Weekly round-up and open thread

by Lusana Taylor // 9 January 2017, 2:44 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 our chosen links which range, this week, from feminist memes to a chocolate polemic!

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

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

How Feminist Memes Hit the Mainstream (Vice)

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

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

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

The Stage 100: analysis and methodology (The Stage)

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

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

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

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

Radical Brownies: The Guardian short documentary (The Guardian)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The heterosexual couples campaigning for civil partnership equality (iNews)

Fuck Dark Chocolate (Body for Wife)

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

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

Happy 2017!

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for your Winter 2017 playlist.


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

Weekly round-up and open thread

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexist men have psychological problems (The Washington Post)

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

Becoming Ugly (Jezebel)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can tech empower female sexuality?

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

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Can tech empower female sexuality?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image from Pexels, used with Creative Commons Zero licence.

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

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

Dear Ms Adichie,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With kindness,

Gemma Croffie

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

Courtesy of pawpaw67 on Flickr

Weekly round-up and open thread

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


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

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

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

Merry Christmas to all celebrating!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revealed: True extent of panel show sexism (Chortle)

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

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

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

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

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

A Reclamation too Far? (Roz Kaveney at TLS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

In praise of funny women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bechdel Testing Theatre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bechdel Testing Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

Horses and headlocks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bullying Melania Trump is not my feminism

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

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Woman lost in thought

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons from Period School

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Modern Foreign Languages

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

Germany: Strawberry week

Denmark: The communists are in the fun house

South Africa: Granny’s stuck in traffic

China: Little sister has arrived


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

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

Environmental Studies

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

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


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

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

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

Physical Education

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

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

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


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

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

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

Business Studies

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

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

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

Weekly round-up and open thread

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember the 14: École Polytechnique, Montréal (CBC)

Femininity is Not a Negative Trait (Empathize This)

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

Single women don’t need your modern pity

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

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Single woman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introducing December’s guest blogger

by Megan Stodel // 1 December 2016, 7:57 am


horse-isabella-juskovaThanks so much to Jennifer Evans, who has been writing for us throughout November. You can follow her @todaysfeminist.

Now we’re in December and I’d like to welcome Emily Moore, our guest blogger this month. Here’s her introduction in her own words.

Emily is pansexual, non-binary, polyamorous and active in the BDSM community. An aspiring lawyer and keen horse rider she has been bemused from a young age by artificial constraints on gender, relationships and what is considered “normal”. With knowledge this confusion has evolved into feminist rage against the kyriachy which she channels into karate and taekwondo training, writing, knitting, baking and sewing.

Welcome, Emily!

The image is by Isabella Jusková and is used under a Creative Commons Zero licence. It shows a white horse eating grass on what appears to be a hill or mountain rising up into the clouds and mist behind it.

Got something to say? Say it as an F-Word writer

by Monica Karpinski // 30 November 2016, 1:00 pm

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Female blogger

It’s that time again! The F-word is looking for monthly guest bloggers for 2017, which means that for a month, you’ll be able to blog to your feminist heart’s content on any feminist-related thing you like.

For that month, we’d love it if you were able to post at least once a week, but understand that this is a labour of love for everyone and that sometimes life gets in the way. Think of this as the opportunity to have a platform to say what you want to say.

You’ll get help and guidance from one of our blog editors, who you can bounce ideas off, who will sub-edit your work and give you constructive feedback.

We are particularly interested in views and positions that are under-represented on the blog, particularly intersectional perspectives. This could be older women, disabled women, working class women, sex workers, women of minority ethnicities (including Black, Asian, migrant or refugee women and women of dual or multiple ethnic heritage), trans* women, lesbian, gay, bisexual or queer women, male feminists and/or socialist feminists or just someone keen to write about a topic that you think we should feature more frequently.

We are also especially interested in reactive content that offers a feminist perspective to things happening in the news and popular culture.

This is not intended to be an exhaustive list – please don’t be put off from emailing us if you’re interested but don’t identify with the perspectives above, particularly if you feel your perspective 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 alas at this point we can offer permanent volunteer roles only. We are not paid for our work either so there is no hierarchy or differentiation between paid and unpaid positions.

