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Charlotte Raven

Feminist Times: My Feminist Times ‘journey’

Intro

What a sad day! I kept thinking we would turn it around and praying for a miracle. Leaving our office for the last time last week, with the FemT box files in a shopping bag, I felt mainly sadness but also a little relief. No more sleepless nights worrying or fruitless hours writing supplicating emails to rich people. No more guilt about not being fully present for my husband and young children or my FemT colleagues. I’m looking forward to spending time with my family (as disgraced politicians say) with a clear conscience, and gathering my thoughts for the rest of the summer and possibly longer.

I won’t miss being resented from afar; I am privileged but my life is far from enviable. I am in the early stages of Huntington’s disease, cognitively impaired, and struggling with many aspects of every day life. I lose things, break things, hurt myself, rage at Tom and the children. This is a symptom and can’t be addressed by anger management techniques. My dad is in the late stages of Huntington’s disease; he can’t speak, read, swallow or co ordinate his movement but is otherwise compos mentis and so all too aware of his predicament.

I don’t think quickly now and have sometimes struggled to keep up with the breakneck pace of this project. My short term memory is shot and my mind wanders. I exist much of the time in a state of terrified befuddlement. Furthermore, I can no longer multi-task, which might explain why I’ve struggled when too many things are going on at once during this project (i.e. most of the time) and there’s literally nothing I can do about it.

I haven’t previously written about Huntington’s Disease in Feminist Times and I was in two minds about mentioning it even now. On one hand I want to tell the truth, but on the other I worry that my condition will make FemT less credible (and perhaps less tempting to publishers and investors).

But not telling the truth is worse. The whole point about FemT is that it was true to life, unlike the other media. The truth is that my daily life recently has been assembled piece by piece like a jigsaw puzzle with my family and FemT colleagues’ help.

Thank goodness for Deborah and Sarah; my FemT colleagues have been wonderful help for the hard of thinking. They can work magic on my half-formed ideas and sharpen my copy. They work and think a hundred miles a minute but, unlike most prolific writers, the quality of their output is consistently high. I didn’t think this was possible. I’m completely in awe of them because they are multi-skilled, and can balance the books and husband our limited resources very effectively. Because of them I have a clear conscience whatever happens next.

Like a Big Brother contestant, I come out of this project more vividly alive than when I went in, disinhibited and ready to reveal all. My wise colleagues have cautioned against full disclosure, so what follows is an edited account of the last 18 months rather than the whole nine yards. I hope you will forgive digressions and deviations as I want convey what it felt like as well as the whys and wherefores of how we got to this point.

Masturbation

The setting off point of all modern feminist ‘journeys’. You must begin with masturbation, whether relevant or not, if you want people to sit up and take notice.

Vivenne Albertine from the Slits begins her memoir with an account of a lifetime not masturbating. She says masturbating when you are single is like getting drunk when you’re miserable; it makes you feel more lonely. I liked this. Maybe the same is true of literary masturbation – I have read so many accounts, for business rather than pleasure, and felt lonely afterwards .

It isn’t taboo, as Petra Collins and Caitlin Moran claim. Moran’s new novel begins with a masturbation scene. The woman interviewing her on Newsnight looked thoroughly embarrassed. Who put her up to it?

Collins says: “We’re taught to hide our menstrual cycles and even to hide masturbation.”

Are we? In fact we are being goaded to reveal the intimate facts in public, on pain of being accused of prudery. I am not a prude or repressed, but won’t wank in public. Feminist Times isn’t a wank fest. I wanted there to be one place where authenticity didn’t equate to baring all.

In fact, it’s not talking about the intimate details of your sex life that is taboo. Men love it.

Distracting Lucy

I have known our art director Lucy for 32 years, but only recently got to know her. We were in the same class at secondary school and I kept distracting her with my big ideas and stopping her from concentrating. I tried to convert her to Marxism and Modism, but it didn’t work. She didn’t join the school students’ strike or beg her mother to let her see The Jam’s last ever concert. She was her own person; much less malleable than the people in my gang. They thought she was straight, and it took me a while to realise – we were the conformists.

We kept in touch, and she did get a word in edgeways eventually. I met Lucy for coffee in Foyles eighteen months ago and pitched this big idea to her. She took a long time to respond. I kept emailing her for an answer. She had been consulting (very sensible) and thinking and only when she had done so did she agree.

Lucy is the subversive soul of Feminist Times. She wouldn’t talk about wanking on Newnight and her reticence makes her stand out . We had such a good time mocking up concept covers. One was a full bleed cover of a bare breasted Femen activist with a chainsaw. Lucy said the straights (although she wouldn’t use that term) in her studio were giving her funny looks.

One of our digital consultants said Lucy’s logo would alienate Telegraph woman, Grazia woman and even Guardian woman. It looked like a stop sign and broke every design rule, including the one that said it was good to experiment as long as the results aren’t experimental. There was still time to rethink, but not much. Once we were out there on the margins, there would be no way back…

The unfocused group

It wasn’t a focus group and we weren’t brainstorming. I bought a whiteboard, because I was nervous, then hid it in the broom cupboard just in time.

“What are you doing?” Anna said. “Don’t you want to use it?”

“No!”

“Why did you buy it?”

“Shhh! They’re here!”

One of the brilliant things about this project was having an excuse to get in touch with people I admired. Playwrights Emma Crowe and Penny Skinner, Kat Banyard, writer and activist Jan Woolf, artist Marica Farquar and Hannah Pool were all mildly or moderately drunk around my kitchen in the early days (not all at the same time). It was a riff on Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party.

These conversations were respectful, revealing and hilarious. We were connecting. Kitty Finer thought of our brilliant strapline ‘Life not lifestyle’, Kate Tempest was very excited by our vision of a women’s magazine with no celebrities or brands that told the truth. It seemed more timely and necessary the more we talked about it. Why hadn’t this happened before? And why did Private Eye have the monopoly on humour? Bloody Woman’s Hour, with features on ‘do you let your dog sleep on your bed?’ and no SOH didn’t speak to us.

We wanted satire, investigations, columns and properly written features. Some of us really wanted a printed magazine, others weren’t that bothered. Radical empathy was a founding principle. We wouldn’t judge women or hold them accountable for the ills of society. There would be no shaming or blaming. We would have positive reviews. But they wouldn’t be bland.

So many open questions. How did we feel about lesbian mud wrestling if the wrestler was funding her art? And what price honesty? How would it play? Laying yourself bare was very risky as some of us had already discovered. Would positivity come out bland? We were at the intersection of life and art! It was thrilling and scary.

These women aren’t muses or ‘inspirational’ in a Woman’s Houry way. I often thought, we need a new word for this. I should have asked the unfocused group while you were there.

Crowdfunding

What a brilliant idea! I wanted a brand and sponsorship free space for women and the membership model seemed to have more integrity than one off asks on Kickstarter where the commitment was one sided.

Someone said crowdfunding is like a courtship. You show the public your best side, offer them presents and positivity, garlanded in tweets. An unwise crowdfunder sticks the ask on a site and gets on with his life. In fact you are meant to promote your project (and yourself) in creative and compelling ways continually. You are selling yourself. The paradox of crowdfunding is that it is still all about you and me, not really a form of collective ownership at all.

This sounded exhausting. Our membership model was a marriage; not a dalliance. We wanted a long term commitment; a relationship that could grow and deepen over time. I had never been in that kind of relationship with hundreds of people simultaneously. I’d also never tweeted so didn’t know the form.

We called in the ‘relationship based engagement experts’, then fell out with them. They said it was about making people connect with me by tweeting and communicating in my voice, which made sense, then said we should ask founder members for more money, which didn’t.

Our relationship with our founder members was the lynch pin of the project; I felt I knew them but couldn’t be sure. When we asked them whether they still wanted to commit to the project if it wasn’t called Spare Rib I still held my breath. But the vast majority did, which was hugely motivating.

It has been a privilege getting to know so many of you and I have happy memories of our time together. I’m sad that this relationship will be broken off rather abruptly at the end of this week. I’m sorry it didn’t work out…

I think the membership model might have worked if we’d had more time to reach critical mass.

Hashtag not Spare Rib

We needed a new name as good as Spare Rib. And fast. Crucially it mustn’t seem as if we’d tried too hard. From what I recall, that name had come about organically. A joke that stuck, like all the best names. I knew the more we thought about it the worse it would be, but what was the alternative? We tried to crowd source, but people were obviously struggling. There were a lot of biblical references, Lilith, some suffragette ones, Purple Sash. I loved Redstocking which was Shulamith Firestone’s activist cell but it was already taken. In fact all the good names were already taken.

This is how mad we were. One afternoon we were kicking around ‘fall’ ideas, specifically the feminist rehabilitation of Eve as the heroine of the piece. We were under a lot of pressure to deliver and then… a breakthrough. Someone had suggested Eve’s Apple several hours ago, I wasn’t keen. But what about APPLE?

It had a ring to it. Slightly surreal and edgy but not clever clever. I could see the logo in my mind’s eye. An apple with a bite taken out of it. A powerful founding myth and a feminist joke. We will gorge on the forbidden fruit and hang the consequences. I was so happy, then we all noticed the logo on the back of our computers at the same time. `

We had a short list, put it to a vote, then ended up with the second placed name. I hated Feminist Times at first it, as it seemed banal and literal minded. But quirky is the new normal in publishing. There is a magazine called Elephant, another called Tirade and an online women-fronted tv show called Fox Problem. A straightforward name is as radical today as weird was in the seventies.

Elle on earth

The lads mags are folding or recalibrating and feminists are delighted. Nuts is no more. Loaded has turned it’s back on lad culture after publishers felt it’s “lewd content was lowering the tone.” Will the strapline ‘for men who should know better’ be consigned to the dustbin of history?

Men are no longer behaving badly when feminists are looking, but women are. Women’s magazines are still full of hot chicks demonstrating the truth of the old maxim; a little bit of what you fancy does you good.

What about the lewd content of women’s magazines? Won’t Cosmo be lowering the tone when Loaded has a cover image of Antoina Byatt? The feminist gaze has been on lads mags, and our old adversaries have been growing in confidence and borrowing our clothes without asking when we were out campaigning.

The argument against women’s magazines is the same as ever. They pretend to be your friend, then stab you in the back. Mean girls who keep you guessing about their motivations. They are party animals. And killjoys. They preach indulgence and abstinence in the same breath. Spend, shag, repent. No wonder we’re confused. Lads mags weren’t conflicted. There were no ads for detox spas in the back of Loaded.

So why don’t womens mags “move with the times” like Loaded? Nobody’s telling them to. They appear to be making it new and constantly reinventing themselves into people with short memories. In fact, it is a repetitions compulsion.

Every few years, a womans magazine is launched for people who don’t like woman’s magazines. Marie Claire was aimed at women who feel patronised by the women’s media, and want long features and occasional references to A N Other country.

Now Elle is “the best of the bunch” because it has long features, according to Vagenda.

I wish we hadn’t taken part in Elle’s rebranding feminism project. Who are they to tell us we have an image problem? And imply that they can fix it by giving us a makeover. They flattered us, made us feel special by seeming to be interested in us. Such lovely ladies they are too, talking about how intelligent Elle was compared with its competitors.

I wanted Feminist Times to be a real friend, not a fake one, who would dump you over a fashion faux pas or a mistimed downward dog

Angry bird

Elle wants feminists to take a chill pill. If we use quiet voices, people will listen. That makes me so bloody angry. I was rational and reasonable when this project began, but no more. The newspapers all enrage me, Women’s magazines, ditto.

I’m angry with Ed Milliband for not being angry enough about food poverty and the destruction of the NHS.

And outraged that feminism has been co-opted by brands. Fuck Dove and all the others.

I’m angry about the new female stereotypes, and the old female stereotypes. Reports of the ladettes’ death were exaggerated,

I am even angry about the lack women at board level for the first time. The boards sound like a bear pit so this isn’t surprising.

And I’m angry about how the equal pay act isn’t being implemented and won’t be until there is transparency.

A year on I’m more convinced more than ever that feminism needs some firebrands, not milquetoasts.

The bottom line

We produced some amazing content and held some memorable events but some aspects of our business plan – no corporate sponsorship and no slave labour – didn’t pay off in the current climate. The project wasn’t supported by a phalanx of cheap interns because we believed that was wrong. And we were committed to remaining free from the dead hand of advertising and corporate sponsorship.

I wanted FemT to be different, but in the end the income from membership alone was not enough to keep it going. Rather than break our promise to reject intern labour and advertising, we decided to stop. We have kept our integrity and I want to put the project on ice while we work out if there is another way of funding the project that’s both ethical and sustainable. My Feminist Times email will be open for the next several months; please feel free to submit any suggestions and let me know if you want to get involved. If you have an idea of how you could relaunch it I’d be pleased to hear from you.

charlotte@feministtimes.com

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Andrea Dworkin’s Last Rape

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

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

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

One day it did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Maria Silverman in Aftermath by Andrea Dworkin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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To receive updates about Aftermath: The Andrea Dworkin Theater Project, like its Facebook page. For tickets to the United Solo run in New York City, click here. For production inquiries, email media2change@gmail.com.

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

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“Cliquish, tunnel-vision intolerance afflicts too many feminists”

When the Daily Mail described our interviewee as a “dissident feminist” last December we knew we had to talk to this outsider of mainstream feminism, professor and writer Camille Paglia. I wanted to know why it’s not easy to slot her into a “camp”, what we can learn from her dissidence, and whether, looking back, she would consider acting differently in the public sphere. Has Paglia mellowed with age? Erm, that would be a big, bellowing, NO!

The Daily Mail described you as a “dissident feminist” and then went on to list a series of counter intuitive opinions you are reported as having. Why is it important for a feminist to be “dissident”? Do you ever play devil’s advocate and do we need feminists who are “controversial”?

I am a dissident because my system of beliefs, worked out over the past five decades, has been repeatedly attacked, defamed, and rejected by feminist leaders and their acolytes across a wide spectrum, both in and out of academe. This punitive style of mob ostracism began from the very start of second-wave feminism, when Betty Friedan was pushed out of the National Organization for Women by younger and more radical women, including fanatical lesbian separatists.

As a graduate student in 1970, I quietly clashed with future bestselling lesbian novelist Rita Mae Brown at an early feminist conference held at the Yale Law School. Brown said, “The difference between you and me, Camille, is that you want to save the universities and I want to burn them down.” The next year, I nearly got into a fistfight with the New Haven Women’s Liberation Rock Band over my defense of the Rolling Stones. Two years after that, as a Bennington College teacher at dinner at an Albany restaurant, I had an angry confrontation with the founding faculty of the pioneering women’s studies programme of the State University of New York when they sweepingly dismissed any role of hormones in human development. They accused me of being “brainwashed by male scientists”, a charge I still find stupid and contemptible. (I walked out before dessert, thereby boycotting the feminist event we all were headed to.)

“Neither she nor any other feminist has the right to canonise or excommunicate.”

There was a steady stream of other such unpleasant incidents, but everything paled in comparison to the international firestorm of lies and libel that greeted me after the publication in 1990 of my first book, Sexual Personae (a 700-page expansion of my Yale dissertation). It’s all documented and detailed in the back of my two essay collections, but let me give just one example. In 1992, Gloria Steinem, the czarina of U.S. feminism, sat enthroned with her designated heirs, Susan Faludi and Naomi Wolf, on the stage of New York’s 92nd St Y and, when asked a question about me from the floor, replied: “We don’t give a shit what she thinks.” The moment was caught by TV cameras and broadcast by CBS’s 60 Minutes programme. Faludi has monotonously insisted over the years that I am not a feminist but “only play one on TV”. Well, who made Faludi pope? Neither she nor any other feminist has the right to canonise or excommunicate.

I remain an equal opportunity feminist. That is, I call for the removal of all barriers to women’s advance in the professional and political realms. However, I oppose special protections for women (such as differential treatment of the names of accuser and accused in rape cases), and I condemn speech codes of any kind, above all on university campuses. Furthermore, as a libertarian, I maintain that our private sexual and emotional worlds are too mercurial and ambiguous to obey the codes that properly govern the workplace. As I recently told the Village Voice, I maintain that everyone has a bisexual potential and that no one is born gay. We need a more flexible psychology, as well as an end to the bitter feminist war on men. My feminist doctrine is completely on the record in four of my six books.

As for playing “devil’s advocate”, I can’t imagine a committed feminist engaging in that kind of silly game. The real problem is the cliquish, tunnel-vision intolerance that afflicts too many feminists, who seem unprepared to recognise and analyse ideas. In both the U.S. and Britain, there has been far too much addiction to “theory” in post-structuralist and post-modernist gender studies. With its opaque jargon and elitist poses, theory is no way to build a real-world movement. My system of pro-sex feminism has been constructed by a combination of scholarly research and every-day social observation.

The infamous faxes between you and Julie Burchill in The Modern Review are still very much the stuff of legend in the UK’s media. Any regret about the whole thing? If you were mentoring a young Camille today how would you tell her to deal with that kind of situation? All guns blazing, take her down and combative, or would you be recommending some mindfulness, meditation and understanding?

There is not a single thing I would change in my handling of that acrimonious 1993 episode. British journalist Julie Burchill gratuitously attacked and insulted me, and I responded in kind. Our exchanges continued, with my replies getting longer and hers getting shorter, until she realised she had misjudged her opponent and “bottled out” (a British locution for beating a hasty retreat that I heard for the first time from an amused Times reporter commenting on the battle).

I learned how to jab and parry from my early models, Oscar Wilde, Dorothy Parker, and Mary McCarthy. Germaine Greer, whom I deeply admire, has always been glorious in combat. As for mentoring a young Camille Paglia, I would tell her to study my martial arts moves and do likewise!

We have found ourselves in the midst of many similar battles of wits online, as Twitter is effectively publishing everyone’s faxes. As someone who can give as good as you get, how do you feel about some prominent feminists and writers being hounded off Twitter by other feminists? What do you think Twitter is doing for feminism – making it narcissistic, polarised and too noisy, or democratic, pluralist and a thriving community?

It’s a sad comment on the current state of feminism that the movement has been reduced to the manic fragments and instant obsolescence of Twitter. Although I adore the web and was a co-founding contributor to Salon.com from its very first issue in 1995, I have no interest whatever in social media. My publisher maintains an informational Facebook page for me on the Random House site, but I don’t do Facebook or Twitter and wouldn’t even know how.

“…without strong books and essays as a permanent repository for new ideas, modern movements eventually sputter out…”

It is difficult to understand how a generation raised on the slapdash jumpiness of Twitter and texting will ever develop a logical, coherent, distinctive voice in writing and argumentation. And without strong books and essays as a permanent repository for new ideas, modern movements eventually sputter out for lack of continuity and rationale. Hasty, blathering blogging (without taking time for reflection and revision) is also degrading the general quality of prose writing.

As for feminists being hounded off Twitter by other feminists, how trivial and adolescent that sounds! Both sides should get offline and read more—history, sociology, psychology, and the big neglected subject, biology. How can the greater world, much less men, ever take feminism seriously if its most ardent proponents behave like catty sorority girls throwing hissy fits at the high-school cafeteria?

The two feminist issues that create the most noise on Twitter, and generate backlash whichever way you side, are the sex industry and gender, the latter especially in relation to transgenderism. What are your thoughts on both?

I support, defend, and admire prostitutes, gay or straight. They do important and necessary work, whether moralists of the Left and Right like it or not. Child prostitution and sexual slavery are of course an infringement of civil liberties and must be stringently policed and prohibited.

Feminists who think they can abolish the sex trade are in a state of massive delusion. Only a ruthless, fascist regime of vast scale could eradicate the rogue sex impulse that is indistinguishable from the life force. Simply in the Western world, pagan sexuality has survived 2000 years of Judaeo-Christian persecution and is hardly going to be defeated by a few feminists whacking at it with their brooms.

Transgenderism has taken off like a freight train and has become nearly impossible to discuss with the analytic neutrality that honest and ethical scholarship requires. First of all, let me say that I consider myself a transgender being, neither man nor woman, and I would welcome the introduction of “OTHER” as a gender category in passports and other government documents. I telegraphed my gender dissidence from early childhood in the 1950s through flamboyantly male Halloween costumes (a Roman soldier, a matador, Napoleon, etc.) that were then shockingly unheard of for girls.

As a libertarian, I believe that every individual has the right to modify his or her body at will. But I am concerned about the current climate, inflamed by half-baked post-modernist gender theory, which convinces young people who may have other unresolved personal or family issues that sex-reassignment surgery is a golden road to happiness and true identity.

How has it happened that so many of today’s most daring and radical young people now define themselves by sexual identity alone? There has been a collapse of perspective here that will surely have mixed consequences for our art and culture and that may perhaps undermine the ability of Western societies to understand or react to the vehemently contrary beliefs of others who do not wish us well. As I showed in Sexual Personae, which began as a study of androgyny in literature and art, transgender phenomena multiply and spread in “late” phases of culture, as religious, political, and family traditions weaken and civilizations begin to decline. I will continue to celebrate androgyny, but I am under no illusions about what it may portend for the future.

