Archive for the ‘The F-Word’ Category

The F-Word: Banter


Firstly I have to thank last night’s guests again for an excellent discussion – FemSoc’s Kirsty Haigh and our resident comedian Hitch did a great job of talking through ‘banter’ in its various forms and debating the different contexts in which it occurs. But as ever, I’ll be using this blog to voice my own thoughts on the issues of banter.

Banter is a strange word. Strange because it has come to be as much a phenomenon as it is a word, and strange because its a really confusing phenomenon at that. The Oxford English Dictionary defines banter as “the playful and friendly exchange of teasing remarks”. Yaaay! We all love being playful and friendly and exchanging teasing remarks right? How jolly. Except I can’t help but feel that the word has come to mean something different in recent years, and so I’m calling for a redefinition to “something that unfunny people say to get away with saying potentially offensive stuff”. Take note, Oxford English Dictionary.

I thought long and hard this week about how to approach the topic but funnily enough I found that that in itself told me all I needed to know. My deliberations all centred around the concern that arguing against banter would render me serious, boring and lacking in a sense of humour. And that’s where the problem lies. I love a good laugh as much as the next person, and I’m more than up for banter as it is described in its official dictionary definition, but as soon as its used as some kind of shield that stops people being confronted for racism, sexism and homophobia (amongst other offences) then I’m sorry, but I just can’t be on board anymore.

The dangerous thing is that ‘banter’ as we know it is so casual and everyday that its hugely difficult to confront. Standing up to it means setting yourself up for a barrage more of the stuff. I’m talking about the poor man who tried to complain about the LadBible website (“the biggest LAD community in the world” FYI) and was immediately told that he “obviously needed to get laid” only for hundreds of other men to laugh at him and shower the replier with praise for being such a topLAD LOL. The rest of the world’s men – the normal, nice, everyday men, the men who agree that LadBible is childish and derogatory – are not on these sites. And so banter remains its own little isolated, untouchable world that we can see into but can’t quite penetrate (and I get LADpoints for slipping ‘penetrate’ into a serious article. #topLAD).

For me, the idea that something can be this untouchable is massively scary. Some things shouldn’t be questioned: Beyonce is good, Jedward is bad. The teabag should always go in before the milk. But issues of sexism, racism and homophobia? These are not milk, teabags or Jedward, and they are certainly not Beyonce. They are issues affecting people’s lives every single day, everywhere. And that can’t go unquestioned.

Banter isn’t harmless fun without any consequences. Banter is Andy Gray saying women don’t know the offside rule, immediately dismissing the years of training, dedication and commitment of sporting women everywhere with one stupid sentence. It’s Russell Brand describing lewd sexual encounters to someone’s grandad, reinforcing the idea that sex is for men to brag about and women to be ashamed of. It’s LadBible describing women as “wenches” to be “bedded and added to their current lifetime tally”…

I’ll let you digest that again: It’s LadBible describing women as “wenches” to be “bedded and added to their current lifetime tally”. That really happened. So did photo albums called ‘Cleavage Thursdays’, and a list of commandments including “Thou shall treat a wench with respect – when she is in the kitchen”.

UniLad’s ubiquitous use of the word ‘wench’ (yes, really) coupled with kitchen jokes brings home another scary truth as well; that banter is a new type of sexism that women of our generation are only experiencing now for the first time. And its a weird kind of backwards, twisted sexism where we’re being mocked for traditional female roles that our mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers have been fighting against for the last hundred years. Nobody told them to “get back in the kitchen”, because they were still so busy trying to get the hell out of it. It’s a depressing idea that as women make more gains towards equality, men are forced to revert back to archaic examples of sexism like this. It’s what perpetuates the untouchable nature of banter; as soon as women achieve something new, we’re ‘brought back down a peg’ by men joking about something that we’ve been working towards FOREVER.

I hate to end this blog in quite such a negative way but I can’t help but be totally depressed by some of this so-called banter. Its derogatory, damaging and dangerously indestructible. Women have been paid less than men throughout history, so some brilliant ladies went to court and won compensation for all underpaid women over the last 6 years. The Sun’s Page 3 normalises the objectification of women, so 50,000 people who noticed got together and signed a petition about it. Women in the 1900s thought it was stupid that they couldn’t vote, so they chained themselves to railings and went on hunger strike until they were allowed to. Yet ‘banter’ remains largely unchallenged and certainly defended – and the sad thing is that its supporters aren’t ruthless employers, national newspaper editors or ancient political figures; they’re our friends, brothers, boyfriends and classmates.

So I’m sorry if this blog isn’t really all that funny. Must just be that I don’t have a sense of humour…

The F-Word: Women’s Magazines


Women’s magazines. What a broad and far-reaching topic. My guests last night, FreshAir’s Head of News Elyse Jamieson and Edinburgh Labour Students Chair Anya O’Shea, did a fantastic job of talking through some of the reasons why these publications can be problematic for women in the 21st century, but I’ll be using these weekly blog posts to get across some of my own views on the issues raised in the previous night’s show.

