by Joanna Whitehead // 30 June 2015, 8:28 pm
I hope the sun’s shining where you are? With the fiery ball high in the sky, I’ve chosen some songs that remind me of sunnier climes. Joni Mitchell is synonymous with California, a state long associated with sun, sand and surf. Courtney Barnett’s deadpan genius continues to delight and ‘Dead Fox’ is no exception. She’s from Australia, which also makes her ripe for inclusion in this playlist – the sun shines all the time there, right? ‘Rush Hour’ and ‘Loose Control’ are both from a CD I bought many moons ago called Female Future: Transatlantic, a compilation album of female artists. Along with Northern Ireland and Scotland, I suspect Liverpool suffers from perpetual cloud and rain, sadly, but it’s ‘oop north which means it’s mint and can get away with it. The rest of the tracks don’t need any further introduction. Enjoy.
The image shows Courtney Barnett, wearing a navy t-shirt with stripes, playing her blue guitar, on stage at Coachella music festival in 2014. She looks badass. Picture by Thomas Hawk, shared under a Creative Commons licence.
by Lusana Taylor // 29 June 2015, 9:41 pm
The news has been pretty depressing recently, but last week provided some joy in the form of America finally legalising same-sex marriage nationwide. It truly is fantastic to see this happening so soon after the Irish referendum result and we’re sure everyone who attended a Pride event at the weekend found it an extra special experience! You can read more about America’s landmark decision in some of the links below.
If you’d like to comment on one of issues covered or share another article that we haven’t included, feel free to get involved in the comments section below or on Facebook/Twitter.
As always, please remember that linking does not automatically mean endorsement or agreement from the F-Word and that some links may be triggering. It is also worth noting that, while we welcome engagement on the weekly round-up, any comments including racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic or disablist language will be deleted.
An Interview With @AfAmHistFail (The Toast)
From the article: “One of my favourite Twitter accounts is the frustrating and important @AfAmHistFail, run by an anonymous (for obvious reasons) docent who gives slavery presentations at a historical plantation. She shares the ups and downs of her job, the struggles to keep composure in the face of racist questions and monologues, and the difficulty of puncturing the romanticization of the antebellum South. She was kind enough to answer some questions for us.”
Why I’ll be livetweeting my next period (New Statesman)
I Don’t Want to Be an Excuse for Racist Violence Anymore (New Republic)
From the article: “There is a centuries-old notion that white men must defend, with lethal violence at times, the sexual purity of white women from allegedly predatory black men. And, as we saw yet again after this shooting, it is not merely a relic of America’s hideous racial past.”
Why I Can’t Forgive Dylann Roof (NY Times)
From the article: “I do not forgive Dylann Roof, a racist terrorist whose name I hate saying or knowing. I have no immediate connection to what happened in Charleston, S.C., last week beyond my humanity and my blackness, but I do not foresee ever forgiving his crimes, and I am wholly at ease with that choice.”
Carrie Dunn (who has previously written for the F-Word) suggests you support the England Women’s football team all year round in this Eurosport article. You can read more of her writing HERE.
Abortion Drone Is the Best Drone (Gizmodo)
From the article: “And yes, ‘Abortion Drone’ sounds like the name of an anarchist punk band, but this is the most badass drone aid mission yet.”
In Defense of Casual Romance (PurrVersatility)
The Problem with White Liberals (Media Diversified)
From the article: “But why would I stand alongside anyone who refuses to listen when we speak? This is more important than identity politics. It’s about what people’s identity means in relation to how they are treated. The content of your character should be all that matters? Well, to castigate the admissions policy of safe spaces, rather than focus on why they’re needed, says a lot about the content of one’s character.”
‘Orange Is The New Black’ actress fronted a punk band in the ‘70s (Alternative Press)
This Is Why Everyone Cheering Gay Marriage Should Stand With the White House “Heckler” Now (Black Girl Dangerous)
The image is used under creative commons license, with thanks to nathanmac87. It depicts an American flag against the backdrop of blue sky and a green tree, half in shot. Rather than the usual red, the stripes of the flag are all the colours of the rainbow.
by Lusana Taylor // 22 June 2015, 3:50 pm
Another week, another round-up and this one involves everything from feminist analyses of Jurassic World to new birth control policies! If you’d like to comment on one of issues covered or share another article that we haven’t included, feel free to get involved in the comments section below or on Facebook/Twitter.
As always, please remember that linking does not automatically mean endorsement or agreement from the F-Word and that some links may be triggering. It is also worth noting that, while we welcome engagement on the weekly round-up, any comments including racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic or disablist language will be deleted.
Britain’s first forced marriage sentence: a lot more still to do (New Statesman)
Unbound: China’s last ‘lotus feet’ – in pictures (The Guardian)
“Is This Normal?” Crying and Masturbation (Artemisia Femmecock)
From the article: “After I had an orgasm, my muscles would relax and with that would come unstoppable tears. This response was a warning, tell me that I was not okay, a warning I am thankful for …”
From the article: “The right wing is successfully exploiting the fact that mainstream feminists often focus on single-issue struggles instead of addressing the overarching and intersecting forms of oppression (like race, class, gender, and ability) that are constantly at play.”
For One Year, This Publisher Will Only Release Books By Women (Huffington Post)
From the article: “Let 2018, the centennial anniversary of women’s suffrage in the U.K., be a Year of Publishing Women.”
From the article: “The motivation for killing six women and three men at church wasn’t that white women are inviolable. It must have been that black women are disposable.”
The image is used with thanks to Sarah Mirk on Flickr. It’s entitled “Hooray for birth control” and depicts ten white pills fashioned into a smiley face with two eyes and a mouth. The pills appear alongside a cut-out paper speech bubble which reads “YAY!”
by Guest Blogger // 20 June 2015, 9:12 am
We saw those Protein World adverts and how women across Britain fought back. We know that eating one slice of cake isn’t going to turn us into a blimp, and, even if it did, we know we should love our bodies no matter what. But sometimes, it’s not that easy. Sometimes, the photoshopped and airbrushed images of the “perfect” female body still sit uncomfortably in the back of your brain, no matter how hard you try to kick them out.
It gets especially bad every year just before summer. Those awful yellow and black billboards might have deserved the backlash, but it’s not just Protein World who are guilty. So-called “women’s magazines” feature more and more images of celebrities in bikinis with every fault and flaw ruthlessly called out. Such-and-such has “really let herself go”. How dare so-and-so bare those flabby thighs? In a world where such negative reporting assaults us from every direction, is it any wonder that depression and eating disorders in young girls are on a steady increase? When we as women are consistently told we are not good enough, sometimes we start to believe it.
B-eat, the UK’s leading eating disorder charity, conducted a survey in 2012 in which they found that 86% of participants said that bullying contributed to their eating disorder. In my North London all-girls school canteen, there was no name calling or body shaming. No one ever told me I was eating the wrong thing or that my body wasn’t up to scratch. But teenage girls can be craftier than that. I sat by as long as I could, eating curry with rice, or fish and chips, while my best friends nibbled on cucumber slices and sipped diet cola. I was determined not to give in to their mind games, to stay healthy and happy despite the actions of those around me. I almost managed to stay above it all. Almost.
The cult of anorexia was nigh on inescapable. We used to go out for lunch together, but now my friends traipsed down to the bike shed to smoke an appetite-quenching cigarette. They requested cushions in exams because their backsides were too bony to comfortably sit in a standard chair for 2 hours. I stared at myself in the bathroom mirror, pinching the bits of my body that cushion my hip bones. They wore jeans that highlighted the gap between their thighs and updated their MyFitnessPal apps. I cried myself to sleep, again. I was far from overweight, lived in a beautiful house with a loving family and had just secured a place at one of America’s top universities. And still, I felt like a failure.
My school did nothing. We had talks on how to avoid being raped, what to do if we found ourselves pregnant against our wishes and how to deal with the stress of A levels, but no-one taught us what to do when you start wanting to take a machete to your body to carve off the excess flesh. In a private girls’ school going through a transitional period, the people at the top of the pyramid have bigger things to worry about than the mental well-being of the students. The pressure on us to achieve top grades and maintain the league table position was immense and crushing, and we took it out on our bodies.
Would it have been different at a mixed school? Perhaps. No teen wants to be the girl obsessing over her food in front of guys scarfing down burgers and chips. With hormones going wild, we would have had distraction from ourselves surrounding us at all times, and far less mental energy to expend on the calorie count of a plate of peas. Single-sex environments can be wonderful, safe, affirming places, but combine them with inordinate amounts of pressure from all angles and a certain level of privilege and they become a breeding ground of insecurity and competition.
We tend to blame the fashion industry and media in general for girls with a negative body image, and I certainly believe that the stream of stick thin women paraded as the ideal doesn’t help. However, we have to take some responsibility ourselves. It’s hard enough to grow up as a woman in a society that pretends to have left patriarchy in the dust, so let’s not make it worse. Gender equality is impossible if we women are still at war among ourselves, still engaged in ugly competition, still running hate campaigns against each other. We must support each other and help each other to love our bodies, on and off the beach.
