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Feminist Times: Ten things I hate about feminism

Hate is a strong word, which is why we thought you’d read it! Don’t get me wrong – I love feminism – but there’s been plenty of frustration and confusion in my time as Editor of Feminist Times. So in my final word on Fem T I thought I’d break my own rule and start taking some sides.

1) Pluralism is the most radical option in feminism.
I went to a convent where the one lesson we had on abortion was conducted by a nun, in a chapel, with a projector flashing images of dead foutuses onto the alter. The Catholic church is known for being balanced like that. Since then I’ve been pro-choice and suspicious of people who are very sure they are completely right.

I wanted Feminist Times to not be sure, but to definitely be nice. Instead of telling people what to think we should be presenting lots of contrasting ideas for everyone to make their own mind up. From the off we were being asked to take a side. How can you use the word “cis”? Why did you allow sex work to be in inverted commas? She said we shouldn’t wear high heels! Shut her up!

We had lots of high profile feminists refuse to take part in real life discussions with their online nemeses. A movement like this isn’t moving. It’s entrenched. Stuck, like that song, with clowns and jokers, etc. Being prepared to have offline conversations with anybody, particularly those who disagree with us, might be the most progressive thing we could all do. Some of our best writers have been people I’ve approached because they criticised us, savagely, online. Every one of them was lovely in person.

2) Feminism is being co-opted and by 2016 it will be dead again.
In 2009 I launched a feminist act called Gaggle, a weird punk choir. We were often ridiculed for being out and proud feminist. It was just five years ago and yet you couldn’t find a columnist who would admit they were a feminist, hence the website the F-word – it was taboo. You could tie several cats together, swing them and not hit a single feminist.

Now you can’t. Feminist columns, T-shirts and events clog up the zeitgeist. Every night there’s another panel discussion about Women in Music, so much so that I can’t remember what it was like before this 4th wave? Something about cupcakes and burlesque, I think.

Anyway, feminism is so popular right now that it’s one of the biggest buzz words in marketing for 2015, hence why Pantene is selling us feminist shampoo and Special K’s gone all “Dove” with it’s cornflakes. Unfortunately everything in fashion will go out of fashion. Like Skip Its, environmentalism and hipster beards, if feminism is dead again by 2016 what do we want to have achieved during this brief spell in the limelight?

3) The transgender tipping point is good for women.
It could be the single most important ally in killing gender bias – not because it says anyone can be a woman, but because it forces us to ask what the fuck are women and men anyway?

GenderWeek is perhaps the part of my journey in Feminist Times I am most proud of. It is a direct result of my disgust at the levels of hatred towards transgender women and also my sympathy for the old guard who are naturally suspicious and scared. We tried to build a bridge between two hurt parties, but who were we to think we could do that?! And so, six months after I asked for a membership level to be named after her, Roseanne Barr was hurling abuse at us!

4) Trolling is the worst kind of activism.
Being keen on pluralism I’m sure you can figure out why I’m not into the polarisation of Twitter. A lot of precious time and ideas are swallowed up by those timelines which are forgotten in minutes. If you troll as a form of activism…. yeah, good luck with that.

5) The idea of “choice”.
Lynne Segal said all this a lot better for us in Gender Week, but hardly anyone read it. So, in a nutshell – we are not completely autonomous consciousnesses outside of culture and all its perversions.

Our choices are not purely determined by free will but are in many ways pre-determined by our culture. I “choose” to wear heels is like saying I “choose” to drink a flat white. Before 2012 no one knew you could mix coffee and milk in such a new fabulous way and so this is where I find myself with Larry David when it comes to “choice”: you can’t choose what isn’t there, and very often a new choice is an old one rehashed.

7) Where is the revolution?
Why are we so polite when we are trying to insist that some people give up their grip on power and share. Russell Brand wants us to have a humorous revolution, Uncut continues to march with masks on, the Keiser Report calls for hanging – what does a feminist revolution look like?

I’m longing for a feminist revolution, where culture catches up with the law in places like the UK and where the law catches up with basic humanity in other parts. A world with a socio-economic F-plan.

We’ve been trying to get an economist to write a feminist economic blueprint for the future but no luck. Without it though, any feminist movement will have limited effect, capitalism is part of the problem.

8 ) Never use the word austerity.
Like the F-Plan, I’ve been trying to commission a piece about finding an alternative for the word “austerity”, but we still haven’t published it.

