Author Archives: Deborah Coughlin

Feminist Times: Ten things I hate about feminism

Hate is a strong word, which is why we thought you’d read it! Don’t get me wrong – I love feminism – but there’s been plenty of frustration and confusion in my time as Editor of Feminist Times. So in my final word on Fem T I thought I’d break my own rule and start taking some sides.

1) Pluralism is the most radical option in feminism.
I went to a convent where the one lesson we had on abortion was conducted by a nun, in a chapel, with a projector flashing images of dead foutuses onto the alter. The Catholic church is known for being balanced like that. Since then I’ve been pro-choice and suspicious of people who are very sure they are completely right.

I wanted Feminist Times to not be sure, but to definitely be nice. Instead of telling people what to think we should be presenting lots of contrasting ideas for everyone to make their own mind up. From the off we were being asked to take a side. How can you use the word “cis”? Why did you allow sex work to be in inverted commas? She said we shouldn’t wear high heels! Shut her up!

We had lots of high profile feminists refuse to take part in real life discussions with their online nemeses. A movement like this isn’t moving. It’s entrenched. Stuck, like that song, with clowns and jokers, etc. Being prepared to have offline conversations with anybody, particularly those who disagree with us, might be the most progressive thing we could all do. Some of our best writers have been people I’ve approached because they criticised us, savagely, online. Every one of them was lovely in person.

2) Feminism is being co-opted and by 2016 it will be dead again.
In 2009 I launched a feminist act called Gaggle, a weird punk choir. We were often ridiculed for being out and proud feminist. It was just five years ago and yet you couldn’t find a columnist who would admit they were a feminist, hence the website the F-word – it was taboo. You could tie several cats together, swing them and not hit a single feminist.

Now you can’t. Feminist columns, T-shirts and events clog up the zeitgeist. Every night there’s another panel discussion about Women in Music, so much so that I can’t remember what it was like before this 4th wave? Something about cupcakes and burlesque, I think.

Anyway, feminism is so popular right now that it’s one of the biggest buzz words in marketing for 2015, hence why Pantene is selling us feminist shampoo and Special K’s gone all “Dove” with it’s cornflakes. Unfortunately everything in fashion will go out of fashion. Like Skip Its, environmentalism and hipster beards, if feminism is dead again by 2016 what do we want to have achieved during this brief spell in the limelight?

3) The transgender tipping point is good for women.
It could be the single most important ally in killing gender bias – not because it says anyone can be a woman, but because it forces us to ask what the fuck are women and men anyway?

GenderWeek is perhaps the part of my journey in Feminist Times I am most proud of. It is a direct result of my disgust at the levels of hatred towards transgender women and also my sympathy for the old guard who are naturally suspicious and scared. We tried to build a bridge between two hurt parties, but who were we to think we could do that?! And so, six months after I asked for a membership level to be named after her, Roseanne Barr was hurling abuse at us!

4) Trolling is the worst kind of activism.
Being keen on pluralism I’m sure you can figure out why I’m not into the polarisation of Twitter. A lot of precious time and ideas are swallowed up by those timelines which are forgotten in minutes. If you troll as a form of activism…. yeah, good luck with that.

5) The idea of “choice”.
Lynne Segal said all this a lot better for us in Gender Week, but hardly anyone read it. So, in a nutshell – we are not completely autonomous consciousnesses outside of culture and all its perversions.

Our choices are not purely determined by free will but are in many ways pre-determined by our culture. I “choose” to wear heels is like saying I “choose” to drink a flat white. Before 2012 no one knew you could mix coffee and milk in such a new fabulous way and so this is where I find myself with Larry David when it comes to “choice”: you can’t choose what isn’t there, and very often a new choice is an old one rehashed.

7) Where is the revolution?
Why are we so polite when we are trying to insist that some people give up their grip on power and share. Russell Brand wants us to have a humorous revolution, Uncut continues to march with masks on, the Keiser Report calls for hanging – what does a feminist revolution look like?

I’m longing for a feminist revolution, where culture catches up with the law in places like the UK and where the law catches up with basic humanity in other parts. A world with a socio-economic F-plan.

We’ve been trying to get an economist to write a feminist economic blueprint for the future but no luck. Without it though, any feminist movement will have limited effect, capitalism is part of the problem.

8 ) Never use the word austerity.
Like the F-Plan, I’ve been trying to commission a piece about finding an alternative for the word “austerity”, but we still haven’t published it.

“Austerity” can too easily conjure, mistakenly, nostalgic images of blitz spirit, 1950s home economics, virtuousness, instead of the economic political ideology and the pain it leaves in its wake. The word “austerity” can appear innocuous, but like all words it has power, it can put a spell on you. We need a new word. Until then it’s like calling a 13-year-old girl who is forced into marriage a “wife”; she’s not a wife, she’s a slave.

9) I’ve put on two stone in this job.
Feminist Times has been an all encompassing venture. I had to start putting in every therapist’s favourite, “boundaries”, from week one: Don’t always be on Twitter, don’t take things personally, don’t email at night or weekends, don’t work in someone’s house, don’t eat two lunches. You don’t think the pressure’s getting to you, then suddenly you’re buying size 24 knickers! Tomorrow I’ll be eating my own words and taking up running.

10) The rest will be one for the memoirs.
Thanks to everyone at Feminist Times and everyone who read Feminist Times.  It’s been thrilling, challenging and an experience of a lifetime. <3

Deborah is a writer, producer, editor and tunesmith. She founded and directs all-girl radical choir @Gaggle, writes occasionally for the Guardian and can be heard making very authored reports for BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. Founding Deputy Editor of Feminist Times, Deborah became Editor in December 2013 and leaves Feminist Times today for new projects. Follow her @deb_rahcoughlin

Photo: Taken by Jim Eyre. Lucie Evans, Gaggle.

flattr this!

Charlotte Raven

Feminist Times: My Feminist Times ‘journey’

Intro

What a sad day! I kept thinking we would turn it around and praying for a miracle. Leaving our office for the last time last week, with the FemT box files in a shopping bag, I felt mainly sadness but also a little relief. No more sleepless nights worrying or fruitless hours writing supplicating emails to rich people. No more guilt about not being fully present for my husband and young children or my FemT colleagues. I’m looking forward to spending time with my family (as disgraced politicians say) with a clear conscience, and gathering my thoughts for the rest of the summer and possibly longer.

I won’t miss being resented from afar; I am privileged but my life is far from enviable. I am in the early stages of Huntington’s disease, cognitively impaired, and struggling with many aspects of every day life. I lose things, break things, hurt myself, rage at Tom and the children. This is a symptom and can’t be addressed by anger management techniques. My dad is in the late stages of Huntington’s disease; he can’t speak, read, swallow or co ordinate his movement but is otherwise compos mentis and so all too aware of his predicament.

I don’t think quickly now and have sometimes struggled to keep up with the breakneck pace of this project. My short term memory is shot and my mind wanders. I exist much of the time in a state of terrified befuddlement. Furthermore, I can no longer multi-task, which might explain why I’ve struggled when too many things are going on at once during this project (i.e. most of the time) and there’s literally nothing I can do about it.

I haven’t previously written about Huntington’s Disease in Feminist Times and I was in two minds about mentioning it even now. On one hand I want to tell the truth, but on the other I worry that my condition will make FemT less credible (and perhaps less tempting to publishers and investors).

But not telling the truth is worse. The whole point about FemT is that it was true to life, unlike the other media. The truth is that my daily life recently has been assembled piece by piece like a jigsaw puzzle with my family and FemT colleagues’ help.

Thank goodness for Deborah and Sarah; my FemT colleagues have been wonderful help for the hard of thinking. They can work magic on my half-formed ideas and sharpen my copy. They work and think a hundred miles a minute but, unlike most prolific writers, the quality of their output is consistently high. I didn’t think this was possible. I’m completely in awe of them because they are multi-skilled, and can balance the books and husband our limited resources very effectively. Because of them I have a clear conscience whatever happens next.

Like a Big Brother contestant, I come out of this project more vividly alive than when I went in, disinhibited and ready to reveal all. My wise colleagues have cautioned against full disclosure, so what follows is an edited account of the last 18 months rather than the whole nine yards. I hope you will forgive digressions and deviations as I want convey what it felt like as well as the whys and wherefores of how we got to this point.

Masturbation

The setting off point of all modern feminist ‘journeys’. You must begin with masturbation, whether relevant or not, if you want people to sit up and take notice.

Vivenne Albertine from the Slits begins her memoir with an account of a lifetime not masturbating. She says masturbating when you are single is like getting drunk when you’re miserable; it makes you feel more lonely. I liked this. Maybe the same is true of literary masturbation – I have read so many accounts, for business rather than pleasure, and felt lonely afterwards .

It isn’t taboo, as Petra Collins and Caitlin Moran claim. Moran’s new novel begins with a masturbation scene. The woman interviewing her on Newsnight looked thoroughly embarrassed. Who put her up to it?

Collins says: “We’re taught to hide our menstrual cycles and even to hide masturbation.”

Are we? In fact we are being goaded to reveal the intimate facts in public, on pain of being accused of prudery. I am not a prude or repressed, but won’t wank in public. Feminist Times isn’t a wank fest. I wanted there to be one place where authenticity didn’t equate to baring all.

In fact, it’s not talking about the intimate details of your sex life that is taboo. Men love it.

Distracting Lucy

I have known our art director Lucy for 32 years, but only recently got to know her. We were in the same class at secondary school and I kept distracting her with my big ideas and stopping her from concentrating. I tried to convert her to Marxism and Modism, but it didn’t work. She didn’t join the school students’ strike or beg her mother to let her see The Jam’s last ever concert. She was her own person; much less malleable than the people in my gang. They thought she was straight, and it took me a while to realise – we were the conformists.

We kept in touch, and she did get a word in edgeways eventually. I met Lucy for coffee in Foyles eighteen months ago and pitched this big idea to her. She took a long time to respond. I kept emailing her for an answer. She had been consulting (very sensible) and thinking and only when she had done so did she agree.

Lucy is the subversive soul of Feminist Times. She wouldn’t talk about wanking on Newnight and her reticence makes her stand out . We had such a good time mocking up concept covers. One was a full bleed cover of a bare breasted Femen activist with a chainsaw. Lucy said the straights (although she wouldn’t use that term) in her studio were giving her funny looks.

One of our digital consultants said Lucy’s logo would alienate Telegraph woman, Grazia woman and even Guardian woman. It looked like a stop sign and broke every design rule, including the one that said it was good to experiment as long as the results aren’t experimental. There was still time to rethink, but not much. Once we were out there on the margins, there would be no way back…

The unfocused group

It wasn’t a focus group and we weren’t brainstorming. I bought a whiteboard, because I was nervous, then hid it in the broom cupboard just in time.

“What are you doing?” Anna said. “Don’t you want to use it?”

“No!”

“Why did you buy it?”

“Shhh! They’re here!”

One of the brilliant things about this project was having an excuse to get in touch with people I admired. Playwrights Emma Crowe and Penny Skinner, Kat Banyard, writer and activist Jan Woolf, artist Marica Farquar and Hannah Pool were all mildly or moderately drunk around my kitchen in the early days (not all at the same time). It was a riff on Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party.

These conversations were respectful, revealing and hilarious. We were connecting. Kitty Finer thought of our brilliant strapline ‘Life not lifestyle’, Kate Tempest was very excited by our vision of a women’s magazine with no celebrities or brands that told the truth. It seemed more timely and necessary the more we talked about it. Why hadn’t this happened before? And why did Private Eye have the monopoly on humour? Bloody Woman’s Hour, with features on ‘do you let your dog sleep on your bed?’ and no SOH didn’t speak to us.

We wanted satire, investigations, columns and properly written features. Some of us really wanted a printed magazine, others weren’t that bothered. Radical empathy was a founding principle. We wouldn’t judge women or hold them accountable for the ills of society. There would be no shaming or blaming. We would have positive reviews. But they wouldn’t be bland.

So many open questions. How did we feel about lesbian mud wrestling if the wrestler was funding her art? And what price honesty? How would it play? Laying yourself bare was very risky as some of us had already discovered. Would positivity come out bland? We were at the intersection of life and art! It was thrilling and scary.

These women aren’t muses or ‘inspirational’ in a Woman’s Houry way. I often thought, we need a new word for this. I should have asked the unfocused group while you were there.

Crowdfunding

What a brilliant idea! I wanted a brand and sponsorship free space for women and the membership model seemed to have more integrity than one off asks on Kickstarter where the commitment was one sided.

Someone said crowdfunding is like a courtship. You show the public your best side, offer them presents and positivity, garlanded in tweets. An unwise crowdfunder sticks the ask on a site and gets on with his life. In fact you are meant to promote your project (and yourself) in creative and compelling ways continually. You are selling yourself. The paradox of crowdfunding is that it is still all about you and me, not really a form of collective ownership at all.

This sounded exhausting. Our membership model was a marriage; not a dalliance. We wanted a long term commitment; a relationship that could grow and deepen over time. I had never been in that kind of relationship with hundreds of people simultaneously. I’d also never tweeted so didn’t know the form.

We called in the ‘relationship based engagement experts’, then fell out with them. They said it was about making people connect with me by tweeting and communicating in my voice, which made sense, then said we should ask founder members for more money, which didn’t.

Our relationship with our founder members was the lynch pin of the project; I felt I knew them but couldn’t be sure. When we asked them whether they still wanted to commit to the project if it wasn’t called Spare Rib I still held my breath. But the vast majority did, which was hugely motivating.

It has been a privilege getting to know so many of you and I have happy memories of our time together. I’m sad that this relationship will be broken off rather abruptly at the end of this week. I’m sorry it didn’t work out…

I think the membership model might have worked if we’d had more time to reach critical mass.

Hashtag not Spare Rib

We needed a new name as good as Spare Rib. And fast. Crucially it mustn’t seem as if we’d tried too hard. From what I recall, that name had come about organically. A joke that stuck, like all the best names. I knew the more we thought about it the worse it would be, but what was the alternative? We tried to crowd source, but people were obviously struggling. There were a lot of biblical references, Lilith, some suffragette ones, Purple Sash. I loved Redstocking which was Shulamith Firestone’s activist cell but it was already taken. In fact all the good names were already taken.

This is how mad we were. One afternoon we were kicking around ‘fall’ ideas, specifically the feminist rehabilitation of Eve as the heroine of the piece. We were under a lot of pressure to deliver and then… a breakthrough. Someone had suggested Eve’s Apple several hours ago, I wasn’t keen. But what about APPLE?

It had a ring to it. Slightly surreal and edgy but not clever clever. I could see the logo in my mind’s eye. An apple with a bite taken out of it. A powerful founding myth and a feminist joke. We will gorge on the forbidden fruit and hang the consequences. I was so happy, then we all noticed the logo on the back of our computers at the same time. `

We had a short list, put it to a vote, then ended up with the second placed name. I hated Feminist Times at first it, as it seemed banal and literal minded. But quirky is the new normal in publishing. There is a magazine called Elephant, another called Tirade and an online women-fronted tv show called Fox Problem. A straightforward name is as radical today as weird was in the seventies.

Elle on earth

The lads mags are folding or recalibrating and feminists are delighted. Nuts is no more. Loaded has turned it’s back on lad culture after publishers felt it’s “lewd content was lowering the tone.” Will the strapline ‘for men who should know better’ be consigned to the dustbin of history?

Men are no longer behaving badly when feminists are looking, but women are. Women’s magazines are still full of hot chicks demonstrating the truth of the old maxim; a little bit of what you fancy does you good.

What about the lewd content of women’s magazines? Won’t Cosmo be lowering the tone when Loaded has a cover image of Antoina Byatt? The feminist gaze has been on lads mags, and our old adversaries have been growing in confidence and borrowing our clothes without asking when we were out campaigning.

The argument against women’s magazines is the same as ever. They pretend to be your friend, then stab you in the back. Mean girls who keep you guessing about their motivations. They are party animals. And killjoys. They preach indulgence and abstinence in the same breath. Spend, shag, repent. No wonder we’re confused. Lads mags weren’t conflicted. There were no ads for detox spas in the back of Loaded.

So why don’t womens mags “move with the times” like Loaded? Nobody’s telling them to. They appear to be making it new and constantly reinventing themselves into people with short memories. In fact, it is a repetitions compulsion.

Every few years, a womans magazine is launched for people who don’t like woman’s magazines. Marie Claire was aimed at women who feel patronised by the women’s media, and want long features and occasional references to A N Other country.

Now Elle is “the best of the bunch” because it has long features, according to Vagenda.

I wish we hadn’t taken part in Elle’s rebranding feminism project. Who are they to tell us we have an image problem? And imply that they can fix it by giving us a makeover. They flattered us, made us feel special by seeming to be interested in us. Such lovely ladies they are too, talking about how intelligent Elle was compared with its competitors.

I wanted Feminist Times to be a real friend, not a fake one, who would dump you over a fashion faux pas or a mistimed downward dog

Angry bird

Elle wants feminists to take a chill pill. If we use quiet voices, people will listen. That makes me so bloody angry. I was rational and reasonable when this project began, but no more. The newspapers all enrage me, Women’s magazines, ditto.

I’m angry with Ed Milliband for not being angry enough about food poverty and the destruction of the NHS.

And outraged that feminism has been co-opted by brands. Fuck Dove and all the others.

I’m angry about the new female stereotypes, and the old female stereotypes. Reports of the ladettes’ death were exaggerated,

I am even angry about the lack women at board level for the first time. The boards sound like a bear pit so this isn’t surprising.

And I’m angry about how the equal pay act isn’t being implemented and won’t be until there is transparency.

A year on I’m more convinced more than ever that feminism needs some firebrands, not milquetoasts.

The bottom line

We produced some amazing content and held some memorable events but some aspects of our business plan – no corporate sponsorship and no slave labour – didn’t pay off in the current climate. The project wasn’t supported by a phalanx of cheap interns because we believed that was wrong. And we were committed to remaining free from the dead hand of advertising and corporate sponsorship.

I wanted FemT to be different, but in the end the income from membership alone was not enough to keep it going. Rather than break our promise to reject intern labour and advertising, we decided to stop. We have kept our integrity and I want to put the project on ice while we work out if there is another way of funding the project that’s both ethical and sustainable. My Feminist Times email will be open for the next several months; please feel free to submit any suggestions and let me know if you want to get involved. If you have an idea of how you could relaunch it I’d be pleased to hear from you.

charlotte@feministtimes.com

flattr this!

Andrea Dworkin’s Last Rape

Soon after Andrea and I met in 1974 she began to let me know about her history of battery and rape. I had never spoken with anyone to whom such things had happened. Or maybe I had, but no one before had trusted me to hear. This new knowledge learned from Andrea shook me to the core. I realised my life had to change. I had to take responsibility for what I now knew.

The public and political form of that responsibility included a dramatic shift in what I wrote and why. Since college I wanted to be a playwright. When Andrea first got to know me, I was working in an experimental theatre company. She and I were introduced by its artistic director, a mutual friend. Impelled by my new knowledge—about men’s rapacious capacity to enact their misogyny through violence against women—I stopped writing plays and started writing non-fiction, to figure out who I was, who I had to become, and what I had to do now that I knew what men as men do to women.

The personal form of that responsibility included Andrea’s and my private life together. A priority was safety and security, at home and wherever she or we went. She was vulnerable as a recognisable public figure who encountered haters because of what she stood for. She was also vulnerable to insults and assaults simply because she was a woman. One day she came home distraught and told me she had just fought off some young men who accosted her as she was walking on a nearby street and tried to force her into a van. A friend at a local rape crisis centre told her later that women had come in reporting having been raped inside such vans, their rapes videotaped. This was not the only near-miss during our life together. I always knew that her terrible history of male-pattern sexual violence—the lived knowledge that she wrote from to help other women—could at any moment resume.

One day it did.

In May 1999 Andrea went to Paris. She had just completed her monumental book Scapegoat: The Jews, Israel, and Women’s Liberation. Researching and writing it had consumed her for nine years. The work included immersion in Holocaust literature and had been so draining it caused her health to suffer. She needed a break badly. She wanted to take a vacation in Paris, a city she loved. She wanted to fly first-class and stay in a five-star hotel. I objected because we couldn’t afford it, but she persuaded me: this was what she most wanted to do; this was what she needed to be safe; her life mattered more than money. When I saw her off, I wanted more than anything for her to be okay.

She was. She was happy there; we spoke daily by phone and she told me. She took long walks. She saw art. She began writing a new book. She was resting and replenishing what she had sacrificed for Scapegoat.

Then one day she called in a state of alarm and agitation. She told me she thought she had been raped. In the hotel. While she was blacked out from a drugged drink. She sounded beside herself with confusion and distress. I tried to think fast and calm her. I said she should call her gynaecologist, whose phone number I would get her. She didn’t want to deal with authorities because she didn’t speak French, so I told her she should fly back home immediately on the first flight she could get.

The experience had shattered her. She struggled to recover. She had terrifying nightmares. She consulted two therapists. She went on anti-anxiety meds. Her health declined further.

For Andrea, writing was always a way to understand what she otherwise could not, so I was relieved when soon after the Paris ordeal she told me she had begun to write about it. Months later she showed me a first-person essay she was going to submit to the New Statesman titled “The day I was drugged and raped.” When I read it I was troubled. I recognised the veracity of everything in it, but I was fearful that this pubic disclosure would hurt her. I was uneasy that it said “John looked for any other explanation than rape” (which was true) but did not mention why (because I desperately did not want her to have been raped again), so it seemed to say I did not believe her. But I also recognized this was an instance when the last thing I should do was suggest editorial amendments or be a filter. If only for the sake of her healing process, Andrea needed to speak aloud what she wanted to say, on her own terms. So on June 5, 2000, about a year and one month after she was drug-raped, the piece as she wrote it was published.

Neither Andrea nor I anticipated the disbelieving, dismissive, and derisive attacks that followed—a contemptuous cacophony that accused her of, among other things, concocting the story to get attention. As I knew her to be tormented daily by ongoing and worsening physic and physical symptoms resulting from the trauma, I was shocked and angered by this ridiculing reaction. Not only did it bear no relationship to her reality, it also exacerbated her pain. I thought the attackers – all women – should be ashamed.

In the last years of Andrea’s life, the dark cloud that had hovered since Paris slowly lifted and let in light. Her fighting spirit was reclaimed, our troubled times were behind us, we were closer than ever, and she was working again. She wrote and published Heartbreak: The Political Memoir of a Feminist Militant. Though she could no longer accept speaking engagements, because she was unable to travel (due to bone disease, as she describes in “Through the pain barrier”), at the time of her death in April 2005 she was deep into researching and writing what would have been her fourteenth book.

It was many months after Andrea died before I felt emotionally ready to look through her computer. There were no surprises, nothing I would not have expected to find, except a manuscript I did not know existed. The text file had last been last closed and date-stamped August 30, 1999—about three months after her drug rape in Paris. I took a look, realised quickly it was about that anguish, saw it was dedicated to J.S. (me) and E.M. (Elaine Markson, her dear friend and agent)—and promptly put it aside. I could not bring myself to read it. I could not bear to revisit that painful time.

As months then years went by and my grief became not so constant, I realised that whatever emotional reaction I was avoiding, I really had a responsibility to read that piece. When I braced myself and finally did, I was overwhelmed and awed. Because what I discovered was a 24,000-word autobiographical essay, composed in twelve impassioned sections, as powerful and beautifully written as anything she ever wrote. It was searingly personal, fierce and irreverent, mordantly witty, emotionally raw. It was also clearly not a draft; it was finished, polished as if for publication. And I understood why she did not show it to me or Elaine. She had to have known it would devastate us. Because she had written it in the form of a suicide note.

Obviously it wasn’t an actual suicide note, or at least didn’t turn out to be. She lived on after completing it, kept to an intense writing schedule, and died in her sleep of what an autopsy determined was heart inflammation. But in choosing to write in that form, she found and released language with which to speak in her emotional extremity that gave utterance to the experience of being a drug-rape survivor as no other major writer has ever done.

Andrea designated me to be her literary executor, a responsibility that now included deciding whether she intended that manuscript to be published. Clearly she wrote it for her own sake, to excavate and exorcise her pain by shaping it into language through the agency of her art. But I honestly did not know whether she meant it to be in the world.

One day when I was rereading it, my theatre background kicked in and something about the writing struck me. I noticed that the text read like an extended dramatic monologue or monodrama, like the script of an indelible solo theatre piece. And I began imagining that a live performance of the work could be a way for Andrea’s words to be heard. By a live audience, aloud on stage. In a way that would fully honor and honestly express the passion from which she wrote.

The process took several years. Finally in early May 2014 the piece, now titled Aftermath, was performed six times in New York City in the Willa Cather Room of the Jefferson Market Library. The text was entirely by Andrea (the original manuscript cut by half to run 90 minutes). The director and dramaturg was Adam Thorburn, a longtime friend and collaborator. The performer was a phenomenally gifted actor, Maria Silverman.

Aftermath_image2_Feminist Times

Maria Silverman in Aftermath by Andrea Dworkin.

Audiences were intensely engaged. Night after night in post-show talkbacks there was overwhelming sentiment that the piece should go on. From those talkbacks it was clear that the performance spoke both to people who knew Andrea (and/or her work) and to people who had never heard of her. A post-performance online survey asked audience members to say what the piece was for them and meant to them. Here are some responses:

“The writing was painful, poetic, incisive. The actress was superb.”

“It was intense, painful, occasionally funny, and incredibly worthwhile.”

“Moving, touching, gut wrenching in the best way, brilliant writing, superlative performance, beautifully directed…wanting more!”

“It blew me away. So full of deep truths, so beautifully written, so powerfully performed. I thought it was fantastic.”

“This was incredibly moving. As honest and powerful as anything I had heard in a long time.”

Aftermath has since been accepted into the United Solo Theatre Festival in New York City, where it will be performed in fall 2014. I am seeking other circumstances in which audiences in the U.S., and someday around the world, can have the powerful experience of Aftermath.

At each step in putting this theater project together, I have wished I could talk with Andrea about it. I would want to tell her how the words she showed no one are now reaching and affecting audiences in live performance.

Aftermath_image3_Feminist Times

After a performance of Aftermath by Andrea Dworkin (from left): John Stoltenberg, Adam Thorburn, Maria Silverman, Gloria Steinem. Photograph by Jackie Rudin.

As an author Andrea was always an artist, and Aftermath as literature is no exception. The writing is stirring throughout and ranges dramatically over many themes—her aspirations when she was young, her erotic and romantic relationships, the marriage in which she was battered, her understanding of the connection between Jews and women, her take on President Clinton’s behavior, her deep commitment to helping women, her critique of women who betray women. The fact that Aftermath is acted means audiences get to hear an emotional dimensionality in Andrea’s voice that in life she shared only with me and her closest friends—trenchant and oracular as the public knew her but also tender, sardonic, sorrowful, vulnerable, funny.

Andrea also always wanted her art to be of use. To matter, to make a difference. So I would want to let her know that through Aftermath her fearless, unfiltered articulation of her solitary anguish in the aftermath of being drug-raped is now touching other survivors of sexual abuse, female and male—helping them come to terms with what is incomprehensible and unspeakable about their own experience, helping them not feel so alone in it.

_____________________

To receive updates about Aftermath: The Andrea Dworkin Theater Project, like its Facebook page. For tickets to the United Solo run in New York City, click here. For production inquiries, email media2change@gmail.com.

______

John Stoltenberg’s essays include “Living With Andrea Dworkin” (1994) and “Imagining Life Without Andrea” (2005). For Feminist Times’ #GenderWeek, he recently wrote “Andrea Was Not Transphobic.” He tweets at @JohnStoltenberg.

flattr this!

“Cliquish, tunnel-vision intolerance afflicts too many feminists”

When the Daily Mail described our interviewee as a “dissident feminist” last December we knew we had to talk to this outsider of mainstream feminism, professor and writer Camille Paglia. I wanted to know why it’s not easy to slot her into a “camp”, what we can learn from her dissidence, and whether, looking back, she would consider acting differently in the public sphere. Has Paglia mellowed with age? Erm, that would be a big, bellowing, NO!

The Daily Mail described you as a “dissident feminist” and then went on to list a series of counter intuitive opinions you are reported as having. Why is it important for a feminist to be “dissident”? Do you ever play devil’s advocate and do we need feminists who are “controversial”?

I am a dissident because my system of beliefs, worked out over the past five decades, has been repeatedly attacked, defamed, and rejected by feminist leaders and their acolytes across a wide spectrum, both in and out of academe. This punitive style of mob ostracism began from the very start of second-wave feminism, when Betty Friedan was pushed out of the National Organization for Women by younger and more radical women, including fanatical lesbian separatists.

As a graduate student in 1970, I quietly clashed with future bestselling lesbian novelist Rita Mae Brown at an early feminist conference held at the Yale Law School. Brown said, “The difference between you and me, Camille, is that you want to save the universities and I want to burn them down.” The next year, I nearly got into a fistfight with the New Haven Women’s Liberation Rock Band over my defense of the Rolling Stones. Two years after that, as a Bennington College teacher at dinner at an Albany restaurant, I had an angry confrontation with the founding faculty of the pioneering women’s studies programme of the State University of New York when they sweepingly dismissed any role of hormones in human development. They accused me of being “brainwashed by male scientists”, a charge I still find stupid and contemptible. (I walked out before dessert, thereby boycotting the feminist event we all were headed to.)

“Neither she nor any other feminist has the right to canonise or excommunicate.”

There was a steady stream of other such unpleasant incidents, but everything paled in comparison to the international firestorm of lies and libel that greeted me after the publication in 1990 of my first book, Sexual Personae (a 700-page expansion of my Yale dissertation). It’s all documented and detailed in the back of my two essay collections, but let me give just one example. In 1992, Gloria Steinem, the czarina of U.S. feminism, sat enthroned with her designated heirs, Susan Faludi and Naomi Wolf, on the stage of New York’s 92nd St Y and, when asked a question about me from the floor, replied: “We don’t give a shit what she thinks.” The moment was caught by TV cameras and broadcast by CBS’s 60 Minutes programme. Faludi has monotonously insisted over the years that I am not a feminist but “only play one on TV”. Well, who made Faludi pope? Neither she nor any other feminist has the right to canonise or excommunicate.

I remain an equal opportunity feminist. That is, I call for the removal of all barriers to women’s advance in the professional and political realms. However, I oppose special protections for women (such as differential treatment of the names of accuser and accused in rape cases), and I condemn speech codes of any kind, above all on university campuses. Furthermore, as a libertarian, I maintain that our private sexual and emotional worlds are too mercurial and ambiguous to obey the codes that properly govern the workplace. As I recently told the Village Voice, I maintain that everyone has a bisexual potential and that no one is born gay. We need a more flexible psychology, as well as an end to the bitter feminist war on men. My feminist doctrine is completely on the record in four of my six books.

As for playing “devil’s advocate”, I can’t imagine a committed feminist engaging in that kind of silly game. The real problem is the cliquish, tunnel-vision intolerance that afflicts too many feminists, who seem unprepared to recognise and analyse ideas. In both the U.S. and Britain, there has been far too much addiction to “theory” in post-structuralist and post-modernist gender studies. With its opaque jargon and elitist poses, theory is no way to build a real-world movement. My system of pro-sex feminism has been constructed by a combination of scholarly research and every-day social observation.

The infamous faxes between you and Julie Burchill in The Modern Review are still very much the stuff of legend in the UK’s media. Any regret about the whole thing? If you were mentoring a young Camille today how would you tell her to deal with that kind of situation? All guns blazing, take her down and combative, or would you be recommending some mindfulness, meditation and understanding?

There is not a single thing I would change in my handling of that acrimonious 1993 episode. British journalist Julie Burchill gratuitously attacked and insulted me, and I responded in kind. Our exchanges continued, with my replies getting longer and hers getting shorter, until she realised she had misjudged her opponent and “bottled out” (a British locution for beating a hasty retreat that I heard for the first time from an amused Times reporter commenting on the battle).

I learned how to jab and parry from my early models, Oscar Wilde, Dorothy Parker, and Mary McCarthy. Germaine Greer, whom I deeply admire, has always been glorious in combat. As for mentoring a young Camille Paglia, I would tell her to study my martial arts moves and do likewise!

We have found ourselves in the midst of many similar battles of wits online, as Twitter is effectively publishing everyone’s faxes. As someone who can give as good as you get, how do you feel about some prominent feminists and writers being hounded off Twitter by other feminists? What do you think Twitter is doing for feminism – making it narcissistic, polarised and too noisy, or democratic, pluralist and a thriving community?

It’s a sad comment on the current state of feminism that the movement has been reduced to the manic fragments and instant obsolescence of Twitter. Although I adore the web and was a co-founding contributor to Salon.com from its very first issue in 1995, I have no interest whatever in social media. My publisher maintains an informational Facebook page for me on the Random House site, but I don’t do Facebook or Twitter and wouldn’t even know how.

“…without strong books and essays as a permanent repository for new ideas, modern movements eventually sputter out…”

It is difficult to understand how a generation raised on the slapdash jumpiness of Twitter and texting will ever develop a logical, coherent, distinctive voice in writing and argumentation. And without strong books and essays as a permanent repository for new ideas, modern movements eventually sputter out for lack of continuity and rationale. Hasty, blathering blogging (without taking time for reflection and revision) is also degrading the general quality of prose writing.

As for feminists being hounded off Twitter by other feminists, how trivial and adolescent that sounds! Both sides should get offline and read more—history, sociology, psychology, and the big neglected subject, biology. How can the greater world, much less men, ever take feminism seriously if its most ardent proponents behave like catty sorority girls throwing hissy fits at the high-school cafeteria?

The two feminist issues that create the most noise on Twitter, and generate backlash whichever way you side, are the sex industry and gender, the latter especially in relation to transgenderism. What are your thoughts on both?

I support, defend, and admire prostitutes, gay or straight. They do important and necessary work, whether moralists of the Left and Right like it or not. Child prostitution and sexual slavery are of course an infringement of civil liberties and must be stringently policed and prohibited.

Feminists who think they can abolish the sex trade are in a state of massive delusion. Only a ruthless, fascist regime of vast scale could eradicate the rogue sex impulse that is indistinguishable from the life force. Simply in the Western world, pagan sexuality has survived 2000 years of Judaeo-Christian persecution and is hardly going to be defeated by a few feminists whacking at it with their brooms.

Transgenderism has taken off like a freight train and has become nearly impossible to discuss with the analytic neutrality that honest and ethical scholarship requires. First of all, let me say that I consider myself a transgender being, neither man nor woman, and I would welcome the introduction of “OTHER” as a gender category in passports and other government documents. I telegraphed my gender dissidence from early childhood in the 1950s through flamboyantly male Halloween costumes (a Roman soldier, a matador, Napoleon, etc.) that were then shockingly unheard of for girls.

As a libertarian, I believe that every individual has the right to modify his or her body at will. But I am concerned about the current climate, inflamed by half-baked post-modernist gender theory, which convinces young people who may have other unresolved personal or family issues that sex-reassignment surgery is a golden road to happiness and true identity.

How has it happened that so many of today’s most daring and radical young people now define themselves by sexual identity alone? There has been a collapse of perspective here that will surely have mixed consequences for our art and culture and that may perhaps undermine the ability of Western societies to understand or react to the vehemently contrary beliefs of others who do not wish us well. As I showed in Sexual Personae, which began as a study of androgyny in literature and art, transgender phenomena multiply and spread in “late” phases of culture, as religious, political, and family traditions weaken and civilizations begin to decline. I will continue to celebrate androgyny, but I am under no illusions about what it may portend for the future.

Camille Paglia is a professor of humanities and media studies at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Her latest book is Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars.

flattr this!

Kahlo’s work still tells a story we struggle to talk about, even today

Happy Birthday Frida Kahlo! A mere 107 she would have been on 6 July; alas she died young at only 47.

60 years later, her 1932 painting Henry Ford Hospital (otherwise known as ‘The Flying Bed’) still pierces us with a painful image of womanhood we barely allow ourselves to talk about, let alone look at. Frida Kahlo dared to paint it. She was one of the first female artists to ever portray the realities of womanhood on canvas: the earth red ground beneath her a symbol of her loneliness. “I don’t paint dreams or nightmares,” she said, “I paint my own reality.” Decades later, her reality still beguiles us.

As Frida Kahlo lies splayed on the blood-splattered bed, hovering above ground, reality and reason, six images surround her, tied down with umbilical cords like six lead balloons against a barren sky: the foetus, Dieguito (“Little Diego”), who will never exist; a snail representing the slow horror of losing a baby; an autoclave, a device for sterilizing surgical instruments, the symbol of infertility, “bad luck and pain”; an orchid, a hospital gift from her husband Diego Rivera – a strange mix of sex and sentimentality; the pelvis and uterus, two anatomical signs of her broken body.

On 4 July 1932, Frida’s pregnancy ended in miscarriage at Henry Ford Hospital. With this loss came the painful realisation that she would never physically be able to carry a baby to term. It was a reality she had already mythologised seven years earlier. On 17 September 1925 Frida and her boyfriend got onto a school bus. Minutes later it was hit by a tram. In addition to suffering a broken spinal column, a broken collarbone, broken ribs and a broken pelvis, a metal handrail pierced her abdomen, exiting through her vagina, permanently damaging her reproductive capacity. While in recovery, Frida was forced to face her reality: she may never be able to walk again, let alone have children. She responded by creating a birth certificate for an imaginary son she called “Leonardo”. It was at this moment of reality-versus-imagination that Frida Kahlo began painting seriously for the first time.

To understand Frida is to understand her pain. That doesn’t make her a victim, or her suffering a perversion. Frida Kahlo’s husband Diego Rivera once talked about Frida’s art as “paintings that exalted the feminine qualities of endurance and truth, reality, cruelty, and suffering.” He would go on to conclude: “Never before has a woman put such agonized poetry on canvas.”

Whether Frida would have ever identified herself as a feminist remains punctuated with a question mark. For many today, her traumatic life and powerful works communicate a strong feminist message which dream weaves the reality they experience in their own lives. In fact, without the feminist art movement of the 1970s and 1980s, Frida Kahlo’s work would have remained an obscure footnote to husband Diego Rivera’s own artistic career. Second wave feminism in America brought Frida to a mass audience and she has captivated us ever since. Her stark presentation of the harsh lives women face has retrospectively made her a striking feminist at a time when a woman’s reality was hardly ever talked about or discussed. Her battle with miscarriage and infertility tells a story we struggle to talk about, even today.

According to her own count, Frida Kahlo would suffer two more miscarriages. Her art reflects a lifelong fascination with procreation, birth and the female body. Lithograph Frida and the Miscarriage is a stark example: Frida’s one dimensional body is divided into light and shade, two tears fall either side of her face as the tears of blood haemorrhage down her darkened leg. A male foetus is attached to her via an umbilical cord as her third arm holds an artist’s palette: artistic productivity her solace in the absence of children. It isn’t easy to look at but, in the words of her husband Diego, it is agony and poetry.

“My painting carries with it the message of pain,” Frida Kahlo once explained. In each and every canvas Frida painted, there is both the message of pain yet also survival. Paintings such as Survivor (1938), Roots (1943) and The Broken Column (1944) communicate strength, even at the point of physical breakdown and despair. It is also worth noting that her paintings display the true reproductive anatomy of women, a shocking and controversial undertaking in the early 20th century. In 1932 painting My Birth Frida gives birth to herself depicting the moment of childbirth in all its glory. My Birth succeeds in blending both imagination and reality, communicating a woman’s inner and external truth. For every person who struggles to look at Frida’s outstretched legs, its power and relevance is affirmed. Her reality is no longer hidden.

In the last year of her life, Frida told a friend: “Painting completed my life. I lost three children…Paintings substituted for all of this.” 60 years later, her work still endures.

Kat Lister is a Contributing Editor at Feminist Times and a freelance writer living in London and can be found tweeting to an empty room @Madame_George. She has contributed to NME, The Telegraph, Grazia, Time Out, Clash magazine and Frankie magazine.

Photo: Chris Weige

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…




flattr this!

Orphan Black: TV’s most woman-centred drama

*Contains spoilers

A woman gets off a train and picks up a phone; in a few sentences we learn that Sarah is a grifter, in town to sell stolen drugs and collect her daughter Kira. At the other end of the platform, we notice a woman stepping out of her shoes, shrugging off her jacket and putting her handbag on the platform. As Sarah walks in her direction, the woman turns round; she has the same face – but then she steps under a train. Sarah looks down and picks up the handbag…

Those were the stunningly economic first few minutes of the Anglo-Canadian techno-thriller series Orphan Black which has managed, in two seasons of ten episodes, to be the most stunningly woman-centred action drama on television.

In the middle of a hokum-filled plot that is mostly about conspiracy, kidnapping and running around dark cities late at night, it manages to make some quite fascinating observations about nature, nurture and free will. Sarah steals, temporarily, the life of dead Beth, only to find that Beth, a cop with morals as sketchy as her own, had problems; a dead civilian, phone calls from mysterious women, and more clones.

The drunken soccer mom Alison says, “we don’t mention the c word”, but the rapidly evolving alliance between Sarah, Alison and lesbian German biologist Cosima rapidly reveals how entirely the same three women can be in some respects and how utterly different in others. And that’s before we meet feral assassin Helena and corporate bully Rachel…

It’s a show that passes most of the tests we now ask of popular media – not just the Bechdel test, because obviously these women find a lot to talk about apart from boys – but also the more recent Trinity test for strong women. All versions of Sarah are strong women – it’s as intrinsic to them as their chancer ruthlessness and sly smile. Strong women who actually do things, albeit in very different ways.

Sarah sleeps with Beth’s fiance, Paul, and realises that he is not to be trusted, even before he works out that she is not who he thought. It turns out, for example, that they all – except for Sarah – have someone in their lives who is spying on them, and reporting back to a company, Triad. In a revealing moment about the different forms that ruthlessness can take, Cosima seduces her colleague Delphine, knowing that Delphine is her monitor.

It’s a show which could easily have drifted into comic book misandry – but Sarah’s gay painter foster brother Felix would clearly die for her, and Beth’s fellow cop Art is almost as loyal. Even Alison’s bumbling husband Donny, and Sarah’s abusive ex-lover Vic, are rich and complex characters who can surprise us.

This is a show which brilliantly alternates excitement, scabrous comedy and moments of still emotion. There are no duds in the cast, but the show rests primarily on a stunning central performance from Tatiana Maslany as Sarah and all the others. It’s not just the well-established and radically different body language and speech of all the clones; it’s the moments of farce when Sarah and Alison impersonate each other, or of tension when Sarah confronts the terrifying, pathetic Helena. For a while, the second season seemed on shakier ground than the first, but latterly it came together, and established stunningly that things which seemed random clips of narrative were nothing of the kind.

Now we have to binge re-watch, noticing extra points of cleverness, while we wait for Season Three…

Roz Kaveney is a Contributing Editor to Feminist Times. She is a trans woman, novellist, poet, critic and activist.

Photo: CrazyTVTalk

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…


flattr this!

Video: “Expected victimhood” – do you know how to escape a zip tie?

(Trigger Warning: contains references to sexual violence.)

Claire Kurylowski’s latest film IN REAL LIFE in which she makes a feminist inquiry into the perpetuation of sexual harassment culture.

“The point of departure for IN REAL LIFE was a YouTube video I watched titled How to Break Out of Zip Ties. It went viral with over 3.5 million hits to date.

For me the video reinstated the idea that women should be accountable for their ‘expected victimhood’ and, inversely, the lack of accountability/deterrent strategies existing in the same forms and scope, if at all, for anti-abuse and anti-sexual harassment.”

