May 8, 2013 by Rowena
Yesterday, Jezebel published a piece which examined the somehow still present idea that ‘female purity’ matters and why that idea is utter fucking bollocks. I liked it. It’s pithy and appropriately abrasive, witty and absolutely on the money. The author had been inspired to write the piece after reading a mind-numbingly terrible blog piece entitled, somewhat confusingly since unicorns are fucking FICTIONAL, “Why Good Girls Have Become as Extinct as Unicorns”. In this piece of misogynist vitriol, women are systematically divided into two camps – the good, clean, homey ‘uns and the dirty nasty sluts. The author is pissed about the latter group and I mean really pissed. He is angry at women, especially if they, gasp, like to shag. He really, really wants women to keep their legs shut because otherwise he’s not going to have someone nice to take home to mummy (and then ferociously divorce him when she realises what a shitbag he is) so he’s taken to writing a particularly shite blog post about it.
The post raised equal amounts of rage and LOLZ in me – something which seems to be a common response of mine now to the weirdness that misogynists come out with. So then I posted it on Facebook with a suitably profane tagline. And then the now horribly typical occurred – a white, middle class man asked me why I “seek out and share” this stuff. Excuse me whilst I face palm. This is a repeated pattern now and really, guys, it’s getting old.
I understand and I get it that you might not think like this, that you might think this guy is an utter loony with one or two gigantic chips on his shoulder. You might value women as much as I do, you might not give too hoots about a woman’s previous or where her fanny’s been and that, my friend, is GREAT. I love and appreciate that in you and it’s why you’re one of many men that I am happy to have in my life. But guess what? You don’t get to tell me what my lived experience is. Is it so shocking to comprehend the idea that maybe because you’re a MAN, you don’t actually experience the same sexism and misogyny that women do and therefore, aren’t really in the place to tell me what I and a great deal of the women I know see and experience ALL THE TIME – in popular culture, in the media, in advertising, in university ‘lad’ culture, in the workplace?! You don’t experience and face every day those constantly conflicting and guilt-ridden messages about what being a sexual woman means for you, your relationships, your very worth and so you don’t get to tell me that this is just one piece of erroneous nonsense. No, you most definitely do not. It might be nonsense but it’s nonsense which women see and experience every day – this dude just had the time and inclination to write it down, probably because he’s such a woman-hating turd that he has no friends and hasn’t been laid in years.
The other most memorable time this happened before was when I posted a hideous hideous article from that well-known vessel of knowledge, Uni-Lad. In summary, it gave readers a blow by blow (no pun intended) summary of all those “horrible” women you meet at parties and the various ways in which you can fuck and chuck them (assuming that you, as a Uni Lad reader, have in fact evolved beyond the ape stage and can converse enough to convince a woman to go anywhere your wiener). I posted about this on Facebook and then spent the rest of the day receiving a torrent of accusations from two men I know from high school: “Why the hell are you sharing this shit if you don’t like it? You’re just giving them more publicity, this is just some random guy, these views are not popular or mainstream” (despite the fact that Uni Lad gets over 35k hits every day, has been continually voted the best online student magazine, and has over 38k Twitter followers – yeah, totally not mainstream). When I responded that in fact, I believed that what this article represents is the very REAL and very present misogyny, sexism and slut-shaming which pervades our society I was basically told that I was talking crap. One of the guys in particular categorically refused to acknowledge that women face sexism and belittling every day (NB: this very same man at a later date filled my Facebook wall with his appreciation of the *hilarious* “political commentary” bestowed on us by Page 3 models when I *dared* to voice my support of the No More Page 3 campaign).
All of this is exhausting. I don’t ever feel as though I should have to apologise for highlighting the persistent crap which grinds women down on a daily basis, which reduces us to objects and which tells us that our defining feature and sense of worth lies in our sexuality – lack or excess of it. And yet, I feel as though I’m constantly having to explain and justify myself my anger and my protestations. Ok, so I acknowledge that having to articulate and account for one’s arguments is part and parcel of being outspoken and consistent in activism. Of course one has to be accountable for one’s statements and arguments and be ready and willing (to a degree at least) to engage with discussion and debate on those. The thing is, responding to me with “this doesn’t *really* exist” isn’t an argument, it isn’t a discussion, it’s a statement and quite frankly, I don’t think it’s a statement you get to make if you are not part of the group of people which the behaviour under discussion directly affects.
I suppose what this really boils down to is that real buzz-phrase of now – it’s about “checking your privilege”. Really it’s not so hard to do yet even people I consider educated and intelligent seem to be fundamentally unable to grasp the concept of acknowledging that intersectionalities exist. The feminist movement has been very caught up in this of late, really kicking off with Julie Burchill’s bizarre eating lobster, transphobic rant. Rightly so, both ends of the feminist spectrum have been under scrutiny – sections of radical feminism for being somewhat staunchly transphobic and attuned primary only to the perceived needs of white, working class women; and liberal feminism for being out of touch with the intersectionality debate and somewhat patronising when they wade in, a la Zoe Williams in the Guardian (yawn) last month. I think it’s really important and good that UK feminism has looked at itself this way. I don’t like factions and I think that the feminist movement is more progressive and powerful if we stop and listen to and acknowledge the different stories, experiences and voices within our gender and ensure that whilst we can’t always speak on behalf of everyone, those voices are heard, listened to and considered with equal weight. Tarzan Girl recently wrote a really good piece on this over on self-proclaimed ‘unsavoury cabal’ A Thousand Flowers which puts all of this much more neatly.
