by Carrie Dunn // 8 December 2013, 16:32
Katherine Williams is intrigued by The Tattooist by Louise Black, a sinister insight into a controlling, cruel obsessive
I mostly avoided all the furore surrounding 50 Shades of Grey (I was going to read it for 'educational purposes' once, but after a quick skim in HMV I saw enough to make me change my mind...), so when the call-out came to review The Tattooist by Louise Black, I thought I would push the proverbial boat out and dip my toe into the murky waters of erotica -- if The Tattooist can be accurately labelled as such, or 50 Shades for that matter...
It tells the tale of Fabrice, a tattooist working in Paris, and the lives of the three women he seduces (or abuses); Xanthe, an alcoholic abuse survivor; Yoshiko, a naive Japanese student and Zairah, who suffers from an eating disorder.
Fabrice is obsessed with the notion of transcendence and believes he is some kind of modern alchemist; he lives a sparse, holistic life that he thinks makes him the perfect man and, with the right elements, hopes his 'alchemy' can 'create' a perfect woman.
by Laura // 6 December 2013, 17:14
On the 4th December police raided 25 premises in Soho and evicted, detained and harassed sex workers. They kicked down doors, closed working flats, took money and personal items, and manhandled women in the street in front of the photographers and news crews they invited to witness this violence and intimidation. The media presence included Sky news, BBC and the Evening Standard. It would seem that "victims" of sex work need to be publicly humiliated and shamed in the media in order to be properly saved from their work.
The raids were supposedly undertaken in order to locate "stolen goods" and to tackle "prostitution" (despite the fact that selling sex is not actually a crime) and to 'tackle' human trafficking. A number of migrant sex workers, many of whom have lived in the UK for years, have - devastatingly - been conveyed to the UKBA detention centre at Heathrow; this, despite having reassured police that they had not been trafficked into the country, and were working voluntarily. Other women were instructed to appear in court the next morning. The charges against them are not yet known.
The closure of working flats will mean that women have lost their peer support network, and their regular clients who they know to be safe. They will also now be working in locations unknown to outreach and health services, and will be less likely to access services - or report crimes against them - for fear of being forcibly detained or arrested as either a "victim" or a criminal. They will have to continue to work, but may now have to work alone or outdoors, exposing them to greater risk. Amy, a sex worker within SWOU noted, "if we're talking about 'greater risk', people should know, and should see from these events, that those who are supposed to 'protect' us often pose the greatest risk to us. This is the case both directly and indirectly - directly, when the cops kick down our doors, drag us onto the street, and facilitate our humiliation; indirectly, when they signal to those who might wish to target us, that we don't deserve the protection of the law, that we can't report. The cops make us targets twice over". The lasting effect of the raids will be increased risk, fear, violence and instability for these women, and many others like them.
"Elisa", a migrant sex worker, said, "This is all so frightening. This backlash is spreading across Europe. It is more and more clear to me - seeing the German debates now too - that it all is an attempt to silence and marginalise mostly migrant workers, specifically women, because if sex work was decriminalised and our work made safer, migrant women would achieve a place in society that they are not desired to have. Migrant women in the sex industry have to be victimised, silent, invisible (though sensationalised and exposed at the same time when it needs to be for propaganda, and to add that spice), and better stay at home."
Cari Mitchell from the English Collective of Prostitutes, said: "It is outrageous that the police are raiding premises where women are working together safely and collectively with friends. The police must know that some women will end up working on the street as a result, where it is much more dangerous. Most of the women thrown out of premises are mothers and grandmothers who have now lost their livelihood."
"Nic", a sex worker in Soho, said, "I feel so frightened. This is on my doorstep. Will I be next? That the police brought the press with them demonstrates so much why we need the only legal framework that reduces, rather than increases, police power over us. Who can look at these events and think the police are using their power respectfully, appropriately, non-abusively? This is violence against women, that the mainstream women's movement turns it's head from. We need full decriminalisation, including of our clients and our workplaces, because that is THE ONLY legal context in which we are not at the mercy of these abusive and traumatic policing tactics; where we are not at risk of being dragged out onto the street. Sex work is work - we're already in mainstream trade unions. This is so frightening - we need solidarity".
by Holly Combe // 5 December 2013, 09:26
Marta Owczarek sees this Mercury-nominated act live and finds a performance that is full of conviction, with no hesitation and no second-guessing.