Claire Kurylowski is a London based film director, writer & editor. Richly atmospheric moods paired with intimate portraits characterise her body of work. . @kurylowski

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…




flattr this!

SHE-form: Art and feminism beyond borders

We heard about She-form and asked one of it’s members, Anna Olsson, to tell us more about why women artists need such an organisation.

She-form is a global platform by and for women* in design. Through interviews and our collaborative visual identity, She-form highlights the work of women* designers. It was launched in 2013 as a collaboration between designers Ee-Rang Park and Linnéa Teljas-Puranen, out of a wish for a network of women* designers beyond national boundaries.

*We define woman as anyone who is female-identified

I’m Anna Olsson, a soon to be freelance illustrator, graphic designer, pattern maker, animator and member of She-Form. I met Linnéa Teljas-Puranen at HDK – School of Design and Crafts in Gothenburg, Sweden – three years ago. Both Linnéa and I found it very strange that there are more male than female-identified teachers in our school, because the majority of students here are not men.

I see feminism not only as a question of women’s rights, but the rights of everyone to get the same space and chances in their education. When I speak of feminism, it includes the rights of people of different class, gender, ethnicity, LGBT-persons, and people with different physical capabilities. I think it’s very important for all universities to have a wide diversity of students that are accepted – and art and design schools are no exception.

We need a greater diversity because the ones who are educated are the ones to represent  society. I was truly honored when Linnéa and Ee-Rang asked me to participate in She-form, because it’s just the kind of movement that we need now to tackle this problem. Design is very influenced by the western part of the world, and I think it’s very important that we start to talk about feminism as something that is not only white and upper middle class. Through She-form I have got in touch with several designers in different parts of the world. Networking beyond the borders feels like a very important thing for me as a creator, and nowadays it’s easy to make connections without a physical meeting.

This fall I am traveling to Russia, South Korea, Mongolia and China with a friend to record a documentary film series about different designers and artists. We both realised that in our education we got a lot of inspiration given to us by western world creators, and not so much from other parts of the world. We think it’s very important to point out that the western world is not the centre of the world; there is no centre of the world.

We believe that design and art is invested more in the bigger cities, and we want to show that it’s not all about the area, it’s about the creator and the creators, the art itself.

During this trip we will hopefully meet up with some of the designers involved in She-form and find out more about their perspective on design and art.

Anna’s website: www.annaols.com
She-form’s website: www.she-form.org

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…



flattr this!

OJ, Yewtree & Pistorious: It’s time we listened to Sue Lees

Last week marked the twenty year anniversary of the deaths of two people whose names you may not recognise: Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman. They’re famous only because of the name of the man who was acquitted of their brutal murders: OJ Simpson. And if you just went “OJ who?” it’s past your bedtime, go upstairs.

At the time many concluded that if you’re rich enough and famous enough you can get away with anything. This probably explains the Star Wars prequels. I’m not sure what the rules are – how famous you have to be to commit what crime. I’ve been on Question Time, I’m guessing that’s enough for a happy slap. I’ll take Farage.

For feminists, the television broadcast of the trial offered an insight into the court process and why men who attack women so often do so with impunity.

I read a lot of books about feminism at university, which might explain why I only scraped the narrowest of 2.1s in my maths degree. Objectification never came up in my modules, but statistics did.

One of them was Sue Lees’ book Carnal Knowledge. Lees had spent months sitting in court rooms watching rape trials and detailing the systematic ways in which the credibility of victims was undermined.

In December last year I did jury service for the first time. I drew two conclusions from my experiences. The first was that the system is still loaded with misogyny towards victims of rape and domestic violence. The second was that Ms Lees should really have been made a Knight of the Realm for sitting through all those hours of grinding legal argument and vicious victim-blaming.

Having trials on TV is a producer’s dream. Spend millions on a new series of Big Brother? No need, viewers will be queuing up to watch a famous athlete explain why he shot his girlfriend. So far we have resisted televising trials in the UK, resulting instead in coverage that has left me with a paranoid fear of chalk drawings.

Home and abroad the cases show a depressing set of similarities. The barrister defending Oscar Pistorius has produced as evidence romantic texts (true love always texts) and a video clip of the couple kissing. Here in the UK, the defense case for Rolf Harris called celebrity character witnesses.

Shouldn’t someone point out that being an outwardly “nice” guy doesn’t prove anything? Those who commit violence against women have so far refused to stick to a dress and behaviour code that lets us all know what they are really like. I suggest a “this is what a misogynist criminal looks like” T-shirts. Although of course within a fortnight we’d be hearing: “she can’t have been raped, she willingly got in a car with him while he was wearing his misogynist criminal T-shirt”. Doh.

While the Harris and Pistorius cases continue there are a string of others that have been dropped, not even brought to court. Freddie Starr, Jim Davison, Jimmy Tarbuck, and others have been cleared of all charges. William Roach, Dave Lee Travis, Michael Le Vell and most – famously of all – Michael Jackson.

Individually these things mean nothing. Any of them could be innocent. And we should remember that a “not guilty” verdict simply means the absence of sufficient evidence to convict. The basic right to be treated as innocent should prevail, but it doesn’t come with a prize or a medal: “Sponsored by Tefal – nothing sticks”.

No, seen together, as a pattern, they add up to a worrying picture – one that Lees was able to identify in 1996. Attrition at every stage of a system loaded against claimants means that – and this is a frightening concept to consider – the percentage of rape allegations that lead to conviction is now lower than the percentage of the UK population who voted for UKIP.

There have been flashes of hope out there. Mike Tyson went to jail. Max Clifford is in jail now. It may have taken years to get the result but Phil Spector eventually went to prison too. The court system has the potential to put dangerous misogynist criminals behind bars.

I’ve been careful with my language throughout this piece. I wasn’t at these trials, I can’t comment on the evidence presented, only on the system and the overall statistics. I can say this though: MAX CLIFFORD IS A SEX OFFENDER. MAX CLIFFORD IS A SEX OFFENDER. Phew. That does feel strangely exhilarating. It reminds me how empowering a conviction like that is, not just for victims and their families but for everyone who values a safe and just society. Maybe I’ll post him one of my “misogynist criminal” T-shirts. I hear his size is extra small.

We can do even better than this. Twenty years after OJ there are simple changes that could be made to our legal system that would give victims of sexual assault, rape and domestic violence a better shot at justice:

The right for claimants to demand a full trial, rather than allowing the police and CPS to just “give up”. Expert judges for rape and sex assault cases, including more female judges. Making it compulsory for judges to warn jurors that it is normal for victims to delay reporting and show no visible trauma as they give evidence. Information given to jurors on the defendant’s previous convictions, complaints and accusations.

And if you’re wondering where I came up with those simple, elegant ideas… they’re in Sue Lees’ book. And they’re as relevant now as they were when she wrote them nearly 20 years ago. The high profile, televised and media-sensationalised cases don’t really provide us with any new information, but they do provide an opportunity to talk about the legal system and demand much-needed radical changes.

Kate Smurthwaite is a comedian and political activist. Follow her @Cruella1

Photo: Wikimedia

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…



flattr this!

“I call on those who live in the shadows”

All good stories get told over and over again, and every time they are told they get changed. The Brothers Grimm censored some fairy tales and softened others as they collected them; Angela Carter and Anne Sexton subjected them to radical revision in the name of feminism and a love of the new. More recently, Gregory Maguire‘s novels about Oz and the musical version of his Wicked shifted attention from heroine to villainess, asking interesting questions about how victims of injustice become perpetrators of evil.

Maleficent is an inventive subversion of the story we know from Perrault. More specifically, it revisits the Disney studio’s animated version. The new film’s hapless prince shares the name Philip with the rather more active 1959 character and the credit titles’ music is a sinister seductive version of the cartoon’s theme song, itself an adaptation of the waltz from Tchaikovsky’s ballet. Primarily, of course, it is a vehicle for Angelina Jolie, whose glittering eyes and high cheekbones make her a remarkable double of one of Disney’s most spectacularly beautiful villainesses.

Critical reactions have varied – everyone agrees that Jolie’s performance is spectacularly good – noticeably, some critics were not paying quite as much attention as they should have done. There are some things that revisionism cannot change – the story is in the end about a woman who places a terrible curse on an innocent child – but this particularly thoughtful version manages to combine a radically subversive rethinking with popular entertainment. (The Peckham cinema where I saw it was full of delighted children.) Maleficent trusts both the material and its audience enough to work really remarkably well.

It posits two kingdoms – a human world which is all iron, blood and male tyranny and an adjacent realm of faerie, the Moors, of innocent playfulness and Rackhamesque cute weirdness. Even as a child, Maleficent is its hawk-winged protector; a sequence in which her parents were played by Miranda Richardson and Peter Capaldi was cut, partly for length but also because, in the end, this tough fairy needs no parents. It is no stretch of imagination whatever to describe these two kingdoms as Patriarchy and the Queer world.

As children, Maleficent and the boy Stefan become sweethearts. He goes away and his ambitions make him a lieutenant to the evil King – played by Kenneth Cranham – whose invasion of the Moors Maleficent defeats with giants and dragons made of tree roots. Promised the succession if he succeeds in removing her power, Stefan returns to the Moors, renews his pledge of true love’s kiss to Maleficent, drugs her and severs her wings, leaving her a cripple who has to learn to walk using a staff that becomes the new centre of her power. Not only is this a fairly obvious rape metaphor; it’s more interestingly a way of talking about how we adapt to trauma. She cuts the Moors off from the human world he now rules, with her wall of thorns, and swears vengeance.

The standard good fairies are replaced by a trio of slightly idiotic pixies who think the antagonism between Stefan’s realm and their own can be smoothed over with a few presents; Maleficent’s arrival at the christening and curse that the child will prick her finger on her sixteenth birthday and fall asleep forever is as much a rebuke to their stupidity as revenge. One of the most intelligent features of the writing at this point is the proper respect paid to the idea that words are magic – it’s not just that Maleficent’s sarcastic use of ‘true love’s kiss’ as the thing that will wake Aurora. It is that she reinforces the blessing that all will love her, and hardens the curse by saying that no power can break it.

The neglectful dimness of the pixies – to whom Stefan hands the child – means that Maleficent spends Aurora’s childhood protecting her from walking off cliffs and starving to death. Her constant bitch-faced iteration of how much she hates Stefan’s child by another woman is entirely contradicted by her actions – and of course she has trapped herself; all will love Aurora, includes Maleficent.

When they meet and talk, Aurora tells Maleficent that she recognizes her shadow as the fairy godmother who has always protected her – and she is not wrong. Maleficent comes to want desperately to protect Aurora but the terms of her curse, which no power can break, make it impossible for her to do so. Aurora duly pricks herself on a spindle and falls asleep.

Maleficent fights her way into the castle to deliver the charmingly useless Philip, whose kiss – he hardly knows Aurora – is entirely ineffectual; true love turns out to be Maleficent’s maternal devotion – she promises to protect Aurora in her sleep and pecks her on the forehead. This is the kiss that wakens the sleeping beauty. Stefan is far more interested in destroying Maleficent than saving his daughter; he neglected his dying wife to monologue Macbeth-like at the severed wings. He springs his iron traps – and Aurora saves her adopted mother by retrieving her wings. Stefan falls to his death trying to kill Maleficent even after she has defeated him – Maleficent hands both kingdoms over to Aurora, and both realms come out of the darkness of conflict into a sort of innocence…

To say that what is on offer is a queer feminist reading of the story is not to regard Maleficent’s love for Aurora as specifically sexual; it’s not grooming and there is no sign of desire. What we have though is two women who form a mutually self-sacrificing bond that lets them escape from a traumatic past and smash the patriarchy; if that’s not a queer feminist reading, I don’t know what is, irrespective of Aurora’s future relationship with the ineffectual Philip.

I guarantee that before the month is out, some right-wing American pundit will be even more upset by this Disney film than they were by the far less challenging Frozen. Maleficent is far from perfect – Sharlto Copley is far too hammy as Stefan, and Elle Fanning’s Aurora manages charm with almost no good lines – but it looks gorgeous and manages to be a good deal smarter than most Disney products.

Roz Kaveney is a Contributing Editor to Feminist Times. She is a trans woman, novellist, poet, critic and activist.

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…




flattr this!

We need more women in politics.

Following the West Midlands Feminist Times panel and Q&A event “Do we need more women in politics“, we are publishing the speeches of some of the panelists. First we hear from Ruth Jones OBE.

Do we need more women in politics? The answer of course is yes! I would like to think that this is obvious if only on the basis of equality, but even if we had an equal number of men and women in politics this would still not be representative of the population. The 2011 census showed a population of 56.1 million in England and Wales. 27.6 million were male and 28.5 female. This equates to almost a million more women than men in England and Wales and yet these women are overwhelmingly represented by men in politics. The majority are represented by the minority. A UN report of women in global politics launched as part of International Women’s Day 2014 showed that the UK had 650 MPs with 147 (22.6%) being women. This ranks us 65th of 189 countries.

It has been suggested that women do not get involved in politics. I beg to differ. The reality is that few women are elected but many are political and this has always been the case. Take my subject for instance (Gender Based Violence). Women lobbied for over two hundred years to get successive governments to take gender based violence (GBV) seriously. This gradually resulted in changes to legislation, the implementation of policy and more recently to funding for services. Women are political. So why aren’t there more women in politics and why don’t more women vote?

More women are not in politics due to a number of issues that include the structure in which politics operates which is patriarchal in nature and is a public sphere. Political life is structured around unsociable, long hours that don’t make it easy for women with caring responsibilities in a society in which women don’t ‘have it all’ but have to ‘do it all’. Political women also need to feel confident in having a voice. Historian Mary Beard has highlighted how women’s voices have been silenced and/or ridiculed. Recent comments aimed at women by politicians include the patronising ‘sit down dear’ (David Cameron, 2011), the idea that “there is a danger this feminism thing is getting a bit ludicrous” (Douglas Hurd, 2014). Women in politics have to be thick skinned and determined.

When women do get into politics, they have historically been given what is commonly termed ‘soft portfolios’ based on ‘women’s issues’. While I believe (and evidence shows) that such issues would not be addressed without women MPs, I also argue that issues termed ‘women’s issues’ such as GBV are everyone’s issues and every issue is a women’s issue. By separating ‘women’s issues’ we are colluding with discrimination. It is not ‘women’s issues’ that are missing from politics but women’s perspectives on a multitude of issues.

I also argue that women are generally reluctant to vote for male MPs who do not understand the realities of women’s lives, many of which don’t want to as evidenced by the mass exodus of male MPs (and some women) when Yvette Cooper called for a debate on how Coalition government policy is impacting on women. To engage women the political message has to have meaning for women.

Ruth Jones OBE, Director of the National Centre for the Study and Prevention of Violence and Abuse, University of Worcester
We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…




flattr this!

Coat hangers and blood: Imagine a world without abortion

Trigger Warning. This article contains graphic descriptions of illegal abortions. 

15 years ago I had an abortion. It was in London where women have the right to choose – that is as long as two doctors agree with her choice. But what would have happened if just one of those doctors decided that it would have been better for me – someone they’ve just met – to continue with the pregnancy?

I was young so I may not have been strong nor savvy enough to find alternatives. Or too scared to take them forward. Coat hangers can easily be found, but to shove one up your vagina all the way into your uterus takes a brave – and desperate – woman or girl.

It doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to work out what the world would be like without abortion. We women have been through it all before. But the vision is more frightening than anything else I can think of.

Backstreet abortions that consist of pumping the uterus full of soapy water, a la Vera Drake (which would often kill instantly) would be one scenario. The infamous (but never to be underestimated in its volume of use) coat hanger; many reputable gynaecologists such as Waldo Felding have stated that they have seen many women turn up to A&E with the hanger still wedged up their vaginal passage. Or, how about a pint and a half of turpentine? Or. throwing yourself down stairs to induce miscarriage? Some women may think that the trusty household hoover may do the trick. I mean, it cleans up everything else, so why not?

We would go back to a time when less reputable newspapers advertised ‘Cures for menstrual blockage’ as advertising revenue would overtake the moral high ground. A high ground where currently the Daily Mail condemns Josie Cunningham for wanting an abortion. These cures were poisonous, and sometime fatal. You would virtually have to kill the mother to destroy the foetus.

Backstreet abortions would be done without local anaesthetic on someone’s dirty kitchen table, with filthy utensils, in a dark room and by women who didn’t really care if they clumsily ripped through your womb.

One women I talked with spoke of waiting on a street corner in 1962. A van turns up, blindfolds and places her in the van where she is given a backstreet abortion and dropped somewhere in the middle of nowhere hours later, with no money or map to get home.

Removing legal abortion does not remove abortion. It never has done. It drives it underground where violent, life-threatening alternatives loiter for those desperate women and girls who don’t want to be pregnant. Abortion becomes a profitable business on the black market and prices out the most desperate and poor – minority groups.

A world without abortion would leave us like Brazil where one fifth of the one million women who have backstreet abortions each year go to hospital with botched procedures. Or Ireland, where Savita Halappanavar died whilst miscarrying her wanted pregnancy; despite that her life would have been saved from a simple abortion.

In January, the Irish Republic further criminalised abortion with 14 year jail term. In Northern Ireland, more than 1,000 women each year travel to have an abortion in other parts of the UK. I’m staggered that we feminists in the rest of the UK are largely unaware of the terrible restrictions Irish women face in their right to choose, a mere few hundred miles away.

It’s an appalling fact that women from Ireland are forced abroad to access a fundamental healthcare service that they should be able to obtain at home. It’s a sad fact that Ireland is a prime example of what the world looks like if abortion is illegal. A world of coat hangers and blood: where women are forced into continuing with unwanted pregnancies that they may be unable to afford or cope with.

Melanie is a NGO-worker, feminist & film-maker. Follow her on twitter @51percentorg

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…




flattr this!

Beaten & begging: all India’s parties ignore the “untouchable” widows

Last December, the non-governmental organisation (NGO) Maitri India found 95-year-old widow Kanchan Dal living and begging on the streets of Radhakund, a small village a few kilometres outside of Vrindavan. Now she is sitting on her bed in Maitri’s recently constructed emergency shelter. Stick-like limbs poke out of her sari at various angles and her right eye is covered by a cloudy cataract. She says she can’t remember when her husband died or exactly how long she’s lived in the street. Maitri staff are amazed she has survived so long and they seem to dote on her. “If he doesn’t press my feet for ten minutes each day,” she says, gesturing to a member of staff, “I throw a tantrum.”

As India’s politicians vied with each other for popularity in the recent elections, NGOs say that millions of the country’s much-maligned widows continue to be ignored. Many widows are unregistered, excluded from the voting process and easy to dismiss. In recent years NGOs such as Maitri are increasing being forced to care for Vrindavan’s most vulnerable widows, as government negligence and exploitation continues unabated.

Maitri offer healthcare and food to around 500 widows in the Vrindavan area, including the village of Radhakund where an estimated 3,000 widows live. Maitri is currently constructing two ashrams in the village; each will house around 100 widows. “This is the most destitute part of this area,” says Winnie Singh, Executive Director of Maitri India. “The widows out here get no government benefits of any kind. The government just doesn’t recognize them. Nobody fights for them.”

Thousands of destitute widows have congregated in Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh, to scratch together a meagre existence through begging or chanting in the holy city’s temples for several hours a day, in exchange for a few rupees – enough for a handful of rice and some chapatti flour.

“Widows here are in a prison-type situation of hellish purgatory,” says Panca Gauda Das, President of Vrindavan’s ISKCON temple, “and people think they deserve it.”

1feat

A widow in the Radha Kunj ashram, Vrindavan

Widowed men can re-marry and live normal lives. However, in some traditional Indian communities, widowed women are regarded as ‘untouchable’; in spite of their previously held caste or class. They may be expected to shave their heads, wear only white and spend their remaining days praying for their dead husbands in a supposedly holy place such as Vrindavan. Widows are often regarded as ‘inauspicious’, although the women are often forced to leave their families because financial factors or petty family jealousies lead them to be regarded as a burden. Some are from wealthy families; NGOs claim to have seen widows dropped off in a Mercedes and then abandoned.

Shakti Dasu is a 67-year-old widow from Bengal. When she talks she reveals teeth that are red and rotting at the roots from chewing betel. Dasu’s husband died eight years ago and she came to the Vrindavan area a year later. She is from a well-to-do family and used to own a shop and a three-storey house. She claims that her son wanted the property so badly that he broke bones in both of her legs and inflicted serious head injuries. After a year of mistreatment she gave him everything she owned and came to Radhakund to earn 10 rupees a day chanting in government ashrams.

The destitute women who go to the government’s bhajan ashrams in huge numbers are inadvertently filling the pockets of others. The more widows there are chanting in the ashram, the higher the level of donations; and the older the women, the more generous the benefaction.

Singh says that money is made from government ashrams “at every point.” Donations to these ashrams are commonly misappropriated by ashram employees, creating an incentive to keep recruiting large numbers of the oldest widows. The money earmarked for maintaining the buildings often disappears. Money is commonly made by stealing the paltry government pensions awarded to the widows, typically between 300-500 rupees per month. “25-30% of the money is often taken away by somebody from the [ashram] management, as well as the government, as well as the bank,” says Singh.

When widows become too ill or frail to chant in government ashrams, they are often forced to beg in the streets. Shefali Bhowmick is a frail, birdlike 65-year-old and it’s too arduous for her to chant for several hours a day. Bhowmick’s family became verbally abusive towards her following the death of her husband and they allowed her 12-year-old grandson to hit her. “My son and daughter [in law] didn’t care for me, they didn’t want me,” she says. “They were asking me for money and they wanted me to work.”

She came to Radhakund two years ago and began begging. On a good day she can earn 25 rupees, on a bad day just 10. She becomes tearful when recounting her story, rocking back and forth, remembering the house and land in Calcutta that she used to own with her husband.

In recent years some legislation has been passed to protect India’s widows. The Maintenance of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, passed in 2007, made it illegal for children to abandon their parents. However, such legislation often fails to offer protection for widows as the law is often not applied. In many instances widows are poorly educated and are not able to understand or demand their rights. When laws are enacted, traditional values often render them impractical.
Winnie Singh has offered to fight for Shakti Dasu’s case and get her land and property back, but Dasu declined. “Her take on it is ‘you will put me back in my house, but my community is not going to accept me because they are going to say – ‘here is a woman who threw her son out of his house’.’ They will not say anything to him even though he threw his own mother out! It’s very strange.”

Sulabh International, a not-for-profit Indian NGO, began working with the widows of Vrindavan in 2012, following stories broken by the Indian media which detailed instances where the bodies of dead widows had been chopped up, put in a sack and thrown in the river, rather than being given costly Hindu cremation and burial rites. In the aftermath of the scandal, and resulting Public Interest Litigation, the Supreme Court approached Sulabh for help looking after the widows in government ashrams.

salubh

With the help of Indian NGO Sulabh, widows work on textiles that will later be sold on local markets. The women are also being trained by Kopal, a New York-based fashion designer.

Sulabh now oversees the running of seven government ashrams, and one private ashram for Nepalese widows – a rough total of 800 widows. They are offering healthcare and vocational training to the women, in addition to a monthly stipend of 2,000 rupees. Some of the women say that the money has changed their lives; many can now afford nutritious food and have their healthcare needs met. Some of them sell dresses, bags and incense-sticks on the local markets, using their skills gained through Sulabh’s vocational training.

Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, the founder of Sulabh, believes that giving the women vocational training can change the way they are perceived. “These women should be a resource of the country. Not helpless people in society. And the moment they earn a livelihood, the whole family will come to give them respect because she is an earning member.”

4feat

In a move that breaks regular tradition, women are now being taught literacy in Bengali, English and Hindi in an attempt develop new skills.

Maitri’s Winnie Singh says that reconciliation between widows and their families is actually very rare and labour intensive – it often takes a lot of work by intermediaries and will only work in a few cases. Furthermore, for the many widows who are too frail to work or learn new skills, a huge number still rely on charity, and wherever money is handed out the scope for corruption drastically increases.

Around 350 widows are living in Chetan Vihar, a government-owned residential ashram in Vrindavan, which Sulabh now runs. Many of the women speak reverently of Pathak, giving him the honorific ‘Baba’. However, after some time, other women come forward with complaints about the intermediary NGO that administers the ashram on Sulabh’s behalf.

7feat

Basanti Dasi, 70, sits in her quarters at the Radha Kunj ashram.

Ramanandi Nai Thakur, is a 75-year-old woman. White roots are ousting the bright orange henna from her hair. She claims that there was a recent altercation between intermediary NGO workers and her friend, that they were dragged out of their room by their saris, and then hit and kicked. She also says that she was given only a quarter of her 2,000 rupee stipend by the intermediary NGO this month and has had to forgo some food and rely on friends to help her. She says that complaining was futile: “We can’t ask Dr Pathak for help because he is busy and, when we ask the government for help, they ignore us.”

A middle-aged woman living in Chetan Vihar approaches and says quietly that the problems with the intermediary NGO are fairly common and that they threaten the women. “They say, ‘if you tell anyone anything about what has happened we will wipe your name from the list, throw you out the ashram and you’ll be back begging in the streets.’”

Another woman complained that she was not getting the money she was owed and needs funds for an eye problem. “Tell Baba what is happening” she pleaded.

Sulabh claim that they were not aware of the allegations but that they take them extremely seriously. They said that they intended to remove and replace the administering NGO immediately. Dr Pathak acknowledged that corruption amongst many of India’s NGOs is rife.

The Age of Kali Yug

Back in Panca Gauda Das’s office, the walls are adorned with pictures of Krishna in various guises. On his desk sits a golden bust of a self-satisfied looking Swami Prabhupada, the founder of the Hare Krishna movement.

ISKCON have been criticised for not doing enough to help Vrindavan’s widows. Gauda Das says that they do some food distribution, and some Hare Krishna devotees run small projects, but claims their main focus is on “spreading Krishna consciousness.” “It’s the duty of government [to help widows],” he says. “We don’t want to lose our main thrust, which is providing spiritual knowledge and education.”

Das cheerfully states that we are currently living through the ‘Age of Kali Yuga’; a period of destruction, darkness, moral degradation and decline that some Hindus believe is the final stage in a quartet of cyclical ages.

Twenty years ago the writer William Dalrymple visited Vrindavan and found widows living in abject squalor and misery. His vivid account was published a book titled The Age of Kali. Two decades later, India has changed dramatically. It is much wealthier, though more unequal, and has undergone rapid economic growth and development. Traditional views are being forcefully challenged. NGOs are increasingly involved in caring for the widows and new approaches, such as offering vocational training, may help some women.

But the scale of widows’ issue remains vast. When Dalrymple visited Vrindavan he estimated that there were around 8,000 widows in the area. Now it is estimated that there are several thousand more, although a definitive survey is required, and India’s NGO sector is not able to cope with the demand.

“I guess one just has to keep talking to the government because they need to accept their responsibilities,” says Singh. “They are supposed to be responsible for shelter, health, clothing – everything. We are just supporting what they are supposed to be doing, [but] we are assuming their role.”

As politicians campaigned for votes in India’s lengthy election process, NGOs claimed that there are few differences between the political parties on the issue of widows because they are simply ignored. Despite the work of NGOs, the age old problems of exploitation, corruption and neglect remain prevalent. The ‘Age of Kali Yuga’ continues to be particularly cruel to India’s widows.

 

Patrick Keddie is a British freelance journalist. See http://patrickkeddie.wordpress.com/ for more of his work.

David Shaw is a photojournalist from the UK, specialising in human rights and social issues reportage. To see more of his work go to www.davidjshaw.com

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…




flattr this!

How pioneering women took back Yoga from men.

Twenty-first century yoga is female. Look around the classes. There are a few men on planet yoga, but they are massively outnumbered by women. Yoga is a women’s thing – isn’t it?

But the practices all these women are doing were created by men, and for men. Some medieval yoga manuals advise yogis to avoid women, for fear of distraction or pollution. Hatha yoga (yoga that works through physical postures to modify mental activities) was a boys’ game, and women were not invited. Medieval hatha yoga manuals were not written for women’s bodies. The practices were closely guarded secrets, to be passed on from one male teacher to his initiates for their spiritual advancement.

So how does a medieval male practice, a secret technology for spiritual evolution, become a multi-billion pound global business with an almost entirely female customer base?

It’s a long, fascinating story, only now coming full circle. Most histories of hatha yoga refer to fifteenth century manuals, and to philosophy set out around the first century. Ideas and techniques from these texts were codified and possessed by male teachers who established powerful lineages to protect their teachings. Some of the lineages are monastic, ascetic traditions, and others are secular, but all of them are patriarchal hierarchies, with little place for women.

But there are feminine roots to yoga. Before the lineages and hierarchies existed to promote certain forms of yoga teaching, the deep roots of this holistic practice of self-care and empowerment were female.

Archeological evidence from 1300 BCE shows the roots of tantra, an approach to spirituality that embraces all aspects of human experience as a means to liberation. The roots of tantra include practices that honour the yoginis (goddesses and women who practice yoga) and celebrate the powerful energies of menstruation and birth as opportunities for profound spiritual initiation. It’s from the roots of tantra that hatha yoga grew. Hatha yoga is the son, but tantra is the mother.

Could this be why women love yoga? It was ours in the first place: a whole technology of self-care and spiritual development inspired by the cycles of our bodies. So when we get on our mats and follow our breath, we come back home to ourselves, rediscover our own power, and reconnect with ancient feminine roots of yoga.

For western women, this rediscovery began at the end of the nineteenth century. During the 1890s, when Queen Victoria was taking yoga philosophy lessons in Buckingham Palace, an Anglo-Irish governess called Margaret Noble met a traveling Bengali monk in a London drawing room, and fell in love with yoga as a spiritual teaching. Margaret traveled to Calcutta to study with her teacher.

As ‘Sister Nivedita’, Margaret Noble was one of a wave of courageous women who rediscovered the power of yoga and shared it. Other pioneering women traveled to India, each seeking yoga teachings to bring back home. In 1912 Mollie Bagot Stack studied in India, and brought her ‘stretch and swing’ classes to the Women’s League of Health and Beauty in London in the 1920s. In 1930, Latvian Eugenie Labunskaia studied with yoga master Krishnamacharya. Known as Indra Devi, Eugenie was a passionate and hugely influential international yoga teacher. By the time she died at the age of 103, she had spread yoga throughout five continents.

Indra Devi was the most prominent of the astonishing women who devoted their lives to yoga. When these women began to share yoga, something remarkable happened. Initially, yoga students would be lined up like soldiers, performing standard poses to order. This masculine approach to yoga teaching is still widespread, but slowly, women teachers began to sense that military approaches to yoga promoted by traditional lineages were not exactly suited to women’s bodies, at least not all of the time. Inspired by teachers such as Vanda Scaravelli and Angela Farmer, many women teachers have begun to work intuitively with the tools of hatha yoga, to share a more feminine, potently nourishing and womanly practice.

This fluid, powerful yoga brings us back to the ancient feminine roots of tantric practices that informed hatha yoga in the first place. We are coming full circle. I’ve been practicing yoga for forty-three years, and have spent seven years researching the history of women in yoga. I’ve been delighted to rediscover that yoga’s feminine roots nourish women today.

When we heed our intuition, honouring the wisdom of our cycles, then yoga responds perfectly to the needs of our female bodies: bodies that menstruate and conceive, bodies that miscarry and give birth, bodies with breasts, wombs and bellies, bodies that go through menopause and experience pre-menstrual tension. The yoga that best serves women does not impose upon us the shapes and forms of yoga practice designed for men, instead, it supports us at every stage of our lives.

So if you are female and you practice yoga, then I invite you, next time you are told in a class what to do, to pause, to feel into yourself and ask: does this really suit me right now? If I am menstruating, or ovulating, does this make a difference to my yoga practice? If I am about to bleed, or if I am having a hot flush, then does this yoga that I’m being instructed to do really suit me today?

When we ask these questions, we don’t just replicate sequences learnt from male lineages that exist to protect teachings, not to serve the well-being of students. Instead we find yoga that works best for us as women, that respects the cycles of our female bodies. This is a radical shift towards self-care as empowerment. And yoga that empowers women has very ancient roots.

Uma Dinsmore-Tuli Phd is a yoga therapist. Her new book, Yoni Shakti: a woman’s guide to power and freedom through yoga and tantra is out now. For more details of the book, please visit www.yonishakti.co. To connect with teachers who share a feminine vision of yoga practice for women please visit www.wombyoga.org

Stockist details www.yogamatters.com

Photo: Wikimedia

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…




flattr this!

True Detective & the fetisisation of killing women

It was during an episode of HBO’s hit series True Detective that it became clear. When the camera panned on two breasts jiggling up and down on Woody Harrelson like a cheerleader on a bouncy castle, a part of me groaned. I get it: he’s troubled. How does watching a DD chest pogoing on my television screen illustrate this?

As I write this feature the internet is adamant that Jessica Chastain is NOT starring in the next season of HBO hit drama True Detective, despite the rumours. Rumours that hadn’t stopped bloggers from picking up on the debate about sexism in TV drama, pinning their hopes on an HBO-rehabilitation of a female lead detective such as Chastain for season two.

You could say that HBO has experienced a “woman problem” in recent years: shows such as True Detective, The Wire and Game of Thrones have all thrown up clunking questions about how television-makers truly see women. Our TV screens continue to make victims, mistresses, corpses, wives and prostitutes of us all and while I’d like to think that TV doesn’t hold much influence over how women are treated in real life, the events of this weekend have shown that young and impressionable men can be violently and fatally misogynistic. TV cannot be blamed but it is definitely part of the landscape.

Going back to True Detective, the fictionalised Louisiana in which the series is set is devoid of any real women of depth. The female characters who do appear are defined by men and moved around like pieces on a chessboard. A woman’s sexuality is used to illustrate a man’s spiritual disenchantment, every female character exists in a supporting role, often semi-naked, to prove some kind of existential point. Even when detective Marty rallies against the exploitation of a teenage prostitute, by episode 6 the same teenage prostitute is texting him images of herself in her underwear. He’s “damaged”, “misunderstood” and “flawed”, this much is clear – but wait, so is she.

Why does his crisis have to be explained at the expense of her, stripped down to her wonderbra? Stick a pair of antlers on a woman’s corpse (episode 1 opens with the discovery of a ritualistic murder where a prostitute’s dead body is posed wearing a crown of deer antlers) and the issue of violence against women and its sexual fetishism also enters the picture. Let’s face it: most detective dramas are fuelled by it, not just True Detective.

Nothing fascinates dramatists and viewers more than a murdered prostitute or a young schoolgirl missing-presumed-dead. Even when a drama series stars a female lead detective, like Sarah Lund in The Killing, young women are a prime crime-target. And then there’s Game of Thrones.

A rape scene that makers insisted wasn’t a rape scene has communicated a dangerously confused message on sexual consent where clarification is crucial. During recent episode ‘Breaker of Chains’ a woman is very clearly raped by her brother in the tomb of her dead son. Faced with criticisms that this scene glamorised sexual violence, episode director Alex Graves replied, “Well, it becomes consensual by the end, because anything for [Cersei and Jaime] ultimately results in a turn-on, especially a power struggle.” The idea that a rape is “not completely a rape” is an uncomfortable director’s commentary when the apparently “turned-on” woman continually says “stop it” in the script.

So what’s going on and how can we fix it? It’s interesting to note that with only one exception over the course of four decades, HBO has not aired an original one-hour drama series created by a woman. If that wasn’t enough on its own, under 8% of HBO’s original dramas and mini-series came from women. In the UK, the outlook is just as bleak with a study by Directors UK, which represents 5,000 radio and television broadcasters, finding that no women directors have ever worked on many of our most popular dramas. Only 13% of drama episodes were directed by women in 2011-2012 and no sci-fi or fantasy genre dramas were directed by women between 2011 and 2012, yet women make up 27% of the directing force. Director Beryl Richards, who chaired the study added context by suggesting that women are often questioned as to whether they “have the authority to lead a largely male crew, or the technical knowledge”.

When women do take the helm, recent critical-smash Top of the Lake (co-produced by BBC Two in the UK) shows how sexual violence can be depicted to tell a female story from a woman’s perspective. In a strong female lead, abuse still acts as a bumper either side to direct Detective Robin Griffin’s story (played by Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss). What makes Top of the Lake different to the rest is its unsettling exploration of what it means to survive sexual violence, not just endure it. Robin’s traumatic rape isn’t a titillating tale of a good woman wronged by a bad man to further a male narrative.

To fix things, we need to address gender disparity in TV dramas: both on and off the screen. We need to question why our favourite programmes are caricaturing flimsy female roles and we need to ask why women aren’t writing, producing and directing more of the shows we’re watching. Directors UK are now addressing this imbalance, demanding that 30% of all programmes produced in 2017 be directed by women. In their words: ‘Broadcasters and production companies are willing to work with us to make change happen. Small steps have been taken but there is a great deal of work to be done.’ As for HBO and next season’s True Detective: why stop at one female detective? Let’s double it.

Kat Lister is a Contributing Editor at Feminist Times and a freelance writer living in London and can be found tweeting to an empty room @Madame_George. She has contributed to NME, The Telegraph, Grazia, Time Out, Clash magazine and Frankie magazine.

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…




flattr this!

‘Worcester Woman’ talks back: should there be more women in politics?

As our regional Feminist Times team hurtles towards our first event, I was asked by Editor Deborah Coughlin, why I got involved in setting up a regional events team for the Feminist Times in the West Midlands.

If there had been a short answer to this question it would have made for a very dull blog. The long answer, however, may just fill a book. So here’s my attempt at a shortened and abridged version of why I signed up.

My story starts as an undergraduate, studying the psychology of women, listening to female narratives, discovering feminism as a political movement. These experiences have led me down all sorts of paths of personal and political enlightenment and have created a life long fascination with the psychology of the female body, feminism, women’s talk, herstory, mythology and Goddesses. It also inspired a desire to learn from, and to educate, other women, to join them on their path to enlightenment.

It was this desire that then led me to Youth Work, specifically sexual health education and work with young women in particular. It’s hard to find specific funding to work with young women on issues of sexual equality and I’ve had to be creative to make this kind of work bend to a specifically feminist agenda. More recently, austerity measures have seen further cuts to services for young people so it’s really exciting to see the re-emergence of feminist youth work, like Feminist Webs in the last year or so, but it’s not common place.

The relative informality of the youth work process has all but disappeared in recent years but in my early career the job afforded me hours of sitting in coffee shops, discussing projects, planning sessions and biding my time between them. It was during this immersion in coffee culture that I was first invited to become involved in putting on a VDay event in our local community. I jumped at the chance.

It was great being involved in these events, working collectively with wonderful women to create amazing events out of thin air. Shouting the reclaimed C-word to audiences, raising money for grassroot’s women’s organisations and awareness of women’s global issues to a wide range of women and girls. After doing this for 4 years, however, life has taken me down some unexpected paths and now, one tragedy, one wedding, a pregnancy, and one 7 year old girl child later, my heart and my head are back in action, and feminism calls once more.

During the last three years I’ve been attending the Women of the World festival in London’s Southbank Centre. It’s another contributing factor to my wanting to get involved in feminist events. My experiences there could be a whole other blog in itself but one thing I’m always struck by is how especially awesome it would be if there could be such an event nearer home. Something a little less London centric, where it might be possible to network with like minded local folk.

It was with all these things in mind that I responded to a call for action at the end of last year from the newly founded Feminist Times. The call was to help them fulfill a promise to their members to put on local events. A call that came at a perfect time for me, a frustrated feminist, looking for the right opportunity to ride the current wave. How could I not get involved?

In February I traveled to Birmingham to meet with Deborah to look at how we might start turning an idea into a reality. Since then it’s been a bit of a roller coaster ride. That initial meeting was the start of so many fantastic conversations with many fascinating women, each inspiring many brilliant ideas: an arts festival showcasing women’s talent, a WoW festival for the Midlands, Feminist Barbie’s, a Feminist Café, an Edit-a-thon, a Feminist Burlesque show with a Q&A with performers, Feminist workshops in schools, a political party for the new Feminist order… Sometimes it felt like my head might explode.

I soon realised that these ideas were part of something much bigger than I could conceive and definitely bigger than the original brief. I also appeared to be getting carried away by that greater power that understands that when you bring the right women together something quite magical often happens. Fortunately, I also realised that I needed to reign myself in, harness just a few ideas, if I was to achieve anything at all. From small acorns do oak trees grow.

So in reorganising my thoughts I was able to bring together a small group of women, under the banner of a West Midlands Feminist Times team. We are collectively 20 something to 50 something. We each come with a diverse set of backgrounds, passions and experiences to bring to the table, and each with a unique desire to help galvanise a local feminist movement.

Obviously the range of potential themes and topics for our first event were vast but we quickly decided on an event that reflected the context of the recent local and European elections. We were interested in media discussions about all women shortlists. We were angry about increasing cuts, locally and nationally, to the services that have women and children at their heart. We were excited by articles about feminist parties in other European countries and intrigued as to how countries that are generally presented as less politically advanced by our British media could have better female representation in their governing bodies. Our own personal interests and concerns seemed to be centering around politics and how the world might be different with more women in positions of power and influence.

In addition to this, we were all fascinated by the ‘Worcester Woman‘. This politically contentious and ambiguous creature is said to represent the female face of middle England. It’s hard to find when and where the term was first coined but it’s generally understood to have appeared around 1997 and is used in the political media to describe a particularly type of female voter with ‘consumerist views and a shallow interest in politics’. Conversationally, if you Google ‘Worcester Woman’ most of the articles on the first page consist of the furthering of this political stereotype, none challenge it’s basic premise. As a diverse group of Worcester Women, as feminists, and as the West Midlands Feminist Times we decided we wanted to redress this notion of shallowness, we wanted to talk back.

And so our first event was conceived, meeting in women’s centres, cafés, pubs and our own homes to create our first happening: a panel event in the center of Worcester focusing on women’s place in contemporary politics. Since then it’s been a hectic month of extreme multi tasking for all of us. Juggling jobs, families and extra curricula activities with the planning of an event and all that it entails. A venue to find, a panel to compile, letters to write, calls to make, networks to draw upon, favours to ask, decisions to make, problems to solve, solutions to find, publicity to organise, flyers to disseminate, volunteers to recruit…..and now here we are, just days away from pulling off an extraordinary event.

The evening promises to be one of interesting and exciting discussion and debate in Worcester’s prestigious Guildhall. With an amazing panel drawn from local politicians, councillors and academics, as well as the Feminist Times own Editor, Deborah Coughlin. Our title for the event is obviously a rhetorical question (Worcester Woman talks back: should there be more women in politics?) but I’m very intrigued to see how our panel translates the question and how our audience will respond.

My personal hope for this event is that it might create further opportunities for discussion and action at a local level. I hope it encourages people to look at the barriers to women’s participation in local politics and also to look at ways of supporting and encouraging more women and girls into seeing a political career as an achievable and desirable goal.

Longer term I hope that we are able to offer a wide variety of events across the West Midlands that attract diverse audiences of feminists and potential feminists and those still unsure. I’d like to encourage collaboration with other feminist networks, perhaps ultimately creating a strong regional network of passionate, creative voices across the West Midlands. Anything I can do to contribute to this current wave of feminism, participating in its ebb and flow and continuing momentum, hoping to make a difference to people’s lives by challenging the status quo.

So watch this space for our future events (we have a Feminist Café event on the 18th June) and if you have an idea for a Fem T event in the West Midlands then please get in touch.

Attend our debut event “Worcester Woman talks back: Should there be more women in politics?”  Contact us at westmidlands@feministtimes.com

Leisa Taylor is a Youth Worker, Tutor, sometime blogger, Jill of all Trades, Feminista Extrordinaire, currently learning to pay the Ukulele. Follow her on Twitter @munachik; Facebook & LinkedIn @ Leisa Taylor; munachik.wordpress.com

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…




flattr this!

