‘Sexism’ Category

  1. Feminist Fairy Tales

    November 11, 2013 by alicehaswords

    image from www.medieval-castles.org

    image from www.medieval-castles.org

    My brother works in a primary school. As well as helping out with a particularly troubled/naughty little boy, he runs a weekly after-school storytelling club. This often involves discussing the week’s stories with me beforehand.

    This week he was planning to use a traditional Arthurian legend: Sir Somebody-or-other and the Hideous Hag. The story irked me. In it, King Arthur is put under a sleeping spell by an ogre, who promises to lift the spell if the Arthur’s knights can answer a riddle: what do all women want? The only way the knights are able to find the answer is by kissing a wise, but hideous, old hag. The answer she gives? ‘All women want their own way.’*

    We used to have a book of politically correct bedtime stories. Snow White and the seven people of small stature. Goldilocks and the three bears, in which Goldilocks rejects the condescending lumberjack’s offers of help and deals with the situation herself, thank you very much. That kind of thing.

    I suggested some changes to the story along these lines, to make it a bit less dreadfully sexist.

    1. The whole ‘hideous hag’ concept isn’t very original. In fact, almost all folk stories ever use three basic female character tropes: the virgin, the temptress, the crone. (See: most Disney films.) How’s about we make her a more rounded character, and avoid judging her on her age and appearance alone? Just because she’s old and not conventionally attractive doesn’t mean she should be treated with less respect.
    2. Why does the author assume that she’s so desperate for male attention that she’d blackmail the knight for a kiss? I’m guessing this story was originally written by a man, whose self-importance had been misguidedly inflated by the patriarchal society he was brought up in. See, it’s not healthy for any of us to exist in a social system that values one gender above others.
    3. Both the riddle and its answer are problematic. So here’s how I think the story should go…


    King Arthur is put in an enchanted sleep by an ogre. Not because ogres are more likely to engage in antisocial behaviour than other magical creatures, but because this particular ogre has unresolved psychological issues which lead him to use his powers irresponsibly, to compensate for the lack of positive attention he received from his parents during childhood. The Knights (a diverse group, some of whom opt for shining armour, some of whom condemn violence in all forms and so avoid the use of its associated paraphernalia) are sent out to discover the answer to the ogre’s riddle.

    The knight who finds the wise old woman is called Sir Jane (- some of the knights, of course, are women). They have a nice sit down and a cup of tea in the old woman’s hovel; the roof is a bit leaky, so Sir Jane registers it on her list of homes for repair by the Knights’ Community Outreach Programme. They discuss how much the forest has changed since they cleared all those trees to build the big new castle; how it’s made the area much more prosperous and cosmopolitan but disrupted the local unicorn population, and whether the benefits will outweigh the losses in the long run. (Now the story passes the Bechdel test. Really not hard, is it?) They move on to the topic of the ogre’s riddle, and come to the conclusion that it’s a trick question; there is no one thing that all women want, because women are individuals with their own wishes and desires and can’t be lumped together as one faceless generalisation.

    Sir Jane returns home and informs the ogre that his riddle is based on sexist assumptions, hands him a reading list of key feminist texts and directs him to the nearest library. She then goes to King Arthur and wakes him up by throwing cold water on his face, because that always works in movies.

    THE END.

    I think my version is much better.

    Go forth, feminist parents, aunties, uncles, babysitters, storytellers generally! Tell feminist fairy tales to your kids. Teach your wee ones gender equality through the power of stories. May they grow up without preconception or prejudice, into confident, thoughtful young patriarchy smashers.


    *I may have entirely misremembered the story. But I think that’s more or less it.


    Alice finds it a bit strange talking about herself in the third person, somebody else usually does this bit. Um. She is generally a good egg. She likes making things. Cats like her. She tweets here: @alicehaswords

  2. What women want

    March 15, 2013 by SarahH

    Happy belated International Women’s Day folks. How was it for you? Did you spend your time getting warm fuzzy feelings from your feminist twitter feed? Did you sit and ponder how far the women’s movement has come… but how much work there is still to be done? Or, did you sit at home thanking God for your boyfriend who happily washes his own underpants and socks. Because according to a recent online dating survey it is in the area of love (I’m talking romantic hetero-normative here) in which the women’s movement had has it’s biggest successes, with romantic relationships still being the ultimate goal.

    The survey focuses on the distribution of domestic chores, illustrating just how much house work men are now willing to do and how shrinking numbers of women see their natural role in life as being wives and mothers. Er… Hello? Didn’t we know this already?

    In making a song and dance about traditional gender roles in relationships and how couples nowadays are happy to eschew them, this ‘research’ is a) stating the obvious b) alluding to the fact that if equality in the household has been secured, the work has been done, the goal has been achieved and c) subtly illustrating that on some level, to not prescribe to the traditional gender roles is a radical relationship to find yourself in. Obviously, this research has been conducted with a specific aim in mind (i.e. to get people to signup to their dating site) but still. The arguments and conclusions insinuated bug me for various reasons, some of which I’m going to share with you now. Are you sitting comfortably?

    Whatta man, whatta man, whatta man, whatta mighty good man.

    Did you know that, according to this survey, only 11% of men think that it’s a woman’s natural role to be in the home? Did you realise that 84% of men would happily share cooking and household chores. Of course we did. It’s 2013- this is what we expect of everyone nowadays, male or female, right? Men don’t need a pat on the back for cleaning the loo once a week. I spent 6 years co-habiting with a man and on many occasions I was told (not by him) that I was lucky to have a boyfriend who cooked dinner 4 times a week and remembered to clean his poo marks out of the lav. I was to be thankful for the fact that he remembered to take out the recycling. Isn’t this type of distribution of domestic labour a given nowadays?

    Surveys like this do nothing but perpetuate the gendered binary which clearly defines certain chores as male and female. It suggests that if you have a man who is willing to take care of HIS OWN CHILDREN, you have an enlightened man, you are an incredibly lucky girl … better keep a hold of that one. Bullshit. You have man who is doing what he should do and he doesn’t deserve any extra praise for it. And, lemme tell you, you don’t have to sign up to a dating site to find one of these special men either… don’t waste your money… you’ll get nothing but cock shots (I’m speaking from experience here). Save your £30, better still go down the pub. I know plenty of websites where you can look at cocks FOR FREE

    The Power of Equality.

    If we’re led to believe that having a relationship which gives us the night off from cooking 3.5 times a week is the ultimate, where does this leave the wider issue? Does this lull us into thinking we have achieved equality? That it is in fact a woman’s world? I spoke with a friend of mine who is hesitant to call herself a Feminist because she believes her life is unaffected by the fact that she is female. Further probing revealed that she meant within the work place and she settled with calling herself ‘a part-time feminist’, but I don’t think this is an uncommon belief with regards to society as a whole. I know a few people, men and women, who do believe that we have equality. It is, in my opinion the biggest success of the patriarchy- that a large proportion of people don’t see there is a problem. Men and women alike are victims of this system but women more so. I thought I’d illustrate my point with a few titbits from my twitter feed in the last week:

    Female Genital Mutilation (FGM): An amazing article by @RosmundUrwin in the London Evening Standard on Friday 8th illustrated that ‘an estimated 66,000 women and girls in Britain have undergone FGM […] and that 30,000 girls are currently at risk’.*

    Take back the tube. On Friday 8th @elliecosgrove protested against sexual harassment on the tube after she was sexually assaulted and EJACULATED UPON by a random man.

    Violence Against women (@Vday) Did you know that one in three women will be raped or beaten in her lifetime? One in three.**

    Women and Politics. ‘ Nuff said.

    Photo courtesy of @countingwomenin

    Photo courtesy of @countingwomenin

    Do any of these things suggest we live in a society which treats women and men equally…?

    All you need is love.

    So, what is it that women really want? Equal pay? Autonomy over their own body? The freedom to walk down the street without hearing such lovely stuff as ‘tits!’ or ‘bend over love, you want summa this’? What about not being shamed and blamed when they are the victims of sexual assault? Pppff. No, no, no- all of this is irrelevant… once you have a nice boyfriend who, when he does the dishes, washes, dries AND PUTS THE POTS AWAY, you have made it, my dear. You need not look any further. Yeah right! Excuse me while… *head desk*.

