Category Archives: Bodies

The Ecosexuals are Coming!

Last week, I sat down with a legend – a porn legend. Annie Sprinkle, sex worker, porn actress, performance artist and activist, has been making performances, films, and visual art for decades, educating her audiences about female sexuality and the political power of pleasure. Her work has played an impactful role in the history of feminism and the heated debates around pornography.

But recently, like other famously outspoken feminists – Germaine Greer, Vivienne Westwood, and Isabella Rossellini – Sprinkle’s work has turned eco-friendly, or to use a more appropriate term, ecosexual. Beth Stephens, artist, educator, and Sprinkle’s romantic partner and collaborator for the past 13 years, is the leader of their current project – a film about the devastating effects of mountaintop removal in Stephens’ homeland of West Virginia. Their film, Goodbye Gauley Mountain: An Ecosexual Love Story, premiered at the Sheffield Doc/Fest and the East End Film Festival this month. Over a lovely and lengthy brunch, Stephens and Sprinkle talked to me about their new film, their sensual relationship with the Earth, and their loving relationship with feminism.

LBH: I’m going to rewind a bit first – to 1989. Annie, Post-Porn Modernist was probably your most famous piece in the UK – do you consider that show feminist?

AS: Absolutely. 100%. I was trying to say that porn was a feminist issue, that you could make feminist porn. I did this show from 1989-1994. Post-Porn Modernist was a well-known piece, but the only place in England I did it was in Newcastle. I performed once at the ICA, but I had to censor the shit out of everything. Porn was illegal here, so I wasn’t able to do my shows. Post-Porn Modernist was my first one-woman show, and I was kind of like the first sex worker to do performance art, so it was hotly debated – is it art or is it porn? People were trying to figure out, can you be a sex worker and be a feminist? Can you be a pornographer and a feminist?

LBH: Do you feel like the work was accepted by the feminist movement at the time? I think what was so interesting about this piece is that it was happening at this incredibly rich moment in feminist history, where the issue of porn created a number of divergent feminist factions.

BS: It was accepted by the pro-porn movement, I can tell you that.

AS: I was never against the anti-porn feminists. I welcomed them, I welcomed the debate, I loved them. But they would often protest, shut things down. And they didn’t play fair – they wouldn’t even be in the same room with me, or have a discussion with me. Andrea Dworkin was the face of anti-porn feminist movement. I heard her speak and she gave a very impassioned speech. I disagreed with 75% but the other 25% was, yeah, there are crazy serial killers murdering women and children in their garages and videotaping it. Yes, we share that concern. But then she was speaking for me, that I was a victim, and I’m like, no, you’ve got that wrong. But I say we needed to have this conversation, and I was at the frontlines of that debate.

But you know what, when I was younger I wasn’t a feminist because I thought, if feminists were anti-porn, then I wasn’t feminist. It wasn’t until someone came up with the term  ‘sex-positive feminist’ that I said, ok I can identify. It gave a doorway for sex-workers, for all the women who weren’t anti-porn, to enter, and claim the feminist identity. That term gave me a place. That’s what we’re trying to do with ecosex. We’re trying to open the door for those who don’t feel they fit into the debate. The fact that there’s been no other queer, environmetalist film – that we know of yet – [means] there’s been no place.

LBH: Ok, so to the present day – can you tell me what ‘ecosexuality’ is?

AS: Ecosex is a sexual identity, in a way. Sexocology is the field of ecosexual art, theory, practice, and activism. In LoveArt Lab [a series of art and performance works about love] we performed 18 or 19 performance art weddings. In the first weddings we did, we married each other and the community. But in the 4th one, we married the Earth. The next day we were changed people. We made vows to love, honor and cherish the Earth in front of 400 people. Everyone there who wanted to also took the vows. We were thinking, how we can we care for our lover, Earth?

BS: What was really incredible about our green wedding is this: I was the chair of the Art Department of Santa Cruz (University of California) and we were able to get a lot of funding (from the University) to launch this wedding. The Chancellor of our university was there, a lot of sex workers, a lot of my students – [these weddings] are huge community building events, pedagogical events, political events. This marriage actually took place on the day that Prop 8 was overturned. Annie and I are of the position that if human beings can get all these rights through the act of marriage, why can’t the Earth get these rights too? The Earth is being destroyed.

AS: We teach these ecosexual workshops, where we teach people to connect sensually with the Earth. The pleasure, the erotic, sensual pleasure of just laying in the sun. Everything is alive, and everything is sexual. There is sex going on all around us in nature. So we put on these ecosexual eyes in the workshop and it really expands what sex is, which is a very feminist issue.

BS: It’s hugely empowering. Because women are really taught what sex is, how to have sex, and how to have the correct kind of sex. But sex can be anything you want it to be.

LBH: How do feminism and sexecology come together? How does your feminist politics inform the ecological politics of what you’re doing?

AS: It’s a feminist issue because people are raping, abusing, and disrespecting their mother. Our basic idea is instead of imagining the Earth as a mother – because within this metaphor, she is old, exploited, pissed off, and being treated like shit– we want to change this maternal archetype to lover.

BS: I think it’s a feminist issue because– I’m going to essentalise a little bit here – whether it’s biological or sociological, women have been left to take care of the children, and left to take care of each other. Free domestic labour is really about taking care of everyone else. And I think feminists have turned that care-taking into a theoretical position where women are more likely to be concerned about the good of the whole, rather than the promotion of individuals to dominate the whole. Feminists can definitely be bitchy or egocentric, which I actually think is great – when men are that way, they’re heroes; when women are that way, they’re put down. There is a component of individuality [about that bitchiness or egocentrism], but even the most individualist feminist thinkers are systems-thinkers, thinking about the whole. What Annie and I are trying to do is to knock down some of these binaries: [gender and sexuality binaries, but also those] between nature and culture, human and non-human, source and resource.

LBH: Can you tell me more about the film? Like most of your work, the film seems political, but also silly and warm. What is this film about for you?

BS: In Appalachia, 500 mountaintops have been removed through mountaintop removal. The Appalachian Mountains are the 2nd most bio-diverse region in the Western Hemisphere, and they’re being devastated. We’re really trying to garner empathy for the Earth [through this film]. There really is an interesting movement in feminist thought around our current geological age, which is an age caused by man-made destruction. So what we’re trying to do with the ecosexual movement is make it more sexy, fun and diverse. But we’re also trying to engage queer people and women. I think women need to mobilise and start thinking about the entire social body, which, like it or not, we’re responsible for.

AS: The environmental movement has a certain image of either the Sierra Club, this kind of conservative and white [organisation], and then the tree-hugger version, which is actually very heterosexual. We adore them all, but where is the place for the queers, the drag queens, the sex workers, the art students, the people of colour?

LBH: What do you feel are the biggest challenges for women today?

AS: I feel the movements I’ve been a part of are starting to eat their own, and kill their parents. For example, the trans movement now is eating their own. Some of these young people are anti-drag, and attacking Ru Paul, who’s done so much for the trans community.

BS: I encounter a lot of young women who don’t want to associate with ‘feminism’. But I think we’re at this moment where we really need to regroup, re-imagine and redefine what the issues we want to address are. And that’s what we’re doing through ecosexuality. I just heard Germaine Greer say, “Feminism has not happened yet”. That is so radical – and we completely agree.

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End sexual violence in conflict: Change will come from the Congolese

This week sees the End Sexual Violence in Conflict Summit–  a four-day event, organised by the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development. The summit is co-chaired by William Hague, the foreign secretary, and Angelina Jolie, Special Envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Many from the international establishment – governments, militaries and judiciaries from around the world will have representatives at the summit, as well as field experts. There’s also a three-day Fringe event open to members of the public and media, with exhibitions, discussions and performances from various Non Governmental Organisations and charities.

The Summit’s aim is to identify specific actions by the international community in four areas where greater progress is essential regarding sexual violence in conflict. Those four areas are improving investigations, providing more support and reparation for all survivors of sexual violence, ensuring a response to gender-based violence and promoting gender equality as an integral part of all reform, and improving international strategic coordination.

It’s been five years since I filmed my BBC3 documentary, The World’s Most Dangerous Place for Women. In it, I looked at the use of rape as a weapon of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo [DRC]. Since then, there has been a lot of change. Indeed, that the UK is hosting a summit on sexual violence in conflict shows the progress that’s been made in awakening the international community to a horrific humanitarian crisis. Whilst financial and security obstacles have kept me from returning to DRC since, I have continued to speak out on the atrocities occurring there, as I promised the incredible women who I met whilst filming. I was moved to see a substantial number of the global Congolese diaspora represented in all aspects of the Fringe event of this week’s summit – amongst the public, in the displays and stalls, through the performances and holding discussions on the situation in Congo. More heart warming was seeing how packed all these discussions were, with people interested or looking to learn more about the situation. In 2010, it was not always so.

The cause of sexual violence in Congo has always been a complex question to answer. It is this complexity which has often caused people to underestimate the scale of the issue, leading to certain aspects being more highlighted than others. It has become further complicated as the atrocities, initially committed by external troops in Congo, are now being committed by Congolese troops themselves. At the root of it all is the same issue – a lack of accountability, a system of impunity, and gender inequality.

At the Fringe I was able to speak to Fiona Lloyd-Davies, director of my documentary, who was attending the premiere of her new film Seeds of Hope – a documentary filmed over three years chronicling the work and story of the inspirational Masika Katsuva.

Katsuva, who I met in 2009 whilst filming, runs a refuge for women who are survivors of rape. Whilst watching Seeds of Hope, I was moved to tears at the progress Katsuva’s refuge has made since I last saw her. I was saddened however, to see the number of women relying on her refuge, a sign that whilst her awe-inspiring work empowering these women was producing results, that the danger to these women had not abated. In fact, as we learn in the documentary, Katsuva was raped again in 2012 following the attack in Minova, a period which saw her receive 130 new cases, the youngest of which was 11 years old.

During the question and answer session after the film, which is supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, Lloyd-Davies agreed that there had been a sea change of opinion and focus on the issue, a view supported by Dr. Denis Mukwege, the two-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee and founder of Panzi Hospital.

Dr Mukwege also believed that there had been positive change, but stressed the still precarious nature of the situation. He spoke of how only a week ago, 35 people were massacred in a church in the Bukavu region. Both Dr. Mukwege and Lloyd-Davies stressed that in order for further progress, a priority had to be made for the fighting in Congo to stop.

I asked Dr. Mukwege about what hope for the future in Congo, tackling this crisis. “There will be no lasting peace without justice,” he told me.  “Integrating criminals and militia into the [Congolese] army is unsustainable. We need to stop the culture of impunity until all who played a role in the atrocities are accountable”

Dr Mukwege also believes that the Congolese people themselves have the power to make change, both the global diaspora and the citizens. He believes that substantial change and evolution will “not come from the UN, or Special Envoy, but will come from the Congolese people”. This is a view shared by many of the Congolese NGOs and also by Lloyd-Davies.

Lloyd-Davies stressed it was important to view the women in her films, not only as victims, but survivors – three dimensional people with hopes as well as fears. These women were rebuilding their lives. She believes a lot of the solutions to Congo are in Congo itself and that perhaps instead of constantly looking to external solutions, we should aim to better support the internal solutions already in existence. As she so eloquently put it, “there are many more women like Masika.”

Anneke Van Woudenberg of Human Rights Watch, hosting the question and answer session for Seeds of Hope, spoke of a Congolese Justice system “on its knees” and of a need for better judiciary mechanisms. This view is shared by many Congolese activists and NGOs who stress for Congo to adopt a specialised mixed court for cases of sexual violence. A mixed court would see the Congolese Judiciary supported by international community to improve its efficacy. In the recent trial where thirty-nine soldiers were being prosecuted, only two of them were found guilty of rape. Senior command are consistently evading accountability and justice.

All of us, however, are hopeful that real lasting change can come to Congo. There are many positives to be taken from the last five years, such as the Minova trials, the capture of Bosco Ntaganda who is currently awaiting trial at the International Criminal Court, and this week’s Summit. It is up to the international community to continue to support the Congolese people by ensuring the discussions and decisions made at this summit will be followed up and implemented. The future of Congo depends on it.

Jude Wanga is a human rights campaigner, activist & freelance writer. Follow her @JudeInLondon 


Image: Foreign and Commonwealth Office via Flickr

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A Womb With a View: After birth – what I’ve learned…

IMG_6788So, here he is. Or, should I say, here we are.

Meet my five-week-old little boy, Evan, and his heavy-lidded, rocket-boobed, topsy-turvy mother. I’m someone changed quite a lot by the last month and a bit. I’m writing this with my thumb on my phone at 4.07am while feeding for starters (EDIT – I’ll be writing the rest of this column in 10-minute bursts in the next week-and-a-half when the baby’s gurgling at his cot’s mobile while farting/sleeping in his pram, which I’ve gingerly inched in from outside as he only conks out in the open air/cooing in the sling with his dad, at a time when I should really be catching up on sleep, blah blah blah).

I’m also someone who remains, despite everything, the same person.

The birth? Not conventional. Then again, whose is? I had an emergency caesarean section after 3 days of failed induction, at nearly 2 weeks over due date, and after countless alternative therapy sessions (yep, even this sceptic tried everything – and isn’t having your feet fiddled with for £60 divine). Pessaries and drips were applied, Mister still wasn’t shifting, his mum wasn’t dilating, and his heart-rate started levelling out.

And so the necessary was done. At 10.06am on Monday 28th April, in a bright operating theatre, my son made his entrance into the world. He was 9lb 4, 57cm long, with brown hair and a chubby belly. And yes, I’m lucky that I love him so very, very much.

Here’s some other things I learned about having a baby:

* Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, only backwards, and in high heels. First-time mums do very little that other people do, but they do keep another tiny person alive, with no specialist training or experience, one-handed, on no sleep, in mismatched leisurewear with a stray, leaky tit.

* Yes, yes – I know I’ve barely started, and I’m proving that happy mums whinge a lot. We got ourselves in this position etc, etc. But as a person largely responsible for fulfilling the needs of another breathing human, while you’re in recovery from 24 hours+ of agonising pain/major abdominal surgery/a torn perineum, while everyone else tells you this is all normal, surely you’re allowed a grumble. You disagree? Then bugger off.

* Newborns rarely sleep for more than three hours at a time, if that. I missed this fact in the endless reams of baby literature I read beforehand. Mine is pretty good at kip (EDIT – I lie – the last two nights have been like living with the creature off Eraserhead – EDIT – he’s changed again, he was an angel last night ­- EDIT – this only proves the inconsistency of babies). Anyway, their short sleeping cycles should remind mothers of three little words. Take. Things. Easy.

* A diversion for my brief Caesarean Section. The idea of being too posh to push – ie that caesareans are the easy option – is, quite frankly, ludicrous. Before mine, I hadn’t realised how big an operation a c-section was; five weeks on, the seven-inch smile on my abdomen and the residual aches and pains reminds me I’m still recovering. If you have one, don’t panic – I am still in awe of them, genuinely, as a baby with an impacted head got pulled out of that tiny slit, somehow – but you need to remember how big these ops were after the fact. So: accept help from all sides. Buy a load of high-waisted, non-sexy granny knickers (thank you, John Lewis). Live in yoga trousers bought hurriedly online that make you look like you eat quinoa for breakfast. Take your bloody painkillers. Slob in front of DVDs you love when you’re feeding to cheer yourself up. Don’t be a martyr. You don’t have to be Superwoman.

* Don’t accept too many visitors. Or be prepared to tell people to sod off. You will probably be knackered and crave your own time more than ever before (then again, do see friends if it’ll make you feel a bit better, and if family are bringing warm arms to help you with the baby, then accept them).

* Our generation give ourselves a lot more shit about parenting than our mums and dads did. They only had people around them to ask, and most of us turned out OK. There’s a lesson in there, somewhere.

* The internet is unhelpful. Type any question about your baby’s health into Google, and the responses you’ll get will largely be from “normal mums”. Normal mums who a) you don’t know, b) might be mad, c) might be smug, d) keep telling you to “trust in the Lord’s work”, e) keep telling you to “trust in nature”. If I’d trusted in nature, as many women have to in countries less developed than ours, my baby and I might not have been here now.

