Tag Archives: activism

Lifeworks and the power of protest

During Mental Health Awareness Week, Deputy Editor Sarah Graham reported on the service users occupying their under threat community mental health clinic, Lifeworks Cambridge, in an effort to keep the service open. Two months later, after protesters had occupied the building for four months, an agreement has been reached for Lifeworks to continue providing community care for Borderline Personality Disorder patients for five more years. Lifeworks service user and protester Ann Robinson sent us this update:

At 10:45am on the 30/06/2014, the service users of Lifeworks signed a 5 year contract with the CPFT Chief Executive Aidan Thomas, Cllr Kilian Bourke and, on behalf of service users, Ann Robinson. Along with the contract, the CPFT and service users of Lifeworks are to do a joint piece of work to develop a joint proposal to take to commissioners.

For us the service users it has been a hard and stressful road of learning, protesting, stamina and determination. To occupy a building for 4 months, give up your time and effort, to hold yourself together, help others, meet strangers who have become friends, and deal with media has been intense. With all of this we all still have an illness ourselves, which is stressful in itself. It is as a team and working together that we have achieved this, although some became ill along the way, everyone played their part.

Congratulations to all at Lifeworks from us at Feminist Times.

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Feminist Events Listings: July 2014

Verity FlecknellWelcome to my feminist event highlight blog for Feminist Times. Storm in a Teacup are thrilled to be highlighting all the best feminist events from London and beyond.

Whether you are an armchair activist or a full time activist, into your international politics, or personal politics, feminist artist, or radical feminist – there are just so many events happening up and down the country – there is bound to be something to tickle your fancy/get your teeth into.

Arguably there are more feminist events popping up more than ever and so many opportunities for you to get involved, meet like minded people, share skills and be a part of the movement.

We will be bringing you highlights of some of the feminist events not to be missed in July!

Verity Flecknell, Storm in a Teacup

NATIONAL

19-20 July || 40th Anniversary of the ‘74 Women’s Liberation Conference @ Kinning Park Complex, Glasgow.

Women’s Liberation 2014 conference will be held in Glasgow on Saturday the 19th and Sunday the 20th of July but it will commemorate the 1974 women’s liberation conference held in Edinburgh. 40 years on, women will come together to reminisce, to celebrate their achievements and to look to the future. The organisers envision a return to a politics of women’s liberation – moving from single-issue campaigns drawing on feminist ideas to a women-centred revolutionary movement. There will be workshops, talks, exhibitions and an evening event with an open stage and then disco on one floor, and a quieter space to talk to one another on the other floor.

HOW TO REGISTER:  e-mail scotwomenslib@gmail.com for a registration form. There’s a suggested donation of £40 for the weekend for women earning over 25k and women who can claim expenses, £25 for low-waged women and £15 for unwaged women. Asylum-seekers can attend for free.

MORE INFO: http://scottishwomensliberation.wordpress.com/2014/03/11/how-to-register-2/

LONDON

15th July || London Comedy Forum @ Institute of Education, London.

The LCF is an interdisciplinary forum for comedy and humour research. The July meeting is themed: Feminist Humour, and artist/researcher Hannah Ballou has curated a top notch panel of feminist humour practitioners. Bryony Kimmings, Kate Smurthwaite and Vikki Stone.

MORE INFO: https://www.facebook.com/events/883257285024899/

16 July || Women in Leadership – What Needs to Change? @ St. Pauls Institute, London.

Creating greater opportunities for female empowerment has been designated as one of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals. It is clear that the tide is turning and large strides are being made to overcome problems of institutional inequality; many voices have joined together to call for our leaders to represent the diversity of the people they govern, but there is still work to be done to remove impediments that have restricted female advancement. How can we remove the institutional and cultural barriers preventing many women from reaching positions of leadership? What can different sectors learn from one another in the fight for true equality? What actions can we take to create lasting change? Join us at St Paul’s Cathedral for a public discussion led by: Liz Bingham, Managing Partner for Talent at EY, Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, Ceri Goddard, Director of Gender at the Young Foundation, The Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons, Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, Chaired by: The Very Revd David Ison, Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral. 7pm, doors at 6.30pm.

MORE INFO: womenstpauls.eventbrite.co.uk

22 July || UNICEF host; Girl Summit @ Venue TBC, London.  

UNICEF and the UK Government co-host an event aimed at mobilising domestic and international efforts to end female genital mutilation (FGM) and child, early and forced marriage (CEFM) within our generation. Girls and women have the right to live free from violence and discrimination and achieve their potential, but millions are being prevented from doing so by harmful practices such as FGM and CEFM, which are illegal in the UK. The Home Secretary Theresa May and Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening will host the event, alongside heads of state, practitioners, survivors, charities and community groups. This creative, positive and engaging event will bring together women, girls and community leaders from the UK and overseas, alongside governments, international organisations and the private sector to agree on action to end FGM and CEFM within a generation. Registration essential.

MORE INFO: https://www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/girl-summit-2014

Verity Flecknell is founder of Storm in a Teacup, a London based feminist arts collective set up in 2009 with the aim of promoting women in the arts. In 2010 Storm in a Teacup helped organise Ladyfest Ten festival, in 2011 were part of the first ever Women of the World festival at the Southbank and in 2012 joined forces with Girls Get Busy zine and Not So Popular to form Lets Start a Pussy Riot collective. In June this year, Rough Trade Records published “Lets Start a Pussy Riot” book, a collection of artistic responses created in collaboration with Pussy Riot. Storm in a Teacup also publishes monthly feminist event listings happening around London.

Please visit Storm in a Teacup’s blog site for full feminist event listings for July 2014.

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Eclectica: the project demanding equality

The Eclectica Project launch is two days of live music, DJs and guest speakers – and it’s taking place this August. Launching at Manchester’s Kraak, the project aims to inspire leadership by women and minorities in all industries, starting with the music industry. Daniel Ball spoke to two of the project’s founders Lizzie Hudson and Olivia Mayumi Moss to find out more.

Eclectica Project is highly concerned with gender equality and ethics. How have your personal experiences drawn you to creating a project of this nature?

LIZZIE: Over the last few years since leaving school, coming across different work and social environments, I’ve been frustrated by a lot of challenges that I and women around me have to face, whether that’s discrimination in the workplace, slut-shaming or body image issues. There has to be a point where you think, “No, wait… It’s not okay that I am regularly subjected to street harassment on the way home. It’s not okay that I get asked about boyfriends above my career ambitions.” These issues have a ripple effect into every aspect of our culture, and it’s important to find ways to build communities and create opportunities for those facing discrimination to hear each other out and offer support. That is what the Eclectica Project aims to facilitate.

OLIVIA: If something frustrates me, I need to do something about it. To quote Ani DiFranco, “I was blessed with a birth and a death, and I guess I just want some say in between.” I wouldn’t limit myself to the identity of ‘feminist’ or ‘activist’ although I am essentially both – I would rather call myself ‘active.’ Passivity can be a serious illness. I worked in Tokyo for 12 years. Japan is an uber-conformist world, and that experience changed a lot of things for me – It gave me a strong perspective over what is in fact changeable and what is not. So many aspects of our lives are within our power and require hard work to achieve a high standard, but it’s also important to remain philosophical about areas which aren’t controllable and to find alternative routes. Having an international perspective and access to willing professionals is essential to maintaining the diversity and longevity of this project, so I dug out my business contacts.

What are you hoping to change in the music industry through Eclectica Project?

LIZZIE: The music industry, and every industry for that matter, needs to progress towards accepting women and minorities as complex individuals. If we want to achieve any kind of equality within this industry, we have to for instance stop putting these performers in the position where we hyper-analyse as ‘empowering’ or ‘weak’ but instead regard them as people who impact our world culturally and industrially. Women can be artists, light engineers, managers, producers, drummers, business owners, and they can be at the top of their game, while ethnicity, sexuality and gender should never be a determining factor in hiring somebody or offering opportunities. We should be assessing quality based on commitment and competence, not background or gender. The purpose of the August launch and its spinoff shows is to encourage understanding and respect for female and minority people working in various sectors of the music industry.

OLIVIA:  Every industry needs a severe shake, because the patriarchy is everywhere and affects everyone. The UK music industry is no different: too many controls, too much money in the wrong places, too many wrong people in the wrong jobs, too much fear and naivety from the artists, too many people taking advantage, too many false promises… It’s a mess and the whole thing needs revising. Until everyone is treated fairly in all industries, female and minority professionals must never stop calling people out and fighting for their rights. Things will improve if enough people open their eyes, find courage from within and commit. The panels taking place on the August launch weekend will open up many areas of discussion and solidify the already burgeoning network.

What does the future hold for the project?

LIZZIE:  This project is about women and minorities everywhere. It’d be interesting to explore what’s going on in other industries, because sadly there are so many talented people missing out on opportunities because of prejudice or patriarchal structures. The aim is to keep this community and network growing, to let it have its own life, and hopefully inspire people to speak out, learn from each other and keep fighting the good fight.

OLIVIA: Yes, if you want to save your industry and possibly your career, get involved: don’t think that you can’t make a difference, because you can. This project needs to survive – it needs support from funders, professionals, volunteers… There are many ways to become part of this network. Other than that, the post-launch future is sleep!

The Eclectica Project launch & spinoffs will take place in Manchester and Leeds during July and August. You can find out more information on the project’s Facebook page

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End Sexual Violence in Conflict: Slow steps towards progress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Image: Foreign and Commonwealth Office via Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes.

Without gender equality?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Image: Foreign and Commonwealth Office via Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Image: Foreign and Commonwealth Office via Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Mario Antonio Pena Zapatería via Flickr

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‘Worcester Woman’ talks back: should there be more women in politics?

As our regional Feminist Times team hurtles towards our first event, I was asked by Editor Deborah Coughlin, why I got involved in setting up a regional events team for the Feminist Times in the West Midlands.

If there had been a short answer to this question it would have made for a very dull blog. The long answer, however, may just fill a book. So here’s my attempt at a shortened and abridged version of why I signed up.

My story starts as an undergraduate, studying the psychology of women, listening to female narratives, discovering feminism as a political movement. These experiences have led me down all sorts of paths of personal and political enlightenment and have created a life long fascination with the psychology of the female body, feminism, women’s talk, herstory, mythology and Goddesses. It also inspired a desire to learn from, and to educate, other women, to join them on their path to enlightenment.

It was this desire that then led me to Youth Work, specifically sexual health education and work with young women in particular. It’s hard to find specific funding to work with young women on issues of sexual equality and I’ve had to be creative to make this kind of work bend to a specifically feminist agenda. More recently, austerity measures have seen further cuts to services for young people so it’s really exciting to see the re-emergence of feminist youth work, like Feminist Webs in the last year or so, but it’s not common place.

The relative informality of the youth work process has all but disappeared in recent years but in my early career the job afforded me hours of sitting in coffee shops, discussing projects, planning sessions and biding my time between them. It was during this immersion in coffee culture that I was first invited to become involved in putting on a VDay event in our local community. I jumped at the chance.

It was great being involved in these events, working collectively with wonderful women to create amazing events out of thin air. Shouting the reclaimed C-word to audiences, raising money for grassroot’s women’s organisations and awareness of women’s global issues to a wide range of women and girls. After doing this for 4 years, however, life has taken me down some unexpected paths and now, one tragedy, one wedding, a pregnancy, and one 7 year old girl child later, my heart and my head are back in action, and feminism calls once more.

During the last three years I’ve been attending the Women of the World festival in London’s Southbank Centre. It’s another contributing factor to my wanting to get involved in feminist events. My experiences there could be a whole other blog in itself but one thing I’m always struck by is how especially awesome it would be if there could be such an event nearer home. Something a little less London centric, where it might be possible to network with like minded local folk.

It was with all these things in mind that I responded to a call for action at the end of last year from the newly founded Feminist Times. The call was to help them fulfill a promise to their members to put on local events. A call that came at a perfect time for me, a frustrated feminist, looking for the right opportunity to ride the current wave. How could I not get involved?

In February I traveled to Birmingham to meet with Deborah to look at how we might start turning an idea into a reality. Since then it’s been a bit of a roller coaster ride. That initial meeting was the start of so many fantastic conversations with many fascinating women, each inspiring many brilliant ideas: an arts festival showcasing women’s talent, a WoW festival for the Midlands, Feminist Barbie’s, a Feminist Café, an Edit-a-thon, a Feminist Burlesque show with a Q&A with performers, Feminist workshops in schools, a political party for the new Feminist order… Sometimes it felt like my head might explode.

I soon realised that these ideas were part of something much bigger than I could conceive and definitely bigger than the original brief. I also appeared to be getting carried away by that greater power that understands that when you bring the right women together something quite magical often happens. Fortunately, I also realised that I needed to reign myself in, harness just a few ideas, if I was to achieve anything at all. From small acorns do oak trees grow.

So in reorganising my thoughts I was able to bring together a small group of women, under the banner of a West Midlands Feminist Times team. We are collectively 20 something to 50 something. We each come with a diverse set of backgrounds, passions and experiences to bring to the table, and each with a unique desire to help galvanise a local feminist movement.

Obviously the range of potential themes and topics for our first event were vast but we quickly decided on an event that reflected the context of the recent local and European elections. We were interested in media discussions about all women shortlists. We were angry about increasing cuts, locally and nationally, to the services that have women and children at their heart. We were excited by articles about feminist parties in other European countries and intrigued as to how countries that are generally presented as less politically advanced by our British media could have better female representation in their governing bodies. Our own personal interests and concerns seemed to be centering around politics and how the world might be different with more women in positions of power and influence.

In addition to this, we were all fascinated by the ‘Worcester Woman‘. This politically contentious and ambiguous creature is said to represent the female face of middle England. It’s hard to find when and where the term was first coined but it’s generally understood to have appeared around 1997 and is used in the political media to describe a particularly type of female voter with ‘consumerist views and a shallow interest in politics’. Conversationally, if you Google ‘Worcester Woman’ most of the articles on the first page consist of the furthering of this political stereotype, none challenge it’s basic premise. As a diverse group of Worcester Women, as feminists, and as the West Midlands Feminist Times we decided we wanted to redress this notion of shallowness, we wanted to talk back.

And so our first event was conceived, meeting in women’s centres, cafés, pubs and our own homes to create our first happening: a panel event in the center of Worcester focusing on women’s place in contemporary politics. Since then it’s been a hectic month of extreme multi tasking for all of us. Juggling jobs, families and extra curricula activities with the planning of an event and all that it entails. A venue to find, a panel to compile, letters to write, calls to make, networks to draw upon, favours to ask, decisions to make, problems to solve, solutions to find, publicity to organise, flyers to disseminate, volunteers to recruit…..and now here we are, just days away from pulling off an extraordinary event.

The evening promises to be one of interesting and exciting discussion and debate in Worcester’s prestigious Guildhall. With an amazing panel drawn from local politicians, councillors and academics, as well as the Feminist Times own Editor, Deborah Coughlin. Our title for the event is obviously a rhetorical question (Worcester Woman talks back: should there be more women in politics?) but I’m very intrigued to see how our panel translates the question and how our audience will respond.

My personal hope for this event is that it might create further opportunities for discussion and action at a local level. I hope it encourages people to look at the barriers to women’s participation in local politics and also to look at ways of supporting and encouraging more women and girls into seeing a political career as an achievable and desirable goal.

Longer term I hope that we are able to offer a wide variety of events across the West Midlands that attract diverse audiences of feminists and potential feminists and those still unsure. I’d like to encourage collaboration with other feminist networks, perhaps ultimately creating a strong regional network of passionate, creative voices across the West Midlands. Anything I can do to contribute to this current wave of feminism, participating in its ebb and flow and continuing momentum, hoping to make a difference to people’s lives by challenging the status quo.

So watch this space for our future events (we have a Feminist Café event on the 18th June) and if you have an idea for a Fem T event in the West Midlands then please get in touch.

Attend our debut event “Worcester Woman talks back: Should there be more women in politics?”  Contact us at westmidlands@feministtimes.com

Leisa Taylor is a Youth Worker, Tutor, sometime blogger, Jill of all Trades, Feminista Extrordinaire, currently learning to pay the Ukulele. Follow her on Twitter @munachik; Facebook & LinkedIn @ Leisa Taylor; munachik.wordpress.com

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Fem:Ale a beer festival for women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Simon Finlay

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Hysteria 2.0: has fourth wave feminism made us all mad?

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

A recent in-depth study by the World Health Organization (WHO) states that the “traditional gender roles further increase susceptibility [to mental illness] by stressing passivity, submission and dependence.” Reassuringly, the WHO concluded that “the pervasive violation of women’s rights” contributes to the growing burden of their mental disability.

However, the problem with this mass diagnosis of female ‘madness’ is that it relies on social, economic and cultural constructs. Therefore much of our understanding of mental illness and women has to lie in the controversial term, hysteria. Once described as a “mimetic disorder”, as it tended to mimic culturally acceptable expressions of distress, the term has appeared in our lexicon under many guises, from the ‘wandering womb’ to ‘unmanageable emotional excesses.’

Today its root can be found in a extensive list of disorders including anxiety, depression, psychosis, body dysmorphic disorder, borderline personality disorder, sexual dysfunction, amnesia, bipolar disorder and many more.

The term hysteria, from the Greek meaning ‘womb’, was first used to describe “the restless, migratory uterus that caused mental disorders”. This idea of the “restless and migratory” female can be seen in the diagnostic criteria for borderline personality disorder and, in a metaphorical sense, in the continual waves of the feminist movement and the numbers of those within the movement suffering from mental illness.

Shulamith Firestone, author of the radical feminist text The Dialectic of Sex, blames Freud’s failure to “question society itself” for the “massive confusion in the disciplines that grew up around his theory”, since the Freudian talking cure for the hysterical Dora, and his theories of the sub and unconscious, were ruled by the potent theory of the Oedipus Complex – or ‘penis envy’.

Freud’s “poetic genius” and failure to question the constraints of women has followed on into the 21st century; current psychiatrists and doctors still fail to consider alternative factors in diagnosis, whilst reeling off an elegiac list of symptoms. Looking back to borderline personality disorder, an often misdiagnosed illness, we can see the irresponsible reliance on outdated diagnostic rubric. Its emphasis on “impulsivity” and “instability in sense of self” mirrors traits pinned on to the wanton, unfeminine woman. Used when psychiatrists could not decide if a woman was being “psychotic” or “neurotic”, this catch-all diagnosis for women has led to many sane women walking around thinking they are mentally ill. Cue once again mass hysteria – the proverbial wandering womb.

Firestone accounts that psychological moulding by the “patriarchal nuclear family”, where women and children are the dependents, led to the greater risk of psychological problems. Similarly, gender inequality from childhood experiences have conditioned children into believing in what equates to ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’, which is reinforced and constructed through the sensationalism and male dominance of the media.

According to journalist and author Kira Cochrane, the fourth wave of feminism is all about ‘the rebel woman’: the women who will not sit down and shut up; the women who will speak up against patriarchal media. However, I have a problem with the word ‘rebel’, which suggests a mob, a frenzy, and consequently leads back to that controversial word ‘hysteria’.

Despite Cochrane’s best efforts to allude to empowerment, she has managed to reinforce second wave feminist Phyllis Chesler’s idea that psychoanalysis regards madness as a normative characteristic of femininity. The 21st century rebel woman is equivalent to the 19th century hysterical woman.

Recent campaigns such as Slutwalk and No More Page 3 challenge terms and images that were once used to oppressed women, transforming them into punchy media slogans and sealing their negativity in the public consciousness. The female mind interprets the eradication of these illiberal ideas as a means to liberate ourselves, and yet the oppression continues, anxiety rises, and women are still searching for their own lexicon to establish mental liberation.

As Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex argues, in the context of Freudianism and feminism, like all Freud’s theories about women, he “analyses the female only as negative male.” While Freudianism gave women the ‘talking cure’ – the means to express their oppressed unconscious to cure hysteria – it developed a feminine stream of consciousness, littered with inverse male words; a modern repetition of penis envy.

This relentless quest, or to quote Hippocrates, this “restless and migratory” quest, has left a generation exhausted, depressed and anxious. Female rebellion has been going strong for decades, when so many women in the 1960s and 70s thought that everything would be alright in the end. Unfortunately, as we get deeper into the 21st century and our perspectives broaden to become more global, women’s lives are actually getting worse.

If, as the WHO study suggests, mental health has much to do with freedom we need to scrutinise the high points of women’s liberation: getting the vote; sexual liberation thanks to the contraceptive pill; and the rising prevalence of successful career women. Fast-forward to today, and women face corrupt politicians, frequent threats to reproductive rights, and vast unemployment, as well as bearing the brunt of government austerity measures. Women’s rights have indeed once again been violated; this time against many of the victories once crusaded for.

As Deborah Orr points out in the Guardian, the very thing many “leftwing feminists” don’t like to hear is that “combining motherhood with a demanding career is hard”, but there has to be a better solution than the lines of our sisters queuing up for sedative doses of “mothers’ little helpers”.

Women’s mental health will always be a sensitive subject, as it plagues so many lives, and 21st century feminism is indeed suffering from its own form of hysteria. Its unmanageable, emotional excesses towards reform are likely to have triggered a psychosomatic response within women. As the number of women turning to feminism is rising with the hope of change, the internal conflict of its stagnancy is troubling for many. It’s an uncomfortable question, but what if the very thing that has shifted women’s liberation to its height is also what has mentally exhausted us?

Nikki Hall is a writer and critic. Her work has featured in The Independent, The F-Word, For Book’s Sake and Litro. Follow her @nikkihall101

Photo: Hey Paul Studios

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Save Lifeworks campaign: “They used our mental health against us”

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

“We were only going to be here a couple of hours, then it was overnight. And we just haven’t left!”

Jacqueline is one of an amazing group of women (and one man) who are now more than ten weeks into occupying Lifeworks, an under-threat community mental health service in Cambridge, for patients suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

Housed on Cambridge’s Tenison Road, Lifeworks is part of Cambridge and Peterborough Foundation Trust (CPFT) Complex Cases Service and has offered a community drop-in and crisis care service for the last 12 years.

Lifeworks1

Patients now believe it may secretly have been under threat for as many as two years, though they only learnt of the closure in February, when they were told they would be discharged back to their GPs with no specialist BPD support on offer.

We’re sat at the table in the cosy main room of what, at first glance, looks like any other community centre. I’ve come at a particularly quiet time of day, when just three of the protesters are around, but already Ann, Heather and Jacqueline have made good on their promise of “a mean cuppa”, and there’s a plate piled high with chocolate biscuits, which between the four of us don’t last long.

The sense of community is palpable and heart warming. The sign on the door reads: “You don’t have to be mad to live here, but it helps!” – the word “don’t” playfully crossed out.

Lifeworks3

The sofas, painted murals on the wall, and the abundance of teas, coffees and biscuits on offer almost belie the serious nature of what’s going on here; it’s the sign on the wall listing who can be trusted to enter and – most crucially – who cannot, that give away the building’s occupied status. Then, of course, there’s the room full of banners and placards, the treatment rooms converted into bedrooms, and the collection of press cuttings proudly adorning the wall.

Each of the three women I meet has a similar story to tell about how Lifeworks has provided a literally lifesaving service in their most dire moments of need.

Heather has been using Lifeworks since it was founded, 12 years ago. Before that, she tells me: “I used to take overdoses all the time and self-harm. I was in and out of Fulbourn [psychiatric] hospital all the time.

“I’ve really come a long way since I’ve been in the service. I use it mostly for the crisis clinic and the social aspect – seeing people really helps, to have people around who understand.”

Lifeworks6

Likewise, since her referral to Lifeworks 8 years ago, Jacqueline says: “I’ve not had one A&E trip and I’ve not been in [hospital] for mental health. I haven’t self-harmed for a couple of years now.”

For Ann, who’s been at Lifeworks three to four years, the service has also been a lifeline: “I was in a really bad way when I came in. I wasn’t functioning very well, I was hibernating, I wouldn’t get out of bed, I was stashing pills. I don’t self-harm but I have a very bad eating disorder, which was extreme at the time, and Lifeworks has helped me to keep my eating disorder under control.

“It’s helped me with socialisation and meeting people too – with our disorder we don’t really go out and meet people or make friends easily because of our mood swings, our anxieties and our paranoia,” she adds. “But with Lifeworks my husband can go to work knowing I’m safe.”

Lifeworks7

It’s not difficult to see why the potential loss of Lifeworks is a feminist issue; Jacqueline estimates around 90% of the service users – and, indeed, all but one of the protestors actively involved in the campaign – are women.

Proposed changes to the Complex Cases Service would see the service change to what the CPFT says is a “more evidence based model”, but the patients are less than convinced.

“What they’re bringing in with their new personality disorder community pathway is a cluster approach, where they’re treating groups only, with mentalisation based therapy, which works on the basis that you stay in the present, you don’t discuss the past,” Ann explains.

“Mentalisation based therapy really works best on a one-to-one basis, where you can focus and that person gets to know you, but they’re knocking all that to the wind.”

Not only that, the patients also worry they will lose out on the community aspect that is clearly at the heart and soul of Lifeworks. “They’re putting up all these big walls and blanks, and it’s very cold. You come in, you have your mentalisation therapy, you go home – there’s no socialisation, no integration. We just don’t get it,” Ann says, clearly exasperated by what she sees as a chipping away of public services.

Lifeworks5

The patients tell me their mass discharge followed a gradual scaling back of the service in recent years, with the departure of a number of specialised members of therapeutic staff and the Lifeworks service being reduced from a four and a half day week, to just two days a week.

“To start off with Lifeworks was very much a social, open affair,” Jacqueline says. “You could just turn up and use the groups that were running – the groups were open, they had cooking groups, arts and crafts groups, stuff like that, and you could just turn up and join in. If you were having a bad day you could just turn up and sit in the corner.”

Ann interjects: “The mantra was always ‘come in and be with people’ – and it worked. They would pick you up. All of a sudden, that wasn’t good enough – suddenly the groups were limited numbers and it was a case of if you didn’t join in, you couldn’t come into the building until the drop-in.”

The women estimate around 40-50 service users dropped off following these changes. “They’ve run it into the ground by the staff leaving and the limited numbers. People just stopped coming in because that’s not how we work – and they know that,” Jacqueline says.

Faced with being discharged en masse to their GPs, the group took the decision to occupy the building in March because “nothing else would have worked”. Originally intended as an overnight sit-in protest, to “put the staff out a little bit and prove a point”, the women have been there ever since, determined to be heard.

Lifeworks4

“When we took over the building we did some digging and it came to light that they hadn’t done a [public] consultation, they hadn’t done an equality impact assessment, and they were literally just going to close it,” Ann says.

It’s this lack of transparency that particularly angers the protesters, who have already gained much support from the local community and trade unions, and are now in talks with the local council’s adult wellbeing scrutiny committee about the terms of reference for a public consultation. “It’s as if [CPFT] are accountable to no one. How can they treat patients like this and get away with it?” they demand.

