Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Girls, Girls, Girls: version 2.0

For the first (and, I hope, the only) time in my life, I’m actually grateful to Jan Moir and Nick Griffin. Heck, even the dominant chatter about the postal strike has offered a bit of relief. Still, it can’t be long before women are blamed not only for Steven Gateley’s untimely death, the BNP’s unwelcome coup and fractious communications between the Royal Mail and the CWU, but for all the world’s ills from the invasion of Iraq to premium phone line scandals - then the newspaper headlines will be back to business as usual.

Until the Moir/Griffin/postal strike obsessions, reportage in all forms was regularly dominated by stories about ‘bad’ mothers and wicked women, from reports on how the children of working mothers (which both the BBC and the Daily Mail still refer to as ‘career women’ - aaargh!) lead unhealthier lifestyles, drink more alcohol and eat poorer diets than those from a ‘traditional’ family to the rise of female paedophiles. But away from the news headlines, standards haven’t dropped one iota: ‘shocking’ primetime documentaries dominate the TV schedules, and endless ‘groundbreaking’ investigations into ‘the truth’ about women binge drinking, trawling the internet for sex or acquiring an ‘unnatural’ thirst for violence all surely serve a similar purpose: the bitch hunting season has officially started. Flick channels, and back-to-back screenings of superficially frivolous makeover shows largely focus on women who have either ‘let themselves go’ or gone too far in their quest to be ‘good enough’. How long can it be before Gok Kwan shows his lovely ladies how his Slicker Knickers™ can put an end to the global warming caused by saggy grey pants, while Trinny and Susannah show army wives What Not To Wear if they want to bring the troops home from Afghanistan?

So, is the current ‘Down on Women’ campaign highlighting proof that women ‘aren’t what they used to be’ (ie, good girls who are born to be mothers and ‘proper’ housewives - and if so, thank goodness for that!), or has society accepted that so many men are, by nature, irredeemable alcoholics and/or violent abusers who don’t give a stuff about what their children are given to eat or drink that therefore the full responsibility is on women to try - and, apparently, fail - to sort everything out? There’s little point in looking to contemporary feminist icons to solve this conundrum; we Venusians are, it seems, as intent on warring with each other as our fellow citizens on nearby Mars are encouraged to do with us. Germaine Greer and Naomi Wolf - formerly my favourite reliable commentators on issues around contemporary media trends - are apparently too busy fixing their hair for their next reality TV show gig to comment, leaving genuinely wicked women like Moir, Melanie Phillips and Ann Coulter to spew as much bile against their own gender as they can hack up. With little else but a one-sided debate being thrust at us, it’s no wonder that even Michelle Elliott - founder and director of Kidscape, the charity committed to keeping children safe from abuse - is confused about what, exactly, sisters are doing not for themselves, but to each other. Although she recently acknowledged (in a feature for the Guardian) that a woman accused of abusing children is likely to be far more vilified than a male would be, she went on to say that it is women themselves who propagate a “conspiracy of silence” on the subject, blaming a “feminist axiom” for perpetuating the “myth” that it is largely men who are responsible for child abuse. If I wasn’t so busy drinking, trawling the internet for sex, filling kids with Happy Meals and squeezing into Gok’s knickers, I might have time to respond with the actual cold, hard facts. But then again, I’ve got enough on my plate having to justify the invasion of Iraq.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Girls, Girls, Girls...

I must have been around 12 years old when it happened for the first time. Kat - a family friend some 25 years older than me - was sitting at our kitchen table smoking a cigarette and drinking black coffee, her Ziggy Stardust hairdo all mussed up and traces of last night’s make up still evident around her eyes. She looked like the sort of person I’d seen in the backdrop of photos of Berlin-era Iggy, or linking arms with Debbie Harry after a night out in Studio 54. But Kat wasn’t a photo; she was real. And in our house. And smoking. And that was the moment my first Girl Crush got a grip. Fast forward some 30+ years, and I’m standing in Bristol’s Colston Hall fixated by a tousle-haired cello player swigging beer straight from the bottle as her glossy red stilettos stamp out an unruly rhythm to accompany my pitter-patter heart. Am I in lurve? No: just saturated in joyful, innocent GC lust for one night only.

Aaron Peckham’s Urban Dictionary ( defines the Girl Crush as “a feeling of admiration and adoration which a girl/woman has for another girl/woman; a nonsexual attraction, usually based on veneration at some level”. When I had my first GC experience, I had no idea that such a state would eventually be acknowledged as a rite-of-passage phenomenon so commonplace that, three decades on, discussion of similar infatuations would become common currency in women’s magazines and chat shows, or a hot topic debate on any given girl’s night out. But neither did I ever suspect that my crush on Kat indicated inclinations or tendencies any more profound than the fact I wanted to be like her when I grew up. Today, I recognise aspects of Kat in the Me I eventually became (and my mum holds her solely responsible for my Marlboro Light habit). While my fascination with Pamela Anderson can only be blamed on not being given a Barbie doll in my formative years, I’m hoping that certain qualities and attributes inherent in my current crushes on Cheryl Cole, Mariella Frostrup and BBC news anchor Kate Middleton can be similarly absorbed into my psyche without sacrificing anything of my authentic self.

But over on Planet Boy, the inflexible male ego often dictates that a man who expresses any kind of admiration of - or empathy with - another man beyond referring to them as some sort of ‘hero’ (sport; war; whatever) must surely be a ‘poof’, while any woman who articulates related themes as I’ve done here is similarly categorised in equally obnoxious terms (or subjected to that self-conscious, knee jerk rejoinder, “can I watch?”). But Team Mars could learn a lot from the contrary Venusians sitting next to them on the settee. Most heterosexual men I know fit into three categories on the Jez-o-meter: they’re either a Clarkson, a Paxman or an Irons. But what they all fail to understand is that if they publicly acknowledged the appeal of their favourite Jeremy (or indeed, what it is that makes Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp or George Clooney such perennial objects of desire), they themselves would automatically become far more attractive than fellow team mates who blindly cling to their ‘macho’ insensibilities. Admiration is a far more attractive sentiment than envy, and few men I know wouldn’t benefit from absorbing a pinch of Parkinson, a frosting of Firth or a light sprinkling of (Jon) Snow - and I reckon they know it, too. But while many men would view formal acknowledgment of this fact akin to being caught writing a love letter to David Beckham, same-sex crush aficionados know that the aim isn’t to shag the object of your affections, just be a little bit like them; choose your crush wisely, and that can only be a positive thing - except, that is, if your first one was a chain-smoker.