Tag Archives: Christmas

Charlotte Raven

#IDontBuyIt: To have and to have not

As well as creating a lot more work for women, the gormandising of Christmas has seen tradition trumped by foodist fashion. This year, the middle classes feel compelled to invest in a festive ‘wow factor’. Demand for extravagant centrepieces and weird food has soared. All the best tables will be sporting a multiple bird roast, where different types of bird are stuffed inside a larger one; the more the merrier. Hugh Fernley Whittingshall’s ten-bird effort last year has been trumped by a 48-bird roast, created by a Norfolk farmer, comprising 12 different species. It weighs almost four stone and costs £665.

It’s fair to say the multiple bird roast won’t be on the menu for the 80,000 kids in temporary accommodation this Christmas. Even if they could afford the ten pound Aldi version there’d be nowhere to put it; a recent Shelter report said most families living in B&B’s this Christmas don’t have a table. Shared kitchens and bathrooms mean many kids are forced to share these intimate family spaces with strangers.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby recently said the emphasis on consumption was ruining Christmas for struggling families. I think the pressure to deliver a pop-up culinary experience with a wow factor, rather than just Christmas dinner, is just as guilt-inducing, possibly more so, for those whose Christmas budget won’t even stretch to the basics.

The whole point about Christmas dinner is that it isn’t a big culinary performance. It used to be low key and functional before the foodies turned it into a test of culinary mettle and set us up to fail. When I was growing up, women were pleased to be relieved of the drudgery of feeding a family: instant mash was perceived as liberating, rather than shameful junk. In the seventies, Delia Smith produced a popular recipe book called How to Cheat at Cooking, which advised “make up the onion sauce from the instructions on the packet”.

Stephen Poole’s fascinating anti food polemic, You Aren’t What You Eat says that it was “palpably subliminal feminism that enlivened How to Cheat at Cooking”. There was no need to pass the onion sauce off as homemade; why would you be ashamed of cutting corners when cheating was a feminist act?

My mother was a big exponent of cutting culinary corners. As a child I didn’t know you could make your own mince pies – I never had a homemade one until I was in my thirties. My mum hardly ever cooked, and never felt guilty about it. The focus of our family Christmases was the people round the table, not the food on the plate. Most of the Christmas dinner was bought: stuffing, gravy, Christmas pudding, Christmas cake and brandy butter.

Now food culture has come full circle. Packet stuffing in Christmas Turkey and any number of other ‘short cut’s like Bisto granules are now perceived as morally reprehensible. If you don’t cook your roast potatoes in goose fat, maple-glaze your parsnips, or construct Mary Berry’s grade 2 listed gingerbread house, you are letting yourself down and, more importantly, letting your family down.

Middle class women are tied to the stove again, and food shopping is now called ‘sourcing’, which seems to take five times as long. It’s an anxious time for the middle class foodie; the must-have turkeys from the top organic online suppliers are just as likely to sell out as a must-buy outfit on net a porter; then what will we do? Buy a four-bird roast from Aldi for a tenner? Or go hungry?

And yet the Aldi roast would be aspirational to the countless families in food poverty. The food banks are distributing thousands of Christmas food parcels this season as the government’s Dickensian welfare reforms have bitten. Food banks are an ironic counterpoint to food culture. There was a 170 per cent increase in the number of people using them in 2012.

Research conducted for Ipsos Mori recently found that 9 per cent of London children – that’s as many as 74,000 children – may be suffering from inadequate nutrition. Behind the statistics are stories of people in precarious situations when a tiny misfortune precipitates calamity. One woman described sitting, unemployed and broke in her freezing flat on Christmas day last year, with no presents, no TV, nothing in the fridge, and no child – she’d sent her one-year-old to spend Christmas with his dad as it was the only option.

I first met the multiple bird roast in real life a couple of years ago. In the play Filth, about the Bullingdon Club, it was a symbol of decadent excess. Like the abused songbirds boiled alive and eaten whole by gourmands (including President Mitterand) with napkins over their heads to stop God from seeing, until the practice was banned, the roast in Filth was meant to be disgusting.

