Archive for feminism

Twitter, kangaroo courts and Woody Allen

This is what a kangaroo court is:

An unfair, biased, or hasty judicial proceeding that ends in a harsh punishment; an unauthorized trial conducted by individuals who have taken the law into their own hands, such as those put on by vigilantes or prison inmates; a proceeding and its leaders who are considered sham, corrupt, and without regard for the law.

Suzanne Moore has a piece in the Guardian today in which she refers to Twitter as a ‘kangaroo court’ because many people have tweeted that they believe Dylan Farrow’s accusation that Woody Allen sexually abused her at the age of seven. (That last link contains a description of child abuse.) Her argument – although it’s somewhat incoherent, I thought – is the familiar one that ‘online mobs’ have no right to condemn Allen without knowing for certain that he is in fact a child abuser. Even though, as she herself points out, it is statistically very likely that the accusation is true; and in fact she believes Dylan Farrow herself. (It’s hard to be sure what the stats for false rape allegations are, but even the highest reliable estimates would suggest that nine out of ten accusations are genuine. See here for a discussion.)

Moore’s point, then, is not that Farrow is likely to be lying – she’s very unlikely to be lying – but that Twitter has tried and convicted Allen and that only the judicial process is allowed to do that. Has it, though?

Going back to that definition of ‘kangaroo court’, the key aspect is that kangaroo courts, when they occur, actually do try and convict people. They are impromptu, outside the legal process, probably prejudiced, and have doubtless resulted in many innocent people being imprisoned or killed as a result. But that’s isn’t what Twitter is. Twitter is not a court in any sense, kangaroo or otherwise. The people who tweeted #IBelieveDylanFarrow are not condemning Woody Allen to jail or the electric chair. At the most, they – we – are expressing our horror at the actions we believe he performed, and maybe when his next film comes out we won’t pay to go and see it. Maybe we won’t want to watch any Allen movies again, because it’s going to be difficult to enjoy them now.

But that’s our decision to make. Woody Allen isn’t entitled to our money or our good opinion, and we can withdraw both if we choose. It’s not wrong of us to make a judgment based on the knowledge we have and then act on it in that way. If someone blew up Allen’s apartment or sent him broken glass in the mail or otherwise tried to inflict direct damage on him as a result of all this, Suzanne Moore might have a point about kangaroo courts. As it is, the only thing damaged is Allen’s reputation, and reputations get damaged all the time. It will recover or it won’t.

I can guarantee this: the amount of vitriol being heaped upon Allen on Twitter pales in comparison to the degree of misogynistic abuse Dylan Farrow will be receiving from mostly-men all around the world, who will automatically assume she’s lying because they think women lie about rape in order to get attention. These people don’t care about or don’t believe the statistics: they know what they think, and they think women can’t be trusted. And they have a lot more power, collectively, than the mostly-women who are tweeting their support for Dylan Farrow. Some of them are judges and lawyers and policemen and media owners.

So perhaps Suzanne Moore has aimed at the wrong target here. Dylan Farrow’s bravery will probably cost her dearly, and Woody Allen will probably continue to make films. If the only thing I can do about that is to stop watching them, in the full knowledge that it will make no difference to anyone but me, then so be it. I’m allowed to make that choice.

 

 

 

 

This is what a feminist looks like

A guest blog post by Cat

Let’s get this out in the open – me and feminism haven’t always got on. For a long time we had a far from easy relationship and I preferred to keep it at arm’s length, to the extent that for many years I actually refused to identify as a feminist and preferred to describe myself as an egalitarian. I still describe myself as an egalitarian because I believe that there are groups other than women who are marginalised and deserve equality, but these days I feel able to claim feminism as an identity as well and wear my ‘This is what a feminist looks like’ t-shirt from the Fawcett Society with pride.

