A Broke Girl’s Guide To Beauty: What’s The Deal?

To a broke girl with expensive taste, the allure of a deal on a more expensive brand is hard to fight.

Having discovered last year that spending a little more on Maybelline’s Colossal Volume Express mascara (£6.99 in Boots) was a significant upgrade from Miss Sporty’s Pump Up Booster 24 hour Waterproof Mascara (£3.99 in Boots) and MUA’s Waterproof Mascara Black (£1.00 in Superdrug, which I had a severe allergic reaction to), I have been open to exploring more expensive options for the sake of investing in my face.

So, while I was exploring the idea of purchasing Rimmel Extra 3D Lash Mascara (£4.99 in Boots) following good reviews from a friend – and I do intend to give it a whirl, because it’s under a fiver and thus very in-keeping with this blog – I noticed that the Maybelline cabinet beside me was advertising a deal.

The Falsies Push-Up Drama mascara (£7.99 in Boots) and Brow Drama colour and fix brow crayon (£5.99) are both currently on offer, with £2 off each.
Given I was looking to spend around a fiver on my mascara anyway, spending a pound more to get something that is usually £7.99 made quite a bit of sense to my value-hungry mind. Well, you never know if you don’t try, right?

As for the brow crayon, I usually use the Rimmel £2.99 pencil, which is undeniably great and superb value for money. But if this Maybelline crayon is usually £5.99, I had to consider what wonders could possibly be found within. So I did.

I’m certainly not disappointed. The mascara has given me noticeably longer, darker lashes than Colossal Volume Express – in fact, I’m not sure they’ve looked fuller. My brows don’t exactly look better than they do with the Rimmel pencil, but the Brow Drama crayon is easy to control and goes on smoothly, lasts all day and definitely doesn’t have the propensity to smudge like the pencil.

So, it’s a success! I mean, I wouldn’t buy them at full price because I am broke but if you do have the ability to push your beauty budget, trying out deals like this can be a good way to explore expanding your products.

Freelance Fatale

Hello folks,

2015 has been One Of Those Years. It’s involved a lot less writing than I thought it would, actually, but that’s what happens when you balance a full time job with some pretty significant mental health problems. Now my contract at my current place of work is coming to an end, I’m facing the dilemma of what to do with myself next.

Over the last two years, I have developed my writing portfolio (tillygrove.contently.com) alongside what I publish on this blog, working with some great sites including Gadgette and Stop Street Harassment to produce content primarily relating to feminism, mental health, and body image. I’ve also worked on the proofreading and editing of various publications with the International Institute for Strategic Studies, with editorial credits in the Armed Conflict Survey and Strategic Dossier books, and a map research credit in the Strategic Survey book. I’ve also written copy for the website and newsletter. Actually, I have a first class honours in BA War Studies, with a special interest in gender, race and sexuality in the military and in conflict, and the impact of and on mental health. Elsewhere, I was responsible for transcribing interview recordings of up to two hours in length into a written report for the St John Ambulance Homeless Service, my work on which was highly commended.

I currently run the Instagram account for the charity For Books’ Sake (forbookssake), and am about to take on a regular News Reporter role with them, which includes contributing to the Twitter account @_FBSNews. I am familiar with creating and running campaigns, encouraging and monitoring engagement, and promoting products and events.

So, my point? I have writing, proofreading, editing, transcribing, and social media skills, and I’m looking for opportunities to use them. If you’d be interested in working with me, commissioning me, or otherwise getting in touch, please email me via this website on hello[at]thatpeskyfeminist[dot]com.

Then there’s this blog. I want to do more with it, and going freelance might be the opportunity for me to do just that. But I’ll need your help. I’ve made a Patreon, http://www.patreon.com/thatpeskyfeminist, on which you can, if you so desire, support me with a financial contribution of the size you choose. If you do this, I promise I will make the content you want to read, when you want to read it, with some potential exciting projects in the future. But let’s be real – I know times are tough, that’s why I’m making this post, so if you can’t, there’ll be no hard feelings from me. Thank you xo

A Broke Girl’s Guide to Beauty in 2015 So Far: In Which I Learn Some Lessons

My Broke Girl’s Guide to Beauty in 2014 post written just after Christmas last year was alarmingly popular – alarmingly because my make up skills are beginner at best, and I don’t know what I’m talking about. But apparently a lot of you are the same, and are on this journey with me, so here we are again! I vowed to publish the follow up by the first quarter of this year, and then the half way point, but didn’t manage either because I’m a Bad Blogger. But better late than never!

Everything in the first post still stands – it’s all quality cheap stuff that I’m still using. However, as time has gone by I have developed my repertoire, which is where we shall begin.

