It’s not our health that concerns you, guys. It’s women having fun | Barbara Ellen


Has the World Health Organization met any women before? On such occasions, are its representatives dismayed that women aren’t lowering their eyes and curtsying?

I only ask, because part of the WHO’s draft global alcohol action plan for 2022-2030 reads like something you might have found nailed to a church door in medieval times. Among other things, it recommends no drinking for “women of childbearing age”. At first, I misread it and thought it was advising against drinking for pregnant women or any woman who wished to become pregnant in the near future. But no, the WHO advice is for all women of “childbearing age”. That women must turn away from their wine and vodka jelly shots in order to… what? Prep for the glory of their gestational futures? Preserve their uterine integrity? Go full Gilead, accept they’re not fully human and embrace their God-given destiny as walking, talking vessels for wombs?

The WHO has been slammed as sexist and paternalistic, which sounds about right. Sure, there’s a humorous side to this. (We’re British. Take away alcohol and what sex do we have anyway?) But the WHO advice is inherently problematic and verges on sinister. There’s the narrow-minded presumption that all women want to have children when some women don’t. It’s unscientific to focus solely on alcohol when myriad factors play into fertility. Nor does it make sense to focus only on female drinking, as it is now believed that male alcohol intake has an effect on fertility and foetal health.

There’s also the distinct whiff of judgment about female lifestyle choices, which in turn taps into a deeply entrenched societal need to control the behaviour of women, who have always been held in far greater contempt for drinking. Whenever there are news reports on new year revellers or marauding British tourists, it’s striking how many more photos of intoxicated women are used and how sexually impure and compromised they’re made to look, with skirts hitched up and bra straps showing.

Even today, it appears to be accepted that “nothing is as disgusting as a drunk woman”. Really – nothing? Astonishingly, for all the feminist advances, this misogynistic credo is also frequently accepted without question by women – sneering at other women – as much as it by men. Nor does it always come from concern for the safety of inebriated women at the hands of predatory men. Too often, it’s about women being mass-groomed to police one another.

In this way, the WHO advice stops being only about health. After all, most pregnant women, or women who wish to become pregnant, could be trusted to make the right choices without any stern talk of “prevention”. On some unspoken level, it’s about the levels of purity, and modesty expected even, of 21st-century womanhood. The message: women, if you dare to enjoy yourselves, you will be punished and you will be judged.

Has Ronaldo burst the sponsors’ bubble?

Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo: not a Coke fiend. Photograph: Reuters

I take it that Cristiano Ronaldo doesn’t want to teach the world to sing? The Portugal captain moved two bottles of Coca-Cola away at a Euro 2020 press conference, saying “agua” (water). The action briefly knocked £2.8bn off Coca-Cola’s market value and Uefa said it would fine teams if sponsors were treated disrespectfully. Ukraine’s Andriy Yarmolenko was among those to make light of this, moving bottles of Coca-Cola and Heineken closer, saying: “Please contact me.” England’s Gareth Southgate and Harry Kane refused to join Ronaldo’s protest – I suppose you could say they bottled it. (The Observer’s sponsors would like me to apologise for that joke.)

All this has been heralded as a watershed moment, not only for the dark art of sports advertising product placement, but also for star player rebellion-cum-activism. Anti-obesity groups praised Ronaldo for using his influence to promote health consciousness, which is understandable. There are millions sloshing around sports advertising and many children who would be better off being steered clear of sugary drinks by players they admire.

Still, it’s got to raise a smile that, by moving around some bottles, Ronaldo could end up cast as an anti-consumerist living saint. Ronaldo is a multimillionaire, earned not just from playing football, but also from sponsorships. Moreover, he has half-a-billion social media followers – his Instagram posts command up to a $1m. Think of him as a Kardashian in football shorts. Is he principled or just so stinking rich that he thinks he can do what he wants? Ronaldo’s stance against sugary drinks is commendable, but, when it comes to sports-based consumerism, he’s very much a player.

Never fear, Matt, Rees-Mogg is here to save your honour

Jacob Rees-Mogg
Agony uncle: Jacob Rees-Mogg. Photograph: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA

Do you know what I like to see? Politicians being sweet and loving towards each other. Dominic Cummings has once again unleashed his alter ego – the Phantom Whistleblower of Westminster. Cummings has fired new terror texts into the outside world, with one featuring the prime minister describing Matt Hancock as “totally fucking hopeless”. Harsh but fair, though with the caveat to Boris Johnson: you hired him.

Cummings must now be the frontrunner for Most Vengeful Former Employee of the Millennium. Still, who should rush to Hancock’s reputational rescue, but leader of the house, Jacob Rees-Mogg? After waving away questions about Cummings’ texts as “trivia… ephemera… unimportant”, he described Hancock as “the brilliant, the one and only successful genius who’s been running health over the last 15 months”.

Is this the same Hancock the rest of us have witnessed “running” health? But never mind that, are you crying yet? Rees-Mogg was so tender in public, one can only imagine what happened in private. Perchance, Rees-Mogg cupping Hancock’s hurt little face in his hands and whispering: “Got your back, buddy, you’d better believe it.” Isn’t it cute when politicians are proper besties, like 4-eva? Next week: Gavin Williamson braids Oliver Dowden’s hair and doesn’t care who sees.

Barbara Ellen is an Observer columnist


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