Category Archives: Gender

“The left has a tendency to eat itself. The anti-capitalist left, the feminist left”

The new Foyles cafe is like a model of the neo-liberal marketplace. Nothing is as nice as it used to be in the old shabby one; the menu is misleading – the ‘East End Salt Beef’ is plasticised pap with no sinews; and yet there is light and air and decent coffee.

I first met Laurie Penny in the old one, back in 2009, when she was working on a piece on trans issues, and soon afterwards, by her request, I adopted her and became her Fairy Godmother. In so many ways. We are dedicating-books-to-each-other close friends, in spite of the gap in our ages, and this interview makes no pretense otherise. We’re here to talk about her new book, Unspeakable Things.

I asked her why she felt she needed an Evil Aunt.

LP: Everyone needs an evil Auntie, just most people are not lucky enough to have one. Actually that’s an interesting question – you’re probably my most important female mentor. There’s a serious lack of mentors for writers my age, especially female ones. I used to find it hard to have personal and professional relationships with women of other generations. There’s massive hostility there.

RK: That’s weird because it used not to be the case. When I think back to my late 20s and early thirties, I had a wodge of them, Lorna Sage for example.

LP: The difference is that you’re not just a mentor, you’re socially a peer.

RK: That’s because one of the good things about your generation is that you don’t defer. It used to be taken for granted that you did. And the plus point with your generation is that you don’t defer and the minus is that people who had to, back in the day, and now expect their turn resent that.

LP: Absolutely. And there’s even more stock set right now on being young, on being a bright young thing. And so there’s more suspicion. One of the things I say in the book is that being a woman is seen like being your job. It’s the job that everyone has signed up for, anyone who is in any way female and every other woman is your competitor. And if being a woman is our job, we need to unionise.

RK: It’s unpaid work, as being a woman always was.

LP: In the movie All About Eve the central character, Margot Channing, the one played by Bette Davis, says: “That’s one career all females have in common, whether we like it or not: being a woman. Sooner or later, we’ve got to work at it.” I thought that was so sad and so profound.

RK: Except your generation, you’re not just supposed to work at it, you’re supposed to work at monetising it.

LP: It’s more like a profession, and that’s what I mean in talking about neoliberalism in general.

RK: It’s a portfolio femininity. You’re supposed to be a walking CV.

LP: Back when I was young, very young, feminism was a lifestyle choice – it was all sort of sassy. It was a matter of “can you be a feminist and wear a white wedding dress or high heels?” And you still get those articles. It was all about identity rather than action. Politics didn’t come into it, and feminism was massively depoliticised and also massively dequeered. And that’s something that’s now reversed itself. A new generation of LGBT and genderqueer activists are making their voices heard. In the 90s, feminism seemed only to talk about straight women; if there was any sense of queer, it was just lesbian women, and it wasn’t an inclusive sense that we all live under heteropatriarchy. It was a politics of lesbian women, if at all, that was oriented around political lesbianism and that whole package. So it wasn’t about queer at all. That’s why it’s so great for my politics to know you and people like you. Because I could read it in books but I wouldn’t get the ‘History as gossip’ version.

RK: History as gossip is important because it means you know where the bodies were buried.

LP: There’s that wonderful article about Shulamith Firestone by Susan Faludi, because it’s not dry, it tells you about the personalities involved and the interactions, and what really broke Shulamith was disillusion with that movement and the way she was rejected.

RK: It’s really important to recognise that history, because trashing was what nearly destroyed second wave feminism, or at least seriously crippled it, in the 70s.

LP: Feminists started talking mainly to each other and it’s partly the trashing and partly the way it gets to be about the Perfect Line. And obviously I care about what feminists think of my book, but I am more interested in what fifteen year olds who are reading it in their bedroom think. It’s not about convincing people who are already my comrades that my politics are pure and perfect. That’s the scary thing about writing a book instead of a blog post – you can’t go back and change it.

RK: But there is no pure line, there’s never been a pure line, the pure line is a delusion.

LP: A lot of what’s important in seventies feminism is the stuff it got wrong. There’s the chapter about race in Dialectic of Sex in which Firestone talks as if she has never met anyone who wasn’t white. Yet if you write off the whole book on the basis of that, you’d have lost a lot of important thought. So it’s important to read it alongside feminists of colour writing at the same time, like Angela Davis and Alice Walker.

RK: You’ve learned a lot from feminists of colour. It took a lot of us ages to do that. Intersectionality, for example, as a clear concept and set of ideas.

LP: Intersectionality does crop up in the book. I do use the I word, not a lot. I ration all the other words – neo-liberalism, capitalism – that smack even a tiny bit of jargon. I went through the manuscript with the search function and wherever possible I changed them, rephrased the sentence, cut them down. So it said the same thing without using the words. There are a lot of schoolkids of every gender whose lives would be so much better if [Judith Butler’s] Gender Trouble had been written in a comprehensible manner, in a language that was exciting and accessible to people not already versed in the language of theory.

RK: The version of Gender Trouble explained in Lolcats is a great contribution to the welfare of humanity. Unspeakable Things works very hard at accessibility, at making the language new.

LP: That’s part of the reason it has so much memoir in there. It was difficult to strike a balance between that and polemic – because you have to have the personal gossip that moves polemic along, and there’s a lot of stuff that is straight up polemic. And the memoir bits explain where my politics come from and how they developed. If I were going to write straight memoir – but I’m 27 and far too young to write memoirs – here I barely talk about my family at all – and there are very good reasons for that – and I don’t talk about Oxford at all. University was my least political time, because I went there very young – I was just 17 and just out of hospital. I spent a couple of years just getting myself well and doing a lot of theatre and drinking gin and being a reprobate and scraping through my exams. It was a couple of years off serious politics. I needed to use the time for other things – self-care is radical. People go on at me about Oxford – and sure it’s important to acknowledge privilege.

RK: True, but in this country, privilege is as complex as class. And the language we use has to reflect that.

LP: There’s a failure to understand that privilege is not the same as power. There’s a lot of that in the chapter about boys, about their rage because they were promised things, they were raised to be able to live in a world which does not exist — never existed actually — less so now. There’s that very painful conflict between the stories they grew up with, in stories and films, in home and school, that they would grow up to be these powerful macho guys and their growing awareness, especially if they are moving in social justice circles, that that’s not an ethical way to be, it’s not a way to live your life. James Bond films are cool, but everyone knows now that James Bond is a total prick. You can’t now watch Connery’s Bond from a position of unwatching Craig. We have all these old ideas of what a masculine hero is meant to be and there isn’t much to replace it.

RK: Is it also because of the massive disillusion – and I feel this from the specific viewpoint of someone in their 60s – with the radical heroes of my generation and what became of them?

LP: It’s almost the opposite really. We had to get older and read a bit more before we understood what they used to be. Remember, I was only ten when Labour came to power. I remember kids in the playground talking about it and going “Labour! My mum and dad are voting Labour” And they were going “TONY BLAIR!” I was a Thatcher baby, but my sisters are both Major babies. Kids born when Labour came to power will be turning 18 this summer. I only started reading political papers at 13, and 9/11 was the first major event that registered with me. That was the thing for us.

RK: With me it was the Cuban missile crisis

LP: When you talk about political generations, it’s particular moments rather than purely chronological. Millennials have no idea of the Berlin Wall but are very clear about 9/11. The next generation won’t remember it.

I asked Laurie why she identifies as a geek.

LP: I’ve always been a geek. Stories have always fascinated me – the more engaged I’ve got with writing, the more I have realised that politics is a story we tell ourselves about what life is about, what identity is about, and the more you can change the story the more you can change the future. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talks about the danger of the single story – I’ve been reading her novels – and the danger of the single story. There’s a problem with the stories women have been allowed to tell themselves about themselves. And the reason I am so fascinated by geek feminism is that it interrogates narrative, the stories we are allowed to tell ourselves about identity and sexuality and gender and agency.

RK: Women’s stories have constantly to be fought for – did you see that article the other day about the Trinity version of the strong woman, the woman who is characterized as strong but does not actually do anything?

LP: All you have to do to be a Strong Woman is turn up wearing combat boots and fall for the hero. Surely we can do better than that in 2014. She can have amazing attributes but she never gets to kill the dragon. She is always a character in someone else’s story, the amazing woman who whisks the hero off to a fantasyland like Trinity in the Matrix. Women are encouraged to see themselves as characters in stories that happen to other people rather than the heroes of their own story. And in Doctor Who, maybe not River Song or Martha or Donna, but most of the other recent companions – they’re Manic Pixy Dream Girls. Amy Pond is definitively a Manic Pixy Dream Girl and so is the new one, Clara. They have quirks and eccentricities but what are they actually like? And if anyone uses the words sassy or spunky – or feisty – I hate feisty. Feisty is a word about women that’s a stand-in for having an actual personality. And they don’t have flaws, or if they have flaws, it’s like it is in New Girl, where they were sitting around thinking that the character ought to have a flaw and someone said “let’s make her clumsy”, which means she sometimes drops things. It’s not even actual dyspraxia which might generate plot.

Women are not allowed character development, let alone catharsis; there’s a big fight going on about who gets to tell stories. It’s not just women, it’s people of colour and LGBT people and there’s a struggle to be the subject of one’s own stories, not a point in other people’s. The internet has had a certain amount to do with this – and fan fiction. Especially now that fan writers are breaking into the mainstream. Some of the sci-fi awards lists are full of new interesting women writers telling stories about race and gender – the Hugo shortlist a bit less so – and of course sci-fi is ideal for that. The excitement for me about writing fiction is how many stories are there left to be told? How many lives and sorts of lives need to find narrative embodiment?

I ask Laurie about her role models from the earlier past.

LP: I’ve just reviewed a collection of Nellie Bly‘s writing. She’s the first gonzo journalist, she’s the first woman investigative reporter, and though there have been children’s books about her, and I think at least one television show – in the USA she’s the legend, the plucky girl reporter – but nobody bothered to collect her writing, nobody bothered to read what she actually wrote. She’s so much more radical than the legend – which is all: Young girl comes out of nothing, becomes ace reporter, does whatever a man can do, rarara – but her work about marriage, her work about the condition of working women across the US is really very radical.

RK: Of course, another great product of Bly’s era is London’s THE IRON HEEL – which Orwell thought was terrifyingly predictive in the 40s, but now…

LP: The future isn’t necessarily bright; there is everything to fight for. Stories are the only way we steal the children of the rich, they’re the only way we can fight apart from simply managing to survive. One of the things about the LGBT communities – that we have to give other communities – and also communities of colour have done this – is to realize that survival is the struggle. Self-care is radical, it is politics, and mutual care, and a solidarity that is not merely in name only. It’s not just a hashtag, it’s showing up and taking care of people. And not being a dick on the internet unless you absolutely have to. I wish more people realised this, because in fallow times the left has a tendency to eat itself. The anti-capitalist left, the feminist left…

RK: Which leads us to the queston of ‘what Laurie Penny did next’.

LP: I’m taking a year off. I am going to Harvard on the Nieman Foundation. I applied for it last year just after losing my father. I could no longer do this kind of unremitting engagement without a physical break. If I hadn’t got that fellowship, I would still have taken a year off of some kind. It’s been really difficult to fight my corner and look after myself and do the work – which doesn’t mean it’s not been worth doing, but I have to think long term and not burn out. That would be sad – no one wants to be in the 27 club. I’m 27 but my birthday’s in September, so I am probably all right.

This is my second interview and the first was with a woman who had eating disorders in her 30s and 40s and I realized that getting better is a process. I’d thought that you just got better, and then I’d be done. But you have to work at it your whole life.

Laurie Penny’s new book ‘Unspeakable Things’ was published on 3 July, by Bloomsbury.

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Trojan Horse: Ofsted & the media fall short on gender

Following the ‘Trojan Horse’ allegations of an Islamic extremist plot in British schools, the press has failed to focus on the fact that Ofsted inspections in fact unearthed findings about the way gender inequality can pervade a school culture. The report describes a culture of fear and intimidation within some of the schools, with some female staff members saying they feel intimidated by male members of the school and are treated unfairly because of their gender. Female Genital Mutilation and forced marriage are not being adequately addressed, and there has been opposition to mixed-gender swimming lessons.

Furthermore, children are being badly prepared for life in modern Britain. In some specific cases girls are discouraged from conversing with boys, undertaking extra circular activities and receive religious education separately from boys. The recommendations emphasise the need for schools to “carry out their statutory responsibility for safeguarding all children”, but fall short of ensuring that there is gender equality.

Where is the debate about the implications for gender equality? The narrative behind separation of girls and boys (in religious education, in swimming, etc.) is that girls are considered to be less equal to boys. Boys and girls are taught different subject material in religious and personal development lessons. If teachers expect certain modes of behaviour from girls – for example discouraging them from talking to boys – and if these attitudes underpin the social values of the teachers and parents alike, what actions can schools, governors, local authorities and the Government take to ensure that gender inequality is not promoted and that boys and girls are being prepared for life in modern Britain?

During the inspections and subsequent storm, I have been asking myself if we really have drawn back the curtain that hides the truth between the expectations of boys over girls. The initial claim was about an alleged Muslim plot to take over these schools; although this was not found to be the case in the Ofsted inspections, the subsequent media storm makes it difficult to separate out the Ofsted inspection, Islamic extremism and these schools.

The ensuing furore and the fallout between Theresa May and Michael Gove about the leaking of a private letter, as well as accusations and counter accusations over who is to blame for what  happened in Birmingham, has meant that the real issues remain under the radar. Add to this the fact that the majority of contributors to news and comments in the national media are men – specifically white men – and it comes as no surprise that the black feminist discourse around the findings and concerns for girls in schools is being missed.

But gender inequality is not just an issue for these schools in Birmingham; the control of girls’ behaviour, particularly when there is a match in attitudes between teachers and parents, has been going on for decades and this is why a feminist perspective is needed.

I attended a mainstream state school not very far from the schools in Birmingham. Not only did I have to deal with overtly racist teachers but I also had to contend with teachers who, though they did not display racism openly, nevertheless had low expectations of me ingrained in their stereotypical view, despite my academic ability. But the biggest challenge I faced on a daily basis was controlling my behaviour to avoid the attention of a male Sikh teacher.

This teacher took it as his ‘duty’ to ensure that Sikh girls ‘behaved’ according to his values and beliefs, which mirrored that of many Sikh parents. He did not consider it an inconvenience, let alone an infringement of child protection, to visit the girls’ homes after school and relay in detail to parents if he had seen or heard their daughter talking to boys, wearing skirts, make-up, etc.  This was not a Sikh school, nor indeed a school with a predominantly Sikh or Asian population, in the same way the schools in the Trojan Horse affair were not faith schools. However this teacher was able to monitor our behaviour and had the authority of the local Asian parental population to exercise his power over us as Sikh girl pupils.

What I was left with was a sense of fear. I did not feel safe at school. I did not feel I could go to another teacher and explain my fears. I did not have the confidence or autonomy to do this. I battled with feelings of ‘letting my parents down’, and the ‘whistleblowing’ of a teacher who not only was a professional in the school but also enjoyed a certain status within the community. I would not have been heard nor supported by any authority figure, be it my parents or the white teachers in the school.

This teacher harassed and behaved in a sexist manner towards me within the classroom. I was always careful to abide by his expectations of personal conduct at school. The last thing I wanted was for him to inform my parents of any perceived misdemeanours, because a very real consequence was that I could lose out on further education and be forced in to an early marriage.

Some of the findings of the Ofsted inspection mirror my own experiences as a Sikh girl pupil in a state school. The findings refer to senior leaders within the school feeling intimidated and fearful. Then what, might one ask, are girls experiencing? Those girls who are expected to behave in a certain way, dictated by the social values of governors and parents, which may be at odds with what the girls themselves would like? The girls and their views have been invisible in all the discussions in the media and in the narrative of an Islamic extremist plot.

If the norm of conduct within a school is that girls’ position in relation to boys is enforced through implicit rules and modes of behaviour, then it seems unlikely that the gendered nature of control of girls will be addressed. Is it therefore surprising that gendered violence, such as female genital mutilation or forced marriage, is not being adequately addressed? Tackling gender inequality and addressing violence against women and girls go hand-in-hand. The two need to be addressed together.

The equalities issue is not being caught in the net of this Islam extremism fishing expedition.  That’s a huge cost and a missed opportunity to society. Where are we talking about the actions and the culture in schools that perpetuates a mindset that girls must behave in a certain way, under the guise of faith – and, more importantly, shaping their own thinking and expectations for the future? What if parents collude in the control of their daughters? How are we bringing up these girls to participate and contribute to society as working adults, as positive role models, and as agents of cultural change?

Kalwinder Sandhu is a freelance consultant, researcher and writer and a local feminist activist in Coventry. Follow her @KindySandhu.

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

(Trigger Warning: contains references to sexual violence.)

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

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

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

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

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Fem:Ale a beer festival for women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Simon Finlay

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The fear of reprisal: What happens if you stand up to harassment?

All too often women experience some form of verbal harassment, whether it’s a “nice arse”, a “slut” or occasionally, a “pussy”. Entirely dependent on the situation and the woman, we have a few seconds to decide whether we are going to respond – essentially a fight or flight decision – and most times, I jump at the chance for a fight.

Swimming in my local pool a few weeks ago, I noticed three, middle-aged men loitering by the side, making loud, obscene comments about the women steadily doing lengths. It was clear they had no intention to exercise – but instead to make the other, predominantly female swimmers feel uncomfortable. They jumped into the opposite end of the pool, directly into my path.

Splashing and shouting – the trio seemed to have evaded evolution entirely – they turned their attention to me as I entered the shallow end. “Come and sit on my knee, love,” one of them jeered, while the other two guffawed, slack-jawed. I diverted away from them and began to turn away. “Fancy a shag?” one of them called. The other women in the pool watched awkwardly, and I cast my eyes across at the children paddling opposite. Fuming, embarrassed and tired, I decided to take one for the team.

I marched – or waded – over and promptly informed the three men that I would rather sew myself up and remain sexless for the rest of my life than have relations with any of them. My fellow swimmers tittered, while I stood, trying to maintain as much dignity as possible in a late-90s Speedo swimsuit and a red face. Then the middle one came forward and hissed, menacingly: “You fucking bitch.” Fear began to set in and my heartbeat quickened. I could feel my pulse in the soles of my feet. I glanced up but the life guard was busy watching over the kids. As I turned to swim away, I could feel them watching me. After two more lengths, I got out.

It’s a myth that verbal harassment is just a bit of harmless fun. It’s about power, control and intimidation, and as I have found out from personal experience, it can easily turn into violence. Cat-calling, verbal harassment – whatever you want to call it – is never flattery. The Everyday Sexism project has received thousands of stories from girls aged eleven and twelve, who have received comments about their developing bodies while they walk to school in their uniforms. Shouting, whistles, even clicks (I watched one man whistle and click at a woman in a bar once – like a bat), are never designed to be taken as a compliment. Verbal harassment causes a flood of different emotions. Fear. Anxiety. Anger. Frustration. Impotence. Misplaced shame. But the real threat is the potential for reprisal – of what will happen to us if we respond.

I escaped unscathed. But for Oxford University student Jeanne Marie Ryan (pictured), an incident in a bar quickly escalated into bloody violence. A couple of months ago, Ryan was on a night out with friends at a bar when she was groped by a stranger. Infuriated, she turned around and told him that his actions were unacceptable. The man then punched her seven times, breaking her nose and leaving her battered, bruised and shaken. Although terrible, Ryan’s attack took place around the same time as the breast cancer awareness “selfie” trend – and by posting a picture of her bruised face, she raised £12,000 for her local rape crisis charity.

When some men ask what the big deal is – that you should “take it as a compliment” – the whole notion of verbal harassment becomes trivialised. It’s not that simple, and certainly not a brief experience. It’s horribly drawn out. Crossing the road to avoid large groups, scanning the street as you walk, clutching your keys between your knuckles, the sinking feeling of noticing someone’s eyes on your breasts, legs or arse – it all has a lingering effect on your mental health. Verbal harassment is no more of a compliment than rape is sex.

Cat-calling is a statement of power. It’s a way of telling us that a man has the right to our bodies, a right to discuss them, analyse them, praise them, criticise them – whether we like it or not. It’s dehumanising. But when we respond, however calmly or viciously, the rejection disrupts their entitlement to our bodies, which society has allowed them to believe is their given right. This leads to the violent outbursts. We might be taking our lives into our own hands, but the more we react, maybe the more this will change. That’s going to take time and while it does we must take care of ourselves.

Lydia Smith is a journalist for the International Business Times UK and has written for publications including the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Daily Mirror and the Huffington Post. Follow her @Lyd_Carolina.

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Why mixed therapy groups may do more harm then good

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.

Emotionally unstable personality disorder (previously known as borderline personality disorder) is a pervasive and distressing condition. It is characterised by mood swings, impulsivity, suicidal ideation and self harm. Sufferers have difficulty with relationships, friendships and self image. According to statistics, up to 75 per cent of those diagnosed are women, and it is stated that 70 per cent have suffered some form of abuse, usually in childhood. Many come from difficult family backgrounds, and EUPD can co-exist with other mental illnesses, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, anxiety, and OCD.

People suffering with EUPD are assumed by mental health services to be very challenging to treat, and personality disorder is often referred to as the “diagnosis of exclusion”. Stereotyping and stigma are rife, and in particular women with the diagnosis are labelled as dramatic, needy, and attention seeking. Specialist services are rarely available and women may find themselves passed from one treatment to the next, which ends up feeding into a vicious cycle of inner chaos, and reinforcing the belief that they are some way untreatable and unwanted.

Unfortunately, for many people, care options can often be dependant on a postcode lottery. Medication, counselling, psychotherapy, and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) are used, and some NHS trusts may offer art based therapies.

Therapeutic communities provide a supportive environment to explore issues, but they aren’t mainstream and many women are never offered the choice. The referral process is lengthy, and patients are often sent for a short course of CBT or counselling instead. Therapy on the NHS is expensive and hard to come by; in the current economical climate resources are stretched, and mental health in particular has received huge funding losses.

Psychotherapy for EUPD is usually group based. Patients who have never experienced a stable background or a strong family unit can begin to forge lasting bonds with others and reduce social isolation. If a woman is fortunate enough to secure a therapy space it is likely it will be within a mixed sex group. Women will be sitting and sharing their memories, perhaps spoken for the first time, with men.

This approach within EUPD treatment is to encourage integration by assisting patients to discover a mutually respectful male/female exchange in a place of relative safety. The aim is to enable them to transfer that knowledge to their every day experiences, improving confidence and relation to others. No doubt a positive move in the long run; however, shouldn’t a woman be allowed to decide for herself when she is ready to make that step?

Someone who has suffered abuse grows up with many issues. A woman may experience deep conflict and trauma around ownership of her body, her female identity, and her right to say no (or yes). Could a male group member truly understand and empathise? Acknowledge the lasting and devastating effects she is left with?

A possible conflict within mixed groups could be that women wouldn’t feel they are able to honestly express their feelings, because of fear of judgement, being asked personal questions, or just purely that they are frightened of male reaction because of past experience. There is also the issue of personal beliefs – we live in a victim blaming culture, and this may be prevalent in the minds of everyone. Psychotherapy enables people to share and explore their feelings, but if a man held a particularly misogynistic view, is it the right time for a woman to have to hear that opinion? These concerns could be a barrier to female participation and, in turn, her healing. Certainly, during my career in the NHS, I witnessed women leaving services when they were informed that the groups were mixed, or sitting impassively during sessions, not able to express themselves.

I also have personal experience of mixed therapy, having been in a group for 4 years, and it did present a challenge for me. Disclosing information about painful experiences is never easy. People in groups come for all kinds of reasons, but unfortunately many men hold a particularly difficult attitude to women. I and another woman were told we should “act more like proper women”, “not have an opinion on everything”, and “understand what it’s like to be a man – that’s tough”. This particular member and I almost came to a physical altercation on one afternoon, after he decided to trivialise my disclosure of abuse and compare it to his experience. His exact words were: “For God’s sake, it was years ago, and everyone gets crap anyway – my dad always sent me boxing when I didn’t want to go.” When I and several other people told him he was out of order he became aggressive and stood up to shout in my face.