Camille Paglia is a professor of humanities and media studies at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Her latest book is Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars.

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Suarez got a longer ban for biting than racism

Football is a passionate sport. There’s none quite like it. If religion was the opiate of the masses, football is the methadone. It can elicit the most extreme of reactions from the most conservative of people, tears from the most stoic of men, and scenes of jubilation unrivaled by most sports. Children and adults unite in adoration and appreciation of a club, a player, or an awesome goal.

Sport, perhaps, is one of the few places along with finance, politics and celebrity where indiscretions and flaws can be overlooked and tolerated on the basis of talent – and this is especially true of football, where triumph over adversity is part of the story of many to have played the game – Pele and Maradona, for example. It’s full of romantic tales – local boy done good, rags to riches. All of these only serve to enhance the popularity of this pastime.

When Mike Tyson bit Evander Holyfield during their boxing match in 1997, taking a chunk of his ear with him, the punishment for this was a $3 million dollar fine and the rescindment of his boxing licence in Nevada, a move that was upheld by subsequent states, effectively banning him from boxing in the USA. Though the ban was later overturned, he would serve over a year out of the sport, returning to the ring in 1999. Overwhelming opinion was that biting was unacceptable, even in a sport where success is determined on your ability to hurt your opponent physically.

So we fast forward to now, and Liverpool & Uruguay player Luis Suarez, who has just been banned for nine international matches and four months of all football-related activity by the world football governing body FIFA, following his bite on Giorgio Chiellini during Uruguay’s game against Italy at the World Cup.

It’s not the first time Suarez had bitten an opponent on the field – in fact, it was his third such transgression. Previous bans of seven and 10 matches respectively had failed to overturn his penchant for using his teeth on the field of play. This time was different; this was on the world stage, in a World Cup which promised to be marred by political unrest in the host nation but, to FIFA’s relief and advantage, had been relatively controversy-free until the Suarez incident. An international ban would not be enough of a statement to make. A strong sentence was necessary. Children bite. Animals bite. Adults should not bite. Professional athletes should not bite.

Football often is a great mirror of society. All the flaws of the latter can be found in the former. From the stands to the pitch to the administrative bodies, football has a sexism problem, a racism problem, and increasingly a class problem, with the working class priced out of a sport that they helped to elevate to such heights.

Opinion has been divided following the ban. There are those, such as the Uruguayan team, the  press and even Maradona, who think the punishment is too severe for the crime. There are also those who think the ban is just, as it is the third time in four years he has done such a thing. Controversial stars are part of the allure of sports. They elicit polarising and extreme opinions from those who hate and love in equal measure. Yet every so often there are controversies we are unable to overlook.

Whilst this was a third bite, and as unacceptable as biting is, Suarez has actually been found guilty previously of a far worse crime – racially abusing an opponent on the pitch.

For that, he served a mere eight-match ban – a ban which was met with indignant howls from fervent Liverpool fans. A ban which – in the press as in the stands – revealed that football, much like society, still had a racism problem and it couldn’t be confined to just the supporters; it was now playing out on the pitch.

In any other profession, were you to be found guilty of racially abusing a colleague in their place of work you would not have a job to come back to. That Suarez was not only able to return to his job a mere two months later, but would go on to be seen, through the eyes of a few high profile journalists, as redeemed is part and parcel of the problem, and why we find ourselves here again with this deeply flawed player.

Significantly, this third bite and subsequent ban has not been enough to impede on Suarez’s career options. The player is rumoured to be in talks to move to Barcelona in an £80 million transfer, the club seemingly unbothered by the non-apology for the incident offered by Suarez, where personal responsibility was absolved in double-speak. “I’m sorry my teeth hit you when we collided” isn’t quite “I’m sorry for biting you” but at least an apology of sorts emerged, despite previous claims at the time that he was a victim, not the perpetrator. Patrice Evra is still awaiting an apology for being racially abused.

In the aftermath of Suarez’s racial ban, many were subjected to some of the worst racial abuse online. Abuse that came from challenging the media and journalists that this, unlike his previous biting or cheating at the World Cup in 2010, would have far more serious repercussions to just excuse as another indiscretion.

And so we return to football mirroring society. When we fail to properly hold people to account for their actions, not merely because they’re high profile or role models, we do a disservice not just to the game, but wider society. We reinforce injustices across wider society, and allow them to play out.

For this reason, we can accept the ban as retrospective justice of sorts and properly examine why we so often overlook that which would not be done so in most professions.

Perhaps, had racism been treated as seriously by the FA as biting has been by FIFA, if fans and journalists had engaged their sense of morality rather than looking for the easier story and resorting to tribalistic tendencies, then Suarez would not have been predisposed to bite a player for a second time, let alone a third.

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

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Kahlo’s work still tells a story we struggle to talk about, even today

Happy Birthday Frida Kahlo! A mere 107 she would have been on 6 July; alas she died young at only 47.

60 years later, her 1932 painting Henry Ford Hospital (otherwise known as ‘The Flying Bed’) still pierces us with a painful image of womanhood we barely allow ourselves to talk about, let alone look at. Frida Kahlo dared to paint it. She was one of the first female artists to ever portray the realities of womanhood on canvas: the earth red ground beneath her a symbol of her loneliness. “I don’t paint dreams or nightmares,” she said, “I paint my own reality.” Decades later, her reality still beguiles us.

As Frida Kahlo lies splayed on the blood-splattered bed, hovering above ground, reality and reason, six images surround her, tied down with umbilical cords like six lead balloons against a barren sky: the foetus, Dieguito (“Little Diego”), who will never exist; a snail representing the slow horror of losing a baby; an autoclave, a device for sterilizing surgical instruments, the symbol of infertility, “bad luck and pain”; an orchid, a hospital gift from her husband Diego Rivera – a strange mix of sex and sentimentality; the pelvis and uterus, two anatomical signs of her broken body.

On 4 July 1932, Frida’s pregnancy ended in miscarriage at Henry Ford Hospital. With this loss came the painful realisation that she would never physically be able to carry a baby to term. It was a reality she had already mythologised seven years earlier. On 17 September 1925 Frida and her boyfriend got onto a school bus. Minutes later it was hit by a tram. In addition to suffering a broken spinal column, a broken collarbone, broken ribs and a broken pelvis, a metal handrail pierced her abdomen, exiting through her vagina, permanently damaging her reproductive capacity. While in recovery, Frida was forced to face her reality: she may never be able to walk again, let alone have children. She responded by creating a birth certificate for an imaginary son she called “Leonardo”. It was at this moment of reality-versus-imagination that Frida Kahlo began painting seriously for the first time.

To understand Frida is to understand her pain. That doesn’t make her a victim, or her suffering a perversion. Frida Kahlo’s husband Diego Rivera once talked about Frida’s art as “paintings that exalted the feminine qualities of endurance and truth, reality, cruelty, and suffering.” He would go on to conclude: “Never before has a woman put such agonized poetry on canvas.”

Whether Frida would have ever identified herself as a feminist remains punctuated with a question mark. For many today, her traumatic life and powerful works communicate a strong feminist message which dream weaves the reality they experience in their own lives. In fact, without the feminist art movement of the 1970s and 1980s, Frida Kahlo’s work would have remained an obscure footnote to husband Diego Rivera’s own artistic career. Second wave feminism in America brought Frida to a mass audience and she has captivated us ever since. Her stark presentation of the harsh lives women face has retrospectively made her a striking feminist at a time when a woman’s reality was hardly ever talked about or discussed. Her battle with miscarriage and infertility tells a story we struggle to talk about, even today.

According to her own count, Frida Kahlo would suffer two more miscarriages. Her art reflects a lifelong fascination with procreation, birth and the female body. Lithograph Frida and the Miscarriage is a stark example: Frida’s one dimensional body is divided into light and shade, two tears fall either side of her face as the tears of blood haemorrhage down her darkened leg. A male foetus is attached to her via an umbilical cord as her third arm holds an artist’s palette: artistic productivity her solace in the absence of children. It isn’t easy to look at but, in the words of her husband Diego, it is agony and poetry.

“My painting carries with it the message of pain,” Frida Kahlo once explained. In each and every canvas Frida painted, there is both the message of pain yet also survival. Paintings such as Survivor (1938), Roots (1943) and The Broken Column (1944) communicate strength, even at the point of physical breakdown and despair. It is also worth noting that her paintings display the true reproductive anatomy of women, a shocking and controversial undertaking in the early 20th century. In 1932 painting My Birth Frida gives birth to herself depicting the moment of childbirth in all its glory. My Birth succeeds in blending both imagination and reality, communicating a woman’s inner and external truth. For every person who struggles to look at Frida’s outstretched legs, its power and relevance is affirmed. Her reality is no longer hidden.

In the last year of her life, Frida told a friend: “Painting completed my life. I lost three children…Paintings substituted for all of this.” 60 years later, her work still endures.

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

Photo: Chris Weige

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Trojan Horse: Ofsted & the media fall short on gender

Following the ‘Trojan Horse’ allegations of an Islamic extremist plot in British schools, the press has failed to focus on the fact that Ofsted inspections in fact unearthed findings about the way gender inequality can pervade a school culture. The report describes a culture of fear and intimidation within some of the schools, with some female staff members saying they feel intimidated by male members of the school and are treated unfairly because of their gender. Female Genital Mutilation and forced marriage are not being adequately addressed, and there has been opposition to mixed-gender swimming lessons.

Furthermore, children are being badly prepared for life in modern Britain. In some specific cases girls are discouraged from conversing with boys, undertaking extra circular activities and receive religious education separately from boys. The recommendations emphasise the need for schools to “carry out their statutory responsibility for safeguarding all children”, but fall short of ensuring that there is gender equality.

Where is the debate about the implications for gender equality? The narrative behind separation of girls and boys (in religious education, in swimming, etc.) is that girls are considered to be less equal to boys. Boys and girls are taught different subject material in religious and personal development lessons. If teachers expect certain modes of behaviour from girls – for example discouraging them from talking to boys – and if these attitudes underpin the social values of the teachers and parents alike, what actions can schools, governors, local authorities and the Government take to ensure that gender inequality is not promoted and that boys and girls are being prepared for life in modern Britain?

During the inspections and subsequent storm, I have been asking myself if we really have drawn back the curtain that hides the truth between the expectations of boys over girls. The initial claim was about an alleged Muslim plot to take over these schools; although this was not found to be the case in the Ofsted inspections, the subsequent media storm makes it difficult to separate out the Ofsted inspection, Islamic extremism and these schools.

The ensuing furore and the fallout between Theresa May and Michael Gove about the leaking of a private letter, as well as accusations and counter accusations over who is to blame for what  happened in Birmingham, has meant that the real issues remain under the radar. Add to this the fact that the majority of contributors to news and comments in the national media are men – specifically white men – and it comes as no surprise that the black feminist discourse around the findings and concerns for girls in schools is being missed.

But gender inequality is not just an issue for these schools in Birmingham; the control of girls’ behaviour, particularly when there is a match in attitudes between teachers and parents, has been going on for decades and this is why a feminist perspective is needed.

I attended a mainstream state school not very far from the schools in Birmingham. Not only did I have to deal with overtly racist teachers but I also had to contend with teachers who, though they did not display racism openly, nevertheless had low expectations of me ingrained in their stereotypical view, despite my academic ability. But the biggest challenge I faced on a daily basis was controlling my behaviour to avoid the attention of a male Sikh teacher.

This teacher took it as his ‘duty’ to ensure that Sikh girls ‘behaved’ according to his values and beliefs, which mirrored that of many Sikh parents. He did not consider it an inconvenience, let alone an infringement of child protection, to visit the girls’ homes after school and relay in detail to parents if he had seen or heard their daughter talking to boys, wearing skirts, make-up, etc.  This was not a Sikh school, nor indeed a school with a predominantly Sikh or Asian population, in the same way the schools in the Trojan Horse affair were not faith schools. However this teacher was able to monitor our behaviour and had the authority of the local Asian parental population to exercise his power over us as Sikh girl pupils.

What I was left with was a sense of fear. I did not feel safe at school. I did not feel I could go to another teacher and explain my fears. I did not have the confidence or autonomy to do this. I battled with feelings of ‘letting my parents down’, and the ‘whistleblowing’ of a teacher who not only was a professional in the school but also enjoyed a certain status within the community. I would not have been heard nor supported by any authority figure, be it my parents or the white teachers in the school.

This teacher harassed and behaved in a sexist manner towards me within the classroom. I was always careful to abide by his expectations of personal conduct at school. The last thing I wanted was for him to inform my parents of any perceived misdemeanours, because a very real consequence was that I could lose out on further education and be forced in to an early marriage.

Some of the findings of the Ofsted inspection mirror my own experiences as a Sikh girl pupil in a state school. The findings refer to senior leaders within the school feeling intimidated and fearful. Then what, might one ask, are girls experiencing? Those girls who are expected to behave in a certain way, dictated by the social values of governors and parents, which may be at odds with what the girls themselves would like? The girls and their views have been invisible in all the discussions in the media and in the narrative of an Islamic extremist plot.

If the norm of conduct within a school is that girls’ position in relation to boys is enforced through implicit rules and modes of behaviour, then it seems unlikely that the gendered nature of control of girls will be addressed. Is it therefore surprising that gendered violence, such as female genital mutilation or forced marriage, is not being adequately addressed? Tackling gender inequality and addressing violence against women and girls go hand-in-hand. The two need to be addressed together.

The equalities issue is not being caught in the net of this Islam extremism fishing expedition.  That’s a huge cost and a missed opportunity to society. Where are we talking about the actions and the culture in schools that perpetuates a mindset that girls must behave in a certain way, under the guise of faith – and, more importantly, shaping their own thinking and expectations for the future? What if parents collude in the control of their daughters? How are we bringing up these girls to participate and contribute to society as working adults, as positive role models, and as agents of cultural change?

Kalwinder Sandhu is a freelance consultant, researcher and writer and a local feminist activist in Coventry. Follow her @KindySandhu.

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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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Orphan Black: TV’s most woman-centred drama

*Contains spoilers

A woman gets off a train and picks up a phone; in a few sentences we learn that Sarah is a grifter, in town to sell stolen drugs and collect her daughter Kira. At the other end of the platform, we notice a woman stepping out of her shoes, shrugging off her jacket and putting her handbag on the platform. As Sarah walks in her direction, the woman turns round; she has the same face – but then she steps under a train. Sarah looks down and picks up the handbag…

Those were the stunningly economic first few minutes of the Anglo-Canadian techno-thriller series Orphan Black which has managed, in two seasons of ten episodes, to be the most stunningly woman-centred action drama on television.

In the middle of a hokum-filled plot that is mostly about conspiracy, kidnapping and running around dark cities late at night, it manages to make some quite fascinating observations about nature, nurture and free will. Sarah steals, temporarily, the life of dead Beth, only to find that Beth, a cop with morals as sketchy as her own, had problems; a dead civilian, phone calls from mysterious women, and more clones.

The drunken soccer mom Alison says, “we don’t mention the c word”, but the rapidly evolving alliance between Sarah, Alison and lesbian German biologist Cosima rapidly reveals how entirely the same three women can be in some respects and how utterly different in others. And that’s before we meet feral assassin Helena and corporate bully Rachel…

It’s a show that passes most of the tests we now ask of popular media – not just the Bechdel test, because obviously these women find a lot to talk about apart from boys – but also the more recent Trinity test for strong women. All versions of Sarah are strong women – it’s as intrinsic to them as their chancer ruthlessness and sly smile. Strong women who actually do things, albeit in very different ways.

Sarah sleeps with Beth’s fiance, Paul, and realises that he is not to be trusted, even before he works out that she is not who he thought. It turns out, for example, that they all – except for Sarah – have someone in their lives who is spying on them, and reporting back to a company, Triad. In a revealing moment about the different forms that ruthlessness can take, Cosima seduces her colleague Delphine, knowing that Delphine is her monitor.

It’s a show which could easily have drifted into comic book misandry – but Sarah’s gay painter foster brother Felix would clearly die for her, and Beth’s fellow cop Art is almost as loyal. Even Alison’s bumbling husband Donny, and Sarah’s abusive ex-lover Vic, are rich and complex characters who can surprise us.

This is a show which brilliantly alternates excitement, scabrous comedy and moments of still emotion. There are no duds in the cast, but the show rests primarily on a stunning central performance from Tatiana Maslany as Sarah and all the others. It’s not just the well-established and radically different body language and speech of all the clones; it’s the moments of farce when Sarah and Alison impersonate each other, or of tension when Sarah confronts the terrifying, pathetic Helena. For a while, the second season seemed on shakier ground than the first, but latterly it came together, and established stunningly that things which seemed random clips of narrative were nothing of the kind.

Now we have to binge re-watch, noticing extra points of cleverness, while we wait for Season Three…

Roz Kaveney is a Contributing Editor to Feminist Times. She is a trans woman, novellist, poet, critic and activist.

Photo: CrazyTVTalk

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Video: “Expected victimhood” – do you know how to escape a zip tie?

(Trigger Warning: contains references to sexual violence.)

Claire Kurylowski’s latest film IN REAL LIFE in which she makes a feminist inquiry into the perpetuation of sexual harassment culture.

“The point of departure for IN REAL LIFE was a YouTube video I watched titled How to Break Out of Zip Ties. It went viral with over 3.5 million hits to date.

For me the video reinstated the idea that women should be accountable for their ‘expected victimhood’ and, inversely, the lack of accountability/deterrent strategies existing in the same forms and scope, if at all, for anti-abuse and anti-sexual harassment.”

Claire Kurylowski is a London based film director, writer & editor. Richly atmospheric moods paired with intimate portraits characterise her body of work. . @kurylowski

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OJ, Yewtree & Pistorious: It’s time we listened to Sue Lees

Last week marked the twenty year anniversary of the deaths of two people whose names you may not recognise: Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman. They’re famous only because of the name of the man who was acquitted of their brutal murders: OJ Simpson. And if you just went “OJ who?” it’s past your bedtime, go upstairs.

At the time many concluded that if you’re rich enough and famous enough you can get away with anything. This probably explains the Star Wars prequels. I’m not sure what the rules are – how famous you have to be to commit what crime. I’ve been on Question Time, I’m guessing that’s enough for a happy slap. I’ll take Farage.

For feminists, the television broadcast of the trial offered an insight into the court process and why men who attack women so often do so with impunity.

I read a lot of books about feminism at university, which might explain why I only scraped the narrowest of 2.1s in my maths degree. Objectification never came up in my modules, but statistics did.

One of them was Sue Lees’ book Carnal Knowledge. Lees had spent months sitting in court rooms watching rape trials and detailing the systematic ways in which the credibility of victims was undermined.

In December last year I did jury service for the first time. I drew two conclusions from my experiences. The first was that the system is still loaded with misogyny towards victims of rape and domestic violence. The second was that Ms Lees should really have been made a Knight of the Realm for sitting through all those hours of grinding legal argument and vicious victim-blaming.

Having trials on TV is a producer’s dream. Spend millions on a new series of Big Brother? No need, viewers will be queuing up to watch a famous athlete explain why he shot his girlfriend. So far we have resisted televising trials in the UK, resulting instead in coverage that has left me with a paranoid fear of chalk drawings.

Home and abroad the cases show a depressing set of similarities. The barrister defending Oscar Pistorius has produced as evidence romantic texts (true love always texts) and a video clip of the couple kissing. Here in the UK, the defense case for Rolf Harris called celebrity character witnesses.

Shouldn’t someone point out that being an outwardly “nice” guy doesn’t prove anything? Those who commit violence against women have so far refused to stick to a dress and behaviour code that lets us all know what they are really like. I suggest a “this is what a misogynist criminal looks like” T-shirts. Although of course within a fortnight we’d be hearing: “she can’t have been raped, she willingly got in a car with him while he was wearing his misogynist criminal T-shirt”. Doh.

While the Harris and Pistorius cases continue there are a string of others that have been dropped, not even brought to court. Freddie Starr, Jim Davison, Jimmy Tarbuck, and others have been cleared of all charges. William Roach, Dave Lee Travis, Michael Le Vell and most – famously of all – Michael Jackson.

Individually these things mean nothing. Any of them could be innocent. And we should remember that a “not guilty” verdict simply means the absence of sufficient evidence to convict. The basic right to be treated as innocent should prevail, but it doesn’t come with a prize or a medal: “Sponsored by Tefal – nothing sticks”.

No, seen together, as a pattern, they add up to a worrying picture – one that Lees was able to identify in 1996. Attrition at every stage of a system loaded against claimants means that – and this is a frightening concept to consider – the percentage of rape allegations that lead to conviction is now lower than the percentage of the UK population who voted for UKIP.

There have been flashes of hope out there. Mike Tyson went to jail. Max Clifford is in jail now. It may have taken years to get the result but Phil Spector eventually went to prison too. The court system has the potential to put dangerous misogynist criminals behind bars.

