Comments from August 2009

Readers comments sent in during August

, 29 September 2009

Comments on this month’s features and reviews

The Noughtie Girl’s Guide to Feminism, a review by Amity Reed

From Karen

Re Amity Reed’s review of the noughtie girl’s guide to feminism.

Thanks for an interesting review. As a new feminist who is seeking to discover more this is the sort of book I was searching for a few months ago. I do agree that there is a need for an accessible and attractive introduction to feminism for those who may have swallowed the old stereotypes. It seems that Ellie Levenson, whilst seeking to do just that, is actually being counter-productive. I am staggered at the comments on rape for example. I keep thinking what a missed opportunity this is and

what a shame.

From Mark

“changing [your] mind after penetration is not rape”.

I’m a bit confused by this one. You’ve agreed to have consensual sex with someone then, having got as far as coitus, you change your mind. If the bloke then refuses to stop, are you saying it’s rape? Granted, I hope a bloke with even a trace of sensitivity would stop, and not to do so would be unconscionable. But, could you then get him prosecuted for rape? I think you’d need a very sympathetic jury to convict in such a case. God knows, they seem reluctant at the ‘best’ of times.

Amity Reed, author of the article, replies

Could be prosecuted for rape after penetration — yes, he could, and should be. Just because a person has consented to sex initially does not mean they are signing over the rights to their body, allowing whoever is doing the penetrating to do what they please, and for however long. Sex that starts out very consenually and tenderly can quickly turn uncomfortable, rough or frightening. Even if nothing about the sex changes, if one of the people having it changes their mind, they have the right to call for an end to it and have their partner desist immediately. For a bloke to “refuse to stop” after consent has been withdrawn is rape, not just some callous “insensitivity”. It is indeed unconscionable but not just for social etiquette reasons, as you seem to indicate. It is unconsionable because it is a gross violation of another human being, the stripping away of their bodily autonomy and control over what happens to it. Not least of all, it is unconsionable because it is a CRIME.

Unfortunately, you are right that these types of rapes (where consent is withdrawn after intercourse has already been initiated) are much harder to try because most people cannot wrap their heads around the fact that a woman can change her mind and mean it during sex. We’ve been sold this idea that all women are really gagging for some man to give her a rough shag and that if she says no she really means yes, or is perhaps just feeling guilty for getting so carried away. We’ve also been conditioned to believe that men are incapable of controlling themselves when in the ‘throes of passion’ and any woman standing in the way of his climax will just have to get over whatever it is he must do in order to reach that climax, even if it means “refusing to stop”.

So yes, Mark, sex after penetration CAN be rape, and IS rape if consent has been withdrawn, or was never given in the first place. One way to ensure this doesn’t happen is to get active consent at every step of the way. Don’t just wait for a No, keep getting Yeses before proceeding to the next ‘level’. And if your partner wants you to stop, you STOP. Immediately and without question or harrassment. Anything else is a crime. And it’s a shame that a self-proclaimed feminist like Ellie Levensen won’t even ackowledge that. In doing so, she completely denigrates the multitude of women to whom this kind of rape has happened.

Beyond Noughtie Girls, a review by Laurie Penny

From Jennifer Drew

Yes indeed this book is pseudofeminism, because whilst the author claims to be a ‘feminist’ women must on no account challenge the patriarchal system.

The author of this review is correct in stating that Levenson’s book is frothy and lightweight, because ‘feminism must on no account ‘frighten the men.’ It is supposedly fine to demand equality but at the same time our male-dominated and male-controlled society must not change.

Remember the saying ‘beware Greeks bearing gifts.’ Now it is beware ‘pseudo feminists’ claiming to be ‘feminists’ because they are not.

The publishers have deliberately attempted to capitalise and make a profit from reducing feminism to another ‘chick lit’ fantasy a term which in itself is misogynistic to all women.

From Rachel Feminista

Feminism is scary – and buzzcut, dirty-dyke, fuck-you-anarchic-no-I-won’t-smile feminism was scary as hell not so very long ago. noughties feminism is not chronological, it’s a state of mind. Reformist feminism has existed alongside all feminist movements but so has the kind of feminism that the daily mail loves to hate. I’m the kind of feminist who likes my marches women-only and my women’s liberation fierce and global.

I really appreciated Laurie’s review, having nearly bought Ellie’s book for a similar niece – however she doesn’t need to apologise for me either

Baby Beauty Queens, a review by Eleanor M

From Jennifer Drew

The claim that ‘men don’t need to bother objectifying women, they do it all by themselves’ is inaccurate, because it is not women who are the driving force but powerful men who run multinational beauty corporations and men who own multinational media companies.

Not forgetting that given our society remains one which is male-dominant and male-centered, it is not surprising adult women are internalising the myth ‘a woman’s sole worth is whether or not she meets the male sexual gaze.’

Also, given there is no mainstream critique in respect of how male-dominated popular culture deliberately mis-represents women as men’s sexualised commodities, it is not surprising so many adult women internalise this misogynstic and very, very negative message.

Baby Beauty Pageants should not surprise anyone but in reality they are not Baby Beauty Pageants but ‘Little Girl Beauty Pageants.’ Were any boys competing I ask myself? No of course not, because boys and men are autonomous individuals whereas women and girls are adjuncts of men and boys. Women and girls but not boys and men are pressurised and indoctrinated – yes indoctrinated because it is clever propagadanda into believing a female’s sole worth and value lies in whether or not she is ‘sexually hot’ to men and boys.

Another reason for male supremacist society in maintaining the myth ‘a female’s sole worth lies in her being sexually hot to males’ is it diverts women’s and girls’ attention away from the endemic inequalities and misogyny directed at them by male dominated popular culture. Whilst women and girls are worrying about whether or not they meet the ‘superior male gaze’ they do not realise this is all a myth and designed to keep them in their subordinated place. Intelligent women? Not according to popular culture because ‘intelligent women and girls threaten male supremacy and so the focus has to be on promoting myth ‘women’s value only lies in their ‘hotness’ to men.

