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…)

There is universal acceptance that women are constantly under threat of attack. It is in the air we breathe. Don’t go there, don’t do this, don’t wear that, remember I’m only telling you this because it’s common sense. We live our lives exposed, vulnerable and never able to forget it.

I think it is rare for a woman to walk anywhere alone without weighing up the risk, not just of being assaulted but also of being held responsible for any potential assault. I do this as a matter of course. It doesn’t stop me moving from place to place – I barely acknowledge that it’s happening – but it does mean I’m constantly feeling “I shouldn’t be here”. As a woman, wherever you are – at home, the workplace, somewhere in between – you know that this isn’t really your space. Men know it, too. Women are penetrable, weak, raw meat on show; there’s no way of redeeming them, so the only thing to do is keep them in the background as much as possible.

So we talk about what women can do to minimise the risk as they make their way through this foreign territory known as the entire world. The risk comes not from men, of course, but from women themselves; it’s our very being that is the problem. Talking about male violence – as something men do to women because they are raised to believe it is their right – is considered not only pointless, but offensive. Because #notallmen, right? Because what does “male” mean anyhow? Because aren’t you just putting women at greater risk by telling them there’s an alternative to this hunter-prey relationship? Because actually, isn’t it essentialist and conservative to talk about male violence (but not at all essentialist and conservative to tell women to simply suck up the fact that this unnameable thing is all around them)? Because aren’t there always “bad people” out there (ignoring what it is that over 90% of said “bad people” have in common)? Because, because, because. (more…)

In July this year I received an email from The Feminist Times, stating that they had financial concerns and asking whether I’d be willing, as a one-off, to contribute something for free (I’d written several paid articles before).

The email included the following line:

This is a chance to write ANYTHING you want to. Stuff no one else will publish.

So I decided to write about inclusion and exclusion, both in terms of physical space and in terms of definition, as both seem to me a vitally important when attempting to establish both women’s humanity and their basic safety. I expressed what I truly felt, sent off the article and waited, knowing that while it might be controversial, I had been given free rein to write ANYTHING (their caps, not mine).

First response:

Thanks for this. For obvious reasons I’ll have to run it past [...] when we’re both back in the office together on Monday. I’ll keep you posted.

And then. a week later:

Sorry, we don’t think we can publish this! Keep us posted if there’s anything else you’re keen to write though.

At first I was a little disappointed. And then of course, I felt a little confused, and a little upset, and a little guilty. One thing I didn’t feel was cross. I’d obviously gone too far, overstepped some mark. I decided never to show the piece to anyone. No matter how much it meant to me, all it showed was that I was a bad person. Isn’t that how women always feel when they ask for too much? 

A few months later, having finally shown this post to other women — and seen other women being silenced — I have changed my mind. Here is the piece. Here is what I think, and here is something which is considered inappropriate for a supposedly (albeit now defunct) feminist publication. This is what women, in the name of feminism, aren’t supposed to think or say. And I don’t think it makes me, or anyone else who feels it, any less of a feminist, a woman or a human being. 

***

Feminism is about inclusion. It is about ensuring no woman is marginalised as a result of gender and other oppressions which intersect with it.

Feminism is also about exclusion. It is about safeguarding a woman’s right to set her own physical and mental boundaries, and about defending her right of refusal against anyone who seeks to overstep them.

These two principles should not contradict one another. A fully respected human being should be able to defend his or her own personal space while also sharing communal space and rights of recognition with others. That it has not been easy for feminists to achieve this is a measure of just how regressive our beliefs about “what women are” remain.

Time after time, wave after wave, feminists are accused of being exclusive and bigoted simply for defending the space that each woman should have for herself – the mental and/or physical room of one’s own. We make demands that would never be made of men, whose boundaries remain inviolable. It is only women – and to be specific, female women – who are expected to include and include to the point of self-abnegation. We are told what we are, how we think, what we should call ourselves. Our inner lives – experiences of our own bodies, our female socialisation, the discomforts we have suffered from birth – are considered accessible and transparent. We are permitted no complexity. We are the opposite, the complement, the helpmeet, the foil that grants definition to anyone who is not us. We exist, but not as complete entities in our own right.

