Tag Archives: disability

Most rapists and murderers aren’t ill. Don’t call misogynists “mad”

An actor called him a lunatic, and newspapers and magazines called him a madman and deranged. And while it may have been tempting to use these words to describe the young man who killed six people because of his arrogant attitude of entitlement to women, Elliott Rodger’s videos and manifesto made clear that his problem was not his mental health, but rather his unbridled misogyny.

Using mental health slurs to describe people who are violent or objectionable is not only inaccurate, it also promotes stigma and damaging attitudes towards people with mental health problems. This is why describing rapists and murderers as crazy, psychos or nutters is dangerous as well as lazy.

It is these attitudes that prevent people with mental health diagnoses from getting on with their lives. They cause people in a leafy Sheffield suburb to actively object to a charity-run crisis house in their backyard on their street. The resulting prejudice prevents us from getting jobs and causes people to fear and loathe us. It makes people avoid seeking treatment because they are so afraid of the stigma that comes alongside the ‘mentally ill’ label. As an anonymous contributor to Fementalists wrote:

“For those of us who are mentally ill, however, it stays with us, stabs at us. Whenever we hear this kind of thing we’re getting the message we’re not to be accepted as we are, that we’re bad, wrong, to be mocked, or worse, dangerous. To me, it’s a constant message sent by society that we are unwelcome in it.”

The vast majority of people with mental health problems are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators, and 95% of murders are committed by people with no mental health diagnosis. However, whenever a killing makes the news, speculation about the suspect’s potential psychiatric state abound, not just in gossipy social media circles but in the mainstream press too.

The problem with abusers is not that they are “insane”. When we label violent and abusive men ‘crazy’, we fail to identify and address the real problems. In cases of domestic violence, rape and stalking, for instance, it is easy to call the perpetrators psychotic but, if we do so, we are missing the opportunity to recognise and tackle misogyny, entitlement and rape culture.

The use of mental health slurs as insults is unrelenting, and the undercurrent of unremitting microaggressions is exhausting. When I call myself mad and you use the same word to describe Jimmy Savile’s terrifying catalogue of abuse, I can only conclude that you think there is a parallel between the two. When somebody is diagnosed with psychosis and you call a perpetrator of vicious domestic violence ‘psychotic’, you are suggesting that you believe the person who is unwell is capable of the same cruelty and abuse.

We see news reports of violent misogyny and we might well get angry. We read accounts of domestic abuse and we may feel frightened and vulnerable. But resorting to disablist language to describe the perpetrators of these crimes makes it easy to ignore the problem, while piling stigma onto mental health service users that will limit our lives and encourage hate crimes and discrimination.

So, if somebody is brutal, call them brutal. If they are cruel, call them cruel. And what if an abuser or killer has a confirmed diagnosis of, say, psychosis or schizophrenia? Well, what if they have epilepsy? Or a broken leg? The likelihood is that their diagnosis bears little relationship to their violence. Assuming there is a connection with their impairment is submitting to dangerous stereotypes that cause palpable, daily problems for those with these diagnoses and issues.

Wait for the facts, don’t assume and never, ever try to diagnose somebody based on what you’ve read on the internet.

Philippa Willitts is a disabled feminist freelance writer in Sheffield. She has written for the Guardian, Independent, New Statesman and Channel 4 News websites and is part of The F-Word blogging collective. Follow her @PhilippaWrites.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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‘Manifestly Inadequate’: austerity and cuts are punishing and devastating

After being found ‘fit for work’, Miss DE committed suicide. Her benefits were cut, despite her long-term depression. Without consulting her doctors, ATOS decided she should lose her Incapacity Benefit and the drop in income made her fear she would lose her home.

On Hogmanay last year, she killed herself.

Normally it is unwise to speculate on the cause of somebody’s suicide but, in this case, the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland (MWC) carried out a detailed investigation and found that, despite years of stress-related depression, she had never before displayed suicidal behaviours. She was doing voluntary work, getting married, and undergoing treatment. The MWC concluded that: “There wasn’t anything else which we could identify that would lead us to believe that there was any other factor in her life that resulted in her decision to end her life.”

Almost two months earlier, in Bristol, Jacqueline Harris also killed herself after ‘failing’ her Work Capability Assessment (WCA) during which she was said to have been only asked one question. Her benefits were stopped and her limited mobility, severe pain and visual impairment prevented her from being able to seek work.

Without a full enquiry or inquest verdict it is inappropriate to suggest that Harris’s suicide was down to this single factor, but the connection between WCAs and a deterioration in mental health is undeniable:

  • 13% of psychiatrists report that at least one of their patients had attempted suicide as a result of the assessment process
  • 85% had patients who had been so distressed they needed more frequent appointments
  • 65% had patients needing stronger medication
  • 35% have had patients admitted to hospital

Disability benefits are complicated, and people can receive up to six different awards, sometimes for relatively small amounts, due to the way the system is set up. Furthermore, certain benefits entitle their recipients to other help, such as motability cars and public transport passes, so losing a Disability Living Allowance (DLA) claim will not only cause a drop in income, but also create an inability to travel, go to the shops, or attend medical appointments.

