by Philippa Willitts // 10 March 2014, 21:27
Everybody knows that it wouldn't be International Women's Day without at least 8,045 people asking pointedly, "Well, when's International Men's Day then?"
Many feminists choose to respond with every other day of the year, while others ignore the tedious and predictable question altogether. However, as Richard Herring found, it is also quite fun to let people know the date of the actual International Men's Day, November 19th. Several hundred times. At least.
[The image is a photograph of crafts on the theme of International Women's Day: keyrings and badges in the colours of IWDay using the feminist empowerment symbol. It was taken by the Craftivist Collective and used under a Creative Commons Licence]
by Guest Blogger // 10 March 2014, 16:15
The fifty-eighth session of the Commission on the Status of Women takes place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from 10 to 21 March 2014. This is a guest post by Rowan Harvey about the negotiations over what goes into the "outcome document" at the end of the Commission. Rowan is the Women's Rights Advocacy Adviser at ActionAid UK and a Governor at the LSE. She tweets at @RowanHarvey1.
This years' United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) kicks off in New York on Monday and promises to give a fascinating insight into the current state of the global debate on the rights of women and girls.
It comes at a key moment as the UN leads a process to determine the framework that will replace the Millennium Development Goals - the plan that will decide which development issues will receive the world's focus over the next 20 years.
The outcomes from CSW will feed into that process and will most likely be held up as reflecting the views of the world's women and outlining their priorities.
The stakes really couldn't get much higher. It's ironic that while thousands of women's rights activists will attend, the vast majority are unable to enter the formal negotiations and can only influence from the sidelines, because most of the decisions will be taken by government delegations, some of which are comprised entirely of men.
The shame is that there is almost complete consensus amongst the women's rights activists as to which recommendations CSW should be putting forward in its annual outcomes document. There is unanimous support for issues such as ending violence against women and girls, realising women's economic rights and comprehensive action in support of sexual and reproductive rights. The women attending know what they want but there's real doubt over whether their governments are prepared to hear them.
The first drafts of the outcome document, seen by ActionAid, while giving space for measured optimism, show clearly how difficult the fight is likely to be. In the first lines, while some states are trying to hold on to past agreements on women's rights, other countries have made clear that they are happy to abandon landmark international agreements, such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. In effect, they want to roll back the clock by 20 years and stop the fight for gender equality in its tracks.
Yet there are some positive developments. This year European Union states have managed to come together and build consensus, which they weren't able to do last year. British-based NGOs are pleased that the UK Government is engaging at a high level, with International Development Secretary of State Justine Greening attending alongside two other ministers, as the UK government's agenda is closely aligned with the outcomes that civil society wants to see.
Equally, the Vatican, who last year proposed more amendments to the text than any other member, have this year proposed none. Women's rights activists are hoping that this signals a new approach under a new pope, but it's entirely possible that they are waiting to weigh in later in the process. Sadly, last year the Vatican chose to support countries like Iran and Syria over moderate and progressive predominantly catholic countries like the Philippines and Mexico, both of whom are working flat out in the negotiations to further the rights of their women citizens.
And over everything looms once again the 'sovereignty clause', a paragraph that effectively acts as a wrecking amendment, stating that countries should only have to realise women's rights if it is 'consistent with national laws and development priorities'. Essentially, if your laws disadvantage women or you'd rather work on other things, you can ignore the outcomes document entirely. Proposed by the Africa group last year, this paragraph was only shot down in the final hours of last years' negotiations. It wasn't a surprise to see it again this year but it's deeply worrying that there's still so little recognition that women's rights are a vital achievement and essential to the wellbeing of all nations.
Image attribution: The CSW58 logo at the head of this piece is from the UN website's Commission on the Status of Women page.
by Guest Blogger // 10 March 2014, 10:30
This is a guest post by Nichi Hodgson exploring the conflict between personal desire and collective politics. Nichi is a 30-yr-old journalist, broadcaster and author of the erotic memoir, 'Bound to You'.
Ever since Paris Lees' Vice magazine cat-calling piece was published last week, I've literally been losing sleep. Firstly, because my comment made it look like I was saying women that don't enjoy street harassment are snobbish, which I absolutely was not. I don't have enough words here to clarify that but have done on my own blog. And secondly, because it proved how far feminism has to go when discussing the tensions between personal desire and collective politics.
