Category Archives: Relationships

Andrea Dworkin’s Last Rape

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

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

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

One day it did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Maria Silverman in Aftermath by Andrea Dworkin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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Bates’ blueprint for a ‘normal’ wedding won’t inspire those who want to be different

Just over a month ago I married my partner of five years. Almost exactly a month later, I have been inundated with shares on Facebook and Twitter of an article entitled “How to have a feminist wedding” by Laura Bates. I was excited because I have a huge amount of admiration for Laura and her groundbreaking project Everyday Sexism; however, my husband and I found it anything but groundbreaking, and instead rather unambitious and uninspiring. It still lacked what I’d so desperately searched for, and never really found, in the two years leading up to our big day: a guide to being just a little bit more radical in feminist wedding planning.

Weddings are deeply personal events and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with Laura getting married exactly as she chooses but, as something purporting to be a feminist wedding guide, it’s as lacking as so many of the articles I read during my engagement – endlessly reassuring women that it’s ok to be a feminist and still have a fairly traditional wedding, with the odd feminist twist, but nothing giving women permission to ditch all that and do something radically different. I ended up seeing myself less as a bride (whatever that is) and more as a creative director – there being virtually no existing model for what we wanted to produce – and much of our inspiration came from queer, rather than heterosexual, feminist weddings. Of course, we were always aware that some feminists would think there’s no such thing as a feminist wedding at all – and maybe the most radical thing would be to blow the whole thing up, not just tweak it – but we decided to tweak, and tweak boldly.

From the off we had very clear ideas of what we wanted: he wanted us both to have an engagement ring, so (much to the confusion of everyone we know) I bought him one; we both wanted to keep our own names, rather than double barrel (Mrs His Name never having been an option we considered); we didn’t want a church wedding, despite my Christian upbringing, because we knew it wasn’t really for us; and I definitely didn’t want a white dress. Finally, we both wanted to walk down the aisle, rather than simply have me delivered to him, and so we did – him accompanied by his mum, me accompanied by my dad, with half a dozen brides-men, women and girls in between.


Beyond that, we weren’t quite sure what a ‘feminist wedding’ should consist of and I quickly realised that there is no simple answer – believe me, I’ve typed “feminist wedding” into Google more times than I care to admit, and never quite found what I was looking for. I’ve read countless articles debating the questions “can you be a feminist and get married in white?” “can you be a feminist and take your husband’s name?” – all of which concluded in a slightly woolly way “yes, of course”, on the grounds that the institution of marriage has evolved, relationships are more equal now, and the sexist associations of white dresses and proprietorial rings have long since died away.  “But I don’t want to wear white,” I’d scream at my laptop: “even if it’s not sexist anymore!”

Earlier this year Zoe Holman wrote in the Guardian, decrying the number of feminist brides blindly following patriarchal traditions but admitting she feels too embarrassed to ask them why. I have to confess I occasionally felt the same up until I started planning my own, when I suddenly realised that it’s really fucking difficult to avoid. You’re not only up against society’s expectations but your family and friends come with their own expectations. Decisions you expect to be entirely personal are suddenly wide open to scrutiny, or interpreted as a rejection of their family identity, rather than an assertion of your own.

And, of course, the wedding industry doesn’t leave much room for rebels – if you’ve never looked for a wedding dress, you don’t realise how limited the colour choices are. When you say “not white”, people think you mean “ivory”, and when you say “no, coloured”, they warn you in bizarrely concerned tones that “you’ll just look like a bridesmaid”. I once laughed out loud at an advert in a wedding magazine daring women to “be bold” in an extremely pale pastel pink dress – think off-white with a “bold!” blush.

The more I searched, fruitlessly, for the kind of alternative wedding I was looking for, the more frustrated I felt, and the more obstinate it made me. I became determined not just to omit the bits I didn’t like, but to consciously replace them with a radical alternative that couldn’t fail to be noticed. Stubbornness is a typical Graham trait, as it happens – which also helped with sticking to my guns on the issue of keeping my surname!

In the end I realised that, with the exception of red (the archetypal anti-white wedding dress – hardly value neutral with its own virgin/whore association), coloured wedding dresses don’t exist in bridal shops and I’d have to go it alone. I sought out a local seamstress – an amazing woman with pink hair, a flair for intricate beadwork, and the punk spirit to bring my vision to life. She was more excited about it than I was and it was an enormous relief to be free from the body-shaming (how much weight are you planning to lose?), tradition-pushing (what do you mean you don’t want to wear white?) ways of the wedding industry.

Beyond the dress and the surnames, our biggest rebellions were against our guests’ gendered expectations. I had three bridesgirls, a brideswoman and two bridesmen; he had a best man, three groomsmen and a groomswoman. Before the ceremony our guests were greeted by the jubilant voice of Debbie Harry as Blondie’s Greatest Hits kicked off the day, and our friend Becca sang The Cure’s Love Cats for the bridal party’s arrival.

