Tag Archives: women

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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Companies must end culture of secrecy for the Equal Pay Act to work

The Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities and Labour MP for Ashfield, Gloria De Piero, writes for Feminist Times on the ongoing battle for equal pay, 44 years on from the Equal Pay Act. Find out more about Feminist Times’ Equal Pay campaign with Elle & Mother.

In 1970 Labour’s Barbara Castle passed the Equal Pay Act, declaring:

“We intend to make equal pay for equal work a reality, and, in doing so, to take women workers progressively out of the sweated labour class”. Yet 44 years later, women in Britain still earn on average eighty pence for every pound a man earns.

Whichever region of the country you live in, whatever job you do, one thing is guaranteed: women are being paid less than men for doing the same or equivalent jobs. No matter if you’re an engineer or a chief exec, a hairdresser or work in catering. Even in industries where women dominate, we are still being paid less.

Worse still, in the last four years of Tory/Lib-Dem Government, any progress we were making has disappeared into thin air. The pay gap hasn’t budged by more than 0.1 per cent and last year rose for the first time since 2008.

It’s simply not good enough. Women shouldn’t have to wait another forty four years to expect to be paid the same and valued the same as men.

Eighty pence in a pound is a figure symbolic of the economic disempowerment women face throughout our lives. Whether that’s finding out that the man who’s sat opposite you at work for the last 20 years, doing the same role, is on a higher salary; or being forced to take a pay cut to work part-time because work makes it too hard to juggle being a mum with having a career. The work women do and the roles women perform have always been, and continue to be, underpaid and undervalued.

Workplaces need to change to support more women and men to balance work and family life so that having kids doesn’t mean taking a pay cut. And we won’t deliver equal pay unless we challenge the reasons why jobs which women dominate, such as care, have so often been undervalued. But there’s no getting away from it: plain old pay discrimination happens across every sector and every level too.

It’s a matter of justice, and it can make the difference between making ends meet or slipping through the net. We can talk in the abstract about 80p to the pound but it’s when you hear the stories of women who’ve experienced it first-hand that you realise what delivering Equal Pay means.

Women like the childcare worker for Birmingham City Council who, along with scores of other women working as caterers and carers, won compensation for being paid less than male manual workers. She told me:

“All those years I was in debt to credit card companies, even though I’d been to college for two years. I’d got qualifications, it was a vocation not a job… and I think what would my life have been like if I’d been paid a fair wage?”

The route to ending pay discrimination and delivering equal pay is transparency. Empowering women to challenge discrimination means arming them with the information to use the Equal Pay Act to challenge when they are paid less for work of equal value, and the knowledge to challenge why all the highest paid in their workplace are still men.

True transparency though can’t rely on us as individuals; we need companies to end secrecy around pay, and the Government must lead the way.

Equal pay is a battle cry that’s united women across generations. Let’s not leave it up to our daughters to deliver.

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Song Sisters: A free songwriting masterclass tour, just for women

Few emerging singer-songwriters can say that they co-wrote a global number 1 hit. Even fewer have been asked to support top acts such as Ed Sheeran on tour, notching up a staggering 51,000 views on just one of her songs, published on respected indie internet video channel, Ont’ Sofa. But judging by statistics it would seem that these singer-songwriters are in a shocking minority.

As a direct result these two extraordinarily talented acts, Fiona Bevan and Kal Lavelle, are embarking on Song Sisters, a groundbreaking double headline tour across the UK during July and August, organised and promoted by Folkstock Arts Foundation’s Helen Meissner, an emerging champion of acoustic music. Kal and Fiona are established and respected female singer songwriters in their own right but were appalled to learn at the recent Women in Music conference held at the Southbank in London that “only 13% of the songwriters registered on PRS for Music are women”, and so the successful soulful-folk-pop friends decided to join forces and do something about it.

The musicians, who met on the gigging circuit, are committed to making a difference and improving the statistics. Rather than sitting back and being smug that they are in the 13%. They want to encourage other female songwriters to get their songs finished and registered. By way of practical support, they are offering FREE ENTRY masterclasses for women only, on the afternoon of every date on the tour. The sessions will run ahead of each ticketed gig and incorporate a song surgery, as well as tips, advice, and a question & answer element with both Fiona and Kal on hand to help.

The exclusively female line-up tour takes them from Exeter to Ipswich, Manchester to Brighton over the summer; in addition, the girls are offering the opening spot on each leg of the tour to local budding female stars.

They are hoping that this tour captures the imagination of singer-songwriters across the country and really inspires them, especially the women, to take their songwriting more seriously.

Not surprisingly, this significant tour has already attracted some top level reactions, interviews and sessions from respected industry names, including Gaby Roslin, Ruth Barnes, The Daily Mirror, The Londonist, London Gig Guide, The Girls Are, M Magazine (for PRS for Music), and BBC 2’s Bob Harris.

Peggy Seeger said: “what a wonderful idea! Women songwriters have been around for a long time – the masterclasses will encourage us to work together and take our rightful place as writers and performers.”

Innovative, unique and accessible, if you are a budding female singer-songwriter, the Song Sisters tour is where it’s at this summer!

The only date in the capital is TONIGHT at Paper Dress Vintage in Shoreditch. Some tickets are still available for the gig and there are five places left on the free masterclass, running from 6.30 – 8.00, after which the gig starts.

To sign up for the masterclasses email songsistersmasterclass@gmail.com and state which of the 15 dates you are applying for. 

Details of the remaining Song Sisters gigs can be found here.

8th July, LONDON: Paper Dress Vintage with Stephanie O’Brien and Kal

27th July, IPSWICH: St Peter’s by the Waterfront

7th August, EXETER: Starz Bar

10th August, RETFORD: The Birches, ReVerb Project

15th August, CHELTENHAM: The Frog and Fiddle

17th August, BRIGHTON: The Marwood

18th August, CHICHESTER: The Chichester Inn

24th August, MANCHESTER: The Castle

27th August, NORWICH: The Bicycle Shop

28th August, SANDBACH: The Cycle Junction

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Eclectica: the project demanding equality

The Eclectica Project launch is two days of live music, DJs and guest speakers – and it’s taking place this August. Launching at Manchester’s Kraak, the project aims to inspire leadership by women and minorities in all industries, starting with the music industry. Daniel Ball spoke to two of the project’s founders Lizzie Hudson and Olivia Mayumi Moss to find out more.

Eclectica Project is highly concerned with gender equality and ethics. How have your personal experiences drawn you to creating a project of this nature?

LIZZIE: Over the last few years since leaving school, coming across different work and social environments, I’ve been frustrated by a lot of challenges that I and women around me have to face, whether that’s discrimination in the workplace, slut-shaming or body image issues. There has to be a point where you think, “No, wait… It’s not okay that I am regularly subjected to street harassment on the way home. It’s not okay that I get asked about boyfriends above my career ambitions.” These issues have a ripple effect into every aspect of our culture, and it’s important to find ways to build communities and create opportunities for those facing discrimination to hear each other out and offer support. That is what the Eclectica Project aims to facilitate.

OLIVIA: If something frustrates me, I need to do something about it. To quote Ani DiFranco, “I was blessed with a birth and a death, and I guess I just want some say in between.” I wouldn’t limit myself to the identity of ‘feminist’ or ‘activist’ although I am essentially both – I would rather call myself ‘active.’ Passivity can be a serious illness. I worked in Tokyo for 12 years. Japan is an uber-conformist world, and that experience changed a lot of things for me – It gave me a strong perspective over what is in fact changeable and what is not. So many aspects of our lives are within our power and require hard work to achieve a high standard, but it’s also important to remain philosophical about areas which aren’t controllable and to find alternative routes. Having an international perspective and access to willing professionals is essential to maintaining the diversity and longevity of this project, so I dug out my business contacts.

What are you hoping to change in the music industry through Eclectica Project?

LIZZIE: The music industry, and every industry for that matter, needs to progress towards accepting women and minorities as complex individuals. If we want to achieve any kind of equality within this industry, we have to for instance stop putting these performers in the position where we hyper-analyse as ‘empowering’ or ‘weak’ but instead regard them as people who impact our world culturally and industrially. Women can be artists, light engineers, managers, producers, drummers, business owners, and they can be at the top of their game, while ethnicity, sexuality and gender should never be a determining factor in hiring somebody or offering opportunities. We should be assessing quality based on commitment and competence, not background or gender. The purpose of the August launch and its spinoff shows is to encourage understanding and respect for female and minority people working in various sectors of the music industry.

OLIVIA:  Every industry needs a severe shake, because the patriarchy is everywhere and affects everyone. The UK music industry is no different: too many controls, too much money in the wrong places, too many wrong people in the wrong jobs, too much fear and naivety from the artists, too many people taking advantage, too many false promises… It’s a mess and the whole thing needs revising. Until everyone is treated fairly in all industries, female and minority professionals must never stop calling people out and fighting for their rights. Things will improve if enough people open their eyes, find courage from within and commit. The panels taking place on the August launch weekend will open up many areas of discussion and solidify the already burgeoning network.

What does the future hold for the project?

LIZZIE:  This project is about women and minorities everywhere. It’d be interesting to explore what’s going on in other industries, because sadly there are so many talented people missing out on opportunities because of prejudice or patriarchal structures. The aim is to keep this community and network growing, to let it have its own life, and hopefully inspire people to speak out, learn from each other and keep fighting the good fight.

OLIVIA: Yes, if you want to save your industry and possibly your career, get involved: don’t think that you can’t make a difference, because you can. This project needs to survive – it needs support from funders, professionals, volunteers… There are many ways to become part of this network. Other than that, the post-launch future is sleep!

The Eclectica Project launch & spinoffs will take place in Manchester and Leeds during July and August. You can find out more information on the project’s Facebook page

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Land of Smiles: exploring Thailand’s anti-trafficking movement

When people hear the word “trafficking” they often think of young women held in bondage, forced into prostitution against their will. This is certainly a circumstance that takes place around the globe—one that is real, and very serious. But often sex workers, many of whom are migrants seeking a better life in a country far from home, know what they are getting into when they enter the trade. The real problem they face comes from the industry working to “save” them.

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs), funded by private donors and the U.S. State Department, are working hard to fight trafficking. But the problem is that many do this by trying to eradicate prostitution and curb migration—resulting in policies that are harmful, rather than helpful, to women.

Recently, important revelations have come out about the anti-trafficking movement’s problematic policies. Last month, Newsweek broke a story about the Somaly Mam Foundation, a famous Cambodian-based anti-trafficking NGO that has been fabricating stories of sex trafficking to appeal to their donor base. The story was shocking, but to those who understand the contested terrain of the anti-trafficking movement, it wasn’t surprising.

The question of what role NGOs should play in “rescuing” women from the sex industry has been debated by feminists for years. Only now, these debates are heating up because the voices of migrant women, supposed trafficking “victims,” are finally coming out.

It was these women’s voices—voices that have been silenced and overshadowed by a movement supposedly intended to “help” them—that inspired me to travel to Thailand to research the issue of sex trafficking. I wanted to learn about the issue not only from the perspective of advocates working to stop it, but from migrant women themselves—women whose experiences can offer tremendous insight into creating policies that will better serve their needs.

Over the course of three years I conducted over 50 interviews with NGO employees, female migrants, sex workers rights advocates, members of government and others as part of my PhD at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. The discoveries I made would ultimately lead me to write and compose Land of Smiles, a musical whose goal was to turn the narrative about trafficking on its head.

Land of Smiles is a fictional, full-length musical about the trafficking of women in Thailand, which dramatises what I call the “dominant trafficking narrative”: a story told by Western anti-trafficking advocates that reinforces our moralisms about intimacy, rights, women’s proper roles, as well as ideas about individualism, and a modernisation framework that is at the root of development thinking.

Taking issue with the assumptions Western advocates often make about women in the developing world, I created a story that I hoped would expose the flaws of these assumptions, and raise awareness about the problematic policies being enacted by members of the movement.

The story focuses on the aftermath of a brothel raid in Chiang Rai, Northern Thailand. Lipoh, a young Kachin (ethnic minority) migrant from Burma, seems to be underage, making her an automatic “trafficking victim” in the eyes of the law. Emma Gable, an NGO case worker from Cedar Falls, Indiana, is sent to prepare Lipoh to be a witness in a trial to prosecute her trafficker. Emma must convince Lipoh to be the person everyone sees: a trafficking victim. But Lipoh is unwilling to cooperate. She insists that she is eighteen and was working in the brothel willingly. Not only that—she wants to go back.

What transpires is a journey into Thailand’s anti-trafficking movement—a world burdened with politics, morality and the rhetoric of human rights. Through hearing Lipoh’s story, Emma discovers that grave atrocities are being committed against the Kachin people of Burma. But these atrocities are overshadowed by a narrative about trafficking that serves the needs of the anti-trafficking movement, rather than the women it is trying to help.

In writing Land of Smiles I wanted to problematise the discourse on trafficking that circulates among feminist scholars studying trafficking. I sought to unpack the Western “gaze” that views female migrant sex workers as “victims,” and turn this trope around by shedding light on that gaze itself—the lens through which Western advocates see the issue of trafficking. I wanted to expose that the trafficking of women in Thailand is not an isolated human rights abuse that takes place in a separate sphere from Western behavior, structures and thoughts. Rather, the West is complicit in this human rights drama because of the way we objectify third world “victims.”

Land of Smiles is intended to be a platform for dialogue. As the audience makes their way out of the theatre, I hope the show will have caused questioning among those who have the power to change anti-trafficking policy and adopt a more holistic approach to implementing solutions.

Land of Smiles runs from July 31 to 25 August at Assembly, George Square, Edinburgh. For more details/booking visit: http://www.assemblyfestival.com or call 0131 623 3030

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SHE-form: Art and feminism beyond borders

We heard about She-form and asked one of it’s members, Anna Olsson, to tell us more about why women artists need such an organisation.

She-form is a global platform by and for women* in design. Through interviews and our collaborative visual identity, She-form highlights the work of women* designers. It was launched in 2013 as a collaboration between designers Ee-Rang Park and Linnéa Teljas-Puranen, out of a wish for a network of women* designers beyond national boundaries.

*We define woman as anyone who is female-identified

I’m Anna Olsson, a soon to be freelance illustrator, graphic designer, pattern maker, animator and member of She-Form. I met Linnéa Teljas-Puranen at HDK – School of Design and Crafts in Gothenburg, Sweden – three years ago. Both Linnéa and I found it very strange that there are more male than female-identified teachers in our school, because the majority of students here are not men.

I see feminism not only as a question of women’s rights, but the rights of everyone to get the same space and chances in their education. When I speak of feminism, it includes the rights of people of different class, gender, ethnicity, LGBT-persons, and people with different physical capabilities. I think it’s very important for all universities to have a wide diversity of students that are accepted – and art and design schools are no exception.

We need a greater diversity because the ones who are educated are the ones to represent  society. I was truly honored when Linnéa and Ee-Rang asked me to participate in She-form, because it’s just the kind of movement that we need now to tackle this problem. Design is very influenced by the western part of the world, and I think it’s very important that we start to talk about feminism as something that is not only white and upper middle class. Through She-form I have got in touch with several designers in different parts of the world. Networking beyond the borders feels like a very important thing for me as a creator, and nowadays it’s easy to make connections without a physical meeting.

This fall I am traveling to Russia, South Korea, Mongolia and China with a friend to record a documentary film series about different designers and artists. We both realised that in our education we got a lot of inspiration given to us by western world creators, and not so much from other parts of the world. We think it’s very important to point out that the western world is not the centre of the world; there is no centre of the world.

We believe that design and art is invested more in the bigger cities, and we want to show that it’s not all about the area, it’s about the creator and the creators, the art itself.

During this trip we will hopefully meet up with some of the designers involved in She-form and find out more about their perspective on design and art.

Anna’s website: www.annaols.com
She-form’s website: www.she-form.org

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Howzat? Cricket board stumps women’s pay potential

Whilst male cricketers have for a long time had the opportunity to earn a more than decent living from plying their trade, for women, playing cricket has never really been a viable career option. They earn small sums, mostly in a semi-professional capacity, supplementing their income with schools coaching or ambassadorial roles. We are talking really small sums of money – in no way comparable to the amounts of money that even the least successful male professional cricketers earn playing the game.

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), to their credit, recently announced that for the first time ever 18 female cricketers would be fully paid as professionals. They are the only fully professional female cricketers in the world. The contracts awarded by the ECB vary in amount, with a handful being awarded top tier contracts that are worth over £50,000, and others earning lower tier contracts worth between £30,000 and £50,000.

Women’s cricket, like many other sports women play, faces the huge challenge of securing revenue. It isn’t on its own profitable – it relies on the revenue created by the men’s game – some countries (most notably England and Australia) have, admirably, used some of that revenue from the men’s game to subsidise paying players and developing women and girls. The fact remains though that the women’s game generates relatively little revenue either through advertising, sponsorship, TV or spectators.

In the last few years there has been an explosion of short Twenty20 tournaments which have given male cricketers the opportunity to earn vast sums of money (on top of their normal contracts with their country or club side). Huge six figure contracts are awarded to players for a tournament that lasts no more than six weeks.

It is interesting, therefore, that an independent organisation has set up a proposed short tournament, the ‘Women’s International Cricket League‘ (WICL), has uncovered the sort of money that the women’s game could only dream of, and is offering the chance for around 70 women cricketers to earn up to around £20,000 for 2 weeks work.

When the top handful of international women cricketers (all England players) are only earning £50k a year, these are huge sums of money we are talking about – amounts that women cricketers have never even been close to accessing before. Details of the tournament are still sketchy but for an organisation to have found these sorts of sums of money for women’s cricket is hugely exciting.

There’s a problem though. The ECB (and Cricket Australia) have unequivocally stated that they do not recognise the WICL, they do not support it, and they will not be allowing their contracted players to play in it.

Some nervousness around independently run tournaments is understandable. Twenty20 tournaments are ripe for being targeted by match fixers and corrupters and details of the WICL are, at this stage, still sketchy. Governance and due diligence structures for the tournament aren’t clear and with this comes a number of risks both for the players and reputation of the game.

One can also sympathise to an extent with the ECB’s position – they have put in huge investment and have broken new ground by offering full-time contracts for women for the first time ever and they want to protect their players and protect the sanctity of International Cricket Council-run tournaments.

But whilst some nervousness is understandable, if women’s cricket is to continue to develop players shouldn’t be denied the opportunity to earn where it arises. Bringing money into the women’s game – whether that be from the governing bodies or from private investment – can only be a good thing. Surely the solution in this instance is for cricket’s governing bodies to work in conjunction with the WICL to make this an exciting and successful tournament, rather than a blanket refusal to recognise it.

As it stands, some of the biggest names in women’s cricket – such as Charlotte Edwards, Sarah Taylor, Meg Lanning, Elysse Perry – will not appear at this tournament. These are women who have worked incredibly hard, against all the odds, to get to the top of their game. When England Captain Charlotte Edwards started playing internationally she even had to buy her own England kit, never mind actually being paid. It’s worth noting too, that England have some of the best women cricketers in the world; they are the current Women’s Ashes holders and the T20 World Cup finalists. These are women who are role models to girls wanting to play cricket, they are both hugely successful and hugely inspirational.

The men who are contracted by the ECB or County Cricket Clubs are given permission by their employers to take part in various Twenty20 tournaments around the world and allowed to command the huge salaries that taking part in them affords.

Such a clear statement by the ECB, banning their contracted women players from the WICL, seems on the face of it to be a ludicrous double standard for players of different genders playing within the same sport. It’s highly unlikely, having only just been offered central contracts, that the top English female players would kick up a fuss or try to go against the commands of their employer, but it feels like this is a huge opportunity for women cricketers and the women’s game that could be missed.

Lizzy Ammon is a cricket commentator for the BBC and writes about both men’s and women’s cricket for The Sunday People newspaper and other publications.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Wikimedia

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End Sexual Violence in Conflict: Slow steps towards progress

Last week’s End Sexual Violence in Conflict Summit saw dignitaries from 155 nations descend on London’s ExCel Centre.  A magnificent effort from both Angelina Jolie and Foreign Secretary William Hague, the four-day summit highlighted the atrocities and dangers that women (and indeed, men and boys) face in conflict times. The event’s fringe was fantastic, with incredible collections of artwork beautifully complimented by engaging and emotional discussions, as well as innovative and powerful theatre discussions.

I was moved to tears by Save the Children’s performance highlighting the stories of three very different girls, all affected by rape. I could not help but be inspired listening to Congolese gynecologist, Dr Denis Mukwege speak on how his resolve to end sexual violence in conflict only grew following the assassination attempt on his life in 2012. There were also some incredibly painful testimonies that will stay with me for some time. Hague and Jolie are to be commended for successfully getting the world to momentarily sit up and take notice of a humanitarian issue long accepted as a just another byproduct of war.

There were some great ideas and initiatives discussed and put forward during the summit. One in particular was the push to implement a mixed court in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the judiciary is badly letting women down by not holding perpetrators properly to account. This means that generals, who often order the rapes to happen, are routinely escaping justice. A mixed court system, with the international community supporting the existing system, would operate at a higher level of efficiency. Another excellent initiative put forward during the week was Care International’s long standing project of engaging men in conflict nations.  Their work tackles gender inequality and gender stereotypes, with the aim of reducing instances of sexual violence through an amplification of women’s rights and equality. Women for Women International’s policy of empowering women through economic independence is also worthy , as is the protocol itself.

This protocol is the result of extensive consultation with various expert working groups and reviewers, with editorial authority resting with the UK Foreign Commonwealth Office. According to the document, the International Protocol has the main aim of promoting accountability for crimes of sexual violence under international law. Whilst the protocol isn’t binding on states, it can serve as an effective tool to properly document sexual violence as a war crime, a crime against humanity or an act of genocide- all enshrined under international law.

The protocol recognises that it will not tackle every sexual violence crime. Instead it focuses on those that occur under international criminal law. But survivors of sexual violence crimes outside of this context are still in chronic need of support. It is hoped that the protocol will be a springboard for increased action on prevention and accountability for all forms of sexual violence in conflict.

However, there are some criticisms of this that must be addressed. Whilst the aim and launch of the protocol itself is admirable, there is some conflict with our own domestic policy here in the UK. On the opening day of the summit’s fringe, both the Black Women’s Rape Action Project and the All African Women’s Group held a brutally honest demonstration. Their demonstration sought to highlight the conflict between the UK’s treatment of survivors of sexual violence claiming asylum and the aims of the summit. They called for an end to the disbelief and slandering of asylum seekers.

I spoke to two of the demonstrators. They explained to me that the UK was currently detaining survivors of sexual violence in immigration detention centres such as Yarl’s Wood – women who, having fled their home nation, were claiming asylum. How then, could the UK lead the way on sexual violence in conflict, when it was deporting and treating survivors in such a manner? The abuses at Yarl’s Wood are well documented and show the level of honesty that will be required from all the signatory nations if we are to truly help survivors across the world. How can we hope to tackle sexual violence on a global stage when domestically, we are failing women?

There’s also the question of efficiency. The international community is failing to make the most of it’s current resources. How then, can we be confident the protocol will not go the same way? There is a vast range of international legislation on peace and security, women’s rights, protecting women from violence and gender-based violence. They’re simply not being properly implemented. A commitment is laudable, but without real progress it is merely words. The time has come for action.

Countries need to be seen to be doing better. States need to work with women’s rights organisations in their respective countries to ensure the resources on offer, be it through funding or policy, are being efficiently used. In 2010, there was a coalition of 50 non governmental organisations all working together and sharing resources, with a focus on DRC. This coalition eventually folded due to a lack of funding. It’s initiatives like this that the UK, who announced a further £6 million in funding to help survivors of sexual conflict, need to make sure are properly funded. Too often, pledged money gets lost in International NGOs. We need to make sure a lot of more that is reaching smaller charities on the ground.