In a separate incident I was threatened by another male member, again for simply voicing an opinion. He screamed at me to: “Shut your mouth or I swear I’ll smash that table straight over your head.” Men would express their views on women using derogatory terms such as ‘slut’ and ‘bitch’. Whether it’s directed at people in the room or not, it still isn’t pleasant to listen to. When the deep rooted prejudices overspill, it’s the women who bear the brunt.

Of course, not all men are abusers, and not all men are violent. Psychotherapy groups have strong boundaries and strict codes of conduct in place for the safety of everyone involved. But a treatment group is meant to be just that – treatment. Facing personal demons is difficult enough, particularly for those who have never had a voice, have never spoken out before. Having men in a group where the majority of female members have experienced prolonged suffering at male hands may do more harm than good. Treatment for EUPD isn’t straightforward, as sufferers have complex issues. However, women should always have the right to choose.

A. Lewis is a campaigner for changing attitudes around mental health. 

For more information and support on EUPD, visit Mind or Emergence.

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Why we can’t have nice things: A Gender Week post-mortem

One of the biggest debates within feminism has always been how we define, how we describe, the word ‘gender’. One of the biggest problems with that debate has always been that, for a significant minority of feminists, there is none; only a dogmatic assertion that “feminism solved this long ago once and for all”.

Feminist Times has, as a part of its mission statement, a commitment to listening and giving space to all sections of feminism as long as the discussion remains empathetic and respectful. Part of the background to that commitment is a radical scepticism about the idea that anything has been permanently settled; that any section of feminism has a final and definitive answer to the intellectual challenge that feminism poses to those values of patriarchy and kyriarchy, in which we were all brought up and which surround us every day.

It can be argued, in fact, that any premature assumption of a definitive position’s correctness is almost certainly a hindrance; dogmatic certainty on the part of any section of the community about anything except their own personal experience is going to be problematic when it comes to discussion.

I’ve taken flak from my own trans community over Gender Week. Some trans people feel that, given our embattled status, abstract disscussion of issues around gender is an indulgence we cannot afford. Personally, I don’t for a second think that discussion of gender can ever risk the validation of trans identity; the arguments on our side, and our own diverse experiences of gender, are too strong for anyone to discount them except if they absolutely refuse to listen.

It is, though, the case that a lot of trans people are very vulnerable and a wide-ranging public discussion of gender is going to risk triggering their own doubts and fears and memories of bad times; perhaps neither I nor Feminist Times should have been prepared to take that risk.

In spite of long experience to the contrary, I and we thought that the time had finally come when it would be possible to have a serious discussion that would start the process of healing the rifts within feminism. The editors commissioned a number of pieces from which a respectful and intelligent discussion might have emerged.

Only it did not. Instead, the comments on a number of the pieces, and not only those written by trans people, became unpleasantly abusive in the face of the best efforts of the editors to moderate them. There was little good faith in many of them – well known trans-exclusionary radical feminists did not reveal their preconceptions or even used aliases and sock-puppet accounts.

What happened on the Twitter #genderweek hashtag was even worse. The writers* for that issue of Feminist Times were subjected to unpleasant hate speech including, but not restricted to, constant misgendering. I saw only some of the attacks on me – these were not for the most part serious discussion of my arguments but instead anonymous personal abuse based on my age and looks.

It’s now abundantly clear that serious feminist discussion can’t take place on Twitter without it being hi-jacked for hate speech. I know some people feel that the terms cis and TERF are, or have the potential to become, derogatory; I didn’t see those people complaining when my photo was tweeted with abusive comments.

I had hoped we could have an adult discussion of gender and what we mean by the word; clearly I was culpably naïve and I apologise for thinking that certain women involved in that hashtag are capable of respectful discussion between equals.

Roz Kaveney is a member of the Feminist Times Editorial Board. She is a trans woman, novellist, poet, critic and activist.

Following Gender Week, we have revised our editorial comment policy, which is now published here.

*Editor’s note: We asked Roz to write a personal perspective on Gender Week, as a member of our editorial board, as someone who was involved in helping us plan the week, and as someone who received criticism both from radical feminists and trans feminists for her involvement. We are, however, aware that abuse throughout the week – particularly on Twitter – was directed at many of our contributors, not only those who are trans.

We don’t believe, as Roz says, that any one side has a final and definitive answer to the complexities that feminism throws up. Because of this we are committed to respectful, empathic discussion of the differences within feminism, and the varying experiences of those within the movement, and our content will always reflect this. The constructive discussions of our Gender Week content that did take place on Twitter were regretfully at times almost completely drowned out by repetitive and abusive comments from a small minority of individuals.

– Sarah Graham, Deputy Editor.

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#GenderWeek: What is gender? Survey results

Click here to read all #GenderWeek articles.

Throughout #GenderWeek, we’ve been asking our Members and readers to fill in our survey, responding to the question: What is gender?

We’ve had 148 responses, 36% of them from Feminist Times Members, and the remainder from readers and supporters who are not Members. The infographics below takes into account all 148 responses, while the examples of text responses selected from the responses of Feminist Times Members.

What is gender?

A selection of responses:

What is gender?

Gender is self defined. It is how you feel, what you associate with. Yes, there is a biological gender but that does not dictate the emotional gender of a person.

The state of being male or female (typically used with reference to social and cultural differences, rather than biological ones). I would use “sex” for the latter.

It refers to the structural relations between men and women, reflecting the dominance of men in society and the subordination of women.

For me it’s a biological definition. Sex you are physically born with.

Gender is the external representation of biological sex, the visible presentation of our sex as interpreted by society, a reductionist binary.

Whatever you identify with or what you aspire to identify with. However the spectrum can include many options and is not linked to sexuality.

Gender is the socially constructed roles, expectations and spaces to act allocated to biological men and women. Gender roles and entitlements are fluid across cultures and contexts, though are globally inequitable, with women allocated less status, fewer resources and very much restricted space and autonomy; in most cultures and contexts women are to a greater or lesser extent not understood or constructed as fully human, and often considered the property of men.

Gender, as it relates to the individual, is deeply personal and will affect each person differently. Gender does not exist in isolation, but is articulated in relation to other forms of repressions.

I believe gender is socially constructed; exists on a spectrum of performativity; not innate, but learned as part of sexual stereotyping during enculturation.  One learns to perform binary oppositional ‘male’ and ‘female’. Sex determines XX, XY, and variations thereof.

Most people identify with the gender i.e. genitalia they were born to. But it must be incredibly painful for those individuals who do not fit into a specified gender, either because they are born with indeterminate genitalia or because they feel they are trapped in the wrong body. I believe those individuals should have the right to choose the identity they feel comfortable with.

A hierarchical oppressive social construct designed to keep women at the bottom of the hierarchy.

It is the biological differences between human beings, defined by reproductive function. It is the cultural differences between human beings that have come about by the unequal distribution of power and education.

Ideally it’s a personal identity but the lived reality is that others place their opinions of your gender over what you say and treat you according to how they believe people of your gender should be treated. I think there is some overlap between liberal and radical ideas behind gender in that both believe you can suffer because of your gender, but modern feminism recognises that there is more than just gender at play in the systems of oppression that we all live under.

A social construct – I agree with Simone de Beauvoir when she said that women aren’t born, they are created.

How do you define your own gender?

A selection of responses:

How do you define your own gender?

Female, woman, cis, trans, queer, gender-queer, agender, anti-gender, gender-free, gender-fluid, gender-variant, non-binary, cisgender, cis-woman, transman, transwoman, lesbian-feminist, transfeminine, masculine, femme, man, queer-femme, unspecified, non-gendered, conformist, rebellious, spectrum.

What defines your gender?


Your sex strongly influences your perception of your gender because people with female genitals are defined in certain ways.

Not necessarily, it depends a lot on background and upbringing so for me yes, but I don’t think that it has to for anyone!

Genitals define your sex, which is often incorrectly used intechangiby with gender.

I’m born intersex and I try to reject gender classifications, while acknowledging that a third classification doesn’t solve the gender hierarchy or anything very much, in and of itself.

No, but they are used by cultural norms to construct a gender identity.

They contribute to my being assigned into the sex class.

Would prefer them to be different – they don’t define me.

I don’t know, probably because I identify with the same gender that my genital identify me as and I was brought up in that gender. I can’t tell whether they are defining it or not.

They do if you view it as a binary, but if we were to see gender as traits, social conditioning and assumptions not as something essential, then no, they don’t at all.


My genes (probably) coincide with my chromosomal gender.

They determine biological sex.

Mix of genes and socialisation.

I don’t know. They likely have an influence.

No, but my genetic makeup as a female determines what gender society considers appropriate for me.

Scientifically yes but I’m not 100% sure.


Not define but will nurture a direction.

None of us are outside our socialised experience. I would say that I am not a ‘woman’ in the sense that my culture and socialisation has taught me I should be – however, at the same time, my understanding of myself as a woman has been and continues to be in reference to that as i unlearn some expectations, reshape my understanding and do not live outside social discourses of womanhood. I am constantly engaged in struggle between my definitions and those of the people around me.

To some extent, but you can resist.

‘Socialisation’ is how one comes about having an understanding of one’s gender – indeed the only understandings any of us have of any human concept come to use through social relations, as otherwise how would we know what we mean by something is the same as what others mean by it? Furthermore as one aspect to gender is its force of compulsory normativity, for many people their understanding of their gender will one envisaged as to be in accordance with this normative force, which could be what some consider the term ‘socialisation’ to mean. However one’s gender identity itself is constituted as an *engagement* with the set of power relations (e.g. norms etc.) that make up gender, which in each person is always in tension, never perfect accordance, with the elusive ideal of ‘woman’ (or ‘man’) posited by social relations.

No, but it created my concepts of gender.

Yes, but socialization is a complex process that can produce a variety of understandings of gender norms, gender identity, and one’s “place” relative to gender, so saying that trans women experience some kind of homogenous “male socialization” is simplistic and locates systems of oppression in the individual, not in the class (woman) which includes everyone who experiences societal messages about women in the first person, regardless of whether they’re “Supposed” to do so.

No, but it does contribute to one’s experiences and personal history, which are important.

Which of these statements do you agree with?


Top 5 responses:

  1. Gender is a social construct (19%)
  2. A rigid gender binary oppresses both men and women who don’t conform (19%)
  3. Sex is biological (17%)
  4. Gender is a personal identity (14%)
  5. My vision of the future is a spectrum of gender (14%)

Do you identify as…?


How sure are you that you have XX chromosomes as a woman and XY chromosomes as a man?

(1) being Not at all sure and (5) being So sure I’d bet my life on it.


Word clouds created via Wordle

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#GenderWeek: Respectful discussion is possible

Click here to read all #GenderWeek articles.

Discussing “gender” is one of the most contentious topics in popular feminist discourse. Many misunderstandings can be attributed to different usage of the same words; and to make matters worse, many of us have been traumatised during previous attempts to engage in political conversation about gender. The history between trans advocates and gender critical feminists is extremely hostile. Personal insults, condescending dismissals, and even threats of violence are not unusual.

Late last year, we were both invited to participate in a new Facebook group that aimed to bring radical feminists and trans advocates together to discuss gender. Unfortunately, critical analysis of gender was not tolerated and we were both quickly removed from the group. This was not entirely surprising, but we were disappointed as the idea excited us.

Gender discussion rulesWe wanted to continue the conversation, so we decided to start our own Facebook group. We decided that the new group should be ‘open’ in Facebook terms, so anyone with a Facebook account could read what was being discussed even if they didn’t want to participate. Secondly, anyone would be allowed to join the group no matter what their political opinions—liberal, conservative, anarchist, libertarian, or N/A. The only rule was to engage respectfully and in good faith with the other members. It would be a grand experiment! But still, we weren’t very optimistic about its potential longevity.

We were clear that the point of the group isn’t to change people’s views, but to build a greater understanding between everyone, and hopefully build some bridges.

In just four months, Discussing Gender Critical and Gender Identity has ballooned to more than 600 members. We currently have four moderators, all of whom are feminists and one of whom is a trans woman.

Generating discussion of gender is not difficult, but maintaining harmony in the group is our greatest challenge. Towards that end, we have also developed some very basic ground rules regarding language. By preempting some common stumbling blocks to discussion of gender, we’ve been able to sustain unusually long and interesting conversations. For example, in order to avoid the minefield of misgendering, our group policy is to use preferred pronouns or the plural-neutral they/their. Predictably, we’ve been criticized by some on both sides of the table, but despite occasionally removing a member from the group, we have had surprisingly few problems. As one of our trans members commented:

“I think this group is the first concrete step leading to a better understanding between trans people and gender critical feminists. Understanding does not mean agreement, but it can show that finally there is dialogue.”

From this first step, we have already begun challenging the idea that there are only a few views around key gender issues. There is a wide diversity of thought among trans people as well as among feminists; and the group provides a forum to explore these ideas. We have also begun discussing whether there are any areas of broad agreement or commonality within the group. Ultimately, we would like to identify issues that we can potentially work together on, leading to joint trans and feminist political activism.

We invite anyone who is interested in moving beyond hostility and into creative solutions to join our conversation on Facebook.

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#GenderWeek: Survey – What is gender?

Click here to read all #GenderWeek articles.

What is gender? What does it mean to be a man or a woman? Male or female? Trans or non-binary? It’s a subject that divides feminists, and we want to know where you stand. Are the liberal and radical definitions of gender diametrically opposed? What do they have in common, where do they differ, and is it possible to believe bits of both?

Below is a simple outline of both definitions, which are discussed in more detail (from a radical feminist perspective) in this article by Trouble and Strife.

We’re also keen to know where Feminist Times members and readers stand. Please click here to fill in our #GenderWeek survey. We’ll publish the results at the end of this week.


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Announcing #GenderWeek, starting 28th April

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

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

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

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

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

Selection of #GenderWeek content.

Published Monday 28th April:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published Tuesday 29th April:

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

Published Wednesday 30th April:

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

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

Published Thursday 1st May:

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

Published Friday 2nd May:

What is Gender Reader Survey Results

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

If you have something you think should be included in Gender Week, email us now at

Keep up with the debate online at #GenderWeek

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Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China

Leftover WomenLeta Hong Fincher is the author of ‘Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China’, published by Zed Books. She gave Deputy Editor Sarah Graham an in-depth interview on the state of Chinese gender politics.

During the Mao era gender equality was seen as an important revolutionary goal – Mao famously said “women hold up half the sky” – to what extent was that aim achieved, both legally and in terms of attitudes?

In the early period, following the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, the Communist Party publicly celebrated gender equality and sought to harness women’s labour in boosting the nation’s industrial production, so it introduced many initiatives such as assigning urban women jobs in the planned economy. Women’s labour had traditionally been agricultural, but under Mao women were told they could do anything that a man could do and were recruited into formerly male-dominated work. The Communist Party frames the 1950s as the age of “women’s liberation,” and for many women previously bound to the home, unable to participate in public work, it was.

One of my professors at Tsinghua University, Guo Yuhua, says that women were objects of mobilisation in China’s gigantic social engineering experiment in the 1950s, so their “liberation” was an important symbol of the success of the prole­tarian revolution in the Communist Party’s rendering of history. But the state-imposed equal employment of women and men failed to transform underlying gender relations. Behind the public celebration of gender equality in the Communist workplace, women continued to shoulder the heavy burdens of childcare, housework and cooking at home. Rural women in particular suffered tremendously.

A year or so ago I read Xue Xinran’s book The Good Women of China, which is largely based on interviews conducted during the 1980s (i.e. post-Mao) and addresses issues like suppression of homosexuality, rape, forced marriage, and abuse carried out by government figures. In what ways has China today progressed and/or regressed since then?

It’s a very complicated picture but briefly, women’s rights abuses have occurred throughout Chinese history and since the Communist Revolution of 1949. Xinran’s book tells some very moving tales about the suffering of women. At the same time, the early Communist-era policy of mobilising women to take part in the workforce had the long-lasting, positive effect of very high female labour force participation compared to the rest of the world. At the end of the 1970s, over 90 percent of working-age women in the cities were employed, so this significantly raised their social and economic status relative to men.

But since the onset of market reforms in the 1980s, the state has retreated from its previous role in mandating gender equality in the workplace. Women’s employment rates started to drop significantly in the 1990s, and today urban women’s employment rates have fallen to new lows, while the gender income gap has also increased sharply. Combine that with the unprecedented gender wealth gap caused by China’s real estate boom, deeply entrenched patriarchal norms, and the new state media campaign against “leftover” women, and gender inequality has come roaring back.

The name of your book refers to those “leftover women” – the notion that unmarried, educated women over the age of 27 are “leftover”. Compared to women in the west (as in You’re such a nice girl, why aren’t you married?) how strongly is that pressure and stigma felt by women in China?

Women around the world face all kinds of gender discrimination, so Chinese women are certainly not alone. I have received mes­sages through my Twitter account from women in India, Pakistan, Russia, Turkey, Singapore, Nigeria, Kenya, the Philippines and other countries telling me that they also face intense pres­sure to marry.

The difference in China is that gender-discriminatory norms are exacerbated by a one-party state intent on social engineering, with a massive propaganda apparatus that maintains a tight grip on information. So when the state media mobilise to push the message that women in their late 20s are “leftover”, like rotten food, and those messages are repeated ad nauseum ever since 2007, even university-educated, young women may internalize that ideology because they don’t have enough access to alternative sources of information.

The “leftover” women media campaign is also aimed at the parents and other older relatives of young women, so even if the young woman rejects the sexist media messages, she still comes under intense pressure from her parents and others to get married. Arranged marriages are supposed to be a thing of the past, but I see quite a lot of young women rushing into marriage with a man pushed on them by their relatives, just because they are afraid of winding up “leftover” in their late 20s or early 30s.

One of the biggest regressions you’ve mentioned in your writing on the subject is the amendment to marriage laws, which dramatically reduce women’s property rights. What have been the biggest practical knock-on effects you’ve seen for women?

China’s privatisation of housing since 1998 has resulted in an unprecedented and fast accumulation of residential real-estate wealth, but this wealth is out of reach for women whose families are unwilling to help them make the down payment on an urban home. I argue that Chinese women have been largely shut out of the biggest accumulation of residential property wealth in history, worth around US$30 trillion in 2013, since parents tend to buy homes for sons but not daughters; most homes are registered in men’s names; and many women transfer their life savings to their boyfriend or husband to finance the purchase of the home, but then forfeit ownership of this valuable asset by leaving their names off the property deed.

The 2011 new judicial interpretation of China’s Marriage Law was a severe setback for women’s legal property rights because it essentially says that if you don’t have your name on the property deed, and you can’t prove your financial contribution to the home’s purchase, you don’t get to keep the home in the event of a divorce. I didn’t focus on why the Supreme People’s Court made this change in the law, but the amendment has been extremely controversial.

Many of the married women I interviewed were dismayed by the legal change because their names were not on the marital home deed. And I found that time and time again, young women in their 20s might first insist that their name is registered on the deed before they agree to marry, but in the end, they tend to back down and give in to an unequal financial arrangement because they are afraid they might become a “leftover” woman, who will never be able to find a husband. Not all women are like this, of course, but social and regulatory forces work overwhelmingly against women’s interests.

You also mention that women have “almost no recourse” if their husband abuses them – what is the legal status of domestic violence, and how does the system work in practice?

Official statistics state that one-quarter of China’s women have experienced domestic violence, though activists say the real figure is much higher. But the biggest problem is that it is exceedingly difficult for a woman to gain protection from a violent partner. The government has stalled on enacting targeted legislation to curb domestic violence, despite years of lobbying by feminist NGOs.

Since China doesn’t have a specific law on domestic violence, feminist activists say that judges routinely refer to intimate partner violence as “family conflict” instead. My book gives some chilling examples of how women suffered horrifying abuse at the hands of their husbands and made multiple police reports and went to the hospital to document their injuries, but still received no protection from the police or the courts. There is now talk that a domestic violence law may finally be passed, but so far it hasn’t happened.

What role has the one-child policy played in cultural attitudes towards women’s position? 

Some scholars argue that the one-child policy has empowered urban women because they don’t have to compete with brothers for parental investment in education. And it’s true that urban women today are arguably the most highly educated in Chinese history. But the one-child policy also exacerbated sex-selective abortions because of the strong cultural preference for boys, so that China now has a severe sex ratio imbalance.

The National Bureau of Statistics says there are now about 20 million more men under 30 than women under 30, and the State Council calls the surplus population of men a “threat to social stability.” State media reports say these unmarried men are more likely to disturb the social order by “rioting, steal­ing and gang fighting.” So restless, single men are seen as a threat to the foundation of Chinese society. And single women threaten the moral fabric as well, for being free agents, and unnatural in failing to perform their duty to marry and give birth to a child.

What is the position of lesbian and bisexual women in Chinese society? 

The Chinese govern­ment took homosexuality off its list of “mental diseases” in 2001 and, since then, the Chinese public’s acceptance of lesbian and bisexual women and the entire LGBTQ community has increased. The Internet and social media like Weibo have helped to build an expanded online network of support for the LGBTQ community in recent years.

Still, LGBTQ websites are often targeted by the police in “anti-pornography” media crackdowns. LGBTQ films are banned from being shown in public and must be screened quietly in non-public spaces. Lesbian activists have formed support groups, but they complain that they are marginalised by mainstream women’s rights NGOs, and have a lot of trouble getting legally registered.

You’ve mentioned the role of the (state-run) Women’s Federation in the campaign to pressure women into marriage – do you believe the Women’s Federation really serves Chinese women’s interests?

There are a lot of genuinely committed feminists working within the Women’s Federation who have done important research on women and who work to protect women’s interests. But the organisation itself is in many ways just like other agencies controlled by the Communist Party. So, for example, the Women’s Federation has played a major role in organising mass matchmaking fairs targeting educated women, which only further intensifies the marriage pressure.

What work are independent feminist activists and organisations doing to push back against the regression of women’s rights? 

Some registered women’s rights NGOs, such as the Anti-Domestic Violence Network in Beijing, do effective work to raise awareness about China’s epidemic of intimate partner violence, and they are eligible for funding from international donor groups. But by and large grassroots feminist activists in China are extremely cash-strapped and often harassed by the police. It is very difficult for them to register as legal organisations, so it is hard for them to get funding from outside sources and their ability to organise is severely constrained by the state’s security apparatus.

My last chapter profiles some extremely courageous feminist activists fighting against the widespread gender discrimination in Chinese society against tremendous odds. It’s not easy for readers outside China to support these activists, but there are some international groups that manage to fund meaningful women’s rights activities.

Leta Hong Fincher is an award-winning former journalist who has been published in a number of magazines and newspapers, including the New York Times. She is completing her Ph.D. in Sociology at Tsinghua University. Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China was published this month by Zed Books, as part of their ‘Asian Arguments’ series.

Leta Hong Fincher will be appearing at two Zed Books events taking place on Thursday 17 April, with a book signing at 1pm at the Arthur Probsthain bookshop and the Leftover Women book launch from 7pm at the Royal Asiatic Society lecture hall. See Zed Books for more details.

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EVAW welcomes UN expert’s comments on UK’s ‘sexist culture’

The UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Rashida Manjoo, yesterday described Britain as having a “boys’ club sexist culture”. The End Violence Against Women (EVAW) Coalition respond to her remarks.

The End Violence Against Women Coalition today (15 April) today welcomed the recommendations made to the Government by the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women Ms Rashida Manjoo at the end of her two-week mission to the UK.

EVAW Coalition Co-Director Liz McKean said:

“Ms Manjoo is a renowned global expert on violence against women and girls and the UK is fortunate to have had her visit and make an assessment of our progress in this area.

“The EVAW Coalition notes that while Ms Manjoo recognised good progress in the UK in terms of action plans and some new domestic violence protections, overall violence against women and girls remains “pervasive” here and that work to prevent it is only “isolated pockets”. We warmly welcome her recommendation that work currently carried out by the Home Office on tackling abuse in teenage relationships – the thisisabuse campaign – should be extended to schools.

“Ms Manjoo is very clear that the so-called austerity cuts are having a devastating impact on the women-run services which protect and support women leaving or at risk of violence, and especially those for BME women. We support her recommendation that there must be safeguards to ensure women’s human rights to protection are guaranteed. We also hope the Government will heed her remarks about ‘gender neutrality’ creeping into policy and service delivery and the impact this is already having.

