the real me

I’m not a big fan of Radio 4’s @BBCWomansHour.  I’m definitely not a fan of Jenni Murray’s often condescending and sometimes hectoring tone and I’ll admit I was ready to completely disagree with her Sunday Times article on trans women, published to mild outrage a couple of weeks ago.  In fact, I think it’s a thoughtful piece, well argued in places.  I even agree with some of it!

What I absolutely disagree with is Murray’s use of the phrase ‘real woman’.  For Murray a ‘real’ woman is an individual born with female sex characteristics who grows to be a woman and experiences a lifetime of pressure to become the socially constructed idea of what a woman should be.  So what’s not to like?  I fall into Murray’s ‘real’ category – but also into (self-defined) categories of Tomboy 50+, Dress Free, Make-up Free, Childfree … the list goes on.  Am I still real Jenni?

Sometimes I doubt it when I get shocked expressions from other women when I walk into the Ladies (roll on gender neutral toilets!).  Once a woman actually screamed!  Another time I had to get my breasts out to convince a woman in Bath that I was entitled to be there. I may be a real woman but TERFs please note, not all women-only spaces feel safe to all women ‘real’ or otherwise.

The thing is Jenni, we’re all real and we are all, depending on context, other.  It’s too easy to resort to media shorthand and throw contested terms like ‘real’ around, just like those  throwaway Women’s Hour lines such as ‘We all love a new lipstick don’t we!’. (No).  The the fierce defence of territory, of building walls (!) around identity rather than facing up to its fluid realities, is one reason prejudice and inequalities remain so intractable.

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love thy neighbour?

Commuting is always a trial of sorts.  Seat reservations and noise cancelling headphones provide some comfort, but minor irritations quickly accumulate: the person talking blithely on their phone in their outdoor voice; the person eating a stinking burger,; the wrong kind of leaves/snow/wind … This week I encountered a new commuting challenge: sitting next to a besuited, late middle-aged man surfing soft porn on his phone.  I tried to focus on my work and avoid catching sight of repetitive shots of young women in so called ‘erotic’ poses. To be fair, my neighbour made an (ineffective) attempt to shield the screen from time to time, but the LED glow and something about his rapt intensity was distracting.  I wondered whether he did this every night on his train home; whether there was anyone at home; whether they knew or minded what he did: whether I would do something similar in a public place … ?  And more.  Did I feel objectified?  Theoretically yes, but in the same resigned kind of way as when walking past giant billboards of women in underwear or watching X-rated music videos at the gym.  Did I feel angry?  Mainly awkward – and I felt sad for those young women in their ridiculous poses.  We reached his stop and as he got up to leave, my neighbour politely apologised for disturbing me.  Indeed…  I found myself smiling politely back as I let him pass.

the waiting game

Time is ticking (slowly) away as we wait for the outcome of the university’s application for an Athena SWAN (gender equality Charter Mark) award, submitted in November 2016.  Anyone who has been involved in putting together an Athena SWAN application will know a) how much work is involved and b) that it’s dangerous or foolish to predict the outcome.  Since November I’ve progressed in a reasonably linear fashion through five post-application/pre-outcome stages.  These are: Stage One: Utter Relief; Stage Two: Total Nonchalance; Stage Three: Niggling Thoughts; Stage Four: Studied Indifference.  Now I’ve reached Stage Five: Counting the Days.  I may be the only person at BCU experiencing the full-flavours of these five Stages; my colleagues enquire solicitously about Athena SWAN when we pass in the corridor but no doubt forget all about it when I’m out of sight.  Meanwhile,Stage Six: Email Hypervigilance, awaits…