Category Archives: Utopia & End Times

The Best of Feminist Times

Feminist Times launched on 3 October 2013 and has published almost 500 articles in just nine months online. Here are some of your favourite moments, as well as some of our personal highlights.

Theme Weeks:

Fascinating, fun and challenging in equal measure, at FemT we’ve commissioned some brilliant content for eight theme weeks, aiming to bring together different ideas and debates on particular, often polarising, feminist issues.

1. Man Week – 18-25 November 2013

Coinciding with International Men’s Day and the UN Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women and Girls, FemT presented our first theme: Man Week. Click to see all content here.

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2. 5 years since Maria

In collaboration with Refuge, we marked the fifth anniversary of Maria Stubbings’ brutal murder at the hands of her former partner – featuring the manifesto of a survivor, asking whether domestic violence sentencing is fair, and exploring how the authorities can stop failing women like Maria.

3. I don’t buy it

An anti-consumerist Christmas theme week, kicked off by our alternative Christmas service at Conway Hall. Click to see all content here.

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4. 12 Days of Sexism

While everyone took a Christmas break, FemT spent the 12 days of Christmas looking back at the previous 12 months of sexism, as well as reflecting on a year in black feminism and the most and least read Feminist Times articles of 2013.

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5. New Year, New You

While the women’s mags filled their pages with the annual quest for a “new you”, Feminist Times asked: what are women really worried about? (Clue: it wasn’t their weight.) Plus: why the yoyo diet is only good for capitalism; a response to Running? It’s just jogging; how to face 2014 with FATITUDE; one feminist’s new year’s resolution to adopt a new feminist; a new year message from self-described “crone” Raga Woods; a plea for no more sadomasochism on the high street, and finally our January members’ event, Feminist Fat Chat – is fat still a feminist issue?

6. Sex Industry Week

A week of, let’s call it, lively discussions on the sex industry, featuring an exclusive serialisation of Melissa Gira Grant’s Playing The Whore. Click to see all content here.

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7. Gender Week

Another polarising topic that divided opinions across our readership. Click to see all content here.

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8. Mental Health Awareness Week

Produced to coincide with the national Mental Health Awareness Week, we looked at media coverage of ‘White Dee‘, the problem with mixed therapy groups for women with borderline personality disorder, feminist responses to anorexia and self-harm, how to stay mentally healthy on Twitter, and the women occupying their community mental health clinic. Plus, we asked why so many progressives fall short on mental health, is it feminism that’s making us mad, and is there a feminist alternative to asylums?

Most Shared:

1. Open letter to journalists: middle class strippers – it’s neo-liberalism, stupid – after another Daily Mail journo gets in touch, Dr Kate Hardy is compelled to write an open letter

2. Summertime body-shaming is upon us: no more bikini body war! – Bethany Rutter explains how every time you subvert cultural norms about how a body should look in public, that’s a victory.

body shaming

3. Call yourself an “Intersectional Feminist”? – Contributing Editor Reni Eddo-Lodge interviews the mother of intersectionality, Dr Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw.

4. Debbie Harry to become first woman musician awarded Godlike Genius – Blondie picked up NME’s Godlike Genius award in February; Kat Lister looks at the impact for women in music.

Blondie1977

5. Women Against Pit Closures: Memories from the miners’ strike, 30 years on – As part of Women’s History Month, we mark the 30th anniversary of the miners’ strike.

6. The forgotten women of Kalamazoo – How Gibson forgot the women who made some of their best guitars.

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7. Top 10 Shit Valentine’s Gifts – What not to buy the woman in your life this Valentine’s Day.

8. A Womb With A View: After birth – What I’ve learned… – After the birth of her baby boy, Jude Rogers has some epiphanies and top tips.

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9. The Punk Singer – Return of the Riot Grrrls? – Faye Lewis hopes Kathleen Hanna’s legacy will inspire a new generation.

10. LONG READ: Chav is a feminist issue – Intersectional feminism, class and austerity: a speech from Manchester feminism conference by Rhian E. Jones.

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Most Read:

1. A feminist in high heels is like Dawkins in a rosary – Editor Charlotte Raven responds to the first question she always gets asked. See also our readers’ responses, Comeback: #FeministHeels

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2. For once let’s really talk about slut-shaming – Can you be sex positive and anti-objectification? Glosswitch calls for a more honest discussion of “slut-shaming”.

3. No More Page 3: A bit of fence sitting – The No More Page 3 team explain why they’re sitting on the fence about porn.

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4. A year in black feminism – Reni Eddo-Lodge looks back at Black Feminism in 2013.

5. Congo Stigmata: The day Ensler crucified herself – Jude Wanga mourns a loss of faith in V-Day, telling Eve Ensler: “The women of Congo are not living cadavers.”

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6. Femen – The beauty fascist fauminists – Femen are recruiting in Britain. Would the Feminist Times team qualify?

7. Feminism cannot compromise on the liberation of women – Compromise cannot and should not be a feminist policy, argues Louise Pennington.

No compromise

8. The essential feminist’s guide to Pick Up Artists – Kate Smurthwaite investigates the sinister world of The Game.

9. Men, know your place! – “Men who understand feminism don’t need our praise,” says Louise Pennington.

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10. Dworkin was right about porn – “Feminism has to do more than simply polish patriarchy’s turds,” says Glosswitch on porn.

Our Favourites:

Some of the Feminist Times team’s personal favourites, in no particular order…

1. Three Dimensional Feminism – One of our most popular launch pieces: Nina Power, author of One-Dimensional Woman, on how to create a Three-Dimensional Feminism.

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2. Obituary: Post-Feminism – Girl power, Tory feminism: Professor Lynne Segal buries the wannabes.

3. Should we stop asking pop stars about feminism? – Contributing Ed Kat Lister on how feminism is being used to market popstars and yet we fall for it every time.

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4. Feminist Valentine’s cards – Greer? hooks? Dworkin? Looking for the perfect Valentine’s card for the feminist in your life? Look no further.

5. TV’s got a Fox Problem and I hope it’s zoo TV – The second series of an all-female zoo TV show heralds a serious channel change predicts Editor Deborah Coughlin.

fox prob

6. War on Spanx – Another of our launch pieces: Burning your bra? That’s so second wave. Decommission your shapewear instead.

7. 10 reasons why debt is a feminist issue – We need to start talking about women’s debt, says Fran O’Leary.

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8. Becoming advertising – Now even the Guardian’s at it, will it be long before reality segues seamlessly into advertising? Or has it already happened?

9. Nimko Ali – a year as the face of FGM – Sarah Graham interviews “fanny forward” anti-FGM campaigner Nimko Ali.

Nimko Ali and Leyla Hussein

10. Losing it – no one warns young women about anxiety – Feminist blogger Grace Campbell opens up about her recent battle with anxiety after leaving home for the first time.

Don’t see your favourite in this list? Let us know which articles you’ve most enjoyed and why.

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Coat hangers and blood: Imagine a world without abortion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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#GenderWeek: Class is to gender what a tube map is to London

Click here to read all #GenderWeek articles.

Is there anyone who lives in the world as a woman and a feminist who does not accept that there is such a thing as gendered oppression? That men, considered as a class, are involved or complicit in the doing down of women, considered as a class?

One of the things most self-defined radical feminists often seem to assume is that if they do not say this forcefully and often, no one else will notice this important truth. Indeed, they are so concerned to make the point that they end up ignoring, or treating as side issues, many other sorts of oppression, which many other women who are both radical and feminist take just as seriously as part of their feminist analysis and their feminist praxis. What is stigmatised as ‘liberal’ or ‘fun’ feminism is often nothing of the sort; it is a feminism committed to radical thought and action, which recognises multiple sources of the oppression of women, and tries to opt for a complexity and nuance that make effective action more, rather than less, possible.