“Ms Manjoo is clear that legal aid cuts are reducing women’s access to justice. EVAW members have reported that the legal aid cuts are leaving some women experiencing domestic violence without access to legal aid – and in some cases they are having to represent themselves in court and face their abusers. We urge the government to listen to the findings of the UN Special Rapporteur and speak to expert women’s organisations to find a remedy to this situation.

“The EVAW Coalition is very disappointed that Ms Manjoo’s requests to visit Yarls Wood detention centre were denied by the Government. The UK would be among the first to criticise a foreign government which denied access to a Special Rapporteur. Jamaican woman Christine Case recently died at the facility and an investigation is ongoing. Women’s organisations are very worried about multiple reported abuses at the site. We urge the Government to talk to women’s groups about urgent changes to the detention regime there.

“Ms Manjoo’s comments that violence against women cannot be successfully challenged unless it is seated within work to improve women’s equality and freedom overall are a welcome reminder to policy makers that abuse of women and girls cannot be tackled alone as some perceived corner of the crime agenda. Women are abused because they lack equality with men, and once subject to abuse find it harder to become free and equal. Her comments on the way different women experience racism, poverty and disability as well as gender-based violence need to inform all work in this area.

“And finally, we welcome the Special Rapporteur’s observation that as a society we are happy to blame “culture” when some women and girls are subject to forced marriage and FGM for example, but we refuse to take on an ever more “sexualised” media culture which upholds sexist rape myths and harms women. Media and culture are areas where clear policy to prevent abuse of women and girls is needed. We hope to see a response to this soon.

“The EVAW Coalition hopes that this spotlight on current UK work to end violence against women and girls will be used by all the political parties to develop better, more effective, more concerted commitments to end abuse in our lifetimes. As local and general elections loom, and as women’s rights activists are again very visible on the political and social scene, let’s hope we see a real offer to women and the whole community that everything possible will be done to eliminate violence against women and girls.”

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The most badass women in history: Sister Like You

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

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

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

Sister Like You by Ellie Andrewsfinale

Image: Sister Like You by Ellie Andrews

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


Image: Empress Dowager Cixi by Molly Goldbury.

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

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

Queen Zenobia by Kaye Blegvadfinale

Image: Queen Zenobia by Kaye Blegvad

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

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

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

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#SexIndustryWeek: My enemy’s enemy is my friend

These days, being trans is almost respectable. We have laws on our sides that mandate a large measure of equality with other women and men, even if those laws still leave behind those trans people who don’t entirely identify with binary gender, and even though there are a variety of loopholes for those who wish to discriminate. It’s still legal to exclude trans women who have been raped from a rape crisis centre; a number of feminist journalists and academics will still argue that self-defence of the trans community against transphobic hate speech is censorship. Compared, though, to twenty – let alone thirty-five years ago, when I transitioned – we have a serious measure of acceptance.

For many of those years, trans people were left out in the cold by the movement for greater lesbian and gay equality, and by the women’s movement. We were told that we were sick and deluded, or that we needed to wait our turn, that we should sit still and not frighten the horses. We remember how that felt, to be excluded and betrayed by our brothers and our sisters. It is primarily for this reason that I, at least, will never ever consent to forget the rights of sex workers – let alone to work for policies that make their lives harder, and to call that betrayal of vulnerable people ‘feminism’, or ‘progressivism’.

I was told so often, before and after I transitioned, that I was a dupe of a multi-million dollar patriarchal conspiracy of psychiatrists and surgeons, what Janice Raymond called “the transsexual empire” – to weaken feminism by introducing people like me as Trojan Horses. More recently, I’ve been accused of being part of a Trans Cabal – we all joke that we have an undersea volcano lair protected by robot sharks, because that’s about as plausible a claim, but we’re actually just a bunch of people who support each other on Facebook and Twitter.

When I and a number of my cis woman friends started Feminists Against Censorship, it was claimed that we too were being paid by the Mafia, or the CIA, or the patriarchy. I know that wasn’t true because I was helping with the accounts. Some of us were professional writers and a few of us did layout, or were cartoonists, so we produced some shit hot press releases – but we did it all on a shoestring. It may be, of course, that people who actually have funding and don’t have available talent might, instead of accusing other people of being on the take, wonder why all the talent is on the other side.

So I am not going to swallow the argument that people who argue for sex worker rights are dupes and pimps, paid lackeys of the multi-billion dollar sex industry. My first thought rather is: when are these people going to get some new material? When will they stop reacting to disagreement with stab-in-the-back conspiracy theories? And one of the reasons I say ‘these people’ is because it so often is the same people – intelligent feminists who think that they know what is best for other people and want to introduce laws to make that knowledge compulsory. When people praise Scandinavian policies on sex work I remember that, until very recently, Sweden demanded that trans people be sterilised before they could apply for a recognition of civil status.

One reason, then, for solidarity between trans people and sex workers is the recognition that we share the same well-intentioned enemies. In large parts of the third world, and some American states, sex workers and trans people are subjected to the same policies of arbitrary detention without trial, forced rehabilitation on work camps, compulsory health checks, rape, torture and murder by the police and paramilitaries. Of course, one of the reasons for that is that, especially in the third world, trans people are still the victims of the massive social exclusion that harmed older generations here and have few options apart from sex work. Trans people and sex workers – and in particular sex workers who are trans – are massively stigmatised, rejected, and put in harm’s way.

Sections of feminism – notably Janice Raymond – are responsible for some of that; Raymond collaborated with the churches and rightwing members of Congress during the Reagan era to remove federal funding from trans medical care. This meant that young, poor, working-class trans people, especially trans women of colour, had few other options than sex work if they were going to afford medical care, often resorted to dangerous quacks for surgical work, and were less likely to be able to practice safe sex. And many died and are dying and will die.

Austerity and cuts in health service provision, and student loans, mean that young people – trans and cis – resort to sex work to survive in modern Britain. Prohibitionist policies will make their lives harder, as Raymond’s attacks on trans people did – and advocates of those policies will end up with blood on their hands. No one is saying that sex work is always safe, or denies the existence of trafficking – for sex work as for domestic work and sweat-shops – but in the former case the important thing is to make it as safe as possible, rather than make clients more dangerous by criminalising them; and in the latter case, the important thing is to stamp down on all slavery rather than separate one area of slavery out for special concern.

As a young trans woman in the sixties and seventies, delaying full transition into my late twenties through fear of social exclusion, I learned part of my feminism in the university and part on the streets. The first people who helped me were streetwalkers, trans and cis; the first time I was raped, it was a policeman from the Vice Squad, in the back of his car. My politics of support for other trans women and for sex workers are a crucial part of my feminism, which is about solidarity and support for other women’s experience and choices – not about a small group of policy formers, politicians and journalists telling other women what to do.

Roz Kaveney is a member of the Feminist Times Editorial Board. She is a trans woman, novellist, poet, critic and activist.

Photo: Feminist Fightback

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#SexIndustryWeek: Five Gloria Steinem quotes

Feminist icon Gloria Steinem, founder of Ms magazine, celebrates her 80th birthday today.

In 1963, more than 50 years ago, Steinem spent 17 days undercover as a Playboy Bunny at Hugh Hefner’s New York Playboy Club, for an article published in Show magazine.

As part of Sex Industry Week, we look at what Steinem has to say about the industry…

On Playboy:

“It was horrible. There was nothing fun about it. It’s really hard work. You know, you’re carrying trays. You have three-inch high heels on. You’re paid very little. The trays are heavy. Your feet hurt. I learned what it’s like to be hung on a meat hook. That’s essentially the emotional experience of walking around in a costume that’s so tight it would give a man a cleavage.”

On Prostitution:

“Prostitution involves body invasion and so it is not like any other work. So how can you call it sex work? Prostitution is the only word you should use. It is the equivalent of commercial rape.”

On Pornography:

“[Erotica and porn] are as different as love is from rape, as dignity is from humiliation, as partnership is from slavery, as pleasure is from pain. Yet they are confused and lumped together as “pornography” or “obscenity,” “erotica” or “explicit sex,” because sex and violence are so dangerously intertwined and confused. After all, it takes violence or the threat of it to maintain the unearned dominance of any group of human beings over another.”

On Choice:

“I’ve only ever met one woman who actually was a prostitute of her own free will. She didn’t have a pimp. She could pick and choose her customers. That’s so rare. So we have to look at the reality and not romanticize it. We have to be clear that you have the right to sell your own body but nobody has the right to sell anybody else’s body. No one has that right.”

On Trafficking:

“Prostitution is not inevitable, it is only about unequal distribution of power. Today we face an epidemic of sex trafficking. More people are being pushed into it than even the slave trade.”

Photo: Joan Roth

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Men, know your place!

Mumsnet is sexist. At least, that seems to be the rationale behind the founding of Mumsanddadsnet, set up by Duncan Fisher and Jeszemma Garratt because parenting sites “exclude” dads – which conveniently ignores the fact that parenting sites already have male members and have done since the beginning.

The main problem with the idea that Mumsnet needs more men or that men are deliberately being excluded from parenting websites is that it fails to acknowledge the gendered reality of childrearing in the UK. It is women who do the majority of childcare, childrearing and family organisation, regardless of whether or not they work outside the home (a euphemistic phrase which implies that childcare and housework aren’t really work).

But marriage and childrearing is more than just a “second shift” for women. As Susan Maushart argues in her seminal text Wifework: What Marriage Really Means for Women, “becoming a wife will erode your mental health, reduce your leisure, decimate your libido, and increase the odds that you will be physically assaulted or murdered in your own home.”

Wifework isn’t just doing a couple of extra loads of laundry a week. Being a wife means taking on responsibility for the emotional and physical care of the needs of the husband at the expense of one’s own emotional and physical health.

Feminists have long since recognised the fact that marriage has a detrimental effect on women’s health and emotional wellbeing. Yet we are replicating the exact same structures within the feminist movement without recognising it. Feminism has stopped being about the liberation of women and has instead become about not alienating men.

We can’t simply talk about rape culture and strategize how to destroy it without every single statement requiring the caveat “we don’t mean all men”. We can’t hold conferences without including men. We can’t even hold Reclaim the Night marches without men demanding to be included, irrespective of the fact that the men who demand the right to attend rarely show up. Or that the inclusion of men means that many women don’t feel safe attending.

Excluding women from Reclaim the Night marches in order to include men is an anti-feminist position, but it is one that women are pushed into making because excluding men is somehow seen as unkind. Frankly, in the unkind sweepstakes, the reality of male sexual, physical and emotional violence against women and children is slightly worse than not being invited on a march. Liberating women from these structures should be the goal of feminism, not worrying about whether or nor men’s feelings are hurt.

We cannot fight for liberation if our physical and emotional time is spent placating men or worrying about their feelings. Our emotional health and our time are very precious resources that need to be allocated to other women. We need to allocate it to ourselves.

This is why I worry about feminist organisations like The Everyday Sexism Project praising men with their #everydayallies hashtag on twitter. We are praising them for behaving like human beings; not for doing anything to support women’s liberation or to end male violence, but for acting like human beings. This should be a basic requirement of humanity, not a cause for celebration.

This isn’t to say that men should not take responsibility for ending male violence against women and girls but that they need to take on this work themselves. More men need to become involved in the White Ribbon Campaign and supporting women’s liberation, rather than demanding to be included in work women are doing (and then trying to take credit just for rocking up).

Critiquing The Everyday Sexism Project for taking out a few hours from the brilliant work they do for women to thank men may seem churlish, but it is part of larger pattern of women caring for men’s feelings above their own. This is just another way women have to expand energy caring for men more than themselves.

Demanding inclusion of men, within the feminist movement and on parenting websites, also ignores the importance of women-only spaces. There is a tremendous amount of research, from Dale Spender to Margaret Atwood, into how men dominate public spaces and public communication. More recently, Ruth Lewis and Elizabeth Sharp’s research into the importance of women-only spaces, conducted following the North East Feminist Gathering in 2012 and published on Feminist Times, has documented numerous positive outcomes for women including a surge in confidence and reflexivity, as well as a safe place for debate and to challenge stereotypes.

The incursion of men into women-only spaces has a detrimental effect on women’s abilities to communicate and engage with one another safely. This should be something of concern to feminists rather than the feelings of men who feel excluded. Women-only spaces are important for women’s cognitive and emotional safety. We need to make sure that every single woman has this space.

This is why parenting sites like Mumsnet and Netmums are so popular. They are sites by women, for women, talking about every single issue that women are concerned about – from caring for a child to radical feminist politics to football. Men who demand to be part of these spaces aren’t engaging with the reality of women’s lives. They are demanding the right to speak over and for women. They are demanding the right to be the most important concern in the room. This is inherently anti-feminist.

Men who understand feminism don’t need our praise. They just get on with the work needed to undo the patriarchy. Feminism needs more men like this. We also need to reflect more on why feminism is starting to replicate the harmful gendered stereotypes on which the institution of marriage is based when it is feminism that recognised the harm in the first place.

Why has feminism become so concerned with ensuring men aren’t excluded rather than focusing on women’s exclusion from public life? Why are the feelings of a few men upset because a parenting website doesn’t include the word “dad”, when the reality is that women do the vast majority of parenting at the expense of our health?

Putting the needs of men, as a class, to feel included above the safety of women is an anti-feminist position. Feminism should be by women, for women, because women are important too – and our feelings of exclusion are grounded in reality.

Louise Pennington is a radical feminist writer and activist who founded A Room of Our Own: A Feminist/Womanist network. She can be found on twitter as @LeStewpot and @Roomofourown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Profile: Sheroes of History

Sheroes of History is a new blog and podcast which aims to shine a spotlight on history’s heroines, telling their stories and inspiring girls and women today.

Women are hugely underrepresented: remarkably, although the female of the species makes for around 51% of the world’s population, this is still the case in film and media, in business and politics, in art and music, the list goes on.

History too is one area which has always been dominated by the stories of men. To a degree this is perhaps easier to understand; in the past women’s access to education, power, property, and anything resembling independent lives was more restricted than it is today. History has largely been written by men, about men, for men. Google recently admitted that of its 445 Google-doodles honouring historical characters, only 17% were women (they have pledged to equalise this henceforth).

I started Sheroes of History to address this imbalance. Despite the fact that we hear about them far less, there are in fact thousands of stories of incredible women doing incredible things throughout history – often even more inspiring when set against the limitations women have faced in the past.

I’m a feminist and I work in museum education; I care passionately about equality – and I love history! Sheroes of History brings these two strands of my life together.

For a long time I have felt that I wanted to do something to give girls more role models; real life heroines who inspire them to be all they can be. I feel desperate every time a new kids film is released, or a new children’s TV show airs – and yet again the main protagonist is male (conversely, I probably get a little too overexcited when strong female characters do emerge: see Katniss Everdeen.)

As young girls grow up, the stories – be they real or fictional – of women who take centre stage are few and far between. More often than not the story belongs to the male character, with female characters rarely having their own narratives.

Working in a museum, I sometimes feel the same way; when I tell stories of the past to the schoolchildren who visit I’m conscious of the sometimes passive roles of women in these stories, and make pains to emphasise the ones where women show agency and attitude.

Sheroes of History will be an ongoing blog and, soon to launch, podcast, which tell the untold stories of women whose lives we may not have heard of and whose actions will inspire girls and women today. In the future I hope that by collecting these stories I will be able to develop them into further resources that can be used with young girls.

I hope that the blog will feel collectively owned; contributions can be submitted by women who have their own ‘Shero of history’ they want to tell the world about. There are three words which encompass my aims for the Sheroes of History project; ever the fan of alliteration, these are: Inspiring, Inclusive & Informative.

Alongside the blog will be a monthly podcast that will feature short profiles of selected Sheroes of History, as well as the opportunity to nominate a Shero of Today – I am keen not to overlook the fact that there are tonnes of awe inspiring women and girls blazing a Shero’s trail in the world today also.

Please check out the blog over at

You can like on Facebook –

And follow on Twitter @SheroesHistory

If you would like to contribute to the blog please send an email to

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A guide to being a woman in 21st century Israel

David Cameron today makes his first trip to Israel since becoming UK prime minister has backed peace talks between Israel and Palestine. To mark his visit, Israeli blogger, feminist and social activist Hila Beyovits-Hoffman writes for us about her view on the state of Israel for women today.

Mazel Tov, you’re 18! For a young Jewish Israeli this means it’s time for military service. You will be drafted to the Israeli Defense Forces or face prison, as a conscientious objector or defector. So blow out the candles and it’s off to boot camp, young lady.

Like all Israeli children, you were taught since preschool that military service is the essence of your civic duty as an Israeli patriot. State schools taught you about the Goyim constantly killing Jews; about how the Holocaust wiped out six million Jews; about how Israel was established as a sanctuary for the persecuted Jews.

Israeli education is meticulously designed to imprint students with an overwhelming sense of persecution and righteous indignation at the historical wrongdoings toward Jews. We grow up with a constant, unrelenting fear for our lives, paranoia on a national scale. The army must be held sacred and protected at all costs because, we are constantly told, it is the only thing standing between us and total annihilation.

Thus indoctrinated, you join the army proudly.

And it’s a necessary step on your career path! Most of Israel’s political leaders were high-ranking officers, going directly from the IDF to the Knesset; employers often seek specific military training, reflected on a resume. On a personal and national level, this service is important for your future.

Alas… When you do join the army, you quickly discover that it’s a man’s game. Positions and career paths are only open to men. Men can become high-ranking officers. Men will call the shots; you will serve their coffee.

Moreover, women in the army are constantly exposed to sexual harassment and abuse. Countless cases of abuse or rape by senior officers are met with a cover up, or a wrist slap for perpetrators.

Conventional sexual harassment exists alongside religious discrimination. Formerly more secular, the IDF increasingly adheres to rabbinical strictures. According to Halacha, the Jewish religious code of law, women should be neither seen nor heard. Want to train troops? Military rabbis say you may not give out orders to men, because it is “immodest”. Want to be a combat soldier, alongside the men? The rabbis shudder and say any touching is forbidden. Want to sing to the soldiers in special events or holidays, as military entertainment? “Gewalt!” say the rabbis, “a woman must only sing for her husband, or it’s prostitution!”

Both religious and secular male-dominated institutions work to deny you an equal place in Israeli society. Military service won’t buy you equality.

*                *                *

But let’s look at the other side of the Shekel. What if you resist the draft?

You’re an 18 year old Jewish woman in 21st century Israel, which has become an apartheid state. You believe that the occupation of the Gaza strip and the West Bank is illegal and immoral. You see the corruption that this occupation causes, the violence, the ruthlessness, the hopelessness. You believe your country can and should become a morally superior place, an example of coexistence and peace, a true “light unto the nations”.

Rather than cooperating with the “Israel Offensive Forces” you avoid being drafted, working instead with a leftist, anarchist movement. You protest the unjust occupation and the brutality of the soldiers towards the civilian Palestinian population at demonstrations.

But then, male peers ask you not to wear T-shirts or shorts, “because the locals consider it immodest; it’s against their religion”. You swallow your pride and defer to the greater goal, dress “modestly” and show up at the demonstration, where you are sexually harassed by the locals, by your fellow leftist protesters, and of course, by Israeli soldiers, who already consider you to be a traitor. Thus, the pecking order is preserved, same as in the army. So much for deferring for the greater good.

*                *                *

From its very inception, the feminist movement has suffered from CDD – Constant Deferral Disorder. Women have constantly been asked to put their dignity, their rights, their very lives aside, defer them for “the greater cause”. Feminism in Israel is no different. Many people would say that “surely, the problem of women’s rights in Israel pales in comparison to the occupation!”

I contend that women’s issues should never take the back seat. I contend that allowing 51% of the population to always be seen as lesser human beings is precisely what leads to the philosophy and mindset that allows, even encourages, one nation to believe it has a right to control and oppress another.

And yes, Palestinian woman have it even worse, because they’re doubly oppressed, but notice what this system does even to the so-called privileged Jewish woman. Treating one group of people as inferior and denying its members equal rights, while fighting for the equal rights of the members of another group, such behavior does not stand the test of reason, nor of ethics.

While we allow this injustice to keep happening in the name of “the greater good”, Israel will never be able to function as a democracy. One form of oppression does not and cannot justify another. If women are never equal, we can have no significant influence on foreign policy, the occupation, the peace process, or social issues. We will always lag several steps behind, and with us will lag the dreams and hopes for a better future for all people living in Israel and Palestine.

Hila Beyovits-Hoffman is an Israeli blogger, feminist and social activist, writing on social and political issues, the LGBT community and gender issues. Follow her on Twitter: @vandersister

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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The unheard voices of World War One

This year sees the centenary of the First World War, which began in July 1914. A hundred years on, when we think of writing from the Great War we think of Flanders Fields and of Anthems for Doomed Youth. We think of trenchfoot and mud; of men in khaki sat pouring their hearts into tattered notebooks by the light of shellfire.

We think of all of that because it happened. Because it’s right to remember, and because it’s right to pay respect. But society’s idea of war literature is not respectful. It ignores a whole bloody swathe of it.

When we read about the war, we don’t read women.

Oh, we know about them alright: how they took up the roles left behind by men and gained the vote as a result. We talk about how wonderful that was for them all the time. What we don’t talk about is how hard it was: how they still came up against sexism, ending up doing twice the work but with half of the respect. How propaganda, when it mentioned them, relied on sexist tropes: girls simpering over soldiers, mothers bravely packing off chivalric sons.

It’s this that’s partly responsible for their exclusion now; perhaps the most remembered women writers of the time were those who fervently took up where the propaganda left off. Daily Mail sweethearts Jessie Pope, Mrs Humphrey Ward and Emma Orczy penned mountains of jingoistic doggerel which so disgusted Wilfred Owen that he wrote the eloquently furious Dulce et Decorum Est and dedicated it to them. Siegfried Sassoon went one step further and tarred an entire gender with one misogynistic brush in The Glory of Women, sneering: “You believe/that chivalry redeems the war’s disgrace”.

This disgust at feminine sentimentality is a large part of the picture we have of WW1 women now. But if we don’t look past it we’re as daft as Sassoon was then: fooled by the false picture built up by a war-mongering elite. Not all women  – if any – were sat dutifully at home, creaming themselves over needless sacrifice.

For a start, being left behind was to play a grievously cruel waiting game, something evident in the poetry of Kathleen Tynan and Margaret Widdemer. Tynan had two sons on the front and her poetry, although patriotic, has little to do with nationalism and everything to do with offering comfort to herself and others. Widdemer, meanwhile, manages to be both a loving mother and to mourn the war (who’da thunk it, Siegfried?) in Homes, which sets up a cosy hearthside idyll and then laments: “Somewhere far off I know/ Are ashes on red snow/ That were a home last night”.

There were also women far from hearthsides themselves. Hundreds volunteered to work in field hospitals amonsgt the wounded and dying, although little of their writing has survived our ignorance. May Sinclair’s Journal of Impressions in Belgium is amongst those scraps which do.

Touchingly human, it draws a vivid picture of the front In one heartbreakingly furious entry, where she flies into a rage when a Commandant speaks delightedly that he and another nurse have come under shellfire. “I promised her mother that Ursula Dearmer would be safe,” she writes, “and then here he was, informing me with glee that a shell had fallen and burst at Ursula Dearmer’s feet.”

Sinclair’s journal and the writings of of Louise Mack – who was the first woman reporter on the front – reveal a uniquely female perspective of the trenches. But women writers dealt too with the one aspect of the war dealt with by men and women together: the aftermath.

In place of a solid class system and set gender roles was a decimated upper class, a female workforce and the previously unthinkable horrors of mechanised war: limbs left stumps by shells, jaws shot away by sniper’s bullets. Perhaps cruellest of all were the mental scars, which would take lifetimes to heal.

Everyone had to re-negotiate their place in this world, whether man or woman. Rebecca West’s novella The Return of the Soldier depicts this beautifully, telling the story of Chris, a brain-damaged upper class veteran and his working class teenage sweetheart Marge, who is the only person he can recognise since being hit by a shell. The poetry of the woefully underrated Charlotte Mew, too, deals uncompromisingly with a world gone mad: “What’s little June to a great broken world with eyes gone dim/From too much looking on the face of grief, the face of dread?”

As Mew wrote, it was the world who looked with horror at the war. The world. Not just men. Not just soldiers, doctors and politicians, but nurses, mothers, reporters and lovers. Tynan, Sinclair, Mack, West, Widdemer and so many others put down their words because they thought others would listen to them, because they knew their experience was as important as any man’s.

