This is a guest post by Beth Leslie. A full-time writer and adoptee Londoner, Beth can usually be found debating politics in quirky bars designed to look like laundromats. You can follow her on Twitter @bethanygrace92

A CEO and a secretary walk into an office. She picks up a file, and he takes a seat. Picture the scene, then riddle me this: is it the secretary or the CEO who is currently standing up holding the document?

The answer is that it’s impossible to tell with the information provided. We know the woman isn’t seated, but not what her job title is. Those who thought they knew probably made an assumption based on the only fact they had: her gender. A quick straw poll of my nearest and dearest reveals the unsurprising – people were far more likely to assume the woman was the secretary than the CEO.

Confession time: I did exactly the same thing.

Not with the above example, admittedly, but with this riddle about how a boxer can win a match where ‘no man throws a punch’. I consider myself a fully paid-up member of the feminist club. I constantly push back against latent sexism from friends and family. But when it came to envisioning a female pugilist, I fell shockingly short.

Perhaps I’m just a bad feminist. Or perhaps such gendered assumptions have become so ingrained in our collective psyche by patriarchy that we all cannot help but occasionally be susceptible to them.

I doubt many of us would have to think hard to recall a real-life instance of gender-assumption. My particular bugbear was being mistaken for a male colleague’s PA if I answered the phone in his absence. My partner recently offered to introduce a client to the (female) director, only to have the client respond that they’d be delighted to meet ‘him’. And my best friend, an economics editor, is constantly dealing with confused writers who assume she must be a man.

Yet most of these assumers are not explicit sexists. The Fawcett Society has found that over two-thirds of Brits support gender equality in principal, and consequently I doubt many of them believe that women could or should not be executives, directors and economists. So what’s going on?

Psychologists talk about something called ‘adaptive unconscious’; the part of our brain that makes decisions or snap judgements without our conscious mind being aware that it is doing so. The adaptive unconscious is actually pretty useful from an evolutionary point of view (it’s the process that underpins Malcolm Gladwell’s famous book Blink), but it also has a nasty habit of reacting off any innate prejudices, including those we may not even realise we have.

For as long as the society we grow up in is inherently patriarchal, the adaptive unconscious means that even the most enlightened of us have to make a deliberate, concerted effort to reassign our assumptions about men and women. Unfortunately, effort is something that humans tend not to be fond of. So whenever we’re tired, or in a hurry, or distracted, or under pressure, we find ourselves falling back on the same stereotypes.

For me, a writer and self-confessed logophile, the obvious focal point in this phenomenon is gendered pronouns. When these come into play, everything from occupations to personality traits becomes assigned to a male or female subject.

In an equal world this wouldn’t matter, because the distribution would be roughly even. But in an unequal world like ours, the male/female assignment is so strongly skewed to one gender that we begin to see the two words, and therefore concepts, as inextricably linked. I write careers advice for a living, and I can tell you that phrases such as ‘he was the receptionist’ have come to sound so incongruous that some editors have kindly ‘corrected’ them for me.

To the Richard Dawkins of this world, the gender assigned to a hypothetical administrator may seem relatively unimportant. But, as anyone who has watched a Derren Brown show knows, human beings are highly susceptible to the power of suggestion. If you are a woman who sees over and over and over again that powerful people are male, you start to believe that power is beyond your grasp, as this article from TIME shows: “[Millennials] are fame-obsessed: three times as many middle school girls want to grow up to be a personal assistant to a famous person as want to be a Senator… four times as many would pick the assistant job over CEO of a major corporation”.

The fact that TIME didn’t even notice that these ‘fame-obsessed’ girls didn’t aspire to be the famous person, but only their assistant, points to the second danger of implicit sexism: its implicitness. Calling a female director ‘sir’ or using a picture of a woman to depict an assistant seems so minor, so insignificant, that it slips under the radar. But, like all microaggressions, it adds up.

Indeed, innate assumptions about gender are the very foundations upon which patriarchy is built. Without ripping them out completely, we cannot plant a fairer and more equal society in its place.

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 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.

Police in Northern Ireland are raiding women’s houses for abortion pills (The Debrief)

Meet the woke misogynist (Fusion)

The invention of ‘heterosexuality’ (BBC Future)

From the article: “Until this point in our Earth’s history, the human species has been furthered by different-sex reproductive intercourse. About a century ago, we attached specific meanings to this kind of intercourse, partly because we wanted to encourage it. But our world is very different now than what it was. Technologies like preimplantation genetic diagnosis [PGD] and in vitro fertilisation [IVF] are only improving. The first human to be born by IVF turned 25 years old last year. In 2013, more than 63,000 babies were conceived via IVF. In fact, more than five million children have been born through assisted reproductive technologies. Granted, this number still keeps such reproduction in the slim minority, but all technological advances start out with the numbers against them.”

A 13-year-old girl can not have a “lover” (The Pool)

The queer life of chronic pain (Dazed)

Clementine Ford: The problem with rewarding men who support feminism (Stuff)

From the article: “So forgive me for not really caring all that much about the sudden “wokeness” of boys who categorically are not forced to suffer the same backlash that their female peers are just for speaking to their actual experiences.”

A new wave of feminist manifestos address women and power (New Statesman)

Why ‘inclusivity’ in feminism isn’t always a good thing (Huck)

From the article: “It’s in the interests of these for-profit corporations to make these messages as bland and uncontroversial as possible. In doing so, they can avoid alienating potential customers, but this limits their political usefulness. When “inclusivity” involves placing marginalised women (such as trans women or women of colour) at the centre of a movement, attempting to make feminism more “inclusive” is clearly a good thing. Watering down rhetoric so that almost everyone agrees with it however is a different matter entirely.”

‘We Need To Talk About Race’: Solidarity Movements In Uncertain Times (gal-dem)

Carnage, review: Simon Amstell has made the world’s first pro-vegan comedy that is actually funny (Independent)

The image is used under a creative commons license with thanks to Renee Hawk on Flickr. It shows delicate white snowdrop flowers, perfect for the Spring Equinox!

Weekly round-up and open thread

by Lusana Taylor // 15 March 2017, 6:22 am


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 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.

This guy did an email experiment to find out how women are treated differently to men. The results were fascinating (The Poke)

Margaret Atwood on What ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Means in the Age of Trump (New York Times)

Look Out 10s, a 5 is Coming: On the Power of Unattractiveness (Kayleigh Anne at Medium)

Sex Wars Revisited (Aperture)

From the article: “Held within lesbian sex cultures of the 1980s are the kernels of the ongoing struggles for recognition—of trans folk, sex workers, fat activists—that continue to unsettle feminism today.”

Feminism And Nudity: Why Are The Two Still At Odds? (Reni Eddo-Lodge at British Vogue)

From the article: “Ivy League-educated, demure, socially conscious, white and pretty, Emma Watson fits perfectly into to the category of the woman whose breasts we are not supposed to see. In the binary of virgin and whore, she is firmly in the former camp. It is this that has upset the critics of her photoshoot, because there is an idea that nudity of any kind is for women of a lower class.”

Sex Work, Unpaid Labour, and the Strike (Margaret Corvid at Novara Media)

From the article: “Much of our reproductive labour is done during our ‘free time,’ but we are born into a system that doesn’t give us much of a choice about what kind of people we want to create ourselves as. Whether we want to or not, we send our children to schools that inculcate them with ideas that equip them for their roles within an oppressive system; if we want to teach them how to resist, we must teach them that ourselves. Reproductive labour is work, but neither employers nor the government pay us to do that shift. Instead, capitalist society pressurises women in particular to love and care for our families and households out of the goodness of our hearts.

And that’s why sex work grinds capitalists’ gears — whether it’s right wing moralist capitalists or ostensibly liberal feminists, they all hate us. Sex and intimacy and the emotional labour around sex are the most sacrosanct of work that we are supposed to perform for free, and when we charge for it, society is horrified.”

The “real” issue (Fae rising)

From the article: “The same trope – purity masquerading as reality – turns up time and time again in respect of race and nationality – from Nazi attempts to define Germanity according to the size and shape of one’s nose to South African laws that sought to define race according to family tree. Appallingly we are having a similar debate in the UK as to whether someone who was born, grew up, and lived all their life here – but with some suspiciously muslim-coloured skin tones – is as “real” a Brit as someone who emigrated to Australia at the tender age of 25.

And of course, the ‘real’ question gets asked all the time of people with any sort of impairment, physical or mental. Is she ‘really’ disabled? Does she deserve the courtesy of being treated as someone who needs assistance to cope with the demands placed on them by everyday society? Or is she really some sort of scrounger, who should be summarily stripped of every benefit going, from blue badge to living allowance?

No. The ‘real’ issue is one I have little time for. For while it is all too frequently posed as innocent question, it is just as often disingenuous assertion, by those with privilege, defending their privileged position: or, othertimes, by those with less privilege, scrambling to hold on to what little they have.”

Here Are Some Ways To Help Build A More Intersectional Feminism (Fader)

SME leaders share their views on workplace inequality (The Telegraph)

Sister Sledge singer Joni dies at 60 (BBC)

Why did people assume an Asian woman in BBC viral video was the nanny? (Helier Cheung, BBC)

Still Think Trans Women Have Male Privilege? These 7 Points Prove They Don’t (Everyday Feminism)

From the article: “Cis boys generally do not question or feel discomfort with the way that society treats them. They are able to accept and enjoy their privilege, usually without even noticing it.

Being called boys, for them, is not accompanied by fear, self-doubt, or the feeling that there is something deeply fundamentally wrong with them.

Young trans girls, on the other hand, tend to experience being treated as male as disorienting and terrifying, because it teaches us that our identities are revolting to society.

Male socialization, for us, is actually a coded message: You’re not who you think you are. If you try to be anything other than what we say, you’ll be punished.”

On the frightening realities of being a woman in 2017 (Billie Loo)
CN: Contains graphic descriptions of misogynistic violence.

From the article [not describing the violent incident]: “At first I described what happened to me as a reality check – that I wasn’t invincible and it’s just the way it is, that there are men out there who will try hard to hurt you and make you feel small and it’s safer to shut your mouth and be amicable than to speak up and put yourself in harms way. The fact of the matter is, sometimes, for your own safety, you do have to let things go in moments of conflict. But fuck knows I will advocate and scream from the rooftops and protest and march and lead by example in every way I possibly can.”

Life at the sharp end: Jessie Knight, Britain’s first female tattoo artist (The Guardian)

The image is used under a creative commons license with thanks to Nana on Flickr. It is a photograph of delicate white blossom hanging from a tree branch. The blossom is very sharply in focus in comparison to the rest of the background, which is extremely blurred, but the green hues would suggest the backdrop is a wood or forest.