Male-dominated and male-controlled society has a lot to answer, including the deliberate sexualisation of young pre-pubertal girls. Of course this in itself feeds into the misogynistic male myth that all ‘little girls are sexually precocious and of course all little girls want, need and invite adult men and older boys to rape and sexually assault them.’ It is called patriarchy and these tentacles are growing increasingly misogynistic and limiting women’s and girls’ self-esteem and self-worth. After all if all a female’s worth is solely whether or nto she is sexually attractive to men what chance does she have of having a fulfilling and creative life. None because physical appearance has a very limited shelf life and then a woman is supposedly ‘over the hill’ and ‘worthless.’

From Sheila Viegas

What a brilliantly perceptive review of what was a depressing but very telling programme.

How do I look in this, on this, doing this, with this…?, by Alex Brew

From Jennifer Drew

Alex Brew is correct artists depicting women supposedly as parodies of the ‘misogynistic male gaze’ does not subvert dominant male-defined views of women and their bodies. Rather it reinforces this contempt for women because the viewer will say ‘look see I told you women really want to be represented as masochistic, dehumanised sexualised objects.’ Meaning of course, women are never human – instead they are just objects for the male gaze.

Berger is correct ‘men look at women whilst women look at themselves through male eyes.’

How do we challenge rather than reinforce dominant misogynistic representations of women? Why by showing women not as men’s passive sexualised commodities but as active autonomous beings.

But how can this be undertaken in the field of art – well women are more than ‘sex’ show them undertaking something which depicts their diversity rather than always relying of images of women shown naked and splayed for men’s consumption. Men have centuries of art which depicts men as autonomous beings, so let’s start by showing a woman or women engaged in an

occupation or work which is not ‘sex.’

Subverting has never worked because it always reinforces dominant male-defined myths of what women are which is ‘sex.’ Only by challenging male-defined myths will change how our male-centered culture perceives women. Subversion is in fact submission or acceptance of the dominant male-defined ideology of woman as ‘sex’.’

Turn your back on Page 3, by Francine Hoenderkamp

From Vanessa

This is where my libertarianism and my feminism collide. I don’t like Page 3 either, but I don’t want to see it banned. It’s freedom of speech, if you don’t like something, ignore it. That’s one thing I don’t like about your website or British people generally, enacting laws for everything. No wonder your crime rate is so high, you can’t own guns and fight back.

Don’t you have bigger things to worry about?

Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word, replies

Good to know you’re making sweeping generalisations about British people as well as this website.

From cycleboy

Well, I wish you luck, but I have my doubts about your chances of success.

Personally, I find Page 3 insulting but, as a bloke, not in the same way a woman might. I think any newspaper that believes the best way to get me to read their opinions is to temp me with a beautiful woman implies my ability to think for myself is controlled by my groin. Insulting my intelligence is not the best way to engage my attention. For this reason, I object to newspapers using pictures of naked women. Having said that, I am not against nakedness per-se; in the right context.

I do wonder about the author’s conflation of page 3 with rape; if only by inference. After the collapse of the USSR some actors from The Archers went to one of the newly formed countries to help with a new serial they were proposing. To cut a long story short, they were horrified to discover that every single woman of the local production team had been raped. And this in a country without page 3. Silence, secrecy and the impossibility to express opinions and facts that were inconvenient meant that rape went completely below the (male?) radar and, if their example was indicative of the norm, on a far wider scale than it does in the UK. Perhaps the openness that allows page 3 is the flip-side of the openness that allows more women to come forward and admit they’ve been raped and, one hopes, get the men convicted.

And the statistics worry me too. You say the conviction rate for rape has gone down. True, a conviction rate of 6% is appalling and needs to be addressed. But, has the overall conviction rate gone down? I don’t know the numbers myself, but I’d guess that there are more rape charges made today than there were a few decades ago. Possibly very many more. I think you need to look at the actual number of rapists who are convicted to determine whether we, as a society, are improving or not, not just the percentages.

Francine Hoenderkamp, author of the article, replies

I actually think the Page 3 culture would make women even more scared of coming forth when reporting rape because of the widespread belief that women were ‘asking for it’ in the first place – especially if they were wearing a low cut top or being provocative. This is what the whole campaign is about; the attitudes towards women in society because of the influence of pornography into the mainstream.

Even though you make the point that men are going to rape women anyway, pornography or no pornography, does it mean that we have to put up with this in the UK? Different countries all have different oppressive regimes when it comes to women. Is pornography helping with women’s oppression in the UK? That’s all I want to know.

From Sherry Mead

This refers to the illustration included with the “Turn your Back on Page 3” article. find the image of a half-naked woman in a sexualized, submissive pose particularly ironic and inappropriate in this context. When one turns one’s back in anger, the back is straight, the head is held high, and one stands firmly on one’s own two feet (if one is able-bodied).

A disabled dissenter would be no more likely to lean sexily with hands up and head down.

Francine Hoenderkamp, author of the article, replies

Hi Sherry. When I first read your comment I was inclined to totally agree with you. I hadn’t actually viewed the image as submissive before (actually thinking it more neutral), however, although I can see where you are coming from – as the image probably would be more powerful presented as a stance of defiance – I don’t think that just because I’m showing flesh it should instantly seen as ‘sexual’ and therefore inappropriate. Many have mentioned that I should be clothed but I stand by my decision in showing my bare back, not only because of the bare-breasted model and the pun which attaches itself perfectly to that but also because it isn’t flesh we should be turning our back on – it’s Page 3 and what that symbolizes within our society. This image was simply taken of your every day woman, in a natural pose, inspired by a strong desire to want Page 3 abolished once and for all. That is it.

I actually use a man’s image for my Facebook page, but ultimately I dream of having a wall of backs, clothed or unclothed, of all genders, ages, races, colours, creeds, religions and faiths, in all different styles and with all types of attitudes to front my campaign. Whoever or whatever you are.