  1. Rimmel Professional Eye Brow Pencil, £2.99, Boots

boots.com

I’ve gone from someone who barely plucks her eyebrows to someone who carefully maintains a strong arched look, and I couldn’t be happier. The transition from eyebrow powder to pencil has been formative, and until I was made aware of this nifty little brush/pencil combo, you wouldn’t have seen me dead knowing what to do with one. This comes in three colours – black brown, dark brown, and hazel – and can be used to achieve a range of looks, from natural to fierce. I rely on the black brown to give me ridiculous, big, thick brows and no, they’re not technically perfect or classically beautiful, but neither am I!

  1. Sleek True Colour Lipstick, £4.99, Boots

Sleek MakeUP

You may recall (you won’t, but you can read it in last year’s post) that I referenced Sleek lipsticks in my 2014 round-up as being a good but more expensive brand that I was prioritising MUA Luxe Velvet Lip Lacquer over. Fast forward to now, and I may have had a change of heart. For one ninety-nine more than the MUA stuff (which I still rate, incidentally, but the colour palette is a little too limited for my liking) you get a good quality, vibrant lippy in a wonderful array of colours. I have Exxxaggerate, Heartbreaker, Baby Doll, Cherry, and Amped (L-) – and I’d like a whole lot more – and while each of them is a highly individual, stand-out shade, they easily slip into every day wear as a statement for any outfit.
                   

It’s not all paradise, though. The lipsticks each come as either matte or sheen, and for both the sheen one’s I’ve got – Babydoll and Cherry – I’ve had them snap, spread, and disintegrate in the tube. Aside from being really inconvenient, it also makes me really sad; I adore these colours and they’ve both become unusable. Please sort it out, Sleek!

  1. Maybelline Colossal Volume Mascara, £7.99, Boots

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Now, I have a confession to make. As you know (again, you won’t, but read last year’s post) previously I would not dream of paying over a fiver for a single make up item (and even that was pushing it), and I would like to assure you that fundamentally I have not changed, and neither has my disposable income. What did change, however, was my reliance on MUA for a bargain make-up fix. What I mean by that is: I bought their £1 mascara and eyeliner and my face reacted badly. I’m talking puffy, scaly, swollen skin around my eyes – not exactly the look I was going for. I vowed from then that when it comes to my face, I’m going to invest a little more than I previously would.

I’ll still tell you that the Miss Sporty mascara featured in my 2014 post is great for the price, because it is, and I tend to use it when my lashes need a boost. But compared to this Maybelline number, it is clumpy and difficult to apply, especially with the brush the size that it is – it is too large for precision, and precision is what you need for long lashes. The Colossal Lashes brush is thin, the mascara smooth and easy to apply, and the tube is shaped to perfectly fit in the palm. And my lashes? Never looked better. Sometimes it is worth paying more for that little extra quality, though it pains me to say.

  1. Rimmel Exaggerate Liquid Eyeliner, £3.99, Boots

ExaggerateLiquidEyeLiner_TEASER

This product got a mention in the 2014 round-up too, as an eyeliner I like but for which Drama Queen by Seventeen was something of a dupe. Well, I’ll hold my hands up on this – I think I was wrong. I ultimately found Drama Queen smudged just a little too much – and between you and me, I sweat A LOT, so need an eyeliner that maybe… won’t do that – and now I’m back using Exaggerate I find it much more reliable. It’s applicator is thin, the bottle is a good shape, and it lasts all day, give or take the occasional smudge. And the price ain’t half bad, either.

  1. Rimmel London BB Cream, £6.99, Boots

Rimmel-London-Match-Perfection-Foundation-BB-Cream

Last year I was fairly adamant that I don’t use make up on my skin and wouldn’t know where to begin if I did. We’ve all got to learn, don’t we? I first picked up B’s BB Cream when it was half price at Superdrug and, as part of a new skincare regime I’m trying where I drink water, take my make up off using either Nivea or Garnier cleanser and toner, and moisturising every inch of my flesh with Superdrug or Boots own brand Coconut Oil morning and night, I have noticed real results. My skin looks healthy. I moved onto the Rimmel product because I’d heard it’s good for the price, and I have not been disappointed. My skin looks and feels good when it’s on, hopefully benefits from at least one of the supposed nine properties it has, and it lasts well for a product I use daily. I still don’t know the difference between a BB and a CC cream though, so don’t ask me.