Because of the incredibly complex way that cuts are affecting disabled people, more than 100,000 people signed the WOW petition, calling for the government to carry out a Cumulative Impact Assessment of the impact of the cuts on disabled people. This would look at not just how the bedroom tax, DLA cuts, and introduction of ESA are affecting people separately, but would instead study the impact of combination of cuts, all happening simultaneously.

The government refused.

Even taken individually, the cuts are having a devastating impact. Disability is really expensive. Specialist equipment, needing taxis due to inaccessible public transport, employing support workers, and needing specially designed clothes are just a few factors that need to be taken into account. All in all, disabled people are being set upon from every angle, and the lack of a Cumulative Impact Assessment means that the unfairness of the attacks cannot be fully exposed.

The Independent Living Fund has also been abolished, a move that Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) have described as, “a regression of disabled people’s rights”. Those using the ILF are the severely disabled, and the fund was designed to help people live independently in their own homes. This is a right that is taken for granted by many non-disabled people who are not at risk of being confined to a group home or care facility, potentially as a young adult, subject to others’ rules and regulations, infantilised and segregated.

Two-thirds of people being hit by the ‘bedroom tax’ are disabled; the Disabled Students’ Allowance has now been targeted; up to 15% of disabled people affected by cuts have relied on a food bank; and the European Committee of Social Rights has stated that benefit levels in the UK today are “manifestly inadequate”. And even the economic benefits to the country are questionable: the potential savings of £145 million, as a result of the change from Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to Personal Independence Payments, is eclipsed by the potential £456 million that will be lost when disabled people who lose their DLA award have to stop working as a result. Plus, the extra hospitalisations, medication and psychiatrist appointments described above will cost the state far more than the associated benefit cuts will save.

Almost all of these cuts can have very expensive, as well as personally devastating, consequences, clearly demonstrating that they are an ideological rather than a true cost-cutting measure. The government’s focus on attacking those least able to fight back is cowardly and cruel and, combined with the viciousness of the cuts affecting women, disabled women in particular are under extreme pressure.

A Cumulative Impact Assessment is absolutely necessary to measure and quantify exactly what is happening, and the EHRC have now stepped in. To really fight back, we have to understand the precise situation we are in, so we can fight to support the most vulnerable in our society.

Philippa Willitts is a disabled feminist freelance writer in Sheffield. She has written for the Guardian, Independent, New Statesman and Channel 4 News websites and is part of The F-Word blogging collective. Follow her @PhilippaWrites.

Photo: Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty

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#SexIndustryWeek: Nobody’s entitled to sex, including disabled people

Debates about the sex industry are never far from any feminist’s consciousness, and one argument that always catches my attention is that prostitution should be legalised because, without sex workers, those poor, pitiful disabled people would never get any sex.

People who have never showed any interest in campaigning against disability benefit cuts or fighting for accessible premises are suddenly preoccupied by our ‘right’ to sex? It’s disingenuous, and it hides a not-so-subtle disablism behind the rhetoric.

The assumption that nobody would ever have sex with a disabled person through personal choice is not only inaccurate, it’s also offensive. An infantilised view of disabled people also contributes to the idea that sex with one of us is wrong or weird, adding to the stigma and prejudice that limit our lives.

In the current media environment, we are portrayed as lazy scroungers. In movies, we are the plucky, inspirational characters who exist to motivate others into action by guilt-tripping them into thinking about how terrible our lives are. And in the medical realm we, ourselves, are the problem, with our wonky bodies and minds requiring expensive treatments that the health service can resent providing.

So it’s no surprise that non-disabled people don’t know what to think of us. If they do fancy a disabled person, questions about whether they would break during sex (hint: communicate), whether sex would hurt (hint: communicate), and so on, can create barriers that a lot of people see as too difficult to tackle. In fact, a staggering 70% of British people would ‘not consider’ having sex with a disabled person, according to an Observer poll.

Societal prejudice runs so deeply that even some people who are disabled themselves are wary of dating other disabled people: in two examples, both published on Disability Horizons, one disabled man – worried about getting a date himself – wrote offensively about women with mental health problems, while another – justifying his use of a woman in prostitution – referred to disabled women as the ‘second best’ option.

It is important, then, to see that the supposed inevitability of disabled people never getting a shag is entrenched in societal prejudice. And, rather than fight this and challenge the misconceptions and the offensiveness, there are still those whose solution is to advocate for the right of disabled men (almost always) to have sex with a prostitute. So if you’re fighting for a disabled person’s ‘right’ to sex via prostitution, consider the thought that you are reinforcing discriminatory ideas, not liberating us.

It may be unpopular, but it is true to say that nobody needs sex. It is not like food or water, where you will die if you go without. Sex can be fun, stress-relieving and exciting, and not having sex when your libido is high can be frustrating and depressing. However, the failure to orgasm on a regular basis has yet to cause somebody’s heart to stop beating or their genitals to fall off.

