Archive for the ‘The F-Word’ Category

The F-Word: Consent must never exist only in the eye of the beholder

david cameron

TW: Rape and sexual/domestic abuse

Nothing of much importance or concern happened in the news last week, so I expect you all to be fully up-to-date on everyone’s favourite joykill D-Cam and his new proposals to block internet porn via an opt-out filter. Yes, opt-out – cue awkward conversations in university halls all over the country: “so, er, about that porn filter…”. Not being well-versed in the technological implications of such a filter, and having had the censorship row until I’m blue in the face, I want to instead focus on the FEMINIST angle of this story because I’m boring and fun-spongey like that. More specifically, I want to focus on the consent angle because it’s everyone’s favourite feminist topic, right? Except Dave’s apparently, for reasons which will hopefully become clear throughout this article.

I generally respect the rights of consenting adults to do whatever they please, providing they aren’t hurting anyone else in the process. It follows, then, that while I share popular concerns about labour conditions within the porn industry, I don’t view pornography itself as inherently problematic and I respect performers’ right to take part in it, and their ability to consent to the acts they partake in. It doesn’t come down to whether or not you have any desire to watch other people having sex, it comes down to whether or not you believe those other people have the right to make choices about their own bodies; I fundamentally do, and so I firmly believe that any discussion of whether or not porn is ‘empowering’ has to be about working conditions and consent rather than scripts and camera angles. So when we talk about the filtering of images and videos, I hear (or don’t, as the case may be) the filtering of voices and choices.

One slightly grisly aspect of the proposal is the attempt to close the ‘rape porn loophole’ by making illegal simulated images of rape – and please note simulated; real images are obviously abhorrent and already illegal – in England and Wales (it’s been under-reported that they already are in Scotland). As you might imagine, this isn’t an easy thing for anyone, feminist or not, to have a rational discussion about. The thought of such imagery makes me wildly uncomfortable and I have no desire whatsoever to see it or find out what it entails. I get that just the words ‘rape porn’ are enough to make you wince and that emotion blinds judgement, and that it’s hard to think critically about something that seems, on the surface, to be such very good progress. But I’m feeling brave, so I’ll admit it – I can’t support this ban.

There are lots of reasons why this is the case; I contest the term ‘rape porn’ in the first place since it’s an oxymoron, so I’m not really sure that ‘rape fantasies’ are actually ‘rape’ fantasies, and I don’t want to stigmatise women that might fantasise about domination, or those who are already stigmatised because of other marginalised sexual identities and practices. I don’t like the thought of criminalising people for their choices and I don’t believe that the way to solve issues is to drive them underground. But what I really really REALLY can’t support about this proposal is the idea that consent can ever exist solely in the eye of the beholder.

It is precisely because I find abuse and violence so abhorrent that I take issue with this plan to ban. When we decide that abuse occurs at the discretion of an external viewer, we implicitly agree that it follows a narrative that is obvious and recognisable. We perpetuate myths of strange men and dark alleys and powerless women, and aggression, and outright violence, when the reality tells us that the majority or rape happens between couples, and yes doesn’t always necessarily quite mean yes thank you very much. When we censor a person’s right to agree, we also censor their right not to – the very butt of what makes rape rape.

That violence against women is quickly dismissed when it doesn’t fit into a neat little storyboard of stereotypes is obvious everywhere. There was widespread disbelief that someone as middle-class, middle-aged and domestically perfect as Nigella Lawson could ever be the victim of domestic violence when pictures of Charles Saatchi throttling her emerged in June. Equally, the only event that’s managed to get me to look up Big Brother in recent years was the forced eviction a few weeks ago of a male housemate who pinned a woman down by the neck and reminded her “what happens when he gets mad”. A glance over the related hashtag returned pages of teenagers commenting on how she’d deserved it by flirting and playfighting with him and “playing the victim”, something I doubt they would have said had the man jumped out from behind a tree and knocked his ‘playmate’ out.

As feminists, we rightly pile importance onto consent and our right to choose. We agree that women have the agency to make decisions about their own bodies, and that they have the ownership of those bodies to do what they please with them. This can’t expire when we feel uncomfortable about the choices concerned. There’s no evidence to prove a causal link between watching pornography and committing sexual violence, but if that’s what you’re worried about, then consider this – that maybe it’s just as damaging for our children to grow up thinking that rape and abuse always necessarily looks or sounds the same, that it doesn’t count when it doesn’t fit the template, that their voices don’t really matter because someone else can decide for them.

What is really needed in place of this knee-jerk censorship proposal is sex education that’s a million times better, and regulation of the sex industries to ensure consent and agreed standards of working conditions. We need to teach children that their bodies belong to them, that when they’re old enough to do so, they can use them how they please. We need to teach them that abuse isn’t always obvious and doesn’t follow recognisable patterns for our convenience. We need to teach them that stigma kills and that we should try and stop it doing so, by respecting the rights of everyone to do as they choose.

But most of all, we need to teach them that their voices do matter and are valued – and fundamentally we then need to make sure that that remains true, no matter what they choose to do with the rest of themselves.

