All posts tagged feminism

  • In defence of slutwalks

    “Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised.”

    These were the words uttered by a Toronto police representative in January, talking a group of students at a campus safety information session. He’s not the first. In 2009, androgynous pop singer La Roux said: ‘There’s far more ways to be sexy than to dress in a miniskirt and a tank top … I think you attract a certain kind of man by dressing like that. Women wonder why they get beaten up, or have relationships with arsehole men. Because you attracted one, you twat.”

    I can’t be the only twenty one year old woman who is no stranger to these warped opinions. The stance is deeply rooted in the notion that a woman’s body is some kind of public property that must be owned (not by the woman herself, mind) and protected by those who seek to steal or defile it. It’s an almost ingrained attitude that finds itself wheedling into every crevice of our culture- for example, many women who experience street harassment find telling the pursuer that she has a boyfriend is an effective deterrent- ‘thanks for the attention, but I’m already owned by somebody else’.

    Arguments that attempt to justify victim blaming often (if not always) equate women’s bodies to property, money, or food. All of these things are less than human. Women are none of those things. Victim blaming absolves those who sexually harass, assault, and rape of all responsibility, shifting the focus to the person they did it to. Additionally, it paints men as uncontrollable sex beasts who are lead entirely by their insatiable penises, devoid of morals, logic, and empathy. In short, victim blaming undermines us all.

    False debate about women’s clothing is definitive of rape culture. It excuses abusers for the crimes they commit. Maybe we should stop asking women if our clothes make us more susceptible to sexual assault, and stop letting abusers off the hook.

    Women’s bodies are dragged out into the public sphere over and over again. Right wing extremists attempt to legislate subjective sexual morality amongst the echelons of power, from Nadine Dorries in the UK to republicans in the United States. Whilst these people make decisions about how we should conduct our bodies, we are being dissected.

    Nobody ever claimed that the slutwalk movement celebrates promiscuity in women. But even if it did- so what? For hundreds of years, woman’s virtue has been inexplicably linked with chastity. We are constantly being defined by what we don’t do. The virgin/whore dichotomy is nothing new. We live in a time when Tory MPs are sitting in parliament pushing regressive abstinence agendas that teach young women that sex isn’t something you participate in, it’s something that you give up. The hand wringing hysteria over assertive female sexuality sexual autonomy is both extremely archaic and very much alive.

    All of this is why I welcome the slutwalk movement with open arms.

    The movement’s website states: ‘With sexual assault already a significantly under-reported crime, survivors have now been given even less of a reason to go to the Police, for fear that they could be blamed. Being assaulted isn’t about what you wear; it’s not even about sex; but using a pejorative term to rationalize inexcusable behaviour creates an environment in which it’s okay to blame the victim.’

    Basic feminism 101. So why the backlash? It seems the name of the movement has caused confusion- some more methodical than others. I used to respect the anti-pornography campaigner Gail Dines, but her problem with feminist activists organising without her permission is unnerving. I admit, I must have missed the memo that confirmed she was crowned Queen of Feminism, because her approach to the debate appears to be very much her way, or the highway. Gail, along with professor of sexual violence Wendy J Murphy, have voiced strong opposition to the idea of slutwalks, asserting that women should not be fighting for the right to be called sluts. Whilst I sympathise with their  reservations about the word, but I just can’t agree with the way they have let their concerns hijack the very real issue of victim blaming. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that the misinterpretation of the cause and the consequent Guardian article condemning the march has single handedly begun the avalanche of misinformed debate that is obscuring the original cause of the march. As for Gail’s continued worry that concentrating on slutwalks will deplete precious feminist resources- I’m confused. I didn’t realise every feminist activist ran out of feminist energy at the end of every month. Should we be calling Dines for a top up?

    Yes, the word slut is a contentious and derogatory term, with its conception mired in slut shaming and victim blaming. However, I can’t help wonder if Gail Dines and Wendy Murphy are wilfully missing the point. Surely the name of the march is a direct response to the policeman’s comment. Why are they choosing to ignore this? With a mainstream culture that rarely challenges victim blaming, I’m not sure if we should be trying to pick apart a genuinely well-meaning movement in its infancy.

