I don't

by Megan Stodel // 21 August 2014, 23:55

Tags: David Cameron, feminism, marriage, relationships, sexism, stereotypes, traditions, weddings

dik dik.jpg

Have you heard the news? Weddings have just become less sexist! Or they might become less sexist, if renowned feminist campaigner David Cameron has his way. He's pledged a change to the marriage certificate, which in England and Wales currently names the fathers of the bride and groom and gives their occupations while skipping out any information on the mothers. Well, not for much longer! Soon (maybe) a new version will give just as many details on both mum and dad.

Let's be realistic though: when I say weddings will become "less sexist", I've set the bar pretty low. This is an event where, traditionally, a woman wearing virginity-signifying clothing is given by one man to another and assumes his identity. Creepy stuff, I'd say, but apparently I'm in the minority.

The thing is, while pretty much everybody acknowledges the sexist trappings of marriage, two prevailing ways of thinking tend to dominate the response.

The first is that it doesn't really matter. Tradition has this effect on people. I mean, sure, it's a bit weird that wearing white is supposed to indicate my sexual purity, but it wouldn't feel like a real wedding if I wore a different colour! And nobody really cares about that stuff anyway: it's just kind of quaint now.

This probably stems from how conditioned we are to appreciate traditional weddings. From Shakespeare to Cinderella, weddings mean a happy ending. That 'perfect day' is held up as an ambition (particularly for women) and when it comes to it, the fairytale wedding matches the fantasy much better than attempting to shake off the sexism. It's not uncommon to hear people who otherwise espouse completely feminist principles to justify their white wedding by saying it's what they wanted all along. I understand that - even I, with my apparently stony heart, can appreciate the attraction - but we know that no choice is made in a vacuum. If we had never encountered weddings before, how many of us would now redesign the traditional way to express your hopefully unending devotion to your partner?

The other widespread approach is to attempt to have a feminist wedding. Don't like the bit where you promise to honour and obey? Bin it! Think it's kind of prehistoric to have only men giving speeches at the reception? Give granny that microphone! Find the idea of proposals a bit one-sided? Get down on one knee, sister - to hell with leap years!

Ok. That's kind of cool. But why are we even bothering? Marriage is an institution imbued with sexism - right from the origins of being used as a convenient way to transfer property to the modern day connotations exploited by shows like Don't Tell The Bride. You might do everything you can to subvert tradition but you can't escape the way society will interpret the action of wedding. Pretty much every woman who's been married for a few years can reveal some way in which society attempts to undermine their independence and dictate their decisions - whether it's the insistence of misnaming them as Mrs Husband's Name, the assumption of a bank that their husband will need to be consulted, the expectation that after wedding comes babies...the list goes on.

At the most basic level, most couples getting married are doing so because they want to be publicly committed to each other - it's an act of love. As far as I know, most are not doing it for the bonus sexism. To me, that means we don't need to keep ourselves tethered to this unfortunate exercise. I believe that it's quite possible to feel the strongest of loves for somebody and express this to others if necessary, without getting married. It's just that getting married is what we do.

Every wedding contributes to the societal idea that weddings are how we communicate love and lasting partnership. Even a super-feminist one reiterates that getting married is the thing to do - and in some ways, it probably does this even more strongly, as it suggests that weddings can be separated from their unfeminist heritage.

It's hard to be the odd ones out. But it's time to acknowledge: we don't have to do this. The more of us who reject an institutionalised take on relationships, the less marriage will be seen as a rite of passage. We don't need feminist weddings if we aren't resigned to having weddings in the first place. It's time to disengage.

The image is by Michael Hummel and is used under a creative commons licence. It shows two dik diks standing together from behind. Dik diks are antelopes that are monogamous but do not participate in wedding ceremonies. Although, of course, marriage doesn't imply monogamy. I just liked the antelopes.


Sway to the right, sway to the left. Uniform in motion and occasionally in style, the gentle dance that occurs in the pit can be a mesmerising experience, that is until a hurricane of hyper aggression cuts through the room; displacing the good time and good people.

