Thursday, 24 December 2009

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all my blog readers!

I hope you all enjoy the festive season.

I am particularly happy as i have just been offered a new job as a junior copywriter. yes folks, i will be peggy olson before you know it (but with joan holloway's wardrobe!)

it has been a tough year. from redundancy to bereavement to family troubles. but this year has been made good by being surrounded by wonderful friends in bristol, london and beyond who have supported me and looked out for me through all the troubles that have arisen since 2009 dawned. they have been there for me throughout, with hugs, jokes, drinks and love at the ready. so thank you to all of you for making such a tough year so much better than it could have been.

and of course i am truly blessed not just with the best friends in the world, but the best boyfriend too, who has shown his true colours as being the most supportive and caring and stable person i have ever met and ever known. when the chips were down in the tricky times he has been a true rock for me, unswaying. as well as being very beautiful and teaching me in the ways of sci-fi movies and battlestar!

thanks to you all for making this year, which in some ways was a real shitter, so much better than it could have been.

right -oh, sentimentality over, MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Representations of Women in the Media 2008/2009

bit out of date now...

On the 1st November, the Bristol Feminist Network and Bristol Fawcett Society teamed up for a second year to run the Representations of Women in the Media Project, a month long investigation into how women appear in the media, discovers where they are absent, where they are represented and where they are misrepresented.

The project was set up three years ago by the Bristol Fawcett Society, brought on by an uneasy feeling that the way women were being represented in the media was not reflective of society. Bristol Fawcett spent a day in June 2007 collecting evidence, from the number of films showing in the local cinemas that were directed by a woman (none) to how many pictures in the newspapers were of men and women (twice as many of men).

The idea was to gain a snapshot of representation of women in a moment in time, to try and illustrate and quantify the sense of unease that was felt about how women were appearing (or not appearing) in the media. As the research over the day was collected, it became more and more apparent that the myth of equality of representation was indeed just a myth. Everywhere they turned in the media they found men were more present than women. The only exception was in the realm of women’s and lad’s mags, where the women represented were idealised, airbrushed and passive.

The project grew in 2008 when, joining forces with Bristol Feminist Network, the two organisations decided to take a snapshot of how women are represented in the media over a month long period, between the 15th October and the 15th November.

The results were shocking.

Firstly was the shock of absence. We counted how many women performers, artists and directors were featuring in Bristol’s “alternative” venues. In one arts cinema, out of 28 films on show only 4 were directed by women, whilst a second arts cinema and gig venue had 1 woman directed film out of 19 films in total. Comedy also showed its exclusive side, in one month a local alternative comedy venue had no female comedians performing. The shock we felt was palpaple. By looking at alternative venues we had trusted to find a fairer representation of gender. It turned out that the only time women were present was in a small local theatre running a “marginalised writing season”. If ever we needed more proof that women’s creativity was not the norm, this was it.

And if alternative media has let us down, how would the mainstream fare?

Children’s media is an interesting place to start. Children’s TV is a place where children can learn about and see the world beyond their front door. Would the programmes children watch break down or reinforce gender stereotypes? How do children experience gender representation in their formative years? One mother in our group decided to find out. She watched Cbeebies over a November day, to find that none of the stories told on the channel that day had a female narrator. Character representation didn’t do well either. 70% of the characters on the Cbeebies shows that day were male, whilst only 30% were female.
The conclusion she came to was that, via the world of children’s TV, we are teaching children that “men tell the stories, there are more men than women in the world and that girls are obsessed by the colour pink.” You only have to leave the TV set to see these ideas reinforced, from the rows of pink princess magazines on the racks of newsagents to the strictly segregated blue and pink toy floors in Hamleys. This gender divide is no good for boys or girls, for just as we tell girls to keep quiet and wear pink, we equally tell boys to be tough and wear blue. Can it really be right to still be promoting these sterotypes?

Regular TV didn’t offer much respite, as one volunteer recorded who was appearing on her screen as she switched it on throughout the day. Whereas a woman appeared on the screen 5 out of 10 times, men were present 8 out of 10 times. This is a neat continuation from what we found on children’s TV. In the world reflected by the media, men outnumber women. In the world reflected by the media, men tell the stories.

This data is just a snapshot, and we recognise that it isn’t the most scientific approach. But what it does provide is a sense of of the day to day, real life experience of women’s absence in the media. When you realise that cinemas can happily show no films made by women, when you look at a comedy line up and no women appear at all, when you watch TV all day with your daughter and no female voiceover is heard you realise with a jolt, with a shock, just how absent women can be from our cultural lives. And it isn’t fair. It isn’t fair that women’s voices, women’s creative experiences, women’s laughter is so culturally invisible.

Absence was not the only issue we encountered in our exploraton of the media. Objectification was another huge and pressing matter we wanted to explore. A major concern for many feminists has been the rise in the sexual objectification of women, the pornographisation of culture and the rise of the lad’s mag. It cannot be escaped that whenever you enter a newsagent or supermarket you are overwhelmed by a wave of highly sexualised images of women’s bodies and a highly stylised image of female sexuality. We believe that the images of women proffered by lad’s mags represent the censorship of women’s bodies. The version of sexuality they suggest censors the varied, exciting, multi faceted nature of human sexuality. Reducing sexuality to tits, ass and pout is reductive and incredibly one dimensional, and disallows the possibility of other types of sexual beauty and attraction. Contrary to the argument that anti objectification campaigners are puritanical censors, we would argue that instead we are demanding the end of this censorship of women’s bodies and human sexuality. To help display our argument we spent an afternoon flyering lad’s mags in city centre newsagents to try and help demonstrate how normalised pornographic imagery is in society, and how we are endlessly confronted with women’s bodies on display, for sale, for looking at. We made a film of our exploits ( to argue against this frighteningly one dimensional view of male and female sexuality.

Lad’s mags are not the only place where we encounter daily objectification of women’s bodies. We counted weekly and monthly magazine covers to discover the percentage of idealised women and men, and active men and women on display. Once more we were shocked by the results. 85% of magazine covers in WhSmiths and Borders that month showed idealised women, 15% of covers showed idealised men. And, in an uncanny reversal, 85% of covers on display showed active men whilst only 15% showed active women. We could only find one cover featuring an older woman (on a caravanning magazine) whilst plenty of magazines celebrated older men, from Paul Weller to Bob Dylan. We also noted how, when men were being idealised, it was still as an object of the male gaze, either in gay magazines or men’s interest magazines and that men such as coverstar Leonard Cohen were “ideal” because of their talent, not their physical appearance. Meanwhile women’s bodies were idealised for both male and female consumption.

This increased idealisation of the male body is equally as worrying as the consistent idealisation or criticism of women’s bodies. From beefcake covers on men’s fitness magazines to the lad persona portrayed in lad’s mags, we recognise the dangers men face through their representation and misrepresentation, and the effects such portrayals are already having on male self esteem, especially in young men. We believe this is something that needs to be addressed now, and quickly. We want a future where men and women’s bodies are not objectified and served up to be criticised, or held up as an ideal.

This snapshot aptly illustrates that 37 years after John Berger wrote that “Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at”, and over 100 years since Baudelaire postulated the flaneur and the passante, we still see women as the object of the gaze, whilst men act and do and look. It also shows us that slowly but surely, objectification is beginning to affect men’s bodies too.

The research we collected last autumn went beyond the confines of the group and out to the public, with a sellout presentation and film evening at Bristol venue the Cube, a presentation at the National Union of Journalists Women’s Conference and the research has even been picked up by the Home Office. So this November Bristol Fawcett Society and Bristol Feminist Network are relaunching the project. We’re looking at airbrushing in magazines, and how minority ethnic women are represented. We’re exploring how queer women are represented, and how women appear in adverts. We want to know whether children’s media still enforces gender stereotypes and whether films are telling men’s stories more than women’s stories. We’re finding out how often women appear on comedy panel shows and, when they do, how often they speak. We’re checking how domestic violence and rape is reported in the news, and finding out how women are represented in news programmes and papers.

Our research is based around counting and stats, but it is also based on creativity, making films and collages and zines, giving women a voice to express how they feel about and experience representation in the media and offering methods to explore how we want to be represented. We know that our method may not be scientific, but our research creates a snapshot of how women are experienced through the media today, and offers strong and sturdy examples of how women are misrepresented, represented and not represented across media. Our evidence testifies that, contrary to popular belief, women do not have equality of representation in the media, whether from absence or objectification or idealisation. It confirms the nagging sense in our minds that the world reflected to us from the media does not match the world we live in.

We are gathering the evidence, we are gathering the research and we are ready to organise and act upon it to affect change.

Bristol Feminist Network and Bristol Fawcett Society will be presenting the project findings at the Malcolm X Centre, Bristol, on the 28th November. We are setting up at midday and the talks will begin around 3pm. Please keep checking our website for further info

Friday, 27 November 2009

International Violence Against Women Day

was on the 25th November.