    The subsequent backlash over reclaiming the word slut doesn’t just shove the original cause to the margins, it is also incredibly indicative of a repetitive cultural hysteria over women’s sexual autonomy. What does promiscuity mean anyway? In this context it seems to be that age old outrage about women enjoying and even pursuing (!) sex- otherwise known as slut shaming. I doubt these links are a coincidence.

    I’ve no inclination to reclaim the word slut, but I do believe that we should start shouting about how the word is consistently used to shame and blame women. That’s why I’ll be going on the march, and you should too.

  • Thanks, feminism

    It’s the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day today! I’m feeling a bit emotional about it. In fact, I think I might like International Women’s Day more than I like Christmas day.

    The women and girls of my generation often enjoy the achievements of feminism without really giving any credit to the women who fought for it. There are those who actively reject feminists of old, and those who tell me feminism is no longer relevant. They’re wrong.

    I wrote this for IWD 2010 in the midst of my feminist awakening. Up until then I’d felt something strange was going on, sensed some injustice, but the concept of feminism was completely alien to me. The closest I’d ever come to it was girl power- false empowerment wrapped up in a capitalist bow.

    It’s funny that just a year ago I was only vaguely dipping my toes into the ocean of activism that I soon discovered exists. Feminism is such a huge part of my life now that I couldn’t imagine me without it.

    So, I’m going to dedicate this post to saying thanks to feminism.

    Thanks, feminism- if it wasn’t for feminism, I wouldn’t be at university.

    Thank you, first wave feminists, for fighting for my right to vote.

    Thank you, second wave feminists, for freeing my generation from that restrictive, singular career choice of wife and mother. Thanks to feminism I am not consigned to a life of domesticity. And If I chose to be, that would be ok, because it would be my informed choice, not one thrust upon me.

    If I choose to get married and my husband views my body as his instead of mine, I can report him to the police. Thanks for that, feminism.

    Thank you feminism for fighting for me and every other little girl of my generation to have options past fulfilling and supporting men. Thanks for letting me know that it’s ok to be my own person and have my own dreams, that I don’t have to consign my life to the male gaze, and that marriage isn’t my only destiny. Thanks for assuring me that I can have and own sexual feelings without having to feel dirty or wrong.

    Thank you feminism, for handing me control over my own uterus.

    Thanks feminism, and your consequential activism, for introducing me to some rather awesome people this year.

    Thanks to feminism I’m a lucky, lucky girl. When I speak to older feminists I hear horrific stories of blatant and overt discrimination, 20, 30, 40 years ago, based entirely on their gender, and for black feminists, also their race. It makes me sad. It makes me angry. But just because that misogyny isn’t as overt today (sweeping generalisation, it often is, and is disguised as ‘banter’ or justified with blind and dogged misogyny) doesn’t mean it’s disappeared. Misogyny is clever, it’s sophisticated and manipulative. Misogyny is in those images of impossible ideals marketed to young women that eventually makes impressionable minds ill. It’s in that anti-wrinkle cream that promises eternal youth and advocates that warped message that older women are no longer sexually attractive and therefore invisible. It lingers upon page three of The Sun and in those lads mags that make you feel uncomfortable when you pop into your local newsagents. It’s rife in porn, which seems to be serving increasingly as sex education and somehow dictating just how far women’s bodies can be brutalised, and just how much men can do to them.

    So I’m eternally grateful to the feminists and womanists and women-who-didn’t-define-as-feminists-but-still-fought-for-equality of the past. I’m a 21 year old woman enjoying the achievements of their efforts, but despite this I still understand that there’s work to be done. Because as long as women’s bodies are still seen as public space, still used as insults, still used as a synonym for weak and pathetic, as long as women are beaten by their husbands; and as long as women and girls across the globe are denied access to education,  equal pay or just any work at all, as long as governments see fit to control women’s bodies, and as long as women are bought and sold in the name of objectification, as long as women’s genitals are sliced and stitched and mutilated for fake notions of chastity; as long as women have to suffer sexual shame, as long as single mothers are blamed for the ills of society, as long as a woman’s work is never done, and as long as women and girls are blamed for sexual assault and rape, as long as women internationally are confined to lives of domesticity and servitude, as long as women’s bodies are oiled up and dissected in music videos, as long as the female form is used to sell things, and as long as women are seen as subordinate to men;

    That’s how long I’ll keep fighting the feminist cause. Solidarity.

