Category Archives: Politics

What Feminist Times means to me…

We asked some of the women who’ve been most closely involved in the project to tell us what Feminist Times has meant to them. We’ve also added comments sent by email since the announcement.

Lucy Newman, Art Director:

My experience of Fem T: Dangerously destroying and burning plastic spandex with Charlotte in the garden, a one off day at Giuliana’s house with original artists and makers, creating new pieces  from decommissioned shapewear. Meetings around the kitchen table planning with Emma and Louise, and with Deborah and Sarah in the blast and energy of the launch.

Political, punk and screen printing styles, design and image making with Neni and Bob. From helping to visualise Charlotte’s concept at the start, through all the interactions and articles, my feminist consciousness has truly been raised.

Reni Eddo-Lodge, Contributing Editor:

As feminist thought increases in popularity, I had always feared that it might be devalued into a sort of consumerist lifestyle politics, concerned with issues that failed to analyse the material conditions that create inequality. I’ve been proud to be part of a feminist website that has bucked this trend. Feminist Times has achieved something very few UK based feminist websites manage to do: it has captured the cacophony of jostling voices from many women who call themselves feminists.

What has worked really well is Feminist Times’ bravery in displaying the subjectivity of feminism. Inequality is not a simple, one track problem that can be solved with sticking plaster style aesthetic changes. So many women experience discrimination and oppression that includes, but isn’t limited to their gender. It’s disingenuous to suggest that all of our feminisms are the same, or that we start from the same place. The word means different things to different people with different political stances. I’m glad that Feminist Times hasn’t indulged in the myth of a militaristic style movement, in which nobody can deviate from the line. There has been no priority campaign. Instead, Feminist Times has embraced the idea of a broad, intersectional church, whilst keeping inequality front and centre. Hierarchy has not reigned here. And whilst I’ve loved some articles, and strongly disliked some articles, I’ve always been relieved that – unlike other publications – Feminist Times doesn’t have an editorial line. Instead we had editors actively seeking out unheard voices and maligned perspectives. These are the conversations that feminism needs to have. I’m glad that FemT was one of the places that they could take place, even though it was sometimes messy and painful. And I’m not sure we’ll see another independent, funded online publication that can take its place.

Kat Lister, Contributing Editor:

One of my heroes Nora Ephron once said: “I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there. And I also hope that you will choose to make some of that trouble on behalf of women.” So thank you, Feminist Times, for allowing me to break a few rules and make a little trouble out there on behalf of women. I think we did, and I think Nora would’ve been proud. You gave me the opportunity to be myself and write the things that matter. It’s been a gift to write for you and an honour to call myself your Contributing Editor. Here’s to making trouble, here’s to women, and here’s to Feminist Times. Let’s keep breaking those rules.

Roz Kaveney, Contributing Editor:

I shall miss Feminist Times. If you look back over its short life, it fulfilled pretty much all of its promise for as long as it could. It was a place where feminists with different analyses talked to each other, for the most part respectfully.

If intersectional feminism is the way forward, as I think it is, then the various communities of women within feminism have got to learn skills in dialogue and negotiation, of which the recent discussions and debates around race, around trans issues, around sex work and around mental health are only the beginning. The important thing has got to be that our feminism always be a work in progress, never the implementation of answers that were decided upon in America in the early 70s or London in the 80s. 21st Century feminism needs to be bigger and more inclusive – it has to be about protecting the vulnerable as well as consolidating the few victories already won.

Feminist Times was a useful time and space for that work – when someone puts together a successor, and I am sure someone will, our experiences here will have been useful to them. And the lesson – as always – will be ‘Fail Again, Fail Better.’

Jude Wanga, regular contibutor:

Writing for Feminist Times has been fantastic. It’s allowed me to fine-tune how I connect to readers through my words by giving me a wider platform, editors to discuss work with and engagement with an audience, which has helped me to find my voice as a writer. I’ve been able to write some challenging pieces, like the End Sexual Violence in Conflict summit, with the support of the editorial team. The editors let you argue your own point at Feminist Teams, never forcing you to take a view you’re not comfortable with, or silencing the opinion you do hold.

FemT has allowed me to express my specialist knowledge, as it has for other writers, but it also encourages its writers to write about subjects that interests them, rather than being pigeonholed and asked only to contribute on a few set subjects.

The mainstream press lacks a diverse array of writers, particularly when reporting on feminist issues. Projects such as the Feminist Times offers this variety alongside the freedom to write about the issues that matter to those writers, rather than just those which are reported elsewhere. These issues are given exposure that they aren’t afforded in the mainstream press, and Feminist Times amplifies voices that are underrepresented.

Philippa Willitts, regular contributor:

Feminist Times has become a space on the web where a variety of women’s voices have been heard and, as it has not been afraid to tackle difficult subjects, the site has been host to both popular and unpopular opinions. The importance of a feminist website with a policy of paying its contributors should also not be underestimated. This is rare and, for full-time freelance writers like myself, meant I could dedicate time to feminist writing that otherwise might have had to go onto the endless list of ‘articles I’d love to write but can’t justify prioritising’. I hope this is a model that grows, so that we don’t have to constantly choose between writing what we are passionate about, and writing what pays the rent. The future of Feminist Times is unclear, but the legacy it has built will continue to have an impact.

Louise Pennington, regular contributor:

I will miss Feminist Times. Whilst I did not always agree with editorial decisions, it was one of the only feminist publications which published articles by gender-critical feminists. It was a much needed feminist space free of advertising that was also willing to take risks. More importantly, it was a space to combat cultural femicide within a backlash to feminism.

Leisa Taylor West Midlands Local Team:

Becoming involved in local teams came at a time when i was desperate to be involved with something unapologetically feminist. It has been an excellent experience for me to bring like-minded people together to discuss issues in an intelligent, thought provoking and useful way.
It had also given me the opportunity to meet and work alongside some brilliant women. Although this project may now be coming to an end and is deeply disappointing, I believe that it had been a catalyst for me, and hopefully others, to keep on keeping on and to continue to work towards creating a feminism for the future.


A ltitle crestfallen wave has just passed over the comms team here as we received your email. So sorry to hear that Feminist Times is coming to an end. It has been really fantastic to work alongside you, and it really speaks to the credentials of Feminist Times that you used the short time you had to help amplify the messages of Refuge and other similar organisations. I just wanted to say thank you for your commitment, both personal and professional, to supporting the cause, and to wish you well for the future.

Peter Tatchell, LGBT campaigner:

Commiserations re Feminist Times. I know from first-hand experience how hard it is to sustain these projects. But congratulations. FT was trail-blazing and amazing. A bright feminist star. I hope it returns – asap. Good luck in your future endeavours

Jon Snow, Channel 4 news:

I’m sad indeed to hear that you are closing. Thank you for what you have done and I hope you come back in some other form.

Trista Hendren, Feminist Times member:

I am beyond saddened to hear this news.  Many times, I have had to cut corners myself these last years, and honestly it did cross my mind to stop contributing because money is so tight, but I could never do it. I don’t think this is a reflection on your magazine, but rather the horrid economic conditions now, particularly for women – and even more so for those of us who live on our own terms.

Please know that I valued and appreciated what you did SO much this last year.   I hope you are able to continue in some way moving forward, but I respect your decision very much.

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Land of Smiles: exploring Thailand’s anti-trafficking movement

When people hear the word “trafficking” they often think of young women held in bondage, forced into prostitution against their will. This is certainly a circumstance that takes place around the globe—one that is real, and very serious. But often sex workers, many of whom are migrants seeking a better life in a country far from home, know what they are getting into when they enter the trade. The real problem they face comes from the industry working to “save” them.

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs), funded by private donors and the U.S. State Department, are working hard to fight trafficking. But the problem is that many do this by trying to eradicate prostitution and curb migration—resulting in policies that are harmful, rather than helpful, to women.

Recently, important revelations have come out about the anti-trafficking movement’s problematic policies. Last month, Newsweek broke a story about the Somaly Mam Foundation, a famous Cambodian-based anti-trafficking NGO that has been fabricating stories of sex trafficking to appeal to their donor base. The story was shocking, but to those who understand the contested terrain of the anti-trafficking movement, it wasn’t surprising.

The question of what role NGOs should play in “rescuing” women from the sex industry has been debated by feminists for years. Only now, these debates are heating up because the voices of migrant women, supposed trafficking “victims,” are finally coming out.

It was these women’s voices—voices that have been silenced and overshadowed by a movement supposedly intended to “help” them—that inspired me to travel to Thailand to research the issue of sex trafficking. I wanted to learn about the issue not only from the perspective of advocates working to stop it, but from migrant women themselves—women whose experiences can offer tremendous insight into creating policies that will better serve their needs.

Over the course of three years I conducted over 50 interviews with NGO employees, female migrants, sex workers rights advocates, members of government and others as part of my PhD at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. The discoveries I made would ultimately lead me to write and compose Land of Smiles, a musical whose goal was to turn the narrative about trafficking on its head.

Land of Smiles is a fictional, full-length musical about the trafficking of women in Thailand, which dramatises what I call the “dominant trafficking narrative”: a story told by Western anti-trafficking advocates that reinforces our moralisms about intimacy, rights, women’s proper roles, as well as ideas about individualism, and a modernisation framework that is at the root of development thinking.

Taking issue with the assumptions Western advocates often make about women in the developing world, I created a story that I hoped would expose the flaws of these assumptions, and raise awareness about the problematic policies being enacted by members of the movement.

The story focuses on the aftermath of a brothel raid in Chiang Rai, Northern Thailand. Lipoh, a young Kachin (ethnic minority) migrant from Burma, seems to be underage, making her an automatic “trafficking victim” in the eyes of the law. Emma Gable, an NGO case worker from Cedar Falls, Indiana, is sent to prepare Lipoh to be a witness in a trial to prosecute her trafficker. Emma must convince Lipoh to be the person everyone sees: a trafficking victim. But Lipoh is unwilling to cooperate. She insists that she is eighteen and was working in the brothel willingly. Not only that—she wants to go back.

What transpires is a journey into Thailand’s anti-trafficking movement—a world burdened with politics, morality and the rhetoric of human rights. Through hearing Lipoh’s story, Emma discovers that grave atrocities are being committed against the Kachin people of Burma. But these atrocities are overshadowed by a narrative about trafficking that serves the needs of the anti-trafficking movement, rather than the women it is trying to help.

In writing Land of Smiles I wanted to problematise the discourse on trafficking that circulates among feminist scholars studying trafficking. I sought to unpack the Western “gaze” that views female migrant sex workers as “victims,” and turn this trope around by shedding light on that gaze itself—the lens through which Western advocates see the issue of trafficking. I wanted to expose that the trafficking of women in Thailand is not an isolated human rights abuse that takes place in a separate sphere from Western behavior, structures and thoughts. Rather, the West is complicit in this human rights drama because of the way we objectify third world “victims.”

Land of Smiles is intended to be a platform for dialogue. As the audience makes their way out of the theatre, I hope the show will have caused questioning among those who have the power to change anti-trafficking policy and adopt a more holistic approach to implementing solutions.

Land of Smiles runs from July 31 to 25 August at Assembly, George Square, Edinburgh. For more details/booking visit: or call 0131 623 3030

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It’s divisive to talk about rebranding the F word

Leisa Taylor reports back from the second Feminist Times West Midlands event. Click here to read about their first event, ‘Worcester Woman’ Talks Back.

Just under a week ago we held our first Feminist Cafe.

The idea for the ‘Cafe’ came from Cafe Philosophique – meeting in small groups to discuss ideas related to philosophy and the great philosophers. Our idea was to create a similar space for people to meet in small groups but our theme would be Feminism. It was hoped that if this seemed to be of interest to people then we could roll it out across the West Midlands.

The first Cafe was held in a small space on a very hot and sticky night and attracted a small group of people to complement our six strong team who, although have been meeting since March, had yet properly get down to the ‘nitty gritty’ of our own feminist beliefs and concerns.

Our format was simple – split into small groups of three to four people and have a discussion, starting with the following themes:

  • What does feminism mean to me?
  • What seem to be the main issues driving this fourth wave of feminism?
  • Are there any issues particularly pertinent to the West Midlands?

We thought that these discussions would help inform ‘themes’ for future cafe events and also would generate ideas for other events.

As always, in my experience, if you give women a forum to discuss anything related to the female experience, then they are away before you have time to say ‘oestrogen’. This evening was no exception and we quickly realised a couple of hours was nowhere near long enough to air all that we had to say and only ended because the keyholder wasn’t feeling too good and needed to go home, otherwise we might still be there now.

Some of the issues we explored in my group started with one woman exploring her frustrations that her particular brand of feminism often conflicted with that of her 20-something-year-old daughter’s ideas. She said she had been accused of being a prude on issues around sex, sexuality and, in particular, that controversial occupation of lap and pole dancing. I was particularly surprised to find out that it’s a common way for young women to support themselves through university. This led us to reflect on how our feminism had changed over the course of our own lives and experiences.

We also discussed how female bodies are objectified more generally and prolifically and how we try to manage that with our own children. There was a general conclusion that it was very frustrating that society is so unsupportive in helping parents protect their children from the sexualised images that have become a backdrop for all our lives in the media. From this we began to discuss how the use of humour can be an excellent way of tackling sexist attitudes and that maybe we should spend more time thinking of little quips and retorts to angle at would-be sexists and misogynists, rather than getting paralysed in our angry and frustrated emotions. An idea, it turned out, that had been explored in some of the other groups that evening.

So this was just a flavour of our first cafe, and I think I speak for all when I say we found it peculiarly empowering, interesting and refreshing to have the opportunity and permission to discuss some of these issues. The team also left armed with plenty of ideas for topics and themes for future cafe events. But there is a ‘but’ for me.page1image29664

The ‘but’ here was the personally frustrating yet almost inevitable discussion about the ‘F’ word and whether we use it for future events. I find it such a divisive and distracting argument, and maybe also a touch destructive. Allow me to unpack my thoughts around this:

  • Divisive because it divides people like me (who has embraced the word, used it for nearly 30 years, and stubbornly finds it more than embodies all the things I need it to) and others who may have recently joined the battle due to age or circumstance and/or those who just want to move forward and feel that, by finding a more socially acceptable word, sexism and misogyny might magically disappear overnight.
  • Distracting because it allows those who are not really sympathetic to any feminist cause to move the discussion into one about semantics and thus avoiding any useful discussion about the real issues.
  • Destructive because of all of the above and that the fact that, in this instance, it slightly marred a great evening for me and left a bit of an unsisterly feeling in my heart.

I do understand that it is a word that divides people – it’s almost a cliché that many people will say ‘I am not a feminist but…’ and then go on to describe their own experience of sexism or values and ideals in a feminist way. Others, usually an older generation, report that women have come so far since they were young women that they aren’t sure that feminism itself is even relevant anymore.

That’s just the people who are at least a bit sympathetic. There are also those who fear the word and think that by encouraging feminist thought this will somehow lead us to hating men, as if misandry was a direct result of feminism. And then there are the real misogynists who attach a dictionary full of hate labels and several tabloids worth of stereotypes to the word and to anyone who associates themselves with feminism.

I know it’s a word that has got so twisted out of shape and one that, given the myriad of issues that fall under it, is understood by every individual as something quite unique to them. My friend was telling me how her children (10 & 11) had until recently believed it to be a bad word, like racism or sexism – confused by the ‘ism’ – making feminism a negative concept by default. It’s for some of these reasons that I believe the word needs to be reclaimed, it’s meaning expressed in its historical context, with all its failures, shortcomings and glories.

I also understand that it’s a word that might alienate some of the very people we, as the West Midlands Feminist Times team, want to attract to our events. We want to spread the word, start the conversations, with those people who might ordinarily reject it on the grounds of ‘not being for them’. Yet I really can’t think of another word, a better word, that specifically describes a movement that aims to further the rights of women (not over the rights of men), that strives to end inequality (in all it’s guises) and give a voice to all those who marginalised within patriarchy (which isn’t just women but any expression of the feminine).

When women and girls finally do achieve equality with men and boys, and sexism truly is a thing of the past, then I will be happy to see the word become redundant, become relegated to the past. But I’m definitely not giving it up yet nor replacing it with another word that just doesn’t quite cut it for me.

And therin lies one of the dilemmas moving forward for our local team. Any suggestions are more than welcome.

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Iranian women’s stealthy freedom

On 17 June the British Foreign Secretary William Hague announced that circumstances were right to reopen Britain’s embassy in Iran, three years since it was closed in 2011.

The thing about circumstances is they can never be right for everyone. If they’re finally right for William Hague and President Hassan Rouhani, one can’t help but ask when the circumstances will be right for the women of Iran.

While Hague and Rouhani are “stepping forward”, Iranian women are still stuck, struggling for the freedom to make their own choices. Free from veils (if they wish), artistic suppression and imprisonment.

If this month marks a step forward for softened relations between Britain and Iran, it also highlights the continuing shuffle backwards for women like imprisoned filmmaker Mahnaz Mohammadi. As men in suits shake hands, Iranian women are continuing to fight for the right to make their own choices. For those who are unaware, just 10 days before William Hague announced closer ties between the UK and Iran, Mahnaz Mohammadi packed her bag for a five-year stay in Evin jailhouse, located just north of Tehran. Her “crime” is as baffling as Iranian president Hassan Rouhani’s latest World Cup 2014 Twitter selfie: “collaborating” with the Persian BBC and plotting “propaganda” against the Iranian regime.

Not only are women fighting for the right to express their internal identities through art, they are also fighting for the right to express their external identities – with or without the hijab. It is worth noting that just two days prior to the diplomatic thaw, two thirds of Iran’s MPs wrote to the president demanding stronger veil enforcement for women. Yet on Facebook and Twitter, hundreds of Iranian women have been posting selfies without their veil, optimising their campaign with hashtag #MyStealthyFreedom. Their hashtag is just like their break for freedom: a contradiction in terms.

When talking about the veil, it is worth noting that throughout Iran’s long history women have lacked the choice to determine their own outwards identity, both under the Islamic governance of the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2014 yet also under the western-backed, Imperial leadership of Rezā Shah pre-revolution. Male hands have always dictated female identity. Iran’s forces of westernization forcibly removed and tore chadors off women who resisted the ban on public hijabs during the Women’s Awakening in the late 1930s. A lack of freedom of choice for women didn’t begin with an Islamic Republic in 1979. In the conflict between eastern and western values, free will and self-determinism for women in Iran has always been a struggle and the veil a symbolic bargaining tool.

In an eastern-versus-western world that strives to constantly define in terms of right and wrong, Iran has constantly defied such definitions. Eastern interior lives and western exterior eyes are in a state of constant flux. What truly lies beneath the veil has become a beguiling fascination to us all and the women beneath them an emblem of an Islamic Republic we can’t quite understand.

In a recent article for the New York Times artist Haleh Anvari writes about the western fetish of staring at Iranian women. “How wonderful,” she deadpans, “we had become Iran’s Eiffel Tower or Big Ben.” Ever since the 1979 revolution, Iranian women have been viewed as monuments, not citizens. The skyline is defined, not by architecture but by a sea of black chadors. Iranian women’s identities continue to lack humanity – both through the eyes of the east and west. The western postcard is a stylised design when our vision frames black cloth against powder blue Persian tiles. As Anvari rightly identifies, “in a country where the word feminism is pejorative, there is no inkling that the values of both fundamentalism and Western consumerism are two sides of the same coin — the female body as an icon defining Iranian culture.”

Iranian women aren’t looking for western liberation, but freedom of choice. For many women, the solution isn’t to ban hijabs altogether but to give women the choice to wear or discard. As one woman on the #MyStealthyFreedom page explains: “I believe in Hijab, but hate obligatory hijab!” For Mahnaz Mohammadi, and her contemporary filmmakers, her choice is to keep making films that challenge her environment and give fellow Iranian women a voice. In her own words, “I am a woman, I am a filmmaker, two sufficient grounds to be guilty in this country.” As I type, women like Mahnaz Mohammadi are risking imprisonment and exile in order to speak as a woman. Their choices are limited.

So, as Hague and Rouhani exercise their own freedoms of choice, it’s important to remember women in Iran who lack the same freedom. Women who are campaigning for the right to remove their hijabs on Facebook’s My Stealthy Freedom page. Women like Mahnaz Mohammadi, who is now serving a five-year sentence for simply making art. Her voice has been silenced – she now needs yours.

You can speak up for Mahnaz Mohammadi by emailing your full name to the French Directors Guild who are campaigning for her immediate release:

You can like the My Stealthy Freedom Facebook page or follow #MyStealthyFreedom on Twitter.

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

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End Sexual Violence in Conflict: Slow steps towards progress

Last week’s End Sexual Violence in Conflict Summit saw dignitaries from 155 nations descend on London’s ExCel Centre.  A magnificent effort from both Angelina Jolie and Foreign Secretary William Hague, the four-day summit highlighted the atrocities and dangers that women (and indeed, men and boys) face in conflict times. The event’s fringe was fantastic, with incredible collections of artwork beautifully complimented by engaging and emotional discussions, as well as innovative and powerful theatre discussions.

I was moved to tears by Save the Children’s performance highlighting the stories of three very different girls, all affected by rape. I could not help but be inspired listening to Congolese gynecologist, Dr Denis Mukwege speak on how his resolve to end sexual violence in conflict only grew following the assassination attempt on his life in 2012. There were also some incredibly painful testimonies that will stay with me for some time. Hague and Jolie are to be commended for successfully getting the world to momentarily sit up and take notice of a humanitarian issue long accepted as a just another byproduct of war.

There were some great ideas and initiatives discussed and put forward during the summit. One in particular was the push to implement a mixed court in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the judiciary is badly letting women down by not holding perpetrators properly to account. This means that generals, who often order the rapes to happen, are routinely escaping justice. A mixed court system, with the international community supporting the existing system, would operate at a higher level of efficiency. Another excellent initiative put forward during the week was Care International’s long standing project of engaging men in conflict nations.  Their work tackles gender inequality and gender stereotypes, with the aim of reducing instances of sexual violence through an amplification of women’s rights and equality. Women for Women International’s policy of empowering women through economic independence is also worthy , as is the protocol itself.

This protocol is the result of extensive consultation with various expert working groups and reviewers, with editorial authority resting with the UK Foreign Commonwealth Office. According to the document, the International Protocol has the main aim of promoting accountability for crimes of sexual violence under international law. Whilst the protocol isn’t binding on states, it can serve as an effective tool to properly document sexual violence as a war crime, a crime against humanity or an act of genocide- all enshrined under international law.

The protocol recognises that it will not tackle every sexual violence crime. Instead it focuses on those that occur under international criminal law. But survivors of sexual violence crimes outside of this context are still in chronic need of support. It is hoped that the protocol will be a springboard for increased action on prevention and accountability for all forms of sexual violence in conflict.

However, there are some criticisms of this that must be addressed. Whilst the aim and launch of the protocol itself is admirable, there is some conflict with our own domestic policy here in the UK. On the opening day of the summit’s fringe, both the Black Women’s Rape Action Project and the All African Women’s Group held a brutally honest demonstration. Their demonstration sought to highlight the conflict between the UK’s treatment of survivors of sexual violence claiming asylum and the aims of the summit. They called for an end to the disbelief and slandering of asylum seekers.

I spoke to two of the demonstrators. They explained to me that the UK was currently detaining survivors of sexual violence in immigration detention centres such as Yarl’s Wood – women who, having fled their home nation, were claiming asylum. How then, could the UK lead the way on sexual violence in conflict, when it was deporting and treating survivors in such a manner? The abuses at Yarl’s Wood are well documented and show the level of honesty that will be required from all the signatory nations if we are to truly help survivors across the world. How can we hope to tackle sexual violence on a global stage when domestically, we are failing women?

There’s also the question of efficiency. The international community is failing to make the most of it’s current resources. How then, can we be confident the protocol will not go the same way? There is a vast range of international legislation on peace and security, women’s rights, protecting women from violence and gender-based violence. They’re simply not being properly implemented. A commitment is laudable, but without real progress it is merely words. The time has come for action.

Countries need to be seen to be doing better. States need to work with women’s rights organisations in their respective countries to ensure the resources on offer, be it through funding or policy, are being efficiently used. In 2010, there was a coalition of 50 non governmental organisations all working together and sharing resources, with a focus on DRC. This coalition eventually folded due to a lack of funding. It’s initiatives like this that the UK, who announced a further £6 million in funding to help survivors of sexual conflict, need to make sure are properly funded. Too often, pledged money gets lost in International NGOs. We need to make sure a lot of more that is reaching smaller charities on the ground.

Looking forward, I am reservedly optimistic that the protocol will be beneficial to tackling sexual violence in conflict. I commend Jolie’s dedication to this subject, and her commitment to making real lasting change. The summit is nothing to be scoffed at. Indeed, when Sunday Times columnist Adam Boulton refers to it as “trivial”,  it serves as a sharp reminder of just how difficult it is to get people to take rape seriously. For Angelina Jolie to use her celebrity in this fashion is refreshing. Often, we see famous people engage in charity work in a very superficial manner, benefiting from the good press without any type of dedication to the cause. That Jolie continues in this field of work, despite media scrutiny and, at times, criticism for her involvement, is worthy of recognition.

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


Image: Foreign and Commonwealth Office via Flickr

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End Sexual Violence in Conflict: An interview with Women for Women International

This week’s End Sexual Violence in Conflict Summit has had a huge focus on conflicts since Bosnia in 1992. There have been numerous events focusing on Rwanda, Congo, Kosovo, the Balkan War and Afghanistan. Many of these nations are recovering from a major conflict and are in the process of adjusting to peacetime, whereas Congo is, though technically in peacetime, still in the grip of conflict.

I wanted to explore the similarities that these conflicts had, but also the differences. Why do some of these areas get more coverage, awareness and support than others- and did the international community prioritise some conflict nations over others? The conflict in DRC is the deadliest conflict since World War Two. But casualty estimates are often conservative, and sexual violence figures that are under reported.

