Tag Archives: London

When Is A Shirt Not A Cigar?

When is a shirt more than a fashion statement?

Sigmund Freud – that lovable psychoanalyst who denied that his female patients’ close relatives (fathers, brothers, uncles) were sexually abusing them in the early 20th century, thus setting their sanity and the health and well-being of millions of women back about a hundred years –said that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. An object to put in one’s mouth in order to inhale pre-vape fumes.

Maybe. Maybe not. But what if that cigar were wrapped in demeaning illustrations of women? What would it be then?

No longer just a cigar, I bet.

Matt Taylor, a British scientist who is, I’m sure, perfectly competent at his work at the European Space Agency, was less than competent to decide what to wear – and say – during a televised interview about the camera probe he and his colleagues managed to land on a comet (the  mission was named Rosetta). I mean, hey, the guy only has a PhD in space physics.

He wore the above shirt, one which displayed what a source termed “provocatively dressed women”. Translation: women wearing very little clothing. And then Taylor said of the Rosetta mission, “She’s sexy, but I never said she was easy”.

Amazingly (caution: sarcasm at play), people grew rather angry at him.

To his credit, when Taylor was apprised of what rapidly became known as “Shirtstorm”, he issued a rapid and apparently genuine apology.

Then the trolls emerged from their solitary holes under lonely basements – er, bridges – and proceeded to sneer at and threaten the mostly female people who had the temerity to be appalled that an educated (PhD, remember?) man would parade such lurid and derisive images, such casual sexism. Even BoJo (Boris Johnson, London’s wild-haired mayor and no stranger to hyperbole) weighed in to declare that objections to Taylor’s choice of shirt and words resembled “a scene from Mao’s cultural revolution”.

Which is why I love the title of this male-authored article on Slate: “Shirtstorm: Casual Sexism and the Inevitable Horrid Backlash When It’s Called Out”.

Called out and, let’s add, correctly identified, named and shamed.

From the article: “To be clear, I don’t think Taylor is a raging misogynist or anything like that; I think he was just clueless about how his words might sound and his shirt might be interpreted. We all live in an atmosphere steeped in sexism, and we hardly notice it; a fish doesn’t notice the water in which it swims. I’ve lived in that environment my whole life, and I was well into adulthood before I started becoming aware of it and figuring out how to counter it. I’m still learning.”

The author, Phil Plait, goes on to say, “If you think [the shirt and words] isn’t a big deal, well, by itself, it’s not a huge one. But it’s not by itself, is it? This event didn’t happen in a vacuum.” He also mentions that it wasn’t only women who complained to and about Taylor’s choices, it was male scientists, as well.

Phil Plait sounds like the antidote to BoJo. The calm after the storm. The reasonable, informed voice. Really, Boris, Mao’s cultural revolution? – the ten-year one in which educated people were denounced as traitors, had their property stolen by the Chinese goverment, and then were banished to the countryside for “re-education” and/or murder? You’re comparing Shirtstorm to that?

I like best, though, Plait’s ending. It takes up space but is not long. Rather like the comet itself, its tail streaking across the sky:

So yeah, it’s just a shirt.

And it’s just an ad.

It’s just a saying.

It’s just a TV show.

It’s just the Internet.

Yes, but you almost make as much as a man does.

It’s just a catcall.

It’s a compliment!

It’s just that boys will be boys.

It’s just that she’s a slut.

It’s just that your dress is too short.

It’s just that we want to know what you were wearing at the time, ma’am.

It’s just it’s just it’s just.

It’s just a death by a thousand cuts. No one cut does the deed. In the end, they all do.

Leave a comment

Filed under Sexism

A Drop In The Bucket


Instruments of torture.


It is, I suppose, a start.

Unlike France, which has for decades taken a firm stance against FGM, the UK has been wishy-washy at best. Recently, its softly-softly approach – that worked so well against marijuana, didn’t it, when London dealers turned to cocaine? – has given way to thoughts that perhaps, just maybe, they needed to get tougher.

That anti-FGM protests are being made by women who have themselves been cut, and hate it, and have suffered for it, gave them added weight against Britain’s traditional attitude of toleration of religious differences.

