say it out loud: feminism and equality

‘I’m not a feminist,’ says Laura Waters, in her Guardian column about women in science. ‘I’m an ‘equalist’.’

In doing so, she resurrects a tedious semantic argument, and one that’s been fought on many shores before now. Waters contends that she is “fully devoted to promoting science to women as a great career choice and [that she] honestly believe[s] we need more women at all levels in science.” She wants to “ensur[e] women actively choose to stay in science and climb the promotional ladder.” She mentions positively the Athena SWAN programme – which gives praise and status to institutions that actively work to promote equal treatment for women in academia.

I’m sorry to break it to her, but that’s a feminist viewpoint. That’s an entirely feminist argument. If she wants it from a better source than me – it’s exactly the feminist argument I heard Jocelyn Bell Burnell give at WITS a couple of weeks ago.

I have no problems with Waters’ viewpoint. It’s one I espouse myself (any reader of this blog will know that). My problem is with her denial of feminism.

I’m a feminist because I believe in equality. Equality is – for the most part – the primary role of practical feminism. Currently society does not view women as being the equals of men. There’s a gap there that needs filling, and feminism works to boost women’s role in society to fill that gap. It’s not inherently anti-men to be pro-women; it’s not anti-equality to say that one group needs more support.

Imagine a bar chart of the gender pay gap. For every euro Irish men earn, Irish women earn 13.9% less (Irish Examiner, Feb 2013). Parity in the hourly wage – the value of an hour’s work – would have men with 100%, and women with 100%. At the minute, men have 100%, and women have just over 86%. Clearly that’s inequal. To make it equal, you have to close that gap – and you do that by helping women, because women are the group that’s worse off in that situation.

Equalism? Sure. Through feminism.

Waters wants academia to be fairer to women. Women need more help than men do to fulfil their academic potential, because currently the power bias in the institutions of academia swings heavily toward men. What do we do? Make things fairer for women. Use Athena SWAN to reward institutions that reward women. Understand that family structures still involve more women than men doing part-time or awkward hours in order to be around for the kids, and accommodate that. Give positive female role models to young women in STEM careers.

I’m almost reciting Waters’ points here, which is actually the key to what I’m saying: this is a feminist argument.

Why disavow feminism? It feels like internalised misogyny to me**. It’s not lesser to be a woman, and it’s not lesser to be a feminist. Throwing your lot in with the boys may get you approval at the time, but in reality you’re cheerily standing over the status quo while inequality happens all around you.

Feminism is the reason you have a job in academia. Feminism is the reason you get to have an opinion and have it out loud. Feminism is the reason programmes like Athena SWAN happen, and feminism is the reason that it’s recognised that the sciences should be more welcoming to women. We are where we are because of feminists, and sniffily casting that aside and pretending you’re more advanced, somehow, is disrespectful to their work and their sacrifices.

No-one is saying that scientific output should be judged separately depending on its author’s gender. No-one is saying that an institution should seek a candidate of a particular gender rather than a candidate who’s best for the job. What feminism asks is that a women who reads the jobs posting should feel as able as a man to apply, or that a woman offered a job should feel comfortable and respected in accepting the place.

I believe in equality. I think a just society would offer the same chance to everyone. Feminism wants that full and fair chance for women.

Be proud to be a feminist! Feminism is the path to equality. We have lots of work to do.

** please note that I say this in reference to mainstream feminism, and women who disavow the label totally. I’m not referring to women who choose to use a different term for ‘believes in women’s rights’, like ‘womanist’, because of minority status or perceived disrespect by mainstream feminism. That’s a matter beyond the scope of this post.

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a quick run-down on DOMA

So what happened in the US Supreme Court today?

SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States) handed down a judgment declaring the Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional. In practical effect, this means that same-sex couples can now enjoy equality in marriage with heterogeneous couples.

What is DOMA?

DOMA is an act signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1996. It limited the definition of marriage in the US to one man and one woman. It also meant that the US would not recognise a same-sex marriage conducted elsewhere.

I have to stop you here – I’ve seen people saying not to call it ‘same-sex’ marriage.

They’re right – it should be referred to as ‘equal marriage’ as that is what it is. However, I’m going to need a way to refer to it as differentiated from the institution of marriage as it has been up to now. What’s really rather annoying is when people call it ‘gay’ marriage – that takes away the voices of bisexual or queer or trans* individuals who are also affected here.