I’ve been careful with my language throughout this piece. I wasn’t at these trials, I can’t comment on the evidence presented, only on the system and the overall statistics. I can say this though: MAX CLIFFORD IS A SEX OFFENDER. MAX CLIFFORD IS A SEX OFFENDER. Phew. That does feel strangely exhilarating. It reminds me how empowering a conviction like that is, not just for victims and their families but for everyone who values a safe and just society. Maybe I’ll post him one of my “misogynist criminal” T-shirts. I hear his size is extra small.

We can do even better than this. Twenty years after OJ there are simple changes that could be made to our legal system that would give victims of sexual assault, rape and domestic violence a better shot at justice:

The right for claimants to demand a full trial, rather than allowing the police and CPS to just “give up”. Expert judges for rape and sex assault cases, including more female judges. Making it compulsory for judges to warn jurors that it is normal for victims to delay reporting and show no visible trauma as they give evidence. Information given to jurors on the defendant’s previous convictions, complaints and accusations.

And if you’re wondering where I came up with those simple, elegant ideas… they’re in Sue Lees’ book. And they’re as relevant now as they were when she wrote them nearly 20 years ago. The high profile, televised and media-sensationalised cases don’t really provide us with any new information, but they do provide an opportunity to talk about the legal system and demand much-needed radical changes.

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

Photo: Wikimedia

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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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“I call on those who live in the shadows”

All good stories get told over and over again, and every time they are told they get changed. The Brothers Grimm censored some fairy tales and softened others as they collected them; Angela Carter and Anne Sexton subjected them to radical revision in the name of feminism and a love of the new. More recently, Gregory Maguire‘s novels about Oz and the musical version of his Wicked shifted attention from heroine to villainess, asking interesting questions about how victims of injustice become perpetrators of evil.

Maleficent is an inventive subversion of the story we know from Perrault. More specifically, it revisits the Disney studio’s animated version. The new film’s hapless prince shares the name Philip with the rather more active 1959 character and the credit titles’ music is a sinister seductive version of the cartoon’s theme song, itself an adaptation of the waltz from Tchaikovsky’s ballet. Primarily, of course, it is a vehicle for Angelina Jolie, whose glittering eyes and high cheekbones make her a remarkable double of one of Disney’s most spectacularly beautiful villainesses.

Critical reactions have varied – everyone agrees that Jolie’s performance is spectacularly good – noticeably, some critics were not paying quite as much attention as they should have done. There are some things that revisionism cannot change – the story is in the end about a woman who places a terrible curse on an innocent child – but this particularly thoughtful version manages to combine a radically subversive rethinking with popular entertainment. (The Peckham cinema where I saw it was full of delighted children.) Maleficent trusts both the material and its audience enough to work really remarkably well.

It posits two kingdoms – a human world which is all iron, blood and male tyranny and an adjacent realm of faerie, the Moors, of innocent playfulness and Rackhamesque cute weirdness. Even as a child, Maleficent is its hawk-winged protector; a sequence in which her parents were played by Miranda Richardson and Peter Capaldi was cut, partly for length but also because, in the end, this tough fairy needs no parents. It is no stretch of imagination whatever to describe these two kingdoms as Patriarchy and the Queer world.

As children, Maleficent and the boy Stefan become sweethearts. He goes away and his ambitions make him a lieutenant to the evil King – played by Kenneth Cranham – whose invasion of the Moors Maleficent defeats with giants and dragons made of tree roots. Promised the succession if he succeeds in removing her power, Stefan returns to the Moors, renews his pledge of true love’s kiss to Maleficent, drugs her and severs her wings, leaving her a cripple who has to learn to walk using a staff that becomes the new centre of her power. Not only is this a fairly obvious rape metaphor; it’s more interestingly a way of talking about how we adapt to trauma. She cuts the Moors off from the human world he now rules, with her wall of thorns, and swears vengeance.

The standard good fairies are replaced by a trio of slightly idiotic pixies who think the antagonism between Stefan’s realm and their own can be smoothed over with a few presents; Maleficent’s arrival at the christening and curse that the child will prick her finger on her sixteenth birthday and fall asleep forever is as much a rebuke to their stupidity as revenge. One of the most intelligent features of the writing at this point is the proper respect paid to the idea that words are magic – it’s not just that Maleficent’s sarcastic use of ‘true love’s kiss’ as the thing that will wake Aurora. It is that she reinforces the blessing that all will love her, and hardens the curse by saying that no power can break it.

The neglectful dimness of the pixies – to whom Stefan hands the child – means that Maleficent spends Aurora’s childhood protecting her from walking off cliffs and starving to death. Her constant bitch-faced iteration of how much she hates Stefan’s child by another woman is entirely contradicted by her actions – and of course she has trapped herself; all will love Aurora, includes Maleficent.

When they meet and talk, Aurora tells Maleficent that she recognizes her shadow as the fairy godmother who has always protected her – and she is not wrong. Maleficent comes to want desperately to protect Aurora but the terms of her curse, which no power can break, make it impossible for her to do so. Aurora duly pricks herself on a spindle and falls asleep.

Maleficent fights her way into the castle to deliver the charmingly useless Philip, whose kiss – he hardly knows Aurora – is entirely ineffectual; true love turns out to be Maleficent’s maternal devotion – she promises to protect Aurora in her sleep and pecks her on the forehead. This is the kiss that wakens the sleeping beauty. Stefan is far more interested in destroying Maleficent than saving his daughter; he neglected his dying wife to monologue Macbeth-like at the severed wings. He springs his iron traps – and Aurora saves her adopted mother by retrieving her wings. Stefan falls to his death trying to kill Maleficent even after she has defeated him – Maleficent hands both kingdoms over to Aurora, and both realms come out of the darkness of conflict into a sort of innocence…

To say that what is on offer is a queer feminist reading of the story is not to regard Maleficent’s love for Aurora as specifically sexual; it’s not grooming and there is no sign of desire. What we have though is two women who form a mutually self-sacrificing bond that lets them escape from a traumatic past and smash the patriarchy; if that’s not a queer feminist reading, I don’t know what is, irrespective of Aurora’s future relationship with the ineffectual Philip.

I guarantee that before the month is out, some right-wing American pundit will be even more upset by this Disney film than they were by the far less challenging Frozen. Maleficent is far from perfect – Sharlto Copley is far too hammy as Stefan, and Elle Fanning’s Aurora manages charm with almost no good lines – but it looks gorgeous and manages to be a good deal smarter than most Disney products.

Roz Kaveney is a Contributing Editor to Feminist Times. She is a trans woman, novellist, poet, critic and activist.

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Elizabeth Fremantle: Feminism is…

Elizabeth FremantleName: Elizabeth Fremantle

Age: 51

Location: London

Bio: Novellist

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

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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We need more women in politics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ruth Jones OBE, Director of the National Centre for the Study and Prevention of Violence and Abuse, University of Worcester
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Coat hangers and blood: Imagine a world without abortion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rachel Williams: Feminism is…

Name: Rachel Williams

Age: 21

Location: Merseyside

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

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

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

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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How pioneering women took back Yoga from men.

Twenty-first century yoga is female. Look around the classes. There are a few men on planet yoga, but they are massively outnumbered by women. Yoga is a women’s thing – isn’t it?

But the practices all these women are doing were created by men, and for men. Some medieval yoga manuals advise yogis to avoid women, for fear of distraction or pollution. Hatha yoga (yoga that works through physical postures to modify mental activities) was a boys’ game, and women were not invited. Medieval hatha yoga manuals were not written for women’s bodies. The practices were closely guarded secrets, to be passed on from one male teacher to his initiates for their spiritual advancement.

So how does a medieval male practice, a secret technology for spiritual evolution, become a multi-billion pound global business with an almost entirely female customer base?

It’s a long, fascinating story, only now coming full circle. Most histories of hatha yoga refer to fifteenth century manuals, and to philosophy set out around the first century. Ideas and techniques from these texts were codified and possessed by male teachers who established powerful lineages to protect their teachings. Some of the lineages are monastic, ascetic traditions, and others are secular, but all of them are patriarchal hierarchies, with little place for women.

But there are feminine roots to yoga. Before the lineages and hierarchies existed to promote certain forms of yoga teaching, the deep roots of this holistic practice of self-care and empowerment were female.

Archeological evidence from 1300 BCE shows the roots of tantra, an approach to spirituality that embraces all aspects of human experience as a means to liberation. The roots of tantra include practices that honour the yoginis (goddesses and women who practice yoga) and celebrate the powerful energies of menstruation and birth as opportunities for profound spiritual initiation. It’s from the roots of tantra that hatha yoga grew. Hatha yoga is the son, but tantra is the mother.

Could this be why women love yoga? It was ours in the first place: a whole technology of self-care and spiritual development inspired by the cycles of our bodies. So when we get on our mats and follow our breath, we come back home to ourselves, rediscover our own power, and reconnect with ancient feminine roots of yoga.

For western women, this rediscovery began at the end of the nineteenth century. During the 1890s, when Queen Victoria was taking yoga philosophy lessons in Buckingham Palace, an Anglo-Irish governess called Margaret Noble met a traveling Bengali monk in a London drawing room, and fell in love with yoga as a spiritual teaching. Margaret traveled to Calcutta to study with her teacher.

As ‘Sister Nivedita’, Margaret Noble was one of a wave of courageous women who rediscovered the power of yoga and shared it. Other pioneering women traveled to India, each seeking yoga teachings to bring back home. In 1912 Mollie Bagot Stack studied in India, and brought her ‘stretch and swing’ classes to the Women’s League of Health and Beauty in London in the 1920s. In 1930, Latvian Eugenie Labunskaia studied with yoga master Krishnamacharya. Known as Indra Devi, Eugenie was a passionate and hugely influential international yoga teacher. By the time she died at the age of 103, she had spread yoga throughout five continents.

Indra Devi was the most prominent of the astonishing women who devoted their lives to yoga. When these women began to share yoga, something remarkable happened. Initially, yoga students would be lined up like soldiers, performing standard poses to order. This masculine approach to yoga teaching is still widespread, but slowly, women teachers began to sense that military approaches to yoga promoted by traditional lineages were not exactly suited to women’s bodies, at least not all of the time. Inspired by teachers such as Vanda Scaravelli and Angela Farmer, many women teachers have begun to work intuitively with the tools of hatha yoga, to share a more feminine, potently nourishing and womanly practice.

This fluid, powerful yoga brings us back to the ancient feminine roots of tantric practices that informed hatha yoga in the first place. We are coming full circle. I’ve been practicing yoga for forty-three years, and have spent seven years researching the history of women in yoga. I’ve been delighted to rediscover that yoga’s feminine roots nourish women today.

When we heed our intuition, honouring the wisdom of our cycles, then yoga responds perfectly to the needs of our female bodies: bodies that menstruate and conceive, bodies that miscarry and give birth, bodies with breasts, wombs and bellies, bodies that go through menopause and experience pre-menstrual tension. The yoga that best serves women does not impose upon us the shapes and forms of yoga practice designed for men, instead, it supports us at every stage of our lives.

So if you are female and you practice yoga, then I invite you, next time you are told in a class what to do, to pause, to feel into yourself and ask: does this really suit me right now? If I am menstruating, or ovulating, does this make a difference to my yoga practice? If I am about to bleed, or if I am having a hot flush, then does this yoga that I’m being instructed to do really suit me today?

When we ask these questions, we don’t just replicate sequences learnt from male lineages that exist to protect teachings, not to serve the well-being of students. Instead we find yoga that works best for us as women, that respects the cycles of our female bodies. This is a radical shift towards self-care as empowerment. And yoga that empowers women has very ancient roots.

Uma Dinsmore-Tuli Phd is a yoga therapist. Her new book, Yoni Shakti: a woman’s guide to power and freedom through yoga and tantra is out now. For more details of the book, please visit www.yonishakti.co. To connect with teachers who share a feminine vision of yoga practice for women please visit www.wombyoga.org

Stockist details www.yogamatters.com

Photo: Wikimedia

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True Detective & the fetisisation of killing women

It was during an episode of HBO’s hit series True Detective that it became clear. When the camera panned on two breasts jiggling up and down on Woody Harrelson like a cheerleader on a bouncy castle, a part of me groaned. I get it: he’s troubled. How does watching a DD chest pogoing on my television screen illustrate this?

As I write this feature the internet is adamant that Jessica Chastain is NOT starring in the next season of HBO hit drama True Detective, despite the rumours. Rumours that hadn’t stopped bloggers from picking up on the debate about sexism in TV drama, pinning their hopes on an HBO-rehabilitation of a female lead detective such as Chastain for season two.

You could say that HBO has experienced a “woman problem” in recent years: shows such as True Detective, The Wire and Game of Thrones have all thrown up clunking questions about how television-makers truly see women. Our TV screens continue to make victims, mistresses, corpses, wives and prostitutes of us all and while I’d like to think that TV doesn’t hold much influence over how women are treated in real life, the events of this weekend have shown that young and impressionable men can be violently and fatally misogynistic. TV cannot be blamed but it is definitely part of the landscape.

Going back to True Detective, the fictionalised Louisiana in which the series is set is devoid of any real women of depth. The female characters who do appear are defined by men and moved around like pieces on a chessboard. A woman’s sexuality is used to illustrate a man’s spiritual disenchantment, every female character exists in a supporting role, often semi-naked, to prove some kind of existential point. Even when detective Marty rallies against the exploitation of a teenage prostitute, by episode 6 the same teenage prostitute is texting him images of herself in her underwear. He’s “damaged”, “misunderstood” and “flawed”, this much is clear – but wait, so is she.

Why does his crisis have to be explained at the expense of her, stripped down to her wonderbra? Stick a pair of antlers on a woman’s corpse (episode 1 opens with the discovery of a ritualistic murder where a prostitute’s dead body is posed wearing a crown of deer antlers) and the issue of violence against women and its sexual fetishism also enters the picture. Let’s face it: most detective dramas are fuelled by it, not just True Detective.

Nothing fascinates dramatists and viewers more than a murdered prostitute or a young schoolgirl missing-presumed-dead. Even when a drama series stars a female lead detective, like Sarah Lund in The Killing, young women are a prime crime-target. And then there’s Game of Thrones.

A rape scene that makers insisted wasn’t a rape scene has communicated a dangerously confused message on sexual consent where clarification is crucial. During recent episode ‘Breaker of Chains’ a woman is very clearly raped by her brother in the tomb of her dead son. Faced with criticisms that this scene glamorised sexual violence, episode director Alex Graves replied, “Well, it becomes consensual by the end, because anything for [Cersei and Jaime] ultimately results in a turn-on, especially a power struggle.” The idea that a rape is “not completely a rape” is an uncomfortable director’s commentary when the apparently “turned-on” woman continually says “stop it” in the script.

So what’s going on and how can we fix it? It’s interesting to note that with only one exception over the course of four decades, HBO has not aired an original one-hour drama series created by a woman. If that wasn’t enough on its own, under 8% of HBO’s original dramas and mini-series came from women. In the UK, the outlook is just as bleak with a study by Directors UK, which represents 5,000 radio and television broadcasters, finding that no women directors have ever worked on many of our most popular dramas. Only 13% of drama episodes were directed by women in 2011-2012 and no sci-fi or fantasy genre dramas were directed by women between 2011 and 2012, yet women make up 27% of the directing force. Director Beryl Richards, who chaired the study added context by suggesting that women are often questioned as to whether they “have the authority to lead a largely male crew, or the technical knowledge”.

When women do take the helm, recent critical-smash Top of the Lake (co-produced by BBC Two in the UK) shows how sexual violence can be depicted to tell a female story from a woman’s perspective. In a strong female lead, abuse still acts as a bumper either side to direct Detective Robin Griffin’s story (played by Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss). What makes Top of the Lake different to the rest is its unsettling exploration of what it means to survive sexual violence, not just endure it. Robin’s traumatic rape isn’t a titillating tale of a good woman wronged by a bad man to further a male narrative.

To fix things, we need to address gender disparity in TV dramas: both on and off the screen. We need to question why our favourite programmes are caricaturing flimsy female roles and we need to ask why women aren’t writing, producing and directing more of the shows we’re watching. Directors UK are now addressing this imbalance, demanding that 30% of all programmes produced in 2017 be directed by women. In their words: ‘Broadcasters and production companies are willing to work with us to make change happen. Small steps have been taken but there is a great deal of work to be done.’ As for HBO and next season’s True Detective: why stop at one female detective? Let’s double it.

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

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Why don’t you use the female condom?

Despite having been available for years, and its near endless list of benefits, the female condom has not had the level of popularity or success that global health and women’s rights advocates have hoped for. For those of you who aren’t yet familiar with the female condom, it’s an enjoyable little device that women can initiate on their own and that protects both partners while maintaining a warmer and more natural sensation than the male condom.

The female condom is a sheath of clear flexible material (latex, nitrile, or polyurethane) that can be inserted up to several hours before the sexual act, avoiding its interruption. Its outer ring provides an additional level of protection against sexually transmitted infections, and men have repeatedly stated how great the sensation of the inner ring feels during sex. If taught correctly, women can better negotiate condom use with stubborn husbands and partners, taking greater control over their sexuality and reproduction. It can also play a significant role in keeping sex workers safe and healthy as they can use the female condom as an alternative to inserting a sponge during their periods in order to maintain their work schedule – behaviour seen throughout Latin America.

So why hasn’t the female condom become more popular? Many argue that one of the female condom’s barriers to success is its price. Unfortunately, there isn’t yet enough competition on the market to drive the price down. Currently there are two World Health Organisation pre approved models on the market: Cupid Limited’s Cupid Condom (with a small sponge inside) and the Female Health Company’s FC2 (with a small flexible inner ring). Each are several times more expensive than male condoms. Yet several studies have shown that creating access to the female condom leads to higher levels of safe sex, lower HIV/AIDS transmission, and prevents many unwanted pregnancies, saving governments hundreds of thousands of dollars on top of their initial investment. Others state that the female condom has design drawbacks such as the visible outer ring that makes some women self-conscious. The stereotype that the female condom is noisy (an issue that has been eliminated thanks to design changes) may also be keeping people from giving it a shot.

I would maintain that these characteristics don’t have the impact that some argue, but that instead the female condom’s biggest hurdle is society’s refusal to allow women a greater role in their sexuality and reproduction. Just as the sexual needs and pleasure of women come second, so do the tools and contraceptive methods that put them in control. However, there are ways around this.

In Chile, like in many other countries, the female condom is not yet available. Thus the International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS (ICW Chile) has decided to lead a strategic campaign to create dual access to the female condom through the National Health System and market vendors, as well as generating acceptance and demand for the product.

ICW Chile will reach out to young men and women, hoping to prevent HIV in the next generation of adults and encouraging young women to take control from the beginning of their sex lives. They will reach out to sex workers through condom negotiation workshops and teach the health benefits of using the condom during their period. They will speak to married couples in regions where HIV rates are high, and teach men that the female condom feels fantastic and that it gives them one less responsibility to worry about. ICW Chile will also work with transgender men and women, HIV positive women, and young mothers to attempt to mainstream the topic and receive thousands of signatures, eventually presenting a master petition to the government and encouraging the purchase of female condoms for the National HIV/AIDS and STD Prevention Program.

The hope is that this strategic introduction of the female condom will outweigh latent machismo in Chile and will give women an opportunity to protect themselves, especially from transmission of HIV/AIDS in their marriage. By 2015, ICW Chile hopes to have convinced the Chilean Government of the importance of the female condom. Soon Chile will be one less country where women are simply dependent on the generosity of men to put on a male condom.

Carolynn Poulsen is the Program Manager at ICW Chile

Photo: Wikimedia

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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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Erica Böhr: Feminism is…

Erica BohrName: Erica Böhr

Age: 47

Location: Cambridge

Bio: Radical feminist lesbian artist and mother

For me, feminism is:

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

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

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

4. A space where the personal is always the political

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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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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Ana Hine: Feminism is…

Name: Ana Hine

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

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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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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Donna Navarro: Feminism is…

Donna NavarroName: Donna Navarro

Age: 35

Location: Nottingham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Daily Mail, “White Dee” & the “Happy Depressive”

Next week is Mental Health Awareness Week. If you have an idea for an article email editorial@feministtimes.com

In this country 1 in 5 of us will have an experience of clinical depression in the course of a lifetime and there will be a higher proportion of women sufferers. The mental health services are in crisis with severe cash shortages and mental illness continues to carry a heavy stigma.

It is indeed hard to understand an illness that cannot be seen but to suffer from depression can feel like living under a curse. Most people think they know what a depressed person looks like but they would be wrong. A doctor friend of mine, when training to be a psychiatrist, was told ‘beware the smiling depressive.’ It is good advice and not stated often enough. Many psychotherapists will have had experience of the client who can appear cheerful and upbeat and then unexpectedly make a suicide attempt.