Looking forward, I am reservedly optimistic that the protocol will be beneficial to tackling sexual violence in conflict. I commend Jolie’s dedication to this subject, and her commitment to making real lasting change. The summit is nothing to be scoffed at. Indeed, when Sunday Times columnist Adam Boulton refers to it as “trivial”,  it serves as a sharp reminder of just how difficult it is to get people to take rape seriously. For Angelina Jolie to use her celebrity in this fashion is refreshing. Often, we see famous people engage in charity work in a very superficial manner, benefiting from the good press without any type of dedication to the cause. That Jolie continues in this field of work, despite media scrutiny and, at times, criticism for her involvement, is worthy of recognition.

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

 

Image: Foreign and Commonwealth Office via Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes.

Without gender equality?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Image: Foreign and Commonwealth Office via Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Image: Foreign and Commonwealth Office via Flickr

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A Womb With a View: After birth – what I’ve learned…

IMG_6788So, here he is. Or, should I say, here we are.

Meet my five-week-old little boy, Evan, and his heavy-lidded, rocket-boobed, topsy-turvy mother. I’m someone changed quite a lot by the last month and a bit. I’m writing this with my thumb on my phone at 4.07am while feeding for starters (EDIT – I’ll be writing the rest of this column in 10-minute bursts in the next week-and-a-half when the baby’s gurgling at his cot’s mobile while farting/sleeping in his pram, which I’ve gingerly inched in from outside as he only conks out in the open air/cooing in the sling with his dad, at a time when I should really be catching up on sleep, blah blah blah).

I’m also someone who remains, despite everything, the same person.

The birth? Not conventional. Then again, whose is? I had an emergency caesarean section after 3 days of failed induction, at nearly 2 weeks over due date, and after countless alternative therapy sessions (yep, even this sceptic tried everything – and isn’t having your feet fiddled with for £60 divine). Pessaries and drips were applied, Mister still wasn’t shifting, his mum wasn’t dilating, and his heart-rate started levelling out.

And so the necessary was done. At 10.06am on Monday 28th April, in a bright operating theatre, my son made his entrance into the world. He was 9lb 4, 57cm long, with brown hair and a chubby belly. And yes, I’m lucky that I love him so very, very much.

Here’s some other things I learned about having a baby:

* Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, only backwards, and in high heels. First-time mums do very little that other people do, but they do keep another tiny person alive, with no specialist training or experience, one-handed, on no sleep, in mismatched leisurewear with a stray, leaky tit.

* Yes, yes – I know I’ve barely started, and I’m proving that happy mums whinge a lot. We got ourselves in this position etc, etc. But as a person largely responsible for fulfilling the needs of another breathing human, while you’re in recovery from 24 hours+ of agonising pain/major abdominal surgery/a torn perineum, while everyone else tells you this is all normal, surely you’re allowed a grumble. You disagree? Then bugger off.

* Newborns rarely sleep for more than three hours at a time, if that. I missed this fact in the endless reams of baby literature I read beforehand. Mine is pretty good at kip (EDIT – I lie – the last two nights have been like living with the creature off Eraserhead – EDIT – he’s changed again, he was an angel last night ­- EDIT – this only proves the inconsistency of babies). Anyway, their short sleeping cycles should remind mothers of three little words. Take. Things. Easy.

* A diversion for my brief Caesarean Section. The idea of being too posh to push – ie that caesareans are the easy option – is, quite frankly, ludicrous. Before mine, I hadn’t realised how big an operation a c-section was; five weeks on, the seven-inch smile on my abdomen and the residual aches and pains reminds me I’m still recovering. If you have one, don’t panic – I am still in awe of them, genuinely, as a baby with an impacted head got pulled out of that tiny slit, somehow – but you need to remember how big these ops were after the fact. So: accept help from all sides. Buy a load of high-waisted, non-sexy granny knickers (thank you, John Lewis). Live in yoga trousers bought hurriedly online that make you look like you eat quinoa for breakfast. Take your bloody painkillers. Slob in front of DVDs you love when you’re feeding to cheer yourself up. Don’t be a martyr. You don’t have to be Superwoman.

* Don’t accept too many visitors. Or be prepared to tell people to sod off. You will probably be knackered and crave your own time more than ever before (then again, do see friends if it’ll make you feel a bit better, and if family are bringing warm arms to help you with the baby, then accept them).

* Our generation give ourselves a lot more shit about parenting than our mums and dads did. They only had people around them to ask, and most of us turned out OK. There’s a lesson in there, somewhere.

* The internet is unhelpful. Type any question about your baby’s health into Google, and the responses you’ll get will largely be from “normal mums”. Normal mums who a) you don’t know, b) might be mad, c) might be smug, d) keep telling you to “trust in the Lord’s work”, e) keep telling you to “trust in nature”. If I’d trusted in nature, as many women have to in countries less developed than ours, my baby and I might not have been here now.

* The internet is amazing. During endless night feeds, you can play Word Scramble, read the news, nose at people’s normal lives on Facebook, receive advice from countless wonderful people about your baby through Facebook, and text your mum-pals on Whatsapp. Which last point brings me to the the biggest tip of all…

* Meeting people having kids the same time as you, through antenatal classes or activities, or post-natal support groups, is essential. Knowing you’re not the only mad harpy worrying about every burp, sick or poo will change your life.

* The mental health of new mothers is a huge priority for healthcare professionals, as it should be, but normal anxieties get pathologised too much. Worried you might break your baby? Or drop it down the stairs? Every mum I’ve spoken to thought that too, so these worries aren’t necessarily a sign of incoming depression. Other medical issues get less attention, however, like babies that have tongue-tie (this is when babies’ tongues need a snip to help them feed properly). I know four recent babies who had this condition, and their mothers had to fight hard to find out if their children needed help. Without help, babies struggle to gain weight, spend hours at the breast, making their mothers, ironically, more and more distressed. All these women need is someone trained to have a very quick look at their little ones. So listen up, NHS.

* Becoming a mum soon? You will be endlessly grateful for having cooked and frozen meals before the big event. If you like being at the hob, as I do, this is what maternity leave is for (I also enjoyed solo cinema trips, afternoon dozes, and forages for weird old documentaries on the iPlayer – do use your maternity leave to do gentle things you enjoy). If you haven’t cooked and frozen food before baby comes, tell friends not to bring presents round, but something that can be shoved into a pot, or the oven in one dish, and eaten out of a bowl with one hand.

* A tea towel placed over a baby’s head helps you eat out of a bowl with one hand.

* Long, patterned, diaphanous scarves are essential pieces of kit for any new mum (not plain colours, ladies – these will show up dribble, or worse). Scarves help you feed discreetly when you need to, or hang over your pram, especially when the sun suddenly deigns to blaze out on a previously grey day (thanks for that, British spring).

* “Nature is amazing, science is awesome”. My friend Ellie, who gave me advice about what to do about the in-hospital Bounty reps in my previous column, said this to me in a text while I was still in recovery. It’s still the best sentence ever. For instance, when I was sad about Evan not having arrived in the usual way, and my body not having done what it “should” have done, I realised that every time he fed – which was, and is, often – I felt my stomach cramp, and this was helping me heal. Breastfeeding helps the womb contract, and reduce to its old size; now, five weeks on, I look pretty much as I did before I was pregnant. Somehow, our bodies also keep us awake in these difficult weeks, and power us through. But science also has its place, beyond doubt. Take Evan, on antibiotics for a week after he showed signs of infection, who is now absolutely thriving (EDIT – today’s weigh-in – 11 pounds – oof). Things don’t have to be either/or. Let’s use everything we’ve got to keep Mum and baby well.

* If your mum/friends seem to be posting pictures of their babies too often on social media, consider this: that may have been the most constructive thing she felt she did with her day, or the one moment when baby was happy that she wanted to preserve. Facebook pictures are little markers that say, yes, world, I can manage this.

* Midwives are brilliant, undervalued people. One upside of me being in hospital for a week is that I had fantastic midwifery care. I’d go further, in fact: when you’re a new mum, there’s something to be said for having a longer stay in hospital than six tiny hours (the usual time now), and being cared for by people who have been there, and done that. In hospital, I got specialist breastfeeding advice that proved invaluable later, was watched over by a midwife while I slept in bed with my baby (who wouldn’t sleep in his crib, when I’d hardly any sleep for five days), had every question answered about my baby’s qualities and quirks, and felt properly monitored. It’s helped me ever since.

* I’ve also got a new-found respect for the power of women. I’ve had so many of them help me immeasurably since Evan arrived – both professionally and personally – and as a result, I’m enjoying my little boy so very, very much. Here’s to all of you, ladies. And here’s to us. We’re still here!

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

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Coat hangers and blood: Imagine a world without abortion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Mario Antonio Pena Zapatería via Flickr

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What is Feminism? banner

Rachel Williams: Feminism is…

Name: Rachel Williams

Age: 21

Location: Merseyside

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

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

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

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

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What is Feminism? banner

Erica Böhr: Feminism is…

Erica BohrName: Erica Böhr

Age: 47

Location: Cambridge

Bio: Radical feminist lesbian artist and mother

For me, feminism is:

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

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

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

4. A space where the personal is always the political

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

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Fem:Ale a beer festival for women

This weekend sees the first ever Fem.Ale festival taking place in Norwich – a three-day event celebrating delicious beer, brewed by women, enjoyed by everyone. We caught up with festival founder and curator Erica Horton to find out why this is event is so important and why it’s happening now:

The myth that the pub is a predominantly male space, and that beer and ale are enjoyed more by men than women, is unfortunately still resonant at the moment. The assumption that men are making the beer for other men, and women are used as a way of selling it, rather than as collaborators and creators, is a massive problem.

Even something as rudimentary as a pump clip that may go unnoticed, depicting busty women serving ales with names like ‘Buxom Blonde’ and ‘Red Head’, show how women can be seen as a commodity in this business; a commodity that is often sexualised. There is no male alternative to this, though I’m sure the male equivalent would involve beers called ‘Landlord’ or ‘Trawlerboy’, depicting positions of power. However there seems to be a shift in beer culture right now in Norfolk.

Norfolk loves its ale and there certainly lots of ‘old man’ pubs to be found, but not only is it no longer unusual to see women drinking beer, here it’s not unusual for women to make the beer.

I’m not sure this is true on a national scale yet, either because the beer isn’t as good or perhaps the myths hold more weight, but Norfolk seems to be at the forefront of a gender change in the beer industry so it seems apt that we’re having this festival.

One of the ways we can break down the myths surrounding the female relationship with beer is by looking at women who are working within the industry itself. FEM.ALE is focused less on trying to get more women drinking the stuff and on showcasing the female brewers themselves, providing a platform for networking and collaboration to build support for women in the industry. That’s something we hope to get out of the panel on Saturday afternoon. Do women feel separate or other to male brewers? We want to give women space to talk about their experiences as women in what is otherwise perceived to be a predominantly male industry.

I’ve had people (only men up until now) asking me why I am putting on a female specific ale event, saying beer doesn’t have a gender and should just be about good beer. In an ideal world this would be true, but when you look at pub culture and specifically beer culture it would seem that women’s behavior is being policed to a certain extent. Questions are still raised about whether women are ‘ladylike’ enough if they drink beer, should they be having halves if they are going to drink ale? This specific gendering of behavior needs to be questioned on a grassroots level, otherwise the everyday cultures that ascribe and normalise different appropriate behaviours are reinforced.

For me, as a feminist, it is crucial that these heteronormative gender binary distinctions are continually questioned and those constructions of gender need to be broken down. There is an assumption that the pub is a male domain where men make the beer, women serve and men drink. Admittedly this stereotype does occasionally ring true, but we wanted to break with what was perceived as traditional and celebrate the women who make ale and love ale.

It may seem that there are more problematic issues to be focusing on in feminism than simply what alcoholic beverages men and women are typically drinking, that this is a trivial matter, but women working in the industry face sexism and it is important to confront that.

CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) who currently have a female director, Christine Cryne, put forward a motion at the last AGM to tackle sexism and racism within the industry, so this is a really exciting time to be hosting an event like this; there is a real sense of camaraderie and purpose surrounding it.

I hope that FEM.ALE will get both men and women openly talking about these issues. We want to break the everyday cultures regarding what is ‘appropriate’ behavior for women in a traditionally male-dominated public space… whilst enjoying lots of delicious beer in the process, of course.

The three-day event is part of the City of Ale Festival and is providing a home for female brewed beers within the city wide festival. It’s taking place this weekend (Friday 23rd – Sunday 25th May) at The Plasterers Arms in Norwich. It will feature panel discussions, beer tasting, live music, all of which are free apart from Dea Latis’ ‘Beers with Breakfast’, which is a ticketed event. Full event program information can be found on the festival’s website, or follow @FemAleFestival.

Ellie Jones is a musician currently playing guitar with Buoys and Hannah Lou Clark, co-founder of Gravy Records and works with Transgressive Artist & Producer Management. Feminist and beer lover.

Photo: Simon Finlay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The essential feminist’s guide to Pick Up Artists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mothers and babies will die

OFFERED: Fabulous boutique room, freshly painted, king size bed, 24-hour staff, pool.
REQUIRED: vaginal delivery of a perfect baby.

Of course, you’ll be lucky to make it through the doors of this little piece of heaven within the NHS. If you have any hint of a complication you’ll be sent packing to your standard local obstetric-led maternity suite. Oh, but hold on – there’s no room at the inn: all of the obstetric-led units have been shut!

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for natural childbirth. Women should be supported to give birth at home or in a midwife-led unit as advised in new guidelines from NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence); let’s make sure every baby’s first moments are skin-to-skin, suckling at the breast. But the harsh reality is that the sweet, sweet words from NICE are nothing more than a whispered lullaby to lull women into thinking that they have a heart and that they’ve listened to mums and midwives. With a shortage of nearly 5,000 midwives nationally and a maternity service in tatters thanks to countless hospitals being downgraded, there is no way that a move to a midwife-led model of maternity care is a serious proposition.

So, let’s get serious. Women need an individual service tailored to their needs. Home birth requires two midwives to be present but is otherwise cheap as chips and has very good outcomes for mums and babies (within reason). Birth Centre delivery requires one midwife, with very little intervention, is slightly more expensive and also has good, reliable outcomes for mums and babies (within reason). Acute Obstetric care is on a graded scale of expense with increasing intervention and has good outcomes for mums and babies (within reason).

Reason, skill and medical training decide where it is most appropriate for a woman to give birth. In a service where the mother is at the centre of care, this should be a fairly straightforward decision – but in a service where profit and a confusing web of tariffs, CQUINS (and I’m not talking disco here) and penalties take centre stage, then the woman and her ever-expanding waistline are left to the mercy of a lottery of the market.

NICE can say what they like but the Department of Health are no longer accountable for our care and, with the advent of the CCG, they have no control of a national maternity strategy. When asked in a recent government report the Department of Health were not able to name a national policy for maternity. It’s still Maternity Matters, by the way, Jeremy.

The Health and Social Care Act untethered the Department of Health from the NHS. It claimed to hand over power to the Clinical Commissioning Groups, but in reality they are at best confused and at worst rife with corruption. All of this while introducing an open market that is spiraling out of control. The result for women is that maternity services are floundering. In that government report it was found that the Department of Health is no longer responsible even for such basic and fundamental aspects of care such as how many midwives are employed by the NHS. So, who is? No one.

With Public Health banished to the savaged hinterland of the Local Authority there is no longer a powerful body integrated into either the NHS or the CCGs to ensure that local commissioning of maternity services is in line with Department of Health Policy. Even if they knew what that is. By breaking up the NHS, the Department of Health has made it perfectly clear that it is not remotely interested in having a public health policy at all. They prefer to focus on forcing hospitals into becoming Foundation Trusts as quickly as possible.

Jeremy Hunt and his cronies may not care about boring epidemiological studies and evidence-based care, but for us mums the fragmentation of services is a catastrophic blow to choice, continuity of care and equal access to healthcare. With the desperate shortfall of 4,800 midwives (The Royal College of Midwives ‘State of Maternity Services’ Report 2013) and almost half (47 per cent) of UK hospitals lacking enough consultant obstetricians, along with a steady baby boom in England over the past decade, there is increasing strain on maternity services. Midwives and obstetricians look after women with much more complex needs.

The Coalition, UKIP and other misguided souls push an identity parade of people to blame: Immigrants (the Polish get a hard time despite working legally, paying taxes, and therefore being no different from Mr and Mrs Smith born and bred in Tunbridge Wells); The Poor (to listen to George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith, one could be forgiven for thinking that eugenics may well be on the cards for the next election manifesto); The Needy (we might as well kick the disabled while they’re reeling from ATOS); and finally, The Labour Party (they gave those pesky women far too much with their tax credits, Child Benefit, Children’s Centres and Maternity Matters).

Amid the frenzied dismemberment of the NHS we are hurtling towards an insurance-based system for our maternity care, which embraces intervention rather than holistic, aromatherapy and massage amongst caring midwives handy with a birth stool. We need to ask ourselves, do we seriously want to live in a society in which only the super-rich can afford to have babies while the rest of us lucky enough to have health insurance count the pennies to calculate whether we can afford for the stork to pay us a call?

Never forget that pre-NHS women died in their droves in cavernous lying-in wards, or for want of an experienced midwife. The idea that all women are going to have the opportunity to lie-in in a luxurious birth centre would be a joke if it weren’t so utterly terrifying that the back-up intensive obstetric care is being closed down. We mothers need to fight and fight hard for our hard-won maternity services. We need to join together and fight those seeking dismantle the NHS and fight them we shall: we shall fight them on the labour wards, we shall fight in the midwife-led units and we shall fight in the birthing pools; we shall never surrender. We shall go on to the end.

Jessica Ormerod is the parents’ representative on the Lewisham Maternity Committee and a candidate for the National Health Action Party in tomorrow’s European election.

Photo: Wikimedia

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Who cares if Jill Abramson was bossy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: The New Yorker

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Ana Hine: Feminism is…

Name: Ana Hine

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

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

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Save Lifeworks campaign: “They used our mental health against us”

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. 

“We were only going to be here a couple of hours, then it was overnight. And we just haven’t left!”

Jacqueline is one of an amazing group of women (and one man) who are now more than ten weeks into occupying Lifeworks, an under-threat community mental health service in Cambridge, for patients suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

Housed on Cambridge’s Tenison Road, Lifeworks is part of Cambridge and Peterborough Foundation Trust (CPFT) Complex Cases Service and has offered a community drop-in and crisis care service for the last 12 years.

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Patients now believe it may secretly have been under threat for as many as two years, though they only learnt of the closure in February, when they were told they would be discharged back to their GPs with no specialist BPD support on offer.

We’re sat at the table in the cosy main room of what, at first glance, looks like any other community centre. I’ve come at a particularly quiet time of day, when just three of the protesters are around, but already Ann, Heather and Jacqueline have made good on their promise of “a mean cuppa”, and there’s a plate piled high with chocolate biscuits, which between the four of us don’t last long.

The sense of community is palpable and heart warming. The sign on the door reads: “You don’t have to be mad to live here, but it helps!” – the word “don’t” playfully crossed out.

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The sofas, painted murals on the wall, and the abundance of teas, coffees and biscuits on offer almost belie the serious nature of what’s going on here; it’s the sign on the wall listing who can be trusted to enter and – most crucially – who cannot, that give away the building’s occupied status. Then, of course, there’s the room full of banners and placards, the treatment rooms converted into bedrooms, and the collection of press cuttings proudly adorning the wall.

Each of the three women I meet has a similar story to tell about how Lifeworks has provided a literally lifesaving service in their most dire moments of need.

Heather has been using Lifeworks since it was founded, 12 years ago. Before that, she tells me: “I used to take overdoses all the time and self-harm. I was in and out of Fulbourn [psychiatric] hospital all the time.

“I’ve really come a long way since I’ve been in the service. I use it mostly for the crisis clinic and the social aspect – seeing people really helps, to have people around who understand.”

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Likewise, since her referral to Lifeworks 8 years ago, Jacqueline says: “I’ve not had one A&E trip and I’ve not been in [hospital] for mental health. I haven’t self-harmed for a couple of years now.”

For Ann, who’s been at Lifeworks three to four years, the service has also been a lifeline: “I was in a really bad way when I came in. I wasn’t functioning very well, I was hibernating, I wouldn’t get out of bed, I was stashing pills. I don’t self-harm but I have a very bad eating disorder, which was extreme at the time, and Lifeworks has helped me to keep my eating disorder under control.

“It’s helped me with socialisation and meeting people too – with our disorder we don’t really go out and meet people or make friends easily because of our mood swings, our anxieties and our paranoia,” she adds. “But with Lifeworks my husband can go to work knowing I’m safe.”

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It’s not difficult to see why the potential loss of Lifeworks is a feminist issue; Jacqueline estimates around 90% of the service users – and, indeed, all but one of the protestors actively involved in the campaign – are women.

Proposed changes to the Complex Cases Service would see the service change to what the CPFT says is a “more evidence based model”, but the patients are less than convinced.

“What they’re bringing in with their new personality disorder community pathway is a cluster approach, where they’re treating groups only, with mentalisation based therapy, which works on the basis that you stay in the present, you don’t discuss the past,” Ann explains.

“Mentalisation based therapy really works best on a one-to-one basis, where you can focus and that person gets to know you, but they’re knocking all that to the wind.”

Not only that, the patients also worry they will lose out on the community aspect that is clearly at the heart and soul of Lifeworks. “They’re putting up all these big walls and blanks, and it’s very cold. You come in, you have your mentalisation therapy, you go home – there’s no socialisation, no integration. We just don’t get it,” Ann says, clearly exasperated by what she sees as a chipping away of public services.

Lifeworks5

The patients tell me their mass discharge followed a gradual scaling back of the service in recent years, with the departure of a number of specialised members of therapeutic staff and the Lifeworks service being reduced from a four and a half day week, to just two days a week.

“To start off with Lifeworks was very much a social, open affair,” Jacqueline says. “You could just turn up and use the groups that were running – the groups were open, they had cooking groups, arts and crafts groups, stuff like that, and you could just turn up and join in. If you were having a bad day you could just turn up and sit in the corner.”

Ann interjects: “The mantra was always ‘come in and be with people’ – and it worked. They would pick you up. All of a sudden, that wasn’t good enough – suddenly the groups were limited numbers and it was a case of if you didn’t join in, you couldn’t come into the building until the drop-in.”

The women estimate around 40-50 service users dropped off following these changes. “They’ve run it into the ground by the staff leaving and the limited numbers. People just stopped coming in because that’s not how we work – and they know that,” Jacqueline says.

Faced with being discharged en masse to their GPs, the group took the decision to occupy the building in March because “nothing else would have worked”. Originally intended as an overnight sit-in protest, to “put the staff out a little bit and prove a point”, the women have been there ever since, determined to be heard.

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“When we took over the building we did some digging and it came to light that they hadn’t done a [public] consultation, they hadn’t done an equality impact assessment, and they were literally just going to close it,” Ann says.

It’s this lack of transparency that particularly angers the protesters, who have already gained much support from the local community and trade unions, and are now in talks with the local council’s adult wellbeing scrutiny committee about the terms of reference for a public consultation. “It’s as if [CPFT] are accountable to no one. How can they treat patients like this and get away with it?” they demand.

For each of them, the prospect of life without Lifeworks doesn’t bear thinking about: “I’d feel suicidal, I think,” Heather says. “If you’re in crisis, where do you go? My GP told me they’re out of their depth. They don’t really understand personality disorders; they don’t specialise in it. Here they’re specially trained and understand us.

“One of the main conditions with a personality disorder is a fear of abandonment and trust issues. All the time with this service they’ve said ‘you can trust us, we’ve set this service up for life’, because our condition’s lifelong, and then suddenly they’ve abandoned us and they’ve done a lot of harm.”

