Feminist Press Review

The weather has forced me to stay indoors most of the weekend, which has been much welcome. The stacks of magazines and books had been piling up the last weeks and the last 48 hours were an excellent opportunity to read through most and report back here. We shall start with Vanity Fair

The international edition runs a big cover story about Beto O’Rourke and his fancies for becoming the next US President. The main show, however, is the big joint interview of ​Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph (there’s also a big picture spread from the VF Oscars afterparty, but I reckon we have already processed that). The official fun women of the United States and the ur-feminists of Hollywood, you could not go horribly wrong with these two. The interview is PR for their latest cinematic endeavours, which are personally not terribly much to my taste (I only really liked The Bridesmaids from this feminist slapstick-genre), and much else. I liked the “much else” part more: where Poehler and Rudolph explain how they started out, how it’s been for them in Hollywood, how does it feel to plough your way through in an industry where female characters still only have 35% of the speaking roles in top blockbusters. 

The French edition of ​Vanity Fair has #metoo -related speculation from France, involving movie director Luc Besson, who is the suspect in one of the latest bigger court cases in France. There’s a fantastic story about a former Parisian judge Constance Debré, who was born to a grande famille de la République, and then went through a huge reinvention of giving up her job, husband, bourgeoise life and the prestige and became a writer and started to live with her female partner instead. Does not sound like much, looking at it like this, but the point was that her family name made it hugely difficult for her to walk out of her life. She wrote a book Play boy about her experience. Have not read it, but might give it a shot. Also, the theme of tomorrow’s MET Gala, camp”, is discussed in the magazine, through Susan Sontag, who wrote a novel called such in the 60s. Thoroughly interesting in the preparation for the gala.

French ​Vogue has the usual gorgeousness (safari theme is back for summer), and on top interviews with Rebecca Solnit, the author of Men Explain Things to Me and ​The Mother of All Questions, the latter of which has just been translated into French. On an equally feminist beat, there’s also an interview of Anja Rubik, Polish model, activist and philanthropist. Amongst many, many issues, she also discusses the sex education in Poland. Rubik has fronted big campaigns in Poland by authoring a book about homosexuality and contraceptives. Highly interesting.

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Then, have you ever been caught up in a situation where you are directly challenged to quickly bring about concrete, actual examples of gender bias in everyday life and your mind just draws a complete blankThis is maddening, because your head will be bursting with examples the minute the situation is over and you are mentally gathering yourself from the floor. Since everybody nowadays wants to talk about artificial intelligence,  data bias is an extremely interesting topic even for a non-geek. 

Invisible Women is a very thorough take on this subject, and does not require any prior knowledge or particular interest in gadgets and nerdery. Much of Criado Perez’  findings rest on how women are excluded from the creation of basic algorithms and many societal norms, such as dosage of medicine (this part will knock your socks off). It’s all done in a very non-whiny way, and is a fabulously practical antidote to all those “aren’t we getting a bit paranoid here?” comments when this topic is being brought up. 

There’s much talk about the need to have more girls studying STEM and more women in tech, but without educated debate on why this is actually something to be encouraged and something that is absolutely essential, these messages might not hit home. There’s another book about biases in apps and algorithms which is very practical: Technically Wrong by Sara Wachter-Boettcher, who made her own career in the Silicon Valley bro-atmosphere, so she knows what she is talking about. Excellent read. 

Women Bleed. Period.

Former Deputy Chief of Staff to President Obama, ​Alyssa Mastromonaco, wrote her first book Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? about her life in the White House and what it was like to have spent over a decade working with ​Barack Obama. 

The book opens with Mastromonaco’s observations that toilets in the West Wing were far and few. Women’s toilets basically didn’t exist. There was nowhere to buy tampons if you had forgotten yours – and the time-consuming security protocol meant that you could not nip out to get some whenever you had the need, because it would take forever and there was never time for that. She eventually negotiated a tampon dispenser to be installed in one of the toilets. 

I explained this bit to my friend when I told her about the book. “Isn’t that a bit lame, to make such a point of being a woman by writing about your periods? Surely her menstruation was not the most important thing in the White House? “, she proffered. I was not sure. Was it? 

