by D H Kelly // 26 March 2015, 13:47
The Home Affairs Select Committee have proposed that those arrested for sexual offences should be granted anonymity until charged. This risks undoing much of the significant progress we've made towards increasing the reporting and conviction of rape and other sexually violent crimes.
Nobody can be in any doubt about the suffering of a person falsely accused of rape. We know all about this, because this situation is commonplace in books and films. Men are much more likely to be raped than face a rape allegation*, and yet many men seem to regard false allegation as a more realistic prospect. The idea of being a victim of injustice, of malice or misunderstanding, and having the opportunity to defend oneself with language and reason, is obviously the far more palatable threat. It certainly is for the Coalition government, who have pretty much shut down investigations into prison rape, where men make up the majority of victims.
Anonymity for rape suspects would be an obstacle to justice. It would be a direct obstacle in that it would greatly reduce the chances of multiple victims coming forward - something that can be vital in securing a conviction for historic sexual abuse. We know that the majority of rapes and sexual abuse are carried out by men who do the same thing again and again, even though victims often imagine their experience to be unique. Out of the list of famous sex offenders prosecuted in recent years, it is very likely some or most of these men would be walking free (and still on our screens and airways) if it hadn't been for publicity surrounding their initial arrests.
Anonymity for rape suspects would get in the way of justice less directly by enforcing the belief that people are more likely to lie about rape than other crimes, though there is no shred of evidence that this is the case.
This isn't how the Home Affairs Select Committee have framed their proposals; the idea is that allegations of sexual offences have an unique power to damage a person's reputation. Yet, this simply doesn't stand up; those arrested in connection with a murder where no other suspect is found or those detained on suspicion of terrorist offences may well find their employment and relationship prospects similarly destroyed. The suspicion of a fairly minor offence in someone in a position of trust and authority can have a devastating effect.
Operation Yewtree has given us a short list of very famous men who were arrested and investigated, but not charged, under the scrutiny of the national press, yet these circumstances are extraordinary. Few arrests for sexual violence cases would even lead to a photograph in a local newspaper. Meanwhile, the lasting damage is impossible to quantify; Ched Evans' rape conviction is yet to end a very lucrative and public career.
Anonymity for rape suspects would also set up a state of false equivalence between victims and suspects.
Rape victims are not granted anonymity in order to protect their reputations, but to protect from further violence. People who have already been raped or sexually abused are much more likely to be victimised again, especially if they have already reported a crime which didn't lead to a conviction. Following fans' attempts to publish the name of the woman that Ched Evans raped, she has had to move home five times. This is not so that she can get on with her career and have normal relationships with people who didn't know of her infamous experience. This is so she isn't at an ever-present risk of physical attack.
There is no justification for granting anonymity to people suspected of any particular crime, and doing so would stop victims coming forward, as well as further undermining the position of victims of sexual violence within the criminal justice system and society at large.
If you are interested in doing so Everyday Victim Blaming have an e-mail template you can send to your MP and other relevant politicians, objecting to these proposals.
* Depending on definitions, between 1 in 6 and 1 in 33 men are subject to rape during their lifetimes.
[The image is a black silhouette on a white background of a person's head and shoulders. The figure has short hair and a thick neck. This image was made by Wikimedia user Lakeyboy and is in the public domain.]
by Sasha Garwood // 25 March 2015, 22:38
Sasha Garwood is our March guestblogger.
So, as I mentioned a few posts ago, I have a stepdaughter. She's a lovely kid, bright and charming and sweet, which is just as well because I haven't a maternal bone in my body (mutual adult caring is a DIFFERENT bone, okay?) and the fact that I genuinely appreciate her as a person means that our little odd semi-nuclear almost-family mostly ambles along quite happily. I only see her every other weekend, as she mostly lives with her mother on the other side of the country, and whilst she doesn't exactly see me as a proper adult (I'm 'like a teenager' because I'm 'too much fun', which I will totally take) we seem to get along pretty well. It's all good, mostly. The only apparent invertebrate in the overpriced facial unguent is the subsumed (or, sometimes, openly apparent, albeit mainly through the medium of passive aggressive texts to my fiancé) ideological clashes between my worldview and her mother's.
(I'm going to spend the rest of this blogpost studiously avoiding discussing my partner's perspective or his relationship with his ex, partly because Inappropriate and partly because there is an outside chance she might one day read this. Suffice it to say that he's kind, considerate, neurotic and predisposed to self-loathing, self-doubt and assuming his perspectives or decisions are of necessity wrong, and for various reasons of historical awfulness has not necessarily had much say in mutual decision-making about stepdaughter's ideological upbringing.)