  1. TK Maxx

Don’t worry, I’m not trying to pretend like I’m the first person to ever discover that TK Maxx offers discounted brands. However, what I didn’t know and did discover is that some of the make-up they offer is very good – we’re talking Illamasqua lipglosses and nail polishes, RRP’d at £16.50 and £14.50 respectively, at £7.99 and £3.99. Because sometimes even broke girls need to treat themselves…


And there we have it. If there is even the slightest chance that this post will help people who don’t have a lot of money keep their make up bags stocked up, I’ll be happy. Plus, I’m always eager to hear your cheap make up tips too, so send them my way!

Things That Would Happen if a Fat Person Judged Bake Off

Mary Berry, food writer and judge, alongside baker Paul Hollywood, on BBC’s Great British Bake Off has bravely come forward with the opinion that viewers ‘don’t want somebody who’s judging cakes to be large‘, lest they consider it a warning that being fat is ‘what happens when you eat cake’. She is, of course, completely right – fat people should be neither seen nor heard, unless talking about how much they hate their body, or singing the praises of whatever faddy diet they’re on to change it – but that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to hazards in letting a fat person judge a cake show.

1. They’d eat all the cake.

All of it. Every last not-even-fully-cooked crumb. Unlike the reserved Berry, who ‘forces herself’ to eat only one slice of toast in the morning, fat people have no self-control and thus, if you put food in front of them – or anywhere near them – they will devour it all. Clearly, Mary is worried that she won’t get a bite in edgeways, and thus fail to do her job. Very understandable.

2. They’d persuade viewers that being fat is actually Not Bad

This is a very dangerous one indeed. Of course, even though our media is entirely saturated with thin bodies and yet fat people still very much exist, when it comes to the other way round there’s a serious threat to society. You see, even though fat people face ridicule and abuse every waking moment of their lives, and every second joke in any given TV show or film is at a fat person’s expense, and even though the average size of a woman in the UK is a size 16 but that is still classified as ‘plus size’ by the vast majority of clothing retailers, when people see a fat person who appears like they might be happy with their body and their life, who is treated as a normal person and not an anthropomorphic fat joke, suddenly it’s the most desirable thing you can be.

Tess Holliday, in posting photos of her size 22 body in an unapologetic, sexy light, is constantly told by commenters on her Instagram and Facebook profiles that she is ‘promoting obesity’. She’s not telling anyone that they should be the same size as her, and she’s not telling anyone that her lifestyle is any healthier than theirs (though there’s no reason to assume that it isn’t) – she is simply existing in her body, and not hiding away, and not hating herself for the way she looks, and because that challenges the dominant narrative that fat is bad and must be avoided at all costs, she becomes Public Enemy #1. Never mind the messages of body love that she espouses for all women, and the impact her positive outlook has on other plus size women. We’re not allowed to feel good, and no one is allowed to see us happy in our skin.

3. They’d make it difficult for thin people to enjoy cake

This is, essentially, Mary’s point. When she stuffs her gob with Battenberg, it’s fine because her body is a societally acceptable size. Thin people can enjoy eating foods deemed unhealthy all they want; Jennifer Lawrence can talk for hours about how much she loves junk food. It’s the Cool Girl myth, as described by Gillian Flynn in Gone Girl: the Cool Girl, god love her, ‘jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2’. Everyone loves a gal who chows down and ain’t ashamed of it – unless her body alludes to this fact. Eating like a horse, largely considered unfeminine because women are ‘supposed’ to be dainty, reserved little things who consume nothing and give everything, stops being sexy the minute the food causes you to weigh more pounds than society says you’re meant to. Then it’s disgusting. Then nobody wants to see you eat, and they judge you if you do, often vocally and even when you eat what you’re ‘supposed’ to – grab a salad, for example, and don’t be surprised if someone asks you if that’s what you really want. Don’t grab a salad, of course, and don’t be surprised if someone asks you why you didn’t.

A thin person eating a cake is literally in no way different to a fat person eating cake; it’s still fattening, it’s still got the exact same amount of calories. It’s just, if you’re seen to be eating and enjoying something that is associated with being fat and you are fat, people are angry because you’re implying that you don’t actually care about your weight and wouldn’t mind if you gained more. Which is, obviously, unacceptable. At the same time, thin people’s feelings come first, so if it’s going to put them off their precious cake to know that one day they might be fat too – god forbid! – then nobody wants that. They’re allowed to enjoy themselves, after all.


Clearly, Mary Berry’s comments are fatphobic nonsense, but they’re not entirely useless. It’s good, every once in a while, to have something to perfectly demonstrate the double standards still at play between fat and thin people. Like ring-fencing a show about cake, traditionally seen as the realm of fat people and regularly used to mock us with, for thin people who like to show ‘discipline’ in what they eat. Because eating is only okay when thin people do it, and when you pretend like you don’t enjoy it that much.