This is a response to a forum on the Bristol INdymedia site:

The fact remains that domestic violence is disproportionately committed by men against women, (as well as most male survivors of DV being attacked by male partners). and it isn't just domestic violence, it is about rape, rape as a weapon of war, forced marriages, FGM, sex trafficking, prostitution and the whole gamut of violence that is committed against women.I am completely convinced by the NEED to recognise the importance and devestating nature of DV and rape against men. i think we need to think seriously about this issue, and help create structures and a sense of safety to encourage male survivors of dv and rape to look for help, to come forward and to be recognised. i think greater attention does need to be given to male survivors and i think we need to find more effecive ways to help men in this area. but the need to help men doesn't negate the importance of this day. it is ok to talk about women survivors, and women survivors unqiuely, it is ok to focus some time and effort on raising awareness of the frighteningly global prevalence of violence against women. the DV stats, the 1 in 4 stat, the terrifying nature of FGM, the horrific rape conviction rate, the fact that we STILL blame women for their own rape (something which we don't really do to survivors of male rape), the imbalance in prosecuting women and men invovled in these crimes, the fact that rape is a weapon of is a day to stand up and recognise these things and shout about them and make a noise and try to find solutions, try to find ways to help women out of the cycle of violence. whenever anything invovles women people get uppity and say "what about the men". well, i say to you, ok what about the men. if you feel this strongly about it, set up your own day, set up your own support groups, set up your own networks to help men out of violence. i am sure feminists will support you, and i truly believe men and women need to work together to end violence regardless of gender. but that doesn't mean we don't need one day to stand up and recognise violence against women. when every week the news reports the number of deaths from DV, when we live in a world without FGM and forced marriage, when the rape conviction rate is representative of the number of rapes, when we can have a feminist argument without someone saying "what about the men" then i wil believe we don't need this day. we're not there yet.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Armistice Day

Armistice Day

Was reminded by Jon Snow’s blog that this is the first Armistice Day with no one left alive to remember the horror of the trenches. As the First World War and the Second World War start to fade from living memory, as my generation’s grandparents start to pass away, it seems to be pertinent to reflect on the wars past and the current wars. The generation below mine will have no contact with those who fought in the two world wars, and yet whilst we grew up with the familial presence of those wars, we are now growing up in a world of their own wars, the war on terror and the civil wars and genocides and border rows and Cold War aftermaths that litter our globe.
We have Armistice Day to remind us of the sacrifice of those who died in the world wars and all the wars, and reflect on the mass slaughter in twentieth century Europe as a way to say “never again”. And yet, again it is. We have men and women fighting in Afghanistan in a war that is being run by political machinations and uncertain goals, and a war in Iraq that was ran based on lies and dodgy intelligence for the purposes of political and economic gain. We have genocides in Africa and the trials of genocide perpetrators in The Hague. We have renewed Republican violence in Ireland, the recent murders reported on the news as I returned home from a bar at 2 in the morning making me think we had stepped back in time. We have the horrific violence in Gaza and Palestine, the suppression of men and women in Iran, the arguing and debating and arguing over these issues, the threat of suicide bombers on our own shores and abroad and the troubling rise in Islamophobia that these crimes have caused.
Never again, we said, the war to end all wars that would lead to war twenty years later.
On Armistice Day I take a small moment to remember the Falklands War, my family war as this is the one in which my father fought in, when his ship was bombed as a decoy and he was rescued on the Endurance. The Falklands War was the first since WW2 where British soliders were killed, and more than the casualties of the war have been the suicides since. It is a chance to remember the effects of war that are far more reaching than the immediate impact of bombs and gunfire. The effect on mental health, on family relationships, on the adjustments back to the “real world” and how difficult this can be – the survivors need to be remembered as much as the dead.
I don’t agree in most cases with war. I don’t agree with those army ads and I don’t think we shold glorify war or suggest that it is anything more than dangerous, horrific and defined by death. I don’t agree with the wars we are fighting now although I don’t believe that withdrawing now is going to be any help at all.
But I think we need to recognise the importance of Armistice Day, we need to recognise the importance to remember the horror that war brings and the sadness, destruction and long term difficulties that war causes. We need to remember the dead and we need to remember the survivors. We need to think about our forces and we need to remember the countless civilians and unnamed victims of genocide and bombings and shootings and air raids and hunger that war causes.
Never again, we said, and yet again and again we see the same mistakes, the same issues that dogged men in the trenches (lack of equipment suited to the climate) and caused the deaths of millions in Europe (racial and religious hatred) and wreak the same havoc on returning soliders (not enough care and attention to PTSD). Armistice Day is a moment to reflect on the mistakes and tragedies of the past, and to try and learn and remember to not repeat the mistakes again.
As the two big wars fade from living memory and take their places firmly in the history books and not in the stories our grandparents tell us, and in the memories they try to forget, we need to make sure that future generations who do not have this living connection never forget the lessons we have yet to learn from these battles. We must continue to remember on Armistice Day, so that the tragedies and horrors of the wars do not become theoretical but remain a reminder to us to try and work towards a better world, to try to end genocidal conflicts and to keep the promise we made way back when, when we said Never Again.

This is my favourite war poem, so I’ll leave you with the wonderful words of Edward Thomas:
I love roads:
The goddesses that dwell
Far along invisible
Are my favourite gods.

Roads go on
While we forget, and are
Forgotten as a star
That shoots and is gone.

On this earth ’tis sure
We men have not made
Anything that doth fade
So soon, so long endure:

The hill road wet with rain
In the sun would not gleam
Like a winding stream
If we trod it not again.

They are lonely
While we sleep, lonelier
For lack of the traveller
Who is now a dream only.

From dawn’s twilight
And all the clouds like sheep
On the mountains of sleep
They wind into the night.

The next turn may reveal
Heaven: upon the crest
The close pine clump, at rest
And black, may Hell conceal.

Often footsore, never
Yet of the road I weary,
Though long and steep and dreary,
As it winds on forever.

Helen of the roads,
The mountain ways of WalesA
nd the Mabinogion tales
Is one of the true gods,

Abiding in the trees,
The threes and fours so wise,
The larger companies,
That by the roadside be,

And beneath the rafter
Else uninhabited
Excepting by the dead;
And it is her laughter

At morn and night I hear
When the thrush cock sings
Bright irrelevant things,
And when the chanticleer

Calls back to their own night
Troops that make loneliness
With their light footsteps’ press,
As Helen’s own are light.

Now all roads lead to France
And heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead
Returning lightly dance:

Whatever the road may bring
To me or take from me,
They keep me company
With their pattering,

Crowding the solitude
Of the loops over the downs,
Hushing the roar of towns
And their brief multitude.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

sick of the bloke-osphere

The Bloke-osphere

I hope Cath Elliott doesn’t mind me stealing one of her blog post titles but it is such a good way of expressing the issue I am about to try and discuss that I couldn’t resist the borrow. If you want to read the original blog post where I found this word then I urge you to visit her excellent blog –

And now to my matter…

Once again, I have sworn off Comment is Free. Once again I dared to read the comments on a feminist themed article, was made to feel sick and dizzy in rage, and left a furious comment stating that I would never return to its white and grey pages. And I wanted to use this opportunity to discuss why, and to see how other people feel about the CIF-esque behaviour on web forums when discussing an issue that is close to their heart, which for me is feminism, which for others could be climate change, healthcare, social reform, the war; all things which are close to my heart as well but which I don’t know as much about as feminism. Bearing this in mind, I am going to talk about feminist themed articles.

The last and final article I looked at on CIF was a well written, sympathetic editorial on the pay gap. The article clearly explained where the pay gap was happening in councils, why the pay gap was a problem and how the Leeds Council decision to reduce male wages to meet female wages has somehow made women workers look like the baddies, rather than the council managers who are paying unequal wages.
The comments were the usual barrage of denial of the pay gap’s existence, and my old favourite, that the pay gap is not a gender gap but a “mother gap”. Of course, it is us silly women’s fault for going off and having babies, if we didn’t have babies then we would get equal pay wouldn’t we! (erm, no seeing as the pay gap exists regardless). Oh but wait, if women don’t have babies we women get into trouble for being heartless Lady Macbeth style monsters intent on ruining the human race! What to do! Someone commented that bin collectors deserve more money seeing as it is harder to be a bin collector than be a carer. Having done neither job I can’t comment (although I have my view) but this is the kind of misinformed comment that abounded. (misinformed in that how the fuck does the commenter know which is harder?!)
But my favourite comment came from someone who complained that the Fawcett Society were always talking about how bad everything is, but never actually getting on and doing something about it.

WTF! This statement, coming from someone on a web forum, moaning about how bad everything is, but thinking it is more constructive to sit around on a web forum moaning than doing anything about it. (quickly realising how I was guilty of doing the same thing I shouted that I would no longer sit on CIF as I had better things to do, such as organise the representations of women in the media project, international woman’s day and Reclaim the Night).

I realised that part of the problem with the aggressive people on web forums – and by aggressive I mean those who are shouty and rude, and those who are also snide and patronising, is that they tend to be people who think they know best about a subject, who think they are more expert than the expert, who think they can criticise research and writing on which they know very little, and when someone questions their so called superior knowledge, they have a web tantrum and start criticising you of having an agenda, or being middle class. (surreal).

One area in which this is paramount has been illustrated today by Jess McCabe’s article. (Which I saw on the F Word – I did go on CIF to read the article and read the comments! I am keeping my vow…for now) The debate from CIF has strayed a bit onto the F Word, with CIF commenters calling her use of statistics into question. McCabe rightly points out that she didn’t do the research (the UN etc did the research) but the stats presented stand up in terms of the general patterns presented.
Whenever a feminist article appears on CIF or similar forums and uses statistics, commenters call the stats into question, saying they have been specially selected to serve a feminist agenda. Or that the stats are inaccurate (how the fuck can your average CIF commenter know that the UN stats are inaccurate!!) and are being used to serve a feminist agenda.

I have not noticed this kind of reaction to statistics on any other type of CIF discussion.

Of course I believe strongly we should question statistics. Of course they can be used to serve an agenda – we just need to look at the Iraqi death stats to know that. But when an article supplies a range of statistics that all pretty much point to the same outcome, as McCabe does in hers, as countless articles on rape, DV, pay gaps etc have done, then we can at least take those pieces of research as a base to build our understanding.
It is the arrogance that gets me, and puts me off from visiting the site ever again. The arrogance to assume that you know better than the author of the article which stats are genuine and which ones aren’t. If you have the evidence (which, considering as CIF readers are always demanding more evidence, you would think those complainants would produce themselves) to show that the author is being a liar, then post it. But what I have seen time and time again is this sort of assumption that feminist articles which quote stats are untrustworthy off the bat, with no backing up alternative research or stats.

And, what I don’t get is why, if stats are so untrustworthy, why if the stats produced by the author are fitting an agenda, how should we be expected to trust the commenters reply stats? How can we tell if they are any more trustworthy? It goes round and round and round.

