Thursday, 22 March 2012

Ten thousand steps

The journey to success or salvation varies in length, depending on the traveller.

It's a small step for man (albeit an astronaut) to hurl the whole of mankind on the surface on the moon. It takes twelve steps (albeit over several years) for an addict to shed his or her sick skin. But it takes ten thousand steps - a day - for the average fat person to regain control of their weight and shape.

That, and the revolutionary ELBF formula, of course. A more entrepreneurial girl than I might be tempted to trademark it and repackage it in pretty colours before setting up a franchise empire but I'm willing to give away for free: Eat Less Bloody Food.

So let's recap: walk more, lots more, every day. Eat less, a lot less, every day. Forever. Simple, non? Well not quite.

We live in 'obesogenic' societies: physical effort - even of the walking kind, is pared down to a minimum, exceedingly calorific food is available everywhere, all the time, and before we even realise we are being greedy we are swallowing (and let's not forget the drinking side) so many calories there aren't enough hours in the day to burn them all.

Our society has become a distorting mirror. Very overweight is the new normal. I was very thin as a girl and a normal weight for quite a long time as a young woman. Yet it's taken me five years to realise I'm now quite seriously overweight because I'm surrounded by much heavier people and images of skeletal models, neither of which I feel have anything to do with me. I feel normal you see. But I am not.

I'm also beginning to think that fat is a feminist issue in a radically new way from what Susie Orbach intended.
People overeat and under-exercise for all sorts of reasons: lack of money, education, time. Caitlin Moran writes movingly in her excellent memoir "How to be a Woman" about the "quietly over-eating mums", who console and medicate themselves with food, the cheapest, less disruptive addiction available -- less disruptive to others that it, as it allows them to function, take care of others, whilst becoming larger and therefore more invisible to society at large.

But none of these scenarios really applies to me, if I'm honest. I'm a middle class, child-free feminist fattie. I have disposable income and tonnes of 'me' time. I have read acres of newsprint about nutrition, weight loss and so on, not just the cheap magazine stories about miracle crash diets.

I think the feminist critique on our 'lookist' society has had a perverse effect on me. Busy as I was fighting the objectification of women as pretty playthings, rejecting the obscene role models of the fashion industry, in an effort not to be reduced to the sum of my body parts in a sexist world I kind of lost track of my body as a body, a precious vessel made of flesh and bones, a mortal mechanism, the place I inhabit.

But once you are unable to skip down the street, cross your legs properly, wear what you like (not what you can find in your size), wish to even look at yourself in the mirror and have photos taken of you, once you regularly injure yourself through spasmodic bouts of exercise because of the sheer bloody extra weight you are carrying around, isn't your body dominating you, restricting you and defining you more and worse than if it were just an object of male desire and dominance?

I'm asking because I genuinely don't know anymore. I have had a sort of Damascene conversion during the visit of my lite, Jiminy Cricket-wise younger sister and I am exploring totally new feelings and ideas here.

I think it's been easier for me, up to a point, to shrug off my feelings about my own weight as vain, superficial and patriarchy-induced, and to keep stuffing my gob with food that I didn't need and that didn't make my job more secure, my bank balance bigger or my marriage smoother. It was just food, it turns out, eaten mechanically, often in front of the telly, because no one wants to read the novel I am not writing.

Gotta go. I still have 5200 steps ahead of me to accomplish my daily goal. Yesterday I managed 9772, then I simply run out of road and found myself outside my house.

It was late, it was dark, I was tired. I felt too self-conscious and silly to turn around , go back up the road for ten minutes and come back. So I only nearly met my goal. Nearly doesn't get you on the moon. Nearly doesn't free you of crack cocaine.

It was close, but no meringue.. I mean, cigar.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Have the men had enough?

I hope you all had a splendid International Women's Day... Now, tell me, what constitutes a 'feminist issue' in a First World democracy in 2012? Try this definition: any human rights outrage perpetrated despite the presence of great-sounding legislation. Something we all accept should not be allowed to happen and that can therefore be safely ignored by the half of the population not directly effected.

