Tag Archives: sexism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Without gender equality?

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

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

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

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

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

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


Image: Foreign and Commonwealth Office via Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Image: Foreign and Commonwealth Office via Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Mario Antonio Pena Zapatería via Flickr

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Brown beauty: from TV to the high st the beauty industry is still racist

As a woman of colour who finds great joy in wearing lipstick, I’ve long understood that that some make up products were off limits to my skin colour. Foundation and concealer samples provided free with women’s magazines would smear, chalk-like on my skin. There was a universal skin colour aimed at consumers, and I wasn’t it. But there were other products- mascara, lip gloss, nail polish- that I could buy without a feeling of unease.

Still now, women of colour have to consider paying three times as much as our white counterparts for makeup products that match the colour of our skin. What’s stocked in lower end shops such as Boots and Superdrug does not cater to us. So, if we’re into make-up, we head to the brands that cater to professional make up artists who work with all kinds of faces- MAC, Nars, and Bobbi Brown, to name a few.

We’re consistently reminded that our attributes are not the ‘norm’ – the norm being white, of course. This attitude is endemic. Turning up to take part in television interview recently, I was sent to hair and makeup before appearing live on air. There was no concealer available for the colour of my skin, and no comb for the texture of my afro hair.

So it wasn’t a surprise that some of the UK’s most well-known beauty brands ignored the existence of women of colour attending the Afro Hair and Beauty Show on May’s bank holiday weekend. Instead, the show was chock full of not just hair companies, but smaller, independent brands too. There are products from high street companies that women of colour buy from regularly, yet for some reason, our interests are considered niche. It doesn’t seem to make business sense ignoring a large concentration of women in the same venue all weekend, all of whom would have been more than likely to buy products if the brands were exhibiting.

The Afro Hair and Beauty Show isn’t anything new, and there aren’t many reasons to ignore the show, beyond ignorance and marginalisation. 2014 was the show’s 33rd year in business. I can understand the reasons behind its existence – mainstream brands were not, and still aren’t acknowledging women of colour. Whilst it’s important for women of colour to organise separately until we have adequate representation, it’s no longer acceptable for those who dominate the industry to tune out black women’s efforts.

Afua Adom, a journalist working at Pride Magazine, summarised the problems succinctly in an interview with trade website Features Exec. ‘It’s sad to say, but some companies (namely Topshop) and PRs still aren’t keen to send us images or clothes for shoots because they are just, to say it simply, racist. Just because we are a magazine for black women doesn’t mean we don’t reach a huge number of people. It’s silly and makes them look really small and petty.’

And so magazines like Black Hair, Pride, and Black Beauty continue to exist. Black media isn’t just about politics; it’s about creating the representation that’s denied to us. Black women beauty bloggers are organising separately from the mainstream movement and the parallels to the historical splits in feminism are undeniable.

Ever resourceful, it’s up to women of colour to organise and kick up enough of a fuss until we are heard. With the explosion of successful beauty bloggers online in recent years, it was black women on twitter who came up with the idea of a weekly beauty discussion on Sunday evenings. Scroll through the hashtag #brownbeauty at the right time of day and you’ll enter into discussion on co-washing, hair texture, or hand creams. It has recently evolved into a website, Brown Beauty Talk, edited by marketing guru Ronke Adeyemi.

Ronke explains to me why she set up Brown Beauty Talk. ‘ We saw a gap in the market for a platform, a dialogue for women of colour to discuss beauty – topics like choosing the right shade of foundation, or transitioning hair from relaxed to natural… We also try and do a bit of lobbying with mainstream brands.’

With consumer influence transferring from traditional beauty editors in the press to bloggers and vloggers reviewing products online, the insulated, echoing whiteness of the PR industry reveals itself. It is public relations professionals who work on behalf of beauty brands to try and gain as much coverage as possible. Just 2% of people working in the PR industry identify as black or Asian.

Echoing Afua Adom’s comments on Topshop, Ronke says ‘There’s a massive disconnect between us and the decision makers… black bloggers still aren’t being invited to PR outreach events. We have a long way to go. Just look at Stylist Magazine – it doesn’t reflect the multicultural city it’s distributed in. We actually approached Stylist a while ago, and we asked ‘where are the women of colour?’ They were astounded. They didn’t think they were doing anything wrong.’

At the root of the problem is the question of who gets to participate in constructions of femininity. Whilst I can get behind feminist critiques of the restrictiveness of femininity, it’s important to examine who gets to access it in the first place. There’s no denying the beauty industry is institutionally racist. Brands that do not cater to black skins in the West sell skin lightening creams in other, blacker parts of the world. When femininity is still considered the arbiter of womanhood, we have to hark back to abolitionist activist Sojourner Truth who, in 1851, asked ‘ain’t I a woman, too?’

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

Photo: Wikimedia

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Sexism makes female sexual dysfunction a hidden problem

The first time I had sex, it hurt. A lot. I have vaginismus, which refers to painful intercourse. I’m sure this is a pretty common occurrence for many people, so I just shrugged it off. After all, sex education taught me that pain is something to expect the first few times you have sex, and that if my partner couldn’t get an erection it was ok – it was just nerves. I never once heard that the pain may continue, and I suspect this is the case for a lot of women. When it continued for more than a year, I finally conceded that something must be wrong.

Female Sexual Dysfunction, often abbreviated to FSD, is a catch-all term for a range of different conditions, from painful sex to lack of arousal. Around 43% of women and 31% of men have reported some degree of difficulty in their sex lives. Despite the higher number of women reporting difficulties, Erectile Dysfunction (ED) is more widely recognised in mainstream media and the amount of research into it also far outweighs the research into FSD. Much of the research into both ED and FSD is very Viagra-centric – but scientists are not even sure whether this works for women.

Unsurprisingly, due to the lack of research, doctors are pretty clueless when it comes to FSD. When I first told my doctor that I was unable to have penetrative sex, it was automatically assumed I had a lack of sexual desire due to depression and anxiety. But I have a high sex drive. I was also shouted at and told to relax when the doctor was having a hard time examining me. I didn’t get the diagnosis I expected – in fact, the doctor didn’t even give the condition a name. I was made to feel as if FSD isn’t a common problem.

I was eventually referred to a gynaecologist after waiting 6 months for an appointment. I felt excited that I’d finally have an answer to my problem, completely putting my faith in what I thought was an FSD specialist. Hope started to fade when I didn’t even see myself represented on the posters in the waiting room. It was clear that if I was here, it was for help with post-menopausal dryness or pregnancy problems.

There are a range of treatments available for all types of FSD. These include lubrication, psychosexual therapy, Botox injections, numbing gels and vaginal dilators. Dilators range in size from a tampon to average penis size and are designed to help you relax and get used to the sensation of having sex. I’d heard about these through different forums, and they seemed to work for some women, in conjunction with therapy.

During my appointment, the gynaecologist suggested I try vaginal dilators. I was pretty excited, as I’d heard good things about them. But my excitement was short-lived when the gynaecologist’s assistant didn’t seem to understand what vaginal dilators were, and then told me that the hospital didn’t have any. I asked if I could get them on prescription. They’re a medical aid, so why wouldn’t I be able to? I was advised, however, that I’d probably be better off spending £50 to buy them on eBay. I couldn’t resist making a joke that I’d better make sure I didn’t get a second-hand product. She also advised that maybe, just maybe (but probably not) I’d be able to get them at a local pharmacy. This is completely unacceptable treatment for such a common problem.

I’ve also been given a numbing gel that is supposed to help with the pain, but that option is problematic in itself. What is the point of having sex if you can’t feel it? Am I expected to lie back passively? Yes, I want to remove the pain, but I also want to feel something.

The examination was a painful experience that didn’t answer any questions. I’ve been put on a waiting list for an indeterminate amount of time for various scans and psychosexual therapy. It’s a long process, and only time will tell whether any of these things will work for me – it’s pretty much just ‘suck it and see’. There’s no little blue pill.

The great thing is, dilators and psychosexual therapy work for a lot of people. The problems lie in the diagnostic process, the availability of dilators and other treatment options, the amount of research into FSD, and the general lack of visibility. If you’re suffering and not being heard, keep going back to your doctor and demand that you be taken seriously. Always get a second opinion. FSD needs to be talked about a lot more. It’s not acceptable that women are suffering, ignoring pain and feeling inadequate when there are adverts for Viagra on TV.

Emily Griffith is a freelance writer specialising in at-home activism and mental health. She tweets at @AtHomeActivist and blogs at The Agoraphobic Feminist.

Photo: Huffington Post

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How pioneering women took back Yoga from men.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stockist details www.yogamatters.com

Photo: Wikimedia

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The fear of reprisal: What happens if you stand up to harassment?

All too often women experience some form of verbal harassment, whether it’s a “nice arse”, a “slut” or occasionally, a “pussy”. Entirely dependent on the situation and the woman, we have a few seconds to decide whether we are going to respond – essentially a fight or flight decision – and most times, I jump at the chance for a fight.

Swimming in my local pool a few weeks ago, I noticed three, middle-aged men loitering by the side, making loud, obscene comments about the women steadily doing lengths. It was clear they had no intention to exercise – but instead to make the other, predominantly female swimmers feel uncomfortable. They jumped into the opposite end of the pool, directly into my path.

Splashing and shouting – the trio seemed to have evaded evolution entirely – they turned their attention to me as I entered the shallow end. “Come and sit on my knee, love,” one of them jeered, while the other two guffawed, slack-jawed. I diverted away from them and began to turn away. “Fancy a shag?” one of them called. The other women in the pool watched awkwardly, and I cast my eyes across at the children paddling opposite. Fuming, embarrassed and tired, I decided to take one for the team.