Zoe Margaro Guttenplan grew up in London and is currently studying at Columbia University in the city of New York. Zoe is also in the middle of a larger project about British girls in America.
Image by Ralph Aitchinger, used under Creative Commons license.
by Editor // 18 June 2015, 9:25 am
I’m pleased to welcome two people to The F-Word team: Gemma Fraser, our new fiction editor, and Lissy Lovett, our new comedy editor.
I’ll let them introduce themselves in their own words – please say hello!
Gemma Fraser – fiction editor
Gemma Fraser is a writer and editor from Lancashire, currently living in the Isle of Man. She is also a classical soprano, compulsive book-buyer, geeky fangirl, pinko-lefty-bleeding-heart-liberal and dog lover. She started out at The F-Word blogging about disability and is now delighted to be able to harp on incessantly about books in her role as Fiction Editor.
Like roughly 93% of the population she is Working On Her Novel when she isn’t distracting herself by getting angry about things on Twitter. Find her here: @gamineandchips
Lissy Lovett – comedy editor
Q: How many feminists does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: That’s not funny!
Lissy Lovett works in the arts and lives in South London. She likes comedy, theatre, reality television, sewing, beer, Norwich City Football Club, the Streatham Ice Hockey teams and feminism. From time to time she tweets @lissylovett.
You can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com (I’ll let you work out who’s who).
To see the rest of the team, click here.
The images show photos of the new editors. The image that appears on the homepage associated with this article shows two feet in black shoes, standing facing a mat outdoors. It is by christine592 and used under a creative commons licence.
by Guest Blogger // 17 June 2015, 3:11 pm
The rise of the latest wave of the feminist movement coupled with calls for greater gender equality have started to have a ripple effect across the culture. Gender roles in the workplace and at the home are shifting dramatically and providing a larger wealth of options and freedom than ever before. This also holds true for children. Fewer parents are so quick to paint their child into a box early on with the traditional and outdated “blue for boys, pink for girls” idea that has dominated the landscape over the past few decades.
You might recall this viral video of a young girl in the toy section of a local store who becomes fed up by her lack of options when it comes to playthings—and she brings up some good points. Why is it that girls are forced to buy pink products and boys are encouraged to buy blue? The video sparked an outcry over the hyper-gendered options that society offered for boys and girls in regards to both retail and education. It also led to a new effort for unisex items that can simply be enjoyed by anyone. American telecommunications giant Verizon even did an ad campaign specifically dealing with reinforcing stereotypical gender roles on impressionable children and how it can hinder growth and limit options later in life by implying that they themselves are limited in their treatment or choices simply because of gender.
Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell of The Atlantic reported on how many of these movements are reminiscent of a similar trend in the 1970s and ’80s toward gender-neutrality. It was a bit more extreme and in-your-face than the softer side of unisex seen today. “It was only in the 1980s that the self-actualizing lessons of the seminal children’s book (and celebrity-narrated LP) “Free to Be … You and Me” succumbed to the industrial Princess Complex, a trend that is just now beginning to correct itself,” Chrisman-Campbell wrote. And the newly dubbed “agender” trend continues to pick up speed.
One company that is spearheading this trend in the clothing sphere is Tootsa MacGinty. According to The Independent, the label was inspired by the unisex fashion of the 1970s. “They’re just children’s clothes for children,” company founder and designer Kate Pietrasik said, reflecting the attitudes of many parents of the new generation. The aim is simply provide a utilitarian solution for outfitting children that does not put certain colors or themes off-limits simply because of gender. It’s worth mentioning that MacGinty’s novel approach to childrenswear seems to be paying off. It just took home an award in the category from the UK Fashion and Textile Association (UKFT) and continues to inspire other companies to move in a similar direction with their marketing.
And this trend thankfully shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. More companies are beginning to embrace agender fashion and both parents and children are thrilled by the wealth of options that are opened for their kids (and their wardrobes). The movement is less about feminism per se and instead more about choice. We can use that choice not to restrict children to one palette or set of interests. There are simply too many colours in the world, and amazing things to do, that it feels criminal to limit the options of what our children can like or wear. That’s especially true when it comes to something as superfluous as reds, blues, yellows, pinks, and purples defining something as personal and diverse as gender identity.
Is it fair that a child as young as 9 should even consider a larger social implication for wearing a pink shirt? Society and parents are the ones that reinforce these ideas with our children, and we have the power to fix them. Embracing agender fashion is one way for caring parents to take a step in the right direction when it comes to raising their children today.
Sara Upton is a freelance writer with a strong personal interest in gender equality. Like her role model, Hillary Clinton, she believes there should be “no ceilings” for girls who want to pursue their passions. When she’s not writing she’s usually spending time with her dogs or training for her next triathlon.
Photo of girl and boy climbing a tree by Manuel Sanvictores. Image used under Creative Commons licence.
by Guest Blogger // 15 June 2015, 7:54 pm
Sephy Hallow is a copywriter and novelist. She has previously written on feminist politics for Sex and Censorship and her own blog, Sex and Sexability. She is currently seeking representation for her first novel.
As a woman, feminist and internet user, there are certain things I have sadly become used to over the years when it comes to the public nature of the female body. Our media breaks down successful women into collections of scrutinized minutiae, selling us on the idea that cellulite and split ends should mean far more to a woman than a degree, a career, a passion or purpose in life that does not revolve around aesthetic improvement. Because I started changing my body, it became a matter of public discussion.
I decided to lose weight a while ago, for the sake of my health. For the most part, it was a positive step, but it brought with it some unexpected downsides. Namely, that my decision, whilst still applauded, was being heavily scrutinized by the people around me.
I realise that with any major change – a new haircut, a job offer, a change in relationship status – friends are bound to want to chip in, show their support, and otherwise keep up to date with the changes in your life. I’m not talking about everyday conversations and comments. What made me think twice was the way it was assumed, by so many people, that I had self-esteem issues, or worse, an eating disorder. And worse still, my boyfriend who, according to medical advice, was for a long time underweight, never received similar scrutiny.
I am a twenty-six year old woman with a bachelor’s degree, a steady relationship and a career. I write articles for a living, wrote a novel last year, and plan on doing a master’s degree. I am a smart, capable woman. I have also been losing weight at an average rate of half a pound a week. Everything I am doing is sensible and healthy, based on eating more vegetables and less crap. So why is it that my friends, family, and even my doctor, want to focus on my apparent fragile self-esteem and the potential for a controlled diet to suddenly spiral into anorexia?
I am glad that there is a heightened awareness of eating disorders, and that people are looking out for the warning signs. Yet, whilst it is important to look out for anorexia in our society, being a woman who is deliberately losing weight should not be thought of as an immediate cause for concern – and being female shouldn’t be considered a symptom.
When I discussed my weight loss with friends, I noticed two things. Firstly, the same platitudes and concerns over and over: “You look great! You don’t need to lose weight. Are you doing this safely?” Second was the reaction to my boyfriend’s weight gain – namely, uncomfortable, awkward silence. My boyfriend was present for these conversations; he was often the one raising the issue of deliberate weight gain himself. Having suffered from dizziness and low blood pressure for a while due to being underweight, he was deliberately increasing his body size in a healthy way, and wanted to share the news with friends. But when it came to the subject of a man’s body, the room went oddly quiet. It was that awkward silence you hear when someone over-shares about their sex life; it was the silence that says, that stuff’s private.
It’s hard to find comparative things people have said about my boyfriend’s weight gain – because they never say anything. Nobody has ever asked if he lifts weights safely, or about the impact of protein powders. No one ever checked he was gaining “for the right reasons”, or reassured him he didn’t need any more muscle. When my boyfriend was underweight, no one questioned his health or habits – not even when he passed out after giving blood. He had fallen below the safe weight limit for donors without realising it, but neither friends, family nor medical professionals said a word. He was an adult; he was in charge of his choices; it wasn’t their place to pry.
I’ve known for a long time that my body is considered a public object; I am begrudgingly aware that female bodies are, from magazines to office gossip, subjects of public discourse. What I didn’t realise was how private men’s bodies are considered by comparison, or just how envious I would feel of that privilege.
I look forward to a day when it is equally rude to comment on a woman’s choices over her body as it is a man’s.
The image used shows an old set of measuring scales and is used under the Creative Commons license.
by Lusana Taylor // , 9:00 am
Welcome to this week’s round-up and sorry to anyone who noticed that there wasn’t one last week. The F-Word has been busy migrating and, as is always the case with these things, there were a few little technical hitches along the way. Still, everything is sorted and we’re now all ready to post from our shiny new platform!
If you’d like to comment on one of issues covered or share another article that we haven’t included, feel free to get involved in the comments section below or on Facebook/Twitter.
As always, please remember that linking does not automatically mean endorsement or agreement from the F-Word and that some links may be triggering. It is also worth noting that, while we welcome engagement on the weekly round-up, any comments including racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic or disablist language will be deleted.