My final point on stats is this. When a feminist article doesn’t use stats, and instead uses anecdotes and stories, the author is accused of not backing up the stories with stats! But if stats are added in, then the stats are untrustworthy! It’s a minefield! You can’t win.

This isn’t just a bloke thing btw (referring back to my bloke-osphere title) but something commenters of all sex and gender do. For example, a recent article on menstruation activists sparked off a crazy set of anger and disgust and lack of understanding about the subject of women’s periods. It was frightening, the sheer horror and disgust expressed by people on this subject. It really showed a degree of terrifying women hating. But that’s by the by. The conversation moved towards mooncups, and I had men and women who had NEVER used a mooncup telling me it was crap/unhygienic/for people living in pixieland/unpractical and a host of other adjectives. Yes, the mooncup isn’t for everyone, but it is a clear example of uniformed commenters thinking they know best and drowning out the voices of those who have an informed opinion or experience. When I explained why their comments were unjust, I was told I was living in pixieland. Nice.

I think there should always be room for debate and argument, for people to disagree and point out differences and flaws in the argument. But the attitude of the anti feminist commenters on CIF doesn’t match this. The volume of those who shout down and disagree and slag off feminist perspectives stifles debate and stifles conversation, as people like me slink off to lick our metaphorical wounds and decide it just isn’t worth a hassle to fight back against people who’s view point will never, ever be changed because they just won’t listen!

From stats and misinformation, I am going to move on to the more gender specific, bloke-osphere nature of this debate, and relates to the de-railers of conversation on an article about a feminist issue by crying out loud and clear “what about the men!”

The clearest example of this is about rape. The crime of rape is generally discussed and framed around a feminist debate, with the recognition that men rape other men too, that men can be a victim of rape and that by working to improve rape sentencing for women and making it easier for women to feel able to report rape, we will simultaneously be breaking down barriers and helping men feel able to report rape too. I am massive believer in the idea that the fight against rape can’t be won separately.
Yet whenever an article on CIF or any feminist forum, including Cath’s blog and the F Word, we have (chiefly male) commenters wanting to discuss false conviction rate.

Now. I am not denying that false accusations of rape do happen. But when the conviction rate for rape hangs between 5-6%, a conviction rate lower than most other violent crimes, and the false accusation rape is, on average, the same as every other crime including insurance fraud etc, I don’t think that false accusations are the issue that should be discussed. I think the issue that needs to be discussed is why the hell, in this day and age, did Amnesty’s recent survey on attitudes suggested that 33% of people think a woman asks for it if drunk/wearing a short skirt. Why are the Daily Mail writing headlines saying women are drunk, not drugged. Why is the conviction rate so low.

A false accusation of rape is devastating I am sure, and can ruin a reputation. But if you read CIF et al you would think that these accusations abound, that they are more prevalent than rape, that the false accusation rate for rape was 95% rather than actually being the same as the false accusation for every other crime.

The same happens in discussions on DV, objectification and street harrassment and even on the pay gap (“well I work in the public sector so earn less than these high flying private sector women who are complaining” kinda thing). A discussion on DV will veer to “what about male victims” – a statement tha does need to be considered but generally ignores the fact that the majority of male victims of DV are the victims of male partners and comparitively the male victims of women partners is very small. Yes we should be fighting to end ALL DV, whether perpetuated against men or women, whether perpetuated by men or women. But when we all know that the majority by a LONG CHALK of DV survivors are women attacked by men, when TWO WOMEN A WEEK are killed by their (ex and current) partners, I think it is ok to approach the DV debate from a female perspective. As with male and female victims of rape, if we can encourage people to believe in the seriousness of DV against women then this simultaneously encourages us to look at the whole DV picture and not place one gender above another. This doesn’t change the facts though, that the majority of victims are women, that the majority of offenders are men.

Please don’t demand statistics. You know that that is true!

Street harrassment, objectification – the same thing again. You talk about street harrassment, or how you don’t like the way women appear in magazines, and you get told that “men get harrassed bty drunk women in clubs” or “men are being objectified too now”. Well, I get harrassed by drunk men in clubs, and in pubs, and on the street, and by sober men on the street, and by sober men in the park, and by sober men in the workplace, and by sober men everywhere I choose to go. There is a growing problem with the objectification of men in the media but it is miniscule compared to the frankly insane objectification of women. And again, if we fight the objectification of women, we can fight the objectification of men! The two go hand in hand! By saying enough to the objectification of women we can nip in the bud the growing problem of male objectification.

Enough of examples. I’m going to try and explain why I think (chiefly male) commenters derail the debate in this way.

Because it is a way of saying that women’s problems aren’t important, aren’t serious, shouldn’t be taken seriously in a serious forum of serious debate, and if we are going to talk about it then surely it would be better to look at the more serious ways in which these non-serious issues could seriously effect men (I am being repetitive on purpose).
It says that an issue is only important if it affects men more than/as much as women. It says that women should stop fighting for their rights and start fighting for men’s rights instead.

By undermining the research and evidence without proof, by saying that talking about women’s issues shouldn’t happen without talking about men as well, the “bloke-osphere” is saying that issues which affect women aren’t worthy of attention, and are only worthy of attention if framed in a way that takes men’s issues into account too.

This is why when there was ONE article about the effect of D-Day on women and dozens about the bravery of the men in D-Day (bravery rightly celebrated), commenters rushed to the site to criticise that the article didn’t mention the male fighters. No one commented on the articles about the male fighter bemoaning the lack of mention about women. It’s why people try to conflate Chippendales with the rise of strip clubs.

Forums like these are becoming a hostile environment for women like me who want to present the female side of the question. Rather than allowing debate, it stifles it, saying as it does that the women question is unimportant, unless constantly backed up by explaining how men suffer too.

The way the patriarchy hurts men is important. We need to tackle male rape and domestic violence against men. But there is nothing wrong about framing these debates through a feminist perspective and by looking at how they affect women, when women are in the majority of those affected. By constantly derailing the debate, the bloke-osphere makes a mockery of debate and of discussion, turning it into a one sided anti feminist squabble, conveniently ignoring the survivors and those affected, who need help, support, law changes and attitude changes. Instead, when these arguments kick off on CIF et al, the reality of the issues are forgotten about in favour of semantics and hypotheses. And I am sick of it.

PS - Tabloid Watch, Daily Quail, Enemies of Reason and other wonderful male written blogs are out there and provide a feminist friendly space so it isn't all bad readers. i think the main offenders know who they are...

House of Cards

House of Cards

When I view myself from above,
As I can do sometimes, in my head – a bird’s eye view of where I am at the moment,
I see a house of cards, but with cards made of rice paper.
It is disconcerting.
I feel like everything is very precariously being held in a balance, at the moment. One false move and BAM, everything tumbling down. I know that things are ok, and I am lucky, and I have my home and my friends and my boyfriend to keep me safe. And I have all the strength I have built up.
But one false move…
It is very odd, I can tell you, to feel this teenage about life again. I feel like the day that I started crying when I couldn’t work out which of the two purple toothbrushes in the toothbrush jar belonged to me. I’m on a verge…
When you lose something that makes you feel stable, when things you rely on fall away, be that a job, or a friendship, or a life or family…the effect is far more frightening than I ever imagined.
When I am not seeing a house of cards I see a matchstick structure held together by spiderweb silk, wavering.
They are strong structures, they are built o stand. But they can be damaged by a false move.
I have never liked change. Change feels like a stiff breeze against the house of cards.
I am blessed in that I have wonderful people around me who can cement that spiderweb silk and who can superglue down the cards.
But the background stability, the knowledge that things work out and remain solid, that some things really are forever and for good, the loss of that knowledge, it’s a stiff breeze.
I am having nightmares most nights and waking up. When I don’t have a nightmare, something on my street wakes me up. It isn’t that helpful.

I have huge reserves of strength. I know this, I have survived before. It is just hard to remember sometimes.
And I pay tribute to the people around me who keep things ok.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Jan Moir and Stephen Gately

Hi all

I have written this letter to the PCC. I wanted to post it so that other people can use it to complain against the horrific homophobia displayed by the Daily Mail today. We need to show people that it is not ok.

The URL for complaints can be found here:

The URL for the article, which you need to provide can be found here:

Dear PCC

This article not only is based on conjecture and rumour rather than fact, it fuels homophobic attitudes and is horrifically disrespectful to a grieving family.

In her article, Jan Moir thinks she is expert enough to question and overrule the coroner's verdict on the cause of Gately's death. It was confirmed that Gately's death was from natural causes, however Moir suggests that it was due to his lifestyle. This claim is completely ludricious and has no bearing to anything that we can understand as truth. Whether Stephen Gately did or did not do what she suggests in her article is irrelevant to his death.

Moir relies on nasty, spiteful and unpleasant homophobic sterotypes to support the lies and suppositions in her article. She suggests that gay people are promiscious and unhappy, and argues that civil partnerships are in fact damaging. She completely ignores that it is an underlying health condition that killed Gately, not that he was gay.

She makes ridiculous links to the death of Kevin McGee, suggesting that the tragic suicide of one man makes all civil partnerships unhealthy and wrong. This suggestion is so ridiculous and insulting it is almost impossible to know where to start, although we could begin by recognising that the break down of his marriage was only one aspect of Mcgee's depression and that most gay men and women are happy in their relationships.

Let alone the ridiculous suggestion that young men in their thirties don't "just die." They do, I'm afraid. People die, tragically, all the time.

By making all these links and suggestions Moir is basically stating that Gately died because he was gay, and from here the implicit suggestion is that he deserved it. She is enforcing and using nasty and pointless sterotypes to suggest that a lifestyle, a sexuality killed Gately, not fluid on the lungs.

This young man has not even been buried yet. His family and friends are grieving. They deserve more respect than this nasty, snide little article.

I have come to expect hate and bile in the Daily Mail, but this has shocked and horrified me.