Many women in the feminist Twittersphere criticised Lees for asking what they considered to be the wrong question. The focus on whether personally enjoying cat-calls made you a 'bad feminist', was, they said, beside the point because it detracted from the better kind of world we envision for all women. What's more, even if we believe heckling to be, in its mildest form, crude flirtation, there's a power asymmetry at the heart of it - by and large, men dole it out, women receive it, (often without recourse to a reply if it's a man shooting past in a vehicle). And as blogger Stavvers sagely remarked, when women challenge it, they're are often met with less than benign follow-up line - "Hey you look gorgeous" becoming "ugly bitch". Fair point.
However, even if we accept that the "Am I bad feminist?" question is the wrong one to ask, that still doesn't solve the problem of how we grapple with the very complex intersection of personal desire - which is by its very nature amoral; where we draw the line between flirtation and harassment (something nobody seemed very willing to discuss at all) and how feminism deals with those contradictions.
In a follow-up post for the New Statesman, Glosswitch criticised Lees' celebration of cat-calling: "We've reached a point where sex-positive feminism is doing the patriarchy's work for it. All those good girls who grew up fearful of breaking the rules? They've discovered a way to do exactly what's required of them without acknowledging the impact on others".
I don't use the term myself but as a published erotic memoirist and sex columnist, I'm obviously a fierce advocate of people embracing their desires, and enjoying sex. But the term "sex positive feminist" came about not just because some women still want to be the patriarchy's petting toy, but because many of us still want to flirt and sexually engage with men, and because there was and is an absence of positive discussion going on in contemporary, mainstream feminism about how to negotiate this. The fact Lees was so roundly jumped upon for daring to try and explore the contradiction between personal desire and collective values only goes to prove this.
When I was first politically awakened, I couldn't find any really good books which discuss the practicalities of sex as a feminist, only ones that denounced entertaining the patriarchy's fantasies. Who talks about whether flirting, or traditional courting rituals can be tailored to contemporary feminism? Not Millet, not Adrienne Rich, not Dworkin, nor Naomi Wolf attempted it. Germaine Greer is the only one who got close and that was more than 40 years ago. Instead, it has been those outside of the canon and who don't necessarily answer to the name 'feminist' - Nancy Friday, Erica Jong, and more recently, Brooke Magnanti and Emily Dubberley have explored desire, separate from politics.
I've also never seen the feminists that are currently criticising porn culture and "sex positivity" offer alternatives. How to co-parent, how to make it in a male-dominated work place, how NOT to be a sex object - all those things are covered - but how to explore your own sexuality - even the things you feel drawn to that aren't politically correct - and then go get sex on your terms? As far as I can see, not even Glosswitch has attempted it.
What's more, what women want on the streets for each other, and what they want in their heads and their beds, for themselves, are going to be different and contradictory things because of the way human sexuality works.
Take 50 Shades. From a strictly feminist perspective, the tale of a young virgin seduced and dominated by an older, more powerful man in a way that is dubiously consensual, does not smack of equality. But 50 Shades isn't a political manifesto. It's erotica, the place where your political beliefs are allowed to have a night off while you indulge your fantasies, safe in the knowledge you are not selling out the Sisterhood, but rather embracing your right to sexual desire, something women have been denied for too long. It seems the problem with Lees' article is that she was trying to explore where the line between the two was to be drawn, which is more than our current feminist debate seems to be able to handle - partly because we are still so busy fighting for an end to harassment and abuse, and partly because we need to accept that, when it comes to sex, the personal and the political won't always desire the same things. And that's ok. What we need to get better at from here on, is opening up the dialogue on these contradictions. The only thing more threatening to feminism, and harmful to women than talking about desire, is not talking about it.
Image attribution: The image at the head of this post is a digitally-manipulated composite landscape photo called 'Line in the Sand'. It is from Imageation's Flickr photostream and has been cropped and resized by Helen in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.
by Ania Ostrowska // 10 March 2014, 10:10
As Spike Jonze's last offering Her wins The Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars and the critics generally love it (with 94% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes), The F-Word's new contributor Lily Kendall looks closer at how much of her Her actually contains:
"The fact that Samantha doesn't exist beyond or outside of Theodore's character is emphasised by the fact that, by her very nature, we only see her filtered through her interactions with him. She can never be an autonomous being and gets no screen time that doesn't involve him. We get no real sense of her as a person outside of their relationship (apart from some vague references to her "OS friends"). The result is an oddly flat, passionless film. Imagine watching someone talk on the telephone for two hours and you're part way to imagining how difficult it is to create real tension and drama on screen"
The photo is from the film's official Facebook page and may be subject to copyright. It shows Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore, looking out of the window of his spacious flat, sitting in the dark with city lights reflected on the polished floor.
by Asiya Islam // 9 March 2014, 22:02
Hello and welcome to the weekly round up! Much as we'd like to, we don't always find the time to blog about all the interesting things we read/see/come across. So, here are some links The F-Word collective chanced upon last week.