And now, whilst we rightly value male trench poetry as a valuable way to pay respect, women writers are dealt a different hand. Only Rebecca West is in print in any large-scale way today, whilst Sinclair’s and Mack’s journals exist only on project Gutenberg, and Mew has been left to rot in obscurity.

Even the one female-authored text which does get attention – Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth – is diminished at the same time as being revered: immensely powerful and deserving of praise, it is at the same time all too often seen as speaking for all women of the war, despite only focusing on a handful of upper-middle class individuals.

The suffering, bravery and talent of the women writers of the Great War have been ignored for too long. Its about time we opened a few more books, and stopped this partial remembrance.

Rebecca Winson is the News Editor for For Books’ Sake, the feminist webzine dedicated to promoting and celebrating writing by women. Find out more @rebeccawinson

A centenary edition of Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth will be published by Orion Books on 27 March 2014, with a foreword by Kate Mosse OBE. Rebecca West’s Return of the Solider is published by Virago Modern Classics.

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Women are used to being ignored, even in their millions

Something peculiar happened on Sunday 9th March. On its front page, the Independent on Sunday bore a picture of the seventh annual Million Women Rise march. Not too strange in itself, but in seven years of Million Women rising and marching, this is the first year that they have garnered front page press coverage.

Million Women Rise marches each year on a day close to International Woman’s Day, with the aim to end male violence against women. Founded by activists, with no big funding backers, it is impressive that the march continues to grow each year. What’s more, it’s one of the most diverse feminist marches to pound through London – founded and led by black women – which is increasingly obvious in the march’s make up.

This year thousands of women took to the streets, gathering in London’s Leicester Square for a rally and speeches. The march isn’t without its criticism, though. For too long, powerful women’s spaces have operated with hostility towards trans women and sex workers – voices that we as a movement cannot afford to ignore.

Alongside this unprecedented press coverage, is an inkling of hope that women are finally being listened to. Historically women have known the sharp edge of what it feels like to be ignored when we articulate exclusion, discrimination and pain. In 2012 a leaked BBC email regarding the Jimmy Saville case referred to the on-the-record testimonies of victims of Saville’s abuse as “just the women”.

It’s as if women’s testimonies, women’s work and women’s efforts are constantly undervalued and written out of history. Shunted down to the bottom of the priority pile, violence against women becomes a domestic issue, an occupational hazard of womanhood. There’s still plenty of work to be done. Women must march through the streets of London annually until violence against us makes the 6 o’clock news.

For years now, women have organised in their local communities, as well as screaming at the top of our lungs whilst marching through central London. Feminist activism has existed on the fringes of the mainstream for decades. There was even an uncertain period in the early noughties, when newspapers would run twice yearly features proclaiming: “feminism is back!”

But feminist activists have slogged it out for years, dong work that is vital, much needed, and mostly thankless. So many women’s marches take place annually, and they are routinely ignored. Take, for example, Reclaim the Night – often pulling in the numbers, yet rarely getting the attention it deserves.

There was almost a scuffle for airtime between the anti-rape marches when the Slutwalk movement emerged in 2011. Formed in Toronto in the April of that year, Slutwalk was a direct backlash to the words of a police officer who, in a talk to undergraduates, told his audience that “women should avoid dressing like sluts” in order to avoid rape.

Slutwalk got the coverage because the press was completely bemused by it. Viewed through an uncritical lens, no one could understand why anyone would want to reclaim the word slut – simultaneously forgetting the main message of the march. Pictures of partially dressed, conventionally attractive white women didn’t hurt either.

So this image of a racially diverse, fully-clothed march on the front page in the Independent on Sunday marks a turning point. Feminism has stuck its flag in the ground, and it is here for good. A number of contributing factors have collided together to create the perfect storm of women’s voices being heard in harmony. But we can’t hinge all hope on one front page. Now that women have the mic, the responsibility is on us to centre our struggles around the most marginalised. Now is where the hard work doubles down, harnessing the transformative power of people who are dedicated to changing the world.

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: Nick Sutton

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Yarnstorming manly Manchester

Needlework artist Helen Davies and curator and historian Jenny WhiteCraftivist duo Warp & Weft are needlecraft artists Helen Davies and historian & curator Jenny White.

Their latest project is Stature, a yarnstorming exhibition in Manchester Town Hall, which for two weeks will see eight of the town’s male busts yarnbombed with crocheted masks of some of Greater Manchester’s most inspiring women.

They shared some of their exhibition photos with us and explained what the project is all about:

In 2013, high profile feminist campaigns like No more page Three and women on bank notes inspired us to think about how women are represented in society. We were shocked to learn that of 640 listed statues in the UK, only 15% are of women and most of those are statues of monarchs or mythological characters

We noticed that, barring Queen Victoria’s status through accident of birth, Manchester’s municipal statues still only celebrate the achievement of historical men.

We thought it was about time they honoured some great female role models, and a crochet mask facelift seemed an ideal format. Traditionally dismissed as women’s work, craft has been undergoing a revival in the past few years.

We’ve timed our exhibition so our celebration of Esther Roper can put some ‘L’ into February’s LGBT history month. On 8 March, International Women’s Day, we’ll be speaking about our project at the People’s History Museum’s Suffragette Legacy Conference.

We’ve chosen eight women from Greater Manchester with diverse backgrounds and achievements all of whom deserve recognition:

Sunny Lowry – the channel swimmer who scoffed 40 eggs a week; Sylvia Pankhurst – the suffragette who became an honorary Ethiopian; Esther Roper – the protector of barmaid’s jobs; Dr Kathleen Drew-Baker – the saviour of Japan’s sushi seaweed industry; Elizabeth Gaskell – the novelist whose books were burnt by mill owners; Louise Da-Cocodia – the race relations and community enterprise champ; Kathleen Ollerenshaw – the maths boffin & politician; Annie Horniman – the flamboyant arts patron.

Sunny Lowry MBE

Ethel ‘Sunny’ Lowry, (1911 – 2008) Pioneering long-distance swimmer


In August 1933 Sunny fulfilled her channel swimming dream, crossing over night from France to England in fifteen hours and 41 minutes. Her skin was smeared in wool grease and chilli, and she had to contend with jellyfish stings. From her support boat she was fed coffee, cocoa and beef tea; a bagpiper played to help keep her stroke rhythm regular; and carrier pigeons were released at intervals to send updates on her progress back to dry land.

Sylvia Pankhurst

Sylvia Pankhurst, (1882 – 1960) Suffragette

1Sylvia Pankhurst

Sylvia was an active votes-for-women campaigner: causing disruption; damaging property; anything to draw attention to the cause. She served many jail terms, and was force fed whilst on hunger strike in Holloway.

Whereas her mother Emmeline and sister Christabel just wanted voting rights extended to posh, privileged women, Sylvia believed that working class women and men deserved the vote.

Read more about Sylvia here.

Esther Roper

Esther Roper, (1868 – 1938) LGBT magazine pioneer & campaigner for barmaids’ rights


Esther Roper was one of the first women to gain a degree from Manchester Uni (then known as Owens College). In 1886 she was admitted on a trial scheme to test whether females could study without harm to their mental or physical health.

In 1896 she met the love of her life, Eva Gore-Booth.They formed the Barmaids Defence League to campaign against a proposed ban on female bar staff.

In 1916, along with transwoman Irene Clyde, the couple co-founded one of Britain’s first LGBT publications, Urania magazine.

Read more about Esther here.

Dr Kathleen Drew-Baker

Dr Kathleen Drew-Baker, (1901-1957) The scientist who became Japan’s seaweed saviour


Dr Kathleen was co-founder and first president of the British Phycological Society – that’s the algae study society to you and me. Her ground breaking discoveries led her to become the saviour of nori, or sushi seaweed.

Read more about Dr Kathleen Drew-Baker.

Elizabeth Gaskell

Elizabeth Gaskell, (1810 – 1865) Pioneering writer and biographer


Elizabeth Gaskell’s Unitarian upbringing instilled in her the importance of taking action against injustice. She used her fiction writing to highlight the plight of the industrial poor. Exploring themes such as class conflict, gender roles, prostitution and drug addiction, her books inspired heated debate and moral outrage but ultimately contributed to social reform.

Read more about Elizabeth Gaskell here.

Louise Da-Cocodia MBE

Louise Da-Cocodia “Mrs D”,  (1934 – 2008) Race relations & community enterprise champ


Louise Da-Cocodia believed passionately that everyone has the right to access housing, education and employment where they feel safe, secure and fulfilled. She spoke of how important it was “…to help young Black people understand that this is their home, this is the society they live in, and that they have a part to play in developing it. Young Black people need role models around, not necessarily high profile ones…”

She worked tirelessly to improve people’s quality of life, both on a grassroots community level where she was affectionately known as ‘Mrs D’; and on a more formal level.

Read more about Louise Da-Cocodia here.

Dame Kathleen Ollerenshaw

Dame Kathleen Ollerenshaw, (born 1912, still going strong) Mathematician & politician


Dame Kathleen used her maths skills to influence government policy on social issues. She campaigned tirelessly for improving standards in schools, and the importance of education for girls. Published in 1955 her statistical report on the state of Britain’s crumbling school buildings led the government to release funds for capital building programmes.

Read more about Dame Kathleen Ollerenshaw.

Annie Horniman

Annie Horniman, (1860 – 1937) Eccentric arts champion


Annie Horniman challenged society’s expectations of women. She raised many an eyebrow by remaining unmarried and being a heavy smoker; not to mention travelling alone, in trousers, across Europe and North Africa – including cycling across the Alps.

She attended the Slade School of Fine Art, and would pop to see new impressionist exhibitions in Paris.

Read more about Annie Horniman here.

Warp and Weft’s Stature exhibition is on at Manchester Town Hall from 24 February – 9 March. Check out their crocheted masks on the ground floor, and learn about some of Manchester’s amazing women.

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TV’s got a Fox Problem and I hope it’s zoo TV

A revolution in TV and gender is occurring this evening and you probably don’t even know about it. It’s the launch of the second season of the Fox Problem, an all female-led zoo TV experiment and the first ever Google+ live TV show. Tonight it goes out to the US as well. The majority of our readers won’t have heard about it because it hasn’t garnered mainstream attention, and so the chat show remains the domain of the sycophantic man.

It should be no surprise that a show starring three credible women presenters from Radio 1, T4 and SBTV would have to be pioneering new territories online, because women chat shows just don’t agree with terrestrial TV. The graveyard of forgotten chat shows is female heavy:

The Charlotte Church Show: DEAD
Ruth Jones Chat Show: DEAD
The Girly Show: RIP

And yet Loose Women continues, forever, like Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn in Death Becomes Her. Just like the living dead in that movie, Loose Women is conspicuous by its long life when all else dies.

Anyway, if you’re not ‘loose’ and you’re a woman the internet is your friend, and thats why the Fox Problem has found a good home in a medium with a shorter history of sexism and where no one is king. Hell, any of us plebs can start an online TV show tomorrow if we wanted to.

So it makes sense that the Fox Problem, an in-ya-face, fun and smart, all-female led show is having to pioneer new televisual territory. And to me, it makes sense, that the genre they’ve chosen is zoo TV.

Zoo TV is raucous, imaginative, irreverent, punk. The Word and TFI kept generations entertained and kept their edge by not addressing their viewers as mindless consumers; viewers were part of the game, fame wasn’t revered but challenged.

Ok, it got a bit tired after about ten years of Big Breakfast, but if I ever said I didn’t like it, I pray to the god of TV to forgive me now. TV today is predictable, where the most Twitter-worthy encounters are all Katie Hopkins related. That’s a very bad thing. In the 90s, breakfast TV was massive and colourful, with Lily Savage and Paula Yates sprawled on a bed and Egg on Ya Face – now it’s goody two shoes Aled Jones smiling inanely at us as the day breaks. Ew.

Wossy, Norton, Carr, all the panel show hosts and team captains are men and they are boring. They suck up, regurgitate knob jokes and I hope that Fox Problem’s online success is the first nail in the very large coffin that will entomb the ubiquitous Frankie Boyle, Russell Howard, Jack Whitehall and his Dad. Long live the Fox Problem!

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VIDEO: The World After Men

Since when did it seem fair to pit two brilliant radical feminists against one lone young Tory MP? Watch what happened when the Institute of Art and Ideas did just that on the provocative topic of “The World After Men”…

Katie Derham invites former Osborne chief of staff Matthew Hancock, eminent American feminist Carol Gilligan and radical feminist Finn Mackay to dispute the merits of matriarchy.

Video courtesy of the Institute of Art and Ideas. Find out more at or follow @iai_TV.

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Newsflash: Notorious sexist Russell Brand ‘slain’

Comedian Russell Brand last night declared on Twitter: “Finally, through the love of a good woman, teenage, sexist me was slain.” Brand was pictured posing with his new No More Page 3 T-shirt, having come out against the Sun’s topless photographs earlier this week. He credited partner Jemima Kahn, Associate Editor of the New Statesman, with his feminist transformation.

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Here’s a selection of our readers’ reactions – a mixture of skepticism and support:


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#12DaysOfSexism: December 2013

Throughout the 12 days of Christmas, we look back at sexism over the last 12 months.

In the 12th month of sexism, the Everyday Sexism Project reached its 50,000th post. Here are some of the month’s worst offenders.

Tom Newton Dunn

The Sun’s political editor, Tom Newton Dunn, sparked a Twitter storm when he criticised MP Stella Creasy for challenging David Cameron on Page 3 while wearing a bright blue PVC skirt.
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The England women’s football captain, Casey Stoney, criticised Fifa’s decision to have the World Cup draw conducted by a Brazilian model, Fernanda Lima, in a gold, low-cut dress.  “Giving the job to a model has sent out completely the wrong message. Unfortunately I wasn’t surprised. They could have had a woman high up in the game or else a player with proper international standing. This should have been about football,” she said.

Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 12.02.31


The Conservatives

In the same year that David Cameron hilariously described himself as “a feminist”, Labour MP Sarah Champion claimed Conservatives make lurid and sexist hand gestures, imitating “breasts and bottoms”, towards Labour women during Commons debates.



Universities UK

Students demonstrated outside the offices of Universities UK after it published guidelines saying universities could segregate by gender during lectures and debates hosted by visiting speakers. After heavy criticism, including from David Cameron and Michael Gove, UUK withdrew these guidelines.

Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 12.24.47


Special mention to: the Science industry: “The average grant for a woman-led study was £125,556 – compared to an average award of £173,389 for research proposed by men – a difference of 43 per cent”.


Hand-lettering by Rose Jackson Taylor

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#12DaysOfSexism: November 2013

Throughout the 12 days of Christmas, we look back at sexism over the last 12 months.

The Film Industry – again.

The film industry – again. Another recurring theme in 2013 was sexism in the film industry. Evan Rachel Wood hit out at film industry sexism after a sex scene in her new film, Charlie Countryman, was cut in the final edit.

Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 11.16.51



Technology giant Microsoft came under fire for sexism when the Xbox One launched in November, with a customisable letter posted online.



The BBC – again.

The BBC was criticised in November for its “flabbergastingly sexist” remake of children’s show Topsy and Tim. Thousands of parents took to Mumsnet to complain, saying they would ban their children from watching the show because it reinforces gender stereotypes.

Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 11.27.29


Student ‘lads’

‘Lads’ from the University of Stirling appeared on YouTube in November performing a sexist, racist chant on a crowded bus. It was all just “banter” though, of course.

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Hand-lettering by Rose Jackson Taylor

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#12DaysOfSexism: October 2013

Throughout the 12 days of Christmas, we look back at sexism over the last 12 months.


When seven-month pregnant minister Jo Swinson was left standing during prime minister’s questions, because no MP offered her a seat, it prompted several days of deliberation over the rights and wrongs of offering your chair. Sexism? Bad manners? The jury was split. An aide to Jo Swinson responded by saying it would be “quite sexist” to think it was necessary to give up your seat for a pregnant woman.


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


The music industry – again.

Following Grimes’ comments in April, Charlotte Church hit out at sexism and sexualisation of women in pop music. “There was a big clamour to cover my breasts as they wanted to keep me as young as possible. Then it become, ‘You should definitely get them out, they look great’,” she said.


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons



Or rather, Google users. An advertising campaign by UN Women used Google’s autocomplete function – based on the most popular searches – to highlight the way women are viewed. The results speak for themselves.



Baking fans

I know, who predicted that one? Great British Bake Off finalist Ruby Tandoh hit back at the “vitriol” and misogyny she and fellow contestants faced throughout the competition. She wrote in the Guardian: “So much of the criticism levelled at the bakers is gender-specific. My self-doubt has been simultaneously labelled pathetic, fake, attention-seeking and manipulative.”

Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 11.11.16


Hand-lettering by Rose Jackson Taylor

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#12DaysOfSexism: September 2013

Throughout the 12 days of Christmas, we look back at sexism over the last 12 months.

Classical Music

In the week before the first woman, Marin Alsop, conducted the BBC’s Last Night of the Proms, conductor Vasily Petrenko claimed orchestras “react better when they have a man in front of them” and “a cute girl on a podium means that musicians think about other things.”


Image courtesy of Twitter


The Liberal Democrats – again.

After February’s sexual harassment allegations, the Lib Dems found themselves embroiled in another sexism row after a female Lib Dem candidate was told: “I hope you’re not planning on falling pregnant. We don’t want a baby hanging off your t*** during the campaign”, by an older woman in her constituency association. Politicians were also disgruntled by the announcement of Jo Swinson’s pregnancy, reportedly commenting: “How could she get herself in that position when she is a minister?”


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Tony Abbott – again.

Another month, another Tony Abbott sexism row. Once described by former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard as “the definition of misogyny in modern Australia”, Abbott’s election message to the nation included: “If you want to know who to vote for, I’m the guy with the not bad looking daughters.” Clearly it worked.

After becoming Prime Minister of Australia, came under fire yet again, this time for his “embarrassing” male-dominated cabinet, containing only one woman and 18 men.  Abbott himself said he was “disappointed” by the lack of women ministers, and took on the role of Women’s Minister himself, to the bewilderment of women across Australia.


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


The internet – again.

September was a great month for re-entries to the sexism charts, with the internet yet again making an appearance, this time for sexist abuse directed at Chvrches’ Lauren Mayberry.



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#12DaysOfSexism: August 2013

Throughout the 12 days of Christmas, we look back at sexism over the last 12 months.


Professional networking site LinkedIn was accused of sexism after it pulled ad posts containing photos of a woman they deemed too attractive to be a web developer. Guess what? She really is a web developer. Shocking, we know.

Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 10.24.29


Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke

Their notorious performance at the VMA awards dominated discussions for weeks: Sexist? Racist? The response certainly provoked a lot of sexism.

Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 10.31.23


Tony Abbott

The Australian opposition leader in August described a young female candidate as “feisty” with “a bit of sex appeal”. Last year a video of Julia Gillard accusing him of sexism and misogyny went viral, but it seems he hasn’t learnt his lesson. It’s ok though, his colleagues were quick to defend him: “He has got three strong-minded daughters, he’s got sisters, one of whom is gay, he has got a highly competent and strong wife”. Couldn’t possibly be sexist then.


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons



Not known for their pleasant views at the best of times, Ukip made the headlines twice in August for sexist remarks made by their members. Party treasurer Stuart Wheeler said women were “nowhere near as good as men” at games like chess, bridge and poker, during a debate on EU proposals for gender quotas in the boardroom, but denied being sexist.

Godfrey Bloom, having already had his wrists slapped for “bongo bongo land” comments chimed in to clarify Ukip’s position on women, saying underqualified women are taking jobs they don’t deserve because employers are “prejudiced” against men. It took a third strike, referring to a group of female activists as “sluts” in September, for Bloom to be suspended from the party.



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#12DaysOfSexism: July 2013

Throughout the 12 days of Christmas, we look back at sexism over the last 12 months.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, sexism in sport featured heavily in July…

Muirfield golf club

This year’s Open golf tournament was held at Muirfield golf club, described by Fiona Phillips as “a bastion of toxic testosterone which refuses to admit women”.


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Colin Murray

Radio 1 DJ Colin Murray continued the theme of summer sporting sexism, commenting that the ultimate athlete would have “the stamina of Mo, the speed of Bolt, the leap of Rutherford and the bottom of Jess Ennis.” Not like she’s an Olympic gold medallist too or anything…


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


John Inverdale

Earlier in the month, John Inverdale attracted criticism from Culture Secretary Maria Miller when he commented that Wimbledon winner Marion Bartoli was “never going to be a looker”. Incidentally, Inverdale also commentated on the golf Open at Muirfield.


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons



July saw the start of an intense, high profile campaign of Twitter abuse and hatred directed at bank note campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez. The scale of the abuse was so vile that the mainstream media suddenly (if briefly) became acutely aware of online misogyny.



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#12DaysOfSexism: June 2013

Throughout the 12 days of Christmas, we look back at sexism over the last 12 months.

Australian Politics

Who can forget the “Julia Gillard Menu” served to Australian LNP members at a fundraiser in June? “Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail – Small Breasts, Huge Thighs and a Big, Red Box”. Two weeks later Gillard was ousted by Kevin Rudd in a leadership spill seen by some commentators as indicative of sexism in Australian politics.



Oxford Union

Elections for officers at the Oxford Union were dogged by allegations of blackmail, computer hacking and sexism. A newly elected officer was accused of hacking into people’s computers and sending misogynistic messages; he subsequently resigned.



The Bank of England

The Bank of England announced that Elizabeth Fry would be removed from the £5 bank note and replaced by Winston Churchill, leaving the Queen as the only women on English bank notes. A campaign by Caroline Criado-Perez of The Women’s Room quite quickly changed their mind.


Image courtesy of Howard Lake


Robin Thicke

A sexist video and ‘rapey’ lyrics have seen Blurred Lines banned by more than 20 university student unions since criticism took off in June. “I know you want it”. Er, no. In recognition of his contributions to sexism, Robin Thicke was last week named Sexist Of The Year, by the End Violence Against Women Coalition’s prestigious annual poll.

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 17.49.02


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#12DaysOfSexism: May 2013

Throughout the 12 days of Christmas, we look back at sexism over the last 12 months.

Zeeshaan Shah

Who? I know, we’d already forgotten him too. After being fired from The Apprentice, “Zee” responded angrily to claims from rivals Leah Totton and Natalie Panayi that he is a ‘chauvinist‘. “You look at me like I’m something on the bottom of the shoe,” said Natalie.


Image courtesy of Twitter


American Apparel

American Apparel was branded ‘sexist’ over ‘sleazy’ ads for a unisex shirt, which showed half-naked women in g-strings, but fully-clothed men.

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 17.25.06



More than 200,000 people signed an online petition demanding Facebook remove posts and pages that degrade women. Examples included the charmingly titled “This is why Indian girls get raped” and an image of a woman lying at the bottom of the stairs, captioned “Next time, don’t get pregnant.” Facebook was initially slow to respond, until campaigners began targeting advertisers.



Nick Ross

Apparently rape is “not always rape”. Crimewatch presenter Nick Ross sparked outrage by suggesting that “provocatively dressed” women who go out “unescorted” were akin to a bank “storing sacks of cash by the door” and that some victims had gone “too far” by leading men on. He later clarified: “Women’s dress is neither a contributor or excuse for assault.” No, it’s not Nick.

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 17.34.00


Special mention also goes to: the television industry, attacked for ‘pervasive’ sexism and ageism by Clare Balding and David Dimbleby.


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#12DaysOfSexism: April 2013

Throughout the 12 days of Christmas, we look back at sexism over the last 12 months.

April was the month that the Everyday Sexism Project celebrated its first birthday, and Margaret Thatcher’s death was greeted with an abundance of witch comparisons…

Barack Obama

The US President apologised after criticism for referring to the attorney general of California, Kamala Harris, as “the best-looking attorney general in the country”.


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Peter Sagan

Cyclist Peter Sagan sparked controversy after he pinched a woman’s bottom while on the podium after a race.


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Stirling Moss

The motor racing legend claimed women don’t have the “mental aptitude” for Formula One.


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


John Lydon

Sex Pistol Johnny Rotten was branded a “sexist, misogynist pig” after ordering a female host to “shut up when a man is talking” during a television appearance in Australia.


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Special mention also goes to Disney for their ‘I need a hero’ T-shirt, criticised by campaigners in April, and the music industry.


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#12DaysOfSexism: March 2013

Throughout the 12 days of Christmas, we look back at sexism over the last 12 months.


Samsung were accused of sexism twice in March: first in New York, with the launch of their Galaxy S4 – a “long parade of ‘50s-era female stereotypes” – and less than two weeks later in South Africa when their press event featured women in bikinis accompanying refrigerators on stage.


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Warwick SU president Nick Swain

Swain was accused of sexism after footage emerged of him unclipping a girl’s bra at an “alcohol-fuelled” university party.



Alex Blimes

The editor of Esquire magazine, Alex Blimes, said: ”The women we feature in the magazine are ornamental. I could lie to you if you want and say we are interested in their brains as well. We are not. They are objectified.” Well, at least we’ve cleared that one up.



Glasgow University Union

‘Glasgow Ancients’ annual debating competition was heavily criticised after descending into sexism: “Rebecca Meredith, of Kings’s College, Cambridge, and Marlene Valles, of Edinburgh University, were attempting to debate the centralisation of religion when they were confronted by a slew of derogatory, sexist comments. Audience members reportedly commented on their chest sizes, how they were dressed and their general level of attractiveness. When Meredith and Valles spoke of women’s rights and equality, they received boos and cries of “Shame woman”.



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#12DaysOfSexism: February 2013

Throughout the 12 days of Christmas, we look back at sexism over the last 12 months.

James Franco

Franco sparked a sexism controversy in his role as Grand Marshall at Daytona 500 when he changed the command “Gentlemen, start your engines” to “Drivers… and Danica…start your engines”, referring to Danica Patrick, the first woman to start from the pole in a Cup race.



Seth MacFarlane

Gawker says it all really: “At this point there’s no question that Seth MacFarlane was a terrible Oscar host. Not only were his jokes unfunny, tired, self-centered and boring, but also incredibly sexist, homophobic and racist. Boob jokes. Diet jokes. “No home” jokes. Rape jokes. Abuse jokes. Slave jokes. Jew jokes. And to add to the atrocity, the whole act was punctuated by MacFarlane’s absurd preoccupation with whether or not he was a good host, which – as mentioned – he clearly was not.”

Seth MacFarlane


The Sun

During a year in which the No More Page 3 campaign has gained momentum, Rupert Murdoch’s “family” newspaper respectfully reported the death of Reeva Steenkamp, shot dead by her boyfriend Oscar Pistorious, with a front page photograph of her in a bikini.

The Sun: Oscar Pistorius front page


The Liberal Democrats

The Lib Dems found themselves embroiled in a sexism row over allegations of sexually inappropriate behaviour by Lib Dem ex-chief exec Lord Rennard.



Special mention also goes to: the BBC and the architecture and film industries, slammed respectively by Libby Purves, Zaha Hadid and Thandie Newton in February.


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#12DaysOfSexism: January 2013

Throughout the 12 days of Christmas, we look back at sexism over the last 12 months.

Murdo Fraser

Murdo Fraser, an ‘honorable’ Member of the Scottish Parliament, on discovering that the wife of former Liberal leader Lord Steel had declared herself pro-independence, tweeted:

Screen Shot 2013-12-18 at 14.35.50

Image courtesy of: Twitter


The Cycling Industry

Olympian Nicole Cooke retired from cycling, using her retirement speech as an opportunity to slam the industry for its sexism: “Are these girls that race for a living an underclass? They are somehow a sub-race not worthy of the most basic protection we afford the rest of our citizens in whatever employment they find themselves.”


Image courtesy of: Wikimedia Commons


The Internet

January saw a barrage of online abuse directed at classicist Mary Beard: “My appearance on Question Time prompted a web post that has in the last few days discussed my pubic hair (do I brush the floor with it), whether I need rogering (that comment was taken down, as was the speculation about the capaciousness of my vagina, and the plan to plant a d*** in my mouth)”.



The Socialist Workers Party

The radical lefties at the SWP set up a “kangaroo court” to investigate rape allegations against a senior member instead of reporting them to the police. The judgement? He was exonerated.



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#5yearssinceMaria: Duluth – how we can stop failing women like Maria

Between 16-19 December Feminist Times is joining Refuge in remembering the tragic death of Maria Stubbings with a series of articles on domestic violence.

When Maria Stubbings’ abusive former partner Mark Chivers came to persuade her to take him back, having served time for her assault, she told police she feared for her safety. The panic alarm police had installed in her home had been deactivated on his release.

Five years ago today, she was found dead – strangled with a dog lead, under a pile of coats in the downstairs toilet – leaving behind two children. Chivers already had a 15-year conviction for killing a previous partner.

This year’s report into the case found a “a catalogue of errors” made by Essex police. Maria was badly let down in the weeks and months leading to her death; her case once again pushed the everyday reality of domestic violence to the forefront of public consciousness.

In some areas, there are multi-agency approaches to supporting women in such tragic circumstances. Hammersmith has been instrumental in dealing with domestic violence by embracing the Duluth model, an approach which aims to put the woman first through special interagency partnerships between the police, the courts and advocacy workers, giving victims the personal support and institutional protection needed to break free from the cycle of abuse.

This begins with the police prioritising domestic violence and understanding it, so that the mistakes of the Stubbings case are not allowed to happen. As Anthony Wills, the now-retired CEO of Standing Together, and former senior police chief at Hammersmith and Fulham tasked with implementing Duluth, explains: “if Maria Stubbings had been living in Hammersmith, it is more than likely she would still be alive.”

A united attack

The Duluth model, named after the city of the same name in Minnesota, was formed out of the grassroots women’s aid and refuge movement of the 1970s, recognising the need to step beyond simply offering the women somewhere to go, towards providing effective intervention. In the words of its founder, the women’s rights campaigner Ellen Pence, “we got tired of patching women up and sending them out again.”

In response, she began to formulate domestic violence intervention programmes throughout the early 1980s. The results were impressive. By getting the agencies working together, in conjunction with a rehabilitation programme for offenders, 69 per cent of victims reported no physical abuse during the education phase and a similar number reported the same three months after the programme. Mental abuse statistics were weaker, but the model acted as a clear framework for a united, community reaction to an issue that had otherwise remained ignored.

Pence later released a manual, Education Groups for Men Who Batter, which explained the ideology and profile of abusers, as well as the two-pronged attack. It was as simple as it was complex. Domestic violence operated around the desire for power and control, not just physically but mentally, emotionally and beyond. Pence visualised this through the power and control wheel, now a staple of domestic violence prevention methods.

However, it was not the theory that convinced Standing Together’s Beryl Foster to bring the model to Hammersmith. Rather it was the hands-on approach toward influencing practices that really convinced her. Beryl explains: “the Duluth activists took these two ways of doing things and applied them to actually looking at what agencies were really doing, instead of telling them what they ought to be doing, and why.”

“Although we’d always fashioned ourselves as a crisis intervention response charity, working across the criminal justice and voluntary sectors, we had never worked like this.

“We wanted to look at each person in the chain of a case, from the call out to the court room, to see how things could be altered to make sure that the context and history made it to the case file. The reality is that unless information makes it onto the case file, it doesn’t exist.

“It was all well and good us sitting separately around the table in Hammersmith talking to other agencies and authorities about what we did – but we were not looking at how it interlocked and how we could make specific changes. “

The biggest challenge in creating these links and building a coordinated community response to domestic violence came from the police force itself. Prior to the 1990s, police response reflected the prevailing attitude found: ambivalence and confusion.

Anthony echoes this sentiment: “Prosecution never got past first base because, until Beryl and Ellen arrived with Duluth, the police had no understanding of the dynamics of domestic violence.”

Often the officer would advise the woman against making a statement, so as not to waste court time, since women frequently withdrew their evidence. The most forward-thinking police officers wanted to do something but couldn’t see how.  Social workers saw domestic violence as “the moving wallpaper” behind their work, but it was a catch 22 situation – there was very little reward seen professionally for them, as police did not value it.

“Police officers are all about prosecution, so what was the point in arresting someone if the woman would then withdraw her evidence?”

One victim, Joyce Guttridge, explained tearfully how her husband, Paul, branded both herself and their son Kevin with an iron in the 1970s, but she did not do anything because Paul “was friends with police”.

“I do sometimes feel I failed my boy, but people would never have believed me; domestic violence didn’t exist.”

Hearts and minds

Essentially, a mentality change was required – but as Anthony admits, it is “a nightmare” trying to alter police attitudes. His quip “just remember Steven Lawrence”, is the first sign of a refreshing honesty not always found from those in the higher echelons of the Metropolitan Police.

The key to achieving agreement was to make the deal attractive in police terms. Beryl explains, “We located it as a violent crime rather than social crime. If you can come at the police with ways in which they can reduce violent crime, you will get a hearing”. And that is exactly what happened.

It became “almost immediately apparent” to Anthony during the meetings “that myself and the police service had been doing a pretty terrible job around domestic violence,” largely due to the “ignorant culture, especially towards why a woman wouldn’t prosecute”.

The two sides came away in agreement about turning the current outlook on its head. Instead of the victim taking responsibility for the prosecution, it was the job of the state to take responsibility. Especially given the unique dynamics of domestic violence; in no other crime did the victim have to consider going back to live with the perpetrator.

Or, in the words of Anthony: “we don’t say to a murder victim who’s lying on the ground dead with a knife in her chest, ‘do you want to prosecute’? We say ‘you’ve been assaulted, murdered and someone had broken the law, we’re going to deal with it, we’re going to gather the evidence, build the case and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), is going to prosecute if there is enough evidence, with the court dealing with it effectively’.”

Painting the bigger picture

In 2006 Standing Together appointed Anthony to help achieve “the full monty”, as he calls it. This meant stepping beyond, by trying to incorporate other sectors into the system, such as health and childcare.

“Domestic violence is the pivot around which everything else forms – until the same approach is taken to domestic violence across the board, there will always be holes. The victim always finds the gap,” he says.

A fear of this system gripped Helen Barton*, who suffered a vicious attack when her partner attempted to strangle her whilst she drove home from a break with his parents. Although she managed to pull over and kick the door open, the beating continued outside on the motorway layby.

Later that night, Helen called her father from hospital. As a barrister, he advised her to go to the police. “My mother was different, she told me not be silly and keep quiet, but I pushed ahead,” she remembers.

“When I heard social services were coming, I was really scared because I thought they were going to take my son away. I scrubbed my house thinking they were just going to categorise me as a bad mum.”

Those particular fears proved unfounded because, even though Helen lives outside Hammersmith, elements of the Duluth model had filtered through.

“When the social worker arrived, she assured me that everything was going to be ok and that she was on my side. The next day police came round and took pictures and a statement.”

Yet the further you stretch outside those agencies directly involved in the Duluth framework, the more the experience differs.

Another survivor, Lauren Foster*, remembers a particular instance which made her understand “how much better things would be if everyone had the same understanding.”

“The health visitor would be drawn in by my ex. He would take her to one side – as part of the control – and she’d come back and say ‘your boyfriend is worried about your mental health at the moment’.

“He would be an angel in front of everybody but a devil behind the scenes,” she says.

Lauren’s local GP was even more unaware: “When the abuse started I was going to the doctor’s regularly due to the birth. They thought I was self-harming and diagnosed post-natal depression – ‘you’ve had a baby, here are some anti-depressants’. I was in and out of there in a few minutes.

“If they had an understanding and background knowledge, perhaps they could have spotted the signs and saved years of pain.”

Refuge agree. Sandra Horley CBE, chief executive of national domestic violence charity, Refuge says: “A coordinated community approach is vital to keeping women and children safe from violent men. When agencies don’t join up their actions and their thinking, victims can fall through the gaps. In many cases, this can be fatal.

“Refuge runs services across the country and we work hard to create strong relationships with our partner agencies. Multi-agency working saves lives.”

Of course, the cuts have had a huge impact on services across the country; research shows a national 31 per cent cut in domestic violence spending. That’s despite research suggesting the current cost of domestic violence equates to £15.7 billion annually.

Two women a week are killed at the hands of their current or former partner – around 460 since the death of Maria Stubbings. How many more will it take?

*Not their real names

Alex Taylor is a freelance journalist with an interest in current affairs, social issues and the arts. Find out more @ykts_net

Refuge wants to see real change – in memory of Maria Stubbings.  Please join them and sign the petition now:

Christmas can be a particularly difficult time for victims and survivors of domestic violence, so please also support Refuge’s Christmas fundraising appeal at

If you are affected by domestic violence, you can phone the 24-hour national domestic violence helpline, run in partnership between Refuge and Women’s Aid on 0808 2000 247.

For more information, please visit, or find Refuge on Facebook and Twitter @RefugeCharity

Photograph of Maria’s family courtesy of Julian Nieman

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#5yearssinceMaria: Are these domestic violence sentences fair?

Between 16-19 December Feminist Times is joining Refuge in remembering the tragic death of Maria Stubbings with a series of articles on domestic violence.

In October this year, domestic violence made the front page of the UK Metro, a free newspaper with a daily circulation of more than a million copies.

“Punch a horse, get jailed for a year. Punch the stomach of pregnant girlfriend (who coincidentally loses her baby the next day), get 16 weeks”, read the sensational subheading.

23-year-old Ryan Guntrip was jailed for just 16 weeks after punching his pregnant girlfriend, 20-year-old Carina Mackay, in the stomach. Despite admitting assault by beating, Guntrip was jailed for just 16 weeks because there  was no way of proving the attack had caused the miscarriage.

In the same week as Guntrip’s sentencing, a Newcastle United fan was jailed for 12 months for punching a police horse. The shocking disparity between sentences made this story front page news, but it was not an isolated injustice. We took a look at some other examples of pitiful sentences for domestic violence in 2013 and compared them to sentencing for other crimes.

Sentence: 16 weeks

Domestic Violence:


Name: Jubel Miah

Crime: Common assault by beating, committed against his wife

Sentence: 16 weeks

Case details: “Miah…ripped her tongue, kicked and punched her, inflicted black eyes on her and battered her confidence. He also tracked her movements using his mobile phone, tried to stop her going to college, accused her of cheating… The wife finally escaped from his clutches after he subjected her to a sustained attack in which he stabbed her with scissors and hit her with a dumbell.”

Same Sentence:


Name: Simon Peter Davison

Crime: Meat theft

Sentence: 16 weeks

Case details: Stealing meat and other goods from Tesco, B&Q and Sainsbury’s stores, to the value of around £350.


Sentence: 4 months

Domestic Violence:



Name: Nicholas Jackson

Crime: Threatening behaviour and two counts of criminal damage against his former partner

Sentence: Four months

Case details: Jackson, who had previous convictions for arson and threatening to kill two former partners, walked free from court earlier this month because he had already served his fourth-month jail sentence in custody.

Same Sentence:


Name: Jack Scorby Armstrong

Crime: Perverting the course of justice

Sentence: Four months

Case details: The 20-year-old driver falsely told police his number plates had been stolen in a bid to escape a speeding fine.


Sentence: Suspended

Domestic Violence:



Name: Merlin Seagroatt

Crime: Assault causing actual bodily harm and criminal damage

Sentence: Suspended

Case details: Seagroatt “got into the room by taking a door off its hinges and attacked her again, telling her: ‘I’m going to kill you. I have always wanted to kill someone.'”

Judge Peter Heywood said: “There are always ups and downs in a relationship. You can’t behave like this towards ladies you are in a relationship with.”

Same Sentence:


Name: Tariq Al Habtoor

Crime: Dognapping

Sentence: Suspended

Case details: Billionaire’s son Al Habtoor gave away his chocolate Labrador Ozzy to a fellow student. After changing his mind, Al Habtoor offered her £1,500 to buy the dog back. When she refused, he dognapped Ozzy in a ‘military-style’ operation, which he live-tweeted.


Sentence: 30 months

Domestic Violence:

dv5Name: Gareth Stemp

Crime: Eight counts of assault and two counts of assault and abduction

Sentence: 30 months

Case details: Gareth Stemp was convicted of ten separate charges over an eight-year “campaign of abuse and terror” on four partners since 2004, including one who was pregnant.

Same Sentence:

800px-Cricket_ball_on_grassName: Salman Butt

Crime: Match fixing

Sentence: 30 months

Case details: Former Pakistan cricket captain Salman Butt was jailed for conspiracy to deliberately bowl no-balls during last year’s Test match against England.

Sentence: 4 years

Domestic Violence:

DV1Name: Yacoub Rezai

Crime: Manslaughter of his wife Reihana Rezayi

Sentence: Four years

Case details: Rezai, who stabbed his wife to death, was found not guilty of murder because “he never intended causing serious injury”.

The court heard Rezai believed his wife had been cheating, and five days before her death she had asked for a divorce. Rezai’s defence counsel, Bobbie Cheema QC, likened the offence to “a crime of passion”. Sentencing, Judge Michael Pert QC said: “It’s clear on the evidence you had a happy marriage and were a good, placid and kind husband.”

Same Sentence:

FBNames: Jordan Blackshaw and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan

Crime: Using Facebook to incite disorder

Sentence: Four years

Case details: Blackshaw and Sutcliffe-Keenan were jailed  for using Faceback to incite disorder during the 2011 riots, despite the fact neither of their Facebook posts resulted in a riot-related event.


And finally, a bit of Christmas cheer…

Screen Shot 2013-12-17 at 13.35.12

Neighbours witnessed John Reece punching his partner and dragging her down the road by her hair. She suffered a broken jaw, cuts and bruises to her face, legs and feet. Recorder Timothy Spencer said: “It’s about to be Christmas and this [suspended sentence] is your Christmas present.”

It seems that, at Christmas time, even Santa is a harsher judge than the British Criminal Justice System – we all know bad boys shouldn’t get any presents.

Refuge wants to see real change – in memory of Maria Stubbings.  Please join them and sign the petition now:

Christmas can be a particularly difficult time for victims and survivors of domestic violence, so please also support Refuge’s Christmas fundraising appeal at If you are affected by domestic violence, you can phone the 24-hour national domestic violence helpline, run in partnership between Refuge and Women’s Aid on 0808 2000 247.

For more information, please visit, or find Refuge on Facebook and Twitter @RefugeCharity

Thanks also to Karen Ingala Smith for her assistance with sentencing data.

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#5yearssinceMaria: The manifesto of… a survivor of domestic violence

Between 16-19 December Feminist Times is joining Refuge in remembering the tragic death of Maria Stubbings with a series of articles on domestic violence, produced in collaboration with Refuge. Today a survivor tells us her story…

I am in an abusive relationship. I want to say was… but wonder if that day will come.

I thought I’d done the hard and dangerous bit – I left. He no longer beats me, slams me into doors, pushes me downstairs or strangles me. But he is the father of our children and so, in truth, it doesn’t stop. Our beautiful, wonderful children tie me, and them, to a man who continues to abuse us.

I met my ex-husband back in 2001. He was successful, intelligent, at the top of his profession. He pursued me – I was flattered, I thought it was the heady behaviour of true love – it turned out to be the controlling behaviour of a man who doesn’t lose, who always gets what he wants. When we met I was working for a large accountancy firm, with my own successful career, my own house – my own independence.

Within a year none of that remained. I had sold my house, moved in with him and was living under the constant threat of being thrown out. He persuaded me to give up my job, telling me I couldn’t cope with it, and I stopped socialising as a result of his constant criticism of my family and friends.

That’s how quickly it happens – but you want to blame me for that, right? You want to tell me that I’m weak, there’s something wrong with me – that it’s my fault? That I should have just left? Blame the victim – that’s the way we do things; it’s our culture.

Sandra Horley, CEO of Refuge, says abuse is like the constant drip of water on a stone – drip, drip, drip – undermining, putting down, constant criticism, control, name calling… all silently stalking your self-esteem until you wake up one day and you don’t know who you are, how to stop it – where to turn to. You believe them – this is my fault.

Sometimes I can’t imagine how I stayed – In those moments I wonder if I am not like the people in the South Tower on 9/11 who didn’t know what was unfolding around them. I don’t make the comparison lightly. The terror of near death, that man’s hands gripping tightly around my throat – spots before my eyes, hearing muffled, and consciousness slipping away. But I did get up from my desk and start down the stairs, and luck was on my side; I got out.

There is no consistent response to domestic violence and that’s part of the problem. The police responded to my emergency calls. When I was screaming down the phone, “he’s going to kill me and the children,” they came quickly, arrested my husband and took statements. But they cautioned him – and then he was free to come home… The law can be a disappointingly blunt tool.

When I left for good after a beating in front of the children, the police told me we had lots of solid proof and that prosecution would follow provided I agreed to give evidence. It was a hard call – we were in the middle of divorce proceedings and such an act on my part would inevitably lead to greater hostility. But I agreed because domestic violence is against the law and without people coming forward to report this crime and give evidence, nothing will change. I am all for change.

So I stepped off the cliff and agreed, knowing that would mean facing him and all his lies in court. I said yes. The police took the case to the CPS and incredibly they said they weren’t able to prosecute: “Sounds like a ropey divorce”, was the quote. I was devastated, crushed and numb. I fought for an explanation, none came. No one would talk to me or give me a reason why. I felt blamed, that no one really believed me. Luckily, Refuge, the national domestic violence charity, picked me up and supported me at that point.

But the abuse stated again, this time with a new weapon. The courts, social services, threats of media exposure – he was a powerful man.

Despite court rulings in my favour, I am still in court, still fighting to keep the children safe from his lies and his behaviour. My new address was to remain confidential but he searched and found it. Nothing was done and that frightens me.

My life is changed, I am changed.

But change is good. I have met and been inspired by some of the world’s most amazing women since leaving. I have a new business and have even written a book. I am on a journey and all roads have led to here. I am not bitter, just changed – I hope for the better. I am not yet a survivor of domestic violence, but I am surviving.


I would like…

  • The Government to open a public inquiry into the response of the police and other state agencies to victims of domestic violence.
  • A well-funded, strategically co-ordinated, multi-agency National Domestic Violence Framework with documented standards of response to and care for victims of domestic violence.
  • A high profile media campaign highlighting the availability of Legal Aid in cases of domestic violence, and how those experiencing domestic violence can obtain help and funding.
  • Children to be properly protected in contact arrangements with perpetrators of domestic violence, by the extension of Legal Aid to Children’s Act Proceedings where Findings of Fact prove domestic violence is an issue.
  • More funding for specialist Independent Domestic Violence Advocates, who help victims of domestic violence to navigate a path to safety through the legal system – dealing with courts, social services, police, CPS and all government agencies.
  • Education on what makes a good vs. bad or abusive relationship taught as standard throughout the academic year (not a one-off class as part of sex education) starting at primary level and linked to anti-bullying work in schools.

Refuge wants to see real change – in memory of Maria.  Please join them and sign the petition now:

Christmas can be a particularly difficult time for victims and survivors of domestic violence, so please also support Refuge’s Christmas fundraising appeal at

If you are affected by domestic violence, you can phone the 24-hour national domestic violence helpline, run in partnership between Refuge and Women’s Aid on 0808 2000 247.

For more information, please visit, or find Refuge on Facebook and Twitter @RefugeCharity

Photograph of Maria’s family courtesy of Julian Nieman

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#IDontBuyIt: High street stores ‘less sexist’ this Christmas than last year

Gendered ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ signs in toyshops are on the decline, according to a survey by campaign group Let Toys Be Toys.

The survey, carried out throughout November by supporters of the campaign, found use of gendered signs has decreased by 60 per cent compared to last Christmas, when the campaign began.

Kerry Brennan, one of the founders of the Let Toys Be Toys campaign, said: “While there’s still a long way to go to address sexism in the toy industry, the changes in major retail chains like Debenhams are just brilliant to see.

“They’ve replaced pink and blue ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ signs with new colourful signs that say ‘Vehicles’, ‘Superheroes’, ‘Soft Toys’, and ‘TV Characters’, among others.”

Supporters found just a fifth of high street stores using ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ signs to identify their toys, compared with half of all shops last year.

Hobbycraft was crowned ‘best of the high street’ for marketing toys without relying on gendered or sexist stereotypes, with Toymaster and Fenwick respectively second and third.

Fenwick, Debenhams and TK Maxx were all named ‘most improved’, having recently removed their ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ signs.

