LSB Makes Berlin Debut

I decided to greet LSB at Schoenefeld airport with a placard featuring a blown-up picture of his own face. I had all the available equipment at hand: my flatmate’s high-quality printer, a cardboard box, which I had used to carry my groceries home, and some sellotape.

The evening of LSB’s arrival, my flatmate was welcoming friends to an “All-Male Poker evening.” Though he had included me on his invitation list, he had also apologised to his guests for my sex, adding that at least I could “make myself useful by serving beer.”

LSB placard and Easter-themed welcome gifts.

I responded by crafting a formal email during work, which I had checked and improved by a very obliging production assistant. Writing to all those included in the invitation list, I mentioned that it was with extreme regret that the Poker Evening would have to be cancelled since I had made a prior commitment to host a feminist congress at the address.

One of the advantages of being Irish and odd, is that when in a foreign country, the latter is often excused by the novelty of the first.

Unfortunately as the first guests were arriving I was in the kitchen, of all places, and even worse, cooking.

I was making LSB a potato and kidney bean bake to welcome him to my motherland. But I was doing so in a highly emancipated fashion.

Of course the scene delighted my flatmate, who ushered his friends in with insufferable smugness, pointing out that I was both a woman, and in the kitchen.

One of the guests greeted me with a smirk and said “Feminist Congress, yeah?”
I beamed at him.
“Thank you so much for coming!” I said. “The discussion topics are displayed in the room next door.”

He blinked.

“What?” he asked.
“You should have got my email,” I told him straight-faced.
“I did but I thought it was a j..”
“I really appreciate you coming,” I said. “It’s always hard to get men to agree to come to these kinds of events.”

His face dropped and I returned to the saucepan.

I left for the train station just as the “boys” were seating themselves at the “poker table.”

One of my favourite things about living in Berlin is my “Azubi” train ticket. With it, I can travel all around the city without having to tag on or off and it is valid on the weekends too, meaning I can whizz about exploring the city.

In the five weeks I have been here, I have not once been checked for a ticket.

As the train was pulling into the Shoenefeld stop, a group of four young men entered the carriage. They had chains and tattoos and shaved heads and suddenly one yelled “TICKETS, PLEASE”.

Ruffians, I thought.

Until one approached me.

I looked up at him, in his torn jeans and crumpled t-shirt and thought “Are you serious?”

But he had one of those machines.

I rummaged in my bag for my wallet and whipped out my Azubi ticket, complete with hideous photo ID.

His lip curled a little.

“Do you have an extension ticket?” he asked.

“A what now?”

“An extension ticket.”

“Em.. No?”

“The zones covered by this card were transgressed at the last stop,”he said.

“Oh! I had no idea,” I said, as the door opened and the voice announced “Last Stop.”

“I’m sorry,” I offered.

“Please show me your passport,” he said.

Mother of divine comedy, I thought.

At this point I was imagining LSB loitering forlorn in the arrivals hall, thinking I had forgotten him.

All I wanted was to get away from this most unpleasant man, and wave my placard.

“Where do you live?” he asked, still in possession of my passport.

I gave him the necessary details, and avoided the question about my “police-authorized address” by asking how I was supposed to have known that “extension tickets” existed.

I did all this in a most charming manner, hoping that he would consider me diminutive and not that bright.

He was having none of it and issued me with a €40 fine.

Clasping the little slip of paper and inwardly cursing him, I ran all the way to the arrivals hall.

I saw an elderly lady dressed in a green overall arrive and embrace her dog, who was on a lead held by her daughter, whom she ignored. Then an Irish businessman was greeted by a German Paypal employee.

And finally, LSB emerged from behind the screen.

I waved my placard madly.

He ran to me.

“Katzi!”

“Wilkommen in Berlin!”

“What on earth is this?” he gasped.

“Oh, just in case you’d forgotten what you looked like,” I murmured as I took him by the hand and led him to the ticket machine, where I bought an “extension ticket” for €1.50.

LSB reading my suggested itinerary for his first day in Berlin.

More on LSB in Berlin to come.

