It’s that time of year again, when all good feminists stop, take stock and ask themselves not “what have feminists achieved over the past year?” but “how many ways have other feminists fucked up?” It’s an important part of feminist praxis, perhaps the most important part: being self-critical in some vague, global sense in order to make yourself (in the specific sense of the word) look good and other women look bad. Obviously I’d hate to miss out on this so I’ve compiled my own list on what “we” (as in “you”) have got wrong in 2014.

The errors are extensive, so extensive only someone of vastly superior moral standing would be able to spot them. Thankfully, I’m one such person. Read it, fellow feminists, and feel duly ashamed.

Feminism in 2014: Where did it all go wrong? (more…)

There are times in your life that you find yourself going back over, again and again. For me the years 1987 to 1996 have a particular resonance. Filed away somewhere is the sense that then, and only then, I was really me. I know it’s not true – I was a dull person, a thin shadow who thought only of food and cold – but I still feel that I came closest to owning myself. Never close enough, of course, but what more can a woman expect?

I’ve just finished reading Elaine Showalter’s The Female Malady. It’s a brilliant book but one that I’ve found incredibly triggering (and “triggering” isn’t a word I often use). It has set off a lot of memories for me, and a lot of resentments that usually bubble under the surface of my fleshy, ageing exterior. It’s a book about women as people – real people with real inner lives – and it surprises me how rare that is. It’s about women trying to make themselves heard and then watching it veer off course, again and again. At the risk of sounding self-obsessed (and this is a self-obsessed post) I can identify with that. It reminds me of my own experiences as an anorexia patient and the scars that haven’t gone away. (more…)

Why do women wear high heels? It’s a question men can ask but feminists can’t. When men ask it they’re being light-hearted and humorous, expressing jovial bafflement at the strange ways of womankind. When feminists ask it they’re being judgemental bullies, dismissing the choice and agency of their Louboutin-loving sisters. So it is that Ally Fogg can get away with writing a piece for the Guardian on why he, Fogg, does not like women wearing heels (I defy any woman to do this without being considered a raging femmephobe – just ask Charlotte Raven).

In said piece, Fogg tells the story of a female friend – a kind of Everywoman in stilettoes – “grumbling about the blisters and bruises being caused by her latest proud purchase”:

I muttered something about taking more care when trying things on in the shop and she looked at me as if I had started speaking fluent Martian. “I’d never not buy a nice pair of shoes just because they didn’t fit!” she exclaimed, then we sat gawping at each other while silent mutual incomprehension calcified the air.

It’s a real Mars and Venus moment, suggesting that when it comes to shoes women are a bit, well, irrational (bless ‘em). Fogg later comments that he is “more attracted to a woman who looks like she can drink me under the table then carry me home, making a sturdy pair of DMs just the ticket”

I live in hope that one day the human race will view high heels with the same horror with which we view foot-binding. Women would be spared innumerable podiatric agonies and men would, I think, just about cope. Until then I shall content myself with the knowledge that I’m right and the rest of the human race is a bit daft.

I can see the good intent here. No one wants women to have ruined feet (unless it’s feminists who are making that point, in which case ruined feet become empowering). But “a bit daft”? Really? Femininity, and the way in which it shapes women’s supposed free choices, is a little more complex than that. (more…)

Update to this post – John Lewis have tweeted this:

So it looks like we may not be at that stage just yet …
***

2014-12-09 22_59_36-Buy John Lewis Girl Vintage Floral Bras, Pack of 2, Multi _ John Lewis

John Lewis are selling Vintage Floral bras at £8 for two. It sounds a total bargain, right? Unfortunately they don’t have any in my size. It’s not the usual hassle, where all the nice ranges stop at a C cup. In this case, the problem is age. I’m 39 and this particular range only goes from ages 2 to 5.

I find the whole thing incredibly depressing, and not just due to the obviously creepy aspect of it (who buys a bra for their toddler? And why?). I’m saddened because it cuts into that brief time when girls have bodies that are just bodies and starts to tell them, ever so subtly, what their true value will be. To be treated like a person with breasts is bad enough; to be treated as such long before you’ve even got there is worse.