The online reviewers of the Aldi four-bird roast seem to have missed the point. They weren’t chowing it down in a salacious reverie, or reveling in its Romanesque vulgarity like the Oxonians in Filth, but judging it in the terms Aldi were marketing it – as a nice change from turkey – and finding it wanting.

The mass-market versions of fashionable foodist products cut a curious figure on the supermarket shelves. You can buy gilding glaze in Asda for less than the price of a bag of chips. Once a sign of wealth and opulence in the 16th century, now everyone can experience the vulgarity of the Tudor Court in their suburban dining room. Is this culinary escapism a good thing? What does it mean?

The most expensive Christmas dinner, costing £125,000, features a £3000-pound melon and a £5000-pound serving of pistachios. Most people will be experiencing it vicariously, as I did when I Googled “most expensive Christmas dinner”. Culinary escapism is a middle class sport that now has mass appeal. This year, many poor families will be experiencing the satiety of Christmas vicariously. Watching Christmas Bake Off on an empty stomach must be as tormenting and compelling as smelling the emanations from Willy Wonka’s factory was for malnourished Charlie Bucket. Unfortunately, there is no golden ticket out of their predicament.

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#IDontBuyIt: Feminism For Sale

It’s official: we have our own place in the history books. 2013 has seen a fourth wave of feminism rising up seemingly from still waters; a glorious surge of intersectionality, gobbiness and web-savviness. And it’s great. We’re great.

No More Page 3’s 130,000 signatories; the Everyday Sexism project; Leyla Hussein and the anti-FGM campaigners. All the successes too: the report abuse button on Twitter, the banning of sexist hate speech on Facebook, the Co-Ops refusal to stock lads mags. It’s all been so ruddy, bloody great.

But all waves, no matter how magnificent, have to break. Fourth wave feminism looks pretty powerful at the moment, but it’s in danger of petering out; a sad slap against some unshiftable rocks. Why? Because of how great we’re being – and because of who’s noticing that, and how.

Become trendy and well-liked and you don’t just attract the dazzling smile of Nigella, but the fanged grin of suited advertising executives. Throughout 2013, for every hard-won feminist success there’s been an easily churned out piece of advertising seeking to co-opt an entire movement for the purpose of selling tat.

Dozens of brands are lining up to align themselves with feminist awesomeness. Old hands Dove surpassed themselves this year with a piece of loft-set sobbing professing to tell us we’re all beautiful but really just blaming women – rather than, I dunno, the multi-billion pound beauty industry – for their own negative self-esteem. Pantene, meanwhile, released an ad only last week which urges us not to be constrained by sexist labels as long as we have shiny hair.

It seems obvious what these adverts are doing. Apart from selling goop, they’re co-opting feminism into the very thing – capitalist patriarchy – which means feminism needs to exist. You cannot market unnecessary standards of beauty for the benefit of a profit margin in a feminist way. Pantene and Dove have no wish for us to feel comfortable in our own skin because if we did we’d stop buying their evil soapy wares.

I say it only seems obvious what they’re doing because apparently it isn’t. Both of those adverts were created on the other side of the globe but have gone viral and reached my newsfeed because of the endorsement of people – fellow feminists – who should bloody well know better.

Like long-geeky teenagers who’ve started being invited to cool parties, us fourth-wavers are so happy to just to be spoken to by mainstream media that we don’t question it. We just beam toothily, share with our entire friends list and go on our merry way. If we get the chance we’re even making the damn things ourselves: Vagenda and this very publication teamed up with ELLE to “rebrand” feminism; an exercise that produced two adverts which didn’t mention the “F-word” at all and sparked a load of Twitter in-fighting which alienated as many possible feminists as the campaigns interested in the first place.