Please note a link does not imply endorsement and that some content might be triggering, so please exercise caution.
Let us know what you think via comments below!
An Annotated Index of Ross Gellar (Shakesville)
The fetishisation of Lupita Nyong'o (Black Feminists)
'It's only a joke': How far is too far in comedy? (The Telegraph)
Reaching Out to Save (and Sustain) Scarleteen (Miss Mary Max)
Why abortion is still the secret that women won't reveal to their friends (Independent Ireland)
I Am Not Your Poster Child (Gender Terror)
A Step by Step Guide Through Jared Leto's Trans Ignorance (Trans Hollywood)
The Overwhelming Heteronormativity of 'Born This Way' (Consider the Teacosy)
Women hold up half the sky (Harpy Marx)
Not 'gay' enough for gay bars (Diva Mag)
Abolishing the Independent Living Fund (Touch Stone)
Reframing the conversation about domestic and sexual violence and abuse (A Room of Our Own)
Welcome to Paradise (Telegraph)
Street Harassment - a response to Paris Lees in Vice (Sian and Crooked Rib)
Prostitution: Caveat emptor (The Economist)
Feminist Street Art collected in honour of IWD (Urban Times)
Say Yes to Success (Women's Sport and Fitness Foundation)
Violence against women: an EU-wide survey. Main results report (European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights)
All hail the vampire-archy: what Mark Fisher gets wrong in 'Exiting the vampire castle' (open Democracy) (This link is from 2013 but interesting nevertheless.)
Image of sunshine bursting through clouds, uploaded by Flickr user Sean McEntee, used under a Creative Commons Licence.
by Megan Stodel // 3 March 2014, 19:48
Fluff Productions, formed ten years ago, only produces shows of original material with all-female casts, in an attempt to redress the dreadful imbalance between the number of female characters in plays and the number of, well, women. Some of you might remember Max Smiles' recent feature on this topic!
They recently produced a series of shorts that were all inspired by the No More Page 3 campaign, which is trying to convince the editor of The Sun to stop displaying topless women as a feature.
Shoshana Davidson went along and was amused and impressed by the selection, particularly The Tea Party:
Despite the fast-moving exchange - we never settle for too long on any one topic - the combination of characters that playwright Katie Wimpenny chooses to include somehow manages to convey multiple perspectives on every subject. Nothing feels like it receives light or simplistic treatment. I would have loved to see more, which is praise, not criticism of the piece. In the short time it had, it managed to get to grips with the complexity of a multitude of issues without appearing to lecture, so I'm sure Wimpenny could do amazing things with a little more time.
The photo is a headshot of Rebecca Dunn playing Marilyn Monroe and wearing a No More Page 3 t-shirt.
Readers of The F-Word can get £10 tickets for Fluff Productions' next show World Enough and Time during the first week (19-23 March) with the code MARVELL; click here for tickets and availability.
by Megan Stodel // 3 March 2014, 08:35
Catherine Bennett is the new superstar in town. The brainchild of Bryony Kimmings and her young niece Taylor, CB is a palaeontologist and pop star, aiming to entertain and inspire young children, particularly young girls. Her new play, That Catherine Bennett Show, attempts to push the limits of what we're used to from children's shows; Kimmings says it needs to combat existing shows and so-called role models that only offer "the very limited version of what your life could be like".
Talking of children, she says:
"They're open" she exclaims, "They're bloody amazing. They're like sponges. And all we're doing is... limiting every possible thing that they can do." This isn't just true of the way women are presented in pop. "All of their TV programmes - nearly all of them - have very, very gendered roles." Toys too, and even education, teach: "'You're a girl so you can be this. You're a boy so you can be that.' I mean, they don't need that. They totally don't need that. They need the opposite of that."
Is she successful? Charlotte Rowland thinks so. In her review of That Catherine Bennett Show, she writes about the exciting topics the play engages with:
Among the general lesson that anything is possible is a gently political and progressively feminist current. At one stage, the pace slows and the lights dim for a bedtime story. It is about Emmeline Pankhurst. Later, CB sings Apathy (a song which has been playing in my head ever since). The lyrics ask: "What you wa-wa, what you waiting for?" Then there is the new addition to CB's repertoire, 'Hear Me', for which the audience are required to chant: "We're loud, we're proud, we're stronger as a crowd." "Human rights" is a phrase heard more than once.