Feminists have long identified the onset of puberty (the time when you’d usually get your first bra) as a particular flashpoint for girls. Suddenly you’re no longer “a child” – a mini human – but someone whose humanity will always be in question. This shift from unisex person to female object can happen quickly, and cause a great deal of distress (even for girls for whom the onset of menstruation doesn’t mean forced marriage and/or withdrawal from formal education). Growing breasts means becoming fair game, someone who is believed to have put herself on the market simply by existing. You might have no choice in the matter, but still you will be held accountable for the responses your body provokes. (more…)

Last weekend I engaged in two rather different cultural pursuits: I started reading Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl and I took my children to see the film Paddington. Now, I say they were different (certainly I enjoyed one a lot more than the other), but there were some similarities nonetheless. The challenge to the gendered status quo, for instance. On that point, Paddington and Serano are as one. Yes, I know that might sound weird, but you’ll just have to bear with me.

Whipping Girl is one of those books that you’ve read before you’ve actually read it, at least if you’ve spent any time on feminist twitter. For me it was a bit like Harry Potter: I kept hearing the same things about it until I started to feel sure people were misrepresenting – there had to be more to it than bloody Hogwarts – but no. It is what it is. Serano genuinely claims that “while it is generally considered to be offensive or prejudiced to openly discriminate against someone for being female, discriminating against someone’s femininity is still considered fair game”.* She also talks about feminists “buy[ing] into traditionally sexist notions about femininity—that it is artificial, contrived, and frivolous; that it is a ruse that only serves the purpose of attracting and appeasing the desires of men”. She writes about “empowering” femininity.*** She also claims to know that “certain aspects of femininity (as well as masculinity) are natural and can both precede socialization and supersede biological sex”.**** It’s actually really disappointing. I did hope for at least some glimmer of insight, or perhaps a bit less misogyny (but what would I know? I’m too busy making the world sexist simply by pointing out that sexism exists). (more…)

In The Female Malady Elaine Showalter describes the work of Dr Isaac Baker Brown, a nineteenth-century doctor who promoted clitoridectomy as a cure for female insanity:

Brown was a member of the Obstetrical Society of London who became convinced that madness was caused by masturbation and that surgical removal of the clitoris, by helping women to govern themselves, could halt a disease that would otherwise proceed inexorably from hysteria to spinal irritation and thence to idiocy, mania, and death.

Seeing this through twenty-first century eyes, it appears obvious this treatment had little to do with women’s welfare; it was about male dominance, horror of female sexuality and the enforcement of “femininity”, as defined by men. Showalter notes that many of Brown’s patients “seem to have been especially sensitive to the hypocrisy and repressiveness of Victorian social codes”; they were non-compliant women who were forced, through surgical brutality, to comply:

Clitoridectomy is the surgical enforcement of an ideology that restricts female sexuality to reproduction. The removal of the clitoris eliminates the woman’s sexual pleasure, and it is indeed this autonomous sexual pleasure that Brown defined as the symptom, perhaps the essence, of female insanity. Many of his successful case studies ended with the woman’s pregnancy.

Female sexuality is reduced to reproduction – and, clearly, to the providing of male pleasure. Better a woman never orgasms at all than that she should orgasm without anyone watching. (more…)

According to a report in The Independent, “nappies could have parenting advice printed on them to encourage mothers and fathers to talk to their babies more often”. The proposal, raised by government-partnered The Behavioural Insights Team (see website – I’m sure they’re regular nappy-changers, one and all), is aimed at “nudging” (aka patronising) people into adopting better lifestyle choices. I have to say, I’m not convinced.

I understand the importance of parents talking to their babies. I understand, too, that the benefits of this aren’t always immediately obvious. You can spend hours chatting away to your child without the foggiest idea of whether anything’s sinking in (unless we’re talking about swear words and criticisms of family members – they’ll definitely remember those). It is good, to a certain extent, to be reminded that one’s hapless babbling is not in vain. Nonetheless, I have some serious misgivings about this overall plan. (more…)

One week in November.

