Weekly round-up and open thread

by Lusana Taylor // 25 May 2015, 21:39

Tags: weekly round-up and open thread

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It's been a mixed week in terms of news - the good news being that Ireland voted for gay marriage in the referendum, the bad news being that Serbia's amazing body-positive song didn't win Eurovision!

Fear not, there's nothing on Eurovision in this week's round-up, but you can find an interesting piece on the referendum from New Statesman. If you'd like to comment on one of 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.

Bank of England wants an artist for £20 note (BBC News)

Is voting yes to same-sex marriage the first step towards a more progressive Ireland? (New Statesman)

Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood" Video Is Not A Feminist Manifesto (The Concourse)

Cannes faces backlash after women reportedly barred from film screening for not wearing high heels (The Guardian)

Rape in Westeros: What "Game of Thrones" could learn from "Mad Max: Fury Road" (Salon)

Mic's Elizabeth Plank Takes Down Fox News' Absurd Anti-Feminist Talking Points (Media Matters)

The toy industry shuts out children with disabilities. We want to change that (The Guardian CiF)

Taylor Swift: 'Misogyny is ingrained in people from the time they are born' (The Guardian)

In awe of Emma Sulkowicz, who carried her mattress during her Columbia graduation (Hello Giggles)

No, feminism is not about choice (The Conversation)

What happens to head girls? (The Observer)

The Imaginary Choice Feminist (Tits and Sass)

How This Woman Helps Hundreds of Pregnant Women in Ireland Access Safe, Legal Abortions (Cosmopolitan)

Putting Femojis On IPhones Is Like Putting Women On Money: MAJORLY Important (Bust)

How Facebook Exposes Domestic Violence Survivors (The Daily Beast)

The On-Screen Response and Reaction to Televised Rape and Sexual Assault Needs to Change (The Mary Sue)

Joumana Haddad Talks Erotica, Atheism, and Feminism in the Middle East (Bitch)

Broken Ends: When People Won't Take No For An Answer When It Comes To Touching Your Hair (Black Girl Dangerous)

Maggie Gyllenhaal: At 37 I was 'too old' for role opposite 55-year-old man (The Guardian)

The photograph is used under a creative commons license with thanks to Beverley Goodwin. It is a black and white image showing three houses set against a very grey looking sky. However, there is a rainbow above the houses, which is depicted in colour.

Weekly round-up and open thread

by Lusana Taylor // 18 May 2015, 22:04

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There may only be a handful of links in this week's round-up sometimes short is sweet and there are still plenty of fascinating articles for you to read - with lots of focus on pop culture this time around! If you'd like to comment on one of 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.

'Bisexual' is just a label and Cate Blanchett is just a woman who's had relationships (The Guardian CiF)

Rebel Girls: Meet (Some Of) the Gal Pals of the Suffrage Movement (Autostraddle)

Amy Schumer's coarse, playful comedy explores how women are complicit in their oppression (And forgives them for it.) (New Statesman)

Alison Bechdel Misses Feeling Special (New York Times)

On Learning to Love My Body: Because Summer Is For Fat Girls, Too (Autrostraddle)

"Mad Max" Complicates Action Hero Masculinity--And That's Great (Bitch)

Exclusive Interview With Kathleen Hanna And The Julie Ruin (Bust)

The image is used under the creative commons license and was found on Wikimedia Commons. Thanks to Alvesgaspar for allowing the image to be used. The photo depicts thirteen rather spiky looking orange flowers (described as species of aloe plant) set against a very blue sea in the background.

Janey is a feminist activist and filmmaker who is passionate about human rights and ending violence against women. She tweets @vegetarianjelly.

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Not many people have heard of the Istanbul Convention. This is unsurprising; like a lot of international law it sounds a bit dry. But it has the power to end violence against women in the UK, which is why a group of campaigners are trying to pull it into the spotlight.

The Istanbul Convention's full name is the 'Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence' and it does exactly what it says on the tin: provides a strategic framework for governments to end violence against women.

It's the first human rights treaty ever to comprehensively focus on gender-based violence. It builds on the United Nations' CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women) by providing detailed definitions for different forms of violence against women that can be introduced into national criminal law.