To apply please email guestposts@thefword.org.uk with a short introduction and some article ideas. Send along any examples of your writing if you’ve got them, but please note that this is not essential for you to be considered.

The deadline for applications is December 23rd, 2016.

The F-Word is an online magazine about and for contemporary UK feminism so we are concentrating on contributions relating to this. Contributions are encouraged from UK feminists, people living in the UK, or UK feminists currently living elsewhere. If you are unsure about this you can email us to check.

Image by Tran Mau Tri Tam, from Unsplash. Used under Creative Commons Zero licence.

Image is of an Asian woman working on a Macbook. She is sitting on a bean bag and appears lost in thought.

Navigating feminist choice

by Jennifer Evans // 29 November 2016, 7:38 am

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I’ve not always known that I’m a feminist. When I worked for an organisation a few years ago that supports women through strong feminist principles and ethics, I finally realised I was home. I’d found my people. I jumped on my newly acquired ‘feminist’ label with all my might – finally finding a box that I was happy to fit into.

It’s fair to say I am still a relative newbie. I’m an entry level feminist, working out an approach that fits me and all of my beliefs as I go. That’s what fascinates me, I suppose. We all have a shared objective – women and girls to be treated equally in every aspect of life – but with our own understanding of what that entails and how to achieve it.

One thing I have struggled with, and am still debating day by day, are my thoughts about the portrayal of women choosing to present themselves in an overtly sexualised manner. This proves troublesome for me. I do accept that choice is a heavily burdened word. A woman may choose to portray herself in a certain way within a constricted environment that only offers her a handful of choices. Similarly a woman may be coerced into believing she is choosing but in reality her agency is limited. This issue aside (it warrants its own blog entirely) I have some further thoughts.

I want to avoid sounding judgemental, because I really do believe that women should express themselves however they choose, in a way that feels most comfortable to them. Take singer Tove Lo, for example. Earlier this week, the Daily Mail reported her reaction to the comments about her choice of outfit for the recent 2016 ARIA Awards in Sydney. Tove wore a short transparent orange dress with the shape of a uterus and ovaries depicted on the front. The article also outlines (and shows pictures of) one of her previous controversial outfits where she performs topless with what appears to be glittery cannabis leaves stencilled over her nipples and also features shots from her “sexually-charged short film” where she is shown “passionately romping in bed with a woman and a man”. Tove retaliated to the attention her dress received by stating, “I’m from Sweden where we don’t really censor at all… you’ve just got to say what it is… Didn’t Madonna do this 20 years ago?”

The Daily Mail’s choice of language is frivolous, provocative and indulgent, showing several pictures of Tove Lo in her videos and performances wearing very little. Comments on the article question Tove Lo’s reasons for wearing the outfit and speak about her in a fairly derogatory manner. There is a consensus in the comments that she has done something wrong, exploiting the system with her sexuality. But why are so many people reading this article to begin with? People want to look at her body, yet want to shame her into feeling guilty about showing it off. She can’t win.

So I have an affinity with her. She is a woman, in a world which expects her to behave in a certain way, and when she does so that world damns her. Nowhere in the article does it discuss her lyrics, her music career or her capability as an artist.

Then I find myself considering whether she has a responsibility of her own to the next generation of young women. But what a burden to bear; to think that our actions could impact another life. If my twenties were played out in the media I would be depicted in all sorts of derogatory terms, my choices as a young woman were sometimes destructive and unhealthy. I would not be advocating to my 11-year-old niece that she follows in, or even near, my younger self’s footsteps! The woman I have grown into is healthy, considerate and careful about looking after herself. I’m still the same me. So just because Tove Lo is the in the media, just because she is in the public eye, should I really make judgement about her choice of lifestyle, her choice of outfit, her choice of sexualised behaviour just because it doesn’t fit comfortably with my current own? I don’t think I should.

On the other hand I can offer many considerations for why the sexualised focus on women is problematic. When women are overtly sexual in the public eye does this enable us to move forward and move away from our bodies being our means of communication, our bargaining chips and our wealth? Are we just not regurgitating the usual trend of women being seen as sexual objects for the modern day?

To conclude, for me the jury’s still out. I can’t quite get my head around this issue. Yet while I know I have some conflicting views about the issue I also know that predominantly, fundamentally, my heart is with each and every woman making her own informed independent choice.

