Comments from March 2010

An outpouring of support around vaginal pain and the phallocentrism of the medical establishment; reactions to the problematic 'Women' documentaries on BBC4; women in punk and the riot grrrl legacy, and much more concerned commenters this month

, 15 April 2010

Comments on last month’s features and reviews

Writing women back into punk, by Cazz Blase

From meg

I’ve just read two articles from the march 2010 edition and want to say – just bloody fantastic.

The women in punk series is coming up so well. I’ve been waiting a long time for this story to be written (I was 21 in 1979, and while there were plenty of women in punk bands in Australia, the histories being written have yet to do them justice.) Today’s article was a pleasure to read, thank you. And the link to Shocking Pink is a gift! It’s great to see.

There have been some histories written lately of Australian punk and some material is making its way into galleries. here’s some examples:

http://www.uqp.uq.edu.au/search_results.php

http://www.art-museum.unimelb.edu.au/

and an earlier book

http://www.innercitysound.com.au/

As far as I have seen, the women who played in the bands are not ignored in these accounts – but I have not yet seen anything yet that places their experience in a context that considers what it was like being a woman in those days and how the punk movement created new images and options. I was there, and I remember!

I have to say though, I haven’t really looked and I could be mistaken. I do think it would be great to do a study that interviewed some of the women who were playing then, to hear their take on the story and make sense of it in context.

When your series of articles is done, I’d like to see them published as a collection or archived somewhere they will be easily found by young scholars.

Cazz Blase, author of the article, replies

Hi Meg,

Thanks for this, it’s very telling that you say that there were plenty of women in bands in Australia, but that they have been written out of the histories there as well: this shows that it isn’t just a problem for the UK and US, and would suggest it’s a wider problem. I’d be interested in further debate on that…

I shall have a look at the links you’ve included here, I don’t know an awful lot about Australian punk aside from The Saints, so it would be interesting to find out more (Canada is another area I really should investigate more, as I like Martha and the Muffins but feel there must have been more…)

I think you might find the other, particularly the later, bits of the series interesting in this respect as well, but I don’t want to give too much away… I just hope you’ll carry on reading. It’s really nice to get such positive feedback.

Painful vagina? Your poor husband!, by S

From rose_hasty

What an enlightening article. Thank you so much for your words and

honesty. I’m horrified at the way you have been treated and absolutely in awe of you strength of conviction. What a fantastic woman, a role model to us all!

From Maybug

I know it’s none of my business, and I’m sure S has had plenty of advice from people before and I certainly don’t mean to imply that S has to do something about this in order to be able to have penetrative if she enjoys her sex life as it is, but I felt I should share that my best friend had something very much like this, finding penetrative sex excruciatingly

painful, until she discovered she was allergic to toilet paper. She stopped wiping and started washing with water and the pain went away. I don’t know how common this is or if it’s anything to do with S’s condiction but I thought should share it anyway.

From Caddy C.

I want to thank you so much for the article written on painful vaginal intercourse! I have experienced this myself, though I’ve never been diagnosed with any medical condition.

Doctors continually told me that there was nothing wrong with me

physically, so it must be a psychological problem. It wasn’t, and it isn’t.

I have a wonderful relationship with a caring partner who has never tried

to pressure me into doing anything I feel uncomfortable with. We are

committed to each other and enjoy a great sex life. But this problem

damaged my sexual identity – I too felt like “something was wrong with me” because I couldn’t have “normal” sex without pain. I didn’t want to have sex because I knew that it might hurt – or might not – and that’s

incredibly hurtful to a person’s self-esteem. My partner was also hurt

because he felt that he could never touch me without fearing that he’d hurt me. He still treats me gingerly sometimes, even though the problem has largely resolved itself.

My partner has been incredibly supportive, and I credit this to his sense

of self, which doesn’t depend on cultural expectations of masculinity (for

the most part). He wants to have penetrative sex, but anything that hurts me immediately causes him to lose any sexual drive and he is overcome with guilt. Surely this should be the normal response? That if your partner is hurting, you don’t go through with intercourse knowingly hurting them.

Somehow, I also feel that if he had been the one dealing with painful sex, doctors would have treated him differently. I was never told that

intercourse is painful for a relatively large percentage of women. That

many women experience what I did – I was left to feel abnormal until I came to terms with the fact that sex is what you make it.

From gadgetgal

This is an amazing article and it really spoke to me. Although I don’t

suffer from vulvodynia, when I started to (try) to have sex it took me

nearly 2 years to actually have penetrative sex because I found it too

painful. I was too ashamed to ever really find out why. And even after I

started to have it quite frankly it did nothing for me. Just because of

society and patriarchal pressure I had to hide it for years before I felt

able to be honest about it. Like you I’ve had to work at other ways rather than vaginal sex, and my sex life is a lot better now. The recent

controversies over the “g-spot” just brought it all back again, though, and the obsession with anything penetrative to give sexual pleasure – most women don’t like to talk about it but when they have done to me it’s pretty much always to say that this single model of sex doesn’t apply to them, and they feel somehow “wrong”. And we shouldn’t – our sexual lives can be fulfilling however we need or want to go about it.

And as for the doctors you consulted all I can say is they fall right into the stereotypical way they treat men and women differently in medicine – I’ve read a few articles over the last couple of years highlighting how women on the whole are offered pain relief less frequently than men, and more often pain relief is substituted with sedatives instead. We don’t feel pain any less, ours is simply not taken as seriously, or, as you pointed out, it’s considered to be more emotional than physical. It’s also really disgusting how our sexual problems are also seen as being lesser than men’s, how they will get taken seriously whereas we just have to grit our teeth and suffer with the “discomfort”, i.e. PAIN. I really hate it when they use that word as a substitute, it seems to belittle the actual feeling, as though we’re being hysterical in some way if we say it’s actual pain!!!

You’re very brave to write this, and very strong to see things as they are in the face of such overwhelming opposition from so many different corners. Stay strong, and keep enjoying yourself – you and your partner being happy together and pain free are the most important things!

From Chai Latte

Sing it, sister! You could’ve told my story just as easily. I went through a lot of the same crap when I was first diagnosed. I got tired of the doctor’s BS (after some horrible gyno experiences).

I was fortunate in that my VV really only flares up around That Time of The Month *thunderclap*. So I don’t have it as bad as a lot of women.

That said, I can’t use tampons–they hurt like hell. I sometimes think sticking a flaming popsicle stick up my cooter would hurt less!

I’m happy for you that you’ve reached a good place with your partner. My past two relationships have ended in part because penetration hurts me, and I’m afraid now that any physical intimacy will lead to the expectation of penetrative sex.

Now that’s where you get creative–there’s a TON of other stuff you can do, which it seems that you’ve discovered. (Who wants to feel NOTHING while they’re having sex? Are the people who say that even using their frontal lobes?)

Yeah, there’s a lot of masculine identity tied up in penetrative sex. I

think that’s crap–people should do what they enjoy, and what works for

them as a couple. Yeah, I’ve felt my boyfriends’ disappointment. And yet? I don’t blame myself like I used to. I can’t help what my body does, no more than any other person with chronic pain can.

From Anonymous

In response to your article on Vulvar vesticulitis: I suffer from

Interstitial Cystitis, diagnosed this year after six years of pain, which

is a condition which also causes extreme pain upon penetrative sex and can completely sympathise with your experiences. My own have included five different referrals to gynaecologists, despite my insistence that I am suffering from a urological difficulty, referral to a pain clinic which will teach me to ‘live with my pain’ and ‘stop searching for a pointless diagnosis’, enforced psycho-sexual counselling (during which my counsellor insisted that my husband and I could certainly not claim to be ‘fully happy’ with our relationship, precisely because we were unable to have sex – again, an inability to differentiate between cause and effect.) However, the issue that makes me most angry, and one which you do well to raise, is the medical establishment’s inability to accept that I may know my own body better than they do. Six years ago, when I first began to suffer with this condition I countered my GP’s lack of knowledge with thorough research into possible causes of the pain I was experiencing. As a PhD educated woman I am well used to research and after doing so suggested that my pain could be caused by interstitial cystitis. I was told that I couldn’t have that as it was a) a ‘serious’ condition and a cause of serious pain (this is despite my frequent assertions that I was indeed in serious pain) and b) that this was a physical condition whereas mine was clearly psychological,

despite no physical investigations having taken place. Only after six

years of insisting that my pain has a physical cause, and my own insistence on what my gynaecologist called a ‘pointless procedure’ has the pitted, scarred and haemorragic inside of my bladder been finally seen and a reluctant diagnosis of interstitial cystitis finally been given, along with a recommendation for appropriate (but still awaited) treatment. I feel quite sure that a man of the same educational background complaining of constant urological pain would not have been subjected to the same treatment.

From Anon

I was born with a particularly small anatomy. So odd, that when I have new gynecological exams the doctor gasps and sends the interns in for a look. Besides being embarassing and sex extremely painful without proper conditions, most men see it as a plus. When really it makes sex incredibly unequal. I have also come across the awful human every now and again who purposefully oversteps what I tell him makes it painful, in order to feel ‘big and masculine’ (i.e. making me cry out in pain.) Pretty sick. Sex is considered animalistic and essentially women/men roles, but I lose all attraction to someone who doesn’t take my personal specification into consideration.