Stage front at the Shacklewell Arms all dayer, despite a great atmosphere, signs promoting 'Girls to the Front' and a host of brilliant but un-mosh-inducing bands, by the time US hardcore band Perfect Pussy and noise pop favourites Joanna Gruesome came on, the crowd was in full throbbing mode. JG's lead singer, Alanna McArdle, made several attempts to calm the crowd but to no avail. Left with the only option to monitor the crowd, McArdle kept a close eye on the pit; her voice filled with emotion and determination, her face steely and focused. The signs seemed like a mere joke afterwards but the good intention was certainly there.

Moshing and aggressive behaviour at gigs has forever been a frustration in the alternative scene, but how should it be dealt with? Does it need any confrontation at all or should everyone just 'get used to it'? Can more be done other than a few peaceful words and well meaning signs.

I personally could happily see the end of all mosh pits. As someone who loves to feel the undulating rhythms in a song I could never understand why you would choose to flail your limbs aimlessly and career yourself into random strangers akin to performing an interpretive dance to a particularly wild piece of free jazz. That, alas I know, is just my view (I'd also ban headbanging) but there are more reasons to dislike moshing other than an obvious disrespect to music.

Moshing, or slam dancing, began in the 80s hardcore scene when crowds started to engage in more aggressive dance moves to release energy. It became an ongoing joke that guys would limber up before a gig and practice moves designed to impact as many people as possible.

The scenes that spawned slam dancing were generally male dominated, where a particular brand of hyper masculinity thrived. Women were pushed further and further to the sides and eventually, if they got tired of the negative atmosphere, out of the scene.

In Don't Need You- The Herstory of Riot Grrrl, Madigan Shive, musician in riot grrrl band Tattle Tale, describes a both typical and disturbing scene at punk shows in the 80s / 90s: "There would be girls standing all around the corners holding these jackets and then there would be the boys with their shirt off playing hardcore music.

"I remember looking round and asking 'why are all these girls standing there holding these jackets' and I remember overhearing another person say 'those are the coathangers'."

The dangers of moshing are well known; injuries are common place and fatalities have also been known to occur. In 1996, a teenage girl was crushed to death by a moshing crowd at a Smashing Pumpkins gig in Dublin, Ireland. The band took a public stance against moshing and warned crowds against moshing at gigs.

The intense violence at shows can be cited as one of many reasons why swathes of women left a visible side of the punk scene in the 80s / 90s. The woman-centric riot grrrl movement of the early 90s was born partly out a frustration about the hyper masculinity on display at punk shows and the need to create a 'safe space' for women.

The term 'girls to the front' was created by riot grrrl bands that asked men to make room for the women in the audience to readdress the balance. It also allowed the bands to play directly to the women the songs were written for. Women would get onstage to call out violence, abuse or harassment they had witnessed or were being subjected to. If shows got too rough sometimes women were invited to sit on the stage away from the chaos.

It was a revolutionary act and a vital step forward but 20 years later we've moved no further in terms of creating safe spaces at gigs. Women are still attacked and assaulted at gigs and who knows how many people are put off coming to shows because of a fear of potential violence. Creating safe spaces is difficult; the results of a few changes would not reach fruition immediately. It involves cultivating a community that is focused on the well being of every member and is self reflective enough to know when to readdress the balance.

Of course many people love moshing and many women do too. I'm sure countless punks would hate the idea of being seen as unable to withstand a session in the pit. This may be true but in a community we must accommodate for all our members, including the smaller, less physically able and more rhythmically inclined. It would make no sense to base a community around the physically strong and no one else. So while you may think you can throw your weight around with the best of them, look around to your left and to your right and think of your sisters and brothers who may not share your enthusiasm. Step to the side and let them enjoy their night.

Image description:
The photo is by Holly Casio. It shows a sign from the Shake the Shacklewell event that reads 'Girls* to the front! *(and smaller people).'

Continue reading "Disrespectful dancing: clinging to the edge of the mosh pit"

baby bird.jpgAs I read Abigael Watson's recent blog post 'The mother of ambitions', about the assumptions young women have to deal with about their future, I earned myself a few odd glances from my partner as I sat there nodding at the screen like one of those dog toys on a dashboard when you've just driven over a speed bump.