The sense of entitlement can be astounding, and the problem with arguing for a disabled man’s ‘right’ to use a sex worker is that it is pitting his desires against a woman’s bodily autonomy. For those sex workers who love their jobs, this is not an issue. However for the 95% of street sex workers who reported problematic drug use*, the 78% who report being raped 16 times a year by their pimps, and 33 times by johns, and the 4,000 people trafficked into the UK for sexual exploitation at any one time, the story is not quite so positive.

At what point does a disabled person feeling horny overtake the rights of the woman who began being prostituted as a child, which is the case with approximately 75% of all women in prostitution? As psychologist Simon Parritt explains, although “everybody has a right to a sexual identity. I don’t think everybody has the right to sex with another person. That involves somebody else’s rights.”

When I see those same campaigners attending demonstrations against the way disabled people are being treated under this ‘austerity’ government, or objecting to the closure of the Independent Living Fund, then maybe I will start to believe that they do care about disability rights. Until then, I just see people using disability as a convenient argument in support of maintaining men’s access to women’s bodies.

There are complex issues at play where disabled people and sexuality are concerned. Technology, advice, or even special training may be needed for a successful sex life, but the problems we face are a result of disablist discrimination, not some kind of innate inability to meet a sexual partner. And just as disabled people need equal rights so do women, including the right to not be exploited or abused.

Philippa Willitts is a disabled feminist freelance writer in Sheffield. She has written for the Guardian, Independent, New Statesman and Channel 4 News websites and is part of The F-Word blogging collective. Follow her @PhilippaWrites.

*This article was amended on 22 April to clarify the statistic on drug use.

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Intrusive entitlement: disabled women as public property

Most women and girls have tales to tell about being treated as public property. From what we look like to what we wear, whether we are thin, fat, or in between, our pregnancy status and our degree of visible happiness (“Cheer up, love!”). We know we can be questioned, challenged or attacked, especially by people who perceive that we are Doing It Wrong.

Governments debate whether our clothes should be outlawed and how much control we should have over our own bodies, while men in the street are quick to point out exactly how we measure up against their particular fuckability standards. Newspapers express shock and outrage when a woman who has aged looks older, or a woman who has had a baby looks like she’s gained weight. Or lost weight. Or stayed the same. Whatever the scenario, we can’t win.

Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to policing. Strangers will touch a ‘bump’ and comment on its size or shape, and god help a pregnant woman spotted eating forbidden food or having a glass of wine. And if men don’t think we are attractive enough, a cruel aggression can take over. Just ask Olympic athlete Beth Tweddle after her live Twitter chat yesterday.

As a disabled woman, the intrusions go further still. “What have you done?” is a bewildering question that makes me feel like I’ve done something wrong. Then they nod at my crutch and I reel at their arrogant entitlement. No amount of non-committal muttering puts off the keen inquirer. They want to know everything, oblivious to how intrusive and inappropriate their line of questioning is.

Then comes the unsolicited, unsuitable advice. Their mate’s uncle’s nephew had something like that and he stopped eating dairy. Their kid’s teacher’s dog’s former owner cures back ache by rubbing herself with dried lavender mixed with fairy’s tears. I try to do sufficient nodding to stop them from repeating themselves, but not enough to encourage them to continue.

“It’s worth a try isn’t it? Better than all those medicines with their side effects!” After all, their Mum’s best friend’s granddaughter’s school friend’s auntie took some tablets and they made her feel ROTTEN.

Some people are more intrusive still. They grab my arm, push my friend’s wheelchair, or take a blind woman across the road, whether she wanted to or not. And, rather like when women are “complimented” in the street, we are supposed to be thankful. Not angry that our bodily autonomy is being eroded every time somebody thinks they know better than we do.

The correct response is, apparently, gratitude. Like any good cripple I know that when I’m patted on the head I’m supposed to thank the kind person for their attention, not fight for my right to be seen and heard. People are so conditioned by the pity narrative that it becomes objectionable for me to resist it.

If it’s not oppressively ‘well-intentioned’, non-disabled people’s sense of entitlement towards disabled people can get aggressive. Unfamiliar men have threateningly accused me of faking my impairments, on one occasion following me home to do so. The brutal propaganda against disabled people and benefit claimants has made people assume that anybody who looks a bit wonky is faking it to bring in some ready cash, and it makes them furious.

Is that so far away from the benevolent, kindly gent at the bus stop who is essentially concern-trolling me about the very same thing? Of course he’s less aggressive, but he’s still making my body and life into a public issue that others have the right to cross-examine.

Being patronising to this degree reflects an attitude that women and disabled people need to be protected and can’t be trusted to make our own decisions. The intersecting narratives implode in a barrage of thoroughly depressing, oppressive paternalism.

Philippa Willitts is a disabled feminist freelance writer in Sheffield. She has written for the Guardian, Independent, New Statesman and Channel 4 News websites and is part of The F-Word blogging collective. Follow her @PhilippaWrites.

Image courtesy of Sean McGrath

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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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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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