  • America’s uterus police

    I wrote a guest post for Education for Choice, which I shall also cross post here.

    It must be very difficult to be a poor woman in the US right now. Rich, white, powerful men have spent the past few weeks in Congress making life changing decisions that will ultimately determine whether women will be granted control over their own bodies.

    Unfortunately, it looks like Congress is winning.

    If you follow American politics, you may have noticed that there has been an unprecedented rise of right wing patriarchal traditionalism in recent months- a movement that is callously concentrated on keeping women in their subordinate place.

    First came the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act. In this bill, speaker of the house John Boehner asserted that funding for abortions should only be provided to women who have been ‘forcibly raped’. With this phrasing, Boehner aspired to realign the definition of rape so that it fitted neatly with his own ideology. ‘Forcibly raped’ quite unsubtly suggests that women who don’t emerge from rape or sexual assault covered in bruises are somehow lying or disingenuous when they ask for help. It excludes victims of incest who are over 18. ‘Forcibly raped’ immediately eliminates those women who have been raped whilst drugged, raped whilst intoxicated, or manipulated and groomed.

    Then, Congress voted to strip Planned Parenthood, America’s largest sexual and reproductive health provider of funding – effectively barring access to hundreds upon thousands of poor women across America who can’t afford healthcare.

    Currently, South Dakota is considering a law that would make abortion providers guilty of a crime punishable by death.

    And now, Republican Rep. Bobby Franklin is campaigning to classify abortion as murder, and wants to put policy in place that would require hospitals to report all spontaneous miscarriages so that women can be investigated for abortion. He’s joined Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker in an all-out assault on abortion rights.

    For too long now, the misconception that pro-choice means anti life has warped public debate about women’s reproductive rights. This mistaken logic leads to anti-choicers branding sexual health and abortion clinics as murder houses, which couldn’t be further from the truth. The same people campaigning to ban abortion are often those campaigning to restrict sex education, with the misguided belief that abstinence is the only way to curb teen pregnancy.  To assert that young women shouldn’t have sex if they don’t want to get pregnant is absurd. Take a look around at our hyper sexualised culture and you’ll notice one stark factor – the idea of pregnancy has been completely divorced from the concept of sex.

    Educating young women about sex and relationships, as well as granting them access to contraception and the morning after pill are all key factors that are likely to reduce the rates of abortion.  Pro-choice means granting women the dignity to make their own decisions without governments interfering with and attempting to control their reproductive organs. Motherhood is glorious, but women aren’t baby machines. Much of the abortion debate has been fuelled by ideology; with those in government putting their own beliefs before the health and well-being of women in their own country. A recent US study found that 77% of anti-abortion leaders are men. 100% of them will never be pregnant.

    It’s a funny paradox that the American republican right occupy themselves with. In the midst of all this passion to rescue potential life, they’ve forgotten actual life – the women having to make these difficult and devastating decisions. The women who own these bodies. In the middle of a recession, America’s republican men and women are more interested in policing women’s bodies instead of focusing on wider social, cultural and economic causes of a catastrophic financial crisis. It seems, in times of austerity, it’s easier to bully and belittle those with no power rather than address real issues. These false bastions of the family are currently channelling all their energy into making the world a harsher place for American women.

  • Sex ed doesn’t need The Joy of Teen Sex

    I’ve written another piece for The Guardian’s Comment is Free, this time on Channel 4’s Joy of Teen Sex.

    ‘Society has always been reluctant to address teenage sex and its consequences, and the ongoing battle in parliament for compulsory sex and relationship education (SRE) in schools reflects this – Chris Bryant’s compulsory SRE bill is going through its second reading in the House of Commons. In any case, young people’s sex lives need to be debated further…’

    Read the rest here

  • The New Banter

    Somewhere along the line, I think I must have missed the news of the International Bigot Alliance conference – that annual event where the world’s inconsiderate, ignorant and uncaring convene to discuss new and innovative ways to simultaneously keep the disadvantaged down, whilst defending the status quo.