Sally Parkin is a writer, poet and new mum who is passionate about creative expression and raising her daughter as a feminist. Sally is our guest blogger for March

It’s August and I’m eight months pregnant. BBC’s Woman’s Hour is on the radio and the topic is ‘Underwear: what do we wear and who is it for?’. Jane Garvey has been sent for a bra fitting with Claire at Selfridges. In the changing rooms, Claire tells Jane: “Everyone we get…from a size 6 to…18 say exactly the same things about their bodies […]. Women need to be a bit kinder to themselves”. My ears prick up.

The discussion continues and another guest, writer and former bra fitter Bridget Minamore, describes how “every single person [she] fitted apologised as they entered the room”. She explains: “All these women hated some part of their body”.

Having always had smaller boobs, bras have never played a big role in my life – other than in the changing rooms at school, where inferior crop-tops and peer pressure made it seem like they should. In fact in my early twenties, I embraced the freedom of not having to wear a bra. It wasn’t until after I gave birth to my daughter in September last year that I suddenly found myself with enormous milk-filled grown-up woman-breasts and so braved it and booked my first fitting.

On the day of the fitting my partner and our brand new baby come along for support. I don’t change in front of them – instead I hide behind the cubicle door in shame. In the mirror is a body I don’t recognise. When I was pregnant, I lost my slim sporty self and embraced the bump, but now I have neither and feel weighed down by new heavy boobs and sore leaky nipples. The unfriendly rush-rush approach of the fitting assistant who seems totally oblivious to my embarrassment makes my experience even more unpleasant.

After the news of my new size sinks in, I feel I am surely at the fun bit: choosing my bra. Disappointment punches me in the chest as I’m directed to a small and uninspiring selection, all in horrible shiny black, white, or a nude exclusive to one type of skin tone. Was this the bland palette of motherhood? Had I lost my identity somewhere in a shopping basket under maternity pads, breast pads and paper knickers?

I settle on the most imaginative design, a white bra with black polka dots. The straps are thick and practical. It costs eighteen pounds, which feels expensive for something so necessary. I buy two. “It’s quite pretty,” I tell myself (if only because the other choices are so hideous).

I question whether my experience of a fitting would have differed if I’d been shopping for a regular bra without my swollen mum breasts. Unfortunately I can say with confidence that I would still have felt saddened by the reflection I saw in the mirror. I imagine the only difference would be that I would have thought that my boobs were ‘too small’ as opposed to ‘too big’.

I do think, however, I would have had a wider choice in bra design. It seems that since having our daughter, my breasts have become purely functional – and so has my underwear. Breastfeeding can sometimes make you feel like you’re a milk-machine. My daughter is five months now and I still find it difficult to admit I’m a stay-at-home mum, brainwashed into thinking I need a job to have my own identity. Often my passions of reading and painting and drawing are forgotten under piles of dirty nappies and a stack of washing up in the sink. For a period of time I was bleeding, milk was leaking out of me and I felt shattered, fragile and emotional. I needed a self-esteem boost. I still wanted my partner to find me attractive and I wanted to feel good about myself.

And feeling good about ourselves after having a baby isn’t easy in a society that wants us to buy products to get rid of our stretch marks, lose our baby weight (quickly) and get back our pre-pregnancy bodies. It is unrealistic and unreasonable.

I strongly reject the label ‘yummy mummy’. The pressure of maintaining the roles of devoted mother and sex goddess simultaneously is wrong and an arguably impossible ask. I have found it very difficult switching between feeding our baby to being intimate with my partner. The feeling of lying in between them, with both wanting me physically, has made me feel torn down the middle and like my body isn’t my own.

So no, I’m not asking for sexy nursing bras with nipple tassels and matching stockings (although maybe some mums are and are equally disappointed by what’s on offer!). As a new mum I definitely want to be comfortable, but I don’t want to be a ‘Mum-bot’. Is it too much to ask for a fun, functional nursing bra that I like and that makes me feel good about myself?

Image courtesy rosefirerising on Flickr. Image depicts racks of colourful bras in a shop

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of attending the press night of the stage adaptation of the film The Diary of a Teenage Girl at the Southwark Playhouse. It’s a really enjoyable show, with a great cast and excellent use of projections. I’ve never seen the film, so I can’t tell you how it compares, but reading Mercedes McGrath’s review of the film for The F-Word, I agree with the writer that it’s fantastic to see a younger female character who is interested in sex and has agency in her life. The play is on until 25 March.

The WOW – Women of the World festival will be running in Hull this weekend as well as London as part of Hull 2017. Hull-born comedian Lucy Beaumont will be opening the festival with a live restaging of her Radio 4 comedy series To Hull and Back with her on-radio mum Maureen Lipman and will also be inviting the people of Hull to a comedy workshop during the weekend. At the heart of the festival will be a series of panels inspired by the series of conversations held across the city with the women of Hull last autumn, including issues such as domestic abuse, inequality in the performing arts, equal pay, body image and championing care. Some events will have live subtitles or British Sign Language interpretation.

Coming up at Hackney Showroom on 27 March is Femme Feral’s THERESAMAYSMACKDOWN, a wrestling show that is also a queer, feminist, anti-fascist, noise-driven, ferocious, fight-based riposte to Theresa May’s pronouncement “In tough times everybody has to take their share of pain” which looks brilliant. It’s part of a festival of cultural activism called Joy & Dissent.

Catherine Hoffmann is going to be on tour with her autobiographical piece Free Lunch With The StenchWench. Charting the drive for survival and fitting in, the StenchWench shares stories of growing up as one of the feral underclass whilst precariously existing in Austerity Britain today. Hoffmann will be in Leeds on 22 March, Camden People’s Theatre from 30 March – 1 April, Glasgow on 7 April, Norwich on 19 April and Colchester on 26 April.

Next month Fancy Chance will be at Soho Theatre from 25 – 29 April with her show Flights of Fancy. A globe-trotting, time-traveling mini-spectacle with turbulent polemics and unexpectedly poignant stop-offs, Flights Of Fancy tells the true story of the artist’s journey from Korean refugee to international cabaret performer. Fancy Chance has previously written for The F-Word about her experience of growing up in a mainly white community in the US and how romanticised portrayals of Asian women have affected her life.

Soho Theatre has a few more things coming up that we reviewed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe last year: Emma Sidi: Telenovela (16 – 18 March), Expensive Shit (4 – 22 April), All The Things I Lied About (18 April – 6 May) and CUNCRETE (18 – 22 April). Expensive Shit will be audio-described on 18 April and captioned on 19 April.

Sara Pascoe has added some extra dates to her tour of Animal beginning with Lincoln on Saturday. The full list can be found here. These dates follow the publication of Pascoe’s debut book which was reviewed for The F-Word by Lauren Hossack.

The National Theatre’s production of Hedda Gabler will be going on tour at the end of this year. It will be going to Plymouth from 2 to 7 October, Edinburgh from 17 to 21 October, Leicester from 23 to 28 October, Salford from 30 October to 4 November, Norwich from 7 to 11 November, Hull from 13 to 18 November, Aberdeen from 21 to 25 November, Northampton from 28 November to 2 December, Wolverhampton from 23 to 27 January 2018, Nottingham from 5 to 10 February, Newcastle from 12 to 17 February and Milton Keynes from 27 February to 3 March. Many of these venues will be including assisted performances as part of the show’s run.

A new version of Laura Wade’s Posh will be presented at the Pleasance Theatre in London from 29 March until 22 April. Posh is a riotous story of an Oxford student dining club, a fictionalised version of the infamous Bullingdon Club, and I loved it when I saw it at the Royal Court back in 2010. This version is all-female which should shed an interesting light on the class privileges that feature so much in the play.

I should mention that this production has come under some criticism for not paying its cast and crew Equity rates. Writing as I do for a volunteer-run website, and working in my day job for an Arts Council funded organisation I often find the question of how and when people get paid for their work difficult to navigate. I think it’s fine for me to choose to write this article for fun for example, but I’d never dream of asking one of my company’s performers to work for us for free, and in the unfunded fringe those questions get even harder. What do you say, feminist readers? Is working for no or low fees the only way that some non-mainstream work will ever get made, or is this too much of a barrier to participation for those from less privileged groups in society? Let me know what you think.

And lastly Francesca Marie Claire and Katy Poulter and have launched a new comedy YouTube channel, We Don’t Hate Men, with this parody of Stormzy’s single Big For Your Boots as a salute to mums across the globe, also known to them as ‘The Mumdem’. Most of the lyrics are subtitled, but not all I’m afraid.

Image 1 is a photograph of THERESAMAYSMACKDOWN. It is a close-up black and white image of two people wrestling and is a little blurry. One is wearing bra and knickers and the other is wearing fishnet tights and a leotard. The person wearing underwear’s face can be seen, and their head is thrown back with their mouth wide open.

Image 2 is a photo by Sin Bozkurt of Fancy Chance. Chance is walking down the aisle of a venue wearing a flight attendant’s uniform including scarf and hat. Her arms are bare and her right arm is tattooed. Some members of the public are around her, and it looks like three of them are laughing at her. Chance is looking directly at the camera with a tight smile.

The video is a parody of Stormzy’s grime song Big For Your Boots, and shows a number of women and a few men and children in a variety of ‘normal’ locations like a children’s playground and a kebab shop. The two women singing dance while singing straight to the camera and trying to look hard.

Sally Parkin is a writer, poet and new mum who is passionate about creative expression and raising her daughter as a feminist. Sally is our guest blogger for March

In a world with a heavily sexualised music industry, should I be surprised if the video for the UK’s Christmas number one last year featured a half-naked pole dancer? Probably not. So what is it about this that has angered me enough to write about it?

‘Rockabye’ by Clean Bandit has had lots of success, dominating the single charts for nine weeks. The video has had over 300 million views on YouTube.

Mark Savage from the BBC describes the song’s concept as “a single mother struggling to provide for her child”. says that the Mum is “…working hard to give her son opportunities she never had.”

So far, so good.

Oh, and in the video the mum is pole dancing. Great. But hey, I shouldn’t assume. People do pole dancing classes. Some people describe it as an art form.

But, wait – it’s the mum’s job. And she has to do it, to provide for her son. She has no choice.

Am I in the minority of people who don’t have single-mum friends who work as pole dancers? In what reality is becoming a pole dancer the only choice for single parents?

So maybe she is choosing to earn money as a pole dancer. Is that wrong? Maybe not. Why is she choosing this vocation? Who is she doing it for? Does she enjoy her work? Is being a pole dancer an acceptable job? Is it a safe profession where employees are treated with respect? Is it something we would want our children to aspire to? It’s all about the context.