All conflicts are, obviously, different. Their origins are different,  and the obstacles to resolution are different, too. However, the exclusion of women from resolution and community stands in the way of community peace-building. This situation is built on gender inequality before the conflict – patriarchy is a worldwide problem, before, during and after war.

I spoke to Carron Mann, Women for Women International UK‘s Policy Director about these areas.

JW: What are the reasons between the different manifestations, beyond cultural differences?

CM: We see sexual violence in many different ways in the various nations. For example, in Afghanistan and South Sudan, forced marriage of women to their rapist so their families avoid shame is a common issue. The commonality is the role of women being treated as commodities. A woman’s sexual virtue is her value, as opposed to women being valued as human beings. Women are targeted to target communities.

What role does a crisis of masculinity or hyper masculinity play in sexual violence in conflict?

I’m not sure how I feel about crisis of masculinity or hyper masculinity. Masculinity, like characteristics we have as women can be positive or negative. I think hyper masculinity implies you can be too manly, when actually you can be manly in a good way, that’s not necessarily a bad thing in itself.

I think it’s a reinforcement of positive masculinity and negative masculinity that have real roles to play in both helping a situation and making it worse. What they’re trying to say is that those gender stereotypes that reinforce that men need to be sexually active, they need to sleep with as many women, what it means to be a man and how they treat women. We have this here as well. You only have to walk past some lads coming out of school.
How much support do you think the international community gives in terms of tackling sexual violence through an educational basis? I know that Women for Women International run some great programmes in terms of teaching gender equality and tackling gender inequality in conflict nations, but do you feel the international community is fixing enough support to those programs?

I don’t think women’s rights organisations on the ground are getting enough funding. We struggle for funding, but we can fill out a Department for International Development application form. They can’t. One of the things I noticed about the summit is that there’s a lot of focus on the UN, and what the UN is going to do. There’s talk about financing, and the UK announced increased funding yesterday but again, it’s how does that funding get distributed? Who benefits from it? is it all going to International non governmental organisations or is it going to local organisations? In fairness to International NGO’s, they work closely with local community partners, so when they benefit the communities do too. You can never have too much funding.

Why do you think sexual violence in some conflict nations tend to get more awareness than in others that may have higher levels of the crime?

Broadly speaking, I don’t think we like talking about sexual violence. I think that’s our first challenge. Secondly, I’m always really intrigued about why some conflicts get picked up and some don’t, like the Boko Haram kidnappings. Human Rights Watch and lots of organisations were documenting this last year. In 2012 [there was an] increase of incidents, [but] nothing happened. Then 270 girls were kidnapped and it finally got noticed. But not immediately.

Away from charities who obviously take an interest, what do you think are the reasons the media tend to pick and choose what they report?

I think it has to be that kind of grotesque shock to register with people. There was a report this morning about a girl being gang raped in India because she couldn’t afford to pay a bribe. Or the girls in Nigeria. It’s the shock factor. But actually, we’re hearing more about it. I spoke to a person before travelling to Congo who believed the rape levels were higher. So there are people who think there’s higher levels than what the UN are reporting, but that’s because the issue is getting more attention, so people think it’s happening at an accelerated rate. So there is an initial silence. Ultimately, it’s massively complicated and very difficult to get into a sound bite, which leads to it not being reported.

Do you think it’s ever going to be possible to end sexual violence in conflict?


Without gender equality?

No, because sexual violence in conflict sits within a much broader range of violence against women and girls which is a result of gender equality.

I agreed with Mann on many of her points, but I think there are further reasons why some conflicts are prominently highlighted in the media and international community over others. I believe it’s something to do with resources, something to do with power. Will the conflict affect our ability to get resources from DRC? Will it affect our ability to export coltan? Only when it does will we see the international community increase scrutiny on DRC. I also believe the complexity of the situation in Congo hampers the ability to report on it. People can’t understand the conflict, as it has so many layers, and  it has gone on for so long. A conflict like that of Rwanda, with warring ethnic tribes over 100 days is simple to follow. The same can be said with Bosnia. Congo, at the moment, tends to go back to the Rwandan genocide and subsequent overspill as a starting point- yet a lot of the issues have blighted the region for decades, and possibly centuries.

To end our interview on a positive note I asked one final question:

JW: What should the public take away from the summit?

CM: I hope they listen to survivors and survivors’ needs. I think they key starting point is listening. I think it’s also about recognising that [sexual violence] is not an inevitable part of conflict, and it’s also not an alien concept, much as we’d like it to be. No woman or girl ever deserves to be raped, regardless of how drunk she is, how short her skirt is, her ethnicity, her sexual orientation or her political affiliation.

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


Image: Foreign and Commonwealth Office via Flickr

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Elizabeth Fremantle: Feminism is…

Elizabeth FremantleName: Elizabeth Fremantle

Age: 51

Location: London

Bio: Novellist

Feminism is the desire for equality: equal opportunity, equal pay, equal respect. It is recalibrating cultural notions of femininity and busting the popular myths of genetic destiny.

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We need more women in politics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ruth Jones OBE, Director of the National Centre for the Study and Prevention of Violence and Abuse, University of Worcester
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Rachel Williams: Feminism is…

Name: Rachel Williams

Age: 21

Location: Merseyside

Bio:  Politics and Philosophy student at the LSE, with an avid interest in literature and international development. She also likes cats

Feminism is about realising that only 22% of MPs are women. It is about understanding that there are merely 3 female CEOs in the FTSE100. It is about discerning that school days end at 3.30pm because housewives are still a norm and yet unpaid and necessary work in the home is still under appreciated.

Feminism for me has been and continues to be a source of realisation about the position of women in our communities and institutions that I was previously unaware of. I hope that as a feminist I can help others to recognise that too.

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Forget fascists for a moment as Sweden’s Feminist party make history in the EU

On Sunday, the European elections took a historical turn when voters took a lurch to the right. Press across Europe reported on how nationalist parties gained a stable body of supporters and changed the demographics of the EU through a startling percentage of conservative, right-wing wins.

But European voters did not only vote nationalist, they also voted for a counter-movement: feminism.  A quieter historic moment was taking form. The European Parliament’s first independent feminist party entered the political arena.  Swedish party Feminist Initiative made history, with a final percentage count of 5.3% gaining a chair in the parliament for member Soraya Post.

Feminist Initiative’s journey started in April 2005. Rumour had it that a new feminist party was taking shape on the Swedish political landscape growing around Gudrun Schyman, the former leader of the Left Party. By 2008, the organization was formally a political party that competed in both the Swedish national election of 2010 and the European Parliamentary election of 2009. In the EU election, they gained 2.2% of the vote, but a did not make it into either the European or Swedish parliaments.

The feminist movement seemed defeated. Feminist Initiative disappeared from the political scene, becoming increasingly quiet. Perhaps feminism was not as strong as some may have initially thought – maybe even Sweden was not ready for a feminist political party.

Five years on, and nationalism and racism were taking grip of European politics. In Sweden, the media declared 2014 as the ‘super election year’, with both European elections and general Swedish parliamentary elections taking place in the same year. With this, the battle between the parties began. Who would take the fight against racism and nationalism? Whilst the larger parties began to look increasingly similar, Feminist Initiative was building it’s own agenda, selecting Soraya Post as its first name for the EU election. Her background of a Jewish father and Romani mother gave her a historical name on the election folders – the first Romani topping the lists on a ballot. With this, Feminist Initiative made their agenda clear: they wanted to be the party to fight discrimination, nationalism and racism.

After a threat of extinction, Feminist Initiative was back on the map. A counter movement started to take shape in Sweden that could be seen everywhere: particularly on social and print media. The feminist spring was coming. But the party were not invited to participate in national television debates, and were not taken seriously amongst their political peers. Would a vote for Feminist Initiative be considered a protest vote? Despite the doubts, something had started to simmer. Voters had started to take notice of this flowering movement and wanted to be a part of it. Feminist Initiative’s membership increased from 1500 in October 2013 to around 6000 in February 2014. Two weeks before the election, Feminist Initiative’s membership increased by 200 new members a day, totaling 14000 on the day of the election. In an opinion poll, one in four women were considering voting for the party.

The first election forecasts arrived on Sunday evening. The last three months had been one massive campaign, with the production of a feminist record and the creation of a feminist anthology – all designed to draw artists, writers, authors and journalists into Feminist Initiative’s feminist and anti-racist campaign. Sunday was the peak of the feminist spring, and the party was everywhere. Standing as an MEP candidate, Soraya Post urged people to vote for equality, women’s rights and anti-racism, and she was heard. Feminist Initiative won a seat in European Parliament, gaining 5.3% of the vote. The party made history – not only for being the first independent feminist party ever elected to the European Parliament, but for standing for politics drastically different to the current trend.

Feminist Initiative’s win is a small victory in a bigger battle for women’s rights and equality. Just hours after the election, Soraya Post was included in a list of right wing extremists by The Sun Newspaper, with the headline ‘Neo-Nazis, gun carriers, arsonists…and now MEPs’. But despite Soraya Post’s principally equality focused politics being thrown in amongst a list of extremists, Feminist Initiative’s win represents hope in an otherwise dismal election. There remains a lot to be done, but the confidence of Swedish voters is a big step towards combating attitudes of racism and nationalism. On September the 14th, the date of the next Swedish general election, we will know if Feminist Initiative establish themselves as a party to count on.

Sofia Landström is currently studying an MA in Exhibition Studies at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. She researches inequality in the arts and writes about representation and separatism.

Photo: Feminist Initiative

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Erica Böhr: Feminism is…

Erica BohrName: Erica Böhr

Age: 47

Location: Cambridge

Bio: Radical feminist lesbian artist and mother

For me, feminism is:

1. A radical political stance of activism in the face of ongoing inequalities in gender and sexuality

2. Not saying sorry for wanting the same wages; occupying the same personal space as men; challenging homophobia and sexism; not apologising for existing; not buying into and actively resisting patriarchy’s attempts to mind-maim women

3. Wanting a t-shirt that bears the following slogan :This is what a Ball-­‐breaking, Empire-­‐ building, Machiavellian Butch Dyke from Hell looks like

4. A space where the personal is always the political

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Mothers and babies will die

OFFERED: Fabulous boutique room, freshly painted, king size bed, 24-hour staff, pool.
REQUIRED: vaginal delivery of a perfect baby.

Of course, you’ll be lucky to make it through the doors of this little piece of heaven within the NHS. If you have any hint of a complication you’ll be sent packing to your standard local obstetric-led maternity suite. Oh, but hold on – there’s no room at the inn: all of the obstetric-led units have been shut!

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for natural childbirth. Women should be supported to give birth at home or in a midwife-led unit as advised in new guidelines from NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence); let’s make sure every baby’s first moments are skin-to-skin, suckling at the breast. But the harsh reality is that the sweet, sweet words from NICE are nothing more than a whispered lullaby to lull women into thinking that they have a heart and that they’ve listened to mums and midwives. With a shortage of nearly 5,000 midwives nationally and a maternity service in tatters thanks to countless hospitals being downgraded, there is no way that a move to a midwife-led model of maternity care is a serious proposition.

So, let’s get serious. Women need an individual service tailored to their needs. Home birth requires two midwives to be present but is otherwise cheap as chips and has very good outcomes for mums and babies (within reason). Birth Centre delivery requires one midwife, with very little intervention, is slightly more expensive and also has good, reliable outcomes for mums and babies (within reason). Acute Obstetric care is on a graded scale of expense with increasing intervention and has good outcomes for mums and babies (within reason).

Reason, skill and medical training decide where it is most appropriate for a woman to give birth. In a service where the mother is at the centre of care, this should be a fairly straightforward decision – but in a service where profit and a confusing web of tariffs, CQUINS (and I’m not talking disco here) and penalties take centre stage, then the woman and her ever-expanding waistline are left to the mercy of a lottery of the market.

NICE can say what they like but the Department of Health are no longer accountable for our care and, with the advent of the CCG, they have no control of a national maternity strategy. When asked in a recent government report the Department of Health were not able to name a national policy for maternity. It’s still Maternity Matters, by the way, Jeremy.

The Health and Social Care Act untethered the Department of Health from the NHS. It claimed to hand over power to the Clinical Commissioning Groups, but in reality they are at best confused and at worst rife with corruption. All of this while introducing an open market that is spiraling out of control. The result for women is that maternity services are floundering. In that government report it was found that the Department of Health is no longer responsible even for such basic and fundamental aspects of care such as how many midwives are employed by the NHS. So, who is? No one.

With Public Health banished to the savaged hinterland of the Local Authority there is no longer a powerful body integrated into either the NHS or the CCGs to ensure that local commissioning of maternity services is in line with Department of Health Policy. Even if they knew what that is. By breaking up the NHS, the Department of Health has made it perfectly clear that it is not remotely interested in having a public health policy at all. They prefer to focus on forcing hospitals into becoming Foundation Trusts as quickly as possible.

Jeremy Hunt and his cronies may not care about boring epidemiological studies and evidence-based care, but for us mums the fragmentation of services is a catastrophic blow to choice, continuity of care and equal access to healthcare. With the desperate shortfall of 4,800 midwives (The Royal College of Midwives ‘State of Maternity Services’ Report 2013) and almost half (47 per cent) of UK hospitals lacking enough consultant obstetricians, along with a steady baby boom in England over the past decade, there is increasing strain on maternity services. Midwives and obstetricians look after women with much more complex needs.

The Coalition, UKIP and other misguided souls push an identity parade of people to blame: Immigrants (the Polish get a hard time despite working legally, paying taxes, and therefore being no different from Mr and Mrs Smith born and bred in Tunbridge Wells); The Poor (to listen to George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith, one could be forgiven for thinking that eugenics may well be on the cards for the next election manifesto); The Needy (we might as well kick the disabled while they’re reeling from ATOS); and finally, The Labour Party (they gave those pesky women far too much with their tax credits, Child Benefit, Children’s Centres and Maternity Matters).

Amid the frenzied dismemberment of the NHS we are hurtling towards an insurance-based system for our maternity care, which embraces intervention rather than holistic, aromatherapy and massage amongst caring midwives handy with a birth stool. We need to ask ourselves, do we seriously want to live in a society in which only the super-rich can afford to have babies while the rest of us lucky enough to have health insurance count the pennies to calculate whether we can afford for the stork to pay us a call?

Never forget that pre-NHS women died in their droves in cavernous lying-in wards, or for want of an experienced midwife. The idea that all women are going to have the opportunity to lie-in in a luxurious birth centre would be a joke if it weren’t so utterly terrifying that the back-up intensive obstetric care is being closed down. We mothers need to fight and fight hard for our hard-won maternity services. We need to join together and fight those seeking dismantle the NHS and fight them we shall: we shall fight them on the labour wards, we shall fight in the midwife-led units and we shall fight in the birthing pools; we shall never surrender. We shall go on to the end.

Jessica Ormerod is the parents’ representative on the Lewisham Maternity Committee and a candidate for the National Health Action Party in tomorrow’s European election.

Photo: Wikimedia

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Ana Hine: Feminism is…

Name: Ana Hine

Feminism is bodily autonomy. The freedom, as a woman, to participate actively in society without discrimination.

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Why do so many progressives always fall short on mental health?

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.

So many of us walk the tightrope day by day.

One day soon it might just all go wrong – a friend too many dies, or we lose a job we liked, or the credit card maxxes out on us. Depression – if you have it – is always there a bit, but sometimes it kicks in when bad things happen.

That’s the way it’s been with me. There was a patch a few years ago when I found myself getting off buses in the middle of a journey to go sit on steps in the city and cry, but after a while that stopped.

Or it might just be the weather in our head – today is shiny, but tomorrow who knows?

A lot of people live with varying degrees of clinical depression, and about two thirds of those are women. Many people live with OCD, or are bipolar, or have been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. There’s nothing to stop anyone having more than one mental illness. Entirely separate from all of that, there are all the people who are not neurotypical, whose wiring is a bit different; there’s nothing to stop any of them being depressed or whatever as well.

So many of us have bad days, or weeks, or months. And they’re not made better by people being clueless about it who ought to know better. The only reason why I don’t complain more about the failings of the Left, the women’s movement, and the LGBT community on mental health is that mainstream society is amazingly even worse.

Most of us lie about our state of mind all the time because we don’t want people to know. Less than perfect mental health is still a stigma, even if we are less liable to be locked up for it and forced into treatment. It means that anything we say or create will be treated as less valuable, less likely to be true.

We try to pass, we use the language that hurts us, and we try not to let people see us wince when we say someone else is ‘crazy’. It’s very hard not to do it, partly because we are trying to pass and partly because the language we grew up with has so many value judgements implicit in it; sanity is one of the things it assumes to be good, and less than perfect sanity to be bad.

No one has to tell other people that they have a problem and in fact, the way society is constructed, it’s probably sensible only to admit to depression when it gets so bad that you can’t function, or when the drugs you are already taking for it stop working and you have to find something else that works. Still, there’s something quite liberating about owning up to the identity.

Part of being depressed is a sense of never being good enough; it’s like impostor syndrome except that you’re faking it every day about everything, not just having nightmares about exams or making deadlines. At least if you tell other people, if you tell yourself, that that’s just the depression speaking and not the truth, you can start to accept that actually you’re not as bad as all that.

It’s like all the other identities that it’s sensible to hide in a society that quite likes us to lie; to not raise issues that make it harder for the majority to think well of themselves. If we can function, some people say, why can’t we just not mention private issues like mental health? Just like they used to say about sexuality, or like they still say about gender identity issues.

Do we have to flaunt our depression or our OCD, wear it like a badge of honour? They say. And sometimes it’s the sane being irritable and sometimes it’s other people worrying that if they are too sympathetic, the sane people might notice them. Most of the time it is not conscious bullying; it’s just people coasting along with the way things are, and not noticing the privilege that gives them, for the time being.

Most of the time I personally function pretty well – I write books and I write poems and I write articles. I don’t think that ‘coping privilege’ is actually a thing but I can understand how some people think it might be, and even use it as a stick with which to beat people who acknowledge poor mental health but somehow manage to get things done in spite of it.

They’re not inside my head, and they don’t know how hard it is for me, a lot of the time – but then, maybe it is harder for them, and I have no idea just how much harder. Worrying that I have coping privilege is just something else for my anxieties to focus on.

But what is common, and unforgivable, is for people in progressive communities to bully people over their mental health, in a way they never would about race, class, sexuality, gender identity or visible disability (though actually progressives can be pretty shit about that when you point out that their shiny new office has terrible mobility access – even in 2014…) I’ve seen a progressive organisation decide someone was guilty of an expellable offence because he had declared his mental health status and suddenly his guilt could be assumed without motive or opportunity – because his alleged crimes no longer had to make sense.

I’ve also seen it happen online to a number of women who have spoken publicly about their struggles with various mental health conditions. I’ve avoided giving specific examples here because they’d either be uselessly vague or else instantly recognisable to an extent that would be abusively intrusive.

If you know someone has depression, or whatever else, it might not be a good idea to tell them that their ideas are rubbish, that their behaviour is contemptible. Particularly if you are exaggerating, or angry, or just disagreeing with them – because the trouble is, their illness will probably go along with whatever you say.

Telling someone who has depression that they are worthless is an exploitation of the advantage better mental health gives you. It’s an exercise of privilege and it is potentially an act of violence. You are risking precipitating a spiral of self-hatred and self-harm.

Mental health is an area of intersectional oppression, like many others; don’t knowingly harm people. You’re probably doing it anyway but you can at least try not to – it’s just a matter of thinking about it. I used not to but, since my own really bad time, I have at least made the effort.

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

For more information and support on depression, or any other mental health condition please visit the Mental Health Foundation or Mind. For advice on staying mentally healthy online, see our article Eight ways to keep yourself sane on Twitter, by psychiatrist Anna Fryer.

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Donna Navarro: Feminism is…

Donna NavarroName: Donna Navarro

Age: 35

Location: Nottingham

Bio: Freelance writer wanting to contribute to change, with over a decade of experience working with perpetrators of domestic abuse in the public sector

Contrary to popular belief feminism is not about man-hating or bra-burning. For me, feminism is about men and women standing up for, protecting and creating equality.

It’s about ensuring women have the same choices as men, and ensuring women are free to make those choice without persecution or fear of violence. Feminism is about not making do with how things are for women, not accepting that this is just the way life is. Feminism is realising women want and deserve equality.

Ultimately. it’s about teamwork. It’s about challenging and making positive changes to the existence of patriarchal attitudes, attitudes that have produced a government and society in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it.  By shouting back, we are challenging the entrenched misogyny of our society. Together we can make a difference and we should! If we don’t, no one will!

For me, feminism is about making the world a better place for all women and girls, but especially for my children and my children’s children and the generations of women to come.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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

Click here to read all #GenderWeek articles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Google Images Creative Commons

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It’s feminist to vote in the EU elections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Main Image: Rock Cohen

You need to be on the Electoral Register to exercise your right to vote. The deadline to register to vote in the 22 May European and local elections is 6 May. Please visit:

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Janet Sparks: Feminism is…

Name: Janet Sparks

Age: 51

Location: Salisbury, Wiltshire

Bio: Married working mother of 2 sons at University

Feminism is making your own choices.

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Hannah Wheatley: Feminism is…

Name: Hannah Wheatley

Age: 20

Location: Melbourne

Bio: Politics student at the University of Warwick, currently on exchange at Monash University in Melbourne

Feminism is refusing to accept the biological essentialist argument that has dictated sex roles for years across the globe. It affects men and women and those who do not identify with either gender because it puts parameters and borders on the ways in which we all experience life. Women can… women wouldn’t… men are… men shouldn’t, and worst of all ‘real women/men don’t _____’. Biological determinism states that we are born with innate biological predispositions to act in certain ways but the science used to back up claims such as ‘testosterone causes men to be more aggressive’ is inconclusive and often used in misleading ways. Feminism argues that there is clear evidence that our behaviour and thought is in fact influenced by a plethora of social, cultural and historical factors. Because Feminism sees gender as a product of these factors, it asserts that changing practices will change attitudes and thus it can be seen as a liberating tool for change.

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Feminism cannot compromise on the liberation of women

Arlie Russell Hochschild’s The Second Shift is a seminal text in women’s studies on the gendered differentiations of responsibility for wifework in families where both parents work outside the home. What The Second Shift demonstrates is the damage that compromise does to women’s emotional and physical health because it is always women who are required to ‘compromise’. Women’s work increases whilst men’s does not. Very little has changed in the lives of women since The Second Shift was published in 1989. Women are still responsible for the majority of wifework and childcare to the detriment of our health.

What has changed is the feminist movement. Rather than focusing on women’s liberation from patriarchal structures and male violence, increasingly the feminist movement is being required to put men’s feelings first. We are being asked to compromise on our goals and our beliefs in order to stop making men feel left out. Feminists who use terms like male violence to acknowledge the reality of domestic and sexual abuse are accused of ‘man-hating’. Feminists are consistently told that they should be campaigning about ‘something’ more important – a will-o-wisp term for something which can never be labeled or achieved. It is, simply, a derailing tactic.

Compromise is simply not possible as a feminist policy. Discussion and debate within the feminist movement are necessary but there must be basic tenets which feminism cannot compromise on. After all, compromise did not get rape crisis centres built or the funding for refuges. Compromise did not result in rape in marriage being made illegal. These were hard-fought battles won by second wave feminists who never compromised. Instead, feminists squatted in abandoned buildings to force the government to turn them over to be used for refuges. Feminists campaigned for the vote, for equal pay and for rape to be recognized as a crime against women, not a crime against men’s property, without compromise. Many times they had to be practical, as seen in the history of the suffrage movement, but this did not mean that feminists compromised.

Susan Faludi’s Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women evidenced exactly how the patriarchy responded to feminist activism. We are experiencing a new backlash to feminist activism: one where sexuality is defined as the route to women’s ‘empowerment’ (but not liberation) and where compromise is demanded by men and women. If we don’t compromise and remain sexually available to men we are labeled man-haters. Now feminists believe that we cannot engage in activism for fear of being labeled man-haters. At least, this seems to be the crux of Natasha Devon’s article, demanding feminists compromise: we must compromise our goals and refrain from publicly being angry.

What Devon doesn’t ask is: who are we expected to compromise with – those who profit from the abuse and torture of women’s bodies? Those who profit from women’s unpaid labour in the home and in the infamous “Big Society”? Those whose profits run into the billions selling women products to make them visible (and therefore fuckable)? Because women who do not pass the patriarchal fuckability test aren’t allowed to exist. We cannot compromise with these industries without causing irreparable harm to women and the feminist movement itself.

It is possible for feminists to wear make-up and be entirely critical of what Sandra Lee Bartky labels the fashion-beauty complex. Feminists do understand that women are punished for not “fitting” the prescribed role for women; one only has to look at the abuse directed at Mary Beard to see evidence of this. Or examine Veet’s new campaign, which labels women with body hair ‘men’. The control of the physical acceptability of women’s bodies in the media is part of the patriarchal control of women that allows domestic violence and female genital mutilation to remain. These are not separate issues but rather inter-connected as feminists can, and do, campaign on more than one issue at a time.

Equally, many women feel safer wearing make-up and ‘dressing up’. I know I do, and this is despite knowing what the fashion-beauty complex does to the mental health of women who can afford their products, and the physical consequences to the bodies of women who are forced to produce these products at subsistence wages and in inhumane conditions in factories. This isn’t compromise. It’s a practical response to a culture, which, fundamentally, hates women.

The success of the No More Page 3 campaign is because they have refused to compromise the goals of their campaign. Changing from ending page 3 to encouraging a wider variety of women’s bodies doesn’t engage at all with the issue that NMP3 is fighting: the normalisation of the objectification of women’s bodies in the media. I support the goal of No More Page 3 whilst simultaneously being critical of their stance on pornography. There is more than enough room in feminism for us to discuss our differences on the wider issue of pornography without either of us compromising our feminism.

