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Sleazy Jet

29 Apr

Are you tired of the same old street corners when it comes to prostitution? Do you fancy a change of scene? And do you want to be rewarded with Air Miles when you pay for sex?

Then the new American website ‘Miss Travel’ could be for you. It’s basically an online list of women for you to choose from. Once you’ve picked one, you get to take said woman on holiday with you for the bargain price of all travel and accommodation costs, plus a small surcharge of your dignity. Sounds too good to be true? Don’t worry, it’s all jaw-droppingly true, as this helpful advert explains beautifully:

Yes, that really is their ad. And to dispel any doubts over whether it’s a spoof or a genuine product, I took one for the team and investigated their website.

The homepage has a cheery feel, emblazoned with the title: “WHO NEEDS MONEY, BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE TRAVEL FREE!”. It even refers to ‘sponsoring’ a traveller, which it seems is their way of making it seem like a charity run, a JustGiving page for globe-trotters with tightened purse-strings. But instead it just conjures up images of vulnerable, fly-ridden African infants à la ‘Sponsor a Child’. Or in this case, sponsor a woman who wants a free holiday.

In an attempt to make it all seem like a perfectly reasonable affair, and to distant it as much as possible from sordid connotations of exchanging cash for sex, the blurb under the title says: “Lets face it, no one likes to travel alone”. Let’s face it, no-one trusts a website that forgets apostrophes.

They’re clearly right, though. In the history of human suffering, no plight has ever been more tortuous and anguish-causing than that of travelling alone. In fact, slaves being transported across the Atlantic were known to remark to one another: “This might be the end of our freedom and the start of life-long captivity, but thank goodness we’re travelling on this ship together.” In World War Two, passengers on trains headed to Auschwitz were heard to breathe sighs of relief that, whatever the concentration camp situation, at least they weren’t travelling alone.

But what those at Miss Travel, those veritable experts into the human psyche, have overlooked is the other companionship options available. If you don’t want to go on holiday alone, you could always go with a friend, family member, neighbour, colleague, distant acquaintance, Zumba instructor, or even a Facebook friend – any of those would be a preferable travel buddy than a total stranger from the internet. Unless Miss Travel wasn’t actually about finding a travel buddy but was really – gasp! – about finding a different sort of buddy altogether. In which case, why didn’t they make their strapline “Let’s face it, everyone deserves sex with no strings attached”, instead of trying to paste on a façade of being about making travelling less hellish?

Another illusion they try to create is that this whole concept treats men and women equally. They carefully point out, “our website is 100% free for attractive men and women”, and it “matches generous travelers with attractive travel girls (or guys)”. But the rhetoric is as unconvincing as the smile of the cartoon girl in their ad. Looking at the profiles of users, it’s blindingly apparent that men and women have very different roles to play in the enterprise.

The homepage has a section for 'Generous Members' and for 'Attractive Members'

The homepage is divided usefully into two sections: ‘Generous Members’ and ‘Attractive Members’ – for the uninitiated browsers who have no idea how the world’s divided (it’s split into those who have money and those who have looks, obviously. No, no, you can’t have both, you silly fool. And if you have neither, this really isn’t the place for you, as unfortunately the site doesn’t feature a section for ‘Ugly, Cash-strapped Members’). Clicking on the sections reveals the fact that in Miss Travel lingo, ‘Generous’ = ‘paying’ = ‘male’, and ‘Attractive’ = ‘putting out’ = ‘female’.

In the Attractive Members section, the users listed were all women, and most of their profile pictures feature nothing but a large, over-tanned pair of boobs. ‘Mandy’, a 24-year-old from London, has the subtle subtitle of “Hot Girl seeks Financially stable man”.

The Generous Members section was all male and, as if in a tacit nod to their failure to make it into the Attractive Members section, some of their profile pictures totally omitted their faces and only showed them dressed in suits from the collar down.

As far as Miss Travel’s concerned, the genders can be neatly boiled down to:

Man = tie = breadwinner; Woman = boobs = sex object.

Mandy, 24, from London, says in her profile:

Occupation: Golddigger (sic)

Interested in: Mutually Beneficial Arrangements (Sugar Daddy / Sugar Baby)

I know. I didn’t even know the accurate terminology was ‘Sugar Baby’. She goes on to say:

“…my friend has had alot of success in finding a Sugar Daddy who is fantastic to her, so i guess im jealous and curiosity has got the better of me…Having seen my girlfriend been treated so well from this site, flying first class, going to amazing cities, i too would like that.”

