It was a couple of weeks ago, the first time I felt it. An odd twinge of… compassion? Sympathy? No, pity. And the object was Theresa May.
Less than two months ago, May was supposed to the Tories’ biggest asset. In all the campaign materials, her name and face dominated, with the words “Conservative Party” sneaking in at the bottom in tiny print. The Spectator drew her as an iron-clad icon, alongside A N Wilson breathlessly declaring a phenomenon called “Maymania”. “Mummy sweeps onwards, borne in heavenly chariots, floating above painted clouds,” he wrote – “mummy” being a nickname for May among activists. It’s a sentence that sounded fairly insane at the time and utterly deranged now.
May didn’t have to call an election, and she shouldn’t have. She bet national stability (and her party’s fortunes) on the public loving her personal brand, and has found out that twitchily reciting empty three-word slogans isn’t the magic charisma tree she thought. The “iron lady mark two” mythologising has been melted down in no time at all, with former staffers coming forward with damning stories about May’s susceptibility to the toxic influence of her key advisors, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill. Whatever in May looked decisive and commanding at the start of the election, now looks antsy and autocratic.
Read the full column at the Independent
This extraordinary election has seen one horrible irony for women traded for another. At the start of the campaign, when Theresa May looked to turn her high personal ratings (lol) into an even higher Conservative majority (lololol), it seemed that the UK’s second female prime minister was going to bring about a depressing decline in female MPs: because only Labour has a substantial record of getting women into parliament (thank you, all-women shortlists), anything that hurts Labour hurts sexual equality on the benches.
Back when a 1930s style collapse seemed plausible (lololololol), names on the line included Jess Phillips and Thangam Debbonaire, among other redoubtable feminists who have brought their feminist politics into parliament. Well that didn’t happen. Instead, Labour’s surge saw Phillips add 10,000 votes to her majority; Debbonaire’s vote share went from 33.7 per cent to a dizzying 65.9 per cent.
Instead of losing women, Westminster gained a record intake of them. And the Tories lost, lost, lost (one final lol here). But this is where the next irony comes in, because the only way for the now-diminished Tories to form a government is for them to join a coalition with the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland. And a ruling coalition that includes the DUP is profoundly bad news for women.
Read the full column at the New Statesman
The relationship between Sylvia Plath and suicide – the extent to which she glorified death in her work, and has been glorified for her death posthumously – has niggled at me since I was a teenager reading her for the first time. In an essay at university, I compared her to Medea based on a fairly overwrought reading of one line of Ariel: not strictly supported by the text, but the closest I could get to explaining the witchy and destructive power invested in her most famous work.
Yet the death she is famous for is a poor representative of her as a writer. It gives no account of her vivacious wonder at the miracle of her own children, for example, in a poem like You’re: “Right, like a well-done sum. / A clean slate, with your own face on.” Nor does it recognise her tremendous funniness: The Bell Jar is savagely witty, something that comes as a delightful surprise every time I go back to it.
When The Lancet Psychiatry commissioned me to write an essay about art, influence and the phenomenon of suicide contagion, it became an opportunity to reckon with all the parts of Plath I struggled to reconcile. The end result is something that made me understand her, and the cult around her, more than I ever have before.
Sylvia Plath was 30 years of age when she died by suicide in 1963, and in her lifetime published only one volume of poetry and one pseudonymous novel. But in the subsequent decades, this material has been joined by a large body of posthumous work and has become the basis of a furiously contested mythology, profoundly shaping the understanding of the relationship between art and suicide. Indeed, her death inspired the landmark work of literary criticism on the subject: her friend Al Alvarez’s The Savage God.
Read the full essay at The Lancet Psychiatry (subscription or purchase required)
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
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
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
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
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
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
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