“Austerity” can too easily conjure, mistakenly, nostalgic images of blitz spirit, 1950s home economics, virtuousness, instead of the economic political ideology and the pain it leaves in its wake. The word “austerity” can appear innocuous, but like all words it has power, it can put a spell on you. We need a new word. Until then it’s like calling a 13-year-old girl who is forced into marriage a “wife”; she’s not a wife, she’s a slave.

9) I’ve put on two stone in this job.
Feminist Times has been an all encompassing venture. I had to start putting in every therapist’s favourite, “boundaries”, from week one: Don’t always be on Twitter, don’t take things personally, don’t email at night or weekends, don’t work in someone’s house, don’t eat two lunches. You don’t think the pressure’s getting to you, then suddenly you’re buying size 24 knickers! Tomorrow I’ll be eating my own words and taking up running.

10) The rest will be one for the memoirs.
Thanks to everyone at Feminist Times and everyone who read Feminist Times.  It’s been thrilling, challenging and an experience of a lifetime. <3

Deborah is a writer, producer, editor and tunesmith. She founded and directs all-girl radical choir @Gaggle, writes occasionally for the Guardian and can be heard making very authored reports for BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. Founding Deputy Editor of Feminist Times, Deborah became Editor in December 2013 and leaves Feminist Times today for new projects. Follow her @deb_rahcoughlin

Photo: Taken by Jim Eyre. Lucie Evans, Gaggle.

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The Best of Feminist Times

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

Theme Weeks:

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

1. Man Week – 18-25 November 2013

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

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2. 5 years since Maria

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

3. I don’t buy it

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

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4. 12 Days of Sexism

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

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5. New Year, New You

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

6. Sex Industry Week

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

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7. Gender Week

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

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8. Mental Health Awareness Week

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

Most Shared:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Most Read:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Favourites:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Feminist Times: Money and a room of our own

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why do so many progressives always fall short on mental health?

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

So many of us walk the tightrope day by day.

One day soon it might just all go wrong – a friend too many dies, or we lose a job we liked, or the credit card maxxes out on us. Depression – if you have it – is always there a bit, but sometimes it kicks in when bad things happen.

That’s the way it’s been with me. There was a patch a few years ago when I found myself getting off buses in the middle of a journey to go sit on steps in the city and cry, but after a while that stopped.

Or it might just be the weather in our head – today is shiny, but tomorrow who knows?

A lot of people live with varying degrees of clinical depression, and about two thirds of those are women. Many people live with OCD, or are bipolar, or have been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. There’s nothing to stop anyone having more than one mental illness. Entirely separate from all of that, there are all the people who are not neurotypical, whose wiring is a bit different; there’s nothing to stop any of them being depressed or whatever as well.

So many of us have bad days, or weeks, or months. And they’re not made better by people being clueless about it who ought to know better. The only reason why I don’t complain more about the failings of the Left, the women’s movement, and the LGBT community on mental health is that mainstream society is amazingly even worse.

Most of us lie about our state of mind all the time because we don’t want people to know. Less than perfect mental health is still a stigma, even if we are less liable to be locked up for it and forced into treatment. It means that anything we say or create will be treated as less valuable, less likely to be true.

We try to pass, we use the language that hurts us, and we try not to let people see us wince when we say someone else is ‘crazy’. It’s very hard not to do it, partly because we are trying to pass and partly because the language we grew up with has so many value judgements implicit in it; sanity is one of the things it assumes to be good, and less than perfect sanity to be bad.

No one has to tell other people that they have a problem and in fact, the way society is constructed, it’s probably sensible only to admit to depression when it gets so bad that you can’t function, or when the drugs you are already taking for it stop working and you have to find something else that works. Still, there’s something quite liberating about owning up to the identity.

Part of being depressed is a sense of never being good enough; it’s like impostor syndrome except that you’re faking it every day about everything, not just having nightmares about exams or making deadlines. At least if you tell other people, if you tell yourself, that that’s just the depression speaking and not the truth, you can start to accept that actually you’re not as bad as all that.

It’s like all the other identities that it’s sensible to hide in a society that quite likes us to lie; to not raise issues that make it harder for the majority to think well of themselves. If we can function, some people say, why can’t we just not mention private issues like mental health? Just like they used to say about sexuality, or like they still say about gender identity issues.