I marched – or waded – over and promptly informed the three men that I would rather sew myself up and remain sexless for the rest of my life than have relations with any of them. My fellow swimmers tittered, while I stood, trying to maintain as much dignity as possible in a late-90s Speedo swimsuit and a red face. Then the middle one came forward and hissed, menacingly: “You fucking bitch.” Fear began to set in and my heartbeat quickened. I could feel my pulse in the soles of my feet. I glanced up but the life guard was busy watching over the kids. As I turned to swim away, I could feel them watching me. After two more lengths, I got out.

It’s a myth that verbal harassment is just a bit of harmless fun. It’s about power, control and intimidation, and as I have found out from personal experience, it can easily turn into violence. Cat-calling, verbal harassment – whatever you want to call it – is never flattery. The Everyday Sexism project has received thousands of stories from girls aged eleven and twelve, who have received comments about their developing bodies while they walk to school in their uniforms. Shouting, whistles, even clicks (I watched one man whistle and click at a woman in a bar once – like a bat), are never designed to be taken as a compliment. Verbal harassment causes a flood of different emotions. Fear. Anxiety. Anger. Frustration. Impotence. Misplaced shame. But the real threat is the potential for reprisal – of what will happen to us if we respond.

I escaped unscathed. But for Oxford University student Jeanne Marie Ryan (pictured), an incident in a bar quickly escalated into bloody violence. A couple of months ago, Ryan was on a night out with friends at a bar when she was groped by a stranger. Infuriated, she turned around and told him that his actions were unacceptable. The man then punched her seven times, breaking her nose and leaving her battered, bruised and shaken. Although terrible, Ryan’s attack took place around the same time as the breast cancer awareness “selfie” trend – and by posting a picture of her bruised face, she raised £12,000 for her local rape crisis charity.

When some men ask what the big deal is – that you should “take it as a compliment” – the whole notion of verbal harassment becomes trivialised. It’s not that simple, and certainly not a brief experience. It’s horribly drawn out. Crossing the road to avoid large groups, scanning the street as you walk, clutching your keys between your knuckles, the sinking feeling of noticing someone’s eyes on your breasts, legs or arse – it all has a lingering effect on your mental health. Verbal harassment is no more of a compliment than rape is sex.

Cat-calling is a statement of power. It’s a way of telling us that a man has the right to our bodies, a right to discuss them, analyse them, praise them, criticise them – whether we like it or not. It’s dehumanising. But when we respond, however calmly or viciously, the rejection disrupts their entitlement to our bodies, which society has allowed them to believe is their given right. This leads to the violent outbursts. We might be taking our lives into our own hands, but the more we react, maybe the more this will change. That’s going to take time and while it does we must take care of ourselves.

Lydia Smith is a journalist for the International Business Times UK and has written for publications including the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Daily Mirror and the Huffington Post. Follow her @Lyd_Carolina.

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The essential feminist’s guide to Pick Up Artists

True story: I’m sat on a high bar stool in the entrance to an empty pub function room. So you don’t think I’m weird, an hour later I would be MCing a comedy show in the venue and in the meantime I had offered to keep an eye on things while the doorman went to smoke. This is what is known in the comedy industry as “living the dream”.

A guy approaches, in his late twenties, obviously petrified, in a long dark coat and a haircut probably approved and executed by his mum.

“You’ve got a really cool look about you.”

I’m still not conveying fully just how awkward this was. There’s another detail I’m missing: he read this sentence off a piece of paper.

This was my first encounter with ‘The Game’ – a rather culty world of dorky young guys, like our young hero, being encouraged to part with hard-earned cash for the promise of a magic elixir that would have the effect Lynx usually does in adverts.

So I thought I’d write a nice witty piece on the subject of these PUAs (self-styled “pick up artists”) and maybe some tips on shaking one off from a seasoned PDA (self-explanatory). Ten minutes of Internet research later and I can say I don’t think I’ve ever been angrier in my adult life. Scratch the surface a bit further and it emerges the “movement”* is even more sinister. It’s based on a series of semi-formalised rules and principles, many of which wouldn’t look out of place in the the latest Wiley and Sons title Rape for Dummies.

Of course men have been hanging round bars and clubs pretending to be firemen and trying to get women to sleep with them since the Stone Age. And how fickle we women are – back then we were impressed if you could start a fire, rather than put one out. If the underlying message of ‘The Game’ was “go on, talk to her, women are human!” I’d be actively in favour of it. But it’s not; ‘The Game’ is no laughing matter for men or women.

Most feminists are regularly accused of not caring about men’s issues. Probably the Cat’s Protection League get a lot of mail demanding to know what the hell they’re doing to help dogs. Regardless, the truth is I am against cults that prey on lonely and vulnerable men. Like UKIP, Abrahamic religions and ‘The Game’.

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 16.06.51

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These men are assured that for a mere £500 they can be taught SIMPLE techniques that will GUARANTEE them HUNDREDS OF GIRLS. And there’s nothing like CAPITAL LETTERS to let you know you’re being RIPPED OFF.

Standard advice includes: get a woman as drunk as possible, undermine her confidence with minor insults and order her about (to show how “alpha” you are). Men are advised to “stop asking for permission” before kissing** a woman they fancy. And one guy who calls himself Roosh (author of Bang, “The Pickup Bible that helps you get more lays” – seriously mate, just be honest and call yourself “Douche”) has even published an article entitled ‘It’s Time To Start Delivering Death Blows To Feminists’, which could have been in The Taliban for Dummies. He advises immediately walking away from any women who describes herself as a feminist.

To ward off these dickheads, I recommend all women have pictures of bel hooks and Emmeline Pankhurst tattooed on their forearms. If a guy uses a crap line and follows it up with a weird minor insult, hold both arms up, fists clenched and firmly say “Game Over”.

More importantly: men; men who might be thinking about getting involved with The Game… If you use the same shit chat-up line on a hundred women in one night, one will probably say yes. The least interesting and least intelligent one out of all one hundred women. Do you want to date that woman?

The only advice you’ll ever need on finding a relationship is this: Go on, talk to her, women are human! But walk away if she’s not a feminist cos everyone knows we have the best sex.

*I also use the word movement in polite company to describe a massive stinking shit. Like Neil Strauss, or anyone who calls themselves Mystery or Gambler and isn’t a Batman villain.

**Yes I know, without permission the term is less “kissing” and more “sexually assaulting”.

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

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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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“I break hearts & faces”: Women fighters forced to be sexy

For a long time Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) has been regarded as a predominantly male sport. The full contact combat sport, which includes striking, choking, joint locks, grappling and various other self-defence techniques was brought to the United States by the Gracie family in the 90s with the founding of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), now the largest MMA promotion company in the world. Unsurprisingly, female mixed martial artists were not permitted to fight in the UFC, with the majority of male viewers disagreeing with the very idea of women fighting and Dana White, the President of the UFC, himself stating: “We will NEVER see women in the UFC” in 2011.

But in late 2012, it was announced that Judoka and Strikeforce champion Ronda Rousey would be the first woman to sign with the UFC. Rousey subsequently became the first female UFC champion, the first olympic medallist with a UFC title, and the first woman to defend a UFC title – remaining undefeated. It’s been a long time coming, but the UFC is finally embracing female martial artists and giving them the respect they deserve; it’s also been revealed that this year’s reality TV show The Ultimate Fighter (TUF 20) will feature an all-female cast for the first time in history. 

However, if we take a look at the fight wear that’s currently on offer for women, it’s clear to see that women are still subject to sexism and stereotyping, and not given anywhere near the same amount of choice as their male counterparts. The very few clothing companies that do cater for female fighters, claiming to “empower women”, offer a range of training gear (including “booty pants” – whatever they’re supposed to be!) in primarily baby pink colours, emblazoned with derogatory slogans including “I jump guard on the first date”, “I break hearts and faces”, “Always on top”, “Tap this” and “Sexy as F**k”, to name but a few. Any female fighter who doesn’t wish to subject herself to this humiliating degradation is forced to wear male clothing – which, of course, is not designed to suit a female body and can be extremely uncomfortable to fight in.


It’s truly ridiculous and offensive to women who have dedicated their lives to the sport and trained just as hard as men to then be objectified by companies who claim to “empower” them. There are many young girls who attend martial arts and self-defence classes to feel empowered and safe – some of whom have been victims of sexual assault and want to learn how to protect themselves – who then have to choose between sexualised training gear or menswear.

In light of this, myself and GBR Jujutsu athlete Sophie Newnes have launched our own clothing line which specialises in female fight wear – designed BY women, FOR women. The chart below depicts the number of female participants in Jujutsu, Judo and Brazilian Jiujitsu in the U.K alone – which goes to show what a huge market there is for female fight-wear:


We were convinced we weren’t alone in our dissatisfaction with the current fight wear on offer, and according to the results of our recent survey of female martial artist participants, we were right:

MMA graph

Mere hours after launching our social media pages, we had requests flooding in from female martial artists all over the World: women rightfully demanding Gi’s made for bigger breasted women, comfortable rashguards without the tacky graphics, shorts that AREN’T pink, and clothing in sizes 6-16. We were delighted to find ourselves being retweeted, followed and in receipt of supportive messages from famous female fighters, promoters and event hosts.

WOMMA’s future goals include expanding to releasing a children’s range and developing the WOMMA Foundation – a World Wide self-defence company for women. But right now, our focus is on providing female mixed martial artists with appropriate, stylish fight-wear that they feel 100% comfortable in.

For further information about WOMMA Fightwear, follow @WOMMA_Fightwear on Twitter and Instagram.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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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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We launch new Members perks with Blazing World competition

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

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

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

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

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The ‘Model Minority’, like the ‘Virgin/Whore’ dichotomy, is man-made

Most East Asian people living in the West are aware that we are considered a “model minority”. Asian children study hard, we are told. They do well in exams. They shine in Maths and Science classes. They go on to be doctors, lawyers, or engineers, excelling in their chosen field and enjoying high levels of success. Racial discrimination? Nonsense — everyone knows that if you work hard enough, there’s nothing stopping you from achieving just as much as white people do.