Supermarket Morrisons was found to be most ‘sexist’, with supermarkets tending to use gendered stereotypes more frequently than independent toy retailers.

Ms Brennan added: “Everything is much easier to find and children are no longer being sent the message that science and adventure are only for boys, crafts and nurturing play only for girls.”

Of the fourteen major retailers contacted by the Let Toys Be Toys campaign in 2013, seven have already removed the ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ signage from shop floors or own-brand toy packaging: Hobbycraft, Boots, TK Maxx, The Entertainer, Debenhams, Fenwick and Next.

Five stores – Toys R Us, Marks and Spencer, Tesco, Sainsbury and Morrisons – are in the process of doing so.

However, the survey also found that just over 70% of stores still used some kind of gender cues, with 40% of stores using gender to sell the majority of their toys.

“We still have a way to go,” said Rebecca Brueton, a Let Toys Be Toys campaigner.

“We made getting rid of the signs our priority this year and the survey shows it’s working. Even so, you can still find plenty of shops promoting outdated and limiting ideas, giving children the message that science is only for boys and creativity for girls.”

Let Toys Be Toys is a grassroots campaign group established in November 2012. The campaign believes both boys and girls benefit from a range of play experiences, and should not be restricted by marketing which tells them which toys and activities are for boys or girls. Let Toys Be Toys is run and organised wholly by volunteers.

 See for more information.

Image courtesy of Let Toys Be Toys.

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#5yearssinceMaria: Remembering Maria Stubbings

Five years ago today, Maria Stubbings was murdered by her ex-partner Marc Chivers.

Actually, the anniversary of her death might not be today. It might be tomorrow. Or the day after.

We don’t know exactly when Maria was killed, because in the last days of her life, she was badly let down by Essex Police.

Two days before Maria’s body was found, a police officer was instructed to check on her at home – but failed to do so. The next day, officers visited Maria’s home again. Chivers – already known to the police for killing another woman – answered the door and told them that Maria had gone away to stay with friends. The officers took him at his word and left a calling card.  Maria’s car was parked on the driveway.

The next day – the 19th December – officers visited Maria’s home once more. This time they searched the house. They found her body under a pile of coats in the downstairs bathroom.

Essex Police didn’t just make mistakes in the final days of Maria’s life. They failed her repeatedly in the weeks and months leading up to her death.

Maria’s death is a horrific tragedy – but it is not a one-off.

Domestic violence carries a sickening death toll: every week two women are killed by current or former partners. Since Maria’s death five years ago, approximately 460 women have been killed by a current or former partner. In too many of these cases, women are failed by the police and other state agencies.

Enough is enough. It is an outrage that so many women and children are still not getting the protection they deserve.

That’s why the national domestic violence charity Refuge is calling for a public inquiry into the response of the police and other state agencies to women and children experiencing domestic violence.

Refuge wants to see real change – in memory of Maria.  Please join them and sign the petition now:

Between 16-19 December Feminist Times is joining Refuge in remembering the tragic death of Maria Stubbings with a series of articles on domestic violence, produced in collaboration with Refuge.

Christmas can be a particularly difficult time for victims and survivors of domestic violence, so please also support Refuge’s Christmas fundraising appeal at

If you are affected by domestic violence, you can phone the 24-hour national domestic violence helpline, run in partnership between Refuge and Women’s Aid on 0808 2000 247.

For more information, please visit, or find Refuge on Facebook and Twitter @RefugeCharity

Photograph of Maria’s family courtesy of Julian Nieman

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#IDontBuyIt: A Very Feminist Christmas Theme Week 16th – 22nd

We love a theme week and we’ve really gone to town on our Christmas themed week:

#IDontBuyIt: 16th – 22nd December

Our team of experts will be dissecting all things festive and why we as feminists just don’t ‘buy’ a lot of it. Whether it be capitalism, Xmas telly, the immaculate conception or the commodification of feminism. Here’s our list of #IDontBuyIt content:

The Guardian’s Issy Sampson unpicks the Christmas telly schedule to see how women fare in festive TV.

Psychiatrist Anna Fryer on womb envy, feminist psychoanalysis and the immaculate conception.

One of Santa’s Elves whistleblows on her working conditions.

Tales from women in the banking and media industries about their sexist office parties.

Dr Kristin Aune, Reader in Sociology & Director of the Centre for Society, Religion & Belief on how you can be a Feminist and a Christian.

A reader who lost it all in the crash explains why we should all adopt the Free Economony.

An exploration of the commodification of Feminism.

Children’s Editor Anna on toys.

Joni Seager and Lucia Ricci infographic on women, credit and depression.

Buy Nothing Day and Echo profiles, Feminist Fairies, and more.

#5yearssinceMaria: From the 16th – 19th December we will also be marking the fifth anniversary of Maria Stubbings’ death, alongside Refuge, including:

Maria Stubbings’ story.

He punched a horse: comparison of sentencing for domestic violence versus other crimes.

The manifesto of a woman who suffered from domestic violence.

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#16Days: The Disbelieving of Women*

This piece by Pakistani activist Samreen Shahbaz was exclusively sent to Feminist Times by Women Living Under Muslim Laws. It is also published on their website, as part of their 16 Days coverage.

In January 2005, Dr. Shazia Khalid was raped by member of the Pakistan Army in a remote area of Baluchistan province. Dr. Shazia Khalid is a medical doctor who was working as an employee of Pakistan Petroleum Limited at that time, and the incident happened at her compound which was located inside the hospital’s premises in the Sui area of Baluchistan.

A case was filed and investigations began after her husband made repeated visits to the police. The military government of that time found Dr. Khalid’s protests against sexual assault by a military employee extremely irritating and started making conscious efforts to remove the thorn in their side. First, the authorities destroyed the evidence and later, they started questioning the character of the victim by narrating shady stories of “used condoms” being found at her compound. Her case was also dismissed on the grounds that the victim failed to produce four witnesses of the incident.

Her case increased tensions between the Baluch nationalist tribes and the Pak Army as the tribes took the incident as an attack on their honour. Dr. Khalid was kept under a house arrest in Karachi for several weeks. Eventually, she was flown out of the country and the entire story was swept under the carpet. Dr. Shazia Khalid is still awaiting justice.

Earlier, in June 2002, Mukhtar Mai, a 30-year-old woman from Meerwala village of South Punjab, was allegedly gang raped on the order of the village council. The ill-fate dawned upon her after her young brother was seen with a woman of a powerful clan of the village. To avenge, the elders of the clan decided to shame the family by raping one of their women.

On the insistence of village cleric, Mukhtar Mai and her family decided to report the incident to the police and a case was filed against 14 men of the village. The trial was heard at Lahore High Court and later by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. After nine years of trials and appeals, the Supreme Court killed Mukhtar Mai’s hope for justice and acquitted all except one suspect in her case. The court failed to properly appraise the medico-legal evidence in Mukhtar Mai’s case and let the suspects go scot free.

Such cases are not aberrant in Pakistan’s history. In fact, these two cases mirror the turmoil and pain and anguish that hundreds of victims of sexual abuse undergo every year. We women, it seems, continue to suffer from Cassandra’s curse. Nowhere is the disbelieving of women more apparent than in these two cases.

In Dr. Shazia’s case, the police rolled out a false story and asked: how come the maid found condoms in a good girl’s bedroom? And the public joined the bandwagon, ignoring the protests of Dr. Shazia. Mukhtar Mai was accused of using rape as a route to riches by none other than Pakistan’s president and was labeled a “whore” by many Punjabi middle-classers. Even the court of justice used the principle of “better that ten guilty escape than one innocent suffers” to dismiss Mukhtar Mai’s claims.

In a patriarchal society such as ours, where women are routinely made victims of gender-based violence and where these incidents are least reported, this kind of disbelieving of women is only worsening the situation. Such outrageous dismissal of victims’ statements as ill-intended, exaggerated accounts, or sheer lies not only denies them justice, but also discourages other victims from reporting such crimes.

The cases of Dr. Shazia Khalid and Mukhtar Mai should serve as eye-opener because without demanding to change the way such cases are perceived by masses and by the authorities, we can never break the vicious cycle of these heinous crimes against women.

[*Note from the author: Leopard of Crates and Ribbons has shed light on how women keep suffering from the habitual disbelief of our society in this excellent article, which inspired me to write about the grim situation in Pakistan: ]

Samreen Shahbaz is a Lahore-based activist and National Coordinator of Advocacy and Communications with Shirkat Gah, a leading women’s rights organisation in Pakistan. She works on conflict resolution, women’s rights and human rights.

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#16Days: Counting Dead Women

In the first three days of 2012, seven women in the UK were killed through men’s violence.

On 1 January, Michael Atherton shot his partner Susan McGoldrick, her sister Alison Turnbull and Alison’s daughter Tanya before shooting himself, and Aaron Mann repeatedly hit Claire O’Connor with a blunt object before smothering her with a pillow. Her body was found wrapped in dirty bedding in the boot of her car.

On 2 January, Miles Williams broke into Kirsty Treloar’s family’s home, stabbed her brother and sister as they tried to help, then dragged Kirsty into the back of his mother’s car and drove her away. Kirsty was found dead two miles away, dumped behind a wheelie bin; she had been stabbed 29 times.

On 3 January, John McGrory used a dog lead to strangle Marie McGrory, and Garry Kane beat his grandmother Kathleen Milward to death.

Three days, seven dead women: three shot, one stabbed, one strangled, one smothered and one 87-year-old grandmother killed though 15 “blunt force trauma” injuries.

Since then, I’ve been keeping a record of the women in the UK who have been killed through men’s violence. I counted 120 in 2012. This year, I’ve already counted 116.

The statistic that “two women a week are killed by a partner or former partner” is widely quoted. But it’s only part of the picture. Last year 16 women were killed by their sons and one by her grandson; this year at least seven men have killed their mothers and three their grandmothers. Those women aren’t included is this statistic; nor are the elderly women beaten to death when they are burgled, or the women who are killed because of their involvement in prostitution. Yet the murders of these women are every bit as much about sexism and misogyny.

For the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, I decided to highlight men’s fatal male violence in the UK. Men’s violence against women is global, a cause and consequence of inequality between women and men. Though there are cultural differences in the forms of violence used, women across the world are united through our experiences of men’s violence in patriarchal societies. But men’s violence against women is not natural, it is not inevitable. So much more could be done to end it.

I’m calling on the government to take an integrated approach to looking at men’s fatal violence against women. If we don’t make the connections and look for the true root causes, we will not reduce the numbers of women being killed by men.

Karen spent International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women tweeting the names of women who have been killed in the UK so far in 2013. We have collated Karen’s tweets into a Storify, below:

Karen Ingala Smith is the Chief Executive of nia, a charity supporting women and children who have experienced sexual and domestic violence. She blogs at and tweets @K_IngalaSmith and @countdeadwomen. Sign her petition at:

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

Image courtesy of Karen Ingala Smith

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#ManWeek: Taboo Corner – The Truth About Men

Taboo Corner is a small space on Feminist Times for women to be open about uncomfortable thoughts they have and the personal reasons behind them, helping uncover disconcerting female truths that are normally repressed and opening them up for honest debate. Feminist Times is different to other magazines in that it won’t airbrush your frown lines or your emotions… Submit your own Taboo Corner piece:

The Truth About Men, by a Radical Feminist:

Like many women trapped in abusive relationships with men, most feminists are still at the stage of desperately hoping the men inflicting the damage can be changed or reformed. If only they can make him understand, educate him or even work with him then surely it’s possible to persuade him to stop wreaking all this terrible pain and destruction. The problem for abuse victims, and for feminists, is that the abuser’s ambition is his victim’s pain and destruction. It’s not an unintended consequence; it is his planned for result.

Men’s war against women has been the longest war in existence. As the female casualties keep mounting up, we need shelters in our communities where women can flee their homes to safety, hidden from their male batterers; we need helplines for rape victims trapped in PTSD; we need therapists for the child victims of rapist fathers, brothers, grandfathers, uncles, or any other predator/chancer who happened to be in the vicinity and felt like helping himself; we need surgeons to enter war zones to sew back together the sexual organs of tens of thousands of women who men have raped and tortured there; we need coffins for the dead; we need remembrance for millions who were denied life because of their sex; and we need feminist campaigning because we still hope we can persuade men that all this must stop.

Feminism, the politics which has so far offered women our best hope of freedom from our suffering and annihilation at the hands of men, is however still generally framed as an issue of gender inequality – as if someone simply got a bigger piece of cake than their friend – whilst the cruel fact of male brutality and sadism towards women fades into the background, or becomes another policy or public health issue. The agent – men – is euphemised and erased into gender or becomes non-specific as in “Violence Against Women and Girls“ with accompanying acronym. If you’re political it gets called “patriarchy“ – abstract terms are often used to obscure male oppression of women rather than to enlighten us about it; you’ll see quite a few people arguing that patriarchy doesn’t mean men. In the meantime, women are left with a politics where women’s reality – that men are hurting us – is absent.

As feminists hope for the best with men, men continue expressing what we can only deduce must be their true selves, given that no one forces them to behave the way they do: in fact, they invented it. For an abused woman, the answer to this violent expression of maleness is to escape the man hurting her. Physical separation from him is the best solution to stop the violence (although, horrifically, the process of leaving a violent man is the time when he is most likely to become lethal). Similarly, radical feminists advocate separation from men in response to men’s violence against women and their exploitation of us. Separatism for radical feminists is a refusal to put women in harm’s way; a refusal to supply female energy to men; and most importantly a conscious decision to centre women. Whilst separatism looks like a partial political answer currently, because of the illegitimate control men have over the planet and its populations, making them impossible to completely escape, it is a vital part of the process of women’s freedom. Women’s energy, directed towards ourselves rather than wasted on reforming men, is and will be transformative.

Maya Angelou said, “The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them.” When are feminists finally going to believe what men have shown us about themselves? And, following on from that, when we understand and believe what we’ve been shown, do we have the strength and courage to do what’s necessary for female survival and liberation?

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#ManWeek: What about my Man Day?

It’s International Men’s Day! Hooray, said hardly anyone, ever, as millions of people around the globe have literally no idea it’s going on. While around half of the ones that do, including many feminists, just roll their eyes and say ‘every day’s international men’s day’. And quite.

Men. That famously oppressed group. I’ll park the sarcasm there.

Have you ever tried to explain International Women’s Day to a drunk and very annoying middle aged man? If so, I’ve been there: ‘What’s that then, a day for talking about periods? Pfft, and what about Man day? Where’s my Man Day?” To those of us scarred by such experiences, IMD appears to be the answer to that question, and that’s just one reason why it comes across as ridiculous as that old lush.

It’s galling that the one day that women have to address a historical global imbalance is mimicked by those many consider to be the perpetrators. Like white supremisists who claim to be victims of racism, or a straight pride. It feels at total odds with reality where women are 70% of those who live inpoverty and violence against women is at pandemic proportions.

It’s obvious then why many feminists and women find it hard to engage with International Men’s Day when one is repelled. But what if we start with the idea that men also suffer, that men are victims of patriarchy too – can it ever make sense?

International Men’s Day was founded by Dr. Jerome Teelucksingh in Trinidad and Tobago in 1999. You can see Dr Teelucksingh explaining his reasoning on the video below: Too many families with absent fathers. Too many men in prison. Men failing at education and losing their identity as the ‘breadwinner’.

The ‘family unit is under attack’, he felt, back then. ‘Society needs to strongly condemn certain trends like multiple partners…. these deviant family patterns influenced by North American media… These project the wrong image of men which we tend to copy, we tend to mimic, we are mimic men, and we see that men are being less responsible.’ He goes on to explain that they need ‘better quality men’, ‘high calibre, trustworthy’ role models.

The men behind IMD are not just the white privileged few. IMD comes from a place where the men admit they are irresponsible, where their brothers are wasting their lives in prison, where they miss out on fulfilling relationships with the women and children in their lives. Fourteen years later in the UK IMD focuses on some of the same issues:

The six ‘pillars’ of International Men’s Day in 2013.
To promote positive male role models.
To celebrate men’s positive contributions.
To focus on men’s health and wellbeing.
To highlight discrimination against males.
To improve gender relations and promote gender equality.
To create a safer, better world.

Some men, the minority involved in IMD, feel misrepresented, some feel discriminated against. The similarities between International Women’s and Men’s Days are that they both seek to express what they feel is misunderstood about their gender and bring to light issues their gender face.

In the light, not every day is fun times for all the boys, which is probably why the younger ones are the highest suicide-risk group. The pressure to fulfill stereotypes with a lack of diverse and ‘quality’ role models. Stereotypes that lead to abuse of women. The pressure to succeed in a world they are supposed to have built, with rules that are supposed to work for them, when really they are in a system that only allows the few to succeed. Shining light on both these issues can change life for the better for women too.

But IMD has the danger of being highjacked. By men who hate women. By the guys who think we’ve got too many rights, and that our rights are discriminatory towards them. By that drunk guy who just wants a day too. We should be wary of him.

Every day is a Man’s Day, but International Men’s Day is a chance to have a different kind of Man day, where gender stereotypes can be challenged – imagine if that happened every day.

Photo: Martin Abegglen


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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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#ManWeek: 18th – 25th November

To coincide with International Men’s Day on the 19th and the UN Day to Eliminate VAWG 25th Nov Feminist Times uncovers what the real problem with men is, if men can be feminists and how we can work together. #ManWeek

“It’s provocative to have a Man Week for a new feminist publication, but in a post-Lad world we believe analysing and identifying the new masculine archetype is an important issue for feminism.” Charlotte Raven, Editor.

Deborah Owhin, Violence Against Women & Girls Specialist, former Domestic Homicide Review Lead, explains how abuse and death can be prevented by improving relationships between fathers and daughters

Joni Seagar, Professor & Chair of Global Studies at Bentley Uni, Boston, Global Policy Expert & Feminist, presents an extract from her Atlas of Women on Son Preference across the globe

James Mullinger, comedian and self-appointed “Bad Boy of Feminism” explains why men are capable of being feminists

White Ribbon Campaign Profile: Why we need men to join us in fighting for the safety of women

Garry Muholland, journalist, author and broadcaster, describes his mid-life-crisis

But What About Men’s Day? Where did International Men’s Day Come From?

Taboo Corner from a Radical Feminist

Domestic Violence and the psychoanalysis of men who beat

Psychoanalytical Toolkit

Charlotte Raven on the masculine archetype of The Survivalist

Teaching Men to be Feminist book review

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Space Invaders: Men in feminist spaces

You know what it’s like – you’re at a gathering of the feminist persuasion, and something shocking and appalling occurs. It’s too vile to comprehend. A shadowy figure appears in the doorway: A man.

Oh God. Quick, remove him by the scruff of his neck immediately! Do not touch any part of him! YOU MAY GET CONTAMINATED!

I’m joking, of course. I love a male feminist – just as much as I love anyone who genuinely thinks people who own vaginas should be equal to those who don’t.

However, at a recent workshop on non-hierarchical relationship models, the following comment was made: “If you’re a man, saying you’re a feminist is probably one of the sexiest things you could say.”

Imagine my horror then when I turned to my left and saw a man, who I have known to aggressively shout at women who refused to have sex with him, sitting with a huge grin plastered across his face.

I’m no longer being facetious when I say that a genuine feeling of discomfort and anxiety formed in the pit of my stomach. What scared me? I realized that, as the feminist movement grows, we are being infiltrated. Imposters exist within our ranks, wearing feminism as an attractive lure, hoping we little ladies will rush upon them, doe-eyed, letting them liberate us – in the Robin Thicke sense, rather than the Suffragette movement sense.

This shouldn’t surprise us. After all, in a move that transparently appeared to everyone else as, “Erm, erm, how do I get women to like me? Oh bugger, help!” David Cameron took a deep breath and declared that he is a feminist.

But these men, telling you how much they want Miley Cyrus to put some clothes on in the hope that you’ll take yours off, are just as scary as a Tory prime minister whose face betrays no sign of human emotion.

So rare is it to achieve a women-only space – just look at basically every comedy panel show on the TV, a.k.a. ‘Only middle-aged white men are funny’, 10.30pm, every day of the week – that to have this broken into by disingenuous male feminists feels like an attack on feminist gains.

If masquerading under the guise of feminism becomes a tactic for men to get into our knickers it will perpetuate the age-old power dynamics that we seek to overcome, and remove our autonomy. Men will use our movement to satisfy their own whims, and instead of chasing liberation we will be shooing out double agents that have co-opted feminism to enslave us.

It’s fairly easy to see who is the real deal. The faux-lovers of lady liberation are so busy telling you what big feminists they are that they don’t actually allow the women they care so much to empower get a word in edgeways. Show, don’t tell, boys. Sometimes, the lady doth protest too much. And in this instance, I’m not referring to the repetitive whining of us old bags, but your overly defensive browbeating about feminist theory.

There’s an interesting idea in feminism, which is that we don’t have to take our clothes off to have a good time. That’s kind of the point.

Any male feminist is a friend of mine. He’s welcome to join the club. But he’s got to remember, it’s our club, not his, and we make the rules – and one of those is that talking about Judith Butler so he can prod us with his willy is not allowed.

Jessie Thompson is   Follow her here @jessiecath

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What’s so safe about feminist, women-only space?

Women-only space has garnered a lot of attention in feminist circles. Most of the discussion has been devoted to fiery debates addressing the rights and wrongs of women’s claims to autonomous space, rather than what goes on inside women-only space. Noting how significantly women-only space was experienced by women who attended the North East Feminist Gathering (NEFG, a feminist women-only weekend event), we investigated what goes on once we move beyond the protesters and defenders, stepping across the threshold into feminist women-only space.

Women reported the experience of women-only space as profoundly significant in their lives. While the spectre of the ‘feminist killjoy’ looms over feminist politics, women expressed their experience of women-only space in terms of ‘euphoric joy’.  They described the NEFG as “a whole burst of energy.”  There was ”this great big buzz”, it “felt warm and friendly”, “fresh, creative.” One participant summed it up as: “that real feeling that this is something really special and amazing that’s happened here.”

Women repeatedly referred to the NEFG as a “safe” space. It made them feel safe from the ‘everyday sexism’ they, as feminists, challenge and resist. For some, used to protecting themselves on a daily basis, feeling safe came as a shock:

“I think it hit home to me about being in a safe space. It was just weird when I was at the social and I went to the loo. Normally when I’m in a club I don’t leave my drink when I go to the loo, I take it with me because I’m worried it might get spiked and then I just suddenly didn’t because I thought, no one here would do that.’ It was weird how it hit me that it was a safe space.”

The feminist women-only space enabled them to feel safe to fully participate, to express themselves, to engage in respectful, challenging exchanges: “safety for me is not feeling scared to say what I feel called to say, knowing that I am going to be listened to and respected. And I felt that at the NEFG.” For other women, the relief of being in feminist women-only space was what made them feel safe to engage:

“We live with a level of fear of expressing ourselves or speaking out, or voicing our real opinions. And consequently we’re looking for a situation where we can put down that fear and express ourselves freely, have some space where it’s okay to say what you really think. It’s not about everybody agreeing or disagreeing or everybody having the same opinion, it’s about being able to listen and share in a way that somehow in mixed company always ends up in a more combative scenario; somebody’s got to be right and somebody’s got to be wrong.”

Woman said being released from having to defend their feminist politics enabled deep discussions. Deep reflection about politics and identity included participants “working through prejudices, egos, competitiveness” and “being challenged to think about one’s own sexism and stereotypes”. In these safe, in-depth exchanges, women could expand themselves, fulfil their potential, and take up their space.

“A space that is women-only exhibits women’s potential – you really see how different it is. It’s a safe environment for us to explore ourselves as women in different ways and to practice being that confident. To me, it is about seeing women be how they can be.”

In safe spaces, women explored their potential rather than censoring themselves. Safety fostered confidence to speak, to share, to explore one’s skills and talents as well as to be emotionally expressive: “It felt really open and honest, you could just be yourself.” For some, this meant discovering who they were:

“I was like, I’m discovering myself! Oh, is this who I am when I’m not constantly fighting? It’s like starting the race but you’re already halfway through; you haven’t had to do the first really hard bit of the run, you‘re just in the bit when you feel really good.”

