Category Archives: Sounds of the universe

It’s a question of… women being responsible for rape

The late Marilyn French has often been quoted for saying that “all men are rapists”. She never actually said this, a fictional character in her book The Women’s Room did. In fact, the real sentence is: “In their relations with women, all men are rapists, that’s what they are. They rape us with their eyes, their laws, and their codes”.

There are of course many reasons why Marilyn French’s “all men are rapists” is taken out of context time and time again. Sadly, more often than not, it’s used to ridicule feminists and dismiss rape as some minor fact of life. This repeated kind of attitude ends up leading to study results like the one that came out last month in the UK.

The study claimed 54% of women (yes, women) thought rape victims were to blame for their attacks. Over one in ten (and one in four of the 18-24 year olds) said that dancing provocatively, flirting, wearing revealing clothing, accepting a drink or having a conversation with the rapist made the victims “partly responsible”.

As for the men, one in three of them claimed they didn’t think it was rape if they made their partner have sex when they didn’t want to, and 13 % admitted to having had sex with a partner too drunk to know what was happening. (And why shouldn’t they? After all, in 2005, a UK High Court set the tone by throwing out the case of a student raped while she was drunk and unconscious, stating: “drunken consent is still consent”).

In other words, rape happens, deal with it. You’re probably to blame for it if/when it happens to you anyway. And, above all, do not expect pity from other women. This is nothing new. As the Marilyn French character also said in The Women’s Room: “Most women don’t want to know much about rape. It’s men who are interested in it. Women try to ignore it, try to pretend the victims asked for it. They don’t want to face the truth.”

When I was 20 years old, I did a short internship at a TV station. The only person there who was nice to me was a sports reporter. He took me with him when he did interviews and I was flattered when he asked me out for lunch on my last day. At the restaurant, he held my hand and showed me his press card. I was impressed (and yes, inexperienced in many ways). On our way out, he suggested we have coffee at his place, just a block away. I acquiesced without hesitation to be polite but also because I was interested in seeing how he lived. We hadn’t even kissed so I did not for one moment imagine that we were going to his place for anything else than coffee.

The moment he closed his door, he changed dramatically. Two minutes later, I was pinned to the floor and he was telling me to shut up. He said no one could hear me because the neighbours were all at work. When he’d finished assaulting me, he stood up, zipped his pants and told me I’d better leave because he had a scheduled game of tennis.

I left with my ripped shirt and torn self and wandered around aimlessly for hours before finding a train home. And I did something terribly stupid: I didn’t talk about what had happened to anyone for over six months. I believed I was responsible for what had taken place because I had gone home with him for coffee. I felt guilty for not having been able to fight him off. I felt incredibly stupid for having lain there helplessly instead of punching him.

I ran into my assailant less than a year later at a sports event we both were covering. He couldn’t understand why I told him to go away when he came over and started chatting, assuring me that he remembered what had happened between us “fondly”, as “a tender moment”. To this day I remember his smile when he said it, and to this day I hate myself for not having shut him up.

When I finally started talking about what I’d been through with my closest friends, I found out many of them had been sexually assaulted too, some in ways and at ages a lot worse. They didn’t like talking about it though and none of them had reported it because they somehow felt they were accountable for what had happened. As the eminent Dr Freda Adler says “Rape is the only crime in which the victim becomes the accused”.

And that is what women – and men – are still being brought up by society to believe. Rape is still pretty much “allowed”, the majority of rapes are not reported and of those who are, only one in 14 ends in a conviction (in the UK). It’s even widely allowed to laugh about it. There are t-shirts on sale saying things like “It’s not rape if you yell surprise”, “Sometimes no means yes”, “It’s not rape if she blinks twice for yes”, “Anti-abortion but pro-date-rape”, “Wanna go 50/50 on a rape charge?” or (the female version) “No means no… Well maybe if I’m drunk”.