Well, no. In study after study, the idea that East Asians have somehow managed to rise above racial oppression through hard work and a positive attitude has been debunked. The media may squawk about the achievements of East Asian students yet, when entering the workforce, Asian American women will make 40-50% less than their similarly qualified white classmates. In the UK, East Asians are rendered nearly invisible, with TV and theatre providing extremely limited opportunities for actors, other than painfully stereotyped, minor characters.

Among the Asian American community the poverty rate is 12.1 per cent, compared to the white community’s 9.9 per cent, and rising to 27.4% among specific South-East Asian groups – a fact that is conveniently ignored by those seeking to uphold Asian people as a shining example of success and sprinkle us with empty praise.

So where does the model minority myth come from? As it turns out, it was deliberately and carefully created by politicians in the 1960s, as a direct response to the African-American Civil Rights Movement, which was taking large strides towards combatting racial discrimination and segregation. The message was unambiguous: “As a person of colour, you have only yourself to blame if you do not succeed. The Asian community succeeds through hard work, not by demanding political change. Why don’t you be more like them?”

Sadly, this campaign proved extremely effective and many in the Asian community actually believed in it, leading to the growth of offensive, anti-black sentiments, as in the infamous book The Triple Package by Amy Chua, where she argues that inherent characteristics determine the success of different races, while ignoring structural inequalities.

Being a woman of colour, this tactic of ‘divide and rule’ to uphold oppression is strikingly familiar to me, and is a perfect example of white supremacy taking lessons from the patriarchy. The concept of ‘good minorities’ and ‘bad minorities’ echoes the ‘virgin/whore’ dichotomy, where ‘good girls’ are distinguished from ‘bad girls’, and taught to fear and despise them.

‘Good girls’ do not wear revealing clothing. ‘Good girls’ do not get drunk. ‘Good girls’ do not sleep around. ‘Good girls’ are self-sacrificing and self-effacing. In return, ‘good girls’ are promised the approval of men. Men will respect you, they say. Men won’t hit you, or rape you, or kill you. No, that only happens to ‘bad girls’. ‘Bad girls’ who sleep around, who get drunk, who lead men on. ‘Bad girls’ were asking for it. What did they expect? They have no one to blame but themselves.

When it comes to female success in the workplace, the same tactic rears its ugly head. The figure of the ‘strong, independent woman’ is held up as an example to all women, a promise of what women could achieve, if only we could be more like them. Observe Sheryl Sandberg, witness Marissa Mayer. These women negotiate, they take opportunities, they demand a seat at the table. Countless books have been written about how female leaders can succeed; too many ignore the need to demolish discrimination and barriers that hold back all women, and focus instead on what the individual woman should do to circumvent these obstacles while leaving them perfectly in place for the next woman to navigate.

Needless to say, the concepts of the ‘good girl’ and the ‘strong, independent woman’ are just as flawed as the construct of the model minority. You may be wildly successful in your career, even become the highest paid woman in your field, but what you earn will still be a mere fraction of what your male counterpart does. Similarly, the most certain predictor of rape or male violence occurring lies with the attitudes and decisions of the perpetrator, and is not determined by what the victim is wearing, or how she is behaving.

These lies are an insidious tactic wielded by the white supremacist patriarchy, in an attempt to focus our attention away from structural inequality and towards individual responsibility. It strives to tear asunder the unity of the oppressed classes, encouraging us to blame one another for our own oppression. It fosters antagonism between people of colour, dangles the promise of white acceptance over the heads of East Asians in exchange for their complicity in maintaining anti-black oppression, teaches girls to view their sisters with contempt, and tells successful women that women who do not rise to their level are simply not good enough. And while our attention and blame is focused within, the white supremacist patriarchy continues to thrive without.

The parallels between these tactics are stark and for me show why we cannot compartmentalise sexism and racism, fighting one and then the other as if they were separate and distinct issues. White supremacy and patriarchy are embroiled in a nefarious alliance, feeding off and nourishing each other to uphold oppression. They are unified and, if we wish to combat racial and gender oppression, our efforts and solutions must be too.

Joy Goh-Mah is a feminist writer based in London. She blogs on issues related to feminism and race at Crates and Ribbons, and is a part of Media Diversified. Follow @CratesNRibbons.

Picture source.

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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…


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:


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?



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.


Shame on you Waily Tail.

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

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

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

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

EVAW Coalition Co-Director Liz McKean said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Review: Everyday Sexism

Last Thursday saw the publication of Laura Bates’ Everyday Sexism book. You can read our Q&A with Laura here. Today, Feminist Times Founder Member Lee Chalmers shares her review of the book.

I’m sure I was not alone in waiting for Laura’s book to come out, being a massive fan of the project online. In some ways Everyday Sexism is what you would expect – a thorough examination of the themes that have arisen from the project’s entries over the last 2 years, split down into societal areas, fully researched and rich. There have been a rash of informative books recently focusing on themed gender stats, which I’ve started with great hope only to finish with a slightly deflated sense of impotence. Was Laura’s book going to be the same?

In my optimistic feminist youth I believed that once people became aware of the numbers – the horrifying truth of the rape rate, the pay gap, the crushing lack of female representation – things would change as we pulled together to achieve the equality that was so obviously morally required. Now I’m in my 40s and I hold a different story to be true: stats alone will not lead to equality. What seems a self-evident truth to me, from my perspective as a woman suffering from the effects of gender inequality, barely interests someone who does not suffer from it.

These people (most men) frankly don’t care about the pain of gender inequality and really can’t be bothered changing their behaviour in any way. Let’s face it, it’s the same with race equality for (most) white people, or class inequality for wealthy people, and so on. People are broadly motivated by what matters to them and them alone.

What I found in Laura’s book though was something more powerful and ultimately more useful to those of us pushing for a societal shift in how women are treated. Laura calmly and clearly draws the links between the myriad experiences of sexism women have reported to her. She answers the interlocutor’s persistent refrain: “can you show me the link between page 3 and assault?” or “prove to me that porn is linked with rape?” or “but what about the Diet Coke advert?!”

She does this by stepping back, by illuminating the systemic sexism that runs through society, providing us with the ammunition we need – one consistent argument that draws the picture for all to see. You can’t get to the end of this book and not be fully aware of the negative impact a society structured around increasingly narrow gender roles has on women AND men. And that is what I love so much about the Everyday Sexism Project and this book; this is not solely a ‘make the men wrong’ approach (though there needs to be some of that!) It’s an argument that points out the damage to all of us whilst leaving room for people to change and to become allies. That is crucial. Gender is a system that involves men and if we want change for women it means change for men too. I think we are seeing what happens when they start to realise that and fight back.

It’s once Laura gets to Chapter 11 that the power builds and her calm tone starts to give way to a fully justified anger: “Women are being raped, assaulted and murdered every day, but for heavens sake let’s not upset anybody by worrying too much about what might be contributing to it in an ‘indirect’ way…. We don’t want to make anybody feel uncomfortable.” Right on sister. More of this please. “Enough is enough”. Yes, it is enough, it really is.

On the recent rise of feminism she says that the storm is just starting, that we haven’t seen the peak of what internet feminism has to offer, that the links drawn between instances of sexism are like the links being drawn between women all around the world through online participation. We are forming a movement here, make no mistake, and we are pissed off. This angry Laura Bates is powerful and inspiring and, though I’m sure she wouldn’t want the role, could lead feminists into the future.

Read this book. Buy this book for your family, your partner, your work mates, your children. Post about it on every social network you belong to. This is an important work and if I had my way would be compulsory school reading across the globe.

Lee Chalmers is a gender campaigner and freelance leadership consultant/trainer. She works on Executive Education faculty at London Business School, is finishing an MSc in Gender at the LSE and is Vice-Chair of The Fawcett Society. She is also a Founder Member of Feminist Times. Follow her @LeeChalmers

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Everyday Sexism Book Launch: Does anything shock Laura Bates anymore?

Laura Bates launched the Everyday Sexism project in April 2012 to offer women a platform to share their experiences. Within 18 months the project had collected 50,000 entries and expanded to 18 countries around the world. Today, almost two years on, sees the publication of the Everyday Sexism book – a collection and analysis of stories and experiences curated by the Project.

We spoke to Laura Bates about how the Everyday Sexism Project became part of the global feminist movement and, to mark the book’s publication, we’re offering three Feminist Times readers the chance to win a signed copy. See below for details.

Why did you decide to put Everyday Sexism into book form as well as online? How do the two formats differ in terms of what they offer?

I wanted to write a book to reach out to a wider audience who might not have come across the Project online. The main aim of the Project has always been raising awareness as widely as possible and that’s very much what I’m trying to do with the book, in a new medium.

The book is very different from the Project website because it isn’t just a collection of stories – it’s much more a commentary and analysis of the stories we have received and it sets out an overview of what those 60,000 voices are telling us about sexism now, in 2014. So, for example, unlike the website, the book divides the problem up thematically, looking at the major strands that have arisen from the Project entries such as sexism in politics, the media, public spaces and the intersection of sexism with other forms of prejudice.

The Project has had a huge amount of coverage – what’s been the effect of retreading the issue of everyday sexism on such a regular basis in the mainstream media?

I really hope it is starting to have an impact by getting these ideas into the public and media consciousness and thereby pushing us to reconsider what previously might have been considered normal. For example, when John Inverdale made inappropriate comments about Marion Bartoli’s looks during the Wimbledon final, the story hit the headlines for days afterwards and resulted in a furious backlash whereas I think, even a few years earlier, that might just have passed without comment.