Sometimes, this is fair enough. Or rather: I totally recognise someone's right to raise their child according to their values and preferences, and therefore am basically willing to follow the rules if I'm told what they are. This doesn't follow if said rules appear to be actively harmful, as in the recent 'Stop her from reading!' argument that had jaws dropping across my geeky and bookish social circles, but things like table manners and media consumption and hiding the news. The latter is pretty alien to me - my parents never edited, let alone curtailed, my reading or news consumption, and whilst I suspect it led to some pretty awkward conversations on their part and occasional upset and mystification on mine, it stood me in pretty good stead for living in the world. I also tended to self-limit - if I really didn't get something or found it upsetting, I'd leave well alone and/or come back to it later. But still, I (mostly) don't think it's appropriate for me to question or undermine stepdaughter's mother's authority or the stable-ish boundaries of her life and exposure to the world*.
Even with things like language, I mostly toe the line. Left to myself I swear frequently and fluently, as does her father, but I appreciate that for a 9-year-old at a C of E school perspectives like 'words have power, use them carefully, including the ones that shock or discomfort people' and 'if it's good enough for the Earl of Rochester, it's good enough for me' don't have much currency, and kids learn by example. I slip up occasionally, but it's basically okay**.
But. Rules or no rules, there are other aspects of life where my inability to communicate honestly bothers me. The facts of life, for example. As far as her dad knows, we're not meant to explain to her about sex, which has led to some particularly amusing* visits to farms and the like involving phrases like 'they're just playing/cuddling/fighting!' and some really awkward conversations about how or why I'm not going to have a baby. Stepdaughter hasn't hit puberty yet, so once again, I think it's not my place to interfere or undermine, but girls start menstruating pretty early these days, and I'm really hoping some day soon her mother feels it's time to have a quiet word.
Not unrelatedly: sexuality. I'm not allowed to be out as queer around her, for fear she mentions it to her mum and I'm suddenly deemed persona non grata. (Quite how this would play out given I'm marrying her father, I don't know, but I think it'd be horrendous for all parties. Needless to say, he hasn't discussed being bi with his daughter either!) I don't just mean I can't tell her I'm queer or initiate conversations on the subject - I wouldn't do that anyway. I mean I refrain from answering her questions honestly sometimes, from any mention of dating anyone who isn't male, the same way her father refrains from mentioning that he was briefly married very young before he met stepdaughter's mother. ('It's just not worth the hassle,' I quote.) Stepdaughter's a direct and curious child, she asks lots of questions, and I find it runs very much against the grain not to respond with similar directness.
I don't have any answers. I'm not even sure what the questions are. I do know that as stepdaughter grows up, and starts dealing with things like bodily changes and sexuality and all the cultural bullshit around adult femininity, I am going to be increasingly less inclined to accede to what feels to me like dishonesty. Not that I would ever force a topic or viewpoint on her. This isn't about my wanting to evangelise, even about things like consent culture I evangelise about pretty fiercely with adults. It's about me finding it really difficult to navigate between wanting to respect stepdaughter's mother's right to raise her child how she wants, my partner's right to have some significant emotional input into decisions made about his daughter's emotional and psychological wellbeing, and my desire to provide stepdaughter with support in the best way I know how - by being honest about the difficult things.
*Obviously enough, a lot of this has its roots in family norms. My family are expressive, argumentative, open, prone to discussing Big Things and not shying away from conflict. This does not equate to seeking it, by the way - I really don't like arguing with people, particularly in emotionally loaded situations, and my boyfriend and I deal with pretty much everything by discussion and explanation and requests to stop if one of us is getting upset, and that works as well as these things can. But I also know how to deal with conflict, and am accustomed to expressing myself under emotional pressure. Boyfriend's family have been very nice and very welcoming to me, but certainly don't discuss or communicate in the same way mine do, which is occasionally odd, as I ask questions as a matter of course without realising that it's actually quite a Big Deal to talk about things. Stepdaughter's mother's family - who seem very nice and friendly whenever I've encountered them - apparently adhere to strict and occasionally arcane rules, which is probably, and legitimately, where all this comes from.
** My perspective on swearing is another blogpost in itself - it's context-dependent, but I am generally all in favour of using words that are direct, expressive, multivalent and capable of making people pay attention. Often these are swearwords. I also think Stephen Fry - occasionally problematic as he is - has some pretty good points here. Worth mentioning that unlike the reading thing, my parents got very upset about 'bad language' when I was a child - we each take of our parents' lessons what we like and transform the rest, I suppose, which will make revisiting these subjects with stepdaughter as an adult very interesting.
The image above is of orange graffiti on a grey wall. The image is of a woman with octopus tentacles for hair and a triangle to represent her third eye. She is smiling pleasantly. Thanks Mara Patrick for the photo.
by Holly Combe // 24 March 2015, 08:00
Iona Sharma revels in the feminist joy of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries.
Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries is a lush confection: an Australian detective drama set in 1920s Melbourne, with meticulously envisaged period detail and glorious outfits.