One of six American women has experienced an attempted or completed rape. A woman born in South Africa has a greater chance of being raped than learning how to read. In India, a rape takes place every 25 minutes. Are these violated women (and girls) to blame? Never. Not even if they’re drunk, if they’re wearing a short dress or if they’ve been friendly to their assailant(s). Never.

Today – March 8 – is International Women’s Day. As every year, there will be thousands of people – men and women – who will make jokes about it, about obsolete feminists and about how there is not much left worth to fight for. But there is. And we should.


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It’s a question of… settling for second best

In a few days (February 4) yet another “relationship” book will hit the bookshelves – and most probably the bestseller lists, considering the massive PR work that’s been done around it.

Its “enticing” title is Marry Him: The case of settling for Mr Good enough. In it, author Lori Gottlieb advocates that single women over 30 should stop looking for ‘Mr Right’ and instead marry the first ‘Mr Second best’ who comes along. If not, they’ll end up unmarried and childless at 40 – which would be terrible because as Gottlieb states: “In reality, we aren’t fish who can do without a bicycle, we’re women who want a traditional family”.

Seen on a bench in London…

Therefore, she goes on, one “should not worry about passion or intense connection” when choosing a partner and also “overlook his halitosis or abysmal sense of aesthetics”. For marriage is not “a passion-fest” but a partnership formed to run “an often boring non profit business”. And she means this “in a good way”. (Makes you wonder how she can draw the conclusion that the only thing all women really want is “to get married”!)

The “theory” about women having difficulties getting married once they’ve passed 30 is far from new and often goes hand in hand with statistics that are just as ancient. A 24-year old article from Newsweek stating that professional women over 30 only have a 20% chance of walking down the aisle (and women over 40 years a 2,6% chance) is still being actively, and wrongly, referred to today.

But let’s look away from that fact that Gottlieb is stuck in another era. There seems no need either to emphasize that all women do in fact not want to get married at all. Let’s concentrate instead on the “settling for second best” business.

Contrary to Gottlieb, I think that women learn very early on that the “perfect man” (as depicted in various movies, be it in the role of a father or a lover) does not exist. Sure, many of us may dream of getting swept off our feet by some kind of Richard Gere / George Clooney / Luke Wilson (my personal favourite), but do we actually believe it’s going to happen in true life? I don’t think so.

We do however often fall in love with – and marry – men who are not Mr Perfect – at least in our friend’s and family’s eyes. I for one don’t consider any of the men my friends married as ‘Mr Rights’. In fact, I wouldn’t “settle” for any of them, not even at 40. And this despite none of them having bad breath or a questionable sense of style. As for the men I’ve been involved with, well I don’t think my parents or friends ever thought of any of them as Prince Charming.

The thing is though, when you fall in love, the object of your affection becomes “perfect” even if he, like every person, has many flaws. It’s not like you actually believe that the imperfections don’t exist, it’s just that you don’t care about them. And that’s a good thing. Because by the time these flaws do become apparent and irritating (and they nearly always do), your relationship should be strong enough to live with them.

Considering the work it is to be – and to stay – married, there is no meaning in “settling” for someone. It’s unfair on yourself and on the person you’re marrying. On your wedding day, you should be totally and head over heels in love. It’s a minimum requirement. (This might be easier if you don’t spend a year planning your wedding or live together for a decade before actually getting wed).

I have not read a “relationship” book since “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” came out. I think the sexist, prehistoric views it promoted put me off that kind of literature forever. I will therefore not be reading Gottlieb’s seemingly just as archaic and damaging book. I don’t buy her “women are too picky” theory. (In fact, I often think women aren’t picky enough). And I don’t support the “go for Mr Good enough” option. It’s degrading for both sexes.

I believe a woman can have everything she wants – love and children included – without getting married. I believe that “settling” for someone will not provide happiness or a good home to raise your offspring. Most importantly, I believe authors, women and the rest of society should stop viewing marriage as a life achievement award for the female gender. Because why on earth should women settle for that?