The video is set in a dark, dingy pub. Older men sit drinking while a young woman in underwear (the mum) writhes seductively on a pole. We see very little of her face, but the video doesn’t show the woman enjoying herself. The camera pans through a window and we see mum dancing on a pole on a cliff-top with views of a beautiful beach. This doesn’t last long and we soon return to the smoky pub.

In order to cope with her unhappy, degrading occupation, mum imagines herself dancing in paradise, for her own pleasure. The fact that she daydreams sends out a clear message: there is no escape from her reality. How dangerous is that message to vulnerable people? In times of struggle, misery and abuse, just close your eyes and pretend you are elsewhere.

Jack Patterson of Clean Bandit wrote the song with Ina Wrolsden about her son. Wrolsden, may I point out, is a singer-songwriter – not a pole dancer in a bar. Sean Paul, who stars in the video, says: “It was just very close to home. My mum was a single parent [because my father went to prison]”. Indeed, Paul was raised by his mother, a well-known painter and backstroke swimmer – not a pole dancer in a bar.

The lines “Call it love and devotion/Call it the mum’s adoration!/A special bond of creation!” normalise her seemingly abusive situation as something any mother would do for their child, and suggests the natural bond of mother and child as a biological excuse for absent fathers.

There is something to be said about the song’s popularity. Reading through the YouTube comments, many people seem to identify with the lyrics. The reality is that there are single parents – mums and dads – working damn hard for their kids. Am I saying that they should be alienated? Of course not. That music shouldn’t be written for them? Of course it should.

All parents need support, appreciation and empowerment. So why didn’t Clean Bandit show a strong, successful, happy single parent in their video? Why didn’t they show a single mum working hard in a job that doesn’t objectify her and make her miserable? Where is the woman serving dinners at her kids’ school? Where is the parent balancing childcare with getting an education and working part-time?

She doesn’t exist in the world of mainstream music videos. She doesn’t have sex appeal.

Grace Chatto of Clean Bandit obviously doesn’t worry about the implications of the video. In an interview in The Telegraph, she says: “When something sounds good, I don’t think any of the connotations matter”. But the connotations do matter. With over 300 million views, not only does this video contribute to the continued sexualisation of women; it offers little hope for single mothers.

But my biggest frustration is the suggestion that the mum’s job won’t have a negative impact on the child: “your life ain’t gonna be nothing like my life”. As parents we are our children’s biggest role models. Young children want to be like us and do as we do. We must feel good about our own choices and be happy for our children to walk in our footsteps.

Image depicts a woman pole dancing on top of a cliff with the sea in the background. Still taken from the video for ‘Rockabye’ on YouTube

Weekly round-up and open thread

by Lusana Taylor // 6 March 2017, 10:15 pm


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 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.

I’m Tired of Being the Angry Trans Woman (Mia Violet)

From the article: “I’m tired of being told by bigots that they aren’t actually bigots, just because they’re not outright calling trans people degenerates or predators this time. They’re only saying our identity is a sham, peddling a gentler and apparently more understanding kind of transphobia. They just claim that we belong in a strange sub-level of human identity, somewhere for us gender freaks to sit outside of respectable types who don’t rock the boat. A type of existence that can be present in society, but never be respected or even humoured.”

You can also read Jo Whitehead’s response to Jenni Murray’s Sunday Times’ feature piece here: “I’m not a TERF, but…”

Spitting out the Red Pill: Former misogynists reveal how they were radicalised online (New Statesman)
CN: accounts of misogynistic/homophobic language used in forums and descriptions of threats of violence

Gloria Steinem: ‘I shouldn’t have been a Playboy Bunny – even to write an exposé’ (The Guardian)

For more on Gloria Steinem, you can read Lissy Lovett’s review of her book, My Life on the Road: A life well lived

Nastazja Somers: ‘Everyone blames the big guys but diversity has to start on the fringe’ (The Stage)

Hating Comic Sans Is Ableist (The Establishment)

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: ‘Can people please stop telling me feminism is hot?’

From the article: “This idea of feminism as a party to which only a select few people get to come: this is why so many women, particularly women of colour, feel alienated from mainstream western academic feminism. Because, don’t we want it to be mainstream? For me, feminism is a movement for which the end goal is to make itself no longer needed. I think academic feminism is interesting in that it can give a language to things, but I’m not terribly interested in debating terms. I want people’s marriages to change for the better. I want women to walk into job interviews and be treated the same way as somebody who has a penis.”

There’s a sexual harassment “epidemic” at UK universities (The Pool)

6 Good Reasons Why Some People Don’t Go To Protests (Everyday Feminism

The Provocateur Behind Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Issa Rae (The New Yorker)

From the article: “Beyoncé considers herself a feminist, but for black women feminism can be a tenuous balancing act—advocating for women’s rights while supporting black men against racism. Black feminists have often been forced to pick between being politically black or politically female. ‘It’s an unfair struggle that only black women can understand and relate to,’ Matsoukas said. With the ‘Lemonade’ album, Beyoncé was publicly calling out the men in her life, an unexpected and, to her fans, thrilling decision.'”

Those Who Dared To Discover: 15 Women Scientists You Should Know (A Mighty Girl)

International Sex Workers Rights Day – 3rd March (Global Network of Sex Work Projects)

From the article: “This day’s history goes back to 2001, when over 25,000 sex workers gathered in India for a festival despite efforts from prohibitionist groups who tried to prevent it taking place by pressuring the government to revoke their permit. The event was organised by Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, a Calcutta based group that has over 50,000 sex worker members, and members of their communities. Sex worker groups across the world have subsequently celebrated 3rd March as an annual, international event, as International Sex Workers’ Rights Day.”

Merely Films 21 I Missed Out On At BFI Blackstar (Queer Black Femme Lens)

The image is used under a creative commons license with thanks to Jeanne Menjoulet. It is a photograph of a wall with an intricate street art design of a cat on it. Beside the wall, a bicycle is propped up. You can see people sat in an outdoor seating area to the side.

This is a guest post by Jennifer Hudson, freelance writer, non-profit communications professional and global feminist

In recent years, no story has haunted me more than that of Anne-Marie Ellement, the soldier in the British Military Police who was bullied after she reported being raped by two colleagues, and subsequently took her own life. With support from Liberty, Anne-Marie’s family used the Human Rights Act to demand a fresh inquest into her death after the first investigation resulted in the two corporals being cleared of all charges. Details of extreme harassment emerged, with the Royal Military Police forced to admit their mistakes and apologise unreservedly. This is just one example of why we should be terrified by Theresa May’s plan to abolish the Act.

Replacing the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities was a Conservative manifesto pledge in 2010 and 2015. According to their 2014 proposal ‘Protecting Human Rights in the UK’, our human rights are not currently ‘credible’, the Act is ‘Labour’s Human Rights Act’ and we need to ‘restore common sense and put Britain first’. And yet 164 organisations, including barristers’ chambers, NGOs and charities, are so worried that in December they sent an open letter urging May not to go ahead with the proposal.

May is also determined to remove Britain from the European Court of Human Rights. Dr Tobias Lock, Senior Lecturer in EU Law at Edinburgh University, thinks the reason for this is to make sure people whose cases are not supported by the new British Bill of Rights are not then able to take them to the European Court and win. All this is going to kick off in 2020, when May campaigns for re-election.

There has been absolutely no discussion so far about how the new British Bill will support women, with a focus instead on ‘limiting the use of human rights law to the most serious of cases’. What qualifies as ‘serious’? Do bullying, sexual coercion or abuse count?

In these instances, it is in the perpetrator’s interest not to get caught, so they often manipulate people and lie. Strong human rights law can help people get to the bottom of what is really going on, as in the case of John Worboys, who was secretly raping as many as 100 women under the very noses of the police. Article 3 of the Human Rights Act was used to hold the Met liable for not believing the women who reported him. Currently, 65 women victims of the vile sexual grooming in Rotherham are using the Human Rights Act to argue that officers ignored what was happening in the town.

The state of women’s rights in the UK is terrible. Only 5.7% of rapes result in a conviction. One woman is killed every three days by a current or former partner. In December, a report revealed that 436 allegations of abuse of authority for sexual gain have been made against the police. Less than half of the cases were reported to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

And then there’s Yarl’s Wood. The widespread abuse of women at this immigration detention centre was revealed in 2015 by Channel Four’s undercover reporting and the HM Inspectorate of Prisons report. Today, up to 400 women are held there and complaints range from invasions of privacy and routine humiliation to allegations of rape and sexual assault. Article 5 is currently being used to argue that one woman has been unlawfully detained. She was abducted, raped and tortured in Democratic Republic of Congo before arriving in the UK, yet was monitored by a male officer in Yarl’s Wood without any assessment of her mental health, and was also accused of lying.

436 allegations of abuse of power for sexual gain. 65 women victims in Rotherham. 400 women detained in Yarl’s Wood. These are not small numbers. The Human Rights Act has come to the rescue of countless women and has the potential to support thousands more. Getting rid of it for a bill we know nothing about is alarming, to say the least.

According to May our new rights will be uniquely British. But the recent women’s marches showed that global feminism can be incredibly powerful and many issues, such as sex trafficking and immigration, cut across borders. The vote in favour of the Istanbul Convention last week is a big step forward and demonstrates that many MPs are prepared to work with Europe to tackle violence against women. But there is still a long way to go.

It amazes me that in this climate May is putting Britain not women first. We need to start asking questions now and put any further detailed proposals under the spotlight. We also need to shout about how the Human Rights Act has been a lifesaving piece of legislation for so many. After all, 2020 is only three short years away.

Image depicts a sign saying ‘Girls just wanna have fundamental human rights’. Courtesy Mikeledray/

Close-up of woman's eyesEmma Hamilton is a Northerner who aspires to live in a warmer climate, spending her time writing and walking barefoot on sand

Emma is our guest blogger for February

As a bereaved parent I am going through the nightmare of trying to understand why and how my daughter died whilst under the care of a psychiatric ward last year. My pleas to medical staff to keep her safe on the night she fatally injured herself were ignored. The inquest is yet to be held but NHS internal investigations have been completed. Not only am I grieving for the loss of my amazing daughter but I am finding myself caught up in a fight for lessons to be learnt and action to be taken to prevent future deaths of vulnerable young women with mental health problems.

You might think that there are strict procedures in place to ensure NHS investigations in such circumstances are carefully and robustly monitored by some external agency. After all, the NHS is in the news so much that you would think accountability would be weaved into all the care provided.

