Tag Archives: gender

“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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“The left has a tendency to eat itself. The anti-capitalist left, the feminist left”

The new Foyles cafe is like a model of the neo-liberal marketplace. Nothing is as nice as it used to be in the old shabby one; the menu is misleading – the ‘East End Salt Beef’ is plasticised pap with no sinews; and yet there is light and air and decent coffee.

I first met Laurie Penny in the old one, back in 2009, when she was working on a piece on trans issues, and soon afterwards, by her request, I adopted her and became her Fairy Godmother. In so many ways. We are dedicating-books-to-each-other close friends, in spite of the gap in our ages, and this interview makes no pretense otherise. We’re here to talk about her new book, Unspeakable Things.

I asked her why she felt she needed an Evil Aunt.

LP: Everyone needs an evil Auntie, just most people are not lucky enough to have one. Actually that’s an interesting question – you’re probably my most important female mentor. There’s a serious lack of mentors for writers my age, especially female ones. I used to find it hard to have personal and professional relationships with women of other generations. There’s massive hostility there.

RK: That’s weird because it used not to be the case. When I think back to my late 20s and early thirties, I had a wodge of them, Lorna Sage for example.

LP: The difference is that you’re not just a mentor, you’re socially a peer.

RK: That’s because one of the good things about your generation is that you don’t defer. It used to be taken for granted that you did. And the plus point with your generation is that you don’t defer and the minus is that people who had to, back in the day, and now expect their turn resent that.

LP: Absolutely. And there’s even more stock set right now on being young, on being a bright young thing. And so there’s more suspicion. One of the things I say in the book is that being a woman is seen like being your job. It’s the job that everyone has signed up for, anyone who is in any way female and every other woman is your competitor. And if being a woman is our job, we need to unionise.

RK: It’s unpaid work, as being a woman always was.

LP: In the movie All About Eve the central character, Margot Channing, the one played by Bette Davis, says: “That’s one career all females have in common, whether we like it or not: being a woman. Sooner or later, we’ve got to work at it.” I thought that was so sad and so profound.

RK: Except your generation, you’re not just supposed to work at it, you’re supposed to work at monetising it.

LP: It’s more like a profession, and that’s what I mean in talking about neoliberalism in general.

RK: It’s a portfolio femininity. You’re supposed to be a walking CV.

LP: Back when I was young, very young, feminism was a lifestyle choice – it was all sort of sassy. It was a matter of “can you be a feminist and wear a white wedding dress or high heels?” And you still get those articles. It was all about identity rather than action. Politics didn’t come into it, and feminism was massively depoliticised and also massively dequeered. And that’s something that’s now reversed itself. A new generation of LGBT and genderqueer activists are making their voices heard. In the 90s, feminism seemed only to talk about straight women; if there was any sense of queer, it was just lesbian women, and it wasn’t an inclusive sense that we all live under heteropatriarchy. It was a politics of lesbian women, if at all, that was oriented around political lesbianism and that whole package. So it wasn’t about queer at all. That’s why it’s so great for my politics to know you and people like you. Because I could read it in books but I wouldn’t get the ‘History as gossip’ version.

RK: History as gossip is important because it means you know where the bodies were buried.

LP: There’s that wonderful article about Shulamith Firestone by Susan Faludi, because it’s not dry, it tells you about the personalities involved and the interactions, and what really broke Shulamith was disillusion with that movement and the way she was rejected.

RK: It’s really important to recognise that history, because trashing was what nearly destroyed second wave feminism, or at least seriously crippled it, in the 70s.

LP: Feminists started talking mainly to each other and it’s partly the trashing and partly the way it gets to be about the Perfect Line. And obviously I care about what feminists think of my book, but I am more interested in what fifteen year olds who are reading it in their bedroom think. It’s not about convincing people who are already my comrades that my politics are pure and perfect. That’s the scary thing about writing a book instead of a blog post – you can’t go back and change it.

RK: But there is no pure line, there’s never been a pure line, the pure line is a delusion.

LP: A lot of what’s important in seventies feminism is the stuff it got wrong. There’s the chapter about race in Dialectic of Sex in which Firestone talks as if she has never met anyone who wasn’t white. Yet if you write off the whole book on the basis of that, you’d have lost a lot of important thought. So it’s important to read it alongside feminists of colour writing at the same time, like Angela Davis and Alice Walker.

RK: You’ve learned a lot from feminists of colour. It took a lot of us ages to do that. Intersectionality, for example, as a clear concept and set of ideas.

LP: Intersectionality does crop up in the book. I do use the I word, not a lot. I ration all the other words – neo-liberalism, capitalism – that smack even a tiny bit of jargon. I went through the manuscript with the search function and wherever possible I changed them, rephrased the sentence, cut them down. So it said the same thing without using the words. There are a lot of schoolkids of every gender whose lives would be so much better if [Judith Butler’s] Gender Trouble had been written in a comprehensible manner, in a language that was exciting and accessible to people not already versed in the language of theory.

RK: The version of Gender Trouble explained in Lolcats is a great contribution to the welfare of humanity. Unspeakable Things works very hard at accessibility, at making the language new.

LP: That’s part of the reason it has so much memoir in there. It was difficult to strike a balance between that and polemic – because you have to have the personal gossip that moves polemic along, and there’s a lot of stuff that is straight up polemic. And the memoir bits explain where my politics come from and how they developed. If I were going to write straight memoir – but I’m 27 and far too young to write memoirs – here I barely talk about my family at all – and there are very good reasons for that – and I don’t talk about Oxford at all. University was my least political time, because I went there very young – I was just 17 and just out of hospital. I spent a couple of years just getting myself well and doing a lot of theatre and drinking gin and being a reprobate and scraping through my exams. It was a couple of years off serious politics. I needed to use the time for other things – self-care is radical. People go on at me about Oxford – and sure it’s important to acknowledge privilege.

RK: True, but in this country, privilege is as complex as class. And the language we use has to reflect that.

LP: There’s a failure to understand that privilege is not the same as power. There’s a lot of that in the chapter about boys, about their rage because they were promised things, they were raised to be able to live in a world which does not exist — never existed actually — less so now. There’s that very painful conflict between the stories they grew up with, in stories and films, in home and school, that they would grow up to be these powerful macho guys and their growing awareness, especially if they are moving in social justice circles, that that’s not an ethical way to be, it’s not a way to live your life. James Bond films are cool, but everyone knows now that James Bond is a total prick. You can’t now watch Connery’s Bond from a position of unwatching Craig. We have all these old ideas of what a masculine hero is meant to be and there isn’t much to replace it.

RK: Is it also because of the massive disillusion – and I feel this from the specific viewpoint of someone in their 60s – with the radical heroes of my generation and what became of them?

LP: It’s almost the opposite really. We had to get older and read a bit more before we understood what they used to be. Remember, I was only ten when Labour came to power. I remember kids in the playground talking about it and going “Labour! My mum and dad are voting Labour” And they were going “TONY BLAIR!” I was a Thatcher baby, but my sisters are both Major babies. Kids born when Labour came to power will be turning 18 this summer. I only started reading political papers at 13, and 9/11 was the first major event that registered with me. That was the thing for us.

RK: With me it was the Cuban missile crisis

LP: When you talk about political generations, it’s particular moments rather than purely chronological. Millennials have no idea of the Berlin Wall but are very clear about 9/11. The next generation won’t remember it.

I asked Laurie why she identifies as a geek.

LP: I’ve always been a geek. Stories have always fascinated me – the more engaged I’ve got with writing, the more I have realised that politics is a story we tell ourselves about what life is about, what identity is about, and the more you can change the story the more you can change the future. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talks about the danger of the single story – I’ve been reading her novels – and the danger of the single story. There’s a problem with the stories women have been allowed to tell themselves about themselves. And the reason I am so fascinated by geek feminism is that it interrogates narrative, the stories we are allowed to tell ourselves about identity and sexuality and gender and agency.

RK: Women’s stories have constantly to be fought for – did you see that article the other day about the Trinity version of the strong woman, the woman who is characterized as strong but does not actually do anything?

LP: All you have to do to be a Strong Woman is turn up wearing combat boots and fall for the hero. Surely we can do better than that in 2014. She can have amazing attributes but she never gets to kill the dragon. She is always a character in someone else’s story, the amazing woman who whisks the hero off to a fantasyland like Trinity in the Matrix. Women are encouraged to see themselves as characters in stories that happen to other people rather than the heroes of their own story. And in Doctor Who, maybe not River Song or Martha or Donna, but most of the other recent companions – they’re Manic Pixy Dream Girls. Amy Pond is definitively a Manic Pixy Dream Girl and so is the new one, Clara. They have quirks and eccentricities but what are they actually like? And if anyone uses the words sassy or spunky – or feisty – I hate feisty. Feisty is a word about women that’s a stand-in for having an actual personality. And they don’t have flaws, or if they have flaws, it’s like it is in New Girl, where they were sitting around thinking that the character ought to have a flaw and someone said “let’s make her clumsy”, which means she sometimes drops things. It’s not even actual dyspraxia which might generate plot.

Women are not allowed character development, let alone catharsis; there’s a big fight going on about who gets to tell stories. It’s not just women, it’s people of colour and LGBT people and there’s a struggle to be the subject of one’s own stories, not a point in other people’s. The internet has had a certain amount to do with this – and fan fiction. Especially now that fan writers are breaking into the mainstream. Some of the sci-fi awards lists are full of new interesting women writers telling stories about race and gender – the Hugo shortlist a bit less so – and of course sci-fi is ideal for that. The excitement for me about writing fiction is how many stories are there left to be told? How many lives and sorts of lives need to find narrative embodiment?

I ask Laurie about her role models from the earlier past.

LP: I’ve just reviewed a collection of Nellie Bly‘s writing. She’s the first gonzo journalist, she’s the first woman investigative reporter, and though there have been children’s books about her, and I think at least one television show – in the USA she’s the legend, the plucky girl reporter – but nobody bothered to collect her writing, nobody bothered to read what she actually wrote. She’s so much more radical than the legend – which is all: Young girl comes out of nothing, becomes ace reporter, does whatever a man can do, rarara – but her work about marriage, her work about the condition of working women across the US is really very radical.

RK: Of course, another great product of Bly’s era is London’s THE IRON HEEL – which Orwell thought was terrifyingly predictive in the 40s, but now…

LP: The future isn’t necessarily bright; there is everything to fight for. Stories are the only way we steal the children of the rich, they’re the only way we can fight apart from simply managing to survive. One of the things about the LGBT communities – that we have to give other communities – and also communities of colour have done this – is to realize that survival is the struggle. Self-care is radical, it is politics, and mutual care, and a solidarity that is not merely in name only. It’s not just a hashtag, it’s showing up and taking care of people. And not being a dick on the internet unless you absolutely have to. I wish more people realised this, because in fallow times the left has a tendency to eat itself. The anti-capitalist left, the feminist left…

RK: Which leads us to the queston of ‘what Laurie Penny did next’.

LP: I’m taking a year off. I am going to Harvard on the Nieman Foundation. I applied for it last year just after losing my father. I could no longer do this kind of unremitting engagement without a physical break. If I hadn’t got that fellowship, I would still have taken a year off of some kind. It’s been really difficult to fight my corner and look after myself and do the work – which doesn’t mean it’s not been worth doing, but I have to think long term and not burn out. That would be sad – no one wants to be in the 27 club. I’m 27 but my birthday’s in September, so I am probably all right.

This is my second interview and the first was with a woman who had eating disorders in her 30s and 40s and I realized that getting better is a process. I’d thought that you just got better, and then I’d be done. But you have to work at it your whole life.

Laurie Penny’s new book ‘Unspeakable Things’ was published on 3 July, by Bloomsbury.

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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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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: 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?


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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“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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What is Feminism? banner

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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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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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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Why mixed therapy groups may do more harm then good

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

Emotionally unstable personality disorder (previously known as borderline personality disorder) is a pervasive and distressing condition. It is characterised by mood swings, impulsivity, suicidal ideation and self harm. Sufferers have difficulty with relationships, friendships and self image. According to statistics, up to 75 per cent of those diagnosed are women, and it is stated that 70 per cent have suffered some form of abuse, usually in childhood. Many come from difficult family backgrounds, and EUPD can co-exist with other mental illnesses, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, anxiety, and OCD.

People suffering with EUPD are assumed by mental health services to be very challenging to treat, and personality disorder is often referred to as the “diagnosis of exclusion”. Stereotyping and stigma are rife, and in particular women with the diagnosis are labelled as dramatic, needy, and attention seeking. Specialist services are rarely available and women may find themselves passed from one treatment to the next, which ends up feeding into a vicious cycle of inner chaos, and reinforcing the belief that they are some way untreatable and unwanted.

Unfortunately, for many people, care options can often be dependant on a postcode lottery. Medication, counselling, psychotherapy, and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) are used, and some NHS trusts may offer art based therapies.

Therapeutic communities provide a supportive environment to explore issues, but they aren’t mainstream and many women are never offered the choice. The referral process is lengthy, and patients are often sent for a short course of CBT or counselling instead. Therapy on the NHS is expensive and hard to come by; in the current economical climate resources are stretched, and mental health in particular has received huge funding losses.

Psychotherapy for EUPD is usually group based. Patients who have never experienced a stable background or a strong family unit can begin to forge lasting bonds with others and reduce social isolation. If a woman is fortunate enough to secure a therapy space it is likely it will be within a mixed sex group. Women will be sitting and sharing their memories, perhaps spoken for the first time, with men.

This approach within EUPD treatment is to encourage integration by assisting patients to discover a mutually respectful male/female exchange in a place of relative safety. The aim is to enable them to transfer that knowledge to their every day experiences, improving confidence and relation to others. No doubt a positive move in the long run; however, shouldn’t a woman be allowed to decide for herself when she is ready to make that step?

Someone who has suffered abuse grows up with many issues. A woman may experience deep conflict and trauma around ownership of her body, her female identity, and her right to say no (or yes). Could a male group member truly understand and empathise? Acknowledge the lasting and devastating effects she is left with?

A possible conflict within mixed groups could be that women wouldn’t feel they are able to honestly express their feelings, because of fear of judgement, being asked personal questions, or just purely that they are frightened of male reaction because of past experience. There is also the issue of personal beliefs – we live in a victim blaming culture, and this may be prevalent in the minds of everyone. Psychotherapy enables people to share and explore their feelings, but if a man held a particularly misogynistic view, is it the right time for a woman to have to hear that opinion? These concerns could be a barrier to female participation and, in turn, her healing. Certainly, during my career in the NHS, I witnessed women leaving services when they were informed that the groups were mixed, or sitting impassively during sessions, not able to express themselves.

I also have personal experience of mixed therapy, having been in a group for 4 years, and it did present a challenge for me. Disclosing information about painful experiences is never easy. People in groups come for all kinds of reasons, but unfortunately many men hold a particularly difficult attitude to women. I and another woman were told we should “act more like proper women”, “not have an opinion on everything”, and “understand what it’s like to be a man – that’s tough”. This particular member and I almost came to a physical altercation on one afternoon, after he decided to trivialise my disclosure of abuse and compare it to his experience. His exact words were: “For God’s sake, it was years ago, and everyone gets crap anyway – my dad always sent me boxing when I didn’t want to go.” When I and several other people told him he was out of order he became aggressive and stood up to shout in my face.

In a separate incident I was threatened by another male member, again for simply voicing an opinion. He screamed at me to: “Shut your mouth or I swear I’ll smash that table straight over your head.” Men would express their views on women using derogatory terms such as ‘slut’ and ‘bitch’. Whether it’s directed at people in the room or not, it still isn’t pleasant to listen to. When the deep rooted prejudices overspill, it’s the women who bear the brunt.

Of course, not all men are abusers, and not all men are violent. Psychotherapy groups have strong boundaries and strict codes of conduct in place for the safety of everyone involved. But a treatment group is meant to be just that – treatment. Facing personal demons is difficult enough, particularly for those who have never had a voice, have never spoken out before. Having men in a group where the majority of female members have experienced prolonged suffering at male hands may do more harm than good. Treatment for EUPD isn’t straightforward, as sufferers have complex issues. However, women should always have the right to choose.

A. Lewis is a campaigner for changing attitudes around mental health. 

For more information and support on EUPD, visit Mind or Emergence.

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Why we can’t have nice things: A Gender Week post-mortem

One of the biggest debates within feminism has always been how we define, how we describe, the word ‘gender’. One of the biggest problems with that debate has always been that, for a significant minority of feminists, there is none; only a dogmatic assertion that “feminism solved this long ago once and for all”.

Feminist Times has, as a part of its mission statement, a commitment to listening and giving space to all sections of feminism as long as the discussion remains empathetic and respectful. Part of the background to that commitment is a radical scepticism about the idea that anything has been permanently settled; that any section of feminism has a final and definitive answer to the intellectual challenge that feminism poses to those values of patriarchy and kyriarchy, in which we were all brought up and which surround us every day.

It can be argued, in fact, that any premature assumption of a definitive position’s correctness is almost certainly a hindrance; dogmatic certainty on the part of any section of the community about anything except their own personal experience is going to be problematic when it comes to discussion.

I’ve taken flak from my own trans community over Gender Week. Some trans people feel that, given our embattled status, abstract disscussion of issues around gender is an indulgence we cannot afford. Personally, I don’t for a second think that discussion of gender can ever risk the validation of trans identity; the arguments on our side, and our own diverse experiences of gender, are too strong for anyone to discount them except if they absolutely refuse to listen.

It is, though, the case that a lot of trans people are very vulnerable and a wide-ranging public discussion of gender is going to risk triggering their own doubts and fears and memories of bad times; perhaps neither I nor Feminist Times should have been prepared to take that risk.

In spite of long experience to the contrary, I and we thought that the time had finally come when it would be possible to have a serious discussion that would start the process of healing the rifts within feminism. The editors commissioned a number of pieces from which a respectful and intelligent discussion might have emerged.

Only it did not. Instead, the comments on a number of the pieces, and not only those written by trans people, became unpleasantly abusive in the face of the best efforts of the editors to moderate them. There was little good faith in many of them – well known trans-exclusionary radical feminists did not reveal their preconceptions or even used aliases and sock-puppet accounts.

What happened on the Twitter #genderweek hashtag was even worse. The writers* for that issue of Feminist Times were subjected to unpleasant hate speech including, but not restricted to, constant misgendering. I saw only some of the attacks on me – these were not for the most part serious discussion of my arguments but instead anonymous personal abuse based on my age and looks.

It’s now abundantly clear that serious feminist discussion can’t take place on Twitter without it being hi-jacked for hate speech. I know some people feel that the terms cis and TERF are, or have the potential to become, derogatory; I didn’t see those people complaining when my photo was tweeted with abusive comments.

I had hoped we could have an adult discussion of gender and what we mean by the word; clearly I was culpably naïve and I apologise for thinking that certain women involved in that hashtag are capable of respectful discussion between equals.

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

Following Gender Week, we have revised our editorial comment policy, which is now published here.

*Editor’s note: We asked Roz to write a personal perspective on Gender Week, as a member of our editorial board, as someone who was involved in helping us plan the week, and as someone who received criticism both from radical feminists and trans feminists for her involvement. We are, however, aware that abuse throughout the week – particularly on Twitter – was directed at many of our contributors, not only those who are trans.

We don’t believe, as Roz says, that any one side has a final and definitive answer to the complexities that feminism throws up. Because of this we are committed to respectful, empathic discussion of the differences within feminism, and the varying experiences of those within the movement, and our content will always reflect this. The constructive discussions of our Gender Week content that did take place on Twitter were regretfully at times almost completely drowned out by repetitive and abusive comments from a small minority of individuals.

– Sarah Graham, Deputy Editor.

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We launch new Members perks with Blazing World competition

This week we launched our brand new online Members-only area, where Feminist Times Members can access exclusive discounts and offers from a selection of our feminist partners. Current offers include 50% off and free P&P on a selection of Zed Books’ feminist titles, free membership to Letterbox Library, 10% off The War Paint’s solid gold “Feminist” necklace, a free feminist mirror with every purchase from Tea Please, free entry to all our events, and regular members-only competitions from the likes of Verso Books. To benefit from all these offers, and more still to come, join us today from as little as £5 per month and help support our independent feminist media organisation.

To celebrate the launch of these Members-only offers, we’re giving away one pair of tickets to The Blazing World at the London Review Bookshop – a book reading by author Siri Hustvedt and discussion on gender bias with art critic Sarah Thornton, on 29 May from 7pm.

In Siri Hustvedt’s latest novel The Blazing World (Sceptre) artist Harriet Burden, consumed by fury at the lack of recognition she has received from the New York art establishment, embarks on an experiment: she hides her identity behind three male fronts who exhibit her work as their own, to universal acclaim. ‘All intellectual endeavours’ Burden herself remarks pugnaciously at the novel’s opening ‘fare better in the mind of the crowd when the crowd knows that somewhere behind the great work … it can locate a cock and a pair of balls.’ Siri Hustvedt will be reading from her book, and discussing its themes of art, gender bias and subterfuge with the art critic Sarah Thornton, author of Seven Days in the Art World.

This competition is open to all Feminist Times Members. To enter, simply fill in your details below. One winner will be announced at 5pm on Monday 12 May.

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#GenderWeek: What is gender? Survey results

Click here to read all #GenderWeek articles.

Throughout #GenderWeek, we’ve been asking our Members and readers to fill in our survey, responding to the question: What is gender?

We’ve had 148 responses, 36% of them from Feminist Times Members, and the remainder from readers and supporters who are not Members. The infographics below takes into account all 148 responses, while the examples of text responses selected from the responses of Feminist Times Members.

What is gender?

A selection of responses:

What is gender?

Gender is self defined. It is how you feel, what you associate with. Yes, there is a biological gender but that does not dictate the emotional gender of a person.

The state of being male or female (typically used with reference to social and cultural differences, rather than biological ones). I would use “sex” for the latter.

It refers to the structural relations between men and women, reflecting the dominance of men in society and the subordination of women.

For me it’s a biological definition. Sex you are physically born with.

Gender is the external representation of biological sex, the visible presentation of our sex as interpreted by society, a reductionist binary.

Whatever you identify with or what you aspire to identify with. However the spectrum can include many options and is not linked to sexuality.

Gender is the socially constructed roles, expectations and spaces to act allocated to biological men and women. Gender roles and entitlements are fluid across cultures and contexts, though are globally inequitable, with women allocated less status, fewer resources and very much restricted space and autonomy; in most cultures and contexts women are to a greater or lesser extent not understood or constructed as fully human, and often considered the property of men.

Gender, as it relates to the individual, is deeply personal and will affect each person differently. Gender does not exist in isolation, but is articulated in relation to other forms of repressions.

I believe gender is socially constructed; exists on a spectrum of performativity; not innate, but learned as part of sexual stereotyping during enculturation.  One learns to perform binary oppositional ‘male’ and ‘female’. Sex determines XX, XY, and variations thereof.

Most people identify with the gender i.e. genitalia they were born to. But it must be incredibly painful for those individuals who do not fit into a specified gender, either because they are born with indeterminate genitalia or because they feel they are trapped in the wrong body. I believe those individuals should have the right to choose the identity they feel comfortable with.

A hierarchical oppressive social construct designed to keep women at the bottom of the hierarchy.

It is the biological differences between human beings, defined by reproductive function. It is the cultural differences between human beings that have come about by the unequal distribution of power and education.

Ideally it’s a personal identity but the lived reality is that others place their opinions of your gender over what you say and treat you according to how they believe people of your gender should be treated. I think there is some overlap between liberal and radical ideas behind gender in that both believe you can suffer because of your gender, but modern feminism recognises that there is more than just gender at play in the systems of oppression that we all live under.

A social construct – I agree with Simone de Beauvoir when she said that women aren’t born, they are created.

How do you define your own gender?

A selection of responses:

How do you define your own gender?

Female, woman, cis, trans, queer, gender-queer, agender, anti-gender, gender-free, gender-fluid, gender-variant, non-binary, cisgender, cis-woman, transman, transwoman, lesbian-feminist, transfeminine, masculine, femme, man, queer-femme, unspecified, non-gendered, conformist, rebellious, spectrum.

What defines your gender?


Your sex strongly influences your perception of your gender because people with female genitals are defined in certain ways.

Not necessarily, it depends a lot on background and upbringing so for me yes, but I don’t think that it has to for anyone!

Genitals define your sex, which is often incorrectly used intechangiby with gender.

I’m born intersex and I try to reject gender classifications, while acknowledging that a third classification doesn’t solve the gender hierarchy or anything very much, in and of itself.

No, but they are used by cultural norms to construct a gender identity.

They contribute to my being assigned into the sex class.

Would prefer them to be different – they don’t define me.

I don’t know, probably because I identify with the same gender that my genital identify me as and I was brought up in that gender. I can’t tell whether they are defining it or not.

They do if you view it as a binary, but if we were to see gender as traits, social conditioning and assumptions not as something essential, then no, they don’t at all.


My genes (probably) coincide with my chromosomal gender.

They determine biological sex.

Mix of genes and socialisation.

I don’t know. They likely have an influence.

No, but my genetic makeup as a female determines what gender society considers appropriate for me.

Scientifically yes but I’m not 100% sure.


Not define but will nurture a direction.

None of us are outside our socialised experience. I would say that I am not a ‘woman’ in the sense that my culture and socialisation has taught me I should be – however, at the same time, my understanding of myself as a woman has been and continues to be in reference to that as i unlearn some expectations, reshape my understanding and do not live outside social discourses of womanhood. I am constantly engaged in struggle between my definitions and those of the people around me.

To some extent, but you can resist.

‘Socialisation’ is how one comes about having an understanding of one’s gender – indeed the only understandings any of us have of any human concept come to use through social relations, as otherwise how would we know what we mean by something is the same as what others mean by it? Furthermore as one aspect to gender is its force of compulsory normativity, for many people their understanding of their gender will one envisaged as to be in accordance with this normative force, which could be what some consider the term ‘socialisation’ to mean. However one’s gender identity itself is constituted as an *engagement* with the set of power relations (e.g. norms etc.) that make up gender, which in each person is always in tension, never perfect accordance, with the elusive ideal of ‘woman’ (or ‘man’) posited by social relations.

No, but it created my concepts of gender.

Yes, but socialization is a complex process that can produce a variety of understandings of gender norms, gender identity, and one’s “place” relative to gender, so saying that trans women experience some kind of homogenous “male socialization” is simplistic and locates systems of oppression in the individual, not in the class (woman) which includes everyone who experiences societal messages about women in the first person, regardless of whether they’re “Supposed” to do so.

No, but it does contribute to one’s experiences and personal history, which are important.

Which of these statements do you agree with?


Top 5 responses:

  1. Gender is a social construct (19%)
  2. A rigid gender binary oppresses both men and women who don’t conform (19%)
  3. Sex is biological (17%)
  4. Gender is a personal identity (14%)
  5. My vision of the future is a spectrum of gender (14%)

Do you identify as…?


How sure are you that you have XX chromosomes as a woman and XY chromosomes as a man?

(1) being Not at all sure and (5) being So sure I’d bet my life on it.


Word clouds created via Wordle

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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: The problem is capitalist-patriarchy socialising boys to be aggressive

Click here to read all #GenderWeek articles.

The most common criticism of radical feminist theory is that we are gender essentialist because we believe that women’s oppression, as a class, is because of the biological realities of our bodies. Radical feminists define sex as the physical body, whilst gender is a social construct. It is not a function of our biology. It is the consequence of being labelled male/female at birth and assigned to the oppressor/sex class. The minute genetic differences are not reflected in the reality of women’s lived experiences. Gender is the coercive process of socialisation built upon a material reality that constructs women as a subordinate class to men. As such, radical feminists do not want to queer gender or create a spectrum of gendered identities; we want to end the hierarchical power structure that privileges men as a class at the expense of women’s health and safety.

This assumption is based on a misunderstanding of radical feminist theory, that starts from the definition of “radical” itself, which refers to the root or the origin: that is to say, the oppression of women by men (The Patriarchy). It is radical insofar as it contextualises the root of women’s oppression in the biological realities of our bodies (sex) and seeks the liberation of women through the eradication of social structures, cultural practises and laws that are predicated on women’s inferiority to men (gender).

Radical feminism challenges all relationships of power that exist within the Patriarchy including capitalism, imperialism, racism, classism, homophobia and even the fashion-beauty complex because they are harmful to everyone: female, male, intersex and trans*. As with all social justice movements, radical feminism is far from perfect. No movement can exist within a White Supremacist culture without (re)creating racist, homophobic, disablist, colonialist and classist power structures. What makes radical feminism different is its focus on women as a class.

Radical feminists do not believe there are any innate gender differences, or in the existence of male/female brains. Women are not naturally more nurturing than men and men are not better at maths and reading maps. Men are only “men” insofar as male humans are socialised into specific characteristics that we label male, such as intelligence, aggression, and violence and woman are “woman” because we are socialised into believing that we are more nurturing, empathetic, and caring than men.

Women’s oppression as a class is built on two interconnected constructs: reproductive capability and sexual capability. In the words of Gerda Lerner in The Creation of Patriarchy, the commodification of women’s sexual and reproductive capacities is the foundation of the creation of private property and a class-based society. Without the commodification of women’s labour there would be no unequal hierarchy of power between men and women, fundamental to the creation and continuation of the Capitalist-Patriarchy, and, therefore, no need for gender as a social construct.

Radical feminism recognises the multiple oppressions of individual women, whilst recognising the oppression of women as a class in the Marxist sense of the term. Rape does not require every woman to be raped to function as a punishment and a deterrent from speaking out. The threat therein is enough. Equally, the infertility of an individual woman does not negate the fact that her oppression is based on the assumed potential (and desire) for pregnancy, which is best seen in discussions of women’s employment and men’s refusal to hire women during “child-bearing” years due to the potential for pregnancy, which is used as a way of controlling women’s labour: keeping women in low-paying jobs and maintaining the glass ceiling. Constructing women as “nurturers” maintains the systemic oppression of women and retains wealth and power within men as a class.

Even something as basic as a company dress code is gendered to mark women as other. Women working in the service industry are frequently required to wear clothing and high heels that accentuate external markers of sex. Sexual harassment is endemic, particularly in the workplace, yet women are punished if they do not attend work in clothing that is considered “acceptable” for the male gaze. The use of women’s bodies to sell products further institutionalises the construction of women as object.

There is a shared girlhood in a culture that privileges boys, coercively constructs women’s sexuality and punishes girls who try to live outside gendered norms. The research of Dale Spender, and even Margaret Atwood, dating back to the 1980s has made it very clear that young girls are socialised to be quiet, meek and unconfident. Boys, on the other hand, are socialised to believe that everything they say and do is important: by parents and teachers, by a culture which believes that no young boy would ever want to watch a film or read a book about girls or written by a woman. Shared girlhood is differentiated by race, class, faith and sexuality, but, fundamentally, all girls are raised in a culture which actively harms them.

Radical feminists are accused of gender essentialism because we recognise the oppressive structures of our world and seek to dismantle them. We acknowledge the sex of the vast majority of perpetrators of violence. We do so by creating women-only spaces so that women can share stories in the knowledge that other women will listen. This is in direct contrast to every other public and private space that women and young girls live in. Sometimes these spaces are trans-inclusive, like A Room of our Own the blogging network I created for feminists and womanists. Sometimes these spaces will need to be for women who are FAAB only or trans* women only, just as it is absolutely necessary to have black-women only spaces and lesbian women-only spaces.

There is a need for all of these spaces because socialisation is a very powerful tool. Being raised male in a patriarchal white supremacist culture is very different to being raised female with the accompanying sexual harassment, trauma and oppression. The exclusion of trans* women from some spaces is to support traumatised women who can be triggered by being in the same space as someone who was socialised male growing up. This does not mean that an individual trans* woman is a danger, but rather a recognition that gendered violence exists and that trauma is complicated.

It is our direct challenge to hegemonic masculinity and control of the world’s resources (including human) that makes radical feminism a target of accusations like gender essentialism. We recognise the importance in biological sex because of the way girls and boys are socialised to believe that boys are better than girls. As long as we live in a capitalist-patriarchy where boys are socialised to believe that aggression and anger are acceptable behaviour, women and girls will need the right to access women-only spaces however they define them.

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: Pixabay

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#GenderWeek: Respectful discussion is possible

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Discussing “gender” is one of the most contentious topics in popular feminist discourse. Many misunderstandings can be attributed to different usage of the same words; and to make matters worse, many of us have been traumatised during previous attempts to engage in political conversation about gender. The history between trans advocates and gender critical feminists is extremely hostile. Personal insults, condescending dismissals, and even threats of violence are not unusual.

Late last year, we were both invited to participate in a new Facebook group that aimed to bring radical feminists and trans advocates together to discuss gender. Unfortunately, critical analysis of gender was not tolerated and we were both quickly removed from the group. This was not entirely surprising, but we were disappointed as the idea excited us.

Gender discussion rulesWe wanted to continue the conversation, so we decided to start our own Facebook group. We decided that the new group should be ‘open’ in Facebook terms, so anyone with a Facebook account could read what was being discussed even if they didn’t want to participate. Secondly, anyone would be allowed to join the group no matter what their political opinions—liberal, conservative, anarchist, libertarian, or N/A. The only rule was to engage respectfully and in good faith with the other members. It would be a grand experiment! But still, we weren’t very optimistic about its potential longevity.

We were clear that the point of the group isn’t to change people’s views, but to build a greater understanding between everyone, and hopefully build some bridges.

In just four months, Discussing Gender Critical and Gender Identity has ballooned to more than 600 members. We currently have four moderators, all of whom are feminists and one of whom is a trans woman.

Generating discussion of gender is not difficult, but maintaining harmony in the group is our greatest challenge. Towards that end, we have also developed some very basic ground rules regarding language. By preempting some common stumbling blocks to discussion of gender, we’ve been able to sustain unusually long and interesting conversations. For example, in order to avoid the minefield of misgendering, our group policy is to use preferred pronouns or the plural-neutral they/their. Predictably, we’ve been criticized by some on both sides of the table, but despite occasionally removing a member from the group, we have had surprisingly few problems. As one of our trans members commented:

“I think this group is the first concrete step leading to a better understanding between trans people and gender critical feminists. Understanding does not mean agreement, but it can show that finally there is dialogue.”

From this first step, we have already begun challenging the idea that there are only a few views around key gender issues. There is a wide diversity of thought among trans people as well as among feminists; and the group provides a forum to explore these ideas. We have also begun discussing whether there are any areas of broad agreement or commonality within the group. Ultimately, we would like to identify issues that we can potentially work together on, leading to joint trans and feminist political activism.

We invite anyone who is interested in moving beyond hostility and into creative solutions to join our conversation on Facebook.

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#GenderWeek: Truce! When radical feminists and trans feminists empathise

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We wanted to explore the ground between the polarised, entrenched positions in the so-called “TERF-war”. Radical feminists on one pole, trans-inclusionary feminists and trans activists on the other. The disputed territory being women-only space, language and the ever changing legal framework surrounding gender.

Entrenchment leads to stalemate. Stalemate is no friend to progress.

We want to know how feminism can progress when it comes to these gender debates. Can we stop hurling abuse and start listening? What would happen if people in these polarised positions began to empathise with each other? Is it possible to find common ground and start building towards a shared vision of the future? Fighting common enemies?

We asked Finn Mackay, a radical feminist, and Ruth Pearce, a trans feminist, if they would help us explore the place between the poles, this no (wo)man’s land, with some radical empathy.

Finn Mackay:

The disagreements between some feminist theory and the growing movement for trans rights and recognition perhaps began most publically with Janice Raymond’s 1980 book The Transexual Empire and Sandy Stone’s famous riposte in The Empire Strikes Back. The main two critiques were that Raymond denied a history for trans people and stated that trans people are not ‘real’ men or women.

It’s not difficult to see why the latter would cause offence, and indeed Raymond does suggest this in her book. Mainly she is concerned with critiquing the medical industry and its pathologisation of gender in the clinics of the 1970s, which she sees as charm schools for gender stereotyping.

Raymond does not deny a transgender history; she is not naïve to the fact that gender rules are different around the world and are often flouted. However, Raymond argues that it wasn’t until legal and medical advancements that it became possible to talk about the identity of transexual.

This highlights an important distinction between gender and sex. I am not an essentialist; I believe gender is a social construct – by which I mean masculinity, femininity, camp, butch, high femme or androgynous, for example. Sex describes the biological features of our bodies, such as genitalia, reproductive capacity and hormones. In patriarchy of course, sex equals rank and gender roles are used, promoted and policed so that sex rank is obvious and unequivocal.

I don’t believe gender is natural, fixed or innate, but made and not born. It is made by all the stereotypes around us about how men and women are supposed to look, act and dress. Everyone works hard at their gender, it does not come naturally. Men and women work to live up to narrow and impossible gender ideals; they diet and spend vast amounts on cosmetics and plastic surgery. In that way we are all performing gender, and it is difficult to say if anyone is a ‘real’ man or woman.

Therefore, I don’t believe that trans people are any less ‘real’ men and women than anyone else, and I don’t believe trans women are ‘men’. I respect self-definition and use the pronouns individuals identify as; I would never refer to trans women as ‘he’ or to trans men as ‘she’. I agree that women-only spaces should be open to all women, including trans women. However, I also respect the right of all oppressed groups to self-organise. For example, recently a mixed feminist conference in Manchester held a workshop on girlhood sexual abuse which was open only to women assigned female at birth. I do not think it was right that the conference was attacked as a result.

I do not agree with the term ‘cis’ and do not use it. It suggests that all non-trans people are gender normative Stepford wives, which is far from the case. I do not get read as a woman in many daily interactions and experience harassment and violence as a result. I do not have the privilege of not being questioned about my sex and gender in the street, in passport control or in interactions with health services. I also do not believe that being categorised as female in a patriarchal world can ever be seen as a privilege, and the facts of sexual violence, marginalisation and poverty bear that out.


Ruth Pearce:

In you, I see the girls who spat in my face as I walked home from school.
In me, you see every man who has ever treated you like a lesser being.
In you, I see the boys who always wanted to pick a fight.
In me, you see someone who just won’t listen.
In you, I see my father, a man I’ve always considered to be wise and thoughtful, telling me that I’ll be outed by the press and kicked out of university for using the women’s toilets.
In me, you see a forceful male penetration of women’s spaces.
In you, I see a thousand tabloid headlines screaming “tranny”.
In me, you see a blind adherence to the oppressive system of binary gender.
In you, I see the doctor who tells me what I can and can’t do with my body.
In me, you see the stooge of a patriarchal medical system.
In you, I see how friends who have been beaten or raped were told that they brought it on themselves.
In me, you see a systematic desire to control and define womanhood.
In you, I see a systematic desire to control and define womanhood.

My truth and your truth are both derived from a fierce feminism, but somehow remain diametrically opposed.  Why is it that we disagree so much over the meaning of my body, over the meaning of your lived experience, over the existence of feminist events that exclude trans women?

I would tell you that my subconscious sex, the mental matrix that somehow marks the flesh I expect to see and feel when I behold myself, maps snugly onto the body I have inhabited since undergoing hormone therapy and genital reconstruction. I would tell you that for the last six years I have been happy and at ease with myself in a way I could never have been before.

I would tell you that yes, I agree that gender is a social construct which ascribes hegemonic power to the masculine. I would tell you that I, like you, am forced to negotiate a society where we cannot simply reject gender because we are constantly gendered by others. The body I inhabit, the things I enjoy, the manner in which I communicate, the clothes I prefer to wear all fit better into the artificial category of “woman” than the artificial category of “man”.

I would tell you that I too am subject to sexism and misogyny in many of their vile forms. My transness does not spare me. I would further tell you that I have experienced worse for being trans than for being a woman, although such unpleasant experiences have been limited by the privileges that come with my class background and the colour of my skin.

I would tell you that I believe in the importance of women’s spaces. I would argue that no group of women should be rejected from such a space.

I would tell you that I am a woman because I identify as a woman and because I move through the world as a woman. That I reject outdated ideals of “appropriate” female behaviour. That I rage against sexism and misogyny, and fight alongside my sisters for equality, for liberation, for choice.

I would tell you that this is my truth, and that there is no universal trans truth. I would ask you to acknowledge the diversity and complexity of trans truths.

And you would tell me your truth. You would tell me of the pain that comes from growing up as a girl and then living as a woman in a patriarchal world. You would tell me that I can never know what this is like, that I will always be male, that my chromosomes and life experience cannot be erased. You would tell me that you have a right to organise without me. That I should just leave you alone.

And our argument could roll on for a long time. I might draw upon the wisdom of black feminist thinkers to argue that there is no universal experience of womanhood. And you might respond that I, nevertheless, will always have with me the privileges that come with being raised as a boy. And I would say yes, I accept that, but seek to acknowledge and check this in the same way I seek to acknowledge and check my other privileges, and moreover this intersects complexly with the oppression I experienced growing up as a trans girl, learning to hate myself and unable to access hegemonic forms of masculinity.

Where does this leave us?

At the end of the day, we have to draw a line in the sand. So you read and write and share your critiques of my existence, and attend your conferences from which I am explicitly excluded. But I necessarily object to writings and events that actively oppose or undermine my liberation: articles that turn me into a joke or demean my struggle for survival, activists who out vulnerable children, keynote speakers who say that we are all rapists and call for the abolition of gender clinics.

I am left with no choice but to actively oppose the public manifestation of opinions that will do harm to myself, to my friends, to my trans sisters, to my trans brothers, to my queer and/or non-gender-specific trans siblings.

I oppose you not because I hate you, and certainly not because I oppose feminism. I oppose you because you would cause me harm.

And in doing so, you believe that I cause you harm.

And so the dance goes on.

Ruth’s piece is adapted from her 2012 blog post, which you can read here.

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#GenderWeek: Non-binary gender makes me free, not a traitor

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Ideas of genders outside of the strict female/male binary are enjoying unprecedented levels of attention at the moment – in mainstream media outlets, feminist websites, LGBT and student campaigns, popularised and disseminated through social media platforms Twitter and Tumblr. Genderqueer, agender, neutrois, bigender, gender-fluid, androgynous – a wash of varied and various nomenclature that some group under the label ‘non-binary’.

I’ve been out as transgender and androgynous/genderqueer for half my life, and an ardent feminist since before I knew that there was a word for it. I have yet to meet a person with a ‘non-standard’ gender who isn’t a feminist and/or womanist. Trans feminist pioneer Leslie Feinberg is cited by many of my peers as an inspiration, and many of us found hope for a world that included us in the works of Judith Butler, Jack Halberstram and Del la Grace Volcano.

But, for a certain subset of feminists, an acceptance and celebration of gender variance is counted as antithetical to the core values of feminism itself. As someone who was assigned a ‘girl’ at birth there are some who have called me a traitor for my refusal to call myself female; who argue that people not comfortable with designating themselves women or men (or solely women or men) are upholding sexist stereotypes. That, even if we had a valid point in terms our personal lives, we’re taking up vital space, time and attention that should be spent on the ‘real’ issues. That we should stop being divisive.

I can see, in an oppositional, binary-entrenched way, the way I must seem to them. But I can’t condone it. For me, being genderqueer and being feminist are wound around each other in a way that I couldn’t untangle, even if I wanted to. And I think that that symbiotic relationship can only serve to help feminism as a whole, if we let it.

1. Gender plurality frees us from an immutable, ahistorical idea of gender

One of the main stumbling blocks I’ve found to spreading an awareness of the possibility of freedom from a patriarchal system is the widespread sophistry that “it’s just the way it is”. “Boys will be boys”, “it’s always been this way”. But an examination of the history of the gendered categories we use, an awareness of new terms springing into existence, an acknowledgement of cultural differences in how we classify women, men, both and neither, shows us that change is possible. That change has always been possible. That there’s nothing new under the sun when it comes to human diversity – but that we’re always inventing new ways of seeing, new ways of understanding our cultures.

‘Gender’ is such a nebulous concept –  a word to describe individual variation, a hierarchical system of punishment and reward, a way to name the self to the self. The more we can recognise just how vast and changeable that concept is, the more we can explode the limitations patriarchy places on us.  

2. If some of us are non-binary, we are all non-binary

There’s a reason why I hesitate to use the term ‘non-binary’ to describe only those who are not men and women – because if the binary cannot include us all, then it cannot include us all. It is never to say that everyone should call themselves genderqueer or agender – but it is to say that each person’s individual experience of what makes them a man, or a woman, or something else, is valid. What a person’s body and life means to them must be approached as real – we can’t attempt to apply a standard meaning to unique and dynamic experiences. We seek commonality – but only through an acceptance of diversity, not an erasing of it. 

3. We can catalogue the full extent of misogynistic oppression and abuse

Patriarchy, overwhelmingly, hurts women the most – but misogyny harms nearly everyone. Naming the problem is the first step to solving it – and we cannot solve the problem of patriarchy, or kyriarchy, without acknowledging the extent of its damage. The idea of a binary gender system has been used to punish, to brutalise, to silence; naming its crimes and attempting to heal the destruction caused helps us to move forward in a better way, towards a better system of understanding. 

4. Self-determinism + dismantling of oppressive systems = feminism in action

When asked to define feminism, some feminists say “it’s about choice”. I agree, but think the sentence needs finishing. “Feminism is about choice – and the creation of a society that allows all compassionate choices”. To come out as a non-standard gender is not just to celebrate self-determinism, but to strike a blow at a patriarchy that denies us freedom and justice, along gendered lines. It might be a personal blow – it might, through activism, through visibility, be a blow on a wider scale.

The question is not “should feminism allow gender plurality?” – we are already here, deeply embedded in the feminist movement, and have been for a long time. Better, I think, is the question is: “where can we go from here – as women, men and everybody else – and how can we use what we’ve learnt as individuals for the benefit of us all?”

CN Lester is a musician, writer and activist, whose second full length alternative album Aether is out now. Follow @cnlester

Photo: Social Vella

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‪#‎GenderWeek: Andrea was not transphobic

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

One passage in Woman Hating changed my life forever:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I miss our communion terribly.


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

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

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

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#GenderWeek: The delusion of choice

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Like Charlotte I get irritable when I hear about feminism and freedom and choice, although not for exactly the same reasons. No, I don’t wear stilettos firstly because – quite apart from the fact that they’d hurt my feet and give me painful bunions, just like my mother had – I instantly fall over. Even if I could stay upright, as Charlotte suggests, I’d feel a tad silly wearing my feminist badges while wobbling about in them.

I’m a little more devious, and feminism did encourage me to be somewhat more rebellious in how to dress. I didn’t burn it, but I’ve never worn a bra, even if I know I’ve always chosen to add just a little height to my five foot four inches (platforms will do that nicely) and have routinely worn just a little make-up, trying to look quite as ‘sexy’ and attractive as I can manage  – although not just to please men.

But I don’t feel too strongly about couture – haute, bass, or even crass – and I suspect that once-upon-a-time we women’s liberationists were rather excluding of some more timid souls in imposing a certain type of dress code. Flowered smocks and dungarees were for a long time the favourite attire: forget high-heels, a woman arriving at a feminist meeting in skirt and twin-set might find it hard to relax and fit in.

The issue of ‘choice’ annoys me because most of us, and many women in particular, have so very little of it – and indeed, less all the time. Last year I was asked to discuss ‘the tyranny of choice’, on the supposition that nowadays we suffer from having too much it. Can you believe it? Now that really is infuriating. On every important issue: where to live; what jobs are available; the length of the working day, if we have jobs; how to avoid being the objects of sexist abuse or violence; having the time and resources to choose to have a child, should we wish to; being able to care for our loved ones, when they are young, old, or for any slew of reasons, are in need of care – all these are choices that are so very hard, almost impossible, for the majority of women to make in ways we would like to.

All this is a feminist issue. The very mention of ‘free-choice’ feminism by the likes of Louise Mensch and other ‘Tory feminists’ (who believe that women hold themselves back from the top jobs) is for the most part absurd. Top jobs? Young women coming out of university are very lucky if they can get any job at all. If in work, the precarious nature of most jobs today and the ever-stretching working day, leave almost no time for attending to all the work of caring, loving and building communities we want to live or raise children in.

I am similarly irritated by accusations of feminism’s complicity with neoliberalism, made by certain older feminists such as Nancy Fraser, because of our supposed embrace of ‘choice’. Yes, we did want the right to reproductive choice, and all sorts of other resources for creating more egalitarian and nurturing environments for all. But despite all our campaigning – some of it successful – what we have ended up with, by and large, is the opposite.

Most women, much of the time, have no choice at all over all the important issues in their life; which of course has little to do with either make-up or foot-wear. This lack of choice, especially for women caring for children or other dependents, has left many women much more vulnerable to domestic violence. And, with women still largely doing the caring jobs in society, whether paid or unpaid, it is women above all who are hardest hit by the austerity policies of recent years. A recent Labour Party document on older women reported that unemployment amongst older women has increased by 41 per cent in the last two and a half years, compared with one per cent overall.

The majority of women have much too little choice about how to live our lives. The fetishisation of choice is all about equating the private and privatised with ‘freedom and choice’; the public, the collective, the community, the nationalised, with ‘constraint and imposition’. Yet it is precisely in the private arena, and above all because of the rolling back of welfare and the spending of resources in the public sector, that women today actually have so little choice.

Feminists worth their salt have always known this, yet it is quite extraordinary how successful Thatcher, and all those trailing her legacy, have been in selling people delusion of ‘choice’. Let’s go back to basics. Over two centuries ago, one of our greatest foremothers, Mary Wollstonecraft in a A Vindication of the Rights of Women, knew then that was that it was no good merely talking about rights or freedom of choice. As a woman, she knew that what we need to talk about was not just rights, or choice, but equality, insisting that “the more equality there is established” among us, “the more virtue and happiness will reign in society”.

Choice is an irritating concept without that feminist imagination that tells us more about the societies we want to live in and how best to head towards them. With this government in command, we seem to moving further away from the possibilities for true virtue or happiness every day.

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

Photo source.

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#GenderWeek: Male violence goes beyond domestic violence

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I didn’t plan to start keeping a list of dead women, but in January 2012 seven women were killed in the first three days of the year. Three were shot, two were strangled, one was stabbed and one was killed though 15 blunt force trauma injuries. Michael Atherton, 42 shot dead his partner Susan McGoldrick, her sister Alison Turnbull and her sister’s daughter Tanya Turnbull before shooting himself.  He also shot Susan McGoldrick’s daughter who escaped. Atherton  was licensed to own guns despite a known history of domestic violence.

Atherton’s murders made the national news, as did that of 20 year-old Kirsty Treloar who  was abducted and stabbed to death the following day. Reading online I noticed that at least one of the seven killings was referred to as an “isolated incident” and was incensed that connections weren’t been made between the murders of women. I started keeping a record of the women killed through domestic violence.

In March, Ahmad Otak stabbed and killed Samantha Sykes and Kimberley Frank. Otak was in a relationship with Kimberley’s sister, these weren’t domestic violence murders. Samantha and Kimberley would not be included in the two women a week in England and Wales killed by a partner or former partner. Yet Otak had murdered them to exert his power over Eliza Frank, to scare and control her.

Only days before, the headless and limbless body of Gemma McKluskie was found in a canal, her head was not found until six-months later. Her brother had killed her; he had not only killed her, but chopped her up and tried to hide bits of her body in different places. That wasn’t sibling rivalry, it was hatred. Gemma was another dead woman whose murder didn’t count in the statistics.

Keeping note of things that don’t fit the pattern, sometimes reveals other patterns. By the end of 2012, I’d recorded six older women aged between 75 and 88 who were killed by much younger men: aged between 15 and 43. Delia Hughes was 85 when she was murdered by 25 year-old Jamie Boult. When Boult was sentenced, Delia’s daughter, Beryl said: “I’ve never seen a dead body before. Seeing my mum her head battered, covered in blood, black and blue with bruises, sitting in a pool of blood, blood splattered on the walls, this is a sight that will stay with me for the rest of my life.”

Similarly, Jean Farrar, 77, was kicked and stamped on by Daniel Barnett, 20, until she was virtually unrecognisable. Her son Jamie was absolutely right when he said: “Daniel Barnett did not need to enter my mother’s house that night. He chose to. Upon finding my mum at home, he easily could have left. Instead he chose to beat her and throw her against the wall. And when she screamed in pain, he chose to kick her, stamp on her, and jump on her head until she was unable to scream anymore.” Like Gemma McKluskie, the murders of Delia Hughes and Jean Farrar were brutal; these women were not just killed. The men who killed them made choices to inflict horrific ugly violence.

I’ve now recorded 120 women killed through men’s violence in 2012; 33 of them were killed by men who were not a partner or former partner but robbers, muggers, rapists, friends and co-workers, strangers. 16 of them were killed by their sons. When a woman is murdered, who killed her and how, or what the relationship between victim and killer was, are not always made public until after the trial of the killer, so my records for 2013 aren’t yet complete. But I know that of 140 women killed through alleged or suspected male violence in 2013, 31 were not killed by a partner or former partner. 260 women dead in two years, at least 64 of them – that’s almost a quarter – not killed by a partner or former partner.

Will we ever be able to say that patriarchy – sexism, misogyny and socially constructed gender – did not influence the deaths of those 64 women? I don’t think so, and that’s why I think we need to look at women killed by men, not just women killed though domestic violence.

Karen Ingala Smith is the Chief Executive of nia, a charity supporting women and children who have experienced sexual and domestic violence. She blogs at kareningalasmith.com and tweets @K_IngalaSmith and @countdeadwomen. Sign her petition at: http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/stop-ignoring-dead-women.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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: Biological sex is not binary

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Biological sex is often assumed to be binary, but it is not. Among animals there are a range of species that change sex on a regular basis, for example shrimps that hatch as males and turn female at a certain body size, and some fish that change sex depending on social circumstances. Sex is not always decided when an egg and a sperm fuse – as in crocodiles and most turtles, whose eggs are unsexed at first and it is the temperature during incubation that leads to the development of a certain sex. There is even a lizard species in which both sex chromosomes and temperature simultaneously influence which sex develops.

Neither is there a strict dichotomy between human male and female bodies. Having XX chromosomes does not always mean having a female body and having XY chromosomes does not always mean having a male body; sometimes an individual with XY chromosomes is insensitive to the influence of testosterone, resulting in a female body. There are also other combinations of sex chromosomes, such as X0, XXX, XXY, XXYY, XXXY, XXXXY and XYY, and exposure of external hormones as a fetus may also influence sexual characteristics.

There is a range of variation in anatomical and reproductive characteristics – chromosomes, ovaries/testes, genitals, bodily appearance – that do not fit typical definitions of male or female. That is the definition of intersex (in medical terms, Disorders of Sexual Development). Some intersex organisations reject the term DSD because it is not necessarily a disorder, but simply part of the variability of human bodies. This variability means that sex is much more complicated than the commonly assumed binary; there simply is no true boundary between female and male bodies, we are all part of a continuum or a mosaic of sexual characteristics.

How would it influence your identify if you realized tomorrow that your biological sex – your sex chromosomes, your ovaries/testes, your hormone levels, or your body – are not what you were brought up to think they were? Would that change your whole perception of your identity, your behaviour, appearance and relations – or would it not matter at all?

What is the connection between biological sex and gender identity? This is a contested area of research for psychologists, sexologists and medical scientists, and intersex individuals have often been the means by which to test and prove various theories. Psychologist John Money, who became very influential for the treatment of intersex children from the 1950s and onward, considered gender identity to be only dependent on the social circumstances and that there was no innate basis for it. Successful treatment would lead the child to psychologically developing into an unambiguous gender, and as part of this it was essential that both the parents and the child believed that the child had a true sex that only needed medical intervention to get it right.

The assumption of the all over-shadowing social influence, however, has not been without critics. This is especially true following Money’s showcase example of John/Joan, a boy who accidently lost his penis and was brought up as a girl, who turned out to reject his assigned sex, transition to male and later take his own life. In 1965, Milton Diamond suggested a competing hypothesis, namely that the influence of hormones provides a predisposition for gender identity and behavior that sets limits to the social influences. Later, evidence accumulated of intersex individuals rejecting their medical sex assignment and, as more and more intersex individuals give their stories and interpretations, the still controversial debate has become more nuanced. Yet intersex children are still regularly treated to conform to current binary gender norms, despite there being no medical reason to do so in most cases.

The idea that prenatal hormone levels determine gender and sexual identity in turn has become the dominant theoretical framework within the neurosciences, but brain scientist Rebecca Jordan-Young has criticised this research tradition on the basis of questionable assumptions, methodological inconsistencies and overly grand conclusions given the conflicting results. She suggests that brain scientists are too focused on nailing down sex differences and would be better off studying the dynamic processes of the interaction between environment and internal factors.

Hence there are both cultural and biological deterministic essentialist positions when it comes to sex and gender. The biological sciences have a high status among the general public and what is considered biological or ”natural” has a material affect on people’s lives. Several gender researchers have problematised the distinctions between gender/sex and nature/culture, notably Judith Butler, saying that conceptions about biological sex are already culturally influenced. In the structure which Butler calls the heterosexual matrix, norms about sex/gender are inextricably intertwined with norms of sexuality: the only positions available are male or female.

The process of sexing bodies, which makes them conform to a sex binary, is already regulated by culture because it does not allow for ambiguity. This sexual binary, unquestioned and assumed to be natural, becomes the basis for constructing gender as a natural binary, and the naturalisation of a gender binary leads to oppression of those who do not conform to it. Questioning both binaries of biological sex and gender gives room for more variable concepts of both sex and gender.

I think that these variations in biological sex and the lived experiences of intersex individuals unsettle many taken-for-granted assumptions about gender. Irrespective of different feminists’ views on transgender identities (personally, I respect each person’s gender identity), gender is clearly not a direct effect of biological sex, and there is not a perfect overlap between biological sex and gender identity. These findings problematise both biologically essentialist notions about sex and the culturally essentialist notion of gender identity as a purely social construction. So, what are the consequences for liberal vs radical feminists’ debates about gender?

Malin Ah-King is an evolutionary biologist and gender researcher at Humboldt University Berlin, Germany.

Suggested readings: Anne Fausto-Sterling Sexing the body 2000, multiple works by Alice Domurat Dreger.

Intersex organizations: www.oiiinternational.com/intersex-organizations/

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#GenderWeek: Survey – What is gender?

Click here to read all #GenderWeek articles.

What is gender? What does it mean to be a man or a woman? Male or female? Trans or non-binary? It’s a subject that divides feminists, and we want to know where you stand. Are the liberal and radical definitions of gender diametrically opposed? What do they have in common, where do they differ, and is it possible to believe bits of both?

Below is a simple outline of both definitions, which are discussed in more detail (from a radical feminist perspective) in this article by Trouble and Strife.

We’re also keen to know where Feminist Times members and readers stand. Please click here to fill in our #GenderWeek survey. We’ll publish the results at the end of this week.


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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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Radical Agony Aunts: “I don’t respect my passive boyfriend”

Dear Radical Agony Aunts,

My dilemma is that I am a total hypocrite when it comes to what I seemingly want from a partner. I find men who match certain gendered roles set aside for men attractive; I find physically brawny men attractive, men who are good at DIY, who can find their way about, who are smart, confident, competent and will debate etc.

I have a very lovely and sweet and feminist boyfriend (who is also gorgeous), yet I sometimes don’t respect him because he can be quite passive and doesn’t really participate in debates, so sometimes I wonder if he is smart enough for me. I can be quite dismissive of him and can accuse him of being a bit useless. He isn’t physically muscley and doesn’t do DIY and is crap at reading maps, doesn’t make decisions quickly, so I feel I have to take control ALL of the time and sometimes that is tiresome. I am a strong personality and I am definitely the dominant partner in the relationship and it saddens and worries me that I don’t respect him because of this.

I should be happy that he doesn’t expect me to do the cooking, shopping and cleaning, or expect that it should automatically be him that drives etc. I would be maddened by an alpha male who expected me to follow gender roles assigned to me as a woman – the nurturing little wifey etc. so as much as I know I am being totally hypocritical I can’t help it. How can I stop being a hypocrite and also stop being a bit of a bully to him? Why do I have this internal need for him to be smarter than me for me to respect him?

Personal agony aunt

Personal agony aunt

The Personal’s response:

Dear Strong Personality,

So let me get this straight: you don’t respect your boyfriend, you feel he isn’t smart enough for you, you tell him he’s useless, you’re dismissive of him and you are more attracted to his complete opposite in terms of personality and physical type. Believe me, these are not words I say very often – but poor man!

But you know you’re treating him badly; that’s why you’ve written to us. Of course relationships have their ups and downs, and things may get better between you. But when you stop respecting someone, as you say you have, it’s a big deal. If you look at your partner and find your lip curling instead of your heart swelling, is there a way forward? I can’t tell from your letter whether your boyfriend has changed or whether he was never your type. Either way, are DIY and map reading really so important to you? Or are you (and I apologise for the phrase) just not that into him and looking for any reason why he’s not right for you? I think you need to consider whether the two of you have a future.

Like you, I’ve been out with men who looked good on paper – right-on types who wouldn’t hurt a fly, nice to their mums, good listeners, eager to please. In principle, my ideal men. In theory, a perfect match. In practice, kinda boring. We agreed on everything – but how was I going to develop my own thinking and my own view of the world without anyone challenging my opinions? Being with a good listener is great, but if we can’t learn from each other it’s bound to feel sterile. It’s a hard lesson that no amount of “looks good on paper” or 90% match from a computer algorithm is a guarantee that there will be a spark.

You give a pretty detailed description of the kind of man you find attractive, so I’m wondering if you’ve already met someone else who fits your ideal profile. You ask if it’s possible to hold feminist views and still be attracted to alpha male types. My very definite answer is: well, that all depends. If someone is an alpha sexually and that’s what you’re after, then of course – we are excited by what excites us, politics or no politics. The same goes for decisive personalities.

However if  someone’s view of alpha is insisting we play traditional female roles in everyday life, regardless of our own needs and desires, then we have to accept that they are a hindrance to us leading a feminist life and make our choices accordingly. That may be something you have to negotiate in a future partnership.

You use the word hypocrite three times in your letter and it’s a harsh word to use about yourself. I wouldn’t call you a hypocrite. But it is heartless to keep your boyfriend around when you seem to despise him, and it’s doing you no good either. If you really can’t respect who he is, then you need to take action. It’s nice when someone else takes responsibility for decisions, but sometimes you’ve just got to Do It Yourself.

Personal agony aunt

Political agony aunt

Dear Strong Personality,

Your question comes from the heart, and the sincerity in the expression of a deeply felt quandary is irrefutable. But when you ask how you can stop being a “hypocrite,” you introduce a term that is deeply unsuitable to the complexities of human relationships, especially sexual and romantic ones. Posed in such terms, the answer is simple: either change your desire or change your boyfriend.

The framing of your question, however, makes it difficult for the first to happen anytime soon. You talk about your desires as if they exist independently of you – as if such desires and tendencies had been offloaded onto your person, and could not be removed from you without some fundamental loss of personality. But to think about desires in such terms is to abstract them from the real situations and relations in which they develop and are expressed.

Even your self is presented here as if it were another person, fully formed and implacable. “I”, in your letter, operates almost in the third person. The same goes for the qualities that you attribute to your partner. You wonder if he “is” smart enough for you. But intelligence, so conceived, is an abstraction; and so is the lack of it. Intelligence arises in situations, and situations either release or stultify it. If desire could be so easily satisfied by items on a checklist (brawny, good at DIY, smart, confident, competent, good debater, etc.) then you ought to have no trouble upgrading. But we are not consumers when it comes to romance and love; desire is not so satisfiable.

You may not be attracted to your boyfriend. However, I don’t think this is due to his inability to read a map, or his lack of muscles. The negative checklist (passivity, lack of debating skills, indecisiveness) is as implausible as the positive one.

What would happen if you reconceptualise your boyfriend’s passivity as a form of agency, one that has developed over many years, and that has led him to his current situation of being partnered with a “strong” personality? Could you try to understand his map-reading incompetence, similarly, as a capacity – a decision taken early in life, in a specific situation, to organise the mind around one set of coordinates (for example, temporal ones) rather than another (spatial)? What happens if you approach his refusal to debate as motivated by intelligence rather than its absence?

Email your questions and dilemmas to agony@feministtimes.com

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Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China

Leftover WomenLeta Hong Fincher is the author of ‘Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China’, published by Zed Books. She gave Deputy Editor Sarah Graham an in-depth interview on the state of Chinese gender politics.

During the Mao era gender equality was seen as an important revolutionary goal – Mao famously said “women hold up half the sky” – to what extent was that aim achieved, both legally and in terms of attitudes?

In the early period, following the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, the Communist Party publicly celebrated gender equality and sought to harness women’s labour in boosting the nation’s industrial production, so it introduced many initiatives such as assigning urban women jobs in the planned economy. Women’s labour had traditionally been agricultural, but under Mao women were told they could do anything that a man could do and were recruited into formerly male-dominated work. The Communist Party frames the 1950s as the age of “women’s liberation,” and for many women previously bound to the home, unable to participate in public work, it was.

One of my professors at Tsinghua University, Guo Yuhua, says that women were objects of mobilisation in China’s gigantic social engineering experiment in the 1950s, so their “liberation” was an important symbol of the success of the prole­tarian revolution in the Communist Party’s rendering of history. But the state-imposed equal employment of women and men failed to transform underlying gender relations. Behind the public celebration of gender equality in the Communist workplace, women continued to shoulder the heavy burdens of childcare, housework and cooking at home. Rural women in particular suffered tremendously.

A year or so ago I read Xue Xinran’s book The Good Women of China, which is largely based on interviews conducted during the 1980s (i.e. post-Mao) and addresses issues like suppression of homosexuality, rape, forced marriage, and abuse carried out by government figures. In what ways has China today progressed and/or regressed since then?

It’s a very complicated picture but briefly, women’s rights abuses have occurred throughout Chinese history and since the Communist Revolution of 1949. Xinran’s book tells some very moving tales about the suffering of women. At the same time, the early Communist-era policy of mobilising women to take part in the workforce had the long-lasting, positive effect of very high female labour force participation compared to the rest of the world. At the end of the 1970s, over 90 percent of working-age women in the cities were employed, so this significantly raised their social and economic status relative to men.

But since the onset of market reforms in the 1980s, the state has retreated from its previous role in mandating gender equality in the workplace. Women’s employment rates started to drop significantly in the 1990s, and today urban women’s employment rates have fallen to new lows, while the gender income gap has also increased sharply. Combine that with the unprecedented gender wealth gap caused by China’s real estate boom, deeply entrenched patriarchal norms, and the new state media campaign against “leftover” women, and gender inequality has come roaring back.

The name of your book refers to those “leftover women” – the notion that unmarried, educated women over the age of 27 are “leftover”. Compared to women in the west (as in You’re such a nice girl, why aren’t you married?) how strongly is that pressure and stigma felt by women in China?

Women around the world face all kinds of gender discrimination, so Chinese women are certainly not alone. I have received mes­sages through my Twitter account from women in India, Pakistan, Russia, Turkey, Singapore, Nigeria, Kenya, the Philippines and other countries telling me that they also face intense pres­sure to marry.

The difference in China is that gender-discriminatory norms are exacerbated by a one-party state intent on social engineering, with a massive propaganda apparatus that maintains a tight grip on information. So when the state media mobilise to push the message that women in their late 20s are “leftover”, like rotten food, and those messages are repeated ad nauseum ever since 2007, even university-educated, young women may internalize that ideology because they don’t have enough access to alternative sources of information.

The “leftover” women media campaign is also aimed at the parents and other older relatives of young women, so even if the young woman rejects the sexist media messages, she still comes under intense pressure from her parents and others to get married. Arranged marriages are supposed to be a thing of the past, but I see quite a lot of young women rushing into marriage with a man pushed on them by their relatives, just because they are afraid of winding up “leftover” in their late 20s or early 30s.

One of the biggest regressions you’ve mentioned in your writing on the subject is the amendment to marriage laws, which dramatically reduce women’s property rights. What have been the biggest practical knock-on effects you’ve seen for women?

China’s privatisation of housing since 1998 has resulted in an unprecedented and fast accumulation of residential real-estate wealth, but this wealth is out of reach for women whose families are unwilling to help them make the down payment on an urban home. I argue that Chinese women have been largely shut out of the biggest accumulation of residential property wealth in history, worth around US$30 trillion in 2013, since parents tend to buy homes for sons but not daughters; most homes are registered in men’s names; and many women transfer their life savings to their boyfriend or husband to finance the purchase of the home, but then forfeit ownership of this valuable asset by leaving their names off the property deed.

The 2011 new judicial interpretation of China’s Marriage Law was a severe setback for women’s legal property rights because it essentially says that if you don’t have your name on the property deed, and you can’t prove your financial contribution to the home’s purchase, you don’t get to keep the home in the event of a divorce. I didn’t focus on why the Supreme People’s Court made this change in the law, but the amendment has been extremely controversial.

Many of the married women I interviewed were dismayed by the legal change because their names were not on the marital home deed. And I found that time and time again, young women in their 20s might first insist that their name is registered on the deed before they agree to marry, but in the end, they tend to back down and give in to an unequal financial arrangement because they are afraid they might become a “leftover” woman, who will never be able to find a husband. Not all women are like this, of course, but social and regulatory forces work overwhelmingly against women’s interests.

You also mention that women have “almost no recourse” if their husband abuses them – what is the legal status of domestic violence, and how does the system work in practice?

Official statistics state that one-quarter of China’s women have experienced domestic violence, though activists say the real figure is much higher. But the biggest problem is that it is exceedingly difficult for a woman to gain protection from a violent partner. The government has stalled on enacting targeted legislation to curb domestic violence, despite years of lobbying by feminist NGOs.

Since China doesn’t have a specific law on domestic violence, feminist activists say that judges routinely refer to intimate partner violence as “family conflict” instead. My book gives some chilling examples of how women suffered horrifying abuse at the hands of their husbands and made multiple police reports and went to the hospital to document their injuries, but still received no protection from the police or the courts. There is now talk that a domestic violence law may finally be passed, but so far it hasn’t happened.

What role has the one-child policy played in cultural attitudes towards women’s position? 

Some scholars argue that the one-child policy has empowered urban women because they don’t have to compete with brothers for parental investment in education. And it’s true that urban women today are arguably the most highly educated in Chinese history. But the one-child policy also exacerbated sex-selective abortions because of the strong cultural preference for boys, so that China now has a severe sex ratio imbalance.

The National Bureau of Statistics says there are now about 20 million more men under 30 than women under 30, and the State Council calls the surplus population of men a “threat to social stability.” State media reports say these unmarried men are more likely to disturb the social order by “rioting, steal­ing and gang fighting.” So restless, single men are seen as a threat to the foundation of Chinese society. And single women threaten the moral fabric as well, for being free agents, and unnatural in failing to perform their duty to marry and give birth to a child.

What is the position of lesbian and bisexual women in Chinese society? 

The Chinese govern­ment took homosexuality off its list of “mental diseases” in 2001 and, since then, the Chinese public’s acceptance of lesbian and bisexual women and the entire LGBTQ community has increased. The Internet and social media like Weibo have helped to build an expanded online network of support for the LGBTQ community in recent years.

Still, LGBTQ websites are often targeted by the police in “anti-pornography” media crackdowns. LGBTQ films are banned from being shown in public and must be screened quietly in non-public spaces. Lesbian activists have formed support groups, but they complain that they are marginalised by mainstream women’s rights NGOs, and have a lot of trouble getting legally registered.

You’ve mentioned the role of the (state-run) Women’s Federation in the campaign to pressure women into marriage – do you believe the Women’s Federation really serves Chinese women’s interests?

There are a lot of genuinely committed feminists working within the Women’s Federation who have done important research on women and who work to protect women’s interests. But the organisation itself is in many ways just like other agencies controlled by the Communist Party. So, for example, the Women’s Federation has played a major role in organising mass matchmaking fairs targeting educated women, which only further intensifies the marriage pressure.

What work are independent feminist activists and organisations doing to push back against the regression of women’s rights? 

Some registered women’s rights NGOs, such as the Anti-Domestic Violence Network in Beijing, do effective work to raise awareness about China’s epidemic of intimate partner violence, and they are eligible for funding from international donor groups. But by and large grassroots feminist activists in China are extremely cash-strapped and often harassed by the police. It is very difficult for them to register as legal organisations, so it is hard for them to get funding from outside sources and their ability to organise is severely constrained by the state’s security apparatus.

My last chapter profiles some extremely courageous feminist activists fighting against the widespread gender discrimination in Chinese society against tremendous odds. It’s not easy for readers outside China to support these activists, but there are some international groups that manage to fund meaningful women’s rights activities.

Leta Hong Fincher is an award-winning former journalist who has been published in a number of magazines and newspapers, including the New York Times. She is completing her Ph.D. in Sociology at Tsinghua University. Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China was published this month by Zed Books, as part of their ‘Asian Arguments’ series.

Leta Hong Fincher will be appearing at two Zed Books events taking place on Thursday 17 April, with a book signing at 1pm at the Arthur Probsthain bookshop and the Leftover Women book launch from 7pm at the Royal Asiatic Society lecture hall. See Zed Books for more details.

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Be a girl with a mind, be treated like a dog on its hind legs

Last week, 158 writers were whittled down to six finalists and Donna Tartt was heralded as the bookies’ favourite to win the 2014 Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize for Fiction).

Bailey’s – a brand of liqueur whose recent advertising slogan encouraged drinkers to “be a girl with a mind, a woman with attitude and a lady with class” – now in association with a prize designed to eradicate such patronising stereotypes.

This latest twist only raises a popular question once more: can gender-segregated prizes for women truly tackle the issue of sexism within publishing?

In 1996 feathers were ruffled. In a column for The Independent philosopher Alain de Botton described the concept of a literary prize purely for women as “patronage of the worst kind”. “What is it,” he asked, “about being a woman that is particularly under threat, in need of attention, or indeed distinctive from being a man, when it comes to picking up a pen?”

In one respect, de Botton was right and still is: a women’s prize for literature is the worst kind of patronage. It assumes that there is an un-level playing field for men and women within publishing. It assumes, it accepts, and then it packs up its things and decamps to a smaller playing field down the road with a handful of Baileys goodie bags and a sign out front marked: Women Only. Two decades later, is this progress?

Last year Lady Antonia Fraser said, in response to an all-woman Costa shortlist – the first in the prize’s history – that: “one thing it proves is that we don’t need a women’s prize. The only reason for having a prize for one sex was that women weren’t getting fair treatment. That was the case when the Orange prize started.”

In so far as both of these quotes go, both Alain and Antonia got it both right and wrong in equal measure. We don’t need a women’s prize. We need a gender-balanced industry that gives equal exposure to both sexes and makes every literary prize a fair one.

Fast forward to 2014 and women still aren’t getting this fair treatment. On the Waterstones bookshelves, yes, but in the literary supplements of the weekend papers they are still struggling to be seen and understood. Lady Fraser is right that women writers aren’t under threat of never being published, but they do struggle to be visible and considered intellectually credible alongside their male counterparts. This, despite the fact that more than 67% of books sold in the UK were bought by women in 2012.

Don’t believe me? Believe the facts. VIDA Count in the USA (founded in August 2009 to address the need for female writers of literature to engage in conversations regarding the critical reception of their writing) tallies the gender disparity in major literary publications and book reviews each year. The statistics make for grim reading. In 2013 the London Review of Books reviewed 245 male authors and 72 female ones, with bylines of 144 male and 42 female writers; The New Yorker magazine’s overall gender count was 555 male to 253 female; the Times Literary Supplement reviewed 907 male authors and 313 female, with bylines by 282 male and 88 female writers; and lastly The New York Review of Books reviewed 307 male authors and 80 female, with 117 male bylines to a woeful 32 female.

A recent admittance from Eleanor Catton, author of Man Booker Prize winning The Luminaries, in a Guardian interview from 2013, puts these statistics into context: “I have observed that male writers tend to get asked what they think and women what they feel,” she says. “In my experience, and that of a lot of other women writers, all of the questions coming at them from interviewers tend to be about how lucky they are to be where they are – about luck and identity and how the idea struck them. The interviews much more seldom engage with the woman as a serious thinker, a philosopher, as a person with preoccupations that are going to sustain them for their lifetime.”

AS Byatt took Catton’s words and transformed them into stark poetry in 2010 when she likened a critic’s perception of a woman writing intellectual literature as “like a dog standing on its hind legs“. “The Orange prize is a sexist prize,” she continued. “You couldn’t found a prize for male writers. The Orange prize assumes there is a feminine subject matter – which I don’t believe in.”

Much like AS Byatt, as a writer myself, I don’t believe that books should be gendered like a French noun. I also don’t believe that women writers should only compete with each other to garner acclaim in a world where John le Carré and Angela Carter sit side by side on the bookshelf. Writing isn’t a 100 metre sprint between Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce at the Olympics, so why should both be separated? A good book is a good book, regardless of gender. Reading is one of the few freedoms that should sidestep all that. Books are, were, and should always be an opportunity to escape the divisions, not define them. Surely we should be putting pressure on magazine editors to hire more female reviewers and review more female authors, not nurturing talent in a greenhouse.

Has Hilary Mantel’s recent success made us complacent? The twice Booker Prize-winning author is often placed like a plaster over the accusations of sexism in publishing; a simple antidote to Eleanor Catton’s complex observations. Mantel isn’t a one-trophy female-author, she’s amassed two Orange Prizes, two Man Bookers, two Costa Book Prizes and made it look effortless. Yet as far as the media is concerned, she’s a unicorn to be marvelled at.

More worryingly, back in 2013 a lecture by Mantel at the British Museum on the objectification of Royal women led Hilary herself to be objectified as a female writer, her looks cruelly dissected to demean her fierce intellect. In 2013, Orange Prize winning Zadie Smith hit out at the media’s “ridiculous” obsession with her looks, suggesting it implies a beautiful woman can’t be a literary great. Whether we like it or not, women writers are still being judged by their looks not just their words.

Moreover, at a time when female authors are still using initials and male pseudonyms to ‘liberate’ themselves, can we truly celebrate victory with an all-women prize? To quote Doris Lessing rather more eloquently: “With a library you are free, not confined by temporary political climates.”

If the temporary climate is unequal, we must change it, not permanently segregate: where is the freedom in that?

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.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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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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Feminism cannot compromise on the liberation of women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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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Men, know your place!

Mumsnet is sexist. At least, that seems to be the rationale behind the founding of Mumsanddadsnet, set up by Duncan Fisher and Jeszemma Garratt because parenting sites “exclude” dads – which conveniently ignores the fact that parenting sites already have male members and have done since the beginning.

The main problem with the idea that Mumsnet needs more men or that men are deliberately being excluded from parenting websites is that it fails to acknowledge the gendered reality of childrearing in the UK. It is women who do the majority of childcare, childrearing and family organisation, regardless of whether or not they work outside the home (a euphemistic phrase which implies that childcare and housework aren’t really work).

But marriage and childrearing is more than just a “second shift” for women. As Susan Maushart argues in her seminal text Wifework: What Marriage Really Means for Women, “becoming a wife will erode your mental health, reduce your leisure, decimate your libido, and increase the odds that you will be physically assaulted or murdered in your own home.”

Wifework isn’t just doing a couple of extra loads of laundry a week. Being a wife means taking on responsibility for the emotional and physical care of the needs of the husband at the expense of one’s own emotional and physical health.

Feminists have long since recognised the fact that marriage has a detrimental effect on women’s health and emotional wellbeing. Yet we are replicating the exact same structures within the feminist movement without recognising it. Feminism has stopped being about the liberation of women and has instead become about not alienating men.

We can’t simply talk about rape culture and strategize how to destroy it without every single statement requiring the caveat “we don’t mean all men”. We can’t hold conferences without including men. We can’t even hold Reclaim the Night marches without men demanding to be included, irrespective of the fact that the men who demand the right to attend rarely show up. Or that the inclusion of men means that many women don’t feel safe attending.

Excluding women from Reclaim the Night marches in order to include men is an anti-feminist position, but it is one that women are pushed into making because excluding men is somehow seen as unkind. Frankly, in the unkind sweepstakes, the reality of male sexual, physical and emotional violence against women and children is slightly worse than not being invited on a march. Liberating women from these structures should be the goal of feminism, not worrying about whether or nor men’s feelings are hurt.

We cannot fight for liberation if our physical and emotional time is spent placating men or worrying about their feelings. Our emotional health and our time are very precious resources that need to be allocated to other women. We need to allocate it to ourselves.

This is why I worry about feminist organisations like The Everyday Sexism Project praising men with their #everydayallies hashtag on twitter. We are praising them for behaving like human beings; not for doing anything to support women’s liberation or to end male violence, but for acting like human beings. This should be a basic requirement of humanity, not a cause for celebration.

This isn’t to say that men should not take responsibility for ending male violence against women and girls but that they need to take on this work themselves. More men need to become involved in the White Ribbon Campaign and supporting women’s liberation, rather than demanding to be included in work women are doing (and then trying to take credit just for rocking up).

Critiquing The Everyday Sexism Project for taking out a few hours from the brilliant work they do for women to thank men may seem churlish, but it is part of larger pattern of women caring for men’s feelings above their own. This is just another way women have to expand energy caring for men more than themselves.

Demanding inclusion of men, within the feminist movement and on parenting websites, also ignores the importance of women-only spaces. There is a tremendous amount of research, from Dale Spender to Margaret Atwood, into how men dominate public spaces and public communication. More recently, Ruth Lewis and Elizabeth Sharp’s research into the importance of women-only spaces, conducted following the North East Feminist Gathering in 2012 and published on Feminist Times, has documented numerous positive outcomes for women including a surge in confidence and reflexivity, as well as a safe place for debate and to challenge stereotypes.

The incursion of men into women-only spaces has a detrimental effect on women’s abilities to communicate and engage with one another safely. This should be something of concern to feminists rather than the feelings of men who feel excluded. Women-only spaces are important for women’s cognitive and emotional safety. We need to make sure that every single woman has this space.

This is why parenting sites like Mumsnet and Netmums are so popular. They are sites by women, for women, talking about every single issue that women are concerned about – from caring for a child to radical feminist politics to football. Men who demand to be part of these spaces aren’t engaging with the reality of women’s lives. They are demanding the right to speak over and for women. They are demanding the right to be the most important concern in the room. This is inherently anti-feminist.

Men who understand feminism don’t need our praise. They just get on with the work needed to undo the patriarchy. Feminism needs more men like this. We also need to reflect more on why feminism is starting to replicate the harmful gendered stereotypes on which the institution of marriage is based when it is feminism that recognised the harm in the first place.

Why has feminism become so concerned with ensuring men aren’t excluded rather than focusing on women’s exclusion from public life? Why are the feelings of a few men upset because a parenting website doesn’t include the word “dad”, when the reality is that women do the vast majority of parenting at the expense of our health?

Putting the needs of men, as a class, to feel included above the safety of women is an anti-feminist position. Feminism should be by women, for women, because women are important too – and our feelings of exclusion are grounded in reality.

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

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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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Not into trains: Gender bias & Asperger’s Syndrome

When I tell people that I have Asperger’s Syndrome, I get a variety of responses. Some of the less impressive ones have been: “But you look alright at the moment,” and “I know I’m not a doctor, but I don’t think you have got it.” These have been from people who should know better – people who are, by profession, linked to the world of autism spectrum conditions.

It is perhaps not surprising though, given that almost all of the research, literature and diagnostic criteria have evolved from a starting point in the 1940s when Hans Asperger first identified the condition through studying groups that consisted solely of young boys. He noticed these children were all high-functioning but had difficulties with social communication and displayed repetitive behaviours.

Most people will recognise the same stereotype that is still perpetuated by the media – The Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper or Coronation Street’s Roy Cropper.

My son was diagnosed last year at the age of seven, with his love of lining up toy trains and regurgitating strings of facts. But during the long assessment period I came to learn that one size doesn’t fit all. My son doesn’t mind eye contact, he has a great sense of humour and he is extremely loving and affectionate. It was when I stumbled across some information on women and girls on the autistic spectrum that it suddenly dawned on me: Asperger’s can look even more different, and I have it too.

Clinical psychologist Professor Tony Attwood writes: “Girls and women who have Asperger’s syndrome are different, not in terms of the core characteristics but in terms of their reaction to being different. They use specific coping and adjustment strategies to camouflage or mask their confusion in social situations or achieve superficial social success by imitation.”

Many women with Asperger’s appear to have no problems on the surface. These girls, perhaps helped along by a higher than average IQ, use intellect to work out how to interact rather than learning it intuitively.

The disadvantage of this is that none of it comes naturally. A conversation with a friend may be accompanied by an interior monologue: Am I making enough eye contact? Don’t forget to ask her something about herself. Keep nodding and laugh at the right times… It is in essence, an act, a conscious effort, which is literally exhausting.

Asperger’s was barely heard of when I was a child, but I can’t help but wonder what difference a diagnosis would have made to me back then. I was lucky I had a large group of girl-friends in high school that I could hide amongst. But when one of my two best friends left for a different college and I had a falling out with the other one, for reasons I never fully grasped until years later, I was left on the edge of a group that I was starting to feel more and more distanced from.

Everyone else was growing up emotionally and socially, but I found the unstructured setting of free periods in the common room to be something far too excruciating to bear. I couldn’t understand the reason for social chit-chat or see the point to a lot of the conversations. I didn’t know how to be part of that. I suffered a kind of breakdown. I was depressed and anxious and most days would either fall asleep in lessons or have to leave the classroom in floods of tears. Years went by of failing to make meaningful friendships, self-medicating, bulimia and eventually, suicidal thoughts.

Many women have similar stories to tell. It is essential girls understand why they feel different to everyone else – they are not defective and it is not their fault. It has only recently started coming to light just how many undiagnosed women and girls remain, and how many young girls are still slipping through the net, despite increased awareness of autism in schools and health and social care settings.

This is because many of the myths of Asperger’s are still circulated as fact. I have attended training sessions that put far too much emphasis on the outmoded theory that autism is a manifestation of the “extreme male brain“, a term first coined by Professor Simon Baron-Cohen.

I also often hear the phrase: “people with Asperger’s have no empathy.” This is not true for many men with the condition, and even less so for women. Many women with Asperger’s join professions such as nursing and teaching, and research now suggests that people with Asperger’s experience higher levels of concern for others when witnessing their distress than neurotypical people do.

Although the medical profession is making advances in its understanding of Asperger’s, it takes years for new knowledge to be disseminated and for mindsets to change. In the mean time, the best all of us can do is talk about women with Asperger’s as much as we can, and hope fewer little girls will have to face a future of mental ill health and unnecessary struggles.  

Michelle Parsons worked for five years for a charity that supports unpaid carers. She has two children with Asperger’s Syndrome; one is a little girl who is yet to receive a diagnosis. Michelle has a degree in Cultural Studies and Creative Writing and has just started blogging at aspergersanxietyadhd.wordpress.com 

Photo: Stephen Woods

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#LGBTMarryMe: Feminist Times & Fox Problem Debate

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

“Is same sex marriage just a distraction?”

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

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



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Feminist evangelism: Blurred Lines at The Shed

The first thing that struck me about Blurred Lines, the latest offering from young playwright Nick Payne, was what a joy it was to be sat at the heart of London’s cultural heartland watching a play entirely performed by women.

Directed by Carrie Cracknell, Blurred Lines features a cast of eight brilliant women of different ages and races, who open the performance by reeling off the reductive, gendered stereotypes women face every day – from dumb blonde to gangster, from wife to single mum.

Taking its name from Robin Thicke’s depressingly popular hit Blurred Lines, the play promises a “blistering journey through contemporary gender politics”, and that’s just what it delivers through the series of vignettes – some witty, some dramatic – that make up the play’s short and sweet 70 minutes, interspersed with music from the likes of Lady Gaga, The Beastie Boys and N.E.R.D, and poetry by actor Michaela Coel. Thicke, we are told, refused permission for his song to be performed.

Both Payne and Cracknell were inspired by Kat Banyard’s The Equality Illusion, and her influence is clear in much of the play’s language and message. The scenes skilfully balance sensitivity and humour as they race through sexual assault and rape, discrimination against mothers in the workplace, objectification and the sex industry – though the latter is seen only through the eyes of a married couple, where the husband is a punter attempting to justify his sexual “transactions” to his wife.

Visually, the play is striking; Bunny Christie’s luminous staircase of a set is like something off The X Factor and, by the end of the play, is littered with precariously high heels and blonde hair extensions – trappings of the performance of womanhood that is being played out before us.

Each character is herself an actor playing her part and navigating her way through the complexities of life under patriarchy – mother, employee, wife, girlfriend – singing ‘Don’t Liberate Me (Just Love Me)’ or The Crystals’ ‘He hit me (it felt like a kiss)’ into her microphone. All the while, each character is juggling her career with her family, or coming to terms with being raped by her boyfriend.

Blurred Lines closes with a sketch that slyly nods towards the National Theatre’s own problems with representing women; an arrogant male director, played by Marion Bailey, sits with his legs wide apart in a post-show discussion, arrogantly defending his play’s sexism and objectification while his lead actress sits by in near silence.

The fast pace of these scenes relentlessly drives home the insidious nature of seemingly isolated incidents of sexism, which affect all women in myriad ways. Though nothing shocked me – jaded feminist that I am – it serves as a powerful and accessible piece of evangelism for those who continue to insist that feminism has served its purpose and sexism is a thing of the past.

For all its energy and humour, Blurred Lines felt like a depressing reminder of how much is still to be done, but if it opens the eyes of one sceptic then it’s done its job, and if it results in more (fully-clothed) women dominating theatre stages next season, so much the better.

Blurred Lines is on at The Shed, National Theatre, until 22nd February.

Photo by Simon Kane, courtesy of the National Theatre

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VIDEO: The World After Men

Since when did it seem fair to pit two brilliant radical feminists against one lone young Tory MP? Watch what happened when the Institute of Art and Ideas did just that on the provocative topic of “The World After Men”…

Katie Derham invites former Osborne chief of staff Matthew Hancock, eminent American feminist Carol Gilligan and radical feminist Finn Mackay to dispute the merits of matriarchy.

Video courtesy of the Institute of Art and Ideas. Find out more at www.iai.tv or follow @iai_TV.

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What women really worry about 2014: The stats

“Be a Better You” – Red magazine.

“A New Year, a New You” – Get Slim magazine.

“How to Get July Skin in January” – Elle.

If an alien visited earth this month and read our women’s magazines, they’d be left with the impression that all women really want is to lose weight, unwrinkle their skin, look different, act different and buy new shoes.

They’d get the distinct impression that transformation is transactional and that happiness can be bought in the form of a night cream. ET would think that, for this planet’s women, a new year means a new you, and that little else matters. But the relentless magazine headlines about aesthetic New Year’s resolutions don’t reflect *all* of the things that women really want.

As part of the Lodestone Political Survey, prepared by Survation, we polled over 1,000 women about what they really worry about and what they really want. When asked ‘what is the thing that most worries you at the moment?’, only 2% of these women answered by saying “the way I look”, 2% said “not having enough me time”, and 1% said “not fitting in”.

In contrast the top five responses were:

“My children’s/grandchildren’s future”

“Not being able to afford to pay the bills”

“Not having enough money as I’d like to have”

“Getting or being unwell”

“Becoming or being unemployed”

Earthly concerns, rooted in the grind of daily life, family love and economic realities come way above the worries that fuel New Year aesthetic transformation fantasies.

With women earning an average of 15% less than men, the prevalence of these everyday concerns shouldn’t be a surprise. Women are likely to have fewer financial assets and are more likely to live in poverty, especially in older age.

These earthly concerns and aspirations were reflected in the answers women gave when we asked them what they would like their lives to be like in 2020. For example, a 47-year old gardener from Wales said: “I would like less stress on my finances and would like to feel safer and more secure than I do now.”

Similarly, a 43 year old office worker said that, in 2020, she would like to be: “happy, calm and secure; much the same as now but without the anxiety of worrying about bills and expenses being higher than our income,” and an unemployed 20-year old from the West Midlands said she would like to be: “better off financially [and] I would also like to have a job.”

A 61 year old woman from Northamptonshire told us that, in 2020, “I want to be able to use my heating without worry about the bill, I would like to have enough pension money to afford a taxi or a haircut, I would like to eat meat.”

Her hopes for 2020 aren’t about having “the right haircut”; they’re about being able to afford a haircut.

Her hopes for 2020 aren’t about “preparing the perfect meal”; they’re about being able to afford to eat meat once in a while.

Her hopes for 2020 aren’t about “having a stylish home”; they’re about being able to heat her home.

Some of the answers women gave are heartbreaking in their honesty and it’s telling that they mentioned debt 117 times, while make-up was mentioned a grand total of one time.

The fantasy of aesthetic personal transformation helps to sell magazines, shift products and help us cope with everyday life by giving us a moment of escapism. At times, I’ve found the New Year articles, inspiring and interesting, and I’ve enjoyed looking through magazines with my sister and friends. At other times, I’ve found the articles at this time of year condescending, simplistic, formulaic and repetitive.

The key point is this: not all of the things that women really want can be bought in a shop. Not all of the things we really want can be achieved in the gym, the bathroom or the beautician’s. Many of the women we surveyed talked about their concerns about personal finances, work and the future of the economy, and when we asked women “what is the one thing you would most like politicians to focus more on doing?”, the top responses were “ensuring we have a stable economy” and “working to create more jobs”.

While many magazines pump out advice on action we can take as individuals to transform the way we look, we should consider spending more time thinking about the action we can take collectively to tackle the big issues. New Year, new you? No thanks. New Year, new thinking? Yes please.

Fran O’Leary is Director of Strategy and Innovation at Lodestone. She is writing in a personal capacity. Follow @FranOLeary

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Happy New You: mopping up the fall-out from enforced gluttony

If you’re anything like me, you dislike nothing more than thinking you’ve undertaken a decision of your own free volition, only to discover later that you’re merely a corporate lemming. It’s moderately fun when you’re in your twenties and think you might be part of some sort of culture-shattering zeitgeist and then, when you’re about twenty eight, you have the crushing realisation that nothing you’ve ever thought has ever been original or ground-breaking. That even when you try to belong to an ‘underground’ alternative movement, said movement has been carved specifically to lure people like you into its clutches by a money-making chain that ultimately ends with someone like Simon Cowell.

Apologies, I appear to be having an existential crisis. Just before I go and stand on the balcony and contemplate my life for a bit, I wanted to talk about the worst possible example of our life decisions being manipulated by ‘the man’: The New Year Diet.

Every year, around about November 15th, the entire Western World embarks on a gigantic communal binge/purge cycle. First, we’re urged from all quarters to stuff ourselves to the gills in celebration of the major winter religious festivals, with every bus stop, billboard, website, television advert and mainstream publication imploring us to “treat ourselves” because, after all, it is Christmas – the one time of year when it’s more than acceptable to put Baileys instead of milk on your cornflakes in the morning.

For this period of unadulterated hedonistic indulgence, however, there will be a penance: you will hate your greedy self. Not only after the fact, in the bleak, cold days of early January, but a little bit while you’re actually doing it. Christmas is also the season of the ‘little black party dress’ and we are bombarded with pictures of celebrities wearing outfits comprising solely of sequins, tinfoil and other materials which look deeply unflattering on anyone with more than an ounce of body fat.

It’s ‘forced fun’, is what it is. I don’t know about you, but my idea of ‘ultimate fun’ is spending an entire week shagging with wild abandon whilst David Bowie’s back catalogue plays in the background at silly volumes. It is NOT standing in some God-awful bar-chain with people from the office whilst wearing a filmsy paper ‘crown’, making small talk about how it’s quite mild for this time of year, forcing down a mushroom vol-au-vent and a glass of sherry and attempting to convince myself that it’s “okay because it’s Christmas”.

On boxing day, we survey the torn shreds of wrapping paper, resembling the remnants of our self-esteem as they lay strewn about the living room, and we listen to every other human in our lives bemoan their expanding waist lines and pledge to “go on a diet in the New Year”. And again, we get swept up in the hysteria because this Christmas just gone, which was supposed to be a celebration of everything that was glorious in our respective existences, was in fact a gigantic anti-climax and if we want next year to be different; if we want it to be the glamorous, unadulterated thrill-ride the world has told us it should be, then surely it is our duty to ensure that in 2014 we are as thin and gorgeous as possible, in keeping with the overall theme of the occasion?

So as we begin 2014, gyms, celebrity fitness DVDs and diet clubs promise a New Year: New You! as they swoop in to mop up the emotional fall-out of our enforced gluttony.

Except it’s all bollocks.

A significant chunk of Western society’s corporate machine is founded on the phenomenon of the yoyo diet. They WANT you to regain that weight. That’s why diets are so miserable and unsustainable. There’s shady mutual sponsorship happening all the time between the fitness and fast food industries purely for this reason. They depend on our brains being a contradiction of the desire to eat tasty things and the desire to look like someone who has never so much as whiffed a Jaffa Cake. If you diet, make no mistake, you are a cog in that machine. A machine which is fuelled by fear, insecurity, and a constructed and entirely unrealistic beauty paradigm designed to keep us prisoners of our own feelings of unworthiness.

So, this New Year, if you must make a resolution, resolve to start listening to your body. It knows what it needs. Always has. You were born with an innate understanding of when you were hungry, when you were full, and what food and exercise you needed to do to remain healthy. Over time we have confused ourselves by listening to people who have found solace in a prescribed regime or, worse still, are making money out of it.

Your body is a glorious, self-regulating organism. Trust it.

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: Kristina D. C. Hoeppner

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#12DaysOfSexism: December 2013

Throughout the 12 days of Christmas, we look back at sexism over the last 12 months.

In the 12th month of sexism, the Everyday Sexism Project reached its 50,000th post. Here are some of the month’s worst offenders.

Tom Newton Dunn

The Sun’s political editor, Tom Newton Dunn, sparked a Twitter storm when he criticised MP Stella Creasy for challenging David Cameron on Page 3 while wearing a bright blue PVC skirt.
Screen Shot 2013-12-31 at 10.54.54


The England women’s football captain, Casey Stoney, criticised Fifa’s decision to have the World Cup draw conducted by a Brazilian model, Fernanda Lima, in a gold, low-cut dress.  “Giving the job to a model has sent out completely the wrong message. Unfortunately I wasn’t surprised. They could have had a woman high up in the game or else a player with proper international standing. This should have been about football,” she said.

Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 12.02.31


The Conservatives

In the same year that David Cameron hilariously described himself as “a feminist”, Labour MP Sarah Champion claimed Conservatives make lurid and sexist hand gestures, imitating “breasts and bottoms”, towards Labour women during Commons debates.



Universities UK

Students demonstrated outside the offices of Universities UK after it published guidelines saying universities could segregate by gender during lectures and debates hosted by visiting speakers. After heavy criticism, including from David Cameron and Michael Gove, UUK withdrew these guidelines.

Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 12.24.47


Special mention to: the Science industry: “The average grant for a woman-led study was £125,556 – compared to an average award of £173,389 for research proposed by men – a difference of 43 per cent”.


Hand-lettering by Rose Jackson Taylor

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#12DaysOfSexism: November 2013

Throughout the 12 days of Christmas, we look back at sexism over the last 12 months.

The Film Industry – again.

The film industry – again. Another recurring theme in 2013 was sexism in the film industry. Evan Rachel Wood hit out at film industry sexism after a sex scene in her new film, Charlie Countryman, was cut in the final edit.

Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 11.16.51



Technology giant Microsoft came under fire for sexism when the Xbox One launched in November, with a customisable letter posted online.



The BBC – again.

The BBC was criticised in November for its “flabbergastingly sexist” remake of children’s show Topsy and Tim. Thousands of parents took to Mumsnet to complain, saying they would ban their children from watching the show because it reinforces gender stereotypes.

Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 11.27.29


Student ‘lads’

‘Lads’ from the University of Stirling appeared on YouTube in November performing a sexist, racist chant on a crowded bus. It was all just “banter” though, of course.

Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 11.32.10


Hand-lettering by Rose Jackson Taylor

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#12DaysOfSexism: October 2013

Throughout the 12 days of Christmas, we look back at sexism over the last 12 months.


When seven-month pregnant minister Jo Swinson was left standing during prime minister’s questions, because no MP offered her a seat, it prompted several days of deliberation over the rights and wrongs of offering your chair. Sexism? Bad manners? The jury was split. An aide to Jo Swinson responded by saying it would be “quite sexist” to think it was necessary to give up your seat for a pregnant woman.


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


The music industry – again.

Following Grimes’ comments in April, Charlotte Church hit out at sexism and sexualisation of women in pop music. “There was a big clamour to cover my breasts as they wanted to keep me as young as possible. Then it become, ‘You should definitely get them out, they look great’,” she said.


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons



Or rather, Google users. An advertising campaign by UN Women used Google’s autocomplete function – based on the most popular searches – to highlight the way women are viewed. The results speak for themselves.



Baking fans

I know, who predicted that one? Great British Bake Off finalist Ruby Tandoh hit back at the “vitriol” and misogyny she and fellow contestants faced throughout the competition. She wrote in the Guardian: “So much of the criticism levelled at the bakers is gender-specific. My self-doubt has been simultaneously labelled pathetic, fake, attention-seeking and manipulative.”

Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 11.11.16


Hand-lettering by Rose Jackson Taylor

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#12DaysOfSexism: September 2013

Throughout the 12 days of Christmas, we look back at sexism over the last 12 months.

Classical Music

In the week before the first woman, Marin Alsop, conducted the BBC’s Last Night of the Proms, conductor Vasily Petrenko claimed orchestras “react better when they have a man in front of them” and “a cute girl on a podium means that musicians think about other things.”


Image courtesy of Twitter


The Liberal Democrats – again.

After February’s sexual harassment allegations, the Lib Dems found themselves embroiled in another sexism row after a female Lib Dem candidate was told: “I hope you’re not planning on falling pregnant. We don’t want a baby hanging off your t*** during the campaign”, by an older woman in her constituency association. Politicians were also disgruntled by the announcement of Jo Swinson’s pregnancy, reportedly commenting: “How could she get herself in that position when she is a minister?”


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Tony Abbott – again.

Another month, another Tony Abbott sexism row. Once described by former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard as “the definition of misogyny in modern Australia”, Abbott’s election message to the nation included: “If you want to know who to vote for, I’m the guy with the not bad looking daughters.” Clearly it worked.

After becoming Prime Minister of Australia, came under fire yet again, this time for his “embarrassing” male-dominated cabinet, containing only one woman and 18 men.  Abbott himself said he was “disappointed” by the lack of women ministers, and took on the role of Women’s Minister himself, to the bewilderment of women across Australia.


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


The internet – again.

September was a great month for re-entries to the sexism charts, with the internet yet again making an appearance, this time for sexist abuse directed at Chvrches’ Lauren Mayberry.



Hand-lettering by Rose Jackson Taylor

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#12DaysOfSexism: August 2013

Throughout the 12 days of Christmas, we look back at sexism over the last 12 months.


Professional networking site LinkedIn was accused of sexism after it pulled ad posts containing photos of a woman they deemed too attractive to be a web developer. Guess what? She really is a web developer. Shocking, we know.

Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 10.24.29


Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke

Their notorious performance at the VMA awards dominated discussions for weeks: Sexist? Racist? The response certainly provoked a lot of sexism.

Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 10.31.23


Tony Abbott

The Australian opposition leader in August described a young female candidate as “feisty” with “a bit of sex appeal”. Last year a video of Julia Gillard accusing him of sexism and misogyny went viral, but it seems he hasn’t learnt his lesson. It’s ok though, his colleagues were quick to defend him: “He has got three strong-minded daughters, he’s got sisters, one of whom is gay, he has got a highly competent and strong wife”. Couldn’t possibly be sexist then.


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons



Not known for their pleasant views at the best of times, Ukip made the headlines twice in August for sexist remarks made by their members. Party treasurer Stuart Wheeler said women were “nowhere near as good as men” at games like chess, bridge and poker, during a debate on EU proposals for gender quotas in the boardroom, but denied being sexist.

Godfrey Bloom, having already had his wrists slapped for “bongo bongo land” comments chimed in to clarify Ukip’s position on women, saying underqualified women are taking jobs they don’t deserve because employers are “prejudiced” against men. It took a third strike, referring to a group of female activists as “sluts” in September, for Bloom to be suspended from the party.



Hand-lettering by Rose Jackson Taylor

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#12DaysOfSexism: July 2013

Throughout the 12 days of Christmas, we look back at sexism over the last 12 months.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, sexism in sport featured heavily in July…

Muirfield golf club

This year’s Open golf tournament was held at Muirfield golf club, described by Fiona Phillips as “a bastion of toxic testosterone which refuses to admit women”.


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Colin Murray

Radio 1 DJ Colin Murray continued the theme of summer sporting sexism, commenting that the ultimate athlete would have “the stamina of Mo, the speed of Bolt, the leap of Rutherford and the bottom of Jess Ennis.” Not like she’s an Olympic gold medallist too or anything…


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


John Inverdale

Earlier in the month, John Inverdale attracted criticism from Culture Secretary Maria Miller when he commented that Wimbledon winner Marion Bartoli was “never going to be a looker”. Incidentally, Inverdale also commentated on the golf Open at Muirfield.


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons



July saw the start of an intense, high profile campaign of Twitter abuse and hatred directed at bank note campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez. The scale of the abuse was so vile that the mainstream media suddenly (if briefly) became acutely aware of online misogyny.



Hand-lettering by Rose Jackson Taylor

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#12DaysOfSexism: June 2013

Throughout the 12 days of Christmas, we look back at sexism over the last 12 months.

Australian Politics

Who can forget the “Julia Gillard Menu” served to Australian LNP members at a fundraiser in June? “Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail – Small Breasts, Huge Thighs and a Big, Red Box”. Two weeks later Gillard was ousted by Kevin Rudd in a leadership spill seen by some commentators as indicative of sexism in Australian politics.



Oxford Union

Elections for officers at the Oxford Union were dogged by allegations of blackmail, computer hacking and sexism. A newly elected officer was accused of hacking into people’s computers and sending misogynistic messages; he subsequently resigned.



The Bank of England

The Bank of England announced that Elizabeth Fry would be removed from the £5 bank note and replaced by Winston Churchill, leaving the Queen as the only women on English bank notes. A campaign by Caroline Criado-Perez of The Women’s Room quite quickly changed their mind.


Image courtesy of Howard Lake


Robin Thicke

A sexist video and ‘rapey’ lyrics have seen Blurred Lines banned by more than 20 university student unions since criticism took off in June. “I know you want it”. Er, no. In recognition of his contributions to sexism, Robin Thicke was last week named Sexist Of The Year, by the End Violence Against Women Coalition’s prestigious annual poll.

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 17.49.02


Hand-lettering by Rose Jackson Taylor

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#12DaysOfSexism: May 2013

Throughout the 12 days of Christmas, we look back at sexism over the last 12 months.

Zeeshaan Shah

Who? I know, we’d already forgotten him too. After being fired from The Apprentice, “Zee” responded angrily to claims from rivals Leah Totton and Natalie Panayi that he is a ‘chauvinist‘. “You look at me like I’m something on the bottom of the shoe,” said Natalie.


Image courtesy of Twitter


American Apparel

American Apparel was branded ‘sexist’ over ‘sleazy’ ads for a unisex shirt, which showed half-naked women in g-strings, but fully-clothed men.

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 17.25.06



More than 200,000 people signed an online petition demanding Facebook remove posts and pages that degrade women. Examples included the charmingly titled “This is why Indian girls get raped” and an image of a woman lying at the bottom of the stairs, captioned “Next time, don’t get pregnant.” Facebook was initially slow to respond, until campaigners began targeting advertisers.



Nick Ross

Apparently rape is “not always rape”. Crimewatch presenter Nick Ross sparked outrage by suggesting that “provocatively dressed” women who go out “unescorted” were akin to a bank “storing sacks of cash by the door” and that some victims had gone “too far” by leading men on. He later clarified: “Women’s dress is neither a contributor or excuse for assault.” No, it’s not Nick.

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 17.34.00


Special mention also goes to: the television industry, attacked for ‘pervasive’ sexism and ageism by Clare Balding and David Dimbleby.


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#12DaysOfSexism: April 2013

Throughout the 12 days of Christmas, we look back at sexism over the last 12 months.

April was the month that the Everyday Sexism Project celebrated its first birthday, and Margaret Thatcher’s death was greeted with an abundance of witch comparisons…

Barack Obama

The US President apologised after criticism for referring to the attorney general of California, Kamala Harris, as “the best-looking attorney general in the country”.


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Peter Sagan

Cyclist Peter Sagan sparked controversy after he pinched a woman’s bottom while on the podium after a race.


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Stirling Moss

The motor racing legend claimed women don’t have the “mental aptitude” for Formula One.


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


John Lydon

Sex Pistol Johnny Rotten was branded a “sexist, misogynist pig” after ordering a female host to “shut up when a man is talking” during a television appearance in Australia.


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Special mention also goes to Disney for their ‘I need a hero’ T-shirt, criticised by campaigners in April, and the music industry.


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#12DaysOfSexism: March 2013

Throughout the 12 days of Christmas, we look back at sexism over the last 12 months.


Samsung were accused of sexism twice in March: first in New York, with the launch of their Galaxy S4 – a “long parade of ‘50s-era female stereotypes” – and less than two weeks later in South Africa when their press event featured women in bikinis accompanying refrigerators on stage.


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Warwick SU president Nick Swain

Swain was accused of sexism after footage emerged of him unclipping a girl’s bra at an “alcohol-fuelled” university party.



Alex Blimes

The editor of Esquire magazine, Alex Blimes, said: ”The women we feature in the magazine are ornamental. I could lie to you if you want and say we are interested in their brains as well. We are not. They are objectified.” Well, at least we’ve cleared that one up.



Glasgow University Union

‘Glasgow Ancients’ annual debating competition was heavily criticised after descending into sexism: “Rebecca Meredith, of Kings’s College, Cambridge, and Marlene Valles, of Edinburgh University, were attempting to debate the centralisation of religion when they were confronted by a slew of derogatory, sexist comments. Audience members reportedly commented on their chest sizes, how they were dressed and their general level of attractiveness. When Meredith and Valles spoke of women’s rights and equality, they received boos and cries of “Shame woman”.



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#12DaysOfSexism: February 2013

Throughout the 12 days of Christmas, we look back at sexism over the last 12 months.

James Franco

Franco sparked a sexism controversy in his role as Grand Marshall at Daytona 500 when he changed the command “Gentlemen, start your engines” to “Drivers… and Danica…start your engines”, referring to Danica Patrick, the first woman to start from the pole in a Cup race.



Seth MacFarlane

Gawker says it all really: “At this point there’s no question that Seth MacFarlane was a terrible Oscar host. Not only were his jokes unfunny, tired, self-centered and boring, but also incredibly sexist, homophobic and racist. Boob jokes. Diet jokes. “No home” jokes. Rape jokes. Abuse jokes. Slave jokes. Jew jokes. And to add to the atrocity, the whole act was punctuated by MacFarlane’s absurd preoccupation with whether or not he was a good host, which – as mentioned – he clearly was not.”

Seth MacFarlane


The Sun

During a year in which the No More Page 3 campaign has gained momentum, Rupert Murdoch’s “family” newspaper respectfully reported the death of Reeva Steenkamp, shot dead by her boyfriend Oscar Pistorious, with a front page photograph of her in a bikini.

The Sun: Oscar Pistorius front page


The Liberal Democrats

The Lib Dems found themselves embroiled in a sexism row over allegations of sexually inappropriate behaviour by Lib Dem ex-chief exec Lord Rennard.



Special mention also goes to: the BBC and the architecture and film industries, slammed respectively by Libby Purves, Zaha Hadid and Thandie Newton in February.


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#12DaysOfSexism: January 2013

Throughout the 12 days of Christmas, we look back at sexism over the last 12 months.

Murdo Fraser

Murdo Fraser, an ‘honorable’ Member of the Scottish Parliament, on discovering that the wife of former Liberal leader Lord Steel had declared herself pro-independence, tweeted:

Screen Shot 2013-12-18 at 14.35.50

Image courtesy of: Twitter


The Cycling Industry

Olympian Nicole Cooke retired from cycling, using her retirement speech as an opportunity to slam the industry for its sexism: “Are these girls that race for a living an underclass? They are somehow a sub-race not worthy of the most basic protection we afford the rest of our citizens in whatever employment they find themselves.”


Image courtesy of: Wikimedia Commons


The Internet

January saw a barrage of online abuse directed at classicist Mary Beard: “My appearance on Question Time prompted a web post that has in the last few days discussed my pubic hair (do I brush the floor with it), whether I need rogering (that comment was taken down, as was the speculation about the capaciousness of my vagina, and the plan to plant a d*** in my mouth)”.



The Socialist Workers Party

The radical lefties at the SWP set up a “kangaroo court” to investigate rape allegations against a senior member instead of reporting them to the police. The judgement? He was exonerated.



Hand-lettering by Rose Jackson Taylor

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#IDontBuyIt: How to be a Christian and a feminist

At Christmas we celebrate Jesus’s birthday. Except we don’t, mostly. We celebrate gifts, food, family, Christmas TV, time off work. We might take an annual trip to church to murder a few carols by a cosy manger scene. But for most Brits, there’s little Christ in Christmas.

Quite right, say many feminists. When Catherine Redfern and I surveyed 1,300 feminists for our book Reclaiming the F Word, fewer than 1 in 10 called themselves Christians. Many saw religion as a barrier to gender justice.

And it has been. Institutionalised Christianity has been patriarchal, and its patriarchs perpetrated misogyny. They issued pronouncements like: “Woman is a temple built over a sewer” (Tertullian) and “Woman is a misbegotten man” (Albertus Magnus) and oversaw the burning of Joan of Arc. Protestant Reformers’ fears of female independence and sexuality were a factor in the closure of convents across Europe; to quote Martin Luther: “The word and works of God is quite clear, that women were made either to be wives or prostitutes.”

Even today, wives’ submission is enshrined in the American Southern Baptist Convention’s Official Faith and Message Statement (“A wife is to submit graciously to the servant leadership of her husband, even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ”) – think of the implications for women in abusive marriages. Roman Catholic and some conservative Protestant denominations don’t permit female priests or pastors. The church has a woman-hating history.

But there is another history, a her-story if you like, shrouded by saccharine Santas and male privilege. It’s a story of emancipation, of God becoming human, coming to earth to proclaim a message. Christian feminist novelist Sara Maitland sums up the message like this: “Jesus was born, suffered and died to reconcile humanity to God.” It’s a controversial message, barely believable to children of the Enlightenment, but still embraced by a third of the world’s population.

Feminists often misunderstand the Christmas story. They object, for instance, to the representation of Mary. But the ‘Virgin’ Mary isn’t presented in the Bible as an impossible ideal that all women should follow; it’s just that the cult that developed after her death did (see Marina Warner’s book Alone of All Her Sex.)

Mary inspires me because her story demonstrates God’s elevation of the marginalised. Mary was a Palestinian teenager of low social rank. In organising Mary’s impregnation when she was engaged to someone else, God puts her at risk of social disgrace (even to stoning for adultery). God organises a series of supernatural appearances (some to women) to prevent baby Jesus from being murdered and his mum from being outcast. These verify Jesus’s extraordinary nature.

The prayer Mary utters – the Magnificat, one of the best known hymns in Christian history – expresses shocked praise at God’s favouritism toward those of low position. A migrant during Jesus’s early years, Mary gives birth in a house’s animal quarters. She wraps him in swaddling bands (used by the poor), and raises him with carpenter husband Joseph.

Jesus wasn’t patriarchal or socially powerful. He hung out with the marginalised (eunuchs, sex workers, fishermen, shepherds, those with stigmatising illnesses). Jesus’s interactions with women transgress social norms: he educates women and encourages them out of the kitchen – see the story of Mary and Martha. He sees them as independent people, not in relation to male relatives. That may not seem revolutionary today, but it was then.

After his death, Jesus chooses Mary Magdalene to witness his resurrection first – a decisive statement of trust in a culture when women were not considered reliable witnesses. There’s no real evidence that she was a prostitute or married to Jesus (sorry, Dan Brown – though so what if she was?) But, as an unattached woman, she became the focus of others’ lurid imaginations. Her report of the resurrection isn’t believed (surprise, surprise), until the men see Jesus and are made to look foolish.

Jesus’s transgression of patriarchal norms, his challenge to power and privilege, is why Christianity attracted so many followers among the marginalised, leading 2nd century pagan critic Celsus to describe Christianity (he thought disparagingly) as a religion of “women, children and slaves.”

History tells how women encountered freedom through Jesus. It tells of women transgressing traditional roles, dressing in men’s clothes, becoming martyrs, refusing motherhood for a life of activism to help other women (in the church, activism is often called ‘service’, but really it’s the same thing). It tells of female mystics (Margery Kempe, Teresa of Avila, Simone Weil), prophets, preachers and, occasionally, bishops (might the 2nd century Montanists put the Church of England to shame?)

As a Christian feminist, I know the harm institutionalised Christianity has done to women. Those profiting economically from Christmas or using Jesus to shore-up male supremacy should, let’s use a biblical word, repent. But Jesus, the divine-and-human, whose radically different engagement with women was key to his liberating message, has nothing to apologise for.

Kristin Aune is co-author, with Catherine Redfern, of Reclaiming the F Word: Feminism Today (Zed Books, new edition, 2013) and directs the University of Derby’s Centre for Society, Religion & Belief. She is one of the founders of the Christian Feminist Network. Find out more at @cfemnet

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#IDontBuyIt: Immaculate Conception & Womb Envy

At this time of year, in nativity plays, churches, and in the general consciousness, we are reminded of the central role of the female in the guise of Mary, mother of Jesus. Mary takes a special role in Christian theology as the mother of Christ and has been called the ‘mother of the world’.

This concept of worship of the feminine predates Christ, with “Venus figurines” dating back 25,000 years. However, worship of the centrality of the role of woman as the mysterious bringer of life is not without its darker side. Modern feminists rightly reject the narrow stereotype of the nurturing, wholesome woman, consumed with a desire for children to fulfill her purpose in the world.

As a psychiatrist, during the psychoanalytical part of my training, I viewed Freud’s ideas on femininity as diametrically opposed to my own belief system. Freud was a man of his time, opposed to the emancipation of women and had a distorted view of the centrality of the masculine. In Lecture XXXIII: “Femininity” (1933) Freud ponders the “riddle” of women and argues that, in a woman’s psychological development, her first object of her mother must be rejected to fulfil her need to attach to her father.

Her associated despair at realising that she does not have a penis when glimpsing this, leads to envy of the penis, with a powerful “feminine” wish for a baby. According to Freud a woman’s happiness is greatest if her wish for a baby is fulfilled and more so if that child is male and brings the longed for penis with him.

Feminist psychology as a movement rejects this notion of penis envy and proposes the more intuitive concept of womb envy. After training as an analyst and gaining recognition for her talents, Karen Horney rejected Freud’s theories that sex and aggression were the main drivers in achieving personhood. She viewed man’s envy of woman’s ability to bear, nurture and feed children as a cause of conflict in neurotic men. She introduced the term womb envy to describe the drive to success as a compensation for their in-built inability to bear children.

She rejected Freud’s idea of penis envy as a defensive reflection of a patriarchal society. His analysis could be more explicable as a defence arising from a female envy of men’s unfair generic power in the world. The neo-Freudian concepts with the birth of feminist psychology were a decisive point in the psychoanalytical movement. Karen Horney’s own drive in the face of rejection by some of her purist contemporaries was inspiring. I felt this addressed my own uneasiness at the centrality of the penis and sexual drive.

Contemporary psychoanalytical theory has moved away from this phallus-centric model to a more appealing and authentic discussion with a humanist perspective. This more realistically reflects the impact of societal and cultural influence on the development of the personality, and a more acceptable view of childhood development.

As a clinician in mental health, the impact of childhood trauma and neglect, and its influence in the development of a sense of self, has been a recurring theme in my own therapeutic work. But the responsibility of this is not the maternal object and should be felt by both sexes.

Horney was convinced, through her work and own analysis, that the fulfilling of a child’s needs for food, safety and love allowed a child to develop healthy self concepts. This in turn led to successful interpersonal relationships. She felt children whose needs were not met – through neglect or inappropriately defined ideas of child rearing – would develop anxiety, with an associated adoption of maladaptive coping or defence mechanisms to manage this anxiety.

The centrality of the “objects” in the child’s life, or influence of caregivers has achieved its rightful place, and these ideas have developed further in the psychoanalytical community in the last century. The works of Melanie Klein and Donald Winnicott brought me back to accepting some value in the psychoanalytical model. Klein, although a Freudian herself, co founded Object Relations Theory and was extremely influential in the UK, where she practiced from 1926 to her death in 1960. A divorced mother of two, without an academic background (having halted her studies for her marriage), she must have been extremely determined and talented to excel in the then male dominated field of psychoanalysis.

As we reflect on the enduring symbol of Mary this Christmas we can view not only its religious aspect but an ongoing unconscious societal need for worship of female fertility which has changed little in 25,000 years. Our challenge I feel, as modern feminists, is to not be defined by our nurturing role but to transcend this with the acceptance and recognition of a equal role between genders to contribute to society in whichever way an individual chooses, with self actualization and happiness.

The views in this article are my own and do not represent those of my trust or other organisations.

Anna is a Psychiatrist, feminist, mother of one preschooler and fan of the arts. Follow her here @annacfryer

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#5yearssinceMaria: The manifesto of… a survivor of domestic violence

Between 16-19 December Feminist Times is joining Refuge in remembering the tragic death of Maria Stubbings with a series of articles on domestic violence, produced in collaboration with Refuge. Today a survivor tells us her story…

I am in an abusive relationship. I want to say was… but wonder if that day will come.

I thought I’d done the hard and dangerous bit – I left. He no longer beats me, slams me into doors, pushes me downstairs or strangles me. But he is the father of our children and so, in truth, it doesn’t stop. Our beautiful, wonderful children tie me, and them, to a man who continues to abuse us.

I met my ex-husband back in 2001. He was successful, intelligent, at the top of his profession. He pursued me – I was flattered, I thought it was the heady behaviour of true love – it turned out to be the controlling behaviour of a man who doesn’t lose, who always gets what he wants. When we met I was working for a large accountancy firm, with my own successful career, my own house – my own independence.

Within a year none of that remained. I had sold my house, moved in with him and was living under the constant threat of being thrown out. He persuaded me to give up my job, telling me I couldn’t cope with it, and I stopped socialising as a result of his constant criticism of my family and friends.

That’s how quickly it happens – but you want to blame me for that, right? You want to tell me that I’m weak, there’s something wrong with me – that it’s my fault? That I should have just left? Blame the victim – that’s the way we do things; it’s our culture.

Sandra Horley, CEO of Refuge, says abuse is like the constant drip of water on a stone – drip, drip, drip – undermining, putting down, constant criticism, control, name calling… all silently stalking your self-esteem until you wake up one day and you don’t know who you are, how to stop it – where to turn to. You believe them – this is my fault.

Sometimes I can’t imagine how I stayed – In those moments I wonder if I am not like the people in the South Tower on 9/11 who didn’t know what was unfolding around them. I don’t make the comparison lightly. The terror of near death, that man’s hands gripping tightly around my throat – spots before my eyes, hearing muffled, and consciousness slipping away. But I did get up from my desk and start down the stairs, and luck was on my side; I got out.

There is no consistent response to domestic violence and that’s part of the problem. The police responded to my emergency calls. When I was screaming down the phone, “he’s going to kill me and the children,” they came quickly, arrested my husband and took statements. But they cautioned him – and then he was free to come home… The law can be a disappointingly blunt tool.

When I left for good after a beating in front of the children, the police told me we had lots of solid proof and that prosecution would follow provided I agreed to give evidence. It was a hard call – we were in the middle of divorce proceedings and such an act on my part would inevitably lead to greater hostility. But I agreed because domestic violence is against the law and without people coming forward to report this crime and give evidence, nothing will change. I am all for change.

So I stepped off the cliff and agreed, knowing that would mean facing him and all his lies in court. I said yes. The police took the case to the CPS and incredibly they said they weren’t able to prosecute: “Sounds like a ropey divorce”, was the quote. I was devastated, crushed and numb. I fought for an explanation, none came. No one would talk to me or give me a reason why. I felt blamed, that no one really believed me. Luckily, Refuge, the national domestic violence charity, picked me up and supported me at that point.

But the abuse stated again, this time with a new weapon. The courts, social services, threats of media exposure – he was a powerful man.

Despite court rulings in my favour, I am still in court, still fighting to keep the children safe from his lies and his behaviour. My new address was to remain confidential but he searched and found it. Nothing was done and that frightens me.

My life is changed, I am changed.

But change is good. I have met and been inspired by some of the world’s most amazing women since leaving. I have a new business and have even written a book. I am on a journey and all roads have led to here. I am not bitter, just changed – I hope for the better. I am not yet a survivor of domestic violence, but I am surviving.


I would like…

  • The Government to open a public inquiry into the response of the police and other state agencies to victims of domestic violence.
  • A well-funded, strategically co-ordinated, multi-agency National Domestic Violence Framework with documented standards of response to and care for victims of domestic violence.
  • A high profile media campaign highlighting the availability of Legal Aid in cases of domestic violence, and how those experiencing domestic violence can obtain help and funding.
  • Children to be properly protected in contact arrangements with perpetrators of domestic violence, by the extension of Legal Aid to Children’s Act Proceedings where Findings of Fact prove domestic violence is an issue.
  • More funding for specialist Independent Domestic Violence Advocates, who help victims of domestic violence to navigate a path to safety through the legal system – dealing with courts, social services, police, CPS and all government agencies.
  • Education on what makes a good vs. bad or abusive relationship taught as standard throughout the academic year (not a one-off class as part of sex education) starting at primary level and linked to anti-bullying work in schools.

Refuge wants to see real change – in memory of Maria.  Please join them and sign the petition now: http://you.38degrees.org.uk/p/maria

Christmas can be a particularly difficult time for victims and survivors of domestic violence, so please also support Refuge’s Christmas fundraising appeal at www.refuge.org.uk/christmas

If you are affected by domestic violence, you can phone the 24-hour national domestic violence helpline, run in partnership between Refuge and Women’s Aid on 0808 2000 247.

For more information, please visit www.refuge.org.uk, or find Refuge on Facebook and Twitter @RefugeCharity

Photograph of Maria’s family courtesy of Julian Nieman

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#IDontBuyIt: High street stores ‘less sexist’ this Christmas than last year

Gendered ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ signs in toyshops are on the decline, according to a survey by campaign group Let Toys Be Toys.

The survey, carried out throughout November by supporters of the campaign, found use of gendered signs has decreased by 60 per cent compared to last Christmas, when the campaign began.

Kerry Brennan, one of the founders of the Let Toys Be Toys campaign, said: “While there’s still a long way to go to address sexism in the toy industry, the changes in major retail chains like Debenhams are just brilliant to see.

“They’ve replaced pink and blue ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ signs with new colourful signs that say ‘Vehicles’, ‘Superheroes’, ‘Soft Toys’, and ‘TV Characters’, among others.”

Supporters found just a fifth of high street stores using ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ signs to identify their toys, compared with half of all shops last year.

Hobbycraft was crowned ‘best of the high street’ for marketing toys without relying on gendered or sexist stereotypes, with Toymaster and Fenwick respectively second and third.

Fenwick, Debenhams and TK Maxx were all named ‘most improved’, having recently removed their ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ signs.

Supermarket Morrisons was found to be most ‘sexist’, with supermarkets tending to use gendered stereotypes more frequently than independent toy retailers.

Ms Brennan added: “Everything is much easier to find and children are no longer being sent the message that science and adventure are only for boys, crafts and nurturing play only for girls.”

Of the fourteen major retailers contacted by the Let Toys Be Toys campaign in 2013, seven have already removed the ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ signage from shop floors or own-brand toy packaging: Hobbycraft, Boots, TK Maxx, The Entertainer, Debenhams, Fenwick and Next.

Five stores – Toys R Us, Marks and Spencer, Tesco, Sainsbury and Morrisons – are in the process of doing so.

However, the survey also found that just over 70% of stores still used some kind of gender cues, with 40% of stores using gender to sell the majority of their toys.

“We still have a way to go,” said Rebecca Brueton, a Let Toys Be Toys campaigner.

“We made getting rid of the signs our priority this year and the survey shows it’s working. Even so, you can still find plenty of shops promoting outdated and limiting ideas, giving children the message that science is only for boys and creativity for girls.”

Let Toys Be Toys is a grassroots campaign group established in November 2012. The campaign believes both boys and girls benefit from a range of play experiences, and should not be restricted by marketing which tells them which toys and activities are for boys or girls. Let Toys Be Toys is run and organised wholly by volunteers.

 See www.lettoysbetoys.org.uk for more information.

Image courtesy of Let Toys Be Toys.

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Eleanor Jones: Feminism is…

Eleanor JonesName: Eleanor Jones

Age: 23

Location: London

Bio: Lifestyle writer and editor

Feminism is ultimately something that shouldn’t need to exist. The belief that men and women can have the same rights, the same opportunities and the same interests is a concept that shouldn’t need a campaign – we are all human and all have the same potential to be brave, beautiful, smart, successful, kind and all other wonderful qualities, regardless of the gender we were born with or the gender we eventually choose. However, the need for feminism is more prevalent than ever in the contemporary world, and I will to continue to support it until we’re all members of a society that treats us as people, not as collective members of an inferior sex.

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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Clare Cochrane: Feminism is…

Name: Clare Cochrane

Feminism is the campaign to end all discrimination on the basis of 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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Kiera Senst: Feminism is…

kiera senstName: Kiera Senst

Age: 26

Location: Berlin

Bio: Between jobs expat in Berlin

Feminism is the pursuit of a reality where gender, race, class, sexuality, or any combination does not influence an individual’s ability to live their life. It is both and at one time an argument at odds with society and a discussion about it. It is a dynamic and continuing analysis of culture and human nature as a whole. It is a continuing fight born out of years of struggle – one that will inevitably evolve relative to trends, be they interconnectivity or conflict.

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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Ron Burgundy returns? He never went away

Around two-thirds of women journalists have been victims of abuse in the work place, including intimidation, threats and hacking, a new survey has shown.

As Anchorman 2 comes out with its popular brand of ironic sexism at heart, can we really laugh when 70s sexism hasn’t gone away?

Adam and I thought it would be funny to make fun of the ego and sexism of the ’70s. There was so much of it. We thought it would be good to let the ladies know, ‘Hey, see? It could be worse.’” Will Ferrell on the first Anchorman film.

The International News Safety Institute and the International Women’s Media Foundation conducted the survey to coincide with UN’s Global Forum on Media and Gender. It concluded that the majority of abuse female journalists are subjected to is not when they are out on a location, whether that be a war zone or protest. No, women are most likely to be subjected to harassment and intimidation in their own office – the perpetrators being the people they should be able to turn to for support: their boss or colleagues.

From photographers to presenters, from Africa to Europe, and from 18 to over 75, the most common form of abuse was ‘abuse of power’ by a boss. 46 per cent also said they had suffered sexual harassment, with 10 per cent more incidents occurring in the office than out in the ‘field’. 25 per cent of those who had been victims of sexual violence said the perpetrator was their boss. There were also reports of racist and ageist abuse.

This isn’t just happening in traditional, institutional, dinosaur-infested newsrooms either; the survey results include online media organisations and even the uncovered abuse itself had a digital-age element, with 22 per cent of women having been victims of hacking and online surveillance.

A quick look at The Women’s Room Mediawatch proves that women are still woefully under represented across the British media. Three-quarters of the top jobs are taken by men and only 20 per cent of solo radio broadcasters are women. With these levels of abuse and intimidation, is it any wonder?

It’s hard not to be infected by Ron Burgundy and his crew’s ironic sexism, especially when it comes at the expense of the male characters’ dignity too. (No one comes off well in the clip above.) But Ferrell and those who think this is a thing of the past are very misguided if they believe they are documenting a historical sexism blip. The frustrating reality here in 2013 is that Anchorman is going on everyday, in newsrooms around the globe, and the ladies aren’t laughing.

See survey conclusions here.

If you enjoyed this article and want to meet other feminists like, and unlike, yourself, join Feminist Times as a Member. Join us and support the building of an incredible feminist organisation and resources like this website. – See more at: http://www.feministtimes.com/london-feminist-film-festival-body-politics/#sthash.0omDXZSd.dpuf

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Infographic: The Guardian’s Best Books of 2013

Click below for full size graphic:


With thanks to Joni Seager and Lucia Ricci of ThinkAgainGraphics

Data from The Guardian

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Comeback: Teaching Men To Be Feminist – Anne Dickson

Teachingmentobefeminist-QuartetI write in response to Sarah’s review of my latest bookTeaching Men to be Feminist.

The cover itself is provocative and intended to be ironic: a conscious decision to inject some levity into the often very serious content. Some readers will understand the irony and smile, some won’t.

My overall intention was to broaden the debate: convinced and committed feminists on one side and the vast majority of men (and women) who believe feminism no longer has any relevance on the other. I wanted to go beyond the statistics relating to equal numbers to demonstrate just how deeply this lack of equality – psychologically, socially, culturally – has affected all of us.

I also, as the reviewer stated, wanted to inform men why they should support feminism, to sow a few seeds of awareness rather than provide an action manifesto. It was never intended as a self-help book: sexism is too deeply ingrained to provide a practical how-to list that would match individual circumstances.

Encouraging a stance of ‘pity for womankind’ has never been my ethos: this is why I specifically included a long list of clear examples of how women themselves, knowingly and unknowingly, collude with sexist beliefs. I made it very clear that women must reclaim emotional independence and authentic power themselves, which often entails facing a great deal of personal fear.

I never had any intention of preaching to the ideologically committed feminist. And yes, the reviewer is right that there have been and continue to be many significant protests and invaluable work by women in all walks of life – writers, grass roots activists, hands on work with issues of domestic violence, circumcision, labour exploitation and so on. I acknowledged this and my gratitude to these women.

My point was not to dismiss other women’s efforts – past or present – but to underscore the reality that, despite all these efforts, little changes in institutional and societal attitudes because they always seem to be framed in a ‘minority’ context. I genuinely do believe that, until men come on board, this will not change.

Obviously the topic of the book is controversial so I am not surprised that it should draw criticism, but what took me aback is the vindictiveness of the tone. I wonder why Sarah couldn’t acknowledge that, despite our areas of disagreement, we are on the same side, fighting for the same cause.

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Hollywood still likes its women naked and silent

Well we always knew it, right? A whole one third of female characters, and the actors that play them, are shown partially naked on screen and only a third of speaking characters at the movies will be female. Women it seems are, like children, to be seen and not heard, and yet we make up 50% of the cinema ticket buying public.

New York Film Academy’s audit revelations are stark but not surprising. For an alternative, go see the London Feminist Film Festival, on now.

How many of the five most influential women in film have you heard of?

New York Film Academy takes a look at gender inequality in film

Courtesy of: New York Film Academy

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Engineering for girls: Addressing the image problem

It’s a shocking fact that only six per cent of practising engineers in the UK, and fewer than one in 20 apprentice engineers, are women. With a strong demand for engineering graduates in the UK, the government, industry and educational professionals must work together to attract more girls into engineering careers.

So what’s the issue? Engineering has an image problem. It is often portrayed as a dirty job, not particularly creative, based in factories, and performed by men in boiler suits. Due to these misguided perceptions, it’s not surprising that two thirds of girls report[1] that they don’t fancy a career in engineering.

We need to tackle this ‘not for me’ perception early and show young women that engineering offers a huge range of careers in exciting, rewarding sectors.

Engineers provide creative solutions to tackle problems across an array of industries – from fashion to music, technology to sport, environmental to aerospace. And engineering graduates’ starting salary is 15.7%[2] above the national average.

By capturing girls’ imaginations, and illustrating how engineering feeds into their interests, we can challenge these outdated perceptions. Young people aren’t the only people we need to convince. Parents of daughters hold similar views; three quarters of them haven’t encouraged their daughters to consider engineering as a career option[3].

We must tap into the fact that many young people – both boys and girls – are using engineering-related skills in everyday life. For instance, 72% of 11-14-year-olds love using the latest technology, 58% like designing and creating things and 51% like learning how things work[4]. We need to build on these interests and demonstrate that they can become a life-long passion and a fulfilling career.

Earlier this month, at the launch event for Professor John Perkins’ Review of Engineering Skills and Tomorrow’s Engineers Week – a government and industry campaign to inspire future engineering talent – I was fortunate to meet with a number of female engineers, including Yewande Akinola, IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year 2012 (pictured) and Roma Agrawal, IET Young Woman Engineer finalist 2012.

These talented women defied outdated engineering stereotypes. Yewande has been recognised for her commitment to sustainability and innovation, especially around water supply technology, and Roma is a structural engineer who worked on one of London’s most iconic modern projects, The Shard. These women were aspirational to the young people in the room.

At the event I called upon the media to play their part in ensuring that a wider variety of engineering careers are showcased in the press. Rather than illustrating the latest engineering story with images of production lines and construction sites, I’d love to see the media also focus on music production and software coders behind the latest apps; some of the very things that young people enjoy most.

But the media can’t do it alone. In his Review, Professor Perkins called for action from businesses, professional bodies, educational institutions, and government to ensure that there is a strong flow of talented men and women into engineering.

Tomorrow’s Engineers Week saw government work with over 70 organisations across the engineering community to demonstrate to young people the diversity and opportunities of the engineering industry. And government must continue to work with the industry to position engineering as an aspirational career choice.

Many engineering organisations are already proactive in engaging with schools. But much more can be done. I’d like to see engineering organisations of all sizes, from FTSE 100 to small family firms, empower their staff to go out and speak to young people about engineering careers.

Employers and schools should make use of the free resources available to them, from organisations such as Inspiring the Future and STEMNET whose ambassadors go into schools and colleges to talk about their jobs and sectors. Young people really benefit from hearing about real-life working experiences, so signing up to be an ambassador for engineering careers is particularly valuable.

This is an agenda for everyone with an interest in ensuring that future engineering talent amongst young people – and in particular, young women – is not wasted. Together, we can show teachers, parents and young people that engineering is a modern, creative, high-skill career.

Jo Swinson is Minister for Women and Equalities and Minister for Employment Relations and Consumer Affairs. Follow her on Twitter @joswinson

Image courtesy of the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), showing Yewande Akinola, IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year 2012.

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[1] Vision Critical data collected by BIS (October 2013)

[3] Vision Critical data collected by BIS (October 2013)

[4] Vision Critical data collected by BIS (October 2013)

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#16Days: Counting Dead Women

In the first three days of 2012, seven women in the UK were killed through men’s violence.

On 1 January, Michael Atherton shot his partner Susan McGoldrick, her sister Alison Turnbull and Alison’s daughter Tanya before shooting himself, and Aaron Mann repeatedly hit Claire O’Connor with a blunt object before smothering her with a pillow. Her body was found wrapped in dirty bedding in the boot of her car.

On 2 January, Miles Williams broke into Kirsty Treloar’s family’s home, stabbed her brother and sister as they tried to help, then dragged Kirsty into the back of his mother’s car and drove her away. Kirsty was found dead two miles away, dumped behind a wheelie bin; she had been stabbed 29 times.

On 3 January, John McGrory used a dog lead to strangle Marie McGrory, and Garry Kane beat his grandmother Kathleen Milward to death.

Three days, seven dead women: three shot, one stabbed, one strangled, one smothered and one 87-year-old grandmother killed though 15 “blunt force trauma” injuries.

Since then, I’ve been keeping a record of the women in the UK who have been killed through men’s violence. I counted 120 in 2012. This year, I’ve already counted 116.

The statistic that “two women a week are killed by a partner or former partner” is widely quoted. But it’s only part of the picture. Last year 16 women were killed by their sons and one by her grandson; this year at least seven men have killed their mothers and three their grandmothers. Those women aren’t included is this statistic; nor are the elderly women beaten to death when they are burgled, or the women who are killed because of their involvement in prostitution. Yet the murders of these women are every bit as much about sexism and misogyny.

For the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, I decided to highlight men’s fatal male violence in the UK. Men’s violence against women is global, a cause and consequence of inequality between women and men. Though there are cultural differences in the forms of violence used, women across the world are united through our experiences of men’s violence in patriarchal societies. But men’s violence against women is not natural, it is not inevitable. So much more could be done to end it.

I’m calling on the government to take an integrated approach to looking at men’s fatal violence against women. If we don’t make the connections and look for the true root causes, we will not reduce the numbers of women being killed by men.

Karen spent International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women tweeting the names of women who have been killed in the UK so far in 2013. We have collated Karen’s tweets into a Storify, below:

Karen Ingala Smith is the Chief Executive of nia, a charity supporting women and children who have experienced sexual and domestic violence. She blogs at kareningalasmith.com and tweets @K_IngalaSmith and @countdeadwomen. Sign her petition at: http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/stop-ignoring-dead-women.

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.

Image courtesy of Karen Ingala Smith

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#ManWeek: 16 Days of Activism Against Violence

Today marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, also known as White Ribbon Day. It also sees our Man Week draw to a close, and the start of 16 days of activism against gender violence. The UN’s campaign Say NO – UNiTE to End Violence Against Women is calling on supporters to #orangeurworld throughout these 16 days, with actions to end violence against women and girls.

During Man Week we’ve looked at a range of views on violent men, as well as some of the men who are working to tackle male violence. Throughout the 16 days of activism we’ll be focusing on the impact of violence against women, as well as highlighting campaigns and actions that you can get involved with – movements like the White Ribbon Campaign and causes you can support, like Refuge’s 16 days of fundraising. If there’s anything you’d particularly like us to cover, please get in touch: editorial@feministtimes.com

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Photo courtesy of AusAid

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#ManWeek: The Survivalist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy of DVIDSHUB

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Garry Mulholland

#ManWeek: How to be a man – Mid-Life Crisis

The most loved television show of the last few years was not, in the final analysis, about crystal meth, cancer or severed human heads on turtles. Breaking Bad resonated because it was about a middle-aged man who had failed as a provider, and therefore, in his eyes, as a man. Walter White took somewhat extreme measures in his attempts to regain control of his recession-hit world. But take away the drug money and elaborate violence and you’re left with a familiar story in the 21st century western world: an impotent 50-something trying to relocate his penis in an unimpressed world.

My mid-life crisis hit ten years earlier than Walt’s. If I’d been outstanding at chemistry maybe I would have considered becoming a drug kingpin, but a key part of my meltdown was an overpowering feeling that I wasn’t outstanding at anything. This meant that the popular, almost jocular view of mid-life crisis – you know, middle-aged bloke confronts mortality, buys sports car, pulls young hottie with Daddy issues, starts running half-marathons – didn’t have a great deal to do with my nightmarish 40th year. I contemplated mounting debts and failing career, and crashed. I drank too much, ran up more debts, became depressed, contemplated suicide, had a complete nervous breakdown, and bottomed out, not in some dramatically resonant crack house or dark alley, but at A&E in a hospital in Chichester, with my sister-in-law holding my hand while I gibbered and sobbed to the duty psychiatrist. He offered me happy pills or sectioning. I opted for something dreamy in pink. And so began a ten-year climb back to the point where I can actually write about this without shaking and clinging on to a small cardboard security blanket with Mirtazapine written on it. I’m winning like Charlie Sheen.

So… what is my magic formula for a successful journey from 40 – worst year of my life – to 50, one of the best? Again, you may be underwhelmed. I took the medication for six years. I went into therapy for two years. And I clung on to my happy marriage for dear life. That last one was the pathway to what I actually needed to do, rather than distract myself with chasing teen-twenty totty or taking up skateboarding. I needed to get real.

As my 40th birthday slump hardened into something darker, I increasingly convinced myself that I was the worst man living. Working-class men are supposed to be salt-of-the-earth providers, and I was a very bright working-class man so, by the age of 40, I should have been wealthy, famous, universally respected and able to lavish my wife, son and mother with holiday homes in Cancun while bankrolling their own successful businesses. Instead, I was a failed and anonymous writer with mounting debts, living in fear of bailiffs and – and I want to stress that this was the depression-induced paranoia talking – the rest of the media world pointing and laughing at the ghetto brat who had dared to share space with the Oxbridge set. One of the horrors of depression is its narcissism. The media world was far too busy to notice me, never mind collude in collective Garry-taunting.

So, in the spirit of getting real, I took the therapy seriously and realized that the black hole sucking me in used money as its most potent magnet, but was actually made of the same kind of childhood issues that everyone else had. I’d repressed them for so long that I’d developed them into shadowy beasts with loud voices, loud enough to drown out all the real voices around me, like my wife’s, when she would tell me how much she loved and admired me. She must be lying, the beasts roared, and I believed them and took my self-loathing from there.

The therapy didn’t cure me, exactly, but it introduced my self-image to my real self, made us some tea and sandwiches, encouraged us to hang out to see if we got along. Ten years down the line, and we get along pretty well. I still don’t trust the notion of loving oneself – sounds like megalomaniac kinda business to me – but I began to realise, a few years ago, that I quite like real Garry, with his fear of failure, uselessness with money, tendency towards solipsism, but also decent amounts of intelligence and talent, loyalty to his loved ones, ability to open up and be open. Garry’s alright. And now he’s past medication and suicidal impulses, and managed it without abandoning his marriage or his family, he’s a little more alright.

So, eventually, I got my penis back. I’d missed him, funny little fella. Whether Walter White would see my crime and cash-free recovery as possession of a truly thick and meaty Heisenberg, I doubt. But I related much more to his apprentice Jesse Pinkman anyway. Young and pretty (some self-images die harder than others) and buffeted hither and thither by powerful forces he’ll never control. His future is uncertain. But at least he’s alive.

Garry Mulholland is a journalist, author and broadcaster. He has written four books on music and film published by Orion Books, including This Is Uncool: The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk And Disco. Find out more @GarryMulholland

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#ManWeek: Profile – White Ribbon Campaign

‘To engage men in speaking out about violence against women and challenging the gender stereotypes which underpin abuse.’

One vital way to do this is by focusing just for one day on increasing the visibility of all the hidden violence(s) against women. This leads to activity around November 25th, the UN International Day to Eradicate Violence against Women, and the 16 days of action. We work not just around preventing Domestic Violence, but against all the other forms of male violence affecting women.

White Ribbon Campaign operates in 40 countries worldwide. White Ribbon Campaign UK has been operating since 2004 and operates as a primary prevention campaign, raising awareness, educating and changing the culture around the issue of violence against women. It relies totally upon individual donations, fundraising, and income from our big online shop which supports the work of one part-time employee and volunteers from our base in West Yorkshire.

It’s important to engage men in violence prevention because:

  • It’s men’s responsibility to do something about it – 89% of ongoing violence is committed by men against women
  • Women want men to engage in preventing violence – last year WRC UK co-operated with 14 different national women’s organisations
  • Men need to hear a violence prevention message coming from other men and to understand the benefits of not having to behave as a gender stereotype
  • As one of our stickers says ‘Pornography Degrades Men’

Our pledge site provides an opportunity for men to write a comment ‘I want to end Male Violence against Women because…
‘It’s Wrong – Violence against women will only cease when men stand up and challenge other men.’
‘Silence is not an option. Silence colludes with domestic violence, trafficking, pornography the sex trade, female genital mutilation, so called honour based violence and rape.’

We have developed award models for local authorities, schools, music venues, sports clubs and corporate supporters. We encourage supporting men to become Ambassadors. Every year more and more local authorities sign up as White Ribbon supporters. The total now stands at more than 50. To achieve this status they must draw up a demanding action plan to support their white ribbon campaigning year round.

As well as asking men to wear a ribbon or badge on November 25th, and for the 16 days following, typical activities to commemorate White Ribbon Day around the UK will include:
Swearing or pledge signing, t-shirt slogan drawing and display, handprint banners, balloon releases, high-heeled walks, special assemblies in schools, sports matches (soccer, rugby and ice hockey, boxing) music events (Nottingham are releasing a Song “Man Enough” on November 25th)

One local school received a White Ribbon Education award for developing an action plan of 18 actions points including: Having a Stall, Display Board, House assemblies, Use of Expect Respect toolkit (Womens Aid), Introduction to One Billion Rising, Staff Training, requests for ideas on how to link the campaign to specific topics within their subject area. The Boys Rugby Club produced 5,000 copies of a calendar of positive male role models- (childcare, elder care, cooking etc) which had a full page feature in the local paper.

We have 14,000 men who have pledged their support on our website. Why not 10x 100x or 1000x that number! Nottingham holds the record for collecting local pledges after enabling men to text their support. We are aware that ‘Wearing Ribbons is not enough’. Sending a text is not enough. BUT IT IS THE START of a process. WE support many feminist activities, and at London Feminist conference 13 men were discussing the possibility of a Pro Feminist Mens conference, the first time for 30 years that that has been discussed.

The Lord Mayor of York held a breakfast meeting of Chief Executives to launch its application for White Ribbon status. The Director of Public Health said ‘We have just bought a ticket for the journey. We have substantial work to do before we will deserve our award of White Ribbon status.’ This is the attitude we want to encourage. It is the responsibility of all men to be engaged in stopping this epidemic of violence.

The revolution in the lives of women demands a revolution in the lives of men. We welcome more partnership working on how best to develop, expand and get the message across. Men WILL be part of a culture of care, Men want to break free from old fashioned stereotypes of how men behave and that Men say NO to All violence.

Find out more about White Ribbon Campaign in the UK here. On November 25th White Ribbon will be having a continuous twitter presence @menantiviolence 

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#ManWeek: What about my Man Day?

It’s International Men’s Day! Hooray, said hardly anyone, ever, as millions of people around the globe have literally no idea it’s going on. While around half of the ones that do, including many feminists, just roll their eyes and say ‘every day’s international men’s day’. And quite.

Men. That famously oppressed group. I’ll park the sarcasm there.

Have you ever tried to explain International Women’s Day to a drunk and very annoying middle aged man? If so, I’ve been there: ‘What’s that then, a day for talking about periods? Pfft, and what about Man day? Where’s my Man Day?” To those of us scarred by such experiences, IMD appears to be the answer to that question, and that’s just one reason why it comes across as ridiculous as that old lush.

It’s galling that the one day that women have to address a historical global imbalance is mimicked by those many consider to be the perpetrators. Like white supremisists who claim to be victims of racism, or a straight pride. It feels at total odds with reality where women are 70% of those who live inpoverty and violence against women is at pandemic proportions.

It’s obvious then why many feminists and women find it hard to engage with International Men’s Day when one is repelled. But what if we start with the idea that men also suffer, that men are victims of patriarchy too – can it ever make sense?

International Men’s Day was founded by Dr. Jerome Teelucksingh in Trinidad and Tobago in 1999. You can see Dr Teelucksingh explaining his reasoning on the video below: Too many families with absent fathers. Too many men in prison. Men failing at education and losing their identity as the ‘breadwinner’.

The ‘family unit is under attack’, he felt, back then. ‘Society needs to strongly condemn certain trends like multiple partners…. these deviant family patterns influenced by North American media… These project the wrong image of men which we tend to copy, we tend to mimic, we are mimic men, and we see that men are being less responsible.’ He goes on to explain that they need ‘better quality men’, ‘high calibre, trustworthy’ role models.

The men behind IMD are not just the white privileged few. IMD comes from a place where the men admit they are irresponsible, where their brothers are wasting their lives in prison, where they miss out on fulfilling relationships with the women and children in their lives. Fourteen years later in the UK IMD focuses on some of the same issues:

The six ‘pillars’ of International Men’s Day in 2013.
To promote positive male role models.
To celebrate men’s positive contributions.
To focus on men’s health and wellbeing.
To highlight discrimination against males.
To improve gender relations and promote gender equality.
To create a safer, better world.

Some men, the minority involved in IMD, feel misrepresented, some feel discriminated against. The similarities between International Women’s and Men’s Days are that they both seek to express what they feel is misunderstood about their gender and bring to light issues their gender face.

In the light, not every day is fun times for all the boys, which is probably why the younger ones are the highest suicide-risk group. The pressure to fulfill stereotypes with a lack of diverse and ‘quality’ role models. Stereotypes that lead to abuse of women. The pressure to succeed in a world they are supposed to have built, with rules that are supposed to work for them, when really they are in a system that only allows the few to succeed. Shining light on both these issues can change life for the better for women too.

But IMD has the danger of being highjacked. By men who hate women. By the guys who think we’ve got too many rights, and that our rights are discriminatory towards them. By that drunk guy who just wants a day too. We should be wary of him.

Every day is a Man’s Day, but International Men’s Day is a chance to have a different kind of Man day, where gender stereotypes can be challenged – imagine if that happened every day.

Photo: Martin Abegglen


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#ManWeek: The Bad Boy of Feminism on how to be a good male feminist

I have a confession to make about the birth of my son three months ago. My wife and I had decided that we would not find out the sex of the baby but I had been hoping for a girl because we already have a three year old boy and it’s always nice to have the full set. Especially when you are a proud male feminist, as I am. When the beautiful little boy was delivered and I saw his gender, I was surprised to discover that I felt a huge sense of relief surge through me. I realised that I was, in fact, enormously glad that I was not going to have a girl after all.

Let me be clear. This was not because of the old cliché that with two boys you only have two dicks to worry about but with girls you have every dick to worry about. No, I was relieved because I would not want to bring a woman into a world where she would be oppressed, marginalised and discriminated against from the moment she was born.

Given a pink robe moments after birth, told she would be a certain way as a teenager, knowing that she would be destined to earn less than men, be ogled by men and almost certainly at some point in her life be abused mentally or physically in everyday life by misogynists who roam undetected and unchecked by the patriarchal society we live in.

The lack of concern about women’s issues in society is just staggering. Women make up half the world and every single woman suffers persecution in one way or another every day but it is not considered a ‘fashionable’ cause to support. Why? It’s half the world! Whether it be genital mutilation, smaller salaries or sexual abuse on the tube, every woman is affected but so many otherwise intelligent but grossly misguided people on the street and in the public eye claim feminism is no longer necessary.

Put simply, how fucking dare they.

So what can I do as a male feminist do to help? Well for starters, I can make my two boys grow up to be good feminists. Treat women with the respect they deserve but also encourage others to fight for it. And stand up and speak when they see something they know to be wrong.

And to ensure this, I need to lead by example. And I do try to live my life as a good feminist. I would like to think I treat all women with respect and as equals (or superiors – which they generally are) but while also being a gentleman. The two are not mutually exclusive. Do I always hold doors open for women, let them take my seat on the tube and insist on paying for their drinks? Yes I do but that’s being gentlemanly. You can be a gentleman and a feminist. The two are not mutually exclusive.

But I am not perfect. I have done and do things I am hugely ashamed of that I hope my sons never do. Have I been known to ogle women? Yes I have. Granted, I have never been a brute hanging out of a white van shouting obscenities at a woman presumably on the misguided belief that she is going to turn around and offer herself sexually to these abusive oafs. But I have been known to turn my head to get a better look at a woman as she walks past me. And it’s wrong. Shockingly so. She didn’t dress up nicely that morning to have my disgusting face turning to ogle her and undress her with my eyes. But sometimes I can’t help myself and it’s wrong. I truly believe this to be a violation of all women that while not as affecting as rape, it is in the same ballpark. My natural instinct is to ogle. I wish it wasn’t so I fight it. And I’ve got better lately. It is possible for men to curb this instinct just as it is possible for them not to use pornography. Every time they do so it is a choice to exploit and demean all women. Which is why I have stopped. For now. It’s an every day struggle.

Men (and some women) argue it’s a natural instinct but so is rage but that does not make violence towards women acceptable. It may not be easy but you just need to recondition yourself. For example I have had a small piece of glass embedded in my foot for the past few weeks. I broke a glass and stepped in it. My natural instinct is to walk as I always have done. But I can’t because the glass there in painful so I have learned to walk on the side of my foot to avoid the painful area. And I remember that every time a woman catches my eye. I can avoid turning my head and I must. Because every time I do I am violating her.

And anyway, where does this desire come from. Is it from within? Are men born with it as many claim? Or is it society conditioning us with sexual images and making us believe all women are there to be ogled? I am not smart enough to answer these questions but I suspect it is a bit of both.

But stopping ogling and using pornography is only the beginning. The civil rights movement didn’t succeed because people decided to just ignore racism. No, we have to speak up. The most important thing for male feminists to do is to say when they disapprove of something. It is an unfortunate fact that thirty years ago at a dinner table if someone made a racist comment we may have ignored it if we disapproved. Twenty years ago homophobic comments would go uncorrected. But thankfully now, on the whole, right-minded people will now object when they hear such utterances. What men can do is start doing the same for misogyny. When a friend or colleague is boasting of a sexual conquest and describing the women in misogynistic terms, we need to speak up. Not laugh, or stay silent. But say: ‘This is not ok. I find that offensive.’ Just as we would if we hear someone making a racist or homophobic comment.

That’s the way forward. Make those who speak of women in derogatory ways as outcasted as those who express racist or homophobic views.

It is time to speak up and repeat after me. This is not ok. This is not ok. This is not ok.

And if my sons can do this, then hopefully when they have children in thirty years or so, things will have changed enough that they can rejoice the birth of their daughters into a world where they will be treated with the decency they deserve.

James Mullinger will be performing his stand up show about his life as a male feminist The Bad Boy Of Feminism as part of the Bath Literary Festival 8th March 2014 Follow @jamesmullinger

If you enjoyed this article and want to meet other feminists like, and unlike, yourself, join Feminist Times as a Member. Join us and support the building of an incredible feminist organisation and resources like this website.

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#ManWeek: Son Preference… ‘where girls vanish with no trace’


son pref4_ec

Reprinted from The Atlas of Women in the World by Joni Seager. We are delighted to be able to offer Feminist Times subscribers a 20% discount: please order here quoting code MRJ81. This offer is valid until the end of December 2013.

Joni Seager is Professor & Chair of Global Studies at Bentley Uni, a Global Policy Expert & Feminist.

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#ManWeek: 18th – 25th November

To coincide with International Men’s Day on the 19th and the UN Day to Eliminate VAWG 25th Nov Feminist Times uncovers what the real problem with men is, if men can be feminists and how we can work together. #ManWeek

“It’s provocative to have a Man Week for a new feminist publication, but in a post-Lad world we believe analysing and identifying the new masculine archetype is an important issue for feminism.” Charlotte Raven, Editor.

Deborah Owhin, Violence Against Women & Girls Specialist, former Domestic Homicide Review Lead, explains how abuse and death can be prevented by improving relationships between fathers and daughters

Joni Seagar, Professor & Chair of Global Studies at Bentley Uni, Boston, Global Policy Expert & Feminist, presents an extract from her Atlas of Women on Son Preference across the globe

James Mullinger, comedian and self-appointed “Bad Boy of Feminism” explains why men are capable of being feminists

White Ribbon Campaign Profile: Why we need men to join us in fighting for the safety of women

Garry Muholland, journalist, author and broadcaster, describes his mid-life-crisis

But What About Men’s Day? Where did International Men’s Day Come From?

Taboo Corner from a Radical Feminist

Domestic Violence and the psychoanalysis of men who beat

Psychoanalytical Toolkit

Charlotte Raven on the masculine archetype of The Survivalist

Teaching Men to be Feminist book review

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Anna throws away pink dress

Diary of a Tomboy: unisex clothes are expensive

Feminist Times is building a dedicated Children’s section for phase two of the website. At the moment Anna is writing to bring a child’s perspective to an adult audience, but this website is not aimed at children.

A week ago my mum and me went to John Lewis to get my winter clothes. Usually we just get pajamas and gloves because the girls’ part is all pink and the boys’ is totally blue.

But when I went they had a total reform – most of the clothes are unisex. We went there because the unisex clothes shop we normally go to was too expensive.

So now we are probably going to go there in future for all my clothes, which is good because it is not too expensive.

But we can’t get everything there so we are still looking for cheap unisex clothes shops.

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Comeback: How To Be A Man – Porn

A reader’s response to Garry Mulholland’s first How To Be A Man column, on his conflicted relationship with pornography.

Dear Garry,

When I was 14, I was developing an interest in boys and sex. Unlucky for me, my best friend was the prettiest girl in school and every boy I ever had a crush only had eyes for her. If only there was someone like you, someone to like me because I didn’t quite meet the patriarchal standards of beauty, Oh! How happy I might have been! But alas, that is not what we all want. Consider perhaps that a woman might like to be appreciated for something other than her appearance; you have just developed a different standard of sexual beauty, it appears that you are still responding to it in the same way that the boys at school responded to my best friend.

I had my first serious boyfriend at university. I was so shocked that there was someone who liked me and not the girl I was with that I didn’t really consider much else. As it turned out, he was a porn addict too. I’d wake up in the middle of the night to find him masturbating at his computer at the end of the bed. I didn’t have much experience with porn, but this did not feel ok. I felt so betrayed that he would do this, and I quickly became convinced that I was not good enough for him. We soon discussed the issue and I raised my concerns; he felt very sorry and promised he would stop. Of course, that did not happen. He would take his laptop into the bathroom for long periods, and added a collection of porn to his phone. Not only was I not good enough for him sexually, my feelings of inadequacy and sadness were not worth a moment of his time. I’m ashamed to admit that I continued in the relationship for far longer than I should have, but I am not ashamed to say that porn was the root of our problems.

Having experienced this man’s obsession with porn, and hearing male friends discuss their own relationships with porn, I have developed enough curiosity to have a look at some. The first porn I ever watched was very misleading, and I had some very wrong ideas about what squirting was for a long time. I have a number of female friends who say they use it, but I personally get no enjoyment from it; it makes me feel very uncomfortable. I wonder how the women you have been with feel about your relationship with porn?

Following my relationship with the porn addict, I had a number of casual affairs which gave me further insight into the effects of porn. Almost every man that I was with EXPECTED a blowjob, like that was his right as a man. They were all horrified when I refused. Many would also try their luck at requesting anal – again, it is just not for me. These acts are commonplace on all porn sites, and so the boys and men who grow up with access to them have grown to expect it, and as such, girls who would rather not are vilified (we all know that a woman is a slut if she does and a prude if she doesn’t, but this is going much further now). Why must my sexual choices be dictated to me by porn and the men who watch it?

My 7-year-old nephew recently saw porn at school for the first time on a friend’s phone. He came home that day and told his mother, and questioned her about what it was that was coming out of the man’s willy. I really don’t believe that this was the right way for him to learn about these things. He’ll be laughed at in the playground if he doesn’t know, but none of them will really understand, and so begins another generation of men who will no doubt grow up to make women feel as inadequate as I did.

So, Garry, let’s not pretend that porn is feminist. Let’s instead consider how we can stop the next generations from feeling the ways that you and I felt. Let’s communicate, and open up a discussion about this. Let’s not make children feel stupid for asking, and let’s not make them feel that sex is naughty and not to be talked about. We can’t stop the porn industry from doing what it does best, but we can help people to understand it for what it is, and make sense of their own feelings and experiences.

Victoria Coleman

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Dave Verrill: Feminism is…

Dave VerrillName: Dave Verrill

Age: 42

Location: Llanllwni, Carmarthenshire, Wales

Bio: Odd bloke in the corner of the pub; been to medical school, dropped out been mad, dropped back in, worked with mentally ill, now studying for a degree in philosophy.

Feminism is about standing with your sisters as your sisters stand with you, even if you are one of their brothers.

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

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It’s not Gloria de Piero’s boobs that are controversial. It’s her brains

Last Thursday Labour MP Gloria de Piero made the news. Not because of her policies but because of her boobs. It seems a national newspaper offered thousands of pounds to unearth topless pictures taken when she was 15. Days earlier, her appointment as shadow minister for women and equalities was announced. That’ll teach a working class woman to have notions above her station.

On the Tuesday, representatives from Lose the Lads’ Mags campaign, including actress Ramola Garai, had spoken at a sold out event in Parliament. They argued that having lads’ mags on sale in family spaces, such as Tesco, was contributing to a culture wherein the sexualisation of women and young girls, is considered normal.

Glamour models are ubiquitous. Women, like de Piero, who dare to make a bid for power using their brains rather than their bodies, however, are either invisible or pilloried by the press. The two stories are inextricably linked.

Initially, the press wasn’t that interested in the Lose the Lads’ Mags story. Then Dominic Smith, grandiloquent editor of Nuts, entered the fray. There’s nothing like a bit of aggro to prick the malestream media’s interest.

In an interview with Green MP Caroline Lucas, on Radio 5 Live, Smith seemed flummoxed by Lucas’ use of “big” words, like “culture” and “objectification”. I can see how such vocabulary, coming from a woman, can be discombobulating (gratuitous big word alert) to a man who surrounds himself with compliant teenagers whose brains are sadly often surplus to other anatomical requirements. Smith then used Lucas’ linguistic dexterity to accuse her, and the entire campaign, of being middle class, therefore irrelevant.

I’m a feminist, from a working class background, with a penchant for big words myself (I collected them as a child). I grew up on the “wrong” side of the Liffey and, whilst there were many things we couldn’t afford (hence collecting words as opposed to dolls), education wasn’t one of them. That was free.

It’s because of my education that I can intellectually deconstruct the propaganda peddled by Smith and other purveyors of porn. It’s not just patronising to imply that the only choice open to girls from working class backgrounds is to get their kit off for male titillation, it’s also cods wallop.

By refusing to engage with the intellectual discourse on the grounds that it’s “middle class”, lads’ mags’ apologists are copping out. When surveys produce data indicating that 63% of teenagers aspire to be glamour models as opposed to doctors, teachers or, God forbid (I use this term as an Irish Atheist), politicians like de Piero, alarm bells should be ringing.

Supporters of lads’ mags say they’re not pornographic (and Tetley isn’t tea) and that they’re no worse than women’s magazines. I loathe most women’s magazines. Many are guilty of multitudinous crimes against women, but they’re not porn. Lads’ mags offer free videos of women dressed like schoolgirls, stripping, they contain adverts that lead into hardcore porn and the back pages are awash with numbers for sex chat lines.

Also worth noting, women’s magazines tend to put other women on the front cover. If they serially featured teenage boys in thongs (or naked), leaving nothing to the imagination, with splayed legs and fondling his bits, there would be a public outcry. Sexualised images of women and girls are so pervasive now that we’ve become desensitised to them.

It’s reported that half of school girls are considering plastic surgery to make themselves thinner and prettier, 90% of eating disorders are amongst females, teenage gang rape is on the increase and 1 in 3 girls have reported unwelcome sexual touching at school. Camden School For Girls made similar points in a documentary, which persuaded their local Tesco to remove lads’ mags.

Portraying women as sex objects perpetuates gender inequalities. Objectification is dehumanising. That’s the point. It’s much easier to abuse (or discriminate against) a non-person reduced to mere body parts. Tits and ass usually. The sex industry, which includes lads’ rags, has a vested interest in normalising the objectification of women. To them, women and girls are just commodities. To be bought and sold – in your local Tesco.


Tess Finch-Lees is a journalist, ethical blogger and human rights campaigner. Find out more at: www.tessfinchlees.com

Image courtesy of Gloria de Piero’s office.

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Alison Woolf: Feminism is…

Alison WoolfName: Alison Woolf

Age: 51

Location: Canvey Island, Essex

Bio: Married at 17, still am, mummy at 18, shit jobs for 10 years, rescued by the OU, worked in adults social care for 20 years

Feminism is a philosophy and historical social movement that campaigns and works for equality of opportunity and outcomes for women in their public and private lives. Modern feminism has many facets and I would like to hope, embraces diversity, confronting the dilemmas choice can provide understanding that equal does not mean the same and taking a global view.

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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Flo Forster: Feminism is…

Flo ForsterName: Flo Forster

Age: 19

Location: Leamington Spa

Bio: I’m a student at Warwick Uni, studying politics, philosophy and economics

Feminism is super easy. If you believe that all human beings are equal, and you believe that women are human beings, then you’re a feminist!

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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Madeleine Walton: Feminism is…

Madeleine WaltonName: Madeleine Walton

Age: 52

Location: Sheffield

Bio: Lesbian artist with three adopted daughters

Feminism is … Women: as the subject; asking questions; ascertaining the truth; being in control; believing in ourselves; breaking boundaries; creating space; demanding respect; developing new ways of working; doing it for ourselves; empowering each other; ending injustices; establishing the facts; exposing the reality; expressing ourselves freely; fighting patriarchy; forging alliances; getting old disgracefully; having equal rights; having the freedom to choose; knowing our rights; learning from each other; liking our own bodies; listening to each other; living life to the full; saying it as it is; looking out for each other; loving ourselves as we are; overcoming set-backs; setting the agenda; showing girls how to be independent; speaking out; speaking up; stopping violence against women; subverting society; taking back the night; taking control; taking on the state; thinking for ourselves; threatening the status quo; understanding our history; valuing ourselves; voicing our opinions; we are stronger together!

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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Sarah Cason: Feminism is…

SarahCasonName: Sarah Cason

Age: 30

Location: Bangkok

Bio: Learner driver feminist, ESL teacher, rollergirl

Feminism is an interrogation of and retaliation against the oppression of women across the world, and seeks to achieve equality through real 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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Ruth Lewis: Feminism is…

Ruth LewisName: Ruth Lewis

Age: 47

Location: Newcastle upon Tyne and Whitley Bay

Bio: Ruth Lewis is a feminist whose day job is as a Sociology lecturer at Northumbria University and who has been involved for decades in  feminist activism, especially around domestic violence, and including organising the North East Feminist Gathering

Feminism is a social movement, a personal consciousness, a theoretical framework, a political analysis, an ethos. Through all these, feminism aims to liberate women from oppressive structures, practices, cultures and ideologies. As a way of seeing the world, feminism helps us recognise that human beings’ lives are determined largely by whether they are women or men. It helps us see, and therefore challenge, the patriarchal structures which set out gendered roles, behaviours and life-paths for women and men, restricting their ways of being, their life chances, their experiences and choices. Importantly feminism is not just about analysis; it is also intrinsically about progressive social change. Feminism is a tool to help us imagine a world where people’s lives are not determined by their gender, and helps us to fulfil those imaginings by challenging patriarchal structures and ideologies. Imagining alternatives is an important aspect of breaking free of the constraints we live with.  At its best, feminism recognises the intersection of patriarchy with other structures and ideologies – about sexuality, ethnicity, class, for example – which restrict women’s lives, thereby making feminism relevant to all women, whatever their circumstances.

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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Natalie Bennett

Natalie Bennett marks International Day of the Girl

Following her criticism of the cabinet reshuffle earlier this week, Green Party leader Natalie Bennett has marked the UN’s International Day of the Girl Child with a statement, sent exclusively to Feminist Times, which is to be read today to girls at the Royal High School, Bath.

Dear pupils,

I am sorry I can’t join you today to pass on in person how pleased I am that you are paying serious attention to the International Day of the Girl.

When I was five years old, it was brought home to me that I was indeed a girl. Was told that I couldn’t have the bicycle I passionately wished for, because I was female. Riding a bicycle was “unladylike” I was told. But had I had a brother, he could have one and I might be allowed to ride it some time.

Ever since that day, I have been passionate about women’s rights.

Of course we know many girls in the world today suffer vastly great deprivations – lack of food, lack of a chance for an education, risk of violence and abuse – simply because of their gender.

We need to say – and I hope you will say, as you step out into the world and start to take over the world – that no discrimination against girls is acceptable.

And I hope you will celebrate the many achievements of girls – from the high profile, such as the magnificent Malala, to the unsung girls around the world who labour to feed their families and themselves. They should be in school, but they are doing their best with the hand society has dealt them.

The future world is your world – you can shape it, make choices about its direction. Maybe one of you will be a prime minister, one of you might be a Supreme Court judge – and we certainly need more women there. Maybe you’ll be a chef, or a farmer, or an engineer. And we need more women doing all of those jobs too.

Whatever you do, I hope you’ll be thinking about not just your own progress, but also that of other girls and women around the world.

When we work together for the common good, we’re all stronger, all happier, all more secure.

I hope you have a great day today, a great celebration, one that you will remember in the years to come.

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Anna throws away pink dress

Diary of a Tomboy: Football

Feminist Times is building a dedicated Children’s section for phase two of the website. At the moment Anna is writing to bring a child’s perspective to an adult audience, but this website is not aimed at children.

Since the magazine was thought of I have been writing more than usual. In one of my speeches I talked about stereotyping.

I was playing football – we play in a mixed team, which is good, but the boys never pass to the girls so we end up having to tackle our own team to get a touch.

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Joseph Attard: Feminism is…

Joseph AttardName: Joseph Attard

Age: 22

Location: London

Bio: I am a copywriter and content manager for an online casino affiliate company

What is feminism? Feminism is not about favours for favours. It is not us against them or me against you. It is not now and nor shall it ever be achieved. It is a process, not an endpoint. Feminism is not finding a ‘special place’ in society. Feminism is not a gift bestowed by anyone upon anyone else. Feminism is not sexism by another name, nor is it ‘going too far.’ Feminism is not about working, or not working, or raising children or not raising children. Feminism is not about being anything or anyone.

Feminism is not about gender, it is about decency. Feminism is not ‘political correctness gone mad’ and it is not cultural imperialism. Feminism is not about women, it is about humanity. It is not about sex or sexuality, it is about sanity. Feminism is not coloured or monolingual. Feminism is not about freedom, it is about choice.

Feminism acknowledges that in the history of the human race, the most ubiquitously oppressed individuals have occupied 50% of the total population of the planet. Feminism is the intellectual refuge of our species and our only salvation from our most pervasive injustice.

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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Juliet Powell: Feminism is…

Juliet PowellName: Juliet Powell

Age: 46

Location: Bellevue, WA, USA

Bio: British expat mum of five who is about to take the doula/midwifery world by storm 

Feminism is never having to apologise for being the girl or woman you want to be.

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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Amna Riaz: Feminism is…

Amna RiazName: Amna G Riaz

Age: 20

Location: York

Bio: A poet, writer and a student  

Feminism is the struggle against the symbolic use and ownership of women’s bodies, in order to meet the desires of men. Miley Cyrus’s 23 video demonstrates this struggle excellently. Cyrus is scantily clad surrounded by three fully clothed men. It is utterly ridiculous that in the 21st century women’s abilities are still based solely on their bodies and only for the consumption of men.

Feminism however also recognises intersectionalism, which is demonstrated by one youtube commentator on Cyrus as the following ‘I’m all for rap videos with sexy women dancing or singing, but damn, this was repulsive’. What it shows is that patriarchy holds different values and norms for women of colour and white women. Had Cyrus been a black woman, Cyrus would have been ‘sassy’ or ‘promiscuous’ rather than ‘repulsive’.

Finally, feminism is also the struggle against a static concept of gender identity. Cyrus’ video is considered by some as ‘vulgar’, men and women in this case therefore suffer from hyper masculinity and femininity which are social constructions.

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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Caroline Lucas MP: Feminism is…

Green Party MP Caroline LucasName: Caroline Lucas

Bio: Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion

What is feminism? I like Rebecca West’s famous answer: “I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.” That still holds true today, except women who refuse to be doormats get called much worse. Just ask Caroline Criado-Perez.

So feminism is still about fighting for the right to be heard, often in the face of abuse, violence, ridicule, and prejudice. In politics, as in many other professional spheres, there are also institutional barriers. In parliament right now there are over 500 male MPs, and 356 constituencies that have never had a female MP. Our ranking for women in parliament is 53rd in world – alongside Malawi.

And fifty years after we proclaimed that the personal is political, sexism remains woven into the fabric of our day to day lives. The daily diet of images of woman as available for men – whether on the internet or in so-called newspapers – makes it more likely that discrimination, harassment and violence are accepted.

Feminism means never stopping our challenges to these injustices. It means making our fight, and our solidarity, as ‘everyday’ as the sexism around us.

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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Anna throws away pink dress

Diary of a Tomboy

Feminist Times is building a dedicated Children’s section for phase two of the website. At the moment Anna is writing to bring a child’s perspective to an adult audience, but this website is not aimed at children.

“Are you a boy or a girl?” everyone says. I used to say “girl” but now I just say “what do you think?”

Being a Tomboy has its advantages and disadvantages, like people are constantly asking if you’re a boy or a girl, but it’s good because you are kind of a mix between two genders.

I am interested in why some mums won’t let their child be a Tomboy – I really don’t know why.

The thing that is hard is clothes. When I buy my clothes it’s very hard to find unisex clothes nowadays because the boy clothes are too boyish and the girls’ are too girly. If I want to wear pink my mum said she would let me as well.

But overall it’s very fun. There are lots of inspiring examples of Tomboys, like Famous Five and Swallows and Amazons, they make me feel like I’m not alone.

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Garry Mulholland

How To Be A Man: Porn

Imagine a world where all women were judged equal. Black and white, fat and thin, hairy and shaved, even old and young, all seen as equally worthy of being seen, and seen as desirable, even beautiful. There is, of course, no need to imagine. This world already exists. Its called internet porn.

Actually, the internet bit there is misleading. Porn has always been a broad church, fetish-wise. The internet just means more of it, easier to access, devoid of the public shame of entering sex shops and exiting with brown paper bags, and, like internet music, entirely free, if you know where to look. If the world had been like this when I was fourteen, I would never have left my bedroom. Therein lies the scary, but we’ll get back to that.

I choose the age of fourteen because that’s when my addiction to pornography began. A friend gave me a magazine called Peaches. It featured many colour and black and white pictures of naked women posing. These women were specific, though. The ‘Peaches’ was a euphemism for big tits, and, in this case, the big tits belonged largely to fat middle-aged women with excessive amounts of body hair. These women looked so unlike the women I was supposed to desire in 1977 – Raquel Welch, Felicity Kendal, Olivia Newton-John – that they may as well have been another species from another planet. But what struck me as hard as how much I liked these bodies was the way these women looked at me. Their faces said, “You poor helpless boy. How could you not want me? I am fucking irresistible!” Which seemed curious – and exciting – when the most bullied sub-group in my school were the fat girls, when every other gag on peak-time TV began with a variation on ‘I wouldn’t say my wife/mother-in-law was fat/ugly, but…’, when the phrase ‘hairy-arsed feminists’ had just begun to creep into popular culture. Was I allowed to fancy hairy-arsed mothers-in-law more than the pretty slim girls at school? Too late. I did. And so began a secret addiction, wrapped in one very specific kind of brown-paper shame; the discovery that I must be some kind of pervert. My male friends mocked me if I even talked to Maria, the chubby girl I most liked at school. How would they humiliate me if they knew what I wanked over?

In the same year, I heard the Sex Pistols and was forever changed by punk rock. While porn was my furtive guilty pleasure – and how that phrase has been perverted over the last six or seven years; do people really feel honest-to-God guilt over quite liking Bonnie Tyler records? I wish my conscience was that clear! – I was evangelical about punk rock, and the entirely new type of pop woman it had brought forth. I didn’t really make any connection, at the time, between my hairy BBW (Big Beautiful Women, in modern porn parlance) wank objects and Siouxsie, or Patti Smith, or Poly Styrene, or Fay Fife of The Rezillos. But years later I realized that, on some subconscious level, chubby porn models and fierce punk androgynes had merged and given me a taste for women who not only looked different to the submissive baby doll beloved of mainstream ‘phowoar!’ culture, but drew attention to themselves, and reveled in it. The pressure on women to conform physically seems overwhelming, from the outside. Any woman who can ignore that pressure and imagine themselves sexually irresistible is some kind of heroine.

But I’m honestly not pretending that hardcore porn is a world entirely composed of female non-conformists leading young boys to an enlightened rejection of misogynist body fascism. It is very often a world of blank-eyed women being choked by massive penises, or being used, as Julie Burchill once memorably put it, ‘as sexual spittoons’. I’ve read my Julie Bindel too and I don’t live in denial of the fact that the majority of women in porn are there through physical or economic coercion, or because they are playing out the trauma of an earlier sexual abuse. When I use the words ‘guilty pleasure’, I mean them. I call myself a feminist, yet I regularly collude in one of the planet’s most organized, durable and violent wars on women. I don’t have an excuse, or a handy intellectual theory to justify it. It’s just wrong. But sexual impulses are powerful and hard to change. My only real defence is a 17-year marriage to a lifelong feminist. Because I like to convince myself that my relationship with porn is compartmentalized neatly and entirely separately from my real-life relationships with women. And my wife L remains the only viable exhibit for the defence.

If you told me, at fourteen, that I would, at 50, be married to a woman not physically unlike the women in Peaches, who maintained the principles of ‘women’s lib’ that my mother raised me with, I think I would have been pretty chuffed. But that does bring me back to the image of a confused adolescent boy, in 2013, with immediate access to an infinite number of moving images of loveless fucking. Because the second porn magazine my friend gave me did damage to my sexuality that has never been fully repaired.

The magazine was called Color Climax, and featured images of Swedish people having sex. While I remember the faces of the women in Peaches in incredible detail, I remember nothing about the men or women in Color Climax. Except the cocks. The cocks were huge; so much bigger than mine that, again, it seemed they must belong to a different species. They were also rock hard, and appeared to need no stimulation at all to get that way. And, when entered into hairy Swedish girl vagina, they caused a reaction – an ecstasy – on the faces of said hairy Swedish girls that I’d only seen in old paintings of puny humans visited by Gods and angels. From that moment, I was convinced that my puny penis could not possibly be what women really wanted at all, and, 36 years later, I still partly believe that every woman who has had sex with me only did so because she thought I was a nice guy, and a porn stud wasn’t immediately available that night. I know that’s stupid and irrational. But sexuality is stupid and irrational. I just hope my son, who is 27 now, had become a little more emotionally fully-formed before he saw something he couldn’t un-see.

When our esteemed editor asked me to write the How To Be A Man column, and we agreed that the first one should be about pornography, I thought I’d probably at least try and write something funny. I’ve just re-read the above and there isn’t a laugh to be had. I’m only just realizing what a profound effect images of fucking have had on the kind of man I am. But one thing I’m sure of: while the men who own the porn industry are invariably scum, and the effect it has on male perceptions of women feed and breed misogyny, fetish pornography’s vision of what makes a woman sexually attractive is, was, and always will be broader, wider and less insidiously paedophile than those of the fashion industry, or Hollywood, or mainstream glamour. Peaches magazine and its internet equivalents celebrate everything Heat, Fashion Police and the entire diet and cosmetic industries despise. I wouldn’t say porn is feminist, but…


Garry Mulholland is a journalist, author and broadcaster. He has written four books on music and film published by Orion Books, including This Is Uncool: The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk And Disco. Find out more @GarryMulholland

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Nuts magazine spread

In defence of lads mags

For a few months in 2010 I went out with a writer on top-selling lads mag Nuts. For the leader of the country’s foremost feminist choir, this seemed like an unlikely, some might say ill-fated, pairing, which it was. “Is this some kind of performance art statement?” asked a good friend after realising that just introducing ourselves to randoms in a pub could cause a perfectly healthy person’s brain to rupture: “But you’re… but he… but you’re… but she….” BOOM.

So when hashtag #LoseTheLadsMags starting being regurgitated down my threads and feeds – referring to the campaign that has resulted in getting some lads mags sealed in modesty bags to protect the women who stock the shelves from sexual harassment – I thought back to that heady summer of experimentation and remembered that I’d learnt something very important back then: Nuts meant more to its readers than just tits.

We were driving back from Bristol late at night, this boyfriend and me, when, along with some mates, we popped into a service station to pick up crisps, fags and petrol. We waited in a long queue, me in full makeup from the gig I’d just performed in. Being full of adrenaline, and full of myself, I started talking to the two young men in front of us. They were about 18, 19, their really sweet, stubble-free faces all curious as to why I had my mug painted like a Carebear.

I asked them what they did and, when they said that in a few days they would be going on their first tour of duty in Iraq, my heart sank. By 2010 we were all familiar with the daily loss of life and limb, and the lies that put us there had been proven.

Since 2004, Nuts has been supporting soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. It supplies magazines and merchandise, which as a promotional ploy is a smart move. The army is well known for having a lot of young men in it, away from home and the women they love, and lonely sex-starved men are, of course, the sitting ducks of the lads mag audience.

But that’s not where Nuts stopped; it also sent food, toiletries and other care packages. Then, at Christmas 2007, members of the editorial team actually flew into a war zone on Christmas Day, dressed as Santa and the elves, to hand out gifts.

Now, I’m anti-war, but I’m not anti-soldiers. The reasons why young people become soldiers are complex. David Gee’s 2008 report Informed Choice concluded that “Non-Officer recruitment draws mostly on young people from 16 years of age living in disadvantaged communities, with many recruits joining as a last resort”. The UK is now the only country in Europe to still allow “children” of 16 and 17 to sign up to fight. The men we are talking about here are not at the top of the patriarchal tree.

When I told those boys in the Esso garage which magazine the chap with me worked for, they went mental. Could he arrange a shout-out to their patrol in the magazine? Could they get limited edition military Nuts tees and a goody bag? They left for their car with big smiles on their faces, texting their mates, the promises of free packs of food and fun stuff delivered to some hellhole ringing away in their ears like the last school bell for the summer.

Nuts not only engaged directly with soldiers like the ones we met that night but took on the Ministry Of Defence (MOD), lobbying for better equipment, having seen the shortages first-hand. It also printed soldiers’ letters and stories in their pages, and reported on veterans recovering from their experiences, joining them in the Arctic in 2011 to cover Walking with the Wounded’s Polar Challenge.

What have our members said to us so far about the lads mags campaign? It’s pretty evenly split into two. There are those who passionately believe we’re on the brink of a great feat for feminist-kind. Then there are the others, who think it’s a distraction from more pressing campaigns against more damaging regimes.

I’m split between the two, and find myself with a whole other issue on my mind. The era of lad culture may well be nearing its end, and not having the freedom to show their front covers in supermarket stands will certainly nail that coffin shut, but lads mags, like the “lads” that read them, are not one-dimensional. Before we kill them dead, shouldn’t we consider these magazines in the round and think carefully about what we may be taking away from the men who read them?

Take Nuts’ latest campaign with CALM Zone, Campaign Against Living Miserably, an organisation that offers support to young men who are at crisis point and aims to stop them committing suicide. Young men make up 77% of all suicide statistics – some 4,639 ended their own life in 2012 alone.

It’s obvious why CALM would work with Nuts, as Jane Powell their CEO says: “This partnership is a great opportunity to reach an audience of young men… A key objective for us is to approach these serious issues with a positive, upbeat and humorous approach and the partnership with Nuts allows us to achieve this perfectly.” Of course it does, how else would they reach them? Advertise on Pornhub?

Do we, the collective feminist, understand these men, the men who read Nuts, Loaded, Zoo? And I say “we” because I understand the instinct to restrict these publications as a feminist. But do we get why men read them? Could these magazines be an essential space, not only for the expression of young men’s sexuality, but their interests and their difficulties; if modesty bags close them down what are we offering as the alternative? They won’t be picking up a Guardian, Grazia or Feminist Times instead. What are we assuming will be substituted if the genre goes under?

So here I am again, somehow finding myself in unlikely cahoots with the lads mag camp, and perhaps for some of the same reasons I ended up with that chap, that summer. I found when I met him that we had loads in common: we read the same papers, watched the same telly, drank the same wine.

When I look at lads mags as the Deputy Editor of a new magazine, which fulfills a need I know exists, I immediately empathise. I have felt misrepresented, misunderstood and flung in a metaphorical box to be criticised as a woman who calls herself a feminist. Knowing a little about the readers, the lads, of Nuts made me wonder if I was just as capable of tarring their whole readership with one dirty laddy brush, without having a plan for picking up the pieces afterwards.

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Lynne Segal: Feminism is…

Lynne SegalName: Lynne Segal

Age: Fluctuating – over 65

Location: London

Bio: Lynne is an ageing left feminist, who has published several books on socialism, feminism, sexualities, and shifting gender identities and belongings.

Feminism, with all its joys, conflicts, dramas, transfigurations, is impossible to sum up in 200 words. For those joining Women’s Liberation at the close of the Sixties, it transformed our lives, providing rich, unfamiliar lenses for surveying politics anew. No longer at the sidelines, the lure of feminism hurled us into the thick of radical politics: ‘‘A woman in the shape of a monster/ a monster in the shape of a woman/ the skies are full of them”, Adrienne Rich celebrated. Despite all the wretched cultural hierarchies that divided women, gender was seen as pivotal for transforming lives on every front: encompassing financial security, care, commitment, the pleasures, pains, perils and frequent brutality of women’s lives, in and outside the home. Radical egalitarians, the world feminists once fought for could hardly be more unlike the obscene inequalities of today. Strong as we were, feminists had many victories, especially those that helped reposition us in rapidly shifting labour markets. Meanwhile economic divisions deepened, impoverishing in particular women most involved in the work of caring, whether in the home or workplace. Intrinsic to gender ideologies, sexism and abuse obstinately persist, undermining the potential of women and men alike to become the fully human creatures feminism once dared to imagine.

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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Jo Clifford

The inbetweener

So I’m on my way home from supper with a friend when a man comes up to me and says: “‘Scuse me madam”. A bit drunk like and absolutely about to ask me for some money.

Then he looks again and starts to apologise. “I should let you kick me up the arse so hard”, he says abjectly. Over and over again.

And I have no idea what he could possibly mean.

Until it dawns on me that, after addressing me as a woman, he then came to understand that I am “really a man”.

That this is why he felt this compulsive need to apologise – because he felt in the core of his masculine being that by addressing me as a woman he had insulted me. And to call a man a woman is the worst insult of all.

This was quite early in the painful process of losing my male identity. It taught me that our culture’s given sense of male superiority was something that, in spite of myself, I too had internalised and that was the main reason why over the years I had felt so profoundly ashamed to want to be a woman.

It is why it matters for trans and cis women to be allies in feminism. Because we face the same enemies. It is also why, as my transition continued, so many people I encountered seemed to feel absolutely entitled to insult me as hurtfully as they pleased.

Why they would shout out:

“Hey look it’s a geezer!”. Cue for much group hilarity.

“Ugh look. It’s a man.” Cue for collective disgust.

“But you’re a man!” Cue for incredulous angry disbelief that I would stoop so low.

“Faggot!” Cue for generalised incoherent rage.

These days it’s all more friendly. Helpful, even. But always with a note of condescension in these men. An obvious assumption that I am clearly half-witted. I used to get angry, but now I understand: it’s because they are treating me as a female.

The surgeon was one of those. “Now dear, the psychiatrist tells me you’ve got to have a nasty operation” he told me, before I had the chance to say anything.

And then he started to write down my consent before I had time to reply. He was irritated when I said “no.”

Because no, I did not want gender reassignment surgery.

He crossed out what he’d written with an irritated sigh. These stupid women. “You’ll want the cosmetic operation then”.

And again, writing before I had the time to reply.

The cosmetic operation is a procedure to completely remove the scrotum and about 95% of the penis to create the appearance of female genitalia.

And no, I didn’t want that either. I wanted an orchidectomy. That’s the surgical term for castration, as if the male testicles were some kind of exotic flower.

More crossings out. A paper angrily thrown in the bin.

A furious scribble on a new sheet, and then some angry directions as to where I was supposed to take it. “You’ll be back within a year,” he shouted after me.

But I’ve not been. Of course not.

After years of soul-searching and years of dealing with the humiliating and malfunctioning procedures of the gender bureaucracy, I absolutely knew my own mind. I knew it in the marrow of my bones.

Not that I in any way criticise the full gender re-assignment operation. It’s a well-documented fact that for the vast majority of trans* women it is hugely successful and it saves many lives. But it is hugely invasive, painful, and carries the risk of a good many nasty complications. I am immensely fortunate to have needed so simple, so quick, and so relatively painless a procedure.

It joins me to much older, and maybe wiser, traditions: the two spirit people of India, Kathoey of Thailand, Waria of Indonesia, Muxe of Mexico, Fa’fa’une of Hawaii, Shamen of Siberia. These are traditions much more ancient than our Judeo-Christian gender binary, which Christian missionaries did their best to exterminate in the times of European imperialism. They failed to do so because they are, I suspect, much more in tune with the way we humans actually are.

When people sometimes say, “but you’re not really a woman”, I never argue back.

It’s such a dull question.

Because I can live like one and be so much happier.

In the process I’m beginning to understand that what we call ‘transition’ is more, even, than the perilous and profound crossing of gender boundaries.

It is perhaps something we all need to do: the shedding of old skin. The discovery of our true selves.


Jo Clifford is a playwright and member of the Feminist Times Editorial Board. She has just completed the book of “The Gospel According to Jesus Queen of Heaven”. She will be collaborating with Chris Goode as deviser/performer in his new work “Albemarle” in October and has been commissioned to create a new play with MA students of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. More information and her blog on http://www.teatrodomundo.com

Photo credit: Yaz Norris, Yaznorrisphotography.co.uk

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