What I like most about Tarzan Girl’s piece is her unwavering insistence that women MUST stop and listen when they are called out for assuming, for forgetting or disregarding, for misunderstanding. She frames it as a positive, loving thing – that if someone calls you out they do it because they care what you think, that they know that you have a deeper ability to understand and treat people equally. I know many many women who try very hard to listen, to take ‘calling out’ as a positive occurrence and seek to understand and listen to those stories and experiences of other women which they themselves haven’t experienced. I try to do it, I strive to be that kind of feminist, that kind of woman. I’m sure as hell not perfect but I’m always learning.
So, to come back to the topic at hand – if we as women can do this within our gender, within our movement, why the FUCK are so many men unwilling to be called out, to listen when women post an article or a site or a nasty blog post because they want to say: “this shit exists and I feel it, I experience it, let’s fight it”? I am loathe to and extremely wary of using comparisons with homophobia and racism here but to those men who jump at me whenever I share something like this unicorn-madness I pose this question – would you level the same questions and dismissiveness at a POC posting an objection to a racist rant from a blog? Or a gay woman posting a homophobic article from a Uni Lad-esque site? I think not. I don’t want to conflate gender inequality with racism or homophobia – they are all different (yet often overlapping) issues with their own massive webs of complexities and histories but at the same time, I can’t help but feel as though sexism, misogyny and the oppression of women are the last issues that it is still seen as “ok” to dismiss and minimize in a public manner. I can’t imagine any of the “liberal” men ever telling a gay man that the nasty homophobic piece he found on a blog was irrelevant because they’re not homophobic, that it’s not worthy of sharing and highlighting as a problem because they don’t share those same thoughts, or that his experience of how those sentiments are still alive and rife in society just because they don’t feel they perpetuate it. So why then, do so many men feel that they can tell women what’s not worth highlighting, what’s not worth discussing and what’s not representative of their reality? Fuck off out of my lived experience mate, unless you’re going to at *try* to understand.
May 7, 2013 by James
I can’t find anything to disagree with here: Jackson Katz lays down what leadership means, what men’s responsibilities are, the way language gets twisted to blame victims, all sorts. As someone in his bystander category here – neither a victim nor a perpetrator of violence – I’m mulling this over and trying to look for opportunities to do more. via Lily
Category Education | Tags:
April 29, 2013 by claire
Last week the Bank of England announced that from 2016 Winston Churchill will be the new face of the £5 banknote. He is set to replace Elizabeth Fry, a nineteenth century campaigner for social reform and prisoners’ right. She is also the only women left on the Bank of England banknotes (other than the Queen who didn’t get there through her own achievements) and once she’s removed we’ll be left with a line up of dead white men - Charles Darwin, Adam Smith, Matthew Boulton, James Watt, and soon, Winston Churchill.
This isn’t massively surprising from an institution which is run almost entirely by alive white men. The Bank of England’s highly influential Monetary Policy Committee is pictured below. Inspiring stuff, right?
In Scotland we use banknotes produced by three different banks so it’s a bit more complicated and marginally more representative of women’s contribution to history. The Bank of Scotland set just has Sir Walter Scott; RBS just has Lord Ilay; but Clydesdale Bank offers seven men (Robert Burns, Robert the Bruce, Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson, Adam Smith, Lord Kelvin, Sir Alexander Fleming and Charles Rennie Mackintosh) alongside two women (Mary Slessor and Elsie Inglis).
What does it say when a nation removes all of the (non-monarchical) women from the face of its currency? That the historical contributions of women to economic, social and political development have been so minor that not a single representative face could be found worthy of sitting smooshed in your wallet. That women’s relationship with currency is not to shape it but to spend it, probably on shoes and handbags. That the practical and symbolic representation of everyday commerce and power is run by and for men.
These are insidious messages in and of themselves, but even more when mixed in with the domination of business and politics by the kind of stodgy white men who might one day end up on a banknote themselves, telling young women and men that the male-dominated industries of history are alive and kicking in the contemporary world.
If you disagree with the direction the Bank of England have taken you can petition them through The Women’s Room’s site and whilst you’re at it, go sign up to be an expert on their database which seeks to prove that there’s no excuse for an all-male panel of experts.
Category Uncategorized | Tags:
October 5, 2012 by Rowena
So, it’s October in Edinburgh which means that we are a full two months out of the Fringe Festival. It was a typical affair, albeit with the Olympics impacting a little on ticket sales and comedians’ nerves running a little higher than usual as a result. We began with an unexpected burst of sunshine. And then it rained. And then the sun shone a little. And then it rained. London hipsters and am-dram types descended in their droves, I accumulated a small rain forest worth of flyers, purchasing a round of drinks required emptying one’s life savings, and frivolity was abundant.
For as long as I have been critical enough to notice – every year the general mood, media coverage and tweets-ville seems to adopt a different Fringe “theme”. 2011 saw the “re-invention” of stand-up. The crowd seemed to be tiring a little of panel-show comedians charging a small fortune for regurgitated material. Edinburgh was searching for something new and Adam Riches was crowned the King of Funnies with the 2011 Comedy Award (formerly, and more commonly, known as the Perrier Award) after he bemused spectators with “extreme” audience participation (cue lobbed tennis balls and strangers snogging).
This year there were some slightly more sobering themes. The biggy was Rape and joking about said subject. The issue is a novel/thesis/twenty four-part drama which I don’t have the time (or, I’ll be honest – the energy) to consider here today but be reminded if you will that Late Night Gimp Fight found the “comedy value” in rohypnol, Daniel Tosh proclaimed that it would be utterly side-splitting if a protesting audience member was gang raped, and the Feminist Avengers struck back with…..courgettes.
