Blonde woman thinking

This is a guest post by Kate Harveston

In a perfect world, women would not be judged on their appearance.

There is a chance to change the tide and some women have led the charge by demonstrating that they can feel confident in their skin, despite not meeting conventional beauty standards.

Still, these leaders — think models Iskra Lawrence and Ashley Graham, singer Demi Lovato and movie star Jennifer Lawrence — have yet to completely dismantle widely-held patriarchal ideals that women need to look a certain way to be accepted and called beautiful.

Shockingly, only 20% of women in the UK say they have high body esteem, according to the 2016 Dove Global Beauty and Confidence Report. Body esteem refers to how someone evaluates their own body and appearance.

Over 10,500 women from 13 different countries were surveyed and their responses don’t get much better.

Globally, 85% of women and 79% of the girls quizzed reported opting out of social activities at least once due to perceived insecurities about the way they looked at the time.

Overall, nine in 10 women and seven in 10 girls said that they had stopped themselves from eating or otherwise put their health at risk. Six in 10 women believe social media encourages women to look a certain way, while seven in 10 women and girls believe that the media and advertising set an unachievable beauty standard for women.

These are global results, despite different countries having their own ideas about what constitutes beauty. It seems that women all over the world are affected in similar ways by the pressure to appear a certain way.

In 2015, Superdrug created a project called Perceptions of Perfection. They sent the same image to designers in 18 different countries, asking each to photoshop the image to reflect the country’s ideal beauty standard.

The UK’s ideal body image model has thinner legs and arms and a flatter stomach than the original image, in a similar vein to a handful of other countries.

The model from China has been made rail-thin, while countries like Peru, Colombia and Spain seem to have tampered less with the original image.

How can women strive to love their bodies and appreciate them for all they do in a world that’s constantly telling them to strive for an ideal that’s clearly inconsistent?

Learning self-love is a personal journey and everyone’s path will be different. Some might feel strong from steering clear of media that promote an unattainable body image. Others might enjoy leaving positive messages on Post-it notes on their bathroom mirror.

What’s clear is that the ideal body women are pressured to aspire to is a construct that depends on where you live. This knowledge in itself may be enough for some women to start questioning their own standards of beauty.

Many women are already doing this, with movements going on all over the world that strive to help people become more confident in their skin. Some of these movements expand to include support for low self-esteem and discussions about the standards of masculinity.

The Body Positive is a movement started by activists Connie Sobczak and Elizabeth Scott, following Sobczak’s own experiences with an eating disorder and the death of her sister. It primarily focuses on young adults and while it has a stronger female following, it is designed to be helpful to anyone struggling with body confidence.

Another great initiative to look into is Body Image Movement. Founded by Taryn Brumfitt, the movement centres on the idea that everybody deserves to love their body rather than see it as an ornament. Brumfitt is the director of Embrace, a social impact documentary on body image.

Many of these movements don’t just encourage body positivity — they’re actively working to make changes to the way the media presents models of beauty. Do some research — we can and will make a difference if these issues are spoken about widely.

No matter how you handle it, one thing is for sure: it’s time to get on board with the body-positive way of thinking. Women should be happy and proud of the skin they’re in.

Image by Ilya Yakover, from Unsplash. Used with Creative Commons Zero licence.

Image is of a woman with dark blonde hair, staring directly into the camera. Her hands are pressed together and are covering her mouth and nose, as if she is thinking. The lighting of the shot is moody. She wears a black sleeveless dress and black nailpolish.

Weekly round-up and open thread

by Lusana Taylor // 27 June 2017, 3:59 pm


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

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

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

Tate Britain displays work of Khadija Saye, artist lost in the Grenfell fire (Evening Standard)

Trans woman: Police pinned me down and pulled off my bra (Gaystar news)

Women writers’ work is getting lost in translation (The Conversation)

MPs to argue Northern Irish women have right to abortion on NHS (The Guardian)

From the article: “How can it be right that if a Northern Irish woman comes to England and needs her appendix out, as a UK taxpayer we don’t charge her, but if she needs an abortion we do?” she said.

“Challenging the government’s decision to continue charging women for this service isn’t about the ability of the Northern Irish assembly to make decisions on matters like abortion rights, but how we treat all our citizens fairly when they are here on our shores.”

Feminist body hair is rarely an option for middle eastern women (i-D)

From the article: “The connotations of body hair among brown women are remarkably different than what they are for white women. ‘Our discomfort with the body hair, especially that of black and brown women is not just influenced by patriarchy but is also a remnant of colonialism,’ Naz Riahi, the Iranian-American founder of Bitten said. ‘This is a system in which we were taught that fairness, lightness, whiteness and all the comes with it – blue eyes, blonde hair, less body hair – is more beautiful, appealing, better.'”

Why A Pro-Life World Has A Lot of Dead Women In It (Harper’s Bazaar)

Orange Is The New Black Mirror? We’re Here For It (Bust)

How do we build an inclusive culture for disabled cyclists? (The Guardian)

Tory Government’s benefit cap is unlawful and causes ‘real misery for no good purpose’, High Court rules (Independent)

We Are Here exhibition explores “what it means to be a British BME woman today” (It’s Nice That)
[This exhibition is co-curated by our visual arts editor Erin Aniker and also features some of her work!]

A Simon Cowell charity single is not what the victims of grenfell tower need (i-D)

From the article: “Do you understand the scale of this? Let me give you some more context. Personal context. My people were in that building. Two friends, who I considered family, and three relatives. I emailed and called the RBKC (Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea), the KCTMO (Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation), and hospitals across west London for three days straight, begging for information on the hundreds still missing. They told me nothing. To this day, nothing.”

Jesus College to discipline students accused of shouting woman-hating, rape-inciting chants (Cambridge News)

Finnish citizens given universal basic income report lower stress levels and greater incentive to work (Independent)

Love the idea of a universal basic income? Be careful what you wish for (Ellie Mae O’Hagan at The Guardian)

The Dark Genius of My Best Friend’s Wedding (Vanity Fair)

Festivals dominated by male acts, study shows, as Glastonbury begins (BBC)
[Via Cazz Blase]

What it’s like to be a Muslim woman with an eating disorder during Ramadan (ABC)

The image is used under a creative commons license with thanks to Charlotte Cooper on Flickr. It shows a placard being held aloft at a pro-choice rally which reads ‘If you’re against abortion don’t have one’.

Feminist Fightback

Vanessa Griffin is a member of Feminist Fightback. You can follow Feminist Fightback @femfight

The personal is political. Talking to other women about our experiences and making choices about how we engage in relationships and relate to our minds and bodies is incredibly important.

As feminists, we know what it means to be treated as if we are less than others. This means that we need to show solidarity to other people who are oppressed. We have a particular responsibility to other women who are engaged in struggles in areas where feminist arguments are especially urgent, like sex work, reproductive rights and low wages for work typically gendered female, like cleaning. This is why Feminist Fightback supported the recent strike action by cleaners at the London School of Economics (LSE).

Feminist Fightback is an anti-capitalist feminist collective that was started following conferences in 2006 and 2007. Inspired by the politics of a range of anti-capitalist feminist struggles, we believe that no single oppression can be challenged in isolation from the other forms of exploitation that intersect with it.

More recent activity has focused on reproductive rights: actions to stop pro-life groups harassing women outside abortion clinics, disrupting the 2017 March for Life in Birmingham with direct action and campaigning against denial of NHS maternity care to those who can’t show a UK passport. Feminist Fightback supported the TFL cleaners’ strike with direct action in 2008. We still see fighting for work that is traditionally done by women to be properly valued as a feminist issue.

It was the sixth day of ongoing strike action by LSE cleaners. I left the house at 5:15 am for a 6 am arrival at the picket line, which is harder when it’s still dark outside. Cleaners start their shift at 6 am every day. Despite the time of day, the atmosphere on the picket line was great. Cleaners and union organisers from United Voices of the World union (UVW) rallied some inspiring speakers and there was frequent dancing to Shakira between 6-8:30 am. Some of the best slogans were “We are not the dirt we clean” and “London School of Exploitation”.

The London School of Economics includes specialist institutes for both inequalities and gender yet outsources cleaning to a private contractor. This allows cleaners to be employed on different (significantly worse) pay and conditions than other LSE staff when it comes to sick pay, annual leave, pensions and maternity/paternity leave.

The cleaners, who are all migrants and/or black and minority ethnic also had problems with the way they have been treated by their managers, including harsh discipline and a lack of respect. Cleaners voted to keep striking one day a week until LSE agreed to offer them the same basic conditions as other LSE employees. Mildred Simpson, one of the cleaners who has been at LSE for 16 years said: “We want equality — nothing more, nothing less.”

London university cleaners in smaller, more radical unions have won strikes over the past few years including at King’s College London, Senate House and Guildhall over pay and conditions and to receive the London living wage. The LSE cleaners fought not just for themselves but on behalf of their colleagues and other workers. They risked the loss of earnings, further victimisation by bosses and ultimately risked losing their jobs, but as one of the union organisers said, this was always a fight they had a good chance of winning.

On June 8th, we learned from the UVW that the LSE cleaners won their strike. From spring 2018, all cleaners at LSE will be brought in-house, meaning they will receive the London living wage and the same annual leave, sick pay and pension as others employed by the university.

This will not be the end of the fight for better working conditions for university cleaners and for women more broadly. UVW say this has set a precedent for outsourced workers at universities, and it looks likely that catering staff at SOAS will soon follow suit. Maybe we will see you on the next picket line?

Image courtesy of author, used with permission

Grenfell Tower has become a symbol of systemic, institutional and structural inequality. It represents the ignored, the marginalised, the vilified, the misrepresented, the misunderstood and those who are too often the victims of discrimination and prejudice. The victims of this horrifying disaster are a direct legacy of a political system, fuelled by a right-wing media, bent on stirring up division and hate, which has, for too long, dehumanised and disregarded vast swathes of our society.

Under the Tories’ leadership, cuts to public services have been unprecedented, disproportionately affecting the poorest and most vulnerable in our communities. The housing crisis has reached a critical epoch, particularly in London, where social cleansing, under the guise of ‘urban regeneration’ is removing established social housing tenants from their homes in order to sell these on to private companies. Profit is being placed before people and an elite minority are benefiting to the detriment of a significant majority.

The staggering disregard for certain lives is embodied in Grenfell Tower. Some effort has been made to address safety measures for council houses and privately rented properties, however. According to Channel 4, “Labour have put two pieces of legislation before Parliament on this issue since 2015”. Last year’s attempt was defeated, with all 309 Tory MPs in attendance voting against this. This is unsurprising when you consider that a staggering 39% of Tory MPs top up their income as private landlords, renting out at least one property. As Dawn Foster correctly asserts in The Guardian, this matters because “it means that housing legislation is being formed by people with little personal connection to the housing crisis”.

When you look at the names and faces of the “missing” people from Grenfell Tower, it’s clear that significantly large proportions are BAME. The man in the video below argues that a tragedy of this magnitude simply would not have happened had the tenants been “blonde haired and blue eyed”, i.e. white.

I would agree. This is no coincidence. BAME people, at every level of society, are more likely to suffer disproportionately, in all aspects of private and personal life. Looking specifically at housing, research conducted by the Institute for Race Relations shows that overcrowding is most commonly experienced by Black African and Bangladeshi groups. Bangladeshi households are 63% and Black African households 75% more likely than White British households to suffer ‘housing deprivation’ (indicators of which include overcrowding and an absence of central heating). Race continues to be a key factor in how people live in contemporary Britain.

I recently went to see Reni Eddo-Lodge, author of the recently published Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, speak at the Emerald Street Literary Festival. She described researching the “big data” about race and life chances in the UK through statistics published by governmental organisations such as The Department for Education, The Department for Work and Pensions and the NHS. She found that a black boy is three times more likely to be excluded from school than the rest of his classmates. That job hunters with ‘white-sounding names’ are called to interview far more often than those with African or Asian sounding names. That black people receive harsher sentences for the possession of drugs, even though they use drugs at a much lower rate than their white counterparts. Education, employment and the criminal justice system are institutions, Reni argues, that we cannot avoid interacting with.

