Worst Dressed

I don’t, as a rule, buy newspapers. I get all of my news from a couple of sites on the internet. One of those sites has a section dedicated to women, called Women24. I read it.

Or rather, I read parts of it. I can’t really get my head around “How to tell if he’s the one for you”, or “Get your body bikini ready for summer”, but there are articles there that grab my attention more than the traditional male articles about how a bunch of guys spent the day hitting a ball with a piece of wood before nipping off to shower together.

One of the sections I don’t read is the “worst dressed” section. You know the one; a panel of insightful humourists get together to mock other people’s clothes. I don’t avoid it because I am morally superior or too unspeakably masculine. I avoid it because I am aesthetically challenged. To me, a “worst dressed” column is just collection of pictures of beautiful women in fancy dresses with hysterically overworked captions about marshmallows dipped in glitter and mermaids with feathers.

AAARGH! My eyes! Make it stop!

AAARGH! My eyes! Make it stop!

But recently, the whole “worst dressed” thing bled over into the general news. A heavily pregnant MP attended a parliamentary event in a bad dress. The social media crowd went berserk, mocking her outfit in ways that were often very ugly indeed. And the MP went to hospital, presumably due to the strain of it all.

It was, to be fair, quite a dress.

It was, to be fair, quite a dress.

Women24 faced a bit of a dilemma. The site is strongly feminist. They felt bound to rush to the MP’s defence. But they also run regular “worst dressed” articles. Women24 leapt into the fray.

As an enthusiastic admirer of hypocrisy, so did I. I wrote an article about their articles about the other peoples’ comments about the dress.

As an enthusiastic lazy person, I’ve gone and reprinted it here. Enjoy…

*****

I’m not a feminist. I am sympathetic to the cause, but I’ve never been all that impressed by people who lay false claim to labels on the slimmest of pretexts. You are not an anarchist if you bunked school that one time and drew a funky “A” in a circle on your bag. You are not a Rastafarian if you put up a poster of Bob Marley, stop washing your hair and smoke some weed. You are not a revolutionary if you went to a Koos Kombuis concert in the 80’s and were on a first-name basis with your parents’ gardener.

So no, I don’t get to lay claim to being a feminist. I support the cause, but I’ve never been to the barricades. Women24 has. They regularly stand up for feminist issues. As, I suppose, one would expect. But I’ve always been a little curious about something.I’m the wrong gender, but I read the odd article on Women24. Unapologetically. They are smart and insightful and well informed, and interest me more than people droning on about cars.

But here’s the thing. In between articles calling out rape-apologist trolls like David Bullard, rants about sexist jokes, and examinations of how the law could better serve the cause of gender equality, they pause every now and then to find a bunch of women in a vulnerable situation, point at them, and laugh; “Look at this hideous ogre! And she was up there, in front of the world, daring to hope that she looked quite nice! Ha!”

Yup, I’m talking about the regular “worst dressed” columns that appear on Women24. I don’t really object to things like this; as much as we all pretend to be living in a touchy-feely, aren’t-we-all-just-so-caring world, we are human beings. The word “schadenfreude” exists for a reason. We like to see people fall down. We like to see Youtube clips of teenagers skateboarding their sensitive bits into signposts. And yes, we like to see other people mocked, especially if they dare to flounce around being more glamorous or successful than us.

But like I said, I’ve been curious. How do Women24, a news site with decidedly pro-feminist leanings, reconcile themselves with the fact that every now and then, they turn around and punch a bunch of women they’ve never met before right in the femininity. And yes, it is their femininity that is being attacked; in order to crack the nod for these articles, men have to go completely over the top.

I am curious no more. I have an answer. Badly.

The unthinkable has happened. Everybody else has pointed at a woman, and laughed; “Look at this hideous ogre! And she was up there, in front of the world, daring to hope that she looked quite nice! Ha!”