Chickenfeed

Originally on Medium.

The trolls came to me hungry, clamouring for attention I hadn’t even provoked. Added me to two Twitter lists – ‘landwhales’, for fatties, and ‘femcunts’, for feminists, because what could be worse than being fat and a feminist? – and pounced when I tweeted, even though I blocked the originator of the lists.

It was clear that they were ravenous. ‘Are you a pig?’ they asked me. ‘Hey, piggy!’ I guess I was bacon. I told them that I was a pig. When they called me obese, I agreed. They were devouring me. I gave them what they wanted.

In the end I blocked them, because trolls are never sated. Everyone knows that – that’s why you don’t feed the trolls! You let them harass you with insults designed to upset, you withstand the relentless barrage of aggressive, nameless, faceless accounts feasting on you. Let them take their bite and then block them so you can pretend it didn’t happen.

You have to lock your account, though, too, so you don’t see any leeches that might straggle through. You have to cut their feed off at the source. You have to silence yourself. Maybe you shouldn’t have had a public account at all, especially one where you were espousing views that challenge the norm – fat girls must be neither seen nor heard, unless they’re being mocked. Maybe you shouldn’t have joined Twitter at all.

But then I walked down the street after work, and a man rolled down his car window and told me I should try eating some salad. Because I’m fat! Turns out the trolls aren’t just some Internet phenomenon, they live under bridges in real life, and your very existence is like chickenfeed. I didn’t say anything to him, just went home and cried. Did I succeed in not curing his hunger? Will it never happen to me again now?

I went online to tweet about how upset I was, and I had unlocked my account (bad girl), and it was seconds before an egg-fronted account with four followers and no tweets since 2011 had latched onto me, repeatedly telling me I was fat and ugly. I couldn’t help it; I fed the trolls again. I spat back that they were pathetic and useless and unkind, though not in quite those words, and it culminated in them threatening to screenshot my tweets and send them to my employer.

That was my fault for taking them out to pasture, of course. If you feed them they grow big and strong. I deleted my account, and stopped eating, both of which are core elements in not feeding trolls. If you never say anything they can’t find you, and if you don’t eat then you might lose weight, or die, and then they’ll stop having a problem with you.

Will the Women’s Equality Party Go Far Enough?

Originally at The F Word.

We’re facing another five years of Conservative government, and as women we should be afraid. It was repeatedly reported during the last term thatwomen were hit the hardest by austerity, and as we find ourselves with a proposed £12bn more cuts to welfare in the near future, there’s little reason to expect things will improve.

It’s hard to watch organisations like the Fawcett Society celebrate the fact that there was an increase in women MPs and women party leaders (especially when one of those parties was, briefly, UKIP), when for the most vulnerable it is glaringly obvious that no matter how many women are represented in parliament, the coming years are going to be painful and it is very likely that more people are going to die. It matters not the gender of the person sanctioning benefits, removing funding to domestic violence shelters, falsely assessing disabled people as Fit to Work; the effects will hurt just the same.

Clearly, British politics needs more than just the presence of women in its mainstream parties. It needs something new, something to shake it up. That’s why the news that Sandi Toksvig is leaving BBC Radio 4’s News Quiz to help found the Women’s Equality Party (WEP) has got people excited. Its proposed mission is to ‘achieve equality for women to the benefit of all’; it’s narrow, but they’re not ashamed of that.

Focusing on bringing about gender equality is obviously important. The problem is, however, that whilst women might be oppressed as a gender, we are not all oppressed the same. The WEP wants to focus on equal representation in politics and business, equal opportunity in the educational system, equal pay, equal parenting rights, and ending violence against women. None of these things are objectionable, unless you’re a misogynist. However, with few exceptions, they lay a very specific groundwork that posits navigating the world of business as the most significant threat to women currently. Representation in boardrooms, the pay gap, and the disparity between maternity and paternity leave are being presented as key components of equality. While for some women they undoubtedly are, we must look at the bigger picture.

The WEP says that equality means ‘a more vibrant economy’ and ‘a workforce that draws on the talents of the whole population’. What, then, for the many disabled and/or neuroatypical women, who cannot work and bear the brunt of cuts to benefits and cruel capability assessments, as well as discrimination and the impact of the ‘strivers vs shirkers’ dynamic created by the government itself? What about the women of colour and trans women who experience higher unemployment rates and face lower rates of pay than both white men and women?

