Tag Archives: Gender

How marriages based on mistrust hold back all women

31 Mar

 

I was intrigued yesterday to observe on Twitter a good deal of chatter from conservative religious types on the topic of husbands who refuse to eat alone with any woman other than their wife.

The not eating with anyone but your wife rule is based on the assumption that heterosexual marriage is the only possible partnership, being as the religious conservative crowd doesn’t believe LGBTQI people are fully human so don’t see the need for inclusion.

I tracked this odd behaviour down to a series of articles on US Vice President Mike Pence, who will not allow himself to be alone with women other than his wife, Karen, and who will not attend any functions at which alcohol is served unless Karen is by his side.The Pences are evangelical Christians.

Pence calls his wife “Mother.” He yells down the table at formal dinners: “Mother! Mother! Who cooked this meal?”

The Vice President of the US has sex with a woman he calls Mother.

They’re spoiled for choice in the US, aren’t they? A pussy grabber or a man with unresolved Oedipal conflicts who can only be prevented from grabbing pussy by having his mother wife beside him the entire time. Ladies, I give you the current leader of the Western world, and the one who’ll take his place in the event of unfortunate circumstances.

The most serious consequence of these bizarre restrictions is that women are immediately disadvantaged in terms of job opportunities, because there are men apparently unable to control their sexual impulses. Or there are wives with so little trust in husbands, they cannot cope with their man meeting alone with any woman who is not them.

It’s astounding that women can be refused job and career opportunities in order to safeguard somebody else’s deluded notion of heterosexual partnership. It’s astounding that woman are still seen first as opportunities for sex, over and above all other qualities, talents and capabilities.

It’s astounding that there are women who choose to spend their lives with men they think so little of they must infantilise them, and never let them out on their own, and men who enforce the same restrictions on their wives. I believe this is a form of domestic violence, an excess of jealousy and suspicion that has become normalised in some circles, to the degree that both parties submit to it and call it “respect.”

Most of us wouldn’t have friendships with people we can’t trust, yet it’s fine to be married to someone you don’t trust?

Very low bar some people set for marriage.

It isn’t only in job and career opportunities that heterosexual insecurities work to restrict the lives of women. Friendships, intellectual engagements, the pleasure of shared interests can also be difficult, if not impossible, when someone is in an insecure relationship that is threatened by a partner’s perfectly legitimate connections with another party.

Does marriage have to mean the end of every possibility of significant connection with anybody other than your spouse? Because if it does, it’s a dead-end that stunts humanity.

Many a single woman has a story of how she’s been treated with suspicion by friends, even good friends, who suddenly become uncomfortable with her when their husbands are around. I’ve heard of female friendships being ruined in such situations, and women left wondering what on earth they’d done to offend.

Unfortunately, some insecure wives tend to blame their inability to trust their husbands, or their husband’s actual untrustworthiness, on their female friends, rather than addressing the frightening challenges mistrust throws up in the marriage, and to them as individuals. The same goes for insecure husbands.

I mean, look. We’re still at the stage of blame the woman. No matter which way you look at it, it’s always let the men off the hook because they’re too infantile to take responsibility for themselves, and blame the woman. On the face of it, the Pence rule is bizarre and extreme, however, to settle for that explanation is to deny its far-reaching and damaging implications. Marriages built on mistrust are detrimental to women, whether it’s the US Vice President’s or those in your own social circle. And they couldn’t be a worse partnership model for the young.

We really have not come such a long way. Baby.

 

 

 

 

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The Credlin thing.

29 Jan

Credlin & Abbott Two

 

I don’t get all this Murdoch-inspired hoo haa about Peta Credlin, the Prime Minister’s embattled Chief of Staff.

Ms Credlin has been in the spotlight ever since her boss was Opposition Leader.

Remember how her IVF journey was so thoroughly manipulated as to become “evidence” for Abbott’s “compassion” for women?  Ms Credlin gave generous media interviews about this most personal of experiences, and never once mentioned her partner in the journey, her husband, Brian Loughnane. Instead, it was entirely about how her boss was helping her by keeping her eggs in his fridge. I can’t think of any other situation that compares, in which a Chief of Staff so publicly reveals her or his private life for the sole purpose of  helping her or his boss win an election.

It was Abbott’s apparent unpopularity with women voters that provoked the Credlin IVF pieces. It was intended to portray him as a softie with the ladies, as was hauling out his three daughters who giggled on cue about their lovely churchy dad.

