Feminism


I grew up in a household in which there were a lot of rules. Not just the usual ones – don’t fight, brush your teeth, do your homework. There were others: don’t nudge the furniture “off position.” Don’t touch the newspapers or remote control. Don’t unlock the back door. Don’t do anything that makes me feel unsafe. These rules were subject to change without notice. If you broke them, the consequences were severe. Tantrums, shouting, worse. Sometimes you’d end up barricading yourself in your room, wishing you’d just not bothered to move at all. It was unbearable. But then again, if someone is anxious and says they feel unsafe, what can you do? Especially if their anxiety is presented as unknowable and resistant to change. You have to do what they want, regardless of your own desires.

After all, how hard can it be not to touch a newspaper? Not to nudge an item of furniture? Not to talk at the wrong time or pick up the wrong item of cutlery or shut the door too hard? None of it is that hard, is it? And if it makes someone feel better, why, it’s inconsiderate not to follow the rules. On the other hand, how hard can it be not to make so many demands in the first place? And how hard can it be not to react with violence and aggression when your needs are not met? Turns out it’s impossible. It’s impossible to control your feelings and needs when you’re making demands of others. It’s only those who fear actual violence who are expected to hold themselves in check. (more…)

The Home Affairs Select Committee have announced that unlike people accused of any other crime, those accused of sex crimes (including rape) deserve anonymity until charged. It’s a decision that has been made without consulting rape victims or rape support charities, instead appearing to be motivated by sympathy for the DJ Paul Gambacinni, kept on bail for 12 months over an allegation that was eventually dropped. According to Committee chairman Keith Vaz “we have seen how destructive [releasing names] can be to a person’s livelihood, causing irreparable reputational damage and enormous financial burden.” We have also, one would think, seen how damaging rape – which happens to an estimated one in five women – can be, but apparently that’s less measurable (or less important?). In any case, the belief that a “special stigma” attaches to rape, making those accused more in need of protection from publicity, persists.

Personally I find it strange to think that we live in a world so appalled and outraged by rape that those accused of it are social pariahs. If that were the case, surely we wouldn’t be surrounded by men telling women that forced penetration and sexual coercion are perfectly fine. A world in which great stigma is attached to rape itself is not a world in which … (more…)

The education secretary Nicky Morgan is proposing a “curriculum for life” to help young people deal with what the Guardian calls “modern social issues brought on by the internet age.” These are, we are led to believe, new issues. Brand new, never-been-seen-before, state-of-the-art sources of teenage angst, such as sexting and revenge porn.

True, there was nothing like that in my day. We just had boring, hands-on sexism – sorry, did I just say sexism? It seems we’re not supposed to mention that. It might be the driving force behind this particular misuse of communication technology but no one seems willing to say. Looking for a hierarchy? Nothing to see here. We are meant to think this stuff is just happening at random because “modern times.” There’s no link between rampant individualism and Tory policies, and absolutely no connection between a form of abuse which targets women in particular and sexism at large. It’s just that smartphones were invented before we had time to work out what to do with them. Right? Or are we just finding another way to talk around misogyny because to actually confront it would be more than we could bear?

Morgan mentions NSPCC research showing that “six in 10 teenagers have been asked for sexual images or videos online.” What she does not mention is the very clearly gendered nature of the NSPCC findings. Indeed, the researchers explicitly state that “no understanding of sexting would be complete without an appreciation of the extent to which an often completely normalised sexism constitutes the context for all relationships–both on and off-line”:

As researchers going into the schools to meet with young people, we were distressed by the levels of sexist abuse and physical harassment–even violence–to which the girls were subject on a regular basis. […] Perhaps the broadest level at which sexism operates in the young people’s lives is to be found in the deeply rooted notion that girls and young women’s bodies are somehow the property of boys and young men.

This is not some gender neutral trend. It is young men seeking to claim ownership of young women’s bodies. What’s more, this is nothing mordern at all.

