In September this year, Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion Caroline Lucas tabled an early day motion to include the details of the mothers of the bride and groom on marriage certificates as well as the fathers. The much more recently instituted documentation for civil partnerships includes both parents, but creaky, cobwebbed marriage is stuck in 1986.

(My no doubt comprehensive googling has shed no light on what currently happens when somebody getting married has two parents of the same sex. Does anybody know?)

Those of you with long memories might be feeling a bit of déjà vu, as David Cameron announced his support for this in August last year, calling the current practice “outdated”. Indeed, Lucas’ EDM is calling him out on this, hence the re-emergence of a campaign that seemed to have succeeded already.

If you so wish, there are a number of ways in which you can support this. You can write to your MP, asking them to support the EDM, and alongside that you can publicly demonstrate your commitment to the campaign on a petition.

But this is an issue that I find complicated and a perfect example of dilemma feminism (dilemminism? Maybe? No?).

A lot of feminists (including me) are fond of reassuring others that when it comes to the crunch, feminism is really straightforward – it’s about believing that people are equal regardless of their sex or gender and wanting them to be able to live in a world that treats them as such. You might have a different way of phrasing this but it’s an idea that I’ve heard a lot around the feminist online and offline worlds.

But while I do think that’s at the core, with lots of issues, people subscribing to that ideal could have completely different takes on it. This can be very useful and lead to productive discussion; in fact, the ethos of The F-Word is to provide a platform to lots of people to enable different voices to be heard. That means we can have articles up that hold completely contrary viewpoints, as long as these views are expressed in a way that is constructive.

Bringing it back to marriage certificates, what’s my dilemma here?

I’ve written before about my thoughts on marriage (apparently also motivated last time by the news around mothers being on marriage certificates). To summarise, I’m not a fan and I’d much rather we just did away with the institution rather than tweaking it every now and then to make it look a little less weird.

So on one hand, I actually don’t want to see this change. That’s because it’s a small fix that, yes, makes the institution overall less absurdly embedded in patriarchal control over women’s relationships, but only a little bit. Yet it’s the sort of change that proponents of marriage can cite as progress and give assurances that marriage is totally hip, and while that misses the point that the whole premise is outdated, it still is likely to do more to ensure support for marriage than agitating opposition. And I like an agitated opposition.

But of course – it is sexist, isn’t it? It’s obviously, blatantly, unfairly sexist to name fathers and not mothers. Not only does it perpetuate the underlying idea that this is a contract between men, passing on ownership of a woman (spoilers: ladies are property, like villas or desk lamps), but is also manages to suggest that mothers are irrelevant, which I bet goes down a treat.

And even though marriage rates have been declining for several decades, there are still an awful lot of couples getting married, and while legal structures are as they are, for many this is the best choice for them. Given that I acknowledge that marriage is likely to still be a thing for a while, isn’t it better for the thing to be less sexist?

I find it difficult, even though I’m sure many of the readers of this piece will think it’s obvious one way or the other! Do I throw my support behind a campaign that is based on principles that I agree with but is at its core about preserving an institution I would prefer to be replaced? Or should I reject all amends to said institution on principle, even if they would actually make it better, while not perfect?

Really, this post is an example more than anything. I’ll probably give the issue some more thought and decide one way or the other – but there are loads of similar things that crop up, where it’s easy to see the feminist pros and cons of multiple positions. That can be frustrating, because it can feel like there isn’t a right answer, but I do find it really interesting, because it’s by thinking these sorts of things through that you can work out what the most important things are to your feminism and what sorts of compromises you would consider acceptable. And ultimately, more thoughtful movements are likely to have more productive discussions – and I can’t see a downside to that.

The image is by Elvert Barnes and is used under a creative commons licence. It shows a mother and daughter, their foreheads pressed together as they look at each other and smile. They are shown from the shoulders up and are both wearing black coats and sunglasses; the mother is wearing a black hat. I have no idea about the marital status of either but I thought they looked happy and close.

nullAn article on Buzzfeed caused much comment in my Twitter feed on Tuesday. In This Obscure Tumblr Sexuality Saved My Life, writer Bitty Navarro describes the frustrations and miseries of her early love life in a world far more interested in sex than she was. Through identifying as demisexual, Navarro describes being empowered see her sexuality as entirely legitimate and gained a language with which to breach the subject with prospective lovers. This is all fantastic.

On Twitter, journalist Sarah Ditum had some criticism:

It’s obviously wrong to dismiss how someone chooses to frame their own sexuality. However, Ditum does raise an issue which also bothered me in Navarro’s piece. There’s a risk that, in attempting to untangle our own sexual identities, we end up promoting the very same mythical idea of normal sexuality, including our culture’s oppressive expectations, which leads many people to feel uncomfortable about their sexuality.

The use of the word soccer suggests Bitty Navarro is not British, and I can only really comment on British culture. However, if a Martian landed in the UK in 2015, they may well believe that there was such a thing as normal female sexuality. Psychologist and sex therapist Meg John Barker writes that “Am I normal?” is the most common question she is asked.

Most religions discourage sex outside monogamous relationships with a deep and meaningful connection and our government privileges such relationships. Women routinely underplay the number of sexual partners they have and very many women insist that their sexuality is not based on physical attraction. I once had a conversation with a friend who claimed that her boyfriend had, to borrow John Servante’s phrase, hit the ugliness jackpot.

“But surely he’s good-looking to you?” I asked.

“Not particularly,” she boasted, “but then I’m not shallow like that.”

So there’s that kind of normal. But of course, heterosexual female lust is hardly taboo. Social media accounts exchange photos of sexy male actors, singers and sportsmen. Outside on a Saturday night, there are hen parties, with male strippers and penis paraphernalia. And inside, there’s Strictly Come Dancing with its unrelenting – if good-humoured – comments on how gorgeous and sexy the male dancers are. Aidan Turner’s bare-chested scything scene in Poldark proved so popular that they injected another bare-chested scything scene into the BBC adaptation of The Go Between just a few months later.

Navarro explains the asexual spectrum, writing

“On one end of the spectrum, in this new language, there are conventionally horny people, called allo sexuals.”

Yet our visiting Martian would be hard-pressed to identify a conventionally horny woman. Statistically, she’s most likely attracted to men, but is she fanning herself at the thought of the rugby team sharing a shower or is she working on a time machine so she might declare her true feelings for Marcel Proust? And then how much sex would she ideally like to have? Would she enjoy multiple partners? And what kind of sex would she prefer?

Clearly, there are many spectra of sexuality (or perhaps something more like a three dimensional blob, within which some people stay put while others move about), but there is no normal. It’s no more or less normal to keep phone contacts for early morning booty calls (an example Navarro gives) than to abstain from sex altogether. It’s all okay though.

Navarro describes having boyfriends she didn’t find attractive and feeling socially obliged to have sex, which is horrible, but tragically commonplace. Our culture still frames sex as something that women are obliged to give to men for various reasons – because he saved the day, because he bought desert and of course, because he is her date, boyfriend or husband. Such sex varies between the tedious and the traumatic, whoever you are – having a high libido doesn’t mean wanting whatever sex is on offer at any time. And this sense of obligation is, as Sarah Ditum points out, extremely dangerous.

Navarro describes being called a prude for not wanting to have a particular kind of sex or to watch porn. Me too, but a woman doesn’t get called “prude” because of her sexuality. A woman gets called names (all kinds of names) when she fails to express her sexuality in the way others want her to. These are attempts at sexual coercion and, although some of us are more vulnerable to such pressure, no-one avoids that by being wired a certain way.

None of this casts any doubt over Navarro’s description of her own sexuality and the very positive story of her finding a language to describe it – it has, she says, saved her life. However, so much of the experience she describes is about other people and the way our culture treats women’s sexuality, regardless of what that sexuality is. It’s important that in exploring our individual differences, we don’t normalise the same cultural ideas which leave many of us out in the cold.

[The image is an anonymous medieval painting of Penthesilea, Queen of the Amazons, who seemed relevant because she was a demigoddess. A red-haired white woman in elaborate armour rides on horseback, wielding a bow. This image can be found on Wikimedia and in the public domain.]

Hitting the ugliness jackpot

by Guest Blogger // 29 September 2015, 5:00 pm

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John Servante has never been happy with his appearance. Here’s why that should change


In a few days time I’ll be 24 – that’s 8768 days on Earth. And sadly, I can’t remember a single day on which I was happy with my appearance.

I’m in my twenties, I’m white, I’m middle class and I have a penis. I would never dare to argue that I’m not privileged. I can’t begin to imagine how my mother, sister or partner feel when they open a magazine, get stared at on the streets or go for a job interview. I fully appreciate that body image is a more pronounced problem for women and yet, I know that I too am made to feel inadequate.

I have ginger hair, pale skin, I wear glasses and I’ve always been chubby. Subsequently, I have hit what society would call the ugliness jackpot.

Day to day, this means that I can’t look in the mirror. It’s too distressing. My reflection serves only as a reminder that I’m not “ripped” enough, that my face isn’t “chiseled” enough. And yes, I know it’s a pathetic cliché, but my reflection is not that of a “real man”.

The idea of a “real man” or “real woman” is a joke. I know that. As does anyone with a quarter of a brain. What the media dubs a “real man” is the result of photoshopping, expensive stylists and spending every waking hour in a gym. To be a “real man” it seems you have to be a raging narcissist. Sadly, being a “real man” too often seems to entail being a bad human being – the kind of macho “lad” who treats women as inferior, brainless objects born only to be disposable pleasures.

Infuriating as it is, knowing all this doesn’t help. Every day I’m confronted with unobtainable ideals, leaving me depressed and self-loathing. My body image has become so bad that I don’t really bother to buy clothes anymore. In fact I don’t bother with my appearance at all which, of course, makes everything so much worse. I’m caught in a perpetual downward spiral.

But there is one person in this world who helps me – my partner. She thinks I’m beautiful.

My partner encourages me every day. She encourages me to put an outfit together, to put weird products in my hair and to stand a little taller. It doesn’t matter to her how I dress, nor what hairstyle I have. All she wants is for me to have some pride in my appearance, to feel more happy and confident with how I look. She holds my hand and, step by step, guides me closer to being able to look into a mirror.

But still I remind myself that I’m privileged. I don’t know what I’d do without my partner and I know not everyone is as lucky as I am. That’s why I talk openly and honestly about my struggles – because the world needs to change. Nobody should ever feel ugly. No one should ever be ashamed of their appearance. Negative body image is a disease created and maintained by society. It’s as debilitating and miserable as any illness.

No child should ever grow up believing that they’re ugly. The world doesn’t judge you by whether or not you’re a caring, charitable or a decent human. Instead, it judges you by something superficial and constructed – whether of not you’re fashionably beautiful. That’s wrong.

Don’t forget, our ancestors considered chubiness sexy – society’s notions of attractiveness are as fickle as our tastes in music or art. What’s in fashion one day might not be in fashion tomorrow. Isn’t it about time we stopped making people feel miserable over something so flimsy and changeable?