Fem:Ale a beer festival for women

This weekend sees the first ever Fem.Ale festival taking place in Norwich – a three-day event celebrating delicious beer, brewed by women, enjoyed by everyone. We caught up with festival founder and curator Erica Horton to find out why this is event is so important and why it’s happening now:

The myth that the pub is a predominantly male space, and that beer and ale are enjoyed more by men than women, is unfortunately still resonant at the moment. The assumption that men are making the beer for other men, and women are used as a way of selling it, rather than as collaborators and creators, is a massive problem.

Even something as rudimentary as a pump clip that may go unnoticed, depicting busty women serving ales with names like ‘Buxom Blonde’ and ‘Red Head’, show how women can be seen as a commodity in this business; a commodity that is often sexualised. There is no male alternative to this, though I’m sure the male equivalent would involve beers called ‘Landlord’ or ‘Trawlerboy’, depicting positions of power. However there seems to be a shift in beer culture right now in Norfolk.

Norfolk loves its ale and there certainly lots of ‘old man’ pubs to be found, but not only is it no longer unusual to see women drinking beer, here it’s not unusual for women to make the beer.

I’m not sure this is true on a national scale yet, either because the beer isn’t as good or perhaps the myths hold more weight, but Norfolk seems to be at the forefront of a gender change in the beer industry so it seems apt that we’re having this festival.

One of the ways we can break down the myths surrounding the female relationship with beer is by looking at women who are working within the industry itself. FEM.ALE is focused less on trying to get more women drinking the stuff and on showcasing the female brewers themselves, providing a platform for networking and collaboration to build support for women in the industry. That’s something we hope to get out of the panel on Saturday afternoon. Do women feel separate or other to male brewers? We want to give women space to talk about their experiences as women in what is otherwise perceived to be a predominantly male industry.

I’ve had people (only men up until now) asking me why I am putting on a female specific ale event, saying beer doesn’t have a gender and should just be about good beer. In an ideal world this would be true, but when you look at pub culture and specifically beer culture it would seem that women’s behavior is being policed to a certain extent. Questions are still raised about whether women are ‘ladylike’ enough if they drink beer, should they be having halves if they are going to drink ale? This specific gendering of behavior needs to be questioned on a grassroots level, otherwise the everyday cultures that ascribe and normalise different appropriate behaviours are reinforced.

For me, as a feminist, it is crucial that these heteronormative gender binary distinctions are continually questioned and those constructions of gender need to be broken down. There is an assumption that the pub is a male domain where men make the beer, women serve and men drink. Admittedly this stereotype does occasionally ring true, but we wanted to break with what was perceived as traditional and celebrate the women who make ale and love ale.

It may seem that there are more problematic issues to be focusing on in feminism than simply what alcoholic beverages men and women are typically drinking, that this is a trivial matter, but women working in the industry face sexism and it is important to confront that.

CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) who currently have a female director, Christine Cryne, put forward a motion at the last AGM to tackle sexism and racism within the industry, so this is a really exciting time to be hosting an event like this; there is a real sense of camaraderie and purpose surrounding it.

I hope that FEM.ALE will get both men and women openly talking about these issues. We want to break the everyday cultures regarding what is ‘appropriate’ behavior for women in a traditionally male-dominated public space… whilst enjoying lots of delicious beer in the process, of course.

The three-day event is part of the City of Ale Festival and is providing a home for female brewed beers within the city wide festival. It’s taking place this weekend (Friday 23rd – Sunday 25th May) at The Plasterers Arms in Norwich. It will feature panel discussions, beer tasting, live music, all of which are free apart from Dea Latis’ ‘Beers with Breakfast’, which is a ticketed event. Full event program information can be found on the festival’s website, or follow @FemAleFestival.

Ellie Jones is a musician currently playing guitar with Buoys and Hannah Lou Clark, co-founder of Gravy Records and works with Transgressive Artist & Producer Management. Feminist and beer lover.

Photo: Simon Finlay

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…



flattr this!

The Daily Mail, “White Dee” & the “Happy Depressive”

Next week is Mental Health Awareness Week. If you have an idea for an article email editorial@feministtimes.com

In this country 1 in 5 of us will have an experience of clinical depression in the course of a lifetime and there will be a higher proportion of women sufferers. The mental health services are in crisis with severe cash shortages and mental illness continues to carry a heavy stigma.

It is indeed hard to understand an illness that cannot be seen but to suffer from depression can feel like living under a curse. Most people think they know what a depressed person looks like but they would be wrong. A doctor friend of mine, when training to be a psychiatrist, was told ‘beware the smiling depressive.’ It is good advice and not stated often enough. Many psychotherapists will have had experience of the client who can appear cheerful and upbeat and then unexpectedly make a suicide attempt.

When reading the Daily Mail’s article on ‘White Dee’ I was shocked but not surprised. Dee, from the Channel 4 program Benefits Street, is seen partying during 4-day holiday, which she has been offered free. However, the potentially high price she is paying is having her picture in the paper, drinking, kissing a man and being offered up to the general readership as an object of contempt. The implication is that she is a liar who is fooling the benefit system. The reader can feel rightly appalled. But the premise here is that depressed people never laugh or smile and if they are able to do this then they are not depressed. This is simply not the case.

I can sit with a very depressed client who is in utter despair and full of self-loathing and hopelessness. Yet, even in the midst of this misery, we can sometimes enjoy a laugh together. I also know that such a client, often a woman, will then go home to their families and make a superhuman effort to be cheerful. Sometimes they manage better than others. It is interesting to note that buried in the article on White Dee was a comment she made on not really enjoying herself because she misses her children and hates flying. The reader is again invited to disbelieve this because all the pictures show her partying.

Ironically there was another article in The Mail the same week on Compassion Focused Therapy. (CFT). This is a relatively new therapy that is used for treating anxiety, which is often a feature of depression. One of the most painful aspects of depression is self-hatred and worthlessness. CFT helps the client treat and think of themselves with compassion rather than criticism. Compassion is not the same as self-pity. It is about being able to have realistic thoughts to combat negative self-beliefs. I’m just ‘completely useless’ isn’t a helpful thought but being able to think ‘I’m doing my best’ and ‘I’ll get better’ is vastly preferable and more constructive.

Depressed people will have such an internal bullying voice which attacks them for not being good enough, perfect enough, thin enough, rich enough and so on. The bully by definition doesn’t have compassion or empathy for the victim, which in the case of depression are the sufferers themselves. The tabloid papers frequently use bullying strategies that denigrate those they wish to attack. The article on White Dee was designed to prevent understanding or compassion. We only saw the photos they want us to see and which invited condemnation. They offered no possibility that this woman might in reality suffer from depression and that being at the receiving end of such media coverage might truly cause her harm.

Sue Cowan-Jenssen is a UKCP registered psychotherapist and EMDR Consultant in private practice in North London.

Photo: Daily Mail

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…




flattr this!

#Genderweek: Why are men violent?

Click here to read all #GenderWeek articles.

We sent all our #GenderWeek contributors this brief:

Prof Jesse Prinz (Author, Beyond Human Nature)

If biological sex is not binary, if the current trend is towards trans inclusion in feminism and non-gendered charities for domestic violence – how in this context of a gradual break down in “gender norms”, can you explain why men continue to be much more violent than women? And what repercussions does this have for the discussions we’ve been having in #GenderWeek?

  • What do you consider the reasons behind men being more likely to being violent – is it culture, society, or evolution?
  • If the latter, how do you then deal with the idea that biology of sex is not binary – people assigned male and female at birth may not have XX/XY chromosomes?
  • And how do you deal, in an empathic and caring way, with the real threat that some women feel when with someone who was assigned male at birth in their space?

Here are their responses:

Dr Finn Mackay is a feminist activist and researcher.
Male violence against women is epidemic, it is a symptom of patriarchy and also maintains it. Male violence is not due to biology, it is made and not born. This means it can be unmade through the dismantling of patriarchy, which would liberate all of us, women and men. Not all men rape or abuse women, this means there’s no genetic excuse for those who do. Masculinity is wedded to violence, displayed through domination at any cost; leaving women and children to pay the price. We need to create an equal world, where we can all be the human beings we are, not brutal and limiting stereotypes.

Karen Ingala Smith is the Chief Executive of nia, a charity supporting women and children who have experienced sexual and domestic violence.
Gender kills. Sexual inequality is structural and based on biological sex. Gender is a social construct, a means of maintaining and reinforcing men’s oppression of women, sexual inequality. Gender is neither natural nor innate. Gender is a critical enabler of male violence against women. For me, feminism is about the liberation of women from male oppression. This does not mean that as a feminist I do not recognise or seek to end other forms of oppression, such as those based on class, race and disability; but it means that I see eradication of socially constructed gender as vital for the liberation of all women.

Lynne Segal is a feminist writer and activist, and Anniversary Professor of Psychology & Gender Studies at Birkbeck, University of London.
I am suspicious of what is meant in trying to sum up, or wrap up, gender contrasts – seeing problems with all binary reductionism, gendered or otherwise. My basic feminism has never been Manichean: men equals ‘bad’; women equals ‘good’, when many women are not feminists in any way I can recognise (that is instinctively egalitarian and inclusive of all women); while some men do support women in all the ways they can think of, however privileged their gender position. But of course gender remains a hugely, multifaceted, hierarchical structure, which affects us all, so here is what I would say:

Some forms of gender polarisation are foolish. Men do not start all wars, women often condone, assist and more recently fight in them – was Margaret Thatcher a man? We need boys and men to support feminism. Some do. But I can laugh along with Barbara Ehrenreich: “Of all the nasty outcomes predicted for women’s liberation… none was more alarming, from a feminist point a view, than the suggestion that women would eventually become just like men.” Some have!

CN Lester is a musician, writer and activist.
I don’t feel that there’s any simple answer to this question, and that trying to reduce it to a sophistic “nature vs. nurture” argument distorts the research already carried out. It hampers our future efforts at reducing violence, and examining and trying to solve the myriad reasons why violence happens.

I think a multidisciplinary approach is needed – we need research and ideas for action from a range of activists, psychologists, neuroscientists, social workers, anthropologists (I could go on) – and while it’s necessary to remember that men commit the majority of violent acts, we can’t afford to ignore violent acts committed by women. The idea that men are somehow tainted and irredeemable and women are innately virtuous helps no one.

Natacha Kennedy is an academic, former primary school teacher, political and transgender activist who identified as a girl from a young age.
I believe that if one accepts that male violence is the result of biology then one has effectively given up on any idea of human self-determination either for men or for women. In the same way that Cordelia Fine has demonstrated that women are culturally influenced in terms of behavioural expectations and self-perception, so men are also influenced by a culture that expects certain things of them. This has probably come about largely because the ruling class needs to maintain a reserve of potentially violent people to use to protect their power and economic interests, consequently it needs to promote a culture that encourages men to develop violent dispositions.

Ruth Greenberg is a UK radical feminist, involved in RadFem UK, Abolish Prostitution Now and local feminist activism.
Male violence against women and girls, and other men too, is a socialised phenomena. It is understandable that some women, overcome with the horror of male violence, seek a biological explanation for this violence but the scientific evidence does not support that (Cordelia Fine, Delusions of Gender).

The prevalence of male violence presents a challenge to women who do not want male socialised people in women-only spaces. Trans women are socialised as boys and sometimes as men, depending on when they transition. So for many there is a concern that violence is not reduced by transition.

That is why I think we need women-only spaces that include trans women, and also spaces that are for women born female only.

Roz Kaveney is a member of the Feminist Times Editorial Board. She is a trans woman, novellist, poet, critic and activist.
Patriarchy is a system of social organisation and control dedicated to ownership and the transmission of ownership. To this end it makes use of violence and the threat of violence to control women’s reproduction and to police everything which might threaten bloodline transmission, e.g. sexual and gender variance, or exposure to other cultures. Subordinate groups are taught to fear: recruits to the dominant group are taught to value violence. Socialisation into violence is accordingly linked to systems of expectation particularly, but not limited to gender and sex assigned at birth.

Louise Pennington is a radical feminist writer and activist who founded A Room of Our Own.
Women are oppressed by the biological reality of sex as is so clearly highlighted by the Everyday Sexism Project and Women Under Siege. Radical feminism is a political theory that recognises this sex-based oppression (Patriarchy). As a radical feminist, I do not believe that men are biologically programmed to be violent. I believe that male violence is encouraged and perpetuated in order to maintain wealth and power within a select group of, mainly white, men. We need women-only services that recognise gendered patterns of violence because violence is both a cause and a product of socialisation and sex inequality.

What do you think? Tell us below…

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…



flattr this!

‪#‎GenderWeek: Andrea was not transphobic

Click here to read all #GenderWeek articles.

When Andrea and I met in 1974 her first book, Woman Hating, was on press. She wrote all her subsequent work in the home where we lived together until 2005, when I and the world lost her.

One passage in Woman Hating changed my life forever:

“The discovery is, of course, that “man” and “woman” are fictions, caricatures, cultural constructs. As models they are reductive, totalitarian, inappropriate to human becoming. As roles they are static, demeaning to the female, dead-ended for male and female both.”

That radical interrogation of gender became a foundational understanding between us. It formed a basis for how we knew and cared about each other. We recognized that we each came from a gendered culture—she as a woman, I as a man—but our best and deepest times together were when that ceased to matter, when it was as if we were communicating simply self to self. Or soul to soul. Or I to Thou.

To this day I don’t fully know why Andrea risked trusting me. I have no doubt, however, why I began to trust her.

I was attracted to and sexually active with men; Andrea always knew that. We were first introduced by a gay male mutual friend at a gay and lesbian gathering, after all. But what I learned from Andrea—first from reading Woman Hating, then from growing more and more to know her—was a wholly new experience to me: what it means to be soul mates beyond gender.

That belief in the possibility of life beyond gender was a core of both her work and mine. A speech I gave within a few months after our meeting was published as Refusing to Be a Man (the title I gave my first book). In a speech of Andrea’s written about a year later she drew a distinction between reality and truth in order to say that:

“while the system of gender polarity is real, it is not true…. [T]he system based on this polar model of existence is absolutely real; but the model itself is not true. We are living imprisoned inside a pernicious delusion, a delusion on which all reality as we know it is predicated.”

I’ve thought back to such passages in Andrea’s work (there are many) as I’ve pondered how she would sort out the current controversies and conflicts among radical feminists who call themselves trans critical and transactivists who call the same feminists trans exclusionary. Andrea wrote of transsexualism (as it was called then) only in Woman Hating, in a prescient section that can accurately be cited as evidence that Andrea was not “transphobic” and was in fact “empathetic to transpeople” (as would come as no surprise to anyone who knew her).

To my knowledge Andrea never wrote any more on the subject. I cannot say for certain why, but I suspect it’s because she already said what she had to say about it—and she was driven to write next what no one had said yet. The topic came up in our conversations, of course, but prior to her death the divisive controversy/conflict had not yet erupted as it has today. I’ll not rehearse those troubling tensions except to acknowledge that I recently came under sharp criticism online after I posted a tweet about an essay I’d written about U.S. Army Private Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley), in which I referred to the courageous young whistleblower by the female pronoun she now preferred.

To my philosophically inclined mind (now recalling Andrea’s and my talks), the current controversy/conflict turns on an ethical/metaphysical disagreement about the fundamental meaning of gender in the human species. Obviously I cannot know what Andrea would have to say about it, except that I am certain she would not ally herself with any view that furthers “biological superiority,” which she considered “the world’s most dangerous and deadly idea”:

“It is shamefully easy for us [she means here, I believe, so-called female-assigned-at-birth women] to enjoy our own fantasies of biological omnipotence while despising men for enjoying the reality of theirs. And it is dangerous—because genocide begins, however improbably, in the conviction that classes of biological distinction indisputably sanction social and political discrimination. We, who have been devastated by the concrete consequences of this idea, still want to put our faith in it. Nothing offers more proof—sad, irrefutable proof—that we are more like men than either they or we care to believe.”

This was always Andrea’s ethical framework, which I learned from constantly: Moral agency and accountability are true, foundational to our identity as human, and they do not equate with the reality of gender. I was inspired by that ethical framework when I wrote in my essay about Chelsea Manning of:

“my belief that one’s moral agency is not gendered; it is—as it is for Pfc. Manning—a continuity of conscience irrespective of gender expression. I believe that separate and unequal ethical codes for “men” and “women”—which are ubiquitous in conventional wisdom—are erroneous on their face, because the constant core of one’s conscience is human only.”

I confess I did not learn from Andrea’s ethical framework about living beyond gender only conversationally or conceptually or in the abstract. I learned concretely, and I learned humbly the hard way—because episodically in our relationship I learned what it meant to her and us when I fucked up and broke the trust she had in me. I acted like a man. My impulse to assert/defend my gendered social conditioning trumped my intention to be my best self. I did not act like the person Andrea had grown to love and I did not act like the person I had learned to know it was possible to be with her. Happily we got through those hard times. In the last years of her life, even as her health failed, we became closer and dearer to each other than ever before. But the lesson never leaves me: Who I am is not my gender.

Curious, isn’t it, that in English only third-person pronouns are gendered but first- and second-person are not. Do we remain imprisoned in gender because we persistently “third-personise,” or objectify, ourselves and one another; and do we not sufficiently speak to each other as subjects who say I to Thou? Has our language always been telling us that when we speak as ourselves directly to other selves, and when other selves speak directly to us, gender becomes irrelevant?

I enjoy following the favorite quotes of Andrea’s that people post here and there in cyberspace, and the other day this one caught my eye: “When two individuals come together and leave their gender outside the bedroom door, then they make love.”

Andrea got it. Living beyond gender leads to loving beyond gender. And vice versa.

I miss our communion terribly.

genderwkbody

John Stoltenberg has explored the distinction between gender identity and moral identity in two books—Refusing to Be a Man: Essays on Sex and Justice and The End of Manhood: Parables on Sex and Selfhood. His many essays include “Living With Andrea Dworkin” (1994) and “Imagining Life Without Andrea” (2005). His novel, GONERZ, projects a radical feminist vision into a post-apocalyptic future. John conceived and creative-directed the acclaimed “My strength is not for hurting” sexual-assault-prevention media campaign, and he continues his communications- and cause-consulting work through media2change. He tweets at @JohnStoltenberg and @media2change.

Photography by John Goetz. Copyright © 2005 by John Goetz and the Estate of Andrea Dworkin.

This article was amended at 4pm on the 28th April at the author’s request.

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…




flattr this!

‪#‎GenderWeek: Race shatters the idea of a shared female experience

Click here to read all #GenderWeek articles.

Safe spaces exist in political circles for safety and security away from oppressive attitudes – sexism and racism, to name a few. When structural inequalities permeate daily life, it is a relief to spend time with others who get it. Some safe spaces invite allies to join; others come with conditions of exclusion. Those exclusions are applied to those who don’t have similar lived experiences, who are more than likely to engage in oppressive behaviour. Women-only spaces are an example of this, gay clubs another, but each holds its own flaws.

Exclusive spaces are not limited to the politics of liberation. Work places, school places and social spaces show time and time again how exclusionary spaces are informally created. Those who are similar to one another tend to gravitate towards each other. Exclusive spaces tend to expel difference, and they tend to lack a power analysis. Exclusive spaces are not always safe. They can reinforce power and collectively punch down on a regular basis. They can be echo chambers that resist challenge and the possibility of growing. Trans exclusionary feminist spaces are the latter.

Women-only spaces have always been a contentious issue in feminism. There’s a strand of politics in feminism’s broad church – often called trans exclusionary radical feminism – that argues that trans women are not women, thereby excluding them from women-only spaces. Further still, some of these feminists compare trans women to white cultural appropriators. Rachel Ivey, of US based radical feminist and environmentalist group Deep Green Resistance, compares trans women to cultural appropriators in a 40 minute radical feminist manifesto on Youtube.

But writer Savannah G deconstructs this argument in a great post on Autostraddle, saying:

…these things are not analogous because cultural specificities have to do with a group of people forming, over time, a local context and traditions. There is innumerable evidence that undermining such cultural specificities (through colonization, globalization, etc.) leads to mass-scale human suffering, and is in fact virtually always a component of genocide.

Neither woman-typical nor man-typical clothing resides in the same realm as such local cultural specificities. A person with a penis wearing woman-typical clothing does nothing to undermine “woman culture” nor vice-versa. For example, when women began wearing trousers more commonly in the latter half of the 20th century, they did not do so as a result of male cultural coercion or colonization. Instead they did it out of a component of liberation: it’s called, given your local context, wear whatever the hell you want.

Racism is too often misused as a hypothetical metaphor to illustrate the injustice of some other issue rather than being an injustice in itself. In liberation movements there is a trend of comparing inevitably overwhelmingly white movements to fights against racism. Indeed, comparisons to racism often imply that the complexities of racism are widely understood – they are not – and that the struggle has ended, when it most definitely hasn’t.

Cis black women and trans women of all races have a lot in common when it comes to feminism. We complicate things. We disrupt women-only spaces. When we call attention to the power disparities between women, we shatter the idea of a shared female experience. When we have access to women-only spaces, we draw attention to the pre-existing hierarchies in place that haven’t disappeared just because of a sense of ‘sisterhood’. When we challenge racism and transphobia in feminist spaces we’re both often described as the same things: self-interested, divisive, bullies. By raising the problems of racism and transphobia in the feminist movement, we become the problem.

Black feminist contributions to political movements are often written out of history by our white counterparts. So are trans women’s. When Nancy Fraser wrote in the Guardian that feminism what becoming too capitalist, she excluded the anti-capitalist works from women of colour such as Angela Davis, Audre Lorde, Himani Bannerji, Avtar Brah, Selma James, Maria Mies, Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Silvia Federici, and Dorothy Roberts. Stonewall, now a charity that explicitly only advocates for the rights of lesbian, gay and bisexual people, was initially a riot in which cis and trans LGB people fought side by side.

bell hooks called this phenomenon “white people fatigue syndrome“. This is the problem with these limited politics – there is a collective ‘forgetting’ that is inherently exclusionary. As a former English Literature student, there are more than a few comparisons I can draw with the exclusion of white women from the literary canon. They were forgotten. We are forgotten.

The transphobia displayed in some radical spaces is as conventional and conservative as the transphobia displayed in wider society. “There’s this widespread view of being transgender as a deviance or a perversion,” Gigi, aged 17 explains to me. “For example, the reactions trans people face when we want to use public toilets.” This culture of suspicion is repeated in the exclusion of trans women from women-only spaces. There is no difference. Women-only spaces aren’t safe if they impose the same hierarchical structures we aim to resist.

Both cis black and transgender women share an extra layer of having to fight for our humanity. Our existence is intersectional. We straddle awkward gaps. When it comes to the battle grounds of equal pay, gender quotas, reproductive rights, neither of us are the acceptable face of what it means to be a woman. We raise these points in feminism and we disrupt women only spaces.

Reni Eddo-Lodge is a black feminist writer and campaigner based in London. She is Contributing Editor at Feminist Times, blogs at http://renieddolodge.co.uk/ and tweets @renireni.

Photo: Google Images Creative Commons

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…




flattr this!

#GenderWeek: What about men? The end of women-only charities?

Click here to read all #GenderWeek articles.

What about men?

As my Irish mother always says: “Don’t let the b******ds grind you down!”

I was approached to write this article because we (Survive) advertised for a post in our local A&E for an IDVA (Independent domestic Violence Advisor), and in our advertisement we stated the post holder must be female using section 7(2) of the Sexual Discrimination Act. As our work primarily supports women and our women are primarily abused by men, we have found it appropriate for them to be supported by a worker who legally identifies as a woman. As an example of how this works on an everyday level, if you visit your GP it is perfectly acceptable to ask for a female practitioner to make you feel more comfortable when dealing with personal subjects such as fertility and sexual health; discussing a traumatic relationship is no different. Makes sense right?

So I find it hard to understand why, when someone makes a statement or publishes an article about violence against women, particularly domestic violence, the reactionary comments are full of people (men and women) asking: “what about the men?” “it’s not just women you know!” Or “just as many men as women experience DVA.” And my favourite: “why should women get all the help and support? Probably more men suffering in silence than women anyway!”

How do they know this? Where is their evidence? And why do they feel the need to attack women and those who help them? Why should it be that if I want to support women and their children I must be against male victims? This is simply not the case; I, like most in the DVA sector, recognise that there are also male victims. It feels to me that whenever women state something is for women only, people feel threatened. It is accepted (although odd in our day and age), that there are golf clubs and Mason meetings which are for men only, but the other way round makes people feel uneasy?

What I suggest to people is to go out there and set up support where you see gaps. That is what the first female voluntary domestic violence support workers did during the 1970s; this work was born out of the feminist movement, by women for women and their children.

The problem with the question “what about men?” is it creates is a world where funders, government and local councils start to demand that the services they fund support all, and support them thoroughly; that services spread and stretch their resources (often using the same if not lower funds), in order to evidence that they will and are supporting both male and female victims.

I work in one of the last organisations which specialises in supporting women and children only and at a grassroots level. I believe we are a dying breed and that as funding requirements change we will have to look at amending the fundamental principles of our constitutions and mission statements in order to keep up with funders’ expectations. So we risk losing our identity as a female only org in order to literally survive.

This change and expansion is clear to see in our new projects and ventures; we now support men off site if they come into our local A&E, and men can now attend our parenting sessions which are also off site. We also have male mentors to support the children living in our refuges and accessing our services, however our direct and main support within refuge, group work and outreach is still for women only.

The possible harm I can see coming from a complete change to support provision, and losing our founding identify, would be the message it would send out; that domestic violence and abuse is not a gender issue, which from my experience and research it still very much is.

  • On average two women a week are killed by a male partner or former partner: this constitutes around one-third of all female homicide victims
  • 42% of all female homicide victims, compared with 4% of male homicide victims, were killed by current or former partners in England and Wales in the year 2000/01. This equates to 102 women, an average of 2 women each week
  • In a study by Shelter, 40% of all homeless women stated that domestic violence was a contributor to their homelessness. Domestic violence was found to be “the single most quoted reason for becoming homeless”

I can already imagine the comments this article will provoke: Men are too ashamed to report, men are less likely to report, and so on… and while I agree there is some truth in these refutes, you can’t argue with these statistics – they are facts.

Out of the 367 male victims of homicide in 2011/12, 17 were killed by partners or ex partners and 124 by strangers. While these 17 deaths may have been prevented by better support from services, the figure for women in that same year is much higher: out of the 127 female homicide victims, 88 were killed by their partner/ex-partner and 25 by a stranger.

I do support the engagement of men in the DVA sector; it has been of great benefit for our younger service users to be supported by male mentors, for them to have a positive experience of non-violent/abusive men. I willingly accept that we will be exploring this area further and looking at the role of male workers supporting DVA victims, but we need to address this without losing our identity as a female led organisation. There are not many working environments where the CE, the management team and administration, as well as front line workers, are all female and this is a fact I am proud of.

Ruth Wood is IDVA & Outreach Services Manager at Survive: Working towards freedom from domestic abuse. Follow her personal Twitter @WoodWoodruthie

If you have been affected by domestic violence, call the national domestic violence helpline on 0808 2000 247. Calls are free and the line is open 24/7.

Support services for men

Photo: Wikimedia

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…



flattr this!

#GenderWeek: Biological sex is not binary

Click here to read all #GenderWeek articles.

Biological sex is often assumed to be binary, but it is not. Among animals there are a range of species that change sex on a regular basis, for example shrimps that hatch as males and turn female at a certain body size, and some fish that change sex depending on social circumstances. Sex is not always decided when an egg and a sperm fuse – as in crocodiles and most turtles, whose eggs are unsexed at first and it is the temperature during incubation that leads to the development of a certain sex. There is even a lizard species in which both sex chromosomes and temperature simultaneously influence which sex develops.

Neither is there a strict dichotomy between human male and female bodies. Having XX chromosomes does not always mean having a female body and having XY chromosomes does not always mean having a male body; sometimes an individual with XY chromosomes is insensitive to the influence of testosterone, resulting in a female body. There are also other combinations of sex chromosomes, such as X0, XXX, XXY, XXYY, XXXY, XXXXY and XYY, and exposure of external hormones as a fetus may also influence sexual characteristics.

There is a range of variation in anatomical and reproductive characteristics – chromosomes, ovaries/testes, genitals, bodily appearance – that do not fit typical definitions of male or female. That is the definition of intersex (in medical terms, Disorders of Sexual Development). Some intersex organisations reject the term DSD because it is not necessarily a disorder, but simply part of the variability of human bodies. This variability means that sex is much more complicated than the commonly assumed binary; there simply is no true boundary between female and male bodies, we are all part of a continuum or a mosaic of sexual characteristics.

How would it influence your identify if you realized tomorrow that your biological sex – your sex chromosomes, your ovaries/testes, your hormone levels, or your body – are not what you were brought up to think they were? Would that change your whole perception of your identity, your behaviour, appearance and relations – or would it not matter at all?

What is the connection between biological sex and gender identity? This is a contested area of research for psychologists, sexologists and medical scientists, and intersex individuals have often been the means by which to test and prove various theories. Psychologist John Money, who became very influential for the treatment of intersex children from the 1950s and onward, considered gender identity to be only dependent on the social circumstances and that there was no innate basis for it. Successful treatment would lead the child to psychologically developing into an unambiguous gender, and as part of this it was essential that both the parents and the child believed that the child had a true sex that only needed medical intervention to get it right.

The assumption of the all over-shadowing social influence, however, has not been without critics. This is especially true following Money’s showcase example of John/Joan, a boy who accidently lost his penis and was brought up as a girl, who turned out to reject his assigned sex, transition to male and later take his own life. In 1965, Milton Diamond suggested a competing hypothesis, namely that the influence of hormones provides a predisposition for gender identity and behavior that sets limits to the social influences. Later, evidence accumulated of intersex individuals rejecting their medical sex assignment and, as more and more intersex individuals give their stories and interpretations, the still controversial debate has become more nuanced. Yet intersex children are still regularly treated to conform to current binary gender norms, despite there being no medical reason to do so in most cases.

The idea that prenatal hormone levels determine gender and sexual identity in turn has become the dominant theoretical framework within the neurosciences, but brain scientist Rebecca Jordan-Young has criticised this research tradition on the basis of questionable assumptions, methodological inconsistencies and overly grand conclusions given the conflicting results. She suggests that brain scientists are too focused on nailing down sex differences and would be better off studying the dynamic processes of the interaction between environment and internal factors.

Hence there are both cultural and biological deterministic essentialist positions when it comes to sex and gender. The biological sciences have a high status among the general public and what is considered biological or ”natural” has a material affect on people’s lives. Several gender researchers have problematised the distinctions between gender/sex and nature/culture, notably Judith Butler, saying that conceptions about biological sex are already culturally influenced. In the structure which Butler calls the heterosexual matrix, norms about sex/gender are inextricably intertwined with norms of sexuality: the only positions available are male or female.

The process of sexing bodies, which makes them conform to a sex binary, is already regulated by culture because it does not allow for ambiguity. This sexual binary, unquestioned and assumed to be natural, becomes the basis for constructing gender as a natural binary, and the naturalisation of a gender binary leads to oppression of those who do not conform to it. Questioning both binaries of biological sex and gender gives room for more variable concepts of both sex and gender.

I think that these variations in biological sex and the lived experiences of intersex individuals unsettle many taken-for-granted assumptions about gender. Irrespective of different feminists’ views on transgender identities (personally, I respect each person’s gender identity), gender is clearly not a direct effect of biological sex, and there is not a perfect overlap between biological sex and gender identity. These findings problematise both biologically essentialist notions about sex and the culturally essentialist notion of gender identity as a purely social construction. So, what are the consequences for liberal vs radical feminists’ debates about gender?

Malin Ah-King is an evolutionary biologist and gender researcher at Humboldt University Berlin, Germany.

Suggested readings: Anne Fausto-Sterling Sexing the body 2000, multiple works by Alice Domurat Dreger.

Intersex organizations: www.oiiinternational.com/intersex-organizations/

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…



flattr this!

It’s feminist to vote in the EU elections

Even for those of us who do not call ourselves Euro sceptics, the EU is hard to love – there is no doubt about that. It’s a bit like maths or entomology. We know it’s there, and it’s probably serving a vaguely useful function, but apart from a narrow proportion of geeks, experts and fanatics among us, in everyday life we rarely find ourselves enthusing about quadratic equations, critters or Directives.

Europe’s decision-making bodies sit far away, with their unfamiliar bureaucrats, strange rituals and opaque processes.

Our apathetic (or downright hostile) media has given up on reporting how and why decisions are being taken in Brussels by our Ministers and our MEPs working with their counterparts from other countries. This has allowed successive UK Governments to blame ‘Brussels’ for tough decisions and to take the whole credit for successful EU initiatives.

I don’t entirely blame editors having to make tough choices in these cash-strapped times: covering the EU story costs money; repeating lazy misconceptions and firing off indignant editorials is far cheaper.

But don’t let them fool you into thinking the coming European Parliament election doesn’t matter, or that a UKIP triumph is inevitable or indeed that it might be a desirable outcome, to shake things up or send some sort of message to complacent Westminster elites. A decisive UKIP win would do nothing to help the UK lead on reforms in Europe, but spell disaster for the cause of gender equality at UK and EU level.

The European Union has been promoting equality between men and women since its inception, enshrining the goal of equal pay for men and women in the 1957 Treaty of Rome. A Directive on Equal Pay was finally passed in 1975 to be followed by dozens of other pieces of EU legislation – against discrimination at work or in accessing services, combating violence, sexual harassment and people trafficking, establishing maternity rights and parental leave.

The EU funds national campaigns against gender-based violence and, in the last 7 years, has spent some €3.2 bn in Structural Funds to provide childcare and promote women’s participation in the labour market in Europe’s most economically depressed areas. The EU further promotes gender equality all over the wold with its humanitarian actions and through its trade agreements.

Now contrast this with UKIP’s view of women and their programme.

Their attitude towards women is often described as reminiscent of the 1950s, although my conservative grandfather would have been horrified by their language and sentiments. Women are sluts, who should be seen (cleaning) and not heard; mothers are worthless to employers. And these are not just retired colonels, old fashioned fogeys – the Twitter trolls who tried to silence Women Against UKIP all last week are the party’s tech-savvy young guns, UKIP’s bullish, bullying future.

But worse than their attitudes is their programme, insofar as they can articulate one. Make no mistake: the biggest advantage Nigel Farage sees in the UK withdrawing from Europe is that it would be able to return to the 1950s, not just culturally but also in the law: no maternity leave or labour protection of any kind for the most vulnerable workers, who are often women; a bonfire of health and safety and anti-harassment legislations. This might resonate with chain-smoking pub landlords, (freedom of smoking is championed, by the way; freedom of movement less so), but it sure scares the hell out of me.

Since the 2009 European Election UKIP’s only two female MEPs, Nikki Sinclaire and Marta Andreasen, have both left the party. Andreason said Farage: “doesn’t try to involve intelligent professional women in positions of responsibility in the party. He thinks women should be in the kitchen or in the bedroom”. Nikki Sinclaire won an Employment Tribunal claim for sex discrimination against the party.

Last week we finally saw UKIP’s leader drop the genial ‘chap down the pub’ act when being questioned about his use of EU expenses. Chummy Nigel turned into Snarling Nigel, railing against the media that so far has idolised him for having the cheek of asking him to account for his actions, like any other politician.

Farage’s confusion about EU money not being, somehow, taxpayers’ money tells a bigger story about what you get when you vote for a UKIP candidate to represent you in Europe. Their goal is to destroy Europe, not reform it or make it work in Britain’s favour.

In practice this means that after 22 May, unless we feminists use our vote, even more UKIP MEPs will be flocking to the European Parliament to get their nose in every possible money trough, whilst disrupting sessions with their cheap stunts and insulting speeches, clogging committees, (including the Gender Equality Committee, where so much of the above legislation is dealt with), not voting, not amending, not doing anything at all, and all at our expense, for the next five years.

I happen to believe in the EU project. But even if I didn’t, as a woman and a feminist I can think of few worse fates than having Farage and his braying chums in charge of or able to influence any policies at all, at home or internationally, as my chances of becoming a chain-smoking pub landlord, unconcerned with maternity leave, anti-trafficking laws and all that – what do they call it? red tape – are vanishingly small.

Paola Buonadonna is Media Director for the pro-EU membership campaign British Influence.

Graphic: Sarah Spickernell is a freelance journalist and Interactive Journalism MA student at City University London. She has written for the Financial Times and The Sunday Times, and has a particular interest in women’s rights in the Middle East. Follow her @Sspickernell

Main Image: Rock Cohen

You need to be on the Electoral Register to exercise your right to vote. The deadline to register to vote in the 22 May European and local elections is 6 May. Please visit:
https://www.aboutmyvote.co.uk/register_to_vote/electoral_registration_applica.aspx

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…




flattr this!

Announcing #GenderWeek, starting 28th April

Gender is one of the most explosive subjects in online feminism.

From so-called “TERF-wars” to gender-based violence, nothing both polarises and solidifies people as much as the subject of gender.

In #GenderWeek we are going to explore the definitions of gender through biology and essentialism, performativity, conditioning and binary/non-binary arguments. We’ve looked at both liberal and radical feminist positions and found much more common ground than you may have previously thought. We investigate whether race theory can and should be used in gender theory, whether class is a foolproof way of analysing gender, and what happens if you replace the word gender with “sex roles”.

As some of history’s greatest feminist thinkers’ work is bounded about Twitter and blogs to back up modern day arguments, we’ve looked into whether the people closest to Andrea Dworkin believe Twitter is corrupting her legacy on the subject. We also look at what’s legal and not in so-called “TERF-warfare”, with a legal analysis into the dark art of “doxing”, words like “TERF”, “cis” and misgendering online.

Of course we could not ignore the fact that the most devastating impact of gender as we know it is gender-based violence. We look at the evidence of endemic gender-based violence and why new trends are pressurising VAWG charities to drop ‘gender’.

Selection of #GenderWeek content.

Published Monday 28th April:

Survey: What is Gender?
Liberal & Radical Feminist definitions of gender: Whats your definition?

Race shatters the idea of a shared female experience
Reni Eddo-Lodge
Why feminists who compare trans women to white cultural appropriators are wrong, and what happens when feminists apply race theory to gender?

Andrea was not transphobic
John Stoltenberg
Andrea Dworkin’s life partner on why she would not have allied herself with any view that furthers “biological superiority”.

Class is to gender what a tube map is to London
Roz Kaveney
Gender as a class system is a useful schematic but it does not show the full terrain of gender.

The delusion of choice
Lynne Segal
Feminism must do more than talk about ‘freedom of choice’.

Male violence against women goes beyond domestic violence
Karen Ingala Smith
The founder of Counting Dead Women on why, when it comes to fatal male violence against women, there’s no such thing as an “isolated incident”.

What about men? The end of women-only charities?
Ruth Wood
Why this domestic violence worker feels the pressure to stop seeing DV as a gendered crime.

Biological sex is not binary
Dr Malin Ah-King
An evolutionary biologist and gender researcher uncovers that many of us may not be XX or XY.

“TERF-war”, online bullying, the dark art of doxing
Julian Norman
A feminist barrister looks at the legality of some of online debate’s most dirty tactics: what is bullying, harassment, name-calling and abuse in the eyes of the law?

Non-binary gender makes me free, not a traitor
CN Lester
Four reasons why gender pluralism is a feminist concept.

Published Tuesday 29th April:

#GenderWeek: Truce! When radical feminists and trans feminists empathise
Dr Finn Mackay & Ruth Pearce
Is it possible to have both trans inclusion and women only space?

Published Wednesday 30th April:

Respectful discussion is possible – Profile: Gender Discussion, a Facebook group.
Ruth Greenberg and Elizabeth Hungerford
What are the group trying to achieve and is it working?

The problem is capitalist-patriarchy socialising boys to be aggressive
Louise Pennington
Rad Fems need women-only space because trauma’s complicated, not because we’re essentialist.

Published Thursday 1st May:

Why are men violent?
Editorial Team
We asked our #GenderWeek contributors to tell us why they think men are so violent and how that affects gender theory.

Published Friday 2nd May:

What is Gender Reader Survey Results

In a change to our normal format we will be publishing the majority of Gender Week content on Monday, with a few additions during the week. We want our readers to see the whole debate at once, with no waiting!

If you have something you think should be included in Gender Week, email us now at editorial@feministtimes.com

Keep up with the debate online at #GenderWeek

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…



flattr this!

Feminist Toolkit badge

Feminist Toolkit: Free Tampons For All

Picture the scene: you’re going about your day, power walking to work, singing along to your favourite feminist anthem, smashing the patriarchy with every step you take. And then it comes: the familiar wetness between the legs, and you’ve left your stash of tampons at home.

You break it down; you’ve got a few options:
1) Go home and pick up your provisions
2) Buy some more
3) Hang around in the toilet and hope someone armed with menstrual protection comes to your rescue
4) Bleed on yourself, and potentially others

As you’ve already forked out this week to buy the new trousers you’re fashioning today, options 2 and 4 will have to go. Risking being late for work whilst weighing up your shortlist with frustration, you have a light bulb moment.

You realise what’s been missing all this time; wouldn’t it just be great if you could access free tampons in your workplace? You tease out the idea in your head: your place of work won’t fund them and you can’t sustain a communal tampon stash out of your own back pocket. Then you think back to all those times where you’ve been accompanied by an unneeded tampon goldmine in your bag. If there were a collection point for those tampons, never again would a woman like you be stuck in the street weighing up her options.

Taking action, you march home inspired by your revolutionary idea. You wash up last night’s takeaway tub, grab the box of tampons in your draw and a few pads for good measure, rushing to work, pausing only for an instant to plug your own menstrual flow. Arriving at work you tear into the bathroom, ripping apart an old envelope from your desk and securing it onto the tub, scribbling on it a few words about your idea.

You feel elation as you place the tub in the bathroom and stare back at the revolution you have started. The words read: “The Sisterhood of the Slightly Stained Pants: please take a tampon if you are in need, and put one back whenever you have a spare”

DISCLAIMER – this story is not entirely fictional.

UoN Feminists, Nottingham University’s feminist campaign group had a very similar revelation. We call them Tampon Tubs and we want them to empower women by ensuring a ready supply of menstrual protection. We thought it was important that an unexpected period should not impede women in our university, therefore this term we will be placing Tampon Tubs in our Student’s Union building.

One of the best parts of this campaign is that the Sisterhood of the Slightly Stained Pants can be easily built wherever you are. Here is a how to guide to setting up your own:

#1: Find a container: any kind of Tupperware, tub or bowl will do. For best results, choose something plastic and transparent.

#2: Next, label your container explaining the ethos behind the idea. Make sure people know that the sustainability of the system relies upon others replenishing the tub.

#3: Provide an initial supply of tampons and pads. Depending on your outlet, you could gather a group to chip in or secure funding from your Student’s Union, employers, or nearest patriarchal figure.

#4: Place your tub in the toilet in your place of work, school, university, or anywhere else. We recommend this facility for women’s, gender-neutral, unisex and disabled toilets.

#5: Finally, tell everyone about it! Make sure your tubs are known about and used. Share the idea and encourage your friends to do the same. The more Tampon Tubs about, the more women are able to arrange their periods around their lives rather than the other way around!

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…




flattr this!

I didn’t know how to help until Rumble in the Jumble

The reality of the horrors that rule the lives of people in the Democratic Republic of Congo are unimaginable to most people like you and I. Following independence in 1960 the citizens of this shattered state have existed with civil strife, then civil war; the tensions ever mounting until 1998, when the people found themselves in the midst of the worst international African conflict on record, with reports of three million dead by 2003. The unrest has continued ever since.