This is a normal week. It’s not Rape Week or the annual Festival for the Promotion of Sexual Assault. It’s just seven days in a world where we’re basically okay with women being raped. (more…)

It’s International Men’s Day! A day upon which we recognise that not only does masculinity make life crap for women and girls – it tends to fuck things up for men and boys too! What a swizz! Best get busy dismantling the whole damn edifice.

Only joking. Of course, nobody’s really going to challenge male supremacy on behalf of men. What kind of madcap idea would that be? God forbid. Let’s just keep on polishing the same old turd. It can’t make things any worse, right?

We know the facts: men are by far the most likely to commit violent crime and the victims are themselves most likely to be men. We know that men are more likely than women to commit suicide. We know that there’s plenty to do with being a man that is, quite frankly, a bit shit. But when it comes to achieving gender equality, who do we focus on changing? Women. Because, despite the obvious opportunities for self-analysis and change, it seems the dominant class isn’t the problem; it’s the subjugated class for letting themselves be so, well, subjugated. (more…)

2014-11-16 12_44_53-transawarebristol - Twitter Search

Hey, check out this poster from #transawarebristol! Isn’t it inclusive? Isn’t it liberating? Doesn’t it say everything you’d want it to say? No more shall bigoted females take it upon themselves to have opinions about who should share enclosed spaces with them; after all, it’s not up to them! Fuck them and their irrational, hysterical little phobias! Only some people are allowed to feel threatened, or to have an idea about what womanhood means, and it sure as hell isn’t them. Other people know best.

I’ll be honest: I am struggling to see how this type of “don’t worry your pretty little head about this, proto-bigot” approach to gender liberation is of use to anyone. Women don’t worry about personal safety for the fun of it, nor do they seek to set their own boundaries just because they’re stupid and mean. They have fears relating to male bodies that are real and valid, and a sense of self that is as authentic as anyone else’s. Telling them “well, you shouldn’t – other people’s feelings come first” is just misogyny 101. (more…)

Earlier this week Suzanne Moore wrote a piece for the Guardian criticising what she called “selfie feminism” – a feminism in which consciousness raising has collapsed into endless self-regard and self-flagellation: “Regrets, disordered eating, feeling deeply unlovable. There may be a sisterhood, but it’s too often a fake intimacy, a self-reinforcing victimhood.” It’s a feminism I recognise in myself.

I choose, sometimes, to write about my life, my experiences, my fears. Partly it’s because I am a bit self-obsessed and partly it’s a way of putting things in context, but on top of that, it’s because I feel an immense pressure to offer up lived experience to prove that my opinions are valid. I don’t think men experience the same pressures (yet another reason why being a woman is a bit shit).

Moore points out that “women are always giving away too much information”. I think this is true, but then women are also assumed, by default, to have no inner lives. We exist to define men. Is it any wonder that we feel driven to keep spewing out more and more of the stuff that could remain deep inside us? Look! I feel this! And this! And this! Now do you believe I have feelings? Unfortunately it rarely works. “Lived experience” is most powerful when it means “something that someone male could experience” or “something that someone male would want someone female to experience”. Your insides are only good for reinforcing your status as a surface-only being. Should your feelings coincide with what you’re meant to feel, then good for you, but don’t kid yourself that anyone really cares. Authenticity isn’t what people are after; they just want evidence that you “fit”. (more…)

Time magazine is running a poll on words that should be banned in 2015, of which one of those proposed is “feminist”. I think we can all get behind that. Who wouldn’t be bored of feminism by now? It’s been going on for ages – for at least as long as women realised a) that they were people, too, and b) that men were behaving like shits.

So yes, I am tired of this whole feminism thing. Apart from anything else, it’s so bloody repetitive. Always the same thing, year in, year out. When will it ever end? I’m bored of being a feminist. Aren’t you? (more…)

According to the online commissioning briefs of CBBC, the channel is “for everyone, everywhere”. Still, let’s not get carried away. The whole thing might sound diverse but apparently “children haven’t changed as much as we might think: girls are still girls and boys are still boys”. But what does that even mean?