I also really hope that raising the issue so prominently in the media helps to send a message to people everywhere that if they experience sexism they don’t just have to put up with it because it’s ‘normal’ – that they can fight back, and that we and thousands of others will stand alongside them. We’ve heard a lot of stories from people who have, for example, reported an assault to the police for the first time, after feeling encouraged by the sense of community and solidarity we have created.

Do you ever feel over-saturated and jaded by the stories you’re collecting, like nothing shocks you anymore?

Sadly I never reach a point where nothing shocks me anymore because there are always different stories coming in and there is always something more devastating around the corner. The first stories that really struck me and upset me were the ones we received from really young girls, in their school uniforms.

After that I really struggled with the wave of stories we got from people who had been abused within their own families – a type of testimony we get again and again, almost always with the added detail that they were never able to speak out, or if they did, they weren’t believed. Then there are stories from women who have been raped and have been so affected by victim-blaming within society that they say they believe it was their own fault. Then there are shocking and upsetting stories from trans women who have been made to feel utterly unsafe in public spaces to the extent that it impacts on their entire lives – there is always something else to shock me.

How do you deal with activist fatigue in the face of all those stories?

I find it really important to have two support networks – one of close friends and family and one of women within the feminist community. They each are able to offer a huge amount of strength and help in different ways.

Having a network of amazing and supportive people who really understand what it’s like to be fighting the feminist battle is invaluable, and there are so many women who have been so kind to me and welcomed me with open arms into that community. When I was first going through the experience of reading graphic and explicit threats of how people wanted to rape and kill me, I don’t think I would have got through it without that support – particularly from other women who had been through the same thing.

What’s it like being viewed as a ‘celebrity’ or media feminist?

It’s not something that I think really happens to me to the same extent that it does for some other people because the campaign is very much about Everyday Sexism, not me as an individual, and it’s that idea and that platform that is in the spotlight. I’m very aware that the reason the project has become so successful and well known is because of the incredible strength, bravery, and eloquence of the women who have shared their stories – and making those stories heard is very much my main focus.

I also hope that the idea of everyday sexism is really starting to take off on its own – I’ve seen lots of headlines that mention it as a phrase, without necessarily linking back to me or the project, and I think that’s a brilliant thing – for it to be introduced into the public consciousness as a concept like that.

Besides #ShoutingBack on Twitter, what can women do to challenge Everyday Sexism offline?

Lots of things! I truly believe that what we need now is a collective cultural shift in our normalised attitudes and behaviours towards women, and that can only be achieved if all of us, men and women, take opportunities to challenge sexism in our own everyday lives whenever we see it. Often this is easier and more effective if you take action in situations where you might be a bystander rather than the victim of sexism – it’s all about standing up for each other and reaching a critical mass of people who say “this is unacceptable”. So that could mean: stepping in when you witness street harassment; challenging a rape joke; reporting an incident of groping you witness on the tube; flagging up discrimination and sexism when you see it in the workplace (something that can be particularly hard for the victim themselves to report due to fears of losing their job); challenging your student union or education institution to put in place a zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment; lobbying your local MP to back mandatory Sex and Relationships Education; talking to the young people in your life about gender inequality to get those ideas out in the open early, before sexism becomes too ingrained and normalised; buying your niece or daughter a chemistry set even if it’s in the ‘boy’s’ section… the list really does go on and on!

The book’s blurb says “Welcome to the fourth wave of feminism” – what does that mean for you?

I didn’t write the blurb, but I think it comes from the idea that we are seeing a really exciting surge of feminist activism up and down the UK as more and more people become aware of these issues and start fighting for gender equality.

One of the threads running through the book is the experience of what it’s been like to set up the Project and go through this rollercoaster ride – and the hope and excitement of seeing so many people coming to feminism afresh was a big part of that for me. It made it seem like there was a positive sense of change and potential, even in the midst of hearing so many sad and awful testimonies, and it kept me going. I think it’s also there because the Project serves as an easy entry point to feminism – it sets out some of the major inequalities women are facing for people who might not have known about them before, and it provides a simple and clear call to arms that suggests there is a pragmatic solution which we can all be part of.

Other than anecdotal, what evidence have you seen of Everyday Sexism changing attitudes? What will it take to ultimately change society?

Well of course it is something that’s very hard to quantify but I think there are several useful measures. We know that millions of people have visited and read the Project website, and that 133 thousand people receive a constant stream of reminders about sexism every day through our social media accounts.

We know that there have been headlines about sexism in media outlets across the world over the past two years directly because of the project, from the New York Times to the Times of India. A video about the Project which was played at Beyonce’s concert last year was broadcast live to over a billion people worldwide.

I also believe very strongly in the importance of taking these things offline and making sure that we are using them for concrete change in the real-world – that’s why I spend so much time going into schools and universities up and down the country, talking to young people about the project entries we’ve received from their peers and tackling issues like body image pressure, media sexism, healthy relationships and consent. Knowing that thousands of young people have been exposed directly to those issues as a result of the project is another measurable goal I think. We’ve also worked directly with businesses, politicians and police forces, for example using the Project entries to contribute to Project Guardian, a British Transport Police Initiative which we supported with a major social media campaign, which has generated a 26% increase in reporting of sexual offences on public transport over the past year.

Finally our campaigning makes a concrete difference – from persuading iTunes and Google Play to remove a ‘Plastic Surgery for Barbie’ game from sale to nine year old girls, to forcing Facebook to change its policy on rape and domestic violence content through our #FBrape campaign, which sends a strong message about the social unacceptability of violence against women to over a billion users worldwide.

Who do you see as the main target readership for the book? Is it about validating experiences of everyday sexism for young women/new feminists? Preaching to the converted? Convincing men of the reality of everyday sexism? All of the above?

All of the above! Like the main project, it has three goals – awareness raising (the book gives an overview of the problem for those who might not be aware of it) – solidarity (creating a communal sense of support for people who have experienced sexism or sexual violence and showcasing the strength of women who have stood up to it to show others they don’t have to accept it either) – and action – because ultimately the book is a call to arms, to everybody, to stand together in combating gender inequality in our own lives and further afield.


We’re offering three Feminist Times members the chance to win a copy of the Everyday Sexism book, signed by Laura Bates. Enter your details here and we’ll select three winners at random at 5pm today, Thursday 10 April. Please enter the email address you used to sign up as a member; only entries made by current Feminist Times members will be counted. If you are not yet a member, or your membership has expired, click here to join us.

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#SexIndustryWeek: Dworkin was right about porn

It is 2014. A twelve-year-old boy rapes his 7-year-old sister after watching hardcore pornography. Should this be a feminist issue? Judging by the lack of any mainstream feminist response, no. Perhaps once it would have been, but not today.

We’ve grown too worldly wise for moral panic. No longer are feminists shouty, sexless beings, piecing together a politics based on exception, exaggeration and fear. Terrible things happen to women and girls but when it comes to blame (such an awful word!) we are circumspect. Men rape women, boys rape girls, but it’s nothing to do with how we represent sex. It’s nothing to do with the stories we tell our children. Hatred of women just is.

The 1980s backlash taught me well. I grew up thinking all radical feminists were anti-sex and anti-men. Absorbing the “generational model” of feminism, in which each wave improves upon the last, I chose not to be like my predecessors. I wanted to be “normal” – not vanilla, no-sex-before-marriage normal, but normal in the way a woman should be, before social conditioning teaches her she must not enjoy a good fuck. Open mind, open heart, open legs. I’m not sure why I assumed normality  – the “real” version – would be so sex-centric but this felt important. Any criticism of the sex industry or objectification struck me as bigoted and almost pathologically wrong. If you reject the virgin/whore paradigm, what else is there to fear? Why not simply embrace all that is left?

It’s only recently I’ve admitted the answer to myself. Because what’s left is pretty awful, that’s why. Much as we’d like to see sexism as an historical hangover, it remains active and powerful. Liberation does not come through insisting that rape and other forms of violence against women have no cultural context. Feminism has to do more than simply polish patriarchy’s turds.

Sex is just sex. It should not be taboo. And yet at some point, feminists need to ask themselves, “why are things still so fucked up? Why are women considered less human than men?” It’s not random. It’s to do with power and it’s to do with bodies. It’s to do with fundamental beliefs about what women are for and pornography and sex work feed into this.

In a recent Times column, David Aaranovitch was scathing of those who find sex work problematic, claiming that these people – let’s be honest, these women – believe “sex is either something that binds people together, a couply superglue, or else a terrible force for entropy, sending the moral universe into a spin”. This is utter bullshit. Sex is just fucking, David, no more and no less. If we are to form parallels with religious fundamentalists, the religion in play here is not some anti-sex puritanism, but the unquestioning worship of gender norms which repeatedly screw women over. This is the problem; it always has been.

Aaranovitch asks whether “we believe that some women (and men) can choose to buy or sell sexual services without somehow being lesser people,” suggesting that there’s an invisible army of sex negative feminists on hand who’d say “no”.  As Michaele L Ferguson notes, this thinking – at root patriarchal and conservative – tries to frogmarch feminists towards the “honey trap” which sees sex work purely in terms of individual choice and argues that not to endorse the choices of sex workers – whatever their implications – means siding with the men who abuse them. It is of course nonsense but it prevents us from asking uncomfortable questions about the relationship between arousal, cultural conditioning and oppression. It means men such as David Baddiel – offering Aaranovitch a twitter backslap for his “brilliant column on body usage rights” – are seen as more progressive than feminists who view sex workers and porn stars, not as mere bodies to use, but as human beings, whose decisions can be criticised in the same way as everyone else’s.

In Women-Hating Right and Left, Andrea Dworkin calls out the way in which pornography is granted a special “get out of misogyny free” card because it makes people come:

“Those who think that woman hating is all right—they’re not feminists. They’re not. Those who think that it’s all right sometimes, here and there, where they like it, where they enjoy it, where they get off on it—especially sexually— they’re not feminists either. And the people who think that woman hating is very bad some places, but it’s all right in pornography because pornography causes orgasm, are not feminists.”

