Introducing February’s guest blogger

by Monica Karpinski // 3 February 2017, 11:00 am

Books

As we thank Rabiah Hussain for her brilliant writing in January, we move forward to welcome Emma Hamilton, February’s guest blogger.

In her own words:

“Emma lives in the north of England and is an ex-social worker, having worked with vulnerable families for many years. She has never written publicly before but is writing from both personal experience and broader takes on social issues. She lost her beautiful daughter Katie last year to mental health problems and wants to shine a light on the challenges women with mental health difficulties face.

Emma loves to read, craft and be by the sea.”

Welcome, Emma!

Image is of a room stacked full of different coloured books.

Image by Eli Francis, from Unsplash. Used under Creative Commons Zero licence.

Weekly round-up and open thread

by Lusana Taylor // 31 January 2017, 6:03 am

Tags:


Welcome to another (slightly short and subdued) weekly round-up, where we share (what we see as) the most interesting and important articles from the previous seven days. We’d love to hear your thoughts on any of the issues covered in the articles we’ve picked.

As always, linking to articles does not mean endorsement from the F-Word and certain links may be triggering. We welcome debate in the comments section and on Facebook/Twitter but remind readers that any comments containing sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic or disablist language will be deleted immediately.

If you notice that we’ve missed out any important articles from the past week, feel free to let us know.

Mother courage: swapping pregnancy in exchange for help (The Guardian)

Girls lose faith in their own talents by the age of six (BBC)

Feminists should face their own flaws, not sneer at Melania Trump (The Guardian)

Russia parliament votes 380-3 to decriminalize domestic violence (USA Today)

UK accused of failing to defend rights of Yemeni children against daily violations (The Guardian)

High heels and workplace dress codes: urgent action needed (www.parliament.uk)

How to Come Off As Complex Without Seeming Too Complicated (Reductress) [CN: Satire]

Fat acceptance activists explain why body positivity is becoming meaningless (Revelist)

From the article: “‘Body positivity is no longer synonymous with fatness and while it’s amazing that all bodies are able to feel included within a movement, I think the original intention has been lost,’ [Stephanie Yeboah] said. ‘Body positivity was a movement to celebrate bodies that fell outside the realm of what was considered attractive within society, however the media now seem to exclude and isolate the very bodies that created the movement in the first place.'”

On gender essentialism and magic in western canon (This ‘Aint Livin’)

Suddenly, Muslims are America’s untouchables (Nesrine Malik, The Guardian)

The image is used under a creative commons license with thanks to Sara Kelly on Flickr. It is a photo of some striking street art depicting a person in a hijab. The person’s expression is serious, and they have their hand raised, covering one eye, appearing to be in the process of pulling their headscarf further down around their face. The art appears on a board stuck to, what seems to be, a red metal gate.

Squeezing this in just before the end of the month, here’s a brief round-up of what’s happening in the worlds of theatre and comedy early in 2017. If you’d like us to cover something you’re doing or know about, please do comment or email me at theatre@thefword.org.uk or comedy@thefword.org.uk.

To begin, Escaped Alone is back at the Royal Court in London before going to New York and then Salford, Cambridge and Bristol. Here’s Pooja Kawa’s review of the play from February 2016.

From Tuesday, Letters to Windsor House, a show with songs, politics, dodgy landlords and detective work, from Sh!t Theatre will be at Soho Theatre before going on tour to Ipswich, Reading, Sheffield, Aldershot, Bristol, Nottingham, Manchester, Derby, Norwich, Newcastle, Colchester and Harlow. Here’s what The F-Word had to say about a previous show from Sh!t Theatre, Women’s Hour a couple of years ago.

From 9 February until 4 March, Villain will be at the King’s Head Theatre in London. Developed through interviews with social workers and research into real-life cases, Villain places a spotlight on the growing pressures on social care agencies with the growth of child poverty, and how social media allows the general public to be judge and jury through the safety of a screen.

As you’ll know Hull is the UK City of Culture in 2017 and there’s a lot going on there for the whole of this year. Coming up in February there are a couple of shows that will be of interest to The F-Word readers. First up there’s Weathered Estates, a contemporary retelling of Euripides’ Women of Troy by Zodwa Nyoni, telling the story of four women whose homes are no longer safe spaces. The reimagined Greek tragedy will be brought to life by Hull-based company The Roaring Girls, in collaboration with the University of Hull. And secondly we have JOAN performed by drag king champion Lucy Jane Parkinson, which is part of Back to Ours. The play unravels the intricacies of Joan of Arc’s defiance and subsequent demise, with Lucy Jane Parkinson morphing into the men that put her there. The performance of JOAN on Saturday 25 February will have captioning through The Difference Engine app developed by Talking Birds.

From Tuesday 7 until Sunday 12 March the WOW – Women of the World festival will be back at the Southbank Centre. Alongside the debates and discussions there are also a few shows: The Game, a performance which aims to give audiences an insight into sex work, Adventures in Menstruating with Chella Quint, a comedy for menstruators and non-menstruators of all genders, Offside, a work in progress about four women from across centuries who live, breathe and play football and Foreign Body, a liberating and life-affirming story about healing after sexual assault.

To finish, check out this song by The Ruby Darlings who we reviewed in Edinburgh last year.

Image courtesy of Sh!t Theatre. It shows Louise Mothersole and Rebecca Biscuit on stage both standing in front of microphones. They both have painted white faces. Mothersole on the left is wearing a blue shirt, has black make-up in a strip over her eyes and is holding a beer bottle. Biscuit on the right wears a red shirt and has red make-up in a strip under her eyes. Biscuit is speaking and gesticulating with her hands.

Rabiah Hussain was born and bred in East London and her family are originally from Pakistan. She studied Politics and English Literature at undergraduate level and has an MA in Global and Comparative Politics. She freelances as a digital marketer to pay the bills, but is a poet and playwright first and foremost.

​As a guest blogger for The F-Word in January, she is writing about the importance of intersectional feminism and how the current political climate is affecting women of colour. She wants to highlight why mainstream feminism needs to be more inclusive and why we must listen to the voices of marginalised women.

Her other interests include films, books and taking lots of naps. She also makes great Halloween pumpkins. She tweets @hussnr

A few years ago, while working in an office, an older colleague posed the question “Why aren’t women good at football?”. When there was little response from the others around me, I forced my opinions into the discussion, adding some references to modern-day feminism. Once he left, my female colleagues admitted they weren’t sure exactly what feminism was. Once they looked up the definition, they all said that, of course, they agreed with what it stood for. Their perception of feminism up until that point had not been one of gender equality but of man-hating, shaven-headed, shouting lesbians.

This, unfortunately, is an issue feminism has faced for as long as it has been around. Belittling or stereotyping feminists is a key tactic used by patriarchy to keep progress at bay and feminism hasn’t been able to wholly defend itself in the face of this. However, at a time when true activism is needed, feminism also has an opportunity to truly redefine itself. But this redefinition needs to include the voices and experiences of all marginalised groups. If feminism is to respond adequately to current issues, it must be intersectional. To put it bluntly, mainstream white feminism needs to re-evaluate itself.

Last weekend, a universal display of solidarity against the election of Donald Trump gave us something positive to hold on to in these bleak times. Women from all over the world rallied together to send out a simple but important message to the new President and his ilk: women’s rights are human rights. If ever there was a time to come together, it is now. Feminists will surely find themselves at the forefront of the fight against regressive policies and sexism at all levels of society in the next few years.

But if the Women’s March highlighted unity in the face of patriarchy, it also pointed to a very bitter truth that must be confronted if we are to react to the current climate. The mission of the organisers of the march was to defend the most marginalised in society. What became clear in the narrative responding to this was the offence taken by many cis white women to being asked to recognise and stand up for minority groups. As women of colour asked for their voices to be heard, they were accused of being divisive. Asking white women to check their privilege became somehow disruptive to the entire movement.

Statements like “Not all white women” and “We are all women first” risk leaving behind a large population of women who simply cannot identify with feminism as it currently stands. Feminism cannot be based on the myth that the experiences of all women are the same and that every woman faces just one type of discrimination.

Let’s take the Trump presidential campaign. Trump not only showed utter disrespect for women, he also offended people of colour, Muslims, disabled people, immigrants and LGBTQ communities. His various policies on policing, healthcare and immigration particularly affect minority groups and, when your identity intersects along these lines, you are doubly impacted as a woman. That is not to say that straight cis white women cannot also be disadvantaged by these policies. But it highlights the problematic nature of asking for all women to be united. Because let’s face it, the problem doesn’t simply come from the outside. Mainstream feminism hasn’t always acknowledged the complexities of intersecting identities and Black feminism arose to address this.

A large percentage of support for Trump comes from white men and white women, and his election has highlighted the emergence of white supremacy from the shadows. We simply cannot fight the so-called ‘alt-right’ that Trump’s presidency has empowered without acknowledging that whiteness is a problem. Not because all white people are racist, but because whiteness affords a certain privilege that isn’t bestowed on minority groups. Minorities are still fighting for a place at every level of society. Women of colour and LGBTQ women are misrepresented in the media. Women of colour earn less than their white counterparts. Black women experience particular prejudice and violence from police officers. The fight over the bodies of Muslim women leaves them vulnerable and fearful. This list can go on.

As women, we are facing scary times. But let’s not forget that for minority women, the world has always been a scary place. The fight against patriarchy today simply cannot be won if mainstream feminism continues to marginalise. If we are to come together, feminism must be intersectional. Or else it will surely fail.

Image courtesy of Lindsey Jene Scalera on Flickr

Image depicts diverse women at the Women’s March on Washington on 21 January 2017

Nazmin Akthar-Sheikh is the Vice-Chair of Muslim Women’s Network UK, a national charity which works on issues such as discrimination, Islamophobia, violence against women and mental health matters

Dame Louise Casey was recently questioned by the Communities and Local Government Committee on her report about social integration, the Casey Review, which published in December. Although the Review mentions various communities, there is a clear emphasis on Muslims. Issues including religious conservatism, segregation and inequality in Muslim communities are cited as barriers to cohesion in Britain.

These problems do exist, and organisations such as Muslim Women’s Network UK have been working on them for a number of years. There are some Muslim women who are told what to wear, or who are stopped from pursuing further education or employment. This is completely unacceptable and we must all stand together to oppose it. However, there are also many Muslim women in the UK who are doctors, lawyers, accountants and teachers. So while religious and cultural conservatism presents a problem for some of these women, there are also many others who are actively engaged in and part and parcel of British society.