What Reni is describing is institutional and structural racism. She feels that we cannot live in this country without being realistic about the UK’s racist legacy and the fact that racism continues to lie at the heart of our culture. Reni stated that “history is written by the winners” and mentioned learning about only a handful of black historical figures in Black History Month, but never as part of the mainstream curriculum. She is not the first person to acknowledge this.

By ignoring this part of our history, Reni argued, we cannot expect to have “an accurate perspective of racism and inequality right now”. She rightly acknowledged that the past shapes the present and that it was unhelpful to be obtuse about this. Reni also felt that, for some white people, being associated with racism is worse than actual racism.

This feeds into a larger discussion about how privileged groups and individuals often centralise themselves when marginalised people try and talk to them about how their language or behaviour hurts them. The existence of the hashtags #notallwhitepeople or #notallmen speak volumes about the failure of privileged groups to simply listen when questions are being asked or concerns raised. Rather than putting aside their own feelings and ego, privileged people often make this about their hurt or angry feelings, rather than focusing on the bigger issue.

White people: we need to stop doing this.

No-one likes to be told that something they’ve said or done is hurtful or offensive, but privileged folks need to hear this in order to amend their behaviour. Rather than relying on BAME people or other marginalised groups to do this, however, it’s up to white people to educate and inform themselves and those around them about the racism that continues to permeate our culture. Having a black or Asian partner, child or friend does not make you immune to racism.

White people: we need to think about the privileges we enjoy because of our skin colour. If you’re not sure about what these might be, ‘White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack’ is a good place to start. We need to challenge racism where we see it and within ourselves. Stating that you “don’t see colour” denies the very real and painful discrimination that many BAME people face every day. Think about how you can be a better ally to BAME people. Buy Eddo-Lodge’s book. Support BAME businesses. Read this ‘Syllabus for White People to Educate Themselves’. Stop appropriating BAME culture. Consume the incredible breadth and diversity of BAME culture. Ensure that BAME people are represented in positions of power and influence in your organisation.

We now know that the residents of Grenfell Tower made a number of efforts to raise their concerns with their housing provider and local council, to no avail. This is because poor people, BAME people, older people, LGBT people and disabled people are easier to dismiss as an irritation or as trouble-makers than white, middle-class folks who broadly possess more money, power and influence. We know that these groups are more likely to be living in poverty than white people and austerity measures brought in by the current government have exacerbated this to a horrifying degree.

Theresa May’s initial failure to speak with the victims and families involved in this tragedy is no surprise. How can she look these people in the eye when her party and policies are responsible for so many of the ills that poor and BAME people disproportionately suffer?

I view the Grenfell Tower tragedy as a direct result of a racist and classist society. We cannot view this case as an isolated incident. It is a part of a much broader, embedded ideology of prejudice and discrimination. For things to change, it is vital that we recognise this.

The image at the top of the page shows two women on a busy street holding a banner which reads ‘Greed Kills’. It forms part of a series taken by Wasi Daniju of people on the streets following the Grenfell Tower tragedy. Picture shared under a Creative Commons license.

The video embedded in this article shows a black man wearing sunglasses, a baseball cap and a white t-shirt. He is speaking in a crowded street, following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, and speaks directly to the camera.

Weekly round-up and open thread

by Lusana Taylor // 20 June 2017, 10:17 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. The past week has seen the horrific (and heartbreakingly avoidable) fire at Grenfell Tower in Kensington as well as the terrorist attack at Finsbury Park Mosque. We have included some articles about both of these events in the round-up.

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.

The Universal Phenomenon of Men Interrupting Women (NY Times)

From the article: “The fact that women are outnumbered in every room puts them in a position where they’re often coming up against gender-based stereotypes,” said Deborah Gillis, president and chief executive of Catalyst, which works for women’s advancement in business. “Women are too hard, too soft, but never just right. What that means is that women are seen as either competent or liked but not both.”

Dear Non-Fat Friends (McCormCorp)

Please Stop Commenting On People’s Bodies. You Don’t Know Sh*t (Scary Mommy)

From the article: “Fuck it all, for real. We deserve to exist in whatever form we wish. You can think whatever the hell you want about that, but you need to keep it to your damn self. Do not project your bullshit onto others.”

White Men Of Academia Have An ‘Objectivity’ Problem (HuffPost)

We owe it to the residents of Grenfell Tower to politicise this tragedy (The Pool)

From the article: “This is in the context of a government that has repeatedly rejected improved housing regulation as ‘unnecessary red tape’ and even voted against a law requiring landlords to make homes fit for human habitation. (72 of the MPs who voted against the measure are landlords.)

“When Grenfell Tower residents repeatedly pointed out their concerns, no one in power listened to them. The poor, it seems, are easily ignored. It’s hard to imagine this being the case if, rather than social housing tenants, they were barristers and bankers. It’s been reported people in Grenfell Tower wanted to take on the landlords over their fears of the building’s fire risk but they couldn’t afford it and – due to government cuts – there’s now no legal aid to help them.”

Two women feared dead in Grenfell Tower were ‘threatened with legal action’ for questioning fire safety (Independent)

“Mariem Elgwahry, 27, and Nadia Choucair, 33, reportedly received letters ordering them to stop their campaign for improved safety.

“Both women were fighting the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation for building improvements, with help from the Radical Housing Network, The Mirror reports.

“Pilgrim Tucker, who works for the group, told the paper: ‘The TMO’s response was to threaten tenants with legal action and send out letters. Nadia and Mariem would have received them too.'”

From King’s Cross to Grenfell Tower (Crooked Timber)

From the article: “I’m reminded of a distinctive moment in my younger life—not just King’s Cross, but also the fifty-six dead of the Bradford stadium fire disaster (11 May 1985), the one hundred and ninety-three who died on the Herald of Free Enterprise (6 March 1987), the thirty-five who were killed at Clapham Junction (12 December 1988), the ninety-six who were crushed at Hillsborough (15 April 1989), or the fifty-one who drowned on the Marchioness (20 August 1989). Perhaps it was coincidence that these catastrophes happened cheek by jowl, in a way that they just haven’t since. Or perhaps much of it was something to do with the ascendant political ideology of the time, that starved vital infrastructure of much-needed investment, and that celebrated the quick search for profit. One of the good things about living in England over the last quarter century is that this run of disasters came to an end, and things became quite a bit safer. But of course the predictable consequence of the politicians’ collective cchoice to embrace the economics of austerity over the last seven years—and even more so when it is conjoined with the Tory fondness for the execrable landlord class, a widespread dislike of safety regulations, the cuts in legal aid, and the politics of the majority on Kensington & Chelsea Council, especially when it comes to housing—is that we would regress in some measure to this second-half-of-the-1980s world, and everything that is coming out now about the Grenfell Tower saga suggests that we have so regressed.”

Exposing the copy n’ paste Tory lies about the Grenfell fire (Another Angry Voice)

From the article: “…So be careful what you believe on social media. If it’s not backed up by reliable sources then either disregard it, or search out the truth for yourself.”

The Classist, Racist Disorganisation at Grenfell Tower is Disgraceful (gal-dem)

Finsbury Park terror attack: one dead near north London mosque – latest updates (Guardian)

Imam from Muslim welfare centre protected Finsbury Park suspect from angry crowds (Metro)

‘We didn’t recognise that he was dangerous’: our father killed our mother and sister (Rossalynn Warren talks to Ryan and Luke Hart, Guardian)

From the article: “‘I was shocked at the ease with which others, sitting behind their desks, could explain our tragedy away within an afternoon,’ Ryan says now. ‘It was very difficult to read that they were sympathising with a man who caused Mum and Charlotte misery their entire lives. One writer even dared use the word ‘understandable’ to justify why they were murdered.’ This second Daily Mail article, a column by psychiatrist Max Pemberton, argued that a man killing his children ‘is often a twisted act of love’. The article was later removed from the site.

“’You’re reading it and thinking, ‘”This is bollocks,”’ Ryan says. ‘But you know people around the country are also reading it, and those ideas are being driven into their minds. It reinforces in the abuser’s mind that what they’re doing is OK.’”

Mormon girl, 12, is stopped from speaking as she explains why she is gay to church (Independent)

10 great documentaries about iconic musicians (Stephanie Phillips)

‘Cruel and humiliating’: Bad Feminist author Roxane Gay calls out treatment by Mamamia (Sydney Morning Herald)

Woodland Mall apologizes for kicking shopper out over her summer outfit (Michigan Live)

Amber Rose Brings Back The Bush And Schools Piers Morgan On Feminism (Bust)

From the article: “Rose put Morgan in his place but he still didn’t seem to understand anything she stands for. He illustrated this by saying, ‘Shall we have a cup of tea instead & discuss where you’re going wrong re feminism?'”

White feminism doesn’t know what to do with Amber Rose (Zoé Samudzi at Black Youth Project)

From the article: “Given mainstream feminism’s genital fixation since the beginning of 2017, this hypocrisy is confusing. Women should reclaim their bodies and feminists should be in support of women’s bodily autonomy, yet Amber Rose is a ‘bad feminist’ for having a feminism centered on reclaiming her body and sexuality?

“These misogynistic respectability politics also take on a racial element when it’s clear and observable that many of her most vocal critics are white, and are not making critiques of the substance of her feminism, but rather her nude selfies. While the likes of Emma Watson can take a slightly racy photograph “for fashion” and not get her feminist credentials revoked, and Lena Dunham can toy with nudity as a comedic prop and be the feminist voice of our generation, Amber Rose is painted as almost incapable of having the ability or intelligence to use her own body to put forward a feminist politic.”

Teenage girl charged with murder after killing man who allegedly tried to rape her (Independent)

The Data That Proves the Myth of the ‘Absent’ Black Father Is a Total Lie (Everyday Feminism)

The 11 stages of Ramadan … as told by Chandler from ‘Friends’ (Step Feed)

NI women could get free abortions in Scotland on the NHS (Irish News)

Megan Stodel has recently written on this subject for the F-Word HERE.

JK Rowling is asking how the Finsbury Park attacker was radicalised (Independent)

From the article: “Those who dehumanise & stereotype muslims have no moral high ground from which to deplore demonisation of secular westerners by Islamists.”

I believe Bill Cosby (Vox)

The image is used under a creative commons license with thanks to ChiralJon on Flickr. It shows a tribute at the site of the Grenfell Tower fire; a wicker heart hung from a wall, surrounded by handwritten tributes and photographs.

Just before I head off to Glastonbury Festival for a few days (where I will definitely not be going to see Johnny Depp) here’s the June stage round-up.

Marisa Carnesky will be at the Udderbelly South Bank from tonight until Sunday 25 June with Dr Carnesky’s Incredible Bleeding Woman. Here’s Carnesky’s showreel (the showreel is soundtracked by Peter Pan from Armando Sciascia Orchestra a film tune from the 1950s but has no text.)

Between 22 and 24 June alternative standup comedian Siân Docksey is hosting a mixed bill of comedy previews at The Glory in Haggerston. Promising politics, videogames, whoopass, lemons, gay lemons, surrealism, avocados and more lemons I’m sure they’ll be fun evenings. The other acts are Eleanor Morton, Joe Hart and Sophie Duker.

This Friday 23 June Funny Women are holding a charity comedy gala in support of Brighton Women’s Centre. The show is at the Assembly Hall, Worthing Theatres and features Kerry Godliman, Felicity Ward, Lucy Porter, Ellie Taylor, Desiree Burch, Ayesha Hazarika, Kelly Convey and Harriet Braine with Zoe Lyons hosting.

