Exiting the sausage fest

by Megan Stodel // 2 September 2015, 8:27 am

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Recently, I’ve been trying to eat less meat. In my case, it’s for environmental reasons, but there are plenty of other good reasons why people choose to cut down or eliminate it from their diet altogether.

Being the sort of person who likes so few vegetables that people who have only just made my acquaintance frequently scold me on the matter, this decision has had its challenges. I’ve largely been prepared for these, pre-planning meals and gathering recipes to ensure I can make dishes I enjoy easily, and creating a points system to try to game myself into the level of reduction I want to achieve. I’ve actually been quite surprised at how doable it has been as long as I stay focused and don’t eat a slice of Pepperoni Passion just because it’s there.

It has been far more of a challenge to overcome my own pig-headedness (after all, you are what you eat). I respond badly to inferences that actions I’m taking are specifically because I’m a woman and, as I’ve always known but have been far more aware of lately, eating vegetarian food is for ladies.

Suddenly, I’m remembering all those occasions over the years when I’ve eaten with vegetarian friends who happen to be men, and I’ve been served the stuffed aubergine while they’ve been given the lamb chops. Or, more subtly, when I look in disappointment at the delicate, flaky fish dish in front of me while my boyfriend gets my burger.

This further reminds me of the times that I’ve been searching for presents for men in my life and, in moments of unsuccessful desperation, have browsed sites designed to pigeonhole people into the generic gift that a few labels lead to. As well as sports and beer, marketers have designated meat in the man’s domain – so even though you’ll find an array of kitchen trinkets in the women’s section, head to the men’s for meat thermometers, branding irons and barbecue paraphernalia. Recipe books perpetuate this; while a majority are by men (because as we all know, men are chefs while women are only cooks), any that are directed at men often heavily feature hunks of meat, either as the entire focus or at least the star of the cover.

Without realising it, for years I’ve been taking joy in countering people’s expectations. At some point earlier than I’m aware of, I had the idea that meat is manly planted into my head, and since then when I’ve asked for my steak to be rare, I’ve felt, in some small way, victorious. I’m challenging the status quo, aren’t I? Surely eating so many cocktail sausages at a party in primary school that my friend’s mother reported it back to my own parents, aghast, proves something? I am a woman. I am carnivorous. Can we just agree that the patriarchy is refuted now?

Yet now, in a way that I didn’t anticipate, I’m losing this act of rebellion (which was never intended to be a rebellion in the first place). I’m doing exactly what is expected of me. And I hate it.

At a recent wedding, the main course was roast beef. The woman serving made a point of giving the men an extra large portion of meat. I made a point of switching my plate with a temporarily absent man. Even though I was trying to cut down and the week had been going quite well, I was unable to ignore the bait.

There are two main things I’m taking out of this whole experience. Obviously, meat is weirdly and unnecessarily gendered. That means a host of men who would quite happily be vegetarian but never even try it (maybe never even think about it) because of the social ramifications. Conversely, it means women who will never know the joy of pretending to know how to barbecue, as they stick to mixing the potato salad and folding napkins. Overall, it just means a world where, once again, over the most seemingly banal and everyday activities, perverse influences affect how we act, when it’s possible we could be happier if we were doing things differently.

But something else important is the reminder that you don’t beat the patriarchy just by doing the opposite of what it dictates. In that way, you end up just as controlled by it as when you comply, while at the same time casting those who do act differently to you as problematic. Because of course there are plenty of women who are vegetarians and plenty of men who love meat. The key is to be aware of the ways in which we might have been influenced by sexist norms – and if we’re happy with our choices, the best way to fight patriarchy is to do our best to ensure that others are free to make theirs.

The image is by Stefano A and is used under a creative commons licence. It shows eight uncooked sausages placed on the grill of a barbecue. Green grass in the background indicates the picture is taken outside.

Weekly Round-up and Open Thread

by Lusana Taylor // 31 August 2015, 10:14 pm

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4899573359_cf89bd16c7_zIt’s time for another round-up and this one includes everything from women-only train carriages to manic pixie dream girls!

If you’d like to comment on one of the issues covered or share another article that we haven’t included, feel free to get involved in the comments section below or on Facebook/Twitter.

As always, please remember that linking does not automatically mean endorsement or agreement from the F-Word and that some links may be triggering. It is also worth noting that, while we welcome engagement on the weekly round-up, any comments including racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic or disablist language will be deleted.

The Perfect Hair Problem: Women in Visual Media (Foz Meadows)

From the article: “I’m not saying I fail to connect with female characters just because they’re dressed and coiffed a certain way, or that every female character who fits that description is necessarily poorly written. I’m saying it bugs me that women on screen are seldom allowed to deviate from a set aesthetic, even if it suits their personalities: aren’t allowed to shave their heads or not shave their armpits or shove their hair up in an unkempt bun or wear long skirts with boots or t-shirts that aren’t nipped at the waist; aren’t allowed to be visually distinct in ways that go much beyond hair colour, or which forever render particular clothing choices off limits, just because we might think they’re less pretty like that.”

Women-only carriages around the world: do they work? (The Guardian)

“Where Are All the Disabled People in the Body Positivity Campaigns?” (The body is not an apology)

From the article: “In the popular media, so-called “body positivity” campaigns leave out disability to a remarkable extent. The body about which we are supposed to feel positive is nearly always the able body. That body might be fat or thin, white or black, Hispanic or Asian, tall or short, rich or poor, but it is almost always able.”

Zoe Coombs Marr: It’s a sexist world – comedy just reflects it: The Australian standup explains why there is a little bit of her alter ego Dave – a caricature of beer-swilling blokishness – in most comics (The Guardian)

From the article: “I think we live in a sexist world and comedy is a reflection of its audience.”

What The Rentboy Raid Tells Us About The Gendered Rhetoric Of Trafficking (Tits and Sass)

From the article: “The Rentboy.com raid pulls the loose thread on the sweater of anti-trafficking rhetoric, unraveling its pseudo-feminist spin to reveal what many of us have always known: that it’s just sexism in new clothes. For if male sex workers can be capable of displaying what the police believe to be a criminal amount of agency, there is no rational reason that female sex workers in the same conditions cannot.”

Corbyn’s women-only carriages idea shouldn’t just be dismissed (The Guardian)

Manic Pixies and Cool Girls: on female solidarity and the male gaze (Open Democracy)

Amelia Boynton Robinson, civil rights activist beaten in Selma, dies at 104 (The Guardian)

Sad, but not surprising: the depressing case of Ryan Babel and misogyny in football (Carrie Dunn)

The guilt of quitting sexist workplaces (The Guardian)

Sweet Clarity: Trans Scripts (Pleasance Times)

From the article: “‘Wow, this is not gonna be easy,’ says a character early on in Paul Lucas’ new verbatim play, Trans Scripts. It’s a tremendous understatement. Drawing from over three hundred hours worth of interviews with transgender men and women, Trans Scripts relays the experiences of dozens of different transgender women through the voice of six transgendered performers.”

‘Is your boyfriend in the band?’ Critic airs tales of music industry sexism (The Guardian)

The image is used under creative commons with thanks to Difei Li. The title of the photograph is ‘Freezing Time’ and it shows a platform and train track at what could either be early evening or early morning. There are various people standing on the platform and a person wearing jeans and with shoulder-length hair can be seen in mid-motion, walking away from the camera.

Not laughing

by Lissy Lovett // 28 August 2015, 6:28 pm

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The Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Awards are some of the most prestigious at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. There are three awards: the best comedy show, the best newcomer and the panel prize. Both the best comedy show and the best newcomer are picked from shortlists which were announced on Wednesday, and to be fair to the awards organisers they make sure that someone checks out every eligible comedy show at the fringe which is no mean feat.

The first woman ever to win the best comedy show award was Jenny Eclair in 1995, this was 14 years after the awards were established in 1981. The only other women to win the main award have been Laura Solon in 2005 and Bridget Christie in 2013, although the fantastic Alice Lowe was a member of the 2001 winners, Garth Marenghi’s Netherland.

This year roughly one quarter of all the comedians at the Edinburgh Festival are women, and only one of those women, Sarah Kendall, is on the short list for the best comedy show award. I simply don’t believe that there wasn’t at least one other woman funny enough to be on the list.

This lack of women matters. Not just because it’s unfair. Not just because of the £10,000 prize money. Not even because the people who are shortlisted for the award are more likely to get to speak to TV producers about series ideas, more likely be able to make programmes for Radio 4 and are more likely to be guests on Friday night panel shows. It’s unfair because it’s denying the comedy watching public the chance to hear about the fullest range of what’s on offer out there and I think audiences deserve a wider choice. Needless to say the nominees and winners are overwhelmingly white, cisgendered and non-disabled too.

There was a brief glimmer of a grin for me when the Guardian printed a top ten jokes of the fringe list that featured several excellent women. The smile was wiped off my face though when the television channel Dave published the results of its funniest jokes of the fringe competition which featured just one gag from someone who isn’t a man: Grace the Child’s “They’re always telling me to live my dreams. But I don’t want to be naked in an exam I haven’t revised for.” And yes, I know the jokes in Dave’s competition are voted for by the public so we only have ourselves to blame.

The worst thing about it all is just how boring and predictable this all is. “Ah, the Edinburgh Comedy Awards shortlist is out, there’s only one woman on it, bet the feminists are annoyed about that”, you might have thought on Wednesday. And yep, you’d be right, this feminist is annoyed. I’m also bored, and if I’m honest, a bit resigned. The resignation is the worst bit.

I don’t want to have to be writing this blog post. I’d far rather be watching Claudia O’Doherty clips on Youtube or reading Standard Issue. But until women comics get the exposure they deserve I’ll keep talking and writing about how unfair it is.

I expect in a year’s time I’ll be writing something similar about the Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Awards 2016. See you then.

You can read The F-Word’s coverage of female-led comedy at the Edinburgh Fringe here and here.

The image at the top of the page is from The Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society. It is the festival’s logo, the word “fringe” in large black type with “The Edinburgh Festival” and the dates of the festival in smaller type.

Being invisi-bi

by Megan Stodel // 27 August 2015, 9:08 am

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During a recent show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the performer included a segment which she aimed at “straight women”, which was about the dynamics of women and men in relationships.

On the one hand, I find it gratifying that this acknowledges that not all women are heterosexual. This distinction would have been vanishingly rare until recently and even now, many would have focused on all women, as if all of us by nature of our sex have an interest in pursuing relationships with men. At least with this phrasing, she avoided the age old erasure of lesbian identity and experience.

On the other hand, I felt oddly and specifically excluded as a bisexual woman. From the content, I’m sure the segment was aimed at me as much as it was aimed at completely heterosexual women; it didn’t feel intentional or for some reason unique to their relationships with men. It was just a verbal shortcut, which happened to cut me out.