This is the problem with discussions over feminism as a ‘dirty word’ – it assumes that debate is inherently negative as opposed to a wider process of change. The success of NMP3 has allowed space for more feminist debates on the pornification of society. This is a positive step forward, regardless of whether or not I personally agree with their stance on pornography.

Feminism won’t become a dirty word because feminists won’t compromise. Feminism has always been a dirty word to those who support the capitalist-patriarchy unquestioningly. We don’t need to concern ourselves with those who think feminism is a dirty word. Instead, we need to focus on the feminist movement and the debates within it. Each of us, individually and collectively, has to define the issues that we will not compromise on and understand why others don’t agree with us. We can disagree on some issues, engage in practical steps on others, but feminism as a movement cannot compromise on issues that affect the liberation of women.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Heather Dale: Feminism is…

Heather DaleName: Heather Dale

Location: West Yorkshire

Feminism is many things, but for me it was all about my women’s group, back in the 80s, when we talked about ourselves and our place in the world, and challenged everything, So for me, feminism is life saving life changing, and life enhancing.

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Call yourself an “Intersectional Feminist”?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image: PBS Youtube

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Joan Munro: Feminism is…

Name: Joan Munro

Age: 63

Location: London

Bio: Socialist feminist for forty years

Feminism is being able to be who you want, and do what you want to do, to be regardless of your gender.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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#SexIndustryWeek: Manifesto – Indigenous Women Against the Sex Industry

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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#SexIndustryWeek: Playing The Whore – The Debate

Playing The WhoreEach weekday throughout our #SexIndustryWeek we’ll be exclusively serialising extracts from ‘Playing The Whore’, by journalist and former sex worker Melissa Gira Grant.

To coincide with these extracts, we’re offering Feminist Times readers FIVE chances to win a copy of the book, signed by Melissa.

To enter today’s competition, simply enter your name and email address here. One winner will be selected at random at the end of the day. 

Playing The Whore: The Debate 

We should, in fact, refuse to debate. Sex work itself and, inseparable from it, the lives of sex workers are not up for debate— or they shouldn’t be. I don’t imagine that those in the antiprostitution camp who favor these kinds of debates actually believe that they are weighing the humanity, the value of the people who do sex work. (This assumes, of course, that there is a coherent antiprostitution camp, but for the sake of argument, let’s limit it to the antiprostitution feminists and their allies loosely congregated in the secular left.)

Their production of the debate rests on the assumption that they themselves comprise the group that really cares for prostitutes. They may consider the purpose of the prostitution debate to be the challenging of myths and assumptions, to demonstrate their own expertise, perhaps to “raise awareness.” What constitutes the nature of this awareness, particularly concerning the enduring and ubiquitous nature of prostitution, pornography, and other kinds of commercial sex?

Awareness raisers can still count on a social hunger for lurid and detailed accounts, as well as a social order that restricts sex workers’ own opportunities to speak out about the realities of their lives. These factors in combination promote demand for the debaters’ own productions. To fuel and stoke it, awareness raisers erect billboards on the sides of highways, with black-and-white photos of girls looking fearful and red letters crying not for sale. They hire Hollywood bros like Ashton Kutcher and Sean Penn to make clicky little public service announcements for YouTube in which they tell their fans, “Real men don’t buy girls.” They occupy column inches in the New York Times with those such as Nicholas Kristof, who regales his readers with stories of his heroic missions into brothels and slums in Cambodia and in India “rescuing” sex workers.

The rescue industry, as anthropologist Laura Agustin terms such efforts, derives value from the production of awareness: It gives the producers jobs, the effectiveness of which is measured by a subjective accounting of how much they are being talked about. Raising awareness serves to build value for the raisers, not for those who are the subjects of the awareness.

Awareness raising about prostitution is not a value-neutral activity. Sex workers see a straight line between foundation dollars earmarked for advertisements such as those that appeared on Chicago buses—get rich. work in prostitution. Pimps keep the profits, and prostituted women often pay with their lives.—and the allocation of resources to the Chicago police to arrest pimps in order to save women who they call “prostituted.” Inevitably, all of these women face arrest, no matter what they call them, a demonstration of the harm produced by awareness raising despite any good intentions.

“On paper, sex workers are still not as likely to face felony charges as their patrons,” according to the Chicago Reporter, “who can be charged with a felony on their first offense under the Illinois Safe Children’s Act, which was enacted in 2010.” But when the paper examined felony arrest statistics they found,

[the] data shows that prostitution-related felonies are being levied almost exclusively against sex workers. During the past four years, they made up 97 percent of the 1,266 prostitution-related felony convictions in Cook County. And the number only grew: Felony convictions among sex workers increased by 68 percent between 2008 and 2011.

This was when antiprostitution groups such as the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation became active in the city, demanding johns pay. With awareness raising as a goal, the debate circles back on itself. The problem at hand is not, How do we improve the lives of sex workers?, but, How should we continue to think and talk about the lives of sex workers, to carry on our discourse on prostitution regardless of how little sex workers are involved in it? Perhaps those fixated on debating ought to confine the scope of their solution to how to best bring about debates and leave those involved in the sex trade to themselves.

And on which side of this debate are sex workers presumed to sit? Sex workers should not be expected to defend the existence of sex work in order to have the right to do it free from harm. For many, if not the majority, of people who work for a living, our attitudes toward our work change over the course of our working lives, even over the course of each day on the job.

The experiences of sex workers cannot be captured by corralling them onto either the exploited or the empowered side of the stage. Likewise there must be room for them to identify, publicly and collectively, what they wish to change about how they are treated as workers without being told that the only solution is for them to exit the industry. Their complaints about sex work shouldn’t be construed, as they often are, as evidence of sex workers’ desire to exit sex work.

These complaints are common to all workers and shouldn’t be exceptional when they are made about sex work. As labor journalist Sarah Jaffe said of the struggles at her former job as a waitress, “No one ever wanted to save me from the restaurant industry.”

The contemporary prostitution debate might appear to have moved on from the kinds of concerns moral reformers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries expressed, but it has only slightly restated the question from, What do we do about prostitution? to, What do we do about prostitutes? According to the twenty-first-century heirs to the battle for moral hygiene, this is to be understood as a way of focusing on the prostitute as victim, not criminal. Forgive sex workers if they do not want the attention of those who refuse to listen to them.

Far from concerning the lives of people who do sex work, these debates are an opportunity for prostitution opponents to stake out their own intellectual, political, and moral contributions to “this issue.” When feminist prostitute and COYOTE founder Margo St. James sought to debate antiprostitution activist Kathleen Barry at one of the first world conferences on trafficking in 1983, she was told by Barry that it would be “inappropriate to discuss sexual slavery with prostitute women.”

This continues to this day, with antiprostitution groups alleging that sex workers who want to participate in the same forums they do are “not representative,” are members of a “sex industry lobby,” or are working on behalf of—or are themselves—“pimps and traffickers.” For my reporting on anti–sex work campaigners, I’ve been told I must be getting published only because I’ve been paid off by pimps. (So pimps are stealing wages from sex workers in order to give them to journalists?)

Barry went on to found the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, which introduced the vague of sense ‘‘sexual exploitation’’ into United Nations and United States anti-trafficking policy, used by some to mean all commercial sex, whether or not force, fraud, or coercion are present. Sweden’s famed prostitution law, often described as a feminist victory for criminalizing men who by sex, and which Barry and her anti–sex work allies in Equality Now and the European Women’s Lobby push as model legislation, was undertaken without any meaningful consultation with women who sell sex.

By contrast, New Zealand’s model of decriminalized prostitution was advanced by sex workers, and has since been evaluated with their participation (and largely to their satisfaction). Rather than evolving toward more sex worker involvement in policy, however, the backlash is nearly constant. Canada’s Supreme Court agreed to hear a case that could result in removing laws against prostitution, and now in appeals, the same body declined to hear testimony from advocacy organizations run by sex workers themselves.

We must redraw the lines of the prostitution debate. Either prostitutes are in the debate or they are not. Sex workers are tired of being invited to publicly investigate the politics of their own lives only if they’re also willing to serve as a prop for someone else’s politics. As editor of the influential anthology Whores and Other Feminists Jill Nagle writes, “one could argue that the production of feminist discourse around prostitution by non-prostitutes alienates the laborer herself from the process of her own representation.” Not only are sex workers in the abstract used to aid feminists in “giving voice to the voiceless,” those same feminists then remain free to ignore the content of sex workers’ actual speech.

When sex workers are cast in this role, as mute icon or service instrument, it’s the antiprostitution camp at work, decrying sex workers’ situation yet abandoning them to the fundamentally passive role they insist sex workers occupy in prostitution. The parallel becomes even more damning when sex workers are paid comparatively little for their participation behind the debate podiums.

Melissa Gira Grant is the author of Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work (Verso, 2014)

Melissa will be speaking about her book in London, Brighton, Bristol, Edinburgh and London. Details can be found here:

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Lydia Johnson: Feminism is…

Lydia JohnsonName: Lydia Johnson

Age: 21

Location: Worcester

Bio: Reporter at the Hereford Times, loves the odder things in life

Feminism is simply wanting, as a woman, to be treated equally to men. For women to have the same rights (world-wide) as men, to not be looked down upon for how they express themselves sexually whereas men are applauded, and not to be judged on looks alone. I especially don’t want people calling me up at work and asking to “speak to someone more experienced… like a man” – yes, this really happened.

Feminism needs to also be about educating people – educating the men who think it’s okay to cat-call and follow a woman down the street ‘complimenting’ her on her nice figure and hounding her until she gives him her number, and the people who think a woman is only feminine with long hair and make up, and should stay home and look after the kids. And educating the women who say “we don’t need feminism, look how good we’ve got it!”

It’s about making it clear to people that feminism isn’t about man-hating. FEMINISM IS AWESOME!

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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

Dear Feminist Times readers,

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


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

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

by Charlotte Raven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow the debate on Twitter at #SexIndustryWeek



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Janet Veitch: Feminism is…

Name: Janet Veitch

Age: 58

Location: London

Bio: Women’s rights campaigner and former civil servant, now on Board of End Violence against Women Coalition

Feminism is securing gender equality. The UN says women’s rights are human rights. Until girls grow  up in a world where they can truly claim equal rights, we’ll continue to see women excluded from decision making, more impoverished, exploited. Somebody once said if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. Throughout history,women have been ‘done to’ – with violence against women being the most extreme, but everyday, manifestation of women’s inequality. Feminism is about women taking their place, their voice, and their rights as equal members of the human race.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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NHA Party: “Your NHS is being destroyed and you don’t even know it”

There is a genuine urgency in the way Dr Louise Irvine talks about her political mission: “Our NHS is being privatised, and people don’t know what’s happening!

“If they did know, they would be completely up in arms about it,” she believes. “And that’s our job. We need a movement to defend the NHS – most people still don’t know that it’s under threat.”

Louise has been a community GP in Lewisham for more than 20 years, and is one of the candidates standing for the National Health Action (NHA) Party’s European election bid this May.

The NHA Party was formed in response to, and with the founding goal of reversing, the coalition government’s Health and Social Care Bill to privatise the NHS. You might not have heard about them yet, but they’re determined to make waves between now and the 2015 general election, and have already gained support from high profile figures including comedian Rufus Hound and author Mark Haddon.

Rufus-150x150Rufus Hound, who will also run as an NHA candidate in the European election, told Feminist Times: “I cannot perceive of what human beings are built for if it isn’t working together. As such, the idea of banding together and creating a system where we look after each other when we get sick seems like one of civilisation’s crowning achievements.

“The fact that it’s currently being divvied up and sold off in the hope that no-one will notice sickens me to the pit of my stomach.

“I looked around for who was trying to draw attention to that fact (and it is a fact), and only one group of people seemed to be doing it. A group of health care professionals who didn’t want to be politicians, but realised that unless they became political, the NHS would die.

“Those folks were the National Health Action Party. Joining them wasn’t a choice – once I’d researched what’s being done to our free-at-the-point-of-delivery health service, it felt more like an obligation.

“Ultimately, I’m just some (very) minor celebrity, but because of the age in which I am a bit famous, I have a big reach – thanks to social media (well, just Twitter, to be honest).

“Knowing I have an opportunity to wake people up to the fact that the NHS is being stolen from us – and knowing that Big Media studiously ignores/obscures that truth – my wife and I decided we had a moral responsibility to do everything in our power to help. So I got involved.”

Meanwhile, in the living room of her southeast London home, Louise is holding fort about the destruction of her beloved National Health Service.

“When the [Health and Social Care] bill went through Parliament, Clive Peedell [Co-leader of the NHA and a consultant clinical oncologist], was so disgusted that he announced we were going to set up a party and stand against them – to fight the Coalition in the ballot box,” Louise explains.

“We’ve fought them every other way – we’ve fought through marches and demonstrations, leafleting and public meetings, and that wasn’t enough.”

As a political party fielding candidates, therefore, the party aims to broaden its reach and, as Louise adds: “if we get anybody elected that’s going to scare the bejesus out of them all.”

Currently, she believes the Coalition “think that the NHS is either not an election issue or that they’ll be able to twist it to suit their own agenda.”

But the opposition isn’t faring much better in her eyes either: “Labour’s been very equivocal about what they’re going to do. Andy Burnham is saying good things, but Ed Miliband is very weak on the NHS – weak on a lot of things.

“Whereas Labour is weak and equivocal and vacillating, I think the Tories are clear,” she says. “They’ve already said there won’t be an NHS after five years of a Tory government.”

This gets to the crux of Louise’s urgency about the situation. In her early teens, Louise was attracted to medicine by the idea of “helping people, putting myself to some kind of service and making the world a better place,” and a youthful idealism borne out of the injustices she was increasingly becoming aware of.

Growing up in Scotland, reading Germaine Greer, Simone de Beauvoir and Spare Rib magazine as a teenager, Louise has always been political, describing herself as “a feminist and a socialist,” with an early interest in left politics and debating women’s issues.

As a medical student at Aberdeen University she got involved in the women’s action group, taking part in Reclaim The Night marches and attending many of the 1970s women’s movement conferences.

After graduating, Louise says: “I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, and I was quite politically active.” As a result, her first graduate job was helping to set up the charity Scottish Medical Aid for Nicaragua – an organisation that raised money to send doctors and nurses to the Central American nation whose own National Health Service was, at the time, in its infancy.

Although work and family life later took priority over political activism, Louise remains firmly wedded to the belief that “we as a society [should] care for everybody who becomes sick, regardless of ability to pay, and that there should never, ever be any fear of illness from the point of view of ‘can I afford this?’”

For her, the NHS is a “great example of social solidarity, that as a society we stand together and help the weakest and most vulnerable, which should be preserved – not just because it sounds like a nice thought, but also because it actually works.”

Louise already has impressive form where public health campaigning is concerned, having founded and led the successful Save Lewisham Hospital campaign.

From an initial meeting of just 12 people in October 2012, the campaign gathered pace rapidly, with 700 people at the first public meeting, and a staggering turnout of 10,000 protestors for the first demonstration on a miserable day in November 2012.

“We told the police we thought there’d be 2,000 on the day, and that was being really ambitious,” Louise recalls. “Later on we began to get the feeling from doing a lot of street work, going out leafleting and petitioning, that lots of people were planning to come to the demo, so we then said to the police it might be more like 4,000 and the police went ‘nahhh’.”

She laughs: “So yeah, we had 10,000 people. It went with no problems though – the police didn’t need to worry about it.”

Louise’s relationship with the local community has clearly been a big part of her success so far. After her return from Nicaragua, Louise opted to enter general practice because it involved “a whole load of different conditions and problems, and also you were in it for the long haul with people; you become part of a community and get to know people.”

She describes her role as a “therapeutic relationship” between patients and a doctor they know and trust and, sitting with her, it’s not hard to imagine.

Louise’s rallying calls to action make her a powerful and inspiring speaker so, on the one hand, I can fully imagine her manning the barricades in the NHA Revolution; and yet, on the other hand, I can just as easily imagine feeling totally at ease with her doing a smear test or offering advice to an anxious new mum.

“There are a lot of positives about this sort of continuity of care, having a doctor that’s part of the community,” she says. Having been in the same practice for over 20 years, she adds: “I’ve known a lot of patients for many years; I’ve known generations.”

Louise believes that being able to rally the whole community in Lewisham was undoubtedly the key to their success in saving the hospital. “People will fight to defend tangible things that they risk losing,” she says, but is keen to stress the importance of outreach.

“We broke with the main left tradition which is about just talking to people who already agree with you and being snooty about people who happen to be in a faith group or small businesses,” she says.

“We’re not talking about right/left wing here – you’ve got to get out and reach out to people. I think if something matters, like the NHS, it matters to the vast majority of people, whatever their politics are. We kept it as broad as possible and I think that’s why we were successful.”

That same anti-sectarian attitude is carried over into NHA’s election campaign, which Louise says aims to target voters across the board. “People vote Tory or Labour or Lib Dem for all kinds of reasons. There are quite a lot of Conservative voters amongst the elderly, but they are the ones who are actually going to be affected most by the changes to the NHS,” she points out.

“We could definitely appeal to some Lib Dems because they let us down by supporting the Tories bringing in the Health and Social Care Act, and we could appeal to some Labour voters simply because Labour has had a bad track record on the NHS and privatisation, and it’s not speaking out strongly enough about it now.”

As a single-issue campaign with a relatively short-term ambition, the NHA’s biggest battle is convincing the voting public of the tangibility of their cause. “You’re going to lose your local hospital is something very real; what’s going to be happening to the NHS is not yet tangible – it’s still abstract in a way,” Louise says.

It’s particularly difficult to imagine how an MEP candidate standing on a solely NHS focused platform might be relevant on the European political stage, but Louise is, of course, one step ahead of sceptical voters.

“The reason Europe’s important is to do with the issue of the EU/US trade agreement. Most people fall asleep when you talk about this, but it’s not really about trade across borders – this is actually about companies being able to sue the government for any change in law which they think could harm their profits.”

Unless the NHS is exempt from that trade agreement, she explains, “It would make any privatisation of the NHS – which is happening now – irreversible.”

Louise is also keen to stress that the NHA would have plenty to offer the European Parliament on the broader issue of public health: “Europe has a huge amount of jurisdiction on things that relate to health – not just competition law and the possibility of this EU/US trade agreement.

“Europe also legislates around things like the environment, pollution, it regulates medicines and doctors, it regulates doctors’ working hours, it regulates around food labelling and food safety, which is hugely important.”

Beyond the European election in May, she’s equally confident that the NHA can put the privatisation of our health service on the UK’s political agenda ahead of 2015, pointing out that none of the major political parties had environmental policies on their agenda until the Greens appeared.

“One MP is enough to give you a credibility and a voice,” she says, “and someone like Caroline Lucas is very strong and gets that message over amazingly powerfully.

“We need a hundred of Caroline Lucas, but even one can do a lot. If we had one MP or one MEP who’s there on the issue of the NHS, we would be being invited onto Newsnight and being taken seriously – this is the biggest piece of legislation that’s transforming the NHS and the media is hardly covering it.”

Given control of a newspaper publishing empire for the day, Louise’s front-page headline would be simple: “Your NHS is being privatised”, followed by four bullet points laying out why people should care:

“1. It costs so much more to run a marketised system so that money is taken away from frontline care.

“2. It reduces quality because private companies are looking to make money. When 60% of healthcare is staff, the only way to make money is to cut staff, and then the quality goes down.

“3. It leads to fragmentation – most of the gains in cancer, stroke and heart attack care in this country in the last decade or two have come from collaborative work; you can’t have collaboration if you’re all supposed to be competing with each other.

“4. Private companies cherry pick the profitable areas so it undermines and undercuts the NHS, so it actually starts to lead to a breakdown of NHS services, you end up with hospitals in deficit and people want to close them.

“We’re already one of the best healthcare systems in the world – the most cost effective – so it should be improved,” she adds. “It’s not perfect, there are things we could improve, but you don’t improve something by destroying it and then completely rebuilding it from the bottom up with a completely different, untested system.”

Louise’s worst-case scenario is that the UK will end up with “a very divergent two tier system, like they do in America, where you’ve got a basic safety net system, which is not very good, for the very poor and a private healthcare system for the people who are better off.”

This same scenario is part of what drives Rufus Hound’s passion for the NHA: “Healthcare doesn’t work if it’s a market,” he says.

“We live in an age where the political panacea is privatisation. Markets are good at governing all sorts of things – but medicine isn’t one of them. You don’t choose to have chemotherapy if you have cancer. You choose to die or fight. Literally a life or death decision. That’s why marketised medicine is so intrinsically unfair – the desperation that fuels the demand means that the suppliers can charge whatever the hell they like.

“In America – the reigning champion of perverted private medicine – the leading cause of bankruptcy is illness. Even people with health insurance end up broken by medical bills, often due to their “excess” payment.

“The NHS isn’t perfect,” he adds, “but it’s a damn site more efficient and better for us than the alternatives – or at least it would be if it weren’t being vilified by the economic vampires hoping to sell it off to their millionaire mates.”

So what alternative would we see in a world where Dr Louise Irvine was Secretary of State for Health? A return to a healthcare system more like the model they have in Scotland, for a start, she says, where “health boards work out what the [community’s] health needs are and they fund the providers to provide it – which is the model we used to have before Thatcher started bringing in the purchaser/provider split.

“In the bigger picture, I think austerity has been terrible for the poor and that has mental and physical health implications,” she adds.

“I would do something about staff pay and improving staff morale, and we would look at the wider social determinants of health – things like food labelling, housing, some of the social issues like benefits.

“We’d certainly reverse this whole awful Atos work capacity assessment, which is just so oppressive to people with long term conditions and disabilities – that would have to go,” she adds.

Realistically, she acknowledges, we’re not going to see an NHA Government taking power in 2015; instead, the party’s ambition is to “have a huge influence and make this an election issue.

“And, if we get anybody elected, to put the fear of whatever into these politicians – they cannot continue to destroy our NHS and get away with it.”

Find out more about the NHA Party here or follow them on Twitter @NHAparty. You can also follow Dr Louise Irvine @drmarielouise and Rufus Hound @rufushound.

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Wowzers: “Controversial themes are overlooked in bigger events”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What is Feminism? banner

Natalie Bennett: Feminism is…

Natalie BennettName: Natalie Bennett

Location: London

Bio: Leader of the Green Party

Well I’ve known, at a gut level, what feminism was since age five, although it would be at least a decade before I knew the word. It was my reaction to being told that I couldn’t have a bicycle because I was a girl, because riding one wasn’t “ladylike”, although if I’d have had a brother he could have had one. It was the feeling of growing up in a world where the only heroes were rugby league players – and they were of course all male, not like me.

My young “feminism” demanded that I should be allowed to be on that rugby field, riding that bicycle, and I spent quite a bit of my youth acting out that feminism – winning a place on my university faculty’s football team by the simple expedient of standing on the field and refusing to move off (since there wasn’t a women’s competition.)

But in time my feminism developed, to recognise, as Germaine Greer said, that aiming for equality with men was aiming way too low. I came to recognise that we need to fundamentally change the culture, the economy, the society, so that women’s typically different experiences, contributions, skills, would be equally valued as those typical of men.

And that it was time to end millennia of male domination, to the benefit of both sexes.

That’s why I’m a feminist, why I’m a trustee of the Fawcett Society, and proud to say that feminism was my first politics.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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RadFem UK launches

A new grassroots organisation, RadFem UK, launches this evening with an event in London, where feminist and journalist Julie Bindel will speak on the importance of radical feminism.

RadFem UK describe themselves as: “a group of committed, grassroots radical feminists who want to work towards building the Women’s Liberation Movement in the UK and developing relationships with other radical feminists throughout the world.”

Beth Aze from RadFem UK said: “It’s an exciting time for feminism in the UK, with more and more women identifying as feminists. RadFem UK stands for directing our energy where it needs to be in the quest for women’s liberation, against male violence in all its forms, including prostitution and pornography. Radical Feminists were a vital part of the earlier women’s liberation movements, and that is absolutely the case today.”

Speaking on behalf of RadFem UK, Ruth Greenberg told Feminist Times: “There is currently no one national organisation in the UK promoting radical feminism and its ideas. RadFem UK can begin to fill this gap, although we would welcome more radical feminist organisations.

“The women involved in RadFem UK are a small but varied group. We are all newer to radical feminism, having been radical feminists from one to ten years.”

Ms Greenberg added: “A lot of people think women won all their rights back in the 80s, but actually in many ways things continue to get worse for women. There has been a rise in pornography, trafficking and prostitution and domestic violence. We have a new wave of feminism building who are re-engaging with, and fighting back on these issues.”

The organisation is founded with seven key aims:

1) To get radical feminist ideas into the mainstream via media, community education, blogs, etc

2) To influence other activist groups toward radical feminist analysis (left groups, social justice, feminist networks etc)

3) To partner with or support other feminist/radfem groups to run successful grassroots campaigns and actions on issues e.g. against the abuse of women through prostitution, pornography, domestic violence and rape, and for women-only spaces, including support services and the right to self organise

4) To lobby governments around the world around issues that impact on women, e.g. for the Nordic model of prostitution and protections for the rights of females

5) To organise events around the country for radical feminists and potential radical feminists/allies

6) To recruit more women into the women’s liberation movement and to provide support, guidance and mentoring to new activists

7) To provide a platform for key radical feminist speakers who rarely have a voice

Although not yet officially launched, RadFem UK have already caused a stir. Ms Greenberg said: “we are aware of some opposition from a small group of radical feminists. Part of this is due to personal differences between individuals based on past personal relationships, but there are political differences too.

“RadFem UK is about openly organising as radical feminists. This includes organising radical feminist events and conferences that are open to any woman who is genuinely interested in radical feminism. We have no interest in policing who is a radical feminist and thus eligible to attend an event.”

