Entirely Unsurprising

Hey, guess what? Pregnant women are doing it wrong again! I’ve transcribed the interview between John Humphrys and Mike Kelly that forms part of this article, because I actually couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I would say “enjoy”, but, well… you probably won’t.

JH: Eating for two is dangerous. Women have been for generations – forever perhaps – that that’s what they should do when they’re pregnant, but National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence says they shouldn’t. Professor Mike Kelly is the institute’s public heath director, good morning to you. Um, why not?

MK: Because if they do, they’re likely to put on more weight than they need to and um produce an obese, er, an obese pregnancy, and that’s very bad for them and very bad for their baby.

JH: But haven’t you got to eat a bit more if there’s another little person inside you munching away as well?

MK: In the third trimester, in the last three months of pregnancy, the woman should be eating about 200 calories a day extra, that amounts to about two pieces of toast and a milky drink, that’s all.

JH: I see. I have this image of pregnant women, who goodness knows have enough problems – some of them anyway, not all of course – but thinking, the one thing I *can* do is a little bit of comfort eating – is it really going to hurt them that much?

MK: Yes it is, the – um. Well, first off, around about 40% of women of childbearing age are already overweight or obese and presenting at our –

JH: [interrupting] – Are they 40% of –
MK: – That’s –
JH: [incredulously] – of women of childbearing age are *obese*?

MK: Overweight and obese.

JH: [skeptically] Mmm, yeah, there is a big difference, isn’t there.

MK: Overweight is a body mass index over 25, and obese over 30.

JH: But I mean, can we put it into very simple terms – if you look at somebody who is, as you say, overweight, do you say “oh my word, that’s a fat person”?

MK: Not necessarily.

JH: Right. So therefore aren’t we getting this a bit out of proportion?

MK: No, not at all. Because it’s um, a direct, um, line, if you like, a ratio, as with each pound that’s put on, the risks increase.

JH: [surprised] Really?

MK: Yes, indeed. And the risks that we need to get people to understand range from miscarriage, subsequently, pre-eclampsia, thromboembolism, gestational diabetes – and that’s very important because the diabetes often continues post-pregnancy, so the woman is becoming diabetic for life potentially. During delivery more pain relief is required, slower wound healing, potential miscarriage, foetal death. The risks are enormous. This is not a minor minor problem, this is a major difficulty. It also of course adds cost because if a woman has to have a caesarian as a consequence of having a larger baby, that’s an additional around about £2000 per delivery. [Emphasis mine, because… wow.]

JH: But I come back to this difference between being obese and overweight. I mean, *clearly*, if somebody is grotesquely overweight, then there are going to be – we can all see that, that’s blindingly obvious, but aren’t we in danger of *scaring* women into thinking “oh my god, I can’t have that extra piece of toast or bar of chocolate or something because I’m gonna put my baby or me at risk”?

MK: What we should be doing is explaining that the amount of extra calories that are required, they’re very small amount and they’re only in the last three months of pregnancy, and that’s why this business of eating for two has to be knocked on the head. What we need to do is make clear that a healthy diet – this is the diet that you or I needs to stay in reasonable shape based on starchy foods, avoiding sugary drinks, drinking plenty of water, avoiding fatty food, all that sort of thing, that’s a healthy diet and that’s what a pregnant woman should eat, that’s what a woman before she gets pregnant should eat and that’s what she should eat afterwards. It’s the standard advice on diet and nutrition that we’ve been giving for forty or thir- forty years or so. Nothing in that regard has changed. The myth about eating for two is one that needs to be knocked on the head, as is the idea that they need to do the same when they’re breasfeeding – they *don’t* – a small amount of extra calories during breastfeeding, the natural bodily processes will take care of it. We need to alert health professionals as much as anybody that this is a significant problem.

JH: Professor Kelly, thank you very much indeed.

I’m a skeptical soul, but I’m also running a temperature, so I’m not about to do any sums for you. Not even to prove how awesome I am. I have, however, found the guidance from NICE, which contained the statistics that Mike Kelly was quoting:

“At the start of pregnancy, 15.6% of women in England are obese (Heslehurst et al. 2010).”

“About half of women of childbearing age are either overweight (BMI 25–29.9 kg/m²) or obese (BMI greater than or equal to 30 kg/m²) (The NHS Information Centre 2008).”

Personally, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that women who are “obese” have a higher risk of having a caesarian delivery in part because their doctors think they ought to have one because they’re “obese”. Not because they actually needed one.


The Feminist Crystal Ball Was Accurate, As Usual

So, you might remember me getting hugely fucked off  a week or so ago because of the whole ha-ha-Roman-Polanski-rapes-children thing on Have I Got News For You. If you’ve got a very good memory, or if you scroll down to the post before this one, you might also remember that I complained, and that I was taking bets as to what kind of response I’d get. It turns out, in fact, that the email I got was less full of bingo-squares than I expected, but there has to be a winner in the what-the-BBC-said competition, and that winner is Cim, who suggested a variant on “the show caters to a broad audience and so not everything will appeal to everyone”.

For a bit of perspective, I’m posting up the complaint I wrote.

“The “joke”, a throwaway comment – which appeared to be scripted – was made by Alexander Armstrong in relation to Roman Polanski’s new film. Aparently, “it comes out with a fifteen rating but Polanski swears it was an eighteen”.

There is nothing funny about the rape of a child. There’s nothing funny in knowing that as a girl, or a woman, you have over a 1 in 5 chance of being sexually assaulted. There’s nothing funny about knowing that if you are raped, you have only a 6% chance of seeing your rapist convicted for his crime, and there’s nothing funny about Roman Polanski being one of those men, and *still* evading punishment.

And there’s certainly nothing funny about being reminded of this while trying to relax in the evening by watching Have I Got News For You.

I expect better of the BBC.

I don’t expect to find all of the jokes made on HIGNFY funny. I *do* expect that they won’t normalise rape by diminishing its gravity. That’s harmful to everybody.”

It was a difficult thing to write, and I struggled to express the way I felt in terms that could be understood by somebody who hasn’t taken Feminism 101. But either I failed, or the BBC failed to engage with the problem I had with the “joke”, because the line that won Cim the bet, just after the pleasantries, was: “As the BBC is a public service financed by the licence fee it must provide programmes which cater for the whole range of tastes in humour.”

Would you like the whole email? I bet you would. Have the whole email:


“As the BBC is a public service financed by the licence fee it must provide programmes which cater for the whole range of tastes in humour. We believe that there is no single set of standards in this area on which the whole of society can agree, and it is inevitable that programmes which are funny to some will occasionally strike others as poor. The only realistic and fair approach for us is to ensure that the range of comedy is broad enough for all viewers to feel that they are catered for at least some of the time.

Nevertheless, feedback like your own helps to inform the discussion about a programme’s tone and content and the reactions of our audiences are closely studied by our producers and senior management to ensure the right judgement is being made about what is acceptable to the audience in general.

With your complaint in mind I can assure you that I’ve registered your comments on our audience log. This is the internal report of audience feedback which we compile daily for all programme makers and commissioning executives within the BBC, and also their senior management. It ensures that your points, and all other comments we receive, are circulated and considered across the BBC.”

I’m struggling now with how (or whether) to respond to this. I don’t want to leave it, really, because I feel as though they’ve ignored the important part – the part about how it’s really not nice to be reminded about how prevalent rape and rape culture is. If anybody has any advice about how (or whether) I should respond, please, let me know. I write a lot, but right now, I’m not sure I have the words.


You Know What Seems Like A Bad Idea?

This. This seems like a bad idea.

“This” being the government pushing ID cards on young people (16 – 24) in London.

Why is it a bad idea? Because the government getting involved with IT in general and databases in particular inevitably involves a huge bill, a shitty contract that they don’t bother reading the small print for, and fuck ups. Monumental fuck ups.

One spelling mistake. That’s all it would take. One number getting switched with the one next to it. And then – what? Do I want to run the risk of my iris being mistaken for somebody else’s? How on Earth would you get that kind of problem fixed? I can imagine the levels of beaurocracy now.

“Your ID card says this.”

“It’s wrong.”

“But it says this!”

“It’s still wrong.”

“But – “

And so on, ad infinitum.


Or worse:

“Your ID card says this, and it can’t be wrong. Stop wasting our time. Get out.”


And, because I have fairly recently been a teenager in London, it’s wrong for a simpler, less political reason too. Nobody will actually accept the fucking cards. Remember the PASS Scheme? Remember? Remember how nobody ever, ever accepted those? How all the small shops had signs up saying it was a passport or driver’s liscence only? Remember that? Remember how 30 quid is a lot of money for a seventeen year old – fuck, it’s a lot of money to me!

Their FAQ says: “Retailers have the problem of trying to identify what is a genuine proof-of-age card versus a fraudulent one. With a PASS accredited card they will instantly know it is genuine when they see the unique PASS hologram.”

Hahahahahahahaa. No.

What actually happens is that small retailers say “you know what? Since there’s virtually no difference between the real one and the fake, we just won’t accept any of them. That real one – or indeed that fake one – you just bought? Yeah, that was a waste of your money. And I’m still not selling you that cider.”


So. Why should the new ones be any different? Apart from the fact that they want more of your personal information, which they promise cross their hearts and hope to be spanked till their bottoms go purple that they won’t sell to anybody else. Honest.


This frightens me.


It also reminds me of something else.

When I was seventeen, and studying for my A-levels, one of said A-levels was Spanish. And our teacher decided that we should go as a class to the Curzon Soho, a self-described art-house cinema, which regularly screened foreign language films. So off we went, all five of us! And afterwards – since everybody but me was 18, and I chose not to inform them that I wasn’t – they decided that a drink would be a nice idea. Well, it would have been. If they hadn’t chosen Walkabout, and if it hadn’t been late enough in the night for the bouncers to be outside, and if they hadn’t ID’d everybody.

I, of course, had “left my passport at home”. Which, you know, was pretty wise, since it proved I was underaged. They wouldn’t let me in. And my teacher went off on a rant about how this was England! And how dare they make people carry around their passports in a democracy?! Didn’t they (the bouncers) know that it was a slippery slope?! With acompanying hand-waving. Well, more flailing, actually. I think we all left. We certainly didn’t get in. Not that that will come as a shock to anybody. And of course, the bouncers were only doing their jobs, and were right to do so, even if I didn’t appreciate it at the time. They could’ve been fined something stupid for letting me in without ID.

But my teacher was Portuguese, and furious. He’d lived in a dictatorship, after all. And perhaps one of the most important things I learned from him (other than that if you want good grades you should damned well work for them, and if you want to be lazy, fine, but don’t come crying to him for extra help a week before the exam) was that you shouldn’t make people identify themselves as a routine. That it’s none of your business, and can in some cases lead to tyranny.



Thank You, Captain Obvious

Cat wears paper hat with "cat" written on it. Caption reads "thank you, Captain Obvious".

The BBC informs us that the divorce rate in England and Wales is now the lowest it’s been for 29 years:

“Ayesha Vardag, a divorce lawyer involved in a landmark court win last year over a pre-nuptial agreement, said: “Our experience is that fewer couples are divorcing because fewer are marrying.””


Well, That Didn’t Take Long, Did It?

Yesterday, I said that we should none of us feel safe if France goes ahead and bans muslim women from wearing veils. And now?

Should the UK ban the Muslim face veil?” asks the BBC.

I suppose I should feel grateful that they’ve presented ‘both sides’ of the ‘debate’. Objectively.

Actually, fuck that. You’ve never got an obligation to present ‘both sides’, especially when one of those ‘sides’ includes UKIP.