When I lost my hands making flatscreens I can’t afford, nobody would help me (The Guardian CiF)
The image is used with the permission of A.Taylor. The photo shows a number of plants and flowering shrubs sitting on a window sill in pots of various shapes and sizes; there are pink geraniums, herbs growing in silver containers labelled ‘chives’ and ‘parsley’, sunflower shoots just starting to poke through in brown pots, as well as two cacti. The scene outside the window is of a patioed garden and a shed.
by Megan Stodel // 14 June 2015, 9:34 pm
The New Collective recently made the news as most of the members had their British visa applications refused. I can’t find any stats relating to visa refusals (please comment if you know of any!) but this in itself seems like it probably happens a lot. Why is this instance particularly notable?
The group of women are artists from Georgia, invited to perform at FLARE15, an international theatre festival taking place in July in Manchester. They are one of 23 groups selected out of over 300 applicants and planned to perform a piece about the stories of female immigrants in England. The trouble is the UK doesn’t think this is reason enough to visit the country.
More specifically, the decision-maker has deemed the financial situation of the group members to be such that they are risky. As low-earners, how will they afford to stay in the UK? And how will they resist the obvious temptation of remaining beyond their official welcome?
Here’s a shocking fact: the arts don’t pay well. The vast majority of people trying to make a living through various art forms are not raking in the cash; many are unable to support themselves without taking on other jobs (which, in the UK, might include part-time work and zero hours contracts that both tend to lead to earning less than an equivalent full-time contracted worker). It is therefore of very little surprise to find that The New Collective are of limited means.
It’s also completely unsurprising that they would be enthusiastic about being successful in their endeavours to perform at an international festival in the UK. With their official invitations, their intent is about as clear as it can be. The fact that they have been denied, despite the paper trail demonstrating the context of their travel, is a very worrying indication for the state of the UK’s concerns around immigration.
While the specific plight of this group has had attention called to it (and you can sign the Change petition here), it’s worth thinking about what this means more broadly. Bear in mind this relates to visa applications – we’re not even talking about residency or citizenship. The public political discourse around immigration has reached such a frenzied point that temporary visits are subject to suspicion and scrutiny that do not befit a liberal, progressive state.
In this instance, the group were planning to address issues for women immigrants in England. Insofar as one of the purposes of art is to expose and explain important truths, it is imperative for pieces to reflect the diverse experiences we have. This example is particularly pertinent, but even more generally – isn’t it valuable to see perspectives from different places, whatever they concern? Presumably the array of international festivals indicates that a not insignificant proportion think so. However, in FLARE15’s case, The New Collective were to be the only group from outside the EU. Those with EU passports have an easier time getting visas (such as the one member of the group from Germany), so we’re likely to see the arts in the UK more restricted to this zone – and following a Brexit, who knows who will be deemed visa-viable? Meanwhile, the application result has done little to strengthen international relations; The New Collective vent their frustration on social media, explaining how they feel treated like “criminals” and “dirty” because they are “not appropriately rich”.
This issue stretches beyond the arts. If visitors need to prove a certain level of income to get the Real Tourist stamp, the whole process takes on an elitist-capitalist aura. Travelling is not without its costs, so it is inevitable that visitors are already more likely to be better off, but given that the system does not seem to appreciate nuance or context, a swathe of people are unceremoniously cut off from our shores. This will disproportionately affect women, who earn less than men all over the world, as well as often being less likely to be in paid employment. This results in gaps in other immigration statistics: it is likely to be a factor relating to disproportionately low asylum claims from women and when the £35,000 threshold starts to apply from next year, people earning under that amount won’t be able to settle in the UK.
The immigration debate will rumble on indefinitely. In the meantime, we need to be aware of the unequal, unjust and mutually harmful results of policy driven by fear.
The image is by Pulga Haza and is used under a creative commons licence. It shows five £1 coins scattered on a wooden table, zoomed in. The Queen’s head is visible on the closest coin, with the letters “UTAMEN” showing round the edge of the coin. Other details are out of focus.
by Guest Blogger // 11 June 2015, 4:37 pm
Aspiring nomad and culture vulture, Issy Houston is 19 and has spent the last year living and working in Honduras with Project Trust. Issy is fascinated by the reasons behind gender dynamics in different cultures.
I hold my breath and half close my eyes. Maybe if I can’t see them, they won’t see me. When I smell hot rubber of the auto repair shop in town my stomach turns and I wince, ready for the harassing kisses, vulgar leers and lusting hands of men. I veer to the other side of the pavement, but today, silence. Relieved, I raise my head again and continue to walk until I felt the looming presence of a rattling motorbike slowing down just by my shoulder. My eyes flit across not wanting to make eye contact. What I saw was far more perverse than the goggling eyes. The hand, the unzipped jeans, the repulsion. Locking my eyes straight ahead, I waited it out, in disbelief until the bike had spluttered away and I was left with the sinister, mingling taste of dust and disgust.
This everyday hassle is just one end of the spectrum of violence in Honduras. In a country where one woman is killed every 18 hours, the most extreme form of gender violence, “femicide” (killings of women that seem to be related to their sex) has been described as a pandemic. Despite this, “The government of Honduras says one thing and does another” said Gladys Lanza from the Women’s Trinunal Against Femicide, “although it talks about its concern for the levels of violence in the country in general, it doesn’t even mention violence against women.” This major blind eye turning can be seen at a local level as 95% of cases are left un-investigated.
I was warned when I first arrived in Honduras, if something happens on the streets, going to the police just isn’t an option. The trend of increasing violence and insecurity has run parallel to the increased militarization of Honduras. The war on drugs has become a war on women as many of the troops put in place to combat drug cartels commit abuses. This cannot be brushed off as the inevitable result of a corrupt Honduran government divorced from the West. The 257% increase of femicide from 2002-2010 occurred just when the U.S. doubled its funding for military and police.
Just as the man in the street feels entitled to whistle, leer, follow and grope knowing there will be zero consequences, this form of institutionalised impunity sends the disturbing message that violence of this kind is acceptable. Rashida Manjoo, representing the United Nations, describes the alarming rates of femicide in the “black triangle” of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to be “emblematic of a culture of hatred against women and a failure of a judicial system to protect them.”
Latino cultures are infamous for being “machista”. This extreme patriarchy where sexism and dominance prevail breeds a growing and tangible hatred towards women. Even in the reactions to progressive social media trends of pro-feminist men using #machoprogre and #machohipster there are traces of this misogyny which is so hard to shake. A man who calls himself a feminist is seen as forward thinking and respectful whilst a female claiming the same beliefs is bitter, angry, a “marimacha loca”.
But this response is not specific to Latino culture. ‘Western’ cultures are often quick to cast judgement on misogyny in cultures other than their own. This ‘othering’ allows them to condemn what they see as ‘barbaric’ behaviour whilst keeping themselves firmly on the moral high ground. But it is not enough to simply dismiss this behaviour as part of a ‘foreign’ culture. Whilst we are busy externalising the issue of violence against women through applying this lazy stereotype to Latin American men we don´t realise that our own corrosive understanding of masculinity is engendering violence at home.
Few words instil such acutely negative reactions in men as “the f-word”. In the case of Poppy Smart, the media backlash which vented against her having reported a group of builders to the police for sexual harassment shows that in Britain, we have not agreed that a woman should have the right to walk down the street wearing whatever she chooses without being harassed. Double standards for men and women exist internationally. We can’t point the finger at Latino culture for this hatred towards women; our own hands are not clean.
Even the whole culture of “machismo” has its roots in the Spanish colonization of Central America. The patriarchal image of the conquistador- physical strength, hypervirility and aggressively masculine behaviour of “machismo” tended to by the model of “marianismo” the image of “Mary meek and mild” as the archetypal female; compliant, vulnerable and enduring of suffering. Souped up notions of masculinity versus submissive femininity are not uniquely Latin, they form the basis of gender constructions in almost every society.
However much we try to distance ourselves from “machismo” culture -whether it be veering to the other side of the pavement or branding it as a Latino problem- the inescapable truth is that it pervades all cultures, worldwide. Yes, the extremity of violence against women in Honduras calls for more dramatic and urgent change but gender inequality knows no country or culture better than any other.
Where there is hatred and violence, nobody’s conscience can be clear.
The image used shows a colourful street in Honduras with cars and flowers and is used under the creative commons license.
by Lusana Taylor // 2 June 2015, 8:25 am
Plenty to read, digest, get enthusiastic about and get angry about in this week’s round-up! If you’d like to comment on one of issues covered or share another article that we haven’t included, feel free to get involved in the comments section below or on Facebook/Twitter.
Comment: Sex workers rights are not up for debate (Politics.co.uk)
From the article: “We are in a cultural moment with unprecedented media visibility of trans* identities and lives. Cisgender people are increasingly becoming adoring fans of trans women of color celebrities such as Laverne Cox and Janet Mock. However, when these same fans (and advocates of gender freedom more broadly) do not then lend their concrete, material support for black trans women’s lives, this is equivalent to white fans donning the jerseys of their favorite African-American sports heroes but resisting the idea the Black Lives Matter.”