Dworkin was right, and it’s annoying that she’s right, given the things that might turn us on. I’m only human, too. I don’t want to be Andrea Dworkin; I’d much rather be Belle de frigging Jour. But I want to participate in feminism with my eyes open and I’m not so prudish about what happens to women that I’ll insist we turn off the lights.

Sex is not frightening. It is just flesh touching flesh, going into flesh, moving and feeling. An orgasm is an orgasm, a penis a penis, an orifice an orifice, a tongue a tongue. Nothing to be scared of. It is what it is.

What we fear is violence and abuse. That’s why we don’t call out misogyny. That’s why we don’t question the context of sexual exchange. That’s why the real taboo – the thing that we skirt around – is a feminism that seeks neither appeasement nor accommodation, but change.

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

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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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The end of orchestral sexism?

Classical music has a bad track record on sexism. According to one Russian composer, Yuri Temirkanov, women conductors are “against nature”, and Vasily Petrenko, conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, last year claimed that musicians are distracted by “a cute girl on a podium” and that women conductors are less dedicated when they have families.

That attitude could all be set to change, as Morley College today announced the launch of a pilot course for women conductors, to run this month.

Led by conductor Alice Farnham, the course is open to young women aged 16-19 who are currently studying at one of eight UK music conservatoires and plan to continue their musical education at university level. It will cover topics from conducting technique and body language to leadership and communication.

Sir Antonio Pappano, Music Director of the Royal Opera House said: “Morley College is doing something fantastic: a programme for women conductors taught by the very gifted Alice Farnham. A chance to explore the issues, musical and interpersonal, faced by the leader of an orchestra who happens to be a woman!”

Currently, not one British orchestra has a female Music Director; just 4.1 per cent of commissions for new works were awarded to women composers in 2010; and, according to one study, women are 50 per cent more likely to progress when orchestras use blind auditions to select their musicians.

Students on the course will receive masterclasses from Sian Edwards, Head of Conducting at the Royal Academy of Music, and a key-note talk on ‘Women and Leadership’ from the Southbank Centre’s Jude Kelly.

They will also be offered the chance to work with Southbank Sinfonia, the Royal Academy of Music, the Royal Opera House and the Royal Welsh College, who are partnering with Morley for the project.

Andrea Brown, Director of Music at Morley said: “Having been involved in recent round table discussions and conferences on the subject of gender imbalance in the music profession, I felt the best way I could support addressing this issue was through education.

“Morley has a long history of new and experimental music and this is another way in which we can lead the way and develop future musical talent.”

If the pilot is successful, Morley plans to roll out a longer conducting course open to 16-25 year-olds in the next academic year.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Many Russias: Sochi’s Absurdist Olympics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo from NYC Pride: Kasya Shahovskaya 

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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:


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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Feminist evangelism: Blurred Lines at The Shed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Simon Kane, courtesy of the National Theatre

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VIDEO: The World After Men

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

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

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

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Intrusive entitlement: disabled women as public property

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy of Sean McGrath

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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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#12DaysOfSexism: December 2013

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

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

Tom Newton Dunn

The Sun’s political editor, Tom Newton Dunn, sparked a Twitter storm when he criticised MP Stella Creasy for challenging David Cameron on Page 3 while wearing a bright blue PVC skirt.
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The England women’s football captain, Casey Stoney, criticised Fifa’s decision to have the World Cup draw conducted by a Brazilian model, Fernanda Lima, in a gold, low-cut dress.  “Giving the job to a model has sent out completely the wrong message. Unfortunately I wasn’t surprised. They could have had a woman high up in the game or else a player with proper international standing. This should have been about football,” she said.

Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 12.02.31


The Conservatives

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



Universities UK

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

Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 12.24.47


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


Hand-lettering by Rose Jackson Taylor

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#12DaysOfSexism: November 2013

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

The Film Industry – again.

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

Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 11.16.51



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



The BBC – again.

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

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Student ‘lads’

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

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Hand-lettering by Rose Jackson Taylor

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#12DaysOfSexism: October 2013

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


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


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


The music industry – again.

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


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons



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



Baking fans

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

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Hand-lettering by Rose Jackson Taylor

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#12DaysOfSexism: September 2013

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

Classical Music

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


Image courtesy of Twitter


The Liberal Democrats – again.

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


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Tony Abbott – again.

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

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


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


The internet – again.

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



Hand-lettering by Rose Jackson Taylor

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#12DaysOfSexism: August 2013

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


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

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Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke

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

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Tony Abbott

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


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons



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

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



Hand-lettering by Rose Jackson Taylor

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#12DaysOfSexism: July 2013

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

Perhaps unsurprisingly, sexism in sport featured heavily in July…

Muirfield golf club

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


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Colin Murray

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


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


John Inverdale

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


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons



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



Hand-lettering by Rose Jackson Taylor

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#12DaysOfSexism: June 2013

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

Australian Politics

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



Oxford Union

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



The Bank of England

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


Image courtesy of Howard Lake


Robin Thicke

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

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 17.49.02


Hand-lettering by Rose Jackson Taylor

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#12DaysOfSexism: May 2013

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

Zeeshaan Shah

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


Image courtesy of Twitter


American Apparel

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

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 17.25.06



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



Nick Ross

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

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 17.34.00


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


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#12DaysOfSexism: April 2013

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

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

Barack Obama

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


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Peter Sagan

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


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Stirling Moss

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


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


John Lydon

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


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


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


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#12DaysOfSexism: March 2013

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


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


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Warwick SU president Nick Swain

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



Alex Blimes

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



Glasgow University Union

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



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#12DaysOfSexism: February 2013

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

James Franco

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



Seth MacFarlane

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

Seth MacFarlane


The Sun

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

The Sun: Oscar Pistorius front page


The Liberal Democrats

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



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


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#12DaysOfSexism: January 2013

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

Murdo Fraser

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

Screen Shot 2013-12-18 at 14.35.50

Image courtesy of: Twitter


The Cycling Industry

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


Image courtesy of: Wikimedia Commons


The Internet

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



The Socialist Workers Party

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



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#IDontBuyIt: The Office Do – slut shaming, strip clubs & dancing girls

Ever been called a whore at your work do? Or been forced to go to a strip club? Are you a young PA and wondering why you’ve been asked to invite your female mates to the work xmas party?

The working woman’s experience of Christmas work dos can no longer be easily summed up in the image of a young female secretary sitting on the lap of her male boss. Yet a party with your work colleagues can still be a pit of sexism.

Even at the most progressive company you can suffer a total assault course of feelings, broken boundaries and just plain awkwardness. But add in booze, a laddish work culture, misogyny and entitlement, and that one night out of the year can be very traumatic.

We asked three women to tell us the story of their sexist Xmas party. They all wanted to remain anonymous.

“I’m not sure how many of the men actually appreciated the fact that the secretarial staff were dancing to spice up their evening.”
Quantative Analyst, an american investment bank

Sometime in December, each manager organised something for the people underneath him as a token of his (or, hypothetically, her) appreciation to the contribution that the little people made to his bonus. The head of our team ordered a takeout from Wagamama for us, his boss took us out to lunch in a restaurant and the head of the department hired a pub for an evening and invited us all to his party.

The problem was that we were a Quantitative Analytics department consisting of mostly science and engineering PhDs whose job is to crunch numbers and write software. About 95% male. There aren’t many jokes that start with “100 geeks go to the pub”.

Inviting partners would have largely solved the gender imbalance problem, but our boss wasn’t, apparently, feeling that generous. Instead, he asked each of the management assistants to bring a female friend and dance to spice up the party. Young women who were hired to do the administrative work of the department became the entertainment, and were requested to pimp their friends as well. The few female PhDs were not recruited for this task. The class system was not disturbed.

So there we were, standing along the walls, watching the admins and their friends dancing at the centre of the room. Nobody joined them; geeks will be geeks. We were just standing there, drinking our beers, talking as much as the music allowed. I’m not sure how many of the men actually appreciated the fact that the secretarial staff were dancing to spice up their evening. The latter, however, were probably too drunk to notice either way. One of them passed out before the evening was over and another showed up the following morning with bruises on her arms, having fallen off her shoes on the way home.

“…we’d talk about personal stuff – which I feel was possibly my downfall.”
Executive Assistant, a multinational finance firm

When I started at the company it was mainly for a stop gap. I’d accumulated a bit of debt after my studies so when I was offered a permanent job with a healthy salary I felt obliged to bite the bullet. The office ‘Aunty’ figure soon took me under her wing; this kind and generous woman was a bit of saving grace as the testosterone flying about the room could get a bit much from time to time – scary, even, if you happened to walk anywhere near the firing line.

Aunty was funny; a hip fairy godmother-type that hung around young blood to keep her in the know. We’d go for drinks and let off steam and she’d tell me the who’s doing what, where’s and how’s, and we’d talk about personal stuff – which I feel was possibly my downfall. In an office environment, being the kind of person that wears their heart on their sleeve, it’s sink or swim with the women you meet – there’s niceties but the venom can flow…

There’s a pub next door to the office and come Christmas time it’s all Crimbo jolly up’s ahoy with tinsel and brandy sauce. Drinking with work colleagues can make tension fly and I’ve even experienced a posh man’s fisty cuffs. The men can be very smarmy, yet generous; they like to run around shouting “Milky Bars are on me”, and the competition of who has the bigger wallet can be quite cringeworthy.

As an assistant to a group of guys, some of my bosses do confide in me a lot and most of the time it goes in one ear and out the next as alcohol can let them loose lips very loose: “Since my wife and I have had children our marriage has lost its passion”, “I never wanted to go to financial school, I wanted to be an actor”, “All I want to do is be a farmer”, etc.

