Friday, June 29, 2007


Last one today, I promise.

I have not been referring to the Supreme Court because it pains me, hugely.

Here are some eloquent discussions on the school integration matter, particularly by BitchPhD - that was a wonderful post. Note, this decision is anti-integration. It's not about "race," it's about not caring about race.

It's too depressing for words.

Oi, Missus - NO!

Or not, as the case may be. Recently, the guardian's gender section has been really rather good.

First, it featured the fabulous article by a woman who, to the horror of her relatives, decided that perhaps her children's identity should reflect their mother as well as their father. Yes, shockingly, she wanted to give her children her name. This is a very funny piece indeed, although desperately depressing in some ways. When women say "I just didn't care enough and he wanted it" - about the name change on marriage - it fills me (and others) with despair. How ill-defined a sense of one's own identity must a woman have to really not care about her name? My name is me; I am it. While some names might sound cooler, for better or worse, I am Grace Pickering and that's all there is to it.

The other one also pointed out, however, a flaw in this piece: Why do daughters "belong" to women, and sons to men? Why is it that perhaps men can accept this compromise to their masculinity as long as they get to keep their sons - the ones that matter? Our children will have both our names. That's all there is to it. If they choose to go by one or the other, that's the kids' choice. Obviously no pressure from us... both sets of genes, both names. That's it.

Second, today there was a piece about why we as women need to own the "Ms". It's a great piece, and hammers home exactly why it's important (albeit a tad bombastically):

Miss and Mrs are marks of the old world, reminders of women's second-class status as wives-to-be (Miss) or simply wives (Mrs). If you are a woman who doesn't use Ms - particularly a woman under 30 who has never even thought of it - then ponder this: how do you want to present yourself to the world? Are you an appendage or an appendage-in-waiting? . . . Choose Miss and you are condemned to childish maturity. Choose Mrs and be condemned as some guy's chattel. Choose Ms and you become an adult woman in charge of your whole life.


Read this and weep. There is a reason why they (who be "they"???) say the law is an ass.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Look after the Pennies

I have not been that happy with my normally wonderful Woman's Hour podcast recently, but in the last week I've heard a couple of great pieces. One was on Trevor Sorbie's initiative to train hairdressers how to cut wigs for those who've lost their hair after chemo, called My New Hair. If I hadn't been walking to work I think I'd have sobbed a bit, listening to this.

However, the other thing I heard was a fantastic piece on women & saving. The Fawcett Society has uncovered some extremely disturbing trends about women and their financial habits. The savings gap is, according to the research, at 33% even bigger between men and women than the pay gap (17%).

What is particularly disturbing about this is well... well, there are many things. However, a very worrying trend is that young men & women start off saving similarly in their twenties, yet when "big life events" come across a woman's path, such as having a baby, getting married, buying a house - she tends to stop saving.

Given that men continue to save, I think this really does say a lot on how women (and men) view themselves and their roles. Namely, that a good mother will spend her money on her children, and not spend any excess cash on herself - not even through saving, which is safeguarding her future, and that of her children. Whereas men can be good fathers while still taking care of themselves. Because if they don't take care of themselves, who will? Whereas women continue to rely upon men to provide for them. Hence for all our progress in the West, which is substantial, there is this continuity and link with the women I met in Malawi who were afraid to rock the boat for fear of losing their income and wellbeing. These things keep linking up in my head and show me just how far we all have to go.

UPDATE: July 5th - this article in the guardian sort of sums up lots of what I was saying...

Mordazas Mexicanas

Finally, some movement on the global gag, or the Mexico City directive. The policy specifies:
Under the policy that the president reinstituted on January 22, 2001, foreign NGOs are disqualified from receiving U.S.-donated contraceptive supplies, as well as family planning funding, unless they agree not to use their non-U.S. funds to provide abortion services, refer patients elsewhere for such services or advocate for liberalization of their country’s abortion laws.
So not only can the NGOs not use their US funding for abortion-related services, as with Title X (which covers US state-funded abortion providers), but they cannot use any other funds they receive for them either. This, in case you were wondering, is a bad, bad, bad thing.

It says so much about what Bush and his cronies think about women. We don't trust you US women to make your own decisions; but we recognise (albeit grudgingly and unhappily) that we cannot control you, not entirely. But you poor women dependent on foreign funding for all healthcare, you're a different story; you are utterly dependent upon us, and so we can use that vulnerability to enforce our ideology upon you.

So Bush will get veto-happy again, but at least we seeing some positive action at a time when the Supreme Court veers and lurches further and further to the right and tries desperately to challenge the Rehnquist Court as the most activist in Supreme Court history. It's small fry in comparison, but this signal of intent is a start, at least.