The RadFem UK launch event takes place tonight at Housman’s Bookshop, from 7-8.30pm. This will be followed, on Saturday 8 March at 6pm, by a protest on prostitution policy at the Amnesty International UK Head Office, hosted by Abolish Prostitution Now and RadFem UK.

RadFem UK are also planning a two-day feminist festival, Femi Fest, in August.

Find out more at or follow @RadFemUK 

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Women Against Pit Closures: memories from the miners’ strike, 30 years on

On this day, 5 March, in 1984 the first of the year-long miners’ strikes began, followed on 12 March by National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) president Arthur Scargill calling for a national strike. Thirty years on, as part of our celebration of Women’s History Month, we celebrate the women who have been credited as the backbone of the miners’ strikes and bringing feminist values to the industrial dispute.

We contacted our members to ask for their memories of the strike and interviewed Anne Scargill, one of the women at the forefront of the women’s movement against pit closures.

Anne Scargill, co-founder of Women Against Pit Closures and ex-wife of Arthur Scargill:

barnsley-women-against-pit-closuresWomen Against Pit Closures had about three or four rallies in London. We went to see Michael Heseltine at the DTI (Department of Trade and Industry) and he wouldn’t see us, so we made a pit camp outside his office – this was Friday and on the Saturday we were having a big rally in London.

There were thousands of people at that rally, thousands, and all of them supporting the miners. It’s a shame that the trade union leaders didn’t come out and support us like the rank and file were doing – if they had done, we’d have been in a different society today. I don’t know why they didn’t come – because they were after lordships and money and that, that’s my opinion. The rank and file from the fire brigade’s union, all the unions, all really, really helped us.

wapc_logo_body_203x203Very rarely did we get anything like “get back to work” or owt when we were collecting in York and places like that, or London, we didn’t get a lot of hostility – you might have got somebody shouting “get back to work”, but they weren’t many. There was a hell of a lot of support, we couldn’t have managed without em.

The atmosphere was brilliant, it lifted you. There was a lot of solidarity. When we started our soup kitchens we got people coming from all over, bringing us food and coming to see us. We had a lot of crying, but we had a lot of laughing as well.

Read Sarah Graham’s full interview with Anne Scargill here.

Peggy Seeger, folk singer and Feminist Times founder member:

photo_womens_supportgroupsMy story is our story: Ewan MacColl and I were a duo, activist singers and songwriters. Together with our son Calum, then 21 years old, we gave concerts for the miners here and in Europe. We three issued a cassette of five new songs entitled Daddy What Did You Do in the Strike? which raised considerable funds for the striking families.

An unique feature of this project was the interspersed spoken testimonials of the miners and their families, who welcomed us into their homes and their lives, telling it like it was. The title song, Daddy, What Did You Do in the Strike, was subsequently adapted for other strikes worldwide.

Ewan’s 70th birthday concert was held on January 25 1985 at the Royal Festival Hall. The highlight for me was the presence of a huge contingent of miners’ families who sat in the balcony cheering and singing the words of Daddy, What Did You Do in the Strike?

Women played a huge part in this strike, not only women from the mining community but women  all over the country, who collected funds, clothing and food. We lost the strike – but new issues and new methods of resistance came to the fore.

Susan Hemmings – former member of the Spare Rib collective and Feminist Times member:

ms6_zoomMartin Hoyles and I produced a small book 64 pages of writing by Striking Miners’ Children in 1984. It’s called More Valuable Than Gold (after one of the pieces, referring to both love and coal). Many written by girls, many drawings, some about their mothers and also obviously some about their father. They are all about politicisation through struggle and all proceeds went to Women Against Pit Closures and it sold thousands.

At that time I had cancer and was in hospital a lot, and I was also working on A Wealth of Experience actually from my bed there, as well as the miners’ children’s book. I was  just recovering from major surgery when the Tories got blown up in the Brighton hotel and I had to beg to be taken, full of tubes, to see the news on TV – in those days there was just the one in the ward – to watch Norman Tebbitt being brought out in his pjs. What a year.

Susan kindly lent us her copy of ‘More Valuable Than Gold’ for inclusion in this article:

More valuable than gold

Waste a child’s future – Ellie Bence, Kent:
Waste a child’s future
Destroy a grown man’s life
Don’t let him feed his children
Don’t let him love his wife
A world we don’t belong to
A world so cold and dark
It’s a terrible, terrible place
Where the Tories have left their mark
So let’s start it all from scratch
Try and live again
Forget about the Bombs
And ignore the Acid Rain
Let us go on living
Forget about the night
We’ll never be defeated
The workers will unite

The letter – Kerry Adele Evans, 12, Wales:
I’ve written a letter to Maggie
Her address is 10 Downing Street
I’ve written a letter to tell her
That the miners will never be beat.

So get off your backside dear Maggie
Can’t you see we’re winning the FIGHT
Because all the unions are with us
To stand for the just and the right.

You’ve tried to starve us dear Maggie
How cruel can anyone be
But you’ll never succeed dear Maggie
For united we have the key.

To stand and confront you dear Maggie
As we know when this day is through
We’ll win the right to work
And that will be goodbye to you!

More valuable than gold 1

The strike – Nicola Cowan, 8, Northumberland:

While my dad picketed to stop them closing the pits, I helped my mam at our jumble sales to raise money. We had nice times on our trips with the union to the beach and parks, and we made lots of new friends. Uncle Derek used to make us laugh and sing songs. I missed our colour television. We had to watch a black and white set. At Christmas we had a smashing party and we got lovely toys sent from France. I wrote a letter thanking the people who sent us the presents. I am pleased my dad is now back at work after twelve months on strike.

Lynda Walker – Feminist Times supporter:

WAPCBadgeI was not involved in Women Against Pit Closures but as a member of the Belfast Trades Council I did take part in collection, meetings and general support for the miners. We produced leaflets and met delegations, and some of my comrades even smuggled money to the banks in the Republic. 1984/1985 was just one of the “troubled years” here but it did not prevent solidarity actions with the miners.

In 1993, when mine closures began, Anne Scargill and three other women spent five days down a mine pit. Actress Maxine Peake dramatised their story in a play for Radio 4, Queens of the Coal Age.

Event: Saturday 21st June, 12 to 9pm, Women of the 1984 Miners’ Strike, Feminist Library, 5 Westminster Bridge Road, London SE1 7XW

Thirty years on, the Feminist Library will be celebrating the stories of some of the women who played a crucial role in the strike, and the transformative effect it had on their lives. Laura Wilkinson will be reading from her new novel, Public Battles, Private Wars – a story of friendship, rivalry and cakes, which follows one woman’s journey and a community on the cusp of a seismic shift. There will be a screening the short film Not Just Tea and Sandwiches from The Miners Strike Campaign Tapes – an evocative and moving documentary showing the organising and activism of the women in mining communities. The Feminist Library have invited others involved in exhibition and film projects focusing on women’s involvement in the strike to take part in discussions, and they are still open to more participants – if you have relevant involvement or work on the subject please get in touch at

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Review: Nineties Woman – Rosie Wilby

Rosie Wilby’s award-winning show Nineties Woman combines documentary, comedy, live storytelling, video interviews and archive photographs in a journey through her days as an awkward engineering student and lesbian feminist during the 1990s.

Inspired by her rediscovery of old copies of the York University feminist newspaper Matrix (Greek for ‘womb’), Rosie embarks on a multimedia quest to rediscover her Matrix sisters and reflects on the DIY, sometimes haphazard, nature of their 90s feminist activism.

Rosie fuses serious observations about how little the problems facing feminists have changed since her Matrix days, with comic anecdotes of unrequited crushes, and self-deprecating humour about her regrettable 90s hairstyle and inability to make friends.

Through video interviews with fellow members of the Matrix collective, Rosie reflects on the earnestness of the newspaper’s message – body image, sexual violence – and asks why the university’s 2006 revival, Matrix Reloaded was still tackling those same issues.

It’s not all serious though – there’s the time Rosie first got involved in student feminism because she’d fallen in love with the Women’s Officer; the hierarchy of cat ownership within the lesbian feminist community; the women-only bop where lesbians in Doc Martins had to dance gracefully to Nirvana for fear of making the record player skip; and the time she swam across the university boating lake to gatecrash the prestigious summer barbeque of Matrix’s sworn enemies.

Along with fellow comic Zoe Lyons, she recalls the late-night guerrilla mission to graffiti a wall with the words: “Sisterhood is Powerful” for the Matrix cover photo, only for the photo to end up reading “Sisterhood is…” Zoe was the lookout on her bike but, in keeping with the unfortunate photograph, admits she wouldn’t have stuck around had the sisterhood been caught.

The faded copies of Matrix have a beautifully DIY, zine-like aesthetic, cut and pasted during Matrix weekends spent listening to Everything But The Girl and, although there’s something faintly self-indulgent about Rosie’s nostalgic trip down memory lane, it’s a delight to share in – particularly for anyone who’s ever been involved in student feminism themselves. Having been a student feminist almost two decades later, much of Rosie’s tales chimed with my own memories and experiences.

The evening ended with a post-show discussion featuring Rosie, Diva editor Jane Czyzselska, musician and trans activist CN Lester, writer Kaite Welsh and actor and writer Naomi Paxton, looking at their own experiences of feminism and what the movement still  needs to work on – particularly in terms of the LGBT community which, in Rosie’s day, formed such a fundamental part of the student feminist movement.

For me, the panel made for an engaging warm-up ahead of our #LGBTMarryMe panel the following evening. Rosie’s and her panellists debated the idea that “media-friendly feminism has actually become less inclusive of the LGBT community”, with Kaite Welsh saying that, since feminism has gone mainstream, it’s been “girlified” and “the space for being butch and queer is being edged out.”

Combining so many different elements of feminism past and present – through Rosie’s blend of discussion, humour and recollection – Nineties Woman made for a thoroughly feminist night out that was as thought-provoking as it was entertaining.

Rosie Wilby is one of the smartest, funniest comedians on the scene at the moment and, while her solo shows like Nineties Woman are a more serious departure from her stand-up, her wit, charm and intelligent commentary are unwavering.

Catch Rosie Wilby’s Nineties Woman show on March 21 at Oxford Burton Taylor Studio, on March 29 at Courtyard Hereford and May 30 at Cambridge Junction.

Photo: Wendy Baverstock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: SecretLondon123

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Profile: Maanda Ngoitiko

This is a guest post by African Initiatives.

Born to a traditional Maasai pastoralist family, Maanda Ngoitiko grew up moving around with the community cattle in the remote Ngorongoro region of northern Tanzania. Today she heads up the country’s pioneering 6,000-strong, all-female Pastoral Women’s Council, which she founded and which is transforming lives in Africa.

This remarkable mother of 15, who travels the world campaigning for the rights of Maasai women will be one of the influential people on the podium at the International Women’s Rights Conference which is taking place in Bristol on 1st March.

Maanda will tell the amazing story of how the mobilisation of women in male-dominated Maasai society helped to bring about an extraordinary land rights victory for 20,000 Maasai threatened with eviction from their ancestral lands in Loliondo, just east of the Serengeti national park – lands the Tanzanian government had wanted to grab to turn into an exclusive wildlife reserve.

“Women helped lead the way. Maasai society is known for being a male-dominated society, but women are beginning to assert their rights and assume a greater social leadership role,” says Maanda. “On land issues, Maasai women in Loliondo have been at the forefront of generating community-level mobilisation and solidarity, many walking dozens of miles across the bush to assemble the community for demonstrations and meetings.”

It was Maanda and the Pastoral Women’s Council who challenged these women to mobilise. The Pastoral Women’s Council is focussed on helping women to become self-reliant, whether via the distribution of micro-grants or the transfer of land titles for widows. Education is at the heart because, as the Swahili proverb says: “When you educate a woman, you educate a whole community.”

The Pastoral Women’s Council invests heavily in girls’ education. They sponsor their schooling and they build hostels so the girls avoid the dangers of a 15-mile walk back home in the dark. Their most difficult task is in changing perceptions about the importance of educating Maasai women.

For Maanda personally, getting an education meant escaping her family.

“I was lucky because my family let me go to primary school for years – traditionally the Maasai don’t believe in educating girls ­– but then when I was 12 years old they decided it was time for me to leave school and get married,” she says.

“I was only a young innocent girl of 12 but something inside me wanted more. Without an education I would have been married off in exchange for cattle. I would have spent my days rising early to milk the cows and walking miles to find water and firewood to carry back home. I would have had no choices…so I ran away to secondary school!”

Helped by a pastoralist organisation, Maanda completed her secondary education and further studies. “I then won an educational sponsorship from the Irish Embassy and went to Ireland to study for a diploma in Development Studies,” she says. “Ireland was very different from Tanzania!”

Following her time in Ireland, Maanda returned to northern Tanzania to work for a Maasai community organisation. “Although I enjoyed the work and loved being back in my homeland, I realised that there was an urgent need for an organisation led and managed by Maasai women, dedicated to addressing their human rights and practical needs,” she says.

“Getting an education gave me the tools to question male domination within Maasai culture and to fight for justice for Maasai women. I wanted to help girls who’d been in the same situation as I’d once been, desperate for an education but unable to access one.”

In 1997, at a meeting with nine other women, she founded the Pastoral Women’s Council, which she is still Director of.

The Pastoral Women’s Council addresses the needs of pastoralist women who are financially dependent on men because of their lack of education, lack of property rights and lack of access to income- generating opportunities. These women are deprived of the right to access basic needs such as healthcare, a balanced diet for themselves and their family, school for their children and respect from the local community.

“Because Maasai women have very little decision-making power, community agendas are determined by men,” says Maanda. “Issues of concern for women, such as domestic violence and forced marriage are not a priority.

“Maasai women have it very tough. Not only are they citizens of a country that undermines or disregards pastoralist values, but they are also members of a patriarchal culture that effectively denies them the ability to make decisions about their own lives.”

Maanda challenges Maasai women to take charge. At election time she tells them: “If you care about your children and their future you have no option but to mobilise”.

With Maanda’s rallying call, Maasai women are standing up and demanding their human rights.

If you would like to help fund Maanda and the pioneering work of the Pastoral Women’s Council, you can do so via Bristol-based NGO African Initiatives. Call African Initiatives on 0117 915 0001 or visit

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Tatchell: “Macho athletes are timid & silent in their collusion against human rights”

Feminist Times contributor Bernadette Hyland interviews Peter Tatchell, as part of our series throughout LGBT History Month – including Dr Finn Mackay’s brief herstory of lesbian feminism, Obama sends lesbians to Sochi, ‘Girls’: Lesbians in Russia, and Many Russias: Sochi’s Absurdist Olympics.

Peter Tatchell is best known as a campaigner for LGBT rights but has also worked on a wide range of national and international issues over the past four decades. He sees himself very much as a human rights campaigner: “For me LGBT rights are just one part of a broad spectrum of human rights.”

Born in Australia, Tatchell’s political awakening came at an early age. “I was 11 years old in 1963 and heard the news about the racist bombing of a black church in Alabama, where four girls about my age were killed,” he says. “I remember being horrified that anyone could do such a thing and it prompted my interest and support of the black civil rights movement.” More than

50 years later, Tatchell believes that the Left in Britain can learn from the successes made by groups such as the Peter Tatchell Foundation, Outrage and Stonewall. “The struggle for LGBT equality is one of the most successful law reform campaigns in British history,” he says.

“It has been achieved by a combination of parliamentary and extra-parliamentary activity. Suffragette style protest by groups such as Outrage have been instrumental in putting LGBT rights on the political agenda, which has allowed more suffragist style groups like Stonewall to get a hearing within government and promote legislative reform.”

Most recently, this month’s Winter Olympic Games in Russia have seen Tatchell and the LGBT community take on one of the world’s most formidable leaders in Vladimir Putin. “The hosting of the Winter Olympics has been an own goal for Putin and Medvedev,” he believes, and has likened the position of gay people in Russia to the anti-semitism stirred up by the Nazis in the early 1930s.

He feels, however, that their campaign has forced Putin onto the defensive: “He has repeatedly been forced to respond to defend his government. We have focussed international attention on issues that are kept hidden, including corruption, anti-gay laws and the suppression of free speech.”

Tatchell has challenged well-known public figures in the LGBT community about their stance on human rights, most noticeably Clare Balding, who is commentating on the Sochi Olympics for the BBC. “I am not surprised by Stephen Fry and Paul O’Grady speaking out, but she has been muted in her comments and lots more personalities could have spoken out,” he says.

What has particularly shocked him has been the lack of response from British athletes at Sochi: “Not one single Olympian has made the slightest gesture towards the support of gay Russians – there have been no rainbow flags. These macho, go-getting athletes are timid and silent in their collusion against human rights.”

For Tatchell, human rights are much wider than any one particular issue. As a campaigner for the rights of LGBT people, he can only see this happening within a context of all people living in a happier, more liberated society.

Ultimately, he believes that liberation will only come if society itself is transformed. He is disillusioned with the mainstream parties, who “accept the neo-liberal consensus of society”, and he sees little hope in the Left and trade union movement.

“Much of the Left is in retreat. They are very defensive with little proactive campaigning. All their campaigns are defensive – against the Bedroom Tax and against the closure of A&E departments.” He feels that they have little to offer in terms of any vision of a different and better society.

Defining himself as a green socialist, Tatchell supports the Green New Deal and feels there is a need for a campaign calling for economic democracy, which he says is as important as political democracy. He believes his “vision for a new and different society” would be best enacted by a coalition between the greens and the Left, which would offer people a future that would transform society.

“The red and green traditions embody essential values and ideas for liberation and the survival of humanity,” he says. Bemoaning the lack of imagination within the Left’s campaigning, Tatchell believes they are too bogged down in organising marches, rather than offering solutions such as a wealth tax to challenge the austerity agenda.

The need to totally transform society is echoed in his views on same-sex marriage, which he will discuss at the Feminist Times February members’ event: Is same sex marriage just a distraction? “I have always seen marriage in terms of the feminist critique of sexism and patriarchy,” he says. “I am not a fan of marriage but the ban on same sex marriage is homophobic discrimination and it is important to fight it.”

He has his own ideas about how society could be organised in a form of marriage-lite, proposing an alternative to both marriage and civil partnerships called a civil community pact, allowing people to nominate any “significant other” as next of kin or beneficiary in death. “It would allow all people to pick and mix from a menu of rights and responsibilities to create a partnership agreement,” he adds.

If you want to continue the debate with Peter Tatchell, come along to our next members’ event on Wednesday 26 February: Is same sex marriage just a distraction? as part of LGBT History Month. Peter Tatchell will be joined be fellow panellists: Roz Kaveney – trans woman, novellist, poet, critic and activist; Gemma Rolls-Bentley & Danielle Wilde – currently blogging their wedding plans for Stylist magazineZoe Stavri – feminist blogger; chaired by broadcaster Ruth Barnes (BBC, Amazing Radio)

We’ll be asking: Why would same sex couples want to get married anyway? Is same sex marriage just about making LGBT couples more heteronormative? What should the priorities be for the LGBT community and LGBT feminism? If you want to be part of the discussion, please join us. Click here for details. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Profile: West London Fawcett

Following a turbulent summer of life-changing illness, a brand new perspective and, ironically, a new lease of life after suffering a stroke at just 27 years old, I set out to enrich my life and concentrate the energy I had been left with on things that I really believe in.

Since last August I have joined a befriending programme for Age UK, got a place on the board of trustees for WAND UK (Women’s Association for African Networking and Development) and, finally, helped to set up the West London branch of The Fawcett Society – the women’s rights organisation founded by Millicent Fawcett in 1866.

Equality has always been something I have strived for but only really at a personal level; the West London Fawcett Society has provided a platform to take my feminism to the next level. After one summer of spreading the word, one autumn of auditing interest and commitment to a winter of women, work and research, we are hoping that spring will see some real change and engagement blossom within the West London political community.

Just a few meetings in and we’ve already set up a colourful committee and drafted our first report, ‘Vote4Women’, to examine the economic impact of political decision-making on women. The report is not only a respectful nod to the suffragettes and their infamous slogan; it also neatly paves the way for the 4 pillars of the campaign.

In their entirety, the report and campaign aim to highlight and, more importantly, end the disproportionate impact of budget cuts, spending and other political decisions on women… but how? The main ways we aim to achieve this are to lobby across all West London boroughs to:

1. Increase the number of female representatives in politics and local councils to achieve a 50 per cent gender split

2. Influence a change in working practices to be more inclusive to women councillors

3. Drive policies that address economic inequality – e.g. housing, sport, sure start, equal pay

4. Drive policies that impact women’s safety – e.g. refuges, rape conviction rates, domestic violence

It is our belief that without equality at Government and local council level, we will struggle to ever see equality throughout society or women’s needs placed on a level playing field.

The report is still a work in progress but from humble settings (a freezing cold, empty room on the top floor of a Hammersmith pub), and thanks to the hard work of several brilliant minds, big ideas are brewing!

Individual research on all West London boroughs is now complete, the first discovery being an average of 33% female council members across a seven-borough region. Admittedly, this is a step up from the dismal figures of private sector boards and organisations as a whole – women account for just 13.2% of FTSE 250 board directors – but there is still a lot of work to be done!

If you’d like to get involved or contribute to the report, please do get in touch at Follow us @njambler and @wlfawcett or join our Facebook group – just search West London Fawcett Society!

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Many Russias: Sochi’s Absurdist Olympics

On 7 February, the world will witness one of the most absurdist events in its history: the Winter Olympic Games will be hosted in notoriously cold Russia, but in its warmest geographic point – the summer resort area in subtropical Sochi. This absurdity, however, is part of the everyday lives of the Russian citizens.

Imagine Russian political debates on TV or in the Duma (Russian parliament). Men in black suits and cassocks shout at each other with conviction, all claiming that ‘traditional family values’ best fit the country’s situation and must be codified and propagated. This rhetoric is referred to as ‘cultural bondage,’ which means that some ‘traditional’ notions tie together the imaginary Russian nation. These notions are heterosexuality, male domination and political power privileges. Who would submit to such values, you ask? The government gives the answer and it is absurdly simple: everyone, because these ‘values’ are essential for the Russian people. This trick is just a robbery of our voices.

In line with this agenda, a year before the Olympics, Russian bureaucracy adopted and implemented a number of policies that reinforce compulsory heterosexuality and male domination, threatening us with laws, supporting public hate speech and misogyny (such as calls to burn gay people) and legitimising violence against women and homosexuals. Advertising abortion services is prohibited, mentioning homosexuality in public is censured, and people – including teenagers – are surveyed by the police for being lesbian or gay. The government insists that families must have at least three children and that all generations should live under one roof to care for each other.

At the same time, there is the ‘nation’ itself: we, the people, who live our alternative lives. Some of us are women and others are gay; some are against this political agenda and others simply do not care about politics; and many of us are queer enough to fit neither category. However, we must all organise our lives keeping in mind that there is a vicious government enforcing these ‘cultural bondages’, and who claims that they are ‘ours.’ So we either manage what we say and do, or resist – there are those who can bite!

Certainly, these legal and political restrictions have an impact on our everyday lives, though it is important not to overestimate it. The law and governance in Russia are spheres that many people have got used to ignoring. The workings of these phenomena are symbolic: they demonstrate how people must answer public opinion polls, rather than actually being taken seriously. They produce people who submit to the existing constraints and strongly support government actions in official public discussions, but then do whatever they want in everyday interactions between each other.

On the other hand, there are also those with resentment towards the system: smart enough to understand the lies that the government produces, and courageous enough to say no to it. Remember Pussy Riot’s performances targeted the most profound of the government’s faults: sexism, wild capitalist rationality and clericalisation. There are many feminist grass-roots initiatives that fight back with feminist political actions, education, discussions, art interventions and so forth. Though we do not have common strategies and we do not act in accord, we subvert the existing order by providing alternatives. As a matter of fact, these initiatives, and any individuals who dare to resist, are the actual targets of state bureaucracy and the bans that have been implemented.

The Russian government officially announced its ambitious goal to represent world conservatism. The Olympic Games is to become a platform for this representation: we will witness the competition of chemical factories, trademarks and the oppression of critical voices. For me, it will also be a representation of failure – a failure that the Russian government must consider its own, without sharing responsibility with the whole people of Russia. We have become far away from each other – people and the state – by mutual misrecognition. We have become many Russias.

Alexander Kondakov is a researcher  at the Centre for Independent Social Research and Assistant Professor at the European University of St. Petersburg. Find out more at:

Photo from NYC Pride: Kasya Shahovskaya 

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Obama sends lesbians to Sochi

“Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.” – Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter.

In 2014 you can buy the T-shirt but in Berlin in 1936, when African American Jesse Owens was the most successful athlete at what was supposed to be the showcase for Aryan superiority, Hitler refused to shake his hand. “The spirit among individual competitors, broadly speaking, was within measureable distance of the Olympic ideal,” The Cairns Post reported dryly between reports mocking displays designed to promote Aryan supremacy.

This year another nation’s leader seeks to promote his conservative agenda via the Olympic media spotlight. Mr Putin has chosen this time to criminalise homosexuality – promoting the supremacy and legitimacy of heterosexuality, if you will. Coca-Cola, a significant Olympic stakeholder since 1928, has been criticised for its silence on the matter.

In response, President Obama has, as one IOC member put it, “sent lesbians” in the United States delegation. Tennis great and equality advocate Billie Jean King will represent the US at the opening ceremony, while Olympic ice hockey medallist Caitlin Cahow will attend the closing ceremony.

Billie Jean King should be a thesaurus term for equality. The US Open is held at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Her influence is everywhere – in the very existence of a women’s tour, in the fact tennis is the only professional sport with equal pay for women, and in the high levels of anxiety in women’s tennis about countering “out” players with heteronormatising promotional rhetoric.

King was the first lesbian outed while still playing when, in 1981, she was exposed by a “palimony” suit lodged against her by Marilyn Barnett. She has said she lost two million dollars and was forced to postpone retirement. Before that, King says: “I couldn’t get a closet deep enough. I’ve got a homophobic family, a tour that will die if I come out, the world is homophobic and, yeah, I was homophobic.”