It stars Essie Davis as the Honourable Phryne Fisher, "lady detective", together with an ensemble cast, including Miriam Margolyes, playing her self-assembled household and some long-suffering members of the Melbourne police force.
With their assistance, Phryne (rhymes with tiny) runs around the city, chasing criminals with a pearl-handled pistol. She is magnificently dressed at all times, even when pursuing murderers across rooftops or inspecting bodies in the morgue.
The resulting show is a delight; the murders themselves are solidly predictable affairs, taken seriously but not overly gritty or dark, while the dialogue is sharp and funny. Plus, there is a certain pleasure in taking in Phryne's fabulous lifestyle, making it perfectly possible to simply sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.
So why not just leave it there? Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries is lovely, easy-to-watch fun and, amid the bright colours and rollicking adventures in its 26 episodes across two seasons, I don't believe anyone ever uses the word 'feminist' or anything close to it. However, I would say this is still the most feminist television show I've seen in years, possibly even more so for its light, deceptively simple approach.
First of all, Miss Fisher's larger-than-life personality is a lot more complicated than it at first seems.
She grew up in poverty -- her current wealth and title arose as a result of most of her family being wiped out in the First World War -- and, overshadowing that difficult childhood is the fact her sister was abducted by a known kidnapper and murderer who continues to protest his innocence. (This is reminiscent of the backstories of protagonists like Batman and Fox Mulder -- the tragic past that is usually bestowed on male characters.)
Despite this, the show resists the temptation of taking Phryne's subsequent lifelong quest to find out what happened to her sister, along with her wartime experiences as a nurse on the front lines, and using it as the explanation for her worldview...
Miss Fisher leans on her arms on her front on a furry rug on a bed, holding up a golden pistol in her right hand. She wears 1920s get-up: a jewelled head band, red lipstick, thin white scarf, black dress and just visible black high heels (that can be seen from a backwards angle in the background, as her legs are bent at the knees).
This is adapted from the cover for the DVD for series one of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries and can also be seen on the cover of the accompanying CD soundtrack. Shared under fair dealing.
by Lusana Taylor // 22 March 2015, 20:41
Hello and welcome to another weekly round-up and open thread. Please read, absorb and enjoy this collection of interesting links from the past week and feel free to discuss in the comments section, or add your own link suggestions.
Every article linked to is well worth a read but particular favourites of mine this week include the fascinating discussion piece on China File regarding the deplorable criminal detention of five feminist activists in China, as well as the lovely article on The Guardian about "godmother of rock'n'roll" Sister Rosetta Tharpe - I will definitely be setting aside some time to watch the BBC Four documentary about her life later on (and if you're interested, you'll find the link to it alongside the article below).
Please remember that linking does not automatically mean endorsement/agreement and some links may be triggering.
This App Makes Your Phone Buzz When You Approach Places Where Women Made History (GOOD Magazine)
Laura Bates: 'Anti-feminists don't get irony' (The Guardian)
From the article: "Society has an incredible knack for making people who face inequality feel alone. Women who speak up about sexism are told they need to get a sense of humour. Women who protest about workplace discrimination are accused of rocking the boat. Women who've been sexually assaulted are told they must have been asking for it. The past few years have shown me how many people experience injustice in silence, each made to feel they don't have the right to speak up. But the more women speak out and stand up, the harder it is to silence us."
'Schoolboys should tell girls their idea of a perfect woman,' says expert (The Telegraph)
You can read a response to this article by D H Kelly on The F-Word blog here.
How Do You Feel When You See Yourself in a Photo? (Bitch Magazine)
From the article: "For over 20 years, artist Jennifer Bermon has been getting women to look at themselves. Since 1993, Bermon has taken black-and-white photos of women and asked them to write about the way they look in the photo."
Dark Days for Women in China? (China File)
A response 'conversation' to China's recent criminal detention of five feminist activists.
How to be a bad girl (Hint: All you need is boobs) (Bust)
From the article: "In India victim blaming is often the norm, and a woman's behavior is frequently considered the cause of assaults against her. To defend against sex crimes, women have been encouraged by Indian politicians and religious leaders to avoid skirts, dating, porn, and talent shows."
Ashley Judd on the misogynistic harassment she received for tweeting about sports (Feministing)
From the article: "This past weekend, Ashley Judd, actress, feminist, and Kentucky basketball fan, made a comment on Twitter about how her team's opponent was "playing dirty & can kiss my team's free throw making a--." For this minor bit of shit-talking, hardly out of the norm within the craze of March Madness, she was - surprise, surprise - inundated with a barrage of misogynistic tweets."
Sister Rosetta Tharpe: the godmother of rock'n'roll (The Guardian)
From the article: "She could outplay Chuck. She could outsing Aretha. And she influenced everyone from Elvis to Rod." You can check out the BBC Four documentary The Godmother of Rock & Roll here.