We could live in a world where no one feels ugly. It’s simple: the next time you or somebody you know feels ugly, say those three magic words: “you are beautiful”. Because we all are! It might seem like a little thing, but those three words could help change the world.

John Servante is a student and blogger currently completing an MA in writing at the University of Warwick. He can be found on twitter @donkeyokay

The image accompanying this post shows a person standing in a snowy forest with a paper bag over their head. The paper bag has a sad face drawn upon it.

Weekly Round-up and Open Thread

by Lusana Taylor // 28 September 2015, 10:54 am

Tags: ,


It’s time for another round-up and there are plenty of links this week, covering everything from feminine hygiene products to Ryan Adams mansplaining Taylor Swift!

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.

Transgender woman live-tweets her expulsion from Orlando airport (Vox)

From the article: “Shadi Petosky, a transgender woman, was detained unexpectedly at the Orlando airport on Monday after the TSA allegedly decided that her genitalia didn’t match up to their (mis)perceptions about gender.”

Lessons from Television’s Teen Sluts (Broadly)

From the article: “As a ravenous television-consuming preteen and adolescent, I watched TV for the sluts … Since I only understood sex in a conceptual sense, I deferred to characters like Blanche Devereaux and Elaine Benes as beacons of feminine wisdom. I studied the wayward women of the small screen to glean an insight into human sexuality.”

SASS: I think you’re meant to fuck up your cunt with it (Stavvers)

From the article: “It’s 2015, and I am fucking tired as shit of two things:
1. Products which are designed to make your nethers less gross
2. Twee fucking euphemisms while marketing such things”

Note: You can read Jade Moulds’s post about SASS products on the F-Word HERE.

The mother of all questions (Rebecca Solnit for Harper’s Magazine)

From the article: “I gave a talk on Virginia Woolf a few years ago. During the question-and-answer period that followed it, the subject that seemed to most interest a number of people was whether Woolf should have had children.[…] What I should have said to that crowd was that our interrogation of Woolf’s reproductive status was a soporific and pointless detour from the magnificent questions her work poses. (I think at some point I said, “Fuck this shit,” which carried the same general message and moved everyone on from the discussion.) After all, many people have children; only one made To the Lighthouse and The Waves, and we were discussing Woolf because of the books, not the babies.”

Diversity quotas are meritocracy in action (New Statesman)

From the article: “For centuries, there was a quota for the representation of men in politics. It was 100 per cent”

Shout Your Abortion (Left at the Lights)

From the article: “Following the campaign to defund Planned Parenthood services in America (state funded), abortion activists took to Twitter with the hashtag #ShoutYourAbortion to counter the arguments made by zealous anti choicers.”

No longer niche: how LGBTI film festivals came of age (The Conversation)

From the article: “The first Scottish Queer International Film Festival (SQIFF) kicks off on the evening of Thursday September 24 with the UK premiere of Dyke Hard. It is a Swedish musical-action-horror-sci-fi-comedy about a failed lesbian rock group hoping that a battle of the bands contest will set them on the road to success. Followed by a Q&A with director Bitte Anderson, it will raise the curtain on a four-day festival in Glasgow that includes more than 30 features, documentaries, shorts, workshops and, of course, parties.”

The History of Female Anger (Broadly)

From the article: “From Virginia Woolf’s refined rage to the rise of uber-positive ‘girl squad’ culture, women’s anger has been a powerful, destabilizing, and often misunderstood force”

Ryan Adams’s 1989 and the mansplaining of Taylor Swift (New Statesman)

From the article: “Despite good intentions, Ryan Adams’s 1989 has enabled dozens of music journalists to mansplain Taylor Swift’s own album to her.”

9 to 5-Inspired Thinkpieces (The Toast)

Big mouth strikes again (Standard Issue)

From the article: “Six weeks after she was publicly criticised by Chelsea manager José Mourinho, Dr Eva Carneiro has left the club she’s worked at for six years. Shame on the Blues boss, says Standard Issue sports correspondent Jen Offord, it’s a dark day for the beautiful game.”

Sexual consent is simple. We should all be clear what constitutes rape (The Guardian CiF)

From the article: “A new CPS campaign focuses on cases where two adults know each other, and attempts to debunk some of the myths around sex offences. Join the debate at #ConsentIs …”

Low pay to blame for lack of TV diversity, says Writers’ Guild (The Stage)

‘Is it a man or a woman? Transitioning and the cis gaze’ (Ray Filar, Verso Books)

From the article: “‘Pre-op’. ‘Post-op’. ‘No-op’. Not until recently did anybody question why trans people should be defined exclusively by whether or not they’d had genital surgery. Though gender variance has existed in most cultures throughout time, trans people today – particularly women – are still forced to situate themselves in relation to the idea of the medicalised ‘sex change’. Have you had the op? Are you planning to? Are you taking testosterone? How far will you go?”

Some people sadly missed the point about #MasculinitySoFragile (Mashable UK)

Why intersectionality can’t wait (Kimberlé Crenshaw at Washington Post)

From the article: “Intersectionality is an analytic sensibility, a way of thinking about identity and its relationship to power. Originally articulated on behalf of black women, the term brought to light the invisibility of many constituents within groups that claim them as members, but often fail to represent them.”

Sumption encapsulates the law’s sexism: only quotas can challenge male privilege (The Guardian)

From the article: “Institutional sexism in the legal profession is under scrutiny again following remarks about gender equality in the judiciary by one of the country’s most senior judges. Jonathan Sumption’s views exemplify perfectly what is wrong with the way women in the legal profession are viewed by those in the highest echelons of power.”

A female Dalai Lama ‘must be very attractive, otherwise not much use,’ Dalai Lama says (SBS)

Sometimes it’s the little things – Bobbi Brown #10: Plum Rose (The Pool)

From the article: “This week Ella discovers that coping means strength, bravery and looking after yourself”

Viola Davis and the ‘white feminist’ backlash (LA Times)

From the article: “By most accounts, Viola Davis’ speech at the Emmys was an instant classic. She directly addressed the lack of diversity on television, saying, ‘The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity.’ But Davis’ words about race made one actress feel uncomfortable … Sunday night, General Hospital actress Nancy Lee Grahn, who is white, took to Twitter and said that the Emmys were not a ‘venue [for] racial opportunity’ and that Viola Davis ‘has never been discriminated against.'”

The Ascent of Woman: we should not ghettoise women’s history (The Conversation)

From the article: “In her BBC2 series, The Ascent of Woman, Professor Amanda Foreman seeks to rescue women from such obscurity, not only in European culture but throughout global history. Over four hour-long programmes, Foreman explores the place of women in societies ranging from the nomads of the Steppes through the empires of the Far and Middle East to the revolutions of Europe.”

The photo is used under a creative commons license with thanks to GabboT on Flickr. It shows Taylor Swift in mid-performance. Her image appears on a big screen, but you can also make out her figure onstage, sat at a piano. Her blonde hair hangs loose and she appears to be wearing a white dress. She is wearing red lipstick and her mouth is open in a playful expression.

A few days ago on 23 September, it was Bi Visibility Day. I’m a bit late with this, which I could pretend is because I’m trying to make the message resound on all days of the year, but is actually because time ran away with me. I can’t lie to you.

This is a really simple, almost stream-of-consciousness post, in which I’ll be listing some things that would be awesome for increasing the visibility of bi people. Some of them are things that can be done by anybody, some are for bi people, and some would require huge cultural shifts. They don’t come in any particular order. Take your pick, really.

Please note though that I’m only focussing on visibility. There are other important steps and actions to be taken to challenge biphobia; the fact that bisexuality is so seldom seriously discussed or presented is an important barrier to acceptance and harmony, but comes alongside plenty of others. I’m sure I’ll talk about some of those in the future.

But for now, let the list begin…

  • It would be great to have more people in the public eye who are openly bi. I’m particularly thinking of people like politicians and sporting professionals, where it feels like there is a particular dearth of bi role models (though some do exist!).
  • Alongside this, a media that doesn’t label people who haven’t labelled themselves would go a long way. That goes both ways – at the moment, pretty much anybody who hasn’t made a statement on their sexual orientation or been seen in a same sex pairing is assumed to be entirely straight (although stereotyping on factors normally relating to expected gender roles often leads to the opposite assumption). But if someone famous is seen with somebody of the same sex, then they are portrayed as gay or lesbian. Bisexuality almost never factors into these discussions.
  • In much the same way, historical figures who are known or suspected to have had same sex relationships are almost always described as gay or lesbian, even though we normally have no idea how they would have self-identified. It’s incredibly hard to know people who had sex or relationships with both women and men in a much more oppressive time were doing so because they were attracted to both or because they were keeping up appearances and had no attraction to the opposite sex. I don’t think we should label everybody who this applies to as bisexual either – but I think discussions about them, particularly in historical textbooks and educational resources, should acknowledge how much we don’t know. In fact, for almost every historical figure we can’t be sure how they would have considered themselves and are projecting our assumptions onto them!
  • Let’s have more novels, films and TV shows featuring bi characters! And for bonus points, characters who happen to be bi without it being their only feature, and without it being used to demonstrate their promiscuity/ sexiness/ alternative-ness.
  • For those of us who are bi and who are able to do so, being out is a really great step for increasing visibility in general. Of course that’s true among friends, but even more so in the more challenging environments – for example, being out at work or with family. Coming out stories often focus on telling your parents, but what about telling your children? Not everybody will feel safe or comfortable with being out in all areas of their life – but for those of us who do, it can really positively impact wider impressions of bisexuality.
  • For all of us, when talking about relationships, use inclusive language that doesn’t assume people are only interested in either women or men. For a lot of people you talk to, this will be the case – but using open language means you’ve got them thinking about it too, which might spread the bivisibility love!
  • Organisations that champion LGBT+ interests need to acknowledge bisexuality explicitly in their campaigns and communications and guard against making bi people feel excluded or unwelcome by a lack of attention.

There must be loads more but that’s a quick list. What else do you think could be done to make bisexuality more visible?

The image is by Nancy Magnusson and is used under a creative commons licence. It shows a bottlenose dolphin in clear blue water, with some others visible just at the edge of the shot.

Now, I would be hopelessly anthropomorphising if I suggested that just because bottlenose dolphins have frequently been documented as engaging in sexual activity with both females and males, they would consider themselves bisexual, but who doesn’t love a dolphin photo?

Weekly Round-up and Open Thread

by Lusana Taylor // 22 September 2015, 12:20 am

It’s time for another round-up and this one includes everything from Labour’s Shadow Cabinet to Amber Rose’s “Walk of NO Shame”!

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.

Jeremy Corbyn just made his first mistakes – but he’s not a sexist (The Guardian)

Forcing sex workers into the hidden economy will not keep them safe (Quartz)

From the article: “In any industry, reducing demand doesn’t help workers,” Koster explains. “It reduces prices. It reduces the ability of survival sex workers to say no to people who might be violent, or to people who might want sexual services they don’t want to engage in, or to people who don’t want to use condoms.”