What does it mean for women in the UK?
Safety, justice and the chance to live a life free from the threat of violence. The convention spells out exactly what states need to do to address all forms of violence against women; from domestic, sexual and honour-based violence to sexual harassment, stalking, FGM, forced marriage and forced sterilisation.

If the government ratified this convention, they would have to put specific measures in place to tackle violence against women: from prevention through to protection and prosecution. They would have to provide helplines, provide refuges, access to legal aid and specialist support services. They would have to grant migrant women autonomous residence permits, allowing them to escape abusive relationships. They would not be able to get away with cutting funding for life-saving refuges in the way the last government has done.

But wait, what's ratification? It's when a state commits to embed an international convention into their national laws. When a government ratifies a convention, they are legally bound to follow it by embedding new laws and policies.

If the UK ratified the Istanbul Convention, they would be committed to systematic change. This is much more than a politician's promise: it's a legal commitment. Governments would no longer be able to conveniently ignore the huge levels of violence against women that have historically been locked behind closed doors.

Part of the prevention measures include adequate sex and healthy relationships education, as well as discouraging gender stereotyping in schools. The United Nations weren't kidding when they said the Istanbul Convention was the global 'gold standard' for tackling violence against women.

What's the government's problem?
So far, the UK government has only signed the convention. This means they support it in principle, but are not legally bound to actually do anything it says. Signing a convention is nothing more than stating your intention to ratify, but when an average of two women die each week at the hands of a partner or ex partner, we can't afford to wait any longer.

It's through total lack of public awareness that the government has been able to not only drag its heels on tackling violence against women, but also quietly remove funding from domestic violence support services under its austerity programme. None of the main political parties included any mention of the Istanbul Convention in their manifestos.

If the UK ratified the Istanbul Convention, it would have to rapidly shape up its act. Not only this, but it would be held to account by the Council of Europe. The convention subjects governments to scrutiny by an expert monitoring group that holds them to account and measures progress. This means that when governments are failing to exercise due diligence to prevent and protect against violence against women, feminist campaigners would be able to call on much higher powers to ensure that the UK government secures women's safety.

Women deserve better
For too long, politicians have gotten away with ignoring sky-high levels of gender-based violence. The only thing that can stop this epidemic is urgent, systemic change, and the Istanbul Convention could be the magic formula.

The important thing to remember is that the Istanbul Convention was drafted by gender experts, not politicians. These experts know exactly what needs to happen to stop violence against women, and have done all the thinking, research and leg work; all governments need to do is put their recommendations into action.

Throughout history, feminists have battled to get the government to recognise its responsibility for tackling violence against women. The achievement of gender equality is undoubtedly linked to the eradication of violence against women, and the Istanbul Convention would be a historical landmark for women's rights in the UK.

Women are dying. We can't wait any longer. The sooner the Istanbul Convention comes into power, the sooner we can be safer.

Add your name to the campaign demanding that the UK government ratifies the Istanbul Convention.

The image is a photo of the Council of Europe headquarters in Strasbourg.

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Kerry Campion is a 22 year old Irish student currently studying for her BA in English & Politics at Queen's University Belfast.

I was diagnosed with endometriosis in 2013 and it has been a struggle to finally arrive at a place in my life where I have accepted the fact that I will more than likely not conceive a child. Before my diagnosis I had already decided that if I wanted children in the future I would probably adopt. Still, receiving the news that I had about a 5% chance of conceiving made me feel incredibly worthless and people's reactions to the news did not exactly alleviate these feelings.

I have compiled this guide of what not to say to people who are telling you they may not be able to conceive.

"But you never know, you might still be able to have kids if you have them early enough"

This continues to be the most popular response I get. Firstly, I don't need to hear how I can "get around" my issues of fertility; if I do try earlier in life and still find it very difficult to conceive, my feelings of failure will only increase.

Secondly, it's predicated on the idea that I should disrupt my future life plans in order to have a chance at conceiving. Instead of telling women to put their future plans on hold for the sake of having a baby, we should be trying to embrace all the other things in life we've set out to do. In order to avoid the follow-up explanation of what stage one endometriosis means fertility-wise - ("Well, I might be able to conceive, but it's a lot less likely") I have now taken the "I can't have kids" approach. At least this way I don't have to constantly explain myself to others.