There was a time when my periods almost became the most important thing in my professional life. Or, rather, hiding I had them. In my early thirties I had a job which required me to travel quite a bit with my boss. We once had a small 8-seater jet to transport a small bunch of us. I had my period, and it was hell. The tiny plane had a toilet, but there was no proper door. Despite the usual airplane noise, we might as well have relieved ourselves on the aisle, so close was the toilet and so useless its door.

It is a universally known rule that toilets on board any means of transport shall be avoided. However there’s an exception and it is this: when you’re bleeding dry and know that unless you immediately stuff yourself with more bleached cotton wool, a mortifying red pool will be left on the beige leather seat once you stand up to leave with the rest of the delegation.

I did not want to announce to all and sundry that I had my period when I lurked to the tiny makeshift toilet, so I put up a solid effort to simultaneously navigate the holding of the piece of shit sliding door closed, open the cellophane of a tampon using my teeth so as to liberate my other hand for removing the old tampon and fix the individually wrapped-in-plastic pad that had multiple sticky surfaces and wings and bells and whistles whiletrying to figure out where all the plastic crap, pads and stuff should go, as there was no bin anywhere. I nearly failed, dear reader, but my colleagues’ moment of enjoying their Ruinart was not ruined

Throughout the trip I was drugged to my eyeballs, as the cramps were becoming intolerable. The only thing that lifted my spirits was arriving at a dining hall where the chairs were upholstered in dark red velvet – if disaster struck, no-one would know. I didn’t know at the time that the excessive bleeding, cramping, diarrhoea, throwing up and fainting were caused by endometriosis that was operated a few years later.

A male-dominated environment that it was, I actually scheduled the surgery to take place during my annual holiday, so that I could avoid having to request my (all male) management for medical leave to deal with “some women’s issues” (this is how my colleague’s difficult IVF- process was described as). I was desperate to remain one of the guys. If it meant pretending that I did not have a functioning uterus, so it was to be.

Since the operation I have been on hormonal medication to treat endometriosis, which means that for years I’ve lost any sense of my natural cycle. Therefore I do not really think about periods at all. I came across Notes to Self by Emilie Pine last week and her essays brought this topic right back on my radar. Interestingly, I also just watched Amy Schumer’s Growing, which came out last week. Both Schumer and Pine discuss periods, menstrual blood and why they are still such a taboo. 

While periods clearly only ever concern women’s bodies, there is a political side to them as well: access to hygiene products. There are hundreds of thousands of girls and women in Europe alone who cannot afford to buy sanitary pads regularly (10% of girls only in the UK!). Addressing this is a political decision.

The shame of both talking about menstruation and ensuring that any blood always remains forever hidden, however falls on women’s shoulders alone. This is astonishing in many ways. I spent decades bleeding and stressing whether I’d left red marks on the chairs or sofas at my friends’ homes (I did), whether I’d soiled a man’s bedlinen with my blood after spending a night (I had) or whether I’d ruined the only pair of Levi’s 501 that I owned throughout ​collège (that’s French for junior high school) by bleeding into them, then soaking them in a gardening bucket (I was a resourceful child) so that my mum would not see, and the soaking just made it worse and left the jeans covered in faintly rust-coloured blotches. 

How I hate the pseudo-feminist slogan of how a woman can do anything a man can do, and do it while bleeding! I could barely hold myself upright on the worst days. Women have always been over-identified with their bodies, by having to prove their intellectual capacity over and over and over again, but there’s rarely a threshold for claiming menstrual pain, other than “being female”. 

Mastromonaco, Pine and Schumer make for an excellent combination for food for thought on this issue – and periods are not the only thing they discuss, far from it. I recommend Mastromonaco to anyone who’s ever had or would like to have a cabinet job. Pine’s Notes to Self  is heartbreakingly excellent contemporary Irish writing, and I cannot recommend her essays strongly enough. Amy Schumer’s Growing is currently available on Netflix and it is brilliant. 

Related: the case of unisex toilets

I see the point of them, and I’m totally fine with the idea. Who needs the segregation of sexes when you just need a bucket to pee into? Totally fine in many places where you are not exactly expecting to spend a long time and/or to have the state of the art comfort.