From Lizzy

I would support banning page 3 and the “Turn Your Back on Page 3” campaign but don’t understand why the link between page 3 pictures and a fall in breastfeeding wasn’t made in the article. The link with rape I don’t feel is as strong as rape is most of the time about more than control than sex. However, my view is that breasts are now considered purely sexual whereas

their main and very important role is to feed a baby in those first months. I have no issue with women who do not wish to breastfeed, that is their choice but i can get quite irate that it is how their breasts are viewed that stops them doing it. Surely with the midwives behind the campaign too, there is clearly an alternative and stronger arguement against page 3 that more women can relate to. Fortunately, few of us are affected personally by rape but many more of us are faced with the decision about whether to breastfeed or not.

Comments on older features and reviews

Confessions of a brand new feminist, by Anna Corbett

From Unkha Banda

. I must firstly congratulate its author on the quality of the article, it made a very interesting read…so interesting in fact that I have looked at it several times and intend to send the link to several of my feminism-is-outdated-professing friends.

Secondly to add that I agree with what you are saying, a lot of women (including many of my friends) when asked such direct questions about their and equality would undoubtedly express ideas that fall within feminism yet are for some reason so repelled from the idea of calling themselves a feminist.

From Suzannah

Yay! Brilliant! And other such postively joyous statements. Anna’s article brought a little boost of warmth to my day. And thank goodness for university women’s committees.

From Shan Morgain

Anna I was delighted with your article.

I’ve been so puzzled about why younger women assume the job of feminism is done, or worse that feminism has become toxic. I understood why a young woman asked me around 1990 “What WAS feminism then?” It was a shock that a young woman didn’t know something so vitally important, but I could get my head round the idea that time had passed and a new generation honestly did not know. Since then though it’s not just ignorance, it’s this weird idea that feminism is narrow and bad. Some of it is I suppose though I’ve never come across the kind of stereotyped feminist you read about. I have known narrowminded feminists yes, but they were simply a bit boring as they couldn’t talk about anything else. That’s not the same as feminism being nasty or dangerous.

I’ve been surprised at how feminism gets described as if it means we are all the same, as if equality is all it’s about. All that great rich culture of ideas, art, music, community, sex, writing, jostling differences, anti-men and loving men, Goddess and atheist or Christian, Socialist or conservative, mothers and childfree, young and old – all reduced to equal pay and equal rights! How ridiculous. But of course I can see that making feminism out to be something small, limited and fanatical, serves the powers that be beautifully by putting people off it.

I realise from reading your article I myself have lost sight of how male dominated the media is. It’s is actually so much better than it was it deceived me. There are quite a few female writers showing up and women do get featured for more than just their appearance. But clearly the senior levels that decide policy are still men, or else both women and men hostile to feminism. I had lost sight of that.

I was feeling weary until I found the Fword. I thought it had all gone. Thank you, and thank you Anna for your courage. I love your style as a writer.

From Molly O’Doherty

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Anna Corbett’s article and was really moved by her account of her change in opinion on the idea of feminism. I am the same age as Anna and often feel saddened by the skewed presentation of feminism that is projected in the media, and consequently absorbed by my peers. I found her words really uplifting!

From Gwyn

Your article, especially the mention of your conversation with your friends regarding their standpoint on feminism, speaks to my heart.

I have always strongly believed in equality for women and men, and when I label that belief feminism I seem to get my head bitten off as a man-hater etc. It is such an annoying reaction, and I get tired of having to explain myself to others when it should be pretty straight forward!

Your precise and clear writing style is a joy to read, and it is obvious you have had a door opened in your life.

I am also 22, and hope to foray into the world of writing. Thank you for your article.

The woman engineer: are we really that incompetent?, by Wisrutta Atthakor

From Maryam

I am an electrical engineering student at one of the leading engineering universities in my country. i would like to recount an incident here that occurred the very first day, and incidently, in the very first lecture. It was a math class, and as way of introduction our professor asked each of us to stand up, introduce ourselves and tell why we wanted to be engineers. He also started cross questioning us on what ever we had to say. When it was the turn of a tiny, delicate girl (who was a top scorer, and still is, by the way) he scoffed at her and said: “what are you gonna do??!! Climb electrical poles?? haha!!”

it was so dumb of that teacher and at that time i brushed it aside as one isolated incident of an unbelievably narrow minded teacher. But this kind of attitude has continued to this day. many a times teachers have lightly commented how female students were not as good as the male ones just out of habit. It gets really annoying because its the girls who are scoring the top grades in my class!!!im very proud to say that apart from that one incident, i have stood up and spoken against any such discrimination. its very important to tell these people, we are here to stay and they better start taking us seriously.

From Keighley McNicol

I would just like to comment on the article about female engineers. I am a female chemical engineering graduate currently working for a safety consultancy in the oil and gas industry. Had I not attended an initiative scheme “girls get SET” at 13 I would never have folowed my career path. The scheme involved a group of girls spending a week touring the SET departements of scotish universities, showing the oportunities for women. I had always been encouraged to follow whatever career path my heart desired, as long as it was considered to be WORTHWHILE (at career decision time my only sister was an aspiring actress). But through university I always felt the presence of females was considered a novelty. In first year there were 6 girls and 70-80 boys. By graduation 5 years later there were 5 girls and 35-40 boys. And out of the 5 girls 3 had masters with distinction. So the results spoke for themselves< but throughout my university experience I felt the male academic staff and collegues felt presence of women was a novelty. We were given lab based or literature based research projects-nothing involving large scale mechanical equipment or getting our hands dirty (I am ashamed to admit I am still not bery comfortable using tools as whenever I was required to pick up a wrench my male lab partners would suddenly feel gallant and take it off of me). The male staff would comment our job prospects were BETTER than our male collegues as companies were keen to appear to diversify. Now while working my employer boasts we have 7 females in our 48 staff, the most in company history. But of the 12 directors, only 1 is female (the managing directors wife!). A relic from the companies history is that the company decisions are often made in bars over hours and hours of drinks - not a meeting you could comfortably attend with kids at home. If a site visit offshore is required, or a visit to a less than desirable location like Korea or Africa, my male collegue will be chosen to go over me.