For each of them, the prospect of life without Lifeworks doesn’t bear thinking about: “I’d feel suicidal, I think,” Heather says. “If you’re in crisis, where do you go? My GP told me they’re out of their depth. They don’t really understand personality disorders; they don’t specialise in it. Here they’re specially trained and understand us.

“One of the main conditions with a personality disorder is a fear of abandonment and trust issues. All the time with this service they’ve said ‘you can trust us, we’ve set this service up for life’, because our condition’s lifelong, and then suddenly they’ve abandoned us and they’ve done a lot of harm.”

While discussions rumble on between CPFT and the council, the women at Lifeworks describe the situation as “a waiting game” until the public consultation begins. Meanwhile, they’re planning further protests, a trip to Parliament, and link-ups with trade unions and other anti-cuts campaigners around the country.

Cambridge and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust has published a statement on the situation on their website, stating: “CPFT is having to make cuts of about £6million as part of the four per cent cuts that the Government requires every Trust to make. Our community division makes up about one third of that.”

“They quite openly admit it’s a false economy,” Ann scoffs. “But as long as it’s not their budget, they don’t give a toss – it’s A&E’s budget, it’s the ambulance service’s budget, the police budget, the drug and alcohol service’s budget.”

Lifeworks8

It’s sadly now a familiar story for campaigners across the country fighting cuts to their much needed public services, but the Lifeworks patients are determined to fight for as long as it takes. “I’m in it for the long haul. In an ideal world we’d like to go back to four and a half days, and also bring new referrals in – there’ve been no new referrals for the last two years,” Ann says.

“Open up the door and let the people in that need help, and stop using us as an excuse. You knew you were closing us down, you used all of our techniques and all of ticks against us because you know us.”

Her voice wavers: “They used our mental health against us.” It’s that betrayal that smarts the most.

To find out more about the Save Lifeworks campaign, join their Facebook group Save Cambridge’s Complex Cases Service and sign their online petition here.

Photo: Jacqueline, Ann, Heather and Richard (who joined us towards the end of our interview.)

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Feminist Events Listings: May 2014

Verity FlecknellWelcome to my feminist event highlight blog for Feminist Times. Storm in a Teacup are thrilled to be highlighting all the best feminist events from London and beyond.

Whether you are an armchair activist or a full time activist, into your international politics, or personal politics, feminist artist, or radical feminist – there are just so many events happening up and down the country – there is bound to be something to tickle your fancy/get your teeth into.

Arguably there are more feminist events popping up more than ever and so many opportunities for you to get involved, meet like minded people, share skills and be a part of the movement.

We will be bringing you highlights of some of the feminist events not to be missed in May.

Verity Flecknell, Storm in a Teacup

NATIONAL

May – June || The Punk Singer, a film about Kathleen Hanna | Screenings across the UK

Kathleen Hanna, will be in London for two very special Q&A screenings of The Punk Singer. If you are not London based, don’t fret- there are lots of events happening up and down the country coinciding with the cinema release- full listings below. The film will be released in cinemas nationwide on May 23rd, we are really excited to hear that Kathleen will be attending a Q&A session following special preview screenings of the film at the Curzon Soho on 13th May at 6.30pm, hosted by Lauren Laverne, or at the ICA cinema on 14th May at 6.45pm. Director- Siri Anderson will be doing a Skype Q&A for the screening at Rich Mix on Thursday 15th of May.

Synopsis:  Through 20 years of archival footage and intimate interviews, The Punk Singer tells the story of Kathleen Hanna, lead singer of the punk band Bikini Kill and dance-punk trio Le Tigre. Kathleen Hanna rose to national attention as the reluctant but never shy voice of the Riot Grrrl movement. She became the most famously outspoken feminist icons in music.

BOOK TICKETS: Dogwoof.com/thepunksinger

MORE INFO:  Dogwoof.com/thepunksinger

National screenings;

Friday 09 May

Derby – Derby Quad – Derby Film Festival

Tuesday 13 May

London – Curzon Soho

Sheffield – Showroom – Preview

Wednesday 14 May

London – ICA

Thursday 15 May

London – Rich Mix – DocHouse Preview

Friday 23 May

London – ICA

Bristol – Cube Cinema

Dublin – Ifi

Glasgow – Glasgow Film Theatre

Nottingham – Broadway Cinema

Saturday 24 May

London – ICA

Dublin – Ifi

Glasgow – Glasgow Film Theatre

Nottingham – Broadway Cinema

Sunday 25 May

London – ICA

Dublin – Ifi

Glasgow – Glasgow Film Theatre

Nottingham – Broadway Cinema

Monday 26 May

Bristol – Cube Cinema

Dublin – Ifi

Glasgow – Glasgow Film Theatre

Nottingham – Broadway Cinema

Tuesday 27 May

Bristol – Cube Cinema

Dublin – Ifi

Glasgow – Glasgow Film Theatre

Nottingham – Broadway Cinema

Wednesday 28 May

Dublin – Ifi

Glasgow – Glasgow Film Theatre

Nottingham – Broadway Cinema

Thursday 29 May

Dublin – Ifi

Glasgow – Glasgow Film Theatre

Nottingham – Broadway Cinema

Friday 30 May

Cardiff – Chapter

Saturday 31 May

London – Rio Cinema

Cardiff – Chapter

Monday 02 June

Cardiff – Chapter

Tuesday 03 June

Cardiff – Chapter

Wednesday 04 June

Cardiff – Chapter

Thursday 05 June

Cardiff – Chapter

Leeds – Hyde Park Picture House

Monday 16 June

London – Riverside Studios

Thursday 26 June

Staffordshire – Stoke Film Theatre

16 May || What the Frock! 2nd Birthday Party @ The Maurentania, Bristol.

Join Bristol’s award-winning all-female comedy night as they celebrate their second birthday, with a night of fabulous comedy. With Cerys Nelmes at the helm all night, the team welcome back the return of the larger than life Jayde Adams to the headline spot, as well as cabaret from Ada Campe and stand-up from Hatty Ashdown. There is also a star prize raffle. Tickets: £12 adv, £15 on door.

TICKETS:http://goo.gl/iZAgqq

22 May || HOMETRUTHS Conference 2014 ‘Womb to Womanhood’ @ The Meadow, Swindon, Wiltshire.

HOMETRUTHS is an independent, community based specialist service for survivors of domestic violence and abuse aged 16+ living in Swindon and Wiltshire, who have experienced domestic violence and abuse including stalking and harassment from partners or ex-partners. This is their 2nd Conference and they are pleased to welcome presentations from local and national speakers, looking at the impact of domestic abuse on women and their children

MORE INFO: http://goo.gl/HpfBLx

25 May || Laughing Cows Comedy @ The Frog & Bucket, Manchester.

Laughing Cows hosted by Kerry Leigh with Jo Enright, (Lab Rats / Ideal / The Job Lot) Jenny Ross (The Sunday Show) and Hawkeye & Windy. For more than a decade now the highly acclaimed comedienne Jo Enright has crafted a completely unique style of stand-up comedy. As well as performing it both on television and radio, Jo also thrives on live theatre performances, winning several comedy awards including the 2002 Chortle Award for ‘The Best Female Circuit Comic’ and the 2001 ‘Best Female on the Jongleurs Comedy Circuit’ award.7.00pm.

FACEBOOK EVENT: http://goo.gl/gxGkNK

LONDON

12 May || Fans of Feminism @ Cass School of Art and Architecture.

Cass Faculty of Art, Architecture and Design Fans of Feminism invite you to discuss: Fighting the art establishment or creating a new one: How can we achieve equality?’ The art establishment in Britain is a hostile environment for under represented artists. Despite encouraging statistics showing a gradual rise in the number of women artists showing in galleries, we are by no means near achieving equality. This panel seeks to tackle some of the issues that women and other under represented artists face, and discuss what we can do to drive change. An interactive discussion With Panelists: Dr Mo Throp, Helena Reckitt, Martina Mullaney, Phoebe Collings-James and Maria Kheirkhah. 17:30 -21:00pm

MORE INFO: http://goo.gl/30gzEg

12-19 May || Adrienne Truscott’s Asking For It: A One-Lady Rape About Comedy Starring her Pussy and little else! @ Soho Theatre, Dean Street.

Time Out recommends: In 2013 Adrienne Truscott’s Foster’s Panel Prize-winning political, satirical and experimental solo show got the Fringe set talking. Now she’s taking over Soho Theatre for a 19-date run of her acclaimed part-stand-up, part-performance and part lecture. Rape culture apologists Todd Aiken and Daniel Tosh don’t escape Truscott’s logical and belly achingly funny social commentary on laws surrounding date rape and the controversial ‘what were you wearing’ argument. Truscott is fearless in her commentary on the prevalence of rape joke culture, it’s set to pop music, and oh yeah, she’s starkers from the waist down and ankles up. £10-£17.50

MORE INFO: http://goo.gl/hDJDCU

16 May || Women’s Spaces and Feminist Politics- Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow @ Queen Mary University of London.

This one-day conference will explore the role of women’s spaces in feminist politics, focusing on women’s centres and other women’s spaces in the past, present and future. During the past decade a new generation of feminists has started to campaign against the objectification of women in the media, the expansion of pornography, sexism in the workplace and on the street, the lack of representation of women in public life and the sexualisation of young children. This new generation of feminists is largely organized via social media rather than in physical spaces. Admission: £38.00. 9.30am-5.00pm.

MORE INFO: http://goo.gl/dWeHpg

Verity Flecknell is founder of Storm in a Teacup, a London based feminist arts collective set up in 2009 with the aim of promoting women in the arts. In 2010 Storm in a Teacup helped organise Ladyfest Ten festival, in 2011 were part of the first ever Women of the World festival at the Southbank and in 2012 joined forces with Girls Get Busy zine and Not So Popular to form Lets Start a Pussy Riot collective. In June this year, Rough Trade Records published “Lets Start a Pussy Riot” book, a collection of artistic responses created in collaboration with Pussy Riot. Storm in a Teacup also publishes monthly feminist event listings happening around London.

Please visit Storm in a Teacup’s blog for full feminist event listings for May.

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#GenderWeek: What about men? The end of women-only charities?

Click here to read all #GenderWeek articles.

What about men?

As my Irish mother always says: “Don’t let the b******ds grind you down!”

I was approached to write this article because we (Survive) advertised for a post in our local A&E for an IDVA (Independent domestic Violence Advisor), and in our advertisement we stated the post holder must be female using section 7(2) of the Sexual Discrimination Act. As our work primarily supports women and our women are primarily abused by men, we have found it appropriate for them to be supported by a worker who legally identifies as a woman. As an example of how this works on an everyday level, if you visit your GP it is perfectly acceptable to ask for a female practitioner to make you feel more comfortable when dealing with personal subjects such as fertility and sexual health; discussing a traumatic relationship is no different. Makes sense right?

So I find it hard to understand why, when someone makes a statement or publishes an article about violence against women, particularly domestic violence, the reactionary comments are full of people (men and women) asking: “what about the men?” “it’s not just women you know!” Or “just as many men as women experience DVA.” And my favourite: “why should women get all the help and support? Probably more men suffering in silence than women anyway!”

How do they know this? Where is their evidence? And why do they feel the need to attack women and those who help them? Why should it be that if I want to support women and their children I must be against male victims? This is simply not the case; I, like most in the DVA sector, recognise that there are also male victims. It feels to me that whenever women state something is for women only, people feel threatened. It is accepted (although odd in our day and age), that there are golf clubs and Mason meetings which are for men only, but the other way round makes people feel uneasy?

What I suggest to people is to go out there and set up support where you see gaps. That is what the first female voluntary domestic violence support workers did during the 1970s; this work was born out of the feminist movement, by women for women and their children.

The problem with the question “what about men?” is it creates is a world where funders, government and local councils start to demand that the services they fund support all, and support them thoroughly; that services spread and stretch their resources (often using the same if not lower funds), in order to evidence that they will and are supporting both male and female victims.

I work in one of the last organisations which specialises in supporting women and children only and at a grassroots level. I believe we are a dying breed and that as funding requirements change we will have to look at amending the fundamental principles of our constitutions and mission statements in order to keep up with funders’ expectations. So we risk losing our identity as a female only org in order to literally survive.

This change and expansion is clear to see in our new projects and ventures; we now support men off site if they come into our local A&E, and men can now attend our parenting sessions which are also off site. We also have male mentors to support the children living in our refuges and accessing our services, however our direct and main support within refuge, group work and outreach is still for women only.

The possible harm I can see coming from a complete change to support provision, and losing our founding identify, would be the message it would send out; that domestic violence and abuse is not a gender issue, which from my experience and research it still very much is.

  • On average two women a week are killed by a male partner or former partner: this constitutes around one-third of all female homicide victims
  • 42% of all female homicide victims, compared with 4% of male homicide victims, were killed by current or former partners in England and Wales in the year 2000/01. This equates to 102 women, an average of 2 women each week
  • In a study by Shelter, 40% of all homeless women stated that domestic violence was a contributor to their homelessness. Domestic violence was found to be “the single most quoted reason for becoming homeless”

I can already imagine the comments this article will provoke: Men are too ashamed to report, men are less likely to report, and so on… and while I agree there is some truth in these refutes, you can’t argue with these statistics – they are facts.

Out of the 367 male victims of homicide in 2011/12, 17 were killed by partners or ex partners and 124 by strangers. While these 17 deaths may have been prevented by better support from services, the figure for women in that same year is much higher: out of the 127 female homicide victims, 88 were killed by their partner/ex-partner and 25 by a stranger.

I do support the engagement of men in the DVA sector; it has been of great benefit for our younger service users to be supported by male mentors, for them to have a positive experience of non-violent/abusive men. I willingly accept that we will be exploring this area further and looking at the role of male workers supporting DVA victims, but we need to address this without losing our identity as a female led organisation. There are not many working environments where the CE, the management team and administration, as well as front line workers, are all female and this is a fact I am proud of.

Ruth Wood is IDVA & Outreach Services Manager at Survive: Working towards freedom from domestic abuse. Follow her personal Twitter @WoodWoodruthie

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

Support services for men

Photo: Wikimedia

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It’s feminist to vote in the EU elections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Main Image: Rock Cohen

You need to be on the Electoral Register to exercise your right to vote. The deadline to register to vote in the 22 May European and local elections is 6 May. Please visit:
https://www.aboutmyvote.co.uk/register_to_vote/electoral_registration_applica.aspx

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Feminist Toolkit: Free Tampons For All

Picture the scene: you’re going about your day, power walking to work, singing along to your favourite feminist anthem, smashing the patriarchy with every step you take. And then it comes: the familiar wetness between the legs, and you’ve left your stash of tampons at home.

You break it down; you’ve got a few options:
1) Go home and pick up your provisions
2) Buy some more
3) Hang around in the toilet and hope someone armed with menstrual protection comes to your rescue
4) Bleed on yourself, and potentially others

As you’ve already forked out this week to buy the new trousers you’re fashioning today, options 2 and 4 will have to go. Risking being late for work whilst weighing up your shortlist with frustration, you have a light bulb moment.

You realise what’s been missing all this time; wouldn’t it just be great if you could access free tampons in your workplace? You tease out the idea in your head: your place of work won’t fund them and you can’t sustain a communal tampon stash out of your own back pocket. Then you think back to all those times where you’ve been accompanied by an unneeded tampon goldmine in your bag. If there were a collection point for those tampons, never again would a woman like you be stuck in the street weighing up her options.

Taking action, you march home inspired by your revolutionary idea. You wash up last night’s takeaway tub, grab the box of tampons in your draw and a few pads for good measure, rushing to work, pausing only for an instant to plug your own menstrual flow. Arriving at work you tear into the bathroom, ripping apart an old envelope from your desk and securing it onto the tub, scribbling on it a few words about your idea.

You feel elation as you place the tub in the bathroom and stare back at the revolution you have started. The words read: “The Sisterhood of the Slightly Stained Pants: please take a tampon if you are in need, and put one back whenever you have a spare”

DISCLAIMER – this story is not entirely fictional.

UoN Feminists, Nottingham University’s feminist campaign group had a very similar revelation. We call them Tampon Tubs and we want them to empower women by ensuring a ready supply of menstrual protection. We thought it was important that an unexpected period should not impede women in our university, therefore this term we will be placing Tampon Tubs in our Student’s Union building.

One of the best parts of this campaign is that the Sisterhood of the Slightly Stained Pants can be easily built wherever you are. Here is a how to guide to setting up your own:

#1: Find a container: any kind of Tupperware, tub or bowl will do. For best results, choose something plastic and transparent.

#2: Next, label your container explaining the ethos behind the idea. Make sure people know that the sustainability of the system relies upon others replenishing the tub.

#3: Provide an initial supply of tampons and pads. Depending on your outlet, you could gather a group to chip in or secure funding from your Student’s Union, employers, or nearest patriarchal figure.

#4: Place your tub in the toilet in your place of work, school, university, or anywhere else. We recommend this facility for women’s, gender-neutral, unisex and disabled toilets.

#5: Finally, tell everyone about it! Make sure your tubs are known about and used. Share the idea and encourage your friends to do the same. The more Tampon Tubs about, the more women are able to arrange their periods around their lives rather than the other way around!

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I didn’t know how to help until Rumble in the Jumble

The reality of the horrors that rule the lives of people in the Democratic Republic of Congo are unimaginable to most people like you and I. Following independence in 1960 the citizens of this shattered state have existed with civil strife, then civil war; the tensions ever mounting until 1998, when the people found themselves in the midst of the worst international African conflict on record, with reports of three million dead by 2003. The unrest has continued ever since.

The status quo now for many is a quagmire of displacement, bereavement, torture, starvation, rape, abduction, prostitution and abandonment, with no reliable authority to beseech or even bribe for safe passage into fields which for centuries provided sustenance for the people and their ancestors. From the earliest age girls and women are unable to even fetch water without the omnipresent threat of the most violent rape, that terrible weapon wielded with impunity by soldiers and militia at a frequency so alarming it’s impossible to comprehend. How are we to understand this from within the luxury of ours?

Like everyone else I read the news and try to take in as much of the unquantifiable horror occurring around the world each day as possible, and then give pitiful sums of what money I can, but it’s a minor balm against that nagging helplessness – how can I help ease the raging terror of millions of desperate fellow souls?

This desire to empathise and aid, this want to help, defeated by a lack of resources and a feeling of being overwhelmed by the scale of all the calamitous situations around the globe, was broken in a direct way for me with regard to the Democratic Republic of Congo when an email arrived in my inbox two years ago informing me about the Music Circle and its work.

The Music Circle, a subsidiary of Annie Lennox’s The Circle, which was created to assist women in the empowerment of fellow women, was founded in 2011 by PR whizzes Emily Cooper and Laura Martin. The pair brought together a group of key women working in the music industry to gather ideas as to the best way of raising money for and awareness of the devastating situation faced daily by women in the DRC.

One of these ideas turned out to be joining forces with Radio 1’s Gemma Cairney to expand an event that she hosted in 2012 with TV presenter Dawn Porter, as part of Oxfam’s Get Together campaign – the first Rumble in the Jumble. So in 2013, all resources combined, the second Rumble in the Jumble event took place and was attended by hundreds of fantastic women including Gizzi Erskine, Laura Whitmore and Caroline Flack, with items donated by the likes of Damon Albarn, Alison Mosshart and Annie Mac.

Crucially it raised £16,000 to stream into projects organised by NGOs in the war-shredded Democratic Republic of Congo. These projects strive to find ways to protect, shelter and educate; to give the citizens of the DRC as much of a chance as possible to one day have a normal experience perhaps even the tiniest bit akin to ours. One where the gathering of food, fetching of water, the necessities of life can occur without the threat of grave injury.

So, say you were going to have an indulgent Saturday, swipe away that intellectually bettering reading pile, leave the underused trainers lurking in the hall, what might you then choose to do with your afternoon? Take a mate for tea and cake? A bit of vintage shopping? Treat yourself to a manicure? Buy some records, or have a dance to someone else’s?

Well, being able to do all that under one roof would be pretty appealing then, wouldn’t it? Especially if getting stuck in to all those things turned out to also be a way of supporting these women half way round the world in the DRC who are in the direst need imaginable.

That’s what this weekend’s Rumble in the Jumble #3 at London’s Oval Space is all about. It’s a huge pile of fun put on by Radio 1’s Gemma Cairney and The Music Circle, in conjunction with Oxfam, to raise funds for women in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

This Saturday’s event is already promising to top the last in every aspect, from fundraising scope through shopping potential to just all out entertainment. All you need to do is show up with £3 and a bag of your own under loved jumble, and you can peruse stalls hosted by Cherry Healey, Elizabeth Sankey (Summer Camp), Gaggle and Mixmag to name but a few; keeping a sharp eye out for celebrity jumble swag donated by Goldfrapp, Jessie Ware, David Gandy, Arcade Fire, Anna Calvi, Lauren Laverne and many more.

This year a host of fashion, culture and music brands have also donated brand new items including: Whistles, Dr Martens, ASOS, SONOS, VICE, Marshall Amps, Warp Records, L’Oreal, Dazed & Confused and Black Dog Publishing. Once you’ve bagged yourself a new outfit and topped up the record collection, you can spruce yourself up at the Smashbox Cosmetics and Bumble & Bumble Hair stalls before tucking into a tasty stew provided by Jamie Oliver’s Barbecoa, or tea and cake from Drink Shop & Do, before a glass of prosecco to get you primed, or a little dance to one of the brilliant DJ sets that will be sound-tracking the day.

And vitally, whilst enjoying all these things that are equally as unimaginable to those you are raising funds to aid as the realities of their lives are to us, you will be part of an event that will go some way to securing the safety of these women who live with the constant threat of forced displacement, sexual violence, abduction and extortion. There really couldn’t be a better way to spend a Saturday afternoon now, could there?

Facebook Event HERE.

rumble5

Suze Olbrich is a freelance writer, video producer, promoter, manager and member of the Music Circle. Follow her @suzeolbrich

The Music Circle is a group of women from the music industry who are aiming to raise £50,000 for Oxfam’s work with women in Eastern DRC. Follow @themusic_circle

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Happy fatties are erased from the media

I’m no stranger to the press; I’m part of that MySpace generation of yesteryear – self-generating PR mongers that are not afraid to speak their mind. I can be gobby, or what some might call outspoken, so when it comes to getting some column inches to promote my projects I know I can dive into my black book and pull in some favours. But, no matter how much I try, this year one project has been left in the dark – Hamburger Queen.

For the past four years I’ve been running an annual beauty pageant and talent show for fat people – Hamburger Queen. The premise is simple; to celebrate body diversity and encourage fat liberation – it goes against the grain and challenges the myth that fat people are unhappy. With a mainstream media obsessed with obesity you might have thought a project like this would receive a lot of attention. Wrong.

After three rounds of press releases, a press launch in London’s favourite burger bar, endless phone calls, Skype calls, tweets to journalists and some PR support from a couple of noted publicists, I find myself with nothing to show for it apart from a late night appearance on BBC London.

Some journalists respond with: “Thanks, we’ll see what we can do”; others don’t bother responding. Some have said they don’t “do” obesity; the dickheads amongst them say: “it’s a bit off brand for us.” The brave ones call and tell me: “We’d love to but we can’t be seen to promote obesity.” How would giving a balanced argument be “promoting obesity”? Is it healthier to have a press that endorses yoyo dieting and the objectification of women?

Numerous TV companies have flirted with the idea of putting Hamburger Queen on the box but every one of them ends up pulling that weird, sympathetic, half-smile face and saying: “we don’t think it’ll get commissioned”. Some have even gone as far as saying it would needed to be hosted by someone like Gok Wan – Gok Wan? The man who hides women’s bodies using fruit – I am not an apple, I’m a bloody human!

On the face of it, this might sound like I’m moaning because I’m not getting enough attention and that might be true if I was trying to flog a solo show, but Hamburger Queen is about girls who work in call centres feeling liberated about their bodies whatever their size. It’s about size acceptance, throwing new ideas of beauty into the arena and I want the world to take notice. I want women across the globe to know there is a movement that embraces their flabby thighs.

fat2

Hamburger Queen is also about trying to reach those women who are yet to stick two fingers up to the Dove advertising, weight watching, circle of shame culture. To do this I need to reach beyond my audience and those of the lovely readers of lefty liberal blogs.

I took my frustration to Facebook and asked my Like-ers to spread the word, to help me reach those women in hard to reach places (like Surbition). 30 shares later and I’m still struggling to reach those women.

Evidently the mainstream media want to perpetuate a culture of negative attitudes towards obesity and leave those liberated from their BMI outside of their safe values.

Maybe Hamburger Queen is ahead of its time in newspaper land but, with an NHS allegedly on its knees because of fat people, and the public’s continued reaction to having to sit next to a fat person on the bus, I’d say that socially this project is bang on time.

I put my head above the parapet and failed somewhat. I’m OK with that; failure might teach me a thing or two but I won’t die quietly because I know the message is important.

Fuck the press and their beige, pashmina wearing, shortsighted editors. I’m asking you, brilliant Feminist Times reading radicals to spread the word – if not about Hamburger Queen then about your own version of body diversity and empowerment. Take to Twitter and force yourself on to Facebook – this is a call to arms. We will not be silenced be a mainstream media afraid of “promoting obesity”.

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

Photos: Holly Revell

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Feminism cannot compromise on the liberation of women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Feminist Events Listings: April 2014

Verity FlecknellWelcome to my feminist event highlight blog for Feminist Times. Storm in a Teacup are thrilled to be highlighting all the best feminist events from London and beyond.

Whether you are an armchair activist or a full time activist, into your international politics, or personal politics, feminist artist, or radical feminist – there are just so many events happening up and down the country – there is bound to be something to tickle your fancy/get your teeth into.

Arguably there are more feminist events popping up more than ever and so many opportunities for you to get involved, meet like minded people, share skills and be a part of the movement.

We will be bringing you highlights of some of the feminist events not to be missed in April.

Verity Flecknell, Storm in a Teacup

NATIONAL

30 March – 5 April || International Anti-Street Harassment Week @ Worldwide.

Organised by Rape Crisis South London. As part of International Anti-Street Harassment Week (30th March – 5th of April 2014), we are asking anyone who wants to help end street harassment to take a photo of one of London’s many stunning landmarks alongside a message of support for loving London streets but hating street harassment.

You can post your photos on the event on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/events/1405046029753784/

MORE INFO: http://www.meetusonthestreet.org/

11 April || What the Frock! Comedy Awards @ Maurentania, 9 Park Street, Bristol.

The all-female What The Frock! Award returns for a second year. Last year, all the places were filled within 24 hours of the competition being announced, and this year they were filled within 10 hours! This is one of only two all-female comedy awards in the UK, and is free to enter. The compere for the evening will be Cerys Nelmes, and we will have a performance from Annabel O’Connell, who was a finalist in 2013. Tickets £10.00

MORE INFO: http://www.wegottickets.com/whatthefrockcomedy

25-27th April || Pussy Whipped Festival @ The Wee Red Bar, Edinburgh.