While discussions rumble on between CPFT and the council, the women at Lifeworks describe the situation as “a waiting game” until the public consultation begins. Meanwhile, they’re planning further protests, a trip to Parliament, and link-ups with trade unions and other anti-cuts campaigners around the country.

Cambridge and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust has published a statement on the situation on their website, stating: “CPFT is having to make cuts of about £6million as part of the four per cent cuts that the Government requires every Trust to make. Our community division makes up about one third of that.”

“They quite openly admit it’s a false economy,” Ann scoffs. “But as long as it’s not their budget, they don’t give a toss – it’s A&E’s budget, it’s the ambulance service’s budget, the police budget, the drug and alcohol service’s budget.”

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It’s sadly now a familiar story for campaigners across the country fighting cuts to their much needed public services, but the Lifeworks patients are determined to fight for as long as it takes. “I’m in it for the long haul. In an ideal world we’d like to go back to four and a half days, and also bring new referrals in – there’ve been no new referrals for the last two years,” Ann says.

“Open up the door and let the people in that need help, and stop using us as an excuse. You knew you were closing us down, you used all of our techniques and all of ticks against us because you know us.”

Her voice wavers: “They used our mental health against us.” It’s that betrayal that smarts the most.

To find out more about the Save Lifeworks campaign, join their Facebook group Save Cambridge’s Complex Cases Service and sign their online petition here.

Photo: Jacqueline, Ann, Heather and Richard (who joined us towards the end of our interview.)

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“Silly, attention-seeking girl”: self-harm is a feminist issue

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.

The last time I sought support around self-harm the response was, ‘Have you considered a cookery class?’

At the time I wasn’t clear how this would help me deal with the next time I came out of a disassociated state to discover I had attacked myself with scissors, but over time it has started to make more sense.

Working for Bristol Crisis Service for Women (soon to be Self-Injury Support), a national women’s self-injury support organisation, every new report about self-harm in the media makes me a little more demoralised. The findings generally come as no surprise, but it’s the platitudes from high-ups that accompany these articles that I find so depressing.

‘We must put an end to this,’ is an oft quoted pledge, but to be honest in my years working in this sector it feels like the will to understand self-harm has stagnated in a flurry of desire to be seen to be ‘doing something,’ regardless of what that something is.

Self-harm isn’t a new phenomenon, but how we conceptualise it has changed over time. Self-flagellation and scarification have existed for centuries. Studies of self-harm in Victorian literature show a holistic approach considering self-harm to have psychological and emotional meaning. As we moved further into the twentieth century the medicalization of self-harm drew us away from trying to understand to focus on trying to fix the obvious wound and the societal discomfort it evoked.

The underpinning ethos of our organisation is to focus on why someone uses self-harm and what they want support with. We know from years of research that the vast majority of self-harm is symptomatic of something else going on in someone’s life. Each person’s experience is unique and it could be anything – from bullying or social isolation to past or present experiences of sexual violence.

Focusing on preventing someone from using self-harm puts them under huge pressure and removes a way of coping that is working for them. For some people this can lead to a shift to more ‘socially acceptable’ things such as drinking or eating to excess or gambling. For others it can remove a safety net standing between them and suicide.

If we look at self-harm and self-injury in only the narrow context of what and who then it does appear to be an overwhelmingly female and more specifically young female issue. But these are the figures we know about collected from studies focusing on hospital attendances and targeted research, often with young people.

Recent research has shown that rates of men and women self-harming are no longer in such sharp contrast when forms of self-harm other than cutting and overdoses are taken into account.

So perhaps it’s not the act of self-harm which is a feminist issue but the response we offer as a society. From being told you’re a ‘silly girl’ when seeking treatment for self-harm to being vilified for ‘daring to bare’ long-healed self-harm scars, responses to self-harm in women reflect wider themes for women in today’s society. Even the language often attached to perceptions of self-harm – attention-seeking, manipulative, hysterical – is overwhelmingly associated with negative traits commonly attributed to women.

The focus on women’s appearance as a defining factor of their worth is constant and raises its ugly head around self-harm in a number of ways. Clumsy attempts to stop women self-harming often include pleas to stop as it will spoil their bodies; they will regret the scars later; they will repel other people.

Women’s bodies are often not seen and sometimes not experienced as their own. A common consideration for me when using self-harm was always where, not for reasons of safety, but to preserve my privacy and prevent others from feeling they had the right to comment on my body. Others feeling they can comment and ask complete strangers about self-harm scars is such a common issue that a colleague of mine role plays with women so they feel confident enough to respond with ‘I did it myself, why do you want to know?’

This lack of bodily autonomy also extends to the coercive approaches sometimes used in relation to self-harm by others in a supporting role. Attempts to persuade someone to stop using self-harm often focus on the impact it is having on others and their discomfort, effectively dictating what a women can and can’t do with her own body.

I realise now that the suggestion of a cookery class was nothing to do with me, but at the time it only reinforced the feeling that my body and any damage I was doing to it were of little importance. As often happens the emphasis of support was disproportionately focused away from the distress I was feeling.

There’s no denying that self-harm is an emotive and often distressing issue – that’s why our organisation exists. But responses which reinforce some of the very reasons women use self-harm are as much a reason to consider self-harm a feminist issue as the causes.

Naomi Salisbury works for Bristol Crisis Service for Women, a national self-injury support organisation for women and girls. Follow @BCSWBristol, or for information and support, visit: www.selfinjurysupport.org.uk

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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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Why mixed therapy groups may do more harm then good

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Donna Navarro: Feminism is…

Donna NavarroName: Donna Navarro

Age: 35

Location: Nottingham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Whose Islam? Whose feminism?”

An artist’s depiction of ‘the feminist table’ today would look decidedly different to how it may have looked fifty years ago. Marriage – formerly perceived as a betrayal of the sisterhood – has been normalised, and even arch-enemy number one, the man, has been welcomed into the movement in some circles. The advent of the theory of intersectionality, which recognizes that women from different backgrounds are subject to different layers of oppression – be these related to race, class, sexuality or disability – has created space to broaden the feminist lens of analysis and challenge narrow interpretations of what a truly emancipated woman can look like. Feminism has evolved and will continue to do so.

Yet despite the fact that mainstream feminism has come to accommodate a broader range of experiences since its first wave in the 19th century, many still falter at the idea of a Muslim feminist.

Muslim women seeking to advance gender equality agendas face solid resistance from various camps: negative media perceptions and tensions with mainstream feminism, plus tensions from within the Muslim community – where feminism is often viewed as a neo-colonialist imposition – can all operate to perpetuate stereotypes of Muslim women as subordinate and limited in terms of what they can aspire to.

In many Muslim countries women’s efforts to advance gender equality agendas are hampered by the fact that hierarchical constructions of gender relations are enshrined in law and defended in the name of the divine. The last three decades have seen a dynamic and multi-stranded wave of academic thought, which is frequently referred to as ‘Islamic feminism’, grow in prominence. Iranian scholar Ziba Mir Hosseini has described this as “new voices and scholarship in Islam that are feminist in their aspirations and demands and Islamic in their source of legitimacy.”

Unveiling the social construction of how laws are formed, and the subjective ideologies, political, sociological, cultural and economic factors that informed these has been key to such efforts. As well as providing compelling gender-sensitive readings of holy texts to separate religion from patriarchy, Islamic feminists have drawn on Islam’s rich history of important figures and movements working to improve women’s rights and autonomy to support their drive for egalitarian gender relations.

We can see the progress that has been made using ‘Islamic feminism’ with the reform of some aspects of laws concerning family relations in Muslim countries such as Tunisia, Morocco and Indonesia and in the work of groups such as Sisters in Islam and Musawah, working today to emphasise that the attainment of de jure and de facto equality and justice for Muslim women is both possible and necessary. However the fact that these conversations are predominantly being conducted in scholarly circles runs the risk that they are not adequately filtering down to the young people or indeed, the general public, who could benefit from them.

This was one of the issues raised in a project, Islam and Feminism, which we launched at Maslaha in March in an effort to explore what feminism in Islam can mean to different people and how it might challenge stereotypes both in Islam and feminism, as well as the perceived clash between the two. The motivation behind this was to bring together historic and contemporary action and grassroots and academic conversations on Islam and feminism, and moreover to make this breadth of ideas and knowledge available to everyone.

Whilst providing an insight into key thinkers currently working in the fields of women’s rights in the context of Islam – such as Amina Wadud, Leila Ahmed and Shuruq Naguib – a salient feature of our resource was a series of short videos with professionals, activists, academics and artists providing personal perspective and experiences of Islam and feminism in everyday life.

The intention was that the range of voices and faces would not only help to debunk that age-old stereotype that Muslim women are carbon copies of each other, but also to foster an understanding that similar to feminism among non-Muslim women, one common vision of what gender equality is in Islam should not be assumed.

While many non-Muslims and Muslims struggle to move beyond labouring over the nuances of whether in theory Islam can be reconciled with feminism, we found that in reality Muslim women in the UK are finding space to articulate and express their identity in diverse ways, whether or not they choose to define these efforts as feminism.

While some Muslim women lobbying for change in the UK, for example Dr Sariya Contractor, see the term feminism as an ‘icebreaker’ and an important enabler in the demystification of difference, others, for example the editors of One of My Kind (OOMK) – a zine exploring the imaginations, creativity and spirituality of women of color and faith – feel they don’t need to talk about feminism explicitly, “we let what we are doing speak for itself which is more natural and every day and practical and we invite people to take part without dictating how they should do this.”

Journalist Kübra Gümüşay told us that while in her teens she felt excluded by feminism and that “mainstream feminism would never include women like me,” she believes Islamic feminism, far from being a threat to mainstream feminism, can support it as it provides more sources and resources to reinforce feminist aims of empowering women.

Similarly, while acknowledging that “there is still a fair amount of resistance to the idea that people of faith have anything to contribute to feminist ideals,” writer Myriam Francois-Cerrah finds that feminist values feed seamlessly into her beliefs as a Muslim: “As a Muslim my frame of reference is the texts, but truth is truth wherever it’s coming from – and if I recognise something that’s coming from any feminist – Gloria Steinam, Germaine Greer – that to me reflects truth, then it becomes part of my Islamic lexicon.”

These views are a far cry from the rigid definitions of Islam and feminism which so often dominate discussions of women’s rights in Islam. An important step to opening up space for more fruitful discussions has been to move beyond simplistic conceptualisation of both Islam and feminism and to seek alternative and equally valid narratives to support more inclusive understandings of both. Muslim women have a right to their religion, but also to feminism, which does not necessarily have to be associated with secularity.

In the UK today, amidst negative stereotypes of what a Muslim woman can be, it is important, as grassroots activist Noori Bibi argues here, to ensure that the gap between grassroots and academia is being bridged and that the language and approach of debates connects with the communities that need them.

To continue to essentialise about the experiences of Muslim women is to deny the diverse realities of the lives of Muslim women, both today and historically, who have comfortably reconciled their own gender identity with their faith. As Ziba Mir-Hosseini has said, an important question to keep in mind when considering the nuances of Islam and feminism on any level is: “Whose Islam? Whose feminism? Who is speaking for Islam? Who is speaking for feminism?”

Latifa Akay is a project manager at Maslaha and a writer and commentator on women’s issues. Follow her @LatifaAkay, and find out more @Maslaha.

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#GenderWeek: What is gender? Survey results

Click here to read all #GenderWeek articles.

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

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

What is gender?

A selection of responses:

What is gender?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you define your own gender?

A selection of responses:

How do you define your own gender?

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

What defines your gender?

Genitals

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

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

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

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

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

They contribute to my being assigned into the sex class.

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

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

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

Genes

My genes (probably) coincide with my chromosomal gender.

They determine biological sex.

Mix of genes and socialisation.

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

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

Scientifically yes but I’m not 100% sure.

Socialisation

Not define but will nurture a direction.

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

To some extent, but you can resist.

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

No, but it created my concepts of gender.

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

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

Which of these statements do you agree with?

Statements

Top 5 responses:

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

Do you identify as…?

Feminists

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

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

Chromosomes

Word clouds created via Wordle

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‪#‎GenderWeek: Andrea was not transphobic

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

One passage in Woman Hating changed my life forever:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I miss our communion terribly.

genderwkbody

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

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

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

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#GenderWeek: Male violence goes beyond domestic violence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you have been affected by domestic violence, call the national domestic violence helpline on 0808 2000 247. Calls are free and the line is open 24/7.

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#GenderWeek: Survey – What is gender?

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

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

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

Infographic-gender-edit

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It’s feminist to vote in the EU elections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Main Image: Rock Cohen

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

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10 reasons why debt is a feminist issue

Debt is one of those things that few people like to talk about and, like any corrosive, destructive force, it gets worse the longer you ignore it.

Given that the majority of those in debt are women, payday lenders are targetting women more than ever and our wages remain lower on average than mens – it’s worrying that mainstream women’s magazines give this issue so few column inches – it’s time we put debt on the feminist agenda.

1. Over 5 million women are in severe debt

Around two thirds of the 9 million people in severe debt in the UK are women, according to the Government-backed body the Money Advice Service.

2. More women are being declared insolvent

Insolvency Service data and Data Advice Foundation analysis suggest that women accounted for just 30 per cent of personal insolvencies in 2000, but that this rose to almost half in 2011, and  women could soon account for the majority of insolvencies in the UK.

3. Women’s debt is bigger than men’s debt

Women were found to be in £22,418 worth of debt, on average, which is markedly higher than the £14,228 level for men, in the Cooperative Bank’s Modern Families and Household’s report.

4. Women earn less than men

According to the Fawcett Society the mean gender pay gap for all work (excluding overtime) in the private sector is 24.2% and 17.6% in the public sector.  With less income to draw on, it may be harder for many women to pay off problem debt.

5. Households reliant on a woman’s salary have more debt

Households reliant on a woman’s salary typically receive nearly a third less income and have significantly more debt and smaller savings than when a man is the main source of earnings, according to research by the insurer Aviva.

6. ‘Hidden debt’ may be bigger than you think

Recent research by Jo Salter at the think tank Demos highlighted that total arrears, combining rent and council tax, and overdue utility bills come to almost £5 billion and yet this ‘hidden debt’ isn’t included in official debt figures in the UK.  This means the real extent of the debt women face in daily life may be bigger than some of the statistics out there suggest.

7. Debt is high on the harm index

Jo Salter’s recent research asked people to rank their debts in terms of the negative impact.  This ‘Harm Index’ highlighted that debt isn’t just harmful because it is hard to repay, it also has an impact on mental wellbeing and other factors. The research found that the top five most harmful debts were illegal loans, payday loans, council tax arrears, rent arrears and utility bills. The fact that three of the most harmful debts are incurred trying to pay for the basics – somewhere to live, heating and electricity – show that the social and emotional impact of debt should not be underestimated.

8. Debt defines our future

Debt doesn’t just loom large in daily life, it also shapes how many people see their future. Debt was an issue raised by a large number of people in a survey conducted by Survation, when asked what they would like their lives to be like in 2020. Some people spoke about how they would like to have kids, or buy a house, or do up their home, but only once they have become debt free.

A 42-year-old unemployed woman from London said: “I want to be living in another flat/bedsit/room, without bed bugs, that would be clean. I would like to be in a better health condition, and that my debts are reduced.”

9. Payday lenders are targeting women

Some payday loans companies seem to be trying to appeal specifically to women. Commenting on the development, Carl Packman, the author of Loan Sharks: The Rise and Rise of Payday Lending, said:

“Today, with the changing face of debt, payday loans companies have taken to appealing specifically at women. Firms like Cash Lady – famously advertised by Kerry Katona – are able to exploit hard up women and ensure they stay in debt to boost profits. A toxic mix of a cost of living crisis and the fact women are paid worse than their male counterparts, has taken its toll. We need to respond by ensuring financial independence away from problem debt. Government needs to regulate payday firms properly, make progress on a living wage, align the wages of men and women toward greater equality, and boost alternative sources of finance like credit unions”.

More and more people, including campaigners like Sharkstoppers, are trying to challenge the payday loans industry, while others like the movement behind the Bank of Salford are trying to create alternative, community-focussed, sources of finance.

10. Women need to talk about debt

More than 1 in 10 women, surveyed by the Cooperative Bank’s Modern Families and Household’s report, said they hide their debts from their partner, compared with around 1 in 7 men. This could mean around half a million of the 5 million women in severe debt are desperately trying to hide their money worries.

Trying to sweep debt under the carpet never works, which is why it is time to start a conversation about what needs to be done to tackle the growing problem of women’s debt.

Fran O’Leary is a Founder Member of Feminist Times and Director of Strategy and Innovation at Lodestone, writing in a personal capacity. Follow her @FranOLeary

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Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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The march backwards: Women’s sexual & reproductive rights at risk

Thilde Knudsen is head of Marie Stopes International’s Europe office.

Spain is about to criminalise abortion; politicians in the UK repeatedly attempt to reduce the 24-week limit; and last week in Brussels, a Parliamentary hearing discussed a European Citizens’ initiative that, if successful, would block European Commission (EC) development funding for maternal health.

Working for sexual and reproductive health charity, Marie Stopes International, I know that every day 800 women die during pregnancy or childbirth, and 99% of these women are from the developing world. This is why the international community identified maternal health as one of the eight Millennium Development Goals and why the European Union (EU) apportions development funding to maternal health each year.

But the ‘One of Us’ initiative, which aims to block EC funding for any activities that involve the destruction of the human embryo, would adversely affect development aid to maternal health projects: projects that enable women in developing countries to make life-saving choices over their fertility; projects that help young women delay pregnancy until they are physically developed to safely deliver; and projects that give mothers time to recover before giving birth to their next child.

Data proves that the initiative is sadly misguided. Restricting safe abortions through similar interventions like the global gag policy in America does not lead to lower abortion rates, it just pushes it underground. The only proven way to reduce the number of abortions is through access to modern contraception and sexuality education, both of which could be adversely affected by the ‘One of Us’ initiative.

Today, it is estimated that roughly half of all women living in developing countries do not have access to adequate basic maternal health care and that 220 million have an unmet need for family planning. The consequences of this include almost 300,000 preventable maternal deaths every year, millions of women affected by debilitating injury such as obstetric fistula, and the perpetuation of poverty and disempowerment as women are unable to delay childbearing or to choose their family size. This is why continued EU support for maternal health and family planning is essential.

The EC currently spends an estimated €121.5 million per year on maternal health and family planning – equivalent to approximately 1.3% of the funding gap to meet the unmet need for maternal health and family planning.

Thankfully, ‘One of Us’ is unlikely to achieve its aims. The initiative, which celebrated its 1.8 million signatures with much fanfare, is in reality just over a quarter of one percent of the population of Europe. Critics have also pointed out that the way European Citizen initiatives are structured give an advantage to large organisations, like the Catholic Church, to mobilise their supporters.

However, this is not a green light for complacency. On the contrary, it should be a warning to everyone who believes in women’s rights that we have been silent too long. In Europe women are often deemed to have achieved equal rights. Since the 60s – when women’s liberation movements stood up and called for sweeping changes to access to equal pay, divorce and abortion – the passionate demonstrations, speeches and rallies have gradually gone quiet, and today many young women would never dream of calling themselves a feminist.

Yet our complacency is proving to be very dangerous, as the hard-won rights our mothers fought for are slowly being chipped away. Who would have predicted that Spain would be bringing in a draconian bill to end women’s rights to safe abortion, making it one of the most restrictive countries in Europe? If Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy has his way, abortion will be illegal except in the case of rape or when there’s a risk to the physical and mental health of the mother, and women could soon be resorting to the same dangerous methods they relied on decades ago: seeking out backstreet abortions or attempting to end the pregnancy themselves.

Just outside Europe’s borders in Turkey, where abortion was legalised in 1983 because of the high numbers of deaths by backstreet abortions, a new law just passed that health professionals and human rights activists have warned will make it impossible for women in the country to gain access to legal abortions.

While movements like ‘One of Us’ are attempting to erode women’s rights and mislead European citizens about the importance and value of our development assistance and maternal healthcare, we need to make our voices heard and Make Women Matter. There is an urgent need for the global community to work together in meeting the full funding gap, in order to save and transform the lives of millions who live in poverty. Europe must stand for access to the whole range of sexual and reproductive services – including access to safe abortion when needed – here at home in Europe, and in partnership with other governments around the world.

Marie Stopes International provides millions of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable women with quality family planning and reproductive healthcare. It has been delivering contraception, safe abortion, and mother and baby care for over thirty years and operates in over 40 countries around the world. By providing high quality services where they are needed the most, it prevents unnecessary deaths and makes a sustainable impact on the lives of millions of people every year.

Photo: Marie Stopes International’s work in India

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Review: Everyday Sexism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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Feminism cannot compromise on the liberation of women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Manifesto: Doctors of the World campaign for women to be “Names not Numbers”

Doctors of the World provides essential medical care to excluded people at home and abroad while fighting for equal access to healthcare worldwide. We are part of the Medecins du Monde global network, which delivers over 300 projects in more than 70 countries.

Whether it’s providing mental healthcare to Syrian refugees, vaccinating children in Mali, or delivering babies in the DRC we meet the health needs of vulnerable people across the planet. And where possible, we share our skills and training locally so communities stay strong in the long term. We also work with the most marginalised to report on violence, injustice and healthcare barriers wherever we see them.

Recently…

Our work with women in the UK

  • We run a clinic and advocacy programme in east London staffed by volunteers who provide care to excluded people such as vulnerable migrants, sex workers and people with no fixed address.
  • We have a team of doctors, nurses, and support workers who endeavour to help everyone who comes to see us with medical care, information and practical support.
  • We see heavily pregnant women who have received no antenatal care and children who have been denied basic healthcare after being de-registered by a GP.
  • We help these women find the care they deserve with GP’s and hospitals, ensuring that they are not at risk of further harm.

Our work with women overseas

  • Women and children living in developing countries lack access to obstetric healthcare services, resulting in high rates of morbidity and mortality.
  • Many of Doctors of the World’s women and child health programmes are based in rural areas, where affordable pre and post-natal health services are unavailable.
  • Globally, over 300,000 women die every year during pregnancy or childbirth, with 56% of these in sub-Saharan Africa. Most maternal and infant deaths are caused by infections that could have been easily prevented.
  • Doctors of the World works to combat high rates of maternal and infant mortality by improving access to basic healthcare services in areas where women and children have no means of receiving care.

Women’s right to choose

  • We support the universal access to modern methods of contraception and the abolition of all legislative barriers which limit it, and access to quality sexual and reproductive health services that are underpinned by a woman’s right to choose.
  • We believe that it is every woman’s right to choose to access safe, legal abortion services by decriminalising terminations and reducing unsafe abortion-related deaths and complications.
  • We recognize that 300,000 women die every year from complications during pregnancy or unsafe abortions, which could be avoided through straightforward access to family planning.
  • We have started an advocacy campaign, Names not Numbers, to raise awareness of the legislative changes necessary to prevent further senseless deaths.
  • We consider that governments should put the following in place to protect women’s health and their right to choose:
      1. To guarantee universal access to contraceptive methods
      2. To consider illegal abortion as a public health issue
      3. To cater for post-abortion complications

Find out more at doctorsoftheworld.org.uk or follow @DOTW_UK

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What is Feminism? banner

Heather Dale: Feminism is…

Heather DaleName: Heather Dale

Location: West Yorkshire

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

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

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The most badass women in history: Sister Like You

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

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

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

Sister Like You by Ellie Andrewsfinale

Image: Sister Like You by Ellie Andrews

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

sisterlikefeat

Image: Empress Dowager Cixi by Molly Goldbury.

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

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

Queen Zenobia by Kaye Blegvadfinale

Image: Queen Zenobia by Kaye Blegvad

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

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

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

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“Crying wolf”: Why don’t the police believe women?