Filed Under “Things That Make Me Feel Unsafe”

Via the BBC website (which has only just caught up with the news that radio 4 gave me a few days ago):

“A French parliamentary committee has recommended a partial ban on women wearing Islamic face veils…. The BBC’s Hugh Schofield, in Paris, says the reasoning behind the report is to make it as impractical as possible for women in face veils to go about their daily business.”

This is nonsensical. Worse. It’s dangerous.

Not because of OMG TERRORISTS either. It’s dangerous because this is a law specifically designed to target women from the “wrong” religion. It’s as though France – which feels predominantly christian, whatever bollocks they spout about being secular; there’s a reason they do bugger all on a Sunday – has, in a fit of masculine posturing, metaphorically shaken its fist at Islam, saying “well, muslim men, we don’t like you, so we’re going to persecute your women!”

I could analyse this to death, but I’m going to stop here, pausing only to say this:

When a country as rabidly invested in the democratic model as France is can create laws like this, that affect women, and only women, when the rulers of that kind of a nation recall that yes, they are still, after all, a patriarchy, and they can still legislate the ways they think women should dress and behave, then we are none of us safe.


Spot The Difference:

Back in February, Carol Thatcher, a white woman, referred to a black man as a “golliwog”, backstage at the BBC’s The One Show, in a private conversation between her and a white man. She was subsequently sacked from the show, though she was still able to appear on the Andrew Marr Show afterwards and further display her racism.

Fast forward to this month, October, and Anton Du Beke calls his dancing partner on Strictly Come Dancing – a mixed-race woman, Laila Rouass, a “paki”, also backstage, also in a private conversation, but this time between him and Ms. Rouass. This time, the BBC is “standing by” their foul-mouthed liability.


The BBC justifies this on the grounds that Du Beke has apologised. To be fair to the man, he has indeed apologised. It’s a shame he had to spoil it by clarifying it by insisting that “I am not a racist and … I do not use racist language“. It makes one wonder what it is he’s apologising for. The rest of it boils down to him saying that he didn’t intend to be offensive; that he accepts it’s an offensive term; that he didn’t think about how others would react; and that he’s sorry if he’s offended anybody. So it’s a fairly standard industry non-apology, really – bar the part where he accepts that it’s offensive, which most non-apologies don’t do.

Frankly, in some ways I prefer to deal with people like Carol Thatcher, who at least own their racism. She didn’t give the BBC a choice – it would have been very difficult for them not to sack her. Somebody like Du Beke, though – well, as I see it, the BBC are acting like that parent in the playground, who, when they see their precious spawn kick the crap out of you, tells said spawn in a sing-song voice to “say sorry and play nicely“, and then takes the muttered “sorry… that you weren’t strong enough” as a sign that everybody is the best of bestest friends again.


And, being the nasty suspicious person I am, I have to wonder whether it’s really the apology that’s made the difference.

You know, since Carol Thatcher’s a woman in her fifties – practically retirement age for women at the BBC – who insulted a man, and Anton Du Beke is only 43, and, more importantly, a man who insulted a woman.


Thought Of The Day

As I have mentioned over at the Sheffield Fems site, I remain infuriated by Carol Thatcher. First for being racist, then for not apologising, then for taking the opportunity to really rub our noses in her racism. However, I suspect I have not conveyed this as well as I could have done. Therefore, anybody wishing to read a more coherent take on why Carol Thatcher is obnoxious should go to visit Mar at The Mongoose Chronicles. Fly, my pretties!


Won’t Somebody PLEASE Think Of The Children And Their Working Mothers…

There are some things that really make me appreciate having a feminist partner. Like his now well-developed habit of turning to me, deadpan, and exclaiming “OMG! Shoez!”. And, more specifically for this post, his habit of telling me when something particularly bizarre has made it into his personal radar. Like this story.

J: Have you seen the news story about how working mothers are destroying children?