But with the continuation of schemes like the one I attended as a teenager; and the continued over achieving females; the boys club which still very much rules engineering will have to catch up eventually

From Stella

Excellent article! While I am not doing anything involved in SET myself (I was interested in Chemistry, but substandard teaching at A Level killed my desire to continue with it and I went into Languages instead), I am always amazed at the mistrust people have of women in these fields.

Out of all of the girls I was friends with in school, about 90% are studying in the SET fields. One of them, who studies Engineering, told me there were about five girls in her class, including her. It’s depressing how little women are pushed into SET. I think going to an all-girls school was somewhat helpful for us in this regard, because there was less pressure from people saying “oh, girls can’t do this, that or the other!”

I would love to introduce these idiots to my friends and my old female science teachers, who were all amazingly intelligent women who knew Science! How SHOCKING.

From Apple

For your information, a major study of this issue has recently been published.

See: http://www.apa.org/releases/women-math.html

I am all for “argument” and people speaking from their own experience, but in this case, I do think it would be useful to argue on the basis of real evidence. Social/behavioural scientists do study this kind of thing.

From Preeti Sankhe Kulkarni

To tell you the truth this is for the first time ever I am encouraged for my “engineering” field! Every human being must read it.

Thank you so much for writting this article.

From Clap! clap! clap!

I’m in my 20s and I am so fed up of hearing people like you drivel on and on and on and on and on – year after year, century after century – give me some space to breathe and think for myself!

I attended a primary school where we were NOT allowed to be girls. At college we were had to study socialist-feminist literature that far from brainwashing me into becoming the lesbianised, egocentric bitch like the majority of you selfish women and clever men it seems (these men have you just where they want you – stupid – they have no responsibilites to worry

about and can treat you like a man, eg a punch in the face is fine – equality rules!:) actually drove me in the complete opposite direction. So PLEASE shut up and let my generation get on with fixing the MESS that you have left us with!! Thanks for nothing and I hope you that wave of guilt catches up on you soon – because what you have done is worse than mass murder…

Wisrutta Atthakor, author of the article, replies

It seems that you completely misunderstand feminism and what it means to be a feminist. Many anti-feminists would paint feminists as man-haters that want to be better than men and want a tribe of Amazonian-like women warriors to rule the world. No, we do not want to be treated like men and no, a punch in the face is not OK. Perhaps you have not read many posts and artilcles on this very website regarding how being punched in the face is not OK. That is violence against women, which has been prevalent in our society for hundreds of years and which feminists try stop.

So you are fed up with the so-called drivel that feminists witter on about? Would you rather be told what to do, that you are put on this earth to be the object of men’s satisfaction as and when he pleases? So you would rather not be treated as a human being in your own right and be defined by what society would have you be?

It’s rather sad that you would take your anger out on people like me who believe that women have the capability to excel in any field that we put our minds to, provided, like everybody else (men and women alike) we train and work hard enough. It seems that you have also misread my article and took it as a ‘lecture’ that you *have* to aspire to. If you could bring yourself to read it again, you would see that my article does not try to *make* anyone an engineer or scientist. My article argues that women, like myself, who want to become scientists or engineers have every capability to become them and should be given the encouragement and not have their opportunities taken away from them before they even start.

It is unfortunate that you feel you have to place your anger on me, my article and women like me who believe that we deserve every opportunity and equal encouragement as men do. But like I said, being hit in the face is not being equal. And to claim that being a feminist is being stupid and irresponsible is actually yourself ironically shrugging off responsibilty. You may see feminist movements and what feminists do as having created *mess*, but perhaps you should look further back into history and consider where the so-called mess started. If women demurely did as they were told, then sure, there would be no mess, the way you see it. Yes, feminists have caused a stir, but a stir in the fabric of society that demands that women be ‘prim and proper’ and do as we’re told. That is not a society in which I, and many women, wish to live. If that is the kind of society that you would like, then I feel that that is really rather unfortunate.

From Debbie Coleman

Amazing…. all i can say!

Calendar girls, by Molly Lavender

From Christopher poulley

why it is fair for you to fight the sexification of women in mens magazienes can i ask what the balance will be in regards to women’s magazines treating men as sex objects and causing 15 16 year old young men to push weights use things like creatine and even some extream’s steriods ect damaging there bodies that are still devloping to look like mr april or the women who cant get a date in england going off to jamica africa ect to be with young men half there age causing simular problems to in terms of prostitiution in thailand because lets face it it is sexist to say ts wrong for men to look at women stripping but not women to look at men stripping in a club

Raising boys? Help yourself to some gender stereotypes, by Clare Gould

From Yvonne Langenberg

I’ve raised to adulthood 2 boys and a girl almost to adulthood.

I get so monumentally cranky about this obsession with ‘gender differences’ when raising children. It is cruel and limiting to individuals of either sex.

I’m monumentally glad that my parents (born in the early 30s) had no such limiting ideas. I would have been a freak:not caring about dolls and loving lego.

The toys you play with and the colours you wear does not make you into either a man or a woman confident and proud and comfortable with who you are.

Why is there this relentless pursuit of competition? Boys vs girls. Steve Biddulph is a prime example: look how mucher cooler it is to be a man, you want to be a ‘man’ don’t you? They do all this cool important stuff, not like girls.

Mothers and fathers, relax. If you are comfortable with who you are your children will grow up to be comfortable with who and what gender they are too.

The gender of your child is so monumentally unimportant in that challenging task of raising a child to become an autonomous individual. Expect exactly the same standards in behaviour and ethics from all your children, regardless of what is covered up by their pants.