Moreover, much of the inequality faced by Muslim women comes from outside of their communities. Earlier this year the Women and Equalities Committee found that Muslim women encounter triple discrimination when trying to enter into the workplace as well as when in employment. They face a penalty for being a woman, for being from an ethnic minority background, and for their religion. Why are women from Muslim communities who do take steps towards integration punished for doing so?

Another central argument of the Casey Review is that “Too many public institutions… have gone so far to accommodate diversity and freedom of expression that they have ignored or even condoned regressive, divisive and harmful cultural and religious practices for fear of being branded racist or Islamophobic”.

Although this is a relevant concern, there are many other factors at play. Apathy, ignorance, a lack of understanding of the issues and, sometimes, a desire to maintain the support of certain, usually male, community members (irrespective of their views) are also reasons for inaction. Quite frankly, it is shocking that some institutions think they can use alleged fears of being called racist or Islamophobic as a defence for not taking any steps and expect sympathy and understanding. And, if this was the real problem, how do we explain the triple discrimination that happens as much in the public sector as it does in the private? How do we explain the continued existence of misogyny and unequal position of women in mainstream society?

In addition, the Casey Review expresses concerns that Muslims make up around 85% of the local population in some areas of the UK. However, is this really about Muslims choosing to segregate and isolate themselves? There are also areas predominantly populated by Sikh, Hindu, Jewish or White British communities. Some may have chosen to live near people of a similar cultural or religious background, but this is not true of all. Others may have had their choice made for them due to their socio-economic circumstances, or had to choose a particular area for convenience, such as being near relatives, their place of worship, or places to buy groceries. But that does not mean that they are segregated and not interacting with others outside of their communities in their day-to-day lives.

During the examination session with the Committee, Dame Louise defended her recommendation to require immigrants entering the UK to swear an ‘Oath of Integration’ and pledge their allegiance to British values. She said that integration was “not a two-way street” and that the mistake Britain has made is to end up with “more give on one side [British nationals] and more take on the other [immigrants]”.

A week after the Casey Review was published, we heard about a knifeman who stabbed a passenger at Forest Hill train station while allegedly shouting “death to Muslims”. Shortly after, a Muslim woman was assaulted and dragged across the ground by her hijab. Aside from not being clear on what ‘British values’ are (particularly since discussions on the topic lead us to universal values rather than those that are specifically British, and which underpin various faiths including Islam, Judaism and Sikhism), the question is – would the Oath have stopped these assaults? Isn’t this just another case of victim-blaming? Asking immigrants to recite a few words once in their lives is a very simplistic way of trying to solve a very complex problem.

There are lots of different barriers to integration in Britain, many of which were not adequately addressed by the Casey Review. The blame for the current lack of community cohesion in some parts of the UK must be shared between employers, institutions and individuals, and each must be part of the solution.

Photo (c) Image & Design Ian Halsey MMXI

Image depicts a diverse range of people at a busy market in Walsall

Weekly round-up and open thread

by Lusana Taylor // 25 January 2017, 6:46 am

Tags:

Welcome to another (slightly late) weekly round-up, where we share (what we see as) the most interesting and important articles from the previous seven days. We’d love to hear your thoughts on any of the issues covered in our chosen links which range, this week, from clean eating to Melania Trump.

As always, linking to articles does not mean endorsement from the F-Word and certain links may be triggering. We welcome debate in the comments section and on Facebook/Twitter but remind readers that any comments containing sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic or disablist language will be deleted immediately.

If you notice that we’ve missed out any important articles from the past week, feel free to let us know.

Watching porn in public is not OK. It’s harassment (The Guardian)

First Class Racism (Jamelia)

Men explain things to me: examples from 2016 (Girl on the Net)

To the First Lady, With Love (New York Times)

From the article: “All women struggle to reconcile the different people that we are at all times, to merge our conflicting desires, to represent ourselves honestly and feel good about the inherent contradictions. But Michelle manages to do this with poise, regardless of the scrutiny. That, to me, is the best thing for feminism. Her individual choices force us to accept that being a woman isn’t just one thing. Or two things. Or three things.”

Confessions of a former clean eater (The Pool)

From the article: “Don’t get me wrong, their recipes aren’t harmful. It’s perfectly OK to eat their food and to eat healthily and no one is saying we shouldn’t eat a few more veg and a little less meat. But encouraging people to demonise certain food groups long-term (unless they are medically diagnosed as intolerant) and adding a sharp edge of guilt to food is not OK.
For me, my clean eating romance ended quickly, and all I now have to remind me of that time is a cupboard of cocoa nibs and a silly amount of spiralisers. However, for impressionable teen girls and for people seeking to feed an already skewed relationship with food, it can be more than a “phase” and can breed inflexibility, anxiety and confusion.”

Whispers (Medium)

From the article: “This is a message, or a reminder, for cis men activists. The trans/cis women and non-binary people you organise with are talking about you behind your backs. We send Facebook messages, emails and Twitter DMs. We arrange to meet for a cup of tea between meetings. We run errands together so we can talk privately. We know what you’re up to, and we want our sisters and comrades to know too.”

Turnout For Women’s March Exceeds Attendance At Trump’s Inauguration (NCRM)

Dear Hot Men Who Love My Body As It Is: IDGAF (Bustle)

From the article: “But despite all of that, I reject your approval, no matter how glowing it might be, in favor of my own self-assessment. I officially take the onus off of you to confirm or deny whether or not I’m beautiful — and you’re welcome, because in this world, claiming that your fat body is beautiful is hard effing work.”

Government accused of using Trump inauguration to sneak out controversial tax credit ‘rape clause’ (The Independent)

The Missy Elliott Project (Selina Thompson)

From the article: “Are you a person of colour, aged between 14 and 16? Are you a young woman, or young person who identifies as Femme?… Are you dreaming of a future when all of us are free?”

We should be kind to America’s First Victim — Melania Trump (New Statesman)

From the article: “Imagine being in her position. Imagine being married to that man, having to live with him, back him up, soothe his ego, deal with his tantrums. Her marriage will be under relentless scrutiny for the rest of her life, just as her body has been since she did her first catwalk at the age of five, but if anyone raises the alarm, we’ll be told it’s music and ordered to dance. Do we think that the ham-faced, race-baiting, woman-hating monster about to waltz into the White House respects his third wife as a person? This is a man who slut-shames and humiliates any woman who stands in his way, who is on record boasting about ‘grabbing women by the pussy’, whose first divorce was granted on grounds of ‘cruel and inhuman treatment’.”

The image is used under a creative commons license with thanks to M. McIntyre on Flickr. It shows a white-washed wall in what appears to be a ruined or abandoned building; there is a door to the right of the photograph with no door frame and the general scene is one of neglect and disrepair. On the wall, somebody has painted an avocado motif – the avocado is cut in half with its stone visible and is surrounded by a (painted) ‘burst’ of yellow light.

Anna Reeve works and volunteers in London and has recently started blogging about Women of Will

Music, singing, dancing, shouting and a sense of community permeated the Women’s March in London. It almost felt and sounded like a festival. But the party atmosphere was also clearly underscored by a shared and deep-felt anger. The volume and diversity of issues at stake in this new world order were on show everywhere you looked. Signs, banners and placards cried out for reproductive rights, safe havens for immigrants, an end to fake news and media bias, support of vulnerable groups, control of women’s bodies and freedom of choice. Some of these are new; others we thought had been ticked off the feminist ‘to do’ list years ago.

This was my first protest and I’m not ashamed to admit that the weight of these issues, and the sense of solidarity to tackle them, set off an emotional response. My mum was at my side and we talked about how she and her friends feel deeply frustrated and saddened at the erosion of progress they’d seen over the past 50 years. We talked about why people of privilege and power continue to fear equality. We admired the creativity of those who had crafted humorous, meaningful and thoughtful placards to demonstrate their personal response to Trump and his allies. We absorbed the scale and peace of the event and felt proud to be standing with so many who got off their sofas to fight for each other’s rights.

The crowd far exceeded the numbers that anyone had anticipated. But we must remember that the number of people who didn’t march is even greater. There are so, so many who don’t understand the purpose of yesterday. On social media we can easily find those who declare that feminism is emasculating men, or that women already have ‘enough’ rights. During the march, a young woman angrily passed through the crowd, trying to continue her shopping, and some of us laughed at her expression of disgust at the protestors blocking her way. We can dismiss her and the vitriol of those online as naïve or wilfully ignorant. But we ignore it at our peril. The last few years have taught us the dangers of sitting comfortably in our echo chambers. The US election shows us what happens when we dismiss the power of others who won’t see what we see, and don’t believe what we believe. We must never again be complacent.

We must also remember that this wasn’t just a protest against a single man – odious as he may be – but against a worldview that allowed him into high office. It wasn’t an attempt to solve or resolve problems, but it showed our strength, our voice and our resilience. It loudly proclaimed that we will not be intimidated, we will not be misled by rhetoric that attacks the vulnerable. We will not shrink away.

So, what next? Take comfort from the diversity, scale and energy of the crowds pouring through the city streets. But do not rest. Take heart from the solidarity we witnessed. But do not sit back. Look for a way to make a difference in your communities – local, national and global. Find a cause that ignites you and lend it your skills, talents and energy. Discover organisations that need support and volunteer your time to them. Talk calmly with those who question the motives of marchers and remain graceful in the face of confrontation. Make an effort to better understand the global and local problems we face. Discover how small changes in your everyday behaviours can impact social, ecological and political justice. Challenge the tone of misogyny and discrimination every time you see it. Continue to be brave and outspoken. Remember this day and all those who stood alongside you. Never again feel that you are just one person unable to enact change.

This must be the beginning of a recognition that we will not move forward without direct involvement and conscious action. Each and every one of us now needs to pledge our own contribution. We owe it to the feminists who went before us, the feminists we stand alongside, and the feminists who will follow in our footsteps.

In the first hour of the London march, we made slow progress. The tiny streets of West London couldn’t accommodate the sheer size of our movement. We’d inch forwards, then stop again. For me, this is a symbol of the blockades we face on all sides and that can hold us back. But with patience, perseverance, determination, and the support of those around us we surge onwards. We will reach our destination. And we sure will have some fun on the way.

Photo by Anna Reeve, used with permission

Image is of a crowd of women at the Women’s March on London, some holding placards

Weekly round-up and open thread

by Lusana Taylor // 16 January 2017, 4:40 pm

Tags:


Welcome to another weekly round-up, where we share (what we see as) the most interesting and important articles from the previous seven days. We’d love to hear your thoughts on any of the issues covered in our chosen links which range, this week, from exercise clothes to watching porn in public!

As always, linking to articles does not mean endorsement from the F-Word and certain links may be triggering. We welcome debate in the comments section and on Facebook/Twitter but remind readers that any comments containing sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic or disablist language will be deleted immediately.