Being a Butch Woman Around Men Sure Would Be A Lot Easier Without the Patriarchy (Everyday Feminism)
The welfare state saved me. To need it isn’t a moral failure (The Guardian CiF)
From the article: “As a senior teacher and a writer for this publication, my income is such that I can afford life’s luxuries. I own my own home and car. I can afford meals out and holidays that take me further than Europe’s shores. I don’t have to face the daily humiliation of wondering if I have sent my children out into the world in clothing that reveals reduced circumstances, and with not much in their bellies. Note the agency in these sentences; I am one of the privileged few. Yet the woman I am today wouldn’t exist without the welfare state.”
The World Needs Female Rock Critics (The New Yorker)
From the article: “Spare Rib was radical, a magazine of its time. From the early 1970s through 21 years and 239 editions, it summed up an era still regarded as important for women’s liberation.
Now, thanks to an ambitious project by the British Library, the magazine is confined to the library shelf no more, but available online and for free to anyone after the digitisation of its entire run.”
One Statue Perfectly Captures Mansplaining (Huffington Post)
When Akala called out Britain’s racism on Frankie Boyle’s show (Africa is a Country)
I am a Snoop Dogg fan. That doesn’t make me less of a feminist (The Guardian CiF)
From the article: “Lyrics about bitches and whores are offensive – but a life without such contradictory pleasures would be boring, if not impossible”
From the article: “This week, both Davina McCall and Nicki Minaj gave interviews discussing details of their sex lives – and the things they said were very different.”
Women in France’s Pantheon? I propose Josephine Baker (The Guardian CiF)
From the article: “Baker, who was born in the US, and became a naturalised French citizen in 1937, is a hero of the French republic. During the second world war, she was recruited by French military intelligence and engaged as an ‘honorable correspondent’.”
The photograph is used under a creative commons license with thanks to Texas Eagle . It is an image of a field of yellow sunflowers in full bloom, stretching for miles.
by Alicia Rodriguez // 1 June 2015, 11:27 pm
Alicia finishes off her guest post discussing her experiences practicing art in a female body. She interviews one of the directors of a new art space STRYX. This is What a Feminist Looks Like, the final instalment of SOUP, Part 1: feminism, will take place at STRYX gallery on Friday 5th June, 6.30 – 9.00pm.
As a follow-up, or post-script, I wanted to talk about the kinds of spaces, projects and collectives that are emerging as a response to the issues looked at in that piece: a response to the difficulties of maintaining an artistic practice while dedicating oneself to feminist causes and identifying as a female. STRYX is one such space. Based in Digbeth, Birmingham, the current inclusion in their diverse and engaging programme of exhibitions and events is particularly interesting with regards to a work/art/feminist space. SOUP, part 1: feminism is described as an ’emerging feminist artist residency’ and features the work of Birmingham-based artists Lucy Hutchinson, Emily Mulenga and Demi Nandhra. The residency will culminate in a Digbeth First Friday event on the 5th June. Over the past week or so, I have engaged in an email correspondence with Emma Leppington, one of the four directors:
ALICIA: I understand that Stryx is run by a group of female artists, and I wondered if this came about as a conscious decision or quite naturally? Your archive of shows is obviously not directly or exclusively ‘feminist’, but do you think it is important that the space is led with a feminist framework?
I suppose I am asking this with relation to STRYX’s current residency – could you also describe a little bit about this project?
EMMA:The fact that STRYX is run by four women is coincidental. We created a facebook group after graduating in 2012 to express interest in renting a space in Birmingham. It turned out to be only four women that were interested in the end. However, since then our agenda and programme has naturally magnetised towards feminist themes.
Many times, STRYX has been referred to as ‘a group of girls down in Digbeth with an art space’ or ‘women collective’. Never just considered as another art space, like Vivid Projects, Grand Union, Eastside Projects etc. We have also found that there is a lot of presumptions and bias towards STRYX just because of the gender of the directors. For example, a male artist once mentioned at an opening that he’d like to rent a studio from us, however, he understands its women only! We have never been women only. This has been assumed many times as again, we have only coincidentally had five women studio artists actively working in the space up until recently. We now have a man artist! Yay. We decided we wanted to offer a platform for women artists concerning this residency. We selected four artists. Birmingham based. Artist info is available on website xx
ALICIA: It is so hard I think to provide any kind of platform, as a female, and not be defined solely by your gender – whatever that platform might be for. Of course it is important to have female only spaces – there are plenty of places that men can exhibit, no problem! But I imagine a culture in which feminist concerns are addressed as something that ultimately affects society as a whole, which I feel like STRYX are succeeding in, by bringing these ideas into a broader context.
What is the contemporary art scene like in Birmingham in terms of accessibility and diversity? And has it developed since your graduation/the beginning of STRYX? There are a lot of great artist-led-spaces emerging over the past few years, which feels like a positive force in response to the tired institutional problems of the ‘big boy’ commercial galleries…xx
EMMA: Yes Birmingham has progressed and developed with so many exciting projects and spaces over the last three years; STRYX began, and then Vivid had a re-launch as vivid projects, Grand Union secured another three years funding, collectives such as FAM and Home for Waifs and Strays were formed. The Warwick Bar summer fetes started bringing all of the artistic tenants together every year. Schemes such as the Birmingham Art Map and Digbeth First Friday really do emphasise what Birmingham has to offer!!!! All this has started to happen since opening STRYX in 2012.
I do not find that there has been a significant increase in opportunities for Women artists or feminist spaces in Birmingham; however, a few projects here and there have come to the surface. Vivid Projects conducted the salons for discussions in 2013, and feminism was one of them, where I was a guest speaker. Kate Spence, director of Home for Waifs and Strays, a live art collective, often brings feminism into her performances. Or she invites guest feminists to BIRMINGHAM FOR DISCUSSIONS/EVENTS. STRYX and the feminist residency artists attend these feminist discussions (next one is on Sunday at 2pm if you would like to come along.
This is really all that I can think of that is happening at the moment, concerning feminism, I aim to initiate and encourage much much more!!
The image above is a painting of a woman with large black hair. There are buildings in her hair. There are white clouds with rain. Thanks Unimpaired for the photo.
by Guest Blogger // , 11:00 pm
Melanie is a student, feminist and aspiring journalist who is passionate about equality and human rights. In her spare time she enjoys collecting wacky vintage clothing, spreading body positivity and cooing over her five cats.
I’m fifteen years old, currently studying for my GCSEs and I feel that sexism in schools is a massive issue. The last thing I want to hear when walking into school on a Monday morning are rape ‘jokes’ and go-back-to-the-kitchen ‘jokes’.
Many girls who openly support feminism are automatically shunned to the ‘feminazi’ corner, and if you ever say anything like “it’s so unfair that tampons aren’t free but condoms are” or if you’re caught in PE with hairy legs, you’ll automatically be asked, “Ew, are you some kind of feminist or something?”
Sexism amongst pupils in schools is something that needs to be tackled, it needs to be treated the same way as any form of prejudice. But in my experience, it isn’t.
In year 7 there used to be a large group of boys in school who would call me horrible names and grab me inappropriately – I now understand that this was sexual harassment. When I built up the courage to tell my school counsellor about them, he told me: “Sometimes that’s how boys flirt, they’re probably just flirting.” I felt as though I was overreacting about my situation and that I should have ‘taken a joke’- are other young girls in schools being made to feel like this too?
School is meant to be a safe learning environment, but how can girls feel safe when, according to Girlguiding UK, “up to 70% of girls and young women aged 11 to 21 report sexual harassment at school or college” and according to the World Health Organisation, “school is the most common setting for sexual harassment.” It’s not just happening to girls either, according to a report by the American Association of University Women, 40% of boys have reported sexual harassment.
Why aren’t teachers or school counsellors doing anything about it? I’ve had friends who have reported sexual harassment in school only to be told by school counselors that they are making it up. According to Girlguiding UK, “61% of 11 – to 16-year-old girls say teachers/staff sometimes or always dismiss sexual harassment as just a bit of banter”.
There are huge pressures in schools for girls to live up to the expectations of boys – expectations which, in my opinion, have mostly been shaped by porn. In lessons such as PSHE we have been told to discuss our opinions about porn. Frequently this has lead to large groups of boys discussing how “gross” it is when girls don’t shave their body hair, or talking about how, if girls don’t take part in extreme sex acts, they are clearly “frigid and probably a lesbian.” I am all for sex education and I believe that being able to discuss pornography is important, however it feels as though teachers aren’t taking boys’ hurtful comments seriously. They often roll their eyes or sigh but apparently there’s nothing they can do because “we’re all entitled to our opinion.” We have had talks on bullying before where homophobia and racism have been covered but sexism never really has. It feels like the issue of sexism surrounding young people is invisible.
It seems like boys are also feeling the effect of it. Male friends have admitted that they feel under pressure to act ‘masculine’. Running, screaming or acting ‘like a girl’ means you’re a ‘wuss’, and feminine or openly gay boys often feel marginalised in their peer groups. This can have a negative impact on their self-esteem causing them to feel like they aren’t ‘manly’ enough – boys seem to be trying to show their masculinity in front of their friends by taunting and harassing girls.