Should Batgirl Be Cured? An in-depth look at how pop culture deals with disabilities - and how literature, comics, and film could definitely do better (Bitch Magazine)
As a Muslim woman, I see the veil as a rejection of progressive values (The Guardian CiF)
From the article: "This article will divide people. Women I respect and like wear hijabs and jilbabs to articulate their faith and identity. Others do so to follow their dreams, to go into higher education or jobs. And an increasing number are making a political statement. I am not assuming that the coverings all represent simple oppression. What I am saying is that many women who take up the veil, in any of its forms, do so without delving fully into its implications, significance or history."
The picture is by Romuald Bokej and is used under a creative commons licence. It depicts a black "stick figure" woman with long hair reaching towards a red sun. The sun is giving off beams which appear as red circles radiating out towards the woman's outstretched hand.
by Sasha Garwood // 22 March 2015, 01:30
Sasha Garwood is our guest blogger for March.
I have a massive soft spot for Neil Gaiman. Like, really massive. I won an award for an essay about him when I was 17. I grew up on Sandman, and then he was my first ever professional interview and we hung out in an absurdly expensive London hotel and drank tea and talked about the Earl of Rochester and our fictional crushes. He was genuinely lovely, including when I collapsed and ended up in hospital a year later. I am genuinely impressed and appreciative of the time and effort he puts into meeting and bonding with his fans across the world, and of his general willingness to engage on an apparently genuine warm and human level with conversations and issues ranging from the experiences of Syrian refugees to access to reading and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. I live roughly according to the principles laid out in his famous Make Good Art speech. I consider myself pretty irrevocably on Team Neil.
Trigger Warning, his latest volume of short stories - a form at which he generally excels - recently came out, and has been showered with praise by everyone from the New York Times to the New Statesman. People are writing serious State of the Art Form pieces about it. I'll be reviewing it myself, for the Marylebone Journal, and probably saying a lot of nice things, because the stories are good shading to brilliant and after all that's the point, right?
But. I can't get past the title. I can't enjoy the bloody book because it's bothering me so much. I've been agonising over whether to write this essay for weeks, but nobody else seems to have done it and it itches inside my head worse than little bugses. It bothers me because yes, I know what he's getting at - all the stories are intended on some level to trouble or disturb or unsettle - and I can see how if you didn't spend a huge amount of time in the world of feminist discourse you might, just might, think 'oh, this thing that people use to signify potentially upsetting content would be a great way to allude to the fact that all my stories have potentially upsetting content, which is a specialism of the short story form, and make a contemporary cultural debate reference at the same time!' But even if Gaiman had that excuse - and his friendships with notable feminists like Laurie Penny and Roz Kaveney don't quite convince me that he does - that doesn't actually make the title's effect any less trivialising and, well, appropriative.
The irony of all this is that I'm not really much of a fan of trigger warnings. As my good friend CN Lester points out, triggers are many and varied and unpredictable and differ vastly from individual to individual, and when it comes down to it, you can't trigger warn for life. As an ex-anorexic, for example, although never a PTSD or OCD sufferer, I have had to learn to live in a world where diet advice is everywhere and the equivalence of 'losing weight' with 'being yourself, only better' is so culturally pervasive that I've got into stand-up fights with people for fat shaming online and off, all the more aggressively since as a genetically tiny person I've been handed a pass by the universe on that one. You absolutely can't trigger warn for life, and these days I tend to use content notes to signal references to obviously, commonly traumatising subjects like rape and sexual assault and eating disorders and fatphobia, and otherwise basically get by on the fact that most people with triggers large or small are adept at managing their engagement with the world and mostly my audiences have some idea what my writing is likely to contain. But the fact remains that trigger warnings emerged as a concept to enable people with serious histories of trauma to navigate online spaces, as a gesture of respect towards the suffering and the psychological aftereffects of physical and emotional abuse and violation, and to repurpose it to indicate the universally troubling if individually experienced depths of the human psyche - as Gaiman's introduction makes it clear he does - is kind of disrespectful.
It's disrespectful of the fact that there are actually lots of people for whom trigger warnings mean being able to avoid a panic attack or flashbacks. It's disrespectful of realities of PTSD or the psychological aftermath of sustained abuse or significant psychological or physical trauma. These things aren't like, as Gaiman describes, encountering fearful things as an adult or as a child that 'teach [you] things, and open [your] eyes, and if they hurt, they hurt in ways that make you think and grow and change.' We all encounter those, and he's right, these encounters are sometimes disturbing and horrible and echo through the years in ways that make you shudder*. But being triggered into reliving trauma, though, is a very different thing. In a way, being 'triggered' into a flashback or a panic attack is the very opposite - it stops you from thinking and growing and changing, it traps you in a mental and sometimes physical place you have often struggled for years to emerge from, and to equate the two displays a lack of understanding of the psychological realities that I found...deeply sad.