    Everyone knows that you cannot get all of your happiness from one single relationship. Being in love and being loved does not make everything in life ok; in some cases love is not enough. And being a single person doesn’t make you any less worthy or make your life a total shit heap, either. I am 31, I’m single, I have been single on and off since I ended a 7 year relationship, 3 years ago . I am sick and tired of having to explain why I’m ‘still’ single (FYI: IT’S COS I’M PICKY, OKAY!). It is as if singledom has some sort of expiry date, a sort temporary ‘resting place’ in between your romantic relationships. Whaaaaaaaaaaat? I am equally as annoyed with people making assumptions about my reproductive choices based upon my single status. If I hear one more person say ‘Ooh, you’re 31. Tick-tock, tick-tock. Better get a move on old girl’ I will vomit all over my rather fetching leopard print Converse (I love these trainers. I will be SO SAD if them get covered in puke).

    Truth be told, I’m not sure if I want children, and if I were in a relationship I’d still be unsure. What I’m trying to illustrate is that my single UNLOVED (ahem) status has nothing to my reproductive choices, it is no measure of my worth as a young woman, nor does it make me a ‘failure’ even though, this is what society would like us to think. It’s ok to be single, in fact in some ways, I actually prefer it. I think more people of my age should try being single.… preferably the hot skinny indie boy who lives at the end of my street (mwahahahahahaha). But, seriously, how many people are trapped in crap relationships because we’re bombarded with a sort of social propaganda which puts coupledom on a pedestal and perpetuates the idea that to be single is to be defunct. I certainly know a few people in this situation and I bet you do too.

    If the ‘equal’ partnership in the form of monogamous romantic love with a man is the ultimate prize for women where does these leave gay and lesbian relationships? Or polyamorous relationships? Our friendships? Our relationship with ourself? Aren’t these relationships important too? To all of this I say a big fat YESSSSSSSS! Such research findings may have been fluffed up to appear progressive but really they’re not. All these surveys do is further the idea that the worth of women and men is to be found within the traditional structure of domesticity, albeit through a smug liberal lens.

    * London Evening Standard
    ** 2003 UNIFEM report entitled “Not A Minute More: Ending Violence Against Women,” 2008, the UNITE To End Violence Against Women Campaign.

    Sarah (@sazbottle) is a grass roots feminist campaigner and is involved with groups including @femactioncam and @armpits4august. Sarah writes for various online magazines/blogs and is partial to a bit of blogging in her own right (obviously all her posts are her own views, and not necessarily the views of organisations she works for, or anything like that, for all you legal eagles out there). By day, Sarah works for an NGO which targets corporate malpractice and illegal marketing strategies. Sarah likes history, yoga, raspberry leaf tea, and loud music.

  3. A teen’s take on feminism and why we need it RIGHT NOW

    March 8, 2013 by @NotRollergirl

    Sophia Valentine is a talented 17 year old writer. She has recently discovered the power of feminism after realising that female sexuality is often expressed and discussed in a highly sexist way. Here are her views on what it’s like to grow up in an overly sexualised society.

    Image from www.thecollegefix.com

    Image from www.thecollegefix.com

    As a teenage girl growing up in Britain in 2013, it can be nearly impossible to negotiate the issue of sex. Under constant pressure from the media, society and your peers, the mixed messages you receive can seem overwhelming.

    Recently, my mother announced that sexting was “shocking. [It’s] so detrimental, and children are being sexualised so young” And yet, to many teenagers, there is no line between texting and sexting. It’s simply becoming the norm. Most of my friends have experienced sexting in some form or another, and I’ve seen the persistence of teenage boys who want a “photo” – many of them are willing to nag incessantly until they get what they want, or try to guilt trip my friends. They don’t understand the meaning of the word “no.” Our parents are the generation who grew up with Playboy at the extreme end of the scale – now any child with a smartphone can watch pornography with relative ease. And what is the effect of this? Too often, porn is seen as creating over-expectant adolescent boys, who expect all women to be as willing for sex as the porn stars they see.

    John Bishop has joked about using porn to instruct his son, claiming he told him: “Actually son, they’re not usually that up for it.” But what about the effect of porn on women? Teenage girls see porn stars behaving in a certain way and feel they must mimic it. We are not objects, to be used and discarded. For me, the idea that a partner’s expectations of me are determined by pornography is ridiculous – real women have feelings and needs, they are not here simply to satisfy but also expect to BE satisfied. And what about when a woman doesn’t meet a man’s sexual expectations?

    Rape. The idea that someone will not respect my wishes is terrifying. The idea that someone would deliberately ignore my request to stop, especially in a situation as intimate as sex, is frightening. When I say no, I mean no: it is not a request, it is a command. It means stop. Being aware that almost 80 per cent of rape victims knew their attacker makes me fearful about future relationships. And where are these rapists and prospective rapists learning to behave this way? It can only be because they see women as objects, and they have been taught to prioritise their sexual urges over anything else.

    Which situation is “better”, in the eyes of society: sexual assault by an unknown attacker, or by a partner? Is either “better” at all? When I put the question to my friends, they agreed that often, sexual assault by a partner could be perceived as “worse”: each day you must face the person who hurt you, and something previously intimate is now threatening and negative. For me, while I recognise that rape by an unknown attacker may lead to mistrust of strangers, rape by a partner causes something far more severe – mistrust of the ones you love. You cannot recover without the support of those you trust – and yet you cannot trust them either. 85% of rapes go unreported, and often sexual assault by a partner is dismissed by the victim, who may begin to blame themselves. Anyone on the outside of an abusive relationship might wonder why the abused doesn’t leave – but more often than not, the abuse itself has left them without the strength, space and spirit to be able to walk away.

    The term “rape” has become an almost empty threat. Often, it is made to seem like an unavoidable destination: “if you dress like a slut, you’ll get raped.” To me, this use of a serious criminal act with severe repercussions as an inevitable concept is shocking. Whilst teenager drivers are often warned not to drink and drive, they are not told “if you drive under the influence, you WILL die.” With all other crimes, there is a degree of possibility indicated in the warning. You might be attacked. It may have serious consequences. With rape, there is no indication of doubt indicated in the language surrounding it – women are taught it will happen.

    For my generation, what hope is there? Adults condemn our actions, yet they are the result of a society that is constantly finding new ways to exploit young people. Too often, teenagers feel suffocated by societal pressures. For many teenage girls, feminism is an unknown concept, a “dirty word.” As a friend stated, feminism is often drummed out of us by society or overexposure, until it becomes part of the background, hidden at the back of the social consciousness.

    Teenagers, especially young women, need to know that sexism and sexual violence is never OK – and that if they speak out against it, they will be encouraged and supported. We look to so many different sources of information in order to find out how to behave. Will women’s magazines tell us how to get a boyfriend? Will porn tell us how to make him happy? But feminism needs to infiltrate and frame every fact we get given, otherwise it’s irrelevant and dangerous. Finding feminism has filled me with hope for the future. It needs to infiltrate the mainstream so that other teens use it as a source of ideas, answers and comfort.


  4. Three’s A Crowd

    September 28, 2012 by The Kraken

    Image from http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/dominic-mohan-take-the-bare-boobs-out-of-the-sun-nomorepage3

    You know what? I’m still thinking about tits. Even though I’ve splashed my bile over the whole Kate Middleton debacle I still have baps on the brain. God knows why because I’ve had my very own pair for the last 41 years. Then again, it’s precisely because I have funbags of my own that I am obsessing over the subject. That and the No More Page Three campaign that’s making me want to lob burning tyres into any given newsagents.

    What is with The Sun’s page three? I’m comforted by the fact that thousands of other people have spluttered the same question as they signed the campaign petition, yet I get the raging vapours when I realise that right now, in 21st Century Britain, I can actually show my four year old daughter pictures of tits in a national newspaper. A newspaper. Not a wank mag. Not an anatomy text book. A newspaper.

    I just don’t get it, the whole notion of checking a paper for the news, a crossword or TV listsings just to be confronted by the norks of Chantelle from Chelmsford. In fact it makes me sick up into the back of my throat. The whole thing leaves me so bewildered that I swear to fuck someone’s been feeding me rohipnol. Quite possibly the type of someone who leers over page three in the first place.

    And as much as this offends me as a woman it sends my rage into space when I view it as the mother of a little girl. There I am showing four year old Kraken Junior that she’s strong, determined, intelligent, inventive and capable of changing the world while page three shows her that her value lies solely in the tits that she hasn’t even grown yet. What a delightful start to any little girl’s life. And there I was fretting over her wanting to be a princess. What I should be worrying about is whether she one day compares herself to these laughable examples of femininity and starts slashing at her own body with a knife just to relief herself of her thundering lack of belief and self-esteem. I’ll send the bill for her psychiatric treatment to editor Dominic Mohan shall I?