Experiencing sexism on a day-to-day basis can be exhausting. It has a massive effect on the way girl and boys feel about themselves, on their self-esteem and even on their ability to perform well in school.
It’s possible that sexism isn’t being recognised as a serious issue in schools because we’ve grown up with it and learned to accept it. From toddlers boys are taught that it’s normal to play rough and tease girls and that it is bad to act ‘like a girl.’
Thankfully, more and more students and teachers are realising that there is a real issue and more charities like The SAFE Project and Brook are visiting schools to give awareness of domestic abuse and violence against women. This is a really positive start and I know that their lessons have had a great impact on pupils.
I hope that in the future teachers will take sexual harassment more seriously. I hope that the next person who reports a case of sexual harassment to a member of staff or councillor isn’t humiliated or put down by adults that they are taught to trust and are instead treated with the respect they deserve.
The image featured is used under the creative commons license and depicts female-presenting young people in a classroom.
by Joanna Whitehead // 31 May 2015, 6:59 pm
Gloria Jones’ stomping northern soul floor-filler ‘Tainted Love’ is fantastic but, much to the disdain of many northern soul purists out there, I must confess to preferring Soft Cell’s cover version – one of few tracks where the cover beats the original, in my opinion. I suspect that this is because I’m (just!) a child of the 1980s and can’t resist a synth.
19 year-old singer-songwriter Soak is responsible for the beautiful, dream-folk that is ‘Blud’. She’s touring the UK this month, beginning in London on 4 June. Check out the dates here and read more about this remarkable young talent and her love of skating here.
For those of you who’ve never heard Kenickie, ‘Come out tonight’ is a great introduction to this pop-punk band from the 1990s, fronted by none other than BBC Radio 6’s Lauren Laverne, fact fans. If you enjoy this, In the club, their first album, is well worth seeking out. It seemed remiss of me not to include DIY-Glaswegians Bis in my 90s nostalgia trip. Manda Rin’s shrill vocal style divided many music fans, but I always thought she – and her pipes – were awesome.
I always appreciate hearing a regional accent in a singer and The Lovely Eggs Lancastrian tones put a big smile on my face. The band released their fourth album This is our nowhere at the beginning of May and ‘Magic Onion’ is their first single from this. Read more about them and check out their forthcoming live dates here.
The image is an uppper-body shot of Soak, performing at Rough Trade East in March this year. Soak wears a black t-shirt and wears her guitar over her body. Her eyes are downcast, studying her fingers, which are placed to creat chords. Image by Aurelien Guichard, shared under a Creative Commons licence.
by Guest Blogger // 30 May 2015, 10:16 am
This is a guest post by Peter Nuckley, a Liverpool born, Yorkshire living, married father of two. He is a keen writer of poetry, novels and songs surpassed only by a love for whisky and classical fiction
“Why aren’t YOU a feminist?” My wife contemptuously asked of me, after a particularly long discussion with her sister on the role that men should play in the feminist movement.
” I… Erm…. Well…. I honestly didn’t know I was allowed to be one.” I replied, oblivious to the anger now building up inside her. “It has the word ‘feminine’ in it so I figured it wasn’t for me.”
As I said that I knew it couldn’t be right – it wasn’t just the fury written all over my wife’s face either, there was something more fundamental that had been stirred, something that I couldn’t yet verbalise. My wife put it into words rather loudly by reminding me that I have a daughter, a wife, two nieces, a sister and a mother.
Initially I asked myself: why couldn’t I be a feminist? Do I really know what a feminist is? Oh God, they aren’t all bra burning man-haters, are they?
After a few more questions, some serious and some ludicrously naive, I decided to look into these things, and holy fuck, I almost wish I never had! I’ve suddenly woken up and it is terrifying. In the UK one in five women will be a victim of sexual assault! The list of female relatives alone that my wife reeled off consisted of six women. How did it get like this? That’s not even mentioning things like gender inequality in daily life or the atrocities that go on in many other nations with different attitudes than we have in Britain. I see myself as generally a good bloke, however, I’ve started to realise that I’ve been burying my head in the sand for too long.
Where to start though? I alone can’t fix all the global problems contributing to inequality and violence, although we can all contribute. What I can do is gain the courage to stand up to people who are casually dismissive or sexist in the places I work and play. No more laughing along and trying to fit in with my peers – it is time to lead.
So, am I a feminist?
I’m sorry to say that I have got to 31 years of age with some wrong ideas of what a feminist is. I dare say I’m not alone in this and won’t be the first to point out that some of the portrayals of feminists in the media aren’t exactly flattering. So I tried researching beyond the media caricatures of feminism, to see where I fit in.
Day one’s research came up with “liberal feminism”, “radical feminism”, “anarcho-feminism”and a host of other things I didn’t quite understand, so I’m not exactly sure which one of these I would identify with. However, what they all had in common was equality – everyone must be treated fairly regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, creed or any other category you care to divide a person into. If that’s what feminism is, then yes, I am a feminist.
Deep down I think most of us are feminists, just maybe we didn’t know we could be. The core beliefs of feminism are something that every fair-minded individual has woven into the fabric of their being. Every man that I know is respectful of women and believes in equality but few of them see a need to label themselves as feminists- they see this simply as part of being a decent bloke. Well fellas, in a perfect world there would be no need to label yourself “feminist” as equality should go hand in hand with being human – however, this world is far from perfect. There are men who think themselves better, or more worthy, than their daughters, wives, sisters and mothers. Don’t just shy away from this by thinking it’s not happening to you or your family. Put a name to what you are – you are a good bloke – you are a feminist!
I apologise to my wife for taking so long to recognise the importance of feminism and I look forward to helping her change the world.
Dedicated to my wife Becky. Happy Birthday.
by Lusana Taylor // 25 May 2015, 9:39 pm
It’s been a mixed week in terms of news – the good news being that Ireland voted for gay marriage in the referendum, the bad news being that Serbia’s amazing body-positive song didn’t win Eurovision!
Fear not, there’s nothing on Eurovision in this week’s round-up, but you can find an interesting piece on the referendum from New Statesman. If you’d like to comment on one of issues covered or share another article that we haven’t included, feel free to get involved in the comments section below or on Facebook/Twitter.
Bank of England wants an artist for £20 note (BBC News)
Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” Video Is Not A Feminist Manifesto (The Concourse)
No, feminism is not about choice (The Conversation)
What happens to head girls? (The Observer)
The Imaginary Choice Feminist (Tits and Sass)
How Facebook Exposes Domestic Violence Survivors (The Daily Beast)
Broken Ends: When People Won’t Take No For An Answer When It Comes To Touching Your Hair (Black Girl Dangerous)
The photograph is used under a creative commons license with thanks to Beverley Goodwin. It is a black and white image showing three houses set against a very grey looking sky. However, there is a rainbow above the houses, which is depicted in colour.
by Lusana Taylor // 18 May 2015, 10:04 pm
There may only be a handful of links in this week’s round-up sometimes short is sweet and there are still plenty of fascinating articles for you to read – with lots of focus on pop culture this time around! If you’d like to comment on one of issues covered or share another article that we haven’t included, feel free to get involved in the comments section below or on Facebook/Twitter.
Alison Bechdel Misses Feeling Special (New York Times)
The image is used under the creative commons license and was found on Wikimedia Commons. Thanks to Alvesgaspar for allowing the image to be used. The photo depicts thirteen rather spiky looking orange flowers (described as species of aloe plant) set against a very blue sea in the background.
by Guest Blogger // , 8:30 pm
Janey is a feminist activist and filmmaker who is passionate about human rights and ending violence against women. She tweets @vegetarianjelly.
Not many people have heard of the Istanbul Convention. This is unsurprising; like a lot of international law it sounds a bit dry. But it has the power to end violence against women in the UK, which is why a group of campaigners are trying to pull it into the spotlight.
The Istanbul Convention’s full name is the ‘Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence’ and it does exactly what it says on the tin: provides a strategic framework for governments to end violence against women.
It’s the first human rights treaty ever to comprehensively focus on gender-based violence. It builds on the United Nations’ CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women) by providing detailed definitions for different forms of violence against women that can be introduced into national criminal law.
What does it mean for women in the UK?
Safety, justice and the chance to live a life free from the threat of violence. The convention spells out exactly what states need to do to address all forms of violence against women; from domestic, sexual and honour-based violence to sexual harassment, stalking, FGM, forced marriage and forced sterilisation.
If the government ratified this convention, they would have to put specific measures in place to tackle violence against women: from prevention through to protection and prosecution. They would have to provide helplines, provide refuges, access to legal aid and specialist support services. They would have to grant migrant women autonomous residence permits, allowing them to escape abusive relationships. They would not be able to get away with cutting funding for life-saving refuges in the way the last government has done.
But wait, what’s ratification? It’s when a state commits to embed an international convention into their national laws. When a government ratifies a convention, they are legally bound to follow it by embedding new laws and policies.