A report released in December 2016 by the Care Quality Commission raised concerns about how unexpected deaths are reported and scrutinised within the NHS:

…the NHS is missing opportunities to learn from patient deaths and that too many families are not being included or listened to when an investigation happens

The report goes on to note that there is no consistent national framework to support the NHS in investigating any deaths that could have been caused by problems in care.

This review focused on patients with mental health problems and learning disabilities, some of the most vulnerable people in our society. People who often have no one to advocate for them when their own communication skills are impaired.

According to the National Mental Health Development Unit almost nine out of ten people with mental health problems have been affected by stigma and discrimination. In England, women are more likely than men to be diagnosed with a common mental health problem. They are twice as likely to have an anxiety disorder.

Mental health-related deaths are under-reported and under-investigated. Who is speaking up for this group of women and is anyone listening?

My daughter had a mum who was committed to supporting her and advocating for her health needs to be met by medical professionals. She, when well, was also an articulate and insightful young woman who could eloquently speak about her mental distress and what she found helpful from those seeking to care for her. There are many other young women who do not have either of these factors in their personal world.

And still, I failed to get her the help she needed. What of the hundreds and thousands of other young women who have neither the opportunity or ability to advocate for themselves or have someone do it on their behalf?

The charity INQUEST is one organisation trying to listen. The work of this small, under-funded charity seeks to campaign for better, more meaningful enquiry into the deaths of vulnerable people in state custody, which includes those in legally-enforced state care. They seek to challenge forms of discrimination that lead to preventable deaths.

INQUEST is the only national organisation undertaking this type of work in the UK. As well as mental health-related deaths, a key area of concern for the charity is investigating deaths of women in custody.

I knew none of this before my daughter died. I knew that on a day-to-day basis my daughter was not getting the care she needed. I knew that my daughter was becoming increasingly desperate as her condition worsened. I knew that I was having no positive impact upon my daughter’s situation when seeking to advocate for her. I knew that her death was a real possibility and that she was experiencing, in my eyes, negative discrimination from the largely male consultant psychiatrists who were ‘caring’ for her.

Now I know that sadly there are many young women and mothers in mine and my daughter’s situation. And I know that highlighting these poor procedures and structures we have in monitoring and learning from the preventable deaths of incredibly vulnerable women is vital in addressing the flaws in our systems.

But I wonder: what underpins this situation? What underpins the neglect we allow in our society of disabled and vulnerable women with mental health problems? Why are mistakes in care not yet being given the focus and thought that they deserve? We are still such an unequal society, with communities that overlook the needs and rights of those in mental distress. It takes more than reliance on the NHS to assume the responsibility for monitoring one’s own profession, practice, and systems.

Image by Marina Vitale, from Unsplash. Used under Creative Commons Zero licence.

Image is a close-up of a woman’s face, with only her eyes, nose, and some of her dark hair visible. Her eyes are hazel and are looking away from the camera intently, as if lost in thought.

This is a guest post by Mercedes Yanora. She loves sports, historical fiction and cheeseburgers. You can find her on Twitter @cedeyanora where she indulges in progressive politics, political satire, feminism and the occasional Trailer Park Boys meme

It’s mid-May 2015 and I have just finished my first year of grad school at one of America’s most prestigious universities. I sit at my desk contemplating next month’s trip to India for a language immersion programme and wondering whether or not I will finish editing an article due for publication. My eyes return to the dimly lit laptop and I focus in on the following sentence: “Kamala’s perfected costume, fashioned from a burkini — a modest swimsuit for Muslim women — covers her entire body from the neck down, yet her costume is by no means ugly. Kamala is willing to sacrifice a flesh-revealing costume that captures the male gaze for one that ensures her ability to fight crime like a legitimate superhero”.

Every facet of my life reflects a passion for feminism. My research interests, social interactions and professional relationships all contribute to a worldview grounded in an awareness of patriarchy and the need to combat this pervasive system of oppression. Yet in this moment, and many more to come, I am uncertain about my feminist identity. I leave my desk and walk over to my full-length mirror, taking in the image before me: my eyes and cheeks are a swirl of black and blue, dotted with bits of yellow creeping around the edges; dried blood and sweat linger beneath the surgical tape; crusted blood still manages to escape my stitched-up nostrils.

Do my bandages mask my feminism? Can my feminist identity still shine through the bruises?

In 2015 alone, a record-breaking 51,000 plastic surgeries were performed in the UK – 91% of which were on women. Meanwhile, feminism is becoming more and more mainstream, with around 100,000 people taking part in the Women’s March on London last month. How does this obsession with the way we look (which often develops into mental health conditions such as Body Dysmorphic Disorder) fit with our increasing awareness of gender inequality?

No one has a uniform sense of self in which every belief, taste and motivation aligns perfectly and consistently. We are complex, with desires and interests that often clash, leading to the occasional existential crisis. My drive for academic and professional achievement is largely informed by my conviction that women should have the same opportunities as men. However, as evident by my nose job, my pursuits are muddled by an intense desire to conform to patriarchal beauty standards.

Throughout my early twenties, my devotion to feminism has flourished. My social networks and scholarly library are now dominated by feminist thought. I am no longer ignorant to the many intersecting systems of oppression. But an increasing desire for societal validation and a preoccupation with my own looks has developed alongside this. My relationship with my full-length mirror has become ever more intimate: are my hips wide and feminine enough? Are my boobs perky? Will they ever actually grow? Is that cellulite on my ass?

Am I the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of feminism, doomed to forsake my unwavering devotion to feminism for an unrelenting quest for ephemeral beauty? No, I am not. In fact, I know I am not the only one troubled by doubts. Lately I’ve found a great deal of solace, and many laughs, in Deborah Frances-White and Sophie Hagan’s podcast, The Guilty Feminist. The hosts and their guests discuss the issues modern feminists face while also “confessing their insecurities, hypocrisies and fears that underlie their lofty principles”.

We should not beat ourselves up over these hypocrisies, especially as they often stem from the society we live in. I wish I lived in a world where I was fully accepted, regardless of disproportionate appendages and other physical ‘flaws’, but I do not. And because I do not, I have internalized the sexism inherent in society’s definition of success. As women, we are taught that physical attractiveness is essential for happiness and fulfilment, whether with a romantic partner, a group of friends or in the workplace. It is much easier to recognise this view than it is to unsubscribe from it.

Getting plastic surgery has enhanced my life because I finally have a semblance of confidence. I no longer find myself staring at jagged sidewalks as people pass by nor do I tense up at the sound of laughter, assuming it must be about me and my overbearing nose. Prior to this, I was too afraid to even interact with most people, let alone confront them about their prejudices.

Feminists who undergo plastic surgery should not be made to feel like betrayers of feminism nor condemned for actions that at first appear unfeminist. Instead, women should band together to promote body positivity, highlight strong role models and, above all, support each other in our choices. We may have had no say in creating our current society, but together we have the power to change it.

Image depicts a young blonde woman looking at herself in the mirror

Courtesy of Brian Bilek on Flickr

Introducing March’s guest blogger

by Amy Grant // 1 March 2017, 7:30 am

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As we say a big thank you to Emma Hamilton for her thought-provoking pieces in February, we move forward to welcome Sally Parkin, our guest blogger for March.

In her own words:

“Born in Leicester, Sally Parkin graduated with a degree in Creative Writing and English Literature, and has worked to support children and adults with additional needs before giving birth to her daughter last year.

Sally is a writer and poet passionate about creative expression and fun education. Her love of literature started as a child with trips to the library and she now enjoys collecting children’s books from charity shops and attending open mic events.

As a new mum, Sally is currently immersed in writing about parenthood and the challenges, pressures and joys that parents face, as well as her own experience of raising a daughter in a capitalist, image-conscious, patriarchal society.

In her spare time Sally paints, reads, plays local league basketball, swims and snorkels, plays the piano and enjoys walks in nature with her partner.”

Welcome, Sally!

Image of a bundle of pencils and pens

Image courtesy Thomas Kristensen on Flickr

Welcome to another (slight 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 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.

Reflecting On One Very, Very Strange Year At Uber (Susan J. Fowler)

Gluing your labia shut during your period is a bad idea (Dr. Jen Gunter)

on Milo, the limits of free speech, and who gets thrown under the bus (Whipping Girl – Julia Serano)

From the article: “…If we are going to take an unwavering stand against speech acts that we feel may harm, injure, or silence some vulnerable group (e.g., teenage boys), then we should also be willing to admit that we are not standing up for everyone.”

On Milo Yiannopoulos, and the difficulty of activism (OKWonga)

From the article: “I wonder whether part of the current revulsion at Yiannopoulos is due to the fact that, as a gay man apparently approving of sex with underage children, he has reawakened in some minds the barely-hidden conflation of homosexuality and paedophilia. Yiannopoulos often used his sexuality as a shield; he could be as homophobic as he liked, falling back on the defence that he could not be prejudiced since he himself was a gay man. Ironically enough, he may find that – in the bitterest of ironies – his unique brand of identity politics may be used against him.”

Pseudo-Feminist Trolls Are Still Trotting Out Tired, Anti-Trans Ideology (Village Voice)

From the article: “It’s true that many people designated female at birth are largely disenfranchised by a society that at best ignores and at worst reviles things like menstruation, pregnancy, birth, and childcare. Advocating for legislation and direct action that supports people around these experiences is a good thing. But it’s possible to hold these two truths while also understanding that ‘woman,’ as a gender identity, may be influenced by these experiences while not being entirely defined by them. After all, the experience of being a woman involves much more than bleeding — or so I would hope, being a cis woman myself who enjoys a rich and exciting life outside of menstruation and contraception.”

For Trans Students Everywhere (Janet Mock on Facebook)

PHOTO ESSAY: Permanent Reflections of Femme and Genderqueer People of Color (Autostraddle)

Why I Can’t Get on Board with ‘Embracing Differences Between Men and Women’ for Feminism (Everyday Feminism)

From the article: “…It’s no problem for women to have “feminine” traits themselves and be proud of them. But attributing them to women as a group limits people of all genders and furthers the oppressive system that led to those generalizations.

All the good things that come out of embracing differences and femininity can still be retained when we admit gender is a social construct.”

Career Tips for Anti-Socials (42Hire)

From the article: “Since I wasn’t born independently wealthy, I spent most of my life working at jobs NOT because I loved takin’ shit from ‘the man,’ but because I had to.

Over the years, I took several jobs (lots ’n lots) that I didn’t want, but that I thought I should want… or that I thought I should want to want…because it might look good on my résumé so that I could eventually get another job I didn’t really want but was paid substantially more to do.”