The status quo now for many is a quagmire of displacement, bereavement, torture, starvation, rape, abduction, prostitution and abandonment, with no reliable authority to beseech or even bribe for safe passage into fields which for centuries provided sustenance for the people and their ancestors. From the earliest age girls and women are unable to even fetch water without the omnipresent threat of the most violent rape, that terrible weapon wielded with impunity by soldiers and militia at a frequency so alarming it’s impossible to comprehend. How are we to understand this from within the luxury of ours?

Like everyone else I read the news and try to take in as much of the unquantifiable horror occurring around the world each day as possible, and then give pitiful sums of what money I can, but it’s a minor balm against that nagging helplessness – how can I help ease the raging terror of millions of desperate fellow souls?

This desire to empathise and aid, this want to help, defeated by a lack of resources and a feeling of being overwhelmed by the scale of all the calamitous situations around the globe, was broken in a direct way for me with regard to the Democratic Republic of Congo when an email arrived in my inbox two years ago informing me about the Music Circle and its work.

The Music Circle, a subsidiary of Annie Lennox’s The Circle, which was created to assist women in the empowerment of fellow women, was founded in 2011 by PR whizzes Emily Cooper and Laura Martin. The pair brought together a group of key women working in the music industry to gather ideas as to the best way of raising money for and awareness of the devastating situation faced daily by women in the DRC.

One of these ideas turned out to be joining forces with Radio 1’s Gemma Cairney to expand an event that she hosted in 2012 with TV presenter Dawn Porter, as part of Oxfam’s Get Together campaign – the first Rumble in the Jumble. So in 2013, all resources combined, the second Rumble in the Jumble event took place and was attended by hundreds of fantastic women including Gizzi Erskine, Laura Whitmore and Caroline Flack, with items donated by the likes of Damon Albarn, Alison Mosshart and Annie Mac.

Crucially it raised £16,000 to stream into projects organised by NGOs in the war-shredded Democratic Republic of Congo. These projects strive to find ways to protect, shelter and educate; to give the citizens of the DRC as much of a chance as possible to one day have a normal experience perhaps even the tiniest bit akin to ours. One where the gathering of food, fetching of water, the necessities of life can occur without the threat of grave injury.

So, say you were going to have an indulgent Saturday, swipe away that intellectually bettering reading pile, leave the underused trainers lurking in the hall, what might you then choose to do with your afternoon? Take a mate for tea and cake? A bit of vintage shopping? Treat yourself to a manicure? Buy some records, or have a dance to someone else’s?

Well, being able to do all that under one roof would be pretty appealing then, wouldn’t it? Especially if getting stuck in to all those things turned out to also be a way of supporting these women half way round the world in the DRC who are in the direst need imaginable.

That’s what this weekend’s Rumble in the Jumble #3 at London’s Oval Space is all about. It’s a huge pile of fun put on by Radio 1’s Gemma Cairney and The Music Circle, in conjunction with Oxfam, to raise funds for women in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

This Saturday’s event is already promising to top the last in every aspect, from fundraising scope through shopping potential to just all out entertainment. All you need to do is show up with £3 and a bag of your own under loved jumble, and you can peruse stalls hosted by Cherry Healey, Elizabeth Sankey (Summer Camp), Gaggle and Mixmag to name but a few; keeping a sharp eye out for celebrity jumble swag donated by Goldfrapp, Jessie Ware, David Gandy, Arcade Fire, Anna Calvi, Lauren Laverne and many more.

This year a host of fashion, culture and music brands have also donated brand new items including: Whistles, Dr Martens, ASOS, SONOS, VICE, Marshall Amps, Warp Records, L’Oreal, Dazed & Confused and Black Dog Publishing. Once you’ve bagged yourself a new outfit and topped up the record collection, you can spruce yourself up at the Smashbox Cosmetics and Bumble & Bumble Hair stalls before tucking into a tasty stew provided by Jamie Oliver’s Barbecoa, or tea and cake from Drink Shop & Do, before a glass of prosecco to get you primed, or a little dance to one of the brilliant DJ sets that will be sound-tracking the day.

And vitally, whilst enjoying all these things that are equally as unimaginable to those you are raising funds to aid as the realities of their lives are to us, you will be part of an event that will go some way to securing the safety of these women who live with the constant threat of forced displacement, sexual violence, abduction and extortion. There really couldn’t be a better way to spend a Saturday afternoon now, could there?

Facebook Event HERE.

rumble5

Suze Olbrich is a freelance writer, video producer, promoter, manager and member of the Music Circle. Follow her @suzeolbrich

The Music Circle is a group of women from the music industry who are aiming to raise £50,000 for Oxfam’s work with women in Eastern DRC. Follow @themusic_circle

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…




flattr this!

You don’t only get photographed when you’re eating

On Monday lunchtime women protested the now infamous blog Women Who Eat on Tubes by topping up their Oysters and having a good old munch on the Circle Line. This just after the founder of WWEOT Tony Burke made a toe curling appearance on the Today Program, when he tried to claim the project is some form of high art, an “observational study”, “something artistic”.

Tony’s day job is in advertising, so it’s really no surprise that he would consider something sexist, creepy and yet also banal as being very artistic and creative. No offense to those making a hard-earned-living in advertising; I’m sure it comes as no surprise to you either.

But while he was promoting himself as one of London’s biggest morons I was genuinely surprised at how much attention his project was getting when his blog is really a pin prick, and I emphasise the word ‘pin’, because a pin is very very small and would be completely lost in the internet haystack that are “creep shots”.

Creep shots are so common on public transport that even I, someone who avoids the tube as much as I can, have seen two men take pictures of women’s cleavages on the underground. The first time I was struck dumb in shock; the second time I saw the man take the picture from an adjoining carriage, and when I knocked on the window to tell him to stop he ran. I’m not quite sure what I’d do if I saw it happen for a third time. Stand up and shout “he’s taking a picture of your breasts”? Tell him he’s gross? Perform a citizen’s arrest?

Just like WWEOT there are creep shot Tumblrs, but google #creepshot and you should get a pretty good idea of how endemic this is – just put it into the search bar in Twitter now. Many of the photos are taken in restaurants, supermarkets, on the beach. Women and girls bending over, sunbathing, photos taken from under tables.

Here’s the rub. It’s technically legal to photograph someone without their consent, and of course it’s in our interest to be able to take photos of strangers in public places. It means taking pictures at the Great Wall of China, Eiffel Tower or other packed places we want to take pictures of, which are full of tourists, is not going to land us in court. It also means reporters can go to war zones and disaster scenes or places of public interest and document; something Burke alluded his project did.

Of course Burke’s project was no more serious documentation than Viz is a serious issue-based magazine, no matter if some photography student somewhere is writing a very convincing dissertation on how Burke is the new Nicholas Nixon, or the 21st Century Corinne Day, or the eating woman’s Terry Richardson.

For all of us in the real world, we just want to go about our lives feeling safe and secure whether sitting on public transport or grabbing a cup of tea in our local cafe. We deserve a legal framework that protects our privacy from the whims of the “Creatives” theoretical justification, the shaming or documenting of us as grotesque subjects or, whats more likely, protect us from a weirdo’s wank bank. No such luck.

Last month a judge in Massachusetts ruled that ‘upskirt’ photos taken without consent are NOT illegal so long as the victim is wearing knickers. And there we have it. Carte. Blanche.

Here in the UK, the law asks whether a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy. So readers, do you have an expectation of privacy on the tube, bus or train? Do you not expect to have your bottom photographed when picking up something your toddler has dropped in the supermarket? Do you expect people to photograph up your skirt whether or not you’re wearing knickers? And is that reasonable?

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…




flattr this!

The Daily Fail doth protest too much

Yesterday UN Rapporteur Rashida Manjoo raised concerns about the UK’s portrayal of women and girls in the media saying the UK had a “boys’ club sexist culture“. Ms Manjoo also criticised cuts to services and called for more work to be done in schools. The expert in violence against women and girls commented that “negative and over-sexualised portrayals of women” in the UK media led, in some cases, to the “marketisation of their bodies”.

The “marketisation” of women’s bodies eh? Cue the Daily Fail…

dailyfailfeat

In some kind of patriotic tit for tat the Maily Pail took umbrage that a South African should dare to criticise anything about the UK while their “native” country is “the rape capital of the world”. This just two hours after publishing a story about Myleene Klasse enjoying a lovely break in a “sun soaked trip” to the country.

The newspaper showed uncharacteristic concern for not only the women of South Africa but Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Papa New Guinea, and went on to show off that the UK came 18th out of 136 countries in being “most equal”. Would that they were the 18th most read paper in the UK, but I’m sure coming 18th wouldn’t feel that good for a business.

The only woman they could find to comment on the new story was Edwina Currie. “Most of the women I know like living here” she said, convincingly.

But the real stars at the Faily Dail are the readers:

expertsized

Is “Brigante7” from Edinburgh a disgruntled former academic colleague of Professor Manjoo, we wonder?

What makes Manjoo an expert? Oh, we don’t know! Her impressive CV? The UN? Perhaps the fact she is Professor in the Department of Public Law of the University of Cape Town, former Parliamentary commissioner of the Commission on Gender Equality (CGE) in South Africa, Visiting Professor at University of Virginia & Webster University in the US and an Eleanor Roosevelt Fellow with the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School?

lookslikefeministsized

True.

Then Hobart’s “Henry Porter” lets the side down by saying something fairly sensible, provoking the wrath of 689 angry Naily Bail readers who furiously battered their cursors on the “dislike” button.

sensiblesize

Shame on you Waily Tail.

Read the End Violence Against Women Coalition’s response to Manjoo’s comments here.

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…



flattr this!

Happy fatties are erased from the media

I’m no stranger to the press; I’m part of that MySpace generation of yesteryear – self-generating PR mongers that are not afraid to speak their mind. I can be gobby, or what some might call outspoken, so when it comes to getting some column inches to promote my projects I know I can dive into my black book and pull in some favours. But, no matter how much I try, this year one project has been left in the dark – Hamburger Queen.

For the past four years I’ve been running an annual beauty pageant and talent show for fat people – Hamburger Queen. The premise is simple; to celebrate body diversity and encourage fat liberation – it goes against the grain and challenges the myth that fat people are unhappy. With a mainstream media obsessed with obesity you might have thought a project like this would receive a lot of attention. Wrong.

After three rounds of press releases, a press launch in London’s favourite burger bar, endless phone calls, Skype calls, tweets to journalists and some PR support from a couple of noted publicists, I find myself with nothing to show for it apart from a late night appearance on BBC London.

Some journalists respond with: “Thanks, we’ll see what we can do”; others don’t bother responding. Some have said they don’t “do” obesity; the dickheads amongst them say: “it’s a bit off brand for us.” The brave ones call and tell me: “We’d love to but we can’t be seen to promote obesity.” How would giving a balanced argument be “promoting obesity”? Is it healthier to have a press that endorses yoyo dieting and the objectification of women?

Numerous TV companies have flirted with the idea of putting Hamburger Queen on the box but every one of them ends up pulling that weird, sympathetic, half-smile face and saying: “we don’t think it’ll get commissioned”. Some have even gone as far as saying it would needed to be hosted by someone like Gok Wan – Gok Wan? The man who hides women’s bodies using fruit – I am not an apple, I’m a bloody human!

On the face of it, this might sound like I’m moaning because I’m not getting enough attention and that might be true if I was trying to flog a solo show, but Hamburger Queen is about girls who work in call centres feeling liberated about their bodies whatever their size. It’s about size acceptance, throwing new ideas of beauty into the arena and I want the world to take notice. I want women across the globe to know there is a movement that embraces their flabby thighs.

fat2

Hamburger Queen is also about trying to reach those women who are yet to stick two fingers up to the Dove advertising, weight watching, circle of shame culture. To do this I need to reach beyond my audience and those of the lovely readers of lefty liberal blogs.

I took my frustration to Facebook and asked my Like-ers to spread the word, to help me reach those women in hard to reach places (like Surbition). 30 shares later and I’m still struggling to reach those women.

Evidently the mainstream media want to perpetuate a culture of negative attitudes towards obesity and leave those liberated from their BMI outside of their safe values.

Maybe Hamburger Queen is ahead of its time in newspaper land but, with an NHS allegedly on its knees because of fat people, and the public’s continued reaction to having to sit next to a fat person on the bus, I’d say that socially this project is bang on time.

I put my head above the parapet and failed somewhat. I’m OK with that; failure might teach me a thing or two but I won’t die quietly because I know the message is important.

Fuck the press and their beige, pashmina wearing, shortsighted editors. I’m asking you, brilliant Feminist Times reading radicals to spread the word – if not about Hamburger Queen then about your own version of body diversity and empowerment. Take to Twitter and force yourself on to Facebook – this is a call to arms. We will not be silenced be a mainstream media afraid of “promoting obesity”.

Scottee is a performer, artist, broadcaster and director. Hamburger Queen is on from 3-24 April. For more details see: hamburgerqueen.co.uk or follow @ScotteeScottee

Photos: Holly Revell

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…



flattr this!

Becoming Advertising

Like most free to access online entities we have explored the various options for monetisation, some more appealing than others. We’ve narrowed it down to three – sneaky ads, straight forward ads or a pop up feminist cat café.

Straightforward, olden day advertising was the line of least resistance but how would this play with our friends and supporters? I asked an unscientific sample – few were anti-advertising and some, surprisingly, were rabidly pro. One asked: “Why are you against advertising? Do you want to live in a Maoist state?”

Then I remembered, I’ve always loved the ads! They were the incidental music of my seventies childhood. My mum used to turn the telly off when they were on, but my brother and I preferred the ads to the programmes.

This early exposure to gender stereotyping didn’t Sindyise me as my mother feared. I kept telling her – you don’t turn into Charlie Girl or Shake n Vac woman from watching the ads. My brother and I were ad aficionados, not dupes or ironists. We didn’t buy into them or think ourselves superior to the ads or the people who were impelled to spend their hard earned money on Sure for Men or Ultrabrite.

I don’t feel as fondly about eighties advertising. The ads of that period were blunt instruments; “intimately terroristic” like Charles Saatchi and not as good or clever as everyone remembers. They were uber confident but as repetitive and ineffective as a coke addicted city boy.

When I got older I enjoyed ‘decoding’ ads in the manner of structural theorists like Judith Williamson, rather than reinterpreting them. Do people still do this? Are the ads a window on the world anymore? I’m less interested in specific ads these days than the modern malady of marketing which is constantly pushing the boundaries and overstepping the mark. Advertising is not OK when it’s delivered intravenously to children or women postpartum.

I pictured the ads in Fem T in a clearly circumscribed space that couldn’t be confused with editorial. We ruled out sneaky ads and sponsored content because we felt they broke the bond of trust we have built up with our readership. With a clear conscience, we started costing the redesign of the website and finding an ad salesperson to sell, sell sell the Fem T concept to ethical brands. (This wouldn’t take very long – the list was very short.)

The fabulously attired ad salesman on the Modern Review managed to convince a range of high end brands it was going to be a cross between the New Yorker and American Esquire in it’s heyday. They were bitterly disappointed, understandably, when issue one of Marxist Feminist monthly hit the stands.

This time round, if I sold my soul, I wouldn’t get anything for it. We were reliably informed that the revenue from banner ads would be unlikely to cover the cost of redesigning the website; the model that we’d given so much thought to was declared a busted flush by a range of media professionals. Sneaky advertising is the only game in town, unfortunately. Native advertising on Fem T would mean ads and content were seamlessly merged into a single website ‘experience’. If this is the future of publishing, I’d rather put Fem T out by carrier pigeon.

The founder and chief exec of Buzzfeed recently said:

“Nobody comes to Buzzfeed to look at the ads, but they’ll come for the content. When the advertising is content – good content they’re willing to click on and engage with, and share if it’s good – that’s the future for publishers.’

The internet will be colonised and co-opted by advertising in the blink of an eye. I never romanticised the web or thought of it as a ‘free space’; oddly the people who did are now signing it away and saying it will be good for it.

Online advertising is everywhere and nowhere – it’s the uninvited guest on every comment board and web forum that speaks your language and compliments you on your lifestyle choices. Sinister ‘urban communities’ like work.shop.play extract valuable information about our priorities and preferences which allows brands to create perfectly tailored pitches for allegiance. Modern advertising is as individual as you; it flatters and cajoles with perfect knowledge of your taste and aspirations.

I recently reread Dale Carnegie’s book How to win friends and influence people. Belatedly, brands and corporations have learned the best way to win consumers is to be genuinely interested in them, ask them about themselves, listen intently to the answers and make them feel intelligent.

This is also a failsafe strategy for winning commercial partners. The Guardian talked up its recent partnership with Unilever as a meeting minds. The company had absorbed Guardian Media Group’s ‘values’ and repeated them back… with bells on:

‘Our partnership with Guardian Labs presents us with an innovative and unique way of engaging with a greater number of consumers than ever before, in their homes and on the move, on a subject which is core to both Unilever and the Guardian’s values – sustainability.’

In this brave new world, you can’t trust anyone, enthusiasts least of all. Bloggers, hipsters and impoverished newspaper editors are contractually obliged to enthuse about their commercial partners, on pain of commercial death.

No one has asked the Guardian’s readership, or ‘highly engaged community’ as we are now called, whether we want to collaborate with corporations who ‘share our values’. We are extremely valuable; cheap at the million pound price. Unilever is buying access to skeptics like my mother and credibility by association with the former bastion of liberalism .

The last issue of Weekend magazine had several sponsored features, differentiated by a very slightly different font. I still confused one with the other.

My mum used to complain about billboards; they look increasingly retro! So many public spaces have been co-opted or colonised by a new type of advertising.

Great swathes of Angel tube station are given over to Barcardi’s rebrand. No longer a drink for teenage girls who can’t think what to order, it is the choice of renegades, non-conformists (and ruthless dictators.)

The 150 year old brand is understandably proud of its heritage! “Prohibition was a blast”; exiled to Cuba in the fifties, it was partying enthusiastically while Cuba was raped and pillaged by the US mafia and corrupt Batista regime. This “untameable essence” is unavoidably everywhere at Angel; swooping bats emblazoned on every square inch of pedestrian walkway (who knew you could buy the floors and ceilings?) Like the film character in Woody Allen’s Purple Rose of Cairo, brands are stepping off the billboards into real life, but behaving loutishly. They are invading our personal space and pretending it is a ‘blast’.

We recently lost our hearts to an all female new media company with inspirationality to spare. The feeling was mutual; they offered to host one of our events at their fabulously appointed HQ in Shoreditch. Should we do it? Yes we should – the quirkily named company were more credible and tech savvy than Fem T, but we were more serious. Would our brand essences synergise over free cocktails? I hoped so.

Arriving early on the night, it was immediately apparent that the young women were everything we’d expected; articulate, engaged and yes.. inspirational. Synergy wise, they were already spoken for. An exclusive agreement with a technology company had allowed them to go to the next level! We didn’t begrudge them; the deal had paid for the space, snazzy refurb, and wheely tables and stools with tablet computers embedded in every one. But brand ambassadors like them are marketing goldust. I suspect they undersold themselves.

Brand ambassadors are high res normal people, like you and me on a good day. Unlike adverts, they are continually on and excellent value for money. One day, they will replace logos; brands have learned that slapping their logos on everything is naff and counterproductive. They are all masters of the soft sell and have ‘debranded‘ to some extent. The logo will whither when it’s no longer needed and go the way of the jingle.

Experiential marketing, where the public encounters the brand in real life already seems arcane. You don’t need people dressed as Fruit Shoots to convey that brand’s essence; the meet and greet with advertising meme in a shopping centre has been superceded by an immersive, multi-sensory experience staged 24/7 in your ‘urban community’ by hip and alluring brand ambassadors. You can’t turn it off, or tune it out by turning up the volume on your headphones.

When reality does segue seamlessly into advertising, you won’t probably won’t notice. Come to think of it, it may already have.

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…


flattr this!

Be prepared to compromise or ‘feminism’ will be a dirty word once again

I remember in vivid detail the first time I heard the parent of one of my self-esteem class students use the ‘F’ word. It was summer 2011. It was hot. I was wearing a backless cotton Aztec print dress and cork sandals. We were in a school gymnasium masquerading as a lecture theatre. The double-door was wedged open and the smell of freshly-mown football-pitch wafted on the breeze. The ‘F’ word rolled so easily off the tongue of the fifty-something father who spoke it. He didn’t even flinch. I thought: “We’ve done it! Feminism is officially part of accepted vernacular! Hurrah!”

Yes, for one brief, shining cultural pause, everyone finally seemed to grasp what feminism was and why it continues to be relevant. We were all on board the Feminism Bus, willing to navigate our way to Equality. Women everywhere rejoiced, recognising that this represented an opportunity for a truly open debate, unencumbered by the myth that feminism is synonymous with man-hating and/or the needing of a “good shag”. And then… we fucked it up for ourselves.

The first thing that we did was fail to come up with a cohesive agenda we could all agree on. Hence the weighty issue of domestic violence somehow ranking lower in the public sphere than whether or not a woman chooses to wax her pubic hair as a valid feminist debate. This inevitably led to feminist sub-factions, with each group competing to see who could be the “best feminist”, sneering snarkily on social media at any being or organisation who didn’t match their high standards of feminist-kick-assery.

As well as being criticised for writing for ‘non-feminist’ publications, in the same week I was told I’m both too fat and too thin to be a body image campaigner. I’ve been accused of being “too good looking” to truly understand the cause I’m fighting. I’ve been criticised for my tattoos, which are apparently a sign of conformity. I was even told off for not being a lesbian once. Every week I receive tweets making comment on my hair and makeup, suggesting they aren’t in line with ‘proper feminism’.

Every now and then I get abuse from men but it’s incredibly rare by comparison. Somehow, being told by a male social media user that they wouldn’t fuck me because I’m too fat hurts far less than the mindless barrage of bitchiness I receive from supposedly intelligent women. Luckily, for every one of those I get twenty saying “thank goodness! AT LAST a feminist we can relate to!”

All the hard graft undertaken by high profile women to present feminism in an easily digestible form slowly unravelled. The word ‘misogyny’ was being chucked about like it was going out of fashion – on Twitter, in boardrooms, down the pub. Feminist campaigners began metaphorically stamping their feet, huffily insisting they wanted anything that they considered demeaning to womankind BANNED with immediate effect. They would brook no argument. They would listen to no counter-stance. All reasoned debate had ended, with immediate effect.

In 2014, ‘feminism’ has become a dirty word once more. Men have once again begun pontificating about the non-armpit-shaving stereotype, who bellows at them for opening a door. The majority of teenage boys are completely bemused, as their female counterparts stomp around demanding to be treated with R-E-S-P-E-C-T, but unable when questioned to articulate what form this respect should take. Significant swathes of the female populous are clasping to a vague notion that feminism is about women being assertive, but lack the genuine self-esteem to ask anyone why.

For those unwilling or unable to compromise, we have reached an impasse. For the rest of us, furthering female empowerment will involve compromise.

In the digital era, where everyone MUST have an opinion and MUST be able to express it succinctly in 140 characters or less, any kind of compromise is often mistaken for hypocrisy. Yet, behind every powerful institution is a workforce comprised of human beings. That fact in itself offers an opportunity for negotiation and sometimes progress happens in pigeon steps.

Never is this more true than within my field of body image. Let’s be clear, I’m not talking female genital mutilation here. (In that particular instance, compromise is both impossible and dangerous). But when discussing bodies, health, beauty, fashion and their portrayal in the media, there’s a no man’s land between camps, chock-full of wiggle-room.

In the world of body image, no one is impartial. I’m acutely aware that every word I say or write will be swamped in layers of the reader/listener’s own issues, experiences and prejudices. What one woman sees as objectification, another woman sees as empowering. What one woman sees as the showcasing of a healthier body ideal, another will see as the promotion of obesity. It is a constant battle to be as inclusive and understanding as possible. And, since everyone has a body, everyone should have a voice in the collective body dialogue.

As a campaigner, I have always seen more value in collecting views than presenting them. I think it’s better to make a small change to something visible than push blindly for a huge change that is very unlikely to happen and thus remain invisible. I would rather ask the followers of my campaign, Body Gossip, what they thought on a contentious body image issue than tell them what I think. I would rather encourage the students I work with to reward the retailers and advertisers taking positive steps to promote wellbeing and diversity than unwittingly promote those who aren’t by adopting an “oh look, isn’t this terrible?” approach. I understand, for example, that in a capitalist society, where “all publicity is good publicity”, a surge in profits for Debenhams (who actively promote body diversity) is worth more than 100 protesters outside Abercrombie and Fitch (who don’t).

I would rather encourage Page 3 to use a wider range of shapes, sizes and races than bark more and more outlandish, misanthropic reasoning for its banning in the direction of an institution that, for its own reasons, loves it and is adamant it should remain. I would rather slightly dumb-down my opinion on a body image matter to bring it to the four-million strong audience of This Morning than write it in a broadsheet like The Guardian, whose readership are the choir to my proverbial preacher… It doesn’t offer the same sort of instant popularity but it does offer the opportunity to change minds by presenting what might have been alien ideas in a relatable form.

Sometimes our propensity for being offended has to be put aside for the greater good. I view the raising of £8 million for breast cancer research through the taking of make-up-less selfies, for example, as positive, because whilst insensitive to some it will indisputably save lives.

There is a middle ground to be explored, so long as one has the humility to rethink principles which might have seemed concrete when one’s world view was more black-and-white. As a socialist, I never thought I’d write for right-wing tabloid The Sun, until I entered into a dialogue with the people who work at The Sun Woman’s desk and found them just as passionately enthusiastic about bringing a healthy, diverse message on the subject of female beauty as I am. Now I have the opportunity to work with them to bring that message to their 6 million readers. For that I have received threats, accusations and endless social media trolling delivered under a ‘feminist’ banner.

I worry that a movement chock-full of women who genuinely want to see change and are ready to negotiate to get it is being eclipsed by a militant minority who care not a jot about the day-to-day life of the average woman in the UK and simply want to sound-off. It’s harming our cause and the perception of the feminist movement and actively encouraging a reticence towards change in some sectors.

We can start by trusting each other. Deriding cultures we don’t understand by claiming that their women have “no idea they’re being oppressed” (and we therefore know better) only serves to raise tension and broaden division. We are all, to a greater or lesser extent, the products of our environment. We therefore need to work together to make that environment more conducive to allowing genuine freedom of choice. I believe women who say they genuinely want to pole dance for a living. I believe women who say they choose to wear a niqab. I believe that those two types of women can co-exist peacefully in an equal society.

Please believe me (and Mary Poppins) when I say that a spoonful of sugar is sometimes the best way to make the medicine go down.

Natasha Devon is Director of the Education Program at Body Gossip. She is Cosmopolitan Magazine Ultimate Woman of the Year, 2012, in Ernst & Young’s Top 50 Social Entrepreneurs 2013, Mental Health Association ‘Business Hero’ Award Winner 2012 and Shortlisted for UK Parliament First Annual Body Confidence Awards. Follow her at @NatashaDevonBG

Photo: UTV.com

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…




flattr this!

Womb with a View: Bounty – I’ve got my best “fuck-off face” ready

We asked Bounty for a response and have published it directly below the article. It includes contact details for anyone who has had a difficult experience and for those wanted to take themselves off the Bounty database.

Two weeks to go… or rather, not two weeks to go. I’m 38 weeks pregnant today, and his Highness could plausibly arrive this afternoon. Or tomorrow. Or next week. Or the week after that.

Between the 37-week mark and the 42-week “we’ll try anything” cut-off, a pregnant women is ready to roll, set to go, fully cooked. So what are women like me really thinking about now? The small issue of pushing a baby out between our legs, yes. But also what happens soon after, and who we want to be with us.

This brings me to Bounty, an organisation in the news frequently last summer. A profit-making company that provides “support to families in the transition to parenthood”, their representatives are present on many post-natal wards in the UK. Here, they sell women photographs of their babies hours after they’ve had them, get paid by HMRC to pass on Child Benefit forms (some Bounty reps have told mothers it was the only way to get them) and sign away patients’ details to parent-friendly businesses. Yep, you read that right.

This isn’t the brave new world of the stripped-down NHS either. Bounty has been around in hospitals for over 50 years, although what they do there has changed significantly.

These days, women encounter Bounty very early on in their pregnancies. At my 10-week check – at which the risk of miscarriage is still significant – I was presented with my free Bounty folder. This is a heavyweight plastic bag full of free samples and advertising. No, I’m not averse to a freebie but this didn’t seem the right environment so, after a cursory look through, I chucked the lot in the bin. (One leaflet also offered dietary advice that contradicted NHS guidelines – yes, I can eat stilton, you demons – which I emailed them about and, to their credit, they responded.)

A note on the back of the Bounty bag was more galling, however. “Mum to be tip: baby brain? Keep your maternity notes in here so you know how to find them,” it gushed. There, there, dear, went Bounty, patting our silly little heads. We’d much rather be patronised than supported.

Then I started hearing about other women’s experiences of Bounty. One friend was pressured to sign up by her midwife, before miscarrying, then kept getting information from the company on what would have been her due date. Another had a very poorly baby and kept getting harrassed in intensive care. Another thought the Bounty rep was one of many health professionals at first, before handing over her email to send her away – only to get bombarded with spam emails ever since, selling life insurance, kids’ ISAs and toddlers’ ballet lessons.

The first issue to tackle here is transparency. Why don’t these reps say who they are straightaway? I’m told that, in the hours after giving birth, medical staff pop in constantly; a new mother isn’t necessarily going to be ready to deal with uninvited guests. Also, why are these reps allowed into wards when only a few other family members are, especially given the risk of infection? Are these reps monitored and checked properly? Are they made aware of women’s different medical circumstances? A woman could have had an easy labour or a very traumatic one. Neither kind, from the anecdotes I’ve heard, is spared the sales treatment.

So what do Bounty bring the NHS? In a word: money. Amy Willis’ June 2013 investigation for The Telegraph revealed that 150 NHS hospitals were signed up to cash-for-access contracts. Some hospitals were paid according to the number of babies born, while others got bonus commissions when Bounty managed to take their bloody photographs. Furthermore, as of last summer, HMRC paid Bounty £90,000 a year to distribute child benefit forms – forms that can be picked up in post offices for free or downloaded online.

No change has been reported about this figure yet. It isn’t exactly the best use of taxpayers’ money, whichever way you slice it.

But things are hopefully changing. Last summer, a Change.org petition against Bounty attracted over 25,000 signatures. As a result, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Health, Dan Poulter – a medical doctor himself – wrote to the Chief Executives of NHS Trusts expressing his concerns, albeit it, of course, in a very privatisation-friendly way.

“Whilst it is beneficial to have accessible information available to women when they are responsive to messaging”, he wrote – a touch of the “baby brain” schtick there, so thanks for that, Dan – “I am sure you will agree that it is unacceptable for parenting support organisations including Bounty to use this as an opportunity to collect private data and share it without the expressed informed consent of the parents.” Which is all well and good.

This letter was written last June. By July, Poole and Highland NHS Trusts had severed their Bountry contracts. By August, Poulter was saying that the Care Quality Commission would be enabled to take action against maternity wards that “did not ensure the protection of women’s dignity and privacy”. The worry I have now, however, is that this story loses traction. That overworked staff on maternity units forget the complaints that have been made. That the existence of Bounty reps on the wards for so many years makes the issues blend into the background – rather than the practices of individual reps being questioned.

After all, these are some of my friends’ experiences of Bounty, on post-natal wards, since last August. There’s the friend who was having difficulty breastfeeding when the rep appeared – a woman who didn’t take a strongly-worded hint to leave well alone. There’s the friend who was told by an anonymous woman that she needed her details, without being told how these details were going to be used – expressly against the advice recommended by Dan Poulter. A few others had better, hands-off treatment, and I’m hoping for the same – but I have the advantage of being prepared for it, which many women don’t.

Whatever happens in the next four weeks, I’m taking the advice of my friend Ellie. After the birth, whatever happens, I’ll have my best “fuck-off face” ready.

Jude Rogers is a writer, broadcaster, journalist, romantic, Welsh woman and geek. Follow her here @juderogers

Response from Clare Goodrham, Bounty General Manager said: “As a proud partner of the NHS for over 50 years, which sees over 2,000 new mums every day, we have worked to provide free products and important health information to generations of new mothers. We work closely with hospitals to ensure that mums and hospital staff are happy with the service we provide, and 92% of mums say that they love our packs as it gives them free products and money off coupons.

We are proud to give mums such offers and we take a responsible approach to sharing information with our partners. We audit and approve all the communications that our members receive and enforce a strict policy that data is only shared with our partners when a member has given us permission. We understand that some members might change their minds about this, so anyone who does not wish for their data to be shared can be removed from our database within 24 hours and no longer receive correspondence from Bounty or our partners if they wish.

Whilst expecting a baby should be such a joyful event, we know from our long term partnership with Tommy’s the baby charity that for one in four women things can go wrong and they lose a baby in pregnancy or birth. Bounty takes its responsibility seriously and has systems in place so that our members can privately update their membership details on our website or unsubscribe using a link at the bottom of our home page www.bounty.com and any of our emails. Additionally, Bounty signposts to the Baby Mailing Preference Service on our website and through our customer services team as the service will ensure that any communications from other sources they may have signed up to are also stopped.

At Bounty, we want 100 % satisfaction with our service and regularly assess all aspects of our practices to ensure that mums continue to get the best experience possible. Our Independent Advisory Board is also in place to provide us with recommendations for how we can continually improve our service and the experience for mums across the country. If anyone has any specific complaints or suggestions for improvement, then please let us know straight away at telluswhatyouthink@bounty.com.”

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…




flattr this!

The most badass women in history: Sister Like You

Sister Like You is a new book from Belly Kids in which Jade Coles looks back at the most fierce females in Ancient History, through poster-worthy illustrations next to each woman’s story, broken down to its most “digestible, radical level”. As a friend of Feminist Times (Jade reported from a Southhall Black Sisters protest for us), she agreed to give our readers a sneak preview and an insight into why she chose the women she did.

One of the reasons I was interested in doing this book is that I don’t remember learning anything about women rulers at school. I don’t want to go all out and blame the corrupt schooling system – maybe I just wasn’t paying enough attention; that seems unlikely though, as history was my second favourite subject.

Cleopatra probably popped up, maybe Elizabeth I in the context of being King Henry VIII’s daughter, but nothing major or concentrated. It was all NHS reform and the Holocaust.

Sister Like You by Ellie Andrewsfinale

Image: Sister Like You by Ellie Andrews

When writing the stories it soon became clear that it was going to be hard to have a fave. Every ruler had their own particular style, they came from a very individual background and were ‘endearing’ in their own way. You know, dressing up as a man your whole life, murdering slaves at will, gifting rich European women cute dogs. I was so caught up in each one!

sisterlikefeat

Image: Empress Dowager Cixi by Molly Goldbury.

Saying that, if I had to choose, it would be Empress Dowager Cixi – an ex-prostitute who was sold to the street by her drug addict father before rising to be a brutal Empress. She was gossiped about relentlessly and was never really in power, so she had to flex her muscles in the background, but she did that her whole life.

When researching for the book the word that kept popping up in my head was “PUSH”. Each Sister was pushing against something without a break or hope. Each ruler wanted to claim power and desperately hold onto it for a long period of time. I’ve taken, in my business and personal life, to being focused and push hard. I’m not about to take concubines and kill anyone, but there’s no reason why we shouldn’t all take a bit of power.

Queen Zenobia by Kaye Blegvadfinale

Image: Queen Zenobia by Kaye Blegvad

The other thing I learnt was that if you’re a strong woman ruler, you get bitched at hard. Rumours flew around about them. They were all seen as sex-crazed, violent psychopaths by their peers, both at the time and also by history. Has stuff really changed as dramatically as we like to think? Do we still get characterised as a weirdo for being strong? Are we still happy to alter our appearances to fit in? Do we go into meetings and have weird power games played on us? It’s like, yeah, tick tick tick tick all those boxes.

COMPETITION: Jade & Belly Kids have given us a signed copy of Sister Like You for one Feminist Times reader to win! To be in with a chance, tweet us (@Feminist_Times) with the name of your own most badass woman and a reason why yours is the best. Make sure you include the hastag #sisterlikeyou. We’ll announce the winner at 5pm on Monday 7 April.

Jade Coles is a lot of things including opinionated, loud, and into a lot of stuff. A curator of culture Jade writes stuff with @bellykids, performs/sometimes tweets for @gaggle, and programmes talks, workshops, music, bands and everything in between for a very popular location in East London. You can follow her adventures on @perpetualcrush.

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…




flattr this!

Put your money where your rights are: Top 5 of Lesbian Wedding Gumpf

Same-sex marriage is now legal in the UK. We debated just last month whether this only served to make homosexual couples and queer people more heteronormative. Our panel never came to a consensus, but one thing we can be sure of is this historic move means it’s not just straight people who will be lumbering themselves with the trappings and corresponding cost of a traditional wedding. We know this because when you Google “Lesbian Wedding UK”, a whole variety of stuff you can buy comes up on page one.

To celebrate all couples now having the right to spend a fortune on a wedding, here’s our list of the top 5 lesbian wedding products that caught our eye.

1) Her & Her Wedding Dresses

Helen Bender is a German fashion designer. She presented her new lesbian wedding gowns at the Couture Fashion Week in New York City as a part of New York Fashion Week last year. With the collection titled “Charmed Brides”, Helen is one of only “a handful of designers who tailor matching outfits for lesbian bridal couples”. We loved this photo best, which illustrates that moment every bride looks forward to; when someone throws a bunch of loose carnations in your face.

herher

2) Lesbian Wedding Cards

Picking cards is tricky. Especially finding one that sums up your feelings about your best friends, colleague or family member on their wedding day. Thankfully there are card creative people who spend all day everyday honing our complex feelings into exquisite nuggets of emotional gold, like the following:

coupleof

3) Wedding Holidays

The only place you’ll find a rainbow on Thomson Holidays web pages is on the page titled “Gay Weddings“. They want to take you to “forward-thinking” Ibiza, and thankfully not backward thinking Moscow. For more same-sex marriage destinations go here.

holiday

4) Aprons

No one in the Feminist Times office uses an apron; that’s probably why we’re covered in stains. Maybe that’s also why this surprise cash-in on lesbian weddings is actually a blessing. Who wants a contribution to their honeymoon? Nah, give me an apron with two cartoon lesbians on it please.

apron

5) Hipster Wedding Fairs

No sooner had the Royal seal been given to same-sex marriage than One Love, a hipster wedding fair for up-market gays and lesbians sprang up at the rather posh Hospital Club. Skinny people, big beards, vacant expressions: “THE cool, style driven wedding show specifically to help gay and lesbian couples plan their beautiful and design-led wedding day”. Gotta like the One Love message, even if you can’t afford so much as an apron here.

hipster

Happy Marriage Everybody!

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…




flattr this!

Call yourself an “Intersectional Feminist”?

At one point, intersectionality seemed to be the hot feminist topic of 2013. In a ping pong style game of comment pieces, this was that sticking point that wouldn’t be silenced. But with a liberal press dominated by white feminist voices, there was a lot of pushback and misrepresentation, with very little right to reply.

It was a relief, then, when Dr Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw came to London recently giving a number of public lectures and a much needed defence of the concept. Currently teaching at Columbia Law School and UCLA, it was Dr Crenshaw who first gave the word life. In 1989 she named intersectionality – the gendered racism and racialised sexism that many black women had been articulating for decades, in her paper Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics. In 1991, she wrote Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color.

At her talk at the London School of Economics last week, the roots of the word were made public to a transfixed, full housed lecture theatre. It didn’t start out as a grand theory of power, the audience were told. It was an effective tool to help black women who were made invisible by US law.

When I sat down with Dr Crenshaw in the US Embassy a few days earlier, she explained why her law studies led her intersectionality. “That work started when I realised that African American Women were… not recognised as having experienced discrimination that reflected both their race and their gender. The courts would say if you don’t experience racism in the same way as a man does, or sexism in the same way as a white woman does, then you haven’t been discriminated against. I saw that as a problem of sameness and difference. There were claims of being seen as too different to be accommodated by law. That led to intersectionality, looking at the ways race and gender intersect to create barriers and obstacles to equality.”

It’s not only intersectionality that we can credit Dr Crenshaw for bringing to the public consciousness. Her writing in critical race theory was part of the body of work that formed the movement. With similar but also wildly different historical contexts, Critical Race Theory hasn’t taken off in the UK the way it has in the US. But we are making progress – with the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Research in Race and Education being a brilliant example.

I ask Dr Crenshaw to define Critical Race Theory. “We look at how historically, groups are organised against each other. We look at the ways certain outcomes are rationalised by a discourse of meritocracy, which doesn’t take into account the racial ways in which merit has traditionally been shaped and focused. We look at the geographies of race in particular societies, and what does that have to do with what people have access to, as a matter of ‘just life’, and what things people have to fight for in order to get. We look at things that are relevant to race as a process.”

“Historically,” she says, “people are raced. When you’re born, you’re not inherently anything. But you’re born into a society where your family has already been circumscribed, the group that you are part of has already been labelled; the country from which you come has already been framed as outside. All of these things are reproduced by laws, decisions and culture that don’t even have to say race in the specific in order to create it.”

Not unlike gendered social constructs, Crenshaw’s interrogation of what it means to be what we are labelled throws objectivity into the air. “We call it critical because we don’t naturalise race. We’re not illiberal when it comes to race which will mean ‘oh if we just ignore everybody’s race then everything will be fine.’ We’re critical of the social structures that produce race. We theorise how it gets produced, and more importantly what are some of the things that need to be done in order to dismantle those structures.”

So when was her light bulb moment, I ask. When did she realise she was a black feminist? “I realised this would have implications for me… when I was in kindergarten. We had a kindergarten teacher who put together all of the fairy tales into this song called Thorn Rosa. Everyone had a role to play. It was a little bit like Snow White, or Cinderella, or Goldilocks. All the kids would be around in a circle, and when it was your turn, you’d go into the middle of the circle and do your little thing.

“I played the horses, and the mice, and the dwarves, and the witch, and every other role, waiting for my chance to be Thorn Rosa…. We got to the last month of school and I started getting worried. I was like ‘I think my chance as Thorn Rosa is about to slip away!’ So I started pulling on the teacher’s skirt every day, asking ‘are we going to do Thorn Rosa today?’ We got to the last week of school and I was really on it. I was like: ‘I want to be the princess; it’s my turn to be the princess!’

“… I got this sense that I was somehow getting a message that I just didn’t have the same right to be Thorn Rosa as all of the little white girls. I needed to maintain the denial that there was some difference between me and them.

“This was the last day of school for everybody; we were supposed to be celebrating. I threw myself on the couch in the living room, just sobbing. All I could say was ‘Thorn Rosa!’ So the teacher came and explained – she came in, tried to calm me, said there’s more time next year. In the back of my head, I knew, ain’t no next year. Thorn Rosa is over for me.

“I think that was my point of departure. Knowing that there’s something about this black thing, and there’s something about this girl thing, that isn’t working out for me in the way that it’s working out for Sally down the street… That hurt hard. I knew what that was about. I’m not going to overinvest anymore… but I’m not going to accept it, either. I think that was sort of a ‘aha!’ moment for my black feminist budding consciousness.”

This anecdote reminds me of being about seven years old, so I relay it to her. I was one of the few black children in my class. I had a teacher who would walk through the classroom during art and say “don’t forget to draw those beautiful blue eyes.” I’d go home incensed, telling my mum “my eyes aren’t blue! What is she trying to say?”