If you notice that we’ve missed out any important articles from the past week, feel free to let us know.

How Five Women in Space Changed Gender Norms Forever (AnOther Magazine)

Where do you buy exercise clothes when you’re size 16 and over? (The Pool)

IUD Demand Is Up 900% at Planned Parenthood (Motto)

Labour demands urgent action to close gender gap at top of civil service (The Guardian)

Do allegations of sexual harassment mean Casey Affleck’s work should be avoided? (The Pool)

Renewable Sources of Memory: Speech, Silence and Structure at the Gender and Medieval Studies Conference in Canterbury (Jeanne de Montbaston)

How an EU gender equality ruling widened inequality (The Guardian)

Is it OK to watch porn in public? (BBC)

How the Shutdown of Backpage Disproportionately Affects Trans Sex Workers (Vice)

Men confess what feminine things they’d do if stereotypes didn’t exist (The Pool)

From the article: “For a while, the thread is quite entertaining. While it’s laying the restrictive stereotypes out plainly for all to see, it’s also light-hearted. There’s an enlightening conversation about quilting and how lovely it is to give a quilt as a gift, swiftly followed by a discussion on laser hair removal to tidy up a hairy bum. Apparently the vast majority of men are taken with the idea of snuggling up in yoga pants and leggings. But some things are more difficult to say…”

Jamelia shocked at ‘racist’ train incident – but she got her own back (Birmingham Mail)

A bill to decriminalise some forms of domestic violence has passed its first reading in Russia’s lower house, Duma, sparking anger among women’s rights advocates (BBC)

Sex and the middle-aged woman … a groundbreaking BBC drama tells it like it is (The Guardian)

From the article: “We wanted to put out something that looked at women of that age but wasn’t incredibly objectified and that tackled the way that female confidence can sometimes be seen as an invitation when it’s just simple happiness – that idea that just walking down the street feeling good about yourself can actually be seen that way.”

The problems with erotica (The Times Literary Supplement)

CN: references to graphic sexual violence

From the article: “Internalized misogyny is a complex chasm that women receive little encouragement to haul themselves out of. It is an hourly, daily, endlessly exhausting fight against the subliminal, and the overt, sexism of Western culture. Our history of practical suffrage is short. We do not have generations of freedom, respect and equality to live up to or fall back on in difficult times. Our literature is still building itself even as we continue to excavate and re-evaluate the contributions and achievements of generations past. Our relatively recent, and very imperfect, emancipation is often portrayed as a gift rather than the inalienable right of every woman in a democratic society.”

Serena Williams may now be world no2 but she is as dangerous as ever (The Guardian)

The image is used under a creative commons license with thanks to EM on Flickr. It shows a snowy scene from a hillside.

Is celebrity feminism hurting the women’s movement?

by Guest Blogger // 13 January 2017, 12:35 pm

Celebrity feminism

This is a guest post by Rachel St Clair, a Glasgow girl living in Brighton. She’s a performance artist, currently moonlighting as a flight attendant.

Feminism is in right now. Taylor Swift knows it, Beyoncé knows it and so do Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Watson. This list of celebrities who have used the word feminist to define themselves recently is not exhaustive. It seems that feminism has become quite the buzzword in Hollywood.

Of course, the identification of oneself as a feminist is nothing to be suspicious of. After all, each of these women are wholly entitled to their opinion and to identify as feminist. But should we perhaps be wary of those who use the word feminism as part of their branding strategy? Andi Zeisler notes:

Emphasising the personal empowerment of individual actors, comedians and pop stars – whether for itself or in relation to others – only serves to pull focus from the ways in which their industries make money from stereotyping and devaluing women

Do the efforts of said celebrities to include feminism as part of their aura dilute and mask the grassroots efforts of more diverse groups of, well, non-famous women?

One might argue that celebrity feminists make the women’s movement more palatable by giving feminism a pretty face. But it doesn’t look like many are listening to what they have to say. A study carried out over two years examining the relationship between celebrity feminists and our perception of the women’s movement found that celebrity involvement may actually be hindering the cause by making it appear trivial.

To boot, despite a celebrity’s ability to reach a wide audience, just 20% of people said that celebrity involvement made them care more about gender equality issues. Taylor Swift was named specifically as a key reason for this: 30% said that because of her, they care less about feminist issues.

This may be because it is difficult to take a celebrity seriously when we know, ultimately, that their main goal is to support and promote their own brand.

It may be that Taylor Swift’s own take on feminism doesn’t come across as very genuine. After all, as Rebecca Bohanan points out, despite the image Swift has created of her working with women there were no female producers on stage with her as she accepted the Grammy for Album of the Year in 2016.

However, despite this lack of sincerity from Swift, perhaps one thing can be said for her involvement in feminism: she stands to serve as a role model for a group of young fans that without her may never have a stepping stone into the world of women’s rights. In this instance, Swift acts as an excellent gateway for young women to further explore issues relating to their gender.

In 2014, Emma Watson made headlines when she was appointed as a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador and began the HeForShe campaign, which called on men to become a part of and support feminism. The campaign highlighted the ways in which the patriarchy had not only failed women, but also men. This sentiment was widely celebrated for its ambition to make feminism more inclusive. I would argue that feminism should not need to be made more inclusive for men but rather that men should be more accepting of it.

As best put by Rosie Fletcher:

If a man can hear that 85,000 women are raped in the UK each year and only care when this is labelled FOR MEN like a horrifying statistical Yorkie, he probably isn’t that much use to the feminist cause in the first place

So while it may be that Watson’s intentions were good, she seems to be somewhat missing the point.

Ultimately, the fact remains that if feminism is so trendy at the moment, why aren’t we seeing more meaningful change in discrepancies such as the gender pay gap or women in senior and leadership roles? Why are we still fighting battles for cultural and social equity if the celebrities can help us turn the tide of popular opinion?

The answer is simple — these high profile, glamorous celebrities do not represent the pressing issues facing women every day. The attention and limelight they are given in the media is almost a slap in the face for the many women fighting day in and day out to have their voices heard.

Image is of Taylor Swift wearing a black hat and red lipstick. She is smiling, and facing the camera but looking slightly past it.

Image Taylor Swift RED tour 2013 by Jana Beamer, some rights reserved. Photo has been cropped at the bottom.

Men need to do more to end FGM, says new campaign

by Guest Blogger // 10 January 2017, 12:45 pm

Men Speak Out Press Conference at the House of Commons

Gabrielle Pickard Whitehead is a freelance journalist located in the Peak District. Gabrielle has been reporting on human rights topics since 2006. She is passionate about raising awareness about pressing and under-reported human rights issues through the written word. You can find Gabrielle tweeting @GabsP78

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is typically characterised as something that happens in Africa but is far from contained to African soil. FGM and the misery it causes is a global problem. It is one that is rife here in the UK and Europe.

Defined by the WHO as a deliberate mutilation of female genitalia for non-medical reasons, FGM is a widespread practice today, affecting millions of girls and women around the world.

In the UK, 137,000 girls and women are living with the consequences of FGM, marking the highest incidence in Europe. Figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre show that a case of FGM is reported every 109 minutes in England, with no area of the country immune from the practice. Experts warn that this shocking number of FGM incidents could be just the “tip of the iceberg”.

As best put by the Royal College of Midwives in their Tackling FGM in the UK report:

There is a growing consensus that the system is failing to protect girls from FGM and more needs to be done in the UK to intervene early in a child’s life, and to safeguard those girls at risk

Men Speak Out, a project aimed at engaging men in the process of putting a stop to FGM and on a broader scale ending violence against women, found that men have a key role to play in ending FGM but are failing to assume it.

The research asked men for their views on why they thought FGM happened. As well as being practised for cultural and religious reasons, the responses found that FGM is carried out for sexual purposes — as a means of controlling female sexuality and making women “better wife material”.

The project also found that some men are for FGM but more are against. Either way, though, they are predominantly remaining silent on the issue.

Men are the husbands, brothers and fathers of the victims of FGM. Men might not be subjected to the atrocity themselves but they can be affected by the crushing physical and psychological effects FGM has on its victims, who are members of their family and community. Solomon Zewolde, a researcher for campaign and support organisation FORWARD, says that there are men in the UK whose relationships are negatively affected by their partner having undergone FGM.

On Thursday 8th December 2016, a crowd gathered in the Jubilee Room in the House of Commons, London, to listen to the preliminary research results of the Men Speak Out research.

It wasn’t all bad news. As well as discussing male responsibility in ending the practice, it was clear that inroads are most certainly being made to raise awareness of FGM through education in schools.

FORWARD’s Student Awareness Sessions aim to teach young people about the various roles they can play in ending FGM. In 2015, a total of 384 school sessions were held on the topic, comprising 10,614 students and staff members. Of these, 677 were in primary school.

At Durand Academy in Stockwell, south London, efforts are being made to help safeguard pupils from FGM. All teachers and teaching assistants complete an annual training session on FGM, which includes looking for signs that girls could be being subjected to the practice.

While it is crucial that women lead the charge in educating and informing people about FGM, a greater number of men need be involved if we are going to stamp out the atrocity for good. Whilst it was refreshing to see male faces both on the panel and in the audience at the Men Speak Out event, it would have been more invigorating if the room had a more even gender split. The lack of men in the room was a testament to the gender inequality that colours the quest to end FGM.

For decades, women have been leading this crusade. The late Efua Dorkenoo, OBE, founder of FORWARD, activists Leyla Hussein and Fahma Mohamed are just three leading female names associated with ending FGM.

Statistics reveal that in July 2013 over 125 million girls and women in 29 countries across Africa and the Middle East had endured FGM; over the next 10 years, 30 million more are at risk.

As we can see from the exertions of FGM awareness groups and charities and the growing prevalence of FGM education in schools, progress is being made to end this abhorrent practice. To completely obliterate it, the whole of the community needs to be involved. Male participation in the fight against FGM is essential.

Image taken by the author at the Men Speak Out press conference in December, 2016. Used with author’s permission.

Image is of a conference taking place in an ornately-styled room in the House of Commons. There is a panel of six people facing the camera and addressing the audience.

Weekly round-up and open thread

by Lusana Taylor // 9 January 2017, 2:44 pm

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Welcome to another weekly round-up, where we share (what we see as) the most interesting and important articles from the previous seven days. We’d love to hear your thoughts on any of the issues covered in our chosen links which range, this week, from feminist memes to a chocolate polemic!

As always, linking to articles does not mean endorsement from the F-Word and certain links may be triggering. We welcome debate in the comments section and on Facebook/Twitter but remind readers that any comments containing sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic or disablist language will be deleted immediately.