    Having come to the general consensus that their views were likely to cause offense when overtly and directly expressed, the International Bigot Alliance were faced with a dilemma- how could they disguise their inherently racist, sexist, homophobic and ableist views? And how could they do this in such in which they could successfully blame the victims of their bullying if they dared to take offence?

    And so, the term ‘banter’ was born.

    Don’t get the New Banter confused with the original meaning of the word. There was a rose-tinted, nostalgic time when banter meant an exchange of light, playful remarks, and good-natured raillery. But the New Banter couldn’t be further than that definition. Instead, it’s used as a cover up to bully and intimidate, and as a tool to assert privilege over those who are less advantaged.

    The New Banter gleefully stagnates in its own regressive ideals, then spits them out in the form of ugly jokes, hoping that nobody will notice.

    Pioneers of the New Banter will call you humorless, fun-hating, or ‘too serious’ when you object to their ignorant bullying. Don’t be fooled into thinking that members of the International Bigot Alliance only manifest themselves as your enemies, either – they can be your friends, family, co-workers or colleagues, all united by their dedication to your belittlement. You could brush it off, or you could acknowledge the fact that if these people really cared about you, they would at least take your feelings into consideration before they thoughtlessly spouted their hate disguised as jokes. If they ‘didn’t really mean it’-  why did they say it? If you’re ‘taking it the wrong way’- what is the right way? Pick them up on it and watch them try to derail your argument, busy shifting the issue so they don’t have to face up to the facts. As the realisation of their ignorance begins to kick in, they’ll flounder completely. This can be depressingly amusing.

    Most importantly, stay alert, because as it stands, the facebook group entitled ‘justifying completely inappropriate and unacceptable as banter’ has 179,113 members and counting.

    Even it was ‘just a joke’ and they ‘didn’t really mean it’, the joke was constructed to belittle, provoke, and anger you. The intent was entirely malicious, insidiously spiteful  – and that’s probably what they meant when they insisted that you were taking it the wrong way. Either way, it doesn’t look good.

    N.B- The International Bigot Alliance may not actually exist

  • On digital equality…

    Netroots UK’s digital equality session had so much potential, but the real flaws of the session could be found in the clumsy phrasing of this paragraph, that could be found both online and in the schedule pack on the day :

    Women have a high internet usage, but when it comes to politics and campaigning women are few and far between. Something about online campaigning seems to turn women off and there’s a digital divide as a result.  So if the answer isn’t simply for women to grow a thicker skin, how can progressive campaigners better engage women online? How can women survive the dog eat dog world of political blogging or tweeting without feeling they have to join in the game? Which online campaigns, issues and online spaces might attract more women to get engaged?’

    To ask these questions room filled to the brim with politically active women was incredulously patronising. We ARE engaged, we ARE surviving, and we ARE involved in online campaigns. It’s not that we’re NOT there- but there’s a tendency to organise away from websites where we’re likely to be on the receiving end of misogyny.

    The session also saw the release of pent up and righteous rage about the misogynistic nature of comments on forums such as the Guardian’s Comment is Free. If you want a reason why women tend to post away from the big online forums, there’s a pretty concrete answer. And if this is one of the main reasons, surely the solution isn’t – ‘women, grow a thicker skin!’, but rather- ‘trolls, stop baiting women!’

    Inevitably, the session evolved into both speakers and audience members expressing frustration at how questions like these just leave women activists going around in annoying circles, never making any progress, forever stunted at the ‘engagement’ question.

    Given the nature of the moot points that were proposed, it wasn’t surprising when Lisa Ansell, Laurie Penny and Jess McCabe all pointed out, repeatedly, that women are already engaged politically online.

    Laurie hit the nail on the head when she pointed out that that engaging women does not mean shovelling them away at the top of the building to wring their hands about how much they’re supposedly not doing.

    Lisa stressed that women are politically active all over the net- just not in the obvious places, like the top 4 political blogs.

    Jess showed the room the website she edits- The F Word – which is full of posts by politically active, campaigning women.

    Why, then, are we still discussing engagement?

    I am genuinely confused.