To clarify – I am not saying that all individuals under the trans* umbrella are also queer, but that some are, and that some people identifying outside the gender binary would have had problems in wishing to marry someone of their registered-at-birth sex.

What did the SCOTUS declare?

SCOTUS decided, by the narrowest of majorities, that DOMA is unconstitutional in US law. The Court struck down the law 5-4, with Kennedy J leading for the majority. The case – United States v Windsor – involved a widow, who had been married to her partner in Canada, and who was, at the time of her wife’s death, living in New York State. New York recognised same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. If that recognition counted under federal law, Ms Windsor would not have to pay the massive estate tax on inheriting her wife’s property.

US law works on two levels – state and federal. In a nutshell, state law refers to the individual governance of each state by itself; federal law comes from Washington DC and applies everywhere. Kennedy J points out in his judgment that there are over a thousand federal laws referring to marriage or marital status, all of which Ms Windsor and others in her position could not benefit from. Traditionally, domestic status was a matter for individual states; DOMA overreached that entirely.

Kennedy J’s opinion is long enough, but worth reading. However, you can get its thrust from this lovely bit of legal writing:

DOMA’s principal effect is to identify a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal. The principal purpose is to impose inequality, not for other reasons like governmental efficiency. Responsibilities, as well as rights, enhance the dignity and integrity of the person. And DOMA contrives to deprive some couples married under the laws of their State, but not other couples, of both rights and responsibilities. By creating two contradictory marriage regimes within the same State, DOMA forces same-sex couples to live as married for the purpose of state law but unmarried for the purpose of federal law, thus diminishing the stability and predictability of basic personal relations the State has found it proper to acknowledge and protect. By this dynamic DOMA undermines both the public and private significance of state-sanctioned same-sex marriages; for it tells those couples, and all the world, that their otherwise valid marriages are unworthy of federal recognition. This places same-sex couples in an unstable position of being in a second-tier marriage. The differentiation demeans the couple, whose moral and sexual choices the Constitution protects… and whose relationship the State has sought to dignify. And it humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples. The law in question makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives.

Why did it take so long to get here? I thought Obama was going to repeal this law straight away.

The Obama administration considered DOMA to be wrong from the time of his first campaign. In 2011, his Attorney General stated that the administration would continue to enforce DOMA until it was overturned by the Courts or repealed by Congress, but that as for themselves, they considered it unconstitutional and would not defend it if a case was taken to overturn.

The legal system of the US, like our own, believes in the separation of powers between executive (administration), legislative (the parliamentary Houses), and judicial (the courts). The executive did not want to act in contravention of that system. Whether you consider that for better or for worse is up to you.

We have a similar situation in Ireland, don’t we?

We do – same-sex couples in Ireland can get a civil partnership under the 2010 Civil Partnerships and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act (CPCROCA). They cannot obtain a marriage, and therefore lose out on some benefits, including joint guardianship of children. Also, different-sex couples cannot obtain a civil partnership. It’s an entirely two-tier system and quite unfair.

I’ve seen people have reservations about the impact of this SCOTUS ruling.

I don’t think most liberals have reservations about the beneficial impact of the repeal. There are a few different viewpoints, though. One strong contention is that marriage is not the defining victory it seems – that there is still a lot of discrimination faced by LGBTQ people that won’t be corrected by allowing marriage. A vocal minority contend that they don’t want equal marriage at all; that they have no interest in buying into society’s institutions.

Conservatives will have many qualms about today, but it’s my general opinion that they’re going to end up on the wrong side of history on this one anyway, so I don’t feel too sorry about that.

What do you think?

I’m a believer in the power of a good symbolic victory. I’m also a believer in allowing all strands of people the same level of access to societal institutions, so that you may partake or not partake of them at your will. I feel the frustration of progressives that we get nothing but baby steps toward full equality (the abortion debate in Ireland being a topical example). If there’s one thing that I’ve taken away from studying law, though, it’s that most progress comes as the combined effort of many little rocks tumbling, rather than one massive avalanche. DOMA has had several challenges before now, and its time had come. Slowly but surely – that’s how we effect change.

I’m also thrilled at the strong advisory precedent this sets for other jurisdictions like our own.

Is that really all you’ve learned about legal matters?

Not really. I also know that the law is almost always an ass – but I still like when it shows its good side.