My problems with feminism all started back when I was at school. For my sins, of which there have been many, I went to a Catholic all girls school. The school had many failings, some of which have irreparably fucked me up, but one thing it did damn well was persuading us that girls could do anything that boys could do and it was possible to do it better if we wanted. This fitted in with where I saw myself going, and I became something of a fledgling feminist. Anyway, as I said, the school had many failings, one of which was letting the priest from my local parish come in to talk to the girls that belonged to his parish. This was something that happened every few months and would usually result in me having a blazing row with the priest over some matter of dogma or another. On one such occasion when I was 14 or 15  I was arguing that it was wrong that the Catholic church didn’t believe in artificial contraception or abortion. I can’t remember most of the details of the conversation, but I’m pretty sure it was all Vatican-sanctioned shit. The one thing I do clearly remember, however, is him using the phrase ‘When you grow up and become a proper feminist…’ and then going on about how he’d read The Female Eunuch and therefore knew more about being a feminist than I did. Because, somehow, reading The Female Eunuch made belittling me and erasing my identity somehow okay. I remember coming away from this feeling very angry. Angry that he hadn’t listened to me, angry that he’d been so patronising… And also angry with myself for having ever thought that I was a feminist in the first place. I mean, how could I be a feminist if I’d not read The Female Eunuch? He’d read it and he was a man; I was just… kidding myself.

So off I went, and I left my feminist identity on the shelf gathering dust. Having been firmly pro-choice for as long as I remember being aware of abortion, in the following years I then discovered that I liked sex (quite a lot), that I was bisexual, kinky and non-monogamous, pro-sex work and pro-porn and a trans ally. But I still wasn’t a feminist. Yes, I believed in equality for women but I also believed in equality for other marginalised groups and I didn’t see how women’s struggle for equality was more important than any of those other struggles. That, and I still felt deeply uncomfortable with the idea of calling myself a feminist as I clearly couldn’t be a proper one as I still hadn’t read The Female Eunuch.

My next watershed moment with feminism came in my early 20s. I started spending time with women who were mostly lesbians and all identified strongly as feminists. They were strong women, interesting characters and the approval-seeking part of me wanted to be liked and accepted by them. Once again I became interested in feminism and started considering whether or not it was an identity I could claim. It was, but apparently only if I read the work of Sheila Jeffreys who would help me see the error of my ways in being biseuxal and into BDSM. Add to the mix that any prominent feminists I could think of (Bindel, Burchill, Greer) were transphobic, and the fact that apparently all sex work and all porn was bad because it objectified women and… well, quite unsurprisingly, I found myself thinking that there was no way in hell that I could ever be a proper feminist. I liked cock too much, I was kinky and I felt that what women did with their own bodies was their own business as long as they were in a position of empowerment. So I declined the kind offer to be lent a book by Sheila Jeffreys for the purposes of being converted from my wicked ways, and went on my way again.

So what changed? Well, I met other likeminded women in real life and online who were proud to call themselves feminists, and some men as well. It turned out that there was a type of feminism out there which I was hitherto unaware of, that talked about what mattered to me. A feminism that fitted with my beliefs, that didn’t dictate who and what I should be doing in the bedroom.

I discovered that it doesn’t matter what you call yourself – be it first, second or third wave feminist, post-feminist or just plain old feminist. You can identify as male and call yourself a feminist. As long as you believe in equality for women you have the right to call yourself a feminist and don’t let anybody tell you any different. Okay, so some of your beliefs about how the world should work may differ from those of other feminists but at the end of the day the thing we all have in common as feminists is the belief that women should be equal. As my friend Jules put it , ‘I think that being a feminist is simply that you want to make things better for people. It has naff all to do with your window dressing, it is simply wanting to be make the world more excellent.

It’s taken me the best part of 20 years but I’ve finally discovered in my early 30s that it’s actually okay to call myself a feminist. And guess what? I still haven’t read The Female Eunuch, but these days I’m not beating myself up about it.

Feminine Power: No Thanks!

A friend was recently sent a link to an event taking place next weekend, called The Keys to Feminine Power – Awakening the Three Power Bases of the New Co-Creative Feminine. (I know, right?) I am fascinated by this. I don’t know if I’m more annoyed by the muddled thinking, the jargon-filled expression of the thinking, or the anti-feminism, but I’m fairly sure all of them are annoying me quite a lot.

So what is this thing? It’s ‘a free global online seminar and gathering for awakening women’ and the premise is that women ‘are on the brink of an evolutionary shift with the power to alter the course of history’. So far, so meaningless. The only thing I’m awakening to is the sound of people uttering meaningless platitudes while trying to sell merchandise. But in an attempt (mostly doomed, I have to warn you) at objectivity, let’s see what the rest of the website has to say.