A guy told me that he was really head over heals for one of the beautiful assistants. They’d shared a cheeky kiss here and there and she was really keen but he wouldn’t take it any further because on paper, come bonus time, to be seen with an assistant is not how these testosterone junkies want to perceived. It’s a culture where these things happen and I’ve kissed a couple of frogs at work; one guy ended up staying at my house but there was no sex – nothing has ever gone further.

One night after a Christmas charity event I was sat enjoying the evening and chatting away when Aunty suddenly bellowed at me: “Stop acting like a prostitute.”

I was shocked and hurt as to where this had come from. A friend who was there at the time said that I went from being my usual cheery self to a very deflated shadow. I thought it was maybe time I should go home and took myself to the toilet as I could feel the tears coming. After getting myself together I walked out of the toilet only to come face to face with this woman looking at me with hate and disgust, then those words: “you’re pathetic”.

I couldn’t help but tell her, and quite emotionally, that those comments were unacceptable, completely unjustified and wrong. She was very sorry on the night and admitted she didn’t know why she had said those things. Of course things came out that would never have done in a sober light; alcohol, emotions, work colleagues sometimes don’t gel.

The next day everyone was sober and I was willing to shrug the incident off. Aunty would not talk to me and left work early as she was “so upset”. I was devastated. She moved desks away from us, leaving me questioning whether I the one that was in the wrong.

“…we were each given £10 from my boss, like pocket money for ‘a pound in the pot for the ladies’.”
Production Manager and only woman in a medium-sized production company

Banter is very boisterous in my office; there aren’t many boundaries to be honest, and jokes are very sexist or homophobic. Half the time they make sexist jokes to wind me up, like women can’t make films – they know they get a reaction out of me.

When I first started I said I didn’t like the end of Django, and one of them replied, “it’s because you’re a woman”. I went mental. I thought to myself: “you have no idea what you are talking about or what I have done.” I’ve written a gangster film and worked with one of the most feared gangsters that the UK has seen. After that outburst he apologised and no one has ever said anything sexist seriously again; the rest of the banter is just jokes.

Practical jokes in the office are quite extreme and maybe a little unorthodox, like putting pubes on my desk, drawing cocks on everything, Photoshopping ejaculating cocks onto pictures of my face, etc. But I don’t actually think they mean it in a malicious way, and most of the time it is funny. If I said that something was upsetting me they would stop because they do respect me (plus I manage them, so they can’t get away with everything.)

Then there was an end of year party – I had organised it. We started off wine tasting, which was planned, then went for a curry, which was planned, and then we went to a strip club. That wasn’t planned; I wasn’t consulted about going at all. They were sort of joking about it and I went along with it as I didn’t want to be a spoil sport.

On the door the bloke said: “a pound in the pot for the ladies”, which meant the half-naked strippers wandered around the floor with a pint glass and you have to put a pound in. So before entering we were each given £10 from my boss, like pocket money, for “a pound in the pot for the ladies”.

I had to stand awkwardly with my boss watching a naked woman swing round a pole. I was basically looking at a fanny with my boss. A bit weird. I then got groped by a drunk man and then we all left.

I wasn’t upset, I just think there could have been nicer ways to spend the rest of the night. Another male college also agreed as he was uncomfortable. I’ve since put my foot down and there will be no strip clubs at this year’s Christmas party.

Image copyright jayfish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy of Let Toys Be Toys.

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What is Feminism? banner

Eleanor Jones: Feminism is…

Eleanor JonesName: Eleanor Jones

Age: 23

Location: London

Bio: Lifestyle writer and editor

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

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

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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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#ManWeek: 18th – 25th November

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taboo Corner from a Radical Feminist

Domestic Violence and the psychoanalysis of men who beat

Psychoanalytical Toolkit

Charlotte Raven on the masculine archetype of The Survivalist

Teaching Men to be Feminist book review

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Sexist bygones: The Bus Wanker

Looking back on the dark ages of sexism, we would be neglectful in our duties if we did not bring to your attention The Bus Wanker.

The Bus Wanker, and his cousin the Train Wanker, were a common phenomenon during the era of public transport. Public masturbators took to the rails and roads with the arrival of the first public railway, the Surrey Iron Railway, in London in 1803 and the first omnibus service in Manchester in 1824, remaining there until the advent of the Transporter in 2062. As we all know, Transporters allow for safe, personal, low carbon, low cost transportation with only the risk of losing a few strands of DNA on the way.

Measures were taken to curb public masturbation (already a crime) after it was falsely announced in the Daily Mail, in August 2013, that it was legal to masturbate in public in Sweden. This inaccuracy led to Black Wednesday, January 2nd 2014, when the Riksdag in Sweden was overrun with public masturbators.

masturbation-device_2Public outcry provoked the European Union to establish a more effective deterrent. In 2015 a restraining device (pictured) to be worn for 23 hours a day was put into place as the cross-union sentence for those convicted. In the UK this became known as the ‘Cock Block’.

Several convicted public masturbators in the ex-Republic of Spain took this matter to the High Court in 2020, claiming the wearing of the device was a breach of their human rights. They won and the device was outlawed, though it remains as an official deterrent in both Iceland and Texas.

Train and Bus Wankers were finally annihilated, in the main, by the Daughters of Amazon Vigilante Group which was active between 2025 and 2027. The anonymous feminist militia were inspired by the writings of famous knitter Barbara G Walker, who was later canonised. Amazon: A Novel was the group’s unofficial manifesto and continues to top the best-seller lists to this day.

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For once let’s really talk about slut-shaming

Encountering the term “slut-shaming” was a lightbulb moment. At last, a word I could use to express my unease when fellow feminists fretted over the “sexualisation” of young girls or pointed the finger at so-called female chauvinist pigs. While conscious of the dynamics to which they referred, I’d long resented the implication that individual women could not own their choices. If we live in a culture that objectifies women – and I believe that we do – then defining girls and women as “sexualised” (as opposed to sexual) merely adds to it.

I still feel this to be the case and yet, of late, I’ve started to have some misgivings over the way in which “slut-shaming” and related terms such as “sex positive” are used. I know I’m not the only one. I’ve witnessed feminist friends being called slut-shamers and prudes for challenging the “wrong” cultural targets. I’ve routinely seen debates on Page Three and lad mags descend into sniping over which feminists hate female sexuality the most. I’ve even heard asexual feminists worry that they are being dismissed as “sex negative” by default.

All of this strikes me as unnecessary. It seems we are confusing a critique of the misogynist images that surround us with the very hatred that lies behind them. There’s a fine line to tread between attacking the damaging uniformity of what is presented to the world as “female sexuality” and attacking the woman who may, through choice, represent it. We still need to attempt to get it right. We cannot keep women’s sexual expression under patriarchal guardianship out of fear that to do otherwise might mean losing the few outlets that misogynist culture permits.

Re-reading Joan Smith’s Misogynies, first published in 1989, I was shocked to see how far a virulent hatred of women as sexual beings didn’t just fuel the murders committed by the Yorkshire Ripper, but also helped Peter Sutcliffe evade capture. Obsessed by the idea that Sutcliffe set out to kill because he hated “prostitutes”, one detective, Jim Hobson, went so far as to reassure him that “many people do”, adding: “But the Ripper is now killing innocent girls. […] You have made your point. Give yourself up before another innocent women dies.”

I look at this and I can’t help thinking that this is not so far from the divisive language and beliefs that surround us today. The Wikipedia entry on Sutcliffe still describes him as someone “obsessed with killing streetwalkers”, not women (as though the former constitute a lesser sub-category). Women are still seen as pure or tainted and we need to ask whether protecting misogynist principles of sexual representation – Page Three, lad mags, hyper-unreal porn – is helping or hindering. We need to ask whether the maintenance of public breeding grounds for misogyny increases or tempers prejudice against female sex workers. Above all, we need to ask why, if the mere visibility of female flesh should make female sexual choices more acceptable, this hasn’t ever happened?

I still value the term “slut-shaming” but I can’t help feeling that its worst form manifests itself when knives are sunk into female flesh for no other reason than that it is female flesh. Critiquing the culture in which such hate arises must never become taboo.


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

Image courtesy of: laverrue

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Savile case ignites feminism in music

When I was 9-years-old I wrote to Jim’ll Fix It. My letter never got answered but it horrifies me thinking back that if I’d achieved my goal to be on that show I would have been in the lair of that man.

Almost 30 years later I think it is no coincidence that the outing of Savile as a sexual predator has come at the same time as a massive feminist renaissance, particularly within the music and entertainment industries. In fact, I think the Savile revelations have been an important cultural catalyst for a generation of women who just won’t stay silent anymore.

Like many people of my age who have cherished childhood memories of shows such as Jim’ll Fix It, It’s a Knockout, Rolf Harris’ Cartoon Time, etc. these sordid revelations shocked me to my very core. It makes us question society’s complicit behaviour, our inner child cries out in protest and as adults we feel guilt at such unchecked and accepted behaviour, which was passed off as “what the culture of celebrity was like in the 70’s/80s.”

Why was this behaviour accepted and ignored? Turned a blind eye to? Whichever way you want to look at it everyone was complicit and so the memory of Top Of The Pops is reduced to that of a sexual breeding ground for perverse males, with young girls being treated as no more than objects for the celebrity entourage. Another childhood memory wiped out and tainted.

Reports of sex abuse have soared since these revelations came to light and there have now been 15 people arrested for sex offences as part of the Operation Yewtree investigation. Would these crimes have gone unnoticed if the floodgates hadn’t been opened by the Jimmy Savile case?