Another young woman, released of the need to justify her politics, told us: “I think I felt cleverer just having that part of my brain freed up. I genuinely did feel cleverer. I was like, ‘I’ve got all these ideas when I give myself the chance to say them.’”

Women’s accounts point to the scope for feminist women-only space to enable women to fulfil their potential as civic human beings, in sharp contrast to their everyday experiences of living in patriarchy.

A footnote about the research: For the research, we invited women who’d attended the 1st NEFG, in October 2012, to join a group discussion. Of the 95 contacts, 29 women (30%) attended a group discussion. We also ran a group discussion for women who did not attend the NEFG but were interested in it. Seven discussion groups were conducted; they were recorded and transcribed. Women’s ages ranged from 19 to 70, there were straight, lesbian, bi and queer women, a few were disabled, almost all were white, and the groups comprised various work statuses. Women’s comments are reported anonymously.

Dr Ruth Lewis is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Northumbria University and Elizabeth Sharp is Associate Professor in Human Development & Family Studies at Texas Tech University and Visiting Fellow, School of Applied Social Science at Durham University.

For further information about the project and our other publications, please contact: Ruth Lewis or Elizabeth Sharp

Image: Elizabeth Sharp and Ruth Lewis at NEFG13, courtesy of Roweena Russell.

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Feminist Toolkit: How to put up a shelf

ToolsYou will need:

  • Tape measure
  • Spirit level (optional)
  • Drill-driver, with screwdriver bits.
  • Saw
  • Saw horse (this can be a chair or stool)
  • Masonry drill bit (this is a drill bit with a tip that looks like a hammer.  Get the size appropriate for the plug – usually 7mm.)
  • Hammer
  • Pencil
  • Shelf
  • Brackets
  • Screws: as many as there are holes in the brackets; 2 lengths:  1) the thickness of the bracket plus the length of the wall plug; 2) just shorter than the thickness of the shelf.  It’s good to get ones with a cross at the head end.  They may be called wood screws.
  • Wall plugs (probably 4 brown plastic ones)

Before you begin:

Tools: You don’t need many, but a tape measure, a hammer and a drill-driver are essential. A drill-driver is a cordless drill which also acts as a screwdriver. It’s worth splashing out on one if you will be doing much DIY. Get one that’s at least 14.4V (any less power and it’ll be too weedy and you’ll be doing too much work) and that is quite light (mine’s excellent, but heavy and my arm aches after a while). A general purpose saw will do you well, but avoid the bargain ones – they are a false economy. One around £7-£10 should be ok.

plugsWalls: Most walls are made of brick, faced with plaster. Some walls are made of wood; other are faced with plasterboard. Tap your wall. If it’s hollow, it’s likely to be plasterboard, unless you know it’s wood. If it’s wood, your life is easy, because you can just screw your shelf in, without drilling any holes. But it probably isn’t wood. If it’s plasterboard, you should really use plasterboard plugs. They niftily hook behind the plasterboard when you put a screw in.  If it’s a solid wall, you’ll need a normal wall plug. (You need a plug because a screw can’t bite into masonry like it can wood.)

Walls often have electric wires in them. You can buy a wire detector, but it’s not necessary. Unless your wiring has been done by a loony DIY enthusiast, wires will either go straight up or straight down from sockets, so avoid drilling straight above or below sockets. (If you’re worried about this, make sure you have the number of an electrician before you start. Drilling through a wire will give you a bit of a shock and make an unpleasant bang and slight burning smell, and fuse your circuit. It’s not recommended.)


First, measure the length of the space for your shelf – and the depth, if you’re using a plank of wood (so you know what to buy at the builder’s merchant). If your shelf needs cutting, measure the length at one side, mark it, and do the same in the middle and at the other side. Rule a line across all three dots, and stick your pencil behind your ear (to feel like a proper handyman).

Put your shelf on a saw horse. Hold your saw in your IMG_1940dominant hand and point your index finger forward:  this’ll help keep your sawing straight. Really, it does. Saw your piece of wood.

Have a cup of tea, for authenticity.

Measure and put a dot on the wall where you want your shelf to go. Hold up a bracket just under the dot and mark the holes. If you have a spirit level, you can check the straightness of your bracket. If not, just use your eyes. Before you do this for the other bracket, I’d actually put this bracket on the wall.

IMG_1944This is where you need your drill, bit, screws and plugs. Put the masonry bit in the drill and tighten the drill. Drill your first hole. If you’re not feeling confident, drill some practice holes first somewhere that doesn’t matter. Don’t be afraid to put your weight behind the drill – masonry is quite tough. You can tell from the dust on the bit how far you’ve gone – check it against the plug (the plug must sit flush with the wall, so it’s got to go all the way in). When your hole’s deep enough, move onto the next one.

Put your wall plugs into the holes, gently knocking them home with your hammer. Get a bracket and some screws. Affix the bracket (replacing your drill bit with a driver bit for an easy life – if you want more exercise,
IMG_1945use an ordinary screwdriver).

Measure the other end of the shelf now. Hold the bracket up. If you want to, you can use a straight edge (like your shelf) and a spirit level to check the straightness, but unless you’re super-fastidious or have a really wonky floor or ceiling (whichever you’re measuring from), this isn’t necessary.

Drill your holes, put your plugs in and screw in your bracket. Put your shelf on top. Screw your shelf onto your bracket so that the shelf is unmoveably secure.

Have another cup of tea.

Katie Hawks is a freelance historian, handywoman and furniture restorer.

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Anna throws away pink dress

Diary of a Tomboy: unisex clothes are expensive

Feminist Times is building a dedicated Children’s section for phase two of the website. At the moment Anna is writing to bring a child’s perspective to an adult audience, but this website is not aimed at children.

A week ago my mum and me went to John Lewis to get my winter clothes. Usually we just get pajamas and gloves because the girls’ part is all pink and the boys’ is totally blue.

But when I went they had a total reform – most of the clothes are unisex. We went there because the unisex clothes shop we normally go to was too expensive.

So now we are probably going to go there in future for all my clothes, which is good because it is not too expensive.

But we can’t get everything there so we are still looking for cheap unisex clothes shops.

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It’s time we stopped assuring people that feminism isn’t a threat

Finn Mackay made the following speech at Feminism in London 2013 and moved our Editorial Assistant to tears. It was originally published by Open Democracy and is reprinted here under a Creative Commons licence. The original speech was filmed by Stop Porn Culture and is available here.

Our conference has covered a vast array of topics, all of which are feminist, all of which are feminist issues. Because every issue is a feminist issue; because this imperfect world is our world too, and in it we have a 53% majority stake. There is nothing in politics, war, peace, culture, business, law, development – that does not touch us too. Despite the fact that we are so often unrepresented in these areas, and in the decision makers who shape them. That is why events like this gathering are so important, spaces where we can build on our politics, listen to our voices and ideas, and believe in the solutions we already know we have.

The last couple of years have seen a sea-change in the representation and visibility of feminism in our media and culture. Almost every day there seems to be some form of feminist response or commentary in our media. This has come about through grassroots activism. Through our collective movement, through imaginative campaigns, public mobilisation and direct action, we have managed to direct attention to those issues we think are important, we have managed to make news, not just comment on it. This too is a sign of a movement in resurgence, a movement with power; where we can do more than just firefight, we can be proactive, can go on the offensive so to speak and dictate our own agenda.

There are many out there of course, who find this offensive. They find the strength of our movement offensive, they are offended by the power of feminism, they are offended by women’s autonomy at all. These are the people who try to silence women, in social media, on Twitter and Facebook, in comments pages, on websites, on blogs, spreading hate and lies. It is not just that people disagree with our opinions, it is that they resent us having an opinion at all.

Men voice their opinions in the media every day. Often they receive criticism as a result. And that’s what debate is about, and when we walk out onto the pitch we accept that too. But all too often people don’t engage with women commentators on this level, and when I say people, I mean men. Too many men don’t engage with women on that level, they quickly, so quickly, descend into threats – and specific threats: threats of sexual violence.

This serves to remind women that they are there to serve men, and that they have strayed into intellectual territory or made claims to their autonomy that offend those who dare to presume authority over us. Threats of sexual violence are the lowest common denominator which attempt to set in stone a chasm between women and men; which attempt to remind women that whatever their achievements, whatever their opinions, they are still women – and thus can be objectified, humiliated and terrorised by men as a group.

Increases in sexual violence and increases in the sexual objectification of women actually follow women’s advancements, follow women’s equality gains, follow women’s progress, or incursion, into previously male-only areas – be that areas of thought or practice. The purpose of sexualised violence and the representation of sexual violence in our culture, is to put women back in their place, to reduce women, in spite of everything we have managed to gain, to an object for the male gaze, an object that can be taken, stolen, used and broken. This violence occurs partly to alleviate the rage of men as a group, where that group perceives women’s progress towards equality as an assault; an assault on their fragile superiority. It is attack as a form of superiority-defence, based on the suppressed knowledge and very correct conviction that women are human too and cannot be kept down forever.

These threats are also, as we know, not hollow threats, and too many women understand that. But this is precisely what so many men fail to understand; not those woman-haters who abuse and rape, they know what they do, but much more generally, those who from their vantage point, or ad-vantage point, of male supremacy, fail to understand that even if they: don’t mean it, even if they: are just saying, even if they: protect women, even if they: would never do anything to hurt a woman – they hurt women with their sexism, their victim-blaming, their so-called jokes, and their casual threats. Because, we cannot know who means it and who doesn’t. We don’t know who will follow through with their threats and who won’t. We have to remember that, and carry on thinking about the countless remarks, comments and asides from faceless men and boys who probably forgot their pathetic contributions the minute they hit ‘send’. Such is the luxury of male supremacy, such is the luxury of having never felt like prey.

This expansion of this representation of sexual violence in our culture, and the visibility of such threats, is an inevitable kick back from male supremacy or what feminists term patriarchy. This kick back or backlash is to be expected. It means we are doing our job, that we are doing enough to be noticed. Feminism is a radical and revolutionary movement. Our Women’s Liberation Movement is a global political movement for the liberation of women and society based on equality for all. We seek to question, challenge and end male supremacy and that, is revolutionary, it is world changing.

And any movement that threatens the status-quo becomes a concern to the groups that benefit most from the status-quo staying just as it is; and we must remember that nobody gives up power voluntarily. That is why our movement will be a constant struggle, may always be in struggle, certainly in our lifetimes. But the women who shaped our movement long before us, who smoothed the path for us to march here to our own moment in the spotlight, they knew then what we still know now; that nothing lasts forever, and that change is inevitable.

So let us not be apologetic about the radical facts of our movement. We don’t need to apologise for women-only space, which makes our movement strong; which makes us strong. We don’t need to apologise for the fact that we do want change, that things cannot stay the same, that this is a necessity for our future, if we are to even have one. So it is time we stopped adding disclaimers to our work, assuring people that they don’t have to do anything differently, that they don’t have to change, that feminism isn’t a threat.

Our movement is indeed a threat. It is indeed threatening. For what is the point of a social movement that doesn’t envision a different world, what is the point of a social movement that doesn’t try everything in its power to make that vision a reality? And also, what would be the point of a feminism that simply sought equality with unequal men? With men who face discrimination too, at every level. With men who face racism, homophobia, class oppression; with men who are underpaid, homeless, laid off, written off and filling up our prisons, with men who cling to violence as their source of masculinity or control when all else has failed them. Who wants equality with that? No feminist I know.

Likewise, we are not calling for equal inequality. This applies to those of us who are opposed to so-called ‘lad’s mags’ and ‘Page3’, because they are blatantly sexist, because they are blatantly gendered, because we don’t go into shops and see rows of magazines portraying men in the same way. But this fact doesn’t mean that we’re advocating the sort of equality where men are also demeaned and objectified. And when we speak up against such sexism it is a political argument, it is not because we are prudish moralists, or because we have a problem with nudity or sex. We know that objectification has nothing to do with sex, and everything to do with sexism. Our movement has in fact fought for centuries for the right of women to enjoy and express their sexuality free from the double standards which aggrandise men for sexual activity and shame women for the same. This was actually one of the Seven Demands of our UK Women’s Liberation Movement, agreed in 1975: the right of all women to define their own sexuality.

So we do need to correct the myths that are told about our movement and our politics, we need to challenge the lies told about feminism and feminists. We do not need to minimise our movement, we do not need to try to appease men. We do not need to add disclaimers when we talk about male violence or the normalisation of pornography and the sex industry, clarifying that we don’t mean all men, that feminism doesn’t hate men, and that men have nothing to fear from us. As if it isn’t the case that we are the ones who have most to fear, and that often, it is them. As if it isn’t us who have the most to lose – as if too many have not already been lost, lives lost directly through the blunt use of violence, or lives affected indirectly, through the violence of representation as nothing more than object.

So to those who benefit in silence and varying degrees of privilege from the unequal and twisted status-quo, we need to say, yes. Yes, you are right, feminism is a threat to you; our movement is here to take away your power, the power you stole from so many. Our movement is here to change your world, and save it for all of us.

But this very situation is fuelled of course by one of the most popular lies told about our movement, the lie that feminism is man-hating, that feminists are man-haters. Feminism does not hate men. Feminism contains a great respect for the humanity of us all, by pointing out what should be obvious – that all men are not this way or that, that all men are not violent or war-mongering. Our political theory explains that male violence is in fact a form of social control, one that it is profoundly political, and not in the least biological.

Another lie told about our movement is that feminism makes women into victims. This is the lie that ours is a negative, pessimistic and disempowering movement, what some people call “victim feminism”.

Let us be clear. It is not feminism that turns women into victims. It is the men who choose to abuse women, who choose to violate women, who presume a right to buy women. It is those men who make women into victims; not feminism. Feminism is here to stop that process, to end the violence of male domination. We respond to individual experiences with the aim of collective change for all. That is what empowerment looks like.

It is not pessimistic or negative to name our oppression. It is liberating. Ours is a movement of billions of women, which says: no, it wasn’t your fault, it wasn’t because of what you were wearing, it wasn’t because of who you dated, it wasn’t because of how much you had been drinking, it wasn’t because of how late you walked home. Ours is also a movement which feels every loss, we feel every indignity, we feel every assault – because this is about you, and also because this goes beyond you; because this is about all of us. It is about every woman made to feel that she wasn’t worth as much as a man; every woman made to hate her body; every woman made to question and judge herself simply due to her sex alone; every woman denied opportunities or directed away from them; every woman made to feel she was lesser, second class.

What we all share as women, despite our vast diversity is our experiences of sexism in a world of male supremacy. What we should also share, but too often don’t, is our involvement in a collective movement of resistance to that oppression.

Homophobia, misogyny and a lack of faith are what hold women back from identifying with one of the oldest and most powerful social movements the world has ever known – their own. It is up to all of us to challenge that misogyny, to restore the faith in our personhood, our own potential, our own humanity.

For what is shameful about social justice, what is embarrassing about dignity and worth, what is wrong with demanding a stake in the world we have built? Feminism is only frightening to those who gain the most from oppression, to those who would stifle the human spirit and hold the world in stasis. The rest of us really do have nothing to lose and everything to gain; a revolution still to finish, and a world to win.

Finn Mackay is a feminist activist and researcher. Find out more @Finn_Mackay.

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Poetry: Faucet by Kavita Jindal

In response to the Saudi women’s day of action against the driving ban.


A woman
may buy a tool-kit and know how to use it
may change the washer, adjust the stopcock
swap the ball bearings
fix the leaky spigot with a spanner.
A woman may suggest to Nature
that for the next millennia
men become pregnant
a facetious fractious suggestion;
the woman knows her pleas
are just venting, as ineffectual
as hammering water.

A woman may not drive in Saudi Arabia
may not bike unless in a ladies’ only park
may not be seen in public without a male protector.
A woman must also be fertile
dribbling out male heirs;
she may spout songs in private
and dance in full Dior, smeared with make up
for her mirror and other ladies to see.

A village panchayat in Punjab declares
that mobile phones given to girls
leads them to pre-marital sex;
boys can have cell phones and call for help
when they’re in trouble, but females,
young things, must take it on the chin,
remaining on the drip-drip of advancement.

A woman there thinks: what if instead of aborting
the female foetuses, the nozzle was turned off
as if by a spell, a sorcery; no babies were born
to the women of this village, then the new elders
all men, would die out without replacement
and further afield too the taps would be fixed just so
by the women who knew how.

(First Line after ‘Woman’ by Arun Kolatkar)

Kavita Jindal

Image courtesy of: fo.ol

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Comeback: How To Be A Man – Porn

A reader’s response to Garry Mulholland’s first How To Be A Man column, on his conflicted relationship with pornography.

Dear Garry,

When I was 14, I was developing an interest in boys and sex. Unlucky for me, my best friend was the prettiest girl in school and every boy I ever had a crush only had eyes for her. If only there was someone like you, someone to like me because I didn’t quite meet the patriarchal standards of beauty, Oh! How happy I might have been! But alas, that is not what we all want. Consider perhaps that a woman might like to be appreciated for something other than her appearance; you have just developed a different standard of sexual beauty, it appears that you are still responding to it in the same way that the boys at school responded to my best friend.

I had my first serious boyfriend at university. I was so shocked that there was someone who liked me and not the girl I was with that I didn’t really consider much else. As it turned out, he was a porn addict too. I’d wake up in the middle of the night to find him masturbating at his computer at the end of the bed. I didn’t have much experience with porn, but this did not feel ok. I felt so betrayed that he would do this, and I quickly became convinced that I was not good enough for him. We soon discussed the issue and I raised my concerns; he felt very sorry and promised he would stop. Of course, that did not happen. He would take his laptop into the bathroom for long periods, and added a collection of porn to his phone. Not only was I not good enough for him sexually, my feelings of inadequacy and sadness were not worth a moment of his time. I’m ashamed to admit that I continued in the relationship for far longer than I should have, but I am not ashamed to say that porn was the root of our problems.

Having experienced this man’s obsession with porn, and hearing male friends discuss their own relationships with porn, I have developed enough curiosity to have a look at some. The first porn I ever watched was very misleading, and I had some very wrong ideas about what squirting was for a long time. I have a number of female friends who say they use it, but I personally get no enjoyment from it; it makes me feel very uncomfortable. I wonder how the women you have been with feel about your relationship with porn?

Following my relationship with the porn addict, I had a number of casual affairs which gave me further insight into the effects of porn. Almost every man that I was with EXPECTED a blowjob, like that was his right as a man. They were all horrified when I refused. Many would also try their luck at requesting anal – again, it is just not for me. These acts are commonplace on all porn sites, and so the boys and men who grow up with access to them have grown to expect it, and as such, girls who would rather not are vilified (we all know that a woman is a slut if she does and a prude if she doesn’t, but this is going much further now). Why must my sexual choices be dictated to me by porn and the men who watch it?

My 7-year-old nephew recently saw porn at school for the first time on a friend’s phone. He came home that day and told his mother, and questioned her about what it was that was coming out of the man’s willy. I really don’t believe that this was the right way for him to learn about these things. He’ll be laughed at in the playground if he doesn’t know, but none of them will really understand, and so begins another generation of men who will no doubt grow up to make women feel as inadequate as I did.

So, Garry, let’s not pretend that porn is feminist. Let’s instead consider how we can stop the next generations from feeling the ways that you and I felt. Let’s communicate, and open up a discussion about this. Let’s not make children feel stupid for asking, and let’s not make them feel that sex is naughty and not to be talked about. We can’t stop the porn industry from doing what it does best, but we can help people to understand it for what it is, and make sense of their own feelings and experiences.

Victoria Coleman

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FiL: Chris Green on the White Ribbon Campaign

White Ribbon Campaign Chris GreenChris Green is Director of White Ribbon Campaign UK. He has worked on engaging men to challenge violence against women for the British Council in Istanbul, for Oxfam in Lebanon, and for the World Wide Association of Girl Guides in Antwerp. He is one of 20 members of the UN Network of Men Leaders to challenge Violence Against Women, and in 2007 was awarded the title Ultimate Man of the Year by Cosmopolitan magazine for his work on anti-violence strategies.

What is the White Ribbon Campaign?

It’s the biggest campaign in the world to engage men in challenging violence against women and gender stereotypes.

White Ribbon Campaign - RTN

What do you do?

We go into schools to run workshops with boys and training with teachers, using a feminist approach to gender. We work with PSHE coordinators to help them produce campaign action plans and achieve White Ribbon Campaign status. We can’t go into every school in the UK so we also talk to other people about what we think they should be doing, and we work with the police and local authorities to try and support domestic violence coordinators. We’re regarded as experts within Europe on how to engage men and challenge gender stereotypes, and a number of police forces and local authorities are currently working towards White Ribbon Campaign status.

I believe that men should also be involved in and supporting feminist action so we’re making up grab and go packs of merchandise and posters, which are quite challenging; it’s all about targeting men to change their behaviours. We’re taking a car of five to the Feminism in London conference and we’ll be at the Reclaim The Night rally on Saturday night – we’ve had leaflets printed explaining why The White Ribbon Campaign is supporting the women reclaiming the night. We also want to make sure that we’re part of the Stop Porn agenda.

White Ribbon Campaign - antiporn

Why did you start the UK White Ribbon Campaign?

Because violence against women is the worst human rights violation in the world today. There’s no back story, as such – when I started the White Ribbon Campaign ten years ago I was just hanging out with a lot of right-on women and I’d been involved in men’s politics – useful men’s politics, as distinguishable from men’s rights. It’s partly a response to men’s rights organisations – there’s a workshop on that at Feminism in London conference, with David Brooks from the Men’s Feminist Book Group and Chris Flux from Men Against Violence.

How can men be good feminist allies?

Listen! One of our slogans is “Ask. Listen. Respect.” I don’t want to be a feminist man on a white charger.

Have you had much opposition from other men?

We’ve had one nasty email in ten years, and lots more positive stuff. Otherwise, people just ignore us. You need to see things in terms of the benefits for men and male solidarity. In terms of feminist opposition, we’re trying to support women’s organisations; all we’ve had really from them has been useful criticism. Some leading women’s organisations have had a little bit of a go about about November 25th, [the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women] for referring to it as White Ribbon Day. It’s known as White Ribbon Day around the world, which is one of the strengths of the Australian campaign.

What are your priorities for feminist campaigning?

Just to keep the show on the road and keep the debate going. I want to make being a pro-feminist man cool and trendy, to be a fun organisation and have more fun while we’re doing our politics.

Chris and members of the White Ribbon Campaign will be at the Feminism in London conference this Saturday, 26 October.

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FiL: Shabina Begum on acid violence

Shabina BegumShabina Begum is a 26-year-old barrister with eight years of  experience in the domestic violence field. In 2012 she was awarded a Winston Churchill Travel Fellowship to research acid violence in Sri Lanka, Cambodia and India. She currently works for Dawson Cornwell, one of the UK’s leading specialist family law firms.

How did you first get involved with campaigning on acid violence?

In 2010 I visited the Acid Survivors Foundation in Bangladesh and this was the first time I met acid burns survivors. In the same year, Islamic Help and Acid Survivors Trust International launched the ‘Smiles Better’ Campaign which aimed to support survivors of acid violence and I actively volunteered for the campaign and developed an understanding of the issue. Through my practical experience within the legal profession and the domestic violence sector I noticed an emerging trend of the threat of using acid and realised that the problem is in fact a growing one.

How prevalent are acid attacks in the UK and globally?

The most recent NHS statistics show that between 2011-2012 there were a 105 cases of assault by corrosive substance in the UK. The figures have increased almost threefold in the last five years.

Currently there are six NGO organisations that the Acid Survivors Trust International supports, in Bangladesh, Uganda, India, Cambodia, Pakistan and Nepal. Together they treat around 1,000 patients per year in total.

Acid violence is a worldwide phenomenon that is not restricted to a particular race, religion or geographical location. It occurs in many countries in South-East Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, the West Indies and the Middle East, and there is anecdotal evidence of attacks in other regions.

The emergence of acid attacks in the UK seems to be relatively recent – what do you think is behind it?

The emergence of acid violence is not necessarily a recent one, but the awareness was surfaced after Katie Piper came forward in 2009. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the crime has been around in the UK far longer than the media attention has been on the issue. Essentially acid is a weapon –  those who use it usually are calculated and may not want to kill the victims, but want them to suffer in the most psychologically and physically painful way.

To what extent is acid violence a gendered/feminist issue?