Armpit hair or the Eurozone crisis? The writer’s dilemma

I met a girl once who let her armpit hair grow nice and bushy so that she could weed out the guys that were more interested in her grooming habits than her intellect. I thought of her yesterday as I was killing time flicking through the bestsellers in Easons. I’d picked up Caitlin Moran’s How to be a woman and happened upon a passage outlining the importance of maintaining a fine balance between the cultivation and removal of excess pubic hair. Apparently, girls as young as 12 are now seeking full body waxes. Furthermore, young boys’ exposure to porn means that they’re unfamiliar with the follicle reality of the female anatomy, which shocks them upon their first real encounter with it.

The things you learn.

I was conscious that it had been nearly a week since my last post and even though popular science dictates that the third week in January presents the greatest statistical probability of lapsing on your New Year’s Resolutions, I was determined to buck the trend and continue blogging.

So I thought about writing about bodily hair; about how I’ll be damned if I shave my legs in the winter, or about how I got my eyebrows threaded last June and that though it was very painful and my eyes were watering like a hose, when the beautician asked me if I was alright I answered that I was doing just fine and that the streaks of mascara decorating my cheeks were intentional.

But I thought the better of it. After all, there are more important things to be worrying about than the state of the nation’s armpits. I resolved to educate myself on a more sober theme.

As a result, I spent much of today in solitary confinement; having decided that I wanted to be someone who writes about the things that matter, rather than the colonies that fester in secret under our nation’s arms.

It didn’t take me long to find a suitable treatise.

With the stealth of a long-repressed id, the Eurozone crisis reared its ugly head from the back of my mind, where I had shoved it to avoid returning to the shameful and possibly unalterable fact that I don’t understand economics.

I began by googling promising terms like “Eurozone crisis”, “structure of European banking system” and “austerity”.

I decided it would be only right to set myself a plausible-sounding essay title to focus my enquiries.

I came up with “Outline the causes of the Eurozone crisis and discuss potential outcomes of Government measures to tackle the crisis”, which I thought sounded promising.

Like most academic titles, it was embedded with the code “Write anything you know about this theme and don’t forget to reference several bizarrely named academics to make the whole process a bit more bearable”.

I skimmed through a few generalities and familiarised myself with key Eurozone celebs like Hosé Manuel Barosso, Christine Lagarde and Evangelos Venizelos. I even recorded the duller-sounding names in a notebook for future perusal.

image source: guardian.co.uk


I thought I’d hit the jackpot when I happened upon the BBC’s Crisis Jargon Buster. I rushed downstairs to make myself a cup of mint tea, took a deep breath, then spent the entire day reading the list of terms and taking notes, which I intend to copy into the desktop folder I have called “My general betterment”.

As it turns out, the crisis is not without its gratifying terms. So much so, that when LSB picked me up this evening, we whiled away a pleasant half hour making economy-related puns over our cappuccinos.

I asked him if he could guess what my new favourite cereal was. Though he’s a savant, he was stumped. He knew that it used to be Aldi’s own-brand strawberry crisp but I told him that was old news.

My morning victual of choice was now … “Credit crunch”.

His groan was nothing on the one I had let out when I reached the letter “H” in the jargon buster glossary. Wedged defiantly between “Glass-Steagall” and “Hedge fund” was the word “haircut”.

And it didn’t refer to armpits.

Such are the dilemmas I’m facing as I embark on another year of blogging. Do I write about my savant boyfriend, who generates hundreds of hits, or about the war in Iraq or the meaning of “art” , which fewer people want to read about?

Should journalists give the public what it should want, or what it does want? Is it more important to inform or to entertain?

What do you think?

On pens and penises

Meet Gilbert and Gubar; two ladies whose collaborative feminist treatise The Madwoman in the Attic opens with the question “Is the pen a metaphorical penis?”

I’ve had a long look at my black felt tip. It doesn’t appear virile- though of course that ejaculation might be premature.

For decades, academics and journalists have been considering women’s place in the world. They have been characterised as angels, whores, monsters and mothers. In the name of progress, their gift in writing has been likened to a product of the male reproductive organ.

In western society, traditional notions of a woman’s place in the home have become taboo. Of late, the idea that a woman might choose to become a fulltime mother rather than a professional has been rendered unthinkable.