The F-Word: Angelina Jolie, Sex Work and why judging other women will get us nowhere


It doesn’t take a genius to see that women in 2013 are public property. We’re heckled on the street by men who feel entitled to our bodies; our decisions are continually up for debate and judgement; even choices about our own reproductive systems are not truly ours to make. The way we present ourselves is picked apart, chewed up and spat out at our feet, where we fall down again scrabbling around to put it all back together. The patriarchy feeds on this public ownership of women – the ability to judge us, to manipulate us and to undermine our choices. So when a man judges us by these standards, it can be rage-inducing and tiresome, but when another woman does so it’s truly upsetting. If we can’t help each other, then who will help us at all?

That women’s bodies belong to the masses is not news to anyone who has spent longer than ten seconds reading The Daily Mail or, in fact, almost any major publication. If we’re not ‘flaunting our pregnant bellies’, we’re ‘pouring our curves into a tight dress’ or ‘showing off our bikini bodies’. So far, so celebrity pullout. But this commodification of the female body took a sombre turn this week with actress Angelina Jolie’s announcement that she has undergone an invasive double mastectomy in order to beat her 87% chance of developing breast cancer. “I do not feel any less of a woman. I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity” she writes in her articulate New York Times op-ed which, she makes clear, she chose to publish in the hope of helping other women know their options, and confront any fears of them. For what it’s worth, I think she’s done an incredible thing; for a sex symbol to have both breasts chopped off, and then choose to write about it for no personal benefit but to help others, is heartening. She notes that she is undergoing reconstructive surgery, and that she’s managed to keep all her work engagements throughout the intensive surgery: none of us had to be any the wiser. Angelina Jolie made a brave and difficult decision before she even chose to write her article, and then she made another one.

But this isn’t about what I think. Rather, it’s about the wave of criticism that she was inevitably met with upon the publishing of her NY Times piece. Reactions broadly fell into two camps; the bare-faced sexism which saw infantile comments such as “Poor Brad” and “R.I.P. Boobs” marked up, and the reactionary feminism which accused Angelina of not checking her privilege and endorsing a screening test not accessible to many women because of costs and flaws in the US healthcare system.

The first of these reactions can quite simply be put down to classic sexism and male entitlement and, actually, I don’t think such comments deserve to be dignified with any further discussion. The points made by the second camp of critics, though, are valid; I’m all for checking my privilege, and I fully support a free, universal healthcare system. It’s just that I’m not sure it’s within Angelina’s power to solve all this. She does, in fact, acknowledge the expense of the mentioned screening test, calling it ‘an obstacle to many women’. What more can she do? She’s fairly busy raising a family, making a living and campaigning against sexual violence as a weapon of war, that selfish bimbo. The fear and pain that she must surely have felt throughout both decision and procedure is no less because of her bank balance. Angelina has, throughout her career, dedicated a huge amount of time to trying to help other women from all walks of life. Why is it that as soon as a woman achieves a modicum of success, we expect the world from her?

But I digress. The point in all of this is that it makes me incredibly uncomfortable when men and women alike feel entitled to whip out their soapboxes and publicise their feelings about what another woman has decided to do with her own flesh, blood and muscle. We don’t own Angelina Jolie; decisions she makes about her own body belong to her.

This rule holds true for all consenting adults – and that includes sex workers, whether you like it or not. Journalist Suzanne Moore doesn’t like it apparently; in fact, she writes in The Guardian that she’d rather just call them whores because, call her old-fashioned, but “some ‘sex work’ is a bit rubbish. Being locked in a room for 16 hours, gouged out on smack, feeling tired, lonely and ill, often without even being able to speak much English, is not so empowering after all. But it’s not the sex that’s the problem, apparently, its the working conditions (we must not stigmatise sex workers)”. Maybe some of those privilege-checking Angelina Jolie critics could come and help me out here because I genuinely don’t know where to start with ths elitist vitriol. The snarky inverted commas around ‘sex workers’? The complete silencing of sex workers’ voices that Moore is engaging in? The fictional account she’s used to justify her horribly offensive comments? Maybe the accompanying picture is as good a place as any, seeing as it ironically depicts a woman holding a placard with the slogan “My body to give. Not yours to take”. Well, quite. Bizarrely, this is actually an article about sex trafficking and child abuse, and so Moore manages to conflate these issues with sex work, single-handedly obscuring a dangerous and important problem, while actually putting sex workers in more danger than the hypothetical risk she imagines them to be facing in in the first place. Nice work.

The point is this: if you look at a sex worker and think that she is any less of a woman because of her working decisions, then I’m inclined to say that that is solely your own problem. It’s not for me to preach about why women go into sex work, but (and I’m happy to be corrected on any of this by someone with real experience) I would imagine it’s for a variety of reasons – some because they really need money, some because they can’t do anything else, some because they genuinely love the job. It sounds a bit like me really; I can’t say my formative years spent wiping children’s noses in an after-school club or refolding jeans in Topshop were so because there was nothing I wanted to do more with my life. The arbitrary line drawn by Moore is her own, and yes, it’s shared by a lot of people, so it’s often reflected in law – but to me it says more about them than it does about the women they are so quick to judge. At the end of the day, Moore’s comments smack of the type of feminism which, put shrewdly by writer Sarah Woolley recently, “will fight fervently for a woman’s right to choose until they no longer trust her with that right”.