There is feminine and there is masculine power,  apparently. Masculine power is ‘the power to create things that can be controlled’, and the feminine version is ‘the power to manifest that which is beyond our control’. Such as intimacy and creative expression.

 

Just for the sake of it, I’m going to take a moment to try to understand this. When men create things, those things can be controlled. OK. Here are the first five things I can think of that I’m fairly certain were created by men: Shakespeare’s plays, the telephone, aeroplanes, the song Happy Birthday To Me, the Mona Lisa. Mentally I am trying to apply the concept of ‘can be controlled’ to these five things, and I’m not getting anywhere: my brain is just bouncing off the words without being able to connect to anything. Nor do they seem to have anything much in common with each other. But perhaps I just thought of the wrong five things. Maybe my feminine ability to intuit the meaning of this concept has taken a well-deserved day off

Right then, let’s have a go at feminine power being able to manifest things which are beyond our control. I don’t think this is about inventions created by women: it’s about how woman create relationships, I think? And babies? There’s no actual mention of babies that I’ve noticed, but I can only assume it’s implied, since that often seem to the basis for claiming that women are more creative than men because we can make babies.
Which is an odd idea when you think about it. The problem lies in conflating two different meanings of the word ’create’. Having babies is an act of creation, but it is not a creative act as such. (Unless you view your pregnancy and labour as a work of extended performance art – an idea I wish I’d had earlier when I could have tried to make money out of it.) Similarly, successful relationships and intimacy with other people are a good thing, if that’s what you want to do, but is achieving them actually creative? I’d have said it was more of an acquired skill, or a craft like DIY, than like writing a sonnet.
At this point I think I should acknowledge the massive elephant in the corner of my blog post before it actually tramples me with its great big gendered feet. Intimacy, relationships, creative expression, creating things that can’t be controlled (and why is that such a great idea anyway?) – well, I hate to break it to the ladies of The Keys to Feminine Power, but actually, men can manage those things too. And lots of women can’t, or don’t, or don’t want to. And women can create things that can be controlled (again, why is that a bad thing?) and lots of men don’t. The entire concept of there being certain types of creative power accessible only to women is frankly weird. Where would it reside? Do trans people gain or lose it if they transition? Should women who don’t feel particularly creative in any of the above senses just give up on any hope of achieving true womanhood? Shall we have a conversation about binary gender, by the way?
And now, let’s talk about this sentence. “For all the amazing benefits that feminism has brought us, its fruits have not necessarily included personal or spiritual fulfulment’. The suggestion being that we’ve been ‘cultivating a masculine version of power’.
Now, there is the germ of an actual idea here, and one which feminists do discuss: how far woman have to buy into existing patriarchal power structures in order to succeed, how traditionally feminine qualities can become undervalued by feminists themselves as well as by society, and so on.
The trouble is, I can’t tell what exactly the Feminine Power event is proposing as the solution to this, except for the claim that ‘feminine power’ itself is the answer. And since I still don’t really know what feminine power consists of, that’s not a lot of help. Talk about campaigning for decent maternity pay (which I gather the US mostly lacks) and putting more women into government, and I’m all ears. Tell me that I have the power to change my life and my destiny (wait, aren’t those basically the same thing?) and the world, and you haven’t told me anything I don’t already know
But those things have nothing to do with my gender. Feminism may not have provided me with instant personal fulfilment (because that’s not its job) but it has, thankfully, allowed me to develop the ability to tell when someone is taking a lot of words to say nothing in particular. I’ll take that over feminine power any day.

Father’s Day Feminism

It’s Father’s Day this weekend. It may be a manufactured holiday but I celebrate it anyway, so I’m in a shop trying to find a card for my dad in the three minutes before the toddler starts wanting to get out the buggy and start destroying things.* I scan the shelves, sigh, and give up.

In all the years that I’ve been buying Father’s Day cards for my father, I don’t think I have ever bought one from the Father’s Day section. My father is not into football, beer, fast cars or jokes about bodily functions, so that cuts out 90% of the options. And if I bought him a card with a message – or worse, a poem – about what a great father he is, that would feel weird. Not because he isn’t a great father, but because it doesn’t need saying. Or at least it doesn’t need saying in rhyme.