It is utterly pointless to talk in vague terms, as Morgan does, about “peer pressure or coercion” (pressure from whom? who is being coerced?). Pointless, too, to suggest that “the internet and the advance of the digital age […] bring new pressures”; what they bring are new weapons for men to use in their age-old war on women. You can complain about the weapons, sure, but it’s a morally vacuous complaint if you’ve no interest in ending the actual war. (more…)

The feminist backlash* is really quite exciting at the moment. Hot on the heels of “rape survivors think like rapists” we have “women who complain of male sexual entitlement think like homophobes.” I can’t wait to find out what’s coming up next. Women who say no to sex think like Satanists? Women who refuse to swallow kill kittens? How random shall we make it? We’re on a roll here, so let’s misogify away!

Creator of today’s classic trope is one Owen Jones, whose response to having women’s anxiety over the cotton ceiling explained to him is as follows:

@glosswitch@Sarah_Lady@Rosbif65 I’m lost here. As I say. A lot of it just seems “watch your arse lads the gays are about” in a new format.

— Owen Jones (@OwenJones84) March 4, 2015

So that’s it, ladies. From now on there’s no “male” in “male sexual entitlement.” And no “entitlement,” either. From now on, whenever you express what you experience in a society that treats you as a penetrable object, your words will be disbelieved on the basis that if a straight man said the same thing, it would mean something different.** After all, there’s no truth like a male truth (indeed, what other truth is there?). Should you mention that the drip-drip effect of harassment and coercion women and girls are subject to on a daily basis, you will be told you’re behaving just like a homophobic man who makes up shit about harassment and coercion that he doesn’t experience in any way, shape or form (and let’s forget for a moment – hell, why not forever? – the misogyny that underpins so much of the “arses against the wall” homophobic bigotry Jones seems to think is relevant, in which “real men” express terror at the idea of men looking at them the way they look at women. Why attack actual homophobes and support actual women when kicking the latter is so much more fun?).

Now we all know that when feminists discuss rape and sexual assault – which so many of us have experienced in real life – we tend to get told “you’re too ugly rape! Chill out, you’re not fuckable anyway!” Silly us! Perhaps it’s about time we admitted that the real issue at stake is our arrogance in assuming all men want to fuck us, forcibly or not. It’s not the fact that we are told, every day, that we must limit our own freedoms in order to avoid rape; it’s not that 40% of teenage girls are pressured and manipulated into having sex they don’t want; it’s not that one in five of us will be raped over the course of a lifetime; it’s not that rape is about power, not sexual desire; it’s not that lesbians, unlike straight men, are subjected to “corrective” rape; it’s not that mainstream trans activists are writing columns telling us we need to learn to love sexual harassment and stop being prudish “ladies what lunch”; it’s not that others are writing shit poetry in which female sexual availability is a metaphor for trans inclusion; it’s not that women are being told, in no uncertain terms, that sexual availability is proof of a lack of bigotry; it’s not that male sexual entitlement, regardless of gender identity, is clearly a massive issue for women. Oh no, it’s none of that. It’s because we have this weird, crazy idea that all male people want to fuck us because we’re all so sexy. Oh, and we hate male people as a result, and aren’t just really fucking afraid of them for perfectly logical reasons.

There are of course two action points emerging from all of this:

  1. we must apologise for the behaviour of straight male homophobes, just as we must apologise for the behaviour of straight male transphobes, because all male bigotry is women’s fault because reasons (probably something to do with Eve eating the apple or Pandora’s box or whatever your go-to “everything’s a woman’s fault” myth is)
  2. we must let men like Owen Jones do feminism for us, on the basis that he’s already said it’s not his place to do it so that makes it all okay or something.

Of course, there is a third option: tell the likes of Owen Jones to shut the fuck up until they’ve actually engaged with the fact that sex is an axis of oppression and sexism is real. And then after that, they can carry on shutting up while they listen to and believe women for once. But then again, by now even writing that probably counts as “thinking like an axe murderer.”

* No idea if this should be “feminist backlash” or “anti-feminist backlash.” Anyhow, it’s people being shit to feminists because they’re bigots who can’t bear the idea of actual change the moment it looks possible.

**NB There are no other instances in which your words will be taken to be the words of a straight male. For instance, people believe the things straight males say. No such luck for you! Soz, ladies.

You can’t clap with one hand – it takes two hands. A decent girl won’t roam around at night. A girl is more responsible for rape than a boy … about 20% of girls are good. … She should just be silent and allow the rape.