Helen Bailey and the lethal darkness behind this ‘middle-aged woman’ myth (The Guardian)

From the article: “Must we really believe that, at 47, a woman is going to grasp at whatever excuse for romance she can get, whatever the dark danger it may lead her into? It seems that we do. Sections of the media seem perfectly willing to use Bailey’s murder as an opportunity to reiterate that the grand old age of mid-40s renders women sad creatures who are pitiful and spent, almost inevitably unlovable and easy prey for psychopathic fantasist conmen.”

Liberal Democrats move to quash all historical sex-work convictions of prostitutes and punters (Independent)

The image is used under a creative commons license with thanks to Florent on Flickr. It is an artistic black and white photograph that is the result of several different photographs being overlaid on top of each other. The ‘bottom’ scene is a landscape image of a clearing in a forest or wood. There is an image of a door overlaid on this that appears to open out into the sky. Central to the image is a shadowed figure in a ballet position – leg stretched almost up to head and one arm held aloft.

The comic strip: limited feminism

by Guest Blogger // 28 February 2017, 7:00 am

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Silvia 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 woman reluctant to add another woman’s issue to her neat pile as it doesn’t affect her directly, makes the pile ‘unstable’ and she might not have time to think about it

This is a guest post by Sophie Mayer, the author of Political Animals: The New Feminist Cinema (IB Tauris, 2015)

There are some excellent films that address rape and remain feminist while doing so. On the Farm (Unclaimed) (2016), directed by Rachel Talalay, tells a composite story based on the lives and deaths of the First Nations women in Vancouver, Canada, murdered by serial killer Robert Pickton. The killer never speaks in the film and the central performance is from Blackfeet/Sami filmmaker Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers as Nikki Taylor, a woman who survived to testify against him. In Esther Rots’ Can Go Through Skin (2009), Mareike is raped and nearly drowned by a pizza delivery man. When he is only given a short sentence, she moves to the countryside to get away from him and fantasizes about violent vengeance; you feel with and for her. Sabiha Sumar’s Silent Waters (2001) works through Pakistani villager Ayesha’s memories, from the present back to the partition of India and Pakistan, and Ayesha’s rape (when a young Sikh woman in India) by a Muslim man who then marries her, converts her and moves her to Pakistan.

Long before that, there was Ida Lupino’s bold 1950 drama Outrage: after Ann is assaulted by a street food vendor, both she and the viewer become aware of how many men invade her space in small ways every day. In 1968, Yoko Ono and John Lennon challenged film aesthetics and ethics with the bluntly-titled Rape. In what appears to be a documentary, a cameraman relentlessly pursues a random woman through the streets of London and into her flat.

You’ve probably never heard of those films – but you’ve almost certainly heard of Elle, the new film by Paul Verhoeven that has caused critical controversies and raptures since its premiere last year. Michèle, played by Isabelle Huppert, is raped in her home by a masked intruder, revealed later to be someone she knows, and subsequently pursues a relationship with him. In a thoughtful article, Miriam Bale describes the film as Michèle’s “intellectual examination of her rape and rapist.” Bale’s reading differs from the dominant hot take from Cannes calling the film a “rape comedy,” but agrees with the consensus that the film demands attention. First, because of the performance by Huppert which, Bale argues convincingly, is tantamount to co-authorship; secondly, because it is a serious film about rape.

But serious texts about rape (often about punishing women for being raped) permeate Eurowestern culture. William Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus may not be the first but might be one of the best known, not least from the 1999 film directed by Julie Taymor but produced by white supremacist Puppetmaster-in-Chief Steve Bannon. It’s only of late that the idea has formed that depicting rape de facto makes a text “feminist,” as doing so busts taboos and tells important truths. This argument names as “feminist” TV detective shows that repeatedly foreground explicit and exploitative images of violated female victims and insist that female detectives are also threatened with rape.

The same logic is at work in most reviews of Elle as a “feminist film”: Michèle, it is said, doesn’t fit the stereotype of a rape survivor.The tortuous argument is that this stereotype is the product of some “feminazi” insistence that sexual violence damages survivors, rather than of patriarchal legal and judicial culture that demands rape survivors follow a “script” in order to be taken seriously and heard in court.

For me, a feminist film about rape is one that – like Silent Waters – address the use of rape as a weapon of war and its slow-burning political and personal consequences. In Can Go Through Skin it is clear that rape is a crime of power and not, as in Elle, a crime passionel and that the so-called justice system can re-traumatise survivors, turning them into victims. There are documentaries such as The Invisible War (rape in the US military) and The Hunting Ground (rape on US college campuses), both by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, which address the larger social and political aspects of rape culture, including a lack of access to care, support and justice for survivors. Alas, few feature films are interested in the banal, everyday aspects of sexual violence, which are political and economic and so don’t make for sexy, controversial thrills performed by A-list stars.

It’s time there was a major fiction feature, widely distributed and critically acclaimed for being about the backlog of untested rape kits in the US, or the defunding of domestic violence shelters in the UK, or the increased risk of rape faced by men with disabilities, or police abuse of sex workers. Or even one that – like Ono and Lennon’s Rape – reflects on and makes visible the media’s complicity (including the complicity of film critics) in the framing of rape culture and rape narratives. It’s not enough for a film to be about rape or a rape survivor; it needs to call rape culture to account.

The picture is a still from Dick and Ziering’s documentary The Hunting Ground, used under fair dealing. It shows protest in solidarity with rape survivors, referencing Emma Sulkowicz’s Mattress Performance. Protesters support three mattresses with lettering “Stand With Survivors” and carry placards reading “Rape is rape”, Silence is violence” and similar.

two women

Emily Chudy is an LGBT journalist, food blogger, and intersectional feminist living in Paris. Follow her on Twitter @EmilyChudy

You can probably think of at least five friends, family members or celebrities that identify as bisexual but cast your mind over your Netflix queue and I bet you’ll find it difficult to remember a TV series or film that included a really brilliant bi character… without falling into a few offensive stereotypes.

Rather annoyingly, the media seems to be a bit behind when it comes to representing this community.

A spokesperson for LGBT+ charity Stonewall said:

Bi erasure and biphobia are still commonplace in UK media. Bi characters are often portrayed as ‘greedy’ or ‘confused’, perpetuating damaging myths that bi activists have been trying to dispel for decades.

Visible role models help ensure that all people see themselves represented in the media, and this is particularly important for marginalised groups like the bi community. We must see the industry hire more bi writers and directors, as well as actors, to get this right for film and television.

In a quest to seek realistic, three-dimensional, non-stereotyped bisexual characters on screen, I took a break from binge-watching Freaks and Geeks and sought out these wonderful characters.

Black Mirror S3E4: San Junipero (2016)

You may have heard people raving about Black Mirror’s San Junipero this year, and for good reason. The hour-long episode depicts a gorgeous, nuanced relationship between two women named Yorkie and Kelly, as well as touching upon themes of loneliness, death and sci-fi.

The episode – one of six stand-alone episodes in the series – is utterly mesmeric and touching, and (without giving away many spoilers) Kelly’s character and relationships both with men and women are discussed with true weight and compassion.

Best enjoyed if you fancy a good happy-cry over some cracking ‘80s outfits.

Appropriate Behaviour (2014)

Appropriate Behaviour tells the tale of Shirin, a young, witty, bisexual Iranian-American woman who has trouble navigating both her tangled love life and cultural identity in Brooklyn.

The film balances silly humour and poignant sincerity very well — Shirin is presented as both a deeply flawed and highly relatable character who the audience grow fonder of as the plot goes along.

This gem is best watched on a movie night with friends or when mourning a break-up with gallons of ice cream.

Grey’s Anatomy (2005 – present)

Callie Torres is a bisexual icon and she’s vocal and proud of it on Grey’s Anatomy.

The awesome quote below is from series 11 episode five but the whole show is brilliant so it’s worth watching the entire thing.

I’m bisexual. So what? It’s a thing! And it’s real… It’s called LGBTQ for a reason. There’s a B in there and it doesn’t mean badass. Okay, it kinda does, but it also means bi.

Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971)

Sunday Bloody Sunday was, incredibly, the first British film ever to show two men kissing, so be sure to watch this if you’re in the mood for an inspiring piece of history.

The BAFTA-winning movie tells the story of a bisexual male artist who starts two simultaneous relationships with both a man and a woman. Considering that same-sex relationships were barely legal at the time this film is a wonderfully positive portrayal of bisexuality.

The Color Purple (1985)

Okay, so it’s a little long, but The Color Purple is a complete classic and well worth settling into your sofa for a whole evening to watch.

The film tells the story of a young African American girl, Celie, and explores the problems women faced during the early 20th century, including domestic violence, incest, poverty, racism, and sexism.

The relationship between Celie and Shug Avery is much clearer in Alice Walker’s novel but the film is still a gorgeous and heartbreaking adaptation you should definitely see.

The Comedian (2012)

The Comedian is a gritty, touching, and vastly underrated British film that follows the life of Ed, a horribly insecure aspiring comedian.

The main character – in a sweet and beautifully crafted scene – falls for a man he met on a night bus after a dreadful gig, before realising that he might have complicated feelings for his flatmate.

This film is a must-watch if you’re going through a mid-20s career crisis and are looking for something arty to capture your predicament.

Kinsey (2004)

This film is the true story of Professor Alfred Kinsey, the scientist who researched the sexual histories of hundreds of thousands of Americans and developed what we now know as the Kinsey scale. The film explores his work as well as his personal life and sexuality.

As well as being an important part of the history of the bisexual community, Kinsey is a beautifully touching and really fascinating film that is well worth a watch on a rainy Sunday evening.

LGBT History Month runs throughout February in the UK. This year’s theme is Citizenship, PSHE and Law.

Image by Tracy Thomas, by Unsplash. Used under Creative Commons Zero licence.

Image is of a stack of vintage televisions, cassette tapes, and speakers.

Weekly round-up and open thread

by Lusana Taylor // 21 February 2017, 10:15 am


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 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.

Are we in danger of designing public spaces that favour only non-disabled men? (Fawcett Society)

I’m so glad to spoil this film for you (The Guardian)

Pro-Choice Campaigners Say It’s “Extremely Worrying” That Anti-Abortion Protesters Used Facebook Live Outside An Abortion Clinic (Buzzfeed)

Alice Lowe: ‘It wasn’t part of the plan to direct while pregnant’ (The Guardian)

How did ‘Playgirl’ magazine go from feminist force to flaccid failure? (Fusion)

​Women and desire: the six ages of sex (The Observer)

From the article: Six women across six decades talk about how their sex lives and sensuality have changed, and what they’ve learned about the politics of pleasure

If Equality is Not the Goal, the Goal is Supremacy (Bullshitist)

On Adele, Beyoncé & Solidarity (Black Girl Dangerous)

From the article: “I’m not naïve. I don’t expect people to make those kinds of sacrifices. Few people do. I didn’t expect Adele to and I’m certainly not surprised that she didn’t. What I’m saying is that…well…she didn’t. And we shouldn’t pretend that she did.”