The trouble with a statement like “men oppress women” is not that it is untrue. It is that it is a schematic and not a map; certainly not a detailed description of the territory or a universally reliable portrayal of how you get to your destination.

Often, a good schematic is all you need; the London tube map is a case in point. Yet, if you rely on it, you will rapidly find that some stations represented as closely adjacent are anything but and vice versa, or involve using lifts and tunnels for interchanges that take more time than expected. You need the schematic for some purposes and a reliable map for others; sometimes you need to just know the territory in order to find a hack, to find the actual quickest way.

We live in a society where oppression based on sex and gender is only one of an intersecting set of oppressions and discriminations. Class, race, sexuality, disability (both obvious and invisible), nationality, immigration status, and whether the sex you are assigned at birth correctly models your identity – these affect people in a variety of ways, and the policies and strategies we adopt have to reflect those complexities.

It is often destructive for, say, educated white middle class women to create policies on sex work without considering how they impact the lives of working class women of colour dealing with mental health issues or possible deportation. Ironically, protecting other women from exploitation by pimps and johns is not much help if it puts them in harm’s way from the equally male-dominated police, justice and immigration systems. A woman working in the financial services industry may unwittingly do vast harm to the interests of poorer women who need loans or mortgages – harm that has in part to do with the gender biases of banking, but also has to do with predatory late capitalism.

Almost all institutions, businesses and organs of the state are run by men, and to that extent are part of gender oppression – but those men are also mostly members of the locally dominant ethnic and religious group, are economically upper class, pass as straight and are able-bodied. Their gender is always relevant, but a struggle based on gender alone is not useful. There is a ‘liberal feminism’ worth fighting, and it is the one which regards gender and sex as so central that quite cosmetic changes will solve all our problems – you do not, for example, reform late capitalism by putting more women in boardrooms or the Cabinet, to be “the new boss, same as the old boss“.

Indeed, one of the things that has enabled capitalism to survive so many of the crises Marx, Lenin, Luxembourg and Goldman described and predicted is that it is endlessly self regenerating and adaptive; the ruling class has maintained a degree of identities through revolution and technological and demographic change by recruiting and co-opting.

A lot of the ‘radical feminist’ problem with trans women like me is based on a simplistic biological determinism – as if gender were purely socially constructed and yet, at the same time, a desire to oppress were written in our genes. Apart from the fact that this makes no logical sense, it ignores the fact that gender is a word with many overlapping meanings across a spectrum of usage, and that the biology of sex is by no means as simplistically binary as some people find it convenient to claim.

A real radicalism, to which feminism is central but which does not ignore the struggle for liberation from other oppressions, has to be suspicious of simple sloganistic formulae. The kyriarchy have proved endlessly supple and adaptive – able not only to survive but to continue to dominate; the struggle to overthrow it has to be at least as smart and perceptive.

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

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Obituary

Obituary: Nuts Magazine

Yesterday IPC announced the closure of Nuts magazine. Comedian and political activist Kate Smurthwaite looks back on her relationship with lads mags and bids good riddance to Nuts.

Stop all the cocks, cut off the premium-rate X-rated barely-legal phone,

Prevent the misogynist columnist from barking, and don’t use the word “juicy” to talk about anything that isn’t fruit.

Nuts Magazine is dead. As a mark of disrespect, at twelve noon all teenage erections will hang at half mast.

When I started out on my rather unique (shall we say “portfolio”) career of comedy and political activism, journalism and debate, the lad mags were in their infancy. I was first noticed by the media directly because of them.

Not thanks to the traditional method of appearing in my underwear answering weird questions about when I’d lost my virginity or whether I’d ever kissed my female friends. Instead I saw a piece in The Guardian about the rise of these publications which casually suggested women weren’t too bothered.

Invigorated with rage, like Jim Davidson on a workplace diversity course, I scribbled down five hundred words for my blog and as a speculative afterthought submitted them to the BBC’s “reader column” email. They published it.

That night I was invited to appear on BBC 5 live to discuss the issue with an editor. It was the first of several hundred appearances I’ve made on the channel. And the beginning of my career as an opinionator and advocate for dozens of causes that has taken me onto shows from This Morning to, earlier this year, confronting Ken Clarke on Question Time.

I don’t remember which editor was my opponent that night was. I’ve met them all though. They are, without exception, patronising, arrogant, smug and dismissive.

Perhaps my least favourite is Martin Daubney, the man who suddenly turned against the industry when he saw how it affected his son. Shame he was so happy the throw everyone else’s daughters under the bus for the benefit of his own career first, eh?

He’s up against some serious competition. Piers Hernu once called me a “harridan” and a “battleaxe” live on BBC radio two, then as soon as the microphones were switched off winked and invited me for a drink! My hair has never needed washing quite so urgently.

Whoever it was, they stuck firmly to the same two boring old arguments they always use.

Firstly, that it is the demand for these magazines that drives their production. That people buy it so they must want it, so we’re all somehow duty bound to provide it. Well I’m glad to say that rhetoric is over. No-one wants your stupid magazine anymore. Tough luck.

Secondly, these sinister slime-balls always tell me it’s not an important issue, that there are bigger fish to fry for women’s rights and for human rights. On that point, Daubney, Hernu and current Nuts editor Dominic Smith, I quite agree.

I am off to fight those battles on ever-bigger and more global platforms wherever I can and you are consigned to the dustbin of history. Where you belonged all along.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what would a sex trade free world look like?

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

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

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Emmeline Pankhurst turns up in a pancake

A Pancake Day miracle! A feminist believes she has found the image of beloved suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst in her Shrove Tuesday pancake.

Abigail Jones, 37, of Totnes in Devon, believes the mysterious pancake image is a message from the past, sent by Mrs Pankhurst to egg on today’s activists in their battle against the patriarchy.

“I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “The image of Emmeline’s face in my pancake has given me the confidence to stand up to crepes who harass me in the street.

“The Pankhursts fought hard to make the world a batter place for women, and it makes me flipping angry that some people still couldn’t give a toss about the way we’re represented.”

Ms Jones has resisted calls from friends and relatives to sell the Pank-cake on eBay, despite the fact a pancake depicting Jesus and Mary almost sold for $338 (£165) in 2007.

Honour Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters yourself, with our exclusive Suffragette-themed Pankhurst Pancake ideas…

Ingredients (serves 8): 

  • 100g plain flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 300ml semi-skimmed milk
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • Pinch of salt

Toppings:

Savoury – fig, goats cheese, spinach and honey

Sweet – blueberries, cream and crushed pistachios

Method:

  1. Put the flour and a pinch of salt in a mixing bowl, add the eggs, oil and about 50ml of the milk
  2. Whisk into a thick paste, adding more milk if necessary
  3. Pour in the rest of the milk, while still whisking
  4. Heat oil in a frying pan over a medium heat
  5. Spoon a thin, even layer of pancake batter in to the pan
  6. Cook for about 30 seconds
  7. Flip, using a spatula to gently lift the pancake
  8. Cook for another 30 seconds on the other side
  9. Turn onto a plate and decorate with your suffragette coloured toppings
  10. Enjoy!

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Happy Valentine’s from Beth Stephens & Annie Sprinkle

Happy Valentine’s day everyone!

There’s no better day to celebrate the Earth.

Here are 25 Ways to Make Love with the Earth and our Ecosex Manifesto to inspire your amorous devotion. As we are all part of, not separate from nature, all sex is ecosex! So make love to the Earth today, and every day!