Meanwhile, from the Generous Members section, a ‘Young CEO’ from Michigan, US, says in his profile:

“Occupation: Self-employed

Income: US$200,001 – $300,000

Net Worth: US$500,001 – $1 million

Do you like the sound of a 5-star resort with a world-class spa?  Spectacular food, top-shelf drinks, pools, beaches, shows, clubs, and exquisite massages? Lets talk.


(Maybe the website doesn’t let you put an apostrophe in ‘let’s’.)

You could argue that the enterprise itself isn’t responsible for the fact that women users place themselves in the Attractive (as in, ‘Buy me’) Members section and male users place themselves in the Generous (‘I’ll buy your body’) Members section. After all, the website doesn’t restrict which genders can be in which category. But then, why call it Miss Travel and not have an equivalent Mr Travel? Or why not remove the gender status entirely and just call it something like Sponsor a Traveller (apart from the fact that the word ‘Traveller’ might cause confusion and result in Daily Mail headlines of ‘Travellers’ Charity Scam’ and ‘Gypsies Stealing Gift Aid’)?

Nevertheless, the fact that hundreds of profiles – similar to that of dear old Mandy, 24, from London – exist already on this brand new website is a worrying indictment of how women perceive their position within the context of gender relations. Far from the 1950s housewife image declining into oblivion, the trend towards sexual equality seems to be reversing.

1950s attitudes no longer seem to be a mere distant memory.

Female twenty-somethings today don’t uniformly shun the idea that they can sit back and look pretty because breadwinning’s a guy thing. One of my 25-year-old friends once told me she considered it reasonable that, when dating, the man pays for dinner because she’s bought a new dress and dolled herself up for the occasion. It’s a real-life enactment of Miss Travel’s Generous Member versus Attractive Member system.

And in an economic crisis that has disproportionately affected women – they make up the majority of public sector jobs, which have been so vigorously crunched and slashed, and they make up a higher proportion of the part-time workforce, which has seen major cuts by employers needing to squeeze resources – the notion of a woman needing a rich man to buy her stuff threatens to no longer be just a bad memory. As we slide back into recession, it can only be hoped that twenty-somethings will avoid slipping back into gender roles of generations gone by – and that includes you, Mandy, 24, from London.

Luxmy Gopal


Baby on board? Not any more…

1 Jul

It’s a noise worse than pneumatic drills, Chinese water torture, worse than drum’n’bass, and even worse than Ed Miliband on a particularly nasally day singing a medley of Justin Bieber hits. It’s the sound of a baby crying. Not just a little bit of whining, but full-on infant tantrum screaming. Now, imagine being stuck with that soundtrack from hell for 11 hours on a long-haul flight.

Malaysia Airlines was in the news this week for banning babies from its first-class flights. Children under two years old are already banned from its Boeing 747-400 jets but it has now been confirmed that infants would not be allowed to fly on their fleet of Airbus A380 super jumbos either. Parents with infants can still fly economy or business class, and children over two were still welcome – or at least allowed – on first-class flights.

CEO of Malaysia Airlines

CEO of Malaysia Airlines

CEO of Malaysia Airlines Tengku Azmil defended the decision on Twitter. He managed to explain the motivation behind the policy in less than 140 characters, by saying: “Hv many complaints from 1st class pax dat dey spend money on 1st class & can’t sleep due to crying infants.”

Fair enough, you’d think, but it is apparent that the move has not been welcomed by everyone.

What is a seemingly straightforward matter has proved a surprisingly divisive one and has drawn a torrent of rage among online commentators, and not just from Mumsnet either. Joe Public virtually queued up to post hundreds and hundreds of comments on news websites that published the story. What was most bewildering was how it seemed to turn people from both camps a little bit crazy and highly-strung, almost as if they’d been, say, kept awake for hours on end by a screaming child.

People who supported the ban on on-board infants decided to strengthen their argument by proposing all sorts of common sense alternatives to allowing babies onto first-class flights.

The airline CEO has already dismissed sound-blocking headphones as being a solution, as he says they already offer them to first-class passengers but they don’t successfully block out the sound of a baby crying. So a suggestion offered by online posters was a soundproof space at the back of the plane to accommodate all underage children. So, we chalk out a few feet of space, wall in all babies and toddlers, and allow whatever potential annihilation to ensue – regardless of the possibility that this will lead to suffocation for some, and for others lifelong claustrophobia.

Crying babyOne suggestion was spending the money that would have been used to buy the first-class infant ticket on employing a nanny to travel with the baby in economy class separately. (Thanks to the Daily Mail comment pages for that one.)