I may have a limited imagination, but I find it hard to visualise a male chief of staff being so forthcoming as was Credlin  about his personal life, in order to make his boss more popular with the voters.

It therefore makes a kind of bizarre sense that when things go as badly wrong as they have for Abbott, ridding himself of Credlin is seen as the first move that might lead to some kind of improvement. It won’t, of course, because the man is beyond all help, but they have to try something as they aren’t ready to replace him. Yet. May they continue not to be. He is the ALP’s best asset.

As far as Ms Credlin is concerned, the situation sucks. She obviously isn’t responsible for the numerous outstandingly appalling decisions the Abbott government has attempted to inflict on an electorate that trusted them to behave in entirely different ways. It is, of course, impossible to know what her input has been into these decisions, nevertheless, Abbott has taken them, and being above Ms Credlin in the chain of command, is entirely responsible for them. With great power cometh great responsibility.

There was a period in which Ms Credlin and Mr Abbott were photographed so frequently together on occasions when one would have expected Mrs Abbott to be at her husband’s side rather than his Chief of Staff, that prurient speculation as to the nature of their relationship was rife. It has today been suggested that Mr Abbott is “psychologically dependent” on Ms Credlin. (That link may be paywalled, but it may not. I did my best). Psychological dependency on another person can be a problem, especially for a political leader. It can cloud his or her judgement, and lead him or her to become deafened to other points of view.

We cannot, of course, escape the gender issue in this latest government drama. Is Ms Credlin easier to scapegoat because she’s a woman? It was her gender that was exploited in Abbott’s election campaign, and nobody much complained about it then, least of all Ms Credlin. Female gender was exploited to gain Abbott votes. Female gender will be exploited again if it is considered to be a factor in losing Abbott votes.

When a man is an idiot, blaming the woman behind and beside him is a common default position. There is in our culture a pervasive belief that women are responsible for controlling men in almost every situation one can think of, and this belief could well be at work in the Credlin situation. Of course, we women aren’t and can’t be responsible for what men do, and the sooner we all divest ourselves of that mythology the better.

I have suddenly remembered footage of Wendi Deng hurling herself in front of her then husband Rupert Murdoch at the News of the World hacking hearings, when somebody attempted to assault him with a cream pie. Sometimes we ladies are our own worst enemies.

 

 

 

 

 

Julie Bishop and the prism of gender

30 Oct

Gender Inequality

Look. Julie Bishop doesn’t have to call herself a feminist if she doesn’t want to. Her public disavowal of the very political movement that made her success possible says far more about her than it does about feminism. But her refusal to “look at the world through the prism of gender” is insane.

There is nothing in this capitalist world that should not be viewed through the prism of gender, especially if you are  a member of the bloody government. Bishop is one woman who has achieved success at the highest level because of a constellation of fortunate circumstances, including, I’m sure, hard slog. However, there are millions of women who slog just as hard in circumstances far less conducive than those experienced by Ms Bishop. “I’ve had a very privileged upbringing as many women in Australia have,” she says. “We don’t fear violence, we don’t fear hunger. We don’t have the degraded life that many women around the world suffer.”

Um, what? There are millions of women and girls in Australia who fear violence. There are thousands of women and girls  in Australia who go hungry, and are dependent on charity for food and somewhere for themselves and their children to sleep. They don’t count as women? The “we” Bishop speaks of excludes anyone whose life experience does not coincide with her own, a lack of imagination that is a given in conservatives circles.

I don’t give a toss if Bishop doesn’t call herself a feminist. I’m a bit challenged by that myself these days, when feminism seems to have become about the right to sculpt our labia, and binge drink till we vomit in the gutter just like the blokes do. But the ignorant refusal to consider the world through the prism of gender is a symptom of a self-absorbed, smug woman entirely out of touch with reality.

Apart from that, I’m wracking my brains to think of one thing, one single thing Bishop has ever said publicly that is interesting, original or enlightening. She’s like a bloody Stepford wife in the Abbott government.

Christ.

Dear Joe Hockey

21 May

Dear Joe Hockey,

Meet Archie. According to you Archie has the ideal parental configuration, that is, he has a male and a female parent as his primary carers.

Note I don’t say he has a “mother and father.” That’s because in my experience the attributes the dominant culture (as represented by you in this instance) associates with mothers and fathers aren’t necessarily founded in biology, rather they are cultural constructs and as such, can be assumed by either sex. I have seen male parents in my family engage in “mothering” while I’ve witnessed female parents happily “fathering” away and nobody much cares, as long as the babies are getting what they need.