Judith Lucy and Denise Scott will be at Soho Theatre from 27 June until 7 July with their comedy show Disappointments; Soho guarantee that this show will make you feel better about your lives or at least help you accept the rut that you’re in, which sounds like quite a promise!

Next month Greater Manchester Fringe is happening. Events that appeal to me include S/he/it Happens, All I Want is One Night, Wood, Katharine Ferns is in Stitches and Samantha Pressdee.

Coming up at the Blue Elephant Theatre in south London are Escape 2 on 7 and 8 July from LCP Dance Theatre which tells the emotional journey of a refugee using innovative aerial dance and multimedia; The Break-Up Monologues on 19 July hosted by Rosie Wilby, a themed comedy, storytelling and spoken word night which looks back at some best and worst relationship breakup stories and Here Comes Trouble on 27 July from Keira Dance, a personal investigation into womanhood and Keira Martin’s individual identity.

I quite like the look of everything at the Postcards Festival at Jacksons Lane in north London in July too. I enjoyed Boys Club when I saw it, plus Sarah Blanc’s It Started with Jason Donovan and Tanter’s Vixen sound great.

Hopefully not featuring any known domestic abusers in their lineup, Latitude Festival has some really good things this year. My favourite show from last year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Hot Brown Honey; Sh!t Theatre with DollyWould, a riotous and challenging work on the iconic image of Dolly Parton and all she embodies; new one-woman show Hear Me Raw by Daniella Isaacs; Gagglebabble, The Other Room and Theatr Clwyd will join forces with Sinners’ Club which is based on the life of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in the UK and Vanessa Kisuule will come to Latitude with Sexy which presents a conflicted women who loves poetry and smashing the patriarchy with a well-timed slut-drop. If you’re going to be there, let me know what these are like.

Katherine Ryan is going on tour between September and November this year as well as also being at Latitude.

And lastly a couple of things to watch and listen to:

  • A video of Fiona Shaw reading Shakespeare’s Sister, part of the essay A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf (subtitled).
  • Breaks by Bez Kinte Theatre Company in a podcast from Ireland’s RTE (unfortunately not transcribed).

Image is courtesy of Marisa Carnesky and shows the performer standing on stage with the two halves of the box used for the ‘woman sawn in half’ trick either side of her. Someone’s head is sticking out of the half of the box on her right as if, indeed, that person had been lying in the box before Carnesky cut them in half. Behind and to the left is a figure wearing glittery knickers and a bra top as a showgirl might but looking very bored.

This is a guest blog by Jackie Thomas. She is a feminist, a Francophile and lectures at university. She loves the analysis of painting and film, and has never been a supporter of referendums

Whatever the newspaper you have been reading this week, they have almost all run the same headlines: ‘Britain makes history! A record number of female MPs win seats in 2017 General Election’.

Let’s be clear on the figures – believe me they are nothing to boast about. Of the MPs elected into Parliament last week, only 208 were women. While this is a very welcome 6% increase on 196 in 2015, it represents a mere 32% of our MPs overall. An increase the Fawcett Society claims is totally inadequate and actually indicates that progress has stalled compared with previous years.

According to the London School of Economics and Political Science, the UK would now rank 39th in the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s global league table of parliamentary representation. This puts us behind many of our European neighbours, African and Latin American states. And this despite having jumped after the 2015 election from 58th place into 36th.

With women representing 61% of its MPs (lower or single house), Rwanda heads the list of the top 10 countries that have used gender quotas to achieve a more balanced Parliament. And more recently in France, President Emmanuel Macron submitted his gender equal list of candidates for the parliamentary elections before announcing his 50/50 senior cabinet, and is poised to seek equal representation in the French government. Bulgaria, Nicaragua, Canada and Sweden have also broken through the 50% threshold of women MPs.

However, the stagnation in numbers of female MPs has not been reserved to the UK. This is a worldwide trend which puts us in danger of failing to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals set out in 2015 by world leaders.

Given the need to pick up the pace, should the UK be rethinking its position in the debate on gender quotas?

Countries with more balanced parliamentary representatives are distinguished from the UK by their use of legislated quotas for women. While there has been a lot of discussion in this country focusing on meritocracy and party politics, the decision to implement quotas has never been adopted across parties. Some parties are much more in need of women than others. The recent election saw 45% of Labour seats being won by women and the SNP, despite losing seats, increased their proportion of female MPs by one percentage point to 34%. The Conservatives were at a standstill at 21%.

The Women and Equalities Committee strongly recommended in January that penalties should be imposed on parties who fail to guarantee that at least 45% of their candidates are women as of 2020. Despite this, the UK government has not only failed to come up with any legislative change in time for this month’s election, but has also showed a serious lack of commitment to do so anytime soon. And sadly the momentum gained in 2015 to crack the political glass ceiling has fallen foul once again of our propensity to exaggerate our achievements.

In this unstable political climate we are sure to see gender equality pushed even further to bottom of the agenda in favour of what our political parties consider to be more pressing issues. Yet days before the Brexit negotiations are due to begin is not a time to be complacent about the remarkable contribution of the EU to gender equality and what this has meant for British women in terms of equal pay, employment rights and protection against discrimination.

All of this should also be examined in the context of the shameful treatment suffered by female MPs throughout the election period. The defeat last week of the candidates representing the Women’s Equality Party after weeks of abuse and death threats, and the vicious and prolonged attacks on MP Diane Abbott, speak volumes.

We desperately need to acknowledge the many barriers women face to entering political office, including the media scrutiny of MPs and their families, the masculine culture of Parliament, the lack of flexibility and support for those with primary caring responsibilities, the cost and time demands of being a candidate, potentially biased selection processes, and not enough encouragement of women into politics.

Many of these factors also come into play for ethnic minorities and disabled people who, although elected into Parliament in record numbers this year, remain woefully underrepresented given the diversity of the UK.

The combination of these challenges result in a wholly unequal playing field, which means that talent and hard work are not guarantees of success. Introducing gender quotas is the only way to get us where we need to be – to a place where Parliament is representative of the country it serves.

Image courtesy UK Parliament on Flickr

Image depicts the House of Commons Chamber

Editor’s note (17/06/2017): Some details in this post have been corrected in line with Megan’s comments below it

Affording abortion

by Megan Stodel // 16 June 2017, 7:31 am

Tags: , , , ,

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled that people from Northern Ireland cannot get abortions on the NHS. That’s right: people from the UK cannot get abortions using our health service, even if they are in a place where they are legal.

This makes absolutely zero sense to me. One of the things that makes the NHS so great is being able to get care at the point of need. If I was taken ill in the UK, I would generally assume that I would be able to go to A&E in Aberystwyth, a GP in Glasgow or a minor injuries unit in Manchester.

In fact, it is possible for people from England, Scotland and Wales to receive abortions if they are in a different part of the UK; for example, as it is difficult to obtain an abortion after 18 weeks or surgical abortions in Scotland, 180 people travelled to England last year for the procedure, with costs reclaimable from the NHS. While this clearly raises other issues of accessibility, it underlines the incongruity of the decision made yesterday.

Even before taking into account the cost of the procedure, there can be substantial costs to people travelling from Northern Ireland, including travel and accommodation, as well as possibly needing to take a few days off work or paying for childcare.

Yet the cost of the procedure itself can add hundreds of pounds more. In the case that was being examined by the Supreme Court, the procedure cost around £900. While abortion providers in England offer discounts to people coming from Northern Ireland, even an early procedure costs at least £280, while an abortion between 19 and 24 weeks comes in around £1,325.

Most people have abortions early in their pregnancy, but according to the figures for 2016, while 80% procedures performed in England, Scotland and Wales were in the first nine weeks of gestation, this was only true for 72% of procedures accessed by people from Northern Ireland accessing them in Great Britain. This skew is understandable, given the greater barriers to access, not least the logistical issues of arranging to travel, but as the process gets more expensive with time, people from Northern Ireland are more likely to have their financial difficulties exacerbated even further.

These costs are therefore incredibly likely to stop people accessing abortions. The nature of abortions is that they result from unplanned pregnancy; this isn’t something most people will save up for. According to the Money Advice Service, 40% of adults in the UK have less than £500 in savings, so it’s clear that when it comes to spending several hundred pounds unexpectedly, it would be absolutely impossible for many of us. In the case of abortion, it might also be harder to ask for money from family, therefore making it more likely that people will either need to use expensive credit or payday loan services, or forgo the procedure altogether.

I think we can intuit this is the case, but there is further evidence for this when looking at the ages of people accessing abortions in the UK. People coming from Northern Ireland are more likely to be older, with 43% aged 30 or above, compared with 35% of people across Great Britain. I’m sure there are several reasons for that, but at least one will be financial stability – people later in their careers who are more financially independent will be in a better position to access costly services.

This decision by the Supreme Court is ugly and unfair. This means people from Northern Ireland will continue to have to make their reproductive choices based on their ability to pay substantial sums for the services they need. Decisions that should be made by each individual depending on how they feel about giving birth and having a child are instead dictated by short term practicalities. While ultimately people from Northern Ireland should be able to access abortion where they live if that is what they want, in the meantime the rest of Great Britain should be supporting them, not narrowing their chances.

Here are some resources if you are in Northern Ireland and thinking about your pregnancy options:

  • Abortion Support Network: provides financial assistance and accommodation to people travelling from Northern Ireland, Ireland and the Isle of Man.
  • Family Planning Association: provides information and post-abortion counselling services.
  • Information from NUPAS (up to 17 weeks and 6 days) and Marie Stopes (which both free transfers from airports and ports), and BPAS.

  • The image is used under a creative commons licence and is by SalFalko. A woman sits at a kitchn table using a calculator, with paper strewn over the table. She is deep in concentration, with one hand touching her head.

    B. Ruby Rich is the High Priestess of feminist and queer film criticism. Her pieces for magazines such as the Village Voice, the Chicago Reader, Sight & Sound and The Guardian are collected in her two books: Chick Flicks: Theories and Memories of the Feminist Film Movement (1998) and Queer Cinema: The Director’s Cut (2013). She was part of the collective that programmed Chicago’s Women in Film Festival from 1974, and has since championed feminist, LGBTQI, Latin American and documentary cinema as an exhibitor, funder, critic and professor.

    She has shared that history on screen in documentaries such as !Women Art Revolution (Lynn Hershman-Leeson, 2010) and Feelings are Facts: The Life of Yvonne Rainer (Jack Walsh, 2015) and she’ll be sharing it in person in London between 21 and 26 June for Being Ruby Rich, a programme curated by Club des Femmes to celebrate her vision.

    Here’s a quick taster Q&A with B. Ruby Rich to inspire you to join in the celebration:

    What first drew you to film – and to feminism? And were those attractions entwined from the start?
    Ah, they were certainly not intertwined! Not at first, anyway. I got into film by the back door: selling popcorn at my college film society to make my rent money. Then I started a summer film society in the days of 16mm with my pals, building a screen, hand-coloring the posters, booking the films and writing the publicity, dressing up in costumes to go with the films and giving out free popcorn (hmmm, a sort of progression there). It wasn’t until I began working at the Film Center—today the Gene Siskel Film Center, but not back then—in Chicago that I got a proper apprenticeship, reading film journals, meeting film directors, writing program notes. Film for me was a zone of sociality, a place as much as an idea, a way to constitute community. When the women’s movement began to flourish and I was swept up into the planning of a women’s film festival, cinema in a way became my gateway drug into feminism. And there was no turning back: from then on, those worlds definitely began to blur and merge and influence each other so much they became inseparable.

    You’ve witnessed and participated in the emergence of three film movements (at least): feminist film in the 1970s; New Queer Cinema (NQC) in the 1990s; and now social documentary. What galvanises a film movement/moment – and how do you spot the trend?
    Ah, but do I? Perhaps I just dream them up. I think I’ve been extraordinarily lucky with the times in which I live – but in truth, I think that more people could be writing from the center of quite different circles and movements. I am drawn to the fire, I suppose, of those historic synchronicities that I’ve been privileged to document.