It is not surprising that bi women are often missed out. In a recent blog post, stavvers struggles to think of fictional characters who are explicitly identified as bi, and when figures in the public eye come out, it doesn’t take long for somebody to suggest that they are actually gay or straight but they need to maintain their fanbase/are in denial/are doing it for attention (delete as appropriate).

For all non-straight and non-cis people, if we choose to come out, we soon find out that coming out is continual, not just that first time that counts as your coming out story. For bisexual people, the lack of general understanding or acceptance of bisexuality can be a barrier; when the sexual orientation you identify with is commonly dismissed in its entirety, what reaction can you expect? I struggle to come out as I am a femme with a boyfriend (far from unusual) and for most people I meet, my sexual orientation seems irrelevant or defunct – but I feel it’s important to be as open as possible given that I am in a position to do so, because I want to fight that invisibility.

Therefore, I want to consider how to use language to be bi-inclusive. While I would quite like there to be collective nouns for bi and heterosexual women/men/people and bi and gay women/men/people (any suggestions?), for now language has to be context specific. In the example mentioned at the start, because the performer was specifically talking about relationships with men, it would have been fine to define the group by this, by talking about “women who have had relationships with men” or “women who are attracted to men”. In a lot of instances, this is likely to be an option, as the reason to specify sexual orientation is often because of the relationship being referred to.

But that’s not always the case and if it isn’t, then defining bi and heterosexual women by our relationship to men feels somewhat reductive. Technically, those words may be intended to indicate where our attractions lie, but identities are complex and personal things. They can variously capture our experiences and culture as well as sexual and romantic inclinations. When talking about our identities or diversity, then using chosen labels is likely the most appropriate course; if that means adding the two character word “bi”, I hardly think this makes phrasing so wordy to be unwieldy.

However, while the world is getting more progressive, it is also getting snappier. Being more inclusive and accurate is up against fitting into tweets and suiting the flow of a clickbait headline. Perhaps what we really need is a linguistic revolution. If verbal shortcuts are going to be made, can we have shortcuts that actually imply what they intend to mean? Is there a new vocabulary we can use to include bi people rather than assume they’ll know to be straight or gay depending on the subject matter? I’m genuinely asking. If you have a better way to remove the invisibility cloak of a language where heterosexuality is primary and binaries are better than scales, I’d love to hear it.

The photo used is by Erich Ferdinand and is used under a creative commons licence. It shows a person outside; they are blurred so their characteristics are impossible to make out.

Why I refuse to wear high heels

by Guest Blogger // 26 August 2015, 8:00 am

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Kerry Flint is a writer, feminist and digital consultant with fingers in lots of pies and an eye on the prize. Interests include sci-fi, cats and beer. Trying to combine them all. Web home: kerryflint.com

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Corns, small lesions, toenails falling off, all of these things are definitely not sexy. So why does the media continue to tell us that heels are a “sexy look” when they cause such unpleasant side effects? Are period cramps and shaving rashes not enough for us to have to deal with without having to hobble about in footwear that has necessitated a whole blister care and pedi market?

Sadly we still have distance to cover (easier in flats) when it comes to tackling old-fashioned ideas of glamour, as exemplified when earlier this year women were turned away from the Cannes red carpet for not wearing high heels. With its anti-flats mandate Cannes has proven itself to be outdated because there is nothing more stylish than seeing a women look comfortable and happy.

Yes, many heels are like little works of art but spend eight hours running around in even the most conservative heel and you’ll wish you could chop your own feet off they hurt so much. The V&A exhibition, Shoes: Pleasure and Pain, celebrates the history of heels and if you note the use of the word ‘pain’ in the title you may well agree with me that the best place for these shoes is to be kept as ornaments to gaze at rather than walk in.

It was actually men who originally wore high heels; Louis XIV of France famously had a shoe collection that would make Carrie Bradshaw weep with envy. In the 1600s women started wearing heels too as a step (get it) to acquire some of the status given to men. Eventually men stopped wearing them altogether because they had been feminised and made to seem foolish.

Heels fell out of fashion with women until the mid 19th century when they were
considered to be glamorous and elevated to new heights by the porn industry. Semmelhack, author of Heights of Fashion: A History of the Elevated Shoe, told the BBC, “If it becomes a signifier of actual power, then men will be as willing to wear it as women.” A signifier of power in the form of something that makes getting around very difficult seems unlikely but let’s keep our eyes peeled anyway.

In my own heel story it seems that common sense took me years to acquire. In my late teens I spent many years of tottering around seedy clubs in northern England, wanting to take the ice from my drink and use it on my black and blue toes before discarding my sketchy choice of footwear halfway home to risk getting a whole number of infections from walking barefoot down grubby urban streets. Finally, I bit the bullet and said no to wearing painful high heels, pretty much like also saying no to necking cheeky vimtos and getting off with guys who say they’re “in a band”. Older sometimes can mean wiser.

The good news is that despite what the media report this decision did not have a negative effect on my confidence or love life. Fashion magazines, that are geared towards telling women how best to attract any man – because, yeah sure, they all share one sci-fi style mega mind – often point out that wearing heels makes our ass and boobs stick out, our legs look longer and makes us
walk with a certain jiggle. Personally, I am ok with looking more like Daria than Jessica Rabbit and walking with stability rather than hobbling around on mini stilts. In my experience you can attract a man in a pair of DMs and you can walk away more quickly if he’s just not your type.

This is my personal choice and I am not saying that you can’t be a feminist if you wear high heels. Women have enough battles to fight – wage equality, consent, male violence – without condemning each other for what we decide to wear. Shave or don’t shave, wear make-up or don’t; it’s up to you. I am often mesmerised by those women who can glide over cobbles and climb spiral staircases in mammoth heels. It’s like watching someone levitate or eat a peach in public – mind blowing.

If wearing heels shows a woman’s strength and ability to overcome obstacles then why is it so horrific to watch when she falls in them? They can boost confidence on a special night out but wearing them day in day out has long-term effects that simply aren’t worth it. The media’s double standard around women and high heels is infuriating. One minute they’re saying how great a woman’s bum looks when she wears them (check the Mail for multiple examples) and next The Sun is laughing at women wearing them at Aintree: “some ladies struggled to maintain their balance and composure in high heels…a few appeared to give up altogether and were pictured in heaps on the ground”. Women are being sold something that supposedly empowers them but by wearing heels they are restricted and vulnerable to ridicule.

Of course a lot of these mixed messages have a lot to do with profits as shoes are a big business. Women’s high heel shoe designer and wearer of flat shoes, Christian Louboutin said, “Shoes for men are about elegance or wealth, they are not playing with the inner character. That is why women are happy to wear painful shoes”. So you can tell if a man is powerful and wealthy by his shoes and whether a women is flirty, fun or frigid by hers.

Fortunately, flats, flatforms and wedges have been having their fashion moment of late – thanks to the more innovative and modern designers. In the meantime, Jimmy Choo can keep his shoes and I can keep my toenails.

Sophie Mayer introduces Raising Films, a campaign to bring diversity and sustainability into the film industry by organising parents and carers, currently crowdfunding to recruit a project manager

According to the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission, approximately 54,000 new mothers are losing their jobs every year, and one in five pregnant women and mothers returning to work are harassed. What’s true across all industries is doubly true in the film industry, where most people work on short-term contracts with irregular and demanding hours, and where sexism towards all women remains rife. Despite this, the BBC has just cut funding for Media Parents, a scheme for parents returning to media work.

That’s why we started Raising Films: to press for diversity and sustainability by organizing parents and carers in the film industry. We believe that the lack of support for family life – for parents and kinship carers of all genders – within the industry is a barrier that disproportionately affects women, and exponentially affects women of colour, working class women, migrant women and queer people who may lack family support network and/or economic resources. Anyone working in the industry can tell us their story (email us stories@raisingfilms.com) and anyone can become a member.

As Romola Garai points out in our interview with her, attitudes towards parenting and caring are part of a larger system of “gender politics and the policed conformity of gender”. “Becoming a parent,” she notes, “obviously makes you particularly concerned for the needs of children and the effect that the media’s entrenched misogyny has on girls and boys. And, particularly, how the insistence on heteronormative gender behaviour and appearance pervades.” This includes the perception that women are incapable of working in film because they might get pregnant or be mothers, and then be uncompetitive in the industry because we’re caring, affective, sympathetic, multi-tasking, distracted and other traits problematically associated with normative femininity.

Alexandra HidalgoAlexandra Hidalgo, editor of feminist film site agnes films, argues that such traits are perpetuated by mainstream narrative cinema. “Those of us who are mothers,” she says, “might want to try to develop our children’s palate to consume not only big-studio production films geared toward them, but also smaller, more personal stories like the ones many of us are making.” That connection between reinventing film and rethinking work-life balance produces acclaimed films. Academy Award winner Susanne Bier told us: “There’s an element of reality-check that you’re forced to have when you have kids, which is very helpful in terms of storytelling… you embrace limitations in fun ways.”

Parenting can be part of a thriving film career: from Canadian director Marie-Hélène Cousineau finding that working within an Inuit community meant “children were always a part of the work environment”, even when filming on the ice, to British director Debbie Isitt affirming that “the best work is created on sets with a family atmosphere,” not least as this may lead to baby hugs from Meryl Streep! There are also creative approaches to the frustrations caused by industry demands, from Tally Abecassis’ podcast First Day Back about getting back into documentary-making as a mother to Jeanie Finlay’s recommendation that we all move to Nottingham, a family and film-friendly town.

Suggestions for making change include actor Alexis Zegerman’s post calling on people in the arts to get involved in the struggle for local council childcare. Taking her cue a little from Jonathan Swift’s satirical baby-eating manifesto A Modest Proposal, Sarah Solemani boldly states: “women must be encouraged to mother their children less… Until she can have a full night’s rest, and leave home without fretting over her inadequate substitutes… There Will Be No Change.”

There will be change: Raising Films is going to make it happen. But we need your help. The founding collective is made up of parents working in the film industry (and me: a childfree feminist academic along for the ride), and we know that both the problem and the solution are bigger than we can manage. So we are creating a job for a Project Manager who knows about research, about social media, and about campaigning: we want to pay fairly, and offer flexible hours. Following in the footsteps of many feminist filmmakers, we are crowdfunding throughout August, not to make one film, but to make more films possible.

Our top perk (because who needs another sticker/t-shirt/download) is The Functional Family (second top is The Lie-In), which may just result from allowing more people to do the jobs they love. As screenwriter Gabriel Bier Gislason, who spent time on sets with his mum Susanne, notes: “A good parent is a happy parent, and a happy parent is a parent that does what he or she wants.” Or in the words of writer-director Hope Dickson Leach, the project’s co-founder: “More babies at Cannes! I cry. A Palme d’Bébé!” Raising films in style.