If you’re hoping that “Our Guide to the CBBC Audience” might offer further details, you’re out of luck. That webpage is now blank, following complaints about sexist stereotyping earlier this year. Back then anyone hoping to pitch to CBBC would be informed that male viewers were “task focused” while female ones were “emotionally focused”:

Girls are more socially adept and motivated than boys. They will chat enthusiastically, try to support the people they care about and form profound friendships and relationships and develop an interest in boys from age 10. […] [Boys] enjoy achieving goals and completing physical challenges. There is a focus on doing, confrontation and physical strength, and for many their football team is a top priority. […] They often think girls of their age are annoying but like to talk about their body parts and sex.

Interesting, right? And handy, not just if you’re penning the latest white male hero plus ethnic minority male sidekick plus equal-but-not female helper cartoon series (hello, Mike the fucking Knight!). It’s almost as though CBBC commissioners were planning ahead, for a future in which today’s young girls end up passive, patient carers for today’s young boys, who will be out there having their own adventures and not giving a shit about anyone (because hey, supporting people you care about is girls’ stuff!). It’s such a shame that Mumsnet feminists caught wind of all this and forced them to cover their tracks! (more…)

I’ve been doing God a lot recently.

The reason for my conversion is a school inspection. 100 years ago people in the small village where I work wanted their kids to be educated. Passionately, desperately wanted them to be educated. And the landowners, who were exploitative patronising rentiers but not yet living in an age where they were convinced this was just because they had worked a bit harder at uni, felt they ought to help out a bit. And everyone came together under the one organisation that had united them for generations, and they founded a Church of England school for a village that chose Christianity in the same way it chose breathing. And across the country people did the same. And as a whole it was probably the greatest, most positively transformative charitable act in English history. And because of that act of charity, the Anglican Church Inspectors came, saw and reported.

Since this is education in 2014, though, they didn’t just look at whether the school delivers what those original founders would have wanted. Instead we had to show a Distinctive Christian Character ™. School needed to be saturated with that character, values and prayer boards all around.  And, evidence was needed that our DCC produced improved standards. Which is why I found myself trying to explain how it Christianity (not God, the inspection doesn’t quite demand that) had improved our maths results. And so the original breath-taking act of redemptive charity led 100 years later into a neo-liberal hell where choice and brand is key, and where performance related pay rules: if this school has the added value of being Christian and is supported by the Church, then the Church has the right to ask how that support adds value to anything and everything. (more…)

UK’s vilest women to move to the same town.” This is how the Sunday People announces the news that Maxine Carr, Karen Matthews and Tracy Connelly – “three of Britain’s most notorious female criminals” – are apparently “enjoying life” in the same “seaside resort”. I see a headline like this and I’m not sure how to respond. I have no wish to defend these women’s crimes (even though it appears that our ability to distinguish between them and the crimes committed by the men in their lives has vanished). Nonetheless it seems to me that the headline is sexist in a burn the witches! way.  So we now have a chart for the “UK’s vilest women”? Who else is on it? Since there are, arguably, worse crimes committed by women in the UK, what are the real criteria being used here? Is the Daily Mail’s take on it – Monsters By The Sea – really in line with how the paper would describe men who had not been convicted of any violent crime themselves? And when the Mirror discusses “warped mum Karen Matthews” and speculates on each woman’s weight, is this not gendered in any way?

Perhaps I shouldn’t even go here. When women who are beyond the pale are subjected to sexism, the most sensible thing for any feminist to do is back away. We have a hard enough PR job on our hands without running the risk of seeming to sympathise with criminals “just because they’re women”. The same applies when we’re dealing with right-wing politicians. You can predict in advance what the response will be: if you’re so bothered about someone like Margaret Thatcher or Julia Gillard being a victim of misogyny, you can’t be all that concerned about the victims of her policies. It’s not a logical argument (you condemn both the misogyny and the policies) but the assumption will be that if you are capable of seeing any shred of humanity in such women – without which they would not be capable of experiencing dehumanisation – then you can’t possibly believe they’re all that bad. (more…)

I’ve been meaning to write a post on reading feminist texts for a while. I haven’t studied feminism in any formal way so my knowledge is very patchy (often based on what I’ve been able to find for free). However, one thing I’ve started to notice, at least through the things I have read, is how badly we misrepresent female thinkers, even in a field which they should own. I’m not sure why this is — perhaps we can’t bear the fact that the case for feminism has already been argued, a million times over, yet women are still oppressed. Perhaps it’s easier to think that earlier feminists got it wrong. Perhaps we’d rather think that this time we’ve hit upon a brand new formula so this time it can’t fail. Perhaps, surrounded by misogyny from the day we’re born, we find it incredibly difficult to appreciate women’s ideas, no matter how hard we try. Or perhaps we’re just lazy, used to reading things in 140 character bursts. I’m not sure.