From Sue Henderson

In response to the article on vulvar vestibulitis, I just wanted to say

that I totally support the writer. Yes, I feel some sympathy for her

husband but, as she so rightly says, he’s not the one in pain. She’s been

able to find other ways of exploring her sexuality and enjoying sex with

her partner and all credit to her.

I do have some understanding of the issues surrounding not being exactly as society says we should be. Some years ago I had vaginismus when having smear tests and my gynaecologist made me feel it was my fault. It was only when I saw her at a women’s centre that she suggested the speculum being warmed before being inserted. This worked and I always insist on it now, but I’d been made to feel I was making a fuss about nothing previously. Let’s face it, a cold metal instrument in the vulva doesn’t exactly make you feel good! It’s made me learn, as your writer has, that you can trust your own symptoms and your own intuition about your body. The medical profession has to work round our needs, not expect our bodies to act as they say insist they should.

Good luck to your contributor. She seems to have a good man there and if he can just get hold of the idea that sex doesn’t need to be penetrative he’ll be the ideal bloke. All respect and regard to her, she’s deserved better for a long time and I hope she manages to achieve the change she wants to see.

From Clare C.

Excellent article. Thank you for writing about such a painful & personal issue. Your distressing treatment at the hands of the medical profession & other ‘experts’ reminded me of accounts documented in Sheila Jeffrey’s (1990) Anticlimax. It’s really disturbing to see how women’s personal experiences are still so casually disregarded & dismissed… Outrageous.

From maggie

I wanted to thank you for writing this. I’ve not been wanting sexual

penetration for some time now and couldn’t get my partner to see that other ways could be possible. It has resulted in much dissatisfaction on his part. I think that at some point in a woman’s life penetration is

unthinkable.

The doctors you mention just want an easy life with no reaching out to the blue sky. All I can say is their sex life must be dull and monotonous!

What techniques do you use to get you to come together without penetrative sex? I’d be very interested to know.

Many thanks once more for being so honest.

From H

“It’s almost as though as long as you are pregnancy and disease free, nothing else – such as enjoyment or comfort – matters.”

This really struck a chord with me and very much reflects my experience of sex education (and I only left school a couple of years ago). Not that I think it’s the role of teachers to explain how to have an orgasm, but I doubt the clitoris was ever mentioned in class, sex ever described as something that was pleasurable for women or non-penetrative sex discussed. School sex education seems to be more about instilling fear than anything else! Thank god for the internet – I can’t imagine going through puberty without it.

The comment in the article about being patronised, despite being a student at a top university, chimed with my experience too. Doctors have asked me what I study, found out it’s arts and humanities, and then gone on to totally patronise me. I have A levels in maths, chemistry and biology so understanding science is not totally beyond my ability, but the ‘two cultures’ divide clearly persists. The different attitudes towards female and male sexual dysfunction described in the article were also very telling. I almost wish that every student had to do a compulsory module in sociological theory so that they would be more aware of the ideologies behind their thought. It’s that ‘two cultures’ again.

I’m always glad to see a broader range of issues to do with sex getting some attention, and this article is really informative and well-written. Thanks to the author for sharing her experiences.

From Kay

Thank you so much for writing this. I have been suffering and hating myself for years for just the reasons you describe. It’s nice to hear I’m not alone, and it’s nice to have others develop some understanding of this.

From Anonymous

Thank you S for sharing your experiences – more of us need to do this so here goes. I was diagnosed with Vaginismus 18 months ago. This manifests as a physiological reaction to penetration rather than being a permanent condition like Vulvar Vestibulitis or Endometriosis (which can cause scarring inside the vagina which may then make penetration painful.)

With a vaginistic response, the muscles in the vagina tighten when

penetration is attempted, or even imminent, preventing penetration or

making it painful or uncomfortable. It has a range of causes – some are

unknown; some are to do with the experience of assault; others may be to do with other psychological issues relating to sense of self, like anxiety.

In my case it is in part to do with psychological issues relating to the

way in which my sexual self has developed over the years but is also,

crucially, a physical reaction to a traumatic experience of an invasive

medical procedure I had when I was a child (which in the cyclical nature of all things to do with the psyche, has had a large impact on my development of sexual self, naturally).

For the last 18 months I have worked with a brilliant psycho-sexual

therapist; work which has involved therapy in the traditional sense as well as exercises like S describes, doing pelvic floor exercises with dilators and perenial massage with anesthetic lubrication. I see this as taking control of a condition rather than being responsible for the situation in the first place, but it’s hard sometimes to remember that when you feel so frustrated and inept, which is why S’s article was so up-lifting.

It’s a long process, and I still have some way to go, but I have recently turned my thoughts to the way in which I was treated by the medical professionals I saw as a child. I am very fortunate in that as an adult, unlike S, I was referred directly to this fantastic therapist by a GP who took my sobbing confessional of the difficulty I had facing sex seriously.

At the age of 9 however, I was very much “done to” with no thought to the fact that the procedures could have a future impact on a developing sexuality. My parents were given little information and no indication that this was other than the normal procedure for the symptoms I was presenting. It has since been suggested by other medical professionals that it was not, (one even expressed shock at my story) even for a case back in the early 90s.

My partner and I talk a lot – as S says, if you can range all over the

body, there’s lots to do and to find. My partner even confessed to being

quite glad when I nervously suggested we suspend penile penetrative sex for a while. He had found it stressful in the end, affecting his sexual

response too, and was grateful to let go of the pressure we had put on

ourselves to always aim for full intercourse.

There are so many reasons a woman may find sex difficult and I encourage every single one who does to break the silence and get talking about it – to your partner, to your friends, and to medical professionals. I hope that if you encounter the attitudes S did, you will feel emboldened by her article and this comment to seek advice from others, and to help change the medical profession one step at a time, with us. You will find answers, solutions and a new enjoyment of our own individual sexuality which we each deserve.

From anonymous

I just wanted to thank you so much for writing your article. I have

a chronic pain condition that’s not genital but is more common in women

than men and I totally share your anger and despair at not being taken

seriously by the patriarchal medical establishment. In particular I was

really struck by the cruelty of your treatment by that female GP as my most cruel treatment was also by a female GP who among other things, refused to support my need for time off work by saying in a judgemental voice “you’re young and you’ve been off work for three years” – as if this has anything to do with my actual physical condition which she obviously thought I was exaggerating! Anyway, our conditions are obviuosly different but I still very much appreciated your article and I want to thank you for it.

S, author of the article, replies

I’ve been really pleased and touched that so many people responded to this article. I can’t emphasise enough how grateful I am for the messages of support and I’m so delighted that people have found the article helpful. My husband was also really pleased and kept saying he was very proud of me. It’s also definitely taken away for me some of the shame or stigma that I’ve felt about this condition, so writing for The F-Word has been a very positive experience! Thank you. Having got to a place now where I’m pain-free 90% of the time, I have actually just asked to be referred back to the hospital for some psycho-sexual therapy. I mulled over this for a while but figured I would like the opportunity to have a ‘normal’ sexual condition restored to me if it is possible. Having said that, this is my very last attempt and my husband and I are now pretty happy that whatever the outcome is we’ll be fine with it.

I would suggest that anyone wanting further information on this condition (or related conditions) have a look at the Vulval Pain Society website.

From penhaligon

I just wanted to say how much I can relate to this article. I had never heard of vulvar vestibulitis, but have myself been diagnosed with

vaginismus, which is a psychlogically based condition that also causes so

much pain that penetrative sex is pretty much impossible.

It affects my identity and security, and has been the source of a lot of pain and frustration for me. I’m a student, and before I moved for uni my doctor had referred me to be treated for this, but it took so long that I was in another city before it could begin. Whilst here I’ve had to go to a new doctor, who also said she would refer me to a gynaecologist, from which I’ve heard nothing yet, and will soon be going back to my hometown for the summer. I wonder if I’ll ever get round to being properly seen by someone who can help me.

Since being diagnosed I have been with a few different guys, none of which the condition has been easy with. Its has ranged from someone who knows pausing every thirty seconds to go “am i hurting you? is this okay?” to guys who don’t know about my problem hurting me (one once commented “its like you don’t even LIKE sex, I don’t get it, orgasms are lovely.”) I have yet to tell the guy i am seeing at the moment about it, but after doing this three times before, I can’t imagine it’ll be all that fun.

Anyway this has turned into a “hear my sob story” which wasn’t my

intention, I just want to say that I empathise completely with your

situation.

From Hannah

I loved this article. Growing up I always had a niggling feeling that boys got a better deal sex-wise, at least in the biological sence. It’s only

recently through studying the sociology of health I’ve come to realise how truly patriarchal the structur of our health service and medical

professionals are, something I think your article highlights perfectly.

Another part of me thinks it’s blindness- male anatomy is simple, at least much simpler than women’s. I don’t think men necessarily think about the need for such a rounded view, which is part of the problem but not necessarily the cause. I think activism ought to focus on this issue and better, more rounded sexual education, as I don’t see any other way that we will achieve equality.

From K

This article rings many bells with me.

I am almost 25 years old, and over the course of several relationships in the past seven years I have failed to ever have penetrative sex.