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It’s a question of… putting Valentine’s Day into perspective

Love is a many splendored thing – as is Valentine’s Day, in its own, very particular way. Being single I’m not officially allowed to frown upon February 14 because I’d come across as a sore, bitter spinster of some sort.

However, as I’m constantly being assailed with Valentine’s Day and all things related at the moment, I do think I’m authorized to say that February 14 is slightly overrated and often turns out to be a moment of unnecessary stress for everyone, single or not.

I actually believe it’s worst if you’re in a relationship. You cannot mock or ignore it, not even by saying that you’re against commercial holidays, Hallmark version. It’s unforgivable to treat Valentine’s Day like any other day. That would just seem, well, petty. And you can’t even trust your “cool” partner who says he or she doesn’t care about it, because it’s a lie. Believing that sort of nonsense causes much pouting and frustration.

The pressure is not so much on finding the right present, restaurant or frilly underwear as on “being romantic”. And let’s face it, if you’re not naturally inclined, acting romantic – or reacting to another persons romantic behaviour – is not that easy, especially not on a given day. However, it is essential to try, because you must prove that “you care”.

While I’m all for telling the important people in your life that you love them (some might even say I overdo it in that area), I’ve never been a great fan of Valentine’s Day. (It might have a little to do with the fact that two different men offered me cheese – yes, cheese – as a Valentine’s gift). Like every event where expectations have to be met, it often turns out disappointing. It also feels somewhat unnatural – which might be explained by the fact that it is.

Let me explain. Among the three “Saint Valentines” once acknowledged by the Catholic Church, not one had any links with romantic love. In fact, like Christmas, Easter and many other “holidays”, Saint Valentine’s Day was invented to Christianize a pagan celebration. In this case, Lupercalia, a Roman festival held partly in the honour of Lupercus, God of fertility and husbandry and protector of herds and crops, and partly in honour of Lupa, the she-wolf who suckled Romulus and Remus (supposed founders of Rome). The celebrations involved sacrifices of goats and a dog, and men running round flagellating women to ensure their fertility.

Not much to do with love either, you might say. Wrong. Because Lupercalia was also a kind of “sex festival’. On February 14, small pieces of paper with teenage girls names written on them would be put in a big jar and teenage boys would choose one at random. The newly formed “couple” would then join in the erotic games and festivities of Lupercalia and remain sexual partners for the rest of the year.

In other words, “real” Valentine’s Day shouldn’t have anything to do with cards, flowers, hearts and red-coated chocolate. It’s supposed to be a sex lottery. Maybe one day, it will become so again. But in the meantime, you’d probably better start making more traditional plans.

As for me, I’ll be neither depressed nor feeling sorry for myself on February 14. Despite my single status, I’ll even be celebrating it fondly as the very special day it is. I say this because my son was conceived on Valentine’s Day.

So if your guy gives you cheese like mine did on that same day, don’t despair. Something truly marvellous might happen next.


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It’s a question of… having sex like fish

Sometimes you learn the most incredible things in places you’d least expect. It happened to me the other day when I was visiting the Parisian aquarium (Cineaqua). I suppose the things I discovered are common knowledge to some, but to me it was big news.

It all started when my son got talking with a young woman working there. She showed him a fish and told him it was 22 years old. I started wondering if it was time to send our sole goldfish at home to “a farm” somewhere (seeing myself retired with it is not an appealing vision). Then she turned to me and asked if she could tell him about hermaphrodites. I promptly agreed. Having recently had to explain to my offspring what porn was, I didn’t mind leaving this one to her.

It turns out that 10% of fish are hermaphrodites. I had no idea. This particular one – a grouper of some sort – started life as a “non-sexual” fish, then became a female at 4 years old and a male at around 12. As the lady told my son: “when it gets really fat, you know it’s turned to a male”.

Needless to say, I spent a few hours looking up the sexual lives of fish afterwards. That’s how I now know about protandrous hermaphrodites (fish that first develop to males, then to females) and protogynous hermaphrodites (the opposite, like the grouper). I also found out that many sequential hermaphrodites (that’s the general term for fish capable of transforming from one sex to another) use their abilities to maintain the balance between male and female fish populations.