The gender pay gap, currently hovering around an EU average of 20pc *, is a case in point: we have had Equal Pay legislation for 37 years. Nice, reasonable men are happy for women to work and be paid the same as them and therefore can't quite phantom what we are still banging on about. What's been missing is the willingness of nice, reasonable men to share the burden of childrearing, which has de facto consigned many women to part time careers encompassing little more than carrot-peeling and bottom-wiping.

A new Eurobarometer survey just released on the perception of gender inequality across Europe reveals that the pay gap is still the number two concern when it comes to gender equality for women in Europe. Would you like to know what the first one is? Violence against women. Trafficking and sexual exploitation comes at number three on the list.

Men are aware of those things too (46pc of men mentioned male violence vs 50pc of women, not far off) but where - in the public discourse, in the media, in the culture - is the male outrage towards the misery caused by those at Neanderthal end of their gender's spectrum?

It's not enough for the nice, reasonable guys in our lives not to hit us/rape us/ traffic us/pimp us/exploit us though pornography - they must make themselves angry about of the violence women still face from other men, men they presumably work and socialise with every day.

Yes, there are laws and all that. No, we are not actually fighting for the vote, or the abolition of apartheid or anything. But we still need men to get up and get exercised alongside us. This is still about the violation of the basic human rights of half the population.

Some time ago a nice reasonable man and I were discussing a depressing news story about a sexual assault. "What I don't understand," he said, (and please feel free to imagine him metaphorically widening his innocent eyes and batting his eyelashes at me, "is how you can actually force a woman to perform oral sex on you. I can see how you can literally penetrate someone against their will, but blowjobs? "

"Mmm..." I replied, "I suppose it depends on how hard you punch her, on what you threaten to do to her children, on whether you've got a knife to her face.."

"Oh dear..." , he gulped, defeated.

God bless! Imagine living in the safety of a worldview where rape (a bad, bad thing, don't get me wrong) only happens as a result of some mild forcing of oneself upon another. He hadn't thought about it on those nasty terms, the reality of male violence against women a hazy concept to him, not something he has had to worry about every day of his life.

Yet men are partners, husbands, brothers and fathers of women. How can they allow themselves to carry on in this blissful ignorance of the awful things women suffer at the hand of some men?

When will the (nice, reasonable) men have had enough?

* The Gender pay gap in the member states of the European Union- Belgian Presidency report 2010

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Clare'sLaw? No thanks, just 'the law' for me will do

We are told that Clare's Law, a much talked about domestic violence disclosure scheme, is to be piloted in four areas around the country.

If you are a woman living in one of those and are worried about a new partner's potential violent tendencies you can now stalk him preventively online with the help of the local police force.

Chances are your average violent bloke has never been charged and convicted of any domestic violence offence, so your new squeeze won't feature on the list and you can go ahead and date him, confident that the thing that happens when he has had a few drinks/is bored/ you have PROVOKED him is not domestic violence, just him slapping you around a bit. Congratulations, you got yourself a keeper!

If he is on the list, boy he must have serious form, but when you try to leave him and he starts beating you up chances are the police still won't turn up. If they do and they arrest him, chances are the courts still won't convict him or give him a serious custodial sentence. And sure as hell there won't be any refuges to escape to if he comes after you because they have to shut down for lack of funding.

But you will feel so empowered, because basically it will all have been your fault for having gotten yourself involved with a bit of rough.

As Sandra Horley wrote in the Guardian this week, we do not need new, expensive but ultimately tokenistic schemes - we need to keep spending the serious money and effort needed to ensure the police bother to apply the law as it stands.
The fact that the announcement came on the week when legal aid for domestic violence victims was under threat was the cherry on the manure cake for me.

Just to make my feelings absolutely clear (I know I can be so hard to read sometimes!) I don't just disagree with Clare's Law as a policy. I find it profoundly irritating and patronising as a concept.

