Tuesday, 10 June 2008

We Hate The Kids part 2: you’re spoiling the game.

On the cover of every magazine, young women are reminded of what will happen if we lose control. We will become fat and powerless and unloved, grotesque, overconsuming, binging on all the drink and drugs and digestives we can get our sweaty, unladylike paws on. We’ll stumble out of taxis way past our bedtimes, flashing our knickerless crotches at unsuspecting paparazzi and returning home to grind what’s left of modern morals into a fine powder and stuff it up our disintegrating post-feminist nostrils.

If your media world consists of The Hate, News of the World, Grazia and Closer magazine, you could be forgiven for thinking the country was being overrun by baying packs of young women gone wild,’ ‘rebel mums,’ on the lash and the combined pill, vomiting helplessly into the gutters of taste and decency.

And leading the pack, grown monstrous on fame and fags and pap-dashes, Amy Jade Winehouse, the nightmare reanimated corpse of a fifties housewife, all beehive and bad behavior, cackling drug-smoke and beat poetry, brandishing a bottle of vodka and several confused baby mice in her terrible crack-stained fingers.

The spectre of young women’s imagined loss of control as cipher for social degeneration is a long established and tediously familiar one. As early as 1712, the Spectator of April 29 made explicit links between a number of ‘addictive’ substances and their dangerous effects on the adolescent female mind, warning its ‘fair Readers to be in a particular manner careful how they meddle with Romances, Chocolate, Novels and the like Inflamers; which I look upon as very dangerous to be made use of during this Carnival of Nature’.* TheFWord has run a great series of posts this week about the Hate and others’ effusely graphic concern for the mental, physical and moral health of young women stumbling through the streets of London, Glasgow and Birmingham at 4am with the lads. From a recent article:

‘The shocking increase in drunken loutishness by 'ladettes' - up more than 50 per cent across the country overall - is being blamed by police leaders on the Government's controversial 24-hour licensing reforms.

They said the figures were no surprise given the increasingly commonplace scenes of young women staggering helplessly around town centres, or collapsed amid pools of vomit.’

And this is posited as a ball-quivering social ill despite the fact that, as stated in the very same report, drink-related violence has fallen by a third in the UK since 1995. ‘Ladettes’ cause panic with their thoughtless appropriation of the cultural norms of the patriarchy, so all the more reason to frame girlish bad behaviour as a terrifying and preventable ‘loss of control’, drunken or otherwise.

And that loss of control comes back to the body, time and time again. Where the archetypal representation of male juvenile delinquency is the stalking hoodie, the active and malignant bourgeois nightmare, the image of female degeneracy is just that – an image. It’s not how we behave, it’s how we present – the ‘scenes’ we present, the flesh on show, the ‘helpless staggering’.

'Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves…' John Berger, Ways of Seeing

Self-control is presented as a physical property in just the same manner. The woman with perfect hair and make-up is in control. The dieting woman is in control. The woman with the gruelling exercise regime is in control, and maintaining that control is a constant struggle, since one violent, consuming fear in 21st century western culture seems to be the notion of western women really kicking loose, dumping that economy-serving physical self-martyrdom which represents successful womanhood for so many young women today. Not buying in. Spoiling the game.

Suddenly we’re not playing nicely anymore. The girls are staggering out of control, the boys seething with murderous intent. This is not, believe it or not, a permissive society, and to think otherwise is to entertain the notion that our parents' generation remained true to its ideals of tolerance and freedom. Britain and America are consumed by notions of shame, decorousness and a warped sexual economy desperate to bring young women, its key future consumer-base, to heel.

But we're spoiling the game. Spewing our non-conformity into the gutters of modern standards, the young women of this country, rich and poor but particularly poor, are rebelling in the traditional manner of any British underclass: we get ratarsed and we get rowdy. And what does that acheive, I hear you ask?