The point in all of this is that holding women’s choices up for scrutiny reinforces all the stereotypes and binaries that the patriarchy already uses to police us. Continually we are our own worst critics. But everytime we tut about the make-up and outfits of this year’s female Apprentice candidates, or raise our eyebrows at Kim Kardashian’s pregancy wardrobe, we’re fracturing our own progress a little bit more. There will be those that say I’ve engaged in exactly what I’m criticising by picking out Angelina Jolie’s critics, or Suzanne Moore’s Guardian article, but that is to miss the point. Of course we should challenge and criticise and even judge each other, as long as it’s on terms that aren’t dictated by our gender. Men are criticised and judged all the time, but for the most part their personal decisions, choices and physical attributes aren’t up for public scrutiny. Perhaps our judgements really are just mirrors to our own prejudices and fears, but all is not lost – as American journalist Sidney J. Harris put beautifully, “the whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows”. I can’t help but think it’s high time we started doing just that.


The F-Word: Why I’d rather be a funge than a frapist


I have a theory that you can measure how bizarre or morally dubious something is by trying to explain it to a small child, or a proper grown-up, and monitoring their reaction. Really, parliamentary debates and campaign videos in support of equal marriage should probably just be waived in favour of a close-up shot of a four-year-old, wide-eyed, eyebrows furled, wailing “but what do you MEAN people who love each other can’t get married?”. My theory was tested again the other day when I found myself trying to explain the term ‘frape’ to my dissertation supervisor, who incidentally hadn’t heard of UniLad either until she agreed to help me. Sorry supervisor.

For the uninitiated, ‘frape’ is the amalgamation of ‘facebook’ and ‘rape’ and refers to a situation in which someone accesses another person’s account and makes changes to their profile which are usually as uninspired as they are homophobic – “I love cock” remains a firm favourite amongst teen and twenty-something men. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for combining words. After all, where would we be without Brangelina or Kimye? Except for probably a lot further forward in our degrees and with a lot less library procrastination material, of course. Some portmanteaus – to use the official term – describe things better than the words they originally combine; take ‘smog’, for example. Some are just funny; I’m a big fan of combining ‘fun’ and ‘sponge’ to make ‘funge’, which is probably just as well, given that I am fully expecting to be labelled one in the comments section of this blog…

‘Frape’ has always bothered me, but until relatively recently I thought it fruitless to confront its useage, and knew that I was opening myself up to people calling me boring and telling me to focus on more important things – although doing an Anthropology degree has pretty much gotten me used to this. The thing is though, that all jokes aside, I don’t find many things more important than the fact that 1 in 5 women will be victims of sexual violence in their lifetime. I don’t find many things more important than the fact that we live in a culture where victims are led to suicide because of society’s instinct to defend rapists. And even though we don’t mean to, everytime we make light of rape by making a tasteless rape joke or using a word like ‘frape’, we’re contributing to that culture. We’re minimising the experiences of survivors by likening their traumatic experience to a minor inconvenience like your facebook friends thinking you love cock – and while we’re on it, who cares whether you do or not?

There is already a taboo surrounding the discussion of rape in a way that there isn’t about other violent crimes. Using words like ‘frape’ diverts attention from the seriousness of the crime, and actually contributes to this silence. Imagine a friend trying to confide in you about the awful thing that has happened to her, only to be reminded of all the times you likened a slightly embarrassing status update to her experience. Do we really value women – our friends – so little that one of the biggest problems facing them is just one big joke? Besides, there are definitely funnier jokes. The ‘nacho cheese’ one is a big favourite of mine.

There will of course be those who come back at this with the old arguments about censorship and the evolution of language. I’m not denying the importance of freedom of speech, but these complaints tend, on the whole, to come from a place of privilege; it’s easy for people who will never be triggered or offended by language to defend their right to use it. In this case, though, there’s quite a simple rebuttal in that there are other perfectly useable words which describe exactly the same thing. Hacking, for example. I’ve seen people use ‘franking’ and ‘facejacking’. Or, you know, “someone got on my profile and wrote some poorly spelt comments reminiscent of a 12-year-old in the playground”. I’m hard pressed to believe it could upset anyone not to be able to use the word ‘frape’ to the same extent that it can upset and trigger a rape survivor who routinely sees their friends make light of one of the worst experiences of their life.

On another online blog about this subject, a Very Clever commenter has written “but language evolves and is reappropriated. I would murder my cornflakes, is that trivialising murder?”. Ho, ho, ho. I can picture him now, giggling over his cornflakes and slapping his thigh at his own intelligence. It might seem that he makes a good point but you only have to scratch the surface to see that he doesn’t, really. We don’t live in a ‘murder culture’ where murder is perpetuated by our rush to defend the murderer. We don’t ask what murder victims were wearing, or how much they’d been drinking, or whether they’d made themselves available for murdering. It’s pretty widely accepted that murder is not okay, and not much is going to make us think otherwise, unless maybe Jennifer Lawrence takes on some kind of murder-ey ad campaign. But we do live in a culture that perpetuates rape, that trivialises it and that positions it as the butt of a joke – if it’s acceptable to approximate a status update to an aggressive violation against women, then it’s acceptable to not see rape as a big deal.

If you’re still reading this, rolling your eyes and thinking about how boring and politically correct I’m being, or coming up with criticisms akin to our Very Clever commenter’s cornflakes jape, then consider this: I mentioned earlier the statistic that 1 in 5 women will experience rape or sexual violence in their lifetime. The average facebook user in their twenties has 323 friends; a lot of my friends have more than that. Let’s say that roughly half of them are women – that’s 32 friends who likely have, or will, experience an act of violence nobody should ever have to. I personally would want my friends to know that I appreciate the gravity of their experience. That it’s a bit more important than people thinking that ‘i’m a lesbyean and i luv fanny’. That – and I hope you agree – we all owe our friends a little bit more than this.