Whatever the cause, far too many feminist classics exist, for the most part, as caricatures. So we avoid reading them for years, just knowing they’re not for us. I know I’ve done this and it’s such an incredible waste of time and thinking power, constantly reinventing the wheel when other women have already offered so much. So here are five texts which, until this year, I’d never have bothered reading. They’re not what I thought they were.

 

De Beauvoir, The Second Sex

What she doesn’t say:

Woman is not born but made therefore anyone who says they’re a woman is one and the ones who weren’t called women to begin with are the most oppressed and everyone else is cis scum

What she does say:

There have always been women. They are women in virtue of their anatomy and physiology. Throughout history they have always been subordinated to men, and hence their dependency is not the result of a historical event or a social change – it was not something that occurred. The reason why otherness in this case seems to be an absolute is in part that it lacks the contingent or incidental nature of historical facts.

 

Crenshaw, Mapping the Margins

What she doesn’t say:

wow just wow I just can’t even vile bigoted scum DIAF platform ilk Caitlin Moran aye folk *buffs nails*

What she does say:

The struggle over which differences matter and which do not is neither an abstract nor an insignificant debate among women. Indeed, these conflicts are about more than difference as such; they raise critical issues of power. The problem is not simply that women who dominate the anti-violence movement are different from women of colour but that they frequently have power to determine, either through material or rhetorical resources, whether the intersectional differences of women of colour will be incorporated at all into the basic formulation of policy. Thus, the struggle over incorporating these differences is not a petty or superficial conflict about who gets to sit at the head of the table. In the context of violence, it is sometimes a deadly serious matter of who will survive – and who will die.

 

Levy, Female Chauvinist Pigs

What she doesn’t say:

Ugh! Young women! Having sex! Unbearable! *clutches pearls, faints, crushing a million sex workers as she falls*

What she does say:

Raunch culture isn’t about opening our minds to the possibilities and mysteries of sexuality. It’s about endlessly reiterating one particular – and particularly commercial – shorthand for sexiness […] our interest is in the appearance of sexiness, not the existence of sexual pleasure.

 

hooks, Feminism Is For Everybody

What she doesn’t say:

Exactly the same thing as Kimberlé Crenshaw because although white SJW twitter bangs on and on about intersectionality in a kind of hipster “some of my best friends are black” way, let’s be honest, they basically think all WoC are the same

What she does say:

Older feminist thinkers cannot assume that young females will just acquire knowledge of feminism along the way to adulthood. They require guidance. Overall women in our society are forgetting the value and power of sisterhood. Renewed feminist movement must once again raise the banner high to proclaim anew “Sisterhood is powerful.”

 

Dworkin, Woman Hating

What she doesn’t say:

SWERFY TERFY bigoted something something no idea really but she’s from ages ago, like even before there was twitter, so must be shit

What she does say:

Feminism is a political practice of fighting male supremacy on behalf of women as a class, including all the women you don’t like, including all the women you don’t want to be around, including all the women who used to be your best friends whom you don’t want anything to do with any more. It doesn’t matter who the individual women are.

 

All of the above quotes can’t capture the complexity of these works. They’re just a tiny part of the whole. I just wanted to suggest these women should be listened to and read, not name-dropped or worn as badges in some fake ideological war.

Read them if you can. It is worth it.

 

Dear Antony Loewenstein

I would like to congratulate you on being brave. So, so brave for writing a piece in the Guardian on why feminists are doing it all wrong. It’s especially brave given what an awful, entitled, sexist piece it is. Still don’t worry. I doubt very much that too many rape threats, accusations of bigotry and no-platformings will be coming your way.