* The internet is amazing. During endless night feeds, you can play Word Scramble, read the news, nose at people’s normal lives on Facebook, receive advice from countless wonderful people about your baby through Facebook, and text your mum-pals on Whatsapp. Which last point brings me to the the biggest tip of all…

* Meeting people having kids the same time as you, through antenatal classes or activities, or post-natal support groups, is essential. Knowing you’re not the only mad harpy worrying about every burp, sick or poo will change your life.

* The mental health of new mothers is a huge priority for healthcare professionals, as it should be, but normal anxieties get pathologised too much. Worried you might break your baby? Or drop it down the stairs? Every mum I’ve spoken to thought that too, so these worries aren’t necessarily a sign of incoming depression. Other medical issues get less attention, however, like babies that have tongue-tie (this is when babies’ tongues need a snip to help them feed properly). I know four recent babies who had this condition, and their mothers had to fight hard to find out if their children needed help. Without help, babies struggle to gain weight, spend hours at the breast, making their mothers, ironically, more and more distressed. All these women need is someone trained to have a very quick look at their little ones. So listen up, NHS.

* Becoming a mum soon? You will be endlessly grateful for having cooked and frozen meals before the big event. If you like being at the hob, as I do, this is what maternity leave is for (I also enjoyed solo cinema trips, afternoon dozes, and forages for weird old documentaries on the iPlayer – do use your maternity leave to do gentle things you enjoy). If you haven’t cooked and frozen food before baby comes, tell friends not to bring presents round, but something that can be shoved into a pot, or the oven in one dish, and eaten out of a bowl with one hand.

* A tea towel placed over a baby’s head helps you eat out of a bowl with one hand.

* Long, patterned, diaphanous scarves are essential pieces of kit for any new mum (not plain colours, ladies – these will show up dribble, or worse). Scarves help you feed discreetly when you need to, or hang over your pram, especially when the sun suddenly deigns to blaze out on a previously grey day (thanks for that, British spring).

* “Nature is amazing, science is awesome”. My friend Ellie, who gave me advice about what to do about the in-hospital Bounty reps in my previous column, said this to me in a text while I was still in recovery. It’s still the best sentence ever. For instance, when I was sad about Evan not having arrived in the usual way, and my body not having done what it “should” have done, I realised that every time he fed – which was, and is, often – I felt my stomach cramp, and this was helping me heal. Breastfeeding helps the womb contract, and reduce to its old size; now, five weeks on, I look pretty much as I did before I was pregnant. Somehow, our bodies also keep us awake in these difficult weeks, and power us through. But science also has its place, beyond doubt. Take Evan, on antibiotics for a week after he showed signs of infection, who is now absolutely thriving (EDIT – today’s weigh-in – 11 pounds – oof). Things don’t have to be either/or. Let’s use everything we’ve got to keep Mum and baby well.

* If your mum/friends seem to be posting pictures of their babies too often on social media, consider this: that may have been the most constructive thing she felt she did with her day, or the one moment when baby was happy that she wanted to preserve. Facebook pictures are little markers that say, yes, world, I can manage this.

* Midwives are brilliant, undervalued people. One upside of me being in hospital for a week is that I had fantastic midwifery care. I’d go further, in fact: when you’re a new mum, there’s something to be said for having a longer stay in hospital than six tiny hours (the usual time now), and being cared for by people who have been there, and done that. In hospital, I got specialist breastfeeding advice that proved invaluable later, was watched over by a midwife while I slept in bed with my baby (who wouldn’t sleep in his crib, when I’d hardly any sleep for five days), had every question answered about my baby’s qualities and quirks, and felt properly monitored. It’s helped me ever since.

* I’ve also got a new-found respect for the power of women. I’ve had so many of them help me immeasurably since Evan arrived – both professionally and personally – and as a result, I’m enjoying my little boy so very, very much. Here’s to all of you, ladies. And here’s to us. We’re still here!

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

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Summertime body-shaming is upon us: No more bikini body war!

Body-shaming is all around us, all the time. It feels, though, as if it’s particularly acute in the summer. Your body has to be thin, tanned, hairless, free of cellulite, and your face must be impeccably made-up even in sweltering heat via specially-purchased summer beauty products. And you definitely aren’t allowed to sweat.

Even when you accept and understand that these are completely arbitrary and sexist cultural requirements, actually doing something about it feels like an intimidating challenge. I can’t tell you the number of times edgily simplistic Twitter and Tumblr posts have told us all that the way to get a bikini body is to ‘have body, wear bikini.’ It’s fairly obvious it’s not that easy, though. If we weren’t in a culture that reviled fatness, body hair, scars, body shapes that aren’t precisely proportioned hourglasses then yes, it would simply be a question of ‘have body, wear bikini’.

I don’t think I have what many people would call a dream body. I’m visibly fat, with thick, dark body hair. I don’t shave my armpits ever, and I shave my legs maybe once or twice a year as the mood takes me. I have large surgical scars that cut across my stomach and break up any chance of a ‘smooth silhouette.’

I’m now in a position where I’m happy to wear a tiny bikini that shows all my abundant near-radioactively pale fat without shaving my legs and underarms or having my ‘bikini line’ (read: pubic hair) waxed for the occasion. Did it happen overnight? Hell no.

One year I started to go out with bare legs under skirts. The next I bought a high-waisted bikini and didn’t shave my legs or underarms when I wore it on the beach. This year I’ve found a particularly minuscule tie-side zebra print bikini that I’m looking forward to wearing without fear.

For anyone who knows the tyranny of summertime body-shaming is entirely socially constructed but doesn’t know how to do anything about it, I would recommend a try-and-see process. It’s so easy to get so caught up in the lies about how a woman’s body should look that that we’re too scared to test our personal limits. Giving yourself a chance to go out in public without shaving your legs or without worrying that your fat thighs or your upper arms are on show is the only way to prove to yourself that, in all likelihood, nothing bad will happen to you.

When I’m holding onto a railing on the bus and I’m wearing a sleeveless top, I get a couple of surprised looks or bemused whispers among teenage girls because of my unshaven underarms. When I’m out with my crop top on exposing my many inches of wobbly abdominal flesh, people stare like they’ve never seen anything like it before. And maybe they haven’t.

The reason you think it’s a big deal is because there are so few positive representations of fat women in swimwear in the media. The reason you think you can’t have body hair and be attractive is because you so seldom see representations of female body hair which are framed as attractive. Being fat and confident in a bikini seems unthinkable to many because in films and TV, you put a fat woman in a bikini so you can laugh at her. But it doesn’t have to be like that – I promise!

Although it shouldn’t be, every time you subvert cultural norms about how a body should look in public, that’s a victory. Even if the idea of photographing yourself in swimwear is unthinkable, maybe try and build up to a point where recording your victory is something you want to do. I, for one, know I’ve had lots of comments and emails saying other women have felt empowered to get more of their bodies out more publicly as a result of seeing me and other fat bloggers doing the same- and publicising our efforts. Absolutely no one has a duty to put themselves in a position where they feel uncomfortable, but the more of us go out there and impose our so-called subversive image on the general public, the less uncomfortable that experience becomes, for everyone.

Give yourself a chance to figure out exactly what you want to be doing with your body, what makes you feel beautiful, what makes you feel empowered. Dip your toe in the water and see if you like the ripples. Maybe even start this summer. It’s not easy, but it’s not as hard as you might think.

Bethany Rutter is a fat activist, blogger, DJ and journalist, and writes a blog about bodies and clothes at

Photo: Mario Antonio Pena Zapatería via Flickr

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Brown beauty: from TV to the high st the beauty industry is still racist

As a woman of colour who finds great joy in wearing lipstick, I’ve long understood that that some make up products were off limits to my skin colour. Foundation and concealer samples provided free with women’s magazines would smear, chalk-like on my skin. There was a universal skin colour aimed at consumers, and I wasn’t it. But there were other products- mascara, lip gloss, nail polish- that I could buy without a feeling of unease.

Still now, women of colour have to consider paying three times as much as our white counterparts for makeup products that match the colour of our skin. What’s stocked in lower end shops such as Boots and Superdrug does not cater to us. So, if we’re into make-up, we head to the brands that cater to professional make up artists who work with all kinds of faces- MAC, Nars, and Bobbi Brown, to name a few.

We’re consistently reminded that our attributes are not the ‘norm’ – the norm being white, of course. This attitude is endemic. Turning up to take part in television interview recently, I was sent to hair and makeup before appearing live on air. There was no concealer available for the colour of my skin, and no comb for the texture of my afro hair.

So it wasn’t a surprise that some of the UK’s most well-known beauty brands ignored the existence of women of colour attending the Afro Hair and Beauty Show on May’s bank holiday weekend. Instead, the show was chock full of not just hair companies, but smaller, independent brands too. There are products from high street companies that women of colour buy from regularly, yet for some reason, our interests are considered niche. It doesn’t seem to make business sense ignoring a large concentration of women in the same venue all weekend, all of whom would have been more than likely to buy products if the brands were exhibiting.

The Afro Hair and Beauty Show isn’t anything new, and there aren’t many reasons to ignore the show, beyond ignorance and marginalisation. 2014 was the show’s 33rd year in business. I can understand the reasons behind its existence – mainstream brands were not, and still aren’t acknowledging women of colour. Whilst it’s important for women of colour to organise separately until we have adequate representation, it’s no longer acceptable for those who dominate the industry to tune out black women’s efforts.

Afua Adom, a journalist working at Pride Magazine, summarised the problems succinctly in an interview with trade website Features Exec. ‘It’s sad to say, but some companies (namely Topshop) and PRs still aren’t keen to send us images or clothes for shoots because they are just, to say it simply, racist. Just because we are a magazine for black women doesn’t mean we don’t reach a huge number of people. It’s silly and makes them look really small and petty.’

And so magazines like Black Hair, Pride, and Black Beauty continue to exist. Black media isn’t just about politics; it’s about creating the representation that’s denied to us. Black women beauty bloggers are organising separately from the mainstream movement and the parallels to the historical splits in feminism are undeniable.

Ever resourceful, it’s up to women of colour to organise and kick up enough of a fuss until we are heard. With the explosion of successful beauty bloggers online in recent years, it was black women on twitter who came up with the idea of a weekly beauty discussion on Sunday evenings. Scroll through the hashtag #brownbeauty at the right time of day and you’ll enter into discussion on co-washing, hair texture, or hand creams. It has recently evolved into a website, Brown Beauty Talk, edited by marketing guru Ronke Adeyemi.

Ronke explains to me why she set up Brown Beauty Talk. ‘ We saw a gap in the market for a platform, a dialogue for women of colour to discuss beauty – topics like choosing the right shade of foundation, or transitioning hair from relaxed to natural… We also try and do a bit of lobbying with mainstream brands.’

With consumer influence transferring from traditional beauty editors in the press to bloggers and vloggers reviewing products online, the insulated, echoing whiteness of the PR industry reveals itself. It is public relations professionals who work on behalf of beauty brands to try and gain as much coverage as possible. Just 2% of people working in the PR industry identify as black or Asian.

Echoing Afua Adom’s comments on Topshop, Ronke says ‘There’s a massive disconnect between us and the decision makers… black bloggers still aren’t being invited to PR outreach events. We have a long way to go. Just look at Stylist Magazine – it doesn’t reflect the multicultural city it’s distributed in. We actually approached Stylist a while ago, and we asked ‘where are the women of colour?’ They were astounded. They didn’t think they were doing anything wrong.’

At the root of the problem is the question of who gets to participate in constructions of femininity. Whilst I can get behind feminist critiques of the restrictiveness of femininity, it’s important to examine who gets to access it in the first place. There’s no denying the beauty industry is institutionally racist. Brands that do not cater to black skins in the West sell skin lightening creams in other, blacker parts of the world. When femininity is still considered the arbiter of womanhood, we have to hark back to abolitionist activist Sojourner Truth who, in 1851, asked ‘ain’t I a woman, too?’

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

Photo: Wikimedia

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Why don’t you use the female condom?

Despite having been available for years, and its near endless list of benefits, the female condom has not had the level of popularity or success that global health and women’s rights advocates have hoped for. For those of you who aren’t yet familiar with the female condom, it’s an enjoyable little device that women can initiate on their own and that protects both partners while maintaining a warmer and more natural sensation than the male condom.

The female condom is a sheath of clear flexible material (latex, nitrile, or polyurethane) that can be inserted up to several hours before the sexual act, avoiding its interruption. Its outer ring provides an additional level of protection against sexually transmitted infections, and men have repeatedly stated how great the sensation of the inner ring feels during sex. If taught correctly, women can better negotiate condom use with stubborn husbands and partners, taking greater control over their sexuality and reproduction. It can also play a significant role in keeping sex workers safe and healthy as they can use the female condom as an alternative to inserting a sponge during their periods in order to maintain their work schedule – behaviour seen throughout Latin America.

So why hasn’t the female condom become more popular? Many argue that one of the female condom’s barriers to success is its price. Unfortunately, there isn’t yet enough competition on the market to drive the price down. Currently there are two World Health Organisation pre approved models on the market: Cupid Limited’s Cupid Condom (with a small sponge inside) and the Female Health Company’s FC2 (with a small flexible inner ring). Each are several times more expensive than male condoms. Yet several studies have shown that creating access to the female condom leads to higher levels of safe sex, lower HIV/AIDS transmission, and prevents many unwanted pregnancies, saving governments hundreds of thousands of dollars on top of their initial investment. Others state that the female condom has design drawbacks such as the visible outer ring that makes some women self-conscious. The stereotype that the female condom is noisy (an issue that has been eliminated thanks to design changes) may also be keeping people from giving it a shot.

I would maintain that these characteristics don’t have the impact that some argue, but that instead the female condom’s biggest hurdle is society’s refusal to allow women a greater role in their sexuality and reproduction. Just as the sexual needs and pleasure of women come second, so do the tools and contraceptive methods that put them in control. However, there are ways around this.

In Chile, like in many other countries, the female condom is not yet available. Thus the International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS (ICW Chile) has decided to lead a strategic campaign to create dual access to the female condom through the National Health System and market vendors, as well as generating acceptance and demand for the product.

ICW Chile will reach out to young men and women, hoping to prevent HIV in the next generation of adults and encouraging young women to take control from the beginning of their sex lives. They will reach out to sex workers through condom negotiation workshops and teach the health benefits of using the condom during their period. They will speak to married couples in regions where HIV rates are high, and teach men that the female condom feels fantastic and that it gives them one less responsibility to worry about. ICW Chile will also work with transgender men and women, HIV positive women, and young mothers to attempt to mainstream the topic and receive thousands of signatures, eventually presenting a master petition to the government and encouraging the purchase of female condoms for the National HIV/AIDS and STD Prevention Program.

The hope is that this strategic introduction of the female condom will outweigh latent machismo in Chile and will give women an opportunity to protect themselves, especially from transmission of HIV/AIDS in their marriage. By 2015, ICW Chile hopes to have convinced the Chilean Government of the importance of the female condom. Soon Chile will be one less country where women are simply dependent on the generosity of men to put on a male condom.

Carolynn Poulsen is the Program Manager at ICW Chile

Photo: Wikimedia

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Fourth-wavers: We still need to fight for abortion.

I’ve had an abortion. Several women I know have had an abortion. Some have had more than one and one friend has had four.

With one in three women having an abortion in their lifetime, why is it that we still can’t talk about it?

I made short film, Break the Taboo, because the shame that people expected me to feel when I mention having an abortion – quite frankly – filled me with frustration.

People would push me to show remorse with sympathetic funeral-like comments whilst looking at me as though I’m a slut who has just lost an arm to leprosy. My usual response is: I’m not sorry.

It’s a circumstance that I wish I had not encountered, but I made the right decision to have a termination. Without it I wouldn’t be who I am today. I wouldn’t have met and be engaged to the most wonderful man. I wouldn’t be working in a career I love. I wouldn’t be surrounded by the loveliest, warmest friends.

Where would I be? Well, taking into account where I was at the time of the abortion, I would probably be single, with no career and no friends that I can truly connect with. Lonely and struggling is probably where I would be.