If the UK ratified the Istanbul Convention, they would be committed to systematic change. This is much more than a politician’s promise: it’s a legal commitment. Governments would no longer be able to conveniently ignore the huge levels of violence against women that have historically been locked behind closed doors.
Part of the prevention measures include adequate sex and healthy relationships education, as well as discouraging gender stereotyping in schools. The United Nations weren’t kidding when they said the Istanbul Convention was the global ‘gold standard’ for tackling violence against women.
What’s the government’s problem?
So far, the UK government has only signed the convention. This means they support it in principle, but are not legally bound to actually do anything it says. Signing a convention is nothing more than stating your intention to ratify, but when an average of two women die each week at the hands of a partner or ex partner, we can’t afford to wait any longer.
It’s through total lack of public awareness that the government has been able to not only drag its heels on tackling violence against women, but also quietly remove funding from domestic violence support services under its austerity programme. None of the main political parties included any mention of the Istanbul Convention in their manifestos.
If the UK ratified the Istanbul Convention, it would have to rapidly shape up its act. Not only this, but it would be held to account by the Council of Europe. The convention subjects governments to scrutiny by an expert monitoring group that holds them to account and measures progress. This means that when governments are failing to exercise due diligence to prevent and protect against violence against women, feminist campaigners would be able to call on much higher powers to ensure that the UK government secures women’s safety.
Women deserve better
For too long, politicians have gotten away with ignoring sky-high levels of gender-based violence. The only thing that can stop this epidemic is urgent, systemic change, and the Istanbul Convention could be the magic formula.
The important thing to remember is that the Istanbul Convention was drafted by gender experts, not politicians. These experts know exactly what needs to happen to stop violence against women, and have done all the thinking, research and leg work; all governments need to do is put their recommendations into action.
Throughout history, feminists have battled to get the government to recognise its responsibility for tackling violence against women. The achievement of gender equality is undoubtedly linked to the eradication of violence against women, and the Istanbul Convention would be a historical landmark for women’s rights in the UK.
Women are dying. We can’t wait any longer. The sooner the Istanbul Convention comes into power, the sooner we can be safer.
The image is a photo of the Council of Europe headquarters in Strasbourg.
by Guest Blogger // 14 May 2015, 5:15 pm
Kerry Campion is a 22 year old Irish student currently studying for her BA in English & Politics at Queen’s University Belfast.
I was diagnosed with endometriosis in 2013 and it has been a struggle to finally arrive at a place in my life where I have accepted the fact that I will more than likely not conceive a child. Before my diagnosis I had already decided that if I wanted children in the future I would probably adopt. Still, receiving the news that I had about a 5% chance of conceiving made me feel incredibly worthless and people’s reactions to the news did not exactly alleviate these feelings.
I have compiled this guide of what not to say to people who are telling you they may not be able to conceive.
“But you never know, you might still be able to have kids if you have them early enough”
This continues to be the most popular response I get. Firstly, I don’t need to hear how I can “get around” my issues of fertility; if I do try earlier in life and still find it very difficult to conceive, my feelings of failure will only increase.
Secondly, it’s predicated on the idea that I should disrupt my future life plans in order to have a chance at conceiving. Instead of telling women to put their future plans on hold for the sake of having a baby, we should be trying to embrace all the other things in life we’ve set out to do. In order to avoid the follow-up explanation of what stage one endometriosis means fertility-wise – (“Well, I might be able to conceive, but it’s a lot less likely”) I have now taken the “I can’t have kids” approach. At least this way I don’t have to constantly explain myself to others.
“You can always adopt”
Whilst I mentioned adoption above as the preferred means by which I want to start a family, this suggestion is also predicated on the idea that the woman in question does in fact want children. I can already see a few eyebrows being raised, but believe me: just because a woman was not intending to have children does not mean she would not be upset by such news.
“What did your partner say?”
The subtext of this question is: “Does your partner still want to stay with you?” Feeling that you are letting your partner down is a major obstacle to overcome when faced with infertility and such questions only reinforce the idea that your partner will feel let down by you.
“There’s all sorts of help, you could freeze your eggs/try IVF etc.”
When I’ve actually built myself up to tell someone about my condition, the last thing I want is to have an in-depth discussion about all the other avenues that will help me conceive. Mostly, when I’m sharing this information, I just want to discuss how I feel about it, I don’t need a ‘how-to’ list in order to get around my condition. Chances are if a woman feels particularly strongly about starting a ‘natural’ family, she has already painstakingly researched all these avenues and revisiting them can actually be quite exhausting and overwhelming.
“I totally relate to the pain, I get bad period pain”
No, just no. Endometriosis causes intense pain most prominently around the pelvic area, especially if a woman has stage three or four. Yes, periods can create chaos and severe pain, but don’t try to ‘relate’ to me through your own period pain, quite frankly it makes me think that you don’t really understand the severity of the disease or think I’m exaggerating the pain I experience.
“At least it’s not cancerous”
The old patronising “Well it’s not like you’re going to die” response. Again, this falls under the category of people thinking I’m exaggerating, and I should just get on with it because hey, things could be worse. There’s nothing worse than telling someone something of this nature to just be tossed or shrugged away like it’s nothing. Yes, I’m aware it’s not cancerous and likely won’t kill me but don’t try to use that as a means to minimise what this disease can do to me both mentally and physically.
So, how should you react to someone telling you about their endometriosis or other infertility disease? Ask open questions instead of interrogating them: “How do you feel about that?” is a good way to start. Asking a question like this opens up the conversation for the sufferer to discuss their disease in a way that makes them comfortable and means they don’t have to disclose anything they don’t want to or consider things that make them feel worse. And I’d would also appreciate it if you’d avoid the sympathetic head-tilt, that’s just damn annoying.
Image by Anthony Easton shows white graffiti on a green background saying ‘talk talk’. Used under creative commons license.
by Guest Blogger // 12 May 2015, 5:00 pm
“What have you dreamt about lately?” asked the psychiatrist. “I’ve been having a recurring dream that I’m with my boyfriend and he’s wearing my dress,” I replied. “Have you ever had a relationship with a woman?” he asked. “Yes, I’m bisexual,” I shot back.
He twirled slowly in his chair, grinning from ear to ear. “Ah, you’re confused about your sexuality,” he smirked. “That really ties in with your Borderline Personality Disorder diagnosis…”
Sadly, this wasn’t the first time I’d felt as if a therapist considered my BPD somehow invalidated the authenticity of my bisexuality. This was just the first time it had been overtly stated, with that dismissive smirk.
Borderline Personality Disorder is a mental health condition which is characterised by mood swings, fear of abandonment, impulsive behaviour, an unstable sense of identity and feelings of emptiness. More women are diagnosed with the condition than men. It is heavily stigmatised and a great number of sufferers choose not to speak about it, in many ways because it is such a “gendered” diagnosis. Women are already criticised for displaying too much emotion, and men are barely permitted to show it at all, so who would want to readily admit to suffering a condition which amplifies it?
So how does this tie in with bisexuality? Bisexuals are often unfairly perceived to be promiscuous, indecisive, shallow in our affections and unable to control or properly understand our sex lives or sexual urges. Bisexual women specifically are fetishised and many see us only in terms of pornographic threesome fantasies.
Unfortunately, an unfair and reductive interpretation of both BPD and bisexuality means there is some debate in medical circles about whether or not the unstable identity issues and impulsivity aspects of BPD might actually “cause” bisexuality in some patients. Statistics on levels of bisexuality and levels of BPD in our society (let alone the levels to which they might tend to coexist) are notoriously unreliable – largely because of the stigma attached to both. In my opinion, however, this “witch hunt” of bisexual BPD patients is a damaging, ungrounded and counterproductive phenomenon.
Renee*, like me, is bisexual and has had counselling for BPD. “My major ‘symptom’ as far as my therapist was concerned was my sexually impulsive behaviour,” she sighs.
“The counsellor emphasised that me sleeping with men and women was harmful and a symptom of BPD. I have always been proud of my bisexuality, though. This was the first time I ever questioned if I was actually bi or if it was because of a mental illness. It made it hard to explain how I was feeling without automatically being told I was being impulsive. I do not believe there is a direct correlation between bisexuality and BPD.”
Sarah Reece is a bisexual mental health peer worker. During a training session she was once taught that bisexuality is a symptom of BPD. “Most of the class seemed to swallow that statement hook line and sinker,” she recalls. “When challenged by a lesbian student, the facilitator agreed that bisexuality did exist as an identity, but still maintained that when present with BPD it was just a symptom.” Reece continues:
“The treatment of people with BPD in general is appalling, dismissive, invalidating, and frequently outright abusive. Ignoring and dismissing diverse experiences of identity such as being bi compound distress and disconnection and make the task of recovery, acceptance, and self care so much more challenging.”
The issue of combined BPD/bisexuality stigma is so widespread that prominent bi activist Dr Caroline Walters is working on a research paper about it, titled The bisexual condition? A critique of Borderline Personality Disorder and Bisexual Stereotypes. The paper, when published, will “outline the relationship between the language used in the diagnostic criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and bisexual stereotypes” and “explore the ways that bisexual stereotypes and the diagnostic criteria for BPD overlap in ways that can prove unhelpful and pathologising for bisexual patients”. Walters will discuss the fact that “in the case of BPD all aspects of the patient’s life are liable to be viewed as symptoms”.
That day in the therapy session I felt humiliated and as if I was being told by this rather unpleasant man that, at the age of 30, I still didn’t own my sexuality. I was just a silly sick little girl who didn’t know what she wanted, who needed to be told by an older male therapist that her sexuality wasn’t genuine. Everyone I had loved or been intimate with was just a symptom of my condition. How horrible and damning.
It’s been 42 years since homosexuality was declassified as a mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association. So why is being attracted to more than one gender still considered ripe for dismissal and mockery in psychiatric circles?
*Some names have been changed to protect identities
Image by Crafty_Dame, showing chalk pavement graffiti and used under Creative Commons licence.
Charlotte “Lottie” Dingle is a freelance journalist, artist and activist living in London. She is motivated to remain on this earth thanks to cats, red wine, Jeanette Winterson, Dame Julian of Norwich and Kate Bush.
by Lusana Taylor // 11 May 2015, 10:40 am
If you’re anything like me, you’re probably (a little more than) slightly disappointed with the election result. Still, if nothing else, it has given me renewed incentive to immerse myself in current affairs, get educated and read, read, read. Hopefully a lot of you will be feeling the same.
Below are just a few of the articles that caught our attention this week – if you’d like to comment on one of issues covered or share another article that we haven’t included, feel free to get involved in the comment section below or on Facebook/Twitter.
In the run-up to the election, activist group Sisters Uncut stopped traffic in Southwark Street in protest against cuts to vital domestic violence services.
From the article: “A fortnight ago, a letter I wrote to the man who sexually assaulted me when I walked home on a Friday night was published in Cherwell, an Oxford University newspaper. With the letter, we launched the #NotGuilty campaign.”
From the article: “Pregnant workers routinely find themselves uncomfortably situated between a proverbial rock and a hard place: How can they request modifications while not seeming weak, or being treated differently, for doing so?”
From the article: “Spring is here and you know what that means. In high schools across the country, it means the dress code enforcers are sure to be cracking down on girls and their ‘distracting’ knees, clavicles, and shoulders.”
In Praise Of Women Who Give All The F**ks (Huffington Post)
From the article: “Michelle Obama gives zero fucks. Emma Stone gives zero fucks. Cersei Lannister from ‘Game of Thrones’ gives zero fucks. Abolitionist Sojourner Truth gave zero fucks. Pinterest is filled with skinny models wearing ‘Zero Fucks Given’ tanks. Even the women in historical paintings give absolutely zero fucks. We have reached peak lack of fucks given.”
We female journalists need to shame and expose France’s sexist politicians (The Guardian CiF)
From the article: “There was the government minister who demanded to have a ‘pretty woman’ opposite him during lunch. And another who would stop an interview to look at a young girl walking by and make comments about her appearance. Or the ministerial adviser who has never spoken to you but who’s desperately keen to get your telephone number so he can compliment you on what you’re wearing.”
Let’s do this. Let’s talk about periods (The Pool)
From the article: “There is something insulting about the image of a carefree, painless menstruating woman. You’ve seen her, probably in tampon ads, smiling and frolicking on the beach or perfecting her headstand near the front of her yoga class. I am sure these low-flow, emotionally balanced women exist in real life – they’re probably on the pill and so their periods are a light, two-day affair – but they are a small subset of the menstruating population.”
Beautifully written piece by Sarah Ditum on desecration of Monument to the Women of World War II in White Hall at the weekend.
From the article: “Would anyone in their right mind think it reasonable that a 10-year-old carry a pregnancy to term? This is not a thought experiment but the horrible story of a real child in Paraguay: raped by her stepfather and now denied an abortion.”
The image was found on Wikimedia Commons and is in the public domain. It is dated 1942. It is a black and white photograph of two women working on, what looks like it could be, the wing of an aircraft or something similar. The woman closest to camera is holding a tool up to the wing and the other is watching her handiwork intently. They are both wearing hair nets and white overalls.
by Alicia Rodriguez // 10 May 2015, 4:32 pm
Editor’s note: Alicia Rodriguez is our May guest blogger. Alicia writes about art and makes art about objects. She lives and works in Norwich, UK where she also co-edits Ube a contemporary art and writing zine. She can be found on twitter. (JT)
How do I address work as a feminist concern? Failure? Tiredness? Bad jobs? With a Fine Art degree behind me, I have worked for a few soulless corporations now, mostly retail, temporary jobs. I visit shows on my days off, read theory on my lunch breaks, paint in the evenings. I balanced the unpaid gallery work – what a great opportunity! – with the paid retail job, until I couldn’t any longer.
In my research for this blog post I came across a recent article by Brigid Schulte, which investigates a feminist approach to working:
“I read feminist leisure research … that found women around the globe felt that they didn’t deserve leisure time. It felt too selfish. Instead, they felt they had to earn time to themselves by getting to the end of a very long To Do list. Which, let’s face it, never ends.” (1)
Although Schulte is not discussing contemporary art in her piece, the issues that she deals with here are somewhat universal. She alludes to a prescribed sense of responsibility and obligation learnt from “1950s-era black and white movies” (2) that kicked in largely when she had her first child. The problem perpetuates because it is so deeply ingrained, founded within the beginnings of a capitalist society, which in turn is built upon the degradation of the working class and of women.
Time, as the title of Schulte’s post suggests, is a feminist issue. So, as an artist, is maintaining a ‘practice’, supporting myself financially and gaining an education by whatever means necessary.
In a 2013 ‘Art Audit’, the East London Fawcett Society found that 31% of artists represented by London galleries identified as female. The percentage of female Fine Art undergraduates at the time, comparably, totalled 61.7, worth noting even two years on. I graduated from a BA Fine Art degree in 2013, and the ELF’s results allowed me to confront some concerns that I had long suspected but neglected to address: that, in the foreseeable future at least, my status as an artist will always be preceded by my gender.
Arguably, this is once again behaviour that shapes us from an early age, as Eileen Myles suggests in her piece, reprinted by The Chapess in 2014, Being Female, “…a woman is someone who grew up observing that a whole lot more was being imagined by everyone for her brother and the boys around her at school. If she’s a talented artist she’s told that she could probably teach art to children when she grows up and then she hears the boy who’s good in art get told by the same teacher that one day he could grow up to be a commercial artist.” (3)
The struggle to be taken seriously as a ‘female artist’, when my male counterpart is simply ‘an artist’ – the male being the normal, known, default mode – is the vicious undercurrent of an otherwise progressive and liberal area of work. In a recent conversation with a friend regarding open submissions to a group show, he challenged the gender bias with the idea that more women should have submitted in the first place. Conversely, I wondered why they felt they could not; concluding that, as in many instances of privilege, they do not feel it is for them. This discussion, admittedly, did not even begin to deal with those artists outside of this restrictive gender binary.
Is art a job? When I tell people that I have a studio, for example, their first response is to question whether I make money from making art. This feels like a huge misunderstanding of value and success, those capitalist ethics again, as if ‘value’ is equal to financial rewards. I make a living by selling luxury bathroom furniture in a high street store, but it is the evenings I spend painting pictures of rocks, or writing disjointed fragments of text like this one that motivate me.
(1) Brigid Schulte: Why time is a feminist issue
(2) Brigid Schulte: Why time is a feminist issue
(3) Eileen Myles: Being Female
The image above is a colourful image of a woman with many splashes of colour. The woman has a braid across her forehead and is looking down, not making eye contact with the viewer.
Thanks Emilio Garcia for the for the image!
by Lusana Taylor // 4 May 2015, 1:50 pm
It’s strange to think that by the next weekly round-up, the general election will have been and gone. One of the highlights of the week was the news that Sandi Toksvig will be leaving her current job at Radio 4 to start up a new political party campaigning for gender equality (you can find out more in the article from Pink News listed below). While you might not be able to vote for the Women’s Equality Party this time around, hopefully you will all still be getting out there and making your voices heard on 7th May.
In the meantime, enjoy your bank holiday Monday and the collection of links we have put together for you this week! As always, feel free to get involved by letting us know your thoughts on any of the issues covered and by adding your own links to the comments section below if you think we have missed something.
Please also 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.
From the article: “A 23-year-old digital marketing coordinator has reported a group of builders to the police for sexual harassment. Every morning on her way to work, Poppy Smart faced gestures, disrespectful comments and wolf-whistles – the builders would even come out of the site to whistle as she passed them, and, on one occasion, one of the men deliberately blocked her path.”
‘Sexist’ peer review causes storm online (The Times Higher Education)
How a new wave of POC artists is challenging Britishness (Dazed Digital)
From the article: “Out comedian Sandi Toksvig has announced that she plans to create a new political party for women’s equality.”