How narratives around violent women warp our view of female jihadis (The Conversation)

Femen’s topless condescension towards Muslim women only helps sexism (The Guardian)

I Had Cancer – And Medical Fat-Shaming Could Have Killed Me (Everyday Feminism)

I’m going grey – why is no one else? (Brown Girl Outside the Ring)

Fuck Your Feminist Porn (Tits and Sass)

From the article: “Here’s what my feminist porn looks like: independent models working the way they want to work; making money; and setting their own hours, limits, and standards. Major companies working to include models of all backgrounds, allowing models their limits without pressure, and respecting the labor rights laws that govern all industries. Unionizing workers with bosses, being paid overtime, and being treated with respect. Having a damn job to keep us going until the revolution happens.”

I’m a Fat Bulimic – Here’s Why the Idea of Loving My Body Feels Impossible for Me (Everyday Feminism)

Watch Amber Rose take a post-sex walk of no shame (Dazed Digital)

From the article: “The model struts through town in a Funny Or Die video in a bid to highlight why women shouldn’t feel embarrassed after a one night stand”

When a Feminist Trailblazer Turns to Victim-Blaming, It’s Time to Let Go of a Hero (Cosmopolitan)

From the article: “Susan Brownmiller made rape the subject of national conversation, but we owe it to victims of sexual assault to denounce her recent comments”

Richard Pryor: meltdown at the Hollywood Bowl (Guardian, extract from Becoming Richard Pryor by Scott Saul)

How My Three-Year-Old Daughter Taught Me To Stop Worrying And Embrace Pretty (Ravishly)

From the article: “”I grew up in Scotland in the ’80s and, even though my parents didn’t consciously identify as feminists, a certain brand of second-wave feminism permeated the specific middle-class culture that we belonged to: tomboys were praised and girly girls were looked down on […] Meanwhile, at school, I went around telling the girls in my class that their dresses and earrings were “silly” and “stupid” — the words I had learned to associate with all things girly…”

“What’s Academic About Fucking?”: In Defense of Porn at School (Kitty Stryker)

Why the suffragettes still matter: ‘they dared to act as the equals of men’ (The Guardian)

From the article: “They endured violence and cruelty to further the cause of votes and equality for women. Ahead of the release of the movie Suffragette, we asked writers to reflect on the meanings and modern relevance of the militants’ direct action”

The image is used under a creative commons license with thanks to Sabrina Krilic. It shows the model Amber Rose in profile with one hand raised to her head, which is slightly tilted back. A floral tattoo on her arm is visible and she is wearing a black strappy dress with, what appears to be, small spikes on the front of it. The model herself appears in black and white, but behind her is a vibrant background of roses depicted in orange, red, pink and yellow.

Renowned Swedish erotic director Erika Lust is bringing her latest project XConfessions to the 23rd Annual Raindance Film Festival in London. Erika shares her professional journey with The F-Word in a guest post below

In Sweden in the 1990s, despite a strong culture of sexual liberalism and feminism, the issue of porn was a dividing one. When studying political sciences at the University of Lund, I picked up Linda Williams’ book Hard Core: Power, Pleasure and “The Frenzy of the Visible” (1999) and understood that pornography had the power to sexually liberate, inspire and educate. However, there was one problem: only men were telling their stories in porn. Women had no voice. They were just the pleasure dolls of men, ready to get down on their knees, look pretty and give pleasure, with no thought to their own. I couldn’t relate to them, women couldn’t relate to this. It was time to make a change.

Cut to Barcelona 2005 and my final project for a course in film direction. The idea was clear: let’s make a porno, but where the woman is in charge and wants to be pleased! The Good Girl was a hilarious twist on the typical Pizza-Guy-porn and it was a hit. When the short gained over two million downloads in a few months and grabbed an award at the International Erotic Film Festival in Barcelona, I realised there was an appetite for sexually intelligent cinematic erotica. I found something worth investing my creativity, time and money in: creating erotica for women and by women, using our pleasures, desires and sexuality to give us a voice in a male-dominated industry.

Erika Lust

I also wanted to get more women into porn in leadership roles as directors, producers, screenwriters… And so Lust Films was born, a production company where creativity, pleasure and innovation were the key. Along with my almost all-female production team, I am pushing the boundaries of female-led erotic filmmaking, with the production process firmly based in diversity and feminist values.

The journey wasn’t easy. First there was the hostility from my male counterparts who said I was wasting my time making porn for women as (of course!) they were already doing it. Then there were feminists who said all porn is abusive to women and is always part of the male gaze. Then there were the banks that wouldn’t accept my business because they saw it as something dirty, shameful and not worth investing in. And of course my mum, who didn’t understand why I wanted to ruin my life with this career choice.

I used all of this as a fuel to keep me going and I went on to shoot Five Hot Stories For Her (2007), followed by four more features and two shorts. After they won awards and got extensive media coverage, to keep my theoretical point of view in check I wrote Good Porn: A woman’s guide (2008) and Let’s Make a Porno: A Practical Guide to Filming Sex (2013), so others could learn how feminism, liberation and porn can work in harmony. Last year I expressed my ideas in front of a live audience at TEDxVienna, kickstarting the #changeporn campaign with my talk ‘It’s Time For Porn to Change’.

Ten years of Lust and the project is in full swing, with 50 shorts under its belt, crowdsourced from sexual confessions from my fans I receive every day. XConfessions strives to offer an alternative to the repetitive narratives in adult film, proving that feminist erotica can be just as dirty as the mainstream in its content. However, we treat all performers with respect and honesty. They are consenting adults who like their job, love sex and believe in the ethos and values of the company. The resulting stories combine professionally produced cinematic shorts with a strong narrative of desires of sexually independent and confident individuals, within realistic settings.

Diversity is key when choosing the confessions, locations and the performers. In the casting process we try to find people who embody the stories we want to create, who share our ethos and goals, the opposite of the porn stereotype. This is very difficult, mainly as most professional adult actors are paid better if they have a certain body (women with breast implants or men with big muscles, for example). With each new film, we are trying to diversify our pool of performers, with the end goal to represent as many different types of bodies, sexualities and genders as possible.

Sex is one of the most natural and carnal aspects of life. Why not explore and liberate it and show that what we do as feminist erotic filmmakers are films not porn?

You can still get tickets for the Raindance event at the VUE Cinema Piccadilly on 24 September 9.15pm. The evening will feature the talk CREATIVITY AND INNOVATION IN EROTIC CINEMA by Erika Lust and a screening of an exclusive Director’s Cut of the best short films from, followed by a Q&A.

The picture of Erika Lust courtesy of herself.
It shows a white woman with long brownish hair in a pony tail, looking into a film camera, as if adjusting it for a shoot.

Weekly Round-up and Open Thread

by Lusana Taylor // 14 September 2015, 10:33 pm

It’s time for another round-up and this one includes everything from Jeremy Corbyn’s win to Nicole Arbour’s “Dear Fat People” 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.

These dinner ladies’ fight for fair pay has lessons for us all (The Guardian)

From the article: “Despite the odds being stacked against them, 300 women in Camden have won their battle to be paid the London living wage.”

30 Years Later, ‘The Golden Girls’ is Still the Most Progressive Show on Television (Medium)

School dress codes reinforce the message that women’s bodies are dangerous (The Guardian)

Littlewoods withdraws advert showing mum ‘help’ her son get rid of sister’s bicycle after storm of abuse from parents (The Independent)

A reminder that Liz Smith’s F-Word article last year on sexism and pinkification in cycling is as relevant as ever!

As Jeremy Corbyn was anointed leader, not one female voice was heard (The Guardian)

From the article: “The new brocialism cares deeply about women’s issues of course – just not enough to elect an actual woman.”

What the Corbyn moment means for the left (New Statesman)

From the article: “The ultimate triumph of the political right in the 1980s was that its actions eventually forced the left to sell its soul for power – but many of today’s young voters neither remember nor care quite why it did so. All we have known are progressive parties that were callous in office and gutless in opposition.”

The ‘Dear Fat People’ video is tired, cruel and lazy – but I still fight for the woman who made it (The Guardian)

From the article: “Canadian comedian Nicole Arbour thinks she’s ‘hella brave’ for telling fat people to eat less and exercise more. Here’s my message for any woman who agrees with her …”

Grace Jones slays Rihanna, Miley, Gaga and Kanye in this exclusive extract from her autobiography (Time Out)

Juliet Jacques: ‘I spent years pretending to be male’ (The Guardian)

Everybody in dresses: Why does gender neutral clothing always mean ‘boy’ clothes for girls? (National Post)

From the article: “If gender neutral clothes are only made for and marketed to the parents of little girls, it is less a sign of gender equality and more an indication of the misogyny that is so ambient in our culture. There is such a devaluing of anything traditionally feminine that we’d rather chuck it out triumphantly than ever demean our boys with it.” (Via

The image is used under a creative commons license with thanks to R4vi on Flickr. It depicts three people; two sitting against a brick wall with metal railings and the other, in a fluorescent jacket, standing with arms crossed and a suspicious look. The two people sitting against the wall have cardboard placards behind them which read ‘Refugees Welcome’ amongst hand-drawn hearts. One is wearing black trainers, blue jeans and a red bandana. The other is wearing blue jeans, brown pumps and a striped shirt.

The English title of South Korean director July Jung’s first short – ‘A Man Under the Influenza’ (2007) – puns on the title of John Cassavetes’ A Woman Under the Influence, a film famous for the central performance by Gena Rowlands. Jung’s first feature A Girl at My Door (2014) has not one but two powerful women oppressed by patriarchy at its centre. They’re brought to life vividly by Doona Bae (currently starring in Sense8) and Kim Sae Ron, both best known in South Korea for playing cute young female characters, as Jinhee Choi pointed out at a PoutFest preview of the film.

It’s rare enough for any films by non-Euro-Western, non-Anglophone women to receive distribution in the UK, but kudos to Peccadillo Pictures for taking on a film that caused walkouts by critics at Cannes (except for the great Amy Taubin) for its uncompromising depiction of violent sexism as well as of an ambiguous, intimate relationship between a female police officer and a brutalised teenager who comes to her for protection. Like Jane Campion’s BBC TV series Top of the Lake, Jung’s film takes a long, hard look at the systemic sexism, present not only in the small town where the film is set but throughout the police force and social structures.

I talked to Jung (through a translator) when she visited London in November 2014 for the Korean Film Festival after her film had also screened at the London Film Festival. The interview, right before she introduced her film, was condensed but fascinating and powerful – like A Girl at My Door.

Sae Ron Kim as Dohee

Q&A with July Jung

Congratulations on A Girl at My Door being shown in the London Film Festival and London Korean Film Festival! How important are festivals for an arthouse film like yours?
They are very important. At festivals, there are big commercial films and interesting smaller films playing alongside each other, so we can reach audiences who are yearning for new kinds of films. And international events are crucial because we are yearning for new audiences!

How did you pitch the film and get it made?
It has a small budget – 30 billion Korean won [about £1.5 million], which we got from the film councils, otherwise we couldn’t have made it.

How did you get Kim Sae Ron involved? The role of Dohee is so different from her previous roles.
She declined the role at first. We auditioned 500 actors, and eventually Kim said yes: she felt like she had to play it. She’s very thoughtful and smart, and realised how deep the character was, and how difficult it would be. I told her: “It will be painful,” but she had both the understanding and the talent to undertake it. That’s what makes genius. Her mother encouraged her and supported taking the role; she was on set the whole time, and we had a therapist there as well.