The F-Word: When is a compliment not a compliment?

Street Harassment

To understand a man”, said somebody wise once, “you must first walk a mile in his shoes”. It’s a proverb widely reused across popular culture, and often misattributed to To Kill A Mockingbird’s resident moral compass Atticus Finch who in actual fact talked of how You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” It’s a nice idea, and one that more people should employ in their day-to-day lives – try to see things from other points of view, but acknowledge that nobody can truly understand the problems facing someone but that person him/herself. It is in fact an idea that has much to contribute to feminist discussions of male privilege and intersectionality (the notion that all types of oppression are interconnected and can’t be examined in isolation from each other). Oh Atticus Finch, you feminist icon, you.

It’s no coincidence, though, that these classic lines are gendered in favour of men. Too often the world has worn the shoes of its male inhabitants, with the result that ‘women’s issues’ are frequently dismissed because of their invisibility to those who write the papers and the policy, those who run boardrooms and bars alike. One such issue is that of street harassment, and it’s one thatInternational Anti Street-Harassment Week, which ended yesterday, has attempted to address. When taking street harassment generally to refer to any unwanted verbal or physical attention in a public place, 99% of women over 13 report having experienced it – and yet too often they’re met with disdain as to why they’ve over-reacted to a compliment, or the hilaaaarious joke that us lads would love it if more women pinched us on the bum in nightclubs, ho ho ho.

And maybe you would. Because street harassment is itself symbolic of a wider power relation in which men dominate and control public space. It would be totally out of order (not to mention out of character) for me to smack a man’s bum in the street, but it’s unlikely to evoke the same level of intimidation and panic for him as it does for the 14-year-old girl being followed home from school, or the woman leaving a bar alone with her heart rate raised as she clocks the men standing in a doorway, or the student who’s scared to wait for the bus because of the men in the bus stop making lewd comments. In fact, I’d probably be called a slag or a whore were I to engage in the street harassment behaviour that women experience every day. It is, of course, another signifier that men run the show when it comes to sex. They’re the ones with the desires that just can’t be suppressed and find their outlet in a wolf whistle or a sleazy comment while women find themselves the passive recipients, labelled a slut if they do and a slut if they don’t.

And street harassment doesn’t just refer to these wolfwhistles or sleazy comments. You only need to glance over Everyday Sexism’s #shoutingbackhashtag, or the official Anti-Street Harassment Week one #EndSH to see that behaviours we might view as extreme are actually commonplace; women being followed is a common theme, as is the threat of violence. Far too many women report men exposing themselves and often even pleasuring themselves in front of them. Transport is a place full of potential dangers. Going for a jog isn’t safe either. Don’t even mention nightclubs or offices. Young girls aren’t free from harassment, just as harassers start young with women reporting obscene comments from groups of boys as young as 12. It doesn’t matter if they think you’re attractive or not; sometimes you’ll get sexual orders yelled at you, sometimes you’ll be called ‘an ugly dyke’ or laughed at. There is no place in the public sphere safe from harassment, and so street harassment is not a non-issue unless you’re totally fine with women staying indoors all day too afraid to leave. What is there to see outside anyway? Nothing the menfolk can’t deal with.

That men feel entitled to women’s bodies doesn’t bode well in the age of Steubenville and the New Delhi rape. That boys as young as 12 have a sense of male privilege where the sole purpose of women is for their sexual satisfaction doesn’t bode well in a culture where we routinely blame and ostracise women for their rape, while letting perpetrators off on the basis of their victims’ heel height or blood alcohol level. As long as you think that rape and sexual assault are issues, street harassment can’t be invisible. It’s the ugly undercurrent of patriarchy. It is at once a root and a symptom of rape culture.

There’s a misguided idea that it’s difficult for a man to compliment a woman without her getting on her high horse and slapping his hand away, god forbid he should speak to her like that. I’d like to counter that with the somewhat revolutionary suggestion that women, like men, are just human beings. Compliments are good, we like them too. The dictionary definition of ‘compliment’ refers to ‘politeness’. Compliment away! Some of us go out looking for compliments. Some of us go out looking for sex, much like some men do. Feel free to indulge us. The same social cues that apply to men actually apply to us too; if a man isn’t receptive and doesn’t engage with you, you probably leave him alone, right? I hope you’re catching on by now; treat women like human beings with the same respect afforded to anyone else and you’ll be just dandy. If you’re still stuck: when is a compliment not a compliment? When it’s a threat or a statement of intent.

So maybe it’s about time for minimisers of street harassment to walk a mile in a woman’s shoes, or climb into her skin and walk around inside it. See how it feels for every public space to be a potential warzone; for your workplace or place of education to be intimidating, for a night out to turn sour, for your daily run to be punctuated with shouts and whistles. For you to ignore it all only for the perpetrator to turn nasty, and sometimes physically aggressive. For you to be blamed when this is the case, because you were inviting the attention, or giving attitude in the face of a compliment. Walk a mile in a woman’s shoes, or climb into her skin and walk around inside it for you to see that it makes no difference whether the shoes are high or flat, sparkly or plain. That it doesn’t matter if the skin is covered up or on display. Women will continue to receive this unwanted attention no matter what we look like or what we’re wearing, and we’ll continue to be blamed for it. As long as this remains the case, street harassment has to be an issue for everyone. The world has long been overdue a new pair of shoes.