When reading the Daily Mail’s article on ‘White Dee’ I was shocked but not surprised. Dee, from the Channel 4 program Benefits Street, is seen partying during 4-day holiday, which she has been offered free. However, the potentially high price she is paying is having her picture in the paper, drinking, kissing a man and being offered up to the general readership as an object of contempt. The implication is that she is a liar who is fooling the benefit system. The reader can feel rightly appalled. But the premise here is that depressed people never laugh or smile and if they are able to do this then they are not depressed. This is simply not the case.

I can sit with a very depressed client who is in utter despair and full of self-loathing and hopelessness. Yet, even in the midst of this misery, we can sometimes enjoy a laugh together. I also know that such a client, often a woman, will then go home to their families and make a superhuman effort to be cheerful. Sometimes they manage better than others. It is interesting to note that buried in the article on White Dee was a comment she made on not really enjoying herself because she misses her children and hates flying. The reader is again invited to disbelieve this because all the pictures show her partying.

Ironically there was another article in The Mail the same week on Compassion Focused Therapy. (CFT). This is a relatively new therapy that is used for treating anxiety, which is often a feature of depression. One of the most painful aspects of depression is self-hatred and worthlessness. CFT helps the client treat and think of themselves with compassion rather than criticism. Compassion is not the same as self-pity. It is about being able to have realistic thoughts to combat negative self-beliefs. I’m just ‘completely useless’ isn’t a helpful thought but being able to think ‘I’m doing my best’ and ‘I’ll get better’ is vastly preferable and more constructive.

Depressed people will have such an internal bullying voice which attacks them for not being good enough, perfect enough, thin enough, rich enough and so on. The bully by definition doesn’t have compassion or empathy for the victim, which in the case of depression are the sufferers themselves. The tabloid papers frequently use bullying strategies that denigrate those they wish to attack. The article on White Dee was designed to prevent understanding or compassion. We only saw the photos they want us to see and which invited condemnation. They offered no possibility that this woman might in reality suffer from depression and that being at the receiving end of such media coverage might truly cause her harm.

Sue Cowan-Jenssen is a UKCP registered psychotherapist and EMDR Consultant in private practice in North London.

Photo: Daily Mail

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#Genderweek: Why are men violent?

Click here to read all #GenderWeek articles.

We sent all our #GenderWeek contributors this brief:

Prof Jesse Prinz (Author, Beyond Human Nature)

If biological sex is not binary, if the current trend is towards trans inclusion in feminism and non-gendered charities for domestic violence – how in this context of a gradual break down in “gender norms”, can you explain why men continue to be much more violent than women? And what repercussions does this have for the discussions we’ve been having in #GenderWeek?

  • What do you consider the reasons behind men being more likely to being violent – is it culture, society, or evolution?
  • If the latter, how do you then deal with the idea that biology of sex is not binary – people assigned male and female at birth may not have XX/XY chromosomes?
  • And how do you deal, in an empathic and caring way, with the real threat that some women feel when with someone who was assigned male at birth in their space?

Here are their responses:

Dr Finn Mackay is a feminist activist and researcher.
Male violence against women is epidemic, it is a symptom of patriarchy and also maintains it. Male violence is not due to biology, it is made and not born. This means it can be unmade through the dismantling of patriarchy, which would liberate all of us, women and men. Not all men rape or abuse women, this means there’s no genetic excuse for those who do. Masculinity is wedded to violence, displayed through domination at any cost; leaving women and children to pay the price. We need to create an equal world, where we can all be the human beings we are, not brutal and limiting stereotypes.

Karen Ingala Smith is the Chief Executive of nia, a charity supporting women and children who have experienced sexual and domestic violence.
Gender kills. Sexual inequality is structural and based on biological sex. Gender is a social construct, a means of maintaining and reinforcing men’s oppression of women, sexual inequality. Gender is neither natural nor innate. Gender is a critical enabler of male violence against women. For me, feminism is about the liberation of women from male oppression. This does not mean that as a feminist I do not recognise or seek to end other forms of oppression, such as those based on class, race and disability; but it means that I see eradication of socially constructed gender as vital for the liberation of all women.

Lynne Segal is a feminist writer and activist, and Anniversary Professor of Psychology & Gender Studies at Birkbeck, University of London.
I am suspicious of what is meant in trying to sum up, or wrap up, gender contrasts – seeing problems with all binary reductionism, gendered or otherwise. My basic feminism has never been Manichean: men equals ‘bad’; women equals ‘good’, when many women are not feminists in any way I can recognise (that is instinctively egalitarian and inclusive of all women); while some men do support women in all the ways they can think of, however privileged their gender position. But of course gender remains a hugely, multifaceted, hierarchical structure, which affects us all, so here is what I would say:

Some forms of gender polarisation are foolish. Men do not start all wars, women often condone, assist and more recently fight in them – was Margaret Thatcher a man? We need boys and men to support feminism. Some do. But I can laugh along with Barbara Ehrenreich: “Of all the nasty outcomes predicted for women’s liberation… none was more alarming, from a feminist point a view, than the suggestion that women would eventually become just like men.” Some have!

CN Lester is a musician, writer and activist.
I don’t feel that there’s any simple answer to this question, and that trying to reduce it to a sophistic “nature vs. nurture” argument distorts the research already carried out. It hampers our future efforts at reducing violence, and examining and trying to solve the myriad reasons why violence happens.

I think a multidisciplinary approach is needed – we need research and ideas for action from a range of activists, psychologists, neuroscientists, social workers, anthropologists (I could go on) – and while it’s necessary to remember that men commit the majority of violent acts, we can’t afford to ignore violent acts committed by women. The idea that men are somehow tainted and irredeemable and women are innately virtuous helps no one.

Natacha Kennedy is an academic, former primary school teacher, political and transgender activist who identified as a girl from a young age.
I believe that if one accepts that male violence is the result of biology then one has effectively given up on any idea of human self-determination either for men or for women. In the same way that Cordelia Fine has demonstrated that women are culturally influenced in terms of behavioural expectations and self-perception, so men are also influenced by a culture that expects certain things of them. This has probably come about largely because the ruling class needs to maintain a reserve of potentially violent people to use to protect their power and economic interests, consequently it needs to promote a culture that encourages men to develop violent dispositions.

Ruth Greenberg is a UK radical feminist, involved in RadFem UK, Abolish Prostitution Now and local feminist activism.
Male violence against women and girls, and other men too, is a socialised phenomena. It is understandable that some women, overcome with the horror of male violence, seek a biological explanation for this violence but the scientific evidence does not support that (Cordelia Fine, Delusions of Gender).

The prevalence of male violence presents a challenge to women who do not want male socialised people in women-only spaces. Trans women are socialised as boys and sometimes as men, depending on when they transition. So for many there is a concern that violence is not reduced by transition.

That is why I think we need women-only spaces that include trans women, and also spaces that are for women born female only.

Roz Kaveney is a member of the Feminist Times Editorial Board. She is a trans woman, novellist, poet, critic and activist.
Patriarchy is a system of social organisation and control dedicated to ownership and the transmission of ownership. To this end it makes use of violence and the threat of violence to control women’s reproduction and to police everything which might threaten bloodline transmission, e.g. sexual and gender variance, or exposure to other cultures. Subordinate groups are taught to fear: recruits to the dominant group are taught to value violence. Socialisation into violence is accordingly linked to systems of expectation particularly, but not limited to gender and sex assigned at birth.

Louise Pennington is a radical feminist writer and activist who founded A Room of Our Own.
Women are oppressed by the biological reality of sex as is so clearly highlighted by the Everyday Sexism Project and Women Under Siege. Radical feminism is a political theory that recognises this sex-based oppression (Patriarchy). As a radical feminist, I do not believe that men are biologically programmed to be violent. I believe that male violence is encouraged and perpetuated in order to maintain wealth and power within a select group of, mainly white, men. We need women-only services that recognise gendered patterns of violence because violence is both a cause and a product of socialisation and sex inequality.

What do you think? Tell us below…

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‪#‎GenderWeek: Andrea was not transphobic

Click here to read all #GenderWeek articles.

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

One passage in Woman Hating changed my life forever:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I miss our communion terribly.

genderwkbody

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

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

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

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#GenderWeek: “TERF-war”, online bullying & the dark art of doxing

Click here to read all #GenderWeek articles.

Online bullying is, self-evidently, a phenomenon that has only been able to exist since the rise of the publicly available internet. The existence of “doxing” has followed it. Doxing (or Doxxing, Docx), for those who don’t know, is a shortened form of the word ‘documenting’ and is the practice of outing somebody online, usually by linking to the person’s photographs or identity in some way.

It is not always motivated by malice. The net provides a convenient cloak of anonymity for those who seek to dissemble. Few of us could have failed to laugh when Mary Beard received a snivelling apology from a no-longer-brave young man faced with having his tweet shown to his mother, and it will rarely be against the public interest to discover that a brand advocate is actually employed by said brand.

It becomes sinister when it is used as a tool to attack private individuals who have done nothing more offensive than exist.

In what has been dubbed the “TERF-wars”; where trans-exclusionary radical feminists, trans-inclusionary feminists and trans-activists have come to blows on Twitter – often over subjects such as women-only spaces and equalities law – the lines between debate and abuse often become very confused, with both sides accusing the other of abuse. The legal tipping point between the two is discussed below, although the moral high ground is obviously a different matter.

Many feminists find the term “TERF” offensive and the word “cis” – a Latin prefix used as the opposite of “trans” – uncomfortable.  There is no right not to be offended, so a person who dislikes the terms is unlikely to be able to make out a legal case to prevent it. Insisting on calling someone “cis” or “TERF” if they do not like it or identify with the term is rude, probably bullying, but unless it is used deliberately to cause distress, which would be hard to prove, it is unlikely to be illegal. Similarly, deliberate misgendering would in most cases be considered obnoxious rather than unlawful. There is no hard line definition of what is offensive; that is considered on a case by case basis according to what the “reasonable” person would think.

It goes without saying that there is no remedy in criminal or in civil law for someone putting forward a viewpoint with which one disagrees. As with all online debate, holding an opposing position is not in itself abuse or bullying. So, for example, there is no possible legal way to prevent “trans-critical analysis”, which theorises the non-existence of transsexuals, no matter how hurtful it may be to a person reading it. However it is very often within this context that doxing occurs which is often used in the online bullying of trans people.

Doxing is by no stretch of the imagination a simple analysis problem. It has involved deliberate targeting of individuals in a way designed to intimidate them, including vulnerable people (minors) who could in no way be said to have raised their heads above a theoretical parapet.

It is a sad truth that the application of the law cannot force anybody to be right. However, the law does provide some protection to the victims of bullying no matter what views you hold.  Here’s a slimmed-down synopsis of how.

The Public Order Act

The Public Order Act of 1986 makes it a criminal offence to use threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, either with intention to cause harassment, alarm or distress or in the presence of someone who might be caused harassment, alarm or distress. Equally, it is an offence to ‘display’ such words or behaviour. In 1986 that meant on a wall, placard or similar, but it could equally apply to Tumblr or Twitter in today’s terms.

It is a defence to show that the conduct was reasonable or that the person doing it had no reason to believe that anybody would actually see it.

Sending malicious communications

The Malicious Communications Act 1988 makes it a criminal offence to send any article which is indecent or grossly offensive, or which conveys a threat, or which is false, provided there is an intent to cause distress or anxiety to the recipient. The offence covers letters, writing of all descriptions, electronic communications, photographs and other images in a material form, tape recordings, films and video recordings.

The offence is one of sending, delivering or transmitting, so there is no requirement for the article to reach the intended recipient.

In 2007 the court considered whether a political or educational motive would be a defence (when applied to a woman who was sending graphic photographs of aborted foetuses as part of an anti-abortion campaign.) It was not held to be a defence and any restriction on freedom of speech was justified by everyone else’s right not to be victimised.

Harassment

The CPS use the term harassment to cover the ‘causing alarm or distress’ offences under section 2 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 (PHA), and ‘putting people in fear of violence’ offences under section 4 of the PHA. Harassment is not specifically defined, but it can include repeated attempts to impose unwanted communications and contacts upon a victim in a manner that could be expected to cause distress or fear in any reasonable person. It would be difficult to prove that doxing someone (without notifying them) constituted harassment of that individual, but the CPS guidance states that:

“Closely connected groups may also be subjected to ‘collective’ harassment. The primary intention of this type of harassment is not generally directed at an individual but rather at members of a group. This could include: members of the same family; residents of a particular neighbourhood; groups of a specific identity including ethnicity or sexuality, for example, the racial harassment of the users of a specific ethnic community centre; harassment of a group of disabled people; harassment of gay clubs; or of those engaged in a specific trade or profession.”

This could undoubtedly be applied to an individual (or small group of individuals) harassing a group by doxing them, if the doxing is targeted at members of a particular group.

Doxing: outside the criminal law

Of course, although the CPS have an impressive policy on hate crime, the system is not always interested in what are perceived to be online spats and although, in my view, the system will increasingly recognise that offences can and do occur in the virtual world, the civil law may also be of more immediate interest.

The Equalities Act 2010 protects people with certain characteristics (race, sex, disability, gender reassignment, religion, pregnancy, marriage, sexual orientation and age) from discrimination, harassment or victimisation.  Article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998 guarantees a person’s right to privacy (unless there is a very good reason).  A private individual cannot be sued under either the Equalities Act or the HRA, but public bodies can be (and in the case of the Equalities Act, so can private members’ clubs, associations, employers and service providers).

This means that doxing someone out of malice would be unlawful if it is done by a tabloid – but not if it is done by an individual. However, if it is published by an online publication, it is worth looking at whether that publication is an association or service provider. If so, there may be a remedy in civil law for damages.

One final possibility would be to sue the bully in tort. Tort is a legal concept whereby a person who is harmed by another can claim damages. It is self-evident that doxing would foreseeably cause harm, from distress to actual psychiatric injury. As far as I can tell, nobody has ever attempted to use this route as a remedy for outing or doxing, but it appears that if a person were caused harm by another’s actions in doxing them, they may well be entitled to damages.  A precedent for civil damages could prove more of a deterrent than the threat of criminal action.

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

Photo: Maryland Gov Pics

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

Click here to read all #GenderWeek articles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Google Images Creative Commons

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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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Announcing #GenderWeek, starting 28th April

Gender is one of the most explosive subjects in online feminism.

From so-called “TERF-wars” to gender-based violence, nothing both polarises and solidifies people as much as the subject of gender.

In #GenderWeek we are going to explore the definitions of gender through biology and essentialism, performativity, conditioning and binary/non-binary arguments. We’ve looked at both liberal and radical feminist positions and found much more common ground than you may have previously thought. We investigate whether race theory can and should be used in gender theory, whether class is a foolproof way of analysing gender, and what happens if you replace the word gender with “sex roles”.

As some of history’s greatest feminist thinkers’ work is bounded about Twitter and blogs to back up modern day arguments, we’ve looked into whether the people closest to Andrea Dworkin believe Twitter is corrupting her legacy on the subject. We also look at what’s legal and not in so-called “TERF-warfare”, with a legal analysis into the dark art of “doxing”, words like “TERF”, “cis” and misgendering online.

Of course we could not ignore the fact that the most devastating impact of gender as we know it is gender-based violence. We look at the evidence of endemic gender-based violence and why new trends are pressurising VAWG charities to drop ‘gender’.

Selection of #GenderWeek content.

Published Monday 28th April:

Survey: What is Gender?
Liberal & Radical Feminist definitions of gender: Whats your definition?

Race shatters the idea of a shared female experience
Reni Eddo-Lodge
Why feminists who compare trans women to white cultural appropriators are wrong, and what happens when feminists apply race theory to gender?

Andrea was not transphobic
John Stoltenberg
Andrea Dworkin’s life partner on why she would not have allied herself with any view that furthers “biological superiority”.

Class is to gender what a tube map is to London
Roz Kaveney
Gender as a class system is a useful schematic but it does not show the full terrain of gender.

The delusion of choice
Lynne Segal
Feminism must do more than talk about ‘freedom of choice’.

Male violence against women goes beyond domestic violence
Karen Ingala Smith
The founder of Counting Dead Women on why, when it comes to fatal male violence against women, there’s no such thing as an “isolated incident”.

What about men? The end of women-only charities?
Ruth Wood
Why this domestic violence worker feels the pressure to stop seeing DV as a gendered crime.

Biological sex is not binary
Dr Malin Ah-King
An evolutionary biologist and gender researcher uncovers that many of us may not be XX or XY.

“TERF-war”, online bullying, the dark art of doxing
Julian Norman
A feminist barrister looks at the legality of some of online debate’s most dirty tactics: what is bullying, harassment, name-calling and abuse in the eyes of the law?

Non-binary gender makes me free, not a traitor
CN Lester
Four reasons why gender pluralism is a feminist concept.

Published Tuesday 29th April:

#GenderWeek: Truce! When radical feminists and trans feminists empathise
Dr Finn Mackay & Ruth Pearce
Is it possible to have both trans inclusion and women only space?

Published Wednesday 30th April:

Respectful discussion is possible – Profile: Gender Discussion, a Facebook group.
Ruth Greenberg and Elizabeth Hungerford
What are the group trying to achieve and is it working?

The problem is capitalist-patriarchy socialising boys to be aggressive
Louise Pennington
Rad Fems need women-only space because trauma’s complicated, not because we’re essentialist.

Published Thursday 1st May:

Why are men violent?
Editorial Team
We asked our #GenderWeek contributors to tell us why they think men are so violent and how that affects gender theory.

Published Friday 2nd May:

What is Gender Reader Survey Results

In a change to our normal format we will be publishing the majority of Gender Week content on Monday, with a few additions during the week. We want our readers to see the whole debate at once, with no waiting!

If you have something you think should be included in Gender Week, email us now at editorial@feministtimes.com

Keep up with the debate online at #GenderWeek

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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.

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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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The forgotten women of Kalamazoo

In 1942 Glenn Miller’s I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo swung its way to the top of the Hit Parade charts for eight weeks. One year earlier, a surprise military strike by the Imperial Japanese Navy at Pearl Harbour had dragged America into war, stealing its men overnight like a hypnagogic hallucination. At the same time an extraordinary group of women walked quietly through the doors of 225 Parsons Street, Kalamazoo, Michigan. Their mission: to build wartime Gibson guitars.

Glenn Miller wasn’t the only one who had a gal in Kalamazoo. During the years 1942-45, Gibson Guitar Corporation had several. As is the case with many a clandestine affair, their existence has long since been deleted and rewritten from the Gibson history books, their fingerprints and handiwork polished away with a J-cloth. As quietly as they entered the Gibson factory in January 1942, they disappeared again.

John Thomas’ personal quest to find the lost Kalamazoo gals is endearingly told in Kalamazoo Gals: A story of Extraordinary Women & Gibson’s “Banner” Guitars of WWII. This is not just one story but many; finally giving these women their voice, to talk about the guitars they made for a manufacturer that denied they ever existed.

Why the cover-up? We never quite find out. The Kalamazoo women produced nearly 25,000 guitars during World War II yet Gibson denied ever building instruments over this period. Their ads in 1945 even welcomed a ‘new world’ where guitars would be ‘available again’. Gibson folklore eradicated their gals from history, claiming only “seasoned craftsmen” too old for war were carrying out repairs. In reality, women such as Jenny Snow, Velura Wood, Mary Jane Dowels and Ruth Stap populated the work benches, creating refined Banner Gibsons from rationed materials. No mean feat.

As the women vanished in 1945, returning to their children, kitchens and marriages, the Banner Gibsons vanished too. These guitars are unequivocally strapped to the women who made them, with the slogan “Only a Gibson is Good Enough” on the golden banners of the guitar headstocks. “There it would reside for four short years, to disappear sometime in 1945, not again to be seen until the Gibson Company produced reissues in the 1990s of the guitars that many players and collectors contend represent Gibson’s zenith.” And this is what makes John Thomas’ book all the more vital; the Kalamazoo Girls created some of the best guitars in Gibson’s history.

This book is their story, their lives, in their modest words. None consider their work extraordinary. Most shrug themselves off the page that frames them, undermining their contribution as unskilled. 84-year-old Jenny Snow who can uncoil and recoil Gibson mona-steel string in a blink of an eye; Velura Wood who inspected every single Banner flattop guitar during the years 1943-46; frail Mary Jane Dowels, now 80, who back in 1944 “did those fancy ones, you know. The L-5s and Super 400s. I could bind 26 or 27 headstocks in a day.” And then there’s Ruth Stap, who inlaid the Gibsons with mother of pearl. Around her neck is a wooden heart she made in the Gibson factory with five mother of pearl stars. Each star represents one of her brothers: “One for each of my brothers who was in the war. I wore it every day of the war and, you know what? All of my brothers made it back.”

What makes each tale bittersweet is their brevity. As one Gibson gal, Delores, sums up for the group: “My husband got out of the service in 1946 and I became a homemaker”. They loved to work. Like most of us, they loved getting paid even more, but when the time came the same modesty that underpinned their talent, underpinned their willingness to leave as quickly as they arrived without complaint or protestation.