The picture is by Aidan Tyson, courtesy of Raising Films. It shows a woman with long dark hair, wearing a patterned summer dress, holding a young child, probably a boy, in a striped blue top, on her right arm while balancing a small video camera with her left hand, as if teaching the kid how to use it.

Sophie Mayer is the author of the forthcoming Political Animals: the new feminist cinema (IB Tauris, November 2015), a co-founder of Raising Films and full-time feminist film activist.

Weekly Round-up and Open Thread

by Lusana Taylor // 24 August 2015, 12:53 pm

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It’s time for another round-up and there are plenty of fascinating and informative articles to check out this week, with everything from awesome apps to Jonathan Franzen.

If you’d like to comment on one of the issues covered or share another article that we haven’t included, feel free to get involved in the comments section below or on Facebook/Twitter.

As always, please remember that linking does not automatically mean endorsement or agreement from the F-Word and that some links may be triggering. It is also worth noting that, while we welcome engagement on the weekly round-up, any comments including racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic or disablist language will be deleted.

If 43% of young people aren’t straight or gay, why do only 2% identify as bi? (Stavvers)

There Won’t Be Blood: Suzanne Moore on the menopause (New Statesman)

From the article: “The female body can be a mess, so I simply decided to have it – the menopause – one cold November weekend a few years ago. But women my age won’t just melt away and we won’t become invisible.”

Yes, there are more female comics at the Fringe – but it’s hardly time to celebrate (The Conversation)

The truth about rape and sexual assault is ugly – and many women know this (The Guardian)

“But rape happens to babies, elderly women and everyone in between. And yet we routinely conflate rape and sexual assault with conventional attractiveness – and perpetuate the notion that ‘ugly’ women don’t get raped, and that attractive men don’t need to commit rape.”

Bisexual and proud: Six openly bi young people address the myths surrounding their sexuality (The Independent)

Naked streets, floating bus stops – and how cycling infrastructure can endanger the blind (City Metric)

Tearing Down the Walls: The story of the Stonewall Rebellion and the rise of the gay liberation movement (Jacobin)

Adama Jalloh interview: “I wanted black girls to see the photos and to see themselves”(New Statesman)

When Your Period Tries to Kill You (Vice)

From the article: “In schools and workplaces and public spaces, people invent increasingly innovative ways to hide tampons up their sleeves on the journey to the toilet, or find discreet ways to empty menstrual cups in shared bathrooms. Period stigma taught me very early on that things happening to bodies that aren’t cisgender and male were weird and wrong, and they weren’t to be talked about.”

Radio interview with Brenna Smith (Audioburst)

Being called out for your sexism is not censorship (Chortle)

From the article: “Ai Weiwei can go rot in a prison cell so long as these guys get their rape jokes, am I right? And what’s the deal with airplane food and Malala Yousafzai? The bottom line is that if you’re a comedian on stage you want to be able to relate with your audience in at least some way, and if your material is comprised of elements that come across as misogynist, then your largely non-misogynist audiences are going to have a very difficult time finding you likable.”

New app notifies you when you’re near a place where a woman made history (Oregon Live)

Jonathan Franzen interview: ‘There is no way to make myself not male’(The Guardian)

Dear Men, Women Don’t Owe You an Explanation for Rejection (Huffington Post)

Korean Sociological Image #92: Patriotic Marketing Through Sexual Objectification, Part 1 (The Grand Narrative)

The image is used under creative commons with thanks to Eugenia Loli. It depicts somebody, with their back to the viewer, sitting at the bottom of a flight of stairs. They appear to be naked and are seated with their hands rested on the steps behind them and their legs drawn up to their chest. Beneath them is a long, red silk scarf which trails all the way down the steps to meet them. The colour of the scarf is in juxtaposition to the rather grey surroundings.

Ashton Simpson decided to spend her mid-twenties travelling the world. She’s happy with her choice, but she wonders why so many people feel it their duty to advise her that she’s got her priorities wrong?

When I reflect on my teenage perspective of what life would be like as a 25 year old; a baby, a career and a mortgage pretty much covered my views of where I would be. I was certain that when I reached 25 I would also fit happily into the careered motherhood category with the expected marital status to match. So I left my teenage years and approached adulthood feeling content that I had a good few years before my mid- twenties, and I spent these years well, successfully completing GCSEs, A-levels and partying my way through university, making lifelong friends, gathering student debts and graduating with a first class degree.

After my graduation, like the majority of postgraduates my days were spent in my apartment I shared with my then boyfriend tiredly scanning through recruitment websites and continuously leaving the search bar blank in hope there would be a job title I could define myself with. My job applications were returned with rejections and with no job title forthcoming. My then boyfriend, who was already climbing his Financial career ladder questioned “what do you want to do?”

My response was simple – “to travel” – which created that same critical response I had regularly received from him, my lecturers and my school teachers: ” you can’t do that forever”.

I then realised I had spent the ‘good few years’ actually preparing for my own benchmark; ‘Backpacker’. The only next step I wanted to take after graduation was onto a plane to Bangkok. After many heated discussions and weeks of feeling lost and weighted down, the difficult decision was made and within a week I had packed up my belongings and moved back home with my parents. Despite my then boyfriend not understanding my dream to travel and the decision resulting in me losing my relationship, I knew it was the right thing to do for my own happiness, and I am now happily living “in the land down under”.

So, I hear you say; “why is this young woman concerned she might be doing life wrong?”

Let me explain …

I recently came across an article in a popular magazine discussing the regular life comparisons us twenty-somethings are guilty of making with our peers. This article instantly caught my attention, as I have been speaking to my close friend about her upcoming wedding, confirming I will be attending in 2017 and this got me thinking. Where “should” I be in 2017?. These thoughts have left me filling out my second year visa application in sheer panic, with that familiar voice in my head telling me I should be filling out my dream job application, signing my first mortgage agreement or updating my Facebook status announcing my baby news.

Since reaching my early twenties every authoritative figure I have crossed paths with has at some point indirectly criticised my dream to travel. If it wasn’t my University lecturer explaining that travelling is not going to get me a career, it was my manager at my weekend job suggesting I should take the Manager Programme instead. Even on the other side of the world the questions are still hanging over me, with the farmer I’m currently working for in the Australian outback asking what my plans are after travelling and with a shrug of my shoulders he reminds me ” you’ll have to settle and work somewhere soon”.

The fact is, there is still a consensual view amongst society that a career, marriage, home ownership and motherhood are not only inevitable but should be achieved within society’s hourglass.

AS beach photoToday I am happy with only my backpack, I’m not yet ready to approach the career ladder, see the mortgage advisor or change my last name as I have other personal goals and experiences I want to achieve first. This is where I feel I might be “doing life wrong” as society’s expectations have been crushed once again by another twenty-something jetting off around the world instead of setting up the rest of their life by the book.

‘Wanderlust’ is a label often given to young people choosing to travel, but since being in these ‘wanderlust’ shoes I also want to throw a few other labels in the mix. How about ‘happy’; ‘passionate’; ‘interested’; ‘brave’; ‘confident’ – isn’t this what we want from young people?

What I didn’t know in my younger years was that there would be other options and paths than the one I thought lay ahead for me. At my naive age, with the encouragement of society’s views, I presumed these benchmarks should be reached by certain ages. But unlike compulsory education, I have recently learnt that these presumed paths are not parallel with your age or even compulsory at all, and they do not come with a deadline. So, I am calling for a “Benchmark Revolution”.

Society needs to accept us creating our own benchmarks, because alongside a career, a mortgage and a family, other choices and paths are also a part of setting up the rest of your life. Every individual has their own experiences, goals and achievements – just because they might not adhere to the social blueprint shouldn’t mean that their choices are frowned upon or that they are in some way “doing life wrong”.

Ashton Simpson is a young women from the North of England, currently living in Australia with her backpack. She is fascinated with travelling around the world and wants to share her passion, experiences and memories with others.

Image attribution: Author’s own.

Lekha Mohanlal, PR Executive at Dickies Store, asks why women aren’t getting stuck in to the booming UK construction industry, because in her view from her experience working with a company in the industry, there’s a lot to like about it.

As a feminist this struck me. Why aren’t women getting their hands stuck in to the laborious work? You only have to log in to Instagram with the hashtag “#fitfam” and you’ll see strong women lifting weights as heavy (if not more) as their male weightlifting counterparts. There has been a significant rise of women in the UK police force in the last year and the number of female footballers in Europe has gone up five times in the last 20 years.

Dickies Store (leading suppliers of UK workwear for construction and trade) recently made this infographic that shows only 1% of the women in construction actually work on site. It’s about time women picked up their sledgehammers and joined the growing world of construction and trade, and here’s why.

Leadership
Women make up 23% on the boards of FTSE-100 companies. Construction is a lot different to the corporate ladder and you are much more likely to work your way to the top and even be your own boss. Which takes me to my next point.

Flexibility
If you’re your own boss, you can work when you want, including evenings and weekends if that suits you better. A recent article in Stylist Magazine (July 2015) stated that 54,000 UK women are forced out of work due to their pregnancies each year. Out of the women who did take maternity leave, one in 10 mothers said that they were treated worse by their employers after returning from maternity leave. If you do have young children, a career in construction is ideal as you can mould your hours around them.

Mobility and variety
Instead of being chained to your desk from 9-5, your normal working day in construction could be much more active and dynamic.

Pride
Construction has a high job satisfaction rating. Being able to contribute to the landscape of your community is a very rewarding job to have.

Growing job opportunities and money
Ranging from labourers to land surveyors, there is a perfect job in construction to suit all skills. Not forgetting the financial benefits- skilled workers have seen pay soar almost four times faster than inflation. Some plumbers have been reported to earn up to £100,000 a year.

In 2011, The Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians (UCATT), pledged to ensure that women received equal pay for work of equal value, provide specialist support and advice for women seeking to enter the profession and provide everyone with access to lifelong learning. With University fees sky high and the government encouraging enterprise, isn’t it also time to offer women a career in construction from school age?

Stacey Clifford, Kier Site Engineer, contributed to The Smith Institute’s publication on Women in Construction and said:

building women main

“One of the great things about my job is that I get to work with so many different types of people. One minute you can be presenting to senior management on your ideas to make the project more efficient; the next you’re out with the guys physically doing the work on site, discussing how to improve safety. I also enjoy seeing real progress made as you move through the project- where you now have 30-metre-high concrete walls, six months ago there was just a muddy field. You also might end up working on world class projects.”

Young women need to be able to make informed choices and to do this they need a good understanding of the breadth of opportunity in the sector. Employers and schools need to be brought together so that we can help young women to cross the barricade into construction. Women are under-represented in construction and we need to break these stereotypes in order to change the face of the industry.