The F-Word: Why Rihanna is just like the rest of us


Rihanna”s in the news again. Better avert any precious pre-teen eyes before they catch her contagious sexuality and transform into writhing sluts before our very eyes. She predates teen sex, revealing clothing and domestic abuse after all. It”s all her fault. The middle-class mums raising their eyebrows over their mid-morning coffees certainly think so.

Well I, luckily enough, am not a middle-class mum and I”m hardly ever up early enough to meet for mid-morning coffee, so I guess it”s okay that I love Rihanna for all her controversies and contradictions and mistakes and successes. A little disclaimer here before I go any further; of course it”s important to acknowledge bigger questions about patriarchal influences on her clothing choices and sexually explicit lyrics, but I am firmly of the “don”t hate the player, hate the game” school of thinking. Insofar as Rihanna is negotiating a patriarchal playing field just like the rest of us, I think she”s doing the best she can in the only way she knows how – kind of like all my twenty-something female friends. Tutting and averting your eyes from her overt sexuality and very public private life simply serves to reinforce some of the biggest double standards facing young women today; that we at once have to be sexually available without being slutty, that we”re gentle and servile until a man rapes us or beats us up and suddenly it”s all our fault.

Now I”m not claiming to be some kind of expert on the lyrics of every Rihanna album ever, but I”ve listened to the radio, seen the videos and watched the consequent moral panic every time she releases a new single. Lots of her songs are about sex. Some of them are about parties and dancing and others are about falling in love or having your heart broken. It”s a soundtrack that actually sums up the lifestyles of young women beginning to make their way in the world, exploring what it means to be young and female. Songs like Rude Boy and S&M might be shocking, but only because society says that women shouldn”t be sexually confident and in control; I”m more concerned about how Taylor Swift gets away with lyrics chastising other women for their sluttiness, or why we think it”s sweet when One Direction sing about women as passive recipients of their affection. After all, nobody blinked an eyelid at the absolute tune that was Justin Timberlake”s “SexyBack”: You see these shackles/ Baby I’m your slave/ I’ll let you whip me if I gambling problems misbehave”. But then JT isn”t a sexually confident black girl. I can”t speak on behalf of black women, but it”s certainly important to note that there are a whole range of extra problems, double standards and stereotypes facing them that Rihanna has also had to negotiate throughout her life and career, the hyper-sexualised, booty-shaking black woman trope being just one.

Sadly, slut-shaming is but one step on the slippery slope towards victim-blaming, and here we find Ri-Ri again, bearing the brunt of society”s misguided feelings about domestic abuse and gender violence. Rihanna is one of the 3million American women beaten by their partners in a year, and she”s one of the many millions who have returned to that partner in the aftermath – on average, a woman leaves an abusive relationship 7 times before leaving for good. To pile all our discomfort about these shocking statistics on an easy target helps nobody. The criminal here is Chris Brown, and if Rihanna takes him back and the same thing happens again, it”s still nobody”s fault except his. Rihanna is a grown woman, and she summed it up herself when she said “if it”s a mistake, it”s my mistake”, actually a refreshingly honest and mature comment taking responsibility for her own actions. But back to hating the game and not the player – it might be true that bigwig record label bosses have exploited Rihanna”s situation with songs like “Russian Roulette” and “Love The Way You Lie”. It might not be. But regardless of who is ultimately pulling the strings, surely it is absolutely not the place of anyone else to decide whether or not Rihanna is expressing herself correctly as a victim.

Famous women occupy a strange territory where they”re judged by standards we don”t expect of other women. Of course there”s economic privilege to take into account, but Rihanna, Beyonce, Christina and co are still women

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– some of them are black, or lesbians, or come from difficult social backgrounds, and these inequalities can”t be ignored just because a woman has made it to the top against all the odds. At the end of the day, celebrity men aren”t expected to be waving a flag for a greater cause all the time, and we don”t hold every single one of them up as role models for little boys – if we did, Pete Docherty et al would be screwed, not to mention Chris Brown again, discussion of whom is always centred on his victim rather than the influence he might have on impressionable young boys. Maybe you don”t want your children to listen to songs about S&M or drugs or guns, and I understand that – but regulate their access to these things, rather than attempting to regulate a young woman”s way of expressing herself in a male-dominated world. Rihanna is a real young woman, dealing with all the same things that real young women deal with and yes, she”s contradicted herself and changed her mind and reinvented her identity in her time in the spotlight. But she”s also consistently controlled her own image and subverted stereotypes of what women, and specifically women of colour, should be. Not to mention having gone through a horrific ordeal and come out of the other side full steam ahead, with a new album, tour and film roles to boot.

It”s easy for those middle-class mums to tut at Rihanna over their coffees because underneath the bravado she is a twenty-something, black domestic abuse victim from a very difficult family background. An easy target. That it”s seen as acceptable for women like Rihanna to bear the brunt of our disapproval is the real problem here, and having little girls growing up accepting this as fact is far more damaging than them being exposed to a bare navel or an innuendo-laden lyric that they don”t even understand. I hope Rihanna is safe and happy, as all women deserve to be. I hope she has a strong support network around her, should she need one again. All we can do, as gormless spectators, is leave her to it and accept her decisions, whatever they might be. To tut and shake our heads at her is to strip a young women of agency, choice and ultimately a chance at equality, and that”s a dangerous road to go down indeed.