Beth Stephens & Annie Sprinkle

(Click on images to enlarge)

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Elizabeth Stephens & Annie Sprinkle are two ecosexual artists-in-love who have been collaborating with each other, and with various international communities, for 11 years. They created a new field of research, “Sexecology,” exploring the places where sexology and ecology intersect in our culture– in art, theory, practice and activism. Their ecosex performance art weddings have involved thousands of collaborators and participants in eight countries. They also do Sexecological Walking Tours, visual art installations, and are finishing a film about mountain top removal coal mining destruction in Appalachia, called Goodbye Gauley Mountain—An Ecosexual Love Story. Stephens is a professor of art at UCSC and a Ph.D. candidate in performance studies at UC Davis. Sprinkle is a popular visiting artist who holds a Ph.D. in human sexuality. They love to collaborate! Find out more here.

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Bums, heels and media darlings: What feminists want?

Now there’s a headline. I bet that got you clicking through before you got to the end of the sentence. Here’s one that will have you hitting the back button just as fast:

Obama: “Climate change is a fact

He said that just a few days ago. Yawn. Snore. Bummer. Why do people have that response? It’s only the leader of the free world rubber-stamping the biggest known threat to mankind’s survival. Hello? How can that be dull? How can devastating floods consuming lives and homes, or rampant hellfire devouring forests, hurricanes flattening towns, or expanding deserts be anything other than disaster-movie thrilling?

Why does the biggest story in mankind’s history have all the appeal of a genital wart when by rights it should be box office gold?

I thought it would be different with you lot. I thought feminists were an intelligent bunch with broad horizons, engaged with social issues beyond their own spheres of existence and sensitive to the needs of the common good. But take a look at the evidence: Feminist Times site stats suggest that you’re at least three times as keen on stories involving celebrities or magazine retouching than stories about the environment – though at least they didn’t offer $10,000 for unretouched photos of Lena Dunham.

I kind of get it – we all love a bit of a gossip – but still it infuriates me because this lack of engagement with environment is rife across all media. The Guardian recently slashed the size of its environment desk and the New York Times no longer even has one. Not because the editors don’t think the issues are important but because the stories don’t attract the eyeballs and therefore the advertisers, the revenue and so on… an infinite spiral that can only end in a Murdochian world of up-skirt shots, botched boob jobs, Miley’s tongue and Hugh Grant’s burgeoning child army.

You’re just like all the others, then. I suppose it was stupid of me to think you would be any different, after all you can’t project a shared trait – flattering or otherwise – on such a disparate group of people.

But I’m being unfair. Plenty of you do engage with the story of the anthropocene, and the rest of you are far from being alone. Academics have even coined a term, the Environmentalist’s Paradox, to explain the endemic apathy – it’s hard for people to accept what’s happening to the planet when life in general is getting better all the time. Your brain’s no good at perceiving gradual changes and climate change is happening so slowly that our brains have had time to normalise it. Alarm bells which should be deafening each and every one of us remain silent.

Robert Gifford, a professor of psychology and environmental studies at the University of Victoria, reckons we need to defeat our “dragons of inaction” – psychological barriers that prevent us from taking action to mitigate climate change.

These dragons take many forms – we don’t think about climate change enough; we hold ideological views that preclude pro-environment behaviour; we don’t see our peers reacting so we aren’t compelled to act ourselves; we have sunk irretrievable costs into our existing way of life and are too afraid to disentangle ourselves because the risks are perceived to be too high – and so on. We must find our own dragons and slay them, I guess. Bloody easy to say.

I’d add one more dragon to Gifford’s list: there is no time. The rabid quest for increased productivity has left the average person with precious little time to devote to themselves, to discover anything new, to think about anything beyond the immediate demands of day-to-day life. Hardly anyone I know reads books any more because their lives are full. To imagine they’re going to come home from work, put the kids to bed, eat, sleep, repeat and then spend any spare time fretting about deforestation is unreasonable.

And yet… Later in life, time is given back. And later in life you have a clearer sense of perspective. Could this be part of the reason some of our greatest older feminists are focusing their formidable talents on environmental projects?

Germaine Greer can be found knee deep in her own restored patch of rainforest; Rosie Boycott’s busying herself trying to make London a sustainable fish city; Isabella Rossellini is into insects and farming; and Annie Sprinkle calls herself an Ecosexual Sexecologist – someone who is madly, passionately and fiercely in love with the Earth and who lives in collaboration with it. She makes it sound the best fun. Campaigners should take note.

Even Vivienne Westwood, notable non feminist (but who seems to me to be a paragon of everything great about being your own woman and doing things your own way) is pledging her own money to tackle climate change.

These women know. They have time. They have perspective. Once they nurtured the idea of womanhood, of taking control of your sexual self, and now they nurture nature. Are the two so different? Not for Sprinkle who says that all sex is ecosex.

We should follow in their muddy footsteps. Take up your hoes hos! Don’t let the rakes rake all the profit and life out of the land… and other weak garden equipment puns. Get interested, get involved. Engagement is the first step away from the cliff. Alternatively we can continue our lemming-like shuffle towards the precipice because we’re too busy or too scared to look around us. Come on! It’s life and death on a grand scale! It’s action and drama and injustice! It’s The Day After Tomorrow, today!

And it’s a smidgeon more important than bums, heels and media darlings, lovely as they are.

Rachel Salvidge is a freelance journalist specialising in the environment, with a background in book publishing. Find out more @RachSalv.

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Your dinner’s been spiked

Everyone loves fish and chips, right? Hot and battery, the vinegar fumes gently scorching your eyeballs. Or maybe you’re more of a sushi person, riding the Yo Sushi conveyor belts with raw abandon. Or perhaps you’re more of a shellfish type, happiest scooping mussels from a garlicky bucket or ripping the exoskeleton off some hapless marine insect.

Whatever your inclination, you’re not alone in your fish love. The average person eats around 17kg of fish each year – that’s equivalent to consuming a 4-year-old human child, and we’ve all done that. Today we’re sliding twice as much fish down our oily gullets as we were in the 1960s. Kudos everyone.

Fish is a great source of protein so we should all be extremely chuffed with ourselves. It’s also a fabulous source of flame retardants, which is excellent news if you’re a sofa.

A new study reveals that plastic in the ocean is breaking down into microscopic particles which are harmful enough in themselves, but which also act like tiny lifeboats for grisly toxins from industrial byproducts like PBDE (the aforementioned flame retardant) and PCB (a coolant). The toxins clamber aboard and drift aimlessly, like Robert Redford in All is Lost, until devoured by marine life, and voila – it’s in the food chain.

Pollutants become more concentrated the further you move up the food chain. The tiddlers ingest the plastic and are in turn consumed in large numbers by their predators. These predators are then consumed by a higher level predator (it’s the circle of life, haven’t you seen The Lion King?) and so on, right up to the herb encrusted tuna that’s steaming fragrantly on your plate. I’m afraid someone’s spiked supper.

Many plastics contain chemicals already known to affect human and animal health, mainly affecting the endocrine system. Some contain toxic monomers, which have been linked to cancer and reproductive problems, but the actual role of plastic waste in these conditions is uncertain and there currently isn’t enough evidence to start splashing Daily Mail style hysteria across the globe. But scarily, even less is known about the effects of the toxic hitchhikers.

Some bonkers cosmetic products come with ready-made teeny tiny plastic particles. Exfoliants, shower gels and even some toothpastes contain micro-beads so small they are designed to go down the plughole and straight out to sea. Many companies such as Unilever have pledged to exorcise the evil beads, but not until 2015, so the clever people at Beat the Microbead have stepped in and compiled a nifty list of products for you to avoid  until they’re happily bead-free.

But all this is just the tip of the plasberg. Plastic production has increased 560 fold in just over 60 years and if we continue at this rate we’ll be dumping 220 million tons of the stuff every year by 2025. It doesn’t take a scientist to work out that this can’t be good news for man nor beast.