"You can always adopt"

Whilst I mentioned adoption above as the preferred means by which I want to start a family, this suggestion is also predicated on the idea that the woman in question does in fact want children. I can already see a few eyebrows being raised, but believe me: just because a woman was not intending to have children does not mean she would not be upset by such news.

"What did your partner say?"

The subtext of this question is: "Does your partner still want to stay with you?" Feeling that you are letting your partner down is a major obstacle to overcome when faced with infertility and such questions only reinforce the idea that your partner will feel let down by you.

"There's all sorts of help, you could freeze your eggs/try IVF etc."

When I've actually built myself up to tell someone about my condition, the last thing I want is to have an in-depth discussion about all the other avenues that will help me conceive. Mostly, when I'm sharing this information, I just want to discuss how I feel about it, I don't need a 'how-to' list in order to get around my condition. Chances are if a woman feels particularly strongly about starting a 'natural' family, she has already painstakingly researched all these avenues and revisiting them can actually be quite exhausting and overwhelming.

"I totally relate to the pain, I get bad period pain"

No, just no. Endometriosis causes intense pain most prominently around the pelvic area, especially if a woman has stage three or four. Yes, periods can create chaos and severe pain, but don't try to 'relate' to me through your own period pain, quite frankly it makes me think that you don't really understand the severity of the disease or think I'm exaggerating the pain I experience.

"At least it's not cancerous"

The old patronising "Well it's not like you're going to die" response. Again, this falls under the category of people thinking I'm exaggerating, and I should just get on with it because hey, things could be worse. There's nothing worse than telling someone something of this nature to just be tossed or shrugged away like it's nothing. Yes, I'm aware it's not cancerous and likely won't kill me but don't try to use that as a means to minimise what this disease can do to me both mentally and physically.

So, how should you react to someone telling you about their endometriosis or other infertility disease? Ask open questions instead of interrogating them: "How do you feel about that?" is a good way to start. Asking a question like this opens up the conversation for the sufferer to discuss their disease in a way that makes them comfortable and means they don't have to disclose anything they don't want to or consider things that make them feel worse. And I'd would also appreciate it if you'd avoid the sympathetic head-tilt, that's just damn annoying.


Image by Anthony Easton shows white graffiti on a green background saying 'talk talk'. Used under creative commons license.

"What have you dreamt about lately?" asked the psychiatrist. "I've been having a recurring dream that I'm with my boyfriend and he's wearing my dress," I replied. "Have you ever had a relationship with a woman?" he asked. "Yes, I'm bisexual," I shot back.

He twirled slowly in his chair, grinning from ear to ear. "Ah, you're confused about your sexuality," he smirked. "That really ties in with your Borderline Personality Disorder diagnosis..."

Sadly, this wasn't the first time I'd felt as if a therapist considered my BPD somehow invalidated the authenticity of my bisexuality. This was just the first time it had been overtly stated, with that dismissive smirk.

Borderline Personality Disorder is a mental health condition which is characterised by mood swings, fear of abandonment, impulsive behaviour, an unstable sense of identity and feelings of emptiness. More women are diagnosed with the condition than men. It is heavily stigmatised and a great number of sufferers choose not to speak about it, in many ways because it is such a "gendered" diagnosis. Women are already criticised for displaying too much emotion, and men are barely permitted to show it at all, so who would want to readily admit to suffering a condition which amplifies it?

So how does this tie in with bisexuality? Bisexuals are often unfairly perceived to be promiscuous, indecisive, shallow in our affections and unable to control or properly understand our sex lives or sexual urges. Bisexual women specifically are fetishised and many see us only in terms of pornographic threesome fantasies.

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Unfortunately, an unfair and reductive interpretation of both BPD and bisexuality means there is some debate in medical circles about whether or not the unstable identity issues and impulsivity aspects of BPD might actually "cause" bisexuality in some patients. Statistics on levels of bisexuality and levels of BPD in our society (let alone the levels to which they might tend to coexist) are notoriously unreliable - largely because of the stigma attached to both. In my opinion, however, this "witch hunt" of bisexual BPD patients is a damaging, ungrounded and counterproductive phenomenon.