For all our talk of the need to challenge cis norms, we have reached a point where it is expected  that all those born female will enter into feminism as “traditional” women – those flexible, juggling, accommodating, motherly creatures who put everyone else’s needs before their own. That is how we are socialised to think of ourselves and, like it or not, that is what we demand of others. It is antithetical to a social justice movement which prioritises a woman’s right to active consent, but we do it anyway. We demand that gender norms are questioned while at the same time expecting females to perform in the same way as always: giving, giving, giving, never making their own imprint but always bearing that of others. For that is inclusion, is it not? Never daring to be so fickle, so mean, so exclusive, as to say “no – that is where you end and this is where I start”.

It does not surprise me one bit that an increasing number of young women declare themselves genderqueer or non-binary. It has become the one remaining get-out clause for consent. As an older woman who is a mother, it has been made clear that such a get-out clause is not available for the likes of me, regardless of what I know my relationship with gender to be. Someone has to be Cis Woman™, on hand to do the ideological equivalent of wiping arses, scrubbing floors and shutting the hell up. Widespread terror at the thought of not having such a person – the SWERF, the TERF, the whorephobe,  the pearl-clutcher – available as a means of deflection is palpable. Now that we no longer do witch trials it’s fair to say that if the TERF did not exist, patriarchy would have to invent her (oh look! It did!). She is woman at her most hollowed out, a blank screen for projection, the cause of original sin – otherwise known as male violence – and a vessel to contain all bile.

It is true that if some women have to be positioned as the TERF, others may feel they don’t have to. It grants the latter a temporary place of safety. This is not the same as self-definition – the number of defensive contortions one has to go through in order not to be tarred with the TERF brush increases by the day. To give up on words – woman, man, female, male, gender – which describe the fundamentals of one’s own oppression is no small sacrifice. To do so because one has effectively been coerced, due to a culture of fear and misrepresentation, is nothing short of an intrusion on women’s mental, linguistic and psychic space.

This matters to me because the feminism that is exclusion – being able to close the door and say “this is MY understanding of what I am” – is just as important as the feminism that is inclusion. Like most women I know what it is to experience sexual and physical abuse. I know how hard it can be to feel safe within one’s own body and I don’t think we should underestimate how much this matters as regards one’s own mind. A feminism that is forceful and intrusive, denying swathes of women the right to their own inner lives, is no feminism at all. A feminism that dismisses reproductive difference and denies women the basic tools with which to describe what happens to people like them is worse than no feminism at all.

It is easy to make the majority of women say yes when they want to say no. It is easy to make them acquiescent and self-effacing. It is easy to make them consent to things they do not feel and say things they do not believe. Patriarchy has been doing this for millennia, using fear and coercion. Feminism should be granting us a safe space in which we can finally say no. This is not about whether you agree with me on gender or sex work or any other specific issues; I just want you to know that you, as a woman – any woman – should have the right to define your own body, your own experiences and your own internal boundaries.

 

To be a feminist is to be brave, but it is also to be fearful. How could you not feel fear, given the power structure with which you’ve chosen to engage? This fear is not an irrational phobia, some deep-rooted disgust in response to sex or naked flesh or cultural transgression. It’s a perfectly rational fear: the fear of male violence. It justified and it is logical.

It is logical to be afraid of sexual assault, rape, beating, harassment and murder. It is logical to fear those who might do these things to you, and to fear those who keep the power structures which enable them in place.