And it hangs around for so long too. In 2005 a piece of plastic found in an albatross’s stomach bore a serial number traced to a World War II seaplane shot down in 1944. It’s hard not to be a tiny bit impressed by this plucky plastic.

That is until you consider its role in the deaths of hundreds of species – fish, birds, dolphins, whales – who die of starvation, their stomachs bursting with plastic water bottles, carrier bags and the like; or those strangled, poisoned or cut up by our waste.

Something to think about the next time you gob a fish finger. I really hope I haven’t spoiled your appetite.

 

Rachel Salvidge is a freelance journalist specialising in the environment, with a background in book publishing. Find out more @RachSalv.

Photo: Dan Century

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New Year Message from a Crone: Woman’s Inner Time

I’m calling on Dames, Matrons, Crones and Hags, Witches and Medicine Women – “Granny” can be rather patronising and too comfortable – to set up a network of ‘WIT Eldership’ collectives, supported by trusted and respected people of other age groups and genders.

Eldership is a source of strength, especially in old women who acknowledge our species is self-destructing (destroying many other species along the way) and who recognise that true teaching is a receptive process; knowing what the Earth needs requires solitude and quietness.

I often feel lonely and irrelevent, and in the great tradition of older people, feel concerned that the younger generation is losing its way. From the perspective of age we can see what’s important. It’s our role to steer us all back onto the path of intuition and deep listening.

Yesterday at Oxford Antiques Market I got talking with a Moroccan who sells old stuff that appeals because of its mystery. He has no idea where it comes from, we know nothing of its history. I picked up two horses that were skillfully made with leather; I could feel the way the person who made these objects loved and respected animals. This knowledge came from a sense that is beyond words.

Both of us have been watching our grandchildren using their iPads and computer games, and realise they appear to be disconnected from their heritage. They feel masterful in their own worlds, but are they able to reach out to each other and communicate complex & subtle emotions? In a time of urgent and evolving crisis for our beloved Earth, these skills will be paramount.

Young people need to be listened to. I want us to move beyond patriarchal authoritarian concepts of ‘the expert’ to a deeper place where people search within themselves for their own innate skills and capacities, which the alienating forms of exam-based education tends to squash. All human beings have amazing capacities, which older people can draw out with patience and insight.

It takes a village to raise a child” – Proverb with African Roots

How do we construct that “village” in our world of super speedy communication? How do we find communion between different ages and levels of society? I request that we invest in old women who feel ‘called’ and have been moved by the sixties/seventies liberation struggles, by that age of interactive self-exploration.

I’m an old hippy and I’m remembering how earlier in my life I was so full of hope, as so many of us were. Aware we had work to do and willing to pledge and honour that sense of being called; but now I’m questioning myself and sometimes feel powerless and daunted to the point of numbness, but I know that it’s not hopeless. The Work is increasing in its depth and demands.

We’ve just moved through solstice time, nurturing our bodies and developing communal bonds. We’re also at a stage in our human development where we need to nurture the inner realms we sometimes call ‘soul’. I’ve developed the concept of WIT (Woman’s Inner Time); as contemporary Medicine Women, we would not be teaching children, but rather supporting adults who teach kids, including parents and professionals.

We older women would develop the art of listening without imposing agendas, judgement or opinion, but rather create ‘sacred’ space for uninterrupted personal exploration. We would be a resource and would begin with ourselves and our own ego-nurturance, in order to move beyond old wounds and the habits of internal conflict and self-sabotage.

Raga Woods is a frequently-photographed, much-travelled mad Crone . If you’d like to find out more about WIT email her: ragawoo@gmail.com

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Obituary

Death of the Slut

I’ve had this thought for a while. Uncertain if it was too premature, too optimistic, too naive, I barely dared to utter it to myself or my female friends, let alone turn it into a public article with a name that nerdily references Roland Barthes. And then, as if Roland himself wanted to remind people of his eternal cultural kudos by being in an article title, the cultural atmosphere finally felt right.

The duty is now bestowed upon me to write to women and say: “Bravo! Congratulations! Great job!” The time has come for us to write an Ode to Casual Sex.

I negotiate the field of “casual sex” – not to mention my support of it – very carefully indeed. After all, I have over three years experience working in sexual health clinics. I know the uncomfortable national Chlamydia statistics better than most, and the rise of Gonnorhea is one of my best rehearsed dinner party topics. And sadly, inevitably, when you spend accumulative days of your life seeing what happens when casual sex goes wrong, the last thing you want to do is go and tell everyone to get it on, immediately.

Thus, I now approach my ode with the foreword: I am writing an Ode to Casual Sex With A Condom, Consent, and general Contentedness, not an Ode to Shagging Someone Too Drunk To Know In A Nightclub Toilet With Contraceptive Disdain. It is impossible to discuss this without first assuring you: by casual sex, I mean two happy and consenting people with top notch safe sex practice, doing it because they want to.

And, in this sense, we have seen a shift. In the UK right now we are seeing a widening of the conversation – a cultural and social space is opening for women, young and old, who want to talk about how they enjoy having casual sex, and society isn’t unanimously telling them to shush.

The conversation is changing. Media is less shocked by it, culture is less shy of it, women are more proud of it. Of course there are exceptions to the rule, and of course we are still far from achieving the same kind of society-wide post-coital pats on the back that are bestowed upon men, but the significance of this is monumental.

Casual sex is a mark of liberation women should be immensely proud of. It is something we have tirelessly worked for, battling against one of the most persistent labels in the modern English language.

The question now on everyone’s lips is this: are we finally seeing the death of the Slut?

It should come as no surprise to you to know my standpoint on the very thing for which I am planning a funeral: the Slut. I hate the word Slut. I don’t want to reclaim it, I don’t want to rebrand it, I don’t want anything to do with it.

Throughout history, different oppressed peoples have tried to claim back words that have been used against them. The key is personal preference. If you feel that you can be empowered by a word that once oppressed you, and if you feel you can rebrand it to be something you can be proud of, then I say GO YOU. It is a skill and a feat that takes immense inner strength and conviction. I salute you.

My personal preference, however, is to not. My personal preference doesn’t want to rebrand Slut. My personal preference wants to strap the word Slut to a skyscraper-sized dynamite stick and light it, while simultaneously canon-blasting it into a universe so far from ours that when its inhabitant aliens look at Earth through a telescope all they see is Dinosaurs in a tizzle and Jesus giving out fish.

I want it to be properly punished – punished for everything it has done to women. For the women it has shamed, for the rape claims it has degraded, for the freedom of dress it has denied. For the number of post-coital tears I have mopped on the cheeks of my beautiful, wonderful, powerhouse female friends, because it just won’t go away.

To the word Slut, it doesn’t matter how intelligent, successful, happy, caring, wonderful a human being you are. You could be the President of the United States (shout out to Hils 2k16) and, if you are single and enjoy the odd night-time encounter, the word Slut will plague you through afternoons in Congress and deafen your foreign policy meetings. Not a woman I know – feminist or otherwise – has escaped the shadow of the Slut.

Slut, for me, cannot be reclaimed, certainly not yet. We are too close to it, too preoccupied still with what it means and what it stands for to honestly claim we have rebranded it. Too many women awake the morning after they made a happy, adult choice to engage in sex that made them feel good, to then immediately speed-dial their female friends to check if society will brand them a Slut.

The conversation may be changing but, unfortunately, we cannot yet dance on Slut’s grave. It is still deeply ingrained into our social conscience – groups will still thrust the label upon women, women will still thrust the label upon themselves.

But, as the conversation opens up more and more to listen to women happy in their sexual conquests, I say it is time we took a stance. Women everywhere: this is the Death of the Slut. Starting with no longer giving Slut airtime. The woman wearing the super low-cut top? Well-endowed. The woman who has more interest in getting to know his trouser zips than his personality? A 21st century woman. And the woman who went on the rebound after a nasty breakup? A human.

