Comments from December 2009

Comments sent in by you in December

, 1 February 2010

Comment’s on last month’s features and reviews

A question of (sexism in) sport, by Natalie Davis

From Mobot

I couldn’t agree more! I play roller derby, which is an (almost) exclusively women’s sport. This gives us the advantage of not playing second fiddle to a bigger, more heavily funded and promoted men’s equivalent. It is also a sport that requires a high degree of physical fitness, is full contact, and does wonders for body image. Women of all ages, shapes and sizes take part and there is real diversity of profession and social background. It is very much a DIY sport, organised and owned by players. But, while a sport that involves women on skates being aggressive attracts plenty of attention from local media, we often find that much of this attention is devoted to what we wear while skating! Okay, so I’ll admit that derby is a spectator sport and, while there is lots of diversity, there is a tendency to wear ‘punky’ gear to practice and to bouts… this is often part of the persona which I personally find both liberating and helpful in terms of being able to knock my friends over! It’s liberating because I don’t think there are many situations in life where I could stroll around wearing a tank top, tiny shorts and fishnets but not feel like I’m being sexualised or sending out a sexual message. Ok, so you could argue that if I want to play down the media attention afforded to the way we look, I should dress differently… but I resent that. I want to live in a world where I can dress however the hell I please and have the focus be on my abilities. Derby actually allows me to do that (so long as there’s not a male reporter in tow, looking for the ‘quirky women’s sport’ or ‘hot chicks beating each other up’ angle!)

From Delilah

I thought that this was a brilliant article. It is very well written and the points made are nicely backed up by sources. It shows a much higher standard of journalism than can be found in most of the Mainstream Media and I want to share the article

amongst my peers. It has been thought-provoking and I look forward to it making an impact amongst my friends; certainly Natalie Davis has made me wonder about what I can do personally to redress the perception of her work. I’d like to read more of her work. It reminds me of a family I worked with where the boy (10) wanted to take up boxing and his sister (12)

was drawn into it too. Her self-confidence and general mood rose across all areas of her life and it was wonderful to see her health and activity improve. I also felt reassured to know that she could defend herself if necessary, which I thought would decrease her risk of defence being

necessary. Sadly her father and step-mother forbade her to attend as it was distasteful to them to have a little girl boxing.

From Payal

Reading this excellent feature, I was reminded of an article I came across that some years back so blatantly reinforcing how sport is judged as a primarily male activity. It was about a cricket competition organised for little kids (under 7s, I think). While the boys played, the girls were cheerleaders!! I should mention here that where I live (India), the concept of cheerleading (and the objectification of women in it is a whole different story), is something we’ve only recently started aping from the US.

From Antony Davis

I don’t agree with it all but it’s a really well written article.

Some women’s sports such as athletics, swimming, cycling, tennis (usually individual sports) translate just as well no matter what gender you’re watching.

However, football (which probably makes up 90% of the media coverage in this country) shows a huge skill gap between the male and female game. As most men have played and watched football over any other sport, and so know more about it, this skill gap makes watching the female game less entertaining…. See More

There will be other sports with skills gaps that are just as pronounced but, due to lack of knowledge on the audiences part, will not spoil their enjoyment as much.

All sports (men’s as well as women’s) suffer at the god that is men’s football in this country.

Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word, replies

Remember that the England women’s team is not paid enough to give up their day jobs.

From Indy

Interesting article and there is a definite sense of sport being the last bastion of masculine values and virtues, where the purity of testosterone and fair play hasn’t been watered down. The recent “outing” of Welsh international rugby player Gareth Thomas is still considered headline news is because there are so few openly gay players (and Thomas himself is likely playing out the end of his career rather starting out as a new star) who are openly gay in the UK team sports.

Similarly women playing professional sport are expected to conform to their roles if they want to take part. In the world of football/soccer, the women’s game is not popular either because women are either not wearing revealing enough clothes (see Sepp Blatter’s “recommendations” from 2004) OR because they can’t play football to a “high” enough (ie athletic male) standard, although the single solitary major tournament victory in 1966 suggests that the English men aren’t exactly too “hot” at the game either.

The recent furore over and demonisation of the violence displayed by American women’s college footballer Elizabeth Lambert, also seemed to cast a rather peverse and voyueristic gaze at feminity and footballer. Helped by video footage of the incident(s) many news outlets and broadcasters on television and online seemed to have no story or editorial angle to display aside from outrage, bluster and shock at the fact that women can sometimes play aggressively and have the potential to be violent! Reefer madness! Despite the player doing nothing more than hair pulling, flapping her arms and putting in poor challenges (though not anywhere near as poor as the Roy Keane on Alf Inge Haaland variety). The kind of thing that is probably

freqently on display at male football league (and non-leage) games week-in and week-out. Or certainly wherever Robbie Savage is playing.

Piggy banks and budget cuts, by Clare Gould

From Shea

I thought Clare Gould’s article was brilliant. There will be long term devastating effects from cutting child benefit now. We still haven’t reach millenium goals on eradicating child poverty in this country and the government is now talking of cuts?!? They have completely ignored the power differentials in play, as Clare points out.

I also think this idea of “mother and baby” homes is just chlling and Victorian in its self righteous “deserving poor” steretypes. Why shouldn’t we be supporting teenage mothers? Why wouldn’t we want them to have children, if it is something that they want? We need a massive investment in social housing in this country anyway. I’m almost certain that every single mother out there is well aware of the “responsibility” of having a child. What a fucking patronising response from Labour.