    “New Queer Cinema” has entered general parlance: what’s it like to coin a phrase that takes off (I guess now we’d say “memes”)? And what does that phrase mean to you 25 years on – including its international transmutations?
    Ha! You have to stumble onto something that turns into a marketing hook, I suppose. Back in the 1980s when I wrote my first theoretical essay, ‘In The Name of Feminist Film Criticism’, I invented all kinds of names and terms that never took off and were rarely ever cited again. But flash forward nearly 20 years and I hit on something that had immediate use value for film distributors and exhibitors: the NQC was used as a brand to market these movies. So it’s a bit of a bittersweet achievement, really: memorable but misunderstood, in terms of that film movement, as its mainstream acceptance was painted in the same colors as its outside-the-market rebellion. Not the first time that’s happened, of course, but awfully fast.

    2016/17 has been an incredible year for African-American and African diaspora documentary makers and documentaries (as well as feature films): has there been a turning point? Why these stories now?
    I think that the Black Lives Matter movement has created a broader audience for films that were made but attracted less attention in the past. These films of 2016-17 did not come from nowhere: there’s been a movement and cycles of attention as long as I can remember. It’s the audience that’s changed: it’s become so much bigger. And it’s the demand for “content” by the new online film platforms.

    You’ve talked about a “cinema of urgency” – what do we need most urgently to make that happen?
    New times demand new visions. We need new film languages and rhetorics. I think film is really lagging behind, actually: it needs to be addressing the issues in people’s lives, the changing oppressions as well as the changing dreams and ambitions. And there needs to be a shift of style and way of engaging audiences. People are in need and audiences are ready for change. Can’t all happen at the polling places!

    Being Ruby Rich programme: more info and tickets.

    As this Q&A took place via email, we retained original American spelling in B. Ruby Rich’s answers.

    Picture by Mary Peelen.
    Image description:
    A white woman with dark short curly hair is sitting on a wide window sill, resting her elbow on the window. She’s wearing black trousers and a white shirt and has black rimmed glasses and earrings. It’s film critic B. Ruby Rich.

    Weekly round-up and open thread

    by Lusana Taylor // 14 June 2017, 6:53 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. This week’s round-up covers the UK General Election, including articles on MP Diane Abbott and also new Labour representative Eleanor Smith who made history last Thursday by becoming the first black MP in the Midlands (and, even better, taking Enoch Powell’s old seat!)

    We have also included a selection of links about the recent Wonder Woman film as a follow-up to the review published last week on the F-Word. It was brought to our attention that, whilst the film certainly ticks a lot of feminist boxes on the surface, when it comes to intersectional issues it is still pretty lacking. We are aware that the F-Word review perhaps did not fully reflect this and want to highlight some alternative viewpoints. We’d be really interested to hear other opinions as well so please comment on the blog below or on Twitter/Facebook if you have any thoughts.

    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.

    We Need To Talk About Diane Abbott (Jack Monroe)

    From the article: “Diane was the first black woman to have a seat in the House of Commons. She MADE HISTORY. Her father was welder, her mother a nurse. How many working class kids do we have in politics these days? Fuck all, really. Diane went to Cambridge University to study history. IN THE SEVENTIES. In 2017 only 15 black kids went to Cambridge. Sit down and listen. Diane worked for the Home Office in 1976. She was so smart they put her on a course to fast-track her career. (I’m just getting started.) Diane was Race Relations Officer at the National Council for Civil Liberties from 1978 to 1980. (Big fucking job. Bet you couldn’t do it.) Diane was a TV researcher and reporter from 1978 to 1985. I know a lot of those. They’re fast thinkers, avid fact hounds, brilliant minds.

    “Diane’s political career began in 1982, on Westminster City Council. Then in 1987, I’ll say it again, she became the first black female MP.

    “In 2008, her speech on civil liberties in the counterterrorism debate won Parliamentary Speech Of The Year in the Spectator awards.

    “That speech is here. Watch it, and then come back.

    “She founded the Black Child initiative, to raise educational achievements among black kids. She shared her damn platform.”

    *Misogynoir vs. The New Politics (Media Diversified)

    From the article: “Ultimately the treatment of Diane Abbott – of which this is a mere snapshot – tells us what we need to know about race, gender and radical politics in the UK. A black woman who challenges the status quo and won’t apologise for doing so will always be judged unfairly. Because too many subconsciously feel it’s not up to people “like her” to be the voice of opposition.”

    Sisters are doing it for themselves: the retired women who built their own community (Telegraph)

    From the article: “It is made up of 26 women aged between those in their 50s up to 87, all of whom have found themselves alone but want to retain dignity and independence in old age.”

    ‘It feels like the right time’: Paralympic swimmer Theresa Goh opens up about her sexuality (The Straits Times)
    [CN: This piece contains some outdated language, such as a tragedy-model term for wheelchair users.]

    From the article: “When I looked in the papers, television or movies, I never saw anyone on a wheelchair, let alone someone on a wheelchair who is gay.”

    Jo Brand (live at Soho Theatre) (The Comedian’s Comedian) [Podcast][We haven’t been able to find a transcript of this, so do please share in the comments if you know of one!]

    LGBT vs GSRD (Beyond the binary)

    From the article: “During the last 18 months or so, through my research and clinical work, I have been introduced to term Gender, Sexual and Relationship Diversities (GSRD). Which, yes at first glance, could be viewed as just another acronym which will simply lead to different problems, yet I believe that it addresses the fundamental issue of power that is present in the LGBT acronym. It opens up a space of self-determined inclusion, a space that invites the individual to decide if they wish to opt in, rather than placing power in others to decline their membership.”

    Changing Dominant Narratives on Sex Work (Open Society Foundations)

    From the article: “The Open Society Public Health Program calls for letters of intent from organizations, informal groups, and networks in France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom to apply for funding to change dominant narratives about sex workers.

    “Over the past several years, the problematic conflation of consensual sex work with human trafficking has led a number of European states and institutions to adopt, consider, or endorse legal and policy approaches that worsen the situation of sex workers by policing migration and mobility, and by promoting the “end demand” model, also known as the Swedish or Nordic model, of criminalization.

    “Criminalization of buying sex and of activities related to sex work, including soliciting in a public space or renting an apartment with another sex worker, exposes sex workers to police violence and human rights violations and leaves them without adequate recourse to justice. Sex work is often misrepresented in the media and popular culture, and this further perpetuates the marginalization and stigmatization of sex workers. Everyday experiences of sex workers have been traditionally absent from mainstream debates. Depictions of sex work tend to be sensational and lacking in nuance: They stereotype sex workers and perpetuate the myth of “white slavery” in order to delegitimize sex workers’ perspectives and demands.”

    Enoch Powell’s old seat filled by Midlands’ first black MP (The Voice)

    Ruth Davidson planning Scottish Tory breakaway as she challenges Theresa May’s Brexit plan (Telegraph)

    A Labour-led government may yet emerge. We progressives must work together (Caroline Lucas at The Guardian)

    From the article: “But we face serious challenges too. This desperate Conservative government will reach out to the hardline DUP – a party that denies climate change, opposes abortion and is openly homophobic. Theresa May was right to warn about a “coalition of chaos” – her party is about to try to create one. And it’s a stark reminder of the inequity of our electoral system that the DUP will take 10 MPs to parliament with fewer than 300,000 votes, while my own party returns just one MP with over half a million.”

    It’s Grime Wot (nearly) Won It (Media Diversified)

    From the article: “I’m 47 years old and this was the first time I have had the opportunity to campaign and vote for a Labour party with genuine socialist credentials. Too often in the past, Labour has simply been the ‘best of a bad bunch’. This time, the party was offering a genuine alternative and people lapped it up.

    “One of the earliest signs that something different might be happening was Grime4Corbyn. This grassroots campaign group was launched to encourage young people to engage with the electoral process after a number of Grime artists including, LowkeyBristol5Novelist, Stormzy, AJ Tracey and JME, all came out in support of the Labour leader.”

    The following links offer some important intersectional views on the recent Wonder Woman film reviewed on the F-Word last week (thanks to the reader who brought some of these to our attention on our Facebook page):

    Wonder Woman is your Zionist, White Feminist Hero (Wear Your Views)

    From the article: “This movie wasn’t made with all women in mind, it’s for the women who can ignore certain atrocities which don’t directly affect them. Your children are safe, their bodies aren’t being policed by soldiers, their schools haven’t been bombed, the hospitals they lay in don’t have bullet holes in the walls, their water supplies haven’t been cut, their electricity isn’t regularly shut off by another government.

    “So go and enjoy your new feminist film, did you hear it was directed by a woman? How swell.”

    OPINION: Why Supporting ‘Wonder Woman’ Is Dangerous For My Black Feminism And Liberation (Essence)

    The success of Wonder Woman proves liberals are OK with imperialism as long as its led by a (white) woman (Afropunk)

    Wonder Woman’s Feminism Is Strong As Hell, But It’s Not Intersectional (Bustle)

    From the article: “As both a woman and a longtime fan of superhero movies, the success of Wonder Woman at the box office has made me happier than I can express. But as a black woman and a longtime fan of superhero movies, the actual content of Wonder Woman depressed me. Racking up $200 million worldwide on its first weekend, Wonder Woman’s status as a superhero film starring a woman and directed by a woman has made it a feminist victory in ways having nothing to do with the all-female island of Themyscira and the inclusion of lines like “Be careful in the world of men, Diana. They do not deserve you.” But I’m sorry to say that Wonder Woman is just a white feminist victory — barely. For black feminists, it’s exactly like every other superhero movie, just with a white female lead.”

    Doctor Poison and Disability in Wonder Woman (Geeky Gimp)

    From the article: “In Wonder Woman, the portrayal of disability is negative. Once again, a movie marks disability as the Other, as a tragic result of humankind, or a valid reason for wrongdoings. At the same time, disabled characters are written as helpless, innocent, and in need of saving by people more physically or mentally able than us.”

    The image is used under a creative commons license with thanks to JCDecaux Creative Solutions. It is a motion shot of cars going past on a main road. It appears to be evening so the cars have their headlights on. There are a number of buildings lining the road and, in the foreground, a Wonder Woman billboard poster.

    Heidy Rehman is the founder and CEO of feminist womenswear label, Rose & Willard. Prior to this she was a top-ranked equity analyst in the City. Heidy has degrees in Mathematics and Applied Accounting and is a Fellow of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. She was born in Newcastle and is proud of her working class background

    I left a long, corporate career to set up my own careerwear label. Aside from the fact that I believed there was a gap in the market, I also wanted to do the right thing from an ethical, environmental and equality standpoint.

    One of my first decisions was to always show honest and varied images of women. No caricatures, no sexing up and nothing demure. ‘Feminine and bold’ is our mantra.

    There is a plethora of evidence that women want to see more diverse representations of women in advertising. However, to my surprise, I found that they prefer not to shop from this imagery.

    When I first set out, I decided to be very particular in how I chose models. At first, I decided that I would feature women who weren’t professional models, or ‘non-model models’ as we called them. These were women from various walks of life who we believed female customers could relate to more readily.

    Some of the feedback we received was positive but most people didn’t welcome the idea. The most common response was ‘they don’t look like models’. I was rather baffled by this because that had been the objective. However, I did think that this could be less about their physicality and more about how they presented. The main benefit of working with professional models is that they are very comfortable in front of a camera – much more so than our non-model models.

    My next decision was to work with professional models but stay true to our ethos. I resolved to feature a broader spectrum of women – women of colour, older women, disabled women, model health advocates and gender non-conforming models.

    I also decided to present these women in stances that projected only positive body language. Aside from offering up unattainable beauty standards, advertising photography mostly shows women looking either sexually available or passive. I believe this is one of the key drivers of ‘imposter syndrome’ at work. Women identify with images of other women. If we were to more regularly see images of women who look like us in powerful poses then this should have an empowering effect.