91 percent of women who have an abortion do so within thirteen weeks and the majority of us chose an abortion not due to some tragic foetal abnormality, not because of rape, and not because our life is in danger. Our stories are neither exciting nor dramatic; they are everyday and sometimes even a little dull.

We choose to have an abortion because the time isn’t right, we want to focus on our career, our financial circumstances are difficult, or because (shock, horror) we just don’t want a child. As a result we continued to be ridiculed and victimized for choosing our future over our fetus.

As someone on Guardian comments put it: “once a woman consents to have sex, she consents to being pregnant.” This made me laugh aloud, whilst simultaneously wailing in fear of society.

When attitudes like this exist, why don’t us feminists speak out louder and tell the world that women have the right to choose? Why isn’t abortion firmly on the fourth waves agenda?

When Big Brother wannabe, Josie Cunningham, chose an abortion in order to pursue her career the social media erupted with hate. She received an avalanche of violent threats that would make a Guantanamo Bay guard take notes.

The right to an abortion is a basic human right that Britain has signed-up to. The 1967 Abortion Act has saved countless women’s lives from backstreet abortions. Why? Because whether abortion is legal or not, the demand will always be there.

Just yesterday I met a woman who had a backstreet abortion in 1965. She told me that ‘everyone had one’ and couldn’t recall anyone who had regretted it. It was a life-threatening procedure that around 40 women a year died from in the UK. For all those who mourn those aborted foetus’, who mourns the women so desperate that they risk death?

It’s time we stopped judging those who terminate their pregnancies and talked about their reasons for wanting an abortion by looking at a woman’s circumstance in its individuality. It’s time at we genuinely accept that a woman has a right to decide what her future looks like. Not the strangers who threatened to throw acid in Ms Cunningham’s face, or told her she should die.

When I speak about my abortion people are shocked because I’m not ashamed.

When Emily Letts posted a video of her experience online she received criticism because she is also unashamed. She shared her story to help make this horrible process easier to suffer which is in itself controversial – abortion mustn’t be an ‘easy’ experience. It must be a terrible and painful procedure to make women ‘learn their lesson’. Yet there’s no evidence that speaking about abortion and making the process more bearable will encourage more abortions.

We need to fight for abortion, because women’s reproductive rights globally are rolling backwards. It’s a devastating scenario that fills me with fear for women now and our future generations.

We need to fight for abortion to let the rest of the world know that, for 51 percent of the population, it is a health procedure and a decision that should be ours to take.

We need to fight for abortion, to tell women that they should not be ashamed. That one in three of us will have one in our lifetime, and it’s OK.

Let’s fight for abortion.

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

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“Silly, attention-seeking girl”: self-harm is a feminist issue

This week, to coincide with the national Mental Health Awareness Week, we’re publishing a series of articles looking at feminism and mental health. Some readers may find this content distressing.

The last time I sought support around self-harm the response was, ‘Have you considered a cookery class?’

At the time I wasn’t clear how this would help me deal with the next time I came out of a disassociated state to discover I had attacked myself with scissors, but over time it has started to make more sense.

Working for Bristol Crisis Service for Women (soon to be Self-Injury Support), a national women’s self-injury support organisation, every new report about self-harm in the media makes me a little more demoralised. The findings generally come as no surprise, but it’s the platitudes from high-ups that accompany these articles that I find so depressing.

‘We must put an end to this,’ is an oft quoted pledge, but to be honest in my years working in this sector it feels like the will to understand self-harm has stagnated in a flurry of desire to be seen to be ‘doing something,’ regardless of what that something is.

Self-harm isn’t a new phenomenon, but how we conceptualise it has changed over time. Self-flagellation and scarification have existed for centuries. Studies of self-harm in Victorian literature show a holistic approach considering self-harm to have psychological and emotional meaning. As we moved further into the twentieth century the medicalization of self-harm drew us away from trying to understand to focus on trying to fix the obvious wound and the societal discomfort it evoked.

The underpinning ethos of our organisation is to focus on why someone uses self-harm and what they want support with. We know from years of research that the vast majority of self-harm is symptomatic of something else going on in someone’s life. Each person’s experience is unique and it could be anything – from bullying or social isolation to past or present experiences of sexual violence.

Focusing on preventing someone from using self-harm puts them under huge pressure and removes a way of coping that is working for them. For some people this can lead to a shift to more ‘socially acceptable’ things such as drinking or eating to excess or gambling. For others it can remove a safety net standing between them and suicide.

If we look at self-harm and self-injury in only the narrow context of what and who then it does appear to be an overwhelmingly female and more specifically young female issue. But these are the figures we know about collected from studies focusing on hospital attendances and targeted research, often with young people.

Recent research has shown that rates of men and women self-harming are no longer in such sharp contrast when forms of self-harm other than cutting and overdoses are taken into account.

So perhaps it’s not the act of self-harm which is a feminist issue but the response we offer as a society. From being told you’re a ‘silly girl’ when seeking treatment for self-harm to being vilified for ‘daring to bare’ long-healed self-harm scars, responses to self-harm in women reflect wider themes for women in today’s society. Even the language often attached to perceptions of self-harm – attention-seeking, manipulative, hysterical – is overwhelmingly associated with negative traits commonly attributed to women.

The focus on women’s appearance as a defining factor of their worth is constant and raises its ugly head around self-harm in a number of ways. Clumsy attempts to stop women self-harming often include pleas to stop as it will spoil their bodies; they will regret the scars later; they will repel other people.

Women’s bodies are often not seen and sometimes not experienced as their own. A common consideration for me when using self-harm was always where, not for reasons of safety, but to preserve my privacy and prevent others from feeling they had the right to comment on my body. Others feeling they can comment and ask complete strangers about self-harm scars is such a common issue that a colleague of mine role plays with women so they feel confident enough to respond with ‘I did it myself, why do you want to know?’

This lack of bodily autonomy also extends to the coercive approaches sometimes used in relation to self-harm by others in a supporting role. Attempts to persuade someone to stop using self-harm often focus on the impact it is having on others and their discomfort, effectively dictating what a women can and can’t do with her own body.

I realise now that the suggestion of a cookery class was nothing to do with me, but at the time it only reinforced the feeling that my body and any damage I was doing to it were of little importance. As often happens the emphasis of support was disproportionately focused away from the distress I was feeling.

There’s no denying that self-harm is an emotive and often distressing issue – that’s why our organisation exists. But responses which reinforce some of the very reasons women use self-harm are as much a reason to consider self-harm a feminist issue as the causes.

Naomi Salisbury works for Bristol Crisis Service for Women, a national self-injury support organisation for women and girls. Follow @BCSWBristol, or for information and support, visit:

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Anorexia: an “anti-feminist” battle with my own body?

This week, to coincide with the national Mental Health Awareness Week, we’re publishing a series of articles looking at feminism and mental health. Some readers may find this content distressing.

Being force-fed will always be one of the most traumatic, violating experiences of my life. To have a tube rammed into you, painfully, without your consent, and to witness your body change into one that repulses you is deeply humiliating. Eating is personal, as is safeguarding the boundaries of one’s own flesh. When I yanked out the tube, it was pushed back in. When I stopped resisting, I learned to be ashamed. For months afterwards I couldn’t raise my voice above a whisper. For years afterwards I couldn’t eat in public and simply wanted to disappear.

Anorexia is a complicated illness. Without force-feeding, I might have died. I know this and hence, since I want to be alive, I feel the need to come to terms with the feeding. Nonetheless, I’m wary of admitting to this. I don’t want it to sound as though I condone the force-feeding of other anorexia sufferers. I don’t feel I have the right to do that. A person’s body is his or her own and freedom of choice is integral to maintaining a sense of self. And yet, while force-feeding might have made me a lesser person – a more damaged person – without it I might not be a person at all. It’s a circle I’ve never quite managed to square.

As a feminist, I believe that one of the greatest sources of inequality lies in the belief that women don’t own their bodies. Viewed as sexual objects, incubators or foils against which masculinity defines itself, they are seen as less than human, as things to be used, shaped and sliced. In this context my battle with my own body could be seen as anti-feminist. I am ashamed at my failure to feel at one with myself; I have let the side down. And yet if feminism values choice and the right to self-definition, perhaps I shouldn’t feel this way. Women’s choices under patriarchy are rarely pure and our responses, like the feeding tube, may never be wholly good or bad. Even so, this doesn’t excuse us from having to make decisions, both about our own lives and the lives of others.

In recent years the focus of mainstream feminism has shifted somewhat from structural critique to an emphasis on respect and self-validation, something Rosalind Gill and Ngaire Donaghue call “the turn to agency”. There is obviously some value in this; it questions the notion that women are cultural dupes, following patriarchy’s rules without any degree of investment or engagement. It tells women that they are not victims and creates a sense that they can influence their own surroundings.

However, there is a downside. If any critique of meaningful responses to oppression is understood as a critique of individuals – a denial of agency – then what tools do we use to judge the choices women make? Are we permitted to judge at all and, if not, is there any form of acceptable intervention when women do harm to themselves?

I think, within a patriarchal culture in which women’s bodies are exploited, objectified and ridiculed daily, an eating disorder is not an irrational choice. The beliefs and rituals that maintain an ED are irrational (since that is how the mind responds to starvation) but to want to control the boundaries of one’s body and take up as little space as possible seems to me a perfectly logical response to trauma. Hence I am somewhat defensive of pro-ana websites and irritated by “body acceptance” drives. As a student, I remember being annoyed by a slogan touted by our college women’s officer: There are 3 billion women who don’t look like supermodels and only eight who do. Don’t think thin, think different. “But,” I’d think, “being like 3 billion other women isn’t being different!” While I didn’t want to look like a supermodel, neither did I want to be told to be “normal”.

In some ways anorexia felt like a great big “fuck you” to everyone’s values. In those days I didn’t wash my hair or wear makeup. I wore children’s clothing. I knew I looked unpleasant but it was an unpleasantness I owned (whereas now I merely fail to be beautiful; there is no active rejection, I just glide into the failing that is the lot of most women).

When people told me anorexia was controlling me, I felt outraged. Anorexia was me. How dare they deny my agency! And in this way I see difficulties in the line choice feminism seeks to tread. Whether we’re talking about behavioural trends in parenting or sex work or body modification, no woman wants to be told she is a victim – and yet some of us are. You can be a victim and an agent at one and the same time. You don’t even have to feel like a victim.

Mental health is a fuzzy area, particularly in terms of how diagnoses have been used against women. To be told you are mad is to be told you cannot judge your own reality. Women are told this time and again. It’s rarely true and there’s no definitive test that will tell you when it is true. Even so, it doesn’t mean madness can’t kill you.

I don’t know what happened to most of the women I met during my later treatments. Those that I am aware of have either died in their thirties or spent the past two decades drifting from one hospitalisation to another. I’m the only one who is relatively unscathed, yet part of me believes this is because I am a sell-out or a fraud. At the same time, I am furious that these lives have been wasted (and yes, to talk of “wasted lives” is judgmental, but it is a waste, a terrible one). But what would I do? Tell these women what bodies they should occupy? Hold them down and force in a feeding tube myself? Or endorse their reality, since perhaps that’s all they’ll ever have? As feminists we need to admit that sometimes, the answers aren’t clear-cut.

VJD Smith (Glosswitch) is a lifelong feminist and mother of two who edits language books when she’s not tied up with parenting, blogging and ranting.  Find out more @Glosswitch or

If you have been affected by an eating disorder, visit beat or Mind for information and support, or call the beat helpline on 0845 634 1414.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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#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:

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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!

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The march backwards: Women’s sexual & reproductive rights at risk

Thilde Knudsen is head of Marie Stopes International’s Europe office.

Spain is about to criminalise abortion; politicians in the UK repeatedly attempt to reduce the 24-week limit; and last week in Brussels, a Parliamentary hearing discussed a European Citizens’ initiative that, if successful, would block European Commission (EC) development funding for maternal health.

Working for sexual and reproductive health charity, Marie Stopes International, I know that every day 800 women die during pregnancy or childbirth, and 99% of these women are from the developing world. This is why the international community identified maternal health as one of the eight Millennium Development Goals and why the European Union (EU) apportions development funding to maternal health each year.

But the ‘One of Us’ initiative, which aims to block EC funding for any activities that involve the destruction of the human embryo, would adversely affect development aid to maternal health projects: projects that enable women in developing countries to make life-saving choices over their fertility; projects that help young women delay pregnancy until they are physically developed to safely deliver; and projects that give mothers time to recover before giving birth to their next child.

Data proves that the initiative is sadly misguided. Restricting safe abortions through similar interventions like the global gag policy in America does not lead to lower abortion rates, it just pushes it underground. The only proven way to reduce the number of abortions is through access to modern contraception and sexuality education, both of which could be adversely affected by the ‘One of Us’ initiative.

Today, it is estimated that roughly half of all women living in developing countries do not have access to adequate basic maternal health care and that 220 million have an unmet need for family planning. The consequences of this include almost 300,000 preventable maternal deaths every year, millions of women affected by debilitating injury such as obstetric fistula, and the perpetuation of poverty and disempowerment as women are unable to delay childbearing or to choose their family size. This is why continued EU support for maternal health and family planning is essential.

The EC currently spends an estimated €121.5 million per year on maternal health and family planning – equivalent to approximately 1.3% of the funding gap to meet the unmet need for maternal health and family planning.

Thankfully, ‘One of Us’ is unlikely to achieve its aims. The initiative, which celebrated its 1.8 million signatures with much fanfare, is in reality just over a quarter of one percent of the population of Europe. Critics have also pointed out that the way European Citizen initiatives are structured give an advantage to large organisations, like the Catholic Church, to mobilise their supporters.

However, this is not a green light for complacency. On the contrary, it should be a warning to everyone who believes in women’s rights that we have been silent too long. In Europe women are often deemed to have achieved equal rights. Since the 60s – when women’s liberation movements stood up and called for sweeping changes to access to equal pay, divorce and abortion – the passionate demonstrations, speeches and rallies have gradually gone quiet, and today many young women would never dream of calling themselves a feminist.

Yet our complacency is proving to be very dangerous, as the hard-won rights our mothers fought for are slowly being chipped away. Who would have predicted that Spain would be bringing in a draconian bill to end women’s rights to safe abortion, making it one of the most restrictive countries in Europe? If Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy has his way, abortion will be illegal except in the case of rape or when there’s a risk to the physical and mental health of the mother, and women could soon be resorting to the same dangerous methods they relied on decades ago: seeking out backstreet abortions or attempting to end the pregnancy themselves.

Just outside Europe’s borders in Turkey, where abortion was legalised in 1983 because of the high numbers of deaths by backstreet abortions, a new law just passed that health professionals and human rights activists have warned will make it impossible for women in the country to gain access to legal abortions.

While movements like ‘One of Us’ are attempting to erode women’s rights and mislead European citizens about the importance and value of our development assistance and maternal healthcare, we need to make our voices heard and Make Women Matter. There is an urgent need for the global community to work together in meeting the full funding gap, in order to save and transform the lives of millions who live in poverty. Europe must stand for access to the whole range of sexual and reproductive services – including access to safe abortion when needed – here at home in Europe, and in partnership with other governments around the world.

Marie Stopes International provides millions of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable women with quality family planning and reproductive healthcare. It has been delivering contraception, safe abortion, and mother and baby care for over thirty years and operates in over 40 countries around the world. By providing high quality services where they are needed the most, it prevents unnecessary deaths and makes a sustainable impact on the lives of millions of people every year.

Photo: Marie Stopes International’s work in India

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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.


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: or follow @ScotteeScottee

Photos: Holly Revell

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Manifesto: Doctors of the World campaign for women to be “Names not Numbers”

Doctors of the World provides essential medical care to excluded people at home and abroad while fighting for equal access to healthcare worldwide. We are part of the Medecins du Monde global network, which delivers over 300 projects in more than 70 countries.

Whether it’s providing mental healthcare to Syrian refugees, vaccinating children in Mali, or delivering babies in the DRC we meet the health needs of vulnerable people across the planet. And where possible, we share our skills and training locally so communities stay strong in the long term. We also work with the most marginalised to report on violence, injustice and healthcare barriers wherever we see them.