From Cat Rowe

I really enjoyed this article as I came across this book a couple of years ago when I was renting a house with a single mother. She had come out of an abusive relationship and her son was really struggling with the situation. She had obviously bought this book in the hope that it would help her understand what was going on. I don’t think it did. I personally found it selective with the history he uses to back up his assertions and it inadvertently promotes war and conflict as the ‘makers of men’ – surely we want to celebrate non-violence not tribal warfare? What did help this women’s son was a great child support worker with a local charity who basically helped him open up and talk about his feelings – not very masculine! I think what’s needed is more books written by these ‘New Men’ as he labels them who challenge all this stuff as I believe many of the mothers who buy this book are probably just looking for some guidance.

From Georgia Read Cutting

Thank you Clare for that article on the Biddulph book . I was given it by my brother in law when my boys were small . It both worried and angered me. I felt very alone with these feelings as everyone seemed to think it was great . I worried I might emasculate my boys with my beliefs about equality for all !

Anyway I ignored it’s advice & gave them dolls , soft toys ,trains , toy guns, construction toys , ..whatever ,to play with when they requested them . The son who was mad about dolls was also mad about guns for quite a while . The other not interested in either but is egaliterian to the core . They are 14 & 12 now & have a 9 year old sister . They are kind , funny , affectionate , loving & popular with their peers , one is fanatical about football, the other ‘macho ‘computer games , but they would both unblushingly describe themselves as feminists as would their father ,who was a rugy prop & an army captain but sees nothing demeaning in sharing all the boring ol’ domestic chores that make the world go round ! If people are brought up with lots of demonstrated love and respect they are a lot less likely to want to women to be ‘lesser ‘ in order to make them feel’ masculine’ in later life.

Some body to love, by Lara Williams

From Shan Morgain

I welcome Lara Williams’ feature on our relationship with our bodies. We are indeed more than just our bodies.

More, our sociey’s treatment of female bodies is outright war. I remember being transfixed by a large poster on the London Underground advertising a health and fitness club. It was split in two halves, a woman’s silhouette on the left, a man’s silhouette on the right.

Looking down the column of info on men it was all about enlarging the body, strengthening it, expanding. Looking down the women’s column is was all about reducing the body, modifying it, diminishing it.

That was 1976. I could say not much has changed. But it has and badly because now women are dying of this war, of anorexia and dieting related illnesses. The pressure to be perfect, to be as thin as a concentration camp victim is vicious.

At the same time that we are exhorted at every turn to be tiny, weakened, sickly, we are sexualised from infants upwards in pink peep toe sandals with heels and miniscule bikinis. Shaving or depilating body hair is no longer just for those who feel unfortunate in inheriting thick black hair on their legs. It’s a must for anyone – all over, often including the pubes which used to be a prostitute’s speciality. Makeup is now compulsory rather than for special occasions.

Then of course certain parts are surgically altered, so that breasts are wrecked for their natural purposes of feeding a baby or sexual pleasure, to become deadened lumps. As do mouths, stuffed with botox.

I look around me today and see most young women looking like ghastly knobbly sticks with ugly lumps stuck on the front of their chests, thickly painted masklike faces and strained, hobbled feet that mean they can’t move properly. Oh dear.

I don’t see any harm in girls and women being pretty, if they want to.

But this isn’t it. It’s part of the backlash against an increase in women’s rights. How much time do younger women spend on all this? Some of it is fun (I hope) but it’s too complex, too uncomfortable to all be done for fun. How much money do they spend on it? The great market society wins again.

In addition that greedy market is extending its claws into men, urgently selling them the pumped up body, the depilation, the fragrances, designer labels, and recently male make up. Feminism does mean how gender affects men, but feminism is not about adding male victims to the female pile.

But before we dismiss female body culture it’s worth a careful look. For one thing I do think that the cult of female beauty is more than a cult of subordination. In some historical periods men wore high heels, complicated wigs, embroidered silk coats and tight stockings to show off their legs.

That didn’t mean what women looked like didn’t matter though. It meant both sexes aspired to beauty.

We now know since Eastern Europe and Russia opened up, that there actually were Amazons, female warriors, around the Black Sea (Turkey) just where the Iliad said they were. Nor was that the only location for female warriors. They would have had strong, fit bodies with no nonsense about “reducing” or “weight loss.” But I bet they also combed and oiled their hair, massaged and oiled their skin, attended to the cut and drape of their tunics – just as the male Spartan warriors did, especially before a battle.

I have long thought that the pairing of male strength and female beauty is not just about sexist status: who’s on top. Female bodies are designed for pregnancy and birth, as their most important biological task. Even features, bright eyes, sleek hair, smooth glowing skin over a well shaped body, all advertises health and hormones: that a woman is in good shape for her peak biological task. So I think it’s to some extent natural for us as a species, on a primitive level, to emphasise a woman’s looks.

Perhaps, following the same logic, what the skinny, sickly, distorted bodies around us advertise is that they are NOT aimed at pregnancy and birth. In a condition of overpopulation such as we have now, that would make sense as animals do self regulate their numbers somewhat. The current plague of anorexia would fit with this deep unconscious population urge, as anorexic bodies are generally infertile. That these sickly creatures can be about a painstaking preparation for male consumption as pleasure toys, is a different agenda. Its increase at a time when women’s real power economically and politically has increased a

bit, may well be a compensation mechanism, or backlash. Its priority still fits neatly with a deep laid infertility program.

However, female beauty, whether fairly natural, or artificial to the point of ghastliness, is never all about men. A great deal of it is a female-only hierarchy. It’s easy to forget that and get obsessed by what men appear to demand of us. The truth is that they don’t demand extreme beauty, as a rule.

Men mostly don’t like a woman who spends a lot of time on her appearance. Nor do many of them want stunning lookers – that simply makes most of them nervous! They do like and respond to clever outfits, pretty hair etc but only in its outlines. All the detail, the intense concentration on shades of colour, exact lines of shape and cut, that passes them by.

That’s ours. Many of us love it and make it a wondrously complex art form.