Why did you write Doona Bae’s character Young Nam as a lesbian?
The film is about two lonely girls: a child, Dohee, who doesn’t understand what loneliness is because she doesn’t know what love is, and a woman who has isolated herself because of prejudice against her. The police environment is very male-centred in Korea, putting pressure on Young Nam; for her, being lesbian creates an added source of tension and also isolation within her work and the village where she is sent.

Do you think of the film as being a feminist film?
It’s not for me to say, but I’m very happy that you look at it like that!

And finally, what’s next for you?
I am working on a scenario for my next film, which is based on Sigmund Freud’s famous unfinished analysis of Dora. I can’t say more right now…

A Girl at My Door opens on 18 September, released by Peccadillo.

Sophie Mayer is the author of the forthcoming Political Animals: the new feminist cinema (IB Tauris, November 2015), a co-founder of Raising Films and full-time feminist film activist.

Picture courtesy of Peccadillo Pictures (Sae Ron Kim as Dohee). It shows a young Asian girl with long black hair, wearing a short white dress. She’s standing on the road on the verge of a field of green/yellow plants.

Hurrah for Jessy McCabe, the 17-year-old who, as well as sharing her name with our Editor at Large, started a successful campaign to get exam board Edexcel to include women composers on its A Level syllabus. Previously, not a single woman was represented among the 63 taught on the course.

This absurd statistic represents two major problems. Firstly, there is a genuinely colossal gap between the number of (primarily European) male composers from the past few hundred years who have an extant and preferably substantial body of work to study, and those who are female. Add to that an exam board’s preference for historical significance – likely to be appraised by public reaction and any effect on other composers, both reliant on exposure – and the ratio is even less balanced.

I find it incredibly sad that the world must be missing a quotient of superlative music by women – because it was never written or it was never given the oxygen of publicity that would have demanded its preservation. In Europe until fairly recently, professional composition was not for women. We know, for example, of Nannerl Mozart, who was as much of a child prodigy as her brother, but once grown had to retire to a domestic life. And there’s Fanny Mendelssohn, whose father told her “Music should be an accomplishment, an adornment, and never a career for women,” but who is believed to have written some of the pieces attributed to her brother Felix.

The second problem, of course, is passivity from the exam board. Any educational body must consider the impact of the choices they make on the young minds that contend with them (particularly when school is seen as an authority and the subtleties of subjectivity are unlikely to be conveyed clearly in the context). If the syllabus focuses on such a high number of composers and women don’t get a look in, it makes it all the more difficult for young women today to see themselves as successful composers and musicians. There are more boys studying music at A Level than girls and it is still the case that professional composition (be it classical, popular or for film and TV) is mainly the domain of men. In presumably related news, so is performance – let us not forget that women can be dismissed out of hand as unable to play ‘masculine’ instruments (nothing says lad like a tuba) or indeed anything at all professionally while auditions from behind a screen have them winning the approval of the same sexist arbiters.

So the exam board has a responsibility to make music an attractive subject and potential career for all students. And in fact, Jessy was surprised at how quickly they responded with plans for change.

I’m coming away from this story with three pieces of good news that give me hope.

Sometimes all it takes is bringing it up
This is a double edged sword. It’s frustrating that so often, in areas that are so impactful, nobody has thought about gender at all. But the bright side of this is that they haven’t intentionally set out to exclude women and their experiences, and when queried, are quick to realise the importance of inclusion. It can be tiring feeling like you’re constantly calling out and worrying about how negative reactions will be – but increasingly often around issues of representation, I suspect the main step will be highlighting the imbalance and supporting steps to change.

Addressing individual issues can lead to critiquing process
It would be great if Jessy’s campaign had simply ensured that the next syllabus has Clara Schumann included, but even more satisfying is that EdExcel have said they will investigate their other subjects. So we might be seeing a difference in how they represent artists, scientists or historical events. What would be even better would be if EdExcel (and other exam boards) ensure that diversity and representation is enshrined in their process for constructing a syllabus, so we don’t lose this progress when the next wave of changes are made.

Young feminism is in a good place
It is deeply impressive to see young people calling for social change. Jessy stated the campaign after leaving more about feminism through a programme about gender equality called Fearless Futures (we’re in your schools, educating your children). It is fantastic to know there are people taking action to counter the status quo of education that would see slow progress as feminist and egalitarian ideals inch forward on the agenda. This results in young people who are able to evaluate things with an open mind and question authority when they think it is wrong.

So overall, this story leaves me feeling pretty good. I’ll leave you with ‘Sino alla Morte’ written by Barbara Strozzi in the 17th century and sung in this version by Roberta Invernizzi. Let us know in the comments if there are any composers you think deserve a place on the syllabus!

The image shows Hildegard von Bingen, a German composer (and many other things) who lived 1098 – 1179. This is an “illumination from the Liber Scivias showing Hildegard receiving a vision and dictating to her scribe and secretary”.

The video has as its background a static image of an oil painting of a person wearing furred robes with gloved hands.

This post on Bustle is a great introduction to some of the classical women composers worth knowing about.

Helen Raymond thinks that Jeremy Corbyn’s support for women-only train carriages is not about segregation or political gain – it’s a practical way of removing opportunities for men who want to assault women to assault women

Jeremy Corbyn recently voiced support for the idea of introducing women-only carriages on trains in the UK. This policy statement was made in response to the news that the British Transport Police recorded 1,399 sexual offences in 2014-15 in England, Scotland and Wales.

The story grabbed my attention – not only because I liked the idea, but because of the radically different way in which Corbyn communicated it to us, avoiding the usual pitfalls that male politicians stumble into when talking about issues affecting women.

What made it different?

Corbyn doesn’t use the slippery language of politicians
Firstly, his message had more substance than style. He did not name drop his daughters, or his wife, or his grandmother in order to lend false emotional credence to his idea. He did not start by saying “Now let me be clear…”. He did not talk about his idea having “credibility at its heart” or about “robust, rigid responses” to sexual assault. These political clichés are linguistic litter, designed to bamboozle us into believing that what we are hearing is a statement of strength. The message was not managed; it was delivered. In as few words as possible.

Despite the controversy it has sparked, his statement was cautious and tentative. He did not proclaim that he had seized upon the one and only solution to sexual assault, but said he would “consult women” to see whether a pilot of late-night women-only carriages “would be of interest” to them. I cannot remember being asked my opinion by a politician on women’s issues before. And the very act of being consulted is itself empowering.

I was somewhat surprised by the apparent unpopularity of the idea. Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, said: “I don’t think at all that women-only carriages are the solution… It seems to accept that the problem is inevitable, that men will harass women and that all we can do is contain them.”

At the risk of sounding unacceptably negative, the problem is inevitable. This is not to say that all men are potential perpetrators of sexual assault; of course they aren’t. But it’s idealistic to think that there will ever be a time when it sexual assault – or the attempt of it – is eradicated completely. For as long as there are women, there will be men who think it is their right to cop a feel.

Some people believe that attempting to change the minds of such men is a more worthwhile approach than this so-called “segregation”. Guardian columnist Daisy Buchanan said on Radio 4’s Today programme that she would like to see the problem of sexual assault addressed directly, and would love to see “poster campaigns” in train station targeting men who “had had a few drinks”. The cynic in me wonders just how much attention a potential perpetrator will pay to an A2 billboard after five pints of Stella.

Segregation or an understandable need to seek safety?
Woman on trainOpposers have said that women should not have to modify their behaviour to avoid the crimes of others. The act of sitting in a female-only carriage is, to some, an act of resignation, a sacrifice of territory to creeps, whereas remaining in mixed carriages is an act of defiance. It is as if mixed carriages have become a metaphor for mainstream society, and women-only carriages are a symbol of the margins. Yvette Cooper took this stance, and tweeted: “Why should we have to shut ourselves away to stay safe?”

Well, we shouldn’t. But women modify their behaviour all the time to avoid unwanted attention, especially in mixed carriages. We avoid eye contact, we take the seat next to the old lady, maybe we sit at one end of the carriage so we can see what’s going on. To me, sitting in a female-only carriage is an extension of the natural safety-seeking behaviour that lots of us exhibit without thinking, and with good reason.

When I read the backlash against the idea, one memory sprung to mind. I recalled sitting with a friend on a cramped bench on the last train to Blackpool North from Liverpool on a Friday night. I remembered a drunk and lairy bloke unbuttoning his belt and threatening to flash us, to the great amusement of his mates.

It would be nice to have the option to sit somewhere where there was no possibility of that happening, and I do not think that having that option would strip me of any sort of power. If anything, it would remove his power: the opportunistic power of the kind of man who will not be affected by a poster campaign.

All Labour leadership contenders say they want to instigate a stronger response to sexual assault on public transport. Burnham and Cooper want to assign harsher punishments to perpetrators, which whilst important, only deals with the problem after it has occurred. Corbyn wants to remove the would-be perpetrators’ opportunity to offend.

I’m pretty sure which approach is the strongest.

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

Image attribution: Giuseppe Milo, used under Creative Commons license.

This post was edited on 16th September to clarify that women-only carriages were an idea supported by Jeremy Corbyn rather than Corbyn’s original suggestion. Liz.

As Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month starts, Daloni Carlisle, Ambassador for The Eve Appeal, explains why women must start talking about their periods

152261697_689b5ea619_zMost women have had times when their periods have gone a bit wonky. Often it’s perfectly normal and most women expect it, right? So let me tell you a cautionary tale about what can happen if you ignore your wonky periods.

I was 49 a couple of years ago when my periods starting going seriously wonky. I had not had a period for, ooh, ten years or so thanks to the marvellous Mirena coil but suddenly I started bleeding. And bleeding. I called my GP. “I have had a period lasting two weeks,” I said. “Come in when it’s finished,” he told me. It didn’t. So I didn’t.

My mum had undergone a hysterectomy around the same age so I figured I’d do the same. But I simply did not have time to have six weeks off work and deal with all the bother of getting friends to do the school run just then.

Twelve weeks later, I finally got around to seeing my GP. My womb felt normal, he said, but he referred me for standard tests – ultrasound, blood tests to assess whether I was menopausal, and to a gynaecologist.

The gynaecologist made a very different assessment. My womb was the same size as if I were four months pregnant and I had a huge fibroid (non-cancerous growths that develop in or around the womb). She wanted to do a hysteroscopy and remove the coil and she wanted to do it sooner rather than later.

When I went to get the results I thought that I would be talking about treatment options for fibroids and scheduling in a hysterectomy. The diagnosis of cancer was a complete bombshell.

I don’t know about you, but I had never heard of womb cancer. I’ve since gone on to discover that it is the fourth most common cancer in women, behind breast, lung and bowel, killing nearly 2,000 women in 2011.

That can’t be because the British public is prudish about women’s cancers. Ovarian and cervical cancer are constantly in the news. We are awash (and quite rightly) with pink ribbons for breast cancer. But of womb cancer there is rarely a mention. Nor is there much in the way of research.