Renee*, like me, is bisexual and has had counselling for BPD. "My major 'symptom' as far as my therapist was concerned was my sexually impulsive behaviour," she sighs.

"The counsellor emphasised that me sleeping with men and women was harmful and a symptom of BPD. I have always been proud of my bisexuality, though. This was the first time I ever questioned if I was actually bi or if it was because of a mental illness. It made it hard to explain how I was feeling without automatically being told I was being impulsive. I do not believe there is a direct correlation between bisexuality and BPD."

Sarah Reece is a bisexual mental health peer worker. During a training session she was once taught that bisexuality is a symptom of BPD. "Most of the class seemed to swallow that statement hook line and sinker," she recalls. "When challenged by a lesbian student, the facilitator agreed that bisexuality did exist as an identity, but still maintained that when present with BPD it was just a symptom." Reece continues:

"The treatment of people with BPD in general is appalling, dismissive, invalidating, and frequently outright abusive. Ignoring and dismissing diverse experiences of identity such as being bi compound distress and disconnection and make the task of recovery, acceptance, and self care so much more challenging."

The issue of combined BPD/bisexuality stigma is so widespread that prominent bi activist Dr Caroline Walters is working on a research paper about it, titled The bisexual condition? A critique of Borderline Personality Disorder and Bisexual Stereotypes. The paper, when published, will "outline the relationship between the language used in the diagnostic criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and bisexual stereotypes" and "explore the ways that bisexual stereotypes and the diagnostic criteria for BPD overlap in ways that can prove unhelpful and pathologising for bisexual patients". Walters will discuss the fact that "in the case of BPD all aspects of the patient's life are liable to be viewed as symptoms".

That day in the therapy session I felt humiliated and as if I was being told by this rather unpleasant man that, at the age of 30, I still didn't own my sexuality. I was just a silly sick little girl who didn't know what she wanted, who needed to be told by an older male therapist that her sexuality wasn't genuine. Everyone I had loved or been intimate with was just a symptom of my condition. How horrible and damning.

It's been 42 years since homosexuality was declassified as a mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association. So why is being attracted to more than one gender still considered ripe for dismissal and mockery in psychiatric circles?

*Some names have been changed to protect identities

Image by Crafty_Dame, showing chalk pavement graffiti and used under Creative Commons licence.

Charlotte "Lottie" Dingle is a freelance journalist, artist and activist living in London. She is motivated to remain on this earth thanks to cats, red wine, Jeanette Winterson, Dame Julian of Norwich and Kate Bush.

Weekly round-up & open thread

by Lusana Taylor // 11 May 2015, 10:40

Tags: weekly round-up and open thread

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If you're anything like me, you're probably (a little more than) slightly disappointed with the election result. Still, if nothing else, it has given me renewed incentive to immerse myself in current affairs, get educated and read, read, read. Hopefully a lot of you will be feeling the same.

Below are just a few of the articles that caught our attention this week - if you'd like to comment on one of issues covered or share another article that we haven't included, feel free to get involved in the comment 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.

Anti-austerity women shut down a London street to defend domestic violence services (New Statesman)

In the run-up to the election, activist group Sisters Uncut stopped traffic in Southwark Street in protest against cuts to vital domestic violence services.

#NotGuilty: speaking out about sexual assault is still rare. This must change (The Guardian CiF)

From the article: "A fortnight ago, a letter I wrote to the man who sexually assaulted me when I walked home on a Friday night was published in Cherwell, an Oxford University newspaper. With the letter, we launched the #NotGuilty campaign."

Moms shouldn't have to work overtime to prove they're still useful when pregnant (Quartz)

From the article: "Pregnant workers routinely find themselves uncomfortably situated between a proverbial rock and a hard place: How can they request modifications while not seeming weak, or being treated differently, for doing so?"