I don't know whether Gaiman has a history of rape or trauma or PTSD. It might change my feeling somewhat if I knew he did.
For what it's worth, I also agree with him that fiction isn't and shouldn't be a safe place. Fiction is where I and he and many millions of others go to explore the world and human nature and the dark depths of ourselves and what in Powers of Horror Julia Kristeva calls the abject. But that's not the same as trauma triggers, it's not a specific psycho-physiological response that shuts down normal functioning.
I think maybe the thing that bothers me the most is that calling the book Trigger Warning says to people who feel they need trigger warnings or are triggerable that this book isn't for you, it's for people who don't share your psychological experiences, who can use the concept of trigger warnings as an abstract concept or an allusion or a metaphor for the horrors of the human unconscious because they don't live with the risk of being forced back into agony and terror and physical collapse. It says to people with histories of trauma that maybe they - we? - don't belong in the club, because we think trigger warnings are to be taken seriously and literally and aren't necessarily metaphorical. Even if there aren't many such people on the scale of things, because most of us have evolved means of coping, it's still important to respect the possibility that for some people trigger warnings actually mean something real.
Calling the book Trigger Warning feels uncomfortably close to punching down the privilege axis, rather than up - a rich, successful, able-bodied white man appropriating the language of oppression and trauma for his own cultural ends - and surely, surely, a writer of Gaiman's calibre could have come up with something better?
Ps. I still love you Neil. Sorry.
*I am still haunted by a rape scene at the end of a book about Japanese sex workers during WW2 despite the fact that I've forgotten everything but that scene and the cover.
Thanks Peter Samow for the photo called "Parts of a Woman". The photo is of a painting divided up in triangles with different parts of a woman. The main triangle shows her face.
by D H Kelly // 18 March 2015, 19:12
Psychologist Dr Aric Sigman has an idea for how to combat poor body image in teenage girls. The Telegraph reports:
To fight a "neurosis" amongst school girls on body fat, teachers should get boys to tell girls what they find attractive, including other qualities beyond pure looks, said Aric Sigman, author of "The Body Wars: why body dissatisfaction is at epidemic proportions".[...]
"Boys don't have in any way near as rigid a view on what an attractive figure should be and they value many other physical qualities, including eyes, hair, and body language."
I'm sure Dr Sigman's intentions are good, but he misses a fundamental point. Girls are taught that their value lies in their attractiveness to boys. Not merely that they would be more desired if their bodies were different, but that how much they are desired is pivotal to their worth as human beings. Bestowing the power and responsibility on boys to lecture girls on what is desirable reinforces everything that we're trying to break down.
Teenage girls already know that men have varying tastes in women, because there are plenty who are not too shy or "politically correct" to speak openly their sexual and romantic tastes. Groups of boys and men like to discuss their tastes between themselves (not always honestly; they're under pressure too). But many boys and men also love telling girls and women all about what is and isn't attractive. It is a tremendous exercise of power.
This is our problem. Women have fought long and hard against the idea that our purpose on Earth is to provide decoration and comfort to men. Yet the vast majority of advertising and most roles that women play in television and on film very much promote the opposite worldview. And, as Jem Bloomfield says in his excellent post on the subject, there's little "rigid" about the ideals a girl must aspire to:
"Women aren't all given a single standard and rewarded by how far they live up to it. They are subjected to contrasting and contradictory standards, ensuring that they can never be "in the right". Be slim, but don't be skinny. Take care of your looks, but don't be vain. Remake yourself in the image we want, but don't look "fake" or "artificial". Wear makeup so you can look "natural". Be sexually available, but don't be slutty. Be caring but don't be mumsy. Be quirky but don't be a freak."
Every male opinion about what makes a girl attractive represents a new pressure to be something not all of us can be. Dr Sigman falls into this trap himself:
"An increase in fat on hips, thighs and bottoms is not only natural but good for girls because it is appealing to males," said Dr Sigman. "It's protects girls from heart disease and diabetes and the great news is that men like that body fat on women."
The really great news is that when it comes to most sources of happiness and fulfillment available to a women, the size of her bottom doesn't matter. It won't help her have good friendships or a happy family. It won't help her pass exams or get a great job. It won't help her contribute to her communities. It won't help her work hard and feel good about what she has achieved. It may help just everso slightly in the bedroom if her partners, of either gender, happen to like her particular kind of butt. However, Sir Mixalot aside, most people are fairly easy going.
We need to persuade girls that their looks are not that important, not because they are not all that matters to boys, but because they are not all that matters.