If you notice that we’ve missed out any important articles from the past week, feel free to let us know.

How Feminist Memes Hit the Mainstream (Vice)

Cheap razors are great but what if you’re a hairy woman who doesn’t shop in Tesco? (The Guardian)

The Gender Pay Gap Doesn’t Age Well (Huffington Post)

Meet the Women You’ll Be Told to Hate in 2017 (The Pool)

The Stage 100: analysis and methodology (The Stage)

From the article: “When compiling The Stage 100, we talk at length every year about the fact that the list is weighted towards white men working in London. Women have historically been under-represented on the list, and those from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds have been all but absent. In both cases, there is a slight improvement this year.”

The great importance of Lena Dunham’s perfectly imperfect thigh (The Pool)

New Year, Same White Feminism: Why Glamour’s “Women” Edition Falls Short (Feministing)

This is what it’s like to live in a village without contraception (Marie Claire)

Radical Brownies: The Guardian short documentary (The Guardian)

From the article: “The Radical Monarchs is an alternative to the Scout movement for girls of colour in Oakland, California. Its members earn badges not for sewing or selling cookies, but for completing challenges on social justice including Black Lives Matter, ‘radical beauty’, being ‘an LGBTQ ally’ and the environment.”

Man tells woman on tube to stop applying makeup so every woman in the carriage started [sic]* applying makeup (Metro)

From the article: “The gentleman was overheard to say, ‘don’t do that, it’s vulgar,’ basically.”

What’s wrong with spending your benefits on prosecco? Nothing (The Guardian)

From the article: “The first benefits “fauxtrage” of 2017 is upon us, barely a week in. Harrumpher-in-chief Phillip Schofield decided that the best use of his time was to shake his head patronisingly at a woman who had the gall to buy two bottles of prosecco on her “Christmas bonus” – a pittance added to her benefits payments. This leaves the tabloids free to engage in their ceremonial monstering of someone who bought a tenner’s worth of fizzy wine while not being currently retained by an employer…”

Most Women In Publishing Don’t Have The Luxury Of Being Unlikable (Buzzfeed)

From the article: “The way I see it, there are two ways to be a female novelist: play the game and ply everyone you encounter with sugar, or be a cool, distant ice queen, ideally ensconced for much of the year at some remote liberal arts college, disseminating your opinions only to your rapt students and never to, say, Facebook.”

The heterosexual couples campaigning for civil partnership equality (iNews)

Fuck Dark Chocolate (Body for Wife)

It might be a little out of date for a ‘weekly’ round-up but laughs are hard to come by these days so we thought we’d include this too. Enjoy!

The image is used with permission with thanks to L. Taylor. It shows a forest full of tall, spindly looking pine trees against a blue sky with a single white cloud.


Happy 2017!

2016 was a pretty grim year for many, so let’s hope 2017 is an improvement. In times of darkness, both environmentally and politically, seeking solace in music is never an unwise move. I hope you find something in the list below to soothe, excite or inspire.

One of my favourite albums of 2016 was MJ Guider’s debut ‘Precious Systems’, a sublimely dreamy album of ambient bleeps, synths and guitar. Fact magazine described it as “glacial” and “one of the year’s best albums” and I couldn’t agree more. I hear the ghosts of My Bloody Valentine and Fever Ray throughout this record, and it’s a glorious, glorious thing.

Abra’s perfect 2015 track ‘Roses’ can be found on the album of the same name. Echoing comments previously made by FKA twiggs, Abra states, “When you’re black, everyone says you’re an R&B artist. I mean, yes, I pooled from it, but you don’t have to be put in that box.” Describing her music as “alternative pop or freestyle house”, Abra’s 2016 album, ‘PRINCESS’ has also been released to critical acclaim. Read Fatma Wardy’s great piece exploring the limitations and problems with the ‘alternative R&B genre’ here.

Despite losing 50% of the band back in 2014 (original drummer and vocalist, Shona McVicar left due to the gruelling touring schedule and was promptly replaced by Cat Myers], Scottish duo Honeyblood are ploughing ahead as if the 1990s never happened. Vocalist and songwriter, Stina Tweeddale, cites The Breeders and PJ Harvey as her musical inspiration and you can definitely hear the former throughout their music. Punk, with a lower-case ‘p’, indie-pop, there’s nothing not to like about this band. Read more about their latest album, ‘Babes Never Die’, released in November 2016, here.

Patrice Rushen’s classic track ‘Haven’t You Heard’ will forever be associated, in my mind, with the original Channel 4 drama series ‘Queer As Folk’. The track accompanies the scene in the first episode where main characters, Stuart and Nathan, first meet. Despite the series focussing pretty much exclusively on white, cis gay guys, it was groundbreaking when it was released back in 1999 and remains an absolute classic. If you’re looking for a new box set this January, it’s well worth checking out.

Click here for your Winter 2017 playlist.

Enjoy.

The image is of Abra, performing at Slottsfjell festival in 2016. The image is an upper-body shot of Abra, performing onstage, singing into a mic with her arms raised above her head. She is surrounded by blue smoke or lights and wears and a Boy London crop top. Image by NRK P3, shared under a Creative Commons licence.

Weekly round-up and open thread

by Lusana Taylor // 3 January 2017, 9:42 pm

Tags:

Happy New Year to all F-Word readers. The weekly round-up has been on hiatus over Christmas but it’s back now with (what we see as) the most interesting and important articles from the previous couple of weeks. We’d love to hear your thoughts on any of the issues covered in our chosen links.

As always, linking to articles does not mean endorsement from the F-Word and certain links may be triggering. We welcome debate in the comments section and on Facebook/Twitter but remind readers that any comments containing sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic or disablist language will be deleted immediately.

If you notice that we’ve missed out any important articles from the past week, feel free to let us know.

Serena Williams: ‘If I were a man,’ I would have been considered the greatest a long time ago (The Washington Post)

Vera Rubin, Who Confirmed Existence Of Dark Matter, Dies At 88 (NPR)

Female binge drinkers unfairly stigmatised by media, says study (the Guardian)

Obituary, Liz Smith: Late-blooming actor best known for role in Royle Family (Irish Times)

Don’t complain about the strikers – they’re only doing what we all should in 2017 (The Guardian)

From the article: “We seem to love the working class as long as it is a) white and b) passive. The real working class is neither. It is multi-ethnic and, from Southern Rail to British Airways, it is set to strike.”

A Reminder That Carrie Fisher Was An O.G. Mental Health Hero (Huffington Post)

What George Michael meant to me in 1998 (Libertarian Lou’s blog)

From the article: “And then. And then. I saw how he handled it. I saw him respond not with shame, not with apologetic respectability, but with a music video for Outside that went so full-scale, off the charts, fantastically gay you couldn’t possibly imagine he was doing anything other than celebrating himself and sticking up two fingers to people who had a problem with the whole thing. I mean, I’m talking about dressing-up-as-a-cop-in-leather-gloves-gay, public-toilets-turning-into-discos-gay; a celebration of queer, sexy joy in all its glory.”

In remembering George Michael, don’t forget the decades we spent shaming him (Vox)

Snooper’s charter dealt blow after EU’s highest court rules ‘indiscriminate’ government retention of emails is illegal (The Independent)

Sexist men have psychological problems (The Washington Post)

2016’s Best Investigative Reporting on Sex Work (Tits and Sass)

Becoming Ugly (Jezebel)

From the article: “The game ended the night that Tom*, the one who always grabbed me, did it to me again while we were walking up a flight of stairs. Familiarly, everyone laughed and I tried to join them, desperate to appear easygoing and in on the joke despite being the literal and figurative butt of it. But suddenly, the effort of it all—the smiling, nervous chuckling, and eye rolls that I had allowed myself over the past several months—sickened me.”

Fragile masculinity: Hammond’s homophobic fear of ice cream (The Queerness)

Ready for New Year’s Revolution (Dances with Fat)

From the article: “Resolve to cut yourself some slack if you aren’t able to do these goals 100% of the time. We’re pushing back against a tremendous amount of time, money, and energy that is invested in convincing us to buy into a culture where self-loathing is the norm, and where we see buying diet and beauty products as our only way out. So if we slip back into this mentality it’s not a big shock – I think that the best thing we can do when it happens is recognize it and move on.”

Bjork Ends 2016 With a Hopeful Message Against Sexism in the Music Industry (Billboard)

From the article: “’Some media could not get their head around that I was not ‘performing’ and ‘hiding’ behind desks, and my male counterparts not,’ the Icelandic artist states in a post to Facebook. ‘I think this is sexism, which at the end of this tumultuous year is something I’m not going to let slide.'”

Nicole Cooke: Team Sky and British Cycling supply more questions than answers (the Guardian)
Nicole Cooke’s book was previously reviewed for The F-Word by Liz Smith HERE.

The image is used under a creative commons license with thanks to Jean Echenard on Flickr. It shows a seascape at sunset. The sun is hanging low over distant hills, casting a yellow glow across the scene. A number of birds are silhouetted against the sky.

commercialfeminism_fwordresizedSilvia Carrus is an Italian illustrator and comic artist living in London. She loves to make comics about feminism and animals, and is the author of ‘Feminist Cat’ and ‘The Feminist Superheroes’. Check out her work on Tumblr and tweet her @silviargh.

This month’s comic depicts a company using feminism to sell a variety of products to a woman, including a t-shirt with the slogan ‘Feminism is hot’ and a ‘Tough Bitch’ necklace

Can tech empower female sexuality?

by Monica Karpinski // 23 December 2016, 1:00 pm

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Can tech empower female sexuality?

Technophobia is no longer the stuff of science fiction. There are very real discussions going on now that caution developments in AI and smart tech, and with them come safety and ethical concerns about the ubiquity of data. How are the banal details of our lives (Monday night’s groceries include a dry packet of pasta and parmesan cheese) being stored for a rainy day? Will this digital sketch of my movements one day threaten my ownership over my analogue, offline life? Will robots rise up and take my job?

Technology is also raising concerns in an industry we tend to leave out of these conversations: sex.

With the potential to revolutionise the way we experience, think about and identify with sex, developments in sex tech are certainly both parts astounding and terrifying.

For women, this conversation is particularly fraught. There already exists a myriad of patriarchal power structures that impact various experiences and narratives concerning sex — remember those Hollywood tropes that tell us that female sexual pleasure is completely and directly a factor of how “good” the man is? Plus those pesky archetypes that draw out ideas of women as sexually submissive and men as competitive and dominant.

Can sex tech change any of that or will it serve only to enforce these divisions?