Josh Ann

My mother-in-law looked like she might burst with pride as she walked her only child down the aisle, and as many tears were shed over that unconventional but beautiful moment as over my arrival with my dad. My bridesmen read a passage from Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex; his groomswoman – a fellow feminist, dressed in an utterly fabulous grey suit, complete with tux-style fitted blouse and cravat – read WH Auden’s Foxtrot From a Play, her Yorkshire accent beautifully bringing alive the lines “you’re my cup of tea”; and my mum read The Art of Marriage. It goes without saying that no one was given away and no one promised to obey; two female registrars (as we’d requested) declared us married, and both our mums witnessed the signing of the register because it’s currently the only way for their names to be included on the marriage certificate.

We had six speeches, split between the courses of the meal to spare everyone’s attention spans; my mother-in-law made everyone cry, my dad, bridesmaid, our best man and myself got a fair few laughs, and my husband scared the shit out of everyone climbing up on his chair to recreate a moment from our trip to Prague. The whole thing was so much fun, and so much more rounded than the standard “three men talking, three women keeping their mouths shut” routine that it genuinely made me wonder why everyone doesn’t do it; tradition means we’re all missing out on some really great speeches.


Ultimately there’s no formula for the perfect feminist wedding – our day was as personal to us as Laura’s will be to her – but I wish I’d read a feminist wedding guide this time two years ago that said this: “don’t be afraid to be radical, imaginative and push boundaries if the traditional, white, church wedding isn’t for you”. We need guides that give us the confidence to be different, just as much as we need guides to make us comfortable sticking with tradition. I wish someone had told me at the start how completely unfounded my anxieties were that all our guests would find it too weird; we’ve had nothing but praise for how special and different it was, and I’m so glad we stuck to our feminist principles rather than convincing ourselves to settle for the way society insists it “should” be done. If you’re planning a feminist wedding/anti-wedding, don’t be afraid to be even bolder than me, Laura, or a pale pink blush.

All photos Copyright Polly Thomas (Polly & Simon Photography) and Owain Thomas.

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Sexism makes female sexual dysfunction a hidden problem

The first time I had sex, it hurt. A lot. I have vaginismus, which refers to painful intercourse. I’m sure this is a pretty common occurrence for many people, so I just shrugged it off. After all, sex education taught me that pain is something to expect the first few times you have sex, and that if my partner couldn’t get an erection it was ok – it was just nerves. I never once heard that the pain may continue, and I suspect this is the case for a lot of women. When it continued for more than a year, I finally conceded that something must be wrong.

Female Sexual Dysfunction, often abbreviated to FSD, is a catch-all term for a range of different conditions, from painful sex to lack of arousal. Around 43% of women and 31% of men have reported some degree of difficulty in their sex lives. Despite the higher number of women reporting difficulties, Erectile Dysfunction (ED) is more widely recognised in mainstream media and the amount of research into it also far outweighs the research into FSD. Much of the research into both ED and FSD is very Viagra-centric – but scientists are not even sure whether this works for women.

Unsurprisingly, due to the lack of research, doctors are pretty clueless when it comes to FSD. When I first told my doctor that I was unable to have penetrative sex, it was automatically assumed I had a lack of sexual desire due to depression and anxiety. But I have a high sex drive. I was also shouted at and told to relax when the doctor was having a hard time examining me. I didn’t get the diagnosis I expected – in fact, the doctor didn’t even give the condition a name. I was made to feel as if FSD isn’t a common problem.

I was eventually referred to a gynaecologist after waiting 6 months for an appointment. I felt excited that I’d finally have an answer to my problem, completely putting my faith in what I thought was an FSD specialist. Hope started to fade when I didn’t even see myself represented on the posters in the waiting room. It was clear that if I was here, it was for help with post-menopausal dryness or pregnancy problems.

There are a range of treatments available for all types of FSD. These include lubrication, psychosexual therapy, Botox injections, numbing gels and vaginal dilators. Dilators range in size from a tampon to average penis size and are designed to help you relax and get used to the sensation of having sex. I’d heard about these through different forums, and they seemed to work for some women, in conjunction with therapy.

During my appointment, the gynaecologist suggested I try vaginal dilators. I was pretty excited, as I’d heard good things about them. But my excitement was short-lived when the gynaecologist’s assistant didn’t seem to understand what vaginal dilators were, and then told me that the hospital didn’t have any. I asked if I could get them on prescription. They’re a medical aid, so why wouldn’t I be able to? I was advised, however, that I’d probably be better off spending £50 to buy them on eBay. I couldn’t resist making a joke that I’d better make sure I didn’t get a second-hand product. She also advised that maybe, just maybe (but probably not) I’d be able to get them at a local pharmacy. This is completely unacceptable treatment for such a common problem.

I’ve also been given a numbing gel that is supposed to help with the pain, but that option is problematic in itself. What is the point of having sex if you can’t feel it? Am I expected to lie back passively? Yes, I want to remove the pain, but I also want to feel something.

The examination was a painful experience that didn’t answer any questions. I’ve been put on a waiting list for an indeterminate amount of time for various scans and psychosexual therapy. It’s a long process, and only time will tell whether any of these things will work for me – it’s pretty much just ‘suck it and see’. There’s no little blue pill.