Sadly, part of the reason why many women don’t go into construction is because of sexism. Research shows that more than half of female construction workers said they were treated worse than men because of their gender. This is where I believe women should stand proud when they are faced with those “oh, you’re a builder” comments. Being female helps you to stand out and having a strong and positive attitude (like with all forms of bullying) helps repel discrimination. Luckily, there are also networking groups such as Chicks With Bricks which connects young women in the construction industry to their peers and role models.

We’ve all been the woman walking to work in the morning, passing a construction site where we have been cat-called by builders. Kimberly Gallagher (Project Engineer) stated in a Huffington Post article that men often condescend her in the workplace by saying things like “thanks sweetheart”. She replied (with a grin) “No problem sweet-cheeks”. I applaud this jokey retaliation.

It’s time we worked hard to demonstrate that women have an equal place in construction. The role and influence of women needs to grow in order to reduce discrimination. The more capable women enter the industry, the harder it will be for men to think less of their female colleagues.

Interested in a career in construction? Visit the Construction Industry Training Board Website: www.citb.co.uk

Lekha Mohanlal is Digital PR Executive at Dickies Store. Dickies Store are a leading workwear supplier and Lekha believes that they recognise the importance of women’s garments in a male-dominated industry. Dickies manufacture the most popular styles of work trousers/ tops and footwear to ensure there are suitable options for female employees and workers.

Image Attribution: Photo by El Gringo, taken on the 7th Habitat for Humanity Women Build event in Miami. Used under Creative Commons license.

Weekly Round-up and Open Thread

by Lusana Taylor // 17 August 2015, 10:47 pm

9604825168_22e445f384_kIt’s time for another round-up and there are plenty of fascinating and informative articles to check out this week.

If you’d like to comment on one of the issues covered or share another article that we haven’t included, feel free to get involved in the comments section below or on Facebook/Twitter.

As always, please remember that linking does not automatically mean endorsement or agreement from the F-Word and that some links may be triggering. It is also worth noting that, while we welcome engagement on the weekly round-up, any comments including racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic or disablist language will be deleted.

There’s a lot to disagree with Liz Kendall on, but she’s got guts (New Statesman)

Man Slut Shames Young Woman On Tube For ‘Revealing Outfit’, Sassy Fellow Commuter Defends Her Like A Boss (Huffington Post)

Farkhunda: The making of a martyr (BBC News)

How the Interruption Of Bernie Sanders Exposed White Progressives’ White Supremacy (Everyday Feminism)

There’s a Rape Problem at Music Festivals and Nobody Seems to Care (Vice)

“My fat body has done things you could only ever dream of.” Read this woman’s open letter to a man who shouted abusive jeers at her during a run (Stylist)

Right Now #BlackLivesMatter Is Wasting Everybody’s Time (Oliver Willis)

15 Men React To The Idea Of Taking Their Wife’s Last Name After Marriage (ThoughtCatalog)

Why are we so afraid of teenage girls? (The F-Word’s Jess McCabe at Little Atoms)

Why Nigeria’s ban of female genital mutilation sends a powerful message (Destiny)

Global movement votes to adopt policy to protect human rights of sex workers (Amnesty)

‘Listen to Survivors’ and the Fetishisation of Experience (Gender, Bodies, Politics)

Here’s why we at Amnesty backed the decriminalisation of sex work (Independent)

Comment: Amnesty sex worker vote ‘a victory for evidence over ignorance’ (politics.co.uk)

Why do marketers get to decide what toys are right for our children? (The Guardian)

You need to shout for Eva Carneiro and every silenced woman in sport (The Telegraph)

Chelsea’s doctor can look after herself. It’s poor Jose Mourinho I worry about (The Guardian)

Narendra Bisht talking to arundhati: ‘I Don’t Believe There Are Only Two Genders. I See Gender As A Spectrum And I’m Somewhere On It.’ (Outlook India)

Romania’s disappearing girls: Poverty,desperation drive girls from their hometowns & into the arms of sex traffickers (Al Jazeera)

The image is used under a creative commons license with thanks to Katherine Albin. It is a black and white photograph and depicts a person’s reflection. The person has their back to a round mirror and has their arms up as if stretching or yawning. Their shoulders and back are uncovered. Their dark hair is tied up at the nape of their neck.

The London Feminist Film Festival is back!

After a break in 2014, the festival returns with its third, full-to-bursting programme: eight screenings over the weekend of 20-23 August, at the Rio Cinema in Dalston and the Tricycle in Kilburn. East or West Londoner, for four have your pick of feminist documentaries from around the world, starting on Thursday 20 August with a mash-up of UK and Cuban music in ‘The Lady of Percussion’ and Through the Lens of Hip-Hop: UK Women, and closing in rural Canada on Sunday 23 August with Cynthia Scott’s award-winning classic drama from 1990 The Company of Strangers. In the latter, eight women from different walks of life are stranded when their bus breaks down. Mainly improvised around stories from the actors’ own lives – who include a nun, a Mohawk elder, and a lesbian feminist writer Mary Meigs – the film is a magical, absorbing docufiction that The New York Times called “an outstandingly tranquil vacation… in a beautiful, pastoral setting”.

THE COMPANY OF STRANGERS (copyright NFB Canada) 2

Every film across the festival will feature a panel discussions, as part of its feminist commitment to dialogue and activism. You can talk UK hip-hop with Jessica Horn, musician Chardine Taylor-Stone and Through the Lens directors Samantha Calliste and Silhouette Bushay on Thursday 20 August; how to get your short film made and seen with the filmmakers whose work appears in the Feminist Shorts screening on Saturday 22 August; women’s empowerment in rural Nepal with Sarita Panday after the screening of Elena Dirstaru’s documentary But They Can’t Break Stones on Sunday 23 August. In addition, the festival will be raising funds for Rape Crisis England and Wales with a UK premiere of Lisa F Jackson’s polemic documentary It Happened Here, a timely exposure of the mishandling of sexual assault cases by US universities. It’s been screened at the White House and catalysed debate in the US – given the Guardian’s recent report, here’s hoping it can do the same in the UK.

At another UK premiere from the US, you can hear Straight Sex author Lynne Segal reflect on the emergence of American second-wave feminism from 1966-71, as shown in Mary Dore’s She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry (2014). Co-promoted with Club des Femmes, this screening on Friday 21 August is a centrepiece of the festival. The film has caused huge excitement in North America but is still fundraising to pay for music clearances and subtitles so that it can be distributed elsewhere. Lynne Segal will be joined on the panel by younger scholars, including film historian Clarissa Jacob, to debate the second wave’s legacy and its connections to contemporary feminism. The strategies and sheer brilliant out-thereness of groups like W.I.T.C.H. – the Women’s International Conspiracy from Hell – make the film a revelatory, incantatory and inspirational portrait of an era and movement often sold by dominant history as humourless and/or white middle class liberal politesse.

There’s more inspiration in two documentary portraits of outstanding and outspoken feminist writers, both showing at the Tricycle. Ester Broner: A Weave of Women on Sunday 23 August looks at the creator of the Feminist Passover Seder, while The Art of Ama Ata Aidoo on Saturday 22 August is a tribute to the Ghanaian poet, novelist and playwright as she travels back to her ancestral village and to the US to attend the premiere of her play Anowa. The two women have both nothing and everything in common: as feminists, their creativity and activist work are inseparable, providing an inspiration and empowerment for subsequent generations.

Ranging internationally, across decades, between documentary and fiction, the London Feminist Film Festival is a bit like its closing film, The Company of Strangers: a vacation to feminist-land, (hopefully with no buses breaking down…), where everyone has a story to tell, one connected to gender politics and feminist awakenings. Just being in the company of women onscreen (screenings are open to all genders) is a radical act: as She’s Beautiful director Mary Dore told Mother Jones: “Ellen Willis told me that an amazing part of the women’s movement for her was actually starting to enjoy the company of other women, because basically that was something that hadn’t been done.”

Come and enjoy the company!

Get your tickets on the LFFF website.

Read our previews of previous editions of LFFF in 2013 and 2012.

A picture is a still from The Company of Strangers, courtesy of LFFF, copyright: NFB Canada.
It shows a tranquil evening scene by the lake, two older women hang out on two sides of a large stone in the middle of the picture. One on the left is wearing a straw hat with a ribbon and is holding a long stick made from a branch, venturing off to the left of the frame. Woman on the right is resting, sitting on the ground. Both are wearing comfortable looking clothes, including loose fitting jeans.

Weekly Round-up and Open Thread

by Lusana Taylor // 10 August 2015, 7:56 pm

16138489833_32f5256e4c_z

It’s time for another weekly round-up and this one includes everything from Donald Trump to running the London Marathon without a tampon!

If you’d like to comment on one of the issues covered or share another article that we haven’t included, feel free to get involved in the comments section below or on Facebook/Twitter.

As always, please remember that linking does not automatically mean endorsement or agreement from the F-Word and that some links may be triggering. It is also worth noting that, while we welcome engagement on the weekly round-up, any comments including racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic or disablist language will be deleted.

Discovering Sylvie Rancourt’s Long-Lost Comics About Working As a Nude Dancer (Bitch Magazine)

A Note to Myself: On Creativity (Girl Lost in the City)

For the first time in years, I feel beautiful (June Eric-Udorie)

From the article: “When I was about 3 years old, I used to run up to the camera. I would open my mouth and smile, exposing the teeth hidden between my Vaseline coated lips. I smiled with my eyes. I didn’t care if my hair was a mess. I didn’t care if anyone else was looking. All that mattered was that there was a camera and somebody wanted to take a photo of my adorable face and I had to smile.”

When We Asked Ronda Rousey If She Had Apraxia of Speech (The Mighty)

From the article: “I had Ashlynn give her a hug and tried to push her along (bodyguards were watching), and she said, ‘You know, my mom is a PhD psychologist, and she had never heard of it. She took me to the universities and many of them had never heard of it.'”

A mother’s sacrifice: tracing the literary history of maternal love (New Statesman)

From the article: “As Toni Morrison’s Beloved illustrates, maternal love defies restrictions based on the intersection of race and gender, and exists beyond patriarchal rules of ownership.”

The Comedy You Love Uses Trans Women As Punchlines And We Need To Talk About It (Everyday Feminism)

How to be a badass Muslim female artist (Dazed)

From the article: “The UK is a bubbling pit of fear right now, and #Islamophobia, #ISIS and #terrorism are fast burning up to the top of this millenium’s buzzwords. It’s been a growing pandemic ever since that first plane hit the twin towers back in 2001, then we saw it amongst the carnage of 7/7 and, most recently, on the beaches of Tunisia. Pointing fingers at a whole community out of blind panic seems to be the bandaid solution to ease the troubled Western mind. The impact is real, tragic and nothing short of scary but who’s asking about the effect on the rest of the population, including young and creative Muslims trying to make it through their teens, 20s and beyond without getting abuse hurled at them in the streets, online and in the news.”