    Yet even if I never expected better of The Sun, you’d have thought that it would expect better of its own readers. You see, even though the paper thinks of itself as a rag that stands up for the common man it’s happy to piss all over the other half of the population. It’s also happy for the common man to one day see his own daughter gurning back at him from page three. What a lovely thought for all of those page three supporters, that one day their daughter may get her kit off and submissively stare out of a newspaper while some stranger gets a stiffy and splashes his spooge all over her picture before balling up the sodden page and chucking it into the bin. How’s that for respect for women? But then again I really don’t expect page three supporters to think that far ahead in the first place. Not when there’s a quick woody to hand.

    More than that, is this really what a newspaper wants to look like in modern Britain? Opening The Sun to page three is like setting a flux capacitor to 88 mph and finding yourself back in a workingmen’s club in 1971. It’s such a dated notion from such a dated age that you’d think that any decent editor would back off faster than David Cameron from a benefits claimant. So exactly what is The Sun trying to achieve by clinging onto it? Perhaps it’s actively trying to die out which it will when the last leering, 70′s-stuck, daughterless reader finally kicks the bucket and takes the entire paper’s readership with him.

    Which is why the NMPT campaign isn’t just women defending women. It’s also about women defending the daughters and wives and grandaughters and nieces of any given tit-ogler, although it’s a big shame that we’re having to do this for them. If you fancy being generous, though, you can sign the petition here or you can tweet or you can nip over to Facebook. Go on. Even if your day’s been a bastard here’s your chance to turn it around.

     The Kraken is a ‘furious and ranty ex-freelance journalist’. She has a wonderfully rage-filled blog, with the excellent title, ‘The Kraken Wakes’ and you can find her on Twitter right here

  5. No More Page 3: been there, signed it, got the t-shirt

    September 18, 2012 by laurenbravo

    Image fromaristos.org

    It’s a pretty good rule of thumb, when wanting to test the sense of any life situation, to ask yourself: how would I explain this to a child? If you can’t communicate the logic of something in simple terms a kid can grasp, there’s a good chance it might be completely ridiculous. Extra light mayonnaise, for instance. Or why they let the contestants on Four in a Bed decide each other’s scores.

    Now, I’d like you to think about how you would explain the existence of Page 3 to a child who has never encountered it before. Go on – have the imaginary conversation in your head. I’ll wait.

    Tricky, isn’t it? Because when you stop to think about it, Page 3 is like an embarrassing old curtain pelmet from the 70s that everyone has somehow forgotten to take down. I like to think that when it finally ceases to be, just like smoking in restaurants, it’ll seem oddly incredible that it was ever A Thing in the first place.

    The explain-it-to-a-child reason is just one of many being currently given by people signing the No More Page 3 petition on change.org. At the time of writing, it has over 17,000 signatures. It gained 6,000 just today. The campaign, an open letter to The Sun’s editor Dominic Mohan, was started by writer Lucy Anne Holmes when she noticed, flicking through its coverage of the Paralympics, that despite page after page of awesome achievements, the biggest image of a woman in the whole paper was still the semi-naked one.

    “George Alagiah doesn’t say, ‘And now let’s look at Courtney, 21, from Warrington’s bare breasts,’ in the middle of the 6 O’ Clock News, does he?” reasons Holmes. The petition isn’t about restricting the freedom of the press. It’s not about condemning glamour models, or the people who like to look at them. It’s simply about asking, nicely, that they be taken out of the newspaper – because in case we weren’t all clear on this, boobs aren’t news.

    Whether The Sun reports ‘news’ at all is a whole other debate, of course. But to write it off as an archaic, ignorant rag is to blithely ignore the influence it still has on a massive chunk of the population – not to mention anyone who ‘accidentally’ reads it on the bus. Page 3 is so entrenched a part of the mainstream media that loads of readers don’t even stop to question it. If we can’t change the whole paper, we can at least try to change this.

    And while it’s heartening how strong and swift the response to Lucy’s campaign has been, it’s also been fist-gnawingly infuriating how many idiots still think “you’re just jealous” is an adequate comeback.

    One argument commonly touted is empowerment. Or that the women who pose on Page 3 are actually exploiting the punters, as a sort of penance for being so easily pleased by a casual flash of mammary. Maybe they are. But rather than debate the endless intricacies of the power struggle, I want to ask: why does anyone have to exploit anyone? Can’t we just, y’know, take a break from all the exploiting for a while? If two wrongs don’t make a right, surely two exploitations don’t make a real advancement for either gender.

    “It’s just a bit of fun,” is another classic. Of course! Fun! Like a naughty seaside postcard! Where’s the harm? The harm is in yet another generation of humans growing up to believe a woman’s worth is measured by how good she looks in her scanties. The harm is in giving these women fake ‘novelty’ opinions, to remind us that, obviously, you can’t be sexy AND interested in the fiscal crisis. The harm is in objectification being sold like a jolly joke over our morning cereal, to people who either can’t or don’t want to recognise it. There’s the harm. LOOK, I’m pointing at it, like a less amusing Where’s Wally.

    Besides, isn’t it frankly insulting for a paper to think you only want to read the news if there’s a pair of bouncy breasts on the opposite page, like the proverbial spoonful of sugar, to take the taste away? If you want fun, folks, there are plenty of other places to find it. Go to a funfair. Have an ice cream. Or if you want, look at a publication that’s specially designed to have naked people in it. There are several out there, I’ve heard.

    Then let Courtney, 21 from Warrington, put her jumper back on, so we never have to explain to a confused child why she’s there.

    Lauren Bravo (yes that is her real name) is a professional funnylady for the Worthing Herald, and a top notch foodiewoman for Channel 4 Food. Check out her blog or follow the magical lady on Twitter. Or, come along to AWOT gatherings and nom her Oreo truffles – you will be transported to a magical truffly-orgasm land, promise.

  6. Which Time Is Sexytime?

    September 11, 2012 by J9London

    Image from http://finditmore.info/

    Two things happened this week that made me go “argh!” The first was a friend of mine, male, intelligent, young, mentioning that old, Mad Men style classic, men are biologically designed to be promiscuous and women aren’t. The second was this article, which argues against the concept that women will be happier in relationships if they hold off on the sexing.

    Now, the first one is obvious. Kind of. We have spent the last lots of years and much yelling to claim the right to have sex when and with whom we want to. How many more times to we have to holla before the bros believe us? Sex is great, obviously, we’re allowed to think so too, we’re allowed to be open about it. But the flip side is, we still have the right to  hold off, if that is what we want. Do men?

    I’m the sort of person to wait. It’s involuntary. It takes me a long time to want to get all canoodling features with someone, and I like that about myself. But I don’t think I’m like that because I’m a woman, and I don’t think that my friend isn’t like that because he’s a man. We’re just different people.

    As to the second, it has a point: the idea of waiting is always related to girls. Boys are expected to want to get around. Girls are expected to keep the milk so someone’ll be forced into taking the whole cow. Or something. It’s a skewing of expectation that’s been around forever, and it seems natural because it’s been around forever. I think it’s worth considering that for most of that forever, women weren’t having sex at their own discretion because men were in charge, and they didn’t want us to.

    But no one should feel like they’re supposed to have a lot of sex with a lot of different people, either it’s because they’re a MAN and MEN need to spread their SEED, or because they’re a WOMAN and WOMEN are just as good as MEN and must PROVE IT. If you’re only interested in being that intimate with one person ever, go for it. Wanting to wait until you’ve known someone for a few months before you shag them rotten isn’t abnormal and it’s not reserved for the prudish and repressed.

    I don’t care what used to be the norm. I don’t care what studies are done. I know what I want, who I want, how I want it. It’s not fashionable, but then I’ve never been fashionable. And I’m ok with that.

    Janina is addicted to dark chocolate and peppermint tea. She once made a burger so good she has a picture of the occasion on her bedroom wall. You can find out more about her at myrednotebook.com and follow her on twitter at @J9London.

  7. It’s been One Month since we looked at K Stew and started the crazy ass judging. MAKE IT STOP!

    September 7, 2012 by @NotRollergirl

    Photo from tiptoptens.com

    I am pissed. Pissed in the traditional sense (I have been drinking beer on a sofa all afternoon, in my knickers) but mostly in the American, angry sense. I’m in Brooklyn and drowning in jetlag and 30 degree heat, and it doesn’t take much to irk me – but I’m really fucking irked by the way that the media shitstorm has not calmed down and got reasonable after a MONTH. We’re still talking about the Kristen Stewart thing.

