Comments from April 2008

Your comments, the April edition

, 21 May 2008

Comments on last month’s features and reviews

From lauren

Re: The epidemic of male violence against women: Thank you for this brilliant piece. It is especially healing to read it

today, when Lisa Smith is testifying about the men who raped and sodomized

her in a disgusting and brutal way and the company she works for, KBR, who

is screwing her as well.

I love your blog, and it often keeps me more informed than anything I can

find in the US.

There was another horrendous rape and sodomizing of a Haitian woman and

her small son in Florida just weeks ago. A man is on trial in my town today

for killing his wife. And nobody says the obvious: there is a war on


I am impressed that the UK murderers have been convicted. In the US I

think they’d go free, or get short sentences.

Jennifer Drew, author of the article, replies

I’m glad my piece has helped you especially when reading about Lisa

Smith, the Haitian woman and now another husband who thought he had the

right to murder his wife. Yes, I know about Lisa Smith and how she

suffered at the hands of men working for KBR and subsequently the US

legal system, which sought to deny Ms. Smith any justice.

I also know about the Haitian woman who, together with her son was group

raped by a number of men who live within her community. The attitude of

a non-white male organisation wherein they have deliberately attempted

to justify these male rapists’ actions is inexcusable.

Male violence against women is not about race or ethnicity – that is a

cover used by men to excuse and justify their acts of femicide (violence

against women).

I’m glad that for once justice was done here in the UK but I am under no

illusion because sadly, the UK like the US all too often excuses,

justifies or simply blames women for men’s sexual and physical violence.

I just want to say there are many women and a number of men too, who do

not believe male violence against women is because men are programmed to

commit violence or men have a gene which disposes them to commit

violence. Truth is it is all about power – men’s power over women. I

always try to keep in mind not all men condone violence against women.

I know there are women and men who continue to challenge society’s

belief nothing will change.

From David

Jennifer Drew says its a myth that woman become prostitutes to get money

for drugs. Yet feminists such as charlie girl and Laurelin in the rain say

that women become prostitutes because they need money for drugs. I cant

understand it.?

Jennifer Drew, author of the article, replies

I agree it is very confusing when you read my article and then read/hear

other feminists claim that women enter prostitution because of drugs.

The reality is it is much more complex than what society promotes –

which is that women enter prostitution because they have a drug habit.

In fact, majority of women and girls enter prostitution not because they

have a drug habit but for other reasons. Researcher Roger Matthews who

is an expert on prostitution writes in his book ‘Prostitution, Politics

and Policy’ that ‘various studies have shown that while a considerable

percentage of (women) those who end up working on the streets have been

involved in some form of drug use from an early age, many of these

studies do not distinguish clearly between experimental, recreational,

habitual and problematic drug use.’ ‘There is a danger, however of

giving too much priority to drug use as an independent process and to

overlook its links with the personal histories and lifestyles of those

(women and girls) involved in prostitution.’

Melissa Farley, an expert on prostitution and women’s experiences of the

traumatic effects, plus The Women’s National Commission and Roger

Matthews, to name just a few all state that research consistently shows

women’s and girls’ entry into prostitution are due to a variety of

factors. Some of which are: ‘have backgrounds of abuse. Sexual and

physical abuse in childhood and adolescence, family breakdown, running

away, homelessness and poverty are all known factors that precede entry

into prostituton. Where there is poverty, abuse, lack of opportunity

and gender discrimination, women’s real choices or options to earn a

living are very limited.’

This does not mean a woman or girl enters prostitution solely because

she has experienced male sexual/physical violence, or her family is poor.

Rather these are some of factors, since not all women in prostitution

have experienced homelessness, but many women and girls have experienced

male sexual violence and/or child sexual abuse.

We must not forget society prefers simplistic answers to very complex

issues and the latest one is ‘women enter prostitution because they are

drug addicts’. We must see how society is organised wherein

opportunities for women and girls are still very limited if they are

marginalised due to poverty, male abuse, homelessness etc. Also,

society still accepts and largely excuses and justifies many men’s

beliefs it is their right to buy women’s and girls’ bodies for sexual


The global sex industry which is interrelated with the mainstreaming of

pornography is another very important factor in the increasing numbers

of women and girls being involved in prostitution. Prostitution is

increasingly being portrayed as a ‘free choice’ but we must ask ‘who

benefits from women and girls being made available for men to sexually

exploit and abuse.’ It most certainly is not the women and girls who

enter prostitution because the profits from prostitution, the sex

industry and pornography go to the brothel owners, pimps, hotels, taxi

drivers, owners of lap dancing and table clubs and those who produce

pornography. Of which the vast majority are men.

One of the main factors which ensures prostitution continues unabated is

male demand. If men did not demand or expect women and girls to be made

available, prostitution would not exist. When a woman or girl sees no

other options apart from her sexuality, then in her view it is logical

to use what little she has in order to survive. This is not a ‘free


Melissa Farley has written extensively on the issue of prostitution, sex

industry and pornography all of which are inter-related. Other authors

include Kathryn Farr whose book ‘Sex Trafficking: The Global Market in

Women and Children’ is an excellent book which analyses and discusses

complex issues such as economics, globalisation and the sex industry.

Sheila Jeffreys too has written a book ‘The Idea of Prostitution’ which

focuses on the history of prostitution and why it is increasing not

decreasing despite beliefs that western society is now supposedly

civilised. But still women and girls enter prostitution and become

effectively men’s sexual slaves.