Me: Um.. no, I’ve been watching snow all day.

J: It was on TV earlier and I just wanted to stand up and shout “WHAT?!!!”. *pause* Well, actually, I did shout “WHAT?!!!”. I just didn’t stand up.


So, in honour of the story meriting standing up to shout, I thought I’d dissect it a little.

First off, the full report can be found here. I started looking at it thinking that the BBC had cherry-picked the most news-worthy snippets. And, in a way, they have. Most of the report summaries seemed sensible and reasonable in content, and for six out of the seven categories (friends, lifestyle, values, schooling, mental health and inequalities) there was little to object to. Perhaps a seemingly spurious statistic in the friends category – that “for women [the age at which they had their first sexual experience] dropped from 21 in 1953 to 16 in 1998” – could have been omitted, or at least balanced with the corresponding statistic for men, but otherwise, I saw nothing that really bothered me.

But then comes the summary on family.

Frankly, compared with the other summaries, I found it to be poorly written, and nowhere near as coherent. A condensed version of each paragraph of the main summary could be:

  • More women with babies of 9-12 months work outside the home, compared to 25 years ago.
  • Women’s economic independence has led to a higher rate of divorce/ separation.
  • “Children, whose parents separate are 50% more likely to fail at school, suffer behavioural difficulties, anxiety or depression.”
  • Parents should not stay together if the conflict between them is bad; but children are less likely to be aggressive/ depressed “the more they see their separated father”
  • “it is a real worry that in Britain around 28% of all children whose parents have separated have no contact with their fathers three years after separation”
  • *statistics on the prevalance of parental separation*
  • “So to reduce the level of conflict in family life, parents must give more priority to their relationship. This would do more for children than anything else.”

Got that?

Women with money = more divorce = more depressed children and therefore “parents must give priority to their relationship”. Even though “parents should not stay together if the conflict between them is bad”.

The whole thing is just bizarre. Especially since in the long version of the family report, they cite statistics from Refuge that say that half of all cases of domestic violence occur in households with children. What they don’t mention is the statistics that then say that “in over 50% of known domestic violence cases, children were also directly abused”. It is not inconceivable, then, to assume that at least some of that 28% of children without contact with their fathers have very, very good reasons for it. It would be pretty strange for a woman to extricate herself and her children from an abusive relationship, only to then voluntarily allow that man contact with the children. And, similarly, is it not reasonable that those children who have been abused by their fathers, and are not in contact with them, might indeed be more likely to display symptoms of depression?

I am not impressed.

I’m not impressed with the BBC for deliberately sensationalising a report that was, in general, very good. And I’m not impressed with the report itself, for giving the BBC the opportunity. And what’s really depressing is that, while the BBC have picked up on it, the Daily Mail haven’t. I’d have staked a fortune on it being the other way round.


Blog For Choice

Well, it’s that time of year again. We in England can ignore the specific date (it’s the anniversary of Roe V. Wade, which is of course American) but if it’s still something you believe in, why not blog about it? And why not blog about it, if you’re going to, when many other people will also be blogging about it. Perhaps studies will be conducted on this kind of thing one day. Who knows?


On the subject of abortion, what can I say that I haven’t already said eleventy billion times before?

I think this year, I’m going to go with short and sour. If you are anti-abortion*, and actually believe that simply by making abortions illegal you will stop them happening, you live in a delusional little dreamworld that I want no part of.

For those people who are a little more pragmatic and reasonable in their outlook for all things sexual, I can think of a few sites, off the top of my head, that might come in handy. Abortion Rights works to improve the current UK abortion law for women, and their links are well worth taking a look at. For more general or advice-based services, Brook (for under-25s), Scarleteen (online only, mostly geared towards young adults – but this post on rape is something everybody should read) and FPA (formerly the Family Planning Association) are all helpful.


*I’ll be damned if I’ll call them “pro-life” when I can see no respect for the lives of women in their arguments. Of course, they’d say that I’m damned already.