It’s all very blue.

It’s odd really. In some ways – perhaps as a response to the waning of the industry – there’s now more choice in cards than ever. You can buy serious cards, funny cards, sentimental cards, cards with badges, 3D cards, addressed to Dad, Daddy, Father, Stepdad, Grandad or Great-Grandad. But in other ways, the choice is tellingly limited. Colours, for example. If you can find me a Father’s Day card that’s pink, I’ll buy you a pint of raspberry beer. And if you can find one that references opera or painting, which are my dad’s two major interests, I’ll buy you an entire yard of it, if raspberry beer comes in yards, which I doubt. A card that features musicals or Dickens novels would be even better, since those are interests we have in common. I’ll be over here, holding my breath.

So what do Father’s Day cards tell us about the current perception of masculine parenting, as filtered through the imagination of the card industry?  Well, there’s not much about the parenting part. What fathers do, in this version of fatherhood, is play sports with their sons, address their daughters as ‘princess’, and earn the money. It’s a depressing vision. And what are children’s images of their dads? Apparently they’re unshaven, overweight lumps in string vests and boxer shorts. Nothing wrong with being any of those things, but again, it’s a bit limiting. Is the assumption that Father’s Day cards only appeal to an extremely specific and stereotypical working-class market? Why?

And yes, this is a feminist issue, of course it is. The perception of fathers and the perception of mothers are all tied in together, and so are the wider perceptions of What Men Are Like and What Women Are Like. Fix one and you start to fix the other**. In the meantime, I’ve bought my dad a card from the general section, with a picture of a giant rubber duck sailing up the Thames. At least it’s interesting.

 

*I am unfairly maligning her here, by the way. I let her wander around Boots the other day and she began tidying up the shelves. I should start charging shops to let her in.

**I could also write an entire post about how many of my daughter’s birthday cards I buy from the boys’ section. Because while she likes princesses and fairies, she especially likes football and computer games and Dr Who. This should not be weird to anyone.

A Genderswitched Anthology

But it isn’t only that Jeeves’s judgment about clothes is infallible, though, of course, that’s really the main thing. The woman knows everything. There was the matter of that tip on the ‘Lincolnshire.’ I forget now how I got it, but it had the aspect of being the real, red-hot tabasco.

‘Jeeves,’ I said, for I’m fond of the woman, and like to do her a good turn when I can, ‘if you want to make a bit of money have something on Wonderchild for the ‘Lincolnshire.’‘

She shook her head.

‘I’d rather not, miss.’

‘But it’s the straight goods. I’m going to put my shirt on her.’

‘I do not recommend it, miss. The animal is not intended to win. Second place is what the stable is after.’

Perfect piffle, I thought, of course. How the deuce could Jeeves know anything about it? Still, you know what happened. Wonderchild led till she was breathing on the wire, and then Banana Fritter came along and nosed her out. I went straight home and rang for Jeeves.

‘After this,’ I said, ‘not another step for me without your advice. From now on consider yourself the brains of the establishment.’

‘Very good, miss. I shall endeavour to give satisfaction.’

As detailed elsewhere, I have been making something of a hobby of taking out-of-copyright classics and mildly desecrating them by swapping all the genders round. Not just the main characters, but everyone in the story down to every ‘Oh God’ becoming ‘Oh Goddess’. It’s a simplistic, binary change. It’s not a rewrite; it doesn’t introduce any new writing into the mix, unlike such mashups as (the surprisingly good) Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. But it does have the effect of creating – not exactly an alternative history, but an alternative literary past. Where women get to own property and men get to do sewing.

After I self-published Prejudice and Pride last year, I decided my next endeavour would be James Eyre. However, partway through editing it, I started thinking of other books that would be just as interesting to switch, and before long I realised that my next project was going to have to be a collection.

