with the baby only loosely half-fastened to the pram. I mean what's the worst that can happen? He drops it down a drain? Oh well, you can make another one... And yes it's a huge issue when parents look after kids and one parent does either nothing much or takes the kid to all the fun places and leaves the other parent to do all the chores.

"As another mother told me: ‘Could I relinquish control and allow my husband to help? Probably not, because I wouldn’t be confident that it would be done to my standards.’"

So one of two things is going on - either he missed out on learning parenting skills, probably because of cultural norms (not being given baby dolls, etc as a child) or because of government policy (he only got two weeks paternity leave) or even employer practice (not being able to leave early when needed). Or he's faking incompetence to avoid hard work. And I wouldn't put it past him - he's already been hanging round the office and extra hour to avoid helping with bathtime. And if your standards are so high - congratulations, you're a great parent! Half the country just throws a frozen microwave meal at the kids and wipes them down with a Wet One when they start to smell stale.

"Women are inconsistent, claiming they are frustrated with having to deal with the majority of the domestic burden, yet are at the same time unwilling to cede any control over home life."

New mothers with post-natal depression are definitely inconsistent. They need support... And you're not claiming you're frustrated - you ARE frustrated. With good reason.

"Fathers can feel excluded and back off — even get depressed. Many men talk of the pressure not to put a foot wrong."

Oh poor poor men. The stress of feeling they have to not feed car tyres to their newborn. Having a kid is hard work. If that makes you back off - you are (have I mentioned this?) a dick.

"Beyond their own homes, women can also be guilty of maternal gatekeeping. Although mothers collectively rage at fathers for not taking responsibility for their children, the valiant few who do try to ‘cross the border’ are often treated warily, ignored or intimidated."

Where are the statistics on this? Most of the hands-on dads I know are idolised and one of them definitely uses his son as a talking point to chat up attractive young mums in the playground. And you were just moaning a few minutes ago that you only get to hang out with other women and you missed hanging out with men. So you in theory would be extra-welcoming to these dads.

"I know of one father who was asked to leave when he tried to take his daughter along to her mother-and-baby swim class."

Probably should have worn trunks. Seriously you have a single anecdote to prove your whole point? And I already demonstrated YOU are an example of someone who feels the opposite way. Counter-argument complete.

"Rather than realising that encouraging men to play a fair part in raising their families will pay dividends for both fathers and mothers, and, most importantly, children, mothers hoard the domestic power they are left with."

Yes women, we need to encourage men to do their fair share. In fact we need to do our fair share, most of their fair share and 100% of the encouraging. Don't plan to sit down.

"Rather than try to fight the forces they are up against, from inflexible work to costly childcare, women decide instead to sulk. Women sulk at work and sulk at home, wallowing in martyrdom and indulging in territorialism."

Yes women stop sulking, paste on a smile and laugh it off as your inept husband comes home in the middle of the night drunk and tries to feed bar snacks to the child you've just spent 8 hours getting to sleep. And you can only really wallow in martyrdom if you have been martyred. That may be the root of the problem. And if you have been martyred I think you should probably be entitled to a quick wallow, remember to keep that broom up your arse while you do it though!

"When not sulking we submit, unquestioningly buying the male line and even — sometimes — taking the view that it’s a ticket out of the stresses of modern life."

Yes don't submit to it women. Just leave your kids in the street and soon enough Papa's gonna realise he needs to pull his socks up. Women aren't unquestioningly buying the male line, they're unquestioningly buying the "wrong to neglect your child" line. And thank fuck somebody does!

"In each of these ways mothers prop up their inequality, reinforcing stereotypes and preconceptions rather than working to break them down. In so doing, we become only more securely imprisoned within the domestic realm."

So the way to liberate ourselves from this is (1) paste on a smile over the post-natal depression and pretend everything's ok, (2) do all the unpleasant work and then whoop with delight when your husband spends half an afternoon watching them sleep through Football Focus, (3) don't submit to it, make a fuss, stand up for your rights (p.s. If rule 3 contradicts any of the other rules you be sure and let me know huh?).

"Only by challenging our own attitudes, as well as those of others, do we have the power to reverse our descent into unhappiness and create a life with which we are truly content."

Confucius also say: woman who shit in own backyard probably not need dachshund. What a load of toss. If the problem of the overburdening of women with parental care could be solved by positive thinking we would have been hanging around in the cavemouth shouting "hey gorgeous, y'know that giraffe-skin loin cloth would look great with a dab of gooey turd on it". But that doesn't work!! DOES NOT WORK.

What we need - and you actually fucking said this before you accidentally dropped your intellect into the blender with the fairtrade bananas - is three things: a change in cultural norms, a change in government policy and a change in employer practice. And one more for good luck: a serious reduction in women-blaming bullshit from Britain's worst national newspaper.