I think wha gets me so angry though and what was only touched on by Clare, is that none of the people responsible for this crisis are the ones paying for it. Not the bankers, who are still getting thousand pound bonuses, not the politicians who still have enormous expenses (my MP’s expenses alone, would be enough to build and maintain three council homes for a year!) not the businesses or credit card companies who were irresponsible in their lending, but the ordinary people, struggling to make do, before this crisis.

There is also a perfect irony that in cutting child benefit we will be taking from the very people that we have stolen from, in creating a monstrous national debt without their consent or agreement and leaving them with major fiscal and economic problems (not to mention climate change) to deal with.

On sisterhood, by Katie Sutton

From MB

Perhaps Katie was confused and didn’t realise that most of those women were there to reclaim the night from the pimps and the punters and the IUSW, not for them.

Katie Sutton, author of the article, replies

I’m not confused at all, at least, about the purpose of Reclaim the Night. I am, however, confused as to why you think I could be?

From barkbirch

I was a steward on the Reclaim the Night march, and didn’t witness any negative comments towards other women on the night, but I read about it afterwards and watched with dismay as the petty infighting unfolded following Feminist Fightback’s open letter to the London Feminist Network. I was really horrified to see posters saying things like ‘feel free go and start your own march’ and ‘I’m puzzled why you would join your opponents’ march if that’s how you feel’. I had thought I was taking part in an event genuinely seeking end to violence against women and to enable all feminists to stand together in solidarity, not a sectarian-fest.

In all other respects, the march was wonderful and so empowering. I felt it was a real shame that the event was marred by these hostilities. Also, I don’t see a problem with reclaiming the word ‘whore’? Do you feel the same way about ‘queer’, Finn? It’s especially odd as LFN seems vehemently against the term ‘sex work’. Against reclaiming pejorative words, against using positive ones…

am I OK to say ‘prostitute’ or does it have overly positive or negative connotations too?

Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word, replies

Reclaiming words is always a fraught and disputed process. (Here’s an interesting post about reclaiming words).

From Sara

Referring to the “On Sisterhood” piece I can understand why some hostility was shown/felt toward the red umbrellas. It was not because they’re sexworkers at all but because they’re placards and chants weren’t central to the aims of the march- to stop violence against women. Instead they talked of solidarity for sex workers, how they had a right to be sexworkers and how feminism apparently “needs” sex workers(?). Can someone enlighten me on what sexworkers have achieved for feminism?

We may respect women’s right to sell their bodies to men but that has nothing to do with fighting violence against women; it argues for the commodification of women’s bodies. We were joined and marching for one cause and I did feel that they were trying to break away from that by pushing their own agenda.

I also believe that it was pointless going past Spearmint Rhino, we should have gone through Soho and Covent Garden to get the crowds.

Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word, replies

I don’t get your point at all; since when did a group of women have to prove they have achieved something ‘for feminism’ before they deserve basic respect?

From Irina Lester

Disageements between feminists is one thing but insults like what Katie experienced have, in my view, nothing to do with feminism and support between women for each other, regardless of how they earn their living. If anything, any feminist should be glad if sex workers joined Reclaim the Night, and encourage more of them to come next time. I only hope that for one nutter there are thousands of women who sympathise with sex workers (and understand that they have every right to campaign against violence towards them) and are happy to be there together with them on the march, seeing it as an example that solidarity between women exists. Sex trade is already alienating, I’d think the thing sex workers need the least is “sisters” who turn their back on them. I don’t think one can call that woman who shouted insults a feminist though.

Girls in the lead, by Clare Burgess

From FeminaErecta

I was a Girl Guide from the age of 11-17, and a Brownie before that. My Guide patrol was affiliated with the local CofE church and once a month we would take part in the service with the Scouts, and I would read in the service several times. My Guides also did a gang show every Christmas, performed several concerts throughout the year, participated in George’s

Day parades and went on all-female camps in the countryside every summer. In addition to this, I attended several Guiding events, including a music concert that took girls from all over the North East where we stayed in a youth hostel and performed a concert we had intensely rehearsed in a week. I also went to Vienna when I was 15 representing North East England along with ten other girls for the Millennium Jamboree. This was a mixed camp with Guides and Scouts from all around the world.

I class myself as a Marxist-feminist, which I interpret to mean that I believe that women, and self-identifying women’s equality, in-fact worldwide equality for all regardless of gender, sex, sexuality, age, race, religion (though as a Marxist, I believe that spirituality is personal andcan not be contained or defined within a movement that seeks to control), cultural heritage or physicality will come when the patriarchy falls, and that this patriarchy is a capitalist institution which has evolved from a patriarchal religious institution. I am also a pacifist and an idealist. Ibelieve in climate change, though I believe that environmentalism whilst worthy would greater achieve it’s aims if it stopped being marketed as middle class and instead concentrated on being anti-consumerist in it’s arguments. I have been at least socialist for all of my life, and began to be politically active when I was about 11 within the Labour party (I quit soon after!) and was active in Stop the War from 2002 onwards. How, I here you ask, are the two seemingly completely conflicting elements combined? How can you possibly me anti establishment, anti royalist, anti meritocratic, and support and be an active member of the Guide movement, a movement that it can be argued in the late nineties/ early naughties was all of these things and more?