“I think some of this stuff comes from really early on,” Dr Crenshaw replies, knowingly. “Either your fear of it, and the constant running from it, or your encounter with it, realising this is what it is, and that’s not right, and I’m not going to stand for it.”

I ask Crenshaw if she is aware that across the UK, many are now identifying as intersectional feminists. “Yeah,” she laughs. “I heard about that about four months ago. That intersectionality was being used as an adjective or a noun – a kind of feminist. It’s interesting. I’ve never called myself an intersectional feminist. I’m a black feminist that does intersectional work. I don’t have a strong sense one way or the other about how people self-identify.”

Yet, on this concerted effort to name a different kind of feminism, Crenshaw is optimistic. “I know that some people say ‘why do you have to call yourself a black feminist?’ Why can’t you just call yourself a feminist that does work that acknowledges the role of race in shaping the lives of women? So I do think that there is something being signalled by what you choose to call yourself. I hear that that signal is about one’s openness and inclusivity.

“I tend to focus more on what is the praxis. Can you tell the difference from an intersectional feminist project or organisation from one that is not, by the scope of the things that are done, by the analysis that looks at gender in relation to other systems of power and privilege? By the practice of how the groups that work together are constituted? I can image that there are intersectional feminists that actually do intersectional work, and intersectional feminists that are not doing that work. There are feminist groups that don’t call themselves intersectional that do the work.

“It’s useful to acknowledge that there is at least a move in consciousness away from the belief that just saying feminist necessarily entails articulating a perspective and a set of values that do attend to race, and culture and class and sexuality. That’s a move that wasn’t done 30 years ago, and it wasn’t done 20 years ago. I think that there are pieces of it that are worth thinking very carefully about. But the end of that can’t simply be ‘ok, yay, it’s all on a banner’. It’s about what is enacted under it.”

Reni Eddo-Lodge is a black feminist writer and campaigner based in London. She is Contributing Editor at Feminist Times, blogs at http://renieddolodge.co.uk/ and tweets @renireni.

Image: PBS Youtube

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…




flattr this!

#SexIndustryWeek: Manifesto – Indigenous Women Against the Sex Industry

Indigenous Women Against the Sex Industry (IWASI) is an unfunded group of radical feminists from many nations committed to ending patriarchy, colonialism, racism, and capitalism.

IWASI sees prostitution and pornography as forms of male violence against women. The misogyny inherent in these systems of women’s oppression is compounded by colonialism and racism, disproportionately harming Indigenous women and girls and our sisters of colour.

We are committed to abolishing prostitution and pornography, using public education and advocating for the decriminalization of prostituted women and girls, and the criminalization of johns, pimps, and sex industrialists. We are committed to not only advocating for legal change, but for true social change that improves the lives of all women and girls and recognizes our rights to safety, security, and freedom.

Indigenous Women Against the Sex Industry (IWASI) is a group of Indigenous feminists that stand with women and girls affected by prostitution and pornography. We stand firm in our opposition to the sex industry: johns, pimps, and sex industrialists. IWASI works toward freedom and equality for all women and girls.

INDIGENOUS WOMEN AGAINST THE SEX INDUSTRY RECOGNIZES:

  • The system of prostitution as a continued source of colonialism that has grave, if not lethal, consequences for Indigenous women and girls worldwide. The institution of prostitution is fundamentally opposed to our traditional ways of life where women and girls were valued, loved, and treated with the respect we deserve.
  • Prostitution as a colonial system, an extension of the reserve system, the residential school system, and other colonial institutions that target Indigenous women and girls.
  • The system of prostitution as an inherently patriarchal system that exists on a continuum of male violence that includes rape, incest, wife battery, emotional, sexual and physical assault. The system of prostitution requires the existence of inequality between women and men in order to exist. It relies and thrives on the unchallenged male demand for sexual access to the bodies of women and girls.
  • The sex industry relies on capitalism and greed to justify its existence. We have seen and continue to see our homelands stolen from us and bought and sold to the highest bidder as “product”. We have seen and continue to see this colonial process applied to not only our precious homelands, but to the very bodies of our sisters and little sisters.
  • The sex industry treats all women and girls as hated objects, and that hatred is amplified by racism. Overt racism is not only acceptable, but is sanctioned and encouraged by the sex industry. This industry, hierarchal in nature, places Indigenous women and girls and our sisters of colour on the bottom rungs, where we are subjected to the worst and most degrading forms of male violence.

INDIGENOUS WOMEN AGAINST THE SEX INDUSTRY STANDS AGAINST:

  • The total decriminalization, legalization, or normalization of prostitution.
  • The deceitful assumption that prostitution has always existed and that it will exist forever. We know from our Elders and Ancestors that there were times and places among Indigenous peoples where the sexual exploitation of women and girls did not exist.
  • The misguided rhetoric of harm reduction. We assert our right to be safe, not safer. We assert our right to live full and meaningful lives and we reject the limitations placed on us by the harm reduction industry.
  • Divisions among women created by the patriarchy in attempts to subdue the global women’s liberation movement.
  • The colonial, patriarchal, capitalist, and racist institution of prostitution in all forms and we pledge to fight against this system for the benefit of women and girls everywhere and for our generations to come.

INDIGENOUS WOMEN AGAINST THE SEX INDUSTRY STANDS FOR:

  • An immediate end to the male demand for paid sexual access to the bodies of women and girls worldwide.
  • A global sisterhood that recognizes the leadership, knowledge, and wisdom of Indigenous women and girls in a fight for our lives, our lands and traditions, and our right to live free from male violence.
  • The recognition of prostitution as a form of male violence against women and the implementation of the Nordic model of state policy as a way to advance women’s equality, especially benefiting Indigenous women and girls.
  • The abolition of prostitution and a recognition of the rights of Indigenous women and girls to food, safe housing, lands, traditions, culture, language, health, spirituality, education and safety.
  • A social re-construction of male sexuality based upon the recognition of women’s human rights, especially in regard to women’s sexual autonomy.

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…




flattr this!

#SexIndustryWeek: We can’t have good sex in an unequal society

How might we envision a future without the sex industry? It is a future that more and more feminists are actively pursuing. To the many more who – though they might fancy the idea of sex industry free society – say that it is so firmly embedded in human history and culture as to render such a vision little more than a pipe dream, I can only say what feminism itself says: that what is constructed in history can be de-constructed in history. And we are not the first generation to say so; there have been many documented attempts to construct and to actually live in sexual utopias.

That the communities who ‘lived the dream’ drew their authority from the Bible might not, on the face of it, appear to be very promising – particularly given the fact that the first and most sustained efforts arose within that contingent of Bible-bashers we are most inclined to despise and distrust: the Puritans.

I should explain that the Puritans from whom I (along with the late great Tony Benn) draw inspiration are the early Puritans – the Levellers and Diggers who stood out against Cromwell’s attempts to restore the very worst aspects of the old patriarchal order after the Civil War in 1649. Their roots lay in the dissenting sects sometimes termed ‘holiness movements’ of the previous century, whose adherents either found themselves (by being poor and illiterate) or had consciously placed themselves as outsiders in the established religious and social structures of their times. Believing that, as promised in Scripture, God’s spirit of prophecy would in future times be poured out on all flesh, rich and poor, “menservants and maidservants”, they and their successors saw themselves as heralds of the new heaven and new earth which was, they believed, coming to birth in their own time.

It would be pushing it to claim direct continuity between the utopian radicalism of the early Puritan’s pre-industrial world and the political movements which have arisen within the modern, secularised West. That said, they offer some useful pointers to those struggling to envision a new order of sexual equality today – all of which spring from the fact that, as countless documents reveal, they put a high value on sex as one of the Creator’s greatest gifts.

My guess is that had they known about it at all, the early Puritans would have opposed the sex industry not because it was immoral but because it was joyless. And for joy to abound there has to be mutual affection between the parties involved… Or as we would say today, they would have to really fancy each other!

The crucial thing about the early Puritans’ sexual idealism was that it was inseparable from their Biblically-derived social egalitarianism. If the nation’s land and resources were “every man and maid’s portion”, as the Diggers proclaimed, then there could be no reason for either “birth nor portion” to “hinder” a match. Thus they resisted the dynastic and/or commercial considerations upon which bourgeois parents were wont to arrange their children’s marriages.

The ideals and ideas embodied in the early Puritan movement have resurfaced again and again over the last 400 years, albeit in different forms and in different language (the words ’socialist’ and ‘feminist’ were not ‘invented’ until the 19th century), but are they alive and well in feminism today?

The Owenite Movement, whose name derives from the Utopian Socialist Robert Owen (1771-1858), had strong roots in the holiness movements of the 17th Century, and the language of their socialist pamphlets drew heavily upon the populist rhetoric of 17th Century dissidence. The movement attracted thousands of followers in the 1820s who, for the next 25 years, attempted to put theory into practice by forming “communities of mutual association” based on collective family life and the sharing of property .

By the middle of the 19th Century, social utopian ends could be more effectively pursued through parliamentary reform. Of all the great feminist reformers of the period it was Josephine Butler, famous for her campaigns on behalf of street prostitutes and her exposure of the growing international trade in underage girls, who was the among the first feminists to see prostitution as a cause and consequence of women’s inequality. Sex for cash was not, in Butler’s terms, an offence against morality but a desecration of women’s bodies and hence an offence against love itself.

Which brings me back to the present and the question of how we might usefully draw upon Butler’s and others’ work to build our own sex-industry free utopia. I think we can safely start from the assumption that the high-hearted men and women I’ve referred to were far less interested in denouncing ‘vice’ or cleaning up the streets than in making a world in which supply and demand would wither away. A tall order, but one which more and more people are pursuing now that the “old Immoral world” of capitalism, as the Owenites termed it, does not appear to serving any of us very well. Least of all the overwhelming majority of those who service today’s sex industry.

So what would a sex trade free world look like?

It’s now clearer than ever that we can’t have good sex in an unequal society; only when we have an equal society can we hope the world will be a sexier place.

Susan Dowell is a freelance journalist, grandmother of 11 and peace activist, who worked in Africa for five years during the 1960s. She is a theologian and co-author, with Linda Hurcombe, of Dispossessed Daughters of Eve (1981).

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…



flattr this!

Should we stop asking pop stars about feminism?

This week Katy Perry made the ultimate mistake: she ummed about feminism. “A feminist? Um, yeah, actually,” she answered when questioned about the F word for Australian show I Wake Up With Today. “I used to not really understand what that word meant, and now that I do, it just means that I love myself as a female and I also love men.” A twitterquake soon overshadowed President Putin’s annex draft bill with Crimea and unsure Katy was ceremonially nailed to her um with a fluorescent arrow marked: Jezebel!

“Can you keep your yap shut about feminism?” someone tweeted, “Katy Perry is making progress,” a gossip site patronised. The Telegraph announced that it was finally “cool to be a feminist”. A handy feminism flow diagram was even re-published by Huffington Post who headlined, “Uh, Katy? It’s great that you feel that way, but that’s not what the word feminism means.”

It’s the latest round of 2014’s favourite game: Good feminist, bad feminist! Which one are you? Latest contestant Katy is a bad one. Beyoncé lost some gender empowerment points recently when she sang “bow down bitches” on single ‘Bow Down’, and as for Lily Allen, don’t get us started on her recent comments in Shortlist magazine last month when she suggested: “Feminism. I hate that word because it shouldn’t even be a thing anymore.” Lily immediately tried to claw back some F-points when she asserted she actually is the word she hates: “Of course, I’m a feminist.”

Curiously, Katy Perry has made a similar U-turn, as back in 2012 she told Billboard “I am not a feminist, but I do believe in the strength of women.” Not forgetting Beyoncé, who, in a hesitant Vogue interview in 2013 said: “That word [feminism] can be very extreme.” A year later she penned ‘Gender Equality is a Myth!‘ for the Shriver Report, a ground-breaking series of reports chronicling the status of American women, but she is still yet to call herself a feminist. Confused? So are they. Join the confused feminists club.

The reality is that if you’re a female pop star these days you better be a feminist – regardless of whether you fully grasp what that word means. It’s pop music’s new marketing ploy, a Catch 22 that is catching singers like Katy Perry and Beyoncé out. As more and more journalists tag feminism as ‘cool’, more and more female pop stars are being cornered and forced to define their opinions on it, regardless of whether they have any to actually impart. But even if there is such a thing as ‘superficial feminism’, by constantly scrutinising pop music’s notion of gender empowerment aren’t we forgetting the real issues? More worryingly, are we being just as superficial? Would it surprise you to learn that in the UK women account for 22% of MPs and peers, 20% of university professors, 6.1% of FTSE 100 executive positions, and 3% of board chairpersons, yet twitter was dominated yesterday by the thoughts of a 29-year-old pop singer with a Prismatic World Tour to push?

Granted, none of these women are leading academic brains when it comes to feminist theory. They’re pop stars. They give interviews to sell records. But, you know what? They’re also successful women working in an unequal industry – the same unequal industry that still insists on sexualising female pop stars whilst simultaneously shifting units behind the bright lights of a fashionable feminist PR-campaign. So fashionable Marketing magazines are pushing Fourth Wave Feminism as a demographic brands should be selling to.

It’s a worrying state of affairs when the daily casualties of digital feminist debate are women themselves. Twitter often seems to be little more than a hunting ground. The goal of feminism should never be entrapment, and yet, the very ideology that aims to empower women is too often being wielded to belittle them instead. And all because we think they’ve got it wrong. Maybe Katy has, maybe she’s still working things out, but for all those who joked about buying Katy Perry a dictionary today, I’d ask them to buy themselves a copy at the same time. When did feminism become defined by a ridiculing GIF on Buzzfeed?

Kat Lister is Feminist Times’ new Contributing Editor. She is a freelance writer living in London and can be found tweeting to an empty room @Madame_George. She has contributed to NME, The Telegraph, Grazia, Time Out, Clash magazine and Frankie magazine.

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…




flattr this!

Mild-mannered Countryfile gets ugly: TV, ageism & sexism

There has always been a double standard when it comes to ageing, as Susan Sontag noted over forty years ago. Without exception, all the evidence confirms that women are seen as ‘old’ far sooner than men, overwhelmingly more likely to be rejected as ‘unattractive’ decades earlier then men. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the media. Some feminists have been commenting on this for decades, both from within and outside the media. A decade ago, it was the elegant and stylish Anna Ford who was loudly proclaiming that she was being sidelined on TV because of her age. Yet things have only got worse, not better since.

Just six months ago, the interim report of the Commission on Older Women set up by the Labour Party and chaired by Harriet Harman, provided exhaustive evidence of the continuing invisibility of older women in public life. In the BBC, for instance, 82 per cent of broadcast presenters over the age of 50 are men, only 18 per cent are women. More generally, unemployment amongst women aged 50-64 has increased by 41 per cent in the last two and a half years, compared with one per cent overall.

It is this situation that makes the recent ignorant comments of the broadcaster Julia Bradbury so irritating, when she announced that age had nothing to do with her replacing Miriam O’Reilly, the older woman whose shoes she stepped into when O’Reilly was dispatched from BBC’s Countryfile in 2009. That the male presenter who remained on the programme was himself already 64 only makes Bradbury’s comment all the more frustrating, provoking O’Reilly herself to accuse Bradbury of ‘arselicking’ in her eagerness ‘to ingratiate herself … with the lads, rather than seeing the bigger picture’.

As O’Reilly knows only too well, the bigger picture for women in the media is grim. In 2010 she was the first employee in the UK to successfully sue the BBC for ageism, two years after being dropped from Countryfile at 52. Indeed, her victory even persuaded the then director general at the BBC, Mark Thompson, to acknowledge that there were “too few” older women broadcasters, aware that men, decades older, are still regularly appearing on our screens. O’Reilly’s bitterness is understandable when, despite her victory, she still felt obliged to change career mid-life. She may have won her case, but she could not win the war against gendered ageism in the media.

Over at ITN the following year, it was the lively presenter Samira Ahmed who felt bullied into resigning her job at 42. She had been repeatedly criticised for her appearance, told her hair was ‘messy’, probably due to very slight hair-loss at the front. This, as ever, has proved no problem for her co-presenter then, Jon Snow (still going strong now), over 20 years her senior. One of our feisty female media crusaders, Katherine Whitehorn, has often commented on this ‘lopsided mirror to life’, in which only men are allowed to grow old on screen. The same is true, of course, for actors. Over the years older men’s roles tend to play down signs of physical ageing, while the opposite is true for women.

However, let me say finally that this is a tough battle to win, and the sea change we need to be fighting for is vast. We all know that women are still seen and valued above all for their looks, while men are more easily valued for what can be presented as their authority. What the media loves is for women to struggle with each other over this, to set one generation against the other. However understandable, this is why it doesn’t really help for O’Reilly to denounce Bradley for her obvious disavowal of the fact that it was her more youthful appearance that facilitated her replacement of the older presenter. As I pointed out in my last book, Out of Time: The Pleasures & Perils of Ageing, until we are forced to acknowledge it, and then only partially, we all tend to disavow our own ageing, and the effects it is likely to have on us, not least this incitement to generational warfare.

Bradbury was no doubt put on the spot when a male interviewer asked her what she felt about stepping into the shoes of an older women. In an ideal world, she would have said that all ageism was regrettable, perhaps adding that she have loved to work alongside the more experienced O’Reilly. Still in fantasyland, O’Reilly might have tweeted not to insult Bradbury’s lack of female solidarity, but to instead rage against the culture that encouraged them to see each other as rivals.

Back in the real world, we have to put up with older male presenters such Alan Titchmarsh, adding insult to injury. Only last year he dismissed older women ‘whingeing’ about their invisibility, while expressing sexist contempt for younger women on our screens: “Men in television tend to last a bit longer at the end of their careers, but it is women who make hay at the beginning. They don’t complain in their early days when they are disporting themselves on sports cars”.

Oh yes, some of us do complain, both about sexism and about its pernicious combination with ageism. We just have a long fight on our hands.

Lynne Segal is a feminist writer and activist, and Anniversary Professor of Psychology & Gender Studies at Birkbeck, University of London.

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…




flattr this!

Feminist Times presents: SEX INDUSTRY WEEK, 24th – 30th March

Dear Feminist Times readers,

Following our coverage of the pro and anti Nordic Model campaigns, we present Sex Industry Week at Feminist Times, where we will be taking a look at one of the most polarizing issues in contemporary feminism. Follow the debate on Twitter at #SexIndustryWeek

INCLUDING:

Feminist Times’ exclusive serialisation of Playing the Whore
Feminist Times is the only place you will be able to read a serialisation of extracts from Melissa Gira Grant’s Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work. Author Melissa Gira Grant was an online sex worker before becoming a writer and journalist. Whether you think you’ll agree with her or not, here’s your chance to read extracts from the book for free online all this week. To coincide, we will give away a signed copy of Playing the Whore every weekday. Keep an eye on Twitter and each extract for details.

“To produce a prostitute where before there had been only a woman is the purpose of such policing. It is a socially acceptable way to discipline women” The first extract from our exclusive serialisation of ‘Playing The Whore’.

by Charlotte Raven

“Was I too easy on Grant? You can judge for yourself.” Editor-in-Chief Charlotte Raven kicks off #SexIndustryWeek with her review of ‘Playing The Whore’.

“We should, in fact, refuse to debate” The second extract from our exclusive serialisation of ‘Playing The Whore’.

by Glosswitch
“Feminism has to do more than simply polish patriarchy’s turds,” says Glosswitch on porn, feminism and moral panic.

#SexIndustryWeek: Five Gloria Steinem quotes
As Gloria Steinem turns 80, we look at her perspective on the sex industry.

#SexIndustryWeek: Playing The Whore – The Industry
“These demands on sex workers’ labor, while it is simultaneously devalued, is why we still insist that sex work is work.”

#SexIndustryWeek: The Future of Porn
by Jordan Erica Webber
“…bring more women into the tech industry, and hope that the next time technology leaps forward we get social change to match.”

#SexIndustryWeek: Nobody’s entitled to sex, including disabled people
by Philippa Willitts
Disabled feminist Philippa Willitts addresses the argument that, without sex workers, poor disabled people would never get any sex.

#SexIndustryWeek: Playing The Whore – The Stigma
“Asked only to talk about how empowering it all was or about how much of a survivor they are.” The fourth extract from our exclusive serialisation of ‘Playing The Whore’.

#SexIndustryWeek: Manifesto – English Collective of Prostitutes
The English Collective of Prostitutes explain their demands.

#SexIndustryWeek: My enemy’s enemy is my friend
by Roz Kaveney
Editorial Board member Roz Kaveney writes on the alliance between sex workers and the trans community.

#SexIndustryWeek: Playing The Whore – The Saviors
“The experience of sex work is more than just the experience of violence; to reduce all sex work to such an experience is to deny that anything but violence is even possible.”
The fifth and final extract from our exclusive serialisation of ‘Playing The Whore’.

#SexIndustryWeek: We can’t have good sex in an unequal society
by Susan Dowell
From the Puritans to Josephine Butler, Theologian and Author of Dispossessed Daughters of Eve, Susan Dowell explores a history of sex industry free utopias and what they can offer us

#SexIndustryWeek: Manifesto – Indigenous Women Against the Sex Industry
As part of #SexIndustryWeek, the Indigenous Women Against the Sex Industry present their manifesto.

PLUS we want to make sure YOU are included in this debate. If you have a grassroots campaign, point of view or experience you think should be included, let us know and we will try our best to publish as many as we can next week. Send a brief description to editorial@feministtimes.com

Follow the debate on Twitter at #SexIndustryWeek

 

 

flattr this!

LONG READ: Chav is a feminist issue

Feminist Times Contributing Editor Reni Eddo-Lodge took part in the Manchester Met feminist conference last week. She heard this speech by Rhian E Jones and came back to the Fem T office wide-eyed and excited about it. With kind permission from Rhian, we publish the speech below.

Intersectional Feminism, Class, and Austerity

Last week I went to a conference at Manchester Met to speak (broadly) on intersectional feminism, alongside the excellent Reni Eddo-Lodge. The event had some useful and interesting contributions, given in an atmosphere notable for constructive and supportive discussion, and for critiquing work done previously rather than seeking to reinvent the feminist wheel. Below is a transcription of the talk I gave. It works as both a synthesis of things I’ve written previously on feminism and class, and as a step towards articulating how my own type of feminism developed (clue: this year it’s thirty years since the Miners’ Strike). It also, in a personal best, contains only one use of ‘autodidact’, none of ‘hegemony’, and no mention of the Manic Street Preachers.

Introduction

The concept of intersectionality has a long history, and has informed the political work of women from Sojourner Truth in 1851 to Selma James’s 1975 pamphlet ‘Sex, Race and Class’. In 1989 Kimberlé Crenshaw’s use of the term emphasised how women of colour experience multiple systems of oppression, and how their experiences and voices are frequently marginalised or erased, even within feminist or anti-racist discourses which aim at justice or liberation. Intersectionality has been the subject of much recent discussion within feminism, some of which has dismissed the concept on the grounds of its supposed academic obscurity and irrelevance to ‘ordinary’ people. I will dispute this dismissal.

The aspect of intersectionality I’ve written most about is the tension between class politics and some of the ways in which contemporary UK feminism is expressed. I’m not suggesting that class is the only dimension of oppression, or the only one worth exploring, but I do see class as something fundamental, and as something which intersects significantly with both race and gender.

These interactions are particularly visible in the debate on ‘chavs’, which I see as a point at which class prejudice crosses over with several others. I will look at that debate and at the surrounding context of neoliberalism and austerity in which it takes place. I will then look at how responses to this debate, in attempting to rehabilitate working-class identity, have instead constructed exclusionary models of class based around the idea of the white male worker. I will then finally talk about how the calls for feminism to make itself accessible beyond white and middle-class women, has tended to involve negative or condescending assumptions about working-class women and their capacity for education, political consciousness and organisation.

‘Chav’ is a feminist issue

Over the past few decades, despite insultingly obvious and deepening socioeconomic divides, official political discourse has continued to insist that we live in a meritocracy. From this, it follows that anyone unable to gain a sufficient share in the wealth – since they cannot be structurally disadvantaged – must simply not be trying hard enough. In order to reconcile this almost charmingly insincere idea with the recent manifest reality of life under imposed austerity, with its falling wages, rising prices, and flatlining standards of living, we have seen the reanimation of Victorian and Edwardian ideas of the undeserving poor. In politics, media, and popular culture, class is increasingly identified by moral rather than economic or occupational indicators, with class-inflected ideas of ‘respectability’ the means by which morality is made publicly visible.

This approach, a rhetorical and material triumph for the forces of neoliberalism, seeks to justify political attacks on the recipients of state welfare by subsuming them all into an underclass characterised as ‘cheats’, ‘scroungers’, ‘workshy’ and ‘feckless’, despite the fact that a majority of welfare recipients are in work and still struggling with lower wages, higher rents and increased costs of living. In this remaking of the working class, the despised, mocked and hated figure of the ‘chav’ has been instrumental, as a class stereotype externally imposed upon what is a more complex and heterogeneous working class, to the exclusion of alternative identities. Significantly, this figure is very often female. The uses made of the female ‘chav’ in political and media discourse illustrate vividly how abstract meanings are articulated through images of women, and the particular strain of misogyny which ‘chav’-hatred can contain.

Over the past decade or so, the British ‘underclass’ has been presented in a heavily gendered and sexualised way, with images of pram-pushing and pregnant teenage girls, or slovenly and self-absorbed single mothers, used to express ideas of poverty, deprivation and dysfunction. These images crop up not only in the right-wing press but also across popular culture, and particularly in comedy, where they tend to be self-conscious or pastiche performances by those not identifying as a permanent part of the subculture – the prime example of this being Little Britain’s Vicky Pollard character. In a rant by James Delingpole, in the Times in 2006, Vicky Pollard is made to embody:

… several of the great scourges of contemporary Britain: aggressive female gangs of embittered, hormonal, drunken teenagers; gym-slip mums who choose to get pregnant as a career option; pasty-faced, lard-gutted slappers who’ll drop their knickers in the blink of an eye…

This kind of anti-‘chav’ rhetoric serves as a very thin veil for the perpetuation of damaging stereotypes of working-class women and girls – presenting them as sexually precocious and promiscuous, and their childbearing choices as the result of irresponsibility or scheming material greed. It also contains a tacit disapproval of the behaviour of women who exist outside traditional roles, deriving their support from the state rather than a male breadwinner. Alongside this cultural stereotyping, government rhetoric insistently seeks to validate its reduction or removal of state support from benefits claimants by playing on the stereotype of the idle and recklessly promiscuous single mother, and the moral decline, sexual depravity, and social disintegration her lifestyle choices are held to represent.

Anti-‘chav’ commentators in media and politics are often disquietingly obsessed with describing the presumed licentiousness of working-class women, whose irresponsibility, lack of deference, and refusal of traditional family and community hierarchies, must be politically penalised. All this happens with barely a glance at context or circumstance, with the working-class ‘bad girl’ understood not in terms of poverty or social exclusion but in neoliberal terms of individual moral degeneracy. The perceived inadequacies of single mothers or comprehensive schoolgirls are viewed as purely individual failings or pathology, rather than related to their demoralising circumstances or lack of financial and material resources.

The female ‘chav’ is further used in narratives of slut-shaming and taste-policing, where she represents unladylike promiscuity, lack of restraint, and vulgarity in dress, speech and behaviour. These qualities, already heavily class-inflected, are held to be especially objectionable in women, with sexual excess in particular seen as a central signifier of ‘disrespectable’ femininity. Intersections like this make explicit several implications of the discourse around the female ‘chav’, not least the conflation of sexuality and class to invoke the Victorian and Edwardian spectre of working-class women, with their hazardous lack of morality, taste and discrimination, and their unregulated sex drives, spawning hundreds of equally depraved and financially burdensome children. This trope also continues the historical representation of working-class women via their ‘deviant’ sexuality, as opposed to what the sociologist Beverley Skeggs has observed as the possibilities for ‘rebellion, heroism and authenticity’ which the working-class identity has historically held for men.

Exclusionary definitions of ‘working class’

In the left and liberal media there has been both recognition and confronting of the ‘chav’ stereotype as a method of class demonization. However, much of this has not paid sufficient attention to the gendered and raced dimensions of the term, and has sought to redress the idea of ‘chav’ by proposing equally inadequate and exclusionary models of working-class identity. These tend to either draw heavily on the historical figure of the noble and oppressed worker, who is invariably white and male – or to present the ‘white working class’ as an oppressed and neglected ethnic group on whom ‘chav’ is a slur. Within these parameters, the ‘chav’ becomes a figure of ‘borderline whiteness’ invoked in what Imogen Tyler identifies as ‘an attempt to differentiate between respectable and non-respectable forms of whiteness’. In the same way that anti-‘chav’ rhetoric can become a cover for misogyny, it can also work as an excuse to propagate racist or anti-immigration narratives. The ‘chav’ also appears as a modernised version of Marx’s lumpenproletariat – implicitly feminised by dint of being unable to express the securely masculine identity that comes with being a ‘respectably’ employed breadwinner.

These obviously dubious arguments, then, present whiteness and maleness as signifiers of what it is to be ‘authentically’ working class. In the short-lived Blue Labour project a few years back, Maurice Glasman presented the Labour Party’s history after 1945 as an emasculating ‘cross-class marriage’ of a put-upon working-class husband and a domineering middle-class wife. Similar sentiments informed the speech made in 2011 by the Conservative David Willetts, in which he attempted to portray feminism’s achievements, in enabling larger numbers of women to enter higher education and employment, as a process which had displaced and weakened working-class men. This kind of disingenuous dog-whistling criticises women’s emancipation while offering nothing to address the very real disadvantages and anxieties of working-class men. It also postulates some disciplined army of empowered middle-class feminists against an incoherently resentful horde of disenfranchised working-class men – while, in these scenarios, the existence of working-class women appears to go entirely unacknowledged.

The debate on ‘chavs’ is a significant arena in which working-class women are granted political visibility – only to then be discussed negatively through disingenuous stereotypes, and have their social and sexual conduct policed. But this gendered dimension to the debate has been surprisingly neglected by a mainstream liberal feminism which can fail to take account of other axes of privilege and oppression. Acknowledging that the discourse around ‘chavs’ can provide a cover for denigrating the social agency and sexual autonomy of working-class women, as well as for wider political attacks on the unemployed and working poor, would significantly enrich mainstream feminism and challenge the perception of it as irrelevant outside an academic and metropolitan elite.

Neglected traditions of working-class feminism

I will now contrast these presentations of feminism and of class with some aspects of my own experience. I grew up a feminist as well as a socialist, and both of these identities were rooted in my consciousness of class. Feminism and socialism seemed to go hand-in-hand when I considered things like the legacy of the 1984-5 Miners’ Strike and the support groups formed by miners’ wives, partners and other women in communities like my own. Although such groups were primarily set up to distribute food and cash donations to the families of striking male breadwinners, as the strike progressed their female members increasingly found themselves taking more explicitly political roles as part of fundraising and outreach work, and becoming public figures and community leaders in what had traditionally been a male-dominated political sphere. Through these networks of mutual support and solidarity, working-class women, while on the one hand acting in support of what might be seen as a macho and patriarchal industrial culture, on the other hand gradually challenged the chauvinism in which this culture could be steeped.

Similarly, factory work, despite its immediate associations with industrial masculinity, has historically also been a potential hub of female working-class solidarity. This unfashionable species of feminism stretches from incidents like the 1888 strike by women and girls at the Bryant and May match factory to the 1968 strike by sewing machinists at Ford’s Dagenham car plant. The Ford Dagenham strike saw female workers take on their male bosses over sexual discrimination, with several becoming radicalised in the process, and its success eventually resulted in the 1970 Equal Pay Act.

Awareness of histories like these can help to break down overly essentialist and unhelpfully narrow ideas of class identity, present on the left as well as the right, which characterise ‘the working class’, or even just its politically organised sections, as composed only of white, male, urban industrial workers. This latter concept of class, and its decreasing relevance, is frequently used to deny that ‘working-class’ is still a viable contemporary political identity, despite the continued existence of class relations and class inequality. These perspectives neglect the fact that over the past thirty years, deindustrialisation, structural unemployment, and the loss of skilled factory jobs have not only destroyed a former source of masculine status and self-respect, but also weakened what could be a source of political and social empowerment and consciousness-raising for women.

Today, the face of mainstream feminism is likely to be turned away from the bleak financial and employment futures facing women under austerity, and towards symbolically financial issues like the campaign to put Jane Austen on a banknote, or the low number of women attending this year’s World Economic Forum. It is instructive to compare the attention given to these issues – or to even more peripheral concerns – and the lack of attention given to, for instance, the current campaign by single mothers in East London to draw attention to their impending eviction following their local authority’s austerity-driven decision to reduce single-parent housing. The mainstream media’s preoccupation with ‘lifestyle’ or ‘Lean In’ feminism does little to engage with the material pressures experienced by a growing majority of women, or to draw meaningfully on previous industrial traditions of working-class feminism.

The trouble with ‘rebranding feminism’

Beyond the mainstream, a number of feminists on- and offline have made welcome attempts to integrate class into their analyses, and much of the revolutionary left has engaged positively with feminism as an expression of class struggle. However, there remains a tendency for working-class women themselves to appear in some feminist discourse as objects to be seen rather than heard, expected to rely on middle-class activists to articulate demands on their behalf but considered too inarticulate or otherwise ‘rough’ to be directly engaged with. The closest we seem to have come to attempts to alter this has been the recent debate on the need to ‘rebrand’ feminism as more inclusive, particularly of women who fall outside of its supposed white and middle-class power-base. Within these debates on how to make feminism ‘accessible’ to ordinary women, however, otherwise well-meaning feminist analysis has been vulnerable to reductive, stereotyping and patronising uses of the term ‘working-class’.

The idea of a divide between academic and populist ways of promoting progressive politics is not unique to feminism; a similar debate periodically engulfs much of the left. How can ‘ordinary women’, or indeed ‘ordinary people’, be appealed to in language which will resonate with their everyday concerns and not alienate them by using words of more than two syllables? The trouble with this question is that the first half doesn’t automatically imply the second. Being ‘ordinary’ doesn’t mean being stupid. A feminist politics predicated on this false dichotomy, of ‘high theory’ middle-class feminist activists and disenfranchised, politically unconscious working-class women, risks buying into narratives which see working-class parents, schools and communities as unable to impart education or instil political consciousness in the same way as their middle-class counterparts, and which present working-class girls in particular as the helpless inhabitants of some kind of neo-Victorian netherworld.

The ‘chav’, crucially, is represented as uneducated and often actively hostile to the idea of education, negating the possibility of self-improvement. But the idea that there are no grey areas, no available identities, between the volubly ignorant Vicky Pollard and an empowered and educated middle-class feminist leads to the double-bind whereby political engagement and consciousness raising is seen as automatically conferring class privilege and upward mobility upon an individual, thereby barring them from identifying with or being categorised as ‘working-class’.

In reality, not only have many university-educated feminists come from working-class backgrounds, but working-class feminists form part of the long line of working-class autodidacts whose attraction to ideologies of emancipation partly results from the desire to articulate and analyse their own experiences. Women’s Studies, at least in the UK, was rooted to a large extent in attempts by women of generally less privileged backgrounds to question and critique the privileges of existing academia, and to draw attention to neglected perspectives and experiences, including those marginalised by virtue of class, race, age, ability or sexuality. The fact that feminism within academia can now be considered to be middle-class and irrelevant says more about the squeezing out of attention to and discussion of class-based analysis within it; as well as the erosion of empowering traditions of adult education and of self-education through libraries and community colleges; and the pricing out of poorer students, than it does about education’s intrinsic appeal to, and suitability for, anyone outside the bourgeoisie.

Conclusion: women, austerity and intersectionality

Advocating that feminism be ‘rebranded’ in simple words, however well-intentioned the argument, can entail falsely assuming that ‘ordinary women’ are unable to understand theoretical ideas like intersectionality – when, in fact, the lives of working-class women offer many practical examples of multiple systems of oppression, most obviously including, but not limited to, those based on race, gender and class. Under austerity, we are seeing the driving down of wages, living standards and working conditions; closures and funding cuts to women’s refuges and childcare services; the sale of council housing and removal of housing, child, and disability benefit. Where this erosion of the welfare state impacts on women, it does so from several intersecting angles: women are affected not simply as women, but as women of colour, as disabled women, as mothers, as carers, as low earners or unemployed – very often, several of these at once. These identities are mutually reinforcing and cumulative, not zero-sum. The problems of the ‘ordinary’ working class are inherently intersectional: material disadvantage amplifies, and is amplified by, racism, sexism, homophobia, and ageism, all experienced as real and immediate issues enforced by existing structures of power. Women’s grassroots organisations and actions, which analyse and oppose the impact of austerity, will be informed by an awareness of how gender and race impacts on class, and how class impacts on race and gender. This is intersectionality experienced and practiced as a day-to-day reality – not intersectionality as it is often caricatured, as a distant and alien theory into which one chooses to opt. The past and present experience of working-class women offers a real-life, intuitive and logical application of the ideas and concepts that are apparently considered too complex for the likes of them.

Speech originally published on Rhian’s own site The Velvet Coalmine.

Rhian E Jones works in retail and writes on politics, history, popular culture and the places where they intersect. She is the author of Clampdown: Pop-Cultural Wars on Class and Gender and a co-editor at New Left Project. Blog: http://velvetcoalmine.wordpress.com, Twitter: @RhianEJones

Photo: Ben Sutherland

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…




flattr this!

Wowzers: “Controversial themes are overlooked in bigger events”

Feminist events can have a number of effects on me: feeling angry and frustrated at abuse and ignorance, at times isolated within a niche community, mostly empowered by the words and actions of inspirational models, sometimes puzzled by the complexity of positions within the front, but the one thing I took home from Wowzers festival is the hope for a future of mutual understanding, acceptance and openness.

Taking over LSE Students’ Union on the International Women’s Day weekend, the first edition of the non-profit festival Wowzers delivered a courageous, crowd-led event addressing gender diversity and social pluralism. It ran parallel to the more established WOW Women of the World Festival on the Southbank.

“We wanted people to represent their own type of feminism”, said Amanda Leon-Joice, co-founder of the event. “We hired the venue, we did the publicity, we bankrolled the event, but the community came in with their own sessions” – including open discussions on trans-inclusion and sex workers’ rights, some controversial themes often overlooked in bigger events.

One of Wowzers’ successes is the effort the organisers have gone to to create a physical and emotional safe space for everyone: fully accessible venue, inclusive of gender neutral toilets and ‘Breathing Room’ – available at any overwhelming moment – as well as an explicit zero tolerance policy towards hateful language and behaviour. And yes, it was free!

Commitment to change always involves understanding and identifying issues first, but Wowzers was no place for getting on high horses. Within the structure of planned activities, workshop leaders constantly encouraged active participation, drawing all the audience to personal analysis, as powerful evidence of proactive thinking and constructive criticism.

“I didn’t know how bad it was!” said participant Lori Smith, after the ‘Irreverent Dance’ session. “Children learn from a very young age how everything is very binary, especially in terms of gender.” ‘Irreverent Dance’ kicked off Saturday’s activities, targeting – and subverting – gender segregation as perpetrated in ballet schools, where traditional roles reinforce restrictive stereotypes, especially for girls.

Next up was the highly awaited ‘Trans* Not Traitors’ open discussion, addressing the controversial issue of trans-inclusivity within the divergent feminist front. The notion of ‘gender traitor’ itself, as often unfortunately applied to trans men, stands on the ground of prejudicial assumptions that somehow there is an ‘original’ (and therefore right?) gender, following a discriminatory logic not very far from patriarchal ideology.

“I believe passionately in working within feminism. I felt very upset to be excluded from all aspects of being a feminist, given I was 15 years a lesbian and still being very proud of having lived as a woman,” said Leng Montgomery, one of the trans men on the panel. Questioning the responsibilities of feminists towards trans people, it was inevitable to reflect on the very meaning and relevance of feminism as a whole: as a stance on reproductive rights, but especially as a revolutionary force protecting groups who have been historically underrepresented or misrepresented by larger communities. “If feminism has built itself to stand up against patriarchy, it means including trans within the movement”, added Leng.

By 5pm it was a full house, with people sitting on the floor for an open meeting with two sex workers from the Sex Worker Open University. “Sex work” is always a controversial feminist issue, with prostitution being very much a grey area that various sections of feminism find it hard to agree on. “Some feminists are hurting and actively damaging sex workers,” explained one of the young women speaking at the table. Ideologies aside, putting other women at risk, great risk, is something that has to stop.

As the session came to a close, it was a wrap for the first day’s activities programme. People headed to the bar downstairs, waiting for some grrrl noise from live bands and DJs. While tidying my notes I took a look at the crowd around the stairs, it felt inspiring and motivating to see how Wowzers had gathered together generations of women and men willing to educate themselves, to continue the journey into becoming better (intersectional) feminists or even just better human beings. It was a call for consciousness to which the community responded.

“If you can talk to some people, have some thoughts you haven’t had before, be introduced to something you haven’t been introduced to yet, maybe you’ll walk away with a clearer idea of what you want your feminism or gender equality to be and that might help you go about implementing it in a more structured, organic way,” Amanda had said to me. From my perspective, it was mission accomplished.

Cristiana Bedei is a freelance journalist based in London, specialising in content for digital media. Her main areas of expertise are contemporary art, feminism and gender issues. Find her on Twitter at: @critalks

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…


flattr this!

From Trafficking to Fashionistas: WOW tries to encapsulate all feminisms

“I like your shoes,” a shy voice whispers. “Where did you get them from?” Malala Yousafzai is running five minutes late this morning and Jude Kelly, Artistic Director of Southbank Centre, has encouraged us to use these 300 seconds to speak to someone we don’t know. In the case of the woman in the seat next to me, bravery quickly turns to panic: “This is probably the wrong day to ask that.” My reply? “It’s okay, we can still be feminists and talk about shoes”. I say it because I believe it. I’m only surprised that she doesn’t believe it too.

I’m starting with shoes and I’m risking being labelled alongside Carrie Bradshaw because it explains so succinctly why today matters. It’s International Women’s Day, I’m at Southbank Centre’s WOW (Women of the World) Festival and, along with the full stops we’ve achieved in battling for full equality, there are still question marks surrounding what it now means to be a woman in a moving world.

Feminism is in free flow: it’s expanding and morphing and that’s what makes today feel vital and exciting. Our question marks now have a WOW logo and we’re celebrating them on t-shirts, mugs and Tatty Devine necklaces. What does it mean to be a woman in 2014 and how can we push changes forward? Can I sit and listen to a speech about child trafficking and then tweet about 80-year-old Fabulous Fashionista Bridget Sojourner’s leopard print outfit? We’re all still figuring things out. The conversation is nowhere near finished. As Jude Kelly concludes on stage: “This is not just about women’s rights, it’s about a changing world.”

As I walk around the Southbank Centre a Wah Nails stall sits next to a poster which asks: ‘Who Made Your Pants?’ Over the course of the day both men and women gather to celebrate every aspect of womanhood: their aspirations, bravery, dilemmas and challenges. The Page 3 debate is kicking off in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, women are gathering in The Clore Ballroom to discuss the politics of afro hair, online bullying is being frankly explored, but today is also a celebration. 75-year-old Sue Kreitzman is sat on the Fabulous Fashionistas panel wearing a pair of red clogs when she rallies: “I want you to look at me…there are no rules. I am 75….damn it, I can do what I please.”