Rape jokes have been around for, well, probably ever and the testing-ground of Edinburgh is no stranger to either the presence of this controversial material or the protestations, debates and defenses which rumble on in the background as a result. But somehow, 2012 saw the issue of rape as comedic material take on a bigger persona and be thrashed out in the public arena. It was strained, and often it was uncomfortable to listen to but it was pleasing to see the debate raised to a new platform and for the difficult questions to be asked.
The prominence of the Rape Joke Debate at Edinburgh this year seemed to morph into Fringe 2012 becoming the year of women and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the Are Women Funny? discussion once more reared its head, in parallel with Rape Gate. Some McChuckles, Mike Sheer, even sought to fuse the two in a bizarre comedic comparison – Women or Rape? Which is Funnier? I don’t need to go over old ground but this year female comedians were once again forced to defend their place not just at Edinburgh but in the wider comedy sphere. However, like the well-flogged rape joke horse, this year the debate took on a stronger presence. And it’s a presence which has carried on beyond the summer and beyond the Edinburgh bubble, to the point that this week the ever-brilliant Susan Calman took to her blog to respond to the sexist bullshit with a read which is magically to the point yet hilarious – proving that women can be funny and smash the patriarchy at the same time. Boo Ya.
And so, with the confirmed existence of female laugh-maker in mind I would like to take this opportunity to give the new yet soon to be highly esteemed Grateful Chorus accolade of ‘She’s The Shit’ to a female comedian I love. Amy Schumer makes me laugh. A lot. Ok so her material isn’t overly intellectual or “clever”. She doesn’t employ long thought out, complex comedic tools, and she isn’t really all that feminist in a lot of ways. But she’s honest. She’s honest and she’s unashamed of being herself, of being a woman, of loving sex and loving being on stage making people laugh. She uses her body and mannerisms and truths in ways which women just aren’t “supposed” to if they want to be considered “feminine” or “attractive”. She just doesn’t care and that for that I applaud her. One of my favourite clips shows her take on a heckler who mid-way through Amy telling a story about her sex life shouts “WELL YOU’D SLEEP WITH ANYONE”. She takes her time, she approaches him politely, feigning interest in her new “friend”, before standing him up and proclaiming: “THE FATTEST MOTHERF*CKER IN THE ROOM!”
Category Uncategorized | Tags:
Page 3 Girls and Kate Vs Harry Pics: Why does the media speak for “the public interest” when it comes to nudity?3
September 17, 2012 by abi
I’ve seen so much global media coverage of Britain this summer in Canada, it really feels like old Blighty has outdone itself with its world-wide PR campaign in 2012. Thanks Dave Cameron, your background in this industry really was put to good use; the British really seemed to love being British again. Or at least the international media has been conveying something to that effect, carefully sweeping that pesky economy aside for the time being. Raise your Pimms mate and just keep calm and carry on, it’s the summer of love for the Royal wedding-jubilee-Olympic-Wimbledon bonanza!! And with a typically farcical British flourish, like a fart just at the end of a good speech, the summer ended with a double Royal nudity scandal to offset a season of Union Jack-waving that the BNP really could be proud of. The immature sexuality of it all really was quite “Carry-On” amid so much furious red, white and blue razzle-dazzle.
Joking aside, there’s actually something interesting behind this so-called scandal. In the wake of this, there has been a lot of discussion over the media’s coverage of being British and attitudes to nudity. Identity and Bodies/Nationalism and Sexuality: it’s the stuff I go mad for in academia! So, I’ve followed with interest Lucy-Anne Holmes’ revitalized campaign to abolish Page-3 models that has seen a flurry of rehashed debates over media and pornography, and how Kate Middleton and Harry (what even IS his last name?) became the centre of a controversy over the media’s defence of “public interest” to see them in the buff.
Did you look at the naughty pictures? Did you furiously google “Harry naked” or “Kate’s tits” when you saw your social media device-of-choice go into overdrive? I did, and I am pretty ashamed that I allowed the media frenzy to invite me to partake. I atone, reader, by admitting my shame! But I do think it’s indicative of the kind of knee-jerk reaction we have to sensational news – give me pictures! Images feed some guise of reality, and make no mistake they are a powerful tool in the media’s construction and distortion of this reality. Yet upon looking at these pathetic grainy pictures, I felt a bit of a pervert and pretty embarrassed. This is pretty much the same way I imagine someone feels when I glance over their shoulder on the Underground when they are taking a good hard look at page 3. And he (its always a he), flustered, flips the page when he sees me looking at him. Quite.
What might be at odds in these stories is that the different bodies in question draw different debates regarding the same issue of exposure and media dissemination of celebrity nudity. Page 3 debates over pornography assume a different language because our large-breasted model wants to be the subject of attention, whereas the royals were caught off-guard and against their will by amateur and professional photographers. But look at the difference between how Harry and Kate’s scandals were reported. Harry is a total LAD and our amateur photographer must have been an invited guest and therefore the images are accepted into the media, even welcomed as we rejoice in his sordid revelry. No mention of the individual’s transgression of privacy here. Yet, Kate is the victim of the evil media machine (Princess Diana’s death being evoked always) and her modesty and virtue have been robbed. Even the PR boffins from The House of Windsor didn’t bother to start legal action on Harry’s misdemeanours, whereas Kate’s offenders are about to feel the full force of the HoW’s legal team. There is a long chain of people responsible and it’s hard to see just who to blame when the media in this case assumes so many faces, while equally absolving itself of responsibility when it claims the internet supersedes it (as a supplier of media).