Black Female Guitarists Get Real About How the Music Industry Views Them (LA Weekly)

Doctor who defined narcissistic personality disorder: Calling Trump mentally ill is an insult to mentally ill (The Hill)

From the article: “‘Most amateur diagnosticians have mislabeled President Trump with the diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder. I wrote the criteria that define this disorder, and Mr. Trump doesn’t meet them. He may be a world-class narcissist, but this doesn’t make him mentally ill, because he does not suffer from the distress and impairment required to diagnose mental disorder.'”

These Sex Workers Are Using Theatre to Fight for Their Rights (Frankie Mullin at Vice)

Why Men Aren’t Funny (Or, How Spectacularly Wrong Christopher Hitchens Was About Women and Comedy) (Flavorwire)

The image is used under a creative commons license with thanks to Nana on Flickr. It is a black and white image of a stalk of delicate cherry blossom.

I hope February has found you well and excited by some of the comedy and theatre that’s happening across the UK and further afield. As ever, if you’d like The F-Word to cover something, please email me at or and I’ll do my best.

Let’s begin! The VAULT festival is currently happening in London. Within comedy, on 15 February Eleanor Conway will be performing her show Walk of Shame which we described in 2016 as “shocking, poignant and undeniably funny” and on 17 and 18 February the US political comedian Megan Ford will be performing her show FEMINASTY which in 2015 we reviewed as “a funny and biting critique of all aspects of the media”.

There’s also a really interesting sounding play at the VAULT festival, Puppy, about two women who meet and fall in love while dogging, and set up a feminist porn company together. Puppy has performances on 23 February and 2 March.

There is, as always, lots going on at Soho Theatre that is worth checking out. They are taking a couple of exciting shows out on tour:

Panti Bliss will be touring her show High Heels in Low Places which has performed to rave reviews and chock-a-block houses across Ireland, England, Paris, New York, Melbourne and Sydney. This is the final spin for the show and you can see it in Glasgow on 10 March, Cardiff on 1 April, Soho Theatre 5 – 8 April and Manchester on 25 April.

Ursula Martinez will also be taking Free Admission to the Dublin Project Arts Centre on 9 and 10 June, Colchester Arts Centre on 14 June, Birmingham Rep – The Door from 15 – 17 June, Reading South Street Arts Centre on 21 June before coming back to Soho from 26 June until 1 July. We’ve previously reviewed Free Admission and said that “Martinez deftly weaves her narrative, showing, not only telling, us how personal experiences melt into larger themes.”

Lucy McCormick: Triple Threat will be making its London premiere at Soho from 28 March until 22 April. Our reviewer was blown away by it at the Edinburgh Fringe and I already have my ticket!

Anita and Me which is adapted by Tanika Gupta from the book by Meera Syal opens at Wolverhampton this week (where it will be captioned on 15 February and audio-described at the matinee on 18 February) before going on to Cheltenham (captioned 1 March, audio-described matinee 2 March), Blackpool (captioned 8 March, audio-described 10 March), Nottingham (captioned 15 March, audio-described matinee 18 March), Bradford (captioned 22 March, audio-described matinee 25 March) and Edinburgh (captioned 29 March, audio-described and BSL interpreted matinee 1 April). Anita And Me paints a comic, poignant, compassionate and colourful portrait of village life in the era of flares, power cuts, glam rock, decimalisation and Ted Heath. In each venue the professional company will perform alongside eight actors drawn from the local community.

At the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond from 16 February until 25 March is Low Level Panic. They describe it as a timely play about three twenty-something women figuring out how they really feel about sex, their bodies and each other, interrogating the effects of society’s objectification of women. Low Level Panic will be audio-described on 11 March at 2.30pm and Tue 14 March at 7.30pm, and captioned on 22 March at 7.30pm.

There are a couple of performances happening in early March which are related to International Women’s Day:

Pandora from Etch Theatre will be at the Pleasance Islington from 7 – 11 March. The play unpicks ancient stories of blame, strength and control that still shape attitudes towards women today. The story follows character Helen as she works to free herself from an abusive relationship. Her story both collides with and is born from the ancient myths that have shaped women’s experience in the world for thousands of years.

In Scotland at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh will be Girls Like That from The Lyceum Youth Theatre from 9 – 11 March. The play is a pertinent story that explores gender inequality in the digital minefield of young people’s online lives and will be performed by a cast of twenty young women. Girls Like That will be presented as a double bill with brand new short plays written by the Traverse Young Writers group.

And finally performer Liz Aggiss piece Slap & Tickle will be at The Lowry on 9 March. There’s a trailer for the show here (unfortunately it isn’t subtitled but it is soundtracked with an orchestral version of The Flight of the Bumblebee with very occasional snatches of Aggiss speaking to the audience, she says things like “tip top, tip top!” and “look, John, look!”). Slap & Tickle is part of the SICK! Festival and can also be seen elsewhere. Aggiss describes her latest piece as a “feminist soup” and is vocal about the importance of ageing female bodies on the stage.

Image credits and descriptions

1. A photograph of Megan Ford by Christa Holka. Ford looks at the camera with an expression which might indicate she is at the end of her tether. There is a blue background, she has long dark hair and intense eyes.

2. A photograph of Shobna Gulati who plays Daljit in Anita and Me. It is a simple black and white headshot in which Gulati is smiling straight into the camera.

3. A photograph of Grace Chilton in Pandora. Chilton is looking upwards. You can only see her neck ad head, she is to the left of the photograph against a pale pink background. Her hair is in a bob and she has stud earrings. There is a microphone in front of her.

Weekly round-up and open thread

by Lusana Taylor // 13 February 2017, 8:29 pm


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 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.

White Women: This Is Why Your Critiques Of Beyoncé Are Racist (The Establishment)

From the article: “Black women do not have the same relationship with maternity as white women do. Why? Years of systemic racism, chattel slavery, and white supremacy, and because negative portrayals of black motherhood are pervasive in American culture.”

How the art world airbrushed female artists from history (The Guardian)

From the article: “Female artists account for just 4% of the National Gallery of Scotland’s collection; 20% of the Whitworth Manchester’sand 35% of Tate Modern’s collections. Only 33% of the artists representing Britain at the Venice Biennale over the past decade have been women.”

Why We Have to Fight for Access to Theory: Judith Butler and the UCL Lecture (Lighthouse)

Hen dos are a deeply sad and conservative tradition – like marriage itself (The Guardian)

‘Feminism for the 99 Percent’: Lessons for the Women’s Strike on March 8 (Broadly)

Why You Should Stop Calling Donald Trump “Crazy” (Bustle)

Emma Watson: the feminist and the fairytale (The Guardian)

The grass is always bloodier: what will it take for us to acknowledge violence against black people in Europe? (Media Diversified) CN: rape

Eating Toward Immortality (The Atlantic)

From the article: “The act of ingestion is embroidered with so much cultural meaning that, for most people, its roots in spare, brutal survival are entirely hidden. Even for people in extreme poverty, for whom survival is a more immediate concern, the cultural meanings of food remain critical. Wealthy or poor, we eat to celebrate, we eat to mourn, we eat because it’s mealtime, we eat as a way to bond with others, we eat for entertainment and pleasure. It is not a coincidence that the survival function of food is buried beneath all of this—who wants to think about staving off death each time they tuck into a bowl of cereal? Forgetting about death is the entire point of food culture.”

The death of the 40-hour week is killing us (Financial Times)

From the article: “The TUC has coined the phrase “Burnout Britain” to describe the long-hours working culture. Its study of Office for National Statistics data found that the number of people working more than 48 hours per week had risen by 15 per cent since 2010 to 3,417,000.”

Milo Yiannopoulos Thinks Homosexuality Is Wrong (Patheos)

Why did Oxford circulate a criminalised image of me – because I’m a black man? (The Guardian)

‘Lifesaving’ women’s rights bill Philip Davies tried to block hangs in the balance, campaigners warn (i news)

Jess Phillips: ‘I never felt scared in my old job. As an MP, I feel it every day’ (The Guardian)

The image is used under a creative commons license with thanks to artjouer street art. It shows street art, painted on a wall. It is a close-up image of two people holding hands tightly. The hands are so tightly clasped together, it is difficult to tell whether it is a tender or aggressive action. In the image, the force or energy behind the gesture has produced a crack from which spills a vibrant rainbow pattern. The sky behind the wall is bright blue and there is a stop sign in shot.

The F-Word is looking for UK-based volunteers to join our team of editors. We have two roles available: features (co-editing with Pooja) and social media. Both positions offer an opportunity to play an exciting part in building The F-Word as a feminist resource.

If you’d like to take on either of these roles, we’d love to hear from you! Here are some details about what the positions involve and how to apply:

Social media editor

For this role, your main duties will be:

  • promoting F-word content on Facebook and Twitter
  • forwarding requests from social media to relevant team member(s)
  • tactfully dealing with questions and comments on social media
  • exploring the use of other social media (e.g. Pinterest and LinkedIn)
  • working with the rest of The F-Word team, where necessary
  • attending Skype meetings every two months.

What you will bring:

  • enthusiasm about The F-Word
  • awareness of tools and apps for publicising site content
  • some time, energy and regular internet access
  • social media experience, ideally in promoting an organisation/event/initiative
  • commitment to the role for at least six months (with a minimum period of one month’s notice).

Familiarity with blogging platforms, some editorial experience and at least basic HTML skills would also be an advantage.

Features editor

For this role, your main duties will be:

  • responding to pitches and reviewing opportunities (including spotting and avoiding spurious content)
  • sourcing ideas and commissioning features, with a focus on encouraging new voices from diverse perspectives
  • working with a broad range of contributors, from those who have never written for publication before to experienced journalists
  • editing and posting features, in line with our style guide
  • moderating comments on published features
  • working with the other section editors and The F-Word team, where necessary
  • attending Skype meetings every two months.

What you will bring:

  • enthusiasm about The F-Word and developing our features section
  • some time, energy and regular internet access
  • ideally, some editorial experience (particularly in terms of adhering to a set style guide)
  • the ability to give submissions a critical edit, making sensitive suggestions to the author and offering guidance, where needed
  • familiarity with blogging platforms and at least basic HTML skills
  • a willingness to work in a team, alongside another features editor
  • commitment to the role for at least six months (with a minimum period of one month’s notice).