In recent months I have witnessed women both in front and behind the scenes of the prehistoric beast that is the music industry speaking out about inequality and sexism. Women are beginning to speak out publicly about the injustice they have suffered throughout their lives and careers. I have never witnessed so many women speaking out in my 15 years in the music industry. Something is afoot, the plates are shifting. It occurred to me that surely this is no coincidence.

Sometimes it takes something so huge and terrible to jolt society from its sleeping state. Women are speaking out about the unchecked misogyny that happens ritually in their day-to-day lives. We have had enough.

The culture of celebrity is in the docks post Jimmy Savile but, perhaps ironically due to the strength of celebrity and the media, we need people to use that power to voice their experience of inequality and sexism.

We need to turn this overwhelming negative into a positive to use to our advantage, not only to prevent anything like this ever happening again, in any way shape or form, but also that we don’t accept any form of misogyny, abuse or victimisation of girls or women. We must speak out, now!

Claire Southwick is a Producer & Artist Manager and spokesperson for women in music with 15 years experience in the Music Industry. Claire is a regular panelist at music conferences around the globe. Follow Claire here @clairesouthwick

Photo: Bad Greeb Records

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It’s time we stopped assuring people that feminism isn’t a threat

Finn Mackay made the following speech at Feminism in London 2013 and moved our Editorial Assistant to tears. It was originally published by Open Democracy and is reprinted here under a Creative Commons licence. The original speech was filmed by Stop Porn Culture and is available here.

Our conference has covered a vast array of topics, all of which are feminist, all of which are feminist issues. Because every issue is a feminist issue; because this imperfect world is our world too, and in it we have a 53% majority stake. There is nothing in politics, war, peace, culture, business, law, development – that does not touch us too. Despite the fact that we are so often unrepresented in these areas, and in the decision makers who shape them. That is why events like this gathering are so important, spaces where we can build on our politics, listen to our voices and ideas, and believe in the solutions we already know we have.

The last couple of years have seen a sea-change in the representation and visibility of feminism in our media and culture. Almost every day there seems to be some form of feminist response or commentary in our media. This has come about through grassroots activism. Through our collective movement, through imaginative campaigns, public mobilisation and direct action, we have managed to direct attention to those issues we think are important, we have managed to make news, not just comment on it. This too is a sign of a movement in resurgence, a movement with power; where we can do more than just firefight, we can be proactive, can go on the offensive so to speak and dictate our own agenda.

There are many out there of course, who find this offensive. They find the strength of our movement offensive, they are offended by the power of feminism, they are offended by women’s autonomy at all. These are the people who try to silence women, in social media, on Twitter and Facebook, in comments pages, on websites, on blogs, spreading hate and lies. It is not just that people disagree with our opinions, it is that they resent us having an opinion at all.

Men voice their opinions in the media every day. Often they receive criticism as a result. And that’s what debate is about, and when we walk out onto the pitch we accept that too. But all too often people don’t engage with women commentators on this level, and when I say people, I mean men. Too many men don’t engage with women on that level, they quickly, so quickly, descend into threats – and specific threats: threats of sexual violence.

This serves to remind women that they are there to serve men, and that they have strayed into intellectual territory or made claims to their autonomy that offend those who dare to presume authority over us. Threats of sexual violence are the lowest common denominator which attempt to set in stone a chasm between women and men; which attempt to remind women that whatever their achievements, whatever their opinions, they are still women – and thus can be objectified, humiliated and terrorised by men as a group.

Increases in sexual violence and increases in the sexual objectification of women actually follow women’s advancements, follow women’s equality gains, follow women’s progress, or incursion, into previously male-only areas – be that areas of thought or practice. The purpose of sexualised violence and the representation of sexual violence in our culture, is to put women back in their place, to reduce women, in spite of everything we have managed to gain, to an object for the male gaze, an object that can be taken, stolen, used and broken. This violence occurs partly to alleviate the rage of men as a group, where that group perceives women’s progress towards equality as an assault; an assault on their fragile superiority. It is attack as a form of superiority-defence, based on the suppressed knowledge and very correct conviction that women are human too and cannot be kept down forever.

These threats are also, as we know, not hollow threats, and too many women understand that. But this is precisely what so many men fail to understand; not those woman-haters who abuse and rape, they know what they do, but much more generally, those who from their vantage point, or ad-vantage point, of male supremacy, fail to understand that even if they: don’t mean it, even if they: are just saying, even if they: protect women, even if they: would never do anything to hurt a woman – they hurt women with their sexism, their victim-blaming, their so-called jokes, and their casual threats. Because, we cannot know who means it and who doesn’t. We don’t know who will follow through with their threats and who won’t. We have to remember that, and carry on thinking about the countless remarks, comments and asides from faceless men and boys who probably forgot their pathetic contributions the minute they hit ‘send’. Such is the luxury of male supremacy, such is the luxury of having never felt like prey.

This expansion of this representation of sexual violence in our culture, and the visibility of such threats, is an inevitable kick back from male supremacy or what feminists term patriarchy. This kick back or backlash is to be expected. It means we are doing our job, that we are doing enough to be noticed. Feminism is a radical and revolutionary movement. Our Women’s Liberation Movement is a global political movement for the liberation of women and society based on equality for all. We seek to question, challenge and end male supremacy and that, is revolutionary, it is world changing.

And any movement that threatens the status-quo becomes a concern to the groups that benefit most from the status-quo staying just as it is; and we must remember that nobody gives up power voluntarily. That is why our movement will be a constant struggle, may always be in struggle, certainly in our lifetimes. But the women who shaped our movement long before us, who smoothed the path for us to march here to our own moment in the spotlight, they knew then what we still know now; that nothing lasts forever, and that change is inevitable.

So let us not be apologetic about the radical facts of our movement. We don’t need to apologise for women-only space, which makes our movement strong; which makes us strong. We don’t need to apologise for the fact that we do want change, that things cannot stay the same, that this is a necessity for our future, if we are to even have one. So it is time we stopped adding disclaimers to our work, assuring people that they don’t have to do anything differently, that they don’t have to change, that feminism isn’t a threat.

Our movement is indeed a threat. It is indeed threatening. For what is the point of a social movement that doesn’t envision a different world, what is the point of a social movement that doesn’t try everything in its power to make that vision a reality? And also, what would be the point of a feminism that simply sought equality with unequal men? With men who face discrimination too, at every level. With men who face racism, homophobia, class oppression; with men who are underpaid, homeless, laid off, written off and filling up our prisons, with men who cling to violence as their source of masculinity or control when all else has failed them. Who wants equality with that? No feminist I know.

Likewise, we are not calling for equal inequality. This applies to those of us who are opposed to so-called ‘lad’s mags’ and ‘Page3’, because they are blatantly sexist, because they are blatantly gendered, because we don’t go into shops and see rows of magazines portraying men in the same way. But this fact doesn’t mean that we’re advocating the sort of equality where men are also demeaned and objectified. And when we speak up against such sexism it is a political argument, it is not because we are prudish moralists, or because we have a problem with nudity or sex. We know that objectification has nothing to do with sex, and everything to do with sexism. Our movement has in fact fought for centuries for the right of women to enjoy and express their sexuality free from the double standards which aggrandise men for sexual activity and shame women for the same. This was actually one of the Seven Demands of our UK Women’s Liberation Movement, agreed in 1975: the right of all women to define their own sexuality.

So we do need to correct the myths that are told about our movement and our politics, we need to challenge the lies told about feminism and feminists. We do not need to minimise our movement, we do not need to try to appease men. We do not need to add disclaimers when we talk about male violence or the normalisation of pornography and the sex industry, clarifying that we don’t mean all men, that feminism doesn’t hate men, and that men have nothing to fear from us. As if it isn’t the case that we are the ones who have most to fear, and that often, it is them. As if it isn’t us who have the most to lose – as if too many have not already been lost, lives lost directly through the blunt use of violence, or lives affected indirectly, through the violence of representation as nothing more than object.

So to those who benefit in silence and varying degrees of privilege from the unequal and twisted status-quo, we need to say, yes. Yes, you are right, feminism is a threat to you; our movement is here to take away your power, the power you stole from so many. Our movement is here to change your world, and save it for all of us.

But this very situation is fuelled of course by one of the most popular lies told about our movement, the lie that feminism is man-hating, that feminists are man-haters. Feminism does not hate men. Feminism contains a great respect for the humanity of us all, by pointing out what should be obvious – that all men are not this way or that, that all men are not violent or war-mongering. Our political theory explains that male violence is in fact a form of social control, one that it is profoundly political, and not in the least biological.

Another lie told about our movement is that feminism makes women into victims. This is the lie that ours is a negative, pessimistic and disempowering movement, what some people call “victim feminism”.

Let us be clear. It is not feminism that turns women into victims. It is the men who choose to abuse women, who choose to violate women, who presume a right to buy women. It is those men who make women into victims; not feminism. Feminism is here to stop that process, to end the violence of male domination. We respond to individual experiences with the aim of collective change for all. That is what empowerment looks like.

It is not pessimistic or negative to name our oppression. It is liberating. Ours is a movement of billions of women, which says: no, it wasn’t your fault, it wasn’t because of what you were wearing, it wasn’t because of who you dated, it wasn’t because of how much you had been drinking, it wasn’t because of how late you walked home. Ours is also a movement which feels every loss, we feel every indignity, we feel every assault – because this is about you, and also because this goes beyond you; because this is about all of us. It is about every woman made to feel that she wasn’t worth as much as a man; every woman made to hate her body; every woman made to question and judge herself simply due to her sex alone; every woman denied opportunities or directed away from them; every woman made to feel she was lesser, second class.

What we all share as women, despite our vast diversity is our experiences of sexism in a world of male supremacy. What we should also share, but too often don’t, is our involvement in a collective movement of resistance to that oppression.

