Helen Monks considers the continuing unreasonable pressure on female pop stars to be role models.

 Remember when Lily Allen wrote that great feminist song about how women shouldn't need to get naked in order to get attention and then objectified a load of naked, mostly black, women in her music video in order to get attention?

Remember when Beyoncé penned that great article titled 'Gender Equality is a Myth' and then appeared at the Grammys a few days later, smiling along as her husband rapped at her to "eat the cake, Anna Mae", a reference to the violent domestic abuse and rape of Tina Turner by her husband, Ike?

Remember yet another wave of disappointment rippling our way when, in the wake of the debut of her 10th studio album, Sinéad O'Connor controversially claimed, in an interview with The Observer, to not be a feminist?

In the midst of the online anti-revolution of the anti-feminists (most noticeably using their freedom to speak freely about how they don't need it), this declaration could not have come at a more annoying time...

Click here to read the rest of Helen's article and comment

Image description and credit:

Beyoncé, with microphone, on a polished black stage at the Dublin 02 on 4 June 2009. She looks slightly downwards to her right with a pensive expression. She wears a fur-trimmed wedding dress with a slit at the front, with a veil framing her head and shoulders. By Caroline Delaney and shared under a Creative Commons license.

Sleater-Kinney return!

by J Whitehead // 20 October 2014, 17:05

Tags: albums, music, singles, Sleater-Kinney

Carrie Brownstein SMALL.jpg

Believe the hype! Sleater-Kinney, the feminist wonder-group, have revealed a new single titled 'Bury Our Friends', announced a new album titled No Cities to Love which is due for release in January 2015 and confirmed a north-American and European tour, beginning in February 2015.

The news came as a surprise for fans who discovered the new single enclosed with a recently released limited edition vinyl boxed set of remastered versions of their previous seven albums.

You can download the new single for free here, by signing up to Sleater-Kinney's mailing list.

The black and white image is a side-shot of Sleater-Kinney guitarist, Carrie Brownstein, singing and rocking out with her guitar on-stage. Image by Damon Green, shared under a Creative Commons license.

The music women make when left to their own devices is often sidelined. Julia Downes, editor of 2012's Women Make Noise, previews an upcoming discussion in Sheffield on 16 October about DIY feminist efforts to counter this.

Women Make Noise: A Discussion
Thursday 16 October 2014
Coffee Revolution, University of Sheffield Students' Union, Western Bank, S10, 2TG
Free, 7pm

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It has been almost two years since the book I edited, Women Make Noise: Girl bands from Motown to modern, was published on the Supernova imprint of the woman-run independent publisher Aurora Metro. The book was sparked by what seemed to me to be an obvious gap in the dominant narrative of popular music: the persistent underrepresentation of the all-girl band.

There is something peculiarly dangerous about the all-girl band. We are almost not allowed to know that they exist. In music culture, as all-girl bands are given very little visibility, it would be easy to assume that there are just not that many around. For instance, a recent survey of UK summer music festivals suggested that all-girl bands made up a mere 3.5% of total acts playing compared to 43% of all-male bands, 15.9% of bands with men and women and 16% female solo musicians. However Women Make Noise is a testament to what happens when you start to push music history a little further, to see what women create together when left to their own devices...

Click here to read the rest of Julia's preview and comment

Image descriptions and credits:

Flyer for Women make Noise: A Discussion. By Neil Holmes and shared with permission. This shows a close-up of a drawing of a black vinyl record with a yellow label showing the details of the event. A proportion of a description of LaDIYfest Sheffield as an inclusive DIY anti-capitalist community helping organise socials and fundraise for local community groups can be partially seen around the edge of the yellow label. The yellow label contains the name of the discussion at the top in white, with black text in separated boxes (from left to right and top to bottom) underneath. Most of these details have already been shared above but boxes containing the following are also included:

A drawing between "Presented by:" and "LADIYFEST SHEFFIELD 2014". This shows three waving figures. The left person has medium length hair, a heart tattoo on their right arm and is sitting in a wheelchair, the middle person has short hair and stands, while the person on the right has short hair, a distinctive black and white striped top and is standing. By Emma Thacker and shared with permission.