    She’s not exactly media friendly. The movie that shot her into the celebrity stratosphere is a movie series beloved by tween and teen girls – not a demographic that is known for supporting and celebrating other women. Especially not women who are dating their most favourite sparkly vampiric porcelain skinned British crush man, R Patz. And she’s notoriously awkward. When I was a baby journo intern and she was a film star to be, I interviewed her and found the whole thing so tricky that I burst into tears immediately afterwards. (I speak a very archaic brand of British English, it was on a fuzzy phone line and she understood none of my questions). But she’s 22. She’s 22 and been with the same dude since she was 18 and she hooked up with an older, married colleague and now everyone hates her. Her boyfriend hates her, her colleague’s wife hates her – apparently even her family hates her. Left leaning liberal friends who are sound in mind and body and only read the Daily Mail side bar of doom in a “wry” way – they hate her too. Even though she’s never made them cry. Can we give the chick a break?

    How can it be that the most reasonable people in the world are falling over themselves to call Kristen a harlot and a homewrecker, when Rupert “married with two kids and nearly twice Kristen’s age” Sands is getting perhaps ten to five per cent of the vitriol? In the first week following Kristen-and-Rupert-In-The-Back-Of-A-Mini-K-I-S-S-I-N-G-gate, I read EIGHT pieces on whether she’ll be able to salvage her career. Prognosis: Doubtful. Less has been written about Chris Brown “salvaging” his career in the last three years. The same Chris Brown who hospitalised his girlfriend. In fact, I think I’ve read more about Rihanna “sending out a bad message to fans” by “taking him back” than I’ve read about Chris Brown and how he should be stopped from making any music that isn’t Jailhouse Rock.

    The ongoing Kristen saga has made me think about how feminism is faltering. I may dress like a WASP punk but I have the heart of a hippy, and I really just want us all to love each other and be kind to each other. Sure, you should yell at people for finishing the cheese and having bad driving manners. It’s fine to hate on people who describe themselves as “crazy and random!” or those who make faces when you reference reality shows and say “I don’t really watch TV. Only BBC4 and documentaries.” But women who hate on other women for “betraying the sisterhood”? NO! THAT IS THE MOST ANTI FEMINIST THING OF ALL!

    I’m going to add to the Kristen conjecture by saying that I think that whatever happened between her and Rupert was born out of passion, not meanness. I think that one of them looked at the other and they both thought “I know this is completely wrong and inappropriate, but if I don’t feel your lips on mine soon my skin will fall off and I shall catch on fire.” I don’t think Kristen ever thought “how can I really upset that nice Liberty Ross and all the teenagers who fancy my boyfriend?”

    We’ve all said we’d never cheat. We’ve probably all also said we’d never smoke a cigarette, have an abortion or bone a guy whose surname we didn’t know. If having and living by lofty principles makes you happy, that’s awesome. If it makes you feel superior to everyone who doesn’t and fails and makes mistakes and does the wrong thing occasionally, you can go and suck a big bag of dicks. I’ve cheated, and I’ve been cheated on, and it always ended up in sadness, hurt and complications – but it was never borne out of any of those things. As long as people fancy each other, people will cheat. It doesn’t make me sad or anxious about humanity.

    You know what does make me sad and anxious about humanity? The way we judge each other. The way we criticize and condemn before we relate and empathise. And that’s what makes me worry about feminism and moving forward. I don’t want to be part of a sisterhood who will go full Hester Prynne on someone who snogs my boyfriend. I want to be part of a joyful, forgiving, broad, gin based kind of feminism that will not throw me out for my fuck ups. If after reading this you’re still going full Judge (that) Dredd (ful Kristen), I urge you to go out and get off with someone who makes you feel like you might catch on fire if you don’t kiss them.

    @NotRollergirl is a freelance funnywoman and writerlady. She’s the women’s editor over on Sabotage Times (where she writes a ridiculously popular column on Made in Chelsea), she writes books, and she knows all the words to ABBA’s entire collection. Follow her on Twitter (recommended for daily giggles).

  8. Rape: As much about men as it is about women

    August 28, 2012 by HannahsRhapsody

    Image from thefastertimes.com

    Several old men have offensively sought to re-define rape against women for their own political ends in the past week. And while the online response has emphatically reminded people that rape is rape, much of the online backlash – such as the #MenAgainstRape hashtag – has actually  been more telling than the comments themselves, and helps shed light on how misunderstood the issue of rape really is  

    Rape. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few days, it is unlikely to have escaped you that rape is on the news agenda at the moment. In a big way.

    First, we had US Congressman Todd Akin giving an interview in which he staggeringly-ignorantly described how, “as I understand it, if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways of shutting that whole thing down”.

    BOOM! In that one single sentence we have both utter ignorance of how the female body works AND a suggestion that some rape isn’t legitimate. Well, holy shit, we must have reached the pinnacle of white, old men pontificating on women’s bodies, right? But no. Wait! There’s more!

    Next up comes WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, currently hiding in the London Ecuadorian embassy, flatly refusing to come out, thereby winning this year’s prize for stretching the rules of hide-and-seek to patience-whittling levels AND refusing to face rape and molestation allegations in one fell swoop.

    Now, while it’s beyond the remit of this blogpost to properly comment on the WikiLeaks situation and what embassies will and won’t allow, the rape allegations seem unequivocal. In the more famous indictment, Assange is accused of having had consensual sex with a woman, who then woke up later on to find him having sex with her again. Let me repeat: WOKE UP – ergo, Assange started having sex with her while she was still UNCONSCIOUS.

    The law is clear on this: it’s rape. A means through which some men have sought to demean, dominate and violate women since the beginning to time. (Yes, men get raped too and many of the same points still stand, but in this case, we’re talking about a man doing it to a woman.)

    As Hadley Freeman, and so many others, got piercingly-right when they repeated it again and again: rape is rape is rape. If you have sex with someone without their outright and mutually-understood, fully-conscious consent, then that is rape.

    It’s quite simple really. Except, apparently, for some people.

    In which Galloway sends himself down shit creek

    Because, next up on the batshit-tosser train this week was Respect MP George Galloway (best known for dressing as a cat on national television) who inexplicably joined Akin and Assange in the redefining-rape fun by saying that for some people, being naked in bed with them means you’re “already in the sex game”, and therefore have consented to more sex EVEN IF YOU HAPPEN TO BE ASLEEP. “Sure, a tap on the shoulder would have been more polite,” he then went on to suggest, causing me to have a minor embolism before I could continue watching.

    Although it has to be said that the sheer numbers of people who have come out against the comments, as shown by the Vagenda’s ‘Rape rainbow’ or Jezebel’s ‘Official guide to legitimate rape’, is one of the most heartening things about this whole sorry tale, some responses haven’t been uniformly encouraging – and have actually highlighted why we still need to keep talking about these issues in the first place.

    Of course, it all started with a hashtag. The #menagainstrape hashtag.

    In case you’ve read this far and your eyes are getting squiffy, that’s Men Against Rape. Many people took offence to this hashtag , but I think it addresses some serious points; the dismissal of which could be potentially extremely damaging to what we’re all trying to do: educate people about rape.

    In a nice handy list, here are a few of the most common ideas that I saw bandied around in criticism of the hashtag.

    • It’s making this crime, which largely affects women, about men
    • It’s taking away from women’s ability to talk to men and put their own experiences across
    • It’s obvious and completely unnecessary; why not simply have a hashtag saying #MenAgainstMurder, or #MenAgainstPaedophilia or #MenAgainstDrinkingBleach ?
    • It seems to ‘thank men for not being rapists’, and suggests that this is an ‘opt in’ thing rather than a general base level of respect we’d all expect  as default

    Although I can see where these points come from, they largely miss the point that, actually, rape is quite often about men.

    In fact, wherever the crime is a man having sex with a woman, that’s about a man as much as it’s about the woman. About the fact that a man has so little respect, appreciation or understanding of that woman’s right to her own body and sexuality; about how her sexuality, power, intellect and identity has got absolutely nothing to do with him, unless she explicitly consents to make it so.

    Rape is about power, and as long as it’s about the wielding of power over women, it’s also about men.

    Feminism was born from women demanding dialogue with men, and even though women now have the power to speak out without men’s permission or help, it doesn’t follow that men cannot empathise with women or espouse their views on equality.