Pussy Whipped presents a full weekend of queer/LGBTI+ and feminist underground shenanigans in the form of live music, dancing, films, workshops, poetry and performances. For full listings please see the Facebook event. All designed to stick a finger up at queer-phobias and sexism with great big smiles on our faces. People of all genders and sexualities welcome. Funded by Awards for All Scotland.  Weekend tickets are just £6, available from or £8 on the door. Day tickets are also available at £3 advance or £4 on the door.

TICKETS: http://www.wegottickets.com/f/7129

FACEBOOK EVENT: https://www.facebook.com/events/502028353250998/

LONDON

8-13 April || Birds Eye View Film Festival 2014 @ Various venues including; Barbican, BFI Southbank and ICA.

The Festival will feature UK premieres, cutting edge features, insightful personal documentaries, live music, silent film and special events featuring some of the world’s leading female filmmakers and rising new talents. There will also be industry training opportunities supported by the British Council and Creative Skillset. For full programme information please follow link below.

MORE INFO: http://goo.gl/JlHZUH

16 April || The Fawcett Society present; Story Tellers: Why Women’s fiction deserves a price @ Holt International Business School, London.

A special evening event in Central London on 16 April, as part of our Fawcett+ scheme, which you can read about by clicking here. Renowned and inspirational writers will discuss the contribution of women’s fiction to writing and wider social change, and the importance of continuing to celebrate and profile this. To speak and lead the debate will be Kate Mosse OBE (international bestselling author of novels Labyrinth, Sepulchre and Citadel and founder of the Orange Prize, now the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction); and writer and campaigner Lisa Appignanesi OBE (author of several novels and works of non-fiction, including Trials of Passion to be published in April, and editor of 50 Shades of Feminism).  6.15-9.30pm. Tickets: £20

TICKETS: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/fawcett-story-tellers-tickets-7311772709

17 April || Feminist Whores? Exploring Feminist Debates Around Violence, Sex Work & Porn @ Middlesex University, London.

The Crime and Conflict Research Centre at Middlesex University is delighted to present this year’s annual conference theme with Dr Erin Sanders-McDonagh and Dr Lucy Nevill. Feminism has traditionally had an uncomfortable relationship with pornography and sex work, often positioning women in these industries as hapless victims, and men as perpetrators and criminals. In the face of increasing criminalisation of sex work and censorship of pornography, this conference will aim to look at the ways in which both porn and the sex industry have been construed as violence towards women in the popular imaginary. The conference will have academic speakers, sex worker activists, and third sector practitioners speaking about these issues – we welcome everyone who is interested in exploring these issues in a respectful and engaging setting. 10:00am to 17:00pm. FREE

TICKETS: http://goo.gl/SE1Lp3

26 April || Let’s Start a Pussy Riot @ The Feminist Library, London.

Let’s Start a Pussy Riot is a creative response founded by Free Pussy Riot, Girls Get Busy, Not So Popular and Storm In A Teacup. A collective of collectives whose aim was to bring together voices from the arts in support of Pussy Riot. “Let’s Start a Pussy Riot” was published in June 2013 by Rough Trade Records. At the Feminist Library we will be discussing the story of Pussy Riot (their motives, their influence and the future of Pussy Riot), exploring the context – Russian State and the Orthodox Church, the degradation of LGBT rights in Russia and encouraging all to use the idea of “Let’s Start a Pussy Riot” to create their own forms of collective activism.

MORE INFO: https://www.facebook.com/FeministLibrary

30 April || Rights for Women training: The Asylum Process and Financial Support for Asylyum-seeking women, EC1, London.

With delivery in partnership with the Asylum Support Appeals Project, this course is a comprehensive examination of asylum support (Home Office financial subsistence and accommodation) options open to women who are seeking asylum and failed asylum seekers. Featuring practical exercises and discussion of actions support workers can take, book this course to compliment your asylum claim knowledge or as an introduction to supporting asylum-seeking women. 10am – 4pm. FREE.

MORE INFO: http://www.rightsofwomen.org.uk/training.php

Verity Flecknell is founder of Storm in a Teacup, a London based feminist arts collective set up in 2009 with the aim of promoting women in the arts. In 2010 Storm in a Teacup helped organise Ladyfest Ten festival, in 2011 were part of the first ever Women of the World festival at the Southbank and in 2012 joined forces with Girls Get Busy zine and Not So Popular to form Lets Start a Pussy Riot collective. In June this year, Rough Trade Records published “Lets Start a Pussy Riot” book, a collection of artistic responses created in collaboration with Pussy Riot. Storm in a Teacup also publishes monthly feminist event listings happening around London.

Please visit Storm in a Teacup’s blog for full feminist event listings for April.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: UTV.com

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#SexIndustryWeek: Manifesto – Indigenous Women Against the Sex Industry

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

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

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

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

INDIGENOUS WOMEN AGAINST THE SEX INDUSTRY RECOGNIZES:

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

INDIGENOUS WOMEN AGAINST THE SEX INDUSTRY STANDS AGAINST:

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

INDIGENOUS WOMEN AGAINST THE SEX INDUSTRY STANDS FOR:

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

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#SexIndustryWeek: 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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Women are used to being ignored, even in their millions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Nick Sutton

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Wowzers: “Controversial themes are overlooked in bigger events”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From Trafficking to Fashionistas: WOW tries to encapsulate all feminisms

“I like your shoes,” a shy voice whispers. “Where did you get them from?” Malala Yousafzai is running five minutes late this morning and Jude Kelly, Artistic Director of Southbank Centre, has encouraged us to use these 300 seconds to speak to someone we don’t know. In the case of the woman in the seat next to me, bravery quickly turns to panic: “This is probably the wrong day to ask that.” My reply? “It’s okay, we can still be feminists and talk about shoes”. I say it because I believe it. I’m only surprised that she doesn’t believe it too.

I’m starting with shoes and I’m risking being labelled alongside Carrie Bradshaw because it explains so succinctly why today matters. It’s International Women’s Day, I’m at Southbank Centre’s WOW (Women of the World) Festival and, along with the full stops we’ve achieved in battling for full equality, there are still question marks surrounding what it now means to be a woman in a moving world.

Feminism is in free flow: it’s expanding and morphing and that’s what makes today feel vital and exciting. Our question marks now have a WOW logo and we’re celebrating them on t-shirts, mugs and Tatty Devine necklaces. What does it mean to be a woman in 2014 and how can we push changes forward? Can I sit and listen to a speech about child trafficking and then tweet about 80-year-old Fabulous Fashionista Bridget Sojourner’s leopard print outfit? We’re all still figuring things out. The conversation is nowhere near finished. As Jude Kelly concludes on stage: “This is not just about women’s rights, it’s about a changing world.”

As I walk around the Southbank Centre a Wah Nails stall sits next to a poster which asks: ‘Who Made Your Pants?’ Over the course of the day both men and women gather to celebrate every aspect of womanhood: their aspirations, bravery, dilemmas and challenges. The Page 3 debate is kicking off in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, women are gathering in The Clore Ballroom to discuss the politics of afro hair, online bullying is being frankly explored, but today is also a celebration. 75-year-old Sue Kreitzman is sat on the Fabulous Fashionistas panel wearing a pair of red clogs when she rallies: “I want you to look at me…there are no rules. I am 75….damn it, I can do what I please.”

The link between young and old here today is an important one. Five hours earlier and we’re reminded that campaigner Malala Yousafzai has made the trip from Birmingham to London despite studying for her GCSEs. When Malala, shot less than two years ago in Pakistan by the Taliban, speaks eloquently about the need for teens to “contribute to society”, it’s easy to forget she is just 16 years old. As Jude Kelly says, rightly, “it’s a baton-passing issue”. Making the link between the UK and gender equality, Malala admits being “quite surprised here. Women are given rights. It was something new to me to see women driving.” Crucially, however, her admiration comes with a warning: “women are free but when we go in depth…in Parliament only 22% or less are women. Here it is kept hidden and we need to highlight it.”

The topic of hidden gender inequality is picked up again later that afternoon at a panel discussion exploring online bullying. The issue of digital anonymity is mentioned. It illustrates just one of the many question marks I referred to earlier. “Is Twitter encouraging people to be more extreme?” TIME magazine’s Editor at Large Catherine Mayer asks. No one seems able to answer the question. What is startling are the new statistics Jamie Bartlett, Director of the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media at Demos, unveils for the first time. Out of 100,000 cases of the use of the word ‘rape’ on Twitter, 12% use it as a threat and 29% in casual use. But more alarming than this, out of 130,000 uses of the word ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ on Twitter, 35% use them casually, with a high proportion of young girls tweeting these words about each other.

Jude Rogers, chair on the Women Make Music panel discussion later that evening, reiterates: “There are no easy answers”. Women represent only 14% of the UK’s registered professional songwriters and composers. Feminist Times’ own Deborah Coughlin admits that “I have come across a lot of sexism”, and when musician Anna Meredith is asked what her music sounds like she adds: “Pretty bombastic. I often get ‘I’m surprised it’s written by a woman.’”

Closing the day, Sandi Toksvig’s Mirth Control takes on all these questions and answers them with a few full stops we’ve literally never heard before. Deftly balancing wicked humour with thought-provoking facts, the lost women of World War I are finally found and it results in a moving evening of comedy and music.

Perhaps the final words should be dedicated to forgotten composer Lilian Elkington who gave up composing when she married, and her daughter Mary Wiliams, who never even knew her mother composed. Mary is sitting in the audience tonight when her mother’s composition ‘Out of the Mist’ (1921) is performed by the all-female WOW orchestra. It may just be a small question mark, but it’s a small question mark finally answered. It’s certainly music to our ears tonight, Lilian.

Kat Lister is Contributing Editor of Feminist Times. 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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RadFem UK launches

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

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

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

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

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

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

The organisation is founded with seven key aims:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find out more at radfemuk.com or follow @RadFemUK 

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How the youths’ villain went from Thatcher to Harry Styles

When Orwell created Big Brother and IngSoc in the 40s, 1984 was but a mere teeny tiny dot on the landscape – a far away dystopian future. In 2014 we’ve traveled almost as far past that dot and once again it seems a very long way away, a faded dystopian past. The real 1984 mirrors many of the situations we find ourselves facing in 2014 and some would argue are just as disconcerting as an Orwellian nightmare.

The Tories were in power and the privatisation of public-owned resources was on the agenda. It was the time of Wall Street where, just like in the movie, everyone knew there were bankers who acted like corrupt arseholes but nobody really knew what to do about it. Our current Con-Dem coalition is heavily influenced by beliefs embodied by the 80s.

But there are differences too: 30 years ago the miners went on a year-long strike. This painful, sacrificial action was felt across the country. Entertainers, mainstream “alternative” comedians like Ben Elton, Alexei Sayle and musicians like The Smiths referenced it and made calls to arms; NME wrote a brilliant piece on the music Thatcher inspired. So anyone of thinking age and above was very aware of what was going on and collectively they expressed how they felt about it on the streets and in their magazines and papers.

During the 1980s Margaret Thatcher won the “Creep of the Year” award in every NME Poll from 1980 to 1989, except 1981 when she was toppled by Adam Ant, and in 1989 when the title was changed to “Bastard of the Year” – which she also won. In 1990 her resignation was voted “Highlight of the Year” and Saddam Hussein took over the mantel of number one Bastard. NME readers used the award as a way they could show solidarity with the miners; a way that would get in the papers and stick two fingers up at Thatcher, literally.

The 90s saw NME readers, youngish music fans of this country, take a more lighthearted approach to choosing their Bastard – which would late become, rather pantomine like, their “Villain” – with Robbie Williams and Liam Gallagher taking turns, and John Major popping up every now and again. By now we were of course hurtling into the midst of Cool Britannia, where every pop icon was invited for champers at Tony’s, the good times were rolling and Chumbawumba throwing water on John Prescott is as political as it got.

In the noughties George Dubya Bush got his fair share but since then political figures have been low on the ground, with David Cameron only winning “Villain of the Year” once, in 2011. This year, 2014, Harry Styles won NME’s “Villain of the Year” for the second year running, beating both homophobic tyrant Putin and Cameron. Why have the kids gone for the joke vote? Why not, on paper at least, show Putin you won’t stand for LGBT “hunting”?

Since the crash in 2008, and during this last six years of cuts, you occasionally see a think piece asking where the protest songs, the political music have gone? The grown-ups in the mainstream broadsheets have been concerned that there isn’t the level of action they saw in the 80s. Whether NME, which has seen sales fall, can be considered a dipstick for the “yoof” of the country is highly debatable, but haven’t we got to wonder why the young people of the UK aren’t showing they feel – even in this small almost trivial way – the pain of those suffering from the Bedroom Tax or those being imprisoned and bullied in Russia?

Why aren’t there more visible political statements from the mass of people under 30 in the mainstream media – rather than exceptional individuals, particularly in feminism, like Caroline Criado-Perez, Owen Jones and Laura Bates? Is following an issue on Twitter or reading it online “engaging” with an issue in the same way as protesting was? OR is this depoliticisation?

Being (as one woman said to me on the train the other day) the wrong side of 25, I thought I should find an expert who is on the right side, so I spoke to Sam Wolfson, Exec Editor of Noisey, which is part of the Vice empire:

“One of the worst things about old people saying young people are disengaged from politics is that they only understand engagement in the terms they had when they were young. The miners strike was 30 years ago and that’s a good representation of how meaningless it is to today’s young people.”

“If you want to see engaged youth, look at these people trying to make sure people are allowed to keep their council flats or come to Vice, where almost everyone is under 30 and putting their own lives in danger to report on struggles around the world.”

He’s right. Vice has an international news output to rival the majors and that’s why it’s launching its own TV channel. On my Facebook feed they were the one of the first news sources reporting from the ground in Syria, one of the first in Ukraine, and the only embedded in Venezuela when no one else was talking about Venezuela.

“Lorde’s music says more about the anonymity of global capitalism and the subtle ways in which consumerism creates false perceptions of wealth than any 30-year-old punk song. But people who read Q magazine won’t accept her music as political because when they say ‘politics’ they actually mean campfire songs about miners.”

The people who read Q magazine are people over 30. I’m over 30 but still too young to have been involved in the miners’ strike. My first protest was standing on a roundabout causing cars to crash with a tasteless banner saying: “Open your eyes Blunkett”, on the eve of student fees being implemented, and my second big political protest was the march against the Iraq War, followed by dozens of smaller union marches and reclaim the nights.

What I do know about my generation is that we have been demoralised by our action being so woefully unsuccessful. And while the year-long miners’ strike in 1984 was powerful in its strength of will and the show of courage, it did not achieve everything it set out to and the jobs still went.

I understand why traditional protest seems futile. But this “engagement” Wolfson describes, what happens after watching or reading about something online? If that’s where young people are, what do they do with what they find out on Twitter? Is a retweet enough?

Under 25s are moreishly eating up big issues from the media they love, so I think we can assume they are passionate and have thoughts and ideas about Putin and Cameron. But now is a less innocent time, when those voting for the NME villain think they have more chance upsetting Harry Styles than they ever would the Government; when they live in a country where big marches, while allowed, are not listened too; when the people who fight for the biggest change are very often not even invited to the table, and when our comedians and entertainers call for revolution, but they have no idea how to start one!

 Photos: TheMikeRoberts & Byzantine K

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peggy Seeger, folk singer and Feminist Times founder member:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More valuable than gold

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

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

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

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

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

More valuable than gold 1

The strike – Nicola Cowan, 8, Northumberland:

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

Lynda Walker – Feminist Times supporter:

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

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

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

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

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Anne Scargill: “There’s no jobs. There’s nothing. In 1984 we knew this would happen”

As part of Women’s History Month, we’re marking the 30th anniversary of the year-long 1984-85 miners’ strike with a collection of memories from our members and supporters. Deputy Editor Sarah Graham interviewed Anne Scargill, co-founder of the Women Against Pit Closures movement, which has been credited as the backbone of the strike.

AnneScargillI got involved in the strike early. Some women started a support group called Women Against Pit Closures because we knew that the strike was going to be a long one. Thatcher started on the steelworkers and then she thought: “right, I’m going to start on the National Union of Mineworkers” because they were a strong union.

I don’t think that she thought the women were going to be as strong as they were – she thought the women would say to the men “get back to work”, but we didn’t. We thought: “a woman, doing that to us? Taking our livelihood away and our communities?” We weren’t striking for money, we were striking for a job for our kids and our grandkids; we were striking for what we believed in, and it was terrible.

The men were getting beat up by the police on the picket line, getting arrested, and they couldn’t go here and there anymore, so we thought “if they can’t go, we might as well go. They can’t sack us – we don’t work for the coal board.”

So we organised and decided to go picketing, and I shall never, ever forget the first picket I went on. We went to a place called Silver Hill in Nottinghamshire and the picket was pretty lively but there was no violence.

As we were coming away when these two vans of policemen came and they started pushing us about and that. They arrested one of our women so I went to the inspector and I said: “Excuse me officer, I don’t want to be rude, but what are you arresting Lynne for? What’s she done?” And he said: “Get her an’ all” – that were me – so I got arrested that morning with Lynne.

They took us to a police station in Nottinghamshire and we were in ages. I started kicking the bottom of the door because Lynne wanted to go to the toilet, so they come, opened the door, took me out and took me into a room with a bath in and this woman police officer. So she said to me: “Come on, get undressed.” I said: “what for?” and she says: “I said get undressed, I’m looking for offensive weapons and drugs.” I said: “You’re joking? I’m old enough to be your mother! I’ve never been in a police station in my life.”

She said: “I’ve said get undressed”. So I got undressed and they strip searched me, and the same with the other four women. I just said to her: “Yes, that’s what they said in Nazi Germany when they were taking the Jews to be slaughtered – they were only doing their job.”

The magistrate threw the case out of court, but I’ll never forgive them for doing that to me. Never, ever, ever. I bet they thought: “they’ll not come no more now”, but I’ll tell you something – it made me ten times worse than I would have been because I thought what more can they do to me? I’ll never ever forgive them for that. And then after that obviously I really, really was a thorn in their side – or tried to be. I think they picked me up about seven or eight times – in fact, I got used to it, I used to know my rights when I got to the police station.

About three weeks before that we’d organised this rally in Barnsley – the first Women Against Pit Closures rally. We didn’t know how many were coming so we said to the police “we’re having this rally in the Civic Hall in Barnsley”, “aye, ok,” they said. We expected about 100-150, my goodness! We were going to march through Barnsley and there were buses coming from all over – from Wales, from Scotland – the police weren’t right happy!

We all started marching and waving our banners, and Arthur spoke there. When we came to the Civic Hall the police were there saying: “you can’t come in with any banners” and we said “who can’t go in with banners? Get out o’t way” and took all our banners into the Civic Hall – there’s a lovely photograph of us all waving our banners in’t Civic Hall! I think that was the first time that we’d turned on the police – it was three weeks after that I was arrested. The police didn’t know what to do, they just moved!

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

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

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

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

We had a community Christmas that year in the welfare and we were all there singing. I mean it were hard, don’t get me wrong, it were hard but we tried and tried to help one another.

The women in my community here, some of them went everywhere with their husbands and that started changing. There were women speaking in York, something they never thought they could do – so there were women with talent and ability that they never knew they had.

Miners are very dominating – they used to have to come home to their dinner on the table, but here the roles were reversed – the women were going out on the picket lines. The men were going picketing where they could locally, and they were having to look after the children, so the roles were changing gradually.

A few of the women went back to the kitchen sink when it was finished but there’s a lot didn’t. A lot went to university, a lot of them are in social services, so they got an education. I didn’t go to university or anything but during that strike and after I got a better education than any university could have taught me because I was living it.

A lot of people’s lives changed through the strike, quite a few marriages broke up. As I say, the women were the most dominant part and if it hadn’t have been for the women I don’t think that strike would have lasted as long.

I think [the feminism] came out of the work that we were doing. Women had never been out of the village without their husbands, yet here they were in York, talking to people and finding out that there was another life besides them four walls in their house.

When the men were going back to work this man said to me: “Anne, I want my wife back” and I said “[the strike’s] over now”. He said: “yeah, but I don’t want her I’ve got now, I want other one I had before” and I said: “that’s your problem, not mine.” Their marriage broke up. It was a very empowering experience for those miners’ wives – they found talent and ability they never knew they’d got.

We were really inspired by the Greenham Common women – we got in touch with them and started going down to Greenham. We’d a lot of sympathy with the Greenham women and they used to come and see us. When they started to close the mines in 1993 the Greenham Common women used to come and we set camps up outside every mine that was profitable – we thought we’ll demonstrate here at this mine and try to keep it open. That was all based on the Greenham women.

We found a community spirit in our village here that, as years have gone on, we an’t got it now. There’s no jobs now, there’s nothing. Some women have to work two jobs to survive, and it’s all low-paid jobs, all for women. There’s nothing for the men.

When I look round my community now I feel well at least I tried to do something to prevent this happening – my conscience is clear. In our community now we’ve got about five food banks and on a Monday we serve breakfast. Five years ago we had 47-48 people coming for their breakfast, and do you know we had 111 yesterday? They’re not only young lads that are coming now, they’re people with children, and we’re getting people probably my age – 65, 70 years old – coming because of the Bedroom Tax.

It’s a long time, 30 years on, but we knew this would happen – they shut our industry down. They’re importing coal and there’s thousands and thousands of tonnes of coal beneath our feet – and here we are going into this dangerous nuclear power.

This is our society in 2014, where we should be going forward, and we knew in 1984 this was going to come – that’s why we fought so hard. And we did fight hard. The women were very, very brave.

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Yarnstorming manly Manchester

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunny Lowry MBE

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

1SunnyLowry

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

Sylvia Pankhurst

Sylvia Pankhurst, (1882 – 1960) Suffragette

1Sylvia Pankhurst

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

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

Read more about Sylvia here.

Esther Roper

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

1EstherRoper

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

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

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

Read more about Esther here.

Dr Kathleen Drew-Baker

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

1KathleenDrewBaker

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

Read more about Dr Kathleen Drew-Baker.

Elizabeth Gaskell

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

1ElizabethGaskell

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

Read more about Elizabeth Gaskell here.

Louise Da-Cocodia MBE

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

1LouisedeCocodia

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

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

Read more about Louise Da-Cocodia here.

Dame Kathleen Ollerenshaw

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

1KathleenOllerenshaw

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

Read more about Dame Kathleen Ollerenshaw.

Annie Horniman

Annie Horniman, (1860 – 1937) Eccentric arts champion

1AnnieHorniman

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

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

Read more about Annie Horniman here.

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

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Feminist Events Listings: March 2014

Verity FlecknellWelcome to my feminist event highlight blog for Feminist Times. Storm in a Teacup are thrilled to be highlighting all the best feminist events from London and beyond.

March is Women’s History Month and it’s always a busy month for feminist events – I found it even harder than usual to pick this month’s highlights!

Whether you are an armchair activist or a full time activist, into your international politics, or personal politics, feminist artist, or radical feminist – there are just so many events happening up and down the country – there is bound to be something to tickle your fancy/get your teeth into.

Arguably there are more feminist events popping up more than ever and so many opportunities for you to get involved, meet like minded people, share skills and be a part of the movement.

We will be bringing you highlights of some of the feminist events not to be missed in March.

Verity Flecknell, Storm in a Teacup

NATIONAL

8 March || International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day (8 March) is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. In some places like China, Russia, Vietnam and Bulgaria, International Women’s Day is a national holiday.

MORE INFO: http://www.internationalwomensday.com/

5-16 March || 25th Anniversary of Oxford International Women’s Festival @ Various venues around Oxford.

A very special line-up of activities is taking place during this milestone Festival, ranging from theatre, to poetry and storytelling, plus talks, film screenings, cabaret, a Dinner, and more. The Festival exists to celebrate the achievements of women from Oxford and beyond, and it’s organised by local volunteers. Please visit their website for full programme.

MORE INFO: http://www.oxfordinternationalwomensfestival.co.uk/2014-festival/

8 March || Suffragette Legacy event @ People’s History Museum, Manchester, M3 3ER.

Suffragette Legacy: How does the History of Feminism Inspire Current Thinking in Manchester? Camilla Mørk Røstvik, PhD candidate at the University of Manchester, and Louise Sutherland, Head of Collections and Engagement at the People’s History Museum, started planning an interdisciplinary conference to celebrate the legacy of the suffragettes in Manchester and beyond. Asking questions like –  is the first wave of feminism is still relevant to our artists, scholars and activists? Can we still learn from the suffragettes? Can we enter a dialogue with them? In our packed one-day conference we hope to show off the people and ideas who keep the spirit of these women (and men) alive.

MORE INFO: http://wonderwomenmcr.blogspot.co.uk/

8 March || International Women’s Day festival Sheffield @ Sheffield Town Hall, S1 2HH.

The Women’s Network IWD planning group has been hard at work putting together a great event for International Women’s Day. Including singing on the front steps of Town Hall, keynote presentation from the Women of Steel, various workshops, an international women’s voices panel and information stalls. 10am – 1pm.

Here are the workshops planned so far:

  • 100 years of change, manufacturing and STEM – WEA/Glass Academy

  • Challenging stereotyping – Women in Engineering

  • Celebrating feminist activism – Sheffield Feminist Network

  • Women inspiring women collage – Sheffield Futures

  • One Billion Rising – Cllr Nikki Bond

  • A history of protest – WILPF

  • Women and domestic violence

MORE INFO: http://goo.gl/FCicVS

9 – 30 March || Translation/Transmission: Women’s Activism Across Space and Time – Film Season @ Watershed, Bristol.

Over Women’s History Month in March 2014, Translation/ Transmission: Women’s Activism Across Time and Space will celebrate the diverse ways women activists have communicated their struggle and resistance through film.  Translation/ Transmission features activist documentaries and women filmmakers from the Women’s Liberation Movement in Britain, Jamaica, Palestine, Germany, Vietnam, USA, Iran and France/ Cameroon, highlighting the diversity of different feminisms across geographical locations and historical moments.

FULL LISTINGS & MORE INFO: http://translationtransmission.wordpress.com/

FACEBOK EVENT: https://www.facebook.com/events/761938503821442/

16 March || What the Frock! presents Comedy Skills Workshop and Showcase @ Halo, 141 Gloucester Road, Bristol.

What The Frock! Comedy is pleased to be teaming up with award-winning comedian, broadcaster and all-round superstar Kate Smurthwaite.