Do we have to flaunt our depression or our OCD, wear it like a badge of honour? They say. And sometimes it’s the sane being irritable and sometimes it’s other people worrying that if they are too sympathetic, the sane people might notice them. Most of the time it is not conscious bullying; it’s just people coasting along with the way things are, and not noticing the privilege that gives them, for the time being.

Most of the time I personally function pretty well – I write books and I write poems and I write articles. I don’t think that ‘coping privilege’ is actually a thing but I can understand how some people think it might be, and even use it as a stick with which to beat people who acknowledge poor mental health but somehow manage to get things done in spite of it.

They’re not inside my head, and they don’t know how hard it is for me, a lot of the time – but then, maybe it is harder for them, and I have no idea just how much harder. Worrying that I have coping privilege is just something else for my anxieties to focus on.

But what is common, and unforgivable, is for people in progressive communities to bully people over their mental health, in a way they never would about race, class, sexuality, gender identity or visible disability (though actually progressives can be pretty shit about that when you point out that their shiny new office has terrible mobility access – even in 2014…) I’ve seen a progressive organisation decide someone was guilty of an expellable offence because he had declared his mental health status and suddenly his guilt could be assumed without motive or opportunity – because his alleged crimes no longer had to make sense.

I’ve also seen it happen online to a number of women who have spoken publicly about their struggles with various mental health conditions. I’ve avoided giving specific examples here because they’d either be uselessly vague or else instantly recognisable to an extent that would be abusively intrusive.

If you know someone has depression, or whatever else, it might not be a good idea to tell them that their ideas are rubbish, that their behaviour is contemptible. Particularly if you are exaggerating, or angry, or just disagreeing with them – because the trouble is, their illness will probably go along with whatever you say.

Telling someone who has depression that they are worthless is an exploitation of the advantage better mental health gives you. It’s an exercise of privilege and it is potentially an act of violence. You are risking precipitating a spiral of self-hatred and self-harm.

Mental health is an area of intersectional oppression, like many others; don’t knowingly harm people. You’re probably doing it anyway but you can at least try not to – it’s just a matter of thinking about it. I used not to but, since my own really bad time, I have at least made the effort.

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

For more information and support on depression, or any other mental health condition please visit the Mental Health Foundation or Mind. For advice on staying mentally healthy online, see our article Eight ways to keep yourself sane on Twitter, by psychiatrist Anna Fryer.

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Eight ways to keep yourself sane on Twitter: online feminism & mental health

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

A number of recent cases, as highlighted in Kirsty Wark’s recent BBC documentary Blurred Lineshave brought into focus an alarming anti-feminist backlash, where abuse online has emerged as a serious problem in the new culture of misogyny and hate .

Such behaviour can compromise the physical and psychological health of our community, and the strategies below aim to help minimise the stress, and maximise the benefits that a global online community provides.

1) Stay safe 

There is a curious dichotomy in the use of social media. It has the ability to relieve stress with its fulfilment of the human need for social connectedness, but can cause anxiety and infringe on our sense of safety. At the worst extremes, this can result in identity theft, cyber stalking, and cyberbullying.

Keep personal details (e.g. where you live or work) off Twitter. Use the maximum security settings to allow some degree of privacy. Don’t take other users at face value.

Twitter allows its users considerable control of their projected persona, with the opportunity to delete any content that contradicts this perfect self-image. In the real world our assessment of people is far more multidimensional, with information from others, our visual impressions, body language and the nuances of our undervalued gut instinct.

Online, narcissists may appear harmless, but their inflated sense of self-esteem may be fragile and descend into vicious damaging behaviours. In the large groups that form on Twitter, even individuals with a healthy sense of self can lose it. There is a propensity to descend into narcissism, with unwanted aspects of self projected onto an opponent’s avatar. When hateful projects are validated in groups (a cause of concern in the feminist community) the dangers of groupthink and a lack of this reality testing can be apparent.

2) Don’t tolerate abuse of yourselves or others 

There are some behaviours that are automatic red cards, involving immediate blocking and reporting as abuse. If there is a specific threat of harm to yourself or others contact the police in the first instance. Take screen shots as evidence to email to the investigating officer so they can assess the level of risk and proceed appropriately.