I ended up with a dozen writers ranging from the early 19th to the early 20th century; a chapter or two from each, and I found I had an anthology which gives the sense of an entire alternative literary canon. I ordered them by publication date, with Austen the oldest and Edith Wharton the newest. Here’s a bit from Sensibility and Sense, just after young impetuous Matthew Dashwood has had a fall:

A lady carrying a gun, with two pointers playing round her, was passing up the hill and within a few yards of Matthew, when his accident happened. She put down her gun and ran to his assistance. He had raised himself from the ground, but his foot had been twisted in his fall, and he was scarcely able to stand. The lady offered her services; and perceiving that his modesty declined what his situation rendered necessary, took him up in her arms without farther delay, and carried him down the hill.

And here, a century later, from The Age of Innocence:

He made no answer. His lips trembled into a smile, but the eyes remained distant and serious, as if bent on some ineffable vision. ‘Dear,’ Nuala whispered, pressing him to her: it was borne in on her that the first hours of being engaged, even if spent in a ball-room, had in them something grave and sacramental. What a new life it was going to be, with this whiteness, radiance, goodness at one’s side!

Virginal boys, chivalrous women and buffonish ladies-about-town advised by their wise ladies’ maid (or gentlewoman’s gentlewoman?) – and we haven’t even touched on The Wonderful Witch of Oz, June the Obscure or The Picture of Daria Gray, which is perhaps my favourite of all.

So if your curiosity is piqued, James Eyre and Other Genderswitched Stories is available in paperback for about £5.99 or on Kindle for about £1.50 depending where you are – links below. If neither works for you and you’d like a .pdf, email me on fausterella at gmail and we can sort something out. In the meantime, have a freebie chapter: Chapter 1 of The Picture of Daria Gray.

And finally, thanks to my father, artist John Harrad, for providing one of his drawings for the cover art, and to James Wallis for providing advice on formatting (though any mistakes remain my own. Or can be blamed on my toddler for climbing on the keyboard at the wrong moment).

Can men be funny?

It’s a question some people think shouldn’t even be asked. But today we put political correctness aside and have the courage to say openly: are men funny?

Let’s look at the facts.

- Very few men get to become famous comedians. Is that because it’s just too hard for them? Would they be better off going into a different field altogether, such as, I don’t know, football management or beer tasting?

- Abbot and Costello, Bernard Manning, Jim Davidson… Of course it’s unfair to give specific examples and use them as evidence, but still, look at them. Could a gender that produced these people really rise to the heights of comic genius?

Men can certainly laugh. But can they cause it in others?

- Are men disadvantaged when it comes to humour? Through the ages they’ve been seen as the serious sex: hunting, gathering, breadwinning, governing, all these are weighty pursuits. Meanwhile, women have been able to develop their comic muscles through the boredom that comes of being stuck at home with the washing up. They’ve gossiped with other women, perfecting their comic timing and character creation skills, while men exchanged the odd grunted monosyllable as they roamed the plains together looking for things to kill. Clearly there are sound evolutionary reasons for a difference between the sexes in term of joke-making. What would men even have had to joke about, apart from the odd funny-looking mammoth?

- And, of course, it has traditionally been the case that women do the majority of childcare: an excellent source of humour, partly because it allows for a lot of time to think while performing menial tasks, partly because babies and toddlers can be an endless source of amusement, and partly because the stress of bringing up children helps one to develop a robust sense of fun as a defence mechanism. By being on the whole less involved, men miss out on a lot of material for amusing anecdotes.

- It’s not a criticism, and I’m certainly not being sexist here, but perhaps men do rely a bit too much on male gender stereotypes for their humour. Is it necessary to go on so much about being bad at housework and how much women nag? It all starts coming across as a bit woman-hating, to tell the truth. Men should branch out, perhaps explore the areas that women have tended to cover such as physical comedy (like Miranda Hart) or observational humour (like Victoria Wood). Although it’s not really fair to compare, I suppose: because everyone knows women are actually funnier, there’s unfair pressure on men to compete. Often their stand-up gigs have an air of desperation about them.

- Of course, it’s true that other men might find men funny, but that’s a very niche market since a lot of men don’t really watch comedy in the same way that many men don’t read literary novels – they have a preference for, let’s say, less nuanced forms of entertainment such as rugby and fighting. Or whatever it is that men do for fun. I don’t really know. Anyway, like it or not, women control the comedy market, so that’s probably why women do so well as comedians.

