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Veronica Walsh asks if Irish current affairs media programs discriminate against women

So, we know there is a gender imbalance across Irish society. And it was brought home to us in screaming technicolour last week when Joan Burton was publicly humiliated and passed over for the cabinet finance brief that many believe was hers by right. Which got us all thinking and talking… though it’s dying down as an issue now, and we’ll go back to acceptance and same old same old. Before we do – I’d like to share a little exchange that Sara Burke had with Eamon Dunphy on Dunphy’s Sunday morning current affairs show yesterday.

The panel that morning was made up of Eamon, Philip O’Connor, Alan Dukes, Emmet Oliver, and the lone woman Sara Burke. although I suppose we were lucky to have even her, as it is not unheard of for this show not to feature even one woman on the panel. I’ll set the scene…. some way into the show the conversation turns to the pieces by Diarmaid Ferriter, Mick Clifford and Shane Ross in the Sunday newspapers – all suggesting that Burton was shafted. Eamon agrees and says it appears to be discriminatory – and Sara says she is ‘incensed’ at it etc – only Alan Dukes dismisses it as nonsense (quelle surprise! Oh what is it about him that makes me speak French?!). So, okay, grand… chat chat chat, blah blah blah…. THEN, after Eamon declares that “such discrimination weakens our democracy”, Sara puts it up to him that he himself discriminates against women and only features occasional ‘token women’ on his show. Good woman yourself, Sara!

So, what did he say? Um. I’m not sure. Here’s the exchange verbatim:

Sara Burke: “Eamon, the issue of gender equality isn’t confined to Dáil Éireann, it’s across society, it’s in this studio…”

Eamon Dunphy: “Let me tell you Sara, I go… and have done as a journalist… to inordinate lengths in the teams that I construct as a radio… ‘cause I’m the boss, I run the thing, I’m the editor of the program…  in terms of getting guests, in terms of getting people and promoting women, eh, it is a problem when you go…”

Sara interrupts: “there’s often weeks when there’s no women on your panel and…”

Dunphy cuts her off: “There are weeks when, well, I’ll tell you why…”

Sara cuts him off: “There’s often just the token one, as I am today…”

Dunphy answers: “No, no you’re not. I’ll tell you why… that is… and I’ll be unequivocal about it, the qualification for being in this radio studio on a Sunday morning with me is intelligence. And honesty, probity. I won’t have spoofers, I won’t have token people, and I won’t have spinners in the studio. And in all the times. we’ve got 52 and a half percent more listeners than we had when we started because of that principal, and I think it should apply everywhere… no tokenism at all! We’ll take an ad-break now, and we’ll come back and talk some more….”

(to listen back go here – 31 minutes in….)

The programme returned from an ad break, and he read out a couple of texts then moved on to talk about something else, abandoning the discussion.

But I’d like us to look at it again. Do we agree with Sara? Why do we accept that this is just how it is? What do we think of Dunphy’s reply? What’s he on about? It’s a pity he didn’t expand on his “it is a problem when you go….”. It’s a shame he never addressed the main question of why he appears to discriminate against women on his panel, instead waffling into a defence of his show against the idea he’d allow tokenism, and then escaping to a break and a change of subject.

l searched for data on the panels for the last few months from the programme’s twitter timeline at @thedunphyshow, and lay it out starkly (see list below). There was no woman last week. There was no woman on the double election special panels the week before. In the preceding weeks there was either no woman or one woman on a panel of four men.

So what do you think? Discrimination? Is it any better on other prime time current affairs shows on radio and TV? Is it time we said enough is enough, and demanded some kind of gender balance be applied in the media pundit world?

(Hey! You media producer people struggling to ‘promote women’ as Eamo put it, check out Margaret E. Ward’s list of potential female contributors to Irish media right here🙂

Veronica Walsh is the organiser of the Dublin Current Affairs Group & MD of www.CBTandFeelingGood.com. You can follow her on Twitter at @VCurrentAffairs.

LIST OF PUNDIT PANELS ON THE DUNPHY SHOW FOR THE LAST FEW MONTHS ( women in bold):

March 13th: Joining Eamon on the panel today are : Alan Dukes, Emmet Oliver, Sara Burke and Philip O’ Connor.

March 6th: Joining Eamon on the panel today are Dan O’ Brien, Constantin Gurdgiev, Shane Ross and Ed Molloy.

February 27th: Joining Eamon on the panle form 11-1 are Pat Leahy, Eddie Hobbs, Cormac Lucey and Ger Colleran. The Political panel up first on The Dunphy Show: Pat Rabbitte, Leo Varadker, Shane Ross and Psephologist Adrian Kavanagh.

February 20th: Joining Eamon on the panel today: Donal Donovan, Constantin Gurdgiev, Dearbhail McDonald and John Waters.

February 13th: Joining Eamon on the panel today are Sean Kelly, David Humphreys, Chris Luke and John Allen.

February 6th: Joining Eamon on the panel today is Alistair Campbell, Cormac Lucey, Jim Power and Noirin Hegarty.

January 30th: Joining Eamon on the panel this morning are Eamon Ryan, Orla Tinsley, Constantin Gurdgiev and Pearse Doherty.

January 23rd: Joining Eamon on the panel this morning are Damien Kiberd, Pat Leahy, Siobhan O’Connell and Senator Shane Ross.

January 16th: Joining Eamon on the panel this morning are Jill Kerby, Dearbhail McDonald, Ger Colleran and Brian Lucey.

January 19th: Sunday panel: James Reilly FG, Paul Somerville Markets Analyst, Pat Leahy, Lindsey Earner Byrne UCD.

Got the picture? Good. Mail your complaints to: thedunphyshow@newstalk.ie

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"Do you want to come up for some euphemistic coffee?"

I can see the ad pitch to Nescafe in my mind…

A pink balloon that looks suspiciously like a blown up condom skirts across the floor of a trendy loft flat.

A sexy scruffy looking man in his mid-twenties ambles down the  metal stairs. The morning light streams through an open plan kitchen window. He catches the eye of the bed headed beautiful brunette, who flicks up an eyebrow giving him a wanton “You’re a bad boy” grimace.

Another, more dozy, brunette who looks like she’s been shagged into the middle of next week, bumps up against the kitchen sink, turns and realises there are magic sachets sitting there.

Instant coffee. Instant absolution. Instant dissolve of granules and awkwardness.

Being a good, if slightly dumb, third wheel, she makes three mugs of the chemical concoction. They all drink it. Sheepish man makes beautiful brunette an origami bird (yes, an origami bird – it’s a bird that bends and folds easily).

Third wheel, watching this cardboard coupling display, chuckles as the natural chaste order of life returns. Her eyes say “Thank goodness he didn’t prefer drab old me to his stunning girlfriend. Now I can quietly go back to cutting my arms.”

The Voice Over flogs us the product “Nescafe, 3 in 1. White, coffee with sugar. In one.”

*Sigh*

What a long way we have come since the 1980’s Nescafe Gold Blend ad series starring Sharon Maughan and that bloke who went on to mentor Buffy.

Despite the power dressing, the romance was worthy of at least a BBC costume drama. There was even an attempt at purveying sophistication.

There was never the smutty suggestion that, once he got her up for coffee, he would get her up for a randy threesome with that other neighbour that adland keeps in the cupboard for just such occasions.

What amazes me is that everyone watches Mad Men and laughs at the suppression and treatment of women in it. Ha ha, thank goodness we live in a more enlightened society now. But adland is chock full of young men who have grown up on an almost pure diet of porn as their sex-and-relationships education.

A threesome, therefore, is as cool as…um… a cucumber?!

It’s just the way we swing now and then. No big deal. Have a coffee and get over the embarrassment of compromising yourself for someone else’s sexual gratification in the vain hope that he, or possibly she, might like you for it.

The idea of a threesome with two men and one woman wouldn’t appeal in adland. Sure, men can look stupid not knowing how to work a washing machine – there’s a secret badge of pride in that, even if he is a total dud of a human being – but two men naked together in any context other than a Daz ad, is simply unthinkable to that mindset.

It’s not that I mind porn with my coffee, I’d just rather it wasn’t so, winking,  desperate and depressing (yes, I demand happy, hopeful caffeinated porn with my coffee-Red Bull porn). And, like porn, this ad doesn’t leave me wondering, will they won’t they (kind of a given there), so I am less likely to think or talk about it for any length of time, hopefully.

Perhaps I am being obtuse. The romantic ads were for Nescafe Gold Blend. The threesome horror flogs a 3-in-1 sachet for losers who don’t even have fresh milk in the fridge. They are not going for the same market.

Still, it’s a shame. People that good-looking should drink fresh milk and not have such low self-esteem that they feel they have to share their boyfriend during a party. S’all I’m sayin’.

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There’s an interesting new interview with Kathleen Lynch over on Mediabite, in which the UCD Professor of Equality Studies

Professor Kathleen Lynch

discusses inequality in Ireland, her treatment on Tonight with Vincent Browne, and why some female politicians are so scared of feminism. Here’s a taster:

What do you think are the main obstacles to gender equality in Ireland and would you agree that Ireland still has a deeply chauvinist culture and that this too is a major factor underpinning the meek acceptance of gross injustice as a solution to what is essentially a crisis of and by the richest people?

KL: Ireland has an extremely chauvinist culture. I travel abroad a lot – in Northern Europe and have a lot of contacts outside the country. I have been a Visiting Professor and I work with many people in Germany and in France – which isn’t exactly devoid of sexism either. I also work in Brussels. I would say that we are going backwards because in terms of political representation it is self evident. We have only 16%. The two main parties have only 15% each and it’s almost nothing. The smaller parties have more. I think there are so many factors at play. Women are too polite. We have been socialised not to offend as women – don’t be too strident, don’t be too this or that. I suppose the backlash that you mention when I raised things that people don’t want to hear is one of the reasons that women will not put themselves forward because they are abused in a different way than men are abused. Men are abused for their ideas but they are not abused in terms of their appearance in the media if they dissent. Women are subjected to sexualised abuse. I think the political class in our society has no interest in this issue and women have not been resistant. We have been too conciliatory and accepting. My view is we should have marches on the Dáil – we should sit down in the middle of Dublin and stay there until something changes. We have no proper childcare, we have no infrastructure. Quebec in Canada has a very successful, non-profit childcare system because the women went out there and organised it. The Irish Women’s Council has no money, for example. There is no-one to organise it here. There have been all kinds of backlashes in the media against women who have dissented. The have actually been called nazis – or ‘feminazis’. A lot of women are afraid of that kind of abuse and it’s a form of violence against women that is accepted in Ireland.

MC: Lucinda Creighton recently felt the necessity to preface something she said with the qualifier “I’m no crazed feminist but…” – as if it would be a terrible thing to be thought of as a feminist.

KL: There are lots of sociological reasons that can explain that but if you have a young woman going into politics who is so fearful of that, what will she ever do? If she can’t defend herself as a woman, I’d be worried about what she will ever defend. You have to stand up for what you believe in and women are not equal to men in this country. For many, many years we have had second class citizenship. I’m not saying that I want a whole group of middle class women coming into politics. I’ve always said this – if we want gender balance we want it of men and women from different backgrounds which I think is as big an issue as gender. There is research from Norway and from a number of countries where they have gender balance, relatively speaking i.e. 40% and which shows that even women from conservative parties actually promote health, education and social welfare. It’s because they are closer to the vulnerable in society. It isn’t because women are morally superior to men – I would never say that, I think that’s nonsense. Or that men can’t care for children as well as women – of course they can. But because of the way our society is, women are the primary carers and a lot of the vulnerable people in society are cared for by women most of the time. Therefore policies that affect the vulnerable are more visible to women and they are more likely to vote for policies that are supportive of childcare, disability, healthcare and education. That is a simple empirical fact – observable from countries that have large numbers of women in their parliaments. I believe we will never get women in politics in sufficient numbers in this country without some sort of a quota system.

MC: I’ve argued before that in any other circumstance where you have such an obvious imbalance or social lack it’s only natural for some sort of remedial action to be taken to restore the situation to health.

KL: We need only have it for a period of time to overcome the problem, otherwise it’s not going to happen.

MC: And yet very disappointingly women in the Dáil – over half of them – are saying they are against gender quotas.

KL: Well you only have to look at who they are, a lot of them. Many of the women who succeed in politics in this country have family associations in politics and they get selected on the basis of their family connections – and that in my view is a form of a quota. They have already benefited from the family quota and they should remember that. And many of the others have benefited from their money. I’m sorry, but there are some women with wealthy backgrounds and that has greatly helped them. You’ve probably been to privileged schools and enjoyed all the privileges of your class and therefore of course you don’t need a quota because you belong to the privileged upper middle class. So bully for you! The vast majority of women do not. Any woman from a poor community down the country hasn’t a hope.

You can read the whole interview here.

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A couple of weeks after I’d started work in Dublin, a colleague-of-a-colleague asked to pick my brains about the British publishing industry. He’d written a few books for the Irish market and was keen to spread his wings. Could I put him in touch with someone in England?

No problems, I said. If you let me have the proposal, I’ll look through it, make any suggestions I think might help your chances in the bigger, more saturated UK market, and once you’re ready with that and your sample chapters, I’ll steer it towards the appropriate editor. Of course, since I didn’t know the publishing house’s forward schedule, I couldn’t tell him if his book would be a fit; but if the editor thought it might be, the proposal would go forward to the commissioning meeting for due diligence and then….

The would-be author, a successful businessman in his, I’m guessing, mid-fifties, cut me off. ‘Oh!’ he said (I’m paraphrasing here). ‘I don’t have any ideas for a book yet. I just wanted to work with a big British publisher. Can’t you introduce me to an editor who’d just agree to publish my book once I *did* have an idea? Doesn’t it work like that over there?’

I was reminded of this yesterday, listening to BBC Radio 4’s morning news show, ‘Today’. In a somewhere-in-the-middle news item about the Irish election, the presenter made an offhand reference to ‘the end of cronyism’. It pulled me up short. Not because of its incisive commentary (hardly) – but because it suddenly struck me, listening to the end of the report, that it’s so much harder than it sounds for the nation to achieve.

From the outside (by which, for these purposes, I mean England), it all looks so simple. Ireland got rich, people did each other favours that they really shouldn’t have; this behaviour should cease and desist instantly. Even the news I’ve seen from within Ireland seems to think this is the answer. To which I say, we’re missing the point.

The Irish mentality is hard-wired to lend a hand, to try to help each other out. To go back to my author-businessman story, I can see how it came about.  You want to write a book and become a British bestseller? No problem. I know someone who worked in that field. She’ll help you to do it. No matter if you have talent, the appropriate skills or, you know, an actual concept for a book; that’s all secondary.  From an English perspective, this looks utterly bonkers. But two successful businessmen thought this was more than reasonable, and looped me in.  Sound familiar?

(image c/o Zazzle) Right, who's first?

During my time in Ireland, I saw iterations of this ‘I know someone who can help’ mentality, in different aspects of daily life, time and again. And really, the sentiment is admirable. Why on earth *not* help someone if you can? I’ve been aided in this way, personally and professionally, more times than I can count. And in Ireland you see why the instinct is particularly strong; it’s a small country with historically large families; your degree of separation from everyone must be far fewer than the traditional six. So ‘helping someone’ in the abstract becomes, very quickly, helping your niece; or your boyfriend’s sister, or your sister’s boyfriend. Something that’ll make the next family gathering beyond awkward if you say no.

The American version of this, of course, is networking, where the emphasis has somehow shifted from how can I help others? to how can others help me? A logical consequence of arriving in the Land of Opportunity and needing the support of others to get on your feet, I suppose. But in Britain, where nepotism is a fate right up there with queue jumping, cronyism isn’t a close cousin of, well, helping your cousin. It’s wrong. And it’s absolutely not something you want in business.

We all know that whatever went on on that golf course, and doubtless in countless other situations we don’t know about, was desperate and should never have happened. But my point is this. When we’re looking to rebuild Ireland, especially those of us looking from the outside, we should think carefully before we insist the Irish give up the urge to help each other along. It’s a core component of the national  character, and when it’s not bringing down the Euro, we’re all incredibly pleased to be associated with it.

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Go on, guess. Or, better still, read Tina Fey’s brilliant piece in the New Yorker about the push-pull tug of juggling a paradigm-shifting career and, y’know, a family

And whilst we’re having a Fey fangirl moment, let’s remember why we really, really don’t want her to give up the day job (not that she’s suggesting that, I hasten to add):

watch?v=eXVIwo5fLYs&feature=related

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Following Lisa’s homage to the magazines of her youth this morning, guest poster Lisa Jewell reminds us why the disappearance of some of those magazines is a bad thing for girls.

I always feel wistful when I hear about another teenage girls’ magazine closing down. The latest case is the UK title Sugar, which will publish for the last time at the end of this month.

Oh, the memories...

I can’t say that I’m overly familiar with the magazine – I don’t have a daughter and I’m too old to be in its target demographic. But from what I’ve read about it, it seems to still have the staple ingredients that most of us remember from our teenage years – including real life stories, a problem page and an almost confessional nature, whether it be about puberty health issues or matters of the heart.

The magazine’s publisher, Hachette Filipacchi, says it has decided to pull the plug on Sugar because of a “fundamental shift” in teen publishing as teenagers “spend their media time on mobile and web platforms and increasingly expect to receive content for free.”

It comes as little surprise – anyone now aged under 18 has no experience of life without the internet and we know they rarely buy print media. In fact, the only way that women’s magazines still manage to survive is that their older readership is used to buying newspapers or magazines. They’re the generation that grew up buying a weekly copy of their favourite mag – whether it was Jackie in the 1970s or Just Seventeen in the 1980s or 1990s.

Which begs the question – do teenagers still need magazines and is it just the format of them that will change?

When Sugar stops being published at the end of February, attention will shift to its online presence, Sugarscape.com. It has a significant number of users and is a place for teens to read articles, get advice and pick up fashion tips.

Teenagers, in essence, haven’t changed that much in the past 30 years – yes, their media habits have changed but they still worry about the same issues and have the same concerns as their counterparts from the 80s through to the Noughties (things like how not to get pregnant and how to deal with those blasted spots).

If anything, they are facing more pressures these days and need reassurance and someone to lend them an ear. And magazines can still provide that function. I remember looking forward to Saturday afternoon when my mum would bring me home a copy of Just Seventeen (this was prior to its funkier re-naming J-17) from the local shop.

I was only about 13 or 14 at the time and I had outgrown it long before I turned 17 but the magazine was full of articles I thought were relevant to me. Having three brothers and no sisters, I didn’t have a sounding board when it came to typical teenage problems so the magazine filled that breach. Along with the features on scrunching your hair or who you fancy out of New Kids on the Block, the magazine provided facts on sexual education and how to figure out the opposite sex (though I don’t know if any of us have ever managed that!)

I recently came across an old copy of Just Seventeen from April 1986 (the magazine spanned the years 1983 to 2004). It had been handed down to me by a neighbour who was a few years older than me and I think I got it in the early 90s. When I read it now, I’m struck by how much content was very UK specific and how I didn’t really notice it back then – Patsy Kensit is on the cover talking about her role in the film Absolute Beginners, there is a feature on Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson (who married later that year) and interviews with the cast of Grange Hill.

But there’s also a feature on having sex for the first time (including being emotionally ready and using contraception) along with a problem page mentioning issues like getting further education and grieving for a parent. In amongst the feature on how to perm your hair and the countless ads for Tampax were sources of information and reassurance that you were, in fact, a normal teenage girl.

For financial reasons, a title like Sugar couldn’t keep going in its printed form. Its circulation dropped 75 per cent in 13 years (from 486,000 in 1997 to 113,000 in 2010). However, its competitors, Bliss and Mizz, are still publishing and in Ireland, Kiss magazine is still around nine years after its launch in 2002. Its figures seem stable enough although it undoubtedly faces the same pressures that Sugar did (curiously though the website for Kiss is still under construction).

Teen mags have had their heyday and will have to move with the times, even if that means venturing online. But I hope the best part of them will stick around for today’s teenage girls.

Lisa Jewell is a freelance journalist based in Dublin who writes mostly on health, lifestyle and human interest stories. She regularly has to cull her magazine shelf. Twitter: @LisaJewelldub.

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I don’t buy magazines anymore. Not at all. Not even for the train. I prefer to read news sites, tweets, pompous novels, and the backs of cornflakes boxes; the only magazines you might find in my house are gaming bible Edge (which I nick from my other half because I’m far too cheap to procure it for myself) and Primary Times, which comes free in my daughter’s schoolbag every so often and chiefly functions as an advertising outlet for suburban activity centres. Nevertheless, I was, for the most part, raised by magazines. Magazines and my grandmother, who was far too busy baking brown bread and making eyes at Gay Byrne to teach me how to function as a modern girl-child. Everything I learned about love, life, career, and eyeshadow, I learned from the following periodicals.

I learned about boobs from The Sunday World.

Twinkle: Back in the 80s, girls were made from sugar and spice and all things nice, not from guts and determination and all these new-fangled ideas actual Spice Girls rode into town on. Twinkle was a pastel slice of placid imagination: business ambitions were channelled into teddy bear hospitals, relationship issues began and ended with naughty but adorable baby brothers. Twinkle didn’t teach me to be a hardass in shoulder pads, but it did make an army of friends out of my stuffed animals; because of Twinkle, I didn’t grow up the weirdo I might otherwise have been, with no one to keep me company but those cold portraits of Padre Pio and The Sacred Heart.

Bunty: One generally moved from Twinkle to Bunty in the late 80s, didn’t they? I remember there was a rival in the form of Mandy & Judy, which apparently was once two separate magazines, amalgamated like a papery Cerberus in order to challenge the preppy, blonde market-leader. I paid M&J very little attention. M&J didn’t have The Four Marys. Or The Comp. Or Luv, Lisa. Bunty taught me how to be a jolly decent little pre-teen, all about integrity and fellowship and lacrosse sticks. Incidentally, I only learned how to pronounce lacrosse the other day, when watching MTV’s If You Really Knew Me; a pretty blonde jock who was into the ould lacrosse learned to appreciate her older sister’s guidance, which was a lesson Bunty herself would have been happy to impart. Ah, the circle of life.

Horse & Pony: Too old for Bunty, too young for boys to start looking attractive (or even for them to be taller than me), I turned my attention instead to a magazine aimed at girls who wished and wished for their very own pony, but lacked the disrespect for the ISPCA to actually get one. Some of the boys and girls I knew had ponies and kept them on building sites, but after reading H&P cover to squee-ishly gorgeous cover for a year, I knew exactly what a horsey needed and that a building site was completely the wrong environment. Basically, I was a walking, useless, equine encyclopaedia. Luckily, puberty came along and saved me from many more years of crushing disappointme … oh, wait.

Smash Hits: My best friend, Caroline, bought pop magazine BIG, but I was that bit cooler and so I bought Smash Hits. It had longer interviews and an obsession with Britpop. Also, I was into, like, indie boys, and Smash Hits gave away stickers of Damon Albarn way more than it gave away stickers of Mark Owen or whoever it was Caroline was into at the time. Smash Hits taught me irreverence, a love for absurdity, and how to be extremely pedantic about song lyrics. And it once had a serialised interview with the godlike Ryan Giggs, a footballer. But that was Smash Hits. Always thinking outside the box.

Sugar: While some girls worried about tampons and bra sizes and The Willies Of Boys, myself and the aforementioned Caroline sailed through adolescence because Sugar had already taught us everything we needed to know. Well, outside of how to wire a plug, but I think that was covered in Junior Cert physics. Celebrity culture is all-pervading nowadays, but I don’t remember much gushing over celebrities in Sugar back in the mid-nineties – if there was, we had very little interest in it. Sugar was all about community, creating a shared experience out of the pubertal nightmare; it had so many problem pages, it is not a stretch to suggest that it was wholly dedicated to soothing the banal frettings of an entire generation. From Sugar, I leaned that sex is best when it’s with someone you’re completely comfortable with, that it’s never worth falling out with your friends over a boy, and that if your crush touches you when he talks to you, he’s probably looking to snog you to East 17’s Stay Another Day. God, they don’t make Christmas No. 1s like they used to. Nor magazines, for Sugar is set to cease publication this year. Woe!

More!: When dull and dreary became the perverted pages of Sugar – which dared to tell teenage girls that sex wasn’t automatically Wrong and Cheap – it was time to move on to More!, which was aimed at Uni-age girls who shopped and went on holidays and paid rent and Did It in armchairs if they bloody well wanted to. This was utterly enlightening for a while, though the armchairs thing never happened to me, as I shared my flat with four other girls, all of whom would have been most disconcerted had they arrived home from a lecture to find me and whatever Oh-Yeah-He’s-The-One I had at the time all akimbo in front of the afternoon’s Pokémon episode. More! magazine taught me how to tan, be sick in my handbag, apply for a credit card, and overspend in Penney’s. I realised shortly afterwards that I didn’t really want to know any of that.

Which is probably why More! was my last magazine, disregarding a brief dalliance with the ugliest kind of madness a few years later when I got sucked into the vortex of bridal publications, and barely escaped with my wedding budget still intact.

Anyone else with some lovely, glossy, print-media memories?

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Guest post: Punishment Porn

The first time I saw pornography, I was 14 years old. I was babysitting for a neighbor down the street and was looking for children’s videos for the kids when I came across a few unmarked tapes. I put one in and to my surprise, it was porn. Though I turned it off straight away (the kids were around but didn’t see it, thankfully), I went back to the videos after I’d put the children down for their naps. I was a teenager and I was curious.

In retrospect, the movies on the tapes were regular, “straight sex” porn. This was the 1980s and the women in the movies didn’t have fake breasts and were not shaved to an inch of their nether regions. The men were pretty hairy and lots of them had mustaches, a la Magnum P.I.’s Tom Selleck. The routines were fairly standard: Guy meets girl, have a bit of conversation, clothes come off and sex ensues (heavy petting, mutual oral sex, sex in various positions, The End). Nothing about it felt weird or unsavory and in fact, I revisited those tapes several times over the next few months as the babysitting jobs continued. Of course I was always careful to rewind the tape back to the exact spot and put the tape back on the exact shelf in the television console where I had found it.

I’ve watched porn here and there over the years and what I’ve noticed in recent years is how much fetish-oriented porn, specifically “punishment porn,” is starting to become mainstream. One quick browse at a handful of online porn sites reveals an overabundance of disturbing, graphic key words such as “GAGGING” and “ROUGH” and “PUNISHMENT” and “DRILLING” and “FORCED,” among other gems. Photos of women being dragged by the hair and seemingly forced to give oral sex to her “boss” or “landlord” or other “authority” figures abound. Storylines are focused on revenge and retribution; men are getting back at women for ignoring them or cheating on them or for screwing up a proposal at work. Finding a video showing a woman literally being slapped around while engaging in sex acts is easy to find; instead of being concealed within fetish-oriented porn sites they’re readily available on many mainsteam, free porn websites. It’s an unsettling trend.

Los Angeles-based sex educator, author and lecturer Jamye Waxman agrees that these types of porn films are on the rise. “I see an increase in finding the craziest things one can do in porn. That’s because the Internet has upped the ante, so to speak, regarding what it takes to get noticed. I find this type of porn a cry for attention and not necessarily a healthy outlet for sexual exploration. Of course if two people generally love being punished, beaten, whatever, who am I to stop it? But I ask this: If you love it, why? That’s what I want to know,” she says.

Physically, the actors in these videos and photos are getting more and more extreme as well. The women have bowling ball-sized breasts that leave the skin on their chests looking like it’s pulling at the seams OR they’re flat-chested and petite and “barely legal.” They are shaved completely bare and the skin down there is bleached (ouch!). The men, with their thick necks and bulging veins, look like they’re bursting with ‘roid rage, which I suppose suits since they’re always pissed off and looking for revenge! The thing is I do not know a single woman who finds this type of fury or crazed sex wrath appealing. Sure, some of us like a little smack on the bum sometimes. But find me a woman who enjoys having a man’s *meat* forcibly shoved into her mouth to the point of gagging and I’ll show you one who is nothing but a figment of a disturbed man’s twisted imagination.

Waxman, who has written and produced four erotic films for an adult entertainment company, believes that every individual has his/her own sexual fetishes and desires but that this type of physically-abusive porn is troubling.

“I can’t say what is sexy and arousing for every individual, but I do see sex as something pleasure based with a limited infusion of pain, and even that pain should be pleasurable,” says Waxman. “As someone who was spanked loads as a child, I don’t get off on being smacked around and honestly find it degrading. I’m curious if there’s a lot of this porn where she’s doing the slapping, but even when I have seen women emasculating men, it doesn’t work for me. Sex is a balance, and there’s no balance when someone takes away your power by such a jarring jolt of force. I prefer loving and sensual to this type of brute force. I got into the industry to make more of the types of erotica that I’d watch and learn from.”

I don’t want to speak for all women but most I know would agree with Waxman’s sentiments. Pornography is something I enjoy on occasion and I’m sure this is true for many women. But this popularization of “punishment porn” is something that I find alarming and, quite frankly, sickening. And because it seems so prevalent on mainstream porn sites, if I want to watch porn I’ll opt for websites that advertise “Classic Porn” — as it is so amusingly called. That would be porn from the ‘70s and ‘80s, the stuff from my babysitting days, where men and women could have sex without anyone being slapped. Call me a prude but that’s just how I like it.

Clare Kleinedler is an American freelance journalist whose work has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, the Irish Times, People and WIRED. She currently resides in Ireland and chronicles living abroad on her blog, An American in Ireland. @clarekleinedler

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Patrick Holford’s appearance on the Late Late on Friday was televised to the nation as a gospel proclamation: come see my magic works and repent, oh ye of little scientific understanding. I presumed that this would be the part of the show where RTE trot out someone to allow the audience to snigger at their conspiracy theories or visions. Not so with Mr Holford, who was introduced as a world leading nutritionist.
Lets start with the title and work our way downward, Patrick Holford, or, to give him his proper title, ‘pill salesman’, has no qualifications. He has built a business on selling supplements to anyone that will buy them. He is not a medical practitioner, scientist, researcher or expert for a number of reasons.

1: Qualifications from a recognized third level institution :0
Most people agree that qualifications from recognized institutions are a prerequisite to taking medical advice from somebody. The letters after your G.P.’s name denote years of study and examination, something Mr Holford has conveniently sidestepped.

2: His peer reviewed publications : 0
Part of being a scientist is putting your findings out there within the scientific community for peer review. This involves having every minute aspect of your findings interrogated, criticised and if necessary; rejected. It’s a soul destroying process, and why would anyone willingly submit to it? The reason scientists do this is to protect the public, to produce work based on the best evidence available and to advance understanding.

3: Nutritionist is not a protected title; in other words, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist. I can call myself one and recommend daily snickers and bottles of Lucozade to beat the winter blues. My next bestseller will be ‘The Barbarians Nutrition Bible’, brought to you by Creme Eggs.

4: His ‘honorary diploma’ was awarded to him by The Board of the Institute for Optimum Nutrition, which is an educational trust that HE founded in 1984. The same as if I opened ‘The Barbarian Center for Barbarian studies’  and awarded myself a PhD from it. That’s Doctor Barbarian to you.

Moving swiftly on, his first contention that women have less serotonin than men and thus are far more susceptible to depression. That’s quite a statement there Patrick, so let’s see what you left out?
What he fails to mention is that serotonin –which he refers to as the ‘happy’ chemical’  – is also serotonin the ‘aggression’ chemical. So yes, we have less of that particular chemical than our larger male counterparts, evolution has yet to catch up on the need for greater amounts of serotonin in males. But to claim that this is why women present with greater rates of depression ignores the under-diagnosis of male sufferers, it ignores the greater pressures and burdens on women in society and it ignores the social aspects of women’s as opposed to men’s lives. Outside of the fact that the serotonin hypothesis of depression is but a part of the neurochemical reasons for depression and correlation should not be read as causation. There are other chemicals at play in the depression etiology, but Patrick did not feel like talking about those.