Equality should not be about contributing to the economy, but surviving under capitalist patriarchy. For most women, that means far more than smashing the glass ceiling. It means taking into account those who are unemployed and in poverty, it means acknowledging the women who are not in heterosexual marriages, who are not working or even able to work, and it means examining the fact that 91% of single parents are women.

Even tackling violence against women, the most vital of the WEP’s goals, must come from a perspective that is willing to examine the ways women of colour, trans women, queer women, disabled women, poor women and sex workers are all at increased risk. As such, I find it worrying that when I asked the WEP if they could clarify their position on sex work, they simply did not acknowledge the question. Many feminists classify sex work as violence against women in itself, but it is, in my opinion, vital for the well-being of sex workers that it is considered a job first and foremost, with full rights, safe conditions, and fair pay and treatment. The WEP might consider this out of their purview, but I’d consider that an error.

This is the problem with being a party that is avowedly ‘non-partisan’ but seeking to represent a group as large and varied as women: women’s lives and experiences are never non-partisan. They are political, intersectional, and they have already been shown to suffer under a Tory government. Though campaigning for legal change regarding pay and parenting rights may positively impact the lives of some women, and it might be an easier sell to the general public, it will ultimately do very little for the majority. It is a superficial victory. We need a political party willing to shake societal structures to their very core.

Of course, such a party would never be popular in the mainstream. Unfortunately, that’s the point. If we want our feminism to change things, we don’t want it to be palatable. It’s never going to be easy to dismantle oppressive structures, but if we want real equality, we’re going to have to try.

‘Some People Don’t Even Think You Exist’: The Invisible Bisexual

Gay marriage. Gay Pride. Gay adoption.

I am not gay. I am attracted to people of all genders and none. I don’t feel at home with either the pansexual or bisexual label, for various reasons, so I prefer the term queer instead. I understand that many people in the LGBP community do not like the term ‘queer’, for various reasons, so I am not asking for it to be applied as a blanket term nor to have these things renamed to ‘queer marriage, queer pride, queer adoption’. Likewise, I would never call for same-gender marriage to be referred to as ‘equal’ marriage, because trans people still face a number of barriers to getting married and being married. It is just simply false to use the term ‘gay’ in this way.

If I am in a relationship with someone of the same gender as mine, I do not become gay. If I marry someone of the same gender as mine, it does not turn me gay. If I adopt a child with a same-gender partner, I am still not gay. I am told that this erasure is not oppression, that biphobia does not exist. But if my sexuality must constantly be swept under the carpet, if the LGBTQIA community must constantly be reduced to one letter, I fail to see how I – and not to mention the trans people whose struggle is reduced to being about sexuality and lumped in with sexuality issues when it has nothing to do with that at all – am being recognised, respected and represented.

This is especially hammered home during Pride season, and not just by the insistence of countless people referring to it as ‘gay pride’. The Internet is awash with handy PSA’s from gay and lesbian people encouraging BPQ people to not bring their ‘opposite-gendered’ partners, and to not engage in public displays of affection. As well as being incredibly cissexist and actively transphobic, by implying that you can tell someone’s gender from their appearance and that trans people do not belong at Pride or else do not/should not engage in heterosexual relationships (or, you know… that they aren’t the gender they say they are), it sums up the vibe that I have gotten both at Pride and also at so-called gay clubs (which again, patently will appeal to lesbian, bi and trans people but are never referred to in the title or the marketing). I recently exited the toilet of one such famous London club to have a man snark, to my face, that ‘it’s like Billingsgate fish market in here’. You see, the joke is that I have a vagina. Which in this instance he was right in presuming, but again, generally speaking it’s a good idea to not assume that you can know a person’s genitals by looking at them, nor that this has any bearing on their gender.

It was a problem to him that I had a vagina and dared set foot in ‘his’ club, ‘his’ space. Likewise, for many gay men it is a problem that people who are not gay men (and especially white, cisthin, able-bodied, middle-class gay men) attend Pride and try to demonstrate that they are oppressed on a similar axis. There is constant pressure to prove yourself, prove your queerness and right to belong in these spaces. If you’ve got a heterosexual partner, or at least a partner who might be perceived as being heterosexual and cis, forget it.

It would not be so bad if these weren’t the issues we deal with every day outside of LGBTQIA spaces. I have had lesbians tell me they would not date a bisexual woman because we are ‘not to be trusted’, have seen news report after news report turn speculation on the sexuality of celebrities immediately relates to whether or not they are lesbian or gay, for instance Kristen Stewart or the case of Cate Blanchett, who was described as rumouring ‘lesbian experiences’, without a single mention or acknowledgement of bisexuality, pansexuality or queerness. So often it seems that to many, BPQ people do not exist at all. If they do, they are regarded with suspicion and doubt. The ‘greedy’ and ‘promiscuous’ stereotypes are tired and laughable, but still hard-wearing.