Our work with women in the UK

  • We run a clinic and advocacy programme in east London staffed by volunteers who provide care to excluded people such as vulnerable migrants, sex workers and people with no fixed address.
  • We have a team of doctors, nurses, and support workers who endeavour to help everyone who comes to see us with medical care, information and practical support.
  • We see heavily pregnant women who have received no antenatal care and children who have been denied basic healthcare after being de-registered by a GP.
  • We help these women find the care they deserve with GP’s and hospitals, ensuring that they are not at risk of further harm.

Our work with women overseas

  • Women and children living in developing countries lack access to obstetric healthcare services, resulting in high rates of morbidity and mortality.
  • Many of Doctors of the World’s women and child health programmes are based in rural areas, where affordable pre and post-natal health services are unavailable.
  • Globally, over 300,000 women die every year during pregnancy or childbirth, with 56% of these in sub-Saharan Africa. Most maternal and infant deaths are caused by infections that could have been easily prevented.
  • Doctors of the World works to combat high rates of maternal and infant mortality by improving access to basic healthcare services in areas where women and children have no means of receiving care.

Women’s right to choose

  • We support the universal access to modern methods of contraception and the abolition of all legislative barriers which limit it, and access to quality sexual and reproductive health services that are underpinned by a woman’s right to choose.
  • We believe that it is every woman’s right to choose to access safe, legal abortion services by decriminalising terminations and reducing unsafe abortion-related deaths and complications.
  • We recognize that 300,000 women die every year from complications during pregnancy or unsafe abortions, which could be avoided through straightforward access to family planning.
  • We have started an advocacy campaign, Names not Numbers, to raise awareness of the legislative changes necessary to prevent further senseless deaths.
  • We consider that governments should put the following in place to protect women’s health and their right to choose:
      1. To guarantee universal access to contraceptive methods
      2. To consider illegal abortion as a public health issue
      3. To cater for post-abortion complications

Find out more at or follow @DOTW_UK

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Happy 40th Birthday, free contraception!

From 1 April 1974 all contraceptive advice and supplies became free on the NHS, and available to all women. 40 years on, bpas (the British Pregnancy Advisory Service) celebrate the anniversary of free contraception in the UK and call for the next step forward.

The contraceptive pill was first licensed in 1961, yet initially restricted to those deemed wise enough to use it, and worthy of its privileges – those bastions of moral responsibility who are older married women. So hoorah for the less celebrated year of 1974, when contraception became free of charge for all women, regardless of age or marital status.

It’s hard to think of a development which has brought about such a monumental change in women’s lives, their role in society, and their relationships with men as free access to contraception.

The Pill enabled women to take control of their biology. Family sizes shrunk, motherhood was delayed, and women began to occupy those spaces that had previously been the sole domain of their male counterparts. Alongside access to safe, legal abortion, women could start to make genuine reproductive choices.

Yet while we can celebrate the 40th anniversary of free access to this revolutionary pill, this birthday is also the occasion to reflect on what we want from contraception over the next four decades – and ideally before we reach the last half of the 21st Century.

We should be asking why we are not seeing the investment, effort or drive to develop new methods of contraception that actually meet women’s needs. There seems to be a prevailing sense of “job done” when it comes to contraception, and ongoing barriers to technological advances in this field. While we have seen a few new methods enter the market over the last decade of so, these are by and large variations on the dose and delivery of the same medication.

Hormonal contraception should be celebrated for the huge advances it has brought, but it’s not for everyone. While there are women who will swear by their contraceptive implant, there are others who find themselves begging the doctor to remove it. We need new methods
without the side effects such as irregular bleeding, weight gain, nausea or lower libido. We need a greater choice of non-hormonal methods for those women who do not wish to use hormones or who cannot.

We need methods better suited to the reality of women’s lives and an acceptance that some women don’t want to use barrier methods like condoms or diaghrams but also don’t feel they are having sex regularly enough to warrant remembering a daily pill or having a long acting IUD or implant inserted. A pericoital pill, which could be taken at the time of sex, would represent a huge breakthrough for those women.

And we need to take politics out of pills. Researchers have noted that one of the major barriers to contraceptive development is the fear of controversy – so, for example, it would be possible to create a monthly pill that would either stop a fertilised egg implanting or detach it from the lining of the womb, yet concerns about the reactions from those who would see this as an abortion have put the kybosh on its development. Some women may well have their own personal position on whether this method is right for them – but shouldn’t that be their choice to make?

And lastly, we need methods for men. Men need something in between the two extremes of condoms and vasectomies, and the argument that most women wouldn’t trust men with their birth control is insulting to the many men who we know are keen to share the burden of contraception with their partner.

So hooray for free contraception. Thank you 1974. But it’s 2014 now – and women deserve more.

bpas is a reproductive healthcare charity, providing counselling and abortion care, contraception and STI testing on a not-for-profit basis. Follow them @bpas1968

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#SexIndustryWeek: Nobody’s entitled to sex, including disabled people

Debates about the sex industry are never far from any feminist’s consciousness, and one argument that always catches my attention is that prostitution should be legalised because, without sex workers, those poor, pitiful disabled people would never get any sex.

People who have never showed any interest in campaigning against disability benefit cuts or fighting for accessible premises are suddenly preoccupied by our ‘right’ to sex? It’s disingenuous, and it hides a not-so-subtle disablism behind the rhetoric.

The assumption that nobody would ever have sex with a disabled person through personal choice is not only inaccurate, it’s also offensive. An infantilised view of disabled people also contributes to the idea that sex with one of us is wrong or weird, adding to the stigma and prejudice that limit our lives.

In the current media environment, we are portrayed as lazy scroungers. In movies, we are the plucky, inspirational characters who exist to motivate others into action by guilt-tripping them into thinking about how terrible our lives are. And in the medical realm we, ourselves, are the problem, with our wonky bodies and minds requiring expensive treatments that the health service can resent providing.

So it’s no surprise that non-disabled people don’t know what to think of us. If they do fancy a disabled person, questions about whether they would break during sex (hint: communicate), whether sex would hurt (hint: communicate), and so on, can create barriers that a lot of people see as too difficult to tackle. In fact, a staggering 70% of British people would ‘not consider’ having sex with a disabled person, according to an Observer poll.

Societal prejudice runs so deeply that even some people who are disabled themselves are wary of dating other disabled people: in two examples, both published on Disability Horizons, one disabled man – worried about getting a date himself – wrote offensively about women with mental health problems, while another – justifying his use of a woman in prostitution – referred to disabled women as the ‘second best’ option.

It is important, then, to see that the supposed inevitability of disabled people never getting a shag is entrenched in societal prejudice. And, rather than fight this and challenge the misconceptions and the offensiveness, there are still those whose solution is to advocate for the right of disabled men (almost always) to have sex with a prostitute. So if you’re fighting for a disabled person’s ‘right’ to sex via prostitution, consider the thought that you are reinforcing discriminatory ideas, not liberating us.

It may be unpopular, but it is true to say that nobody needs sex. It is not like food or water, where you will die if you go without. Sex can be fun, stress-relieving and exciting, and not having sex when your libido is high can be frustrating and depressing. However, the failure to orgasm on a regular basis has yet to cause somebody’s heart to stop beating or their genitals to fall off.

The sense of entitlement can be astounding, and the problem with arguing for a disabled man’s ‘right’ to use a sex worker is that it is pitting his desires against a woman’s bodily autonomy. For those sex workers who love their jobs, this is not an issue. However for the 95% of street sex workers who reported problematic drug use*, the 78% who report being raped 16 times a year by their pimps, and 33 times by johns, and the 4,000 people trafficked into the UK for sexual exploitation at any one time, the story is not quite so positive.

At what point does a disabled person feeling horny overtake the rights of the woman who began being prostituted as a child, which is the case with approximately 75% of all women in prostitution? As psychologist Simon Parritt explains, although “everybody has a right to a sexual identity. I don’t think everybody has the right to sex with another person. That involves somebody else’s rights.”

When I see those same campaigners attending demonstrations against the way disabled people are being treated under this ‘austerity’ government, or objecting to the closure of the Independent Living Fund, then maybe I will start to believe that they do care about disability rights. Until then, I just see people using disability as a convenient argument in support of maintaining men’s access to women’s bodies.

There are complex issues at play where disabled people and sexuality are concerned. Technology, advice, or even special training may be needed for a successful sex life, but the problems we face are a result of disablist discrimination, not some kind of innate inability to meet a sexual partner. And just as disabled people need equal rights so do women, including the right to not be exploited or abused.

Philippa Willitts is a disabled feminist freelance writer in Sheffield. She has written for the Guardian, Independent, New Statesman and Channel 4 News websites and is part of The F-Word blogging collective. Follow her @PhilippaWrites.

*This article was amended on 22 April to clarify the statistic on drug use.

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Profile: Hamburger Queen

Burgers, Queens and a lot of Ham

Ever since Gok Wan and Dr Christian hit our screens we’ve been subjected to endless anti-fat light entertainment dressed up as life-changing, hard-hitting documentaries. In 2014, making fat women cry in front of mirrors is Channel 4’s idea of empowering.

Fat people are under attack, but why? Apparently the “obesity time bomb” that The Express famously reported on back in 2009 – and which is still waiting to go off – meant our beloved NHS was under threat from those partial to a donut. Our apparent gluttony is all that is wrong with this Tory-led country.

This culture of ‘sad fat’ or ‘fat is the enemy’ angers me. In my adult life I’ve never felt ashamed about my body or size, due to my shy mum’s determination to make me and brother have confidence – or what some might call an inflated sense of self.

Four years ago, on the back of the 24 bus, I dreamt up my response – a beauty pageant / talent show / cook-off sort of thing celebrating the lives and bodies of fat people. It was a pedantic, counter culture, knee jerk, poke in the eye idea that fought against the portrayal of chubsters and particularly the scrutiny of fat women on the television.

I missed my stop, booked a month of shows at Royal Vauxhall Tavern and went to my friend’s seaside shack to invent (fanfare) Burger Queen. I told my chubby friend Amy Lamé about the project and her response read: “if you don’t include me I’ll sit on your face.”

After opening night of season one I knew we were on to something when I received a tweet calling me a hypocrite for wearing Spanx. The irony of a fat man wearing Spanx, still looking fat, talking about fat liberation was obviously lost on the poor soul.

What followed next was a rollercoaster of monumental weirdness: Vanessa Feltz pulling me off air after I told her she should be talking about female empowerment instead of scrutinising women’s bodies on International Women’s Day; Amy receiving death threats after being on 10 O’Clock Live talking about the pasty tax; June Brown turning up to do a monologue about the joys of smoking; Diabetes UK refusing to accept a charitable donation from the profits of our burger sales; and Lisa Stansfield demanding I sing a duet with her.

The Wright Stuff pulled me at the last minute because they didn’t want to “promote obesity”; Nancy Del’lolio had a go at our then DJ, Sami Knight, for not liking her hair; and a court case meant we had to change our name because some man in Scotland held a copyright and wanted to extract money from me. Cue the rebrand: ‘Hamburger Queen’.

After four years of morris dancing and tribal birthing ceremonies I feel I have said what I needed to – I am putting it to bed and this season’s run will be the last. It takes six months to plan and costs £20k; I no longer have the time or money, but this doesn’t mean fat is off the agenda. I recently received some fan mail that read “you’ve covered the fat thing now, move on, it’s a bit tired dear.” As soon as my body isn’t politicised by the world, I will stop politicising it.

For our final season I’m throwing everything I’ve got at it – a fat tap troupe, a short film about fat sex and shame, regional heats, a blow out final in the West End, some of the best judges we’ve ever had and burgers served in donuts, obviously.

I’ll be sad to say goodbye to Hamburger Queen and do so with a heavy, high cholesterol heart – it’s the place I came to terms with my eating disorder, where I learnt how to be a better performer. It’s made my practice political and community engaged. It’s encouraged me to speak my mind and tell the world what I think, no matter how much that goes against the grain.

But its successes and legacies are not accountable to me. Hamburger Queen is brilliant because it’s made by everyday folk who work in call centres, by those who feel this project speaks to them. It’s about the groups of people who contribute to the project, the die-hard fans that run for their table each week, and the audiences who take the ideas of fat liberation into the outside world. It’s about the emails from people in Sydney and New York angry I haven’t put videos up quick enough. It’s about an international community of queer, fat, trans, feminists that stick two fingers up to anyone who takes umbrage with anyone who is apart of our gang.

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

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Review: Close To You

“People don’t really choose one day to wake up and get an ‘eating disorder’ the way you would a new pair of jeans or shoes. It is something that becomes your only friend, consuming you and filling all the empty spaces inside you – the places that are hungry for success, for worth, for beauty, for acceptance.”

Jennie Eggleton’s one-woman performance Close To You is one of the most moving, visceral pieces of theatre I’ve seen in a long time; I came away feeling somewhere between ravenous and nauseous, and, on an emotional level, profoundly affected by her vivid portrayal of life with anorexia.

Based on a mixture of research and Eggleton’s own lived experiences, the piece follows self-critical aspiring actor and singer Jennifer (who, Jennie says, “is me, but isn’t me”), as she frantically searches for her big break into show business and, in the process, descends further and further into her eating disorder.

Throughout, Jennifer’s story is interwoven with the story of her idol, The Carpenters’ Karen Carpenter – the 70s pop star who famously struggled with the illness under the glare of the public eye. As Eggleton flits between her own story and Karen’s, accompanied by live piano performances of The Carpenters’ classic hits, the parallels are increasingly evident.

The character, Jennifer, not only imagines Karen’s story as a glamourised version of her own but also uses it as an alibi to cling to the disorder that’s literally consuming her. As she sashays across the stage, pulling on the glamorous garbs of her imagined idol, the line between Jennifer and Karen blurs; a glimpse at Karen’s final, tragic fate hints at what also lays in store for Jennifer unless she recovers.


Eggleton, who both wrote and performs Close To You, truly is the mistress of her own semi-autobiographical show, playing more than half a dozen different characters, each infused with humour, and shifting effortlessly between them, even mid-conversation: the concerned mother, the patronising and unhelpful therapist, the friend who comes bearing temptation in the form of a goats cheese and tomato quiche.

The physicality of Eggleton’s performances is not limited to swapping characters; one of the most harrowing scenes sees a distraught Jennifer scraping the much-coveted quiche from her mouth in disgust and throwing herself into a repentant routine of exercise; throughout the play, her movements are as erratic as the thoughts behind them.

Jennifer’s obsessive monitoring of her own behaviour punctuates each scene, serving as a regular reminder of anorexia’s hold on her. She declares her gradually deteriorating weight (“40kg”, “38kg”), as she hops regularly on and off the pair of scales at the front of the stage, along with her diary of food eaten (“seven raisins and half a tin of tuna”). The urgency of her desire for, and self-denial of, first the quiche, and later the chocolate brownie, disturbingly reveal the all-consuming nature of her disorder.

Visually, the set bears the same powerful, physical simplicity as Eggleton’s performance. A bed takes centre stage, flanked by two mirrors and painfully thin mannequins are dotted around the stage, draped with the various layers of clothes under which Jennifer both conceals her body and transports herself to the 1970s world of the Carpenters.

In the post-show discussion, Eggleton and director Anna Simpson spoke of their plans to take Close To You into girls schools, as an education and awareness-raising tool. Though disturbing in parts, the performance is certainly eye opening. Jennifer’s turning point, following bouts of fainting, chest pains, hospitalisation and ultimately the death of a fellow-patient, who she has named Karen after her idol, is a stark illustration of the realities of anorexia nervosa – an illness which, after all, has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder.

For Eggleton – who suffered from anorexia from around the age of 15 and is now, at 23, in recovery – the piece is a way to use her love of theatre to highlight the complexities of an issue that is simultaneously so prevalent in the arts and yet so rarely addressed through performance.

Having already performed Close To You to audiences of both theatre-goers and medical professionals, Eggleton and director Simpson hope the piece will also have a positive impact on young women’s relationships with their bodies.

Close To You’s run at Southwark Playhouse has now finished but you can catch it at the Brighton Fringe Festival on 17th and 18th May, 2pm, at the Warren Main House. For updates, follow @Close__To__You.

For advice and support on dealing with eating disorders, see: and

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Profile: My Body Back Project

Yesterday we received an anonymous message from a woman who cannot find the words to tell anybody what happened to her, so she cuts herself instead.