Savages have been hyped for over a year now, with a line of sold out shows and the super anticipated full-length Silence Yourself, which is getting plenty of appreciation from London record shops (number one at Sister Ray and number two at Rough Trade). The Mercury Prize critics didn't go with this, but someone clearly did and booked Savages to play The Kentish Town Forum, their biggest show to date. If this is a band who has never played to an audience this big before, they're either lying or naturals. Their confidence shines brighter than the lights, and those are really something else too.
The Forum is absolutely packed from the very beginning and, for whatever reason, all those guestlisted are sent straight up to the balcony, so crowdsurfing opportunities are extremely limited -- jumping off wouldn't be too bad, height-wise, but not very wise in general as the mixing desk is immediately below. Still, from that elevated perspective, the venue looks particularly huge and theatre-like, with some vaguely Ancient Greek ornamentation. There's never a big venue gig without technical issues but, here, those are limited to the support slot of A Dead Forest Index, which is unfortunately the opposite of spot-on. But once Savages are on stage, everything goes dark, then light and then awesome...
Jehnny Beth stands astride onstage at The Forum, with her left leg slightly raised, holding up the microphone in her right hand. She wears a long-sleeved white top with black baggy trousers and looks down, with a serious expression, over her right shoulder. The stage is filled with dry ice smoke, giving a grey wash to the background. By Paul Hudson, shared under a Creative Commons License.
by Ania Ostrowska // 3 December 2013, 15:18
Marta also got to interview the film's creator Shomshuklla, "an impressive figure: a playwright, actress and director with her own theatre company Kali Theatre, a prolific poet with many published volumes and a famous classical Indian and Indian pop singer as well... She came up with the story of Sheila, a modern upper-middle class Indian housewife who seems to have it all but yearns for a writing career, authored the script and directed the feature, all for the first time in the service of the Tenth Muse."
You can find more information on the Sandcastle's website.
The image is a cinematic poster for Sandcastle, a watercolour of two female faces, taken from the film's Facebook fanpage.
by Lynne Miles // 3 December 2013, 11:37
Once again we're planning on running a programme of monthly guest bloggers at TFW over 2014. If you've ever wanted to voice your opinions here, this is your chance.
The gig is a one-month long slot during which you could blog much as you'd like. We would love it if you would blog once a week or more, but we recognise everyone has their own personal circumstances which may make that difficult. You'll be given support and guidance by an assigned 'buddy' from the collective. We have a written guide for guest bloggers explaining what's what. You don't have to have perfect English; what you have to say is more important than being a fancy writer.
If you're keen, please email me. Tell us a bit about you and what sort of things you would like to write about, and anything else you think will interest us! Alternatively, if you would like to recommend someone else, please feel free to suggest them, with contact details if you have them.
We're open to anyone who applies but are particularly interested in views, topics and perspectives that are currently under-represented on the blog, particularly intersectional perspectives. This could be older women, sex workers, women of minority ethnicities (including Black, Asian, migrant or refugee women and women of dual or multiple ethnic heritage), disabled women, trans* women, lesbian, gay, bisexual or queer women, male feminists, socialist feminists or just someone keen to write about about a topic that you think we should feature more frequently. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list - please don't be put off from emailing us if you're interested but don't identify with the perspectives above; particularly if you feel your perspective is currently under-represented in the feminist blogosphere.
We can't promise a slot to everyone - we'll try to set a programme over the next year that is as varied as possible. If you've emailed us in the past about being a guest blogger but haven't heard anything then please do put your hand up again.
Last year for the first time we were approached by a campaign group to take a monthly slot, something we hadn't previously considered (but were pleased to host). We will consider other such groups in future where they're relevant, but we will want to keep the balance more towards individual posters, so we can't guarantee any campaign groups a slot. If your groups wants to host multiple authors during your slot we will ask you to 'curate' this from your end and provide a single point of contact for us. As with all site content, hosting campaign group content doesn't imply editorial endorsement unless explicitly stated.
Finally, a reminder that outside of the monthly guest blogging programme, everyone is still very welcome to submit features, reviews and one-off guest blog posts at any time to The F Word as normal; please see here for more details.
Image, courtesy of Stephan Rebernik, depicts an (assumed) older white woman partially visible behind a laptop. It is shared under a creative commons license.
by Guest Blogger // 2 December 2013, 12:27
Katharine S. compares attitudes to feminism at her new high school in Kansas with those of her former classmates in London.
Finding out my family was moving us halfway across the world, from London all the way to Kansas, was daunting to say the least. Doing my last two years of high school surrounded by Midwestern teenagers? I couldn't think of anything more terrifying. What if my classmates made fun of me? What if my lessons were too difficult? What if, as my friends put it, they tried to "Stepford wife" me? It'd only been a couple of years since I'd developed an interest in feminism, and I feared Kansas would be a deadly antidote to my newfound interest.