And she broke. As people sometimes do when they find themselves being openly mocked by strangers. The woman in question was Thandile Sunduza, an MP who made the mistake of wearing a rather eye-catching dress to the State of the Nation speech while seven months pregnant. The internet exploded with mocking laughter. Sunduza ended up in hospital.

And Women24 stepped up to the plate to do some reconciling. First up was the fashion editor, who placed one hand firmly on her hip, raised the index finger on the other, and called South Africa out for fat-shaming, ridiculing and mocking the good Ms Sunduza online. Fat-shaming Women24 does not do. But ridiculing and mocking people online? What exactly is a worst dressed column if it isn’t exactly that?

And then things got really fun. She folded her arms, looked us right it the eye, and asked the immortal question; “Since when do we expect members of parliament to look and dress like A-List celebrities? And why do we care?”

Well, part one of that question is pretty easy; that would be since at least this time last year, when Women24 ran an article called “State of The Nation Address: Worst Dressed”, which ridiculed and mocked a bunch of members of parliament. Online. For not looking and dressing like A-List celebrities. Which means that Women24 should be in an ideal position to answer part two for themselves.

Then it was the editor’s turn. And she tackled the issue directly. How could Women24 condemn what happened to Ms Sunduza while running worst dressed columns?

Well. It’s all very simple. The ladies in the worst dressed columns are all very pretty and that’s kind of their job and besides, they can get nice dresses and it’s all just a bit of harmless fun and criticising women’s clothes helps them to dress better and you can play the dress but not the woman inside and it’s all just gentle teasing and….

Bullshit.

We are the same species that packed the circuses in Rome to watch people get thrown to the lions. News sites need to entertain as much as they do inform. And we are entertained by worst dressed columns because we like to see a little blood, not because we are gently helping the pretty-girls to choose a better pair of pants. It’s ugly and it’s personal and like the Romans, we want more.

Unlike the Romans, we don’t want to see too much blood. That’s icky. That was what was different about what happened to Ms Sunduza. She was standing just a little too close and bled just a little too much.

Should, the editor asked, Women24 do away with worst dressed columns? Hell no! Bread and circuses keep the mob happy. But maybe they should change their approach. Instead of mumbling on about what harmless fun it all is, they should turn to us, teeth bared and arms spread wide as they stand over a prone and weeping actress in a ridiculed dress and scream “Are you not entertained?”

That way there’ll be no misunderstandings about what we’re all up to.

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Snorkelling lessons.

I’ve been a little scarce of late. This is because I am in the process of trying to become gainfully employed. This is not a process that I find particularly settling, so if anyone has been thinking of sending me a small fortune (or a large one; beggars can’t be choosers and all that), now would be the time.

This has not meant that my mind has been quiet; just the part that allows me to hurl its contents down onto a keyboard. Something has been bothering me a little lately, and today, it was thrust to the fore. By Vanessa Mae.

Remember her platinum undies?

And her platinum undies.

Remember her? She was the girl who inspired an interest in classical music in an entire generation of young men by virtue of the skill and passion with which she played the violin.

There are, no doubt, some uncharitable people out there who might say she inspired an interest in classical music in an entire generation of young men by virtue of the skill and passion with which she played the violin without too many clothes on. They might just be onto something. She was rather startlingly attractive. But the truth is that she would never have become famous if she hadn’t been quite good at playing the violin.

Nothing could distract her, not even a raging sea and the loss of her pants.

Nothing could distract her, not even a raging sea and the loss of her pants.

That skill was not an easy thing to come by. She started playing the piano at the age of three. At the age of three, my children were still trying to master the complex set of challenges involved in eating with a spoon. She started the violin at five. That’s when I’m planning on introducing my daughter to knives and forks (she should have started earlier, I know, but we have been delaying for as long as possible since the world is going to be a frightening place once she is fully armed).

Ms Mae’s fame was at its zenith in the 90’s. The world moved on, as it does. And so, it would seem, did Ms Mae. They were talking about her on the radio this morning. No, she has not released a new album called “The Bikini Fiddler; Vamping to the Classics”. She has, instead, just taken part in the Winter Olympics. And not as a performer in the opening ceremony.