[Image is a black and white photograph of a long line of women in industrial clothing, stretching out into the distance. This is apparently the Miss War Worker Beauty Contest of 1942 at the Canadian National Exhibition Grandstand. This image can be found on Wikimedia and is the public domain.]
by Sasha Garwood // 17 March 2015, 10:31
Sasha Garwood is our march guest blogger.
A close friend of mine hates being called pretty. (So I try not to, and apologise when it slips out because I'm not thinking - this isn't going to be a post about how my gender-political convictions trump somebody else's right to boundaries.) He (genderqueer, uses male pronouns for convenience) cites this brilliant Katie Makkai poem as explanation, which is absolutely fair enough. But it interests and on some level troubles me, because I suspect I experience both that poem and 'pretty' as a word as profoundly gendered.
On some level, 'pretty' is culturally feminised. The OED is paywalled, but it appears it's not just me: oxfordictionaries.com defines 'pretty' as '(of a person, especially a woman or child) attractive in a delicate way without being truly beautiful'; merriamwebster.com as 'pleasing by delicacy or grace, having conventionally accepted elements of beauty'. Both have secondary, objectifying meanings too: 'an attractive thing, especially a trinket'; 'appearing or sounding pleasant or nice but lacking strength, force, manliness, purpose, or intensity.' That last definition - 'lacking strength, force, manliness, purpose' - cuts to the heart of much of this. 'Pretty' is weakened and trivialised - and yet it is also the cultural standard to which women are socialised to aspire. Or more insidious yet, expected to provide as a matter of course: burlesque performer Emily Armstrong's Pretty is a Set of Skills and Erin McKean's You Don't Have to be Pretty both discuss (and resist) this from differently incisive and defiant angles. But the fact remains that for women specifically, 'pretty' and our erasure through inhabiting it or our dismissal through failing to achieve it dogs our steps through culture.
There's a distressing normality to the spectrum of benevolent sexists shading to misogynists who seriously use phrases like 'you're too pretty to look so sad' or 'you'd be so pretty if you smiled'. We're encouraged to be 'pretty' as opposed to having feelings or personalities or thoughts. 'Pretty' feels very much like a thing I've been failing at all my life, often through possession of the same, despite being on the, uh, face of it not a million miles away from its culturally dictated norms- small, slim, long hair, delicate features. Meeting a friend's new baby (very cute, assigned female at birth) recently, I cooed 'you so pretty', and quickly followed it up with 'and you clever and going to take over the world,' because somehow it felt much more damaging to me to induct a female baby into 'pretty' as a term of praise. Had said baby been assigned male, I probably wouldn't have worried so much - on some level I guess it feels (legitimately or otherwise) that calling a male baby 'pretty' is somehow an act of resistance.
This is complicated somewhat by the fact that my personal aesthetic preferences run to the androgynous and soulful, and so 'pretty' is often a fairly accurate description of those of all genders I find attractive. I'm frequently tempted to use it as a compliment, and that's fine with people who are either indifferent or share my pleasure in going against the cultural grain. My boyfriend is certainly 'pretty' - big eyes, small mouth, cheekbones - and fortunately he's down with being labelled thus. ('I disagree, but I don't mind', he pointed out as I cleared this with him, 'If I did, you would've heard about it before now. About 100 times a week.')
When I describe someone or something as pretty - particularly when it's not someone young and female, which is mostly the case - it feels in some way like a fuck you, a reclamation and repurposing of a word that has dogged me and my gender my whole life. Both because of and despite that, I use it a lot - it's my go-to term of aesthetic approval in everyday conversation, less intense and soulful than 'beautiful', less determinedly sexual than 'hot', less problematically masculinised than 'handsome'. It feels like some small attempt to redress the balance, to reinvent 'pretty' as a universally applicable term of approbation, to bring feminisation into aspiration instead of disparagement. I like its slightly offhand, flippant tone, which completely fails to disguise how heartfelt it really is. I'd be the first to point out that none of this constitutes the right to use it of anyone made uncomfortable by it - but I would also rather live in a world where feminisation and aestheticism wasn't used to reduce or control or belittle, and reclaiming 'pretty' is my (inadequate and imperfect) attempt to build that world.
The image above shows a white wall with a spray-painted picture of a woman. Thanks Transformer18 for the photo.
by D H Kelly // 16 March 2015, 15:21
Employment and Support Allowance is a state benefit for people unable to work due to illness or impairment. Successful claimants are divided into two groups according to an arbitrary points system; in theory, the Work Group is for people who cannot work but may be able to make steps in that direction while the Support Group is for people who aren't in a position to contemplate work. People with severe mental illness automatically qualify for the Support Group if work-related activity would be dangerous to them. Earlier this month, government Welfare Adviser Lord Freud was asked whether it was true that this criteria had been made harder for women. He replied,
"The updated guidance for healthcare professionals on the assessment of risk in claimants with a Mental Health condition was developed with input from senior psychiatrists. It differentiates between men and women in relation to suicide risk because the suicide rate in men is significantly higher than in women."