Being this in love with being cool, right down to the cost of commodification, turns feminism into a “thing”. Feminism is not a “thing”. It is not a trend. It is not something that can be owned. It is not something that can be summed up on a T-shirt, in a glossy ad, or in a music video. Play into that and you create a set definition of what it is, and who we are, and you can wave goodbye to intersectionality, diversity of opinion, or even just a nice level playing field where we’re all respectful to one another.

Want to know what happens when people see feminism as a badge? You get Lily Allen bewildered that a song about equality can attract ire for objectifying black women, because she and her director think that the only box she has to tick to fight for equality is to be witty about sexualisation.

You get well-meaning, if oft-aggravating, people like Vagenda and Caitlin Moran being either attacked mercilessly or fawned over like messiahs because we’re so used to having leaders that we create them within our own movement.

You get awful in-fighting because other people’s feminism differs ever so slightly from the set idea we each have of it, and Twitter wars because we’re all so eager for a “platform” in the capitalist media that online activism has become a desperate scramble for status.

In short you get a load of shallow crap that means we concentrate more on fitting into the system oppressing us than on dismantling it. This isn’t a plea for us to campaign mercilessly for an anti-consumerist, anarchist commune society where we replace money with leaves (wooden tokens work much better), or, heaven for-fucking-bid, for us to go nestle back under the told-you-so wings of our second and third wave mothers, but rather for us to be careful.

Feminism does need a change, and to keep changing. We need to be more intersectional, more inclusive, more open to those not in the Waitrose ranks of the middle class. But there’s a difference between being open to change and being rebranded, a difference between being popular and being cool. If we remember that, we can keep this wave going for as long as possible – and when it breaks, it might actually have done some damage.

Rebecca Winson is the News Editor for For Books’ Sake, the feminist webzine dedicated to promoting and celebrating writing by women. Find out more @rebeccawinson

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#IDontBuyIt: Consuming the Season – gender, debt & credit

Revised_xmas_final

Joni Seager, author of the international Atlas of Women, and Graphic Designer Lucia Ricci team up as ThinkAgainGraphics to bring you a brilliant new look at women and spending.

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#IDontBuyIt: UnElfy working conditions under capitalism

Feminist Times interviewed 19-year-old Annabel*, a whistleblowing Elf, for an insight into life working for Father Christmas at a much-loved festive family attraction.

It’s a busy time of year for Santa’s little helpers so we caught up with Annabel while she was on her way to work in the grotto, on a chilly December morning, to find out what her job entails.

“My role as an elf involves greeting and memorising the names of the children before taking them and their guardians to meet Father Christmas,” she explains.

“On the way I try my best to get them excited about meeting him by asking about their day, what their favourite part was, and what they want for Christmas. It’s really important to involve the adults as well,” she adds, “as they’re also here for the experience, even if it was booked as a treat for the children.”

Annabel does this through “small references to the ‘human world’ – so if the child says their favourite activity that day was ice skating, you can joke that you won the gold bell for ice skating in ‘elf olympics’ 1888, or that you’re so clumsy Father Christmas won’t let you on the ice.”

For her, working with children is the highlight of her job: “What I love is being able to help make children continue to believe in the magic of Christmas for at least another year, and watching their faces light up as they meet the man who brings them so much joy every Christmas day.

“I love it when you get a little girl or boy at around 10 years old, who still deeply believes in Father Christmas and is genuinely wrapped up in the whole experience.”

The second aspect of Annabel’s job is taking photos of the families with Father Christmas, helping hand out and restock the gift throughout the day, and preparing the house for routine evening inspections.

“Photos with Santa aren’t included in the price of the ticket and must be purchased separately,” she tells us. “Filming and photos, other than those taken ‘professionally’, are not allowed within Father Christmas’s house.”

As an actress, Annabel says working as an elf for nine hours a day is a very full-on role: “You must always be prepared with an answer no matter what the question, always be bouncy and full of energy – nobody wants to talk to a grumpy elf.

