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Body Matters in Staffordshire

In 1999, the media fell apart at the seams when the iconic Pretty Woman raised her arms to wave at fans who’d gathered to get a glimpse of her delightful self in London to promote a film called Notting Hill. By doing so, she revealed armpit hair. It turns out that Julia Roberts never set out to make a statement, she simply hadn’t realised the arms on her dress were insufficient for a cover-up.

Twenty years laters women’s razor’s are still between ten and twenty percent more expensive than men’s despite the blade not being any sharper. One way of boycotting the pink tax is to do away with them altogether. If one does, however, it’s best if one doesn’t read the comments below any article that highlights a celebrity with underarm hair because ‘gross’, ‘smelly’ and ‘disgusting’ seems to crop up from anonymous people with nothing better to do than judge the bodies of women they are likely never to meet, let alone smell!

It was the fabulous hamlets, villages and towns of Staffordshire that had me shining lights on some of life’s quirkier differences between gender and perception, a subject I find fascinating.

First up, Women’s bodies have always been public property, and what precisely we should do with them is the stuff of real debate.

Tittensor used to be the hilariously-named location for the maternity hospital in Staffordshire. No doubt it was a place where women discussed the pros and cons of breastfeeding as well as all the pains and benefits. Interestingly, it was only in 2010 that it became legal for women to breastfeed in public so even now women frequently report feeling a need to take responsibility for others’ feelings, minimise the discomfort of others, and keep themselves safe. And yet, beneath all that is a hungry baby.

That said, about one third of women returning to work have found themselves expressing milk in the toilet. Currently about 75% of men think the lavatory is an acceptable place to breastfeed as do 60% of women.

I think it’s probably time to change that notion.

And if it’s not boobs, then it’s beauty. A sample of 5,000 students, and 100,000 grades, discovered that pretty girls get the best grades. And pretty, in this study, correlated with the mainstream; “Eurocentric”, which I presume means ‘white’’; a specific body shape, I assume slender, good facial symmetry and certain features - I’m going to assume a lack of glasses and braces. In short, not women likely to be depicted living in a witches’

Physical attractiveness in men matters not one jot when it comes to assessing their academic vigour. Less well obvious is when identical behaviour is often judged in different ways. Most people are familiar with the slag-slut dichotomy, but as I travel around my mind wanders back to a comment that had irked me for quite some time.

I was thinking of setting up a public-speaking business, and a new organiser of a local chat group had just been appointed. “I’m only inviting pretty women to do the talks,” he informed me. I nodded, not imaging for one moment he wasn’t being anything but sincere. Perhaps, I was having one of those legendary “women have no sense of humour” moments. All the same, I frustrated myself by just nodding and not fecking reacting!

Place for banging head ^^^^

Like all women, I have a conditioned response to conflict. Mine is to “play dumb, stay shtum”. It irks me considerably, especially later when I explode from the indignity, usually when the object of my chagrin has long since left the arena. I secretly envy women who can combust within the moment, calling out those who perpetuate an unfair world, and not keep it confined to academia. Although it is usually through academic study that the invisible does become visible.

“Women talk too much!” I’ve heard this one before, more than once. Former Prime Minister of Japan, Yoshirō Mori, plunged himself into terrible hot water when blaming women for meetings going on too long in 2021. There were five women executives in the forty-six directors of the Japanese Olympic Committee that he headed up. Ultimately, he lost his job which no doubt shut him up for a while.

Several studies in recent decades have focused on the time men take talking versus the time women consume. Almost all concluded that if duration is the winner, women don’t take home first prize. 96% of studies show that men speak more in meetings. Some studies even posit men talk up to 75% more when women are present than when they are in single-sex groups. It seems women’s integration into the corporate world has turned some men into gibbering wrecks.

But my nomination for the most irritating findings from research: if women CEOs talk excessively they are seen as domineering, presumptuous and less competent. Men, on the other hand, are powerful and in control.

A similar favourite anecdote of mine saw Arianna Huffington (female executive at Uber) explaining how data indicated that once one woman had joined the board of directors, then a company was more likely to hire a second. Only she was interrupted mid-speech by David Bonderman stating “Actually, what it shows is that it’s much more likely to be talking.” Now, strictly-speaking, given the above, this is true, but he intended it to be a sexist joke. Cue him exiting stage right to commiserate with Yoshirō Mori.

Interestingly, researchers have demonstrated that in mixed-sex groups, approximately 96% of the interruptions are led by men so it seems Mr Bonderman was just exhibiting the annoying tendency of men to overtalk women. In single-sex groups there are approximately 80% fewer interruptions than in mixed-sex groups, be they male or female. Who knew!

But it all balances out because “women are better writers than men”. These claims are currently doing the rounds in the newsprint. Fabulous! Great news! All those academics, all those keyboards and all that pounding away but still a recent piece of academic investigation found that “women in research teams are significantly less likely to be credited with authorship.” Just ask Joanne Rowling, not even a scientist, and somewhat cancelled by universities and pressure groups, who was obliged to use the term “JK” just so that no one knew she wore knickers. Doesn’t that introduce the wound to some…

These days we are now in times when gender is seen as a social construct and sex is obliterated. If the latter continues to be the case, it would certainly solve a great deal of problems: not least it might avert the forthcoming climate disaster as our population eradicates itself. Only it’s sort of making things far more complicated.