The defence of the Italian media (then later The Sun) who first published Kate’s pictures is that it is “in the public interest” to see these images. So, who is this public and why does the media think they can speak for it? They are translating “the public” into “their readers” which is dangerous in a wider social context. This questions who has visual ownership over these bodies and who chooses who gets to see what. OfCom? No.
Following this, is it the exposed bodies that should take the blame, or the platform that publishes them? How much are we as consumers also complicit in this process? Can we do an “Oooohhh matron” and shrug it off as a bit of fun or does it effect society in a deeper way? Maybe David Cameron can revitalize his old tricks to pacify the ladies and ask Kate to “calm down dear”?
If it is the exposed individual’s fault then, well, it’s their problem for getting their [insert any number of the daily rags’ euphemisms for genitalia] out in the presence of a camera. Or is it our fault for creating a society where the paparazzi are desired – after all, we do buy these god-awful magazines in their droves.
I usually abhor the placement of blame in an argument, but I actually think people need to take responsibility in their role in the media here as producers and consumers. It’s all too easy to blame Harry and say that he shouldn’t have been having FUN with cameras around. And it’s easy to blame the media (that dark death-eater with no face who sucks out our souls) but we are complicit in these acts. We are the consumers of their product. By accessing their webpages and buying their papers we tacitly agree to this kind of behaviour.
This is why I have no interest in slagging off a page three model for her desire to bare her body to a newspaper; that is her choice. But I do have a problem with a platform that condones the objectification of a body to sell papers. Indeed, if this is entertainment as the paper supposes it to be, then this kind of “titillation” (sorry!) really proves how misogynistic The Sun’s readers are. I don’t suppose defenders of page 3 would be equally as happy to see a different cock featured in the Daily Mail’s Femail supplement every week? This would be equally offensive but somehow breasts (or even just women’s bodies) are at the acceptable limits of shared sexual property. This is not a debate about being prudish – I can assure those accusers (probably also Claire Short-haters) that most feminists choose to celebrate the female body (while being conscious of it as a site for violence and oppression) – but the consumption of a body devoid of identity for pleasure is offensive and demeaning. When I was an undergraduate in art history, it took me some time to finally understand that the nudes painted by old masters were actually real bodies part the museum’s ruse to present “pure art”, masking repeated offenses of objectification. Neither is there a far leap to bodies advertised in women’s fashion and the beauty industry, were the same kind of distorted visual consumption occurs. These are just “page 3” girls with clothes on and heavily air-brushed, still prancing around celebrating beauty over brains. A Page 3 model’s pose or expression might seem to invite consumption, but that doesn’t make it ok, and neither does a magazine’s invitation to gawk at someone’s body because they tell you it’s ok.
Kate Middleton is clearly not in favour of her nudity being freely distributed across the media. And why should this even be a subject for controversy? If ANY individual had a picture of them nude, taken against their will and published, surely this is illegal for a) perverse behaviour for “peeping” and b) for publishing this image against her will? I would welcome anyone who has read more about the French laws (presumably the photographer in question would be tried in France? Or the publisher in Italy?) to explain how this works.
The ethics of the paparazzi have always been been as wobbly as a blancmange, but the recent photos of both Harry and Kate certainly ignite an interesting debate over publishing something that is supposedly “in the public interest” to see. Harry’s and Kate’s photos aren’t really that perverse – they are PG13 compared to what some people put on facebook from Friday-night antics down the pub, but they too are undoubtedly taken without permission and issued according to assuming some fabricated right to speak for others’ interests. We need to question what this means, and not let a shady Murdoch-type or whoever speak for what we want as part of our visual culture. I’m not sure how we can stop ourselves being complicit in these kinds of scandals; not buying the mags and papers is a good place to start, but we still use the internet freely to circumvent this and thus we become consumers too. I did in this case, but I hope next time I will stop and think a little harder at what I am doing before I reach for the search tab.
Category Uncategorized | Tags:
August 18, 2012 by James
Some of the stuff I’ve read on The Good Men Project has been daft or downright offensive. This guy called Hugo resigned for a reason. The tone is often one of blokey and bumbling efforts to do the right thing that go horribly wrong, and as for the comments, well…
However, this is more interesting. It’s a draft of Chapter One of a book called “What about the men?” by Noah Brand and Ozy Frantz. The title refers to the shorthand for what to say to the kind of men who pop up in discussions about domestic violence or gender inequality to claim it’s all just as bad or worse on their side of the line.
Brand and Frantz’s arguments are certainly not that, although you have to get past the weak first four paragraphs to find that out (“OMG have you noticed that all the gender studies books are about women?”). In general they manage to combine a decent understanding of the downsides of hegemonic masculinity for men with a recognition that those downsides remain far worse for women. That sense of proportionality does waver occasionally, but their intentions appear sound.
Their attitude to Men’s Rights Activists is clear, too. They “accomplish nothing but surly misogyny and occasional outbreaks of violence. The authors of this book spent quite some time attempting to find MRAs who could be engaged in a constructive manner, but eventually gave up.” No surprise there.
Accepting a feminist theoretical toolset is also a promising approach, although the way they seek to apply those tools to problems men face does sound as though it might risk marginalising the problems they were designed to tackle. Or at least that others might misuse them in that way.
However, the strongest part of the piece is a simple set of contrasts: sexist stereotypes about men paired with the equivalent sexist stereotype about women.
- Men who put on makeup are gay… women who don’t put on makeup are dykes.
- Women are all gold-diggers… men are only valuable for their success and money.
- Women are only valuable for their looks… men are all shallow.