Then there are the statistics. Surveys have suggested that bisexual women are more likely to experience domestic abuse and more likely to be raped than straight women, that bisexual people have higher rates of mental illness than gay and lesbian people, and are even accused by some for being the reason that HIV/AIDs spread to straight people. It should go without saying that each of these things in turn increases the violence likely to be experienced by bisexual people.

With all this in mind, I can’t sit by while people tell me that biphobia doesn’t exist and I should just grin and bear it while the language used by activists, the media and the general populace alike excludes and erases BPQ people from discourse. Thanks all the same.

All’s Fair in Sexism and War

Originally posted on Medium.

No doubt you remember Sir Tim Hunt, who resigned from his post at UCLafter making sexist “jokes” (remarks) about women scientists at a conference in South Korea. The lecturer who broke the news about his comments, Connie St Louis, has been subject to a dressing down by the right-wing media for daring to be a black woman; they have made attacks on everything from her CV to her ‘black privilege’ (hint: no) in an attempt to discredit her. Apparently there is also a leaked document from the EU Commission which features minutes from the meeting attended by Hunt, which ‘prove’ that he only meant it as a joke. Jonathan Dimbleby has now quit his position at UCL too, because he is outraged. Other manly man academics like Professor Brian Cox have also let their disappointment be known about the treatment of this poor poor man.

Here is the problem, though. I’m not doubting he was telling a joke. I’m not doubting every fedora-wearing dudebro who tells women over the Internet to ‘get back to the kitchen’ is joking, either. Everyone knows that the funniest thing a man can do is tell a joke at a woman’s expense, and that’s why these men are the most desirable in the world. Just kidding, they’re jerk-offs. And from reddit to Tim Hunt, they’re upholding a dangerous system.

Hunt said that women in science are a problem because ‘they fall in love with you, you fall in love with them, and when you criticise them they cry’. Whether he said ‘now, seriously’ after making this statement or not, his words serve only to reinforce what many already believe about women in science, as well as women in a range of other professions and in general.This blog is dedicated to documenting sexism in science. All you have to do is search ‘sexism in science’ or ‘misogyny in science’ in Google and the results will come. Returning to the case of Connie St Louis, this article about black and Latina women scientists being mistaken for admin or custodial staff has just this moment been shared on my feed. How prominent figures in the sciences, particularly the men, treat women (and especially women of colour) matters.

So even if Hunt followed up his ‘joke’ with comments that celebrated the work of women scientists, the point is rather that in preceding it with a joke about how incompetent women are, he may as well have not. If the work of women cannot be recognised without references to the apparent ‘downsides’ of working with them — which, even if Hunt was joking about, the Mayor of London happily supported — then is it really being recognised at all? Must women always exist under the shadow of the assumptions, stereotypes and presumptions placed on them by the men who have for so long been viewed as their superiors?

I am reminded of the arguments against women being allowed into ground combat roles in militaries, especially as stated by the British Ministry of Defence. Though the often-touted reason behind keeping women out of combat roles is that they are not physically strong enough — to which the answer is, of course, ‘not all women’ — there is also considerable rumbling about the impact of women on unit cohesion, their effects on men (both of which roughly translate to: men will want to have sex with the women, the women will want to have sex with the men, neither will be able to help themselves and everybody will be distracted), and their emotional capacity to kill/need for protection. Not far removed from ‘they fall in love with you, you fall in love with them, and they cry when criticised’, is it?

These ideas have been successfully used to exclude women from combat roles, despite them proving themselves in various combat situations during the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts of the 21st Century, for hundreds of years. It is only now that there has been any real effort to challenge it. As women increasingly make their mark on science in spite of many attempts to keep them out of the profession, maybe it’s best if we stay away from arguments like this altogether. Joking or not.

The Conflicting Masculinites of Frank and Claire in House of Cards

  Originally posted on Bitch Flicks.

The attributes required to be a head of state and the attributes associated with masculinity have long been concurrent. Indeed, this is at least partly why so many heads of state, certainly in Western societies, are and historically have been men. Leaders are seen to be, or need to be, strong, rational, wise and assertive; these are also traits of masculinity, and considered to be the opposite of those associated with femininity and thus women. Women are seen to be peaceful, impulsive, weak-willed, timid and submissive. Though this is clearly untrue, the perception ensures that women are only able to succeed and be taken seriously in politics if they adopt masculine traits and disown feminine ones. They are placed under intense scrutiny by their rivals and the public to ensure that they do not revert back, and criticism will be invariably gendered.