Sian Norris

Monday, 28 September 2009

women! be afraid!

Women! Be afraid!

An email was sent to everyone at my work today warning women about car jackers and offering self defence techniques.

These included using lifts rather than stairs.
Never offering to help anyone.
Never sitting stationary in your car.

It turned out the email was a hoax and not actually offering police recommended advice, but even before I found that out I was furious.

These emails make me really angry. I had a lot of them last year when the Bristol Groper was going around Bristol. Despite his attacks happening in winter, when it is dark at 3.30pm, these emails told women not to go out alone after dark in order to keep safe.

These emails use terror tactics. They frighten, they scare, they point out where women are vulnerable. They use emotive and scary language to suggest women’s vulnerability and make women feel unsafe in places they may have previously felt safe, i.e. their car.

We all know that women get attacked on the streets by strangers. But we also know that men are more likely to be attacked on the streets by strangers than women are. I haven’t got the stats to hand, but 16-24 year old men are the most vulnerable people on the streets. A couple of weeks ago in Bristol there was a tragic stabbing of a young man by a bunch of other young men. Yet, no work place was inundated with emails telling young men to not walk alone in the dark. No police warnings go out telling young men to always be sure to stay in well lit areas.

Men are vulnerable. Yet we do not train men to be afraid. We train women to be afraid.

Although I believe strongly that men and women need to be street wise and self aware when in public spaces, I don’t think that telling women to be afraid is at all constructive. Yet we tell women to be afraid on the streets all the time. And it works. Women are afraid. We’re afraid of the dark, we’re afraid of the man on the street, the man on the train, the man on the bus. We are brought up in an atmosphere of fear. We are given rape alarms that don’t work. We keep to busy streets and don’t walk home alone. We spend money on cabs and then are told not to take cabs alone in case the cab driver is a rapist. Then, if the worst happens and we are raped, we’re not believed.

What concerns me further to this is the way women who are attacked are judged. If a woman is raped by a stranger in the night on the street, we ask why was the woman on the street alone at night? Why was she not obeying the “rules”? What was she wearing? Was she drunk? Now, I am not saying that women or men should take unnecessary risks and put themselves in dangerous situations, but I think we can all appreciate that women have a right to inhabit the streets and shouldn’t be made to feel afraid of walking along the streets, and certainly shouldn’t be made to feel guilty for having done so.

I also think it distracts from the greater issue of violence against women. 1 in 4 women will be a victim of domestic and/or sexual violence in their lifetimes. Most of these women will be attacked by someone they know. So avoiding stairwells and making sure you walk in well lit areas isn’t always going to help.

These scare tactics, these terror emails are not helping women. They are teaching them to be afraid, they are reinforcing cultural myths about rape and they are assuming that women should be the ones to stop rape. That it is a woman’s responsibility to prevent rape. It takes the onus off the attackers and on to the victim.

The first Reclaim the Night marches were born out of an anger that women were subjected to a curfew when the Yorkshire Ripper was raping and killing.

Today we still march on Reclaim the Nights because women are still metaphorically placed under a curfew when their freedoms are curtailed out of a fear of rape and violence.

When an email goes around telling women how to behave in case she gets raped, we need to be asking why an email isn’t being sent round asking why men are still getting away with rape and what can the government, communities and police do about it.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

North Northumberland my heart belongs to you

I spoke to my dad and my auntie last night. my dad is on holiday at my aunt's farm in Belford, which is 5 miles inland from Bamburgh, along the A1.
And now all i want to do is pitch up in the field and stay up there too.

i spent all my summer holidays on that farm, which has sheep, horses, chickens, ducks and of course, long dead now, Abelard the peacock. altho towards my teen years the holdiays were a bit traumatic with rows, all my memories of the farm, the landscape and Northumberland itself is bathed in a hazy glow of joy.

i don;'t even have to close my eyes to picture every square inch of my aunt's land. i can walk up the drive with the fields on my left, dogs scampering around my feet, i can look for the ducks on the stream and i can feel the rough texture of the hay as i look for eggs.

it was a joke in my family that i knew exactly where i was wherever i was in northumberland. i could point in a direction and confidently say that lindisfarne was over there and happy valley was in that direction. ahh, happy valley! or north middleton. it is over ten years since i last went swimming in the river that forms a pool with the tree you can dive from, and i can still see all the lush greenery that keeps the swimming hole from sight, i can feel the water pounding on my shoulders over the rocks as i sat in the shallows.

the water is uniformly cold in northumberland, particularly in lynhope spout, the waterfall that crashed from the moors and mountains into a seemingly depthless pool that could take you to the centre of the earth. peaty and brown, but as crisp and fresh as icicles. wooler common, the pine woods with the silent floor of moss that looks as if it is a home for fairies. heather on the moors that buzzes with bee communities that makes the freshest, tangiest heather honey. the cattle at chillingham which will kill each other if touched by humans. the ford at ford and etal.

but mostly there is the sea. i think a part of me forever will live on stag rock, or crouched behind watching the crabs and shrimps wade through the rockpools. the sea of the coast of bamburgh has a wild and frightening quality that i have never seen replicated. pulled in by an army of white horses, flecked with green and blue and grey and white, swirling with a dynamism and rage that has sent it from the far north to this strange little sea side town famous for a castle and a heroine. fish and chips and picnics and digging holes and emerging from the sea covered in sea weed and dregs of sand, running from jellyfish.

different from the golden sands of embleton, and the eery green brown mudflats of budle bay.

there are more sheep than people and there is a silence, a solitariness in my memories, a feeling of peace and a sense of one-ness with the landscape. the drama of the moors and hills that fall out of sight into more land and heather, an endless parade of rugged, lonely and frightening beauty.

standing in the fields of the farm, costalot or quest or raffles nudging my hand or shoulder, sheep eying me suspiciously, a chicken exploding with eggs.

i love north northumberland with a strange passion that i don't feel for any place i have lived or holidayed in. i love bristol and paris and i have a love hate relationship with london, i adored nice and think barcelona is tops, i was crazy for rejkavik and went crazy in tokyo and i have a fond affection for plymouth and cornwall. but there is something in my very soul and heart that craves northumberland, something that makes me feel wholly home when i am there. part of me lives there. i dream about it vividly, in a way i have never dreamt of another place, and i can see it more clearly than i can even picture the streets where i live. it is my place.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Book review on the f word

I've started writing book reviews for the f word site, a great favourite of mine.

you can read my first effort here

Thursday, 10 September 2009


i have decided to add ads to my blog in order to raise me some pennies.

i hope this is ok with everyone

love sian xx

ps - i have NO power over which ads are shown. please remember that any ad on this blog does not reflect my personal beliefs or are products i agree with. i am at the mercy of google. and if anyone offers me a well paid job, i will be able to afford to remove the ads.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Why tampax pearl needs to change it's thinking

Since I bought my Mooncup and since I read the Cunt book that changed my life, I have been thinking a great deal about periods and my body and the way tampons and towels are advertised.
And I have come to the conclusion that the advertising is both damaging and, well, plain stupid.

My current bugbear is the advert for Tampax pearl, where a woman dressed in a green Coco Chanel suit plays Mother Nature, and interrupts a fashion shoot where a woman is dressed all in white on a white set. She informs the model that she can no longer participate in the fashion shoot because she is delivering her period. Because of course, when a woman has her period, she is completely incapacitated and should not in any circumstances participate in real life and go on with her day! (the sarcasm is heavy in my pen here). Anyway, the model tells her male model companions to stick around and finish the shoot, as she has bought tampax pearl, a product which means she can go on with her day. Oh poor women who don’t have the pearl product! cries the ad. How will you survive each month!

I am going to use this ad as my starting point for the many, many multi faceted issues I have with advertising for period products. (I refuse, point blank, to say sanitary protection. This is the only time I will say it).
Firstly, I take issue with the aforementioned point that Tampax are suggesting that without the magic of the pearl product, women can’t get on with their lives when they are on their period. This is a clever marketing ploy (“buy our product and you can live your life the way you want to!”), but also taps into a greater, historical and cultural anxiety about menstruating women. Traditionally, women on their periods were shunned, hidden away, and in their religious situations prevented from going to the place of worship. Why? Because your period was seen as something unclean, shameful, to be hidden. Ahh, patriarchal religious structures, and you ask me why you piss me right off? So, very subtly, Tampax are playing into this idea. They are saying that without the Tampax pearl, women should not be able to continue with their day, they should leave the public space, hide away until they are clean again, and they must never, ever, NEVER wear white! Unless, of course, they buy this pearl thing-a-ma-jig.
Now, the next question I have is what the fuck is this pearl thing-a-ma-jig anyway? What’s wrong with your regular old tampax? The answer of course is that tampons and towels as products are kind of a one trick pony. Women only need them once a month. They do the job whether you dress them up in a skirt, give them wings, add a “silken” layer or, make them in the shape of pearls. So all period companies have had to come up with all the aforementioned ideas to keep women buying the more expensive alternatives to their products. It’s a big con. A big, big con. And the biggest con of all is the pantyliner, doing the job that knickers have done for ages. The pantyliner is the period companies’ way of making sure that women buy their products all the time, whether they have their period or not. We then have the numerous femfresh products, the biggest sinners of all in my opinion. There is so much whatthefuckery going on with femfresh. They are products with only one goal in mind – making profit from women shaming. It’s not big and it’s not clever.

