Words

What’s in a word? A lot apparently. Even if you don’t mean it in that way, should it be taken that way, i.e. the wrong way, you’re in trouble. Just ask Suzanne Moore.

I posted a link to Moore’s New Statesman piece about feminism in my last blog because I thought, and still think, that her piece was a well-written and inspiring feminist critique.

However, she included in the article a sentence: “We are angry with ourselves for not being happier, not being loved properly and not having the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual.” Cue a Twitter-storm, as some very offended transsexuals took Moore to task for her apparent denigration of them, and she tweeted several strongly-worded rebuttals.

I don’t believe that Moore intended to offend transsexuals with that line. In context she was saying that women become angry with themselves rather than with the external factors which affect them, such as a lack of opportunities, unfair perceptions and expectations of how they should love, or how they should look.

I assumed Moore meant transsexuals who have had sexual reassignment surgery. So why not reference a crafted appearance, and that really is the key word: “appearance”, of womanhood as sculpted from a male body? This is not to say that female transsexuals are any lesser in their hearts and minds, but that their bodies are not as they were born with. They are man-made.

Whilst I know that in reality post-operative transgender bodies are not simulacra of perfect male or female bodies, the image that came to mind fleetingly as I read Moore’s piece, and presumably what Moore intended, was of a perfected body. A body crafted with an ideal in mind which wouldn’t include vast swathes of cellulite or stretch marks from pregnancy, or boobs that have totally surrendered to gravity. A body seemingly expected of, but not representative of, the majority of women.

As if this debate couldn’t heat up any further, we moved from degrees centigrade to Kelvin as Julie Burchill, a friend of Moore’s, wrote a column for The Observer in defence of Moore which was incredibly offensive to transsexuals. The column attracted such a flurry of irate comments (some 2000 in all) that it was taken down from The Observer/Guardian website by the powers that be. As one Twitterer put it (and in so doing put the wit back into Twitter): “Julie Burchill poured oil to calm troubled waters. Then drowned some seabirds in the oil. Then set fire to the oil.” All this culminated in criticisms of Burchill by Lynne Featherstone MP and Moore resigning from Twitter. She’s back now, I’m happy to say.

Perhaps the real victim of this row was the debate that Moore had so forcefully tried to generate in the piece and which died under the weight of the offended and offensive tirades: that women should stop beating themselves up about not fitting ideals and not having opportunities and instead get angry about it and fix it.

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Here’s a word I would like to take issue with: middle-aged. At the tender age of 31, having just given birth to my first child, a colleague called Robert tried to convince me that I was now middle-aged. I snorted derisively. Of course I wasn’t! I was still in that demographic box on questionnaires which bundled me up with 20-somethings.  But my colleague persisted: “How old do you think you’ll be when you die?” I mumbled something about “no idea but over 80 hopefully”. He replied, “And middle-age doesn’t just last a year you know, you’ve got to give it a good span of about 20 years.” I nodded, trying hard not to wrinkle my brow in concentration in case he had a point and the wrinkles remained. “So,” he continued, “half way to 80 is 40 and give it a ten year span either side of that point…. You’re middle-aged!”

I spat out my mouthful of Diet Coke (see I was so young then, I didn’t even care about the additives and potentially pernicious effects of phenylalanine) and declared that you were only as young as you feel and there was no way I was middle-aged yet.

Even today, some 10 years on, I think there is good reason to believe it will be a long time before I ever have to call myself middle-aged, even using Robert’s reasoning. Medical advances are astonishing these days, and I reckon, by a back-of-the-envelope, highly empirical, well-researched, finger-in-the-air guestimation that we are all going to live longer. I reckon over the next 60 to 70 years medical advances will have eradicated so many killer diseases that we’ll all be living at least till, well, let’s round it up, to 120?

By Robert’s reasoning, middle-age wouldn’t then start until around 50. Sounds more likely to me. Don’t you agree?

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Words. 500 of them. Chris Evans this week launched the BBC Radio 2 500 Words competition. The competition is open to children aged up to 13 who have to write a short story of no more than 500 words. There are two categories: 9 years and under, and 10 to 13 year olds. Each category has a gold, silver and bronze prize. The judges include Dame Jacqueline Wilson, Richard Hammond, Charlie Higson, and Malorie Blackman.

Children have until 7pm on 22nd February 2013 to unleash their inner story teller and could win Chris Evan’s height in books (6’ 2”!) and 500 books for their school library. A fantastic way to get children writing.

Click the link here for more information.

 

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