Content on Twitter can be inflammatory, with a diverse range of opinions. However, personally insulting or seriously offensive messages can be reported to Twitter. If you are the victim of predatory behaviour, try to resist the temptation to engage in defending yourself or counter-attacking. Such “trolling” is a means of seeking validation via human contact, even horrified or offended responses. Do not “feed the trolls”; show your contempt through silence, blocking and reporting. These “games” of human interaction, as described by Eric Berne, can feel compelling but, when they serve to increase distress and feelings of victimisation, are to be avoided.

3) Use the block function 

Blocking is Twitter’s key safety tool. Be clear on your own boundaries and if somebody violates them, act. Twitter is a virtual space but you are in charge of who you interact with. If you feel interactions lack worth and invite damage to your self-esteem then the online connection can be broken.

4) Don’t get into long, ongoing arguments 

When you believe something passionately it is perfectly appropriate to argue your corner. But engaging in long repetitive discussions with someone whose views are concrete and opposed to yours is draining and futile. While in interpersonal relationships disagreement is inevitable (and healthier than the alternative passive dependant strategy of denial of self), we would be unlikely to develop or continue any relationship based on arguments. The Twitter world is no different: recognising this and withdrawing is likely to be the healthiest option for all involved.

5) Avoid Twitter at work 

The use of Twitter at work (other than as part of your role) is fraught with difficulties. Any employment is a transaction where you receive remuneration for performing tasks. If your Twitter usage is impairing your performance and it is noticed, you risk damage to your hard earned status and position. Venting your frustrations about your boss on the Internet may even directly contravene your employment contract, or your registration if you are a professional.

Recent research by the Chartered Institute of Professional Development (CIPD) showed that two out of five employers used a candidate’s online presence for screening prospective employees. While it is debatable whether a prospective employer has the right to analyse a private Twitter feed, employing privacy blocks can help separate your work and personal identities.

6) Beware of using Twitter as a means of avoidance 

Twitter and the Web allow you the psychological defence of avoidance by procrastination. While reading every tweet from a person who interests you might seem like a good idea, if it happens to coincide with your dream job interview preparation you may be defending your underlying anxieties about failing by avoidance of the important task. Prioritise effectively and resist the temptation.

7) Keep it in perspective 

Twitter users come and go, and are perhaps the most potentially rejecting of all online communities. While amassing followers may strengthen your ego, these online communities are only a small part of our unique self. An online indiscretion, unless you are a heavily scrutinised celebrity, may actually go unnoticed in the constant stream of information, and tweets and other online posts can be deleted rapidly.

8) Switch off and relax 

The breadth of information that can be accessed via Twitter is of variable quality and can feel limitless. The lines between work and leisure time can become blurred, with a non-stop conveyer belt of articles and tweets. Anxiety can be seen as a button being held down on the fight-or-flight reflex to stress. Trying to keep that button held down so you can devour more information could generate symptoms of stress and tension, leading to symptoms such as insomnia, low mood, free-floating anxiety and panic. If you detect the symptoms of information overload, consider declaring a technology-free zone such as your bedroom, or daily offline time, such as the last two hours before you go to bed.

Using mindfulness approaches to manage these symptoms can be useful, and allow us to remain in the present and stay grounded. If you have any concerns about your mental health, talking to your GP can help you access local counselling, psychology and other appropriate treatments.

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

For information and support on mental health issues, visit the Mental Health Foundation or Mind.

Photo: Baishampayan Ghose

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

Click here to read all #GenderWeek articles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Public Order Act

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

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

Sending malicious communications

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

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

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

Harassment

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

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

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

Doxing: outside the criminal law

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Maryland Gov Pics

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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.

Competition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: UTV.com

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How to make the unhappiest town happy

Standing at the bar of Bedford’s West Indian Social & Cultural Society, I’ve been talking to the Windrush generation about the boxes of records they’ve all got stashed in the loft or the garage. They have original Blue Beat singles, old Trojan tunes, things with the red Island Records logo. Next door, their grandchildren play MP3s on a big, bass-heavy sound-system.

I’m in Bedford because the Office for National Statistics decided last year that it was the unhappiest place in the country. Bedford Creative Arts have commissioned me to look at what makes Bedford unhappy, and see if – in three short months – I can change it. The project is called, simply, Bedford Happy.

Bedford was built by the Saxon chief Beda, around a crossing on the River Ouse. It’s always been a place of crossing, of coming together of the tribes, and as such is incredibly open to different cultures – just a few doors down from the West Indian club is the Polish Club, and opposite that, the Italian Club which serves a wicked short, black coffee.