This website provides more details of

Women’s National Commission Questions and Answers in respect of


From Rebecca

Re: Stopping violence against women at its primary root: I thoroughly agree with the above. How often is physical and verbal

bullying in schools (and, to be fair, outside as well) looked at as

flirtation? A pull of a young girls bunches, a push to the ground, a flick

here or a pinch there. As a young girl, I was often told that if a boy

bullied me it was due to his having an interest in me. And this continued

all the way into high school; but this time it was me who was saying to an

upset friend “he’s only picking on you because he likes you”. Is this how

we should be conditioned? Boys, that it’s ok to bully as a sign of

affection. And girls, that if we are bullied it IS a sign of affection?

Obviously there are far more complex issues outside of the school system

that contributes to violence against women, and it would be interesting to

see how this kind of young bullying does contribute to abuse received/given

at a later age. Regarding the sexual side, with games such as ‘kiss chase’

being played in the playground, it is hard to see how that wouldn’t

continue into the classroom. The question is whether we teach our children

to be sexually aware from that young age? I’m sure if questioned a vast

percentage of the population would say they had been touched in a ‘private’

area by a fellow classmate at some point during their early schooling, and

thinking back, wouldn’t classify it as abuse or harrasment. When you’re

young experimentation is likely to occur until that experimentation is

finally realised as ‘sexual’ at a later age. Regarding sexuality or sexual

interests, at what point should adults intervene?

From Grainne Tobin

I liked Matthew Provost’s attention to what happens when girls are bullied

by boys at school. (I am a teacher.) However, I think the article is too

simple – its one point is good but the treatment of bullying in the media

generally is far too crude to allow for the range of situations faced by

school children who are being picked on and tormented. I agree with Matthew

Provost that because bullying of girls by boys is not a separate category

of problem, with its own name, it may not even be properly acknowledged.

Homophobic bullying began to be addressed more easily when labelled as


From Amy

Re: Ask a feminist – The F Word problem page: I’d like to comment on the article ‘Ask A Feminist’; in particular, the

first problem from ‘Anon’ who is involved with a boy she feels is sexist

and homophobic.

I feel very strongly about this issue because a few years ago I was in an

identical situation. I have been a feminist all my life and yet I found

myself in a relationship with a man who made sexist comments, was

homophobic and who criticised me angrily for drawing attention to his

prejudices. I ended up keeping my mouth shut on various issues and it

became very stressful for me – at the end of the day, we live in a

patriarchal world, and just by watching television, reading newspapers etc,

issues came up which we disagreed about. When it didn’t cause an argument,

it just caused me to feel depressed because I felt that by being quiet I

was ‘toning myself down’ and not being true to myself.

We were together for a while because I felt like maybe he would change,

learn from me perhaps, and because I had feelings for him I continued to be

optimistic despite all the evidence to the contrary.

I can honestly say that this was a complete waste of time. A man in a

heterosexual relationship who believes women are inferior necessarily

believes that his partner is inferior to him. This isn’t a relationship,

and it will only lead to heartache. My ex was so threatened by my beliefs

that men and women should be equal that I wonder why I ever thought that

our relationship would work. It was miserable and when we finally split up

I felt depressed and had very little self esteem – basically because I had

spent years being criticised for being myself!

For a while I thought that I would be single forever because there were so

few men out there who *weren’t* like my ex. Happily, I can say that this

hasn’t happened. I’m with a fantastic partner now who loves me for myself

and is proud of the fact I’m a feminist (he is one too!). I can completely

understand Anon’s confusion and tendency to hope for the best with this

man, but I would say based on my own experience that she should move on

before she gets more emotionally involved… there are men out there who

will not only treat you as an equal, but who will also think the notion of

male superiority completely ridiculous. Which of course it is.

I have learned the hard way that the issue of male/female equality is

basically a deal breaker in relationships. I feel that a mistake that a lot

of women make is that feminism is ‘unsexy’ or unattractive and being a

feminist will lead you to be an old spinster. It’s certainly a view in

popular culture, and I think the danger is that women like Anon will

believe that they have to dilute their views in order to have a

relationship. This is a myth and it’s important that we challenge it.

Having a truly equal relationship is a wonderful thing, and women should

not settle for less.

Irina Lester, contributor to ‘Ask a Feminist’, replies

Dear Amy, thank you very much for your letter. The reason why I wanted to join the panel on “Ask a feminist” was actually that letter from Anon you refer to, that question about a sexist boyfriend. It made me so uneasy and also it moved me.

You are absolutely right in all you have said, and I am glad you took time to write. When I read that letter from Anon I thought: sexist attitudes usually mean sexist behaviour. What sort of a partner such man can be? Even if you are not thinking about relationship at all, not to mention with him, just a mere though that he’ll be a shit boyfriend [to any woman] is a big turn-off. The point of any relationship is to have a better, more fun and enjoyable life than you can have on your own, not to tackle some arsehole on a daily basis.

I take an issue with the notion of “charm” women sometimes find in unpleasant, sexist guys. Sexist views are not charming. I’d say it ruins any good impression as it shows that a man is unsophisticated, narrow-minded and insensitive. This should be a litmus test, and a way to tell if you shouldn’t touch him with a barge-poll. Even if you have a fling with him, I doubt he will be good in bed as he must assume you are here just to please him. Long term relationship with such an arsehole is just another type of self-harm.

If these men are incapable of seeing a woman as an equal, then they should live alone.

From Josephine

This is in response to the “Ask a Feminist 2!” Specifically the last

question where Louise makes the excellent comments about men and

objectification. However I would like more detail about her example as I”m

not sure it’s the best one, but can’t think of something better. She talks

about how WMF fantasizes about a sexual thank you is compared to taking a

woman without consent. I”m not sure if that’s parallel because as much as I

agree we should never have sexual encounters with someone without their

consent, his example doesn’t leave room for whether he asked the friend for

consent or not.

I don’t think it’s bad for men to fantasize about other women, i think

it’s absolutely necessary that while they are fantasizing that the partner

in question was consenting to the sexual act. While using the sexual act as

a thank you as a fantasy, I”m not exactly sure where the misogyny comes


Jennifer Drew, contributor to ‘Ask a Feminist’, replies

Josephine, the difference between men looking at women and women looking

at men is that men – according to society – have the right not only of

looking at what they consider to be an attractive woman, but also, without

her permission, to comment on her appearance, body or sexuality. Now

women too can look at men and think to themselves ‘ah he’s attractive’

or ‘I like that this man’s tight jeans are emphasising the man’s genital

area.’ But most women would not consider approaching the man and saying

to him ‘I think you are attractive/sexy in those tight jeans.’

Most women do not want or like strange men, or even men who are their

acquaintances or work colleagues, presuming it is male entitlement to

make personal comments about a woman’s body or perceived sexuality. Do

many women make sexualised comments to their male work colleagues? No,

they don’t, because women rightly fear the man will misinterpret their

comment as a sexual invitation to engage in whatever sexual activity the

man thinks is his right.

So, as Louise rightly said, the difference is men can look at a woman

and think to themselves: ‘Ah I’d like to give her one.’ A sexually crude

expression, but effectively means ‘ah the woman is sexy I’d like to

penetrate her body and show her how virile and sexually desirable I am.’

It is the male presumption that it is a man’s right to consider all

women he considers sexually attractive as available to him and his right

to presume sexual ownership of a woman’s body. This is what Louise

meant by male sexual objectification.

Women however, do not routinely look at a man and then tell the man they

would like to bend him over a table, chair or whatever and then

penetrate his body with an object because they find it sexually exciting

or stimulating to them. Instead they might often think internally

‘that’s a handsome hunk I wonder if he is any good sexually.’ But they

will not tell the man what their thoughts are.

As Louise said, there is nothing with either women’s or men’s sexual

feelings because they are part of our humanity. What is wrong is the

belief men are entitled to act on their sexual feelings and assume all

women are sexually available to them.

Take, for example, when a woman is subjected to male sexual harassment

wherein a man walks by, turns round and stares at the woman then he

calls out to her “get your breasts out for me”. The woman turns around

furious and tells the man to “get ******”. The man then becomes angry

and very often calls the woman misogynstic and sexually degrading

insults. After all, in his view he has only told her he liked her

breasts (only he wouldn’t say that, but call her body parts a derogatory

and insulting term). In other words, many men presume women’s bodies and

sexualities belong to men, to be looked at, acted on because the male

presumption is that men own women’s bodies and sexualities – not women.

So, what can be done, well as I say both women and men have sexual

feelings and yes it is pleasurable feeling the sexual feelings but there

is a difference between feeling it and acting on one’s sexual feelings.

This is what feminists are demanding from men – that men can have sexual

feelings with regards to women but do not presume any woman walking down

the public street, in a workplace, or other societal venue is there

specifically for men’s sexual entertainment or she exists solely to

sexually satisfy a man’s sexual desires.

So, to end with a reaffirmation of Louise’s excellent analysis – men who

enact sexual objectification of women are in effect demonstrating their

male power and privilege over women. This is what Louise was explaining

to WMF. And of course, human sexual feelings are not uncontrollable

once aroused and no woman is responsible for supposedly arousing a

male’s sexual desire. That feeling emanates from the male and cannot be

separated out from the way in which he learned to sexually objectify

women and reduce them to body parts. Ever heard men say “I’m a breast

man” or “I’m a legs man”? This means the man in question reduces women

to particular body parts not their total human person and character.

Irrespective of a woman’s intelligence, personality, etc. it is her

breasts, legs or other parts which arouse the man’s sexual feelings.

Men who are pro-feminist or at least are trying to disentangle

themselves from male sexual privilege often cannot understand why it

is misogynstic or male sexual objectification, when they think to

themselves “that’s a nice piece of arse”. In a nutshell, such thinking

reduces women to sexualised commodities, not women who – like men – want to

be treated with respect and equality. Telling a man he has a “nice

arse” does not have the same effect, because men would just laugh it off

since there is no risk of a woman raping or sexually assaulting the man.

However, behind men’s sexualised comments is the very real threat a man

will act on his comments and subject the woman to either rape or sexual


This is how male power operates because society condones, justifies and

excuses male sexual harassment as just a ‘joke’ and refuses to accept

that women too have the right not to be subjected to unwanted male

sexual intrusion.’

Jess McCabe, contributor to ‘Ask a Feminist’, replies

I would just add, Josephine, that I disagree with the idea that non-consensual fantasies are a total no-go. What goes on inside our own heads, in our erotic imaginations, comes from a complicated place, and any effort to censor or strip out darker fantasies is unlikely to succeed.