All we’re left with is this one sincere testament to their story, told 70 years after both the Banners and their Kalamazoo gals disappeared, just like Glenn Miller, whose aircraft vanished without trace only a few months earlier in 1944 somewhere over the English Channel. Miller himself once declared: “America means freedom and there’s no expression of freedom quite so sincere as music”. How true that was, and will always be, for the extraordinary Banner women of Kalamazoo.

Competition

We’re offering Feminist Times members the chance to win a copy of Kalamazoo Gals: A story of Extraordinary Women & Gibson’s “Banner” Guitars of WWII, signed by author John Thomas.

Enter your details here and we’ll select one winner at random at 5pm tomorrow, Thursday 24 April. Please enter the email address you used to sign up as a member; only entries made by current Feminist Times members will be counted. If you are not yet a member, or your membership has expired, click here to join us.

Kat Lister is a 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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Sisterhood & After: Listen to Fifty Years of Feminism

Tonight the East London Fawcett Society is holding a debate on the legacy of feminist campaigners from the Second Wave, 50 Years of Feminism. This event, chaired by the Southbank’s Jude Kelly, has been inspired by and is being held in partnership with The British Library’s new feminist oral history project, Sisterhood and After: An Oral History of the Women’s Liberation Movement. Panelists include Melissa Benn, Beatrix Campbell, Laura Bates and Lesley Abdela.

To coincide with this event, The British Library has selected three of the more than 150 recordings to share with Feminist Times readers. These recordings and their transcripts, as well as the rest of the archive, are available online on the British Library’s ‘Sisterhood & After’ website. Listen to them below.

Sisterhood & After is a unique oral history archive depicting the stories of the women involved in the Women’s Liberation Movement, launched on 8 March last year by the British Library, in partnership with the University of Sussex and The Women’s Library.

From Spare Rib to Greenham Common, the Southhall Black Sisters to the Northern Ireland Women’s Rights’ movement, the Women’s Liberation Movement of the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s transformed the lives of men and women and shaped the world we live in today. This oral history archive brings together the diverse experiences of the women involved in this movement for the first time, including issues ranging from reproductive rights, equality, independence to marriage and sexual rights. Over 350 hours of unedited recordings from the archive are available in the reading rooms of the British Library, and highlights from the archive, including edited clips, video and contextual information are available online.

The project was developed over the last four years in response to a demand from the activists themselves, who felt their stories had never been recorded in full before. Participants include well-known figures such as Susie Orbach and Jenni Murray as well as lesser known stories, such as Una Kroll, a former doctor, nun and campaigner for women’s right to be priests; Rowena Arshad, a trade union activist who co-organised a pioneering black women’s refuge in Scotland; Betty Cook, a miner’s wife who became politicised during the miner strike forming ‘Women Against Pit Closures’; and women involved in campaigns such as the Miss World protest, the Grunwick Strike, Reclaim the Night, the Equal Pay Act and many more.

Pragna Patel describing her involvement in Southall Black Sisters

Pragna Patel is the founder and Director of Southall Black Sisters Centre (SBS). SBS is, a multi-award-winning women’s organisation founded in 1979 to address the needs of black and minority women experiencing gender violence. It successfully campaigned for the release of Kiranjit Ahluwalia, a landmark case in which an Asian woman was convicted of the murder of her violent husband. The case reformed homicide law, creating greater awareness within and outside minority communities. Pragna is also a co-founder of Women Against Fundamentalism.

Pragna Patel interviewed by Rachel Cohen, C1420/18 © The British Library and The University of Sussex

Karen McMinn describing violence against women in the context of the Northern Irish conflict

Karen McMinn (born 1956) joined Belfast Women’s Aid in 1977 and was involved in the Free Noreen Winchester Campaign in 1978. As Director of Northern Ireland Women’s Aid 1981-1996, she played a key role within the women’s movement in raising the issue of violence against women and women’s social and political empowerment during a period of intense political violent conflict in Northern Ireland. Karen now works as an independent consultant focusing on issues of gender inequality and marginalisation within post conflict societies.

Karen McMinn interviewed by Rachel Cohen, C1420/26 © The British Library and The University of Sussex

Ursula Owen talking about setting up Virago and the way it was received

Ursula Owen is a publisher and editor. She was a founder director of Virago Press, which published many remarkable women writers, including Maya Angelou, Margaret Atwood, Angela Carter, Rebecca West and Mary Chamberlain, and recovered many out-of-print writers, including Willa Cather, Rosamund Lehmann, and Isabella Bird. She worked at Virago for seventeen years from l974 as editorial director and then joint managing director; she was chief executive of Index on Censorship, the magazine for free expression, from l993 – 2006, and founder of the Free Word Centre for literature, literacy and free expression.

Ursula Owen interviewed by Rachel Cohen, C1420/36 © The British Library and The University of Sussex

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What is Feminism? banner

Janet Sparks: Feminism is…

Name: Janet Sparks

Age: 51

Location: Salisbury, Wiltshire

Bio: Married working mother of 2 sons at University

Feminism is making your own choices.

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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You don’t only get photographed when you’re eating

On Monday lunchtime women protested the now infamous blog Women Who Eat on Tubes by topping up their Oysters and having a good old munch on the Circle Line. This just after the founder of WWEOT Tony Burke made a toe curling appearance on the Today Program, when he tried to claim the project is some form of high art, an “observational study”, “something artistic”.

Tony’s day job is in advertising, so it’s really no surprise that he would consider something sexist, creepy and yet also banal as being very artistic and creative. No offense to those making a hard-earned-living in advertising; I’m sure it comes as no surprise to you either.

But while he was promoting himself as one of London’s biggest morons I was genuinely surprised at how much attention his project was getting when his blog is really a pin prick, and I emphasise the word ‘pin’, because a pin is very very small and would be completely lost in the internet haystack that are “creep shots”.

Creep shots are so common on public transport that even I, someone who avoids the tube as much as I can, have seen two men take pictures of women’s cleavages on the underground. The first time I was struck dumb in shock; the second time I saw the man take the picture from an adjoining carriage, and when I knocked on the window to tell him to stop he ran. I’m not quite sure what I’d do if I saw it happen for a third time. Stand up and shout “he’s taking a picture of your breasts”? Tell him he’s gross? Perform a citizen’s arrest?

Just like WWEOT there are creep shot Tumblrs, but google #creepshot and you should get a pretty good idea of how endemic this is – just put it into the search bar in Twitter now. Many of the photos are taken in restaurants, supermarkets, on the beach. Women and girls bending over, sunbathing, photos taken from under tables.

Here’s the rub. It’s technically legal to photograph someone without their consent, and of course it’s in our interest to be able to take photos of strangers in public places. It means taking pictures at the Great Wall of China, Eiffel Tower or other packed places we want to take pictures of, which are full of tourists, is not going to land us in court. It also means reporters can go to war zones and disaster scenes or places of public interest and document; something Burke alluded his project did.

Of course Burke’s project was no more serious documentation than Viz is a serious issue-based magazine, no matter if some photography student somewhere is writing a very convincing dissertation on how Burke is the new Nicholas Nixon, or the 21st Century Corinne Day, or the eating woman’s Terry Richardson.

For all of us in the real world, we just want to go about our lives feeling safe and secure whether sitting on public transport or grabbing a cup of tea in our local cafe. We deserve a legal framework that protects our privacy from the whims of the “Creatives” theoretical justification, the shaming or documenting of us as grotesque subjects or, whats more likely, protect us from a weirdo’s wank bank. No such luck.

Last month a judge in Massachusetts ruled that ‘upskirt’ photos taken without consent are NOT illegal so long as the victim is wearing knickers. And there we have it. Carte. Blanche.

Here in the UK, the law asks whether a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy. So readers, do you have an expectation of privacy on the tube, bus or train? Do you not expect to have your bottom photographed when picking up something your toddler has dropped in the supermarket? Do you expect people to photograph up your skirt whether or not you’re wearing knickers? And is that reasonable?

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The Daily Fail doth protest too much

Yesterday UN Rapporteur Rashida Manjoo raised concerns about the UK’s portrayal of women and girls in the media saying the UK had a “boys’ club sexist culture“. Ms Manjoo also criticised cuts to services and called for more work to be done in schools. The expert in violence against women and girls commented that “negative and over-sexualised portrayals of women” in the UK media led, in some cases, to the “marketisation of their bodies”.

The “marketisation” of women’s bodies eh? Cue the Daily Fail…

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In some kind of patriotic tit for tat the Maily Pail took umbrage that a South African should dare to criticise anything about the UK while their “native” country is “the rape capital of the world”. This just two hours after publishing a story about Myleene Klasse enjoying a lovely break in a “sun soaked trip” to the country.

The newspaper showed uncharacteristic concern for not only the women of South Africa but Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Papa New Guinea, and went on to show off that the UK came 18th out of 136 countries in being “most equal”. Would that they were the 18th most read paper in the UK, but I’m sure coming 18th wouldn’t feel that good for a business.

The only woman they could find to comment on the new story was Edwina Currie. “Most of the women I know like living here” she said, convincingly.

But the real stars at the Faily Dail are the readers:

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Is “Brigante7” from Edinburgh a disgruntled former academic colleague of Professor Manjoo, we wonder?

What makes Manjoo an expert? Oh, we don’t know! Her impressive CV? The UN? Perhaps the fact she is Professor in the Department of Public Law of the University of Cape Town, former Parliamentary commissioner of the Commission on Gender Equality (CGE) in South Africa, Visiting Professor at University of Virginia & Webster University in the US and an Eleanor Roosevelt Fellow with the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School?

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True.

Then Hobart’s “Henry Porter” lets the side down by saying something fairly sensible, provoking the wrath of 689 angry Naily Bail readers who furiously battered their cursors on the “dislike” button.

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Shame on you Waily Tail.

Read the End Violence Against Women Coalition’s response to Manjoo’s comments here.

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EVAW welcomes UN expert’s comments on UK’s ‘sexist culture’

The UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Rashida Manjoo, yesterday described Britain as having a “boys’ club sexist culture”. The End Violence Against Women (EVAW) Coalition respond to her remarks.

The End Violence Against Women Coalition today (15 April) today welcomed the recommendations made to the Government by the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women Ms Rashida Manjoo at the end of her two-week mission to the UK.

EVAW Coalition Co-Director Liz McKean said:

“Ms Manjoo is a renowned global expert on violence against women and girls and the UK is fortunate to have had her visit and make an assessment of our progress in this area.

“The EVAW Coalition notes that while Ms Manjoo recognised good progress in the UK in terms of action plans and some new domestic violence protections, overall violence against women and girls remains “pervasive” here and that work to prevent it is only “isolated pockets”. We warmly welcome her recommendation that work currently carried out by the Home Office on tackling abuse in teenage relationships – the thisisabuse campaign – should be extended to schools.

“Ms Manjoo is very clear that the so-called austerity cuts are having a devastating impact on the women-run services which protect and support women leaving or at risk of violence, and especially those for BME women. We support her recommendation that there must be safeguards to ensure women’s human rights to protection are guaranteed. We also hope the Government will heed her remarks about ‘gender neutrality’ creeping into policy and service delivery and the impact this is already having.

“Ms Manjoo is clear that legal aid cuts are reducing women’s access to justice. EVAW members have reported that the legal aid cuts are leaving some women experiencing domestic violence without access to legal aid – and in some cases they are having to represent themselves in court and face their abusers. We urge the government to listen to the findings of the UN Special Rapporteur and speak to expert women’s organisations to find a remedy to this situation.

“The EVAW Coalition is very disappointed that Ms Manjoo’s requests to visit Yarls Wood detention centre were denied by the Government. The UK would be among the first to criticise a foreign government which denied access to a Special Rapporteur. Jamaican woman Christine Case recently died at the facility and an investigation is ongoing. Women’s organisations are very worried about multiple reported abuses at the site. We urge the Government to talk to women’s groups about urgent changes to the detention regime there.

“Ms Manjoo’s comments that violence against women cannot be successfully challenged unless it is seated within work to improve women’s equality and freedom overall are a welcome reminder to policy makers that abuse of women and girls cannot be tackled alone as some perceived corner of the crime agenda. Women are abused because they lack equality with men, and once subject to abuse find it harder to become free and equal. Her comments on the way different women experience racism, poverty and disability as well as gender-based violence need to inform all work in this area.

“And finally, we welcome the Special Rapporteur’s observation that as a society we are happy to blame “culture” when some women and girls are subject to forced marriage and FGM for example, but we refuse to take on an ever more “sexualised” media culture which upholds sexist rape myths and harms women. Media and culture are areas where clear policy to prevent abuse of women and girls is needed. We hope to see a response to this soon.

“The EVAW Coalition hopes that this spotlight on current UK work to end violence against women and girls will be used by all the political parties to develop better, more effective, more concerted commitments to end abuse in our lifetimes. As local and general elections loom, and as women’s rights activists are again very visible on the political and social scene, let’s hope we see a real offer to women and the whole community that everything possible will be done to eliminate violence against women and girls.”

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What is Feminism? banner

Hannah Wheatley: Feminism is…

Name: Hannah Wheatley

Age: 20

Location: Melbourne

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

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

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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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.

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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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Becoming Advertising

Like most free to access online entities we have explored the various options for monetisation, some more appealing than others. We’ve narrowed it down to three – sneaky ads, straight forward ads or a pop up feminist cat café.

Straightforward, olden day advertising was the line of least resistance but how would this play with our friends and supporters? I asked an unscientific sample – few were anti-advertising and some, surprisingly, were rabidly pro. One asked: “Why are you against advertising? Do you want to live in a Maoist state?”

Then I remembered, I’ve always loved the ads! They were the incidental music of my seventies childhood. My mum used to turn the telly off when they were on, but my brother and I preferred the ads to the programmes.

This early exposure to gender stereotyping didn’t Sindyise me as my mother feared. I kept telling her – you don’t turn into Charlie Girl or Shake n Vac woman from watching the ads. My brother and I were ad aficionados, not dupes or ironists. We didn’t buy into them or think ourselves superior to the ads or the people who were impelled to spend their hard earned money on Sure for Men or Ultrabrite.

I don’t feel as fondly about eighties advertising. The ads of that period were blunt instruments; “intimately terroristic” like Charles Saatchi and not as good or clever as everyone remembers. They were uber confident but as repetitive and ineffective as a coke addicted city boy.

When I got older I enjoyed ‘decoding’ ads in the manner of structural theorists like Judith Williamson, rather than reinterpreting them. Do people still do this? Are the ads a window on the world anymore? I’m less interested in specific ads these days than the modern malady of marketing which is constantly pushing the boundaries and overstepping the mark. Advertising is not OK when it’s delivered intravenously to children or women postpartum.

I pictured the ads in Fem T in a clearly circumscribed space that couldn’t be confused with editorial. We ruled out sneaky ads and sponsored content because we felt they broke the bond of trust we have built up with our readership. With a clear conscience, we started costing the redesign of the website and finding an ad salesperson to sell, sell sell the Fem T concept to ethical brands. (This wouldn’t take very long – the list was very short.)

The fabulously attired ad salesman on the Modern Review managed to convince a range of high end brands it was going to be a cross between the New Yorker and American Esquire in it’s heyday. They were bitterly disappointed, understandably, when issue one of Marxist Feminist monthly hit the stands.

This time round, if I sold my soul, I wouldn’t get anything for it. We were reliably informed that the revenue from banner ads would be unlikely to cover the cost of redesigning the website; the model that we’d given so much thought to was declared a busted flush by a range of media professionals. Sneaky advertising is the only game in town, unfortunately. Native advertising on Fem T would mean ads and content were seamlessly merged into a single website ‘experience’. If this is the future of publishing, I’d rather put Fem T out by carrier pigeon.

The founder and chief exec of Buzzfeed recently said:

“Nobody comes to Buzzfeed to look at the ads, but they’ll come for the content. When the advertising is content – good content they’re willing to click on and engage with, and share if it’s good – that’s the future for publishers.’

The internet will be colonised and co-opted by advertising in the blink of an eye. I never romanticised the web or thought of it as a ‘free space’; oddly the people who did are now signing it away and saying it will be good for it.

Online advertising is everywhere and nowhere – it’s the uninvited guest on every comment board and web forum that speaks your language and compliments you on your lifestyle choices. Sinister ‘urban communities’ like work.shop.play extract valuable information about our priorities and preferences which allows brands to create perfectly tailored pitches for allegiance. Modern advertising is as individual as you; it flatters and cajoles with perfect knowledge of your taste and aspirations.

I recently reread Dale Carnegie’s book How to win friends and influence people. Belatedly, brands and corporations have learned the best way to win consumers is to be genuinely interested in them, ask them about themselves, listen intently to the answers and make them feel intelligent.

This is also a failsafe strategy for winning commercial partners. The Guardian talked up its recent partnership with Unilever as a meeting minds. The company had absorbed Guardian Media Group’s ‘values’ and repeated them back… with bells on:

‘Our partnership with Guardian Labs presents us with an innovative and unique way of engaging with a greater number of consumers than ever before, in their homes and on the move, on a subject which is core to both Unilever and the Guardian’s values – sustainability.’

In this brave new world, you can’t trust anyone, enthusiasts least of all. Bloggers, hipsters and impoverished newspaper editors are contractually obliged to enthuse about their commercial partners, on pain of commercial death.

No one has asked the Guardian’s readership, or ‘highly engaged community’ as we are now called, whether we want to collaborate with corporations who ‘share our values’. We are extremely valuable; cheap at the million pound price. Unilever is buying access to skeptics like my mother and credibility by association with the former bastion of liberalism .

The last issue of Weekend magazine had several sponsored features, differentiated by a very slightly different font. I still confused one with the other.

My mum used to complain about billboards; they look increasingly retro! So many public spaces have been co-opted or colonised by a new type of advertising.

Great swathes of Angel tube station are given over to Barcardi’s rebrand. No longer a drink for teenage girls who can’t think what to order, it is the choice of renegades, non-conformists (and ruthless dictators.)

The 150 year old brand is understandably proud of its heritage! “Prohibition was a blast”; exiled to Cuba in the fifties, it was partying enthusiastically while Cuba was raped and pillaged by the US mafia and corrupt Batista regime. This “untameable essence” is unavoidably everywhere at Angel; swooping bats emblazoned on every square inch of pedestrian walkway (who knew you could buy the floors and ceilings?) Like the film character in Woody Allen’s Purple Rose of Cairo, brands are stepping off the billboards into real life, but behaving loutishly. They are invading our personal space and pretending it is a ‘blast’.

We recently lost our hearts to an all female new media company with inspirationality to spare. The feeling was mutual; they offered to host one of our events at their fabulously appointed HQ in Shoreditch. Should we do it? Yes we should – the quirkily named company were more credible and tech savvy than Fem T, but we were more serious. Would our brand essences synergise over free cocktails? I hoped so.

Arriving early on the night, it was immediately apparent that the young women were everything we’d expected; articulate, engaged and yes.. inspirational. Synergy wise, they were already spoken for. An exclusive agreement with a technology company had allowed them to go to the next level! We didn’t begrudge them; the deal had paid for the space, snazzy refurb, and wheely tables and stools with tablet computers embedded in every one. But brand ambassadors like them are marketing goldust. I suspect they undersold themselves.

Brand ambassadors are high res normal people, like you and me on a good day. Unlike adverts, they are continually on and excellent value for money. One day, they will replace logos; brands have learned that slapping their logos on everything is naff and counterproductive. They are all masters of the soft sell and have ‘debranded‘ to some extent. The logo will whither when it’s no longer needed and go the way of the jingle.

Experiential marketing, where the public encounters the brand in real life already seems arcane. You don’t need people dressed as Fruit Shoots to convey that brand’s essence; the meet and greet with advertising meme in a shopping centre has been superceded by an immersive, multi-sensory experience staged 24/7 in your ‘urban community’ by hip and alluring brand ambassadors. You can’t turn it off, or tune it out by turning up the volume on your headphones.

When reality does segue seamlessly into advertising, you won’t probably won’t notice. Come to think of it, it may already have.

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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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What is Feminism? banner

Heather Dale: Feminism is…

Heather DaleName: Heather Dale

Location: West Yorkshire

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

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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Womb with a View: Bounty – I’ve got my best “fuck-off face” ready

We asked Bounty for a response and have published it directly below the article. It includes contact details for anyone who has had a difficult experience and for those wanted to take themselves off the Bounty database.

Two weeks to go… or rather, not two weeks to go. I’m 38 weeks pregnant today, and his Highness could plausibly arrive this afternoon. Or tomorrow. Or next week. Or the week after that.

Between the 37-week mark and the 42-week “we’ll try anything” cut-off, a pregnant women is ready to roll, set to go, fully cooked. So what are women like me really thinking about now? The small issue of pushing a baby out between our legs, yes. But also what happens soon after, and who we want to be with us.

This brings me to Bounty, an organisation in the news frequently last summer. A profit-making company that provides “support to families in the transition to parenthood”, their representatives are present on many post-natal wards in the UK. Here, they sell women photographs of their babies hours after they’ve had them, get paid by HMRC to pass on Child Benefit forms (some Bounty reps have told mothers it was the only way to get them) and sign away patients’ details to parent-friendly businesses. Yep, you read that right.