“HORRIFIC” – an anti-choice blight on Dublin’s streets

Walking around Dublin at the minute, it’s very quickly obvious that the city is under siege by an army of bullshit. I’m sorry – I normally try to be reasonably polite about other people’s politics, but up with this I will not put.

I speak, of course, of the anti-choice posters that seem to have been splattered over the city from a paintball gun held by a despotic and artless misogynist. I found out that they’re from the always-reliable Youth Defence, quickly rushing into the breach to spread their moronic gospel – so I feel totally vindicated in my first opinion.

NOPE.

Look here: you are not pro-life. There is nothing pro-anybody’s life about opposing a Bill meant to save women’s lives. You understand that, don’t you? I have a grandmother who’s ninety-one and more Catholic than God, and she understands that. If you let the mother die, not only do you let the foetus you’re so concerned about die with her, you also make sure that she can never have any more children.

I can’t believe there are people in this country who don’t understand that. I can’t believe that people have been pelting the Taoiseach with Catholic paraphernalia, threats of harm, and letters written in blood. I just can’t believe it. I can’t be eloquent about this because I am just so utterly gobsmacked.

I shouldn’t be. I know, like, and respect people who are pro-life. I know, like, and respect many people who are Catholic. The bit that I don’t like and don’t respect is when people who share those views attempt to impose them on my body, my uterus, my liberty.

It’s so strange, this dogged determination that I should have to live by your rules, when you would absolutely agree that I am free to consign myself to Catholic hell if I so desire. If I were to get pregnant tomorrow, I would have it terminated. You know why? Because I’m not ever going to be a good parent. Because I’m not ready to hand over control of my body to an invader. Because I’m mentally ill, and I’d have to change my medication – which would probably land me in hospital, combined with the distress of said pregnancy – and it’s a 50/50 chance whether I’d pass this on to my offspring, and I couldn’t, with a clear conscience, take that risk.

So thank you very much for shouting until my broken, violated, and distressed self would have to get three doctors’ opinions before I would be counted as suicidal enough to require a termination. Suicide kills! Why does no-one take that at face value? Why is it that when several young men kill themselves in a row, they put psychiatrists on the news to discuss the problem, but when women threaten to kill ourselves it’s totally legit to write difficulties for us into law?

Don’t answer that. I don’t think I’m going to like your reasoning.

One of the more vocal anti-choice voices in Ireland is an old lecturer of mine. In person, he’s a genial and intelligent man, who teaches well and greets his students pleasantly when you pass him in the hallway. In the media, he espouses a viewpoint that would let me have a crack at killing myself and a hypothetical foetus, rather than allow me a termination and save my life. The cognitive dissonance there makes me slightly dizzy. I think that’s why anti-choice rhetoric has such a stranglehold in this country – because respectable, smart, likeable people carry a massive conservative bias and don’t seem to see anything wrong with imposing that on (hopefully also respectable and smart) women who don’t share the view.

So I’m pretty bloody angry about this, and every time I have to look at those dreadful posters I get angrier. I’m having daydreams out the windows of buses about having a lovely big bonfire on O’Connell Street – not that I would ever do such a thing, as I have respect for public order and the laws of the state, but a girl can dream. Also ruled out by law would be ‘editing’ them to have a more realistic message, but no-one said I can’t do that on the internet:

posteredit

Better!

This was nicely cathartic, even as rants go. I know this is a sensitive issue, and I really do understand that people can hold a viewpoint I dislike and will do so for reasons they think are morally right. I honestly just cannot deal with the far-right on this one, though. People like this are anti-choice and anti-women, and I am so very tired of seeing their rubbish defiling my beautiful city.

Previous post: a background to Irish abortion law pre-2013.

I’m not ‘having a fat day’ (and neither are you)

I grabbed the wrong t-shirt today, and realised only about half an hour later that I was wearing one that makes me look very oddly shaped and quite unlike my actual figure. Bugger, I thought, I look ridiculously fat today. And then I caught myself.

It’s been a few years since I tried to cut fat out of my vocabulary as a critical descriptor of my figure. I’m not fat, and I don’t think fat is a bad thing to be. I’m being neither accurate nor appropriate. It’s still a really difficult habit to shake, which probably shows exactly how engrained it is into women’s mindsets that the default response to unhappiness in self-image is ‘I look fat’.