Kristen Stewart Steals Our Heart In “Awkward” Jesse Eisenberg Video (Bust)

Potential Leader of the Free World Spends Night Harassing Woman on Twitter (The Mary Sue)

Woman Runs London Marathon Without a Tampon, Bleeds Freely to Raise Awareness (People)

The image is used under a creative commons license with thanks to Adolfo Lujan. It shows a person in profile with the ‘Venus’ symbol drawn onto the side of their face. They have dark hair with white streaks which is tied up and they have sunglasses perched on the top of their head. They are also wearing a checked shirt and a gold chain. They are sharply in focus but the background is blurred and depicts other figures. The setting looks to be a rally or a march of some description.

Becky Young describes the difference it has made to her life having an employer who is supportive to breastfeeding mums, and thinks more employers should be adopting similar practices.

As for a lot of working mothers, the issue of juggling work and family life is always on my mind. Even though I’m lucky to have amazing support from my husband and familylife at times can be a bit of a balancing act. I have three beautiful children, my two daughters are at school and nursery school and the latest addition to the family is baby Reuben.

When Reuben was born, I was keen to breastfeed as long as I could but there was the issue of how I could do that and go back to work. I decided to speak to my boss, Karen James, a mother of three and grandmother of five. I was so happy when she not only agreed for me to bring my baby son into the office but also agreed to allow me to breastfeed at my desk! Karen started her own business after many years working in a male, corporate environment. She was keen to create a non-corporate atmosphere to allow flexibility to her staff. From flexible working hours to bringing your dog into the office, my workplace and my boss are quite unique. Which is wonderful for all of us but is, in itself, a sad statement to make.

working with baby JYWouldn’t it be great if this was the norm? Employers should realise that they will benefit greatly from having happier and more productive employees. They will also find the retention of their valued staff will increase so they needn’t worry about having to replace highly skilled individuals. Staff will not be tempted to go after other roles for the sake of monetary or additional benefits as flexibility and understanding in the workplace are priceless.
You may remember the whole question of breastfeeding in public had a recent airing in the press after a certain well known hotel asked a breastfeeding mother to cover up with a napkin when she started feeding her baby during afternoon tea. The Equality Act 2010 has made it illegal for anyone to ask a breastfeeding woman to leave a public place. Mothers should not be made to feel awkward for simply feeding their child. Neither should they be trapped inside their homes or exiled to the loos or any other unsuitable location. If people don’t want to see a woman breastfeed then they shouldn’t look.

Statistics show more mums are opting to breastfeed but few stick to it. So although breastfeeding at birth in the UK has risen from 62% in 1990 to 81% in 2010 (most recent figures from the last survey done by the National Childbirth Trust in 2010, published in November 2012)), an NHS report from June 2015 suggests that only 57% of mums are breastfeeding at 6 weeks and there is a further drop to 34% at 6 months, compared to Norway where 80% of mums are still breastfeeding after 6 months.

Evidence shows that 80% of mums decide to stop breastfeeding because of a lack of support. As I write this, support services for new mums are being cut across England. Prominent experts advise that increasing numbers of women will miss out on breastfeeding advice during their first year of parenthood.

This makes it even more crucial that breastfeeding new mums have the support of their friends and families in addition to the understanding and flexibility of their employers. The World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months so it would be great if women had the freedom to make the choice.In today’s economy, if you earn an average wage, it takes two salaries to meet monthly outgoings. So for most people there is no choice other than to be a working mum.

Not supporting a breastfeeding employee by allowing them to breastfeed or express milk in the workplace could be seen as discriminatory against working mothers. What option does she have? If she can’t afford not to work and doesn’t have the support of her employer, the only alternative she has is to stop breastfeeding and lose that connection with her child. If your income is low then your baby may have to miss out.

Breastfeeding is simply feeding your child. It’s a pity this most basic human need should have become such a complex issue.

Breast feeding advocate Becky Young is an account manager, married and mum to Afiya aged 7, Mali aged 4 and Reuben aged 6 months

Image Attribution: Jenny Bradford, used under Creative Commons license

Editor’s note: this post was amended on 6 August to correct factual mistakes regarding the legal status of sex work in the UK. We apologise for having originally published inaccurate information.

Kay Page discusses the decriminalisation of the sex industry, and why she chooses protection and safety for sex workers over moral concerns.

This week Amnesty International will meet in Dublin to discuss its policies for the year ahead and to vote on a number of important issues. It’s an event that very rarely raises any media attention, but this week one controversial subject is causing quite the media storm – the sex trade and the proposal that it should be decriminalised.

Celebrities such as Kate Winslet, Meryl Streep and Lena Durham have entered the debate, urging the organisation to vote against it, suggesting that decriminalising prostitution will have a negative impact on human trafficking and in effect create a form of “gender apartheid”. Yet while their intervention is with good intentions, a number of sex workers have spoken against the opposition to the motion and asked the named figures to stop “grandstanding” on the subject.

Mon Amour by James BlannAs a feminist and egalitarian I find myself in conflict over the subject, concerned that there is no easy or right answer. The very nature of the sex industry is undeniably sexist and surveys regularly prove that many women enter it simply out of desperation. We may never know the impact the welfare cuts will have on this subject, as women are disproportionately affected by the changes but it’s hard to imagine that it will have no impact at all.
Yet at the same time it’s crucial to acknowledge that some women enter the sex industry of their own free will, not because of desperation or trafficking. The current laws in the UK mean that these women therefore work in an incredibly dangerous industry.

However, when I think of Amnesty International, an organisation that was slow to recognise human trafficking as a human rights abuse, I struggle to see how this motion really aligns with their principles. I can’t help but feel that perhaps they are choosing to discuss and debate the wrong area. Instead of proposing the decriminalisation of the entire industry, perhaps we should instead be looking to a Swedish style approach.

The Swedish approach attempts to quash prostitution by criminalising the buying of sex and not the sex worker. They have invested in support for prostitutes and by and large it’s an approach that appears to be working. [ANIA: the author chose not to support this claim with any data. Amnesty International report, as mentioned by Laura below, states on page 12 why the Nordic model is not working]

Currently British prostitutes operate in a grey area because while selling or buying sex isn’t illegal, soliciting is and as a result it’s very rare that we see any convictions. Add to this complicated law the fact that it is incredibly hard to police and you have rather murky waters in front of you. At the same time women who do sell sex – for whatever reason, whether it be consensual, under duress or out of desperation – aren’t directly protected by the law and therefore often face a huge risk of violence. For me, that in itself is a far more pressing issue.

Instead of calling on the Government to work towards the decriminalisation of the sex industry, perhaps Amnesty should be fighting for other laws; ones that can be enacted as quickly as possible. We could start by ensuring that sex workers are sufficiently protected by current law and promote the notion that abuse is abuse whatever the events leading up to it. Alongside this, the Government need to ensure that the UK has a robust and substantial strategy for tackling human trafficking, including tough sentences for anyone caught committing the crime.

In the long term, perhaps decriminalisation is the answer to the complicated question that is the sex industry, but in the short term, ending the violence has to be the priority.

Kay Page is 25 and from Wales, and blogs at www.ohkay-dohkay.com.

Image attribution: James Blann, used under Creative Commons license.

I have a gift of prescience. Not always, unfortunately – I can generally be relied upon to leave my umbrella behind on the one day of the week that it rains, and while I wouldn’t mind making a few million at the bookies, my success rate with the occasional flutter remains within the realms of statistical mediocrity. However, I have an uncanny ability to predict the reaction I will get when I tell people I’m off to see a one-woman show. Arguably, this is less to do with my spiritual gifts and more to do with the fact that they are almost always the same. As soon as the phrase is uttered, I am on the receiving end of a pained wince.

The critics appeal to logic – of course one person will struggle to command the attention of an audience for an hour or longer on their own! And with a form that, due to the individual focus, overrepresents autobiography and biography, it’s inevitable that the pieces come across as self-absorbed. One-woman shows are simply and sadly flawed.

Strangely, although these points don’t seem gendered, I can’t recall ever hearing them made about productions that feature only one man. Surely the same critiques would apply. It’s almost like society attributes different value to the voices of men and women.

It’s particularly the charge that one-woman shows are self-indulgent that rankles. Women are so often silenced by the explicit or implicit suggestions that their experiences are somehow less important or less relevant than men’s. Whether this is in history textbooks that relegate all mentions of women to their own chapter on domestic life, on screen in movies that market male heroes to everyone but female protagonists to women or in the House of Commons when the Prime Minister tells a female colleague to calm down, these and another myriad situations see women talked over, sidelined or simply ignored. Therefore, when women take to the stage and request sufficient attention to relate a tale that they find important, perhaps it’s no surprise that for many, this is startlingly presumptuous. Whether or not it’s intentional (and I suspect it is often subconscious and normed), the dismissal of one-woman plays specifically is aligned with the ways in which women’s impact is reduced due to gendered assumptions.

Just as with the myth that women aren’t funny, the idea that one-woman shows aren’t good can be countered by actual experiences. In the past few years, some of the best things I’ve seen have been performed by women on their own. These include Juana in a Million, an intense and striking production about the experiences of a Mexican immigrant in the UK, based on true stories; Fleabag, a dark comedy that gives a brilliantly honest portrayal of life as a woman with a high sex drive; and Juliette Burton’s When I Grow Up, a funny and powerful exploration of aspirations and anorexia.

One thing that makes the tainting of the form so problematic is that it’s often one of the best routes available for women trying to make it on stage. There are many more women studying drama than men (implying a disproportionate number of women pursuing acting careers). Meanwhile, men make up the majority of all roles in theatre, including acting, directing, writing and backstage positions. Most plays staged have more men in their cast than women, which is true both of those that are hundreds of years old and more modern offerings. So the roles available for women in professional theatre are slim on the ground, with intense competition. A one-woman show is a real opportunity to display talent that might not otherwise be seen, with the added bonus for the performers and writers of being able to inject their own creativity and experiences into pieces that are often original.

With the Edinburgh Fringe Festival on the verge of getting going this year, there will be hundreds of women preparing to appear day after day in shows they have carefully crafted. While often exhilarating, it can be tough being a performer in such a crowded marketplace of art; potential audience members have a banquet to choose from and have little option but to make snap judgements, writing off shows as easily as they crumple the flier they have just had thrust upon them. If you’ll be at EdFringe this year (or any other year or fringe theatre festival!), I urge you to take a chance on a few random one-woman shows – they might be better than you expect.

The image shows Vicky Araico Casas in Juana in a Million. She is leaning forward as she speaks, holding one hand in front of her as she gestures. The background is entirely dark or black.

Ryan Smith thinks there’s still a long way to go to close the gap between men’s and women’s pensions, and that current measures may not be going far enough to ensure better financial security for women in old age.

Prime Minister David Cameron recently pledged to close the pay and pension gender gap in British workplaces.