The great thing is, dilators and psychosexual therapy work for a lot of people. The problems lie in the diagnostic process, the availability of dilators and other treatment options, the amount of research into FSD, and the general lack of visibility. If you’re suffering and not being heard, keep going back to your doctor and demand that you be taken seriously. Always get a second opinion. FSD needs to be talked about a lot more. It’s not acceptable that women are suffering, ignoring pain and feeling inadequate when there are adverts for Viagra on TV.

Emily Griffith is a freelance writer specialising in at-home activism and mental health. She tweets at @AtHomeActivist and blogs at The Agoraphobic Feminist.

Photo: Huffington Post

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The essential feminist’s guide to Pick Up Artists

True story: I’m sat on a high bar stool in the entrance to an empty pub function room. So you don’t think I’m weird, an hour later I would be MCing a comedy show in the venue and in the meantime I had offered to keep an eye on things while the doorman went to smoke. This is what is known in the comedy industry as “living the dream”.

A guy approaches, in his late twenties, obviously petrified, in a long dark coat and a haircut probably approved and executed by his mum.

“You’ve got a really cool look about you.”

I’m still not conveying fully just how awkward this was. There’s another detail I’m missing: he read this sentence off a piece of paper.

This was my first encounter with ‘The Game’ – a rather culty world of dorky young guys, like our young hero, being encouraged to part with hard-earned cash for the promise of a magic elixir that would have the effect Lynx usually does in adverts.

So I thought I’d write a nice witty piece on the subject of these PUAs (self-styled “pick up artists”) and maybe some tips on shaking one off from a seasoned PDA (self-explanatory). Ten minutes of Internet research later and I can say I don’t think I’ve ever been angrier in my adult life. Scratch the surface a bit further and it emerges the “movement”* is even more sinister. It’s based on a series of semi-formalised rules and principles, many of which wouldn’t look out of place in the the latest Wiley and Sons title Rape for Dummies.

Of course men have been hanging round bars and clubs pretending to be firemen and trying to get women to sleep with them since the Stone Age. And how fickle we women are – back then we were impressed if you could start a fire, rather than put one out. If the underlying message of ‘The Game’ was “go on, talk to her, women are human!” I’d be actively in favour of it. But it’s not; ‘The Game’ is no laughing matter for men or women.

Most feminists are regularly accused of not caring about men’s issues. Probably the Cat’s Protection League get a lot of mail demanding to know what the hell they’re doing to help dogs. Regardless, the truth is I am against cults that prey on lonely and vulnerable men. Like UKIP, Abrahamic religions and ‘The Game’.

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These men are assured that for a mere £500 they can be taught SIMPLE techniques that will GUARANTEE them HUNDREDS OF GIRLS. And there’s nothing like CAPITAL LETTERS to let you know you’re being RIPPED OFF.

Standard advice includes: get a woman as drunk as possible, undermine her confidence with minor insults and order her about (to show how “alpha” you are). Men are advised to “stop asking for permission” before kissing** a woman they fancy. And one guy who calls himself Roosh (author of Bang, “The Pickup Bible that helps you get more lays” – seriously mate, just be honest and call yourself “Douche”) has even published an article entitled ‘It’s Time To Start Delivering Death Blows To Feminists’, which could have been in The Taliban for Dummies. He advises immediately walking away from any women who describes herself as a feminist.

To ward off these dickheads, I recommend all women have pictures of bel hooks and Emmeline Pankhurst tattooed on their forearms. If a guy uses a crap line and follows it up with a weird minor insult, hold both arms up, fists clenched and firmly say “Game Over”.

More importantly: men; men who might be thinking about getting involved with The Game… If you use the same shit chat-up line on a hundred women in one night, one will probably say yes. The least interesting and least intelligent one out of all one hundred women. Do you want to date that woman?

The only advice you’ll ever need on finding a relationship is this: Go on, talk to her, women are human! But walk away if she’s not a feminist cos everyone knows we have the best sex.

*I also use the word movement in polite company to describe a massive stinking shit. Like Neil Strauss, or anyone who calls themselves Mystery or Gambler and isn’t a Batman villain.

**Yes I know, without permission the term is less “kissing” and more “sexually assaulting”.

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

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W*NK: We need to talk about women & pleasure

May is International Masturbation Month, and time to remind ourselves how important it is to keep talking about self pleasure, and pleasure in general. For a long time masturbation has been a taboo subject, and female masturbation even more so.

My first wanking experiences were filled with shame and confusion. Although the clitoris had been labelled in our school sex ed classes and textbooks, no one had told me what it was for and it took me months to realise that my pleasure was mostly coming from there and reliably locate the thing. I am 31: I didn’t grow up in Victorian times – we were close on the millennium when I started wanking but still I had been kept thoroughly in the dark about my own body.

International Masturbation Month was set up by Good Vibrations after the U.S Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders was fired for saying that masturbation should be discussed as part of young people’s sex education. This enlightened idea was proposed by her in 1995 and, looking around today, it doesn’t seem that the sex education we give young people has improved since.