    At least that was my thinking.

    I was aware that this was something out of the ordinary and might take some time for shoppers to adjust to. But I did not expect women to reject these photos outright.

    Female customers refrained from clicking on images of diverse models. To test the results we undertook a number of experiments. One involved sending out a newsletter containing images of two models – one more ‘conventional’ looking (by typical advertising standards) and the other a size 16 model of colour. Both wore the same top and skirt, with the only variation being the colour of the blouse.

    Over 90% of the clicks for that newsletter were on the first model. Other similar tests yielded the same results.

    Data is a very valuable commodity. All companies analyse customer behaviour patterns closely and will look to invest where they see the best return. The data was telling us to not to use diverse models.

    An ex-colleague, who was once a booker for a world-renowned modelling agency, told us that models of colour were much less likely to be booked by fashion brands because customers didn’t buy from their images. I hadn’t believed him before but I now had the evidence.

    The way we shop no doubt reflects a certain subconscious conditioning that makes us react more positively to images with which we are more familiar.

    There is also aspiration. Brands don’t just sell products, they sell lifestyles. Marketing experts have told us that ‘conventional’ models reflect widely-acknowledged beauty ideals and that this is why they are the most commercial.

    I found this so disheartening. I didn’t want to give in and I won’t. Because despite this, 80% of women say images of women in the media make them feel insecure. I certainly don’t want to be responsible for compounding this worrying trend.

    There is a desire for change. If women and girls can be encouraged to click on and purchase from pictures that show the multiplicity of womanhood then companies will realise the value to their bottom line. They all know that where there is demand, supply must follow.

    Ultimately I want women and girls to understand that by changing the way they shop, they could revolutionise an industry and drive businesses to use more realistic and truthful images of women.

    As Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world”.

    On Thursday night and Friday morning, many of us with left wing, progressive values went on a rollercoaster of emotions. The stunned disbelief I felt upon hearing the exit polls was followed by something close to jubilation as I realised that the country had not given Theresa May the clear mandate she had demanded. Suddenly, having felt resigned to years of unstoppable Tory governance, I realised the media’s analysis had seriously misunderstood how many people felt. I’m all too aware that I exist in a social media bubble so I assumed my experiences would lead me to miscalculate left wing support. After a year of feeling increasingly isolated by national and global political events, it is genuinely heartening seeing the shift of votes and high turnout after just two years of Tory majority rule.

    But we’re in 2017 now, so no good news comes without a sting in its tail. Like many others, I found myself scrabbling around for more information about the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), who it was rumoured might go into coalition with the Tories, thereby just about tipping them into a weak majority.

    I was aware of the DUP’s involvement in the Cash for Ash scandal, which ultimately led to the recent snap election in Northern Ireland, leaving the nation without a government for several months. There are, of course, numerous reasons why a coalition with one of the Northern Irish parties is likely to be problematic and concerningly might have implications for the Good Friday Agreement.

    However, I was not fully cognisant of the extent of the DUP’s regressive positions and the offensive views often touted by party members, relating to areas including women’s rights, LGBT+ rights and freedom of religion.

    We have to worry about what May (or whoever the next Tory leader will be) will be willing to put on the table. They must be hungry for support.

    On Saturday, in an interview on the Today programme on Radio 4, Conservative MP Owen Paterson raised the possibility of a parliamentary debate on abortion time limits. To be very clear, he was not saying this was part of a deal with the DUP or saying that such a debate would definitely happen, but he was mentioning it as a possible area that might come up.

    Although the Abortion Act of 1967 made abortions legal in most of the UK, there were still numerous restrictions, including the need for approval from two doctors, and abortion remains illegal in Northern Ireland. Writers for The F-Word have frequently called attention to restrictive abortion laws in Northern Ireland, as well as highlighting where there is lack of access to abortions throughout the UK.

    Although the original law was passed 50 years ago, there have been several votes relating to abortion rights, and it is vital that we are aware that guaranteeing these rights is not a foregone conclusion. Theresa May has previously voted for a reduction in the legal limit on abortion from 24 weeks to 20 weeks, and when there was a vote in 2008 to reduce the time limit to 22 weeks, there were 233 MPs for this (defeated by 304 against). It’s not only a Tory pastime – current leader of the Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron, voted to reduce the time limit to 21 weeks and introduce compulsory counselling for women seeking abortions as well as a “cooling off period”. This was in 2006, but Tim hasn’t been present for any other votes relating to abortion since then, so I think it’s fair to imagine he won’t be a firm advocate for people who need abortions.

    It has not been made explicit that abortion rights will be up for negotiation, but even the suggestion that this could be an issue that might be impacted by a Conservative-DUP alliance is outrageous. The UK should be seeking to ensure that all people who need abortions can access them safely, not considering regressing on rights that were hard won.

    At this point, I have very little trust that my rights will be robustly defended by the new government. We must make it clear that our bodies are not mere pieces in a game, but defend our rights as non-negotiable. The situation is constantly developing – I’m sure that for many readers, things in this post will already be outdated – but the insecurity of the government is all the more reason for vigilance.

    The photo is by openDemocracy and is used under a creative commons licence. It is black and white and the focal point is a circular sign reading “KEEP ABORTION SAFE AND LEGAL”, held by someone in a crowd.

    Weekly round-up and open thread

    by Lusana Taylor // 6 June 2017, 8:58 am


    Welcome to another weekly round-up, where we share (what we see as) the most interesting and important articles from the previous seven days. It was International Sex Worker Day last week so articles picked reflect this. We have also taken into account the UK General Election coming up this Thursday (remember to vote!) so there are a few articles about this, including a handy guide on tactical voting (see last link). We’d love to hear your thoughts on any of the issues covered in the articles we’ve picked.

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

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

    Linda Robson says producers tried to re-cast Birds Of A Feather (British Comedy Guide)

    Luisa Omielan to present Politics For Bitches on BBC Three (British Comedy Guide)

    If you’re interested in reading more about Luisa Omielan, you can read Megan Stodel’s review of her stand-up show HERE.

    Spalding shooting: Sons denounce killer father as terrorist (BBC News)

    CN: Reference to domestic abuse/violence and murder

    From the article: “Ryan said: ‘Many tried to justify it as an act of love. I’ve since seen it’s not unique to our situation. Love is one word which would not fit. It detracts from the seriousness of domestic abuse and almost sympathises with the abuser.

    ‘When emotional abuse is talked about the onus is on the victims to escape or put up with it. There is no other form of murder where victims are blamed.'”

    How to raise a feminist son (The New York Times)

    From the article: “If we want to create an equitable society, one in which everyone can thrive, we need to also give boys more choices. As Gloria Steinem says, ‘I’m glad we’ve begun to raise our daughters more like our sons, but it will never work until we raise our sons more like our daughters.'”

    How to win every sexist argument: an 11-point guide (Stylist)

    8 reasons decent people might mistakenly vote Conservative (Diary of a Goldfish)

    The above is written by the fantastic D H Kelly who also writes for the F-Word. You can read some of her other writing HERE.

    From the article: “As it is, there’s a possibility we can still win this one, or at least minimise the damage. So I thought of everyone I’ve ever known who admitted to considering a vote for the Conservatives and (having eliminated the ones who fancied John Major or wanted revenge on their socialist father) I compiled the following reasons a decent person might mistakenly vote Conservative.”

    Rising violence against women shows why UK voters should get rid of this government (Dawn Foster at The Guardian)

    Elisabeth Moss: “People need to educate themselves as to what feminism means” (Ellie Harrison at Radio Times)

    We at Sisters Uncut have occupied Holloway prison. Why? Domestic violence (Nandini Archer at The Guardian)

    Jane Austen more more likely to have had sex with a woman than a man, says historian (Maya Oppenheim at the Independent)

    The Mayor Of Paris Decries Black Feminist Festival For Excluding Whites (Blavity)

    From the article: “Because God forbid that in former imperialistic superpower France, there be some space where the descendants of those they colonized be allowed to gather alone.”

    International Sex Worker Day (NSWP)
    [“In 1975, on 2nd June, about 100 sex workers occupied Saint-Nizier Church in Lyon, France, to express their anger about their criminalised and exploitative living conditions. On 10th June at 5 o’clock the Church was brutally raided and cleared by police forces. This action sparked a national movement, and the day is now celebrated in Europe and around the world.”]

    For Black Sex Workers, The Deck is Already Stacked Against Us (Wear Your Voice: Intersectional Feminist Media)

    From the article: “The majority of my clients are white men– some are chill, many of them are broken. Many spend inordinate amounts of time trying to validate themselves to me, show me how important they are, how needed, how knowledgeable – they aren’t.

    “They are nearing 50 or 60, realizing the special rewards life promised them at the end of hard work, ‘supposed to do’s and emulating societal standards aren’t going to be there for them. So, what happens to a culture of people who are trained to believe they hold power over others but reality proves they don’t even have power over themselves? That’s right, cognitive dissonance!

    “Racists need marginalized groups to compare themselves to so that they know where they stand and Blackness keeps being defined by white folks and we keep catering to it for survival. Misogynists do the same with cis and trans women. They define themselves by using us as markers, it is the definition of self by other.”

    ‘I feel unsafe now I work alone’: Inside the world of Ireland’s sex workers (

    [“ON 27 MARCH it became illegal to buy sex in Ireland – a law which legislators and campaigners said would change the industry for the better.”]

    International Whores Day to be marked in Sydney (

    From the article: “’I’m proud to be a sex worker,’” Ms Bates says. ‘Every year sex workers stand tall under the scarlet umbrellas where we take pride in who we are, our lives and work.

    ‘But unfortunately, stigma is rife and very few sex workers can stand tall as we’re still treated as second class citizens.’”

    No, Nurse, My Health Issues Aren’t All Rooted in My Sex Work (The Development Set)

    The myths about money that British voters should reject (Ha-Joon Chang at The Guardian)

    From the article: “The reality is the UK welfare state is not large at all. As of 2016, the British welfare state (measured by public social spending) was, at 21.5% of GDP, barely three-quarters of welfare spending in comparably rich countries in Europe – France’s is 31.5% and Denmark’s is 28.7%, for example. The UK welfare state is barely larger than the OECD average (21%), which includes a dozen or so countries such as Mexico, Chile, Turkey and Estonia, which are much poorer and/or have less need for public welfare provision. They have younger populations and stronger extended family networks.”
    [Via Josephine Tsui.]

    General Election 2017: Non-binary rights (Beyond the Binary)

    Theresa May to nurse who says she hasn’t had a pay rise in eight years: ‘There’s no magic money tree’ (Independent)

    Off The Record: How Studios Subliminally Silence Women (The Quietus)

    From the article: “Until its representation of women improves, the recording environment will nudge male creativity forwards while whispering in the ears of females that they are not good enough.”

    The Handmaid’s Tale reflects our child-obsessed society all too accurately – and I should know (The Telegraph)

    From the article: “… when will we, as a society, value more a woman’s capacity to conceive not only babies but also ideas? And assert that even without a child life can be pregnant with possibilities?”

    How to vote the Tories out: a newbies’ guide to tactical voting (Another Angry Woman)

    The image is used under a creative commons license with thanks to waldopepper on Flickr. It shows a medium-sized brown dog with a slightly squashed face standing in front of a sign that says ‘Polling Station’.

    Weekly round-up and open thread

    by Lusana Taylor // 30 May 2017, 11:44 am


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

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

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

    Why Saudi Women Are Literally Living ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ (The New York Times)

    Manchester was an attack on girls (Salon)

    Dear Scientist, My Lesbianism Has Nothing To Do With Men (Diva)

    From the article: “What gets on my gay goat the most is this persistent desire that some straight men have to insert themselves into our same-sex sexuality. Menelaos reminds me of one of those creeps whose eyes light up like a slot machine when he twigs that your gal pal is actually your other half. Did I say other half? Sorry, obviously I meant other third because until a big, sweaty man comes swaggering into our lives we’re incomplete. We mostly just sit around braiding each other’s hair, longing for the day when a knight in shining misogyny selflessly suggests a threesome.”