Homophobia, misogyny and a lack of faith are what hold women back from identifying with one of the oldest and most powerful social movements the world has ever known – their own. It is up to all of us to challenge that misogyny, to restore the faith in our personhood, our own potential, our own humanity.

For what is shameful about social justice, what is embarrassing about dignity and worth, what is wrong with demanding a stake in the world we have built? Feminism is only frightening to those who gain the most from oppression, to those who would stifle the human spirit and hold the world in stasis. The rest of us really do have nothing to lose and everything to gain; a revolution still to finish, and a world to win.

Finn Mackay is a feminist activist and researcher. Find out more @Finn_Mackay.

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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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Radical Agony Aunts: “Threatened, objectified and worthless”

Dear Radical Agony Aunts,

I’d like to precede my question by describing two things that happened to me, within a few weeks of each other.

It was mid-afternoon and I was walking home from the tube. It was during the hot spell, so I had bare legs under my dress and was wearing sandals. I was walking down a busy pavement that runs alongside a main road. I hadn’t gone far before some called to me from behind, I glanced round and could see a youngish man a few metres behind me on the pavement, on a bike. He called out that yes, he was talking to me and then started making comments about my legs. I carried on walking and didn’t look behind again. He followed me, on his bike and kept making remarks. After a while I noticed he had crossed the road and I made my turning to walk home.

Another day, walking home after work from the tube. This time it was a little bit later, certainly cooler. I could see a man walking towards me from the opposite direction, and as he got closer, started making noises, then as we passed made some comments and stood still as I walked by. I didn’t make any contact or reply, just pretended to ignore the whole thing.

My question really is, what should I have done? In both cases I did not engage, ignored what was happening and hoped the men would go away. But I feel ashamed and hypocritical to have been so passive. My beliefs are that no man should feel they have the right to make me feel threatened, objectified or worthless at any point. I feel the best thing to do would have been to challenge both men at the time it happened, to let them know that it is not OK to treat me or any woman in this way. I’ve imagined myself doing this and the words I might use many times, but when it comes to it, I’m too unsure of myself and probably too scared to do it.

Personal agony aunt

Personal agony aunt

The Personal’s response:

Dear Objectified,

I spent 6 months in Paris when I was a student.  Beautiful amazing Paris – and boy was I miserable. I was homesick, lonely, young and nervous, and all day long I got unwanted attention from men. I’ve never felt so totally beleaguered and diminished by a place, or so anxious about going out by myself. I was leered at and yelled at, and grabbed on the Metro several times. I’d go to the cinema and a man would sit right next to me, even in a practically empty auditorium. Once, when I was walking by a park, a man on the other side of the railings matched my footsteps and then, having got my attention, stuck his penis through the railings at me. My reaction till then had been to remove myself from the situation and ignore it, but this crudely symbolic violation was too much and I burst into tears. This wasn’t your archetypal dirty old man either – I’d guess he was maybe 25 and wearing  the uniform of every French student in the late 80s: slicked back hair, small round glasses and a Christopher Lambert mac . But what I remember most is his face before he scarpered – his triumphant smile. He’d won.

It’s unbelievable it still happens so often. Why do some men do it? Do they even see an individual woman, or does our presence just trigger some sexist motion-sensor? This isn’t about mutual attraction or a shared interest in talking, a flirty to-and-fro. This is a one-sided  affair; it’s not  a conversation, it’s control.

From the “Look At Me!” attention grabbing and the reduction of the whole woman  to component body parts, right through to the genuinely frightening threats like being followed, as you describe, it’s all about macho power and the need to intrude. “Woman minding her own business? Not good enough – I WILL make my presence felt and she WILL interact with me.”

So how should we respond? Of course it’s tempting  to challenge, to tell them it’s unacceptable, or even to imagine a violent response. Like you I imagine the words I’d use, the sheer force of my argument and logic forcing them to see the error of their ways (as if) or at least shut up until I’m round the corner. Except… isn’t a reaction, any reaction, the whole aim of their game? It’s not passive to walk on by. I’m starting to believe the most feminist response is the one you chose – not to be suckered into a conversation you didn’t want to take part in.

Of course some situations shouldn’t be ignored and threats and harassment should always be reported to the police. But for shouts and comments, I think back to my flasher. I don’t have a clear memory of his penis (one meets so many people…) but I won’t ever forget his gleeful face. And my response fed his glee. So now I do just what you did – silence, no acknowledgement, no indication that I’ve noticed  or that I care. This conversation’s over.

Personal agony aunt

Political agony aunt

The Political’s response:

Dear Objectified,

It is easier to understand what is happening in these two incidents than to know how to respond to them. Such violent episodes show us why so much attention has been paid by feminist theorists to vision, to the “gaze,” which for most feminists is gendered as male. For the work of feminist scholars such as Laura Mulvey or Griselda Pollock, the impact of this gendered gaze is most easily identifiable in the history of art and of cinema. Film, for Mulvey, especially conventional Hollywood cinema, naturalizes a basic asymmetry in the relations of men and women to vision itself, and the same goes for the history of European painting. The aggressive gaze being cast on you is not simply the gaze of an obnoxious man upon a vulnerable woman; it is a power that has been for centuries institutionalized as the natural right of men to look, and the burden upon women of being looked at. Mulvey talks, in the context of cinema, of woman’s status as the “bearer” of meaning and man’s as the “maker” of meaning. Our aesthetic categories are affected by this – most crucially, of course, the idea of beauty, which universalizes the asymmetry. It is why simply staring back at the man, responding with an equally invasive gaze, perhaps accompanied by a string of expletives, is desirable, but not necessarily possible.

A response that would emerge out of Mulvey’s film theory would involve the presence of a film camera, by means of which a third eye, one no longer snarled up in the disequivalent relations between men and woman, might be introduced. Mulvey is writing about the options open to feminist filmmakers faced with the weight of convention that naturalizes the male gaze by obscuring the presence of the camera. “The first blow against the monolithic accumulation of traditional film conventions… is to free the look of the camera into its materiality in time and space and the look of the audience into dialectics, passionate detachment. There is no doubt that this destroys the satisfaction pleasure, and privilege of the ‘invisible guest’.” Such possibilities have become widely available since Mulvey wrote these lines simply because so many of us now have access to video cameras via our personal devices as a matter of course. Turning the camera on the male upsets the gendered economy of the gaze.

In the absence of such a technical solution, we might draw an analogy with the colonial situation. Frantz Fanon presented the situation of the black man in colonial society in ways that are analogous to the analysis of feminist theorists. For Fanon, the black man always occupies the position of being passively looked at; only the white man can look. Vision, here, is again conceived as a universal myth that obscures the inequality of access to it. The question, Griselda Pollock writes, is one of who can look and who cannot. Fanon puts it brilliantly: “The black man has no ontological resistance in the eyes of the white man.” Like you, Fanon found the experience shaming. The insight led Fanon to understand the inevitability of violence in the colonial context: “At the level of individuals, violence is a cleansing force. It frees the native from his inferiority complex and from his despair and inaction; it makes him fearless and restores his self respect.” This was not, for Fanon, a recommendation for violence but the characterization of a situation (Algeria in the 1950s) whose violence was already apparent, initiated not by the anti-colonial resistance but by the French occupying power. It is not necessary to advocate violence, the situation is already one of violence. The cold realization that, in our experience of being made the scopophilic objects of men on the street we are being subjected to an already existent, pervasive violence simply clears the way for action that can free us from the feeling of shame and passivity.

Further reading:
Griselda Pollock, “Beholding Art History: Vision, Place and Power,” in Stephen Melville and Bill Readings (eds), Vision and Textuality, London: Macmillan 1985, pp. 38-66

Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” from Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings, Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen (eds), New York: Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 833-44.

Frantz Fanon, “The Lived Experience of the Black Man,” Black Skin White Masks, trans. Richard Philcox, New York: Grove, 2008, pp. 89-119.

Frantz Fanon, “Concerning Violence,” The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Constance Farrington, Harmondsworth: Penguin 1990, pp. 27-84.

Email your questions and dilemmas to agony@feministtimes.com

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Sexist Bygones logo

Sexist Bygones: The Heavy Breather

What a relief feminism worked, eh?

In celebration of our sexism-free society here in The Future we take a look back at some of the sexist behaviour that’s now thankfully a thing of the past.

Springtime 1985 and somewhere in North Yorkshire an adorable five year old girl is about to pick up the “telephone”, more commonly known these days as the landline.

“Ha-woh” said the little girl.  This was the first time she had answered the telephone, but she had been practicing for years on her Fisher-price equivalent. Finally she had the chance to try it out like a grown up while her parents were more concerned with the Vista curry boiling away on the hob. They hadn’t heard the ringing.

“Ha-woh?” she said again when she got no reply. Maybe she should get mum. Maybe this thing was more complicated than the Fisher-price one. Maybe just listen a little while longer?

That was when she heard a deep, slow, breathy groan. Followed by another. It sounded like her grandad was sitting down, repeatedly, while trying to muffle his painful groans from the piles.

Her mum snatched the telephone. “01285 555555 Hello?” Then after a small pause slammed the phone down. “Never answer the telephone again without mummy ok?”

The little girl and her mother had been the victim of what was commonly known as “Heavy Breathing” and covered by popular TV programs of the day such as That’s Life, TV AM and Crime Watch.

Heavy Breathing died out in the main with the landline, but was quickly succeeded by mobile sexism in the form of the Nuisance Sex Text and Unsolicited Cock Photo.

Thankfully all of this is now a thing of the past, primarily due to the Leave Women Alone Act 2031, tabled in the British Parliament by the Rt Hon Dolly Houghton, daughter of the late Chantelle Houghton and Alex Reid.

The Act introduced strict penalties for unsolicited photos, text, sounds and videos of a sexual nature through all communication technology and saw several high profile footballers being locked up for life within a month of the bill being enacted.

Next week: Bus Wankers

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