Despite the Office of National Statistics announcing in November 2014 that the pay gap between men and women was at its narrowest since comparative records began in 1997 (9.4% compared with 10% in 2013), the World Economic Forum released a report showing that the UK had fallen to 26th place in the rankings of the world’s most gender-equal countries – behind much less affluent countries including Rwanda, The Philippines and Bulgaria.

The Conservatives’ answer to close this gap is to force companies with over 250 employees to publish wage data, to “cast sunlight on the discrepancies and create the pressure we need for change, driving women’s wages up”.
Targets will also be introduced for getting more women into boardroom seats.
While this is a positive move, there’s still the clear problem of the pensions gender gap.

The Pensions Gender Gap
Moneypurse“Single male pensioners have an income of £262 per week compared to single female pensioners who have an income of £223” explains Mark Stopard, head of product development at insurance company Partnership. Insurer Prudential released data showing women even expect to retire with less pension savings than men: an annual income expectation of £14,300 compared with £19,100 – a £4,800 difference. So what can be done to close this gender gap? Cameron’s policy aims to give women greater opportunities to save equally, but currently women aren’t putting as much aside.

Closing the Gap
Scottish Widows revealed women save 38% less for their retirement than men. Even taking into consideration the 9% pay gap, they’re still paying almost a third less into their pension fund. While Cameron’s aim to close the pay gap can’t be discredited, more help is needed for women to save for their futures. Sarah Lyle, independent financial advisor at The Chambers Partnership believes the current system doesn’t favour these women:

“Women who have been unable to work or taken a career break due to raising their families or caring for family members, have forfeited their own income and therefore pension contributions whilst out of work. Therefore their contributions have not had the same time and investment period of their male counterparts”

Marta Philips OBE CA, Chief Executive of The Pensions Advisory Service suggests “If you are taking a career break consider maintaining your pension contributions and making voluntary National Insurance contributions when you return to work”.

With recent cuts to the welfare system, including benefits available to single parents and parents with more than 2 children, this could be impossible. Should a new mother at home with her newborn feel like it’s something she’d like to do for her future, it may be worth discussing whether her partner can subsidise these payments as part of the overall family finances.

Changing Attitudes
With women being more independent and in charge of their own finances, the attitude towards pension contributions should too. There are women who rely on their partner’s savings to fund the future (more than 1 in 10 according to Scottish Widows), but we must encourage this minority to be more vigilant with family finances; after all, not all marriages last forever, and 84% of divorced women told Scottish Widows that pensions hadn’t even been discussed.
Mark Stopard knows the importance of taking charge:

“Each generation approaches money management in a different way but I would suggest that – if they haven’t already – [these] women ensure that they understand not only what their entitlements are but also what their husbands have done to plan for retirement”

Men also need to look at what they can do for their partners to lead us towards a more equal society. Couples splitting the childcare support more evenly allows women to return to work sooner if they wish, closing the gender gap in the process. Increased pension payments and transparency around savings should also be an option if it’s affordable.

Positive Steps
The auto-enrolment scheme has resulted in an increase in pension contributions from women (50% up from 41% last year). As it rolls out further across the nation’s workplaces (to be fully implemented in 2018), we expect this figure to rise.

There should also be an aim to improve interest rates from the Bank of England; this should lead to a rise in annuity rates, providing a more stable, secure income in retirement and a fairer return on pension savings.
The fixed-rate state pension – introduced from April 2016 – will also work to close the gap, but Sarah Lyle thinks the government can do more: “Whilst they have taken steps to provide women with pension credits to support their basic state pension, they could incorporate measures to protect their private provision as well” she says, also adding:

“This could be based on previous contributions before they left work or maybe offering a higher tax relief for a period of time equal to that when they were off work, to try and bring their pension funds more in line to what they would have accrued if they hadn’t needed time off work”

Ryan Smith writes for My Retirement Options, providing information on pension drawdown, annuities and trivial commutation as well as helping people to make informed decisions about their retirement income.

Image Attribution: Francisco Osorlo, used under Creative Commons license.

Weekly Round-up and Open Thread

by Lusana Taylor // 3 August 2015, 2:33 pm

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It’s time for another weekly round-up and this one includes everything from the removal of “ridiculously skinny” mannequins from branches of Topshop to Amnesty International’s call to decriminalise sex work.

If you’d like to comment on one of the issues covered or share another article that we haven’t included, feel free to get involved in the comments section below or on Facebook/Twitter.

As always, please remember that linking does not automatically mean endorsement or agreement from the F-Word and that some links may be triggering. It is also worth noting that, while we welcome engagement on the weekly round-up, any comments including racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic or disablist language will be deleted.

It’s harder being a woman in improv (Chortle)

From the article: “There were a great many things about being a woman that made improv unnecessarily hard: too many to explain in one article. So I have honed in on just some the specific difficulties that my female friends and I experienced when we first joined our troupe, to give a glimpse of the extra baggage many women are forced to carry as they make their way on to the British comedy scene.”

‘I’m No Longer Afraid’: 35 Women Tell Their Stories About Being Assaulted by Bill Cosby, and the Culture That Wouldn’t Listen (The Cut)

On Amnesty and that open letter (Feminist Ire)

From the article: “As most readers of this blog will probably be aware, Amnesty International recently proposed adopting a policy in favour of sex work decriminalisation. The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women – a radical feminist organisation for whom “trafficking” means, simply, prostitution – had kittens, and got a whole bunch of celebrity women (and others) to sign an open letter calling on Amnesty to reject this proposal.”

5 Badass Iranian Women Who Are Shattering Stereotypes of What Feminism Looks Like (Mic)

13 Tips on How To Speak While Female (Washington Post)

From the article: “I have read all the critiques of women’s vocal mannerisms and tics. No ‘just.’ No ‘sorry.’ No uptalk. No vocal fry. I have come to a few simple conclusions, which I have distilled into the following 13 tips.”

A response to Naomi Wolf (Language: a feminist guide)

From the article: “Dear Naomi, A few years ago, when you were in Oxford finishing your thesis, you came to one of my lectures on language and gender. So I was disappointed when I saw your latest piece in the Guardian, exhorting young women to stop using ‘destructive speech patterns’. Evidently I did a poor job of explaining the basics of my subject. Professional pride compels me to give it another try.”

Topshop pulls ‘ridiculously skinny’ mannequins after being shamed by customer on Facebook (The Independent)

Jeremy Corbyn: ‘I want half of all MPs to be women’ (The Telegraph)

From the article: “Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn has published a blueprint for his women’s manifesto, saying he wants to challenge everyday sexism – and outlining his plans for rape victims, childcare and the gender pay gap.”

ICRSE, 180 organisations and 600 individuals ask Amnesty International to support decriminalisation of sex work (Sex Work Europe)

‘You cannot rape your spouse’: Donald Trump’s lawyer threatens reporter over ex-wife’s claim (The Guardian)

From the article: “Marital rape was made illegal in all US states in 1993. It was made illegal in New York state in 1984, five years before the alleged incident. Donald and Ivana Trump settled their divorce in 1992.”

8 Things to Know About Amnesty’s Draft Proposal on Sex Work (Huffington Post)

They are not migrant hordes – they are people, and they’re probably nicer than us (The Mirror)

From the article: “They do not have names. They do not have needs, or rights, or jobs, or a tax code, or a passport. They are your choice of collective noun: a swarm, a flood, a tide, a horde. They are not Bob, or Sue, or David or Kate or Charlotte or Adrian. They are not like us. They are Them. They are stateless and helpless, foodless and friendless. Why should we share?”

The image is used under a creative commons license with thanks to Jason Pier. It shows a Pride Day parade. At the front of the march is a person in a pink, long-sleeved shirt, with a beard and wearing glasses. The person is holding a sign aloft which reads “SEX WORK IS REAL WORK” in block capitals. Behind the person are other people carrying similar signs with slogans such as “Decriminalise Consensual Sex”.

Andreya Triana

Hiya! Please click here for your August 2015 playlist. You can also view the track-list and listen here.

Andreya Triana’s soulful pipes on this dreamy track are, for me, the perfect soundtrack for a lazy summer day. It’s clear from the first bars that this has the stamp of Flying Lotus all over it, making for a perfect collaboration. Signed to the illustrious Ninja Tune label, you can read more about Andreya here. This, and the Sepalcure track, are both on heavy rotation at my house.

Is it just me that continually confuses Helena Hauff with Holly Herndon? Both are credible electronic artists operating in a predominantly male industry and I tip my hat to the pair of them. Personally, I prefer the darkness of Helena’s tracks, however, but I recommend you check both of them out. You can read more about Helena here.

You may recognise the Wendy Rene and The Tom Tom’s tracks, both of which have been sampled by The Wu-Tang Clan and Mariah Carey respectively. You can listen to the glorious Wu-Tang here and watch Mariah rollerblading and riding a rollercoaster here (TW: clowns).

Pop is suitably represented with the inclusion of Lady Gaga’s ‘Alejandro’, a killer tune, as far as I’m concerned, plus SWV’s ‘Right Here’ which, with MJ’s sample and memories of my teenage years, is another happy summer tune.

This is my eighteenth playlist for The F-Word and as someone who was a huge Hole fan in the 1990s, I can’t quite believe that I haven’t included one of their tracks in any of my previous playlists. Consider this glaring omission duly remedied!

Enjoy!

The picture at the top of the page shows Andreya Triana looking absolutely resplendent in black, next to/in front of a multi-coloured graphic art background. Image by James Kendall, shared under a Creative Commons licence.

Jade Moulds on her experiences marching against austerity in the capital earlier this year, and why she’s behind the campaign to oppose government cuts that will disproportionately affect women.

On Saturday 20th March, 250,000 people came together for the People’s Assembly End Austerity Now demo. Only 60-70,000 people were estimated to attend, showing that people across the UK are far angrier about the recent cuts than anyone could have predicted.

Fourth Wave by Sophie YatesThe Feminist Bloc was organised with the purpose of drawing attention to the fact that women are disproportionately affected by the cuts – it’s estimated that 85% of cuts come out of women’s pockets. The Bloc was open to all genders, and consisted of groups such as Fourth Wave: London Feminist Activists, Abortion Rights, and Feminists Fightback, with Sisters Uncut forming a women-only Sisters Bloc to draw attention to the way austerity cuts make it harder for women to leave violent partners. Before the march began, Sisters Uncut read out a list of the names of women killed by men this year alone. Faced with these names, it seems impossible not to act against the brutal cuts targeting our women’s refuge centres, domestic violence units, and legal aid budgets for victims of abuse.

The Feminist Bloc wore masks to show solidarity with those who were unable to march without them; people who had to hide their activism from employers, friends or loved ones, or who simply wanted to retain their privacy. Considering the stereotype of feminists as cat-ladies, we thought the choice of mask was appropriate. We also found that small children were big fans of our cat masks – hopefully we encouraged some future feminists.