Francis “Frank” Underwood (Kevin Spacey), the lead character of Netflix’s American remake of the British show House of Cards, is practically designed to showcase masculinity as he schemes his way to the President’s office. We are first introduced to Frank, who is then a congressman of the Democrat Party and House majority whip, finding out that he has not been appointed Secretary of State, an arrangement it is soon revealed that he had orchestrated by securing the election of President Garrett Walker. The show then follows his progression through the White House via less conventional means. He manipulates, exploits, backroom deals, and even kills his way from congressman to vice president and finally into the Oval Office itself. He has no qualms in disposing of his fellow congressmen, lovers, and even the President of the United States to get there, and no method is too underhand.

Frank’s ruthlessness is central to his masculinity. He is unashamed of his thirst for power and he will do anything to achieve what he wants. Even when we think we are seeing a softer side to him–for example when he takes young congressman Peter Russo under his wing to get him on the nominees list for Governor of Pennsylvania, or when he embarks on a symbiotic professional and then sexual relationship with the journalist Zoe Barnes–all is never as it seems. Frank makes reference to the fact, when he visits Barnes on Father’s Day, that he considers those he draws into his web as children when he responds knowingly to her statement that he doesn’t have any with, “Don’t I?” However, far from caring for his “children,” he uses them for his own gains and disposes of them when he is done or they threaten his dominance. When he sabotages Russo in order to fill the governor position with the incumbent vice-president, opening up that seat for himself, he sends the former alcoholic into a downward spiral and eventually kills him, making it look like suicide, when it becomes clear he is a liability. Likewise, when Barnes begins to suspect that Frank is behind this death and the other dealings occurring in the White House at that time, and after she has decided she no longer wants to sleep with him, he pushes her in front of a subway train.

In a more traditional story, we might expect Frank’s wife, Claire, to provide a feminine, maternal complement. Instead, we are given a character who at least on first appearances is every bit as ruthless and power-hungry as her husband. In her appearance, she opts for short, sharp haircuts, grey-blue outfits, and constant steely eyed determination. In her professional life, she is head of an NGO, the Clean Water Initiative, and her own career path seems very important to her. When she works together with Frank on an environmental bill designed to improve Russo’s public reputation and Frank does not give her the money she is expecting, she goes behind his back to ensure the legislation does not pass, and then goes to stay with her former lover Adam Galloway without informing Frank where she is. Considering that up until this point we have seen the two as a unit, sharing cigarettes and supportive words, this is a shock. 

After this, it is difficult to gauge exactly the nature of the Underwoods’ marriage. At times, it seems healthy – mutually supportive, loving, and even where they both engage in extramarital affairs, this is only an issue when they are not open with the other about it. At other points, it seems that perhaps Claire is just yet another pawn in Frank’s game. He states in Chapter 3 that he loves her “more than sharks love blood,” but the image that this creates is not one of tenderness, but one of violent lust. Given the two rarely have sex with one another, this lust is defined by power instead. Frank uses Claire’s role with the CWI when he needs to, he uses her personal experiences of rape when he needs to, and he uses her support and her presence when he needs to. Claire is supposed to gain from this situation, too, but in Season 3 it becomes evident that she has not. Claire tries to get voted into a UN ambassadorial role and fails, so she relies on Frank to get it for her instead. When circumstances lead to a public fall-out between the US and Russia, she is then forced to resign, and performs only the role of First Lady. For Claire, this appears to be feminisation against her will.

For both of the Underwoods, we do get an occasional glimpse behind their masks of masculinity. With Frank, it is in his sexuality. Homosexuality is often regarded as being in direct opposition to masculinity, because it is both seen as taking on the traits of femininity and women and also because it requires that a man does not perform the task of dominating a woman. Perhaps this is why Frank is never open with anyone about his tendencies, but it is heavily implied in Chapter 8 that he had some kind of relationship with one of his old friends at military college, Tim Corbet. Later in the show, in Chapter 24, we see the Underwoods engaging sexually with their bodyguard, Edward Meechum. Claire remarks that Frank “needed that.”

For Claire, her struggle appears to be with her latent femininity. When she shows up at Barnes’ flat to demonstrate that nothing about her affair is secret, it is obvious that she is desperate for control, but given that she immediately restarts her affair with Galloway after learning of what is going on with Frank and Barnes, it is likely that there are elements of jealousy and insecurity too. In Season 2, when she uses her friendship with the then-First Lady Patricia Walker to enable Frank to continue to manipulate her husband out of the presidency, upon being told by Patricia that she is a “good person,” Claire puts down the phone and bursts into tears, clearly feeling guilt. Meanwhile, in Season 3, her decision to stay with a gay activist imprisoned in Russia as he starves on hunger strike ultimately leads the relations between America and Russia, that Frank had been working tirelessly on, to break down.