Mukesh Singh, one of those responsible for the rape and murder of Jyoti Singh

Can we put into words how a rapist thinks? And if we could, would we want to? We know what a rapist does and we also know that he – since 99% of those convicted of rape are male – feels entitled to do it. We know that the majority of rape victims are female and that a woman has a 1 in 5 chance of being raped over the course of her life. We know that rape is a gendered crime and that fear of rape limits women’s freedom of movement. We know all this and what is more, this knowledge has a value.

It helps us to understand what is happening around us and to recognise that rape is not simply a force of nature, a thing to be accepted as one of the hazards of trying to be human while in possession of a vagina. No matter how many times we are asked to compare ourselves to laptops or wallets or unlocked houses, we know that we are not mere passive objects to whom bad things might happen. We are participants in a society that conditions male people to feel entitled to the bodies of female people. This is what we mean when we talk about “rape culture.” We are not referring to some generalised culture of entitlement; we are talking about a gendered phenomenon, rooted in a structure which positions female people beneath male people. This does not mean that other forms of rape do not occur – indeed, they can be said to occur as a replication of the same dynamic, diminishing other bodies by treating them “as if female,” that is, penetrable – but it does mean that we are not dealing with utter chaos. There is something tangible. It does not have to be this way. There is a cultural belief system that can be challenged, on behalf of all survivors, if only we dare to speak. (more…)

If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.

George Orwell

Orwell’s famous quote on liberty has always sounded to me like something an abusive father would use to justify over-disciplining a child. Superior, self-pitying (why is it always me who has to deal in these home truths?), tactless (no, you have to hear this, I don’t care what it does to you), it is practically a patriarchal mission statement. It assumes that things “people don’t want to hear” — you’re worthless, you’re an object, you don’t exist — don’t have the power to make people less free. It assumes knowledge of why people don’t want to listen (can’t handle the truth, can’t argue back, just can’t face it, can you?). Those who don’t want you to speak are positioned as petulant children. It is how abusers think of those who ask them to stop.

I’ve felt all this about the current hot topic of free speech in British universities. To be clear, I am not on the side of young, white, middle-class students who seek to no platform women who’ve got more integrity and compassion in their little fingers than these students have ever shown in their lives. However, I don’t think these students are merely petulant children who don’t know what they’re doing or can’t stand debate. To me this just doesn’t ring true. Perhaps some of them are weak, but those shouting the loudest are the ones who are chairing societies. They’re ambitious, if ignorant, mini-politicians (and since when has ignorance got in the way of a successful political career?). (more…)

Right now there’s a battle going on between the two sides of the political spectrum: who is best at controlling women? On the Right there are those who still vouch for the “women as purchasable property of husbands” model, while on the Left there’s a preference for “women as purchasable property of all men, everywhere.” Should a woman be on her knees for one man or for several? What’s best for the common good?

Of course, this is not a real fight, more a performance. As long as women remain objects who exist to satisfy male needs, either way will do.  As Dworkin observed in 1987, “this public fight they’re always having, from our point of view and for our purposes, is a diversion. They each do their part to keep us down.” It’s nothing more than ostentatious dick swinging. They each say they’re the best at managing this resource called “woman” but they both know that they’re in it together.

Hence it should not surprise us that the Greens are every bit as virulently misogynistic as the Conservatives or UKIP. Their politics are pro the rampant commoditisation of female bodies, anti the rampant commoditisation of everything else. Because, of course, the commoditisation of female bodies isn’t anything to do with capitalism; it is “natural.” The fear of both sides, argues Dworkin, is “that male supremacy wasn’t just this giant, monolithic thing that had, in fact, been given to them by God or nature. God is the right; nature is the left.” Can’t argue with nature, can you? The idea that the Left is more pro-woman because it claims to be on the side of the people is absurd. All you need do is exclude women from your understanding of “people” – because “woman as people” is just some sinister construct – and you never have to listen to them ever again. (more…)