I was like Abigael 16 years ago: ambivalent at best about whether motherhood would be in my future. I had to deal with the same assumptions, everyone from classmates to family members looking at me as though I had just grown an extra head if I expressed any doubts as to whether I wanted children. Mostly, people assured me I would grow up and embrace my inner earth mother.

At 32, I'm still waiting for my inner earth mother to come out. If she ever was in there, she's probably got tired of waiting and packed herself off to bother someone else with a working biological clock.

I wish I could tell you it would get easier as you get older, Abigael, but I'm sorry to say, prepare for the pressure to ramp up.

In your teens and twenties, people will mostly tell you you'll change your mind. But fast forward another 16 years, if you're still holding out, people actually start to realise that you might just mean it - you really aren't going to have children.

You may be admonished for being selfish. For not giving your parents grandchildren. You might even be advised to have them anyway as you might regret it if you don't - you can't leave it too late, you know. People will throw statistics at you about your fertility falling off a cliff at 35. Personally, I can't wait for the cliff - since the NHS considers me incapable, as a woman, of making a decision about sterilisation while I'm still in prime baby-making territory, I'm looking forward to when they no longer consider my eggs hot property and will consider sealing them off.

My antipathy to motherhood means that in the eyes of some, I'm not a Proper Grown-Up yet. People who don't know me well think it's about lie-ins and unbridled alcohol consumption, both of which ceased to be a regular feature in my life some time ago.

I sometimes say "not yet" when I'm asked whether I have kids. It's not true, but sometimes, it's just easier. If I do tell the truth, I find myself having to soften the blow by emphasising that I happily babysit for friends and I used to be a youth worker. I will take pains to make sure that people understand quite clearly that I do not, in fact, eat babies on toast for breakfast.

Here's the thing though: I am not, in general, that fond of babies and young children. But that's another thing I can't be open about as a woman. I don't want to hold babies, but it is assumed that all the women at social gatherings will be fighting to take a selfie with the newest bundle of joy. I usually plead that I am just getting over a cold and wouldn't want to pass on any germs, partly because I don't want to offend the mother but also to avoid being interrogated. It's perfectly acceptable for men to melt away and congregate around the beer fridge when the pass-the-baby-parcel starts. But as a woman, it's weird not to want to hold the baby. After all, a woman of your age, surely you'd want to get the practice in, it'll be your turn next.....

And you can see where that conversation would be going.

I realise that I'm fortunate to be able to make this choice, living in a society that accepts women's reproductive rights. Despite this freedom, there is still an element of taboo in making the decision not just to define the size and timing of one's family but to skip the family altogether. I don't begrudge anybody's choice to have children - it would be considered unforgivably rude if I were to interrogate a new mother over her choice to have a baby in the same way as I am often harangued over my decision not to, sometimes by people I barely know.

My choice not to have children is just that - my choice. It is not the sum total of who I am as a human being. I would prefer to be judged on the contributions that I make to the lives of others, rather than whether or not I used my reproductive organs for their biological purpose.

The photo is by Ryan Keene and is used under a creative commons licence. It shows a nest with a baby bird's head poking out. It is facing the camera directly, its beak open wide.

works in progress.jpg

There's this thing called the gender pay gap that's kind of a bummer for people who care about fair remuneration that isn't affected by arbitrary factors (I know, right, #controversial). Estimates vary, but the European Commission says there's a 16% difference between what men and women are paid across the EU, based on the average difference in gross hourly earnings of all employees (so not including things like bonuses). In some fun recent trend bucking, the pay gap in the UK actually increased for full-time workers, up to 15.7% in 2013 from 14.8% in 2012. These are some of the more conservative percentages I've seen.

Those numbers are a little bit hard to unpick. Sceptics have long pointed out that differences in the ways that women work account for at least some of the gap. So that might be things like fewer women going into the better paid Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM) careers, or women being more likely to have part-time jobs (generally paid lower per hour compared with equivalent full-time jobs) because of taking on the burden of childcare. These are things that are probably life choices for some people but are certainly influenced by a tonne of societal pressures. Even going right back to the kinds of toys children are encouraged to play with, we can see that those chemistry sets for boys and dolls for girls are leading to us ladies haemorrhaging some serious cash.