Her fellow delegate Caitlin Cahow has been a strong advocate of Athlete Ally’s Principle 6 campaign around the Sochi games – a call for the International Olympic Committee to uphold Principle 6 and stand with LGBT Olympians against the Russian laws.

Writing for USA Today last month, she said: “Since its founding, the Modern Olympic Movement has stood for the notion that through sport, we may combat, ‘an ignorance which feeds hatreds, accumulates misunderstands,’ and impedes social progress.”

There are some obvious reasons why women have been at the queer forefront in sports. Men, being paid more, have more at stake economically, and the promoted hyper-masculinity of sports means women athletes occupy a space that confuses wider cultural signals about gender and sexuality.

Away from Sochi, things are seemingly beginning to improve for LGBT sportspeople, but only for athletes outside the 76 countries where homosexuality is still illegal. According to, there were just 21 openly queer athletes out of more than 10,000 at the London Olympics in 2012.

It was only relatively recently, in 1999, that one of the first never ‘in’ athletes, Amelie Mauresmo, hit the Australian Open at nineteen. Ten feet tall and bulletproof, she acknowledged her girlfriend to the press and called more experienced players out for homophobic sledging. Recognising the detrimental effect of fear on performance, she told Agence France-Presse:

“I feel liberated and it’s shown in my game. There are dozens of other players like me who      say nothing – they’re often ill at ease and even unhappy… but I’m glad I spoke out. It’s just a pity the Australian press homed in on it … I’m a tennis player before anything else, it seems to me.”

She went on to win Olympic silver at Athens and both Wimbledon and the Australian Open in 2006, retiring in 2010. Reebok incorporated her openness into their ‘I am what I am’ campaign.

IOC President Thomas Bach has said that Olympians “will not be penalised” [by the IOC] for speaking out about Russia’s LGBT laws in press conferences, and Australian Snowboarder Belle Brockhoff has already been outspoken in her criticism of Putin. It is unclear how Russia will react but, with The Atlantic dubbing Sochi “the Gay Olympics”, Putin can be sure the world will be watching.

Carol Wical is a feminist cultural scholar and sports radio practitioner. Follow her @WicalBNE

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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A brief herstory of lesbian feminism

If it suddenly became the “politically correct” thing to do, could you have sex with men? No, me neither.

But seriously, when did we stop politicising our sexuality? Back in the golden days of the Second Wave, this was common practice and nothing personal was off limits to the political.

In the 1970s feminists got busy founding women-only feminist and lesbian communes, practicing non-monogamy as a political act, engaging in Consciousness Raising on all topics under the moon, raising children collectively, and still finding time to write some of it down. They produced pioneering and still controversial theory on compulsory heterosexuality, lesbian continuums and Political Lesbianism.

Political Lesbianism is a term most often associated with Radical Feminism – an incorrect association, as it was Revolutionary Feminism that actually gave us this idea here in the UK. Revolutionary Feminists in Leeds started a fierce debate in 1979 with their conference paper on ‘Political Lesbianism’, published in the Women’s Liberation Movement newsletter WIRES – the Women’s Information Referral and Enquiry Service.

This article questioned the role of heterosexual women within the movement and, indeed, the desirability of heterosexuality at all in a revolution requiring all of women’s energies and passions. The article suggested that women might consider withdrawing their energies from men, giving them instead to the Women’s Liberation Movement and their Sisters within it. This never meant becoming a lesbian necessarily, though ever since this is how the term has been misunderstood. In fact, the Leeds Revolutionary Feminist Group clearly advised dedicated heterosexuals that celibacy was always an option, should they be unwilling to follow in the footsteps of so many of their Sapphic Sisters.

So if feminism is the theory, is lesbianism the practice? No, not necessarily. The whole notion of Political Lesbianism, as it is commonly understood, would only make sense if all lesbians were political feminists. Let’s face it, it’s not as if all us lesbians set up home with a committed fellow activist, turn our flats into women’s centres and stay up late till the wee hours writing pamphlets; well, not every night anyway! Maybe at the weekend for a treat.

These days I’m less concerned with Political Lesbianism and more concerned with any political feminism, and with the lack of lesbians in politics of all kinds, including our own. Is it because we all really believe that things are equal now that lesbianism is so rarely mentioned within feminism and that, likewise, feminism is hardly a hot topic for most lesbians today? How often do you hear a conference organiser talk about lesbian representation on a panel, or raise the need for a dedicated lesbian space? Nobody would speak of the ‘lavender menace’ any more, but sometimes it feels as if lesbians are still feminism’s dirty little secret, despite being the backbone of this movement for decades.

It is too easy sometimes to underpin the very misogyny and homophobia that we are trying to overturn. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the stereotyping of feminists, particularly Radical Feminists, stereotypes which appear almost universally understood, and are rarely checked. We have shorthand of vague references to a feminism gone too far – to militancy, to radicalism, to man-hating, to ugliness – we’ve become so familiar with this typology, we sometimes don’t question it ourselves. “I’m not one of those kind of feminists,” is a familiar refrain.

What lies behind all these refrains is a perceived rejection of men and it is time we stopped acting like that’s the worst thing a woman can do. Misogyny and homophobia lurk beneath the surface of the animosity towards women-only space, Separatism and Lesbian Feminism. This may partly account for the decline of autonomous women-only organising, a vital political tool we ignore at our peril. Autonomous action threatens the status-quo by symbolising a withdrawal from men, albeit temporary. It raises the spectre of a social, cultural, political and maybe, most powerfully, a domestic and sexual withdrawal from men. This spectre haunts the institution of patriarchy, dependent as it is on the servitude of women to men.

Patriarchy has reason to fear, but feminists have nothing to fear from Lesbian Feminism or the theory and politics it engenders; there is nothing to fear in autonomous women-only space or Separatist living. Incidentally, this is maybe a good time to correct the common conflation of Separatism with autonomous organising. The former refers to the choice to live and work full-time, as much as possible, with women only. This is a personal and political choice, with a proud history, and it should be respected. The latter refers to temporary women-only spaces, political organising or leadership and is not in exclusion of other activism, including in mixed spaces.

So what if a woman chooses to have sex with other women? So what if she chooses to live in a women-only commune? So what if she chooses to be a full on Separatist and move to farm women’s land in the outback? Good luck to her! We should challenge the homophobia and misogyny that mocks our feminism with supposed insults – because being a lesbian or a Separatist should not be seen as undesirable or taboo; they are not insults. As long as we continue to act like they are, our enemies will continue to subvert our own messages and use them against us to demean our movement, demeaning lesbianism in the process.

We don’t need any reminders this week about why we should be challenging that process. With pomp, ceremony and brand endorsement, the Winter Olympics are unfolding in a city which declares it has no LGBTQ people, in a country where photos of gay men beaten and raped are treated like hunting trophies, whose president conflates lesbian and gay people with child rapists.

Closer to home, young LGBTQ people are still being bullied in school and it wasn’t that long ago, in 2009, that a gay man was beaten to death in a homophobic attack right in the middle of the gay mecca of London, in full view of witnesses, in Trafalgar Square. So next time somebody suggests all feminists are lesbians, as if that’s a reason not to be either, tell them you liberate women – and you like it.

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

Photo: Purple Sherbet

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The politics of skin lightening

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy of @ReignOfApril on Twitter.

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What is Feminism? banner

Rebecca O’Connor: Feminism is…

Name: Rebecca O’Connor

Age: 47

Location: Maidenhead

Bio: Full-time manager at Channel 4. Two teenage children. Husband at home.

Sharing the stress and responsibility of bringing up children 50:50 with their father – all else follows from that.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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#lifeofamuslimfeminist: Noorulann Shahid on how it began

The hashtag #lifeofamuslimfeminist was started by Twitter user Noorulann Shahid (@YxxngHippie). It began trending on Friday and maintained momentum throughout the weekend, offering solidarity and an insight into the experiences of Muslim feminists. We spoke to Noorulann Shahid about how it all started, and then look at some of the key recurring issues mentioned on the hashtag.

Feminist Times: Why did you start the hashtag?

NS: The hashtag was actually started accidentally. I was venting on Twitter and explaining the difficulties Muslim feminists face. When I originally identified as a feminist and began reading feminist literature, I had lots of Muslim men and women telling me that Islam had given me all the rights I’d ever needed and that feminism was a Western concept that had no place in Islam. So I had to prove that feminism and Islam were not mutually exclusive and attempt to de-stigmatise the f-word amongst Muslims.

As I continued in my journey, I found mainstream feminism to be quite hostile as it was dominated by white feminists who had lots of misconceptions regarding Islam and the hijab. Mainstream feminism shuns most minority groups such as women of colour, queer and trans* people so the idea of Islamic Feminism did not fit their narrative; they saw Islam and feminism as incompatible.

So essentially the hashtag began with me trying to explain the frustrations I faced as a Muslim feminist – navigating between Muslims telling you you don’t need feminism and mainstream feminism rejecting you. When this happens, there is nowhere you can position yourself comfortably. And it really just took off from there and snowballed.

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FemT: Did you expect it to take off like it did?

NS: Honestly? No I didn’t. I didn’t start off with the intention of creating a successful or trending hashtag, it began organically but took off exponentially. It began with me venting on Twitter through my smartphone and I never expected anything this big to come of it. But I’m so glad that it did because it has been so fantastic to connect with lots of Muslim feminists (mostly female, I have to say) but also lots of supportive non-Muslim feminists. I had no idea that there were so many people who shared the same sentiments as me due to the difficulties I usually encountered with Muslims and the concept of feminism.

FemT: Why do you think it struck such a chord?

NS: Women were using it to say, “look we know our Islamic rights, but these are just not materialising in reality. We are fed up of being held back by cultural patriarchy, misogyny and sexism- sometimes disguised as ‘Islamic’ and we’re not standing for it anymore.” Most Muslim women are very educated and know about the rights they are entitled to, but are frustrated that they are being denied them for various reasons.

I had, perhaps accidentally, created a (somewhat) safe space for women to engage with each other and talk about thei issues that they were facing daily in their lives, homes, community and society as a whole- such as gender roles, identity, double standards, behaviour, policing of their clothes by men and other women, sterotypes, cultural appropriation, intersectional feminism, misogyny, sexism, sex education, being outspoken, and much much more.

FemT: What impact do you think it’s had on other Muslim feminists, and on non-Muslim feminists reading the hashtag?

NS: In terms of Muslim feminists, think it’s given us all a much-needed sense of unity and togetherness.  It’s enabled us to connect with each other and have some great interactions about the challenges we face and how we can go about tackling them. I think it’s also been therapeutic in a way as it’s allowed us all to vent. I have a feeling that a lot of Muslim feminists have perhaps felt like they haven’t been able to talk openly about prejudice, oppresson or patriarchy as they worry that it might be used against them by Islamophobes or other groups who staunchly criticise Islam.

In terms of non-Muslim feminists, I’ve had so much support and positive feedback from them. A lot of them were telling me that they respect my choices as a Muslim woman, lots were telling me that the hashtag has been so educational and eye-opening for them. The hashtag provided them with real stories, anecdotes and experiences of Muslim feminists and it was great to have their support and see them sit back and observe.


Featured image via Twitter

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New Year, New You? Face 2014 with Fatitude

As I’m writing this, I’m snacking on a mini packet of chocolate buttons. Why? Because I bloody well feel like it. I’ve got Fatitude and I’m not afraid to flaunt it. I’ve never gone in for a New Year of restraint anyway. My birthday is on the 3rd of January, possibly the most depressing day of the year to be born. Everyone is skint, three days into not drinking/smoking/eating, and really down about having to go back to work. So I make up for it by completely ignoring “New Year, New You” rubbish.

I may want to ignore calls for unnecessary restraint, but we can’t deny there is an issue with obesity worldwide. It has more than doubled since 1980, with developing countries experiencing the greatest increase. Diet, exercise and radical surgery seem to be failing; so how do we deal with our ever increasing collective waistlines?

I was a contestant in ITV’s Celebrity Fit Club reality TV show a few years back but, unlike my fellow participants, my focus was always on getting healthier, not losing weight. I was a size 26 and now a size 18. I’m still classified as morbidly obese, and told I’m going to die an early death because I like the odd scotch egg. I went from being pre-diabetic to getting a clean bill of health; now the doctors can find nothing wrong with me except the fact I’m FAT. Shock horror. Yes, being fat and healthy is possible; I can only hope that somewhere in the world a Slimfast factory is imploding at that radical but entirely factual statement.

Changing our mindsets to engage with an alternative approach to weight and health will require a pretty massive shift. The media has twisted and distorted what healthy looks like, and the tools used by the medical profession to determine “healthy weight” reinforce this. The BMI index has been proven to be flawed; we need accurate ways to determine health and wellbeing. Or maybe we just need to fundamentally reconfigure how we judge health and wellbeing. The work done by Dr Linda Bacon, nutrition professor in the Biology Department at the City College of San Francisco is pretty impressive. She is the originator of the Health at Every Size movement, and promotes self-acceptance, physical activity and normalised eating as a way to healthy living, no matter what size you are. Respect for the diversity of body shapes and sizes is at the heart of HAES. I think its resources should be available to all girls in school.

Along with compulsory sex and relationship education, serious and desperately needed improvements could be made in the way girls see themselves, each other, and relate to boys and men. Engaging with Health at Every Size will also aggravate the diet industry, which can only be a good thing. Weight Watchers reported profits of $64.9 million last year, all made on selling a dream based on fail-and-return. Their overpriced and nutritionally poor ready meals are another profit boosting, morale-destroying tool of oppression. I nearly smashed bottles of their “low-calorie wine” in the aisle of my local Tesco just before Christmas. At 60 calories a small glass, it’s the same calorific count as any other wine on the shelf, but twice as tasteless (so I’m told). The diet industry and all its permutations needs to be named and shamed as one of the main perpetrators of low self esteem and economic opportunism against women.

There are impressive women making a difference, though. My personal chubby heroine is Dr Charlotte Cooper. She is an architect of Fat Studies, an emerging academic field which gives a more critical understanding of social positioning of fatness and health. She sits on the board of Fat Studies Journal and is a psychotherapist who works mainly with fat people. She is the author of Fat and Proud: The Politics of Size, and has originated events such as the Fattylympics and Big Bum Jumble, a plus size jumble sale. Most importantly, Dr Cooper insists political activism is the key to a healthy future. No matter what size you are, no one can argue with that.

Amy Lamé is a writer, performer and broadcaster. Follow her @amylame

Photo: gaelx

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Chi Onwurah: Feminism is…

ChiName: Chi Onwurah

Location: Newcastle Upon Tyne

Bio: Labour Party member of parliament for Newcastle Central, Shadow Cabinet Office Minister and Chartered Engineer

Feminism is for me the expression of a  fundamental law of the universe, like Newton’s first law of motion, that all human beings are of equal value and equal worth and deserve an equal opportunity to fulfil their full potential whatever that is.

I remember hearing on the radio that the Sex Discrimination Act had been passed. It was 1974 and I was nine. I was amazed and extremely angry  – I couldn’t believe that I had lived nine years in a world where it was legal to discriminate against me because of my gender.

Of course, just like fundamental laws, its application can be complicated and we are certainly some way from a unified theory of social justice. Feminism is not a solution, in and of itself, but it should inform how we work towards solutions for the many challenges we face.

It is both obvious and inspiring and those who object or disagree have failed to grasp one of the fundamental principles on which the universe is based.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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A year in Black Feminism

It’s been an interesting year for black feminism, with a very current spotlight shone on black feminism as a political identity, and eagerness to openly discuss what this means. The sudden popularity of intersectionality has resulted in very public discussions of day to day manifestations of white supremacy, and honesty about structural racism and exclusion.

However, we have not come to this point without a great personal cost to the black women who have stuck their necks on the line to challenge the status quo. As the year draws to a close, I’d like to pay homage to some pivotal moments for black feminism in 2013.

Featured Image: Leyla Hussein on the Cruel Cut.

1. FGM hit the headlines

Daughters of Eve (Leyla Hussein, Nimko Ali and Sainab Abdi) is dedicated to end the practice of female genital mutilation, a practice that disproportionality affects women and girls from the African, Asian and Middle Eastern diaspora. In June of this year, Daughters of Eve teamed up with the NSPCC to launch a helpline to protect girls at risk from the abuse. In November, Leyla Hussein broadcast a powerful documentary about the abuse with Channel 4, entitled The Cruel Cut, taking FGM to the front of public consciousness. A Daughters of Eve’s petition, aimed at decision makers in the Home Office, is rapidly nearing the 100,000 signatures required to see the topic discussed in parliament.

2. Intersectionality went mainstream

Just a year ago, you’d be hard pressed to find an article discussing the personal impact of structural racism in the mainstream media. Now, an increasing number of women are redefining themselves as intersectional, as the broad church of feminism recognises a need to embrace a critical analysis that includes, but is not limited to, gendered oppression. 2013 saw high profile cases involving white female pop stars such as Lily Allen preaching feminism but using black women’s bodies to make a political point.

Earlier in the year, Mikki Kendall’s #solidarityisforwhitewomen trended on twitter, inadvertently serving as a tool for black women to air out some of the issues from years of putting up with racism and whiteness in feminist spaces. There is still a long way to go and much self-reflection to be had before all our feminisms are truly inclusive, but this year saw a tidal wave of change.

3. Muslim women said no to FEMEN

Topless Ukrainian group FEMEN bared their breasts in a number of protests this year, but their activism has been consistently marred by Islamophobic themes in their messaging. In May, FEMEN organised International Topless Jihad Day- a protest against what they called Islam’s mistreatment of women. But Muslim women swiftly bit back, culminating in a popular Facebook page called ‘Muslim Women Against FEMEN’. On the page, they said ‘We have had enough of western feminists imposing their values on us. We are taking a stand to make our voices heard and reclaim our agency.’ Then, in August, Tunisian FEMEN activist Amina Sbou left the group, telling the Huffington Post: “I do not want my name to be associated with an Islamophobic organisation.”

Muslim Women Against Femen

Image courtesy of Muslim Women Against Femen

4. Southall Black Sisters took on the UK Border Agency

For decades, Southall Black Sisters have worked with immigrant women escaping for abusive relationships, and their work recognises the impact political attitudes to immigration have on the lives of these women. This year state approved racial profiling resulted in document checks at tube stations. White men in uniforms yielded their power to stop and search anyone who looked vaguely ‘illegal’ – a physical act of othering that stoked racial tensions in a context where the likes of the EDL’s Tommy Robinson and UKIP’s Nigel Farage already get disproportionate airtime on our television screens. When a UKBA van parked up outside their office this year, Southall Black Sisters fought back with direct action, and when the Home Office launched its anti-immigrant ‘Go Home’ campaign, SBS organised a mass protest.

Feminist Times visits Southall Balck Sisters protest against current immigration policy. from Feminist Times on Vimeo.

5. Dark Girls premiered in the UK

Dark Girls, a US-based film about the impact of white supremacist beauty ideals on black and brown women and girls across the globe, was released. In September, Dr Jude Smith Rachele, CEO of Abundant Sun brought the film to the UK. The film’s premiere ignited conversations about the consequences of beauty ideals, even bringing a short discussion of the topic to BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. For black women, Dark Girls stirred memories of shadeism in our own communities and the importance of principled resistance to toxic beauty ideals that were never meant for us in the first place.

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

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Comeback: Cameron’s ‘Rape Porn Law’ and BDSM

We would like to correct some of the inaccuracies contained in the blog post published today on the Feminist Times by writer Daisy Bata. The amendment to the Extreme Pornography Legislation, referred to in the article as ‘David Cameron’s new rape porn law’, has been plagued by misinformation, mythologies and what can best be described as a form of liberal panic since it was announced in July of this year.

Following this, it is entirely understandable that the material Daisy accessed to write her article, and the conclusions she reached from it, has been read and taken as fact by countless others. It is not to argue with or shout down those who hold Daisy’s position, nor the author herself, that we write this statement. Feminisms are built on disagreeable women! Rather we would like to just add to the conversation with some information on the law, what it does/does not include, the reasons behind our campaign and particularly how pornographic depictions of rape differ from BDSM pornography.

Due to time constraints we can only point to previously published materials, though many do cover the points raised in this article. One point to comment on directly however is that “(o)nce again we are witnessing the attempts of men to exercise control over our agency, choice and desire.” The campaign was led by an all women team. It was drawn directly from the support work of women within Rape Crisis South London and was supported by the End Violence Against Women Coalition, Law Professors from Durham University including Professor Clare McGlynn and Professor Erika Rackley, Rape Crisis (England and Wales) and Women’s Aid among many other individuals and organisations, most of whom worked with, for and/or were themselves survivors of sexual violence. If anything we are witnessing the success of women exercising their agency to campaign for change.

The links below contain many additional links to information, research, evidence and opinion supporting the amendment to criminalise pornographic depictions of rape:

Legal Briefing

Content Analysis of Top 50 sites hosting pornographic depictions of rape … not a nipple clamp in sight

‘Criminalising Extreme Pornography: Five Years On’ – McGlynn and Rackley on The Extreme Pornography Provisions: A Misunderstood and Misused Law

Fiona Elvines: rape porn is an insult to men and an invitation to rapists / Comment is Free / 24th July 2013

Why I support criminalising pornographic depictions of rape.

Fiona Elvines is Operations Coordinator at Rape Crisis South London

Image courtesy of DFID

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Cameron and Rape Porn

This article is a personal response outlining concerns over the so-called “Rape Porn” law from a feminist BDSM perspective. We asked South London Rape Crisis for a response which you can read here.

Under David Cameron’s new ‘rape porn’ law, which comes into force in 2014, anyone who possesses pornography depicting rape can face up to three years in jail. The law will broaden the definition of possession to include viewing the material online, and will cover content including simulated rape, such as rape play – a popular practice among consenting adults in the BDSM community.

Those engaging in rape play face a punishment potentially as severe as those committing sexual violence. It is already illegal to commit rape, to document it, and to post it online. Any attempt to stop people watching it is not only unenforceable but will make no difference to criminals committing crime. Once again we are witnessing the attempts of men to exercise control over our agency, choice and desire. Women are not objectified or abused purely because of pornography; sexual violence existed long before the invention of the nipple clamp.

The move is a media-friendly token gesture. It is arguable that banning pornography does not equate to fewer rapists. Rather, the law will most likely end up punishing those watching simulated rape play – despite the fact that, in these videos, consent is consistently much clearer than in ‘vanilla’ pornography.

As Zoe Stavri pointed out in The Independent: “Within BDSM porn, there is often a short interview between the performers discussing what they would like to do, and what they would not like to do, and how they can signal that they want the scene to stop if need be.” In this way, does simulated rape contribute to a culture of sexual violence more than vanilla mainstream pornography?

A “dominant sadist and educator” and rape play teacher, Frozen M, wrote on “Rape play is about power, but it is a negotiated exchange of power to enable the people involved to act out their fantasies in a consensual and empowering manner.” In rape play, the appeal is that we submit out of desire rather than fear. We allow ourselves to be used for sexual gratification, partly because we too gain sexual gratification from it, but also because we, for various reasons, no longer wish to be in control.

Under Cameron’s law, these consenting adults and those wishing to view them are considered just as criminal as those performing criminal acts of rape. It contributes to a culture where consent is disregarded through the guise of protecting us from rape.

Cameron says he is attempting to protect women from sexual violence, but ultimately the majority of porn is violent for women. Rather than pushing the problem into a darkened corner and hoping it will go away, we need to address the root: banning so-called sexual taboos would pale into insignificance compared to a wholesale crackdown on human trafficking, or a more trustworthy and reliable police response when it comes to rape, or education for young people about the lines of consent.

We must also account for the difference between rapists and those watching rape porn. Sexual violence is a form of social control and it is ultimately political, not biological. Rape is about power, and rarely about sex. Those engaging with simulated rape porn do so for sexual gratification – is it up to us to pass judgement on their choice of stimulation?

Many of the things that we find abhorrent in life are the things we find sexiest in the bedroom. If a woman engages in BDSM, does that stop her being a feminist? And if a man watches rape porn, does that mean he is a rapist, or likely to become one? The casual dismissal of a difference between rape and consenting adults engaging in a rape fantasy undermines our capacity for choice and our autonomy over our bodies. Whether we understand the reasons for engaging in rape play or not, it is not for David Cameron, or any other man, to decide for us.

Daisy Bata is a feminist film critic, journalist, writer and film maker. You can find her most recent reviews at

Image courtesy of DFID

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Eleanor Jones: Feminism is…

Eleanor JonesName: Eleanor Jones

Age: 23

Location: London

Bio: Lifestyle writer and editor

Feminism is ultimately something that shouldn’t need to exist. The belief that men and women can have the same rights, the same opportunities and the same interests is a concept that shouldn’t need a campaign – we are all human and all have the same potential to be brave, beautiful, smart, successful, kind and all other wonderful qualities, regardless of the gender we were born with or the gender we eventually choose. However, the need for feminism is more prevalent than ever in the contemporary world, and I will to continue to support it until we’re all members of a society that treats us as people, not as collective members of an inferior sex.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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Reflections on Greenham, 11 December 1983

Thirty years ago today, on 11 December 1983, 50,000 women gathered at Greenham Common to encircle the military base, where cruise missiles had arrived three weeks earlier.

The women held mirrors, symbolically reflecting the military’s image back at itself. The women later cut and pulled down sections of the surrounding fence. Hundreds of arrests were made.

This mass demonstration was known as ‘Reflect The Base’. Today, five Greenham women reflect on their experiences.

Dr Rebecca Johnson, Greenham Women’s Peace Camp 1982-1987 and Executive Director of Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy:
I had been living at the Women’s Peace Camp for 16 months and helped organise ‘Reflect the base’ on 11 December 1983. This was bigger, louder and angrier than our first big demo ‘Embrace the base’ on 12 December 1982, when 35,000 women had encircled the 9 mile nuclear base for the first time.