The link between young and old here today is an important one. Five hours earlier and we’re reminded that campaigner Malala Yousafzai has made the trip from Birmingham to London despite studying for her GCSEs. When Malala, shot less than two years ago in Pakistan by the Taliban, speaks eloquently about the need for teens to “contribute to society”, it’s easy to forget she is just 16 years old. As Jude Kelly says, rightly, “it’s a baton-passing issue”. Making the link between the UK and gender equality, Malala admits being “quite surprised here. Women are given rights. It was something new to me to see women driving.” Crucially, however, her admiration comes with a warning: “women are free but when we go in depth…in Parliament only 22% or less are women. Here it is kept hidden and we need to highlight it.”

The topic of hidden gender inequality is picked up again later that afternoon at a panel discussion exploring online bullying. The issue of digital anonymity is mentioned. It illustrates just one of the many question marks I referred to earlier. “Is Twitter encouraging people to be more extreme?” TIME magazine’s Editor at Large Catherine Mayer asks. No one seems able to answer the question. What is startling are the new statistics Jamie Bartlett, Director of the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media at Demos, unveils for the first time. Out of 100,000 cases of the use of the word ‘rape’ on Twitter, 12% use it as a threat and 29% in casual use. But more alarming than this, out of 130,000 uses of the word ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ on Twitter, 35% use them casually, with a high proportion of young girls tweeting these words about each other.

Jude Rogers, chair on the Women Make Music panel discussion later that evening, reiterates: “There are no easy answers”. Women represent only 14% of the UK’s registered professional songwriters and composers. Feminist Times’ own Deborah Coughlin admits that “I have come across a lot of sexism”, and when musician Anna Meredith is asked what her music sounds like she adds: “Pretty bombastic. I often get ‘I’m surprised it’s written by a woman.’”

Closing the day, Sandi Toksvig’s Mirth Control takes on all these questions and answers them with a few full stops we’ve literally never heard before. Deftly balancing wicked humour with thought-provoking facts, the lost women of World War I are finally found and it results in a moving evening of comedy and music.

Perhaps the final words should be dedicated to forgotten composer Lilian Elkington who gave up composing when she married, and her daughter Mary Wiliams, who never even knew her mother composed. Mary is sitting in the audience tonight when her mother’s composition ‘Out of the Mist’ (1921) is performed by the all-female WOW orchestra. It may just be a small question mark, but it’s a small question mark finally answered. It’s certainly music to our ears tonight, Lilian.

Kat Lister is Contributing Editor of Feminist Times. She is a freelance writer living in London and can be found tweeting to an empty room @Madame_George. She has contributed to NME, The Telegraph, Grazia, Time Out, Clash magazine and Frankie magazine.

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…



flattr this!

How the youths’ villain went from Thatcher to Harry Styles

When Orwell created Big Brother and IngSoc in the 40s, 1984 was but a mere teeny tiny dot on the landscape – a far away dystopian future. In 2014 we’ve traveled almost as far past that dot and once again it seems a very long way away, a faded dystopian past. The real 1984 mirrors many of the situations we find ourselves facing in 2014 and some would argue are just as disconcerting as an Orwellian nightmare.

The Tories were in power and the privatisation of public-owned resources was on the agenda. It was the time of Wall Street where, just like in the movie, everyone knew there were bankers who acted like corrupt arseholes but nobody really knew what to do about it. Our current Con-Dem coalition is heavily influenced by beliefs embodied by the 80s.

But there are differences too: 30 years ago the miners went on a year-long strike. This painful, sacrificial action was felt across the country. Entertainers, mainstream “alternative” comedians like Ben Elton, Alexei Sayle and musicians like The Smiths referenced it and made calls to arms; NME wrote a brilliant piece on the music Thatcher inspired. So anyone of thinking age and above was very aware of what was going on and collectively they expressed how they felt about it on the streets and in their magazines and papers.

During the 1980s Margaret Thatcher won the “Creep of the Year” award in every NME Poll from 1980 to 1989, except 1981 when she was toppled by Adam Ant, and in 1989 when the title was changed to “Bastard of the Year” – which she also won. In 1990 her resignation was voted “Highlight of the Year” and Saddam Hussein took over the mantel of number one Bastard. NME readers used the award as a way they could show solidarity with the miners; a way that would get in the papers and stick two fingers up at Thatcher, literally.

The 90s saw NME readers, youngish music fans of this country, take a more lighthearted approach to choosing their Bastard – which would late become, rather pantomine like, their “Villain” – with Robbie Williams and Liam Gallagher taking turns, and John Major popping up every now and again. By now we were of course hurtling into the midst of Cool Britannia, where every pop icon was invited for champers at Tony’s, the good times were rolling and Chumbawumba throwing water on John Prescott is as political as it got.

In the noughties George Dubya Bush got his fair share but since then political figures have been low on the ground, with David Cameron only winning “Villain of the Year” once, in 2011. This year, 2014, Harry Styles won NME’s “Villain of the Year” for the second year running, beating both homophobic tyrant Putin and Cameron. Why have the kids gone for the joke vote? Why not, on paper at least, show Putin you won’t stand for LGBT “hunting”?

Since the crash in 2008, and during this last six years of cuts, you occasionally see a think piece asking where the protest songs, the political music have gone? The grown-ups in the mainstream broadsheets have been concerned that there isn’t the level of action they saw in the 80s. Whether NME, which has seen sales fall, can be considered a dipstick for the “yoof” of the country is highly debatable, but haven’t we got to wonder why the young people of the UK aren’t showing they feel – even in this small almost trivial way – the pain of those suffering from the Bedroom Tax or those being imprisoned and bullied in Russia?

Why aren’t there more visible political statements from the mass of people under 30 in the mainstream media – rather than exceptional individuals, particularly in feminism, like Caroline Criado-Perez, Owen Jones and Laura Bates? Is following an issue on Twitter or reading it online “engaging” with an issue in the same way as protesting was? OR is this depoliticisation?

Being (as one woman said to me on the train the other day) the wrong side of 25, I thought I should find an expert who is on the right side, so I spoke to Sam Wolfson, Exec Editor of Noisey, which is part of the Vice empire:

“One of the worst things about old people saying young people are disengaged from politics is that they only understand engagement in the terms they had when they were young. The miners strike was 30 years ago and that’s a good representation of how meaningless it is to today’s young people.”

“If you want to see engaged youth, look at these people trying to make sure people are allowed to keep their council flats or come to Vice, where almost everyone is under 30 and putting their own lives in danger to report on struggles around the world.”

He’s right. Vice has an international news output to rival the majors and that’s why it’s launching its own TV channel. On my Facebook feed they were the one of the first news sources reporting from the ground in Syria, one of the first in Ukraine, and the only embedded in Venezuela when no one else was talking about Venezuela.

“Lorde’s music says more about the anonymity of global capitalism and the subtle ways in which consumerism creates false perceptions of wealth than any 30-year-old punk song. But people who read Q magazine won’t accept her music as political because when they say ‘politics’ they actually mean campfire songs about miners.”

The people who read Q magazine are people over 30. I’m over 30 but still too young to have been involved in the miners’ strike. My first protest was standing on a roundabout causing cars to crash with a tasteless banner saying: “Open your eyes Blunkett”, on the eve of student fees being implemented, and my second big political protest was the march against the Iraq War, followed by dozens of smaller union marches and reclaim the nights.

What I do know about my generation is that we have been demoralised by our action being so woefully unsuccessful. And while the year-long miners’ strike in 1984 was powerful in its strength of will and the show of courage, it did not achieve everything it set out to and the jobs still went.

I understand why traditional protest seems futile. But this “engagement” Wolfson describes, what happens after watching or reading about something online? If that’s where young people are, what do they do with what they find out on Twitter? Is a retweet enough?

Under 25s are moreishly eating up big issues from the media they love, so I think we can assume they are passionate and have thoughts and ideas about Putin and Cameron. But now is a less innocent time, when those voting for the NME villain think they have more chance upsetting Harry Styles than they ever would the Government; when they live in a country where big marches, while allowed, are not listened too; when the people who fight for the biggest change are very often not even invited to the table, and when our comedians and entertainers call for revolution, but they have no idea how to start one!

 Photos: TheMikeRoberts & Byzantine K

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…




flattr this!

Open letter to journalists: middle class strippers – it’s neo-liberalism, stupid

Every six months for the last three years, the press have got hold of research undertaken by Teela Sanders and I on the apparent proliferation of the stripping industry in the UK.

Despite the multiple angles of the research and the findings that we published, there is a fixation with the idea of middle class women taking their clothes off for money. This is despite the fact that we reported high levels of financial exploitation, mixed feelings about the working conditions in clubs and, in many cases, declining conditions in the industry, and the relationship of labour in this industry to the privatisation of education, declining real wages and a hostile labour market. Clearly the material conditions of women’s working lives do not make for good copy.

See for example:

Devalued, deskilled and diversified: Explained the proliferation of the UK strip industry.

The Regulatory Dance: Lap Dancing in the UK.

In response to these repetitive requests for statements and interviews by journalists who inaccurately plagiarise each other’s stories, leading to dramatic inaccuracies, hyperbole and moral panic, I write this Open Letter:

Dear Journalist,

Thank you for your questions. With regards to why middle class women work in the industry, of course it is money that shapes their decision; how could it not be in a world of wage labour? The point is that it is not solely money.

Middle class women strip for much the same reasons that working class women strip. Most middle class women who sell their labour in the strip industry do so because the UK is an increasingly precarious place in which to live and to sell your labour. Most do not select dancing as a career over others (though some do), but they may strip in order to purchase the credentials they need from a neo-liberalised education system, in order to compete in an increasingly hostile labour market. They sell their labour here, in the short term, to finance long term desires for security in a world in which basic securities are being stripped away, driven by principles that your newspapers often play a large and insidious role in promoting.

Middle class women are selling their labour in the strip industry due to the absence of decent, well-paid part time work in other parts of the labour market. Middle class women are selling their labour in this industry because the UK, and particularly London, is an hourglass economy in which there are high paid, high status jobs at the top and the opposite at the bottom, with little in between. These women are seeking to escape the bottom half of the hourglass and make it into the top, a place increasingly reserved for the existing elite.

The flexibility of stripping enables women to generate an income while undertaking a degree, participating in an internship or topping up their other low wage job. Some middle class women strip because these are what jobs are left for you when when the welfare state retreats – middle class or otherwise. These middle class women strip because when real wages fall to their level of a decade previously, nurses and social workers (those overpaid and greedy public sector workers) have to top up their wages in order to survive.

Some middle class women strip because this is the job they have always wanted to do and they enjoy the sexual attention they receive. Many want to resist the oppressive temporality and austere cultural norms attached to the 9-5 job, preferring instead to engage in work that can be experienced, to some degree, as leisure. Many young people like to work in the night-time economy, which transgresses many of the rules of day time work.

Some women embrace the sense of community they feel, in contrast to the reactionary politics of the office. Some resist the work ethic that increasingly encourages people to be their job, to work until they collapse at the expense of their health, their families and their social well-being, instead preferring to relegate work to a separate sphere of their life which does not define them or consume all of their time and energy.

It is for all of these reasons that middle class women strip. But I wonder whether we are asking the right question. The most incisive question, I feel, is not why middle class women are stripping, but why we are so concerned with middle class women stripping? If stripping is to be condemned – which is the subtext of your question – then why can we accept the idea of working class women stripping, but are horrified when the spectre looms for middle class women?

I hope this helps. Do let me know if you have any other questions.

Best,

Kate

Dr Kate Hardy.  Feminist, Lecturer in Work and Employment Relations at The University of Leeds.
We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…




flattr this!

#LGBTMarryMe: Feminist Times & Fox Problem Debate

As part of LGBT History Month, The Fox Problem hosted the Feminist Times debate:

“Is same sex marriage just a distraction?”

Insightful points and a highly charged debate on the issues surrounding same-sex marriage and what it means to the LGBT community, hosted by broadcaster Ruth Barnes.

Listen here to LGBT campaigner Peter Tatchell; trans woman, novelist, poet, critic and activist Roz Kaveney; currently blogging their wedding plans for Stylist magazine, Gemma Rolls-Bentley & Danielle Wilde; feminist blogger Zoe Stavri; and television and radio personality Georgie Okell discuss whether same-sex marriage is just a distraction.

LISTEN:

SCROLL THROUGH THE STORIFY:

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…




flattr this!

“Prostitution harms women”: RadFem UK & the Nordic Model

On Tuesday the European Parliament voted through the “Nordic Model” of prostitution by a sizeable majority, which criminalises the purchaser in sex work, not the prostitute. RadFem UK has been involved in the successful campaign to support Mary Honeyball’s report and Feminist Times asked them to explain why they are pro-Nordic Model, what they think is wrong with Amnesty’s policy on sex work and why their ultimate goal is to abolish prostitution.

We know this can be a very polarising subject within feminism and believe our readers should have access to all sides of the debate, so we have also asked representatives of organisations opposing the Nordic Model to comment and will be publishing their responses later today.

Prostitution harms women, and the majority of women who are prostituted have already been harmed through poverty, homelessness, the care system and sexual abuse. Once in prostitution women face violence, emotional and psychological harm, causing them to use drugs and alcohol to numb their pain and ‘disassociate’ from what is happening to them.

As Rachel Moran, a survivor says: “Prostitution is quite simply a misogynistic institution that relies on a constant supply of women and girls who have been previously abused in every imaginable way, including physically, sexually, emotionally and psychologically, and also socially disenfranchised, usually racially and educationally.

“I was a homeless fifteen-year-old child when I was first prostituted on the streets of Dublin. The ‘choices’ open to homeless young girls are as constrained as it is possible for choices to be, and I saw the same reality reflected back to me in the lives of every girl and woman prostitution ever brought me into contact with.

“Prostitution is simply a hell hole in which women and girls are relentlessly abused for the financial and sexual benefit of older, more relatively powerful males – and those who view it in any other way are detached, often willfully, from the reality of what prostitution is.”

We need laws and services that support women – and it is mainly women who are in prostitution – to increase their safety and help those who wish to leave do so.

In Sweden, Norway and Iceland, the law decriminalises the selling of sex and criminalises the buyers; France looks set to shortly do the same. Vitally, alongside the legislative framework, support services to help women exit prostitution are funded. In Sweden, the introduction of this approach led to 50% reduction in street prostitution; other types of prostitution did not increase, so this represents a significant number of women leaving prostitution overall.

There has been a 40% reduction in male sex buyers and Sweden is seen as unattractive by sex traffickers. Women say they now find it easier to come forward to the police, without the fear of prosecution themselves, and report crimes against themselves and other women.

Often people get into debates about whether individual women ‘choose’ to be in prostitution or not. Abolitionist feminists believe the industry as a whole is harmful to women as a class, and that too many women get harmed through prostitution as a cultural practice, based on unequal power relations.

It can also be argued that it is unfair to put the responsibility for the continuation of prostitution on women’s choices when it is the choices of men and their demand to be sexually serviced that is responsible for the size and impact of the industry.

Laws to reduce demand also reduce the number of women who are prostituted. For example, in Sweden laws have been successful in the reduction of the industry as a whole, including trafficking. Attitudes of men have also changed since the introduction of the legislation, whereas in Victoria, Australia, where decriminalisation, and more recently legalisation was introduced, the number of illegal brothels has tripled. That’s in addition to the new development of legal brothels, which demonstrates that decriminalisation and legalisation do not reduce the ‘undergound’ industry; it only makes it bigger.

Decriminalisation and legalisation has been a disaster in a number of countries. The Netherlands have realised that legalising their brothels simply increased the market, rather than providing women with better protection.

In Germany, the sex trafficking of women and children rose dramatically after legalisation, while the price prostituted women could charge fell. German feminist and journalist Alice Schwarzer said: “The liberalisation of prostitution has been a disaster for the people involved” and labelled Germany a “paradise for pimps”.

The harm of prostitution and the successes of the Nordic Model make the recent policies discussions of Amnesty International, a human rights organisation, astounding. A representative of Nordic Model Advocates explained: “While the decriminalisation of those who sell sex cannot come soon enough, we find it shocking that the leaked Amnesty document suggests that Amnesty feels the right of men to buy sex is more important than the right of women and girls not to have to sell sex in order to survive.”

Amnesty International, in a leaked report, revealed that they are looking to adopt a policy to lobby for decriminalisation of the purchase of “sex”. Of course none of us want prostituted women to be criminalised, but this proposal would mean that they would be lobbying for pimps and punters to be decriminalised. This total lack of any laws relating to pimps and punters would leave women in prostitution in an even more vulnerable position that they are now.

In the leaked policy report, Amnesty talk about how it is a human right to have sex, and the need for sex. This argument is used to justify their proposed policy around prostitution. The human species needs some of its members to have sex and thus children, but it is not a human right to have sex – and certainly not at the expense of others.

Douglas Fox, the owner of a number of escort agencies in England claims that the leaked report and proposal are as a result of his work with Amnesty. Amnesty denies this, but you could be forgiven for thinking the report certainly reads as if it was written by a pimp.

Many organisations of women who used to be in prostitution have been lobbying Amnesty to ensure they don’t adopt this policy. For more information go to the Facebook page or visit Abolition Prostitution Now.

RadFem UK has been set up by a group of committed, grass roots radical feminists who want to work towards building the Women’s Liberation Movement in the UK and developing relationships with other radical feminists throughout the world, to advance an international movement.

Photo: SecretLondon123

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…




flattr this!

Pussy Riot split confusion: cultural action always has blurred lines

Pussy Riot sang in their Punk Prayer, two years ago today: “become a feminist, become a feminist” – a rallying call to action. From Sochi to Kiev, Caracas to our own cities and towns, we need to believe in ourselves a little more and give feminism and her activists a break. This week has seen some people taking sides as Pussy Riot begins to show splits, following a statement released by the group saying Nadia and Masha were no longer part of Pussy Riot. The two women then appeared in Sochi as Pussy Riot and released a track and video under the moniker.

Social movements appear, develop and dissolve, and movement members fall out and disagree with one another all the time. Why should feminism be so often singled out for failure? It may not give us all the answers but by embracing feminisms together we will begin to start asking the right kinds of questions.

At the heart of social movements lie social relationships. These relationships are often built over time, developing a kind of organisational memory and expectations that persist even when members come and go. Social movements are more than the sum of their parts and are nothing without the actions of those willing to take part. Activism is frequently a difficult path to take but, when it comes to feminist activism, the path is at times more uneven, weed-strewn and so pot-hole ridden that the task of patching it can seem overwhelming. Yet, like the road less traveled, this path can lead to profound personal and social change.

It is important to pay attention to the historical lineages – though arguably not a linear history – of feminist cultural activism and its attempts to challenge gender inequalities. These historical narratives are less about discrete chronological stages and more about blurry overlaps, with each participating actor writing and re-writing their stories with each new encounter.

Attempting to fit contemporary feminist cultural activism into neat, time-specific periods perpetuates a popular discourse that all too quickly relegates feminist acts of cultural resistance to, at best, the history books, and at worst something to be appropriated by capitalist structures and sold back in bite-sized, watered down versions to the very girls and women who these activities are meant to empower. However, this grand ideal of collective action and impetus, to create new worlds that counter mainstream conventions, is not without its problems and critics.

In various art and music based movements, such as Riot Grrrl and Ladyfest, the initial motivation for engaging in activism is women’s lack of visibility and, where women are visible, a disagreement with the narrow roles they are frequently assigned. Drawing connections between different feminist cultural movements in different time periods allows for a continuity of experiences and a chance for subsequent generations to learn from one another through dialogue, rather than perpetuating the perceived generational rifts so often referred to in literature on feminist waves and by those that purport feminism has failed.

Pussy Riot may be a clandestine covert network of feminist activists, but they are emerging from their own particular histories carrying forward previous social ties, whilst at the same time developing new ones. That two of its members should now be reportedly ex-members may disappoint the collective’s supporters but can be viewed as an inevitable stage in the cycle of change. Movements change and members move on to other things. If anyone can be Pussy Riot, just like every girl could be a Riot Grrrl or every town could start a Ladyfest, then perhaps the power of feminist activism lies with its potential.

We all need to be a little kinder to one another. Our activist strategies may be flawed, we may be emotive, impassioned and our approaches at times may not work but it is by taking those steps to engage with one another, to voice our feminisms and render them real, lived experiences that we can begin to make a difference.

Synthesisers, social statistics, music and methods, Susan is currently a Sociology lecturer at the University of Manchester. A serial Ladyfest organiser and SNA user, her research looks at gender inequalities in music worlds, cultural production and participation. Mixing-methods and mixing beats at the edge of the analogue-digital divide, Susan is one half of the dark electronic duo Factory Acts. Their first EP is due out with AnalogueTrash Records summer 2014. SoS tweets @FactoryActs and  @Susan_OShea

Photo: a.powers-fudyma

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…




flattr this!

“PUSSY RIOT” release new video

You could be forgiven for thinking these are the performance activists formerly known as Pussy Riot, after a statement released by Pussy Riot last week said Nadia and Masha were no longer in the group. Yet here they are, two of the most recognisable released prisoners in the world, protesting at Sochi and releasing this new track and video under what we can only assume is a highly contested moniker.

The real story of course should be the police brutality shown in the video and the message in the song.

More to come tomorrow on who Pussy Riot are, on the second anniversary of their now iconic Punk Prayer.

50 billion and a gay-driven rainbow,
Rodnina and Kabaeva will pass you those flames
In prison they will teach you how to obey
Salut to all bosses, hail, duce!

Putin will teach you how to love the motherland

Sochi is blocked – Olympic surveillance
Special forces, weapons, crowds of cops
FSB is an argument, the police is an argument
State tv will run your applause.

Putin will teach you how to love the motherland

Spring to Russia comes suddenly
Hello to the messiah as a shot from Avrora
The prosecutor will put you down
Give him some reaction and not those pretty eyes

A cage for the protests, vodka, matrioshka
Prison for May 6, more vodka and caviar
The Constitution is lynched, Vitishko’s in prison
Stability, the prison meal, the fence and the watchtower

For TV Rain they’ve shut down the airwaves
They took gay pride down the washroom
A two-ass toilet – a priority
Sentence to Russia, medium security, 6 years

Putin will teach you how to love the motherland

The motherland
The motherland
The motherland

flattr this!

Charlotte Raven

Valentine’s Day: The anniversary of my mother’s death

My first Valentine’s cards came from my mother. In retrospect this seems slightly odd – I don’t remember her ever sending one to my dad. Susan wasn’t the hearts and flowers type, but obviously made an exception.

I don’t think of her every day any more. But always on Valentine’s Day, when she died. I experimented with secular rituals to perform on the anniversary of her death but none of them stuck. She wouldn’t have cared whether we let off fireworks or released balloons with messages tied to the string. I used to visit her bookshelves in my recently deceased’s family home as they charted her evolution from shy activist to shy PhD student and beyond. People often mistook her shyness for haughtiness – I didn’t.

I have nothing tangible to remember her by – no gee jaws or heir loom jewelry. But the 30th anniversary of the year long miners’ strike in a month or so has precipitated a trip down memory lane. She was happiest in 1984 because we had all convinced ourselves that a revolution was imminent. No pictures exist of the nights we spent in the Park View listening to striking miners’ tales of derring do, but I will never forget them.

She wrote a lot of letters calling attention to miscarriages of justice, large and small. She was always fighting my corner, even when I didn’t need her to! Aged about twelve, I brought the 12 inch single version of Duran Duran’s Is There Something I Should Know? home, fearing Susan would remind me of that risible line, “you’re about as easy as a nuclear war”. In fact she was indignant when we realised that the four so called ‘remixes’ didn’t contain all the lyrics or a recognisable melody. They were riffs on the single, apparently, but how would young fans know?

I wish I had an archive of her correspondence; there were letters about dog shit on the pavement and the racist bakery on the high street. She got a reply from Duran Duran’s record company apologising for any confusion that the word ‘remix’ may have caused in the minds of the band’s young fans.

She was often right. The Guildford Four were framed by the police… When Paul Hill got out of prison he sent Susan a letter thanking her for the money and time she’d given to the campaign.

But sometimes she got it wrong. Joy Division weren’t fascists! If she was still here I’d still be trying to convince her of this fact.

In the years before her death, Susan was disillusioned and disappointed. Capitalism hadn’t crumbled and cool Britannia was a very inhospitable place for someone who hated bombast. She distrusted Tony Blair before it was fashionable – there was no honeymoon period.

She had always believed that receiving her doctorate would boost her self esteem – but it didn’t! Dr Raven didn’t want to teach or write academic books or any more letters of complaint, so for the first time in her life she had nothing to do but worry about me. She spent substantial chunks of her last years on earth playing Tomb Raider.

Susan died on Valentine’s Day 2001. I’m so sorry she didn’t live to see all the things that would have revivified her and restored her faith in humanity: her grandchildren, Occupy, New Labour discredited, and commentariat split between those who think Tony Blair had succumbed to Icarus syndrome while in power and those who think he had a pre-existing personality disorder.

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…




flattr this!

Happy Valentine’s from Beth Stephens & Annie Sprinkle

Happy Valentine’s day everyone!

There’s no better day to celebrate the Earth.

Here are 25 Ways to Make Love with the Earth and our Ecosex Manifesto to inspire your amorous devotion. As we are all part of, not separate from nature, all sex is ecosex! So make love to the Earth today, and every day!

Beth Stephens & Annie Sprinkle

(Click on images to enlarge)

hi

AnnieBethposter_HiRes

Elizabeth Stephens & Annie Sprinkle are two ecosexual artists-in-love who have been collaborating with each other, and with various international communities, for 11 years. They created a new field of research, “Sexecology,” exploring the places where sexology and ecology intersect in our culture– in art, theory, practice and activism. Their ecosex performance art weddings have involved thousands of collaborators and participants in eight countries. They also do Sexecological Walking Tours, visual art installations, and are finishing a film about mountain top removal coal mining destruction in Appalachia, called Goodbye Gauley Mountain—An Ecosexual Love Story. Stephens is a professor of art at UCSC and a Ph.D. candidate in performance studies at UC Davis. Sprinkle is a popular visiting artist who holds a Ph.D. in human sexuality. They love to collaborate! Find out more here.

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…




flattr this!

I was sexually harassed more when pregnant and with my kids

Street harassment: a concept that was once reserved for dirty old men in trench coats and construction workers, has finally been recognised as a significant part of the spectrum of male violence against women and girls through the activism of groups like Hollaback and Everyday Sexism.

The recognition of how unsafe public spaces can be for all women, regardless of things like body type and age, is becoming more commonplace, as is the understanding of how street harassment disproportionately affects women of colour due to the intersections of racism and misogyny. However, there is one area of street harassment that remains unspoken: the harassment of women who are pregnant or with small children.

The fact that it remains, for the most part, unspoken, makes it difficult to assess how common street harassment is for pregnant women and mothers. We tend to think of women with children as safe from street harassment, yet it is the very vulnerability of being pregnant or with a child that makes it easier for men to harass without consequence. A woman with a child is less likely to confront a street harasser because of the fear of the possible harm to their child.

My first pregnancy was aged 18, when I looked no more than 15. I was the skinny kid with bad glasses and frizzy hair but I experienced a tremendous amount of street harassment before getting pregnant. Growing up in a transient mining community with a high rate of alcoholism in Northern Canada isn’t a safe space for women at the best of times. It was worse for Indigenous women.

The harassment got worse after I gave birth. I assumed, wrongly, that this increase was due to my age: that it was only because I looked young that I was being harassed. Then I experienced a similar increase in street harassment after the birth of my second child when I was 29, when I most definitely did not look 15. I have had comments about my breasts, my ass, and a number of dubious propositions all in front of my child.

Was I surprised that men were sexually harassing me in front of my child? Absolutely. I had naively thought men would not target a pregnant women or mother, not if she was outside the age range of the “teen Mum” who was in their mind, by default, a slut and therefore deserving of all harassment and abuse.

I wasn’t alone. It turns out that street harassment whilst pregnant or with a young child isn’t that uncommon. I’ve heard countless complaints from other women at toddler and baby groups. Parenting website Mumsnet has had thread after thread where women discuss their experiences of street harassment whilst pregnant or with small children. GirlwiththeMouseyHair wrote of her experiences of street harassment, which included a sexual assault, whilst 6 months pregnant and with her toddler.

Another Mumsnetter, D, shared this story with me. I am reproducing it with permission:

When F was little, we were on a quite empty bus and a guy came and sat adjacent and started rubbing himself in a quite blatant fashion whilst staring right at us. My thought at the time was that he might think I was less likely to kick off as I had a toddler with me. Or it could have been something worse that got his jollies. I was frozen to the spot. Then luckily he got off. I really didn’t know what to do.

Whatever the reason for this sexual assault D felt more vulnerable because she was with her child. This is a reality of street harassment, up to and including sexual assault, and it needs more research.

Without the research available I can’t statistically prove for you here that street harassment and sexual harassment increases when women are pregnant or with young children. So much of the evidence is anecdotal and remains in the domain of the message board, but I certainly remember more experiences whilst pregnant or with a toddler.

It’s possible this reflects feelings of greater vulnerability rather than a greater experience of harassment, or that I remember these incidents more vividly because my children experienced the harassment too – having someone confirm your experience can make it feel more real. It is heart-breaking when that validation comes from your 3 year old asking why the man was rude to you, or when your 2 year old asks the definition of a sex term that no small child should be familiar with.

The reality of street harassment is that no woman is safe in public spaces. That street harassment is a constant feature of women’s lives and that, unfortunately, this includes when women are pregnant or with their children.

Louise Pennington is a radical feminist writer and activist who founded A Room of Our Own: A Feminist/Womanist network. She can be found on twitter as @LeStewpot and @Roomofourown

Photo: Kristian Bjornard

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…




flattr this!

Young mums are Stratford’s biggest Olympic losers

Wherever there’s an Olympics happening, BBC’s Panorama send in their top corruption-uncoverer John Sweeney. Just last week Sochi was “Sweenied” when he reported the Russian Games was considered by some to be the most corrupt ever. Six years ago he did something very similar in China. However in 2012 there was a distinct lack of Sweeney in Stratford, East London. Two years later, there is a group of young mums in a hostel in E15 who might just want John to take a little look around, because their reality of the London Olympic legacy, and so-called regeneration, is social cleansing.

It’s so easy to level corruption charges at our former Cold War enemies with their human rights violations, low levels of democracy and the disappearance and imprisonment of dissidents. After all, while the Olympic Park’s nearby Tower Hamlet’s council is a staple of Private Eye‘s ‘Rotten Boroughs‘, I think I’d get away with performing a Punk Prayer in St John’s on Stratford High Street without too much impact on my freedom.

It’s so much harder to look in the mirror and see where our own games could have been more transparent – less generous to big billion pound business and kinder to the people who just happened to be born in Stratford, like the gorgeous little babies of the mums in Focus E15 Mothers. There’s no better way to explain their situation than letting the women speak for themselves.

Focus E15 Mothers’ statement:
We are a mix of mothers and mothers-to-be who have lived in the E15 hostel from a few months to 3 years. Having been told this would only be temporary accommodation, we are no closer to finding permanent housing and now Newham council has stopped funding the mothers and baby unit and those of us who have been in the hostel for over six months have been served with a possession order with a date of 20 October.

We have been told we will not be offered council housing but that we will be offered private rented accommodation from accredited landlords outside of London in places like Hastings, Birmingham and Manchester. If we refuse this offer, we will be classed as making ourselves intentionally homeless and face temporary accommodation with little protection from eviction and no guarantee of a long-term solution from the council. Also if we chose to rent privately we are not entitled to get sufficient help with deposits which we cannot afford ourselves.

We want secure and suitable housing for mothers in east London!

Every Saturday they take to the streets of Stratford in what they describe as ‘meetings’. They hang up banners with slogans that say “Fight Racism, Fight Imperialism”, “Caution, Social Cleansing in Progress” and “Don’t Make Our Babies Homeless”. On Facebook they share photos of ex-council housing in their area boarded up; ““no housing” my foot” says a commenter underneath the photo of a huge tower block.

And is that not the very essence of uncovering corruption? Being told one thing by the powers that be and then seeing evidence that proves it’s a lie. Being told there’s no housing while the Olympic village lays empty, no lights on. Being told there’s no council housing while estates are gradually boarded up and packaged up for redevelopment. Property prices rising high because Waitrose and John Lewis followed the IOC into town, all the while being told it will be easier to just go to Hastings, and if you don’t you’re purposefully making yourself homeless – that you, the single mum and your baby, deserve to be on the street.

I didn’t go to the Olympics when it came to London. I left and went to Camp Bestival instead, which has more of the sporting activities I excel at. Even hundreds of miles away in a Dorset valley, I and the thousands with me were moved by the Danny Boyle spectacular that was projected from the festival stage. The opening ceremony’s most touching part, the part that made me cry, was the Mary Poppins-style tribute to Great Ormond St Hospital and the NHS, with dancing nurses looking after children who were jumping on flying beds.

Reality is no magical fairy tale; there’s no super nannies blowing in on the wind to comfort the anxious mums of Focus E15 Mothers. They are the casualties of our Olympics and while Panorama waxes on about Sochi we must remember that our own backyard is not squeeky clean. The legacy of a transparent, caring Olympics should always be that local people will benefit, that their home town will be improved for them and their children to enjoy, but in Stratford those children are no longer welcome.

Photo: Lorraine Murphy

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…




flattr this!

Q&A: Dazed & Confused about feminism

Every day is a feminist theme day at Feminist Times but as gender politics go pop we are seeing more and more publications taking on the f-word in their own special way.

We spoke with Dazed & Confused Editor in Chief Tim Noakes and Digital Editor Zing Tsjeng about why the style magazine is tackling feminism in its Feb 2014 issue and pick out our favorite content for you.

Q&A with Dazed & Confused:

Q: When can our readers get hold of your feminist issue?

A: It’s the February issue and it launched late January, but the online theme continues until the end of Feb.

Q: Why did Dazed tackle the f-word?

A: With the fourth wave of feminism in full swing, we wanted to shout about all the creative women across fashion and the arts who are setting a radical new cultural agenda – on their own terms.

Q: Give us a run down of the content on offer…

A: We are running Girl Guides, a series of think pieces about the state of modern womanhood and feminism, until the end of the week. Among the other pieces, Laura Bates of Everyday Sexism wrote How To Be A Woman Online and writer Gabby Bess penned How To Be A Female Artist.

girlguidedaze

We’ve also got head-to-head interviews with prominent female thinkers, artists and musicians: Naomi Wolf talked about feminism and porn with Evie Wylde, Rookie founder Tavi Gevinson spoke to Hunger Games star Amandla Stenberg being young feminists, Lena Dunham spoke to YA author Judy Blume about being female writers.

judeblumedaze

We also had an exclusive takeover of the site from Stacy Martin, the new star of Lars Von Triers’ Nymphomaniac. Here, she speaks to her costar Sophie Kennedy Clark about female sexuality and onscreen sex.

There’s a lot more themed content, including our favourite digifeminist artists and our favourite female book protagonists.

Feminist Times’ favourites from Dazed’s feminist issue:

sellshit

Essential Feminist Manifestos

How To Sell Shit To Women

How to Start an Online Feminist Collective

The dA-Zed Guide To Riot Grrrl

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…




flattr this!

TV’s got a Fox Problem and I hope it’s zoo TV

A revolution in TV and gender is occurring this evening and you probably don’t even know about it. It’s the launch of the second season of the Fox Problem, an all female-led zoo TV experiment and the first ever Google+ live TV show. Tonight it goes out to the US as well. The majority of our readers won’t have heard about it because it hasn’t garnered mainstream attention, and so the chat show remains the domain of the sycophantic man.

It should be no surprise that a show starring three credible women presenters from Radio 1, T4 and SBTV would have to be pioneering new territories online, because women chat shows just don’t agree with terrestrial TV. The graveyard of forgotten chat shows is female heavy:

The Charlotte Church Show: DEAD
Ruth Jones Chat Show: DEAD
The Girly Show: RIP

And yet Loose Women continues, forever, like Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn in Death Becomes Her. Just like the living dead in that movie, Loose Women is conspicuous by its long life when all else dies.

Anyway, if you’re not ‘loose’ and you’re a woman the internet is your friend, and thats why the Fox Problem has found a good home in a medium with a shorter history of sexism and where no one is king. Hell, any of us plebs can start an online TV show tomorrow if we wanted to.

So it makes sense that the Fox Problem, an in-ya-face, fun and smart, all-female led show is having to pioneer new televisual territory. And to me, it makes sense, that the genre they’ve chosen is zoo TV.

Zoo TV is raucous, imaginative, irreverent, punk. The Word and TFI kept generations entertained and kept their edge by not addressing their viewers as mindless consumers; viewers were part of the game, fame wasn’t revered but challenged.

Ok, it got a bit tired after about ten years of Big Breakfast, but if I ever said I didn’t like it, I pray to the god of TV to forgive me now. TV today is predictable, where the most Twitter-worthy encounters are all Katie Hopkins related. That’s a very bad thing. In the 90s, breakfast TV was massive and colourful, with Lily Savage and Paula Yates sprawled on a bed and Egg on Ya Face – now it’s goody two shoes Aled Jones smiling inanely at us as the day breaks. Ew.

Wossy, Norton, Carr, all the panel show hosts and team captains are men and they are boring. They suck up, regurgitate knob jokes and I hope that Fox Problem’s online success is the first nail in the very large coffin that will entomb the ubiquitous Frankie Boyle, Russell Howard, Jack Whitehall and his Dad. Long live the Fox Problem!

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…




flattr this!

Bums, heels and media darlings: What feminists want?

Now there’s a headline. I bet that got you clicking through before you got to the end of the sentence. Here’s one that will have you hitting the back button just as fast:

Obama: “Climate change is a fact

He said that just a few days ago. Yawn. Snore. Bummer. Why do people have that response? It’s only the leader of the free world rubber-stamping the biggest known threat to mankind’s survival. Hello? How can that be dull? How can devastating floods consuming lives and homes, or rampant hellfire devouring forests, hurricanes flattening towns, or expanding deserts be anything other than disaster-movie thrilling?

Why does the biggest story in mankind’s history have all the appeal of a genital wart when by rights it should be box office gold?

I thought it would be different with you lot. I thought feminists were an intelligent bunch with broad horizons, engaged with social issues beyond their own spheres of existence and sensitive to the needs of the common good. But take a look at the evidence: Feminist Times site stats suggest that you’re at least three times as keen on stories involving celebrities or magazine retouching than stories about the environment – though at least they didn’t offer $10,000 for unretouched photos of Lena Dunham.

I kind of get it – we all love a bit of a gossip – but still it infuriates me because this lack of engagement with environment is rife across all media. The Guardian recently slashed the size of its environment desk and the New York Times no longer even has one. Not because the editors don’t think the issues are important but because the stories don’t attract the eyeballs and therefore the advertisers, the revenue and so on… an infinite spiral that can only end in a Murdochian world of up-skirt shots, botched boob jobs, Miley’s tongue and Hugh Grant’s burgeoning child army.

You’re just like all the others, then. I suppose it was stupid of me to think you would be any different, after all you can’t project a shared trait – flattering or otherwise – on such a disparate group of people.

But I’m being unfair. Plenty of you do engage with the story of the anthropocene, and the rest of you are far from being alone. Academics have even coined a term, the Environmentalist’s Paradox, to explain the endemic apathy – it’s hard for people to accept what’s happening to the planet when life in general is getting better all the time. Your brain’s no good at perceiving gradual changes and climate change is happening so slowly that our brains have had time to normalise it. Alarm bells which should be deafening each and every one of us remain silent.

Robert Gifford, a professor of psychology and environmental studies at the University of Victoria, reckons we need to defeat our “dragons of inaction” – psychological barriers that prevent us from taking action to mitigate climate change.

These dragons take many forms – we don’t think about climate change enough; we hold ideological views that preclude pro-environment behaviour; we don’t see our peers reacting so we aren’t compelled to act ourselves; we have sunk irretrievable costs into our existing way of life and are too afraid to disentangle ourselves because the risks are perceived to be too high – and so on. We must find our own dragons and slay them, I guess. Bloody easy to say.

I’d add one more dragon to Gifford’s list: there is no time. The rabid quest for increased productivity has left the average person with precious little time to devote to themselves, to discover anything new, to think about anything beyond the immediate demands of day-to-day life. Hardly anyone I know reads books any more because their lives are full. To imagine they’re going to come home from work, put the kids to bed, eat, sleep, repeat and then spend any spare time fretting about deforestation is unreasonable.

And yet… Later in life, time is given back. And later in life you have a clearer sense of perspective. Could this be part of the reason some of our greatest older feminists are focusing their formidable talents on environmental projects?

Germaine Greer can be found knee deep in her own restored patch of rainforest; Rosie Boycott’s busying herself trying to make London a sustainable fish city; Isabella Rossellini is into insects and farming; and Annie Sprinkle calls herself an Ecosexual Sexecologist – someone who is madly, passionately and fiercely in love with the Earth and who lives in collaboration with it. She makes it sound the best fun. Campaigners should take note.

Even Vivienne Westwood, notable non feminist (but who seems to me to be a paragon of everything great about being your own woman and doing things your own way) is pledging her own money to tackle climate change.

These women know. They have time. They have perspective. Once they nurtured the idea of womanhood, of taking control of your sexual self, and now they nurture nature. Are the two so different? Not for Sprinkle who says that all sex is ecosex.

We should follow in their muddy footsteps. Take up your hoes hos! Don’t let the rakes rake all the profit and life out of the land… and other weak garden equipment puns. Get interested, get involved. Engagement is the first step away from the cliff. Alternatively we can continue our lemming-like shuffle towards the precipice because we’re too busy or too scared to look around us. Come on! It’s life and death on a grand scale! It’s action and drama and injustice! It’s The Day After Tomorrow, today!

And it’s a smidgeon more important than bums, heels and media darlings, lovely as they are.

Rachel Salvidge is a freelance journalist specialising in the environment, with a background in book publishing. Find out more @RachSalv.

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…




flattr this!

Farage, it’s the system that needs changing – not biology

Earlier this month Nigel Farage memorably opined that women were “worth less” than men and do not face discrimination in the City. His comments joined the list of provocative UKIP statements which only the ‘daring’ purple and yellow party are willing to make and which are greeted as ‘refreshingly honest’ by a depressingly large number of people. They shed light on an entrenched attitude which is in fact insulting to both women with and women without children, as well as both mothers who work and those who don’t.

When Women’s Libbers demanded free, community-controlled (and 24 hour) childcare as one of their original seven demands in the 1970s they didn’t differentiate between work in the home and work outside of the home; they wanted the right to access to both. In the forty years between then and now the role of mothering has been diminished (as well as strangely fetishized) along with other caring roles; the cost of living has risen making two incomes almost essential for every family; market forces have been unleashed on childcare making it a low-skill, low-wage job; and state support for dual earner families, both fiscal and linguistic (“hardworking families”) far outweighs support for single earner households. This can’t have been what Second Wave women had in mind.

What Farage said in his speech was that women were not paid less because of discrimination by firms in the financial sector but instead because of the “lifestyle choice” some made by having a baby. He said that he does not believe that there is “any discrimination against women at all” in the City because women who are prepared to remain childless do “as well or better than men”. Not only is this inaccurate (figures released in August indicated a widening gender gap on bonus payments: in 2012, male managers received an average bonus of £6,442 compared with £3,029 for women, according to the Chartered Management Institute) but it is also the kind of lazy thinking shared by a huge number of people who think feminism has done its job because, on paper at least, women have equality. I’m inclined to believe that a society that thinks women should feel grateful to have achieved gender equality, on the proviso that we don’t procreate, is not one which is really listening to women and what they want.

This kind of ‘Choice Feminism’ is limited and limiting because it means that women are expected to suck up the consequences of the choices that they make on the basis that they made those choices ‘freely’. This is disingenuous when so many intersecting issues of gender, age, race and class dictate which choices are available to us and what the consequences of making them are. Once again, women are presented with a smorgasbord of ‘choice’ which has been carefully laid out by the patriarchy, and told to help themselves, but to keep quiet about any consequences they’re not satisfied with.