Bedford has the third largest Italian community in Britain, behind London and Manchester. That’s because the Bedford-based London Brick Company found a skilled workforce in southern Italy in the 1950s, when they needed enough bricks to rebuild bomb-damaged London. The brickworks followed it up with a recruitment campaign in India, and in 1960 the Indian Workers’ Welfare & Cultural Association was set up in the town.

And that ever-changing mix is what makes Bedford really interesting. It’s a town of contrast and change. There’s the area around the bus station, which feels like an unloved corner of North London, populated by fast food, cheap supermarkets and cab firms. And a few minutes’ walk away are the clean, elegant streets leading down to the river’s Embankment, where the water is often alive with rowers from Bedford’s four private schools. The parents of the pupils there live in big villas around the grand, Victorian-landscaped Bedford Park where every Saturday morning 250 or more people turn on their smartphones and log on to the Parkrun app.

Every group – ‘West Indian’ or ‘Italian’ or ‘Rowing Club’ or ‘Parkrun’ – changes the town. For generations, people have arrived and felt they have the power to do things for themselves. People have started offbeat arts organisations and oddball religions (the Panacea Society who saved an end-of-terrace house for Christ’s return deserve an article all of their own). They’ve founded their own schools and social clubs – to get a few people together, talk about your shared interest and make something happen is the Bedford way.

That approach is perfectly illustrated by what made me notice Bedford in the first place. Two strangers, Kayte Judge and Erica Roffe, started a conversation about the town’s empty shops on Facebook, created a project called We Are Bedford and spent a year activating empty spaces. Their approach is one I see across the entire country. People are tackling local problems for themselves.

Collaborate, create the smallest structure you need to make things happen, try and test your ideas where people can see them, and use that experience to decide what to do next. It’s a refreshing alternative to the way councils or charities work – endless meetings, everything in place to blunt the sharp edges of any risk, and nobody responsible for their own actions.

It’s exactly what Clay Shirky wrote about in 2008; people are organising without organisations. The tools we have literally at our fingertips, a smart phone that lets us access social media, mean we can be the change we want to see. We can form loose, agile collaborations and tackle problems. I recently listed 100 such projects on my company’s blog.

The actor Peter Coyote, looking back to the 1960s, said, ‘If we had any belief, it was that a man’s vision is his responsibility. If you had an idea, make it happen; find the brothers and sisters; find the resources and do it. Your personal autonomy and power exposed the shallowness of endless theorizing and debate. Visions became real by being acted out, and once real could serve as inspiration and free food for the public imagination.’

It’s no coincidence that the internet lets us do that so quickly, when the people that built it were Coyote’s contemporaries. The 60s generation have given us the tools to make change endlessly, easily possible – to make revolution an everyday thing.

Dan is a social artist and writer living in Margate. His work is about people and places. He is interested in the creation of social capital, in abandoned or underused spaces, and in DIY approaches to art, culture and social action. . In 2012, he was included in the Time Out and Hospital Club’s Culture 100, a list of the most inspiring and influential people in the UK’s creative industries. Find out more at www.danthompson.co.uk

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Porn searches lead to feminist websites

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

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

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

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A 2014 resolution: Adopt a feminist

My New Year’s resolution is to adopt a feminist. A new feminist, someone who hasn’t been a feminist for very long and is not quite sure what they’re doing but has buckets of enthusiasm. Why am I doing this? Well because we, as a movement, don’t really look after new feminists.

How New Feminists Are Born

The tradition for women of my generation has been to discover feminism at a young age; late-teens or early-twenties. By that point, most women will have either met another feminist or have read an article about women’s rights/arse-clenching sexism and have decided “yes, this is for me!” Since then, the internet has completely change the way men and women discover feminism. It’s possible to build an entire digital world for yourself without ever meeting another feminist. Which is great.

But! The problem with discovering feminism online is that everything is documented and if you make a mistake it’s there for everyone to see. When I became a feminist, at the age of 19, I often used the phrase “slag off”. It’s a phrased used a lot in Newcastle and generally just means to deride someone. It wasn’t until a friend quietly took me aside and pointed out that “slag” still sits with “slut” as a word used against women that I realised I should try and phase it out. All this was relatively pain free but if I used the phrase now, on Twitter or on a messageboard, there are a lot of feminists out there more than happy to police me on it.