The subtext of the prevalent physiological/safe-sex-only approach to sex ed seems to be that by mentioning to young people that their genitals can give them pleasure it will prompt them to go out and have tons of promiscuous un-safe sex. In my opinion this is sensationalist and short sighted. Giving young people the information they need to understand how to start exploring their sexuality solo will equip them with the self knowledge and confidence to move on to healthy and safe sexual relationships as adults.

Sex education that puts sexuality in context, that tackles respect and self respect, consent, safe sex, pleasure, emotional wellbeing, and healthy relationships can only reduce under age sex, pregnancy and STIs. Knowledge empowers and is a hell of a lot better than letting young people work things out through making mistakes that could effect the rest of their lives.

More widely, we need to talk about pleasure. We need to continue to transform our culture by  empowering women, and all people, to explore their bodies and get to know the way they work by giving them a road map: sex education that talks about masturbation through encompassing the idea that genitals give us pleasure as well as babies; words and images that represent the real and various ways people masturbate; open discussion that does not shame wankers but recognises that knowing your own sexual responses makes you a great sex partner.

My small contribution towards this ideal are a series of twelve drawings taken from real women’s masturbation techniques, mostly using household objects. The work shows real masturbation in a way that was not pornographic, not orchestrated for the viewer but frank and natural and, because of that, erotic. The project started as something private; an excercise in visualising these delightful intimate scenes without making them lurid. But it grew into a book because I wanted to share my joy in these stories and their honesty. To be invited by Sh! to exhibit with them as part of International Masturbation Month was a real honour and I have been overwhelmed by the positive response to the work. Hopefully it will help to get people talking, sharing their own stories and celebrating themselves as wankers.

WANK - Interior Door by Sophie Crow 2012 WANK - Right index finger by Sophie Crow 2012 WANK - Teddy by Sophie Crow 2012 WANK - TV Remote by Sophie Crow 2012

Click here to find out more about International Masturbation MonthTo find out more about Sophie Crow, visit or follow @oysterknife

Sophie’s W*NK exhibition continues until 31st May at Sh! Women’s Erotic Emporium, 57 Hoxton Square, N1 6PB London, open every day 12pm-8pm. It is Sh! policy that men must be accompanied by a woman, except on Tuesday evenings.

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‪#‎GenderWeek: Andrea was not transphobic

Click here to read all #GenderWeek articles.

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

One passage in Woman Hating changed my life forever:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I miss our communion terribly.


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

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

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

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Disabled Dating: I am not a freak, I am not a fetish

I was five when I had my first boyfriend. Being only five, I liked him for the following reasons: he had floppy hair, big brown eyes, and wore a denim jacket to class – it was 1978. He was a bit different from the other boys, and being a bit different myself, this seemed like the perfect match.

We would hold hands at break time and I invited him to my birthday party. Naively I thought this is the way it would always be. I would ask a boy out, he would say yes, and we would be happy until I found the next love of my life.

I remember the first time I heard, in hushed tones, “such a pretty girl, such a shame about the ‘handicap’.” I wondered why on earth a limp and a bit of a clenched hand was considered ‘a shame’; I had lived in a family home where I was considered perfect, just the way I was. As I got older I started to notice there were no girls or women who resembled me on TV, in the magazines, or in school, and I began to realise just how different I was. There still aren’t; disabled women remain hugely unrepresented in the media.

The teenage years hit, and with them came the loss of non-judgemental behaviour from my peers. I was told no one dates “spazzy girls”. I was a freak, unattractive, undesirable, and no one would ever want me.

We can all agree that objectification is wrong, however, to have sexuality entirely stripped away from your identity can damage your development just as much as society’s constant bombardment of over sexualised images. What infuriated me then, and still does, is that the choice to express myself sexually – in a relationship or out of one – was laughed at… or worse, fetishised.

A few years ago, on the advice of a friend who had once been a high class escort, I joined a disabled dating website. Actually, their first suggestion was to buy myself a male escort, but as I could not afford the £1,000 for a night of passion (yes, £1,000 – I spat my drink out at the cost; give me £50 and send me to the nearest sex shop please!) I opted for the dating agency. I was in between boyfriends, and not that fussed, but realised that I had never ventured into the world of disabled dating before, despite having cerebral palsy myself.

I dutifully put myself online and waited for the messages to arrive. 48 hours later the first message popped up, from a good looking man describing himself as “able bodied” but saying he had “no problem” having a disabled girlfriend. “How very gracious of you!” I snorted, but I gave him a chance.

Over the course of the next two days things got very interesting. He assumed I was in a wheelchair (I’m not). He assumed I did not work (I worked 2 jobs, and still do). He assumed I had very little sexual experience (HA!) and he was also under the assumption that I could not care for myself. All of these things added up to making him very horny indeed; I am not a naive woman, but I honestly didn’t know whether to laugh or be suitably shocked at the erect penis that popped up on my screen. When I calmly responded that none of those things applied to me, the response was droopingly swift. At that point I laughed… and laughed hard.