Around 8,500 cases of womb cancer are diagnosed annually in the UK, typically occurring in older women defined as medically overweight (the cancers are fed by a hormone called oestrogen in the absence of progesterone and fat cells generate oestrogen. So being post-menopausal and defined as medically overweight is a double whammy for womb cancer risk).

There is also a group of rarer cancers that can affect any woman at any age. These cancers are aggressive, they are often diagnosed late because their symptoms mimic other benign gynaecological conditions, they are often resistant to chemotherapy and for young women bring with them hard choices about loss of fertility.

Guess what? I had one of these rarer, aggressive cancers. And guess what? The wonky periods that I had put down to age, to the menopause, to an inherited tendency towards fibroids had been cancer. The vague symptoms that preceded the bleeding – notably slightly painful sex that I had put down to scar tissue from two difficult births – that was cancer too.

So by the time of diagnosis, the cancer was locally advanced. I went on to have a year of treatment that included surgery, chemotherapy and two types of radiotherapy – internal and external. I’ve survived, my hair is growing back and I am regaining my fitness.

These days I am back at work as a journalist. I am also an ambassador for The Eve Appeal, the only charity raising money for research into the women-only cancers of the womb, ovaries, cervix, vagina and vulva.

In the UK, 20,000 women are diagnosed annually with a gynaecological cancer and 7,600 die. That’s 21 women each day. Shocking isn’t it? That is why this year The Eve Appeal are seeking to highlight the importance of women knowing the key signs and symptoms of all five gynaecological cancers and more importantly encouraging them to open up to friends, family and most importantly healthcare professionals to discuss any gynaecological health issues or concerns for Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month in September.

It’s a shame it took this horrendous experience for me to learn to talk about my periods and about bleeding. I’d hate that to be the same for you. Start talking about your periods so that you can learn what is normal and what is not. Don’t ignore symptoms of painful sex or unusual bleeding. The chances are it won’t be cancer because common things are more common. But if it is, then at least you stand a chance of it being caught earlier when treatment is more likely to succeed.

Daloni Carlisle is a journalist and ambassador for The Eve Project. For more information on gynaecological cancers such as Daloni’s or the work of The Eve Appeal please visit

How to date a feminist

by Guest Blogger // 8 September 2015, 9:00 am

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Clare Lorraine Phipps asks why the online dating game is so squeamish towards forward women

A letter to my former lover, and to any man who wants to date a woman who is a feminist:

It was during one of our first conversations, before we had met face-to-face, that I told you I use my online dating profile as a filtering system. By being as upfront and honest as possible, I attempt to sort the feminist-ally wheat from the misogynist chaff.

Because you’d read my profile (and believe me, it’s pretty obvious if someone hasn’t), you knew I don’t shave my body hair before you had seen my body. You knew I have a partner I love, who knows I’m dating and who I’m not going to be leaving. Yet you were still talking to me, so I made the assumption you weren’t fazed by my feminism.

I also assumed that meant you weren’t fazed by the fact that I wouldn’t be playing ‘the game’: the one that ultimately still sees women as princesses waiting patiently in the tower for the prince to come by. And I thought you knew it didn’t just mean that I might not have hair long enough to climb up, or even that I might be so bold as to ask to be climbed – it means abandoning the confine that has me in the bloody tower at all.

That was why I was so surprised by the reason you gave for not wanting to carry on with me: “You like me more than I like you. I don’t think that’s good.”

You are the third male to say that exact sentence to me in a year. Do you really think that in every one of those instances I have been so way off the mark that the relationship had to end before it toppled over with the imbalance (presumably under the weight of all the wedding magazines I had mistakenly stocked up on)? Or could it have been that these men were so unused to hearing a female voice openly how she feels and what she needs that they over-inflated my sentiments in their minds?

Growing up I was taught that women must “play hard to get”: pressured into hiding feelings alluringly behind a fan, only revealing enough of them to keep an admirer’s interest piqued. From a young age I learnt that to attract men women must learn to run prey-like, wriggling slightly when they are hooked to show that once secured they’ll sit nicely and won’t be too much trouble. It is incredible that, even at the altar, tradition dictates that brides must be coquettish, arriving late in feign disinterest – God forbid they look to eager to marry their betrothed.

Why do you think it is that women who date men are so rarely the ones who message first? Perhaps it is because they have grown up knowing the shame of how undesirable they will be if they actively imply that they are interested in someone. “Needy”, “clingy”, “high maintenance” – all these words echo after us down the school corridors, preventing women from daring to ask for what we want in our relationships, and keeping the power to achieve satisfaction firmly in the hands of the male. If indeed they can find any pleasure in a game that equally robs the men involved: depriving them of the simple comfort of feeling secure in someone’s affection, and turning honest and happy female endearment into something dirty before they can even enjoy the compliment. Meanwhile, women who aren’t just unwilling but also unable to comply with this bizarre social etiquette are written out. Female sexualities that do not exclusively involve men are recast as simply playing the ultimate form of hard to get – temporarily fulfilling the fantasies of heterosexual men then returning to their arms when they have had enough. I will not document here the horrific hate crimes that far too often face those women who persist in rejecting male suitors.

But I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt for a moment. Maybe I am just incredibly loving and I liked every one of those men more than they liked me.

So what? It’s the twenty-first century. Women can out-perform men in exams, they can out-earn them, they can out-live them. And they can bloody well out-love them if they want to as well. For too long we have been told that a man longing hopelessly after a woman is romantic, but in a woman the same behaviour is a pathetic. For once, let us have our chance on the other side. Rejection can be painful, but not as excruciating as having to sit passively until someone finally comes along who isn’t worth rejecting.

So next time you click on someone’s profile and see the word “feminist”, please remember that along with the sex and the politics chat will be someone who might – quelle horreur – be brave enough to shake off centuries of patriarchal trappings and pay you the compliment of saying – honestly, boldly and without expectation – that they like you. Instead of flinching, I think next time you should realise how lucky that makes you.

In the meantime, I think my dating profile could do with a few tweaks.

Clare Lorraine Phipps is a disabled, polyamorous feminist activist and editor of the London Green Party website. She is researching gender and health as part of a PhD.

Image Attribution: Neo-Blythe “Love and More” doll photographed by Patricia Carvalho. Used under Creative Commons license.

Weekly Round-up and Open Thread

by Lusana Taylor // 7 September 2015, 4:12 pm


It’s time for another round-up and this one includes everything from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to Straight Outta Compton!

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.

The Problem With Trillian: Hitchhiker’s Guide and Me (The Toast)

From the article: “I’m sympathetic to men’s defensiveness when they’re told their faves are problematic (I know, you wouldn’t think I’d be sympathetic to men, but I am!), because a lot of those are my faves too. Figuring out a way to love a piece of culture without letting it off the hook was a difficult task, and one that was ultimately crucial to my development as a feminist and as a thoughtful human.”

The faces of transgender teen America (Mashable)

Goodbye, “Bye, Felicia”: The Objectification of Black Women in ‘Straight Outta Compton’ (Man Repeller)

From the article: “Historically, rap culture and music has not always been kind to black women, and Dr.Dre, a member of NWA and a producer on the film, faced charges for slamming a journalist and TV host named Dee Barnes against a wall in a nightclub in 1991.”

The dA-Zed guide to 70s feminist avant-garde art (Dazed)

From the article: “Selfies, gender fluidity and the original pioneers of ‘Free the Nipple’ – here’s an authorative education on the radicals that paved the way for feminism today”

Awesome books by women – your suggestions (Girl on the Net)

The anxiety puzzle: why are women in deprived areas more likely to suffer? (The Conversation)

Men Consume, Women Are Consumed: 15 Thoughts on the Stigma of Sex Work (Jezebel)

The drowned Syrian boy photo is viral social media at its most hollow and hypocritical (Vox)

PC Comedy and Paul Revere: A rape joke, a rape case, and a public repentance provide another way to look at the debate that never ends (Medium)

From the article: “The ‘PC in comedy’ debate has been going on for a long time now, and there’s a tendency — on both sides — to let ‘the ideas are bad’ become ‘the people with the ideas are bad.’ In some cases, it’s true. Some people really do harass, abuse, or seek to harm people in the name of being ‘funny.’ Or, potentially, in the name of being ‘right.’ But I think this conflation of person and idea undercuts the debate, or at least limits its potential.”

The image is used under creative commons with thanks to Ana Alvarez-Errecalde. The photograph shows a rather plain and dilapidated building. On the side facing the camera, there are three windows. Two tall figures have been drawn on the building reaching from the bottom to the highest window. They appear to be in mid-motion, as if dancing or jumping, and are filled in with a spiral design.


Greetings, dear readers! Please click here for your September 2015 playlist. You can also view the track-list and listen here.

As usual, I’ve included some new tracks (Sea Lion, Maribou State feat. Holly Walker, Chemical Brothers feat. Cate Le Bon) and some absolute classics (SHANNON!). On the very subject, I was shocked and dismayed to discover I’ve never included a Madonna track on any of my F-Word playlists. For shame! I was a huge Madonna fan as a kid and spent many happy hours watching The Immaculate Collection on video and learning the dance moves. ‘Open Your Heart’ is a brilliant track, accompanied by a video of Madonna looking badass. Check it out:

I only heard the Anushka track very recently and love its mellow vibe and bass line… the perfect track to see out the summer to. Alternately, the Cat Power track strikes me as a song more suited for the winter months, bleak as it is. Cat’s voice is sublime, but godamn she’s mournful.

While reminiscing to the Echobelly track (does anyone else remember watching them perform ‘Great Things’ on TOTP in, ooh, 1995?), I discovered this interview with front-woman Sonia Madan. I can’t work out to what extent journalist Emma Forrest is poking fun at the bullshit industry standards and restrictions on women in music and how much she’s towing the party line. Either way, it makes for an interesting historical read, if nothing else.


The picture at the top of the page is a black and white head and shoulders shot of Joan Armatrading performing onstage in 2005. Her eyes are squeezed tight in concentration. It’s a great shot. Image by Chris Boland, shared under a Creative Commons licence.

Me and my body image

by Guest Blogger // 6 September 2015, 12:00 pm

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In the first of our September series on body image, Tilly-Jayne Kidman tells us how her relationship with her body has changed through focusing on overall health rather than the pursuit of skinny.

Body image is something I’ve always struggled with. From a young age I would gaze at my mum’s copies of ‘Marie Claire’ and wish for the women’s long lean legs and perfect skin. It was only when I got to a mature age I realised that looking like the women in the photos wasn’t going to happen, because those women in the photos didn’t even look like that. Airbrushing well and truly screws up our perspective on our bodies and our appearance.

Through my teens I maintained a size 8 figure. I look back on photos and see what I would now class as slim. I was seeing a whole different picture at the time though. I felt huge. I threw away my lunch every day and would eat minimal amounts of dinner. I craved a thin body and was the blind to the fact that at a size 8 I already had one.

TJ imageDo I blame the media? I guess I sort of do. I spent my youth growing up with magazines that flaunted thin women and shamed those with curves. The thing is, I was slim – I just didn’t feel slim enough.