Which comes to the crux of my point: every feminist gets it wrong a bunch of times before they get it right. We use the wrong words, we make dismissive judgements, we haven’t read the right literature, we are human beings. Now the internet makes it possible for women of all ages, from all backgrounds, to discover feminism, but it also leaves us vulnerable and us lot, as established feminists, need to support new feminists.

The Pressure To Be The Know-It-All Everyone Expects You To Be

When you become a feminist, everyone expects you to know everything about the movement – from its history, through every wave and into the current day academic jargon. And even if they don’t expect you to know that, you still feel like you have to rep for feminism 24/7. I remember one delightful guy who cornered me and demanded to know if I’d read all of Andrea Dworkin and did I agree with her? I had no idea who Dworkin was; I hadn’t even (and still haven’t) read Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch. Andrea Dworkin sounded like a feminist pseudonym for Angela Lansbury and I liked Bedknobs and Broomsticks so I said yes and didn’t realise what I’d agreed to until the next day.

People generally still assume that the word “feminist” is antagonistic, that you’re up for a wide ranging debate about the latent colonialism of westerners becoming involved in the anti-female genital mutilation movement. We’ve all been there, so why do we forget that other people have this experience as well? As a newcomer to feminism on the internet, women are constantly challenged by other feminists about topics that they are not familiar with. Oh, you like this Glosswitch article? So you believe that queer women are deliberately trying to derail the No More Page 3 campaign?!? And so on…

So Why Adopt A Feminist?

It’s not enough for us to tell people who are new to feminism that they don’t have to know it all and feminism is really fun and awesome and yay! We need to have their backs when they make simple mistakes and we need to recognise these mistakes when they are made. There is a world of difference between a prominent white feminist making bigoted comments about transgender people in a national newspaper, and someone who’s new to feminism not knowing that it’s better to use the word “woman” instead of “female”.

We need to support new feminists and help them find their place in the movement, recommend things for them to read, and stop jumping down each other’s throats if we see someone making a mistake. If you spend much time on Twitter or in The Guardian’s comments section then it’s easy to feel like it’s better to keep quiet, rather than risk incurring the wrath of other feminists who’ve read sinister intent into the fact that you don’t know the word for intersectionality or that “tranny” is offensive.

Feminism should not be a series of islands with new feminists floundering between; we need to actively support new recruits, rather than just paying lip service and then hopping on Twitter to police someone’s use of the word “female”. With the recent conviction of John Nimmo and Isabella Sorely (convicted for threatening Caroline Criado-Perez via Twitter), it’s clear that there are more than enough people waiting to shoot us down; let’s not do it to each other. It’s a new year and we can afford to extend a little more help and support to new feminists.

Beulah Maud Devaney is a freelance writer living in Amsterdam. She is the Features Editor at For Books’ Sake and regularly contributes to The Guardian, The Huffington Post and The 405. Follow her @TheNotoriousBMD.

Image courtesy of Claudio Matsuoka

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TV (and Oprah) changed my life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy of Alan Light

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Meets and Tweets: 3D feminism, online and off

Last Wednesday we published Charlotte Raven’s weekly editorial, “Meets rather than tweets” – an adaptation of the speech she made at our launch party for Feminist Times members the previous Saturday night.

After publishing the article, we had a conversation in the Feminist Times office and I explained why I felt the focus should be on “meets and tweets”, rather than a choice of one or the other. Our editorial meetings have a tendency to feel like consciousness-raising groups and, at the end of our discussion, Charlotte asked me to write a response explaining my perspective.

I agree with much of what Charlotte writes about 3D feminism; about the pleasure of meeting so many members, and about the inspiration and ideas that were flying around at the party – I personally wanted to commission everyone on the spot, and several times throughout the evening, the editorial team excitedly fed back to each other the various ideas from a conversation we’d just had.

But the Feminist Times team – like any group of feminists – differs widely on our views and priorities, and where Charlotte and I differ on 3D feminism is over the significance of the internet. In her editorial she calls for a 3D feminism, where we “meet rather than tweet”. Ironically, I tweeted this phrase from the Feminist Times account during the party and it was one of our most retweeted messages of the night.