While Archie meets your standards in terms of immediate family, after that it gets a little wild. This fortunate infant has four grandmothers, two of whom are called Jennifer because one grandfather married the same name twice, though not simultaneously because as yet, nobody’s done polygamy. I don’t see this in our futures either, as the women in our extended family are exceptionally feisty, and most of us see polygamy as favouring the male of the species. The prospect of having more than one male partner at a time leaves us uninspired, though several of us have engaged in serial monogamy.

That being said, Archie does have Mormon-by-marriage cousins in the US, albeit lapsed.

Archie also has five cousins whom we all call the Caramels, owing to their Indian mother and Anglo-Celtic father. These parents were married in two ceremonies, one Catholic and one Hindu. Archie himself recently enjoyed a Catholic baptism and an atheist Name Day, to cater for the disparate choices of his nearest and dearest. All four grandmothers were present including the bisexual one, and nobody got into any recriminatory fights.

Oh, yes, I almost forgot. One of Archie’s great-aunts is also bisexual, and her partner is transgender.

Archie’s parents both work and the extended family as a whole has a strong work ethic, even the sexually adventurous among us. We are all good citizens paying our taxes and staying out of jail.

As yet, we have no idea how Archie will decide to express his sexuality. We don’t much care.

However, all us four grandmothers  love him with a ferocity you don’t want to mess with. If anybody like you tries to put Archie down because of who he loves, they’ll have us to contend with.

Until I was seven, I was brought up by my grandparents. They were then forced to relinquish me to my birth mother and her new husband. A heterosexual pair. In that configuration I experienced physical, sexual and emotional abuse that I barely survived. What I’m saying to you Mr Hockey, is that you and those who think like you are making too many assumptions, and there are too many of us with too much experience who will continue to challenge your assumptions, and we will win.

My family is a big family and we contain many differences. The babies in our family grow up accepting difference because it’s in the familial air they breathe. This is one of the greatest gifts we can give them.

I am sorry for you and your kind, Mr Hockey. I am sorry for your small minds and shrivelled spirits. With my history, I know the miracle of finding human beings who love me and let me love them. I feel sorry for you, Mr Hockey, that you are compelled to judge and reject human beings who don’t fit your narrow vision of what families should be. Maybe if like me, you’d lived in darkness from which you never imagined you’d emerge, you wouldn’t be so damn picky.

I don’t think you will win this battle. There are too many of us who can say, echoing the magnificent words of Penny Wong: “I know what my family is worth.” I know what my hard-won family is worth, Joe Hockey. And none of us need you to tell us how we should be.

Licensed to Kill

3 Oct

Defence Minister Stephen Smith’s decision to allow women to assume unrestricted combat defence roles has caused ethics Professor Clive Hamilton to despair that “it is time to sound the Last Post over the rotting corpse of feminism.” Hamilton goes on to argue that the pursuit of equality has brought us to a sorry state of feminist affairs when women, like men, are granted a license to kill. This step signals the “final annihilation of difference,” and the end of women’s role as a “subtle, civilising power that has always worked to restrain the violent tendencies of men.” Without much success, one is obliged to point out.

In order to earn a license to kill, women must prove themselves psychologically, physically and mentally up to the job, a job that is on offer only from that bastion of hegemonic masculinity, the defence forces.

There are many men who would not fulfil the requirements and indeed, would not wish to. I recall my sons singing to Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, “Join the army get your balls blown off” whenever a recruitment advertisement appeared on television. Being licensed to kill isn’t for everyone, regardless of genitals.

Instead of throwing in the feminist towel at this strike for equal opportunity, perhaps it’s valid to note that licensing women to kill is recognition that some women are capable of acquiring and practising the violent arts, therefore the capacity for deadly violence is not gender specific. The Defence Department has, perhaps unwittingly, subverted culturally imposed gender roles of the kind espoused by Professor Hamilton that would have women incapable of or unwilling to perpetrate violence. The Department has now acknowledged women as trainable as men, should we choose to embark on that course.

We can’t have it both ways

I’m at a loss to see how debunking that particular gender myth can be anything but positive for everybody. The majority of women will not choose to earn their killing license, just as many men do not choose that path either. At least it is now acknowledged in public policy that women are human beings capable of a wide variety of behaviours including state-sanctioned killing, just like men.