Yup. Not content with being a former child prodigy, the good Ms Mae decided to go off and become an Olympic athlete. It’s all a bit much, really. My greatest achievement so far is managing to balance three golf balls on top of each other. The magnitude of her achievement was only slightly diminished by the news that she was representing Thailand at skiing, which is kind of like representing Greenland at beach volleyball.

What they lack in skill, they make up for in dedication.

They might not be very talented, but damn, they look good.

But I only learned that later. When I heard that she was an Olympian, she coalesced a couple of ideas in my mind. Something, as I said, has been bothering me. Something to do with sporting superstars, children, and the sort of parents who would make a three-year old learn the piano.

I’ve been thinking about these things for a reason. I am, you see, teaching my son and heir to snorkel. This involves hauling him off to the local gym a couple of times a week, strapping various pieces of rubber and glass onto him, and watching him bob around cheerfully while trying to stop him from vocalising the sound effects that accompany whatever snorkelling-based fantasy is playing out in his head (it appears to involve lasers and robot sharks).

There are not any things cooler than robot sharks.

There are not any things cooler than robot sharks.

It’s all quite fun. For us. We have lasers and robot sharks. What set me off the other day was the boy next to us. He wasn’t having much fun. He was young, not much older than my own nine-year-old. But he was not there to bob around making “peeeooo peeeooo peeeooo” noises through a bent plastic tube. He was there to work.

I noticed him as we arrived, slicing through the water like a fish, and remember thinking that he was a remarkable swimmer for a boy so young. We soon realised why. Shortly after we got into the water, he grabbed hold of the side of the pool and looked plaintively over at a grim-looking woman sitting on a bench nearby. “Can I stop now, mom? I feel like I’m going to throw up.”

“No,” was the rather curt reply. “You’re doing a hundred lengths. 16 more to go.”

Keep it up, little man! Love ya!

Keep it up, little man! Love ya!

And that was that. He turned and ploughed his way back down the Olympic sized pool. But he suddenly looked more like a robot than a fish. Fish are free.

Normally, I wouldn’t bat an eyelid. There have always been people who have pushed their kids like this. Without them, classical music would be brought to its knees, and sport would be more than a little duller.

To create the sort of people who excel at these things, you need to make them put in the hours. And you need to make them put in the hours at an age when they would rather be making robot-shark laser noises. It’s not something that I would choose to do (I have a hard enough time getting the boy to do his shoelaces up. 18 hours a week of balalaika practice would simply be beyond us), but I have never really been concerned when others choose differently. Maybe I should have been. Something has changed. Because of this guy.

TigerWoods2Getty_690

When I was growing up, South Africa was separated from the world because of apartheid. Most of our greatest sporting heroes were amateurs. Those who weren’t did OK financially. Some even did quite well. But sport and money were not what they are now. There were still parents out there driving their kids to excel at sports, but their motivations were different. They were after status. Bragging rights. They wanted their kids to be the best in their schools. They wanted them to make the national side. They wanted them to get rugby scholarships. They wanted to live out their own unachieved dreams through their children. They did not, however, want a billion dollars.

Tiger Woods got a billion dollars. There’s a reason for this. His dad wasn’t content to wait ‘til he turned three. He started playing golf when he was two. It paid off. He is, rather simply put, one of the greatest sportsmen ever to have lived.

But you don’t get a billion dollars for that. No. Tiger Woods is a money pump. He sells. He sells golf shirts and golf club memberships and computer games and television rights and cars and credit cards and watches and razors and sports drinks. He earns every cent of his billion dollars.

He’s got those sporting parents rubbing their hands together. It’s not about bragging rights anymore. Sport is about money. Big money. Enough money to make them forget just one small detail. Tiger Woods is a dick.

Shhhh! That was our secret!

Shhhh! That was our secret!