In other words, women whose medical evidence states that they are at high risk of suicide will need to score more points than men in order to be relieved of the pressure of work-related activity.
Of course, the fact that more men commit suicide does not mean that any given woman is somehow less at risk.
The disparity between men and women's suicide rates is both interesting and important. How great this difference is remains unclear, as the suicide of women is probably at least slightly under-reported - women tend to employ methods which can lead to ambiguity (e.g. a deliberate overdose may appear accidental) and coroners may be biased against passing a verdict of suicide on women's deaths.
However, when I was studying psychology in the early 2000s, the fact that young men were at the greatest risk of suicide was treated as the natural state of things; a young man with too much testosterone and not enough perspective might easily see his first break up or lay off as unsurvivable. Since then, that particular generation of young men has reached middle age and yet remains at most risk - at greater risk than their sons and younger brothers. If we understood this - what makes these men so vulnerable, what's improved for younger men and what's working even better for women - we would be in an excellent position, as a society, to prevent more futile deaths.
But when it comes to an individual at risk, statistics are fairly useless. Half of all suicide victims die without having sought medical help; most probably have undiagnosed depression, but some suicides appear to be a spontaneous reaction to personal disaster or loss of status. Given the immensely personal nature of mental distress, it shouldn't be the case that soap opera plot-lines can affect suicide rates or that fewer people should kill themselves in the host country during an Olympic Games. We might intuitively assume suicide would peak in mid-winter, but in fact, there are more deaths in the spring and summer.
And quite obviously, if you know someone who is very sick and has spoken about suicide, you're never going to think, "Well, it's nearly Christmas and the characters of Eastenders are in a good mood, so no need to worry."
The great irony is that one factor which may put women at a lower risk of suicide is that we are not taught to take our feelings very seriously; women with mental ill health, especially, are treated as if they are not rational or reliable narrators of their own experience. This can be a perverse advantage when in the grip of truly irrational thoughts, while a confident man who believes himself governed entirely by reason is in much more danger.
Yet it is completely wrong for the government to issue guidelines which assume that women and their medical teams are somehow less trustworthy when they describe extreme risk. This is not about a slight inconvenience to women trying to claim benefits, it is about placing extremely vulnerable women in a position which may endanger their lives. There are already major problems with the way ESA claimants with mental illness are treated. In December 2014, it was revealed that the DWP had already carried out 60 reviews into suicides related to benefit problems in the previous twenty-two months.
Last week in Manchester, police officers were reprimanded for failing to protect a man who was later killed by his girlfriend. They were called to a disturbance at the house of Dawn Barr, but came away without recording that that her ex-boyfriend, David Orrett had a stab wound to his abdomen. Five days later, Barr stabbed Orret to death. Statistically, women are much more likely to be killed by a partner or former partner. Unfortunately, a man who is stabbed by his ex-girlfriend is no less likely to die.
Statistically, men are more likely to commit suicide. Statistics don't keep vulnerable women safe.
[Image depicts the light from a window throwing the shadow of two empty chairs onto a plain wall behind them. The photograph is by me, can be found on and used under a Creative Commons licence.]
by Editor // 16 March 2015, 08:13
The F-Word is looking for UK-based volunteers to join our team of section editors, with roles available in fiction, non-fiction and comedy. These are some fantastic opportunities to have an exciting part in building a feminist resource and taking on an important role on the site.
It is frequently reported that women do not put themselves forward for leadership roles as often as men do, despite extensive qualifications and experience. It is also reported by women who attain positions of power that they did not feel entitled to them until they 'gave themselves permission' or were given an opportunity by a more privileged male counterpart. Therefore we have taken the decision collectively to invite Section Editor applications from self-identified women/genderqueer people/anyone who doesn't define as male.
Please note that The F-Word is run entirely online by unpaid volunteers. We are aware of current discussions around the politics and ethics of expecting people to work for free but alas at this point we can offer permanent volunteer roles only. We are not paid for our work either so there is no hierarchy or differentiation between paid and unpaid positions.
So, whether you'd like to be our fiction editor, non-fiction editor or comedy editor, we'd love to hear from you if you think you'd be a good fit! Read on for more on what the roles will involve and how to apply.