For me it is not a pain problem, it is a muscle problem. I can’t relax. I am literally unable to be entered by anything – forget tampons, fingers

anything. I think now it will never happen.

And it is devastating. All of my relationships have failed because when I get to this stage, I run away.

This is because I cannot handle one more person laughing at me.

I get (extreme!) fulfilment out of what I can do. And so far I have

fobbed the men off in my life by saying I am a virgin and I want to wait.

Some times I am incredibly sad as I would have quite happily lost my virginity at younger age, then other times I think ‘what a gift’ as I do

not have the same problems as my friends do looking back and thinking ‘he was gross, why did I do that!’.

But at the moment I am incredibly sad as I am head over heels in love with my best friend, a person I know in my heart of hearts is my soul mate, and I can not be with him in a way I really really want to be.

I know that if I told him he would be understanding and kind and gentle as he has always been.

However I am also not strong enough to tell him that being with me means never being able to have penetrative sex again. I do not feel right forcing him to make a decision like that, even though I know my problem is not my fault.

So our relationship has an expiry date. This makes me sadder than I can ever explain because I have never met anyone, male or female or castrated cat who understands me so well. I never believed in any of that ‘theres one perfect person out there for you’ crap until the very strange turn of events that took us into each others lives.

And I totally agree with the lack of caring from the medical community. I last mentioned it to a female GP a few months ago and was basically told to ‘suck it up’, grin and bear it, and apparently she was mortified that I had even brought it up. ‘It is hard for everyone their first time’ she said stammering. I felt like screaming ‘HOW MANY BLOODY FIRST TIMES DO I HAVE TO NOT HAVE BEFORE YOU CAN TELL ME SOMETHING USEFUL!!!’

All the doctors I have ever spoken to have been female. Perhaps a male doctor would actually be the answer as I could appeal to their male libedo.

From meg

The article on vaginal pain was excellent. I hear in it a clear voice of indignation and common sense, beseiged by and struggling with a cultural environment that still regards penetrative sex as ‘real’ sex and everything else as not quite there. I would say to the author – the issues you are discussing are familiar (although our pain is less than yours I think, I don’t wish to underestimate your suffering) to women who embrace menopause and ageing without medicating ourselves with hormones. How bloody obvious does it have to be, that penetrative sex is part of our lives and experience but it’s far from the whole thing. And as your author so correctly observed, taking it out of the picture creates room for other kinds of intimacy that are generous and fulfilling.

(I’d say also, that choosing to manage your fertility without recourse to contraceptives brings the same sorts of challenge and benefits. It’s not so hard to learn to know when you’re ovulating, and to do baby-making sex only when you’re not. What the billings method doesn’t tell you is that the taste of your vaginal mucus is a clear indicator of where you are at in your cycle. Try it every day for a couple of months and see if it is as marked for you as it was for me.)

So thank you for this article, too. It’s good to hear this story told, and it’s so sad that the woman telling it continues to feel an obligation to

endure pain and do sex ‘properly’ in order to be a ‘real woman’. As she

says – ”if it hurts, I’m not going to do it!!’ How can it be that anyone

sees this as a problem!

The author’s husband sounds like a fine chap, but calling him a saint for his forbearance is as patronising as it is to gush over a man who takes responsibility for looking after his small children. This is not behaving like a paragon. This is behaving like a human being. Some men do, and good for them. These are the partners we cherish and deserve.

From Clueless

I am a GP and after almost a year of painful and then impossible

intercourse, used the internet to self-diagnose.

I agree that if this were about male sexual dysfunction things would be very different, the pharmaceutical industry would be rubbing their grubby hands with glee.

Unfortunately in the UK there are shortages in stocks of the anaesthetic gel commonly prescribed to treat this condition. Why? Well the gel is cheap and has been off patent for years. Basically at the moment there’s no money to be made in treating vulvodynia.

From Sonja

I am also a sufferer of Vulvar Vestibulitis, and I find that there is a

high level of psychological influence for me. But again, the first doctor I

went to about it was rather unhelpful. It was only when I went to the local Sexual Health Centre that I got a diagnosis. The nurse was really helpful, and gave me a few treatment options.

When I’m able to relax, I’m usually fine, but if I’m tense or nervous at all (like when I’m anticipating the pain), then penetrative sex is a

no-go.

I have also found Cranberry juice helpful. It takes quite a lot to make it do anything, but I did find an improvement.

Women, a review by Charlotte Cooper and Jess McCabe

From Frankie

BBC’s ‘Women’ – yet another documentary about the WLM invisibilising and subsuming Black, lesbian and working class women and the international context in which we developed. This matters not because of head-counts or realistic representation but the centrality of lesbianism to feminism in its challenge to the patriarchal control of women by men, families, religions and states. Instead we got trivialising Q & As. Feminist analyses of race not even mentioned and the failure to even identify May Hobbs of the Night Cleaners strike said it all re class.

Still angry after all these years!

From del lagrace volcano

THANK you for pointing out the erasure of feminists of colour, trans women and lesbians. I hope that someday that ‘mainstream’ feminists will start to look outside themselves.

From Alex

My partner and I noticed that women of colour were marginalised, as were any mothers not in a monogamous relationship with a man. An even more serious omission was that of working class women. Her camera observed lapdancers from a distance but their voice was not heard. There was no real acknowledgement of any debates within feminism, particularly current ones. If Vanessa Engle’s aim was to produce a satirical piece showing that feminism is the province of white middle class women, she succeeded. If she wanted to produce a meaningful overview of feminist politics historical and current, she failed miserably. Compared to her earlier “Lefties”, this was a dismal effort.

From bloo

At first I too was disappointed by the white, middle-classness of the

programmes, especially the second one on mothers. But on reflection I think Vanessa Engle deliberately chose to talk to couples in this very narrow, privileged social group because it’s the only one where women can (indeed have ever been able to) make a choice whether to work or not, and what she wanted to get them to talk about was the fact of having made a choice. In the end, each of the women who stayed at home did in fact identify that what set her apart from a 1950s housewife ws that she chose to be at home, and could have chosen not to. That is in itself a feminist success! I thought the most interesting couple were the Lancashire academics, imagine a bloke who actually notices that something in the house needs replacing! In my experience however willing a guy is to sort something out, it takes a woman to notice that it needs to be done.

From Cycleboy

“For all the advances women made in the workplace, (men) actually did little or nothing to help (at home).”

I am frequently angered by members of my sex who fail to take their share of responsibility for domestic jobs. However, the flip-side of that coin is my despair at the women (see Fiona Millar’s comments about Alastair Campbell in the Radio Times) who continue to put up with it.

From Michelle Gordon

This is a good review of the programme I agree with much of what was said. i feel slightly harsh judging the engles documentary as she is limited by only 3 programmes an hour long. It has some high points the first episode being quite brilliant. But i have to say the second programme angered me so much. Where were the working class women who (as your review says) almost certainly have a different experience to the exclusively white middle class straight women interviewed.

It almost feels that there was a patronising view that the question of

whether working class women define themselves as feminists would be too much for them. They wouldnt be able to articulate a view. I believe Engle would have got more informative views from those women even if they didn’t get bogged down in the labels game. Infact she may have found that not needing to conform to the ‘right on’ label may have made their comments more interesting.

Also i spent the whole of the second programme questioning whether the success of the feminist movement came down to who cleaned the bathroom and who chose what washing powder a family use.

Also where were the young women? I am sure there has been a shift of some proportion between the 40 something generation and the 20 something generation and again the contrast between feminist labels and equality in the home/relationship may have been surprising.

As a trade union organiser doing a lot of work on equal pay, i have to question why division of domestic duties in the home warranted a third of the time when progress and lack of it in the work place was not covered. I felt that there was an element of the thinking behind the program which seemed to perpetuate the view that feminist either dont like men or sex or dont like doing all the hoovering!

In conclusion, i think the programme was useful and i thoroughly enjoyed the first installment however (recognising the limitation of time) i wish there could have been a wider analysis.

Jess McCabe, co-author of the review, replies

I don’t buy that the marginalisation in the three documentaries was a result of not having enough time; after all, any documentary will have a limit in terms of length, but that’s no reason to fill the time available exclusively or almost exclusively with middle class cis white women’s stories and voices.

From Abraham Mehti Anthony

In terms of the documentary, I must say that never once did it occur to me that they had left out a major section of the movement. Having said that, you did have a valid point here. To me the documentary has been an eye opener. I certainly feel I have learnt a lot about this topic.

The questions that I would like to ask is where do we go from here? What still needs to be changed?

Aren’t there a lot of nations which haven’t been blessed with such

movements? There are two other documentaries that might be interesting to watch Women, Weddings War and Me and there is also one where a woman visits Congo. I don’t know if these documentaries truly reflect the reality in those nations and so I am interested to see what you have to say about them.

Jess McCabe, co-author of the review, replies

There is and has been so much out there, that it’s hard to even make suggestions on where to begin on clearing up the misconception that feminism is and has been confined to specific countries. I think you’d struggle to find a country with no feminists in it or women’s rights activism going on!

From gadgetgal

I watched the whole series and I have to agree with the reviews here – I was disappointed in it as it seemed like a bit of a wasted opportunity, but am a little glad that it at least got feminism some air time!