This is in direct contrast to another Gillard Government policy designed to prevent violence against women and their children. This policy defines domestic violence as overwhelmingly perpetrated by men. The policy does not acknowledge that female violence against children and other women is of equal concern, despite increasing international research and anecdotal evidence that this is indeed the case. The designers of this policy seem, like Professor Hamilton, to be labouring under the misapprehension that women are not capable of violence because it isn’t in our nature. It is only in our nature to be victims and/or soothers of male aggression.

You really can’t have it both ways. Women either are or are not capable of learning to use violence, either from the state or from the influences of their environment and their genes, just like men. You really can’t have the Defence Department heralding this as equality, while at the same time the Office for Women portrays us as overwhelmingly victims and rarely perpetrators. You really cannot insist on contextualising women’s violence (when it’s actually admitted) while leaving male violence out there as if men are born bad and it’s their base nature.

If the Defence Department has shown us anything, it’s that they consider the ability to engage in deadly violence to be non-gender specific. If we are to accept that, we must accept women are equally capable of violence in other situations as well. Joining the armed forces isn’t going to cause the sudden emergence of a brand new aggressive characteristic in the human female. It’s going to nurture and nourish what already exists.

The feminist struggle for equality

The mainstream feminist struggle for equality has always been about escaping restrictive gender roles and that escape has been perceived as our liberation. It has always been about ensuring women have equal opportunity and that has been perceived as our liberation. Mainstream feminism has rarely interrogated the type of masculinity that determines the Western capitalist culture within which it has sought equality. Mainstream feminists have not sought to radically change this culture, but rather to find an equal footing with that specific masculinity, within its parameters.

Thus we have our first female Prime Minister who is determined to deny the human rights of women and children in her urgency to pursue entrenched masculinist policies of sovereignty and border protection. Such a goal is far from feminist, yet mainstream feminists were (and some still are) ecstatic that we have a female PM. How long will it take to grasp that ownership of a vagina does not a feminist make?

What’s gone wrong with the feminist debate?

What has gone badly awry in the equality debate is a shocking lack of clarity and truth. For a movement that railed against the destructive consequences of stereotyping women, we’ve certainly done more than our fair share with regard to both sexes, and this has brought us undone.

There is no such animal as “men” and there is no such animal as “women.” Such erroneous concepts are the foundational lie on which much equality rhetoric rests. It’s a lie feminists railed against on behalf of women, yet enthusiastically embraced when it came to men. It’s a lie Stephen Smith confronted and faced down, whether he meant to or not. This lie is what is bringing feminism to its knees, not, as Clive Hamilton would have it, women being licensed to kill, or vomiting drunk on a Saturday night just like the boys.

We are rightly outraged when all Muslims are cast as terrorists. We are outraged when all Indigenous people are cast as drunken child abusers. Or we should be. Yet we don’t bat an eyelash at the use of “men” and “women” by just about everybody who has something to say on the subject. “Women’s morality differs from men’s,” writes Professor Hamilton, for example. Both sexes ought to be outraged at this stereotyping. It is an untruth, as all generalizations are untruths. I am not Woman. I’m a woman. My “morality” is the product of all of my experiences and what I have made of them. Here’s a male ethicist prescribing my female moral life, while claiming to have feminism’s best interests at heart. What is wrong with this picture?

A common enemy

It’s rarely acknowledged that many women and men share the common enemy of hegemonic masculinity. Recognising that there are infinite ways in which we are all undone, devalued and dehumanized by this dominant form of the masculine would allow us to co-operate in its demise. Instead, hegemonic masculinity pits us against one another, and we co-operate by couching our grievances in terms of gender warfare. The debate ought to be couched in terms of the dominant masculinist principles to which some women are as bound as some men, and that disadvantage whole subcultures regardless of sex, though sex may determine the manner in which the disadvantage is enacted.

Mainstream feminists have embraced these principles, with the result that some women have successfully adapted to the institutions, and the institutions themselves remain intact and largely unchallenged. The goals and aspirations of the majority of people demand a capitulation to masculinist forces that govern every aspect of our Western lives from cradle to grave, forces that remain largely unchallenged by feminism.

Who’s going to take away their license to kill?

Issuing women with a license to kill is a formal recognition of women’s equal capacity for sanctioned violence. Equality within the status quo was the intention of mainstream feminism, not radical structural change. This move by Defence is entirely in keeping with feminist goals.