    You should’ve asked (Emma)

    Why self-imposed political silence is a misguided reaction to terrorism (Another Angry Voice)

    I Love Manchester, But Please Stop Celebrating My Hometown (FP)

    Kaya Scodelario: ‘Nine times out of 10, my character is with a guy twice my age’ (Guardian)

    After The Manchester Attack, The Right Wing’s Draconian Measures Are Both Ignorant And Misogynist (The Establishment)

    Building a better female orgasm (The Walrus)

    From the article: “After a freeze on sexuality studies in the US, Canada is leading the way in the science of sexuality.”

    #Cannes2017 Excludes #WomeninFilm Who Bring Their Children (Wellywood Woman)

    The image is used under a creative commons license with thanks to Andy on Flickr. It is a photograph of street art which depicts the top half of somebody’s face with their forehead, eyes, eyebrows and hairline visible. A single blue tear is rolling down from one of their eyes.

    Speak to us!

    by Lissy Lovett // 29 May 2017, 3:05 pm

    Tags: ,

    The F-Word is running a short survey to find out who reads the site, when, where and how. This is so we can find out a bit more about our readership and improve what we offer. We’d love to know what you think, so please click on the link below and tell us. We want to make your reading experience even better.

    It’s a very short survey and completely anonymous. Click here to take the survey.

    The F-Word exists to share women’s voices and we want to hear yours! Speak up and let us know what you love, or hate, about The F-Word.

    The image is a photograph of a small child with their hair in bunches. They are looking to the right and look as if they are shouting. They are in focus with the background of the shot out of focus.

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

    This month’s comic depicts a woman going into a shop to request a heterosexual relationship, only to be offered lots of unappealing options such as one based on jealousy and another on traditional gender roles. She is then given the choice of a lucky dip on feminist relationships where her prospective partner may only claim to be feminist to get laid, or talk about feminism without valuing her perspective as a woman

    Madeleine Pownall is our monthly guest blogger for May

    In everyday life, our behaviour is shaped by experiences and sociocultural norms – ‘rules’ that society has about what behaviour and values it deems appropriate. Historically, the enforcers of these norms were parents, teachers and peers. But now there is an additional dimension. Popular music, television, social media and celebrities have a significant influence on how we think and what we do.

    Growing up, my Mum was an active feminist and instilled a real sense of female empowerment in our house. Naturally, when I grew older, she was horrified at the anti-feminist messages she could no longer shelter me from. Listening to the UK Top 40 on a Saturday morning taught me more about how society views women than anything or anyone else. The Kardashians are now held up as beacons of sisterly unity, Beyoncé is a feminist icon and many of us learn more about sex from Geordie Shore than we do at school. How do we ensure these lessons are not damaging? After listening critically to recent music hits, I am apprehensive for the next generation of women.

    I would argue that although there are some dynamic and empowered figures in the industry, music is now the primary source of female objectification. Researchers have suggested that women in popular media “emphasise passivity rather than agency and power”, which undoubtedly has an impact on how the women consuming this media perceive themselves. This is particularly relevant in sexualised videos which reinforce female subordination. In music, are women now just perceived as an accessory of manhood? As a sexy, pretty, contoured appendage to the man’s message? To answer this question, I read through the lyrics of some songs that have featured in the charts over the past couple of months.

    Take the first song, Black Beatles (feat. Gucci Mane) by Rae Sremmurd. Made famous by the (now infamous) mannequin challenge, this has been repeatedly played in public arenas. A quick YouTube search will also reveal that this song has been used as the backing track for many videos recorded seemingly innocently in primary schools. Admittedly, it has a repetitive and infectious beat. But then we get to the lyrics: “Rockin John Lennon lenses like to see ‘em spread eagle/ Took a bitch to the club and let her party on the table”.

    What does this tell us about the society we have cultivated for ourselves? How can I, as an enthusiastic university student, expect to make a valued contribution to combat sexual objectification when this music is everywhere? How can psychologists get people to listen? Kendrick Lamar raps alongside Maroon 5 in Don’t Wanna Know, sending out the disturbing message that women are ‘owned’ by men: “Do he woo you like this?…Maybe his right now, but you body’s still with me”. The lyrics is popular songs are increasingly one-note, and this note becomes difficult to bear. Women exist for the pleasure of men.

    Sexual objectification and oppressive gender stereotypes are huge barriers for women in their everyday life, and particularly when women internalise these. Research shows that self-objectification significantly hampers women’s engagement in protesting sexism.

    Even Little Mix’s preppy and poppy new hit Shout Out to My Ex, which attempts to be feminist and empowering, reinforces the message that women gain power solely through their sexuality: “I hope she getting better sex/ hope she ain’t faking it like I did, babe”. The Theory of Precarious Manhood
    views masculinity as a trait which one must actively strive to obtain. Little Mix attempt to regain their own agency by belittling men’s – is this really symbolic of an equal relationship?

    We have libraries stacked with books about the importance of feminism, and every year there are hundreds of conferences and events where academics meet to discuss gender, sexuality and self-perception. I now find myself asking, who is actually listening to this message? Who is it affecting? The last book I checked out of the library, Women and Gender: A Feminist Psychology, was an intelligent, exciting, compelling analysis of gender roles. Before me, the last person to take it out of the library did so in 2009 (my heart sank). Of course it is vital to continue to challenge and discuss gender stereotypes in a psychological and academic context, but there is a chasm between this world and the world of popular media. It is up to us to decide which will be most influential.

    Image depicts young woman wearing headphones

    Courtesy Thomas Hawk on Flickr

    This is a guest blog by Chloe Price. She is a creative writing student and a feminist who wants to write a novel. She likes reading, baking and will one day travel the world

    When starting university, students should expect nothing less than a safe environment where they can enjoy themselves without having to worry about being groped or being subject to sexist ‘banter’. But unfortunately, that is not the case.

    ‘Lad culture’, which is increasingly connected with ‘rape culture’, emerged in the 1990s as a backlash to second-wave feminism and the pro-feminist man, and a reaction to the change in traditional gender stereotypes.

    Flash forward to 2017 and it manifests as a mix of heavy drinking, clubbing, misogynist jokes, and grabbing and harassing women. It normalises sexism. Considered by many to be just students having fun, it is deeply problematic. And it is on the rise.

    In 2010, an NUS study found that one in seven women had experienced sexual assault at university, and, in 2015, the Telegraph found that one in three had been victims of unwanted advances or of assault. Lad culture has become one of the dominant forms of masculinity at university, allowing young men the opportunity to assert their power over women, without fear of consequences.

    There have been many instances where universities and police have failed to take rape allegations seriously, such as that of Amy Irking, a lecturer, who was raped while drunk. But neither the police nor the university investigated it; instead the incident was labelled as ‘sex with regrets’ by the police. This attitude leaves many survivors unwilling to step forward and speak out.

    How has this culture become such a core part of the university experience? Many point the finger at the ‘masculinity crisis’ happening right now.

    Feminism is more popular than ever, and many women of all ages are engaged in some form of activism. The recent global women’s marches demonstrated the scale of women’s dissatisfaction with the status quo. Meanwhile, men are no longer on top economically or educationally, as more women have higher education degrees than men and the pay gap is the lowest it has ever been. Has this led to anger and resentment from men towards women, and thus the search for a means to assert their dominance in another form?

    This becomes a real problem on campus when combined with the new-found independence that comes with university life, and the urge to ‘fit in’ with a group and find your tribe. It can often lead to a willingness to participate in activities, such as initiations and other forms of socialising, that men would have felt uncomfortable with in the past. These activities can help them build their identities while at university, making them feel like they ‘belong’.

    Societies often capitalise on this, encouraging regular nights out and heavy drinking, and clubs are making a business model out of it. Many students actually believe men taking advantage of drunk women is part of the university experience, normalising and trivialising rape.

    Not nearly enough is being done to put a stop to this – in fact, the issue is rarely even talked about. The last major study on this topic was by the NUS in 2010, which exposed many shocking truths that no one could quite believe, but that was now seven years ago. We need to acknowledge the scale of the problem now and start educating teenagers and young people about consent. Thankfully, this has been happening at some schools and even at Oxford University. But consent should be taught from secondary school as a core part of sex education.

    And it is not just schools that should take action. There have been situations where rapes have been witnessed on nights out, but no one recognises the signs and just passes it off as ‘drunk sex’. By educating staff and bouncers, it is more likely that sexual assault will be prevented, as they will know what to look for. There has been progress in this area with the emergence of the ‘angel shot’ – a code that informs the bartender discreetly that a woman needs help.

    The sexist and degrading advertising that clubs use also needs to be regulated to make women feel more comfortable on nights out and to stamp out the normalisation of sexual assault.

    Universities and student unions can also help eliminate lad culture from campuses and clubs. If they join forces to stand against this behaviour, rapists are more likely to face repercussions for their actions. Lad culture has become so normalised that when someone does notice the issue and try to fight it, they are branded as ‘boring’, while the ‘lad’ is free to do what he wishes.

    Rape at university is not something that people want to hear or read about – it is a very uncomfortable truth. But it needs to be openly discussed in order to expose the dangers of ‘lad culture’ for both men and women, and to highlight the effects it is having on student life.

    Image depicts a blurry club scene, with a man putting his hand on a woman’s shoulder

    Close-up of a woman's face
    Emily Chudy is an LGBT journalist, food blogger, and intersectional feminist living in Paris. Follow her on Twitter @EmilyChudy

    The secrecy starts early: from keeping your period a red-faced lie to your mother, to hiding tampons up your sleeve at work and to feigning a migraine when in reality it’s your stomach you’re clutching.

    Women are taught from adolescence that their bodily functions are something to be hidden from others, so it’s all too easy for serious symptoms to be brushed under the rug. Testimonies show that this culture of shame surrounding women’s health is leading to their unfair dismissal by doctors.

    Many were shocked by the recent report that period cramps can be more painful than a heart attack for some women. I was not surprised. There are women, including me, who have taken days off work, switched contraceptive methods or taken strong painkillers for menstrual cramps without saying a word to anybody else. For the estimated one in ten women of reproductive age in the UK suffering from endometriosis, periods can be unbearable and are dealt with in secrecy.

    Endometriosis is a chronic condition in which tissue that behaves like the lining of the uterus is found outside the uterus. The illness can cause pain, exhaustion, infertility and inflammation. There are treatment options but no known cure.

    One of the main issues surrounding endometriosis, aside from the debilitating pain it causes, is how long it takes to get a diagnosis. At present, endometriosis can only be confirmed through surgery and takes an average of seven to eight-and-a-half years to diagnose in the UK. This difficulty can lead doctors – or even patients themselves – to overlook warning signs of the illness.

    In fact, often women live silently with worrying symptoms because they are implicitly told to take period pain in their stride and are not given adequate information about what they might be experiencing.

    In a recent report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Women’s Health (APPG), a survey of over 2,600 women with endometriosis and fibroids found that 42% felt they were not treated by doctors with dignity and respect and 62% were not satisfied with the information they received about treatment options. This not only means that diagnoses often take irritatingly long to receive but could lead some women to feel too ashamed to return to their doctor at all.

    Despite this, slowly but surely people are battling through the silence and stigma to share their stories and raise awareness of endometriosis. In a November 2015 essay, Lena Dunham wrote about her experience with the disease, including the struggle to attain a diagnosis, her constant agony and how lucky she was to have found a doctor that took her pain seriously. At first, due to misdiagnosis of her condition from appendicitis to food poisoning, she even began to doubt her own pain:

    I am one of many women who grasp for a sense of consistent well-being, fight against the betrayals of their bodies, and who are often met with scepticism, by doctors trained to view painful periods as the lot of women who should learn to grin and bear it

    A brilliant article by Buzzfeed’s Lara Parker, who herself suffers from endometriosis, collects the stories of women whose medical conditions have not been taken seriously. This gendered dismissal means that women are having to fight alone to get their voices heard.