It is frequently reported that women don’t put themselves forward for leadership roles as often as men do, despite extensive qualifications and experience. Along with this, we’ve seen women who attain positions of power saying they did not feel entitled to them until they ‘gave themselves permission’ or were given an opportunity by a more privileged male counterpart. This has led us to collectively take the decision to invite applications from self-identified women/genderqueer people/non-binary people/those who do not define as male.

The F-Word is an online magazine dedicated to talking about and sharing ideas on contemporary feminisms from the UK and elsewhere. The collective goal for the site is primarily to provide a platform that welcomes and shares perspectives representing intersectional feminisms through contributions from a diverse range of women and non-binary people. This includes writers and editors of minority ethnicities (including Black, Asian, migrant or refugee people and individuals of dual or multiple ethnic heritage), along with those who are disabled, LGBTQ, older, sex workers or working class. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list, so please don’t be put off from applying if you’re interested but don’t identify with the perspectives above, particularly if you feel your own is currently under-represented in the feminist blogosphere.

Please note that The F-Word is run entirely online by unpaid volunteers. We are aware of current discussions around the politics and ethics of expecting people to work for free, but can unfortunately only offer permanent volunteer roles. The fact nobody involved in the site is paid for their work here means there is no hierarchy or differentiation between paid and unpaid positions.

To apply for either of the roles: please email us ( with a brief message setting out a) which one you would like to apply for and why you want to take it on, b) how you would develop this area of the site and c) any prior relevant experience.

The deadline for applications is 19.00 on Saturday 11 March.


Please note that we still have yet to find a visual arts editor and also have gaps to fill in terms of coverage of comics and games. We don’t currently have the capacity to recruit for more than two roles simultaneously, but hope to start work on recruitment in these areas as soon as we can. Watch this space!

In the meantime, please feel free to get in touch informally if you would like to put yourself forward as a potential section editor in either of these areas.

The picture is by #WOCInTech Chat and shared under a creative commons licence. This shows a person with long braided black hair, typing on a laptop while seated on a leather chair in front of a window. She wears two gold nasal piercings (right nostril and septum), horn-rimmed tortoiseshell glasses and a black and white patterned dress.

Understanding trauma: how women’s distress is wrongly medicalised

by Guest Blogger // 10 February 2017, 12:15 pm

woman pensive

Emma Hamilton is a Northerner who aspires to live in a warmer climate, spending her time writing and walking barefoot on sand

Emma is our guest blogger for February

Borderline personality disorder (BPD), also known as emotional unstable personality disorder (EUPD), is a mental health condition most commonly (about 75%) diagnosed in women.

I have seen both during my career as a social worker and in my personal life that this particular diagnosis is highly stigmatised both within and outside of mental health services. It is constructed around a narrative of impulsive, self-destructive behaviour; unstable mood; difficulty in relationships and dissociation, a process whereby a person disengages from themselves and the present. This is a coping mechanism that protects them from perceived or actual pain in their life.

BPD was long thought of as a lifelong condition; one that didn’t respond positively to treatment. Therefore people with the diagnosis were “historically confined…to the margins of healthcare systems”.

More recent research around the condition has reported a 75% rate of childhood sexual abuse in BPD patients. Would it not seem logical that a young child who has been abused will later have trouble trusting people, causing difficulty in their relationships? Would it not be logical that they experience mood changes if triggered by something that reminds them of those experiences? Would it not cause patterns of behaviour where a child may blame themselves for how they are feeling and therefore feel the need to punish and hurt themselves?

The difficulty with our healthcare system is that the field of mental health is dominated by the medical model. This model is essentially reductionist in that it evaluates the set of symptoms a person is experiencing and then labels them as a problem within that individual. There is little acknowledgement of environmental and personal experiences that may cause particular symptoms. Essentially, the patient is blamed for not being able to cope.

So why are so many women being diagnosed with this stigmatising label? Is it because women are more likely to come forward for help? Is it that more girls than boys experience childhood abuse? Or is it that there is a bias within the mental health field to more readily diagnose women with a personality disorder rather than, for instance, post-traumatic stress disorder?

I believe it’s a combination of all those factors.

A BPD diagnosis can be a very depressing label. To be told you have a disordered personality — that you are not “normal”— can be life-changing. I have known many women diagnosed with the condition and there are common threads throughout their experiences: doctors not enquiring about or listening to their life stories, being told they need to change their behaviour and then everything will resolve itself and being treated as a drain on resources because they present in highly-distressed states which the clinician believes they should just manage themselves.

All these experiences compound the feeling that these women are not worthy of care; are not people in their own right beyond their diagnosis. That must be a very familiar feeling for those who have experienced trauma at the hands of someone more powerful than them.

To add to this stigma, women with this condition find their chances in life curtailed. Nicola writes on The Time To Change blog:

Since the age of 18, I have always worked or been in full time education, or both. I am an exemplary employee – never take a sick day, I can interact with people in a professional manner, I have a wealth of knowledge, skills and experience which makes me invaluable – and yet, in the past 6 months, my employer has banned me from taking any shifts and the university where I was undergoing teacher training has informed me that I am not allowed to continue on my course because of this condition

Is this not societal oppression of women who have experienced trauma in their lives? If the healthcare professionals we all turn to when in need are framing a set of coping mechanisms used by these women as permanent and inappropriate, is that satisfactory? I think not.

Thankfully, the effects of trauma are being now beginning to be recognised as research is done and campaigners and activists work to highlight the issue. But is medicine catching up? Is the medical model of mental health best serving those diagnosed with EUPD/BPD, or would a more holistic model offer more hope?

It’s time to build on the recent work around understanding the effects of trauma. It’s time to move away from the victim-blaming model of psychiatry. It’s time to support vulnerable women who are simply using maladaptive coping techniques because they have never been valued and supported to create ways of coping with life stressors in a more constructive way. If we recognise that childhood abuse and trauma at any stage of life can be overwhelming then we can — as a society — begin to create more nurturing, inclusive models of support: models that do not confine survivors to the lifelong stigma of a psychiatric diagnosis.

Image by Isaac Holmgren, from Unsplash. Used under Creative Commons Zero licence.

Image is of the back of a woman’s head as she looks out the window onto a carpark. The scene feels moody and pensive.

Are we really so empowered? On post-feminism and mental health

by Guest Blogger // 7 February 2017, 12:00 pm

Woman of colour sadEmma Hamilton is a Northerner who aspires to live in a warmer climate, spending her time writing and walking barefoot on sand

Emma is our guest blogger for February

When you’re sitting in A and E at 3 o’clock in the morning, does it matter if you define yourself as a feminist? Amongst other sick and vulnerable people, what does your gender or age, race, sexuality or level of ability matter?

I ask this particular question because I’ve been in A and E departments a lot. Not for myself, but for my daughter. A young woman with multiple health needs who now, due to those needs, is no longer here. She died 10 months ago on 12 March, 2016. Her story is one of inspiration, determination, hope and ultimately, great sadness.

She defined herself as a feminist although never used that word. That word can be exclusive, divisive and nebulous and those are things my daughter would never have wanted to be associated with. When I was growing up it was a word that meant empowerment, equal rights and social justice. Now, it can evoke negative images: those of victimhood, indulgent ‘first world problems’ and whinging.

So now we, the collective group of self-defined feminists, have to be more astute, more thoughtful and sophisticated in our approach to ourselves and our wider communities. We have to now battle the assumptions made on the back of the feminist movement: that all young women are empowered, live in a more equal society and enjoy the benefits brought about through the work of generations of women before them.

There are still many overt and covert ways our gender affects how others see us. As a young woman with both physical and mental health problems, my daughter encountered this on a daily basis. Her primary psychiatric diagnosis went even further in shaping how others saw her. It was a diagnosis more commonly associated with young women than men. It is a very stigmatising diagnosis, and as with all psychiatric diagnoses, could ultimately be reduced to a social construct.

It was a stigma within a wider stigma — that of having mental health issues in the first place. And it is still a common experience of women today. Oppression upon oppression; layer upon layer of discrimination. Perhaps now though it could be argued as more insidious because of where we are in 2017.

If a woman now argues from a feminist ideology she can be dismissed by both men and women as whinging rather than raising legitimate issues for the individual and the collective. And I saw this, time and time again, in how others perceived and interacted with my daughter.

When she or I would argue for sensitive treatment from health professionals, we were often met with the same, oppressive narrative: young women have more rights, more power and more benefits than previous generations. Words such as hysterical, needy and attention-seeking were common in the framing of my daughter’s difficulties. The power of the construct that her difficulties were self-induced and perpetuated was an often impenetrable force. I say “often”. In reality, it was 90% of the time.

I was also labelled hysterical and unrealistic in my ambitions for my daughter. My daughter was seen as damaged goods by health professionals. Even though she contributed to her community and society with regular and often high-profile voluntary work in the mental health field, attended university and lived her life with the care of others as a priority, according to the healthcare system her quality of life was not expected to be high.

She was ultimately being told she should go away, care for herself and not expect services (society) to care about or for her. She was a young woman who, in today’s post-feminist society, should have been able to meet her own needs because those before her had empowered her. If she couldn’t help herself it was a weakness in her, not a community issue.

For my daughter, the continued fight to be seen as an individual was too much. The lack of support and damaging experiences she faced on a regular basis in A and E, community services and inpatient wards took its ultimate toll. She died by her own hand if you reduce the circumstances right down to the facts of her death. But in my mind, the cause of her death was not that simplistic.

The repetitive experience of having her needs rejected on the basis of collective assumptions about the quality of life young women have today killed her. She was not weak, but she was seen as such — apparently unable to draw on the benefits and change feminism has brought. But collective benefits do not always translate into individual benefits. She tasked herself with the job of self-sufficiency, not just because she blamed herself for her individual “flaws” but also because she was repeatedly pushed that way by state services. If she had been seen as an individual, perhaps her life and death would have been different. I will never know.

Image is of half of a woman of colour’s face. She is looking down and appears sad and thoughtful. Most of the frame is taken up by her thick, dark hair.

Image by Joshua Newton, from Unsplash. Used under Creative Commons Zero licence.

Weekly round-up and open thread

by Lusana Taylor // 6 February 2017, 3:54 pm


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 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.

A woman vilified on the front pages today was actually a grieving mother (The Pool)

From the article: “The tabloids are crying “health tourism” over a woman who lost two babies when she went into labour prematurely mid-flight. When did we lose sight of all empathy?”