WORKSHOP: http://www.whatthefrockcomedy.co.uk/#!march-16/c1tb3

The workshops are aimed both at those who’ve always wanted to try stand-up and those who have done a few gigs but are keen to develop their skills. Whether you’re looking for a new career or just a speedy confidence boost (or even a truly original gift for a friend!), we guarantee you’ll have a great time. £65.00. 11am-1pm, 2pm-5pm

SHOWCASE: http://www.whatthefrockcomedy.co.uk/#!march-16—showcase/c1243

Following on from the comedy workshop at Halo led by Kate during the day, come and show your support for the workshop graduates by joining the audience for the evening showcase – where they will be trying out their new comedy skills.  £5.00. 7pm -9pm

MORE INFO: http://www.whatthefrockcomedy.co.uk/

LONDON

1-21 March || BP Spotlight: Sylvia Pankhurst @ TATE Britain.

Dont miss this exhibition in its final month. Tate Britain shines a light on Sylvia Pankhurst and her artistic skills in the fight for women’s rights, designing badges, banners and flyers, and recording the lives of working women. Sylvia Pankhurst (1882–1960) made a profound impact on the fight for women’s rights as both an artist and a campaigner. Trained at the Manchester Municipal School of Art and the Royal College of Art, she was a key figure in the work of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) set up with her mother Emmeline and sister Christabel in 1903, using her artistic skills to further the cause. This display has been devised by curator Emma Chambers with The Emily Davison Lodge. FREE.

MORE INFO: http://goo.gl/7zSvG8

5 March || Layers of Inequality – the impact of public spending cuts on Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Women @ House of Commons, Committee Room 16

Discussion on the impact of the public spending cuts on Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) women. The meeting will consider evidence that BAME women are being disproportionately affected by the cuts based on research carried out in Coventry by the University of Warwick and Coventry Women’s Voices. Whilst this research focuses on Coventry, BAME women across the country are likely to be similarly affected and this is therefore a much wider issue. To confirm your place at the event please email: equality@unitetheunion.org

FACEBOOK EVENT: https://www.facebook.com/events/611875185549676/

5-9 March || Women of the World Festival 2014 @ The Southbank Centre.

A weekend of talks, debates, performance and activism celebrating women and girls. The WOW weekend is for everybody. Talks, debates, comedy, workshops, activism and performance on everything from politics, science and sex to fashion, war and power.  Previous WOW festival speakers have included Julie Walters, Alice Walker, Gordon Brown MP, Naomi Wolf, Shami Chakrabarti, Bridget Christie, Ruby Wax, Ziauddin Yousafzai, the father of Malala Yousafzai, Ahdaf Soueif, Angélique Kidjo and many more. Book your day or full weekend passes now.

MORE INFO: http://goo.gl/bkvkB6

8 March || Million Women Rise March and Rally @ London.

A woman’s right to live free from violence and / or the fear of violence has not been achieved. Women continue to be attacked and violated in many different ways, in our homes, on our streets, on our public transport, at our places of work. The government, the TV and newspapers do very little to address this issue; instead they often blame women for wearing the wrong clothes or being in the wrong place.  If you think this needs to change, then join us on this women only critical mass. We need to be strong together and in large numbers. Unity is strength; the voices of many are louder together than a single voice.

MEET: 12:00 NOON, OXFORD STREET, LONDON

SET OFF: 1:00

RALLY : 3:00 @ TRAFALGAR SQUARE

AFTER PARTY: 5:00 @ THE 52 CLUB, 52 GOWER STREET

FACEBOOK EVENT: https://www.facebook.com/events/246935428810959/

8 March || Birds Eye View Presents; “Wonder Women!” @ BFI Southbank.

Directed by Kristy Guevara-Flanagan and produced by Kelcey Edwards, Wonder Women! offers an informative and entertaining counterpoint to the male-dominated superhero genre, and is the perfect film to celebrate both International Women’s Day, and the official launch of the 2014 Birds Eye View Film Festival. Wonder Women! traces the fascinating birth, evolution and legacy of the Wonder Woman figure, from the 1940s comic book heroine to the blockbusters of today, and introduces us to a dynamic group of fictional and real life superheroines who are fighting for positive role models for girls – both on screen and off.

BUY TICKETS: http://goo.gl/qrxmmo

MORE INFO: http://goo.gl/lJZb5b

Verity Flecknell is founder of Storm in a Teacup, a London based feminist arts collective set up in 2009 with the aim of promoting women in the arts. In 2010 Storm in a Teacup helped organise Ladyfest Ten festival, in 2011 were part of the first ever Women of the World festival at the Southbank and in 2012 joined forces with Girls Get Busy zine and Not So Popular to form Lets Start a Pussy Riot collective. In June this year, Rough Trade Records published “Lets Start a Pussy Riot” book, a collection of artistic responses created in collaboration with Pussy Riot. Storm in a Teacup also publishes monthly feminist event listings happening around London.

Please visit Storm in a Teacup’s blog for full feminist event listings for March.

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Profile: Maanda Ngoitiko

This is a guest post by African Initiatives.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wowzers Festival: A feminist fringe event for International Women’s Day

Wowzers Festival was set up by a small team of passionate event organisers who were frustrated with the run-of-the-mill women’s conferences and tired of your traditional International Women’s Day gigs. It was borne out of a deep desire to create a space for ALL corners of feminism. To create a place to gather and to advance emerging issues at the intersections of race, class, disability, age and LGBTQ issues. We wanted something more – more intersectional, more diverse, more challenging, more fun!

We wanted to make room for a range of voices, emerging talent, new acts, and were determined not to shy away from difficult or controversial topics. Wowzers Festival is the result of that determination and will kick off on International Women’s Day, 8th-9th March at the LSE Student Union in Central London, running in parallel to the better known ‘Women of the World’ festival at The Southbank Centre.

In the spirit of challenging the status quo, Wowzers Festival is community-led and crowd-funded. Not having a centralised funder means that we’re not tied to ‘The (proverbial) Man’ and have no restrictions on what we can and cannot address at the event. All our sessions are suggested and run by you, our community – a diverse mix of groups and individuals all passionate about gender equality and its intersections. The idea is to put YOU in the driving seat and ensure the event reflects the concerns and interests of the wider community, not just the team behind the event.

To guarantee that anyone who wants to participate can do so, regardless of their financial situation, Wowzers Festival is free to attend. Those who are able to donate are invited to do so towards sessions or activities on a sliding scale basis.

Over the two days, you’ll hear from bands like Actual Crimes, Big Joanie, and Woolf. You’ll laugh with comedian Alice Frank of Laughing Labia fame. You’ll explore topics ranging from abortion to street harassment; Pussy Riot to zine-making; clothes customising to consent; trans issues to body-positive ballet. You’ll party with the likes of The Girls Are, Carousel and Girl Germs, and dance along to DJs from Fanny Pack and Bad Reputation.

It is very much your event: an event by the feminist community, for the feminist community – we just provide the framework. We invite you to join us.

Find out more about Wowzers Festival at wowzersfest.org or follow @WowzersFest

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Pussy Riot split confusion: cultural action always has blurred lines

Pussy Riot sang in their Punk Prayer, two years ago today: “become a feminist, become a feminist” – a rallying call to action. From Sochi to Kiev, Caracas to our own cities and towns, we need to believe in ourselves a little more and give feminism and her activists a break. This week has seen some people taking sides as Pussy Riot begins to show splits, following a statement released by the group saying Nadia and Masha were no longer part of Pussy Riot. The two women then appeared in Sochi as Pussy Riot and released a track and video under the moniker.

Social movements appear, develop and dissolve, and movement members fall out and disagree with one another all the time. Why should feminism be so often singled out for failure? It may not give us all the answers but by embracing feminisms together we will begin to start asking the right kinds of questions.

At the heart of social movements lie social relationships. These relationships are often built over time, developing a kind of organisational memory and expectations that persist even when members come and go. Social movements are more than the sum of their parts and are nothing without the actions of those willing to take part. Activism is frequently a difficult path to take but, when it comes to feminist activism, the path is at times more uneven, weed-strewn and so pot-hole ridden that the task of patching it can seem overwhelming. Yet, like the road less traveled, this path can lead to profound personal and social change.

It is important to pay attention to the historical lineages – though arguably not a linear history – of feminist cultural activism and its attempts to challenge gender inequalities. These historical narratives are less about discrete chronological stages and more about blurry overlaps, with each participating actor writing and re-writing their stories with each new encounter.

Attempting to fit contemporary feminist cultural activism into neat, time-specific periods perpetuates a popular discourse that all too quickly relegates feminist acts of cultural resistance to, at best, the history books, and at worst something to be appropriated by capitalist structures and sold back in bite-sized, watered down versions to the very girls and women who these activities are meant to empower. However, this grand ideal of collective action and impetus, to create new worlds that counter mainstream conventions, is not without its problems and critics.

In various art and music based movements, such as Riot Grrrl and Ladyfest, the initial motivation for engaging in activism is women’s lack of visibility and, where women are visible, a disagreement with the narrow roles they are frequently assigned. Drawing connections between different feminist cultural movements in different time periods allows for a continuity of experiences and a chance for subsequent generations to learn from one another through dialogue, rather than perpetuating the perceived generational rifts so often referred to in literature on feminist waves and by those that purport feminism has failed.

Pussy Riot may be a clandestine covert network of feminist activists, but they are emerging from their own particular histories carrying forward previous social ties, whilst at the same time developing new ones. That two of its members should now be reportedly ex-members may disappoint the collective’s supporters but can be viewed as an inevitable stage in the cycle of change. Movements change and members move on to other things. If anyone can be Pussy Riot, just like every girl could be a Riot Grrrl or every town could start a Ladyfest, then perhaps the power of feminist activism lies with its potential.

We all need to be a little kinder to one another. Our activist strategies may be flawed, we may be emotive, impassioned and our approaches at times may not work but it is by taking those steps to engage with one another, to voice our feminisms and render them real, lived experiences that we can begin to make a difference.

Synthesisers, social statistics, music and methods, Susan is currently a Sociology lecturer at the University of Manchester. A serial Ladyfest organiser and SNA user, her research looks at gender inequalities in music worlds, cultural production and participation. Mixing-methods and mixing beats at the edge of the analogue-digital divide, Susan is one half of the dark electronic duo Factory Acts. Their first EP is due out with AnalogueTrash Records summer 2014. SoS tweets @FactoryActs and  @Susan_OShea

Photo: a.powers-fudyma

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“PUSSY RIOT” release new video

You could be forgiven for thinking these are the performance activists formerly known as Pussy Riot, after a statement released by Pussy Riot last week said Nadia and Masha were no longer in the group. Yet here they are, two of the most recognisable released prisoners in the world, protesting at Sochi and releasing this new track and video under what we can only assume is a highly contested moniker.

The real story of course should be the police brutality shown in the video and the message in the song.

More to come tomorrow on who Pussy Riot are, on the second anniversary of their now iconic Punk Prayer.

50 billion and a gay-driven rainbow,
Rodnina and Kabaeva will pass you those flames
In prison they will teach you how to obey
Salut to all bosses, hail, duce!

Putin will teach you how to love the motherland

Sochi is blocked – Olympic surveillance
Special forces, weapons, crowds of cops
FSB is an argument, the police is an argument
State tv will run your applause.

Putin will teach you how to love the motherland

Spring to Russia comes suddenly
Hello to the messiah as a shot from Avrora
The prosecutor will put you down
Give him some reaction and not those pretty eyes

A cage for the protests, vodka, matrioshka
Prison for May 6, more vodka and caviar
The Constitution is lynched, Vitishko’s in prison
Stability, the prison meal, the fence and the watchtower

For TV Rain they’ve shut down the airwaves
They took gay pride down the washroom
A two-ass toilet – a priority
Sentence to Russia, medium security, 6 years

Putin will teach you how to love the motherland

The motherland
The motherland
The motherland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Profile: West London Fawcett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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)

hi

AnnieBethposter_HiRes

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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Congo Stigmata: The day Ensler crucified herself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Young mums are Stratford’s biggest Olympic losers

Wherever there’s an Olympics happening, BBC’s Panorama send in their top corruption-uncoverer John Sweeney. Just last week Sochi was “Sweenied” when he reported the Russian Games was considered by some to be the most corrupt ever. Six years ago he did something very similar in China. However in 2012 there was a distinct lack of Sweeney in Stratford, East London. Two years later, there is a group of young mums in a hostel in E15 who might just want John to take a little look around, because their reality of the London Olympic legacy, and so-called regeneration, is social cleansing.

It’s so easy to level corruption charges at our former Cold War enemies with their human rights violations, low levels of democracy and the disappearance and imprisonment of dissidents. After all, while the Olympic Park’s nearby Tower Hamlet’s council is a staple of Private Eye‘s ‘Rotten Boroughs‘, I think I’d get away with performing a Punk Prayer in St John’s on Stratford High Street without too much impact on my freedom.

It’s so much harder to look in the mirror and see where our own games could have been more transparent – less generous to big billion pound business and kinder to the people who just happened to be born in Stratford, like the gorgeous little babies of the mums in Focus E15 Mothers. There’s no better way to explain their situation than letting the women speak for themselves.

Focus E15 Mothers’ statement:
We are a mix of mothers and mothers-to-be who have lived in the E15 hostel from a few months to 3 years. Having been told this would only be temporary accommodation, we are no closer to finding permanent housing and now Newham council has stopped funding the mothers and baby unit and those of us who have been in the hostel for over six months have been served with a possession order with a date of 20 October.

We have been told we will not be offered council housing but that we will be offered private rented accommodation from accredited landlords outside of London in places like Hastings, Birmingham and Manchester. If we refuse this offer, we will be classed as making ourselves intentionally homeless and face temporary accommodation with little protection from eviction and no guarantee of a long-term solution from the council. Also if we chose to rent privately we are not entitled to get sufficient help with deposits which we cannot afford ourselves.

We want secure and suitable housing for mothers in east London!

Every Saturday they take to the streets of Stratford in what they describe as ‘meetings’. They hang up banners with slogans that say “Fight Racism, Fight Imperialism”, “Caution, Social Cleansing in Progress” and “Don’t Make Our Babies Homeless”. On Facebook they share photos of ex-council housing in their area boarded up; ““no housing” my foot” says a commenter underneath the photo of a huge tower block.

And is that not the very essence of uncovering corruption? Being told one thing by the powers that be and then seeing evidence that proves it’s a lie. Being told there’s no housing while the Olympic village lays empty, no lights on. Being told there’s no council housing while estates are gradually boarded up and packaged up for redevelopment. Property prices rising high because Waitrose and John Lewis followed the IOC into town, all the while being told it will be easier to just go to Hastings, and if you don’t you’re purposefully making yourself homeless – that you, the single mum and your baby, deserve to be on the street.

I didn’t go to the Olympics when it came to London. I left and went to Camp Bestival instead, which has more of the sporting activities I excel at. Even hundreds of miles away in a Dorset valley, I and the thousands with me were moved by the Danny Boyle spectacular that was projected from the festival stage. The opening ceremony’s most touching part, the part that made me cry, was the Mary Poppins-style tribute to Great Ormond St Hospital and the NHS, with dancing nurses looking after children who were jumping on flying beds.

Reality is no magical fairy tale; there’s no super nannies blowing in on the wind to comfort the anxious mums of Focus E15 Mothers. They are the casualties of our Olympics and while Panorama waxes on about Sochi we must remember that our own backyard is not squeeky clean. The legacy of a transparent, caring Olympics should always be that local people will benefit, that their home town will be improved for them and their children to enjoy, but in Stratford those children are no longer welcome.

Photo: Lorraine Murphy

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Many Russias: Sochi’s Absurdist Olympics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo from NYC Pride: Kasya Shahovskaya 

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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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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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Feminist Events Listings: February 2014

Verity FlecknellWelcome to my feminist event highlight blog for Feminist Times. Storm in a Teacup are thrilled to be highlighting all the best feminist events from London and beyond.

Whether you are an armchair activist or a full time activist, into your international politics, or personal politics, feminist artist, or radical feminist – there are just so many events happening up and down the country – there is bound to be something to tickle your fancy/get your teeth into.

Arguably there are more feminist events popping up more than ever and so many opportunities for you to get involved, meet like minded people, share skills and be a part of the movement.

We will be bringing you highlights of some of the feminist events not to be missed in February.

Verity Flecknell, Storm in a Teacup

NATIONAL

14 February | One Billion Rising for Justice – V-day!

One Billion Rising For Justice is a global call to women survivors of violence and those who love them to gather safely in community outside places where they are entitled to justice – courthouses, police stations, government offices, school administration buildings, workplaces, sites of environmental injustice, military courts, embassies, places of worship, homes, or simply public gathering places where women deserve to feel safe but too often do not. It is a call to survivors to break the silence and release their stories – politically, spiritually, outrageously – through art, dance, marches, ritual, song, spoken word, testimonies and whatever way feels right.

Events happening worldwide and nationwide please follow this link to see events in the UK: http://www.onebillionrising.org/events/

MORE INFO: http://www.onebillionrising.org/

10 February – 3rd March | Women in Philosophy @ Manchester Metropolitan University.

In a series of public talks coordinated by researchers from the Department of Philosophy, issues of gender will be addressed by four women scholars who are by profession eminent philosophers in their respective fields. Women have arrived as practitioners in philosophy relatively recently when compared to the first 2,500 years of the discipline. This series of talks will look at whether the inclusion of women in philosophy has changed the landscape of what is being researched, learnt and taught in this fundamentally important subject. If philosophy is the study of how, what and why we think, what do women have to say about it? Come and join the debate! Women in Philosophy will present the following four talks:

Monday 10th February 2014: Dr Anna Bergqvist (MMU)

Moral particularism: a contribution to feminist thinking

Monday 17th February 2014: Professor Jennifer Saul (Sheffield)

Stop Thinking (So Much) About ‘Sexual Harassment’

Monday 24th February 2014: Professor Tina Chanter (Kingston)

The public, the private and the aesthetic unconscious: Reworking  Jacques Ranciere

Monday 3rd March 2014: Dr Meena Dhanda (Wolverhampton)

Facing Prejudice: Negotiating the Cultural Politics of Identity

All talks take place in Geoffrey Manton Lecture Theatre 4 at 5.30pm (tea and coffee in Geoffrey Manton atrium from 5.00pm)

MORE INFO:http://www.eventbrite.com/o/ihssr-4168900447?s=16853075

15- 16 February | Feminist Libraries and Archives Gathering @ Feminist Library and Nottingham Women’s Centre, Nottingham.

A gathering of UK-based women’s libraries and resource centres. The event will give attendees an opportunity to meet and forge relationships between one another, as well as share ideas, knowledge, and resources. There will be discussion groups, talks, and workshops on topics pertaining to women’s libraries and resource centres.

EMAIL: zaimal@nottinghamwomenscentre.com

WEBSITE: www.nottinghamwomenscentre.com

27 February | Reclaim the Night Manchester 2014 @ Owens Park, Manchester.

This year’s theme will be ‘sound and voices‘ – participants will be filling the streets with sound and light our united energy against sexual harassment and sexual violence. The march starts at Owens’ Park, Wilmslow Road, Fallowfield at 7pm and a neon parade will head down Wilmslow Road towards Manchester Students’ Union.  The evening continues with the Reclaim the Night After Party, a festival of the finest women talent, with live comedy and music, arts & crafts, fun activities, community stalls & awesome DJs till late – at Manchester Students’ Union from 9pm.

EMAIL: tabz.obrien-butcher@manchester.ac.uk

FACEBOOK PAGE: https://www.facebook.com/ReclaimTheNightManchesterUk

FACEBOOK EVENT: https://www.facebook.com/events/439068732888265/?ref=22

LONDON

7-21 February || SOAS Women’s Society event series; Ain’t I A Woman? What’s race got to do with it? @ SOAS University, London.

The Women’s Society at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) present; ‘Ain’t I A Woman? What’s race got to do with it?’ Exploring the intersectionality of gender and race in a week-long series of events centred around Ntozake Shange’s play ‘For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf.’

Monday, 17 February 2014, 8pm: Performance

‘For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf’ + Q&A with director and actresses Directed by Adam Tulloch

Tuesday, 18 February 2014, 7pm: Workshop

Redefining the Strong Black Woman

Wednesday, 19 February 2014, 7pm: Panel Discussion

Black (Mis)Representation

Chaired by Brenna Bhandar, SOAS

Thursday, 20 February 2014, 7pm: Conversations

Black Feminism 101: Claiming spaces in mainstream feminism

Facilitated by Charmaine Elliott, Black Feminists UK

Friday, 21 February 2014, 7pm: Performance

‘For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf’ + reception

Directed by Adam Tulloch

MORE INFO: http://aint-i-a-woman.tumblr.com/

FACEBOOK PAGE: https://www.facebook.com/aintiawomansoas

18 February || Gender Institute Series of Conversations to welcome The Women’s Library @ London School of Economics.

With the arrival of The Women’s Library at LSE, the Gender Institute will be running a series of Conversations during Lent Term. These Conversations will be led by Professor Mary Evans and audience participation is warmly invited.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014 Is there a Sexual History?  Speakers include: Professor Jeffrey Weeks and Professor Clare Hemmings

Tuesday, 4 March 2014 Money and Inequality Speakers include: Professor Ruth Lister and Professor Diane Elson

MORE INFO: http://www.lse.ac.uk/genderInstitute/events/Upcoming.aspx

22 February || Women’s Assembly Against Austerity @ Conway Hall, London.

Women remain at the sharp end of the government’s economic and social austerity policies. As women’s unemployment rises, wages fall, the pay gap widens, benefits are cut and household and living costs rise, women face a daily struggle to keep themselves and their families from slipping deeper into poverty. In recognition of the leading role of women in the campaign against austerity and in articulating a new vision for our society The People’s Assembly is pleased to announce the Women’s Assembly conference 2014.

MORE INFO: http://thepeoplesassembly.org.uk/women/

TICKETS: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/womens-assembly-against-austerity-tickets-9613437049

25 February || Rosie Wilby “Nineties Woman” @ Rich Mix, London.

Nineties Woman is a new show from award winning comedian Rosie Wilby using live interactive storytelling interspersed with video interviews, music and photo archive to trace a journey through early 90s feminism, refracted through a very personal lens. There will also be a post-show panel discussion with Jane Czyzselska, CN Lester, Kaite Welsh and Naomi Paxton. Starting with her treasured old copies of Matrix (Greek for ‘womb’), the newspaper that she and a collective of women set up at York University in 1990, Rosie peeks through a kaleidoscope of cultural history and personal activism including poll tax riots, Reclaim The Night rallies, political lesbianism and same sex wedding demos and wonders how on earth we ended up with ‘Girl Power’?

BOOK TICKETS: http://www.richmix.org.uk/whats-on/event/rosie-wilby-nineties-woman/

MORE INFO: http://www.rosiewilby.com/

26 February || Men’s discussion group @ The Feminist Library, London.

Starting in February, the Feminist Library in Lambeth will be hosting a monthly Men’s Group meeting to discuss books and articles on feminist themes, with the aim of developing a better understanding of those themes and how they as men respond to them. Part of the East London Fawcett Groups campaign; “Are Men Doing it?”

MORE INFO: http://eastlondonfawcett.org.uk/are-men-doing-it.html

JOIN MAILING-LIST & ATTEND: : mendiscussfeminism@yahoo.co.uk

Verity Flecknell is founder of Storm in a Teacup, a London based feminist arts collective set up in 2009 with the aim of promoting women in the arts. In 2010 Storm in a Teacup helped organise Ladyfest Ten festival, in 2011 were part of the first ever Women of the World festival at the Southbank and in 2012 joined forces with Girls Get Busy zine and Not So Popular to form Lets Start a Pussy Riot collective. In June this year, Rough Trade Records published “Lets Start a Pussy Riot” book, a collection of artistic responses created in collaboration with Pussy Riot. Storm in a Teacup also publishes monthly feminist event listings happening around London.

Please visit Storm in a Teacup’s blog for full feminist event listings for January.

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How to make the unhappiest town happy

Standing at the bar of Bedford’s West Indian Social & Cultural Society, I’ve been talking to the Windrush generation about the boxes of records they’ve all got stashed in the loft or the garage. They have original Blue Beat singles, old Trojan tunes, things with the red Island Records logo. Next door, their grandchildren play MP3s on a big, bass-heavy sound-system.

I’m in Bedford because the Office for National Statistics decided last year that it was the unhappiest place in the country. Bedford Creative Arts have commissioned me to look at what makes Bedford unhappy, and see if – in three short months – I can change it. The project is called, simply, Bedford Happy.

Bedford was built by the Saxon chief Beda, around a crossing on the River Ouse. It’s always been a place of crossing, of coming together of the tribes, and as such is incredibly open to different cultures – just a few doors down from the West Indian club is the Polish Club, and opposite that, the Italian Club which serves a wicked short, black coffee.

Bedford has the third largest Italian community in Britain, behind London and Manchester. That’s because the Bedford-based London Brick Company found a skilled workforce in southern Italy in the 1950s, when they needed enough bricks to rebuild bomb-damaged London. The brickworks followed it up with a recruitment campaign in India, and in 1960 the Indian Workers’ Welfare & Cultural Association was set up in the town.

And that ever-changing mix is what makes Bedford really interesting. It’s a town of contrast and change. There’s the area around the bus station, which feels like an unloved corner of North London, populated by fast food, cheap supermarkets and cab firms. And a few minutes’ walk away are the clean, elegant streets leading down to the river’s Embankment, where the water is often alive with rowers from Bedford’s four private schools. The parents of the pupils there live in big villas around the grand, Victorian-landscaped Bedford Park where every Saturday morning 250 or more people turn on their smartphones and log on to the Parkrun app.

Every group – ‘West Indian’ or ‘Italian’ or ‘Rowing Club’ or ‘Parkrun’ – changes the town. For generations, people have arrived and felt they have the power to do things for themselves. People have started offbeat arts organisations and oddball religions (the Panacea Society who saved an end-of-terrace house for Christ’s return deserve an article all of their own). They’ve founded their own schools and social clubs – to get a few people together, talk about your shared interest and make something happen is the Bedford way.

That approach is perfectly illustrated by what made me notice Bedford in the first place. Two strangers, Kayte Judge and Erica Roffe, started a conversation about the town’s empty shops on Facebook, created a project called We Are Bedford and spent a year activating empty spaces. Their approach is one I see across the entire country. People are tackling local problems for themselves.

Collaborate, create the smallest structure you need to make things happen, try and test your ideas where people can see them, and use that experience to decide what to do next. It’s a refreshing alternative to the way councils or charities work – endless meetings, everything in place to blunt the sharp edges of any risk, and nobody responsible for their own actions.

It’s exactly what Clay Shirky wrote about in 2008; people are organising without organisations. The tools we have literally at our fingertips, a smart phone that lets us access social media, mean we can be the change we want to see. We can form loose, agile collaborations and tackle problems. I recently listed 100 such projects on my company’s blog.

The actor Peter Coyote, looking back to the 1960s, said, ‘If we had any belief, it was that a man’s vision is his responsibility. If you had an idea, make it happen; find the brothers and sisters; find the resources and do it. Your personal autonomy and power exposed the shallowness of endless theorizing and debate. Visions became real by being acted out, and once real could serve as inspiration and free food for the public imagination.’