By the time Hils struts into the White House in her rainbow trouser suits I want the answer to “do you think that girl’s a slut?” to be one thing and one thing only. I want the answer to be: “a what?”

Rebecca Myers is a freelance journalist, full-time feminist, and tea addict. Find out more @rebeccacmyers

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#ManWeek: The Survivalist

My mental image of a survivalist is an AK47 toting libertarian – a good old boy turned bad by the twin indignities of big government and small but significant infringements on their constitutional rights. I picture them preparing for judgement day by doing pull-ups on the door frame, like Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver.

I am half right. The many male survivalists on YouTube usually do sound like that, but don’t often look like it. Most are seriously out of shape and may have some trouble protecting their homes and property from miscreants or match-fit rival survivalists. This is a source of anxiety for those ‘men of size’ on a ‘weight loss journey’ that may not be completed when the shit hits the fan. One points out, quite reasonably, that a run on fuel will present significant problems for people with mobility issues. He couldn’t ‘bug out’ on foot so would be at a significant disadvantage. I found myself wondering, what will I do? A thin depressive like me would be at even more of a disadvantage. What about medication? Should I start stockpiling metazpine in a lockable box under the floor boards?

Paranoia is viral – survivalists infect each other and anyone unwise enough to spend more than a few minutes reading the posts on survivalist blogs. I exposed myself for longer than was safe and came away convinced that ‘infringements’ of the second amendment and Obamacare would lead to The End of The World as We Know It. It seems sensible to uproot one’s family and decamp to a low tax haven with ‘rational’ gun laws immediately – before it’s too late.

Panama is a popular destination. Once they’ve got a base (and started a blog) they look for a nice rural location for their retreat – an impregnable, self-sufficient fortress, with it’s own power source and aquaponic larder. And apply for a gun licence. They say God called them to do it, but he doesn’t seem to be helping with the food storage issues and endless to-do list. It’s bloody hot apparently, so the cache of food necessary to sit out the impending catastrophe would have kept better in Seattle.

What a palava. My to-do list is terrifying enough, and I’m only planning a week or so ahead. Most survivalists are planning for calamities that stop society functioning for months or even years. Prepping is like getting ready for a holiday when you don’t know where you’re going or what the weather will be like. The destination is bound to be shit. The whole industrialised world will be like the destinations in the ‘world’s worst dumps’ section in the Oldie magazine.

When the shit hits the fan, London will descend into anarchy – Kentish town will be like Kosovo. My house is in the worst possible location – close to the main road, overlooked from all sides and very hard to secure. There will be refugees streaming down the high street and looters will help themselves to the old lady dresses and big knickers in Blustons Coats And Gowns. When my supplies have been nicked by ‘low life’ and probably other survivalists, I’ll be reduced to eating my maine coons and will probably wish I’d moved to a tripled glazed new-build with a garage (for secure storage of my cache of food and kerosene heaters) before the shit hit the fan, as the survivalists advised.

Survivalists think they are the only ones with the skill set to cope in a shit hit the fan scenario. They set great store by their individual plan which has been tailored to their particular circumstance. Some have started sourcing friends with complementary skill sets and like minded partners through an online dating service for survivalists. There are four men to every woman – but what if the plan is flawed? Or the planner?

The survivalist considers himself an evolutionary step up from other men. From his elevated position he looks down on the modern dandies like Russell Brand and the new (old) lads equally. Male rituals seem like a waste of energy and resources. He wouldn’t take part in Movember, use scruffing lotion or get into a Twitter spat with a feminist.

Feminists seem sillier than Russell Brand, and a liability in a shit hits the fan scenario. They’d try to drive the bug out vehicle, which needs to be in the hands of the most mentally disciplined and level-headed member of the party – that rules them right out. The one useful thing they could do, and probably wouldn’t, is shag the man with the plan to boost his morale.

Survivalism looks like hyper-masculinity, but many survivalist forums are more like the Women’s Institute than the Playboy club. Instead of badinage, there’s a lot of competitive preserving, pictures of massive marrows and making do and mending, survivalist style. There are top tips on how to add concealed pockets to Matalan combats, and making your own ‘bug out’ bags.

Unlike lads, survivalists are good at exprnessing their feelings, and in touch with their paranoia. What are they afraid of? This seems like a silly question, but I think male apocalypticism is a defence mechanism. They are rejecting their dark and destructive masculinity by projecting it onto the external world.

Male apocalypticism may also be symptomatic of an alienation from mainstream society. I feel sorry for them, because I know what it feels like to see the four horsemen in your wing mirror on the school run.

I am scared of the future too. In my case, the shit hit the fan when I tested positive for the Huntington’s gene. The only good thing about being scared of brain rot is that it relieved me, temporarily, of my lifelong dread of the apocalypse.

I grew up terrified of nuclear war and joined CND as soon as I was old enough. The Cuban Missile crisis was recent history, so I thought a lot about what I’d do with my last days on earth and never once pictured my family bugged out in the cupboard under the stairs. Everyone knew you couldn’t survive a nuclear calamity.

In the eighties, the government were the only survivalists; the men with the plan produced a famous piece of survivalist fiction called Protect and Survive. The civil defence programme which advised citizens to hole up under the stairs seemed hubristic – who could survive the nuclear holocaust? Some have suggested that the government wanted to give the public something positive to focus its energies on in the final days and thereby minimise civil unrest.

Modern survivalism serves a similar purpose – those to-do lists are a distraction: as long as they’re blogging about the gun laws in Panama, survivalists won’t be boarding oil rigs to save the planet from catastophe. They feel powerful, but survivalism is a counsel of despair.

Survivalism equips its adherents with an illusion of agency: they pride themselves on being savyy, but they are differently deluded – terrified of being victims and in denial about their vulnerability and humanity. If the shit did hit the fan, I wouldn’t rate their chances.

In a recent TV drama about a shit hits the fan scenario, the middle class survivalist turned feral and killed someone for a can of sweetcorn. I’d rather have a feminist driving my bug out vehicle than a loony survivalist. They’ve played too many computer games where the lone male battles for survival in a hostile world – and wins. My brother has a Playstation but never picked that up. When the shit hits the fan, he will show true British grit and pluck until the booze runs out.

Image courtesy of DVIDSHUB

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Sexist bygones: The Bus Wanker

Looking back on the dark ages of sexism, we would be neglectful in our duties if we did not bring to your attention The Bus Wanker.

The Bus Wanker, and his cousin the Train Wanker, were a common phenomenon during the era of public transport. Public masturbators took to the rails and roads with the arrival of the first public railway, the Surrey Iron Railway, in London in 1803 and the first omnibus service in Manchester in 1824, remaining there until the advent of the Transporter in 2062. As we all know, Transporters allow for safe, personal, low carbon, low cost transportation with only the risk of losing a few strands of DNA on the way.

Measures were taken to curb public masturbation (already a crime) after it was falsely announced in the Daily Mail, in August 2013, that it was legal to masturbate in public in Sweden. This inaccuracy led to Black Wednesday, January 2nd 2014, when the Riksdag in Sweden was overrun with public masturbators.

masturbation-device_2Public outcry provoked the European Union to establish a more effective deterrent. In 2015 a restraining device (pictured) to be worn for 23 hours a day was put into place as the cross-union sentence for those convicted. In the UK this became known as the ‘Cock Block’.

Several convicted public masturbators in the ex-Republic of Spain took this matter to the High Court in 2020, claiming the wearing of the device was a breach of their human rights. They won and the device was outlawed, though it remains as an official deterrent in both Iceland and Texas.