Gay people are still being locked up in Britain. What use is this pardon to them? (Huck)

Meet the First Woman to Win the “Nobel Prize of Mathematics” (Mother Jones)

From the article: “On Wednesday, Maryam Mirzakhani became the first woman in 78 years to be awarded the prestigious Fields Medal, considered the highest honor in mathematics. She was selected for ‘stunning advances in the theory of Riemann surfaces and their moduli spaces.'”

#DressLikeAWoman: Twitter backlash over reports of dress code for Trump staff (The Guardian)

From the article: “The claims that Trump expected his female staff members to wear stereotypically feminine attire drew ire on Twitter. Users responded with the hashtag #DressLikeAWoman.”

Glenda Jackson: ‘Theatre still doesn’t think women are interesting’ (The Stage)

5 Reasons Why the Pressure to Have Clear Skin Is a Feminist Issue (Everyday Feminism)

Your defense of immigrants is fucking colonialist (The Bridge to Texangeles)

From the article: “Yeah your great grandpa was 1/8 Hungarian or something, but unless Trump signed a ban on travelers from your country OR your family is here due to the U.S. bombing your country, please kindly stop appropriating the experiences of people who are actually suffering. ‘We are all immigrants’ is cute in theory, but it completely erases the role white supremacy plays in specifically targeting Latinx, South Asian, African, and Middle Eastern immigrants.”

Utopian thinking: how to build a truly feminist society (The Guardian)

Easily-Triggered, Privileged People Have Turned Society Into Their Own Giant Safe Space (Huffington Post)

From the article: “The truth of the matter is that privileged people have all of society as a safe space; our culture and even our laws are formed around their comfort. The most unequal laws of history have existed to protect the safe space of those in power  —  a space safe from abortions, from queer marriages, from black people and women voting, from anything that challenges their supremacy. Many of the people catered to by the entire setup of society are the same ones who would claim that life never gave them a ‘safe space.'”

People are asking how they can become a ‘professional anarchist’ (Indy100)

Why most of the lawyers you see battling Trump’s immigration order are women (Quartz)

Article 50 Brexit vote: Full list of MPs who backed Theresa May starting official EU negotiations – and those who voted against (The Independent)

Everyday pricks distance themselves from Trump (The Daily Mash) [Satire]

From the article: “Tom Booker, who owns 400 buy-to-let properties and drives a Jaguar with a customised hood ornament, said: ‘I am a prick. I have a number of blinkered views and am generally hostile towards the underdog in any situation.

‘However Trump is taking prick behaviour too far, something I never thought was possible.'”

16 Acts Of Self-Care To Get You Through 2017 (Buzzfeed)

The image is used under a creative commons license with thanks to Liz Lemon on Flickr. It is a photograph from the DC Women’s March. It is an image of a hand holding up a bright pink sign which reads: “I lift my lamp beside the golden door” – a quotation from Emma Lazarus’s poem, ‘The New Colossus’.

Silvia 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 the different criticisms of the Women’s March, some of which are more constructive than others

Muslim woman

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

As a British-born Pakistani woman of colour from a Muslim family, there are certain assumptions I face by people who make judgements about my life simply by looking at me or knowing the basic facts about who I am. Here are some of the statements (not questions) that have been said to me over the years, mainly by those who are not of my background.

My brown skin has led to many drawing the conclusion that I must know how to cook. The truth is that I don’t know how to cook and do not have any remote interest in learning.

Knowing that I grew up in a Muslim family, people make me an object of sympathy because that means it must be really difficult for me to fight for my rights. The truth is that yes, I may have had some trouble with faith, but neither has it been a hindrance to me nor been imposed on me by my parents.

Along with this, I’ve been told many times that I’m really different because I don’t agree with suicide bombings or extremist views of any kind. Being a British-born Pakistani has led to people believing that I would have an arranged marriage by a suitor my parents choose, in which I’ll have no say since I am most likely to be a timid, quiet and delicate flower. The reality is that I am married to someone I met through a friend and who is of a different Islamic sect to me. I have no fear in defending my own choice of partner.

Trying to fit into the white, middle-class world of work has led me to swing around from feeling inferior and isolated while suffering from internalised racism that took a long time to shed.

Coming out on the other side, I’d like to put forward an observation: the bodies of Muslim women seem to send out signals that make people feel they have the right to stamp stereotypes and political ideologies onto them. This is a reflection of a broader mindset that female bodies can be used as some sort of battleground by people across the political spectrum.

Last year, headlines reported the burkini ban across many European countries, with people such as France’s minister for women’s rights drawing a parallel with “American negroes who accepted slavery”. This is a clear example of white feminism ignoring the voices of minority women.

The same can be said for groups such as Femen, who seem to believe themselves to be the liberal saviours of Muslim women without bothering to understand what these women stand for themselves. Ever since Brexit and Trump there have been multiple reports of the hijab being pulled off the heads of Muslim women by racists who prey on those they believe are unable to defend themselves.

The deputy leader of the far-right party, Britain First, was convicted of religiously aggravated harassment for abusing a Muslim woman in a hijab. All the while their website and rhetoric accuses Muslim men and Islam of subjugating Muslim women. The irony of this is certainly lost on them.

Nigel Farage has never shied away from calling a ban on the burqa due to it being ‘oppressive’ while using his politics to promote Islamophobia across the UK. Across the world, there are radical groups who seem to be an authority on what Muslim women should and should not wear, even if these women have never asked them to be.

By no means exhaustive, this list demonstrates the ways in which the bodies of Muslim women are used in a political tug-of-war without ever giving them the platform to speak for themselves. Muslim women have been painted as victims and therefore they are easy subjects used to further the political stance of whomsoever desires. With these prejudices so deeply entrenched in our societies, progress will always be denied to Muslim women unless we realise that they can speak and make decisions for themselves.

I know fiercely independent and successful women who choose to wear the hijab as a symbol of faith and identity, not because somewhere in the background a man has ordered them to. The burkini is no different to choosing the kind of attire you feel the most comfortable with at the beach – be that a bikini, a one piece or a wetsuit. As with women of colour in the west, Muslim women in Islamic countries are navigating the fight for equality by balancing their culture, religion and individuality and do not need white women to bare their breasts on their behalf. This is nothing more than white saviour complex.

At a time when the political climate is increasingly hostile toward Muslims, the fight to protect the bodies of Muslim women from the opportunistic politics of all spectrums of society needs to come from Muslim women themselves. They have beliefs, passion and voices and they need to be heard.

Image is of the back of a Muslim woman’s head and shoulders as she carries her child. She appears to be wearing a hijab. The image is black and white.

Image is from Pixabay, used under Creative Commons Zero licence

Kitty Jansz-Moore is a researcher living in London. She loves board games, opera, podcasts and decorating cakes

My adult love of board games started innocently. A few family rounds of Articulate, The Game Of Life with housemates and nostalgic sessions of Cluedo in coloured outfits.

Then I progressed through the gateway games, getting in deeper: a New Year’s Eve with Cards Against Humanity, an obligatory dabble with Ticket to Ride, my first foray into solo play with Forbidden Island – which was when I realised it might be more than a social habit.

Next came the illicit trips, first to Toys “R” Us, skulking childless among suspicious parents in the games aisle, then to specialist shops. The rules got more complicated and the sessions got longer – Risk Legacy across many months, multiple expansions of Lord of the Rings, nights with friends becoming orgies of card swapping and drunken strategizing and the tapping of meeples on wood. At 2am of a Sunday morning, a Cthulu Starspawn in my hand, I knew I was committed.

At first I felt ashamed of my new hobby. Geekery had always felt male somehow. Board games seemed linked with computer games, a pastime of gamer-gate Twitterstorms and whispers of dark web misogyny. Where did feminism or femininity fit into any of this?

But now I think of board games as fantastically ‘equal’ spaces.

You sit as yourself at that table. Your decisions are your own, you talk and act as you, or as characters you choose to inhabit (a Mysterium ghost, a FunEmployed applicant). It’s your own voice with your own gender (or lack thereof), race, body and personality.

The board of a game is an equal playing field – sometimes you literally start from the same square as your competitors. There is nothing integrally weighted towards men in the gameplay.

Video games are different because you typically play a stylised avatar with its own version of masculinity or femininity and preset vocal responses, and you can be among the untested attitudes of strangers. It’s not a space everyone feels safe in. With board games you often use genderless meeples (Carcassonne) or genderless cards (Seven Wonders, Jaipur) and compete against friends away from misogyny. Unless you have horrible friends.

As a feminist, I want games to show that women are welcome. If genders are specified then ideally there should be an equal ratio of male and female characters, just like in real life, and the women should be well-rounded. By ‘well-rounded’ I don’t mean ‘big circular breasts’, but with abilities to rival the male characters and job roles beyond ‘nurse’ or ‘victim’.

Luckily there are some fantastic representations of women to be found. The most useful character in Pandemic Legacy is the female quarantine expert. Above and Below and Battlestar Galactica have a good mix of genders. Even Lord of the Rings (that famed sausage fest) dredges up female characters with fully competitive abilities and uses. I have put on a play with an all-female cast in Shakespeare, stolen jewels as a female burglar (Burglar Bros), run around Lovecraftian mansions as a female athlete (Mansions of Madness) and battled against zombies in an apocalyptic winter as a female pilot (Dead of Winter).

It’s not totally there yet though. A 50/50 gender representation in some games would be welcome (for example in the very entertaining but only 25% female Mechs vs Minions). And the bloggers of ‘Shut Up & Sit Down’ recently challenged a developer who admitted they hadn’t noticed or considered the game ratio of 82 men to 0 women in Istanbul. Not all commenters agreed this was a problem.

Similarly, while some games depict a mix of races and a diverse set of characters, others can have colonialist overtones (Archipelago), all-white avatars, or even ambiguous references to slavery (Five Tribes, Puerto Rico). And I’ve yet to see any games that incorporate trans or disabled characters in any way.

But this resurgence of tabletop gaming is still in its infancy, and as more people play and comment and create, we will hopefully get closer to a fully equal and representative space. I’d love to see more female board game developers producing titles, as it’s still a male-dominated field.

In some ways games recapture a past when I felt unaware of any real difference between the sexes; when my brother and I were equal heights and equally dangerous in physical fights. Before puberty came and made it clear exactly who was a girl and who was a boy and what that was supposed to mean. Board games were a neutral place where pink and blue couldn’t segment us.

In fact, recent survey data showed that 40% of women play board games, compared with 32% of men. And it’s not all mums playing happy families with children – among those without kids in the household it still stands at 36% vs 30%.

Sounds like I’m preaching to the choir. Why have board games done so well recently? I’d argue it’s partly because of their equality and a whole hidden swathe of keen women alongside me.

Photo courtesy David Goehring on Flickr

Image depicts a woman holding a hand of cards and grinning excitedly

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