This isn’t the brave new world of the stripped-down NHS either. Bounty has been around in hospitals for over 50 years, although what they do there has changed significantly.

These days, women encounter Bounty very early on in their pregnancies. At my 10-week check – at which the risk of miscarriage is still significant – I was presented with my free Bounty folder. This is a heavyweight plastic bag full of free samples and advertising. No, I’m not averse to a freebie but this didn’t seem the right environment so, after a cursory look through, I chucked the lot in the bin. (One leaflet also offered dietary advice that contradicted NHS guidelines – yes, I can eat stilton, you demons – which I emailed them about and, to their credit, they responded.)

A note on the back of the Bounty bag was more galling, however. “Mum to be tip: baby brain? Keep your maternity notes in here so you know how to find them,” it gushed. There, there, dear, went Bounty, patting our silly little heads. We’d much rather be patronised than supported.

Then I started hearing about other women’s experiences of Bounty. One friend was pressured to sign up by her midwife, before miscarrying, then kept getting information from the company on what would have been her due date. Another had a very poorly baby and kept getting harrassed in intensive care. Another thought the Bounty rep was one of many health professionals at first, before handing over her email to send her away – only to get bombarded with spam emails ever since, selling life insurance, kids’ ISAs and toddlers’ ballet lessons.

The first issue to tackle here is transparency. Why don’t these reps say who they are straightaway? I’m told that, in the hours after giving birth, medical staff pop in constantly; a new mother isn’t necessarily going to be ready to deal with uninvited guests. Also, why are these reps allowed into wards when only a few other family members are, especially given the risk of infection? Are these reps monitored and checked properly? Are they made aware of women’s different medical circumstances? A woman could have had an easy labour or a very traumatic one. Neither kind, from the anecdotes I’ve heard, is spared the sales treatment.

So what do Bounty bring the NHS? In a word: money. Amy Willis’ June 2013 investigation for The Telegraph revealed that 150 NHS hospitals were signed up to cash-for-access contracts. Some hospitals were paid according to the number of babies born, while others got bonus commissions when Bounty managed to take their bloody photographs. Furthermore, as of last summer, HMRC paid Bounty £90,000 a year to distribute child benefit forms – forms that can be picked up in post offices for free or downloaded online.

No change has been reported about this figure yet. It isn’t exactly the best use of taxpayers’ money, whichever way you slice it.

But things are hopefully changing. Last summer, a Change.org petition against Bounty attracted over 25,000 signatures. As a result, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Health, Dan Poulter – a medical doctor himself – wrote to the Chief Executives of NHS Trusts expressing his concerns, albeit it, of course, in a very privatisation-friendly way.

“Whilst it is beneficial to have accessible information available to women when they are responsive to messaging”, he wrote – a touch of the “baby brain” schtick there, so thanks for that, Dan – “I am sure you will agree that it is unacceptable for parenting support organisations including Bounty to use this as an opportunity to collect private data and share it without the expressed informed consent of the parents.” Which is all well and good.

This letter was written last June. By July, Poole and Highland NHS Trusts had severed their Bountry contracts. By August, Poulter was saying that the Care Quality Commission would be enabled to take action against maternity wards that “did not ensure the protection of women’s dignity and privacy”. The worry I have now, however, is that this story loses traction. That overworked staff on maternity units forget the complaints that have been made. That the existence of Bounty reps on the wards for so many years makes the issues blend into the background – rather than the practices of individual reps being questioned.

After all, these are some of my friends’ experiences of Bounty, on post-natal wards, since last August. There’s the friend who was having difficulty breastfeeding when the rep appeared – a woman who didn’t take a strongly-worded hint to leave well alone. There’s the friend who was told by an anonymous woman that she needed her details, without being told how these details were going to be used – expressly against the advice recommended by Dan Poulter. A few others had better, hands-off treatment, and I’m hoping for the same – but I have the advantage of being prepared for it, which many women don’t.

Whatever happens in the next four weeks, I’m taking the advice of my friend Ellie. After the birth, whatever happens, I’ll have my best “fuck-off face” ready.

Jude Rogers is a writer, broadcaster, journalist, romantic, Welsh woman and geek. Follow her here @juderogers

Response from Clare Goodrham, Bounty General Manager said: “As a proud partner of the NHS for over 50 years, which sees over 2,000 new mums every day, we have worked to provide free products and important health information to generations of new mothers. We work closely with hospitals to ensure that mums and hospital staff are happy with the service we provide, and 92% of mums say that they love our packs as it gives them free products and money off coupons.

We are proud to give mums such offers and we take a responsible approach to sharing information with our partners. We audit and approve all the communications that our members receive and enforce a strict policy that data is only shared with our partners when a member has given us permission. We understand that some members might change their minds about this, so anyone who does not wish for their data to be shared can be removed from our database within 24 hours and no longer receive correspondence from Bounty or our partners if they wish.

Whilst expecting a baby should be such a joyful event, we know from our long term partnership with Tommy’s the baby charity that for one in four women things can go wrong and they lose a baby in pregnancy or birth. Bounty takes its responsibility seriously and has systems in place so that our members can privately update their membership details on our website or unsubscribe using a link at the bottom of our home page www.bounty.com and any of our emails. Additionally, Bounty signposts to the Baby Mailing Preference Service on our website and through our customer services team as the service will ensure that any communications from other sources they may have signed up to are also stopped.

At Bounty, we want 100 % satisfaction with our service and regularly assess all aspects of our practices to ensure that mums continue to get the best experience possible. Our Independent Advisory Board is also in place to provide us with recommendations for how we can continually improve our service and the experience for mums across the country. If anyone has any specific complaints or suggestions for improvement, then please let us know straight away at telluswhatyouthink@bounty.com.”

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The most badass women in history: Sister Like You

Sister Like You is a new book from Belly Kids in which Jade Coles looks back at the most fierce females in Ancient History, through poster-worthy illustrations next to each woman’s story, broken down to its most “digestible, radical level”. As a friend of Feminist Times (Jade reported from a Southhall Black Sisters protest for us), she agreed to give our readers a sneak preview and an insight into why she chose the women she did.

One of the reasons I was interested in doing this book is that I don’t remember learning anything about women rulers at school. I don’t want to go all out and blame the corrupt schooling system – maybe I just wasn’t paying enough attention; that seems unlikely though, as history was my second favourite subject.

Cleopatra probably popped up, maybe Elizabeth I in the context of being King Henry VIII’s daughter, but nothing major or concentrated. It was all NHS reform and the Holocaust.

Sister Like You by Ellie Andrewsfinale

Image: Sister Like You by Ellie Andrews

When writing the stories it soon became clear that it was going to be hard to have a fave. Every ruler had their own particular style, they came from a very individual background and were ‘endearing’ in their own way. You know, dressing up as a man your whole life, murdering slaves at will, gifting rich European women cute dogs. I was so caught up in each one!

sisterlikefeat

Image: Empress Dowager Cixi by Molly Goldbury.

Saying that, if I had to choose, it would be Empress Dowager Cixi – an ex-prostitute who was sold to the street by her drug addict father before rising to be a brutal Empress. She was gossiped about relentlessly and was never really in power, so she had to flex her muscles in the background, but she did that her whole life.

When researching for the book the word that kept popping up in my head was “PUSH”. Each Sister was pushing against something without a break or hope. Each ruler wanted to claim power and desperately hold onto it for a long period of time. I’ve taken, in my business and personal life, to being focused and push hard. I’m not about to take concubines and kill anyone, but there’s no reason why we shouldn’t all take a bit of power.

Queen Zenobia by Kaye Blegvadfinale

Image: Queen Zenobia by Kaye Blegvad

The other thing I learnt was that if you’re a strong woman ruler, you get bitched at hard. Rumours flew around about them. They were all seen as sex-crazed, violent psychopaths by their peers, both at the time and also by history. Has stuff really changed as dramatically as we like to think? Do we still get characterised as a weirdo for being strong? Are we still happy to alter our appearances to fit in? Do we go into meetings and have weird power games played on us? It’s like, yeah, tick tick tick tick all those boxes.

COMPETITION: Jade & Belly Kids have given us a signed copy of Sister Like You for one Feminist Times reader to win! To be in with a chance, tweet us (@Feminist_Times) with the name of your own most badass woman and a reason why yours is the best. Make sure you include the hastag #sisterlikeyou. We’ll announce the winner at 5pm on Monday 7 April.

Jade Coles is a lot of things including opinionated, loud, and into a lot of stuff. A curator of culture Jade writes stuff with @bellykids, performs/sometimes tweets for @gaggle, and programmes talks, workshops, music, bands and everything in between for a very popular location in East London. You can follow her adventures on @perpetualcrush.

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

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

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

1) Her & Her Wedding Dresses

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

herher

2) Lesbian Wedding Cards

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

coupleof

3) Wedding Holidays

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

holiday

4) Aprons

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

apron

5) Hipster Wedding Fairs

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

hipster

Happy Marriage Everybody!

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Call yourself an “Intersectional Feminist”?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image: PBS Youtube

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Joan Munro: Feminism is…

Name: Joan Munro

Age: 63

Location: London

Bio: Socialist feminist for forty years

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

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

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#SexIndustryWeek: Manifesto – Indigenous Women Against the Sex Industry

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

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

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

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

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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Lydia Johnson: Feminism is…

Lydia JohnsonName: Lydia Johnson

Age: 21

Location: Worcester

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

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

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

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

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

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Should we stop asking pop stars about feminism?

This week Katy Perry made the ultimate mistake: she ummed about feminism. “A feminist? Um, yeah, actually,” she answered when questioned about the F word for Australian show I Wake Up With Today. “I used to not really understand what that word meant, and now that I do, it just means that I love myself as a female and I also love men.” A twitterquake soon overshadowed President Putin’s annex draft bill with Crimea and unsure Katy was ceremonially nailed to her um with a fluorescent arrow marked: Jezebel!

“Can you keep your yap shut about feminism?” someone tweeted, “Katy Perry is making progress,” a gossip site patronised. The Telegraph announced that it was finally “cool to be a feminist”. A handy feminism flow diagram was even re-published by Huffington Post who headlined, “Uh, Katy? It’s great that you feel that way, but that’s not what the word feminism means.”

It’s the latest round of 2014’s favourite game: Good feminist, bad feminist! Which one are you? Latest contestant Katy is a bad one. Beyoncé lost some gender empowerment points recently when she sang “bow down bitches” on single ‘Bow Down’, and as for Lily Allen, don’t get us started on her recent comments in Shortlist magazine last month when she suggested: “Feminism. I hate that word because it shouldn’t even be a thing anymore.” Lily immediately tried to claw back some F-points when she asserted she actually is the word she hates: “Of course, I’m a feminist.”

Curiously, Katy Perry has made a similar U-turn, as back in 2012 she told Billboard “I am not a feminist, but I do believe in the strength of women.” Not forgetting Beyoncé, who, in a hesitant Vogue interview in 2013 said: “That word [feminism] can be very extreme.” A year later she penned ‘Gender Equality is a Myth!‘ for the Shriver Report, a ground-breaking series of reports chronicling the status of American women, but she is still yet to call herself a feminist. Confused? So are they. Join the confused feminists club.

The reality is that if you’re a female pop star these days you better be a feminist – regardless of whether you fully grasp what that word means. It’s pop music’s new marketing ploy, a Catch 22 that is catching singers like Katy Perry and Beyoncé out. As more and more journalists tag feminism as ‘cool’, more and more female pop stars are being cornered and forced to define their opinions on it, regardless of whether they have any to actually impart. But even if there is such a thing as ‘superficial feminism’, by constantly scrutinising pop music’s notion of gender empowerment aren’t we forgetting the real issues? More worryingly, are we being just as superficial? Would it surprise you to learn that in the UK women account for 22% of MPs and peers, 20% of university professors, 6.1% of FTSE 100 executive positions, and 3% of board chairpersons, yet twitter was dominated yesterday by the thoughts of a 29-year-old pop singer with a Prismatic World Tour to push?

Granted, none of these women are leading academic brains when it comes to feminist theory. They’re pop stars. They give interviews to sell records. But, you know what? They’re also successful women working in an unequal industry – the same unequal industry that still insists on sexualising female pop stars whilst simultaneously shifting units behind the bright lights of a fashionable feminist PR-campaign. So fashionable Marketing magazines are pushing Fourth Wave Feminism as a demographic brands should be selling to.

It’s a worrying state of affairs when the daily casualties of digital feminist debate are women themselves. Twitter often seems to be little more than a hunting ground. The goal of feminism should never be entrapment, and yet, the very ideology that aims to empower women is too often being wielded to belittle them instead. And all because we think they’ve got it wrong. Maybe Katy has, maybe she’s still working things out, but for all those who joked about buying Katy Perry a dictionary today, I’d ask them to buy themselves a copy at the same time. When did feminism become defined by a ridiculing GIF on Buzzfeed?

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

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Mild-mannered Countryfile gets ugly: TV, ageism & sexism

There has always been a double standard when it comes to ageing, as Susan Sontag noted over forty years ago. Without exception, all the evidence confirms that women are seen as ‘old’ far sooner than men, overwhelmingly more likely to be rejected as ‘unattractive’ decades earlier then men. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the media. Some feminists have been commenting on this for decades, both from within and outside the media. A decade ago, it was the elegant and stylish Anna Ford who was loudly proclaiming that she was being sidelined on TV because of her age. Yet things have only got worse, not better since.

Just six months ago, the interim report of the Commission on Older Women set up by the Labour Party and chaired by Harriet Harman, provided exhaustive evidence of the continuing invisibility of older women in public life. In the BBC, for instance, 82 per cent of broadcast presenters over the age of 50 are men, only 18 per cent are women. More generally, unemployment amongst women aged 50-64 has increased by 41 per cent in the last two and a half years, compared with one per cent overall.

It is this situation that makes the recent ignorant comments of the broadcaster Julia Bradbury so irritating, when she announced that age had nothing to do with her replacing Miriam O’Reilly, the older woman whose shoes she stepped into when O’Reilly was dispatched from BBC’s Countryfile in 2009. That the male presenter who remained on the programme was himself already 64 only makes Bradbury’s comment all the more frustrating, provoking O’Reilly herself to accuse Bradbury of ‘arselicking’ in her eagerness ‘to ingratiate herself … with the lads, rather than seeing the bigger picture’.

As O’Reilly knows only too well, the bigger picture for women in the media is grim. In 2010 she was the first employee in the UK to successfully sue the BBC for ageism, two years after being dropped from Countryfile at 52. Indeed, her victory even persuaded the then director general at the BBC, Mark Thompson, to acknowledge that there were “too few” older women broadcasters, aware that men, decades older, are still regularly appearing on our screens. O’Reilly’s bitterness is understandable when, despite her victory, she still felt obliged to change career mid-life. She may have won her case, but she could not win the war against gendered ageism in the media.

Over at ITN the following year, it was the lively presenter Samira Ahmed who felt bullied into resigning her job at 42. She had been repeatedly criticised for her appearance, told her hair was ‘messy’, probably due to very slight hair-loss at the front. This, as ever, has proved no problem for her co-presenter then, Jon Snow (still going strong now), over 20 years her senior. One of our feisty female media crusaders, Katherine Whitehorn, has often commented on this ‘lopsided mirror to life’, in which only men are allowed to grow old on screen. The same is true, of course, for actors. Over the years older men’s roles tend to play down signs of physical ageing, while the opposite is true for women.

However, let me say finally that this is a tough battle to win, and the sea change we need to be fighting for is vast. We all know that women are still seen and valued above all for their looks, while men are more easily valued for what can be presented as their authority. What the media loves is for women to struggle with each other over this, to set one generation against the other. However understandable, this is why it doesn’t really help for O’Reilly to denounce Bradley for her obvious disavowal of the fact that it was her more youthful appearance that facilitated her replacement of the older presenter. As I pointed out in my last book, Out of Time: The Pleasures & Perils of Ageing, until we are forced to acknowledge it, and then only partially, we all tend to disavow our own ageing, and the effects it is likely to have on us, not least this incitement to generational warfare.

Bradbury was no doubt put on the spot when a male interviewer asked her what she felt about stepping into the shoes of an older women. In an ideal world, she would have said that all ageism was regrettable, perhaps adding that she have loved to work alongside the more experienced O’Reilly. Still in fantasyland, O’Reilly might have tweeted not to insult Bradbury’s lack of female solidarity, but to instead rage against the culture that encouraged them to see each other as rivals.

Back in the real world, we have to put up with older male presenters such Alan Titchmarsh, adding insult to injury. Only last year he dismissed older women ‘whingeing’ about their invisibility, while expressing sexist contempt for younger women on our screens: “Men in television tend to last a bit longer at the end of their careers, but it is women who make hay at the beginning. They don’t complain in their early days when they are disporting themselves on sports cars”.

Oh yes, some of us do complain, both about sexism and about its pernicious combination with ageism. We just have a long fight on our hands.

Lynne Segal is a feminist writer and activist, and Anniversary Professor of Psychology & Gender Studies at Birkbeck, University of London.

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

Dear Feminist Times readers,

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

INCLUDING:

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

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

by Charlotte Raven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow the debate on Twitter at #SexIndustryWeek

 

 

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Profile: Sheroes of History

Sheroes of History is a new blog and podcast which aims to shine a spotlight on history’s heroines, telling their stories and inspiring girls and women today.

Women are hugely underrepresented: remarkably, although the female of the species makes for around 51% of the world’s population, this is still the case in film and media, in business and politics, in art and music, the list goes on.

History too is one area which has always been dominated by the stories of men. To a degree this is perhaps easier to understand; in the past women’s access to education, power, property, and anything resembling independent lives was more restricted than it is today. History has largely been written by men, about men, for men. Google recently admitted that of its 445 Google-doodles honouring historical characters, only 17% were women (they have pledged to equalise this henceforth).

I started Sheroes of History to address this imbalance. Despite the fact that we hear about them far less, there are in fact thousands of stories of incredible women doing incredible things throughout history – often even more inspiring when set against the limitations women have faced in the past.

I’m a feminist and I work in museum education; I care passionately about equality – and I love history! Sheroes of History brings these two strands of my life together.

For a long time I have felt that I wanted to do something to give girls more role models; real life heroines who inspire them to be all they can be. I feel desperate every time a new kids film is released, or a new children’s TV show airs – and yet again the main protagonist is male (conversely, I probably get a little too overexcited when strong female characters do emerge: see Katniss Everdeen.)

As young girls grow up, the stories – be they real or fictional – of women who take centre stage are few and far between. More often than not the story belongs to the male character, with female characters rarely having their own narratives.

Working in a museum, I sometimes feel the same way; when I tell stories of the past to the schoolchildren who visit I’m conscious of the sometimes passive roles of women in these stories, and make pains to emphasise the ones where women show agency and attitude.

Sheroes of History will be an ongoing blog and, soon to launch, podcast, which tell the untold stories of women whose lives we may not have heard of and whose actions will inspire girls and women today. In the future I hope that by collecting these stories I will be able to develop them into further resources that can be used with young girls.

I hope that the blog will feel collectively owned; contributions can be submitted by women who have their own ‘Shero of history’ they want to tell the world about. There are three words which encompass my aims for the Sheroes of History project; ever the fan of alliteration, these are: Inspiring, Inclusive & Informative.

Alongside the blog will be a monthly podcast that will feature short profiles of selected Sheroes of History, as well as the opportunity to nominate a Shero of Today – I am keen not to overlook the fact that there are tonnes of awe inspiring women and girls blazing a Shero’s trail in the world today also.

Please check out the blog over at Sheroesofhistory.wordpress.com

You can like on Facebook – www.facebook.com/Sheroesofhistory

And follow on Twitter @SheroesHistory

If you would like to contribute to the blog please send an email to sheroesofhistory@gmail.com

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What is Feminism? banner

Janet Veitch: Feminism is…

Name: Janet Veitch

Age: 58

Location: London

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

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

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

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LONG READ: Chav is a feminist issue

Feminist Times Contributing Editor Reni Eddo-Lodge took part in the Manchester Met feminist conference last week. She heard this speech by Rhian E Jones and came back to the Fem T office wide-eyed and excited about it. With kind permission from Rhian, we publish the speech below.

Intersectional Feminism, Class, and Austerity

Last week I went to a conference at Manchester Met to speak (broadly) on intersectional feminism, alongside the excellent Reni Eddo-Lodge. The event had some useful and interesting contributions, given in an atmosphere notable for constructive and supportive discussion, and for critiquing work done previously rather than seeking to reinvent the feminist wheel. Below is a transcription of the talk I gave. It works as both a synthesis of things I’ve written previously on feminism and class, and as a step towards articulating how my own type of feminism developed (clue: this year it’s thirty years since the Miners’ Strike). It also, in a personal best, contains only one use of ‘autodidact’, none of ‘hegemony’, and no mention of the Manic Street Preachers.