The term 'plus-size' is outdated and offensive (Aphra)

"If my shorts make you uncomfortable, you are the problem." (Feministing)

From the article: "Spring is here and you know what that means. In high schools across the country, it means the dress code enforcers are sure to be cracking down on girls and their 'distracting' knees, clavicles, and shoulders."

In Praise Of Women Who Give All The F**ks (Huffington Post)

From the article: "Michelle Obama gives zero fucks. Emma Stone gives zero fucks. Cersei Lannister from 'Game of Thrones' gives zero fucks. Abolitionist Sojourner Truth gave zero fucks. Pinterest is filled with skinny models wearing 'Zero Fucks Given' tanks. Even the women in historical paintings give absolutely zero fucks. We have reached peak lack of fucks given."

Why Did This Woman Who Was Arrested in a Prostitution Sting Die in a Florida Jail? (Vice)

We female journalists need to shame and expose France's sexist politicians (The Guardian CiF)

From the article: "There was the government minister who demanded to have a 'pretty woman' opposite him during lunch. And another who would stop an interview to look at a young girl walking by and make comments about her appearance. Or the ministerial adviser who has never spoken to you but who's desperately keen to get your telephone number so he can compliment you on what you're wearing."

Let's do this. Let's talk about periods (The Pool)

From the article: "There is something insulting about the image of a carefree, painless menstruating woman. You've seen her, probably in tampon ads, smiling and frolicking on the beach or perfecting her headstand near the front of her yoga class. I am sure these low-flow, emotionally balanced women exist in real life - they're probably on the pill and so their periods are a light, two-day affair - but they are a small subset of the menstruating population."

Artist Explores The Unexpected Beauty Of Menstrual Blood Using Macrophotography (Huffington Post)

Lace (Paperhouse)

Beautifully written piece by Sarah Ditum on desecration of Monument to the Women of World War II in White Hall at the weekend.

To make a 10-year-old give birth isn't just horrifying - it's life threatening (The Guardian CiF)

From the article: "Would anyone in their right mind think it reasonable that a 10-year-old carry a pregnancy to term? This is not a thought experiment but the horrible story of a real child in Paraguay: raped by her stepfather and now denied an abortion."

The image was found on Wikimedia Commons and is in the public domain. It is dated 1942. It is a black and white photograph of two women working on, what looks like it could be, the wing of an aircraft or something similar. The woman closest to camera is holding a tool up to the wing and the other is watching her handiwork intently. They are both wearing hair nets and white overalls.

Practicing while female

by Alicia Rodriguez // 10 May 2015, 16:32

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Editor's note: Alicia Rodriguez is our May guest blogger. Alicia writes about art and makes art about objects. She lives and works in Norwich, UK where she also co-edits Ube a contemporary art and writing zine. She can be found on twitter. (JT)

How do I address work as a feminist concern? Failure? Tiredness? Bad jobs? With a Fine Art degree behind me, I have worked for a few soulless corporations now, mostly retail, temporary jobs. I visit shows on my days off, read theory on my lunch breaks, paint in the evenings. I balanced the unpaid gallery work - what a great opportunity! - with the paid retail job, until I couldn't any longer.

In my research for this blog post I came across a recent article by Brigid Schulte, which investigates a feminist approach to working:

"I read feminist leisure research ... that found women around the globe felt that they didn't deserve leisure time. It felt too selfish. Instead, they felt they had to earn time to themselves by getting to the end of a very long To Do list. Which, let's face it, never ends." (1)

Although Schulte is not discussing contemporary art in her piece, the issues that she deals with here are somewhat universal. She alludes to a prescribed sense of responsibility and obligation learnt from "1950s-era black and white movies" (2) that kicked in largely when she had her first child. The problem perpetuates because it is so deeply ingrained, founded within the beginnings of a capitalist society, which in turn is built upon the degradation of the working class and of women.

Time, as the title of Schulte's post suggests, is a feminist issue. So, as an artist, is maintaining a 'practice', supporting myself financially and gaining an education by whatever means necessary.