Much sex tech has the obvious goal of enhancing sexual sensation. This develops and normalises a certain perception of what sex is.

For one, there’s the fear that hyper-real pleasure will eclipse that one imagines they can get from another person. Meet Piu: called the world’s most luxurious and sophisticated male vibrator, it offers its user a choice of 30 vibration patterns and comes with an app that you can sync to certain adult films so that the vibrations play in time with it.

This is a frightening new frontier for interactive cinema, especially when we consider how far away from real sex the experience is. Thirty vibration patterns on cue? There’s no sexual organ on earth capable of doing that. Can we safely say this experience won’t blur over into attitudes of entitlement and expectation when being intimate with a partner?

Roxxxy — yes, really — is a sex robot whose “body” has uniquely configured sensors that mimic a heartbeat and circulatory system. You can program her personality to let your innermost fantasies play out. For a mere £635, one can own a physical caricature of patriarchal sexual pleasure! Roxxxy represents perhaps the darkest corner of sex tech innovation: consider the possibility of enabling sexual violence to something that looks and feels just like a woman.

With more tools than ever that allow us to create and enact new types of fantasy, it’s not beyond reason that one could create and exist within a kind of sexual bubble based on artificial sensations.

Here, Robert Weiss, co-author of Closer Together, Further Apart, offers a word of caution:

As technology increases people’s ability to access intensely stimulating sexual imagery, therapists worldwide are witnessing an increase in the number of people walking into their offices seeking help with out-of-control sexual behavior

Using this technology to push boundaries threatens to dismiss the true and carnal nature of sex. If sex is no longer the ultimate human act — when we are at our most vulnerable and enacting the most intimate of our instincts — how do we identify with it?

Female sexuality is, and historically has been, very much a taboo. Masturbation is something dirty; there is still marked and widespread confusion surrounding female ejaculation. Women can see the by-the-minute humidity levels in a tiny town in northern Siberia at the touch of a button yet lack fundamental information about how their bodies work.

But it’s not all bad news. Promising work is being done to challenge traditional sexual and gender roles.

HappyPlayTime is a sex education gaming app that works to eliminate the stigma around female masturbation. JimmyJane’s fingertip vibrator focuses on clitoral sensation, which shouts loud and proud that there is much more to sex than penetration. Both work to liberate and celebrate female sexuality, giving women more control over the way they understand and express sexual pleasure. And there are many more initiatives like these out there.

These technologies are tackling stigma and shame by normalising the conversation. Just have a read of the reviews of OMGYes, an education website dedicated to female sexuality, to see what I mean.

Developments in sex tech bring a lot of concerns to the table but, crucially, are paving new ground for female sexuality. With education and attention given to topics previously swept under the rug comes confidence. And with the internet comes the ability to broadcast, rally and share resources.

There is still loads of work to do before women can enjoy the same degree of sexual privilege, safety and freedom as men. But, all things considered, sex tech offers the women’s movement plenty to be excited about.

Image from Pexels, used with Creative Commons Zero licence.

Image is a close-up of a woman’s smile. She has thick, wavy dark hair that spills slightly over her face.

feminist-homemaker-landscapeGemma Croffie is a thirty-something suburban feminist stay at home mother of two, though she doesn’t stay at home much. She is obsessed with food, crafts and words. In a former life she worked as a biomedical scientist until she could no longer get excited about hairy cell leukemias

Dear Ms Adichie,

As a huge fan of yours, I read your recent Facebook post ‘Dear Ijeawele, or a feminist manifesto in fifteen suggestions’ with interest. I am a Ghanaian woman living in England, so I have always felt a connection to your work and identified with your feminism in particular.

I agree with most of the points in this piece on raising a feminist daughter, such as rejecting traditional gender roles, questioning our use of language and giving her a sense of identity. However, while I do think that it is important for a mother to “Be a full person”, I reject the idea that you have to be a working mother to do so.

For most mothers, the decision to work or not is complex. Some have no choice, either because their wages do not cover the cost of childcare or they are the primary earner in their household. Many fall somewhere in the middle.

I also suspect the work referred to, which brings the self-fulfillment and confidence you talk about, is the kind undertaken by highly educated middle class women. As Benjamin Barber writes in Liberating Feminism, “To be able to work and to have to work are two different matters. I suspect, however, that few liberationist women are to be found working as menials and unskilled labourers simply in order to occupy their time and identify with the power structure… most workers find jobs dull, oppressive, frustrating and alienating…”

And what is self-fulfillment and why should I allow others to tell me where I can find it? When bell hooks reminds us that the imperialist, capitalist patriarchy has always overvalued work, should we be buying into or resisting that norm? Why do our jobs represent the only option when seeking to avoid being defined solely by motherhood? Are they our only means of being a ‘full person’ outside of caring for our children?

Work is becoming increasingly ‘fetishised’, arguably leading to ill health and damaging our personal relationships. These effects are even more pronounced for working mothers who often do a ‘second shift’ if they are a single parent or have a partner who does not pitch in at home – a scenario that is much more common than your letter acknowledges.

What you and many others also forget is that in order for women to take on the type of work you describe, other people – usually poorly paid women – have to take on some or all of our childcare and household duties. So in order to “Be a full person”, we often contribute to the oppression of other women. You’re right that Black mothers have always worked, our mothers included, but they had the family and community support that is lacking nowadays.

Instead of pushing all women, regardless of their situation, to take on paid labour and ‘lean in’, we should be encouraging them to ‘recline’. We should be focusing our energies on providing affordable childcare and a universal basic income, introducing flexible working practices, improving the quality of part-time work and encouraging shared parental leave. This is by no means an exhaustive list but would go some way to giving working parents genuine choices about how they spend their time.

I may not have a paid job but I can assure you that I am a full person with ideas, opinions and interests who happens to look after her children full time. I must stress that I have no issue with being a working mother as I also have experience of this and am aware of the pros and cons of both. What I object to is the notion that one choice is feminist and the other is not. I am a feminist homemaker; the two things should not be mutually exclusive. I want the same things for my children that you want for yours.

I agree that we should all be feminists, but we must remember there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach. We all make different choices based on our individual circumstances and we should not make anyone feel that these are inherently unfeminist.

With kindness,

Gemma Croffie

Image shows a mother holding her daughter’s hand and running through a field

Courtesy of pawpaw67 on Flickr

Weekly round-up and open thread

by Lusana Taylor // 20 December 2016, 1:41 pm

Tags:

70493138_62cfcc3d42_z
Welcome to another weekly round-up, where we share (what we see as) the most interesting and important articles from the previous seven days. We’d love to hear your thoughts on any of the issues covered in our chosen links.

As always, linking to articles does not mean endorsement from the F-Word and certain links may be triggering. We welcome debate in the comments section and on Facebook/Twitter but remind readers that any comments containing sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic or disablist language will be deleted immediately.

If you notice that we’ve missed out any important articles from the past week, feel free to let us know.

Merry Christmas to all celebrating!

How ‘The Fancy Women On Bikes’ Are Reclaiming Public Spaces In Turkey (The Establishment)

Anti-feminist Tory MP Philip Davies elected to equalities committee (The Guardian)

Men have a role to play in ending FGM, it’s time they play it (gal-dem)

Boots Tackles ‘Period Poverty’ With Initiative Donating Sanitary Products To Food Banks (Huffington Post)

From the article: “Boots has pledged to end “period poverty” by helping women who are struggling to access basic sanitary products. The chain will trial an in-store donation point in one of its branches, where customers will be able to leave sanitary products for distribution to a local food bank.”

Can we end violence against sex workers? (Frankie Mullin at New Statesman)

From the article: “The dangers and horrors of sex work absolutely exist and many of those in the industry have experienced them first-hand. The Home Office-founded charity, National Ugly Mugs, which issues safety alerts to thousands of sex workers across the UK, received reports of 446 incidents this year (48 rapes, 11 attempted rapes, 31 cases of sexual violence, 181 violent attacks). And yet, a wide-ranging survey carried out in February as part of the Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into prostitution showed that 96% of those sex workers surveyed were in favour of full decriminalisation.

“When deaths occur in other industries (there were 27 in agriculture this year, 43 in construction), the usual response is to ask how working conditions can be made more secure, not whether the industry should be scrapped. Of course men don’t need to buy sex, but nor does London need more luxury flats. These arguments should have no impact on the right of workers to be protected.”

No, Female Trans Athletes Do Not Have Unfair Advantages (The Establishment)

Harriet Martineau, In Our Time (BBC Radio 4) [Podcast]

Revealed: True extent of panel show sexism (Chortle)

The First International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers (NSWP)

From the article: “In a public letter, Annie Sprinkle wrote: ‘Violent crimes against sex workers go underreported, unaddressed and unpunished. There really are people who don’t care when prostitutes are victims of hate crimes, beaten, raped, and murdered. No matter what you think about sex workers and the politics surrounding them, sex workers are a part of our neighborhoods, communities and families.'”

Working class women in the UK were the unsung heroes of 2016 – here are four of their major victories (Independent)

On Loss & Chronic Illness – Acceptance (Diary of a Goldfish)

From the article: “Our dominant triumph over adversity narrative means that those stories about chronic illness which aren’t about the search for a cure or heroically raising Awareness are usually about spectacular reinvention: Chronic illness ended my career as a stock-broker but now I’m building a million pound empire by hand-knitting mushroom-warmers.”

A Reclamation too Far? (Roz Kaveney at TLS)

Judge Sentences Professional Pickup Artist To Prison For Gang Rape, Says PUA School ‘Is About Being A Rapist’ (Bust)

Crying in Front of Old Men: How I Got My Hormones (Transgender Universe)

Dear Peter, all your protest achieved was to detract from women’s issues (politics.co.uk)

Ohio Passes Bill That Bans Abortion After A Month And A Half (Buzzfeed)

An Open Letter to Simon Jenkins, King of the Pale, Stale Males (gal-dem)

The image is used under a creative commons license with thanks to Liz West on Flickr. It is a photograph of holly leaves and berries, very close up. The leaves are fringed with snow.

In praise of funny women

by Guest Blogger // 19 December 2016, 7:30 am

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funny-woman-portraitCatherine likes funny stuff and thinks women are awesome. You can find her tweeting about cute things and chocolate @SupahGinjaNinja

It’s 2016. So why, for the love of God, do some people still think that funny women aren’t attractive? I say this after watching a recent episode of First Dates, a show that usually brings me great joy, offering a chance for love hopefuls to unite under Fred the maître d’s twinkling French eyes. There was one particular scene in this episode, however, that actually made me really sad. After a seemingly successful date, the amusing Marie was left somewhat deflated when Davin said he didn’t see things progressing. In her next talking head segment she then became slightly tearful, saying “I’ve been in those positions before, where men have been like ‘oh my god I really like you… but I just wanna be your friend’. But there’s only so many times you can hear that… it’s hard”.