Generally speaking one should be highly suspicious of laws with female names attached. For one thing, there is a whiff of impotent (but terrifying) pitchfork-waving about any measure taken in the name of an individual victim. Sarah's Law , as you might recall, pretty soon led to paediatricians being chased from their homes, having been endearingly confused with paedophiles. Not what I would call a result.

Secondly, it almost inevitably constitutes a cheap crocodile-tear-type answer to the genuine grief and injustice suffered by a family (briefly capturing the sympathy of the nation) for a crime that was supremely avoidable. We all feel vindicated; something is being done in the name of brave Clare, poor Sarah - but nothing that will save another Clare or Sarah.

Clare Wood, whose name graces the current initiative, begged the police to save her from her violent boyfriend on a number of occasions, including after a sexual assault, before finally being murdered by him. I know her heart-broken father fought hard for this initiative- something being better than nothing, in his words. But does he not deserve more than this?

Finally it smacks of yet another example of the outsourcing of effort, cost and responsibility from the provider/company/state to the user/customer/citizen.

Being routinely asked to check out my own groceries is insulting enough (I don't work here, Sainsbury/Boots/Tesco!!!!) but I draw the line at being told that, basically, it's up to me to keep myself safe by giving potential or actual criminals a wide berth after conducting my own mini-policing investigations.

We are already been paternalistically advised not to dress like sluts, not to go out late, not to live our lives without some form of male chaperoning and protection. Enough with making violence against us being our problem to solve. (I do not recall for instance an equivalent Sebastian's law scheme for the self-prevention of corporate fraud or theft. Football fans are not encouraged to ring John's Register and stay away from games when hooligans might be present. Men are not told that the crimes they tend to be the victims of are their problem).

So this is Peebi's Message to the Home Office: you do your job and keep the violent crims behind bars. Train the police to recognise women as people, not noisy thinghies or asking-for-it would-be-whores (oh, and maybe have another look at the rape stats while you are at it) and equip them to turn up and fight crime.

I, for my part, will pay my taxes and date whoever I like. Or not, in my case, because I'm already married - to someone, incidentally, who only sporadically does the hoovering, despite the promises of those heady, crazy early days. I don't suppose there is a register I could have him slapped on for that?

Sunday, 4 March 2012

I’m sick of eras ending

Last week I found myself back at Bush House, historic home of the BBC World Service, for a celebration of its 80 amazing years. I sat in the audience while a couple of programmes were going on air. The atmosphere was electric if slightly chaotic, but I felt just a quiet sadness throughout.