The problem I have with the way period products are advertised taps deep into the way women are taught to feel about their periods in our culture, and that is that they are something to be ashamed and embarrassed by, a “curse” that makes women become “hormonal” and “irrational”. This way of thinking is all wrong. I mean, think about it. Once a month, for between 3-7 days, for an average of 30-40 years, women have a period. That’s a hell of a lot of time to spend feeling embarrassed, ashamed and fed up. That’s a lot of time spent thinking your body has turned against you with its “curse”. It isn’t healthy to think this way!
Period advertising re-enforces these ideas.
Think about it. There’s an ad where a woman is with her boyfriend, who thinks her tampon is a sweet in her handbag. Thew! Because that could be embarrassing couldn’t it? Your boyfriend, the man you have sex with, might realise you are a woman with a womb and periods and everything! Man, I can’t imagine anything worse! (again, sarcasm). There’s an ad where blue water (blue??!!) is poured on a towel and women squeal at how absorbent it is. There are towels that are decorated in flowers and have been scented. It is all one massive WTF!
What are these ads saying to us? They are telling us that your period is something to be embarrassed about and must be kept hidden at all costs. It is saying that we must be discreet, we must be coy, we must be shy of our bodies.
And then, to top off this mouldy cake with a sour cherry, we have the famous tampax lady. The lady who Tampax, the company, send to schools to educate teen women about their periods, but most importantly, to educate young teens to buy tampax, and to feed them the message that Tampax thrives on, keep your periods hidden and feel ashamed!
When the tampax lady comes on her visit (in year 7 and year 10) she gives everyone a pack of tampax products, including a little holder so that no one will know you’re carrying a tampon in your bag.
Says it all really, doesn’t it.

This is what I would like to see. Firstly, I want period advertising that isn’t so women and body shaming that it has to use blue water to signify blood. I’m not saying we should use blood, it’s not like we use shit in loo roll ads, but something less anodyne and coy would be better. I want ads that don’t treat periods as some dirty secret that women have to keep hidden from men’s eyes. I want companies that don’t come up with endless much of the same products that are overpriced even when nearly all women from puberty to menopause need to use them.

But changing the rules of advertising these products can only go so far. Ads may shape our view of things, but ads are in turn shaped by cultural mores. What we really need is a big cultural overhaul in the way we look and think about periods.

I read about Barbara G Walker describing menarche parties, celebrations that her community would throw for a woman when she starts her period. How amazing is that? How amazing would it be that if from day one, we told women their periods weren’t bad or gross or smelly or shameful, but were a step in the road of life and part of being a woman, of becoming a woman, and our bodies way of preparing women for potential motherhood.

Instead of having the tampax woman come to schools to spout her propaganda, what if we told women all these things? What if social ed was dedicated occasionally to teach boys and girls about periods in a positive way, rather than splitting up the class so the boys don’t get embarrassed by “girl talk”.
If we talked about periods properly and didn’t see them as female shame, then this embarrassment would not be an issue in the first place. There would be no embarrassment around the subject because we would all be open about our bodies and therefore no embarrassment would exist.

When I started using my mooncup, my whole concept of my periods changed radically. I made a conscious effort to stop seeing them as this evil pain that was ruining my fun. It was hard. My periods are painful and always have been. Even now that I am on the pill (and my issues with the pill are a whole other story), they still hurt. I also had a decade or more of negative messaging around my period and my body that told me that I was right to be embarrassed and annoyed with my uterus. But I persevered because I really believed that changing my attitude towards how my body works would make my life easier. And it has. My body is no longer the enemy setting out to ruin my fun, it is no longer the “leaky vessel” that means my day is ruined. It is now my body, part of me, and part of my sense of who I am. Learning to see my periods as a positive thing has made me a much happier person. I think the mooncup helped. The mooncup means you have to get up close and personal with your periods. There’s no applicator or pearl or skirt or wings. It taught me more about how my periods work and behave far more than the tampax lady did.

I wish I could switch all the ads for woman positive messages from companies such as mooncup and lunar pads that tell women not to be ashamed about their bodies and instead to celebrate this one aspect of femaleness (disclaimer – obviously not all women have periods, this is therefore just one potential aspect of what can be seen as encompassing femaleness). Ads would not proudly disclaim how subtle and discreet their products are, they wouldn’t hand out little secret holders. They would tell women to love their bodies and to live happily in their bodies.

And they would never, ever, NEVER refer to “sanitary protection”.

Monday, 31 August 2009

Book Review - The Noughtie Girl's Guide to Feminism

The Noughtie Girl's Guide to Feminism by Ellie Levenson
I've read a lot about this book, I've debated about it on blogs, I've even debated with Ellie Levenson directly on the F Word blog, but now it is time for me to review the book directly. I have been a bit reticient about writing this as I know that I am going to criticise her book and I don't want it to be taken as a personal criticism of Levenson, but rather a criticism of her book.
So – disclaimer over. It's my blog after all and I can write about whatever I like!

For those not in the know, Levenson's Noughtie Girl's Guide to Feminism is a book designed for women and men who may not already identify with feminism, but are interested in it, and want to learn more about what feminism is all about. In this respect, it is the first mainstream, non academic book that has been published in Britain on feminism since Natasha Walter's in 2000. this makes it an important book. In terms of publishing, this is the book that has been chosen by the publishing world to define what feminism means to people living in the noughties. No mean feat to try and create a book that says these things.

Levenson has therefore received a great deal of media attention, even being named by the Times as a feminist icon. But her book has courted a massive amount of controversory by the feminist community as they almost uniformly have shouted “Not in my name”. And this comes from the idea that a lot of the feminism Levenson writes about in her book doesn't represent any feminism that most feminists identify or work with. Which is a problem when her book is being publicised as the book to define the feminism of the modern woman.

First up I would like to deal with the good things about Levenson's book. Because they are there. A lot of the reviews I have read have focussed overwhelmingly on the negative elements, but it is important to recognise that some of the things Levenson says are fundamentally sensible and make sense, even if a lot of her work, in the view of myself and many other women, does not.
It seems to me that Levenson writes best about the issues she knows or cares most about. Chief amoung this is the issue around changing her name after marriage, and her decision to keep her own name. She writes about this eloquently and confidently, explaining carefully why this decision was so important to her, her frustration at people referring to her as her husband's name and the conversations she has had with other women about this issue, women who have chosen to change and keep their names. This is an important feminist issue, and needs to be discussed, and I think the way Levenson discusses it brings up a lot of the important issues.
Another area in which I think she hits the nail on the head was in her discussion of the TV show “How to look good naked”. She argues that Gok Wan's insistence on the woman he is making over being sexy at all times, including throwing away non-sexy knickers, enforces the idea that women are valued on their sexiness and need to appear sexy always, unconditionally, and that this does nothing to help women or feminism. I'm glad she brought this up, shows and shows like this really bug me, putting on the feminist mantle whilst simultaneously insisting that women are only good when they are hot.

She also explores the nature of housework and equal partnership in (straight) relationships, how it is important to be sure that we move away from seeing housework and childcare as something naturally done by the woman, and DIY and business as something naturally done by the man, and strive to encourage equality in relationships and within the domestic sphere. She also argues that the best way to achieve this is to revolutionise maternity and paternity leave so that men and women have equal maternity and paternity leave, therefore ensuring that women of childbearing age (a ridiculous phrase if ever there was one) can no longer be discriminated against at work. This is something I too passionately believe in, it would completely revolutionise the way we look at men and women and childcare and shatter a lot of the myths and stereotypes around the “family unit”.

But for all these good points, I came away from the book with a decidedly sour taste in my mouth. Firstly, throughout the book she refers to her reader as a “noughtie girl”. I read in an interview with her that this was because of the play on words. Ha ha very funny, but I do not want to be referred to as a girl for page after page after page, especially when accompanied by the word noughtie/naughty. I cannot imagine a book designed for adult men referring to the reader as boy throughout the work. It grates and grates on my nerves! Some people have mocked the feminist movement for taking things like the word girl so seriously, but it is an issue, Levenson says herself in the book that language is important. We don't criticise Civil Rights leaders for objecting to the word “boy” when referring to black men. The word “girl” has similarly been used throughout history to infantilize and patronize women. I am a woman. I stopped being a girl when I was 16. to use the word girl over and over again undermines the otherwise very pertinent points she makes about male-centric language.

A further continued irritant in the book was it's complete lack of identification of any other kind of woman who wasn't exactly like the author. That is, white, straight, middle to upper class, able bodied with disposable income. The idea that women come in all different manners simply did not get a look in in the book. In fact she writes in the introduction:

“As I have no direct experience of the issues specifically concerning lesbians I have not attempted to cover those here”.

Umm, it's called research Ms Levenson. And this is the biggest problem throughout the whole book for me. It completely lacks any sense of research. When I don't know much about something, I research it. But here Levenson illustrates the point that seems to gloss the whole book, if she doesn't know about something, she's not going to write about it. The fact is, it is quite easy to find about lesbian/minority ethinic/transgender/disabled experience, you can just ask someone or read a book or conduct a survey or have a discussion with these women to hear their views. But just as I get the feeling in the rape section that Levenson hasn't gone out of her way to ask rape survivors how they feel about rape and rape jokes, she hasn't seemed to make much effort at all to seek out any other opinion except her own. It is also a problem in that feminism is constantly criticised for being a white middle class issue which ignores the problems of the wider women community. Which it isn't, which it strives not to be. Books like this are not going to help us win that argument.

And relying entirely on your own opinion isn't a problem if you are writing a blog or an editorial. Use your own opinion, no problem. Fill the piece with anecdotes about your life and tell tales about what you got up to when you're a student. But when you are writing a book that purports to be a guide to feminism for the new generation, a definitive statement of the third or fourth wave, then surely it is at least polite to ask around and see what other women think about feminism? Surely the book should at least acknowledge different types of women and different types of feminist thought exist, rather than be the very narrow view of one particular type of woman drawing on her personal experience of her one particular type of life?

This is partly, I believe, stemming from her proudly proclaimed ignorance of feminist history. I agree with her that you DO NOT need to be able to quote the Female Eunuch to be a feminist, or to know who Camille Paglia is or to understand the ins and outs of Susan Browmiller's theories on porn. But when you are writing a book about feminism, and about what feminism means today, that is a different kettle of fish! To write a book about feminism and say proudly you don't know who Gloria Steinem is? To write a book about feminism and attribute a quote to Susan Brownmiller when it was a quote by Robin Morgan? (please refer to page 61 of feminist chauvinist pigs). That's just plain lazy! And what's more, it is disrespectful to the amazing strength and energy of the second wave.