In a 2013 'Art Audit', the East London Fawcett Society found that 31% of artists represented by London galleries identified as female. The percentage of female Fine Art undergraduates at the time, comparably, totalled 61.7, worth noting even two years on. I graduated from a BA Fine Art degree in 2013, and the ELF's results allowed me to confront some concerns that I had long suspected but neglected to address: that, in the foreseeable future at least, my status as an artist will always be preceded by my gender.

Arguably, this is once again behaviour that shapes us from an early age, as Eileen Myles suggests in her piece, reprinted by The Chapess in 2014, Being Female, "...a woman is someone who grew up observing that a whole lot more was being imagined by everyone for her brother and the boys around her at school. If she's a talented artist she's told that she could probably teach art to children when she grows up and then she hears the boy who's good in art get told by the same teacher that one day he could grow up to be a commercial artist." (3)

The struggle to be taken seriously as a 'female artist', when my male counterpart is simply 'an artist' - the male being the normal, known, default mode - is the vicious undercurrent of an otherwise progressive and liberal area of work. In a recent conversation with a friend regarding open submissions to a group show, he challenged the gender bias with the idea that more women should have submitted in the first place. Conversely, I wondered why they felt they could not; concluding that, as in many instances of privilege, they do not feel it is for them. This discussion, admittedly, did not even begin to deal with those artists outside of this restrictive gender binary.

Is art a job? When I tell people that I have a studio, for example, their first response is to question whether I make money from making art. This feels like a huge misunderstanding of value and success, those capitalist ethics again, as if 'value' is equal to financial rewards. I make a living by selling luxury bathroom furniture in a high street store, but it is the evenings I spend painting pictures of rocks, or writing disjointed fragments of text like this one that motivate me.

(1) Brigid Schulte: Why time is a feminist issue
(2) Brigid Schulte: Why time is a feminist issue
(3) Eileen Myles: Being Female


The image above is a colourful image of a woman with many splashes of colour. The woman has a braid across her forehead and is looking down, not making eye contact with the viewer.
Thanks Emilio Garcia for the for the image!

Weekly round-up and open thread

by Lusana Taylor // 4 May 2015, 13:50

Tags: weekly round-up and open thread

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It's strange to think that by the next weekly round-up, the general election will have been and gone. One of the highlights of the week was the news that Sandi Toksvig will be leaving her current job at Radio 4 to start up a new political party campaigning for gender equality (you can find out more in the article from Pink News listed below). While you might not be able to vote for the Women's Equality Party this time around, hopefully you will all still be getting out there and making your voices heard on 7th May.

In the meantime, enjoy your bank holiday Monday and the collection of links we have put together for you this week! As always, feel free to get involved by letting us know your thoughts on any of the issues covered and by adding your own links to the comments section below if you think we have missed something.

Please also 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 Casual Racism I Deal with as an Asian Woman in an Interracial Relationship (Vice)

Let's talk about intimate partner violence in queer communities (Feministing)

Wolf-whistling is not the story here - our reaction to sexual harassment is (The Guardian)

From the article: "A 23-year-old digital marketing coordinator has reported a group of builders to the police for sexual harassment. Every morning on her way to work, Poppy Smart faced gestures, disrespectful comments and wolf-whistles - the builders would even come out of the site to whistle as she passed them, and, on one occasion, one of the men deliberately blocked her path."

'Sexist' peer review causes storm online (The Times Higher Education)

How a new wave of POC artists is challenging Britishness (Dazed Digital)

Sandi Toksvig quits News Quiz to set up new political party (Pink News)

From the article: "Out comedian Sandi Toksvig has announced that she plans to create a new political party for women's equality."

Where are the ethnic minority women in politics? (New Statesman)

What's Wrong With 'All Lives Matter'? (NY Times)

What the Quaker tradition taught me about 'Mr' and 'Ms' (Hello Giggles)

The image is used under creative commons license with thanks to Kayla Sawyer. It shows an arm raised upwards with the hand forming a fist. From the fingers dangles a silver pendant with a Venus symbol charm.


Tara is freelance creative who goes by the name Catstello online. She is an aspiring full-time optimist, feminist warrior and beach ready woman. When she isn't publicly rejecting beauty standards, she is running feminist lifestyle blog, Zusterschap, with her best friend.