For example, in a monoandric harem (ok, I’ll stop using words I didn’t know existed a few days ago) – a harem consisting in one male and several females – if the male dies for some reason, the strongest female will “turn” (within days!) and take his place. A sex change to make up for lack of males in one place? Fish are genius!

As for reproduction, well they’re quite progressive too, being avid partisans of random in-aqua fertilization and group sex. As the aquarium woman told my son: “They all get together and just spurt out sperm and eggs in the water and it all mixes and ends up making baby fish” (and yes, I was forced to have the sperm and egg conversation later on…).

It turns out that sharks are some of the only fish to actually copulate. They are also one of the only species to have different and external “genitals” so you can tell male and females apart (though sharks don’t have actual penises).

Of course, not all fish swim around “spurting” their reproductive material. Some females make nests, lay eggs and wait for a male to come along and “sprinkle” them. Sometimes, the male makes the nest (a fancy bubble nest), he then gets a female in there and “wraps” around her, squeezing her till eggs drop out. Others are “live bearers” (like guppies) and carry their eggs internally. And wait till you hear this: the female guppy can “stock up” on sperm and use it at different times, so she doesn’t have to wait for a male to be around to spawn. Again: genius! (True, these same fish have a tendency to eat their newborn progeny too, but hey, nobody’s perfect.)

And last, but not least, let’s not forget the female fish that take a big mouthful of eggs and sperm and store them in their mouths till the eggs hatch (note to men: see, fish don’t swallow either).

While I may not envy fish for their sex lives (though the water element is pretty enticing and the sex change possibilities interesting), I’m truly enthralled by having found out about yet another brilliant way nature works. And I now look at our goldfish with renewed interest…


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It’s a question of… Tiger Woods and other men

Big news: men have affairs. This happens even when their wife is beautiful, even when they have young children, and yes, even when they’re presidents. And yet, every time, the infidelity seems to come as a surprise.

Take Tiger Woods. True, he’s been “outed” by no less the ten mistresses in a few days and that’s a lot. But what is it that makes this so big a scandal? That he cheated on his wife? That the women are making money on selling the details? That some of them are porn stars? That they’re all white? That he had unprotected sex? Or is it that he actually thought he would get away with it? (Did Magic Johnson? Did Michael Jordan?)

Nah, the real scandal is “How stupid is he?”. By now, men should know that when they think with the wrong head they end up getting caught some day, some way. (Especially when they have the paparazzi hanging around day and night.) Be it for a blowjob (Hugh Grant, Bill Clinton), because your lovechild shows up at your funeral (François Mitterand), because you bang your children’s nanny (Jude Law) or because you get your “acquaintance” pregnant (again, most recently, Jude Law).

What never ceases to amaze me is that not only do these men cheat on their partners, they do it without protection. Again, how stupid are they? Boris Becker, Mick Jagger, Prince Albert of Monaco, John Edwards… all have at least one “love child” (which, in some cases seems a rather inappropriate word). And across the world, there are millions of non-celebrities in the same situation (with mothers who don’t sell the story and fathers who don’t finance their child’s upbringing).

Cheating on your “second half” is most certainly a lack  of respect in the first place, but not wearing a condom  when doing so is the last straw. Not to mention the  texting, taking pictures of or filming the lurid details, or  talking about it explicitly on the phone (remember  Prince Charles’ phone conversations with Camilla?).

The question is, and will probably always be, why do  men do it? I don’t think you need to be a couple’s  counsellor or a psychologist to answer the question. My personal theory is simple: men are like children, they need continuous attention and always lured by a new toy. That’s why they also often “pass the line” when their partner is pregnant or busy looking after their young offspring. They sense the new kid in the house is going to take the attention away from them, so they seek it elsewhere. Or maybe it’s even simpler, maybe my friend Natasha is right: “It’s because they’re men”. Not that any of these “excuses” are valid of course.