Another potential compromise was for the staff to administer a powerful sedative to babies, at the right dose to last the duration of the flight, or perhaps a few hours more in case of delays. 

People opposed to the baby ban came up with slightly more ridiculous responses. They seemed to suggest that excluding infants from flights was a slippery slope to banning all ‘undesirables’. 

It was interesting to discover who counted as an ‘undesirable’. Many were the usual suspects when it comes to unpleasant flying experiences, such as people who had loud conversations, people with BO, people with smelly breath, people who listened to their iPods with the volume up too high, and people who were so fat that they took up some of the next seat.

However, some people implied that equally relevant to this list of are people from minority groups.

Comments posted on the news story on the CNN website included: “What if they banned women on their planes?  What if they banned blacks?  Aren’t babies a protected class?”. I’m not entirely sure what a ‘protected class’ is, but presumably it is something akin to an ‘endangered species’.

The news report in Christian Science Monitor attracted some interesting comments. One of many similar examples was by a poster called Deedee, who said: “I have an even better idea. No babies, kids, teenagers, old ppl, fat ppl, gays, minorities or unattractive ppl allowed on first class… Wouldnt want anyone to feel uncomfortable in anyway”.

Even allowing for it to be laced with irony, it can’t be denied that Deedee is listing whom she – or he – believes could be defined as uncomfortable company on a plane. So that includes babies, for being too disruptive with their uncontrollable crying, minorities for being too ethnic, and gays for being too, er, gay. Or perhaps what Deedee is saying is that this is the beginning of a worrying trend. First we restrict how babies can fly, and next thing you know we’re conducting social and ethnic cleansing in the skies. 

An article written by Pamela Gifford and published on the Yahoo News page (that haven of hard-hitting journalism) also focused on the discriminatory aspect of the airline’s policy. Gifford said: “A long time ago, blacks were banned from restaurants, some schools, etc., because some people didn’t understand them and were uncomfortable around them. This is a similar situation where a select few individuals don’t understand infants and are uncomfortable around them.”

Except it isn’t a similar situation, is it? I don’t think what we’ve got here are a “select few individuals” who just “don’t understand infants”. They understand infants perfectly. They understand that infants will cry and there’s nothing anyone can do to prevent it, short of action that would alarm the NSPCC.

She finishes her article with: “How can we expect children to be decent, nondiscriminatory people when so many others send messages such as this?”

 How can we expect children to be decent, nondiscriminatory people when writers like her can in all seriousness equate airline policy regarding babies flying first-class with decades of racial oppression and segregation in the mid-twentieth century? It reveals either an utter lack of understanding or trivialising of the historical context of Jim Crow laws. My guess is that it’s the former.

Baby looking out of an aeroplane windowDespite the slightly misleading title of this article, the ‘no infants on first-class’ policy isn’t actually a new one. It has been in place since 2004. The ban has gone ahead without drawing attention for seven years, which makes this sudden outcry even more inexplicable. Besides, when it comes to the issue of babies and first-class airline tickets, these days most of us can only afford to have one or the other, so, ultimately, it’s a moot point.

Strictly’s Ann Widdecombe to perform barn dance

7 Dec

So recent events have proved Britain is no country for old women, with X Factor’s Mary and Ann Widdecombe deemed past their sell-by dates. But fear not Widdecombe fans: your next fix may be closer than you think.

The epitomy of grace: Strictly's Ann Widdecombe

Yes, the Strictly contestant has announced she won’t hang up her sorely mistreated dancing shoes. And this time she’s taking her talents to a far less discerning audience: cattle.

Ann has divulged that she will relive the waltz on her regular country walks.  “Before the startled eyes of roaming cattle, I shall dance around the damp, uneven ground, imagining myself in a glittering gown, waltzing in the arms of Anton du Beke,” she told the Radio Times.

Now, normally we would refuse to envy farmyard animals, but this proves there is an exception to every rule. The idea of Ann performing her own, confused-Granny-style barn dance is nothing short of genius. In fact, it could even better her all-too-literal interpretation of the sinking Titanic.

Yes, she may be a Tory and have a fondness for words like “jolly”, but her unique routines have won her a place in our bewildered hearts. In fact, all MPs should take a leaf out of her book. Would David Cameron not seem infinitely more appealing if Anton du Beke dragged him around the floor like a bedraggled, canary yellow mop? I rest my case.