After two years of determined nonviolent actions, in which thousands of women had been arrested and imprisoned for “breach of the peace”, the Women’s Peace Camp faced our toughest time as the USAF flew their new generation of nuclear-armed cruise missiles over our heads in November 1983, and the Tory government gave the USAF legal powers to shoot us if we got in the way.

A month later 50,000 women came to Greenham to demonstrate our refusal to give up. Surrounding the base, we faced thousands of armed soldiers and police as we held up our mirrors so that they could see their own faces, guarding these nuclear weapons of mass suffering. Though some decorated the perimeter fence as we’d done in 1982, thousands of women pulled miles of fence down with our bare hands and woolly gloves, singing and chanting as only women can!

A month earlier I had been one of 13 Greenham plaintiffs in the US Centre for Constitutional Rights’s injunction to halt the deployment of cruise missiles in Europe. I had spoken in the New York Court with Rudi Giuliani, then attorney for President Reagan. We lost that case (to no-one’s surprise), so I went back to build a new bender (vigilantes destroyed my tent while I was away). So there I was, singing and reflecting the base with thousands of wonderful sisters. Like many others, I had a couple of fingers broken by soldiers lashing at our hands with metal bars.  But it was worth it.

I carried on living and campaigning at Greenham until 1987. Four years after we Reflected the Base on that bitter cold December day, Presidents Gorbachev and Reagan signed the historic INF Treaty in Moscow (8 December 1987), which banned and eliminated that whole generation of cruise, Pershing and SS20 missiles from Europe.

David Cameron’s mother was a Newbury magistrate, imprisoning Greenham women for our nonviolent actions to create peace and disarmament. And now Exmoor ponies graze by the empty silos on the Green and Common land. Newbury residents now stroll with pushchairs and dogs where we used to be beaten up and arrested. Do they look at the silos and pause a moment to think of the thousands of peace women who got rid of cruise missiles and restored Greenham for local people to enjoy?


Reverend Zamantha Walker, Feminist Times member:
I was present at the Reflect the Base on 11th Dec 1983 when 50,000 women surrounded the base with mirrors. I went with other women from the University of Kent, where I was in my last year. We also took instruments to bring the walls down (somewhat biblical with echoes of the walls of Jericho being walked around brought down by noise and light!).

There was a large police presence with quite a few mounted police, some of whom I saw dragging some women away from the fence and being quite brutal about it. It was both a challenging and a hopeful occasion when solidarity of purpose and the number present strengthened our resolve.

The media were polarised in either (the majority) depicting only those women who appeared radically ‘different’ and presenting us as ‘the loony left’, or (a small minority) as sympathetic to the aims although cautious about how we were demonstrating. It was an incredible occasion and I recognised it as momentous at the time.

When I returned to camp it was interesting that in conversation with some of the British and Canadian soldiers in the base – the Americans weren’t allowed to have even eye contact with us! – they were often surprisingly sympathetic to our cause. As they said “cruise missiles are not a weapon of defence”

GreenhamEmbraceNetta Cartwright, Feminist Times Founder Member:
I went a few times to Greenham Common. The first time we had a couple of coaches full of women from Stafford and Stoke-on-Trent – we were mostly women from Women’s Liberation and Women’s Aid groups. We went to Embrace the Base.

When we arrived we were overwhelmed by the crowds of women jostling, singing and linking arms around the whole of the perimeter fence. We couldn’t see all of the women of course but when we held hands I started a hands squeeze with the woman next to me on the left and said pass it on and waited. After a while I got the squeeze back from the woman the other side. I like to think it had gone around the whole base.

We decorated and wove the wire with poems, ribbons, photos, flowers, and embroidery. It was a wonderful day full of songs and laughter and we carried on all the way home on the buses.

I went on another day later with a small group of women armed with wire cutters. When we arrived there were other groups too with the same intention. We cut the wire and many of the women went into the base and got arrested. I ended up holding on to a woman’s baby and hiding in the trees when dogs were set on us. I’m still the proud possessor of a piece of green wire from the fence, much to the interest of my granddaughter who saw a big display of  women at Greenham Common in the RAF museum at Cosford, Staffordshire.

Helen Scadding, Feminist Times member:
As we held hands around the perimeter of the fence there was this sense of amazement that there were enough of us to do this strange, and yet comforting thing. Holding hands gave a sense of purpose, of ritual, of not being alone, and of defiance.

The site is quite rural and the fence was quite inaccessible in parts, where there were dips and natural changes in the landscape around the fence and it was impossible to see that far, as it bent round and we had to watch our feet. So there were times when it felt like a dance and other times where we felt anxious that the chain would break, especially where the fence cornered in different places.

We all faced in towards the fence and tied or pinned photographs and letters and objects to the fence. Women tied on tampax, and beautifully framed photographs of their families and friends, children’s drawings, natural objects, and collages. We sang and whistled and chanted.

I remember thinking what a long time it would take to untie and remove all the lovely objects, but perhaps they just blow torched it all off with a machine.

Angie Donoghue, Feminist Times member:
I’ve just dug out my Greenham Common Songbook (35 songs – new words to old tunes). The most memorable is:

You Can’t Kill The Spirit
Old and strong
She goes on and on and on
You can’t kill the spirit
She is like a mountain.

Featured image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Second image: Greenham women on nuclear silo, dawn 1 January 1983. Photo credit Raissa Page, 1983, courtesy of Rebecca Johnson

Third image: Poster for Embrace the Base 1982 Greenham Common women’s peace camp, courtesy of Rebecca Johnson

Thank you to all Feminist Times members who got in touch about this piece. For more on the legacy of Greenham Common, see Guardian Films’ Your Greenham series, produced with Beeban Kidron.

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Clare Cochrane: Feminism is…

Name: Clare Cochrane

Feminism is the campaign to end all discrimination on the basis of gender

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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#16Days: Profile – Women’s Aid

I moved to Women’s Aid this year because I felt its work was so desperately needed. In my previous career, both at Action for Children, and before that as a journalist, I’ve been acutely aware of the huge impact of violence against women and girls.

For a long time I’ve felt that it’s seen far too much as a “factor” in other issues that get a lot of policy attention, and far more funding, rather than as the central and fundamental issue for our time, which I believe it is.

Since I joined, I’ve realised that my job is as much about advocating for and striving to protect one of the most important legacies of the women’s movement in this country: its network of specialist domestic violence services, run by women for women and their children.

Starting from very humble roots in Bristol nearly 40 years ago, Women’s Aid built up a national network of services for women and children experiencing domestic violence.

Too often individual services have to fight so hard simply to survive in a difficult commissioning environment with regular budget cuts; they simply don’t have the capacity to campaign. But without the voice of specialist, gender-specific domestic violence services and the women they support, local and national governments too often don’t understand what’s needed.

That’s why Women’s Aid exists – we bring these services together, and speak on their behalf and on behalf of women who survive domestic violence.

As a membership organisation, our activity takes many forms. We run campaigns on issues ranging from the need for proper relationships education in schools, to the desperate financial situation many of our members are experiencing.

We use our significant media presence to educate people that domestic violence is not always about punching or kicking, but about coercive control, manipulation and power.

We challenge the myth that some women ‘ask for’ the abuse they’re getting, and regularly call the media to account when they express attitudes that shore up sexism and abuse.

We are very clear and always state unequivocally that domestic violence is a gendered issue, with its roots in inequality between women and men.

We spend a lot of time working directly with government to create an environment which supports women experiencing abuse, and deters potential perpetrators.

By collecting the views of our members and uniting their experiences, we are able to speak with authority to those in positions of power, to tell them what’s happening on the ground. I am proud of the work we do to hold governments to account on their promises around domestic violence.

I am particularly pleased with our recently re-launched National Training Centre. The work the centre does is phenomenal, and every individual they educate on appropriate responses is someone who will make a direct difference to the lives of women experiencing domestic violence.

Even more directly, the National Domestic Violence Helpline, run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge, receives an average of 10,000 calls a month.

The work of the Helpline is furthered by the Women’s Aid Survivors Forum, where women can seek and receive support from each other. The positive messages, stories of hope, survival, and strength that come from our Survivors’ Forum energise me in our continued fight against domestic violence.

My time at Women’s Aid so far has coincided with perhaps the most challenging time for the sector since the 1970s, in terms of both funding and the misogyny that both feeds violence against women and undermines support for our services.

It has also been a time of a revitalised feminist discourse, particularly on social media, which I have really loved joining in with. I am trying to find a way of linking this discourse more directly and obviously to the issues facing women who experience domestic violence and our services that support them.

I like to think that Women’s Aid is getting domestic violence back on the agenda, that our links to both survivor services and new feminist organisations  puts us in a unique position to unite second and third (or even fourth!) wave feminism on an issue that could hardly be more important to all of them.

Two women a week are killed by partners or ex-partners – a number that hasn’t changed in the 40 years we’ve been working. For me, it’s now or never for Women’s Aid to lead the charge to finally bring that number down, and help countless women escape the hell of domestic violence.

Polly Neate is the CEO of Women’s Aid. You can support Women’s Aid by donating online at to text ACT to 70300 to donate £3.

If you have been affected by domestic violence, call the national domestic violence helpline free on 0808 2000 247. The line is open 24/7 and run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge.

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Trish Harrison: Feminism is…

Trish HarrisonName: Trish Harrison

Age: 68

Location: Oldham, Greater Manchester

Bio: Retired, worked in manual jobs, no education to speak of. I love living

Feminism, well apart from the obvious equal rights agenda, I truly believe a good education is an essential requirement . Money or the lack thereof, holds people back. Feminism is not just for posh people who have a university education (no offence).

Feminism means freedom to choose and freedom from oppression. We need more support for working class people, young and old.

And no more page 3.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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Natasha Devon: Feminism is…

kiera senst

Name: Natasha Devon

Age: 32

Location: London

Bio: Writer, TV pundit & creator of multi-award winning ‘Body Gossip’ self-esteem classes for teenagers

Feminism is being supportive of other women and resisting the efforts of those trying to divide and conquer us!

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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Liz Colebrook: Feminism is…

lizcolebrookName: Liz Colebrook

Age: 50

Location: Bishop’s Castle

Bio: I am a bicycle mechanic who knows it’s not just about the bike.

Feminism is having an eye for subversive opportunity. Here, the feminist takes an abandoned tractor inner tube, some scissors and a second hand pair of high heels. The result speaks for itself. A woman can do everything.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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Kiera Senst: Feminism is…

kiera senstName: Kiera Senst

Age: 26

Location: Berlin

Bio: Between jobs expat in Berlin

Feminism is the pursuit of a reality where gender, race, class, sexuality, or any combination does not influence an individual’s ability to live their life. It is both and at one time an argument at odds with society and a discussion about it. It is a dynamic and continuing analysis of culture and human nature as a whole. It is a continuing fight born out of years of struggle – one that will inevitably evolve relative to trends, be they interconnectivity or conflict.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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Annette Rimmer: Feminism is…

Annette RimmerName: Annette Rimmer

Age: middle-aged

Location: Salford/Manchester border

Bio: Freelance radio producer, youth worker and lecturer – hater of the bedroom tax

Feminism is very simply believing that we are all equal (women, men, black, white, mixed, disabled, gay, straight, young, old, etc.) and very simply challenging those who think they are superior, especially the rich and abusers of power. Being a feminist means we are always ready to fight for equality. It’s simple. As bell hooks, my hero, says: “feminism is for everybody.”

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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Cass Wedd: Feminism is…

CassWeddName: Cass Wedd

Age: 63

Location: UK

Bio: I came to feminism in the early 1970s; it has been one of the defining frameworks in my life, leading me to set up and work on projects with, and for, women; and live a life with feminism at its core.

Feminism is about standing up for women’s rights in a world created according to patriarchal values, where women’s work is under-valued and under-paid and doesn’t acknowledge women’s role as mothers.

It is about making sure women’s voices are heard, women are treated with respect, and about working towards societies where women have a full half share in constructing how we live our lives.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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Anon: Feminism is…

Name: Anon

Feminism is women and girls caring for women and girls.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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Linda Odd: Feminism is…

Linda OddName: Linda Odd

Age: 57

Location: Ross-shire, Highland

Bio: Counsellor, Mental Health Worker, Laughter Trainer

Feminism is all the people in our communities working together to challenge inequality and discrimination against women.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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#16Days: A Tiny Protest

‘A Tiny Protest’, launched by women’s charity Eaves earlier this month, calls for major reforms to protect victims of trafficking in the UK.

Globally, 2.4 million people are estimated to be trafficked each year, making it the world’s second most profitable crime after the illegal drugs trade. According to official statistics, just over 2,000 victims were found in the UK last year, but experts believe the numbers may in fact be much higher.

The UK Government is currently drafting a Modern Slavery Bill, due to come into force next year. Eaves, a charity offering specialist support to female victims of trafficking, supports the Bill but is calling on the Government to use it as an opportunity to improve the treatment of victims.

Dorcas Erskine who runs the Eaves’ anti-trafficking programme the Poppy Project, said: “A lot of the women we have supported often face two nightmares for which it seems they will never wake – the brutality of the slavery-like conditions their traffickers have imposed on them; and then, post-escape, getting officials to believe them or even worse, finding themselves imprisoned for crimes their traffickers forced them to commit. ”

‘A Tiny Protest’ asks supporters simply to tweet, using the hashtag #tinyprotest, asking No. 10 to implement one of seven key principles about protecting victims of trafficking in the UK. For a tiny donation of £3, supporters can also add their own Tiny Protester to the campaign website, with all proceeds going towards Eaves’ Poppy Project work supporting trafficking victims.

The seven key principles Eaves would like to see incorporated into the Bill are:

1. Victims should be identified and treated in the same way wherever they are from in the world.

2. Victims should not be imprisoned or detained as a result of crimes their traffickers forced them to commit.

3. Victims should have at least 90 days access to legal, health and resettlement services.

4. Where victims choose to return home; steps should be taken to keep them safe and help given to rebuild their lives.

5. Victims have a right to compensation which should include funds from the confiscated assets of traffickers.

6. Victims have a right to justice and should expect crimes against them to be investigated whenever they took place.

7. The government proposed Anti-Slavery Commissioner should be politically independent and have the authority to hold officials to account.

Skin-plus-tiny-protesterThe campaign is supported by Skin from band Skunk Anansie, pictured with her tiny protester, as well as Stephen Fry, Alan Carr, Jo Brand, Stephen Merchant, Samantha Womack and Tim Minchin. Eaves launched their Tiny Protest at the House of Commons on Wednesday 13 November, where they put across the campaign’s key principles to Home Secretary Theresa May.

The social media campaign runs alongside real-world Tiny Protest events, where tiny polyresin protesters will assemble at landmarks such as Trafalgar Square and Speakers Corner.

Laura Bassett, fundraising manager at Eaves, said: “Many people won’t realise the scale of human trafficking in the UK. This campaign offers people the chance to do something seemingly tiny to help ensure the protection of victims. Added together, these tiny actions could amount to a huge impact on the lives of victims of trafficking.”

Find out more and get involved yourself at

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Esra Gurkan: Feminism is…

Esra GurkanName: Esra Gurkan

Age: 20

Location: Hometown: Leicester/University: Keele 

Bio: I am a half-Turkish, Leicester born and bred, English and American Literature student at Keele University who has only very recently been properly introduced and educated on the topic of feminism

Feminism is about equal political, social and economic rights for women. Why then do a lot of females shy away from feminism? Has the word become so tarnished by the media that celebrities and women in high positions now recoil in horror when associated with the word? Surely we should all want to be in support of equal rights and opportunities. What is more absurd than the negative connotations that this word holds is that we are in the year 2013 and are still having to fight tooth and nail for equality and the right to be thought of as important as men. We should no longer be deemed inferior. We should also not be scrutinised for our fashion choices or body sizes but instead on our capabilities. The word does not make us men-hating and bra-burning; it also does not mean that we love men any less. I vouch for and love women everywhere and want to fight for the recognition of our equal rights. We should not be afraid to admit that we are feminists. I am a feminist and I believe in equal rights.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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Arthur McDonald: Feminism is…

Name: Arthur McDonald 

Age: 63 

Location: Newcastle upon Tyne   

Bio: Artist/co-founder Gothic Moon Records

Feminism is at its most historically uncompromised, self-expressive, political and vivid in 21st century culture in the double-edged cultural sword that is Pussy Riot art and Femen art. The strongest and most aesthetically engaging philosophical propositions continue to be made by them and their allies. Events, internet sites, books, films, cajones, exhibitions, humour, paintings, posters, music… the lot. Join in 24/7. A self-defining, fledgling, self-educating culture, enriching and challenging the broader movement and the world.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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#ManWeek: 16 Days of Activism Against Violence

Today marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, also known as White Ribbon Day. It also sees our Man Week draw to a close, and the start of 16 days of activism against gender violence. The UN’s campaign Say NO – UNiTE to End Violence Against Women is calling on supporters to #orangeurworld throughout these 16 days, with actions to end violence against women and girls.

During Man Week we’ve looked at a range of views on violent men, as well as some of the men who are working to tackle male violence. Throughout the 16 days of activism we’ll be focusing on the impact of violence against women, as well as highlighting campaigns and actions that you can get involved with – movements like the White Ribbon Campaign and causes you can support, like Refuge’s 16 days of fundraising. If there’s anything you’d particularly like us to cover, please get in touch:

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Photo courtesy of AusAid

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#ManWeek: Profile – White Ribbon Campaign

‘To engage men in speaking out about violence against women and challenging the gender stereotypes which underpin abuse.’

One vital way to do this is by focusing just for one day on increasing the visibility of all the hidden violence(s) against women. This leads to activity around November 25th, the UN International Day to Eradicate Violence against Women, and the 16 days of action. We work not just around preventing Domestic Violence, but against all the other forms of male violence affecting women.

White Ribbon Campaign operates in 40 countries worldwide. White Ribbon Campaign UK has been operating since 2004 and operates as a primary prevention campaign, raising awareness, educating and changing the culture around the issue of violence against women. It relies totally upon individual donations, fundraising, and income from our big online shop which supports the work of one part-time employee and volunteers from our base in West Yorkshire.

It’s important to engage men in violence prevention because:

  • It’s men’s responsibility to do something about it – 89% of ongoing violence is committed by men against women
  • Women want men to engage in preventing violence – last year WRC UK co-operated with 14 different national women’s organisations
  • Men need to hear a violence prevention message coming from other men and to understand the benefits of not having to behave as a gender stereotype
  • As one of our stickers says ‘Pornography Degrades Men’

Our pledge site provides an opportunity for men to write a comment ‘I want to end Male Violence against Women because…
‘It’s Wrong – Violence against women will only cease when men stand up and challenge other men.’
‘Silence is not an option. Silence colludes with domestic violence, trafficking, pornography the sex trade, female genital mutilation, so called honour based violence and rape.’

We have developed award models for local authorities, schools, music venues, sports clubs and corporate supporters. We encourage supporting men to become Ambassadors. Every year more and more local authorities sign up as White Ribbon supporters. The total now stands at more than 50. To achieve this status they must draw up a demanding action plan to support their white ribbon campaigning year round.

As well as asking men to wear a ribbon or badge on November 25th, and for the 16 days following, typical activities to commemorate White Ribbon Day around the UK will include:
Swearing or pledge signing, t-shirt slogan drawing and display, handprint banners, balloon releases, high-heeled walks, special assemblies in schools, sports matches (soccer, rugby and ice hockey, boxing) music events (Nottingham are releasing a Song “Man Enough” on November 25th)

One local school received a White Ribbon Education award for developing an action plan of 18 actions points including: Having a Stall, Display Board, House assemblies, Use of Expect Respect toolkit (Womens Aid), Introduction to One Billion Rising, Staff Training, requests for ideas on how to link the campaign to specific topics within their subject area. The Boys Rugby Club produced 5,000 copies of a calendar of positive male role models- (childcare, elder care, cooking etc) which had a full page feature in the local paper.

We have 14,000 men who have pledged their support on our website. Why not 10x 100x or 1000x that number! Nottingham holds the record for collecting local pledges after enabling men to text their support. We are aware that ‘Wearing Ribbons is not enough’. Sending a text is not enough. BUT IT IS THE START of a process. WE support many feminist activities, and at London Feminist conference 13 men were discussing the possibility of a Pro Feminist Mens conference, the first time for 30 years that that has been discussed.

The Lord Mayor of York held a breakfast meeting of Chief Executives to launch its application for White Ribbon status. The Director of Public Health said ‘We have just bought a ticket for the journey. We have substantial work to do before we will deserve our award of White Ribbon status.’ This is the attitude we want to encourage. It is the responsibility of all men to be engaged in stopping this epidemic of violence.

The revolution in the lives of women demands a revolution in the lives of men. We welcome more partnership working on how best to develop, expand and get the message across. Men WILL be part of a culture of care, Men want to break free from old fashioned stereotypes of how men behave and that Men say NO to All violence.

Find out more about White Ribbon Campaign in the UK here. On November 25th White Ribbon will be having a continuous twitter presence @menantiviolence 

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Lucy Davies: Feminism is…


Name: Lucy Davies

Age: 39

Location: Rural Essex

Bio: Politically minded, if not always politically active, mother, PhD researcher, citizen, runner.

Feminism is the belief that people should be free to make the life choices they want without being judged based on gender. Being free to be how they are, or want to be, not how society’s perception of gender denotes they should or shouldn’t be. And being respected and valued in those choices as a human being. Feminism is according the same freedoms, value and respect to all women and men.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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Tania Shew: Feminism is…

Tania ShewName: Tania Shew

Age: 18

Location: London

Bio: Student, Feminist Times Ed Board member, ex-member of Camden School for Girls Feminist Club.

Feminism is an understanding that men and women still aren’t equal and a lust to change this status quo. Feminism is the view that patriarchy – which has negative effects on the lives of both men and women – must and can be overcome.

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Refuge calls for 16 Days of fundraising against domestic violence

Every year, the 16 days between the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (25 November) and Human Rights Day (10 December) are internationally recognised as the 16 Days of Action to End Violence Against Women.

National domestic violence charity Refuge is this year calling on supporters to mark the 16 Days with a fundraising campaign to support their specialist domestic violence services.

Supporters can take a Gold, Silver or Bronze pledge to raise £1,600, £160 or £16 respectively for Refuge’s services for women and children.

Sandra Horley CBE, chief executive of Refuge, said: “Sixteen days can be a life-threatening period of time for women and children experiencing domestic violence; the risk an abused woman faces is dynamic and can change quickly. But sixteen days can also be an opportunity for people to make a real difference.

“On any given day Refuge supports 3,000 women and children to escape domestic violence and rebuild their lives, free from fear.  But we cannot do this vital work without public support.  Please support our 16 Days campaign and help us continue to provide life-saving and life-changing support to women and children across the country.”

According to Refuge, during a 16-day period four women will be killed by a current or former, 432 women will attempt suicide as a result of domestic violence, and eight women will take their own lives to escape domestic abuse.

Refuge relies heavily on donations to sustain their work; every penny raised during the 16 Days campaign will go towards their life-saving work with women and children experiencing domestic violence.

To find out more visit or email with the word BRONZE, SILVER or GOLD in the email subject.

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

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Roanne Dods: Feminism is…

Name: Roanne Dods

Age: 47

Location: Glasgow

Bio: Artistic Director of PAL and Director of RoseOrange, supporting artists and others towards a better world

Feminism is yang to the ying of the longstanding ideas of power and humanity that have been overly male based for way too long. It is a dynamic movement that is in constant dialogue with itself and others movements of diversity, quality and integrity. It is a celebration and campaign to rebalance our culture to value of all things women, in all our beautiful diversity and unity.

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Equal Pay Day: women working for free

Today is Equal Pay Day, the point in the year when women will effectively be working the rest of the year for free because of the gender pay gap. According to Fawcett Society statistics, for every £1 a man takes home, a woman takes home only 85p – despite the Equal Pay Act being introduced more than 40 years ago. Maria Miller, Gloria de Piero and Natalie Bennett sent us their responses.

Maria MillerWomen and Equalities Minister Maria Miller said:

“Women are vital in building a stronger economy and we need to make sure we are making full use of their talents. We are making good progress – we have record numbers of women in work and the gender pay gap is closing, but we know there is more to do.

“Transparency is key to this, which is why pay secrecy clauses are now unlawful under the Equality Act and we are encouraging companies to sign up to our voluntary initiative Think, Act, Report, to improve gender equality at work. This approach is working with more than 130 companies signed up. This Government is committed to ensuring there is a cultural change around women in work and that cultural change is happening.”

Labour MP PhotocallShadow Minister for Women and Equalities, Gloria De Piero MP said:

“It is simply not good enough that forty years after the Equal Pay Act women still don’t earn equal pay for equal work, and despite doing better at school and university more women end up in lower skilled and lower paid jobs than men.

“We’ll never close the pay gap until we challenge the stereotypes which lead to gender segregation in occupations and take action to support women progress to the top of their professions, such as affordable childcare and tackling maternity discrimination too.

“But on David Cameron’s watch decades of progress for women is slipping backwards. Women are paying three times more than men to bring down the deficit, and with female unemployment reaching its highest levels for a generation we need a Government that will deliver a recovery not just for a few at the top but one that works for women. Because the whole economy loses when women’s talents and skills are under-valued and under-used.”

Natalie BennettGreen Party leader Natalie Bennett said:

“Equal pay day is a reminder that we still lack the tools to provide for full workplace equality for women. There are two main issues – “women’s work” being attributed lower value, and women having less opportunities to advance in the workplace. To deal with the former, medium and large companies should be obliged to conduct gender pay audits, and joint suits for equal pay made easier.

“In terms of advancement, the Green Party is calling for the highly successful Norwegian system of 40% quotas for the membership of boards of major companies to be instituted here, for greater opportunities for part-time workers, both female and male, and for a shared system of maternity/paternity pay.