It’s no coincidence that the internet lets us do that so quickly, when the people that built it were Coyote’s contemporaries. The 60s generation have given us the tools to make change endlessly, easily possible – to make revolution an everyday thing.

Dan is a social artist and writer living in Margate. His work is about people and places. He is interested in the creation of social capital, in abandoned or underused spaces, and in DIY approaches to art, culture and social action. . In 2012, he was included in the Time Out and Hospital Club’s Culture 100, a list of the most inspiring and influential people in the UK’s creative industries. Find out more at www.danthompson.co.uk

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Profile: Clit Rock

I created Clit Rock out of sheer rage.

For me, female genital mutilation (FGM) culminates all the misogyny in the world into a single act. It speaks volumes about the fear of women and female sexuality in patriarchal societies. It is oppression on steroids.

Like so many things these days, Clit Rock was started online by a post on Facebook. I remember sharing yet another story on FGM and most people either chose to ignore it or confessed they were not even aware of this practice. I said, “why doesn’t someone do something to raise awareness about this, like a music event? They could call it Clit Rock!” One of my friends said, “You should do it”, and behold Clit Rock was born.

I am constantly amazed by the people who choose to ignore though. What is this response about? What exactly does it mean? My social media feed is constantly inundated with posts highlighting the plight of animals and that’s great but what about your fellow humans? Why do so many people skip over issues that affect literally millions of women and girls and go straight to saving the chickens? Honest question. If you have any idea please let a sister know?

I digress. I didn’t know exactly where Clit Rock would lead me, I just knew I wanted to help raise awareness and funds for anyone already fighting on the front lines of this cause. I found Daughters Of Eve online and I have learned a lot from its inspiring founders Nimko Ali and Leyla Hussein. I never try to speak for survivors of FGM; I aim only to support in any way I can.

Clit Rock is a celebration of women who rock! We put on bands, artists, DJs with fire in their belly. We dance until they turn the lights on and kick us out (if you came to the last one you can attest to that). It is about being made aware of the work that needs to be done and reveling in how far we’ve come.

I cannot tell you how many people have said to me that they are hesitant about coming to a Clit Rock event because of the seriousness of the cause or because they might be uncomfortable. Sigh… Let me take this opportunity to assure you that we do not get together every few months to sit around and cry for five hours! Leyla, for example, refuses to be called a victim. She instead demands that she be referred to as a survivor and she not only survives but thrives!

We seek to educate and uplift because we know this is a fight that can be won. If you do not feel great after a Clit Rock event, we’ll give you your money back! Well, not really, (it’s for charity man) but you know what I mean.

To quote Daughters Of Eve: “If you save one girl, you save a generation.” If you want to help us save countless generations of women and girls, join us!

The next Clit Rock event will take place on Friday April 4th 2014
Bands, DJs, Artists, Speakers, Visionaries.
Underbelly, Hoxton, London
£5 Entry

Don’t forget your dancing shoes, oh yes there will be dancing at this revolution! See you there… #EndFGM

If you would like more information about the reality of FGM in the UK please see Leyla’s Channel 4 documentary The Cruel Cut.

Dana Jade is a musician, writer and founder of Clit Rock. Follow Clit Rock @CLIT_ROCK

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Feminist Toolkit: How to make a Citizen’s Arrest

Last week Twiggy Garcia was working in a trendy Shoreditch restaurant when he realised Tony Blair was holding court in the private dining area. Seeing a once in a lifetime opportunity Twiggy acted out a citizen’s arrest by placing his hand on Blair’s shoulder and saying:

“Mr Blair, this is a citizen’s arrest for a crime against peace, namely your decision to launch an unprovoked war against Iraq. I am inviting you to accompany me to a police station to answer the charge.

Blair’s response was to talk about Syria and Twiggy, upon realising the plain clothes security were about to feel his collar, legged it from the restaurant leaving Tony, and his job, behind. He is the fifth person to try and arrest Blair and the fifth person to fail, but you have to admire his pluckiness.

We can imagine all kinds of situations where we might want to place someone under citizen’s arrest, and not just alleged war criminals, so we went to top barrister and feminist Julian Norman to get an indispensable guide on how to take justice into your own hands. Turns out you probably shouldn’t.

How to make a citizen’s arrest.

The first rule of citizen’s arrest is of course don’t do it. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t know how. Daydreaming of grabbing a tube-train groper and arresting him to the admiring cheers of your fellow commuters can be very satisfying. So here is your toolkit guide to a technically accurate daydream.

# 1: Don’t do it
Why not? Before we get started on how you would if you could, really, it’s a bad idea. People who have tried it tend to get arrested themselves for assault and false imprisonment. And even when they are acquitted, they had to go through that telephone call to their boss / their mum / their spouse explaining that they were in police custody. So keep this for revenge-based daydreams and absolute genuine emergencies.

#2: When to do it
The rules on citizen’s arrest are covered by s.24A of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which lets a person “other than a constable” arrest anyone who is in the act of committing an indictable offence or anyone whom she reasonably suspects of committing an indictable offence. Where that offence has already been committed, she can arrest anyone who is guilty or anyone whom she reasonably suspects is guilty of it.

So what’s the catch? Well, first, be sure your offence is “indictable” – that is, could be heard at a Crown Court. Some less serious offences can only be heard by magistrates (“summary only offences”) and these include most driving offences such as speeding, common assault, and some public order offences. If our heroine tries to arrest someone who’s been abusive and slapped her, she’ll be the one arrested, because she didn’t have the power to conduct a citizen’s arrest. See Rule One.

Let’s assume though that we have a more serious offence. Back to Mr. Gropey – she’s just seen him grab a stranger’s crotch, and there is no way it was consensual. Sexual assault is an indictable offence. The next obstacle is that arresting him must be necessary in order to stop him from causing physical injury to himself or another person, suffering physical injury, causing loss of or damage to property or making off before a constable can assume responsibility for him, AND it is not reasonably practicable for a constable to make the arrest instead. Could she call the police to meet the train at the next stop rather than arrest him? If so, it is reasonably practicable for a constable to make the arrest and she should not do it. However, if he is about to be set upon by a dozen angry bystanders and there is no constable in view, then she could perform a citizen’s arrest as being necessary to stop him from suffering physical injury.

#3: How to do it
Disappointingly, there is no set form of words for the person performing the citizen’s arrest. However, she must inform the person she is arresting of what she is doing, why she is doing it and what offence she believes the other person has committed.

She is allowed to use ‘reasonable force.’ What is reasonable will depend on the circumstances, but as a general rule you are allowed to defend yourself but not to attack. If Mr Gropey responds to the citizen’s arrest by attempting to punch her, she is entitled to judo kick his legs out from under him and sit on his chest, but once he is restrained she can’t carry on. If he runs away she can use ‘reasonable’ force to detain him but this must not turn into anything the court could construe as an assault.

Once he is arrested, she can ask him to accompany her to the police station or she can call the police to come and get him.

#4: Really, don’t do it.
Citizen’s arrest is a bit outdated these days. It’s the same power that PCSOs have, you need a thorough knowledge of criminal law so as to be sure whether your offence is indictable or not, plus it’s risky both in terms of annoying a potentially dangerous criminal and in terms of getting yourself arrested accidentally. In the age of the iThing, it’s safer just to video an offence taking place if you see it and hand the footage to the police (assuming that the offence couldn’t have been prevented, obviously, don’t just sit there and watch if you could stop it without risk to yourself), or place the offender in the Youtube stocks, like Racist Croydon Tram Woman.

#5: Checklist

  1. Is someone in the act of committing an offence?
  2. Or, has the offence already been committed and do I know (or reasonably suspect) someone to be guilty of it?
  3. Is the offence indictable?
  4. Could a constable practicably do this instead?
  5. Do I have to arrest the suspect to stop them hurting me, themselves, anyone else, or being hurt, or damaging property, or running away?

If the answer to these is ‘yes’ then you can perform a citizen’s arrest. If it’s ‘no’ or ‘I’m not sure,’ then don’t.

Julian Norman is a barrister, professional law nerd, feminist and writer. Follow her @londonfeminist

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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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A 2014 resolution: Adopt a feminist

My New Year’s resolution is to adopt a feminist. A new feminist, someone who hasn’t been a feminist for very long and is not quite sure what they’re doing but has buckets of enthusiasm. Why am I doing this? Well because we, as a movement, don’t really look after new feminists.

How New Feminists Are Born

The tradition for women of my generation has been to discover feminism at a young age; late-teens or early-twenties. By that point, most women will have either met another feminist or have read an article about women’s rights/arse-clenching sexism and have decided “yes, this is for me!” Since then, the internet has completely change the way men and women discover feminism. It’s possible to build an entire digital world for yourself without ever meeting another feminist. Which is great.

But! The problem with discovering feminism online is that everything is documented and if you make a mistake it’s there for everyone to see. When I became a feminist, at the age of 19, I often used the phrase “slag off”. It’s a phrased used a lot in Newcastle and generally just means to deride someone. It wasn’t until a friend quietly took me aside and pointed out that “slag” still sits with “slut” as a word used against women that I realised I should try and phase it out. All this was relatively pain free but if I used the phrase now, on Twitter or on a messageboard, there are a lot of feminists out there more than happy to police me on it.

Which comes to the crux of my point: every feminist gets it wrong a bunch of times before they get it right. We use the wrong words, we make dismissive judgements, we haven’t read the right literature, we are human beings. Now the internet makes it possible for women of all ages, from all backgrounds, to discover feminism, but it also leaves us vulnerable and us lot, as established feminists, need to support new feminists.

The Pressure To Be The Know-It-All Everyone Expects You To Be

When you become a feminist, everyone expects you to know everything about the movement – from its history, through every wave and into the current day academic jargon. And even if they don’t expect you to know that, you still feel like you have to rep for feminism 24/7. I remember one delightful guy who cornered me and demanded to know if I’d read all of Andrea Dworkin and did I agree with her? I had no idea who Dworkin was; I hadn’t even (and still haven’t) read Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch. Andrea Dworkin sounded like a feminist pseudonym for Angela Lansbury and I liked Bedknobs and Broomsticks so I said yes and didn’t realise what I’d agreed to until the next day.

People generally still assume that the word “feminist” is antagonistic, that you’re up for a wide ranging debate about the latent colonialism of westerners becoming involved in the anti-female genital mutilation movement. We’ve all been there, so why do we forget that other people have this experience as well? As a newcomer to feminism on the internet, women are constantly challenged by other feminists about topics that they are not familiar with. Oh, you like this Glosswitch article? So you believe that queer women are deliberately trying to derail the No More Page 3 campaign?!? And so on…

So Why Adopt A Feminist?

It’s not enough for us to tell people who are new to feminism that they don’t have to know it all and feminism is really fun and awesome and yay! We need to have their backs when they make simple mistakes and we need to recognise these mistakes when they are made. There is a world of difference between a prominent white feminist making bigoted comments about transgender people in a national newspaper, and someone who’s new to feminism not knowing that it’s better to use the word “woman” instead of “female”.

We need to support new feminists and help them find their place in the movement, recommend things for them to read, and stop jumping down each other’s throats if we see someone making a mistake. If you spend much time on Twitter or in The Guardian’s comments section then it’s easy to feel like it’s better to keep quiet, rather than risk incurring the wrath of other feminists who’ve read sinister intent into the fact that you don’t know the word for intersectionality or that “tranny” is offensive.

Feminism should not be a series of islands with new feminists floundering between; we need to actively support new recruits, rather than just paying lip service and then hopping on Twitter to police someone’s use of the word “female”. With the recent conviction of John Nimmo and Isabella Sorely (convicted for threatening Caroline Criado-Perez via Twitter), it’s clear that there are more than enough people waiting to shoot us down; let’s not do it to each other. It’s a new year and we can afford to extend a little more help and support to new feminists.

Beulah Maud Devaney is a freelance writer living in Amsterdam. She is the Features Editor at For Books’ Sake and regularly contributes to The Guardian, The Huffington Post and The 405. Follow her @TheNotoriousBMD.

Image courtesy of Claudio Matsuoka

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New Year, New You? Face 2014 with Fatitude

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: gaelx

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Feminist Events Listings: January 2014

Verity FlecknellWelcome to my feminist event highlight blog for Feminist Times. Storm in a Teacup are thrilled to be highlighting all the best feminist events from London and beyond.

Whether you are an armchair activist or a full time activist, into your international politics, or personal politics, feminist artist, or radical feminist – there are just so many events happening up and down the country – there is bound to be something to tickle your fancy/get your teeth into.

Arguably there are more feminist events popping up more than ever and so many opportunities for you to get involved, meet like minded people, share skills and be a part of the movement.

We will be bringing you highlights of some of the feminist events not to be missed in January.

Verity Flecknell, Storm in a Teacup

NATIONAL

6th of January || The History of Radical Women in Greater Manchester at Aquinas College, Stockport.

This 10 Week course,  beginning on the 6th of January is an introduction to the history of radical women’s movements in Greater Manchester. This area was at the centre of the social, economic and industrial upheavals of the Industrial Revolution, which gave rise to radical political movements. The course will look at women’s role in movements and events such as Peterloo, the Luddites, Owenite Co-operation, Chartism and Votes for Women and will also include three walks in Manchester city centre.The course is being tutored by Michael Herbert.

For more information please contact Sheila Lahan at Aquinas College, telephone 0161 419 9163, email : Sheila@aquinas.ac.uk.

 

17 January  || Policy & Parliamentary Training, Sheffield.

Does your organisation want to make its voice heard in the policy making process? Does your organisation want to influence decision makers but have no idea how? Are you a community group that wants to lobby your local MP Voice4Change are holding a one day policy and parliamentary training session in partnership with the Parliamentary Outreach Service. The session is aimed at BME voluntary sector organisations who have little or no experience of lobbying or policy activity. This course will cover; Parliament, the policy making process and how to get your voice hear and how to plan your lobbying or policy work.

MORE INFO: www.voice4change-england.co.uk

 

 

LONDON

8 January || 1 Billion Rising for Justice @ Southbank Centre.

Looking at the state of female justice in the UK hosted by Jude Kelly (artistic director of the Southbank) Featuring: Sophie Barton-Hawkins (Poet and former prisoner), Marissa Begonia (Justice for Domestic Workers), Stella Creasy (Labour MP), Helena Kennedy (Baroness, Barrister, House of Lords) Rahela Sidiqi (Women for Refugee Women), Eve Ensler (V-Day Founder).

Free Admission. 7.30pm. This event will be live-streamed.

RSVP: monique@vday.org or rossana@onebillionrising.org

 

14 January || NUS National Summit on Confronting Lad Culture in Higher Education at London South Bank University.

Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, is confirmed as one of the keynote speakers and other participants include Lucy Holmes, founder of the No More Page 3 campaign. The agenda will feature workshops and plenaries from a diverse array of organisations dealing with issues related to ‘lad culture’ and will feature an opportunity to shape the direction of a national strategy to respond to ‘lad culture’ in higher education. From 10am -5pm. Students Union Delegate: £25, Sector Delegate: £50.00

MORE INFO:http://www.nusconnect.org.uk/ents/event/896/

 

16 January – 22 February || Blurred Lines @ The Shed Theatre, London.

A play created and devised by Carrie Cracknell and Nick Payne. A blistering journey through the minefield of contemporary gender politics. With songs. Nick Payne’s plays include Constellations, Wanderlust (Royal Court) and The Same Deep Water As Me (Donmar Warehouse). Carrie Cracknell is Associate Director at the Royal Court Theatre. She was previously Artistic Director of the Gate. Recent work includes A Doll’s House (Young Vic and West End) and Wozzeck (ENO).

MORE INFO: http://theshed.nationaltheatre.org.uk/events/blurred-lines#.UsV4cfRdVth

 

25th January || London 70’s sisters, The Feminist Library. 

Feminists who were active in the 60s, 70s & 80s are invited to an afternoon of connecting with other feminists and  joining in discussion around themes of ageing, ageism,  and activism, as well as offering the chance to form new ongoing  groups if you would like to. Women from outside London welcome. 2pm to 5:30pm. Tel: 020 7261 0879

MORE INFO: http://feministlibrary.co.uk/

 

Verity Flecknell is founder of Storm in a Teacup, a London based feminist arts collective set up in 2009 with the aim of promoting women in the arts. In 2010 Storm in a Teacup helped organise Ladyfest Ten festival, in 2011 were part of the first ever Women of the World festival at the Southbank and in 2012 joined forces with Girls Get Busy zine and Not So Popular to form Lets Start a Pussy Riot collective. In June this year, Rough Trade Records published “Lets Start a Pussy Riot” book, a collection of artistic responses created in collaboration with Pussy Riot. Storm in a Teacup also publishes monthly feminist event listings happening around London.

Please visit Storm in a Teacup’s blog for full feminist event listings for January.

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Reflections on Greenham, 11 December 1983

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Featured image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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

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

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

If you enjoyed this article and want to meet other feminists like, and unlike, yourself, join Feminist Times as a Member. Join us and support the building of an incredible feminist organisation and resources like this website.

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Get off that wrecking ball and get yourself a Wrecking Bar

The Sisters of Perpetual Resistance are a unified group of militant feminists who have their headquarters in my studio down a side street in Southwark.

I make them riot slut chairs to celebrate young women activists…twisted and broken in form but colourful strong and defiant.

I make them marching banners that suffice when all poetry has left me but more often I make objects of quiet nuisance.

I read somewhere the suffragist women concealed hammers in their giant fur muffs and bought them out to smash the windows along Piccadilly and Regent Street in their Votes for Women campaign.

I was smitten with that image for some time so I made the Sisters glass hammers, emu eggs filled with gold paint and gilded London bricks in 23 carat gold for joyous throwing and sewed big faux fur muffs with secret pockets for concealment of contraband and tools. The power is in the potential.

I considered the image of a glamorous Hollywood filmstar opening the black velvet lined box at Xmas. Inside she finds not the expected diamond necklace but something so much more useful. A lipstick red wrecking bar.

Woohooo..Wreck the Halls!

Miss Pokeno and The Sisters of Perpetual Resistance have an exhibition at 1 Doyce Street London SE1 until Friday 13th December. After that the resistance continues at www.misspokeno.com

Get your hands on a Wrecking Bar worth £30 as part of the Feminist Times Christmas Raffle!

If you enjoyed this article and want to meet other feminists like, and unlike, yourself, join Feminist Times as a Member. Join us and support the building of an incredible feminist organisation and resources like this website.

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Inspire: ‘Let’s Start a Pussy Riot!’

I sat down with some of the team behind Let’s Start A Pussy Riot, published by Rough Trade earlier this year. The book is a collection of artistic responses to the phenomenal Pussy Riot, created to raise money and awareness for the women facing imprisonment.

Before I was involved with Feminist Times, Verity, Jade, Beth and Emy – the women behind this project – asked my choir Gaggle to contribute to the book, alongside some incredible artists including: Judy Chicago, Antony Hegarty, Bianca Casady, Sarah Lucas, Kim Gordon, Lucky Dragons, Billy Childish, Jeffrey Lewis. They launched the book at Yoko Ono’s Meltdown, with members of Pussy Riot secretly flown in to speak at the Southbank Centre.

When I joined Feminist Times I wanted to come back to them to discuss the passions that inspired the project, the challenges they faced and how others can follow their lead. This is the first in a series where we interview groups of women who have come together and realised ambitious feminist projects. All in their own words.

If you would like us to interview your group let us know on editorial@feministtimes.com

Feminist Times: HOW DID YOU GUYS COME TOGETHER?

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Emy (25): In Spring 2012, shortly after the women [Pussy Riot] got arrested, I approached three London-based feminist collectives to organise a fundraiser. Within 1½ weeks we organised a mini festival in London, including performances by 11 bands.

 

 

Screen Shot 2013-11-15 at 15.35.56

 

Jade (22): It was in March last year: Storm in a Tea Cup, Girls get Busy and Not So Popular. Bands, performance art…. we took over a pub…

 

 

 

Verity Flecknell

 

Verity (30): We ran a balaclava workshop, Viv Albertine from The Slits was headlining.

 

 

 

 

 

Jade: Who was the performance artists who used fish? We had to rejig Viv, our headliner, because the artist before rubbed herself all over in fish and the stage was covered.

Verity: I had to go round with air freshener for ages before we could put Viv on.

Jade: Me and Emy were involved in Not So Popular, which we started as more of a socialist group where we want people to get involved in the arts who might not normally get a chance too, especially due to these cuts.

Verity: SIATC has been around since 2009; we helped organise Ladyfest 2010 and have taken part in WOW. We all had different skills, networks and contacts. Bringing us all together gave quite a wide range of different scenes – that’s why it worked so well.

Jade: We wanted to continue raising money. I think we raised £400 and we wanted a more regular way of giving money.

Emy: We started Let’s Start A Pussy Riot as a call to action, to respond creatively to the case and its surrounding topics around the time when the trials began. We wanted to engage the public in a creative dialogue, away from the mere consuming of news.

Jade: So every month we were going to do a different feminist zine. We started contacting artists and suddenly we had people like Judy Chicago, Billy Childish and Yoko Ono so we thought maybe we should just make a book. Seemed quite logical. We approached Rough Trade who loved the idea and had a lot of faith in us and gave us a lot of freedom to make the book we wanted to. And yeah, suddenly we had a book! I say suddenly but it was actually a lot of work. Don’t really know how we got here.

Verity: We’d never published a book before and we all come from a grassroots perspective so there were a lot of challenges. But people were very receptive because no one else was getting up and doing stuff like this in London.

Jade: It gave people a chance to respond in their own way. It’s not prescriptively Pussy Riot, it’s about the themes they embody. It asks people who are already on the scene to look at Pussy Riot, and how they exploded on to it, and respond to it.

Verity: Everyone wanted to have their say and support them; lots of artists wanted to show their support.

Feminist Times: HOW DID YOU PICK THEM?

Verity: We all had a knowledge of different scenes – for me it was the LGBT perspective and also I’ve got a lot of experience working in the folk world so I brought in people like Peggy Seagar. I’m really proud of the project because it’s intergenerational – we have all different ages, and movements and perspectives.

Jade: We tried to be as inclusive as possible. For me intersectionality exists and it’s important for feminism. We wanted to create a dialogue so each piece is almost in correspondence with each other.

Feminist Times: HOW DO YOU MAKE SURE YOU ARE INCLUSIVE?

Jade: One reason we’re doing university talks and going out there ourselves is because you can make one standalone piece that won’t include everybody but once you’re outside of that you can think, ‘ok who didn’t we get in touch with?’ and address those issues.

Verity: There’s a lot of action in universities and to keep this momentum we want to get in there.

Jade: That’s why its called Let’s Start a Pussy Riot. We want people to be inspired to make their own actions.

Feminist Times: WHAT KIND OF CRITICISM HAVE YOU FACED?

Jade: One of the things we’ve found is that people don’t know it’s a grassroots production. I think sometimes they might expect it to be much more polished, so the NME kept comparing it to high-class art and coffee table books. In one way we took from that aesthetic.

Verity: Rough Trade marketed it as ‘look at all these amazing people’ but there wasn’t much about the background.

Jade: Which is that it’s grassroots. I’ve never edited a book before. To be honest, I think I’m heavily critical of it – it could always be better. Maybe we should have put it at the top of the press release – three grassroots people did this!

Verity: Also I think some of the high profile artists work was critiqued as being rushed and that people hadn’t spent enough time on it, but we wanted it to be reactionary. It didn’t matter to us if it only took ten minutes, it’s about the message.

Jade: We also had pieces of work donated to us – Sarah Lucas, Yoko Ono – work that’s re-contextualised in this book, so Yoko’s lyrics take on another meaning.

Feminist Times: WHAT MADE U FEEL CONFIDENT TO LEAD PROJECTS LIKE THIS?

Jade: I’m precocious. From the age of 16 I’ve been involved in different things. In Manchester I used to run something called Same Teens, putting on gigs for young kids. I get bored so easily. I don’t like spare time.

Verity: I want there to be more female role models in the alternative scene. I’m a musician but I’ve put that aside because I care about inspiring change and being a role model. It’s all good sitting there and moaning about stuff but I think it’s way more difficult to go out and do something about it. It’s hard taking that first step and that’s what I find empowering about DIY activism. That’s how I got my foot in the door, putting on this Ladyfest, and I realised that I can put on these events. It’s having that confidence, and in order to have that confidence you need to have people around you to support your work.

Feminist Times: IS THAT EASIER IN LONDON?

Jade: One of the things that annoys me is that things are quite London-centric – coming from Manchester, which is a big city but still there’s parts that are pretty disenfranchised. Elsewhere up north, Newcastle had 100% of its arts funding cut. The current government’s focus is on bringing an international eye on the biggest city we have. But that’s where you get more artists coming out of the framework; though I don’t agree struggling makes you a better artist, it does make you pissed off and want to do something about it.

Verity: I think a lot of people when they first start out expect someone to magically give you funding, but you need to get out there and find all this funding. I want to inspire people to find other ways to make the culture that’s missing in their lives. It’s not easy, but sometimes it is just as simple as getting up and doing it yourself. It’s easier with the internet. I built up my audience on Facebook. You can find your people on the internet. Doesn’t matter where you are.

Feminist Times: WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU TO MAKE YOU WANT TO CHANGE THE WORLD?

Jade: Manchester. Grey. The Smiths! Joke. I don’t know what it is, but I just get so annoyed and internalise it and then go, ‘right then let’s put on an event.’ Pussy Riot made me a lot more politically engaged. Things I thought of peripherally have become a lot more important to me – seeing people like that make a stand. That’s why the internet’s good because you can see people like that making a stand and it inspires people.

Feminist Times: WHY PUSSY RIOT AND WHO ARE YOUR ROLE MODELS?

Verity: I don’t think there was one particular role model. I think it was more my peers, finding that support group. I felt so alone as an artist floating into nothing because I didn’t quite fit into any particular scene so that’s where me and my friend Elizabeth started SIATC. I didn’t call it a feminist collective until two years in. I called it a ‘female arts collective’ and then it was obvious that it was feminist, and Pussy Riot made me more hardcore in my feminist activism.

Emy: Their bravery is truly inspiring. Their performance marks a very important generational moment, kickstarting the dialogue about feminism, freedom of speech, LGBTQ rights, power of collaboration again. When I was younger I listened a lot to Sleater Kinney and bands like that but was too young and detached to understand the Riot grrrl movement.

Feminist Times: ADVICE TO OTHERS WHO WANT TO TAKE THE FIRST STEPS ON A PROJECT LIKE THIS?

Jade: Well, you can. For one don’t be daunted. Don’t be daunted by failure because failure only makes the next thing better. If you haven’t got money obviously it’s a tough one but all the stuff I’ve done has been begging for a free venue, charge a quid on the door, which covers a few costs, and ask people to do some stuff for free. Most people oblige because people are great.