Train and Bus Wankers were finally annihilated, in the main, by the Daughters of Amazon Vigilante Group which was active between 2025 and 2027. The anonymous feminist militia were inspired by the writings of famous knitter Barbara G Walker, who was later canonised. Amazon: A Novel was the group’s unofficial manifesto and continues to top the best-seller lists to this day.

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The Cassandra Complex: Bubble Trouble

Like Violet Beauregarde emptying her lungs into her gum, we heave into our economic bubbles, watch them expand and burst, leaving us shocked, unsurprised and covered in sticky pink goo.

You’re probably a little tired of economic bubbles by now – stock market bubbles, dot.com bubbles, housing bubbles – it’s all a bit passé and no one ends up having any fun.

And yet a new bubble is being inflated which makes the others look like a fart in a bathtub. This enormous floater is the Death Star of all bubbles. It’s called the Carbon Bubble and can be explained by a little simple maths.

In 2009 the Conference of the Parties, the supreme decision-making body of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, agreed to recognise “the scientific view that the increase in global temperature should be below 2 degrees Celsius” in a bid to avoid catastrophic levels of man made climate change.

This agreement’s known as the Copenhagen Accord and was recognised by all of the 193 nations at the summit. This might sound like a breakthrough, until you realise that it’s not legally binding and represents about as much commitment as your hungover friend telling you they’ll give up alcohol at some unspecified point in the future.

To have a reasonable (here reasonable is defined as 4/5) chance of staying below the 2 degree mark we can pump a maximum of around 565 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

But there’s a tiny problem. Fossil fuel companies’ existing reserves amount to around 2,795 gigatonnes of CO2. That’s almost five times the amount we can burn without turning the planet into Tatooine. Upshot: if you burn everything in the inventories of these companies we are fucked.

However, and let’s call this the profiteers’ paradox, if fossil fuel companies agreed not to burn their stock (out of the goodness of their hearts, so it’s a possibility) they’d write off trillions of dollars in assets and… KABOOM! Globally linked economies are spattered in Hubba Bubba.

So what are they doing about this existential dilemma? Well, they’re busy continuing exploration to uncover more oil, coal or gas… which they can’t burn. And investors continue to pump money into projects that can’t be realised without bringing about climageddon. It’s a lose-lose situation.

So what can we do? We can switch to energy providers such as Good Energy or Ecotricity (they provide the grid with renewable energy but you still receive gas and electricity in the normal way). We can demand that politicians don’t remove green taxes from our energy providers who whine about the levies while simultaneously dodging tax. We can welcome, or even initiate, solar, hydro and wind projects into our communities and we can petition MPs for a clean energy revolution.

What we need now – and when I say now, I mean about 20 years ago – is a clear and methodical roadmap with which to gently transition us into a world where energy is cheap, secure and sustainable and where the future is a possibility.

Or we can make like Violet and keep blowing.

 

Rachel Salvidge is a freelance journalist specialising in the environment, with a background in book publishing. Find out more @RachSalv.

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Sexist Bygones: The Heavy Breather

What a relief feminism worked, eh?

In celebration of our sexism-free society here in The Future we take a look back at some of the sexist behaviour that’s now thankfully a thing of the past.

Springtime 1985 and somewhere in North Yorkshire an adorable five year old girl is about to pick up the “telephone”, more commonly known these days as the landline.

“Ha-woh” said the little girl.  This was the first time she had answered the telephone, but she had been practicing for years on her Fisher-price equivalent. Finally she had the chance to try it out like a grown up while her parents were more concerned with the Vista curry boiling away on the hob. They hadn’t heard the ringing.

“Ha-woh?” she said again when she got no reply. Maybe she should get mum. Maybe this thing was more complicated than the Fisher-price one. Maybe just listen a little while longer?

That was when she heard a deep, slow, breathy groan. Followed by another. It sounded like her grandad was sitting down, repeatedly, while trying to muffle his painful groans from the piles.

Her mum snatched the telephone. “01285 555555 Hello?” Then after a small pause slammed the phone down. “Never answer the telephone again without mummy ok?”

The little girl and her mother had been the victim of what was commonly known as “Heavy Breathing” and covered by popular TV programs of the day such as That’s Life, TV AM and Crime Watch.

Heavy Breathing died out in the main with the landline, but was quickly succeeded by mobile sexism in the form of the Nuisance Sex Text and Unsolicited Cock Photo.

Thankfully all of this is now a thing of the past, primarily due to the Leave Women Alone Act 2031, tabled in the British Parliament by the Rt Hon Dolly Houghton, daughter of the late Chantelle Houghton and Alex Reid.

The Act introduced strict penalties for unsolicited photos, text, sounds and videos of a sexual nature through all communication technology and saw several high profile footballers being locked up for life within a month of the bill being enacted.

Next week: Bus Wankers

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View of utopia

Women’s Realm

At the end of August, BBC News reported on the Venus Project, a utopic vision of a radically different future society. Designed by 97-year-old architect Jacque Fresco, the Venus Project proposes a society where material possessions are unnecessary, mundane jobs are automated, and the main aim of daily life is to improve your knowledge, enjoy hobbies, and find solutions to improving the standard of living for everyone.

The dream of an ideal society is nothing new, appearing in Plato’s Republic in around 350BC, and first described using the term Utopia in 1516 by Sir Thomas More. The Venus Project describes itself as “neither Utopian nor Orwellian” but instead as presenting “attainable goals requiring only the intelligent application of what we already know.”

We’re big dreamers here at Feminist Times. What would an ideal feminist society look like, and what goals could we attain through the intelligent application of what we already know? I turned to the feminist imaginations of the past for inspiration.

The Second Wave of feminism, in the 60s, 70s and 80s, was a heyday of feminist utopian literature, with novels including Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time, Suzy McKee CharnasMotherlines, Sally Miller Gearhart’s The Wanderground, and Margaret Atwood’s dystopia The Handmaid’s Tale.

In Woman on the Edge of Time, published in 1976, Piercy presents alternative utopian and dystopian visions of the future. In the utopian future, pollution, homophobia, racism, phallocentrism, class-subordination, consumerism, imperialism and totalitarianism have been eradicated. In the dystopian alternative, the wealthy elite use drugs and surgical mood control to subjugate the masses and harvest their organs. Women are only valued for their appearance and sexuality, and their sexual features are exaggerated by cosmetic surgery.

Suzy McKee Charnas, in her 1978 novel Motherlines, describes a group of women who have escaped from a dystopian civilisation where “fems” are slaves to men. Charnas presents strong, self-sufficient female characters. In their world, men are unnecessary and women can reproduce using their horses (think I’ll pass on that one!)

Also published in 1978, Sally Miller Gearhart’s The Wanderground: Stories of the Hill Women presents women living apart from the society of men, having fled the harsh restrictions imposed on them to live communally in nature. The ability to reproduce without men is a popular theme throughout feminist utopian novels – in Gearhart’s novel reproduction takes place asexually, and the women’s other skills include flying and telephathic communication.

This theme of reproduction is explored further in Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale, in which the sexes are strictly divided, and society values women for their reproductive capacities above all else. Sterile, unmarried women are considered non-persons, forced to wear grey clothing and banished to the ‘Colonies’.

There are clear, recognisable themes recurrent in the feminist dystopias of the Second Wave, often taking existing inequalities to their logical conclusions: societies in which women are valued only for their sexuality and appearance, or for their ability to reproduce. Although exaggerated, it all sounds disconcertingly feasible. Their utopian counterparts represent an opposite extreme, in which women live in societies free from gender oppression and the power dynamics of inequality (often due to a total lack of men) where they are self-sufficient, liberated, and powerful.