So, I find myself in two categories: desexualised or fetishised. Neither represents me. All adults have a right to a healthy sexuality and a choice in how they express it, disabled or not. A disability should not make me feel like less of a woman, or ashamed and embarrassed about my sexual desires. They do not define me, but they are an integral part of me, just as my disability is.

We need to stop seeing disabled women as odd or unrealistic when they express their desires, or in TV shows where they are still treated as side show freaks. They are human and those feelings are real. If we are working towards a more inclusive society, disabled women need to be seen as  whole individuals. I fear though, we still have a long way to go.

Lisa Jenkins is Arts Editor for God Is In The TV Zine and contributor to The Quietus. She also happens to have cerebral palsy. Follow her @lisaannejenkins

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“You’re such a nice girl, why aren’t you married?”

Conceptual Photographer Suzanne Heintz explains her “Life Once Removed” project, after it went viral online.

What would drive you to pack a family of mannequins into your station wagon, and take them on a road trip? Enough pressure to conform will send anyone packing. Conform to what? Well, it was getting late. Seriously late for a woman my age not to have a ring on her finger. People said, “You’re such a nice girl, why aren’t you married?” No one actually used that out of date word, but, what they were driving at was that I was a “Spinster,” and I got tired of hearing about it.

THE HAPPIEST DAY - 650px-wmk

Even my mother must have thought she was setting me straight when she said, “Suzy, there’s nobody perfect out there. You just need to PICK somebody, if you’re going to settle down.”

I snapped back, “Mom! It’s not like I can go out and BUY a family! I can’t just MAKE it happen!” But then, I found a way. I bought a beautiful family… of mannequins. I decided to start a photo project out of the Kodak Moments I’d capture with my new Store-Bought Family.

At Home - DISHES - 650px-wmk

My own home was the backdrop for the first images. Over the next decade, scenes of an idyllic home life eventually extended into a series of Holiday Greetings, as a satirical response to annual family photo cards. However, the project took a turn after taking them on a road trip. I saw the potential in shooting in public. Seeing me work with the mannequins is such a peculiar and funny thing to witness, that people are immediately disarmed. As soon as that happens, their mind is open and impressionable. Using humor, paired with shock, allows my message to penetrate, and the work can have greater impact. The aim is to get people to reconsider their stubborn allegiance to traditional life expectations.

Holiday - FEAST - 650px-wmk

Ozzie & Harriet are dead. So why is this antiquated idea still affecting our image of marriage? It is the reason why this series is named “Life Once Removed.” A family relation, a generation apart, is “once removed.” So is our relationship with our path in life. It’s passed on by the previous generation, once removed from our own. Why do we cling to past tradition as the measure of success in the present? 

Christmas00 - THE TREE - 650px-wmk

This is a weird time in Women’s History. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pleased as punch that I was born when I was. I have more choices and opportunities than any generation of women before me, but our roles have never been more complicated by deeply ingrained mixed messages, from both previous and present generations. The term “perfect” is no longer used to describe what we’re all striving to be. Now it is called, “fulfilled.” But for women, the path to fulfillment is not through one thing, it’s through all things: Education, Career, Home, Family, Accomplishment, Enlightenment. If any one of those things is left out, it’s often perceived that there’s something wrong with your life. We are somehow never enough, just as we are.

Even if we do have a finger in each of those pies, there is never enough time to do any of them to our satisfaction. We are constantly set up by our expectations to feel as though we are missing something.


I thought it was high time to call this nonsense out publicly, because this notion of insufficiency is not just about me, nor exclusively about women in regards to marriage. It’s about anyone whose life doesn’t look the way it “should.” Rarely does anyone’s life turn out the way it was expected, and if by some miracle it does, what they expected isn’t what they thought it was. I’m simply trying to get people to open up their minds, and quit clinging to outdated assumptions of what a successful life looks like. I want people to lighten up on each other, and themselves, and embrace their lives for who it’s made them, with or without the Mrs., PhD. or Esq. attached to your name.

Paris - 9 - NOTRE DAME - LAP OF LOVE - 650px-wmk

Suzanne Heintz is a Conceptual Photographer, based in Denver, Colorado in the USA. Find out more and view the full “Life Once Removed” series at:

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

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

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

1) Her & Her Wedding Dresses

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


2) Lesbian Wedding Cards

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


3) Wedding Holidays

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


4) Aprons

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


5) Hipster Wedding Fairs

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


Happy Marriage Everybody!

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“Plagiarism begins at home” – uncovering the real Zelda Fitzgerald

To write a profile of Zelda Fitzgerald is to cut through a dark thicket of myths, lies, stereotypes and false medical diagnosis. Most of us have never even picked up the blade and tried. But as we near the 66th anniversary of her untimely death on 10 March, one question still remains unanswered: who was the real Zelda Fitzgerald?

