Archive for the ‘The F-Word’ Category

The F-Word: Burlesque and Stripping Podcast


This week Eve is joined by professional burlesque

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dancer Sarah Vernon who has written a PHD all about stripping, as well as Edinburgh Uni’s Sexpression group founder Sarah Moffat who sees stripping and burlesque as perfectly legitimate forms of work and F-Word favourite Kirsty Haigh who is somewhat undecided but can sympathise with arguments that see these types of entertainment as problematic.


The F-Word: Sport Podcast

Jennifer Ennis

Eve and guests discuss women

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The F-Word – "Whether you like it or not, you’re probably a feminist"


I've decided to do something slightly different with the blog this week as, although women in sport is a massive and really interesting topic, it's also a fairly fact/stat-based one where there's not a lot of debate to be had. So a huge thank you to Claire and Alex for talking through it so well last night, but I'm going to use this space this week to chat about something that's been bothering me a bit recently – why are people so reluctant to call themselves feminists?

I began The F-Word in the hope that talking about subjects relevant to most or all young women today in this way might make people stop and think “actually, this does affect me – I must be a feminist then!”. Yay, congrats, nice one etc. End of. But I've come to realise in recent weeks that it's not as easy as that. Yes, feminism is having a massive identity crisis

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and one that's leaving young women in their thousands alienated and intimidated, and that's a problem that I'll hopefully also touch on. But at an even more basic level, these same young women seem to be fundamentally misunderstanding feminism in the first place. Please don't get me wrong – I'm not for one minute pitying these women or tutting and shaking my head at them or whatever. I think that their views, rather than being born from ignorance, are a product of society and some branches of feminism itself – which is more than a bit disheartening when you consider some of the things I've heard recently.

I've heard someone adamantly declare that they're “definitely not a feminist”, while another said that she might be if she “read into it a bit more”. A girl in a tutorial I was in recently said, in all seriousness, that she thought “feminists [were] mostly just lesbians”, while another woman described her friend as being a “hardcore feminist” because she believed that her boyfriend should pay for everything on dates. Someone else told me that feminists were “scary and exclusive”. Aside from noting that I seem to be quizzing everyone in my life on feminism all the time, there's a bigger point to take from this. Yes, there's a spectrum here, and there might be some remarks there that most people would agree are missing the point. But others just make me a bit sad really; the idea that feminism is an academic position, or the idea that a movement fundamentally built on equality could come across as exclusive.

For me, feminism comes down to one thing and one thing only – do you want to be equal? If I sat down with each of the young women above and asked them whether they wanted to be paid less than a man for doing the same job, or whether they were happy to be called a slut if they wore a short skirt, or whether they were cool with being whistled and leered at on their way to the shops, I'm pretty sure the answer would be a resounding no. So something has definitely gone wrong somewhere along the line.

I think the ones that depressed me the most were the woman who said that she needed to read more books, and the one who described feminists as “scary and exclusive”. Sadly, I think these are really common misconceptions about feminism and, even more sadly, I think they come from somewhere far more real

than the collective 21st century woman's imagination. I personally think that the only qualification needed to be a feminist is that you're human – altough feel free to correct me if you think I'm doing the canine population an injustice – and believe in a good quality of life for everyone. Feminism is beneficial for men as well, not just women; gender stereotypes are damaging to all genders, and the economic empowerment of women can be nothing but helpful for the economy as a whole. I entirely reject the suggestion that men can't be feminists, and I think it's vitally important that they are for a whole host of reasons including economic, political and social ones. It's up to individual women if they want to engage in these more 'academic debates' or in activism in the traditional sense but, fundamentally, they should be respected for their decision, whichever one it is. I admire women who engage in activism and I believe that it often does have great results. But I also don't believe for one minute that marches, demonstrations and rallies are the only form of protest, and I don't believe that a woman is any less of a feminist because she chooses not to engage in these.

I think a basic premise of feminsim is that women should be able to make choices about their own lives and that these choices should be respected by other people and obviously other feminists. I fully agree (and argued about it in last week's blog) that women are a group of diverse and different people and we're never going to agree on everything all of the time. That's fine. But it's not fine, as far as I'm concerned, to attack a woman over a decision to wear pink, or high heels, or to stay at home and bake because, in this day and age, these are all decisions rather than requisites, and decisions that were only made possible by the feminist movement in the first place. Personally I'm quite partial to my high heels (in this sense I probably don't have much of a choice, but that's less to do with being a woman and more to do with being under five feet tall), sparkly jewellery and all the rest of it. But I still want to be equal and respected. There's no logical correlation between the two.

The main thing tying all the above quotes together is that these are all young women who don't seem to realise that sexism, and consequently feminism, affects them. I don't want to be depressing – “you thought your life was great? Well guess what, you're actually oppressed!” – but my point isn't that these women aren't experiencing these issues, it's that they aren't identifying them as being feminist issues. So for these women who are all Edinburgh students in their early 20s, maybe childcare and pay gaps aren't the most important problem for them right now. But I'm willing to bet they've all received unwanted attention in a club, or felt apprehensive walking home alone once, or felt that they couldn't speak out when laddy boys at pre-drinks made them feel uncomfortable. That's what my shows are all about; I've tried really hard to make sure that each one is about a topic that's big and broad enough to make women – and men – stop and think about whether it's affected them. And chances are, it has. So I'm sorry ladies, but whether you like it or not (and you should definitely like it), you're probably a feminist.