Now, finally, a woman has been arrested at London’s Heathrow Airport for conspiring to commit FGM.

In France, parents know that if their minor daughter’s genitals are cut, no matter who does the act or where it is performed, the parents will be held responsible, charged, tried, and also jailed. The first parental incarceration for FGM was in 1993. This history gives France a great deal of credibility.

Britain is still discussing whether the government has the right to examine minor girls to see if they have been mutilated.

Yes. It does. In France, every girl is inspected at least once a year.

It’s anti-health not to do so, regardless of “cultural sensitivities”. Consider the girls’ pain and horror – and occasional deaths through shock and septicemia. Consider the adverse effect FGM has on their health and the condition of future pregnancies. Reflect on the fact that if these girls were pale of skin, and Christian, outrage would be loud. But since they are the progeny of immigrants from Muslim-majority countries, they do not seem to count. Their parents get to do as they like.

FGM originated thousands of years ago in the Egypt of the pharaohs. There was likely no valid reason for it then, there certainly is no valid reason for it now.

Britain, your girls need you to protect them from violation and cutting. No matter who does it or orders it done.

It’s time to follow France’s lead.



Leave a comment

Filed under FGM

All Breakdowns Cost . . . Not Just Marital Ones


A Telegraph story quotes UK Welfare Minister Lord Freud about couples cohabiting without being married: “Those couples are four times more likely to split when their child is under three than if they are married.” He promises to support marriage (by which he really means heterosexual unions, as being more likely to produce children who need looking after) and reduce payments to single parents – most often, of course, female parents.


It’s awfully nice that Lord Freud cares so deeply about children. Would that the rest of the Conservative Party did. If only they had not removed the benefits that married couples received, years ago. If only, too, they acknowledged that marriage, even heterosexual marriage, in undergoing a revolution. It will never again be the 1950s-style union the Tory Party would like to recall, even those Tories who have no memory of the 1950s because they were born after that era.


Caring for children, giving them loving guidance, is an essential task of society. So why do the UK and US make it so difficult?


The BBC reports here that many parents are paying more for childcare than they are for their average mortgage. Another report here points out that London parents, in particular mothers, cannot afford annual childcare costs of approximately $18,000, so they are leaving work – at a time when many politicians blame non-working parents. Whether there are two parents or one paying hardly matters, when the issue is the high price of quality childcare. Is Lord Freud addressing that? Hardly.


In Sweden, many parents are unmarried and stay that way. It is not marriage that keeps them in the home and caring for their children – it is the sense of family, of responsibility and partnership, which are supported by Swedish national policies.


When bad marriages create pain, why keep them intact? It is not just spouses that suffer from the evil actions of the adult they’ve married. Children suffer, too.


As a child, Sir Patrick Stewart witnessed his father repetitively beat his mother. He has never forgotten. “As a child, I heard in my home doctors and ambulance men say, ‘Mrs. Stewart, you must have done something to provoke him. Mrs. Stewart, it takes two to make an argument.’ Wrong. Wrong! My mother did NOTHING to provoke that — and even if she had, violence is NEVER, ever a choice that a man should make. Ever.”


Now that he is, as he says, “an old white man” who will be listened to, he has been speaking out against domestic violence because that kind of breakdown costs. His work for Refuge, a nonprofit that helps women whose husbands and partners mauled them, is proud and essential work. Yes, Sir Patrick survived. He has done well. How many others have not? How many former children never got over the trauma of their parents’ treachery? How many perpetrated violence themselves?


That, Lord Freud, is a family breakdown.


There are married parents who stay in the home and abuse and rape children, either hiding it from the other parent or threatening the spouse with murder, mayhem, deportation if word leaks out.


That is a breakdown of the family.


What about the parents – heterosexual, married – who subject their daughters to the horrors and continuing pain of FGM? Who beat their children for talking to a friend of a different religion or caste? Who arrange marriages of underage children to people they have never even met, often much older than they? Who perpetrate or condone dishonorable killings of their own children?


Lord Freud, what more horrible evidence of family breakdown is there?


You think this does not cost???