She described this as her “silent scream.”

The incredibly honest and moving message, which is two paragraphs long, continues: “It’s how I tell the world what happened to me, without saying anything.”

Before her, a woman called ‘R’ wrote to us with an articulate account of life with an eating disorder after a childhood marred with sexual violence.

“I felt so powerless that I have spent seven years trying to starve myself,” she said.

“I can’t tell my doctors why because they would not understand what happened to me and would tell my parents. This is my first step because I am anonymous.”

These are two of many messages we have received in the past fortnight, when me and my friend Yas Necati started the My Body Back Project.

The project welcomes female survivors of sexual violence to share their stories, of how they feel towards their bodies and sex. In two weeks, we have received an array of messages which highlight how deeply and differently survivors are affected. Women have anonymously written in about sex with their boyfriends and girlfriends, the “pressure” they have been under to perform sexually, “dissociating” from their bodies, feeling guilty about their sexual fantasies, orgasm, not being able to have sex, not wanting sex, sex addiction, eating disorders, and self-harm.

I started it because I struggled for years after rape – not just emotionally – but by projecting those feelings onto my physicality. For many years I was too nervous to stand up in a room full of people in case anyone looked at my body, felt too vulnerable to wear anything that wasn’t baggy, or even admit that any of this was happening, because I was meant to be “over it”.

There were no instructions, just the feeling of being shattered physically, even after I’d glued back the vital emotional pieces. There were no answers. But from reading the stories of women across the world who have written in to the project, it’s clear that none of us have answers. We don’t necessarily want somebody else’s prescribed solution either, but we do want to be heard. We do want to rip apart patriarchy’s notion that women’s bodies and sex are manufactured products to satisfy the male gaze.

In reality, 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either “intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence”, according to the World Health Organisation. Our relationships with our bodies and sex are deeply affected by the violence we have battled, and the scars we still live with. We want to be able to talk about that.

For those who have the privilege of disregarding the consequences of sexual violence in their daily lives, the stories shared as part of My Body Back Project will make for uncomfortable reading. But it is honest and real. There is no guidance that any of the women who write to us can offer, because for each of us, our experiences are different. But they do break the silence that surrounds sexual violence, sex, desire – and how that all fits together for survivors. It’s something that’s often not spoken about, perhaps because women are taught not to talk about sex or their own pleasure.

We hope that’s something that will change, and we’re hopeful. In the first fortnight of the project, we have had heartwarming support. Rape Crisis England and Wales, Rape Crisis Scotland and Rape Crisis Ireland have been wonderfully encouraging. The brilliant poet Hollie McNish; MP Caroline Lucas; all of our friends at No More Page Three; the Everyday Sexism Project; AnyBody UK; artist Sarah Maple; and two activists we admire, Caroline Criado-Perez and Feminist Times Contributing Editor Reni Eddo-Lodge, are just some of the wonderful women who have sent in beautiful messages of support.

In the near future we will be campaigning about issues we feel are important but overlooked. We will also be running a monthly group for survivors of sexual violence at Sh! Women’s Emporium.

To keep up to date please follow us on twitter @mybodybackproj and have a look at our website

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Profile: Women’s Independent Alcohol Support

Drunken women are laughed at, seen as easy targets for rape, and ‘asking for’ abuse. Women with children who over-drink are in danger of losing them, and ‘being an alcoholic’ is seen as a source of shame and apology for life.

Few women (less than 3%) with alcohol problems go for treatment, and the treatment in any case is likely to focus not on why they need to over-drink, but on stopping it at once and joining groups like AA, which see the problem as an individual weakness to be dealt with by a programme of meetings and lifestyle, developed by and for men, and still found to be uncomfortable spaces by many women.

What is lacking is an understanding of the links between the lives of ordinary women and substance use, including alcohol. Why do some women need to over-drink? Alcohol research is looking increasingly at the way that gender is relevant to how people use alcohol.

Women may drink for different reasons and in different ways, and they may need a different kind of help than is often available. There is strong evidence as to the role of stress, domestic abuse, depression, low self worth, and social isolation. There is also strong evidence of the need for women only services.

Women’s Independent Alcohol Support (WIAS) is a registered charity, run by women who have recovered from alcohol issues and their friends, and which addresses these issues. We are a small, highly motivated group of women, with a feminist perspective, and our social model of recovery is based in personal experience and academic research.

We aim to offer a friendly and supportive ear, and to put women in touch with other organisations who can offer help with particular issues such as domestic abuse and addiction to prescribed drugs. On February 17th 2014 WIAS organised, with Bristol Women’s Voice, the first and ground-breaking ‘women and alcohol’ conference in Bristol – click here to see the programme and presentations.

I founded WIAS, having recovered from alcoholism in 1988 and have since attempted in academic and practical work to influence how women’s alcohol use is understood and how it is ‘treated’. I am often asked: “what’s different about it for women?”

Traditionally, alcohol problems were seen to be something that happened to men. It was men who were seen drinking in pubs and clubs and men who were sometimes seen drunk. A man spending his wages on drink might leave a family without food for a week and often did. It was men who began the famous Alcoholics Anonymous movement, at a time when alcohol problems were understood to be a male problem. It provided a space where they could share their troubles and try to help each other to stop misusing alcohol.

At that time, women’s drinking often consisted of a couple of glasses of sherry at Christmas and half a pint of shandy in summer. Even when drinking wine and other things socially became more acceptable for them, drunkenness was still perceived as shaming, and showing a lack of self-respect as well as lack of proper concern for one’s family.

Women have been reluctant to ‘come out’ about their alcohol use for these reasons and have often preferred to use tranquillisers (‘mother’s little helpers’) and other remedies to help them when their lives were difficult or they were unhappy or even domestically abused. They have often become depressed and suicidal.

Women have emphasised how much they need to have women-only space to talk about how they came to have alcohol problems, what sometimes helps and what doesn’t, and an opportunity just for non-judgmental friendship and support. Unfortunately it can be difficult and expensive to provide this in conventional treatment settings.

WIAS is now a registered charity and plans to run small groups for women, eventually building an interactive website where they can discuss their issues, and holding up to date information about what kind of help is available for women should they be seeking it. WIAS is seeking funding to do these things and to run a helpline, so if you can help in any way please email us. Otherwise, watch our website at to learn about progress.

WIAS also acts in a consultative capacity and is able to undertake commissions.

You can email WIAS at


Staddon, P. (2014) ‘Turning the Tide’, Groupwork, 24 (1)

Wolstenholme A, Drummond C, Deluca P, et al (2012) Chapter 9: ‘Alcohol interventions and treatments in Europe’ in AMPHORA (2012) Alcohol Policy In Europe: Evidence from AMPHORA

Photo: Jesse Millan

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After Abuse: The Noise of the Unsaid

This article was originally published by Media Diversified. Editor’s note: The article contains interviews with anonymous victims of child sexual abuse, framed by the writer’s own story, following her previous article on being raped. 

I was about eleven when my mother asked me in hushed whispers if what my little brother said was true. He had seen a man slip his hand down my shirt. I didn’t know how to talk about what I didn’t understand and I was ashamed and angry. So my brother did the talking. With innocence, he described how a man — hired by my family to teach us how to chant the divine verses – had abused me.

It happened during a lesson. I was focused on reciting an alien language when a clammy hand touched my breast. I jumped, instinctively biting his hand and tearing off a clump of his beard. He screamed and told me I was possessed. Then he walked off, leaving me with the remnants of facial hair. And my demons.

“It’s not true, is it?” asked my Mother. Seeing the fear and shame in her eyes was too much. “It’s not true,” I lied, to stop feeling like I was suddenly naked. The candy pink walls of my room imprisoned everything that remained unsaid.

I had written a first person account of being a rape survivor. After it was finally published, I realised I had unlocked a portal of imprisoned stories: overwhelming, horrifying demons that haunted so many people around me. My abuser was wrong. I am not possessed. I thank the writer Neil Gaiman for helping me understand I am one of “the dispossessed …those who have fallen through the cracks.”

I have spoken to others who have been abused, those who have yet to find the release from where acceptance is claimed. There are no happy endings and clean resolutions for fractured bodies and souls, but letting the cracks show will make life with the noise of demons easier to bear. These stories are part of a city that functions with its innate dysfunction. Karachi, my hometown, is the bearer of horrors. It is also, in so many ways, a reflection of the resilience that structures the stories. Karachi is a city that refuses to give up.

I Was Made To Give Him Blowjobs

S* was angry. The kind of anger that festers like gangrene. Yet she held on to her fury. She sat across me and declared that she was a victim. She refused to be positive, refused to associate herself with survivors. She was still battling with her demons. Her war was far from over.

“I don’t know how it started. He was always there, watching. Until one day I was asked to take my clothes off.

“He’s my mother’s brother, but I can’t bear the thought of him; I disassociated in any way.”

I had nothing to say. Her story was absurd.

“Obviously it wasn’t as bad as your experience,” she told me.

Each one of us carried our own private hells within. The torment was incomparable.

“I don’t remember when and how it started, I just know I grew up thinking it happened to everyone. Even if it was something I hated, it was my normal.”


We were discussing the pros and cons of being in a nudist colony when R* listed the trauma of an employee in her house watching her everyday as she showered. She shrugged it off, throwing in the details here and there as she drove on. She stopped looking at herself for a few years: “I just can’t decide if violating a twelve-year-old’s private space is okay or not. It wasn’t nice to feel threatened every time I took off my clothes.”

She missed her turn and drove onto a street that neither of us knew existed before. We were both so lost.


When J* decided to tell me about his stepfather I was a bit apprehensive. He works as a speech therapist for children with special needs. He has the rare ability to not look like an idiot when communicating with children. I asked him if he thought I would lack empathy, because he is a guy. Later I discovered that anal rape of a six-year-old is beyond gendered spaces.

“I have to begin to make sense of the violation of trust, the idea of being robbed of my childhood home as a safe place, in order to get to the physical.

“When I think about it now, it’s as if I am standing outside a boy’s bedroom window and watching.”

I ask him if he wants to step in and stop what’s happening.

“No. There is a vacuum where pain, horror and anger should be. Nothing compels me to go in and beat the man my mother trusted her child with.

“I know I probably come across as a text book case study of child abuse — blocking out my own emotions, channelling them here.”

“Well. Yes…”

He laughed and turned back to the kid tugging at his shirt.  I told him that the wisdom he possessed, both his broken and functioning selves, warrants a separate book.

“I’m twenty-eight. I can’t articulate beyond what I told you. The book will be as empty as the man who stands outside the window and feels nothing.”


I was ten when I got my period. The pain and the sight of blood triggered something. I saw myself under a man trying to push himself inside me. Before that I was too ashamed to even peek behind a dark curtain because I was convinced I had imagined the whole thing. The reality of pain and blood was a sign of another reality.

When I started transcribing these stories I assumed it would be easy. After I ‘came out’ as a rape victim, the reactions started to pour in. From being asked if I had lost all sense of shame and propriety, to a colleague coming up to me and shaking my hand for being brave enough to talk about what most people won’t. I was humbled, overwhelmed and stunned by what I had set in motion. I was one of the dispossessed, those who are alone because parts of us are missing, yet share fractured memories with other people.

Most of the people I talked to could not piece together their abuse in a clear and linear way. Their minds protected what their bodies had gone through. As I went along listening to people fighting, surviving, breaking down, living, giving up, I realized how the structure of our DNA is so similar. I used the horror of rape, abuse and violation as fuel to ignore my demons. I arrived at a place where I fought with myself for a space that only belonged to my grief. I used my broken parts to construct a self that functioned like a Rubik’s cube. It reshaped into something unsolvable at the first sign of danger.

The extremes of violence and violation we survived turned us into hunted animals. But we were strong enough to claw for life.


S* and I realised that neither of us can piece together our stories in a linear way. We don’t have the luxury. Our fractured memories have made our minds into a puzzle, there are pieces missing, pieces that don’t fit.


 A* was diagnosed with a severe anxiety disorder after she passed out the day her boyfriend proposed to her. He had crept up behind her and put his hands on her eyes to give her a ring. She stopped breathing before she passed out. In her early thirties she is in CBT that helps her explain the anxiety after abuse that occurred nearly twenty-one years ago.

A man took her to the neighbourhood park and put his hands over her eyes as he made her fondle him.

“I was made to give him blowjobs.”

After Abuse

There are so many untold stories. The solid walls, coloured and fixed every time a fractured memory starts to come up for air, die out because the rooms are perfectly cemented. What is beginning to chip away, however, is the silence; the language that was missing is slowly coming together. It is basic in its expression, almost childlike. What adds nuance is the ability to express emotions. And there is a vast spectrum of anger, grief, acceptance and, even, humour about abuse! What takes away from the purity of this language is the stage whispers. They were hushed once, now they have a theatrical quality.

I hope my story will help clear the murky darkness of what remains unsaid and silence the noise heard after abuse.

Amna Iqbal works as a Visual Journalist at The Express Tribune in Karachi, Pakistan. As she tried to do away with labels of class, sects, religion and gender, she has landed in an undefined space where she is making her way around falling off severe hand-me-down templates of dos and don’t s. Her work today encompasses her creative practice as a designer, writer, a journalist and a woman in a state of constant discomfort. Find out more on her website Off The Grid or follow: @amna_iqb.

Photo: OUCHcharley

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Congo Stigmata: The day Ensler crucified herself

There’s been plenty of criticism of V-Day recently, most aimed at Eve Ensler’s account of examining the body of a Congolese woman who was undergoing a fistula operation, as the result of injuries sustained from being subjected to rape as a weapon of war. In this account, about her own battle with cancer, Ensler quotes a friend as saying: “It’s like you’ve got Congo Stigmata… The women have entered you.” She continues to say that one of her doctors has said: “These findings are not medical, they are not science. They are spiritual.”

This account led to me withdrawing my support and co-operation with the organisation, which had begun in 2009. I believe that V-Day has done some vital work and continues to make great progress in Congo. But there have been some very serious mistakes too, which have resulted in me and other women questioning future involvement with them.

I have seen the work done by V-Day in Congo, both when I have visited and when I have read accounts of what is happening. I also understand there is an urgent need for work to continue. The care people show at grassroots level is very genuine and there are many successes in the story of V-Day & One Billion Rising. City of Joy, which was built by women to help women who had gone through trauma to heal and recuperate, is a stunning achievement: a safe house for women discharged from Panzi Hospital following operations for horrific injuries. A place where they can learn skills such as reading and growing crops, helping them to become self-sufficient before returning to their villages.

V-Day also affords the women of Congo a platform to speak. When much infighting amongst feminists these days relates to the platforms privileged women have and the platforms marginalised women are denied, it is important to recognise that V-Day enables otherwise silenced women to speak out. By helping the voices of these women to be heard, it also gives the women a chance to draw attention to the problems they want to and influence the help they are given. The reporting on the situation in Congo is often removed from the lived experiences of its main victims – women – to focus on the male-dominated politics. In this respect the work of V-Day, and other charities like it, is simply invaluable, but it is not without its issues in the way it is implemented.

This is not the first time criticism of appropriation has been leveled at the campaign or the organisation. Other women of colour have expressed issues with Eve Ensler’s organisation, notably Lauren Chief Elk’s open letter to Ensler which was widely shared last year. Lauren Chief Elk’s issues with Ensler related to V-Day’s treatment of Indigenous women in Canada, and the letter details her experience in raising that criticism.

In Congo other forms of exploitation affect some of the women whose stories are hotly sought after this time of year. They want to tell the world their experiences and make everyone aware about what is happening in Congo, how they are involved, and what they can do to help. But the fact is that for all their suffering, they are not being adequately compensated. Journalists take these stories to earn a living. Of course, journalists do need to be paid, but there is a glaring disparity when the women interviewed are sometimes paid for their time in grain alone. To these women, this falls woefully short.

Women interviewed in Congo mostly give their consent willingly, often having the situation explained to them by a translator. But just because consent is given at the beginning, it does not give journalists and campaigners free reign to do what they want afterwards. Out of a sense of decency it should be treated with appropriate respect.