At the same time only women get periods. While we should all be lassoing our tampons around in public and embrace the lovely gift nature gave us, periods can be painful and messy.  No-one in Ally McBeal was ever caught fiddling with the noisy wrappers of their tampons or sanitary pads in the office unisex toilet, where the cubicles were flimsy enough to facilitate the transcribing of whispered conversations. 

Maybe that should be the goal; that we are all totally fine with each sharing the information about our bodily fluids and functions at all times with the rest of the toilet-goers. The first step, however, needs to be the total removal of any shame that comes with menstruation. Period. 

(Man)splanatory Notes

I needed a full week to reflect some of the events and discussions that took place during the week that culminated in Women’s Day. Suffice to say, everyday is not women’s day, so I hope you enjoyed the 24 hours. Did anyone else make a guilt-ridden exit from the office on Friday 8th with a rose in hand, self-flagellating because “again I had failed in explaining the concept of women, despite an international theme day dedicated exactly for this? The one day I’m given 5 minutes of uninterrupted time to explain why us women need to exist, and I fail to deliver?”

The good thing is that there is never a shortage of men doing this for us. 

Man, at an event focused on getting more women to speak in panels: 

“I’ve tried so hard to get women to speak at panels! Maybe there is indeed something that you women also need to assess. In terms of your availability, I mean.”

Man, interrupting a female panel moderator who was wrapping the session:

“I would still like to add something…”

Moderator: “We have to finish here, thank you all for…”

Man, grabs mic: “So I wanted to add that it is also important that women take their space in the panels.”

Man, at a seminar, requesting the floor, referring to a senior woman expert who had just put forward a question:

“What my colleague here wanted to say, was that…”

Man, (proactively) assessing my performance at an event on Women’s Day:

(In a mock-female voice) “Oh I’m just here reading out my pre-prepared speech! That’s what you usually do, I mean, being a multilingual parrot. But hey, some of these arguments you gave during the chat, I mean, that was not pre-prepared! I’m not into this feminism and all, but I think you did good!”

In all fairness, it is not just men requiring us to explain ourselves and coming up with constant advise on how to be. Many women have been more than happy to chip in. Lean in! Lean out! Do this, do that! Be more like a man, play by their rules! Accept the game! Be a good guy! Embrace your femininity! Embrace your hidden masculinity! Network with other women! Network with men! Don’t network! Be a laugh! Don’t be a laugh!  Pick a tribe: be a Girlboss! Bosslady! Powerwoman! 

The focus is constantly on how women should be, in order to be right.

I thought about this a lot, especially because I heard the following arguments during so many discussions last week:

– It is our (us = women) responsibility to explain gender equality to men. We cannot expect our cause to be taken seriously unless we make ourselves understood to men. (Non-threatening) dialogue is important.

– Power structures (financial, political) will change on their own (as they so often do), and there’s no point in demanding a change through quotas, for example. Demanding is such an ugly word! We should aim for dialogue instead. Also, quota is such a charged term. No woman wants to be the quota woman. Quotas are discriminative per definition, and we want no part in that.

Eventually every discussion focused on how us women should be, and what should become of us. As if the equality of opportunity is taking its sweet time to assess whether we qualify, before letting us grab any of those high-hanging fruits. 

I was wondering whether we might be in danger of over-analysing ourselves to the point of losing the focus. More metaphorically, has the journey (of self-discovery) become more important than the destination (reaching gender parity)? 

In the future there will be more women in power, I’m sure of that. Being a sexist asshole will become as rare a thought as contemplating driving one’s kids around in a car without children’s seat and/or seatbelt on. Before that happens organically on its own (don’t start holding your breath just yet), it is a pity if the only legitimate public platform to make noise about this issue is once a year: on or around the 8th March. 

It is also a pity so many women feel that they do not have the right to demand. This is not the women’s fault, though. It is a huge, historical ship to turn: for the first 19 centuries it was a seamless, universal 100% men, 0% women quota for economic, societal and political participation. That gave men a rather comfortable lead to put together structures that reflected the constitutional quota of 100% men, 0% women. 

It is hallucination to think that this is something that will be rectified overnight.

So is thinking that women were given any rights without those before us demanding them.