Why would he say this? As stated earlier, Patrick Holford is a pill salesman, carefully targeting the audience at home, in particular the ladies. They might be sitting there on a Friday night patiently awaiting the next ‘cure’, ready to go out shopping for it on Saturday. By appealing to women with half truths he reached his market, EPIC WIN for Patrick, 100 points off the bat, uncontested by the host. At this stage I was having a full John McEnroe freak out, hollering ‘you cannot be serious maaaaaannnnn’ at the TV. Holford was allowed ride roughshod all over Ryan, his facts, cherry picked from obscure sources, citing trials but failing to mention participants, full findings or financial backing involved. For, as Mr. Holford loves to points out, there are forces at play in big pharma, forces that want to manipulate the facts to suit themselves, but that’s not the way science works. The slow but steady erosion of confidence in science continues unabated, with the portrayal of massive organisations working to keep you hooked, unhappy and dependent. As opposed to ‘Alternative Pharma’ with such constraints. No one mentions how the humble supplement is now a multimillion pound industry in its own right.

The problem with manufacturing medicine is all the damn procedures! Peer reviewed publications in general science are open to criticism and stringent testing and retesting before they can be marketed to the general public. If you want to manufacture a supplement it’s much simpler:  all you need is one small link between two things, causal or correlation-we don’t care. Bang them in a bottle, stick the ould ‘may help’ claim before any claims, and bob’s your uncle.

Minute effects based on the interaction of cells in petrie dishes are lauded as proof of the efficacy of drugs. None more disturbing than Mr. Holford’s marketing of Vitamin C as a cure for AIDS in Africa. Ah yes, Tubs, you forgot to ask him about that, forgot to mention that inconvenient fact.

For facts have very little to do with Mr. Holford’s business. For a man who claims to be interested in improving the lives of people, of making people happy, could you really ignore that this man was recommending that people avoid using tried and tested drugs for the treatment of AIDS?.

I leafed through one of the few remaining copies of Holford’s book in the local bookshop Saturday evening, with chapters about how medicine is out to get you and how his pills will cure you. While a small minority of people will achieve placebo effects from Holford’s claims, the majority will not. Yet more will be negatively biased towards medicinal treatments for depression. Don’t get me wrong, I’m just as favorable as the next person to proper help and supports as well as environmental and social interventions to aid depression recovery. I am not, however, about to throw the baby out with the bath water; your G.P. is not there to dispense items which they know don’t work.

I only wish that our esteemed Late Late show host could find time in his busy schedule to read the background check on his guests and ask hard questions. One can only hope that a scientist turns up with Tubs next week to redress the balance. Learning a little about science can save you a fortune, it can save you from false promises and it always strives to save lives. I heartily recommend Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science; it’s a tenner you won’t waste, as it will pay for itself 100 times over when you find yourself reaching for the next ‘magic diet pill’ or ‘collagen rich cream’.

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ATTENTION ALL MEN! This is an important news bulletin: you do not own the rights to football. Guess what? There are even some women out there who know more about football than you do, and I’m willing to wager that Sian Massey is one of them.

"What's that strange round object? My fragile ladybrain can't comprehend it.."

Sadly, the sort of snide sexist drivel spouted by Richard Keys and Andy Gray at the weekend is typical of many (not all, obviously) football-loving men, who scoff at the thought of women on a football pitch or cheering on their team down the pub.

And of course, inevitably Facebook, Twitter and various blogs are currently crammed with blokes thinking that they are the very epitome of wit by making patronising jokes about women’s knowledge of football. Like Keys and Gray, they’d probably bottle it at the thought of telling those jokes to a woman’s face. What if a woman had made an equally condescending comment about men being in the kitchen, the supposed traditional ‘place’ for a woman? Where does that leave the likes of Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver, Michel Roux and Heston Blumenthal?

 

I am a woman, and I am a football fan. I know more about football than most of my male friends, it’s me that badgers THEM to go to matches, and I could probably run rings around them on the pitch, too. I played at U-12 and U-14 level over a decade ago, and I would have continued to play if the team I was a member of had had provisions for U-16 and ladies’ teams. Unfortunately my playing career ended there, but my love of football didn’t. Oh, and yes, I know what the offside rule is. My miniscule brain occasionally makes room amidst all the recipes and thoughts of flowers and fluffy kittens to soak up such information.

I’ve been to some of the biggest stadiums in Europe, of my own volition – Old Trafford, the San Siro, the Nou Camp. I disappointed my Bohs-supporting Dad when I made Shelbourne my team as a 12-year-old, and I used to follow them up and down the country to matches, before work and studying got in the way of travelling. I might not be as big a football fan as I used to – music eventually replaced sport as the primary pleasure in my life. But I still enjoy watching a match as much as the next PERSON. Gender irrelevant.

But Keys and Gray shouldn’t be fired or fined – they should be taken out onto a pitch and publicly humiliated by the UK’s best women footballers, who undoubtedly have more metaphorical balls than either of them.

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