I saw Shirley Bassey once on stage (a video I think) explaining her fitness regime. She was very proud that as an old lady she kept her upper arms tightly controlled by hard exercise. Looking at her “image” I could see her pride in her version of beauty. I suddenly understood the idea of body as art.

Well if some want to do that, surgery and all, that’s their freedom.

Just as there is a strange network in America where women deliberately make themselves so grossly fat they can barely walk, as a form of beauty. Not for me, but as long as it’s a minority option, that’s freedom.

It’s when the target of the body beautiful becomes a colossal mainstream pressure that injures and kills us that it is oppression, and must be fought off.

But we must be honest. Chinese footbinding was also extreme, and it frequently killed via infections. It was done to little girls by mothers and grandmothers, so that they could gain high status in society and better marriages. The marriage was important, but so was female status within the house the bride entered.

Clitoridectomy similarly means older women cut the sexual parts of young girls away, and sometimes sew them up. It is only partly done to pacify men’s fear of our sexuality: it’s also to maintain the power of women’s secret societies for which this is the price of membership. Corsets, very high heels, cosmetic surgery are our version. They involve serious health risks, and they are urged on women by other women, and the tighter or higher or thinner we go, the more we score over our sisters.

Now I’m not going to call for us all to simply be sweeties to each other and drop our feminine competitiveness. That would be unreal. Sisterhood is only pure, sweet and gentle in fantasy – it can be wonderfully caring, supporting, but it’s also fierce and bitchy and status ridden. Also if I am right and female beauty is rooted in reproduction games then its competition is here to stay.

What I do call for is for us to radically examine our own female beauty culture. We need to look honestly at how we compete with each other, and recognise that while some of this is biological mating signals, and some is fun girls together stuff – also some is female status conflict that can and has gone too far into danger and sickness. Most of all that this conflict is our own.

For one thing if we look at it as OURS: OUR female culture that needs OUR attention and control, that is much more powerful than seeing ourselves just as hurt victims of the Man yet again.

Not that men have nothing to do with it. Perhaps that long ago event of burning bras (which never happened but never mind!) perhaps it has something to tell us. Even though it was a myth, even though many men of that time loved to see braless girls around, the uproar from sexist men was enormous.

What arose as a protest against beauty contests was apparently terribly threatening to sexist men. Perhaps if women stopped running frantically around the hamster wheel of beauty all that energy might flow instead to matters a lot more inconvenient to sexism than not wearing a bra.

While women fight and scrabble about who is the fairest men run away with the prizes.

But a great deal of beauty culture is about us. So my call is not to dismiss our love of beautiful bodies but to claim our love and look at how we do it a lot more carefully. That we are bodies is part of our strength as the gender that mothers, that lives closer to the physical, the real.

Women are a bit less able to pretend they are robots thank heavens. I call for us to acknowledge our own complex beauty culture in all its glory, fun, pettiness, and extremes of cruelty and status. Especially its extremes and its status. For what is ours we can control, decide for ourselves how much we want to keep, and how much to discard.

Alright darlin’, by Selina Jervis

From Shan Morgain

I was saddened by Selina Jarvis’ article about male harassment of young women in public.

I remember vividly suffering the same when i was young. It is one of the delights of getting older that increasingly it dies away. By 35 it was noticeably less, and by 45 happened hardly at all. Wonderful! Wonderful to be free of the army of male idiots.

Yes it’s cool to get a friendly smile, or a look that says “you look good.” We can do that too. I’ve even occasionally on a sunny day said to a man that I liked his tattoos, or long hair or something like that. Just light, friendly stuff – and you can see from someone’s body language if they need to be private and left alone. Alternatively a face and body can broadcast relaxation and openness.

That’s a very different thing to making animal noises, using aggressively bad language, asking personal questions, trying to reach out to touch and grope.

That is harassment. It may be a trophy to some women “hey, I scored!” but since most men don’t seem to know how to tell if it’s ‘welcome’ or not logically if they don’t want to be invasive and abusive, they

shouldn’t do it.

There’s the crux of it. It’s not only rude, good heavens simple rudeness is unpleasant but not so serious. It’s an invasion and a control.

How many thousands of times as a young wo0man, I was planning things, rehearsing ideas for an essay, sorting out my feelings in the privacy of my head – only to have some oaf crash in with some version of hello darlin’.

I used to get so angry that male students had this huge advantage that they could travel on public transport, or sit in a public place and WORK. As in read, study, all that extra uniterrupted time that I didn’t have. The same applies to women in business etc.

What it all comes down to is a demonstration that we do not have the right to privacy. Our bodies, especially the younger we are, are there to be grabbed. Our inner selves are playthings to be questioned, jerked, poked, prodded, subjected to demands for attention that would be infantile like toddlers if they weren’t so damaging to us.

So please, never think this is minor, or that you’re being petty, that it doesn’t matter. It does. It’s part of the whole worldview that we belong to men, in our bodies and in our thoughts and our attention.

By the way it can be reversed. Looking a pest man up and down with a curled lip and disapproval can devastate. Do it slowly in silence. Don’t do it in an isolated situation in case he pops into rage! Offensive remarks can be shot back. I once had a man walk past me who commented that I could well do with losing weight off my bottom. I followed him for a minute or two, getting my breath back, then walked past him briskly saying -yes I can see why you’re worried about fat bottoms. Good luck with your diet! He looked quite hurt.

Another delightful incident was when I yet again got the – smile darlin it might never happen! I looked the idiot straight in the eyes and said – it already has. My gran died last night. Needless to say he shot off in shock.

These kinds of sharing are what the old consciousness raising groups used to do, share tips and experiences to help us all cope better.