Well, the good news is, I've been here four months and I still have 'My Pussy My Choice' stuck on my wall. I haven't let my interest in feminism dwindle, but have become increasingly aware of my classmates' reactions whenever the f-word leaves my lips. They laugh and ruffle my hair. "Oh Katharine," they say, "You're so cute."
I think the time it hit me hardest was when I was in a class discussion about internet shaming and I tried to make the point that slut-shaming is a cause of rape. The guy next to me looked at me like I had lost the plot. I attempted to explain the way the word "slut" creates rape culture and victim-blaming, allowing a society in which men believe that rape is okay. But no one was listening. The guy laughed scornfully, said "you're ridiculous" and changed the subject. I realised that apparently most high school students don't grasp that feminism extends beyond claiming the right to vote. Maybe that's why they think I'm so over-dramatic. It's because, in their minds, feminism is no longer needed. Women already have equality: "You can go to university and wear trainers - what more do you want?"
I find that even when one of my peers seems to be engaged and educated in women's rights, she'll still shy away from actually calling herself a feminist outright. We'll discuss everything from women in the army to female representation on Saturday Night Live but as soon as I identify myself as a feminist, she'll say, "Oh I don't know about that, I'm not radical or anything, I don't hate men."
And so then I wondered to myself, what is it that makes girls here cringe away from the word "feminist," while many girls in London label themselves with pride? The first idea that comes to mind is, of course, the way feminists are ridiculously caricatured in the media, burning bras and attacking beauty pageants. But it has to be more than that; could it be the fact that perhaps the girls here just were not exposed to the things girls back in London were exposed to from such a young age?
The young driving age in Kansas means I've barely walked the streets at night at all, and when I have I've never once felt threatened. Perhaps girls here have never had to jog the long way home to avoid that group of builders and their catcalls, or walk on a winter evening with their hands clenched around their keys in their pocket.
Since I've been here I've only had one girl openly and freely identify herself as a feminist - and interestingly enough, this girl didn't grow up in sheltered suburbia, but lived in a capital city abroad until she was fourteen - well enough time to experience just how scary being a woman in today's society can be.
I think that's the reason. I, like so many other young women in London, clung to feminism as a shield, because being a part of something so huge and powerful made me feel less vulnerable in my everyday life. The girls in this town aren't ignorant or backwards. They're smart, confident young women; I just think that most of them have never been driven to realise just how unfairly the odds are stacked against them.
Photo of sign reading "Welcome to Kansas" by J. Stephen Conn, shared under a Creative Commons licence.
by Helen G // 2 December 2013, 08:45
Here's this week's open thread for discussion and our regular round-up of some of the articles and blogs we've noticed over the last week or so, but not had time to post about.
If you have a link or comment that doesn't fit anywhere else and would like to share it, feel free to drop it in the comments here.
CONTENT WARNING: This post contains links to external websites and blogs, some of which have comment threads and other material which some people may find triggering. The links here are posted in good faith but, as The F-Word has no control over the content of external sites, readers are advised to use their discretion and approach them with due caution.
DON'T SHOOT THE MESSENGER CLAUSE: The inclusion of any link in this post should not be construed as agreement or disagreement with its content by anyone at The F-Word. Links are posted for information and/or discussion purposes only and do not reflect any form of "official TFW party line" on any subject because there is no "official TFW party line".