Well, it certainly scares the hell out of you. It's not much, but it's a start. In fact, tonight I might get the girls round for a night of loitering: we'll dye our hair pink like Lily and Amy, drink and get twisted and plan to end up with our skirts hitched under our armpits on a pavement in Shoreditch by midnight. If it frightens you, if it makes you sit up and think about what the hell happened to your dreams of a better world, then make mine a triple and down with standards.

*cited in Ballaster, Ros, ‘Addicted to Love? Women and/as Mass Culture,’ in Beyond the Pleasure Dome, Armstrong, Campbell & Armstrong (Sheffield, 1994).


  1. I understand the point you're trying to make, but women destroying their bodies because we have no way of expressing our fears effectively isn't the way to go.
    How is it empowering for girls to take on the shitty habits of men? It's counter productive to everything we're striving towards.
    Sure, it's not fair that women are expected to maintain a societal expectation of 'decorum' but getting falling down drunk is the polar opposite and is just as restrictive in it's own right.
    How can we pay attention to the big picture when we're trying to drink our male friends under the table...
    It's not about trying to live up to the ideals of what a young lady should be like... it's about making it into your 30's with a functioning body and brain, it's about not having more babies with FAS (fetal alcohol syndrome), it's about not getting so pissed you don't remember what you did for 2 nights.
    How on earth is this empowering behaviour for young women to take on? Proving we can be as drunk, aggressive and disrespectful to others as The Lads only shows we've been fooled again.
    There has to be an alternative to the consumer driven control freak or the drunken 'ladette', as neither role serve us well.
    (I am an addict, and after 20 years of seeing people in various states of chemical intoxication my experience is that the behaviour exhibited by drunken boozers is far more aggressive, intimidating, reckless and dangerous than 90% of illicit-only drug users- it's when you add booze into the mix that the issues arise).

  2. 'How on earth is this empowering behaviour for young women to take on?'

    In most respects, it's not. I'm aware of exactly how disempowering booze can be, especially as I don't drink for medical reasons and all of my mates do, quite a lot. I said it was the form of social rebellion Brits turn to first; I never claimed it was sensible.

    Alcoholism isn't sensible, but it's been with us for centuries, women as well as men. It's a burnt-out, last-resort protest at everything that's going on in your life, a political statement, and even if that statement mainly consists of downtrodden nihilism it's still one that needs to be listened to and not just dismissed as shameful, wanton tarts who are no better than they ought to be.

    Thanks for the in-depth comment love. :)

  3. "It's a burnt-out, last-resort protest at everything that's going on in your life, a political statement"

    What a lot of brainless nonsense. I assure you, no 'ladette' has any interest in politics or anything besides the most debased popular culture. If you want to marvel at the unique vulgarity and banality of modern English girls then carry on fooling yourself. Next you’ll be trying to invent a ‘new perspective’ on teenaged pregnancy, VD, self-harm or some other exciting social ill. Perhaps if a ‘ladette’ glassed you in the face for looking too long at her boyfriend (as has happened to a friend of mine) would you still take it as an understandable form of female rebellion?: a purging of repressed impulses?; a gesture against the oppressive ancien-regime? Or would you see it as the actions of an egotistical, psychopathic, pissed-up slattern who has been dragged up (no doubt, without a father) with no conception of self-control? I daresay your entire world-view would be destroyed along with your face. As they always say; "A conservative is a radical feminist who’s been glassed by a fat ladette."

    In all honesty, this article is the most ill-argued piece of rubbish I have ever read on any blog anywhere. Your intellectual frivolity is astounding.

  4. The notion of the "Patriarchy" is... well, dumb. What you have is an Oligarchy dominated by men. All other men are seen as enemies and keeping the poor men intoxicated is highly desirable.

    I see you are a soldier of your patriarchy insofar as you believe getting blitzed is a sign of freedom. What better help can you give to the rulers than destroying the lives of the ruled. It's worked wonderfully in the black community. The patriarchs must love you for spreading it amongst young women...

    I think you need to think!

  5. his is my first time i visit here. I found so many entertaining stuff in your blog, especially its discussion. From the tons of comments on your articles, I guess I am not the only one having all the leisure here! Keep up the excellent work. Weedies


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