My thoughts on Milfs and Dilfs, a Problem or a Solution?


I was reading a short article about Madonna and her penchant for younger men yesterday in which she cites the reason she chooses such men to be about her desire to remain adventurous and not to be tied down to someone who is set in their ways.

It got me thinking about how we view those who date people much younger than themselves, most notably men who are assumed to be dating younger women solely in terms of their youthful appearance, with all the social esteem amongst other men that goes with it. Indeed, there have been plenty of discussions in the media of late regarding how divorced women in their 50’s upwards are finding it difficult to meet men who want to date them, because their ‘selfish and shallow’ male counterparts are all off dating younger women. It is argued that the pool has been greatly reduced since online dating has enabled such men to have easier access to younger women. The feminist press have a tendency to simplify this I find, to such men using their patriarchal privilege to throw off older “used up” women in preference for younger flesh. Rarely do you hear from men or indeed, the younger women (who are equally assumed to be going for a Sugar Daddy, or that female celebrities who date younger men to be going for the flesh appeal), that there may be other motivations for their dating choices.

But maybe men are dating younger women for similar reasons that Madonna is dating younger men, that they wish to be free from all of the emotional strain that goes with dating someone who is the same age as them? Maybe this is also linked to a feeling of not being able to match up to the expectations of a woman who has lots of dating experience, whereas younger women are seen as easier to provide for when they are mainly seen as wanting financial security, something easy to work out (either you have it or you don’t)? Again, as I have found in my research we ignore the role of female power in men’s decision making and the role of men wanting to separate themselves from the bad man stereotype, when women’s attitudes to dating men are shaped by bad experiences with other men previously, something that is bolstered by a “all men are bastards” culture.

Why do we always see such relationships to be based on sex appeal of the young partner for the older partner? Incidentally, we rarely hear from the younger partner, especially younger men who like older women, this even though there is well-established market for such “Milf” titles in the pornography market, so they clearly exist at least in potential. Also, why do we always assume relationships between people of vastly differing ages to be doomed to failure? I can remember the local scandal as a young teenager when a married circuit racer in his forties ran off with a 16-year-old girl. Gossip was rife. Here was a racer who dated a pretty young thing, just for her looks, you assumed it was only a matter of time before he eschewed her for another younger model; “the poor girl/the fool!”, and “what a bastard!”

I walked past their house every day on the way home from school and sometimes one or both of them would be outside in their front garden (which was filled every inch by his rather dilapidated racing car). I looked for evidence of unhappiness or frustration in either of them but actually never saw any, they just looked like a normal couple. I noted that they were together at least for 6 or so years up until they moved elsewhere, which was much longer than anyone had imagined they would be. The same can be argued for Woody Allen and his younger partner, they are still together a couple of decades later, something no one imagined at the time of the scandal, so were we at all right?

Men have a lot of insecurities about dating women these days. They are being made to be self-reflective about what they offer far beyond the simple ability to be a provider for a family as was historically the case. They also have a lot of hang-ups about their sex lives, so we shouldn’t assume that dating younger women is the dreamy situation for them that the stereotype paints. It is quite likely to be challenging in different ways too.

I’m not necessarily advocating relationships with people of different generations – and I have certainly experienced tiresome dates with younger men who rattled on about something significant only to their generation, their great looks soon faded over the dinner table – but I think we are wrong to assume that such people have simple motivations for choosing partners. We are psychological beings and yes, many May to September relationships may be built on a need for security, especially for the younger partner but at the end of the day, what is wrong with that? If such people deny their urges for a partner of another generation, are they any the better for it? I doubt it.

I think it is actually a sign that we are becoming freer to choose our partners and by the law of average, some will experiment with the age of their partners, just like people are experimenting more with their sexualities. I’m all for that and to those that say I’m ignoring a pattern caused by men’s privilege (young women’s bodies being sold for old men’s money) as many argue, I say that for one, other men can be very critical of such men’s choices, even those with a lot of patriarchal privilege, so which men are your focus? Also, that when women date younger men it is largely met with a nudge and a wink, so maybe we have a rather sexist standpoint on this subject?

In my experience it’s definitely hard enough to find your soul mate, so I think it is only fair that people should be able to date who they want to, after all there are plenty of types of relationships that don’t work for a myriad of different reasons even when people are from the same generation. Maybe these people are just experimental by nature or maybe they are a vanguard for a more open dating culture in the future? Perhaps we should be thanking them for making changing the rules a little bit, after all it frees it up for us too. We might not choose to date someone younger but I for one feel more confident that there is now a culture of younger men appreciating the looks of women my age, (even if it were the case that men of my same age might not) regardless of the fact it is of no practical use to me.

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The Fashion for Body Shaming may be Over! (Or at Least, it is Unfashionable for Now)


I have just read an article about Kathy Griffen, the current co-host of the programme The Fashion Police who has just announced her departure from the show after only a three-month stint. According to the article her reason was:

“Listen, I am no saint…. But I do not want to use my comedy to contribute to a culture of unattainable perfectionism and intolerance towards difference…I want to help women, gay kids, people of colour and anyone who feels underrepresented to have a voice and a LAUGH!”

Her exit follows hot on the heels of Kelly Osbourne who left in protest over a racist slur made by a co-host about Zendaya Coleman’s dreadlocked hair at the Oscars, which she described as smelling of patchouli oil or weed. I’m no fan of these bitch-celeb reality shows, but I think this is significant even for those who do not watch them.