While the world was cheering him on for hitting a little white ball around really, really well, he was having a bit of a ball himself, working his way through a football team of lingerie models, porn-stars and cocktail waitresses. This was not infidelity. This was contempt. Contempt for what the world thought. Contempt for what his wife felt. Indifference to the message he was sending his little boy, and his little girl, about the value of women and the value of their mother. And it really was contempt, because he simply cannot have been dumb enough to think this wouldn’t all come out.

He must have known it would. Cocktail waitresses and porn stars and lingerie models are not well known for their discretion. But what the hell. He’s Tiger Woods. When the world gives you a billion dollars for hitting a little ball around, you must come round to thinking that you are entitled to take whatever you want from the world.

And this is what Tiger wants from the world.

And this is what Tiger wants from the world.

And here’s the thing; he was right. He’s back. He did take a little time off to say he was sorry, and did the obligatory rehab sessions for sex addiction that have replaced accountability for celebrities caught with their pants down, but he hasn’t really lost anything. He’s still hitting his ball around, and raking in the advertising money. He did, to be fair, lose his wife, but judging by the value he evidently placed on his relationship with her, that was no great loss.

But whether he rose from the ashes or not is immaterial. We’re getting used to sportsmen falling from grace. OJ. Lance Armstrong. Michael Vick. Tonya Harding. Barry Bonds. Mike Tyson. Some rise from the ashes, some don’t.

And it doesn’t matter. Somewhere along the line, we stopped thinking that we should admire these people for their skill, or their dedication, or their sportsmanship, and instead started admiring them for their Bentleys and their weekly salaries.  And when you’re caught rogering a stripper with five syringes full of horse steroids in your pocket in the bathroom of a nightclub, they don’t take away your Bentley.

Especially not if you've classed it up with a subtle paint job.

Especially not if you’ve classed it up with a subtle paint job.

We’re about to watch another quite spectacular fall from grace. We’re all gearing up for the Oscar Pistorius trial. It’s started already. The court will decide if he’s a murderer. But day by day, evidence is emerging that Oscar Pistorius is a bit of a dick. There are stories of small arsenals being ordered, of guns being fired in crowded restaurants, of assaults on women at parties.

I suspect that by the time we’re done here, we will all have received a rather powerful reminder that the steely determination required to become a top athlete, and the almost unbelievable grit required for a man with no legs to compete in the able-bodied Olympics, do not necessarily make someone an admirable person. Just a rich one.

Which brings me to what’s really been bothering me. A girl. You see, Oscar’s trial isn’t the only one that’s been in the news. There’s been another one, too. A little one. A quiet one. A blink-and-you-would-miss-it one. A couple from a place called Bloemfontein went out to a dam in the countryside, and set up a couple of chairs on the bank. And then they made their daughter go for a swim. For hours. Until she got tired. And staggered out. And asked to be allowed to stop. At which point they, in the cold, official language of the court, assaulted her, and drove her back into the water. She is ten years old.

Happy birthday. Now blow out your candles and get back in the water.

Happy birthday. Now blow out your candles and get back in the water.

Someone called the police. The charming pair were arrested. They’ve been charged with attempted murder. And the girl has been placed with a foster family.

And here’s the thing that’s been tugging away at the back of my mind as I watched small boys begging to go home and play with Lego rather than swim for miles; is she happy there? Does she lie in bed at night thanking god that she doesn’t have to drag herself endlessly through the murky waters of that dam anymore? Does she heave a sigh of relief when she remembers she won’t be beaten if she doesn’t shave a millisecond or two off last-weeks’ time?

Or is she lying there in the dark, nails digging into her palms, teeth gritted, wishing that she had been just that little bit tougher? Wishing she had powered on, setting aside her ten-year old frailty to keep her parents out of jail? Hoping she could get to a swimming pool soon so that she could make her new family love her? And as she drifts off into the sweet release of sleep, does she dream of the day she can swim a shiny new Bentley for mommy and daddy, and fix the mess she has made with her despicable weakness?