We were never going to be much more than tokens in the patriarchy, and we aren’t. This isn’t going to change until we stop being victims. We will never stop being victims until we acknowledge our full capabilities, including those for violence and harm. This is what finally liberates us from victim-hood: owning our capacity for behaviours that are collectively denied in women because our culture doesn’t want women to have them, and because when the chips are down neither do we. How much nicer to be romantically imagined as “those who pacify the beast” than as those who are complicit in the beast’s violent projects.

The Defence decision acknowledges that women are first human beings, capable of feeling and acting in ways that have long been regarded as exclusively male by the orthodoxy. While in the short-term this may result in what can seem undesirable female behaviour, in the long-term it will allow us a fullness of humanity we’ve been denied for far too long. Human beings can be violent, destructive and murderous. Human beings have to learn to deal with these impulses in ways that do not bring about devastation. This can’t happen if we continue to deny that the female half of the human race has these capabilities, in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary.

Women who feel liberated enough to publicly express violence will initially do so in destructive and copycat ways, and they will call it equality because male acting-out is all they have to measure themselves against. They’re quite right. Equality is exactly what it is. The right to be equally human, for better and for worse, is what any feminist worth her salt should work towards. We can’t cherry pick equality.

As long as violence sanctioned or not is perceived as gender determined, no society can adequately address its causes, its effects, and what can be done about it. Rather than gnashing and wailing that women are becoming as awful as men, we should be questioning the limited means of expression both sexes have within a hegemonic masculinity that depends for survival on strict gender roles. We should be recognizing that these expressions are determined and controlled not by “men,” but by a specific manifestation of masculinity that disadvantages and dishonours both sexes. Then we can really examine violence and war, not as fought by men or women, but as perpetrated and fought by human beings on and against other human beings.


Cosmetic surgery, the gender revolution, and J.M. Coetzee.

30 Dec

Rights or Revolution. By Gay Liberation Network. flickr

The last few weeks have been interesting. First up, I was bored and channel surfing and I came across the ABC’s Hungry Beast at the beginning of a report of cosmetic surgery on female genitals. This is apparently becoming popular in Australia. It’s performed by plastic surgeons on women who think their genitals need a bit of a tidy. As I come from the generation who thought it revolutionary to crouch over the mirror and have a look, I was immediately engrossed in this report. I thought it might tell me how far we’d come.

How do you actually know your genitals need tidying, I wondered idly, as my revolution didn’t consist of a wide-scale comparative survey of loads of others. And this is where it really got scary.

The soft porn industry in Australia is allowed to publish images of female genitalia. However, these images may not be too explicit. You can’t show too many bits. So the photographs are airbrushed, with the result that the women in these magazines are portrayed as having genitals that are more likely to belong to a pre-pubescent girl.

In a wonderful example of a Baudrillardian nightmare in which the virtual not the actual has come to define what is ‘normal’, I learned that women and oftentimes their partners are taking these airbrushed models as guides to the way women’s genitals should be. The mature genitalia with their wrinkly bits and pieces are now perceived as imperfect. We can, and some think we should, get our genitals surgically deconstructed and reconstructed to look like we looked when we were ten.

The processing of photographs was described by porn industry air brushers as altering the appearance of the “vagina.” This confused me greatly for a while, being as the vagina is the inside bit. It seemed even more frightening than slicing up external bits. But to my relief the reporter explained that the industry prefers to use the term “vagina” rather than the term “labia,” due no doubt to some bizarre desire not to offend by being explicit.

I then watched in anguished disbelief as we were taken into the operating rooms of a plastic surgeon who was in the process of injecting anaesthetic into the genital area of an attractive young woman. After a bit of chat, and then getting down to some business we couldn’t see as he was filmed with his back to the camera, the surgeon emerged triumphant from his flurry under the blue sheets, holding aloft a piece of bloodied skin that immediately put me in mind of Van Gogh’s severed ear. It was, in fact, a good-sized chunk of one of the young woman’s labium.

Barely recovered from this, I next encountered the appalling treatment of Norrie by the NSW government. Norrie was registered as male at birth. Norrie began hormone treatment at 23 and then had surgery to become a woman. Norrie has since stopped taking hormones and identifies as neither sex. Norrie had become the first person in the state to be legally recognised as without gender.

When I heard this news, I was delighted. This is a great step forward for our society, I thought. At last we have matured enough to acknowledge difference, and to free ourselves from the cultural brainwashing that would have us imprisoned for life in limiting binary gender categories, and their at times crushing roles.

People like Norrie are, in my view, heroic vanguards of the better world that is there for us if we can only liberate ourselves from these entirely constructed (frequently by religions, then supported by the State) concepts of what is “normal” and what is “natural.”

But my pleasure was short lived. In a disgraceful turnaround, Norrie was stripped by the NSW government of the right to be legally recognised as genderless on the grounds of some obscure twaddle dragged out of some obscure twaddle book, specifically for the purpose of calming the fears of red-necked twaddlers everywhere who couldn’t get their heads around Norrie’s circumstances and just wanted it all stopped. The NSW government capitulated to these fear-ridden, angst-ridden, deeply threatened voters, and stopped it.

One step forward. Ten steps back. Norrie has vowed to fight on.

Finally, J.M. Coetzee. Who is one of my favourite authors and who is currently reading his novel “Youth” on ABC Radio National’s Book Show. I will state right now that it is not acceptable for the views of narrators and characters in a novel to be attributed by the reader to the novel’s author.

The narrator of Coetzee’s novel is describing the character’s first homosexual encounter. A shabby, impersonal encounter with a stranger that leaves the character feeling isolated and unsatisfied.

Prior to this encounter, the character wonders if he is homosexual and if that were the case, would this “explain his woes from beginning to end?”

After the encounter the character decides that homosexuality is a “puny activity…a game for people afraid of the big league…a game for losers.”

I first mused that some heterosexual encounters could be described as puny. The lack of connection and sense of distaste after engaging in impersonal and furtive sex is not confined to homosexual activity. The lack of interest in a partner as anything more than a means to achieving gratification as quickly as possible then let’s zip up and clear off is an un-gendered state of mind. Women do it too. The uncomfortable emotions it can lead to (but aren’t inevitable if you haven’t been looking for anything more) are un-gendered. While we have different bits, men and women and un-gendered people do share human emotions, many of which appear to be similar in certain situations.

So I decided that Coetzee’s character was on the wrong track – it wasn’t the homosexuality of the encounter that was puny it was the nature of the encounter itself. As long any character doesn’t grasp that, that character is doomed to reproduce the grotty experience regardless of their partner’s gender or if the partner has no gender at all. This isn’t an issue of sexual preference. It’s just sad sex.

I then thought that this characterisation of homosexual sex as something for people who can’t manage heterosexual sex, or who are losers, is very much alive and well and abroad in the world.  Homosexual sex often isn’t thought of as “real” sex, heterosexual sex is held up as the “real” mature expression of sexual love. “Real” blokes have sex with women, and if you tell a bloke to “man up” the last thing you mean is go have gay sex.

In the same way that Norrie’s lack of gender is now not legally recognised, gay marriage is still not permissible in this country, and probably for some similar reasons. Marriage can only take place between a man and a woman, trumpet those who oppose, and it will be devalued if gays and lesbians and un-gendered people are allowed to do it too.

De-valued? De gays and de lesbians and de no-gendered people will strip the institution of marriage of a mysterious value that is only brought to it, that can only be brought to it, by heterosexuals?

What, one wonders, can that value possibly be?

Have these objectors ever stopped to consider that we live in a world in chronic need of all the love it can get, I wonder.  So perhaps we have a sacred (in the sense of not to be disrespected) responsibility to celebrate love, including sexual love, wherever it appears, between men and men, women and women, un-gendered people, or women and men.

Apart from anything else, the refusal to recognise Norrie’s situation, and that of gays and lesbians who wish to marry, contravenes the human rights of all parties involved.

But not to worry. As long as we can still get our genitals sculpted we can be justifiably proud of the democracy in which we live.

I have wondered if this surgical procedure is available for men, and how many are taking it up. But which bits are considered the untidy bits?

I once had a fellowship at a writers’ retreat. There were several other writers present and after a hard week’s work, we took ourselves down to the pub. Everyone had a few margueritas and on the last round, a woman among us who had been very quiet in social situations up to that point, suddenly became raucous. She wanted to propose a toast, she said, to the best crowd of women she’d come across in a long time.

“Up yer flaps, girls!” she roared, and all the men at the bar turned round to stare. “Yair, that’s right mate,’ she sang out again, lifting her glass and her middle finger in their direction. “Up yer flaps!”

This article was first published in On Line Opinion, 26.03.2010

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