It’s not all bad, though. The entertainment industry has taken great strides during my lifetime already. I recently happened upon some of the earlier seasons of Married With Children and The Nanny. The only explanation I can come up with for wasting air-time on re-running such  horrendous, sexist, misogynist, stereotyping, women-shaming, racist shit is to remind the Belgian audience of how far we’ve come already.

Roses Are Red, Some Lipsticks Are Not

I had a few events to appear at on Women’s Day, which gave me an excuse to want a new lipstick. I thought I would do this fantastic red lip -look for the day, and came to the conclusion that none of the perfectly good red lipsticks already in my stash would do this time. I made the elementary, cardinal mistake of buying makeup online, based on promotional pictures in a glossy magazine. 

Vanessa Traina collaboration with Rodin was the more sensible choice. It was too pretty. The tube was too gorgeous. Artsy poppies on clear plexiglass! Tomato-red ​olio lusso luxury lipstick!  So high I was on the prettiness of the poppies that I ignored the fact, that my experience from Rodin lipstick tubes was not exactly good. They look nifty, but bloody open in the handbag the second you leave them unattended. The lipsticks themselves are good, though. 

The colour Dahlia looks really nice in the tube, but merely leaves a peachy gloss on the lips. I don’t know why I thought anything peachy would look good on me, but I now have an pricey luxury lipstick to remind me that I did entertain such possibility, while high on pretty things at Net a Porter. 

I’m afraid there’s no justification for the purchase that followed the peachy Rodin-deal. Because of course there could not be just one lipstick. It needed an extortionately expensive friend to make the air-travel to Brussels. I had seen a promo for luxury-label Chantecaille‘s latest line, inspired by the Arctic. Their ​Lip Cristals, together with everything else in the Arctic collection, are limited edition. I have come to notice that I will buy anything that is limited edition, so the Pavlovian reaction was to add one Lip Cristal in Citrine in my panier. 

It is the most beautiful lipstick I have ever owned. The tube is metal, has a picture of a polar bear on it and a magnetic mechanism that makes the lid close with an extremely satisfying, posh click. And that’s what I will be mainly doing with this Lip Cristal, because there’s no wearing it. 

Believe me, I tried to wear the Citrine, which was supposed to look amazing with a smoky eye (that should have been my cue: I don’t do smoky eye). I wanted to love the lipstick so bad, because it is astonishingly beautiful, as in the lipstick is kind of encased in this sparkly  substance that makes me want to drop everything and stare at it (which I did for a while). Unfortunately, whichever way this product approaches my lips, I look like all of the 80s pasty, peachy lipglosses dropped frosty acid, had a party with my 80s glitter-sticker collection, and then exploded on my face. 

I take comfort of the fact that “every sale of Lip Cristal will plant a tree in Kenya”. What it has to do with polar bears, I have not had time to figure out yet. 

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The D-day was approaching, and I was still determined to go for the red lip -lewk. I returned to the old faithfuls, above. An application of

1. Lip pencil ​Dragon Girl by NARS to colour in the lips, followed by 

2. A layer of Uncensored by Fenty Beauty to really paint the mouth and finally

3. Top layer and touch-ups by ​Red Hedy by Rodin 

will give you a flaming-red mouth for the evening. You do this at your own risk, though. Having a high-maintenance red mouth is high-maintenance. All evening. Including the moment canapés are being circulated and you are both drinking and talking to people, while minding that the salmon blini does not have contact with your lipstick and leave you looking like Heath Ledger’s version of Joker in Batman: The Dark Knight.

To maximise lasting power, I recommend doing the groundwork properly, as in really crayoning in the colour, and then use lipsticks that are not too moisturising or glossy, or they run all over the place.

Then leave to the party and hope for the best. Also, it’s only lipstick.

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Above last night’s look. 

How to: When the International Women’s Day is Coming

It is Sunday, it’s raining in Brussels and every speechwriter is raking their brains for something original to say about the International Women’s Day the coming week. This includes me, because I will be speaking at a Women’s Day Gala on Friday. So far my preparations include looking at my reference book, which I strategically placed to provide inspiration about a month ago. I also bought a moisturising mask for my face.

Words written: 0.

How to survive the short, yet intense, universal acknowledgement of the female sex on the 8 March? 

