#BringBackOurGirls vigil in Swansea city centre

bring back our girls swansea nigeria boko haram vigil SFN are attending a vigil at the top of Oxford Street (in front of BHS/McDonalds), Swansea city centre, on Saturday 10th May from 10am.  We invite you to join us to show our support for the women and girls who have been abducted and trafficked in Nigeria.  The vigil is open to all.  Attendees are asked to wear red.  If you want to find out more, you can check the Twitter hashtag at #BringBackOurGirls.

Pandora Press #6 out now!

The sixth issue of our zine, Pandora Press, is out now!

Pandora Press zine body feminist zine

This issue is themed ‘body’, and features diverse writings by Swansea women on topics including sexuality, body hair, street harassment, and gender roles.

Copies of all our zines can be purchased at any SFN event, or via paypal – contact the editor Cath at pandorapresszine @ gmail.com for more info.

There’s nothing sexual about rape.

image by thetomi.deviantart.com

(trigger warning)

I was a feminist before I was a rape victim. I knew all the theories, I knew all the buzz words, and I knew that rape isn’t about sex. I’ve always known that the rapist is to blame, he holds the responsibility for his actions – and I say ‘he’ because, overwhelmingly, women are the victims of rape by men. I think that’s why it was so difficult to reconcile what I knew with what I felt. I felt shame, I felt fear. I felt responsible, and I felt like something inside me, which I didn’t even know I had, had gone, had been taken away. I felt like some little part of what made me myself was being pounded away. At the point when I realised what was about to happen, that I was going to be raped, I also realised that despite all the things I know about rape –  about my right to control what happens to my body, about defending myself –  I was completely powerless to stop this man doing what he wanted to me. I realised that it had nothing to do with the fact that he was bigger than me or physically stronger, and had everything to do with the fact that because I’m a woman this man felt that he had the right to use me as he saw fit. At that point, I had an overwhelming sense of impotent fury and absolute fear – for me, that realisation of powerlessness is almost worse than what happened next.

The powerlessness is the thing that has stayed with me above all else. I feel so angry that my sense of being independent and strong is compromised by fear of powerlessness, and when I politely tell a man who’s harassing me to Fuck Off, I have that momentary doubt that my outspokenness might lead him to teach me a lesson. Because actually, that’s what my rape did, was teach me a lesson. It taught me that we, as feminists, were right all along. Society rewards us for being women by abusing us, it tells us that it’s ok to violate a woman’s body and that violation is tacitly endorsed by the institution that is ‘justice’ (my experience with the police is a whole other story). It tells us that a woman’s sense of self is worth nothing. It dresses up rape as being about sex when it’s not, it’s about power and it’s about authority. My rapist pretended that he wanted to have sex with me and he pretended that what he was doing was having sex with me. He definitely wasn’t. I can say that because I was the other person there. So whenever I hear or read the complete shit about women being raped because they were wearing certain clothes that emphasised their sexuality, or that actually they did want to have sex – they were just playing hard to get, or any of the other rape myths that we like to pretend are true, I think to myself, if any of you people saying those things could see the face of a rapist while he’s raping, you would know that it’s not about sex. I’ve seen that face and it’s about the buzz of being powerful, of taking what you want, when you want it whether you’ve been told you can have it or not. There’s definitely nothing sexual about rape.

This article was originally published anonymously in SFN zine Pandora Press #2.  You can buy a copy at any upcoming SFN event.

Embrace the Bush!

image from ‘Woman Hating’ by Andrea Dworkin

When I was growing up, I always wondered why my mother shaved her legs, and would say that her legs felt like rose bushes. In young womanhood, most of the women around me and all the women in the media removed their underarm and leg hair. By my limited, mainstream exposure to what patriarchal society defines as woman, I felt pressured to shave my legs and armpits, and did so for a few years.

When I was 19 years old, I started volunteering at a local feminist rape crisis centre and transition house (refuge), where I interacted with many strong, outspoken, passionate, and courageous women, who presented themselves in a multitude of ways. In addition to meeting many different women, I read plenty of feminist theory, telling the reality of women’s lives, including Andrea Dworkin’s ‘Woman Hating’. Dworkin states, “In our culture, not one part of a woman’s body is left untouched, unaltered. No feature or extremity is pared the art, or pain, of improvement.” (Dworkin, ‘Woman Hating’, p. 113).

I realized that women’s body hair removal is simply a patriarchal society’s invention (among many others), and one way to keep women occupied with their appearance, rather than fighting for their liberation.

I decided to stop shaving. Though I am self-conscious about it at times, I continue to fight this patriarchal socialization, and embrace my body hair. I hope the girls and women I meet will realize their do have a choice about body hair removal, and I hope the boys and men will respect this choice.

This article was written by SFN member Natalie Wlock, originally published in Pandora Press #5.  Natalie is a radical feminist who has volunteered and worked in a collectively run feminist rape crisis centre and transition house (refuge). 