Lots of films deal with infidelity, but none, in my eyes, as well at “Heartburn” with Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson.  If you watch the full movie (do!), look out for the last scene – it’s the one to remember.


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It’s a question of… Copenhagen (and media coverage)

The famous tourist poster created by Viggo Vagnby in the 1950's

Today the capital of Denmark will become the centre of the world. But as the Copenhagen climate summit 2009 begins, so does the media coverage – with all its merits and flaws.

It will come as no surprise that however important this summit is for the planet (and I believe it is), only half of the news reports from Copenhagen will be about climate change, global warming and greenhouse gas emissions.

Why? Because when you’re a journalist and you’ve been sent to an event that goes on for ten days, there will be times where finding new topics to report about will lead you down deceiving paths. Mostly, the roads already taken.

While you wait for the world leaders to find some kind of consensus, your newsroom is waiting for… news. And you can only give percentages, talk about who’s there and who’s not and interview scientists so many times.

Of course, there will have to be reports about the security, the activists roaming outside and the planned demonstrations. But once you’ve covered this – and unless of course there’s any unfortunate event in this area – well, you’ll have to find something else to report about (other than the food and accommodation being offered to journalists and delegates – which, frankly, who cares?).

Now let’s see… When Denmark was recently, and once again, elected the happiest place in the world to live, journalists from all over were sent there to find out why. I watched a few of these programs and was stunned by the naïve use of stereotypes.

Ok, so Denmark was the first country in the world to legalize pornography  – but that was 50 years ago! Still, journalists find it necessary to state that Danes are all naked on the beaches (women aren’t even topless anymore), that going to swinger clubs is a common thing (certainly no more common than in the UK or France) – oh, and that no one locks their bikes (yeah, right…). Of course, there is also always a mention about same-sex unions (legalized 20 years ago… so, again, old news) and the prams left “unattended” on the sidewalks.

When watching reports from the Copenhagen climate summit these next ten days, you should therefore expect reports about: anything related to sex and nakedness, deprived over-tolerant, over-liberal Danes who drink beer and allow their children to do anything, and probably also bikes (a topic that can be adapted to the summit: massive Danish bike-riding = fight against the worlds global warming). Take all this with a pinch of salt. The “there’s something rotten in the state of Denmark” was a concept Shakespeare invented some 400 years ago, without ever visiting the country.

I hear now on the radio that the Copenhagen climate summit has officially opened. And media coverage has begun: today, you can read and hear about prostitutes offering free sex to UN-delegates in Copenhagen. So much for global warming.

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It’s a question of… Nutella

It should be forbidden by law to have Nutella in the house. As it isn’t, I installed a personal rule many years ago banning me from buying it – except in case of an emergency. I’m trying to find what critical situation might excuse me having Nutella all over my face this very moment, but have difficulties concentrating:  I’m eating it directly out of the jar with a spoon. And, despite me putting the jar back in the kitchen after every spoonful, I know I’ll continue going back and forth till there’s nothing left.

Maybe I’ve seen too many Nutella commercials lately. You know, the ones with children and how it’s really good for them to eat two slices of white bread with Nutella every morning (as long as they drink a glass of juice at the same time). If it’s good for them, it’s good for me, right? Of course, the enlightened person I am knows about the 1173 calories hidden in the jar I’m about to finish, but I keep reminding myself that Nutella’s mostly a hazelnut spread and that nuts are good for you…

Many French people believe that Nutella is French. When I was younger, I thought it was Austrian because it was always shown beside what I believed to be mountain flowers (I had a long “Sound of music” phase). I’ve just found out that it is in fact Italian (a Mr Pietro Ferrero made the first version in 1946).

I’ve also learnt that it’s sold in over 75 countries across the globe but doesn’t taste the same according to where you buy it. The Italian version has less sugar than the French one, which is softer than the German version, and so on. But apparently, the addictive side of Nutella is common for all.