"All rights of the owner and distributor of this record are unreserved and quite friendly / WMN-161014 / Verbal advertising and excitement for this event are highly encouraged by no laws at all."

London Film Festival preview

by Ania Ostrowska // 10 October 2014, 10:46

Tags: film, film festivals, women directors

BFI London Film Festival opened on Wednesday and I am offering you a very subjective preview by Sophie Mayer, who is is currently writing Political Animals: The New Feminist Cinema.LFF logo.jpeg

Sophie is delighted by the fact that 53 out of 248 features in the programme are directed by women and her preview is delightfully biased in this direction.

See what Sophie's favourites are.

You can still get tickets to most of the screenings via BFI website.

Power trio Ex Hex comprises a blend of talented musicians who cut their teeth in the riot grrrl scene of the 1990s. Cazz Blase checks out their forthcoming album, Rips (released 13 October).

 Ex Hex's press release describes them as a "Power Trio", conjuring up aural memories of old Magnapop records and Sonic Youth at their more accidentally commercial. Composed of Mary Timony (Helium, Wild Flag), Laura Harris (The Aquarium, Benjy Ferree) and Betsy Wright (The Fire Tapes), they have made the kind of record that will not so much start a revolution as induce a particular variety of sullen rebellious attitude and arrogant rock'n'roll swagger in skinny-jean-clad girls, while putting a nostalgic smile on the faces of many other folk. Ladies and gentlemen, have your boots, studs, leather and lurex at the ready because the girls are back in town.

The aptly named Rips starts as it means to go on with the excellent 'Don't Wanna Lose', a sea of crisp reverb fuelled guitars, pounding drums and sneery post-Kim Gordon vocal delivery. As a calling card from a new band, it would take a lot to beat it; as a single, it is one of the highlights of the year and, longer term, the song is a worthy successor to Sleater-Kinney's 'I Wanna be Your Joey Ramone'. It also has the spectre of Richard Hell in there somewhere: specifically an energetic echo of the yelping 'Love Comes in Spurts'. The question has to be asked after these dizzying first few minutes, can the pace be maintained?

Second track 'Beast' delivers a fast and furious slice of stroppy 1970s New York punk, all energetic riffs and attitude, whereas 'Waste Your Time' suggests the band can slow it down a bit if needed and deliver an energetic melodic slice of pop punk that is reminiscent of summer days and denim cut offs. But the hectic pop punk energy of 'You Fell Apart' smacks of The Go-Go's circa Beauty and the Beat, not just in its energetic post punk pop energy but in its lyrical phrasing, if not vocal delivery. This is no bad thing, quite the reverse, and it's nice to see the biggest and best selling US girl rock band being acknowledged in this way, albeit not necessarily intentionally...

Click here to read the rest of Cazz's review and comment

Image description:

Cover of Rips, shared under fair dealing. This shows the title and bandname in large, jagged-shaped, orange capital letters going up in a diagonal angle in the middle of the page, over a brightly coloured background with miscellaneous frilled and angular shapes and thick lines in orange, yellow, green, blue, pink and brown.

Interview: Asking the right questions

by Lizzie Atkinson // 9 October 2014, 07:16

Psychologist Dr Nina Burrowes talks to Lizzie Atkinson about her online video project that opens up the conversation on sexual abuse

nina_burrowes.jpg

Nina's first online video Why are sex offenders able to get away with it? heralds the beginning of an accessible and organic campaign that addresses the reality of sexual abuse, along with society's attitudes and preconceptions - and most importantly, invites our response.

So Nina, with the project already making a real impact, what's the background to it all?
To be honest, the main background is probably just my experience of meeting people in a social situation - of course someone asks you what you do for a living and when I give an answer, the phrase "sexual abuse" is in that answer.

And my experience has been that people normally meet that phrase initially with fear (and I think a genuine fear of sexual abuse is a sensible stance to have against it).

But then if I'm able to show my enthusiasm for the subject area and actually make it okay for them to ask me questions, we end up having a long and very interesting conversation. And I think they surprise themselves with how much they were actually curious and wanted to know.

Click here to read the rest of the interview and comment

First Aid Kit: mini review

by J Whitehead // 8 October 2014, 13:39

Tags: First Aid Kit, gigs, music, music reviews, songwriters, women

First Aid Kit MEDIUM.jpg

I'll come clean: a ticket to see First Aid Kit would not have been my first choice. I loved 'Blue', and thought their harmonising beautiful, but as someone who tends to like music with a bit more bite, I wasn't falling over myself to catch them live. Due to family sickness, however, a pair of tickets for their performance at the Royal Albert Hall during the last week of September fell into my ungrateful hands. The friend who I gave the second ticket to was elated, whereas I felt somewhat lukewarm. The evening would prove to be delightful surprise.

It was my first trip to the Royal Albert Hall. What a venue! I wholeheartedly encourage all readers to try and make the journey there at least once in their life. It was impossible not to be awed by the incredible surroundings, so we were off to a good start. The audience was a happy mix of young and old, indicating the band's appeal across the age spectrum. Swedish sisters, Johanna and Klara, who make up First Aid Kit, strode onto the stage, both resplendent in gold attire, and supported by a string section, drummer and lap-steel guitarist. From their first track 'Stay Golden' from their third album, released earlier this year, they were impossible to resist and I - along with the rest of the audience - were entranced by their flawless, pitch-perfect harmonies. For one song, they switched off their mics, their powerful and soaring voices filling the immense space with ease. The pair spoke of their delight at performing at such a renowned venue and of the presence of their Swedish family, that evening, not least their father, who as their sound engineer, is responsible for ensuring their sublime voices sound perfect.

The pair performed two covers: 'Love Interruption' by Jack White and 'America' by Simon and Garfunkel. My companion felt the latter choice to be a little ambitious, but I couldn't have disagreed more: a beautiful song, beautifully sung, it reduced me to tears. I'm in good company: First Aid Kit covered Patti Smith's 'Dancing Barefoot' at the Polar Music Prize in 2011, the year Patti Smith won the prestigious prize. Footage from the event shows Patti with tears rolling down her face at the end. A year later, when Paul Simon won the prize, the pair sang 'America'. At the end of the track, he stood to clap the women, mouthing the word "great". You can check out the footage here, learn more about the band here and read a fantastic article here in which the pair discuss feminism and the role of women in music. Don't forget the tissues.

The image shows an upper body shot of Johanna and Klara of First Aid Kit. Johanna is stood behind Klara, her head resting on Klara's shoulder, eyes downcast and long, blonde hair streaming down. Klara's face arm is reaching up to her temple, obscuring part of her face. She gazes ahead. Image by Neil Krug, shared under a Creative Commons license.

Technology and body literacy

by Guest Blogger // 6 October 2014, 22:57

Menstrual cycle

October's guest blogger Holly Grigg-Spall discusses body literacy and its relationship with technology.

Let's get one thing straight - apps cannot predict when you are fertile or when you will get your period. Somewhere along the line, our growing enthusiasm for period tracker apps has caused us to talk like technology can somehow independently figure out our menstrual cycles via algorithm alone. The thing is - that's just a modern, digitized version of the rhythm method and I'm pretty sure most of us know the rhythm method does not work and should not be trusted.

The uproar surrounding Apple forgetting to integrate menstrual cycle data as part of its new Health app shows that we are getting to a point of accepting periods as a normal, natural part of life and maybe even seeing them as an important indicator of good health. But it also shows how we have accepted apps as our saviors when it comes to managing the previously thought unpredictable, tempestuous, anxiety-provoking female body. It's great to see women interested in their menstrual cycles, but not if it's only compounding the menstrual taboo. Much of the coverage of Apple's failing suggested such data is only useful insofar as women can avoid staining their jeans in public (thanks, The Verge). Yet, seeing the need for it to be included in an app for 'Health' at all is a great start.

For April Fool's Day TechCrunch published a satirical news item on a new phone app - 'Pokr' or 'The Dongle That Touches Your Cervix So You Don't Have To.' Pokr is a blue, plastic finger that connects via your phone with apps like Glow and Clue. The woman puts the finger in her vagina and it tests the consistency of her cervical mucus. The post notes that these apps cannot accurately support what is known as the fertility awareness method or natural family planning if they don't have women input data themselves every day, including basal body temperature and cervical mucus consistency. Only then will the app have a chance of helping you know when you are fertile and when you will get your period. Without the presence of cervical mucus, you cannot get pregnant. But, will women be okay with checking their cervical mucus? The post suggests Pokr can help those with busy schedules and the squeamish get the job done.

Like all the best satire it's not so far-fetched what with technology like the OvuRing, a vaginal ring that detects your temperature and sends the information to your phone, and the wireless-connected Smart Diaphragm that monitors changes in the cervix during pregnancy.

Period tracker apps that don't ask for this data - basal body temperature, cervical mucus consistency - and suggest or provide ways to learn how to interpret these three variables are misleading women. There is a calendar-based method, named Standard Days, which has a high effectiveness rate for perfect use, but it requires you consider 12 days of your cycle as fertile days and take precautions. Most apps, aside from Cycle Beads, appear to "predict" much shorter fertility windows, leaving women with too much trust in the tech with a big window of opportunity for an unwanted pregnancy. If you're checking your temperature and cervical mucous accuracy increases and therefore the length of your fertile window decreases.

The problem with apps attempts to predict your fertile window or the timing of the appearance of your period is there are many things that can delay ovulation and therefore change the window and your period. Things like diet, sleep patterns, illness, some medications, stress. For example, one month I had a terrible UTI and had to take antibiotics. I did not ovulate until the day after I stopped the antibiotics and was well again - some five days after I might have "predicted" I would ovulate on my otherwise regular cycle. Not telling women this seems like it might lead to way more stress than the app is offering to counter.

Two German exports are currently encouraging body literacy - one is the Berlin-based app Clue and another is a movie released last month, Wetlands. Whatever you think of the protagonist Helen, she is extremely body literate, making observations about her cervical mucus and her menstrual blood throughout the book and the film adaptation. I came across the book when I was coming off the Pill after ten years and it was perfect timing as it introduced me to the reality of the fertile body - with all of its secretions - in a humorous and challenging way. The film begins with Helen discussing the changes in her cervical mucus as she uses the bathroom.

Helen gets herself sterilized in her late teens and so she does not need to monitor her body to know when she is fertile. However, she knows that these bodily fluids, how they appear and when they appear, can provide indication of your overall health, regardless. At first she worries that her cervical mucus is a sign of an infection she's picked up from her body experimentation - something a lot of women are led to think in their teens and twenties. Her doctor lets her know that's not the case and it's normal. When she reads up about it alone she finds that normal cervical secretions are the reason women are told to wear perfumed panty liners and douche every day. However, she reports, joyfully, that this is the wrong message:

"It was the result of a healthy, very active, slime-producing mucous membrane."

Clue does not present itself as a means to optimize your chances of getting pregnant, like Glow, or a means by which you might avoid pregnancy either, but rather as a health app. In Clue, cervical mucus is just called "fluid" and that fluid comes in four consistencies to choose from. The site tells users to learn more from the book 'Taking Charge of Your Fertility' before trying to interpret their fluid.

Both Clue and Wetlands promote the idea of communication between a woman and her body, rather than domination or management. The discussion around the Apple Health app makes management the primary goal of monitoring menstrual metrics, which suggests it's a woman's responsibility to keep track of her bodily fluids, but not too intimately, for the sake of avoiding surprises. For The Verge, being able to avoid a stain on your jeans is "revolutionary," but there's more hope for revolution in women seeing they can like, listen to, and learn from their bodies, with or without an app.

The image above illustrates a woman with a red marker crossing off days on a calendar. Thanks TipsTimesAdmin for the photo.

Ellie is a communications, campaigns and prevention worker for a national violence against women charity, she has one baby, one cat and enjoys activism and emoticons. Find her at @elliehutch_

Wait... what now? There was a....herstory reference on the catwalk? Shut. The. Front. Door.

I'm confused. What with Beyoncé donning the leotard of power©, Taylor Swift 'coming out' as a feminist, Emma Watson's okbutnotexactlygroundbreaking call to not-arms and now this, feminism is mainstream.

ilovefeminism.jpgA version of feminism anyway. Whilst it is awesome to hear women publicly use the word feminism in a positive way, it's also not so surprising that it is certain types of women talking about certain types of feminism. What feminism definitely doesn't need is more white privilege.

However, every single one of these women will have started a conversation about feminism, equality and women's rights. We all have to start somewhere - none of us are born with a fully realised and accountable political understanding of the world, nor should we be. No one is a finished product; if we are, then...well, let's all just pack up and go home, because some bright spark is about to end inequality. Clearly, this isn't the case.

The pop version of feminism is many things- and radical is not one of them. It doesn't advocate a structural overhaul, it doesn't examine who gets to speak where, nor does it make connections between mundane, everyday instances of oppression with violence. It situates the individual's personal story as the most important one.

This is really where I am conflicted: yes, it is a version of feminism, and yes, it represents the very privileged, but all of our individual life experiences lead us to the politics we have to begin with. Whether it's the communities we grew up in encouraging us to think about others, whether it's our own experiences of rape and sexual assault, racism or homophobia, or whether it was our mentors at boarding school à la Emma - our world views begin with us.

How and who we are shapes our initiation into a political ideology. The plan is that this initiation leads us to examine our own roles in power and make change. Real, structural, accountable change. This individual initiation becomes problematic when the dialogue of pop feminism is focused on the experiences of some women - when their voices, world views and cultures become the dominant story - and before long the only one. Just as corporate feminism hides the needs of the women who allow some women to lean in - the cleaners, the child carers, the nannies - pop feminism hides the needs of the sweatshop workers who are making those catwalk clothes.

The question is then how do we use this moment of pop feminism for good. Feminism really is everywhere right now and to not pick up on that, or use it to kick start real change would be criminal. We need to find ways in which to present alternative stories and worldviews- to explore issues around privilege, power, and voice.

To use a gross phrase, these are all teachable moments. They can help us to ask those questions and raise these issues. Revolutions don't happen overnight, they are incremental and these teeny tiny baby steps can help start a conversation. Dialogue and discussion are some of the ways in which change happens and using pop feminism as a way to talk about and move the movement might, might just get us somewhere.

The photo is by Jay Morrison and is use under a creative commons licence. The words "I [PICTURE OF A HEART ICON] FEMINISM" are in black block capitals, graffiti on a grey wall.

KAREN O.jpg

As the evenings begin to draw in, I thought we could all do with a dose of disco, courtesy of Queen Diana. What a tune! I was about to state that I can't think of any time that doesn't benefit from a disco injection but, upon reflection, I think that disco is a genre best suited to the city. For me, disco is synonymous with glamour, lights (both big city and disco) and escapism - all things I associate with the big city. Do you agree or do you think disco works just as well when surrounded by trees, lakes and fields?

The second track is by sixteen year-old Billie Marten, from Ripon, North Yorkshire. Sixteen! What a beautiful voice and an incredible track. This was released as a single on 22 September, so you can purchase your own copy now and support this young talent.

Fans of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs may already be aware that front-woman and all-round icon, Karen O, released a solo album entitled Crush Songs, at the beginning of this month. The fourteen tracks represent a stripped-back, lo-fi collection of memories of crushes past. Written and recorded in 2006 and 2007, Karen describes the album as "the soundtrack to what was an ever continuing love crusade". You can read a conversation here between her and Julian Casablancas from The Strokes, who also recently released a solo album, in which they discuss Dirty Dancing, Radiohead and the challenges of song-writing.

As a big fan of electronic music, I often despair at the lack of female artists making this kind of music, compared with the number of men who seem to dominate this particular genre. Helena Hauff is an exception - and an acquired taste. Based in Hamburg, Helena is a DJ and producer of acid, electro and techno tunes. Her unrelenting beats are not for the faint-hearted: this is definitely music to make your ears bleed. If you like this kind of thing - or even if you don't, but fancy exploring the darker and heavier side of electronica - check out this fantastic top ten of Helena's favourite experimental and electro tracks here.

Please click here for your September playlist. You can also view the track-list here.

Enjoy.

The image is a Polaroid picture of Karen O, with her arms crossed across her upper body and her hands and fingers making the universal "rock!" signal. Her eyes are mostly covered by her black bob and she wears a patterned top.

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