It seems like a lot of us don’t really look into that thought process. If you extrapolate from that phrase you get: I don’t like how I look -> I look fat -> fat is something to dislike -> fat people don’t look good. Except… that’s not true. Fat people can look good or bad, as much as thin people can. The word ‘fat’ is not a synonym for the word ‘ugly’. That is – or should be – common sense.

Okay, the media don’t think it is. The advertisers don’t think it is. The Daily Mail would get this far in this post (should they be very bored at work) and split their sides laughing. I’d like to think most of us are smarter than that. It is hard, though, to hold up a properly feminist and equality-driven set of beliefs on body image when you’re bombarded from all sides by: Get a beach body! Snack packs of biscuits, 100 calories! Figure-enhancing and very uncomfortable tights!

What will you gain when you lose? asks a cereal company. Bad restrictive food behaviours and an inroad to obsession over my intake, say I (but that’s another story.)

There are pat answers thrown around – have a body; put a bikini on it – but they’re a patch, not a cure. Ridding yourself of the pattern of thought behind ‘fat = to be avoided’ requires an understanding of the root of that pattern. Isn’t it odd how women get so much more pressure than men to ‘look after’ our bodies? A feminist angle on that question puts the matter among the societal limits put on women. We are to be dainty, petite, restrained people, and we are to be neither seen nor heard, for the most part. Being fat – being anything above waiflike, to be honest – means that we take up space in the world. It means that we have to confront the fact that our bodies don’t equal the idealised image constructed for us. Being a woman who’s proud of her muscular physique, or loves how her curves look in a dress, or doesn’t give a damn that she’s wearing something unflattering for comfort’s sake, is a challenge to that ideal. It’s a statement we make by our mere presence.

And it’s intimidating, don’t get me wrong. Piloting a non-airbrushed female body around means you’re open to uncouth remarks from (mostly) men, and unpleasant comparisons between yourself and the images in the media. How are you meant to feel okay in yourself when someone who’s six feet tall and a size eight looks so much more sleek than you do in a dress? How is a six feet tall, size eight, woman meant to feel when she’s told that wearing heels makes her look ridiculous? It doesn’t matter what you look like – eventually someone, somewhere, is going to say something that makes you feel like Gregor Samsa, post-cockroaching.

Here’s where ‘having a fat day’ comes in – when you have that thought, you’re expressing something internalised from your experiences in society. You’re not actually after becoming twice your size, nor have you instantly added several inches of saddlebags from eating a plate of chips. You feel like something is off about your appearance, and the way you process that is: I feel fat. You’re saying that you feel misshapen, or wrong, or uncomfortable, but the narrative that we’ve internalised translates that vague feeling of off-ness into a conviction that you’re too big, you’re taking up too much space, and you’re straying farther than you should be away from the ideal.

Well, ladies, that’s some bullshit we put up with, right there.

It’s bullshit from both angles. It’s demeaning and embarrassing to people who are fat and are living comfortably, or learning to live comfortably, in their bodies. It’s too simplistic an answer for those of us who feel a dysmorphic discomfort in ourselves – because if we just blame fat, we can avoid the disagreeable procedure of figuring out what’s actually going on in our heads.

Saying ‘I don’t feel right. I don’t know why. I think I look bad, but I can’t tell where. I don’t like my body.’ is difficult but honest. Saying ‘I feel fat’ is careless, insulting, and unproductive – and getting that phrase out of your vocabulary is the first step toward teaching yourself to understand what emotions are leading you to use it. It’s a hard habit to break, but I really feel it’s worth it – even (especially, really) if you just do it to be one less person making women feel bad about themselves.

We’ve got a long way to go when it comes to reclaiming our relationship with our bodies. Thinking about that might make you uncomfortable. It’s okay.

But you’re not ‘having a fat day’. Trust me on that.

Saint Patrick was a Slytherin (and other stories)

1. Saint Patrick was a Slytherin.

Think about it. He could speak to and control snakes. He was ambitious and needful of converting everyone in the country to his viewpoint. He took orders from a Lord, but did everything he could to ingratiate himself with that boss – and then set up a hierarchy of his own within the country, because everybody needs minions. He’s always depicted wearing green – House colours.

Total Slytherin. Never trust a Parseltongue.