Changing the underlying structures which put women at a disadvantage when they take time out for their family is one of the tasks for 21st century feminism. Networking forum Citymothers’ survey revealed last year that only 12.5% of women in the City said their employer had taken a proactive role in supporting their maternity transition. Although 77% of respondents had a flexible working arrangement in place, 45% of these felt their path to career progress would be slower as a result, whilst 32% felt it would be unachievable as long as this arrangement was in place. Rather than smashing the glass ceiling only whilst simultaneously crossing our legs and forgoing motherhood, Citymothers say we need to normalise flexible working for women and men, change management perceptions that it is less productive than full time work, and eradicate a culture of presenteeism.

We also need to give proper respect to the work of mothering and recognise that it doesn’t result in complete atrophy of a woman’s brain. Beyond humorous posters which advertise motherhood as a ‘24/7 job with no holiday or pay, requiring the diplomatic skills of Ban Ki Moon’, there needs to be proper recognition that time taken out from employment does not represent a gaping hole which has to be justified or excused, particularly now many of us don’t anticipate retiring until we’re aged 70+; that women are as employable, if not more so, after time spent raising a family as they were before. Similarly, as well as asking women questions about whether the cost of childcare is a barrier to going back to work, we need to remember to also ask them if the high cost of living is a barrier to staying at home when their children are young. The results might be surprising.

Nigel Farage may quip that he “can’t change biology” and carry on swilling his pint while enjoying the workings of a system which favours men, but I say: “No, Nige, but we can change the system.”

Mel Tibbs is a freelance writer and maternal feminist, with 14 years spent at the sharp end of the politics of parenting. Find out more @CrunchyRedApple.

Photo: Euro Realist Newsletter

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…




flattr this!

How to make the unhappiest town happy

Standing at the bar of Bedford’s West Indian Social & Cultural Society, I’ve been talking to the Windrush generation about the boxes of records they’ve all got stashed in the loft or the garage. They have original Blue Beat singles, old Trojan tunes, things with the red Island Records logo. Next door, their grandchildren play MP3s on a big, bass-heavy sound-system.

I’m in Bedford because the Office for National Statistics decided last year that it was the unhappiest place in the country. Bedford Creative Arts have commissioned me to look at what makes Bedford unhappy, and see if – in three short months – I can change it. The project is called, simply, Bedford Happy.

Bedford was built by the Saxon chief Beda, around a crossing on the River Ouse. It’s always been a place of crossing, of coming together of the tribes, and as such is incredibly open to different cultures – just a few doors down from the West Indian club is the Polish Club, and opposite that, the Italian Club which serves a wicked short, black coffee.

Bedford has the third largest Italian community in Britain, behind London and Manchester. That’s because the Bedford-based London Brick Company found a skilled workforce in southern Italy in the 1950s, when they needed enough bricks to rebuild bomb-damaged London. The brickworks followed it up with a recruitment campaign in India, and in 1960 the Indian Workers’ Welfare & Cultural Association was set up in the town.

And that ever-changing mix is what makes Bedford really interesting. It’s a town of contrast and change. There’s the area around the bus station, which feels like an unloved corner of North London, populated by fast food, cheap supermarkets and cab firms. And a few minutes’ walk away are the clean, elegant streets leading down to the river’s Embankment, where the water is often alive with rowers from Bedford’s four private schools. The parents of the pupils there live in big villas around the grand, Victorian-landscaped Bedford Park where every Saturday morning 250 or more people turn on their smartphones and log on to the Parkrun app.

Every group – ‘West Indian’ or ‘Italian’ or ‘Rowing Club’ or ‘Parkrun’ – changes the town. For generations, people have arrived and felt they have the power to do things for themselves. People have started offbeat arts organisations and oddball religions (the Panacea Society who saved an end-of-terrace house for Christ’s return deserve an article all of their own). They’ve founded their own schools and social clubs – to get a few people together, talk about your shared interest and make something happen is the Bedford way.

That approach is perfectly illustrated by what made me notice Bedford in the first place. Two strangers, Kayte Judge and Erica Roffe, started a conversation about the town’s empty shops on Facebook, created a project called We Are Bedford and spent a year activating empty spaces. Their approach is one I see across the entire country. People are tackling local problems for themselves.

Collaborate, create the smallest structure you need to make things happen, try and test your ideas where people can see them, and use that experience to decide what to do next. It’s a refreshing alternative to the way councils or charities work – endless meetings, everything in place to blunt the sharp edges of any risk, and nobody responsible for their own actions.

It’s exactly what Clay Shirky wrote about in 2008; people are organising without organisations. The tools we have literally at our fingertips, a smart phone that lets us access social media, mean we can be the change we want to see. We can form loose, agile collaborations and tackle problems. I recently listed 100 such projects on my company’s blog.

The actor Peter Coyote, looking back to the 1960s, said, ‘If we had any belief, it was that a man’s vision is his responsibility. If you had an idea, make it happen; find the brothers and sisters; find the resources and do it. Your personal autonomy and power exposed the shallowness of endless theorizing and debate. Visions became real by being acted out, and once real could serve as inspiration and free food for the public imagination.’

It’s no coincidence that the internet lets us do that so quickly, when the people that built it were Coyote’s contemporaries. The 60s generation have given us the tools to make change endlessly, easily possible – to make revolution an everyday thing.

Dan is a social artist and writer living in Margate. His work is about people and places. He is interested in the creation of social capital, in abandoned or underused spaces, and in DIY approaches to art, culture and social action. . In 2012, he was included in the Time Out and Hospital Club’s Culture 100, a list of the most inspiring and influential people in the UK’s creative industries. Find out more at www.danthompson.co.uk

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or donate a one off amount…




flattr this!

Carry on Groping

In the 1970s groping was “the norm“, says 70s DJ Dave Lee Travis – the very greasy DLT, who’s accused of 13 counts of indecent assault and one of sexual assault. Is there any weight in this defence? Were men of a certain generation the unwitting victims of a culture of grope?

In the 70s famous men often looked like this:

chezben25

Quite. And they could be found doing things like this to their female co-stars:

Benny Hill in The Italian Job

Men like this one had TV, radio shows and lucrative film franchises where many of them were encouraged to play the put-upon sex pest night after night.

Like the laboured sexual innuendo wordplay of Carry On Films, “groping” was used as a form of titilating ballet on the nation’s tellies; the accidental elbow brush of a boob here and a Babs Windsor giggle over there.

This camp comedy reflected an age entrenched with everyday sexism. In real life offices, homes and streets across the country, a much less fun, non-consensual performance was occurring. Our readers’ Twitter testimony illustrates how prevalent the harassment was:

As @radicalfeminist responded on Twitter, the norm was also “getting away with it” and could that be what Dave really means? ‘I was promised that I would never be called on this one people!!’

If we don’t accept “I was just carrying out orders” as an ethical excuse for abusive behavior in the Nazi German Military, we’re not likely to accept the notion of being culturally sort-of-peer-pressured. Being a small cock in a big system isn’t a get out of jail free card.

The fact is not ALL men in the 70s were groping all the women; while it may have been ubiquitous, it was certainly not respectable. For example Benny Hill was not respected, yet Sir David Frost was – one was groping people on telly, the other was not (though obviously you shouldn’t take a knighthood as an indicator of decency or you’re in trouble).

So there’s a time traveling of justice, like a Quantum Leap episode where Ziggy’s databases send Dr Sam Beckett to a classic Top of the Pops. The phenomenon of Operation Yewtree has been created by women and men who now feel confident that abuse will be taken seriously in a way that it wasn’t in the 70s.

Some of that confidence will be bolstered by changes in law over the past decades, where what was merely considered decent and respectable behaviour in the 70s is now prescribed in the law books – like the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. Frustratingly it only takes a glimpse at @everydaysexism to know that while the law has changed, culture certainly hasn’t.

By talking about “groping”, Dave is in danger of camping up the charges against him, which are actually for very serious sexual assaults. Not that a “grope” isn’t serious, but this language could be used to trivialise in the public’s consciousness.

A grope is to an assault what a smack is to an assault. They are vague and could serve to mask the severity of an action – a grope could be consensual, for instance, while an assault… you see what I’m saying. Both were certainly tolerated in the 70s because the lines, in the words of Robin Thicke, were blurred.

But they aren’t blurred now – when it comes to “groping”, it’s crystal clear: you don’t touch someone without their permission. Looking back through 20/20 vision, Benny Hill looks anything but normal.

Photo: Nick Fuentes

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

flattr this!

Porn searches lead to feminist websites

We were distressed to discover that half of the top ten keywords that lead people to Feminist Times were rape porn related.

Most of our traffic comes from readers sharing on Twitter, Facebook and in emails, so this is a tiny percentage of the actual visits our site gets, but the search terms we’ve found further down our list are terrifying.

Keywords lists certainly paint a concerning picture for those worried about porn, violence and even paedophilia – we wonder what other feminist sites have discovered in their SEO analytics?

keywordsbig

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

flattr this!

From Beliebers to broadcasters, noisy women are powerful

Today at 11.30am on Radio 4, Ruth Barnes and I will host a documentary we put together, which Eleanor McDowall produced. It’s about teenage female fandom and it’s called Mad About The Boy – a title that has its tongue firmly placed in its cheek. It’s about how young girls are criticised as silly, crazy or hysterical for expressing their feelings for pop stars, and explores the dubious ideas that prop up those criticisms. Society’s dislike of girls expressing themselves above a whisper – check. Society’s fear of girls fantasising about distant figures that parents can’t monitor – check. Above all, society’s fear of nascent female sexuality – check.

Female pop fandom has interested me since 2010, when I was dragged along to a New Kids On The Block concert (wait…come back!) by a good friend. Having been a music journalist for five years at that time, I was wearing the spoils of my cynicism proudly. I knew that the music machine around this boy band was as naff as Old Spice, and they definitely didn’t mean as much to me, snoot snoot, as R.E.M., Kraftwerk, Joy Division and The Smiths.

A verse into the first New Kids song, I realised something strange was happening. My mouth was open wide and singing, and my heart was racing in my chest. No, I didn’t want to leap up onto the stage and twerk against Jordan Knight. Instead, I was looking emotionally at the women around me – us all remembering what it was like to be at that pivotal stage between childhood and adulthood, recognising the power we all had.

Being a young female fan is a fantastic thing. It’s about creating your own world, exploring your imagination, and finding out about your sexual self. It’s also about bonding with other girls, and celebrating being together. You wouldn’t know that from the footage the media focuses on, the sobbing and weeping extremes of the crowd. Every mass mob event has extreme emotions in it – the football crowd for example – but only women’s experiences are pathologised this way.

History is full of this sort of sexism, of course. The ancient Greeks blamed the “wandering womb” (or as Aretaeus called it, “the animal within the animal”) for making women want to shout and scream. Then there were the Salem witch trials, the psychoanalytic machinations of Freud… countless examples of Western society silencing women expressing themselves.

But by the middle of the 20th century, things started to change. It wasn’t a coincidence that female fandom found its voice after the Second World War, after women’s roles in society had been strengthened in wartime, only to be sidelined again. Young girls wanted more room to explore their imaginations and social selves too, so much so that by 1963 they were considered a threat to themselves… and to society’s repressive framework, which is what their (male) critics were really frightened about.

Here were young women fighting against policemen and silencing their favourite bands – The Beatles even stopped touring because they couldn’t hear themselves any more. In our show, I quote Barbara Ehrenreich‘s great work on this topic, which I first read back in 2010. “Young women had plenty to riot against,” she writes in essay, Screams Heard Around The World. “To abandon control – to scream, faint, dash about in mobs – was to protest the sexual repressiveness of culture. [This] was the first and most dramatic uprising of women’s sexual revolution.” I believe this solidly, too. Expressing rebellion in a way that concerns a pretty boy that you desire can be the start of something personally enriching, and ultimately very empowering.

Ruth and I could have made an hour-long documentary about this subject, really. So much was left unsaid: about how Western girls aren’t allowed a celebratory rite of passage (“girls are just given a sanitary towel and left to get on with it”, Ruth once said to me, memorably), and about how men’s obsessions aren’t classed as frivolous and silly, but geeky and intellectual.

What makes me particularly proud, though, is that our show is stuffed with female voices. We interview my mother-in-law, Lillian Adams, about her Beatlemania days (five years after charging against policemen in Liverpool she was protesting the Vietnam War in Grosvenor Square). Columnist and novelist Allison Pearson tells us how fandom liberated her from her dull teenage life (pop music made her interested in lyrics and imaginative worlds, and got her into writing), and we speak to Fiona Bevan about her songwriting for One Direction, in which she builds her own experiences into that dialogue between artist and fan. The only male voice we have is East 17’s Tony Mortimer, who brilliantly confirms that female fans aren’t really mad at all.

Then there’s the thing about which I’m proudest of all: here’s a documentary on the air presented by two women. Last year, Sound Women (a campaigning network of over 1,000 people working in audio) proved how rare this was in a week of pioneering research. Only 4% of radio programmes over those seven days were co-presented by females, their study showed, a statistic I wasn’t surprised about at all. Two-headed shows usually conform to one of two templates, after all: Two Blokes Down The Pub, or Bantz-Spouting Man meets Giggly Girl.

A few months later, Mishal Husain co-presented Radio 4’s Today programme for the first time with Sue McGregor, but this high-profile exception to the norm shouldn’t be seen as a victory in and of itself. Instead, it should be seen as a torchpaper to light up other women’s opportunities, just as I hope our documentary will do the same work. In Mad About The Boy, women are behind the controls and the microphones, giving voice to a subject often silenced in heart, soul and mind. I don’t think there’s anything crazy about that.

Jude Rogers is a writer, broadcaster, journalist, romantic, Welsh woman and geek. Follow her here @juderogers

Mad About The Boy is on Radio 4 at 11.30am on Tuesday 28 January, and will be repeated on Saturday 1st February at 15.30. Listen to a clip from the show here.

Photo: Hendrik Dacquin

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

flattr this!

Profile: Clit Rock

I created Clit Rock out of sheer rage.

For me, female genital mutilation (FGM) culminates all the misogyny in the world into a single act. It speaks volumes about the fear of women and female sexuality in patriarchal societies. It is oppression on steroids.

Like so many things these days, Clit Rock was started online by a post on Facebook. I remember sharing yet another story on FGM and most people either chose to ignore it or confessed they were not even aware of this practice. I said, “why doesn’t someone do something to raise awareness about this, like a music event? They could call it Clit Rock!” One of my friends said, “You should do it”, and behold Clit Rock was born.

I am constantly amazed by the people who choose to ignore though. What is this response about? What exactly does it mean? My social media feed is constantly inundated with posts highlighting the plight of animals and that’s great but what about your fellow humans? Why do so many people skip over issues that affect literally millions of women and girls and go straight to saving the chickens? Honest question. If you have any idea please let a sister know?

I digress. I didn’t know exactly where Clit Rock would lead me, I just knew I wanted to help raise awareness and funds for anyone already fighting on the front lines of this cause. I found Daughters Of Eve online and I have learned a lot from its inspiring founders Nimko Ali and Leyla Hussein. I never try to speak for survivors of FGM; I aim only to support in any way I can.

Clit Rock is a celebration of women who rock! We put on bands, artists, DJs with fire in their belly. We dance until they turn the lights on and kick us out (if you came to the last one you can attest to that). It is about being made aware of the work that needs to be done and reveling in how far we’ve come.

I cannot tell you how many people have said to me that they are hesitant about coming to a Clit Rock event because of the seriousness of the cause or because they might be uncomfortable. Sigh… Let me take this opportunity to assure you that we do not get together every few months to sit around and cry for five hours! Leyla, for example, refuses to be called a victim. She instead demands that she be referred to as a survivor and she not only survives but thrives!

We seek to educate and uplift because we know this is a fight that can be won. If you do not feel great after a Clit Rock event, we’ll give you your money back! Well, not really, (it’s for charity man) but you know what I mean.

To quote Daughters Of Eve: “If you save one girl, you save a generation.” If you want to help us save countless generations of women and girls, join us!

The next Clit Rock event will take place on Friday April 4th 2014
Bands, DJs, Artists, Speakers, Visionaries.
Underbelly, Hoxton, London
£5 Entry

Don’t forget your dancing shoes, oh yes there will be dancing at this revolution! See you there… #EndFGM

If you would like more information about the reality of FGM in the UK please see Leyla’s Channel 4 documentary The Cruel Cut.

Dana Jade is a musician, writer and founder of Clit Rock. Follow Clit Rock @CLIT_ROCK

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

flattr this!

Feminist Toolkit badge

Feminist Toolkit: How to make a Citizen’s Arrest

Last week Twiggy Garcia was working in a trendy Shoreditch restaurant when he realised Tony Blair was holding court in the private dining area. Seeing a once in a lifetime opportunity Twiggy acted out a citizen’s arrest by placing his hand on Blair’s shoulder and saying:

“Mr Blair, this is a citizen’s arrest for a crime against peace, namely your decision to launch an unprovoked war against Iraq. I am inviting you to accompany me to a police station to answer the charge.

Blair’s response was to talk about Syria and Twiggy, upon realising the plain clothes security were about to feel his collar, legged it from the restaurant leaving Tony, and his job, behind. He is the fifth person to try and arrest Blair and the fifth person to fail, but you have to admire his pluckiness.

We can imagine all kinds of situations where we might want to place someone under citizen’s arrest, and not just alleged war criminals, so we went to top barrister and feminist Julian Norman to get an indispensable guide on how to take justice into your own hands. Turns out you probably shouldn’t.

How to make a citizen’s arrest.

The first rule of citizen’s arrest is of course don’t do it. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t know how. Daydreaming of grabbing a tube-train groper and arresting him to the admiring cheers of your fellow commuters can be very satisfying. So here is your toolkit guide to a technically accurate daydream.

# 1: Don’t do it
Why not? Before we get started on how you would if you could, really, it’s a bad idea. People who have tried it tend to get arrested themselves for assault and false imprisonment. And even when they are acquitted, they had to go through that telephone call to their boss / their mum / their spouse explaining that they were in police custody. So keep this for revenge-based daydreams and absolute genuine emergencies.

#2: When to do it
The rules on citizen’s arrest are covered by s.24A of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which lets a person “other than a constable” arrest anyone who is in the act of committing an indictable offence or anyone whom she reasonably suspects of committing an indictable offence. Where that offence has already been committed, she can arrest anyone who is guilty or anyone whom she reasonably suspects is guilty of it.

So what’s the catch? Well, first, be sure your offence is “indictable” – that is, could be heard at a Crown Court. Some less serious offences can only be heard by magistrates (“summary only offences”) and these include most driving offences such as speeding, common assault, and some public order offences. If our heroine tries to arrest someone who’s been abusive and slapped her, she’ll be the one arrested, because she didn’t have the power to conduct a citizen’s arrest. See Rule One.

Let’s assume though that we have a more serious offence. Back to Mr. Gropey – she’s just seen him grab a stranger’s crotch, and there is no way it was consensual. Sexual assault is an indictable offence. The next obstacle is that arresting him must be necessary in order to stop him from causing physical injury to himself or another person, suffering physical injury, causing loss of or damage to property or making off before a constable can assume responsibility for him, AND it is not reasonably practicable for a constable to make the arrest instead. Could she call the police to meet the train at the next stop rather than arrest him? If so, it is reasonably practicable for a constable to make the arrest and she should not do it. However, if he is about to be set upon by a dozen angry bystanders and there is no constable in view, then she could perform a citizen’s arrest as being necessary to stop him from suffering physical injury.

#3: How to do it
Disappointingly, there is no set form of words for the person performing the citizen’s arrest. However, she must inform the person she is arresting of what she is doing, why she is doing it and what offence she believes the other person has committed.

She is allowed to use ‘reasonable force.’ What is reasonable will depend on the circumstances, but as a general rule you are allowed to defend yourself but not to attack. If Mr Gropey responds to the citizen’s arrest by attempting to punch her, she is entitled to judo kick his legs out from under him and sit on his chest, but once he is restrained she can’t carry on. If he runs away she can use ‘reasonable’ force to detain him but this must not turn into anything the court could construe as an assault.

Once he is arrested, she can ask him to accompany her to the police station or she can call the police to come and get him.

#4: Really, don’t do it.
Citizen’s arrest is a bit outdated these days. It’s the same power that PCSOs have, you need a thorough knowledge of criminal law so as to be sure whether your offence is indictable or not, plus it’s risky both in terms of annoying a potentially dangerous criminal and in terms of getting yourself arrested accidentally. In the age of the iThing, it’s safer just to video an offence taking place if you see it and hand the footage to the police (assuming that the offence couldn’t have been prevented, obviously, don’t just sit there and watch if you could stop it without risk to yourself), or place the offender in the Youtube stocks, like Racist Croydon Tram Woman.

#5: Checklist

  1. Is someone in the act of committing an offence?
  2. Or, has the offence already been committed and do I know (or reasonably suspect) someone to be guilty of it?
  3. Is the offence indictable?
  4. Could a constable practicably do this instead?
  5. Do I have to arrest the suspect to stop them hurting me, themselves, anyone else, or being hurt, or damaging property, or running away?

If the answer to these is ‘yes’ then you can perform a citizen’s arrest. If it’s ‘no’ or ‘I’m not sure,’ then don’t.

Julian Norman is a barrister, professional law nerd, feminist and writer. Follow her @londonfeminist

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…
join-us

flattr this!

Your dinner’s been spiked

Everyone loves fish and chips, right? Hot and battery, the vinegar fumes gently scorching your eyeballs. Or maybe you’re more of a sushi person, riding the Yo Sushi conveyor belts with raw abandon. Or perhaps you’re more of a shellfish type, happiest scooping mussels from a garlicky bucket or ripping the exoskeleton off some hapless marine insect.

Whatever your inclination, you’re not alone in your fish love. The average person eats around 17kg of fish each year – that’s equivalent to consuming a 4-year-old human child, and we’ve all done that. Today we’re sliding twice as much fish down our oily gullets as we were in the 1960s. Kudos everyone.

Fish is a great source of protein so we should all be extremely chuffed with ourselves. It’s also a fabulous source of flame retardants, which is excellent news if you’re a sofa.

A new study reveals that plastic in the ocean is breaking down into microscopic particles which are harmful enough in themselves, but which also act like tiny lifeboats for grisly toxins from industrial byproducts like PBDE (the aforementioned flame retardant) and PCB (a coolant). The toxins clamber aboard and drift aimlessly, like Robert Redford in All is Lost, until devoured by marine life, and voila – it’s in the food chain.

Pollutants become more concentrated the further you move up the food chain. The tiddlers ingest the plastic and are in turn consumed in large numbers by their predators. These predators are then consumed by a higher level predator (it’s the circle of life, haven’t you seen The Lion King?) and so on, right up to the herb encrusted tuna that’s steaming fragrantly on your plate. I’m afraid someone’s spiked supper.

Many plastics contain chemicals already known to affect human and animal health, mainly affecting the endocrine system. Some contain toxic monomers, which have been linked to cancer and reproductive problems, but the actual role of plastic waste in these conditions is uncertain and there currently isn’t enough evidence to start splashing Daily Mail style hysteria across the globe. But scarily, even less is known about the effects of the toxic hitchhikers.

Some bonkers cosmetic products come with ready-made teeny tiny plastic particles. Exfoliants, shower gels and even some toothpastes contain micro-beads so small they are designed to go down the plughole and straight out to sea. Many companies such as Unilever have pledged to exorcise the evil beads, but not until 2015, so the clever people at Beat the Microbead have stepped in and compiled a nifty list of products for you to avoid  until they’re happily bead-free.

But all this is just the tip of the plasberg. Plastic production has increased 560 fold in just over 60 years and if we continue at this rate we’ll be dumping 220 million tons of the stuff every year by 2025. It doesn’t take a scientist to work out that this can’t be good news for man nor beast.

And it hangs around for so long too. In 2005 a piece of plastic found in an albatross’s stomach bore a serial number traced to a World War II seaplane shot down in 1944. It’s hard not to be a tiny bit impressed by this plucky plastic.

That is until you consider its role in the deaths of hundreds of species – fish, birds, dolphins, whales – who die of starvation, their stomachs bursting with plastic water bottles, carrier bags and the like; or those strangled, poisoned or cut up by our waste.

Something to think about the next time you gob a fish finger. I really hope I haven’t spoiled your appetite.

 

Rachel Salvidge is a freelance journalist specialising in the environment, with a background in book publishing. Find out more @RachSalv.

Photo: Dan Century

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

flattr this!

Did Barbie’s trademark get the Plastic Surgery app taken down?

Yesterday we contacted Barbie and Mattel about their trademark being connected to the plastic surgery app iTunes had marketed for children at age 9+. You can read our full article here. 60 minutes after we published the article, and following a day of campaigning on Twitter from Susie Orbach, EverydaySexism and hundreds of others, the app was no longer available.

Barbie got back to us late last night, shortly after the app in question was taken down from iTunes in the US, UK and Canada.

“The Barbie name was recently featured in an Application that was not sanctioned by Mattel. This App has since been removed from iTunes. At Mattel, we take our commitment to children seriously and work hard to ensure there are no unauthorized uses of our brands that may be unsafe or inappropriate for children.”

So we are wondering: did iTunes only take this app down because of the trademark legal implications in what we can imagination was a very strongly worded email from Barbie, or because of a genuine concern about their inhouse policies for protecting women and girls? Will they, and Android game outlets, be taking down the hundreds of other plastic surgery “games”?

iTunes have still not responded to our media request. We’ll update you.

flattr this!

Poetry, rather than the media, understands Real Sex

Every few years a concerted effort is made to liberate sex from porn. The stated aim of ‘the campaign for real sex’, launched by the Guardian in 2006, was to combat the ‘Mcdonaldisation of sexuality’ and debate alternatives. Libby Brooks wrote:

“For all that they are over informed about how other people do it, this has not brought young men and women closer to developing a common erotic language. There must be a way to diminish the junk succour of public sex while freeing private appetite.”

Eight years later, if you believe media reports, ‘real sex’ still isn’t happening, but the effects of porn on our sexual consciousness have been widely documented. It’s easier to point out what’s wrong, as playwright Penelope Skinner did brilliantly in The Village Bike, than settle on an alluring alternative. The ‘Mcdonaldisation of sex’ is a sexier concept than ‘freeing private appetite’; which sounds like a post-prandial lunge by a well upholstered restaurant critic, rather than an intimation of liberated sexuality. However well intentioned, media attempts to whiteboard sex are always wide of the mark.

I left Skinner’s play profoundly grateful that my flirtation with porn was a youthful dalliance rather than a life long obsession. I’ve avoided it assiduously for twenty years, even feminist porn, which seems like an oxymoron.

Several years after the Guardian campaign, very little had changed. Then Channel 4 nicked the idea and pornographised it. With staggering literal mindedness their ‘campaign for real sex’ featured real couples having sex in a box, in front of a TV audience of voyeurs. Like the Jacuzzi sex in Celebrity Big Brother, the sex box was staged for the public titillation, inauthentic by definition.

I agree with Frank Furedi (for once). His piece about the sex box in the Huffington Post said it’s worse than “banal porn because it masquerades as a public service.”

There is no need for any public conversation about sex, he says. The media’s alibi for their fetishisation of sex is always that they are “removing the stigma” around it. What stigma? “Sex talk is so constant that you have to search an old people’s home to find a hint of embarrassment about the subject.”

I think the media campaign for real sex is a contradiction in terms as long as it’s conducted in public. A second sexual revolution is needed to return sex to the private realm, where, according to Furedi, “it gains its meaning in the context of an intimate relationship, group of friends or family members.”

I was recently asked to review The Poetry of Sex  for another paper. The big black X on the cover of this anthology made me worry that it would be yet another pornographic spectacle; a series of X rated revelations with a literary, rather than an educational alibi – though the title does offer a different approach to this well trodden terrain.

Media reports about the death of ‘real sex’ have been greatly exaggerated. I wondered why journalists and broadcasters were adamant that ‘real sex’ isn’t happening. Then it dawned on me that the ‘campaign for real sex’ was an expression of erotic ennui; as dangerous liaisons between glamorous media figures, like those described by Julie Burchill in Ambition, have gone the way of expense accounts and Sea Breezes.

Outside the purview of the media however, poets are fucking like rabbits in every conceivable configuration; they are having threesomes and relationships based on sodomy. There is no ‘common erotic language’ but energy and variety, the opposite of porn. Poetry is the right form for sex because it evokes rather than demands.

It is not clear whether the poets are fucking other poets. If so I will go to more poetry readings. I was reassured to hear someone was doing it, but also rather sad to be a middle aged female journalist with a neurological calamity ahead of me, as I feel my own erotic capital declining. If my husband ever left me, who would want me? The poem that affected me most was called Whatever Happened to Sex By Amok Huey, which begins with a quotation from a freshman essay:

“When sex was more popular in the 60s”

I can attest that sex was also popular in the false boom of the 90s and maybe less so in a recession. For Amok, at some point, “Sex is a bungalow the Hollywood Hills/That only comes out at special occasions.”

“Sex tries hard not to whine for the good old days.’ but ‘can’t help but ache to be popular again.”

I liked this collection more than the books about love I poured over when I was looking for a reading for my wedding. I ended up with something from Heidegger’s Being and Time instead. I’ll leave this as an open question rather than another contribution to the wholly inappropriate public debate about sex.

Photo: Jean Koulev

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

flattr this!

Off with her problem bits! iTunes release plastic surgery app for kids

Editors note: Since Feminist Times published this article the app has become unavailable on iTunes in the UK, US and Canada. We downloaded the app at the time of publishing to check it was not a spoof and within 60mins of the article being published the app was no longer available.

We are through the looking glass.

The other side of the looking glass is a world where plastic surgery apps – what are effectively just cartoon games – are marketed at children as young as 9. In this wonderland, Alice would have been drawing lines all over her body, begging the Queen of Hearts’ men: “not my head please, just my belly”.

Plastic Surgery & Plastic Doctor & Plastic Hospital Office for Barbie Version by Corina Rodriguez is an app/game for iPad and iPhone that is rated as 9+, which means it’s unsuitable for children under nine, and by the power of logic therefore suitable for people over nine. It contains, according to iTunes: “mild or infrequent instances of cartoon, fantasy or realistic violence”.

This is an app where the user/player – remember who could be as young as 9 – cuts up a girl’s body to make her more “slim and beautiful”. The game’s online sales blurb goes as follows:

“This unfortunate girl has so much extra weight that no diet can help her. In our clinic she can go through a surgery called liposuction that will make her slim and beautiful. We’ll need to make small cuts on problem areas and suck out the extra fat. Will you operate her, doctor?”

We’ve contacted both iTunes and Barbie, having been unable to even find so much as a website for Corina Rodriguez, the supposed developer of the app; we have received no response so far. We wanted to know if Barbie had given permission for their trademark to be used in this app and, if so, why?

We also believe iTunes and Apple should make it clear what checks they have in place to make sure they are protecting women and girls from harm and why, in Susie Orbach’s words on Twitter earlier today: “Apple mines girls bodies for profit by selling cosmetic surgery apps.” Susie continues: “Let’s coordinate protest.”

Looking at Rodriguez’s repertoire, this developer already has form with another app named Leg & Foot Surgery & Doctor & Hospital Office for Barbie Version, though in this one Barbie got hit by a car and needs appropriate surgery. Maybe this is a more altruistic app, for 9-year-olds who want to be a surgeon when they grow up, but the imagery is just as grim with an open wound and scalpel dug into Barbie’s leg.

Unlike the current advert for Innocent smoothies, which illustrates a “Chain of Good”, apps like this – readily available to any child searching iTunes for the word “Barbie” – can create a long, uncontainable Chain of Bad.

The app teaches young girls that happiness and beauty comes from cutting “problem” parts of yourself away, actually becoming the surgeon themselves as easily as pressing “download” on a touchscreen – the game being free at point of download. Meanwhile, the faceless developer appears to be totally unaccountable for the messages and images that start that chain.

Surgery used to be extraordinary and as advertisers in women’s magazines try to normalise it for us adults, with their interest-free loans and payment plans, an even more insidious message is being trickled into the childhoods of those kids around us. We thought we had it bad when we were kids? The kids nowadays are being told even Barbie needs fixing. I can’t help but think I had it much easier; in my childhood imagination I only had to fight off that Queen of Hearts and her wayward axe.

We’ll let you know what happens when Apple and Barbie get back to us.

Photo: Twitter

flattr this!

Two women hosted a massive show and the world did not implode

Naturally we’re looking at the Golden Globes through the kaleidoscopic glasses that are Feminism 2014 and therefore leaving our distant cousins, the Glossies, to plough the fallow field of mediocrity with the lists of Fashion Fails. Instead, we’re focusing on something we think should be a big deal – two women hosted a massive show for the second year in a row last night and the world did not implode.

The US is beating the UK at giving women comedians the top jobs, with Ellen DeGeneres hosting the Oscars again this year while over here it’s a cartel of Wozzy and Fry. So let’s have more funny women please, British TV.

Look at your Radio Times and think for a minute; how often do you see two women being given the reigns to a prime time TV show? As Issy Sampson pointed out in her piece on last month’s Xmas TV Sausage Fest, there are only two prime time entertainment programs that have a female duo taking on the hosting duties: The Great British Bake Off and Strictly, when Bruce Forsyth’s having a week off because he’s the oldest person in telly.

Everywhere else you look it’s white guy after white guy. It’s either just men: TopGear, Celebrity Big Brother’s Bit On The Side, Pointless. Or there’s the classic older man/younger woman combo: most news shows, Countdown, Strictly when Forsyth’s on form. Or lots of men and a token woman: Mock the Week, Have I got News and until recently Newsnight. Plus for some reason women-headed chat shows never get as far as a second series – see Ruth Jones, Charlotte Church, Girly Show – and they wonder why we still need a Woman’s Hour! *Annoying anti-feminist bloke-in-a-pub type question.

Does the success of Smart Girls’ Amy Poehler and Saturday Night Live’s Tina Fey’s performance last night mean men’s strangle-hold on prime presenting duties is finally losing it’s grip? That from now on we can expect to find any gender being hilarious and that long songs about Boobs will be a thing of the past? That Stephen Fry will go back to being extremely interesting every now and again as opposed to being some omnipresent, almost god-like presence?

Let’s hope so and encourage more diversity by celebrating, in the carefree model of the Top Three sort-of-feminist jokes, the triumph of Amy and Tina in being hilarious, commanding and, at the same time, women.

(Psst, guess who is presenting the the UK equivalent of the Golden Globes, the Baftas’? Yep, Stephen Fry.)

Amy Poehler & Tina Fey’s Top Three Sort-Of-Feminist Jokes from the Golden Globes 2014.

3rd Place: “For (Matthew McConaughey’s) role in Dallas [Buyers Club], he lost 45 pounds — or what actresses call being in a movie.”

2nd Place: “Meryl Streep is so brilliant in Osage: August County, proving that there are still great parts in Hollywood for Meryl Streep over 60.”

1st Place: “Gravity is nominated for Best Film. It’s the story of how George Clooney would rather float away into space and die then to spend one more minute with a woman his own age.”

flattr this!

New Year Message from a Crone: Woman’s Inner Time

I’m calling on Dames, Matrons, Crones and Hags, Witches and Medicine Women – “Granny” can be rather patronising and too comfortable – to set up a network of ‘WIT Eldership’ collectives, supported by trusted and respected people of other age groups and genders.

Eldership is a source of strength, especially in old women who acknowledge our species is self-destructing (destroying many other species along the way) and who recognise that true teaching is a receptive process; knowing what the Earth needs requires solitude and quietness.

I often feel lonely and irrelevent, and in the great tradition of older people, feel concerned that the younger generation is losing its way. From the perspective of age we can see what’s important. It’s our role to steer us all back onto the path of intuition and deep listening.

Yesterday at Oxford Antiques Market I got talking with a Moroccan who sells old stuff that appeals because of its mystery. He has no idea where it comes from, we know nothing of its history. I picked up two horses that were skillfully made with leather; I could feel the way the person who made these objects loved and respected animals. This knowledge came from a sense that is beyond words.

Both of us have been watching our grandchildren using their iPads and computer games, and realise they appear to be disconnected from their heritage. They feel masterful in their own worlds, but are they able to reach out to each other and communicate complex & subtle emotions? In a time of urgent and evolving crisis for our beloved Earth, these skills will be paramount.

Young people need to be listened to. I want us to move beyond patriarchal authoritarian concepts of ‘the expert’ to a deeper place where people search within themselves for their own innate skills and capacities, which the alienating forms of exam-based education tends to squash. All human beings have amazing capacities, which older people can draw out with patience and insight.

It takes a village to raise a child” – Proverb with African Roots

How do we construct that “village” in our world of super speedy communication? How do we find communion between different ages and levels of society? I request that we invest in old women who feel ‘called’ and have been moved by the sixties/seventies liberation struggles, by that age of interactive self-exploration.

I’m an old hippy and I’m remembering how earlier in my life I was so full of hope, as so many of us were. Aware we had work to do and willing to pledge and honour that sense of being called; but now I’m questioning myself and sometimes feel powerless and daunted to the point of numbness, but I know that it’s not hopeless. The Work is increasing in its depth and demands.

We’ve just moved through solstice time, nurturing our bodies and developing communal bonds. We’re also at a stage in our human development where we need to nurture the inner realms we sometimes call ‘soul’. I’ve developed the concept of WIT (Woman’s Inner Time); as contemporary Medicine Women, we would not be teaching children, but rather supporting adults who teach kids, including parents and professionals.

We older women would develop the art of listening without imposing agendas, judgement or opinion, but rather create ‘sacred’ space for uninterrupted personal exploration. We would be a resource and would begin with ourselves and our own ego-nurturance, in order to move beyond old wounds and the habits of internal conflict and self-sabotage.

Raga Woods is a frequently-photographed, much-travelled mad Crone . If you’d like to find out more about WIT email her: ragawoo@gmail.com

flattr this!

Sadomasochism on the High Street

This Christmas has been a Christmas of firsts for me. The first time I’ve ever eaten an entire advent calendar while watching an episode of I’m a Celebrity and, not coincidentally, the first time I’ve had the fear I would need a seat belt extender on an aeroplane. If you’ve never heard of such a thing, Google it – there’s a whole internet of anxiety out there, which you’re unlikely to be aware of until you find your partner having to squeeze you into a Virgin Little Red belt in the manner of shoving a sleeping bag back into it’s sheath. The final first? The only places on the high street where I could find a coat I liked, and that fitted me, were Asda and Tesco.

As a person with a yoyo-ing waistband I’ve been in and out of phases where everything in Topshop falls off me and then, within months, where the staff at fitting rooms give me pity smiles as I walk in, deluded, with a batch of size 16s. I’ve had more bra fittings than most people have had Christmas dinners; in fact, I had one this Christmas with a lovely woman in Aberdeen’s M&S who explained that, while I wouldn’t be able to get a fancy bra in my size, she’d do her best to find me one that didn’t look like mountaineering equipment.

So I’ve stumbled into 2014 wondering exactly what happened to the campaigns for a more diverse range of sizes in our high street shops. I’m not posh – I’ve often picked up a fashion bargain in a supermarket – but it would be nice to have the kind of clothes shopping experience that doesn’t end up with your new buy being tangled in your basket with your Sunday dinner.

Not fitting in is a marvellous motivator for losing weight and those who hated my piece Running? It’s just Jogging will be glad to hear I’ve put my tail between my legs and am thrusting myself round my local park every other morning in the bid to get fitter. Of course, my motivation is to not only to be fitter but to be smaller, in order to fit in.

Why, when the average size of a woman in the UK is size 16, does Topshop – one of our largest fashion stores – stop many of its ranges at 14 and not even touch an 18? By my calculation, if the average is 16, that means there’s got to be an awful lot of women above a 16 as well as below. Perhaps it’s just not the store for me; after all, I do remember the 80s the first time around, but grown-up Cos and Zara are faring no better.

Debenhams may well have size 16 mannequins but Debenhams is not even fashionable enough for my mum. Evans is not what I would call fashion-led; after the briefest of sell-out ranges with Beth Ditto it’s gone super duper boring. ASOS Curve is pretty good but I want a shop I can go into and, while Dorethy Perkins tries, I’m not sure their hearts really in it; I normally stand in the changing room going: “well it’s amazing it’s in a size 20 arse, but this dress makes me look like a 5 year old’s drawing of a cocktail waitress”.

Where’s the creativity, the art, architecture, the fun? Where’s the “fashion”? Where’s the equivalent of Topshop Unique or Cos for big women?

Not fitting in is especially damaging to younger women. Being dragged around stores where all your mates can try stuff on, every Saturday, while you grab a pair of the ubiquitous black leggings and some cool jewellery, is not fun for 15-year-old chubby girls. It breeds low self esteem, labeling you as different, separate, and can start a cycle of bravado and yoyo dieting that can last a lifetime.

On the plus side, it also encourages creativity as you learn to do more with less. After all, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with not fitting in by choice, but it’s just not nice excluding the majority of women from high street fashion – it’s painful and humiliating – and yet we keep shopping there. It’s a sadomasochistic relationship and I’m not finding it that pleasurable anymore, are you?

I’m not about to start making my own clothes or open a shop, though I regularly fantasise about both, but if you are a talented designer do it, NOW. There are millions of women like me who will come and buy your wears. Abercrombie & Fitch’s Mike Jeffries is missing a million-dollar trick if he thinks cool kids only look like the ones in his adverts.

In the meantime, while one of you creates the next big fashion brand, I implore Mr Philip Green and others: give your designers a few more inches of fabric to play with. Tell them to go wild and make women feel fabulous about themselves. We might just find that the more people who feel warmly welcomed into our high streets shops – like they belong – the more healthy our thinking, and the less fabric we’ll need in the end.

flattr this!

New Year, New You? Face 2014 with Fatitude

As I’m writing this, I’m snacking on a mini packet of chocolate buttons. Why? Because I bloody well feel like it. I’ve got Fatitude and I’m not afraid to flaunt it. I’ve never gone in for a New Year of restraint anyway. My birthday is on the 3rd of January, possibly the most depressing day of the year to be born. Everyone is skint, three days into not drinking/smoking/eating, and really down about having to go back to work. So I make up for it by completely ignoring “New Year, New You” rubbish.

I may want to ignore calls for unnecessary restraint, but we can’t deny there is an issue with obesity worldwide. It has more than doubled since 1980, with developing countries experiencing the greatest increase. Diet, exercise and radical surgery seem to be failing; so how do we deal with our ever increasing collective waistlines?

I was a contestant in ITV’s Celebrity Fit Club reality TV show a few years back but, unlike my fellow participants, my focus was always on getting healthier, not losing weight. I was a size 26 and now a size 18. I’m still classified as morbidly obese, and told I’m going to die an early death because I like the odd scotch egg. I went from being pre-diabetic to getting a clean bill of health; now the doctors can find nothing wrong with me except the fact I’m FAT. Shock horror. Yes, being fat and healthy is possible; I can only hope that somewhere in the world a Slimfast factory is imploding at that radical but entirely factual statement.

Changing our mindsets to engage with an alternative approach to weight and health will require a pretty massive shift. The media has twisted and distorted what healthy looks like, and the tools used by the medical profession to determine “healthy weight” reinforce this. The BMI index has been proven to be flawed; we need accurate ways to determine health and wellbeing. Or maybe we just need to fundamentally reconfigure how we judge health and wellbeing. The work done by Dr Linda Bacon, nutrition professor in the Biology Department at the City College of San Francisco is pretty impressive. She is the originator of the Health at Every Size movement, and promotes self-acceptance, physical activity and normalised eating as a way to healthy living, no matter what size you are. Respect for the diversity of body shapes and sizes is at the heart of HAES. I think its resources should be available to all girls in school.