My own relationship with women’s magazines is a complex one, and to be honest I’ve always struggled with feminists who direct their criticisms solely at these magazines – partly because I thought there were bigger battles to fight and partly because I still think that being a feminist by it’s very nature means I should be able to read whatever the hell I like, thank you very much. But I’ve grown older, and allegedly more mature, and I do find myself questioning the content of these magazines more and more as I stroke my chin and gaze out of the window, pondering the big questions…

Not really. But every now and again I’ll read something that will make me stop and think ‘what?’, and that’s exactly why I chose this topic for the very first episode of the F-Word.

I remember being 12 and tricking my dad into letting me buy Sugar magazine by telling him that my mum said it was okay (I think she’d want it on record that she definitely didn’t). I’ll never forget the front page of that magazine, now out of print but at this time aimed at 14-18 year olds – “I WAS FORCED INTO PROSTITUTION BY MY OWN BOYFRIEND”, next to a picture of a 15 year-old child primped and preened into a glossy cover girl, smiling and flashing her sparkly lipgloss underneath the horrific headline. I had to ask my dad what prostitution meant, and after much umm-ing and aah-ing, he diplomatically explained that it was “when a person sold their body”. Aged 12, this conjured up terrifying images of people chopping off arms and legs, trading kidneys and browsing through potential new eye colours, but I accepted his definition with a nod and never asked again. I tell this story to illustrate the ease of access that pre-pubescent girls have to this type of content and that, even worse, it’s actually targetted at them in the first place. That’s scary, and I haven’t even touched on the issues of body image, sex, or the reinforcing of institutional sexism through these magazines. There isn’t time here to go into all that but, basically, IT’S BAD. And this little anecdote shows just how early women are introduced to this potentially very damaging world of female media, and how it’s very possible that we consume without even realising the often horrific implications of what we’re reading on our own identity and sense-of-self.

Fast-forward 5 or 6 years in the life of a woman, and you find her confronted by an array of glossy magazines promising to make her sexier, better in bed, fitter, healthier, sparklier and “more glowing” – notably never just happier or ‘actually not anything -er because I’m quite happy the way I am, thanks’. My main problem with these magazines – and it’s a big one – is that these attempts to actively promote female empowerment are done in such a way that they manage to simultaneously be blatantly sexist. Quite the feat, really.

Take More magazine. During this summer’s Olympics, they did the honourable thing and dedicated a 4 page spread to some of Team GB’s ‘golden girls’. Great, you might think – but don’t celebrate just yet, because the feature title read: “Behind every golden girl is a great man supporting her”.


This title, emblazoned above pictures of Jessica Ennis hugging her fiancee and Victoria Pendleton on a romantic stroll in the park, does nothing for women’s liberation. I’d go as far as to say that it’s detrimental to the cause. Where are the pictures of Ennis willing herself through the final lap with determination in her eyes? Where is Pendleton on the podium, celebrating the reward for years of hard work and dedication? According to More, these women are not interesting until OMG! They totes have this season’s latest accessory; a super-hot, protective and strong boyfriend. SO. CUTE.

I didn’t think it was possible for sexism to be any less palatable, but if it is then it must be when packaged in a way that claims to be celebrating women. It’s sexism alright, but its coated in sugar, flowers and sequins – because otherwise it wouldn’t be inkeeping with the latest SS12 fashion week collections. Obviously.

Cosmopolitan is even more explicit in this sense, actively promoting a campaign – incidentally also called the F-Word – to celebrate the use of the word ‘feminism’ and encourage women to identify themselves accordingly.

But wait a minute. Isn’t this the same magazine that runs a regular feature called ‘Men vs Fashion’, asking a panel of (inevitably white, twenty-something and suitably attractive) men to discuss the outfits of female celebrities, many of whom feature in pictures that were taken while they nipped to Tesco for toilet roll, or took their children to school? These women are definitely not dressing for men, and the suggestion that they are – or that they ever should – is explicitly offensive. Coupled with Cosmo’s ‘Men On…’ column, fascination with “please your man” sex tips and their current ‘Bag A Boy’ article – “Why can’t you seem to get a boyfriend? Could you be coming across as desperate? Here’s how to get that ‘I need you’ tattoo permanently removed from your forehead” – there seems to be some decidedly mixed messages going on.

This topic is far too big and broad for me to ever be able to get all my thoughts across, which is a shame. But that also says something in itself – the influence of these numerous magazines shouldn’t be underestimated, and nor should their complex relationship with the contemporary young women they are targetting. I’m not adverse to gender-exclusive magazines and I like the idea of an empowered female community of readers – I’m just not convinced that it’s possible right now, with magazines being as they are; all feminist and proud one minute, all “male writer Joe Mott talks about the biggest mistakes girls can make when they’re out on the pull” the next. It seems to me that the female magazine industry is in the midst of an identity crisis. Poor them. But I’d feel a lot sorrier if they weren’t leaving large percentages of young women in the same position as a result.