2. The snake thing.

Legend has it that Saint Patrick rid Ireland of our snake population by making them all jump into the sea (nsfw for language on picture). This sounds like rather unChristian behaviour toward harmless reptiles. They wouldn’t even have been venomous ones. It’s also funnier if you think of Paddy in his bishop’s mitre, standing on a chair like an arachnophobic sighting a spider. ‘I am NOT GOING BACK in that COUNTRY until THOSE SNAKES are GONE.’

In reality, we probably never had a snake population. Ireland was cut off from Europe at the end of the Ice Age, when it was still colder than O’Connell Street when the parade is late. Snakes are cold-blooded and need to warm their bodies through sunbathing – some chance of that here. I’m also very amused by this interview with the head of the Natural History Museum, which ends: “St Patrick never personally claimed credit for ridding Ireland of snakes, he added. “But when you’re selling a brand you don’t often bother with the detail.””

3. A Small Linguistic Observation

This one’s mainly for our friends across the pond.

tumblr_m0fy3aOh1P1qa6x5oo1_500

Look. There are snakes. I don’t like it.

Patty is a rarely-used women’s name, or (if we’re feeling linguistically urbane) the meat bit of a hamburger. Men called Patrick are abbreviated to Pat or Paddy; Pádraig becomes Páidí. Saint Patty does not exist.

4. St. Patrick’s Day, The Phenomenon.

To put it bluntly, quite a lot of us here have no bloody idea what the rest of the world** is doing on St. Patrick’s Day. Yeah, it’s a festival here, and yeah, of course we drink on it. We have a day off with no instructions other than eat a big dinner, avoid going to Mass, have lots of drinks, and fill your children with sugar and let them loose on the funfair in Merrion Square.

(This was my favourite bit of the day when I was living near there. In absolutely no way.)

Really, Dublin just does its thing and mainly avoids the city centre after the parade, because it’s full of drunken tourists. People who’ve schlepped over here to celebrate some weird version of an Irish holiday by drinking imported beers in tourist pubs and not encountering an actual Dubliner from one end of the day to the other, save the unimpressed bar staff.

It’s somewhat embarrassing, to be honest. Ireland has a bit of an unfortunate history, what with the oppression and the plantations and the famine and the poverty and the Troubles, and historically we’ve had a lot of people who’ve self-medicated through all that unpleasantness by moving to other places in the world and drinking lots. As you would, if you were an emigrant working for a pittance somewhere that hated you and took that out on you by treating farm animals more humanely.

But we’re not proud of that. We’re proud of the positive bits of the national character, the artistic and literary achievements of the country and the ability to habituate ourselves to new situations and people that’s eased by a gregarious nature. Not the alcoholism and violence end.

So the international marketing of St. Patrick’s Day is somewhere between ‘odd’ and ‘uncomfortable’ for me. It’s like if your neighbour threw a bigger party than you on your birthday, invited people who’d only met you briefly or not at all – but had met your parents or your grandparents and inaccurately informed their views on your personality thusly – and entertained everybody by playing games themed on all your least favourite of your personality flaws (pin the pint on the binge drinker! irresponsibility bingo! etc).

Odd. And uncomfortable. That’s about it. I’ll go back to being funny now.

** mostly the bit of the world between Canada and Mexico, let’s be honest.

5. The Backstory

Patrick wasn’t Irish, originally. He was Welsh, and he was sold into servitude in Ireland as a shepherd. It was during this time that he’s meant to have heard the voice of God telling him to go convert the Irish.

I only mention this because it’s amazing how often lonely sleep-deprived people who have to forage for interesting wild plants for food have religious visions.

6. Of Course, The Real Backstory

…is that he probably never existed. Or there were two of him, one called Palladius and the other, Patrick. Or he did exist, but he was never made a saint (which has to be done by a Pope, in which case, I know just the man). Or – look, here’s wikipedia. Go nuts.

7. Hail Glorious Saint Patrick, Dear Saint of Our Isle.

Anyone remember more than the first two lines of this? Been a long time since I was a choirgirl.

8. Have A Good One, All.

Avoid Temple Bar. Resist food dyed green with dodgy food colouring. Have an article about how the President’s a leprechaun. Mind yourselves, now.

Dead Cats, Pop Stars, and the Age of Overshare

My hamster have died today. (writes @likeastargirlI’m very sad 😦 Rip Slevin 😦

@Fernanda_Jordan says: she is almost so perfect like you Harold!!!! My puppy died 😦 i am so saaad her name was nutella

I am so sad, my cat died yesterday. 😦 I had him for 6 years, now he is gone, I miss him so much!!! :,( (this from @Niamhroberts44)

It’s a bad day for pets, that’s certain.