The reluctance to accept that a woman may decide on motherhood over career advancement was exemplified by a New York Times article by Jack Ewing published last week, which meditated on the surprisingly small number of German women who return to fulltime work after availing of the government-paid 12-month parental leave.

The writer laments the fact that “Despite a battery of government measures … only about 14 percent of German mothers with one child resume full-time work, and only 6 percent of those with two”. He goes on to cite example after example of corporate bodies where only a tiny proportion of women have ended up at the top. Part of the problem, he muses is that “most schools still end at lunchtime, which has sustained the stay-at-home-mother image of German lore”.

While it’s worthwhile to draw attention to gender disparities in top corporate positions, the discourse that surrounds it – while well-intentioned – does a good job of enforcing the idea that women remain passive beings with little control over the course of their lives.

Ewing expresses the misgiving that “when it comes to empowering women, no Teutonic drive or deference seems to work”. Far from promoting any egalitarian cause, such speculation denies women the right to make life choices outside of a socio-political narrative, which subtly yet forcefully dictates that having a career is more worthy than caring for a child and that empowerment can only be measured in economic terms.

Germany is a good example to focus on to illustrate the point. Government measures strongly support the mother in the workplace – she is allowed 12 months parental leave with pay and is guaranteed her job back at the end of it. Although it’s probable that a larger proportion of mothers return to part-time work, the fact that only 14% go back to a fulltime career is indeed surprising.

In the absence of financial and political disincentives however, the fact that is continuously over-looked, is that women are opting not to return to work. Instead of being respected as free agents, those that make this choice are treated as victims of a social order which is portrayed as significantly less than the sum of its egalitarian parts.

For true parity to exist, the Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus mantra must be debunked. Ewing describes Germany as “one of the countries in most need of female talent” (my italics) but doesn’t define what he means by the term. If male and female talent aren’t viewed with equality, the prospect of a roughly 50:50 breakdown of gender in all sectors of professional life is unrealisable.

Furthermore, unless it’s accepted as equally scandalous that the proportion of male nurses is equivalent to that of female corporate executives, a discussion of gender can never be detached from a social weighting in favour of money.

Were society’s priorities reversed, public discussion might centre around the outrage that a man’s right to parental leave is considerably more restricted than a woman’s, that a boy’s emotional development is stunted by the expectation that he will advance up a corporate ladder and that the male body is no more than a military tool.

While you can’t spell “metaphorical penis” without pen, as I look again at my black felt tip I begin to think that Gilbert and Gubar might have been feminists equipped with rather (pardon me) fertile imaginations.

First-time Buyers

When 22-year-old Natalie Dylan who is auctioning her virginity on the internet appeared on the Adrian Kennedy phone show recently, she was unperturbed by the outraged callers that labelled her as “cheap” and “immoral”. She took it all in the stride of an enlightened feminist and responded with the confident ease of the pseudo-intellectual American. A graduate of Women’s Studies at Sacramento State University, Dylan’s aim is to use the money to further her education and to pursue a Masters degree in psychology with the ultimate intention of becoming a family and marriage therapist. Despite receiving in excess of 10,000 bids, and an offer of $3.7 million, Dylan is keen to stress that she will not necessarily offer her services to the highest bidder: “It’s not like an eBay auction…I don’t have to take the highest bidder. I’m taking time to get to know the guys.” Bids for Dylan’s virginity are being laid on www.bunnyranch.com and should a suitable buyer be found the service will be provided at the famous Nevada brothel, the Moonlite Bunny Ranch. To guarantee the authenticity of her claim, Dylan has taken two polygraph tests and is willing to undergo a gynaecological examination. Dylan cites not only her economic opportunism but also her charged intellectual drive as her inspiration. Speaking on the Tyra Banks show, she explained that she “wanted to study the dichotomous nature between virginity and prostitution. There’s (sic) really been so few case studies of it…I stumbled upon this article of a Peruvian woman who wanted to sell her virginity and she was offered an exorbitant amount of cash…$1.5 million.” In years to come, Natalie’s contribution to the intellectual world may be marked by the confirmation that our society has put money before all else: Brian Cowen and his social partners can relate. It will all be worth it however, when those privileged enough to study the dichotomous nature of virginity and prostitution are blessed with one extra case study to peruse. Feminism lives.   

Natalie Dylan is open to offers