Monday, June 25, 2007


This day in years gone by has always been one of genuine excitement for me: The day I can start filling in my Wimbledon draw. For me, it's the real start of summer - I'd normally have finished exams or be heading towards something new. For me, despite my love of New Year, September always feels like the start of the year; it speaks of the possibility of change. This year, I will be different: I will not procrastinate, I will not leave things to the last minute. And yet, and yet... I wonder if that will change once I start work properly. For now, however, it remains, and I can get excited about some random British woman going 3-1 against Hingis. It's time to work.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Treading Water

I am not the tidiest person at the best of times, nor the most domestic, but this whole working business has really messed up (hee!) my house arrangements. I honestly feel as if part of the point of this summer is to learn how to balance things - going out, sleeping, being a good partner - with the demands of work. Not that this is the most realistic form of work, although it's not the easy ride that some people would have you believe.

I'm not sure if I'm coping well, yet. At points I've felt as if I were drowning, a little, but luckily at those points the people round me have brought me back above the surface. But what I am becoming increasingly aware of is that my tendency to take too much on is going to send me insane if I don't curb it. I am full of admiration for my friends who manage their social and work lives so well. I am learning, however, that sleep is the number one priority to keep me compos mentis, and the gym is a good thing, too. From those all things will follow as they should. Hopefully.

Friday, June 22, 2007

It's All About You

I don't generally read Alexander Chancellor in the guardian, and today was a reminder why, really - he's just a bit of a prat. Rushdie undoubtedly thought about the potential reaction of his "enemies," but that's not the point. The point is that he shouldn't have to worry about them and it's the justifiers of suicide bombings and the bombings themselves that have the responsibility. Seriously. Or the people who have now decided to give Osama bin Laden the highest possible honour for Islam - seriously, Rushdie did this when nothing else bin Laden did has? Other interesting responses to the ridiculousness here.

I wonder if I would be so het up about this were I not reading Midnight's Children right now? I hope so.

No more ranting about it, I promise. Instead you should go here and watch the video called Porking for a preview of what I might be upset about these days...

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Mouthing Off

One of the most interesting things about living in the States is seeing at firsthand the obsession placed upon the First Amendment. While people are divided over the other Constitutional Amendments (no right to privacy via the Fourteenth, what exactly the Second Amendment's "right to bear arms" means - when the most vocal adherents of a living constitution suddenly become originalists), generally when you ask people here, the right to free speech comes up over and over again as the most fundamental right of all, in a way that I don't think would happen in the UK.

I could think about that, about what that really means, all day and all night, but as I have memos to finish, I'll ponder on what actually got me here. Which is the declaration in the last few days by a Pakistani government official that knighting Salman Rushdie will lead to more suicide bombings and, most worryingly, that such bombings are justified. That to knight him is "utterly insensitiv[e]" in the wake of trying to rebuild relations between Britain and Pakistan.

I once stated, to someone's utter disgust, that I think people should take responsibility for what they write, even fiction. The Satanic Verses was not exactly a neutral title, now was it? We place curbs on people's right to speech much of the time, particularly when the right thinks that somehow saying "fuck" will warp children's minds (more so of course than telling them that creationism is scientifically equivalent to evolutionary theory). And I stand by my comment to a certain extent. If you're trying to be provocative, admit it, at least.

Nonetheless, the reaction of Iran at the time and now this man, Ijaz ul-Haq, is just bewildering to me. Insulting, yes, the book may well be, but I'm sure Allah, God, Jehovah, the Flying Spaghetti monster, whoever, can deal with it her/him/itself. Say you're offended, yes. But blow up people, try to murder them for it? That seems somewhat insulting to the strength of your faith in God's retribution. But then, as you may know, faith is not necessarily something I understand that well.

I don't believe freedom of speech is that important when you're starving or dying of thirst. But for the rest of us, it's something that we should be highly vigilant about. Particularly when they're saying something we don't like. So, Mr ul-Haq, you have the right to say what you have. I wouldn't throw you in prison for it (although in Britain it's probably incitement to religious hatred in some way). But note this: I want to. I'm just going to resist.

Sorry if this is utterly illogical in its flow and incoherent - tiredness is taking over. I just wanted to write about this before it disappears from the news. Undoubtedly more fodder for Hitchens, Dawkins et al.

Monday, June 18, 2007


Last two yorkshire teabags used this morning. No chance of those for ANOTHER MONTH.


Note the way my posts move from the earnest and intellectually probing (for me, at least - bear with me folks, low standards here) to this. I'm a chameleon, me.


I have just finished writing up my Malawi interview notes. It was very strange reading all these things that I had scribbled furiously, particularly as I wrote down so many truly irrelevant details. Nonetheless, it was somewhat soothing to write it down, and remember the amazing people I met and their stories.

What I found particularly interesting was, from the interviews, finding out who really stuck in my head, and who were faceless. Because despite the horrors of many of their situations, not every woman I interviewed left a strong imprint in my memory; I feel great guilt for that, but find it intriguing, nonetheless. And then there are some whose laughter stays with me - as we joked over the fact that she carried condoms in every available pocket, or about how chubby they'd got on ARVs.