This is an odd collection of tweets with which to start a blog post, and yet it’s only a tiny fraction of the weirdest Twitter account going these days: Harry, My Cat Died. See, those bereaved pet owners up there aren’t just tweeting their sadness out at the wide open internet. They, and hundreds of others, are aiming their need for condolences straight at Harry Styles, the floppy one from One Direction.

I don’t know why Harry is a target for pet loss bulletins. I’m not a One Direction fan, so I may have missed out on some crucial newsletter wherein he discussed a dead hamster/sympathised with the loss of a fan’s goldfish/revealed a psychic ability to communicate with deceased animals. I’m really not sure that the contents of the tweets matter – the point of them is to try to get the attention of a pop star by outdoing all rivals in a weird game of one-down-manship.

The pet tweets are one thing. They get stranger.

You can try physical pain:

i’m on my period so i’m already emotional as it is so why don’t you follow me to make me feel better (@helloshans)

imaginary pain:

I’m sat here thinking what it would be like if any of you boys Died 😦 and I’m crying my eyes out 😥 this shows how much ily? (@RealGeorge12)

or, er, this:

if i died you wouldn’t even know, yet you mean more than my own life to me. (@LiamsPaynis).

It’s hard to tell whether these tweets are true or not. A certain fraction of them must be, I’d imagine, but even a truthful one will get drowned out by the waves upon waves of nonsense that form Harry’s @-replies from his eleven million followers. It’s easy to see Harry, My Cat Died as a piece of fluffy internet humour – I did, and do, but then I’m a terrible person – but it’s also a fascinating example of collective psychology.

If you’re not a member of this group of people (the One Direction/1D fandom), this looks like aberrant behaviour. Who lays themself bare like this to a stranger? Who barrages a stranger with 50 or 100 numbered tweets to try to get noticed? Who on earth thinks that’s likely to create a positive reaction in the first place?

Someone whose peers are all doing the same thing, that’s who. The 1D fandom demographics skew young and female, making them – generally – one large peer group. They see behaviours arise, be replicated, echo, and replicate again. The goal is obviously to be noticed by Harry himself or to have a tweet retweeted by him; the successful tactics remain a mystery. There are the obvious pleas on sympathy (dead cat/granny/platypus) and the seduction attempts (which are uncomfortable, coming from underage fans); there’s the brute-force method (50 identical numbered tweets) and the single-but-intense – aka the They Don’t Love You Like I Love You.

Let’s not lose the point here: all of this is weird.

If any one of my Twitter friends started acting like this off his own bat, I’d be concerned.

It’s just that when there are thousands of you, every one incidence of weirdness is subsumed into the whole. The group mentality feeds into a behavioural cycle: you want to be part of the group, so you behave like the other members of the group. The group grows bigger and draws in more members. Membership of the group is a desirable state, which desire overrides any reluctance you might have toward the behaviours displayed and required.

This is, of course, not a new phenomenon. Call it Beatlemania with a broadband connection. The crucial difference is that before social media, the closest you could come to personally communicating with the object of your obsession was by attending an event as part of a crowd, or writing a fan letter, which are usually filtered through a bevy of PAs and never reach the celebrity at all. Now, you have a means of access to them 24/7. Of course there’s still a good chance it’s an assistant looking after the account, and an even better chance that the celebrity never reads their replies. But in a time when the President of America occasionally writes his own tweets, it’s still a possibility that you’ll be the lucky one who gets noticed.

The current cohort of twenty-somethings – of which I’m a member – is the last to have reached its teens without the social media ubiquity of the late ’00s. We were online as teens, certainly. We had Hotmail and Livejournal/DiaryX/Typepad accounts. But ten/twelve years ago, when I was setting up my first online accounts, there was no Facebook, no Twitter, no ask.fm or Formspring or even Myspace. We grew alongside the social media phenomenon and attained adulthood as it crested its first massive wave.

2013’s fresh teenagers are coming into a world where social media profiles are not just useful but de rigeur. Living your life out loud becomes the norm from the word go – no gentle slope from blog to Bebo to Facebook. It’s a blessing and a curse, in my opinion – certainly finding ‘your people’ on the internet helps ease the pain of social exclusion at school, for kids being bullied – but on the other hand, it’s hard to impress upon younger internet users the very permanence of the internet.