I was, to some extent, leading a double life. I would endure endless teasing from my school friends, who saw me as a bit of a hippy with my campaigns to allow the girls in my school to wear trousers and my short bright red hair, and didn’t really get how this went with the neatly pressed blue culottes and badges sewed onto my sash with pride. I got a lot of ‘one dyke short of a girl guide camp’ style comments for a long time, which I took (If someone made a comment like that to me in the workplace I would have them in front of a judge, but you let things slide at school-why is that?). I cannot, however, make myself feel guilty for betraying my principles by supporting the Guides, because I don’t believe I ever did. Guides for me was the only time I mixed with women, exclusively women, of different abilities and social backgrounds than myself. My entire secondary school was set and all my friends were clever, articulate, middle class and for the most part white. We were incredibly privileged, and didn’t even know it or understand it. With Guiding the only thing we had in common was our gender. We may not have read the same books, or listened to the same music, but we were Girl Guides, and we worked together for the greater good. Without the pressures of school, we aimed to collect badges for achieving a skill, or learning some new thing, however small. I am against a meritocracy because I believe it creates a nation of consumers who will literally do anything for a piece of paper and are terrified of underachievement to the extent it seriously affects the entire self esteem of a people. The badge system, to me, represented a good time-cooking peanut brittle together, visiting the fire brigade or putting on a show. The musical and entertainment element did wonders for my confidence, and also meant I got to travel, and to perform in front of audiences that weren’t all my friend’s mums like the school plays. The badges worked, because they made you proud of what you could, and had, done, rather than

what ranking you were in a class of thirty (there are no league tables in Guiding), and what you could remember in an exam. And we sewed them on ourselves, together. Sure, there were some girls who did all the badges themselves independently, but these girls were rare and it was the sense of camaraderie I remember the most.

The camps meant a chance to be girls, on holiday, without any pressure of looking good all the time. We weren’t on a beach in a swimsuit, we were in the woods making bivouacs and looking at the stars with mud on our faces. And because we all wore a uniform we looked the same so it didn’t matter about having the latest fashion. It also meant spending a lot of time with young girls who unlike my group of swotty middle class friends knew a bit more about what was going on in the modern world. I remember us all learning the Spice Girls wannabe lyrics together when the single came out as a troop-our Patrol Leader was a little worried but we loved it because it made us feel in touch with the wider world and when you don’t live in a big city you need that.

Going to Vienna was the best experience of my teenage years, no doubt. It was the first time I had been away from home without my family or my school, I was 15 and surrounded by people who loved mucking in and making do. We were in tents, in muddy fields surrounded by 15 year old-shock horror-scouts!!!!! I ended up snogging a scout from Hull on the second night. It was the first time I had ever thought of myself at attractive-having been reassured by my FHM reading male friends that I wasn’t! But these scouts liked girls who liked climbing mountains and building fires and having a laugh, not girls who wore skin tight jeans and had perms like the boys at my school did. It was a revelation-there are different kinds of boy out there! Not all boys are the same! I loved Guides, and it makes me very sad when people criticise it as being anti-equalist or feminist because I too believe that all areas should be open to all and I have no valid arguments other than female victims of male aggression may need female-only spaces to recover from the abuse to defend women-only ruling on institutes like the Guides, which in my case did not apply to my unit. We were just ‘girls wanting a space to be just girls’; we did talk about changes in our bodies, and it was a nice environment to be able to do that in, but such conversations were rare. To be honest, Guides was a way to reject the genderised roles pushed on me at school and in the world in general, because there was no patriarchal males telling us what girls were and how girls behaved. Yes we learnt sewing and cooking, but these are things I enjoy doing to this day and I don’t see anything wrong with that. And yes I have a homemaker badge, for which I learnt how to make my bed properly with sheets, how to iron a shirt, how to pack a suitcase and how to make a decent cup of tea-again skills I use that I never learnt in school and would not have a clue to do were it not for Guides, my ultra-feminist mother refusing to teach me ‘gender stereotype affirming qualifications’, which she was perfectly entitled not to. I also learnt how to make a fire, build an emergency shelter, make a variety of things out of two bits of wood and some string, tie a multitude of knots, abseil, sail a boat, knit, use a fire hose, put on a pantomime from scratch, address a large audience with confidence, basic first aid and how to change a plug. Everyone I have ever met who hates Guiding has either never been one, or stayed for five minutes before peer pressure from school friends made her wimp out. Most people I know who were Guides have fond memories. Woodland Clubs and mixed youth hippy-fests are all very well, but Guiding DOES have a place, and IS relevant, and it would be a shame for those who did not understand it to belittle the organisation until it too collapses under a weightier kind of peer pressure.

From Elmo

I’m glad guides is a place where girls can discuss issues that worry them, like appearance and pressures, it seems like a great and safe space for girls to learn and have fun. Sadly, however, I never got as far as guides, because I left brownies after having an awful time. It’s main problem of being a “girls only” club (unlike scouts) was that when I went along, all the older girls had formed gangs, and turned it into a hierarchy, there was quite a lot of (though i hate to use this word) bitchiness. As a result I felt bullied and left out. I think this problem would be entirely eradicated if we could end the gender segregation (although continue to hold girls only discussions, like the ones you mentioned). But the thing that really annoyed me was the badges, which seem very similar to the guiding ones, and also very sexist. I never understood for a moment why we had to achieve “tea making” badges, “hostess” badges and other ones which suggested housework was a massive achievement, to rival the white water rafting of the scouts. It was the same in the manual, which told me how to clean, cook, and do stuff like gather berries, as well as a couple of scout-type activities, just to balance it out. Until the scout handbook also tells you how to make tea and clean houses, or brownies and guides gets rid of it in favour of stuff like archery and hiking, I think these organisations will continue to separate girls and boys, and encourage the idea that they are completely different and need to be treated thus.