Even the blurb about this couple on Channel 4’s website is troubling: “Can meat-loving teacher Marie control her sledgehammer wit when she finds out that her date, Davin, is a vegan?” Erm, what? The fact that ‘control’ and ‘wit’ are used together in reference to the hilarious and charming Marie is so upsetting. In fact, if you listen really carefully you can probably hear Joan Rivers turning furiously in her grave.

In one of Marie’s first appearances on the programme she shared her feelings about her love life. She said: “I think the problem is that I fall into the funny girl bracket; I’m not very good at being all sexy. I’m not that person”. Those first few words made my head snap up from idly scrolling on my phone and really listen, as I could sympathise with Marie a little bit. From the age of about 11 I had felt the same way: I knew I could be pretty loud and had quite a weird sense of humour, and I worried that these traits would make me unattractive to men.

So, when I finally met my now-boyfriend I was terrified. I say ‘finally’ because we had been emailing each other every day for a month. I had contacted my university’s radio show about speaking on a film podcast, he got back to me and it pretty much went from there. As I was leaving the house to meet him face-to-face, my friend said with a gentle smile, “just don’t… just don’t, you know… be yourself too much”.

This wasn’t meant maliciously. She was just trying to help me seem more serene and refined, something that Marie is also aiming for: ‘‘I’m trying to be a lady. I’m gonna try not to get salmon all over my chops”.

But, as a result, I was practically silent. Horrified at the thought of saying something I would regret, I basically nodded lots and gave the odd quite creepy smile – so much so that one of his friends later commented he thought I was too quiet for it to last. I asked my boyfriend before writing this if that initial meeting had put him off. He reminded me that many of my emails had been written in all caps and I would talk mostly about how much I loved tiny cute things and wanted to eat them. He had an inkling that I was nervous.

Sometimes it feels like other women are subconsciously (or consciously) holding themselves back too. Watching the fantastically funny, friendly, warm, kind Marie think for even a second that Davin’s rejection was anything remotely to do with her sense of humour was almost too painful to bear.

Whatever gender you are, there is the cliché that when dating you should ‘be yourself’. But it feels like there’s a lot of pressure on women to not be ourselves at all. If we discuss our new promotion over dinner, we can worry that we will come across as conceited or cocky. If we talk about how hilariously shitfaced we got the night before, we can worry we will come across as too blokey, too ‘loose’, too lacking in self-respect. If we casually mention that yes, one day we would love to be married with kids, we can worry that we will seem desperate, lacking in ambition and keen to trap the first man we meet.

We are currently surrounded by some of the best female comics for years. We have Amy Schumer telling us humorous anecdotes about her sexual exploits. We have Lena Dunham, baring her full body with no shame, no cover ups and with total honesty. We have Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson in Broad City, whose characters go about their lives as twenty-something women in New York, being unabashedly themselves.

Being yourself is important. Being the funny woman that you are is essential. Women like me and Marie from First Dates should continue to look to the Katherine Ryans and the Aisling Beas of the world for inspiration, and remember that there are few things as attractive as a razor sharp wit and a proper throaty laugh.

Image is of a woman smiling and raising her eyebrows in a humorous way
Courtesy of Asim Bharwani on Flickr

Bechdel Testing Theatre

by Guest Blogger // 16 December 2016, 7:30 am

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This is a guest post by Beth Watson of Bechdel Theatre. Beth Watson is an actor based in London. She trained at Goldsmith’s and LSDA, specialises in devised and collaborative theatre, comedy and new writing. She would include political theatre, but all theatre is political. Watson founded Bechdel Theatre in October 2015, after a conversation about gender representation and diversity in theatre at a Devoted and Disgruntled open-space event at Camden People’s Theatre. Watson has written guest blogs about Bechdel Testing Theatre for Waking The Feminists, Fringe Review and Bechdel Theatre has been featured in The Stage newspaper.

btlxmas
If you don’t know what the Bechdel test is, it’s a series of criteria used to determine whether women are represented on screen as having an autonomous existence from male characters. It came from a comic strip by Alison Bechdel (and idea by Liz Wallace) in which two women talk about how they only want to see films with:

    1. At least two female characters, who
    2. talk to each other, about
    3. something other than a man.

It was a joke, but it struck a chord with feminist audiences who had had enough of women being under-represented or absent on screen. It’s been frequently referenced and debated in feminist pop culture commentary for 30 years, and spawned countless sister-tests and alternatives. As well as movies, it’s been used to talk about representation in TV, novels, video games, and theatre.

As a feminist actor and theatre lover, I find the test helpful in looking for scripts to work on and shows to see which are not completely erasing or ignoring the existence of women as humans alongside our functions as mothers, daughters, wives, girlfriends and so on of male characters. This is why I founded Bechdel Theatre: to use the test positively to highlight examples of theatre that buck the trend for underrepresentation, and make some kind of effort to show that people of my gender exist.

img_20160808_235520Since autumn 2015, Bechdel Theatre has been relentlessly applying the Bechdel test to theatre of every genre and on every scale (mainly in London, because that’s where I’m based, but we’ll take recommendations from anywhere!) We’ve been tweeting and blogging about shows that feature women. We’ve stuck ‘pass’ stickers on theatre posters alongside star ratings (inspired by Swedish cinema’s A-Rating) to help audiences seeking shows. We’ve held post-show discussions about shows that ace the test, encouraging a two-way conversation between audiences and creatives about how gender is being represented on stage. We help shows with interesting representations of women to get socially-aware bums on seats by encouraging theatre-savvy professionals and enthusiasts to #BringAFeministFriend to the theatre whenever they have a spare ticket.

Bechdel Testing Life

The next stage in using the Bechdel test as a force for good, is to generate new work to fill the gap that the test is normally used to criticise. We’re doing this by launching a brand new creative venture that we’ve called Bechdel Testing Life. We’re asking women to record their own conversations – whether they be everyday or remarkable – and email them to us, so we can pass on the recordings to writers and theatre-makers to be used as inspiration for a series of plays. This is a long-term project to generate work inspired by authentic examples of a diverse range of women having conversations about a broad spectrum of subjects

We want anyone who identifies as a woman (trans* and non-binary, non-conforming women very much included) to record a conversation, by any means possible, whenever you have the time, about any topic important to you (don’t worry too much about mentioning men, if you feel you’re passing the Bechdel test, that counts as a pass!) We especially want to hear from women under-represented in theatre and the wider media: BAME/POC, LGBTQ+, D/deaf, disabled, fat, working-class, over 30 – anyone ignored, marginalised, tokenised, stereotyped or sidelined – we want to get your stories and voices seen and heard. We also want people of any gender/s (or none) who care about representation to be involved: be on the creative team, join the audience, spread the word.

The first scratch night of new work generated from your recordings of real-life Bechdel test passes will be at Theatre Delicatessen’s latest beautifully re-purposed space, The Old Library, on Saturday 21 January and live-stream broadcast online for anyone who can’t make it, with subtitled recordings available at a later date (the venue is recently reclaimed and not yet wheelchair accessible, we’ll be doing all we can to increase accessibility for both this event and future shows). The evening will be an opportunity to mingle and have your own conversations with like-minded feminists, as well as seeing the performances. Tickets are available on Theatre Deli’s website.

We look forward to hearing your conversations – get recording now and email bechdeltheatre@gmail.com. There are some guidelines on recording your own Bechdel Testing Life conversation on our website. If you’d like to inspire the work at January’s scratch night, the deadline for sending your conversation is 3 January, so you have a couple of weeks to sit down over a cup of something mulled and have a good long chat with a woman in your life. And everyone who contributes a conversation by that deadline will get a free ticket to the scratch night. We can’t wait to hear what you have to say!


Image 1 has been created by Bechdel Theatre to promote the project. It shows two cut out faces, in black, with speech bubbles coming out of their mouths which say “Bechdel Testing” and “Life”. There are blue snowflakes behind them. At the top of the image there is a picture of some holly and the words “This festive season we’re” in red and at the bottom of the picture are the words “record yourself passing the Bechdel test + send it to bechdeltheatre@gmail.com”.

Image 2 is a photograph of the poster from the show In Tents and Purposes from the Edinburgh Festival (reviewed by The F-Word here) with a sticker on it which states “This show passes the Bechdel test!”

Horses and headlocks

by Emily Moore // 15 December 2016, 7:29 am

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Emily Moore is The F-Word’s guest blogger for December

I’ve always been puzzled by the arbitrary nature of the gender binary and its application to things that have nothing to do with gender, before I realised I identified as non-binary. Never a typical girl, I refused to wear dresses on principle for several years after being told that I should because “girls wear pretty dresses”.

My two passions since a young teenager have been martial arts and horse riding. One of these is framed as a very masculine pursuit, the other overwhelmingly ‘girly’. This makes no sense to me. The traits and broad skills that are required are extremely similar and I have found improvements in my riding have led to improvements in my martial arts training and vice versa.

Working with and riding horses takes strength: to carry hay bales and bedding, bags of feed, tack and equipment; to disagree with an animal weighing at least half a tonne; to keep your balance in the saddle and to get straight back in it when inevitably your balance fails you. Martial arts also take strength: to punch, block, kick, strike, throw, restrain and lock; to hold kick shields and strike pads for your partners, to take hits and keep your balance.

Both sports require fine motor skills, balance and coordination as well as the drive to keep improving those. It takes tenacity and bravery bordering on the reckless to keep riding, to get back in the saddle, to catch the reluctant horse, to handle the one that kicked you yesterday, to jump that jump that you clattered through five minutes ago. Similar courage is required in martial arts, to keep trying that technique you can’t quite pull off or sparring with that person that kicked you yesterday.

Why then is the former considered feminine and the latter masculine?

I have encountered many more women riders than men and all save for one of my horsey friends are women. I used to teach at a riding school and below the age of about eight we had about an even split of boys and girls. The main reason the boys stopped? Losing interest due to being ridiculed for liking what was deemed to be a girls’ pursuit. Whenever I have heard horse riding being labelled as a an activity for girls, it has been to make it lesser, to gloss over the toughness, skill and bravery that all riders have regardless of gender. Compassion and love for horse is framed as sentimental and weak, rather than recognising how amazing it is that we can communicate and have a connection with a creature that does not use language as we do.