It’s worth thinking about, and challenging, what’s behind these fantasies perhaps, but they are not the same as, or an indication of, sexual assault/rape, by a long, yawning stretch.

From Irina Lester

Re: Abortion and disability – whose voices are heard?: Reading Clare Laxton’s article made me a bit

uneasy. I am relieved that she states she is pro-choice and will defend

abortion rights, but her somehow uncertain position on so called

“discussion” about abortion and disabled people’s rights makes me remind

all people here:

this (attempts to reduce access to abortion on the grounds of disability

of a foetus) is not about disabled people in the same way as attempts to

limit upper time is not about caring about prematurely born children who

survive, just like banging on about how some women are depressed after

abortion is not about women’s mental health. ALL THESE ARE ATTEMPTS TO

LIMIT OUR RIGHT OVER OUR BODY. If one of these attempts doesn’t achieve the

goal, then they will try another.

Remember when attempts to limit upper time for abortion failed, what did

they do next? Someone was already yapping in the Parliament about how

abortion causes depression!

When this person lost, what is the next step? If you are observant enough

– yep, you’ve noticed it is a disability issue this time.

Only in this context we, abled or disabled, should see abortion and

attempts to limit access. If these MPs cared about disabled people, they

would be tabling motions and passing laws making it difficult for

organizations, buildings etc. not to provide disabled access, making it

compulsory for businesses to accommodate disabled people, for cultural

organizations and exhibitions – to held special days for free and easy

access for disabled people.

Have you ever seen how a wheelchaired person (sorry for such stereotypical

example but it is the most visible one) tries to see a major exhibition in

say, Royal Academy of Art, trying to find space around crowds? Does it

bother Baroness Marsham? I bet she couldn’t give a toss! All she cares is

that there are women who don’t want to be mothers when they are already

pregnant, how dare they? They should be forced. And if some of them find a

way out because of disability, then this loophole must be closed – that’s

how these people like think.

It exasperates me when others don’t see it, when they buy into having a

“discussion” with such opponents. Do you think our opponents are stupid?

No, they know that they cannot ban all abortion at once altogether, and

they are also well funded, unlike the campaign Abortion Rights.

They try to appear caring, and suck up to those they see as the weakest,

in this instance, disabled. They hijack disabled rights into their own

anti-abortion agenda, how can you not understand it??

But i don’t see how a disabled person can think “if they terminate

pregnancies in order not to have children who would grow up to be like me,

what does it say about my worth in this society?” with any more validity

then me thinking “if they terminate unplanned pregnancies, how does it make

unplanned children like me feel?”

I, abled person, actually had more chances to be aborted than a disabled

person, because most abortions are carried out on social grounds, i.e.

because these foetuses are unwanted, rather than on medical ones. Does it

make me into anti-choicer? No, it is the opposite.

What is revolting is not the fact that as a society we allow women not to

have disabled children but that as a society we don’t give ALREADY EXISTING

disabled people better life.

Even if we lived in an ideal world where all children are looked after and

loved, and all disabled people have satisfying lives, even then it must

remain a right of any woman not to go through pain of pregnancy and birth

if she doesn’t want to, regardless of ability/disability of a foetus.

I think disabled people should understand this issue not as a personal

blow against them as a social group, but as an issue of control for each

individual woman over her body and fate, and a right that is currently

under attack from those who use disabled for their propaganda. It is great

that many, like Alex Kemp from NUS Disabled Students’ Campaign, see it.

Clare asks “what if disabled people were not offering their support, would

their voices be silenced?” – well, if they were not offering support, and

not saying anything, then there is nothing to “silence”, nothing to respond

to. What if they were against abortion on disability ground? – Then we

would need to argue with them, underlying the above point: i.e. before

considering it at all, looking where from the opponets do come and what

they really are after. Letting them see how they, disabled, are being used

by others in setting them against pro-choicers.

But I don’t think that if some disabled were against this right, they

could be part of what Clare calls “constructive debate”. The right is under

attack. There is no time really for conversations over a cup of tea and

cakes like “I think this and that” – “Oh, I tend to disagree” – “OK , then,

your point is valid”.

All i am saying: giving any credit to the idea that disabled might be

against AND pussyfooting around it like “ok, that’s what they think” is

stupid. If they are, we will need to convince them, and move on. Seriously

thinking “Baroness Marsham has a point” is giving in to the worst

sensationalist crap similar to “Silent Scream”. It means not seeing the

point and being tricked into thinking what anti-choicers exactly want you

to think. With the benefit that you appear to yourself as a considerate

person who understands complexity and wants to see pros and cons etc. and

can pat yourself on a back.

Clare says “Disabled women are isolated by the feminist movement who want

a woman to support right to choose no matter what”. For me it means a

weakness and a flaw of the feminist movement, but not that “right to

abortion no matter what” itself is flawed. Ideally all the movements,

women, disabled, gay, anti-racist, should support each other case and not

see each other as competitors in gaining here and there at each other’s


Please let’s not be swayed by anti-choice propaganda and start seeing

ambiguity towards abortion on disability grounds as our own views. And

please remember: some people can be argued with, but some must be shut up

by loud majority, just like we did on 6th February to Anne Widdecombe’s

anti-choice rally in London. You cannot just “talk” to anybody hoping to

win by appearing “civilized”. You can talk to disabled people, showing them

thatsome of them are wrong when they oppose abortion for disability, but

you need to shut up those who use them for ther own purposes. (And don’t

tell me that assuming disabled are being used is patronising towards them)

From Tom Hulley

You have written what I consider a sensitive and very important article,


Isn’t a woman’s right to choose primarily about not having a baby at this

point rather than choosing which baby?

Choice is dependent on sound information and there is still a lot of

discriminatory and misleading information about disabled people.

What if women were choosing to keep male babies and terminate female ones?

Technology makes this possible and isn’t it also a feminist issue?

From Penny Halliday

Re: A modern maiden?: Way to go Louise, will definitely NOT be adding this book ( I use the term

loosely) to my Women’s Studies reading list…

From Dianne Murphy-Rodgers

A very interesting, thoughtful and thought-provoking review, Louise, thank

you! (And thank you, fword, for publishing it.)

Is this really what feminism has come to? (Will post a longer rant on my

blog rather than use up all your comment space!)

Thank you for pointing out some of the real problems women have around the

world, especially women who are not white, middle class and straight.

From Clare

Re: Do It Yourself? How about Do It Ourselves: I generally try to support small businesses, but when it comes to

household repairs, I’ve given up.

It was just impossible to purchase drill bits or a crowbar from the local

shop without a barrage of questions about what I was using it for and

whether I knew what I was doing.

These days I just shop at Homebase. Sure, it’s a soulless chain store, but

at least the shop assistants are ocassionally female and the only question

I’m ever asked is whether I have a loyalty card.

I’d also like to give a shout-out to Liverpool’s Blackburne House, which

provides subsidised construction industry training for women.

From Alison campbell

Re: Tales of low-paid work: I really enjoyed One pair of Hands and One Pair of Feet. I found Monica

Dicken’s narrative entirely relevant and uptodate, over seventy years on.

For me the joy of her books is the description and level of detail she

brings to the situations she finds herself in, and most of all her humour

in these biographies. Your article has inspired me to seek out more of her

books. The only other one I read was “An Angel in the Corner” which was

much more sombre and tragic at times. It centres on domestic violence,

highlighting the fact that violence crosses all classes. A great, though

not always easy read.

I have raved to friends for years about how good Monica Dickens is, often

with blank looks in return, so it was encouraging to see my enthusiasm

shared by someone else.


From Anna Mills

At last, some recognition for Monica Dickens! I have long been an admirer

– as you note, she is not explicitly political, let alone feminist, but her

writing leaves you in no doubt about the conditions of the time. My

favourite is The Fancy, grimly understated and utterly compelling.

I wanted to say that, whilst I have enormous respect for the book ‘Nickel And Dimed: Undercover in low wage America’ I would say that she ‘dabbled’ in the sense that, unlike Dickens, she went from job to job to assess different industries and different forms of exploitation within the American job market, and that she entered into the project with clear political ends. Monica Dickens may have gone from job to job in her first book, but that was accident rather than design, ie she kept getting sacked or sexually blackmailed or reached an impasse of some other kind. The other two books feature her in the 1 job for the full duration of the book and, unlike ‘Nickel and Dimed’, there was no political motive for writing any of the three books – they are social documents, not political manifestos, and that was the distinction I was trying to make, not that ‘Nickel and Dimed’ is a lightweight book – I’ve read it and it isn’t lightweight by any means. Obviously my piece was clumsily phrased on this point, hence the feedback I’ve had about it. In this case, it’s nice that there’s someone out there who also likes Monica Dickens.

As to the punk gentlemen, I was going to reply to his points because he started his argument well, only the

From ryochus

Re: Tracey, Tomma and the Turner conspiracy: ‘they dont like our art, so they must be sexist’

From Alex Brew

I’d love to see this when it gets performed. Thanks for bringing her to my


Comments on older features and reviews

From Michelle

Re: Bend over girls – he’s in freak mode: I live in the US. My domestic partner is from Taiwan. He has lived in the

US for over 7 years. In his view he tries so hard to be ‘open minded’ and

‘for womens rights’, etc, but he still uses the ‘f’ word as if it belonged

to the devil. Calling me a feminist is like me calling him a baboon. I

realize the ‘mate’ I’ve chosen is on the brighter end of the spectrum of

male ‘dumbinance’, yet I can’t help but notice how much his cultural

background/heritage has such a negative influence on our relationship (me

being one of those free spirited, ‘stubborn’ American girls). … I’m just

venting. Luv your website.

From Irina Lester

Re: It’s So You: The book Jess reviewed, “It’s so you”, sounds interesting and i will get

it to have a look. I am interested in other women’s personal attitudes to

clothes, as i know only 2 : one from the mags, were clothes are glamorized

and aesthetisized, and another – what i see most women have in reality,

“just buying stuff” attitude which results look totally different from

fashion media prescriptions.

Equally I am extremely uncomfortable and impatient with the idea that

clothes should, or are, saying who you are and what your personality is. I

would describe myself as atheist, feminist, hedonist, kind, lazy,

intelligent, geeky, a bookworm, with very childish sense of humour,

assertive, supportive to those who feel vulnerable and arrogant to those

who assume their superiority over others. I just don’t see how the way i

look – long hair always done up, no make-up, gold jewellery, perfume, silk

blouses and trousers, lacy tights and heeled shoes – can whatsoever have

anyhting to do with the above!

Another question is – should it? I don’t think one can reduce a complexity

of somebody’s personality to their clothes, all they tell you is income (at

its’ best). So I’d be interested in other women thoughts about why they

choose particular clothes and whether they think what they wear should be

their social portrait.

From Hazel

Re: Feminists are sexist?: I’m writing about your article ‘Feminists are Sexist’. I want to say that

I used to believe all that tripe about feminists being rabid man-haters,

and for a long while I didn’t want to be identified with feminists. This

was, of course, until I began to read feminist ideas, feminist blogs, and

simply educate myself about feminism. (This was brought on by reading

Angela Carter’s novel ‘The Passion of New Eve’ and thinking, ‘surely this

can’t be feminist!’ I was so wrong, and really needed to rethink my idea of


Your article was incredibly informative and gave me a new grip on why I

love this movement. It also made me rethink my actions just from earlier

today; a few male friends of mine were arguing against feminism, saying

exactly what you were arguing against–feminists are sexist, hypocritical

women trying to emasculate men. I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want

to argue. I should have argued, to my last breath, and I wish I had read

this article sooner.

Thank you for writing this!

From Sam

Re: Glamour models made me sick: I think Hannah needs to get a life and stop at girls who are prettier than

her, just because they are better looking.

I agree, airbrushing is a fact when it comes to the photos in the lads

mags, but these girls exercise and really look after themselves. Maybe if

you did the same, there wouldn’t be a problem.

You just sound very jealous to me, I’m sure if you had it you would flaunt


Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word, replies

Oh, Sam. Someone didn’t read the article before commenting, eh? It’s not about jealousy; it’s about the expectation that girls and women have to fit one particular (impossible) standard, and one particular way of looking, in order to be valued in our society.

From Sophie Bastable

I live with a bunch of feminists. We don´t shave our legs, we enjoy the

food we eat, and we appreciate beauty on levels other than those presented

by the main stream media. Yet every time I walk into a shop I find myself

confronted with the harsh reality of British patriarchy in one of it´s

most potent and soul destroying forms: the visual. Torn between a

nihilistic desire to read them and desperate need to burn the whole lot, I

immediately feel overwhelmed and dis empowered by the magazines on the

shelves. I´m not surprised these images affected you in this way as a

teenager. I wish there was a safe space for women and young girls to get

away from these images. I wish somehow the whole lot could be put on a

massive bonfire. I feel so lucky that at least my home is that for me.

From Alison

I’ve just read “Glamour Models Made Me Sick” and I feel exactly the same, I

became anorexic aboout 10 years ago, what I used to help me not eat was

looking at pictured of waif like models in fashion magazines. I recovered a

few years ago but since then there seems to be so many more air-brushed

lads mags around, I feel insecure every time I look at them, they’re not

only protraying women in air-brushed, digitally enhanced “perfection” but

also encouraging the belief that women are nothing more than sex objects

and encouraging women to feel insecure about their sexuality and their

relationships as well.

From Trent

Re: First episode of Star Trek: Enterprise: It’s hard to imagine anyone, male or female, attacking the progressive

nature of “Star Trek.” But, lo and behold…

Star Trek may be set in the 22nd-24th century, but the television audience

is what it is. The simple fact of the matter is Star Trek has a dominant

male audience. Even a majority-female cast clad in Jerri Ryan-like attire

would not last a full season.

My, my…such a petty thing to notice in a show riddled with social


I suggest focusing less on gender and a bit more on the bigger picture.

From Michela lynch

Re: The media has failed women’s football: I think this article is brilliant, it is correct from every point. in my

opinion i think men are just not used to us women being better at them in

so many things, if there was a womens team against a mens team, i think the

women would win straight up, and the men know this.

From Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Re: How to get an activist movement to keep women in prostitution: Excellent write up. while the moralists would always question the legality

of the prostitution terming it the oldest profession in the world, the new

avatar of the human rights want to glamorise it as if there is no

alternative. We are between the devil and dead sea here. think, the author

has remarkably put both the arguments in her/his write up and the faminist

movement has to look beyond a mere glorification or legalisation of this.

ofcourse, to save them from the police, one must legalise it but if there

is no protection from the law then there is danger of legalisation of human


From Jamie Albers

Re: Frank – Amy Winehouse:

This article was wicked. The way it was written and how you described the

artist, who which I think is absolutely fantastic, was such a great

charater analysis.

From Helena Wojtczak

Re: How the word ‘slut’ oppresses women: There was a related discussion on the Woman’s Hour noticeboard, regarding

whether a woman should admit to having a lot of sexual partners in her

life, with some interesting comments coming from women, such as you ought

to tell your new partner how many men you have slept with because it tells

him “what sort of person you are”. Hmph!

From Hairy Lisa

Re: Hairy Women:

Having just watched “Hairy Women” and been totally infuriated by its

one-sidedness I felt like I had to rant about it. Having Googled “Channel 4

Hairy Women discussion” I found the fword article by Lindsay. So I already

subscribe to the fword through Facebook and I love the discussions and

articles, so I knew I was into some serious talking when I read thew


So the programme spoke to several women who hate their facial hair… I

found myself screaming at the TV “what about the women who kind of like

their body hair?!” Okay, so its not the greatest thing in the world, but if

I had to choose between going through all the palava shown in the film or

being hairy… I’ll take hairy thanks!

I think Channel 4 should make a show about women who love their body

hair… Don’t suppose it would do much for their ratings though!

PS Peta, the netball playing lady, whould get better friends!

From Mark headey

Re: “All heterosexual women are rape victims”: An odd assertion. If one believes the suggestion that women’s behaviour

is modified by the fear of rape, then surely that would apply to both

heterosexuals as well as lesbians. A rapist is unlikely to be particularly

bothered about the sexuality of his potential victim.

From Allen Lambert

Re: The personal is (or) isn’t political (or is it?): I did a google on “personal is political” and found several things,

including one long discussion which cannot be added to now.

But the phrase, and its reciprocal, “the political is personal”, were in

use by student radicals in the mid 1960s (without any connection to

feminism). I know that we used and discussed it at Washington Univ. One

source was Irving Louis Horowitz who discussed it explicitly. He could

have gotten it from C. W. Mills, whom he admired, but I don’t know. I do

know that ILH made use of the phrase as part of sociological analysis, not

as part of a particular movement, e.g., feminist.

From Marilyn Masiker

Re: The experiences of young women in science: I have my PhD in Physical Chemistry. I have crossed from NMR (chemistry)

to MRI (physics). I raised children through undergrad and during grad

school. I worked as a secretary after graduation for a year to wait for my

partner. I have been through 2 post docs. The second postdoctoral

position exposed me to the most unethical supervisor that I have ever had

in my entire life. You have described the situation that faces women in

physics better than I have ever seen it described before.

And yet it seems, that the agencies responsible for oversight and change

continue year after year to confound the situation with yet another

suggestion for an increase in funding for high school science fairs and a

call to encourage more girls to participate in them. Ritualistic washing

of hands. There is not a thing you have said that they are unaware of.

But you have said it very well.

From Jacalyn Schultz

Re: Natural deodorants: Thanks for the article. But please consider removing your recomendation

for using Talc. It contains varying amounts of Asbestos which is very toxic

to lungs. You also might be interested in another site I found with good


From [name not given]

Re: How to look good naked: this programme is a farce. For a start, the women on the show haven\’t

done any exercise since they were at school, they eat junk food and

chocolate and then they wonder why they look like an obese dog??? Then gok

wan comes along and finds a dozen women who are even more obese than her,

and he asks her where she thinks is size wise compared to these obese

fatties in the line up. And of course, this is just a confidence trick as

gok has deliberately picked women who are even more obese than her, so he

says \”no, you\’re actually the thinnest!\” So she thinks to herself oh

wow, i\’m actually thin! yes dear but everyone is thin compared to morbidly

obese women. Now once hes manipulated them and gained their confidence he

forces them to strip naked in front of the public or on a catwalk in front

of their kid and husband, yes tasteful isn\’t it? even pornstars wouldn\’t

stoop that low. Why would he need them to strip naked full frontal …to

boost the programmes ratings of course, to get another series. And then he

finds members of the public and says to them do you think this (obese)

woman is sexy? And of course all the negative comments .ie \”No, shes fat\”

end up on the cutting room floor and only positive comments are shown on

the programme. Gok wan is part of the problem not the solution, He thinks

that you should just accept your body the way it is …as if to say its

natural and its no big deal, (excuse the pun), if youre big. What he should

be doing of course is getting them to change their diet and getting them to

do some exercise. A size 16 for women is average in the UK apparently, yes

why do you think its the average, because these women dont do any exercise

and eat junk food, its average, but it isnt natural, its the result of

laziness, you dont see asians for example with size 16 bodies, diet plays a

huge part. For gok wan to impy that a size 16 is natural and is something

to be proud of….is misleading and wreckless. Gok wan\’s made them think

they\’re proud of their flab and think they\’re sexy and don\’t need to

change their eating habits or body shape, hate to think how much this is

going to cost the NHS when these women become morbidly obese in 10 yrs


Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word, replies

Really, writing into a feminist website with a hateful anti-fat rant? It’s like shooting fish in a barrel…

From Anji

Regarding the article about Gok Wan, raving about how wonderful he is…

he’s also a total misogynist.

From Ruth Moss

Re: Not a happy birthday: Thanks so much for writing this feature and articulating what I

am sure many women feel. And thanks for being open and honest about home

birth as an often far safer option.

If I ever have a second child I am opting for a home birth; not because I

am some “lentil-weaving hippie who is being selfish” (which is what home

birthers are if you believe the mass media) but because I truly believe I

cannot get the safe birth of my choice at a hospital.

My child’s birth was not as horrific as those you describe in the article

and I would not describe it as a rape as I did consent.

However I was pressured into induction simply because he was overdue

according to the hospital’s EDD (with which I did not agree) and agreed

under the pressure; I did not know to stand up for myself and say no and

was given no support by my birth partners who sided with the medical

establishment (and who doesn’t?)

The risks of diamorphine were not fully explained to me, especially not

the impact it would have on early breastfeeding. My baby was distressed

and I was very close to being wheeled to theatre for a crash c-section. I

begged for an episiotomy as I could not push him out. Then my baby was

taken away from me to Special Care as a result of his distress and the fact

he was born blue. He was not roomed in with me for two days despite all

initial observations coming back clear. And so often I’m given the “all

that matters is that he’s fine” message; it was a year ago nearly and I

ought to be over it. I don’t talk about it with family now.

He is nearly a year old and still I get flashbacks sometimes. To a midwife

– who was so very pleasant (and therefore I feel I cannot complain at all)

– and my birth partners! – telling me to push and that I *could* push, of

*course* I could push – even though I *couldn’t* push him out. To him being

taken off and me not knowing where, drugged up on diamorphine. I still cry

sometimes and sometimes I feel I failed my child – even though logically I

know it was not my fault really – by not standing up for his and my right

to as natural a birth as possible (i.e. not being induced without a medical


Thanks again for writing the article. It is good to know that safe birth /

home birth and birth trauma *are* on the feminist agenda still.