Pink Stinks: There’s more than one way to be a girl

image via sophianetwork.org.uk

The pinkification of a girl’s and woman’s world, and what I call the ‘Princess’ culture, drives me insane. The sheer assault on my senses of all things pink aimed at young girls is so overpowering, that I find myself gritting my teeth every time I enter a supermarket, open a magazine (which is not that often considering all that trite dribble out there that passes for journalism), passing little girls on the street dressed from head to toe in frilly, pink ‘princess’ wear or going into clothes shops. Where did this fascination for and overkill of pink come from? I have nothing against the colour per se, (apart from that mind blowing day-glo fuchsia that should be confined to the nuclear testing laboratory); in fact I even have a pale version of pink on some of my bedroom walls. When my daughter was small, pink was simply another colour on the vast spectrum of colours on offer. There was white, pale blue (yes blue on a girl I know, whatever next?), pale greens and yellows and if you fancied……pink. Overwhelmingly clothes were a splash of every colour, and looking at my daughter’s photographs that certainly was the case. In fact many of the clothes my daughter wore were handed down to my baby son a year later.

Pink isn’t only used to segregate gender on clothing, it’s used on toys, books, nappies, food, in fact, anything that’s used to promote children and young girls’ products. Pink is now used to promote and exercise rampant child friendly sexism. Things that you think couldn’t possibly be gendered, now are. WH Smith now sells a pink world globe for girls and a blue one for boys. What is wrong with one that has blue water and green land for God’s sake? A major offender is the Early Learning Centre (ELC), a company that has traditionally been seen as having a commitment to child learning and well being, regardless of the gender of the child. The ELC now has rampant pinkification and gender segregation of its toys and learning products. Many major supermarkets and toy shops now have a ‘girls’ aisle’ and a ‘boys’ aisle’, that appear to be faithfully adhered to by the mindless public. Girls’ products overwhelmingly focus on being pretty, passive and obsessed with shopping, fashion and make up – this promotes a dangerously narrow definition of what it means to be a girl. These ‘Girly’ products and concepts are marketed, for the most part, through ‘pinkification’. Pink has become the ubiquitous brand colour to represent modern girlhood. This restrictive conditioning and colour-coding rears its ugly head from the moment a girl is born and continues into adulthood – with repercussions for both sexes.

Girls can dress up as pretty princesses while waiting for the strong superhero to whisk them off their feet and take them to a life of bliss and domesticity. Pink has a meaning behind it that tells girls what their lives will be, what path they should take and how they should look and behave.  This is why I love PINKSTINKS!

Founded in May 2008 by sisters Abi and Emma Moore, Pinkstinks confronts the damaging messages that bombard girls though toys, clothes and media. Pinkstinks run targeted campaigns aimed at creating positive changes in the products, messages, labelling, categorisation and representations of girls. They use writing, social networking, video and blogging to raise awareness and tackle companies. Pinkstinks also seeks to offset current trends, by endorsing inclusive, positive play and adventure for both girls and boys. The website therefore features Pinkstinks approved toy/clothing companies and positive female role models for kids. They work with other organisations, campaigners and friends who share their vision.

Some of their campaigns have included:

  • The Early Learning Centre, where they challenged the rampant pinkification and gender segregation. Although the ELC refused to acknowledge the issues, their Christmas Catalogue clearly had some changes to it. The campaign received press coverage in 45 countries.
  • Sainsbury’s, where they challenged the fact that their dressing up clothes were labelled ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ – doctors for boys, and nurses for girls (of course). Sainsbury’s apologised and acknowledged that it wasn’t acceptable to assign certain professions to certain genders. They have now removed all the labelling.
  • Slap! On The Face of Childhood. This is their current campaign, that focuses on the steady proliferation of make-up aimed at little girls and the damage that this normalising of make-up can do to the self-esteem of young children. Making children internalise messages about beauty products at this crucial and early stage of development, is nothing more than corporate conditioning. Slap wants retailers to take corporate and social responsibility and asks parents to consider the impact that beauty products have on their young children. Slap will be talking to girls about their experiences and to experts on the beauty industry, whilst challenging this burgeoning market.

Pinkstinks believes that by recognising and celebrating the fact that there’s more than one way to be a girl, that the benefits for all children and wider society will be boundless.

As mothers, sisters, aunties, cousins, friends and WOMEN, we can say ‘no’ to accepting our young girls’ futures as pink. We can stand up to the companies that force feed our children a life of lies, sexism and gender segregation. It is us, as mothers, sisters, aunties, cousins, friends and WOMEN that buy these products. We can refuse to buy into this, and force those companies to provide products that enhance a sense of equality and empowerment.
There’s more than one way to be a girl!

Pinkstinks have won a number of awards including; In 2008, a level 1 Award from UnLtd. In 2009 Abi & Emma won the Sheila McKechnie Foundation campaigners award in the Women Creating Change category, funded by Rosa. And in 2010, won a SMK Grass Routes Activists award, funded by the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation.

This is a guest post by SFN treasurer and vice-chair Ali Morris, originally published in the SFN zine Pandora Press.