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You may know me, I recently stripped to make a statement. Although this Protein World's advertisement is merely just a drop in an ocean of body shaming media there was something about this one in particular that ticked me and thousands of other women off. The image features bold writing asking commuters "ARE YOU BEACH BODY READY?" when it might as well say "DO YOU FEEL RUBBISH YET?". My new friend Fiona and I made our own body positive statement in retaliation to the advert by standing next to it in our bikinis declaring ourselves already beach body ready.


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Since the pair of us posted the image, it has gone viral and garnered some very interesting responses. Whenever somebody rejects an ideal or supports feminism in general, they are often met with backlash. Although most of the responses have been positive and encouraging, I have also received a ton of abuse. The insults most often hurled at me are: fat, ugly, insecure, fake and a chubster feminazi. I have also been accused of fit-shaming (which isn't a thing by the way, nobody thinks you are 'gross' if you are fit). I have also had a super detailed and lengthy hate-filled email sent straight to my inbox. But the thing that baffles me the most is people calling me a terrorist.

The definition of terrorism is "the unofficial or unauthorized use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims." Re-read that a few times and think about how that can be applied to me, Fiona and the thousands of other women who are sick of being told how they should look every day. I never once condoned violence or intimidation, all Fiona and I did was send a body positive message. We rejected society's ideals, encouraged women to do the same, didn't judge others who weren't against it and have generally handled all this with poise and dignity. Protein World on the other hand have not. They have been publicly shaming feminists, mental health sufferers and generally anybody else who is against their advertisement.


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As you may have seen my friend Juliette Burton tweeted Protein World expressing her thoughts on the advertisements and how they can be triggering for other people struggling with their mental health. The most shocking part in all of this is the fact the CEO has openly admitted to taking over the company's Twitter account and basically shown thousands of people how terrible the company are at public relations.


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The most infuriating part of all is that at no point during the company's television or radio appearances has the CEO shown his face. Nor have they been called out for their absolutely terrible behaviour. In fact a large amount of people had no problem with the advert but objected to their disgusting comments online instead. Not only is this completely unprofessional and uncalled for, it's very dangerous. It's unacceptable and discriminating against what could be a very vulnerable group. It's completely irresponsible as his comments have encouraged thousands of people to tweet myself, Fiona and Juliette abuse. It's not about the adverts anymore. It's about the company's disgusting attitude towards women.

Unfortunately, it's nothing new. Almost every time a woman rejects or challenges an ideal, she is called irrational, crazy, jealous and so on. Why is it that in 2015 being a feminist is still seen as horrifyingly bad - and the ultimate insult? Why are women branded terrorists for wanting equal rights? Why are people so threatened by this?

The uproar, backlash and CEO's comments have just proven our point even more. The fact that I am being called fat and insecure daily is the exact reason I decided to do this. People's minds have been clouded by the media for far too long. Women are pitted against each other daily and people have been conditioned to think that physical beauty only takes one form. Other women aren't my competition, I stand with them not against them.

The longer I am branded a terrorist, the longer I will fight to change these body shaming attitudes.


The first image depicts Tara and Fiona standing in front of a Protein World advert wearing bikinis. It is overlaid with the text 'How to get a beach body: put a bikini on your body'. The Protein World advert shows a woman in a bikini next to text which reads 'Are you beach body ready?' and information on meal supplements. The second image is a tweet from Protein World which reads 'Dealing with irrational or perpetually offended requires a slap in the face sometimes' with an emoji of a hand slapping and the hashtag #sorrynotsorry. The third image shows three tweets. The first is from Arjun Seth, CEO of Protein World which reads 'it sounds like Juliette had a lot of issues before she saw the PW ad'. The second is a tweet from Danielle Newnham which says 'Arjun, that is a totally disgraceful thing to say. You're a CEO'. The third is a tweet from Arjun Seth which says 'you're both crazy, get of Twitter and do some work!'. The fourth image shows two tweets. The first is directed towards Protein World from Nisha and says 'first you body shame them you shame @JulietteBurton for her #mentalhealth condition. SO FOUL.'. The second is a reply from Protein World saying 'so she does have a mental health condition' followed by emojis of a laughing face and an 'OK' hand sign.