Much earlier, Charlotte Perkins Gilman imagined a similarly utopic ideal in her 1915 novel Herland, written three years before women in the UK were even granted the vote. In Herland, Gilman explores and subverts notions of gender roles, giving the women ‘masculine’ features such as short hair, physical strength and a lack of curves, while Jeff, a male character, exhibits feminine traits. In Herland, the women live in an isolated society and reproduce asexually, as in many Second Wave utopias. In Gilman’s ideal social order women are independent and equal – even superior at times – to men; there is no war, conflict or domination, and education is held up as a high art.

Earlier still, the first example of a feminist utopia was written by medieval French Italian author Christine de Pizan in 1405. Her allegorical work City of Ladies features a wide range of famous historical women, who are both the building blocks and the inhabitants of de Pizan’s symbolic city. In her society, a “lady” is defined as a woman of noble spirit, rather than noble birth, and the ladies named are given as positive examples for other women to follow. Major themes covered include women’s rights to education, the criminality of rape, and women’s political leadership abilities.

Six hundred years after de Pizan dared to imagine such a dream, I wonder what she would have made of the Taliban’s attack on Malala Yousafzai, George Galloway describing rape allegations as nothing more than “bad sexual etiquette”, or David Cameron’s cabinet of 18 men and four women. Forget the ability to reproduce with horses (seriously, why?!) my idea of a feminist utopia bears as much resemblance to de Pizan’s 15th century imagination as it does to Gearhart’s Wanderground. I wouldn’t say no to the telepathy though – a woman’s got to have bigger dreams than just a society where women are valued in government.

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Bee on pink background

The Cassandra Complex

By 2050 there’ll be nine billion of us living on the planet. NINE BILLION. Consider that as recently as 1960 there were only three billion of us. That’s a lot of extra bodies. Things are going to get sweaty.

But whiffy pits are the least of our worries. If we continue with the current rate of growth and don’t temper the way we behave there’ll be stiff and hungry competition for food, water and a fertile patch of soil to call home. One billion of us don’t have enough to eat today and the demand for food is predicted to rise by around 70% by 2050.

Factor in climate change and things start to look a little less rosy.

I’m sorry, I’m not usually one to scaremonger, but I’ve got so much scare right now that I feel obliged to mong it. I recently made the mistake of hoovering up as much information on climate change as I could and I’m now suffering from weapons-grade anxiety attacks. I can’t unknow what I now know (I’ve tried) so I thought I’d share it with you. You’re welcome.

Water is already a problem, even on our sodden little island. England and Wales could face water deficits of up to 3,082 mega-litres per day as early as 2020, according to a Government report. To put that in context, we currently have a surplus of 1,200 Ml/day.

Water companies are now beavering away creating 25 year plans in an attempt to get the water supply to meet the increasing demand, although a cursory look at these plans reveals an emphasis on getting the demand down rather than improving the infrastructure. Water companies may have to share their supply in future, but shifting water around is an expensive undertaking and will only happen if it’s economically viable.

Thames Water recently announced a £29 increase in next year’s bills to pay for a fancy new super sewer, just weeks after suggesting that Londoners may have to accept treated sewage in their taps because that’s cheaper than investing in more supply infrastructure. A case of let them eat urinal cake. Expect water to get scarcer, more expensive and altogether less refreshing.

Globally there’s rising water panic. Saudi Arabia has even tinkered with the delicious idea of dragging giant icebergs from Canada to provide water for its parched citizens. A private company in Chile is exporting bulk meltwater to Qatar. Egypt is freaking out over Ethiopia’s plan to dam the Nile, which flows through both their countries. Now India, Nepal, Bhutan and Pakistan are racing to dam Himalayan rivers which will have untold effects on the environment, agriculture and the chaps downstream. It’s squeaky bum time. If not now, in a decade or so – it’s not just a problem for future generations.

Wars have been fought over oil. What happens when the disputed resource is one on which survival is predicated?

This is just the tip of the rapidly melting iceberg. I have plenty more to impart about droughts, heat waves, floods, wildfires, degraded rivers and oceans, extreme weather, food supply, climate refugees (who already exist in their millions), bees, trees, carbon sinks, plastic islands, climate deniers, energy, and the root cause of all of this: short termism. The future is being sold. Excuse me while I breathe into a paper bag.

So climate change is here. It’s too late to stop it. We’re already feeling the effects and we’re going to see some consequences in our lifetime. BUT. There’s still time to adapt and there’s a brief window in which we can repair some of the damage. Don’t worry, you don’t have to change your lifestyle, no one’s going to ask you to wear sackcloth, eat grubs or, heaven forfend, turn your telly off standby, so relax. The solution lies with industry and politicians; we have to urge them into action, not the other way around. It’s not in your power to save the planet – that’s a big fat buck-passing lie – but it is in theirs. They can be heroes if they so choose. All we need to do is be informed and to kick them enthusiastically in the right direction.

The main reason I’m not filling my pockets with stones and throwing myself into the nearest floodwater is because a small group of individuals has found a way of speaking to business and leaders in a language they understand. They’re a mix of economists, campaigners and financiers and they’ve begun to put a financial value on the services provided, free of charge, by nature. If you remove reefs you will have to build sea defences; if you remove wetlands you’ll have to build levees (ask a resident of New Orleans about this one); if you take out vegetation that filters water, you will have to build a water purifying plant; if you overfish you lose the fish and the fishing industry. Simple stuff, but more powerful with the dollar signs attached. Slowly people are taking note.

According to Tony Juniper, in his excellent book, What Has Nature Ever Done for Us? the penny is beginning to drop. New York City invested $1 billion in managing and preserving the surrounding woodlands which filter Manhattan’s water supply. Artificial filtration would have cost the city around $6-8 billion, and the equipment would have cost up to $500 million a year to operate. It’s the largest unfiltered public water supply in the United States and it has kept New Yorkers’ water bills down.

Others are less forward-thinking. In Sichuan, China, pesticides have all but wiped out the bees. People are having to HAND POLLINATE their crops. I shit you not. They climb the trees wearing bee costumes and dust pollen from flower to flower. OK, so I’m lying about the bee suits, but the rest is true and just as absurd. I haven’t done the maths, but it’s a safe bet to assume that bees are cheaper than Chinamen.

So there are behemoth problems but there are simple solutions which I will bother you with in future posts, should you choose to read them.

I’m sorry if I’ve just assaulted your peace of mind, but I needed company in my newfound fear. It’s true what they say: ignorance really is bliss. Until you find bumwater flowing from your taps and your neighbour’s car floats into your living room.

 

Rachel Salvidge is a freelance journalist specialising in the environment, with a background in book publishing. Find out more @RachSalv.

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Kittens in a box

Catfighting Talk

Angela Phillips, who worked as a photographer for Spare Rib magazine during the 1970s, wrote the following in August, in reference to our naming dispute:

“Sadly when women disagree it’s labelled a ‘cat fight’ and something to be avoided at all costs. When men fall out they are not accused of ‘dog-fighting’, it is seen as a necessary process of competition during which new ideas emerge.”

It’s a fair point, and one that’s regularly made by feminist commentators in response to predictable media reporting on the latest ‘girl-on-girl spat’ in terms that would never be used about men. Having said that, I can’t help but wonder if there’s some mileage in the term – after all, feminists do notoriously love cats.

I’ve always thought of cats as very individualistic and territorial. Growing up, my family had one outdoor cat, Sid, who frequently found herself in catfights with other (usually bigger) cats who took the liberty of coming into her garden and pissing in it. In that context the response, “go away and find your own garden to piss in” is an understandable defensive instinct.

In the last two years Sid has lost both her eyes through glaucoma and now isn’t allowed to go outside. Her territorial defensiveness remains firmly intact and she seems to instinctively know when someone else is encroaching on her patch. I can understand that too, on some level, however unfair it seems to the other cats who can see a beautiful garden going unused and yet find themselves chased out of it by Sid’s legal representatives, my parents.