What the roles will involve:
• taking on responsibility for the review section (fiction, non-fiction or comedy), getting to a point where at least two reviews are posted a month;
• sourcing ideas for reviews and interviews;
• commissioning reviews, encouraging new voices from a range of backgrounds and diverse perspectives;
• dealing with the reviews and reviewing opportunities that come in through the submissions pile;
• editing reviews (prior experience as an editor/subeditor/proofreader will be an advantage, particularly experience of working with a set style guide);
• posting reviews (familiarity with blogging platforms is an advantage here, as is at least basic HTML);
• moderating comments on published reviews;
• promoting reviews;
• working with the other Section Editors and The F-Word team where necessary, including attending Skype meetings every two months
What you will bring:
• You must be enthusiastic about the role and the opportunities to develop the section. This is a volunteer position, so some time, energy and regular internet access are all required;
• You must commit to the role for at least 6 months (with a minimum period of one month's notice)
• Ideally you will have some editing experience, as you will be working with submissions from an extremely broad range of contributors; some who have never written for publication before, while others are experienced journalists. Submissions need to be given a critical edit, making sensitive suggestions to the author and offering some guidance where needed. Submissions must also be edited in line with our style guide, so some experience in working with a house style is an advantage.
The F-Word is an online magazine dedicated to talking about and sharing ideas on contemporary feminisms from the UK and elsewhere. The collective goal for the site is primarily to provide a platform which welcomes and shares perspectives from writers representing intersectional feminisms through contributions from people who identify along all parts of the gender and sexuality continuums. This could be older women, disabled women, working class women, sex workers, women of minority ethnicities (including Black, Asian, migrant or refugee women and women of dual or multiple ethnic heritage), trans* women, lesbian, gay, bisexual or queer women and/or socialist feminists. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list - please don't be put off from applying if you're interested but don't identify with the perspectives above; particularly if you feel your perspective is currently under-represented in the feminist blogosphere.
To apply for any of the roles: please email me (email@example.com) with a brief message setting out which section you would like to edit, why you want to take on the role and any prior experience. Please also explain how you would like to see the section you are applying for develop.
I am also asking for two references: Section Editors need to have access to and maintain our database of contributors, which includes sensitive information such as full names and addresses. For that reason, this additional step is needed for those who are going to be dealing with this confidential data (particularly for those writing about sensitive issues under pseudonyms). Please include the contact details of two references - feel free to email me if you have questions on who would be a suitable reference, this doesn't necessarily have to be a work-type reference.
The deadline for applications is Friday, 10 April 2015.
The image is by az and is used under a creative commons licence. It shows several books, either stacked in a pile or on a bookshelf, but photographed so only the edges are visible, rather than the spines or covers, so all that can be seen in each book are the edges of the pages. The books are a range of sizes and some are slightly yellowed, appearing a bit aged.
Without being able to see the covers, they could be fiction, non-fiction or even comedy-related!
by Lusana Taylor // 15 March 2015, 10:50
Hello and welcome to another weekly round-up and open thread. This is my first post as regular content editor for The F-Word and, in between having moments of sheer panic as I convince myself I have managed to publish half-finished posts to the blog, I am excited to be here and looking forward to getting involved in the running of the site.
While the poster may be new, the format is the same! Please read, absorb and enjoy this collection of interesting links from the past week and feel free to discuss in the comments section, or add your own link suggestions. As ever, linking does not automatically mean endorsement/agreement and some links may be triggering.
Don't ask if porn "empowers" women, instead ask if your feminism does (New Statesman)
From the post: "Personally, I love shooting porn that expresses my authentic sexuality, and I love that I can get paid doing something so rewarding. But I'm well aware that my experience has been empowering because I benefit from an intersection of race, class, cis and body privileges. Only giving airtime to 'empowered' sex workers perpetuates the oppressive structures that feminism should be fighting against."
Great books on Islamic feminism (Your Middle East)
Feminists - why are we still here? (Commonwealth Writers)
This directs to a series of short blog posts from women across the world, writing about why feminism matters (particularly from a writer's/artist's perspective but also more generally), encompassing topics such as gender segregation in Bangladesh, Black feminist publishing in the UK, female protagonists in the New Zealand film industry and the disappearance of Native Canadian women.
I too am Black and a Feminist: On the importance of Black British Feminism (Media Diversified)
Why India's Daughter does a disservice to both men and women (Huffington Post)
Make sure you also check out Asiya Islam's F-Word review of the India's Daughter documentary here. Please note articles contain a number of references to rape and sexual violence.
TripAdvisor removes 'feminist' review (Guardian)
Woman slaps period pads all over her town for a very important reason (Huffington Post)
Gender balancing Wikipedia, one article at a time (Ms.)
From the post: "An astonishing 90 percent of Wikipedia's editors are men, and that glaring imbalance often trickles down into who gets a Wikipedia entry and who doesn't."
'An unwillingness to address sexism' says Carrie Dunn (Kick it Out)
Carrie has previously blogged for The F-Word. You can read more from her here.
Parents in the arts need to stage a childcare revolution (The Guardian - theatre blog)
The photo is by Håkan Dahlström and is used under a creative commons licence. It shows some white snowdrop flowers with green shoots emerging from barren looking ground. The flowers are sharply in focus in contrast to the background, which is blurred and could depict either a woodland or city setting.