Nanu Spotify Playlist: International Women's Day


To accompany International Women”s Day today, Elyse has compiled a bumper six hour, all-female playlist for you to enjoy. There”s a bit of everything – from hip hop to riot grrrl, electro to pop.

Have we missed your favourite fierce and empowering

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female track? Please comment and let us know!

What about International Men’s Day?

womans day

Today is International Women’s Day, a day of solidarity and respect. A day of celebration and hope. A day of men asking why there isn’t an International Men’s Day.

DON’T PANIC. Stop swearing and mentally composing an ALL CAPS REALLY REALLY ANGRY TWEET. Don’t even think about sounding that klaxon. For every mention of women’s days, all female shortlists and women’s officers, there will be the inevitable male questioner asking “but what about all us poor hard-done-by men?” Usually they’re met with disdain by women and other men alike, but because I’m a feminist, and I believe in equality, I’m going to really consider that question in today’s blog. I’m going to take it very very seriously indeed, because if the dictionary describes “equal” as “being the same value”, then men aren’t equal to women, and maybe it’s time to do something about that.

We could start by sending out guerilla groups of women who could grind up against men in nightclubs, grope their bums and whisper dirty things in their ears. What the hell, let’s not stop at nightclubs – let’s send them to bus stops and shops and building sites, and when they’re not within touching distance they can just wolfwhistle instead and shout things like “get your penis out for the girls”. When their male targets protest, there are a few options; follow them home maybe? Get aggressive? Or we could just resort to the age-old favourite and decide that they’re frigid and gay. Why else would they turn down our advances? We’d just be complimenting them after all.

We could get a bit more hardcore than this; currently a new woman reports an incidence of domestic violence every minute, so it’s vital to up the number of male victims in the name of equality. We could have so many that shelters and crisis centres can’t support them all, and then we could make 90% of policy-makers females who just don’t understand men’s issues, and they could put these shelters at such a low priority that their funding might be cut and the male victims left homeless and scared. I think at this point it would be important to create a culture in which we’re not sympathetic to

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these men but blame them for their fate; they must have asked for it, or nagged too much, or not made a sandwich when asked. While we’re on it, best to start some kind of campaign that tells men not to take their faces for a walk so as not to provoke those with an inescapable urge to punch them – after all, there’s currently no other crime but rape where victims are blamed for their fate. Better even that up since we’re striving for equality.

Of course, a pay cut would be necessary too. Probably about 25% – those angels asking for an International Men’s Day could kickstart the campaign, and we could use the money saved to fund research into male pregnancy so that they too can be turned down for a job or dismissed from their position because of the possibility of starting a family. Men currently make up 78% of MPs, 85% of high court judges and 95% of newspaper editors despite making up 49% of the world’s population, so fairness in the workplace is a big task. Jobs will be lost. Of course, when things get more equal we’ll have to start questioning how all these men made it there in the first place – there can’t possibly be that many competent men out of 31,320,000. So we’ll have to assume that they slept with the boss or had a particularly nice body, and then we’ll need to make it our business to take them down a peg or two by commenting on this all the time.

In the interests of equality, let’s have a giant picture of a penis on Page 3 of The Sun. It would only alienate and objectify half their readers, after all. We could have men wearing PVC on the front of magazines, sucking their fingers and pouting. We could have loads of stories down the side of the Daily Mail website about how Ryan Gosling went out wearing no make-up, and how Jay-Z’s looking fat. We could have male politicians described as “hunky” and “trendy”. We could even have a ‘male’ section on the website. It could cover things like engines and meat and dirt. You know, all that stuff that men’s lives revolve around.

We’ll have to take away control of their own bodies. In countries where genital mutilation takes place, we’ll make sure to hack their privates off and sew them back up with substandard medical equipment. We’ll

make sure they know it’s not acceptable to go outside without having ripped all the hair out of any visible skin – except that on their heads of course, which must always look the perfect balance of glossy and voluminous. We’ll put them in shoes they can’t walk in and we’ll give them push-up boxers to ehance their crotches since everyone will be looking at them all the time. And since they’re so keen on equality, we’ll subject them to intimidating and harmful tests, stigma and disapproval when they want to get an operation to remove a foreign body that they don’t want and that could ruin their life and

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damage their mental health and well-being. Kind of like an abortion, then.

The inequality between men and women is huge. Changes will have to be made at every level and in every sector, but if we’re committed to equality I’m sure we’ll manage it. Thank god for those enlightened men who brought this to my attention in the first place with their talk of men’s officers and male empowerment. Hundreds of years of campaigning for women’s rights is all very well, but of course it’s taken a man to figure out what’s really going on here. They’ve suffered for too long with all that excess money, bodily autonomy and policy-making power. It’s time to redress the balance. It’s time for equality.

The F-Word: Why women can be really, really funny but Seth MacFarlane isn’t.


