Lez Miserable: "There’s just something exhilarating about women being unashamedly gross"

From Lena Dunham tweeting about her bladder movements to Lana Del Rey becoming the first ever pop star to describe what her vagina tastes like in a song, today’s rude girls are storming the mainstream. Men no longer own gross.

“So, I had my finger up this guy’s arse…” begins my med student friend. Already I’m ecstatic. Not because I especially enjoy stories about rectal examinations, although I am keen to find out what happened next (was there a portal to Narnia up there? A missing Virginia Woolf manuscript? An iPad?). In fact, I’m grinning like a dolt because my friend, a lady, isn’t blushing. Not even a little bit. Neither is she lowering her voice to a socially acceptable mumble or shunning eye contact. And I couldn’t be gladder if there was a two-for-one offer on decongestants at my local pharmacy. There’s just something exhilarating about women being unashamedly gross.

When I was thirteen and my musical tastes were questionable, my older brother explained to me why Limp Bizkit are called Limp Bizkit. In my naivety, I’d always associated them with tea-dunked digestives. On learning the rules to the infamous soggy biscuit game after which the band is named, my first response was envy. It wasn’t that I wanted to sit in a circle with my female friends, masturbating over baked goods. It just seemed wildly unfair that boys were allowed to be disgusting (competitively so) while girls had to be shrill in the presence of bad smells and pretend that they never got diarrhoea.

At around the same age, a school friend asked me, out of the corner of her mouth, if I ever, “You know, touch yourself”? “Constantly”, I wanted to say. But I settled for something vague and noncommittal. When it transpired that she, “You know, touched herself,” confessions started gushing out of me in an emotional equivalent of The Exorcist pea soup scene. Before long, we were using the word “wank” and exchanging tips. For me, talking about masturbation for the first time was almost as life-changing as discovering the act itself. The dialogue that my friend had opened up confirmed that I wasn’t a deranged bonobo, just a libidinous teenager. And, holy shit, girls were allowed to be horny. This was revolutionary.

For me, female grossness has retained its social importance. The 1990s saw the debut of the ladette. Women who got trashed, pukey and lewd were, apparently, appropriating masculinity. In 1997, the ladette died of alcohol poisoning in Ibiza. She vomited her offal into the gutter to a Vengaboys track. Denise Van Outen showed up at her funeral with a six pack of Hooch. Now, the ladette has been replaced by someone much more subversive: the woman who’s filthy in her own right. From Lena Dunham tweeting about her bladder movements, to Lana Del Rey becoming the first ever pop star to describe what her vagina tastes like in a song, to this tampon ad aimed at young teens that laughs in the face of ladies water skiing to “I’m Every Woman”; today’s rude girls are storming the mainstream. Men no longer own gross.  

In fact, the shifting tropes of tampon ads are a great visual representation of the evolution of female foulness. Gone are the dark days of inoffensive blue liquid demonstrations. For the first time, we’re allowed to bleed actual blood. And a recent Russian Tampax ad where a shark gulps up a swimmer who’s leaking out of her swimsuit is about as bloody as it gets. My brother, that same one who told me about the biscuit game, announced to me the other day that he thinks the women in tampon ads have become “toilety”. When I asked him for an explanation, he described the typical toilety woman: British, slightly flushed and in a hurry. The toilety woman is perfectly happy to declare, in front of a group of friends, that she’s going to the toilet. Hell, she might even announce that she’s going for a piss. She means business and she doesn’t have time to flutter about like a doily in the wind, pretending that she’s made of Kinder Buenos from the waist down.

“So am I toilety?” I asked.

“Yeah. You’re pretty toilety,” he replied.

“I think I like being toilety,” I said.


Lena Dunham tweeting about her bladder movements has helped the advance of "toilety" women. Photo: Getty

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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The Tories are the zombie party: with an ageing, falling membership, still they stagger on to victory

One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.”

All football clubs have “ultras” – and, increasingly, political parties do, too: although, in the case of political parties, their loudest and angriest supporters are mostly found on the internet. The SNP got there first: in the early days of email, journalists at the Scotsman used to receive bilious missives complaining about its coverage – or, on occasion, lack of coverage – of what the Scottish National Party was up to. The rest soon followed, with Ukip, the Labour Party and even the crushed Liberal Democrats now boasting a furious electronic horde.

