Tuesday, October 13, 2009


When you’re a feminist, everyday life is better. You make better decisions. You have better relationships. You don’t sweat the small stuff - what once seemed so important now feels so trivial. But most importantly, the sex is so much better...

Sure, the world can seem a darker place when your eyes are opened to the facts that women still only earn 80p to a man’s £1; one in four women will be victims of domestic violence in the UK; and some women are even still refused contraception or an abortion. As Gloria Steinem said, ‘the truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.’ The statistics are shocking and difficult to deny, which is why it is so important that feminism is kept alive, in one form or another. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Feminism isn’t all about fighting to right these injustices, smashing glass-ceilings and campaigning for equality, there are some seriously seductive and truly tempting benefits.

Feminists love their bodies. In a society that tells women that they are not good enough, accepting and liking the way you look can be a rebellious and revolutionary act, with sexy repercussions. A feminist woman spends less time worrying about how her breasts look or trying to hide her cellulite with the duvet, and more time focusing on being in the moment and having fun. She knows what she wants and has the confidence to ask for it. Equally, she knows what she is not comfortable with and would not feel pressured into doing something that she would not enjoy. Jessica Valenti, founder of feministing.com and writer of many books on the topic, including ‘Full Frontal Feminism’ and ‘The Purity Myth’, says ‘Feminists do it better. Sorry, we just do. It makes sense - when you don't have to feel guilty, slutty or ashamed, when you feel free to have sex entirely on your own terms, it tends to be much more enjoyable.’ So much for that myth that feminists hate sex.

Feminists are also likely to be more open-minded in the bedroom, freed from inhibitions and the patriarchal nonsense that they were fed from a young age: that they are pretty, pure, dainty little things that ought not to have any power, nor strong sexual urges, and should keep their legs crossed until their 18th birthday, or else be labelled a slut. Any smart woman can see that it is a totally unfair double standard that when a woman behaves in the exact same way as a man and sleeps with whomever she chooses, she is a slut, but he is a stud. Feminists are liberated from these social hypocrisies, and realise that it is only counter-productive to call a fellow woman a ‘slut’, because it is her choice to do as she pleases.

However, some of the more extreme sexual practices she might partake in could been as contradictory to her feminist principles. Is it hypocritical to demand equal rights and fight the patriarchy by day, then submit to male domination by night? Is radical feminism mutually exclusive with radical sex?

Self-professed feminist Tina Richardson, told me that no, the two are not contradictory: ‘Feminism should empower a woman to feel as though she can embrace her desires, whatever they may be, and give her the strength to fulfill them.’ For Tina, feminism liberates her and gives her more confidence in the bedroom. But do her feminist principles mean that she should automatically dominate her partner? ‘Personally, being sexually submissive sometimes is not anti-feminist. I happen to enjoy being told what to do, but it is not degrading, nor does it mean that I want to be walked all over in day-to-day life. Being tied up or blind-folded occasionally does not compromise my right to seek advancement, empowerment and equality.’ Tina also pointed out that looks can be deceiving, and that she is the one who holds all of the power: ‘I may feel powerless, but ultimately, it is me who has the last say. There are code words and boundaries, so we only do what I feel comfortable with.’

It strikes me as yet another sexual double standard that women wish to express themselves sexually, society deems in inappropriate, but when a man seeks out a dominatrix, his status as a powerful man is not questioned. Feminism exists to break down these hypocrisies and to empower women. Feminism encourages women to make informed, considered decisions. It can not, however, dictate what these decisions are, just that women are making them for the right reason: their own personal pleasure.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


How English became English...

How many words are there in the English language? Well, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the definitive record of Modern English, there are approximately 400,000. But, it has been argued that, even in the most conservative estimations, there are closer to double that amount in our current lexicon. It would be impossible to count, specifically, how many words there are in the English language; it’s a moving target (compare it to totting up the exact number of Russell Brand’s one-night stands – constantly growing and poses various unanswerable questions: do threesomes count as one, or two? What about casual fellatio in public lavvys?). It would all depend on what is considered a word. Do you count all the regional variations of English? What about slang? Or dialect? Or proper nouns such as place names? And what about abbreviations? The biggest dictionary of them has more than 400,000 entries — do they count as words?

There’s no denying that this wide range of vocabulary allows us to communicate more expressively and eloquently, but perhaps the reason the English language has accumulated so many words is that, over its 1500 year existence, it has been rather promiscuous and ‘borrowed’ from over 350 other languages. It was originally derived from Anglo-Saxon but has since proven accommodating to words from Latin, Greek, Spanish, American, German and Swedish origin. Over half of our language comes from French, or French cognate, and a percentage from Dutch. ‘Poppycock’ (not an expletive we hear often enough these days), for instance, feels inherently and traditionally English; a quaint and innocent exclamation last heard some time during World War II. But it originated from the Dutch word ‘poppekak’, literally translating as ‘doll’s shit’. In fact, if you dig deep enough into the etymology of any old, seemingly innocent insult or phrase, you’ll probably find that it is derived from something much more sinister.

At some point during your life you are likely to have used, or been the recipient of, the pejorative slang ‘berk’. Again, considered relatively light-hearted and affectionate as far as insults go: ‘Oh, what a berk! You utter prat, you silly twit, you!’ But it is a little known fact that the term is a vulgar cockney rhyming slang dating back as early as the 1930s. If I were to tell you that it is an abbreviation of ‘Berkeley Hunt’, it shouldn’t be too difficult to decipher the true, original meaning of the word.

These ‘loanwords’ and cockney rhyming slangs make English a hugely complicated and difficult language to learn: full of flaws and contradictions. Semantic enigmas that continue to perplex and baffle include why is ‘phonetic’ spelt with a ‘ph’? The bandage was wound around the wound. The farm was used to produce produce. Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present. The four little letters ‘ough’, can be pronounced in 14 completely different ways, making noises such as ‘uff’ and ‘ooh’, ‘ock’ and ‘ow’ and ‘awe’ and ‘off’. You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which quicksand works slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig. English muffins weren’t invented in England or French fries in France. There is no egg in eggplant, nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple.

However nonsensical it may seem, it is still the first language for 375 million people, and the second for more than 500 million. Spoken across the globe by Americans, Australians, Canadians and South Africans, English is considered to be the ‘lingua franca’ or ‘world language’ of the modern age. So it would seem that it is not only the most widespread language geographically, but in terms of content and vocabulary, too. And it is forever expanding: the OED adds more than 1000 new words ever year, most recently including ‘Podcast’ and ‘thingamabob’. And it will continue to evolve; the OED removes old, unused, unwanted words. These dusty, archaic words have to make way for shiny new ones, like ‘frappuccino’ and ‘bovvered’.

Henry Hitchings, author of The Secret Lives of Words says: ‘The history of our vocabulary is the history of our place in the world.’ If this is true, then now, in 2008, surely we are at our most culturally rich and diverse as a country. No-one summarises this more vividly, expressively and passionately than the author, comedian, actor and genius that is Stephen Fry: ‘In London, our dear, beloved metropolis, you will see Medieval, Tudor, Elizabethan, Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian, art deco, modernist buildings all jostled together; it’s a very higgledy-piggledy city.’

‘The English language is like London; a mongrel mouthful, whether we know it or not, of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dickens, American South Central, ghetto rap, Australian convict talk, legal, naval and military. Every phrase we utter is an equivalent of London: it is both vulgar and procession; both grand and squalid.’

Whether the future of the language holds anything as significant as Shakespeare, or as original as Cockney rhyming slang is yet to be seen, but one thing is for certain: English is, and shall continue to be, as multicultural as the civilisation it embodies.