Seeing so many parents there with their children (we marched near the Family Bloc and the Women’s Bloc) was fantastic. It showed that people from every walk of life were fed up with the cuts, not just the dreadlocked hippies and the black-clad anarchists. It was great to see the Hare Krishnas dancing to the music of a political punk band, and girls in their prams with ‘Stop taking money away from poor people!’ signs. Wanting people to have enough food, shelter, healthcare and human dignity, no matter their background or ability, isn’t just for the radical left. It should be a matter of basic humanity.

As predicted, the right wing media chose to focus on the tiny amount of people who wanted a bit more action at the rally, letting off a few smoke bombs and starting a fire using some placards. As funny as it was watching about ten police officers struggle with this raging inferno, it was frustrating to see the newspapers jump on the act. The march was actually incredibly peaceful – I heard many members of the Bloc mention how calm the atmosphere was, despite the huge number of attendees, and there was no record of any violence. A number of politicians marched and spoke out, such as Caroline Lucas and Jeremy Corbyn, and Russell Brand and Charlotte Church were among those who made speeches at the rally.

March 2I felt proud marching alongside the one quarter of a million people who had all decided that was enough was enough and that it was time to stand up for the vulnerable in society. On July 8th, George Osborne announced further cuts, and we were on the march again. It’s true that one march is unlikely to get the Tories to cancel their absurd programme of austerity, but it lets them know that we won’t settle for a vote every five years and consider that democracy. We will let them know exactly what we think of their methods, and remind them that 75% of the UK did not vote for them. Protests are an integral reminder than others out there agree with you, and they boost morale in a way that sitting at home yelling at the TV just doesn’t. Join us on the hashtag #FemsAgainstCuts, follow The People’s Assembly Against Austerity and keep up with news of further protests against the planned cuts in 2015. It’s time to be counted.

Jade Moulds is editor of The Jar Belles. She’s a leftie feminist, an editorial assistant at an academic publisher, a writer and a terrible hula hooper. Follow her on Twitter: @msjademoulds.

Image attribution: Fourth Wave banner by Sophie Yates, used with permission. Photo of marchers and banner taken at march by Jade Moulds and used with permission.

Is it too much to ask?

by Guest Blogger // 31 July 2015, 9:00 am

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Alexandra Collinson asks why the media continues to sideline the careers and achievements of famous women in favour of their dresses and husbands.

Amal-Clooney-tabloid-smaller-e1438205406957I recently came across a rather interesting article in a leading tabloid newspaper on the subject of human rights lawyer Amal Clooney. Only she was not immediately depicted in her role as a lawyer; instead, she was addressed as the wife of George, ostensible “Hollywood Heart-throb”. The article consisted of an image of Amal- the kind of feature in which there might be a few lines of text beneath, usually to be skimmed over- portraying her outfit transitions, intriguingly from black Stella McCartney, to some “simple, crisp” white confection. A single line on her current legal case, like an insignificant afterthought, followed a thorough deconstruction of her fashion choices. It was reminiscent of those cheap PPI adverts on TV, I thought, that manic voice that skims quickly through the terms and conditions and all the stuff they don’t really want you to hear at the end. It eventually stated that she had been in talks with the PM over a high profile case involving the release of the jailed former president of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, evidently deemed negligible in the face of such integral styling statistics.
It took me a little while to absorb a few major pointers that distanced this particular article from the run-of-the mill celebrity pieces.

Amal Clooney, human rights lawyer and all-round respected, valued individual, had been reduced to nothing more than a glorified clothes horse, defined only by her marriage to a Hollywood actor, all in the space of a few careless sentences.

To many, it may seem exaggerative- but you see, this is where the malignancy lies. It is subtle, it is pervasive and it was simply dripping from this article. Sexism. In this case, the presumption that a woman’s interests and capabilities lie solely within her clothes and her choice of husband as opposed to her career.

The message is this: Yes, Amal, your work is all very riveting, but wouldn’t you rather be defined by your husband’s fame and the fabric that covers your body?

How this crap was even allowed to be published, I have no idea. But the media is a prime purveyor of all that is prejudiced, and there is no way in hell that if the roles were reversed, George Clooney’s designer suit and its particular hue would be analysed to the nth degree. Instead, we would have a full page spread elaborating upon his dealings with the case and subsequent contribution to all that is right and just in the world.

Is it really so difficult not to resort to this hideous stereotyping? I think not. The media holds such a huge responsibility to spearhead feminist ideals – not a burden, but something to be carried forward with pride, on a platform too big to be ignored. As with many cases of sexism, this article blundered from word to word in sheer ignorance; the writer was more than likely unaware of the fact that they had single-handedly diminished the extent of Amal Clooney’s expertise by shifting a disproportionate amount of attention to her bloody outfit, of all things.
I wouldn’t care if there was a cross-examination of, say, David Cameron’s get-up in the paper to accompany that of Amal; there could be an equal supply of men to accompany the endless stream of fashion critiques on female actors, musicians, politicians and more that are published on a daily basis. Or even- dare I say it- a woman’s achievements could be celebrated in the same way her male counterparts are. She could be taken seriously, as an actual human being with talent and boundless attributes instead of, well, a mannequin for designer clobber.

Either of these very reasonable, very accessible compromises would create a small portion of equality. Something simple. A simple change to make. Something that educates or reminds a little section of the world that, when it comes down to it, everybody deserves recognition, without some stranger sidelining their real-world achievements for the sake of a dress.

Really, is it too much to ask?

Alexandra Collinson is a North-Eastern literature student, fan of The Great Gatsby and anything by Caitlin Moran. Her interests include creative writing, spreading the feminist word and correcting people’s grammar.

Image attribution: Photo of tabloid article featuring Amal Clooney – author’s own.

A spiraling stairwellThe Conservative government have an idealised upper middle class view of family life. Their picture of an adult under twenty-one is a university student who is away during term time, returning to a large family house during the summer break. Even then, they might spend additional time away from home on holiday, maybe even taking a gap year or two in order to find themselves. Such families get on well and if they don’t, it’s not a big problem; there’s space at home and money to allow people to spend time away, so warring factions need hardly ever be in close proximity.

This is an ideal – some wealthy parents abuse or reject their children. However, most of our leading politicians had this blessed experience and cannot conceive why any eighteen, nineteen or twenty year old might not have the option of continuing to live with their parents, or returning to their parents’ home if illness or unemployment strike. Thus, the next Welfare Reform Bill will abolish housing benefit for young people between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one.

This isn’t just a disaster for highly vulnerable young people who have suffered dreadful abuse at home, have been thrown out or have no parents. Half of young people don’t go to university – fewer and fewer can afford to – and many have to move away from home for work, even if that work is not well-paid or secure. Meanwhile, even in the absence of abuse, many young adults struggle to live with their parents because of overcrowding, inaccessible housing, conflict around sexuality, gender identity or religion or just generally high levels of family conflict. Since the introduction of the Bedroom Tax, even fewer parents of adult children are able to maintain a spare bedroom for their child, should they need to return home in a crisis. And of course, some under-21s have children of their own.

This is a very dangerous situation for all young people, but especially for young women. The younger a person is, the greater their risk of falling victim to domestic violence, often at the hands of an older man. Some Londoners are already advertising to “desperate girls” prepared to have sex in exchange for accommodation, in a city where a great many people are struggling to pay rent. Few abusive relationships are grounded on such explicit terms, but the social and financial power of older or wealthier lovers is about to increase even further when low paid or unemployed eighteen year olds are left without any means to put a roof over their own heads.

This will give a vulnerable young person a very pressing practical reason to move in quickly with a partner who has their own place, especially those young people with a history of childhood abuse or those a long way from home. It will make it very much more difficult for a young person to move out of an abusive household – whether escaping their family or their partner – before they are twenty-one. It will even make it more difficult to leave an abusive partner who is themselves young and low-paid; the possibility of making a grovelling ex-lover homeless is a trump card in any game of emotional blackmail.

I was such a young person, a bisexual eighteen year old with chronic physical illness and suicidal depression at the point a much older man invited me to live with him. The opportunity of getting away from my family home – which was not abusive, but certainly a mild flavour of hellish – was a major factor in my slipping very quickly into a violent relationship. My parents strongly disapproved of this relationship, making it even more difficult to retreat when my new life became worse than the old one. I’d like to tell a story where my right to claim housing benefit allowed me to escape – it didn’t, for various reasons, but I am alarmed to imagine young people in the same situation without any other option. Sali Hughes recently wrote for The Pool about how housing benefit saved her as a teenager.

This doesn’t just affect young adults who are poorly paid, unable to work or unemployed, but any young person who doesn’t have a practical or palatable familial safety net. Huge numbers of young people who earn enough to pay their rent just now will have greatly diminished options if things go wrong. The threat of unemployment or lower pay – already menacing enough – will now encompass the threat of imminent homelessness.

The government have said that they will continue to provide housing benefit for young people who cannot live with their families, but that only means there will be some kind of provision for those people who are able to prove a serious problem. Most young people who need this help simply won’t be in that position.

[Image is a photograph of a rectangular spiraling stairwell, with metal banisters and slightly worn steps, viewed from above. The photograph is of the Jyväskylä Tower stairs, taken by Alessio Damato, is available on Wikipedia and is used under a Creative Commons License.]

Weekly Round-up and Open Thread

by Lusana Taylor // , 9:48 am

16956481248_064e37d3a8_zIt’s time for another weekly round-up and this one includes everything from Labour’s leadership battle to being fat on your wedding day.

If you’d like to comment on one of the issues covered or share another article that we haven’t included, feel free to get involved in the comments section below or on Facebook/Twitter.

As always, please remember that linking does not automatically mean endorsement or agreement from the F-Word and that some links may be triggering. It is also worth noting that, while we welcome engagement on the weekly round-up, any comments including racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic or disablist language will be deleted.

Would the rebellion against Harriet Harman have happened to a man? (The Guardian)

From the article: “Throughout the events of the last few days, I’ve wondered if Labour MPs would be so happy to override Harman if she weren’t a woman. It seems likely that loyalty to a man would be stronger. The whole situation resembles the classic scene of a woman being interrupted or ignored in a meeting dominated by white men in suits.”

Women’s sport is on the rise but old-fashioned regulators need to catch up (The Conversation)

There is no room for cultural sensitivity where forced marriage is concerned (The Independent)

From the article: “The insidious tradition of forced marriage has become widespread in the UK. Sensitivity towards different cultures and traditions has exacerbated this inhumane custom, with government ministers at first hesitant to interfere in cultural practices they may not understand.”