The exception is the Conservative Party. Britain’s table-topping team might have its first majority in 18 years and is widely expected in Westminster to remain in power for another decade. But it doesn’t have any fans. The party’s conference in Manchester, like Labour’s in Brighton, will be full to bursting. But where the Labour shindig is chock-full of members, trade unionists and hangers-on from the charitable sector, the Conservative gathering is a more corporate affair: at the fringes I attended last year, lobbyists outnumbered members by four to one. At one, the journalist Peter Oborne demanded to know how many people in the room were party members. It was standing room only – but just four people put their hands up.

During Grant Shapps’s stint at Conservative headquarters, serious attempts were made to revive membership. Shapps, a figure who is underrated because of his online blunders, and his co-chair Andrew Feldman were able to reverse some of the decline, but they were running just to stand still. Some of the biggest increases in membership came in urban centres where the Tories are not in contention to win a seat.

All this made the 2015 election win the triumph of a husk. A party with a membership in long-term and perhaps irreversible decline, which in many seats had no activists at all, delivered crushing defeats to its opponents across England and Wales.

Like José Mourinho’s sides, which, he once boasted, won “without the ball”, the Conservatives won without members. In Cumbria the party had no ground campaign and two paper candidates. But letters written by the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, were posted to every household where someone was employed making Trident submarines, warning that their jobs would be under threat under a Labour government. This helped the Tories come close to taking out both Labour MPs, John Woodcock in Barrow and Furness and Jamie Reed in Copeland. It was no small feat: Labour has held Barrow since 1992 and has won Copeland at every election it has fought.

The Tories have become the zombies of British politics: still moving though dead from the neck down. And not only moving, but thriving. One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.” His Conservative counterparts also believe that their rivals are out of power for at least a decade.

Yet there are more threats to the zombie Tories than commonly believed. The European referendum will cause endless trouble for their whips over the coming years. And for all there’s a spring in the Conservative step at the moment, the party has a majority of only 12 in the Commons. Parliamentary defeats could easily become commonplace. But now that Labour has elected Jeremy Corbyn – either a more consensual or a more chaotic leader than his predecessors, depending on your perspective – division within parties will become a feature, rather than a quirk, at Westminster. There will be “splits” aplenty on both sides of the House.

The bigger threat to Tory hegemony is the spending cuts to come, and the still vulnerable state of the British economy. In the last parliament, George Osborne’s cuts fell predominantly on the poorest and those working in the public sector. They were accompanied by an extravagant outlay to affluent retirees. As my colleague Helen Lewis wrote last week, over the next five years, cuts will fall on the sharp-elbowed middle classes, not just the vulnerable. Reductions in tax credits, so popular among voters in the abstract, may prove just as toxic as the poll tax and the abolition of the 10p bottom income-tax rate – both of which were popular until they were actually implemented.

Added to that, the British economy has what the economist Stephen King calls “the Titanic problem”: a surplus of icebergs, a deficit of lifeboats. Many of the levers used by Gordon Brown and Mervyn King in the last recession are not available to David Cameron and the chief of the Bank of England, Mark Carney: debt-funded fiscal stimulus is off the table because the public finances are already in the red. Interest rates are already at rock bottom.

Yet against that grim backdrop, the Conservatives retain the two trump cards that allowed them to win in May: questions about Labour’s economic competence, and the personal allure of David Cameron. The public is still convinced that the cuts are the result of “the mess” left by Labour, however unfair that charge may be. If a second crisis strikes, it could still be the Tories who feel the benefit, if they can convince voters that the poor state of the finances is still the result of New Labour excess rather than Cameroon failure.

As for Cameron, in 2015 it was his lead over Ed Miliband as Britons’ preferred prime minister that helped the Conservatives over the line. This time, it is his withdrawal from politics which could hand the Tories a victory even if the economy tanks or cuts become widely unpopular. He could absorb the hatred for the failures and the U-turns, and then hand over to a fresher face. Nicky Morgan or a Sajid Javid, say, could yet repeat John Major’s trick in 1992, breathing life into a seemingly doomed Conservative project. For Labour, the Tory zombie remains frustratingly lively. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory tide