I was reminded of presenting or contributing to European affairs programmes - which do not exist anymore and would never be commissioned again - in this very building as a fresh faced idealistic young journalist who thought (and still thinks) that the World Service is the closest thing she has to a religion and this country has to an empire of sorts.
But of course the dedicated, hard working, badly paid multilingual journalists who make up this institution are soon to leave this building, in the wake of a cynical government move to dump the cost of the whole operation (once paid for by the FCO) onto the BBC’s budget, and of subsequent inevitable cuts to many of its language sections.
BBC bosses will tell you this is progress: most BBC news operations are moving in the state-of-the-art, glass-and-steel complex which has been growing like a shiny tumour off the side of the old limestone building of Broadcasting House.
But at Bush House last week I felt ouse House we were blowing the last birthday candles of some distinguished war veteran about be tossed out of his nursing home, an expensive, embarrassing relic, whose glory and purpose belonged firmly to the past, to another era. Once ensconced in the glass and steel tumour the surviving World Service will paradoxically become more invisible and more expendable. Mark my word,we will not see a 100th anniversary.
This despondent feeling comes upon me a lot these days, as the apparently endless crisis lurches into yet another week, month and year. In fact, to be honest, I’m sick of eras ending.
Mild mannered intellectual husband notes that, surely, it depends on the era. The end of the Third Reich was no bad thing, for instance. (Despite his intellectual credentials mild mannered husband is a true Englishman in his instinctive invocation of Nazi Germany as the shorthand for all historical evil). So, ok, sure, the end of something horrible is no bad thing per se.
But still I’m sick of being reminded of all the things that are at an end (mainly, the subtext goes, because we cannot afford them anymore): jobs for life, the expectation of employment throughout one’s life, the ability to retire at some point and not starve, top quality, investigative journalism (or even average but neutral and informative reporting),good quality universal medical care free at the point of delivery, the idea that things like policing should be run by the state and not private contractors, like the stuff of some dark 1970s sci-fi dystopia, soon to come to a riot near you.
I’d like to start talking about the beginning of new eras. What are we going to have instead of what someone – but who?- has decided we cannot afford or is not relevant anymore? How are we going to organise our society in a way that still reflects the values most of us hold (if asked the question in the right way and not just as an appendix to the question of their cost)?
For all our ostentatious worshipping of ‘democracy’ for instance, we are witnessing the systematic overlooking of any mandate by those who are slashing and burning eras all over the place.
The NHS is being transformed, and some say destroyed, to its very core by a government who had not put this onto any manifesto and indeed had promised that it could be trusted not to harm it.
A welfare policy which turns benefit recepients into virtual slaves for the private sector at the time when millions are looking for work: who exactly voted for that? When Tesco is ashamed of doing business with a government that offers a slave labour force for fear of looking bad you know something has gone wrong. (Echos of the Third Reich anyone?)
The Leveson enquiry has destroyed any illusion that this country is any less corrupted to the core than your average Italy or Greece, with a journalistic conglomerate (instead of the mafia, the masons or the arms manufacturers) playing the puppet masters.
Plans to privatise “some police services” sound, in this light, almost movingly comical: why, Murdoch was already running his own private police/intelligence service with handsome payouts to several layers of the Met. News International, it now appears, got to spy on people and intimidate them with the active help and protection of a police force whose first allegiance clearly was not the state any longer. NI got to decide what was investigated and what should not be, and to threaten the body politics into line. Allegedly, bien sûr.
Meanwhile the average Sun reader got brainwashed into thinking that the EU was the real threat to British sovereignty. Oh, and that women are either big-titted young sluts or spiteful, hairy harridans too ugly to be photographed, and whose views should therefore be ignored. Telegraph readers got the message too, in a different way and to a different extent. As for Express readers, well, if you are prepared to believe that Lady Di was kidnapped by aliens or that Brussels is abolishing Christmas and ice-cream, congratulations: you are already living beyond reason, in what apparatchiks from the other Bush era called “the post-reality based community” and that is currently all the rage in the US.
Express readers are in fact the vanguard of the post-truth revolution, the canary in the mine of this experiment with not giving a shit about facts. You might think that flat-earthers and racist dim-witted bible bashers are a tiny sad minority and do not matter in the British political debate but you’d be wrong – they set the agenda at every level. Look how the BBC scurries around to lower its own corporate IQ and cater for them, their prejudices, their grotty aspirations.
Yes, the same BBC that in one incarnation has been the voice of truth (and thus the hand maiden of democracy and freedom in five continents in the past 80 years) is, in a different guise, on different platforms and channels, happy to chirp along with the Astroturf myth that the deficit was created by benefit scroungers, that the views of five hysterical and well funded climate change deniers are equivalent to the body of opinion of 95 per cent of the world scientific community. And while they are at it, you can see how the temptation to slash the budget for original drama and commission another series of “Young, dumb an living off Mum” or “Snog, Marry, Avoid” might be too strong to resist.
Cheap and dishonest relativism won’t give us a new Renaissance, won’t lead us to the discovery of a new America, a new moon-landing. Where are the new beginnings going to start from, where will they lead us? What does the brave new (cheaper) world we can afford in our reduced circumstances look like and for whose benefit are we forging it, who will run it, to what end? Enough with eras ending, let’s start re-building something, let’s start talking about it at least.
But let’s also remember that in a world without truth there is only power, as someone cleverer than me once said. Chances are that you, reader, like me, are an Average Joe, unlikely to be the one yielding that power. So you want to be careful with that. Just sayin’...