For most, the name Zelda Fitzgerald is closely followed by the words ‘lunatic’ and ‘fantasist’. It’s a name synonymous with fur stoles and empty gin bottles. She’s a spoiled party girl who drove her talented husband Scott Fitzgerald to drunken ruin: a flapper, an It girl, a “Witchy Woman” (to quote The Eagles). What Zelda has never been called is an uncredited writer, but she often was: her byline replaced by her husband’s with a “sorry” and a shrug.

The true story of Zelda’s life and her authorship rights is yet to be told with honesty and clarity. Hack away at the dense falsehoods and you let in the light. Headstrong, sharp-tongued and vivacious; an artist, writer and dancer. In many ways Zelda Fitzgerald’s legacy has been judged by her influence and latter bipolar years (scholars now argue her schizophrenia was misdiagnosed at the time), but never her own achievements. Zelda’s life would be dramatically cut short by her own desperate quest to be heard and counted; only now are her words finally being credited with her name.

When Zelda gave birth to their daughter Scottie in 1921, high on anesthesia she babbled: “I hope it’s beautiful and a fool—a beautiful little fool”. All readers of The Great Gatsby will instantly recognise the quote as one of its defining lines, voiced through the effervescently absent Daisy Buchanan. It is a mere drop in the ocean of words Scott skimmed from Zelda’s mouth with a pond net and an ear for its startling lucidity.

Many of the Fitzgeralds’ closest acquaintances would praise Zelda as a witty conversationalist, likening her to contemporary writer Dorothy Parker. Critic Edmund Wilson surmised: “I have rarely known a woman who expressed herself so delightfully and so freshly.” Scott Fitzgerald himself was consistently struck by her words and even read her diaries, directly lifting entries to voice his fictional heroines. Zelda became a crucial source, as she well knew. Her impact on Scott Fitzgerald’s literary works is immeasurable.

“It seems to me that on one page I recognized a portion of an old diary of mine which mysteriously disappeared shortly after my marriage, and, also, scraps of letters which, though considerably edited, sound to me vaguely familiar. Mr Fitzgerald—I believe that is how he spells his name—seems to believe that plagiarism begins at home,” Zelda Fitzgerald cheekily joked in the New York Review when asked to review her husband’s latest novel The Beautiful and Damned in 1922. The joke soon wore thin on Zelda, who grew increasingly resentful of Scott’s habit.

Search the archives and you may come across a 1973 edition of 21 uncollected stories entitled Bits of Paradise written by both Scott and Zelda. Flicking through it soon becomes clear that, at the time when they were written, most of Zelda’s short stories were published with a co-authored byline, despite Zelda’s sole authorship. The shocking truth is many of her stories were robbed of her authorship – an arrangement agreed between Scott’s literary agent Harold Ober and the magazine editors.

This is by no means to demonise Scott. The world was hungry for F Scott Fitzgerald and history maintains he was not made aware of this transaction at the time. Nevertheless, it weighed heavily on Zelda’s sense of worth and identity. Over the course of the 1920s, Zelda’s five ‘girl’ stories in College Humour were credited to both Fitzgeralds. Zelda’s A Millionaire’s Girl, deemed too good for College Humour by Ober, was sold to the Post for $4,000 instead of $500, but only if Zelda’s authorship was omitted. It appeared as F Scott Fitzgerald’s work alone.

Ober later admitted he “felt a little guilty about dropping Zelda’s name from that story” but consoled himself “I think she understands.” Zelda didn’t understand. Even if she did at the time, misunderstanding rippled between Zelda and Scott over the proceeding years, their lives ebbing further and further apart like driftwood against the tide.

In 1932 Zelda’s battle to be heard ended in marital catastrophe when Scott finally got round to reading her novel Save Me the Waltz. He was furious. Written in an obsessive 6-week spiral of creativity, Scott was livid at Zelda’s fictionalisation of their marriage. This, despite the fact that his own yet-to-be-published novel Tender is the Night copied direct chunks of Zelda’s letters to Scott in order to fictionalise Zelda’s mental illness.

Zelda would later conclude “I can’t get on with my husband and I can’t live away from him…I’m so tired of compromises. Shaving off one part of oneself after another until there is nothing left…” Perhaps her biggest compromise was yet to come. Scott ordered Zelda to revise her novel. She complied.

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

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#LGBTMarryMe: Feminist Times & Fox Problem Debate

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

“Is same sex marriage just a distraction?”

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

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



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Greer? hooks? Dworkin? Send a feminist Valentine’s card

Still looking for the perfect Valentine’s card for the feminist in your life? Look no further. Artist Rebecca Stricksons has designed us a selection of feminist Valentine’s cards for you to print out and give to your date. Take your pick from bell hooks, Andrea Dworkin, Jewelle Gomez, Annie Sprinkle and Germaine Greer or, if you really can’t choose, send one of each.






Rebecca Stricksons works as an illustrator and do-er of things based in Peckham. She was selected to appear in the AOI’s Images 36 book in 2012, and was shortlisted twice for the AOI Illustration Awards 2013. Follow @beckystrick

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Top 10 Shit Valentine’s Gifts

Valentine’s Day is a minefield of cheesy cards and shit, overpriced gifts. We trawled a number of well-known gift websites looking for the worst Valentine’s gifts on sale this year to bring you the official Feminist Times guide to what not to buy your beloved, with a little help from some of our favourite funny women. (Obviously Membership to Feminist Times is the ultimate gift of love for the woman in your life.)