It is this point at which things significantly begin to shift in Frank and Claire’s relationship. This entire situation, which occurred in a succession of embarrassments for Frank, clearly served as a challenge to his dominance and an infringement on his masculinity, especially coming from his wife. For Claire, meanwhile, it is evident that while Frank is fighting desperately to enforce his masculinity and remain in power, she has lost all of hers. This was not the agreement on which their marriage was founded, symbolised by the argument they have on Air Force One after the Russia debacle where Frank states that he should never have made Claire ambassador, and she retorts that she should never have made him president. This conversation sets into motion a chain of events that ultimately leads to Claire packing her bags and leaving. There can be little doubt that the presence of this indomitable masculinity in their relationship, and the constant fight to retain it, played a significant part in the breakdown.

When Women Are Prepared to Die to Terminate A Pregnancy, We Need to Listen

Originally posted on The Huffington Post.

Kenlissia Jones, a 23 year old woman from Albany, was this month arrested for ‘malice murder’ after she induced her own abortion with pills she purchased off the internet. Her charges have since been dropped, with it being ruled that under Georgia state law a person cannot be prosecuted for ending their own pregnancy. Though this is in some respects a victory, it is time to examine the ways in which our attitudes to abortion lead to this kind of situation in the first place.

The pro-life versus pro-choice debate has rumbled on for years, and shows no signs of stopping. In a nutshell, it concerns whether a pregnant person has the right to choose whether or not to carry a pregnancy to full term. For pro-lifers, they do not, because terminating a foetus is murder. For pro-choicers, they do, because the rights of an unborn foetus do not trump a person’s right of determination over their own body. Amnesty International has recently launched a new campaign stating that refusing a person an abortion, as is currently the case in Ireland where it is a criminal offence to have one, is tantamount to torture. Across the pond, the legality surrounding abortions is by and large the same. Even in Britain, where we may take it for granted, abortion is still criminalised after 24 weeks gestation, with regular attempts by parliament to get that time limit lowered.

What we need to discuss is why this is something we are criminalising at all. There is a misconception that people treat abortion frivolously, seeing it as just another means of contraception. There may well be people who do feel this way, and given doctors can give the procedure safely, they are perfectly entitled to do so. However, it is a mistake to ignore that, though medical and psychiatric opinion is that the after-effects of abortion are on the whole neither major or long-lasting, it can still be a stressful decision and procedure to go through. If there are people who see abortion as an easy way out, especially when it is still stigmatised and difficult to talk openly about, it is hard to imagine they are a majority.

With this in mind, we have to realise that people choosing abortion are not doing so lightly. When Jones opted to buy pills from the Internet, she put herself in immense danger. It is likely that terminating her pregnancy in this way caused her a great deal of pain. She is not the only one. In 1994, a teenager in Florida shot herself in the abdomen because she could not afford an abortion. These women were not taking decisions flippantly; they were willing to seriously injure if not kill themselves in order to end their pregnancies.

Carrying through these pregnancies, then, must be similarly life or death. Nobody knows better than a pregnant person whether or not they are physically, mentally or economically capable of raising a child. This is especially true when considering previous surveys have suggested that the majority of people having abortions are already parents. Far from being a case of them not respecting the sanctity of life or not understanding the beauty of bringing a child into the world, it is the fact that they do that leads them to the conclusion that abortion is the best route.

Even those who have not had children can surely know that they are not able to provide what a child needs. In an age where sex does not come after marriage and only for reproduction, where parenthood is no longer the end-goal of many young people, and where people’s rights and freedoms are considered more important than ever, this is perfectly acceptable. Not wanting to give birth or have a child is fine. Wanting to have a child but not having the means to raise one is fine. Any answer that anyone could give in this scenario is fine. Nobody should be forced to give birth if they don’t want to.

We need laws, and we need a shift in public discourse, that reflects this. If abortion was universally free, safe, accessible, and decriminalised up to the point of birth, pregnant people would not feel the need to place themselves in extreme danger time and time again. This is as true in the West as it is globally, as the World Health Organisation repeatedly reports that millions of unsafe abortions are estimated to take place worldwide each year, almost all in developing countries. The global demand for abortions is evident, as is the fact that even where abortion is not provided safely, legally or without charge, people still obtain it in huge numbers. It is vital that we give them what they need, with access to education, contraception, and support, to ensure that they are always able to make the best choices for themselves.