1. Awkward office situations

In one of my previous workplaces we had a tradition of the men of the office handing out roses to the women of the office on Women’s Day. Everybody carved 10 minutes from their pretend busy schedules, shuffled to the meeting room, and us ladies stood in line like some unwilling beauty pageants, waiting for our male colleagues to hand each of us a rose, which was then followed by the Finnish version of a hug, which tries to avoid any bodily contact. Few words were uttered during the proceedings, which was just as well.

We then returned each to our cubicle. Day went on as any other day at the office. 

There’s no etiquette for Women’s Day celebrations at workplace. No-one knows what they are supposed to be doing. It is awkward for absolutely everybody. If you like to observe embarrassing social situations as they happen, this day will give excellent material for your PhD. If not, take the day off. 

2. Lame speeches

We have come a long way, but much more remains to be done for gender equality” will be the line to take of every single politician and the UN Secretary General on Friday. Women’s Day hashtags will be trending on social media, and the work of the communications gurus of all the international organisations of this world can finally be unleashed for us to marvel at for full 24 hours. Video-clips featuring women! Pictures of women! Quotes by women! Statements! Calls for action!  Oh, to be alive.

Just when you thought “Why, there’s so much going on on the gender equality front!” let me spoil it for you. All the statistical offices, OECDs, think tanks and equality ombudsmen the world over have been sitting on their latest findings and statistics on gender equality for months now. It’s a global conspiracy to publish everything on, or around 8 March. Because momentum.

However, the moment we need to draw attention to the gender pay gap is few weeks before Christmas when many women struggle to make ends meet for the upcoming end of year holiday period (food, presents, new festive clothing for the kids’ school parties). Want to raise awareness about domestic violence? Again, get the statistics out just before the main holiday periods, when many women are forced to escape their violent spouses to family homes and shelters. 

Publish every piece of evidence about economic inequalities between men and women on a quarterly basis, in sync with stock market announcements. Will make it easier to draw parallels between the economic growth, women in workforce and women’s access to financing.

Just a thought. 

3. Wisecrackers

Uh-oh, so, when’s the International Men’s Day?  It’s on 19 November. Mark you calendars. 

​- Can I buy you something or pay for something today? Would that be properly patronising, or should I also theatrically hold this door open for you? But just today love, mind!

– This office would be nothing without you, you wonderful ladies! How about we make a fun day of this Women’s Day and let the ladies chair all the meetings today, how’s that for a great idea?  

– That #MeToo -thing has totally gone too far. 

Take deep breaths. It’s only 24 hours. 

4. Check your privilege and celebrate all women

Feminism is not about individual women being able to make individual choices. No one cares whether you decide, in the name of feminism,  to put on makeup or not. Your choice of footwear or clothing is not going to make the world a safer, better-represented and more liberated place for women to live in.

Therefore never be shamed by people who claim that putting on makeup and wearing vertiginous heels means surrendering to patriarchy and not being a feminist. 

Feminism is not about the privileged few having the individual choice to do whatever they want if they really want to, because of the equality of opportunity. 

Feminism is combination of political and social movements with a common goal to define and demand political, social and fiscal rights for women. Feminism isn’t about wishes. It’s about actions. Doing nothing is doing something: it’s supporting the current injustices. Doing nothing and saying nothing is tacit support. 

Just the past week I read about the Argentinian 11-year old girl who was denied abortion and forced to give birth to her rapist’s child. I read about the young girls in Philippines who are daughters of European sex tourists who visit “Pueblo de los Angeles” for sex with Filipina women – their mothers. These women get paid on average €3 per night if they get paid at all. What about their equal opportunities? And those of their daughters?

We don’t even have to leave Europe to read similar stories. A trafficked ex-sex-worker is currently waiting for her expulsion from Finland following a highly complex choreography with government authorities, who finally could not quite decide where she and her young son should rebuild their lives, after years of residence in Finland as asylum-seekers  – except that this place was not to be Finland.

The Oscars also happened the past week. Even in the world of immense privilege the women don’t have equal opportunities. Despite having directed several films that were hailed as the best of the past year, not a single woman was nominated in the best director category. No one cares about getting the statue. What these women directors’ films lack as consequence is months of publicity as run up to the ceremony. With exposure come advertisers. And then the money. And there you have the full cycle of influence in the Western world, whose structures continue to discriminate against women.