I think maybe the title was the most misleading part – it was called

“Women”, we were told it was a look at the changing face of feminism in the UK, but then it turned out it was actually feminism in relation to the

white middle-class family only. Maybe if the title had been something like “Feminism and the Family” and it had been touted as a sort of sociological glimpse into how it had changed it (or not) as opposed to some kind of charted history of the movement (not the documentary maker’s fault, by the way, it was the BBC who seemed to get that one confused) then it would have made more sense to me. Instead all I was left with was a vague sense of exclusion.

I had been hoping for something either a little more inclusive and

up-to-the-minute, or something with a bit more of an historical perspective – I got neither.

Putting aside what I felt was missing, I will say some of the interviews were interesting, especially in the first episode, and I’m glad that it wasn’t particularly sugar-coated, even when I disagreed with the opinions, because it gave a better picture of the state of affairs at the moment. In the third episode some of the views of the parents were quite appalling, and it had an interesting interview with two young feminists who found that the groups on offer didn’t have what they felt they needed in order to join any.

But, on the whole, it was a shame that I feel that I couldn’t recommend it for people who aren’t already familiar with feminism. I was kind of hoping it would be something I could watch with my husband to give him a better idea of what feminism is, but I don’t think this series was particularly representative of it, and it didn’t have enough history in it to act as a documentary to explain it.

Oh, and as a side note, the obsession she seemed to have with catering was a little weird – she kept asking them questions about it, as though it was important for some strange reason, but all it succeeded in doing was to make me think that I definitely COULDN’T recommend this show to any male friends I have who are already a little on the sexist side – because of course all women are really interested in is cooking and catering! Didn’t really do us any favours with that one…

From Becky

I only saw the programme 3 of the Women series and agree with many points already raised in your article. I found it very frustrating that the interviewer insisted on asking all the women whether or not they were angry. It just reinforces an outdated and unhelpful stereotype that all feminists are angry women – annoying!

From Lucy Anthony

I absolutely agree with the points made in your articlle. I missed the

first of these three programmes, but all through the second I was staggered at how limited the class representation was. Everyone was middle class, which begs the question whether working class women are above or below feminism. Above, in that they have always had the ‘right’ (ie the obligation) to work , and ‘below’ in that their type of work (often menial, clerical at best) is not considered worthy of a mention, because it is not a ‘career’. I am not sure what I think.

I am interested by the work of Catherine Hakim (a sociologist at LSE) who opines, to vastly oversimplify, that ‘water finds its own level’ and that women who choose lower grade jobs do so for choice. I wish I could believe she was right.

The third installment of the documentary frankly reminded me of why I left UCL women’s group. I am very unhappy with women only groups, and I dislike the way the LFN distorts facts in order to push their agenda. For example, women are only half as likely as men to fall victim to ‘stranger’ attacks, and I dislike the ‘misdirection of adrenalin’ of the Reclaim the Night marches. The LFN is well meaning, but I can’t help feeling that their tunnel vison is the reason that a lot of feminists are not taken seriously.

From sianmarie

Argh – where to start!

i really enjoyed the first episode despite the shocking omission of BME

women and context. However it was inspirational for me to hear the voices of women I admire such as Marilyn French and Susan Brownmiller. But why no mention of Gloria Steinem? Or, ffs, Betty Friedan? I know she had her faults but she invented NOW! She was incredibly influential.

I missed the Mothers episode so caught up with the series last night for the Activist episode and was horrifically disappointed and frankly very

angry.

I cannot understand or believe that Engles did not talk about the feminist movement across the country and only focused on LFN. This is not a criticism of LFN, but to just focus on one group was completely absurd. For starters, by only focusing on LFN the impression was given that the modern feminist movement is a small group of white, middle class women living in London. This is simply not true. The feminist movement is all over the UK and from all different backgrounds. Although I don’t expect Engles to go to every town in the UK and talk to every feminist, to not even mention activism in other cities was so rude. At the time she was filming this doc I was writing in the Guardian about the rise of feminist networks in the UK. I live in Bristol and am a member of BFN – I could easily have just interviewed women from Bristol, but I didn’t! I interviewed women from all over the UK because, just as feminists don’t just live in Bristol, they don’t just live in London.

The other problem of just focusing on LFN is that it makes it look as if

all feminists in the UK agree with or are ‘governed’ by LFN. No disrespect

to Finn McKay who I admire as an activist and passionate advocate of

women’s rights, but to describe her as ‘the political brain behind the

feminist movement’ was ridiculous. She may be the political brain behind

LFN, but that is LFN, not the feminists all over the UK! Nor did she ‘start

Reclaim the Night’. Again, please don’t take this as a criticism of Finn or

LFN as I’m sure they didn’t and wouldn’t describe themselves in those

terms. It just made me and I’m sure other feminists all over the UK feel

invisible.

I also felt Engles’ attitude and questions was appalling. Asking women about why they painted their fingernails, surely we’re not still on this issue! She repeatedly asked the women whether they’re angry people – as if there is something wrong with women and that they’re not justifiably angry about the gross inequalities women face. And why did she keep talking to their parents – a if these women were angry children and not autonomous, independent women? I cannot imagine this happening with any other documentary about any other movement.

So, all in all, i was grossly disappointed.

From Alexandra

Watched the activist episode last night. I was genuinely appalled at how white and middle class it all was. There is more range of people and

backgrounds involved in grass-routes activism here in Yorkshire, than was portrayed in the most multi-cultural city on UK! However, the producer was dreadful, and had not seemed to conduct comprehensive and qualitative research. Inane questions about nail varnish. Although, she only managed to gain inane answers.

From Andrea

It’s really a comment on the programme about the LFN – it was very

irritating when the documentary maker kept asking the women she was

interviewing if the were ‘angry’! And she seemed to focus a great deal on

the issue of preparing food (women’s work) for the event, rather than the issues that were raised about the event itself.

We were both quite dissappointed in the programme and felt it wouldn’t

have done anything positive to encourage women into or back to feminism.

Adventures in self-publishing, by Deborah Withers

From Cazz Blase

This is a really powerful article, about a sorely under-discussed topic. I was very pleased to see that someone was discussing it, and I think Debi explored the pitfalls, strengths, and limitations of POD very well. I was also pleased that she had recognised the political potential. I was hoping someone would.

One more point: I found this when researching the piece on Persephone books… one disadvantage of POD is that it enables publishers to claim books are still in print when, for all intents and purposes, they ain’t. If the publishers in question really were making the titles in question available in that way, it would be fair enough, but often they aren’t, they just use it as a way of getting out of yielding the rights on a long out of print book to a publisher like Persephone, who are seeking to re-publish it.

Thanks for a really interesting, powerful read.

Women’s Liberation Movement @ 40 – Reflections, a review by Catherine Redfern

From radical feminist

Below is the text of a leaflet circulated at the WLM[at]40 conference at Ruskin College, Oxford, UK,

(http://www.wlm40conference.org.uk/booking.html).

Class, childcare and the Women’s Liberation Movement.

Anticapitalist feminists have written a letter to the organisers of the

wlm[at]40 conference, raising concerns about the price of the event and the lack of childcare at the conference.

According to the call for papers

“The aim of this conference is to create a space for debate about the

issues facing feminists today and celebration of feminist work. WLM[at]40 will capture the energy, vibrancy and vision of the first [Women’s Liberation Movement conference held at Ruskin College in 1970], building on the foundations that it laid. This conference will reflect on the historical significance of the 1970 (and later) conferences, share information and skills for contemporary feminist activism, create and celebrate feminist art and look to the future of feminism(s). Speakers will cut across boundaries of age, class, location and sexuality and voices that were originally absent will now be heard.”

It is hard to imagine how a conference that is so prohibitively expensive will cut across class boundaries.

To be working class often means that we do not have access to the funds to do the things we would like to do and many things are put out of our reach.

As women living under capitalism, all our work is undervalued and

underpaid and we receive no income for the work as carers we often do. Many of us in the UK are dependent on paltry state benefits and those of us who are in paid work are facing increasing strain on our already stretched budgets.

The feminisation of poverty is something that we are all aware of, and

much grass roots feminist activism targets this fact.

Much of feminist activism is unpaid, we do it for free and in our spare

time, because we care about women and the conditions we face. The majority of feminist groups, organisations and campaigns are underfunded, if funded at all.

As feminists we recognise the oppressive and inherently exploitative

nature of capitalism, we feel its effects in our everyday lives, so we act

in solidarity with those around the world who experience the far worse

effects of the capitalist nightmare — death, poverty, ecological

destruction, etc.

The past few years have seen an increase in feminist activism around the UK, much of it anticapitalist, and it is only right that this should be celebrated. The first conference 40 years ago was dynamic and historically significant, and it would be great if this conference could build on this.

We need to rebuild the Women’s Liberation Movement in order to effect the societal change we need. However, we cannot build a movement if only those with the privilege of ready cash get to contribute. We should always be about accessibility and inclusiveness, after all we are organising around the very fact that patriarchal society is not inclusive of women, and actively excludes people on the basis of gender, class, race, sexuality, ability, age, etc.

The means must reflect the vision. How we organise must reflect the vision of what we’re fighting for, anything less is counter-revolutionary. That means that events must be accessible, affordable and always inclusive.