In the photo, Catherine Bennett, a young white woman with blonde curly hair and black-rimmed glasses, squats next to two young girls. She is holding a conch shell.
by Jess McCabe // 3 March 2014, 07:58
Welcome to your weekly round up of interesting stories from the last seven days, as selected by members of The F-Word's editorial collective. Please feel free to share anything we might have missed in comments...
A link does not imply endorsement.
Please use reasonable caution when clicking, some stories may be triggering.
New record lows in teen pregnancy rate (The Guardian)
Benefit cuts explicitly linked to mental health problems (The Guardian)
Congo Stigmata: The day Ensler crucified herself (Feminist Times)
Activists cry foul as Ugandan women are stripped in streets (Voice of America)
Despite opposition, Parliament takes stock of LGBT equality in new report (European Parliament Intergroup on LGBT Rights - press release)
How foreign governments hurt not help LGBTQI rights (New Left Project)
Why Health At Every Size doesn't work for me (s.e. smith)
Female masturbation comes into its own in pop music (The Guardian)
Page 3 on a train (Not The News In Briefs)
100 LGBTQ black women you should know (Autostraddle)
The dash is the best (Intelligent Life)
Ugandan Women's Network (Facebook)
Pistorius and Paddy Power - making a killing at the betting shop (Everyday Victim Blaming)
And finally... a calm song to get you through the first day of the week:
Photo of grapefruit halves with various smiley faces by illuminaut, shared on Flickr under a Creative Commons license
by Megan Stodel // 3 March 2014, 00:16
This month we have two guest bloggers, Charlie Hale and Maria Phelan. Please give them a warm welcome!
Here's a bit about them in their own words:
Charlie Hale is a Computer Science student and blogger by night and asleep by day. They're a genderqueer, kinky, polyamorous pan/bisexual who can't keep their mouth shut.
Maria is a Senior Health Advocate at Harm Reduction International. Maria holds an MA in Understanding and Securing Human Rights from the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University if London. Prior to working at Harm Reduction International, she worked for the National Children's Bureau coordinating the Children and Young People's HIV Network and the Terrence Higgins Trust. At Harm Reduction International she coordinates the European Harm Reduction Network and works to raise the profile of harm reduction through lobbying and advocacy activities.
The photo shows a view of the interior of the balloon of a hot air balloon. The flame that lifts the balloon can be seen in the corner of the photo, as can metal hooks and wires. The photo is by Megan Stodel.
by Ania Ostrowska // 2 March 2014, 14:00
The Birds Eye View Film Festival (8-13 April) is delighted to announce details of its annual International Women's Day Gala (8 March) and the festival's opening and closing night films, continuing the organization's mission to celebrate and support the best international female filmmaking talent.
To celebrate International Women's Day, BEV is hosting a screening at BFI Southbank of the powerful documentary Wonder Woman! The Untold Story of American Superheroines, a film which traces the fascinating birth, evolution and legacy of the Wonder Woman figure and introduces audiences to a dynamic group of fictional and real-life superheroines fighting for positive role models for girls, both on screen and off. Directed by Kristy Guevara-Flanagan and produced by Kelcey Edwards, this super-doc offers a vital and entertaining counterpoint to the male-dominated superhero genre. You can join the festival crew from 4pm for a special pre-screening Future Shorts event.
Full details and booking.
Nana Ekvtimishvili's and Simon Groß's award-winning Georgian feature In Bloom will open the Festival on Tuesday 8th April where it will receive its UK Premiere. Lola Bessis and Ruben Amar's touching French-American family drama Swim Little Fish Swim, which will also receive its UK premiere, will close the festival on Sunday 13th April.
The 2014 Festival promises to be Birds Eye View's biggest and best outing, with a host of UK premieres and special events featuring some of the world's leading female filmmakers and rising new talents. The programme also includes industry programmes supported by the British Council and Creative Skillset, plus much more in six days of endlessly inspiring women from across the globe.
Events and screening will take place at BFI Southbank, Barbican, Curzon Soho, ICA, Electric Cinema and several more venues. The full programme will be announced shortly, keep your eye on BEV website.
COMPETITION!For your chance to win a pair of tickets for Birds Eye View IWD Gala on Saturday 8 March, answer the following question:
Which edition of Birds Eye View Film Festival is taking place this year?
I'm waiting for your answers until 5pm on Wednesday 5 March: ania.ostrowska[at]thefword.org.uk
See you at the festival!
Photos are stills from Wonder Women! documentary, courtesy of Birds Eye View Film Festival. Photo 1 is a collage of marching feminist activists and cartoon Superwoman and clenched fists. Photo 2 is of a woman superhero impersonator, standing in her costume against red background peppered with stars.