Now, I’m bound to get wild accusations of being a man-hater from all this, so let me be perfectly clear: there are plenty of funny men. Like Stephen Fry and Julian Clary. But some heterosexual ones too: Lee Mack, for example, is often very amusing in his own way, and that cute smile of his doesn’t hurt either.

So don’t twist my words to say that I’m dismissing all men as unfunny out of hand. There will always be honourable exceptions. And given time – and perhaps, if I’m allowed to say it, a bit more effort – men may well be able to rise to the heights of Lucille Ball, Sandi Toksvig, Tina Fey and the other mistresses of the craft. We must be patient with our male wannabe comics. They’ll get there.

 

Women watch comedy more than men. Probably. I haven't actually checked the research.

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(If you want to know why this post was made, please google for “can women be funny”)

The Truly Terrible Secret of Being Fat?

There’s an article in the Guardian today by Hopi Sen, the former Labour head of campaigns, about his struggles to lose weight. I liked it for being very honest and not melodramatic.

There’s one thing that struck me, though. He’s writing from his own perspective, of course, but at one point he generalises to say:

I discovered the truly terrible secret of being fat. It doesn’t greatly matter to other people whether or not you are. Given a certain level of talent, charisma or passionate interest, or even without any of these things, other people’s interest in your weight is pretty minimal, unless you’re some sort of celebrity.

Most people are not so superficial as to judge you on your weight alone, nor as interested in your flaws as you might wish. Unless you are the fabled One-Tonne Man, or mind-bogglingly boring, your weight simply cannot be the most interesting thing about you.

All of which may well be true – if you’re male.

Imagine a woman writing those two paragraphs. I can’t.

I have been lucky in that my life has contained very few people who have attacked or mocked me for my weight, but I cannot possibly be ignorant of the enormous cultural pressure for women to be thin.

And, of course, it’s not really true of all men either. But Sen’s statements really underline for me how different the cultural pressures are. It would have been useful if he’d noticed or acknowledged that too.

A brief note on women and work

There’s your basic sexism, the “women are just not as good as men” type. And then there are the two very slightly less obvious sexism types, which often don’t even sound that bad: the “men and women are different but equal” type, and the “women used to be oppressed but they aren’t any more” type. (Confusingly, even though these three variations contradict each other, many sexists still cheerfully use whichever version suits their argument best at the time.)

This isn’t a long in-depth article about sexism: it’s too dauntingly huge a subject, and there’s already loads written about it. It’s just that a couple of news items, about women and work, struck me over the last few weeks.

Firstly, the one about the dress code at Harrods. A woman has claimed she was forced out of her job because she wouldn’t wear make up. That may sound unlikely, but in fact Harrods apparently has a two-page long dress code for its female employees which includes a directive to wear “Full makeup at all time: base, blusher, full eyes (not too heavy), lipstick, lip liner and gloss are worn at all time and maintained discreetly.”

This isn’t a trivial thing to demand. It’s expensive to afford that level of daily make up, it takes a while to apply it, and you need a level of skill. I for one would turn down a job that made me wear three different types of stuff on my lips, and I’ve never even been certain what base is (is it the same as foundation?). Moreover, as I saw mentioned in a discussion on this story, it’s far from being a fashionable look. And of course it doesn’t apply to the male employees. In fact, if they tried to wear something similar they’d probably find themselves dismissed too.

The second story is that Walmart has successfully avoided allegations of “a companywide discriminatory pay and promotion policy” against women because women were not seen as a suitably coherent group to bring the claim. The Guardian quotes some of Walmart’s practices: holding managers’ meetings in Hooters, referring to women workers as “Janie Qs”, paying women less than male workers in every job classification in every region. And one plaintiff was told that Walmart pays men more because “they have families to support”.

Which brings us neatly to the third story: an Italian engineering firm has recently been forced to make redundancies, and has selected only women for redundancy. Why? Well, a union official quoted the company as saying: “We are firing the women so they can stay at home and look after the children. In any case, what they bring in is a second income.”

Now this is your first and most obvious type of sexism, but the comments on the story fall more into the “different but equal” camp, and illustrate why “different but equal” strongly tends to turn into “different and not really equal at all”. (Do I even need to mention the many racism-based examples of this? No? Good.)