The photo is by Daniel Åhs Karlsson and is used under a creative commons licence. It shows Tove Lo smiling as she hold s a microphone, performing in Stockholm in 2014.

Weekly round-up and open thread

by Lusana Taylor // 28 November 2016, 8:09 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 our chosen links.

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

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

White model apologises for her photo appearing on the cover of Blackhair magazine (Huffington Post)

The best ways to combat bias from Airbnb to eBay (Tim Harford)

Restricting niche porn sites is a disaster for people with marginalised sexualities (The Guardian CiF)

From the article: “What message are we sending to young women by criminalising porn that depicts a visual, undeniable representation of female sexual fulfilment? Do we really want girls to think that the way their bodies naturally respond to pleasure is obscene?”

Saudi Arabia bans transgender people (Planet Transgender)

No Asians, no black people. Why do gay people tolerate blatant racism? (The Guardian CiF)

Why Going to Parties Is Terrible (Transgender Universe)

From the article: “At this point, I turned around and walked away. My presence would only get in the way of a thoroughly good thought exercise by those who valued intellectual masturbation over people.”

How much are black ideas worth? (Stephanie Phillips at Media Diversified)

From the article: “After seeing Channel 4 use the now infamous phrase ‘on fleek’ I wonder if the black teenager who invented the phrase received any credit. I wonder if Channel 4 even know that it was a black teenager’s phrase. Culture is hard to pin down and can sometimes be even harder to source but in today’s world when you can google the answer to any question, such as who created the phrase ‘on fleek’, there’s no need for black people to go uncredited.”

The Loneliness of the Spinster (Vitae)

From the article: “It would be all too easy for me to bear the proud mantle of the workaholic who gave up love to devote herself to a life of the mind. But like Hopper, I “cling to the term spinster.” Why? Because, as she writes, “it serves as a challenge to the way our society still conflates coupledom with love, maturity, and citizenship, while seeing unmarried people as — to quote Justice Kennedy — ‘condemned to loneliness.’”

This failed activist is tired of being told what to do.* (Naomi Jacobs at Medium)

From the article: “I’ve gone on many marches that have harmed my body and helped no one. I’ve been to endless meetings that no one ever noticed. I did online action and people laughed at me. The world turned on, oblivious to all of us. The hegemony continued to be the hegemony. I will always be a failure at activism. And I secretly think that activism may be part of the problem.”

Everyone who can now see your entire internet history, including the taxman, DWP and Food Standards Agency (Independent)

The image is used under a creative commons license with thanks to aptmetaphor on Flickr. It is a black and white photograph of a person in profile. They have dark hair brushed over their forehead and they are wearing a veil or scarf over the rest of their head. They appear to be on a boat as a body of water is spread in front of them, with land in the distance.


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 shock of men on discovering that Silvia, like them, moved to the UK alone and frequently travels on her own

Little Red Riding Hood This is a guest post by Jane Buffham, a thirtysomething daydreamer. She lives in a small town in Oxfordshire twinned with Cranford circa 1840. She *really* likes to travel.

In the gleaming foyer of a resplendent – if not quite tasteful – Delhi hotel is a 7ft hoarding for Chanel. In contrast with the hurly-burly of the chaotic street outside, it is an unexpected image.

The advert depicts an artfully dishevelled Kristen Stewart, heavily made-up eyes tearing, her chest and midriff exposed. She is alone and distressed and yet, captured in her black and white melodrama, she is wantonly defiant. It is a complex composition that – at the heart of its sales pitch – shows a picture of ferocious female independence framed within a dark and angry hedonism.

More Premier Inn than premier league, I’m not accustomed to shiny, opulent hotels as a rule. Standing in front of Kristen in my sweaty jeans and plimsolls, the prospect of buying $10,000 clothes is no more realistic for me than for most. The actual market for such attire, like the clothes themselves, must be miniscule.

This is not a critique on the dichotomy of the haves and the have-nots in the country. India throws into sharp relief the disadvantages of the poorest in society, but then so too does Rotherham.

Rather this is about a billboard conveying an image of femininity that sits in shadowy contrast to that of the real country beyond the brass-plated doors. Official guidance from the UK Government issued to women travellers in India reads like a list of magical rules the heroine of a fairy story breaks at her peril.