Verity: Start with baby steps. You don’t have to have any capital to start, and use the skills of your friends, pull your skills together. You don’t realise the networks you have until you start reaching out. Lot of people don’t have the confidence to ask or take that step but reaching out is the first step.

Feminist Times: HOW WELL DID YOU WORK TOGETHER?

Jade: With everything there’s highs and lows. It was very stressful doing the project.

Verity: We all had other things we were doing. I’ve got a full time job, Jade was on her third year of her degree, Emy was doing her masters.

Emy: The balance between my one year full-time masters and the project was very challenging, for sure. But to be honest, to see how many incredible people stand behind this has helped me forget about the difficulties. The beautiful bunch who has been involved in this project, who have donated labour and put their heart into it, have really made it much easier. It was very moving to realise that there are people who still make projects like this possible, who stand up for what they believe in.

Jade: The fact we’re sitting in this room now is testament that you bicker and it’s over. You’ll be like, “why you using that font? That’s a shit font”, and then you realise maybe that wasn’t the right choice and those things that seem big at the time aren’t.

Verity: We always kept our focus on the bigger picture and that’s the most important thing – don’t get stressed about the small stuff. You’re always going to have to work through these things, you’re not going to always agree in a collective.

Jade: You’ve got to have a thick skin. If you’re going to become really upset because someone doesn’t like your idea for the front cover it’s not going to work.

Verity: There is a lot of passion so of course there’s fire.

Jade: I’m just so proud of everyone involved.

Feminist Times: FAINTHEARTED ACTIVISM HAS BEEN ONE OF OUR MOST POPULAR ARTICLES. WHAT CAN A FAINTHEARTED ACTIVIST DO?

Jade: Well, Pussy Riot took that action and we made a book instead. We didn’t go and stand outside Westminster.

Verity: You have to find your strengths. I have to tell myself every day that I can’t bloody save the world, I can’t solve everyone’s problems. You’ve got to honor yourself and do what you can within your means.

Jade: Anything you do in the day can be an action. If you didn’t shave your legs today – I really do believe that is an action. Or if you’ve never publicly spoken and you’re really terrified, if you take the step and publicly speak then you’re empowering yourself and there’s a lot to say for small actions everyday. And they’re not acknowledged and you won’t be on the front page of the news, but if you feel a bit better about being a woman then there’s no harm. Don’t compare yourself to Pussy Riot. They chose that action because it almost chose them. Also in this country we have a very bad response to public protest. Why would you go and protest when the Iraq war happened, when the student fees were raised, when the cuts were made? Why would you take to the streets because people don’t seem to listen. We made a book and that’s how we chose to enter the conversation.

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SIATC logo

Feminist Events Listings: December 2013

Verity FlecknellWelcome to my feminist event highlight blog for Feminist Times. Storm in a Teacup are thrilled to be highlighting all the best feminist events from London and beyond.

Whether you are an armchair activist or a full time activist, into your international politics, or personal politics, feminist artist, or radical feminist – there are just so many events happening up and down the country – there is bound to be something to tickle your fancy/get your teeth into.

Arguably there are more feminist events popping up more than ever and so many opportunities for you to get involved, meet like minded people, share skills and be a part of the movement.

We will be bringing you highlights of some of the feminist events not to be missed in December.

Verity Flecknell, Storm in a Teacup

NATIONAL

16 Days of Action Against Gender Violence | 25 November – 10 December

The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence is an international campaign originating from the first Women’s Global Leadership Institute conference sponsored by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership in 1991. Every year from the 25th of November, UN’s International Day of the Elimination of Violence against Women until the 10th of December, Human Rights Day -thousands of organisations from across the globe organise events and campaigns to raise awareness about gender-based violence as a human rights issue at a local, national, regional and international level. Over 2,000 organizations in approximately 156 countries have participated in the 16 Days Campaign since 1991. This year’s theme is “Let’s challenge militarism and end violence against women”. There are lots of ways to get involved whether you want to go along to a local event or raise awareness within your own networks –Amnesty International have some great resources and activist toolkit available on their website. There are lots of events happening locally across the country.   Please see below a list of events for 16 Days – coming up in December. For a full Calendar of Events please visit Womensgrid

Dundee

Edinburgh

Fife

Ireland

Liverpool

Leeds (Otley)

London (Kensington & Chelsea)

Manchester

Norfolk

Perth

Wales

LONDON

NOT FOR SALE: Fighting Sexism in Advertising and Toys at The Feminist Library || 2 December

Both the advertising and toy industries are powerful tools in the subjugation of women and shaping ideas of femininity. The former spreads the lies that women are inferior objects and commodities to be consumed, while the latter indoctrinates girls to accept roles of passivity and submission. What can be done to resist that? The Feminist Library is hosting an event with members of the French feminist collective CCP (Collectif Contre le Publisexisme – the Collective Against Sexism Through Advertising), which, since 2001, has fought against sexism in advertising and toys using a variety of tactics. The collective prioritises direct action (with sit-ins in department stores and sticker bombing poster ads, among others), and have produced two books of theory and research to back their actions. 6.30pm onwards.

FACEBOOK EVENT: https://www.facebook.com/events/596284507093456/

TEDx Whitehall Women at BAFTA, London || 6 December

TEDx Whitehall Women is in its second year and this year explores the theme ‘Invented Here’ where speakers will be invited to explore how women and girls are reshaping the future. TEDx features a programme of talks from women who are innovating in business, social enterprise and government; and women who have reinvented themselves or their organisations. Participants will come away with ideas, inspiration and connections to help them in their personal and professional lives. In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. This year speakers include Carla Buzasi, Editor-in-Chief, Huffington Post UK, Stella Creasy MP, Labour and Co-operative Member of Parliament for Walthamstow. Elizabeth Linder, Politics & Government Specialist, Facebook and Belinda Palmer, CEO, Lady Geek.

MORE INFO: http://www.tedxwhitehallwomen.com

Feminist Review Annual Panel: Women in the Media at The Gender Institute, LSE || 10 December

The Gender Institute at London School of Economics co-hosts the Feminist Review annual panel discussion. This year’s panel will interregate current representations of feminism in the media and share suggestions about avenues of intervention. Speakers include Natalie Hanman, editor of Comment is Free at theguardian.com, Lola Okolosie a writer, teacher and prominent member of Black Feminists and Tracey Reynolds who is a reader in social and policy research at London South Bank University.

MORE INFO: http://www.lse.ac.uk/publicEvents/events/2013/12/20131210t1830vSZT.aspx

The Feminist Review has also announced its call for papers on ‘The Politics of Austerity’: “The financial and economic crises of the last four years, together with an ascendance of conservative politics, have had far-reaching material and discursive consequences in regards to deepening social and economic inequalities. As capitalism seeks to reinvent itself in order to survive a crisis of its own making, austerity politics exacerbate divides of class, gender, race, ethnicity and disability at local, regional and global levels. In this special themed issue, we invite contributions that will provide new feminist analyses of the origins, modalities and effects of this contemporary economic, political and social crisis.”

PDF DOC: Please read the full Call for Papers [PDF,22KB] for details on suggested submission topics.

DEADLINE: 15 December 2013.

MORE INFO: http://www.feminist-review.com/

Feminist Times Anti-Consumerist Christmas Service at Conway Hall || 13 December

Join us for feminist Christmas carols, an anti-consumerist Santa and guest speakers giving anti-capitalist ‘sermons’. Details available on our Facebook page.

Free to all Feminist Times members and Founder Members but RSVP is essential. Email events@feministtimes.com to confirm your attendance. Tickets are available for non-members to purchase in advance from Eventbrite.

Verity Flecknell is founder of Storm in a Teacup, a London based feminist arts collective set up in 2009 with the aim of promoting women in the arts. In 2010 Storm in a Teacup helped organise Ladyfest Ten festival, in 2011 were part of the first ever Women of the World festival at the Southbank and in 2012 joined forces with Girls Get Busy zine and Not So Popular to form Lets Start a Pussy Riot collective. In June this year, Rough Trade Records published “Lets Start a Pussy Riot” book, a collection of artistic responses created in collaboration with Pussy Riot. Storm in a Teacup also publishes monthly feminist event listings happening around London.

Please visit Storm in a Teacup’s blog for full feminist event listings for December.

If you enjoyed this article and want to meet other feminists like, and unlike, yourself, join Feminist Times as a Member. Join us and support the building of an incredible feminist organisation and resources like this website.

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Charlotte Raven

The Face of Pussy Riot

‘Selfie’ has become this year’s word. I’m not surprised although I’ve never taken one, apart from when I was having my foot stitched in A&E recently. I felt moved to parody the sun lounger selfie – a sub genre where female holiday makers photograph their tanned legs with the sea in the backgrounds. The picture of my white hairy legs and frankenstin foot doesn‘t feature in the Google images if you search for sun lounger selfies, suprisingly.

Selfie journalism is all the rage too. My most successful (in terms of money and exposure) recent pieces were selfies – one about Huntington’s Disease and the other about stress. I have already written about my depresson, my cats and my children. How did this happen?! In my youth I wanted to be liked and never thought that I’d reveal so much biographical detail – it happened slowly, so I never realised what was happening until it was too late.

The media has changed dramatically in the past few years. When I started out in journalism commissioning editors seldom demanded a personal angle. I was a cultural critic when it was still fashionable and penned stern third person pieces about New Labour’s narcissism, usually managing to work something in about the on-screen lives of Big Brother contestants but very little about mine. It didn’t seem relevant.

It’s easy to write selfies – but hard to live with the lurking suspicion that you are becoming Liz Jones.

It’s impossible to make a living in journalism these days unless you’re prepared to tell all about your personal life, especially for a woman. I recently pitched a cultural piece about the journalistic cult of personality with no personal angle to a number of different editors and never heard back.

It isn’t just journalism; we seem to need a face behind everything. Political and charitable campaigns don’t work unless there’s an identifiable person to relate to. But the cult of personality has reduced cultural life to tittle tattle. Journalism is now all about the who, not the what, where or why.

In this climate, the anonymous female punk band Pussy Riot were a powerful challenge. One hard to spell philosopher said: “The message of their balaclavas is that it doesn’t matter which of them are arrested — they’re not individuals, they’re an Idea. And this is why they are such a threat: it is easy to imprison individuals, but try to imprison an Idea!’

Unlike One Direction, we knew nothing about Pussy Riot’s back story – how their mothers or old school friends felt about their performances, or what they wanted to be when they grew up. They gave 110 per cent in their performance in Red Square, but didn’t use their global prominence to enhance their personal brand. Their individual quirks were subsumed in the idea of Pussy Riot – there was no ‘sporty’ one or ‘leary’ one.

Like many others, I was obsessed with the idea of Pussy Riot, while secretly hoping that they would be as gorgeous as it. I kept reminding myself that Pussy Riot were part of a movement that included Occupy and the Anonymous Collective of internet hackers who were choosing to obscure their identity – a radical decision in the age of the selfie .

The anonymity afforded by cyberspace has always been portrayed as a bad thing. But it’s not just the bad guys who need to hide behind false names. As well providing a cloak for ‘trolls’, anonymity has also allowed internet hacktivists to campaign with a unique new power against a variety of social ills.

The targets of the Anonymous Collective were surprisingly diverse. I thought they’d be fighting efforts to ban internet piracy, not campaigning against the Church of Scientology and child pornography. Their slogan is: “We are anonymous. We are legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us.”

According to an article in the Baltimore City paper, “Anonymous (used as a mass noun) is the first internet based super-consciousness. A group in the sense that a flock of birds is a group.” In other words, they act anonymously in a co-ordinated manner towards an agreed goal. It also presents itself as the collective conscience of the internet. One picture relating to the anti-child pornography campaign shows Guy Fawkes holding up a picture of a teddy bear with the slogan: “Don’t fear, the internet is here.”

Anonymous are against notions of creative ownership and in favour of piracy. They argue that copyrights should expire after five years, which would effectively mean the internet was a massive digital library. This demand strikes us as unnatural. We have everything invested in the myth of individual artistry, rather than a collective creative consciousness.

Some artists have responded enthusiastically to Anonymous’ call to freely share their output instead of making money for themselves. You can download all Pussy Riot’s recordings for nothing, if you want to.

Then something strange happened. During the trail, the members of Pussy Riot were humanised. It looks as if it happened naturally – as if our natural desire to find out everything about them was met by a surge of information in every media platform. Soon, I knew Nadya and Masha better than my school friends. Their childhood ambitions were filled in and Nadya’s child was held aloft outside the courtroom. Their parents were featured in the Pussy Riot documentary. There was a leary one and a posh one. I blamed media for personalising the Pussy Riot story, until I read this piece by Maria Chehonadskih in Radical Philosophy:

“The Pussy Riot balaclavas are not the Guy Fawkes masks of people crowded in the square in V for Vendetta. The thousands of protesters do not fit the narrative of lonely heroes, but the old Soviet dissident logic recognises only ‘personality’ in the revolt against the authorities. As a result, the faces and personal stories of the members of Pussy Riot have become of central importance. A humanization of the victims on trial passed through a self-promoted [my italics] media campaign, which made public their way of life (ascetic, selfless devotion), personal life (parents, babies, husbands) and other biographical details.”

In one interview Nadya reveals that she wanted to go into advertising. I wasn’t surprised. She has constructed a wonderful, PR narrative about herioc individuals battling against authority. And she is stunningly beautiful, fortunately,

A personality cult is growing around Nadya. She is now referred to as the [open quotes] leader [close quotes] of Pussy Riot. I wonder how the other members feel about this. Her open letter in the Guardian about the terrifying reality of penal servitude is compeling. We are hanging on her every word. Is that healthy? We are all in love with her – she is more heard than any female public figures.

The dark side of the Pussy Riot multitude is an extreme individualism, manifest in the gesture of the removed balaclavas, behind which a unique ‘Russianness’ appears: first, the face of the leader, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova; second, dissident moralism, spirituality and asceticism – the brand identity of Russian revolutionaries since the populist movement of the nineteenth century.

What about the sixteen non-media-savvy anti-Putin protestors who are languishing in jail as I write? Anonmyity is being thrust upon them. With no brand identity, they have no leverage. How many letters are they getting? How many namechecks by globally famous pop stars, how many offers of flirty email dialogues with noteable philosphers?

The unmasking of Pussy Riot was part of the performance. By contrast, Anonymous kept their cover when I encountered him/her in real life at the Occupy protest at St Paul’s. I had foolishly imagined the protesters would only put on their ‘V for Vendetta’ masks when the TV news cameras were watching, so I was surprised to see so many of them got up as Guy Fawkes while preparing their tea on a quiet Tuesday night. The political point – that they represent a massive constituency of normal second and third persons, the potato-peeling majority – was powerfully conveyed, so I was extremely embarrassed by my childish urge to pull their masks off. The culturally instilled mania for personal identification runs very deep, as we will see.

The big political battles of the future won’t be between left and right, but between the selifie and an anonymous other. Anonymity does pose a significant threat to individualism – it’s terrifying to contemplate what would remain of our identities if we allowed our egos to be subsumed in the idea of Anonymous. Writing with my Guy Fawkes mask on would be frightening but liberating. I wouldn’t make a bean, but the lack of a byline would definitely free me to experiment, like Pussy Riot did.

If you enjoyed this article and want to meet other feminists like, and unlike, yourself, join Feminist Times as a Member. Join us and support the building of an incredible feminist organisation and resources like this website.

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Older women in the northwest rally to save our NHS

“The NHS is one of the best things about this country and this government is going to ruin it,” says Sue Richardson, one of a growing number of women who have become active in campaigns to oppose the privatisation of the NHS. In her 60s and a publisher of local history pamphlets, she reflects the new intake into one of the most vibrant political campaign in this country, Keep Our National Health Service Public (KONP).

KONP was started in 2005 by Jacky Davis, radiologist, and John Lister of Health Emergency together with other health professionals to oppose the Labour government’s introduction of the private sector into the NHS. The umbrella organisation has over the last year galvanised opposition to the coalition government’s Health and Social Care Act 2013 which, Davis says: “has aggressively pushed privatisation and dismemberment of the service.”

Richardson lives in a village outside Bolton in Greater Manchester and decided to join KONP when her local hospital A&E was threatened with closure: “Both my late mother-in-law and husband were treated there and I was really suspicious about the bad publicity that came out about the hospital just before they announced the closure of the A&E.” Over the last year she has petitioned, attended meetings and demonstrations and become an active member of her local group.

For Terry Tallis, a social worker for forty years, her own experience has informed her political campaigning: “I have seen at first hand the effect that social and medical misfortune can have on people’s lives and why, today more than ever, we need our health and welfare services”.

Tallis is now chair of her local pressure group, Stockport NHS watch, and spends her time lobbying locally to raise issues about the ongoing privatisation of NHS services.

Both Richardson and Tallis attended a meeting in Manchester in February of this year when over one hundred activists gathered together to form the umbrella organisation, Greater Manchester KONP. Tallis says: “It was very reassuring to see so many people with the same values and objectives as us gathered together in a city such as Manchester, which has such an important labour history.”

Over the last year, Greater Manchester KONP has led the campaign in the northwest to publicise the massive changes being rolled out in local and national health services. The Save the Bolton A&E campaign has led to Richardson petitioning in her local village, as well as taking part in the massive TUC demo in Manchester last month. She says: “It has made me more politically aware and I have been impressed with the committment of the other people who are involved with the campaign.”

Tallis says she has been encouraged by the growth of KONP across the region: “The NHS is one of this country’s greatest achievements, it has been there for all of my life, and to see it being deliberated dismantled is horrifying. What was ours – is ours – is being stolen from us.  We must act to stop this theft.”

Bernadette Hyland is a freelance writer based in the Manchester area, writing about feminism, class and culture for theMorning Star, Big Issue in the North and the Guardian. Find out more at http://lipsticksocialist.wordpress.com

If you enjoyed this article and want to meet other feminists like, and unlike, yourself, join Feminist Times as a Member. Join us and support the building of an incredible feminist organisation and resources like this website.

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#16Days: A Tiny Protest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find out more and get involved yourself at www.tinyprotest.org

If you enjoyed this article and want to meet other feminists like, and unlike, yourself, join Feminist Times as a Member. Join us and support the building of an incredible feminist organisation and resources like this website.

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#ManWeek: Profile – White Ribbon Campaign

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you enjoyed this article and want to meet other feminists like, and unlike, yourself, join Feminist Times as a Member. Join us and support the building of an incredible feminist organisation and resources like this website.

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Space Invaders: Men in feminist spaces

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jessie Thompson is www.girlignited.com   Follow her here @jessiecath

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For further information about the project and our other publications, please contact: Ruth Lewis ruth.lewis@northumbria.ac.uk or Elizabeth Sharp sharp.eliz@gmail.com

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

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Meets and Tweets: 3D feminism, online and off

Last Wednesday we published Charlotte Raven’s weekly editorial, “Meets rather than tweets” – an adaptation of the speech she made at our launch party for Feminist Times members the previous Saturday night.

After publishing the article, we had a conversation in the Feminist Times office and I explained why I felt the focus should be on “meets and tweets”, rather than a choice of one or the other. Our editorial meetings have a tendency to feel like consciousness-raising groups and, at the end of our discussion, Charlotte asked me to write a response explaining my perspective.

I agree with much of what Charlotte writes about 3D feminism; about the pleasure of meeting so many members, and about the inspiration and ideas that were flying around at the party – I personally wanted to commission everyone on the spot, and several times throughout the evening, the editorial team excitedly fed back to each other the various ideas from a conversation we’d just had.

But the Feminist Times team – like any group of feminists – differs widely on our views and priorities, and where Charlotte and I differ on 3D feminism is over the significance of the internet. In her editorial she calls for a 3D feminism, where we “meet rather than tweet”. Ironically, I tweeted this phrase from the Feminist Times account during the party and it was one of our most retweeted messages of the night.

She writes: “I felt the same about digital feminism as I did about Comment is Free. It’ll never work – and it hasn’t really. It has changed a lot of small things like bank notes, but can’t change consciousness, the voice inside your head asking ‘am I pretty or ugly?’”

Charlotte grew up surrounded by 3D feminist activity, but as a digital feminist I have experienced firsthand the consciousness-raising power of forums like Twitter. For me, being online provided a gateway to feminism, and to challenging the voice inside my head, long before I knew any feminists in “real life.”

For many women of my generation, digital feminism has been incredibly powerful. First Tumblr, and later Twitter, demonstrated for the first time in my life that there were other women who felt like me, and gave me a platform to write about my own feelings and experiences. I owe a huge amount of my feminist education to the blogs I’ve followed and the women I’ve met online over the last five years.

The Everyday Sexism Project is nothing if not consciousness-raising – for men, as well as women – and while it doesn’t provide a solution, it does challenge our ideas about what is acceptable. Campaigns like No More Page 3, The Women’s Room and the banknote campaign may not yet have brought about earth-shattering change, but they were all started online by ‘ordinary’ women without media experience and they all used the tools of the digital age to build momentum and force the mainstream media to pay attention.

Their campaigns simply could not have hoped for such a broad reach without the power of social media – just as the tools of the digital age have enabled Feminist Times, in a matter of months, to open up a conversation with the thousands of Twitter followers, Facebook “likers”, and supporters on our email mailing list.

Digital feminism is a haven for feminists who feel isolated offline, as I did for a long time, whether because they’re geographically remote or simply struggle to participate in offline activism. Of course, online feminism is limited: there’s the abuse and the arguing for a start, which, while not exclusive to the internet, can be particularly vicious online. It also excludes those without internet access, including many of our older feminist sisters, and a supportive tweet will never quite match up to a real-life hug. For all the sisterhood and solidarity that can be found online, I’ve also felt very isolated without an offline support group, which is probably why so many “digital feminists” don’t keep their activism exclusively online.

Laura Bates, founder of Everyday Sexism, has used the messages posted on her site to work with police, schools, universities and trade unions on challenging sexual harassment. Lucy-Anne Holmes and the No More Page 3 campaigners have taken their protest to the gates of News International, now News UK, and Caroline Criado-Perez used online crowd-funding to raise funds for an offline legal challenge against the Bank of England.

In February this year I started a feminist discussion group with friend and fellow feminist journalist Rachel Hills, with the goal of taking online discussions offline.  I’ve shamefully neglected it for a few months, since Feminist Times took over a large chunk of my life, but at the time it bridged an important gap between my online and offline feminism. You can say a lot more when you’re not restricted by a 140-character limit, but we also recognized that online feminism is increasingly setting the discussions – our first meeting even focused on the topic of “Twitter feminism”, trolling and in-fighting.

When it comes to digital feminism, Twitter in particular is something that’s impossible to understand the true power of without really using it; none of my non-Twitter-using friends see the point. In a similar way, I used to be skeptical about women-only spaces, believing (as I still do) that men have a role in challenging patriarchal structures too, providing they do so on our terms. Despite this, I’ve been a convert of women-only spaces ever since my first experience of one – in fact, the power of women-only organizing is another of the things Charlotte and I agree on – but that firsthand experience was vital to my understanding.

Just as I believe a truly three-dimensional feminism must combine mixed and women-only spaces, I also believe a truly three-dimensional feminism is stronger with the combined power of online and offline voices and forums. A feminism that aims to build strong offline connections between groups of interesting, inspiring women is fantastic, and I can’t wait to start rolling out Feminist Times’ local groups and events. But digital feminism has shown me how much more diverse and exciting feminism can be when you broaden your reach and take your message online. I’ve had ‘tweet-ups’ with women I would never have met without the feminist Twittersphere, so I’m a firm believer in the value of a 3D feminism that both meets and tweets.

If you enjoyed this article and want to meet other feminists like, and unlike, yourself, join Feminist Times as a Member. Join us and support the building of an incredible feminist organisation and resources like this website.

Image courtesy of Phil Campbell

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Refuge calls for 16 Days of fundraising against domestic violence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To find out more visit www.refuge.org.uk/16-days or email fundraising@refuge.org.uk with the word BRONZE, SILVER or GOLD in the email subject.

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

For more information, please visit www.refuge.org.uk, or find Refuge on Facebook and Twitter @RefugeCharity

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Nimko Ali and Leyla Hussein

Nimko Ali: A year as the face of FGM

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

On Monday this week, a report by the Royal Colleges of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists, Nursing and Midwives called for FGM to be recognised as child abuse; Nimko and her colleagues spent the afternoon in parliament celebrating the launch of that report, and Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, tweeted his support for the report, saying: “Welcome report calling for greater FGM awareness & to treat as child abuse bit.ly/17BIUQc  It is illegal and must end #tacklingFGM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What is Feminism? banner

Sadie Jones: Feminism is…

Sadie JonesName: Sadie Jones

Age: 38

Location: Carmarthen, South Wales

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Feminist Events Listings: November 2013

Verity Flecknell

Welcome to my feminist event highlight blog for Feminist Times. Storm in a Teacup are thrilled to be highlighting all the best feminist events from London and beyond.

Whether you are an armchair activist or a full time activist, into your international politics, or personal politics, feminist artist, or radical feminist – there are just so many events happening up and down the country – there is bound to be something to tickle your fancy/get your teeth into.

Arguably there are more feminist events popping up more than ever and so many opportunities for you to get involved, meet like minded people, share skills and be a part of the movement.

We will be bringing you highlights of some of the feminist events not to be missed in November.

Verity Flecknell, Storm in a Teacup

LONDON

Film Spotlight

London Feminist Film Festival || 24 November – 2 December

The London Feminist Film Festival was set up as a response to the underrepresentation of women in the film industry, as well as to the lack of films addressing feminist issues. In its second year, the festival will take place at Hackney Picturehouse over seven days and will screen 10 feature length films and 21 short films, from 18 different countries, including eight UK Premieres, eight European Premieres, and six World Premieres. Some of the films on show include; En la Casa, la Cama y la Calle about activism in Nicaragua, Still Fighting about abortion clinic escorts in the US, and Foot for Love about a South African football team’s campaign against lesbophobia. And UK-based films such as To Hear Her Voice about suffragette theatre. Each screening will be followed by a panel discussion featuring feminist directors, activists, academics, and arts critics. Festival Director, Anna Read says: “We want to celebrate women creatives whilst ensuring that this feminist ethos also extends to the films we show. The festival is a celebration of feminist films past and present. Our aim is to inspire discussion about feminism and film, to support women directors, and to get feminist films seen by a wider audience. Following the success of last year’s festival, we hope to make the 2nd festival even bigger and better, with even more inspiring feminist films and discussion”.