These are fairly obvious examples of exploitation, deliberate or not, and work is needed to eradicate them, but they are not necessarily the most egregious. One of the worst examples was, as I said, by Ensler herself in her recounting of a woman’s surgery. The descriptions were pornographic and dehumanising. It debased the woman having surgery and Ensler at the same time. It called into question whether Ensler saw the women in Congo as her equals. These women are not projects for ‘white saviours’ to help or projects to learn from. They are not living cadavers. For me, Ensler’s piece recalls the colonial practice of human zoos, black bodies offered up for white consumption, or the citizens of New Orleans coming to see the tortured slaves of Delphine LaLaurie.

To fail to think of these things as she wrote the article is illuminating of Ensler’s worldview. It’s easy to see how one could not think of these issues when making such a decision – white privilege and white supremacy would not continue dominating were it otherwise.

Another criticism faced was the use of dancing and the framing of a “joyful revolution” by One Billion Rising.

When I filmed my BBC 3 documentary The World’s Most Dangerous Place for Women in 2009 on rape in Congo, I was invited to take part in dancing in the grounds of Panzi Hospital, where Dr. Denis Mukwege performs the types of fistula operations that Eve described in her article. It was incredibly uplifting and rooted in local custom. From the women, for the women, by the women. For some, it was a brief respite from their thoughts.

Inviting women to dance does prevent us from focusing on the root causes of the suffering highlighted by One Billion Rising, but dancing and singing are essential to Congolese culture. We sing and dance for many different occasions, for many different reasons. When my uncle died, as the family gathered to mourn, my aunts would frequently sing – hymns, tribal songs and dances that expressed their emotions. Whilst I agree that a joyful revolution alone will not solve patriarchy, I don’t see the problem in attempting a shared experience through dance.

We must remain mindful of the power imbalance between us and the women in Congo, carefully choosing which stories we share and how we share them. It is hard to think that the woman who gave consent for Eve Ensler to witness her surgery would have agreed had she known that she would have been reduced to her bodily presence, her “hole” as Eve described it, and not her experience or soul.

It seems clear the bureaucratic level of both OBR and V-Day need urgent overhaul. When a movement this big and this important only ever focuses on a figurehead, there’s a huge problem. The organisation’s work does not need a sole spokesperson; it is strong enough to speak for itself. On this, the media must also take some responsibility and so must OBR and V-Day, by remembering that the people who should be heard, and who should fundamentally provide direction, are the women they are trying to help.

Jude Wanga is a human rights campaigner, activist & freelance writer. Follow her @JudeInLondon

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#FeministFatChat: Is Fat Still A Feminist Issue?

Each month Feminist Times hosts an event for our members. After weeks of “New Year, New You!” propaganda from the women’s glossy mags, body image and the diet industry seemed an appropriate topic for our January event. We got together an amazing panel of speakers and asked them: Is Fat Still A Feminist Issue?

There was a huge amount of interest in this event and we had a number of requests to record the discussion for those who couldn’t make it. Check out the podcast below, as well as our tweets from the evening.

A big thank you to our chair Ruth Barnes (BBC and Amazing Radio) and panellists Dr Charlotte Cooper (psychotherapist and fat activist), Natasha Devon (Body Gossip), Audrey Boss (Beyond Chocolate) and Scottee (Hamburger Queen). Thanks also to our hosts Waterhouse Restaurant, Shoreditch Trust and Echo for providing us with such a great venue, and to all the members and guests who came along. Become a member today for free entry to our next members’ event.

We live-tweeted from the discussion using #FeministFatChat – follow the whole discussion, including the Q&A, via our Storify:


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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:


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

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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

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Intrusive entitlement: disabled women as public property

Most women and girls have tales to tell about being treated as public property. From what we look like to what we wear, whether we are thin, fat, or in between, our pregnancy status and our degree of visible happiness (“Cheer up, love!”). We know we can be questioned, challenged or attacked, especially by people who perceive that we are Doing It Wrong.

Governments debate whether our clothes should be outlawed and how much control we should have over our own bodies, while men in the street are quick to point out exactly how we measure up against their particular fuckability standards. Newspapers express shock and outrage when a woman who has aged looks older, or a woman who has had a baby looks like she’s gained weight. Or lost weight. Or stayed the same. Whatever the scenario, we can’t win.

Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to policing. Strangers will touch a ‘bump’ and comment on its size or shape, and god help a pregnant woman spotted eating forbidden food or having a glass of wine. And if men don’t think we are attractive enough, a cruel aggression can take over. Just ask Olympic athlete Beth Tweddle after her live Twitter chat yesterday.

As a disabled woman, the intrusions go further still. “What have you done?” is a bewildering question that makes me feel like I’ve done something wrong. Then they nod at my crutch and I reel at their arrogant entitlement. No amount of non-committal muttering puts off the keen inquirer. They want to know everything, oblivious to how intrusive and inappropriate their line of questioning is.

Then comes the unsolicited, unsuitable advice. Their mate’s uncle’s nephew had something like that and he stopped eating dairy. Their kid’s teacher’s dog’s former owner cures back ache by rubbing herself with dried lavender mixed with fairy’s tears. I try to do sufficient nodding to stop them from repeating themselves, but not enough to encourage them to continue.

“It’s worth a try isn’t it? Better than all those medicines with their side effects!” After all, their Mum’s best friend’s granddaughter’s school friend’s auntie took some tablets and they made her feel ROTTEN.

Some people are more intrusive still. They grab my arm, push my friend’s wheelchair, or take a blind woman across the road, whether she wanted to or not. And, rather like when women are “complimented” in the street, we are supposed to be thankful. Not angry that our bodily autonomy is being eroded every time somebody thinks they know better than we do.

The correct response is, apparently, gratitude. Like any good cripple I know that when I’m patted on the head I’m supposed to thank the kind person for their attention, not fight for my right to be seen and heard. People are so conditioned by the pity narrative that it becomes objectionable for me to resist it.

If it’s not oppressively ‘well-intentioned’, non-disabled people’s sense of entitlement towards disabled people can get aggressive. Unfamiliar men have threateningly accused me of faking my impairments, on one occasion following me home to do so. The brutal propaganda against disabled people and benefit claimants has made people assume that anybody who looks a bit wonky is faking it to bring in some ready cash, and it makes them furious.

Is that so far away from the benevolent, kindly gent at the bus stop who is essentially concern-trolling me about the very same thing? Of course he’s less aggressive, but he’s still making my body and life into a public issue that others have the right to cross-examine.

Being patronising to this degree reflects an attitude that women and disabled people need to be protected and can’t be trusted to make our own decisions. The intersecting narratives implode in a barrage of thoroughly depressing, oppressive paternalism.

Philippa Willitts is a disabled feminist freelance writer in Sheffield. She has written for the Guardian, Independent, New Statesman and Channel 4 News websites and is part of The F-Word blogging collective. Follow her @PhilippaWrites.

Image courtesy of Sean McGrath

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The politics of skin lightening

Vanity Fair was last week accused of digitally lightening the skin of ’12 Years A Slave’ actress Lupita Nyong’o. Reni Eddo-Lodge looks at the impact of Eurocentric white supremacist beauty ideals on young women of colour.

When I was very little, probably younger than six years old, I asked my mum when I was going to turn white. It seemed very clear to me then. In the media I consumed and the narratives my young brain had absorbed, the good people were white and the bad people were brown. Fast forward ten years and, as an awkward teenager, my brain was consumed with wanting to be pretty. I would pull at my cheeks in the mirror. “I might be black”, I would think to myself, “but at least I’m alright looking”.

Like that ever rigid gender binary, the rules of the world seem concrete and absolute when you’re young. If I hadn’t started challenging those roles, I would probably be spending my entire life trying to chase them in a sorry effort to assimilate.

77% of women in Nigeria, the country where my grandparents were born, use some form of skin lightening products. It is against this backdrop that Nigerian-Cameroonian singer Dencia has released her new line of skin lightening creams, named Whitenicious. The product’s press release says the cream can be used for  “dark spots from acne, wounds, hyper-pigmentation and bruises”, yet in the promotional pictures Dencia looks several shades lighter than her original skin tone. Whitenicious sold out within 24 hours of its release.

Dencia has received a lot of criticism for releasing Whitenicious, but her move just capitalises on a skin lightening industry that is already thriving in Africa, Asia and India. It is an industry in which big multinationals make millions from the prolific, insidious nature of white supremacy.

Every woman of colour has battled with Eurocentric, white supremacist beauty ideals at some point in her life. These ideals act as the yardstick on which every woman’s beauty is measured by. With so many of our daily interactions dogged by patriarchy, this isn’t just beauty for beauty’s sake. Beauty is currency – and for too many of us, it’s interchangeable with self-worth.

Unlike Nigeria, the UK’s white supremacist ideals aren’t so aggressively marketed to women of colour. Instead they exist in a screaming, gaping absence. A woman of colour can walk into her local high street shop searching for makeup, only to find that the UK’s most readily available brands do not cater for the colour of her skin.

The absence starts young, with white, blonde Barbie dolls upheld as our first image of womanhood. Them we fixate on pop stars as our role models. You’d be hard pressed to find a successful black woman in that industry who doesn’t pass the paper bag test. The paper bag test was a system of exclusion, determining who was light enough to enjoy the fruits of high society in early 1900s black America; if you were darker than the brown paper bag, you were not invited.

It was Alice Walker who first coined the term colourism, and it was social scientists who concluded that this kind of discrimination was commonplace in countries that are based on a ‘pigmentocracy’ – where wealth, power and status can too easily be determined by the colour of an individual’s skin.

In communities of colour, many attribute the use of skin lightening creams to self-hatred. White people in the UK often attempt to draw some equivalence between skin bleaching and self-tanning. But the reasons behind skin bleaching are political. Despite people of colour making up the majority of the world’s citizens, globally, the colour of power is white.  This pursuit of power and status goes hand and hand with a systematic denigration of self.

It’s too simplistic to reduce the use of skin lightening creams to self-hatred or low self-esteem. That argument places the responsibility of accountability on the individual partaking in the practice without acknowledging a racist structure that preferences light skin over dark. These ideas of empire have taken root in the hearts and minds of everyone. It’s no longer about countries that have suffered colonisation – these ideals are recreated and reinforced, becoming a daily truth.

Politically, the demand of assimilation has always been levelled at those of us whom the structure doesn’t fit. In skin bleaching, this assimilation moves from rhetoric to imprints on flesh.

Image courtesy of @ReignOfApril on Twitter.

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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.

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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

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Comeback: Running? It’s just jogging

Feminist Times reader Katie Stanton responds to Deborah Coughlin’s article Running? It’s just jogging.

I could write a book about my history with dieting and I’m sure you could too. In the same way a man chats easily with a complete stranger about football, we women always seem to find calorie-related common ground when meeting other women (“No cake for me thanks, I’m being good”).

Poor body image is one of the most prevalent issues facing women today, proven by statistics showing 91% of those admitted to hospital for anorexia last year were women. For many feminists who suffer body image issues, there is also the added guilt of caring about it in the first place.

Most feminists are inherently anti-diet and there’s some great writing on why the dieting culture is a form of oppressive patriarchy (Susie Orbach’s Fat is a Feminist Issue is particularly good).

In the past, I have denounced any effort to burn calories to stay thin as anti-feminist, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. I used to read about women spending hours in the gym, slaving away towards size eight, and imagine myself saying to them: “Emily Davison didn’t throw herself under a horse so you could spend half your life on the treadmill.” Did I think myself morally superior to these women because I wasn’t spending my time working towards a thinner version of myself? Probably.

But then I started running. And all that stuff they say about endorphins is true. Suddenly, I was not only healthier, happier and sleeping better, but my life became more goal-orientated, on the track and in the office. All that time I now spend flailing around the streets of Leighton Buzzard gave me time to think about my previous preconceptions of gym-goers and how I fit into my big feminist ideal now that I’m a runner.

Here’s what I decided: The London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games gave us all an insight into the exhilaration of sporting victory. Here was a form of empowerment that needed to be tapped into. Worryingly, it struck me that the factor of good health was something feminism shied away from. Was the need for regular exercise being ignored because it sat too closely to the diet industry? Statistics show that 32% of women in the UK are overweight, so why is this women’s issue not being addressed? Where are the feminists against obesity?

I don’t write this to make you feel bad; in fact, quite the opposite. Let me reassure you I think fad diets are fucking repulsive and a societal scourge that oppress women. The best thing I saw at October’s Feminism in London conference was a teenage girl’s placard reading “pizza rolls not gender roles”. I want us to carry on eating pizza. But I don’t want us to ignore the benefits of exercise in the name of feminism. A healthy lifestyle is really important and it is possible to keep fit without selling your soul to the diet industry. Find a sport or activity that makes you feel empowered and go with it. When the revolution comes, we can’t be held up by those stopping for a fag break. For years feminism has demanded that society respects our bodies, so isn’t it about time we start doing the same?

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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

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No More Page 3: A bit of fence sitting

At No More Page 3 we get challenged and disagreed with on a regular basis, and that’s okay – it’s important to understand other viewpoints. We’ve changed and adapted as a campaign to the response from supporters on a variety of issues. Clearly there are some challenges (“you’re all jealous munters”) that we just ignore, although they do prove to us that we’re doing the right thing.

Recently we’ve been challenged by other feminists on our stance on the wider issue of porn. Our response was that we’re not pro-porn, but we do sit slightly on the fence on this issue. That stance has angered some supporters and we’re sad to have lost their support as a result.

However, we have always been very clear that our target is the soft porn that you cannot choose to view; the image that is inflicted on you while going about your day to day business. This is about the objectification of a young woman in a family newspaper (although happily not the biggest paper in the UK anymore); it’s about context, not content.

Our feeling is that 43 years ago Page 3 began the process of normalising pornography for public consumption. We have been contacted by several men who have told us that Page 3 was a gateway to an obsession with porn which utterly ruined their relationships with women.

It’s impossible to avoid how porn culture has seeped into the mainstream, and the expectations that has put upon women to act and look a certain way. There seems to be an understanding that spanky anal sex with completely hairless women is now the default setting in all heterosexual sex. Which is awesome if you’re a hairless woman who enjoys spanky anal sex, but what about the women (and men) for whom that’s just not in their box of sexual desires?

Search “Sex tips to please your woman” and you’ll get six results; the same search for pleasing “your man” has 16,600 results! There is a huge expectation on women to be pleasing in bed; there is a whole website called howtopleaseyourman. Where are women’s sexuality, needs and desires in this? There is this myth that we’ve all been empowered by being more sexual, when in reality it’s just given us one more thing to be told we aren’t good enough at.

But there is a far more sinister side to pornography and the portrayal of objectified women in the media which cannot and must not be ignored. There is no question of the links between the dehumanising imagery of women in the media and the acceptance of violence against women. Want evidence? The University of Buffalo study August 2011: the Increase in Sexualised Images of Women in the Media found “Sexualized portrayals of women have been found to legitimize or exacerbate violence against women and girls, as well as sexual harassment and anti-women attitudes among men and boys”.

There are legitimate questions to be asked about the spread of porn culture and how we reverse its impact on men and boys. Education around this is so important and as a team we have given our love and support to the Campaign4Consent for that exact reason.

For these and many more reasons, as a campaign we would never and could never say we are pro-porn.

However, we cannot truly say that we are anti-porn when pornography is such a broad brush term. What do we mean by it anyway? Where does erotica fit in? Or how about Anna Span who creates pornographic films, depicting both heterosexual and homosexual sex, from the eye of a woman? Should we not be supporting the women who are trying to diversify porn and create images of equal sexuality?

One of the issues with porn at the moment is that it is so focused on the fulfillment of men’s desire. Perhaps we should be helping to amplify the voices of women who are trying to tell the world that women have diverse sexual needs, and as much right as any man to express them.

One of the claims that we have recently read is that all women in the pornography business are oppressed and harmed. But is that too simplistic? We have spoken to women who have glamour modeled and have no regrets whatsoever about the career path they took. Or how about the amateurs out there who are having a wonderful time posting their love for each other and their exhibitionism online? Is each of those women harmed by that activity?

We do not doubt that many women (and men) have been damaged by their involvement in the porn industry but it is impossible to say they all have. If we alienate all performers, are we missing opportunities to support those who need it and work to stop further victims being harmed?