It is not a question of reinforcing #notallmen. You know that not all men will do these things, but you also know that some might. You are reminded of this every day, by newspaper headlines, TV plots, nudges on street corners, gropes on public transport, words called out as you walk down the street pretending to be impermeable while your cheeks burn. You are always moments away from the next message that will whisper in your ear you are not safe, not in that body, not in these times. If you thought about it long and hard – really, really dwelt on it – perhaps you’d never step foot outside your front door (oh, but even there you’re not safe, you know that too, two women per week killed by intimate partner violence). There is no safe space in which to be a woman, other than in your own head, providing you’re lying to yourself about how bad things are. (more…)

2014-10-09 22_35_37-

An adaptation of the post that accompanied the above image:

Buried away somewhere in our collective subconscious is the knowledge that hundreds of thousands billions of children women are human beings aborted every year in the UK As a civilised, democratic society we have somehow to square what we’re allowing to happen to these young lives with our need to view ourselves as decent, compassionate and caring.

Cognitive dissonance is a term first coined by psychologists to describe the unease we feel when facing a situation which causes a conflict between our attitudes, beliefs or behaviours.  This feeling of discomfort leads to an alteration in one of the beliefs or behaviours in order to restore balance.

So for instance, I might think that it’s important to vote in my local election (belief) but I can’t make it to the polling station on time.  I have some options to reduce the dissonance this causes me: I can either drop what I’m doing and make sure I do get to the voting station on time (change my behaviour) or alter my belief that voting’s important by telling myself that my vote doesn’t count anyway (change my belief).

On a societal level we’ve developed a veritable arsenal of tools to relieve our collective cognitive dissonance about women abortion.  Unwilling to change our behaviour (we allow what is effectively the terrorization of an entire sex class abortion on demand) we reduce the discomfort this causes us as a nation by altering our attitudes to women abortion.   Among the beliefs promoted to ease our consciences are that the woman has men have the ultimate right to choose what happens to ‘her’ body control women’s bodies and labour and that there are too many people with full human rights (aka men) in the world already. (more…)

Over the past year I have seen far too many feminists – brilliant feminists, who put their heart and soul into fighting for women – denounced as “violent TERFs”. There have been articles demanding that others shun them. Men demanding that other feminists do not support them (and said other feminists complying). Misogynist diatribes speculating on these women’s sex lives on the basis that this is the least they deserve. Bullshit articles holding these women responsible for the deaths of 50,000. And I haven’t said very much. What little I have said has been enough to get me classed as a “violent TERF” too.

There’s a problem with saying anything, of course. If someone says “you’re an X”, there’s the risk that in saying “I’m not an X”, all you’ve done is validate the concept of X-ness and associate yourself with it. So it is with TERF-dom. A TERF would say she wasn’t a TERF, therefore any denial is, witch trial-style, evidence of guilt. And a TERF just would say TERF is a slur when it’s actually a purely descriptive term used to denote a political position: the political position of some stupid bigoted bitch who deserves to die in a fire. So what can you do? Say nothing, or join in with the kicking, just so you can tell yourself it won’t ever happen to you.

And yet it still might, since it’s hard to keep denying that sex class analysis matters in feminism. If you can’t think why, study some de Beauvoir or some Firestone. Go out into the world and look at what is happening to women and girls. Read some Crenshaw and think about how difference matters – and what a difference being female makes. Ask whether you really believe an oppressor class’s external perception of what women are, no matter how “fluid”, gives the oppressed enough of a voice. If after all that you still believe there is some band of devil women who experience membership of a marginalised group as belonging to an exclusive club, then knock yourself out, but don’t kid yourself you’re a feminist. Allowing an oppressed class the right to their own self-definition and boundaries is Feminism 101.

Anyhow, today I am angry. I am angry because a violent male has been sentenced to four days – just four days – in prison for a sustained sexual assault on a female victim. We are required to refer to the perpetrator as a “she”. We are asked to call the rape of a woman, using a penis, a “lesbian” assault. We are expected not to call this male violence, for that would make us “violent TERFs”. But it is male violence. It is.