    Of course men shouldn’t seek to redefine or dominate feminist debates, or women’s experiences. But joining a discussion or wholeheartedly espousing its principles doesn’t automatically mean a man wants to dominate it, ‘make it about them’ – or, if you will, ‘mansplain’ it.

    While rape of women strikes right to the heart of what it means to be a woman, in these cases, anyway, it also strikes right to the heart of what it means to be a man coexisting with women.

    Of course, it’s extremely obvious to have a hashtag saying #MenAgainstRape.

    Because OF COURSE men should be against rape as a default position. Just like I’m against kicking puppies and shooting children with rifles.

    BUT the fact that some men and women still agree that in some cases, rape just isn’t that serious and that women must shoulder some of the responsibility when they ‘lead on’ a man or drink a bit too much; the fact that there are still people in the world (especially those who are in positions of political power) who think that conscious consent is a blurry concept, means that actually, I’d say having a #MenAgainstRape hashtag isn’t such a bad idea.

    At the very least, inviting men to join discussions about rape might get people ‒ namely men for whom it doesn’t seem immediately obvious ‒ considering what rape means, and getting them to think about it a bit more before engaging in sexual relationships with people.

    It might also provide a rallying point for men on the subject, in their own arena, away from the feminist blogs and the sections of the newspapers which, with the best will in the world, are not usually read by those who have the most need for them.

    All those men who are so obviously already against rape, well thank god for you, you’re absolutely right. You don’t need to ‘opt in’, or pat yourself on the back for not being a rapist. (But if so, this hashtag, and the comments created alongside it, were not aimed at you.)

    And frankly, if it gets even one man thinking about what it means to rape versus not rape, or even strikes one line of dissention against the ideas perpetuated by Akin, Assange and Galloway, then I’d consider that a success.

    At least it’s not trying to redefine or qualify rape, in a discussion which is so often reduced to a ‘women’s issue’ against men, simplistically pitching the genders against each other.

    It’s simply saying that actually, men don’t all agree with Galloway or Akin.

    And if it provides a rallying point for groups such as domestic violence charity Respect UK (NOT Galloway’s ‘Respect’, thank god) to tweet links such as “10 things you can do to stop violence against women” or “If you want to show sexual respect, always check you’ve got an enthusiastic yes”, then frankly, where’s the harm in that?

    It doesn’t take away, it only adds

    Giving people a platform on which to assert that they are against rape doesn’t take away from the testimonies of women coming out to tell their story about rape. Neither does it, logically, suggest that anyone who doesn’t assert their view in this way is therefore ‘for rape’ or ‘rape ambivalent’.

    In fact, as I see it, it only adds to the dialogue between the genders; only adds an additional voice to the crowd of people around the world telling Assange, Akin and Galloway, and their sympathisers, that their views are profoundly offensive, unwanted, unfounded, ignorant and completely at odds with the experiences and views of the vast majority of men and women.

    And isn’t that what we’re all trying to get across in the first place?

    Comments and (constructive!) criticism very welcome!

    Follow Hannah on Twitter @HannahsRhapsody, or see her other writings at http://notallwhowonderarelost.wordpress.com where a version of this post first appeared.

  9. Rape doesn’t just happen to other people

    August 23, 2012 by Anon

    Image from Slutwalk

    Last night, I stormed out of a dinner party in a rage with tears streaming down my face.  I was in a conversation with a male friend who I love who was trying to explain away Galloway’s comments on Assange.  At one point I ended up yelling and itemising the number of his female friends who have been sexually attacked.  Let me clarify here, I have not been raped.  But I have been assaulted with sex as a goal of the attacker and I have been sexually harassed more times than I can count.  Almost every woman I know has been at the receiving end of some sort of sexually motivated abuse.  A few weeks ago I was in a meeting when I got a text that one of my best friends had just been attacked on the tube, it was 4 pm.

    Two years ago, I was followed approached and grabbed on the tube, I resisted and asked other passengers for help, only to be  ignored when the attacker said I was his drunk girlfriend.  I only got away by diving in to another tube car as the door closed.  Both of us would have been victims of ‘legitimate’ stranger danger rape rather than that of our boyfriends or acquaintances.  In ways, that would have made it easier—as people are able to believe that the baddie in the bushes raped you rather than the neighbour you’ve known since you were ten or the guy you’ve been on a few dates with that you would have probably slept with anyway.  But both of us when recounting the stories repeatedly say what we were wearing… we explain that we were in no way encouraging it.  We justify our right to have been, god forbid, traveling unaccompanied on public transport.

    This isn’t meant to be a litany of woe is me and my friends.  Rape, sexual assault, assault with sexual undertones and violence underlying it is a constant threat.  Rape has been used as a weapon against women since the beginning of time.  It is used to tame, silence and demonstrate power over women regularly.  And currently in England and the US, two supposedly educated nations, it is headline news.  From Julian Assange to Todd Akin; what is rape rape?  What is legitimate rape?  Why don’t these women just roll over and open their legs, whether they are asleep or awake and let us get on with our manly business.

    These aren’t tears of sadness, they are tears of fury.  People wonder why rape is only reported a quarter of the time?  Because the cops and the people on the benches of so called justice are asking what they were wearing, they are silently asking if it is forcible, legitimate, real, actual, rape.  Or just a misunderstanding.  Or just a little bad sexual etiquette.  Something has to give, the fury and rage that is being expressed on twitter is just the tip of the iceberg.  Women need to come out in force and vote.  And the men that we love, the men that we share our stories of abuse with, the men that stand by us, need to vote too.  Galloway needs to be shamed out of politics.  Assange needs to be prosecuted for the rapes that he committed and Akin needs to resign.  And we need to stop electing Neanderthals that hold the belief that rape is anything other than a heinous act.

    If you have a story you would like to share anonymously, please email anonawot@gmail.com or DM me on Twitter for the anon account log in details. Thank you.

  10. Street harassment FAQs: an imaginary conversation

    July 24, 2012 by laurenbravo

    Image from upliftmagazine.com

    Sorry, what was that?

    Hello, gorgeous.

    Yeah, I thought so. Would you like the middle finger with accompanying eyeroll, or a clumsy expletive? I might have a more eloquent speech jotted down somewhere in my bag if you can hang on a minute?

    But it’s a compliment!

    Is it, though? Is it actually? As @Blonde_M excellently put it in this post, a true compliment is intended to make the recipient feel good – not the giver feel powerful. Did you say it with my feelings in mind?

    Honestly, it was meant as a compliment

    Ok, fine. But what made you think you should pay it in the first place? You don’t know me. I’m not in a pageant. I’m not being officially presented at the Ambassador’s Ball. I’m just on the Northern Line, biting a hangnail. I’ve got a bit of lunch down my top. Did I look like I was fishing for compliments?

    Well, you’re a girl…

    Ah, of course! I’m a girl. I’d stupidly forgotten for a minute. But yep, there they are – the steady throb of my baby-hungry ovaries, the whirring cogs of the part of my brain still trying to figure out the offside rule, and, most importantly, my urgent gnawing need to be evaluated and approved by every male I have the good fortune to pass on the street.

    Are you being sarcastic?


    So you’re saying you DON’T want us to compliment you?

    Most of the time, honestly, no I don’t. I have friends for that. And family. And a talking Ken doll from the mid-90s. If it means not having to feel like I’m being scrutinised every time I leave the house, I’ll happily forgo the odd stranger telling me I look hot, thanks.

    But isn’t it nice to get a surprise compliment from a stranger?

    Well, yes – this is a tricky one, because it can be lovely. A lady at a bus stop once told me I had incredible skin, and I walked around like one big beaming epidermis for the rest of the day. But I think that’s because, like all truly great compliments, it was no-strings. She didn’t expect anything in return (or at least, she didn’t hang around leering, so I assumed she didn’t). She just wanted to say a nice thing.

    But what if, y’know… it isn’t no-strings?

    What’s that? You mean, if you see a comely lady and want to tell her she’s purdy in the hope she might agree to kiss you on the mouth?

    Something like that

    Well, first I feel it’s only fair to warn you that the chances of successfully pulling anyone you meet on the street are minimal. Teeny. Like your-


    Sorry – that too personal, was it?

    It’s true though. You can be a perfectly appealing guy, not drooling down your t-shirt or wearing a dirty overcoat or anything, and we’re still likely to back away when you try to hit on us in public. Partly, because it sets off a security alarm in our heads. And partly because, like any ill-judged social interaction, it just makes us cringe.