I hope not. I hope she stumbles across a bunch of people who can teach her that her value isn’t measured on a stopwatch. I hope she finds someone who teaches her the difference between enthusiastic encouragement and attempted murder. I hope she finds someone who can remind her that being ten isn’t a brutal push for the finish line. I hope someone teaches her that the limits of her sporting career should be defined by the limits of her own ambition, no-one else’s.

We would love you more if that two was a one.

We would love you more if that two was a one.

I hope, most of all, that when she is old and grey and looks back on her life, be it one of Olympic glory, corporate drudgery or domestic bliss, that she can remember a time, long, long ago, when she understood that there wasn’t a Bentley in the world worth as much to an adult as a laser-shooting robot shark is to a child. Just saying. Peeeooo peeeooo peeeooo.

Ceremony

I think it is only fair to warn you that if, at any point in this post, you laugh, you are an evil person. Your heart is as hard and as black as coal, and you are destined for a fiery afterlife. I’ll see you there.

I’ve been reading a lovely old book about the mysteries of the ancient world.  It’s filled with pictures of jungle-hidden ruins and glaring stone statues. It has been filling me with regret. We don’t really know how to throw together a decent ceremony anymore. We don’t sacrifice virgins on top of huge stepped pyramids or dance naked in the firelight in massive stone circles. We’re a bit dull.

Except for Bill. Bill is at least trying.

Except for Bill. Bill is at least trying. You go, Bill!

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Spin.

The Emperor’s New Clothes, By Hans Christian Andersen, is very nearly two hundred years old, and is still as fresh and relevant now as it was when it was written. But something very odd has happened. Its meaning has changed.

For most of its life, it was a parable about pride and the fear that adults have of standing out from one’s peers. As the emperor paraded naked down the street, no-one dared point out his nudity for fear of seeming stupid. In the end, it took a child to point out that the great man’s goolies were flapping merrily in the wind in front of the assembled masses, because children are innocent and pure and free from the social fears and insecurities that plague us adults.

Now it’s about how a skilled pair of tailors can make a set of clothes out of nothing more than words. We have discovered magic. Real magic. It’s called spin. Continue reading

The huntress.

I mentioned the other day that I was writing the occasional article to post on a local news site, and that if they weren’t too specific to our politics or culture(s), I might pop them onto 23thorns as well. This is one of those.

I have never understood the mechanism of something “going viral”. Why does the whole world suddenly focus on a picture of a grumpy cat, or a clip of a chubby but unexpectedly nimble Korean rapper dancing like he’s riding a horse?

We’ve got something going viral out here at the moment. Something unusual. It seems to have popped up in the UK, but I don’t know if it will reach much further than that. This charming young lady is Melissa Bachman;

melissa-bachman Continue reading

Tiger Tiger

I have not been posting on my blog nearly as often as I did in my post a day phase, but I have not been completely idle. I have been posting the odd article on a local news site, to try and get myself a bit more exposure. I haven’t reposted any of those on my blog, since they are filled with personalities, places, and incidents which would be instantly recognisable to fellow South Africans, but would require several thousand words of explanation for everyone else. And they have no pictures.

I wrote one this morning, though, that doesn’t need any explanation at all, so here it is; Continue reading

How to be a winner.

I have been trawling the local news outlets for a couple of days, looking for something interesting or different to write about. It’s been a depressing exercise. I’m obviously in the throes of one of those phases which I go through every now and then when I get news overload. It’s all just the same, every day. Out in the world, it’s Syria, Syria, Syria, the economy, gay marriage in the States, gay existence in Russia, Syria. Back home it’s corruption and strikes, racism and violence against women and children.

They're all just the same newspaper with different ads.

They’re all just the same newspaper with different ads.

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76. Bond

There’s something odd in the air today. Or rather there’s something odd in the news. Serendipity. Coincidence. Synchronicity.

A little allusion for the Jung at heart.

A little allusion for the Jung at heart.

I haven’t read much news this week. I’ve been a little busy. A lot busy. That’s my excuse for not responding to any comments, too. Sorry. It’s also my excuse for writing a short post today. And for global warming. Continue reading