The perception that fighting is not for girls seems to come from the idea that girls need protecting by others and that being a good fighter and being able to defend yourself comes down to pure brute force. I have been taught that there are three strengths for a good fighter: physical, mental and technical. I fight differently from the men I train with, but they each fight just as differently from each other. I am only 5’5”, so it makes sense that I wouldn’t favour the same techniques as the guy who is 6’2”. In addition, height is not always an advantage. I can be quite difficult to overbalance by force alone, from learning how to stay on my feet while being barged about by ill-mannered horses.

Cramming these two pursuits into the gender binary serves to erase both the commonalities between them as well as their differences, reducing them. Riding is not just about petting horses just as martial arts is not just about brute physical strength.

The photo is by Mary Austin and is used under a creative commons licence. It shows a woman, Kim Jones, dressed in riding clothes and boots and using a wheelchair, attaching the bridle of a horse, Star.

Bullying Melania Trump is not my feminism

by Guest Blogger // 14 December 2016, 1:00 pm

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Woman lost in thought

This is a guest post by Alice Spencer, who lives in a small town in Suffolk. She is the first in her family to go to uni and is studying English at UEA. She hopes to one day be a journalist

We were all tired of it months ago. With every analysis, high-profile blunder and conspiracy theory desecrating our newsfeeds, I think the US election has just about exhausted us. The woman with 30 years of political experience was beaten by the guy with none. It was crushing; it was soul-destroying. But while it’s difficult to understand how anyone could stand by him, it seems easy to conclude we should hate those that do, beginning with Melania Trump.

Hillary Clinton recently said “There have been a few times this past week when all I’ve wanted to do was just curl up with a good book and our dogs and never leave the house ever again.” And, honestly, I totally get where she’s coming from. Trump’s victory had a clear message for women in America and throughout the world: no matter how qualified you are, no matter how much experience you have, no matter how deplorable your opponent is, if said opponent is a rich, white male, chances are that he’ll win.

Let’s flashback to a few months ago to the UK leadership race. Andrea Leadsom was Theresa May’s main rival until she made a monumental slip-up in just four fatal words: “But I have children”. Leadsom apologised several times for this comment but ultimately she knew she couldn’t win after it.

Comparing Leadsom’s quickly-retracted motherhood comment with just one of the numerous terrible things Trump has said is telling about the margin for error we allow women versus men. The same gender-skewed margin which, regardless of how you feel about her, we’re guilty of inflicting on Melania.

Trump’s biggest clanger was inevitably his brag to the equally shady Billy Bush: if he sees an attractive woman, being a star allows him to “grab them by the pussy”. Trump half-apologised for this comment, if apologise means deflecting criticism onto Bill Clinton. Despite what the polls said, this remark didn’t really damage Trump’s overall popularity. Even worse: some tried to justify it.

One of these justifiers was, naturally, his wife. Seemingly the kind of “Tammy Wynette standing by her man” that Hillary Clinton detests, Melania dismissed Trump’s comments as “boy talk”.

The most disturbing thing about all this though is the abuse both Melania and Ivanka Trump have received from other women since the election result. I think we’ve all felt like Hillary Clinton since Trump’s victory. In this state it’s easy to lash out and Melania Trump is the obvious target. She was for Gigi Hadid. At last month’s AMAs, the model impersonated the next first lady while presenting an award, imitating her European accent and plumped-up lips.

On one level, I can understand Hadid’s frustration. A vote in favour of Donald Trump seems in favour of a more familiar kind of femininity represented by the Trump women and thereby a rejection of the uncomfortable, “nasty” type represented by Hillary — the type that challenges and questions. But moving forwards femininity can’t continually be defined as us and them.

If anything, I’m surprised it took an election for us to realise that a seemingly forward-thinking society doesn’t want a woman at the top. This is the same society where a sizable amount of coverage of Clinton’s recent comment was about her bare face.

The dialogue about women isn’t going to change if we continue to fall into the trap laid out for us by the tabloid press which pulls in readers by pitting women against each other. It seems strange to me how the level of anger directed at Melania Trump for justifying her husband’s behaviour doesn’t equate to the anger at Trump for acting the way he did; people still voted for him. There’s still an understanding out there that the boundaries of what is acceptable for a man are more lax than for a woman. That won’t be changed by attacking a woman who now has the influence to challenge this attitude.

Melania Trump stated that her cause as first lady would be to tackle online bullying, much to the scorn of those who pointed out that her husband was the biggest bully of all. Admittedly, I was one of those scorners. But if Melania Trump stays true to her word she could be instrumental in helping women move forwards.

Feminism has long been misunderstood as a hostile term. At its root it means equality. Why does ascribing to a more traditional, long-haired, dress-wearing femininity mean you can’t be a feminist? Hillary Clinton graciously said immediately after conceding victory that we have to give Donald Trump “a chance to lead“. I believe we should do the same for the Trump women and this begins with not bullying each other. That glass ceiling is going to be harder to break if we’re divided.

Image by Steven Estes, from Unsplash. Used with Creative Commons Zero licence.

Image is of a blond woman with glasses, looking thoughtfully into the camera as if considering a difficult topic. Her pale blue t-shirt is almost the same colour as the wall she stands in front of.

guttfull

This is a guest post by Ngaire Ruth. Ngaire is a writer and journalist, who worked at Melody Maker for 15 years and was live editor at the girls are for four years. She teaches music and feminist theory at the University of Creative Arts. Below, she reviews Loud Women’s most recent gig night, held at the Veg Bar in Brixton on 2 December

As a young music journalist at the Melody Maker, I had total belief in music making all men equal – including the women. It was always a battle to get unknown women artists or DIY bands into the reviews section, however, while any boy-based band of similar ilk was automatically covered. Both reviewers and readership went on to evolve into the Uncut‘s, Mojo‘s and Q‘s of the world.

At the time, as a feminist and Marxist, I felt beholden to champion any awful noise a bunch of women made on stage, because it was all about positive discrimination, role models and breaking new ground.

The statistics are still important and certainly debatable, but with independent promoters such as London based Loud Women, or Brighton’s Riots Not Diets community, a girl can get used to indie night billings that feature three or four girl-powered bands. This means that an old hack can really start to notice the ones that will melt the hearts of a wider demographic, not just this glorious cranking-up-for-Christmas, converted audience.

Guttfull’s set list rings true of old, reminding us that we still need to shout about misconceptions. Song titles include ‘Tits And Nails’ and ‘Arsehole’ and a cover of Consolidated feat. The Yeastie Girls’ ‘You Suck’. The titles belie the melodies and groove of the band, for whom reference points from the herstory of exciting music come thick and fast, such as X Ray Spex and The Slits (minus the dub and reggae). At points, vocalist Moe sounds like Kathleen Hanna.

It’s a thrill to see small things still matter, evidenced by the reverence with which the next band, IV, carry their many effects pedals off the stage, and the carnivelesque-meets-Instagram attire of the vocalist. Sadly, they are still trying to sound like their male heroes, Muse and The Killers, with generic big guitar swells of rock and pop performed with traditional pomposity and aplomb, and lyrics which evolve around shadowy phrases like “evil things” and threats to “break you down”. It’s all about impact to IV at the moment. I feel the guitarist and his ego are actually trespassing on our brave new world and recognise his performance from the rule book of the traditional rock ‘n’ roll cannon; a place where women don’t get to create meaning and are always referred to as ‘other’.

And then it happens: tunes! Bare-naked tunes. The unknown delights of band The Baby Seals – an electric guitar and bass, with drummer combo, warmed by vocal harmonies and humour. From the start, the songs sweep in like a summer breeze. Think Dum Dum Girls tenacity for songwriting, with an eye for an in-joke (‘My Labia’s Lopsided But I Don’t Mind’) and an alternative viewpoint (‘It’s Not About the Money, Honey’). Here’s a band whose music will shine anywhere, anytime.

Finally, The Nyx appear, who immediately display the fierce intent and confidence it takes to emulate the power riffs of prog rock bands of ages past. Skills and purpose from multiple women and their guitars is empowering, long may it be so, but it’s not groundbreaking anymore. Thankfully, neither is it unusual to see women playing heavy rock guitars with wild abandon. I celebrate the fact that The Nyx will not be restricted to playing the Bulldog Bash as the novelty act, and that they will be taken seriously by fans of the genre, but I leave hastily to chase Baby Seals and make friends.

The picture is of the band Guttfull with band members, left to right, Moe on vocals, Magnus on drums and Gemma on bass guitar. Other band members, Cassie and Phil, are sadly out of shot. The three are onstage at the Loud Women event and are mid-set. Moe is singing with conviction, whilst Magnus and Gemma are immersed in their instruments. Image by Paul Boyling.

Lessons from Period School

by Guest Blogger // 13 December 2016, 7:30 am

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riding-cotton-pony-landscapeThis is a guest post by Sarah Hewett, a young female entrepreneur who talks a lot about tampons and wants to create a more sustainable society. She tweets about periods, gender, the environment and sustainable products at @MonthliesUK.

Eighteen months ago, I became a tamponpreneur. I’d been menstruating myself for about 12 years by that point and I considered myself a pretty keen feminist, so I didn’t expect to learn too much new stuff about surfing the crimson wave. I was so wrong – there is loads to learn at Period School.

Biology

An easy one to start: periods come from the vagina. You cannot ‘hold them’ like pee. We all know this, but this young meninist didn’t.

Vulva and vagina get mixed up a lot in conversation – people often mean ‘vulva’ but say ‘vagina’. The vulva is the external female genitalia, so the labia minora, labia majora, clitoris, clitoral hood, urethra and the vagina. The Vagina Dispatches episode 1 takes a giant vulva on tour to see what people really know.

The stuff that comes out in your period is only about half blood. The other half is cells from the lining of the uterus mixed up in cervical mucus. Nice.

Periods can come in all sorts of flows and colours but many people don’t know the signs of an unhealthy period. This little guide will help you to be sure.

Modern Foreign Languages

From ‘shark week’ to ‘riding the cotton pony’, there are countless euphemisms for periods from around the world. These are some of my favourites:

Germany: Strawberry week

Denmark: The communists are in the fun house

South Africa: Granny’s stuck in traffic

China: Little sister has arrived

History

In the olden days, women would probably have had fewer periods in total, as they would have been pregnant and breastfeeding for more of their lives, and poor diet for most would have meant a later start to periods.

Tampons were first patented (by a man) in 1929, but women had been using make-shift devices since at least the Ancient Egyptian times (papyrus wodge anyone?).

Environmental Studies

mooncup-landscapeIn a pack of major brand menstrual pads, there is the same weight of plastic as four carrier bags. That means the UK has a carbon footprint of 80,000 tonnes of CO2 annually just from sanitary pads.