In relation to childcare at the wlm[at]40 conference

The original conference had a free crèche that was organised by men. This conference will have no childcare, but will instead offer parents or carers a list of registered local childminders with whom they can place their child, and presumably pay for this themselves.

One of the first four demands of the Women’s Liberation Movement, which, ironically, were formulated at the first Ruskin conference in 1970, was the demand for free 24 hour childcare, because feminists have always recognised that many women have always been unfairly excluded from much of mainstream life by their childcare and caring responsibilities. The demand for decent, free childcare for all has always been one of the basics of feminist activism. How can we demand this of society in general, if our own events are lacking in decent free childcare?

Women who are parents and carers are often in underpaid work, or are

dependent on state benefits; the money we do have has to pay for our

families, and not just ourselves.

The price of this conference will rule it out for many working-class and lower paid women, especially parents and carers, and the lack of free childcare is a double insult.

Because of the way this conference has been organised, most of us are not here, although we would very much like to be.

Will we be missed?

Daughters of Earth: Feminist Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century, a review by Jess McCabe

From Jenni Hill

I find it a bit upsetting that something calling itself ‘Daughters of

Earth: Feminist Science Fiction in the 20th Century’ can get away with

publishing almost entirely US writers. Maybe I just expect better from

feminists? Who knows.

Don’t think I’ll be buying this.

The Equality Illusion, a review by Jess McCabe

From sianmarie

great review and i can’t wait to read it and hear kat speak when she comes to bristol!

i just hope that this book gets as much press coverage as levinson’s book – the latter was just awful and totally did not do a job of explaining the need for feminism, yet was all over the news, banyard’s book looks far less comfortable than ellie levison’s so lets hope it gets as many people talking.

From anon

“…any feminist who claims to ‘want equality’ had better be willing to

specify which privileges she is willing to give up.”

Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word, replies

Oh yes, that massive problem of female privilege, how could I have missed it. For future reference, this is what privilege is about.

Comments on older features and reviews

Women in punk: ‘Too Good To Be Forgotten’, by Cazz Blase

From Catherine Redfern

Ooh a new series by Cazz Blase – awesome! Very exciting!

From Paul

I think that someone on Oxford Rd naming Grateful Dead as a preeminent punk band says a lot about the sort of people who are managing to get into university these days.

Cazz Blase, author of the article, replies

Ah yes, we were all pretty staggered and appalled about that one, how David and Sara kept their faces straight I have no idea… I suppose you could coach an argument for the Grateful Dead in the ‘proto’ punk sense, but you could do that about almost any band with a guitar, so I’m not having it…

Glad it’s exciting debate…

From Charlotte Revely

This is great – I’m old enough to remember it first time round, living in a North Yorkshire village didn’t give you much scope for live gigs etc but I do remember going out wearing a bin liner accesorised with safety pins. I remember The Slits, Siouxise and the Banshees and X Ray Specs, also Elastica (maybe post punk) and although perhaps not punk a band that I cannot remember the name of but have been trying to track down ever since who recorded a great album with a track called She Sells on it. If anyone can help me out with this I would love to get it on my ipod.

Punk was so liberating, you didn’t have to be pretty or desirable or even

clean, and although I never fully embraced it, I’m glad I had that

influence in my teens rather than the porno pop that seems to be the

mainstream today. Thanks for a great article Cazz will look forward to

more.

Cazz Blase, author of the article, replies

This was a lovely email to receive, I’m really pleased you enjoyed part one, and I hope the other parts are equally enjoyable for you. It was great to read of your own experience in this respect.

From Deirdre from Tour de Force

Great to see something about women in the punk era. I wasn’t a punk despite being the same age or younger than most of the punk bands playing then. I remember Vivan Goldman writing a feature in Sounds called the other punk movement? featuring all female bands, there were about 8 of them I think. She covered two bands i was playing guitar with Jam Today and Painted Lady.

From bloo

Hi Cazz, you might also want to read Frock Rock, by Maeve Bayton,

Oxford-based musician and feminist punk

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Frock-Rock-Women-Performing-Popular/dp/019816615X/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1268928557&sr=1-3

Bring the herstory of riot grrrl back into the present, by Heather McIntosh

From emily

Coming across this article by complete mistake was very strange as I was recently angered by Hole’s new single ‘Skinny little bitch’ and proceeded to sift through youtube videos for some new inspirational female bands or musicians. I spent a couple of hours looking around and couldn’t find that much. I ended up spending the night listening to The Distillers and various other projects involving Brody Dalle. It made me really angry to think that after great bands like Bikini Kill and Sleater Kinney, there doesn’t seem to be much left. I love Brody because she’s an awsome singer and guitarist and for the fact that she does it all without taking her f*cking clothes off all the time (unlike Courtney Love who doesn’t seem capable of doing anything with clothes on).

I spent a good 3 years of my life looking for female musicians, i put up

posters, advertised on musician classifieds onlinle and posted on social networking sites to no avail. I asked the question then and I ask it again 6 years later WHERE ARE ALL THE FEMALE MUSICIANS? I still write, and I would love, love love to see more female musicians out there, standing strong and passing something down to the next generation.

Feminism and fat, by Helen Dring

From Ellie Stewart

I get so tired and frustrated by feminists claiming, sometimes

inadvertently, that thinness is not an attribute that can be claimed by

feminists. Germaine Greer recently proclaimed that a feminist is a

‘big-bottomed girl’ and therefore Cheryl Cole could not claim herself to be part of a sisterhood that apparently requires a certain weight before

acceptance into the clan.

At 5 ft 8 and weighing 8 stone, I assume I would be exempt. This is not a boast, merely the fact of the weight I am based on a diet that includes eating what I want, when I want (which, incidentally, doesn’t include cheeseburgers simply because that’s not something I crave) and minimal exercise (which is nothing to be proud of).

Am I, then, to feel ashamed as a feminist for not looking like the

grotesquely over-fed Beth Ditto who has graced the cover of the NME naked, in all her folds and fat?

Something has gone wrong in the fight for the feminist form. I think that Helen Dring’s love of her body is wonderful: ‘I understand that my previous attitude, my all-embracing love of my own shape and the way I presented it to the world, was my central pillar of feminism. I owned my body. I loved my body.’

But does that body have to be fat? I once said to a feminist and lesbian friend of mine that I found Beth Ditto’s obese figure repulsive. ‘Well’ she said, rather desperately, ‘That’s because society has taught you that women ought to be thin’.

‘No,’ I said, ‘I find her repulsive because obesity is not the antidote to anorexia. It is still incredilby unhealthy. And in any case, how can one

justify weighing 15 stone in a world where so many children are starving?’

Being a curvaceous, natural woman is wonderful. Being a fat feminist is embarrassing for all the women out there trying to transcend stereotypes and really make a social difference. There is a BIG difference between being your natural weight and being over or under- weight.

From Anon

Interesting article. As Helen points out, not everyone chooses to be thin or stand out. How many of us actually choose our fundamental body shape? But hopefully we learn to accept and love it and treat our bodies as valuable. Surely the first step is for womenkind to stop comparing and

judging each other as pieces of meat to be coldly appraised and start

treating each other as valuable and whole human beings. This would be an example that the rest of society can follow.

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

From Matthew H. Davidson

Your article *here*

https://www.thefword.org.uk/features/2009/12/a_question_of_s

misses something: female jockeys at thoroughbred racetracks have been a fact of life for *decades* in the U.S.A.

Right now in New York we have riding: A.”Rosie” Napravnik, Mayan Studart, Jackie Davis [daughter of leading rider, now retired, Robbie Davis], and a new arrival, Amber Cobb.

At other tracks in the Northeast U.S.A. we have Sharon Uske and Rosemary Homeister. Check www.nyra.com for further info, including videos of their races.

We don’t care *what* a jockey looks like—can they ride?

STOP wasting yr time with those other jo “sports”—not only is the

racetrack the greatest sport of them all, you can *put yr money where your mouth is* and GET PAID for being right.

Now, what could be better than that ?

Gender in the playground, by Kate Townshend

From Mina

I just wanted to say that your article on “Gender in the Playground”

was refreshing. So glad to see someone tackling sexism and childhood.

Children are bombarded by gendered influences so constantly and result in things like this 10-year old feeling “fat”.

//www.youtube.com/user/ChildMediaAnalysis tackles this really well in many of its videos, and I would advise you to take a look at them.