Don’t travel alone.

Don’t use buses, or taxis or auto rickshaws.

Don’t travel the subway.

If you must travel the subway, stay in the women-only carriages.

Don’t walk alone.

Double-deffo don’t walk alone at night.

Wear a wedding ring (even if not married).

Don’t half-undress yourself like Kristen Stewart and hang out in louche poses on billboards. The subtext screams: pay heed to these warnings or Big Bad Wolf will get you. It shouts that just to be seen out in the world as a woman is a provocation that must be avoided.

India is a beautiful if culturally complicated country, especially for women. The rape and murder of Jyoti Singh on a public bus in Delhi in 2012 caused shockwaves around the world, creating a perception of India as a dangerous place for us.

On my every visit, I’ve been warned about the Danish tourist raped at knife point in Delhi, about an Irish woman raped in Kolkata. These are vile attacks on the individuals involved. But these tragedies seem to have become appropriated as cautionary tales for all women to heed, as if a woman’s behaviour can invite or prevent an attack. The perception overshadows the fact that reports of rapes perpetrated by a stranger on foreign women, though horrifying, are extremely rare. Rape in India, as is the case in Europe and the US, is most often carried out by partners, friends or acquaintances of the victim. According to India’s National Crime Records Bureau, 98% of reported rapes in 2013 were carried out by someone the victim knew.

In India, I have never been cavalier about my safety, have never knowingly sought danger, and been cautious not to be provocative or disrespectful. And yet, upon retrospectively reading the UK Government’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office website, I have trespassed against every rule for women in the book.

I have wandered alone in night markets, searching out souvenirs and musical instruments I will never learn to play.

I have haggled ham-fistedly in craft shops with skilled salespeople who know how to exploit their advantage over clumsy British ‘politeness’.

I’ve ridden in perilous autos in traffic jams eight cars deep.

I’ve explored the steaming narrow lanes of old Delhi, eaten alone in Dosa restaurants, and made fast and fleeting friendships on street corners.

I have defended with passion my unmarried status while I’ve ogled a man with Bollywood good looks on a train.

I’ve been solicited successfully many times by beggars and street vendors, all of whom have made me appreciate my privilege with an honesty and clarity far greater than any pretentious hotel.

None of these things makes me a pin-up of female derring-do. I am the very picture of a spectacularly ordinary woman sampling a culture different to her own, anonymously and without glamour. There is nothing heroic in paddling in the shallow-end of independent spirit.

Big Bad Wolves clearly exist, but they do not lurk on every corner. Women won’t stop attacks on women by staying indoors or following contrived rules, nor will we defeat misogyny by simply stepping out on our own. But when we venture forth with independence, not boldly and dramatically like Kristen, dripping with mascara and smoking sexuality, but with ordinary human curiosity and common sense, perhaps we begin to strike back against those bad wolves, real and imagined.

Image is of a handmade Little Red Riding Hood figure. Courtesy of temaki on Flickr

The F-Word is recruiting new editors

by Shoshana Devora // 25 November 2016, 5:35 pm

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The F-Word is looking for UK-based volunteers to join our team of editors, with roles available for social media and visual arts/photography. These are both fantastic opportunities to play an exciting part in building a feminist resource and taking on an important role on the site.

If you’d like to take on either of these roles, we’d love to hear from you! Read on for more on what the roles will involve and how to apply.

Social media editor:

• promotes F-word content on Facebook and Twitter;
• forwards requests from social media to relevant team member(s);
• tactfully deals with questions and comments on social media;
• promotes feminist events on Facebook and Twitter;
• keeps social media updated with relevant content from other blogs/sites;
• explores the use of other social media (Pinterest, LinkedIn, etc.);
• works with the rest of The F-Word team where necessary;
• has the ability to work alongside another social media editor.

What you will bring:

• Enthusiasm about the role and the potential to publicise The F-Word content.
• Some time, energy and regular internet access.
• Commitment to the role for at least six months (with a minimum period of one month’s notice).
• Social media experience, ideally prior experience of promoting an organisation/event/initiative on social media.
• Ideally, some editing experience (as an editor/subeditor/proofreader), particularly experience of working with a set style guide.
• Familiarity with blogging platforms is an advantage here, as is at least basic HTML.