Globally the victims of acid violence are overwhelmingly women and children. [Statistics suggest women and girls make up 75-80% of victims.] Notably in the UK, of the 105 cases which were reported between 2011-2012, 86 victims were male.

I believe that the NHS statistics would not necessarily be an accurate depiction of the gender ratio of victims. As with cases of domestic violence, many survivors do not come forward and therefore they are not accounted for in any statistics. In a scenario of acid attack, where the survivor’s prime priority is their health and recovery, this followed by a fear of reappraisal, I believe that we may have cases of silent survivors and therefore our statistics do not reflect the true scope of the issue.

How do you see acid violence in relation to violence against women generally? 

Acid is commonly used in some countries to attack women where men have made sexual advances or even marriage proposals and those have been turned down by the women. Those men have felt unable to handle that level of rejection and attacked the women in the most vicious and inhumane way possible. Acid violence can be viewed as an extension of domestic abuse and globally it is being used as a weapon which is cheap, easily available and causes the most damage – therefore the most effective way to assert power and control over the more vulnerable party in the relationship.

What are your biggest priorities for the feminist movement at the moment?

To eradicate gender based violence and not allow acid violence to become another horrific, violent societal reality.

What can feminists do to support work like the Acid Survivors Trust International (ASTI) and other work on acid violence?

  • Raise awareness about acid violence, on both the reality and severity of the crime
  • Raise funds to support the existing ASTI bases
  • Volunteer skills to support the existing bases – legal skills, medical skills, research and campaigning skills

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

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A weekend in the Activist Garden at NEFG13

Last weekend saw the second annual North East Feminist Gathering (NEFG) in Newcastle. Feminist Times travelled up to live-tweet the event, meet supporters and find out all about the grassroots activism going on in the region. I was promised a warm North East welcome, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The NEFG team had, just two days before the Gathering, said goodbye to a much-loved team member, activist and friend, Alice Jebb, whose death in the weeks leading up to the event had naturally shaken the rest of the team. It was beyond inspiring to watch a group of grieving women pull together to make NEFG13 a beautiful, carnival-like tribute to their friend.

In fact, the NEFG was by far the most vibrant feminist conference I’ve ever attended – and not just because the Westend Women and Girls Centre, where it was held, is decorated in bright pink, purple and lime green, with a sparkly purple floor! Above the stairs hung a hand painted banner declaring “Feminism: back by popular demand” and handmade “knicker bunting” decorated the length of the banister. In keeping with their theme, ‘The Activist Garden’, the main hall was decked out with artificial flowers, grass, trees, insects and animals in memory of Alice, who had likened activists to gardeners, “sowing seeds for the future.”

Activist Garden

This activist garden idea was equally reflected in the diversity of women and views represented. As a women-only space there was an emphasis throughout the weekend on inclusion of all women (including trans women and sex workers), on safe spaces for discussion and disclosure, and on respectful, supportive disagreement. The 100 or so participants ranged from teenagers to pensioners and working to middle class, with white women, women of colour, disabled women, straight women, lesbian and bi women all in attendance, united by a tangible atmosphere of sisterhood. Fat, hairy feminists with cropped hair and Doc Martins sat alongside fully made-up women in dresses and heels. I’m a relatively recent convert to the idea of feminist women-only spaces, but the shared sense of comfort and confidence I felt in that building was unlike anything you find in the ‘real’ world.

Saturday morning kicked off in lively style, with music from drummers Hannabiell & Midnight Blue to make sure we were all awake before the first plenary – a talk by Julie Scanlon on Fourth Wave Feminism. Julie talked us through the history of the feminist movement, as well as current campaigns and groups including Everyday Sexism Project, No More Page 3, Southall Black Sisters and Rape Crisis. Citing Susan Marine’s work with Ruth Lewis, she suggested thinking about the movement in terms of an interwoven but continuous tapestry, rather than a series of distinct waves – a tapestry where we learn from each other as we add our own unique skills and experiences to the existing movement.

A particularly poignant moment came in the whole-group feedback session on Sunday afternoon when 19-year-old Lizi Gray, founder of Newcastle SlutWalk and a member of the NEFG team, thanked the older women in the room for taking her seriously. 57-year-old Jackie Haq, founder of the Jackie Haq Trust for Scotswood, responded by thanking Lizi for acknowledging her ageing feminist sisters, who also so often feel overlooked.

Workshops throughout the weekend focused on staple issues of feminist discourse – violence against women and girls, consciousness raising, and political representation – as well as more modern issues like how best to incorporate social media into our activism. On Saturday morning Aylssa Cowell from 7North CIC led an insightful workshop on abuse in teenage relationships, backed up on the Sunday by a workshop from the Everyday Victim Blaming team. I was disappointed to miss out on the consciousness raising workshop, which participants seemed to unanimously agree was excellent. Instead, my final workshop of the weekend was on welfare reform, led by Trish from Citizens’ Advice Bureau, whose personal anger at the system was complemented by the real, human stories behind the statistics, as well as sensible, practical advice about understanding your welfare rights.

Run entirely by volunteers working on a shoestring budget, the DIY feel of the Gathering was refreshing and added to the event’s North East, grassroots focus. Delicious food and drink throughout the weekend was provided by local business, Salsa Café, for just £5 per person. Lunch was accompanied on the Saturday by music from legendary feminist band The Friggin’ Little Bits, and on Sunday by the NEFG choir singing feminist alternatives to well-known songs.

By far the highlight though was the Saturday evening Open Mary – a feminist alternative to the Open Mic that was established at NEFG12 after the performers booked for the evening event failed to show up. Performances at the Open Mary included poetry on loss, pubic hair and kitchen appliances, music about being uncool by a choir from Hebden Bridge, stand-up about the menopause, and a hilarious silent sketch on vulvas. The finale was an exuberant scene of music, drumming and dancing led by Hannabiell & Midnight Blue, meaning that everyone left Saturday on a (slightly exhausted) high.

Open Mary

Over lunch on Sunday, someone commented to me that, “the confidence and safety we feel in women-only spaces is how men feel everywhere, every day. Men don’t understand that, and many women don’t understand that until they experience it.” As a journalist I tried really hard to find something to criticise, but I couldn’t; the warmth, humour, and security of NEFG was, to quote one of last year’s participants, “an oasis in the desert of patriarchy”.

Thank you and well done to the NEFG team: Roweena, Ruth, Jenny, Martine, Angela, Bridget, Helen, Libby, Lizi, Nina and Bobby – particularly for the generous hospitality of those who provided bed and board for attendees (like me) visiting from outside the North East. I’ve attended lots of feminist conferences in the last few years, but lately they’ve left me feeling more jaded and depressed than hopeful. On Tuesday though I left a grey and miserable Newcastle feeling rejuvenated, buzzing with inspiration and confidence after a truly fantastic weekend, and very much looking forward to NEFG 2014.

Open Mary

All images courtesy of the NEFG team.

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Natalie Bennett

Natalie Bennett marks International Day of the Girl

Following her criticism of the cabinet reshuffle earlier this week, Green Party leader Natalie Bennett has marked the UN’s International Day of the Girl Child with a statement, sent exclusively to Feminist Times, which is to be read today to girls at the Royal High School, Bath.

Dear pupils,

I am sorry I can’t join you today to pass on in person how pleased I am that you are paying serious attention to the International Day of the Girl.

When I was five years old, it was brought home to me that I was indeed a girl. Was told that I couldn’t have the bicycle I passionately wished for, because I was female. Riding a bicycle was “unladylike” I was told. But had I had a brother, he could have one and I might be allowed to ride it some time.

Ever since that day, I have been passionate about women’s rights.

Of course we know many girls in the world today suffer vastly great deprivations – lack of food, lack of a chance for an education, risk of violence and abuse – simply because of their gender.

We need to say – and I hope you will say, as you step out into the world and start to take over the world – that no discrimination against girls is acceptable.

And I hope you will celebrate the many achievements of girls – from the high profile, such as the magnificent Malala, to the unsung girls around the world who labour to feed their families and themselves. They should be in school, but they are doing their best with the hand society has dealt them.

The future world is your world – you can shape it, make choices about its direction. Maybe one of you will be a prime minister, one of you might be a Supreme Court judge – and we certainly need more women there. Maybe you’ll be a chef, or a farmer, or an engineer. And we need more women doing all of those jobs too.

Whatever you do, I hope you’ll be thinking about not just your own progress, but also that of other girls and women around the world.

When we work together for the common good, we’re all stronger, all happier, all more secure.

I hope you have a great day today, a great celebration, one that you will remember in the years to come.

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Anna throws away pink dress

Diary of a Tomboy: Football

Feminist Times is building a dedicated Children’s section for phase two of the website. At the moment Anna is writing to bring a child’s perspective to an adult audience, but this website is not aimed at children.

Since the magazine was thought of I have been writing more than usual. In one of my speeches I talked about stereotyping.

I was playing football – we play in a mixed team, which is good, but the boys never pass to the girls so we end up having to tackle our own team to get a touch.

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Anna throws away pink dress

Diary of a Tomboy

Feminist Times is building a dedicated Children’s section for phase two of the website. At the moment Anna is writing to bring a child’s perspective to an adult audience, but this website is not aimed at children.

“Are you a boy or a girl?” everyone says. I used to say “girl” but now I just say “what do you think?”

Being a Tomboy has its advantages and disadvantages, like people are constantly asking if you’re a boy or a girl, but it’s good because you are kind of a mix between two genders.

I am interested in why some mums won’t let their child be a Tomboy – I really don’t know why.

The thing that is hard is clothes. When I buy my clothes it’s very hard to find unisex clothes nowadays because the boy clothes are too boyish and the girls’ are too girly. If I want to wear pink my mum said she would let me as well.

But overall it’s very fun. There are lots of inspiring examples of Tomboys, like Famous Five and Swallows and Amazons, they make me feel like I’m not alone.

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Bijli logo

White Meat, Brown Men, Red Blood

Bijli (Lightning) is a South Asian feminist group from Birmingham. This statement was written in response to the recent cases of sexual abuse perpetrated by South Asian men.

Amidst the incendiary claims of Jack Straw – that Muslim men preyed on white girls as ‘white meat’, it was always difficult to judge exactly at what point we should step into the ring to make ourselves heard.  Who will hear us and what will they hear?

We have been incensed and appalled by the horror of the collective, organised sexual abuse and exploitation carried out by Pakistani and other men in Rochdale, Telford and Oxford.  The failure to protect young vulnerable girls from sexually predatory men is a complex one and raises a number of issues which we feel have been eclipsed by the media’s focus upon these specific cases.

The men’s behaviour has been discursively packaged as being the result of pathological Muslim cultures in which these ‘hyper-sexualised predators’ are assumed to operate systematically by the tacit support of their communities; such negative propaganda and stereotypes continue to contribute to the inferior status imposed upon us as communities, to treat us as the ‘other’.

This elides the manner in which male power controls and uses informal and formal means to exploit, rape, violate and silence women across all cultures.  It is this male and racist power that has also omitted the voices of women from the minority communities, some of whom have also been victims of this abuse.

In July 2012, a small meeting was held under the aegis of the University of Birmingham in which Pragna Patel from Southall Black Sisters presented some thought provoking ideas:  Was it right that the men had preyed on white girls in favour of protecting their own?  Was it all a racist conspiracy against Muslim men? How did men make sense of what they had done? How did their mothers, sisters, wives and daughters make sense of it?  How were we, as part of Muslim and South Asian communities to make sense of the events?  To what extent was our culture and religion implicated in these men’s actions?

Some say the facts presented themselves: Pakistani men had used and abused white girls and then boasted that their victims were ‘fair game’, but also maintained that the racist media had blown the whole issue out of proportion. We could not ignore the fact that male sexual exploitation of women and children is widespread amongst men of all social classes, cultures, races and religions.  Neither could we ignore the fact that these men came from some of the most deprived English areas, already renowned for the ‘riots’ and clashes between Asians and the BNP, as well as the police.

Trafficking of women is a lucrative industry requiring extremely little outlay.  It is therefore an industry which becomes rife when vulnerable women are easily accessible and manageable. Hence, such activity is found in the poorest areas of Britain and the world, where there is an extensive supply of girls and women that can be preyed upon or beaten into submission by drugs, alcohol, and paltry presents.

Whilst the majority of the players on the scene (the police, local  authorities and the care system) steadfastly maintained that ‘culture’ and ‘religion’ were not significant factors in this issue, some in the media insisted that there was a strong cultural, if not a religious element in the equation. A particular culture does not define these crimes; male power does.  So if  culture is paramount, that culture is male.

There is a long history of collaboration between male interests, usually upheld by self-appointed community leaders in minority cultures and state agencies of majority cultures.  This alliance has often left Asian women at enormous risk when struggling against domestic violence. It was the same alliance that had left white girls abandoned on this occasion.

We cannot ignore the possibility that the men may have specifically targeted white girls. whom they perceived to be more sexually available and promiscuous than Asian women whose sexuality is fiercely regulated and controlled by men.  We cannot ignore also, how the media savvy white men also preyed upon young vulnerable girls, whilst pulling the wool over their community’s eyes for decades, nor how sex-tourism permits white men to exploit many Asian, East European and African women.

What appears to be a double standard on the part of these men is not hypocrisy, but is two sides of the same coin – in both cases it is about the sexual, psychological and economic control – the oppression and exploitation of women.

The failure of the police, social services and other agencies to take action against not just these men, but all perpetrators up and down the country for decades if not centuries, is symptomatic of a society that pays little regard to the dignity and worth of women.

The liberalisation of the sex industry has been fuelled by sex trafficking and minimal action has been taken against sexual exploitation, both within Britain and across the world. Britain has been one of the last countries to sign up to the European Convention Against Trafficking and offers minimal protection to women who fall victim to modern day sexual slavery.

The silence on these issues and the global failure to protect women subjected to sexual abuse is not unique to just Islam or ‘Asian’ cultures; it highlights a more endemic and fundamental problem with oppression of women by men throughout the world in all cultures and religions: as slaves, concubines, mistresses or wives.

We applaud the findings of the Rochdale Review and hope that it will find its way to diligent and effective action to provide protection and to more vigilantly tackle sexual abuse in society as a whole.

We welcome that in Oxford a special team was set up to look at the overall intelligence provided by these girls against the 7 men over a period of 7 years rather than merely looking at each individual girl’s experience as an individual complaint.

We are a group of women in Birmingham who are concerned, angered, outraged and disgusted by the events of past 2 years and don’t want to remain silent. We applaud the courage of the women who came forward as witnesses in the recent trial. We want to highlight women’s strengths and condemn those men, whether Asian, White or other, who had no human affinity with the girls.

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Garry Mulholland

How To Be A Man: Porn

Imagine a world where all women were judged equal. Black and white, fat and thin, hairy and shaved, even old and young, all seen as equally worthy of being seen, and seen as desirable, even beautiful. There is, of course, no need to imagine. This world already exists. Its called internet porn.

Actually, the internet bit there is misleading. Porn has always been a broad church, fetish-wise. The internet just means more of it, easier to access, devoid of the public shame of entering sex shops and exiting with brown paper bags, and, like internet music, entirely free, if you know where to look. If the world had been like this when I was fourteen, I would never have left my bedroom. Therein lies the scary, but we’ll get back to that.

I choose the age of fourteen because that’s when my addiction to pornography began. A friend gave me a magazine called Peaches. It featured many colour and black and white pictures of naked women posing. These women were specific, though. The ‘Peaches’ was a euphemism for big tits, and, in this case, the big tits belonged largely to fat middle-aged women with excessive amounts of body hair. These women looked so unlike the women I was supposed to desire in 1977 – Raquel Welch, Felicity Kendal, Olivia Newton-John – that they may as well have been another species from another planet. But what struck me as hard as how much I liked these bodies was the way these women looked at me. Their faces said, “You poor helpless boy. How could you not want me? I am fucking irresistible!” Which seemed curious – and exciting – when the most bullied sub-group in my school were the fat girls, when every other gag on peak-time TV began with a variation on ‘I wouldn’t say my wife/mother-in-law was fat/ugly, but…’, when the phrase ‘hairy-arsed feminists’ had just begun to creep into popular culture. Was I allowed to fancy hairy-arsed mothers-in-law more than the pretty slim girls at school? Too late. I did. And so began a secret addiction, wrapped in one very specific kind of brown-paper shame; the discovery that I must be some kind of pervert. My male friends mocked me if I even talked to Maria, the chubby girl I most liked at school. How would they humiliate me if they knew what I wanked over?

In the same year, I heard the Sex Pistols and was forever changed by punk rock. While porn was my furtive guilty pleasure – and how that phrase has been perverted over the last six or seven years; do people really feel honest-to-God guilt over quite liking Bonnie Tyler records? I wish my conscience was that clear! – I was evangelical about punk rock, and the entirely new type of pop woman it had brought forth. I didn’t really make any connection, at the time, between my hairy BBW (Big Beautiful Women, in modern porn parlance) wank objects and Siouxsie, or Patti Smith, or Poly Styrene, or Fay Fife of The Rezillos. But years later I realized that, on some subconscious level, chubby porn models and fierce punk androgynes had merged and given me a taste for women who not only looked different to the submissive baby doll beloved of mainstream ‘phowoar!’ culture, but drew attention to themselves, and reveled in it. The pressure on women to conform physically seems overwhelming, from the outside. Any woman who can ignore that pressure and imagine themselves sexually irresistible is some kind of heroine.

But I’m honestly not pretending that hardcore porn is a world entirely composed of female non-conformists leading young boys to an enlightened rejection of misogynist body fascism. It is very often a world of blank-eyed women being choked by massive penises, or being used, as Julie Burchill once memorably put it, ‘as sexual spittoons’. I’ve read my Julie Bindel too and I don’t live in denial of the fact that the majority of women in porn are there through physical or economic coercion, or because they are playing out the trauma of an earlier sexual abuse. When I use the words ‘guilty pleasure’, I mean them. I call myself a feminist, yet I regularly collude in one of the planet’s most organized, durable and violent wars on women. I don’t have an excuse, or a handy intellectual theory to justify it. It’s just wrong. But sexual impulses are powerful and hard to change. My only real defence is a 17-year marriage to a lifelong feminist. Because I like to convince myself that my relationship with porn is compartmentalized neatly and entirely separately from my real-life relationships with women. And my wife L remains the only viable exhibit for the defence.

If you told me, at fourteen, that I would, at 50, be married to a woman not physically unlike the women in Peaches, who maintained the principles of ‘women’s lib’ that my mother raised me with, I think I would have been pretty chuffed. But that does bring me back to the image of a confused adolescent boy, in 2013, with immediate access to an infinite number of moving images of loveless fucking. Because the second porn magazine my friend gave me did damage to my sexuality that has never been fully repaired.

The magazine was called Color Climax, and featured images of Swedish people having sex. While I remember the faces of the women in Peaches in incredible detail, I remember nothing about the men or women in Color Climax. Except the cocks. The cocks were huge; so much bigger than mine that, again, it seemed they must belong to a different species. They were also rock hard, and appeared to need no stimulation at all to get that way. And, when entered into hairy Swedish girl vagina, they caused a reaction – an ecstasy – on the faces of said hairy Swedish girls that I’d only seen in old paintings of puny humans visited by Gods and angels. From that moment, I was convinced that my puny penis could not possibly be what women really wanted at all, and, 36 years later, I still partly believe that every woman who has had sex with me only did so because she thought I was a nice guy, and a porn stud wasn’t immediately available that night. I know that’s stupid and irrational. But sexuality is stupid and irrational. I just hope my son, who is 27 now, had become a little more emotionally fully-formed before he saw something he couldn’t un-see.

When our esteemed editor asked me to write the How To Be A Man column, and we agreed that the first one should be about pornography, I thought I’d probably at least try and write something funny. I’ve just re-read the above and there isn’t a laugh to be had. I’m only just realizing what a profound effect images of fucking have had on the kind of man I am. But one thing I’m sure of: while the men who own the porn industry are invariably scum, and the effect it has on male perceptions of women feed and breed misogyny, fetish pornography’s vision of what makes a woman sexually attractive is, was, and always will be broader, wider and less insidiously paedophile than those of the fashion industry, or Hollywood, or mainstream glamour. Peaches magazine and its internet equivalents celebrate everything Heat, Fashion Police and the entire diet and cosmetic industries despise. I wouldn’t say porn is feminist, but…


Garry Mulholland is a journalist, author and broadcaster. He has written four books on music and film published by Orion Books, including This Is Uncool: The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk And Disco. Find out more @GarryMulholland

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Jo Clifford

The inbetweener

So I’m on my way home from supper with a friend when a man comes up to me and says: “‘Scuse me madam”. A bit drunk like and absolutely about to ask me for some money.

Then he looks again and starts to apologise. “I should let you kick me up the arse so hard”, he says abjectly. Over and over again.

And I have no idea what he could possibly mean.

Until it dawns on me that, after addressing me as a woman, he then came to understand that I am “really a man”.

That this is why he felt this compulsive need to apologise – because he felt in the core of his masculine being that by addressing me as a woman he had insulted me. And to call a man a woman is the worst insult of all.

This was quite early in the painful process of losing my male identity. It taught me that our culture’s given sense of male superiority was something that, in spite of myself, I too had internalised and that was the main reason why over the years I had felt so profoundly ashamed to want to be a woman.

It is why it matters for trans and cis women to be allies in feminism. Because we face the same enemies. It is also why, as my transition continued, so many people I encountered seemed to feel absolutely entitled to insult me as hurtfully as they pleased.

Why they would shout out:

“Hey look it’s a geezer!”. Cue for much group hilarity.

“Ugh look. It’s a man.” Cue for collective disgust.

“But you’re a man!” Cue for incredulous angry disbelief that I would stoop so low.

“Faggot!” Cue for generalised incoherent rage.

These days it’s all more friendly. Helpful, even. But always with a note of condescension in these men. An obvious assumption that I am clearly half-witted. I used to get angry, but now I understand: it’s because they are treating me as a female.

The surgeon was one of those. “Now dear, the psychiatrist tells me you’ve got to have a nasty operation” he told me, before I had the chance to say anything.

And then he started to write down my consent before I had time to reply. He was irritated when I said “no.”

Because no, I did not want gender reassignment surgery.

He crossed out what he’d written with an irritated sigh. These stupid women. “You’ll want the cosmetic operation then”.

And again, writing before I had the time to reply.

The cosmetic operation is a procedure to completely remove the scrotum and about 95% of the penis to create the appearance of female genitalia.

And no, I didn’t want that either. I wanted an orchidectomy. That’s the surgical term for castration, as if the male testicles were some kind of exotic flower.

More crossings out. A paper angrily thrown in the bin.

A furious scribble on a new sheet, and then some angry directions as to where I was supposed to take it. “You’ll be back within a year,” he shouted after me.

But I’ve not been. Of course not.

After years of soul-searching and years of dealing with the humiliating and malfunctioning procedures of the gender bureaucracy, I absolutely knew my own mind. I knew it in the marrow of my bones.

Not that I in any way criticise the full gender re-assignment operation. It’s a well-documented fact that for the vast majority of trans* women it is hugely successful and it saves many lives. But it is hugely invasive, painful, and carries the risk of a good many nasty complications. I am immensely fortunate to have needed so simple, so quick, and so relatively painless a procedure.

It joins me to much older, and maybe wiser, traditions: the two spirit people of India, Kathoey of Thailand, Waria of Indonesia, Muxe of Mexico, Fa’fa’une of Hawaii, Shamen of Siberia. These are traditions much more ancient than our Judeo-Christian gender binary, which Christian missionaries did their best to exterminate in the times of European imperialism. They failed to do so because they are, I suspect, much more in tune with the way we humans actually are.

When people sometimes say, “but you’re not really a woman”, I never argue back.

It’s such a dull question.

Because I can live like one and be so much happier.

In the process I’m beginning to understand that what we call ‘transition’ is more, even, than the perilous and profound crossing of gender boundaries.

It is perhaps something we all need to do: the shedding of old skin. The discovery of our true selves.


Jo Clifford is a playwright and member of the Feminist Times Editorial Board. She has just completed the book of “The Gospel According to Jesus Queen of Heaven”. She will be collaborating with Chris Goode as deviser/performer in his new work “Albemarle” in October and has been commissioned to create a new play with MA students of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. More information and her blog on

Photo credit: Yaz Norris,

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