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

From Linsey Running

The author hits the nail on the head (Imagine! A woman capable of using a hammer). From a very young age, girls, and boys, are encourage to play with certain items. Boys have toys which stimulate the brain into complex thinking, like lego, meccano, science sets, tool kits, model railways, airfix models and the list goes on, where as our young females are encourage to play with dolls and babies, play houses and cookery sets. In no way do I frown upon such toys, but what I do find sad is that many parents and family members would not give a young child, i.e. a toddler, something which goes against the stereotypical view of what they should play with. For example, very few parents would buy their little girl a plastic tools set and buy their little boy a toy vacuum cleaner, but why not! Even when the child grows up and expresses interest in a certain item considered to be more appropriate for the opposite sex, they will be thought of as ‘a little bit different’. It may even ruffle a few feathers in the family. I believe its up to parents to introduce a mix of toys, which will benefit and stimulate the childs brain regardless of whether or not that toy was designed for boys or for girls, it can rid us all of these ridiculous views that women are inferior to men in SET careers, etc. I speak from experience. I am a commercial pilot now but I was an engineer for a major Aero Engine manufacturer for a few years after completing my Aeronautical Engineering degree (with Distinction!) while I worked towards my professional pilots licence. I will freely admit that I felt at a great disadvantage when I started my degree as I had a deeply seeded belief that perhaps I would find the work more difficult than what the boys did, I am just a female after all! However, it didn’t take long for there illusions to become shattered. When I started working after my degree I was fully prepared to meet these male boffins whose natural ability for engineering would eclipse my female brain, but they never appeared. Never in my short career, the only female engineer in that area working with some 500 or so skilled and semi skilled men, did I meet a male engineer who I considered to be superior to me in ability, except by the weight of their experience, as we all learn from those who have been in the business a long time. I will say honestly that this did shock me as for the 20 or so years of my life up to that point I was gently persuaded by society that men are superior than women at that kind of thing.

Similar story when I started flying, I thought perhaps I’d have great

disadvantages as we are told so often, as the author mentions, that

women’s spatial awareness is just terrible and also women can’t read

maps. How we get through a day is a wonder! But like the engineering, even though I was reminded kindly by male counterparts that my map reading would be inferior, I could read a map very sharply, just as I always had been able to. Again I was often waiting for my female inferiority to kick in and cause me to have an emotional tizzy while bumping the aeroplane into a mountain after becoming lost and glaring at a map the wrong way round, but funnily enough, these drilled stereotypes about women seem to not apply! It probably sounds a little naive that it took me so long to realise that these obvious horrible stereotypes are not applicable but so well grounded these foundations were in my mind that it took me a great deal of persuasion and I am sorry that it took me so long. it reminds me of a time where, at 13 or 14 years old, I asked my father if I may come to work with him for a week over the school holidays. My Father was an engineer at a small firm and I longed to get my hands dirty and get to use the tools and a feel for the engineering life. After some persuasion from myself and my Mother, I got my wish. Excited and eager, I woke early that first morning and got our lunch together in anticipation for the fun learning experience ahead. We got to the unit where he worked and in we went, the smell of oil,

grease and metal filling me with joy! We got inside, ready to go when the boss came out and greeted me, ‘hullo, your here for some work experience. follow me.’ I enthusiastically followed him into the front office. ‘Ok, here is the telephone, if anyone rings….’ Ah, of course, I’m a girl so I must have to work on reception…

However, we get through these things and reach our goals and now I am living my dream as a professional pilot. My little two year old niece has received many ‘strange’ presents (aeroplanes, cars, trains, tool set and mega blocks) from her auntie, and long may that continue. Let us show the next generation of women that they have the ability to do whatever they put there minds to by educating in a balanced way from the very start.

Coherent feminism doesn’t stop at Afghani women, by Myriam Francois-Cerrah

From anony

Thank you for taking time to express your opinions. Unfortunately I feel you are only speaking out for European muslims and disregarding us Middle Eastern Muslims.

Denouncing the fact that people are opressed, prostitutes are hidden in hijabs and niqab in my continent just so you can feel at ease with your religious enlightenment really saddens me. I hope you decide to defend the people first before you defend islam because that is all it takes.

Thank you.

‘Hasn’t anybody ever told you a handful is enough?’, by Samara Ginsberg

From Leslie

I don’t have a perfect figure, but I think it’s a nice one. I don’t have

very large breasts, but for an Asian woman, they are rather large and

particularly for someone who’s 4’10. You could say that I got pretty once I went to Uni. Sometimes, I also look at myself and think that it’s hard to be attractive and intelligent because of the way people treat you without any basis for doing so. I feel that it’s not something that I should be lamenting because there isn’t much sympathy for women who “can’t appreciate a good thing”, but it definitely is not without it’s own drawbacks and cruelties. Often the question I ask is: when do I know if they like me as a person?

From Natalie

This is the second time that I have read this article and likely not the last. Since the sixth grade I have been know by my peer group only by the nick name “double D” (although by now I am in fact an E cup).The loss of my name and by extension my dignity was/is the most emotionally crippling aspect of my public school experience. I won’t bore you by rattling off stories of gym class with male teachers or awkward bra fittings at the tender age of 13, but it must be said that living in a small town and being the only girl (adults included) that has a chest size over a C can be a little isolating. This may seem slightly self-indulgent or naive but the purpose of this comment is to thank you, although my experiences have not been as horrid as yours I have connected to your message and appreciate your mature approach to this issue. For quite some time now I have considered breast reduction as a solution to my general unhappiness but I have experienced a shift of perspective in terms of body image; thank you for this epiphany, you have given me a lot to think about.

From Tanveer Ahmed

i would hate to see one of my fellow class mates or my sisters, have the same thing happened to you by the boys who touched your breasts,

i would go insane and beat the crap out of them.

its just sad how cruel people can be about big breasts.

HPV vaccination – the debate isn’t over yet, by Kit Roskelly

From Paul Daly

The HPV vaccine is probably at best ineffective in reducing the incidence of the cancers it is intended to prevent and at worst it will cause a greater incidence of cancer for the vaccinated group. The vaccine deals with only 2 of the HPV strains, it is believed that there may be up to 20 strains that are capable of causing cancer but those strains are less virulent in comparison but will become more prevalent in individuals who receive the current vaccine.

For people who are likely to have a small number of long term partners of similar character and who are non smokers, light drinkers and live relatively healthily then their immune system will almost always eraddicate any HPV infection easily and rapidly and as most of the group will be unlikely to get an HPV infection then the chance of them getting cancer due to HPV infection is negligible.

It will not be known wether the vaccine reduces cancer incidence or

increases cancer incidence or causes other long term medical problems until many years after the large scale vaccination program has been completed.

The current HPV vaccination program on balance will probably do more harm than good, is a waste of money and time, is probably largely driven by the vaccine manufacturers profit motives and should not have been initiated by any government anywhere.

In the name of the father…, by Sarah Louisa Phythian-Adams

From Josie

Love it! It was like reading through my own thought process and

irritations on the whole dilemna of marriage-names-children… How to keep one’s identity, offer equal input into children’s name heritage, whilst giving longsighted consideration to future generations in the

impracticalities of quadruple (or more) barrel surnames. What a great

solution. I will be joining you!

Why my son wears pink, by Penni F

From Brenda

I too had issues bringing up two sons as a single parent and a feminist in the seventies. My sons’ awareness of gender issues came when we were at the local park. They both had female dolls which they used in action play, fighting etc. They also had Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker from Star wars action figures. They were playing with them at the park and soon were surrounded by local boys who pointed in horror declaring “ooh they are playing with dolls!” My son who was astonished said “no they are not, they are action fighters.” The local kids just pointed and made fun of them and that was the last time they played with them.

On the issues of having sons who kiss and cuddle, mine were very

affectionate in public, one son who is now a firefighter, used to happily

sit on my lap in front of his teenage friends for a cuddle.

How the word ‘slut’ oppresses women, by Jennifer Drew

From Joseph

I enjoyed this article, put it up on my facebook and sent it to several of my friends. However, I take offense to the phrase “Evolutionary Psychology seeks to justify…”

The discipline of Evolutionary Psychology as a whole seeks to learn more

about how evolution and psychology are linked. It seeks to present facts

and science. Individuals within the field may show biases and report as

such, but it does not mean that Evolutionary Psychology is a monolithic

entity supporting patriarchy. Far from it. While there is evidence to

support that mating with multiple partners is evolutionarily beneficial, it

applies to both sexes. If this is twisted to only apply to men, it is not

Evolutionary Psychology, but individuals who seek to justify their beliefs

by twisting facts, instead of learning the facts then basing their beliefs

on that.

Jennifer Drew, author of the article, replies

Dear Joseph,

Many thanks for your positive comments concerning my above article and also for forwarding it on to a number of your friends.

However, evolutionary psychology as a discipline is not objective or

neutral because its central aim is the ‘naturalisation’ of male

domination over women as a group. Anne Fausto-Sterling’s book The Myth of Gender discusses and analyses how evolutionary psychology is not a ‘new subject’ but evolved from socio-biology wherein the central concept is that men and women are innately different due to their biological factors. Given that men and women are supposedly diametrically different socio-biologists and evolutionary psychologists continue to apply man=human whereas woman=faulty. Human=woman is always compared to man, with man being the definition of what human means.

The common claim made by evolutionary psychologists and socio-biologists that ‘mating with multiple partners is evolutionary beneficial’ does not apply to both sexes because it is always women not men who are subjected to the male-centered and male-defined sexual double standard. The facts are that women and men are physically capable of engaging in penetrative heterosex but this does not mean all women and all men engage in this form of human sexual activity. There is the matter of social conditioning, patriarchal society’s rules concerning what is supposedly appropriate feminine and masculine sexual behaviour. It is no coincidence that male sexual promiscuity is widely held to be

‘biologically innate’ whereas human female sexuality is supposedly

reproductively driven and women’s only desire to engage in penetrative

heterosex is because they wish to produce children. So the question

then to be asked is why are women supposedly more interested in

reproducing children than engaging in sexual activity with multiple male

partners? Is it because male dominant society by controlling and

policing women’s sexuality and bodies benefits men but not women. Is it because this conveniently holds women responsible for supposedly have the socio-economic power of gatekeeping men’s biologically driven sex drive? Are women accorded sexual autonomy and ownership of their bodies or this privilege still only accorded to men because male

sexuality is supposedly biologically driven and not socially

constructed.

