Independent | The New Jersey governor who supports child marriage knows exactly what religious freedom means – an end to female liberty

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New Jersey almost banned child marriage this week. But then Governor Chris Christie had a think about it and decided to veto the bill – on the grounds that it “does not comport with the sensibilities and, in some cases, the religious customs, of the people of this state”. To which the only sensible response it to say “duh”, given that, according to the organisation Unchained At Last which campaigned for a change in the law, most marriages involving at least one minor are indeed religious arranged marriages.

This law was not supposed to comport with religious customs; the entire point of it is that religious customs such as these are very bad indeed.

While the median age of marriage in the US has crept up into the late twenties and early thirties, the laws that allow children to be married have stayed on the books and, sickeningly, in use. In New Jersey, 16- and 17-year-olds need parental consent to get married, but with the approval of a judge, it’s possible to be contractually locked into a lifelong sexual relationship at even younger ages.

Read the full column at the Independent

Grazia | The Reason All Women Might Lose On 8th June

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The political bloodbath of June’s snap general election will have two big losers. Firstly, the Labour Party, which is facing its worst result since 1935. And secondly, women. Labour has done more than any other party to get women into Parliament. In 2015, 191 female MPs were elected – a record high of 29%. Even though the Conservatives held an overall majority, more than half of the women (99 to be precise) were Labour.

It’s concerning that the best we’ve managed on female representation is still less than a third. It’s also alarming that most of that representation comes from one party – in this case Labour. Because this election looks set to disproportionately hit women. At this rate, we’re headed for a more male Parliament and, whatever your political affiliation, that should worry you.

Female representation in Parliament has improved so many things – maternity leave, equal pay – as well as being visual role models, says Labour MP Rupa Huq. And, she adds, ‘Labour has been responsible for almost all equalities legislation.’ Labour’s 1997 victory doubled the number of women on the benches from 60 to 120. That only happened because Labour imposed all-women shortlists in winnable seats. Historically, where women of all parties had been selected, they’d been set up to fail.

Read the full feature in Grazia

Guardian Review | Death of a She Devil by Fay Weldon

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There are two parts to Fay Weldon’s reputation: first that she is a feminist writer, and second that she is a very funny one. The “funny” is earned, the “feminist” less so, and Death of a She Devil is a credit to neither. When Weldon introduced Ruth Patchett in The Life and Loves of a She Devil, 34 years ago, she created one of literature’s greatest monsters. Deserted by callous husband Bobbo for the simpering romance novelist Mary Fisher, ugly doormat Ruth remakes herself as the She Devil and has her revenge on the adulterers. Her punisher’s progress takes her through every circle of society, from underclass to judiciary, from family to clergy, until finally she is surgically transformed into “an impossible male fantasy made flesh” – even losing six inches of leg to become desirably petite. At the close of the book, with Bobbo broken and Mary dead, Ruth’s triumph is complete.

Read the full review at the Guardian

Independent | Donald Trump’s speech on women’s empowerment is his best joke yet

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Donald Trump was speaking at a panel on women’s empowerment on Wednesday. Donald Trump. Women’s empowerment. Really.

I wish I was the genius of satire who’d made up something so audacious. At about the time as lawyers for the President were arguing that his power should make him immune to lawsuit from an Apprentice contestant who alleges Trump sexually harassed her, the man himself stood on a stage and declared his intention to “make our economy a place where women can work, succeed and thrive like never before.” Good one.

People talk about Trump and the art of the deal, but do they yet recognise his mastery of the art of the gag? Take, for example, this line: “I’m so proud the White House and our administration is filled with so many women of such incredible talent.” It takes a real craftsman of comedy to hang so much on that one word “filled”, because Trump’s administration isn’t actually full of women, by any definition of that word. Of 24 cabinet members, four are female. Four! As Trump likes to say while soaking up applause for one of his “zingers”, “We didn’t get that on Madison avenue.”

No I don’t know what that expression means either. But then I’m not certain I know what anything means anymore – including the term “women’s empowerment”, which apparently no longer entails giving women any power, including the power to decide whether they want to be pregnant or not.

Read the full post at the Independent

New Statesman | It’s revealing that there is so little public debate over what makes you a “real man”

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I’ve never tried being a man, but the writer Norah Vincent did in a year-long experiment for her book Self-Made Man, and she found out two things. Firstly, that people were amazingly eager to accept her as a man on the basis of a bound chest, a flat-top haircut, masculine clothing and some ersatz stubble. Secondly, that while it was easy to get classed as a man, living in that class meant being subject to constant scrutiny: “Someone is always evaluating your manhood […] everybody is always on the lookout for your weakness or your inadequacy”. In the end, Vincent suffered what she calls a “crack-up”, attributing it to the pressure of her restrictive alter-ego.

The best way to think about gender is as a kind of hell. Men occupy the narrow centre, with various degrees of “non-men” expanding outward in concentric circles, every region bristling with demons ready to prod deviants back into line or cast recalcitrants into the outer darkness. A man who falls out of manliness can only fall so far. A woman who fails at femininity, as Glosswitch describes, has failed doubly by gender’s underworld logic: first of all to be male, and secondly to be a woman, a low enough condition on its own even before you get banished to the far fringes of the inferno.

Read the full post the New Statesman

Independent | Amal Clooney is fighting Isis – but thankfully we’re discussing more important matters like her pregnancy

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Amal Clooney is pregnant! Did you know that? Pregnant! Enriched with the Hollywood sperm of her husband George, Clooney is currently in the process of growing not one but two – two! – babies. And she is “blossoming”, says the Sun. Also, she wore yellow, which is a “brave colour” in which to “show off” her bump (the Mirror). Brave Amal Clooney. But also, oh dear, reckless Amal Clooney, because what has she got on her feet? Heels. Not one, not two, not three, but four inch heels. “Towering heels”, in fact, the Daily Mail reports.

As we all know this is a very unwise thing for a pregnant woman to do. Although given that only weeks ago the Mail was engaging in important investigative journalism revealing that: “A flat shoe may be comfortable, but it can have the effect of making any saddlebags more evident.” Perhaps we should instead be saying “sensible Amal Clooney”? After all, when the world’s media is looking at, scrutinising and inspecting every portion of your body, it would be unfortunate to draw attention to the wrong kind of bumps.

Read the full post at the Independent

Independent | I’m not surprised that the BBC chastised Jenni Murray over her transgender comments – this is what institutional sexism looks like

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Impartiality is the necessary fiction that allows the BBC to exist. A public service broadcaster that didn’t attempt to hold its head above bias would be untenable, and this is why the BBC’s editorial guidelines make it clear that news and current affairs presenters are not to publish their personal views on “controversial subjects”.

But what do you do when the controversy comes for you? When, however much you’d rather not be the object of dispute, you become the frontier in an ideological war? When what you are – and how you name yourself – slips from neutral to contentious, without you doing anything?

Jenni Murray has presented the BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour for 30 years, and she’s been a woman for even longer than that. At the weekend, the Sunday Times published an article by her titled “Be trans, be proud — but don’t call yourself a ‘real woman’”. Under that headline, Murray criticised some claims of trans activism (and she was careful to say she was talking about the extreme of the debate): that anyone who identifies as a woman has “always been a woman” no matter the age at which they transition, and that references to the female body should be censored in the interests of inclusion.

Read the full post at the Independent