Is it too much to ask?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Really, is it too much to ask?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weekly Round-up and Open Thread

by Lusana Taylor // , 9:48 am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weekly Round-up and Open Thread

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

14376696803_ca1f96e4f7_z (1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

9 Badass Feminists Of Faith You Should Know (Buzzfeed)

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did Sandra Bland Die? (Feministing)

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

Changing attitudes towards women (Standard Issue)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A response to Sarah Vine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dress like a scruff to Pride festivals.

Leave your cheating husbands.

Do what makes you happy.

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

Dear Chris,

I am sure you remember me; I am the woman you spent most of a recent gig shouting abuse at. I know your name is Chris because I heard your companion use it when she asked you to leave me alone – you know, just before you stabbed your finger towards her face and told her to ‘shut it’. What a charming date you must be.

take that manchester largeYou seemed to have a very different understanding of what took place compared to me, so here’s what actually happened. We were all there to see Take That, a gig that had cost everyone a lot of money to attend. I had taken my sister for her birthday and, although I am not a fan, I was genuinely enjoying the show. I wanted to watch and to enjoy my sister’s delight.

This was hard to do as you kept intruding your body into my space, occasionally into my actually body. At first I simply thought you had no sense of personal space. However, as the night went on I realised that – for whatever reason – you were deliberately imposing your body on mine. It was very far beyond the normal contact at a busy gig. When I stood, you stood, and then you carefully moved in front of me so I couldn’t see. When I sat, you sat and then lent over the armrest until your elbow was in my side or deliberately jabbing into my breast, and your shoulder was forcibly squashing me. It was far beyond what was normal at a crowded gig; you were clearly enjoying imposing yourself physically onto me.

I don’t think you expected me to challenge you. Normally I wouldn’t give you any reaction, normally I would move away. But this was a sell-out gig and there was nowhere for me to move to. I could ignore you and spend an uncomfortable evening pretending you weren’t aggressively targeting me, or I could challenge you. I chose the latter and politely informed you that you were making me uncomfortable. I asked you to stop.

Your outrage that I had dared address your behaviour was instant. You told me I had been trying to get your attention; you told me that I clearly love to seek out drama. When I ignored you, you called me a cunt and then a dyke. Bizarrely, you were keen to let me know that the woman you were with was not your partner – another thread to the confusing knot of your motivation. You watched me relentlessly for the rest of the gig, purposefully craning your head so that I could not mistake your scrutiny.

I asked you to stop, several times. I fetched security and you promised to stop. The women behind us told you to leave me alone and you yelled that women were ganging up on you, you managed to look as though you genuinely felt victimised. What a strange world you live in, where you feel like a victim when women ask that you stop screaming obscenities at them.

Then you moved through all the relentless clichés of the misogynist. You looked sympathetic and asked if I was ‘alright’, literally shaking with rage when I ignored you. You tried to spill your beer on me, although it rather beautifully simply slopped back onto you. You told me I should ‘smile more’. When I continued to ignore you, you screamed ‘fuck you’ into my face. At that point, I finally lost my temper and threw your stupid hat into the puddle of spilt beer. That felt good, although I would rather have not engaged with you, rather not fed your conviction that you had any right to my time and attention. But there is only so much abuse I felt able to take without retaliating.

I don’t fully understand your motivations that night, although I recognise the unpleasant strains of misogyny, bullying and insecurity that made you so desperate to ruin the evening of a complete stranger. I had not offended you; I hadn’t interacted with at all you until you forced yourself on my notice. It seemed to me that the sight of a woman out enjoying herself was some sort of affront to you.

But I want you to know that I recognise you, you nasty little man. You are weak. I think you try to intimidate women because it makes you feel strong. Well, you did not intimidate me, my evening was not about your intrusion; it was about treating my disabled sister to a band she had always wanted to see. However, I wanted to write this letter to you and to men like you, to tell you that the world has changed and is changing more, and there is no place in it for you. Oh, and to say ‘fuck you’. Yeah, fuck you.

All the best,
Felicity

Felicity Hannah is a freelance journalist and can be found tweeting @felicityhannah

Image attribution: Photo by Kmeron, used under Creative Commons license. None of the people mentioned in this article are pictured here.

The government has just launched a consultation around the gender pay gap. The main topic of this is around its commitment to compel organisations with 250 or more employees to publish information on gender pay gaps within their business.

I wrote about Think, Act, Report 11 months ago; as I’m sure you’ll recall, this is a well-meaning but rather limp government scheme that nicely asks businesses if they wouldn’t mind sharing their pay data. Unsurprisingly, businesses tended to think they would mind: at the time I was writing, 200 companies had signed up in principle but only four had actually reported anything, with only two publishing things that were usefully detailed.

That makes a lot of sense. It could be that employers genuinely think there isn’t a problem in their particular organisation. A well-known cognitive bias leads us to tend to believe we are better than average – smarter, funnier, better at driving and so on. Yet the law of averages dictates that we can’t all be better than each other. If there’s a pay gap, then there are an awful lot of employers out there who must be instigated. However, if they don’t actually know this, then they might think the exercise is pointless: why spend time and resources on something so unnecessary?

Less charitably, other employers will be calculating the risk and working out that any pay gap will look bad – both externally, from a PR perspective, and internally, with all those angry women suddenly wanting to be paid reasonably. (I acknowledge that in some instances, it might be angry men – it just will be women statistically more often. Because we’re predisposed to being angrier because of hormones. Oh no, sorry, because we earn less.)

There’s a small proportion of businesses who might be so confident in their equality that they will voluntarily go through with it and recognise that visibly paying equally could be quite the draw. But as seems to be the case, the vast majority will avoid putting their heads above the parapet.

Therefore, I’m very pleased that this might be moving from an optional thing to something that larger businesses must comply with. It’s the only way we’re going to get data – and detailed data is very useful for understanding phenomena like pay gaps. Beyond that, publishing will mean that businesses are under scrutiny; addressing the pay gap within will become a priority as opposed to something that’s not even being discussed. Whether that means equalising pay grades, being more proactive about searching for women to fill higher positions or supporting women as they continue in their careers, I welcome this.

If you, too, welcome this, then it’s worth filling in the consultation before it closes on 6 September. Some of the questions are kind of strange, but it’s there for individuals and organisations to complete and conceptually will feed into the next stage of developing these regulations.

Responses really matter, because you can be sure that there will be negative ones. In fact, if anybody reading this is in a position to fill in as part of an organisation, that’s definitely worth doing, because I’d guess that on the whole that group will be a bit more negative, so any positivity will go a long way.

Finally, if you are reading this and are somebody in a position to get the ball rolling on an equal pay audit where you work, then do it before this becomes compulsory – it’ll look a lot more impressive.

The photo is by Kevan and is shared under a creative commons licence. It shows a train platform after snowfall; the yellow words “Mind the” are visible but the rest is covered by a light covering of snow. The tracks can also be seen, completely covered in snow.