“You can NEVER break character, even if an adult asks your age or what you do when you’re not ‘elfing’. You can make up any age – I usually say 178 – and you have to act confused: “what do you mean when I’m not at work? We elves are always hard at work making toys for all the good boys and girls all over the world!” and “why, we live here of course! All of us together in this forest – in fact, there are many elves napping nearby because they’ve been so hard at work making toys for you, so we have to be very quiet now so we don’t wake them up!”

In fact, it’s not so far from the truth: “My least favourite part of the job is the hours – roughly 10 hours a day with only two unpaid half hour breaks whilst being on your feet all day, going back and forth,” Annabel says.

She started work with Father Christmas at the end of November, after two days of training, and had a total of four days off before starting a two-week stint of 11am-9pm days, leading up to Christmas. Understandably, she’s exhausted.

“Then there’s the lack of pay,” Annabel adds. “For over 21s it’s an average of £7.07 an hour and for under 21s (like me) it’s roughly £5.54. Being separated by age when both age groups are doing the same job and the same amount of work is extremely frustrating and generally unfair.

“Considering being an elf in these circumstances could fall under the category of immersive theatre, in the opinion of myself and all my co-workers, we are grossly underpaid.” The Independent Theatre Council recommends a minimum salary of £420 a week; even at 9 hours a day (with one hour of unpaid breaks), 7 days a week, Annabel only gets £349.02 gross. Santa how could you?!

Annabel’s biggest disillusionment lies with the management’s capitalistic drive to maximise profits at any cost. “I genuinely believe that the owners started the company with a view to create a magical experience for families and children,” she says.

“But due to the nature of business, various things inevitably falter due to costs and profit margins – the little things can often be lost, like a serious lack of training and employees not being trained to the highest standard.

“A full time worker was asked to cover for an understudy because of so many people quitting due to poor working conditions and then wasn’t trained properly in that area,” she tells us.

“Very long shifts, with so few breaks, in such a physical job can be mentally and physically draining, causing strain on the employees, both among themselves and the managers.”

Although Annabel enjoys the job itself, she reveals that other elves aren’t so lucky: “Elves from other sections of the Christmas experience, whose roles allow less freedom than my own, have all expressed great frustration and stress at the monotonous repetitions that their jobs entail, and are emotionally worn out – often to the point of exhaustion – causing many to either quit or consider quitting.”

And despite the company’s additional charges for photographs with Father Christmas, and a gift shop full of “extremely overpriced gifts”, Annabel says she and many of her co-elves remain “underappreciated as staff and grossly underpaid.”

A kid might think of being an elf as a dream job – even as adults, many of us spend a good afternoon “elfing” ourselves and our colleagues. In reality, the modern workplace offers instability, lack of training and unpaid breaks. For many workers Christmas really means retail prices high, staff wages low, and feeling that you are totally unappreciated. Santa’s grotto is a 3D Christmas metaphor for life under grotty capitalism.

It would be nice to think of Santa’s workshop as being more like a cooperative and less like a sweatshop. Come on Santa, if Christmas is about giving and not receiving, as a boss like many others, you can afford to be a bit more generous…

*Not her real name

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Charlotte Raven

All I want for Christmas… is a large measure of faux bonhomie

This Editorial is taken from the Charlotte’s speech at the Feminist Times Anti-Consumerist Christmas Party last Friday Night at Conway Hall, London.

Christmas is a terrible time for a depressive like me. The Pearly Queen singing carols at Angel tube seemed like an affront.

The worse thing about being depressed at Christmas is being mistaken for a Grumpy Old Woman. Unlike Helen Lederer and the other TV Grumpies, I like crap Christmas songs and the fact that Christmas gets earlier every year.

I don’t object to Christmas, just the lies we are susceptible to at this time of year. Santa is the biggest – parents still believe in him! My four-year-old son was visibly relieved to discover that his haul of presents isn’t dependent on good behaviour. Unlike Santa, my love for John is unconditional.