    Many theories as to why this happens are mostly to do with outdated notions of women’s hysteria: the stereotype that because women are more emotional, their pain is less real. Another theory is that as medicine has for a long time been a male-dominated field (although wonderfully, this is starting to change now) and education around women’s health is still lacking, their pain is dismissed due to ignorance.

    Personally, I believe that a lack of research into menstrual pain, endometriosis and other vaginal illnesses is to blame.

    Whatever the many reasons for the problem of misdiagnosing and under-treating endometriosis, the time has come for it to change. There are things that can be done to break down the shame and silence surrounding women’s health. If you have worrying symptoms, don’t ignore them; listen to and share women’s stories; shout about your experiences. Educate yourself about your options and how you can communicate with your GP. Where you can, don’t be afraid to search for alternate care if you don’t feel taken seriously.

    We certainly will not be the last generation of women to suffer, but one thing is for sure: we will not be silent any longer.

    If this article has affected you, please visit Endometriosis UK for more information and support

    Image is by David Sedrakyan, from Unsplash. Used under Creative Commons Zero licence.

    Image is a close-up of a woman’s face, cropped to only show the bottom of her eyelids down until the bottom of her chin. She is looking away and seemingly consumed by thought and stands against a dark teal background. The tone of the image is slightly grey, moody and pensive.

    Weekly round-up and open thread

    by Lusana Taylor // 22 May 2017, 10:44 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 the articles we’ve picked.

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

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

    This Woman Inspired A Dialogue About Agreeing With Men’s Compliments And People Are Nodding (Buzzfeed)

    From the article: “Because for some reason women are required to be beautiful, but also oblivious to it.”

    As a personal trainer, I’ve seen the human proof: you can be fat and fit (The Guardian)

    From the article: “We are living in a society that accepts weight bias and discrimination as the last form of openly acceptable oppression. Fat people are heckled from cars as they run, cursed at on the internet to get their “fat asses” moving. And, in this case, they are publicly called unhealthy by the medical profession. Fat people are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Studies like this only amplify that message, especially when there’s no solutions offered alongside it.

    We are now in an era when our bodies have become larger because of the food chain, technology, desk jobs and stress, yet we still measure our health by an archaic body mass index standard developed in the 1830s for population studies, not individuals.”

    How to get more women on Wikipedia (Refinery 29)

    From the article: “Gender bias plays out on Wikipedia, too – less than 16% of editors and contributors are female.”

    Women are often excluded from clinical trials because periods (Fusion)

    From the article: “Thankfully, a growing number of scientists are fed up with this gender testing gap and demanding change. In a new paper published in the journal Cell Metabolism, researchers from hospitals including Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center argue that men and women experience diseases differently and metabolize drugs differently—therefore, clinical trial testing should both include more women and break down results by gender.”

    Film Twitter Needs More Female Voices. So Does Everything Else (Pajiba)

    From the article: “There is still an overwhelming assumption that the most privileged voices in our society represent an apolitical default mode, wherein they are qualified to talk authoritatively on every issue, free from a supposed agenda. That attitude tends to extend towards the cultural and social context of a piece of art too, so you see a lot of insistence on “separating art from the artist”, which is a pleasant falsehood and also a boring way to do criticism. When the critics recommending the films are from such a narrow demographic, and their views cannot help but be slanted by that bias, we all miss out. There is no artistic joy in false neutrality. This gap is all the wider for women of colour in our industry, who must fight a much tougher battle for representation and a chance to have their voices amplified. Yet they’re the ones leading the way for major industry change – #OscarsSoWhite would not have happened without a black woman critic making it happen.”

    Photographer Susan Meiselas on documenting women’s refuges (Rachel Cooke at The Guardian)

    [Meiselas spent several months in Black Country shelters, working with residents on a new book, A Room of Their Own.]

    Internalised Fatphobia is Still Fatphobia (Fat Heffalump)

    From the article: “Put simply, it’s in no way a big risk to put yourself in the media and parrot the dominant paradigm about fatness. It’s a safe bet that is going to get you support from the majority, because the majority actually do believe that fat is bad, and that one must go to any length to not be fat. This is not a brave step, or one that has never been heard before. It’s a safe bet that to do so you are going to have people patting your back and telling you ‘You go girl, good on you.'”

    Conservatives launch attack on elderly with dementia tax and cuts to winter fuel allowance (Descrier)

    Chelsea Manning released from military prison (The Guardian)

    Mums hit back at ‘insulting’ slurs calling them ‘slummy, moaning mummies’ (Zahra Mulroy, with various contributors, The Mirror)

    How The Chicken Connoisseur Is Translating Viral Fame Into A Long-Lasting Career (The Fader)

    From the article: “The only times you’ll see mandem on TV is if they’re [showing a] gang violence documentary. You never have a documentary about mandem cracking jokes, and that happens more than violence.”

    Kalki Koechlin: Feminism is not isolating women (The Times of India)

    They’ve endured domestic violence. Now they’re victims of austerity (Frances Ryan at The Guardian)

    Grime MCs are Talking About the Election and No One Should be Surprised (Gal-dem)

    What’s next in the long, troubling saga of Julian Assange? (The Pool)

    The image is used under a creative commons license with thanks to Ippei & Janine Naoi on Flickr. It shows a very blue sky with white clouds and sunbeams filtering through.

    Mother Pearl is a London-based blogger who recently set up ‘The Pearl Diaries: The hopeful, helpful, empowering guide to managing your sex drive’ to share her experiences of having a low sex drive and talk about what’s out there to help women like her

    I’d tell my mates if I had the flu, no problem. In fact I’d be shouting from the rooftops about how crappy I felt and could someone come bring me a Lemsip.

    And now thanks to the work of some amazing charities and public figures to challenge stigma, I rather sheepishly tell my friends about my anxiety and how I sometimes struggle.

    But what I still find hard to talk about is my sexual health. Or, more specifically, my lack of sex drive.

    Now, the first thing we often think of when we say ‘sexual health’ is a very clinical definition. Visions of condoms, pregnancy, STDs and rather unpleasant swab sticks is what I think of.

    But our sexual health is so much more than that.

    Just like it is important to boost our physical and mental wellbeing, it is also important to look after our sexual wellbeing. So why don’t we talk about it?

    Us Brits are quite prudish. I know I was never brought up to talk to my family or friends about my Neverland region. Look at how British I am, I can’t even use the word ‘genitals’ without having to make a reference to something else!

    Instead, I remember shy visits to the STD clinic, laughing with mates at university about getting tested, then being very tight lipped about my results if they weren’t positive. It takes a brave person to let you know they’ve got an STD. Chlamydia maybe – what’s a bit of the clap between friends? But genital warts, crabs, herpes… they’re a definite ground-opening-up-kill-me-now issue that takes a lot of courage to tell others about.

    Even worse than that is the incredibly isolating world of having a low sex drive.

    I’m only 30. I’m female. And I feel like the stuffing has been knocked out of me. Or more specifically, my desire to have sex.

    It’s an issue no one talks about. In the public eye, sex sells! We’re bombarded by sex, in our adverts, our papers, our movies, sitcoms, even our novels.

    But what happens if we’re one of the over 40% of women that don’t often want to have sex? Or find it hard to get turned on. What then?

    Most of the articles out there are ‘quick-fix-here’s-something-I-made-earlier’ style about putting on some sexy pants, adding broccoli to your diet and Bob’s your uncle – instant sexpot.

    But our sex drives and sex lives are so much more complicated than that. And women out there with the same problem deserve more. Goodness knows, men with the same problem have all sorts of options and resources at their disposal if they don’t always feel like getting it on.

    I’ve found that the traditional measurement of female libido is a feminist issue. That is, it is thought to be more ‘normal’ for women to have a lower sex drive.

    For a start, this is definitely not true for all women. But also our libidos are compared directly with those of men, quantified using statistics around number of times we think about sex, or the number of times we’d like to have sex in a week. And we’ll always come up short because some of us work differently, perhaps valuing context, quality and intensity over frequency.

    There are so many reasons beyond the biological why some women have low libidos – after all, we live in a world which prioritises male sexual pleasure, objectifies women, and attempts to control our bodies by ‘slut shaming’ us if we enjoy sex and calling us ‘prudes’ if we don’t. Is it any wonder that many women just don’t know how to get turned on?

    I’ve also found that so many people panic if they struggle to want sex, or get aroused. I’m sending out a more hopeful message that everyone at some point experiences this, whether it’s a one-night, short-term or long-term problem.

    I want women to start talking more about our sex lives, discovering more about female desire, and giving each other advice and tips to better manage, or accept, our sex drives if they are usually quite low.

    I’m not a medical professional, or a sex therapist, or trying to peddle a hidden agenda. I’ve just got a vested interest in sharing what I’ve learned to let other women know they’re not alone and give them a space to connect.

    Image depicts woman lying on a bed, looking pensive

    Courtesy coloredgrey on Flickr

    Three years ago, Philippa Willitts looked at how The F-Word might appear to disabled people who aren’t familiar with the site. She focused on instances of disablist language and the visual representation of disabled people in the images we use. This internal review highlighted the urgent issues we needed to address and prompted us to start a disablism working group to help us take action. The following year, we summarised the review results on the site and outlined what we had been doing and what we would be investigating over time to help us achieve our goals. Last October, Megan Stodel conducted another internal disablism review to track our progress in this area. Some of the results indicated we had improved (e.g. in terms of editorially intercepting and challenging lazy, outdated disablist terms such as the use of ‘crazy’ and ‘insane’ to describe something being viewed negatively). However, a key area where we clearly had – and still have – a long way to go was in our use of images of disabled people.

    Megan’s picture review focused on visible impairments, which do not represent all types of disability, but nonetheless provided a visual cue in terms of how welcoming The F-Word is to disabled people who do not already run, write for or read the site.

    As with the original review, Megan only included photos (not cartoons or illustrations) and only counted people whose faces were visible. Along with this, she applied the following exclusions:

    • posts where there were no people visible at all
    • images of people who were specifically discussed in the post
    • posts where images were promotional (for example, an album or book cover related to a review).

    Megan reported the following:

    …There were frequent instances where [representation of disability] was not entirely clear, particularly in large crowds (I counted people if I could make out any of their facial features, but not indistinct faces blurred in the distance) or if faces were partially or almost entirely turned away. If I was uncertain, I included the images in the analysis. However, a repeat study might find slightly different numbers.

    The original review acknowledged that there may be a difference between the proportion of images showing people with visible impairments and the proportion of people shown with visible impairments, especially due to large crowd scenes. I therefore considered both for a fuller picture, though only the latter was considered in the original review.

    Megan continued:

    Although the proportion of images showing people with visible impairments has increased, this is only because of the incredibly low benchmark of 0% set originally. There was one photo in the entire time period since May last year that showed the faces of people with visible impairments.

    For context, in the UK, an estimated 1.9% of the population use wheelchairs. This is just one way in which it might be visible that somebody is living with a disability. However, even this shows us that the site underrepresents people with visible impairments.

    This means we still need to do better. However, we’ve been struggling to find a good selection of pictures featuring visibly disabled people in connection to a variety of topics through the usual avenues of free stock pictures and Creative Commons searches via Flickr, Wikimedia and Google. In our commitment to actively seek out images of disabled people, this has led us to take steps to build our own resource.

    For this purpose, we have created an invitation-only Flickr group for F-Word readers and contributors to share their own photos or illustrations featuring under-represented groups, with a particular focus on images of and by disabled people. As previously discussed, one of the problems of diverse representation within stock images is that women with marginalised bodies have reasons to fear putting images of themselves up for use in any context. We’d like to create a safer space where that can happen.