    Sure, everyone likes the idea of meeting the love of their life after they’ve groped your bum outside a corner shop in Kilburn – but life isn’t a fairytale. Sometimes you’ve just got to acknowledge the odds.

    But what CAN we say then?

    Well. I’m about the employ a massive cliché here, so gird yourself. Ahem. It’s not WHAT you say, it’s the way you say it.

    Or at least, that’s partially true. If what you want to say is “Hey baby, suck this” then no amount of warm smiling and non-threatening body language is going to stop us wanting to thwack you in the delicates.

    But when you’re treading the fine line between a friendly approach and a sleazy come-on, you just need to make it clear that you’ll retreat without fuss if we want you to. Start small, with a smile. Not a creepy one. See if she smiles back. Learn the signals. If they make a fake phone call to a friend, they’re not interested. If they frown nervously and shuffle away, that’s your cue to quit.

    It really isn’t that different from any person who strikes up a chat with any other person at the bus stop, and then won’t piss off when they want to get back to their book – except we have the added fear that you’ll follow us down a dark alleyway and we’ll have to jab our keys in your eye. Nobody likes being harangued.

    That’s true. I gave a guy the time once and he ended up sitting with me the whole way from Piccadilly to Cockfosters talking about which waterfowl are native to Britain. It was bloody annoying.

    Now imagine he also wanted to have sex with you. Maybe he did want to have sex with you.

    That’s a point.

    Also good to note: there’s a big difference between complimenting us on something we’ve chosen, like our shoes, and being ‘complimented’ on an intrinsic part of our physicality. Like our arses. “Hey, great hat!” says, “You have brilliant taste. You chose an excellent hat. Congratulations*”, while (and forgive me if there’s a GNVQ out there I haven’t heard of), there’s no expertise involved in growing a nice pair of tits.

    Rather than feeling proud, it makes you feel like a piece of meat laid out for inspection. And even if we’ve been classified as prime fillet today, what if we’re scrag end of neck tomorrow? It establishes a system in which we feel we have to look hot all the time. Every day. Just in case there’s a bloke looking.

    (*Actually that’s a lie. “Great hat!” usually means “Whoah there! Hat. You’ve got a hat on.”)

    So, if in doubt…

    Say nothing at all. Yep, ’fraid so. And I hate to break it to you, but nothing catastrophic is going to happen if you DON’T toot your horn at that girl in the sundress. Her day will carry on perfectly well without you shouting ‘Awright sexayyy’ out of the window. If anything it will probably be better.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if one day we could just tell women we think they’re beautiful without them feeling scared or objectified or pissed off?

    Yes. Yes it would.

    (Thanks to @ashleyfryer and the other brilliant AWOTs for all the inspiring chat on this topic)

    Lauren Bravo (yes that is her real name) is a professional funnylady for the Worthing Herald, and a top notch foodiewoman for Channel 4 Food. Check out her blog (where this post first appeared) or follow the magical lady on Twitter. Or, come along to AWOT gatherings and nom her Oreo truffles – you will be transported to a magical truffly-orgasm land, promise. 


  11. Sneak harassment: when can I say something?

    July 16, 2012 by Ashley

    Protestors against street harassment in Washington DC. Image from sarah-graham.co.uk

    I don’t remember the first time I properly started to think about (street) harassment and how it affects me. It might have been this excellent post by @pleasedonteatjo, or this totally fabulous example of solidarity from @laurenbravo. Either way, until recently, I’d always just ignored it. Accepted it. Let it slide. But since we’ve been talking about it more, I’ve started to get annoyed. I’ve started to get really bloody angry. Because it’s not okay to treat a woman like she’s nothing more than the sum of her orifices. And nine times out of ten, that’s what street harassment is. It’s not a friendly man complimenting you on your fine choice of lipstick – it’s a bloke saying something creepy under his breath just as you walk past him; it’s a group of lads yelling ‘suck my cock’ from a passing car; it’s the nutter in a corner shop, telling you to bend over.

    It’s not okay, and it’s scary as shit. I’ve finally gotten the confidence to actually start shouting back (though only in crowded places and/or broad daylight – it would be stupid to put yourself in actual danger by provoking the wrong person). Having witnessed @alice_emily in a spectacular moment where she told off two harassers on Charing Cross Road, I’m now in full support of reacting angrily.

    But what about the times when you can’t really shout back? I was at a bit of a mental house party a couple of weeks ago. I only knew a handful of people, and I was having a good time catching up and snaffling a lovely G&T. As the night went on, the party got busier and the pupils of the people around me got wider. I was standing by the bathroom at one point, when an absolute scrotum of a man walked past me and full on brushed my left breast with his hand. Not an actual lengthy grope, but a distinctive, single stroke down the length of it. I jerked, stunned and did a sort of ‘what the fuck’ gesture with my arms, but he was already gone. I stood there for a second, wondering if anyone else had seen. They hadn’t. I felt indignant but sort of helpless. There was no chance for me to chase after him and berate him – after all, it could have been an accident (it wasn’t).

    Later, that same man pushed past me again and this time, did the exact same stroke-as-he-walked-past right up my bum cheek. Again, I felt immediately very uncomfortable and I think I actually said ‘what the fuck’, but he was already off and away. I mentioned it to my boyfriend, who wanted to know who it was. I didn’t tell him, because picking an argument with someone who’s high off their ass on coke and already bug-eyed is never going to end well. I told myself if he did it again, I would crush him (drunk me may be a bit of a drama queen). Thankfully, we left shortly after. I continued to seethe.

    I’ve talked about harassment a lot with my boyfriend, who is always horrified. He never sees it. We joke that he’s my talisman, because it does (obviously?) happen less when he’s with me. But the following day, we were walking down the escalator at a tube station, me with my maxi dress hitched up so I don’t get sucked in and vaporised, and it happens. Just as I walk past an older man in a suit, he says ‘lovely legs, sexy lady’ with a weird, hungry smile. I am instantly annoyed, throwing a ‘fuck off’ over my shoulder. As I get off, I turn to the boyfriend. “There! Did you see that?!” He didn’t. Because it was sneaky. It wasn’t a man in a hard hat yelling ‘tits’ while hanging off some scaffolding – it was a fairly ordinary looking businessman saying something quietly when I am less than a foot away from him. It’s not street harassment – it’s sneak harassment.

    Last week, on the District line, I put my hand up to hold the rail above me. It wasn’t particularly crowded and there was lots of room. The man nearest me put his hand on the rail too, touching mine. I instinctively moved mine a few inches along. He moved his along so our hands touched again. I moved along again. He followed. Then put his foot against mine. Everytime I moved, he would follow. I became so uncomfortable, that I switched carriages. Should I have said something? What am I meant to accuse him of? Excuse me, strange man, but please stop harassing my phalanges with your sweaty palms? Please don’t put your hushpuppies near my pumps? Please don’t breathe on me when there is clearly several feet of empty space around both of us?

    I have no problem at all with chatting to strangers, or a stranger complimenting someone on the way they look. I know a couple that met on a tube, another that met in a lift. It’s perfectly okay to speak to strike up a friendly chat with a perfect random. But it’s not cool when you’re subtly putting that person in an uncomfortable position. Deliberately pressing your crotch into someone on a crowded tube is not only unacceptable, it’s icky. Kind of like when your cat presents you with a dead mouse. But it’s hard to find the balance between telling someone you’re uncomfortable, and making things really bloody awkward. As Brits, awkwardness is just something we don’t do. I hate it. And when I can call out harassment, I do. But when it’s sneaky, you know the person’s getting off on the fact that you can’t say anything. They’re getting away with it in broad daylight, because you risk embarrassing everyone on the train if you actually say something, or wrongly accuse someone. It’s a social-political nightmare.

    So what do you do? My boyfriend suggests staring them down, but honestly, if someone’s creeped me out, the last thing I want to do is look them in the eye for any length of time. I’ve thrown a few casual glares around, but is it enough? How can we fix a problem when it’s barely on the radar? Or do we just have to get on with it? I don’t want to have to accept that sneak harassment is something that just happens. I want a solution! So, any ideas?!

    Ashley is the editor of teamawot.com and thus is not used to writing her own bylines. As well as working in communications, Ashley runs a little food blog, called Peach Trees and Bumblebees. You can also find her other, oft-neglected blog here, where she muses on issues ranging from Nectar cards to wanking. Usually not in the same post. She’s also on Twitter.