“We also need to tackle the broader issue of our low-pay economy. Making the minimum wage a living wage, enforcing the minimum wage (a particularly huge issue for social care workers, of whom more than 80% are female), banning zero-hours contracts and tackling the forced casualisation of jobs, particularly in the retail sector are all essential steps to ensuring that all workers, but particularly lower paid women workers, are paid a fair wage. Saying that a job should pay you enough to live on is not a radical statement.”

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Teresa Stuart: Feminism is…

 Teresa StuartName: Teresa Stuart

Age: Almost 60

Location: Plymouth

Bio: Incest survivor, ex-nurse, single parent, graduate

When I was a child, feminism meant to me a future society where men could not hit their wife while police stood by ignoring “the domestic”.

As a teenager, a future where women weren’t either slags or virgins.

As an adult, equal work choices, equal pay.

Now, as an older woman, a fight to retain all we fought so hard for that is being taken by our current government.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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Zoe Durnford: Feminism is…

Zoe DurnfordName: Zoe Durnford

Age: 27

Location: London

Feminism is wanting and campaigning for an equal society, whilst understanding and confronting the patriarchal society we live in which negatively impacts women and to a lesser extent men.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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Sadie Jones: Feminism is…

Sadie JonesName: Sadie Jones

Age: 38

Location: Carmarthen, South Wales

Bio: I have been a feminist for twenty years and am currently studying for a fine art degree which allows me to explore many of my feminist ideas and interests through art.

Feminism is optimistic and about love and respect for humanity. It is not about hate or shame. Feminism believes in people being treated and judged equally regardless of their sex, sexual orientation, race, age or physical appearance. Feminism realises that a society which organises people by their sexual organs is completely arbitrary and ignores people who fit into neither of these categories. Feminism is a political force with a strong agenda: fighting for equal access to education, the prevention of sexualisation of young girls, for women to have control of their own bodies and sexuality, equal opportunities in work and equal pay, better access to childcare, for freedom from sexual discrimination and harassment, to make the media accountable for the images it produces and protect women from sex trafficking and the dangers involved in the sex industry; creating a society where women’s choices can be truly “free”.

As well as being active in wanting change, feminism is also a form of consciousness. It’s to look in from the outside: at a history steeped in women’s subordination and oppression. Once the blinkers of patriarchy are removed there is no going back and personally I wouldn’t want to.

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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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Claire Brayne: Feminism is…

Claire BrayneName: Claire Brayne

Age: 53

Location: Norfolk

Bio: I am an uncategorised person

Feminism is society’s way of celebrating, marking and exploring all that is good about being a woman.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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Liberty Guthrie: Feminism is…

Liberty GuthrieName: Liberty Guthrie

Age: 19

Location: Brighton

Bio: A happy, sushi-loving woman who is unhappy with some of the accepted norms of today

Feminism is accepting that men and women are equal but not the same. Feminism is feeling that as a woman your voice is just as loud. And feminism is knowing it’s your choice to swallow the pill or shave your pits!

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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Dave Verrill: Feminism is…

Dave VerrillName: Dave Verrill

Age: 42

Location: Llanllwni, Carmarthenshire, Wales

Bio: Odd bloke in the corner of the pub; been to medical school, dropped out been mad, dropped back in, worked with mentally ill, now studying for a degree in philosophy.

Feminism is about standing with your sisters as your sisters stand with you, even if you are one of their brothers.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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Susan Dowell: Feminism is…

Susan DowellName: Susan Dowell

Age: 71 (or 17, I’m dyslexic when asked for my age – take your pick!)

Location: Rural South-West Shropshire (back ass of nowhere)

Bio: I’ve done lots of things including living and working in Africa (Ethiopia and Zambia) for 5 years, having four children, and most importantly finding feminism which has been the focus of my writing and thinking over many years.

Feminism is A Dangerous Delight (the title of a 1991 book by Monica Furlong who died 20 years ago this year).

Dangerous, lethally so, for so many women throughout history and across the world today who struggle to be recognised as equal human beings with the same rights and dignity as men.

Delightful because feminism offers those of us who live in the prosperous secular West a solidarity in their struggle which, when we take care to ensure it is neither self-seeking nor self-aggrandising, heals the world.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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Feminism in London: Saturday 26 October

All week we’ve been previewing the Feminism in London conference with profiles of key activists and speakers taking part this weekend:

Shabina Begum on acid violence

Natalya Dell on disability and bi-visibility

Chris Green on the White Ribbon Campaign

Lola Tinubu on BME women and secularism

We’ll have a stall at Feminism in London conference tomorrow so come along if you’re there, pick up a flyer, and find out more about signing up as a member.

Following Feminism in London, we’ll be taking part in the tenth annual London Reclaim The Night march and we’d love our members to join us. Tweet us @Feminist_Times if you’re going and we’ll let you know where to find us. If you’re not a member yet but you’re thinking about signing up, please march with us and we’ll convince you.

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VIDEO: Southall Black Sisters Demo

Southall Black Sisters (SBS) yesterday staged a demonstration against UKBA’s “Go Home” posters and immigration bill outside Eaton House, Hounslow, in West London.

A group of around 30 activists from SBS and other organisations gathered outside the Immigration Reporting Centre at Eaton House to “campaign against the racist targeting of the most vulnerable in our society,” many of them wearing T-shirts emblazoned with “Do I look illegal?”

Writing for Feminist Times last week, Chitra Nagarajan, who is on the SBS management committee, said: “Politicians and media organisations reflect back a racist anti-immigration viewpoint to each other and make it seem like the norm. They continue to blame immigrants for economic woes. The government cuts the funding, housing and services available to immigrants. Their stated aim is to create a hostile environment that makes life unliveable… All of this has meant a heightening climate of fear for many, including women who have been subject to violence by their partners, whether or not they have leave to stay in the country.”

In August Southall Black Sisters protested against UKBA’s immigration raid in a Southall shopping centre – part of a series of tactics including the notorious “Go Home” vans and racial profiling at train stations across London.

Following a successful legal challenge by the Refugee and Migrant Forum East London (RAMFEL), UKBA shifted the message of their “Go Home” vans to Glasgow, Croydon and Hounslow, using a picture of a destitute person and the slogan: “Is life hard here? Going home is simple.”

On their blog, prior to the demo, Southall Black Sisters wrote: “there have been calls for inquiries and investigations into the government’s tactics. There is also a growing appetite to build an anti-racist movement. If the government can revert to the racism of the National Front’s ‘go home’ slogans of the 70s then we too can invoke the spirit of solidarity that underpinned the anti-racist movements of the 70s and 80s. Join us in demonstrating against the Government’s anti-immigration campaigns. We will not tolerate underhand tactics used to instil fear and divide us. Let us return to the streets and make our voices heard. We need to fight for our rights.”

They certainly made their voices heard, with a vibrant scene of drumming, chanting and supportive honking from cars passing on the main road, as you can hear in our video footage!

Feminist Times visits Southall Balck Sisters protest against current immigration policy. from Feminist Times on Vimeo.

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Tina Jordan: Feminism is…

Tina Jordan

Tina Jordan (on the left)

Name: Tina Jordan

Age: 48

Location: The Devon seaside

Bio: Still wondering

For some, Feminism is more disturbing than nostalgia. For others it’s like an old coin that has slipped down the back of the sofa or the wooden rackets of yesteryear. But for me it’s the Sleeping Beauty that begs to be kissed by time and re-emerge from the political and social coma where it’s been held hostage by the spendthrift re-definers of language who have spent years ironing it with an inch of its life.

Awakened, it is the illuminating principle of freedom for both women and men. Freedom to think. Freedom to be and the freedom to live accordingly.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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FiL: Lola Tinubu on BME women and secularism

Lola TinubuLola Tinubu has been a human rights advocate for 12 years, working as a legal representative for migrants and refugees. Many of her cases include victims of domestic violence, female genital mutilation and LGBT clients. She is a feminist, atheist and co-founder of the London Black Atheists (LBA). The LBA provides a supportive environment for black and others who have left religion or are leaving religion. Religion is central to black communities and atheists tend to suffer isolation and hostility. The LBA is a social and support group.

When and why did you become an atheist?

It’s always difficult to explain. I think I became an atheist in about 2007, through science. I was born into a Seventh Day Adventist family and I went along with it for a long time but I was confused. I would ask my dad questions and never get any satisfactory answers. My dad liked science and the science of the universe, so I started watching science documentaries with him. Through that I learned about the big bang and realised that what I was taught can’t be true. In the same year, Richard Dawkins book, The God Delusion came out and I read it. I felt traumatised by the book and started reading more and more.

What are the particular challenges facing BME women as atheists?

When I became an atheist I suffered from depression for a year. It’s really difficult because everyone you know believes in God. It’s almost like religion is the fabric of society – everything revolves around religion, even your social life and language. When I became an atheist I was alone – thank goodness for the internet because I started looking for atheist groups, which gave me my own social network. It’s a very difficult thing because you’re looked at like you’re evil; people will be careful around you because they think you will bring God’s anger on them. It can be very isolating but now – I think because of the kind of person I am – people have accepted me for who I am.

Is atheism more compatible with your feminist politics than Christianity, and do you think religion is inherently incompatible with feminism?

Absolutely. Part of what I’m going to say on Saturday is I’ve always been a feminist since I was five years old. I didn’t understand why my parents, when they both went to work and would came back at the same time, why my mother would always be in the kitchen and my father wouldn’t. I would ask him why are you not in the kitchen with my mum? He would tell me because that’s what the Bible says. Why? He couldn’t give me any acceptable explanation. I felt from a young age that I am not less than a man. Secularism is the only way to ensure equality. I used to say to my dad, the Bible says submit in love – you should be serving my mum if you really are the head of this family, but men don’t interpret it that way and religion gives them a lot of leeway.

By extension, is a more secular society automatically a more feminist one? 

What I’ve seen so far is that the names you tend to hear and the people that tend to speak about humanism, most of the time it’s men. I don’t know whether history has something to do with it, or whether it’s because women are not putting themselves forward. London Black Atheists was started because whenever we went to mainstream atheist events we wouldn’t see black people. There are five of us – three women – and we play equal roles. I don’t know why in the mainstream you tend to have men. It’s something that was women need to have a look at.

How can we ensure feminism is central to secular politics?

I think people are afraid to identify themselves as feminists – even women who believe in feminism goals and aims. I think we just need to put ourselves forward more, and write more articles and books. We need to organize events that have to do specifically with feminine issues and then invite the men – I think we need to be more specific and more vocal.

What are your biggest priorities for the feminist movement?

I don’t know where to start! I think feminism needs a rebrand for the younger ones to understand that it’s about equality and you not feeling that your worth depends on how a man values you. I have a daughter who’s 22 and I was shocked to discover how she feels about feminism.

Lola is leading a workshop on the shared challenges and experiences of BME women engaged in secular feminism, along with Gita Sahgal of the Centre for Secular Space, at Feminism in London conference this Saturday, 26 October.

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Rachel Watson: Feminism is…

Rachel WatsonName: Rachel Watson

Age: 29

Location: Suffolk

Bio: Web designer, horse rider, petrol head, chocaholic.

Feminism is defying expectations and breaking down stereotypes, not for the sake of it but because this is your life and this is how you want to live it.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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It’s not Gloria de Piero’s boobs that are controversial. It’s her brains

Last Thursday Labour MP Gloria de Piero made the news. Not because of her policies but because of her boobs. It seems a national newspaper offered thousands of pounds to unearth topless pictures taken when she was 15. Days earlier, her appointment as shadow minister for women and equalities was announced. That’ll teach a working class woman to have notions above her station.

On the Tuesday, representatives from Lose the Lads’ Mags campaign, including actress Ramola Garai, had spoken at a sold out event in Parliament. They argued that having lads’ mags on sale in family spaces, such as Tesco, was contributing to a culture wherein the sexualisation of women and young girls, is considered normal.

Glamour models are ubiquitous. Women, like de Piero, who dare to make a bid for power using their brains rather than their bodies, however, are either invisible or pilloried by the press. The two stories are inextricably linked.

Initially, the press wasn’t that interested in the Lose the Lads’ Mags story. Then Dominic Smith, grandiloquent editor of Nuts, entered the fray. There’s nothing like a bit of aggro to prick the malestream media’s interest.

In an interview with Green MP Caroline Lucas, on Radio 5 Live, Smith seemed flummoxed by Lucas’ use of “big” words, like “culture” and “objectification”. I can see how such vocabulary, coming from a woman, can be discombobulating (gratuitous big word alert) to a man who surrounds himself with compliant teenagers whose brains are sadly often surplus to other anatomical requirements. Smith then used Lucas’ linguistic dexterity to accuse her, and the entire campaign, of being middle class, therefore irrelevant.

I’m a feminist, from a working class background, with a penchant for big words myself (I collected them as a child). I grew up on the “wrong” side of the Liffey and, whilst there were many things we couldn’t afford (hence collecting words as opposed to dolls), education wasn’t one of them. That was free.

It’s because of my education that I can intellectually deconstruct the propaganda peddled by Smith and other purveyors of porn. It’s not just patronising to imply that the only choice open to girls from working class backgrounds is to get their kit off for male titillation, it’s also cods wallop.

By refusing to engage with the intellectual discourse on the grounds that it’s “middle class”, lads’ mags’ apologists are copping out. When surveys produce data indicating that 63% of teenagers aspire to be glamour models as opposed to doctors, teachers or, God forbid (I use this term as an Irish Atheist), politicians like de Piero, alarm bells should be ringing.

Supporters of lads’ mags say they’re not pornographic (and Tetley isn’t tea) and that they’re no worse than women’s magazines. I loathe most women’s magazines. Many are guilty of multitudinous crimes against women, but they’re not porn. Lads’ mags offer free videos of women dressed like schoolgirls, stripping, they contain adverts that lead into hardcore porn and the back pages are awash with numbers for sex chat lines.

Also worth noting, women’s magazines tend to put other women on the front cover. If they serially featured teenage boys in thongs (or naked), leaving nothing to the imagination, with splayed legs and fondling his bits, there would be a public outcry. Sexualised images of women and girls are so pervasive now that we’ve become desensitised to them.

It’s reported that half of school girls are considering plastic surgery to make themselves thinner and prettier, 90% of eating disorders are amongst females, teenage gang rape is on the increase and 1 in 3 girls have reported unwelcome sexual touching at school. Camden School For Girls made similar points in a documentary, which persuaded their local Tesco to remove lads’ mags.

Portraying women as sex objects perpetuates gender inequalities. Objectification is dehumanising. That’s the point. It’s much easier to abuse (or discriminate against) a non-person reduced to mere body parts. Tits and ass usually. The sex industry, which includes lads’ rags, has a vested interest in normalising the objectification of women. To them, women and girls are just commodities. To be bought and sold – in your local Tesco.


Tess Finch-Lees is a journalist, ethical blogger and human rights campaigner. Find out more at:

Image courtesy of Gloria de Piero’s office.

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Lizzie Spring: Feminism is…

Lizzie SpringName: Lizzie Spring

Age: 59

Location: London

Bio: A tired, angry, amused, leftover from 1970s hopefulness, who has worked for many years as a manager in the voluntary sector, and currently facing old age with curiosity and terror

Feminism is realising we need each other to make change happen. It’s single mothers realising none of our most “political” female friends will ever offer help with babysitting, however lonely and desperate we are for a break – and realising less dramatic or public-facing ones will. Feminism knows women are human and fallible, not super-beings, not chattels. It’s casually expecting to realise ambitions, earning as much as you want and deserve for paid work, and choosing what to do and how and when. Walking without fear in the dark. Standing naked without fear in front of a mirror. And in front of a lover. Eating what you want; feeling your body from within rather than always viewing it critically from without. It’s enjoying sex and sexuality. It’s being educated about the situations of women across the world and helping with emancipation and the right to safety for them too. And of course it’s helping other women with boring babysitting because they need it. Because women are fallible and not super-beings, and feminism in pragmatic everyday practice, is necessary and strong.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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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: Natalya Dell on disability and bi-visibility

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

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

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

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

Why is disability a feminist issue?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can the feminist movement learn from disability activism?

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

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

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

What are your biggest priorities for the feminist movement?

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

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

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Trista Hendren: Feminism is…

Trista HendrenName: Trista Hendren

Age: 38

Location: Portland, Oregon USA

Bio: Author of The Girl God

Feminism is the struggle for full human rights for ALL women and girls.

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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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B G Morgan: Feminism is…

B G MorganName: B G Morgan

Age: Aged 76, I must be the world’s most unlikely writer of erotica – a fact I don’t mind milking.

Location: 50/50 France and England

Bio: Retired from working world-wide in perfumery, sexual reproductive health, and weight loss, to write erotic novels as a trojan horse for serious issues – ranging from the tragedy of childlessness to the challenge of global over-population.

Feminism is at a crossroads. Is it crying ‘Help me, I am lost’ or is it pointing the way ahead? Hetero-monogamy struggles to survive, but gays and lesbians marry as never before. Men increasingly seem redundant while women stretch their wings and enjoy new freedoms. Our small world hurtles towards over-population yet many know the tragedy of childlessness. More women are confident about their sexuality yet questions of what is OK and what is not grow ever more complicated. My new erotic novel ‘Male Appendages’ invites us to view this shifting world of feminism through the prism of six very different women and their explicitly portrayed sex lives.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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Isadora Vibes: Feminism is…

Isadora VibesName: Isadora Vibes

Age: 43

Location: Bristol

Bio: I am a performance artist and poet creating poetically feminist bravura theatre. Find out more here: @isadoravibes

Feminism is a lived experience. It is part of sex, art, work, pain, pleasure, anger, elation, joy, is mythic…it is truth. Feminism is a life choice. An emotional, spiritual, political, practical decision. It is an indelible belief that we can share with a worldwide community of women AND men. Feminism is part of the problem and part of the solution. Feminism is about celebrating and also questioning all that it means to be female. Feminism can provide a construct within which we can select and place our beliefs, be given a space in which to be heard. Feminism is part of our history..our worth as women in a society which so often seeks to silence us. Feminism is not a concept. It is an empowering ethos by which we can collaborate together for a more open and balanced world of acceptance and respect. Without men there would be no need for feminism. Let us not shut them out but take them with us. Feminism is a chance to change and be changed. To be challenged and reframed. Feminism is the truth that we wish to become. The change that we want to be. Feminism sets us free.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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Alison Woolf: Feminism is…

Alison WoolfName: Alison Woolf

Age: 51

Location: Canvey Island, Essex

Bio: Married at 17, still am, mummy at 18, shit jobs for 10 years, rescued by the OU, worked in adults social care for 20 years

Feminism is a philosophy and historical social movement that campaigns and works for equality of opportunity and outcomes for women in their public and private lives. Modern feminism has many facets and I would like to hope, embraces diversity, confronting the dilemmas choice can provide understanding that equal does not mean the same and taking a global view.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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Why immigration is a feminist issue

Government policies are intensifying in anti-immigrant focus. The draft immigration bill contains proposals to charge immigrants for using the NHS, force landlords to check the status of tenants and require checks before opening a bank account or being issued with a driving licence.

Struggles around immigration should be a central part of the feminist movement. These laws and policies are the cutting edge of black communities’ experience of state racism with women particularly affected.

In the 1970s, immigration officials conducted ‘virginity tests’ on South Asian women who arrived in the UK to marry fiancés. These state sanctioned sexual assaults were based not only on biological myth but also on racist and sexist stereotypes.

In its early months, the Coalition removed legal aid for non-detention immigrants, including women who had experienced domestic violence. After a legal challenge from Southall Black Sisters, it announced an amendment to cover domestic violence cases but what of other vulnerable women?

These policies, thirty-five years apart, are just two examples of the injustice of immigration policies and how they affect women.

Racist and classist laws and policies aim at keeping the wrong people out and letting the right ones in. Plans to introduce a £3,000 deposit for visas will not affect American tourists but mean none of our family, with their Indian passports, will be able to attend my brother’s wedding in England next year.

Politicians and media organisations reflect back a racist anti-immigration viewpoint to each other and make it seem like the norm. They continue to blame immigrants for economic woes. The government cuts the funding, housing and services available to immigrants. Their stated aim is to create a hostile environment that makes life unliveable.

The most common word used to describe ‘immigrants’ in newspapers is ‘illegal’.  Statistics are often inflated, speculative and without sources. The counter-narrative of people living as friends, neighbours, family, classmates and colleagues is seldom highlighted. Neither is support for immigrants and their rights.

All of this has meant a heightening climate of fear for many, including women who have been subject to violence by their partners, whether or not they have leave to stay in the country.

In the light of these deliberate attempts to create a racist anti-immigrant electorate, the broad-based backlash against vans driven around London with the message ‘go home or face arrest’ and the race profiling spot checks is welcome. Recent months have also seen an upsurge in mobilising.

From asking for help to go home (to Willesden Green) and distributing leaflets informing people of their rights to organising a protest against spot checks that made Southall a no go area and bringing a court challenge against the campaign, people are taking action.

The ‘racist vans’ were just the visible tip of a very large iceberg. Their messages have now moved from the streets to places out of the public eye, such as signing on centres in Croydon, Hounslow and Glasgow.

Southall Black Sisters is organising a demonstration on 24th October at Eaton House (581 Staines Road, Hounslow, TW4 5DL) where the ‘go home’ posters are being displayed – see here for details. All feminists need to support women migrants by allying with these campaigns and actions. The struggle for the rights of immigrants should be one that concerns us all.

Demo against UKBA 'Go Home' Campaign

Chitra Nagarajan has worked to promote and protect human rights, especially those of women, in China, the United Kingdom, the United States and countries in west Africa for over ten years in both professional and personal capacities. She currently works on issues of human rights and peacebuilding in Nigeria but remains linked to activism in the UK. She tweets here and blogs here.

Images courtesy of Southall Black Sisters.

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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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Flo Forster: Feminism is…

Flo ForsterName: Flo Forster

Age: 19

Location: Leamington Spa

Bio: I’m a student at Warwick Uni, studying politics, philosophy and economics

Feminism is super easy. If you believe that all human beings are equal, and you believe that women are human beings, then you’re a feminist!

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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Madeleine Walton: Feminism is…

Madeleine WaltonName: Madeleine Walton

Age: 52

Location: Sheffield

Bio: Lesbian artist with three adopted daughters

Feminism is … Women: as the subject; asking questions; ascertaining the truth; being in control; believing in ourselves; breaking boundaries; creating space; demanding respect; developing new ways of working; doing it for ourselves; empowering each other; ending injustices; establishing the facts; exposing the reality; expressing ourselves freely; fighting patriarchy; forging alliances; getting old disgracefully; having equal rights; having the freedom to choose; knowing our rights; learning from each other; liking our own bodies; listening to each other; living life to the full; saying it as it is; looking out for each other; loving ourselves as we are; overcoming set-backs; setting the agenda; showing girls how to be independent; speaking out; speaking up; stopping violence against women; subverting society; taking back the night; taking control; taking on the state; thinking for ourselves; threatening the status quo; understanding our history; valuing ourselves; voicing our opinions; we are stronger together!

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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A is for Apathy: Why is Mr Gove not championing Abuse campaign?

This is Abuse, the landmark Home Office campaign, is a laudable effort to change the attitudes of young people, aiming to prevent violence and foster respect in their relationships. This multi-million pound campaign is ongoing and you might have noticed the infomercials on TV – though of course they are aimed at teenagers, and smart partnerships with the likes of E4 mean some of us over 21 might not have seen them. As This is Abuse goes into its third year, we ask why this campaign is not being followed through into our schools, an obvious place to tackle young adults’ attitudes towards women and girls.

It started in 2010 when the Government produced a strategy to end violence against women and girls, in response to the evidence of crisis levels of domestic and sexual crime. The publication is a grim snapshot of female life in the UK: in one year there are one million female victims of domestic violence, 300,000 women are sexually assaulted and 60,000 women raped. In our lifetimes we have a 1 in 4 chance of being a victim of domestic violence and 70% of teenage mums are in a violent relationship. Globally, the report concluded, violence against women and girls is at “pandemic” proportions.

They promise to “develop a cross-government communications strategy”, emphasising that “violence against women and girls is a gender-based crime which requires a focused and robust cross-government approach” and they commit to “work together across government… to ensure that our response is cohesive and comprehensive”. The ambition is clear. So why then is this campaign, part of the strategy set out by the Government and aimed at teenagers, only championed by the Home Office as a criminal issue and not being taken into every school in the country as an education issue?

Holly Dustin, Director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition said: “it is extremely disappointing and quite baffling that schools have not been told directly about This Is Abuse.” Baffling is exactly what it is; it’s a vital opportunity missed. “This is a critical initiative at a time when abuse and harassment of girls is at an all-time high. It is vital that all parts of government pull together on tackling violence against women and girls,” she added. It seems obvious that by copping out the Department of Education risks compromising the success of the campaign and the whole strategy.

At the time of publication the Home Office had declined to comment on why the Department of Education were not rolling out the campaign in our schools. A Department of Education spokesperson suggested it’s down to teachers to find out about the campaign, pointing out that the teaching resources were all available online. “We expect teachers to ensure that all pupils develop an awareness of the issues around physical violence and abuse as part of sex and relationship education. We trust in the professional judgement of teachers to do so appropriately,” the Department of Education said. But even if Gove won’t prescribe it, how about flagging it up to the teachers? Drawing their attention to it? Teachers, like many of us, are busy, tired and unlikely to be watching E4.

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper did respond to the Feminist Times saying, “it’s hardly surprising that there’s a block coming from a Department run by Michael Gove. A third of teenage girls in relationships have experienced physical or sexual violence in relationships, yet Michael Gove is living in a time-warp; he doesn’t even think sex education should be updated to teach children about online safety and how to deal with exposure to online pornography.”

Campaigners like the teenage girls behind Campaign4Consent, and the Telegraph’s campaign for #bettersexed have an uphill battle on their hands if Michael Gove won’t even roll out an existing, multi-million pound Government campaign in UK schools.

