Monday, 22 November 2010

Wouldn’t it be great if… Kate Middleton had a job?

Okay, so my point isn’t as harsh as it sounds, but in the name of short-snappy column titles, I’m trying to be succinct. After the news last week that Prince William has (finally) proposed to Kate Middleton, it emerged that they would begin their married life in their house in Anglesey, North Wales. His majesty will go out and continue his training with the RAF and Kate will spend her time… cooking his meals.

Now, I’m not a staunch feminist who believes that every woman should sell herself to a corporate machine whilst accidentally forgetting to feed her small, token baby, but in these modern times, I feel that a future Queen consort should be relevant to the women of her day. In many ways, as the future King’s bride, Kate has bagged herself a job for life, but that doesn’t accommodate the eight years she spent sat on her bum waiting for him to pop the question. What if that day had never come? Did Kate go out and carve herself a career? No. Miss Middleton has effectively advocated that one needs to be continually on hand and readily available should the whims of one’s working other demand. By taking on part-time work for both her family’s mail order party firm and Jigsaw (the high end, high street store that friends of the Middleton family own) she ensured that she had the flexibility to be the girlfriend of a future king. She prioritized William above herself.

Some might say that obviously, her ‘investment’ in not investing paid off- after all, she finally got her guy. But she didn’t even give their relationship a chance to see whether it could function with both of them fashioning independent careers. It takes a certain kind of woman to wait (both on and for) a man whose devotion will always be to his country, first and foremost, and it’s not the kind of woman I’d trust myself to be.

Imagine a different scenario, where Kate is a doctor and they met a university whilst she was completing a degree in Medicine. Would she be in the position she is now? It would take a brave woman to find out, but at least she’d be self-sufficient and ready to earn her own living should the Prince she’d been dating decide to gallop off and spread his royal seed.

Women (and men) may choose not to work for a variety of reasons: disability, looking after children, being in the midst of a career change and illness to name but a few. But Kate’s mistake has been to dismiss the notion of building up her own career whilst being very well placed to do so. Hardly unemployable, Kate graduated with a 2:1 in History of Art from the University of St. Andrews. She is attractive, articulate and well-connected, so how did a girl from a rags-to-riches Berkshire family manage to dismiss any prospects of a potentially flourishing career? Pretty and prim does not a modern royal make. Whilst I will forever be in awe of THAT blow-dry and THAT Sapphire-hued Issa dress, I would want to feel like I had chosen my partner, instead of them choosing me because I had preened myself to mirror his ideas of perfection.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Review: Riptide Vol. 6

It’s not often that a university is lucky enough to be home to its own creative writing journal but, here at Exeter, we are blessed with not only a series which publishes writers from the South West and beyond, but an astoundingly good one at that.

Riptide is now into its sixth volume and still growing. Edited by Ginny Baily and Sally Flint, this volume of Riptide is something of a unique project and presents the ten short stories that were shortlisted in the Riptide International Competition for young adult fiction 2010. The competition was judged by the university’s own, Philip Hensher, and also contains his introduction. The book was launched on 2nd November at Exeter Central Library as part of the Exeter Children’s Literature Festival, where prizes were also given to the authors of the top three stories and the winner of the Reader’s Prize.

Although these are stories for young adults, their richness and diversity is testament to the fact that good fiction is universal. Even Philip Hensher admitted at the launch that it took him a while to realise that this was in fact a competition for young fiction targeted at people aged 12+. Indeed the editors believe that ‘What unites [the stories] and sets up an echo between them is the youthful nature of all the protagonists struggling to find their path in worlds where adults don’t always hear their voices’. As a student, it can be incredibly nostalgic to look back at what seems so near, and yet is buried in past childhood memories and I found the stories to be both sensitive and complex enough for the older reader.

The stories themselves are at once hypnotic and beautiful, unnerving and thought-provoking. The winning story overall was Belfast author Sheena Wilkinson’s ‘What You Will’, a hilarious and frightfully cringing account of a group of teenagers putting on a performance of Twelfth Night at their school, which had me giggling in the solitude of the library. The short tale lets us into the life of Jordan, whose teenage crush spirals into a heady whirlwind of obsession and vodka: ‘I smelt his breath, Pringles and beer. My heart pounded.’

Second prize went to Amy Shuckburgh for her heart-rending story ‘The Lifeguard’. Annie’s Dad has been hospitalised with a serious throat problem and the story reflects on the need for family, strength and care, in all areas of life. My personal favourite, however, was ‘Kite Season’ by Anita Sivakumaran. An account of the uniquely bittersweet and competitive relationship that exists between brother and sister, ‘Kite Season’ is set in the tamarind groves of India, As Anand attempts to build the strongest kite, his sister is forced into the role of assistant, hanging from her bullying brother’s every words. The luscious language coupled with the grappling humility of sibling rivalry is conducive to a story that is both rich and poignant. Thankfully, karma reigns supreme as the narrative closes and Anand’s kite reaches an inevitably perilous fate.