One thing that would help us to understand and combat the gender pay gap would be a soupcon of transparency. Companies are a little cagey about releasing figures because not only is sexism unsexy, but it's also super awks highlighting other pay differentials that can settle in under the shadows surrounding most of their pay strategies. We're all so well-behaved; it's completely socially unacceptable to talk about salaries, which means it's surprisingly easy for people doing similar jobs to the same standard to be paid staggeringly differently. There's no reason why people shouldn't earn different amounts, but I prefer it when the reasons extend beyond, "We thought we could get away with it."

The government's Think, Act, Report scheme is trying to encourage companies to collect and consider relevant data connected to gender equality, going on to publish information to lead to a national discussion around the gender pay gap and other related problems. That would be awesome.

Sadly, things aren't working out for the framework. Over two hundred companies signed up, but only four have released any information (and only two have published relevant information). As The Guardian reports, a government spokesperson attempted to spin this into gold:

For many companies - especially those in traditionally male-dominated sectors - signing up is a positive first step. We know that at least four choose to publish their gender pay gap, and at least two go further to break it down by grade.

Cool story, bro.

I disagree that signing up is all that positive. I mean, it's promising, but without that evolving into further action, all I can see is a bit of PR for these companies - getting to pretend that they care about equality without, you know, actually doing anything about it.

It's time to put some pressure on. It's surprising how effective this can be. Only this week, Apple released data showing the gender and racial breakdown of its workforce for the first time. It can't be their proudest moment. In their tech section, only 20% are women. (I can't actually find that broken down further by race - the results are only shown separately, as far as I can see, because there's no reason why it might be worth considering how people who are historically discriminated against for multiple reasons might be represented even more poorly OH NO WAIT GUYS.)

Despite this, they've pressed on and published and been forced to start talking about what they're going to do about it (rather than just continue posting about diversity and inclusion as if they're all over it). I don't know if this is something they would ever have done organically. What actually happened is that Tracy Chou, an engineer, wrote about her frustration at the lack of numbers and her experiences indicating that there was a real problem in STEM industries. The report she received for this led to her setting up a Google document for companies to use to share data on the proportion of women they hired; as of 13 August, 174 companies have contributed, some publicly, like Apple, and other anonymously. This shows that only 15% of people hired as engineers by those on the list are women.

That means these numbers are actually out there. This is the real first step to challenging gender issues at work. There's a lot more to do but just having the data to address is exceedingly helpful. There's a chance for companies to stand up in the UK and offer their data - and the more we hold them to account, the more likely we are that some more of those 200 companies that signed up initially might actually do something.

The image is by Justin See and is used under a creative commons licence. It shows an orange traffic cone to the left of the photo, which has a white sign on it, with an exclamation mark inside a triangle and the words "WORKS IN PROGRESS" on that. The cone is on green grass, which takes up the rest of the photo.

This is how the conversation goes:

"What happens when you have children though?" (a comment made after I have declared an ambition that would not fit in with children. Note that the assumption here is I will have children no matter what - the "when" in that sentence is particularly prominently said.)

"Well, I actually don't want to have children, so it doesn't really matter."

"What?!?!?!? You don't want to have children?? Why?!" (Then they proceed to rant about how I ought to have children, and how I must use my body for what it was made for and how it is quite wrong and odd to have any other ambition in life apart from having two children and live in a lovely little house in suburbia.)

Okay, I concede I'm exaggerating just slightly but you get the point. I am also definitely not exaggerating as much as people might assume.

baby dolls.jpgSo, then the conversation would continue. It would probably result in more frankly sexist and derogatory statements about me and my ambitions in life. May I hasten to add that I am a 16-year-old girl, I am at school and at the moment my main ambition is to carry on with that and get a good job, have fun and gain experience in life. This seems like a fairly understandable goal in my mind, though perhaps I have missed the point of my life. You see, I was under the impression that my happiness is a good thing to aim for, but instead evidently it is succumbing to societal pressures that do not interest me at all.