The only way for the government to fulfil it’s own promise for a cross departmental strategy is to make sure every teacher knows about This is Abuse, where to get the materials to teach it and understands why this campaign is critical to the safety of women and girls across the UK. You would have thought a pandemic was too important to leave to chance.

Contact Mr Gove

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Sarah Cason: Feminism is…

SarahCasonName: Sarah Cason

Age: 30

Location: Bangkok

Bio: Learner driver feminist, ESL teacher, rollergirl

Feminism is an interrogation of and retaliation against the oppression of women across the world, and seeks to achieve equality through real change.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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Ruth Lewis: Feminism is…

Ruth LewisName: Ruth Lewis

Age: 47

Location: Newcastle upon Tyne and Whitley Bay

Bio: Ruth Lewis is a feminist whose day job is as a Sociology lecturer at Northumbria University and who has been involved for decades in  feminist activism, especially around domestic violence, and including organising the North East Feminist Gathering

Feminism is a social movement, a personal consciousness, a theoretical framework, a political analysis, an ethos. Through all these, feminism aims to liberate women from oppressive structures, practices, cultures and ideologies. As a way of seeing the world, feminism helps us recognise that human beings’ lives are determined largely by whether they are women or men. It helps us see, and therefore challenge, the patriarchal structures which set out gendered roles, behaviours and life-paths for women and men, restricting their ways of being, their life chances, their experiences and choices. Importantly feminism is not just about analysis; it is also intrinsically about progressive social change. Feminism is a tool to help us imagine a world where people’s lives are not determined by their gender, and helps us to fulfil those imaginings by challenging patriarchal structures and ideologies. Imagining alternatives is an important aspect of breaking free of the constraints we live with.  At its best, feminism recognises the intersection of patriarchy with other structures and ideologies – about sexuality, ethnicity, class, for example – which restrict women’s lives, thereby making feminism relevant to all women, whatever their circumstances.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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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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National Crime Agency: a missed opportunity for domestic abuse victims?

This week saw the launch of the much-anticipated National Crime Agency (NCA), a new agency formed to fight organised crime, child protection, border policing and cyber crime. Along with the launch came some very bold words from the agency’s director general, Keith Bristow: “No one will be beyond the reach.

Part of the NCA is the National Cyber Crime Unit. Their remit includes working proactively to target criminal vulnerabilities and prevent criminal opportunities. They also assist the NCA and wider law enforcement to prevent cyber-enabled crime and pursue those who utilise the internet and associated tools for criminal means.

The development of the NCA and the National Cyber Crime Unit (NCCU) has in my opinion, and in the view of other experts, arguably missed the perfect opportunity to tackle cyber stalking.

This is a crime where currently  too few prosecutions are being processed by standard police forces under amendments to the Protection from Harassment Act 2012 mainly due to the fact that police and CPS staff have failed to receive any training – the new stalking laws led to only 33 convictions between November 2012 and 30 June 2013.  The NCA and NCCU could have taken the development of the NCA as an opportunity to work alongside standard police forces to develop the expertise required to tackle cyber stalking and ultimately save lives.

The NCA is Home Secretary Theresa May’s baby. Remember, Theresa May has finally commissioned Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary to carry out an inspection into how police forces are responding to domestic abuse – a crime which one in four women will be subjected to at some point in their lives; a crime that kills on average two women each week. That’s 104 women per year killed at the hands of their current or former partner, yet it has taken a number of high profile cases, such as the deaths of Maria Stubbings and Clare Wood, for Theresa May to finally bite the bullet and ask why this is happening.

We know domestic abuse kills women. We also know there are strong links between domestic abuse and stalking. According to the UK Home Office in January 2011, 39 per cent of stalkers are the victim’s partner or ex-partner. Unsurprisingly, survivors of domestic violence are at higher risk of physical harm. The Metropolitan Police, no less, found that 40 per cent of domestic violence murders were also victims of stalking.

Jennifer Perry, an expert in cyber stalking, states in her guide ‘Digital stalking: A guide to technology risks for victims’, published jointly by the Network for Surviving Stalking and Women’s Aid, 2012: “Today, most stalking includes a ‘cyber’ aspect. Those who stalk offline will usually use cyber activities to assist in the harassment and intimidation of their victims.”

Given this evidence linking cyber stalking to stalking and domestic abuse, you’d think Theresa May would have ensured that the NCA allocated some of their £458 million to the crime of cyber stalking wouldn’t you? Amazingly, not a single penny has been earmarked.

“The government has to develop better strategies in dealing with stalking and harassment because technology is increasing the number of victims by making it easy to stalk and more efficient. [The technology available] increases the ability to gather better information on the victim which feeds the obsession,” Jennifer Perry said, when asked whether the NCA should have a role in addressing cyber stalking.

“I think there is an argument for the NCA to develop better tools, protocols and co-operation that could be used by non-specialised forces so crimes against individuals are more effectively investigated and prosecuted,” she added.

“It is as if the police all want to ignore this, probably because they find the idea of dealing with it overwhelming.”

So Keith Bristow, in response to your bold statement on the launch day of the NCA, I say you are setting yourself up to fail. A large number of cyber crime offenders are already beyond your reach.

At the time of publication, the Association of Chief Police Officers had not responded with a comment.


Donna Navarro is a journalist and campaigner with over ten years experience of working with high risk perpetrators of domestic abuse in the public and legal sectors. She blogs about social justice and violence against women and children Find out more @lexiconlane

Image courtesy of Victor1558

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Joseph Attard: Feminism is…

Joseph AttardName: Joseph Attard

Age: 22

Location: London

Bio: I am a copywriter and content manager for an online casino affiliate company

What is feminism? Feminism is not about favours for favours. It is not us against them or me against you. It is not now and nor shall it ever be achieved. It is a process, not an endpoint. Feminism is not finding a ‘special place’ in society. Feminism is not a gift bestowed by anyone upon anyone else. Feminism is not sexism by another name, nor is it ‘going too far.’ Feminism is not about working, or not working, or raising children or not raising children. Feminism is not about being anything or anyone.

Feminism is not about gender, it is about decency. Feminism is not ‘political correctness gone mad’ and it is not cultural imperialism. Feminism is not about women, it is about humanity. It is not about sex or sexuality, it is about sanity. Feminism is not coloured or monolingual. Feminism is not about freedom, it is about choice.

Feminism acknowledges that in the history of the human race, the most ubiquitously oppressed individuals have occupied 50% of the total population of the planet. Feminism is the intellectual refuge of our species and our only salvation from our most pervasive injustice.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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Newcastle firmly on the feminist map

One of the first phone calls I received when I started working on this magazine was from North East Feminist Gathering (NEFG) co-organiser Roweena Russell, eager to tell me all about the exciting feminist times they’re having up in the North East.

Home to the family of suffragette Emily Wilding Davison, the North East, I discovered, is a hive of grassroots feminist activity; in Newcastle alone there’s the Newcastle Women’s Collective, Newcastle University Feminist Society and Newcastle Slutwalk.

A delegation from the NEWomen’s Network travelled to Geneva in July for the Convention to Eliminate Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and NEWomen member Cris McCurley wrote for our website launch about CEDAW’s findings on the UK Government’s changes to legal aid.

This weekend, 150 feminists are assembling in Newcastle for the second annual North East Feminist Gathering. This year’s sold-out, two-day gathering has panel discussions and workshops covering fourth wave feminism, legal aid, violence against women, disability, black women’s activism, women in party politics and more. Other activities on offer over the weekend include making feminist knicker bunting and an Open Mary, a feminist version of the Open Mic.

SarahGrahamI’ll be covering the NEFG for Feminist Times all weekend – tweeting about #NEFG13 from @Feminist_Times, chatting to attendees, recruiting new Feminist Times members, and answering any questions you have about the website and magazine. One of the most striking things about organising my trip so far has been the friendliness and hospitality of the NEFG team. Please do look out for me if you’re there – we’d love to hear from you.

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Natalie Bennett

Green Party leader criticises lack of women in cabinet

Green Party leader Natalie Bennett has criticised Prime Minister David Cameron following this week’s reshuffle, pointing out that he is a long way off fulfilling his pledge that a third of ministers will be women by 2015.

Bennett said: “There are many angles to the problem of the lack of diversity in our government, with our cabinet of millionaires with a curiously large number of men who attended expensive public schools, but the lack of women in top leadership roles is telling, particularly given Mr Cameron’s pledge.”

Only five of the 32 people who attend Cabinet are women and the Quad – the coalition’s main decision-making body – is entirely male.

In the Labour Party reshuffle, 11 of Ed Miliband’s 27 full shadow cabinet members are women and 14 of the 32 politicians who attend shadow cabinet are women.

“Both leaders are handicapped by the fact that their parties have failed to move effectively to increase the representation of women in parliament,” Bennett added.

“I am proud of the wide range of Green Party policies that seek to advance the position of women in society, from following the ‘Norwegian model’ of a minimum quota of 40 per cent women on major company boards, to insisting large companies conduct and publish pay audits so that gender and other discrepancies are exposed.”

She pointed out the Green Party has 15 women on its list of 27 Official Spokespeople, including herself, Green MP Caroline Lucas and Green peer Jenny Jones, saying the party has a “long-standing commitment to supporting the advancement of women in politics.”

Referring to the political response to our recent Equal Pay campaign with Elle magazine and Mother, Bennett said: “The Lib Dem equalities minister, Jo Swinson, in saying women should have to ask their male workmates what they are paid is getting the responsibility entirely the wrong way around. It is up to companies to pay all of their staff fairly, and to show that they are doing so.”

At the time of publication, No.10 had not responded to our request for a comment.

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Juliet Powell: Feminism is…

Juliet PowellName: Juliet Powell

Age: 46

Location: Bellevue, WA, USA

Bio: British expat mum of five who is about to take the doula/midwifery world by storm 

Feminism is never having to apologise for being the girl or woman you want to be.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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Amna Riaz: Feminism is…

Amna RiazName: Amna G Riaz

Age: 20

Location: York

Bio: A poet, writer and a student  

Feminism is the struggle against the symbolic use and ownership of women’s bodies, in order to meet the desires of men. Miley Cyrus’s 23 video demonstrates this struggle excellently. Cyrus is scantily clad surrounded by three fully clothed men. It is utterly ridiculous that in the 21st century women’s abilities are still based solely on their bodies and only for the consumption of men.

Feminism however also recognises intersectionalism, which is demonstrated by one youtube commentator on Cyrus as the following ‘I’m all for rap videos with sexy women dancing or singing, but damn, this was repulsive’. What it shows is that patriarchy holds different values and norms for women of colour and white women. Had Cyrus been a black woman, Cyrus would have been ‘sassy’ or ‘promiscuous’ rather than ‘repulsive’.

Finally, feminism is also the struggle against a static concept of gender identity. Cyrus’ video is considered by some as ‘vulgar’, men and women in this case therefore suffer from hyper masculinity and femininity which are social constructions.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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Pussy Riot by Igor Mukhin

We are not all Pussy Riot

Dressed in brightly coloured tights, dresses and balaclavas, and sticking two fingers up at the establishment, Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot seized the world’s attention last March, for far more than their garish dress-sense.

Their iconoclastic, anti-Putin protest gig, performed in the Russian Orthodox Church, landed two of their members in prison, sparking international outcry.

Pussy Riot’s protest – like the suffragettes’ smashed windows, the 1970 smoke-bombing of Miss World, and the women-only blockades of Greenham Common – shares a spirit of feminist activism that, throughout history, has been brash, rebellious, and radical.

But we are not all Pussy Riot. For the many women contending with mental and physical illness, childcare, poverty and shyness, that kind of direct activism is simply not possible.

Yet feminism today boasts an increasingly diverse range of activists, many of whom are crafting out their own frontlines away from more traditional forms of protest.

Zoë, Clare, Mandy and Wanda are four such feminists; all very different, and spanning two decades in age, but whose voices still so often go unheard. They tell me – a self-confessed fainthearted activist – why the emphasis on marching and blockading can be alienating, and how activism is changing to include women like us.

25-year-old Zoë was “doomed to be political”, with a feminist mum and a Marxist dad. She went on her first march aged 17 but now, eight years later, there are days when she struggles to leave the house.

Zoë suffers from bipolar, agoraphobia and anxiety problems, and is recovering from anorexia – mental illnesses that “can be really devastating” to her everyday life and her activism.

“Sometimes I can’t get out of bed or I have panic attacks if I go outside. Being on public transport or in public spaces can be really, really difficult, so I have people come with me to make it easier,” she says, indicating her boyfriend, who is sitting at the next table and has accompanied her across central London to meet me.

Although Zoë’s mental health has improved thanks to cognitive behavioural therapy, she finds traditional activism difficult: “A lot of the events need you to be more mentally fit than I have been – crowds can be incredibly difficult.”

At the TUC’s March 26 protest, Zoë “freaked out” when she found herself near a group of protesters who were smashing the windows of a Starbucks coffee shop.

“On the one hand you’ve got potentially very violent police, and potentially very violent protests, and you’re somewhere in the middle, trying to cope with the whole thing while having a panic attack,” she explains.

More commonly though, her mental health simply stops her from participating at all: “What normally happens is I get worse before I get there, so it stops me getting places,” she says. “I just become overwhelmed with anxiety about the whole thing and sometimes I won’t even get out of the door.”

Like many women in her position, Zoë has felt frustrated by the emphasis on traditional activism. “There’s an idea that boots on streets activism is where it’s at, and it’s all about a particular style of protest,” she says. “It used to make me feel really awful.”

Finding her own community online changed all that. After building up an online network of more than 2,000 Twitter followers, Zoë co-founded The Fementalists, a collaborative blog for feminist women to discuss their experiences of mental health problems.

“There are a lot of women with mental health problems who are struggling to do traditional activism, which is why we came up with the idea for this blog,” she explains.

Since launching in late May, The Fementalists already has its own following of more than 1,500 Twitter users and posts covering topics from depression and anxiety to bipolar and eating disorders.

“It seems to have really hit a chord. People are feeling unsupported and this is what they’ve been waiting for,” Zoë says.

“It’s about giving women a space to talk about their own mental health conditions and feminism, and how the traditional styles of activism can be quite excluding and difficult.”

Like Zoë, 42-year-old Clare Cochrane has always been political, experiencing her first taste of direct action at the age of 13, when her mum took Clare and some friends to visit Greenham Common women’s peace camp.

“Then, when I was 16, I borrowed my mum’s tent and went a few times on my own,” she reminisces. “There’s nothing like it. It was really inspiring to get to be part of something that amazing and to learn from such amazing women.”

She recalls the excitement of disrupting cruise missile convoys: “Some women would stay at the base and make lots of noise, while other women would go along the route and hold up the convoy,” she says.

However it was a physical disability, rheumatoid arthritis, that put paid to Clare’s days of direct action.

The illness developed 20 years ago, while Clare was involved with activism at Faslane nuclear submarine base in Scotland, prompting her to give up activism and move abroad to stay with her parents for their support.

“It had a huge impact on my activism,” Clare says. “I stopped doing any for about 12 or 13 years.”

Since returning to the UK Clare has rediscovered activism but had to make huge adjustments, as the illness means her health and mobility fluctuate dramatically.

“I have a lot of periods where I’m just ill and there’s very little I can do so my life’s quite restricted,” she explains. “As I get older, I’m less and less able to do stuff, so I can’t walk very far anymore without being absolutely worn out at the end of it and in pain.”

Clare talks with all the passion and conviction you might expect of a Greenham veteran, but several times has to stop for breath or to find the right words.

“It’s a chronic, lifelong illness, so I have to be aware that if I’m going to put lots and lots of energy into a campaign then I have to do less other stuff.”

This means pacing herself, allowing for recovery time, and completely rules out spontaneity.

Nevertheless, activism remains one of her top priorities: “I don’t do any less activism, I do less other stuff!” she laughs, when I ask how she balances living with the illness.

Even so, it’s been a hard shift to make: “I can’t do direct action anymore – I couldn’t do lying down in roads or locking myself to things, so I have to focus on doing the organising,” she says.

“It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it’s very painful and difficult, if that’s where you heart is,” she adds.

“With disability comes loss, and, inevitably, you end up grieving for the things you can’t do. It takes a while to find new skills to start doing a different kind of activism.”

Most notably, Clare has brought activism within her own limitations by founding Oxford Reclaim The Night in 2007, after she moved to the town. Although she’d always loved the London marches, Clare found the length of the march and the travelling involved exhausting.

Her first attempt at travelling from Oxford to London for a Reclaim The Night march “nearly killed me”, so she formed a creative collective of feminists and set up a much shorter march closer to home.

“It’s probably a walk you can do in 25 minutes, but we stretch it out to 45 by stopping along the way to sing feminist songs,” she says.

Mandy*, just two years her junior, couldn’t be more different. While Clare spent her teenage years blocking cruise missile convoys at Greenham Common, Mandy was so shy as a teenager that she “always preferred to keep quiet in the background rather than speak up and be noticed.”

Although motherhood has boosted the 40-year-old’s confidence, she still prefers to speak to me by email and text message, and says, “I never have and can never see myself going on a march!”

Shyness affects Mandy’s feminism on a number of levels, making her cautious about openly identifying as a feminist because of how that might be perceived.

“If you are naturally shy, when you are put in a confrontational situation, it is actually very damaging and difficult,” she says. “So to even openly talk about feminism isn’t something I always do.”

Like Zoë, Mandy has found that Twitter provides a safe and supportive space for her to explore and keep up with feminist issues. But even online Mandy has faced criticism for opening up about her wariness to identify as a feminist.

“There seems to be a general feeling that unless you speak up and proudly shout out that you are a feminist, you ought not to call yourself a feminist,” Mandy says, describing a recent confrontation on the subject.

“Some may argue that I’m an armchair feminist – that’s it’s little action, just words – but I feel there are other ways to get involved in feminism,” she says.

“I feel very strongly that instilling the right values in my children from a young age can have a solid foundation for behaviours later in life,” she explains.

A stay-at-home mother of three, who also works part-time with autistic children, Mandy strives to raise her two sons to respect women and girls, in the hope that they will grow up aware of, and intolerant of, inequality.

“Likewise, I think it imperative that my daughter is aware of inequality and doesn’t ever feel that she is in some way inadequate to her brothers by virtue of being a girl,” she says.

“I think there is an importance in recognising that activism isn’t all about shouting and marching.”

The same is true of Wanda Wyporska, the equalities officer at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), who spoke to me in a personal capacity.

As a trade unionist, Wanda is used to physical protests being seen as the “truest” form of activism, but she believes it’s important to use everybody’s different skills in a way they feel comfortable.

On a personal level, Wanda goes on fewer marches since having her son, now three and a half years old.

“It may sound a little bit precious, but I’m not willing to presume that what I believe in is necessarily what he believes in,” she says.

“If there were a march to bring back dinosaurs, then I’m sure he’d be at the front of it,” she laughs.

More generally, there are a host of reasons why mothers have long struggled to participate in direct activism, from childcare to event logistics.

“How long is it? Will they be able to walk? Will they end up on your shoulders? Are you going to have to take a buggy? The things you have to start thinking about are just endless,” Wanda says.

“I have nothing but praise for women who do that, but my own personal thing is that I just don’t really fancy it,” she adds.

As a former journalist, Wanda prefers to keep her activism to what she knows best: “I’m not very good at standing on the street shaking a tin, but I can write articles, I can use social media, and I can think about how to set up a campaign and how to reach people,” she says.

For her, activists now have more tools at their disposal than ever before, so there’s a role for everybody: “There are hundreds of ways in which we can get involved, and I don’t think one way’s any better than another,” she says.

“There’s a time for getting out onto the streets and taking direct action, and there are some people who are great with a megaphone.”

Others, like Mandy and Zoë would “run a million miles away from shouting into a megaphone”, but are striving to make their voices heard elsewhere.

For today’s feminists, there must also a time for putting down the megaphones and just listening to those who are breaking out of the mould.

*Not her real name

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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Caroline Lucas MP: Feminism is…

Green Party MP Caroline LucasName: Caroline Lucas

Bio: Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion

What is feminism? I like Rebecca West’s famous answer: “I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.” That still holds true today, except women who refuse to be doormats get called much worse. Just ask Caroline Criado-Perez.

So feminism is still about fighting for the right to be heard, often in the face of abuse, violence, ridicule, and prejudice. In politics, as in many other professional spheres, there are also institutional barriers. In parliament right now there are over 500 male MPs, and 356 constituencies that have never had a female MP. Our ranking for women in parliament is 53rd in world – alongside Malawi.

And fifty years after we proclaimed that the personal is political, sexism remains woven into the fabric of our day to day lives. The daily diet of images of woman as available for men – whether on the internet or in so-called newspapers – makes it more likely that discrimination, harassment and violence are accepted.

Feminism means never stopping our challenges to these injustices. It means making our fight, and our solidarity, as ‘everyday’ as the sexism around us.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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Charlotte Raven mimics the book cover

Feminist Conspiracy: EU to ban anti-feminist speech

A Voice For Men reported last week that the European Union is attempting to “literally stamp out economic freedom in the name of feminism” by banning anti-feminist speech. Great, we thought, about time.

The vote on banning anti-feminism, we’re told, takes place on 14 October – so start lobbying now – and the document in question is called “The European framework national statute for the promotion of tolerance.

Fortunately, A Voice For Men is quick to explain the problem with “promotion of tolerance”, in case you were wondering: “basically the entire document looks more like a statue [sic] of the Thought Police and the Ministry of Truth.”

Should it pass, “holding feminists to ridicule, as they deserve, will now be a crime.” Sounds brilliant, where do we sign up?

“And if this amount of feminist privilege isn’t enough, here’s some more,” the author continues. Contain your excitement, women. “The Section 6 of the document, dealing with implementation explicitly tells us that the State must make female privilege the rule of the land.”

The progress of our feminist plot has not gone unnoticed, it seems.

“This is exactly how the Criminal Code of Romania looked during the Marxist-Leninist dictatorship. In the 1950s, one could get up to 10 years of imprisonment for speaking against ‘the social order.’ The social order was Stalinism back then. Now it’s Marxism-Feminism. The differences between them are becoming increasingly harder to notice.”

And it’s not just men at risk: “if a 14 year old boy dares to notice that women are not oppressed in Europe and that the education system in which he is forced to go is centred around girls and girls only, the boys will be sent to a “rehabilitation programme” to instill in him a “culture of tolerance”.

You’ve probably already guessed the next comparison – of course, “the Soviet Union had a similar program for those who dared to disagree with the Marxist-Leninist approach… This is how totalitarianism consolidates itself!”

Stay tuned for all the latest feminist conspiracy news as it happens…

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Profile: Rosa

I have always considered myself a feminist and believed firmly in the importance of an equal society. When I was in my twenties I believed that inequality wouldn’t affect me or my friends; that hard work, talent, and more hard work would be enough to ensure we were treated fairly. I was called to the Bar and practised for over a decade in a male-dominated profession. It was only after being involved with politics for a while that the penny finally dropped. I was no longer able to pretend the injustices and prejudice I opposed so strongly weren’t also affecting my own life and opportunities, and those of countless women like me.

I’m too impatient to accept the fundamental waste and injustice of inequality, to wait for it to resolve itself in its own time. That’s why I’m so proud to be the Executive Director of Rosa – the first and only UK-wide women’s fund, started with the aim of finding new sources of money to fund women’s organisations. I want to do everything I can to help women and girls succeed.
When it was launched in June 2008, Rosa was necessary. Women’s organisations comprised seven per cent of NGOs and received 1.2 per cent of government funding. What was tough then is pretty dire now.

The effect of austerity measures, commissioning, partnership working, local authority cuts and the general dampening effect of the recession on donations to charities have hit women’s organisations hard, probably harder than most. We know of groups doing great work supporting women back into work, for example, which have had to close altogether after 25 years. The anecdotal evidence is stark, and Rosa has commissioned research to find out the full story of funding for women’s organisations across the UK, which we hope to publish later this year.

Since our launch, Rosa (named after Rosa Luxemburg, Rosa Parks and Rosa May Billinghurst) has funded innovative and exciting projects. We have highlighted what women’s organisations can do, what they are doing, and why they need support. We have encouraged other, much bigger funders to support work finding alternatives to custodial sentences for women offenders, to tackle Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the UK, and to support new and struggling organisations.

At Rosa we have a firmly feminist outlook. We believe that, until society is equal, we all suffer and we are determined to do all we can to invest in innovative solutions to inequality, to connect women’s organisations with funders, and to advocate and influence funders to find new sources to support the great work front-line organisations do.

Most recently Rosa has funded projects looking at the issue of media representation of girls and young women. Anybody’s Shape Your Culture project received the organisation’s first ever funding. Projects ran in schools with girls creating their own media, thinking about how they were being stereotyped by the images that bombard them daily. One of the most powerful afternoons of my life was spent in Mulberry School in Tower Hamlets, discussing body image and beauty with a group of British Bengali girls.

I had very limited and preconceived ideas about how media representation might affect girls who choose to wear the hijab (as they all did). Each of the girls expressed the same concerns about body image, size, peer pressure, looks and other issues as you might expect from any young woman in our society. One of them, Zakiah, blew me away with her ideas about the relationship between beauty and culture. You can watch her articulate some of her ideas here – she and Shape Your Culture were participants in the Women of the World festival at the Southbank Centre this March.

Also this year we have funded the End Violence Against Women coalition, along with Imkaan and Object, to work together on a project to tackle sexism and racism in music videos. This was before Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines (please don’t get me started). This project will include social media apps, a blog, parliamentary lobbying and campaigning work run by and for girls and young women, because at Rosa we believe girls themselves need to educate us all on the solutions for the problems they face.

At Rosa we see ourselves as part of the movement of women’s organisations in the UK, simultaneously attached to funders, corporates and other individuals who may want to support women but don’t know how best to achieve their aims. We hope to do much more in the years ahead because we all know there is a great deal more that needs sorting before we are close to equality in the UK.

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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 agai