Along with compulsory sex and relationship education, serious and desperately needed improvements could be made in the way girls see themselves, each other, and relate to boys and men. Engaging with Health at Every Size will also aggravate the diet industry, which can only be a good thing. Weight Watchers reported profits of $64.9 million last year, all made on selling a dream based on fail-and-return. Their overpriced and nutritionally poor ready meals are another profit boosting, morale-destroying tool of oppression. I nearly smashed bottles of their “low-calorie wine” in the aisle of my local Tesco just before Christmas. At 60 calories a small glass, it’s the same calorific count as any other wine on the shelf, but twice as tasteless (so I’m told). The diet industry and all its permutations needs to be named and shamed as one of the main perpetrators of low self esteem and economic opportunism against women.

There are impressive women making a difference, though. My personal chubby heroine is Dr Charlotte Cooper. She is an architect of Fat Studies, an emerging academic field which gives a more critical understanding of social positioning of fatness and health. She sits on the board of Fat Studies Journal and is a psychotherapist who works mainly with fat people. She is the author of Fat and Proud: The Politics of Size, and has originated events such as the Fattylympics and Big Bum Jumble, a plus size jumble sale. Most importantly, Dr Cooper insists political activism is the key to a healthy future. No matter what size you are, no one can argue with that.

Amy Lamé is a writer, performer and broadcaster. Follow her @amylame

Photo: gaelx

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

flattr this!

What women really worry about 2014: The stats

“Be a Better You” – Red magazine.

“A New Year, a New You” – Get Slim magazine.

“How to Get July Skin in January” – Elle.

If an alien visited earth this month and read our women’s magazines, they’d be left with the impression that all women really want is to lose weight, unwrinkle their skin, look different, act different and buy new shoes.

They’d get the distinct impression that transformation is transactional and that happiness can be bought in the form of a night cream. ET would think that, for this planet’s women, a new year means a new you, and that little else matters. But the relentless magazine headlines about aesthetic New Year’s resolutions don’t reflect *all* of the things that women really want.

As part of the Lodestone Political Survey, prepared by Survation, we polled over 1,000 women about what they really worry about and what they really want. When asked ‘what is the thing that most worries you at the moment?’, only 2% of these women answered by saying “the way I look”, 2% said “not having enough me time”, and 1% said “not fitting in”.

In contrast the top five responses were:

“My children’s/grandchildren’s future”

“Not being able to afford to pay the bills”

“Not having enough money as I’d like to have”

“Getting or being unwell”

“Becoming or being unemployed”

Earthly concerns, rooted in the grind of daily life, family love and economic realities come way above the worries that fuel New Year aesthetic transformation fantasies.

With women earning an average of 15% less than men, the prevalence of these everyday concerns shouldn’t be a surprise. Women are likely to have fewer financial assets and are more likely to live in poverty, especially in older age.

These earthly concerns and aspirations were reflected in the answers women gave when we asked them what they would like their lives to be like in 2020. For example, a 47-year old gardener from Wales said: “I would like less stress on my finances and would like to feel safer and more secure than I do now.”

Similarly, a 43 year old office worker said that, in 2020, she would like to be: “happy, calm and secure; much the same as now but without the anxiety of worrying about bills and expenses being higher than our income,” and an unemployed 20-year old from the West Midlands said she would like to be: “better off financially [and] I would also like to have a job.”

A 61 year old woman from Northamptonshire told us that, in 2020, “I want to be able to use my heating without worry about the bill, I would like to have enough pension money to afford a taxi or a haircut, I would like to eat meat.”

Her hopes for 2020 aren’t about having “the right haircut”; they’re about being able to afford a haircut.

Her hopes for 2020 aren’t about “preparing the perfect meal”; they’re about being able to afford to eat meat once in a while.

Her hopes for 2020 aren’t about “having a stylish home”; they’re about being able to heat her home.

Some of the answers women gave are heartbreaking in their honesty and it’s telling that they mentioned debt 117 times, while make-up was mentioned a grand total of one time.

The fantasy of aesthetic personal transformation helps to sell magazines, shift products and help us cope with everyday life by giving us a moment of escapism. At times, I’ve found the New Year articles, inspiring and interesting, and I’ve enjoyed looking through magazines with my sister and friends. At other times, I’ve found the articles at this time of year condescending, simplistic, formulaic and repetitive.

The key point is this: not all of the things that women really want can be bought in a shop. Not all of the things we really want can be achieved in the gym, the bathroom or the beautician’s. Many of the women we surveyed talked about their concerns about personal finances, work and the future of the economy, and when we asked women “what is the one thing you would most like politicians to focus more on doing?”, the top responses were “ensuring we have a stable economy” and “working to create more jobs”.

While many magazines pump out advice on action we can take as individuals to transform the way we look, we should consider spending more time thinking about the action we can take collectively to tackle the big issues. New Year, new you? No thanks. New Year, new thinking? Yes please.

Fran O’Leary is Director of Strategy and Innovation at Lodestone. She is writing in a personal capacity. Follow @FranOLeary

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or give a one off donation…

.

More info here.

flattr this!

Happy New You: mopping up the fall-out from enforced gluttony

If you’re anything like me, you dislike nothing more than thinking you’ve undertaken a decision of your own free volition, only to discover later that you’re merely a corporate lemming. It’s moderately fun when you’re in your twenties and think you might be part of some sort of culture-shattering zeitgeist and then, when you’re about twenty eight, you have the crushing realisation that nothing you’ve ever thought has ever been original or ground-breaking. That even when you try to belong to an ‘underground’ alternative movement, said movement has been carved specifically to lure people like you into its clutches by a money-making chain that ultimately ends with someone like Simon Cowell.

Apologies, I appear to be having an existential crisis. Just before I go and stand on the balcony and contemplate my life for a bit, I wanted to talk about the worst possible example of our life decisions being manipulated by ‘the man’: The New Year Diet.

Every year, around about November 15th, the entire Western World embarks on a gigantic communal binge/purge cycle. First, we’re urged from all quarters to stuff ourselves to the gills in celebration of the major winter religious festivals, with every bus stop, billboard, website, television advert and mainstream publication imploring us to “treat ourselves” because, after all, it is Christmas – the one time of year when it’s more than acceptable to put Baileys instead of milk on your cornflakes in the morning.

For this period of unadulterated hedonistic indulgence, however, there will be a penance: you will hate your greedy self. Not only after the fact, in the bleak, cold days of early January, but a little bit while you’re actually doing it. Christmas is also the season of the ‘little black party dress’ and we are bombarded with pictures of celebrities wearing outfits comprising solely of sequins, tinfoil and other materials which look deeply unflattering on anyone with more than an ounce of body fat.

It’s ‘forced fun’, is what it is. I don’t know about you, but my idea of ‘ultimate fun’ is spending an entire week shagging with wild abandon whilst David Bowie’s back catalogue plays in the background at silly volumes. It is NOT standing in some God-awful bar-chain with people from the office whilst wearing a filmsy paper ‘crown’, making small talk about how it’s quite mild for this time of year, forcing down a mushroom vol-au-vent and a glass of sherry and attempting to convince myself that it’s “okay because it’s Christmas”.

On boxing day, we survey the torn shreds of wrapping paper, resembling the remnants of our self-esteem as they lay strewn about the living room, and we listen to every other human in our lives bemoan their expanding waist lines and pledge to “go on a diet in the New Year”. And again, we get swept up in the hysteria because this Christmas just gone, which was supposed to be a celebration of everything that was glorious in our respective existences, was in fact a gigantic anti-climax and if we want next year to be different; if we want it to be the glamorous, unadulterated thrill-ride the world has told us it should be, then surely it is our duty to ensure that in 2014 we are as thin and gorgeous as possible, in keeping with the overall theme of the occasion?

So as we begin 2014, gyms, celebrity fitness DVDs and diet clubs promise a New Year: New You! as they swoop in to mop up the emotional fall-out of our enforced gluttony.

Except it’s all bollocks.

A significant chunk of Western society’s corporate machine is founded on the phenomenon of the yoyo diet. They WANT you to regain that weight. That’s why diets are so miserable and unsustainable. There’s shady mutual sponsorship happening all the time between the fitness and fast food industries purely for this reason. They depend on our brains being a contradiction of the desire to eat tasty things and the desire to look like someone who has never so much as whiffed a Jaffa Cake. If you diet, make no mistake, you are a cog in that machine. A machine which is fuelled by fear, insecurity, and a constructed and entirely unrealistic beauty paradigm designed to keep us prisoners of our own feelings of unworthiness.

So, this New Year, if you must make a resolution, resolve to start listening to your body. It knows what it needs. Always has. You were born with an innate understanding of when you were hungry, when you were full, and what food and exercise you needed to do to remain healthy. Over time we have confused ourselves by listening to people who have found solace in a prescribed regime or, worse still, are making money out of it.

Your body is a glorious, self-regulating organism. Trust it.

Natasha Devon is Director of the Education Program at Body Gossip. She is Cosmopolitan Magazine Ultimate Woman of the Year, 2012, in Ernst & Young’s Top 50 Social Entrepreneurs 2013, Mental Health Association ‘Business Hero’ Award Winner 2012 and Shortlisted for UK Parliament First Annual Body Confidence Awards. Follow her at @NatashaDevonBG

Photo: Kristina D. C. Hoeppner

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or give a one off donation…

More info here.

flattr this!

Most Read on Feminist Times 2013

Need a distraction from Christmas? Want to think about human behavior? Reckon you know what subjects Feminist Times readers are passionate about and what sets Twitter on fire?

We’ve put together the Most Read and Least Read articles published on Feminist Times in 2013.

1.     A feminist in high heels is like Dawkins in a rosary

Charlotte’s most contentious Editorial and our most read page ever. We were shocked when this one blew up on us, spawning the hashtag feministheels, and put a broad selection of responses in a Comeback piece.

highheels

 

2.     For once let’s really talk about slut-shaming

Can you be sex positive and anti-objectification? Glosswitch calls for a more honest discussion of “slut-shaming” and fuels online debate.

neon-woman-01

 

3.     No More Page 3: A bit of fence siting

Exclusive to Feminist Times, the No More Page 3 team explain why they’re sitting on the fence about porn and are neither pro nor anti.

NMP3

 

4.     Cameron and Rape Porn

Daisy Bata wrote from a feminist BDSM perspective about how she feared new Rape Porn legislation could affect consenting adults. Her personal perspective provoked a big reaction on Twitter and we asked South London Rape Crisis for a Comeback response on why they believe misinformation in the mainstream is polarizing the debate.

DavidCameron-photoshopped

 

5.     Femen – the beauty fascist fauminists

Another one of Charlotte’s Editorials, this time about whether the Feminist Times team would qualify to be in Femen and must be our most commented on piece so far.

Femen

 

6.     These Women Are Not Me

Maternal feminist Mel Tibbs raised a few people’s blood pressure when she argued that women in positions of power can not represent women like herself.

women-in-power

 

7.     What’s so safe about feminist, women only space?

Academics Ruth Lewis and Elizabeth Sharp on their research into women-only spaces. They caught the imaginations of both those who long for a safe space and those debating the very meaning of “women-only”,

Activist-Garden

8.     Fit is the new thin

Deborah Coughlin on why she hates the commodification of “fit”. In her mind it’s just the same message, in the hands of branding experts, as “thin”.

thin-fit

 

9.     Top Ten of 2013’s most unlikely feminists

Feminism has never been so popular, so as the fourth-wave rises there are all kinds of people jumping onto the ship. From Thatcher to Cameron to Miley Cyrus we countdown the most unlikely people to be touted as feminist in 2013.

topten-f

 

10. Comeback: How to be a man – porn

The only regular Fem T columnist who is a man started with a launch confessional about how porn has affected his life. Lots of readers had something to say about it and it was Victoria Coleman’s Comeback that made it into 10th place.

pornography-fi

Now read the Least Read on Feminist Times 2013.

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or give a one off donation…

More info here.

flattr this!

Least Read on Feminist Times 2013

Need a distraction from Christmas? Want to think about human behavior? Reckon you know what subjects Feminist Times readers are passionate about and what is more of a Twitter breeze as opposed to a storm?

We’ve put together the Most Read and Least Read articles published on Feminist Times in 2013.

1.     Natalie Bennett marks International Day of the Girl

We were so excited to receive a statement from Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett about International Day of the Girl. Unfortunately no one else was and this is our least read article so far on Feminist Times. Boooooooooo

Natalie Bennett

 

2.     An Editor Muses: Autumn

When we came up with the idea of reading out Elle’s autumnal editorial in a whimsical manner, highlighting it’s banality over a video of Deborah’s feet – we quite honestly thought we were being hilarious. You did not think so, and that’s us told.

editormuses

 

3.     NCA failing victims

An exploration of why the National Crime Agency is not tackling cyber stalking was not shared anywhere near as much as we thought. Take a look now.

Cyber Stalking

4.     Forgotten crafts – traditional Dublin biscuit folding

There’s a thin line between genius and not genius. We took a run and leap over that line and you did not come with us. Not interested in a pretend craft and Daniel Day Lewis? Fair enough.

angel-wp

 

5.     Video: Afghan Women’s Rights: A Doctor’s Story

The day after #feministheels and the publishing of our most read story ever we put up this video from Amnesty. We mentioned in the #feministheels Comeback how the way we are funded allows us to run important pieces like this that aren’t shared loads. If you want to help fund a site where brands don’t influence content become a Member.

amnesty

 

6.     Newcastle firmly on the feminist map

Fem T’s Sarah Graham had a feminist-life affirming trip to the North East Feminist Gathering and previewed it here.  Our review of the event got lots of views (and was for a while in our top ten) so we don’t think Newcastle has anything to worry about. We love you Newcastle.

NEFG2012

 

7.     Women and the wireless revolution

Our first infographic from the amazing women that are ThinkAgainGraphics. The legendary Joni Seager author of Atlas of Women and Lucia Ricci helped us launch with this amazing global breakdown of gender and mobile phones.

FINAL infographic seager-ricci

 

8.     Diary of a tomboy – football

Children’s Editor Anna moved all of us at the Restitution Ball with this touching speech about why girls in her school football team are forced to tackle each other.

Football-creditJayel Aheram

Photo: Jayel Aheram

 

9.     #16days: Women’s Aid funding crisis domestic violence

We ran a piece every day for #16days. This one about the funding crisis fell beneath the radar compared to the other 15.

Women's Aid

 

10. How Do You Become Lord Chief Justice?

Another one of our genius ideas. ‘Don’t all these people in power have a lot in common’ we thought to ourselves. Let’s start a series where we give a run down of how someone has got into a powerful job and over time this will illustrate this point beautifully. The picture is smoke coming out of the Vatican. We still love this idea.

Smoke from the vatican

Now read the Most Read on Feminist Times 2013.

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or give a one off donation…

More info here.

flattr this!

#IDontBuyIt: Make Your Own Feminist Fairy!

FM_Fairy

– Double click on the image and choose print.
– Print out the image.
– Stick it on card if you want you Emily Davison to stand proud.
– Then carefully cut around Emily and the strip.
– Stick Emily to the strip.
– Stick the ends of the strip together to make a loop.
– Place you fairy on top of your tree.
– Have a Merry Christmas!

Rebecca Stricksons works as an illustrator and do-er of things based in Peckham. She was selected to appear in the AOI’s Images 36 book in 2012, and was shortlisted twice for the AOI Illustration Awards 2013. Follow @beckystrick

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or give a one off donation…

More info here.

flattr this!

#IDontBuyIt: How to be a Christian and a feminist

At Christmas we celebrate Jesus’s birthday. Except we don’t, mostly. We celebrate gifts, food, family, Christmas TV, time off work. We might take an annual trip to church to murder a few carols by a cosy manger scene. But for most Brits, there’s little Christ in Christmas.

Quite right, say many feminists. When Catherine Redfern and I surveyed 1,300 feminists for our book Reclaiming the F Word, fewer than 1 in 10 called themselves Christians. Many saw religion as a barrier to gender justice.

And it has been. Institutionalised Christianity has been patriarchal, and its patriarchs perpetrated misogyny. They issued pronouncements like: “Woman is a temple built over a sewer” (Tertullian) and “Woman is a misbegotten man” (Albertus Magnus) and oversaw the burning of Joan of Arc. Protestant Reformers’ fears of female independence and sexuality were a factor in the closure of convents across Europe; to quote Martin Luther: “The word and works of God is quite clear, that women were made either to be wives or prostitutes.”

Even today, wives’ submission is enshrined in the American Southern Baptist Convention’s Official Faith and Message Statement (“A wife is to submit graciously to the servant leadership of her husband, even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ”) – think of the implications for women in abusive marriages. Roman Catholic and some conservative Protestant denominations don’t permit female priests or pastors. The church has a woman-hating history.

But there is another history, a her-story if you like, shrouded by saccharine Santas and male privilege. It’s a story of emancipation, of God becoming human, coming to earth to proclaim a message. Christian feminist novelist Sara Maitland sums up the message like this: “Jesus was born, suffered and died to reconcile humanity to God.” It’s a controversial message, barely believable to children of the Enlightenment, but still embraced by a third of the world’s population.

Feminists often misunderstand the Christmas story. They object, for instance, to the representation of Mary. But the ‘Virgin’ Mary isn’t presented in the Bible as an impossible ideal that all women should follow; it’s just that the cult that developed after her death did (see Marina Warner’s book Alone of All Her Sex.)

Mary inspires me because her story demonstrates God’s elevation of the marginalised. Mary was a Palestinian teenager of low social rank. In organising Mary’s impregnation when she was engaged to someone else, God puts her at risk of social disgrace (even to stoning for adultery). God organises a series of supernatural appearances (some to women) to prevent baby Jesus from being murdered and his mum from being outcast. These verify Jesus’s extraordinary nature.

The prayer Mary utters – the Magnificat, one of the best known hymns in Christian history – expresses shocked praise at God’s favouritism toward those of low position. A migrant during Jesus’s early years, Mary gives birth in a house’s animal quarters. She wraps him in swaddling bands (used by the poor), and raises him with carpenter husband Joseph.

Jesus wasn’t patriarchal or socially powerful. He hung out with the marginalised (eunuchs, sex workers, fishermen, shepherds, those with stigmatising illnesses). Jesus’s interactions with women transgress social norms: he educates women and encourages them out of the kitchen – see the story of Mary and Martha. He sees them as independent people, not in relation to male relatives. That may not seem revolutionary today, but it was then.

After his death, Jesus chooses Mary Magdalene to witness his resurrection first – a decisive statement of trust in a culture when women were not considered reliable witnesses. There’s no real evidence that she was a prostitute or married to Jesus (sorry, Dan Brown – though so what if she was?) But, as an unattached woman, she became the focus of others’ lurid imaginations. Her report of the resurrection isn’t believed (surprise, surprise), until the men see Jesus and are made to look foolish.

Jesus’s transgression of patriarchal norms, his challenge to power and privilege, is why Christianity attracted so many followers among the marginalised, leading 2nd century pagan critic Celsus to describe Christianity (he thought disparagingly) as a religion of “women, children and slaves.”

History tells how women encountered freedom through Jesus. It tells of women transgressing traditional roles, dressing in men’s clothes, becoming martyrs, refusing motherhood for a life of activism to help other women (in the church, activism is often called ‘service’, but really it’s the same thing). It tells of female mystics (Margery Kempe, Teresa of Avila, Simone Weil), prophets, preachers and, occasionally, bishops (might the 2nd century Montanists put the Church of England to shame?)

As a Christian feminist, I know the harm institutionalised Christianity has done to women. Those profiting economically from Christmas or using Jesus to shore-up male supremacy should, let’s use a biblical word, repent. But Jesus, the divine-and-human, whose radically different engagement with women was key to his liberating message, has nothing to apologise for.

Kristin Aune is co-author, with Catherine Redfern, of Reclaiming the F Word: Feminism Today (Zed Books, new edition, 2013) and directs the University of Derby’s Centre for Society, Religion & Belief. She is one of the founders of the Christian Feminist Network. Find out more at @cfemnet

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site become a member…

join-us

Or give a one off donation…

.

More info here.

flattr this!

#IDontBuyIt: Immaculate Conception & Womb Envy

At this time of year, in nativity plays, churches, and in the general consciousness, we are reminded of the central role of the female in the guise of Mary, mother of Jesus. Mary takes a special role in Christian theology as the mother of Christ and has been called the ‘mother of the world’.

This concept of worship of the feminine predates Christ, with “Venus figurines” dating back 25,000 years. However, worship of the centrality of the role of woman as the mysterious bringer of life is not without its darker side. Modern feminists rightly reject the narrow stereotype of the nurturing, wholesome woman, consumed with a desire for children to fulfill her purpose in the world.

As a psychiatrist, during the psychoanalytical part of my training, I viewed Freud’s ideas on femininity as diametrically opposed to my own belief system. Freud was a man of his time, opposed to the emancipation of women and had a distorted view of the centrality of the masculine. In Lecture XXXIII: “Femininity” (1933) Freud ponders the “riddle” of women and argues that, in a woman’s psychological development, her first object of her mother must be rejected to fulfil her need to attach to her father.

Her associated despair at realising that she does not have a penis when glimpsing this, leads to envy of the penis, with a powerful “feminine” wish for a baby. According to Freud a woman’s happiness is greatest if her wish for a baby is fulfilled and more so if that child is male and brings the longed for penis with him.

Feminist psychology as a movement rejects this notion of penis envy and proposes the more intuitive concept of womb envy. After training as an analyst and gaining recognition for her talents, Karen Horney rejected Freud’s theories that sex and aggression were the main drivers in achieving personhood. She viewed man’s envy of woman’s ability to bear, nurture and feed children as a cause of conflict in neurotic men. She introduced the term womb envy to describe the drive to success as a compensation for their in-built inability to bear children.

She rejected Freud’s idea of penis envy as a defensive reflection of a patriarchal society. His analysis could be more explicable as a defence arising from a female envy of men’s unfair generic power in the world. The neo-Freudian concepts with the birth of feminist psychology were a decisive point in the psychoanalytical movement. Karen Horney’s own drive in the face of rejection by some of her purist contemporaries was inspiring. I felt this addressed my own uneasiness at the centrality of the penis and sexual drive.

Contemporary psychoanalytical theory has moved away from this phallus-centric model to a more appealing and authentic discussion with a humanist perspective. This more realistically reflects the impact of societal and cultural influence on the development of the personality, and a more acceptable view of childhood development.

As a clinician in mental health, the impact of childhood trauma and neglect, and its influence in the development of a sense of self, has been a recurring theme in my own therapeutic work. But the responsibility of this is not the maternal object and should be felt by both sexes.

Horney was convinced, through her work and own analysis, that the fulfilling of a child’s needs for food, safety and love allowed a child to develop healthy self concepts. This in turn led to successful interpersonal relationships. She felt children whose needs were not met – through neglect or inappropriately defined ideas of child rearing – would develop anxiety, with an associated adoption of maladaptive coping or defence mechanisms to manage this anxiety.

The centrality of the “objects” in the child’s life, or influence of caregivers has achieved its rightful place, and these ideas have developed further in the psychoanalytical community in the last century. The works of Melanie Klein and Donald Winnicott brought me back to accepting some value in the psychoanalytical model. Klein, although a Freudian herself, co founded Object Relations Theory and was extremely influential in the UK, where she practiced from 1926 to her death in 1960. A divorced mother of two, without an academic background (having halted her studies for her marriage), she must have been extremely determined and talented to excel in the then male dominated field of psychoanalysis.

As we reflect on the enduring symbol of Mary this Christmas we can view not only its religious aspect but an ongoing unconscious societal need for worship of female fertility which has changed little in 25,000 years. Our challenge I feel, as modern feminists, is to not be defined by our nurturing role but to transcend this with the acceptance and recognition of a equal role between genders to contribute to society in whichever way an individual chooses, with self actualization and happiness.

The views in this article are my own and do not represent those of my trust or other organisations.

Anna is a Psychiatrist, feminist, mother of one preschooler and fan of the arts. Follow her here @annacfryer

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or give a one off donation…

.

More info here.

flattr this!

#IDontBuyIt: Consuming the Season – gender, debt & credit

Revised_xmas_final

Joni Seager, author of the international Atlas of Women, and Graphic Designer Lucia Ricci team up as ThinkAgainGraphics to bring you a brilliant new look at women and spending.

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or give a one off donation…

More info here.

flattr this!

#IDontBuyIt: The Office Do – slut shaming, strip clubs & dancing girls

Ever been called a whore at your work do? Or been forced to go to a strip club? Are you a young PA and wondering why you’ve been asked to invite your female mates to the work xmas party?

The working woman’s experience of Christmas work dos can no longer be easily summed up in the image of a young female secretary sitting on the lap of her male boss. Yet a party with your work colleagues can still be a pit of sexism.

Even at the most progressive company you can suffer a total assault course of feelings, broken boundaries and just plain awkwardness. But add in booze, a laddish work culture, misogyny and entitlement, and that one night out of the year can be very traumatic.

We asked three women to tell us the story of their sexist Xmas party. They all wanted to remain anonymous.

“I’m not sure how many of the men actually appreciated the fact that the secretarial staff were dancing to spice up their evening.”
Quantative Analyst, an american investment bank

Sometime in December, each manager organised something for the people underneath him as a token of his (or, hypothetically, her) appreciation to the contribution that the little people made to his bonus. The head of our team ordered a takeout from Wagamama for us, his boss took us out to lunch in a restaurant and the head of the department hired a pub for an evening and invited us all to his party.

The problem was that we were a Quantitative Analytics department consisting of mostly science and engineering PhDs whose job is to crunch numbers and write software. About 95% male. There aren’t many jokes that start with “100 geeks go to the pub”.

Inviting partners would have largely solved the gender imbalance problem, but our boss wasn’t, apparently, feeling that generous. Instead, he asked each of the management assistants to bring a female friend and dance to spice up the party. Young women who were hired to do the administrative work of the department became the entertainment, and were requested to pimp their friends as well. The few female PhDs were not recruited for this task. The class system was not disturbed.

So there we were, standing along the walls, watching the admins and their friends dancing at the centre of the room. Nobody joined them; geeks will be geeks. We were just standing there, drinking our beers, talking as much as the music allowed. I’m not sure how many of the men actually appreciated the fact that the secretarial staff were dancing to spice up their evening. The latter, however, were probably too drunk to notice either way. One of them passed out before the evening was over and another showed up the following morning with bruises on her arms, having fallen off her shoes on the way home.

“…we’d talk about personal stuff – which I feel was possibly my downfall.”
Executive Assistant, a multinational finance firm

When I started at the company it was mainly for a stop gap. I’d accumulated a bit of debt after my studies so when I was offered a permanent job with a healthy salary I felt obliged to bite the bullet. The office ‘Aunty’ figure soon took me under her wing; this kind and generous woman was a bit of saving grace as the testosterone flying about the room could get a bit much from time to time – scary, even, if you happened to walk anywhere near the firing line.

Aunty was funny; a hip fairy godmother-type that hung around young blood to keep her in the know. We’d go for drinks and let off steam and she’d tell me the who’s doing what, where’s and how’s, and we’d talk about personal stuff – which I feel was possibly my downfall. In an office environment, being the kind of person that wears their heart on their sleeve, it’s sink or swim with the women you meet – there’s niceties but the venom can flow…

There’s a pub next door to the office and come Christmas time it’s all Crimbo jolly up’s ahoy with tinsel and brandy sauce. Drinking with work colleagues can make tension fly and I’ve even experienced a posh man’s fisty cuffs. The men can be very smarmy, yet generous; they like to run around shouting “Milky Bars are on me”, and the competition of who has the bigger wallet can be quite cringeworthy.

As an assistant to a group of guys, some of my bosses do confide in me a lot and most of the time it goes in one ear and out the next as alcohol can let them loose lips very loose: “Since my wife and I have had children our marriage has lost its passion”, “I never wanted to go to financial school, I wanted to be an actor”, “All I want to do is be a farmer”, etc.

A guy told me that he was really head over heals for one of the beautiful assistants. They’d shared a cheeky kiss here and there and she was really keen but he wouldn’t take it any further because on paper, come bonus time, to be seen with an assistant is not how these testosterone junkies want to perceived. It’s a culture where these things happen and I’ve kissed a couple of frogs at work; one guy ended up staying at my house but there was no sex – nothing has ever gone further.

One night after a Christmas charity event I was sat enjoying the evening and chatting away when Aunty suddenly bellowed at me: “Stop acting like a prostitute.”

I was shocked and hurt as to where this had come from. A friend who was there at the time said that I went from being my usual cheery self to a very deflated shadow. I thought it was maybe time I should go home and took myself to the toilet as I could feel the tears coming. After getting myself together I walked out of the toilet only to come face to face with this woman looking at me with hate and disgust, then those words: “you’re pathetic”.

I couldn’t help but tell her, and quite emotionally, that those comments were unacceptable, completely unjustified and wrong. She was very sorry on the night and admitted she didn’t know why she had said those things. Of course things came out that would never have done in a sober light; alcohol, emotions, work colleagues sometimes don’t gel.

The next day everyone was sober and I was willing to shrug the incident off. Aunty would not talk to me and left work early as she was “so upset”. I was devastated. She moved desks away from us, leaving me questioning whether I the one that was in the wrong.

“…we were each given £10 from my boss, like pocket money for ‘a pound in the pot for the ladies’.”
Production Manager and only woman in a medium-sized production company

Banter is very boisterous in my office; there aren’t many boundaries to be honest, and jokes are very sexist or homophobic. Half the time they make sexist jokes to wind me up, like women can’t make films – they know they get a reaction out of me.

When I first started I said I didn’t like the end of Django, and one of them replied, “it’s because you’re a woman”. I went mental. I thought to myself: “you have no idea what you are talking about or what I have done.” I’ve written a gangster film and worked with one of the most feared gangsters that the UK has seen. After that outburst he apologised and no one has ever said anything sexist seriously again; the rest of the banter is just jokes.

Practical jokes in the office are quite extreme and maybe a little unorthodox, like putting pubes on my desk, drawing cocks on everything, Photoshopping ejaculating cocks onto pictures of my face, etc. But I don’t actually think they mean it in a malicious way, and most of the time it is funny. If I said that something was upsetting me they would stop because they do respect me (plus I manage them, so they can’t get away with everything.)

Then there was an end of year party – I had organised it. We started off wine tasting, which was planned, then went for a curry, which was planned, and then we went to a strip club. That wasn’t planned; I wasn’t consulted about going at all. They were sort of joking about it and I went along with it as I didn’t want to be a spoil sport.

On the door the bloke said: “a pound in the pot for the ladies”, which meant the half-naked strippers wandered around the floor with a pint glass and you have to put a pound in. So before entering we were each given £10 from my boss, like pocket money, for “a pound in the pot for the ladies”.

I had to stand awkwardly with my boss watching a naked woman swing round a pole. I was basically looking at a fanny with my boss. A bit weird. I then got groped by a drunk man and then we all left.

I wasn’t upset, I just think there could have been nicer ways to spend the rest of the night. Another male college also agreed as he was uncomfortable. I’ve since put my foot down and there will be no strip clubs at this year’s Christmas party.

Image copyright jayfish

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or give a one off donation…

More info here.

flattr this!

#IDontBuyIt: TV this Christmas is one big sausage fest

It’s that time of year again: you settle down in front of the TV, stuffed full of turkey and resentment towards your close family, to watch a TV schedule rammed full of repeats – and men.

Seriously – this year’s Christmas TV is all about men, performed by men, written by men and presented by men. Dr Who has regenerated into another white guy (sigh), Sherlock and Dr Watson dominate the schedules, Mrs Browns Boys is still mysteriously popular and over on C4, Bear Grylls is going off on a big old boys adventure with Stephen Fry. There may be women in Downton Abbey but, what with it being set in 1922, they aren’t exactly repping it for fourth-wavers.

So where can we find women on TV this Christmas? Weirdly, over on Strictly Come Dancing at the staid old BBC. It’s an oestrogen filled all-female celebrity final this year so, although model turned WAG turned ballroom dancer Abbey Clancy probably won’t be topping any feminist polls, she’s actually one of the few women your kids will see succeeding on telly in the next couple of weeks.

The show also features the only female presenting duo outside of The Great British Bake Off, in the form of Tess Daly and Claudia Winkleman. But that’s only when Bruce Forsyth is having a week off for old age.

Fearne Cotton presents Christmas Top Of The Pops, but despite the fact that pop in 2013 has been dominated by women (Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Lily Allen, Katy Perry) it features performances from John Newman, One Republic, Tom Odell, Chase & Status, Rizzle Kicks, Rudimental, James Blunt, Naughty Boy and way-too-old-for-it-now boyband Boyzone. At least Fearne won’t have to queue for the ladies’ loos.

And here’s an early warning, just in case you fall asleep on the sofa and worry you’ve woken up in 1940: the women who ARE allowed their own shows are cooking. Or crafting. Literally, that’s it. We’re ‘treated toThe Great British Sewing Bee Christmas, The Great British Bake Off, and Kirstie Allsopp continues her remarkably twee campaign to put us all back 50 years in Kirstie’s Crafty Christmas. Can’t we have women heading a show like “The Great British Website Design” or “Kirstie’s Draughty Christmas”, where Kirstie goes round an entire house insulating it to the recommended 270mm of mineral wool?

The TV “classic’s” schedule is a British tradition and a gender crisis. Given that past Christmas Specials – Only Fools And Horses, The Office, Top Gear – are now considered ‘festive classics’, they get repeated year after year after year, so it looks like we’ll be stuck with this male-dominated line-up for a while. A scary thought: will we still be being forced to watch middle-aged men driving expensive cars and making jokes about ‘bloody foreigners’ in 2080?

Repeats from the ‘good old days’, these ghosts of Christmas past, aren’t good for women because women weren’t there. Stats this year show that the schedules of the four main channels (BBC1, 2, ITV1 and C4) will be made up of 49.5% repeats – with three quarters of BBC2’s content being a repeat, 28% of ITV1’s shows having been seen before and C4 will be made up of 59% repeated material. Only BBC1 have thought that maybe, just maybe, it should make new TV shows: it’s 90% new material. Which is a relief until you realise that part of that new content is bringing back dinosaurs like Open All Hours. Oh.

Let’s look at all the amazing female comics and writers around: Victoria Wood, Caroline Aherne, Jennifer Saunders, Jo Brand, Miranda Hart, Bridget Christie, Josie Long. Surely, with laddy comedy Not Going Out making another appearance, there must be a funny woman getting an Xmas special too? Er, no. Miranda will appear in the (David Walliams-written) Gangsta Granny, and everything else is written by men: Downton Abbey, Jack Whitehall’s Bad Education, Lucan… the best the BBC can do is a historical look at Morcambe and Wise’s female sidekicks. Which they’ve patronizingly dubbed ‘Leading Ladies’. Oh, thanks SO much, BBC.

So what on earth is the TV industry thinking? The revolution may well not be televised, but we certainly need a revolution in television. If you can’t be what you can’t see, the majority of what we are seeing is crafts, sidekicks and sequins. Whatever gender you are, if you want to watch a well-balanced, broad range of women on telly this season, fingers crossed you got a boxed set of DVDs under the tree.

Issy Sampson writes for The Guardian Guide, Look, Heat, NME and The Mirror. For more, follow her on Twitter @isssssy

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

join-us

Or give a one off donation…

More info here.

flattr this!

Charlotte Raven

All I want for Christmas… is a large measure of faux bonhomie

This Editorial is taken from the Charlotte’s speech at the Feminist Times Anti-Consumerist Christmas Party last Friday Night at Conway Hall, London.

Christmas is a terrible time for a depressive like me. The Pearly Queen singing carols at Angel tube seemed like an affront.

The worse thing about being depressed at Christmas is being mistaken for a Grumpy Old Woman. Unlike Helen Lederer and the other TV Grumpies, I like crap Christmas songs and the fact that Christmas gets earlier every year.

I don’t object to Christmas, just the lies we are susceptible to at this time of year. Santa is the biggest – parents still believe in him! My four-year-old son was visibly relieved to discover that his haul of presents isn’t dependent on good behaviour. Unlike Santa, my love for John is unconditional.

Like the Christians, I think the lie of consumerism has ruined Christmas. The lists of must-haves in the magazines at this time of year exert a particular kind of pressure that makes it hard to concentrate. And parents are under even more pressure. I’ve read about people trying to kill themselves because they can’t afford to get their kids any presents and totally empathise.

I can’t really afford to buy the kids a big present and lots of little ones, like I normally do, and have been wondering how to get round this. God knows what it’s like for people who can’t afford little ones either – if nothing else, my depression has helped me connect with those who feel as if they are on the outside looking in at Christmas.

What should Christmas be about if not God or stuff? My family Christmasses were about drinking, talking and telly. We never played consequences or charades. There was little physical activity; the novel idea of a walk on Christmas day was introduced years later by my in-laws. This break with tradition has been good for my health but does make me feel as if my identity and essential Ravenishness is imperilled during the festive season, now that my mum’s dead and my dad’s in a nursing home. The fact that I get Christmas cards addressed to Tom and Charlotte Sheahan doesn’t help.

One memorable year, when I was my daughter Anna’s age, I danced with my mother to the D:ream song, Things Can Only Get Better, before it became the anthem for new labour. We were both holding Dr Seuss string puppets with tufts on their heads that moved to the beat.

My favourite Christmas song is Fairy Tale of New York because of its realism. It’s more miserable than Slade by a country mile. Is it possible to be happy without lying to ourselves? I hope so. While I’m waiting to find out, I wish I could act festive and sport reindeer deely boppers like the receptionist at my doctors this morning. At this time of year, faux bonhomie is better than no bonhomie.

My psychiatrist says my black humour stops me from acting on my impulse to “do a jimmy” and chuck myself off Beachy Head. And the thought of being stopped on the cliff edge by the Christians who have been stationed there for the past few years is also a powerful deterrent.

Feminist Times has the same mordant wit, with the same redemptive purpose. We think modern life is crap but don’t moan about it like the grumpy old women.

I am a highly ambivalent consumer – in certain moods, I think scented candles are the key to happiness.

I left the Mumsnet blogfest with a massive goody bag and felt genuinely pampered and appreciated, until I ate too many New York Cupcakes and felt sick to the stomach about how easily I can be bought.

Working with Deborah and Sarah has made me realize that wonderful things can be conjured out of nothing. Deborah’s DIY ethic has rubbed off on me and I feel liberated from my belief that more is more.

You won’t leave this party laden with boob firming cream and beige nail varnish, because unlike Mumsnet we haven’t sold our souls. Our magical Christmas party was conjured by some amazing people with no commercial partners.

I wanted to take this opportunity to mention that Deborah is taking over as editor. It’s a relief to be able hand over the day-to-day management of Fem T to her and focus on writing, ideas and the big Feminist Times picture. Deborah’s the only positive person I’ve ever respected, mainly because she isn’t bland or deluded. And she respects my Ravenishness; she never tries to talk me out of my negativity, but I do always leave the office feeling better than when I arrived.

Deborah and Sarah have assured me that it isn’t a North Korean style purge, but I will be paying close attention to the pictures of past events to see whether I am photoshopped out…

Sarah is taking over as Deputy Editor – she’ll be brilliant. I never thank her enough. I just wanted to say publicly how proud and pleased I am with everything she’s done at Fem T, in fair winds and foul.

The party was an intimation of Christmasses yet to come. I hope to wake up one Christmas morning with no presents, feeling Sheahanish and up for life, because the depressed and depressing capitalist system has been replaced by comfort and joy.

Thank you to Gabriela Cala-Lesina, Ruth Barnes, Jenny Roper, Eleanor Westbrook, Carly Smallman, Sarah Campbell, Fari Bradley, Conway Hall, Tobias Amstall & 4th Floor Studios and all our other helpers on the day.

flattr this!

#IDontBuyIt: A Very Feminist Christmas Theme Week 16th – 22nd

We love a theme week and we’ve really gone to town on our Christmas themed week:

#IDontBuyIt: 16th – 22nd December

Our team of experts will be dissecting all things festive and why we as feminists just don’t ‘buy’ a lot of it. Whether it be capitalism, Xmas telly, the immaculate conception or the commodification of feminism. Here’s our list of #IDontBuyIt content:

The Guardian’s Issy Sampson unpicks the Christmas telly schedule to see how women fare in festive TV.

Psychiatrist Anna Fryer on womb envy, feminist psychoanalysis and the immaculate conception.

One of Santa’s Elves whistleblows on her working conditions.

Tales from women in the banking and media industries about their sexist office parties.

Dr Kristin Aune, Reader in Sociology & Director of the Centre for Society, Religion & Belief on how you can be a Feminist and a Christian.

A reader who lost it all in the crash explains why we should all adopt the Free Economony.

An exploration of the commodification of Feminism.

Children’s Editor Anna on toys.

Joni Seager and Lucia Ricci infographic on women, credit and depression.

Buy Nothing Day and Echo profiles, Feminist Fairies, and more.

#5yearssinceMaria: From the 16th – 19th December we will also be marking the fifth anniversary of Maria Stubbings’ death, alongside Refuge, including:

Maria Stubbings’ story.

He punched a horse: comparison of sentencing for domestic violence versus other crimes.

The manifesto of a woman who suffered from domestic violence.

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site become a member

join-us

Or give a one off donation…

.

More info here.

flattr this!

Comeback: Cameron’s ‘Rape Porn Law’ and BDSM

We would like to correct some of the inaccuracies contained in the blog post published today on the Feminist Times by writer Daisy Bata. The amendment to the Extreme Pornography Legislation, referred to in the article as ‘David Cameron’s new rape porn law’, has been plagued by misinformation, mythologies and what can best be described as a form of liberal panic since it was announced in July of this year.

Following this, it is entirely understandable that the material Daisy accessed to write her article, and the conclusions she reached from it, has been read and taken as fact by countless others. It is not to argue with or shout down those who hold Daisy’s position, nor the author herself, that we write this statement. Feminisms are built on disagreeable women! Rather we would like to just add to the conversation with some information on the law, what it does/does not include, the reasons behind our campaign and particularly how pornographic depictions of rape differ from BDSM pornography.

Due to time constraints we can only point to previously published materials, though many do cover the points raised in this article. One point to comment on directly however is that “(o)nce again we are witnessing the attempts of men to exercise control over our agency, choice and desire.” The campaign was led by an all women team. It was drawn directly from the support work of women within Rape Crisis South London and was supported by the End Violence Against Women Coalition, Law Professors from Durham University including Professor Clare McGlynn and Professor Erika Rackley, Rape Crisis (England and Wales) and Women’s Aid among many other individuals and organisations, most of whom worked with, for and/or were themselves survivors of sexual violence. If anything we are witnessing the success of women exercising their agency to campaign for change.

The links below contain many additional links to information, research, evidence and opinion supporting the amendment to criminalise pornographic depictions of rape:

Legal Briefing

Content Analysis of Top 50 sites hosting pornographic depictions of rape … not a nipple clamp in sight

‘Criminalising Extreme Pornography: Five Years On’ – McGlynn and Rackley on The Extreme Pornography Provisions: A Misunderstood and Misused Law

Fiona Elvines: rape porn is an insult to men and an invitation to rapists / Comment is Free / 24th July 2013

Why I support criminalising pornographic depictions of rape.

Fiona Elvines is Operations Coordinator at Rape Crisis South London

Image courtesy of DFID

If you enjoyed this article and want to meet other feminists like, and unlike, yourself, join Feminist Times as a Member. Join us and support the building of an incredible feminist organisation and resources like this website.