- Everyday Sexism Project's findings on maternity discrimination (Mumsnet)
- All hail the vampire-archy: what Mark Fisher gets wrong in 'Exiting the vampire castle' (Ray Filar, Our Kingdom)
- 4OYS: Woman claims officer sprayed mace on genitals (KOB4)
- True Story: A Photoshopping Site Stole My Selfie Off Instagram And Gave Me A "Makeover" (The Frisky)
- Sexual violence in parts of UK 'as bad as in warzones' (Guardian, Society)
- After speaking out against FGM, I faced a backlash. That's why we all need to stand together (Nimko Ali, New Statesman)
- The politics of Rihanna's hair: Her AMA do was a powerful form of resistance (Salon)
- Prison Rape Jokes and Rape Culture (shamelessnavelgazing blog)
- 'I can't go home tonight': supporting survivors of domestic violence (The Toast)
- From the private to the public sphere: new research on women's participation in peace-building (Oxfam GB, Policy & Practice)
- Invisible People: LGBT Lithuanians to 'Come Out' En Masse in Defiance of Anti-Gay Laws (Scriptonite Daily)
- Sexism is daily reality for girls, says Girlguiding UK (BBC News)
- UN adopts landmark resolution on Protecting Women Human Rights Defenders (ISHR)
- 5 benefit changes the government don't want you to know about (New Statesman)
- Evan Rachel Wood attacks ratings body for cutting cunnilingus scene from new film (The Independent)
- Meet the Woman Who Waged an Artistic War Against Her Street Harassers (Mother Jones)
- Southern Poverty Law Center: Monitor Gender Identity Watch as a Hate Group (change.org)
- How to be a feminist according to stock photography (22 Words)
- Women and the Internet (A four-part series by Quinn Norton at Medium)
This week's closing video is 'I'm so Lonesome I Could Cry' by Rachel Newton from her 2012 album The Shadow Side:
Image attribution and description: The image at the head of this post is called Autumn leaves. It shows a selection of autumn leaves and was found at Eva Ekeblad's Flickr photostream. It is used under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.
by Guest Blogger // 1 December 2013, 09:36
I ought to be shocked by the news that a mentally ill woman had her baby daughter forcibly removed from her body by Caesarean section by Essex social services fifteen months ago. I ought to be, but I'm horrified to find that I'm not. I'm appalled, but I'm not shocked. This story, if it's true, is just another page in the long and unfinished story of the rights of pregnant people - and the rights of the mentally ill - being eroded both during pregnancy and in childbirth itself. There's also a frightening element here in her nationality - she is Italian and was only visiting the United Kingdom on a business trip, when she suffered from a mental breakdown.
I have been a pregnant and mentally ill person. I have been through consensual natural childbirth, and that was terrifying enough. When you are pregnant, the world conspires against you - in books, through health care professionals, through well-meaning strangers in restaurants, in shops and on the street - to inform you of all the huge multitude of ways in which you are going to kill your baby. If it's not eating mercury-laced fish, it's drinking the odd glass of wine. If it's not smoking, even one a day, it will be the soft cheese you forgot you "couldn't" have until after you'd eaten it. Not to mention the fact that you absolutely must give birth in a pool at home surrounded by candles/in a hospital via planned caesarean/on top of a mountain with only a billy-goat for company (delete as applicable) or your baby will surely die, and it will be all your fault.
Add to the mix, then, being mentally ill. When I was pregnant, one unnamed person asked me, to my face and in a voice laced with feigned compassion, whether I wasn't ever so terrified that my baby would be taken away from me at birth because of my mental illness? Well I was very young and very naïve. No, the thought hadn't occurred to me. But you can be certain that it occupied my every thought from that moment until the moment I walked out of the birth centre with my new son, bleary-eyed and convinced that at any moment someone was going to come rushing up behind me and shout that I wasn't capable, I was too mental, I must give the baby back now.
There is a term in feminist and childbirth circles; 'birth rape'. It describes forcible and non-consensual internal examinations during pregnancy and childbirth. For a lot of pregnant and birthing people, this can be a hugely distressing and triggering violation. Birth rape is a feminist issue, it brings about similar arguments to pro-choice ones; that a pregnant person's body should be his or her own, and only he or she should be the deciding voice in what happens to it. It's also a feminist issue because non-consensual penetration, no matter how noble the intentions of the violator, is rape.
I have read too many stories about people whose birth experiences have been transformed into nightmares by birth rape, of people trying to wriggle up the bed away from probing fingers or instruments that they do not want to allow into their bodies. I have read too many stories about forced caesareans, where a person has been in the process of giving birth, a doctor has decided that she 'needs' a caesarean, often because of a spurious diagnosis called "failure to progress" ("this person is taking too long to labour, I have a golf appointment, let's get them into surgery") and the caesarean has been performed despite the birthing person's denial of consent. But this case in Essex is something I've never read of before, and it horrifies me.
I would consider what Essex social services put this poor woman through to be another form of birth rape. They drugged her and entered her body with a sharp weapon and no consent. In any other circumstances, they would be facing a long jail sentence. They didn't just take this woman's baby away, though that would have been horrendous enough. They forcibly sedated her and then they physically cut her open and tore her daughter out of her body without her consent. That's not just disgusting and unfair, it's assault. I'm certainly not a lawyer, but I thought people - yes, even pregnant people, and mentally ill people - had the right not to be assaulted?
The woman in question still doesn't have her daughter, fifteen months later. But even in the unlikely event of the social services department in question realising they have fucked up in an outrageous manner, they can't undo this. They can't take away the trauma of the experience for the woman who suffered an unimaginable assault at the hands of people who are supposed to be caregivers.
[A photograph of an operating theatre. Image credit: digidreamgrafix]
by Holly Combe // 29 November 2013, 16:53
Cazz Blase has a listen to Gaptooth's debut album and finds a raw and honest but mixed result that nonetheless shows a sense of integrity and politics.
Holly interviewed Hannah Lucy, a politics, philosophy and economics graduate who performs as Gaptooth, in late 2012. At the time, Gaptooth was due to release her debut single, 'Ladykillers', a searing feminist anthem. One year on and Gaptooth's debut album Connections/Departures has arrived.
On a first listen, Connections/Departures is something of a mixed bag. There is much of interest here and some moments of sophisticated and effective songwriting, but there are also some songs that don't quite come off. Like most debuts, it is imperfect but charming and worth persevering with.
The album opens well with the single 'Ladykillers', a statement of intent and a modern feminist anthem powered by choppy guitar and pounding electro beats. "It's a man's world/It's a man's business," states Gaptooth, before asking "How does it feel? To be one of the few?" With its reference to women who are "cheerleaders to a revolution", it quickly becomes clear that 'Ladykillers', unlike its namesake by Lush, is as much a critique of modern womanhood as it is a critique of misogyny and modern men. Gaptooth illustrates the barriers to equality and the frustrations of inequality beautifully with her frustrated chorus cry of "I'm tired of settling for less". This rage and frustration is refreshingly raw and honest in an era of music that appears to be dominated by a kind of arch pop that is polished in every sense, including the emotions. It's a standout moment...
This is the cover for Connections/Departures and is a large square shape containing 12 smaller squares with simple bold black shadow drawings of various symbols and objects on them. Each square is either purple, light blue or fuchsia.
The drawings from left to right are: three palm trees (purple background), two birds (light blue background) and a clock (fuchsia background) [top row]; two mortar bombs (?) (fuchsia background), a mountain lion or some other big cat (purple background) and plane (light blue background) [second row]; a suitcase (light blue background), traditional skirted female toilets symbol (fuchsia background) and a rectangle with a pound sign inside it and a yen, dollar and euro underneath (purple background) [third row]; headphones (purple background), a cloud with three stars under it to presumably symbolise rain (light blue background) and a splodge with the 'GAPTOOTH' logo over it in fuchsia (fuchsia background) [bottom row].
ADDENDUM 22.30 (29/11/13): I've had an update to say the big cat depicted in the second row is a tiger!
by Holly Combe // 27 November 2013, 16:29
Swedish singer-songwriter Jenny Wilson has spoken of a longing to make music that "talks straight to the stomach". Marta Owczarek listens to her latest album and finds a sound that is decidedly more aggressive than her previous work.
"'Be realistic, demand the impossible!' was a graffiti painted by the 1968's student radicals over a Paris wall during the uprisings," says Jenny Wilson about the inspiration for her latest album Demand The Impossible!, released by Sony Sweden/Gold Medal Recordings. The phrase is also attributed to Che Guevara but Wilson is either not aware of this or chosen not to comment on the connection. She has used exclamation marks in album titles before (2009's Hardships!) but this one seems more deliberately aggressive and confrontational than the title alone. Already, the cover is a departure from Wilson's signature style of photographs of herself: tasteful but heavily stylised, where she appears in sharp make up, strong outfits, and adorned with jewellery. Even the hunting gun she holds on the cover of Hardships! is an antique, and so arguably more of a prop than an actual threat.
On Demand The Impossible!, Wilson is drawn by urban artist Finsta and appears in grey hoodie, with a zip-up jacket and carries what looks like a machine gun over her shoulder. Half her face is obscured and surreally replaced by stars, vivid and white, contrasting with the messy colours of city lights visible in the background behind a chicken wire fence. It is almost militaristic. Wilson has portrayed herself as a fighter before, but this is an entirely new incarnation: as stated in the press release for DTI! (accessible on Wilson's Facebook page), she's a warrior and a street prophet "melting down the universe with an urgency that you never see a politician do"...
Cover for Demand the Impossible! shows a drawing of Wilson by Finsta. She appears in a grey hoodie, with a zip-up jacket and carries what looks like a machine gun over her shoulder. Half her face is obscured and replaced by bright stars, contrasting with the messy colours of city lights visible in the background behind a chicken wire fence.