For now it seems like our thought-leaders are subsumed by the row between two groups loosely, and somewhat offensively, derided as the “The Alphabet People” versus the “Transphobic Bigots”. Proponents on either side are claiming to be on the right-side of history, even though it’s a present tense issue.

Anyone who has attested that ‘Transwomen Are Not Women’ has generally found themselves being marched off stage to queue up with all the other people who hold beliefs which may offend. Presently, it is not so much the times of Reds Under The Bed but Terfs Under the Berth so one must tread extremely carefully when discussing matters of women and men.

In recent weeks Nicola Sturgeon has decided that there are three sexes: men, women and rapists of no-fixed sex. She calls the latter “individuals” so at least for the foreseeable one can move in a somewhat forward trajectory given now that she has made it clear which prison one might be confined to in the event of one criminalising oneself. All the same, back in the free-world there remain some ongoing challenges. One can readily get oneself arrested for malicious communications if one slips up, and a stint of prison life for up to twelve months might await.

So let’s assume that for now we are going to stick with the theme of doing away with a binary-based society. I was recently thrilled to discover some research into society’s use of toilets. A £50,000 grant was supplied by the Arts and Humanities Research Council in 2015 to look at the way public toilets are designed in an effort to determine if they are still fit for purpose. I can’t actually find any results though.

Two years later in a fit of trying to please all the people, all of the time, The Barbican Arts Centre, London, was one of many public buildings in which “Mens” and “Womens” toilets were deemed to be an outdated convention. Instead they labelled their loos as “Gender Neutral with Urinals” and “Gender Neutral with Cubicles”.

It used to be a restaurant myth that women went to the loo in pairs so that they could talk about the meal, their men and the menu. I was certainly informed of this “matter of fact” by a male professor whilst at university for the first time. If one wanted to know what customers really thought of the food, he claimed, one should put an attendant in the ladies’ loo.

From the professor’s assertion, one could discern that men do not talk in loos whatsoever, and if they do, it isn’t about the food. At least we now know where to go if we want a moment’s respite from the madding crowds.

Regrettably, following up his assertion, I spent many an hour sitting in a cubicle conducting a piece of research. Turns out I spent many an hour sitting in a cubicle discovering that women really don’t talk about very much of any significance whatsoever. They pee, sometimes fart, mostly wash their hands, and then they leave.

Where they do talk, it seems, is whilst they are queuing for the sodding loo. It is a globally observed phenomena that the queue for The Ladies is always a slow-moving, patience-zapping, frustrating reality of being a woman. So it turns out trips to the loo aren’t a result of us wanting to concoct gossip about the men, the menu or the meal whatsoever.

It took a woman, Caroline Criado-Perez, to decipher why women’s trips to the loo are quite the expedition. First up, in the UK, floor space is equally dedicated between the two sexes: so far, so equitable. Only, men can avail themselves of urinals which take up significantly less floor space. Women use cubicles. One must wrestle their way in, handbag and all, then balance their belongings on a sanitary bin. Following this, women whip down their clothing, or up depending on what they are wearing. Irrespective, it’s safe to say most have a minimum of two layers to undress in order to do the do. If they are under 50 ish, as over half the female population is, and at that grumpy time of the month, women will use this time to do what needs to be done there too. About fifty percent of women, and almost all MtF hormone-taking trans, will struggle with incontinence issues at some point in their lives, compared to just 5% of men, and almost all FtM identified persons. All this creates, how shall we say, some knicker palaver.

Then, it’s a reverse engineering job: Whip up/down clothing, gather belongings, fall out with the cubicle door and charge off to a mirror, check facial matters, wash hands, dry hands, then hurling oneself out of the amenities.

Men, on the other hand: zip, flip, shake, flop, zip.

More recently studies have indicated that women are more likely to wash their hands and dry them using the hand-dryer, making men even more time-efficient. Nonetheless, it is the constant roar of the air dryer which is probably why many women find the toilets a terrible place to hold a conversation.

So it makes sense to give women more toilet space: just like they did in Hong Kong, where legislation insists now that women’s lavatorial floor space must be 1.6 times that of men’s.

Yet, here in the UK, we started doing The Barbican Way and designated “Toilets with urinals” and “Toilets without”. This should have thrilled Jonathan Hall of Hampshire who is on a quest to have sanitary bins installed in men’s toilets to help men who have incontinence issues which typically occurs after having treatment for prostate cancer. I quite agree.

If only the Arts and Humanities Research Council had waited for The Barbican to conduct an actual human social experiment, they would have saved the taxpayer £50,000. All that happened by decommissioning The Ladies Loo meant that men had access to twice as many toileting amenities as women.

Mind you, at least it all means women can stand around catching up on all that talking we’ve been deprived of elsewhere.

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