In terror, in mental illness, increased violence, suicide, intergenerational conflict, arrests, lawsuits, trials, convictions, prison time? In fear, blame, shame, in children wondering where help lies, whom can they trust, dare they tell a teacher?


We understand. For you, money is the only counter, and your party does not want to pay for other people’s children. We get it, you think it essential that both biological parents care for all their children within the context of a legal marriage.


But seriously, Lord Freud, the lack of marriage is not the problem here. It’s the lack of structure. The lack of hope. It’s a society that has turned its back on loving guidance – both of those words equally stressed. It’s condoning violence within the home, financial shenanigans that remove jobs, unlimited immigration (and in the UK, giving immigrants benefits no other society allows, simply for arriving) that pits very different cultures against each other. It’s the lack of respect for schools and teachers coupled with an economy so shaky that no one knows when they might be downsized or sacked, where entrepreneurship is sometimes the only logical answer.


It’s not the lack of marriage alone. If it were, Sweden – with its thousands of unmarried yet diligent parents – would bubble with unrest.



Leave a comment

Filed under Family

When Is An Invitation Not An Invitation?

One expensive evening


The expensive bar above, Ruby Blue in London, was the scene of a recent travesty.


Not its drinks prices – steep – nor its décor, posh.


It was, instead, the venue of a breakdown in responsibility.


The facts as we know them: Kishore Nimmala, 32, an IT specialist, had met Fakhara Sultana (age and profession unknown, though judging by her picture she is younger than Nimmala) online. After a chat of indeterminate length, the two decided to go out for drinks. They met at Ruby Blue, which bills itself as “Leicester Square’s most stylish night out” and possesses a drinks menu ten pages long. Nimmala and Sultana drank two rounds, totting up a bill of £54 (US equivalent: $75). We do not know what was in those magic glasses.


We do know, however, that when Nimmala suggested that Sultana pay for the next round, she told him she had not come out with money, as she assumed he would be paying for this date.


At that, Nimmala became angry. Sultana grabbed her purse and left, as any sane woman would do when faced with an angry male whom she has known for only a couple of hours. After paying the bill, Nimmala followed her out to the tube (subway) station at Charing Cross, where he proceeded to berate her and grabbed her BlackBerry phone – the report does not specify if he grabbed it from her hand or her purse – in what he said was an effort to gain her attention but could just as equally be interpreted as an effort to pressure her to stump up a few pounds, or to steal the phone and hope to re-sell it later.


At that, Sultana screamed, Nimmala – still holding the phone – ran, and police soon caught up with him. He was arrested and booked on a charge of theft, hired an attorney, and was eventually acquitted.


Numerous readers’ comments on the ethics of paying for a date take his side or hers, and place their confidence in “what should be the rule”.


But who invited whom?


To my mind, that’s the basic question. My guess is, when Nimmala (photo here) met Sultana (photo here) online, he liked her picture and – especially because he is 32 and probably under increasing South Asian parental pressure to marry – suggested they meet for drinks.


That, to my mind, constitutes an invitation.


Having made the invite, he transformed himself into the host. Which means he pays unless she objects and pitches in. The host, whatever their sex, assumes responsibility for the evening unless an alternate is agreed upon beforehand. Something on the order of, “I’d like us to share the bar tab, you okay with that?” does the trick. The other person can then either agree – “Fine with me” – or refuse.


If it were me, and a man who asked me out said he’d like to share the tab, I’d be likely to jettison the whole rendezvous, because I drink very little, so paying for someone else’s OTT imbibing is inherently unfair. I might suggest an inexpensive alternative to a bar. Starbucks or a walk in a park, perhaps. Much easier to hear the other person in those venues, anyway.


In any case, running after a woman who had walked out, grabbing her phone? Horrible, immature behavior. If the phone was in Sultana’s hand when he grabbed it, Nimmala is lucky he wasn’t charged with assault.


Sultana was fortunate that Nimmala only grabbed her phone, since he behaved like an angry drunk. She dodged a bullet there, and he would be better off at an AA meeting than online trawling for a date.


When is an invitation not an invitation? When the person doing the inviting doesn’t follow hosting rules.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cellphone, Harassment, Women