Barely a week goes by lately it seems without senior doctors brandishing a set of doom-laden fertility statistics at young women. In May, consultant gynaecologist Professor Geeta Nargund warned women in their late twenties and early thirties that if they didn’t get pregnant soon then “shock, agony and regret” would be the order of the day (according to the Daily Mail, at least). Then last week, the Telegraph reported the news that doctors have told us to conceive or freeze our eggs by the time we’re 35, in light of a major study showing that fertility falls off a “cliff edge” in the years that follow.

We can ridicule the hyperbole as much as we like, and bemoan till the (ever-fertile) cows come home the notion that pressures on young women to conceive can drive some of us to define our worth in stark and limited terms. But when it comes to resisting this pressure, we often lose confidence in our own convictions. Deciding not to have children, or having resolved to decide later, are choices that we’re challenged on again and again. What are seldom challenged, however, are the reasons behind the perceived desire that we should have to produce children. Thinking critically about why we succumb to these pressures can help us recalibrate the whole debate.

A need to replicate ourselves
The idea that when we die we will leave nothing behind is one that haunts most of us, irrespective of gender. Driven in large part by our egos, we convince ourselves of the need to reproduce in order that there will be something left to justify our existence. The Buddhist idea that humans created God because of a deep-seated fear of disappearing can be applied to having children too- we struggle to reconcile ourselves to the idea of leaving without a trace. Yet this yearning is not resolved by the birth of a child. Our fear will continue to rear its head as we start thinking about siblings, then grandchildren. The only way to deal with this yearning is to radically accept that it cannot be satisfied, and that we can only validate our existence – if that in itself is ever possible – by finding meaning in the actions we engage in in the present moment.

Fear of loneliness
Loneliness, similarly, is a mental and social construct, and one that is too bound up with the absence or presence of a partner and children. Not having children can give us the space to cultivate and renew friendships, find ways of making meaningful connections with the world and those in it, and – perhaps most importantly – reconnect with ourselves, and what we can do with the space and time we have.

Many women find that the nature of their relationships with their closest friends changes when these friends start having children, most notably because their social lives start to revolve around birthday parties, school fetes and other child-related events. Not to mention the endless conversations that centre around child development milestones. Feeling ‘left behind’ is something that certainly warrants empathy. Yet we all have it within us to make new friends, those who are perhaps younger, or who do not buy into a value system that defines women by their child-producing and rearing capabilities.

Pleasing our families
Women in doctors waiting roomOne of the reasons the Geeta Nargunds of this world still have so much clout is because our family members act as their mouthpiece. Simply asking whether you’re single can trail a host of unvoiced criticisms in its wake. “She’s 28 and still single? Then how the heck is she going to find a man, work at this dream job she keeps banging on about long enough to qualify for maternity pay AND have a baby before her ovaries freeze over?”

Finding our place within the family is difficult when those we are most likely to identify with (and those querying our life choices) are usually mothers, and the pressure can be hard to resist. Faced with confidence and conviction however, relatives will eventually accept our choices. Dumbledore was right when he told Neville Longbottom that it’s harder to stand up to your friends than it is your enemies. He obviously knew what it was like for childless women dealing with family members who won’t stop talking about your oestrogen levels over Christmas dinner.

Rosie Driffill is a freelance writer specialising in mental health, language, psychology and sustainable living. She writes regular pieces for the Guardian and Wanderlust and tweets at @RosieDriffill

Image attribution: Eric Lewis, used under Creative Commons license.

Weekly Round-Up and Open Thread

by Lusana Taylor // 13 July 2015, 2:33 pm

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This week’s round-up includes everything from Facebook’s new feminist-friendly logo to sexism within the publishing industry! If you’d like to comment on one of the issues covered or share another article that we haven’t included, feel free to get involved in the comments section below or on Facebook/Twitter.

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

Just don’t do it (Language: A Feminist Guide)

Summary by DH Kelly: “This blog post is regarding an Economist article, widely shared on Social Media about how women use the word ‘just’ too much and to their detriment in business. The post is a debunking of all that ‘If only women used the right language, they’d be treated equally’ nonsense.”

Sara Pascoe: ‘There are certain things I’ve done that are just horrible’ (The Guardian)

From the article: “She’s super-endearing onstage: intelligent, allergic to cliche, delightfully honest about the tangle of principle and prejudice we get into when trying to make ourselves and the world better. Which is what her shows do. They’re not trivial: they’re self-searching, outspoken and feminist. She’s in the vanguard – with Josie Long, Bridget Christieand others – of a generation of women now making the running in UK standup.”

How We Changed the Facebook Friends Icon (Medium)

From the article: “Facebook headquarters is an amazing place. The snacks are free, the sun always shines and everyone is full of the best intentions. During my first week I encountered hundreds of people earnestly trying to make the world a better place. I also foresaw how easy it would be to adjust to this new normal and lose perspective.”

Doing it their way (Arts Professional)

From the article: “Are female theatre directors in the UK successful because they followed the linear, patriarchal route – or did they do it their own way, asks Amy Golding.”

Joanne Harris highlights sexism in the publishing industry in string of tweets (The Telegraph)

From the article: “The bestselling author of the Chocolat series has given a troubling insight into life as a female author.”

Madeline Stuart: Down’s Syndrome model lands two modelling jobs in a week (The Independent)

Watch your language when talking about autism (The Conversation)

The image is entitled ‘Spring Speaks’ and is used under creative commons license with thanks to Aimée Wheaton. It is a painting depicting a person in profile. The person has dark hair which hangs down across one eye, leaving only part of the eye and eyebrow visible. The person’s nose is pierced. A large yellow butterfly appears to rest on top of their head alongside numerous smaller butterflies, painted in various colours. The background image is of faded green foliage. From between the person’s closed lips what looks to be flower petals in light purple emerge in a stream.

The editor rotates

by Editor // 8 July 2015, 6:13 pm

ferris wheelFor those of you who haven’t committed the structure and processes of the site to memory, for the last couple of years we have instigated a rotating editor system – rather than having one person as constant editor of the site, we rotate among the team, so a new person comes into the position every six to twelve months. It’s been a little over a year since Helen handed over the editorship of The F-Word to me. Now it’s my turn to hand over to the next rotating editor: Ania!

While Ania will continue to edit the film section of The F-Word, she’ll now also be overseeing the running of the site. She’s fantastic and I’m really pleased to pass the role onto her.

As for me, I’ll continue to edit the theatre and arts sections, as I have done since 2012, and will hopefully have a bit more time to blog myself!

Please join me in welcoming Ania as rotating editor and wishing her all the best.

Megan

The image shows a ferris wheel against a blue sky with a white fluffy cloud in it. Because we’re rotating and it’s symbolic. Photo by Karen Kleis and used under a creative commons licence.

Weekly Round-Up and Open Thread

by Lusana Taylor // 6 July 2015, 9:02 pm

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This week’s round-up wouldn’t have been complete without links to some commentary on Ruby Rose and, of course, Rihanna’s new music video! If you’d like to comment on one of the issues covered or share another article that we haven’t included, feel free to get involved in the comments section below or on Facebook/Twitter.

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

Why we should think twice before idealizing Ruby Rose (Let’s Queer Things Up!!)

Age appropriate, ageism and female sexuality: Is Madonna still blazing trails? (Sensualist Extraordinaire)

Mysterious Islamic Tribe Where Women Have Sex With Different Men, Don’t Wear A Veil And Own Property (Peace Ben Williams)

A Girl Scout Group Returned a $100,000 Gift for a Great Reason (Ms.)

Who is Bree Newsome? Why the woman who took down the Confederate flag became an activist (Washington Post)

Farewell to America (The Guardian)

Rihanna’s success is inspiring – but her new video is violently misogynist (New Statesman)

From the article: “I find it interesting that she didn’t go after her accountant who screwed her over. Instead, she tortured his innocent girlfriend, making her pay for his carelessness and mistakes. What message that does send out to the young girls like my sister, teenage girls and young women who will internalise the misogyny in this video? That it’s OK to put a woman under so much intense torture but allow men to go free? That’s certainly the message that I got – that women are weak and they can pay for their man’s bullshit and be the ones held accountable.”

Parenthood after loss (Paiwings)

The Politics Of Hair Removal For Women Of Color (Thought Catalog)

Let’s talk about Rihanna’s video (New Statesman)

How I became a feminist: My origin story and the importance of meltdowns (Medium)

Political correctness is the best thing that’s happened to comedy (Chortle)

Forget EL James, let’s have some real dirty fiction (The Guardian)

This Is What Rihanna’s BBHMM Video Says About Black Women, White Women and Feminism (Black Girl Dangerous)

From the article: “But here’s what white feminists don’t get (and what has them fucked up): black women often see white women as the same as white men. The harm done to us by white men and white women isn’t vastly different to many of us.”

In praise of Sandi Toksvig (Chortle)

Love or Hate Him, Kanye’s Headlining Gig at Glastonbury illustrated Hip-Hop’s Uneasy Festival Alliance (Media Diversified)

I will not tell girls not to walk alone. I will not tell them to be careful (Irish Times)

Why you should stop waving the rainbow flag on Facebook (Washington Post)

Is there a systemic gender bias in knowledge production? A look at UK Universities and Think Tanks (F-Word writer and editor, Josephine Tsui at On Think Tanks!)

From the article: “Could it be that because think tanks have more mainstreamed workplace policies, there is less of an institutional gender bias in think tanks? Does this explain why there appear to be more women in think tanks than in academia?”

The image above is used under creative commons license with thanks to Vectorportal. It depicts a black and white drawing which appears to be based on the singer Rihanna. In the picture, Rihanna has short hair brushed over one eye and is looking directly at the viewer.

Light through a white plastic tub filled with white pills.Prescription items worth more than £20 are to carry a label, detailing this cost along with the phrase “funded by the UK taxpayer”. This move proposes to reduce waste, but is very likely to make it harder for vulnerable patients to take the drugs they need.

The cost of drugs is already taken into consideration before they are made available for prescription and doctors are well aware of the cost of the drugs they are prescribing. If a drug is too expensive, or if a prescribing doctor doesn’t believe a patient has a need for such a drug, it simply won’t be used. When there’s a range of drugs which might combat a particular problem, the cheapest drug will generally be tried first.

Drug therapies, when effective, save an awful lot of public money. They help prevent the spread of infectious disease, help keep people in work and better able to function. They reduce accidents, incidents of self-harm, illegal drug-taking and associated criminal activity. They help keep people out of hospital and reduce the need for expensive treatments like transfusions, dialysis and surgery. In purely economic terms, sick people cost “the taxpayer” an awful lot less if they take the appropriate drugs.

The move is being justified by the claim that £300 million pounds is wasted on unused medicine. This figure comes from a 2010 study, called Evaluation of the Scale, Causes and Costs of Waste Medicines and includes the cost of medicines people have in their homes for future use (so not wasted), the cost of medicines which are partly used (so not completely wasted), and then an extra £50 million for “under-reporting”. The biggest reasons this study found for genuine waste were that symptoms cleared up or doctors changed the prescription. While the study makes suggestions about reducing waste, it nowhere suggests or even implies that informing patients of the cost of their drugs would help.

And of course, it wouldn’t. This isn’t really about waste. This is about drawing attention to a made-up problem, creating a scapegoat, namely that people – disabled folk, poor folk and immigrants (why else, “the UK taxpayer”? Did we think the French were funding our statins?) – are using expensive drugs they don’t really need. This administration has been incredibly adept at focussing on the supposed bad behaviour of vulnerable people, with much talk of rewarding those who “Do the right thing”.

And so to these vulnerable people, mostly women, who rely on multiple prescription medicines to stay as well as possible. Guilt is a fairly normal reaction to significant health problems, along with all disasters we have little control over. Sick and elderly people often blame themselves, feel themselves a burden on others and our culture does little to discourage these feelings. Simon Blackwell retweeted the news, adding,

Label will also include the phone number of Dignitas and the phrase “Your son could do with the house, you know.”

Often, people are reluctant to take drugs, in the belief that it’s giving in or wimping out, or even that they don’t deserve to feel better.

My friend Philippa Willitts told how she was made to feel self-conscious about the cost of drugs she was taking,

“Years and years ago, I picked up meds from a chemist and there was a post-it note on one of the packets that said “These are very expensive”. I assume it was some kind of internal message that was supposed to have been removed before I got it but, regardless, I still feel guilty when I take that tablet.”

One time, maybe ten years back, my GP handed me a prescription saying, “You’ve got about ninety quid’s worth today!”

I’m fairly sure this wasn’t a dig; I think he was just remarking about the length of the shopping list – my immune system was particularly weak so I needed medicine for multiple infections, as well as the three or four drugs I usually took.

It is impossible to be blithe about such information. You can feel very lucky that you live in a part of the world where untreated illness and death is not a punishment for being poor. But, if it’s a bad day (and I did feel like a walking pustule when my GP made that remark) you can also think about whether you and your health are money well spent. This happens to people with physical health problems; people with mental ill health, whose personal cost-benefit analysis for taking prescription drugs is often already complex, are even more at risk. Again, most of those affected will be women. The largest group will be poor elderly women.

The only time I’ve ever seen wasted prescription drugs – actually wasted, as opposed to partially used, rejected due to a bad reaction or saved for later – has been with sick elderly relatives on automatic repeat prescriptions where nobody is checking what the patients needs or what they are taking. That’s a problem with systems, not patients. And if money is to be saved, it is by improving systems, not by bullying those who truly have no choice in the matter.

[Image is a photograph of some white pills in a white plastic tub with light shining through the plastic. Photo by me, found on Flickr, used with permission.]

Features and reviews round-up

by Lusana Taylor // 3 July 2015, 11:54 am

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Features & reviews you might have missed from The F-Word in June

This is a round-up to ensure those who follow us via RSS are made aware of all of the articles we post on our website – it’s also an excuse to re-share the many awesome features and reviews from the past month!

The following links are all to articles published during June.

The likeability factor
Do we judge women more harshly than men? Do feminists need to be likable? The Legacy asks difficult questions about gender and social conscience, writes Suzanne Duffy

Real Men are dodging the reality of manhood
Kevin Queer on the Real Men movement, and why hugs and prayer bowls are not going to address problems of patriarchy and power

Black, proud and punk
Amy Squirrell chats about race, punk and DIY culture with Big Joanie, the all-female, black punk band

Feminist apocalypse, now!
Wedaeli Chibelushi is charmed by Jenny Hval’s explicitly (and explicit!) feminist new album Apocalypse, Girl

This film is hmmm…
Holly Millar sees potential in the story at the heart of agnès b.’s debut feature but is disappointed with how it was executed

The delayed appreciation of Delaunay
Striking, colourful and innovative, the work of Sonia Delaunay has been uncelebrated for too long; Kyra Sian reviews the retrospective at Tate Modern

A kinder, gentler Litchfield?
Sasha Garwood follows up on Dawn Kofie’s recap of season two of Orange is the New Black, with the lowdown on the first episode of season three

Electrifying quest
Kat Wootton praises Electricity for its original take on a classic quest narrative and clever stylistic solutions

Orange is the New Black is Back
US women’s prison comedy-drama Orange is the New Black returns to Netflix on 12 June. Before the inevitable back-to-back marathon watching sessions commence, Dawn Kofie provides a recap of season two and considers what might be on the agenda for season three

Military monologues
Mattie Lacey-Davidson finds the seven monologues created from the stories of real US servicewomen intense and impactful, recommending The Lonely Soldier Monologues for its important messages

“I’m in the fucking band!”
Tomboy give it some attitude, says Cazz Blase

Origins: Festival of First Nations (London, 9-24 June)
Sophie Mayer previews the film programme of Origins: Festival of First Nations that celebrates female filmmakers from across the globe, telling the stories of Indigenous women

The image is taken from the review by Kyra Sian and is by Sonia Delaunay. It is used with permission – © Pracusa 2014083. The image depicts Delaunay’s ‘Electric Prisms’ 1913, Davis Museum at Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA, gift of Mr. Theodore Racoosin. A piece of colourful abstract art, with an image made out of circles and lines and a rainbow of colours.

Will the Women’s Equality Party go far enough?

by Guest Blogger // 2 July 2015, 9:46 am

House_of_commonsTilly Grove is a graduate of War Studies blogging about feminism, mental health, fatphobia and more at That Pesky Feminist. She tweets @tillyjean_.

We’re facing another five years of Conservative government, and as women we should be afraid. It was repeatedly reported during the last term that women were hit the hardest by austerity, and as we find ourselves with a proposed £12bn more cuts to welfare in the near future, there’s little reason to expect things will improve.

It’s hard to watch organisations like the Fawcett Society celebrate the fact that there was an increase in women MPs and women party leaders (especially when one of those parties was, briefly, UKIP), when for the most vulnerable it is glaringly obvious that no matter how many women are represented in parliament, the coming years are going to be painful and it is very likely that more people are going to die. It matters not the gender of the person sanctioning benefits, removing funding to domestic violence shelters, falsely assessing disabled people as Fit to Work; the effects will hurt just the same.

Clearly, British politics needs more than just the presence of women in its mainstream parties. It needs something new, something to shake it up. That’s why the news that Sandi Toksvig is leaving BBC Radio 4’s News Quiz to help found the Women’s Equality Party (WEP) has got people excited. Its proposed mission is to ‘achieve equality for women to the benefit of all’; it’s narrow, but they’re not ashamed of that.

Focusing on bringing about gender equality is obviously important. The problem is, however, that whilst women might be oppressed as a gender, we are not all oppressed the same. The WEP wants to focus on equal representation in politics and business, equal opportunity in the educational system, equal pay, equal parenting rights, and ending violence against women. None of these things are objectionable, unless you’re a misogynist. However, with few exceptions, they lay a very specific groundwork that posits navigating the world of business as the most significant threat to women currently. Representation in boardrooms, the pay gap, and the disparity between maternity and paternity leave are being presented as key components of equality. While for some women they undoubtedly are, we must look at the bigger picture.

The WEP says that equality means ‘a more vibrant economy’ and ‘a workforce that draws on the talents of the whole population’. What, then, for the many disabled and/or neuroatypical women, who cannot work and bear the brunt of cuts to benefits and cruel capability assessments, as well as discrimination and the impact of the ‘strivers vs shirkers’ dynamic created by the government itself? What about the women of colour and trans women who experience higher unemployment rates and face lower rates of pay than both white men and women?

Equality should not be about contributing to the economy, but surviving under capitalist patriarchy. For most women, that means far more than smashing the glass ceiling. It means taking into account those who are unemployed and in poverty, it means acknowledging the women who are not in heterosexual marriages, who are not working or even able to work, and it means examining the fact that 91% of single parents are women.

Even tackling violence against women, the most vital of the WEP’s goals, must come from a perspective that is willing to examine the ways women of colour, trans women, queer women, disabled women, poor women and sex workers are all at increased risk. As such, I find it worrying that when I asked the WEP if they could clarify their position on sex work, they simply did not acknowledge the question. Many feminists classify sex work as violence against women in itself, but it is, in my opinion, vital for the well-being of sex workers that it is considered a job first and foremost, with full rights, safe conditions, and fair pay and treatment. The WEP might consider this out of their purview, but I’d consider that an error.

This is the problem with being a party that is avowedly ‘non-partisan’ but seeking to represent a group as large and varied as women: women’s lives and experiences are never non-partisan. They are political, intersectional, and they have already been shown to suffer under a Tory government. Though campaigning for legal change regarding pay and parenting rights may positively impact the lives of some women, and it might be an easier sell to the general public, it will ultimately do very little for the majority. It is a superficial victory. We need a political party willing to shake societal structures to their very core.

Of course, such a party would never be popular in the mainstream. Unfortunately, that’s the point. If we want our feminism to change things, we don’t want it to be palatable. It’s never going to be easy to dismantle oppressive structures, but if we want real equality, we’re going to have to try.

The image used shows people inside the House of Commons and is used under the creative commons license.

CB ii

Hello! Please click here for your June 2015 playlist. You can also view the track-list here.

I hope the sun’s shining where you are? With the fiery ball high in the sky, I’ve chosen some songs that remind me of sunnier climes. Joni Mitchell is synonymous with California, a state long associated with sun, sand and surf. Courtney Barnett’s deadpan genius continues to delight and ‘Dead Fox’ is no exception. She’s from Australia, which also makes her ripe for inclusion in this playlist – the sun shines all the time there, right? ‘Rush Hour’ and ‘Loose Control’ are both from a CD I bought many moons ago called Female Future: Transatlantic, a compilation album of female artists. Along with Northern Ireland and Scotland, I suspect Liverpool suffers from perpetual cloud and rain, sadly, but it’s ‘oop north which means it’s mint and can get away with it. The rest of the tracks don’t need any further introduction. Enjoy.


The image shows Courtney Barnett, wearing a navy t-shirt with stripes, playing her blue guitar, on stage at Coachella music festival in 2014. She looks badass. Picture by Thomas Hawk, shared under a Creative Commons licence.

Weekly Round-Up & Open Thread

by Lusana Taylor // 29 June 2015, 9:41 pm

5878998097_6091f4d330_zThe news has been pretty depressing recently, but last week provided some joy in the form of America finally legalising same-sex marriage nationwide. It truly is fantastic to see this happening so soon after the Irish referendum result and we’re sure everyone who attended a Pride event at the weekend found it an extra special experience! You can read more about America’s landmark decision in some of the links below.

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.

Supreme Court Ruling Makes Same-Sex Marriage a Right Nationwide (NY Times)

An Interview With @AfAmHistFail (The Toast)

From the article: “One of my favourite Twitter accounts is the frustrating and important @AfAmHistFail, run by an anonymous (for obvious reasons) docent who gives slavery presentations at a historical plantation. She shares the ups and downs of her job, the struggles to keep composure in the face of racist questions and monologues, and the difficulty of puncturing the romanticization of the antebellum South. She was kind enough to answer some questions for us.”

Google Stepping Up To Help Revenge Porn Victims (Bust)

Why I’ll be livetweeting my next period (New Statesman)

I Don’t Want to Be an Excuse for Racist Violence Anymore (New Republic)

From the article: “There is a centuries-old notion that white men must defend, with lethal violence at times, the sexual purity of white women from allegedly predatory black men. And, as we saw yet again after this shooting, it is not merely a relic of America’s hideous racial past.”

Journalist Laurie Penny banned from Facebook for using pseudonym (The Guardian)

Smells Like Teen Spirit: How I Found Myself (And Feminism) By Listening To Nirvana (Bust)

Why I Can’t Forgive Dylann Roof (NY Times)

From the article: “I do not forgive Dylann Roof, a racist terrorist whose name I hate saying or knowing. I have no immediate connection to what happened in Charleston, S.C., last week beyond my humanity and my blackness, but I do not foresee ever forgiving his crimes, and I am wholly at ease with that choice.”

Selfies, sex and body image – the revolution in books for teenage girls (The Guardian)

England’s remarkable story doesn’t end this summer – support them all year round (Eurosport)

Carrie Dunn (who has previously written for the F-Word) suggests you support the England Women’s football team all year round in this Eurosport article. You can read more of her writing HERE.

Is Your Trans Allyship Half-Baked? Here Are 6 Mistakes That Trans Allies Are Still Making (Everyday Feminism)

Abortion Drone Is the Best Drone (Gizmodo)

From the article: “And yes, ‘Abortion Drone’ sounds like the name of an anarchist punk band, but this is the most badass drone aid mission yet.”

In Defense of Casual Romance (PurrVersatility)

The Problem with White Liberals (Media Diversified)

From the article: “But why would I stand alongside anyone who refuses to listen when we speak? This is more important than identity politics. It’s about what people’s identity means in relation to how they are treated. The content of your character should be all that matters? Well, to castigate the admissions policy of safe spaces, rather than focus on why they’re needed, says a lot about the content of one’s character.”

‘Orange Is The New Black’ actress fronted a punk band in the ‘70s (Alternative Press)

Bridget Christie: ‘Feminists never have sex and hate men opening doors for them, even into other dimensions’ (The Guardian)

Gaslighting Is a Common Victim-Blaming Abuse Tactic – Here Are 4 Ways to Recognize It in Your Life (Everyday Feminism)

This Is Why Everyone Cheering Gay Marriage Should Stand With the White House “Heckler” Now (Black Girl Dangerous)

The image is used under creative commons license, with thanks to nathanmac87. It depicts an American flag against the backdrop of blue sky and a green tree, half in shot. Rather than the usual red, the stripes of the flag are all the colours of the rainbow.

Weekly Round-up and open thread

by Lusana Taylor // 22 June 2015, 3:50 pm

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Another week, another round-up and this one involves everything from feminist analyses of Jurassic World to new birth control policies! 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.

Britain’s first forced marriage sentence: a lot more still to do (New Statesman)

Unbound: China’s last ‘lotus feet’ – in pictures (The Guardian)

“Is This Normal?” Crying and Masturbation (Artemisia Femmecock)

From the article: “After I had an orgasm, my muscles would relax and with that would come unstoppable tears. This response was a warning, tell me that I was not okay, a warning I am thankful for …”

Qatar Airways urged to scrap policy allowing it to sack pregnant cabin crew (The Guardian)

The Pro-Choice Movement Has a White Supremacy Problem – And Anti-Choice Advocates Are Using It to Their Advantage (Everyday Feminism)

From the article: “The right wing is successfully exploiting the fact that mainstream feminists often focus on single-issue struggles instead of addressing the overarching and intersecting forms of oppression (like race, class, gender, and ability) that are constantly at play.”

Matt Haig ‘crucified’ on Twitter for planning book about masculinity (The Guardian)

For One Year, This Publisher Will Only Release Books By Women (Huffington Post)

From the article: “Let 2018, the centennial anniversary of women’s suffrage in the U.K., be a Year of Publishing Women.”

A black trans woman explains changing gender vs. changing race (Upworthy)

Morning-after pill made officially available to girls under 16 (The Guardian)

“Jurassic World’s” prehistoric obsession with preserving traditional motherhood (Quartz)

Straight talking Sadia Azmat takes us through what it is like to be a modern Muslim woman living in Britain (BBC iPlayer)

The Charleston shooter killed mostly black women. This wasn’t about ‘rape’ (The Guardian)

From the article: “The motivation for killing six women and three men at church wasn’t that white women are inviolable. It must have been that black women are disposable.”

The image is used with thanks to Sarah Mirk on Flickr. It’s entitled “Hooray for birth control” and depicts ten white pills fashioned into a smiley face with two eyes and a mouth. The pills appear alongside a cut-out paper speech bubble which reads “YAY!”

We saw those Protein World adverts and how women across Britain fought back. We know that eating one slice of cake isn’t going to turn us into a blimp, and, even if it did, we know we should love our bodies no matter what. But sometimes, it’s not that easy. Sometimes, the photoshopped and airbrushed images of the “perfect” female body still sit uncomfortably in the back of your brain, no matter how hard you try to kick them out.

size tags largeIt gets especially bad every year just before summer. Those awful yellow and black billboards might have deserved the backlash, but it’s not just Protein World who are guilty. So-called “women’s magazines” feature more and more images of celebrities in bikinis with every fault and flaw ruthlessly called out. Such-and-such has “really let herself go”. How dare so-and-so bare those flabby thighs? In a world where such negative reporting assaults us from every direction, is it any wonder that depression and eating disorders in young girls are on a steady increase? When we as women are consistently told we are not good enough, sometimes we start to believe it.

B-eat, the UK’s leading eating disorder charity, conducted a survey in 2012 in which they found that 86% of participants said that bullying contributed to their eating disorder. In my North London all-girls school canteen, there was no name calling or body shaming. No one ever told me I was eating the wrong thing or that my body wasn’t up to scratch. But teenage girls can be craftier than that. I sat by as long as I could, eating curry with rice, or fish and chips, while my best friends nibbled on cucumber slices and sipped diet cola. I was determined not to give in to their mind games, to stay healthy and happy despite the actions of those around me. I almost managed to stay above it all. Almost.

The cult of anorexia was nigh on inescapable. We used to go out for lunch together, but now my friends traipsed down to the bike shed to smoke an appetite-quenching cigarette. They requested cushions in exams because their backsides were too bony to comfortably sit in a standard chair for 2 hours. I stared at myself in the bathroom mirror, pinching the bits of my body that cushion my hip bones. They wore jeans that highlighted the gap between their thighs and updated their MyFitnessPal apps. I cried myself to sleep, again. I was far from overweight, lived in a beautiful house with a loving family and had just secured a place at one of America’s top universities. And still, I felt like a failure.

My school did nothing. We had talks on how to avoid being raped, what to do if we found ourselves pregnant against our wishes and how to deal with the stress of A levels, but no-one taught us what to do when you start wanting to take a machete to your body to carve off the excess flesh. In a private girls’ school going through a transitional period, the people at the top of the pyramid have bigger things to worry about than the mental well-being of the students. The pressure on us to achieve top grades and maintain the league table position was immense and crushing, and we took it out on our bodies.

Would it have been different at a mixed school? Perhaps. No teen wants to be the girl obsessing over her food in front of guys scarfing down burgers and chips. With hormones going wild, we would have had distraction from ourselves surrounding us at all times, and far less mental energy to expend on the calorie count of a plate of peas. Single-sex environments can be wonderful, safe, affirming places, but combine them with inordinate amounts of pressure from all angles and a certain level of privilege and they become a breeding ground of insecurity and competition.

We tend to blame the fashion industry and media in general for girls with a negative body image, and I certainly believe that the stream of stick thin women paraded as the ideal doesn’t help. However, we have to take some responsibility ourselves. It’s hard enough to grow up as a woman in a society that pretends to have left patriarchy in the dust, so let’s not make it worse. Gender equality is impossible if we women are still at war among ourselves, still engaged in ugly competition, still running hate campaigns against each other. We must support each other and help each other to love our bodies, on and off the beach.

Zoe Margaro Guttenplan grew up in London and is currently studying at Columbia University in the city of New York. Zoe is also in the middle of a larger project about British girls in America.

Image by Ralph Aitchinger, used under Creative Commons license.

Welcome to our newest editors!

by Editor // 18 June 2015, 9:25 am

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I’m pleased to welcome two people to The F-Word team: Gemma Fraser, our new fiction editor, and Lissy Lovett, our new comedy editor.

I’ll let them introduce themselves in their own words – please say hello!

GemmaFraser1Gemma Fraser – fiction editor
Gemma Fraser is a writer and editor from Lancashire, currently living in the Isle of Man. She is also a classical soprano, compulsive book-buyer, geeky fangirl, pinko-lefty-bleeding-heart-liberal and dog lover. She started out at The F-Word blogging about disability and is now delighted to be able to harp on incessantly about books in her role as Fiction Editor.

Like roughly 93% of the population she is Working On Her Novel when she isn’t distracting herself by getting angry about things on Twitter. Find her here: @gamineandchips

LissyLissy Lovett – comedy editor
Q: How many feminists does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: That’s not funny!
Lissy Lovett works in the arts and lives in South London. She likes comedy, theatre, reality television, sewing, beer, Norwich City Football Club, the Streatham Ice Hockey teams and feminism. From time to time she tweets @lissylovett.

You can contact them at fiction@thefword.org.uk or comedy@thefword.org.uk (I’ll let you work out who’s who).

To see the rest of the team, click here.

The images show photos of the new editors. The image that appears on the homepage associated with this article shows two feet in black shoes, standing facing a mat outdoors. It is by christine592 and used under a creative commons licence.

Climbing trees by Manuel SanvictoresThe rise of the latest wave of the feminist movement coupled with calls for greater gender equality have started to have a ripple effect across the culture. Gender roles in the workplace and at the home are shifting dramatically and providing a larger wealth of options and freedom than ever before. This also holds true for children. Fewer parents are so quick to paint their child into a box early on with the traditional and outdated “blue for boys, pink for girls” idea that has dominated the landscape over the past few decades.

You might recall this viral video of a young girl in the toy section of a local store who becomes fed up by her lack of options when it comes to playthings—and she brings up some good points. Why is it that girls are forced to buy pink products and boys are encouraged to buy blue? The video sparked an outcry over the hyper-gendered options that society offered for boys and girls in regards to both retail and education. It also led to a new effort for unisex items that can simply be enjoyed by anyone. American telecommunications giant Verizon even did an ad campaign specifically dealing with reinforcing stereotypical gender roles on impressionable children and how it can hinder growth and limit options later in life by implying that they themselves are limited in their treatment or choices simply because of gender.

Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell of The Atlantic reported on how many of these movements are reminiscent of a similar trend in the 1970s and ’80s toward gender-neutrality. It was a bit more extreme and in-your-face than the softer side of unisex seen today. “It was only in the 1980s that the self-actualizing lessons of the seminal children’s book (and celebrity-narrated LP) “Free to Be … You and Me” succumbed to the industrial Princess Complex, a trend that is just now beginning to correct itself,” Chrisman-Campbell wrote. And the newly dubbed “agender” trend continues to pick up speed.

One company that is spearheading this trend in the clothing sphere is Tootsa MacGinty. According to The Independent, the label was inspired by the unisex fashion of the 1970s. “They’re just children’s clothes for children,” company founder and designer Kate Pietrasik said, reflecting the attitudes of many parents of the new generation. The aim is simply provide a utilitarian solution for outfitting children that does not put certain colors or themes off-limits simply because of gender. It’s worth mentioning that MacGinty’s novel approach to childrenswear seems to be paying off. It just took home an award in the category from the UK Fashion and Textile Association (UKFT) and continues to inspire other companies to move in a similar direction with their marketing.

And this trend thankfully shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. More companies are beginning to embrace agender fashion and both parents and children are thrilled by the wealth of options that are opened for their kids (and their wardrobes). The movement is less about feminism per se and instead more about choice. We can use that choice not to restrict children to one palette or set of interests. There are simply too many colours in the world, and amazing things to do, that it feels criminal to limit the options of what our children can like or wear. That’s especially true when it comes to something as superfluous as reds, blues, yellows, pinks, and purples defining something as personal and diverse as gender identity.

Is it fair that a child as young as 9 should even consider a larger social implication for wearing a pink shirt? Society and parents are the ones that reinforce these ideas with our children, and we have the power to fix them. Embracing agender fashion is one way for caring parents to take a step in the right direction when it comes to raising their children today.

Sara Upton is a freelance writer with a strong personal interest in gender equality. Like her role model, Hillary Clinton, she believes there should be “no ceilings” for girls who want to pursue their passions. When she’s not writing she’s usually spending time with her dogs or training for her next triathlon.

Photo of girl and boy climbing a tree by Manuel Sanvictores. Image used under Creative Commons licence.

My public body

by Guest Blogger // 15 June 2015, 7:54 pm

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ScalesSephy Hallow is a copywriter and novelist. She has previously written on feminist politics for Sex and Censorship and her own blog, Sex and Sexability. She is currently seeking representation for her first novel.

As a woman, feminist and internet user, there are certain things I have sadly become used to over the years when it comes to the public nature of the female body. Our media breaks down successful women into collections of scrutinized minutiae, selling us on the idea that cellulite and split ends should mean far more to a woman than a degree, a career, a passion or purpose in life that does not revolve around aesthetic improvement. Because I started changing my body, it became a matter of public discussion.

I decided to lose weight a while ago, for the sake of my health. For the most part, it was a positive step, but it brought with it some unexpected downsides. Namely, that my decision, whilst still applauded, was being heavily scrutinized by the people around me.

I realise that with any major change – a new haircut, a job offer, a change in relationship status – friends are bound to want to chip in, show their support, and otherwise keep up to date with the changes in your life. I’m not talking about everyday conversations and comments. What made me think twice was the way it was assumed, by so many people, that I had self-esteem issues, or worse, an eating disorder. And worse still, my boyfriend who, according to medical advice, was for a long time underweight, never received similar scrutiny.

I am a twenty-six year old woman with a bachelor’s degree, a steady relationship and a career. I write articles for a living, wrote a novel last year, and plan on doing a master’s degree. I am a smart, capable woman. I have also been losing weight at an average rate of half a pound a week. Everything I am doing is sensible and healthy, based on eating more vegetables and less crap. So why is it that my friends, family, and even my doctor, want to focus on my apparent fragile self-esteem and the potential for a controlled diet to suddenly spiral into anorexia?

I am glad that there is a heightened awareness of eating disorders, and that people are looking out for the warning signs. Yet, whilst it is important to look out for anorexia in our society, being a woman who is deliberately losing weight should not be thought of as an immediate cause for concern – and being female shouldn’t be considered a symptom.

When I discussed my weight loss with friends, I noticed two things. Firstly, the same platitudes and concerns over and over: “You look great! You don’t need to lose weight. Are you doing this safely?” Second was the reaction to my boyfriend’s weight gain – namely, uncomfortable, awkward silence. My boyfriend was present for these conversations; he was often the one raising the issue of deliberate weight gain himself. Having suffered from dizziness and low blood pressure for a while due to being underweight, he was deliberately increasing his body size in a healthy way, and wanted to share the news with friends. But when it came to the subject of a man’s body, the room went oddly quiet. It was that awkward silence you hear when someone over-shares about their sex life; it was the silence that says, that stuff’s private.

It’s hard to find comparative things people have said about my boyfriend’s weight gain – because they never say anything. Nobody has ever asked if he lifts weights safely, or about the impact of protein powders. No one ever checked he was gaining “for the right reasons”, or reassured him he didn’t need any more muscle. When my boyfriend was underweight, no one questioned his health or habits – not even when he passed out after giving blood. He had fallen below the safe weight limit for donors without realising it, but neither friends, family nor medical professionals said a word. He was an adult; he was in charge of his choices; it wasn’t their place to pry.

I’ve known for a long time that my body is considered a public object; I am begrudgingly aware that female bodies are, from magazines to office gossip, subjects of public discourse. What I didn’t realise was how private men’s bodies are considered by comparison, or just how envious I would feel of that privilege.

I look forward to a day when it is equally rude to comment on a woman’s choices over her body as it is a man’s.

The image used shows an old set of measuring scales and is used under the Creative Commons license.

11429818_10153447796434026_7498881270929199014_n
Welcome to this week’s round-up and sorry to anyone who noticed that there wasn’t one last week. The F-Word has been busy migrating and, as is always the case with these things, there were a few little technical hitches along the way. Still, everything is sorted and we’re now all ready to post from our shiny new platform!

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.

You Ain’t the ONLY Woman: The White Cis Grasp on Womanhood Is Failing (Ebony)

The school-to-prison pipeline affects girls of color, but reform efforts pass them by (The Guardian CiF)

Domestic abuse could not be further from gender neutral. Wake up Britain (The Telegraph)

History Has Been Made. Female Genital Mutilation Banned In Nigeria (A Plus)

Prisons that withhold menstrual pads humiliate women and violate basic rights (The Guardian CiF)

The Huge Problem With the Rachel Dolezal Scandal That Everyone Needs to Know (Mic)

When I lost my hands making flatscreens I can’t afford, nobody would help me (The Guardian CiF)

Surfing, single motherhood and sexual betrayal: Agatha Christie should be a feminist icon (The Telegraph)

Rebecca Minnock ‘could face strict curbs’ on access to returned son (The Guardian)

Why Comparing Rachel Dolezal To Caitlyn Jenner Is Detrimental To Both Trans And Racial Progress (Huffington Post)

As A Black Lesbian, Queerness Is Not Made In My Image (Buzzfeed)

Laverne Cox: ‘Now I have the money to feminise my face I don’t want to. I’m happy that this is the face God gave me’ (The Guardian)

The image is used with the permission of A.Taylor. The photo shows a number of plants and flowering shrubs sitting on a window sill in pots of various shapes and sizes; there are pink geraniums, herbs growing in silver containers labelled ‘chives’ and ‘parsley’, sunflower shoots just starting to poke through in brown pots, as well as two cacti. The scene outside the window is of a patioed garden and a shed.

pounds 400x300The New Collective recently made the news as most of the members had their British visa applications refused. I can’t find any stats relating to visa refusals (please comment if you know of any!) but this in itself seems like it probably happens a lot. Why is this instance particularly notable?

The group of women are artists from Georgia, invited to perform at FLARE15, an international theatre festival taking place in July in Manchester. They are one of 23 groups selected out of over 300 applicants and planned to perform a piece about the stories of female immigrants in England. The trouble is the UK doesn’t think this is reason enough to visit the country.

More specifically, the decision-maker has deemed the financial situation of the group members to be such that they are risky. As low-earners, how will they afford to stay in the UK? And how will they resist the obvious temptation of remaining beyond their official welcome?

Here’s a shocking fact: the arts don’t pay well. The vast majority of people trying to make a living through various art forms are not raking in the cash; many are unable to support themselves without taking on other jobs (which, in the UK, might include part-time work and zero hours contracts that both tend to lead to earning less than an equivalent full-time contracted worker). It is therefore of very little surprise to find that The New Collective are of limited means.

It’s also completely unsurprising that they would be enthusiastic about being successful in their endeavours to perform at an international festival in the UK. With their official invitations, their intent is about as clear as it can be. The fact that they have been denied, despite the paper trail demonstrating the context of their travel, is a very worrying indication for the state of the UK’s concerns around immigration.

While the specific plight of this group has had attention called to it (and you can sign the Change petition here), it’s worth thinking about what this means more broadly. Bear in mind this relates to visa applications – we’re not even talking about residency or citizenship. The public political discourse around immigration has reached such a frenzied point that temporary visits are subject to suspicion and scrutiny that do not befit a liberal, progressive state.

In this instance, the group were planning to address issues for women immigrants in England. Insofar as one of the purposes of art is to expose and explain important truths, it is imperative for pieces to reflect the diverse experiences we have. This example is particularly pertinent, but even more generally – isn’t it valuable to see perspectives from different places, whatever they concern? Presumably the array of international festivals indicates that a not insignificant proportion think so. However, in FLARE15’s case, The New Collective were to be the only group from outside the EU. Those with EU passports have an easier time getting visas (such as the one member of the group from Germany), so we’re likely to see the arts in the UK more restricted to this zone – and following a Brexit, who knows who will be deemed visa-viable? Meanwhile, the application result has done little to strengthen international relations; The New Collective vent their frustration on social media, explaining how they feel treated like “criminals” and “dirty” because they are “not appropriately rich”.

This issue stretches beyond the arts. If visitors need to prove a certain level of income to get the Real Tourist stamp, the whole process takes on an elitist-capitalist aura. Travelling is not without its costs, so it is inevitable that visitors are already more likely to be better off, but given that the system does not seem to appreciate nuance or context, a swathe of people are unceremoniously cut off from our shores. This will disproportionately affect women, who earn less than men all over the world, as well as often being less likely to be in paid employment. This results in gaps in other immigration statistics: it is likely to be a factor relating to disproportionately low asylum claims from women and when the £35,000 threshold starts to apply from next year, people earning under that amount won’t be able to settle in the UK.

The immigration debate will rumble on indefinitely. In the meantime, we need to be aware of the unequal, unjust and mutually harmful results of policy driven by fear.

The image is by Pulga Haza and is used under a creative commons licence. It shows five £1 coins scattered on a wooden table, zoomed in. The Queen’s head is visible on the closest coin, with the letters “UTAMEN” showing round the edge of the coin. Other details are out of focus.

HondurasAspiring nomad and culture vulture, Issy Houston is 19 and has spent the last year living and working in Honduras with Project Trust. Issy is fascinated by the reasons behind gender dynamics in different cultures.

I hold my breath and half close my eyes. Maybe if I can’t see them, they won’t see me. When I smell hot rubber of the auto repair shop in town my stomach turns and I wince, ready for the harassing kisses, vulgar leers and lusting hands of men. I veer to the other side of the pavement, but today, silence. Relieved, I raise my head again and continue to walk until I felt the looming presence of a rattling motorbike slowing down just by my shoulder. My eyes flit across not wanting to make eye contact. What I saw was far more perverse than the goggling eyes. The hand, the unzipped jeans, the repulsion. Locking my eyes straight ahead, I waited it out, in disbelief until the bike had spluttered away and I was left with the sinister, mingling taste of dust and disgust.

This everyday hassle is just one end of the spectrum of violence in Honduras. In a country where one woman is killed every 18 hours, the most extreme form of gender violence, “femicide” (killings of women that seem to be related to their sex) has been described as a pandemic. Despite this, “The government of Honduras says one thing and does another” said Gladys Lanza from the Women’s Trinunal Against Femicide, “although it talks about its concern for the levels of violence in the country in general, it doesn’t even mention violence against women.” This major blind eye turning can be seen at a local level as 95% of cases are left un-investigated.

I was warned when I first arrived in Honduras, if something happens on the streets, going to the police just isn’t an option. The trend of increasing violence and insecurity has run parallel to the increased militarization of Honduras. The war on drugs has become a war on women as many of the troops put in place to combat drug cartels commit abuses. This cannot be brushed off as the inevitable result of a corrupt Honduran government divorced from the West. The 257% increase of femicide from 2002-2010 occurred just when the U.S. doubled its funding for military and police.

Just as the man in the street feels entitled to whistle, leer, follow and grope knowing there will be zero consequences, this form of institutionalised impunity sends the disturbing message that violence of this kind is acceptable. Rashida Manjoo, representing the United Nations, describes the alarming rates of femicide in the “black triangle” of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to be “emblematic of a culture of hatred against women and a failure of a judicial system to protect them.”

Latino cultures are infamous for being “machista”. This extreme patriarchy where sexism and dominance prevail breeds a growing and tangible hatred towards women. Even in the reactions to progressive social media trends of pro-feminist men using #machoprogre and #machohipster there are traces of this misogyny which is so hard to shake. A man who calls himself a feminist is seen as forward thinking and respectful whilst a female claiming the same beliefs is bitter, angry, a “marimacha loca”.

But this response is not specific to Latino culture. ‘Western’ cultures are often quick to cast judgement on misogyny in cultures other than their own. This ‘othering’ allows them to condemn what they see as ‘barbaric’ behaviour whilst keeping themselves firmly on the moral high ground. But it is not enough to simply dismiss this behaviour as part of a ‘foreign’ culture. Whilst we are busy externalising the issue of violence against women through applying this lazy stereotype to Latin American men we don´t realise that our own corrosive understanding of masculinity is engendering violence at home.

Few words instil such acutely negative reactions in men as “the f-word”. In the case of Poppy Smart, the media backlash which vented against her having reported a group of builders to the police for sexual harassment shows that in Britain, we have not agreed that a woman should have the right to walk down the street wearing whatever she chooses without being harassed. Double standards for men and women exist internationally. We can’t point the finger at Latino culture for this hatred towards women; our own hands are not clean.

Even the whole culture of “machismo” has its roots in the Spanish colonization of Central America. The patriarchal image of the conquistador- physical strength, hypervirility and aggressively masculine behaviour of “machismo” tended to by the model of “marianismo” the image of “Mary meek and mild” as the archetypal female; compliant, vulnerable and enduring of suffering. Souped up notions of masculinity versus submissive femininity are not uniquely Latin, they form the basis of gender constructions in almost every society.

However much we try to distance ourselves from “machismo” culture -whether it be veering to the other side of the pavement or branding it as a Latino problem- the inescapable truth is that it pervades all cultures, worldwide. Yes, the extremity of violence against women in Honduras calls for more dramatic and urgent change but gender inequality knows no country or culture better than any other.

Where there is hatred and violence, nobody’s conscience can be clear.

The image used shows a colourful street in Honduras with cars and flowers and is used under the creative commons license.

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