One cannot separate out evolutionary psychology from how our male dominant society is organised because contrary to dominant beliefs women are not individuals wherein their socialization process as girl children into what is their supposedly ‘natural feminine role’ can be ignored because everyone including men are all individuals, free to ‘choose’ and enact whatever desires and ambitions they seek. Socio-economic constraints which place men at the centre and women at the margins continue to operate and men’s interests and needs continue to be given priority over women’s and childrens’ needs.

Evolutionary psychology claims the human race developed along linear lines wherein it was always men who invented items such as tools. Men were the hunters and women were relegated to ‘sitting at home tending the man’s children.’ This in itself neatly ignores the fact men do not produce children but only women since only women can reproduce.

Evolutionary psychology claims men as a group were the ones who went out in male-only parties and hunted. Women because of their reproductive capabilities were relegated to supposedly tending the hearth and awaiting the return of the men. In fact if women relied on men to produce the food necessary for everyone’s survival the human race would have died out in the Ice Age. In fact hunting mammals was not the primary method of obtaining food – but ‘gathering was’ which was predominantly undertaken by women. Therefore agriculture was the primary method of obtaining not hunting which neatly fits into

evolutionary psychological theories of man’s (sic) greater physical

strength and intelligence compared to woman meant hunting was ‘naturally a male only occupation’. In fact women and men alike engaged in hunting for small game but neither sex relied solely on meat for their sustenance. (See pages 58-63 of Maria Mies’ book Patriarchy &

Accumulation on a World Scale). Gerda Lerner explains how male

dominance over women was created and it was not due to men’s supposedly biological need for multiple sex partners – rather the central reason was male power and male control over women as a group, in addition to men’s control and domination over other men deemed to be ‘less powerful’. This was the creation of the fledgling patriarchal system,

wherein all women were deemed to be always in relation to men not

separate autonomous individuals. Women were effectively defined as

men’s private property and it was men who sought to take women from

other men’s ownership not the reverse. (See also pages 63-65 of Mies’

book Patriarchy & Accumulation).

The Creation of Patriarchy by Gerda Lerner provides excellent analysis of how male domination and control over women and women’s bodies began. Maria Mies’ book Patriarchy & Accumulation on a World Scale also analyses and critiques how the patriarchal system was established and why it is so difficult to challenge. Allan Johnson’s book The Gender Knot too provides analysis of why it is vital myths concerning men’s supposedly natural sexual promiscuity are rooted in male biology and not in the patriarchal system of male control and male domination over women as a group. Even stranger is the fact since men are supposedly biologically driven to impregnate as many women as possible and father children – it continues to be women not men who are the ones given the responsibility of child rearing. If fathering children is so important in order that men can ‘pass on their genes to their children’ why then did not men allocate child rearing to themselves rather than women? Could it be that giving responsibility for childcare to women this

ensured men’s contining domination over women because men were given the freedom to pursue other desires whilst the woman had to stay at home taking care of the man’s children. In fact early societies did not allocate childcare to women only, instead the whole group were accorded responsibility for childcare including men!

Evolutionary psychology is a very simplistic method which takes no

account of social conditioning, how societies operate or how globally

men as a group continue to retain social and economic power over women as a group. Take the example I gave in my article wherein why are men lauded for engaging in sexual activity with multiple women. Whereas despite claims women have achieved sexual autonomy, it is still women who are labelled ‘sluts’ if our male dominant society perceives their behaviour to digress from male-centered notions of appropriate female sexual behaviour. Irrespective of whether or not a woman is ‘sexually active’ if male dominant society perceives her as being ‘sexually promiscuous’ she is punished and labelled a ‘slut.’ Men however, who engage in multiple sexual activity with different women are perceived as ‘studs’ and excused any accountability for their behaviour because men are supposedly biologically driven to need sexual access to women 24/7. This is why male sexual violence against women is trivialised and minimalised because men are supposedly controlled by their biological need to impregnate women with ‘their’ children.

So, in a nutshell evolutionary psychology can never be neutral or

objective but is intricately linked with cultural values and ideas concerning how women and men are supposed to behave. This is why ideas concerning the evolution of human beings changes according to differing dominant cultural ideas. Not too long ago women were believed to be intellectually inferior to men as a group because of women’s reproductive capabilities. This was irrespective of whether or not all women reproduced children. Now we kknow such ideas were nonsensical but at the time they were widely accepted as objective and unbiased scientific fact because the white male scientists proclaimed it to be true. Feminists challenging such male-centered claims were dismissed as ‘man-hating frigid prudes who couldn’t find a man to support them’. Therefore no scientific anlysis is ever neutral, objective or separate from the researcher’s socialisation process within our male-dominant society. Yes, it is possible to aknowledge how culture plays a huge part in how we define the world but this totally different from scientific claims tthat such and such findings are ‘objective, neutral and impartial’.

Best wishes,

Jennifer Drew

Can burlesque be feminist?, by Chloe Emmott

From Nadia

I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed reading Chloe Emmott’s piece

titled, “Can burlesque be feminist?”. I thought her balanced insights into

burlesque, drawing on the experiences she’s had in dance class was

discerning and intelligent. It was a refreshing argument on a topic that is

often dominated by stodgy and strict ideologies from fellow academics who frankly just haven’t given burlesque a go. I’m not sure why we, as schooled and intelligent women, find the need to embrace the old feminist ways of bra-burning and abstinence. Surely in our visual and consumptive culture, we lose out if we’re not constantly negotiating new ways to own our female sexuality on our own terms. All I know is, I’m very uncomfortable to sign up to a set of codified behaviours, especially to define my ideas on feminism (there is no one way to approach these sentiments). Instead, I’ll continue to search for subversive and intelligent ways to ‘own the gaze’ as Peggy Phelan would say. Well done Chloe for posing a balanced and perceptive discussion on burlesque!

Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word, replies

Bra burning is a myth, and as for abstinence – while no doubt a valid choice, I’ve never seen any evidence of it being a widespread feminist practice!

Mind your language, by Sarah Louisa Phythian-Adams

From Farrah Kelly

In response to your article, I want to cry and shake your hand. I was beginning to believe it was just me, a 17 year old aspiring linguist, who saw the injustice of perjorated language. Classes at college discussing these kinds of matters provoke whinges from other students such as “WHY DO WE HAVE TO LEARN THIS, we’re not all butch lesbian feminists, I’d much rather spend my time doing something else”. and upsettingly, the majority of such comments come from females.

it seems that women are becoming increasingly inflicted by the potential

labelling of “feminist”. I’m trying a single-handed reclaim of the word, by

proudly stating that yes, i am a feminsit. if that makes me a lesbian,

please inform my boyfriend. if that makes me hate men, him and my father probably want to know that too. I am seriously contemplating making a t-shirt to wear that says “feminism is not a dirty word” or; “feminism is about equality, not ball-biting”.

as an issue that my friends know i am passionate about, they often pick

and poke at me with such PC nonsense as you’ve illustrated, purposefully calling me “lady” or saying “ms” as though tiptoeing around a political bomb, to the point where i’m either too infuriated to speak or too close to tears to respond. often, these feminist “digs” result in personal insults- and frankly, though i can bite back as hard as any of they can, doesnt this just go to show how language needs to be neutral. Ms instead of Mrs/Miss is about neutrality, equality, not our political rights at the end of the day.

thank you for illuminating me, i’m empowered ( wink wink…) to turn

around and and shove the real “F WORD” up their arses next time.

Why Not Feminism?, by Emma Cosh

From Shannon

Just wanted to write in and say that I am a proud feminist. I’m 35,

happily married, and in a Ph.D. program with two masters’ degrees, and I have no qualms about the word. I am a feminist, and I will not let the

right wing talk show haters steal a word with such a proud tradition.

From Felicia

I’m 32 and I have been unapologetic in calling myself a feminist since high school – perhaps it’s because I was smart enough to look up the word in the dictionary. My partner, with his PhD in Bioengineering, also unabashedly refers to himself as a feminist. There are some of us within the younger generation who know what the word means and aren’t afraid to use it.

Oh, Mr Darcy!, by Sheryl Plant

From debs attard

I have to disagree with your article. Darcy allowed elizabeth to change him. he humbled himself and he overcame his pride and haughty attitude. It is then that elizabeth and indeed us readers start falling in love with him. his love for her was not dominant…in fact I always saw elizabeth as the one ‘wearing the pants’ in the relationship. she never took any nonesense from him and was never intimidated by him.

From Angela

I stumbled across the Mr.Darcy article and as I’m currently beginning Shakespeare studies enjoyed the content. It was important to note the changes made to the ‘new’ mr.Darcy and I for one prefer them! It’s time we all ‘grew up’ eq v iq regards men!

Crime and Punishment: Maxine Carr and other ‘evil women’, by Jo Knowles

From Fred J Wentworth

Such an elongated diatribe of Sistership Lesbian claptrap, I have sadly read it ALL before, try not to envy the male livelihood, believe me we have problems too but we dont pin these onto inadequate females.