If there is a problem with terminology here – if the right to self-define clashes with the right to call violence by its proper name – then that problem is not caused by feminists. It’s caused by males who rape women and all those who refuse to identify them as such. It’s caused by a gender hierarchy which non-feminists both defend and refuse to acknowledge. Feminists don’t owe anyone a solution to the linguistic contradictions emerging from this mess. It’s not for us to tiptoe around with language so that no one feels “erased” by the description of a male penis violating female flesh. It’s not our fault. We didn’t create this gender hierarchy. We challenge it. If you prefer to micro-manage it, making tweaks here and there while those at the bottom of the pile continue to suffer, go ahead. But again you are not a feminist.

I know what the standard narrative for this particular news item will be. All “violent TERFs” do. Just as every act of male violence against women and girls is wickedly “exploited” by feminists who wish to name the problem (making feminists, not murderous men, the baddies), a trans woman committing rape will be “exploited” by TERFs to put the vulnerable trans community at risk. Because those written off as the penetrable class are not vulnerable themselves. Because naming male violence within a community makes you responsible for male violence inflicted on that community. Because you can vilify a whole group (feminists) for violent acts that have not been committed by a single one of them. Because extrapolating that there are issues with language and categorisation which put women at risk is an act of violence in itself, deserving of a lifetime’s denigration and exclusion. Rape? We’ll give that four days. Four days and no one speak a word, because you know the rules for male violence: isolated incidents. Always remember that and never forget that you’re only words away from being denounced, forever, as a violent TERF.

According to Kirstie Allsopp, nature is not a feminist. On the face of it, it’s hard to disagree. Gloria Steinem, Andrea Dworkin, Audre Lorde? Feminist. Nature – plants, trees, flowers and stuff? Not feminist. There, that was easy.

Of course, this isn’t exactly what Allsopp means. Her comment comes in the midst of an online “debate” about fertility, one of those in which you’re meant to take a position on when a woman, any woman, should reproduce. The most ridiculous thing about it is the suggestion there might actually be a right answer. Too early? You’re feckless and just won’t cope. Too late? You might have missed your chance. Somewhere in the middle? Way to piss off your poor, hard done-to employer, you traitor to the cause! Face it, would-be breeders, you’re destined to fuck it up, and besides, we haven’t even taken into account the specificity of your situation. We’re talking about this as though it’s an abstract choice, in which issues of safety, wealth, culture, interpersonal relationships etc. don’t play any part (best not start looking into those things, too, or your head would explode). (more…)

When women are killed, we remain just as dead as any man in similar circumstances. It cannot be argued that we have not really died, that the bullet that went through our skull didn’t really hurt us. Our death is an objective truth. It’s just the years leading up to it – all those experiences, thoughts and feelings – that can never quite be verified. For how does one know whether a life has validity unless it was lived by a man?

A man’s story belongs to him. He is more than “just the women”. As Judge Thokozile Masipa said of Oscar Pistorius, not guilty of murder despite firing four shots through a locked bathroom door, “the accused is the only person who can say what his state of mind was at the time he fired the shots that killed the deceased”. His experiences are inviolable. And as for those of the deceased? Alas, she has but one experience: that of being dead, and before then, her experience was that of being the other half; the complement, the accessory, the essential blonde girlfriend in the Blade Runner Story. Oscar Pistorius Charged With The Murder Of Model Lover. What experiences would a model lover have, anyway? None, were it not for the man who magics her into existence. Look! There she is, on his arm! How clever of him to find one like that! (more…)

Rape culture comes in many guises. It doesn’t always look like Robin Thicke, or Cee Lo Green, or UniLAD, or 4Chan, or Judge G. Todd Baugh. Sometimes it looks like, of all people, Pam Ayres.

For those unfamiliar with her work, Ayres writes poems that are so bad they are almost good. Writing said poems has made her into a national treasure. Like Alan Titchmarsh or Terry Wogan, she’s one of those people about whom it is treason to think mean thoughts. You imagine her being just like your mum, or maybe even more like your mum than your actual mum is. Oh, that Pam Ayres, you think. Bless her. Bless you, Pam Ayres.