There are great alternatives out there, from reusable menstrual cups and washable pads to organic, biodegradable options which leave a softer footprint on the earth.

Geography

In rural parts of Nepal, menstruating women are considered unclean and not allowed to prepare food or touch male relatives, and in some communities are forced to sleep outside.

In Japan, women are not permitted to be sushi chefs in top restaurants because it is believed that menstruation causes their sense of taste to become unbalanced resulting in a bad tuna roll.

AfriPads are a great charity based in Uganda, who employ local women to produce and sell reusable pads, making it easier for girls to stay in school during their period.

Physical Education

Back in January 2015, Heather Watson put her defeat in the Australian Open down to “girl things” and we all realized how unusual it was to hear athletes talking about periods.

This summer, Olympian Fu Yuanhui from the Chinese swimming team became a menstrual hero when she told us her period had started the day before the relay final in which China placed 4th and she felt she’d let her team down because of it.

While lots of people recommend exercise to take the edge off cramps, many menstruators prefer a different type of exercise (spoiler: it’s sex). Orgasms are thought to interrupt the muscular spasms which cause period pain.

Politics

Over 40 countries (at least) still have a tax on menstrual products, including 41 states in the US. Proof that the patriarchy lives on in political systems around the world (as if we needed reminding!).

The UK ‘luxury’ tax on menstrual products (including re-usable ones) sits at 5%. This was hotly discussed in Parliament last October, when Stella Creasy refused to continue a debate with Bill Cash until he stopped calling menstrual supplies “these items” and used the word ‘tampon’.

George Osborne got an agreement in principle from the EU that the tampon tax could be scrapped but it has yet to become clear when that will happen.

Business Studies

For decades, big brands have been selling pads and tampons by way of clear blue liquid and women horse riding in white dresses. We cheered when Bodyform finally showed some blood earlier this year.

The more I learn at Period School, the more I realise how much shame, embarrassment, confusion, misinformation and misogyny surround menstruation. I don’t look forward to the communists visiting my fun house each month, but we need to be able to talk openly about periods (and get men talking about them too), to recognise health problems, raise body-confident daughters and replace the secrecy with education.

Image at top of blog shows illustration of naked woman riding a large tampon with legs, as if it were a pony, and is courtesy of Layla Ehsan
Image accompanying Environmental Studies lesson is of a menstrual cup and is courtesy menstruationstasse.net on Flickr

Weekly round-up and open thread

by Lusana Taylor // 12 December 2016, 5:00 pm

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6793191538_ac1fe1757f_z
Welcome to another weekly round-up, which is actually a fortnightly round-up this time, due to staff sickness. Apologies to anyone who missed it last week!

As always, linking to articles does not mean endorsement from the F-Word and certain links may be triggering. We welcome debate in the comments section and on Facebook/Twitter but remind readers that any comments containing sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic or disablist language will be deleted immediately.

If you notice that we’ve missed out any important articles from the past week, feel free to let us know.

It Pays to Be an Assertive Woman in the Workplace, New Study Says (Vice)

‘Camouflaging’ domestic violence with makeup, TV show apologises (SBS)

A ‘new’ Pirelli calendar? No, it’s just a retread (The Guardian)

World AIDS Day: AIDS Activists Become the New Feminists in Africa (NBC)

Eric Bristow’s toxic tweets matter. These attitudes silence abuse victims (The Guardian)

It is an act of resistance to have fun (Mama Cash)

From the article: “Of course, we need to stop rape, ensure that gender inequality disappears from the workplace and that women are not driven from their country. However, if we’re not careful, we end up not talking enough about the right to have control: control over our own body and how we experience pleasure. That demand may be more threatening to the established order than our emphasis on problems. There is now much discussion at large policy conferences worldwide about violence against women, poverty among women, genital mutilation, etc. But talking about pleasure, and especially physical pleasure of and for women and trans people, remains a taboo.”

Man Magically Transforms Into Music Historian While Talking to Women (The Hard Times) [Satire]

UK Salvation Army chief defends ban on gay members (Pink News)

‘Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life’ Has A White Feminism Problem (The Establishment)

From the article: “These moments illustrate a lack of compassion for marginalized folks, and understanding of why such callousness is problematic. And unlike with shows such as It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (which has its own issues), we’re never meant to think of Rory and Lorelai as self-centered narcissists swimming in their own grandeur. They’re intended to be relatable and likable.”

A Woman Just Stood Up To Trump’s Latest Outburst On Twitter – And America Is Cheering Her On (Groopspeak)

A judge who called a victim of sexual assault “foolish” because she was drunk is hurting us all (The Pool)

From the article: “The law doesn’t exist to make a moral call about the way we should behave. It should serve to protect us from harm. Who isn’t “foolish” sometimes? How many mistakes has Mr Gilbart made in his life and how often have they had serious consequences? We can’t compare one woman’s violation with a parking ticket or a lost wallet, but I’d be prepared to bet that the judge has made errors, experienced regret and has only been able to deal with the outcome of his own “foolish” episodes thanks to the kindness and compassion of others.”

How Kinky and Non-Traditional Parents are Punished by US Family Courts (Vice)

From the article: “I can predict the likelihood of my success by zip code,” said Diana Adams, a family lawyer from New York who has spent the last decade working with clients who are LGBTQ, polyamorous, kinky, or otherwise outside the mainstream. Because family court judges are elected by direct vote in many states, their tolerance of alternative lifestyles tends to correlate with that of the surrounding area. She represents clients in both New York City and more conservative areas of upstate New York, and says that the weight of a parent’s sex life upon a judge’s decision varies wildly from judge to judge, depending on their political views. She also provides advice to clients out of state, and has noticed a pattern: For clients like hers, Southern and rural areas are unforgiving places for cases to come before family court judges.”

How to Talk to Kids About Sexy Dolls Without Sex-Shaming (Everyday Feminism)

From the article: “…If our attitudes include unchecked sex-shaming, our kids grow up thinking the clothes are the problem. Or, more likely, the women wearing those clothes.”

The callous abuse of Maria Schneider, and the impunity of Hollywood men (The Pool)

Is the “O-Shot” what women need for better sex? (The Guardian)

From the article: “Dr Charles Runels has been called a miracle-worker by the women whose clitorises he has injected with their own blood. But many medical professionals believe the effects are simply placebo – and question Runels’ methods. Is his work helping liberate female sexuality?”

‘I’m not a victim, I’m a survivor’ – MP shares personal experience of rape in Commons debate (Left Foot Forward)
CN: Rape/sexual assault

How do you change a macho parliament? Talk about the reality of rape (The Guardian)
CN: Rape/sexual assault

Remember the 14: École Polytechnique, Montréal (CBC)

Femininity is Not a Negative Trait (Empathize This)

The image is used under a creative commons license with thanks to Erin Shea on Flickr. It is a black and white photograph showing various items of make-up on a tabletop, including nail varnish, a lipstick, soap and a few hair clips. A pair of hands hold a powder compact, pushing the puff into the powder with, what looks to be, some force.

Single women don’t need your modern pity

by Guest Blogger // 7 December 2016, 1:00 pm

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Single woman

This is a guest post by Rachel St Clair, a Glasgow girl living in Brighton. She’s a performance artist currently moonlighting as a flight attendant.

As a single woman, I’m no stranger to frequent discussions regarding my love life or lack thereof. If you have been single for any length of time then you will know what I mean.

These discussions are hardly ever instigated by myself but they more often than not end the same way – with me trying to justify why I am single, regardless of whether or not this information is anyone’s business.

Only recently I had one of these dreaded conversations with a male colleague of mine who, even after I had justified my situation with the usual explanations that now effortlessly roll off the tip of my tongue – “The time has never been right, and I guess I just like my own company. I can’t imagine myself in a relationship”– stared at me with an expression I have come to know so well. As the years go on, that mixed look of perplexity, amusement and pity I get when I tell people of my marital status only seems to become more and more caricatured and grotesque.

But the truth is that although I am alone, I don’t seem to be the only one. The Office of National Statistics released data in 2015 which indicated that 51% of people in England and Wales are single, with the numbers of those living in singledom up 3 million in a decade. It is somehow comforting to know that I am not alone and yet these numbers seem strange. In a world where potential dates are determined by a simple swipe to the left or right, why is it that so many of us have remained alone?

My personal stint with Tinder was fairly brief, lasting around 8 or 9 months in total. I found building my own profile exhausting, trying somehow to create the perfect profile of the kind of woman someone would want to date. There seem to be so many rules regarding how to create the perfect Tinder profile: don’t post too many selfies unless you want to look narcissistic, don’t post tit pics unless you want people to think you’re a slut, don’t send a message to someone after 10pm on a weekend unless you’re looking for an instant hook-up. When I deleted the app I felt relief and I think this was probably the same moment that I realised I enjoy being alone. Creating a Tinder profile was only a means of conforming to the perceived role of the modern single woman.

Popular culture is littered with societal perceptions of how the single female should behave. After all, if you’re not a Samantha from SATC, then you’re a Bridget Jones. If you’re neither then you’re probably more closely linked to Dickens’ lonely spinster Miss Havisham. Or so they would have you believe, because if you’re not promiscuous, desperate or lonely or a combination of all three, how can you really identify as a single woman? Such is the stigma attached to the lone female.

These stereotypes are pervasive and they exist in conjunction with and to strengthen a culture that is fixated on controlling women to behave in a way that it deems acceptable.

What if you don’t see yourself as any of these characters, as I’m sure most single women do not? What are the consequences you might face? Well, you’re probably no stranger to conversations similar to the ones I have already described.

I’m left wondering whether the pity I receive as a single woman would be quite so abundant if I were male. I am reminded of a quote by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in her short yet powerful publication We Should All Be Feminists in which she acknowledges that

…a woman at a certain age who is unmarried, our society teaches her to see it as a deep personal failure. And a man, after a certain age isn’t married, we just think he hasn’t come around to making his pick

She is certainly right. The double standards reflected by society when it comes to the perception of the single male versus the female are just another example of the shame and degradation women are made to face when they refuse to conform to cultural expectations.

I enjoy the company of my friends, who I believe are a far more important driving force in how happy I feel in my life, but I am not looking for what I’m told I should. The reality is that single women should not be encouraged to explore avenues they do not wish to pursue. Being single is an excellent opportunity to discover and become confident in the individual that you are. So take your time, slow down and focus on yourself. Above all, refuse to be shamed for your oneness.

Image is of a woman of colour wearing black lipstick and large black, decorative hoop earrings. She is facing the camera but is looking up and smirking slightly, as if lost in thought.

Image by Henri Meilhac, from Unsplash. Used under Creative Commons Zero licence.

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