Visual arts / photography editor:

• sourcing ideas for features, reviews and interviews;
• commissioning features and reviews, with a focus on encouraging new voices from a range of backgrounds and diverse perspectives;
• responding to pitches and reviewing opportunities that come in through the submissions pile;
• editing features/reviews;
• posting features/reviews;
• moderating comments on published features/reviews;
• working with the social media editor to promote features/reviews;
• working with the other section editors and The F-Word team where necessary, including attending Skype meetings every two months.

What you will bring:

• You must be enthusiastic about the role and the opportunities to develop the the visual arts / photography section. This is a volunteer position, so some time, energy and regular internet access are all required.
• You must commit to the role for at least six months (with a minimum period of one month’s notice).
• Ideally you will have some editing experience, as you will be working with submissions from an extremely broad range of contributors; some whom have never written for publication before, while others are experienced journalists. Submissions need to be given a critical edit, making sensitive suggestions to the author and offering some guidance where needed. Submissions must also be edited in line with our style guide, so some experience in working with a house style is an advantage.

It is frequently reported that women do not put themselves forward for leadership roles as often as men do, despite extensive qualifications and experience. It is also reported by women who attain positions of power that they did not feel entitled to them until they ‘gave themselves permission’ or were given an opportunity by a more privileged male counterpart. Therefore we have taken the decision collectively to invite applications from self-identified women/genderqueer people/anyone who doesn’t 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 which welcomes and shares perspectives from writers representing intersectional feminisms through contributions from people who identify along all parts of the gender and sexuality continuums. This could be older women, disabled women, working class women, sex workers, women of minority ethnicities (including Black, Asian, migrant or refugee women and women of dual or multiple ethnic heritage), trans* women, lesbian, gay, bisexual or queer women and/or socialist feminists. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list – 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 perspective 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 alas at this point we can offer permanent volunteer roles only. We are not paid for our work either so there is no hierarchy or differentiation between paid and unpaid positions.

To apply for either of the roles: please email us (recruitment@thefword.org.uk) with a brief message setting out which role you would like to apply for, why you want to take on the role, how you would develop the role, and any prior relevant experience.

If you feel enthusiastic about any area of culture not listed here or already covered by The F-Word and would like to put yourself forward for the role of section editor promoting this area, please feel free to apply for that, telling us why we should have that particular section.

The deadline for applications is Saturday 24 December

The photo is by wocintech and shared under a creative commons licence. It shows a woman’s hands poised over the keyboard of an open laptop.

Weekly round-up and open thread

by Lusana Taylor // 21 November 2016, 4:42 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 our chosen links.
As always, linking to articles does not mean endorsement from the F-Word and certain links may be triggering. We welcome debate in the comments section and on Facebook/Twitter but remind readers that any comments containing sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic or disablist language will be deleted immediately.

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

British prisons must now recognise gender fluid and non-binary inmates (The Conversation)

Dear Hillary, You Betrayed Me, But I Admire You (The Establishment)

Women Don’t Need More Protection, We Need Less (Role Reboot)

I assess if you are fit for work. I hate having to score your life this way (The Guardian)

Failing to hold working-class people to account when they’re racist or misogynistic is patronising and wrong (Independent)

From the article: “My parents deserved better from their peers. The only solace I can offer them is my love, my gratitude, my solidarity, my immeasurable pride in them and a solemn promise to fight on. Part of that fight is accepting what the working classes really are – often liberal, justice-loving people whose values set the foundation of the Labour movement which so many middle-class people have now joined.”

Give legal recognition to sex workers: Supreme Court panel (DNA India)

An 87-year-old Japanese grandmother is taking the best selfies in the world (A.V. Club)

Stay Out of Fat Girls’ DMs (The Urban Twists)

From the article: “I will always protect and defend us fat women because you ashy, inconsiderate, with nothing to offer but secret dick, assholes, are not entitled to our bodies. You are not entitled to fill our inboxes with hope, disappointment, and dick. You are not allowed to abuse, use, fetishize and demoralize fat women.”