Every single one of those paired stereotypes has negative effects, even the ones that look like they’re valuing men or women in some way. They can’t be separated, either. As the authors point out, if you tackle one half alone, “it will only mutate into a new sexist form. For instance, “the second shift” is when women who work outside the home come home and still do a disproportionate amount of the chores.”
There’s a series of difficult areas in here. I certainly wouldn’t agree that it’s always the case that “Men, not women, need to be the ones creating the spaces to discuss men’s issues“, not least because I hope there are spaces where the relationship between the two can be discussed without men of a certain sort forgetting about their backpacks and jumping all over it. Spaces where women and men consider gender issues together. I hope this will be one of them. But yes, not every space should be of that sort: there are plenty of discussions online where I will just read and not wade in, and plenty of discussions in real life where men cannot and should not take part. And there are some strong arguments against here too.
However, as you would expect, I have some sympathy with the Brand/Frantz view that “traditional assigned gender roles are unfair and awful for everyone“, despite the implication of a parity of awfulness. Clearly life would be better if no-one felt social pressure to pick from just one outdated and stereotyped role or the other, not that I wish to disparage any activity traditionally assigned to one gender or the other (apart from the oppressive ones).
The patriarchy is an unhappy place to live for every man who looks at the current setup and wishes it was radically equal – although there will be many for whom it’s still good to be the king (silly YouTube link). Their arguments may be flawed in places, but it’s still a broadly positive contribution to the debate. Let’s see where the rest of the book goes.
Category Reviews | Tags:
August 16, 2012 by Emma
For the UK, hosting the London 2012 has been a great collective unifier. It’s as if a nation rather too fond of self-deprecation, pessimism and sardonic self-criticism has awoken to the shocking discovery that it is, actually… surprisingly… competent. Cynicism no longer defines the collective mood.
But beyond the feeling that ‘Great’ has, for the last two weeks at least, been an appropriate appendage to Britain, these Games have had, for me, a broader and more exciting significance. These Games have been Great for women.
London 2012 is the first Olympic Games in which women can compete in every sport. And, after a protracted battle, the decision at the eleventh hour by Saudi Arabia to send a mixed team meant that for the first time all 204 competing nations were represented by both male and female athletes.
The celebration of women’s achievement, sporting or not, has been a theme from the first moments of these Games. In the UK, the BBC chose to prefix their coverage of the opening ceremony with a short documentary on the impact of feminism on sport and the role of the Olympic Games in advancing gender equality. Given the captive audience of millions this was a welcome editorial decision, and a rare one.
The opening ceremony itself, baffling I’m sure to the international community but overwhelming loved by the British public, was not only an eclectic, dazzling visual parade, but a remarkably nuanced and considered celebration of Britain past and present, including its vital contribution to first-wave feminism. That Danny Boyle chose to feature fifty Suffragettes so prominently was a decision that was met with a standing ovation and sustained cheers from those around me in the park where I was watching (ok, I was in East London, but let’s not diminish this…).
We hear so often that young people are dismissive of feminism; but I stood with several thousand people of all ages and nationalities who had risen to their feet in recognition of the enormous achievements of women who, with their fellow Suffragettes across the world, took the biggest and arguably most fundamental step in advancing women’s rights in modern history. This was a celebration of feminism, and our blog’s namesake, in the mainstream, on primetime, on the world stage – what’s not to stand up about!
The theme was repeated throughout the ceremony: the use of a young female footballer to hold the torch for the penultimate leg of its journey to the stadium; a glimpse of Brookside’s groundbreaking lesbian kiss from 1993; the selection of Leymah Gbowee, who led a women’s peace movement credited with ending the second Liberian Civil War, as one of (several female) Olympic flag bearers; and the celebration of the NHS – an institution so important for women in a world where safe childbirth is still not a guaranteed.
The cheers and sustained applause won by the Suffragettes were repeated when Jacques Rogge, head of the International Olympic Committee, declared the Games “a major boost for gender equality”. And the park rose to its feet again to applaud when the first female athletes from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei entered the stadium. The modern Olympic movement has been slow to embrace women’s rights, but London made clear that gender should not, and does not, matter in sporting competition.
For Team GB, this was certainly the Games for girls. A pair of female rowers, Helen Glover and Heather Stanning, took Britain’s first gold; the multiple record breakers in the Velodrome were Laura Trott, Dani King and Jo Rowsell; and the debut of women’s boxing sparked a gold medal win for Nicola Adams, whose infectious enthusiasm certainly laid to rest any notion that punching someone for sport is ‘not for girls’.
The sense of excitement about female athletes was epitomised by the public’s infatuation with Jessica Ennis – it was in her that that we saw the zeitgeist. Chosen by LOCOG as the face of the Games, she defied overwhelming pressure and with awe inspiring strength, endurance and beauty pushed her body to its limit to win gold. Her grace, both in character and athleticism, showed that the value in women’s sport is not just about more competitors, but about seeing a different kind of competition. Equality has never meant ‘the same’, and the triumph of the Team GB women was for winning because of their gender, not in spite of it.
But beyond the thrill of so many gold medals and so many more female athletes than ever before, is a growing excitement that we may be entering a new post-Kardashian world where women’s bodies are admired athletically, not aesthetically, and where role models are made by hard work, not reality TV shows. Despite much exposed flesh and the prevalence of lycra, the Olympic fortnight was dominated by images of the female form celebrated for its power, tenacity and ability to win gold, rather than objectified and degraded for its ability to win (often a man’s) approval. Lean not thin, muscular not frail, female athletes gave women the chance to celebrate their bodies not berate them.
Yet in spite of the USA sending more women than men to compete for the first time, packed stadiums for women’s football and a standing ovation for Sarah Attar, the Saudi Arabian 800m runner, the picture is not all rosy.