Don't get me wrong; I do like children. I'm volunteering at a library at the moment and I'm helping in the children's section, so I have lots of contact with them. I love it; however this does not translate at all into me wanting to have children. It's just not something I see becoming part of my life. Of course, my views may change and I admit that but those are my thoughts currently.

I also don't have an issue whatsoever with my peers who hope to have children or people living a typical family life. The thing is, that's just not for me. I think it shows to great effect how far sexist social conditioning affects the world. Girls are still expected to grow up and raise a family. The fact that I'm barely out of year 11 and this is clear as day whenever the topic of children is brought up at school is noteworthy.

People should, quite simply, not be expected to have children, and one should definitely not have to endure insults about your purpose in life for just stating the fact that you don't wish to go down that path yourself.

The idea of motherhood and family is engrained into the minds of young girls from the very day they are born. Toys for little girls include kitchen sets, dolls and numerous other similarly themed items. This does not happen to nearly the same extent to boys. Girls will be encouraged to play at being mother, cooking and cleaning. Boys will be directed to play with cars, trains and building sets. This then continues throughout childhood with some help from the media. The ideal for women is too often portrayed as so called "having it all" and the media bombards us with this. To become a perfect example of a woman you will have children and also a high flying career.

This is clearly not for everyone though and no one should be made to feel inferior because they don't wish to fulfil their supposed purpose on earth of giving birth.

May I also point out that the observation that I would apparently be a good mother does not mean that I should therefore be a mother. Being good at something does not mean I like it and it does not mean I should do it.

This is obvious logic.

Already, not even past school, it seems as though one is more often than not put down for not wanting a maternal route through life. This seems so early and I can only imagine the expectation gets worse as one gets older. On top of this, I feel as though boys do not have to endure the same level of expectation as far as having children goes. It is harmful gender stereotyping, it is heavily engrained attitudes on life and children and it is a commonly held sexist outlook.

But it is not logical.

Why should I be made to feel inferior for wanting to pursue what I think will make me happy in life?

The image is by Aimee Ray and is used under a creative commons licence. It shows a Caucasian doll with tied back blonde hair and large green eyes, wearing a white dress and sitting down, holding a tiny baby doll, a grey toy cat and a rattle. She is surrounded by a multitude of more baby dolls and other animals, including two in a cot to her right.

kite at Cleethorpes.jpg

Hello and welcome to the weekly round-up and open thread! Below are some recent news stories that caught the attention of The F Word Collective this week (linking does not necessarily imply endorsement or agreement by members of the collective or the author of this post). Please note that these links range from "ooh yay!" to "very interesting" to *headdesk to very sad or rage-enducing, and some articles may be triggering. Want to discuss these topics or add your own? Please comment below!

How Michael Gove's reforms drove me out of teaching (The Guardian)

Next Time Someone Says Women Aren't Victims Of Harassment, Show Them This. (Tikld)

How (Not) To React to Anti-Feminist Women (The Vagenda)

Women, misogyny and the internet: beyond a Mary Beard prize (Guardian Comment)

Why Young Girls Aren't Speaking Out About Rape (The Vagenda)

Bearded British Sikh woman selected for portrait series celebrating 60 of the best beards from all over the world (IBN Live)

23 Female Cartoonists On Drawing Their Bodies (Buzzfeed)

Full disclosure for the next two links: I research menstruation and design SRE education resources, and happen to be quoted in the first article, and a resource I designed and helped research for the Sex Education Forum is discussed in the second.

We need to talk about periods (The Independent)

Gay bingo! Game that gets pupils to rate favourite TV shows on equality (Daily Mail)

It's a sad way to end this post, but here are two thoughtful reflections on the death of actor and comedian Robin Williams, and talking points around mental health and suicide:

The Death of Robin Williams, And What Suicide Isn't (Blog Her)

Hearing about the death of Robin Williams had a profound effect on me. (Tumblr)

Photo description: The photo is by Chella Quint and has been used with permission: all rights reserved. It depicts a plastic kite with a colourful swirl pattern flying in the foreground on Cleethorpes beach, with a seagull flying in the top right corner and a big wheel and other fairground rides in silhouette in the distance. The tide is out, it is approaching sunset, and the amusements and streetlights are silhouetted along the promenade on the left.