Here you are. Have a  fantastic week in any case. Get some rest on the 8 March because  patriarchy is fucking exhausting. Also you will need to be in top shape again on the 9th, when your Women’s Day rose might already be wilting away, but the fight must go on.

The illustration in the picture is by Julie Houts. Follow her @jooleeloren on Instragram.

My reference book is The Guilty Feminist by Deborah Frances-White. 

Gluten-Free Macarons

I had momentary doubts whether my Vanity Fair -subscription would make much sense, but it has justified itself by the Oscars-mayhem picture bonanza alone (including the afterparty organised by VF). Unlimited viewing of gazillions of outfits. So much pink. So much beauty. I salute Melissa McCarthy and her husband for their matching Adidas-sweatsuits at the VF-party, because if you are to pogo through the night, it’s all about comfort. 

Yes, I love a good party. So it seems does also the Duchess of Sussex a.k.a Meghan. She had a half a million euro- baby shower in New York last week, and if I am to believe the many media outlets reporting about this event, now we must collectively rush to crucify her for this. Forget whatever was said a year ago about her bringing much welcomed ​fresh blood into the Royal Family. She’s clearly crossed the line from fresh to too fucking fresh.

Meghan’s baby-shower was too lavish and expensive. 

The Clooneys, who make their own money (as in do not depend on taxpayers’ hand-me-downs) paid for the private plane, which flew both Meghan and Amal to the party and back. 

Serena Williams, who makes her own money by being the best tennis player of the universe, paid for the hotel, the harpist*, the food and the flower arrangement session.

I now invite you to check out any holiday, public or private, enjoyed by any member of the extended UK Royal Family. Every penny has been paid for by the UK taxpayer. 

William thinks it was not OK to invite celebrities.

So now it comes as a surprise to Meghan’s brother in law that she used to be a Hollywood-approved actress, with an address book to match, who made her own millions by actually having a job. 

Also, let’s have a quiet moment to reflect when the Obamas paid an official visit to the UK. Correct me if I’m wrong, but was it not William and Kate parading their wee toddler Prince George, clad in a dressing gown, to meet Obama and a couple of carefully selected photographers during the visit and then have the pictures plastered absolutely all over the place? 

But William…

Oh well.

​But climate change?

While Meghan clearly is single-handedly responsible for the global aviation emissions, and while we can have a debate whether jetting off to a party overseas is justified and/or cool in the current world situation, can I ask why no-one is batting an eyelid when Meghan and Harry flew to Morocco for an official visit this week? Oh sorry,  is it because they flew commercial? Because it’s only the private planes that come with CO2-emissions?

But a private plane!!!! Yes, because of the Clooneys. What George giveth, you shall taketh.**

Meghan should behave like a royal and have afternoon teas instead, like Kate did.

Who are we kidding? It’s all about ​Panem et circenses. We do not look up the pictures of the royals to see how miserable they look wearing their burlap sacks. We want to see diamonds, heirloom tiaras and expensive dresses. Being born and bred in an extremely egalitarian republic, to me this is the only reason to have royals in the first place. If you have any other justification for their existence, please do share. 

Kate can, and ​should, if I might add, have all the low-budget (again, from the public purse) tea parties her servants have the energy to throw. However, I am not sure which is worse: being insanely privileged at someone else’s expense and pretending you’re not, or just giving the game away as you go along. No matter how many casual family portraits the Kate&Wills- family has taken, posing in their colour-coordinated Barbours (OMG! Princess Charlotte is wearing something her brother Prince George wore once a year ago!!!! Thrifty! Circular economy! Phew!), they all enjoy privileges someone like me can never fully understand. 

But the bitch ordered gluten-free macarons…

Ya’ll, chill. All macarons are gluten free. It’s almond flour. 

…and that’s so Marie Antoinette!!!!

Yes, she was totally slaughtered! Head lopped off just like that, for eating her gluten-free macarons and whatnot shit! 

Just give Meghan three more months. Then she’ll be a mother, having fulfilled her function in the Royal Family (and as a woman, should we believe the Daily Mail columnists) and again be holier than thou. 

* My new life goal. To throw a party where people arrange posh flowers to the sound of live harpist. 

** My second new life goal.