It struck me that this is something new, people standing up for an appreciation of difference, whether it is regarding body shapes or more widely, race, sexuality or class. I have never come across so many examples such as this or the one concerning fat men dancing, or celebrity outings of pre-photo shopped images recently covered in this blog, where celebrities are willing to stick their heads above the parapet and say enough is enough. It seemed to start in January last year with Cate Blanchett who commented on how her dress was filmed from the floor upwards on the red carpet, something that wouldn’t happen to men. These celebrities are backed by a public that is slowly is surely turning the tables on a thin, white and straight obsessed media; it seems we too have had enough.

I think this sea change has been long coming, but to be honest I’m surprised it is happening at all. I have always been as attracted to images of perfected beauty whilst simultaneously tired of the narrow range of potential it involves. It’s hard to admit that one’s politics (especially for me, gender politics) don’t match up to one’s aesthetic desires. But most of all I have never thought I would see the day when the public got over their similar ambivalence to photo shopped images. Until now I couldn’t imagine anything other than a shallow, body shaming media that perpetuated women’s insecurities (I now think, “shame on me!”). Yet it seems this is actually happening now, albeit in a piecemeal manner example by example, so we might not notice the change except retrospectively.

Could it be that we might be able to imagine a media that shows a wider variety of images and that importantly, does not body shame? Could there be a time when female celebrities on the red carpet are no longer only asked about their dresses, whilst men are asked about their career choices? Could this actually pan out to a real and deep cultural change in appetites? I’m reminded that many of the media’s executive staff, especially in such female-audience shows are women, meaning that representation in the industries does not necessarily lead to change in the channels’ philosophies.

One is hopeful. My only fear is that this is something of a fad that will never really cement itself. I can still remember my joy as the fashion industry rejected animal fur en masse in the early nineties, only to reinstate it as a fashion necessity a decade later. Only then did I remember that fashion people are into cyclical change that necessarily goes out of style and the anti fur campaign was just that, a fad, d’uh!

It is easy to start to take on a lasssez faire attitude towards cultural change, to think that something is unchangeable, that we will always have bitchy, uncaring and self obsessed celebrities who put their careers before their ethics, assuming they have any. Such a belief however, leaves us unambitious for greater growth because it thwarts our imagination; we literally cannot foresee a brighter future. And, if the market ain’t there the media will have the best argument not to service it.

It remains to be seen whether we are moving to a genuine shift towards greater inclusion in the aesthetic stakes, or whether like fur, the fashion for the stereotypical beauty shall return, but at least it is shifting from it’s cemented foundations if only for a while. Any expansion of acceptable models is better than none and much as we never undergo genuine revolutions that achieve what they set out to, we might get two feet forward and one step back in the right direction. After all, most of us, regardless of the fashion industry wouldn’t choose to wear fur now.

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The War of the Sexes Might Not Have Yet Begun


Following on from yesterday’s blog about the variety of gender choices there are and how these can make everyday decisions like which public toilet one should use extremely difficult, I was interested to read an article in Nature the other day that further complicates things. This time instead of gender – that is whether one understands oneself to be a man or a woman socially – being contested, it is a person’s sex – the biological definition of male and female, the body including the hormones – that has been shown to have a far more complex definition than the typical binary we usually use.

Technically there are a few ways that someone can be “Intersex”, that is neither strictly male nor female but something in between. We have all heard of those people who have indeterminate genitals, hermaphrodites as they used to be called (now referred to as Intersex), but the article outlines other ways that someone can be neither of the binary sexes, and it claims 1 person in a 100 has some form of complex status of their sex.

Some people have ‘mosaicism’ (1 in 15,000 people) which refers to a genetic make up that is not entirely homogenous, it is mixed depending on which cells you test; others can be a chimaera (which is very rare, affecting only 1 per cent of all intersex people), which means a person who is developed from a mixture of two fertilised eggs; we are also able to contain our mother’s and for women, our children’s cells in our bodies for a two or three decades, further complicating our definition of both a person’s sex and that of an individual person.

Such people may be completely unaware of their make up until they seek medical assistance for some other complaint, or they seek fertility treatment. The article describes one Australian chimaera, a 46 year old woman who whilst pregnant with her third child, was found to be largely chromosomally male.

Wow. One would have thought that being able to give birth twice guaranteed you were a woman (something especially ironic when sterile women have been historically accused of not being a ‘proper woman’ due to her inability to give birth). As the article discusses, much as scientists have long known that sex more closely resembles a spectrum than a binary, society has a long way to catch up.

It begs the question, what would have to happen for us to really comprehend such a spectrum? How would society have to change, especially legally? First of all, we would have to acknowledge that there are a lot of people walking around who either know they are intersex but do not share that knowledge publicly, or are completely unaware of their mixed sex status, AND ONE OF THEM COULD POTENTIALLY BE US!

How’s that for a seed to start a moral panic?

Going back to yesterday’s article about toilet use, would we need to change whether men and women can use each others’ loos to enable the mosaics and the chimeras among us to use a facility that does not match their appearance? I still say no to that, but the argument for an intersex toilet, for our facility binary to be challenged could be open. But isn’t that to once again an attempt to label someone crudely and falsely, just like the sex binary has always done? I think so. What really needs to be done is for us to queer it up, to shake our very established ideas around both sex and gender and start seeing ourselves as part of a spectrum with reference to our gender, sex and I also believe, sexuality. We are just one of a variety of potential definitions…

I’m really pleased to see that the sex binary is now being legally challenged too. This is being done most notably by intersex children who grow up to disagree with the doctors’ and parents’ interpretation of their “correct” sex. The Nature article notes a key case in 2013 in North Carolina of a child who was operated on aged 16 months to make him a girl; he then chose to be a boy by the age of eight. The case argues for both medical malpractice and that he has been denied his constitutional right to both his bodily integrity and his right to reproduce.