From kaylene lockwood

i’m 31 and this sort of thing still happens to me all the time. i happened upon your brilliantly written article, having been searching for ideas about how best to put the lechers in their place after a particularly bad day being followed and commented on by two separate perverts. it depresses me to think that i haven’t yet worked out the best way to get react to

these creeps even though i’ve got 12 years on you. my reactions generally range from telling them to **** off to ignoring them but neither of those things go any distance towards satiating the rage i feel when this happens. i’m conscious of the fact that any man stupid enough to do this sort of thing in the first place is not going to respond to a feminist lecture explaining why his comments / actions are sexist. that said, it would be tempting to hand a copy of your article to the next lecher who has the misfortune to come across me. thank you for your words and keep up the good work.

The Politics of Breastfeeding, a review by Karen Gregory

From tai

I cannot believe that this debate is still continuing. What happened to women supporting each other and their choices. There is no evidence that bottle feeding harms the baby, all those studies saying that you’re a pariah for bottle feeding have been proved to be untrue.

See

http://women.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/women/families/article6718276.ece

I bet if men had to breastfeed, there wouldn’t be this pressure..

Men in feminism, by Lizzie Garcha

From david mkinley

Was just thinking, as I do, and realised, that although I hear again and again from women, “oh no I’m not a feminist, that’s sooo yesterday”, I, myself, a man, must admit to being a feminist! This, from my understanding of reality, and the primacy of the woman in civilisation and the fear of woman that drives the mass murder ‘standards’ of patriarchy, so I googled “men for feminism” to see who’s there. So. hello. and the world depends on you, as usual. And us respecting you.

The Pursuit of Happyness, a review by Dwysan Edwards

From Brittany

Hiya, i live in New Zealand and stumbled across ur website loking for some info on THe Stepford Wives for a yr 13 English research report, topic being feminism, how women are protrayed in literature and media and how it ref;ects society. Anyway, i happened to watch THe Pursuit of Happyness last night. I was balling the whole way through. My parents are separated and i haven’t spoken to my father for tweo yrs. He’s a sexisrt prick. anyway he’s always had a cry about how sexist the famioly court is, he wouldve loved the movie. I wanted to say that i agree with your take on it. It’s incredibly sexist. Thanks for the insight. Check out union http://uof.org.nz/ for a laugh. My father contributed to it existing.

Men! Feminism needs you! (Not your privilege…) by Anne Onne

From Guy

I’ve really had it with all the -ism garbage. How about everyone just

being a decent human being? How about accepting that there are many

differences amongst all of us, but we all deserve equal respect. How about

that? I don’t have to be a feminist to be a decent person. I don’t have to

be a chauvinist to be a good man. I just have to respect other people and

give myself the grace to make a mistake every now and again and learn from

it.

Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word, replies

You seem a bit confused to me, Guy. May I recommend a trip to Feminism 101?

Ask a feminist – The F Word problem page

From Shan Morgain

Most people don’t know that what is called Second Wave feminism (the 1970s/ 80s) began when a group of young mothers met around their pushchairs and compared notes on being pissed off!

There was one group in East London and another in Oxford. These were young women who were well educated to degree level, who suddenly found the respect and freedom they’d taken for granted vanished once they became mothers. These were the first British consciousness raising groups.

After that there has admittedly sometimes been hostility to marriage, and married women/ mothers among feminists. One reazson can be that women coping with husbands and children often have much less time and energy than independent women to go to meetings and get things done for feminism. Or to put it another way, it can be easier to be a feminist if you’re on your own without others to look after.

But we need both kinds of struggle. Women alone, women coping with unhelpful men or supported by helpful men, gay women alone or partnered, women with children, women with elders or the disabled to look after.

We are only alone and ‘free’ of others for parts of our lives and feminism has to be big enough to handle that.

The woman behind Persephone Books, by Cazz Blase

From Carrie

I cannot recommend this imprint highly enough. Some superb and very readable books. Two with a strong feminist message are (1) The Home Maker and (2) Fidelity but I have yet to be disappointed by any of these great female authors.

Natural deodorants, by Kery Saegert

From Nella

Bicarbonate of soda is also effective. It has no antiperspirant properties but is a good deodorant. It can be used on its own or mixed with talc. You can mix in a drop of essential oil if you want a perfumed effect – though check first that it’s a “skin-safe” oil, such as lavender, as some essential oils will irritate your skin. Bicarb costs less than a pound for a large tub and is available in supermarkets and food shops everywhere. As for safety, bicarb is non-irritant, edible and used in cakes etc. all the time, so I can’t see how it could cause any harm.

A bride by any other name, by Eleanor Turner

From funmi

Thank you Eleanor Turner, your article was very interesting, I myself do not and will not change my name if and when I ever get married, it’s mine, like you said, thanks once again for the eye-opener, hopefully others will read and find some sense of self-identity so to speak in knowing and understanding the ifs and whys of keeping one’s own name even after marriage

Every girl wants a stalker, by Rachel E

From Christina L. Bell

Your article about stalker behavior and its romantic exaltation in our culture was spot on! How frustrating it is for me to see little girls drool over the Twilight series despite the main love-interest’s clearly stalker like actions! And SO many films do it, too. Just wanted to express my thanks for your clear-mindedness and justified concerns. It’s refreshing to know not everyone has become brainless consumerists.

Observer Woman, a review by Dawn Kofie

From julie nicholas

Thank you Dawn for articulating so well the problem with the Observer’s ‘Woman” supplement. I remember reading one of the first issues of the magazine and having my hopes raised by a couple of excellent feminist themed articles and a feature about body facism that was accompanied by photos of glam size 16 models; suggesting that the Observer was not going to restrict itself to the usual women’s magazine format of product placement and photos of emaciated young girls. Alas since that issue the magazine has not kept its promise and is no different to any other ‘womens’ magazine or supplement, full of make up tips, fashion and handbags ‘to die for’-such a shame as I am sure that like me the average Observer reader was anticipating a more intelligent offering that would offer a beacon of hope in a rather depressing literary genre.

