Comments from July 2008
Comments from July
Comments on the latest features and reviews
Self harm, by Nino
What a load of wank, by Sophie Platt
The future of activism, by Deborah McAlister
Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word, replies
Great ideas, but I can’t get behind the idea of “brand name Active Feminism”, I don’t think!
Knife crime and masculinity, by Jennifer Drew
Jennifer Drew, author of the article, replies
Thank you for your comments and especially your feedback. I quite agree
the media must be held responsible for constantly demonising young women
and men. I too agree media misrepresentations and deliberate
polarisation of cities such as Bradford. Areas such as Peckham provide
a totally skewed picture resulting in viewers or readers believing our
world is becoming increasingly dangerous and violent. But in reality
living in a home environment is still the most dangerous place to be,
especially for girls and women.
I do disagree however with your view that girl gangs are far worse than
male gangs. One of the reasons why girl gangs are perceived as ‘far
worse than boy gangs’ is because girls in general are socialised not to
adopt aggressive or violent behaviour. Therefore, when we hear, read or
have access to girl gangs we believe these young women are deviants
because they are not conforming to the narrow patriarchal feminine role.
There have been girl gangs for well over a century now and the reasons
as usual are complex but we should not fall into the trap of
stereotyping girls as ‘worse than boys.’ Quoting Chesney-Lind who has
conducted in-depth studies of both girl and boy gangs ‘the media’s
portrayal of girl gangs is one wherein they are represented as evil, bad
masculinised females which conveniently ignores the societal context,
particularly in relation to young minority women.
Why teen gangs exist is a complex issue and some of the factors include
a sense of belonging, power, protection, respect, prestige, identify and
not forgetting access to amounts of cash and drugs. Another factor
with regards to girl gangs is that many teen girls have experienced male
sexual violence committed against them and some join a gang in order to
belong and to have a safe refuge. However, this is not to say all the
above factors are present all the time because claiming they are would
essentalise and reinforce beliefs that gang members are all evil
So, the reasons for girl gangs are complex and we must not fall in the
trap of demonising girls who are gang members.
I have not the slightest doubt that some teenage girls are carrying
knives but we need to ask the pertinent question why? Not ‘oh girls are
enacting masculinised behaviour now so they must be deviant, evil
monsters.’ Perhaps girls who carry knives live in fear of attack by
other teen boys or girls or else they believe it will give them added
protection since they have experienced or witnessed violence in their
This is not to excuse or justify girl or boy violence but as you say we
must not ‘other’ them and create a psuedo moral panic. But
unfortunately the present government and the media too, are intent on
doing precisely this and the end result is an increase in an
authoritarian and scapegoating society.
If we as a society sincerely want change, it will not happen when
certain groups are marginalised and demonised. This only results in
those with greater power and privilege ensuring the status quo remains
Jennifer Drew, author of the article, replies
The only way our society could ensure
that mothers be held totally responsible for their sons behaviour and
welfare would be for the mother and boy to be held in total isolation
with no contact with the outside world or in fact any contact with their
Since this would in effect be imprisonment and an abuse of the mothers’
and child’s human rights I do not think this situation will happen. So,
why should mothers alone be held responsible – could it be because
society and especially the government and other powerful institutions
have decided mothers will be the scapegoats for societal problems,
especially how masculinity continues to be constructed.
As already stated in my article the media has a very powerful influence
on girls and boys, but since my article focused on boys knifing other
boys I showed how the media perpetuates and mirrors what our patriarchal
society considers to be appropriate masculine behaviour. Girls and boys
are influenced and learn how to enact their supposed appropriate gender
roles via their peers, schools, families, relations and of course not
forgetting the media.
I suggest you read more about how gender is constructed and I highly
recommend Gender Stereotypes and Roles by Susan Basow or you might like
to read Jackson Kat’s book The Macho Paradox. Katz is a male activist
who has considerable experience and expertise in challenging myths
concerning males and masculinity.
With regards to your claim that ‘the incidence of “girl gang” violence
although is increasing’. Yes, the evidence shows that female violence
is increasing but statistics do not always tell the whole story. The
latest figures show that 87,200 young women were charged for a number of
offences including acts of violence. However, we do not have the
breakdown of what type of violence was committed. I have yet to read of
large numbers of girls knifing and murdering other girls or women. But
this is not to deny it happens, however when such cases are reported the
media immediately inflates the issue and claims ‘girl violence is on the
increase.’ According to the media girl violence is worse than male on
male violence. Nothing could be further from the truth. The number of
males arrested for acts of violence has increased by 31,000 to 400,900
in the year 2006/7. So compared with the number of female acts of
violence male violence by far exceeds this number.
Attempting to deflect attention away from male violence is not a new
tactic because it has been used time and again. Obviously criticising
or challenging male violence is still a non-issue because males are
supposedly naturally more violent than females. Which explains why
there is such an outcry whenever a female commits an act of violence.
Women are not supposed to enact aggressive behaviour or commit acts of
violence. However, despite media claims, women and girls like men and
boys are human and both are subject to the same feelings and emotions.
How these emotions and feelings are expressed differ according to the
person’s gender. Women and girls are punished if they deviate from
patriarchal norms of femininity whereas boys and men are praised for
demonstrating their refusal to accept insults or disrespect from other
males and especially from women or girls.
So I repeat why should mothers be scapegoated for a social problem.
Rather than believing all the media hype and deliberate misinformation
we need to look at why so many teen boys are commiting violence against
other teen boys. Could it be that many teen boys live in fear of their
lives because if they appear to deviate from the constraints of
supposedly appropriate masculine behaviour they will be called ‘girls or
sissies’ by other boys who believe they are enacting real manly
behaviour. Come that – calling a boy or man a ‘girl’ says a great deal
about how women and girls are valued or rather devalued within our
society. Boys and girls learn our society is a hierarchal one wherein
powerful men are at the top, followed by less powerful males, then women
and lastly of course are children. Boys learn they must constantly
prove their supposed ‘masculinity’ because it so fragile and of course
who do they have to prove their ‘masculinity’ to? Why other boys and
men of course. Women’s and girls’ opinions are irrelevant because being
born female automatically makes the person a subordinate creature
according to patriarchal myths.
Claiming mothers are responsible is simply scapegoating and conveniently
ignores how society should in fact be analysing and attempting to
understand the complexities of male violence. Feminism which has been
much maligned and marginalised provides in-depth analysis and research
with regards to masculinities. But of course this challenges male power
and the media which is male-dominated cannot possibly allow alternative
views to be widely circulated. The government too is predominantly male
and refuses to listen to experts who understand how gender socialisation
operates in all its complexities.
Kink 101, by Kit Roskelly
Domestic violence and disabled women, by Clare Laxton
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, a review by Melanie Newman
Comments on older features and reviews
Sex and the City the movie: Having your (wedding) cake and eating it, review by Catherine Redfern
Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word, replies
First, I have to admit that I’m coming at this having never seen a single episode of Sex and the City, or the movie. But I have to say that I really disagree with the idea that growing up without a father, for whatever reason, irrevocably spoils a woman’s ability to have good relationships with men later in life.
I just don’t think it stands up – sure, it’s a traumatic thing to happen to a child, but I’d urge you to consider the effect that this kind of sentiment has on the many, many people who have been in the – not incredibly rare – position, of growing up without a daddy figure for whatever reason. The important thing, in my view, is growing up with loving parents and family – whoever that may be. It’s also worth considering that the type of father who would do this may not be the type of father you’d want around.
Men! Feminism needs you! (Not your privilege…), by Anne Onne
Anne Onne, author of the article, replies
I respect your right to disagree, or indeed to feel that the anecdote is irrelevant, but I have to disagree. I wasn’t writing about a reaction to a portrayal of a gender-neutral horrific experience, but an experience that affects women. The aim wasn’t to suggest that all women are emotionally invested in horror plots to a point they can’t stand them. It was to highlight how much more personal something is when it has the possibility of affecting you.
I never suggested that all women would feel empathy with the female character in the situation (though a few have emailed in telling us they have, so it’s not just me), but that men, as people not taught to fear rape, could not. And that as a result, it’s important to listen to those who are much more involved, much more at risk, rather than focusing on your own more limited and protected experiences. The point to men was that there are things they have never feared, or indeed thought about, and that women’s opinions and experiences in these fields would be very different. Many women might not have felt so involved, and that’s fine. Just like trigger warnings and 18 certificates, it’s up to individual people do decide what they can handle, but I do think it should be labelled. You might accuse me of being over-sensitive, but an actual rape victim should probably have more warning before being exposed to something that might give them flashbacks. That’s just my opinion.
I haven’t been watching the last few weeks of Eastenders. But I do agree the baby-snatching wicked witch trope is a tiresome reminder that feminism is still needed.
Hairy Anniversary, blog post by Laura Woodhouse
Rape: an unfinished revolution, by Louise Livesey
A slice-by-slice attack on women’s right to choose, by Kit Roskelly
Female commentator kicks off barrage of sexism, by Katherine
Can burlesque be feminist?, by Chloe Emmott
How to create a woman’s glossy magazine in five minutes, by Catherine Redfern
We Need to Talk About Kevin, review by Janet Phillips
The epidemic of male violence against women, by Jennifer Drew
Filling the hole, by Katie Muller
Are women and girls vulnerable?, by Jennifer Drew
Jennifer Drew, author of the article, replies
article Domestic violence and disabled women, says that often disabled women are not in
‘vulnerable’ but rather they are ‘disabled’ because of societal
attitudes, prejudices and exclusion. In other words, disabled women who
experience male violence do not experience this because of their
‘vulnerability or disabledness’ but because they experience disadvantage
due to societal attitudes and beliefs.
Likewise, claiming a woman who has experienced male sexual/physical
violence is a ‘vulnerable’ person subtly implies the woman’s supposed
vulnerability was partially responsible for causing the male perpetrator
to inflict an act of violence on the woman.
Prosecution council and the media too routinely depict women survivors
of male violence as ‘vulnerable individuals’ and therefore it is their
very ‘vulnerability’ which made them a victim of male violence. Using
such terminology subtly deflects attention away from the behaviour and
actions of the male perpetrator. It effectively pathologises women
because they are supposedly weaker and hence ‘vulnerable’ to men’s
sexual and physical violence. Reality is that not all women are weaker
than men and likewise not all men are stronger than women. Research has
consistently shown that some women are physically stronger than men and
some women are taller than men. Janet Shibley-Hyde has conducted a meta
analysis of research into the supposed innate biological differences
between women and men. Same Difference written by Rosalind Barnett and
Caryl Rivers also analyses and debunks myths concerning women’s supposed
innate weakness compared to men as a group. The Frailty Myth by Colette
Dowling discusses and analyses how women as girls are indoctrinated into
believing they are physically weaker than boys. Both these books
provide factual research evidence of how the myth men are stronger than
women is used to maintain male dominance and power over women as a
Likewise the media rarely if ever reports news items wherein women and
girls have successfully fought or resisted a man or boy intent on raping
them. I highly recommend the book ‘Her Wits About Her: Self-Defence
Success Stories by Women’ edited by Denise Caignon and Gail Groves. Here
you will find real life stories of women and girls – yes girls too who
used their wits in order to outwit a male intent on raping them.
Physical strength in itself is not always a guarantee that a male rapist
will succeed in raping a woman or girl.
You claim that labelling women survivors of male violence as
‘vulnerable’ does not deflect attention away from the male perpetrator’s
accountability. But in fact, claiming a woman or girl survivor was
‘vulnerable’ does negate male accountability. Imagine if a male
survivor of male violence were labelled ‘vulnerable.’ Such a definition
would be hotly disputed because the assumption is that no man is ever
‘vulnerable.’ Whereas women are supposedly ‘vulnerable’ and because
they are ‘vulnerable to male violence’ it is their responsibility to
ensure they never put themselves in danger or at risk of male violence.
By individualising women’s supposed ‘vulnerability’ it neatly
invisibilises how unequal power operates and it also invisibilises how
society accords men as a group greater power and rights than women.
Yes indeed women are commonly told they should trust male colleagues,
male friends and especially male relatives because the real villains are
supposedly deranged male monsters who are not normal ‘respectable men.’
In fact the media does not accept that most rapes are committed by men
who are acquainted with the female survivor. Repeatedly the media
commonly provides examples of male strangers raping and sexually abusing
‘innocent women and girls.’ It is still widely disputed that men who
are a woman’s partner, relative, work colleague, acquaintance and even a
date, are the ones responsible for committing sexual violence against
Eaves Housing recently published in-depth research which showed the
media has consistently deliberately misrepresented male violence against
women and in particular has portrayed ‘real rape’ as only occurring when
a deranged male stranger has raped a woman or girl. If you look under
the sub-heading Lilith Project there you will find a variety of research
which has been conducted in respect of the multiple ways men enact
violence against women and children.
Our patriarchal society does not want to accept the reality of male
violence against women, which is why the conviction rate for men charged
with raping a woman or girl is still only around 6%. Most rapes are
committed by men who know the woman or girl and since the male rapist
knows the female survivor, rape myths immediately come into play.
Likewise misogynstic beliefs concerning what is supposedly appropriate
female sexual behaviour and male sexual behaviour ensure that most male
rapists are acquitted. Further information concerning rape myths can be
located on the Rape Crisis website and also End Violence Against Women
website. The book ‘I never Called it Rape’ by Robin Warsaw is an
excellent starting point in order to learn how male-dominant ideologies
concerning male sexuality and female sexuality are used to excuse and
justify men raping women.
One of the central reasons why the legal system, society and the media
too refuse to accept feminist research concerning male sexual violence
is because if our society accepted it is men’s responsibility not to
commit rape this would effectively curtail male privilege and power.
Consider how male sexuality continues to be constructed as predatory,
uncontrollable once aroused, plus of course men are rarely held
accountable for their behaviour. Instead it is a woman’s responsibility
to ensure she is not raped by a man and if she fails it is her fault
never the man’s. It is considered acceptable for a man to use pressure,
coercion or even the threat of force in order to gain sexual access to a
woman he considers has ‘signalled sexual availability.’ Rus Funk has
written a book aimed at men and I highly recommend it in order to learn
how boys are socialised into accepting predatory male sexuality as
normal and natural. The title of this book is Stopping Rape: A
Challenge For Men. Christopher Kilmartin
and Julie Allison have recently published a book entitled ‘Men’s
Violence Against Women: Theory, Research and Activism.’ Again I highly
recommend this since the authors are experts in the field of male
violence against women.
A man does not have to be a rapist in order to believe misogynistic
concerning women as a group. Misogyny means hatred and or contempt of
women as a group and it also means devaluing women compared to men.
Misogyny also means holding women in contempt or hating them because
they are biologically female rather than male. This is the essence of
misogyny believing women are inferior to men because of their sex.
The difference between murdering a woman and murdering a man is that
predominantly men who murder a man or men do so not because they hate
men but because of something the male victim has done or threatens to do
and therefore the only way of silencing the man is by murdering him.
However, many men murder women because female victims happen to be women
not because of their actions or behaviour. I have yet to read of men
being murdered because they happen to be male. Ask yourself why do so
many men murder their female partners when the woman declares she is no
longer prepared to continue living with him. Because these men believe
they own the woman and she has no right to act independently of his
wishes. Such men believe women exist to serve men’s needs and desires
and have no independent rights of their own. Therefore, these men
believe it is their right to punish the woman because she has deviated
from male-defined views of how women should behave and act. Male acts
of violence against women are predominantly committed because they are
women and such acts of violence are used to enforce male dominance and
control over women as a group. Not all men commit violence against
women but the very fact that many men do so serves to reinforce the
oppression of women by men. Likewise acts of violence committed against
men and women of colour are predominantly committed not because of
individualised hatred or contempt but because our white society still
believes that non-whites are inferior to whites and as such are a lesser
and subordinate group. So it is with male violence against women and
many men use violence in order to maintain and enforce male control over
An excellent example of how male privilege and power operates. Do most
men become concerned when venturing out in a public sphere that another
man will approach them or as he passes by call out sexualised insults or
tell the man to get his kit off. Of course not yet it is common for
women and girls to experience constant male sexual harassment in public
spheres. Many men consider it their right to leer, yell at women and
tell a woman to ‘get her breasts out for his sexual pleasure. It is
not considered male sexual harassment but rather male sexual right to
comment and make sexually degrading comments about a woman’s or girl’s
body, since women and girls supposedly exist for men to leer at and
demonstrate their male power by these misogynistic insults.