In December 2012 Naomi Oni was attacked with acid on her commute home from work by a jealous friend.

The fear, pain and panic of this horrific attack are difficult to comfortably contemplate. Unfortunately for Naomi, this was only the start of her ordeal. Painful medical procedures, a prolonged hospital admission, and a traumatic police investigation added to her distress.

Naomi alleges that the Metropolitan Police Service accused her of throwing acid in her own face, as a histrionic self-harm, motivated by a desire for publicity and fame. Although one can understand the need to explore all avenues of enquiry, as the Met have stated, this seems like an incredibly unlikely scenario. I have worked as a Psychiatrist for many years, and such severe and maiming self injury for secondary gain is exceedingly rare. How then did such an outlandish theory escalate to the point where the victim was not only accused but told that no assailant was seen following her on the CCTV footage?

Do the answers lie in the attitudes of police officers towards women, and in institutional ambivalent sexism? Currently the Police Service is not representative of the citizens it serves; nationally only 27.3% of police officers are female, and women are grossly underrepresented in the higher echelons of management and leadership in the force. As an organisation, women were only integrated into the force in the early 70s, and the force failed to drop the prefix for Woman Police Constables until 1999.

Could the ‘canteen culture’ of sexism within the police force lead to such disastrous practices as victim blaming and a loss of empathy, with the potential of ultimately alienating the victim and causing further psychological damage? This case highlights a wider problem of gender bias. In a damning report on police response to domestic abuse, published last week, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary reported:

“HMIC is concerned about the poor attitudes that some police officers display towards victims of domestic abuse.”

“Victims told us that they were frequently not taken seriously, that they felt judged and that some officers demonstrated a considerable lack of empathy and understanding.”

Earlier this year, similar concerns were raised about a “culture of disbelief” over rape allegations, after figures showed some police forces were recording “no crime” for as many as a third of rapes reported to them. Liz Kelly, Chair of End Violence Against Women, told The Guardian:

“Our member organisations know how deep disbelief and victim-blaming goes on in institutions and communities. But the police play a critical role enabling rape survivors to access justice, so these disparities and attitudes must be urgently tackled.”

The psychodynamic perspective on groups and institutions gives us some insight into these attitudes by highlighting the dangers of depersonalisation and loss of identity in groups such as the police. As an institution with rigid roles and hierarchy, with a uniform and number in lieu of a name, the police may experience themselves less as individuals.

The severe stresses of such an environment and the effects of this depersonalisation could worsen maladaptive defences (i.e. inappropriate coping strategies). As individuals experience stress, the unwanted or taboo parts of the self are projected onto others, so that they elicit projected behaviour. It is human to externalise unacceptable feelings and attribute them to others, and this primitive defence mechanism is highly relevant in groups and institutions.

Groupthink as a phenomenon within groups can inhibit the rational reactions of individuals. There is ample evidence that our behaviour can be drastically modified with the conscious and unconscious pull to conformity and harmony of the group. The infamous Stanford Prison experiment in 1971 was conducted in a “mock” prison, where groups of young college students were assigned prisoner and guard roles. After the “prisoner” group staged a revolt on day two, the guards assertively regained control and used increasing levels of abusive and dehumanising behaviour. The experiment was halted early when the researcher realised that even they had become embroiled in the groupthink mentality by allowing such a damaging experiment to continue.

Ambivalent sexism is a theoretical concept developed by Dr Peter Glick and Dr Susan Fiske to understand gender based prejudice. Hostile and benevolent sexism are described, with the former representing the overtly hateful, such as beliefs that women are inherently inferior, manipulative or evil. Benevolent sexism describes attitudes which may appear subjectively positive, such as beliefs that women should be protected, or be put on a pedestal. However both forms remain damaging to individuals and to gender equality in their reinforcing message of separateness.

In the institution of the police, is the taboo of sexism projected into the group, resulting in institutionalised sexist practice?

It would be unfair to the police to suggest that this depersonalisation, with its resulting dehumanising behaviour and loss of empathy, is unique to their field.

I remember the loss of identity I felt as a young junior doctor in an environment where breaks were non-existent, and the work was challenging and never ending. The more stress I experienced, the more detached I became, with a loss of empathy for individuals at a dreadful point their lives. Patients became their illness, or a task rather than a whole person. In psychodynamic terms they became a part object only, to defend against the fear and anxiety of death and destruction which were ever present in the hospital environment. The Stafford Hospital scandal epitomises an institution’s descent into anti-human behaviour.

In more recent times, the savage cuts and erosion of pay and work conditions suffered by the police force can only increase the stress on individuals and the reliance on primitive defences to manage unbearable anxiety. The most shocking thing about Naomi Oni’s experience is not that it happened, but that it is a worrying omen of the police as an institution becoming more detached from the public they serve.

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

Image: ITV Player

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Preview: Birds Eye View Film Festival

Next Tuesday, 8 April, sees the start of Birds Eye View Film Festival, an annual celebration of women filmmakers at venues across London. We took a look at the jam-packed programme and picked out our top events not to be missed, listed by their festival category.

The Opening & Closing Nights

The festival opens at the BFI Southbank on Tuesday 8 April at 6.15pm with the UK premiere of a dramatic feature film set during the Georgian civil war. In Bloom, directed by Nana Ekvitimishvili and Simon Gross, follows two 14-year-old girls coming of age in the post-Soviet state. This multi-award winning, semi-autobiographical drama was hailed as a “major discovery of the 2013 Berlinale”. The screening is followed by a director Q&A.

Another UK premiere, Swim Little Fish Swim closes the festival on a lighter note on Sunday 13 April, 8.30pm, at the BFI. Described as an “irresistibly charming, bittersweet comedy-drama”, Swim Little Fish Swim looks at the struggle of living as an artist in New York City. Directed by Lola Bessis and Ruben Amar, this screening is also followed by a director Q&A.

Women on the edge

Set in the Casablanca slums, Bastards, a documentary directed by Deborah Perkin, follows a group of Moroccan single mothers fighting to legitimise their children. Followed by a director Q&A, the documentary premieres in the UK on Wednesday 9 April, 6.30pm, at the Hackney Picturehouse.

Norway’s official Foreign Language Oscar entry, I Am Yours, makes its UK debut on Thursday 10 April, 8.30pm, at the BFI Southbank. Described as a “delicate and courageous portrait of a woman trying to reconcile family, culture and desire”, I Am Yours is a feature film about a twentysomething single mother from the Pakistani community in Norway. The screening is followed by a Q&A with director Iram Haq.

How I live now

Showing at the Clapham Picturehouse at 6.30pm on Thursday 10 AprilGone Too Far is a “razor-sharp comedy” feature film on the Nigerian community in Peckham, based on Bola Agbaje’s Olivier Award-winning play. Directed by Destiny Ekaragha, this screening is followed by a Q&A.

Gabrielle is a feature film from Quebec about a woman living with Williams syndrome in a home for adults with learning disabilities. Staring Gabrielle Marion-Rivard, who suffers from Williams syndrome herself, the film sees Gabrielle fall in love with a member of her choir and struggle to gain independence. Directed by Louise Archambault, Gabrielle premieres in the UK as part of Birds Eye View on Saturday 12 April, 4.30pm, at the Barbican.

Fashion

A regular feature of Birds Eye View Film Festival, Fashion Loves Film returns on Friday 11 April, 6.45pm, at the ICA, with a look at how images of fashion reflect culture, heritage and identity for female filmmakers. Highlights include: Lena Dunham’s Best Friends, Kathryn Ferguson’s Mathair, and Maria Schiller (SHOWstudio Head of Fashion Film) exploring Asian Couture, followed by a panel discussion and filmmaker Q&A.

Classics

Saturday 12 April sees a special 20th anniversary presentation of 1993 film Bhaji on the Beach, at 8.20pm at the BFI Southbank. Described as a “landmark British comedy”, the feature film tells the story of a Birmingham Asian women’s group on a daytrip to Blackpool, starring a ‘who’s who’ of British Asian acting talent. The screening is followed by a Q&A with multi-award-winning director Gurinder Chadha and special guests.

Girlfriends is described by Time Out as “the missing link between Woody Allen and Lena Dunham”. Directed by Claudia Weill in 1978, decades before Dunham’s Girls, the film is a comedy exploration of young single life in New York. A “woefully neglected gem”, Girlfriends was championed by Stanley Kubrick on its release and recently ‘re-discovered’ by Lena Dunham. Catch it at the BFI Southbank on Sunday 13 April, 6.30pm, and see below for your chance to win a pair of tickets.

Bright & British

Our final pick of the programme is Small Talk, a talk featuring women from the world of film. Producer-director Amy Hardie discusses neurocinematics and how the brain processes creative information, and Melissa Silverstein, author of renowned IndieWire blog ‘Women & Hollywood’, looks at female representation in film. Small Talk is at the BFI Southbank on Saturday 12 April at 6.15pm. One Feminist Times member could win a pair of tickets for the discussion, or film buffs can buy a Saturday Day Pass for £32, giving access to Bhaji on The Beach, Small Talk, a selection of British short films, and Welcome To The Audience, a discussion on the filmmaking process with a panel of British filmmakers.

Competition

We’re offering Feminist Times members the chance to win a pair of tickets for the screening of Girlfriends or a pair of tickets to Small Talk. Enter your details here for Girlfriends and here for Small Talk, and we’ll select two winners at random at 5pm on Monday 7 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.

Find out more about Birds Eye View Film Festival and view the full programme here, or follow @BirdsEyeViewFF.

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Happy 40th Birthday, free contraception!

From 1 April 1974 all contraceptive advice and supplies became free on the NHS, and available to all women. 40 years on, bpas (the British Pregnancy Advisory Service) celebrate the anniversary of free contraception in the UK and call for the next step forward.

The contraceptive pill was first licensed in 1961, yet initially restricted to those deemed wise enough to use it, and worthy of its privileges – those bastions of moral responsibility who are older married women. So hoorah for the less celebrated year of 1974, when contraception became free of charge for all women, regardless of age or marital status.

It’s hard to think of a development which has brought about such a monumental change in women’s lives, their role in society, and their relationships with men as free access to contraception.

The Pill enabled women to take control of their biology. Family sizes shrunk, motherhood was delayed, and women began to occupy those spaces that had previously been the sole domain of their male counterparts. Alongside access to safe, legal abortion, women could start to make genuine reproductive choices.

Yet while we can celebrate the 40th anniversary of free access to this revolutionary pill, this birthday is also the occasion to reflect on what we want from contraception over the next four decades – and ideally before we reach the last half of the 21st Century.

We should be asking why we are not seeing the investment, effort or drive to develop new methods of contraception that actually meet women’s needs. There seems to be a prevailing sense of “job done” when it comes to contraception, and ongoing barriers to technological advances in this field. While we have seen a few new methods enter the market over the last decade of so, these are by and large variations on the dose and delivery of the same medication.

Hormonal contraception should be celebrated for the huge advances it has brought, but it’s not for everyone. While there are women who will swear by their contraceptive implant, there are others who find themselves begging the doctor to remove it. We need new methods
without the side effects such as irregular bleeding, weight gain, nausea or lower libido. We need a greater choice of non-hormonal methods for those women who do not wish to use hormones or who cannot.

We need methods better suited to the reality of women’s lives and an acceptance that some women don’t want to use barrier methods like condoms or diaghrams but also don’t feel they are having sex regularly enough to warrant remembering a daily pill or having a long acting IUD or implant inserted. A pericoital pill, which could be taken at the time of sex, would represent a huge breakthrough for those women.

And we need to take politics out of pills. Researchers have noted that one of the major barriers to contraceptive development is the fear of controversy – so, for example, it would be possible to create a monthly pill that would either stop a fertilised egg implanting or detach it from the lining of the womb, yet concerns about the reactions from those who would see this as an abortion have put the kybosh on its development. Some women may well have their own personal position on whether this method is right for them – but shouldn’t that be their choice to make?

And lastly, we need methods for men. Men need something in between the two extremes of condoms and vasectomies, and the argument that most women wouldn’t trust men with their birth control is insulting to the many men who we know are keen to share the burden of contraception with their partner.

So hooray for free contraception. Thank you 1974. But it’s 2014 now – and women deserve more.

bpas is a reproductive healthcare charity, providing counselling and abortion care, contraception and STI testing on a not-for-profit basis. Follow them @bpas1968

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#SexIndustryWeek: Playing The Whore – The Saviors

Playing The WhoreEach weekday throughout our #SexIndustryWeek we’ll be exclusively serialising extracts from ‘Playing The Whore’, by journalist and former sex worker Melissa Gira Grant.

To coincide with these extracts, we’re offering Feminist Times readers FIVE chances to win a copy of the book, signed by Melissa.

To enter today’s competition, simply enter your name and email address here. One winner will be selected at random at the end of the day. 

Playing The Whore: The Saviors

The experience of sex work is more than just the experience of violence; to reduce all sex work to such an experience is to deny that anything but violence is even possible. By doing so, there is no need to listen to sex workers; if we already know their fate, their usefulness lies solely in providing more evidence for the readers’ preconceptions. For those working in the antiprostitution rescue industry, sex workers are limited to performing as stock characters in a story they are not otherwise a part of, in the pity porn which the “expert” journalists, filmmakers, and NGO staff will produce, profit from, and build their power on.

Meanwhile, when sex workers do face discrimination, harassment, or violence, these can be explained away as experiences intrinsic to sex work—and therefore, however horrifically, to be expected. Though this antiprostitution perspective claims to be more sympathetic to sex workers, it produces the same ideology as the usual distrust and discarding of them: Both claim that abuse comes with the territory in sex work. If a sex worker reports a rape, well, what did she expect?

I have not worked as a sex worker in Cambodia, so my knowledge is limited to what I’ve observed firsthand, what others have told me, and what I have found comparing the various official publications of governments with the NGOs who attempt to uncover abuses. But what I have that Nicholas Kristof does not is trust. Through my relationships with sex workers and sex worker activists in the United States, I met several from Cambodia. When I visited a brothel outside Phnom Penh, it was at their invitation, with no grand welcome or melodramatic conclusion.

Arriving with activists and outreach workers, we were greeted by sex workers who weren’t otherwise occupied, dropped off some boxes of condoms, and then gathered in an open courtyard. They brought us cold scented cloths with which to dab our faces and pitchers of water. I didn’t bring a camera crew, unlike NBC’s Dateline, or countless well-meaning documentary filmmakers. Nor did we bring the police and the promise of rescue. Instead, we sat together on plastic patio chairs under the stars and talked there, openly.

Back in my hotel room in Phnom Penh there was a sign in English on the door, posted where I could read it in bed: sex workers are strictly forbidden in the hotel. I could look out across the road from my window, swollen with motorbikes and tuk-tuk traffic at sunset, passing by the river where the Women’s Network for Unity (WNU) offi ce’s boat was docked. Earlier I had sat on its wooden fl oor with a few of their members, circled around a MacBook, watching videos they’d made themselves and were posting on YouTube.

As we watched videos—stop-motion animations that used Barbie dolls in the roles of sex workers who wanted to remain anonymous but still speak out, and another, a work-in-progress about the abuse of mandatory health-check programs to extort bribes from workers—banners hung overhead moved gently in the breeze coming in off the water: don’t talk to me about sewing machines. talk to me about workers’ rights.

The hit was a karaoke video, a slide show of images casting then US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice as Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar, singing “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” as a troubled ballad directed to President George W. Bush. At the time the State Department was pressuring the Cambodian government to take a stand against sex work or else lose aid from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Cambodian police, who had long been cracking down on sex workers, were now working in concert with the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans, and Youth Rehabilitation; they were hauling sex workers out of brothels, loading them onto the backs of trucks en route to “rehabilitation” centers. They didn’t anticipate that sex workers would snap photos of these raids on their cell phones. One of these pictures showed up on placards and on buttons made by the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers (APNSW), with USAID renamed ‘‘USRAID.’’

What happened once the sex workers rounded up in brothel raids were unloaded from the trucks and moved to the so-called rehabilitation centers? They were illegally detained for months at a time without charges, as were others who worked in public parks and had been chased, beaten, and dragged into vans by police. The Cambodian human rights organization LICADHO captured chilling photographs of sex workers caught in sweeps locked together in a cage—thirty or forty people in one cell.

Sex workers who had been detained reported being beaten and sexually assaulted by guards in interviews with LICADHO, Women’s Network for Unity, and Human Rights Watch. Some living with HIV, who had been illegally held in facilities described by the local NGOs that ran them as ‘‘shelters,’’ were denied access to antiretroviral medication. In one facility sex workers were “only able to leave their rooms to bathe twice a day in dirty pond water,” Human Rights Watch reported, “or, accompanied by a guard, to go to the toilet.”

The Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers reported that a common theme in interviews with detainees was the appalling food delivered in plastic bags which they then retained to use as toilets, disposing of them by hurling them from windows. Through eyewitness accounts, human rights observers established that at least three detainees were beaten to death by guards. Observers from LICADHO witnessed the body of one woman, left to die after advocates found her just the day before comatose on the floor of a detention room where she had been locked in with twenty other people. This occured at a facility on Koh Kor, an island that had once served as a prison under the Khmer Rouge.

“The government needs to find real solutions to the economic and social problems which cause people to live and work on the streets,” LICADHO stated in their 2008 report on conditions at Koh Kor and a second facility at Prey Speu. “It cannot simply round these people up and throw them into detention camps.”  If the sex workers standing in the doorways in Phnom Penh’s red-light district looked out on the street with fear, it could be just as likely from the prospect of rescue as due to any customer.

As is the case for much of industry, accurate data on how many sex workers are in Cambodia are hard to come by and difficult to trust. One study USAID funded themselves found that of a sample of roughly 20,000, 88 percent were not forced into sex work, whether through physical force or debt contracts. It’s especially tough to know how accurate figures on coercion are. But these are the figures found in the USAID commissioned study and were presumably available to all those in the State Department who were agitating for crackdowns on all Cambodian sex work as a means to end trafficking.

These crackdowns are no corrective to abusive conditions in sex work, and can expose sex workers to yet more abuse, including those who want out. But this is of no concern to the American government, which not only wishes to “eradicate prostitution” (as a US attorney testified on USAID’s behalf before the US Supreme Court in 2013), but requires those receiving foreign aid to agree with them. When the Cambodian government sought to demonstrate their commitment to these American values, they had in no way “eradicated prostitution”—they had simply taken action, through detention and violence, to eradicate sex workers themselves.

The State Department, in turn, upgraded Cambodia’s compliance ranking, and in its 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report, offered only a weak admonishment that “raids against ‘immoral’ activities were not conducted in a manner sensitive to trafficking victims,” and recommend further “training,” not investigations or sanctions. The US has spoken: They see no meaningful difference between the elimination of sex work and the elimination of sex workers themselves.

Melissa Gira Grant is the author of Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work (Verso, 2014)

Melissa will be speaking about her book in London, Brighton, Bristol, Edinburgh and London. Details can be found here: http://www.versobooks.com/events

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#SexIndustryWeek: My enemy’s enemy is my friend

These days, being trans is almost respectable. We have laws on our sides that mandate a large measure of equality with other women and men, even if those laws still leave behind those trans people who don’t entirely identify with binary gender, and even though there are a variety of loopholes for those who wish to discriminate. It’s still legal to exclude trans women who have been raped from a rape crisis centre; a number of feminist journalists and academics will still argue that self-defence of the trans community against transphobic hate speech is censorship. Compared, though, to twenty – let alone thirty-five years ago, when I transitioned – we have a serious measure of acceptance.

For many of those years, trans people were left out in the cold by the movement for greater lesbian and gay equality, and by the women’s movement. We were told that we were sick and deluded, or that we needed to wait our turn, that we should sit still and not frighten the horses. We remember how that felt, to be excluded and betrayed by our brothers and our sisters. It is primarily for this reason that I, at least, will never ever consent to forget the rights of sex workers – let alone to work for policies that make their lives harder, and to call that betrayal of vulnerable people ‘feminism’, or ‘progressivism’.

I was told so often, before and after I transitioned, that I was a dupe of a multi-million dollar patriarchal conspiracy of psychiatrists and surgeons, what Janice Raymond called “the transsexual empire” – to weaken feminism by introducing people like me as Trojan Horses. More recently, I’ve been accused of being part of a Trans Cabal – we all joke that we have an undersea volcano lair protected by robot sharks, because that’s about as plausible a claim, but we’re actually just a bunch of people who support each other on Facebook and Twitter.

When I and a number of my cis woman friends started Feminists Against Censorship, it was claimed that we too were being paid by the Mafia, or the CIA, or the patriarchy. I know that wasn’t true because I was helping with the accounts. Some of us were professional writers and a few of us did layout, or were cartoonists, so we produced some shit hot press releases – but we did it all on a shoestring. It may be, of course, that people who actually have funding and don’t have available talent might, instead of accusing other people of being on the take, wonder why all the talent is on the other side.

So I am not going to swallow the argument that people who argue for sex worker rights are dupes and pimps, paid lackeys of the multi-billion dollar sex industry. My first thought rather is: when are these people going to get some new material? When will they stop reacting to disagreement with stab-in-the-back conspiracy theories? And one of the reasons I say ‘these people’ is because it so often is the same people – intelligent feminists who think that they know what is best for other people and want to introduce laws to make that knowledge compulsory. When people praise Scandinavian policies on sex work I remember that, until very recently, Sweden demanded that trans people be sterilised before they could apply for a recognition of civil status.

One reason, then, for solidarity between trans people and sex workers is the recognition that we share the same well-intentioned enemies. In large parts of the third world, and some American states, sex workers and trans people are subjected to the same policies of arbitrary detention without trial, forced rehabilitation on work camps, compulsory health checks, rape, torture and murder by the police and paramilitaries. Of course, one of the reasons for that is that, especially in the third world, trans people are still the victims of the massive social exclusion that harmed older generations here and have few options apart from sex work. Trans people and sex workers – and in particular sex workers who are trans – are massively stigmatised, rejected, and put in harm’s way.

Sections of feminism – notably Janice Raymond – are responsible for some of that; Raymond collaborated with the churches and rightwing members of Congress during the Reagan era to remove federal funding from trans medical care. This meant that young, poor, working-class trans people, especially trans women of colour, had few other options than sex work if they were going to afford medical care, often resorted to dangerous quacks for surgical work, and were less likely to be able to practice safe sex. And many died and are dying and will die.

Austerity and cuts in health service provision, and student loans, mean that young people – trans and cis – resort to sex work to survive in modern Britain. Prohibitionist policies will make their lives harder, as Raymond’s attacks on trans people did – and advocates of those policies will end up with blood on their hands. No one is saying that sex work is always safe, or denies the existence of trafficking – for sex work as for domestic work and sweat-shops – but in the former case the important thing is to make it as safe as possible, rather than make clients more dangerous by criminalising them; and in the latter case, the important thing is to stamp down on all slavery rather than separate one area of slavery out for special concern.

As a young trans woman in the sixties and seventies, delaying full transition into my late twenties through fear of social exclusion, I learned part of my feminism in the university and part on the streets. The first people who helped me were streetwalkers, trans and cis; the first time I was raped, it was a policeman from the Vice Squad, in the back of his car. My politics of support for other trans women and for sex workers are a crucial part of my feminism, which is about solidarity and support for other women’s experience and choices – not about a small group of policy formers, politicians and journalists telling other women what to do.

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

Photo: Feminist Fightback

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#SexIndustryWeek: Manifesto – English Collective of Prostitutes

The English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) is a network of women who work or have worked in different areas of the sex industry campaigning for decriminalisation and safety. We fight against being treated like criminals. We’ve helped women and other sex workers win against charges of soliciting, closure orders, ASBOs, brothel-keeping & controlling – the last two most often used against women who are there to ensure safety. And we fight for housing, higher benefits and wages so that any of us can leave prostitution if and when we want.