  1. Create an imaginary hate group with a suitably harsh-sounding acronym (TERFs will do)
  2. Choose the women you wish to add to this group (don’t panic! You don’t need to add everyone at once; just keep adding as and when. Also, don’t worry about evidence for “hate crimes.” No one checks)
  3. Make up a few ludicrous facts about your imaginary hate group – it’s your group so you can say what you like! Here are just a few suggestions:
    1. They’re the secret masterminds behind all male violence, controlling male fists with their feminist ideas
    2. By saying “male bodies are not the only bodies” what they really mean is “woman = breeding machines”
    3. They’re all really unsexy and ugly and probably can’t get anyone to shag them and shit
    4. They’re responsible for thousands and thousands of deaths because reasons
  4. Use your ludicrous facts as a justification for making violent, misogynist threats. When challenged, point out that accusing someone who doesn’t identify as violent of violence is in fact an act of violence. Keep repeating this. Also, henceforth always make sure to add the epithet “violent” whenever you mention members of your imaginary group.
  5. Add more women to your list. At this point, it may make sense to formalise the list, just so you can keep track and so that you have “evidence” for hate group membership should anyone ask. In your head it’s okay to call your list Stalkbot, but in real life it’s better PR to use the term Blockbot.
  6. For extra variety, create a bonus hate group so that you don’t miss out on any women who might not quite suit the TERF identity you’ve invented. Make the association clear though; using a word that rhymes might be a good tactic. How about SWERF?
  7. It’s important to ensure that you never, ever read any literature, philosophy, political theory or journalism written by women whom it might be useful to identify as TERFs or SWERFs. Also, don’t read anything written by women of colour whose political theories you might wish to appropriate. Tell everyone you know to do the same, using an airy tone that suggests you have in fact read it all so that no one else has to.
  8. Issue some more violent threats, a few libellous claims and some random calls for no-platformings, just to ring the changes (note: no-platformings do not have to be based on anything a woman is likely to be saying at a particular event. If the very idea of her having thoughts makes you feel “unsafe” that is enough)
  9. Up to this point you may have been targeting all your ire at people with female bodies (not that you believe in this regressive human biology nonsense; it’s just pure coincidence). Please that note it’s also okay to attack gay men and male-to-female transsexuals (although you need a word for them to show you’re not the transphobic one – truscum or “self-hating TERF token” seems to work). At first attacking male people might seem a bit uncomfortable. Don’t worry. You can always go back to attacking women as and when you need to, especially if attacking male people makes you feel triggered.
  10. Chance your arm a bit. Put up posters telling rape victims they’re bigots for feeling upset at the presence of male bodies in enclosed spaces. Start openly demanding that lesbians become more accepting of penis. Do all this while putting on an expression that says “look, I’m the REALLY oppressed one here.” Whenever anyone says “that’s a bit cruel” add them to one or both of your lists (actually, do both, no one really cares)
  11. Encourage mainstream politicians to join in with attacks on your imaginary group. Rely on the fact that they’ll have no idea what they’re talking about hence it should be a piece of piss.
  12. Once you’ve effectively silenced all voices describing women’s lives on women’s terms, sit back and watch. Rely on the fact that if any of the victims of your misogynist hate campaign ever bothered to describe it, no one would believe them. The whole thing sounds too absurd and that’s the beauty of it.

I’ve written this post partly as a response to the recent behaviour of Rupert Read, the philosopher and Green MP who decided to be a half-hearted feminist for a bit then backed out once he realised that – surprise, surprise – feminists get loads of shit and said shit is, like, dead upsetting and stuff. It’s set me thinking on just how beneficial unacknowledged misogyny is to both men and women, and how so many people like to think they’re against the sexism but don’t link this to what would actually happen to them if they made a stand against the status quo. This is because people don’t really think about sexism very much, not even philosophers, but well, there you go. These are my thoughts on it and I don’t care whether you like them or not

Here are some things which will not happen if you speak out on behalf of women as a class: you will not get loads of people listening to your carefully worded, nuanced thoughts and saying “hmm, interesting, let me think about this some more”; you will not get people who disagree with you saying “sure, I think that’s one angle, but perhaps we could discuss it a little more?”; you will not get hordes of women eager to express their support and gratitude in public; you will not find people making connections between the problems you’ve highlighted and the surface-level examples of sexism they’ve noticed elsewhere.