Anyway, great article!

Clare Burgess , author of the article, replies

I’m sorry you had a bad experience of Brownies growing up. I was much the same in my (non-segregated group).

I don’t however think it’s right to say that when young girls are alone it is always heading for Mean Girls territory. For one thing I find the stereotype troubling, for another it’s not been my experience.

Now you have to keep in mind that I’m looking at this as a leader and not as a girl but in my experience the leadership team is always looking at how situations are developing and trying to defuse them.

A good leader should be keeping their eyes open to make sure the group mixes (especially hard when you mix ages!) to make sure everyone can work together and to make sure nobody gets left out. And we’re offered quite a bit of guidance (now at least) from our higher ups on how to deal with these problems. I’m starting to lead a Brownie unit after Christmas so please wish me luck with that!

As for badges. I am totally and completely with you. That, again, was one of the reasons I was never a Brownie or a Guide! But, since I was a lass, we have had an overhaul. You can see the current list at: http://www.girlguiding.org.uk/brownies/badges/index.html

The girls and leaders are supposed to pick which ones to do together. I used to work in a unit who where dead keen on cooking and crafts and we’d let them do that side of it but then push them to try new things every once in a while. Where as the group I’m with now would jump out of an aeroplane if insurance allowed it and we let them be adventurous and show them different things when they let us. Ideally there is something for everyone.

I’m not sure what the Scouts are up to now, we’re different organisations. But I hope they cook and clean. Especially on camp.

I’m sorry if I’ve gone on a lot, nobody has ever accused me of being concise. And I’m sorry if you had a bad time at Brownies. Guiding is a movement though. Hopefully we’ve moved forward and we’ll keep moving forward. I’ll certainly remember what you have said next time I see my Brownies.

Moving towards solidarity, by Laurie Penny

From Bethan

I very rarely get around to commenting here but this was such a brilliant piece that I couldn’t excuse not commenting! Really well written and expressing wonderfully how I feel about transphobia in feminsism and why it’s so important to challenge it. Read it with my girlfriend, who is LGBT officer for her uni, and she is going to forward it around. Thank you for putting into words what I wish I could!

From polly

I wholly disagree with Julie Bindel’s view that sex reassignment surgery should not be allowed, simply because I don’t believe that it’s acceptable for one human being to dictate what another human being should do with their own body. However I think Laurie Penny is ignoring the central plank of Julie Bindel’s argument which is the problem of ‘gender dysphoria’ which is now legally recognised in the UK under the provisions of the sex discrimation and gender recognition acts.

There are two main problems. The first is that the definition of ‘gender dysphoria’ is this, according to the NHS.

http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Gender-dysphoria/Pages/Definition.aspx

“For people with gender dysphoria, there is confusion between their sex, their gender identity and their gender role. They feel that their gender identity does not match the sex that that they were born with, and they may prefer to take on a gender role that opposes the stereotypical image of their sex. For example, a person with gender dysphoria who was born male may feel that their gender identity is female, and prefer to dress in women’s clothes. “

So if I’m currently wearing a sweatshirt bought from a men’s clothing range and I’ve got cropped hair, does that mean I’ve got gender dsyphoria according to the NHS? This is in fact nothing to do with being transsexual, (which is why people would want SRS) but is about people who are gender non conforming – a hell of a lot of people many of whom wouldn’t even define themselves as transgender, but it seems are being labelled as such whether that’s how they define themselves or not. To get SRS in the UK currently you have to have (or pretend to have)

gender dysphoria – hence the types of incidents Laurie talks about in her piece where people are refused treatement for wearing the ‘wrong’ clothing or being attracted to the ‘wrong’ sex. It’s true that SRS specifically isn’t being used to police gender boundaries, but it’s impossible to deny that heteronormative gender standards are currently being reinforced by the medical profession in the UK.

And these definitions and standards are now recognised in law by the Gender Recognition Act, as to legally ‘change’ gender you need to be diagnosed as having Gender Dysphoria and live in the ‘role’ of the opposite gender for two years.

There is a huge problem with this being the case. Not only for those who have to fundamentally misrepresent themselves to get medical treatment, but in terms of the fact that someone who has gender Dysphoria is now legally recognised as the sex whose ‘gender role ‘ they identify with. Including under the provisions of the sex discrimination act So without any sex reassignment surgery at all, someone who is born male can now have their birth certificate changed to female, and be treated as a female under all the provisions of the sex discrimination act. Including being able to apply for ‘restricted ‘ vacancies under the SDA, which are usually ones giving personal care to someone of the same sex.

This is why Julie Bindel refers to women’s rights being breached (though this provision also applies to men of course). There are a large number of women who, either through personal preference or for cultural/religious reasons want/need to receive single sex services. But the GRA means that those services can now be provided by biological males.