Where are the ethnic minority women in politics? (New Statesman)
What’s Wrong With ‘All Lives Matter’? (NY Times)
What the Quaker tradition taught me about ‘Mr’ and ‘Ms’ (Hello Giggles)
The image is used under creative commons license with thanks to Kayla Sawyer. It shows an arm raised upwards with the hand forming a fist. From the fingers dangles a silver pendant with a Venus symbol charm.
by Guest Blogger // 2 May 2015, 10:00 am
Tara is freelance creative who goes by the name Catstello online. She is an aspiring full-time optimist, feminist warrior and beach ready woman. When she isn’t publicly rejecting beauty standards, she is running feminist lifestyle blog, Zusterschap, with her best friend.
You may know me, I recently stripped to make a statement. Although this Protein World’s advertisement is merely just a drop in an ocean of body shaming media there was something about this one in particular that ticked me and thousands of other women off. The image features bold writing asking commuters “ARE YOU BEACH BODY READY?” when it might as well say “DO YOU FEEL RUBBISH YET?”. My new friend Fiona and I made our own body positive statement in retaliation to the advert by standing next to it in our bikinis declaring ourselves already beach body ready.
Since the pair of us posted the image, it has gone viral and garnered some very interesting responses. Whenever somebody rejects an ideal or supports feminism in general, they are often met with backlash. Although most of the responses have been positive and encouraging, I have also received a ton of abuse. The insults most often hurled at me are: fat, ugly, insecure, fake and a chubster feminazi. I have also been accused of fit-shaming (which isn’t a thing by the way, nobody thinks you are ‘gross’ if you are fit). I have also had a super detailed and lengthy hate-filled email sent straight to my inbox. But the thing that baffles me the most is people calling me a terrorist.
The definition of terrorism is “the unofficial or unauthorized use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.” Re-read that a few times and think about how that can be applied to me, Fiona and the thousands of other women who are sick of being told how they should look every day. I never once condoned violence or intimidation, all Fiona and I did was send a body positive message. We rejected society’s ideals, encouraged women to do the same, didn’t judge others who weren’t against it and have generally handled all this with poise and dignity. Protein World on the other hand have not. They have been publicly shaming feminists, mental health sufferers and generally anybody else who is against their advertisement.
As you may have seen my friend Juliette Burton tweeted Protein World expressing her thoughts on the advertisements and how they can be triggering for other people struggling with their mental health. The most shocking part in all of this is the fact the CEO has openly admitted to taking over the company’s Twitter account and basically shown thousands of people how terrible the company are at public relations.
The most infuriating part of all is that at no point during the company’s television or radio appearances has the CEO shown his face. Nor have they been called out for their absolutely terrible behaviour. In fact a large amount of people had no problem with the advert but objected to their disgusting comments online instead. Not only is this completely unprofessional and uncalled for, it’s very dangerous. It’s unacceptable and discriminating against what could be a very vulnerable group. It’s completely irresponsible as his comments have encouraged thousands of people to tweet myself, Fiona and Juliette abuse. It’s not about the adverts anymore. It’s about the company’s disgusting attitude towards women.
Unfortunately, it’s nothing new. Almost every time a woman rejects or challenges an ideal, she is called irrational, crazy, jealous and so on. Why is it that in 2015 being a feminist is still seen as horrifyingly bad – and the ultimate insult? Why are women branded terrorists for wanting equal rights? Why are people so threatened by this?
The uproar, backlash and CEO’s comments have just proven our point even more. The fact that I am being called fat and insecure daily is the exact reason I decided to do this. People’s minds have been clouded by the media for far too long. Women are pitted against each other daily and people have been conditioned to think that physical beauty only takes one form. Other women aren’t my competition, I stand with them not against them.
The longer I am branded a terrorist, the longer I will fight to change these body shaming attitudes.
The first image depicts Tara and Fiona standing in front of a Protein World advert wearing bikinis. It is overlaid with the text ‘How to get a beach body: put a bikini on your body’. The Protein World advert shows a woman in a bikini next to text which reads ‘Are you beach body ready?’ and information on meal supplements. The second image is a tweet from Protein World which reads ‘Dealing with irrational or perpetually offended requires a slap in the face sometimes’ with an emoji of a hand slapping and the hashtag #sorrynotsorry. The third image shows three tweets. The first is from Arjun Seth, CEO of Protein World which reads ‘it sounds like Juliette had a lot of issues before she saw the PW ad’. The second is a tweet from Danielle Newnham which says ‘Arjun, that is a totally disgraceful thing to say. You’re a CEO’. The third is a tweet from Arjun Seth which says ‘you’re both crazy, get of Twitter and do some work!’. The fourth image shows two tweets. The first is directed towards Protein World from Nisha and says ‘first you body shame them you shame @JulietteBurton for her #mentalhealth condition. SO FOUL.’. The second is a reply from Protein World saying ‘so she does have a mental health condition’ followed by emojis of a laughing face and an ‘OK’ hand sign.
by D H Kelly // 1 May 2015, 3:41 pm
There’s a very ancient tradition of blaming disabled people for their impairments. There are still cultures (and elements within our own) where disabled children are seen as a curse. Abuses of the concept of karma cast disabled people as evil-doers in earlier lives. Since the 2000s, The Secret and similar positive-thinking movements have blamed disabled people’s bad attitudes for their conditions. Even the most recent Conservative Manifesto, in rhetoric now familiar in British politics, suggests that some disabled people have only themselves to blame:
We will review how best to support those suffering from long-term yet treatable conditions, such as drug or alcohol addiction, or obesity, back into work. People who might benefit from treatment should get the medical help they need so they can return to work. If they refuse a recommended treatment, we will review whether their benefits should be reduced.
It’s an extraordinarily vague threat and there are only around 1000 people in the UK who are incapacitated for work where obesity is their main condition – a tiny group to mention in a general election campaign. However, the political capital lies in the perception that some folk are willfully disabled. Since our culture persists with the view of disability as a charitable status, with accommodating disabled people as an act of compassion, sick people who don’t look after their health are to be despised.
Our health and personal decisions made around our health should be morally neutral. Of course, if you have a contagious disease, then you must do your best to avoid passing it on. If you are drunk, over-tired or feeling faint, you must not drive or do anything else which may put other people in danger. However, things which effect our own bodies are our own business. It can be immensely complicated and messy, but people do, in general, act in their own best interests. As someone with chronic illness, who has been both poor and alone at times, I’m all too aware that sometimes looking after oneself in one respect, means not looking after oneself in another.
Women bear the brunt of being blamed for their ill health. To the detriment of absolutely everyone, our culture regards health as a women’s issue. We regularly lament that men won’t talk about their problems, won’t go to the doctor and won’t look after their health, but having concluded this, we largely give up on them and turn our attention to women who, we imagine, can be reached and helped and saved.
Men who fail to look after their health are often assumed to have their priorities in rational order; they have a serious job to do, maybe a family to support, they have serious demons which can’t be exorcised and thus their health falls by the wayside – almost every fictional hero over the age of forty has threatening symptoms he is ignoring or a drink habit that’s edging out of control. Women, however, are expected to look after themselves in order to look after everyone else. Overworking is a sign of detachment rather that dedication. We must support our families by being physically and emotionally accessible to them. Our demons are trivial, domestic, and can be dismissed with a slice of chocolate cake.
Women are supposed to be well-behaved, as daughters, partners and mothers. Even in the twenty-first century, there is far greater concern about women who drink heavily or are as sexually promiscuous than their male counterparts – even though men drink more, acquire more alcohol-related diseases, are involved in more alcohol-related violence and contract STIs at similar rates to women. Men are more likely to die of lung cancer, yet novel campaigns target the vanity of women smokers.
There’s also the very sinister but still prevalent idea that women need saving from ourselves. It is remarkable to me, in the aftermath of Channel Four’s Plus Size Wars and the subsequent #WeAreTheThey hashtag, the number of people who seem to imagine that fat women are blissfully unaware that being obese defies cultural beauty standards and is statistically disadvantageous to health.
These things impact terribly on people who get sick and don’t get better. While men often suffer from a sense of moral weakness – as if masculine willpower might allow them to soldier on through everything – women tend to be more analytical. We must have done something wrong; eaten the wrong thing, exercised too much or too little, not prayed or relaxed or had sex in the right way. And there are no shortage of folk around us to make suggestions. Especially if, by coincidence or as an effect of ill health, we happen to be fat.
Ultimately, all this falls away if we regard disability as a social and political experience as opposed to a charitable status. When we feel like we’re doing people a favour by treating them as equals, we want our sick people to be virtuous, inspirational and to endure their suffering with grace and dignity. We want our sick people to keep working hard not to be sick, rather than getting on with their lives as they are.
Today is Blogging Against Disablism Day 2015. You can read more posts here.
[Images is the the Blogging Against Disablism Day logo: a colourful square grid of stick men, including a wheelchair user and another holding a cane. Over the top it reads “Blogging Against Disablism Day”. This image was created by me and is available for use in relation to the day.]