Life can be fun within a heterosexual relationship, its practical (produces children naturally and has bonus rewards like gaining respect), try harder Sister!

Are you married? If not, why not?, by Victoria Dutchman-Smith

From Kate

It’s very difficult to be a pure women and almost inpossible to be a pure man. It’s hard work and never end. When you lose this battle – you are out…. You don’t feel good anymore, you need support and you move to other losers – feminists.

I’m sorry, I don’t want to be rude, I don’t want to hurt anybody. Just

never give up to be a women!!!

Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word, replies

Yeah, of course, the only reason we’re feminists is we’ve given up the struggle to become “pure women”. *eyeroll*

Body language speaks volumes, by Anna Sandfield

From Mark

Many parts of this article are simply offensive. As a man in a position of authority, I have many female employees. I do touch them and occasionaly will put my arm around some of them, but to suggest that this is an act of dominance is simply wrong. Its a gesture of friendship and reassurance, nothing more.

Further, I can attest through personal experience that I am touched far more intimately by female collegues than I touch them.

If I need to get past a female member of staff, I will place my hand on

her shoulder or between her shoulder blades. Invaribaly, if a woman wants to get past me, she will place her hands on the small of my back, my waist or my hip.

Woman DO do the same things, I HAVE been “tickled” or poked, or had the back of my neck squeezed by female work mates.

I fail to see why this kind of behaviour has to be placed in such a

negative light.

Taboo for who?, by Kate Allen

From Kim Blackman

I have a problem when a man or a women uses the word cunt. I’m turned off by the person and I’m disappointed in them as a person for using that sort of language. I also find it interesting that when men want to degrade another person they use words that describe a womans anatomy or an action such as cunt, pussy, cocksucker, bitch….is it that men think woman are beneath them? or are they doubting their our manhood. Perhaps a small penis?

‘Feminists are sexist’, by Catherine Redfern

From zdgrullon

Its very funny to tease those men about the emails they sent, but… what happened to the very clear points they made. They pointed out that there are many advertisments that are “insulting” to men and that men really don’t find them insulting. Feminism is just another form of seperation between male and female. Just let women and men be “insulted” by silly advertisements together. Women now have rights…its over. just stop

Feminist or misogynist?, a review by Melanie Newman

From Stephen Thompson

I read with interest your article on Girl With Dragon Tattoo, which I am in the process of listening to. I have really enjoyed it so far but was

interested on a different view of its characters as all reviews I have read

have been full of praise and lacking in depth. Yours is the only one of

interest that I have found.I don’t agree with everything you say but thank you for writing a thoughtful, intelligent piece.

I was wondering, just as a matter of interest, which crime authors do you enjoy? Who do you think gets under the skin of women (and men) well? I personally love Fred Vargas, if you have read her.

And I think Scott Turow has incredible insight into people.

Ruth Rendell as Barbara Vine is always fascinating.

From Conor

I’d like to thank your reviewer of Larsson’s ‘Girl with the Dragon

Tattoo’, the only sensible response to it I’ve so far read. I gave it up

after 25 pages, but all the adulation made me read to page 250, when I

decided it was written by a phoney with a very dubious grasp of many

things, and a bad writer.

May I urge you to write a follow-up on the sequels and films?

The Pursuit of Happyness, a review by Dwysan Edwards

From August

I know this review is a few years old now, but I just read it, and my God that was hard to digest. I honestly could not see why someone would hate this movie.

Yes, we know single mothers go through this all the time. We’re told this through the media all the time. But the ONE time a story is told about a single father doing good for his children, this angers you? Unbelievable. Seems a little selfish to me, to only want single mothers commended, but never single fathers that do good.

Movie after movie, and TV show after TV show, shows a single mother struggling to raise her children while the deadbeat dad is nowhere to be found. This then paints a picture to society that mothers are generally better parents than fathers. You don’t seem to have a problem with this. The one time it shows a father in a positive light, with a mother who isn’t exactly a deadbeat, but is a little crazy, nagging, and more about her self-interests — you can’t take it.

It really seems like you’re bitter & jealous that a father is getting the “attention” or the accolades for being a struggling father.

Make Me Perfect, by Helen Reeves

From irina

I haven’t seen the programme but after reading the article by Helen

Reeves, especially her quoting an ITV ad for it saying that the women in

question “suffered emotional trauma because of their looks” and were teased and taunted by their “friends”(?!), family and strangers, I thought the programme should pick those “friends, family and strangers” and give them a good councelling and a basic people skills training so they stop being arseholes and start to resemble decent human beings! it is not the women’s problem if they are ridiculed, it is the bullies who should be given a good bollocking on TV. And, even before I saw the clips from the show (on a plastic surgery clinic website), i thought “I bet these women don’t look deformed in any way, just ordinary strangers whom I see on a bus, on a street, everywhere, just normal people, you know” – and I was right. Some of the women’s features i found quite attractive – beautiful eyes, straight noses, nice face shapes… The only thing they all have in common is that they all look TIRED. And that’s another thing: if you have work and family and are not rich, you are most certain to have very little time for yourself, no time to read, walk, do thing that make you happy, no time to enjoy yourself. And it is these things – time, money and good life – that make anybody look good. Sadly, for the majority of working people it is not attainable.

Also, sometimes (and i know it from my own experience) it is pointless to try to convince a person who doesn’t like some part of themselves that they are “intelligent, unique and should love all their bits and be proud of them”, it just isn’t going to work, and may even annoy the person in question. Obviously, encouraging them to concentrate on something else in their life that will give them pleasure and satisfaction – to distract them from over-scrutinising their appearance and finding faults – is a good idea, but there are ways to look a bit better, healthier, by stopping to put others first all the time, and get more sleep, eat better, stop smoking if you do and find time to exercise (and it boosts confidence too), and, above all, ask your partner to step up his involvement in childcare/house choirs. I am of firm belief that a lot of women look tired and aged precisely because their partners spent too much time enjoying themselves with their mates in a pub/fishing/having hobbies etc while a poor woman “does it all”. Basically, my point is – tell these women that they are worth having some free time just for themselves, sod everybody else, and to take care of their health, because a happy healthy person is already beautiful. But chopping offending bits off and being patronised by balding, pot-bellied male cosmetic consultants is not going to help anybody. It will only enrage those of us who don’t need a plastic surgery and frustrate those who want it and cannot afford it.

The ethics of sex toys – part 2, by Ms Razorblade

From rob

a very interesting article, thank you. just wanted to mention that as of yesterday [30/3/2010], ann summers website still reccommends dusting ones sex toy with talc to revive it.

General comments

From Clair Lewis (aka Dennis Queen)

Great!

Just wanted to say I read through your trans inclusion policy and think it’s excellent, probably the best one I’ve seen. So I intend to link it on Facebook and Tweet it etc, to show people as an example of good practice. Hope that’s ok!

I am a trangendered person myself, but am just here as an ally being genderqueer myself – ie I don’t identify as a woman, or a man (though I was rasied a girl, it just doesn;t fit) and i think the statement also perfectly respects all people’s gender in the process of clearly and

brilliantly explaining about the inclusion of transwomen on a site for

women.

I know people have a tendency to send message when they have a problem more often than when they think something is great, so I just wanted to say ace and I appreciated it myself too.

Clair Lewis (aka Dennis Queen)

PS I loves this bit best – fair game I reckon and always a great

opportunity to educate! *chuckle* Oddly I went on radio the other day about my gender and had to defend lesbians as still being women (!) yeah strange huh! can send a link or will blog about it soon if you want a giggle at how silly people’s presumptions about gender can be sometimes!

“Transphobic comments, or those which engage in trans-misogyny, as defined above, will not be published. However, the content of these comments may be shared between bloggers or contributors and then addressed in articles (without naming the commenter), or directly in an e-mail to the commenter, in an effort to tackle transphobic attitudes and behaviour.”

love it

From Carolynn O’Donnell

Dear F-Word:

thank you for your existence! You all are amazing! I’ve listening to the

three podcasts, and wondering when there will be more? Please make more.

You are fabulous feminists, and I appreciate all your work.

In solidarity on International Women’s Day,

Carolynn O’Donnell

Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word, replies

Thanks for your kind words, Carolynn. I would love for us to run more podcasts, but the organisation of getting everyone together and the time it takes to edit them make it impossible right now.

From Christine allan

Hi my daughter and i are interessed in finding out about feminisim in the Edinburgh area and wondered if you could point me in the right direction

From Iris Dogbane

Hey FWord,

Have you thought about switching your book list to Housemans Online

bookstore, they often have events with Feminist writers.

see Infinite Thought’s (Nina Power of ‘One Dimensional Woman’) Blog

http://www.cinestatic.com/infinitethought/2010/03/housmans-best-bookshop-in-london-and.asp

Also if you check the Ethical Consumer Guide Amazon is pretty low on its

list as well.

http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/FreeBuyersGuides/miscellaneous/bookshops.aspx

Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word, replies

We did look into this when we launched the site, but there were a number of practical considerations that meant it wasn’t immediately doable, and we effectively defaulted to Amazon. We are keeping our option open if things change in the future, however.

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