Introduction

The concept of intersectionality has a long history, and has informed the political work of women from Sojourner Truth in 1851 to Selma James’s 1975 pamphlet ‘Sex, Race and Class’. In 1989 Kimberlé Crenshaw’s use of the term emphasised how women of colour experience multiple systems of oppression, and how their experiences and voices are frequently marginalised or erased, even within feminist or anti-racist discourses which aim at justice or liberation. Intersectionality has been the subject of much recent discussion within feminism, some of which has dismissed the concept on the grounds of its supposed academic obscurity and irrelevance to ‘ordinary’ people. I will dispute this dismissal.

The aspect of intersectionality I’ve written most about is the tension between class politics and some of the ways in which contemporary UK feminism is expressed. I’m not suggesting that class is the only dimension of oppression, or the only one worth exploring, but I do see class as something fundamental, and as something which intersects significantly with both race and gender.

These interactions are particularly visible in the debate on ‘chavs’, which I see as a point at which class prejudice crosses over with several others. I will look at that debate and at the surrounding context of neoliberalism and austerity in which it takes place. I will then look at how responses to this debate, in attempting to rehabilitate working-class identity, have instead constructed exclusionary models of class based around the idea of the white male worker. I will then finally talk about how the calls for feminism to make itself accessible beyond white and middle-class women, has tended to involve negative or condescending assumptions about working-class women and their capacity for education, political consciousness and organisation.

‘Chav’ is a feminist issue

Over the past few decades, despite insultingly obvious and deepening socioeconomic divides, official political discourse has continued to insist that we live in a meritocracy. From this, it follows that anyone unable to gain a sufficient share in the wealth – since they cannot be structurally disadvantaged – must simply not be trying hard enough. In order to reconcile this almost charmingly insincere idea with the recent manifest reality of life under imposed austerity, with its falling wages, rising prices, and flatlining standards of living, we have seen the reanimation of Victorian and Edwardian ideas of the undeserving poor. In politics, media, and popular culture, class is increasingly identified by moral rather than economic or occupational indicators, with class-inflected ideas of ‘respectability’ the means by which morality is made publicly visible.

This approach, a rhetorical and material triumph for the forces of neoliberalism, seeks to justify political attacks on the recipients of state welfare by subsuming them all into an underclass characterised as ‘cheats’, ‘scroungers’, ‘workshy’ and ‘feckless’, despite the fact that a majority of welfare recipients are in work and still struggling with lower wages, higher rents and increased costs of living. In this remaking of the working class, the despised, mocked and hated figure of the ‘chav’ has been instrumental, as a class stereotype externally imposed upon what is a more complex and heterogeneous working class, to the exclusion of alternative identities. Significantly, this figure is very often female. The uses made of the female ‘chav’ in political and media discourse illustrate vividly how abstract meanings are articulated through images of women, and the particular strain of misogyny which ‘chav’-hatred can contain.

Over the past decade or so, the British ‘underclass’ has been presented in a heavily gendered and sexualised way, with images of pram-pushing and pregnant teenage girls, or slovenly and self-absorbed single mothers, used to express ideas of poverty, deprivation and dysfunction. These images crop up not only in the right-wing press but also across popular culture, and particularly in comedy, where they tend to be self-conscious or pastiche performances by those not identifying as a permanent part of the subculture – the prime example of this being Little Britain’s Vicky Pollard character. In a rant by James Delingpole, in the Times in 2006, Vicky Pollard is made to embody:

… several of the great scourges of contemporary Britain: aggressive female gangs of embittered, hormonal, drunken teenagers; gym-slip mums who choose to get pregnant as a career option; pasty-faced, lard-gutted slappers who’ll drop their knickers in the blink of an eye…

This kind of anti-‘chav’ rhetoric serves as a very thin veil for the perpetuation of damaging stereotypes of working-class women and girls – presenting them as sexually precocious and promiscuous, and their childbearing choices as the result of irresponsibility or scheming material greed. It also contains a tacit disapproval of the behaviour of women who exist outside traditional roles, deriving their support from the state rather than a male breadwinner. Alongside this cultural stereotyping, government rhetoric insistently seeks to validate its reduction or removal of state support from benefits claimants by playing on the stereotype of the idle and recklessly promiscuous single mother, and the moral decline, sexual depravity, and social disintegration her lifestyle choices are held to represent.

Anti-‘chav’ commentators in media and politics are often disquietingly obsessed with describing the presumed licentiousness of working-class women, whose irresponsibility, lack of deference, and refusal of traditional family and community hierarchies, must be politically penalised. All this happens with barely a glance at context or circumstance, with the working-class ‘bad girl’ understood not in terms of poverty or social exclusion but in neoliberal terms of individual moral degeneracy. The perceived inadequacies of single mothers or comprehensive schoolgirls are viewed as purely individual failings or pathology, rather than related to their demoralising circumstances or lack of financial and material resources.

The female ‘chav’ is further used in narratives of slut-shaming and taste-policing, where she represents unladylike promiscuity, lack of restraint, and vulgarity in dress, speech and behaviour. These qualities, already heavily class-inflected, are held to be especially objectionable in women, with sexual excess in particular seen as a central signifier of ‘disrespectable’ femininity. Intersections like this make explicit several implications of the discourse around the female ‘chav’, not least the conflation of sexuality and class to invoke the Victorian and Edwardian spectre of working-class women, with their hazardous lack of morality, taste and discrimination, and their unregulated sex drives, spawning hundreds of equally depraved and financially burdensome children. This trope also continues the historical representation of working-class women via their ‘deviant’ sexuality, as opposed to what the sociologist Beverley Skeggs has observed as the possibilities for ‘rebellion, heroism and authenticity’ which the working-class identity has historically held for men.

Exclusionary definitions of ‘working class’

In the left and liberal media there has been both recognition and confronting of the ‘chav’ stereotype as a method of class demonization. However, much of this has not paid sufficient attention to the gendered and raced dimensions of the term, and has sought to redress the idea of ‘chav’ by proposing equally inadequate and exclusionary models of working-class identity. These tend to either draw heavily on the historical figure of the noble and oppressed worker, who is invariably white and male – or to present the ‘white working class’ as an oppressed and neglected ethnic group on whom ‘chav’ is a slur. Within these parameters, the ‘chav’ becomes a figure of ‘borderline whiteness’ invoked in what Imogen Tyler identifies as ‘an attempt to differentiate between respectable and non-respectable forms of whiteness’. In the same way that anti-‘chav’ rhetoric can become a cover for misogyny, it can also work as an excuse to propagate racist or anti-immigration narratives. The ‘chav’ also appears as a modernised version of Marx’s lumpenproletariat – implicitly feminised by dint of being unable to express the securely masculine identity that comes with being a ‘respectably’ employed breadwinner.

These obviously dubious arguments, then, present whiteness and maleness as signifiers of what it is to be ‘authentically’ working class. In the short-lived Blue Labour project a few years back, Maurice Glasman presented the Labour Party’s history after 1945 as an emasculating ‘cross-class marriage’ of a put-upon working-class husband and a domineering middle-class wife. Similar sentiments informed the speech made in 2011 by the Conservative David Willetts, in which he attempted to portray feminism’s achievements, in enabling larger numbers of women to enter higher education and employment, as a process which had displaced and weakened working-class men. This kind of disingenuous dog-whistling criticises women’s emancipation while offering nothing to address the very real disadvantages and anxieties of working-class men. It also postulates some disciplined army of empowered middle-class feminists against an incoherently resentful horde of disenfranchised working-class men – while, in these scenarios, the existence of working-class women appears to go entirely unacknowledged.

The debate on ‘chavs’ is a significant arena in which working-class women are granted political visibility – only to then be discussed negatively through disingenuous stereotypes, and have their social and sexual conduct policed. But this gendered dimension to the debate has been surprisingly neglected by a mainstream liberal feminism which can fail to take account of other axes of privilege and oppression. Acknowledging that the discourse around ‘chavs’ can provide a cover for denigrating the social agency and sexual autonomy of working-class women, as well as for wider political attacks on the unemployed and working poor, would significantly enrich mainstream feminism and challenge the perception of it as irrelevant outside an academic and metropolitan elite.

Neglected traditions of working-class feminism

I will now contrast these presentations of feminism and of class with some aspects of my own experience. I grew up a feminist as well as a socialist, and both of these identities were rooted in my consciousness of class. Feminism and socialism seemed to go hand-in-hand when I considered things like the legacy of the 1984-5 Miners’ Strike and the support groups formed by miners’ wives, partners and other women in communities like my own. Although such groups were primarily set up to distribute food and cash donations to the families of striking male breadwinners, as the strike progressed their female members increasingly found themselves taking more explicitly political roles as part of fundraising and outreach work, and becoming public figures and community leaders in what had traditionally been a male-dominated political sphere. Through these networks of mutual support and solidarity, working-class women, while on the one hand acting in support of what might be seen as a macho and patriarchal industrial culture, on the other hand gradually challenged the chauvinism in which this culture could be steeped.

Similarly, factory work, despite its immediate associations with industrial masculinity, has historically also been a potential hub of female working-class solidarity. This unfashionable species of feminism stretches from incidents like the 1888 strike by women and girls at the Bryant and May match factory to the 1968 strike by sewing machinists at Ford’s Dagenham car plant. The Ford Dagenham strike saw female workers take on their male bosses over sexual discrimination, with several becoming radicalised in the process, and its success eventually resulted in the 1970 Equal Pay Act.

Awareness of histories like these can help to break down overly essentialist and unhelpfully narrow ideas of class identity, present on the left as well as the right, which characterise ‘the working class’, or even just its politically organised sections, as composed only of white, male, urban industrial workers. This latter concept of class, and its decreasing relevance, is frequently used to deny that ‘working-class’ is still a viable contemporary political identity, despite the continued existence of class relations and class inequality. These perspectives neglect the fact that over the past thirty years, deindustrialisation, structural unemployment, and the loss of skilled factory jobs have not only destroyed a former source of masculine status and self-respect, but also weakened what could be a source of political and social empowerment and consciousness-raising for women.

Today, the face of mainstream feminism is likely to be turned away from the bleak financial and employment futures facing women under austerity, and towards symbolically financial issues like the campaign to put Jane Austen on a banknote, or the low number of women attending this year’s World Economic Forum. It is instructive to compare the attention given to these issues – or to even more peripheral concerns – and the lack of attention given to, for instance, the current campaign by single mothers in East London to draw attention to their impending eviction following their local authority’s austerity-driven decision to reduce single-parent housing. The mainstream media’s preoccupation with ‘lifestyle’ or ‘Lean In’ feminism does little to engage with the material pressures experienced by a growing majority of women, or to draw meaningfully on previous industrial traditions of working-class feminism.

The trouble with ‘rebranding feminism’

Beyond the mainstream, a number of feminists on- and offline have made welcome attempts to integrate class into their analyses, and much of the revolutionary left has engaged positively with feminism as an expression of class struggle. However, there remains a tendency for working-class women themselves to appear in some feminist discourse as objects to be seen rather than heard, expected to rely on middle-class activists to articulate demands on their behalf but considered too inarticulate or otherwise ‘rough’ to be directly engaged with. The closest we seem to have come to attempts to alter this has been the recent debate on the need to ‘rebrand’ feminism as more inclusive, particularly of women who fall outside of its supposed white and middle-class power-base. Within these debates on how to make feminism ‘accessible’ to ordinary women, however, otherwise well-meaning feminist analysis has been vulnerable to reductive, stereotyping and patronising uses of the term ‘working-class’.

The idea of a divide between academic and populist ways of promoting progressive politics is not unique to feminism; a similar debate periodically engulfs much of the left. How can ‘ordinary women’, or indeed ‘ordinary people’, be appealed to in language which will resonate with their everyday concerns and not alienate them by using words of more than two syllables? The trouble with this question is that the first half doesn’t automatically imply the second. Being ‘ordinary’ doesn’t mean being stupid. A feminist politics predicated on this false dichotomy, of ‘high theory’ middle-class feminist activists and disenfranchised, politically unconscious working-class women, risks buying into narratives which see working-class parents, schools and communities as unable to impart education or instil political consciousness in the same way as their middle-class counterparts, and which present working-class girls in particular as the helpless inhabitants of some kind of neo-Victorian netherworld.

The ‘chav’, crucially, is represented as uneducated and often actively hostile to the idea of education, negating the possibility of self-improvement. But the idea that there are no grey areas, no available identities, between the volubly ignorant Vicky Pollard and an empowered and educated middle-class feminist leads to the double-bind whereby political engagement and consciousness raising is seen as automatically conferring class privilege and upward mobility upon an individual, thereby barring them from identifying with or being categorised as ‘working-class’.

In reality, not only have many university-educated feminists come from working-class backgrounds, but working-class feminists form part of the long line of working-class autodidacts whose attraction to ideologies of emancipation partly results from the desire to articulate and analyse their own experiences. Women’s Studies, at least in the UK, was rooted to a large extent in attempts by women of generally less privileged backgrounds to question and critique the privileges of existing academia, and to draw attention to neglected perspectives and experiences, including those marginalised by virtue of class, race, age, ability or sexuality. The fact that feminism within academia can now be considered to be middle-class and irrelevant says more about the squeezing out of attention to and discussion of class-based analysis within it; as well as the erosion of empowering traditions of adult education and of self-education through libraries and community colleges; and the pricing out of poorer students, than it does about education’s intrinsic appeal to, and suitability for, anyone outside the bourgeoisie.

Conclusion: women, austerity and intersectionality

Advocating that feminism be ‘rebranded’ in simple words, however well-intentioned the argument, can entail falsely assuming that ‘ordinary women’ are unable to understand theoretical ideas like intersectionality – when, in fact, the lives of working-class women offer many practical examples of multiple systems of oppression, most obviously including, but not limited to, those based on race, gender and class. Under austerity, we are seeing the driving down of wages, living standards and working conditions; closures and funding cuts to women’s refuges and childcare services; the sale of council housing and removal of housing, child, and disability benefit. Where this erosion of the welfare state impacts on women, it does so from several intersecting angles: women are affected not simply as women, but as women of colour, as disabled women, as mothers, as carers, as low earners or unemployed – very often, several of these at once. These identities are mutually reinforcing and cumulative, not zero-sum. The problems of the ‘ordinary’ working class are inherently intersectional: material disadvantage amplifies, and is amplified by, racism, sexism, homophobia, and ageism, all experienced as real and immediate issues enforced by existing structures of power. Women’s grassroots organisations and actions, which analyse and oppose the impact of austerity, will be informed by an awareness of how gender and race impacts on class, and how class impacts on race and gender. This is intersectionality experienced and practiced as a day-to-day reality – not intersectionality as it is often caricatured, as a distant and alien theory into which one chooses to opt. The past and present experience of working-class women offers a real-life, intuitive and logical application of the ideas and concepts that are apparently considered too complex for the likes of them.

Speech originally published on Rhian’s own site The Velvet Coalmine.

Rhian E Jones works in retail and writes on politics, history, popular culture and the places where they intersect. She is the author of Clampdown: Pop-Cultural Wars on Class and Gender and a co-editor at New Left Project. Blog: http://velvetcoalmine.wordpress.com, Twitter: @RhianEJones

Photo: Ben Sutherland

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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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What is Feminism? banner

Natalie Bennett: Feminism is…

Natalie BennettName: Natalie Bennett

Location: London

Bio: Leader of the Green Party

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

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

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

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

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

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

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RadFem UK launches

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

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

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

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

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

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

The organisation is founded with seven key aims:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find out more at radfemuk.com or follow @RadFemUK 

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Review: Nineties Woman – Rosie Wilby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Wendy Baverstock

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Open letter to journalists: middle class strippers – it’s neo-liberalism, stupid

Every six months for the last three years, the press have got hold of research undertaken by Teela Sanders and I on the apparent proliferation of the stripping industry in the UK.

Despite the multiple angles of the research and the findings that we published, there is a fixation with the idea of middle class women taking their clothes off for money. This is despite the fact that we reported high levels of financial exploitation, mixed feelings about the working conditions in clubs and, in many cases, declining conditions in the industry, and the relationship of labour in this industry to the privatisation of education, declining real wages and a hostile labour market. Clearly the material conditions of women’s working lives do not make for good copy.

See for example:

Devalued, deskilled and diversified: Explained the proliferation of the UK strip industry.

The Regulatory Dance: Lap Dancing in the UK.

In response to these repetitive requests for statements and interviews by journalists who inaccurately plagiarise each other’s stories, leading to dramatic inaccuracies, hyperbole and moral panic, I write this Open Letter:

Dear Journalist,

Thank you for your questions. With regards to why middle class women work in the industry, of course it is money that shapes their decision; how could it not be in a world of wage labour? The point is that it is not solely money.

Middle class women strip for much the same reasons that working class women strip. Most middle class women who sell their labour in the strip industry do so because the UK is an increasingly precarious place in which to live and to sell your labour. Most do not select dancing as a career over others (though some do), but they may strip in order to purchase the credentials they need from a neo-liberalised education system, in order to compete in an increasingly hostile labour market. They sell their labour here, in the short term, to finance long term desires for security in a world in which basic securities are being stripped away, driven by principles that your newspapers often play a large and insidious role in promoting.

Middle class women are selling their labour in the strip industry due to the absence of decent, well-paid part time work in other parts of the labour market. Middle class women are selling their labour in this industry because the UK, and particularly London, is an hourglass economy in which there are high paid, high status jobs at the top and the opposite at the bottom, with little in between. These women are seeking to escape the bottom half of the hourglass and make it into the top, a place increasingly reserved for the existing elite.

The flexibility of stripping enables women to generate an income while undertaking a degree, participating in an internship or topping up their other low wage job. Some middle class women strip because these are what jobs are left for you when when the welfare state retreats – middle class or otherwise. These middle class women strip because when real wages fall to their level of a decade previously, nurses and social workers (those overpaid and greedy public sector workers) have to top up their wages in order to survive.

Some middle class women strip because this is the job they have always wanted to do and they enjoy the sexual attention they receive. Many want to resist the oppressive temporality and austere cultural norms attached to the 9-5 job, preferring instead to engage in work that can be experienced, to some degree, as leisure. Many young people like to work in the night-time economy, which transgresses many of the rules of day time work.

Some women embrace the sense of community they feel, in contrast to the reactionary politics of the office. Some resist the work ethic that increasingly encourages people to be their job, to work until they collapse at the expense of their health, their families and their social well-being, instead preferring to relegate work to a separate sphere of their life which does not define them or consume all of their time and energy.

It is for all of these reasons that middle class women strip. But I wonder whether we are asking the right question. The most incisive question, I feel, is not why middle class women are stripping, but why we are so concerned with middle class women stripping? If stripping is to be condemned – which is the subtext of your question – then why can we accept the idea of working class women stripping, but are horrified when the spectre looms for middle class women?

I hope this helps. Do let me know if you have any other questions.

Best,

Kate

Dr Kate Hardy.  Feminist, Lecturer in Work and Employment Relations at The University of Leeds.
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#LGBTMarryMe: Feminist Times & Fox Problem Debate

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

“Is same sex marriage just a distraction?”

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

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

LISTEN:

SCROLL THROUGH THE STORIFY:

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Comeback: Why the Nordic Model harms women

Independent escort Laura Lee and the English Collective of Prostitutes respond to RadFemUK’s piece on the European Parliament’s vote in favour of adopting the Nordic Model, which criminalises the purchase of sex.

Laura Lee:

The decision by the European Parliament to vote in favour of Mary Honeyball’s paper is a very dark day for human rights and the rights of those of us often shunted to one side: sex workers. Throughout the whole “consultation process”, Ms Honeyball did not listen to the voices of sex workers – surely crucial to a law which will affect our lives so dramatically.

At first glance, it’s hard to see how Ms Honeyball could have reached the conclusions she did, flying in the face of such noted advocates of decriminalisation as the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, and the World Health Organisation to name but two.

From the very beginning, Ms Honeyball refused to recognise that she was conflating prostitution and trafficking, two very separate entities. She claimed that “80% of sex workers are trafficked”, which is hugely erroneous and not helpful to any debate which must be based on hard evidence.

The 80% figure comes from The Big Brothel report, which has been widely debunked by many academics – not least because the method of data collection was, at best, haphazard. Telephoning various brothels to enquire as to the ethnicity of the ladies available is not proof of trafficking, and a distinction must be made between migrant sex workers and those who have been trafficked without their consent.

In a 2009 study, Dr Nic Mai surveyed 100 migrant sex workers and found that only 6% felt they had been “tricked or coerced” into the industry – a far cry from 80%. He went on to say: “The research evidence strongly suggests that current attempts to curb trafficking and exploitation by criminalising clients and closing down commercial sex establishments will not be effective because, as a result, the sex industry will be pushed further underground and people working in it will be further marginalised and vulnerable to exploitation.

“This would discourage both migrants and UK citizens working in the sex industry, as well as clients, from co-operating with the police and sex work support projects in the fight against actual cases of trafficking and exploitation.”

Amnesty International too have recognised that sex workers’ rights are human rights, saying that they “support the decriminalisation of prostitution on the basis that prohibition creates a criminal market that stigmatises and alienates sex workers.”