Before the athletes even arrived the sexism that remains at the heart of many sports was exposing itself in the clearest terms. Both Japan and Australia saw fit to fly their male athletes business class, but did not feel it appropriate to extend the favour to their female teammates. Perhaps they felt it only fair to reflect the fact that men’s sport attracts 95 per cent of all media coverage and receives over 90% of all commercial sponsorship….
That Lizzie Armistead chose to use the media time she had immediately following her silver medal win (sweat pouring, still catching her breath) to berate the ‘overwhelming sexism’ in sport, shows quite how deeply this problem lies. This is not an issue that only comes to mind in quiet moments after considerable pondering – it is at the heart of female athlete’s existence and is not dispelled by the heat of competition.
Perhaps we should be glad that, unlike their Saudi Arabian counterparts, Team GB athletes didn’t earn the hashtag “#prostituteoftheolmpics”, but then it wasn’t just Saudi Arabia that was sexualising female athletes.
For the American gymnast, Gabby Douglas, the fact that she made history as the first African-American to win the All-Round Olympic title wasn’t the important story. What really mattered, obviously, was her hair. The precise nature of the way she kept it off her face was, of course, greatly more interesting than the fact that she appeared to defy gravity. So important in fact that rather than celebrating her achievements, Gabby Douglas was rewarded on her return home with a celebrity hair makeover. Presumably because she’s worth it.
And for British weightlifter Zoe Smith, a record breaking lift of 121kg wasn’t an awe inspiring achievement deserved of praise. No, it was the opportunity for anachronistic imbeciles to mercilessly taunt her on Twitter and other social media about the effects of all this ‘manly’ lifting on her figure. Attacking her for being ‘a bloke’, the essence of the tumult was that her sport reduced her femininity and made her ‘ugly’ – because the whole point of her competing was, naturally, to win men’s approval of her shape.
There is a silver lining (perhaps) in her spirited rebuke. Writing on her blog she said: “We don’t lift weights in order to look hot, especially for the likes of men like that…..This may be shocking to you, but we actually would rather be attractive to people who aren’t closed-minded and ignorant….We, as any women with an ounce of self-confidence would, prefer our men to be confident enough in themselves to not feel emasculated by the fact that we aren’t weak and feeble.” Quite. But in a world where Victoria Pendleton has found more fame selling shampoo and posing for GQ than for winning successive gold medals, that silver lining seems fragile.
So yes, these may have been branded the Games for girls, the gender equality Olympics. But we have only come so far. Not only do female athletes receive less pay, less media coverage, less recognition, but they can compete in fewer events, against fewer competitors. In this context, it is perhaps even more admirable that they performed at the level and in the manner they did.
Category Uncategorized | Tags:
August 4, 2012 by Grace
Sexual harassment in the street is not something that I had ever really considered in my life, having grown up in London and spending most of my adult life in Edinburgh. I have certainly been annoyed and irritated by comments made to me as a young woman, in the knowledge that such comments would not have been made were I not a young woman. However I have never felt threatened by male behaviour, not until I moved to Brussels last September.
Within a few months of living in the city of frites, waffles and urinating statues, I had:
- been followed by a man getting off a bus at the same stop as me, having accidentally caught his eye,
- seen a man masturbating in a public park on a bright and sunny Sunday morning,
- been inappropriately touched in the metro by a man selling a newspaper,
- received countless hisses, whistles, clicks, and a number of other sounds which are only really appropriate for training a dog,
- been aggressively chatted up by several different men who adopt the tactic of joining you wherever you are walking to.
I like to look around me when walking about the city I live in. I like to look up at buildings, to peer into shops and to look into the eyes of people as I walk past them, all in an open, curious and confident manner, which I consider to be pretty normal. However since moving to Brussels I find myself looking down, bowing my head, averting my gaze from others, as I go about my daily business, and when taking public transport. This does have its benefits, as being ‘on the continent’ there is the considerable problem of dog poo punctuating every other paving stone, but this is a small benefit, for what makes me feel as though I must shut down from the world in order to navigate my way through it.
The issue of street harassment is now at the forefront of Belgian consciousness and debate with the news this week that Brussels is to introduce fines for sexual intimidation in the streets. This follows from a documentary, by filmmaker Sofie Peeters, who like myself and many other women in Brussels, was overwhelmed by the threatening behaviour of men towards women in public spaces of the city. You can see her film “Femme de la Rue” here. It is in a mixture of Dutch, French and English, but even without speaking Dutch or French it is worthwhile seeing for the persistent, aggressive and intimidating behaviour captured on film.
I was first made aware of this film through Hollaback Brussels, which is a group of women and a few men, formed in September 2011 by four women who met at the SlutWalk Brussels event last August. I first met with them a couple of months ago and found an inclusive, supportive organisation which aims to empower women to not feel like victims in the street, as well as to raise awareness across the city that harassment happens, and that it must not be tolerated. Their website is tri-lingual, and shares stories and experiences of harassment, as well as offering advice and further support and information about Hollaback actions and events.
Last month I went on Hollaback’s first chalk-walk. A group of around twelve of us met early one evening at a location in the city centre particularly known for harassment. We carried banners, signs and big sticks of chalk and began to write on the pavement at spots where we as individuals had particularly encountered intimidation. It felt great to be part of a group of people taking a stand against feeling victimised, and yet some of the reactions that we got were particularly unsettling. I spoke to a man who was a teacher who told me that women liked attention and that when a woman wears particularly clothing she wants to be noticed. Time and time again we spoke to men who did not know the difference between an appropriate compliment and intimidation.
