Pole Dancing and Purity Balls

Interesting post by Auguste at Pandagon on the relationship between pole dancing parties and purity balls:

“Pole parties or purity balls are two sides of the same coin: Sexuality-free sex or sex-free sexuality. One of these days, the cultural coin flip will land on its edge and we’ll finally realize that sexuality is sexy. And then we’ll be in business.”


Report on recent advice to pregnant women about alcohol consumption here – the latest recommendation being not to drink at all whilst pregnant.

But: ” the National Childbirth Trust said there was not enough scientific evidence to back the move. Mary Newburn, head of policy, said: “It’s easy to say don’t drink to be on the safe side. But to be on the safe side of not crashing you shouldn’t get in a car.” She added: “The question is, is the evidence strong enough to say don’t drink at all? At the moment I haven’t seen that evidence. Pregnant women need more evidence and less advice.””

This raises some of the issues discussed in Bordo’s article ‘Are mothers persons?’, (In her Unbearable Weight (1995)), in which she mentions a case in which a pregnant woman spent a night in a prison cell, having drunk a glass of wine in a restaurant. She also discusses various legal cases in which the US courts have failed to accord pregnant women the same rights to bodily integrity as other citizens.

More on mothers and foetus’ rights, in the US, here (this article is comprehensive, though relatively old. More recent stuff here)

Makeup and Veils

Hmm. AC sent me this interesting article comparing makeup and veiling.  The main idea is that there are some cultures in which women feel they can’t leave the house without makeup and some in which women feel they can’t leave the house without veils– and that this similarity is significant.  Although this is certainly right, the article made me feel a bit uneasy and I think I now see why.  The comparison, which is clearly directed at an audience that is more familiar with makeup than with veiling can be used in (at least) two ways: (1) to make veiling, which seems strange and foreign and “other”, is more comprehensible than it might initially seem; (2) to show that makeup, which may seem just fine to us, is really oppressive, just like veiling.  The author does (2). What bothers me is the author’s unexamined assumption that veiling– of whatever kind, done for whatever reason– simply is oppressive.  (And I do mean ‘unexamined’– the article hardly discusses veils at all.) For some good discussion of the complexities of veiling, see Hoodfar 1993, “The Veil in Their Minds and On Our Heads”, _Review of Feminist Research_ 22 (3-4): 2-18.

Still, the analogy is well worth considering, and there’s some interesting stuff on the history of makeup (or at least of claims about makeup). Apparently, “in 1964, sexologists Harry Benjamin and R.E.L. Masters claimed that lipstick wearing had its origins with prostitutes in the Middle East as it was “supposed to make the mouth resemble the vulva and it was first worn by those females who specialised in oral stimulation of the penis.”” Interesting if true.

Immigration and breastfeeding

A Ugandan mother has been separated from her breastfeeding son and young daughter for two weeks, whilst awaiting deportation in Yarl’s Wood (one of the detention centres where failed asylum-seekers are held before being removed from the country). It is also reported that the woman has been denied breast pumps whilst in detention. This means that she is in constant pain, and runs the risk of her milk stopping before she is reunited with her son. This is just one of many cases, despite Home Office guidelines stating that breastfeeding children should not be removed from their mothers. More here.


Just thought I’d let you know about an excellent book I’m reading at the moment in case you haven’t already come across it – One-Eyed Science by Karen Messing, Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Quebec, which came out in 1998. It’s about women’s occupational health, and the way that the topic didn’t even exist for lots of researchers at the time the book was published. Contains plenty of interesting case study material about the differences between female and male work, biological differences between women and men, and the processes by which people become scientists, and then get awarded project funding. All of these processes disadvantage women and have served to make their occupational health issues invisible. It’s really clearly written as well – I’ve been reading it before bed and can still understand what’s going on. Here’s the website for the book.

De Anza rape case

No charges will be filed in the alleged gang rape of a seventeen year old girl at a De Anza college baseball team party. The Sheriff’s Office stated that there was insufficient evidence. There are, however, eyewitness reports from three other women at the party, who guessed what was happening, pushed open the door to the room which was being held shut by two men, and made all the men leave the room. They found a young woman semi-conscious on the bed. Her lower garments had been shoved down one leg, she was naked from the waist up, and her face was covered in vomit. They immediately took her to hospital. Nevertheless, there was ‘insufficient evidence’. Note also that the three rescuers were subjected to harassment on campus for talking to police about what they had witnessed. More about the case here and here.

a host of urgent and depressing issues

Read this. It was brought to my attention after communication with REACT, a project concerned with raising awareness about the experiences of asylum seekers in the UK.