We won the first ever rape prosecution taken by women in England and Wales after the authorities refused to prosecute, putting a serial rapist who targeted sex workers, behind bars. In 1982 we occupied a London Church for 12 days to protest police illegality and racism against street workers.

What we stand for:

  • Decriminalization of sex workers – on the street and in premises – as in New Zealand. The laws land us in jail, divide us from families and friends, make us vulnerable to violence, isolate us – separate is never equal. Criminal records trap us in prostitution.
  • Protection from rape and other violence.
  • An end to police brutality, corruption, racism and other illegality. Prosecute police who break the law.
  • No zones, no licensing, no legalized brothels – they are ghettoes and state pimping.
  • Self-determination. Sex workers must decide how we want to work – not the police, local authorities, pimps, madams/managers who profit from our work.
  • An end to racism and other discrimination within the sex industry.
  • Sex workers must have rights like other workers: the right to a pension and to join trade unions. Unions are for workers not for bosses.
  • No criminalization of clients. Consenting sex between adults is not a crime.
  • Free and accessible health services for all: no mandatory health checks or HIV tests.
  • Women’s right to organize independently of men, including of male sex workers.
  • Economic alternatives: no one should be forced into sex by poverty. People who want to leave the sex industry (or any industry) should have access to resources.
  • Shelters and economic resources for children/young people so they don’t have to beg or go into prostitution to survive. Children must be protected not criminalized.
  • No ‘rehabilitation’ schemes which punish us or force us into low-paid jobs.
  • An end to extortionate room rents and other profiteering.
  • The right to freedom of movement within and between countries. Stop using anti-trafficking laws to deport sex workers.

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#SexIndustryWeek: Playing The Whore – The Stigma

Playing The WhoreEach weekday throughout our #SexIndustryWeek we’ll be exclusively serialising extracts from ‘Playing The Whore’, by journalist and former sex worker Melissa Gira Grant.

To coincide with these extracts, we’re offering Feminist Times readers FIVE chances to win a copy of the book, signed by Melissa.

To enter today’s competition, simply enter your name and email address here. One winner will be selected at random at the end of the day. 

Playing The Whore: The Stigma

Sex workers, along with many people who do not do sex work, are exposed to whore stigma for breaking with, or being perceived to have broken with, what Jill Nagle calls “compulsory virtue.” It’s a riff on Adrienne Rich’s “compulsory heterosexuality,” with which lesbians are made invisible. Whore stigma, Nagles writes, is “a mandate not only to be virtuous, but also to appear virtuous.” As with compulsory heterosexuality, compulsory virtue isn’t just about producing a set of behaviors (fucking men, being a good girl about it), but producing a system of social control (punishing queers, jailing whores).

“One does not actually have to be a whore to suffer a whore’s punishment or stigma,” writes Nagle. Naming whore stigma offers us a way through it: to value difference, to develop solidarity between women in and out of the sex trade. Along with the phrase sex work, whore stigma is situated in an explicit sex worker feminism, one that acknowledges that while only some women may be sex workers, all of us negotiate whore stigma.

Whore solidarity actions predate that vocabulary, like the occupation of a London church in 1982 organized by the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP). “We’d bought fifty black masks,” writes Selma James, then the spokesperson for ECP. “In that way, prostitute and nonprostitute women would not be distinguishable from each other, and press photos of either would not be dangerous.” Entering the church alongside them were identified members of the organizations Women Against Rape and Black Women for Wages for Housework. “We were uncertain of our safety,” James writes, “and were glad to have two ‘respectable’ women’s groups with us.” Even those who are not whores can rise up with whores, can put their own respectability to work through their willingness to no longer be so closely identified with it.

This has been one of the foundational contributions of sex worker feminists to feminist discourse and activism: challenging whore stigma in the name of all those who live under it. There’s an echo of this in the popularization of whore stigma in a milder form as outrage at “slut shaming.” What is lost, however, in moving from whore stigma to slut shaming is the centrality of the people most harmed by this form of discrimination.

There is also an alarming air, in some feminists’ responses to slut shaming, of assumed distance, that the fault in slut shaming is a sorting error: No, she is certainly not a “slut”! This preserves the slut as contemptible rather than focusing on those who attack women who violate compulsory virtue— for being too loud, too much, too opinionated, too black, too queer. Slut may seem to broaden the tent of those affected, but it makes the whore invisible. Whore stigma makes central the racial and class hierarchy reinforced in the dividing of women into the pure and the impure, the clean and the unclean, the white and virgin and all the others. If woman is other, whore is the other’s other.

I’m thinking here of the first time I saw a SlutWalk protest, in Las Vegas in the summer of 2006, during the century’s first national gathering of sex workers activists. SlutWalk hadn’t been invented yet. It would be another four years before Toronto police officer Michael Sanguinetti explained to a group of university women, with the kind of contempt not unfamiliar to sex workers, that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” SlutWalk, in its way, was also a reaction to police harassment, though one raised by women who presumed, unlike the prostitutes of San Francisco and London, that the police would listen to them in the first place.

It should not be surprising that the first vocal critics of SlutWalk were women of color and women in the sex trade. Reading the SlutWalk rallying cry, writes Brittney Cooper of Crunk Feminist Collective:

I was struck by the righteous indignation these women had over being called slut. Although plenty of Black women have been called “slut,” I believe Black women’s histories are different, in that Black female sexuality has always been understood from without to be deviant, hyper, and excessive.

For some white women, slut transgresses a boundary they’ve never imagined crossing. Women of color, working-class women, queer women: They were never presumed to have that boundary to begin with.

In Vegas, on the sex workers’ own walk, protesters dressed in the kinds of costumes we now associate with SlutWalk—fishnets, leather and PVC corset tops, shiny hot pants, tall boots, and platform heels—with wild hair and hand-painted signs and slogans on their chests and stomachs (another homage to an older feminist practice: to riot grrrl, or at least to the photographs that had circulated of riot grrrl, few of the protesters having been around to be riot grrrls themselves).

Marching from casino to casino, sex workers took over the carefully sculpted Vegas sidewalks, passing out fliers to tourists and to the few sex workers who were also out that night, although, since they were working, attired far more conservatively.

Dressed and brazenly conducting themselves as they never could if they were actually working the tables and lounges for clients, the protesters were more shocking to the men employed by the casinos and hotels to surveil, who came and went, and at Caesars, despite the intervention of a lawyer from the ACLU who had tagged along with the march, were hustled out. It’s not that they were whores, as clearly whores are permitted in Vegas casinos. It’s how the space they took up put whoring in the public’s face; that’s why they were removed.

At the Wynn, on my way up to a party following the sex work conference a few nights before, with activist and artist Sadie Lune and an outreach worker from St. James Infirmary, a sex worker health clinic, an elevator attendant stopped us, asking if we were there for “a party.” ‘‘We are,’’ we said, ‘‘but…’’ and he began to explain, kindly, that if we had called ahead he could have made arrangements for us to be taken up in the VIP elevator. ‘‘No, no, we’re not here for,’’ one of us started to explain, ‘‘that kind of party…’’ which then would have to be followed up with, ‘‘… not that there’s anything wrong with that’’—and not that he was wrong about us—‘‘but…’’ so instead we just left it there, and went up the elevator meant for everyone but the whores.

“What it was like and what it does to you.”

When the public is groomed to expect a poor, suffering whore, it’s appreciable why some sex workers who do come out take pains to provide a counternarrative: to never look like a prostitute. They are asked only to talk about how empowering it all was or about how much of a survivor they are. They have to convince their audiences how much they always had their shit together, how they do now—how they are not like those other girls, whoever they are. Sometimes, like when calling out “slut shaming” only to then shame sluts, this undermines solidarity. This is just rearranging the pecking order of sex and gender outcasts rather than refusing to order ourselves in the first place. There’s a risk of reinventing the virgin/whore hierarchy within sex work, even when—to everyone else—all of us could still be whores.

Melissa Gira Grant is the author of Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work (Verso, 2014)

Melissa will be speaking about her book in London, Brighton, Bristol, Edinburgh and London. Details can be found here: http://www.versobooks.com/events

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

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#SexIndustryWeek: Playing The Whore – The Industry

Playing The WhoreEach weekday throughout our #SexIndustryWeek we’ll be exclusively serialising extracts from ‘Playing The Whore’, by journalist and former sex worker Melissa Gira Grant.

To coincide with these extracts, we’re offering Feminist Times readers FIVE chances to win a copy of the book, signed by Melissa.

To enter today’s competition, simply enter your name and email address here. One winner will be selected at random at the end of the day. 

Playing The Whore: The Industry

Though these are four of the most visible forms of sex work—porn, stripping, domination, and escorting—and each offers a distinct environment, it’s not uncommon for workers to draw their incomes from more than one. It’s about more than maximizing their earning potential; it’s also a way to negotiate the varying degrees of exposure and surveillance that come with each venue. For every escort who would never give up her privacy by working in a strip club, chancing that someone she knew would come in, there’s a stripper who would never give up her privacy by working in porn or having her image posted online, and there’s a porn performer who would never have sex for money outside the context of a porn shoot.

These are also only anecdotes drawn from sex workers I’ve met and worked with over the last ten years, in this first decade of the twenty-first century, and in the United States. Each involves some work online and offline. Each caters to customers in a specific way, and with its own conventions: Web sites sell photo sets and memberships; escort services set up appointments; clubs charge entrance fees and sell drinks; and performers sell stage shows and private dances. Each sell takes its own skills, has its own hustle, its own downsides.

However, as distinct as the work and their environments may be, there is a political usefulness in calling all of this sex work, while also insisting that it varies considerably over time and place. The portrait of street-level prostitution, for example, as it’s on display in media accounts—a woman, most often a woman of color, standing in a short skirt and leaning into a car or pacing toward one—is a powerful yet lazily constructed composite. As the lead character of the prostitute imaginary, she becomes a stand-in for all sex workers, a reduction of their work and lives to one fantasy of a body and its particular and limited performance for public consumption. Sex workers’ bodies are rarely presented or understood as much more than interchangeable symbols— for urban decay, for misogyny, for exploitation—even when propped up so by those who claim some sympathy, who want to question stereotypes, who want to “help.”

The character isn’t even representative of all the street soliciting sex workers she stands in for. When considering the practice of street-based sex work, sociologist Elizabeth Bernstein observes, “It is important to recognize the extent to which the practices and meanings of sexual labor varied in the different prostitution strolls,” even in the same city. Some of this sex work can be more accurately described as trade or barter, Bernstein writes, “self-organized, occasional exchanges that generally took place within women’s own homes and communities.” She distinguishes this from “the sexual labor of ‘career’ streetwalkers,” in which “commercial sexual exchange was conceptualized as ‘work’ that resided in the public display of the body.” You find this echoed in the research of Chicago youth involved in the sex trade conducted by the grassroots group Young Women’s Empowerment Project. They’ve adopted the descriptor “sex trades and street economies” to recognize that, for their community, trading sex for what they need to survive isn’t necessarily understood as their “work,” and that it occurs alongside other informal labor, such as hair braiding or babysitting.

The sex industry is varied and porous throughout. Consider its other most visible outpost in America: the legal brothels of rural Nevada in the few counties where prostitution was never fully criminalized, and where strict regulation and isolation are employed to make it tolerable to the public. There, according to a recent study conducted by Brents, Jackson, and Hausbeck and published in The State of Sex, one third of brothel workers had never done any other kind of sex work before, but rather came to it directly from “non-sexual service work.” Three quarters of those they interviewed move between “straight work” and sex work. “Selling sex,” they write, “is often one form of labor among a variety of jobs.”

When we say that sex work is service work, we don’t say that just to sanitize or elevate the status of sex workers, but also to make plain that the same workers are performing sex work and nonsexual service work. In her study of Rust Belt strippers published in Policing Pleasure: Sex Work, Policy, and the State in Global Perspective, Susan Dewey observed that the vast majority of the dancers—all but one—at one club in upstate New York had worked outside the sex industry, and “many had left intermittently for low-wage, service sector work elsewhere before returning with the recognition that they preferred the topless bar with its possibility of periodic windfalls from customers.” For the dancers who Dewey surveyed, it was the work outside of the sex industry that was “exploitative, exclusionary, and without hope for social mobility or financial stability.”

Opponents, from the European Women’s Lobby to reactionary feminist bloggers, like to claim that sex workers insist it is “a job like any other,” but sex workers do not make this claim—unless by this anti–sex work activists agree with sex workers that the conditions under which sexual services are offered can be as unstable and undesirable as those cutting cuticles, giving colonics, or diapering someone else’s babies.

But that’s not what sex work opponents are referring to when they snap back with a phrase such as “a job like any other.” When they say ‘‘jobs’’ they don’t mean those informal service jobs, but their more elevated labor administering social projects, conducting research, and lobbying. Rescuing sex workers is good work for them. As feminist anarchist Emma Goldman noted in 1910, the prostitution panic “will help to create a few more fat political jobs—parasites who stalk about the world as inspectors, investigators, detectives, and so forth.” The loss of sex workers’ income was their gain.

Opponents even take our jobs when we win. Socialist feminist activist and antiracist campaigner Selma James, in her essay “Hookers in the House of the Lord,” documents the closure of a successful grassroots sex workers’ legal project in London in the eighties, so “feminist lawyers and women from the anti-porn lobby” could create their own without having to actually employ the sex workers who started this advocacy. “What we are witnessing before our very eyes is the process whereby women’s struggle is hidden from history and transformed into an industry,” James writes, “jobs for the girls.”

The message of anti–sex work feminists is, It’s the women working against sex work who are the real hard workers, shattering glass ceilings and elevating womanhood, while the tramps loll about down below. As political theorist Kathi Weeks notes, to call a woman a tramp is to judge the value of a woman’s sexuality and labor. Tramps, she writes in The Problem with Work, are “potentially dangerous figures that could, unless successfully othered, call into question the supposedly indisputable benefits of work”—and home and family, and women’s commitment to all of it. When sex workers are “rescued” by anti–sex work reformers, they are being disciplined, set back into their right role as good women.

This isn’t just the province of large NGOs; one-woman rescue missions have popped up online and in mega churches, projects that claim to support themselves through the sale of candles and jewelry made by rescued sex workers. These jobs may technically exist outside the sex industry, but without a supply of rescued workers, there would be no cheap labor, no candles—and there would be no projects for the rescuers to direct.

These demands on sex workers’ labor, while it is simultaneously devalued, is why we still insist that sex work is work. But this should not be confused with uncritical sentiment, as if sex work is only work if it’s “good” work, if we love to do it. Being expected to perform affection for our jobs might feel familiar to sex workers—management at the unionized peep show the Lusty Lady tried to insert language in their contract that the job was meant to be “fun,” which the dancers refused to accept. To insist that sex workers only deserve rights at work if they have fun, if they love it, if they feel empowered by it is exactly backward. It’s a demand that ensures they never will.

Melissa Gira Grant is the author of Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work (Verso, 2014)

Melissa will be speaking about her book in London, Brighton, Bristol, Edinburgh and London. Details can be found here: http://www.versobooks.com/events

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#SexIndustryWeek: Five Gloria Steinem quotes

Feminist icon Gloria Steinem, founder of Ms magazine, celebrates her 80th birthday today.

In 1963, more than 50 years ago, Steinem spent 17 days undercover as a Playboy Bunny at Hugh Hefner’s New York Playboy Club, for an article published in Show magazine.

As part of Sex Industry Week, we look at what Steinem has to say about the industry…

On Playboy:

“It was horrible. There was nothing fun about it. It’s really hard work. You know, you’re carrying trays. You have three-inch high heels on. You’re paid very little. The trays are heavy. Your feet hurt. I learned what it’s like to be hung on a meat hook. That’s essentially the emotional experience of walking around in a costume that’s so tight it would give a man a cleavage.”

On Prostitution:

“Prostitution involves body invasion and so it is not like any other work. So how can you call it sex work? Prostitution is the only word you should use. It is the equivalent of commercial rape.”

On Pornography:

“[Erotica and porn] are as different as love is from rape, as dignity is from humiliation, as partnership is from slavery, as pleasure is from pain. Yet they are confused and lumped together as “pornography” or “obscenity,” “erotica” or “explicit sex,” because sex and violence are so dangerously intertwined and confused. After all, it takes violence or the threat of it to maintain the unearned dominance of any group of human beings over another.”

On Choice:

“I’ve only ever met one woman who actually was a prostitute of her own free will. She didn’t have a pimp. She could pick and choose her customers. That’s so rare. So we have to look at the reality and not romanticize it. We have to be clear that you have the right to sell your own body but nobody has the right to sell anybody else’s body. No one has that right.”

On Trafficking:

“Prostitution is not inevitable, it is only about unequal distribution of power. Today we face an epidemic of sex trafficking. More people are being pushed into it than even the slave trade.”

Photo: Joan Roth

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#SexIndustryWeek: Dworkin was right about porn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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#SexIndustryWeek: Playing The Whore – The Debate

Playing The WhoreEach weekday throughout our #SexIndustryWeek we’ll be exclusively serialising extracts from ‘Playing The Whore’, by journalist and former sex worker Melissa Gira Grant.

To coincide with these extracts, we’re offering Feminist Times readers FIVE chances to win a copy of the book, signed by Melissa.

To enter today’s competition, simply enter your name and email address here. One winner will be selected at random at the end of the day. 

Playing The Whore: The Debate 

We should, in fact, refuse to debate. Sex work itself and, inseparable from it, the lives of sex workers are not up for debate— or they shouldn’t be. I don’t imagine that those in the antiprostitution camp who favor these kinds of debates actually believe that they are weighing the humanity, the value of the people who do sex work. (This assumes, of course, that there is a coherent antiprostitution camp, but for the sake of argument, let’s limit it to the antiprostitution feminists and their allies loosely congregated in the secular left.)

Their production of the debate rests on the assumption that they themselves comprise the group that really cares for prostitutes. They may consider the purpose of the prostitution debate to be the challenging of myths and assumptions, to demonstrate their own expertise, perhaps to “raise awareness.” What constitutes the nature of this awareness, particularly concerning the enduring and ubiquitous nature of prostitution, pornography, and other kinds of commercial sex?

Awareness raisers can still count on a social hunger for lurid and detailed accounts, as well as a social order that restricts sex workers’ own opportunities to speak out about the realities of their lives. These factors in combination promote demand for the debaters’ own productions. To fuel and stoke it, awareness raisers erect billboards on the sides of highways, with black-and-white photos of girls looking fearful and red letters crying not for sale. They hire Hollywood bros like Ashton Kutcher and Sean Penn to make clicky little public service announcements for YouTube in which they tell their fans, “Real men don’t buy girls.” They occupy column inches in the New York Times with those such as Nicholas Kristof, who regales his readers with stories of his heroic missions into brothels and slums in Cambodia and in India “rescuing” sex workers.

The rescue industry, as anthropologist Laura Agustin terms such efforts, derives value from the production of awareness: It gives the producers jobs, the effectiveness of which is measured by a subjective accounting of how much they are being talked about. Raising awareness serves to build value for the raisers, not for those who are the subjects of the awareness.

Awareness raising about prostitution is not a value-neutral activity. Sex workers see a straight line between foundation dollars earmarked for advertisements such as those that appeared on Chicago buses—get rich. work in prostitution. Pimps keep the profits, and prostituted women often pay with their lives.—and the allocation of resources to the Chicago police to arrest pimps in order to save women who they call “prostituted.” Inevitably, all of these women face arrest, no matter what they call them, a demonstration of the harm produced by awareness raising despite any good intentions.

“On paper, sex workers are still not as likely to face felony charges as their patrons,” according to the Chicago Reporter, “who can be charged with a felony on their first offense under the Illinois Safe Children’s Act, which was enacted in 2010.” But when the paper examined felony arrest statistics they found,

[the] data shows that prostitution-related felonies are being levied almost exclusively against sex workers. During the past four years, they made up 97 percent of the 1,266 prostitution-related felony convictions in Cook County. And the number only grew: Felony convictions among sex workers increased by 68 percent between 2008 and 2011.

This was when antiprostitution groups such as the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation became active in the city, demanding johns pay. With awareness raising as a goal, the debate circles back on itself. The problem at hand is not, How do we improve the lives of sex workers?, but, How should we continue to think and talk about the lives of sex workers, to carry on our discourse on prostitution regardless of how little sex workers are involved in it? Perhaps those fixated on debating ought to confine the scope of their solution to how to best bring about debates and leave those involved in the sex trade to themselves.

And on which side of this debate are sex workers presumed to sit? Sex workers should not be expected to defend the existence of sex work in order to have the right to do it free from harm. For many, if not the majority, of people who work for a living, our attitudes toward our work change over the course of our working lives, even over the course of each day on the job.

The experiences of sex workers cannot be captured by corralling them onto either the exploited or the empowered side of the stage. Likewise there must be room for them to identify, publicly and collectively, what they wish to change about how they are treated as workers without being told that the only solution is for them to exit the industry. Their complaints about sex work shouldn’t be construed, as they often are, as evidence of sex workers’ desire to exit sex work.

These complaints are common to all workers and shouldn’t be exceptional when they are made about sex work. As labor journalist Sarah Jaffe said of the struggles at her former job as a waitress, “No one ever wanted to save me from the restaurant industry.”

The contemporary prostitution debate might appear to have moved on from the kinds of concerns moral reformers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries expressed, but it has only slightly restated the question from, What do we do about prostitution? to, What do we do about prostitutes? According to the twenty-first-century heirs to the battle for moral hygiene, this is to be understood as a way of focusing on the prostitute as victim, not criminal. Forgive sex workers if they do not want the attention of those who refuse to listen to them.

Far from concerning the lives of people who do sex work, these debates are an opportunity for prostitution opponents to stake out their own intellectual, political, and moral contributions to “this issue.” When feminist prostitute and COYOTE founder Margo St. James sought to debate antiprostitution activist Kathleen Barry at one of the first world conferences on trafficking in 1983, she was told by Barry that it would be “inappropriate to discuss sexual slavery with prostitute women.”

This continues to this day, with antiprostitution groups alleging that sex workers who want to participate in the same forums they do are “not representative,” are members of a “sex industry lobby,” or are working on behalf of—or are themselves—“pimps and traffickers.” For my reporting on anti–sex work campaigners, I’ve been told I must be getting published only because I’ve been paid off by pimps. (So pimps are stealing wages from sex workers in order to give them to journalists?)

Barry went on to found the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, which introduced the vague of sense ‘‘sexual exploitation’’ into United Nations and United States anti-trafficking policy, used by some to mean all commercial sex, whether or not force, fraud, or coercion are present. Sweden’s famed prostitution law, often described as a feminist victory for criminalizing men who by sex, and which Barry and her anti–sex work allies in Equality Now and the European Women’s Lobby push as model legislation, was undertaken without any meaningful consultation with women who sell sex.

By contrast, New Zealand’s model of decriminalized prostitution was advanced by sex workers, and has since been evaluated with their participation (and largely to their satisfaction). Rather than evolving toward more sex worker involvement in policy, however, the backlash is nearly constant. Canada’s Supreme Court agreed to hear a case that could result in removing laws against prostitution, and now in appeals, the same body declined to hear testimony from advocacy organizations run by sex workers themselves.

We must redraw the lines of the prostitution debate. Either prostitutes are in the debate or they are not. Sex workers are tired of being invited to publicly investigate the politics of their own lives only if they’re also willing to serve as a prop for someone else’s politics. As editor of the influential anthology Whores and Other Feminists Jill Nagle writes, “one could argue that the production of feminist discourse around prostitution by non-prostitutes alienates the laborer herself from the process of her own representation.” Not only are sex workers in the abstract used to aid feminists in “giving voice to the voiceless,” those same feminists then remain free to ignore the content of sex workers’ actual speech.

When sex workers are cast in this role, as mute icon or service instrument, it’s the antiprostitution camp at work, decrying sex workers’ situation yet abandoning them to the fundamentally passive role they insist sex workers occupy in prostitution. The parallel becomes even more damning when sex workers are paid comparatively little for their participation behind the debate podiums.

Melissa Gira Grant is the author of Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work (Verso, 2014)

Melissa will be speaking about her book in London, Brighton, Bristol, Edinburgh and London. Details can be found here: http://www.versobooks.com/events

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

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#SexIndustryWeek: Playing The Whore – The Police

Playing The WhoreEach weekday throughout our #SexIndustryWeek we’ll be exclusively serialising extracts from ‘Playing The Whore’, by journalist and former sex worker Melissa Gira Grant.

To coincide with these extracts, we’re offering Feminist Times readers FIVE chances to win a copy of the book, signed by Melissa.

To enter today’s competition, simply enter your name and email address here. One winner will be selected at random at the end of the day. 

Playing The Whore: The Police

Prostitution stings are a law enforcement tactic used to target men who buy sex and women who sell it—or men and women who the police have profiled in this way. These days, rather than limit their patrol to the street, vice cops search the Web for advertisements they believe offer sex for sale, contact the advertisers while posing as customers, arrange hotel meetings, and attempt to make an arrest from within the relative comfort of a room with free Wi-Fi and an ice machine down the hall.

Whether these videos are locked in an evidence room, broadcast on the eleven o’clock news, or blogged by a vigilante, they are themselves a punishment. We could arrest you at any time, they say. Even if no one is there to witness your arrest, everyone will know. When we record your arrest, when you’re viewed again and again, you will be getting arrested all the time.

In the United States, one of the last industrialized nations which continues to outlaw sex for sale, we must ask: Why do we insist that there is a public good in staging sex transactions to make arrests? Is the point to produce order, to protect, or to punish?

No evidence will be weighed before the arrest video is published. Even if she was not one before, in the eyes of the viewer and in the memory of search engines, this woman is now a prostitute. As so few people arrested for prostitution related offenses fight their charges, there is no future event to displace the arrest video, to restate that those caught on tape didn’t, as one of the women arrested in Fargo said, “do anything wrong.” The undercover police, perpetually arresting in these videos, enact a form of sustained violence on these women’s bodies. Even with a camera, it is not immediately visible.

To produce a prostitute where before there had been only a woman is the purpose of such policing. It is a socially acceptable way to discipline women, fuelled by a lust for law and order that is at the core of what I call the “prostitute imaginary”—the ways in which we conceptualize and make arguments about prostitution. The prostitute imaginary compels those who seek to control, abolish, or otherwise profit from prostitution, and is also the rhetorical product of their efforts. It is driven by both fantasies and fears about sex and the value of human life.

The sting itself, aside from the unjust laws it enforces, or the trial that may never result, is intended to incite fear. These stings form just one part of a matrix of widespread police misconduct toward sex workers and people profiled as sex workers. In New York City, for example, 70 percent of sex workers working outdoors surveyed by the Sex Workers Project reported near daily run-ins with police, and 30 percent reported being threatened with violence. According to ‘‘The Revolving Door: An Analysis of Street-Based Prostitution in New York City,’’ when street-based sex workers sought help from the police, they were often ignored.

Carol told researchers, “If I call them, they don’t come. If I have a situation in the street, forget it. ‘Nobody told you to be in the street.’ After a girl was gang-raped, they said, ‘Forget it, she works in the street.’ She said, ‘I hope that never happens to your daughters. I’m human.’”

Jamie had an incident where she was “hanging out on the stroll . . . these guys in a jeep driving by . . . one guy in a car threw a bottle at me . . . I went to the cops [who told me] we didn’t have a right being in that area because we know it’s a prostitution area, and whatever came our way, we deserved it.”

Police violence isn’t limited to sex workers who work outdoors. In a parallel survey conducted by the Sex Workers Project, 14 percent of those who primarily work indoors reported that police had been violent toward them; 16 percent reported that police officers had initiated a sexual interaction.

This was in New York City, where the police department is notorious for violating civil rights in the course of law enforcement, but look globally, where violations of sex workers’ rights by police are also common—and well documented. In West Bengal, the sex worker collective Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee surveyed over 21,000 women who do sex work.

They collected 48,000 reports of abuse or violence by police— in contrast with 4,000 reports of violence by customers, who are conventionally thought of as the biggest threat to sex workers, especially by campaigners opposed to prostitution.

Police violence against sex workers is a persistent global reality. As the economy collapsed in Greece, police staged raids on brothels, arrested and detained sex workers, forced them to undergo HIV testing, and released their photos and HIV status to the media. These actions were condemned by UNAIDS and Human Rights Watch.

In China, police have forced sex workers they have arrested to walk in “shame parades,” public processions in which they are shackled and then photographed. Police published these photos on the Web, including one in which a cop humiliated a nude sex worker by pulling her hair back and brutally exposing her face to the camera. When the photo went viral, the outcry reportedly prompted police to suspend these public shaming rituals, though they continue to make violent arrests and raids.

One could hope that the photos and videos like these could make the pervasiveness of this violence real to the public. But to truly confront this type of violence would require us to admit that we permit some violence against women to be committed in order to protect the social and sexual value of other women.

Violence’s Value

I’ve stopped asking, Why have we made prostitution illegal? Instead I want an explanation for, How much violence against “prostitutes” have we made acceptable? The police run-ins, the police denying help, the police abuse—all this shapes the context in which the sting, and the video of it, form a complete pursuit of what we are to understand as justice, which in this case is limited to some form of punishment, of acceptable violence.

Melissa Gira Grant is the author of Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work (Verso, 2014)

Melissa will be speaking about her book in London, Brighton, Bristol, Edinburgh and London. Details can be found here: http://www.versobooks.com/events

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

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

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

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

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

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Men, know your place!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Profile: Sheroes of History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And follow on Twitter @SheroesHistory

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

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A Womb With A View: Antenatal depression

Read the first in Jude Roger’s series, A Womb With a View: The Anti-Medicine Brigade.

Thirty-five weeks in, I am enjoying lots of things about pregnancy. Watching my stomach doing a John Hurt in Alien. Getting seats on trains (when people aren’t cocooned in their technological bubbles, anyway). Waddling. Napping. And my favourite: not holding my belly in.

But then there are the other things, of course: the niggles, the concerns. The guilt about what food and drink you can eat. The worries about whether baby is moving enough. Random pains. Itchy skin. Recently, I’ve been physically monitored to check some of these out (and I’m fine, all is well), but I’ve been surprised how rarely their psychological repercussions are acknowledged by health professionals.

The thing is, everyone knows about post-natal depression. It’s a regular headline on women’s magazine covers and something addressed, very rightly, in many birth preparation courses. Antenatal depression, however, is a fairly unknown term. Perhaps, once again, it’s because pregnancy is meant to be a blooming, beautiful time, when an ordinary woman becomes a walking, talking miracle. For many of those people, pregnancy is not the easiest draw, though. The pregnancy may have been unexpected or unwanted. It might bring up difficult emotions from the past. It might feel uncontrollable.

According to pre- and post-natal charity PANDAS (Pre and Postnatal Depression Advice and Support), one in ten women will experience antenatal depression. In the UK, it’s meant to be on the health agenda too. In 2007, NICE [the National Institute for Clinical Excellence] published guidance to help women at risk from the condition, and encouraged healthcare professionals to ask women at risk of it three simple questions: if they had felt down or hopeless, found it hard to find pleasure in doing things, and whether they wanted help with these feelings. Even if these women didn’t have specific mental illnesses, NICE advice continued, they should be encouraged to get support from professionals or voluntary organisations.

From my experiences, and those of others I’ve talked to, this isn’t always the case. At 19 weeks, I texted one of my healthcare contacts in desperation, worrying madly about having felt the baby move a few weeks previously, but not since. I felt bleak and couldn’t stop crying, I said. She replied to say sometimes movement changes happen, but didn’t address my state of mind.

At my next appointment, she had forgotten our exchange entirely. Ah, everyone gets anxious, she said, when I reminded her. Worry is normal. Which is all correct, of course, but that wasn’t the point.

A lot of anxiety in pregnancy is put down to hormones – and yep, there’s a lot of them, swirling and rollercoastering around. But bring up slight concerns about your state of mind and most health professionals plump for the “don’t worry, dear” response. A friend of a friend of mine who felt very low during her pregnancy was asked if she wanted to be monitored on machines more often for reassurance. She was never offered what she really wanted: services to help her emotionally.

In October 2012, Netmums, in association with the Royal College of Midwives, published more research about antenatal depression. Their findings reinforced a causal link between antenatal and postnatal conditions. Press headlines at the time had a specific focus, as a result: ITV’s typical example was “Report reveals antenatal depression affects relationship with baby.”

There’s something missing from that headline, of course – the mother herself, and her initial experiences. Once again, the individual growing a new life inside her doesn’t have her own taken seriously. This makes me wonder, dispiritingly, if post-natal depression is given more time because there are two people involved by that point. Still, in so much rhetoric and care, the woman alone, the mere vessel, doesn’t matter as much.

What this comes down to is how psychological illness is treated in healthcare, of course. This requires resources and money, but more importantly the communication of guidelines to all staff working within the system – something that should make the treatment of these issues frustratingly simple. After all, sometimes all that pregnant women want is a listening ear, and a mouth that responds. They want the opportunity to tell someone, “this is how I feel when I wake up in the morning… this is how unmanageable things feel when I think that’s something’s wrong”, and then be given some leaflets, or website addresses, rather than flail around in the dark.

Only then can pregnant women start getting on with the business of enjoying their strange, pregnant lives – something we can only do if we can feel happy with ourselves.

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

For more useful information on antenatal depression, go to:

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Profile: My Body Back Project

Yesterday we received an anonymous message from a woman who cannot find the words to tell anybody what happened to her, so she cuts herself instead.

She described this as her “silent scream.”

The incredibly honest and moving message, which is two paragraphs long, continues: “It’s how I tell the world what happened to me, without saying anything.”

Before her, a woman called ‘R’ wrote to us with an articulate account of life with an eating disorder after a childhood marred with sexual violence.

“I felt so powerless that I have spent seven years trying to starve myself,” she said.

“I can’t tell my doctors why because they would not understand what happened to me and would tell my parents. This is my first step because I am anonymous.”

These are two of many messages we have received in the past fortnight, when me and my friend Yas Necati started the My Body Back Project.

The project welcomes female survivors of sexual violence to share their stories, of how they feel towards their bodies and sex. In two weeks, we have received an array of messages which highlight how deeply and differently survivors are affected. Women have anonymously written in about sex with their boyfriends and girlfriends, the “pressure” they have been under to perform sexually, “dissociating” from their bodies, feeling guilty about their sexual fantasies, orgasm, not being able to have sex, not wanting sex, sex addiction, eating disorders, and self-harm.

I started it because I struggled for years after rape – not just emotionally – but by projecting those feelings onto my physicality. For many years I was too nervous to stand up in a room full of people in case anyone looked at my body, felt too vulnerable to wear anything that wasn’t baggy, or even admit that any of this was happening, because I was meant to be “over it”.

There were no instructions, just the feeling of being shattered physically, even after I’d glued back the vital emotional pieces. There were no answers. But from reading the stories of women across the world who have written in to the project, it’s clear that none of us have answers. We don’t necessarily want somebody else’s prescribed solution either, but we do want to be heard. We do want to rip apart patriarchy’s notion that women’s bodies and sex are manufactured products to satisfy the male gaze.

In reality, 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either “intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence”, according to the World Health Organisation. Our relationships with our bodies and sex are deeply affected by the violence we have battled, and the scars we still live with. We want to be able to talk about that.

For those who have the privilege of disregarding the consequences of sexual violence in their daily lives, the stories shared as part of My Body Back Project will make for uncomfortable reading. But it is honest and real. There is no guidance that any of the women who write to us can offer, because for each of us, our experiences are different. But they do break the silence that surrounds sexual violence, sex, desire – and how that all fits together for survivors. It’s something that’s often not spoken about, perhaps because women are taught not to talk about sex or their own pleasure.

We hope that’s something that will change, and we’re hopeful. In the first fortnight of the project, we have had heartwarming support. Rape Crisis England and Wales, Rape Crisis Scotland and Rape Crisis Ireland have been wonderfully encouraging. The brilliant poet Hollie McNish; MP Caroline Lucas; all of our friends at No More Page Three; the Everyday Sexism Project; AnyBody UK; artist Sarah Maple; and two activists we admire, Caroline Criado-Perez and Feminist Times Contributing Editor Reni Eddo-Lodge, are just some of the wonderful women who have sent in beautiful messages of support.

In the near future we will be campaigning about issues we feel are important but overlooked. We will also be running a monthly group for survivors of sexual violence at Sh! Women’s Emporium.

To keep up to date please follow us on twitter @mybodybackproj and have a look at our website www.mybodyback-survivors.blogspot.co.uk

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Not into trains: Gender bias & Asperger’s Syndrome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Stephen Woods

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A guide to being a woman in 21st century Israel

David Cameron today makes his first trip to Israel since becoming UK prime minister has backed peace talks between Israel and Palestine. To mark his visit, Israeli blogger, feminist and social activist Hila Beyovits-Hoffman writes for us about her view on the state of Israel for women today.

Mazel Tov, you’re 18! For a young Jewish Israeli this means it’s time for military service. You will be drafted to the Israeli Defense Forces or face prison, as a conscientious objector or defector. So blow out the candles and it’s off to boot camp, young lady.

Like all Israeli children, you were taught since preschool that military service is the essence of your civic duty as an Israeli patriot. State schools taught you about the Goyim constantly killing Jews; about how the Holocaust wiped out six million Jews; about how Israel was established as a sanctuary for the persecuted Jews.

Israeli education is meticulously designed to imprint students with an overwhelming sense of persecution and righteous indignation at the historical wrongdoings toward Jews. We grow up with a constant, unrelenting fear for our lives, paranoia on a national scale. The army must be held sacred and protected at all costs because, we are constantly told, it is the only thing standing between us and total annihilation.

Thus indoctrinated, you join the army proudly.

And it’s a necessary step on your career path! Most of Israel’s political leaders were high-ranking officers, going directly from the IDF to the Knesset; employers often seek specific military training, reflected on a resume. On a personal and national level, this service is important for your future.

Alas… When you do join the army, you quickly discover that it’s a man’s game. Positions and career paths are only open to men. Men can become high-ranking officers. Men will call the shots; you will serve their coffee.

Moreover, women in the army are constantly exposed to sexual harassment and abuse. Countless cases of abuse or rape by senior officers are met with a cover up, or a wrist slap for perpetrators.

Conventional sexual harassment exists alongside religious discrimination. Formerly more secular, the IDF increasingly adheres to rabbinical strictures. According to Halacha, the Jewish religious code of law, women should be neither seen nor heard. Want to train troops? Military rabbis say you may not give out orders to men, because it is “immodest”. Want to be a combat soldier, alongside the men? The rabbis shudder and say any touching is forbidden. Want to sing to the soldiers in special events or holidays, as military entertainment? “Gewalt!” say the rabbis, “a woman must only sing for her husband, or it’s prostitution!”

Both religious and secular male-dominated institutions work to deny you an equal place in Israeli society. Military service won’t buy you equality.

*                *                *

But let’s look at the other side of the Shekel. What if you resist the draft?

You’re an 18 year old Jewish woman in 21st century Israel, which has become an apartheid state. You believe that the occupation of the Gaza strip and the West Bank is illegal and immoral. You see the corruption that this occupation causes, the violence, the ruthlessness, the hopelessness. You believe your country can and should become a morally superior place, an example of coexistence and peace, a true “light unto the nations”.

Rather than cooperating with the “Israel Offensive Forces” you avoid being drafted, working instead with a leftist, anarchist movement. You protest the unjust occupation and the brutality of the soldiers towards the civilian Palestinian population at demonstrations.

But then, male peers ask you not to wear T-shirts or shorts, “because the locals consider it immodest; it’s against their religion”. You swallow your pride and defer to the greater goal, dress “modestly” and show up at the demonstration, where you are sexually harassed by the locals, by your fellow leftist protesters, and of course, by Israeli soldiers, who already consider you to be a traitor. Thus, the pecking order is preserved, same as in the army. So much for deferring for the greater good.

*                *                *

From its very inception, the feminist movement has suffered from CDD – Constant Deferral Disorder. Women have constantly been asked to put their dignity, their rights, their very lives aside, defer them for “the greater cause”. Feminism in Israel is no different. Many people would say that “surely, the problem of women’s rights in Israel pales in comparison to the occupation!”

I contend that women’s issues should never take the back seat. I contend that allowing 51% of the population to always be seen as lesser human beings is precisely what leads to the philosophy and mindset that allows, even encourages, one nation to believe it has a right to control and oppress another.

And yes, Palestinian woman have it even worse, because they’re doubly oppressed, but notice what this system does even to the so-called privileged Jewish woman. Treating one group of people as inferior and denying its members equal rights, while fighting for the equal rights of the members of another group, such behavior does not stand the test of reason, nor of ethics.

While we allow this injustice to keep happening in the name of “the greater good”, Israel will never be able to function as a democracy. One form of oppression does not and cannot justify another. If women are never equal, we can have no significant influence on foreign policy, the occupation, the peace process, or social issues. We will always lag several steps behind, and with us will lag the dreams and hopes for a better future for all people living in Israel and Palestine.

Hila Beyovits-Hoffman is an Israeli blogger, feminist and social activist, writing on social and political issues, the LGBT community and gender issues. Follow her on Twitter: @vandersister

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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20 years of women priests, but still no women bishops

“The Church should be the first place to recognise the equality of all God’s children, not the last,” insists Angela Berners-Wilson, who is widely credited as the first woman to be ordained as a Church of England priest.

20 years ago today, on 12 March 1994, Angela and 31 other women joined the priesthood. Although she was first in line alphabetically, Angela is at pains to point out that all 32 women were ordained together, on the final “Amen” of the ceremony.

By that time, Angela had been campaigning for the ordination of women priests for more than 15 years, having felt a calling to become a priest while on her gap year in Australia during the 70s.

“I went out for a meal with a group of random people in Brisbane and I remember having a long conversation with this guy who was an atheist, and he was saying: ‘why don’t you want to be a priest, rather than a Parish worker?’” she recalls.

“That’s all that was open to women in those days – to be a Parish worker and then to go on to be a Deaconess after several years. Later we were on a coach, and the guys were endlessly playing Elvis tapes because he’d just died, and I remember thinking: ‘yes, it is a priest that I feel called to be’.”

The Movement for the Ordination of Women was founded while Angela was a student at theological college. “I went to the initial meeting at St Martin-in-the-Fields in 1978, so right from the beginning I was campaigning for change,” she says. “I think to be honest at that stage I thought it might take longer [than 16 years].“

When the first women priests were ordained in 1994, Bishop Barry Rogerson, who officiated the service in Bristol Cathedral, told a press conference that he believed it would be ten years before the first women bishops were appointed. Twenty years later, as the debate on women bishops continues to rumble on, Angela laughs when I ask about his comments.

“I was at the press conference when he said that,” she says. “There must have been about 50 journalists there or more, and when he said that I thought ‘you’re being very optimistic’ – we knew it would take longer than that! I think we hoped at that stage it would be within 20 years; we’re not quite going to make that but hopefully nearly.”

As part of the first cohort of women priests, Angela knew the process would be a long one because she felt the pressure on all women priests to prove themselves: “We had to be doubly good – or do our job doubly well – because those who are against it are always looking for things to find fault with,” she says.

“First of all we’ve got to be accepted as priests, then women had to have enough experience to be able to be bishops because obviously we were all completely new – you can’t have someone who’s new to being a priest suddenly being a bishop.”

So have 20 years been enough for the Church to accept women priests and move forward to women bishops? On the whole, Angela thinks so, though she’s careful not to sound complacent: “There are certain pockets where we’re not and of course there’s groups within the Church that don’t agree with it, but we’re much more accepted than we were. There’s still room for improvement – I don’t think the battle’s all won yet.”

Now Chaplain at the University of Bath, Angela was similarly guarded when questioned by the press ahead of the Church of England’s previous, unsuccessful vote on women bishops in November 2012. A year and a half on, she says: “We lost a huge amount of credibility – we really had egg on our faces that day. I got rung up by about five journalists within five minutes of leaving the General Synod.

“My bishop went into the House of Lords the next day and he got absolutely lambasted by members of the Lords saying ‘what’s going on?’ People don’t understand our slightly strange ways – the two-thirds majority thing.”

Angela herself obviously shares that frustration with the system: “the way the Synodical process works is that you have to have a two-thirds majority in all three houses in General Synod.

“When the vote for women bishops came to General Synod in November 2012, 42 out of 44 dioceses voted overwhelmingly in favour, but when it came to the final vote back in Synod, we missed the two-thirds majority in the House of Laity by just six votes.

“Because of the way it works, that’s always going to be a problem. To me – well, to many of us – it’s wrong that six lay people have thwarted the will of 42 out of 44 dioceses, but we believe in democracy so we have to go along with the rules.”

A self-described Christian feminist, Angela knows the Church of England has a long way to go on gender equality: “I can understand why people think that the two are incompatible – the Church has been patriarchal for centuries, but it is changing,” she says.

“Feminism is not all about having women at the top but I think once you have cracked that glass ceiling and got women at the top of the Church then it’s going to make a huge difference symbolically.

“One of the few good things that came out the vote in November 2012 was that the House of Bishops agreed that, until there are six women bishops, there will be eight senior women sitting at every House of Bishops meeting,” she adds.

“They can’t vote because they’re not bishops, but eight senior women were elected by their peers to represent women in the House of Bishops. That’s been an enormous step forward.

“I think once you’ve got women actually at the top they’re going to impact on how the bishops think and that will open up the Church to be evermore friendly to women.“

Although cautious, Angela does appear to have a renewed optimism about the way things are moving. “The new Archbishop Justin Welby has worked very hard with reconcilers from outside the Church to bring people together, and that’s why we’re going forward now,” she says.

“It’s very tied in with tradition and it takes a long time for people to change their minds. If you think how far we’ve come in the last 20 years and in the last 50, we’re getting there – slower than one would like, but we are getting there.

“The vote [last month] has reached the next stage, now it’s got to go down the dioceses again, and hopefully it will come back by November for the final assent… I wouldn’t like to say yes, but I hope 2015 will see the first women bishops in the Church of England – we’ve got them in Ireland now. I’m cautiously optimistic.”

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Women are used to being ignored, even in their millions

Something peculiar happened on Sunday 9th March. On its front page, the Independent on Sunday bore a picture of the seventh annual Million Women Rise march. Not too strange in itself, but in seven years of Million Women rising and marching, this is the first year that they have garnered front page press coverage.

Million Women Rise marches each year on a day close to International Woman’s Day, with the aim to end male violence against women. Founded by activists, with no big funding backers, it is impressive that the march continues to grow each year. What’s more, it’s one of the most diverse feminist marches to pound through London – founded and led by black women – which is increasingly obvious in the march’s make up.

This year thousands of women took to the streets, gathering in London’s Leicester Square for a rally and speeches. The march isn’t without its criticism, though. For too long, powerful women’s spaces have operated with hostility towards trans women and sex workers – voices that we as a movement cannot afford to ignore.

Alongside this unprecedented press coverage, is an inkling of hope that women are finally being listened to. Historically women have known the sharp edge of what it feels like to be ignored when we articulate exclusion, discrimination and pain. In 2012 a leaked BBC email regarding the Jimmy Saville case referred to the on-the-record testimonies of victims of Saville’s abuse as “just the women”.

It’s as if women’s testimonies, women’s work and women’s efforts are constantly undervalued and written out of history. Shunted down to the bottom of the priority pile, violence against women becomes a domestic issue, an occupational hazard of womanhood. There’s still plenty of work to be done. Women must march through the streets of London annually until violence against us makes the 6 o’clock news.

For years now, women have organised in their local communities, as well as screaming at the top of our lungs whilst marching through central London. Feminist activism has existed on the fringes of the mainstream for decades. There was even an uncertain period in the early noughties, when newspapers would run twice yearly features proclaiming: “feminism is back!”

But feminist activists have slogged it out for years, dong work that is vital, much needed, and mostly thankless. So many women’s marches take place annually, and they are routinely ignored. Take, for example, Reclaim the Night – often pulling in the numbers, yet rarely getting the attention it deserves.

There was almost a scuffle for airtime between the anti-rape marches when the Slutwalk movement emerged in 2011. Formed in Toronto in the April of that year, Slutwalk was a direct backlash to the words of a police officer who, in a talk to undergraduates, told his audience that “women should avoid dressing like sluts” in order to avoid rape.

Slutwalk got the coverage because the press was completely bemused by it. Viewed through an uncritical lens, no one could understand why anyone would want to reclaim the word slut – simultaneously forgetting the main message of the march. Pictures of partially dressed, conventionally attractive white women didn’t hurt either.

So this image of a racially diverse, fully-clothed march on the front page in the Independent on Sunday marks a turning point. Feminism has stuck its flag in the ground, and it is here for good. A number of contributing factors have collided together to create the perfect storm of women’s voices being heard in harmony. But we can’t hinge all hope on one front page. Now that women have the mic, the responsibility is on us to centre our struggles around the most marginalised. Now is where the hard work doubles down, harnessing the transformative power of people who are dedicated to changing the world.

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

Photo: Nick Sutton

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“Plagiarism begins at home” – uncovering the real Zelda Fitzgerald

To write a profile of Zelda Fitzgerald is to cut through a dark thicket of myths, lies, stereotypes and false medical diagnosis. Most of us have never even picked up the blade and tried. But as we near the 66th anniversary of her untimely death on 10 March, one question still remains unanswered: who was the real Zelda Fitzgerald?

For most, the name Zelda Fitzgerald is closely followed by the words ‘lunatic’ and ‘fantasist’. It’s a name synonymous with fur stoles and empty gin bottles. She’s a spoiled party girl who drove her talented husband Scott Fitzgerald to drunken ruin: a flapper, an It girl, a “Witchy Woman” (to quote The Eagles). What Zelda has never been called is an uncredited writer, but she often was: her byline replaced by her husband’s with a “sorry” and a shrug.

The true story of Zelda’s life and her authorship rights is yet to be told with honesty and clarity. Hack away at the dense falsehoods and you let in the light. Headstrong, sharp-tongued and vivacious; an artist, writer and dancer. In many ways Zelda Fitzgerald’s legacy has been judged by her influence and latter bipolar years (scholars now argue her schizophrenia was misdiagnosed at the time), but never her own achievements. Zelda’s life would be dramatically cut short by her own desperate quest to be heard and counted; only now are her words finally being credited with her name.

When Zelda gave birth to their daughter Scottie in 1921, high on anesthesia she babbled: “I hope it’s beautiful and a fool—a beautiful little fool”. All readers of The Great Gatsby will instantly recognise the quote as one of its defining lines, voiced through the effervescently absent Daisy Buchanan. It is a mere drop in the ocean of words Scott skimmed from Zelda’s mouth with a pond net and an ear for its startling lucidity.

Many of the Fitzgeralds’ closest acquaintances would praise Zelda as a witty conversationalist, likening her to contemporary writer Dorothy Parker. Critic Edmund Wilson surmised: “I have rarely known a woman who expressed herself so delightfully and so freshly.” Scott Fitzgerald himself was consistently struck by her words and even read her diaries, directly lifting entries to voice his fictional heroines. Zelda became a crucial source, as she well knew. Her impact on Scott Fitzgerald’s literary works is immeasurable.

“It seems to me that on one page I recognized a portion of an old diary of mine which mysteriously disappeared shortly after my marriage, and, also, scraps of letters which, though considerably edited, sound to me vaguely familiar. Mr Fitzgerald—I believe that is how he spells his name—seems to believe that plagiarism begins at home,” Zelda Fitzgerald cheekily joked in the New York Review when asked to review her husband’s latest novel The Beautiful and Damned in 1922. The joke soon wore thin on Zelda, who grew increasingly resentful of Scott’s habit.

Search the archives and you may come across a 1973 edition of 21 uncollected stories entitled Bits of Paradise written by both Scott and Zelda. Flicking through it soon becomes clear that, at the time when they were written, most of Zelda’s short stories were published with a co-authored byline, despite Zelda’s sole authorship. The shocking truth is many of her stories were robbed of her authorship – an arrangement agreed between Scott’s literary agent Harold Ober and the magazine editors.

This is by no means to demonise Scott. The world was hungry for F Scott Fitzgerald and history maintains he was not made aware of this transaction at the time. Nevertheless, it weighed heavily on Zelda’s sense of worth and identity. Over the course of the 1920s, Zelda’s five ‘girl’ stories in College Humour were credited to both Fitzgeralds. Zelda’s A Millionaire’s Girl, deemed too good for College Humour by Ober, was sold to the Post for $4,000 instead of $500, but only if Zelda’s authorship was omitted. It appeared as F Scott Fitzgerald’s work alone.

Ober later admitted he “felt a little guilty about dropping Zelda’s name from that story” but consoled himself “I think she understands.” Zelda didn’t understand. Even if she did at the time, misunderstanding rippled between Zelda and Scott over the proceeding years, their lives ebbing further and further apart like driftwood against the tide.

In 1932 Zelda’s battle to be heard ended in marital catastrophe when Scott finally got round to reading her novel Save Me the Waltz. He was furious. Written in an obsessive 6-week spiral of creativity, Scott was livid at Zelda’s fictionalisation of their marriage. This, despite the fact that his own yet-to-be-published novel Tender is the Night copied direct chunks of Zelda’s letters to Scott in order to fictionalise Zelda’s mental illness.

Zelda would later conclude “I can’t get on with my husband and I can’t live away from him…I’m so tired of compromises. Shaving off one part of oneself after another until there is nothing left…” Perhaps her biggest compromise was yet to come. Scott ordered Zelda to revise her novel. She complied.

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

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The end of orchestral sexism?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Yarnstorming manly Manchester

Needlework artist Helen Davies and curator and historian Jenny WhiteCraftivist duo Warp & Weft are needlecraft artists Helen Davies and historian & curator Jenny White.

Their latest project is Stature, a yarnstorming exhibition in Manchester Town Hall, which for two weeks will see eight of the town’s male busts yarnbombed with crocheted masks of some of Greater Manchester’s most inspiring women.

They shared some of their exhibition photos with us and explained what the project is all about:

In 2013, high profile feminist campaigns like No more page Three and women on bank notes inspired us to think about how women are represented in society. We were shocked to learn that of 640 listed statues in the UK, only 15% are of women and most of those are statues of monarchs or mythological characters

We noticed that, barring Queen Victoria’s status through accident of birth, Manchester’s municipal statues still only celebrate the achievement of historical men.

We thought it was about time they honoured some great female role models, and a crochet mask facelift seemed an ideal format. Traditionally dismissed as women’s work, craft has been undergoing a revival in the past few years.

We’ve timed our exhibition so our celebration of Esther Roper can put some ‘L’ into February’s LGBT history month. On 8 March, International Women’s Day, we’ll be speaking about our project at the People’s History Museum’s Suffragette Legacy Conference.

We’ve chosen eight women from Greater Manchester with diverse backgrounds and achievements all of whom deserve recognition:

Sunny Lowry – the channel swimmer who scoffed 40 eggs a week; Sylvia Pankhurst – the suffragette who became an honorary Ethiopian; Esther Roper – the protector of barmaid’s jobs; Dr Kathleen Drew-Baker – the saviour of Japan’s sushi seaweed industry; Elizabeth Gaskell – the novelist whose books were burnt by mill owners; Louise Da-Cocodia – the race relations and community enterprise champ; Kathleen Ollerenshaw – the maths boffin & politician; Annie Horniman – the flamboyant arts patron.

Sunny Lowry MBE

Ethel ‘Sunny’ Lowry, (1911 – 2008) Pioneering long-distance swimmer

1SunnyLowry

In August 1933 Sunny fulfilled her channel swimming dream, crossing over night from France to England in fifteen hours and 41 minutes. Her skin was smeared in wool grease and chilli, and she had to contend with jellyfish stings. From her support boat she was fed coffee, cocoa and beef tea; a bagpiper played to help keep her stroke rhythm regular; and carrier pigeons were released at intervals to send updates on her progress back to dry land.

Sylvia Pankhurst

Sylvia Pankhurst, (1882 – 1960) Suffragette

1Sylvia Pankhurst

Sylvia was an active votes-for-women campaigner: causing disruption; damaging property; anything to draw attention to the cause. She served many jail terms, and was force fed whilst on hunger strike in Holloway.

Whereas her mother Emmeline and sister Christabel just wanted voting rights extended to posh, privileged women, Sylvia believed that working class women and men deserved the vote.

Read more about Sylvia here.

Esther Roper

Esther Roper, (1868 – 1938) LGBT magazine pioneer & campaigner for barmaids’ rights

1EstherRoper

Esther Roper was one of the first women to gain a degree from Manchester Uni (then known as Owens College). In 1886 she was admitted on a trial scheme to test whether females could study without harm to their mental or physical health.

In 1896 she met the love of her life, Eva Gore-Booth.They formed the Barmaids Defence League to campaign against a proposed ban on female bar staff.

In 1916, along with transwoman Irene Clyde, the couple co-founded one of Britain’s first LGBT publications, Urania magazine.

Read more about Esther here.

Dr Kathleen Drew-Baker

Dr Kathleen Drew-Baker, (1901-1957) The scientist who became Japan’s seaweed saviour

1KathleenDrewBaker

Dr Kathleen was co-founder and first president of the British Phycological Society – that’s the algae study society to you and me. Her ground breaking discoveries led her to become the saviour of nori, or sushi seaweed.

Read more about Dr Kathleen Drew-Baker.

Elizabeth Gaskell

Elizabeth Gaskell, (1810 – 1865) Pioneering writer and biographer

1ElizabethGaskell

Elizabeth Gaskell’s Unitarian upbringing instilled in her the importance of taking action against injustice. She used her fiction writing to highlight the plight of the industrial poor. Exploring themes such as class conflict, gender roles, prostitution and drug addiction, her books inspired heated debate and moral outrage but ultimately contributed to social reform.

Read more about Elizabeth Gaskell here.

Louise Da-Cocodia MBE

Louise Da-Cocodia “Mrs D”,  (1934 – 2008) Race relations & community enterprise champ

1LouisedeCocodia

Louise Da-Cocodia believed passionately that everyone has the right to access housing, education and employment where they feel safe, secure and fulfilled. She spoke of how important it was “…to help young Black people understand that this is their home, this is the society they live in, and that they have a part to play in developing it. Young Black people need role models around, not necessarily high profile ones…”

She worked tirelessly to improve people’s quality of life, both on a grassroots community level where she was affectionately known as ‘Mrs D’; and on a more formal level.

Read more about Louise Da-Cocodia here.

Dame Kathleen Ollerenshaw

Dame Kathleen Ollerenshaw, (born 1912, still going strong) Mathematician & politician

1KathleenOllerenshaw

Dame Kathleen used her maths skills to influence government policy on social issues. She campaigned tirelessly for improving standards in schools, and the importance of education for girls. Published in 1955 her statistical report on the state of Britain’s crumbling school buildings led the government to release funds for capital building programmes.

Read more about Dame Kathleen Ollerenshaw.

Annie Horniman

Annie Horniman, (1860 – 1937) Eccentric arts champion

1AnnieHorniman

Annie Horniman challenged society’s expectations of women. She raised many an eyebrow by remaining unmarried and being a heavy smoker; not to mention travelling alone, in trousers, across Europe and North Africa – including cycling across the Alps.

She attended the Slade School of Fine Art, and would pop to see new impressionist exhibitions in Paris.

Read more about Annie Horniman here.

Warp and Weft’s Stature exhibition is on at Manchester Town Hall from 24 February – 9 March. Check out their crocheted masks on the ground floor, and learn about some of Manchester’s amazing women.

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Profile: Maanda Ngoitiko

This is a guest post by African Initiatives.

Born to a traditional Maasai pastoralist family, Maanda Ngoitiko grew up moving around with the community cattle in the remote Ngorongoro region of northern Tanzania. Today she heads up the country’s pioneering 6,000-strong, all-female Pastoral Women’s Council, which she founded and which is transforming lives in Africa.

This remarkable mother of 15, who travels the world campaigning for the rights of Maasai women will be one of the influential people on the podium at the International Women’s Rights Conference which is taking place in Bristol on 1st March.

Maanda will tell the amazing story of how the mobilisation of women in male-dominated Maasai society helped to bring about an extraordinary land rights victory for 20,000 Maasai threatened with eviction from their ancestral lands in Loliondo, just east of the Serengeti national park – lands the Tanzanian government had wanted to grab to turn into an exclusive wildlife reserve.

“Women helped lead the way. Maasai society is known for being a male-dominated society, but women are beginning to assert their rights and assume a greater social leadership role,” says Maanda. “On land issues, Maasai women in Loliondo have been at the forefront of generating community-level mobilisation and solidarity, many walking dozens of miles across the bush to assemble the community for demonstrations and meetings.”

It was Maanda and the Pastoral Women’s Council who challenged these women to mobilise. The Pastoral Women’s Council is focussed on helping women to become self-reliant, whether via the distribution of micro-grants or the transfer of land titles for widows. Education is at the heart because, as the Swahili proverb says: “When you educate a woman, you educate a whole community.”

The Pastoral Women’s Council invests heavily in girls’ education. They sponsor their schooling and they build hostels so the girls avoid the dangers of a 15-mile walk back home in the dark. Their most difficult task is in changing perceptions about the importance of educating Maasai women.

For Maanda personally, getting an education meant escaping her family.

“I was lucky because my family let me go to primary school for years – traditionally the Maasai don’t believe in educating girls ­– but then when I was 12 years old they decided it was time for me to leave school and get married,” she says.

“I was only a young innocent girl of 12 but something inside me wanted more. Without an education I would have been married off in exchange for cattle. I would have spent my days rising early to milk the cows and walking miles to find water and firewood to carry back home. I would have had no choices…so I ran away to secondary school!”

Helped by a pastoralist organisation, Maanda completed her secondary education and further studies. “I then won an educational sponsorship from the Irish Embassy and went to Ireland to study for a diploma in Development Studies,” she says. “Ireland was very different from Tanzania!”

Following her time in Ireland, Maanda returned to northern Tanzania to work for a Maasai community organisation. “Although I enjoyed the work and loved being back in my homeland, I realised that there was an urgent need for an organisation led and managed by Maasai women, dedicated to addressing their human rights and practical needs,” she says.

“Getting an education gave me the tools to question male domination within Maasai culture and to fight for justice for Maasai women. I wanted to help girls who’d been in the same situation as I’d once been, desperate for an education but unable to access one.”

In 1997, at a meeting with nine other women, she founded the Pastoral Women’s Council, which she is still Director of.

The Pastoral Women’s Council addresses the needs of pastoralist women who are financially dependent on men because of their lack of education, lack of property rights and lack of access to income- generating opportunities. These women are deprived of the right to access basic needs such as healthcare, a balanced diet for themselves and their family, school for their children and respect from the local community.

“Because Maasai women have very little decision-making power, community agendas are determined by men,” says Maanda. “Issues of concern for women, such as domestic violence and forced marriage are not a priority.

“Maasai women have it very tough. Not only are they citizens of a country that undermines or disregards pastoralist values, but they are also members of a patriarchal culture that effectively denies them the ability to make decisions about their own lives.”

Maanda challenges Maasai women to take charge. At election time she tells them: “If you care about your children and their future you have no option but to mobilise”.

With Maanda’s rallying call, Maasai women are standing up and demanding their human rights.

If you would like to help fund Maanda and the pioneering work of the Pastoral Women’s Council, you can do so via Bristol-based NGO African Initiatives. Call African Initiatives on 0117 915 0001 or visit www.african-initiatives.org.uk

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Profile: Women’s Independent Alcohol Support

Drunken women are laughed at, seen as easy targets for rape, and ‘asking for’ abuse. Women with children who over-drink are in danger of losing them, and ‘being an alcoholic’ is seen as a source of shame and apology for life.

Few women (less than 3%) with alcohol problems go for treatment, and the treatment in any case is likely to focus not on why they need to over-drink, but on stopping it at once and joining groups like AA, which see the problem as an individual weakness to be dealt with by a programme of meetings and lifestyle, developed by and for men, and still found to be uncomfortable spaces by many women.

What is lacking is an understanding of the links between the lives of ordinary women and substance use, including alcohol. Why do some women need to over-drink? Alcohol research is looking increasingly at the way that gender is relevant to how people use alcohol.

Women may drink for different reasons and in different ways, and they may need a different kind of help than is often available. There is strong evidence as to the role of stress, domestic abuse, depression, low self worth, and social isolation. There is also strong evidence of the need for women only services.

Women’s Independent Alcohol Support (WIAS) is a registered charity, run by women who have recovered from alcohol issues and their friends, and which addresses these issues. We are a small, highly motivated group of women, with a feminist perspective, and our social model of recovery is based in personal experience and academic research.

We aim to offer a friendly and supportive ear, and to put women in touch with other organisations who can offer help with particular issues such as domestic abuse and addiction to prescribed drugs. On February 17th 2014 WIAS organised, with Bristol Women’s Voice, the first and ground-breaking ‘women and alcohol’ conference in Bristol – click here to see the programme and presentations.

I founded WIAS, having recovered from alcoholism in 1988 and have since attempted in academic and practical work to influence how women’s alcohol use is understood and how it is ‘treated’. I am often asked: “what’s different about it for women?”

Traditionally, alcohol problems were seen to be something that happened to men. It was men who were seen drinking in pubs and clubs and men who were sometimes seen drunk. A man spending his wages on drink might leave a family without food for a week and often did. It was men who began the famous Alcoholics Anonymous movement, at a time when alcohol problems were understood to be a male problem. It provided a space where they could share their troubles and try to help each other to stop misusing alcohol.

At that time, women’s drinking often consisted of a couple of glasses of sherry at Christmas and half a pint of shandy in summer. Even when drinking wine and other things socially became more acceptable for them, drunkenness was still perceived as shaming, and showing a lack of self-respect as well as lack of proper concern for one’s family.

Women have been reluctant to ‘come out’ about their alcohol use for these reasons and have often preferred to use tranquillisers (‘mother’s little helpers’) and other remedies to help them when their lives were difficult or they were unhappy or even domestically abused. They have often become depressed and suicidal.

Women have emphasised how much they need to have women-only space to talk about how they came to have alcohol problems, what sometimes helps and what doesn’t, and an opportunity just for non-judgmental friendship and support. Unfortunately it can be difficult and expensive to provide this in conventional treatment settings.

WIAS is now a registered charity and plans to run small groups for women, eventually building an interactive website where they can discuss their issues, and holding up to date information about what kind of help is available for women should they be seeking it. WIAS is seeking funding to do these things and to run a helpline, so if you can help in any way please email us. Otherwise, watch our website at www.wiaswomen.org.uk to learn about progress.

WIAS also acts in a consultative capacity and is able to undertake commissions.

You can email WIAS at contact@wiaswomen.org.uk

References:

Staddon, P. (2014) ‘Turning the Tide’, Groupwork, 24 (1)

Wolstenholme A, Drummond C, Deluca P, et al (2012) Chapter 9: ‘Alcohol interventions and treatments in Europe’ in AMPHORA (2012) Alcohol Policy In Europe: Evidence from AMPHORA

Photo: Jesse Millan

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Review: My Life in Agony, Irma Kurtz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Many Russias: Sochi’s Absurdist Olympics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo from NYC Pride: Kasya Shahovskaya 

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#FeministFatChat: Is Fat Still A Feminist Issue?

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

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

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

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

 

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Feminist evangelism: Blurred Lines at The Shed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Simon Kane, courtesy of the National Theatre

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Cate Blanchett, choice and complicity on the red carpet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Siebbi

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Intrusive entitlement: disabled women as public property

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy of Sean McGrath

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The politics of skin lightening

Vanity Fair was last week accused of digitally lightening the skin of ’12 Years A Slave’ actress Lupita Nyong’o. Reni Eddo-Lodge looks at the impact of Eurocentric white supremacist beauty ideals on young women of colour.

When I was very little, probably younger than six years old, I asked my mum when I was going to turn white. It seemed very clear to me then. In the media I consumed and the narratives my young brain had absorbed, the good people were white and the bad people were brown. Fast forward ten years and, as an awkward teenager, my brain was consumed with wanting to be pretty. I would pull at my cheeks in the mirror. “I might be black”, I would think to myself, “but at least I’m alright looking”.

Like that ever rigid gender binary, the rules of the world seem concrete and absolute when you’re young. If I hadn’t started challenging those roles, I would probably be spending my entire life trying to chase them in a sorry effort to assimilate.

77% of women in Nigeria, the country where my grandparents were born, use some form of skin lightening products. It is against this backdrop that Nigerian-Cameroonian singer Dencia has released her new line of skin lightening creams, named Whitenicious. The product’s press release says the cream can be used for  “dark spots from acne, wounds, hyper-pigmentation and bruises”, yet in the promotional pictures Dencia looks several shades lighter than her original skin tone. Whitenicious sold out within 24 hours of its release.

Dencia has received a lot of criticism for releasing Whitenicious, but her move just capitalises on a skin lightening industry that is already thriving in Africa, Asia and India. It is an industry in which big multinationals make millions from the prolific, insidious nature of white supremacy.

Every woman of colour has battled with Eurocentric, white supremacist beauty ideals at some point in her life. These ideals act as the yardstick on which every woman’s beauty is measured by. With so many of our daily interactions dogged by patriarchy, this isn’t just beauty for beauty’s sake. Beauty is currency – and for too many of us, it’s interchangeable with self-worth.

Unlike Nigeria, the UK’s white supremacist ideals aren’t so aggressively marketed to women of colour. Instead they exist in a screaming, gaping absence. A woman of colour can walk into her local high street shop searching for makeup, only to find that the UK’s most readily available brands do not cater for the colour of her skin.

The absence starts young, with white, blonde Barbie dolls upheld as our first image of womanhood. Them we fixate on pop stars as our role models. You’d be hard pressed to find a successful black woman in that industry who doesn’t pass the paper bag test. The paper bag test was a system of exclusion, determining who was light enough to enjoy the fruits of high society in early 1900s black America; if you were darker than the brown paper bag, you were not invited.

It was Alice Walker who first coined the term colourism, and it was social scientists who concluded that this kind of discrimination was commonplace in countries that are based on a ‘pigmentocracy’ – where wealth, power and status can too easily be determined by the colour of an individual’s skin.

In communities of colour, many attribute the use of skin lightening creams to self-hatred. White people in the UK often attempt to draw some equivalence between skin bleaching and self-tanning. But the reasons behind skin bleaching are political. Despite people of colour making up the majority of the world’s citizens, globally, the colour of power is white.  This pursuit of power and status goes hand and hand with a systematic denigration of self.

It’s too simplistic to reduce the use of skin lightening creams to self-hatred or low self-esteem. That argument places the responsibility of accountability on the individual partaking in the practice without acknowledging a racist structure that preferences light skin over dark. These ideas of empire have taken root in the hearts and minds of everyone. It’s no longer about countries that have suffered colonisation – these ideals are recreated and reinforced, becoming a daily truth.

Politically, the demand of assimilation has always been levelled at those of us whom the structure doesn’t fit. In skin bleaching, this assimilation moves from rhetoric to imprints on flesh.

Image courtesy of @ReignOfApril on Twitter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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New Year Message from a Crone: Woman’s Inner Time

I’m calling on Dames, Matrons, Crones and Hags, Witches and Medicine Women – “Granny” can be rather patronising and too comfortable – to set up a network of ‘WIT Eldership’ collectives, supported by trusted and respected people of other age groups and genders.

Eldership is a source of strength, especially in old women who acknowledge our species is self-destructing (destroying many other species along the way) and who recognise that true teaching is a receptive process; knowing what the Earth needs requires solitude and quietness.

I often feel lonely and irrelevent, and in the great tradition of older people, feel concerned that the younger generation is losing its way. From the perspective of age we can see what’s important. It’s our role to steer us all back onto the path of intuition and deep listening.

Yesterday at Oxford Antiques Market I got talking with a Moroccan who sells old stuff that appeals because of its mystery. He has no idea where it comes from, we know nothing of its history. I picked up two horses that were skillfully made with leather; I could feel the way the person who made these objects loved and respected animals. This knowledge came from a sense that is beyond words.

Both of us have been watching our grandchildren using their iPads and computer games, and realise they appear to be disconnected from their heritage. They feel masterful in their own worlds, but are they able to reach out to each other and communicate complex & subtle emotions? In a time of urgent and evolving crisis for our beloved Earth, these skills will be paramount.

Young people need to be listened to. I want us to move beyond patriarchal authoritarian concepts of ‘the expert’ to a deeper place where people search within themselves for their own innate skills and capacities, which the alienating forms of exam-based education tends to squash. All human beings have amazing capacities, which older people can draw out with patience and insight.

It takes a village to raise a child” – Proverb with African Roots

How do we construct that “village” in our world of super speedy communication? How do we find communion between different ages and levels of society? I request that we invest in old women who feel ‘called’ and have been moved by the sixties/seventies liberation struggles, by that age of interactive self-exploration.

I’m an old hippy and I’m remembering how earlier in my life I was so full of hope, as so many of us were. Aware we had work to do and willing to pledge and honour that sense of being called; but now I’m questioning myself and sometimes feel powerless and daunted to the point of numbness, but I know that it’s not hopeless. The Work is increasing in its depth and demands.

We’ve just moved through solstice time, nurturing our bodies and developing communal bonds. We’re also at a stage in our human development where we need to nurture the inner realms we sometimes call ‘soul’. I’ve developed the concept of WIT (Woman’s Inner Time); as contemporary Medicine Women, we would not be teaching children, but rather supporting adults who teach kids, including parents and professionals.

We older women would develop the art of listening without imposing agendas, judgement or opinion, but rather create ‘sacred’ space for uninterrupted personal exploration. We would be a resource and would begin with ourselves and our own ego-nurturance, in order to move beyond old wounds and the habits of internal conflict and self-sabotage.

Raga Woods is a frequently-photographed, much-travelled mad Crone . If you’d like to find out more about WIT email her: ragawoo@gmail.com

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Sadomasochism on the High Street

This Christmas has been a Christmas of firsts for me. The first time I’ve ever eaten an entire advent calendar while watching an episode of I’m a Celebrity and, not coincidentally, the first time I’ve had the fear I would need a seat belt extender on an aeroplane. If you’ve never heard of such a thing, Google it – there’s a whole internet of anxiety out there, which you’re unlikely to be aware of until you find your partner having to squeeze you into a Virgin Little Red belt in the manner of shoving a sleeping bag back into it’s sheath. The final first? The only places on the high street where I could find a coat I liked, and that fitted me, were Asda and Tesco.

As a person with a yoyo-ing waistband I’ve been in and out of phases where everything in Topshop falls off me and then, within months, where the staff at fitting rooms give me pity smiles as I walk in, deluded, with a batch of size 16s. I’ve had more bra fittings than most people have had Christmas dinners; in fact, I had one this Christmas with a lovely woman in Aberdeen’s M&S who explained that, while I wouldn’t be able to get a fancy bra in my size, she’d do her best to find me one that didn’t look like mountaineering equipment.

So I’ve stumbled into 2014 wondering exactly what happened to the campaigns for a more diverse range of sizes in our high street shops. I’m not posh – I’ve often picked up a fashion bargain in a supermarket – but it would be nice to have the kind of clothes shopping experience that doesn’t end up with your new buy being tangled in your basket with your Sunday dinner.

Not fitting in is a marvellous motivator for losing weight and those who hated my piece Running? It’s just Jogging will be glad to hear I’ve put my tail between my legs and am thrusting myself round my local park every other morning in the bid to get fitter. Of course, my motivation is to not only to be fitter but to be smaller, in order to fit in.

Why, when the average size of a woman in the UK is size 16, does Topshop – one of our largest fashion stores – stop many of its ranges at 14 and not even touch an 18? By my calculation, if the average is 16, that means there’s got to be an awful lot of women above a 16 as well as below. Perhaps it’s just not the store for me; after all, I do remember the 80s the first time around, but grown-up Cos and Zara are faring no better.

Debenhams may well have size 16 mannequins but Debenhams is not even fashionable enough for my mum. Evans is not what I would call fashion-led; after the briefest of sell-out ranges with Beth Ditto it’s gone super duper boring. ASOS Curve is pretty good but I want a shop I can go into and, while Dorethy Perkins tries, I’m not sure their hearts really in it; I normally stand in the changing room going: “well it’s amazing it’s in a size 20 arse, but this dress makes me look like a 5 year old’s drawing of a cocktail waitress”.

Where’s the creativity, the art, architecture, the fun? Where’s the “fashion”? Where’s the equivalent of Topshop Unique or Cos for big women?

Not fitting in is especially damaging to younger women. Being dragged around stores where all your mates can try stuff on, every Saturday, while you grab a pair of the ubiquitous black leggings and some cool jewellery, is not fun for 15-year-old chubby girls. It breeds low self esteem, labeling you as different, separate, and can start a cycle of bravado and yoyo dieting that can last a lifetime.

On the plus side, it also encourages creativity as you learn to do more with less. After all, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with not fitting in by choice, but it’s just not nice excluding the majority of women from high street fashion – it’s painful and humiliating – and yet we keep shopping there. It’s a sadomasochistic relationship and I’m not finding it that pleasurable anymore, are you?

I’m not about to start making my own clothes or open a shop, though I regularly fantasise about both, but if you are a talented designer do it, NOW. There are millions of women like me who will come and buy your wears. Abercrombie & Fitch’s Mike Jeffries is missing a million-dollar trick if he thinks cool kids only look like the ones in his adverts.

In the meantime, while one of you creates the next big fashion brand, I implore Mr Philip Green and others: give your designers a few more inches of fabric to play with. Tell them to go wild and make women feel fabulous about themselves. We might just find that the more people who feel warmly welcomed into our high streets shops – like they belong – the more healthy our thinking, and the less fabric we’ll need in the end.

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#5yearssinceMaria: Duluth – how we can stop failing women like Maria

Between 16-19 December Feminist Times is joining Refuge in remembering the tragic death of Maria Stubbings with a series of articles on domestic violence.

When Maria Stubbings’ abusive former partner Mark Chivers came to persuade her to take him back, having served time for her assault, she told police she feared for her safety. The panic alarm police had installed in her home had been deactivated on his release.

Five years ago today, she was found dead – strangled with a dog lead, under a pile of coats in the downstairs toilet – leaving behind two children. Chivers already had a 15-year conviction for killing a previous partner.

This year’s report into the case found a “a catalogue of errors” made by Essex police. Maria was badly let down in the weeks and months leading to her death; her case once again pushed the everyday reality of domestic violence to the forefront of public consciousness.

In some areas, there are multi-agency approaches to supporting women in such tragic circumstances. Hammersmith has been instrumental in dealing with domestic violence by embracing the Duluth model, an approach which aims to put the woman first through special interagency partnerships between the police, the courts and advocacy workers, giving victims the personal support and institutional protection needed to break free from the cycle of abuse.

This begins with the police prioritising domestic violence and understanding it, so that the mistakes of the Stubbings case are not allowed to happen. As Anthony Wills, the now-retired CEO of Standing Together, and former senior police chief at Hammersmith and Fulham tasked with implementing Duluth, explains: “if Maria Stubbings had been living in Hammersmith, it is more than likely she would still be alive.”

A united attack

The Duluth model, named after the city of the same name in Minnesota, was formed out of the grassroots women’s aid and refuge movement of the 1970s, recognising the need to step beyond simply offering the women somewhere to go, towards providing effective intervention. In the words of its founder, the women’s rights campaigner Ellen Pence, “we got tired of patching women up and sending them out again.”

In response, she began to formulate domestic violence intervention programmes throughout the early 1980s. The results were impressive. By getting the agencies working together, in conjunction with a rehabilitation programme for offenders, 69 per cent of victims reported no physical abuse during the education phase and a similar number reported the same three months after the programme. Mental abuse statistics were weaker, but the model acted as a clear framework for a united, community reaction to an issue that had otherwise remained ignored.

Pence later released a manual, Education Groups for Men Who Batter, which explained the ideology and profile of abusers, as well as the two-pronged attack. It was as simple as it was complex. Domestic violence operated around the desire for power and control, not just physically but mentally, emotionally and beyond. Pence visualised this through the power and control wheel, now a staple of domestic violence prevention methods.

However, it was not the theory that convinced Standing Together’s Beryl Foster to bring the model to Hammersmith. Rather it was the hands-on approach toward influencing practices that really convinced her. Beryl explains: “the Duluth activists took these two ways of doing things and applied them to actually looking at what agencies were really doing, instead of telling them what they ought to be doing, and why.”

“Although we’d always fashioned ourselves as a crisis intervention response charity, working across the criminal justice and voluntary sectors, we had never worked like this.

“We wanted to look at each person in the chain of a case, from the call out to the court room, to see how things could be altered to make sure that the context and history made it to the case file. The reality is that unless information makes it onto the case file, it doesn’t exist.

“It was all well and good us sitting separately around the table in Hammersmith talking to other agencies and authorities about what we did – but we were not looking at how it interlocked and how we could make specific changes. “

The biggest challenge in creating these links and building a coordinated community response to domestic violence came from the police force itself. Prior to the 1990s, police response reflected the prevailing attitude found: ambivalence and confusion.

Anthony echoes this sentiment: “Prosecution never got past first base because, until Beryl and Ellen arrived with Duluth, the police had no understanding of the dynamics of domestic violence.”

Often the officer would advise the woman against making a statement, so as not to waste court time, since women frequently withdrew their evidence. The most forward-thinking police officers wanted to do something but couldn’t see how.  Social workers saw domestic violence as “the moving wallpaper” behind their work, but it was a catch 22 situation – there was very little reward seen professionally for them, as police did not value it.

“Police officers are all about prosecution, so what was the point in arresting someone if the woman would then withdraw her evidence?”

One victim, Joyce Guttridge, explained tearfully how her husband, Paul, branded both herself and their son Kevin with an iron in the 1970s, but she did not do anything because Paul “was friends with police”.

“I do sometimes feel I failed my boy, but people would never have believed me; domestic violence didn’t exist.”

Hearts and minds

Essentially, a mentality change was required – but as Anthony admits, it is “a nightmare” trying to alter police attitudes. His quip “just remember Steven Lawrence”, is the first sign of a refreshing honesty not always found from those in the higher echelons of the Metropolitan Police.

The key to achieving agreement was to make the deal attractive in police terms. Beryl explains, “We located it as a violent crime rather than social crime. If you can come at the police with ways in which they can reduce violent crime, you will get a hearing”. And that is exactly what happened.

It became “almost immediately apparent” to Anthony during the meetings “that myself and the police service had been doing a pretty terrible job around domestic violence,” largely due to the “ignorant culture, especially towards why a woman wouldn’t prosecute”.

The two sides came away in agreement about turning the current outlook on its head. Instead of the victim taking responsibility for the prosecution, it was the job of the state to take responsibility. Especially given the unique dynamics of domestic violence; in no other crime did the victim have to consider going back to live with the perpetrator.

Or, in the words of Anthony: “we don’t say to a murder victim who’s lying on the ground dead with a knife in her chest, ‘do you want to prosecute’? We say ‘you’ve been assaulted, murdered and someone had broken the law, we’re going to deal with it, we’re going to gather the evidence, build the case and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), is going to prosecute if there is enough evidence, with the court dealing with it effectively’.”

Painting the bigger picture

In 2006 Standing Together appointed Anthony to help achieve “the full monty”, as he calls it. This meant stepping beyond, by trying to incorporate other sectors into the system, such as health and childcare.

“Domestic violence is the pivot around which everything else forms – until the same approach is taken to domestic violence across the board, there will always be holes. The victim always finds the gap,” he says.

A fear of this system gripped Helen Barton*, who suffered a vicious attack when her partner attempted to strangle her whilst she drove home from a break with his parents. Although she managed to pull over and kick the door open, the beating continued outside on the motorway layby.

Later that night, Helen called her father from hospital. As a barrister, he advised her to go to the police. “My mother was different, she told me not be silly and keep quiet, but I pushed ahead,” she remembers.

“When I heard social services were coming, I was really scared because I thought they were going to take my son away. I scrubbed my house thinking they were just going to categorise me as a bad mum.”

Those particular fears proved unfounded because, even though Helen lives outside Hammersmith, elements of the Duluth model had filtered through.

“When the social worker arrived, she assured me that everything was going to be ok and that she was on my side. The next day police came round and took pictures and a statement.”

Yet the further you stretch outside those agencies directly involved in the Duluth framework, the more the experience differs.

Another survivor, Lauren Foster*, remembers a particular instance which made her understand “how much better things would be if everyone had the same understanding.”

“The health visitor would be drawn in by my ex. He would take her to one side – as part of the control – and she’d come back and say ‘your boyfriend is worried about your mental health at the moment’.

“He would be an angel in front of everybody but a devil behind the scenes,” she says.

Lauren’s local GP was even more unaware: “When the abuse started I was going to the doctor’s regularly due to the birth. They thought I was self-harming and diagnosed post-natal depression – ‘you’ve had a baby, here are some anti-depressants’. I was in and out of there in a few minutes.

“If they had an understanding and background knowledge, perhaps they could have spotted the signs and saved years of pain.”

Refuge agree. Sandra Horley CBE, chief executive of national domestic violence charity, Refuge says: “A coordinated community approach is vital to keeping women and children safe from violent men. When agencies don’t join up their actions and their thinking, victims can fall through the gaps. In many cases, this can be fatal.

“Refuge runs services across the country and we work hard to create strong relationships with our partner agencies. Multi-agency working saves lives.”

Of course, the cuts have had a huge impact on services across the country; research shows a national 31 per cent cut in domestic violence spending. That’s despite research suggesting the current cost of domestic violence equates to £15.7 billion annually.

Two women a week are killed at the hands of their current or former partner – around 460 since the death of Maria Stubbings. How many more will it take?

*Not their real names

Alex Taylor is a freelance journalist with an interest in current affairs, social issues and the arts. Find out more @ykts_net

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

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

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

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

Photograph of Maria’s family courtesy of Julian Nieman

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#5yearssinceMaria: Are these domestic violence sentences fair?

Between 16-19 December Feminist Times is joining Refuge in remembering the tragic death of Maria Stubbings with a series of articles on domestic violence.

In October this year, domestic violence made the front page of the UK Metro, a free newspaper with a daily circulation of more than a million copies.

“Punch a horse, get jailed for a year. Punch the stomach of pregnant girlfriend (who coincidentally loses her baby the next day), get 16 weeks”, read the sensational subheading.

23-year-old Ryan Guntrip was jailed for just 16 weeks after punching his pregnant girlfriend, 20-year-old Carina Mackay, in the stomach. Despite admitting assault by beating, Guntrip was jailed for just 16 weeks because there  was no way of proving the attack had caused the miscarriage.

In the same week as Guntrip’s sentencing, a Newcastle United fan was jailed for 12 months for punching a police horse. The shocking disparity between sentences made this story front page news, but it was not an isolated injustice. We took a look at some other examples of pitiful sentences for domestic violence in 2013 and compared them to sentencing for other crimes.

Sentence: 16 weeks

Domestic Violence:

DV0

Name: Jubel Miah

Crime: Common assault by beating, committed against his wife

Sentence: 16 weeks

Case details: “Miah…ripped her tongue, kicked and punched her, inflicted black eyes on her and battered her confidence. He also tracked her movements using his mobile phone, tried to stop her going to college, accused her of cheating… The wife finally escaped from his clutches after he subjected her to a sustained attack in which he stabbed her with scissors and hit her with a dumbell.”

Same Sentence:

meat

Name: Simon Peter Davison

Crime: Meat theft

Sentence: 16 weeks

Case details: Stealing meat and other goods from Tesco, B&Q and Sainsbury’s stores, to the value of around £350.

 

Sentence: 4 months

Domestic Violence:

dv2

 

Name: Nicholas Jackson

Crime: Threatening behaviour and two counts of criminal damage against his former partner

Sentence: Four months

Case details: Jackson, who had previous convictions for arson and threatening to kill two former partners, walked free from court earlier this month because he had already served his fourth-month jail sentence in custody.

Same Sentence:

Speedcam

Name: Jack Scorby Armstrong

Crime: Perverting the course of justice

Sentence: Four months

Case details: The 20-year-old driver falsely told police his number plates had been stolen in a bid to escape a speeding fine.

 

Sentence: Suspended

Domestic Violence:

dv4

 

Name: Merlin Seagroatt

Crime: Assault causing actual bodily harm and criminal damage

Sentence: Suspended

Case details: Seagroatt “got into the room by taking a door off its hinges and attacked her again, telling her: ‘I’m going to kill you. I have always wanted to kill someone.'”

Judge Peter Heywood said: “There are always ups and downs in a relationship. You can’t behave like this towards ladies you are in a relationship with.”

Same Sentence:

Dog

Name: Tariq Al Habtoor

Crime: Dognapping

Sentence: Suspended

Case details: Billionaire’s son Al Habtoor gave away his chocolate Labrador Ozzy to a fellow student. After changing his mind, Al Habtoor offered her £1,500 to buy the dog back. When she refused, he dognapped Ozzy in a ‘military-style’ operation, which he live-tweeted.

 

Sentence: 30 months

Domestic Violence:

dv5Name: Gareth Stemp

Crime: Eight counts of assault and two counts of assault and abduction

Sentence: 30 months

Case details: Gareth Stemp was convicted of ten separate charges over an eight-year “campaign of abuse and terror” on four partners since 2004, including one who was pregnant.

Same Sentence:

800px-Cricket_ball_on_grassName: Salman Butt

Crime: Match fixing

Sentence: 30 months

Case details: Former Pakistan cricket captain Salman Butt was jailed for conspiracy to deliberately bowl no-balls during last year’s Test match against England.

Sentence: 4 years

Domestic Violence:

DV1Name: Yacoub Rezai

Crime: Manslaughter of his wife Reihana Rezayi

Sentence: Four years

Case details: Rezai, who stabbed his wife to death, was found not guilty of murder because “he never intended causing serious injury”.

The court heard Rezai believed his wife had been cheating, and five days before her death she had asked for a divorce. Rezai’s defence counsel, Bobbie Cheema QC, likened the offence to “a crime of passion”. Sentencing, Judge Michael Pert QC said: “It’s clear on the evidence you had a happy marriage and were a good, placid and kind husband.”

Same Sentence:

FBNames: Jordan Blackshaw and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan

Crime: Using Facebook to incite disorder

Sentence: Four years

Case details: Blackshaw and Sutcliffe-Keenan were jailed  for using Faceback to incite disorder during the 2011 riots, despite the fact neither of their Facebook posts resulted in a riot-related event.

 

And finally, a bit of Christmas cheer…

Screen Shot 2013-12-17 at 13.35.12

Neighbours witnessed John Reece punching his partner and dragging her down the road by her hair. She suffered a broken jaw, cuts and bruises to her face, legs and feet. Recorder Timothy Spencer said: “It’s about to be Christmas and this [suspended sentence] is your Christmas present.”

It seems that, at Christmas time, even Santa is a harsher judge than the British Criminal Justice System – we all know bad boys shouldn’t get any presents.

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

Christmas can be a particularly difficult time for victims and survivors of domestic violence, so please also support Refuge’s Christmas fundraising appeal at www.refuge.org.uk/christmas If you are affected by domestic violence, you can phone the 24-hour national domestic violence helpline, run in partnership between Refuge and Women’s Aid on 0808 2000 247.

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

Thanks also to Karen Ingala Smith for her assistance with sentencing data.

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#IDontBuyIt: TV this Christmas is one big sausage fest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My life is changed, I am changed.

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

MANIFESTO

I would like…

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

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

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

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

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

Photograph of Maria’s family courtesy of Julian Nieman

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WIN: Funny Women Weekend Workshop

Two weeks ago we announced our fundraising Christmas raffle. If you haven’t entered yet, you’ve got until midday on Friday, when we’ll be announcing the one lucky winner who will receive our whole bundle of brilliant feminist prizes.

As well as books, T-shirts and other merchandise, the winner will receive our STAR PRIZE: one free place at the Funny Women Weekend Workshop (8-9 February 2014) AND the chance to review it for Feminist Times.

Funny Women was established in 2002 by Lynne Parker to support and promote female comedy talent. Their weekend comedy workshop is worth £250 and provides two full days of expert coaching.

Find out more about the workshop speakers and activities here, and check out the draft schedule for the weekend:

Saturday 8th February:

‘How to write a comedy script’ – Gavin Smith Creative Director of Business and Development for The Comedy Unit

‘Developing comedy characters’ – Alex Mahermost recently seen in her debut solo show, ‘Hope & Gloria’ (Best Show, Funny Women Awards 2013)

10.00am – 10.30am Registration, welcome coffee and introduction
10.30am – 12.30pm workshop session one
12.30pm – 2.00pm lunch break and networking
2.00pm – 2.30pm speakers surgery
2.30pm – 4.30pm workshop session two
4.30pm – 5.00pm panel round up
5.00pm – 6.00pm special guest performance by the Funny Women Players and drinks reception

Sunday 9th February:

‘Stand Up To Stand Out’ (introductory or advanced) – Lucy Frederick, finalist Funny Women Awards 2012

‘How to produce and promote a show’ – Lynne Parker, founder & executive producer of Funny Women

10.00am – 10.30am coffee and recap from day one
10.30am – 12.30pm workshop session three
12.30pm – 2.00pm lunch break and networking
2.00pm – 4.00pm workshop session four
4.00pm – 5.00pm special guest appearance, Twisted Loaf, winners of the 2013 Funny Women Awards and round up Q&A

Enter our raffle now to win a free place on the course and have your review of the weekend published on the Feminist Times website.

Other prizes in the Feminist Times Christmas Raffle bundle include: T-shirts donated by No More Page 3 and Feminism in London, a selection of Abortion Rights merchandise, a Wrecking Bar created by feminist artist Miss Pokeno, and brilliant feminist books by Catherine Redfern & Kristin Aune, Anne Dickson, Lynne Segal and Joni Seager.

We are 100% crowdfunded, with no advertising, so we only survive if people join as Members or donate. If you enjoyed this article and want to support this site, become a member by clicking the badge below…

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Or give a one off donation…

More info here.

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#5yearssinceMaria: Remembering Maria Stubbings

Five years ago today, Maria Stubbings was murdered by her ex-partner Marc Chivers.

Actually, the anniversary of her death might not be today. It might be tomorrow. Or the day after.

We don’t know exactly when Maria was killed, because in the last days of her life, she was badly let down by Essex Police.

Two days before Maria’s body was found, a police officer was instructed to check on her at home – but failed to do so. The next day, officers visited Maria’s home again. Chivers – already known to the police for killing another woman – answered the door and told them that Maria had gone away to stay with friend