How to be a feminist in hot weather

From street harassment to hot pants to barbecuing, Rhiannon and Holly will help you survive the sweaty season with your feminist ideals intact.

In these hazy, sweaty July days, the fledgling feminist is likely to encounter a number of scenarios which test her principles to the limit. Feminism is by its very nature a somewhat grouchy endeavour, and therefore rarely enriched by the sensation of having to lie in a dark room in only your knickers as you cool your nipples with a hand-held mini fan and periodically call out "It’s so fucking hot!" to no one in particular. Happily, we have written this guide to behaving like a Proper Feminist while enjoying the heatwave. No need to thank us.

Topless conundrum

Though a scabby patch of Clissold Park is not in any way comparable to the Cote d’Azur, the summer feminist will find herself resisting the urge to bare her breasts to the tender caresses of the summer sun. This is because, the minute even a flash of sunlight pokes its way through the blanket of cloud that swaddles this country for most of the year, the men of Britain will invariably whip their tops off to reveal their man-breasts, with little care for the sensibilities of those in the vicinity. In contrast, your woman breasts are beholden to societal conventions that they remain under wraps, constrained as they are by the oppressive stays of your £3.99 H&M bikini top. Complain about this loudly and frequently, and never resist the urge to tell your male friends to "put it away, love" as a way of redressing the balance. This is always most effective when combined with a creepy leer, a notion which brings us to . . .

Perverts

There are more perverts to an English summer than there are yeast infections. They come crawling out of their little pervert hidey holes the minute you ditch the woolly tights, and will continue to drool and make crass comments aimed at your behind right through to September, all the while claiming it’s your own fault for "unfairly" wearing hot pants.The worst of this breed of garden variety misogynists is, of course, the slut-shaming pervert, who will immediately follow up with a heckle of "whore", "slag" or "jezebel" (the residents of Islington are nothing if not retro in their choice of insult, we’ve found). Street harassment really comes into its own in the summer months, and it’s up to you how you deal with it physically - with a short, sharp kick to the, er, shins - or verbally. Thankfully, the season has equipped you with a number of helpful props, ranging from barbecue skewers to aviator sunglasses, the latter of which not only effectively hide your tears of anger from public view but also make you look like a badass cop about to deliver one hell of a revenge beating.

To Barbecue or not to Barbecue?

Evolutionary biologists will tell you that the grilling of meat over a fire is as natural and atavistic as their need to grab you by your hair and drag you into the nearest cave, and they may have a point, insofar as men LOVE to barbecue. Many a time have we attended such functions only to be pipped to the post of "assistant sausage manager" by a man in a straw hat. Instead, the summer feminist will oftentimes find herself assigned the post of "deputy salad co-ordinator", whose job it is to carry plates into the garden, provide the gentlemen’s relish, and, well, make salad. Your reaction to this, as a summer feminist, of course depends on your priorities. As any man knows, providing the pack with sustenance is a messy and often drawn-out business that necessitates one taking quickfire bites of the last leftover burger while trying to stop the garden catching fire, as everyone else gorges themselves on kofte. Meanwhile, the deputy salad co-ordinator is smoking a fag and telling their infamous "that time I got sprayed by a skunk" anecdote – guess where the party’s at. Of course, you could always step in to relieve the barbecue master of his duties while simultaneously demonstrating to the group your insane multitasking abilities, but this bottle of gin over at the other side of the table has cucumber in it – cucumber! 

Beyond Comparison

Having ensured that you "got your bikini bod" (via the simple one-step process of putting on a bikini), you’re halfway to holiday heaven. But then, as you test the chilly waters of the North Sea during a particularly optimistic jaunt to Whitley Bay, you may catch a glance of the woman beside you. She’s lithe, she’s taut, she’s toned: she’s the living embodiment of everything Cosmopolitan ever beat you over the head with in order to make you submit to the Redfish Diet. Her legs go up to here, et cetera, et cetera, ad infinitum. And she’s wearing a white bikini. You’ve been taught by Magazineland to compare yourself unfavourably to pretty much every member of your gender, starting with Heidi Klum and ending with the goddess two metres away. Express your jealousy and rage through the medium of water: splash her copiously, soak the white swimsuit, and cackle away maniacally as you and your cankles swim off into the Northumbrian sunset. But pretend it’s an accident, because you’re a feminist and, like, sisterhood.

Don’t blow it

As you swelter on a concrete slab in the middle of Milton Keynes, you may well want to pick up an ice lolly to ease your pain (#firstworldproblems). But be aware that everything lolly is now automatically phallic, from a Rocket to a Mini Milk. Remain vigilant against anyone who might have seen a girl fellating a Fab in porn and therefore may get his rocks off by watching you. Consume iced treats in cubicles, tents, or behind towels emblazoned with the symbol of Venus only. And finally . . .

Get your freak on

During the summer months, everyone’s expected to get into the festiv(al) spirit, and watching a fully-clothed male hip hop star turn up onstage accompanied by a troupe of half-naked female teenagers who shake their asses when they’re told to can be a total buzzkill. And who’s going to spread the feminist message if it isn’t you? Pull on your Hunter imitation wellies and get down to the party with a few right-on placards. "HARRY STYLES, YOU COULD BE OUR CHILDREN’S STAY-AT-HOME DAD" would make a good start. Meanwhile, always keep a copy of The Female Eunuch handy for throwing at favoured popstars instead of your knickers. But if you must throw your knickers, sew a few Greer excerpts into the lining. He gets a pair of top quality lace pants, as well as an education. As always when feminism gets involved, everybody wins.