     

  • Guest post: I am an octopus

    My friend Belinda Mellor originally wrote this piece as part of her rhetoric module at university. It has been written to be read out loud, as a speech- and I thought it was too good not to share. True food for thought. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did!

    Thesis: that the vilification of single mothers is unjustified.

    Allow me to tell you a little about myself.  I am an octopus. A mature single octopus; I work hard and my eight arms ensure that multi-tasking works for me.  Let me explain.  The female Giant Pacific Octopus blows clean water over its new laid eggs in order that they may survive, for the last time before it dies.  Although perhaps not quite as self sacrificing as the Giant Pacific Octopus, as a mature student and a single mother of three, I work hard.

    Yet some people, even some of those in power view single parents negatively.  That is what I would like to tell you about.  I want to talk to you about my support for single parents and in particular for the nine out of ten who are single mothers.

    My own experience of being a single parent began at the age of 26.  My partner and I separated after five years together, and a particularly sad time in my life was spent in the company of my three small children.  Solitary evenings sewing pump bags by candlelight were compensated for by sunny days in the park, punctuated with laughter and choral pleas for ice-cream.

    But not every day is sunny.  An isolated existence together with an atmosphere of negativity can surreptitiously envelope a single mother’s identity and destroy her sense of citizenship.

    The vilification of single mothers is a mistake; an act which says more about the critic than the criticised.  Single mothers are a group upon whom it is easy to lay the blame for the ills of society.  Overloaded with responsibilities, without support and frequently without means they are often unable to speak out in defence.  This public and medieval witch hunt is narrow-minded, misleading and misogynistic.   Any government which finds itself drawn to this argument should stop, look at the statistics and then take time to talk to some of the most maligned in society.  When that government speaks to those people and reports back to a nation, then perhaps, they will receive 1.5 million more votes.

    From my own perspective as a single mother of three in the 1990’s I felt personally on the receiving end of John Major’s rallying cry to the masses which repeatedly implicated people in my situation as single- handedly responsible for the dire state of the nation.  An idea which had very little of course to do with his predecessor’s political encouragement of the young, upwardly mobile professional for whom money was everything and dog eat dog was ideology anthropomorphically reified.

    John Major in his wisdom presented his ‘Back to Basics’ campaign in 1993, which was meant to lead Britain backwards to a time more pure, more safe, and more secure in what he called ‘Family Values’.  The idea rooted firmly in 1950’s Britain was more about the safety and surety of nostalgia.   Things certainly look better when we think back but often that is simply the human desire to privilege romance over reality.  More honestly we can look back to a time when the health benefits of smoking were proposed, when the social benefits of hanging were realised, when homosexuality was an imprisonable offence and when marital rape was not a crime but a right.

    John Major was however, outed by the catalogue of sleaze thrown up by his party and later lambasted for his own affair retrospectively admitted.  ‘Back to Basics’ was discredited and became a topic of salacious media amusement but not before the antithesis of family and democracy was revealed as the ‘single mother’.

    In 1996 my three small children and I survived happily on government benefits.   One of the accusations laid at the feet of single mothers on handouts is: why aren’t they working?   Let me illustrate my own experience in reply.  My weekly allowance entitled and enabled me to work for fifteen hours a week as a cleaner; a manageable position when sole responsibility for school and nursery timetabling was a work of art in itself.  After having had depression as a teenager and without any discernable skills I was on benefits in order to survive financially and to secure a stable home life for my children in their early years.

    Once my youngest child started school I was able to take the college courses necessary to work towards my current degree study.  Poverty had ensured I was never in debt but I was also desperate to jump free of the revolving hamster wheel of my existence; seemingly going nowhere, every day.

    Yet young women are accused of bringing about this situation on purpose simply to acquire a home.   Can it really be that simple?  Left with no educational achievements, little self esteem and zero opportunities, the place society says is rightly hers might become achievable for a disengaged young girl by simply becoming pregnant.  And if so, if, by becoming pregnant a young girl could feel like there is something she can do as opposed to her living an ineffectual existence, might she not begin her own life.  And in doing so, might she not be understood?

    Society or government may wish it were not so and in such cases should create a space for education and opportunity in order that young girls might find a future for themselves which engendered more control and opportunity.