BADD.gifThere's a very ancient tradition of blaming disabled people for their impairments. There are still cultures (and elements within our own) where disabled children are seen as a curse. Abuses of the concept of karma cast disabled people as evil-doers in earlier lives. Since the 2000s, The Secret and similar positive-thinking movements have blamed disabled people's bad attitudes for their conditions. Even the most recent Conservative Manifesto, in rhetoric now familiar in British politics, suggests that some disabled people have only themselves to blame:

We will review how best to support those suffering from long-term yet treatable conditions, such as drug or alcohol addiction, or obesity, back into work. People who might benefit from treatment should get the medical help they need so they can return to work. If they refuse a recommended treatment, we will review whether their benefits should be reduced.

It's an extraordinarily vague threat and there are only around 1000 people in the UK who are incapacitated for work where obesity is their main condition - a tiny group to mention in a general election campaign. However, the political capital lies in the perception that some folk are willfully disabled. Since our culture persists with the view of disability as a charitable status, with accommodating disabled people as an act of compassion, sick people who don't look after their health are to be despised.

Our health and personal decisions made around our health should be morally neutral. Of course, if you have a contagious disease, then you must do your best to avoid passing it on. If you are drunk, over-tired or feeling faint, you must not drive or do anything else which may put other people in danger. However, things which effect our own bodies are our own business. It can be immensely complicated and messy, but people do, in general, act in their own best interests. As someone with chronic illness, who has been both poor and alone at times, I'm all too aware that sometimes looking after oneself in one respect, means not looking after oneself in another.

Women bear the brunt of being blamed for their ill health. To the detriment of absolutely everyone, our culture regards health as a women's issue. We regularly lament that men won't talk about their problems, won't go to the doctor and won't look after their health, but having concluded this, we largely give up on them and turn our attention to women who, we imagine, can be reached and helped and saved.

Men who fail to look after their health are often assumed to have their priorities in rational order; they have a serious job to do, maybe a family to support, they have serious demons which can't be exorcised and thus their health falls by the wayside - almost every fictional hero over the age of forty has threatening symptoms he is ignoring or a drink habit that's edging out of control. Women, however, are expected to look after themselves in order to look after everyone else. Overworking is a sign of detachment rather that dedication. We must support our families by being physically and emotionally accessible to them. Our demons are trivial, domestic, and can be dismissed with a slice of chocolate cake.

Women are supposed to be well-behaved, as daughters, partners and mothers. Even in the twenty-first century, there is far greater concern about women who drink heavily or are as sexually promiscuous than their male counterparts - even though men drink more, acquire more alcohol-related diseases, are involved in more alcohol-related violence and contract STIs at similar rates to women. Men are more likely to die of lung cancer, yet novel campaigns target the vanity of women smokers.

There's also the very sinister but still prevalent idea that women need saving from ourselves. It is remarkable to me, in the aftermath of Channel Four's Plus Size Wars and the subsequent #WeAreTheThey hashtag, the number of people who seem to imagine that fat women are blissfully unaware that being obese defies cultural beauty standards and is statistically disadvantageous to health.

These things impact terribly on people who get sick and don't get better. While men often suffer from a sense of moral weakness - as if masculine willpower might allow them to soldier on through everything - women tend to be more analytical. We must have done something wrong; eaten the wrong thing, exercised too much or too little, not prayed or relaxed or had sex in the right way. And there are no shortage of folk around us to make suggestions. Especially if, by coincidence or as an effect of ill health, we happen to be fat.

Ultimately, all this falls away if we regard disability as a social and political experience as opposed to a charitable status. When we feel like we're doing people a favour by treating them as equals, we want our sick people to be virtuous, inspirational and to endure their suffering with grace and dignity. We want our sick people to keep working hard not to be sick, rather than getting on with their lives as they are.


Today is Blogging Against Disablism Day 2015. You can read more posts here.

[Images is the the Blogging Against Disablism Day logo: a colourful square grid of stick men, including a wheelchair user and another holding a cane. Over the top it reads "Blogging Against Disablism Day". This image was created by me and is available for use in relation to the day.]

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