Here they are, in no particular order, with comments from Sara Pascoe, Danielle Ward, Arabella Weir, Kate Smurthwaite, Shazia Mirza and Rosie Wilby…


1. Patronise AND baffle this Valentine’s by suggesting your love should wash more. And smell more breakfasty – Sara Pascoe (@sarapascoe)
Toast and jam body wash set – £6.95




2. For when he really, truly doesn’t want you to think he’s having an affair – Danielle Ward (@captainward)
Monogamy Game – A Hot Affair… with your partner – £24.99

Monogamy Game



3. Some say our culture treats women’s bodies as objects. Prove them all wrong by wrapping yourself in a large bow – Sara Pascoe (@sarapascoe)
Naughty Knot – £4.85




4. Nothing says romance like a ‘gift’ that’s both hugely impractical and extremely uncomfortable – though its benefits are evidently all for him – Arabella Weir (@ArabellaWeir)
Candy Bra and G String – £8.95




5. He wanted to give you chocolates but he knew you’d moan about being fat all night afterwards, so you only got one – and it’s crafted from solid gold. A bargain at just £79! – Sara Pascoe (@sarapascoe)
My Last Rolo Gold Love Token – £79




6. The perfect gift for the woman whose eyelashes are right next to her vagina. Now try winking at strangers on the bus!! – Kate Smuthwaite (@Cruella1)
Mascara Vibrator – £24.99




7. Roses are Red, Violets are Blue
I can’t be bothered to write you a poem
This pre-printed one in a tin will do

Sara Pascoe (@sarapascoe)
I Love You Gift Tin – contains: presentation tin, love declaration, love poem scroll, 3 x scented candles, semi precious stone heart pendant, love chocolates, scented rose petals – all for £19.99

lovers-gift-tin-2 copy



8. Chocolate? That could get messy. I haven’t got time for cleaning, I’ve got to get to the boardroom. I’d rather use a cucumber and get one of my five a day – Shazia Mirza (@shaziamirza1)
Clone a Willy Chocolate Moulding Kit – £19.49




9. Nothing says romance like a piece of crap you don’t need with a pun on it – Sara Pascoe (@sarapascoe)
Personalised “I think you’re great” mini cheese grater – £10




10. Sex cereal? ‘Surely this doesn’t work’, you say! So, as a controlled experiment, my girlfriend had ‘for her’ and I tried ‘for him’ blend. To be fair, my penis has been unusually sensitive since – Rosie Wilby (@rosiewilby)
Sex Cereal – available in “for him” and “for her” – £9.99 per packet




For a less shit alternative, take your date to see Sara Pascoe’s stand-up show Sara Pascoe Vs The Truth on 14 February from 8pm at Cambridge Junction.

Or, for some belated Valentine’s laughs, catch Rosie Wilby’s stand-up show Nineties Woman on 25 February from 7.30pm at Rich Mix London.


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‘Girls’: Lesbians in Russia

As part of LGBT History Month, and ahead of the Sochi Winter Olympic games which begin tomorrow, Russian artist Anastasia Korosteleva presents her photography series looking at the state of Russia for lesbian women:

The photo series ‘Girls’ was made in response to the Russian federal law banning ‘propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations’. Since the legislative ban on gay propaganda, the attitude of Russian society has worsened towards lesbians. An assertion that lesbianism is dangerous to children, anti-Russian, and a Western influence is imposed widely. It leads to an increase of violence against lesbians and penalties for ‘propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations’. This is the reason why the the identity of the women in the photographs is hidden. Moreover, their identity is protected by literally burning their faces. The burned-out faces both literally and metaphorically reveal the imprints of homophobia in Russia.






Anastasia Korosteleva is a photographer and graphic designer based in Moscow. Find out more at

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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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Poetry, rather than the media, understands Real Sex

Every few years a concerted effort is made to liberate sex from porn. The stated aim of ‘the campaign for real sex’, launched by the Guardian in 2006, was to combat the ‘Mcdonaldisation of sexuality’ and debate alternatives. Libby Brooks wrote:

“For all that they are over informed about how other people do it, this has not brought young men and women closer to developing a common erotic language. There must be a way to diminish the junk succour of public sex while freeing private appetite.”

Eight years later, if you believe media reports, ‘real sex’ still isn’t happening, but the effects of porn on our sexual consciousness have been widely documented. It’s easier to point out what’s wrong, as playwright Penelope Skinner did brilliantly in The Village Bike, than settle on an alluring alternative. The ‘Mcdonaldisation of sex’ is a sexier concept than ‘freeing private appetite’; which sounds like a post-prandial lunge by a well upholstered restaurant critic, rather than an intimation of liberated sexuality. However well intentioned, media attempts to whiteboard sex are always wide of the mark.