So Anne, we salute you. In fact, words are not enough to convey our admiration. Please accept our song as a poetic tribute to your superior dancefloor prowess:

The Right Honourable Dancing Queen

(Set to the tune of Abba’s Dancing queen)

Saturday night and the scores are low,

Anne doesn’t know where she’s meant to go,

Whether it be rock music,

Whether it be swing,

She does the same dance.

Anton was meant to be that guy,

His smile was fixed and his patience high,

He looked out for another,

Anyone would do,

But it was Widdecombe.

And then she got the chance…

To be the dancing queen,

Two left feet,

Scoring seventeen,

Dancing queen,

Feels no beat,

From the tambourine.

She can’t waltz,

She can’t jive,

Even if to save her life.

Oooh see her dance,

Don’t watch her feet,

And she is a dancing queen.

(Fade to a scene of Anton carrying Ann in a characteristically unceremonious lift).

So Anne, you will always be our dancing queen, trophy or not. Now we can only look forward to your bizarre partnership with Craig Revel Horwood on tour…

No country for old women

6 Dec

Farewell Mary, and adieu Widdy. Last weekend saw a Great British public rejection of aged ladies, with Ann Widdecombe voted off Strictly Come Dancing, and Mary Byrne left in the bottom two by X Factor voters, finally ditched by judges in favour of teenage scowler, Cher.

Widdecombe and partner Du Bec

In the shadow of Countryfile presenter Miriam O’Reilly being turfed out by BBC bosses for not getting Botox, was the weekend’s result a ringing endorsement by the nation that there’s no place for women on the telly if they aren’t in their twenties, or at least look like someone whose face has been lifted, stretched and pinned back into their twenties?

Mary Byrne could have been the new Susan Boyle (or at least, the Tesco Economy version, without the Demi and Ashton Twitter-following). The 51-year-old belted out songs with a Bassey-esque voice, but viewers preferred youthful-but-bland Rebecca, man-flu victim Matt, and One Dimension, sorry, Direction – the gang-ling that resembles the cast of a Gap Kids advert. True, the final decision was cast by the judges, but was their verdict a reflection of popular will? Or was the only perpetrator of ageism here the fickle music industry, attempting to play God (or, as Simon Cowell calls it, attempting to play Simon Cowell) as they do in all Pop Idol genre shows?

Indeed, Strictly Come Dancing viewers have kept in grandmother of two, Pamela Stephenson. She is only two years younger than 63-year-old Widdecombe, yet comes across as Fiddy compared to Widdy’s Biddy (ok, that was a stretch). So, it wasn’t a vote of age discrimination: just a sign that the voters had tired of Widdecombe’s lumbering attempts at dance routines – routines which made John Sergeant’s stomping-toddler-dragging-teddy-behind-him moves look Billy-Elliotly elegant. Turns out people no longer want to spend Saturday nights watching a scene akin to a yellow, sequinned sack of potatoes being heaved around by Rob Brydon’s Twin.

Then again, on Strictly, too, did the judges play their part. While they had no casting vote over the bottom two, last week marked the first time they made unanimously negative comments towards Widdecombe, with even praise-generous Alesha Dixon saying “The honeymoon’s over”, and Len Goodman comparing the former Tory MP to the recent snow: fun at first, but eventually you get sick of it. For the first time this series, all of the judges were saying in effect, “Go home, Ann”. And for the first time, the voting public chose not to save her.

Equally, the X Factor judges seemed to have written off Mary Byrne before the voting lines even opened. During her second performance, when she broke down with emotion because the song had been her late mother’s favourite, they interpreted the tears as her saying “Oh woe is me. Lamentably, this is the end of the road, old fogey that I am!”. Cheryl Cole et al commented that this wasn’t the end, she’d still have a career, with Cowell reassuring her that she would not be returning to the Tesco payroll. It hadn’t crossed their minds that she might perhaps go onto next week’s semi-finals, and maybe even win – heavens no! Not when she is practically the same age as the other contestants combined.

So, the gains of last year’s Susan Boyle movement were short-lived. There is no place for you on the box if you’re an oldie. Lest we forget, Strictly’s judge, Alesha, was brought in to replace middle-aged Arlene Phillips, amid cries of ageism. The BBC never explained their reasons for doing so, but avid advocate of alliteration, Arlene, would probably call it the disgraceful discrimination by dirty TV execs, ditching dames in favour of damsels, damn them. Or something like that. The message is clear. Female twenty-somethings: the voting public may not mind you, but if you don’t want to be at the mercy of TV bosses, your time is running out.

Luxmy Gopal