In an interview at around minute 10 of Sofie Peeter’s film, in French, we see a man talk openly about why he hassles women in the street. He describes man’s sexual frustration, man’s inability to talk to the women in his area, and a proliferation of naked women in advertising. He says there is liberation, but a woman will remain the object of desire in the eyes of man. The film goes on to hear women describe being called whores, sluts and bitches, as well as the sex acts that men would like to do to them in vulgar terms.
As the movement grows, so does the public debate, and the backlash against such debate with the fundamentalist group Sharia4Belgium launching an attack on the film and film maker. The movement is growing worldwide, and while it is not simply an issue for Belgium, personally I have found Brussels to be most threatening out of any city that I have lived in.
The news that legislation will be introduced to issue fines to those that harass is certainly excellent, but we also need to keep the debate open about why it is such a problem in Brussels in the first place. Similar issues come about which came out of the Slutwalk movement last year – woman as object, woman as temptation for man, and woman asking for negative and violent attention simply by fact of being a woman. This centres on the notion that it is women who have the problem, and not men. It is women who change their clothing, their routes home from work, their behaviour; we need to put the focus on the men who harass as it is they who truly have the problem. Lambeth Council in London had a great campaign a while ago targeting men, with slogans such as “Flirt/Harass: real men know the difference”. Threatening sexual behaviour must not belong in any society; it does not make for a safe environment for all, let alone an equal one.
Category Uncategorized | Tags:
August 2, 2012 by abi
Upon thinking about what to write my inaugural post for our lovely new blog, I figured, being a insipid academic, I wanted to think a little critically and reflexively about what can be achieved in a collective blog and think about why Feminism (with a capital F) is still an important term in critical thought and how feminism (with a little f) remains an awkward term in common parlance. I found an example of another feminist blog that perhaps might help think around the idea.
Starting from the premise that Feminism (big F) for me, might be the whole subject of the identifications of bodies under a pointed theoretical discussion; i.e. it encapsulates the issue of Feminism as an open-ended but self-critical debate into what identity is, does, and means, and how it is relevant and imperative to improving our societies today. By taking into account how our socially constructed understandings of sex, gender, age, sexuality, race, class and mobility affects our choices in the world, and those choices made for us by others, we can think more critically about just what it is that “bodies” mean. Feminism is not a term confined to the academic community by any means, but the academy is an important place (at least is in most liberal higher education systems) where it can research alongside most other methodologies and approaches and receive just attention (and funding!) to flex its intellectual muscles in the social sciences and humanities.
feminism (little f) might be how we use and talk about our bodies in everyday life. feminism might mean collective communities of like-minded thinkers and activists and more practical approaches to the world according to our everyday experiences. In this sense, it is the practical feminism that is spoken of out of the academy. Therefore, it is almost certainly more important than its capitalized counterpoint, as it percolates into a wider social consciousness to affect attitudes and promote change. The hierarchy of the terms is not so important, but rather that they both serve a place in every facet of social thought, i.e. high and low brow, if you will. Can you read my defensive tone? It’s pretty indicative of how many times I have to explain to strangers why my government-funded feminist PhD is “useful” to tax-payers…
So where do blogs fit into this long-winded examination of big and little letters? And how do blogs identify as feminist? Blogs justifiably have a bit of a narcissistic rep, so I’m very pleased that as a collective blog our mission statements, though each written individually, still reflect the shared desire for a forum for feminists to share ideas and opinions that may or may not be compatible but will be respected. Rather than a place to simply complain about “the patriarchy” and share our own personal anti-feminist experiences (a common but unfair view of feminist discussion spaces) there seems a stronger desire among young feminists today to want to relate to their feminist counterparts around the globe (men and women and bodies who identify as either and neither), with the important caveat that we all approach Feminism and feminism in different ways and with different experiences. To my mind, Feminism must not have one singular meaning, value, style or label to offers it advocates; rather, it must embrace the variety of voices that it contains and should offers a discursive platform for collective engagement and a safe (i.e. respectful) space to think around the problems that it needs to solve as much as the problems it creates.
One of the stumbling points in setting up our blog, was to agree on whether we could really be a global feminist blog. Some members felt this was our clear bias of the (Western) world, and others wanted it to be affirming and communal for women anywhere. But this debate is indicative of feminism and Feminism anywhere and an important one to continue to have. Finding similarities in experiences is affirming and affective, but appreciating difference in its many guises and formations reminds us that our brand of F/feminisms (particularly in the West’s attitude to non-West F/feminisms) are products of our complex social and cultural context. We might all share the same goals – equality, end to violence against women, less social pressure to conform to oppressive models of femininity etc – but we will all have different ideas about how to get there; and it is this creativity and flexibility of multiple approaches that makes us pretty damn strong as a feminist community. Yet, for all there is to celebrate about the resurgence in feminism more recently (Feminism in academia has managed to mostly stay afloat since the 1980s), there are still anxieties about feminism as an umbrella term, or as a term at all, to describe folk who promote the debate and discussion over bodies. So, why are we scared of calling ourselves feminists?
I found a website that seems to sit at the intersection of the Big F and Little F feminist debate, as it’s a site that describes itself as “a collaborative venture bringing together the voices of GenX women in higher education from around the globe”.