Google ‘funny women’ and you’ll find yourself in a world of debate

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about whether women are funny, why funny women are intimidating, and even a nice little article about “why men don’t fancy funny women”. Don’t worry if you’re puzzled by this supposed correlation between gender and funniness; you are one of the clever ones because so far as I can tell it is entirely – ssshhh – IMAGINERY. Some men are funny and others aren’t, but I’ve never seen anyone debate the success of male comedians, or suggest that funny men are wasting their time on humour. But then along came this week with feminist discussion of humour in bucketloads. On the one hand we had Ellie Mae O’Hagan’s passionate assertion that

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lols are all well and good, but it’s anger that will change the world. On the other, we had anonymous commenters, facebook trolls and die-hard Family Guy fans alike lumping us into the angry feminist cliché box as soon as we spoke up against Seth MacFarlane’s Oscar-worthy display of sexism at Sunday’s ceremony. Women occupy a world of double standards – not too skinny, not too fat; sexually available without being a slut; made-up but not overdone. Now, it seems we can add humour to that ever-increasing list. It will change nothing, according to O’Hagan, but being angry at other people’s jokes gets you labelled an all-round feminist fun sponge. How to negotiate this newest of double standards then? Let’s start with MacFarlane and his presenting fiasco. Where to start is a task in itself – in the duration of the 4 hour ceremony he managed to call Jennifer Aniston a stripper, make a Chris Brown/Rihanna gag, go off on some weird semi-racist tangent about Hispanic actors, and make a sex joke about a 9-year-old girl who was not only sat in the audience, but nominated for the coveted Best Actress Award. But obviously to make any difference in the world we have to pick our battles and then get really ANGRY about them, so let’s go with the frankly ridiculous opening number, ‘We Saw Your Boobs’. For those that were spared the pleasure, the song was just as lyrically profound as the title suggests, composed of the catchy ditty repeated over and over with verses comprising a who’s who of female Hollywood based on who had got their tits out for the all-male-choir-lads, wheeey. Because obviously, in a room packed full of inspiring, talented women, their defining feature is still one – or maybe I should say two – shared by the rest of the female population. Making it on to the big screen might be glamorous and glitzy – although I’m willing to bet not to the extent we fantasise about – but it also takes hard graft, time and effort. In the cases of the women who’ve appeared topless on screen, it also likely took a massive sacrifice precisely because we live in a society intent on reducing a woman’s worth to pouches of lobules and milk ducts on a daily basis. There are some scenes where I reckon that hard graft, skill, effort and sacrifice is called on more than in most. Maybe, for example, in the four scenes mentioned in MacFarlane’s song that actually depicted rape. Probably most pertinently in the two that were based on true stories. Yep, you heard me. He really did include those references. But nudity IS funny. There’s no denying it. A naked body can denote humour just as it can denote vulnerability, sexuality, art, beauty… Or maybe that’s just when men do it. Because I notice that, in a year that gave us films such as Magic Mike, about male stripping, nude scenes from male actors didn’t make the cut for MacFarlane’s song. While men’s bodies are their tools, used for their own purposes to provoke the desired reaction, apparently women’s remain nothing more than the passive recipients of male scrutiny. A song called ‘We Saw You Naked’ might have been lowbrow and childish, but it might also have been funny. A sleazy, sexist song reducing hard-working and talented women to their naked bodies is not. This sleaziness is perhaps most obvious in MacFarlane’s mention of Scarlett Johansson whose boobs, he kindly tells us, he didn’t see in a film but on his phone after explicit pictures of her, taken in private, were leaked to the press without her permission. If a man can get cheap laughs out of the betrayal of a woman’s trust in this way, we really have stooped very very low. Of course, the disgusted expressions on the faces of Naomi Watts and Charlize Theron during the song have now been confirmed as pre-recorded and part of the joke, so that’s all fine. Except that I’m willing to suggest that there’s something even less palatable about telling women to look ashamed and embarrassed at mention of their bare bodies, while the eponymous subject of the line “We haven’t seen Jennifer Lawrence’s boobs at all” is pictured punching the air in celebration. In real, non pre-recorded land though, the song was reportedly met with disdain from the likes of Jane Fonda, Lena Dunham and Helen Hunt. Katheryn Bigelow was also apparently offended by its content – unsurprising really, when you consider that she is the only woman ever to have won the Best Director Oscar, and one of only 4 to be nominated. Unsurprising when you consider that 9 women collected awards on Sunday compared to 30 men. Unsurprising when you realise that the Oscars awards board is 77% male. So Ellie should be pleased. I’m suitably angry at MacFarlane’s humour, just as she likes it. Maybe I’ll change the world. Except that I probably won’t, because there will be many people reading this, men and women alike, who are currently rolling their eyes and thinking about how I just can’t take a joke, how I’m just another angry woman ranting. How I’ll never make any difference by shouting for a page and a half. And I – to a certain extent – am inclined to agree with them. Because women don’t strive for equality by fitting into a handy little tick box, or a convenient mass. We strive for equality by showing how, like men, we are multi-faceted and can experience more than one emotion at a time. Like men, we’re a heterogeneous group who don’t always agree with each other and who have different skills, experiences and talents to draw on for our own purposes. Some of us are fantastic actresses, like those namechecked above who have made their contribution to women’s liberation by depicting issues like rape and violence, something MacFarlane dismissed in one fell swoop. Some of us are really clever and will write books that change people’s thinking forever. Some are beautiful or sexy, others are kind and caring, and they all have attributes that they can use to make a difference. We will all be angry sometimes, because we’re human beings, and that anger can be powerful or difficult or sad. Most of us are, at various points in our life, a different combination of any or

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all of the above, and much, much more. And some of us are really, really funny. Hilarious even. I have no doubt that many women will use that hilarity to change the world. Because it’s not that women need to get a sense of humour, and it’s not that we need to be angry all the time to make a difference. It’s just that people like Seth MacFarlane need to stop making us the butt of the joke in the first place.