Since most people in this situation would want to receive care from people of the same biological sex, whatever their gender identity, this is a breach of their rights.

Since some women are also for cultural/religous reasons unable to share space with biological males to whom they are not related, there is also a problem of these women being unable to use domestic violence services such as refuges if they are no longer restricted to biological females.

Although as Laurie correctly points out biological sex is not in fact binary, it’s still the case that most people do fall approximately into one or other of the sex categories male or female, and the reality is that this would be the prime consideration of people who wish to receive single sex personal care, not gender identity. Biological sex isn’t exactly binary, but it is real.

The current law in the UK rigidly reinforces the gender binary, since it considers gender conforming behaviours to be the ultimate arbiter of who is male and who is female, despite these behaviours being completely unrelated to actual biological sex, or the sex a person identifies themselves as.

The law also only protects those who are prepared to define themselves in terms of that binary. Gender non conforming people who aren’t prepared to define themselves as having a psychiatric disorder – which is what gender dysphoria is legally – because they don’t behave in gender stereotyped ways have absolutely no legal protection currently. A biological male who is legally considered to be undergoing gender reassignment would be legally protected if they wished to wear a skirt to work for instance, a biological male who is not undergoing gender reassignment could legally be sacked if they wore a skirt to work.

I think Laurie is right to point out that none of this is the fault of individual trans people, however Julie Bindel is also correct to point out the problems with the current law and the concept of gender dysphoria, and she seems to be one of the very few, if not the only, speaker with a public platform doing it.

From Elaina

I thought that this article was wonderfully written. I get so angry sometimes- I identify as a radical feminist and I feel that I identify *with*, and very deeply so, the principles of radical feminism- and yet I am ashamed by so much of the aping of the Janice Raymonds and the Mary

Daly’s who are just completely clueless when it comes to transgender communities or their needs/experiences.

I’m a lesbian. My partner has been through gender transition. There are women out there who would say they are “radical feminists” who, at the same time, would dismiss our relationship as a heterosexual one. And there are women out there who seem to really want to scapegoat people who are transgendered.

It is nice to see someone write with what seems to be a very distinct goal of fostering unity and solidarity within the feminist movement instead of bullying, or insisting that ONLY one radical politics should prevail.

I did want to comment on what you noted about SRS. I am located in the USA and so I know that socially, politically, and economically there are vast differences in the trans experience here and there. Something that I have come in contact with that adds a caviat to your description of motivations for SRS is that, at least over here, there are laws in most states which demand SRS in order for a person to change very basic identity documents in

order to correspond with the genders into which they transition. The laws vary slightly from state to state, and I believe that in New York the requirements aren’t as stringent, but most states do require a document, signed by a surgeon (many times there is a requirement of notarization) that states that the individual wishing to change their gender marker on the driver’s license (for example) has had SRS.

This is very invasive and can paralyze a person in many ways, and it can be dangerous for the person as well. Also, regarding SRS, there are a lot of cultural factors- access to funds, hormonal treatments, therapies, etc. (’cause our healthcare system is, like, legendarily bad, right?) that allow only certain people to even have the option of getting the surgery.

I’m sure that the UK has its own sets of problems surrounding this issue. But I just think it’s something to note- that SRS isn’t “optional” for a lot of people and yet at the same time, and for the very same people, it isn’t an option due to financial reasons. It’s a catch-22 from hell.

Thanks again for the article. I enjoyed reading it immensely, and I appreciate having the space to chime in on a couple of points.

From John

Hi, There is an excellent response and argument going on Metafilter.com to Laurie Penny’s article on transgenders and feminist response. Look up Laurie Penny there and you’re sure to find it, but the link is: http://www.metafilter.com/87709/Feminism-calls-for-gender-revolution

Daphne Du Maurier’s feminist fairy tales, a review by Sian Norris

From Claire

Thanks for writing this. I recently gave Rebecca to my 11 year old daughter to read. We (and her younger brothers) had left a violent marriage and her father had recently remarried. I used the book, along with Jane Eyre, as a way of discussing society’s perceptions of first wives. Her reactions to the book were amazingly mature and massively outstripped my own adolescent fantasies where I had found Max de Winter incredibly attractive. She saw him in a different colder light. She saw in her words how he reduced his new wife to a ghost, not even with a name. I began to think about Rebecca as an incredibly subtle book about domestic violence where even the reader ends up complicit in believing that the murder of Rebecca was justifiable, and how the successful protection of the criminal through his middle class connections is greeted by readers with a sigh of relief. What does this do to us morally? I was so delighted to see my daughter look at these issues. I’d recommend this book to any first wives as a tool for talking about attitudes with their daughters (and sons).

Sian Norris, author of the article, replies

That’s such a brilliant analysis and not one I had thought of myself, but completely true. Why do we know so little of Rebecca? Why is Max so dominant over the women in his life? This is what I find with DuMaurier, her novels are always surprising and reveal these subtleties. Your daughter sounds like an amazing girl to have such a mature and open view of the world and her responses to books, and it is such a lovely idea to use books and novels like Rebecca and Jane Eyre that have such strong women based narratives to explore these difficult and painful issues.

I hope she keeps reading and discovers more literature!

Women’s art in Paris: elles@centrepompidou, a review by Susan Gilbert

From tom hulley

Fascinating article, thank you Susan.