Yesterday a student called Archie Reed was cleared of raping a fellow student. These are the words of Judge Anthony Morris, who oversaw the trial and ordered the jury to acquit: (more…)

I wish I wasn’t pear-shaped.

My nose is too fat.

Laxatives are definitely the answer.

Why can’t I be thinner?

Does all this sound familiar? If you’re a woman, it should. While these statements were taken from the walls of the ladies’ loos in a burger bar, they’re meant to represent what all of us are really thinking. Go on, admit it. We hate ourselves. We’re women; it’s what women do.  If you’re not drowning in self-loathing, you’re not in the club.

Staff at Almost Famous, Leeds, have now painted over their fresco of female insecurity, in response to a blog by food writer Helen Graves. The wall was a shitty idea, poorly executed. Nonetheless, you can’t blame the owners for trying. Why not cast an ironic eye on female self-hatred?  It’s what all the cool kids are doing. Twenty-five years after the publication of Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth – bright, fiery and full of anger – women’s hatred of their bodies is seen not as a scandal but an inevitability. We no longer deny that women hate themselves but write it off as part of what women are. (more…)

When I first became anorexic, way back in the 1980s, we had to make our own thinspiration. Pro-ana websites and online communities didn’t exist. The best you could hope for was the odd Woman’s Own article on Lena Zavaroni or an ITV special on The Carpenters. Most of the time it was reading the same old recipe books and collecting newspaper cuttings of Nancy Reagan. Truly, today’s eating disorder sufferers don’t know they’re born.

By contrast, these days we cater to the needs of the most discerning anorexics, with starve-friendly websites packed with bonetastic images.  Nonetheless, there are concerns that it has gone too far. According to an article in The Daily Beast (helpfully illustrated by a photograph of an emaciated body – get a load of that, thinspo-lovers!), “Italy’s Parliament recently proposed a bill that would criminalize pro-anorexia site authors with a $67,000 fine and up to a year in jail”. Disaster! What if all such sites were banned? Where would your average “friend of Ana” have to go for her next fix? Well, I guess there’s always Closer, or Heat, or Now, or the Sidebar of Shame, or a million other media outlets that regularly concern troll women who are clearly desperately ill (body shock! Starve wars! Size zero hell!). But still, at least you wouldn’t have those sneaky anorexics going off and doing it behind people’s backs, denying the poor publishers some much-needed revenue. (more…)

This morning I came across a quiz which purports to tell you whether you have a male or female brain. Obviously it’s important to know these things because reasons. However, on closer inspection of said quiz, it struck me that the questions were somewhat superficial. So I decided to write my own…

Do you have a male brain? A totally scientific quiz.

Do you feel entitled to apply for jobs for which you are under-qualified?
Do you think half the human race exists to meet the emotional needs of the other half?
Do you fail to notice when 90% of news stories don’t quote people who were not born with penises?
Does Loose Women make you feel threatened?
Do you feel entitled to travel unaccompanied without blaming yourself if you are attacked?
Do you experience a glow of self-congratulation when you deign to do the washing up?
Do you think “strong women” in films and on TV are kick ass, feminist and not remotely patronising?
Do you see your own anger as rational, reasonable and invariably provoked by others?
Do you worry that you might “accidentally” have sex with someone who doesn’t want to have sex with you?
Do you think your personal view of the world is in fact an objective one?

Now add up your score.
One or more positive responses indicate that you may have a male brain. Congratulations! (NB unless the rest of the world perceives you as male, this will be sod all use, but you know, congratulations all the same.)
Negative responses indicate a female brain. Bad luck (now put on a pink apron and go make me a sandwich).

Please note, this quiz is in no way authoritative or objective because it was written by someone who doesn’t have a penis. It’s just a bit of fun. These concepts and categories never have any actual consequences in the real world, right?

This morning, while wasting time on twitter, I came across the following tweet:

Anti-date rape nail polish! It changes colour if your acquaintance has slipped something dodgy into your drink! So a bit like those Hello Colour bath time toys you might remember from childhood, only way more sinister!