And then where does gay porn fit into the anti-porn argument? Are we only to oppose heterosexual pornography? Or perhaps only pornography that features women? Does that not further marginalise the sexuality of men and women who do not fit into that perceived societal norm?

One of our many issues with Page 3 is the narrow view of sexuality it presents; that men predominantly like white, blonde, able bodied young women with tiny waists and big breasts who will sit passively waiting to have sex done to them. We all know that the world is a big wonderful melting pot of attraction and desire and the more we embrace that diversity the less pressure there will be on women (and men) to fulfill that narrow sexual stereotype.

So we can’t really say that we are anti-porn either.

We are a campaign focused on one very specific issue. Although we regularly talk about the wider issues around sexism in the media, our number one aim at the moment is the removal of one image in one newspaper. We would love it if we could get universal support for this one, clear aim – no soft porn in a family newspaper.

Yes, of course, we are aware of where Page 3 sits within broader discussions around the representation of women and sex in both the mainstream media and pornography. Do we think that there is a timeline that links Page 3 to porn to Lads Mags to the normalisation of sexual images in all media? Yes, absolutely we do. Do pornographers and distributors need to be challenged and questioned and shown the potential harm they do? Totally.

But is it as simple as saying “all porn is bad”? No, we don’t think so and we’re sorry if that disappoints you, but this is one fence we’re not getting off right now.

“This is my song in defence of the fence
A little sing along, an anthem to ambivalence
The more you know, the harder you will find it
To make up your mind, it, doesn’t really matter if you find
You can’t see which grass is greener
Chances are it’s neither, and either way it’s easier
To see the difference, when you’re sitting on the fence”

Tim Minchin

Find out more about the No More Page 3 campaign at or @NoMorePage3

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London Feminist Film Festival: Body Politics

Alisha Rouse attended last week’s London Feminist Film Festival at the Hackney Picturehouse for us. In the first of three short blog posts, she reports back on the opening session, Body Politics.

It’s been 40 years since Our Bodies, Ourselves came out and caused a right raucous by suggesting that body image, transgender issues and abortion were things women could claim ownership of.

Down here in the 21st century, and the Sunday before last, in fact, ‘Body Politics’ was the premiere session at the second ever London Feminist Film Festival.

A great, week-long film fest based at the Hackney Picturehouse, the opening session featured three feminist documentaries dealing with women’s ownership and power over their bodies.

The Cut was a deeply upsetting film documenting FGM in east Africa, where girls are circumcised from as young as six. FGM is an extreme but very real example of body politics for women living in these communities, and for many women in our own.

The politics of body ownership are still hugely up for debate. More women, like Texan senator Wendy Davis, are standing up (albeit not for as long as Wendy did, bless her) and trying to gain the most basic rights to self-determine the life of their torso and its inners.

I’ve asked some of my friends about this, and as expected, the responses were pleasing and generic.

“So, who owns a woman’s body?”

“The woman, obviously!”

“Do you think a woman has a right to choose what happens with her body?”

“Of course!”

“Good! Well done, right thinking individual.”

“No problem, Alisha!”

But when push comes to sexist shove, the packaging of body politics may have changed, but the product is just the same. While the majority of right-thinking men, women and politicians (a breed of their own) consistently state that a woman has the right to govern her own body, it’s rare that insinuations of male or societal ownership don’t come creeping through.

Still Fighting: The Story of Clinic Escorts showed women and men abusing people on their way into abortion clinics in America – and in liberal-thinking New York state, no less.

In the style of Shirley Phelps and the far-holier-than-thou Westboro Baptist Church, there were placards and Hail Marys, as pretty amazing volunteers escorted women into the clinic, surrounded by vile and unfaltering hatred.

Being in a north-eastern state, the documentary was even more frightening. With Davis filibustering for what felt like days to make sure abortions in Texas weren’t restricted, while still refusing to mention the A word in her political leaflets, the US seem to have no visible heroes for the self-determination of women’s bodies, except these amazing ladies in hi-visibility jackets.

Back in the UK, Blank Canvas, a short but sweet documentary, gave us all hope. A woman suffering from cancer and going through chemotherapy, opted to henna her bald head rather than getting a wig, using the canvas as self-expression: expression that she needn’t pretend all is fine; needn’t look a way that makes non-sufferers feel more comfortable; and needn’t suffer from the lack of control cancer gives you over your body.

She took control, and we all need to learn something from that.

Alisha Rouse is a Newspaper Journalism MA student at City University, desperately missing the north and praying for a job. Find out more @alisharouse.

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#ManWeek: Son Preference… ‘where girls vanish with no trace’


son pref4_ec

Reprinted from The Atlas of Women in the World by Joni Seager. We are delighted to be able to offer Feminist Times subscribers a 20% discount: please order here quoting code MRJ81. This offer is valid until the end of December 2013.

Joni Seager is Professor & Chair of Global Studies at Bentley Uni, a Global Policy Expert & Feminist.

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Fit is the new Thin

Twice in the past couple of months I have been told by enthusiastic brand-hobbyists that Special K is changing it’s “message” and that this is probably good for feminism. No longer is the cereal about being slim enough to fit in that red dress, no my friend, now it is about being “healthy” enough to fit in that dress. The hobbyists continued: this is to be seen as part of a massive cultural shift that includes that trend “running”. Diets, size zero, meal skipping, purging, speed, these are all out. Health is King and Fit is in.

Fit, only one letter away from Fat, its out of breath sister, is all about being who you really are. You really are a warrior, an athlete, a competitor, an animal, built to chase, build and carry. You are a biological machine, measured and capable of balance. Food is fuel and thousands of people find themselves jumping up and down in their bedroom, before they can sleep, just to get their Nike Band in balance.

The Sunday Times declared 2013 the year of ‘Fit not Thin’ with Daisy Lowe as their ambassador for a summer ‘campaign’ of the same name. Lowe, the model, can dead-lift 80kg and finds it empowering. She would rather be Fit than Thin she says, but is this the choice the majority of us worry about?

Fit, I am afraid, is Thin but in trainers. It’s no easier to obtain, no easier to stick to, no cheaper to join than all the thousands of useless diets, shake programs and aerobics lessons many of us have failed at.

Fit is just as aspirational as Thin. It’s as cool, sexy and powerful. Successful people squeeze in fitness before work, they don’t hit snooze and make excuses. They do not end up getting carried away making a running playlist and forgo the actual run.

The trick of this idea – the idea underpinning the rebranding – is of course that you will be thin if you are fit. You will be sexy, energetic and fun. I can appreciate that exercise has incredible benefits for both body and mind, and that women need to hear that something is just as good if not better than Thin, but Fit is just not as uncomplicated as it may seem.

When aimed at a teenager who is starving themselves, spending their evenings into nights on pro-anorexia social networks, would the new choice ‘fix’ them? Of course I’d rather my anorexic and bulimic friends had taken up yoga instead of downing laxatives, though of course most of them excessively exercised as well. The most ‘healthy’ people I know are recovering anorexics who have found an acceptable new way to control their bodies.

For me, as one of the majority of women in the UK who is neither fit nor thin, and certainly not managing to control her body, this new message falls on cynical ears. Nothing more than a new sales patter, a more socially acceptable form of the traditional weight-loss industry in an era when both anorexia and obesity are rising; a rebranding where the inferred wisdom is you can be any size and Fit. But of course, Daisy Lowe is both Fit AND Thin.

In this year’s Jacques Perritti BBC Documentary series The Men Who Made Us Thin, we discovered that the in/out calorie “balance” does not work for everyone, that the gym industry knows exercise does not help people lose weight long-term and that it is possible to be both Fat AND Fit. This all means that we are not machines. What is balance for one person causes another to fall down.

Fat is very much a Feminist Times issue. When Liz Jones said that the Feminist Times had no right to do a piece on the burning of Spanx because our editor is very thin, she was unaware that the Deputy Editor (me) is a size 20. I do not believe the commodification of “Fit” is the answer to obesity or anorexia. Telling us we’ll be healthy if we eat a cereal is no better than telling us we will be thin, if it’s not true. Telling us a Playboy model is fit instead of thin is no more helpful either. And neither message is “good” for feminism.

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VIDEO: Rape is Rape in any language

A powerful video campaign, ‘Rape is Rape in any language’, was launched yesterday by Coventry Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre (CRASAC), in collaboration with Coventry City Council.

Dianne Whitfield, CRASAC Chief Officer said: “This is the first ever campaign in Coventry that focusses on the victims and survivors and their needs. It is trying to talk directly to them, as well as educate people who may not be aware of the dreadful trauma rape and sexual abuse causes.

“In that sense it is quite ground-breaking. I hope that people really get involved in the campaign, spreading the message that rape is rape in any language and is acceptable in none.”

CRASAC’s key campaign aim is to dispel the myths and stereotypes around rape and sexual violence in their community and let people know that support is available if they want it.

“The intention is to use this video in police stations, GP surgeries, schools, universities, A&E, walk-in centres and businesses, and this video is the starting point to build from. We intend to move forward using different languages and picking out particular themes for specific audience groups,” said CRASAC’s Development Officer, Sarah Learmonth.

“We hope that this video will have an impact across our entire community, which is richly diverse, and deliver the message that victims and survivors of sexual violence are never to blame.”

‘Rape is Rape in any language’ launched yesterday, Thursday 7 November, at Coventry’s Shop Front Theatre, with help from Councillor Ann Lucas, Leader of Coventry City Council and lead member of the Sexual Violence and Exploitation Strategic Partnership.

Cllr Ann Lucas said: “It is incredibly important that we raise awareness of what rape and sexual abuse really means, so that those who have been affected can come forward and receive the support they need.

“I hope that the campaign and its incredibly powerful messages educate people on the scale of rape and sexual abuse, and what needs to be done to prevent it.”

The launch event saw the first public viewings of the ‘Rape is Rape in any language’ DVD. The audience also heard from a survivor of sexual violence, and the actors who appear in the film explained why they got involved in the campaign and what is was like narrating stories based on survivors’ real life experiences.

Coventry Bears Rugby League Team have also been key supporters of the campaign. Player Demetrius Gonsalves appears in the opening scene of the video and spoke at yesterday’s launch. In a statement on their website, club director Alan Robinson said: “We were very happy to support the City Council and CRASAC through their development of the campaign. A number of our players spent time learning about how serious the issue is in the city and were passionate about supporting such a good cause. Prop forward Demo Gonsalves in particular went on to support the project in the video and media campaign and has been commended for his input.

“Rape and sexual abuse is a sensitive subject but a hugely important one to raise.  Anyone can prevent or assist in highlighting situations which could lead to rape and sexual abuse and through working with CRASAC and indeed the RFL we hope to educate our players and staff and then be able to pass on workshop training to people within the community to help make a difference.”

CRASAC’s campaign can be followed on Twitter through the hashtag #rapeisrape.

CrasacCoventry Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre (CRASAC) has been established for 32 years, providing free services to women and girls, men and boys, aged 5 and above, in Coventry, who are victims or survivors of sexual violence and abuse either now or in the past. They provide a helpline, counselling service, therapy groups for adults and children, an outreach service for black and ethnic minority groups as well as young people, support and advocacy for those who choose to go through the criminal justice system, and address the effects of sexual violence in a safe environment.

CRASAC supports over 5,000 victims of rape and abuse through all their services and that number increases every year.

Their helpline is open to women, men & children, their families & supporters on 02476 277777

Opening times: Mon-Fri 10-2pm & Mon & Thurs 6-8pm

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Nimko Ali and Leyla Hussein

Nimko Ali: A year as the face of FGM

For Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) survivor and campaigner Nimko Ali, the personal has always been political. At this year’s London Reclaim The Night, Nimko and her colleagues marched the streets of Central London dressed in “fanny suits” and posing with police officers – a scene of jubilant and defiant protest against the violence inflicted on their own bodies. And they have every right to be jubilant; it’s been one hell of a year for the anti-FGM movement that confident, outspoken Nimko has become a face of.

On Monday this week, a report by the Royal Colleges of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists, Nursing and Midwives called for FGM to be recognised as child abuse; Nimko and her colleagues spent the afternoon in parliament celebrating the launch of that report, and Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, tweeted his support for the report, saying: “Welcome report calling for greater FGM awareness & to treat as child abuse  It is illegal and must end #tacklingFGM

In the last twelve months, Nimko has been instrumental in making FGM a front page national news story, and tonight sees Channel 4 air a documentary by Nimko’s colleague Leyla, exposing the horror of the practice. But the normally effervescent Nimko becomes more hesitant and emotional at the Feminist Times office, looking back on the painful road that has brought her to this point.

Raised by her mother to be a strong, confident woman, Nimko was “always full of questions” as a child, and began questioning what had been done to her vagina at the age of seven. “I always knew that it wasn’t right, that there was no reason for doing it.”

In October 2010 Nimko co-founded Daughters of Eve to raise awareness of FGM in the UK. Running it part-time for the first couple of years, Nimko also spent a long time talking about her experiences in the third person, understandably cautious of becoming a walking, talking case study.

In 2012 she spoke openly about her experiences using “I” for the first time, after feeling an increasing sense of responsibility to speak out. “I tell people to ‘check your privilege’ all the time but actually I’ve got lots of privilege as well because I’ve got a position and a platform to speak out and to encourage other young women to speak out too.”

It wasn’t until February this year though that Nimko found herself thrust to the forefront of the campaign. “A 10-year-old girl had written to Equality Now saying she was scared she was going to be cut. Equality Now wanted to send the letter to the Evening Standard, and Nimko agreed to lead the campaign as a survivor.

“I didn’t think it would ever get outside London. I wore a hat but I didn’t even realise the Evening Standard went online!” Not as incognito as she’d hoped, Nimko quickly found herself the face of the anti-FGM movement – a role that came with fear, anxiety and death threats attached. “I long for the days when I could do and say what I wanted”, she says, describing her relationship with the police who advise on her safety.

It’s been a tough year for Nimko, but the abuse and sense of vulnerability have not dampened her spirits or passion for her cause. She evidently lives and breathes her campaign – raising awareness, lobbying government and supporting fellow survivors.

The NSPCC came on board on June this year, with their free 24-hour FGM helpline – a service that made a real difference to the conversations Nimko found herself having: “I don’t need to tell people it’s child abuse for 30 minutes now, because they see the NSPCC and they automatically know, so you can move that conversation forward.”

In September FGM and Daughters of Eve made the front page of the Evening Standard following an in-depth Freedom of Information (FOI) project by journalist Martin Bentham on the prevalence of FGM in the NHS. This article caught the attention of Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Health, who invited Nimko to come in and discuss the issue.

The following month, Nimko found herself and a friend sat drinking tea with Mr Hunt and newly appointed Public Health Minister Jane Ellison, who Nimko has previously worked with on FGM, and who has also worked closely with the Evening Standard on their reporting of the issue.

“Jane was elected in 2010 and in Battersea she has a large population of Somali women. FGM is universal within the Somali community, and she ended up setting up the APPG (all-party parliamentary group) on FGM to focus on what’s happening, along with Efua Dorkenoo OBE from Equality Now, as secretariat,” Nimko explains.

Even when she’s not drinking tea with MPs, or posing with police officers while dressed as a giant vagina, Nimko is never off-duty. “The fanny questions follow me everywhere!” She laughs. “I get it at parties – people see this outspoken person and think ‘let me ask all these [inappropriate] questions’. People always think they can do that – it brings out their childlike curiosity.” Her colleague Leyla Hussein faced similar questions about her sex life from Philip Schofield, during her interview on ITV’s This Morning today.

“It’s always the men,” Nimko adds, explaining that she’s been asked questions about FGM, clitorises, sex and orgasms by everyone from guys she meets at parties to Jeremy Hunt himself. “I don’t take offence to it – it’s funny to me, but it’s not the kind of question you can ask all survivors,” she says.

For Nimko, this focus on the physical is part of the problem, even within the NHS. “They assume that because they’ve given you external, physical treatment, you should be fine,” she says. “But it’s like any form of violence against women – it’s a psychosexual issue, and rather than asking people if they can still orgasm, or if they’ve got a clitoris or not, I think it’s about the NHS providing psychological support for women that have been through FGM.