On the official homepage, it says that Nutella outsells all brands of peanut butter combined worldwide. This I find strange (my own peanut butter consumption taken into account), but believable: the three Nutella fan pages on Facebook have over 5 million members; the biggest peanut butter fan page I could find hardly has 5000.

My jar of Nutella is now empty (and my keyboard sticky). I wonder how many of these I’ve finished off since I was a teenager? Quite a lot – after all, it has always been the first antidote for heartbreaks and despair. I don’t even have that excuse today. But then again, do I really need an excuse to eat Nutella?



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It’s a question of… getting a Zhu Zhu hamster

I’m pretty sure that there have always been must-have-for-Christmas toys around. Right now, I can’t remember exactly what it was when I was a child. Most likely some TV-advertised device that looked fun on screen but turned out disappointing in real life. Like the Barbie-doll that didn’t really dance by itself or the game that only had a drawing of an explosion (unlike the real “bang” seen on television).

From what I can understand this season’s hottest toy is a robotic hamster from Zhu Zhu pets. I myself have always been a guinea-pig person, but I have no difficulties seeing the appeal of a Patches, Chunk, PipSqueak, Mr Squiggles or Num Nums. These hamsters are cute. They make sweet sounds, run around and play, but don’t need to be fed or have their cages cleaned (they don’t have one), and they don’t bite if you wake them up (probably because they don’t sleep). Also, you can (did you even doubt it?!) get a whole lot of cool accessories. Because every hamster needs a skateboard and garage…

The best thing about the Zhu Zhu hamster however is its price: under ten US dollars (or English pounds or euros – currency isn’t what it once was). So even though my son has not yet been hypnotized by a Zhu Zhu hamster on TV (apparently they’ll only go on sale in France in 2010), I’ve been surfing around the web to find one for him (and admittedly also for myself… Even fake hamsters need playmates).

Its turns out, not surprisingly, that all toy retailers in the US as in the UK are out of stock. And Amazon and eBay resellers have them at over six times the original price. So he/we won’t be getting a fake hamster for Christmas. And no, not a real one either. My mother won’t let us…


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It’s a question of… choosing your vampire

The major movie event this week “seems” to be New moon. I have to admit that I’m pretty jealous of Stephenie Meyer’s success. It has the same effect on me as Helen Fielding’s achievement with Bridget Jones’s Diary: Why didn’t I think of that?

I haven’t read Meyer’s books or seen New Moon (yet) but I did see the first film, Twilight. Just to find out what all the fuss was about. Being a very (very) big fan of Buffy the vampire slayer, I didn’t expect to become an immediate groupie of the Twilight team. No danger of that. I think the weird jumping-around-in-trees-at-incredible-speed scene was the last straw.

Of course, had I found Edward the vampire or Jacob the wolf mildly attractive – or Bella a little bit interesting – I would probably have become a Twilight addict too. But for me, the only fantasy-worthy vampire in the film was Carlisle Cullen (played by Peter Facinelli), and even he can’t compete with the all-male Buffy vampires : Spike (James Marsters) and Angel (David Boreanaz).

New Moon apparently has fans divided between Edward and Jacob. Just like Buffy the Vampire Slayer had an Angel team and a Spike team. I was massively into Spike (and unconditionally so after “Smashed”, season 6,  9th episode… ).

But I think that the reason I was (and still am) such a great Buffy fan is because of Buffy. She’s the “Chosen One”, she’s strong, sexy, and unafraid of “the darkness”. She’s a fighter. But she’s also funny and gets to fall in love and (well, yes…) have sex with hunky guys and vampires (real dangerous vampires – not the Twilight version that get all shiny in sunlight). Nothing to do with Twilight’s Bella, who kind of needs to be protected all the time.

All this to say that I am of course going to see New Moon (as soon as I can catch in on a streaming website). To satisfy my curiosity and the Judy Blume teenager that’s still in me. But I beg you: if you’re a Twilight fan and haven’t yet watched Buffy the vampire slayer, please do, starting with season 1, episode 1, and see for yourself. Only then will you really know which vampire to choose…


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