Calling itself the University of Venus (link below), the website in principle has a lot going for it. It claims to want to be a forum for women in higher education, where they have guest bloggers from various disciplines talk about women-issues in their fields and the problems in the academy from a female perspective. Sounds good so far. Even if I don’t really like the name – it brings to mind pink razors and pubic-hairless Renaissance nudes – the premise seems sound. I applaud the idea of a forum for women in academia. It’s a tough industry; one that LadyProfs (and LadyProfs-to-be such as myself) are still wrestling from the hands of patriarchally-minded institutions (I don’t have stats for this, but in my experience of four universities, most senior administrators are male). Women don’t have it easy in senior positions in universities and as many have told me; it’s not easy making sure your intellect is privileged over your image. Despite academia’s self back-patting on its lefty-thinking, women are still in the minority in many fields, particularly in the sciences. (see Rowena’s great comment below about what the EU numpty-boffins would have us all think about LadyProfs in science and this link is interesting too http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/blog/2012/may/24/why-women-leave-academia).
So, the UofV website seems timely and necessary. However, I was a bit perturbed to find this following mission statement for their twitter discussions:
“While we seek to provide a female-centered perspective, we don’t necessarily define our work or our positions as feminist. #femlead (their twitter discussion hashtag) will be a welcoming space for multiple points of view from women and men all around the globe”
(The above quotes are from a website called the University of Venus at www.uvenus.org You can read the full page here
Now, “a feminine-centred…welcoming space for multiple points of view” sounds like feminism and Feminism to me. So, why the fear of using the term here? It seems, for the creators of the website, the term is uncomfortable and potentially exclusive for its readers. It seems to hark back to a very tiresome argument about stereotypes of feminists from the 1970s (which by the way kills me when women today have so much to be thankful for from those extraordinary ladies. We don’t criticize Martin Luther King for his facial hair or his heterosexuality. No, he was too busy leading the civil rights movement, so let’s leave alone the arm-pit hair /lesbian comments please!).
I’m curious if what UofV are implying is that women working in the academy fear being labelled a feminist as part of their personal and professional identity. It’s certainly one thing to claim a Feminist methodology in the academy and nail your flag to that door (which I most certainly do), but why the hesitation to claim feminism for oneself as a woman working in a community that is based on liberal thought? And why can’t we see glossy magazine aimed at young women using the term feminism? Are they not, like UofV also coming from a feminine-centred perspective? It seems feminism still has a narrow reputation, so this is exactly what I would like to see our blog tackle – multiple kinds of feminism and multiple approaches to the term – all are valid, open for discussion, and should be, respected for their opinion. If you start from the premise that the identifications of bodies is open for discussion, I’d say that makes you a feminist. If you are interested in issues of how humans treat each other, I’d say you can’t escape feminism because it covers everything from behavior, to governance, to media and so on. It doesn’t put you in a box, it doesn’t make you hateful or angry or change your hair – in fact quite the contrary, feminism makes for a more accepting and understanding humanity. And it makes us think twice about how some things we take for granted, like little pink razors (I am NOT your sodding “Venus”, Gillette), necessitate a little more thought.
If you reduce feminism to a single thing, you reduce its potential for inclusivity. The fact is, most people agree with equality (in all its nuances) and this should make us all less afraid to call ourselves feminists. It’s not an exclusive gang – no tattoos, photo-ID, or vagina required – just a willingness to discuss differences and bodies and how those ideas shape society. Or at least, that’s my version of F/feminism. Of course, if you join the f-club, you are positively welcomed to disagree, and I would encourage you to do so. So, I proudly call our blog feminist and I look forward to seeing the different kinds of feminism both from the bloggers and from some readers.
Category Uncategorized | Tags:
July 26, 2012 by Danielle
While we generally are a blog created to discuss issues surrounding feminism, gender, equality, etc. I also want to use this space to signal boost amazing women in my life and this world. The media loves to portray women as catty, vindictive and incapable of having deep, true friendships or of celebrating the success and beauty of other women. I say bollocks to that! Women are fucking amazing and I know a lot of them that deserve to have their praises shouted out.
So, for the first installment of ‘She’s the Shit’ I want use the start of the Olympics to highlight one athlete that I will be closely following – Claressa Shields, also known as T-Rex.
This is the first time women’s boxing will be included in the Olympics and, at age 17, Claressa will be the youngest athlete in the competition. She is also from Flint, Michigan, a city struggling against the down-turn of the auto industry. I grew up about a 30 minute drive from Flint (also the hometown of film maker Michael Moore), so I’m rooting for Claressa as a home town girl as well as for just being a bad ass in general.
A couple weeks ago I sat riveted watching Serena Williams win her 5th singles Wimbledon title and, with her sister Venus, winning her 5th doubles title as well. That those two women (born in Saginaw, Michigan!) who grew up in the streets of Compton can reach such heights is inspiring to me as a woman and as a wanna-be athlete. Their prowess, dedication and power is unmatchable – the commentators at Wimbledon were discussing Serena’s comment that on every first serve she tries for an ace, and how they had never heard another tennis player say something so bold. And she proved it when she won an entire game on four straight aces.
I love watching Serena play; as a woman I find her enthralling, exciting and someone that I simultaneously look up to and take pride in. She’s one of ours. I expect T-Rex to follow in Queen Serena’s (yes, I actually call her that) footsteps. The brief commentary that she gives in the trailer speaks to a drive and fearlessness found in champions: “When I get in the ring I just feel it’s my time. That’s when all the truth comes out; did you really work when you said you was working? Did you quit on the bag? Did you stop jump roping because your leg was hurting? When you get in the ring and actually have to fight, everything shows up.” I grew up dancing and performing, but I never thought of my performances in that way, that they were capable of upturning any lie I told to others or myself about how hard I was working (that’s also probably why I’m not a professional dancer or competing on So You Think You Can Dance).
Claressa, you’re the shit, now go win some GOLD!
Category Uncategorized | Tags: