*frantically waving the feminist flag, jumping up and down, blowing a whistle, tearing my hair out…*

// 10 August 2009

Looks like last week was national ignore a feminist week. As if The Times’ article bemoaning the supposed lack of young feminists wasn’t enough, we now get this article from The Independent on Sunday, in which Susie Mesure claims that “the sisterhood” of feminists and women in the West have been silent on Lubna Hussein and women’s rights in Sudan. Apparently we are:

..too busy worrying about whether lads’ mags such as Nuts and Loaded are degrading to women (yes) or if pictures of impossibly skinny models dent a woman’s self-confidence (need I answer?). Or if women are misrepresented in adland as bloated, constipated, greying airheads overwhelmed by laundry.


Now that women have largely won the big political fights in this country, Harman’s concerns notwithstanding, we sisters, it seems, are too busy picking personal fights over assaults on our personal image or perceived discrimination in the workplace to worry about the big political fights still to be won in countries such as Sudan. That, at any rate, is the view of feminists such as Jean Edelstein, an author and journalist, who believes that the second wave of feminism has gone soft, with concerns about work-life balance and gender-related pay gaps taking precedence over hard issues such as subjugation of women and sexual violence.

I don’t think I need to tell any readers here that feminists are still quite clearly concerned with sexual violence against women – just witness the explosion of reclaim the night marches aimed at highlighting and challenging this very problem – nor that while issues such as lads’ mags and body image may seem petty, those of us who spent our teenage years self harming and who continue to have our lives and achievements affected by our poor body image and low self esteem see things very differently. As for referring to the pay gap as “soft” and workplace discrimination as only “perceived”, well, that’s just insulting to all the women – all of us – who suffer low pay and harassment in the workplace simply due to our gender (and, yes, that does include – for many of us – having been born as the sex which gives birth to the next generation of workers).

There’s also this little gem, which confuses many feminists’ desire to listen to and respect women’s own interpretation of practices which an outsider could term misogynistic – witness the discussion over hijab – with a failure to condemn laws which violently enforce public dress codes:

Add to that the pervading doctrine of cultural relativism – that an individual’s beliefs should be understood in terms of their own culture – and it becomes very difficult to find anyone publicly banging the feminist drum for the likes of Hussein.

What really gets me about this article, though, is how the author wilfully ignores the evidence that western feminists are not silent on Lubna Hussein and women in Sudan. She actually quotes a comment F Word reader Kristen left on my post about Hussein:

“This is feminism at the coalface, isn’t it?” wrote one last week. “Certainly puts the ‘debate’ about shaving legs and it being OK to like pink and still be a feminist into stark perspective!”

Which is a fair point, but for Mesure to use this comment – without any reference to The F Word or its context – as evidence that feminists are “silent” on women’s rights in Sudan is dishonest and unfair: she must have read my post in order to find Kristen’s comment! Other feminist bloggers have also covered the story; yet Mesure chooses to ignore them as well.

As Kate Smurthwaite says, Mesure could have used her article to positively encourage women to protest, or write to their MPs, or do whatever it is she thinks we should be doing. Instead, she chooses to ignore the facts in front of her and reinforce the stereotype of the petty, in-fighting, self obsessed modern feminist.

Where’s the sisterliness in that?

(On the plus side, The Independent also ran this editorial by Janet-Street Porter which is bang-on in its criticism of the bullshit levelled at Harriet Harman last week.)

Comments From You

earwicga // Posted 10 August 2009 at 2:54 pm

I agree with you, Susie Mesure has written a poor article, and completely pointless in my view – backlash! (And if you are reading this Susie, feel free to quote me). It goes to show just how far from reality journos like this are, and if they were to open their eyes they would be reflecting the massive anger I see about how women are being raped and abused by the male population who quite clearly know that they can act with impunity.

However, I don’t think there is massive support for Lubna Hussein on feminist blogs. I know Feministing is not a good example of a feminist blog, but it has a large readership, and when I posted about the petition over there, the post elicited one response.

I don’t know if Mesure is referring more specifically to published feminists and I haven’t seen anything by them – but would like to be proved wrong!

eleanargh // Posted 10 August 2009 at 4:59 pm

earwicga, I posted in the comments on ‘What We Missed’ on Feministing about Lubna’s trial and I think I did get a couple of responses to that, and something else was posted a few days later. I’m not sure though, if Lubna’s trial has been reported much in mainstream U.S. news as it has been in the U.K. – I think a lot of people here are aware of it and have been talking about it a lot but it could be that’s not the case in the US.

I didn’t see Janet S-P’s Independent article this weekend, but there were also a couple in Guardian by Tanya Gold and Ruth Sunderland about the misogynist responses to Harman this week – http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/aug/09/harriet-harman-ruth-sunderland-feminism. I was pretty pleased to see Ruth’s, which actually talks about the importance of feminism today, after all of the Graun’s recent annoying ‘feminist infighting’ articles.

Jennifer Drew // Posted 10 August 2009 at 6:28 pm

It is a no-win situation as far as male-dominated mainstream media is concerned. If feminists ‘appear’ to ignore any news report on the latest incidence of male violence against women, immediately the male-dominated media claims ‘feminism is dead’ or ‘feminists are too busy in-fighting to care.’ This is a deliberate ploy because whenever feminist protection is publicly in evidence Re: Million Women Rise march earlier this year, then the male-dominated media deliberately refuse to report on this.

Imagine what would have happened if the article focused on feminists working to publicise the latest round of women-hating and male control being directed at women living in sudan. Why the Independent would claim ‘feminists once again are interferring in another country’s internal affairs.’ It is as always a no-win situation with the male-dominated media because they have a political agenda and that is the maintenance and upholding of our patriarchal and male supremacist society.

Likewise the male-dominated media shows it has not the remotest understanding of precisely why brave Lubna Hussein and her female colleagues are demanding an end to male control of what women should and should not wear in public. As reported in the fword article, Islam does not specifically say women should not wear trousers. But the reasons why Ms. Hussein and other women are being punished by flogging is about male control and domination over women. It is all about enforcing male control over women’s lives.

Oh how I wish Susie Mesure was correct when she batantly lied in claiming ‘now that women have largely won the big political fights in this country.’ Yes? So is that why Ms. Harman has been subjected to male misogynistic hysterical outburtsts because Ms. Harman rightly demanded that given women form 51% of the human population and yet still the big corporations and politics too continues to be overwhelmingly male not female.

The issues of male violence against women, the blatant misogyny which is now the norm as well as the increasing pay gap between male and far lower valued female workers are all interconnected not separate issues.

I’m very surprised Janet Street-Porter’s article was allowed to be passed by the male-dominated and male-controlled mainstream media. But perhaps the male-controlled media will claim Ms. Street-Porter’s article was just a personal comment and of course such an article shows male-dominated and male-controlled media is impartial and recognises that yes women do form more than half the human population of the UK. One isolated article setting the record straight with regards to the blatant women-hating directed at Ms. Harman does not change the fact our society is now even more blatantly women-hating.

Anna Corbett // Posted 10 August 2009 at 7:43 pm

Another fantastic article about the discussing press treatment of Harriet Harman from the Guardian here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/aug/08/harriet-harman-rod-liddle-spectator

Polly styrene // Posted 10 August 2009 at 8:52 pm

“we sisters, it seems, are too busy picking personal fights over assaults on our personal image or perceived discrimination in the workplace”

Oh it’s just the standard MRA whinge isn’t it. What are you complaining about, it’s much worse in Saudi Arabia….

Yes it is. But the fact that some women are treated horrifically in some parts of the world doesn’t mean it’s ok to sack women in the UK because they’re pregnant. Two wrongs don’t make a right!

Karen // Posted 10 August 2009 at 11:26 pm

AAAAARRRGGGGHHHH. Sorry, I needed that, my therapist is on holiday.

Anne Onne // Posted 11 August 2009 at 1:29 pm

Because trying not to be an Imperialist Asshat and not being thrilled about starting pointless wars that don’t actally help women automatically means not caring about what happens to women in these countries…

Because feminists can’t care about more than one thing at a time (apparently we are exempt from the women’s ‘multitasking’ ability due to being too hairy or summat), so must be wasting their breath if they’re not spending every waking moment trying to singlehandedly right the wrongs the media ignores…

Because someone suffering worse things means one can’t complain about other wrongs, they should shut up and be grateful…

Because it’s up to feminists, alone, to right every wrong in the world whilst the media stands by and pretends they didn’t see anything…

Because the media can’t, themselves, get off their asses, and instead of writing yet another piece on the latest diet or woman to hate, or how feminists don’t exist, write about the stories of these women themselves and actually use their power for good…

How hypocritical: ‘we’ll write about feminists NOT doing enough to help some poor woman somewhere, but will we actually do anything to help that woman herself? psh, helping people is for bleeding heart feminazis!’

Oi, Western Media journalists, do your own fucking dirty work. Don’t blame a whole movement you choose to often ignore, many of whom have a lot less time or money than you, all of us having less publicity and access to power to actually help than you do, and dig in. Otherwise, you’re a disgrace to the profession you represent.

Kristin // Posted 11 August 2009 at 5:09 pm

If Ms Mesure’s happy to write a load of inaccurate, zero-researched rubbish, I don’t imagine she’s going to bother asking the F-Word or any writer of or commentator on a post if they mind having their words quoted, let alone out of context!

I wouldn’t like to write an article on a subject I knew sod-all about and couldn’t be bothered to research – I’d be afraid it would make me look stupid! That never seems to bother some so-called ‘journalists’.

Mary Kate // Posted 12 August 2009 at 8:58 am

Personally as a feminist, some part of me DOES feel it’s impossible to reach out to Lubna in what feels like a different world. Men generally have the power in this country, and while we’re working on the oppression and feminist- bashing here, it makes it impossible to feel we have any voice.

With the bashing, sudden expectations and popular condemnation feminists get, you’d think we run the world and could just hop a plane and overthrow governments with a wink. Feminism is just a group of girls and women brave enough to stand up to issues that affect them – not some powerful missionary group that conquers issues across the globe.

The male government is ignorant and yet feminist girls and women easily get lumped with the blame. I’d very much like to see a popular newspaper that put the blame where it lies! Instead of taking a nasty shot at feminists again.

These clueless journos are the ones who need to get perspective.

George // Posted 12 August 2009 at 3:48 pm

@Anne Onne – “Because it’s up to feminists, alone, to right every wrong in the world whilst the media stands by and pretends they didn’t see anything…” – EXACTLY!!!

On a lighter note, all this invisibility means that I can cheerfully parade around with hairy pits and a Bikini Kill tshirt without getting any hassle. Ace.

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