I could go on about every story. Each one exemplifies the craft of the creative writer and each captures the imagination of the reader so completely in such a way that I didn’t think possible for stories as short as seven or eight pages. The stories in the volume represent the versatility of the short story form, the potential for discovery and the scope of human emotions. As Philip Hensher says in his introduction, ‘They are about very different sorts of people, and very different ways of life’ and we should relish the diversity that this volume of Riptide allows us to experience.

Copies of Riptide can be bought from the Guild Shop in Devonshire House, Blackwells on campus or online at

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Six Degrees of Separation

Six Degrees of Separation: The sky’s the limit for the platform of social media

Six Degrees of Separation refers to the idea that every single human being on the planet is connected to every other human being by a maximum of six steps.

Put to the test by the omnipresence of Facebook, the phenomenon has come under much scrutiny. One could argue that population growth might cause six to become seven and so on, but this depends on the rate of people joining Facebook compared with the rate of population growth. Even so, should it hold to be true, the sky should indeed be the limit for advertisers looking to capitalize on the platform of social media, as no potential customer should ever be any more than six people away.

But how can companies ensure that the messages that they put out are not just skimmed past by five out of the six degrees? And just because someone is a ‘mutual friend’ does it mean that they are a genuine acquaintance or merely an ubiquitous ‘Facebook friend’? The Six Degrees of Separation is a useful tool, but on Facebook, where the nature of a friend is too arbitrary to rely on and where pages are so saturated with advertising that one can barely distinguish between promotions, it takes something piercingly novel to capture the attention of the fickle young things of today.

The key is in the relevance. Despite the possibilities that the theory discloses, the Six Degrees of Separation doesn’t target specific audiences, and as we all know, blanket communication is not the way forward. Businesses who engage with social media need to take a flexible approach to advertising and not indulge in the draw of reaching everyone via six links in the chain, tempting as it may be.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Feminism is a fantasy for the sex-obsessed culture of today

As any man will testify, women can be a fickle bunch. However, it really shouldn’t be like this. A recent survey found that 63% of women would rather be a glamour model than a doctor, nurse or teacher- surely insurmountable evidence that the female population is devoted to the pleasure our male compatriots. Fulfilling the fantasies of men has become something that women are more than adept at, but what we don’t realise is that through these aspirations, we’re not emancipating anyone or anything other than the libido of the guy who has turned with brooding anticipation to page three.

It’s a very sad, sorry situation when young women make efforts to distort their bodies and personalities into a male fantasy. What’s worse is that the media perpetuate this sordid image of what women should find inspirational. Let’s take a closer look at the very paradigm of what we shamefully call a modern feminist icon: Katie Price. A woman who gallops around on horses that she transports in a pink bus, with enough filler in her face to prevent even the vaguest of genuine emotions. A woman who made her name by undressing for the satisfaction of men and spending more money on plastic surgery than most people earn in a lifetime. ‘Inspiration’, they say, ‘girl power’. Girl power invoked by a pseudo-celebrity who spends more time splashing her children and personal life over the cover of cheap magazines. But ‘she’s making it in a man’s world’, I hear you cry, ‘she’s a modern businesswoman’. Yes, Price is shrewd, cocky and irrevocably canny, but the bravado isn’t even her own. Her management team are the brains behind the money making, Price herself is a mere puppet.

Contemporary celebrity cheapens what spirited women fought for years before silicon was even invented and the feminist fantasies of today are creating a disappointing culture of pseudo-empowerment. But we’ve become so good at artificially creating the male fantasy that it’s more of a commodity now than it ever has been. Women today seem to think that empowerment can be derived from enslaving men. But we need to learn that reducing men to their base instincts does not constitute power or intelligence, nor does it produce a society based on equality. Sadly, Price’s female fans worship her for being ‘real’, yet I am irretrievably led to ask what is so real about her? A life devoted to the camera lenses of ageing paparazzi? A body that needs continuous maintenance to keep the pennies coming in? This is a female selling herself, and the image that is purveyed only makes any money because it succeeds in gratifying males.

Purely for the purpose of investigative research, I found myself repeatedly watching What Katie Did Next, the addictively trashy reality TV show that documents Price’s life with her new husband, cage fighter Alex Reid. Watching her attempt to fathom the location of Dublin whilst attempting to remain in a state of concentration for the duration of her online IQ test exemplified the profound despair that I feel whenever I hear anyone deeming a plastic, processed, overly-lacquered female an icon. You don’t have to be a staunch feminist to see that Price manifests a mainstream culture sodden with pornographic values. Other, though not quite so explicit, members of this proud 21st century version of the Women’s Institute include Kelly Brook, The Saturdays and tirades of footballers’ wives and soap ‘stars’.

As a society we must ensure that young women start to believe that their futures rest on the talents of their brains and not their bodies. Women like Camila Batmanghelidjh, founder of support charity Kids Company or Carol Bartz, Chief Executive of Yahoo need to be celebrated because they embody the sentiment that flesh should not and need not equal success. They don’t need anyone to leer at them to ensure their salary and they use their talents to give back to society and provide important services worldwide. Satisfying the domestic and sexual appetites of males has too long been the aspiration of women, it’s time for empowerment to mean more than a plastic fantasy