It’s nice that you realise “men have a stake in gender equality”:

… from promoting fair pay and no-fault divorce laws, all the way to stopping honour killings and sexual violence. We are boyfriends, husbands, fathers or friends, and yet too many of us shy away from these sensitive matters, fearing opprobrium.

Do you know what would also have been nice? Also acknowledging that men like you have a stake – a pretty enormous one – in gender inequality, from benefiting from unfair pay, all the way to getting away with rape and murder. Still, never mind. It’s not like it’s your job to point these things out. That’s for the feminists, especially the “western ones,” who are currently too busy having “debates about celebrity red carpet dresses and celeb-feminism” (yeah, that’s totally how all the shelters and rape crisis centres are being maintained). (more…)

Women exist.

We exist in our own right. If all the men in the world ceased to exist tomorrow, we women would carry on being, feeling, doing, desiring, thinking, planning, just as we did before. The idea of us, such as it exists for men, isn’t what we are. That which may or may not differentiate us from men isn’t what we are. We are not the leftovers, the not-men. We’re not an outfit anyone can put on. We are complete human beings.

To say so is still an act of insurrection, leading to numerous calls for repentance. You will be told that in making women into solid, living, breathing beings, with their own boundaries, you are being “exclusive.” You will be told that you are erasing the lived experience of those who insist that their external perceptions of female experience override your internal ones. You will be told that since there is no such thing as “shared girlhood” there is no point in having a name for a group marginalised on a worldwide scale in a remarkably consistent way. You will be told that since words are not the thing in itself, there is no need for a marginalised group to have its own definition; indeed, without said definition, would the group be marginalised at all? You will be told all of this but what it still boils down to is the same old conservative, male supremacist idea of what women are: whatever men say they are and whatever men aren’t. It is not progressive, radical or liberating; it is misogyny of Biblical proportions:

So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh at that place. 22 And the Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man,23 And the man said, “This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.

“Taken out of Man.” That’s all you are: there is no part of you that is not accessible to Man, not just your body, but not even your experiences. If a man claims to be you, then he is. You can’t ask questions. It’s not as though your very being has validity and meaning in and of itself. You’re just “one of those people” (let’s not even call them “women,” since they’ve no need even to own words). (more…)

To be a woman is to be penetrable, there to take whatever men wish to ram inside you. It can be anything, from words to ideas to body parts, just as long as there is no reciprocity. Nothing of your own reality – your words, your ideas, your body – can make an impression on anyone else. You raise your voice but you might as well still be gagged. You say the same words, again and again, but until they’ve been uttered by someone male, they might as well not have been said at all.

At times this is a joke, as in this Fast Show sketch. Ha! Men! They never listen to women! At other times, our penetrability, set against men’s refusal to absorb in return, can be lethal. Reeva Steenkamp took what Oscar Pistorius chose to force inside her: bullets. Now what remains are his words, his ideas, his living, breathing body. As women we’re meant to suck it up because what’s the alternative? His story is the only one on offer; if we tried to tell another, who would listen? (more…)

Is feminism sexist? It’s a question men’s rights activists have been posing for decades, to which the response from feminists has tended to be “no, it bloody isn’t. You’re sexist, mate”. For most of us, the sheer ridiculousness of this question is obvious. Of course feminism focusses on differences in the social and economic status of men and women. Of course feminism claims women experience forms of discrimination that men do not. Of course feminism identifies a power imbalance that is reinforced via gender. But feminism does none of these things in order to reinforce oppression; it does so in an effort to eradicate it. “I see no gender hierarchy,” pleasant as this is for the person not seeing, is of no use to those still stuck at the bottom of the (apparently invisible) pile.

And yet the “is feminism sexist?” question persists, even amongst feminists themselves, even if the latter don’t use quite the same words. Take Catherine Bennett’s current Observer piece, which seeks to inform us that “the idea that violence is gender-based is widely held, but sadly female pacifism is just another myth”. It’s a curious non-sequitur to start with – women don’t have to be actively pacifist for male violence to be a significant problem – but it gets worse as the article goes on. Bennett, ordinarily sharp on women’s issues, genuinely seems to believe there is something horribly sexist in stating the obvious: women simply aren’t as violent as men. (more…)

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