In fact, one of the overwhelming memories I have of Malawi is laughter. People are basically incredible, in the depths of adversity they have the strength to laugh and joke. I loved that, and many of the women I really remember are those with whom I really laughed, deep gut-wrenching, belly laughs. There are a couple of genuine horror stories, which I cannot really share in this forum. But there are real moments of joy. Maybe that means I am not the best interviewer, that I don't get the best information out of people. Deposition training this week for my job sort of proved that. I do, however have more of a gift for connecting with people than I thought. And that's another reason why this trip was phenomenally important to me.

From left to right, Livas and Jennifer, who I interviewed, and Doreen, translator extraordinaire.

** A DISCLAIMER ** This is NOT, I repeat, NOT one of those horrendously patronising "oh my God, Africans know how to laugh" things, despite not having enough to eat. Of course they do. What my point is, that I'm not sure came across, is that I was there to find out how they had been affected by HIV, the violence in their lives, their husbands' infidelity and other wives. I wasn't expecting them to laugh with me. Further, the other interviewers and interviewees were not laughing as much... it was something about our particular interactions that brought laughter where others didn't. And that I find interesting.

Saturday, June 09, 2007


One of the things I find astounding about football is that no matter how poor or tiny the settlement, a village will clear space for a pitch. So through mud-spattered glass on our bus, as we wended our way north in Brazil, you could see the muddy pitch and the clearing with dirty white goalposts. Costa Rica was the same - Sunday in Puerto Viejo, people made the effort to head out to watch the Sunday league, which they chose to do despite the beautiful beaches and snorkelling they could have visited instead. Malawi was the same. Any clear space in a village or small town was always the football pitch - you knew it before you even saw the white of the posts.

Not once did I see women playing. Not that they don't, per se, but I saw none. They do so much physical work in Malawi that I really would be surprised if they had the energy, or perhaps more likely, time for themselves is such a scarcity that it is treasured, and not to be expended on running around like idiots. I'd thought about bringing a ball with me, but thought it was perhaps too big and not necessarily appropriate. But I really, really wish I had.

This is because I'm all about women playing sport. It makes you feel powerful and positive. You begin to view your body as a tool, and consider how it works and feels, rather than how it looks. Which is not something that I think many women really get to experience outside of sport. In the gym, I only really think running or perhaps a martial art can have the same effect. This has all been spawned by the 7-a-side tournament we played today, where my team won our group but sadly lost in the semi-finals, to a great team, despite us really having the better chances - they had one good player who did two good things - scored twice. The women on our team and others were happy, confident, and it was fun. And, as the worst team in the league, we caused a few surprises, a true underdog story. No, really.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

I Know It When I See It

The last few weeks continue in the theme of Gonzales v. Carhart, in that the Supreme Court is pouring out depressing 5-4 decisions that feature the five right wingers of Gonzales overcoming, and failing to persuade, the four liberals. Such beauties include Ledbetter, which somehow came to the conclusion that if you do not file within six months of your discrimination, even if you do not know you're being discriminated against, you have no case. Or today's ruling that enables the prosecuting attorneys to easily remove people who have a problem with the death penalty, or, indeed, on the basis of race. Kennedy has simply proved himself to be no friend of women, or the vulnerable, whatsoever. Good to see that Christian conscience and concern for the meek / humble coming through there.

Anyway, given the genuine horrors of the Supreme Court right now, it's time to look elsewhere. And in that vein, there was an interesting ruling in a Circuit Court* today. The Second Circuit--which covers New York, Connecticut and Vermont--ruled that so-called "fleeting expletives" do not trigger a mandatory fine from the FCC - if the government uses the same language. Which is a good thing, sort of. Fleeting expletives are something that Studio 60 was preaching about earlier in the season--heavy handedly, obviously, but valid intention. However, I worry that this relies on the foul mouths of the government being heard... anyway, this is something I really do believe is important: Bad language will not do people damage. Why not instead look at crap like The Next Search for a Pussycat Doll or, indeed, the content of most of MTV, and think about the awful messages sent out about women and their bodies and what is important about them?

Not that I am suggesting the CW11 gets fined for that boswellox, but if we're talking about the role of television in society, and whether it should shape or reflect our culture, if shaping is important then we should really be investing in decent, clever television that is nowhere near as degrading as not just the CW11, but all those godawful, stupid sitcoms where there is a slob of a guy with an amazing looking woman but they are VAPID and all the woman possibly could want is to be married at home with kids. Yes, Patricia Heaton, I'm talking to you.

* Quick brief for non-law school types: from lowest to highest it goes District (where the trial takes place), then Circuit (the Courts of Appeal) and then Supreme Court).

Monday, June 04, 2007


I am very, very, very tired. Very tired indeed.

I haven't even begun to process the experiences from the last fortnight. I thought I'd have a huge culture shock being back here but, in fact, the forty hour journey (thanks to missing our connection in London yesterday) helped to distance me from what was an extraordinary time. There's just too much to think about. So while I mull, why don't you look at a couple of photos to pass the time?