I look at this and I wonder, what is really being achieved? First we had anti-rape underwear, then hairy leg stockings, now rape drug detector nail polish (also available as drinking straws and cocktail stirrers!). You start to get the feeling that rape isn’t an act that rapists choose to commit, but an inevitability for which all women should prepare, like bad weather or traffic jams. You wouldn’t leave the house without an umbrella, so why leave the house without your anti-rape clothes on? Embrace your role as “potential rape victim”! Once you’ve come to terms with the fact that to some men, that’s all you’ll ever be, life gets a whole lot easier, right? I’m not convinced. (more…)

Years ago I happened to read the mansplainer wankscience classic that is Simon Baron-Cohen’s The Essential Difference (cover quote: “Women will want to talk about it … men will sit silent and brood over its details”). It was every bit as rubbish as my feminine intuition had told me it would be, apart from the appendices, which featured some cool multiple choice quizzes (a bit like the ones Cosmo used to do in the 80s). According to these, I have a high SQ (Systemizing Quotient) and a low EQ (Empathy Quotient), or, to put it in everyday sexism terms, a male brain! Get me!

Naturally, I was rather pleased about this. I may be a feminist but I’m also pretty damn responsive to the sexism that surrounds me every minute of the day. “A male brain?” thought I. “That must mean I’m dead clever!” Of course, this joy was tempered by the fact that my low EQ must mean I’m pretty shit at being a woman. No wonder my partner called me “dead inside” for failing to cry at the end of Ice Age 2! But at least from that point onwards I’d know that it wasn’t my fault for having been debating the merits of US foreign policy with some right-wing tosser on CiF when I was meant to be following the trials of Manny the Mammoth; it was my male brain wot made me do it.

(more…)

Way-hey! Richard Dawkins – who is male and science and think-y – is pro-choice ( sort of)!  He may not be big on women’s rights and consent in general, but he knows an opportunity to have a pop at Catholics and the disabled when he sees one. Let’s send him over to Ireland forthwith, to sort out the issue with reason and logic where all those shouty women have failed.

And yet I do wonder whether boorish, imperialistic tweeting, topped off with some smug-but-irrelevant science facts, is the right way to go about these things. Apart from anything else, the whole angle of analysis seems to me somewhat off – an obsessive focus on what the foetus is (can it suffer? Does it feel pain? What is its chromosome make-up?) and very little on the context of its surroundings. While this makes for a pleasant parlour game, I’m not convinced it gets to the heart of the matter: are pregnant women people?

The abortion “debate”, such as it is, continually revolves around the personhood or otherwise of the foetus. Personally (and I’m a woman so I may have got this wrong) I’ve always thought the pertinent issue was the personhood of the foetus container. After all, person or not, you wouldn’t just destroy something for no reason. And since overall it is considered impermissible to breach another person’s bodily integrity in order to give life to another – rendering forced blood, bone marrow or kidney donation illegal – surely the same should apply to pregnancy, assuming pregnant women are to be accorded the same status as everyone else. Of course, this is an enormous assumption to make, one which flies in the face of our general expectations of womankind (Richard’s in particular), but let’s just explore it for one moment.  Are they actual people or just, conveniently, walking wombs? (more…)

In the late 90s The Fast Show used to feature a recurrent sketch in which a group of men and one woman would be brainstorming for ideas. The punchline was always the same: the woman would be the one to find the solution but no one would seem to hear it until a man repeated it using slightly different words, having not quite understood it, whereupon he’d be treated like a total genius.

I think things are a bit like that in feminism these days. We have decades of serious scholarship and wonderful ideas but unfortunately most of it has come from not just from women, but from stupid old cis women (a bit like your mum, but more bigoted). That can’t be any good, can it? Best repackage it to make it seem more clever and authoritative. Best say it’s coming from someone with a deeper, more meaningful understanding of sex and gender. Best pretend it’s all new, all the better to continue pissing from a great height onto the very people we claim to be liberating. (more…)

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