To reiterate, I don't think you have to be an academic feminist to be a feminist. But I think if you are writing a guide to feminism then you should at the very least know what the second wave is! It isn't cool to say you don't know what that means! It isn't cool to deny any knowledge of the second wave, and then in the next chapter tell young women to listen to older women more. And you should have a bit more respect than to mock Germaine Greer's writing style! Yes, Germaine's gone a bit off these days, but ffs! She wrote the Female Eunuch! She was one of the most influential women of our time!

In her marvellous book Cunt, Inga Musico goes to great lengths to explain that she is white, gay, working to middle class, from the West Coast etc, and therefore her experiences are not every woman's experience. She interviews loads of women with different backgrounds from hers and quotes loads of books written by women with different background from hers so that even though the book is very much of her perspective, you also get to see how the things she says affect other women and how other women react to the situations discussed in the book. That, in my view, is what makes it so bloody good. It is universal, but from the heart of one woman.
In contrast, in the Noughtie Girl's Guide we just get Levenson's ideas. And as a book, that is how it feels to read, a long list of her opinions and anecdotes about her life. It doesn't read like an informed guide or important debate on the issues she raises, in fact on many occasions it becomes very boring. A lot of what she says has no relationship to my life. A lot of what she says only relates to one life – hers.

One main problem with the guide is that she raises a LOT of points that need to be raised, and that are important to feminism. But she doesn't develop these points. One stand out moment of this is the discussion of body hair. (ahh, body hair! My favourite issue!) Levenson writes how body hair is an issue for feminists and how it makes her sad that women's hair is seen as bad, but she isn't going to stop waxing. I turn the page expecting to see more, for example why is hair seen as bad, where has this cultural idea come from, why do some women shave why do some women go natural, why does she feel a societal pressure to wax, why why why and yet there is nothing. It just ends with her saying society thinks hair is bad. She doesn't address the argument. There is so much to say that she doesn't say. The same was true in an anecdote on pole dancing. She says her friend likes pole dancing and it's feminist because she likes pole dancing for herself, not to titillate men. But why does our culture see pole dancing as something empowering and sexually exciting for women? Why does our society see pole dancing as the ultimate in sexual empowerment? Why doesn't she ask these questions? It isn't enough to say it's feminist to pole dance. Why is it feminist to pole dance? The same goes for porn and a number of other issues in the book. Her continued argument is that if you choose it, it's feminist. No mention on why these choices are feminist and whether it is possible, in our media saturated culture, to really have a “free choice.”

I can't go through every issue in the book as I would be here all day. So I am just going to address abortion and rape before I sign off.

Firstly – abortion. Levenson is pro choice (but not pro abortion, she asserts, ignoring that no one is pro abortion, not really.) but believes that women can be anti abortion and still be feminist. This links to her central idea that feminism is about individual choice, and so long as the choice you make is your own, individual choice, it is feminist.

Well, I call BULLSHIT on that one.

I am vehemently pro choice. I do not believe you can be feminist and be anti abortion. I believe you can be anti abortion for yourself, but this is totally different. You can choose not to terminate your own pregnancy and not to have an abortion. But to deny other women the choice to have an abortion, to prefer to see women back in the old days of dying of backstreet abortions because your own individual choice is to be anti abortion, how the hell is that choice feminist?
Pro life that's a lie, you don't care if women die.

With respect to Levenson, her attitude I the book to abortion, the morning after pill and contraception was very positive and her argument that all three need to be made better available and we need better sex education for our young women is bang on in my view! But to say that the individual choice of a woman to be anti abortion, a choice that has devastating affects on our sisters, that is not feminist. It just cannot be considered a feminist position.
On the F Word debate Laura Woodhouse asked her to clarify this but she didn't. So I don't know what was behind her reasoning unfortunately.

Next on to rape. I have discussed this in another blog post with the issue of rape jokes, but I want to focus on another aspect of her piece on rape here:
“I think we do women an injustice when we say that rape is the worst thing that can happen to a woman. It is, after all, just a penis.”

Now, I have never been raped and I am guessing that Levenson hasn't either. But to say this is so fucking disrespectful, so nasty and so narrow minded it makes me feel sick! And again, we come back to the research point. If Levenson had maybe asked some rape survivors about their experience, she might well have found that some women have recovered, made peace and moved on with their lives. And she would also find women who are suffering from PTSD and are struggling to overcome what was, to them, the worst thing that has happened to them.
The fact that the rape section is included in the sex chapter says it all really.
And rape is NOT always just a penis! Women are raped with fists, guns, glasses, bottles...I could go on. And anyway, it doesn't stop it from being basically a stupid thing to say.

She goes on to discuss that date rape is different to stranger rape, and that the latter is worse because of the threat of violence. The fact that feminists have been fighting for years and years to get date rape recognised as a crime doesn't seem to concern her. The fact that her definition of consent differs to the LEGAL definition doesn't seem to concern her. And that fact that rape is rape is rape, that the trauma of stranger rape is just as valid as the trauma of someone you love and trust raping you doesn't seem to concern her. To also suggest that date rape is non violent is to completely miss the point because rape is violent in it's very nature. To be penetrated without consent is A VIOLENT ACT. She argues that we see rape as bad because it defiles women's virtue but in modern, Western society that is not the full truth. We see rape as bad because of the terrific psychological damage it can inflict, because it can ruin a woman's life, because it is the grossest and most definite violation of a woman's body and self. To dismiss it as just a penis does all women, not just rape survivors, a great injustice. To say rape is just a penis contradicts her belieft that we need better conviction rates and better sentencing. If rape is “just a penis” then why bother?

The book is also incredibly sexist towards men. She claims men can't be trusted with a “male pill” as they'll either forget to take it, or use it to prevent women getting pregnant. As if we still should believe that men never want babies and women always want babies. She claims men can't organise social events and don't write Christmas cards. She says men buy dinner for women in the hope of sex. It's just down and dirty lazy sexism.

So. I have rambled on for a long time. But in short, although Levenson makes some good strong points in her book, I believe her writing really suffers from a lack of development of the arguments she raises, and a lack of research into her subject, beyond her own personal opinions and experiences. She disregards a lot of the great work feminism does, now and historically. She doesn't acknowledge what young and old women are doing today to campaign for women's rights, in the UK and around the world. She ignores women who aren't part of her lifestyle. And she makes statements in the name of feminism that many, many feminists find horrifying and untrue.

If this book was being marketed as a memoir or Levenson's wandering through the mires of culture and women's culture, then all these problems would be forgivable. But this book is being marketed as a guide to feminism, and it is for this reason I find it so difficult to accept. This book does not represent a feminism I recognise and it concerns me that women and men who read this book with no knowledge of the feminist movement will come out of it with a very warped and non representative view indeed.
Instead, I am greatly looking forward to Catherine Redfern's forthcoming book on feminism. She conducted surveys too.

this post has also appeared on

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Why rape jokes aren't a joke

Can rape jokes ever be funny? This is what Ellie Levenson asks in the Independent today:
This question has been asked in her book and has prompted debate across the feminist blogosphere, from the F Word in the UK to Feministing in the US. The majority of responses to this question that I have seen has been a resounding NO. And I have to agree with this stance.

Levenson proposes that rape jokes can be funny as they help us to see through the prism of humour that rape isn’t funny. I can kind of see her point here. Yes, humour helps us deal with pain and tragedy. Laughing is a method of working through a trauma, in the way we share tears and laughter by talking about funny and touching memories when someone dies. But I think that by saying rape jokes are ok because they help us work through the trauma of rape she misses one massive point, and that is often rape jokes aren’t told by rape survivors.

Levenson goes on to compare rape jokes to:
“a joke about an affectionate stereotype told by a member of that race to another member of that race?”
Firstly I am not sure I understand what an “affectionate” stereotype is but this sentence reinforces my point. When we think about rape jokes, I don’t think we picture women laughing merrily about rape and poking fun at the stereotype of rapists. I know that instead I tend to think of men on stage and on TV thinking it is ok to tell a rape joke, and thinking it is ok to make jokes about aggressive sexual behaviour (for example, Frankie Boyle informing Lucy Porter he was planning on masturbating over her when she appears on Loose Women). To say that rape jokes are the equivalent of gay people using the word queer or black people using the N word in the context of a group of people who have reclaimed such words is to completely miss the point. Because, just as in the public eye it isn’t white people who use the N word, in the public eye it generally isn’t rape victims making rape jokes.

The problem with rape jokes is that more often than not it is men who haven’t been raped making a joke about women being raped. An exception to this that I am aware of is Billy Connolly, who has made jokes about rape but is himself a survivor. It is a moment of massive privilege where a comedian takes the trauma of something that he hasn’t experienced and makes a cheap laugh out of it. It’s just stupid. It isn’t adding anything to comedy, it isn’t expanding the comedic genre. If anything, it is taking comedy back to the dull dull days of lazy sexism we associate with Benny Hill and Bernard Manning, and that comedy pariah, Jim Davidson.

Levenson goes on in her article to compare rape jokes to the jokes made in the aftermath of the tsunami:

“A couple of days after the tsunami that killed thousands of people across Asia, I went to a comedy show. The act was full of jokes about the tsunami – things such as tsunami being a high scorer on Countdown (presenter Richard Whiteley had just died) and the Tsunami (Toon Army) causing havoc across Asia. Did these jokes make me think the comedian, or the laughing audience, did not feel the horror of the natural disaster that had just happened? Of course not. We were coming to terms with tragedy through humour.”