If you expected any of these things to happen, then really you shouldn’t have spoken out in the first place. This is because such things would only happen if the class-based discrimination you are describing didn’t actually exist. If you have failed to consider this rather obvious point, assuming instead that since we’re all “basically in support of equality” it would therefore be fine for you to broadcast your important and valuable thoughts with impunity, then you still don’t get what “being oppressed as a class” actually means. (more…)

Today The Sun did not include a pair of naked tits on Page 3. There are some who might say that this is a victory for No More Page 3, who’ve campaigned tirelessly against the shitty objectification of women in one small area of the press. And yet there are others who will ask, thoughtfully, “what about all the other pages? They’re pretty crap too”.

Similarly, in 2013 the Bank of England agreed to put Jane Austen on its new ten pound note. There are some who’ll say that Caroline Criado-Perez’s campaigning made an important point about the value of women as culturally and historically significant people. But then again others will say “what about women who don’t have ten pound notes?” (conveniently failing to distinguish between symbolic representation and literal distribution, but w/evs, it sounds good).

Small victories, right? There’s nothing so controversial as a small victory for feminism. They’re good, sort of, but then why did feminists bother doing this and not that? In fact, why didn’t the lazy fuckers do both? And why didn’t they sort out ALL social justice gripes while they were at it?

Now obviously, if the aim of feminism is to liberate all women, this cannot be done without the removal of all forms of oppression. As Billy Bragg’s version of The Internationale puts it, “freedom is merely privilege extended unless enjoyed by one and all”. That makes perfect sense and anyone who disagrees would have to be a total tosser. The trouble is, when it comes to expectations of who will do the actual work involved in achieving the aforementioned freedom, we are not on even ground. It just so happens that there is one group whose very oppression is founded on the belief that they are “naturally” more caring, more compassionate and meant to give their time to others without complaint. This is group is “women” and this is a problem.

Look, Lefty Male Socialism! Today I supported a friend trying to access an abortion, did some volunteering at the women’s refuge, met up with that cousin who’s in the middle of leaving a violent relationship, carefully avoided the man who’s been harassing me at work, launched a new petition, popped in on your elderly mum, fed the kids, did the laundry and even found time to clean the windows!”

*looks up from copy of Revolution* “That’s great, Feminism, but you missed a bit — look, right over there. I’d use a bit more elbow grease if I were you, oh, and make me a sandwich while you’re at it.”

“Um … Perhaps you could help a bit?”

“Sorry, gotta read my Brand, and then spend an hour on Twitter denouncing a couple of your lot. Make it cheese and pickle.”

“But I ….”

“Also, I have some Serious Philosophical Misgivings about the abortion thing. Next time you’re asked to do something like that, vacuum the living room instead.”

Because of course, feminism is about women, and what are women for if not to be cleaning up after everyone else all the fucking time? Indeed, of all social justice movements, feminism has become the only one that’s expected to sort out all the others while also sticking a broom up its arse and sweeping the floor as it goes along.

Since a woman’s work is never done, the easiest option is to never even start. Don’t launch campaigns; don’t throw your lot in with anything in particular; never, ever fight for anything unless it is The Most Important Thing. The more you do, the more people will point out what you haven’t done and the more they’ll demand of you in future. You will not be allowed to complain because that would be privileged and entitled. You are expected to have a never-ending supply of time, patience, compassion, energy and selflessness. You are, basically, Mummy to a load of whining, ungrateful teenagers who want to put the world to rights but don’t understand why you can’t do it for them, just after you’ve washed their pants and lent them a tenner for going into town.

So it’s no good dealing with Page 3 when we haven’t dealt with all the other pages, you say? Well, it’s a good job you’re onto that one. What’s that? The other pages aren’t important enough to campaign over? Well, good to know you’re doing something more important. What’s that? You’re not because sniping at women is a full-time occupation? Why not take a break and spend some time actually supporting others rather than making more and more demands. Feminists might be women but they’re not literally your mum.

Oh, and make your own bloody sandwich.

What is a woman, anyway? This question has been asked time and again, and still we don’t have a definitive answer. Why would that be? I have a theory: because under a system – patriarchy – which is invested in dehumanising females, the obvious response – “a female human” – would give the game away. Conscious of their own humanity, women might get uppity and stop letting men objectify their bodies, exploit their labour and generally piss about being violent. This would never do. Hence “woman”, unlike “man”, has to be really, really hard to define (so hard that you need a super-clever brain – the kind of brain that shares a body with a penis – to get it just right).