    A few caveats for participating photographers/artists:

    • As per our usual approach, you will always be fully credited when your image is used and the pictures would still be owned by you. They can even be described as ‘all rights reserved’ (i.e. we can indicate that The F-Word is not sharing the images as Creative Commons items available for free use by everyone).
    • As a team, we will be looking for Creative Commons/public domain images to add, but all Flickr group members will be welcome to share any they think might be relevant.
    • In line with the fact that we’re entirely not-for-profit (i.e. none of us are paid here), participation is entirely voluntary. This is problematic in an intersectional context, but we hope that not being beholden to benefactors or advertisers means that we are free as creators and contributors to make the space our own (i.e. a creative community where each creative contributor/writer is able to benefit from the established F-Word brand, while contributing as much or as little as their own personal commitments allow).
    • Finally (in the case of photos), please don’t forget to get permission/a model release from anyone featured prominently!

    Depending on team resources, we may also end up expanding the group to include a chat/message facility where we would post a description of an image we need and the deadline so that members can add an image to fit this (or email one to the editor in question).

    If you’re interested in joining this group, but don’t have a Yahoo/Flickr ID to be able to request to join through the Flickr link, please email or We may be able to move the pictures over to another space. Suggestions welcome!

    Please note that, while we are focusing on images of disabled people in this call-out (due to this being the area most in need of improvement), we also welcome images of people from other underrepresented marginalised groups.

    Image description and credit:

    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.

    Madeleine Pownall is our monthly guest blogger. She plans to start her first major research project at the end of May, which will study the effects of parents’ feminist views on their children’s book choice. Specifically, it will investigate how aware parents are of the stereotypical messages of children’s literature

    As I write this I am sat in Costa Coffee, peering over the brim of my mug, scanning the scene. A young girl of about four is happily plodding around in front of me. She dips and dives among the sea of legs and chairs, squealing in delight as she topples over and pulls herself back up. She pushes out with her pudgy fists and hits the back of a lady’s leg. Her mother then proceeds to shout at her. She tells her she is ‘stupid’, that she should watch where she is going, to apologise to the lady she hit. My heart pangs for her. Meanwhile, I see her brothers swing around the cake display, unnoticed. Boys will be boys after all.

    Our words are powerful, especially as grown-up figures of authority. We are the voices that guide behaviour and that form the foundations of children’s identity. Not only does using such a disablist term reinforce the assumption that to be disabled is inherently bad and inherently less than a non-disabled person, but child psychiatrist Dr Charles Sophy explains that calling a child one outright label such as ‘stupid’ also makes it difficult for them to see themselves as anything else. It limits possibilities. It ruins self-esteem. I am not saying that this effect doesn’t also ring true with little boys. I’m just saying it’s different.

    At school I loved to debate – and I still do. In my English literature class we had lessons dedicated to debating books and social topics; I was in my element. That was until I was called ‘bossy’ by my teacher. I was branded as being outspoken and argumentative, and it didn’t offend me until I realised it was supposed to.

    As a psychology student, I am compelled to ensure that my claims about feminism are evidenced. Indeed, as suspected, empirical literature supports my hypothesis. Research has found that women face inequality across a variety of domains, and that this is heightened by stereotypes about women related to their intelligence and abilities. Crucially, research has shown that parents play an essential role in the development of gendered beliefs in children, and parental beliefs predict their children’s beliefs well into adulthood.

    This is not just applicable to degrading language. You may tell your daughter that she is pretty and cute and beautiful. However, she is also strong and independent and brave. Using empowering words to describe your children (both sons and daughters) can really create a sense of pride and encouragement. Being really mindful of your language, particularly when speaking to older children, makes it easier to spot when gender stereotypes are present. We’ve all heard people say (and perhaps have said it ourselves) ‘man up’ to someone who is demonstrating their pain or hurt – this can enforce the idea that men are strong and women are weak and passive. This also may discredit the emotions of both male and female children.

    The use of positive, gender-neutral expressions and openness to discuss emotions can avoid reinforcing negative stereotypes. A recent study found that women are naturally inclined to reserve conversations about emotions for their daughters and not for their sons. This can perpetuate gender stereotypes and cause emotional intelligence delays in boys and girls. We should nurture and respect the emotional experience of children regardless of gender, and create an open and honest dynamic which allows for girls to be tough and boys to be vulnerable.

    Editor’s note: For more information on disablist terms, see this short guide

    Image depicts two little girls with their arms around each other, one smiling and the other pulling a silly face

    Courtesy utpal. on Flicker

    This is a guest blog by Mercedes King-Jones. She is a Divorce Lawyer and Partner with Wright Hassall LLP

    There was a certain irony that the Appeal Court hearing into Tini Owens’ divorce case was scheduled for 14 February 2017. The subsequent judgment attracted acres of newsprint, with much criticism being erroneously directed at the judges for the outcome of the case.

    In a nutshell, Mrs Owens’ desire to divorce her husband was thwarted by his decision to defend the petition. She cited, as she must under the current law, the only one of the five reasons for seeking a divorce which was applicable – that of ‘unreasonable behaviour’. Because her husband chose to contest the divorce, all the allegations underpinning her charge of unreasonable behaviour had to be tested in the Family Court under the terms of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, the most recent legislation in this area. Because the judge found that her evidence was ‘flimsy’ at best and ‘scraping the barrel’ at worst, he had no option but to refuse her petition. She appealed and the Court of Appeal upheld the previous judgment – albeit with much criticism of the existing law.

    The nub of the matter, acknowledged by both Judge Tolson in the Family Court and Lord Justice Munby in the Appeal Court, is the requirement for someone who wishes to get divorced to cite one of five reasons: adultery, desertion, unreasonable behaviour, two years’ separation with consent of both parties, or five years’ separation without consent. The law does not recognise unhappiness in a marriage as a reason to seek a divorce and, as it stands, only allows a judge to grant a divorce if, on the balance of probabilities ‘the respondent has behaved in such a way that the petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with the respondent’. In turn, this can only be established by applying the objective test: what would a ‘hypothetical, reasonable observer make of the allegations?’

    Mrs Owens filed for divorce in May 2015. Although Judge Tolson acknowledged that the marriage had broken down, he refused to grant a divorce because Mrs Owens had failed to prove that her husband had behaved unreasonably. Mrs Owens’ legal team put forward 27 examples of her husband’s behaviour which the Court examined in detail in order to decide whether or not the cumulative impact of the behaviour was such that made living with him impossible. Although Judge Tolson found Mrs Owens’ evidence ‘hopeless’ against the standard of evidence required by the law, he acknowledged that his decision left Mrs Owens without anywhere to turn.

    At Appeal, Lord Justice Munby noted that Appeal judges can only interfere in a previous decision which cannot be reasonably explained or justified. In this case the Appeal Court agreed that Mrs Owens had exaggerated the context and seriousness of the allegations, and thus it upheld the Family Court’s decision – albeit with a considerable ‘lack of enthusiasm’. Lady Justice Hallett went on to make the point that the criticisms levelled at the husband would probably be tolerated within an otherwise happy marriage but would be intolerable within an unhappy one.

    All the judges agreed that the law was inadequate as this marriage had quite clearly and irretrievably broken down but not in a way recognised by the law – and judges only interpret the law; it is Parliament’s responsibility to make or change it. This anomaly in the law rarely comes to light because so few petitions are defended. If a petition is defended, the claim of unreasonable behaviour (the most frequently cited cause of marriage breakdown) has to be tested in court. Because solicitors are encouraged by the Law Society and Resolution to use relatively uncontentious examples, not least to avoid inflaming an already difficult situation, most will be too anodyne to withstand detailed scrutiny. As the Appeal judges pointed out, the laws on which they have to base their decisions are based on ‘hypocrisy and lack of intellectual honesty’.

    It just so happened that the day before the Appeal hearing, the Lords’ spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice stated, in response to a question, that there were no plans to change the current law relating to the fault-based system of divorce. Most women trapped in an unhappy marriage can (and do) cite unreasonable behaviour, confident that their petition will not be defended. If it is, then unless they have made allegations which are sufficiently robust to stand up in court, they may find themselves completely disempowered, left with no option but to wait five years. This can have a significant impact on their mental health and ability to move on with their lives.

    Even if the allegations are robust, for example being subjected to domestic violence, they have the additional stress of submitting hard evidence of this, which can involve re-living trauma and coming into conflict with their partners.

    The argument for reform is strong and Mrs Owens’ experience may be just the nudge that Parliament needs to carry out a root and branch review.

    Image depicts two wedding rings

    Courtesy Robert Cheaib on Flickr

    Egg freezing is not a perkLaura Cooke is a journalist from the south of England

    With US companies Apple and Facebook offering to freeze their female employees’ eggs to allow them to put off having children and focus on their careers, it was only a matter of time before this idea reached our shores.

    In April this year, CARE Fertility, the UK’s largest private chain of fertility clinics, revealed that a number of British employers have enquired about offering this dubious ‘perk’ to their female workers.

    “It will let you focus on your career, save up, meet the right person — you’ll feel so empowered!” screams the subtext of their sales pitch.

    Empowered? What is so empowering about allowing your boss to interfere in one of the most important and personal decisions you are ever likely to make in your life?

    Sky News, like other media outlets commenting on the issue, presents IVF as an easy option, with a complete lack of appreciation for exactly what is involved in the process.

    The chances are that you know a woman who has been through IVF. And if you think you don’t, I can assure you that with one in seven couples struggling to conceive, the likelihood is that you do. It’s just not something everyone feels comfortable shouting about.

    Like anyone who has been through IVF, I can tell you that nobody goes through it by choice. It’s a last resort, when doing it the old-fashioned way simply isn’t an option. And, speaking for myself but in the knowledge that I’m probably not alone, it is humiliating to admit that your body has let you down.

    Setting emotions aside, there is the dreaded course of self-administered daily injections to the stomach, blowing you up like a puffer fish in an attempt to stimulate your ovaries to produce as many eggs as possible. There is a risk of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), a thankfully rare but pretty dangerous complication.

    Once you’ve had the operation to remove the eggs via needle passed through the vagina (not pleasant, but at least you are sedated), the fertilisation process follows. Then, prepare yourself for yet more drugs to get that womb embryo ready.

    Then there is the agonising two-week wait before you can find out whether you are in that small percentage of people who have been successful, or whether the invasive procedures, weeks of drugs and spending more money than you can afford has come to nothing.

    Which leads me onto another important fact which has seemed to be glossed over: the success rate for IVF using frozen eggs in the UK simply isn’t that great.

    In the latest data available from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) the approximate successful birth rate for IVF cycles using frozen eggs in 2013 was reported as 14%, compared to an average success rate of 26% for IVF using fresh eggs.

    That rate was even lower for women aged over 38.

    The stats show that the number of women freezing their eggs rose from 59 in 2005 to 816 in 2014, suggesting that more and more women are opting to preserve their fertility.

    I’m sure each of these women went into this with their eyes fully open and were made well aware of the perils and pitfalls before making their choice.

    That is the key word here: choice.

    I have nothing at all against egg freezing if a woman decides that is what she wants to do with her body.

    My issue is the way that this process is being presented as an easy answer to the career/baby conundrum women are plagued with by the very people who have a vested interest in keeping these same women working through their most fertile years.

    How much support are these companies going to provide when those eggs are thawed and these women find they are not in that magic 14%?

    Your employer giving you the option to freeze your eggs, which could lead women feeling pressured into doing so, is not my idea of empowerment and the way it is presented as such is rather sickening.

    Offer women instead more flexibility or increased parental leave by all means, but stay the hell away from our ovaries.

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

    Image is of a pregnant woman, with her belly in the middle of the frame. The image is cropped so that she is only visible from the bottom of her breasts to the top of her thighs, with her hands and arms also in the frame. She is wearing a long-sleeve, fitted maroon dress. Both of her hands rest on her belly. She wears a gold ring on the hand closest to the camera.

    Further Reading

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