When you say:’women were never admitted as equals to the intellectual centre of the group’, I suspect it applies to most movements. Even the exhibition is revealing institutional sexism, in a sense, by an exclusive and temporary presentation rather than an inclusive and permanent one.

You have reviewed it beautifully and it is clearly significant even if it raises mixed feelings.

For me, the most important artist of her era was Suzanne Valadon but her drunken son was, and has continued to be, celebrated more than her. She create great art; he painted postcard views of Montmartre. Valadon surpassed her mentor, Degas, who may have been the only man of his time willing to recognise and support women artists for the sake of art alone. As for Renoir, Cezanne …huh!

By chance, a few months back, I was googling ‘Valadon’ for recent illustrated books about her work, as they are rare, when I came across Rosemary Valadon:

http://rosemaryvaladon.com.au/page1.htm what a find!

From Jennifer Drew

The title of article ‘women Hung In Paris’ is either deliberately provocative or worse misleading. ‘Hung’ is word used to define a hanging meaning of course a person being hanged until they are dead!

So this title immediately suggested to me ‘women being hanged in Paris’ not ‘female artists’ work on public display.’

It is unfortunate this misleading title will immediately focus readers’ attention on speculating ‘women being hung in Paris’ – does this mean women have been murdered?

The correct title should read ‘Exhibition devoted to women artist’ work.’ See how easy it is to convey what the subject matter is in respect of this article – rather than confusing readers by the use of words ‘women hung in Paris.’ There is far too much mundane male violence being committed by men as it is, so please change this title to the correct one.

Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word, replies

I thought this criticism was fair enough and so changed the headline of the review. Of course paintings are accurately described as being “hung”, in a non-violent sense, and as Susan points out the decision to rehang the gallery is interesting and ground-breaking, but if there’s potential for confusion it’s not worth it, hence the edit.

Comments on earlier features and reviews

Gender and sentencing, by Rachel Thwaites

From Christopher Arnold

It is with regret that I have to write to point out inaccuracies in Rachel Thwaites’ article ‘Gender and Sentencing’. Whilst I appreciate the sentiment she is trying to convey, it remains that the article is misleading.

Specifically, she disingenuously states that Brian Steadman was “jailed for just three years in 1995 for killing his wife by hitting her 13 times with a hammer after pleading diminished responsibility because his wife constantly nagged him.” The author is clearly encouraging the reader to believe that the principal reason for the successful diminished responsibility plea was his wife’s behaviour. However, by statute, the defence actually requires the court to be satisfied that the defendant is suffering from an inherent mental illness. It may be that Steadman’s violence was a disproportionate reaction to ‘nagging’, but the real basis for his lenient sentence would have actually been that this reaction was caused by his cognitive disability.

I am unsure whether the author sought to deliberately misrepresent this point or simply failed to research her subject matter. One hardly needs to be a legal expert to verify these things: even a cursory read of the Wikipedia article on diminished responsibility would have rendered an accurate analysis of the law.

Despite Ms Thwaites’ reductive claim that gender leads to “harsher sentences for women”, the reality is, naturally, less simple. Were she to have included more empirical data in her article, she might have cited the 1997 Home Office report on the sentencing of women. Broadly speaking, the report states that sentences are on average more lenient for women, except in cases where judges seem more inclined to issue women with non-custodial community penalties instead of fines. Interesting that the author seemed unaware of this valuable resource given that it’s the number one hit if you Google ‘sentencing of women’.

A streamlined new me, by Laura Thomas

From Renée

Hooray for shaving your head, Laura! Such freedom! I did the exact same thing after reading The Beauty Myth and it was so liberating–especially having done this while working in a corporate environment. People were shocked and horrified in some instances. Many thought that I was going through chemotherapy. But some surprising comments came from individuals that I’d least expect it to.

It’s pretty much grown out now, but I have to say that I miss the freedom of not having to deal with the status of my hair and its apparent connection to my femininity. I felt that my true femininity shone through in a way that transcended the visual, and my inner and outer beauty was quite accentuated (in my own perception).

Thank you for an articulate and candid article!

Body of Work, a review by Gemma Sharpe

From beetle

Enjoyed the article. Unaware of the depth and breath of feminist film work on offer.

Looking forward to future reviews.

Why feminists shouldn’t have to keep mum, by Victoria Dutchman-Smith

From Anna Gilbert

I don’t have children but would like to become a mother in the near future. I must say I am surpised by the tone and content of this article; the experiences of the writer are very different to my perception of motherhood. I work full time and some of my colleagues have small children and work on a part time basis. Other women I have worked with are now at home full time, which many would consider a luxury. I certainly don’t think of mothers have ‘nappy brain’ or consider their role to be devalued in any way. Rather, those who leave work to begin motherhood are usually the envy of our office; rather than working from 9 – 5, they have the benefit of caring for their child which we (without children) assume must be incredibly more rewarding and far more rewarding than at least what I do for a living..

I don’t believe motherhood defines these women; they are the same women who have simply made an important choice..

Its a shame to hear that my perception and the perception of those around me is not universally shared.

Victoria Dutchman-Smith, author of the article, replies

Many thanks for your thought-provoking response to my article. I’d just like to pick up on a couple of points.