“What’s now coming through is this clitoris reconstructive surgery, which recreates the clitoris – and I’m thinking no, no, no, we need to prevent!” Nimko firmly believes that education and awareness raising are key to tackling and ultimately preventing the practice of FGM.

“We have the legislation but you’re not going to get a child walk into a police station and say, ‘I was taken away and I had FGM, I need you to prosecute my parents with this legislation.’ That’s never going to happen.”

Michael Gove’s Department of Education has typically dragged its feet on FGM, just as they have been reluctant to champion the Home Office campaign on abuse in teenage relationship, but Nimko feels optimistic about Daughters of Eve’s relationship with Jeremy Hunt and Jane Ellison in the Department of Health, and opening up cross-departmental conversations with Theresa May and Justine Greening.

A spokesperson from the Department of Health said: “During a meeting on FGM, the physiological effects of this illegal and abhorrent practice were discussed. The meeting was both informative and helpful in furthering understanding of appalling procedure.”

Responding to the report, Jane Ellison said: “One of my priorities as Public Health Minister is to work towards eradicating female genital mutilation. I will continue to work hard to protect future generations of girls from this abhorrent practice.”

In less than a year, Nimko and her colleagues have taken FGM from an unspoken, cultural taboo, to a key part of the political and news agenda. On Monday, FGM was the Guardian’s lead, front-page story and tonight Nimko’s colleague Leyla Hussein brings it to Channel 4, with her documentary The Cruel Cut. “I have to say a massive thank you to Leyla for risking her life to save girls,” she says.

Nimko’s favourite phrase is “fanny forward” – she and Daughters of Eve absolutely embody it their daily battle to #stopFGM.

Watch The Cruel Cut tonight on Channel 4 at 10.45pm, and tweet along using the hashtag #stopFGM.

If you have been affected by FGM or are worried that a child may be at risk, contact the NSPCC’s 24 hour helpline anonymously on 0800 028 3550 or email

Image of Nimko (left) and Leyla (right) courtesy of Nimko Ali.

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For once let’s really talk about slut-shaming

Encountering the term “slut-shaming” was a lightbulb moment. At last, a word I could use to express my unease when fellow feminists fretted over the “sexualisation” of young girls or pointed the finger at so-called female chauvinist pigs. While conscious of the dynamics to which they referred, I’d long resented the implication that individual women could not own their choices. If we live in a culture that objectifies women – and I believe that we do – then defining girls and women as “sexualised” (as opposed to sexual) merely adds to it.

I still feel this to be the case and yet, of late, I’ve started to have some misgivings over the way in which “slut-shaming” and related terms such as “sex positive” are used. I know I’m not the only one. I’ve witnessed feminist friends being called slut-shamers and prudes for challenging the “wrong” cultural targets. I’ve routinely seen debates on Page Three and lad mags descend into sniping over which feminists hate female sexuality the most. I’ve even heard asexual feminists worry that they are being dismissed as “sex negative” by default.

All of this strikes me as unnecessary. It seems we are confusing a critique of the misogynist images that surround us with the very hatred that lies behind them. There’s a fine line to tread between attacking the damaging uniformity of what is presented to the world as “female sexuality” and attacking the woman who may, through choice, represent it. We still need to attempt to get it right. We cannot keep women’s sexual expression under patriarchal guardianship out of fear that to do otherwise might mean losing the few outlets that misogynist culture permits.

Re-reading Joan Smith’s Misogynies, first published in 1989, I was shocked to see how far a virulent hatred of women as sexual beings didn’t just fuel the murders committed by the Yorkshire Ripper, but also helped Peter Sutcliffe evade capture. Obsessed by the idea that Sutcliffe set out to kill because he hated “prostitutes”, one detective, Jim Hobson, went so far as to reassure him that “many people do”, adding: “But the Ripper is now killing innocent girls. […] You have made your point. Give yourself up before another innocent women dies.”

I look at this and I can’t help thinking that this is not so far from the divisive language and beliefs that surround us today. The Wikipedia entry on Sutcliffe still describes him as someone “obsessed with killing streetwalkers”, not women (as though the former constitute a lesser sub-category). Women are still seen as pure or tainted and we need to ask whether protecting misogynist principles of sexual representation – Page Three, lad mags, hyper-unreal porn – is helping or hindering. We need to ask whether the maintenance of public breeding grounds for misogyny increases or tempers prejudice against female sex workers. Above all, we need to ask why, if the mere visibility of female flesh should make female sexual choices more acceptable, this hasn’t ever happened?

I still value the term “slut-shaming” but I can’t help feeling that its worst form manifests itself when knives are sunk into female flesh for no other reason than that it is female flesh. Critiquing the culture in which such hate arises must never become taboo.


VJD Smith (Glosswitch) is a lifelong feminist and mother of two who edits language books when she’s not tied up with parenting, blogging and ranting.  Find out more @Glosswitch or

Image courtesy of: laverrue

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FiL: Natalya Dell on disability and bi-visibility

Natalya DellNatalya Dell is a 33-year-old disabled students’ and assistive technology adviser in a university. She is a deaf, bisexual feminist, originally from South Manchester but now living in Birmingham.

How does the feminist movement fail to address bi-visibility?

Biphobic and transphobic rhetoric and attitudes from famous feminists are a significant reason why I have not had much to do with feminism-labeled movements. I haven’t had much exposure to bad attitudes because I’ve not put myself in the position to receive them, except for some LGBT events where we’ve been told to make up our minds, accused of being in a phase, being traitors or tourists. It does seem to be a choice between being invisible by hoping we can pass as lesbian or straight, or reviled all round as liars, faithless, indecisive, traitors and more if we are visibly bisexual.

One of the reasons I accepted the invitation to attend and speak at Feminism in London is to see if modern feminist spaces are actually somewhere I can be safe as a visibly bi-identified person.

Why is disability a feminist issue?

The same reason bisexuality or race is a feminist issue: some disabled people are women. The combination of gender and disability can multiply the effects of things like risk of being a victim of domestic violence or dealing with the parenting of a disabled child or family member as women make up the majority of carers.

Domestic violence risk is approximately 25% for women in general but is 50% or higher for disabled women who may be more reliant on partners and family for care and access to society than a non-disabled person.

How does being deaf affect your ability to participate in feminism?

I have to ration my energy expenditure in general for deafness and interlinked impairment reasons as I also have significant balance difficulties. Travelling and hearing unfamiliar people are both extremely tiring activities so I can only do them occasionally and when I have time to recuperate afterwards. I tend to stick to activism that I can do via my computer, although this has been more limited in recent years due to physical impairment issues, which affect my ability to type.

In what ways can the feminist movement improve accessibility for disabled women?

Consider access and accessibility from the start of any event or activity. Don’t fall into the trap of assuming accessibility is just wheelchair access or sign language (although both of these can be important); it can be simple things like telling people what will happen at an event, providing quiet chill-out spaces and queue-cutting systems and so on. I’d start by looking at what could be improved which is free, cheap and not too time consuming and work from there.

One size does not fit all, but there are many things that can be more accessible to more people such as better typesetting and formatting of information materials. Once you start thinking more accessibly it’s good to tell everyone what you are already doing as this is a sign to disabled people that you might be a safe person or organisation to talk to about any access needs they may have which aren’t already covered.

How can the feminist movement learn from disability activism?

I think like any other movement there are different factions with different beliefs about how goals can be achieved.

I admire DPAC for their direct action and protests, which are immediate and attention getting. I respect Spartacus for their ability to deal with civil servants and politicians on their terms by doing good quality research and producing honest and well-cited research such as 2012’s Responsible Reform report from 2012 and managing to get politicians to agree to meet them.

I don’t sign very well but I love how the Spit group take people’s stories and provide both support and use the issues raised to fight for proper recognition and support for British Sign Language (BSL). Pardon keeps reminding people that most deaf people don’t sign, many people acquire their deafness (become deafened) and that there is other support we might need like access to email and non-telephone contact or communication support like lipspeaking and speech-to-text-reporting (palantypy) out there.

What are your biggest priorities for the feminist movement?

I’d like to see the work on intersectionality continue and more bi and disability visibility in mainstream feminist events.

Natalya is one of the keynote speakers at the Feminism in London conference, this Saturday 26 October.

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Running? It’s just jogging

“Jogging is for people who aren’t intelligent enough to watch Breakfast TV”  – Victoria Wood

Running is massiveMore people run than go to the gym. It’s so massive that most of my friends would describe themselves as some kind of “runner”. Bearing in mind the only thing they all had in common a matter of years ago was drinking, this is some kind of health-kick-culture miracle. But I only really knew something was up when I caught myself introducing ME as a “runner”. This was quite clearly a lie.

I had followed a 5k app and could do about 3k of it, yet something about what I was doing didn’t feel like running. That was when I took a look around at my peers running around and around and around my local park and realised: we’re not runners, we’re joggers.



What’s the significance of this? Jogging was universally panned sometime around the mid 90s as being incredibly bad for you. So who is it that rebranded jogging?

Speed, conditioning and rehabilitation coach, Mike Antoniades told the BBC: “If you are ‘moving’ slower than 6 miles per hour you are jogging, and quite frankly you would be better off walking! Walking at 4 mph or faster is biomechanically more efficient and far more beneficial to you than ‘jogging’ slowly!”

So my apps tell me I’m running but, according to Mike, I’m just jogging and killing myself; you need to be doing at least 9.6K in an hour to even be considered a slow runner. What we’ve got here is an emperor’s new clothes epidemic of epic proportions, with loads of naked emperors limping around ever so smugly as Ellie Goulding tells them they’re amazing in the that Nike App like a deluded mum.

Who has sold us these imaginary threads? The sportswear industry, the suspect with most to gain. The only thing all those running mates of mine have in common really is they’ve all spent money on cool trainers, breathable weather-proof tops, bands, apps and those little bum bags for your arm you put your phone in. Mine’s neon pink.


Image courtesy of Chris Hunkeler

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Charlotte Raven burns shapwear

War on Spanx

What’s a modern feminist to do to update the bra-burning stereotypes of the second wave? In the spirit of 1970, we decided to burn our Spanx instead.

Sadly, burning shapewear proved too toxic and dangerous, and we don’t recommend trying it at home.

Our more creative plan B was to recruit a team of brilliant artists, charged with creating 101 original reinventions for our decommissioned shapewear and to ‘take it out of service’.

Our artists created masterpieces from a Faberge egg and a string of sausages to a trophy handbag and a pair of hanging plant pots. Appropriating something that’s bad for women and transforming it is the embodiment of our whole Feminist Times ethos.

Submit your own creative uses for decommissioned shapewear to our Facebook page. Thanks to our shapewear artists: Cecilie Telle, Jackie Parsons, Jessica Mallock, Sadie Murdoch, Suky Best, Giuliana Molinari, Ingrid Berthon-Moine, Hilary Barry, Abbie Norris, Victoria Harwood, Bek Cameron, Tim Copsey and Vanda Battye.

Giuliana Molinari / 'Lick Me' /

Giuliana Molinari / ‘Lick Me’ / Sugared shapewear pants, liquorice, royal icing and crystalized flowers / June 2013 / from the series ‘Do Not Eat Me’ /

Suky Best / Good to go / B&W inkjet print / 2013 /

Suky Best / Good to go / B&W inkjet print / 2013 /

Bek Cameron / Trophy Bag / Shapewear, hair / 2013

Bek Cameron / Trophy Bag / Shapewear, hair / 2013

Sadie Murdoch / Riff on a Black Purl (series) / C-type print / 2013 /

Sadie Murdoch / Riff on a Black Purl (series) / C-type print / 2013 /

Sadie Murdoch / Riff on a Black Purl (series) / C-type print / 2013

Sadie Murdoch / Riff on a Black Purl (series) / C-type print / 2013

Sadie Murdoch / Riff on a Black Purl (series) / ink on paper / 2013

Sadie Murdoch / Riff on a Black Purl (series) / ink on paper / 2013

Sadie Murdoch / Riff on a Black Purl / 2013

Riff on a Black Purl

Bek Cameron / Punk / photograph / 2013

Bek Cameron / Punk / photograph / 2013

Hilary Barry / paint on shapewear / 2013 /

Hilary Barry / paint on shapewear / 2013 /

Hilary Barry / paint on shapewear / 2013 /

Hilary Barry / paint, canvas, shapewear / 2013 /

Apple and Pear

Abbie Norris / Apple and Pear / shapewear filled with tights / 2013 /

Spandex slugs

Victoria Harwood / spandex slugs / 2013

Jackie Parsons

Jackie Parsons wears inverted shapewear / 2013 /

Ingrid Berthon Moine / Anti-shame wear / 2013 /

Ingrid Berthon Moine / Anti-shame wear / 2013 /

Ingrid Berthon Moine / Anti-shame wear / 2013

Ingrid Berthon Moine / Anti-shame wear / 2013

Cecilie Telle / crochet plant holders / 2013

Cecilie Telle / crochet plant holders / 2013

Vanda Battye and Tim Copsey / Buoy Meets Girl / 2013 /

Vanda Battye and Tim Copsey / Buoy Meets Girl / 2013 /

Jessica Mallock / Frozen shapewear, back and front views / 2013

Jessica Mallock / Frozen shapewear, back and front views / 2013

Lucy Newman / Sausages! / Shapewear, quilt padding / 2013 /

Lucy Newman / Sausages! / Shapewear, quilt padding / 2013 /

Charlotte Raven burns shapewear / Don't try this at home! / 2013

Charlotte Raven burns shapewear / Don’t try this at home! / 2013

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Feminist Toolkit badge

Feminist Toolkit: First Aid

Every week Feminist Times bring you an essential skill you need in your Feminist Tool Kit. 

From First Aid, to unblocking loos blocked with wet wipes, to writing your PhD Dissertation and taking the radiator off the wall – we want to hear what you want in your kit.

Email Subject: Toolkit


It’s a Monday morning, mid summer, you’re working on the launch of a new feminist magazine, have a to-do list the size of your forearm and are coffeed up to your eye balls.

Working from your Editor’s kitchen, with her kids at home, means that your boss is very often multi-tasking between wiping bums, bike repair, lunch making and commissioning amazing content.

In amidst this whirlwind of activity she goes to empty the dishwasher, her hand slips, a glass smashes on the hard sideboard, the jagged remains falling to the floor scewering her foot on the way down.  It’s summer so she is only wearing flip flops.

“Mummy” screams her oldest as blood begins pouring onto the floor.  What do you do?

  1.  Sit the patient down and raise her foot.
  2. Be calm, explain to the oldest child that you need a phone, first aid box and some clean towels.
  3. Look at the wound and check there is no glass in it.
  4. Press hard on the wound with clean towels to stop the bleeding.  Keep the foot up in the air.
  5. Try to clean the wound with water/antiseptic.
  6. Bandage tightly.

Arrange childcare and take the patient to A&E so they can xray to check there’s no more glass in the wound and stitch it up.




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Video: Cannibals

Cannibals (2013) is developed out of ongoing research around an online community – ‘Women Empowering Women’.  In this instance notions of female empowerment operate as an authoritative branding tool, WEW emerges as a traditional pyramid scheme; a microcosm of a capitalist system, mirroring an image of unsustainable growth. Before they eat, the women participate in ‘emotional circuit training’; the body is ‘tenderized’ in preparation for self-consumption. The fictional process deteriorates when one of the participants observes this pseudo-therapeutic process to be eating away at itself.

Artist Lucy Beech was born in Sheffield, 1985. Working predominantly with video, a central focus of her work is an exploration of how performance is initiated in non-theatrical environments as a tool for transforming private stories and experiences into public communicative acts.

Recent and forthcoming exhibitions include:  Outpost, Norwich (2013), Plaza Plaza, London (2013), V22, Young London (2013), 21st Century, Chisenhale Gallery (2013), IMT London (2011) She has also been working collaboratively with Edward Thomasson since 2007, developing performance works for both theatre and gallery contexts including: the 2nd Biennale de Belleville, Paris (2012); Open House, South London Gallery (2012); 7 Year Itch, More Soup and Tart, Barbican Theatre, London (2011) and Holding it Together. Night and Day Performance event, Modern Art Oxford (2010).

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