Like the Christians, I think the lie of consumerism has ruined Christmas. The lists of must-haves in the magazines at this time of year exert a particular kind of pressure that makes it hard to concentrate. And parents are under even more pressure. I’ve read about people trying to kill themselves because they can’t afford to get their kids any presents and totally empathise.

I can’t really afford to buy the kids a big present and lots of little ones, like I normally do, and have been wondering how to get round this. God knows what it’s like for people who can’t afford little ones either – if nothing else, my depression has helped me connect with those who feel as if they are on the outside looking in at Christmas.

What should Christmas be about if not God or stuff? My family Christmasses were about drinking, talking and telly. We never played consequences or charades. There was little physical activity; the novel idea of a walk on Christmas day was introduced years later by my in-laws. This break with tradition has been good for my health but does make me feel as if my identity and essential Ravenishness is imperilled during the festive season, now that my mum’s dead and my dad’s in a nursing home. The fact that I get Christmas cards addressed to Tom and Charlotte Sheahan doesn’t help.

One memorable year, when I was my daughter Anna’s age, I danced with my mother to the D:ream song, Things Can Only Get Better, before it became the anthem for new labour. We were both holding Dr Seuss string puppets with tufts on their heads that moved to the beat.

My favourite Christmas song is Fairy Tale of New York because of its realism. It’s more miserable than Slade by a country mile. Is it possible to be happy without lying to ourselves? I hope so. While I’m waiting to find out, I wish I could act festive and sport reindeer deely boppers like the receptionist at my doctors this morning. At this time of year, faux bonhomie is better than no bonhomie.

My psychiatrist says my black humour stops me from acting on my impulse to “do a jimmy” and chuck myself off Beachy Head. And the thought of being stopped on the cliff edge by the Christians who have been stationed there for the past few years is also a powerful deterrent.

Feminist Times has the same mordant wit, with the same redemptive purpose. We think modern life is crap but don’t moan about it like the grumpy old women.

I am a highly ambivalent consumer – in certain moods, I think scented candles are the key to happiness.

I left the Mumsnet blogfest with a massive goody bag and felt genuinely pampered and appreciated, until I ate too many New York Cupcakes and felt sick to the stomach about how easily I can be bought.

Working with Deborah and Sarah has made me realize that wonderful things can be conjured out of nothing. Deborah’s DIY ethic has rubbed off on me and I feel liberated from my belief that more is more.

You won’t leave this party laden with boob firming cream and beige nail varnish, because unlike Mumsnet we haven’t sold our souls. Our magical Christmas party was conjured by some amazing people with no commercial partners.

I wanted to take this opportunity to mention that Deborah is taking over as editor. It’s a relief to be able hand over the day-to-day management of Fem T to her and focus on writing, ideas and the big Feminist Times picture. Deborah’s the only positive person I’ve ever respected, mainly because she isn’t bland or deluded. And she respects my Ravenishness; she never tries to talk me out of my negativity, but I do always leave the office feeling better than when I arrived.

Deborah and Sarah have assured me that it isn’t a North Korean style purge, but I will be paying close attention to the pictures of past events to see whether I am photoshopped out…

Sarah is taking over as Deputy Editor – she’ll be brilliant. I never thank her enough. I just wanted to say publicly how proud and pleased I am with everything she’s done at Fem T, in fair winds and foul.

The party was an intimation of Christmasses yet to come. I hope to wake up one Christmas morning with no presents, feeling Sheahanish and up for life, because the depressed and depressing capitalist system has been replaced by comfort and joy.

Thank you to Gabriela Cala-Lesina, Ruth Barnes, Jenny Roper, Eleanor Westbrook, Carly Smallman, Sarah Campbell, Fari Bradley, Conway Hall, Tobias Amstall & 4th Floor Studios and all our other helpers on the day.

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#IDontBuyIt: High street stores ‘less sexist’ this Christmas than last year

Gendered ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ signs in toyshops are on the decline, according to a survey by campaign group Let Toys Be Toys.