I have always thought it disgusting that children are operated on in such ways with such a blithe disrespect for their consent, after all the operations are not done for medical reasons but for reasons of shoehorning the children into gendered norms ‘for their own good’ (this is also the case for circumcision). This is still believed even though we now know many have to take lifelong drugs to maintain their chosen gendered status and that they may not have genitals that are sexually or reproductively useful. This should be outlawed surely? If a person wants to have the operation, have it when they are 16, or at least when they can vocalise their consent and when hopefully the success of such operations have advanced since they were a baby.

In the meantime we need to work on our entrenched ideas about what it is to be male or female, and I for one look forward to a time of more nuance, because nuance means choice and choice is more freeing and interesting. I say it again, what an interesting time of gender development we are living in, and it can only get even more fascinating the more we know about how we all differ. That is, if we can fight off the conservative types who are scared of change and complexity (the toilet legislating types). Maybe the sex wars wont be between men and women in the future but between the progressives and the conservatives?

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Ladies and Gentlemen Please Take your Seats


The maze that is gender identity can often feel like a tangled mess of political and cultural meanings, which necessitates an active interest in in order to decipher. At present I am writing a book on gender for the mainstream market and trying to find the exact angle to represent my research is proving to be the hardest part. How do you get the very complex ideas that gender involves over to an audience that largely has been encouraged to see gender as easy to understand because they believe much of it to be biological? One has to encourage people to unpack something huge that people don’t really realise is densely packed.

Such arguments for gender equality are of paramount importance, especially right here and right now where the Internet has encouraged people to explore their genders in ways that are unprecedented. It has also enabled people to fight for the various rights associated with their genders in ways that were not available to previous generations, for abortion rights, for equality at work and equality of representation, for instance.

Then someone comes along with a really neat way to explain a very complex set of inter-dependent gendered meanings that people normally dismiss as unimportant, or become confused by their apparent paradox. This is one reason why transgender rights are so key to our times, they really mess up people’s preconceived ideas about what it is to be a man or a woman, its not just about the transgender people themselves, but what they change about the meaning of ‘male’ and ‘female’ and they do so in a context where most people know nothing about transgender philosophy.

That someone is a transgender women, a so called, “male to female” (although the first thing you learn when you research transgenderism is that is a difficult term, because such people see themselves as ‘always female inside’, that’s the point). A Canadian woman called Brae Carnes took to selfie-ing herself in men’s toilets to highlight the ridiculous logic behind the political campaigns to restrict public toilets to their cisgender counterparts (those men and women who do not identify as transgender, that is, most of us).

Such “Bathroom Bills” which are being fought for in Texas, Florida and Kentucky are being introduced in order to protect cis-women and girls from men dressing up as women to gain access to women’s toilets in order to rape them. The faults of this logic have been aptly pointed out by journalists supportive of transgender people: it would be much easier for rapists to dress as cleaners to gain such access; that those women who have what is called “passing privilege” – that is they very much look like women – would still be able to gain access under such laws, so it would be unenforceable; also, the issue of butch cisgender women who may look quite masculine has not been discussed, do we all have to carry passports to enter toilets in such states? I would add that toilets are extremely dangerous places for rapists, the likelihood of someone entering mid-act is far higher than other more secluded spots, so why choose there?

Of course these laws are not about saving women, even if the politicians consciously think they are. Apart from the benevolent sexist overtones of paternalism that actually damage women and keep them as dependent, this is really about the fear of transgender people as different, as Other.

Carnes’ photos show the absurdity of the logic behind the laws. She depicts herself as a woman in men’s toilets, applying lipstick in front of urinals and immediately the crap is cut through. A straight line can be drawn, an easy representation of a difficult argument is reached and the absurdity is all apparent. The photos show that if the laws pass:

Trans women will be in the wrong (men’s) toilet, rendering them dangerous to men’s advances there (the whole point of the ban remember was to save women).

That women like her are unnoticeable in women’s toilets much more so than men’s (so how would it be enforced?)

That these women are not men, not by any usual interpretation of the word, rendering the laws once again illogical in that they use concepts such as ‘men’ and ‘women’ far too straightforwardly.

The root of the confusion comes from the lawmakers not understanding the concept of ‘gender’ being different to that of ‘sex’. ‘Sex’ is our physical bodies including our hormones and ‘gender’ refers to everything else about being male, female or intersex including how we understand our bodies and our hormones (in other words science is not exempt from potential gendered prejudice, much as it likes to think it is). The trouble is both are involved in each of us simultaneously, so which is it, gender or sex that is relevant to the laws?

If you say ‘gender’, you should allow each sex into each toilet, if they identify to be the opposite sex (I’m keeping intersex out of this to keep it a bit simpler); what a person believes themselves to be is all that matters. If it is just ‘sex’, then those who have transitioned, regardless of their passing status should be allowed to use their “new” sex’s bathroom. Interestingly of all the thousands of gender papers I have seen or read in both feminism and masculinities, no-one I’ve come across wants open bathroom doors to each sex, no sex wants to go there. This is rare considering most aspects of life are argued for parity in gender theory by at least one camp. As bathroom usage is about the bodily functions it is therefore more relevant to sex than gender and it follows that the second scenario makes most sense and keeps people feeling safe (men don’t want women in their toilets either I would imagine).

Then, something even lovelier happened, a transgender man (female to male) entered women’s toilets (his old hunting ground!) and did some selfies of him looking very butch next to women doing their make up. Suddenly the ridiculousness of laws that prioritise gender over the body come full circle, such a law would take trans men out of the men’s toilet and into the women’s – just the thing the laws are trying to stop, ha! I can hear the politicians: “What if their willies work and they can attack women? Aggggh!!!”

Let’s hope these frightened politicians don’t get to play out their irrational fears in the public bathrooms of those states and the laws don’t go ahead, otherwise there is going to be a pretty mixed up situation in such states, one that no one wanted. Not even post-structuralists (who see sex as almost irrelevant) like me.

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Some Thoughts on Animal Rights from a Half-Arsed Vegetarian


As mentioned, yesterday marked our one-year anniversary of our emigrating to the states, it also marked the same for my change to pescatarian diet (vegetarian + fish and seafood). It was on the plane to the states that I first asked for a vegetarian meal, something I had neglected to pre-order, and was assured they carried one extra vegetarian meal per trolley so I should be in luck. I crossed my fingers that he did not ask me how long I had been a vegetarian whilst he bended over backwards finding me a meal because I’d have had to answer “since today”.

Yet I have always seen pescatarianism as a compromise. My politics are totally in line with vegetarianism, well, veganism to be precise, but I was concerned that too big a change might end in failure, or that I wouldn’t know enough about what to eat to remain healthy, so opted to keep eating fish.

A couple of weeks ago I decided to mark the anniversary by giving full on vegetarianism a try. My reasons for doing so are mixed: in order to support animal rights, to lose weight, and alas, most honestly, because I am not a natural fish eater and don’t really enjoy it. In fact as a kid I only ate fish fingers or fish and chips, and soon gave up the fish fingers when I was given a grey one. So the logic is that because I’m bored of fish I’m going to restrict my diet even further. I should be back on steaks within the month…

It is interesting though that a year ago, when asking vegetarians I met about what prompted their choice very few mentioned animal rights, in fact people were fairly obtuse about their reasons. This surprised me, I had always assumed due to the example given by my teenage friends that the only reason for doing so was in aid of animals. It gave me the impression that many people associated such political choices with a group of activists they did not want to associate themselves with, yet they wanted to help animals themselves. Lots of people don’t want to be stick their necks out, so I guessed this followed. But why wouldn’t you want to declare your support for animals?

I think this issue strikes at a lot of people’s insecurities because we know we are living in bad faith. We love animals, especially our pets yet we willfully eat others. We have the money and the emotional sensitivity to support ethical farming, but we choose instead to stick our fingers in our ears and hope for the best. Whenever I circulate one of those upsetting campaign virals to help the Soi Dogs in Thailand or the anti Foie Gras petitions, for instance, I know I am tickling an uncomfortable part of my friends and followers’ underbellies, and I feel bad doing so. But it needs to be done, we need to see the terrible food industry for what it is and demand better.

You see, I’m not actually against humans eating meat, I think that can logically be supported by us being at the top of a food chain where other animals eat smaller ones below us too and we think that is just nature happening. But what is different for humans is that we torture animals for the entirety of their lives before we eat them, by pinning them down in tiny cages for instance. No other animals do that, and we like to think of ourselves as better than animals for having the ability to reason. Fat evidence of that.

I have a slightly blurred ethics around animal testing too. I think cosmetic testing should be outlawed completely but that medical testing should remain under tightly controlled conditions that allow the animals time out of cages, the ability to create communities etc. I always try not to buy any product tested on animals, including most of my cosmetics, yet I will concede if a cosmetic cannot be found that is as affective as the tested ones. Deodorant is the perfect example of this. Part of the reason I am trying out vegetarianism now is also because I am due to try a course of natural thyroxin, which unlike the levothyroxine I currently take is made from pigs and not synthetically made. So I guess I am offsetting this with my new vegetarianism. I don’t need to take this new medication, I’m just trying it out because others say it is so fabulous as a pick me up (reduced levels of thyroxin can be detrimental to your mood) and in order to lose weight, not good enough reasons in my book, and yet I’m giving it a try.

My reasoning – and yes, every vegetarian’s reason is different (I can call myself that as I haven’t given up yet) is that I do not want to support such a cruel food industry. I started small by only buying free range eggs for years; then only buying British pork or pork with the tractor label, which does not pen pigs in whereas other countries do (NEVER buy Danish pork!) These are easy things anyone can do to help change the industry, I urge you to try.

But I am a thinker and so I pan out all the possibilities of a situation, in order to mentally torture myself it would seem. So I’m wondering, what happens if I am inadvertently served meat? As my motive is not one of treating my body like an animal-free temple, I should in theory be open to the idea of eating it. After all if I don’t that piece of meat (especially if it’s a whole animal like a fish or poussin) it wont be served to anyone else in all likelihood and that animal will have died for no reason at all, and dying involves living in terrible conditions, again for no reason. I think I would first try to make my meat eating friends eat it, or give it away to the next table, if not, keep it for the dogs (I note the difficulties of extending vegetarianism for the sake of the animals in my dog’s food, it’s harder to justify for an animal (a dog) further down the totem pole who would gladly eat meat and whose diet I am in complete control of). But I’m not entirely sure, it would depend on the specific circumstances. Recently. after complaining that my salmon was served cold and asking it to be reheated, I happened to have the state of mind to inquire whether this piece would be chucked and another cooked. The answer was yes, I ate the cold fish.

Alas, ethics are hard. They are hard to live by and they are even harder to ignore. But I think it is better to be mixed up yet generally going in the right direction, than not to care enough to try at all.

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My Thoughts on Emigrating to America


Today marks our first year anniversary of moving from the UK to Pasadena, California and to mark the event in one small way we both decided to write a few words on our experiences in the last twelve months, so here are mine. I was intending to write it in a ‘pros and cons’ list format but importantly my feelings can be both positive and negative at the same time, so I’m just going to talk around a few subjects instead.

I think the most obvious change, in fact you can’t help but be conscious of it, is the change in aesthetics from the UK to here. When we first arrived I couldn’t help but notice how even the everyday things such as post boxes or road signs were so beautiful. For the first few months I was enwrapped in a visual voyage of taking in all the new yet familiar objects, everything had the wow factor, even parking spots. I love hardware shops even more over here. A year later I still see the differences and often consciously note how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful place; just walking the dogs reinforces this everyday. What strikes me however, is gradually these holiday images become one’s everyday reality and they soon start to slip into the unnoticeable, which is a shame but the Californian light is also so breath-taking that you can’t ever get used to that. Mount Wilson is just up the road and appears like a giant over our neighbourhood. Some days I swear it is redder than Ayers Rock. Stunning, and free.

Oh, and the other obvious change, the heat. It changes everything for the better.

Everyone is so much friendlier over here, they say hello and stop and chat for a few moments at the drop of a hat. Its not just people who are working in the service industry who say, “have a nice day” (something that actually has a different meaning here than is thought to have in the UK, it’s not false, it’s just people being polite) everyone speaks and is more considerate. If I walk past someone working on a property with a leaf blower, I know he is going to stop to let me walk past so as not to scare my dogs, and he knows I’m going to thank him.

Just this morning I was stopped by a lady driving in a car to warn me about a loose, scary looking dog that was up ahead of me. She said she had just spoken to a lady up ahead who was waiting for the dog to move before she would get out of her car (people can be too scared over here too). As I had the dogs, one of which would definitely have caused a ruckus, I thanked her and changed my route. In England, this would be very rare but here it is commonplace. Either in person or online through our local I speak to all sorts of people. These small interactions are the building blocks of a community. Making friends has been much easier over here for us, even for general misanthropes such as myself.

There is a lot more culture and cultured people out here in LA than you would imagine. As someone said when we first moved, LA is a city of layers. Yes there are the fat hamburger people, and the narcissists but there are also genuine folks and interesting people, and they are not hard to find. What is difficult however is learning the subtleties of class and culture but also, importantly of genuineness and depth in people. It is a difficult act to decipher those who at first appear to be all-enthusiastic to hang out and those who are good friend material. Not easy, but I’m kind of learning that The Industry (film, TV) attracts less of the latter.

Food and drink, and the service that goes with them is of a much higher standard and a greater variety than those in the UK. You can eat out cheaply and at a different place every night without overlapping once in months. This is the best example of something being both a pro and a con. Not only is it much harder to maintain your weight (I have to swim four miles a week and walk the dogs three miles a day now to not put on weight!) but also the choice is slightly maddening. Like the internet, there seems to be an endless vista of opportunity, which if you are not careful can leave you feeling that there is always something better out there than the place you usually go to, which can make you unfairly harsh on establishments and your expectations from people.

The ability to block things out of your mind which previously gripped your imagination before emigrating, is very interesting. Earthquakes and guns become things that no longer bother you surprisingly quickly. We experienced two quakes in the first fortnight of living here and apart from fixing the house so it is safe by buying special picture nails that have hooks on them (nothing to be hung over the bed), and packing up an emergency box, etc., you forget about something so massive surprisingly quickly. Guns in the US are like knives in the UK. You know people have them and you know what areas to avoid, but otherwise they might as well only exist on the television.

It is a difficult task to learn the new moral codes of conduct and to renegotiate and relearn your behaviour. Some different cultural mores such as the prevalence of drink driving over here in comparison to the UK can put one in a difficult position with friends that do it. Does one take a lift or not? Not such an easy questions to answer. Swearing is another thing that had to change. I am usually known for my ‘loose language’ but even amongst the most relaxed people and good friends over here that isn’t acceptable. I have since learned to swear a lot less, which I guess is no bad thing.

Another vocal tic I have relearned, is not to mention religion or god at all, for instance to say “thank god for that”, “For Christ’s sake”, “god only knows etc.”, and this is for one reason only in that to be religious is normal over here, especially Christianity, and I don’t want to be confused as a Christian when I am an atheist. In the UK the context is secular, so such words don’t actually refer to god. Thankfully there are lots of atheists who walk amongst the good people of LA, more than you would assume on first arrival, we just know it is not acceptable, so we whisper amongst ourselves…

The move to a new country necessarily involves the fear of the new and this manifests itself in strange ways. For instance, when we first came here we made a point of using the bus to go out (when we drink), something literally only poor people do here. LA has a lot to do towards getting people to use public transport at a time of grave environmental situation that is for sure. We wanted to maintain our social fluidity, to be able to mix amongst different people without getting too used to our own cliques and therefore scared of others. Yet when the bus drove past bus stops I felt a nagging fear of who was getting on the bus, in case they were violent (of course, they never were). I was also a bit scared of being in a car driving past bus stops too. It was about six months in when I realised that I was no longer scared (of bus stops!); it did happen though, it just took perseverance. Driving, with all of the issues of being on the wrong side of the road, road markings, etc., was something I didn’t feel confident enough to do until we had been here for 7 months. Now it is just like home. You have to consciously chip away at these things, or else your world will remain foreign.

The races are more segregated here, or at least it is more obvious as outsiders. If there is a man working on a lawn, he is Hispanic, if there is a cleaner, she is Hispanic too. I’ve yet to meet a deviation from this rule. There are some places that are race and class neutral though, mainly Trader Joe supermarkets and Costco hypermarkets that have broken through barriers by encouraging a love of authentic wholesome food or rock bottom prices on quality goods, respectively. Otherwise there is a lot of segregation, not only of race and class but cultural cliques. We have only found one bar that is a true melting pot and we love it.

Everyone loves whippets. Never a day goes by when I don’t get at least one comment about my dogs whilst walking them – but who can blame them?

Some things are strangely old fashioned here, like the fact we get a large clump of paper adverts with weekly specials printed up for the local supermarkets in our mail once a week, they still do that here. They also have a huge level of bureaucracy here; you need a permit to change a water tank in your house for instance. They are also not as forward thinking about climate change, despite having the best laws and reputation in the world. It really is frustrating to see that people water their European lawns in order to keep them alive in the desert. We are living a terrible drought and 50% of water is going on gardens and many are ignoring new guidelines to limit such use that came into affect 6 months ago. It makes me feel militant.

There is a full time job’s worth of work finding out how to negotiate the free market for all your essentials like finding medical insurance, a GP, a tax accountant, or a license of any kind. This causes a lot of confusion, which dissipates as soon as you are all set up and it seems like a distant memory once you are acclimatised. It becomes part of your own logic, it makes sense.

All in all, Tim and I are still thrilled with our move and we say this to each other most days. The good things appear even more contrasted when one remembers why we were able to move here. As part of our getting over the fact that we were not able to have kids, even with extensive fertility treatment (in which I caught sepsis and nearly died) we imagined what else we could do instead and decided to move out here. It is only the odd occasion now where I imagine a life with children and these times are usually when I am on a plane or particularly hung over. In other words they happen when I am already anxious. Otherwise I am living a life, not only free from child related regrets but one full of excitement.

America really is the land of opportunity, something you can feel in your blood. When we had a blip in our visa application and it seemed we might have to go for plan B that involved travelling around Europe until we found somewhere for home, I felt like that would thwart my career and personal development. I was seriously worried about it. I felt that I needed American air to take myself further, and Europe was looking like a gloomy second. Sounds corny but it is true. Much as the endless vista of choice and speed of change is slightly maddening here, I would not swap for anywhere else in the world.

(Tut tut that took me 43 minutes not the allotted 28, I had to get it off my chest though!)

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Men’s Body Image Needs an Invite to the Party


A recent viral Internet story involves a man who was fat-shamed on the message board 4Chan because he was seen to be dancing in public until someone laughed at him and made him stop. The photos of the man were picked up by a woman called Cassandra Rules who set up a campaign for the man to have a fully paid trip to LA to dance with 1727 female supporters who supported his right to dance regardless of body type. The man was eventually found and has shown pictures of him training for his big dance off, something Pharrell Williams and Moby are said to agree to be part of the entertainment too.

Wow, if only we all got such a supportive response to our experiences of fat shaming. Don’t get me wrong, I ‘m delighted for the guy and I fully support the ensuing campaign, especially as my research has shown me that men have quite a complicated relationship with their bodies today.

I’m really glad that the debate is beginning to include men because men do have a lot of insecurities about their bodies yet until now the discourse around male body shame has only been about the size of their penises which is thought to be more about how men match up against each other – the penis standing in for men’s manhood – and less about the way that men don’t like the look of themselves in the mirror. Yet in actuality, men are worried about their penises and bodies look to others in a more direct way too. This is because both vanity and the concern about one’s looks is something we currently understand to be quite a feminine obsession and therefore dangerously feminising for men to admit to. Indeed, I found men went to quite a length to distance themselves from appearing vain, yet they still suffered lowered body esteem associated with various faults they saw themselves to have, from the usual body fat, the state of their fingernails to the hairiness of their testicles.

And this is the thing, men do not have the support of a developed and cemented discourse around body insecurities and body shaming that women do. We think of women as being subject to higher standards of physical surveillance by society, and largely this is still true, but men are catching up fast, and are doing so without any political discussion about how unfair it is for men to have to live up to ridiculous masculine ideals. One man described women as having the advantage of having developed a think skin towards the body shaming they are submitted to because they have grown up with it, something men have not whilst simultaneously being thrust into the spotlight relatively quickly. This might be true to some degree and something we should bear in mind.

When we argue that there are no female supermen characters, we are right and there should be more examples of strong female protagonists that show leadership for young girls to aspire to be. But we forget the effect on such hyper masculine figures have on men and boys and this should very much be part of the discussion. It really worries me that in the last few years every day shops like Marks and Spencer are selling Superman dressing up kits with built in padded six packs for toddlers and young boys. How are these boys going to grow up feeling about there physiques? We should be campaigning against these toys, just as much as we campaign against Barbie (not least because they are linked, they idea that there should be one perfect body type per sex – that no none lives up to).

So when we complain about the various industries that play on women’s insecurities we should remember that such a ‘complaining platform’ is something that currently men do not have, so they go it alone. When they are also encouraged not to discuss such problems with male mates too, we have a doubled up situation in which men don’t have access to support. Interestingly, for the men I interviewed such a platform was not even on the horizon in their imaginations, in that they did not complain that women had any sort of political monopoly over the discussion about fat shaming (and they complained about plenty of other things women were seen to have).

I think it is high time men are added to the discussion about body shaming and the effect it has on most of us, of all genders (one could argue transgender people suffer the most). We need more mutual support across the sexes so I wholeheartedly support the party and would love to attend. This I believe is the key to ridding us of such shaming, by speaking out not just about our own type, but in support of others. Then our imaginations will allow us to see that we are in fact supported more by the opposite sex than we fear and that our words can indeed provide solace for them too. I would also love to see men offering similar support towards women, especially en masse and in the spotlight of the media, so men, where’s my party…?

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The Feminist Paradox


In honour of #InternationalWomensDay I thought it fitting to post a blog post on the role of feminism today, especially the role it does or doesn’t play for women in their own lives. I was inspired to write this by a news article I came across about UFC women’s bantamweight title holder Ronda Rousey, who according to UFC President Dana White could begin to fight men after a recent 14-second win against fellow female fighter Cat Zingano. In response Rousey said:

“I really just don’t think that any athletic commission on Earth would ever condone something like that,” …”Fights are going to go both ways. You’re going to see both people hitting each other. I don’t think we should celebrate a man hitting a woman in any kind of setting.”

The article noted that UFC colour commentator Joe Rogan believed Rousey, 28, could possibly beat 50 per cent of men in the UFC’s bantamweight division. To which she responded:

“I would have to say if you’re just talking about what’s in the realm of possibility of what’s possible of who I could beat, well I could beat 100 per cent of them,” “You can’t tell me that there’s a zero percent chance that I can beat anyone on the planet, so I’m never gonna say that.”

So here we have an individual woman who is incredibly talented at her sport talking herself out of taking on men in the main arena, all in the name of feminism, because she feels that to do so would be to create a destructive precedent that encourages domestic violence against other women.

This is what I call The Feminist Paradox. It describes when as a woman you are made to feel you can’t do something that you would enjoy and would arguably make you grow as an individual, because of what feminism tells you should do as a member of the discriminated female sex. Yet, feminism also says that women should be able to develop themselves in whatever way they wish to personally pursue. So in result the woman is encouraged to thwart her personal growth and in this instance, the growth of female fighters after her, because she feels to do so would thwart the growth of other women.

I find this a very difficult argument to swallow and I would like to say unequivocally that I think she is making the wrong decision; she should take her talents as far as she is able and in this case get a shot at the big money and prestige that comes with male fighting, which is systematically denied to women.

I have seen the argument that individual women should just “butt out” of the feminist revolution many times, of course most notably in the various sex industries where women’s decision to work in the bedroom or in front of the camera is almost entirely derided and seen in terms of betrayal by some feminist camps. Such women are encouraged to go without their personal ambition of becoming a coveted sex symbol, etc. in order that women elsewhere are taken seriously as other than sex symbols, in the office for instance (a very tenuous logic indeed, but that’s another point).

I probably don’t have to outline my position regarding that argument in too much detail, being a female porn director, but I feel it is important to question any political campaign that requires the silencing of some on its side in order to maintain the illusion of a united front (and then rues and cant understand when women don’t call themselves feminists!) Not only does this line of thinking result in reductive ideas about what it is to be a woman, and what can be respected, it reinforces ambivalent sexist ideas about women’s roles, as non-sexual beings and non-fighting beings in this instance.

As gender is something we do, not something we are born with (although, yes of course we have sexed bodies, usually male or female) I think Rousey should take the inspiration from herself as someone who performs masculinity as a woman. Clearly her own masculinity is important to her; after all she made it central to her life, her ambition, her career. If others who are in the know think she is able to take on the big prize, she should try her hand at it and open a door for women, not only other female fighters, but other participants of her industry, and importantly those fans who watch her. She will send out an important message that our sex is only of relative importance and the sexes much more closely resemble a Venn diagram that overlaps in the middle with men and women being much more fluid in their gender, rather than two entirely separate spheres, which is how the sports industry is structured at present.

Importantly we have the ability to view men’s participation in combative sports as separate from the violent behaviour of those men who participate in aggressive acts in public like fighting on the street, which has no such overt rules. We know that boxing, for instance, has special parameters and constraints that clearly differentiate such fighting from street brawling and therefore we don’t argue that boxing causes street fighting. It would seem illogical to do so because doing so would be to ignore such parameters. If we truly see women in terms more empowering than as perpetual victims, we ought to be able to do the same with women who professionally fight men. They are in a different cultural set of parentheses than female victims of domestic violence, anything else is ultimately reinforcing the basic immovable premise of female victimhood.

I describe the way we should approach the paradox as holding two balls out in front of you. Yes I am a woman and therefore I am subject to all of the inequalities that involves, but I am also an individual person who can and should extend her own ambitions as I imagine them. The metaphor of two balls is useful because you can then imply balance; both should be part of your conscious decisions. Focusing on female disempowerment solely will not let you develop your own future, focusing on your own individuality alone will make you blind to the structural obstacles in your way which are not personal to you and therefore not your fault when you cant surpass them.

In this instance, Rousey should have taken up the gauntlet because of her own ambitions as well as for those of other masculine women who wish to live their dreams vicariously through watching her fight. But also, in the absence of any social science that can support the view that her fighting would encourage more domestic violence – and in a realm of gender debate that almost entirely ignores the prevalence of female to male violence – progress cannot be made without bringing such discussions out into the public sphere, which her fighting would encourage.

In other words, we have no idea how far the female body can go in sport because we have never had a situation where the social side is equivalent for both sexes.We happily acknowledge that the psychological and supportive side is of paramount importance to a competitors chances of winning, yet blythely ignore this fact when segregating the sexes in sport. When women are offered the kind of deals and promotional and financial gains that male sportsmen have had and can enjoy the resulting social and personal esteem, for three or so generations, we will have a clearer idea. When there has been long enough for young girls to aspire to become famed in that way because successful female sportswomen have been normalised (just like voting or wearing trousers have for women), we might begin to see how much women’s supposed integral physical inequalities in comparison to men, are in fact social. Just like so much that historically was assumed to be physically ‘make sense’, such as women’s physical smaller size meaning they couldn’t manage companies or take on responsible jobs etc., turned out to be just prejudice. I believe Rousey has an important role in this, one I would argue calls for her to own up to her responsibility to all other women, more so than to her supposed responsibility to victims of domestic violence. I believe this is what feminism really means, the progression of the female sex, not the thwarting of it in the name of supposed universal female victimhood.

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The Gender Pay Gap is the Parental Gap


It has been 45 years since legislation was passed in the UK to make it a legal obligation to pay both men and women the same and yet a recent UN report shows us that it will take at least 70 years to close the current pay gap where women earn 77p for a man’s £1, a figure that has barely shifted in 20 years.

Importantly, childbearing plays a large role in the lack of equal pay for women with childless women earning 25% more than those with children. This is no surprise in a culture where people like Lord Alan Sugar, the hugely popular star of the UK version of The Apprentice, can boast that he tears up the CVs of women of childbearing age applying for jobs at his companies and it goes relatively unnoticed, even as a recent Enterprise Champion for the government.

One of the things I find truly astounding throughout my studies on gender is just how strong the benevolently sexist idea that women should remain the main child carer is in our culture. These days even those who consider themselves progressive have become neo-conservative on this issue, something that I think was actually less so twenty years ago. The other week we had dinner at a neighbours, a couple of retired academics, the male scientist mentioned in passing, his history of bringing up his two boys himself, and it struck me how rare this is these days.

Indeed my research with men aged 21-40 found none of of them (admittedly, as a qualitative in depth study, there were only 30 men interviewed in total) saw it as a man’s role to look after the children. They were pretty equally split between feeling sorry for women having their careers damaged by child rearing and those who blamed women for expecting to have both kids and a career. NONE of them saw it as their role; they just didn’t imagine it to be relevant to them.

What has gone wrong between the 70’s and now? I believe it is the aforementioned ‘neo-conservative’ attitude to women being the main child-rearer as part of the problems in our time of mixed feminist messages. When you can legitimately say that anything that a woman chooses can be labelled ‘feminist’, you are able to argue that a woman choosing to stay home and have kids is a real choice even when society has slipped back into its old ways of assuming she will as the default position.

In other words, just like the term ‘compulsorily heterosexual’ refers to those (nearly all of us) who have never truly pondered on whether they might be anything else but heterosexual, can’t really call such a label for themselves a ‘choice’, then we should ask whether men and women who grow up with similar blinkers about idealised motherhood can really think of themselves as choosing from a variety of alternatives?

The reason why people are inclined to think of women as primary carers is that there aren’t real alternatives so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. In 2010 when I was running for election on behalf of the Liberal Democrats we had an excellent piece of policy that aimed to give parents equal rights to their children including rights to share (both have to add up to the current maximum of one year) of leave off work. This would help couples who, for instance, have fathers who are more inclined to nuturing, or mothers who earn more, to make the most reasonable decision as a couple over their child rearing and career earning positions.

It would also throw those torn up CVs back in the faces of sexist dinosaurs such as Sugar because if a man can legally take equal time out of his career, who is left to discriminate against? He can’t throw everyone of childbearing age’s CV away. Now that would be worth tuning in to watch…

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Some thoughts on the Decriminalisation of Sex Work


A recent Californian lawsuit filed by sex workers and one of their customers is arguing that sex workers’ rights are not being met under the current system that criminalises their work. It got me thinking about all of the research I did when I started my support site for people of the various sex industries WeConsent a few years ago.

As part of the research I attended a five day event called The Sex Workers’ Open University (what a great name!) where sex workers debated, presented and gave lectures to other sex workers and their allies about the legal and cultural problems and opportunities surrounding their chosen occupation.

It was a real eye opener for me, mostly because I was impressed by the level of organisation both current and historical around sex workers and how much they had to offer each other. One lecture explained the different legal perspectives to be found globally about sex work. Whilst some countries or states have outlawed sex work completely (California, for instance) others have opted for legalisation of sex work instead of complete decriminalisation.

The UK has a strange mixture in that it is legal to perform sex work, but from an obscure piece of historical legislation they are not permitted to form a brothel, meaning that they can’t work together, even in twos, which of course has serious ramifications on their safety; you are also not allowed to be a pimp or madam as it is assumed there is a power imbalance in such relationships. Many sex workers get around such laws by having a “maid” who organises a space in which sex workers hire separately. Though this is something which is still not the safest solution, it is much safer than working the streets. Things can be complicated further if you are a foreign sex worker working in the UK (and many other places too) because the default position argued by the authorities is that you have been trafficked and it is hard to prove you haven’t, especially when the authorities don’t have a strong history of listening to sex workers.

What is the difference between legalisation and decriminalisation? Sex workers nearly always prefer decriminalisation, which simply means the removal of the specific laws regarding their line of work which cause difficulty, such as the law on brothels. The aim is to have the same employee rights (health and safety regulations, etc.) as other workers, enabling them to get on with their jobs in full safety. This would mean for instance, they could go to the police with full confidence that their claims would be taken seriously and that they would not be putting themselves in the line of fire in doing so. This is especially important when remembering that sex work is often something someone does temporarily and there are some nasty and undemocratic laws that ensure you wont be able to get many jobs that require police checks afterwards.

Legalisation, which has happened in some countries involves the state becoming a pimp to the sex workers, running everything from health checks to the amount of sex worker individual and premise licenses that can be issued in any one area. Of course this takes a lot of power away from sex workers which is something many find unworkable so importantly, with the legalisation model, you necessarily get a black market too. People who either cannot work in the legal sphere (for instance, because the state refuses a license due to any number of political reasons) or will not because they do not wish to advertise their job status are forced to work in the industry’s underbelly, something dodgy customers are probably well aware of.

It is important to remember that just because something is legal, it does not necessarily follow that blame and prejudice will evaporate overnight. Again, this is particularly pertinent for a transient workforce. So women especially, who face more prejudice about their gender roles for instance, as mothers, are not going to want their name added to an indelible list.

Sex work is fair and decent work in my book and I think that sex workers should be given fair and equal legal support as we all enjoy in our jobs. It will be interesting how the human rights angle pans out in the California case. Fingers crossed people can get over the idea of “clearing out” the industry and work towards making it safe and something the workers themselves can feel proud of publicly (many already do privately). Sex work is a form of therapy, just like massage is, we just need to change the way we see it rather than change those that do it.

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