First, I’m glad your perceptions of motherhood are positive. However, I think it all depends on different contexts and environments, and it really isn’t the case that all people share your views. Within pregnancy magazines, baby groups and the media in general, there really is a tendency not only to denigrate mothers, but for mothers to immerse themselves within this self-denigration, as though it’s a necessary part of being a good parent. You could look up “porridge brain” on Google for some good examples of this (e.g. “Since I got pregnant I’ve gone from being “slightly ditsy” to “full-on thicko””). I hope if and when you do become a mother you feel able to challenge these perceptions where you find them!

Second, I do think there is a problem in presenting leaving paid work for motherhood as “more rewarding”. This frequently becomes an excuse to ignore the problems and limitations stay-at-home mothers face, or to question the choices of those mothers of small children who do return to work (and some of them, myself included, do so full-time!). “Rewarding” is a very vague term – apart from anything else, those mothers who earn the “envy” of their ex colleagues certainly aren’t having a financially more rewarding time, and this truly matters in terms of independance and choices for the rest of their lives. In a more general sense, I think how rewarding you find the actual experience of caring for a child in relation to how rewarding the rest of your life is incredibly variable, for men as well as women. There’s a risk of diluting the aptitudes, passions and potential of all mothers into one indistingiushable mass if you suggest that all can find the greatest rewards through the same route. The real issue here for feminists is, I think, the same as it has been for decades – finding a way to enable parents and children to make choices based on the people they are and the relationships they have, not on sweeping assumptions relating to gender and to what mummies and daddies should or shouldn’t do.

Finally, I do agree with you that motherhood doesn’t define women and that you remain the same person. It’s interesting to read this, as today I was volunteering at a mothers’ support group and decided to borrow a copy of Gabrielle Palmer’s “The Politics of Breastfeeding”. Another volunteer commented to me that it was really hard going and “a bit feminist”, so maybe I’d be better off with Steve Biddulph’s “Raising Boys”, what with me having two sons. I said something about not liking agressively gendered advice on childrearing, to which the response was “but it’s a really easy read”. Okay, so I didn’t mention that I have a PhD in literature and don’t find reading popular feminist texts particularly difficult, but what shocked me was the simple assumption that I would, and it isn’t the first time I’ve heard these kind of views expressed at this particular group. In no other environment have I encountered people who know nothing about me instantly deciding certain things might be tough going for my little brain. But somehow it’s the nature of the “mummy culture” to assume that we’re all anti-intellectual, anti-feminist porridge brains, as though this is the only way we can bond. And it’s a real tragedy, since so many mothers grouping together could have so much power to change things if we were to look beyond the myths that belittle as much as they validate.

Sorry, this has turned into a longer response than I intended! Anyhow, thanks for your comments and I hope motherhood will be as much of a pleasure for you as it is for me (not a double-edged comment – it really is amazing, just not in the way the Daily Mail suggests it is!).

I did it my way, by Emma Hadfield

From spinster by choice

You took the words right out of my mouth….. I ‘must be psychologically damaged’, ‘have a hormone imbalance’, ‘be gay’. These are (officially) untrue. Many people (male and yes, many female) can get uncomfortable about deliberate spinsters and some genuinely don’t get it, but they often intrude these diagnosises, which are rather personal things to say (often coming from relative strangers).

Could Britney Spears be the feminist icon of our generation?, by Theadora Jean

From Ziba

Hi – I know that this article was written quite some time ago, but I really enjoyed reading: Could Britney Spears be the feminist icon of our generation? Very well-written & entertaining, even if I didn’t agree with it all.

Deconstructing masculinity, by Sheryl Plant

From Akil Todd Harvey

You succeed in ignoring the sexism that men face and creating new mythologies of manhood.

As long as women allow men to define femininity for them, they have every right to define masculinity for us men. If women seek to define their own sexuality, they should allow men the same respect and allow us to define masculinity for ourselves, thank you. That feminists preconception of men is so negative is the reason that we consider feminism mostly a movement of hate/contempt lacking on the whole any understanding of the other gender

(yes, men are a gender also).

I will contact my congressperson very regularly to make sure they do NOT fund hateful organizations such as this one, whether from tax dollars or tax free dollars.

Many men face great hardships like getting killed at work and other hardships feminists too readily try to ignore while pretending all men are abusers. The bad news for these haters is that men are not your enemy, not even all white men are your enemy even though feminists tend to demonize men, especially white ones, all too often

You might pass of your mean spirited attack on men as somehow based on research, but it is biased research that began with very anti-male (and anti-white) assumptions and then comes out with very anti-male conclusions (what a surprise).

I am a white male supporter of feminism for over 20 years and now that feminism has grown into a full blown anti-equality movement, you can bet your bottom dollar I am 100% against the kind of gender hate that feminist produce (like this article).

Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word, replies

I’m rather surprised that 20 years of supporting feminism could be undermined by reading one opinion piece which is critical of elements of masculinity and draws connections between masculinity in our culture and violence against women. Interpreting a critique of male violence as somehow an attack on men comes across as defensive and reactionary. I suggest a dose of Feminism 101: “if you aren’t acting out misogyny, then it’s not about you”.

‘Feminists are sexist’, by Catherine Redfern

From Jay

I don’t think this article is very discrediting at all. In fact, I have fallen victim to actually doing this, and not realizing how absurd it was.

I am glad this article has made me realize my error so that it is not repeated.

From the hermit

Yes, feminsts are sexist. Or they should not call themselves feminist but humanist.