I’m a sexworker and I’m not a victim, a blog post by Sokari Ekine

From Jennie Fisher

I was an Escort and met my current partner through this. sounds wierd I know but we’re very happy and stranger things have happenned. He has a daughter with an x and whilst trying to prevent her from seeing an argument with the ex he grabbed her arm and pushed her out the door. He subsequently got done for common assult. I have been contacted by Probation Victim services who I previously met with 2 days after breaking up with my partner. i was obviously upset, angry etc. i have subsequently got back with him and they are contacting me again but are treating me as if i am a some silly little girl who knew no better than to open her legs for money.

i became an escort in order to pay off debts. I’m intelligent – i have a degree and i work as a specialist marketing exec for a law firm. however, how can I make them see i am not a victim? I am a grown woman able to make my own decisions. i don’t want to get in a petty argument with them but they can’t seem to understnad that their attitude makes me feel about

6inches tall!!!

As far as I am concernedi am a grown up, a human. I don’t think my gender is of any consequence yet these women are judging me. What can i do?

Is Tarantino really feminist?, a review by Emma Wood

From Hannah

Your arguments are valid, but I think you are missing a MAJOR point about Death Proof–it was a film made entirely as a tribute to the Grindhouse films of the 70’s, which all promoted sexualized violence and the gratuitious objectification of women. Without that important context, the point of Death Proof–and the Grindhouse double feature–is lost.

Why it’s time for the ‘battle of the sexes’ to end, by Laura Baldwin

From jemimah

Why It’s time for the ‘battle of the sexes’ to end, this was fantastic I enjoyed reading this so much I couldn’t have said it better myself i might show it to some very laddish and friends of mine thanks for the intelligent read

‘Feminists are sexist’, by Catherine Redfern

From Stewart

You are an angel. I fell in love with the article! But of course you do realize where the letters came from, right? Feminism is like Mormanism. The radicalists place a horrid stain on an otherwise honest group. I love your view on what the feminist move could do for both sexes. It has turned around my entire view on feminism. But one problem you should tackle. If you take the time to google,” women are superior to men.” You will see where the misconception comes from.

The confirmation bias.

One as accomplished as you, as I honestly believe, should know that term by heart. It is the true root of these problems and is wired into our brains. Your next goal should be education! Education of the confirmation bias! People will know what truly plagues society! And how we can fix it. We never meant to fall victim to it, it comes naturally! Thank you so

much for taking the time to read this! I think you should know, I realize how commonplace this comment is… but I feel so happy to write it!

The Perfect Vagina, by Amy Clare

From Alice

I am responding to the article about the program documented on C4 about “The Perfect Vagina”

Im 14 and i love what you had to say about he program. I dont feel comfortable with my own vagina because there is so much advertisement about it, pro or con! i dont like mine and i doubt i ever will. i know to most people they would wonder why a 14 year old girl would care about what her vagina looked like as she would be to young to use it anyway or they would judge me and asume that i would want to or have done already. this is not the case for me. i have a boyfiend and although i know im not ready to do anything sexual yet, i begin to feel like i cant relax around him because i know that if i let myself slip too much and steer of track and do something that i would later regret, then he would not like what he found. like i said this leads me to feel uncomfortable and incapable of relaxing. if this was to happen i also fear that he would tell people. My school is not a good place for those with insecurity’s or noticible problems as they all tend to bully you quite a lot. im ginger, enough said really. if this other “problem” was to come out i fear it would probably push me too far. i have read a lot about this. i dont know what to think. i know what you are saying is right, women should need to even consider this surgery, but i dont think i will ever be comfortable around men/boys unless i sort it out. i dont want to but i feel for my benefit surgery is the only thing i can do. i need help with this problem. please help me! i also have a question, do men actually care or is it just women who have come up with another reason to judge eachother to make themselves feel more confident?

Why men should care about gender stereotypes, by Alex Gibson

From Dan Jenkins

Hi, I’m a male age 17 and I’d just like to say that I am very well aware of male stereotypes. In fact, hardly a day goes by where I’m not hurt by some sexist comment. My friends (of whom are mostly girls) will let me tag along on shopping trips and other activities but every so often something will come up where I’m excluded simply because of my gender and my “inability to understand”. I cannot tell you how much this hurts, especially since I’m mentally far more female than male. I hate… no… DESPISE being a guy. The males around me are all complete idiots and I am utterly ashamed to even be associated with them. Last year I had a class all about rape and the entire time they talked about how males are always

attackers and females are always the victims. I don’t want to be a potential rapist… I want to be a potential victim. It’s unfair… I can’t even spend time with some of my friends because their parents don’t like them being alone with a guy. Females may have it rough but at least society acknowledges that. If men whine at all they get beaten (verbally) by other men for being a faggot.

General comments

From Judith McAidie

As a life long feminist and ardent drinker I was disgusted to be informed by the landlord of my local boozer that women were no longer allowed to stand at the bar. I thought that this kind of antiquated sexism had died out in my beloved Yorkshire long ago. There is actually a line on the floor that those in possesion of a vagina can no longer cross. If anyone would like to set up a picket, the establishment in question is The Voulenteer Arms off Holgate road in York. Someone needs to put a stop to this post feminist OUTRAGE!!!

From elleocwent

I am curious about what your thoughts are on the Twilight books. My daughter thinks that they set feminism back a 100 years. Especially after she saw the Twilighters as the San Diego Comicon. The American fascination with the Twilight books and movies seems to cross all kinds of age lines, influencing women my mothers age who is 59 to young girls. I won’t read them because I’m an elitist when it comes to my vampire books, and as I have listened to excerpts from the text I find the whole thing very much an endorsement for finding a guy who stalks, abuses, and then proclaims his torment…it’s something I would gag on it in terms of reading this. BUT I would really like to know your thoughts. I didn’t find a review, so if you have one, if you could link me that would be great. If you haven’t done one…I would be very curious about your thoughts on how this is shaping the minds of the impressionable future of women who will be our soldiers in the fight for equality.

Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word, replies

As it happens, Caitlin Brown has written a great piece for us this month, partly about Twilight but also about vampire fiction in general.

With big thanks to Helen G, who coded and compiled this month’s comments page

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