From Sarah

Amen. It is about time we all stand up and say that what is happening to

women is about patriarchy and WRONG.

~sincerely, a victim of birth rape and birth activist

From your reader

Re: Fairy tales are Grimm: You sound like you have seen or been through allot to make you think such

things, and have such strong feelings about the effects of fairy tales.

These endings you speak of have been processed through years of Walt Disney

Americanization crap; but stories from the Grimm’s brothers, Original

stories really have valuable morals. What are your opinions about Grimm’s

stories? The true stories?

From Dana Corfield

Re: The ethics of sex toys – part two: For what it’s worth, I wholeheartedly agree with much of what you have

said in your ethics of sex toys article. As a fortysomething woman, I found

the whole low quality, high price male designed, sold and even purchased

sex toy industry so unacceptable, I resolved to launch a website which

would bring together the best collection of products under one roof. Above

all else we are a clothing company (corsets, hosiery, lingerie etc)but want

to be able to offer our customers a truly complete offering (we are even

sourcing feminine health items and already have a successful track record

in selling massagers. The toy industry is changing, and we plan to be at

the forefront of this change, by sourcing high quality female-friendly

products which are beautiful to look at, work really well, and are

attractively packaged too. Perhaps more importantly, we also stick to a

fair pricing policy (the vast majority of our products are sold at 100%

margin and many are sold at much less. We only wish to sell phthalate free

products, with high quality Japanese motors (quiet and powerful) many of

which are rechargable. We have only just launched our new site, so there

are many many more items to be added, but we would love you to take a look

and, if you like what you see, inform others that not all sites in this

sector are equal(ly shabby). We aspire to be the UK’s first department

store of high quality, sophisticated clothing, toys and accessories for

today’s woman.

From Natasha Jade

Re: Why Irma Kurtz is wrong about rape: I was just reading a response to Cosmopolitan.

Was just wondering… At the end, the writer said that she was going to

send the article in to Cosmopolitan. Did they ever reply?

Catherine Redfern, author of the article, replies

It was a long time ago now, but, no, they never replied

From Vanessa

Re: How many lesbians does it take to sell a t-shirt?: Me personally I am not a lesbian but everything you said is 100 per cent

spot on! I was feeling a little low today and a little unimpowered you made

me feel strong again. It is so bloody good to know there are other people

out there that think like me and want to put an end to the objectfication

of women. But sometimes you see all the shit on t.v and you just think “wow

maybe I am the only person in the world that see’s the double standrds”

Thanks a bunch!

From Northe SLack

Re: ‘I’m no sad victim. I’ve seen and survived the darkest side of life’: I’m 30 and recovering from childhood sexual abuse and abusive

relationships as an adult. Counselling on and off for years has helped,

but for years also kept me in the past as a victim of what was done to me

and I’ve not felt I’ve had any control for most of my life. Finally

starting to grow up, in the positive sense of the idea, I’m discovering

that I enjoy being a woman and understand and enjoy politics. This article

struck a deep chord with me as does most things I read involving sexual

assault. By exploring the issues now as an adult I’m learning to accept

what happened and that I have survived. My family may well have screwed me

over entirely, but I survived. All sounds a bit dramatic, but it’s my

life. I’m disabled – bi-p;olar disorder and post traumatic stress amongst

a long list of side effect of abuse. I live on benefits, which is enough to

drive anyone round the bend, but I’m starting to take control by taking

responsibility to how I react when I am bullied, put down, oppressed or

insulted. The more I learn the more potential for despair, but I get such

pleasure out of educating myself by recognising what I can say no to. At

long last. Thank you. This will stay with me for the rest of my life, but

I can say no.

From Eve

Re: From ‘oy sexy’ to ‘frigid bitch’ in 30 seconds: Interesting article. I

have been pondering upon sexual harrassment getting a sex change, and fear

that if I were to wolf-whistle at some bloke down the high street it would

be perceived to be an invitation for a quickie or a reason for rape being

ok. It seems that some men will take anything they can get, whereas a woman

doesn’t necessarily feel flattered by some fat codger pretending he’s a

good builder.

General comments

From Matthew Wilkin

I am a Sociology teacher in Sussex and have come across a common trend

recently and was interested to gain some ideas from yourselves as to why

this could be occuring.

Recently I have had many female Sociology students dropping the subject

late in the course due to either a lack of personal confidence or to

transfer to a more ‘feminine’ vocational course such as hair and beauty or

tourism. These girls are not all close friends but in a range of different


What is intriguing is ALL of these girls are ‘A’ grade students and have

actually already obtained an ‘A’ grade in earlier exams. It is really

frustrating to lose these students and try to explain to them that they

have huge amounts of ability.

The girls are taught by both male and female teachers but seem to feel

very under confident in their own ability and are seeking comfort in taking

a course such as hair and beauty as opposed to the more academically

challenging A level criteria.

I would be really keen to hear ideas from yourselves as to what could be

driving this trend.

From Holly Campbell

The F-Word article was amazing. I completely and fully agree. We should

have control over what we do. I support you.

Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word, replies

We’re not sure which article Holly was referring to, what thank you anyway!

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