I’m now in my mid-twenties. I have a different perspective on life and body image and the girl so desperate to be thin is no longer inside me. Perhaps I’ve wised up to the airbrushed version of reality or perhaps it’s because I’m more secure in everyday life. It’s taken me a while to get here though, and to truly feel comfortable with my body. As comfortable as I can be, anyway.

I think when I began to realise that there was a difference between being skinny and being healthy, and only one of those would ensure a long and happy life that I changed my ways.

So let’s rewind again. In my mission for a positive body image I thought about what I needed the most. I came to the conclusion that a sensible fitness regime and nutritious diet were pretty good starting points. My combination of no formal exercise and cereal weren’t doing my body any favours.

My first barrier that I had to overcome was my fear of the gym and gym classes. I once had a poor attempt at a boxing class, but that’s another story. I’ve always found gyms so image-led and intimidating. A gym should be about fitness, prevention of illness and feeling fantastic. My local gym was about mirrors, muscles and competition.

Determined not to let the muscle fanatics intimidate me, I looked further afield. I can’t praise my local training centre enough. If you’re a woman in the St Albans area who like me, feels intimated by ‘regular’ gyms then this centre will put you at ease. It’s a real support unit and I’m so grateful for it. I have a tailored plan that suits my needs and makes me feel bloody amazing!

Nutrition was my next biggest hurdle. Swapping my meal-skipping habits and cereal dinner for balanced, wholesome food wasn’t something that happened overnight. I invested in two books that totally changed my mindset and encouraged me to understand what I was putting in my body and question whether it was benefiting my body. I also purchased a couple of books; Deliciously Ella was my first purchase. I currently lead a vegetarian lifestyle, and if like me you want to cut out meat from your diet but ensure you get the right nutrition this book is great. Madeleine Shaw’s book has also given me some healthy tips.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say that a couple of books have turned my life around, but it’s made me feel a damn load better about my body. I understand nutrition, I understand what exercise my body needs. As the days go on I can feel the grip of negative body image slowly letting go. One day I’ll be body positive.

Tilly-Jayne Kidman is a UK fashion & lifestyle blogger, feminist, vegetarian and currently shares her home with three naughty house bunnies. Find her at

Image attribution: Author’s own.

This September, we’ll be running a series of guest blogs and features about body image here at The F-Word.

2015 has been an interesting year so far. We’ve had the Protein World ad controversy (and we’ll have more about that in this series, looking in detail at what the ASA’s ruling on those adverts means for women and for advertisers). Topshop was pressured into removing unrealistically thin mannequins from its stores. There have been complaints about female politicians and prominent female businesswomen such as Amal Clooney being judged by the way they dress, rather than what they do. Similar disproportionate attention has been paid to the physiques of sportswomen over their sporting achievements. Serena Williams hit back at her critics recently over it – after all, she’s a winner of 22 major titles, so who cares what her arms look like?

perceptionI’ve had my own body image struggles, mostly stemming from being bullied in school. The first time I wrote a piece for The Guardian a commenter called me ugly below the line, which was removed of course, but still reminded me that some still think that my worth as a woman is entirely based on what I look like and what I produce or contribute doesn’t matter. I worked as a youth worker for some time and I despaired of the messages that young girls were taking on board about their female bodies and their value. This is why we need feminism now as much as we ever did.

Our guest bloggers and writers will be discussing a range of topics, from their own personal experiences with body image to critical examination of how advertising and the media treat women’s bodies and what messages we are given about them. There are a lot of assumptions made about women and our relationships with our bodies, so much so in fact that we are not always trusted to know when something is wrong with them, as one of our authors found out when she was assumed by professionals to have an eating disorder, delaying diagnosis of a serious condition.

We encourage our readers to participate and as ever, if you have an idea for a body image related blog or a subject you’d like covered in this series then please send it to and we will take a look and get back to you. Body image doesn’t just affect women either, so we encourage men to write in about their experiences and/or thoughts on this topic.

Don’t forget you can also participate by adding your comments or join in the discussions on Facebook and Twitter.

The series starts tomorrow, Sunday 6th September, so look out for the first blog!

Liz Smith and Lily Kendall, Guest Content Editors

Image attribution: Laura Lewis, used under Creative Commons licence

Rosa Walling-Wefelmeyer is unimpressed with Home and Away’s recent storyline about a false rape accusation because of its potential to reinforce harmful stereotypes about victims. Besides, it’s just not that original – or entertaining.

So, after some careful consideration, Home and Away have just introduced the False Rape/Assault Accusation Trope (FRAAT) into their waters. That shark’s sure gonna cause some serious mayhem for all the good men of Summer Bay, ripping up their respectable lives and swallowing the whole tanned-torsoed community’s trust in humanity… or just women actually. Strewth! Billie Ashford, you good-for-nothing liar, you have a lot to answer for.

So, in fact, do the writers. Some years ago I watched Dani Sutherland run her rapist over with a car and Charlie Buckton kidnapping hers in hope of a confession (there may have been some FRAATing and abuse storylines in the Bay since, but my loyalties have undergone changes). Imagine my surprise and disappointment therefore on tuning in again recently to see Billie Ashford falsely accuse Doctor-Could-I-Be-Anymore-Perfect-Nate Cooper of sexual assault out of revenge for rejecting her (because of course a man’s rejection is just so damaging to a young woman).

After experiencing an initial sense of déjà vu, I’m embarrassed to say I assumed the plot’s intention was more intelligent – that’s right, I actually thought the trope was being introduced to be challenged and subverted. Silly me.

Here’s why that won’t be happening any time soon and furthermore, here’s why that’s a problem.

“Soaps aren’t meant to reflect reality”, I hear you say (sure, and I live in a fairy sun and surf world where all cultural and media output is totally apolitical), but certain storylines, or in this case, rape myths, do seem to keep doing the rounds. Considering that sexual violence is universally underreported and victims often cite fear of not being believed as a key reason for not disclosing, it is interesting how often and with what sensationalism FRAAT keeps popping up in our media channels. Especially considering it’s no more common than other types of ‘false’ accusation.

The usual fictional trope goes something like this:

Woman/girl is evil/disturbed and is obsessed with/rejected by likeable white heterosexual male. Said male is then accused of assaulting her and loses his respectability/family/job etc. Storyline continues until shots of said male brooding in police stations are exhausted, sympathies have been well and truly milked and the woman/girl is exposed as the devil incarnate. Various characters, usually wives/girlfriends, undergo a crisis of faith followed by guilt as the truth is revealed.

Is it any surprise that victims of sexual violence are fearful of being disbelieved?

This trope also gets it wrong because, in order to bring outraged sweat to audience foreheads, the false claim must be believed and the community must turn against the alleged perpetrator. This, as we know, is simply not the case; there are too many stories of women and girls being persecuted after making their allegations because no one wanted to believe them and their communities actually turned against them. Indeed, in an age where thirteen year-old sexual violence victims are described as ‘predatory’, the message seems clear: ‘Victims’ bring it on themselves or just tell lies to ruin lives. Don’t believe them.

The mythical ‘scorned woman’ will do anything to undermine a good man. Watch out fellas, she’s smart; Billie even got Nate’s DNA behind her nails, used his phone to send a sexually explicit text and tried to make a witness out of another of the Bay’s good guys, Chris Harrington (a moment of pity for honest misled Chris please). See, it’s not just the accused caught in deep water; in Nate’s case it also almost cost him his partner Kat Chapman, her police job (officers actually care about injustice apparently) and his own medical job (didn’t get your blood transfusion or liver transplant? Well, blame Billie the Shark: the cause of everything).

Who knows what will happen? Perhaps the writers will try and throw their plot a lifeline and explore Billie’s character and her false accusation more carefully – Lonsway et al.’s look at what actually constitutes ‘false’ or the recent concerns over prosecuting ‘false’ claimants rather than sex offenders might be of some interest here. But, I’m not holding out. Perhaps it’s just easier to re-use tropes about lying women than to depict abusive men.

So, I’ll be prepared to watch Nate versus Billie when you show me some more sensitive and representative sexual violence storylines alongside it. And no, as cathartic as watching Kane Phillips meet Dani’s car was, that’s not what I have in mind.

We all love a story of wrongs righted, injustice resolved, the truth outed. But we are watching the wrong channel. This particular channel is happy to let an old myth snap at our heels. Too bad the world’s not just sun and surf after all.

Rosa Walling-Wefelmeyer currently works for Rape Crisis, Waddington Street Mental Health Centre and Durham Women Rising. Her views are her own.

Image attribution: Photo of Home and Away character Nate Cooper is permitted for public use by Channel 5.

Exiting the sausage fest

by Megan Stodel // 2 September 2015, 8:27 am

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Recently, I’ve been trying to eat less meat. In my case, it’s for environmental reasons, but there are plenty of other good reasons why people choose to cut down or eliminate it from their diet altogether.

Being the sort of person who likes so few vegetables that people who have only just made my acquaintance frequently scold me on the matter, this decision has had its challenges. I’ve largely been prepared for these, pre-planning meals and gathering recipes to ensure I can make dishes I enjoy easily, and creating a points system to try to game myself into the level of reduction I want to achieve. I’ve actually been quite surprised at how doable it has been as long as I stay focused and don’t eat a slice of Pepperoni Passion just because it’s there.

It has been far more of a challenge to overcome my own pig-headedness (after all, you are what you eat). I respond badly to inferences that actions I’m taking are specifically because I’m a woman and, as I’ve always known but have been far more aware of lately, eating vegetarian food is for ladies.

Suddenly, I’m remembering all those occasions over the years when I’ve eaten with vegetarian friends who happen to be men, and I’ve been served the stuffed aubergine while they’ve been given the lamb chops. Or, more subtly, when I look in disappointment at the delicate, flaky fish dish in front of me while my boyfriend gets my burger.

This further reminds me of the times that I’ve been searching for presents for men in my life and, in moments of unsuccessful desperation, have browsed sites designed to pigeonhole people into the generic gift that a few labels lead to. As well as sports and beer, marketers have designated meat in the man’s domain – so even though you’ll find an array of kitchen trinkets in the women’s section, head to the men’s for meat thermometers, branding irons and barbecue paraphernalia. Recipe books perpetuate this; while a majority are by men (because as we all know, men are chefs while women are only cooks), any that are directed at men often heavily feature hunks of meat, either as the entire focus or at least the star of the cover.

Without realising it, for years I’ve been taking joy in countering people’s expectations. At some point earlier than I’m aware of, I had the idea that meat is manly planted into my head, and since then when I’ve asked for my steak to be rare, I’ve felt, in some small way, victorious. I’m challenging the status quo, aren’t I? Surely eating so many cocktail sausages at a party in primary school that my friend’s mother reported it back to my own parents, aghast, proves something? I am a woman. I am carnivorous. Can we just agree that the patriarchy is refuted now?

Yet now, in a way that I didn’t anticipate, I’m losing this act of rebellion (which was never intended to be a rebellion in the first place). I’m doing exactly what is expected of me. And I hate it.

At a recent wedding, the main course was roast beef. The woman serving made a point of giving the men an extra large portion of meat. I made a point of switching my plate with a temporarily absent man. Even though I was trying to cut down and the week had been going quite well, I was unable to ignore the bait.

There are two main things I’m taking out of this whole experience. Obviously, meat is weirdly and unnecessarily gendered. That means a host of men who would quite happily be vegetarian but never even try it (maybe never even think about it) because of the social ramifications. Conversely, it means women who will never know the joy of pretending to know how to barbecue, as they stick to mixing the potato salad and folding napkins. Overall, it just means a world where, once again, over the most seemingly banal and everyday activities, perverse influences affect how we act, when it’s possible we could be happier if we were doing things differently.

But something else important is the reminder that you don’t beat the patriarchy just by doing the opposite of what it dictates. In that way, you end up just as controlled by it as when you comply, while at the same time casting those who do act differently to you as problematic. Because of course there are plenty of women who are vegetarians and plenty of men who love meat. The key is to be aware of the ways in which we might have been influenced by sexist norms – and if we’re happy with our choices, the best way to fight patriarchy is to do our best to ensure that others are free to make theirs.

The image is by Stefano A and is used under a creative commons licence. It shows eight uncooked sausages placed on the grill of a barbecue. Green grass in the background indicates the picture is taken outside.

Weekly Round-up and Open Thread

by Lusana Taylor // 31 August 2015, 10:14 pm


4899573359_cf89bd16c7_zIt’s time for another round-up and this one includes everything from women-only train carriages to manic pixie dream girls!

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.

The Perfect Hair Problem: Women in Visual Media (Foz Meadows)

From the article: “I’m not saying I fail to connect with female characters just because they’re dressed and coiffed a certain way, or that every female character who fits that description is necessarily poorly written. I’m saying it bugs me that women on screen are seldom allowed to deviate from a set aesthetic, even if it suits their personalities: aren’t allowed to shave their heads or not shave their armpits or shove their hair up in an unkempt bun or wear long skirts with boots or t-shirts that aren’t nipped at the waist; aren’t allowed to be visually distinct in ways that go much beyond hair colour, or which forever render particular clothing choices off limits, just because we might think they’re less pretty like that.”

Women-only carriages around the world: do they work? (The Guardian)

“Where Are All the Disabled People in the Body Positivity Campaigns?” (The body is not an apology)

From the article: “In the popular media, so-called “body positivity” campaigns leave out disability to a remarkable extent. The body about which we are supposed to feel positive is nearly always the able body. That body might be fat or thin, white or black, Hispanic or Asian, tall or short, rich or poor, but it is almost always able.”

Zoe Coombs Marr: It’s a sexist world – comedy just reflects it: The Australian standup explains why there is a little bit of her alter ego Dave – a caricature of beer-swilling blokishness – in most comics (The Guardian)

From the article: “I think we live in a sexist world and comedy is a reflection of its audience.”

What The Rentboy Raid Tells Us About The Gendered Rhetoric Of Trafficking (Tits and Sass)

From the article: “The raid pulls the loose thread on the sweater of anti-trafficking rhetoric, unraveling its pseudo-feminist spin to reveal what many of us have always known: that it’s just sexism in new clothes. For if male sex workers can be capable of displaying what the police believe to be a criminal amount of agency, there is no rational reason that female sex workers in the same conditions cannot.”

Corbyn’s women-only carriages idea shouldn’t just be dismissed (The Guardian)

Manic Pixies and Cool Girls: on female solidarity and the male gaze (Open Democracy)

Amelia Boynton Robinson, civil rights activist beaten in Selma, dies at 104 (The Guardian)

Sad, but not surprising: the depressing case of Ryan Babel and misogyny in football (Carrie Dunn)

The guilt of quitting sexist workplaces (The Guardian)

Sweet Clarity: Trans Scripts (Pleasance Times)

From the article: “‘Wow, this is not gonna be easy,’ says a character early on in Paul Lucas’ new verbatim play, Trans Scripts. It’s a tremendous understatement. Drawing from over three hundred hours worth of interviews with transgender men and women, Trans Scripts relays the experiences of dozens of different transgender women through the voice of six transgendered performers.”

‘Is your boyfriend in the band?’ Critic airs tales of music industry sexism (The Guardian)

The image is used under creative commons with thanks to Difei Li. The title of the photograph is ‘Freezing Time’ and it shows a platform and train track at what could either be early evening or early morning. There are various people standing on the platform and a person wearing jeans and with shoulder-length hair can be seen in mid-motion, walking away from the camera.

Not laughing

by Lissy Lovett // 28 August 2015, 6:28 pm

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The Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Awards are some of the most prestigious at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. There are three awards: the best comedy show, the best newcomer and the panel prize. Both the best comedy show and the best newcomer are picked from shortlists which were announced on Wednesday, and to be fair to the awards organisers they make sure that someone checks out every eligible comedy show at the fringe which is no mean feat.

The first woman ever to win the best comedy show award was Jenny Eclair in 1995, this was 14 years after the awards were established in 1981. The only other women to win the main award have been Laura Solon in 2005 and Bridget Christie in 2013, although the fantastic Alice Lowe was a member of the 2001 winners, Garth Marenghi’s Netherland.

This year roughly one quarter of all the comedians at the Edinburgh Festival are women, and only one of those women, Sarah Kendall, is on the short list for the best comedy show award. I simply don’t believe that there wasn’t at least one other woman funny enough to be on the list.

This lack of women matters. Not just because it’s unfair. Not just because of the £10,000 prize money. Not even because the people who are shortlisted for the award are more likely to get to speak to TV producers about series ideas, more likely be able to make programmes for Radio 4 and are more likely to be guests on Friday night panel shows. It’s unfair because it’s denying the comedy watching public the chance to hear about the fullest range of what’s on offer out there and I think audiences deserve a wider choice. Needless to say the nominees and winners are overwhelmingly white, cisgendered and non-disabled too.

There was a brief glimmer of a grin for me when the Guardian printed a top ten jokes of the fringe list that featured several excellent women. The smile was wiped off my face though when the television channel Dave published the results of its funniest jokes of the fringe competition which featured just one gag from someone who isn’t a man: Grace the Child’s “They’re always telling me to live my dreams. But I don’t want to be naked in an exam I haven’t revised for.” And yes, I know the jokes in Dave’s competition are voted for by the public so we only have ourselves to blame.

The worst thing about it all is just how boring and predictable this all is. “Ah, the Edinburgh Comedy Awards shortlist is out, there’s only one woman on it, bet the feminists are annoyed about that”, you might have thought on Wednesday. And yep, you’d be right, this feminist is annoyed. I’m also bored, and if I’m honest, a bit resigned. The resignation is the worst bit.

I don’t want to have to be writing this blog post. I’d far rather be watching Claudia O’Doherty clips on Youtube or reading Standard Issue. But until women comics get the exposure they deserve I’ll keep talking and writing about how unfair it is.

I expect in a year’s time I’ll be writing something similar about the Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Awards 2016. See you then.

You can read The F-Word’s coverage of female-led comedy at the Edinburgh Fringe here and here.

The image at the top of the page is from The Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society. It is the festival’s logo, the word “fringe” in large black type with “The Edinburgh Festival” and the dates of the festival in smaller type.

Being invisi-bi

by Megan Stodel // 27 August 2015, 9:08 am

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During a recent show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the performer included a segment which she aimed at “straight women”, which was about the dynamics of women and men in relationships.

On the one hand, I find it gratifying that this acknowledges that not all women are heterosexual. This distinction would have been vanishingly rare until recently and even now, many would have focused on all women, as if all of us by nature of our sex have an interest in pursuing relationships with men. At least with this phrasing, she avoided the age old erasure of lesbian identity and experience.

On the other hand, I felt oddly and specifically excluded as a bisexual woman. From the content, I’m sure the segment was aimed at me as much as it was aimed at completely heterosexual women; it didn’t feel intentional or for some reason unique to their relationships with men. It was just a verbal shortcut, which happened to cut me out.

It is not surprising that bi women are often missed out. In a recent blog post, stavvers struggles to think of fictional characters who are explicitly identified as bi, and when figures in the public eye come out, it doesn’t take long for somebody to suggest that they are actually gay or straight but they need to maintain their fanbase/are in denial/are doing it for attention (delete as appropriate).

For all non-straight and non-cis people, if we choose to come out, we soon find out that coming out is continual, not just that first time that counts as your coming out story. For bisexual people, the lack of general understanding or acceptance of bisexuality can be a barrier; when the sexual orientation you identify with is commonly dismissed in its entirety, what reaction can you expect? I struggle to come out as I am a femme with a boyfriend (far from unusual) and for most people I meet, my sexual orientation seems irrelevant or defunct – but I feel it’s important to be as open as possible given that I am in a position to do so, because I want to fight that invisibility.

Therefore, I want to consider how to use language to be bi-inclusive. While I would quite like there to be collective nouns for bi and heterosexual women/men/people and bi and gay women/men/people (any suggestions?), for now language has to be context specific. In the example mentioned at the start, because the performer was specifically talking about relationships with men, it would have been fine to define the group by this, by talking about “women who have had relationships with men” or “women who are attracted to men”. In a lot of instances, this is likely to be an option, as the reason to specify sexual orientation is often because of the relationship being referred to.

But that’s not always the case and if it isn’t, then defining bi and heterosexual women by our relationship to men feels somewhat reductive. Technically, those words may be intended to indicate where our attractions lie, but identities are complex and personal things. They can variously capture our experiences and culture as well as sexual and romantic inclinations. When talking about our identities or diversity, then using chosen labels is likely the most appropriate course; if that means adding the two character word “bi”, I hardly think this makes phrasing so wordy to be unwieldy.

However, while the world is getting more progressive, it is also getting snappier. Being more inclusive and accurate is up against fitting into tweets and suiting the flow of a clickbait headline. Perhaps what we really need is a linguistic revolution. If verbal shortcuts are going to be made, can we have shortcuts that actually imply what they intend to mean? Is there a new vocabulary we can use to include bi people rather than assume they’ll know to be straight or gay depending on the subject matter? I’m genuinely asking. If you have a better way to remove the invisibility cloak of a language where heterosexuality is primary and binaries are better than scales, I’d love to hear it.

The photo used is by Erich Ferdinand and is used under a creative commons licence. It shows a person outside; they are blurred so their characteristics are impossible to make out.

Why I refuse to wear high heels

by Guest Blogger // 26 August 2015, 8:00 am

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Kerry Flint is a writer, feminist and digital consultant with fingers in lots of pies and an eye on the prize. Interests include sci-fi, cats and beer. Trying to combine them all. Web home:


Corns, small lesions, toenails falling off, all of these things are definitely not sexy. So why does the media continue to tell us that heels are a “sexy look” when they cause such unpleasant side effects? Are period cramps and shaving rashes not enough for us to have to deal with without having to hobble about in footwear that has necessitated a whole blister care and pedi market?

Sadly we still have distance to cover (easier in flats) when it comes to tackling old-fashioned ideas of glamour, as exemplified when earlier this year women were turned away from the Cannes red carpet for not wearing high heels. With its anti-flats mandate Cannes has proven itself to be outdated because there is nothing more stylish than seeing a women look comfortable and happy.