Now read Rhiannon and Holly's feminist survival guide for attending weddings.

 

When feminism gets involved, everybody wins. Photograph: Getty Images

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter are co-founders and editors of online magazine, The Vagenda.

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Find the EU renegotiation demands dull? Me too – but they are important

It's an old trick: smother anything in enough jargon and you can avoid being held accountable for it.

I don’t know about you, but I found the details of Britain’s European Union renegotiation demands quite hard to read. Literally. My eye kept gliding past them, in an endless quest for something more interesting in the paragraph ahead. It was as if the word “subsidiarity” had been smeared in grease. I haven’t felt tedium quite like this since I read The Lord of the Rings and found I slid straight past anything written in italics, reasoning that it was probably another interminable Elvish poem. (“The wind was in his flowing hair/The foam about him shone;/Afar they saw him strong and fair/Go riding like a swan.”)

Anyone who writes about politics encounters this; I call it Subclause Syndrome. Smother anything in enough jargon, whirr enough footnotes into the air, and you have a very effective shield for protecting yourself from accountability – better even than gutting the Freedom of Information laws, although the government seems quite keen on that, too. No wonder so much of our political conversation ends up being about personality: if we can’t hope to master all the technicalities, the next best thing is to trust the person to whom we have delegated that job.

Anyway, after 15 cups of coffee, three ice-bucket challenges and a bottle of poppers I borrowed from a Tory MP, I finally made it through. I didn’t feel much more enlightened, though, because there were notable omissions – no mention, thankfully, of rolling back employment protections – and elsewhere there was a touching faith in the power of adding “language” to official documents.

One thing did stand out, however. For months, we have been told that it is a terrible problem that migrants from Europe are sending child benefit to their families back home. In future, the amount that can be claimed will start at zero and it will reach full whack only after four years of working in Britain. Even better, to reduce the alleged “pull factor” of our generous in-work benefits regime, the child benefit rate will be paid on a ratio calculated according to average wages in the home country.

What a waste of time. At the moment, only £30m in child benefit is sent out of the country each year: quite a large sum if you’re doing a whip round for a retirement gift for a colleague, but basically a rounding error in the Department for Work and Pensions budget.

Only 20,000 workers, and 34,000 children, are involved. And yet, apparently, this makes it worth introducing 28 different rates of child benefit to be administered by the DWP. We are given to understand that Iain Duncan Smith thinks this is barmy – and this is a man optimistic enough about his department’s computer systems to predict in 2013 that 4.46 million people would be claiming Universal Credit by now*.

David Cameron’s renegotiation package was comprised exclusively of what Doctor Who fans call handwavium – a magic substance with no obvious physical attributes, which nonetheless helpfully advances the plot. In this case, the renegotiation covers up the fact that the Prime Minister always wanted to argue to stay in Europe, but needed a handy fig leaf to do so.

Brace yourself for a sentence you might not read again in the New Statesman, but this makes me feel sorry for Chris Grayling. He and other Outers in the cabinet have to wait at least two weeks for Cameron to get the demands signed off; all the while, Cameron can subtly make the case for staying in Europe, while they are bound to keep quiet because of collective responsibility.

When that stricture lifts, the high-ranking Eurosceptics will at last be free to make the case they have been sitting on for years. I have three strong beliefs about what will happen next. First, that everyone confidently predicting a paralysing civil war in the Tory ranks is doing so more in hope than expectation. Some on the left feel that if Labour is going to be divided over Trident, it is only fair that the Tories be split down the middle, too. They forget that power, and patronage, are strong solvents: there has already been much muttering about low-level blackmail from the high command, with MPs warned about the dire influence of disloyalty on their career prospects.

Second, the Europe campaign will feature large doses of both sides solemnly advising the other that they need to make “a positive case”. This will be roundly ignored. The Remain team will run a fear campaign based on job losses, access to the single market and “losing our seat at the table”; Leave will run a fear campaign based on the steady advance of whatever collective noun for migrants sounds just the right side of racist. (Current favourite: “hordes”.)

Third, the number of Britons making a decision based on a complete understanding of the renegotiation, and the future terms of our membership, will be vanishingly small. It is simply impossible to read about subsidiarity for more than an hour without lapsing into a coma.

Yet, funnily enough, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just as the absurd complexity of policy frees us to talk instead about character, so the onset of Subclause Syndrome in the EU debate will allow us to ask ourselves a more profound, defining question: what kind of country do we want Britain to be? Polling suggests that very few of us see ourselves as “European” rather than Scottish, or British, but are we a country that feels open and looks outwards, or one that thinks this is the best it’s going to get, and we need to protect what we have? That’s more vital than any subclause. l

* For those of you keeping score at home, Universal Credit is now allegedly going to be implemented by 2021. Incidentally, George Osborne has recently discovered that it’s a great source of handwavium; tax credit cuts have been postponed because UC will render such huge savings that they aren’t needed.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle