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Charlotte Raven

Feminist Times: My Feminist Times ‘journey’

Intro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Masturbation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Distracting Lucy

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

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

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

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

The unfocused group

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

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

“No!”

“Why did you buy it?”

“Shhh! They’re here!”

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

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

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

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

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

Crowdfunding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hashtag not Spare Rib

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

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

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

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

Elle on earth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Angry bird

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The bottom line

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

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

charlotte@feministtimes.com

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The Best of Feminist Times

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

Theme Weeks:

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

1. Man Week – 18-25 November 2013

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

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2. 5 years since Maria

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

3. I don’t buy it

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

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4. 12 Days of Sexism

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

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5. New Year, New You

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

6. Sex Industry Week

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

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7. Gender Week

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

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8. Mental Health Awareness Week

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

Most Shared:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Most Read:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No compromise

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

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

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

Our Favourites:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Feminist Times: Money and a room of our own

The tweet above was one of my personal highlights of Gender Week – a week that confirmed my long-held suspicion that Twitter is no place for civilised debate. In an effort to keep our own content prominent in the Gender Week hashtag overnight, when conversations online tended to take their most unpleasant turn for the worst, we scheduled a series of tweets to be posted every 30 minutes outside of office hours. When I saw this tweet, the morning after it was sent, I couldn’t help but LOL.

“Here’s how you know a feminist blog is owned and operated by men: they have an office, and keep ‘office hours’ @Feminist_Times #GenderWeek”

I laughed not only because of how ludicrous the suggestion is, but also because of how painfully, excruciatingly ironic it is in the context of Feminist Times.

I remember reading Virginia Woolf’s famous essay A Room of One’s Own as a student and aspiring writer, and thinking “fuck, I’m never going to make it as a writer.” The notion of a room of one’s own is popular in feminist thought around the importance of creating women’s spaces –  take the Rooms of our Own project, aiming to provide a work space in London for women’s businesses and organisations, and the Room of our Own feminist blog network, founded by Feminist Times contributor Louise Pennington – but it’s only half of the statement from which the essay takes its title. Woolf wrote: “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction”, but the same is true of non-fiction and journalism.

Many feminist blogs have neither money nor a room of their own – run by volunteers working remotely in their free time. What Feminist Times set out to do was something radically different – not just a blog, but an online magazine which maintained regular, high-quality output by paying staff and contributors alike; an ad-free haven from commercial women’s magazines, funded instead by a community of members who felt passionate about independent feminist media, and who had the opportunity to meet with each other and the editorial team to help shape the content.

We started out with money – the result of a one-off crowdfunder – but no place of our own. In an effort to keep overheads minimal our first workspace, Charlotte’s kitchen table, was shared with her husband and children and – appropriately for a feminist publication – two cats. Our working day was divided into school time, when it was quiet enough to hold editorial meetings and discuss project ideas, and after-school time, when it wasn’t. We did try it once or twice, resulting in some pretty off the wall ideas being thrown into the mix; 4-year-old John was adamant that We’re on Safari would have made a better name for the website than Feminist Times. Less endearingly, there was also the threat of excitable children running in and out during sensitive interviews with women working in the domestic violence or FGM sectors.

Working out of Charlotte’s home meant the lines between home life and work life were inevitably blurred; like many working mothers, Charlotte had to juggle work with childcare and family life. School holidays meant time off for Charlotte, and temporary eviction to nearby cafes with WiFi for Deborah and I.

But children were not our biggest obstacle to harmonious working hours; while the older of Charlotte’s cats was perfectly content to share her home with us, the younger one objected violently – and I still have the scars to prove it! When he wasn’t attacking us in defence of his territory, this ferocious kitten was getting himself lost or stuck in trees; holding the ladder while Charlotte climbed onto the shed to coax him down very quickly became part of my job description. There were other perils too, from protecting our laptops from the water pistol that 9-year-old Anna was using to train the cat out of his aggressive behaviour, to occasional baked bean or tomato ketchup splatters adorning our notebooks. Never was the expression “never work with children or animals” more relevant.

Eventually Deborah found us some respite, negotiating free use of the basement room below her friend’s knitting shop, iKnit London, one day a week. It was a surreal haven – three women working on a feminist website, surrounded by balls of coloured wool and posters showing different breeds of sheep. Ok, so there was no phone reception or natural light – not ideal for running a new business – but we were thankful for the weekly peace and quiet. Sadly, as with borrowing space from family, favours from mates quickly wear thin, and invading the knitting shop basement was never going to be a long-term solution, though we loved it while it lasted.

Unlike many feminist bloggers, having feminism as both a day job and a passion meant we all struggled to switch off, particularly during those all-consuming first few months when press attention and public anticipation were so high. Ideas were flowing constantly – often in the form of emails sent by iPhone at anti-social hours – and we were quickly beginning to feel burnt out by the intensity of the project.

By the time we started looking for an office – a real place of our own, that would allow us the work-life balance we so desperately needed – it was money we were lacking. Though our number of monthly paying members was growing, it wasn’t growing quickly enough to sustain full-time salaries and contributor fees while also leaving enough left over for desk space. The solution – far from proving our alleged maleness – came in an unexpectedly feminist form when we met Hilary and Sarah from Shoreditch Trust, a charitable organisation that owns a number of shared office spaces in Hackney.

The women in the Shoreditch Trust office had heard Charlotte on Woman’s Hour the morning that Feminist Times launched and were excited not just about the project itself but about the prospect of getting more women into an office space that was, at the time, almost entirely occupied by men working in the creative and tech industries. Because of this, and the fact we were running on a shoestring, they suggested providing us our first three months of desk space through their Echo scheme, which we featured as part of our Christmas anti-consumerism theme week, #IDontBuyIt. Echo, or Economy of Hours, is a marketplace where members trade using time and skills, instead of money. It’s a radical, alternative economy and, as an organisation with anti-consumerist feminism at our core, we loved the concept.

So it was agreed; for three months we would pay for our desks by providing publicity for a number of Shoreditch Trust’s projects, training and workshops for other Echo members and Shoreditch Trust, and free tickets to our events, as well as using their event space to host our January members’ event Is Fat Still a Feminist Issue?

Having our own office was a god-send for getting some work-life balance back and improving our productivity during the working day; we can’t think Hilary and Sarah enough for the opportunity. All of a sudden we had a bookable meeting room in which to plan, discuss, interview and meet contributors uninterrupted, and a lockable cupboard in which to store our accounts and invoices. We had somewhere to leave review copies of the books we were sent without the fear of a cat or a breakfast mishap destroying them, and we celebrated by stocking up on some stationery of our own. I quickly cultivated a stash of teabags, Cup-a-Soups and value instant noodles in my cupboard, in order to get maximum usage out of the instant boiling water machine in the communal kitchen; Deborah was amused by how readily I adapted to our tightened salaries by reverting to the lifestyle of a fresher!

Our time in the office was responsible for almost all of my personal Feminist Times highlights: some brilliant, inspiring meetings with our Contributing Editors, who always left me feeling uplifted, and a marked improvement in the consistency and quality of the content we were commissioning and producing. Even paying back the Echo hours for our desk space provided some incredibly rewarding experiences for Deborah and I, like meeting the women behind Bump Buddies, a peer mentoring project for expectant mothers, and running a workshop for the young people on Hilary’s Active Citizen’s course.

My biggest frustration will always be that during that time, while our content, our readership and our social engagement were going from strength to strength, our funding situation was steadily becoming less and less sustainable, despite the brilliant efforts of our fundraiser Jenna. As Deborah and I gradually reduced both our salaries and our working hours, we were grateful to still have use of the office all week for the freelance work that we took on to supplement our incomes.

In that context, my amusement at the tweet about our office hours was bittersweet. Though clearly a ridiculous assertion, the sentiment underlying it was telling of the way we, even in feminist circles, think about women’s work. So often women’s work is unpaid, a labour of love, that women expect to work for free and, like many others in the digital age, expect online content to be free too. It’s true of almost every feminist website online; in fact, as we were preparing to wrap things up at Feminist Times, Everyday Victim Blaming, a fantastic feminist campaign run entirely by volunteers, tweeted that they were at crisis point and desperately needed funding to continue. Their supporters responded fantastically but, the fact is, beyond one-off donations, funding is so hard to come by for women’s projects.

Although it was a fairly well publicised founding principle, many of our contributors were still surprised to find that we paid for every single piece of content unless the writer was publicising an event, business or campaign. Our small but loyal core of members allowed us to maintain this policy right up until the final week, although ironically some of our most engaged contributors were also Feminist Times members, indirectly paying their own contributor fees!

Not only are women so often expected to work for free but, as the tweet implies, it’s not enough for running a feminist website to be just a full-time job – it should be a 24/7 vocation, like everything else about being a feminist, or even being a woman. How dare we want to shut down Twitter for the evening, after being on it for work from 9.30 till 6, and have some down time? How male of us to want a work-life balance. How dare our small team – two of us shared responsibility for day-to-day management of the website and social media – not moderate comments or respond to tweets immediately? And how dare we ask readers to contribute to the funding of the site, demanded many of the same people who I’m sure would have seen us as selling out had we bowed to commercial pressures and taken advertising for fad diets and lipstick, like virtually every other women’s magazine that isn’t run by volunteers.

In many ways, Feminist Times has been a labour of love like any other. 14 and a half months ago, Charlotte Raven and I took a chance on each other; I entrusted her with my first step on the career ladder, and she entrusted me with playing a key role in acting out her vision. Though it’s not taken quite the path I expected it has been an incredible learning experience and I’ve gained more, personally and professionally, than I can fit on my CV. Thank you, Charlotte, for the opportunity.

I am immensely proud to have been a part of Charlotte’s vision for Feminist Times, and of what Deborah and I have achieved on the website since taking on our new roles at Christmas. It’s been an enormous privilege to interview so many brilliant women – Anne Scargill, Leta Hong Fincher, Dr Louise Irvine, Angela Berners-Wilson, Nimko Ali – and to work with so many more. I hope you’ll all stay in touch. It’s been a real pleasure, but all good things must come to an end – and I need money and a room of my own if I am to continue writing anything at all.

Sarah Graham is a journalist, writer and editor, who has been published by The Telegraph, Guardian, Metro, Press Association, Open Democracy, and more. She has been Deputy Editor of Feminist Times since December 2013, having joined as the founding Editorial Assistant in May 2013. Today she leaves Feminist Times to work freelance, in a room of her own. Follow her @SarahGraham7

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What Feminist Times means to me…

We asked some of the women who’ve been most closely involved in the project to tell us what Feminist Times has meant to them. We’ve also added comments sent by email since the announcement.

Lucy Newman, Art Director:

My experience of Fem T: Dangerously destroying and burning plastic spandex with Charlotte in the garden, a one off day at Giuliana’s house with original artists and makers, creating new pieces  from decommissioned shapewear. Meetings around the kitchen table planning with Emma and Louise, and with Deborah and Sarah in the blast and energy of the launch.

Political, punk and screen printing styles, design and image making with Neni and Bob. From helping to visualise Charlotte’s concept at the start, through all the interactions and articles, my feminist consciousness has truly been raised.

Reni Eddo-Lodge, Contributing Editor:

As feminist thought increases in popularity, I had always feared that it might be devalued into a sort of consumerist lifestyle politics, concerned with issues that failed to analyse the material conditions that create inequality. I’ve been proud to be part of a feminist website that has bucked this trend. Feminist Times has achieved something very few UK based feminist websites manage to do: it has captured the cacophony of jostling voices from many women who call themselves feminists.

What has worked really well is Feminist Times’ bravery in displaying the subjectivity of feminism. Inequality is not a simple, one track problem that can be solved with sticking plaster style aesthetic changes. So many women experience discrimination and oppression that includes, but isn’t limited to their gender. It’s disingenuous to suggest that all of our feminisms are the same, or that we start from the same place. The word means different things to different people with different political stances. I’m glad that Feminist Times hasn’t indulged in the myth of a militaristic style movement, in which nobody can deviate from the line. There has been no priority campaign. Instead, Feminist Times has embraced the idea of a broad, intersectional church, whilst keeping inequality front and centre. Hierarchy has not reigned here. And whilst I’ve loved some articles, and strongly disliked some articles, I’ve always been relieved that – unlike other publications – Feminist Times doesn’t have an editorial line. Instead we had editors actively seeking out unheard voices and maligned perspectives. These are the conversations that feminism needs to have. I’m glad that FemT was one of the places that they could take place, even though it was sometimes messy and painful. And I’m not sure we’ll see another independent, funded online publication that can take its place.

Kat Lister, Contributing Editor:

One of my heroes Nora Ephron once said: “I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there. And I also hope that you will choose to make some of that trouble on behalf of women.” So thank you, Feminist Times, for allowing me to break a few rules and make a little trouble out there on behalf of women. I think we did, and I think Nora would’ve been proud. You gave me the opportunity to be myself and write the things that matter. It’s been a gift to write for you and an honour to call myself your Contributing Editor. Here’s to making trouble, here’s to women, and here’s to Feminist Times. Let’s keep breaking those rules.

Roz Kaveney, Contributing Editor:

I shall miss Feminist Times. If you look back over its short life, it fulfilled pretty much all of its promise for as long as it could. It was a place where feminists with different analyses talked to each other, for the most part respectfully.

If intersectional feminism is the way forward, as I think it is, then the various communities of women within feminism have got to learn skills in dialogue and negotiation, of which the recent discussions and debates around race, around trans issues, around sex work and around mental health are only the beginning. The important thing has got to be that our feminism always be a work in progress, never the implementation of answers that were decided upon in America in the early 70s or London in the 80s. 21st Century feminism needs to be bigger and more inclusive – it has to be about protecting the vulnerable as well as consolidating the few victories already won.

Feminist Times was a useful time and space for that work – when someone puts together a successor, and I am sure someone will, our experiences here will have been useful to them. And the lesson – as always – will be ‘Fail Again, Fail Better.’

Jude Wanga, regular contibutor:

Writing for Feminist Times has been fantastic. It’s allowed me to fine-tune how I connect to readers through my words by giving me a wider platform, editors to discuss work with and engagement with an audience, which has helped me to find my voice as a writer. I’ve been able to write some challenging pieces, like the End Sexual Violence in Conflict summit, with the support of the editorial team. The editors let you argue your own point at Feminist Teams, never forcing you to take a view you’re not comfortable with, or silencing the opinion you do hold.

FemT has allowed me to express my specialist knowledge, as it has for other writers, but it also encourages its writers to write about subjects that interests them, rather than being pigeonholed and asked only to contribute on a few set subjects.

The mainstream press lacks a diverse array of writers, particularly when reporting on feminist issues. Projects such as the Feminist Times offers this variety alongside the freedom to write about the issues that matter to those writers, rather than just those which are reported elsewhere. These issues are given exposure that they aren’t afforded in the mainstream press, and Feminist Times amplifies voices that are underrepresented.

Philippa Willitts, regular contributor:

Feminist Times has become a space on the web where a variety of women’s voices have been heard and, as it has not been afraid to tackle difficult subjects, the site has been host to both popular and unpopular opinions. The importance of a feminist website with a policy of paying its contributors should also not be underestimated. This is rare and, for full-time freelance writers like myself, meant I could dedicate time to feminist writing that otherwise might have had to go onto the endless list of ‘articles I’d love to write but can’t justify prioritising’. I hope this is a model that grows, so that we don’t have to constantly choose between writing what we are passionate about, and writing what pays the rent. The future of Feminist Times is unclear, but the legacy it has built will continue to have an impact.

Louise Pennington, regular contributor:

I will miss Feminist Times. Whilst I did not always agree with editorial decisions, it was one of the only feminist publications which published articles by gender-critical feminists. It was a much needed feminist space free of advertising that was also willing to take risks. More importantly, it was a space to combat cultural femicide within a backlash to feminism.

Leisa Taylor West Midlands Local Team:

Becoming involved in local teams came at a time when i was desperate to be involved with something unapologetically feminist. It has been an excellent experience for me to bring like-minded people together to discuss issues in an intelligent, thought provoking and useful way.
It had also given me the opportunity to meet and work alongside some brilliant women. Although this project may now be coming to an end and is deeply disappointing, I believe that it had been a catalyst for me, and hopefully others, to keep on keeping on and to continue to work towards creating a feminism for the future.

Refuge:

A ltitle crestfallen wave has just passed over the comms team here as we received your email. So sorry to hear that Feminist Times is coming to an end. It has been really fantastic to work alongside you, and it really speaks to the credentials of Feminist Times that you used the short time you had to help amplify the messages of Refuge and other similar organisations. I just wanted to say thank you for your commitment, both personal and professional, to supporting the cause, and to wish you well for the future.

Peter Tatchell, LGBT campaigner:

Commiserations re Feminist Times. I know from first-hand experience how hard it is to sustain these projects. But congratulations. FT was trail-blazing and amazing. A bright feminist star. I hope it returns – asap. Good luck in your future endeavours

Jon Snow, Channel 4 news:

I’m sad indeed to hear that you are closing. Thank you for what you have done and I hope you come back in some other form.

Trista Hendren, Feminist Times member:

I am beyond saddened to hear this news.  Many times, I have had to cut corners myself these last years, and honestly it did cross my mind to stop contributing because money is so tight, but I could never do it. I don’t think this is a reflection on your magazine, but rather the horrid economic conditions now, particularly for women – and even more so for those of us who live on our own terms.

Please know that I valued and appreciated what you did SO much this last year.   I hope you are able to continue in some way moving forward, but I respect your decision very much.

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Suarez got a longer ban for biting than racism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Why is the BBC filing Rolf Harris coverage in “Entertainment & Arts”?

Rolf Harris has been found guilty of twelve counts of indecently assaulting four girls and women over three decades. Six other women testified to their experience of sexual assault during the trial, although Harris was not charged with these offences. As I write this, the police are now investigating numerous new allegations of sexual violence perpetrated by Harris.

Since the first allegations about Jimmy Savile’s sexual predation arose, a number of men employed by the BBC, including Stuart Hall and Freddie Starr, have been arrested for child sex offences. Not all of these men have been convicted but they all have one other thing in common: the BBC has chosen to publish articles on their cases under “Entertainment & Arts”. To be clear, the BBC categorises these articles as “news” but then also place them in the “Entertainment & Arts” section of BBC Online.

I’ve complained numerous times, as I believe it is utterly dismissive and minimising to place articles of child sexual abuse, rape and exploitation under the category of entertainment. It implies that the investigation and trials themselves are “entertainment”. It does tremendous harm to victims to see their experiences of sexual violence minimised in such a manner by implying that the former employment of the man charged is more important than the crimes committed.

In the most recent letter from the BBC in response to my complaint, the BBC claims that placing such articles under the heading of “Entertainment & Arts” is exactly the same as placing an article on the use of the internet to share images of children being sexually exploited, abused and raped under the heading of “Technology”. The fact that the BBC’s official response so clearly misses the point shows just how little they understand the impact of victim blaming and the minimisation of sexual violence on victims and on the ability to have sexual abusers and rapists convicted.

Rolf Harris and Jimmy Savile were allowed to continue perpetrating sexual violence against children and women for decades because of an institutional refusal to recognise the seriousness of their crimes. It is clear that numerous people were aware of what Harris and Savile were doing but either chose to disbelieve the victims or ignore them. This is rape culture.

Yet the BBC still thinks it’s appropriate to place articles about Savile, Harris and other men under investigation or convicted of child sexual offences under the heading of entertainment. This is only a small part of rape culture but it is one that demonstrates an incredible lack of understanding of the consequences of child sexual violence. It is also something that the BBC could easily change.

I’ve started a petition here asking the BBC to stop considering the employment of the perpetrator (or person under investigation) when placing articles on BBC Online. Rolf Harris and Jimmy Savile were allowed to commit child sexual violence offences for years because of rape culture and the privilege of celebrity culture. We need to make it clear that their jobs only gave them greater access to vulnerable women and children and the power to continue. The crimes they committed are not entertainment.

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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Orphan Black: TV’s most woman-centred drama

*Contains spoilers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: CrazyTVTalk

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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?

Yes.

Without gender equality?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Image: Foreign and Commonwealth Office via Flickr

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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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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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Who cares if Jill Abramson was bossy?

“Her style sometimes grated”, The New Yorker reported, “her personality was an issue”. You may think that executive editor Jill Abramson’s dismissal last week from the New York Times doesn’t affect you, but think again. It is significant for all working women and poses questions across the Atlantic too. Why? Language, gender and stereotype in the workplace.

Words like “slut” or “bitch”, gendered speech like “that takes bollocks” to denote courage, and insults like “he throws like a girl” to signal weakness, these are all obviously sexist. But what about the language that goes under the radar in offices up and down the country every day? Nuanced, ambiguous yet incredibly damaging and potent.

“‘Mercurial’ is a word you hear used for her a lot,” one female New York Times reporter commented, implying her former boss was volatile, following the news of Jill Abramson’s sacking. Words such as “stubborn” and “pushy” soon dominated the headlines, quickly followed by the labels “polarising”, “brusque” and “abrupt”. It was a Greek chorus loud enough to drown out the serious accusation for her dismissal: that her axing was due to her reasonable demand to be paid as equally as her male predecessors.

New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger has denied any accusation of gender bias yet still issued a stinging takedown of Abramson that could surmise any of her male contemporaries: “arbitrary decision-making, a failure to consult and bring colleagues with her, inadequate communication and the public mistreatment of colleagues.”

Try and forget the pay discrepancy story for a moment and simply concentrate on language and the expectations women placate to exert authority with one foot stepped back. Jill Abramson’s story shows us all what happens when a woman throws her ball like a man. She gets knocked out of the game altogether. She’s told it’s her fault.

Working women are adept at the highly-skilled art of tightrope walking, so much so we do it now without challenge. The exhausting balancing act that asks so much of us, compromising a part of ourselves to achieve success. Assertive? Yes, but never aggressive. Commanding? Certainly, but always with a smile. Behave too professionally and you’re an ice queen, show too much emotion and you’re unstable. Sheryl Sandberg, CEO of Facebook, told us all to Lean In in her best-selling book and that’s what we did – 1.5 million of us to be exact. Abramson has shown us exactly what happens when we lean in too far and without the Geisha manners.

The reality is Sandberg’s empowerment manual expects a lot of compromise from women if they wish to become a success at work. We’ve got to smile even when we don’t feel like it, we’re encouraged to substitute “we” for “I”, and we’ve got to put up with language such as “stroppy”, “difficult” and “mouthy”. It’s a feminist manifesto that accepts an unsettling premise that women must mould themselves around their sexist surrounding, not the other way round. It assumes that landscapes and language can never change.

The #BanBossy campaign learned this the hard way; led by Sheryl Sandberg and backed by Beyonce, their commitment to ban the word sparked question marks. How can banning language rectify the sexism behind its usage? You can burn a book but the ideas still remain – it’s a psychological issue not just a structural obstacle. Jill Abramson’s sacking has shown us all that we have a media-endorsed problem with sexist linguistics. Words such as “pushy” or “condescending” still permeate our language, our offices and our newspapers. When it comes to defining professional women, words still scratch away at confidence.

Look a little closer at gender and confidence in the boardroom and recent statistics may not surprise you. Not only do women make up only 17 per cent of board directors of the FTSE 100 companies, a study by the Fawcett Society found that 51 per cent of women and men from middle management to director level identify stereotyping as the major hurdle facing women at work. More startling, a recent study in the US by global management strategists Strategy& found that over the past decade, 38 per cent of women were forced out of the chief executive role compared to just 27 per cent of men. It doesn’t take a chief strategist to work out a connection between these numbers – the glass ceiling is still pretty sturdy and it’s language that is helping keep it double glazed.

Jill Abramson’s story is our story. Women are still struggling to get promoted and, when they do, their behaviour is often analysed negatively as aggressive or unfriendly. Women are often subjected to unfair emotional judgements based on behaviour: how we are perceived as opposed to how we perform. For Abramson, her leadership was subjected to stereotype and caricature that was ultimately used as evidence of a morale-drained newsroom.

Maybe Abramson was paid as equally as her male predecessors, maybe she wasn’t – no doubt there will be a court case to find out – but what’s equally as important is the language batted around in the press to rationalise her overnight sacking. That language will be used against us too so let’s not gloss over the subtler gender bias, let’s call it out.

Have you experienced gender bias or sexist labels at work? Tweet us your examples @Feminist_Times.

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: The New Yorker

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Plenty of problems but no solutions in Kirsty Wark’s ‘Blurred Lines’

Tonight Kirsty Wark promises to examine ‘a new culture’ of misogyny in Blurred Lines: The New Battle Of The Sexes on BBC2. I’m cynical. I can’t help but wonder how much more there is to say on the matter, as someone who spends a lot of time – professionally and socially – being both a woman and a feminist in the online world. Would Wark simply rehash what many of us have known for years, on issues that now even the mainstream media devotes much attention to? Would she offer up solutions, or simply remind us all yet again what we’re up against? Imagine my surprise then when what Wark presents is a far more useful overview and contextualisation of contemporary misogyny than we’ve seen to date in the mainstream media.

While the many examples of cultural misogyny Wark gives will come as no surprise to Feminist Times readers, placed alongside each other they do offer a compelling patchwork of evidence for those sexism skeptics out there; like the Everyday Sexism Project, incidents of 21st century cultural misogyny are harder to dismiss when seen together. From online abuse directed at high profile women, rape jokes by celebrated comedians, and sexism in music videos (featuring, of course, the inevitable clip from the programme’s namesake) to everyday experiences of sexism in school and online gaming, and the impact of lads mags and online pornography, Wark paints a depressing yet necessary picture of women’s position in UK society in 2014.

More helpfully, Wark goes beyond the ‘what’ to explore the ‘why’, placing Twitter abuse and Blurred Lines firmly in the historical context of a new wave in the anti-feminist backlash that has repeatedly shown its face, under ever evolving guises, over the past four decades. Speaking to students at Stirling University about the now notorious YouTube video of male sports stars singing a sexually degrading drinking song on a public bus, Wark reflects on her own time as a student at Stirling during the 70s. Whilst much has moved on for women since then, Wark comments that the sexism on show is now far less insidious than in her day, with obscene humour about rape now being casually passed off as ‘banter’.

Much time is devoted to this notion of ‘banter’, with Wark asking everyone from young people at a comedy show to ex-Loaded editor Martin Daubney where they draw the line between ‘banter’ and sexism. Since the obvious implication is that these lines are blurred, there are frustratingly few conclusions to this question, beyond subjectivity, as we’re shown women laughing at the same rape joke which has appalled their male friend, and (ever-helpful on the subject of women’s rights) Rod Liddle suggests victims of online abuse like Mary Beard should merely ‘man-up’.

On the subject of Liddle and Daubney – neither of whom Wark lets off lightly – Blurred Lines does provide an interesting look at the role the media has to play in both reflecting and perpetuating the misogyny that takes place online, with research showing how views like AA Gill’s on Mary Beard are amplified through social media, before coming full circle, as in Liddle’s Spectator piece “It’s not misogyny, Professor Beard. It’s you.” And, though Daubney remains laughably insistent that the 90s advent of lads mags and ‘laddism’ was about “celebrating women”, rather than a Britpop-era backlash against their increasing power, there’s little arguing with him that much of the pornography now freely available online is far more harmful and upfront in its hatred and degradation of women.

Tellingly, it’s also Daubney who refers to the so-called crisis of masculinity that appears to play such a key role in the increasing levels of public and cultural aggression towards women. Women have never had it so good and the poor men aren’t sure how to react so, like children on the playground, they resort to name calling and hair pulling – in the form of trolling feminists on Twitter and brutally murdering prostitutes on Grand Theft Auto. Meanwhile, on real playgrounds across the country, we’re told that slut-shaming and sexist remarks are an everyday occurrence for adolescent girls, and pornography is standing in for proper sex education, which teenage girls (including those behind the Campaign 4 Consent) tell Wark is hugely inadequate, if not altogether lacking.

While Germaine Greer paints a pretty bleak picture of life for women since the publication of The Female Eunuchand journalist Laurie Penny describes how social media has enabled existing misogyny to evolve a powerful new form, the young women of Campaign 4 Consent form part of Wark’s redemptive conclusion. They, and women like them, are part of the backlash to the backlash; misogyny has got louder, but women (and especially young women) are raising their voices to shout back. It doesn’t offer a solution, as such, but a reassuring reminder to the Thursday night audience of BBC2 that we cannot be so easily silenced.

Blurred Lines: The New Battle Of The Sexes airs tonight, Thursday 8 May, from 9.30pm on BBC 2.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Daily Mail

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It’s feminist to vote in the EU elections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Main Image: Rock Cohen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Daily Fail doth protest too much

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

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

dailyfailfeat

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

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

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

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

expertsized

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

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

lookslikefeministsized

True.

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

sensiblesize

Shame on you Waily Tail.

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

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Hollywood still male and pale

In November we published an infographic produced by the New York Film Academy on female representation in Hollywood films. Their latest infographic looks at Black film and finds, to the surprise of no one, that Hollywood is not only still very male, it’s also still very white – despite 2013 and 2014 representing strong years for Black filmmakers.

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

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Happy fatties are erased from the media

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

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

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

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

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

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

fat2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos: Holly Revell

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Becoming Advertising

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The founder and chief exec of Buzzfeed recently said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: UTV.com

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Obituary

Obituary: Nuts Magazine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Creatures of Adland: collective nouns for advertisers

“A murder of crows, a crash of rhinos. Why is it that animals get all the fun collective nouns?” asks Creatures of Adland, a fun new blog project started by advertisers Jana and Adrian.

“The project started as something fun, a way to hold a mirror up the advertising industry and make light of the cliches it cultivates. It’s a very self important industry that benefits from reminding of its absurdity from time to time,” Jana explains.

“Once we started, we found ourselves continually looking out for patterns. This of course led us to some other, not so amusing, observations about the make-up of the industry itself. We’re by no means the first to make these observations, but we thought we should use our time in the glow of the industry’s attention for something a bit more productive than we originally intended. Though it continues to improve, the fact remains that the ad industry doesn’t reflect the society it seeks to influence. It remains very much young, white and male.”

We picked out our Top 5 collective nouns from Creatures of Adland…

A Burden of Old Timers

oldtimers

 

A Token of Black Execs

blackexecs

 

A Miracle of Female Bosses

FemBosses

 

A Glow of Chairmen

chairmen

 

An Ambition of Managing Directors

MDs

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Comeback: I had a duty to challenge Julia Bradbury’s comments

Broadcaster Miriam O’Reilly responds to Lynne Segal’s article: Mild-mannered Countryfile gets ugly: TV, sexism & ageism

There is a fundamental mistake in the copy relating to my response to Julia Bradbury’s attempt to undermine my tribunal win. She did not ‘step into’ my shoes. This is important in relation to the legal aspect of my case. Julia Bradbury replaced John Craven – not me. I was replaced by Jules Hudson.

I responded [to Bradbury’s comments] because it’s important to the older women who saw my win as a turning point for them too. TV shapes opinion and has the power to form prejudices. By excluding older women it contributes to their invisibility in society. This is why I challenged Julia Bradbury, who started this whole thing by dismissing my legal win in The Times last weekend. This was not a ‘bitter’ response. I had a duty to challenge.

Miriam O’Reilly is a writer, journalist and campaigner who successfully sued the BBC for ageism in 2010, two years after being dropped from Countryfile.

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Should we stop asking pop stars about feminism?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: Nineties Woman – Rosie Wilby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Wendy Baverstock

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Debbie Harry to become first woman musician awarded Godlike Genius

When NME announced that Blondie would receive their Godlike Genius award at their annual awards this month, I couldn’t help but wonder what iconic rock journalist Lester Bangs would have made of it all. Why? Debbie Harry will be the first female musician ever to pick up the gong – a shocking statistic in 2014, but one that illuminates the depth of an industry problem women have reluctantly complied with for decades.

If you don’t believe me, allow Lester to set the scene for you. In his 1980 biography Blondie, he quipped about Debbie: “I think if most guys in America could somehow get their fave-rave poster girl in bed and have total license to do whatever they wanted with this legendary body for one afternoon, at least 75 percent of the guys in the country would elect to beat her up. She may be up there all high and mighty on TV, but everybody knows that underneath all that fashion plating she’s just a piece of meat like the rest of them.”

Both Lester, dressed up in his ironic finery, and the ‘guys’ he ridicules, flirt dangerously with misogyny. It’s left to Debbie Harry to question, retrospectively, her precarious footing within this testosterone-fuelled landscape.

In a 2013 interview with Oyster Magazine, she described her position as “at times, very uncomfortable… There were some girls doing music, but not a lot, and the record industry certainly wasn’t geared for it the way they are now.”

For many men in 1979, Debbie Harry was an unknown entity they couldn’t quite fathom, despite Lester’s barbed attempt: Detached and sexy, demure yet streetwise. Debbie was an ice-blonde front-woman the journos couldn’t categorise: exploited victim or liberated artist?

This goes some way to explain the depth of the problem Debbie Harry faced during her career. The sexualisation of women in music has always informed our reception of the music itself. Debbie’s sexual independence certainly ruffled feathers, prompting labels like ‘cold’ and ‘smug’. Take the Blondie lyrics, for example, on 1979 B-side ‘Just Go Away’. In it, Harry coolly croons “O Don’t ya know/Don’t wanna see you any more/Put up or shut up.”

This blonde wasn’t a heartbroken sap, waiting on a man to take the lead. As she explained to Sunday Time Style Magazine in 2013: “I was dead sick and tired of all of these songs by the R&B girls, the trios and stuff. They were all victimised by love. I was sick of it. I didn’t want to portray myself or women as victims.” Lester Bangs had missed the point.

30 years later and Debbie Harry is now set to take to the podium at NME Awards 2014. The first female musician NME has ever deemed ‘Godlike’. Which begs the question: Is this a clear sign that recognition for women in music is really changing after all these years?

Truthfully, when I first heard the news I dented the air with a punch and my first thought was thus: FINALLY. I remember when I attended the NME Awards back in 2007. I was working on the NME news desk at the time, along with probably three other women in the office. That year the only women recognized were Kate Moss for ‘Sexiest Female’ and Lily Allen – not for her music, but for ‘Worst Dressed’. The only woman anyone was talking about that night was Kate Moss, for disappearing into the toilets with ‘bad boyfriend’ Pete Doherty.

Back then, standing in the Hammersmith Palais, I felt underrepresented as a woman. There seemed to be a gaping hole, both for women as serious musical contenders and as music journalists. A voice was lacking, both in song and on the page, from the reviewed and the reviewer. Not only that, the way that voice was perceived when it did hit the mainstream seemed aesthetically skewed.

I remember interviewing Alison Goldfrapp back in 2008 for Clash Magazine, when she complained: “People will talk to Will [Gregory, other half of duo Goldfrapp] about the music, and to me what a ‘pretty feminine frock’ I have on. It’s really fucking annoying.”

She wasn’t the only one who was fucking annoyed. Being one of the few women working in the office at the time, I felt it acutely. Each week as a music journalist I would file away a comment under B for Banter, shrugging it off as simply part of the job.

There was the time I visited Pentonville Prison to review a charity gig and my colleague playfully warned me to “watch out” for myself as the prisoners “couldn’t wank in their cells”, or the time I intercepted an editorial conversation. The premise was to quiz every female act what she was wearing at Glastonbury. Or how about the time I asked a fellow (married) freelancer for help with a feature I was hoping to pitch for? I arrived with a notepad and he, with his wedding ring removed.

Do I know a little about feeling ‘uncomfortable’ as a minority woman in a male-dominated industry? Yes, I guess I do. And I guess I’m only able to write about it now, like Debbie Harry is only talking about it now, because time gives you the gift of hindsight. I now know that it should have been different.

As it turns out, it now does seem different. The NME office is now a gender-balanced space – something I could only have dreamed about six years earlier. The all-female band Haim regularly command magazine covers, and strong female artists like Beyonce, Lady Gaga and Adele dominate the charts, wholly in command of their music, words, image and brand.

The old Britpop philosophy no longer seems to perpetuate the myth that boys obsess over Blur B-sides whereas girls melt over Damon posters. And yet certain sectors in the music industry are still yet to address a very blatant gender imbalance.

Do we still have some ground to cover? You bet. Is one Haim band enough? No. But is Debbie Harry’s recognition at NME Awards a step in the right direction? Absolutely.

The NME Awards take place tomorrow, Wednesday 26 February.

Kat Lister 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 magazineand Frankie magazine.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Review: My Life in Agony, Irma Kurtz

Our Personal Agony Aunt reviews My Life in Agony by Irma Kurtz, published by Alma Books.

Irma Kurtz, “the unshockable Queen of advice”, has been the agony aunt at Cosmopolitan since 1975. Her new book is part memoir, part compilation of typical reader letters, and part agony aunt manual. The book is juicily subtitled Confessions of a Professional Agony Aunt; I wasn’t quite expecting the saucy double entendres you’d see in a 70s British sex comedy, but I wanted to hear her stories – her Jewish New Jersey childhood and post-war adolescence, her move to Paris as a teenager, leading to her decision to lose her virginity on the boat to Europe – in a lifeboat, no less.

She was a lone parent at a time when that was presumably even more frowned on than it is now (the book is short on dates but this seems to be the early 70s). She has the odd teasing career story, such as being sent to interview a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan and being thankful that her anti-Semitic hosts mishear her name as Curtis. She was a pioneer in London’s bohemia, living in Notting Hill and Soho when they were poor arty areas for sex workers and outsiders, rather than aspirational Millionaire Rows. Yes, that’s a broad I want to read about.

But if 70s sex comedies taught us anything, it’s that juicy expectations are always frustrated – and sadly Kurtz and her fascinating life are tantalisingly absent from most of her biography. If you’re looking to understand the feminist times of that era, or learn how a creative and independent woman experienced life in a Britain in social turmoil, you won’t find it here.

There’s no doubt she has seen all human life in her post bag – problems on sex, family, friendship, independence, body image, mental health and ageing are all used to illustrate her quietly feminist worldview and to reflect different stages in her life. And for all aspiring agony aunts, she confirms certain intuitions about the role. The person with the problem knows the answer herself deep down but needs to hear it aloud. The agony aunt’s experience “must be one ingredient of her response, but it is never the recipe.”

There’s no shortage of sound advice in this book but the tone can be irritatingly lofty – I kept seeing her sentences sewn and framed like “Home Sweet Home” above mantelpieces of yore. She describes the role of the agony aunt as one of common sense, leading to wisdom over time through constant learning. But this develops into a series of “Common Sense says…. and Wisdom answers… “ homilies, a conceit to which the reader ultimately responds “So what?”

Kurtz’s life story is intriguing – I wish I’d learned more about it from reading her memoir. She seems much more comfortable using reader letters to explain the world than telling her own story. At one point she quotes her advice to an ageing friend who has complained about the lack of attention paid to older women: “Invisibility is no bad thing. People reveal lots more if they can’t see you watching them…” Perhaps after a lifetime of listening to and focusing on other people, she is uncomfortable being in the spotlight herself. Dear Irma, if that’s how you feel, here’s my advice: don’t write a book.

My Life in Agony by Irma Kurtz was published by Alma Books on 15 February.

See more from our Radical Agony Aunts here, or contact them with your own questions: agony@feministtimes.com

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Q&A: Dazed & Confused about feminism

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

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

Q&A with Dazed & Confused:

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

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

Q: Why did Dazed tackle the f-word?

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

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

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

girlguidedaze

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

judeblumedaze

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

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

Feminist Times’ favourites from Dazed’s feminist issue:

sellshit

Essential Feminist Manifestos

How To Sell Shit To Women

How to Start an Online Feminist Collective

The dA-Zed Guide To Riot Grrrl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bums, heels and media darlings: What feminists want?

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

Obama: “Climate change is a fact

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Carry on Groping

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

In the 70s famous men often looked like this:

chezben25

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

Benny Hill in The Italian Job

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Nick Fuentes

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From Beliebers to broadcasters, noisy women are powerful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Hendrik Dacquin

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Cate Blanchett, choice and complicity on the red carpet

We all know that the world of showbiz is sexist, hence any woman who involves herself in it will be complicit in whatever objectification she suffers. This seems to be the message of Lynden Barber’s gentlemanly trashing of Cate Blanchett, published in this Wednesday’s Guardian. Rather than celebrate Blanchett’s questioning of double standards (demonstrated by her asking a red carpet photographer whether his camera lens scanned male actors in the same manner), Barber calls out the actress for daring to bite the hand that feeds her:

“I can understand why an actor might be totally over the whole red carpet thing. But Cate, if you don’t want your dress to be photographed so that viewers and readers can admire the whole thing, then perhaps you could try turning up to the next awards nights in jeans and a T-shirt.”

Yeah, Cate. Live by the stylist, die by the stylist. You knew what you were getting into.

To a certain extent, I think Barber has a point. Blanchett – a tall, thin, white woman following the dress codes of an industry that objectifies tall, thin, white women – gains from her own objectification. You can’t get to where she has without a degree of compromise. But is it reasonable to play the system and then claim the moral high ground? For Barber it’s a definite no; I, on the other hand, would ask what else a woman is meant to do. What level of purity must she achieve before she’s entitled to speak out? And by the time she has achieved such purity, won’t she be backed into a corner so that no one can hear her words?

We’re not all Hollywood actresses but every single one of us is complicit in our own oppression and that of others. There are degrees of complicity, but every choice we make – every interaction, every utterance – takes place within a context of gender stereotyping, cultural conditioning and inequality. In order to forge any path of our own we work with the options we’re given. Unlike Blanchett, we may not be “the face of SK-II” but none of our choices take place in a vacuum. Sometimes these choices will benefit us to the detriment of other women. Often we won’t even know it.

Judging other women on the basis of this complicity is, I think, one of the reasons for deep cultural divisions within feminism. While as feminists we are critical of our own culture, our own personal practices will always feel defensible in a way that those of others do not. We know our own balance sheet but not that of anyone else. Hence your dress code demeans women while mine is an everyday compromise. When you choose to do that job you’re selling out, but when I choose to do mine I’m just feeding my family. There’s not a lot of time for empathy when you’re constantly repositioning yourself around double standards.

But when, as Blanchett did, you call out the double standards that you’ve played along with, you will be accused of hypocrisy. Do the same to another woman and it starts to look more like a personal attack. It should be neither of these things. We should be able to accept that in order to survive patriarchy, women have to have dealings with its rules and regulations within different cultural settings. This shouldn’t undermine any challenge. On the contrary, knowing the conditions of oppression should make us more forgiving of ourselves, each other and of those who oppress us.

The man who photographed Blanchett was only playing by the same rules as Blanchett. They’re rules which, to a greater or lesser extent, I play along with when I decide what to wear, how to speak, how best to get what I need. No one has to challenge these rules – and usually it’s easiest not to — but when anyone does, we should see it as a gain. If we aspire to a pure, untainted feminism we will only deny all women the space in which to breathe.

VJD Smith (Glosswitch) is a lifelong feminist and mother of two who edits language books when she’s not tied up with parenting, blogging and ranting.  Find out more @Glosswitch or glosswatch.com

Photo: Siebbi

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Charlotte Raven

My last word on Reality TV

On the few occasions I’ve taken part in a radio discussion, I struggle to say what I mean, even if the subject is close to my heart. I can’t think quickly enough to be spontaneous, but don’t want to sound stagey and on message like a politician. While I’m adjudicating, they are still asking questions! I always think of the thing I most wanted to convey or the argument that would have clinched it on the bus home. I’m not sure how common this commentator’s version of ‘esprit d’escalier’ is, where one thinks of a perfect retort too late.. One of the pleasures of having this platform is that I don’t need to sit at home cursing myself or ask the producer for another go.

“Is there anything else you want to say?” they often ask at the end of a recorded interview or studio discussion. I always say no, because I don’t want this painful process to be protracted, then regret it. In a soon to be aired discussion about the dilemmas of reality TV, with Mel from the first Big Brother, I missed a golden opportunity to revisit the question of whether the consent given by the by the participants of reality shows is in any way informed.

Everyone thinks they are fair game because they signed on the dotted line, and knew what they were letting themselves in for. I don’t buy this argument but know the rationale: like turkeys voting for Christmas, the people on Big Brother and other reality shows are the architects of their own fate – or the engineers of their doom.

There is no such thing as ‘informed consent’ in reality TV.  Brian Winston’s book Claiming the Real, fleshed out what I had intuited; that the participants on reality shows and documentaries are all assumed to have given ‘informed consent’ but none actually have if you define it as rigorously as scientists and clinicians must.

“It has been well established in science that the informed consent of subjects involved in experiments requires that it has been obtained freely and without coercion; that the procedure and it’s effects and potential effects by fully understood by the subject and the subject be competent to give consent.”

The participants in reality TV can’t give informed consent because:

(1) They don’t know what’s going to happen. The subject of reality TV can’t foresee what’s going to happen until they have gone through it. The way a particular person will play with the public can’t be predicted, nor can their individual experience. Often their naivety is a seen as a bonus, as we watch them on a steep learning curve. It would be fair to say that many, if not most, participants in reality programmes are deluded when they sign the release form. No one goes in thinking the public and other participants will hate them, or that they will be abused and tormented on a multitude of different platforms rather than feted. They sign the form before all this has happened, when they still think they will be rich and famous.

The people on Channel Four’s Benefits Street were differently deluded. They thought the filmmaker would be an ally, and were probably told that the film would be a sympathetic portrait of the effect of the benefit cuts on human beings. Variations on this phrasing have been used to justify the most intrusive and exploitative ‘poverty tourism’, like Benefits Street and My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. The disparity between the thing that’s in their minds when they sign the release form and what appears on screen are often so great that legal redress is sought.  They feel violated, understandably, and don’t know how else to express it.

(2) They are differently coerced. Many of the subjects are vulnerable and might have trouble thinking through the pros and cons of this particular type of public scrutiny. Before she went in, would Jade have thought the public would interpret her lack of education as stupidity? Did anyone hint at this possibility that people would enjoy watching her because it made them feel better about themselves? Of course they didn’t. The omnipotent TV execs knew all this but didn’t tell her: she is being denied the information that would make an informed choice.

(3) They didn’t “ask for it.” Participants are assumed to be complicit in the whole process, from signing the release form to the moment when they are being publicly vilified. Once their uninformed consent is obtained they are held personally responsible for every envious tweet or journalistic brick bat that comes their way. The media and public wants this to be the case, otherwise the responsibility lies with them. It’s become so normal that we no longer see it as perverse.

Victim blaming is rife. It’s easy to blame the poor for their misfortune, women for sexual harassment and reality TV stars for their trolling on twitter. Women and poor people have people speaking up for them. But no one speaks for reality stars – they are the lowest of the low.

They often cut a ridiculous figure because they’ve been cast and emotionally styled into familiar archetypes; ‘the bitch’, ‘the weeper’ (Casey in CBB), ‘the one you love to hate (Katie Hopkins in The Apprentice). In this atmosphere, Hunger Games looks prophetic. If next year’s CBB housemates were asked to fight to death to maintain social order, they still wouldn’t get any sympathy.

Hating or loving reality TV stars makes you part of the storyline. I spent the last ten years doing exactly that – slagging off the crap and weird ones and hoping my favorites, like Mel, would make it through. I’ve been so engrossed in this three ring circus for so long that I never noticed how little I cared about the people, compared with how much I thought I cared.

(4) The pornographisation of reality. Reality TV is pornographic, by definition. The subjects are always dehumanised because the camera’s gaze is always objectifying, which explains why no one empathises with the participants. Like porn stars, they only exist for your pleasure. Reality TV is repetitive and addictive like porn: it doesn’t’ need to be innovate to keep you hooked. The same scenes are repeated over and over again ad infinitum, with minor variations, but we are still glued to the screen.

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Newsflash: Notorious sexist Russell Brand ‘slain’

Comedian Russell Brand last night declared on Twitter: “Finally, through the love of a good woman, teenage, sexist me was slain.” Brand was pictured posing with his new No More Page 3 T-shirt, having come out against the Sun’s topless photographs earlier this week. He credited partner Jemima Kahn, Associate Editor of the New Statesman, with his feminist transformation.

Screen Shot 2014-01-16 at 08.39.21

Here’s a selection of our readers’ reactions – a mixture of skepticism and support:

 

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Did Barbie’s trademark get the Plastic Surgery app taken down?

Yesterday we contacted Barbie and Mattel about their trademark being connected to the plastic surgery app iTunes had marketed for children at age 9+. You can read our full article here. 60 minutes after we published the article, and following a day of campaigning on Twitter from Susie Orbach, EverydaySexism and hundreds of others, the app was no longer available.

Barbie got back to us late last night, shortly after the app in question was taken down from iTunes in the US, UK and Canada.

“The Barbie name was recently featured in an Application that was not sanctioned by Mattel. This App has since been removed from iTunes. At Mattel, we take our commitment to children seriously and work hard to ensure there are no unauthorized uses of our brands that may be unsafe or inappropriate for children.”

So we are wondering: did iTunes only take this app down because of the trademark legal implications in what we can imagination was a very strongly worded email from Barbie, or because of a genuine concern about their inhouse policies for protecting women and girls? Will they, and Android game outlets, be taking down the hundreds of other plastic surgery “games”?

iTunes have still not responded to our media request. We’ll update you.

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Poetry, rather than the media, understands Real Sex

Every few years a concerted effort is made to liberate sex from porn. The stated aim of ‘the campaign for real sex’, launched by the Guardian in 2006, was to combat the ‘Mcdonaldisation of sexuality’ and debate alternatives. Libby Brooks wrote:

“For all that they are over informed about how other people do it, this has not brought young men and women closer to developing a common erotic language. There must be a way to diminish the junk succour of public sex while freeing private appetite.”

Eight years later, if you believe media reports, ‘real sex’ still isn’t happening, but the effects of porn on our sexual consciousness have been widely documented. It’s easier to point out what’s wrong, as playwright Penelope Skinner did brilliantly in The Village Bike, than settle on an alluring alternative. The ‘Mcdonaldisation of sex’ is a sexier concept than ‘freeing private appetite’; which sounds like a post-prandial lunge by a well upholstered restaurant critic, rather than an intimation of liberated sexuality. However well intentioned, media attempts to whiteboard sex are always wide of the mark.

I left Skinner’s play profoundly grateful that my flirtation with porn was a youthful dalliance rather than a life long obsession. I’ve avoided it assiduously for twenty years, even feminist porn, which seems like an oxymoron.

Several years after the Guardian campaign, very little had changed. Then Channel 4 nicked the idea and pornographised it. With staggering literal mindedness their ‘campaign for real sex’ featured real couples having sex in a box, in front of a TV audience of voyeurs. Like the Jacuzzi sex in Celebrity Big Brother, the sex box was staged for the public titillation, inauthentic by definition.

I agree with Frank Furedi (for once). His piece about the sex box in the Huffington Post said it’s worse than “banal porn because it masquerades as a public service.”

There is no need for any public conversation about sex, he says. The media’s alibi for their fetishisation of sex is always that they are “removing the stigma” around it. What stigma? “Sex talk is so constant that you have to search an old people’s home to find a hint of embarrassment about the subject.”

I think the media campaign for real sex is a contradiction in terms as long as it’s conducted in public. A second sexual revolution is needed to return sex to the private realm, where, according to Furedi, “it gains its meaning in the context of an intimate relationship, group of friends or family members.”

I was recently asked to review The Poetry of Sex  for another paper. The big black X on the cover of this anthology made me worry that it would be yet another pornographic spectacle; a series of X rated revelations with a literary, rather than an educational alibi – though the title does offer a different approach to this well trodden terrain.

Media reports about the death of ‘real sex’ have been greatly exaggerated. I wondered why journalists and broadcasters were adamant that ‘real sex’ isn’t happening. Then it dawned on me that the ‘campaign for real sex’ was an expression of erotic ennui; as dangerous liaisons between glamorous media figures, like those described by Julie Burchill in Ambition, have gone the way of expense accounts and Sea Breezes.

Outside the purview of the media however, poets are fucking like rabbits in every conceivable configuration; they are having threesomes and relationships based on sodomy. There is no ‘common erotic language’ but energy and variety, the opposite of porn. Poetry is the right form for sex because it evokes rather than demands.

It is not clear whether the poets are fucking other poets. If so I will go to more poetry readings. I was reassured to hear someone was doing it, but also rather sad to be a middle aged female journalist with a neurological calamity ahead of me, as I feel my own erotic capital declining. If my husband ever left me, who would want me? The poem that affected me most was called Whatever Happened to Sex By Amok Huey, which begins with a quotation from a freshman essay:

“When sex was more popular in the 60s”

I can attest that sex was also popular in the false boom of the 90s and maybe less so in a recession. For Amok, at some point, “Sex is a bungalow the Hollywood Hills/That only comes out at special occasions.”

“Sex tries hard not to whine for the good old days.’ but ‘can’t help but ache to be popular again.”

I liked this collection more than the books about love I poured over when I was looking for a reading for my wedding. I ended up with something from Heidegger’s Being and Time instead. I’ll leave this as an open question rather than another contribution to the wholly inappropriate public debate about sex.

Photo: Jean Koulev

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Two women hosted a massive show and the world did not implode

Naturally we’re looking at the Golden Globes through the kaleidoscopic glasses that are Feminism 2014 and therefore leaving our distant cousins, the Glossies, to plough the fallow field of mediocrity with the lists of Fashion Fails. Instead, we’re focusing on something we think should be a big deal – two women hosted a massive show for the second year in a row last night and the world did not implode.

The US is beating the UK at giving women comedians the top jobs, with Ellen DeGeneres hosting the Oscars again this year while over here it’s a cartel of Wozzy and Fry. So let’s have more funny women please, British TV.

Look at your Radio Times and think for a minute; how often do you see two women being given the reigns to a prime time TV show? As Issy Sampson pointed out in her piece on last month’s Xmas TV Sausage Fest, there are only two prime time entertainment programs that have a female duo taking on the hosting duties: The Great British Bake Off and Strictly, when Bruce Forsyth’s having a week off because he’s the oldest person in telly.

Everywhere else you look it’s white guy after white guy. It’s either just men: TopGear, Celebrity Big Brother’s Bit On The Side, Pointless. Or there’s the classic older man/younger woman combo: most news shows, Countdown, Strictly when Forsyth’s on form. Or lots of men and a token woman: Mock the Week, Have I got News and until recently Newsnight. Plus for some reason women-headed chat shows never get as far as a second series – see Ruth Jones, Charlotte Church, Girly Show – and they wonder why we still need a Woman’s Hour! *Annoying anti-feminist bloke-in-a-pub type question.

Does the success of Smart Girls’ Amy Poehler and Saturday Night Live’s Tina Fey’s performance last night mean men’s strangle-hold on prime presenting duties is finally losing it’s grip? That from now on we can expect to find any gender being hilarious and that long songs about Boobs will be a thing of the past? That Stephen Fry will go back to being extremely interesting every now and again as opposed to being some omnipresent, almost god-like presence?

Let’s hope so and encourage more diversity by celebrating, in the carefree model of the Top Three sort-of-feminist jokes, the triumph of Amy and Tina in being hilarious, commanding and, at the same time, women.

(Psst, guess who is presenting the the UK equivalent of the Golden Globes, the Baftas’? Yep, Stephen Fry.)

Amy Poehler & Tina Fey’s Top Three Sort-Of-Feminist Jokes from the Golden Globes 2014.

3rd Place: “For (Matthew McConaughey’s) role in Dallas [Buyers Club], he lost 45 pounds — or what actresses call being in a movie.”

2nd Place: “Meryl Streep is so brilliant in Osage: August County, proving that there are still great parts in Hollywood for Meryl Streep over 60.”

1st Place: “Gravity is nominated for Best Film. It’s the story of how George Clooney would rather float away into space and die then to spend one more minute with a woman his own age.”

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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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Most Read on Feminist Times 2013

Need a distraction from Christmas? Want to think about human behavior? Reckon you know what subjects Feminist Times readers are passionate about and what sets Twitter on fire?

We’ve put together the Most Read and Least Read articles published on Feminist Times in 2013.

1.     A feminist in high heels is like Dawkins in a rosary

Charlotte’s most contentious Editorial and our most read page ever. We were shocked when this one blew up on us, spawning the hashtag feministheels, and put a broad selection of responses in a Comeback piece.

highheels

 

2.     For once let’s really talk about slut-shaming

Can you be sex positive and anti-objectification? Glosswitch calls for a more honest discussion of “slut-shaming” and fuels online debate.

neon-woman-01

 

3.     No More Page 3: A bit of fence siting

Exclusive to Feminist Times, the No More Page 3 team explain why they’re sitting on the fence about porn and are neither pro nor anti.

NMP3

 

4.     Cameron and Rape Porn

Daisy Bata wrote from a feminist BDSM perspective about how she feared new Rape Porn legislation could affect consenting adults. Her personal perspective provoked a big reaction on Twitter and we asked South London Rape Crisis for a Comeback response on why they believe misinformation in the mainstream is polarizing the debate.

DavidCameron-photoshopped

 

5.     Femen – the beauty fascist fauminists

Another one of Charlotte’s Editorials, this time about whether the Feminist Times team would qualify to be in Femen and must be our most commented on piece so far.

Femen

 

6.     These Women Are Not Me

Maternal feminist Mel Tibbs raised a few people’s blood pressure when she argued that women in positions of power can not represent women like herself.

women-in-power

 

7.     What’s so safe about feminist, women only space?

Academics Ruth Lewis and Elizabeth Sharp on their research into women-only spaces. They caught the imaginations of both those who long for a safe space and those debating the very meaning of “women-only”,

Activist-Garden

8.     Fit is the new thin

Deborah Coughlin on why she hates the commodification of “fit”. In her mind it’s just the same message, in the hands of branding experts, as “thin”.

thin-fit

 

9.     Top Ten of 2013’s most unlikely feminists

Feminism has never been so popular, so as the fourth-wave rises there are all kinds of people jumping onto the ship. From Thatcher to Cameron to Miley Cyrus we countdown the most unlikely people to be touted as feminist in 2013.

topten-f

 

10. Comeback: How to be a man – porn

The only regular Fem T columnist who is a man started with a launch confessional about how porn has affected his life. Lots of readers had something to say about it and it was Victoria Coleman’s Comeback that made it into 10th place.

pornography-fi

Now read the Least Read on Feminist Times 2013.

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Least Read on Feminist Times 2013

Need a distraction from Christmas? Want to think about human behavior? Reckon you know what subjects Feminist Times readers are passionate about and what is more of a Twitter breeze as opposed to a storm?

We’ve put together the Most Read and Least Read articles published on Feminist Times in 2013.

1.     Natalie Bennett marks International Day of the Girl

We were so excited to receive a statement from Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett about International Day of the Girl. Unfortunately no one else was and this is our least read article so far on Feminist Times. Boooooooooo

Natalie Bennett

 

2.     An Editor Muses: Autumn

When we came up with the idea of reading out Elle’s autumnal editorial in a whimsical manner, highlighting it’s banality over a video of Deborah’s feet – we quite honestly thought we were being hilarious. You did not think so, and that’s us told.

editormuses

 

3.     NCA failing victims

An exploration of why the National Crime Agency is not tackling cyber stalking was not shared anywhere near as much as we thought. Take a look now.

Cyber Stalking

4.     Forgotten crafts – traditional Dublin biscuit folding

There’s a thin line between genius and not genius. We took a run and leap over that line and you did not come with us. Not interested in a pretend craft and Daniel Day Lewis? Fair enough.

angel-wp

 

5.     Video: Afghan Women’s Rights: A Doctor’s Story

The day after #feministheels and the publishing of our most read story ever we put up this video from Amnesty. We mentioned in the #feministheels Comeback how the way we are funded allows us to run important pieces like this that aren’t shared loads. If you want to help fund a site where brands don’t influence content become a Member.

amnesty

 

6.     Newcastle firmly on the feminist map

Fem T’s Sarah Graham had a feminist-life affirming trip to the North East Feminist Gathering and previewed it here.  Our review of the event got lots of views (and was for a while in our top ten) so we don’t think Newcastle has anything to worry about. We love you Newcastle.

NEFG2012

 

7.     Women and the wireless revolution

Our first infographic from the amazing women that are ThinkAgainGraphics. The legendary Joni Seager author of Atlas of Women and Lucia Ricci helped us launch with this amazing global breakdown of gender and mobile phones.

FINAL infographic seager-ricci

 

8.     Diary of a tomboy – football

Children’s Editor Anna moved all of us at the Restitution Ball with this touching speech about why girls in her school football team are forced to tackle each other.

Football-creditJayel Aheram

Photo: Jayel Aheram

 

9.     #16days: Women’s Aid funding crisis domestic violence

We ran a piece every day for #16days. This one about the funding crisis fell beneath the radar compared to the other 15.

Women's Aid

 

10. How Do You Become Lord Chief Justice?

Another one of our genius ideas. ‘Don’t all these people in power have a lot in common’ we thought to ourselves. Let’s start a series where we give a run down of how someone has got into a powerful job and over time this will illustrate this point beautifully. The picture is smoke coming out of the Vatican. We still love this idea.

Smoke from the vatican

Now read the Most Read on Feminist Times 2013.

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#IDontBuyIt: TV this Christmas is one big sausage fest

It’s that time of year again: you settle down in front of the TV, stuffed full of turkey and resentment towards your close family, to watch a TV schedule rammed full of repeats – and men.

Seriously – this year’s Christmas TV is all about men, performed by men, written by men and presented by men. Dr Who has regenerated into another white guy (sigh), Sherlock and Dr Watson dominate the schedules, Mrs Browns Boys is still mysteriously popular and over on C4, Bear Grylls is going off on a big old boys adventure with Stephen Fry. There may be women in Downton Abbey but, what with it being set in 1922, they aren’t exactly repping it for fourth-wavers.

So where can we find women on TV this Christmas? Weirdly, over on Strictly Come Dancing at the staid old BBC. It’s an oestrogen filled all-female celebrity final this year so, although model turned WAG turned ballroom dancer Abbey Clancy probably won’t be topping any feminist polls, she’s actually one of the few women your kids will see succeeding on telly in the next couple of weeks.

The show also features the only female presenting duo outside of The Great British Bake Off, in the form of Tess Daly and Claudia Winkleman. But that’s only when Bruce Forsyth is having a week off for old age.

Fearne Cotton presents Christmas Top Of The Pops, but despite the fact that pop in 2013 has been dominated by women (Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Lily Allen, Katy Perry) it features performances from John Newman, One Republic, Tom Odell, Chase & Status, Rizzle Kicks, Rudimental, James Blunt, Naughty Boy and way-too-old-for-it-now boyband Boyzone. At least Fearne won’t have to queue for the ladies’ loos.

And here’s an early warning, just in case you fall asleep on the sofa and worry you’ve woken up in 1940: the women who ARE allowed their own shows are cooking. Or crafting. Literally, that’s it. We’re ‘treated toThe Great British Sewing Bee Christmas, The Great British Bake Off, and Kirstie Allsopp continues her remarkably twee campaign to put us all back 50 years in Kirstie’s Crafty Christmas. Can’t we have women heading a show like “The Great British Website Design” or “Kirstie’s Draughty Christmas”, where Kirstie goes round an entire house insulating it to the recommended 270mm of mineral wool?

The TV “classic’s” schedule is a British tradition and a gender crisis. Given that past Christmas Specials – Only Fools And Horses, The Office, Top Gear – are now considered ‘festive classics’, they get repeated year after year after year, so it looks like we’ll be stuck with this male-dominated line-up for a while. A scary thought: will we still be being forced to watch middle-aged men driving expensive cars and making jokes about ‘bloody foreigners’ in 2080?

Repeats from the ‘good old days’, these ghosts of Christmas past, aren’t good for women because women weren’t there. Stats this year show that the schedules of the four main channels (BBC1, 2, ITV1 and C4) will be made up of 49.5% repeats – with three quarters of BBC2’s content being a repeat, 28% of ITV1’s shows having been seen before and C4 will be made up of 59% repeated material. Only BBC1 have thought that maybe, just maybe, it should make new TV shows: it’s 90% new material. Which is a relief until you realise that part of that new content is bringing back dinosaurs like Open All Hours. Oh.

Let’s look at all the amazing female comics and writers around: Victoria Wood, Caroline Aherne, Jennifer Saunders, Jo Brand, Miranda Hart, Bridget Christie, Josie Long. Surely, with laddy comedy Not Going Out making another appearance, there must be a funny woman getting an Xmas special too? Er, no. Miranda will appear in the (David Walliams-written) Gangsta Granny, and everything else is written by men: Downton Abbey, Jack Whitehall’s Bad Education, Lucan… the best the BBC can do is a historical look at Morcambe and Wise’s female sidekicks. Which they’ve patronizingly dubbed ‘Leading Ladies’. Oh, thanks SO much, BBC.

So what on earth is the TV industry thinking? The revolution may well not be televised, but we certainly need a revolution in television. If you can’t be what you can’t see, the majority of what we are seeing is crafts, sidekicks and sequins. Whatever gender you are, if you want to watch a well-balanced, broad range of women on telly this season, fingers crossed you got a boxed set of DVDs under the tree.

Issy Sampson writes for The Guardian Guide, Look, Heat, NME and The Mirror. For more, follow her on Twitter @isssssy

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Comeback: Cameron’s ‘Rape Porn Law’ and BDSM

We would like to correct some of the inaccuracies contained in the blog post published today on the Feminist Times by writer Daisy Bata. The amendment to the Extreme Pornography Legislation, referred to in the article as ‘David Cameron’s new rape porn law’, has been plagued by misinformation, mythologies and what can best be described as a form of liberal panic since it was announced in July of this year.

Following this, it is entirely understandable that the material Daisy accessed to write her article, and the conclusions she reached from it, has been read and taken as fact by countless others. It is not to argue with or shout down those who hold Daisy’s position, nor the author herself, that we write this statement. Feminisms are built on disagreeable women! Rather we would like to just add to the conversation with some information on the law, what it does/does not include, the reasons behind our campaign and particularly how pornographic depictions of rape differ from BDSM pornography.

Due to time constraints we can only point to previously published materials, though many do cover the points raised in this article. One point to comment on directly however is that “(o)nce again we are witnessing the attempts of men to exercise control over our agency, choice and desire.” The campaign was led by an all women team. It was drawn directly from the support work of women within Rape Crisis South London and was supported by the End Violence Against Women Coalition, Law Professors from Durham University including Professor Clare McGlynn and Professor Erika Rackley, Rape Crisis (England and Wales) and Women’s Aid among many other individuals and organisations, most of whom worked with, for and/or were themselves survivors of sexual violence. If anything we are witnessing the success of women exercising their agency to campaign for change.

The links below contain many additional links to information, research, evidence and opinion supporting the amendment to criminalise pornographic depictions of rape:

Legal Briefing

Content Analysis of Top 50 sites hosting pornographic depictions of rape … not a nipple clamp in sight

‘Criminalising Extreme Pornography: Five Years On’ – McGlynn and Rackley on The Extreme Pornography Provisions: A Misunderstood and Misused Law

Fiona Elvines: rape porn is an insult to men and an invitation to rapists / Comment is Free / 24th July 2013

Why I support criminalising pornographic depictions of rape.

Fiona Elvines is Operations Coordinator at Rape Crisis South London

Image courtesy of DFID

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No More Page 3: A bit of fence sitting

At No More Page 3 we get challenged and disagreed with on a regular basis, and that’s okay – it’s important to understand other viewpoints. We’ve changed and adapted as a campaign to the response from supporters on a variety of issues. Clearly there are some challenges (“you’re all jealous munters”) that we just ignore, although they do prove to us that we’re doing the right thing.

Recently we’ve been challenged by other feminists on our stance on the wider issue of porn. Our response was that we’re not pro-porn, but we do sit slightly on the fence on this issue. That stance has angered some supporters and we’re sad to have lost their support as a result.

However, we have always been very clear that our target is the soft porn that you cannot choose to view; the image that is inflicted on you while going about your day to day business. This is about the objectification of a young woman in a family newspaper (although happily not the biggest paper in the UK anymore); it’s about context, not content.

Our feeling is that 43 years ago Page 3 began the process of normalising pornography for public consumption. We have been contacted by several men who have told us that Page 3 was a gateway to an obsession with porn which utterly ruined their relationships with women.

It’s impossible to avoid how porn culture has seeped into the mainstream, and the expectations that has put upon women to act and look a certain way. There seems to be an understanding that spanky anal sex with completely hairless women is now the default setting in all heterosexual sex. Which is awesome if you’re a hairless woman who enjoys spanky anal sex, but what about the women (and men) for whom that’s just not in their box of sexual desires?

Search “Sex tips to please your woman” and you’ll get six results; the same search for pleasing “your man” has 16,600 results! There is a huge expectation on women to be pleasing in bed; there is a whole website called howtopleaseyourman. Where are women’s sexuality, needs and desires in this? There is this myth that we’ve all been empowered by being more sexual, when in reality it’s just given us one more thing to be told we aren’t good enough at.

But there is a far more sinister side to pornography and the portrayal of objectified women in the media which cannot and must not be ignored. There is no question of the links between the dehumanising imagery of women in the media and the acceptance of violence against women. Want evidence? The University of Buffalo study August 2011: the Increase in Sexualised Images of Women in the Media found “Sexualized portrayals of women have been found to legitimize or exacerbate violence against women and girls, as well as sexual harassment and anti-women attitudes among men and boys”.

There are legitimate questions to be asked about the spread of porn culture and how we reverse its impact on men and boys. Education around this is so important and as a team we have given our love and support to the Campaign4Consent for that exact reason.

For these and many more reasons, as a campaign we would never and could never say we are pro-porn.

However, we cannot truly say that we are anti-porn when pornography is such a broad brush term. What do we mean by it anyway? Where does erotica fit in? Or how about Anna Span who creates pornographic films, depicting both heterosexual and homosexual sex, from the eye of a woman? Should we not be supporting the women who are trying to diversify porn and create images of equal sexuality?

One of the issues with porn at the moment is that it is so focused on the fulfillment of men’s desire. Perhaps we should be helping to amplify the voices of women who are trying to tell the world that women have diverse sexual needs, and as much right as any man to express them.

One of the claims that we have recently read is that all women in the pornography business are oppressed and harmed. But is that too simplistic? We have spoken to women who have glamour modeled and have no regrets whatsoever about the career path they took. Or how about the amateurs out there who are having a wonderful time posting their love for each other and their exhibitionism online? Is each of those women harmed by that activity?

We do not doubt that many women (and men) have been damaged by their involvement in the porn industry but it is impossible to say they all have. If we alienate all performers, are we missing opportunities to support those who need it and work to stop further victims being harmed?

And then where does gay porn fit into the anti-porn argument? Are we only to oppose heterosexual pornography? Or perhaps only pornography that features women? Does that not further marginalise the sexuality of men and women who do not fit into that perceived societal norm?

One of our many issues with Page 3 is the narrow view of sexuality it presents; that men predominantly like white, blonde, able bodied young women with tiny waists and big breasts who will sit passively waiting to have sex done to them. We all know that the world is a big wonderful melting pot of attraction and desire and the more we embrace that diversity the less pressure there will be on women (and men) to fulfill that narrow sexual stereotype.

So we can’t really say that we are anti-porn either.

We are a campaign focused on one very specific issue. Although we regularly talk about the wider issues around sexism in the media, our number one aim at the moment is the removal of one image in one newspaper. We would love it if we could get universal support for this one, clear aim – no soft porn in a family newspaper.

Yes, of course, we are aware of where Page 3 sits within broader discussions around the representation of women and sex in both the mainstream media and pornography. Do we think that there is a timeline that links Page 3 to porn to Lads Mags to the normalisation of sexual images in all media? Yes, absolutely we do. Do pornographers and distributors need to be challenged and questioned and shown the potential harm they do? Totally.

But is it as simple as saying “all porn is bad”? No, we don’t think so and we’re sorry if that disappoints you, but this is one fence we’re not getting off right now.

“This is my song in defence of the fence
A little sing along, an anthem to ambivalence
The more you know, the harder you will find it
To make up your mind, it, doesn’t really matter if you find
You can’t see which grass is greener
Chances are it’s neither, and either way it’s easier
To see the difference, when you’re sitting on the fence”

Tim Minchin

Find out more about the No More Page 3 campaign at nomorepage3.org or @NoMorePage3

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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Progress Report: Feminist Times at 8 weeks

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We’ve proved there is a need for a precious space where brands don’t influence content, funded by Members who meet.

We need to convert our ten’s of thousands of readers into members to be sustainable.

We won’t survive unless our membership grows. We need more members so please sign up today from £5 a month by clicking HERE.

We made 5 commitments: PR & ad free website with access for all. Monthly events where members can meet. Local Groups. A Print Magazine. Campaigns. We have achieved the first two already. The next three are coming.

We’ve pulled forward the creation of local groups so our members can meet wherever they are. If you want to be in a local Feminist Times Team click HERE.

We’ve pushed back the print incarnation to 2014 while we continue to build membership to a sustainable level.

More info from our full progress report sent to our Members below:

Progress report for Feminist Times members and supporters.

Feminist Times launched on 3 October. In the 8 weeks since launch, we’ve had more than 80,000 page views from nearly 30,000 unique visitors in 163 countries around the world.

We have risen to the top of Google for ‘feminist times’, page 1 for ‘feminism’ and page 2 for ‘feminist’. Our international appeal has resulted in visitors from 6 continents, all except Antartica!

Following Charlotte Raven’s launch day appearance on BBC Woman’s Hour our server crashed under the weight of traffic and, 2 weeks ago, we had to upgrade our server’s data limit to cope with the demand for the site.

On social media, we have exceeded 4,000 Twitter followers and more than 2,000 Facebook likes, and there are more than 3,000 supporters signed up to our email mailing list.

So far we’ve, amongst other groundbreaking content, profiled the work of the following organisations and campaigns to this audience: Rosa, NEFG, Daughters of Eve, EVAW, White Ribbon Campaign, 16 Days, Without Women Where Would We Be, Mother’s at Home Matter, Southall Black Sisters and Bijli.

 

Pre-Launch

We had 247 Founder Members kickstart the project with £100+ each back in the Spring, which provided:

  • 2 full-time staff in Editorial.
  • 1 part-time staff in Editorial and Events.
  • 1 part-time designer.
  • PR expertise.
  • Fundraising expertise.
  • Web builder.
  • Naming ceremony.
  • Restitution Ball.
  • Paid contributors for the website.

 

Post-Launch

Monthly membership launched and 386 members have joined from £5 a month. The average is £6 a month with 2% giving over £42 a month and ¼ giving £11.12.

So far, members’ contributions have helped:

  • Pay towards 4 permanent staff, who have commissioned, edited, written and illustrated 147 stories and counting.
  • Fund 2 members’ events. Our Feminist Fireworks resulted in over 100 feminists meeting, 4 stories being commissioned and more stories being told.
  • Pay over £2000 in fees to writers, including emerging talent and marginalised women.
  • Pay for 2 years hosting at a higher data rate.

We actively negotiate best value for money on everything. We take the responsibility we have to our members seriously and that’s the reason why we waited until we had negotiated pro bono workspace before we took an office.

We’ve proved there’s a need and an appetite for what Feminist Times is offering, and we now have nearly 650 paid-up members of our organisation. We now need more of you to put your money where your mouth is. We need more members.

The Guardian today reported that the total UK spend on advertising is forecast to reach a record £14bn this year.Feminist Times made a conscious, anti-consumerist choice not to bombard our readers with advertising and PR. With no ads and no paywall, we’re dependant on you to keep us sustainable. Web experts keep telling us that our popularity would attract plenty of advertisers to help fund the site but if more people join we can have a precious space where big brands don’t influence content.

 

The Future.

Phase One

We are currently in Phase One.

We’ve taken professional advice and listened to our members feedback and we have taken the decision to put the print magazine on hold until later on in 2014 and instead bring forward our regional activity and campaigns – all while we continue the success of the website and build the membership together. The faster the membership grows, the quicker we can make the print magazine.

We need each member to sign-up 3 more members to help make us sustainable. Please keep encouraging your friends and relatives to join, and get in touch to speak to us about gift memberships for Christmas.

We know that our members want to meet and have the chance to collaborate on events, content and campaigns, so that’s a priority. We know that a network is important. We feel this is the smartest way to use our resources in Phase One.

So we want to offer you all the chance to get involved at the inception of Feminist Times’ local teams.

You need no experience. You just need to be able to be available for a couple of hours each month for a meeting in your area, which one of us will also attend.

We want each team to have a broad range of skills and people:

  • It would be good to have some people who already have great networks in the area – maybe you belong to a choir, PTA, WI, a local women-in-business org or you’re just really chatty on twitter with people who live near you! If it’s easy for you to let a lot of people in your area know about what we’re doing, that’s perfect.
  • We also need some people on each team who love a spreadsheet and taking notes. If you hate networking but love a spreadsheet, we need you too!
  • We need passionate people. Are you neither of the above put have ideas and get frustrated because you don’t have an outlet for them? We want you too!
  • We want a range of ages from 18 – 118, who identify as a feminist.

Click here to put your name forward and tell us a bit about you.

You will get FREE membership in return, and you will help steer the agenda for Feminist Times.

These local Feminist Times Teams will be women-only, including trans-women. Male members are welcome to join in local activity, but we believe these teams should be led by women.

Campaign process will be announced shortly.

Find out and book for Christmas Event is HERE.

Phase Two

We will update you with progress and welcome your input to help us create a Feminist Times network that is truly member-led.

We will continue to build towards publishing the print magazine.

Feedback.

Below is some of the most touching feedback we have received. See our comments sections on the website for more critique and debate.

“I appreciate you publishing it if it isn’t your politics.  There aren’t many feminist websites which would do that.” Anon, via email.

“Thanks so much for the event on Saturday night.  It was great fun to be involved and it felt like a very friendly, inclusive set up.  One of the things I liked the most was getting to talk with so many interesting people – from ex Greenham Common activists from my Mum’s generation, to young campaigners, artists and all sorts of people.  It feels like you’ve caught the spark of something that is going to grow and sparkle, like a firework, while creating a scene where a wide range of people can have a voice.  Congratulations!” Fran O’Leary via email

A huge thank you to Charlotte And all the Feminist Times team for a truly wonderful launch party. I arrived knowing no one and left with a whole new set of friends and comrades. It was nourishment for my soul to spend an evening with such an interesting and diverse group of women (mostly) and men. Thank you, thank you. Congratulations on a brilliant and much needed publication” Kieran Clifford on Facebook

“So glad there is a place to go to that showcases amazing women for their talent and brains vs exploiting their body parts. Kudos to you and I wish you the best of luck.” via email

“The Feminist Times looks good … and I’m glad it has launched. All power to them, as we need as many outspoken and angry voices as we can. Spare Rib was part of its time but the Feminist Times is unlikely to run out of material.” Rosie Boycott, Guardian

“I watched one episode of Loose Women at the beginning of the week … say no more … I am very excited about Feminist Times and members bringing interesting women to the forefront of all men and womens minds. And at last, no celebrities … Feminist Times you are speaking my language.” Sarah-Jane Summer, Comments.

 

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Top Ten of 2013’s Most Unlikely Feminists

Top Ten of 2013’s Most Unlikely Feminists

Feminism is most definitely fashionable. So, we present to you, the Feminist Times reader, without comment, a list of some famous people who declared themselves feminist in 2013.

10. Tamara Mellon: “Am I a feminist? Absolutely”

As the designer behind all those Sex in the City Jimmy Choos comes out as a feminist, does this finally answer the first (and most annoying) question we get asked by every media org: ‘Can you be a feminist and still like shoes?”

jimmy

Photo Clotee Pridgen Allochuku

9. Selena Gomez: “That’s not feminism. [Lorde is] not supporting other women”

In a Pop-Starlet Feminisn-off – Disney’s Selena was hurt when her fellow chart-mate Lourdes accused her of not being feminist enough.

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8. Courtney Stodden: “I’m a true Feminist”

Famous for marrying a much older actor when she was only 16, this year we saw the 19 year old grow up and feel empowered in the Celebrity Big Brother House, oh and put a stock cube in a kettle.

courtney-stodden

7. Stephenie Meyer: “I think there are many feminists who would say that I am not a feminist.”

She may have written what many regard as an incredibly sexist and misogynistic series of books, but the Twilight author insists she loves women and that makes her a feminist.

step

Photo Gage Skidmore

6. Jesus: “Jesus thought women were people, too”

Jesus let a woman wash his feet, hung out with women and stuck up for women. In her book Jesus Feminist, Sarah Bessey argues that Jesus made her a feminist.

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Photo rochelle hartman

5. Cosmo: “…deeply feminist”

Editor in Chief Joanna Coles asked Capital: “where are all the left-wing academics?” when it comes to fighting for women’s rights, and described Cosmo as “deeply feminist”.

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4. Joan Collins: “I think I probably am”

Like all feminists, Joan Collins gets grumpy when she’s hungry. Nuff said.

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3. Margaret Thatcher: “…ultimate feminist icon – whether she liked it or not”

Emma Barrett gave Thatcher the posthumous honor of the title ‘feminist icon’ in the Telegraph, regardless of the fact the Tory Prime Minister said, in her own life time:

“The feminists hate me, don’t they? And I don’t blame them. For I hate feminism. It is poison.”

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Photo Gwydion M. Williams

2. Miley Cyrus: “I feel like I’m one of the biggest feminists in the world”

Miley Cyrus believes telling women to do whatever they want to do is feminist. She says she does everything she does because she wants to do it, and that’s as complicated as it gets.

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1. David Cameron: “I am a feminist”

Almost Rans.

Nicole Scherzinger: “Instead of a feminist, I’m a feline-ist.”

?

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Photo Radar – Bbspears

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Inspire: ‘Let’s Start a Pussy Riot!’

I sat down with some of the team behind Let’s Start A Pussy Riot, published by Rough Trade earlier this year. The book is a collection of artistic responses to the phenomenal Pussy Riot, created to raise money and awareness for the women facing imprisonment.

Before I was involved with Feminist Times, Verity, Jade, Beth and Emy – the women behind this project – asked my choir Gaggle to contribute to the book, alongside some incredible artists including: Judy Chicago, Antony Hegarty, Bianca Casady, Sarah Lucas, Kim Gordon, Lucky Dragons, Billy Childish, Jeffrey Lewis. They launched the book at Yoko Ono’s Meltdown, with members of Pussy Riot secretly flown in to speak at the Southbank Centre.

When I joined Feminist Times I wanted to come back to them to discuss the passions that inspired the project, the challenges they faced and how others can follow their lead. This is the first in a series where we interview groups of women who have come together and realised ambitious feminist projects. All in their own words.

If you would like us to interview your group let us know on editorial@feministtimes.com

Feminist Times: HOW DID YOU GUYS COME TOGETHER?

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Emy (25): In Spring 2012, shortly after the women [Pussy Riot] got arrested, I approached three London-based feminist collectives to organise a fundraiser. Within 1½ weeks we organised a mini festival in London, including performances by 11 bands.

 

 

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Jade (22): It was in March last year: Storm in a Tea Cup, Girls get Busy and Not So Popular. Bands, performance art…. we took over a pub…

 

 

 

Verity Flecknell

 

Verity (30): We ran a balaclava workshop, Viv Albertine from The Slits was headlining.

 

 

 

 

 

Jade: Who was the performance artists who used fish? We had to rejig Viv, our headliner, because the artist before rubbed herself all over in fish and the stage was covered.

Verity: I had to go round with air freshener for ages before we could put Viv on.

Jade: Me and Emy were involved in Not So Popular, which we started as more of a socialist group where we want people to get involved in the arts who might not normally get a chance too, especially due to these cuts.

Verity: SIATC has been around since 2009; we helped organise Ladyfest 2010 and have taken part in WOW. We all had different skills, networks and contacts. Bringing us all together gave quite a wide range of different scenes – that’s why it worked so well.

Jade: We wanted to continue raising money. I think we raised £400 and we wanted a more regular way of giving money.

Emy: We started Let’s Start A Pussy Riot as a call to action, to respond creatively to the case and its surrounding topics around the time when the trials began. We wanted to engage the public in a creative dialogue, away from the mere consuming of news.

Jade: So every month we were going to do a different feminist zine. We started contacting artists and suddenly we had people like Judy Chicago, Billy Childish and Yoko Ono so we thought maybe we should just make a book. Seemed quite logical. We approached Rough Trade who loved the idea and had a lot of faith in us and gave us a lot of freedom to make the book we wanted to. And yeah, suddenly we had a book! I say suddenly but it was actually a lot of work. Don’t really know how we got here.

Verity: We’d never published a book before and we all come from a grassroots perspective so there were a lot of challenges. But people were very receptive because no one else was getting up and doing stuff like this in London.

Jade: It gave people a chance to respond in their own way. It’s not prescriptively Pussy Riot, it’s about the themes they embody. It asks people who are already on the scene to look at Pussy Riot, and how they exploded on to it, and respond to it.

Verity: Everyone wanted to have their say and support them; lots of artists wanted to show their support.

Feminist Times: HOW DID YOU PICK THEM?

Verity: We all had a knowledge of different scenes – for me it was the LGBT perspective and also I’ve got a lot of experience working in the folk world so I brought in people like Peggy Seagar. I’m really proud of the project because it’s intergenerational – we have all different ages, and movements and perspectives.

Jade: We tried to be as inclusive as possible. For me intersectionality exists and it’s important for feminism. We wanted to create a dialogue so each piece is almost in correspondence with each other.

Feminist Times: HOW DO YOU MAKE SURE YOU ARE INCLUSIVE?

Jade: One reason we’re doing university talks and going out there ourselves is because you can make one standalone piece that won’t include everybody but once you’re outside of that you can think, ‘ok who didn’t we get in touch with?’ and address those issues.

Verity: There’s a lot of action in universities and to keep this momentum we want to get in there.

Jade: That’s why its called Let’s Start a Pussy Riot. We want people to be inspired to make their own actions.

Feminist Times: WHAT KIND OF CRITICISM HAVE YOU FACED?

Jade: One of the things we’ve found is that people don’t know it’s a grassroots production. I think sometimes they might expect it to be much more polished, so the NME kept comparing it to high-class art and coffee table books. In one way we took from that aesthetic.

Verity: Rough Trade marketed it as ‘look at all these amazing people’ but there wasn’t much about the background.

Jade: Which is that it’s grassroots. I’ve never edited a book before. To be honest, I think I’m heavily critical of it – it could always be better. Maybe we should have put it at the top of the press release – three grassroots people did this!

Verity: Also I think some of the high profile artists work was critiqued as being rushed and that people hadn’t spent enough time on it, but we wanted it to be reactionary. It didn’t matter to us if it only took ten minutes, it’s about the message.

Jade: We also had pieces of work donated to us – Sarah Lucas, Yoko Ono – work that’s re-contextualised in this book, so Yoko’s lyrics take on another meaning.

Feminist Times: WHAT MADE U FEEL CONFIDENT TO LEAD PROJECTS LIKE THIS?

Jade: I’m precocious. From the age of 16 I’ve been involved in different things. In Manchester I used to run something called Same Teens, putting on gigs for young kids. I get bored so easily. I don’t like spare time.

Verity: I want there to be more female role models in the alternative scene. I’m a musician but I’ve put that aside because I care about inspiring change and being a role model. It’s all good sitting there and moaning about stuff but I think it’s way more difficult to go out and do something about it. It’s hard taking that first step and that’s what I find empowering about DIY activism. That’s how I got my foot in the door, putting on this Ladyfest, and I realised that I can put on these events. It’s having that confidence, and in order to have that confidence you need to have people around you to support your work.

Feminist Times: IS THAT EASIER IN LONDON?

Jade: One of the things that annoys me is that things are quite London-centric – coming from Manchester, which is a big city but still there’s parts that are pretty disenfranchised. Elsewhere up north, Newcastle had 100% of its arts funding cut. The current government’s focus is on bringing an international eye on the biggest city we have. But that’s where you get more artists coming out of the framework; though I don’t agree struggling makes you a better artist, it does make you pissed off and want to do something about it.

Verity: I think a lot of people when they first start out expect someone to magically give you funding, but you need to get out there and find all this funding. I want to inspire people to find other ways to make the culture that’s missing in their lives. It’s not easy, but sometimes it is just as simple as getting up and doing it yourself. It’s easier with the internet. I built up my audience on Facebook. You can find your people on the internet. Doesn’t matter where you are.

Feminist Times: WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU TO MAKE YOU WANT TO CHANGE THE WORLD?

Jade: Manchester. Grey. The Smiths! Joke. I don’t know what it is, but I just get so annoyed and internalise it and then go, ‘right then let’s put on an event.’ Pussy Riot made me a lot more politically engaged. Things I thought of peripherally have become a lot more important to me – seeing people like that make a stand. That’s why the internet’s good because you can see people like that making a stand and it inspires people.

Feminist Times: WHY PUSSY RIOT AND WHO ARE YOUR ROLE MODELS?

Verity: I don’t think there was one particular role model. I think it was more my peers, finding that support group. I felt so alone as an artist floating into nothing because I didn’t quite fit into any particular scene so that’s where me and my friend Elizabeth started SIATC. I didn’t call it a feminist collective until two years in. I called it a ‘female arts collective’ and then it was obvious that it was feminist, and Pussy Riot made me more hardcore in my feminist activism.

Emy: Their bravery is truly inspiring. Their performance marks a very important generational moment, kickstarting the dialogue about feminism, freedom of speech, LGBTQ rights, power of collaboration again. When I was younger I listened a lot to Sleater Kinney and bands like that but was too young and detached to understand the Riot grrrl movement.

Feminist Times: ADVICE TO OTHERS WHO WANT TO TAKE THE FIRST STEPS ON A PROJECT LIKE THIS?

Jade: Well, you can. For one don’t be daunted. Don’t be daunted by failure because failure only makes the next thing better. If you haven’t got money obviously it’s a tough one but all the stuff I’ve done has been begging for a free venue, charge a quid on the door, which covers a few costs, and ask people to do some stuff for free. Most people oblige because people are great.

Verity: Start with baby steps. You don’t have to have any capital to start, and use the skills of your friends, pull your skills together. You don’t realise the networks you have until you start reaching out. Lot of people don’t have the confidence to ask or take that step but reaching out is the first step.

Feminist Times: HOW WELL DID YOU WORK TOGETHER?

Jade: With everything there’s highs and lows. It was very stressful doing the project.

Verity: We all had other things we were doing. I’ve got a full time job, Jade was on her third year of her degree, Emy was doing her masters.

Emy: The balance between my one year full-time masters and the project was very challenging, for sure. But to be honest, to see how many incredible people stand behind this has helped me forget about the difficulties. The beautiful bunch who has been involved in this project, who have donated labour and put their heart into it, have really made it much easier. It was very moving to realise that there are people who still make projects like this possible, who stand up for what they believe in.

Jade: The fact we’re sitting in this room now is testament that you bicker and it’s over. You’ll be like, “why you using that font? That’s a shit font”, and then you realise maybe that wasn’t the right choice and those things that seem big at the time aren’t.

Verity: We always kept our focus on the bigger picture and that’s the most important thing – don’t get stressed about the small stuff. You’re always going to have to work through these things, you’re not going to always agree in a collective.

Jade: You’ve got to have a thick skin. If you’re going to become really upset because someone doesn’t like your idea for the front cover it’s not going to work.

Verity: There is a lot of passion so of course there’s fire.

Jade: I’m just so proud of everyone involved.

Feminist Times: FAINTHEARTED ACTIVISM HAS BEEN ONE OF OUR MOST POPULAR ARTICLES. WHAT CAN A FAINTHEARTED ACTIVIST DO?

Jade: Well, Pussy Riot took that action and we made a book instead. We didn’t go and stand outside Westminster.

Verity: You have to find your strengths. I have to tell myself every day that I can’t bloody save the world, I can’t solve everyone’s problems. You’ve got to honor yourself and do what you can within your means.

Jade: Anything you do in the day can be an action. If you didn’t shave your legs today – I really do believe that is an action. Or if you’ve never publicly spoken and you’re really terrified, if you take the step and publicly speak then you’re empowering yourself and there’s a lot to say for small actions everyday. And they’re not acknowledged and you won’t be on the front page of the news, but if you feel a bit better about being a woman then there’s no harm. Don’t compare yourself to Pussy Riot. They chose that action because it almost chose them. Also in this country we have a very bad response to public protest. Why would you go and protest when the Iraq war happened, when the student fees were raised, when the cuts were made? Why would you take to the streets because people don’t seem to listen. We made a book and that’s how we chose to enter the conversation.

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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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Charlotte Raven

The Face of Pussy Riot

‘Selfie’ has become this year’s word. I’m not surprised although I’ve never taken one, apart from when I was having my foot stitched in A&E recently. I felt moved to parody the sun lounger selfie – a sub genre where female holiday makers photograph their tanned legs with the sea in the backgrounds. The picture of my white hairy legs and frankenstin foot doesn‘t feature in the Google images if you search for sun lounger selfies, suprisingly.

Selfie journalism is all the rage too. My most successful (in terms of money and exposure) recent pieces were selfies – one about Huntington’s Disease and the other about stress. I have already written about my depresson, my cats and my children. How did this happen?! In my youth I wanted to be liked and never thought that I’d reveal so much biographical detail – it happened slowly, so I never realised what was happening until it was too late.

The media has changed dramatically in the past few years. When I started out in journalism commissioning editors seldom demanded a personal angle. I was a cultural critic when it was still fashionable and penned stern third person pieces about New Labour’s narcissism, usually managing to work something in about the on-screen lives of Big Brother contestants but very little about mine. It didn’t seem relevant.

It’s easy to write selfies – but hard to live with the lurking suspicion that you are becoming Liz Jones.

It’s impossible to make a living in journalism these days unless you’re prepared to tell all about your personal life, especially for a woman. I recently pitched a cultural piece about the journalistic cult of personality with no personal angle to a number of different editors and never heard back.

It isn’t just journalism; we seem to need a face behind everything. Political and charitable campaigns don’t work unless there’s an identifiable person to relate to. But the cult of personality has reduced cultural life to tittle tattle. Journalism is now all about the who, not the what, where or why.

In this climate, the anonymous female punk band Pussy Riot were a powerful challenge. One hard to spell philosopher said: “The message of their balaclavas is that it doesn’t matter which of them are arrested — they’re not individuals, they’re an Idea. And this is why they are such a threat: it is easy to imprison individuals, but try to imprison an Idea!’

Unlike One Direction, we knew nothing about Pussy Riot’s back story – how their mothers or old school friends felt about their performances, or what they wanted to be when they grew up. They gave 110 per cent in their performance in Red Square, but didn’t use their global prominence to enhance their personal brand. Their individual quirks were subsumed in the idea of Pussy Riot – there was no ‘sporty’ one or ‘leary’ one.

Like many others, I was obsessed with the idea of Pussy Riot, while secretly hoping that they would be as gorgeous as it. I kept reminding myself that Pussy Riot were part of a movement that included Occupy and the Anonymous Collective of internet hackers who were choosing to obscure their identity – a radical decision in the age of the selfie .

The anonymity afforded by cyberspace has always been portrayed as a bad thing. But it’s not just the bad guys who need to hide behind false names. As well providing a cloak for ‘trolls’, anonymity has also allowed internet hacktivists to campaign with a unique new power against a variety of social ills.

The targets of the Anonymous Collective were surprisingly diverse. I thought they’d be fighting efforts to ban internet piracy, not campaigning against the Church of Scientology and child pornography. Their slogan is: “We are anonymous. We are legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us.”

According to an article in the Baltimore City paper, “Anonymous (used as a mass noun) is the first internet based super-consciousness. A group in the sense that a flock of birds is a group.” In other words, they act anonymously in a co-ordinated manner towards an agreed goal. It also presents itself as the collective conscience of the internet. One picture relating to the anti-child pornography campaign shows Guy Fawkes holding up a picture of a teddy bear with the slogan: “Don’t fear, the internet is here.”

Anonymous are against notions of creative ownership and in favour of piracy. They argue that copyrights should expire after five years, which would effectively mean the internet was a massive digital library. This demand strikes us as unnatural. We have everything invested in the myth of individual artistry, rather than a collective creative consciousness.

Some artists have responded enthusiastically to Anonymous’ call to freely share their output instead of making money for themselves. You can download all Pussy Riot’s recordings for nothing, if you want to.

Then something strange happened. During the trail, the members of Pussy Riot were humanised. It looks as if it happened naturally – as if our natural desire to find out everything about them was met by a surge of information in every media platform. Soon, I knew Nadya and Masha better than my school friends. Their childhood ambitions were filled in and Nadya’s child was held aloft outside the courtroom. Their parents were featured in the Pussy Riot documentary. There was a leary one and a posh one. I blamed media for personalising the Pussy Riot story, until I read this piece by Maria Chehonadskih in Radical Philosophy:

“The Pussy Riot balaclavas are not the Guy Fawkes masks of people crowded in the square in V for Vendetta. The thousands of protesters do not fit the narrative of lonely heroes, but the old Soviet dissident logic recognises only ‘personality’ in the revolt against the authorities. As a result, the faces and personal stories of the members of Pussy Riot have become of central importance. A humanization of the victims on trial passed through a self-promoted [my italics] media campaign, which made public their way of life (ascetic, selfless devotion), personal life (parents, babies, husbands) and other biographical details.”

In one interview Nadya reveals that she wanted to go into advertising. I wasn’t surprised. She has constructed a wonderful, PR narrative about herioc individuals battling against authority. And she is stunningly beautiful, fortunately,

A personality cult is growing around Nadya. She is now referred to as the [open quotes] leader [close quotes] of Pussy Riot. I wonder how the other members feel about this. Her open letter in the Guardian about the terrifying reality of penal servitude is compeling. We are hanging on her every word. Is that healthy? We are all in love with her – she is more heard than any female public figures.

The dark side of the Pussy Riot multitude is an extreme individualism, manifest in the gesture of the removed balaclavas, behind which a unique ‘Russianness’ appears: first, the face of the leader, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova; second, dissident moralism, spirituality and asceticism – the brand identity of Russian revolutionaries since the populist movement of the nineteenth century.

What about the sixteen non-media-savvy anti-Putin protestors who are languishing in jail as I write? Anonmyity is being thrust upon them. With no brand identity, they have no leverage. How many letters are they getting? How many namechecks by globally famous pop stars, how many offers of flirty email dialogues with noteable philosphers?

The unmasking of Pussy Riot was part of the performance. By contrast, Anonymous kept their cover when I encountered him/her in real life at the Occupy protest at St Paul’s. I had foolishly imagined the protesters would only put on their ‘V for Vendetta’ masks when the TV news cameras were watching, so I was surprised to see so many of them got up as Guy Fawkes while preparing their tea on a quiet Tuesday night. The political point – that they represent a massive constituency of normal second and third persons, the potato-peeling majority – was powerfully conveyed, so I was extremely embarrassed by my childish urge to pull their masks off. The culturally instilled mania for personal identification runs very deep, as we will see.

The big political battles of the future won’t be between left and right, but between the selifie and an anonymous other. Anonymity does pose a significant threat to individualism – it’s terrifying to contemplate what would remain of our identities if we allowed our egos to be subsumed in the idea of Anonymous. Writing with my Guy Fawkes mask on would be frightening but liberating. I wouldn’t make a bean, but the lack of a byline would definitely free me to experiment, like Pussy Riot did.

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Infographic: The Guardian’s Best Books of 2013

Click below for full size graphic:

Guardian-op-ed-full

With thanks to Joni Seager and Lucia Ricci of ThinkAgainGraphics

Data from The Guardian

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TV (and Oprah) changed my life

Much praise has gone to the handling of the horrifying case of the three Lambeth slaves by Freedom Charity, the organisation the alleged victims reached out to, and the Police. But little praise has been directed towards the powerful catalyst at the heart of their consciousness raising, the spark that made the women feel they would no longer be held captive, that gave them the information to seek help – and that was TV.

ITV’s ‘Forced to Marry’ went out at 10.35pm on Wednesday October 9th, part of the same Exposure series that also outed Savile. This episode followed undercover reporters as they stung Imams in mosques around the UK who were prepared to marry 14 year old girls. It is reportedly this program that the three women watched and that motivated them to escape their situation.

You often hear people on This Morning’s couch say “well, if this helps just one person”, but it blows my mind when I am reminded of the powerful, messiah-like change TV has the capability of catalysing. Live Aid is a perfect example of this; Russell Brand on Newsnight, well, didn’t quite change the world but hey.

We know the change the Savile programme instigated for the hundreds of victims who suddenly felt able to come forward, bolstered by TV legitimising their experience. What the establishment, thousands of individuals and the BBC had kept hidden for years, one programme split open in under an hour.

Looking back at my own life I can see how television has had a powerful revelatory effect. Whether in my home life or as part of my education, it’s given me knowledge and tools that I didn’t get on the streets of Worthing.

In the 80s That’s Life taught me that violence and sexual abuse were bad and that children could call a new number – Childline. For the first time children were told they had rights through the television, and from that moment every mum and dad had to be more conscious of their parenting.

The Cosby Show, Fresh Prince, Simpsons and Roseanne taught me about race, sexism, body politics, sexuality, feminism, gender, politics and class. When Marge served up the Blinky to Mr Burns I learnt how one mum can make a big stand against the most corrupt and powerful. After watching Sandra Bernhard coming out in Roseanne I went to school feeling confident that being gay or lesbian was totally cool and fine by me, even though the education system I was in hadn’t quite cottoned on to that.

The biggest impact by far though was by Oprah. I’m not even sure how I watched her because we didn’t have ‘satellite’ – it was too expensive. Regardless, Oprah remains this dreamlike yoda figure from my childhood, omnipresent, but I never met her.

Oprah’s shows taught me about racism – she interviewed skinheads and neo nazis live on her show, was subjected to abuse, and all the while kept dignified as it got personal.

Oprah’s shows taught me about weight, eating, emotions and female body image – she’s been in full view, fat, thin and embarrassed in public by failing repeatedly.

Oprah taught me about sexual abuse by telling the world she had suffered. Then there’s a million other stories and ideas she’s helped spread in the world; imagine if she had been a monster. Imagine if Jeremy Kyle was that successful?

TV can be a much maligned medium, and no wonder with the likes of Geordie Shore, Ibiza A&E, Celebrity Undertaker clogging up so much time; sometimes it can seem like the whole schedule is taken up with guilty pleasures. (TV commissioners take note: I made up Celebrity Undertaker and have the entire pitch waiting for you if you want it.)

People are jumping ship. They don’t need to glue themselves to the Gogglebox for an evening when they can watch what they choose on Netflix or LoveFilm. But the wonderful thing about old fashioned telly was you were kinda stuck watching whatever Aunty or the others put on for you, and it’s that unwitting viewing that has the power to change. The wealth of ‘choice’ actually may be restricting our growth because don’t we just pick the same thing again and again.

Things I caught by accident the first time around – Louis Theroux, The Thick of It, Father Ted – I’ve been watching again and again. I’ve stopped discovering and am now merely consuming and regurgitating the same fodder because I trust it.

In a wonderful quote from Dr George Gerbner in a 1982 issue of Presbyterian Survey he notes that: “most people watch TV by the clock, not the program. They are more faithful to it than to church.”

Much like with the church, we don’t trust telly anymore. I don’t think we are too sure about how seriously the people behind it are taking the role of mass influencer. If TV seemed more aware of its power to raise consciousness, and this came through in the programming, then maybe people would give themselves over for a whole evening like they used to, and learn something they weren’t looking for.

Image courtesy of Alan Light

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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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Feminist Teens: Where are the teen feminist mags?

You’d have to have been walking around blindfolded for the past two years to not see the welcome shift taking place in the content of women’s magazines.

The Vagenda has dissected UK magazines Grazia and Cosmopolitan with sharp wit every month. Elle and others have begun to evolve their content and tone. And Feminist Times has, of course, launched online.

But what is completely bizarre about this shift is how it has left the teen magazine uncriticised and unscathed.

Just glancing at this month’s newsstand gives a taste of what is on offer. Cover lines included: “Clothes that make your body look amazing!”, “Boyband Bantz”, “OMG! Why Justin Loves You”. Shout magazine was giving away nail varnish and emery boards. Bliss even had a pair of false eyelashes tacked to the front as a gift.

These are the magazines that I turned away from as a teen, quickly finding the editorial voice patronising, the content dull and repetitive. They haven’t changed much since. And, worryingly, there still isn’t an alternative on the shelves.

What is obvious is the way these magazines are preparing a young reader for the next logical step: the kind of women’s editorial that we are trying to move away from. Compare them to these women’s magazines and you’ll see that the cover lines and stories are worryingly similar. Even the layout and design mimics their adult women’s counterparts. These are the stepping stones, priming the girls for their transition to women’s mags.

It’s important and logical that the debate surrounding magazines begins to assess these too. Any change in women’s material should be mirrored in material for the younger generation. There is a brilliant opportunity being missed to target future women and open up the possibility for a different type of media.

It is equally important for the magazine industry that this is addressed. It is no surprise that over recent years, with the rise of the internet, the teen mag sector has suffered terribly and a number of titles have folded completely. Of course, much of this is down to being able to access material online. But it is entirely possible that an element of this is the result of a failure to inspire.

It might seem like an ideological proposition to some that current mags could be adapted or new titles created. But it really isn’t. In the States, Tavi Gevinson did it with Rookie.

Within one year of being an online magazine, Rookie got a worldwide online following as a result of its brilliant, witty content for teen girls. Looking through the Yearbook Two, a collection of the online articles released last month, it is evident to see what Rookie is doing right.

The female celebrities interviewed are independent, strong, kind figures such as Lena Denham, Judy Blume and Molly Ringwald. Role models who do something worthy of their star status. The ‘live through this’ section features women of all ages writing to their teen counterparts about problems growing up, issues they faced and how to tackle them. Each topic – anorexia, parents divorcing, the loss of virginity – is approached with warmth, sensitivity and a feminist attitude.

What the UK needs is something like this. Something that isn’t a women’s mag repackaged for a teenage girl. Something that prepares girls for real problems they may face rather than creating ones for them, putting the focus on body image and appearance. Something that will inspire and educate.

Creating an alternative magazine for the news shelves could be the solution to both the struggle of teen mags and the lack of brilliant material for teens. The mammoth task of rejuvenating women’s media needs to be done properly.

Now is the time to open up the debate and criticize what is on offer for the younger generation. Regardless of the consensus, what is clear is that the UK teen mag cannot survive in its current state.

Hannah Ewens is a freelance journalist, currently studying for an MA in Magazine Journalism at City University London. Find out more: @hannahrosewens

Image courtesy of Elise

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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

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Ding Dong the Witch is Dead

Au contraire. In fact, witches are ‘enjoying’ a great deal of publicity in the twenty-first century – even making it to the front page of the current issue of Private Eye. Amid glowering pumpkins, above the headline ‘Horror Witch Costume Withdrawn from Shops’,  is Rebekah Brooks, in an outfit whose collar is more reminiscent of the Puritans. Private Eye has form in this area; they used a headshot from the same image under the caption ‘Salem Witch Trial’ in May 2012. So far, so funny. It’s Hallowe’en after all and a coincidence not to be missed. Let’s hope the photographer got a repeat fee.

Apart from the obvious point that could well be missed in a lot of this coverage – that there are some men involved in this case – it seems that a red-haired woman is a target too good to be missed. Now I’m no fan of Ms Brooks or Rupert Murdoch, but I get quite annoyed whenever women are targeted with the lazy stereotype of the witch. I’m no fan of Thatcher either, but would protest about her being called a witch. For the truth is that those accused, tortured and often executed in Europe and North America during the witchcraft persecution (c.1450-1800) were far less dangerous than Brooks or Thatcher. Most of them were peasant men and women who were victims of socially superior accusers with an axe to grind. They may have tried to harness a supernatural force and there’s little doubt that the majority of people did believe in witchcraft and the Devil. Anyone attending a Roman Catholic christening today will be asked to renounce Satan and all his works. However, it could be argued that unlike the witches of the Early Modern period, Brooks and Thatcher did real damage.

In fact, as @Greg_Jenner tweeted, “Is it only me who sees the Private Eye ‘witch’ cover as subtly pro-Rebekah Brooks? Witches were innocent scapegoats in hysterical societies.” So I’m seriously considering setting up Watch out for Witches (WOW) to challenge and educate people who should know better about lazy stereotyping. Ok, so I’m a female, mixed-race northerner living in London, so I should be immune to lazy stereotypes by now, but I’m alive and well and articulate enough to challenge sexists, racists or northernists. It may seem an arcane point, but as I have argued in these pages previously, the frivolous and negative portrayal of witches does a great disservice to over 40,000 men and women who were tortured and/or executed. And to be completely accurate, we ought to be seeing men pilloried as witches as well.

Regretfully, I shall not be cancelling my subscription to Private Eye.

 

Dr Wanda Wyporska has written extensively on witchcraft and is the author of Witchcraft in Poland 1500-1800, published by Palgrave Macmillan on November 6th. She blogs about witchcraft, writing and publishing at www.witchcraftinpoland.com. Find out more @witchcraftwanda.

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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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Charlotte Raven

Ode to Autumn

This week’s editorial is dedicated to the Stakhanovites on the women’s press, who labour so hard on their inspirational/aspirational autumn editorials.

Autumn, you are my number one guilty pleasure (don’t tell anyone!) You are more unpopular than Simon Cowell, but less scary. I have longed for you all the lazy hazy days of summer, and didn’t dare admit it.

Everyone loves lying on the grass admiring their pedis, except moi because (whisper it!) from the waist down, I am a right two and eight! Opaque tights cover a multitude of sins, including the scar on my foot and my hairy feminist calves!

There are many signs that Autumn is in the air, including the low lying mists rolling off the river and the all too familiar early morning visibility problems on the way to work!

Summer was a big guilt trip for those of us who have a love/hate relationship with the great outdoors! And summer drinks are never as nice as they look! Thankfully, it’s no longer Pimms o’clock, but red wine o’clock. I glug Merlot on weekdays as soon the kids are in bed, in front of my coal-look fire, swathed in eternally comfortable layers. And dreaming of a big win in the lottery of life.

You are a cheap date Autumn, compared with high maintenance Summer. You don’t rehydrate constantly with expensive bottled water. You drink whatever’s going. We compliment each other; you are the scratchy jumble sale blanket to my vintage throw.

In fashion terms, you are a tectonic shift; spaghetii strap dresses are jettisoned in favour of ravioli separates in dramatic umbers.

You are bold as brass Autumn; a true English eccentric who won’t drop your hemline when the temperature plummets. You are an inspiration to us all! Tis the season to set forth in witty apostrophes, like my eighties roller boots and jaunty ‘mother of the bride’ fascinator. To celebrate your arrival, I will be investing in a pair of Spats wellies and a talking umbrella, like the one in Mary Poppins that tells when I’m over my overdraft limit.

I fancy you rotten, Autumn: you are as tasty as a baked potato on bonfire night! I gorge senselessly on you while watching Homeland, and fantasising about being sodomised by Damien Lewis.

Although you are frowsy and disheveled, I don’t mind being seen with you. You can’t work a polished and pulled together look, but you are reliable, unlike a rollercoaster. I won’t get stuck at the top of you, fearing for my life.

Autumn throws up many challenges: it’s too cold to smoke outside! My tunic dresses are too draughty! Unfortunately, I can’t get into last year’s Gap real straight jeans. My feminist summer wreaked havoc with my waistline! The stress of launching a magazine was the perfect alibi for downing iced coffees and pain au chocolates at 4pm. As I write, I am wearing yoga pants covered with cat hairs, under a rust-coloured, coffee-stained duvet.

Autumn is a time for making plans! I will be thinking of the print incarnation of Feminist Times while stamping through the leaf-strewn streets of Kentish Town in my Carven boots and coat of doom. AKA my Uniqlo parka.

To celebrate, we’ve pulled together a covetable selection of russet toned writing to warm the cockles in the coming week. The ‘Running? It’s just jogging’ piece will make me think twice before donning my fitness tracker wristband.

In this week’s feminist toolkit, Julie Burchill hymns her thick skin. JB hates you, Autumn, I’m sorry to say, but please don’t take it to heart. A few years ago, she memorably cast fans of the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness as lame brained nostalgists.

Happy thinking!

Here, in no particular order, are my autumn aspirations:

  • Dye my hair russet, a la Sylvie Guillem
  • Accost Tufnell Park uber-dad Damien Lewis on the school run
  • Remember the name of the Green Party leader
  • Campaign for Dublin Biscuit Folding to be included in the Great British Bake Off
  • Get a Feminist Times clothes line into Topshop
  • Learn beekeeping

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Feminist Toolkit: How to grow a thick skin

Have you ever stuck your head above the parapet or thrown a hot potato into Twitter? If so you’ve probably been shot down or burned and, like many of us, wish you had a thicker skin.

In order to help us all feel free to express ourselves we’ve investigated how every one of us can grow a thick skin and feel more confident in our ideas. Feminism is about ideas and therefore feeling confident to share them is an essential feminist life skill.

We called in a world renowned expert in having skin as thick as a rhino, Julie Burchill – love or loathe her, you’ve got to admire her ability to take the kind of criticism that would send most writers crying to their mums.

Julie’s answers to our questions were so far removed from our own instincts we genuinely considered she could be a freak of nature, so we put this to psychotherapist and author of Happy Relationships Lucy Beresford, who explained why a thick skin can be an asset and why it’s not healthy to need people to like you.

Julie Burchill:

How important is it for you to be liked?  

Not a bit important. All my life I have been trying to avoid affection, as it comes so easily to me and can be quite restricting.

Is needing to be liked a weakness?  

Yes, it is practically an illness of the mind, I think. I don’t feel sorry for such half-wits, though, as they bring it on themselves.

What does it feel like to have a “thick skin”? 

I actually get a mild sexual thrill from being verbally abused by strangers. Just a mild one, though – I’m not kinky!

Why aren’t you on Twitter?  It seems the natural home for anyone who likes being controversial AND has a thick skin. It’s the recipe for Twitter success.

Exactly. I would be having a new feud every day – TOO predictable. And I have my novel to write.

Does having a thick skin make it harder to back down, change your mind, apologise? How does this affect the personal life of a thick skinned polemicist?

Because I am so secure in myself and my beliefs, I find it super-easy to apologise.

Did you learn how to be thick skinned to survive?  And how can others learn those skills?  

I was a very pretty, very clever teenager who in many ways was given everything on a plate, despite my extremely working-class background. So it was quite a perverse act to become such a bruiser while still very young. I just really like the way it feels. I enjoy being tough.

Do you read comments under your work? 

Only when in search of said mild sexual thrill!

Have you Googled yourself and was it like “like opening the door to a room where everyone tells you how shit you are” (Peter ManYum, Thick of It)?

All the time. It’s the mental equivalent of jumping into a very cold swimming pool with a hangover – bracing and invigorating and, in my case, I feel very much better afterwards.

Lucy Beresford:

To have “Thick Skin” is being able to really not care, not worry about what other people think. It’s to have self-confidence, being able to move on without being wounded. Thick skin is a support structure, so you don’t collapse psychologically.

Some people have always been thick skinned. Even as children. The rest of us have to acquire it. You develop your own self confidence by having a certain mental attitude: “I believe in it”. Over time it feels less painful.

On the internet you have to train yourself not to pick at the scab. If you’re writing an article or a blog, simply the writing should be enough ideally. Even an excessive addiction to good comments is just as bad as reading the bad ones. Don’t read, don’t reply. It’s hard to do because seeing something in writing burns into the retina more so than hearing someone say something.

Julie gets excited by the conflict, the confrontation and that’s why she’s brilliant at what she does, and at some point in the past she realised she was articulate and sharp and enjoyed the jousting. Other people would rather persuade. It’s like bungee jumping – some of us will do it, some not, but there’s an adrenaline.

The important thing is concentrate on your own self esteem. Ideally it’s about breaking free from the childhood obsession of needing mummy, daddy and everyone in the class to like you, and just doing things for yourself.

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Charlotte Raven

In praise of interesting women

Where have all the interesting women gone? Is it capitalism that has turned us into one-dimensional consumerist ciphers? Or have Thatcher, Blair and women’s magazines rendered us all too self absorbed to be interesting?

And what has happened to all the interesting magazines?  There are over forty women’s titles on our local newsagent’s shelves but they all look depressingly, uniformly bland. Grazia, once the crack cocaine of women’s magazines, is now an eminently resistible blend of mid-range ‘must haves’ and Jennifer Anniston snore fest. Even Vogue has lost its hauteur: the fashion ‘bible’ now lacks the confidence it once had to preach, even to the converted.

Six months ago I floated the idea of producing a PR, advertising and celebrity free magazine aimed at interesting women. I knew there must be a market out there but couldn’t say how big it would be. The random, unscientific ‘focus groups’ I held to test the idea merely confirmed that a small circle of metropolitan artists and activists would buy it.

But who would be our role models? We all struggled to identify any we could agree on. Looking at the BBC’s power list didn’t help. Karren Brady wouldn’t inspire my Tomboyish daughter. She was also bored by Dora the Explorer, recognising that Dora was a sop to mums, rather than a genuine attempt to address the endemic sexism of commercial kids TV – much as Brady’s public presence is a sop to female TV-watching professionals. When Anna grows out of the Beano and casts around the culture for characterful role models, she may find, disappointingly, that everyone seems to be heading in One Direction.

I was lucky to grow up in the golden era of interestingness, even though I didn’t know it. I remember watching Ann Leslie and other larger than life grande dames of Fleet Street on Question Time in the seventies. Today’s Glendas seem rather one-dimensional by comparison.

My teenage heroines were punk and new wave scions Pauline Murray from Penetration, Poly Styrene and Siouxsie who were neither bland nor conventionally pretty. I planned to grow up interesting like them, whereas my girls’ school was trying to instill a blandly professional bearing that would equip me for life in the commuter belt.

There are far too few characterful women in public life; no female Nigel Farages (apart, perhaps from Grayson Perry). Women in the public eye come under enormous and explicitly gendered pressure to be bland, particularly if they’re doing and saying serious things. One of my most witty, acerbic and colourful activist friends has felt compelled to create a muted persona for her appearances on TV and radio. The fear of seeming unserious has led her to be tight-lipped and cautious. It’s a process of self-effacement that I empathise with. I have often wondered myself whether I should have media training to make myself feel less silly acting the role of someone in full possession of the facts on my very occasional forays into what we laughingly refer to as the mainstream media.

By contrast with women in the media, my female friends in real life are far more three-dimensional – they hardly ever talk about men or sex or shopping like the ‘girls’ in Sex and the City. (Or indeed like any women in TV fiction – when do you ever see two women on screen having a discussion that is not about men or shoes?). In real life we talk about the business of living and the complex reasons fulfillment sometimes seems elusive, even for people as privileged as us.

And those reasons turn out to be complex – equal parts personal and political, a combination of social forces and self-sabotage. I admire the way these real women struggle with the enemy within: the voice inside their head that’s telling them to obsess about Ofsted ratings and demand more ‘me time’, and the enemy without: the lack of affordable childcare and the fact that they are often working absurdly long hours, for less money. Consciousness raising is very unfashionable – my activist friends call it ‘navel gazing’ – but we will revive it.


In the 1970s, Spare Rib was lovingly fashioned by interesting women for interesting women. The founders attracted a wonderful ensemble of interesting and compelling sensibilities to the project. When I approached them, I therefore never suspected they would be affronted by my desire to revive that unpredictable spirit, nor that they would want to curtail it.  But following some enthusiasm for my initial approach, they soon began to question whether my ambition for a new Spare Rib was worthy of the original. The lengthy written exegesis that they offered as a rationale for refusing to let me use the name without a legal battle reminded me of my school reports, deeply wounding but also missing the point.

I had the same experience reading Marsha Rowe’s piece on The Guardian website a few months ago. It felt quite unnecessarily censorious – quite aside from the basic factual inaccuracies: our website isn’t elitist and there’s no paywall as she asserted. We have in fact identified a completely different way of paying for the quality content and staff wages that will go into creating a PR, advertising and brand free online magazine – a membership system that will involve all members not only in the website but also in an ongoing programme of members’ events that couldn’t exist any other way. Radical magazines have an ignoble history of exploiting their staff and being in denial about it. We don’t want to assume that people will work for nothing, or guilt trip them into doing so. And we don’t want to be limited to working with the privileged few who currently dominate all branches of publishing simply because they can afford to work for free – sometimes for years.

This project began as a series of conversations around my kitchen table, which soon broadened into a dialogue with hundreds of members and supporters. We rang everyone on our email list to ask what issues concerned then, and invited them to submit ideas. I’m proud that we are able to use the tools of the digital age to facilitate these conversations – rather than limit ourselves to talking to those closest at hand (North London, in my case).

The constituency of interesting women is of course much bigger than you would imagine from reading the women’s press. Our editorial team has been busy these past six months on an inspirational round of meetings with writers, feminist theologians, punk poets and teenage activists who remind us of (slightly more focused) versions of ourselves at that age.

The amazing response we’ve had since the name change was announced suggests that men and women throughout the nation are buying into the ideas we’ve mobilised and urgently want something more interesting than just another magazine – a place where people can detox from mainstream media culture and meet interesting, like and unlike minds. I have broken my Grazia and Mail Online habit and hope others will do the same. Unlike Blair’s ‘Big Conversation’, our desire to plug into the collective female consciousness is ideological not simply pragmatic.

Who knows where it will take us?

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ebranding feminism at Mother

Debranding feminism

A few months ago Elle magazine rang to say how exited they were to hear about our launch, and keen to collaborate with us! “Awesome,” I said. “We are very excited that you are excited!”

Like PRs, women’s magazine editors deal in hyperbole, so I took their breathless account of the global impact and reach of their ‘rebranding feminism project’ with a pinch of salt.

Feminism has an image problem, they averred. To make the f word relevant to Elle readers it needs to be detoxified, denuded of all its bad karma, then remade as something practical and appealing, like a vintage throw (or words to that effect.)

This task clearly couldn’t be entrusted to feminist organisations – we were part of the problem surely, so were surprised to be invited to take to part in the Elle project. It made more sense when we learned we were to be partnered with an ad agency! The branding experts would know how to make a silk purse from the sows ear of feminism. They would create an alluring feminist ad that would run in the November issue of Elle, we would sit around in their offices drinking endless cappuccinos – at least that’s how I pictured this collaboration. I was reassured, but scared as it meant surrendering control and becoming ‘muses’ rather than equal partners.

We thought and thought about whether to take part. My best friend counselled against it – “that’s never going to work hon,” she meant on a personal level. Politically we don’t think feminism has an image problem – the puritanical, anti-fun feminist looms large in the media’s consciousness, but not in mine. I’ve never met her, even in the women’s groups I attended in the 80s.

I did meet lots of hairy legged, DM-sporting lesbians. My uni women’s group was a blast – there were no vagina awareness workshops, but a lot of laughs. We always ended the evening downing pints in a lesbian nightclub called Folies. I have very fond memories of my hairy lesbian friends of that era – they were committed, but not joyless.

These days, it’s compulsory for a feminist to appear fun, fashionable and uncommitted. The ‘This is what a feminist looks like T shirt was an attempt to rebrand feminism – implying that the only acceptable feminist is one who doesn’t look, sound or act like one. Hairy Mancunion lesbians couldn’t wear those T shirts; they are meant to reassure the mainstream that feminists are ‘normal’: ‘this’ and not ‘that’.

I started Feminist Times because I wanted to have a forum to explore the tyranny of the choice agenda. In fact, post-feminism is much more judgemental and excluding than the other sort. And ironically, a lot angrier. If you’re looking for angry feminists, they’re not working for Feminist Times.

A friend recently wrote to me about an angry-post feminist he’d met at a party: “She was banging on about modern feminists, so I asked her what she meant; I think it meant the freedom to be a shopping, spa-going, celebrity endorsing, brand-aware member of the twitterrati, a kind of subtle, playful, ironic feminism that leant more towards feminine and chic.”

To help me decide whether to take part in the Elle project, I did a list of pros and cons, as my father is wont to do. In the pro column was the idea of reaching a broader audience: I want Feminist Times to be part of mainstream debate, so I thought I could survive a short stint as a muse for an ad agency if it meant getting our message across to a big audience without compromising its integrity.

My friend Kat from UK Feminista had also been love bombed by Elle, but managed to resist. She said they couldn’t take part in a project because they didn’t think feminism needed ‘rebranding’. Nor could she justify the time it would take away from campaigning. She was busy with the Lose the Lads Mags campaign and couldn’t take time out to brainstorm in Shoreditch

By that logic I couldn’t really spare the time either – we were meant to be putting together a brand new online magazine after all, but I agreed, then put the whole thing out of my mind. One morning, we found ourselves talking intently about our anti-consumerist message to a room full of intelligent and well-dressed people in an East London space. Funky doesn’t begin to describe the HQ of Mother, the agency we were partnered with. My eight-year-old loved the elephant’s behind in the breakout room but was disconcerted by the lack of a whiteboard.

“How do they brainstorm without a whiteboard?” Anna asked.

Mother seemed like Feminist Times’ dream date. They ‘got’ our sense of humour, shared our cultural references and seemed in synch with our punk spirit. They took copious notes while we were riffing about our vision of a feminist utopia, where PR people would be put to work as carers. They seemed to agree that the ad should have an anti capitalist message. Awesome! The only downer was one of the Mother women, who kept bringing the conversation back round to body hair.

We couldn’t believe that for these women, who said they had only come to feminism through Caitlin Moran’s book a few years ago, that the choice of whether to have a Brazilian or not was so empowering.  We doubted their stats and Deborah sent through the results of a quick Google search that suggested maybe not as many women as they imagined were compelled to have all their pubic hair ripped out.

I loved the ad people’s outfits – the woman opposite was wearing a vintage baby doll dress with colourful eighties mid heels and incredible robot necklace.  The cappuccinos flowed, but I didn’t feel remotely compromised. I loved being a muse and would happily have stayed there all afternoon, improvising on the theme of my personal feminist philosophy, but eventually I had to get my daughter home so I made my excuses. We had been brainstorming for five hours but it felt like five minutes.

We were excited to see what Mother came up with. In the dialogues that followed, they said that Elle had vetoed anything with an anti-consumerist message.  That was disappointing but understandable. The first idea from them was called ‘Proper Cunts’ – they would ‘crowdsource’ a variety of different vaginas and create a photomontage, which would make the Elle reader think twice before getting a Brazilian.

I was worried that the cunt shots would be differently objectifying, like the Channel 4 ‘real sex’ show that’s meant to be claiming sex back from the pornographers.  Surely the point can be made without the cunt shots, which would look like pack shots?

Deborah thought, in name only, the cunts were punky but we were worried it could be like an early version of Vice. I agreed to run with them after Mother put my mind to rest, but was relieved when Elle vetoed the idea. They’d be “taken off the shelves” if they ran the Proper Cunts ad, apparently.

The November issue of Elle has the ad we eventually signed off. It’s about equal pay, the line of least resistance. It seems to blame men, rather than capitalism for the pay gap, and holds them personally accountable for it.

“If he does the same job, ask him his salary.”

Debranding

They said this was very un-English to ask people about their salaries – we agreed but we tried to get them to change the emphasis so that the iteration was addressed to the underpaying boss, rather than the over-paid man. Apparently it’s illegal to ask a boss to disclose the details of wage differentials.

The pay gap felt like a more ‘serious’ and ‘worthy’ issue to pin our colours to than bikini waxing and, crucially, was something that was accessible to Elle readers. But it didn’t set our pulse racing and nor did it capture the issues we felt most strongly about.

The problem with ‘rebranding feminism’ is that feminism isn’t a brand to begin with. It’s a process rather than an idée fixée. There’s no easy way of capturing that process in an A4 visual advert – believe me, we tried – so any ‘rebrand’ would inevitably have been a compromise. A woman’s magazine, an advertising agency and the team from Feminist Times were never going to be easy bedfellows, because they exist to sell products and we are explicitly anti advertising; our slogan is ‘life not lifestyle’ and they make their livings from ‘lifestyle’.

With Elle’s deadline looming, we signed of the ad. The funny thing was that no one was enamoured of this idea – it was the least popular with all of us, including the people from Mother, but it was the one that appeared in the magazine. The experience was a fascinating parable about the constraints the mainstream media is operating under. My time as muse for Elle has taught me that women’s magazines are structurally incapable of originality. I don’t blame the Elle team for this, any more than I blame well paid men for the pay gap.

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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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