    Politicians in large homes, vaulted to positions of power and autonomy by a ruling hierarchy established centuries ago, might do well to realise that life choices are often not just between good and bad but also between the better of two evils. David Cameron’s move to tax-break marriage to the tune of £150 a year might be seen as a shallow mirror in which to view his own lack of insight to shifts in society, not necessarily ruinous.

    Most single parents, mothers and fathers find themselves in this position through the effects of divorce.  The Office for National Statistics states that the majority of the adult population are married but that almost half of those will divorce within ten years.  The children born within those marriages could explain the statistic which states that the proportion of children living in one parent families has more than tripled in Great Britain in the last 30 years.

    Since 1971 to 2005 the amount of people living alone has more than doubled; it is a fact of a changing society that children will be brought up in single parent households and although children may fare better in multi adult families, this simply does not mean that single parents should be criticised for living in a situation requested by society.  Instead they should be supported and admired for their place in a society which has demanded and continues to demand freedom for all.

    Changes taking place during the 20th century have meant greater independence for women who can now decide to live alone with or without children.  Women have always been targets for public opprobrium and continue to attract negative press; take for example women who choose to wait until they are older to have children, who are often portrayed as self serving career women.   The facts speak more clearly; the average age for giving birth shows a steady rise; in 2009 it was 29.   Similarly under attack are women who have children much later in life; fertility in the 35 – 40+ age group also continues to increase and although financially and emotionally secure their decision often attracts public angst and derision.

    In a society where 15,700 civil partnerships occurred within a year of its 2005 inception and in a society where a male pop star and his husband can have a child by a surrogate mother with a donor egg, it is perhaps time that the sticky subject of disregard for single mothers is dropped like a melting ice cream on a hot summers day.

    Just like the Giant Pacific Octopus I would sacrifice everything for my own three children.  They have grown into mature, caring young people studying in further education and for whom time spent together is treasured.

    Having my children, on my own, has been a revelation for me; I was that girl whose life began when she had her children.  They have taught me so much and I continue to learn about myself from them.  So, if you hear narratives which state that being a single parent is marginal, not worthwhile, I hope you will think again and support those who bring up children alone.

    Belinda Mellor

  • Please stop trivialising rape!

    Wikileaks founder Julian Assange was refused bail today.

    The amount of people who are willing to jump to Assange’s defence and dismiss the rape allegations as ‘smears’ is worrying. What’s even more worrying is the amount of people who are eagerly willing to redefine what actually constitutes as rape. Suddenly, everyone’s an expert. Forget intent or context, apparently it’s only REAL rape if a stranger ambushes a woman with a knife and pins her down to the ground.  Some have even said the women who have accused Assange of rape are just making a big deal about nothing, that what happened to his accusers was just ‘surprise sex’.

    The fact the Assange plays a crucial part in ‘opening governments’ really shouldn’t have any effect on the fact that he has been accused of rape. Those who dismiss the claims as smears effectively paint Assange’s accusers as liars before the court case has even begun.

    There’s nothing strange about non consensual sex being regarded as rape, no matter how much the nay-sayers attempt to disregard Swedish law as incomprehensible.

    Whilst I agree with many Assange defenders that it’s suspicious that the case was dropped in August, and then picked up again around the time that the famous cables were released, the same defenders seem too quick to jump to the conclusion that Assange created Wikileaks, therefore is a good man, therefore he has never done anything wrong in his life. I also agree with the sentiment that the Swedish authorities are using these rape allegations to imprison a man that governments across the world really want imprisoned for what they consider terrorist-like acts.  But, if anything this just proves that not many people are prepared to make a fuss about rape as a crime until someone famous is involved.

    The Daily Mail has attempted to tackle the subject. Torn between vilifying liberals or feminists, The Mail opted for the feminist route. Here’s a brief dissection of a couple of stand-out points from Richard Pendlebury’s extensive, misogynistic article.

    ‘[Assange] is certainly a man of strong sexual appetites who is not averse to exploiting his fame.’

    Translation:

    ‘Assange needs sex like oxygen. He can have any woman he wants. These women fell for his charms.’

    And the next, discussing one of the women who has accused Assange:

    An attractive blonde, Sarah was already a well-known ‘radical feminist’. In her 30s, she had travelled the world following various fashionable causes. While a research assistant at a local university she had not only been the protegé of a militant feminist ­academic, but held the post of ‘campus sexual equity officer’. Fighting male discrimination in all forms, including sexual harassment, was her forte.’

    Loosely translated into language not dripping with sexism, this reads:

    ‘Sarah was a radical feminist who obviously hated men because she campaigned for equality. These facts alone suggest she’s more likely to lie about being raped. She’s attractive , which means that she probably lured him to bed- women only make themselves look sexy to flaunt their wares to men.’

    I’ve come to expect this sort of attitude from the Mail, but its this same attitude from men who consider themselves ‘left’ or feminist that really upsets me.

    An article published on lefty website Liberal Conspiracy defined Sarah’s reaction as ‘cross’ when she allegedly discovered Assange wasn’t wearing a condom. The Daily Mail described Sarah’s reaction as ‘upset’. Both authors – who by some predictable coincidence are male- use words that trivialise the rape allegations currently being held against Assange. Both authors seemingly deliberately choose words that do not even begin to cover the sense of violation, hurt, and confusion that rape victims are likely to feel. Dismiss this argument as semantics if you will- but the choice of these words matter.

    I am ‘cross’ when my day doesn’t go to plan. I am ‘upset’ when my laptop breaks down. If I gave a potential lover permission to have sex with me on the basis that he wore a condom, only for him to defy my wishes, I would be a lot more than ‘cross’ or ‘upset’.

    Assange’s rape trial hasn’t even begun. We do not know if he did it or not. Just as it would be wrong to brand Assange a rapist, it’s equally as wrong to paint his accusers as liars.

  • The problem with pro-feminist men

    Don’t get me wrong, I love third wave feminism, but like every movement, it has its ups and downs. Take for example the case of young, attractive male Hollywood actor, Ryan Gosling. It’s not often you hear Hollywood heart throbs, especially of the male persuasion, utter the words ‘It’s misogynistic in nature to try and control a woman’s sexual presentation of self.’ This alone should be celebrated, and it is.

    Gosling was speaking out in response to the Motion Picture Assosication of America, the organisation responsible for rating US films, branding his new film Blue Valentine an x rated  NC-17. The MPAA have made this decision because of a scene that depicts Gosling performing oral sex on the film’s female lead, Michelle Williams. The couple in the film are in a relationship, and the sex act is consensual.  This rating, from the same organisation that has given less adult themed ratings to films that include women being raped by mutants and lizard men, as well as suffering sexual harassment and violence.

    In regards to this, Gosling hits the nail on the head:

    ‘You have to question a cinematic culture which preaches artistic expression, and yet would support a decision that is clearly a product of a patriarchy-dominant society, which tries to control how women are depicted on screen. The MPAA is okay supporting scenes that portray women in scenarios of sexual torture and violence for entertainment purposes, but they are trying to force us to look away from a scene that shows a woman in a sexual scenario, which is both complicit and complex. It’s misogynistic in nature to try and control a woman’s sexual presentation of self. I consider this an issue that is bigger than this film.’

    In theory, I should be happy- and I am to an extent, I think it’s brilliant that he’s highlighted the issue. But in practice, I’m annoyed- and not just because I’m a fun hating feminazi.

    I’m annoyed because Michelle Williams said almost exactly the same thing, and the media didn’t see fit to mention this.

    The just as astute Williams said:
    ‘Mainstream films often depict sex and violence in a manner that is disturbing and very far from reality. Yet, the MPAA regularly awards these films with a more audience friendly rating, enabling our culture’s desensitization to violence, rape, torture and brutality. Our film does not depict any of these attributes. It’s simply a candid look at the difficulties couples face in sustaining their relationships over time. Blue Valentine opens a door for couples to have a dialogue about the everyday realities of many relationships.’

    Irritatingly, Williams’ quote is often far down in any related article, shovelled in under a headline that only mentions Gosling’s objection, therefore implying that the sentiment holds more credibility if uttered by a man.

    This is annoying.