The F-Word: Chivalry


As always, a big thank you to both guests on this week’s F-Word: Oliva Rafferty who argued for chivalry as a form of benevolent sexism, and Daniel Swain who felt strongly that it was an old-fashioned and irrelevant argument.

While I can genuinely see both sides of the chivalry debate, I do find it hard to support the suggestion that it’s old-fashioned and not worthy of our time (sorry Daniel). To me it seems that this view comes from a misconception about what chivalry actually means in this day and age. I feel really strongly that you can never just transplant yourself into a different time or place and say that you know how you’d feel or react, and so I’m definitely not making arguments about your Granny and “the good old days when people had morals and men were gentlemen and bla bla bla…”. Simply chivalry as it manifests itself for young women in the 21st century. So it’s true that ‘chivalry’ comes from the French word ‘chevalier‘ meaning knight, and it definitely conjures up images of horsemen and damsels in distress – but one of the main arguments against chivalry

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time, so let’s not make it credible again by updating its name.

But fair enough, chats about language can be fairly abstract – so does chivalry still exist nowadays in the real world? I think the argument that it doesn’t ignores the suggestion that language and concepts evolve over time and we’re not talking about knights on white horses fighting dragons anymore (although if

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chivalry was still as cool as that then maybe I could get on board). Chivalry as I see it is not just when a man holds a door open or your boyfriend carries something heavy. I’ve rarely found myself personally offended by chivalry despite having many doors held open for me in my time, and that’s because the men holding said doors were doing the same for other women, children and men, and therefore not expecting any return from their action. That’s what marks chivalry aside from general good manners. I can’t lie, I’m a bit of a manners nazi and there’s nothing that riles me more than bad manners; if a man slammed a door in my face, I’d be furious. But I’d be equally furious if he ran ahead of me to sweep it open in a grandiose gesture to save my dainty little hands from – god forbid – pushing it open. Chivalry isn’t manners because it expects something in return and therefore reinforces male control of a situation. You can say chivalry’s dead but I’m willing to bet that a large percentage of the men out there would find their masculinity bruised if a woman pulled out a chair for them or bought them a drink in a bar.

Buying a drink is a perfect example of how chivalry has evolved as times have. I can’t be sure, what with being born in the 90s an all that, but I’m guessng there weren’t many one night stands in the 12th century – chainmail would be a bit of a pest to get off, for one thing – so there wasn’t the same motivation for men to shower women with drinks all night. There were no boardrooms, let alone women in them, so no “saving the budget meeting until later so that the ladies don’t get bored”. And I’d imagine that men were too busy galloping around or sharpening their swords to even talk to womenfolk, let alone censor their conversation because there were ladies present. It’s a shame that the conflation between chivalry and manners means women are often looked down on for wanting an extravagant wedding, or enjoying pretending to be a princess when a waiter in a fancy restaurant pulls a chair out for them. It’s the subtle nuances that mark chivalry apart from manners, and that make some instances of chivalry more offensive than others – in a serious relationship you might expect a man to treat you like a princess now and again but in that situation you both know where you stand, you’ve already got what you want and he’s showing you he appreciates you. It’s not so cool when you feel uncomfortable about accepting extravagant gifts from near strangers or when you’re made to feel like you can’t just go

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But my biggest problem with the suggestion that chivalry is irrelevant and out-of-date goes wider than just chivalry into bigger ideas of feminism and just how to treat people generally. Fundamentally, I think that if something is a problem for even a tiny number of people, then it’s a problem. Not experiencing something yourself doesn’t make it non-existent or not worthy of your time, otherwise we might as well not bother about wars or hurricanes or third world poverty. Suggesting that something simply isn’t a problem for women anymore is to suggest that women are something other than a heterogeneous group of people with opposing thoughts, backgrounds and opinions, which is a slippery slope in my book. I don’t feel personally offended by chivalry on a regular basis, and maybe there are other ‘women’s issues’ that are more relevant to me right now as a 20 year old student in Edinburgh. But maybe if I was 20 years older, or a dress size smaller, or a few inches taller, or living 50 miles away, or in any kind of different situation at all, it might be a mssive problem for me. It might be the biggest problem I face as a woman. And that is not irrelevant.

The F-Word: Chivalry Podcast

Chivalry Podcast

The podcast of The F-Word broadcast on on Monday 19th November


You can find the blog

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The F-Word: Language Podcast


The podcast of The

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F-Word: Language


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The F-Word: Banter Podcast

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The podcast for The F-Word:

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The F-Word: Women’s Magazine Podcast


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The blog about this episode

can be found here.