Against proposals (Another Angry Woman)

From the article: “Getting married is a major life decision, and yet it is the only major life decision I can think of which involves a bizarre ritual in making the decision. We do not buy a ring while figuring out whether to go to university or not. We do not book a fancy restaurant to have a think about buying a house. We do not get down on one knee when deciding if we want to have children. We do not put a cute little question in a fortune cookie when working through the various treatment options for an illness.”

‘Extreme surveillance’ becomes UK law with barely a whimper (The Guardian)

Kimberlé Crenshaw: The urgency of intersectionality (TED talk, interactive transcript)

Domestic abuse could not be further from gender neutral. Wake up Britain (Telegraph)

World mourns 271 dead on Trans Day of Remembrance (Pink News)
Also see: https://tdor.info/

No more schmoozing with the enemy on TV shows (Stewart Lee at The Guardian)

From the article: “These aren’t the times for self-loathing liberals to seek to understand the leaders of the global far right, or their supporters. That ship sailed when Trump put Breitbart into the White House. We should be in crisis-management mode. It’s time to reassert a fundamental principle, namely that there’s no excuse for bigotry, whichever alt-right buzzword you get Boris or Steve Bannon to rebrand it with.”

U.S. Astronaut Becomes the Oldest Woman in Space (NBC News)

The image is used under a creative commons license with thanks to gaelex on Flickr. It shows four circular objects (possibly badges) side by side against a yellow background, each featuring a different feminist slogan: “Grrrl!”, “Revolution Grrrl Style Now”, “If I had a hammer … I’d smash the patriarchy” and “Riots not Diets”.

Woman looking worried

If you’re anything like me, right now you’re still reeling from the US election result. Politics aside, it is an emotional blow, to say the least, that a man who has bragged about being able to grab women “by the pussy”, amongst other sexist things, has just been elected the president of a global superpower. A democratic, economic powerhouse that is a key engine of global media and popular culture. How did this happen?

Well, 53% of votes from white women certainly helped.

At face value, this feels like a betrayal. Sisters, why did you vote for a man that has expressed what is at best disdain and at worst genuine hatred towards you? Where is your feminist rage?

The silver lining of all of this — and I promise, there is one — is that this result can teach us a lot about how we understand our sisters’ experiences, and offer guidance on how our rage can be used as a uniting force rather a divisive one.

Being white seems to have everything to do with this majority vote. Women of colour voted overwhelmingly for Clinton, with 94% of the black vote and 68% of the Latino vote. Critics and commentators have attributed the result to the tunnel vision that can result from racial privilege; racism is likely to be seen as not as big a deal to those who have never experienced it or have a limited understanding of it.

Racial privilege creates a view of the world that defaults to blinkered. Unless we know the blinkers are there, we won’t try to remove them.

It is wrong to explain the votes of this 53% of white women as pure expressions of racism, sexism or xenophobia. Yes, these were as much, if not more, a part of the campaign trail as the candidates’ policies. Visible and palpable, they invariably played a part in any woman’s decision-making process. Every woman will feel differently.

She will feel emotional about issues she experiences and the changes she imagines. Here is where the filter of racial privilege comes in and directs her thoughts a particular way.

The Guardian names Trump’s experience as a businessman as a strong drawcard for white female voters. Some felt that despite his sexist transgressions, he would still be able to put forward changes they wanted to see. These thoughts have sprung from a range of experiences that include, but cannot be limited to, racial privilege. There is work to be done in dissolving this filter.

These women are not immune to experiences of sexist discrimination. In 2015 the average gender pay gap for full-time workers in the US was 20%. The United States is the only other country besides Papua New Guinea that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave, according to the UN agency the International Labour Organization. 57% of women who are of reproductive age are living in a US state that is “either hostile or very hostile” to abortion rights.

Every iota of this discrimination is felt through the prism of these women’s identities: a woman, a woman of colour, a mother, a Muslim woman, a poor woman. Their experiences of sexism are just as poignant and intersectional as those felt here in the UK, only with different complexities.

It is perfectly likely that their votes were angry votes. They too were likely feeling rage at their situations, and willing to do what they felt would work best in making change. This rage, at this time, manifested into the idea that Trump might be able to do something about it.

Their rage should have been shared and actioned strategically in wider groups. It should have been better shared, understood, and channeled into collective action. If it had, maybe there would be been progressive, open discussion about better ways to use one’s vote.

Feminist rage sits within the beating heart of the women’s movement and is essential in shifting the balance of power. But the ways we need to fight have changed. Modern discrimination is subtle and nuanced. As well as pushes for particular legislation, women are largely fighting for social and cultural equity. Doing so requires a shift in collective consciousness, which is much more complicated to pull off than a good old-fashioned protest. There are times, however, when protesting is the way to go.

Women need a space for their anger but this election proves that aggression isn’t good enough. This election has given women so, so much to be angry about. But now more than ever it has warned us of the need for rage that is inclusive, smart and strategic.

When left unbridled, privilege can form a devastating eclipse over our perception, but privilege in itself doesn’t need to be something to be ashamed of if you take responsibility for it and use it as an organising force.

Image by Joe Gardner, from Unsplash. Used with Creative Commons Zero licence.

Image is of a blond, white woman who is facing the camera, but looking away as if lost in thought. She looks unsettled, and perhaps a bit worried.

A lesson in victim blaming

by Guest Blogger // 15 November 2016, 8:00 am

Tags: , , , ,

lesson-in-victim-blaming-landscapeThis is a guest post by Laura Cooke, a journalist living in the South of England.

It is a sad, but unavoidable, fact of life – victim blaming is ingrained in our society. Unfortunately we are accustomed to seeing examples of it in our courts, our press, even our police forces – albeit not always intentional.

But to find an example in a primary school shows what a serious and deep-rooted problem it is. Recently on Mumsnet, a mother sought advice from other parents following an incident at her daughter’s school. A member of staff at the unnamed school had told the eight year old that she was not allowed on the bars unless she wore shorts under her skirt.

The reason? “The boys will see her knickers”.

Just drink that statement in for a moment – an innocent young girl is being told to cover up because otherwise she will potentially face bullying and teasing from her male peers. Victim blaming has become such an intrinsic part of our society that a child is being given the message by a trusted adult, someone who is supposedly responsible for her welfare, that what she is wearing, or not wearing, will bring about her own misfortune. It is reminiscent of the story in Charlotte Davies’ blog last month of the nine-year-old girl who wears cycling shorts to school under her tights so that boys can’t see her underwear when they try to take photos up her skirt.

Understandably, this whole episode has upset the girl and no doubt left mum with some difficult questions to answer. And what sort of message are the boys at this school getting? If this girl doesn’t heed the warning and continue to use the bars without shorts, does this mean she is fair game to be teased? Will the boys who would apparently tease her be dealt with appropriately, or will complaints just be met with a resigned shrug? Boys will be boys, after all, and she was told this would happen.

Now fast forward ten years, replace the words ‘boys’ with ‘men’, ‘girl’ with ‘woman’ and ‘tease’ with ‘harass’, ‘hassle’, ‘assault’…you get the idea.

Of course the fault doesn’t lie solely with the member of staff who spoke to the girl. He or she is part of a culture which blames victims for the coercive and abusive behaviour of others; we are surrounded by examples of this every day. No wonder this is reflected in schools, a microcosm of our society, and in other institutions that are supposed to protect us.

Last year one police force was forced to withdraw a rape prevention poster encouraging women to stick together during a night out. And the less said about Bristol Police’s ‘R U Asking 4 It?’ leaflets, given out during a talk to teenagers about consent, the better.

Of course this was done with the best of intentions, with the aim of protecting women from sexual assault. But this just demonstrates the problematic mindset of prevention rather than cure – that women should be taught how to protect themselves, by covering up or not walking alone at night, rather than turning the focus to men and teaching them about acceptable behaviour.

Some argue that the police are facing an uphill struggle, as ‘de-programming’ adults of long-held beliefs or views is not necessarily an easy task. Which is why educating children about consent and respect is so important. And that education should begin in the classroom.

Sadly, a quick scan of Mumsnet shows that being told to wear shorts for cartwheeling is not something new, suggesting that schoolgirls across the land are being taught that they are responsible for the unacceptable actions of others. If our education system is giving out messages like this, then we will remain stuck in this vicious cycle of victim blaming, where society looks at a woman’s clothing choice and says “well, we did warn you”.

Photo courtesy of Eamonn Byrne Landscape Architecture

Photo of a primary school playground with girls and boys in school uniform playing together

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