    In reaction to Gosling’s words, straight feminists across the blogosphere appeared to melt in pro-feminist man themed arousal. One comment on Jezebel’s article actually read ‘I want him so hard right now. We could re-enact that scene.’

    Regardless of whether that comment was a joke or not, it isn’t cool. There’s a danger of undermining the message if we reduce our response to his words into ‘OMGGG I WANT HIM SO BAD’. Not to mention that feminism is about rejecting excessive objectification. I think Gosling is a great actor,  and I respect him even more so for expressing a distaste for blatant inequality, but just because we share the same views doesn’t mean I want him in my pants.

    I’ll bet you anything that if Gosling’s words were uttered by a lesser liked, female Hollywood star such as Katherine Heigl (who’s comments on gender inequality in the past have earned her the title of the most hated woman in Hollywood), they would have been ignored or dismissed.

    I couldn’t possibly say there’s a problem with pro-feminist men. In fact, the title of this post may seem a bit loaded. The problem is the media’s reaction to their opinions. If anything, we should be welcoming everyone into third wave feminism, regardless of gender. But we should be careful not to spark unwarranted hero-worship to these men who, are in actual fact, pointing out inequality and talking common sense. If we do, we’re at risk of leaving the women, like Michelle Williams, who are saying the exact same thing, by the wayside.

  • Do lads’ mags belong in student unions?

    Women: not objects

    Lads’ mags- what’s the big deal? Well, quite a lot actually. After successfully removing the magazines from the union shop’s shelves, Professor Mark Blagrove, The head of the University of Swansea’s Psychology Department, told the union’s student paper: ‘The University should have higher standards than the outside world. The University should be like BBC 4 and that’s it, and then you suddenly get the worst bits of cable television.’

    Whilst I wouldn’t quite describe the issue in those words, Professor Blagrove is correct.

    In these sex saturated times, many people don’t find lads’ mags offensive, but that’s because the blatant objectification of women has filtered into our social consciousness. However, just because they’ve existed for as long as you can remember doesn’t mean you shouldn’t question them.

    After conducting my own somewhat amateur study into lads’ mags -I spent my hard earned money on a copy of both Nuts and Zoo- I came to the conclusion that they’re soft porn.  All that’s missing are vaginas on show.

    A university is an educational institute. Our student union promises to ‘make life better for students’, whilst our university promises to ‘to promote gender equality’. The sale of lads’ mags in the student union directly undermines both of those statements. Whilst these magazines are obviously harmful to women, they’re also seriously detrimental to men, as they advocate tired, restrictive stereotypes. Both women and men are so much more than this.

    Putting the images aside, there’s the issue of the content in these magazines. In May this year, perennial laddish  icon Danny Dyer caused an widespread furore when he advised a Zoo reader in his column to “cut your ex’s face, and then no one will want her…” –  simultaneously endorsing domestic violence as well as the notion of women as possessions. Dyer cried misquotation, and in a statement, Zoo blamed it on a “regrettable production error” – but there’s no denying that his quote stank of misogyny. Anyone with a social conscience can see that allowing this kind of crass, vulgar attitude towards women in a university’s student union is objectionable in the extreme.

    In February, growing calls to move lads’ mags to the top shelf were fuelled by a report commissioned by the Home Office, with the argument that they add to the pornification of the mainstream media. And more recently, human rights group Object have targeted Tesco after the supermarket chain banned customers shopping in their pyjamas on the basis that the sight may ‘cause offense’. Object retaliated by donning pyjamas, creating a conga line through the aisles, chanting anti-sexist slogans and covering up lads’ mags with paper bags that read ‘lads’ mags lie about women’.  I can’t help but agree. These magazines promote the idea of women as nothing more than sexually available objects- always on standby; waxed, primped and preened – legs parted and lips pouting, all for your pleasure. That is a lie.

    So yes, lads’ mags should be removed from our university’s shelves. I’ve no place to judge if you’re intent on getting your rocks off, but there’s no place for porn in our student union. Students primarily come to university to be educated. These magazines reinforce and encourage the objectification of women. If student consumers are that desperate for a soft porn fix, they can always leave university premises to find some.

    Originally written for Pluto’s debate section.