No, most men who commit rape are not monsters, evil or sex obsessed what
they are enacting is the extreme continuum of masculinity. Men learn as
boys that one of the main privileges of masculinity is the belief it is
a male’s right to seek sexual access to women and girls. Men learn as
boys they are expected to always initiate and control any sexual
interaction with women and men are expected to use pressure, coercion or
threats of violence in order to gain access to the woman’s body. Rape
is both male violence and also male belief it is his right to have
sexual access to any woman. This is what most individuals find so
difficult to understand. Men are taught as boys that their sexuality is
supposedly uncontrollable once aroused and it is a man’s right to seek
sexual satisfaction with any woman he considers ‘available.’ The woman’
sexual desires and wishes are irrelevant because the man’s sexual
desires and wishes supercede hers. Hence the centuries old
justification for men committing rape because women and girls supposedly
lead a man on and once he becomes aroused he is not held accountable for
his actions. Far too many men believe it is their right to force a
woman to accept penetration once sexual activity has occurred because
this is the logical conclusion of a sexual encounter – successful
penetration of a woman’s body by the man. It is not ‘real rape’ because
the woman supposedly really wanted the man to penetrate her body and she
acting coy. In effect women’s sexuality continues to be subordinated
and controlled by men for men’s sexual pleasure and gratification.
Rape is also commonly used by men to humiliate and punish women who they
believe have disrespected them or to destroy their bodily integrity.
Rape in war is common and its aim is the destruction of ‘enemy women’
and men who rape ‘enemy women’ do so in order to systematically destroy
the enemy society. After all, globally it is still widely held that
women are responsible for men raping them and once a woman has been
raped she is ‘shamed and has lost her honour.’ Raped women are commonly
cast out from their society and if they are married their husbands
commonly abandon them.
You appear to be taking an individualised stance wherein you believe
that the actions of individual men have no bearing on how male power and
privilege operates. All men do not have to commit rape in order for
women to live in fear of a man raping them. It is how society
consistently condones, justifies and excuses male violence against women
which ensures that men retain their power and privilege over women.
Yes indeed men who are homosexuals can be misogynists but remember the
term misogyny means male hatred or male contempt for women.
The reason I did not give examples of research, evidence and feminist
analysis of male violence against women was because this article was
intended for the general reader. As already stated above, I have given
excellent examples of how male violence against women operates. Do
check out Rape Crisis website and also End Violence Against Website.
You might also investigate the UN’s website because there you will see
overwhelming evidence of men’s continued violence against women and
If you consider yourself a feminist then I have to ask the question why
do you disbelieve the predominance of male sexual and physical violence
against women. The evidence is available within the public sphere but
of course the media which is male-dominated is not interested in citing
statistics and evidence.
You might also consider checking out the website The White Ribbon
Campaign. This is a male-led pro-feminist organisation which originated
in Canada shortly after a male student cold bloodedly and callously
murdered a number of women students. This man’s twisted logic was that
he had been denied a place in studying engineering because these uppity
women had usurped his male privilege wherein being male supposedly
entitled him a place studying engineering.
The White Ribbon Campaign is for men only and its aim is to challenge
dominant misogynstic notions of what it means to be a ‘real man.’ The
ultimate aim of The White Ribbon Campaign is to further egalitarian
relationships between women and men rather than the patriarchal system
which claims that men are innately superior to women and it is natural
and right for women to be subordinated to men as a group.
Remember that research reports cannot possibly cover all the
complexities of why so many men engage in violence against women neither
can such reports always cover the complexities of how societal beliefs
such as the construction of gender and sexuality operates to ensure that
women as a group continue to be perceived as defective humans compared
to men as a group. One only has to read a few newspapers to begin to
gain an understanding of how women are portrayed. The newspapers
consistently portray men as being at the ‘centre of the universe’ and
reports all focus on men’s actions and initiatives. Women if they
feature are rarely shown as diverse individuals, instead women are
primarily represented in relation to men or the focus is on the woman’s
sexualised body parts. When the media reports publication of new
research in respect of gender, predominantly the focus is on women’s
negative aspects compared to men’s supposedly positive traits and
abilities. I believe this helps to perpetuate society’s increased
misogyny and women-hatred.
Stripping the illusion…, by Anji Capes
‘Honey! Your vagina needs a mint’, by Samara Ginsberg
Are you married? If not, why not?, by Victoria Dutchman-Smith
Stopping violence against women at its primary root, by Matthew Provost
Why men should care about gender stereotypes, by Alex Gibson
Jacky Fleming on drawing for feminism, by Jess McCabe
The biological clock, by Catherine Redfern