FACEBOOK EVENTS: https://www.facebook.com/events/424690467597346/

PROGRAMME: http://londonfeministfilmfestival.com/lfff-2013-programme/lfff2013/

MORE INFORMATION: www.londonfeministfilmfestival.com

Underwire Short-Film Festival || 19-23 November

Underwire, the UK’s only short film festival dedicated to showcasing the raw cinematic talents of women return for their 4th annual festival, running 19-23 November at The Yard Theatre in Hackney Wick, London. Featuring an eclectic mix of genres, themes and aesthetic styles across 10 competition screenings. These ten craft awards aim to recognize outstanding female film practitioners working in the UK today. This year’s festival also includes 23 dynamic events, bringing industry icons and familiar faces to our audience.  Underwire Festival 2013 is focusing on feminist issues more so than ever before, bringing women in film and feminist discussion back to the heart of Hackney. With an exciting programme of industry events, this year’s festival questions what it means to be a woman, as a filmmaker and with our society. Teaming up with Little White Lies Underwire presents ‘Girls On Film’ a day of panel discussions focusing on the representation of women in film. The day splits into 4 events; ‘The Bechdel Test: The Ugly Truth?’ featuring guest speaker Muriel d’Ansembourg (BAFTA nominated Good Night); ‘Act Your Age: Is there Space on Screen for Older Women?’ with Kate Hardie (Shoot Me); ‘Honest Lies: The Representation of Prostitution in Cinema’ looking at mainstream films from “Breakfast at Tiffanys” to ‘Monster” and ‘Is the Manic Pixie Dream Girl dead?’ with Laurie Penny (The Independent, The New Statesman, The New Inquiry) and Catherine Balavage (Writer/Actor, Proses & Cons). Tickets are £7 per session or £20 for an all day pass.

MORE INFO: http://www.underwirefestival.com

Theatre Spotlight

This November we thought it was important to highlight some of the groundbreaking feminist theatre that is currently storming the stage in London.

Clean Break present; “Billy the Girl” at Soho Theatre | Until 24 November

Celebrated theatre company Clean Break return to Soho Theatre with Katie Hims’ ‘Billy the Girl’ which runs from 29 October to 24 November. Clean Break is a women’s theatre company using theatre for personal and political change and working with women whose lives have been affected by the criminal justice system. On 12 November, a post-show panel conversation features past and present Clean Break commissioned writers discussing the Clean Break commission and its impact on their writing lives. On 13 November, post-show panelists from various disciplines discuss concepts of chaos and women in the criminal justice system.

SOHO THEATRE: http://www.sohotheatre.com/whats-on/billy-the-girl

MORE INFO: http://www.cleanbreak.org.uk/

Camden People’s Theatre present; “Calm Down Dear” | Until 10 November

The Camden People’s Theatre present a festival of feminist theatre “Calm Down Dear” a gathering of artists and companies presenting a three-week season of innovative theatre, performance, comedy, cabaret and discussion about feminism. Programme runs from 23rd October until Sunday 10th of November. CPT co-directors Jenny Paton and Brian Logan say: “we were struck earlier this year by the number of feminist-themed applications to our annual Sprint festival. That didn’t come out of nowhere: the boom in feminist thought and action – from No More Page 3 to Caitlin Moran, from Jane Austen on banknotes to Everyday Sexism on Twitter – has been one of the most heartening features of public life in the last couple of years. Our Calm Down, Dear festival celebrates and channels that. We’re really proud to be hosting some of the most exciting and urgent art to be found at the crest of this feminist new wave.”

TICKETS: http://www.cptheatre.co.uk/event_details.php?sectionid=theatre&eventid=732

MORE INFO: http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2013/sep/19/bridget-christie-festival-feminist-london

Politics Spotlight

Why Gender Should be on Europe’s Agenda || 7 November

Organised by National Alliance of Women’s Organisations (NAWO)and taking place at the Amnesty International building in East London. This panel and discussion brings together academics, NGOs, political bodies and youth voices to explore how and why young women can and should get involved in the European agenda. Speakers include: Mary Honeyball MEP, Dr Roberta Guerrina, Rebecca Taylor MEP, Catherine Bearder MEP, Serap Altinisik – Member of EWL Free event.

RSVP: admin@nawo.org.uk.

MORE INFO: http://thewomensresourcecentre.org.uk/why-gender-should-be-on-europes-agenda-london/#more-%27

Zero Tolerance: Eradication Female Genital Mutilation || 13 November

Organised by Public Policy Exchange, this day long conference includes speakers from the Ministry of Justice, Department of Health and the Metropolitan police.  It has been estimated that over 20,000 girls under the age of 15 are at risk of FGM in the UK each year, and that 66,000 women in the UK are living with the consequences of FGM. This timely symposium provides an invaluable opportunity to; Understand the current legal framework for eradicating female genital mutilation. Explore how to overcome sensitive cultural barriers and improve protection, support and the services available. Discuss ways in which to engage with schools and the wider public to raise awareness of FGM. Examine new strategies that encourage communities to challenge FGM and develop a stronger response at a local level.

MORE INFO: http://www.publicpolicyexchange.co.uk/events/DK13-PPE

NATIONAL

Women in Politics: Yes We Can! Bradford || 15 November

An event that will discuss how women can get involved in politics, Parliament and campaigning. Find out how you can raise important issues and hear from three experts with unrivalled experience of campaigning on behalf of women inside and out of Parliament: Speakers include; The Lord Speaker Baroness D’Souza, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson (Paralympian, Crossbench Member of the House of Lords), Ann Cryer (former MP for Keighley) The event runs from 10am to 12pm, taking place at City Training Services, 39-41 Chapel Street, Bradford BD1 5BY.

BOOK TICKETS: contactwinterfloodkl@parliament.uk

This event has been arranged by the Houses of Parliament’s Outreach Service. Further information on their work can be found at http://www.parliament.uk/outreach

Reclaim the Night: Leeds || 16th November

A group of women in Leeds are planning a Reclaim the Night March for Saturday 16th November 2013.  A Reclaim the Night March is direct action by women to reclaim the streets and assert our right to feel free from fear of rape and sexual violence. The march will take women on a route around the city centre to reclaim places where women feel vulnerable from attack; the last stage of the march will be open to all. There will be a rally, which will be open to all  supporters. Reclaim the Night Leeds will be setting off from Victoria Gardens (outside the Art Gallery) at 6.30pm and arriving at Leeds Met Student Union Bar for approx. 7.30pm for speakers and stalls.

MORE INFO: http://reclaimthenightleeds.wordpress.com/

FACEBOOK EVENT: https://www.facebook.com/events/224837194347698/

RECLAIM THE NIGHT: http://www.reclaimthenight.co.uk/

Women’s History Conference, Manchester || 23rd November

The North West Labour History Society is celebrating 40 years of activity promoting labour history with a conference on women’s history on 23 November in Manchester. A day long conference with sessions on “Women, Politics and Music” and “Women as Political Activists” covering topics including trade unionism, socialism, Votes for Women, socialism and feminism. Also a panel discussion on Socialism and Feminism. The speakers will include Lindsey German, Claire Mooney, Alice Nutter, Louise Raw, Rae Street and Sonja Tiernan. The fee for the day will be £10 waged/£5 unwaged.

WEBSITE: http://workershistory.wordpress.com/nwlhs-events/

MORE INFO: redflagwalks@gmail.com

LaDIYfest Sheffield || 30th November

Sheffield’s grassroots feminist festival, LaDIYfest, returns for its third year with a whole day and night of practical activities, discussion workshops and live music raising money for local women’s charities.  Celebrating women in the arts, Ladyfest is a community based not-for profit movement that started in Olympia, Washington in 2000, Riot grrrl identifying bands like; Sleater-Kinney, The Gossip and Bratmobile all performed at the first ever Ladyfest. Since then Ladyfests have been organised by individuals and grassroots organisations all over the world.

During the day, festivalgoers will have the chance to participate in lively workshops and discussions run by local groups and visiting speakers. Workshops will be a mixture of serious and fun, teaching practical skills such as sound engineering, organising your own grassroots events, and t-shirt printing, alongside discussions on men and feminism, women and anti-fascism and the Lose the Lads Mags campaign. Workshops take place from 11am-5.30pm at the Quaker Meeting House, Sheffield. Saturday evening will see the city play host to an exciting line-up of bands including London based band; The Ethical Debating Society, Halo Halo, Weird Menace, and Not Right with DJ sets from local collective INVERT until late. LaDIYfest seeks out the best new women-led bands from the local scene.

FACEBOOK EVENT / DAY: https://www.facebook.com/events/687874341242421/

FACEBOOK EVENT / EVENING: https://www.facebook.com/events/220472771448725/

WEBSITE: http://ladiyfestsheffield.wordpress.com/

26 November || Bristol Women’s Lit Fest presents: The glory of Pride and Prejudice @ Watershed, Bristol, BS1 5TX. The Bristol Women’s Literature Festival invites you to join us at Watershed on Tuesday 26 November for an evening of conversation, discussion and enthusiasm to find out. Chaired by Professor Helen Taylor, this panel discussion will explore Austen’s lasting appeal and the misconceptions that have dogged her public persona. Professor Taylor will be joined by Jean Burnett, author of Who Needs Mr Darcy, and Professor Jane Spencer. 6.15pm – Tickets £8.00 full (£6.50 concs)

BUY TICKETS:  online

MORE INFO:  http://womensliteraturefestival.wordpress.com/

Verity Flecknell is founder of Storm in a Teacup, a London based feminist arts collective set up in 2009 with the aim of promoting women in the arts. In 2010 Storm in a Teacup helped organise Ladyfest Ten festival, in 2011 were part of the first ever Women of the World festival at the Southbank and in 2012 joined forces with Girls Get Busy zine and Not So Popular to form Lets Start a Pussy Riot collective. In June this year, Rough Trade Records published “Lets Start a Pussy Riot” book, a collection of artistic responses created in collaboration with Pussy Riot. Storm in a Teacup also publishes monthly feminist event listings happening around London.

Please visit Storm in a Teacup’s blog for full feminist event listings for November.

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Charlotte Raven

Femen – the beauty fascist fauminists

Femen are recruiting in Britain. Would the Fem Times team qualify for active service? It’s unlikely – the beauty fascist fauminists are more protective of their brand than the founders of Spare Rib were. Like the fashion industry, they have “high beauty standards”. Unlike fashion houses, they are a mess of contradictions. I predict they will soon collapse under the weight of these contradictions.

Femen are perfect post feminists, having their cake and eating it, or wearing their thong and professing to combat patriarchy. They were fashionable briefly, but their time at the top of the google search ranking for feminism is nearly done. Living by fashion, they will die by fashion – they will be out moded in the blink of an eye, when the global media’s gaze is trained on the next sensation.

Femen’s feminism isn’t rooted in the past. On the contrary, they are contemptuous of classical feminism, which looks like a “sick old lady”. It is year zero for them, they are the first feminists on the planet, elbowing their way to the front of the media scrum, which feels like storming the barricades.

There are no ugly members of Femen. Or plus size women. My sagging breasts and cesarean scars would disqualify me from active service. I’m glad I’m not young and impressionable though, and better looking; I can imagine my younger self rather relishing the role of the sextremist. Femen obviously speaks to the young and impressionable.

Femen are one of many depressing features of the internet age – an international brand with as much name recognition as Hermes that captures attention and doesn’t convert it into anything. Their version of girlpower is as sterile and alienating as the Spice Girls, and more patriarchal.

“No woman would think of that,” my nine-year-old daughter averred. “Running around the streets naked is a total man idea.”

She wasn’t surprised to learn that Femen were conceived and managed by a Simon Fuller esque Svengali. A recent documentary about the group outed Victor Svyatski as the mastermind behind the group.

These girls are weak,” he says in the film. “They don’t have the strength of character. They don’t even have the desire to be strong. Instead, they show submissiveness, spinelessness, lack of punctuality, and many other factors which prevent them from becoming political activists. These are qualities which it was essential to teach them.”

There was no male Svengali behind Feminist Times. Perhaps we would have benefited from a Patriach like Svyatski at the helm. I might have been more punctual and less prone to hysteria. We probably would have decided that getting our tits out in public was the quickest way of getting our message about 3D feminism across and found a vast international audience for our ideas.

In the present sexualized climate, staying clothed is much more radical than baring your breasts. When all around are disrobing, we at Feminist Times are going fully clothed into the fray, and hoping to find that the media won’t ignore us. We have been pleasantly surprised so far! Our vision of 3D feminism is all about meeting to change ourselves and the world. I think the members of Femen would benefit from joining a consciousness raising group to explore their psychological dependency on the patriarch and the paradox of exhibitionism which is an inhibiting feminine norm.

This an expanded version of a piece published in the Evening Standard Magazine on Friday 8 November.

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Feminism in London: Saturday 26 October

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

Shabina Begum on acid violence

Natalya Dell on disability and bi-visibility

Chris Green on the White Ribbon Campaign

Lola Tinubu on BME women and secularism

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

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

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VIDEO: Southall Black Sisters Demo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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FiL: Chris Green on the White Ribbon Campaign

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

What is the White Ribbon Campaign?

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

White Ribbon Campaign - RTN

What do you do?

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

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

White Ribbon Campaign - antiporn

Why did you start the UK White Ribbon Campaign?

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

How can men be good feminist allies?

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

Have you had much opposition from other men?

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

What are your priorities for feminist campaigning?

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

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

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FiL: Natalya Dell on disability and bi-visibility

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

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

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

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

Why is disability a feminist issue?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can the feminist movement learn from disability activism?

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

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

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

What are your biggest priorities for the feminist movement?

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

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

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Why immigration is a feminist issue

Government policies are intensifying in anti-immigrant focus. The draft immigration bill contains proposals to charge immigrants for using the NHS, force landlords to check the status of tenants and require checks before opening a bank account or being issued with a driving licence.

Struggles around immigration should be a central part of the feminist movement. These laws and policies are the cutting edge of black communities’ experience of state racism with women particularly affected.

In the 1970s, immigration officials conducted ‘virginity tests’ on South Asian women who arrived in the UK to marry fiancés. These state sanctioned sexual assaults were based not only on biological myth but also on racist and sexist stereotypes.

In its early months, the Coalition removed legal aid for non-detention immigrants, including women who had experienced domestic violence. After a legal challenge from Southall Black Sisters, it announced an amendment to cover domestic violence cases but what of other vulnerable women?

These policies, thirty-five years apart, are just two examples of the injustice of immigration policies and how they affect women.

Racist and classist laws and policies aim at keeping the wrong people out and letting the right ones in. Plans to introduce a £3,000 deposit for visas will not affect American tourists but mean none of our family, with their Indian passports, will be able to attend my brother’s wedding in England next year.

Politicians and media organisations reflect back a racist anti-immigration viewpoint to each other and make it seem like the norm. They continue to blame immigrants for economic woes. The government cuts the funding, housing and services available to immigrants. Their stated aim is to create a hostile environment that makes life unliveable.

The most common word used to describe ‘immigrants’ in newspapers is ‘illegal’.  Statistics are often inflated, speculative and without sources. The counter-narrative of people living as friends, neighbours, family, classmates and colleagues is seldom highlighted. Neither is support for immigrants and their rights.

All of this has meant a heightening climate of fear for many, including women who have been subject to violence by their partners, whether or not they have leave to stay in the country.

In the light of these deliberate attempts to create a racist anti-immigrant electorate, the broad-based backlash against vans driven around London with the message ‘go home or face arrest’ and the race profiling spot checks is welcome. Recent months have also seen an upsurge in mobilising.

From asking for help to go home (to Willesden Green) and distributing leaflets informing people of their rights to organising a protest against spot checks that made Southall a no go area and bringing a court challenge against the campaign, people are taking action.

The ‘racist vans’ were just the visible tip of a very large iceberg. Their messages have now moved from the streets to places out of the public eye, such as signing on centres in Croydon, Hounslow and Glasgow.

Southall Black Sisters is organising a demonstration on 24th October at Eaton House (581 Staines Road, Hounslow, TW4 5DL) where the ‘go home’ posters are being displayed – see here for details. All feminists need to support women migrants by allying with these campaigns and actions. The struggle for the rights of immigrants should be one that concerns us all.

Demo against UKBA 'Go Home' Campaign

Chitra Nagarajan has worked to promote and protect human rights, especially those of women, in China, the United Kingdom, the United States and countries in west Africa for over ten years in both professional and personal capacities. She currently works on issues of human rights and peacebuilding in Nigeria but remains linked to activism in the UK. She tweets here and blogs here.

Images courtesy of Southall Black Sisters.

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A weekend in the Activist Garden at NEFG13

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

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

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

Activist Garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

Open Mary

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

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

Open Mary

All images courtesy of the NEFG team.

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NEFG2012

Newcastle firmly on the feminist map

One of the first phone calls I received when I started working on this magazine was from North East Feminist Gathering (NEFG) co-organiser Roweena Russell, eager to tell me all about the exciting feminist times they’re having up in the North East.

Home to the family of suffragette Emily Wilding Davison, the North East, I discovered, is a hive of grassroots feminist activity; in Newcastle alone there’s the Newcastle Women’s Collective, Newcastle University Feminist Society and Newcastle Slutwalk.

A delegation from the NEWomen’s Network travelled to Geneva in July for the Convention to Eliminate Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and NEWomen member Cris McCurley wrote for our website launch about CEDAW’s findings on the UK Government’s changes to legal aid.

This weekend, 150 feminists are assembling in Newcastle for the second annual North East Feminist Gathering. This year’s sold-out, two-day gathering has panel discussions and workshops covering fourth wave feminism, legal aid, violence against women, disability, black women’s activism, women in party politics and more. Other activities on offer over the weekend include making feminist knicker bunting and an Open Mary, a feminist version of the Open Mic.

SarahGrahamI’ll be covering the NEFG for Feminist Times all weekend – tweeting about #NEFG13 from @Feminist_Times, chatting to attendees, recruiting new Feminist Times members, and answering any questions you have about the website and magazine. One of the most striking things about organising my trip so far has been the friendliness and hospitality of the NEFG team. Please do look out for me if you’re there – we’d love to hear from you.

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Pussy Riot by Igor Mukhin

We are not all Pussy Riot

Dressed in brightly coloured tights, dresses and balaclavas, and sticking two fingers up at the establishment, Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot seized the world’s attention last March, for far more than their garish dress-sense.

Their iconoclastic, anti-Putin protest gig, performed in the Russian Orthodox Church, landed two of their members in prison, sparking international outcry.

Pussy Riot’s protest – like the suffragettes’ smashed windows, the 1970 smoke-bombing of Miss World, and the women-only blockades of Greenham Common – shares a spirit of feminist activism that, throughout history, has been brash, rebellious, and radical.

But we are not all Pussy Riot. For the many women contending with mental and physical illness, childcare, poverty and shyness, that kind of direct activism is simply not possible.

Yet feminism today boasts an increasingly diverse range of activists, many of whom are crafting out their own frontlines away from more traditional forms of protest.

Zoë, Clare, Mandy and Wanda are four such feminists; all very different, and spanning two decades in age, but whose voices still so often go unheard. They tell me – a self-confessed fainthearted activist – why the emphasis on marching and blockading can be alienating, and how activism is changing to include women like us.

25-year-old Zoë was “doomed to be political”, with a feminist mum and a Marxist dad. She went on her first march aged 17 but now, eight years later, there are days when she struggles to leave the house.

Zoë suffers from bipolar, agoraphobia and anxiety problems, and is recovering from anorexia – mental illnesses that “can be really devastating” to her everyday life and her activism.

“Sometimes I can’t get out of bed or I have panic attacks if I go outside. Being on public transport or in public spaces can be really, really difficult, so I have people come with me to make it easier,” she says, indicating her boyfriend, who is sitting at the next table and has accompanied her across central London to meet me.

Although Zoë’s mental health has improved thanks to cognitive behavioural therapy, she finds traditional activism difficult: “A lot of the events need you to be more mentally fit than I have been – crowds can be incredibly difficult.”

At the TUC’s March 26 protest, Zoë “freaked out” when she found herself near a group of protesters who were smashing the windows of a Starbucks coffee shop.

“On the one hand you’ve got potentially very violent police, and potentially very violent protests, and you’re somewhere in the middle, trying to cope with the whole thing while having a panic attack,” she explains.

More commonly though, her mental health simply stops her from participating at all: “What normally happens is I get worse before I get there, so it stops me getting places,” she says. “I just become overwhelmed with anxiety about the whole thing and sometimes I won’t even get out of the door.”

Like many women in her position, Zoë has felt frustrated by the emphasis on traditional activism. “There’s an idea that boots on streets activism is where it’s at, and it’s all about a particular style of protest,” she says. “It used to make me feel really awful.”

Finding her own community online changed all that. After building up an online network of more than 2,000 Twitter followers, Zoë co-founded The Fementalists, a collaborative blog for feminist women to discuss their experiences of mental health problems.

“There are a lot of women with mental health problems who are struggling to do traditional activism, which is why we came up with the idea for this blog,” she explains.

Since launching in late May, The Fementalists already has its own following of more than 1,500 Twitter users and posts covering topics from depression and anxiety to bipolar and eating disorders.

“It seems to have really hit a chord. People are feeling unsupported and this is what they’ve been waiting for,” Zoë says.

“It’s about giving women a space to talk about their own mental health conditions and feminism, and how the traditional styles of activism can be quite excluding and difficult.”

Like Zoë, 42-year-old Clare Cochrane has always been political, experiencing her first taste of direct action at the age of 13, when her mum took Clare and some friends to visit Greenham Common women’s peace camp.

“Then, when I was 16, I borrowed my mum’s tent and went a few times on my own,” she reminisces. “There’s nothing like it. It was really inspiring to get to be part of something that amazing and to learn from such amazing women.”

She recalls the excitement of disrupting cruise missile convoys: “Some women would stay at the base and make lots of noise, while other women would go along the route and hold up the convoy,” she says.

However it was a physical disability, rheumatoid arthritis, that put paid to Clare’s days of direct action.

The illness developed 20 years ago, while Clare was involved with activism at Faslane nuclear submarine base in Scotland, prompting her to give up activism and move abroad to stay with her parents for their support.

“It had a huge impact on my activism,” Clare says. “I stopped doing any for about 12 or 13 years.”

Since returning to the UK Clare has rediscovered activism but had to make huge adjustments, as the illness means her health and mobility fluctuate dramatically.

“I have a lot of periods where I’m just ill and there’s very little I can do so my life’s quite restricted,” she explains. “As I get older, I’m less and less able to do stuff, so I can’t walk very far anymore without being absolutely worn out at the end of it and in pain.”

Clare talks with all the passion and conviction you might expect of a Greenham veteran, but several times has to stop for breath or to find the right words.

“It’s a chronic, lifelong illness, so I have to be aware that if I’m going to put lots and lots of energy into a campaign then I have to do less other stuff.”

This means pacing herself, allowing for recovery time, and completely rules out spontaneity.

Nevertheless, activism remains one of her top priorities: “I don’t do any less activism, I do less other stuff!” she laughs, when I ask how she balances living with the illness.

Even so, it’s been a hard shift to make: “I can’t do direct action anymore – I couldn’t do lying down in roads or locking myself to things, so I have to focus on doing the organising,” she says.

“It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it’s very painful and difficult, if that’s where you heart is,” she adds.

“With disability comes loss, and, inevitably, you end up grieving for the things you can’t do. It takes a while to find new skills to start doing a different kind of activism.”

Most notably, Clare has brought activism within her own limitations by founding Oxford Reclaim The Night in 2007, after she moved to the town. Although she’d always loved the London marches, Clare found the length of the march and the travelling involved exhausting.

Her first attempt at travelling from Oxford to London for a Reclaim The Night march “nearly killed me”, so she formed a creative collective of feminists and set up a much shorter march closer to home.

“It’s probably a walk you can do in 25 minutes, but we stretch it out to 45 by stopping along the way to sing feminist songs,” she says.

Mandy*, just two years her junior, couldn’t be more different. While Clare spent her teenage years blocking cruise missile convoys at Greenham Common, Mandy was so shy as a teenager that she “always preferred to keep quiet in the background rather than speak up and be noticed.”

Although motherhood has boosted the 40-year-old’s confidence, she still prefers to speak to me by email and text message, and says, “I never have and can never see myself going on a march!”

Shyness affects Mandy’s feminism on a number of levels, making her cautious about openly identifying as a feminist because of how that might be perceived.

“If you are naturally shy, when you are put in a confrontational situation, it is actually very damaging and difficult,” she says. “So to even openly talk about feminism isn’t something I always do.”

Like Zoë, Mandy has found that Twitter provides a safe and supportive space for her to explore and keep up with feminist issues. But even online Mandy has faced criticism for opening up about her wariness to identify as a feminist.

“There seems to be a general feeling that unless you speak up and proudly shout out that you are a feminist, you ought not to call yourself a feminist,” Mandy says, describing a recent confrontation on the subject.

“Some may argue that I’m an armchair feminist – that’s it’s little action, just words – but I feel there are other ways to get involved in feminism,” she says.

“I feel very strongly that instilling the right values in my children from a young age can have a solid foundation for behaviours later in life,” she explains.

A stay-at-home mother of three, who also works part-time with autistic children, Mandy strives to raise her two sons to respect women and girls, in the hope that they will grow up aware of, and intolerant of, inequality.

“Likewise, I think it imperative that my daughter is aware of inequality and doesn’t ever feel that she is in some way inadequate to her brothers by virtue of being a girl,” she says.

“I think there is an importance in recognising that activism isn’t all about shouting and marching.”

The same is true of Wanda Wyporska, the equalities officer at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), who spoke to me in a personal capacity.

As a trade unionist, Wanda is used to physical protests being seen as the “truest” form of activism, but she believes it’s important to use everybody’s different skills in a way they feel comfortable.

On a personal level, Wanda goes on fewer marches since having her son, now three and a half years old.

“It may sound a little bit precious, but I’m not willing to presume that what I believe in is necessarily what he believes in,” she says.

“If there were a march to bring back dinosaurs, then I’m sure he’d be at the front of it,” she laughs.

More generally, there are a host of reasons why mothers have long struggled to participate in direct activism, from childcare to event logistics.

“How long is it? Will they be able to walk? Will they end up on your shoulders? Are you going to have to take a buggy? The things you have to start thinking about are just endless,” Wanda says.

“I have nothing but praise for women who do that, but my own personal thing is that I just don’t really fancy it,” she adds.

As a former journalist, Wanda prefers to keep her activism to what she knows best: “I’m not very good at standing on the street shaking a tin, but I can write articles, I can use social media, and I can think about how to set up a campaign and how to reach people,” she says.

For her, activists now have more tools at their disposal than ever before, so there’s a role for everybody: “There are hundreds of ways in which we can get involved, and I don’t think one way’s any better than another,” she says.

“There’s a time for getting out onto the streets and taking direct action, and there are some people who are great with a megaphone.”

Others, like Mandy and Zoë would “run a million miles away from shouting into a megaphone”, but are striving to make their voices heard elsewhere.

For today’s feminists, there must also a time for putting down the megaphones and just listening to those who are breaking out of the mould.

*Not her real name

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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Charlotte Raven mimics the book cover

Feminist Conspiracy: EU to ban anti-feminist speech

A Voice For Men reported last week that the European Union is attempting to “literally stamp out economic freedom in the name of feminism” by banning anti-feminist speech. Great, we thought, about time.