Put it this way: it might make your day to find people who love Harry Styles’ dulcet tones as much as you do, and you may not be so jubilant when a future romantic prospect or employer Googles you and finds your HarryLuver4Ever Twitter bio – but a thirteen-year-old can’t possibly be expected to understand repercussions on that sort of timescale.

There’s an argument that internet oversharing (either by current children/teens themselves, or their mommy- and daddy-blogging parents) will have reached such a universal status by ten or fifteen years down the line, that it will no longer carry the same weight that it does today. If everybody’s baby pictures are archived on blogs, and everybody’s teenage crush is acted out in the Twitter spotlight, perhaps that very universality will mean that public adolescence will become the new normal. Group behaviour – and the public promulgation of that behaviour – may yet be be the hallmark of this decade, communications-wise.

Maybe the 1D fans are giving us a glimpse of things to come.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a goldfish to exhume and Twitpic to a pop star.

‘oh! common sense!’

(…as a Twitter acquaintance said on hearing some of this stuff.)

A very quick post on some of the words that’ve been thrown around recently.

Transgender: someone whose gender assigned at birth doesn’t match the gender they feel inside. The doctor said ‘it’s a boy!’ but when she grew up she knew she was a woman.

Cisgender: not transgender. The doctor said ‘it’s a boy!’ and when he grew up he agreed. This is not a derogatory term in any way. In the same way that up needs down and gay needs straight, the opposite of transgender is cisgender. Most people are cisgender. If you see it being used in a negative light, it is probably because we cisgender peple don’t understand the abuse and discrimination lots of trans folks face, and that’s a pain in the arse. Think of it like this – if you’re a woman, do you ever get frustrated because men don’t understand some of the sexism we face (‘get back in the kitchen luv’ or ‘shouldn’t you be at home with your kids and not working?’) – see? Pain in the arse that you only really understand if you’re part of the maligned group.

Why do you need to differentiate? Aren’t we all women? Well, yes. Of course we are. But when you need to talk about specifically ‘the group of women who have changed gender in society’s eyes’ you need the term ‘trans women’. If you want to talk about the group of women who have kids, you need the word ‘mothers’. Each group is a subset of the whole, and we’re all women, but different groups of women have different experiences in life – hence the different titles.

Intersectionality: a big word for a simple concept. All women face sexism. Women of colour face sexism and racism; men of colour, only racism. Gay women face homophobia and sexism; gay men only face homophobia. Intersectionality means understanding that your gender and race and sexuality and age (etc, etc) mean you face different challenges in society. You’re better off than some people and worse off than others. Intersectional feminism means taking that into account when you write or act with regard to feminism.

Transphobia: discrimination against transgender people. It happens a lot. A lot, a lot. Most cisgender people – me included – have no idea of the blatant shit transgender people get handed by society. Doctors who think being transgender means that they can treat you like a test case and ask invasive questions, or sometimes deny treatment altogether. People who refuse to address them by their chosen name. She says she’s called Mary but she’s still John to me! People who feel they can ask a trans lady what’s under her skirt and not understand why that’s hurtful. And on and on and on.

Why do transgender people get upset when cisgender people say transphobia doesn’t exist? Isn’t that obvious? You deal with society being a complete arse every day of your life and then someone comes along and says you’re making it up. I’d be hopping mad. Would you tell a Black woman racism doesn’t exist? I’m guessing not. Same goes for transphobia – the discrimination is real and it hurts to have that be pushed to one side.

Why do people write ‘trans*’? What does the asterisk mean? If you’re familiar with search string operators, you’ll know that ‘school*’ will bring up ‘schoolhouse’ and ‘schoolbook’ and ‘schoolteacher’. The asterisk covers every word starting with ‘school’, no matter the ending. Trans* covers transgender and transsexual and other terms – and also people who identify outside the gender binary (those who don’t like either masculine or feminine labels), or those who are questioning their gender assigned at birth and seeking an identity that fits.

Gender binary: the societal system that classifies people as ‘man’ or ‘woman’. Some people don’t wish to identify as either: this is often (but not always) called being genderqueer.

Is there anything I’ve left out? Happy to clarify.

(Thank you to my friend Kirill for advice on the term trans* and its use.)