I left Skinner’s play profoundly grateful that my flirtation with porn was a youthful dalliance rather than a life long obsession. I’ve avoided it assiduously for twenty years, even feminist porn, which seems like an oxymoron.

Several years after the Guardian campaign, very little had changed. Then Channel 4 nicked the idea and pornographised it. With staggering literal mindedness their ‘campaign for real sex’ featured real couples having sex in a box, in front of a TV audience of voyeurs. Like the Jacuzzi sex in Celebrity Big Brother, the sex box was staged for the public titillation, inauthentic by definition.

I agree with Frank Furedi (for once). His piece about the sex box in the Huffington Post said it’s worse than “banal porn because it masquerades as a public service.”

There is no need for any public conversation about sex, he says. The media’s alibi for their fetishisation of sex is always that they are “removing the stigma” around it. What stigma? “Sex talk is so constant that you have to search an old people’s home to find a hint of embarrassment about the subject.”

I think the media campaign for real sex is a contradiction in terms as long as it’s conducted in public. A second sexual revolution is needed to return sex to the private realm, where, according to Furedi, “it gains its meaning in the context of an intimate relationship, group of friends or family members.”

I was recently asked to review The Poetry of Sex  for another paper. The big black X on the cover of this anthology made me worry that it would be yet another pornographic spectacle; a series of X rated revelations with a literary, rather than an educational alibi – though the title does offer a different approach to this well trodden terrain.

Media reports about the death of ‘real sex’ have been greatly exaggerated. I wondered why journalists and broadcasters were adamant that ‘real sex’ isn’t happening. Then it dawned on me that the ‘campaign for real sex’ was an expression of erotic ennui; as dangerous liaisons between glamorous media figures, like those described by Julie Burchill in Ambition, have gone the way of expense accounts and Sea Breezes.

Outside the purview of the media however, poets are fucking like rabbits in every conceivable configuration; they are having threesomes and relationships based on sodomy. There is no ‘common erotic language’ but energy and variety, the opposite of porn. Poetry is the right form for sex because it evokes rather than demands.

It is not clear whether the poets are fucking other poets. If so I will go to more poetry readings. I was reassured to hear someone was doing it, but also rather sad to be a middle aged female journalist with a neurological calamity ahead of me, as I feel my own erotic capital declining. If my husband ever left me, who would want me? The poem that affected me most was called Whatever Happened to Sex By Amok Huey, which begins with a quotation from a freshman essay:

“When sex was more popular in the 60s”

I can attest that sex was also popular in the false boom of the 90s and maybe less so in a recession. For Amok, at some point, “Sex is a bungalow the Hollywood Hills/That only comes out at special occasions.”

“Sex tries hard not to whine for the good old days.’ but ‘can’t help but ache to be popular again.”

I liked this collection more than the books about love I poured over when I was looking for a reading for my wedding. I ended up with something from Heidegger’s Being and Time instead. I’ll leave this as an open question rather than another contribution to the wholly inappropriate public debate about sex.

Photo: Jean Koulev

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Mothers who fight for Justice: Sheila Blanco

Baroness Doreen Lawrence, Dr Sara Payne MBE, Christine Lord, Kate McCann, Winnie Johnson. All these mothers have fought, and continue to fight, on behalf of their children who have passed away or disappeared in tragic circumstances. A mother demanding justice is a powerful force. She can embarrass establishments, shame perpetrators, change the law – but what is the personal cost of devoting one’s life to ‘justice’ and why do some mothers fight?

On the seventh anniversary of my friend Mark Blanco’s tragic death in suspicious circumstances, at a party attended by Pete Doherty, I asked his mother Sheila to tell us in her own words why she continues to do just that and if anyone has ever asked her to stop.

This is a case full of twists and turns.

Even some of the greatest journalists have misrepresented the facts.

Whatever I do will never bring Mark back.

Justice and Truth were central to Mark. He was a philosopher; he believed passionately in the individual, whoever he or she might be or from whatever walk of life they might come from.

I am determined to secure justice for Mark.

I hope that my persistence may, in some small way, pave the way for others in like circumstances. As the years pass, my resolve becomes greater and it is in equal measure to the outrageous manner in which Mark’s death has been treated.

Emotion should not determine justice or truth.

Though the bond between mother and child is all-embracing, I remain pragmatic and slightly detached in order to view things logically and as far as possible, dispassionately.

It reeked of corruption and cover up.

The fight is two-fold; against those, the perpetrators, and the gross negligence of the Metropolitan Police. From day one, the investigation was riddled with errors.

No one has ever suggested, to me personally, I stop my campaign.

I balance the hours I work on the case with another life. I have always taught piano and English and derive enormous joy from that though I am now semi-retired.

Police are institutionally homophobic, misogynistic and racist.

Also, they are accountable to no one. A lot of dead wood is still yet to be thrown out.

In a way, we have justice already.

It is only the Met police who cannot see or accept the true version of events that night and subsequently. I believe that if you work hard enough and believe in something enough, you can achieve anything.

Find out more about Justice for Mark Blanco here http://www.justiceformark.comFollow @justiceformark

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