The vote on banning anti-feminism, we’re told, takes place on 14 October – so start lobbying now – and the document in question is called “The European framework national statute for the promotion of tolerance.

Fortunately, A Voice For Men is quick to explain the problem with “promotion of tolerance”, in case you were wondering: “basically the entire document looks more like a statue [sic] of the Thought Police and the Ministry of Truth.”

Should it pass, “holding feminists to ridicule, as they deserve, will now be a crime.” Sounds brilliant, where do we sign up?

“And if this amount of feminist privilege isn’t enough, here’s some more,” the author continues. Contain your excitement, women. “The Section 6 of the document, dealing with implementation explicitly tells us that the State must make female privilege the rule of the land.”

The progress of our feminist plot has not gone unnoticed, it seems.

“This is exactly how the Criminal Code of Romania looked during the Marxist-Leninist dictatorship. In the 1950s, one could get up to 10 years of imprisonment for speaking against ‘the social order.’ The social order was Stalinism back then. Now it’s Marxism-Feminism. The differences between them are becoming increasingly harder to notice.”

And it’s not just men at risk: “if a 14 year old boy dares to notice that women are not oppressed in Europe and that the education system in which he is forced to go is centred around girls and girls only, the boys will be sent to a “rehabilitation programme” to instill in him a “culture of tolerance”.

You’ve probably already guessed the next comparison – of course, “the Soviet Union had a similar program for those who dared to disagree with the Marxist-Leninist approach… This is how totalitarianism consolidates itself!”

Stay tuned for all the latest feminist conspiracy news as it happens…

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Rosa logo

Profile: Rosa

I have always considered myself a feminist and believed firmly in the importance of an equal society. When I was in my twenties I believed that inequality wouldn’t affect me or my friends; that hard work, talent, and more hard work would be enough to ensure we were treated fairly. I was called to the Bar and practised for over a decade in a male-dominated profession. It was only after being involved with politics for a while that the penny finally dropped. I was no longer able to pretend the injustices and prejudice I opposed so strongly weren’t also affecting my own life and opportunities, and those of countless women like me.

I’m too impatient to accept the fundamental waste and injustice of inequality, to wait for it to resolve itself in its own time. That’s why I’m so proud to be the Executive Director of Rosa – the first and only UK-wide women’s fund, started with the aim of finding new sources of money to fund women’s organisations. I want to do everything I can to help women and girls succeed.
When it was launched in June 2008, Rosa was necessary. Women’s organisations comprised seven per cent of NGOs and received 1.2 per cent of government funding. What was tough then is pretty dire now.

The effect of austerity measures, commissioning, partnership working, local authority cuts and the general dampening effect of the recession on donations to charities have hit women’s organisations hard, probably harder than most. We know of groups doing great work supporting women back into work, for example, which have had to close altogether after 25 years. The anecdotal evidence is stark, and Rosa has commissioned research to find out the full story of funding for women’s organisations across the UK, which we hope to publish later this year.

Since our launch, Rosa (named after Rosa Luxemburg, Rosa Parks and Rosa May Billinghurst) has funded innovative and exciting projects. We have highlighted what women’s organisations can do, what they are doing, and why they need support. We have encouraged other, much bigger funders to support work finding alternatives to custodial sentences for women offenders, to tackle Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the UK, and to support new and struggling organisations.

At Rosa we have a firmly feminist outlook. We believe that, until society is equal, we all suffer and we are determined to do all we can to invest in innovative solutions to inequality, to connect women’s organisations with funders, and to advocate and influence funders to find new sources to support the great work front-line organisations do.

Most recently Rosa has funded projects looking at the issue of media representation of girls and young women. Anybody’s Shape Your Culture project received the organisation’s first ever funding. Projects ran in schools with girls creating their own media, thinking about how they were being stereotyped by the images that bombard them daily. One of the most powerful afternoons of my life was spent in Mulberry School in Tower Hamlets, discussing body image and beauty with a group of British Bengali girls.

I had very limited and preconceived ideas about how media representation might affect girls who choose to wear the hijab (as they all did). Each of the girls expressed the same concerns about body image, size, peer pressure, looks and other issues as you might expect from any young woman in our society. One of them, Zakiah, blew me away with her ideas about the relationship between beauty and culture. You can watch her articulate some of her ideas here – she and Shape Your Culture were participants in the Women of the World festival at the Southbank Centre this March.

Also this year we have funded the End Violence Against Women coalition, along with Imkaan and Object, to work together on a project to tackle sexism and racism in music videos. This was before Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines (please don’t get me started). This project will include social media apps, a blog, parliamentary lobbying and campaigning work run by and for girls and young women, because at Rosa we believe girls themselves need to educate us all on the solutions for the problems they face.

At Rosa we see ourselves as part of the movement of women’s organisations in the UK, simultaneously attached to funders, corporates and other individuals who may want to support women but don’t know how best to achieve their aims. We hope to do much more in the years ahead because we all know there is a great deal more that needs sorting before we are close to equality in the UK.

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Cost of proof

No legal aid. No justice.

On 1 April 2013, the biggest change to access to justice (and therefore accessible rights for women) occurred with the enactment of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, or LASPO, and it has happened by stealth. At a glance the act seemed innocuous, in that the opening paragraph promised that “nothing in the act would contravene International Law, or International Convention obligations/rights”. This, however, was a singularly dishonest statement. On 26 July, the UN Convention for the elimination of discrimination against women (CEDAW) concluded their review of the British Government’s compliance with its convention obligations, particularly with regard to access to justice, equality in the family, and the right to a fair trial, and found the Government non-compliant.

As with any legislation, the Government had to undertake an equality impact assessment. Even by their own, admittedly limited, standards, the equality assessment prepared by the Government clearly demonstrated that women used Legal Aid in far greater numbers that men, and that women would be disproportionately impacted for the worse. And let’s not forget the greater earning power of men in the UK, and the fact that even if the male party uses his superior financial position to hire a top London QC to fight his case, Legal Aid will still be denied to the female party in most family and civil law cases, unless she can prove that she is a victim of domestic violence (DV). So, no problem there, then.

For the first time in its 60 year history, Legal Aid was removed from those seeking redress in debt cases, housing (unless facing homelessness or serious ill health due to disrepair), education, most immigration cases, and all private family law – which means divorce, financial settlement, contact and residence cases in relation to children, and any other actions between parties over children, unless either party can prove they are a victim of domestic abuse. Legal Aid remains to allow women to get an injunction or a forced marriage protection order, but a woman will have to win that case in order to get Legal Aid to then fight for her children, or her share of the family assets, unless she can get over the high evidence hurdle to prove in some other way that she is a victim of DV.

So another singularly dishonest statement came out of the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), both in the press – in answer to the 5,000-plus consultation responses opposing LASPO – and in their evidence to the UN this July: namely that all “genuine victims” (apparently there are non genuine victims of abuse, who knew? ) of domestic violence would automatically get legal aid. They won’t. In their thousands, NGOs, individuals, frontline DV professionals, lawyers and academics warned the Government that what they were demanding from people by way of evidence of abuse would leave victims unable to obtain legal assistance. The draft law was subjected to an unprecedented number of amendments by the House of Lords, redressing some of the inequality, only for them all to be immediately reversed in the House of Commons. In a debate in the lords on 28 March, Baroness Scotland urged a rethink, saying, “It will be too late to say we are sorry when people are killed because they can’t get help.” The Government wasn’t listening.

Some minor concessions have been made as a result of constant lobbying, and the intervention of CEDAW. The type of evidence demanded has been extended to a criminal conviction for assault by the abuser against the victim in the last 24 months (as opposed to 12) – and we all know how regularly they are achieved – or a finding in a civil court that the perpetrator has been violent to the respondent within the last 24 months; ditto.

Other concessions were added to the list of evidence, such as a letter from a GP or other health professional stating both that the patient has been treated for some kind of “condition”, and that it is directly attributable to domestic abuse. What has never been trumpeted by the MOJ is that the GP letter will have to be paid for. They cost £50, and the GMC has said doctors will be charging for them. A memorandum of conviction – proof that your opponent has been violent to you and has been convicted of it (given recent figures coming out of the CPS these are likely to be more rare than flying pigs) – will cost approximately £60. When protesters from all stakeholder groups asked what women were supposed to do if they could not afford to pay, Andrew Tucker of the MOJ replied that this was a done deal: “A Ministerial decision has been taken that everyone can afford at least £50-60.” What is not in doubt is that the ministers can afford it, but tell that to the woman who has fled her home with her children, whose benefits have been scuppered as a result, and who needs legal help to sort out her family issues against her husband’s barrister, who is applying on his behalf to take the children away from her. If you happen to meet any Government ministers, do ask them what they mean when they say, “We’re all in it together.”

Some types of acceptable evidence do not come with a price tag – for example, a letter from the manager of a women’s refuge stating both that the woman has spent at least 24 hours, including an overnight stay, in the refuge in the last 24 months and that her stay was due to domestic abuse. It’s hard to imagine what other reason she may have for going into a refuge, but rules are rules. Finally, a letter from social services, or a letter from the chair of a multi-agency risk assessment conference (MARAC) on headed paper with an original signature will do. Similar evidence must be provided in cases involving applications about children and child abuse. Repeated requests for the range of acceptable evidence to be widened to include a letter from an independent domestic violence advocate (IDVA) or refuge outreach worker have met brick-wall resistance. This is despite the compelling argument that a woman who cannot go into a refuge – she may, for example have teenage boys – is at greater risk in the community than her sister in a refuge. With refuge places under threat of cuts, it is more urgent that other suitably qualified DV professionals can vouch for a woman’s ‘victim status’.

What the Government fails to grasp (or perhaps they grasp it but don’t care) is that most of the evidence required is in relation to physical violence: most women who have experienced any form of DV will tell you that it is the psychological abuse that is the most damaging. Baroness Hale, in the recent case of Yemsahw vs London Borough of Hounslow council [2011] UKSC 3, quoted CEDAW to widen the definition of domestic violence to include the non-physical, yet the evidence required to obtain legal aid is still heavily weighted towards physical injury, rather than control, visa abuse or verbal abuse, all of which are devastating in their impact but virtually impossible to prove with evidence.

Lawyers are routinely turning women away who are unable to “prove themselves victims”. It is usually at this point that those in need of help realise for the first time that what we take for granted by way of access to our human rights, and specifically our UN CEDAW rights, has gone. There is little point in guaranteeing our rights if we have no ability to fight for them when they are taken away from us.

Human rights are women’s rights. The Government is obliged by UN treaty to ensure that we have equal access to the law. If we let them get away with trashing their international duties then we will lose them. Make a noise, write to your MP, or better still, visit him or her and let your feelings be known. Tell people who don’t know what has been lost, and encourage them to fight for its restoration. The appalling treatment given by the Government and the right-wing press to the UN Special Rapportuer Rachquel Rolnick who dared to criticise the bedroom tax, cannot go unchallenged. She has had to endure banner headlines that branded her a witch and a left-wing nutter, and The Times even stooped so low as to criticise her looks –all for doing her job by holding the UK Government to account under the UN treaties it has signed and promised to abide by.

In July, the UN examined the UK’s compliance with the CEDAW treaty; it found that the Government is failing in its international equality obligations under CEDAW and demanded rectifying action. One CEDAW commissioner said of the Government: “They think they are too big, too important to have to listen to us.”
We have fought hard for these rights. Now join the fight to keep them. Remind them that, fortunately, women still have the vote.

 

Cris McCurley is a partner at Ben Hoare Bell LLP Solicitors and a member of NEWomen’s Network.

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Three-Dimensional Feminism

To live up to other people’s ideas of what one should be is both impossible and boring. It is, without doubt, far more entertaining to be able to decide for oneself what it might mean to exist, to love (or not), to work (or not), to have children (or not). Feminism – or really, the fear of feminism – has long been associated with forms of radical refusal: to not conform, to not marry, say, to not have children, to not be a doormat, to not dress in certain ways, or not having to speak nicely, or to stay quiet. Feminism has long been regarded as a menace to tradition, a disruptor of convention and a delirious up yours! to the image of a life that other people would like you to live. It is in this way perhaps better understood as a practice, a relation, a perspective rather than a dogma, a belief, a statement. It has not and will not go away and shut up: as an instrument it has incredible force, measuring the micro-injustices of everyday life as well as the seemingly immovable structures that can nevertheless be completely reimagined from multiple feminist perspectives – what if there was a world where rape no longer existed, where domestic violence was over, where looking after children was seen as a shared delight and not a gendered exhaustion-generating-machine. Where beauty and desire were not channelled into such narrow repetitive paths, and where what you did bore no relation to what people think you should do. A constructive refusal, a desire for autonomy, a total critique and a series of actions…and, dare we suggest, something wholly enjoyable…?

Feminism requires that the world be turned on its head, in stages or all at once. But opposing something does not of course mean that one accepts the logic of opposition on exactly the same terms as it is handed to you. Despite the fears frequently expressed in comment sections daily whenever a feminist view is expressed – ‘man-hater!’, ‘misandry!’, ‘but women hurt men too’, ‘what about men?’ – the flipside of a male-dominated world is not female supremacy, or female revenge. If some men hate all women, and all men benefit from structures that give them various advantages, the practical critique of this need not mean that those positioned as women would come to dominate in the same way – it would mean redrawing the debate, and life itself, in an entirely different way: not as a battleground where competition for goods, resources, cultural power continued to be fought over, but where an image of expansiveness and co-operation replaces that of scarcity and warring. Feminism would be a kind of gateway to thinking the world differently, to thinking it anew, perhaps a starting point for thinking inequality and oppression as such: the history of feminism itself is littered with moments where it hit its own internal limits – around race, class, essentialism, and so on – and reinvented itself because it had to.

‘But what mushy utopianism’ a little voice whispers! Look at the world as it is, look at how tangled and messy it is, and look at the way in which “feminism” itself has been co-opted by those who would use it to justify war, or sell shampoo, or to police who gets to count as a “woman”. How hard it is to pick out a single “feminism” that gets everything right, and yet how unhelpful it is to believe that multiple “feminisms” have equal value and equal relevance to all women, across class, race, age, geographical location. And yet it is possible to speak positively in broad terms of a ‘feminist revival’, of a ‘resurgence of feminist ideas’ across the political spectrum, of the multiple meetings, workshops, reading groups, blogs, websites, columns, Twitter feeds and so on that make up contemporary “feminism”. The opposition that this revival has been met with has been fierce, particularly on the internet which seems on one level so unreal, so insubstantial, but at the same time so laser-like in its focus and potential cruelty. But perhaps what is happening here is a kind of revelation: these ideas and lives are not going to go away, no matter how hard you push back against them. They don’t disappear through shaming, or resentment, or by forcing their authors to rehearse the same arguments over and over again: ‘no, we don’t hate men’, ‘sigh…yes, we have a sense of humour’, ‘no, just because the focus is on women’s experience in this one instance, it doesn’t mean that men don’t have it bad sometimes too’, and so on, and so on…

Because let’s face it, while life has gotten significantly better for a minority of women in a medium-sized portion of the world, it is nowhere near what it could be if the world had been truly turned on its head: in other words, what would it mean for feminism to be no longer needed? What would it mean to think from the standpoint of perfection (a rough one, anyway) and think backwards from there? Some structures are more easily imagined fixed than others: if we didn’t change things too much, it would be relatively easy to imagine equal political representation, truly equal pay, properly-shared childcare, zero domestic violence, the end of rape, the total stigmatisation of words like ‘slut’, ‘whore’, and so on. It is possible, albeit difficult, to imagine the end of what would classically be called ‘patriarchy’: but what would the elimination of patriarchy be without the elimination of every other mode of oppression?

A few years ago I tried, in a short pamphlet whose title, One-Dimensional Woman, was an obvious homage to Herbert Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man, to present various paradoxes of contemporary life in a humorously angry way: how, for example, the rhetoric of feminism was being used by the right to justify imperial wars, or to sell products as objects of self-empowerment (‘because you’re worth it!’). But above all, I was interested in how a particular image of contemporary womanhood has come to tally so seemingly perfectly with the demands of contemporary employment and contemporary capitalism – how the image of a certain kind of young woman became the face (and body) of employability and supposed enjoyment. It should be noted that I have nothing against meaningful work and pleasure of course (sigh…yes, I have a sense of humour…), but what I missed at this point was the critical edge that feminism ought to bring to these questions of work, money and a life beyond and outside capitalist constraints – the same constraints that are marketed precisely as their opposite, as flexibility, freedom and success. But what has happened since then, and how can we understand it?

What I had been trying to analyse in One-Dimensional Woman was, in many ways, already dead or dying: a culture and economic vision based on personal debt, identifying oneself as a worker (potentially or actually) at all times, and a kind of mediocre positivity relating to selling oneself, and so on. Since the economic crisis, though, this set of images and the related critique seem dated, past, even though it had been ‘real’ until very recently. Austerity, while not exactly reverting to conservative stereotypes of women as home-makers and pushing them back into the domestic realm to try to keep unemployment low – which wouldn’t work anyway, for a number of reasons, not least because the ‘family wage’, if it ever existed, certainly does not now – has hit women harder. Just to keep afloat requires men and women to work harder and longer, whatever their domestic situation, but the jobs cut have been in the female-dominated public sector, and changes to benefits have disproportionately affected women, especially those with children.

Capitalism is a bastard. Everything you demand, it gives you but in the meanest, most self-serving way (and by self-serving, I don’t of course mean in the interests of those forced to work for it). You want flexible working hours because you want a life outside work, to spend time with your family, perhaps? Fine! Have a zero hours contract! You want pleasure and recognition? Fine! Have an infinite mountain of porn tropes and impossible beauty standards! You want a private life? Fine! The state will take away any support structure we might once have offered you! A feminism that sees injustice everywhere must think big and small, micro and macro all at once. It must be organised, but listen to those who get it twice as bad, if not three, four, five times worse…. It would not ever be enough even if there were a hundred more female PMs or CEOS if nothing else fundamentally changed. When feminism takes a hard look at the world and itself at the same time, all that is solid melts into air: suddenly it becomes possible to imagine a world without all those things that make life boring and miserable, and violent and nightmarish. A world without the impossible demands of labour – which is not the same as a world without activity; a world without enforced, ideologically-manipulated competition, whether it be for jobs or attention. A world where families are anything you want them to be and children are a delight, not a demand. And all this for all women, and by extension all men too. An anti-capitalism that starts with women’s work and role, and the way in which this is classed and raced and differently experienced across the world, is not quite the politics we might associate with the so-called organised left, who all-too-often remain trapped with masculinist and outdated models of the working class. It would be a question of shifting the frame once, twice, many times, so that the starting points blur into a complex whole: can contemporary feminism live up to such a demand? If ‘woman’ has been positioned as the other for so long, and this other further divided between itself, the challenge would be to start once more from the divisions themselves, and not pretend there’s some false unity waiting to be uncovered. In order to move beyond the battleground, it is important to first see how people have been positioned as unwilling soldiers in a war they never chose.

3-d-glasses

Nina Power is a senior lecturer in philosophy at Roehampton University and the author of One-Dimensional Woman.

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Young woman in balaclava

Shying away from the front line

I once spent a Wednesday night with a group of French activists, covering the walls of Paris’ prestigious Sorbonne University with anti-rape posters.

I’m not a natural born activist – in fact, that Wednesday night three years ago took even me by surprise and was, to this day, the high point of my feminist activism.

There’s a well-known feminist adage that well-behaved women seldom make history. It always weighs heavily on my mind because, apart from briefly dabbling in sex, drugs and punk music as a teenager, I’ve always been quite well-behaved.

Becoming a feminist was probably the most rebellious thing I did at university – those wild years you’re meant to spend enjoying your first taste of freedom were largely spent poring over Simone de Beauvoir books and discovering a huge network of like-minded feminist women online.

My first attempt at drunken university casual sex failed spectacularly, quickly leading to the occasional dinner before escalating to a full-blown long-distance relationship, and later a mortgage and cats. Somewhere along the lines I snogged his (gay) school friend to prove some kind of point, and even that backfired – that same friend is, in nine months time, going to be a bridesman at our wedding.

I suffer from a combination of shyness, depression and anxiety that, on my worst days, can be crippling. Even on my best days it’s not conducive to the kind of bad behaviour that flies in the face of authority and overturns oppressive laws.

Aside from that one Wednesday night, much of my free time in Paris was characterised by hiding under the duvet, submitting to my depression with the blackout curtains closed, or mooching around obscure museums on my own.

I once made it as far as the door of a French activist meeting before deciding my French wasn’t really up to the job and dashing home. Sadly the same excuse doesn’t work for the many English activist meetings I’ve failed to attend, or the meetings I’ve sat through in silence feeling totally intimidated by the confident, articulate women around me, and unable to get a word in edgeways.

Not one of my feminist heroines reminds me of myself – shy, retiring and fainthearted. I suspect my true feminist soul sisters were quietly and invisibly working in the background, writing impassioned articles in favour of the vote, while the Pankhursts were being force-fed in Holloway prison.

The militancy of the suffragettes and, more recently, of Russian feminist punks Pussy Riot, makes me feel like the world’s worst feminist. My introversion, and the perfectionism that goes with it, make me a great writer and organiser, but I constantly feel that I’m not DOING enough.

Is getting angry and writing article after article, email after letter, really enough? I feel like a fraud for sitting on Twitter and retweeting a petition while women who I hugely admire are out there, arguing with sexists on Newsnight and chaining their wheelchairs together in protest at the government’s attack on welfare.

The mere thought of speaking in public – let alone being shouted at on national television – fills me with dread, and I’m only marginally less terrified of being arrested than I am of phoning my parents from a prison cell to tell them.

If there was a prize for least likely to pick up a megaphone at Reclaim The Night, I’d be top of the nomination shortlist. In fact, more than once I’ve chickened out of a Reclaim The Night march because I knew I’d have to travel alone. I’m still not sure whether to laugh or cry at the irony of that!

Even writing this article has well and truly dragged me from my safe journalistic comfort zone of News and Features, and into the scary and vulnerable realm of The Personal. So there you go, be gentle with me, and please say hello if you spot me at Reclaim The Night this year. I’ll be the one hiding behind a Pussy Riot mask.

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Nuts magazine spread

In defence of lads mags

For a few months in 2010 I went out with a writer on top-selling lads mag Nuts. For the leader of the country’s foremost feminist choir, this seemed like an unlikely, some might say ill-fated, pairing, which it was. “Is this some kind of performance art statement?” asked a good friend after realising that just introducing ourselves to randoms in a pub could cause a perfectly healthy person’s brain to rupture: “But you’re… but he… but you’re… but she….” BOOM.

So when hashtag #LoseTheLadsMags starting being regurgitated down my threads and feeds – referring to the campaign that has resulted in getting some lads mags sealed in modesty bags to protect the women who stock the shelves from sexual harassment – I thought back to that heady summer of experimentation and remembered that I’d learnt something very important back then: Nuts meant more to its readers than just tits.

We were driving back from Bristol late at night, this boyfriend and me, when, along with some mates, we popped into a service station to pick up crisps, fags and petrol. We waited in a long queue, me in full makeup from the gig I’d just performed in. Being full of adrenaline, and full of myself, I started talking to the two young men in front of us. They were about 18, 19, their really sweet, stubble-free faces all curious as to why I had my mug painted like a Carebear.

I asked them what they did and, when they said that in a few days they would be going on their first tour of duty in Iraq, my heart sank. By 2010 we were all familiar with the daily loss of life and limb, and the lies that put us there had been proven.

Since 2004, Nuts has been supporting soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. It supplies magazines and merchandise, which as a promotional ploy is a smart move. The army is well known for having a lot of young men in it, away from home and the women they love, and lonely sex-starved men are, of course, the sitting ducks of the lads mag audience.

But that’s not where Nuts stopped; it also sent food, toiletries and other care packages. Then, at Christmas 2007, members of the editorial team actually flew into a war zone on Christmas Day, dressed as Santa and the elves, to hand out gifts.

Now, I’m anti-war, but I’m not anti-soldiers. The reasons why young people become soldiers are complex. David Gee’s 2008 report Informed Choice concluded that “Non-Officer recruitment draws mostly on young people from 16 years of age living in disadvantaged communities, with many recruits joining as a last resort”. The UK is now the only country in Europe to still allow “children” of 16 and 17 to sign up to fight. The men we are talking about here are not at the top of the patriarchal tree.

When I told those boys in the Esso garage which magazine the chap with me worked for, they went mental. Could he arrange a shout-out to their patrol in the magazine? Could they get limited edition military Nuts tees and a goody bag? They left for their car with big smiles on their faces, texting their mates, the promises of free packs of food and fun stuff delivered to some hellhole ringing away in their ears like the last school bell for the summer.

Nuts not only engaged directly with soldiers like the ones we met that night but took on the Ministry Of Defence (MOD), lobbying for better equipment, having seen the shortages first-hand. It also printed soldiers’ letters and stories in their pages, and reported on veterans recovering from their experiences, joining them in the Arctic in 2011 to cover Walking with the Wounded’s Polar Challenge.

What have our members said to us so far about the lads mags campaign? It’s pretty evenly split into two. There are those who passionately believe we’re on the brink of a great feat for feminist-kind. Then there are the others, who think it’s a distraction from more pressing campaigns against more damaging regimes.

I’m split between the two, and find myself with a whole other issue on my mind. The era of lad culture may well be nearing its end, and not having the freedom to show their front covers in supermarket stands will certainly nail that coffin shut, but lads mags, like the “lads” that read them, are not one-dimensional. Before we kill them dead, shouldn’t we consider these magazines in the round and think carefully about what we may be taking away from the men who read them?

Take Nuts’ latest campaign with CALM Zone, Campaign Against Living Miserably, an organisation that offers support to young men who are at crisis point and aims to stop them committing suicide. Young men make up 77% of all suicide statistics – some 4,639 ended their own life in 2012 alone.

It’s obvious why CALM would work with Nuts, as Jane Powell their CEO says: “This partnership is a great opportunity to reach an audience of young men… A key objective for us is to approach these serious issues with a positive, upbeat and humorous approach and the partnership with Nuts allows us to achieve this perfectly.” Of course it does, how else would they reach them? Advertise on Pornhub?

Do we, the collective feminist, understand these men, the men who read Nuts, Loaded, Zoo? And I say “we” because I understand the instinct to restrict these publications as a feminist. But do we get why men read them? Could these magazines be an essential space, not only for the expression of young men’s sexuality, but their interests and their difficulties; if modesty bags close them down what are we offering as the alternative? They won’t be picking up a Guardian, Grazia or Feminist Times instead. What are we assuming will be substituted if the genre goes under?

So here I am again, somehow finding myself in unlikely cahoots with the lads mag camp, and perhaps for some of the same reasons I ended up with that chap, that summer. I found when I met him that we had loads in common: we read the same papers, watched the same telly, drank the same wine.

When I look at lads mags as the Deputy Editor of a new magazine, which fulfills a need