But aside from the evidence as cited above (and there’s lots more), Ms Honeyball made the massive error of only listening to those who would agree with her, not real sex workers on the front line.

As a sex worker with twenty years experience, I was told I am not representative of the industry. I responded by saying that I have worked in what can reasonably be described as a chicken coop right up to a five star suite, so to refer to me as being in some sort of ivory tower is wrong.

It’s also not helpful when an expert on real sex work (as opposed to the academia behind it) offers an insight and is immediately dismissed. “We know better than you,” is no basis for any law and what will result is the compromise of the safety of many sex workers. Our safety will be in danger until sex work is decriminalised and we can work together; that’s fact.

Rather, Ms Honeyball chose to listen to those who benefit from funding and book sales by their opposition to my choice to work in the sex industry – and it is a choice. The “survivors” used by abolitionists to strengthen their case can wheel out tale after tale of horror and destitution, if it pays them to do so.

I’m not suggesting for one moment that some women don’t have desperate backgrounds or circumstances which lead them into a job they despise, not at all. But they are the women who will suffer the most if the Swedish model is implemented. “We must legislate for the majority,” declared Ms Honeyball. That’s the crux of this debate: I AM the majority.

With the recent deaths of Maria Duque-Tunjano and Mariana Popa, both killed whilst working alone and without any support, it falls to me to ask Ms Honeyball: How many more need to die?

Laura Lee is an independent escort based in Glasgow with twenty years experience in the sex industry. She is a passionate sex workers’ rights advocate and campaigner and an award winning blogger. Mother of one, cat lover and terrible cook. Follow her: @GlasgaeLauraLee

The English Collective of Prostitutes:

ECP

Criminalising clients will not stop prostitution, nor will it stop the criminalisation of women.  But it will make it more dangerous and stigmatising for sex workers.

Faced with no benefits, or only the lowest-waged jobs, many women sell sexual services. Are we less degraded when we have to skip meals, beg or stay with a violent partner to keep a roof over our heads?  Those who rage against prostitution have no regard for mothers struggling to feed their families.

Proposals to increase criminalisation are led by an unholy alliance of feminist politicians and homophobic fundamentalist Christians. In the UK, the All-Party Parliamentary Group at the forefront of these proposals chose as its secretariat the homophobic charity CARE.

Claims that prostitution has reduced in Sweden are untrue.* Are women driven underground safer or better paid? Welfare has been cut so that “a quarter of single mothers in Sweden now live in poverty, compared to 10% seven years ago.”

Existing laws already criminalise those who coerce anyone into the sex industry.  Why extend it to consenting sex?  False claims about trafficking are used to justify these proposals. But trafficking law is primarily used to arrest and deport immigrant women; it has done little or nothing to protect victims of trafficking.

Considering that the police more often hound rather than protect sex workers, and their appalling record on investigating rape in general, why call for more police powers? Where was the feminist outrage when 250 police, under the guise of freeing trafficking victims, broke down doors in Soho, central London last December, and dragged handcuffed women in their underwear on to the streets?

New Zealand decriminalised in 2003 with verifiable improvements in sex workers safety Canada’s Supreme Court threw out the prostitution laws for violating women’s right to safety. Why are these examples being ignored?

The English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) is a network of women who work or have worked in different areas of the sex industry campaigning for decriminalisation and safety. The ECP provides daily support to sex workers on a range of issues including fighting legal cases which challenge discrimination and establish prostitute women’s right to protection against violence.

Contact them: ecp@prostitutescollective.net, www.prostitutescollective.net, 020 7482 2496.

*According to The National Board of Health and Welfare 2008: “It is… difficult to discern any clear trend of development: has the extent of prostitution increased or decreased? We cannot give any unambiguous answer to that question.”

Photo of ECP: msmornington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: SecretLondon123

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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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Happy Valentine’s from Beth Stephens & Annie Sprinkle

Happy Valentine’s day everyone!

There’s no better day to celebrate the Earth.

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

Beth Stephens & Annie Sprinkle

(Click on images to enlarge)

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

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

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

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Fem_Val_dworkin

Fem_Val_Jewelle

Fem_Val_Sprinkle

Fem-Val-Greer

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

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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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I was sexually harassed more when pregnant and with my kids

Street harassment: a concept that was once reserved for dirty old men in trench coats and construction workers, has finally been recognised as a significant part of the spectrum of male violence against women and girls through the activism of groups like Hollaback and Everyday Sexism.

The recognition of how unsafe public spaces can be for all women, regardless of things like body type and age, is becoming more commonplace, as is the understanding of how street harassment disproportionately affects women of colour due to the intersections of racism and misogyny. However, there is one area of street harassment that remains unspoken: the harassment of women who are pregnant or with small children.

The fact that it remains, for the most part, unspoken, makes it difficult to assess how common street harassment is for pregnant women and mothers. We tend to think of women with children as safe from street harassment, yet it is the very vulnerability of being pregnant or with a child that makes it easier for men to harass without consequence. A woman with a child is less likely to confront a street harasser because of the fear of the possible harm to their child.

My first pregnancy was aged 18, when I looked no more than 15. I was the skinny kid with bad glasses and frizzy hair but I experienced a tremendous amount of street harassment before getting pregnant. Growing up in a transient mining community with a high rate of alcoholism in Northern Canada isn’t a safe space for women at the best of times. It was worse for Indigenous women.

The harassment got worse after I gave birth. I assumed, wrongly, that this increase was due to my age: that it was only because I looked young that I was being harassed. Then I experienced a similar increase in street harassment after the birth of my second child when I was 29, when I most definitely did not look 15. I have had comments about my breasts, my ass, and a number of dubious propositions all in front of my child.

Was I surprised that men were sexually harassing me in front of my child? Absolutely. I had naively thought men would not target a pregnant women or mother, not if she was outside the age range of the “teen Mum” who was in their mind, by default, a slut and therefore deserving of all harassment and abuse.

I wasn’t alone. It turns out that street harassment whilst pregnant or with a young child isn’t that uncommon. I’ve heard countless complaints from other women at toddler and baby groups. Parenting website Mumsnet has had thread after thread where women discuss their experiences of street harassment whilst pregnant or with small children. GirlwiththeMouseyHair wrote of her experiences of street harassment, which included a sexual assault, whilst 6 months pregnant and with her toddler.

Another Mumsnetter, D, shared this story with me. I am reproducing it with permission:

When F was little, we were on a quite empty bus and a guy came and sat adjacent and started rubbing himself in a quite blatant fashion whilst staring right at us. My thought at the time was that he might think I was less likely to kick off as I had a toddler with me. Or it could have been something worse that got his jollies. I was frozen to the spot. Then luckily he got off. I really didn’t know what to do.

Whatever the reason for this sexual assault D felt more vulnerable because she was with her child. This is a reality of street harassment, up to and including sexual assault, and it needs more research.

Without the research available I can’t statistically prove for you here that street harassment and sexual harassment increases when women are pregnant or with young children. So much of the evidence is anecdotal and remains in the domain of the message board, but I certainly remember more experiences whilst pregnant or with a toddler.

It’s possible this reflects feelings of greater vulnerability rather than a greater experience of harassment, or that I remember these incidents more vividly because my children experienced the harassment too – having someone confirm your experience can make it feel more real. It is heart-breaking when that validation comes from your 3 year old asking why the man was rude to you, or when your 2 year old asks the definition of a sex term that no small child should be familiar with.

The reality of street harassment is that no woman is safe in public spaces. That street harassment is a constant feature of women’s lives and that, unfortunately, this includes when women are pregnant or with their children.

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

Photo: Kristian Bjornard

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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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Q&A: Dazed & Confused about feminism

Every day is a feminist theme day at Feminist Times but as gender politics go pop we are seeing more and more publications taking on the f-word in their own special way.

We spoke with Dazed & Confused Editor in Chief Tim Noakes and Digital Editor Zing Tsjeng about why the style magazine is tackling feminism in its Feb 2014 issue and pick out our favorite content for you.

Q&A with Dazed & Confused:

Q: When can our readers get hold of your feminist issue?

A: It’s the February issue and it launched late January, but the online theme continues until the end of Feb.

Q: Why did Dazed tackle the f-word?

A: With the fourth wave of feminism in full swing, we wanted to shout about all the creative women across fashion and the arts who are setting a radical new cultural agenda – on their own terms.

Q: Give us a run down of the content on offer…

A: We are running Girl Guides, a series of think pieces about the state of modern womanhood and feminism, until the end of the week. Among the other pieces, Laura Bates of Everyday Sexism wrote How To Be A Woman Online and writer Gabby Bess penned How To Be A Female Artist.

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We’ve also got head-to-head interviews with prominent female thinkers, artists and musicians: Naomi Wolf talked about feminism and porn with Evie Wylde, Rookie founder Tavi Gevinson spoke to Hunger Games star Amandla Stenberg being young feminists, Lena Dunham spoke to YA author Judy Blume about being female writers.

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We also had an exclusive takeover of the site from Stacy Martin, the new star of Lars Von Triers’ Nymphomaniac. Here, she speaks to her costar Sophie Kennedy Clark about female sexuality and onscreen sex.

There’s a lot more themed content, including our favourite digifeminist artists and our favourite female book protagonists.

Feminist Times’ favourites from Dazed’s feminist issue:

sellshit

Essential Feminist Manifestos

How To Sell Shit To Women

How to Start an Online Feminist Collective

The dA-Zed Guide To Riot Grrrl

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TV’s got a Fox Problem and I hope it’s zoo TV

A revolution in TV and gender is occurring this evening and you probably don’t even know about it. It’s the launch of the second season of the Fox Problem, an all female-led zoo TV experiment and the first ever Google+ live TV show. Tonight it goes out to the US as well. The majority of our readers won’t have heard about it because it hasn’t garnered mainstream attention, and so the chat show remains the domain of the sycophantic man.

It should be no surprise that a show starring three credible women presenters from Radio 1, T4 and SBTV would have to be pioneering new territories online, because women chat shows just don’t agree with terrestrial TV. The graveyard of forgotten chat shows is female heavy:

The Charlotte Church Show: DEAD
Ruth Jones Chat Show: DEAD
The Girly Show: RIP

And yet Loose Women continues, forever, like Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn in Death Becomes Her. Just like the living dead in that movie, Loose Women is conspicuous by its long life when all else dies.

Anyway, if you’re not ‘loose’ and you’re a woman the internet is your friend, and thats why the Fox Problem has found a good home in a medium with a shorter history of sexism and where no one is king. Hell, any of us plebs can start an online TV show tomorrow if we wanted to.

So it makes sense that the Fox Problem, an in-ya-face, fun and smart, all-female led show is having to pioneer new televisual territory. And to me, it makes sense, that the genre they’ve chosen is zoo TV.

Zoo TV is raucous, imaginative, irreverent, punk. The Word and TFI kept generations entertained and kept their edge by not addressing their viewers as mindless consumers; viewers were part of the game, fame wasn’t revered but challenged.

Ok, it got a bit tired after about ten years of Big Breakfast, but if I ever said I didn’t like it, I pray to the god of TV to forgive me now. TV today is predictable, where the most Twitter-worthy encounters are all Katie Hopkins related. That’s a very bad thing. In the 90s, breakfast TV was massive and colourful, with Lily Savage and Paula Yates sprawled on a bed and Egg on Ya Face – now it’s goody two shoes Aled Jones smiling inanely at us as the day breaks. Ew.

Wossy, Norton, Carr, all the panel show hosts and team captains are men and they are boring. They suck up, regurgitate knob jokes and I hope that Fox Problem’s online success is the first nail in the very large coffin that will entomb the ubiquitous Frankie Boyle, Russell Howard, Jack Whitehall and his Dad. Long live the Fox Problem!

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#FeministFatChat: Is Fat Still A Feminist Issue?

Each month Feminist Times hosts an event for our members. After weeks of “New Year, New You!” propaganda from the women’s glossy mags, body image and the diet industry seemed an appropriate topic for our January event. We got together an amazing panel of speakers and asked them: Is Fat Still A Feminist Issue?

There was a huge amount of interest in this event and we had a number of requests to record the discussion for those who couldn’t make it. Check out the podcast below, as well as our tweets from the evening.

A big thank you to our chair Ruth Barnes (BBC and Amazing Radio) and panellists Dr Charlotte Cooper (psychotherapist and fat activist), Natasha Devon (Body Gossip), Audrey Boss (Beyond Chocolate) and Scottee (Hamburger Queen). Thanks also to our hosts Waterhouse Restaurant, Shoreditch Trust and Echo for providing us with such a great venue, and to all the members and guests who came along. Become a member today for free entry to our next members’ event.

We live-tweeted from the discussion using #FeministFatChat – follow the whole discussion, including the Q&A, via our Storify:

 

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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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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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Carry on Groping

In the 1970s groping was “the norm“, says 70s DJ Dave Lee Travis – the very greasy DLT, who’s accused of 13 counts of indecent assault and one of sexual assault. Is there any weight in this defence? Were men of a certain generation the unwitting victims of a culture of grope?

In the 70s famous men often looked like this:

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Quite. And they could be found doing things like this to their female co-stars:

Benny Hill in The Italian Job

Men like this one had TV, radio shows and lucrative film franchises where many of them were encouraged to play the put-upon sex pest night after night.

Like the laboured sexual innuendo wordplay of Carry On Films, “groping” was used as a form of titilating ballet on the nation’s tellies; the accidental elbow brush of a boob here and a Babs Windsor giggle over there.

This camp comedy reflected an age entrenched with everyday sexism. In real life offices, homes and streets across the country, a much less fun, non-consensual performance was occurring. Our readers’ Twitter testimony illustrates how prevalent the harassment was:

As @radicalfeminist responded on Twitter, the norm was also “getting away with it” and could that be what Dave really means? ‘I was promised that I would never be called on this one people!!’

If we don’t accept “I was just carrying out orders” as an ethical excuse for abusive behavior in the Nazi German Military, we’re not likely to accept the notion of being culturally sort-of-peer-pressured. Being a small cock in a big system isn’t a get out of jail free card.

The fact is not ALL men in the 70s were groping all the women; while it may have been ubiquitous, it was certainly not respectable. For example Benny Hill was not respected, yet Sir David Frost was – one was groping people on telly, the other was not (though obviously you shouldn’t take a knighthood as an indicator of decency or you’re in trouble).

So there’s a time traveling of justice, like a Quantum Leap episode where Ziggy’s databases send Dr Sam Beckett to a classic Top of the Pops. The phenomenon of Operation Yewtree has been created by women and men who now feel confident that abuse will be taken seriously in a way that it wasn’t in the 70s.

Some of that confidence will be bolstered by changes in law over the past decades, where what was merely considered decent and respectable behaviour in the 70s is now prescribed in the law books – like the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. Frustratingly it only takes a glimpse at @everydaysexism to know that while the law has changed, culture certainly hasn’t.

By talking about “groping”, Dave is in danger of camping up the charges against him, which are actually for very serious sexual assaults. Not that a “grope” isn’t serious, but this language could be used to trivialise in the public’s consciousness.

A grope is to an assault what a smack is to an assault. They are vague and could serve to mask the severity of an action – a grope could be consensual, for instance, while an assault… you see what I’m saying. Both were certainly tolerated in the 70s because the lines, in the words of Robin Thicke, were blurred.

But they aren’t blurred now – when it comes to “groping”, it’s crystal clear: you don’t touch someone without their permission. Looking back through 20/20 vision, Benny Hill looks anything but normal.

Photo: Nick Fuentes

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Porn searches lead to feminist websites

We were distressed to discover that half of the top ten keywords that lead people to Feminist Times were rape porn related.

Most of our traffic comes from readers sharing on Twitter, Facebook and in emails, so this is a tiny percentage of the actual visits our site gets, but the search terms we’ve found further down our list are terrifying.

Keywords lists certainly paint a concerning picture for those worried about porn, violence and even paedophilia – we wonder what other feminist sites have discovered in their SEO analytics?

keywordsbig

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From Beliebers to broadcasters, noisy women are powerful

Today at 11.30am on Radio 4, Ruth Barnes and I will host a documentary we put together, which Eleanor McDowall produced. It’s about teenage female fandom and it’s called Mad About The Boy – a title that has its tongue firmly placed in its cheek. It’s about how young girls are criticised as silly, crazy or hysterical for expressing their feelings for pop stars, and explores the dubious ideas that prop up those criticisms. Society’s dislike of girls expressing themselves above a whisper – check. Society’s fear of girls fantasising about distant figures that parents can’t monitor – check. Above all, society’s fear of nascent female sexuality – check.

Female pop fandom has interested me since 2010, when I was dragged along to a New Kids On The Block concert (wait…come back!) by a good friend. Having been a music journalist for five years at that time, I was wearing the spoils of my cynicism proudly. I knew that the music machine around this boy band was as naff as Old Spice, and they definitely didn’t mean as much to me, snoot snoot, as R.E.M., Kraftwerk, Joy Division and The Smiths.

A verse into the first New Kids song, I realised something strange was happening. My mouth was open wide and singing, and my heart was racing in my chest. No, I didn’t want to leap up onto the stage and twerk against Jordan Knight. Instead, I was looking emotionally at the women around me – us all remembering what it was like to be at that pivotal stage between childhood and adulthood, recognising the power we all had.

Being a young female fan is a fantastic thing. It’s about creating your own world, exploring your imagination, and finding out about your sexual self. It’s also about bonding with other girls, and celebrating being together. You wouldn’t know that from the footage the media focuses on, the sobbing and weeping extremes of the crowd. Every mass mob event has extreme emotions in it – the football crowd for example – but only women’s experiences are pathologised this way.

History is full of this sort of sexism, of course. The ancient Greeks blamed the “wandering womb” (or as Aretaeus called it, “the animal within the animal”) for making women want to shout and scream. Then there were the Salem witch trials, the psychoanalytic machinations of Freud… countless examples of Western society silencing women expressing themselves.

But by the middle of the 20th century, things started to change. It wasn’t a coincidence that female fandom found its voice after the Second World War, after women’s roles in society had been strengthened in wartime, only to be sidelined again. Young girls wanted more room to explore their imaginations and social selves too, so much so that by 1963 they were considered a threat to themselves… and to society’s repressive framework, which is what their (male) critics were really frightened about.

Here were young women fighting against policemen and silencing their favourite bands – The Beatles even stopped touring because they couldn’t hear themselves any more. In our show, I quote Barbara Ehrenreich‘s great work on this topic, which I first read back in 2010. “Young women had plenty to riot against,” she writes in essay, Screams Heard Around The World. “To abandon control – to scream, faint, dash about in mobs – was to protest the sexual repressiveness of culture. [This] was the first and most dramatic uprising of women’s sexual revolution.” I believe this solidly, too. Expressing rebellion in a way that concerns a pretty boy that you desire can be the start of something personally enriching, and ultimately very empowering.

Ruth and I could have made an hour-long documentary about this subject, really. So much was left unsaid: about how Western girls aren’t allowed a celebratory rite of passage (“girls are just given a sanitary towel and left to get on with it”, Ruth once said to me, memorably), and about how men’s obsessions aren’t classed as frivolous and silly, but geeky and intellectual.

What makes me particularly proud, though, is that our show is stuffed with female voices. We interview my mother-in-law, Lillian Adams, about her Beatlemania days (five years after charging against policemen in Liverpool she was protesting the Vietnam War in Grosvenor Square). Columnist and novelist Allison Pearson tells us how fandom liberated her from her dull teenage life (pop music made her interested in lyrics and imaginative worlds, and got her into writing), and we speak to Fiona Bevan about her songwriting for One Direction, in which she builds her own experiences into that dialogue between artist and fan. The only male voice we have is East 17’s Tony Mortimer, who brilliantly confirms that female fans aren’t really mad at all.

Then there’s the thing about which I’m proudest of all: here’s a documentary on the air presented by two women. Last year, Sound Women (a campaigning network of over 1,000 people working in audio) proved how rare this was in a week of pioneering research. Only 4% of radio programmes over those seven days were co-presented by females, their study showed, a statistic I wasn’t surprised about at all. Two-headed shows usually conform to one of two templates, after all: Two Blokes Down The Pub, or Bantz-Spouting Man meets Giggly Girl.

A few months later, Mishal Husain co-presented Radio 4’s Today programme for the first time with Sue McGregor, but this high-profile exception to the norm shouldn’t be seen as a victory in and of itself. Instead, it should be seen as a torchpaper to light up other women’s opportunities, just as I hope our documentary will do the same work. In Mad About The Boy, women are behind the controls and the microphones, giving voice to a subject often silenced in heart, soul and mind. I don’t think there’s anything crazy about that.

Jude Rogers is a writer, broadcaster, journalist, romantic, Welsh woman and geek. Follow her here @juderogers

Mad About The Boy is on Radio 4 at 11.30am on Tuesday 28 January, and will be repeated on Saturday 1st February at 15.30. Listen to a clip from the show here.

Photo: Hendrik Dacquin

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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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