  12. Feminism: No longer needed, right? Erm, wrong

    July 11, 2012 by HannahsRhapsody

    In my life, I could view gender struggle as something that ‘happens to other people’. So why do I feel such a strong need to view the world from a fighting, ‘feminist’ point of view? Because it’s only by understanding what happens when gender equality is not upheld that I can appreciate just how lucky I am, and therefore how important feminism still is

    Feminist doormat

    Sound familiar?

    You know the scene. A few glasses of wine have been had, and a discussion starts. And yet again, I take a feminist viewpoint on something, and see the issue irrevocably coloured by its gender politics. And yet again, I find myself having to justify my stance, to women as often as to men. I find myself having to justify why feminism is still relevant to someone like me.

    ‘Why are you a ‘feminist’, anyway? Isn’t that all about bra burning and stuff? Why do you even need it, it’s so outdated?! You’ve got the vote and equal pay, haven’t you/we? Women go out to work nowadays, you/we can get divorced, have access to the Pill, get abortions, men do housework, look after the kids, I mean, what more do you/we want? How often do you/we get cat-called in the street? Maybe other women do, but you/we hardly ever do, right? And didn’t you hear that story a while back about how even builders don’t think shouting out at women is OK anymore? Think how much better you have it than women around the world! I mean, honestly. Are you just looking for something to get angry about?’

    And despite the seriously frustrating nature of these questions, it’s not always that easy to give a proper answer.

    It’s all very well engaging in feminist discussion on ‘women’s blogs’ where everyone agrees more or less with where you’re coming from, but in the ‘real world’, around the pub table, people who take on feminist stances can see themselves being looked at strangely, given distance as that crazy, angry woman in the corner, getting pissed off about stuff that doesn’t even apply anymore.

    It’s all very well being seen as akin to the ‘madwoman in the attic’ when the law says you’re legally your husband’s property, but hey, we’ve all moved on since then, so what are you still whinging about?

    • It’s not a question easily answered, if you consider it from my own personal point of view.

    A Vindication of the Rights of Women, by Mary Wollstonecraft

    Quite often I do find myself wondering why I personally feel the need to assume such a ‘feminist’ viewpoint on life. I gravitate towards ‘feminist’ blogs and ‘women’s’ take on the news; feel strongly about women’s independence, am deeply interested in discourses surrounding and between men and women, the ‘confounding’ of gender stereotypes (to paraphrase Mary Wollstonecraft) and derogatory language used by either sex, and generally am drawn towards individuals and media groups that bravely, intelligently and passionately argue for a more equal, more accepting, more tolerant and more liberal society, particularly where men and women’s gender ‘roles’ are concerned.

    • But, beyond the obvious, I sometimes wonder why I feel this way. On the face of it, I don’t have any real personal motivation for seeing the world through this kind of lens.

    Controversial statement, perhaps, but despite being an opinionated git; interested in news, debates, philosophical discussions and other things that would come under that rather horrible umbrella term ‘current affairs’; stubborn and outspoken, I’m not hugely political, and often feel myself assuming the rather non-triumphant role of observer rather than activist when it comes to these issues in real life.

    I’ve never marched for anything, and in my everyday life have been lucky enough to never have experienced first-hand any real sexist or sexual abuse, comments or problems (of which more below).

    I’ve had a great education, got a job, earned my own money, shared a flat on my own terms, and walked around London at night without feeling in any way especially discriminated against or at any disadvantage simply for being a woman (unlike in other countries I’ve visited, namely in India, where I sometimes felt threatened and stared at just for daring to appear on the street ‒ I can only imagine what would happen in other, even more conservative countries).

    Unlike women in other countries or cultures, I’ve not been denied contraception or been sneered at for having sex before marriage; I’ve been given just as good an education and chance at a career as my brother, I’ve never cooked a meal or ironed a shirt that I’ve not wanted to (being tired and wanting to watch the latest episode of Girls doesn’t count), I’ve not been pressured into marriage, or felt forced to have, or give up, a child, felt at any real risk of sexual violence, suffered domestic abuse or felt the glass ceiling pressing down on my head.

    I have barely even been ‘cat-called’ in the street – to which, stupidly and completely absurdly, my initial reaction is to feel offended and convinced of my own unattractiveness as a result, before I remember that such idiocy completely flies in the face of my own more considered convictions that women (and men; everyone) should have the right to walk down a road undisturbed.

    That I’ve not suffered this seems purely a case of luck; I know many of my friends have had explicit comments whispered at them while on public transport, and lewd comments shouted at them humiliatingly across the street. The internet is rife with women speaking out, quite rightly, about the verbal harassment they receive. But personally? It’s never been a big problem, to be honest.

    • On a wider level, compared to many other countries, in Britain we are streaks ahead in terms of legislation regarding women and equality of the sexes.

    Ignoring, for the moment, all the ways in which things still aren’t perfect in the UK, women are – in theory, anyway ‒ able to be educated, to claim the right to live without sexual harassment or fear, not legally able to be forced into marriage; able to have abortions, get free contraception, and entitled to be paid as much as a man doing the same job. Discrimination and lack of opportunity in this country is rife, but arguably far more as a result of socio-economic inequalities than gender ones.

    Of course, for each of those points I could (and probably should) enter into heated debate about why that’s not true, how this state of affairs only applies to white, heterosexual, middle class, privileged women. I could talk about the exceptions; the statistics that claim that these rights are far from universal, and why just because it’s the law, doesn’t mean it actually happens.

    But the fact that these laws and conditions exist, de jure at least, if not de facto, for many, already puts our nation far, far ahead of what women in other countries have to live with (or not, as the case may be). In some ways, women’s positions in this country are far from dire – or at least, legally they have the potential not to be.

    I can barely believe how lucky I am, and yet – if I am so lucky, and living in a country where such laws are in my favour, and where I personally am rarely made to feel threatened or limited because of my gender, then why do I still find myself feeling strongly about ‘women’s issues’, gender politics, and other debates that come under the heading ‘feminism’?

    • Why do I persist in seeing things through that ‘gendered lens’? Well, perhaps because, in reality, most of what I’ve written above is bollocks.
    Feminism people

    Radical, huh?

    While the legal ins and outs of what I’ve written are true, such as, for example, that women have a right to vote, a right to equal pay, and to live without harassment ‒ and that I myself haven’t suffered any real gender inequality ‒ that doesn’t mean that this state of affairs applies to all women, or that I don’t need to care.

    Even though, critics say, many of the key feminist battles have been won, that doesn’t mean that we no longer need to regard society from a feminist viewpoint, or defend the lines along which the original, old battles were fought.

    Women may have won the vote a while back, and bra-burning may (one might argue) belong in the faded days of Germaine Greer’s first-edition The Female Eunuch, but that doesn’t mean that feminist viewpoints aren’t needed. For so many reasons I barely know where to begin – in fact, so many reasons that a website called just that – A Thousand Reasons – was set up to highlight misogyny on the Internet, and, in its own words, to ‘discuss the continuing necessity of feminism’.

    • Because, yes, I realise I may be preaching to the converted here, and saying the obvious. Except, to me, it doesn’t always seem hugely obvious, because – as I’ve said above – I pretty much have never felt side-lined because of my gender.

    Beyond getting irate at some very-slightly off-colour ‘banter’ in my office, I’ve never obviously been at the receiving end of any real discrimination because of my sex. I’m a privileged white girl without much cause for complaint at the moment – certainly not from a gendered point of view, anyway. Lucky bloody me.

    But why, then, do I need to espouse a feminist viewpoint on the world, and get irate about such issues? Hasn’t all the hard work been done for me by women far stronger and more politically engaged than myself?

    • Yes, and yet, understanding one’s own motivations for taking a feminist stand on the world is something that I don’t think people talk about enough.

    It’s not enough to say ‘well, I’m a woman so obviously that’s why.’ It’s not enough to simply jump on the feminist bandwagon and get angry and excited about an issue just because I can. It’s not enough to mindlessly follow something without examining, in some way, why you’re doing so.

    • Maybe I shouldn’t admit it, but it is to my serious embarrassment that sometimes I could find myself agreeing, at least from a personal point of view – that on the face of it, ‘the big’ feminist debates don’t really apply to my life, so why, personally, do I care?

    Of course, the answers to these questions have the potential to be as huge as they are debatable. Why, for instance, do we care about others at all? Why should we engage socially or politically in issues that don’t necessarily affect us directly? It’s about why we pay taxes, why we build a civilised society at all.