In conversation with Emily Berrington: The Humans actress talks strong women, feminism and the Bechdel test (Harper’s Bazaar)

Dead name: why Facebook is wrong about who we are (Transformation)

From the article: “Last week my phone company made me cry. Waiting excitedly for a new phone, I received an email from EE. ‘We just need a bit more information from you’, they said. ‘Call us’.”

Gagging rights: British comedians set up UK Comedy Guild trade union (The Guardian)

From the article: “After endless disputes over non-payment, sexism and exploitation, leading players such as Sara Pascoe have joined forces to stamp out funny business.”

My wedding was perfect – and I was fat as hell the whole time (The Guardian)

From the article: “As a fat woman, you are told to disguise, shrink or flatter your body. But I wasn’t going to hide at my wedding – the older I get, the harder it is to depoliticise simple acts.”

The image is used under a creative commons license with thanks to the Labour Party on Flickr. It shows current acting Labour leader Harriet Harman. She is stood at a podium, wearing a grey jacket and white shirt. The podium has a union jack design on the front of it and the Labour party logo.

P. Kaur notices an increase in sexually explicit racist hate speech and asks whether women be sexually available to qualify for a place in the UK

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“Go home!” is an expression often used by racists and fascists. I have heard it shouted at me whilst walking down my street and going shopping in my local superstore. Several times it has also been coupled with “She has to go back to India”.

Although of Indian origin, I was born here and the inaccuracy of this line is always as annoying to me as much as the intended aggression behind it. Of course, being born and brought up here in the UK, this is not the first time I have heard these lines. Recently however I’ve noticed a twist on the classic of the fascist/sexist hate movement’s slogan: “She has to fuck someone to stay in the country!”

The slogan “She has to fuck someone to stay in the country” appears to illustrate the convergence of an ingrained societal sexism and the rise of racism due, in part, to the economic situation and anti-immigrant rhetoric.

The idea that women must be sexually active – to be worthy of living somewhere – in this case England, but also presumably anywhere – does seem preposterous. This particular comment when addressed to me was also couched explicitly in nationalistic terms i.e. I had to fuck an English man to stay in the country or “go back” to India. What colour this English man has to be was not stated – so the racist youths did and do presumably know the difference between non-white British citizens and white and non-white immigrants? But do they know the difference between consensual and non-consensual sex? And do they know that having sex with someone does not change a person’s nationality?

What is implied by the statement that non-white women need to be “serving” men sexually is that women exist primarily for this purpose, and can be “allowed to stay” if they are in some way “useful”, and “attached” (or belong to- sic a possession of) a white man.
Are racists always also sexists? There is little evidence at present to answer this question – and I would be very interested to hear readers ideas on this – dehumanization and aggression based on colour often cannot be contained by bullies – be they those on the street or those working behind desks.

The idea of a South or East Asian woman as object – either sexual object or slave (as in domestic servant) has been fuelled by popular media particularly film and television where South or East Asian female characters are usually portrayed as “meek, mild, submissive” wives or domestic servants/nymphomaniacs.

It also blows up the myth of the ‘multicultural’ society that celebrates differences. Actually this multicultural society is not something I’ve heard of since I was in a child in school – and maybe this illustrates the fact that politicians have long given up on the idea of the different parts of English society living and working together and instead of showing leadership in how England should be tackling its current challenges together have again – unfortunately – fallen back on that old hateful strategy of divide and rule, and decided to attack immigrants and immigrant communities, failing to distinguish between legal and illegal migrants – instead of admitting to their own catastrophic economic mismanagement.

This is a very worrying development and in the ongoing struggle against racism and sexism it would be interesting to hear other women’s experiences from around the country. Yet however much we discuss and analyse the societal, economic and cultural factors that produce this type of behaviour, it cannot remove the emotional shock that one feels when experiencing this type of abuse.

P. Kaur is a published author and artist based in the Black Country.

The image featured depicts a banner on an English Defence League march which reads “Born in England, Live in England, Die in England” and is used by permission of Gavin Lynn under the Creative Commons License.

Weekly Round-up and Open Thread

by Lusana Taylor // 20 July 2015, 10:09 pm

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Welcome to the F-Word’s round-up of interesting news stories from the past week. If you’d like to comment on one of the issues covered or share another article that we haven’t included, feel free to get involved in the comments section below or on Facebook/Twitter.

As always, please remember that linking does not automatically mean endorsement or agreement from the F-Word and that some links may be triggering. It is also worth noting that, while we welcome engagement on the weekly round-up, any comments including racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic or disablist language will be deleted.

What do men think about the patriarchy? (Girl on the Net)

Following Kylie Exchange, Amandla Stenberg Talks Appropriation and Race (Jezebel)

From the article: “Over the weekend, Amandla Stenberg and Kylie Jenner got in a heated exchange on Instagram after Kylie Jenner posted an image of herself with cornrows along with the caption, ‘I woke up like disss.’ After being dismissively told by Jenner to ‘Go hang w Jaden [Smith] or something,’ Stenberg took the time to write out her thoughts on cultural appropriation, racial fetishism, and the challenges faced by black women who claim sexual agency.”

Hollywood, it’s time to retire the ‘loveable misogynist’ movie hero (IFC)

9 Badass Feminists Of Faith You Should Know (Buzzfeed)

Austerity is a feminist issue – women will be hit twice as hard as men by cuts (New Statesman)

From the article: “The latest Budget measures give a painful insight into the relationship between the UK’s austerity experiment and women.”

Liz Kendall hits out at Mail on Sunday over question about her weight (The Guardian)

From the article: “Labour leadership candidate – described in newspaper interview as a ‘slinky brunette’ – says it is unbelievable how female politicians are treated”

50 Cent Is Pretending To Be Broke To Avoid The Consequences Of Posting Revenge Porn (Bust)

Is David Cameron serious about closing the gender pay gap? (New Statesman)

How did Sandra Bland Die? (Feministing)

From the article: “A couple days after she was violently arrested after a routine traffic stop, Sandra Bland was found dead in her jail cell.”

Changing attitudes towards women (Standard Issue)

From the article: “At the heart of it I think rather than simple misogyny, there’s a reluctance from male writers, particularly older ones, to depict women as flawed – which is key to any funny character.”

“Where’s My Cut?”: On Unpaid Emotional Labor (The Toast)

Why the cynical focus on ‘Honour crimes’ won’t combat gender violence in the UK (Media Diversified)

What You Won’t See on Orange Is the New Black (Ms.)

Breakthrough for women editors, but men still dominate the newsrooms (The Conversation)

Eating disorders at Ramadan: One teenager’s experience (BBC News)

The image is used under a creative commons license with thanks to Budi Nusyirwan. The photograph depicts a person wearing a hijab and loose fitting clothing walking past a heavily graffitied wall.

A response to Sarah Vine

by Guest Blogger // 19 July 2015, 9:00 am

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Helen Raymond lives in Cumbria and spends her spare time wandering around the Lake District, baking cookies and reading Simone de Beauvoir.

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Daily Mail columnists are like bad rap musicians: I hesitate before speaking out against their misogyny. If we, as feminists, allow the Daily Mail’s stuffy, misguided, anti-women messages to offend us, we make them controversial, and controversy suggests relevance. It seems unwise to hand them this undeserved kudos. After all, columnist Sarah Vine, wife of politician Michael Gove and Queen of page 17, has declared my opinions null and void before I’ve even begun. I am, in her words, part of the “EFM” (Enraged Feminist Mob), the number one target in her column.

But I’m tired of tossing the newspaper aside and telling George, my neighbour, whose copies I skim-read, that there are cheaper brands of toilet paper available. I have a few words to say about Sarah Vine.

In Wednesday 1 July’s paper, she advises a lady whose husband visited a call-girl to remain with him, as she is an “intelligent woman”. “If the foundations of your relationship are sound”, she adds, “it’s not worth tearing down the walls because of a crack in the plaster”.

She urges women taking part in Gay Pride celebrations not to “go out of their way to look terrible”. She tells us that Lauren Laverne is an unsuitable presenter for Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour because she is a “37 year old blonde”, and this particular radio show is for women like her, who “aren’t as young… as we used to be”. (Sorry to point this out Mrs Vine, but Lauren is included in this category. Also, if her blondeness offends you so much, turn off the webcam)

In an earlier column, she suggests that young women should choose Taylor Swift as a role model, as Taylor Swift is “uncompromisingly feminine”, and that women who roll their eyes at scientists who urge them to have children young are “Touchy Theresas”.

So far, so toxic. But one uncomfortable truth remains: 52.5% of the Mail’s readers are female, a higher percentage than all the major broadsheets and tabloids. Given that the paper is so popular among women, can it really be all that scornful of them? Sarah Vine would say not, and would probably argue that she promotes her own brand of feminism: one based on Conservative values and pride in one’s appearance. As she so forcefully states: “equality is all very well, but it’s no excuse not to brush your hair.”

Praise, where it occurs in her column, is only ever offered to a certain type of female: one who embraces motherhood, is tolerant of infidelity, and conscious of her femininity, even when sleeping. Those who fit the mould, or behave in a way which inadvertently endorses the mould, are celebrated. Those who fall short are scorned and shamed: a casually-clothed Cynthia Nixon “got dressed in the dark”, Judy Murray’s parenting “blunder” is given a 400 word analysis, and women who took exception to Sir Tim Hunt’s jokes about women in science are “stupid, pampered and spoilt”.

This juxtaposition of supportiveness and shaming is a fundamental part of the Mail’s formula, and, perhaps, of its success. Lord Leveson was struck by it, and in his report into the culture and practices of the press, wrote of the “awkward co-existence of the Daily Mail’s support for ‘traditional values’ with the Mail Online’s ‘sidebar of shame’.”

But what damage does this type of journalism really do? Germaine Greer has argued that the mainstream media’s pre-occupation with body shape “matters because women read it, think about it and are constantly insecure about their appearance”. Daily Mail columnists like Sarah Vine deepen this insecurity – they do not limit their criticism to our faces and bodies, but level it at every aspect of the way we live our lives: our mothering skills, our work-life balance, our qualities as partners.

But columns like hers exist as much to goad liberals as to influence her paper’s readership. And in this sense, she has won. I have taken the bait, and become an Enraged Feminist Mobster, a Feminazi, a po-faced Infernal Whiner. Still, it isn’t an outright victory. Over the past few weeks, her attacks on feminists’ views have become more frequent and more vitriolic. And she wouldn’t attempt to smother these views if there wasn’t a fire to extinguish.

The further women flee from the outdated ideal of womanhood she peddles, the more energy she expends trying to get us back into that lovingly crafted iron maiden using nothing but middle class spit-up, cattiness and terrible advice.

Here’s my antidote to Sarah Vine’s drivel:

Dress like a scruff to Pride festivals.

Leave your cheating husbands.

Do what makes you happy.

The image depicts a cat sitting on top of a pile of newspapers. It is used by permission of Brittany Randolph under the creative commons license.

Further Reading

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