The F-Word: Language


As ever, massive thank yous have to go to Ellie Robert and Christina Muller for talking so eloquently about language (meta) and the ways in which it affects attitudes towards women on this week's F-Word. Both did an excellent job but, as always, this blog will be my own take on the issue.

I think we're all agreed that language is pretty handy. It's the way we comprehend the world, it's how we learn, how we teach, it's – arguably – what makes humans human. But enough of the philosophical musings, I hear you say; get to the feminist stuff.

So here's the problem. All the things that make language really cool are the same things that make it a powerful and potentially dangerous tool, especially in the case of 'marginalised' groups like women, ethnic minorities and the disabled amongst others. This all sounds quite academic and abstract but take a minute to stop and think. Have you ever called anyone a slut or been called a bitch? Babe? Even sweetheart? Then I'm talking to you.

Everything is context-dependent. I'll always be 'darling' to my nana and 'sweetheart' to my mum and there will always be couples who call each other 'babe', 'honey', and all number of other weird

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names because they're sickening and cheesy… just kidding. The point is that they're not strangers in the street leering at passers-by, or men casually infantilising women with words like 'girlie' and 'pet' precisely to be patronising, or even people you know 'jokingly' passing judgement on your one-night-stand. It's all about context. So to pre-empt what some of you are inevitably thinking; yes, men can and do get called slut. But not within the context of a history of institutional oppression – and more often than not they're actually called playboy or hero instead.

I'm not trying to say that women don't use the term themselves; we undoubtedly do. But that's exactly the point I'm making – these terms are ingrained, unchallenged and said without thinking because, sadly, so are some ideas about how women should behave. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I can't think of a 'male' word comparable to slut or whore. If women are sexually liberated then they're entitled to go home with whoever they want as many times as they like as far as I'm concerned. I equally don't think most straight single men would be all that impressed if the entire female sex took a vow of celibacy in response to their 'disapproval' of promiscuity. So what's the point? I'm not convinced that users of the word themselves really know either but I would like to point them towards the wisdom of Christina Aguilera: “If you look back in history/It's a common double standard of society/The guy gets all the glory the more he can score/While the girl can do the same and yet you call her a whore”. In fact, maybe I should have just posted the entire lyrics to 'Can't Hold Us Down' in place of a blog this week…

But seriously, these are just words that, just like any other word, we hear, learn, adopt and use without thinking about it. And yet they reinforce the

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idea of shaming and blaming women for their sexuality, which can have very serious impacts indeed when it comes to issues of sexual assault, for example. The same can be said for the comparison between 'spinster' or 'old maid' and 'bachelor'.

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I'm not much of a fan of cats and I quite like to brush my hair now and again, so I think I'll avoid becoming a spinster thanks. See what I mean? These words that nobody thinks about perpetuate age-old ideas about the domestic duties of women and men; women without families are useless and demented, while men in the same position are in the prime of their lives, all silver-foxy and “only improving with age”.

That last quote comes from a Daily Mail article about George Clooney. The Daily Mail, I know, SIGH. But they are just such an amazing example of everything that's rubbish about the media that I'm actually kind of grateful to them. In the

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same paper, you'll find entire stories formulated around pictures of women taking their children to school or browsing pregnancy tests and engagement rings. Not specifically language-based I know, but its always clear whether the media is talking about a woman or a man: “Helen ensures all eyes are on her as she prepares to enter the jungle” and “Lauren gets it wrong with an unflattering dress” while men (who are notably usually referred to by their last names only) are praised for their “soaring rhetoric” and “decision” to spend time

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with their families. The media has a huge role in the reinforcing of language and the attitudes that come with it. But it gets even worse than that, because so too do official forms and apparently gender-neutral paperwork through the various categories describing women – Miss, Mrs, Ms – in comparison to plain old Mr. It's not a coincidence that each female title relates directly to a marital status, and it's equally unsurprising that those who adopt 'Ms' are often seen as trying to 'make a statement'. French women this year did make a statement – a pretty massive one – when they

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successfully campaigned for the removal of the categories 'maiden name' and 'mademoiselle' from official paperwork owing to its origin in the French word for virginity.

Now I'm not claiming that every time I fill out a form, I'm huffing and puffing and rolling my eyes about having to tick a box – I don't really ever think about it, and I doubt a lot of you do either. I equally don't go through the paper angrily scrubbing out every other word and mentally composing complaint emails to editors. Because that's exactly the point really – language is so pervasive, subconscious and widespread that its affecting us all all the time without us realising it.

If I could wave my magic feminist wand and transform the dictionary then maybe I would. But the fact remains that language is just incomprehensibly permeating and mostly unchallenged. Whether it reinforces attitudes or forms them is a chicken vs egg argument, but it's actually kind of irrelevant. The important point is that the two are hugely interlinked, and this has effects in every aspect of life whether that's having a conversation, listening to a song, watching a comedy act or reading a paper. Maybe changing language really is the first step to changing attitudes, but how we even begin to go about that I have no idea. In the meantime I suggest that we quote Christina Aguilera to everyone and get working on those feminist magic wands.