The survey, carried out throughout November by supporters of the campaign, found use of gendered signs has decreased by 60 per cent compared to last Christmas, when the campaign began.

Kerry Brennan, one of the founders of the Let Toys Be Toys campaign, said: “While there’s still a long way to go to address sexism in the toy industry, the changes in major retail chains like Debenhams are just brilliant to see.

“They’ve replaced pink and blue ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ signs with new colourful signs that say ‘Vehicles’, ‘Superheroes’, ‘Soft Toys’, and ‘TV Characters’, among others.”

Supporters found just a fifth of high street stores using ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ signs to identify their toys, compared with half of all shops last year.

Hobbycraft was crowned ‘best of the high street’ for marketing toys without relying on gendered or sexist stereotypes, with Toymaster and Fenwick respectively second and third.

Fenwick, Debenhams and TK Maxx were all named ‘most improved’, having recently removed their ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ signs.

Supermarket Morrisons was found to be most ‘sexist’, with supermarkets tending to use gendered stereotypes more frequently than independent toy retailers.

Ms Brennan added: “Everything is much easier to find and children are no longer being sent the message that science and adventure are only for boys, crafts and nurturing play only for girls.”

Of the fourteen major retailers contacted by the Let Toys Be Toys campaign in 2013, seven have already removed the ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ signage from shop floors or own-brand toy packaging: Hobbycraft, Boots, TK Maxx, The Entertainer, Debenhams, Fenwick and Next.

Five stores – Toys R Us, Marks and Spencer, Tesco, Sainsbury and Morrisons – are in the process of doing so.

However, the survey also found that just over 70% of stores still used some kind of gender cues, with 40% of stores using gender to sell the majority of their toys.

“We still have a way to go,” said Rebecca Brueton, a Let Toys Be Toys campaigner.

“We made getting rid of the signs our priority this year and the survey shows it’s working. Even so, you can still find plenty of shops promoting outdated and limiting ideas, giving children the message that science is only for boys and creativity for girls.”

Let Toys Be Toys is a grassroots campaign group established in November 2012. The campaign believes both boys and girls benefit from a range of play experiences, and should not be restricted by marketing which tells them which toys and activities are for boys or girls. Let Toys Be Toys is run and organised wholly by volunteers.

 See www.lettoysbetoys.org.uk for more information.

Image courtesy of Let Toys Be Toys.

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#IDontBuyIt: A Very Feminist Christmas Theme Week 16th – 22nd

We love a theme week and we’ve really gone to town on our Christmas themed week:

#IDontBuyIt: 16th – 22nd December

Our team of experts will be dissecting all things festive and why we as feminists just don’t ‘buy’ a lot of it. Whether it be capitalism, Xmas telly, the immaculate conception or the commodification of feminism. Here’s our list of #IDontBuyIt content:

The Guardian’s Issy Sampson unpicks the Christmas telly schedule to see how women fare in festive TV.

Psychiatrist Anna Fryer on womb envy, feminist psychoanalysis and the immaculate conception.

One of Santa’s Elves whistleblows on her working conditions.

Tales from women in the banking and media industries about their sexist office parties.

Dr Kristin Aune, Reader in Sociology & Director of the Centre for Society, Religion & Belief on how you can be a Feminist and a Christian.

A reader who lost it all in the crash explains why we should all adopt the Free Economony.

An exploration of the commodification of Feminism.

Children’s Editor Anna on toys.

Joni Seager and Lucia Ricci infographic on women, credit and depression.

Buy Nothing Day and Echo profiles, Feminist Fairies, and more.

#5yearssinceMaria: From the 16th – 19th December we will also be marking the fifth anniversary of Maria Stubbings’ death, alongside Refuge, including:

Maria Stubbings’ story.

He punched a horse: comparison of sentencing for domestic violence versus other crimes.

The manifesto of a woman who suffered from domestic violence.

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