One of the ongoing projects they are engaged in is concerned with the particular problems facing women refugees and asylum seekers, with the process systematically failing to address gender-specific issues, despite approx 50% of refugees being female.

For instance, an chronic lack of childcare for women refugees means that women often have to make their cases for asylum, at the initial interview, in the presence of their children; if – as is not uncommon – the woman has left their home country having suffered gender-based violence such as rape and other forms of sexual violence, the presence of her children often hinders giving a description of these experiences. So can the presence of male interpreters. When, later in the process, allegations of rape are then made, they are not believed precisely because it wasn’t mentioned in the initial interview.

Lack of childcare means that women often cannot attend ESOL english language classes. These seem like two pretty clear instances of locutionary silencing (see Langton, 1993); conditions are such that women feel they simply cannot speak – perform locutionary acts that they wish to.

Some of the issues raised in the article (above) also highlight the epistemic injustices (see Fricker, forthcoming) that these women often face – their testimony being treated dismissively, as they are not treated as credible testifiers.

A very comprehensive document to consult is the refugee council’s review ‘Making Women Visible’.

sex transitions

Article here about individual whose ‘gender identity disorder’ specialist referred her – and a number of other patients – for surgery after inadequate consultations. Legal proceedings are apparently underway.

It reminded me of a paper presented recently by Christine Overall at a recent SWIP-UK conference. The abstract is here. These kinds of cases might be understood as supporting her proposal about how to understand transsexualism – not involving a ‘masquerade’ metaphor (taking of the mask of previous sex/ putting on a mask of assumed sex)- but rather like other important transitions; voluntarily engaged in, a significant project for the individual.

Cases where individuals regret sex changes undergone after misinformation – or insufficient information – seem to fit nicely in her model, which can presumably account for these cases in terms of taking on a (significant, life-changing) project without knowing enough about what you’re getting into. It’s harder to see what the ‘masquerade’ views would have to say – that individuals were confused about whether they were ‘wearing a mask’, say, which seems implausible.

The Size Zero ‘Controversy’?

Anyone who has watched television or opened a newspaper recently can’t have failed to notice the so-called ‘size zero controversy’ over super skinny models and celebrities. There is something rather unsavoury about the media debate. As Zoe Williams notes in this article, most programmes and magazine/newspaper articles about the issue are simply an excuse to show pictures of very thin women without appearing to endorse their thinness. Moreover, since there is undoubtedly pressure for women to be thin, this is yet another case where women are pressured to live up to an ideal, then ridiculed for doing so. Nevertheless, Zoe Williams’ claim that there is no real controversy here at all is surely disingenuous. She claims that designers choose skinny models because ‘they look better in clothes and photographs’. End of story. However, this completely misses the issue. Very few people would deny her explanation of why designers choose thin models – I suspect only a handful of the unhinged think there is some deliberate conspiracy at work here. But it is not simply a brute fact that we find thin models more beautiful. This is a cultural norm that has developed. And the more that extreme thinness is equated with beauty, the more entrenched the ideal becomes. Furthermore, the norm is extremely problematic. The problems associated with it have been well documented and discussed by many theorists. (Susan Bordo’s Unbearable Weight springs to mind, although her excellent discussion is just one of many examples.) Thus it is surely a good thing that the fashion industry is beginning to reflect on its practice of sending such thin models down the catwalk. Thoughts?

Pregnancy discrimination on the rise in US

Apparently there is a widespread lack of awareness that discriminating against pregnant women is illegal. For more, see here. Employers are also refusing to give mothers the puny 12 weeks unpaid leave mandated by the Family and Medical Leave Act. (Puny by European standards. The UK, which the rest of Europe thinks is pretty bad on this stuff, offers 52 weeks, with varying amounts of pay at various points.) Lack of awareness of these issues is a real problem. My partner was recently at a business networking event (oof!), talking to a small business owner (SBO) and an anti-discrimination officer from the chamber of commerce. SBO said “there isn’t really any discrimination any more, is there?” My partner told him about the study discussed below (Third Gender Post) of discrimination against mothers. SBO said “Yeah, but that’s legitimate discrimination, isn’t it?”