Making eureka moments happen

by Megan Stodel // 10 August 2014, 12:23

Tags: feminism, feminist theatre, progress, revolution, theatre


Accompanying the RSC's recent Midsummer Mischief festival in Stratford-upon-Avon were a number of discussions, including sessions such as 'Gender, feminism and theatre-making', 'Shakespeare, gender and radical thought' and 'Roaring Girls today'. It was an invigorating day. At the heart of a lot of points raised was the question: what is theatre's role in feminism?

I'm an advocate of using theatre to promote, explore and express feminist thoughts (I know it's pretty shocking that the theatre editor of The F-Word would think that, but stay with me). There was certainly enthusiasm from those present in doing so. However, it's clear that there are different ways in which theatre could be thought to do this and there are mixed feelings on the effectiveness of these.

Recently, plays on feminist moments in history seem to have been quite vogue, partially linked to a number of centenaries around the suffragette and suffragist movements. In the last year alone, we've reviewed a couple of plays about the suffragette movement, one about women campaigning for equal education in 1896, an imagining of the life of Pope Joan and a show about the first vibrators in the 19th century. This doesn't include the numerous revivals of plays written several decades ago that, while contemporary at the time, now give a historical perspective on women's issues.

Is this a good thing for feminism? I think it's complicated. In Stratford-upon-Avon, there was a strong feeling that remembering the past was essential for the movement and that plays that display important periods like these remind us of "battles won". This can be inspiring and can offer a positive outlook. Considering that a lot of campaigns take a long time to achieve change, it's easy to sometimes feel like you're not making a difference - seeing past successes as well as understanding the dramatic shift in women's rights in even recent history can be inspiring and necessary.

However, sometimes I think plays that focus on historical feminism can be counter-productive. It's not uncommon for the general audience sentiment following such a play to be, "Thank goodness things aren't like that now." This is a completely understandable feeling, and one that I broadly agree with, but I also think it's an escape. It makes it really easy for people to feel like feminism has achieved its goals - because you can see, for example, that women have got the vote and can go to university. Feminism won! And it has won some things. But I worry about giving too much encouragement to complacency and failing to underline urgent issues that are facing us right now.

That's why I feel that the key role for theatre in advancing equality and social justice is through productions that interrogate the status quo. In one of the discussions, Lesley Ferris from the Ohio State University talked about suffragettes who founded a theatre company in 1911: this was a different way to express their message. Meanwhile, in 1909 Christabel Marshall was lamenting that in London, there was not one piece of theatre recognising women in non-traditional roles. Theatre can often be an interpretation of society and therefore shows audiences what they recognise and can cope with. As theatre gets more radical and revolutionary, it needs to challenge instead of confirm. People engaging with art forms are usually at their most open-minded and it's often through a poignant piece of music, an uncompromising film, an honest and revealing artwork or, yes, a play that puts things in just the right way that leads to those eureka moments.

Those moments are what feminism needs. For everybody who thinks the time for feminism is over and can't engage with the repeated arguments that they don't see as relevant to them, there's the potential for eureka moments through art and theatre that can access both the emotional and the intellectual responses to what is being shown. Theatre that focuses on the historical misses this by confirming conventional wisdom that sex inequality only happened in The Olden Days. It's when it really confronts the here and now that it begins to actively support a progressive feminism.

The RSC's current season is showing until the end of September. To read our review of the Midsummer Mischief festival, click here. To read our review of The Roaring Girls, click here.

The image is by Helen Maybanks and shows the four playwrights for the Midsummer Mischief festival in a line talking and laughing while standing in a city on a road at night.

A generation that needs feminism

by Abigael Watson // 9 August 2014, 10:47

Tags: education, feminism, generation, young women, youth

Schoolroom.jpgI'm nearly 16, I've just finished my GCSEs, I go to an all girls' school and I am a feminist.

I say the last part of that sentence proudly, loudly and boldly - held up indeed by the somewhat comforting fact that the people reading this will understand what I'm saying and feel the same.
However, in everyday life the seemingly simple declaration "I am a feminist" is fraught with complications and misunderstanding. For a type of discrimination that affects every single person on this planet, regardless of any other factors such as race, religion and sexuality among other things, sexism is still a concept which many people regard as an insignificant problem. Of course, practically anyone would understand that it means discriminating on the grounds of sex, but comparatively few actually understand what this entails.

As someone who still attends school and will continue to do so for the next two years, I encounter this problem shockingly frequently. You might presume that in a girls' school people would be hyper aware of such issues. But this is by no means the case in my experience.

Of course, there are people who perfectly appreciate the statement "I am a feminist" and who are in absolute support of this, but this is disturbingly not the majority among my generation.
There are a few other types of people one comes across in a large group of 15/16 year old girls, and boys as well (though my experience of the latter is considerably less).

  1. There are the people who, upon hearing your feminist beliefs, will actually laugh at your enthusiasm and vehemence. They find it amusing that you are so wholly supportive of a movement that simply promotes equality. Surely this is not something one should laugh about? But this is not how they see it. This might be the most worrying sort of person that I encounter, for they just can't seem to take the matter seriously, no matter how many statistics or stories you proceed to tell. A generation of people growing up who find the matter of gender equality a laughable topic is quite something. This needs to be combated.
  2. There are then the anti-feminists, who think that gender equality is not important at all, because in their view women are lower in the hierarchy of the world. You might be surprised to hear that a couple of 15 year old girls who I know hold a view of this type; their views are saturated in family tradition, history and quite often religious beliefs.
  3. Others lack understanding of feminism. Often, when I question such people, their response might be: "Does that mean you hate men then? Because I don't support that at all; I'm not a sexist." Such people are horrendously ignorant of sexism and feminism, which is again very damaging to our future. The problem, I believe, lies in the lack of focus in education on matters concerning sexism and feminism. These matters remain in the corner, untouched, while students skip through their academic life, hopelessly ill informed, ready (or not...) to take on the adult world. There must be more of a focus on such matters in lessons such as PSCHE or citizenship, in order to directly combat the issue of gender inequality at its roots - children growing up with sexist views or ignorance engrained into their minds.
I shall stop there with that list, though there are numerous other types of people I have encountered in discussions with people of school age. It seems to me that the issue lies in ignorance. The generation that is growing up to take the place of the world's current leaders is not informed enough about sexism, misogyny or feminism, and this lies in the lack of education on it. One day, I hope that when someone announces they are a feminist at school, they will instead be greeted by the unanimous response "Yes! I am too!" - completely understood, complications gone.

Unless something along the lines of education is done, however, this will be tremendously difficult to achieve.

The image is by Rob Shenk and is used under a creative commons licence. It shows an old-fashioned schoolroom with a wooden floor and wooden desks, shot from the perspective of somebody at a desk a few rows back. There is a blackboard on the wall covered in white chalk writing.

Shame is a feminist issue

by Mag the Blag // 9 August 2014, 01:58

Tags: identity, shame

pointing fingers.jpg

How dare you! They're pouring cold water over the idea. The voices that say I shouldn't do it.

I want to write about shame, and it's a problem because shame doesn't like being written about. But I'm going to try anyway.

There are the moments when it soaks you in self-loathing so strongly that you have a desire to sink down the nearest drain to get flushed into a far away ocean. But these conscious moments of intense shame are only the red flag on top of the iceberg. I got it once when I dared to go on TV to participate on a debate on pornography.

She is sooo over-the-top. They're probably right.

For the most part, we experience shame as moments of embarrassment. I've experienced those when I haven't done my buttons up properly or when I've gone for a promotion.

How dare you reveal so much of yourself? Uh oh, them again.

Then there's the shame that hides underneath everything you do. This is the shame that we can't see because we don't allow ourselves to go near it. It's what prevents us doing the things we want to do and stops us being the person we want to be. It's quiet and powerful and the source of our internal censor. I can only dare to write about shame because I have learned about it on the outside/inside.

So now she thinks she's courageous! Now I'm going to answer back. Not courage, insight.

Shame might have been known about in the murky depths of psychoanalysis but it's a relative newcomer in popular psychology. John Bradshaw introduced the idea of toxic shame in the early 1990s and wrote about it in a gender-neutral way.

Women experience shame differently to men according to Brene Brown. The primary shame trigger for women is how we look. The competing and conflicting expectations that are placed on women are the other great shame trigger. We're not lively enough, pretty enough, clever enough, assertive enough. We're just not enough. But we're also too much. We're too loud, too sexy, too intellectual, too mouthy.

If we add an understanding of the nature of power and control that is involved in men and women's relationships and with women's relationships to a world by patriarchal values, then bingo, we have a feminist analysis of shame.

You're done for. You mentioned the P word. Please leave me alone.

Of course men feel shame. But I'd hazard a guess that generally for men shame is a driver to have more and be more, for women it is an inhibitor - to say less, do less and be less. Whereas for men shame delineates some of their lives, for women it goes to the core of our identity. We are defined by shame. I'll hazard another guess: that men don't worry about armpit hair.

Brene Brown defines shame as a fear of loss of connection. As a feminist I would go stronger. Shame is a control mechanism which uses language and behaviour to induce painful feelings in order to shore up power. In other words, shame is a process, and the feeling is the end of that process.

She thinks she's a dictionary now. Go away.

We need to challenge shame internally, as well as externally, because we do it to ourselves. It's not just the immediate moment we need to think about. It's in the history of the emotion. Shame reproduces itself and accumulates in our individual and collective identity. The shame from previous traumas affects how we see and interact with the world now. Even if we try to fight shame in the present we can get stymied by the past.

Now she fancies herself a psychotherapist. Can't I write anything without these voices covering me in slime?

Some women have resilience to shame. Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi, known as Rokudenashiko ('Good for Nothing Girl') was arrested on obscenity charges because she made a canoe in the shape of a vagina and paddled in it. Now she's committed to fighting the charges. The big question is: how we can learn from women like this so that we can challenge shame on a collective level. Igarashi's a bit too far away to ask where she found her canoe-load of resilience to create art like that. But I can send her the Mag the Blag Award for Audacious Art.

Goodness, the woman's giving out medals now. I'm going to deal with these voices once and for all - you lot can paddle away on the sea of your own bile. Done.

The image is by J E Theriot and is used under a creative commons licence. It shows a mobile of identical hands and suit cuffs pointing fingers.

Welcome to the guest bloggers for August!

by Megan Stodel // 7 August 2014, 08:39

Tags: monthly guest bloggers

lavendar bee.jpg

Thanks to Milena Popova and Isadora Vibes for their great posts in July! Now as we head into August, we have two new guest bloggers. I'll let them introduce themselves in their own words.

Abigael Watson

Having just finished my GCSEs, not a lot to my name has been accomplished as of yet...I'm nervously anticipating results day! I take refuge in words, and as such my interests include reading lots of books and my enthusiasm for writing poetry (or anything really) is boundless. I hope to study either English Literature or History at university. I enjoy singing, discussions about all manner of controversial issues, and shopping. When I was younger I harboured an ambition to be prime minister, however now my sights are more set on activism, museum curatorship and journalism (with a book of poetry published on the side...).

First and foremost, however, I'm an ardent feminist, and eagerly looking forward to blogging for The F Word!

Mag the Blag

I've been a journalist, a painter and decorator, a social worker, a refuge worker, a bar worker, a teacher and a fruit picker. Among others. I've worked in the private sector, the voluntary sector and in local government. I've studied philosophy and psychology.

I have been involved in feminist campaigns, lesbian and gay activism, anti racist movements and green politics.

Whatever I have done has been too little and also too much. The most I have learned is how to balance the two by understanding myself so that I can keep going.

Welcome and we look forward to your posts!

The photo shows a bee resting on some lavender in close up. It is by Susan and is used under a creative commons licence.

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