But what is crucially missing from this example, and what is missing in the evaluation of rape jokes, is that it is (highly likely) that the majority of the audience and the comedian were in no way personally affected by the tragedy of the tsunami. These jokes weren’t being told in Sri Lanka, the audience wasn’t made up of people who had lost their homes to the sea, the comedian hadn’t watched his family swept away whilst he was helpless to save them. Far from allowing the audience to understand the horrors of the tsunami, joking and laughing about it shows how far removed from the tragedy the comedian and audience were. Personally, I don’t get how jokes about millions of people dying are funny. Similarly with rape jokes. The majority of people who tend to tell rape jokes haven’t been raped. The people who laugh often haven’t been raped. The jokes aren’t allowing the survivors of rape to work through their trauma with laughter. Why? Because most often the survivor often isn’t visible to the joker. The survivor is barely on the joker’s radar.

The other problem I have with rape jokes is the assumptions they make about the audience or the listeners of the joke. It completely ignores the fact that with 1 in 4 women being survivors of DV or sexual assault, there is probably a survivor in the audience. Now, I’m sure that some survivors may find the joke funny. But a lot of survivors won’t. And don’t they have the right to feel that? And don’t we all have the right to feel offended by some things?

I love edgy comedy and I love offensive comedy when it has a purpose, when it is satirizing corruption or greed or politics or right wing lunatics or media idiocy. But rape jokes are (often) non survivors taking the pain and horror of survivors and asking other people to laugh at it. And this is not ok.

In the rape joke that Levenson cites she says the joke is in fact about men’s egos rather than rape. If that is the case, why make the joke about rape? Why not tell a joke about male ego? She says that in the context within which he was telling the joke it wasn’t threatening or offensive. But what if the man who told it to her had then told the joke to a rape survivor? Surely this changes the context and could potentially make the joke offensive and triggering. Surely it is at the very least arrogant to tell a joke that could have that effect, and arrogant to say that the joke is ok because luckily on this occasion the joke was told in the right context.

I just don’t see the point of rape jokes. They have the potential to cause incredible damage and hurt to people, when for the teller it is a throwaway comment. And what concerns me most is that we live in a society where RAPE IS NOT TAKEN SERIOUSLY. The growing popularity of rape jokes fosters this atmosphere, it turns a devastating crime into a silly story, a one liner, and allows people to think that rape isn’t a serious problem. To draw another comparison to racist jokes – when racism was not taken seriously in our society racist jokes were considered acceptable. These days we (at least officially) take racism seriously, so racist jokes are not acceptable. We tell jokes that highlight the idiocy and ignorance of racism instead. Perhaps when rape is fully taken seriously in our society, we will tell jokes that highlight the idiocy and ignorance of those who find rape amusing.

However, I leave you with the funniest joke of the Edinburgh Festival:
Why don’t hedgehogs just share the hedge.

I think that is bloody amazing.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

TONIGHT - celebrate 6 months of the bridge, 6 months since reclaim the night and the new rape crisis centre



Date: Thursday 20th August
Time: 6pm
Location: One25, The Grosvenor Centre, 138a Grosvenor Road, St Pauls, BS2 8YA

Local charity One25 will be celebrating on Thursday 20th August as they are presented with donations raised by local supporters. The funds were raised at Bristol Reclaim the Night six months ago and will go towards One25’s work supporting local women who are trapped in a negative cycle of street sex-work and addiction.

The presentation takes place as the Bristol Rape Crisis helpline opens and The Bridge, Bristol’s specialist Sexual Assault Referral Centre, marks its first six months of operation. Both services provide support for victims of sexual violence in the city, and the last six months have already seen an increase in the conviction of rapists and in the numbers of victims coming forward to seek help in Bristol.

The presentation date is also exactly six months since men and women in Bristol took to the streets in an evening of Bristol Reclaim the Night actions to protest against rape and sexual violence. Protesters wanted to bear witness to the fear of violence which makes people feel unsafe after dark in Bristol.

Josie Hill from One25 explains: “In the last year One25 has seen 134 violent attacks against women involved in street-based sex work, and the level of brutality involved is horrific. Rape conviction rates for this group are extremely low nationally, with only 1% of rapes against sex-workers in the UK ending in a conviction. It takes courage to come forward after such a traumatic event, and it’s important that the victims of violence have the support they need.

“We’ve seen an unprecedented number of women finding the courage to report such attacks in the last six months, and this has led to convictions. In the last two months alone one attacker was sentenced to a nine year prison term, and four attackers have been arrested, with two already charged and remanded in prison. This is a fantastic result for the women involved, for One25 and for all the local agencies that have supported them.

“We feel that the improvements we have seen in the last six months are worth celebrating, but also hope they will raise awareness of the problem of violence in our city.”

Bristol City Council’s Safer Bristol Partnership has also made significant steps to support those who have experienced sexual violence. Rick Palmer, Service Director for Safer Bristol says:

“Avon and Somerset had one of the lowest conviction rates for rape in the country, but we can now be proud of the significant progress in tackling sex crime and getting justice for victims. Thanks to the great collaborative work between One25 and organisations such as the Bridge and the local police, Bristol now has the second highest reporting and conviction rates for violence against sex-workers in the country.”

Bristol’s support services for the victims of sexual violence include Woman’s Aid, Rape Crisis, One25 and The Bridge. Supporters are welcome to join in the presentation event, and it is still possible to add to the donation by visiting One25 Just Giving page.

- ENDS -

For further information please contact Josie Hill at One25 on 0117 909 8836 or email

Journalists are requested to avoid naming and/or using photographs of the victims of sex crime, sex-work and the violence associated with street-based sex work. Identifying such women can prove extremely damaging to their long-term rehabilitation. It will also discourage others from reporting violent crime which puts the wider community at risk. If in doubt, please call us first to discuss. Your support on this matter is greatly appreciated, both by us and the women we help.

Further information regarding partners can be found at:

Monday, 17 August 2009

The Times gets it really really really wrong

Umm - although I really like Nigella's recipes is she a feminist icon?
And seeing as Ellie Levenson has managed to piss off every feminist/woman i know with her "rape is just a penis" line of thinking, can she really be a feminist icon? ICON??
also - taking umbrage with the Times relegating all those who disagree with Levenson as the old guard - I'm 24 and i was pretty angry about her analysis of feminism.

so - who are my feminist icons? pretty tricky. but of the top of my head i'd say someone like jess mccabe and catherine redfern had a helluva lot of influence. i's put sandrine leveque down for founding object. i wouldn't want to miss out ariel levy because i bloody love her book. cath elliott for saying what others are too scared to say, and dealing so elegantly with the crap she gets back.
i agree with lubna hussein and hirsi ali, and there are many many women who are working in countries where women are oppressed and doing incredible work whose names i don't know.
i'd go so far as to say missy elliott and kathleen hanna and electrelane and miss kittin and ms dynamite and loads of pro woman music, not forgetting lovely thurston moore.
and then there are our older sisters - gloria steinem, germaine greer, bell hooks, irgaray and kristeva, woolf and wolf, the list goes on....

but my biggest feminist icons are the women i know. sue who was an activist now and in the seventies. sal who set up BFN. katy who works tirelessly for abortion rights. jenny who protests loudly against media objectification. jacky who set up rape crisis centres in the 80s. elaine and all the women who set up the rape crisis centre this year. jo who made a speech at reclaim the night. and many many more of the women i meet and talk to and keep in touch with who are working their asses off to make this world a better place for women and men.

Thursday, 13 August 2009


this is the video me, jenny, sue, angel and mark made when we had out guerilla protest against lad's mags. we went into newsagents, tescos, whsmiths, the co op etc and flyered the covers of lad's mags with our own inverted cover, and the message "lad's mags present a one dimensional view of female and male sexuality."

the voiceover comes from a radio debate on our protest that was on local radio GWR's breakfast show. they think we are women with beards.

Our protest was to try and say that lad's mags censor women and women's bodies, and that they are damaging to men and women.

we are planning to have a guerilla protest and make a film about airbrushing this november so watch this space!

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

hands up if you've suffered street harassment

Hands up if you’ve been harassed in the street!

I wanted to invite people to discuss their experiences of street harassment. This is something that affects every woman I know, and yet when it is discussed on such sites as CIF and the ilk, its existence is staunchly denied by male commenters who say they have never harassed a woman on the street. Well, I’ve never murdered anyone but I won’t deny it happens. If every woman I have EVER met has been harassed on the street or in a public place, from yelling on the pavement or out a car window, to people not getting the hint in a club, something tells me that it is a problem.
A lot of the time discussion on this gets the response from men that they have been harassed by women when they walk down the street or are in a bar. This is true, and I imagine it is annoying. But I think the clear difference between this and the kind of street harassment I personally have experienced, is that I don’t think men are scared when women harass them. Pissed off, annoyed and embarrassed maybe, but not scared. Please do correct me if I am wrong, as I say this is just my assumption. I don’t want to belittle men’s experience of street harassment from women, I just make the point that firstly it is less common and secondly it has less impact to frighten or threaten.

I want to share with you two episodes of street harassment that I have experienced. I have had way more harassment than this in my life but these two were the most intensely frightening and threatening.

The first one happened on the number 38 bus at around 10am on a Saturday morning in 2005. I was hungover and on my way to Victoria to get a bus to Bristol. There was no one else on the top deck except me and the man who took the seat in front of me.
I was yawning and the man turned around and asked me if I was tired or hungry. I smiled stiffly, in the way Londoners do when spoken to on public transport, and said both. He laughed, and tried to talk to me for a bit, and because my need to be polite overcomes the need I have to stolidly ignore everyone on buses when I am hungover, I talked back to him. I don’t really remember what we talked about. Then, without warning, he lunged at me and tried to kiss me. I pushed him away, so he only managed to kiss my shoulder, and I said NO as firmly as I could. He just smiled, and shrugged, and got off at the next stop.
I remember feeling frightened, but more than that I felt absolutely furious. How dare he try to do that to me? What gave him the right to try to kiss me, when all I wanted to do was take the bus to Victoria without being bothered by anyone? I was so angry, and I was shaken. It was so annoying, it made me so mad that he had thought it was ok to do that. And I was frightened, because what if he hadn’t smiled and shrugged? What if he had got angry? We were alone on the top deck, and I was amazed at how feeble and weak I had felt when I said no and pushed him. I became so frightened that if things had got worse, I wouldn’t be able to defend myself, precisely because I was afraid.

I was so angry.

The second incident happened two months ago, when it was hot. I was wearing a short playsuit. I was leaving the job centre after signing on. The job centre is opposite a strip club. It was 11am, bright sunny day, and a group of men were sitting outside the strip club. 5 or 6 of them, in their 30s. As I walked past I put my glasses in my bag and went to get my sunglasses out, when one of them shouted “oy you dropped something”. I turned around thinking something had dropped out my bag and they said “you dropped your knickers”. I turned right round and kept walking, when they started chanting “bitch bitch bitch bitch” after me. I started crying.
Never have I heard someone put so much hate in the word bitch. I thought they wanted to kill me, their voices were so full of anger and malevolence and hate. Sheer hate. And this is important – even though technically I knew I was safe, I felt so frightened. I felt like they could hurt me.
When I stopped being frightened I got mad. I got so angry. I wanted to walk back over there and kick in their smug self satisfied faces. I wanted to pull their arms around their backs and make them apologise. I wished I knew martial arts so I could show them what should happen to them for treating women with such hatred, with such disrespect. I’m not a violent person but I wanted to make these men frightened like they had made me frightened.

What I want to know is why do these people think it is ok to chant bitch as I walk past? Why do people think it is ok to tell me I have nice tits and they’d like to fuck me? Why is it ok that once when a group of men started harassing me, they saw my boyfriend next to me and then apologised to him? Why is it ok to tell me that my outfit is nice and sexy – I don’t give a flying fuck if you think that or not! Why are women walking down the street public property, to be commented on, evaluated, commanded and told what to do? How is this still happening? How is this still considered ok?

If you have experienced street harassment it would be great if you could share it on my blog. I think one of the best ways to try to stop street harassment, learn skills on how to answer back and how to deal with it is to tell stories of what has happened to us, and how we felt. We need to make street harassment recognised as an issue, as a problem, and not just an insignificant moan. One way to do this is to show people how much it affects people and how many people it really does effect. And how, most of all it isn’t a compliment. It’s harassment. Pure and simple.

Friday, 7 August 2009

The Myth of the Old Humourless Feminist

The Myth of the Older Humourless Feminist

As you can see, today is a day for deconstructing the myths Sian style!

Like a lot of feminists on the blogosphere I have been getting a bit irate with the current business of Ellie Levenson’s new book. Lot of reasons for this, including the unpleasant things she has to say about rape, rape jokes, how you can be anti abortion and feminist, and how feminism is primarily about individual choice. I will hopefully deal with these issues in another post (not to personally attack Ellie, but because I think these are important issues to be questioned, and Ellie just happened to bring them up). But the one thing that I am going to talk about now, and which has been discussed at length is this idea that second wave feminists were dull, po faced and serious, and to attract new women to feminism we have to turn our backs on this history.

I have many, many issues with this philosophy which I will try to explain.

Firstly – even if this rumour were true, what is wrong with being humourless and serious? Surely when we are talking about issues that are so devastating and life changing as rape, domestic violence and assault, as important as equal pay rights, as vital as reproductive control and as globally necessary as education to rescue women from poverty, a little seriousness is in order? These are big, big issues. They are not be taken lightly. They demand concentration, respect and serious consideration. Despite the growing number of rape jokes (I’m looking at you Frankie Boyle) I think most of us can agree that we shouldn’t talk about rape in a non-serious way? Some issues don’t require lightness and humour. The fact that many in the feminist world can tackle these issues with humour and cleverness is applaudable. I will come to that later. I think we do feminism a massive injustice when we criticise it for being too humourless, as if any of the issues the second wavers tackled required anything less than a serious approach.

Second – exactly which revolutionary movement was a barrel full of laughs? Socialism? The Old Left? The New Left? The MRA? The October 1917 revolutionaries? Civil Rights? All of these movements can be similarly characterized as humourless! What these people were fighting for was the actuality of the deep, deep political beliefs they held. I’m pretty sure they didn’t feel the need to not take their beliefs seriously in case they are characterized as “humourless”. Yet feminism is criticised for taking itself too seriously, not understanding irony (as if there’s anything ironic about rape jokes) and being humourless. I would like to see one of these critics go up to Marx or Malcolm X and tell them to chill out, stop taking this all so seriously, it’s not that bad.
Why is feminism under attack for being humourless rather than all the other movements? Could it be because of the age old stereotypes that women aren’t funny? I think this is partly the problem. By saying feminists take themselves too seriously is a way of saying we won’t take it seriously. By saying we’re humourless is, in a way, saying that we’re a joke, an aberration.

But the final point is, and this is the most important one, is that the idea of the humourless po-faced feminist is a lie. It’s not true. It is a stereotype created to undermine feminism and to suggest, as I say, that it is not a movement to be taken seriously.

Obviously some older feminists are humourless and dull. So are some younger feminists. So are people you meet in all walks of life! You meet dull humourless people all the time, from the person you wish you hadn’t started talking to at a family gathering to the person at work you really don’t want to go for a drink with. But just as not everyone you meet is dull, neither is every feminist. People come in all personality types, feminists come in all personality types.

That was my disclaimer btw so no one can come on the blog and say “I met a feminist once and she was boring.” I can’t tell you how many socialists I have met that make me want to chop my ears off. Doesn’t mean I think all of them are like that. So there!

By characterising second wave feminists as old and humourless we are saying that they have nothing to offer us, nothing to say to us, that their concerns are not the concerns of younger women. But this is not true.

When I read stories about the second wave, from stringing up “Women of the World Unite” banners on the Statue Of Liberty to women pulling together on Greenham Common, I am struck by the humour, community spirit and vitality that characterizes these women’s experiences. These women came together to fight injustice, arm in arm, shining with excitement at the possibility of change. When I read Gloria Steinem’s essays, they condemn inequality but they are full of joy and love for the work her and other women were doing. Talking to my friend about her consciousness raising group in the seventies and eighties, she describes women talking, sharing, sometimes crying but mostly laughing (and drinking cider!). It was an inspirational time. It was a time when women discovered their voices.

Obviously I wasn’t there. And obviously life wasn’t a bed of roses and there were fights and factions and splits in the feminist movement. But that is characteristic of any movement. As with the humourless argument, I don’t see why this criticism should be specifically used against feminism. My point is that just as there were fights and anger, there was joy, vitality and a sense of togetherness. Because the former existed should not negate the other. And we should never have let the negatives become used to define feminism. Because just as the positive elements are only half the story on their own, so are the negative elements.

This is how we should characterize the second wave.
We should see it as a time where women won rights that we don’t even question these days.
The right to not have to get married.
The right to be able to work if you were married. (working class women kind of had this right already, but the class issue is a whole other argument I hope to address in a different post.)
The right to expect equal pay for equal work (a right we still fight for)
The right for a woman not to be raped if she is married. (sadly, a right we still fight for)
The right to have an abortion (even if this is a right we must continue to uphold)
The right to have your name on a utility bill (can you believe that wasn’t possible in the 70s if you were married!?)
And so many more rights and beliefs that I can’t fit them all on one post.
We should remember the second wave as a time when women stood up and showed that together they could form a movement to be bloody well reckoned with. That they had voices, that they had power, that they did not have to keep quiet and wait for a man. Feminism changed our lives, these women changed our lives. Just because we aren’t there yet, doesn’t mean that what they did didn’t mean anything. Again, this is a criticism only really levelled at feminism. Do we stop listening to Martin Luther King’s I have a dream speech because racism is still a problem? No we don’t.

But because the movement has become tarred by this humourless brush, we forget that they fought the fight worth fighting for, so we didn’t have to.

So why was feminism portrayed this way? The reason, I believe, is very similar as to why commentators continue to deny the existence of young feminists. If the Mail style media and anti feminists portrayed feminism as a force to be reckoned with, a movement full of vitality that changed women’s lives for the better, then they would have to take notice, they would have to recognise its successes, and recognise that we have further to go. If they portray feminism as a bunch of grumpy dour women with an axe to grind, they are let off the hook in taking it seriously. They don’t have to listen, they can point and mock. It is in a lot of people’s interests to uphold this view.

It’s so sad. It’s so sad that such an exciting movement has been so derided by a few made up stereotypes.
So what’s the solution? I believe it is much, much bigger than the view that to get young women into feminism we have to turn our back on second wavers and say all the “you can be feminist and wear lipstick now!!” nonsense. I believe that we should look at the achievements of the second wave and say, hell yeah! We should applaud our sisters for what they did, and we should then move on to say – what still needs to be done? How can we take the lessons of the second wave to help us fight the battles we face today? We should talk to older feminists and find out more about their experiences, we should hear their stories and add our own. We should not see it in terms of us and them, we should see it in terms of ALL OF US!

Most importantly we should recognise that the stereotype just doesn’t hold water. And even if it did, why should we care? I’d rather that feminism was peopled by the dullest most unfunny people in the world rather than give up the rights they won for me. I’d rather they were all miserable and po faced than give up the freedoms I don’t even question.

A short anecdote to share with you now.
When we did Bristol Reclaim the Night we finished in the Trinity Centre, had some amazing speeches, and then Lipstick on Your Collar dj-ed. The first song they played was Carly Simon’s You’re So Vain and me and three or four of the other organisers put our tiredness aside and danced. We laughed and we danced and we sang along and I felt a huge rush of euphoria. I remember thinking ecstatically how we had done it, we had really done it. I felt such a flood of joy and excitement and I remember thinking that this must be what it felt like back then. I felt a beautiful connection with my history. And although I was sad that we are still having to do Reclaim the Nights, I feel that with the second wave on our side, this time we will win.