    This issue is also part of the whole ‘mansplaining’ debate on the Internet, which asks whether people who haven’t experienced prejudice can still own the struggle against it – specifically whether men can really be feminist, or ‘explain’ to women what ‘real feminism is’. Can I, even as a woman, justifiably care about feminism, and identify with its arguments, when I’m not on the receiving end of the worst of it? It’s a thorny question.

    But then, I don’t have to be non-white to understand that racism is completely wrong; I don’t have to be gay to want equal rights for gay people.

    • But all that aside (because this post is long enough as it is, and ‘mansplaining‘ is a huge issue in itself), on this particular issue, for me it’s basically very simple. It’s about appreciating what I (and millions like me) have, and recognising how easily, and apparently without too much fanfare, those gains could be lost.

    It’s about recognising that feminism isn’t just making a lot of noise about ‘women’s issues’, but understanding that it’s a fundamental part of who we are as a society – that not too long ago, women had to leave work when they got married; had to have a man’s permission before opening a bank account; couldn’t control their own fertility and were side-lined and marginalised and controlled as a result.

    I think for me, it basically comes down to the fact that a knowledge and continued debate on women’s rights, what they mean, and instances in which they are not upheld, simply informs my gratitude and understanding of just how privileged I am, but also, by extension, how far there is still to go when it comes to gender equality, and how easily such rights can be subverted.

    It’s only by seeing the ways in which apparent equality is letting other women down, of ways in which legal conditions can be subverted, of examples where woman are NOT given what I could so easily take for granted, of understanding just how vile people can be to each other on the basis of sexuality, sex and gender, and of looking – both historically and currently – of what happens when gender equality is NOT fought for, that I can see how lucky I am.

    And, therefore, in doing so, in my own, tiny way, try and work against prejudices that could flush away everything from which women like me have benefitted. At the risk of sounding like a character in Harry Potter, the phrase ‘constant vigilance!’ comes to mind.

    • Because gender inequality, especially today, when on the surface things look so much better than they historically have been, can be insidious.

    The privileges and rights that women have fought to claim, the moves that have been made against the patriarchy (which, I will add, at the risk of pursuing a positively scarlet herring, can harm men almost as much, if not just as much, as women) sit on a knife edge.

    Those rights could, if we stop caring, fall away in far less time than it took to instate them in the first place. Gender equality is still young. Women everywhere in the UK only got the vote in 1928 – not even a hundred years ago ‒ and other laws are younger still. And it’s hardly necessary for me to say that just because laws change, mindset is a whole other ballgame.

    To name but a few instances from a potential pool of millions, in Ireland, it’s still illegal for women to get abortions. In America, they’re still debating whether access to contraception makes women more promiscuous. They’re still asking whether legalised abortion is OK. They’re still debating the key, seminal issues at the heart of women controlling their own sexuality, of having the right to decide what they do with their own damn bodies. They’re still contemplating voting in someone who would limit women’s rights over all these issues.

    Hillary Clinton

    Hillary Clinton in makeup-less *shock*

    In this country, the media still print bare breasts on page three of the most-read national newspaper. Hillary Clinton choosing to go without makeup is still news. Most rape cases go unreported and unpunished. Many women do still feel threatened walking in the street. Magazines airbrush, focus on sex, looks, products and advertising more than anything else. Far too many women are still abused in their own homes, get paid less than men, feel like they are valued only for how sexy they are, how slim they are, how glossy; and only see themselves in relation to the men in their lives.

    Women are still, if the media is anything to go by, encouraged to value their looks and reproductive functions over their intellect; even the bloody UN can’t make a video about women going into science without making some highly-questionable, lipstick-and-high-heel-driven, patronising fluff complete with amazed ‘proper’ male scientist going all gaga at the fact that women Can Do Science (read: faff about with test tubes). In China, women are still being forced into having abortions; in countless other countries, they are conversely being forced in childbirth, underage marriage; deprived of education – constrained not just by poverty, or social constraints, but purely and only because of their sex.

    • But, hey, on the surface of it, no, man or woman in the pub, none of this directly affects me.

    I could choose not to take any notice of it, relegate feminism in Britain to a historical footnote, and make use of the legal victories that have been won for me in decades gone past, and stop, as one acquaintance once put it, ‘stamping my foot’ and ‘getting all indignant’ about certain ‘feminist’ issues because it ‘feels good’ and ‘I can’.

    Yes, despite wobbles where my conviction sometimes slips, I am lucky enough to have grown up knowing that basically, I don’t have to be abused in my relationships, pressured into sex, have sex without protection, get paid less than men, feel bad for speaking my mind, or feel subordinate in any way unless I actively choose to. I don’t have to wear high heels, sleep with a man to feel good about myself; I don’t have to look like a model – or like anyone, in fact.

    Actually, I could say, I am one of few around the world who can take privileged comfort in the fact that I can breeze merrily through life, unconstrained, perhaps limited by my own lack of energy, tendency to procrastinate, laziness or lack of focus – anything, in fact ‒ but not, NOT by my gender.

    But knowing just how much other women have been at that receiving end of gender inequality (e.g. not being able to get a conviction for rape, or feeling trapped in an abusive relationship, feeling intimidated in the street on or the Tube, or any other kind of deprivation, discrimination or entrapment, great or small), forces me to appreciate what I have, and understand just how precious it is.

    • For example, yesterday I watched the Mike Leigh film, Vera Drake, for the first time.
    Vera Drake

    Vera Drake, starring Imelda Staunton

    Watching the story ‒ fictionalised though it is ‒ that depicts the life, arrest and conviction of a caring, compassionate, ordinary, community-minded yet ultimately criminal backstreet abortionist in 1950s England, renewed my feminist viewpoint and reminded me why I care.

    Watching how women were repeatedly blamed, and criminalised, for their own sexuality; lampooned socially and legally for the sheer temerity of having sex before marriage, getting pregnant or wanting to control their own fertility; at how not so long ago, women who were raped were seen as having brought it on themselves and utterly responsible for any consequences, reminded me why I see the world in this ‘feminist’ way in the first place.

    Mike Leigh may have made a deeply touching film that tries very hard to avoid judgement on either side – but that doesn’t mean that my own judgement was left in any kind of doubt. The notable absence in the film of any of the fathers of the would-be babies, was striking. But worse was the uncomfortable feeling that so much of the moral and legal condemnation visible in the film is still on the political agenda of most countries in the world today – and, therefore, how easy it could be for that condemnation to return to society.

    • How close I could be to losing all the rights I (and people like me) could so easily take for granted.

    Beyond giving a slightly sexist joke a casual raised eyebrow or giving a steely look to an idiotic joker on the street, I’ve never had to personally test out my feminist convictions. I’ve never had reason to ask for legal aid in a battle fought solely due to my gender or sex, been in a relationship where I’ve felt threatened, or seriously been discriminated socially or professionally for the sole reason that I’m a woman.

    But it’s only by educating myself about the cases where women – both around in the world and in the UK ‒ haven’t had it so good, and the instances in which the law or society has failed them; by understanding the ways in which society, the media, and the law might work against the values that I hold so dear, (including, on what might sound like a more frivolous level, magazines that encourage women to value themselves largely on what they look like and what they consume that month, TV shows and news stories that show women as silly or of value only for their looks or relationships with men, rather than their intellect; political debates that re-hash the meaning of women’s sexuality and sexual rights over and over) that I can truly appreciate the vulnerability of my own fortune.

    • That ‘feminist’ issues don’t seem to hold much real, pressing role in my life is in itself paradoxical – it’s because they’re there that I can ignore them. But it’s at my peril that I forget they exist at all. Feeling in my position shouldn’t be a privilege – it should be a right, for all women, everywhere.

    And until it is, and until there’s no risk of that right ever being taken away, I’ll continue to see the world from a stridently ‘feminist’ viewpoint.

    It’s a slightly longer answer than your mates down the pub might have been expecting, perhaps – but surely one worth saying, nonetheless?

    Ps. I realise this is a sensitive and hugely complex topic. This post is already far too long but I welcome any discussion or debate in the comments if you feel I’ve glossed over something or perhaps need to think about something more. As many wiser than me have said before, just because I write about something doesn’t mean that’s the end of my thoughts on the topic – often it’s actually the beginning. Any abuse will be deleted though, cheers!

    My top feminist blogs and sites (including the fabulous AWOT, obviously!)

    Follow Hannah on Twitter @HannahsRhapsody, and see her other witterings at http://notallwhowonderarelost.wordpress.com