Catlike individualism and ferocious territorialism reproduce themselves in all walks of life – from business and politics to relationships, but the metaphor is only ever applied to women. Women who succeed in business and then pull the ladder up behind them are seen as the ultimate traitor to the feminist sisterhood, and yet we feminists love our cats for their independent, strong-willed natures.

My partner and I recently adopted a pair of 12-week-old kittens – a beautifully good-natured brother and sister who had been abandoned at the roadside. Tybalt and Scala have taught me for the first time that there’s more than one kind of catfight. They’re the most loving, affectionate and playful kittens I’ve ever met, yet they play-fight with such convincing ferocity that every time they do so I’m genuinely terrified they’ll do each other serious harm.

I recently watched them wrestling – violently going at each other in a fury of teeth and claws – before collapsing into an exhausted bundle of gently purring fluff, snuggled up, limbs entwined, lovingly grooming each other’s faces. Catfights have been getting a bad rep, I thought – women can be far worse to each other than this.

As well as being best friends in love and war, Tybalt and Scala are the ultimate allies. Under threat from mutual enemies – namely the vacuum cleaner – they form a united front, retreating together, offering each other comfort, security and solidarity. Scala, our beautiful tabby girl, is incredibly protective of her skinny, less self-aware brother Tybalt, and that sisterly defence is repaid by his boundless affection for her.

So-called feminist ‘catfights’ are a staple of feminist relationships, but they’ve been a particular talking point in recent months – not just in the context of this magazine, but also in discussions about how we constructively critique each other’s campaigns.

The seemingly constant flurry of high-profile, cyclical Twitter spats have left many people feeling that Twitter – once a virtual consciousness-raising group for many – is now a hostile environment where expressing an opinion risks provoking a pile-on.

It’s easy to forget though that ‘catfighting’ is a natural and necessary process. Messing up, being attacked, and fighting out the issues is an important part of how we learn from each other, and how we learn to defend and justify ourselves. As horribly personal and aggressive as it is, I could never have progressed as a feminist without my sisters sometimes digging their claws into my naïvely misguided opinions.

The biggest problem is how we resolve it – in a spiral of unending grudges, increasingly bitter disputes and feminist blacklists, or with a bit of feline, sisterly affection?

We need ‘catfighting’ to move us forward, but wouldn’t being attacked be a much more enjoyable experience if it could always end with a big cuddle, a supportive pep talk, and a bit of mutual grooming? Of course it’s a hugely simplistic argument when so many complex issues continue to divide us, but the biggest enemy is still the vacuum cleaner.

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Obituary

Obituary: Post-Feminism

Writing an obituary for ‘post-feminism’ is difficult. I never loved, nor even accepted, the creature in the first place. In its different dis/guises, from Girl Power to Tory feminism, it was always a slippery, shape-shifting thing. In life, Mark Twain was declared dead twice over, quipping the first time that his death was exaggerated. In its ongoing life, feminism has been declared dead many times over, keeping its eager obituary writers always busy. Post-feminism should be easier to bury, though perhaps harder to keep safely interred.

Over sixty years ago, commencing the iconic text of second-wave feminism, Simone de Beauvoir apologized for reviving a topic that was perhaps dead: ‘Enough ink has been spilled in quarrelling over feminism, and perhaps we should say no more about it’. Within days, the ink she spilled sold 22,000 copies and The Second Sex has kept selling ever since. Twenty years later, second-wave feminism could hardly have emerged with more clamour, quickly spreading the message that women’s collective efforts would change the world. ‘Goodbye to All That’, Robyn Morgan declared in 1968, when a group of young women occupied the offices of a radical left publication in New York, joined together to protest the Miss America pageant and founded the radical feminist group W.I.T.C.H. That same year, her fellow American poet Adrienne Rich was similarly celebrating the awesome collectivity of women: ‘A woman in the shape of a monster/ a monster in the shape of a woman/ the skies are full of them’.

No wonder its critics waited impatiently to bury this new force, which did indeed usher in a decade of dramatic legislative, social and cultural change. Wherever it grew, it opened doors previously closed to women. It gave women more control than ever before over our bodies and sexuality, made us – when united – more assertive in the home, the workplace and the world at large, everywhere stressing women’s disadvantage and discrimination, including the frequency of men’s violence against and sexual abuse of women and girls. It was the successful spread of feminism that itself heightened recognition of and conflicts over the divisions between women, with newly emerging voices proclaiming their distinct forms of cultural and economic disadvantage and disparagement.

Finally, the era that would be labeled ‘post-feminism’ kicked off in the 1990s, after economic crises had brought the Right into power in Britain, the USA and beyond: rolling back welfare, attacking unions and other sites of resistance, increasing workplace insecurity, above all, ubiquitously popularizing notions of ‘free choice’ as beneficial for all; collectivity as tedious and constraining when not serving market forces The speedy rise and fall of the Spice Girls in the late 1990s epitomized this putative ‘postfeminism’. Directly produced by the record-industry, these self-proclaimed ‘feminists’ crystallized the essence of ‘girl-power’, as their ostentatious quest for individual success and their return to conventional ‘feminine’ wiles dominated the airwaves: ‘Wannabe’; ‘Spice Up Your Life’; ‘Never Give Up on the Good Times’.

This lavishly layable Lady– ‘Get Down with Me’; ‘Let Love the Lead the Way’– suggested one form of female-empowerment (however fleeting); Margaret Thatcher personified another. Out the window went gritty resistance to the increasing disruptions and strains caused by shifting gender relations in a world in which, symbolically, and for the most part materially, men still held sway over women. At the very same time, the immense appeal of Bridget Jones Diary, depicting one woman’s search for her man, or the equally popular Carrie Bradshaw, busily recording the affluent, home-buying, successful lives of four female friends dining out in New York in the stylish sit-com Sex and the City, were instances of the same phenomena. Never mind the familiar sexual hazards facing adolescent girls, the resentful failures and uncertainties of many boys and men, the overwork of countless married women, the impoverishment of lone mothers and their children, the heightening global inequalities, these ‘new’ women (real and imagined) had financial independence, sexual freedom, immense consumer choice, while pursuing the affluent men of their dreams.

Some feminist writers, especially those prominent in the media, including Naomi Wolf and Natasha Water, at first applauded what they saw as a new form of ‘power feminism’, hoping that some women’s growing professional success would increase their ability to empower others. Yet, both were aware of the multiple problems most women still faced, as Walter called for more change to enable all women to find a place ‘in the corridors of power’.  Meanwhile, older feminists, myself included, mostly rejected both this ‘new feminism’, while criticizing the very idea of ‘post-feminism’.

Times change, and militant feminism is once more on the move. Young women especially are taking to the streets, writing blogs, organizing conferences, stressing above all the collective power of women, not just to change themselves and enter the corridors of power, but to beat back violence in all its forms, asserting the value of caring and interdependence in pursuit of social transformation. Deploying new forms of communication, activism and aesthetic expression, feminist horizons broaden and deepen. They encompass the economics of globalization, as some women are shuttled around the world to survive, but also include the future of the planet itself, even while attending closely to the immensely differing, often contradictory, details of women’s lives near and far.

As I bury post-feminism, and the absurdity of imagining that any feminism worthy of the name could begin simply from notions of individual ‘free-choice’, self-assertion or glamour (much as we may delight in these things), I am deepening the hole I have been frantically digging for over forty years. Goodbye post-feminism; hello feminism.

 

Lynne Segal is a feminist writer and activist, and Anniversary Professor of Psychology & Gender Studies at Birkbeck, University of London. Her forthcoming book Out Of Time: The Pleasures and Perils of Ageing is published by Verso on 7th November.

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