Feminism has its false starting point. They want to see individual men as a “class”, whatever it means. It is impossible, but necessary point for the feminists, if they want to spread their poisoned ideology.

Too sad that some females still think feminism is some progressive thing, and do not recognize its dangerousness. The truth is: it is bad for men, children, and the worst for women (i mean the REAL feminism).

Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word, replies

I love it when comments on this always-popular article from our archives manage to demonstrate Catherine’s point so aptly. Well done the hermit!

Embarrassing Teenage Bodies advocates cosmetic labiaplasty, by Bellavita

From B

i have to say reading your article really got me thinking about the effects that same program had on me. It made me self doubt the way my lower regions look, i was embaressed to be naked infront of my boyfriend incase he’d see essentially what lindsay got rid of! it made me feel completely and utterly down, i kept questioning why i had to be so different! and even tho the program was aired a while back on c4 everyday i think about it at some stage. they use such ‘normal’ looking vaginas in the program- which dont look like mine! altho im not with my boyfriend now as he’s at university i just feel i cant ge passed this barrier anymore, if i was to split with him how can i truly face being with somone else hu has felt wat hes felt of me. it sacres me and i only got an issue arter watching that progam! somthing needs to be done, a campaign or program to help girls like me! anything! just to make somone feel happy with themselves

Is Tarantino really feminist?, by Emma Wood

From Rebecca

I think this is a really short sighted article, everything you criticise is biased, if only for the fact you don’t even enjoy the horror genre. Upset about someone pleading for their life? It happens in virtually every horror film, that isn’t Tarantino’s fault is it? I’m sure you’d love to pin that on him.

Why review a horror movie at all then? Purely to attack his work? It is of course easy to attack a man and say he’s sexist and objectifying, but not every woman in the world wishes to be stuck in a hijab. You talk as thought he’s exploiting the actresses but they agree to do it and Tarantino is known as being very willing to co-operate with his stars, changing scenes and dialogue drasticly to keep them happy, if they had a problem with it they should of suggested a way around it. However, it seems to be something you’re pinning your hang ups on, you don’t seem to care about women as a whole, only to meet your own agenda.

The rape thing?

As a victim of rape I wouldn’t be offended, people joke about absolutely every subject in the world and should be allowed to, joking about things stops them from being absolutely terrifying. I feel I must apologise for not wanting to be a victim all my life when clearly you do, humour can be a way to move on for some people, who are you to deny them that?

It’s easy to say Kill Bill is anti-feminist but I don’t see how, your only relevant point was that there are people who get caught in the crossfire. It is a film about revenge, revenge is messy and people do get stuck in the middle, he was portraying the reality of it and as far as I’m concerned, I would much rather see a powerful female character in a film than yet another Bridget Jones, desperate to settle down, get a husband and have babies.

Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word, replies

I wonder if Tarantino would describe Kill Bill as realism?!

From Sarah

This article is bollocks.

“Fantasy revenge is hardly a solution to real life violence.”

I forgot that Tarantino is meant to solve every problem in the world himself.

Mooncup, by Ailsa

From Celine

I would like to make a comment regarding TSS. The article states that “With the Mooncup there is no worry about TSS.” This just simply isn’t true. Whilst there are very limited cases of TSS having ever been associated with the use of a menstrual cup it does NOT rule the risk of TSS out completely as ANYTHING inserted into the vagina area can contribute towards towards this. Every woman should be aware of the symptoms of TSS and the Mooncup website clearly states these for users of their product. It is important that information concerning medical issues are given as fact and as clearly as possible in order not to mislead or offer conflicting information. This is not a slur on the author of the article in any way and perhaps this information could be made somewhat clearer to those new/younger users who may be at more risk of TSS.

Right-wing press jumps on opportunity to condemn women who have casual/non-vanilla sex

From lauren Johnson

I’m responding to “Right-wing press jumps on opportunity to condemn women who have casual/non-vanilla sex”, which was from ages ago – December 2007 in fact.

I subscribed to your blog some time ago, so searched your archives today when yet another story about Amanda Knox featured in the papers. It is the eve of her trial and, of course, I really hope the conviction is the right one for Meredith Kercher’s killer, whoever that may be, bringing resolution for all the individuals and families involved.

However, two years have passed since the event and I am still utterly disgusted by the media coverage of this case, and of Knox in particular. How is it acceptable that a young woman has been so vilified and demonised when her guilt or innocence is still uncertain? In cases of murder it is perhaps not uncommon for the accused to be treated in this way, yet I have never seen a picture of Sollecito, her co-accused. I have never read an article about Knox in which either a) the fact she owned condoms and a vibrator, or b) her (assumed) sexual promiscuity were not mentioned. Frankly, it makes me despair of modern Europe that these two facts have so readily been linked to an assumption of guilt on her part. The same presumption has never been made of the MAN who is accused of the same crime. Why is female sexuality still so instantly associated with deviance, violence and even murder? Please tell me that I am not the only one to have been so offended by this reporting! And also please tell me there is something I can do to protest against it, because for two years I have felt impotent with anger about it.

Thank you.

General Comments

From Caroline Griffin

Just wanted to congratulate The F Word for what it does and wish you all the best in the coming decade. The issues you raise and discuss are extremely pertinent to life in 21st century UK. As a woman, living in what I experience to be a sexist system, driven by consumerism and capitalist globalization, you give me hope. Thank you for existing and may The F Word prosper and grow.

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