She writes: “I felt the same about digital feminism as I did about Comment is Free. It’ll never work – and it hasn’t really. It has changed a lot of small things like bank notes, but can’t change consciousness, the voice inside your head asking ‘am I pretty or ugly?’”

Charlotte grew up surrounded by 3D feminist activity, but as a digital feminist I have experienced firsthand the consciousness-raising power of forums like Twitter. For me, being online provided a gateway to feminism, and to challenging the voice inside my head, long before I knew any feminists in “real life.”

For many women of my generation, digital feminism has been incredibly powerful. First Tumblr, and later Twitter, demonstrated for the first time in my life that there were other women who felt like me, and gave me a platform to write about my own feelings and experiences. I owe a huge amount of my feminist education to the blogs I’ve followed and the women I’ve met online over the last five years.

The Everyday Sexism Project is nothing if not consciousness-raising – for men, as well as women – and while it doesn’t provide a solution, it does challenge our ideas about what is acceptable. Campaigns like No More Page 3, The Women’s Room and the banknote campaign may not yet have brought about earth-shattering change, but they were all started online by ‘ordinary’ women without media experience and they all used the tools of the digital age to build momentum and force the mainstream media to pay attention.

Their campaigns simply could not have hoped for such a broad reach without the power of social media – just as the tools of the digital age have enabled Feminist Times, in a matter of months, to open up a conversation with the thousands of Twitter followers, Facebook “likers”, and supporters on our email mailing list.

Digital feminism is a haven for feminists who feel isolated offline, as I did for a long time, whether because they’re geographically remote or simply struggle to participate in offline activism. Of course, online feminism is limited: there’s the abuse and the arguing for a start, which, while not exclusive to the internet, can be particularly vicious online. It also excludes those without internet access, including many of our older feminist sisters, and a supportive tweet will never quite match up to a real-life hug. For all the sisterhood and solidarity that can be found online, I’ve also felt very isolated without an offline support group, which is probably why so many “digital feminists” don’t keep their activism exclusively online.

Laura Bates, founder of Everyday Sexism, has used the messages posted on her site to work with police, schools, universities and trade unions on challenging sexual harassment. Lucy-Anne Holmes and the No More Page 3 campaigners have taken their protest to the gates of News International, now News UK, and Caroline Criado-Perez used online crowd-funding to raise funds for an offline legal challenge against the Bank of England.

In February this year I started a feminist discussion group with friend and fellow feminist journalist Rachel Hills, with the goal of taking online discussions offline.  I’ve shamefully neglected it for a few months, since Feminist Times took over a large chunk of my life, but at the time it bridged an important gap between my online and offline feminism. You can say a lot more when you’re not restricted by a 140-character limit, but we also recognized that online feminism is increasingly setting the discussions – our first meeting even focused on the topic of “Twitter feminism”, trolling and in-fighting.

When it comes to digital feminism, Twitter in particular is something that’s impossible to understand the true power of without really using it; none of my non-Twitter-using friends see the point. In a similar way, I used to be skeptical about women-only spaces, believing (as I still do) that men have a role in challenging patriarchal structures too, providing they do so on our terms. Despite this, I’ve been a convert of women-only spaces ever since my first experience of one – in fact, the power of women-only organizing is another of the things Charlotte and I agree on – but that firsthand experience was vital to my understanding.

Just as I believe a truly three-dimensional feminism must combine mixed and women-only spaces, I also believe a truly three-dimensional feminism is stronger with the combined power of online and offline voices and forums. A feminism that aims to build strong offline connections between groups of interesting, inspiring women is fantastic, and I can’t wait to start rolling out Feminist Times’ local groups and events. But digital feminism has shown me how much more diverse and exciting feminism can be when you broaden your reach and take your message online. I’ve had ‘tweet-ups’ with women I would never have met without the feminist Twittersphere, so I’m a firm believer in the value of a 3D feminism that both meets and tweets.

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

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Charlotte Raven

Meets rather than Tweets

Feminism is suddenly fashionable, which means feminists like me are unusually popular. I’m sure it won’t last.

For decades, we struggled to be heard – dismissed as joyless puritans who were anti fun and anti life. To win back credibility in the nineties, some sisters tried to detoxify the term by getting into bed with the fashion industry and preaching the Blairite mantra of personal choice.