The F-Word Men and Feminism Podcast

The F-Word

Check out this week’s episode of The

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F-Word below. Tune in live next week on Monday at 7pm on, or come back here to listen to the podcast.


The F-Word – One Billion Rising while another one falls: Media treatment of Reeva Steenkamp

Reeva Steenkamp

Thursday 14th February marked V-Day (or “One Billion Rising”), the celebration of a global movement designed to challenge the fact that 1 in 3 women will in their lifetimes be the victims of violence, many in their own homes or at the hands of someone close to them. It also marked a day, sadly like any other, when many women lost their lives as a result of such violence – one every 6 hours in South Africa alone, including Reeva Steenkamp, shot to death in her partner”s home.

Given that to cover every instance of violence against women in the world news would eclipse the coverage of anything else, it”s only natural that this particular case has been given prominence, owing to the alleged male perpetrator”s status as a famous Paralympian and Olympian. But my defence of the media”s coverage of this story ends here I”m afraid, because I certainly can”t get on board with what seems to be at best domestic violence apologism,

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and at worst victim porn.

Coverage of an instance of violence against women in South Africa probably should have started with the fact that the country has one of the highest rates of rape in the world, the highest rate of intimate femicide (women killed by their partners), and was the setting for a gang rape which left a 17 year old girl dead last month. Coverage of Steenkamp”s particular case could then have gone on to discuss the poignant sense of irony in how she lost her life, given that she was an active campaigner against rape and violence against women, and someone who visited schools to talk about female empowerment. She was also a law graduate. Instead, we were treated to accounts of her partner”s life, analysis about how this would affect his career, articles advancing his presumed defence (that he mistook her for an intruder) and editorials lamenting the tragedy for disability rights. Meanwhile, by broadsheets and tabloids alike, the victim has been defined by her partner”s fame, by a reality TV show she hadn”t yet appeared on, and by her venture into swimsuit modelling despite the fact that she was also the face of Avon and therefore most frequently photographed from the neck up.

This glamourisation and eroticisation of violence against women is, sickeningly, a familiar trope; you only need to take a look at Kanye West”s “Monster” video, or this advert for Xbox game “Dead Island Riptide” to see the extent of it. In drawing attention in a Facebook status to how this dangerous trend was perpetuated by the media”s fixation on Steenkamp”s modelling career, I was told that my argument was far-fetched and unfounded. Of course it would be preposterous to suggest that journalists saw this case and thought with glee, “oh great, another chance to talk about how sexy it is when men kill their partners”, but sex sells and that the sexuality being sold here is that of a murdered woman tells us all we need to know. The subconscious nature of such a focus is key – accounts like this are extremely telling of a wider media instinct to reduce a woman”s worth to her looks and body, regardless of how that woman ended up on their pages in the first place.

Not all coverage was subconscious and subtle in its sexism and eroticisation of violence. I would go so far as to say that the widely criticised Sun front cover served as an example of everything that is wrong with media representations of women. The suggestion that the highly sexualised image used was just one of her modelling, “as she spent most of her time doing”, is a ridiculous one. Come back to me when you”ve researched exactly how much time she devoted to lingerie and swimsuit modelling compared to feminist activism, studying for a degree and modelling for a cosmetics range among other things (hint: I think you”ll find the semi-naked stuff was a relatively small proportion). Come back to me when murdered shop assistants are pictured behind a till, or those who worked as doctors are seen examining a patient. That she chose to be in the pictures and make them public in the first place is irrelevant – I”ve posed naked in a charity calendar, because it was my choice to do so as a living, breathing person with agency. The same calendar is up on the wall of my flat, and I”m not ashamed or embarrassed by it. But I sincerely hope that if I ever went missing, for example, that it wouldn”t be the picture flashed up of me in the middle of a news report.

But wait – let”s not give The Sun such a hard time. They are, after all, beacons of morality where female modesty is concerned. Just last week they ran a double page spread chastising other media outlets for running pictures of a pregnant Kate Middleton in a bikini, and choosing not to print those pictures “out of respect”. Presumably because she”s a princess, obviously more worthy of our respect than a slutty lingerie model who took her clothes off for money, god forbid. Or maybe just because nobody violently murdered her first. Perhaps most sinister was the conspicuous lack of a page 3 in that edition of the newspaper. Who needs a living, breathing woman when you can ogle a dead one?

The problem here isn”t that Reeva Steenkamp was a model and took her clothes off in front of the camera. Good on her, she was beautiful and had a body to match. The problem here is the media”s instinctive reaction to reduce her to that, in the process glamourising the violence against her. If they can flippantly turn a freshly murdered woman into a pair of boobs and a thigh gap, where does this ruthless treatment end?

It”s been very easy not to mention Reeva Steenkamp”s boyfriend and alleged killer”s name in this article – not because I necessarily advocate that style for all coverage but because, at the end of it all, he is to a certain extent irelevant in all of this. Steenkamp is just one of many tragic victims of violence against women, as she is one of many victims of objectification and media sexism. This is not primarily a tragedy for the sportsman, or for his sport, or for the wider category of disabled people; this is a tragedy for women. Yes, Steenkamp”s partner and alleged killer has the right to a fair trial, and I sincerely hope he manages to get one in amongst the media circus surrounding the case. But women everywhere also have the right to a safe home and equality of opportunity, and too often they still don”t manage to get that in amongst the media circus surrounding their bodies.