Two comments from the Guardian story about the Italian firm:

- Don’t get me wrong of course men and women are equal, but the idea of the man bringing home the bacon and the women taking care of the kids and the home seems natural to me.

- I believe in equal pay for equal work, but the mother is the ONLY person able to rear the child properly.

So there we go. We can have blatant sexism or we can have pretend equality that isn’t. Still, at least if anyone tries Sexism Trope No 3 – denial – they can be pointed at these stories and it might keep them quiet for a minute or two.

Update: Guest posts and more Austen

Guest Blogging

I have a guest post! Mr Brown has written 20 Things You Didn’t Know About Don Quixote and it’s well worth reading. This is part of a three-way swap where I write something for Choler, he writes something for Mr and Mrs Brown, and Mr Brown writes something for me. The only link between our three blogs is that the three of us are old friends, so it’s been a fascinating challenge. Here’s my post for Choler, on the subject of World Femininity Day and what femininity is, and here’s Choler’s entertainingly fictional post for Mr Brown.

 

Prejudice and Pride

Chapters 2 to 7 of Prejudice and Pride: A Cover Version are up, and not only that, the project has been covered by Austen blog Excessively Diverting and is being considered for review by the Jane Austen Society of North America. I feel somewhat imposter-ish about all this given that I didn’t actually write anything really, but an idea is an idea, and if people are enjoying reading it, that’s brilliant. Some of you are even buying copies!

On the subject of publications, many thanks to Shimmer magazine for posting about my short story collection! (And for publishing my story The Winter Tree in the first place, of course.)

 

Links

A couple of links from The F Word: join the campaign against forcing young girls to marry; join the campaign to save the last women’s centre in Wales from being closed.

A risotto analogy

Ok, imagine you are a judge on one of those celebrity cooking shows. Got it? Good. Let’s say that you’re tasting two tomato risottos, one made by Andy and one made by Caroline. Andy’s risotto is slightly better, so you award the prize to Andy. So far, so fair.

But then after the contest, questions emerge. Caroline isn’t happy with the outcome. She’s a bad loser, maybe: she’s claiming the judgement was unfair. Which is ridiculous. You were the judge; you know your only criteria was the tastiness of the risotto. And although Caroline had clearly tried her best, hers just didn’t have that fresh, juicy tang to it that Andy’s did. Which, now you come to think of it, is odd, because you watched both meals being prepared and Caroline looked like the better cook.

Caroline demands an investigation. Not into you, but into the way the show was constructed. It turns out that when each contestant was provided with their ingredients, Andy was given the best tomatoes, the freshest herbs, the most expensive pan. Caroline was given tomatoes that were slightly off, not quite enough arborio rice, and olive oil that smelt a bit funny. There wasn’t time to complain, though, and Caroline is such a good cook she was sure she could beat Andy even with these handicaps. But she was wrong. The ingredients just weren’t up to it and Andy, who is technically not as good a cook, produced slightly better food. Andy was surprised by the result too, it turned out, but he was hardly going to turn down the prize; after all, he’d worked for it and had done nothing wrong.

Why did Andy get given better tools? Well, the people in charge of distributing them, Dan and Tony, didn’t do it deliberately. They just got chatting to Andy and he seemed like a nice guy, and then when it came to giving Caroline her equipment there wasn’t much left. Nobody meant any harm, really, or not consciously, or not much.

The trouble is, the same thing happened during the previous show with Rob and Sheila, and the show before with Dave and Harriet. And as it happened, Rob and Dave had won their shows too. So did Bob and Fred and George and Paul. And when you thought you were judging Andy and Caroline on merit – you weren’t.

And maybe you don’t like the idea of taking that kind of context into account. It makes everything a lot more complicated, and surely none of it should be your problem. You did what you were supposed to do. But it’s nagging at you, because the wrong person won somehow, even though you thought you were being fair. So you get involved, and you talk to Dan and Tony, and you make sure the process of handing out ingredients and equipment is standardised in future so personal prejudice isn’t such an issue in future. And from then on, you’re more aware, and more inclined to look below the surface. And a risotto is no longer a risotto. It’s a metaphor.

 

Ceci n'est pas un risotto.