Post feminists had nothing to say about iPad addicted toddlers, porn addicted teens and the ludicrous new beauty norms. By comparison, old school feminists like me suddenly seem sane and rational. We are in the unusual position of having a public platform. Feminism seems like the only rational response to a mad world.

I’m glad I wasn’t a teenager in the Internet age. My son John always asks – in your olden days, did they have computers? No – which meant no emails. In my olden days we had to write letters of complaint to the powers that be on Basildon Bond notepaper. My mother was always writing letters about dog shit and miscarriages of justice. Her handwriting was very neat, fortunately.

The early part of my adolescence was spent reading Marxist tracts in a Soviet themed bedroom. Instead of uploading selfies onto youtube, I was highlighting passages of the Lenin’s What is to be Done and deliberating about whether the USSR was a degenerate workers state, as my Militant colleagues claimed.

Age 15, I was propelled into my first three dimensional political experience. I tell John, the miner’s strike was like a 3D version of the Communist Manifesto; all fixed, fast frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices were swept away..

…the headmistress at my private girls school hosted a debate between my two young miner friends and an NCB boss, and I discovered that Billy Bragg, unlike Barry White, is not good music to shag to.

I spent a lot of time in mining communities and witnessed people changing from the inside out. Women left their degenerate workers for Open University courses and I beat my Militant mentor at tennis having never played before!

We didn’t have mobile phones in my olden days either. I remember seeing my first one, brandished by my sworn political enemy in the Serpent Bar in Manchester University Union in 1989. I told John this story and he asked ‘but who did he call if no one else had them.’ Good question!

I never saw the internet as a simple force for good. I was always slightly embarrassed by the Guardian’s cyberphillia and wondered whether their experiment in open journalism would work.

They thought Comment is Free would be like the Roman Forum, but it is more like the Coloseum. Oddly, the better the journalist, the more likely they are to get a roasting. Even innocuous things inflame the online commentairiat. There were 900 negative comments underneath a pesto recipe on the Guardian’s website recently.

I try not to look at the comment boards, but broke my own rule at 3 am on launch day, and read endless online threads about Feminist Times. Big mistake!

Like the tweens who upload their ‘pretty or ugly’ video, I was asking the internet is this project stupid or brilliant. Am I the new voice of feminism or a twittering self promoting narcissist.

We are all asking the same thing of the internet, looking to it for validation, knowing what will happen, but not being able to stop ourselves

I have protected myself by not properly going on Twitter, and hope she my daughter will be as sensible. I think Twitter will go out of fashion by the time she’s a teenager.

In the meantime, its important to try and understand where the trolls are coming from. I always think trolls must hate their jobs, and probably their lives. On Comment is Free, there’s a soupcon on envy thrown in. Great journalists get a roasting.

I went through a dark period when I wasn’t getting published. Sitting isolated in my office in the garden, I’m ashamed to say I used to ‘hate read’. I was obsessed with narcissistic bloggers like Linda Grant and Justine Picardie and my stepmother AKA the Galloping Gardener. I never left a horrible comment, but thought a lot of horrible things, but was compelled to return in the same spirit of anomie day after day.

I felt the same about digital feminism as I did about Comment is Free. It’ll never work – and it hasn’t really. It has changed a lot of small things like bank notes, but can’t change consciousness, the voice inside your head asking ‘am I pretty or ugly.’

I set up Feminist Times to get back to an olden day version of feminism – where everyone meets rather than tweets. The collaborations will change us and change the world.

Our vision of feminism is 3D. The idea of consciousness raising is vital for me. You want to meet up with like and unlike minds, in real life, and real time. We want the level of engagement to go beyond the comment board.

The members party at my house this Saturday was the embodiment of 3D feminism. So many of you had brilliant ideas to pitch and amazing stories to tell. There was so much creativity in the room, and camaraderie. Two young women had come all the way from Birmingham. I’ve had a few gatherings in this space over the years but never so many brilliant conversations. The issue of drugs was never mooted, as it usually is – no one needed them because it wasn’t boring.

I want to thank all the members for their incredible leap of faith. We are truly touched that so many have felt able to commit to our vision of an ad free space for women. Feminist Times is a voice for women who feel disenfranchised – it’s for people who don’t feel that their politics, bodies and interests are represented in the mainstream media.

Here’s to all our members whose hard earned money is making this vision a reality. And, if you aren’t a member yet, why not? If you join today, you will be on the list for our Christmas spectacular. See you there!

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