Mount Holyoke’s cancellation of its yearly production of The Vagina Monologues has given rise to a great deal of pseudo-philosophical babble regarding “reductive” and “exclusive” definitions of womanhood. According to a student spokesperson:

At its core, the show offers an extremely narrow perspective on what it means to be a woman. Gender is a wide and varied experience, one that cannot simply be reduced to biological or anatomical distinctions, and many of us who have participated in the show have grown increasingly uncomfortable presenting material that is inherently reductionist and exclusive.

Oh dear! According to Jezebel this is all part of an “ugly battle” regarding “the expansion of the definition of ‘woman’ on college campuses”. Clearly, women are not walking vaginas (they are, as previously stated, human beings). But it seems to me that all the current “let’s make womanhood more inclusive” statements are rather missing the point. (more…)

Today I found out that a special “light touch stapler” is being marketed as “easy for ladies to use”. I for one am relieved to hear this. I am sick and tired of asking male colleagues to staple together my documents for me (right after I’ve made them forge my signature due to the fact that my office refuses to stock pens that are suitable for my delicate lady hands).

Of course, even with light touch staplers, the world is still a rough, tough place for a weak, fragile woman. Office stationery is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to things that are too hard to handle. Take doors, for instance. We can’t open doors to save our lives. What’s more, the evils of feminism have left men unsure whether to help us with this or not, leaving us standing helplessly outside rooms until we’ve forgotten why we wanted to enter them in the first place. Then there’s driving (despite all evidence to the contrary, we’re crap at it) and holding positions of authority (hormones – which only women have, apparently – always get in the way). And as for politics – until they make a cutesy, mini Houses of Parliament, ideally one that looks more like the Happlyland Fairlyand Bluebell Boot, we’re all just going to feel alienated. It’s not that male politicians remain braying, misogynistic boors who talk over women; it’s the fact that the seat of government is not pink (and the doors are too heavy, and the stationery just too male).

Thankfully there are some things women are physically and emotionally strong enough to take on, which is just as well since otherwise we’d be really bloody useless. Take caring work, for instance. Delicate ladies who cannot lift a pen unless it is “designed to fit comfortably in a woman’s hand” turn out to be just fine at wiping shit-covered toddler arses and lifting sick, elderly relatives twice their weight. It’s funny, isn’t it? Women – those fragrant little flowers – end up doing the vast majority of unpaid caring work: fetching and carrying, cleaning up blood and vomit, doing all that emotional heavy lifting that men just aren’t equipped to do. We even give birth to the next generation (ideally not by being “too posh to push”; let’s face it, staplers are hard but pushing a human being out of your vagina? Piece of piss).

Of course, a cynic might say that the whole weak woman construct is there to create the illusion that men are caring and providing for women when in fact it’s the other way round; we’re the ones providing the physical and emotional resources that enable men to faff around earning money, kicking footballs, killing each other and whatnot. Obviously that’s a crude way of putting it. I prefer to take a more nuanced line, which is that: yes, we women are clearly crap at staples and pens and power (the important things). It’s just as well we have our magic unpaid carer strengths to compensate. Sorry, men, that we can’t be more useful than that.

Recently several women have been making unreasonable and irrational statements regarding rapist footballer Ched Evans. Things such as  “I find the idea of this convicted rapist returning to professional football […] sickening” and “Ched Evans doesn’t know what rape is”. This has upset a lot of reasonable and rational men who wish for order to be restored. They are not angry at Ched Evans; why should anyone else be?

I wish to reassure these men that #notallwomen are as irrational as it currently appears. This is all just a minor blip. On a daily basis we’re eminently reasonable and compliant. Here are just a few examples of how: (more…)

Who is your Person of 2014? Nigel Farage? Russell Brand? Or could it be … A woman???

Only kidding, obviously. Having a woman as Person of the Year would be political correctness gone mad. Woman of the Year, yes.  Person? Don’t be silly. People are male.

I could live with The Times naming Farage “Briton of the Year” (NB all humans defined by nationality are male, apart from Swedes, who are sexy blondes). I could live, almost, with the vast majority of positive alternatives to Farage being male. But when George Monbiot named Russell Brand his “hero of 2014” due to his apparently obvious distinctness from the “grand old men of the left”, something in me snapped. (more…)

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…)

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