Yes, many heels are like little works of art but spend eight hours running around in even the most conservative heel and you’ll wish you could chop your own feet off they hurt so much. The V&A exhibition, Shoes: Pleasure and Pain, celebrates the history of heels and if you note the use of the word ‘pain’ in the title you may well agree with me that the best place for these shoes is to be kept as ornaments to gaze at rather than walk in.

It was actually men who originally wore high heels; Louis XIV of France famously had a shoe collection that would make Carrie Bradshaw weep with envy. In the 1600s women started wearing heels too as a step (get it) to acquire some of the status given to men. Eventually men stopped wearing them altogether because they had been feminised and made to seem foolish.

Heels fell out of fashion with women until the mid 19th century when they were
considered to be glamorous and elevated to new heights by the porn industry. Semmelhack, author of Heights of Fashion: A History of the Elevated Shoe, told the BBC, “If it becomes a signifier of actual power, then men will be as willing to wear it as women.” A signifier of power in the form of something that makes getting around very difficult seems unlikely but let’s keep our eyes peeled anyway.

In my own heel story it seems that common sense took me years to acquire. In my late teens I spent many years of tottering around seedy clubs in northern England, wanting to take the ice from my drink and use it on my black and blue toes before discarding my sketchy choice of footwear halfway home to risk getting a whole number of infections from walking barefoot down grubby urban streets. Finally, I bit the bullet and said no to wearing painful high heels, pretty much like also saying no to necking cheeky vimtos and getting off with guys who say they’re “in a band”. Older sometimes can mean wiser.

The good news is that despite what the media report this decision did not have a negative effect on my confidence or love life. Fashion magazines, that are geared towards telling women how best to attract any man – because, yeah sure, they all share one sci-fi style mega mind – often point out that wearing heels makes our ass and boobs stick out, our legs look longer and makes us
walk with a certain jiggle. Personally, I am ok with looking more like Daria than Jessica Rabbit and walking with stability rather than hobbling around on mini stilts. In my experience you can attract a man in a pair of DMs and you can walk away more quickly if he’s just not your type.

This is my personal choice and I am not saying that you can’t be a feminist if you wear high heels. Women have enough battles to fight – wage equality, consent, male violence – without condemning each other for what we decide to wear. Shave or don’t shave, wear make-up or don’t; it’s up to you. I am often mesmerised by those women who can glide over cobbles and climb spiral staircases in mammoth heels. It’s like watching someone levitate or eat a peach in public – mind blowing.

If wearing heels shows a woman’s strength and ability to overcome obstacles then why is it so horrific to watch when she falls in them? They can boost confidence on a special night out but wearing them day in day out has long-term effects that simply aren’t worth it. The media’s double standard around women and high heels is infuriating. One minute they’re saying how great a woman’s bum looks when she wears them (check the Mail for multiple examples) and next The Sun is laughing at women wearing them at Aintree: “some ladies struggled to maintain their balance and composure in high heels…a few appeared to give up altogether and were pictured in heaps on the ground”. Women are being sold something that supposedly empowers them but by wearing heels they are restricted and vulnerable to ridicule.

Of course a lot of these mixed messages have a lot to do with profits as shoes are a big business. Women’s high heel shoe designer and wearer of flat shoes, Christian Louboutin said, “Shoes for men are about elegance or wealth, they are not playing with the inner character. That is why women are happy to wear painful shoes”. So you can tell if a man is powerful and wealthy by his shoes and whether a women is flirty, fun or frigid by hers.

Fortunately, flats, flatforms and wedges have been having their fashion moment of late – thanks to the more innovative and modern designers. In the meantime, Jimmy Choo can keep his shoes and I can keep my toenails.

Sophie Mayer introduces Raising Films, a campaign to bring diversity and sustainability into the film industry by organising parents and carers, currently crowdfunding to recruit a project manager

According to the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission, approximately 54,000 new mothers are losing their jobs every year, and one in five pregnant women and mothers returning to work are harassed. What’s true across all industries is doubly true in the film industry, where most people work on short-term contracts with irregular and demanding hours, and where sexism towards all women remains rife. Despite this, the BBC has just cut funding for Media Parents, a scheme for parents returning to media work.

That’s why we started Raising Films: to press for diversity and sustainability by organizing parents and carers in the film industry. We believe that the lack of support for family life – for parents and kinship carers of all genders – within the industry is a barrier that disproportionately affects women, and exponentially affects women of colour, working class women, migrant women and queer people who may lack family support network and/or economic resources. Anyone working in the industry can tell us their story (email us and anyone can become a member.

As Romola Garai points out in our interview with her, attitudes towards parenting and caring are part of a larger system of “gender politics and the policed conformity of gender”. “Becoming a parent,” she notes, “obviously makes you particularly concerned for the needs of children and the effect that the media’s entrenched misogyny has on girls and boys. And, particularly, how the insistence on heteronormative gender behaviour and appearance pervades.” This includes the perception that women are incapable of working in film because they might get pregnant or be mothers, and then be uncompetitive in the industry because we’re caring, affective, sympathetic, multi-tasking, distracted and other traits problematically associated with normative femininity.

Alexandra HidalgoAlexandra Hidalgo, editor of feminist film site agnes films, argues that such traits are perpetuated by mainstream narrative cinema. “Those of us who are mothers,” she says, “might want to try to develop our children’s palate to consume not only big-studio production films geared toward them, but also smaller, more personal stories like the ones many of us are making.” That connection between reinventing film and rethinking work-life balance produces acclaimed films. Academy Award winner Susanne Bier told us: “There’s an element of reality-check that you’re forced to have when you have kids, which is very helpful in terms of storytelling… you embrace limitations in fun ways.”

Parenting can be part of a thriving film career: from Canadian director Marie-Hélène Cousineau finding that working within an Inuit community meant “children were always a part of the work environment”, even when filming on the ice, to British director Debbie Isitt affirming that “the best work is created on sets with a family atmosphere,” not least as this may lead to baby hugs from Meryl Streep! There are also creative approaches to the frustrations caused by industry demands, from Tally Abecassis’ podcast First Day Back about getting back into documentary-making as a mother to Jeanie Finlay’s recommendation that we all move to Nottingham, a family and film-friendly town.

Suggestions for making change include actor Alexis Zegerman’s post calling on people in the arts to get involved in the struggle for local council childcare. Taking her cue a little from Jonathan Swift’s satirical baby-eating manifesto A Modest Proposal, Sarah Solemani boldly states: “women must be encouraged to mother their children less… Until she can have a full night’s rest, and leave home without fretting over her inadequate substitutes… There Will Be No Change.”

There will be change: Raising Films is going to make it happen. But we need your help. The founding collective is made up of parents working in the film industry (and me: a childfree feminist academic along for the ride), and we know that both the problem and the solution are bigger than we can manage. So we are creating a job for a Project Manager who knows about research, about social media, and about campaigning: we want to pay fairly, and offer flexible hours. Following in the footsteps of many feminist filmmakers, we are crowdfunding throughout August, not to make one film, but to make more films possible.

Our top perk (because who needs another sticker/t-shirt/download) is The Functional Family (second top is The Lie-In), which may just result from allowing more people to do the jobs they love. As screenwriter Gabriel Bier Gislason, who spent time on sets with his mum Susanne, notes: “A good parent is a happy parent, and a happy parent is a parent that does what he or she wants.” Or in the words of writer-director Hope Dickson Leach, the project’s co-founder: “More babies at Cannes! I cry. A Palme d’Bébé!” Raising films in style.

The picture is by Aidan Tyson, courtesy of Raising Films. It shows a woman with long dark hair, wearing a patterned summer dress, holding a young child, probably a boy, in a striped blue top, on her right arm while balancing a small video camera with her left hand, as if teaching the kid how to use it.

Sophie Mayer is the author of the forthcoming Political Animals: the new feminist cinema (IB Tauris, November 2015), a co-founder of Raising Films and full-time feminist film activist.

Weekly Round-up and Open Thread

by Lusana Taylor // 24 August 2015, 12:53 pm


It’s time for another round-up and there are plenty of fascinating and informative articles to check out this week, with everything from awesome apps to Jonathan Franzen.

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.

If 43% of young people aren’t straight or gay, why do only 2% identify as bi? (Stavvers)

There Won’t Be Blood: Suzanne Moore on the menopause (New Statesman)

From the article: “The female body can be a mess, so I simply decided to have it – the menopause – one cold November weekend a few years ago. But women my age won’t just melt away and we won’t become invisible.”

Yes, there are more female comics at the Fringe – but it’s hardly time to celebrate (The Conversation)

The truth about rape and sexual assault is ugly – and many women know this (The Guardian)

“But rape happens to babies, elderly women and everyone in between. And yet we routinely conflate rape and sexual assault with conventional attractiveness – and perpetuate the notion that ‘ugly’ women don’t get raped, and that attractive men don’t need to commit rape.”

Bisexual and proud: Six openly bi young people address the myths surrounding their sexuality (The Independent)

Naked streets, floating bus stops – and how cycling infrastructure can endanger the blind (City Metric)

Tearing Down the Walls: The story of the Stonewall Rebellion and the rise of the gay liberation movement (Jacobin)

Adama Jalloh interview: “I wanted black girls to see the photos and to see themselves”(New Statesman)

When Your Period Tries to Kill You (Vice)

From the article: “In schools and workplaces and public spaces, people invent increasingly innovative ways to hide tampons up their sleeves on the journey to the toilet, or find discreet ways to empty menstrual cups in shared bathrooms. Period stigma taught me very early on that things happening to bodies that aren’t cisgender and male were weird and wrong, and they weren’t to be talked about.”

Radio interview with Brenna Smith (Audioburst)

Being called out for your sexism is not censorship (Chortle)

From the article: “Ai Weiwei can go rot in a prison cell so long as these guys get their rape jokes, am I right? And what’s the deal with airplane food and Malala Yousafzai? The bottom line is that if you’re a comedian on stage you want to be able to relate with your audience in at least some way, and if your material is comprised of elements that come across as misogynist, then your largely non-misogynist audiences are going to have a very difficult time finding you likable.”

New app notifies you when you’re near a place where a woman made history (Oregon Live)

Jonathan Franzen interview: ‘There is no way to make myself not male’(The Guardian)

Dear Men, Women Don’t Owe You an Explanation for Rejection (Huffington Post)

Korean Sociological Image #92: Patriotic Marketing Through Sexual Objectification, Part 1 (The Grand Narrative)

The image is used under creative commons with thanks to Eugenia Loli. It depicts somebody, with their back to the viewer, sitting at the bottom of a flight of stairs. They appear to be naked and are seated with their hands rested on the steps behind them and their legs drawn up to their chest. Beneath them is a long, red silk scarf which trails all the way down the steps to meet them. The colour of the scarf is in juxtaposition to the rather grey surroundings.

Further Reading

Has The F-Word whet your appetite? Check out our Resources section, for listings of feminist blogs, campaigns, feminist networks in the UK, mailing lists, international and national websites and charities of interest.

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