#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.

My Feminist Hero: Angela Carter

I first read an Angela Carter novel in 2010, an amazing book called ‘The Passion of New Eve’: it was a set text on one of my elective modules.

I read Carter and I fell for her. Her words stream like a song, I swear, and I didn’t let go of the book for two days. ‘The Passion of New Eve’ details the life of a misogynist man living in dystopian New York, who ends up being kidnapped and is given a sex change by a tribe of militant and malicious women. It’s fascinating to read a novel of this genre – magical realism, through the lens of a post-operation trans woman who never wanted it in the first place. It’s gross, it’s good, it’s genius.

Angela Carter writes of boisterous, fiery women, more akin to mythical sirens than modern day post-feminist figures. She has no sympathy for timid or unassuming women – Angela Carter writes bitches, and I love that. Before her death in 1992, she was a feminist-literature icon. I am now the proud owner of all but 3 of her books, and cannot help myself when I see one of her books on ebay, even if it’s just a different cover. Her books are long-train ride gems – the kind of books you read with a broken-heart, when you’re feeling inspired – when you’re truly enjoying a night in. They’re beautiful and they’re grotesque – they’re sublime. The one thing about Carter is that she was fiercely unique: she was incredibly well-read and yet grounded. She wrote to ignite the minds of bookish types. Thanks Angela Carter, for knocking my favourite books down a place each on my top ten, and for making me read everything differently.

This is a guest post by SFN founding member Eleri, originally published in the SFN zine Pandora Press #1: Our Feminist Heroes. 

All The Single Ladies: A Comparison of Take Me Out and The Year of Making Love

As someone who has spent bar far the larger portion of my adult life responding to questions about whether I’ve managed to find another human to put up with me yet with a cynical ‘ha!’ or a quip about how I’m keeping myself free in case Bellatrix Lestrange decides that she is no longer fictional or a psychopath, it’s fair to say that I have a vested interest in the representation of single women in the media.

The aforementioned lack of a relationship means that the time I am not required to spend on having sex, being a bit smug and arguing in public can be used on more intellectually stimulating and emotionally fulfilling pursuits such as eating chocolate, wearing pyjamas and watching trashy TV. And what better way is there to meet other single women from the comfort of my own living room than by watching dating shows?

Take Me Out has been a guilty pleasure of mine for some time. For those of you not familiar with the premise: 30 single women get to know one single man by hearing him talk about himself, and then either hearing someone who knows him say a bit more about him or watching him show off some kind of talent. It generally goes along the lines of a man coming out who is loved all the way through until the second round, when his sister reveals that he sometimes wears her dresses. Anyway, the women all have a light in front of them, which they switch off if they hear or see something which means that they don’t want to go on a date with the man any more. If there are any lights still on at the end of the two rounds, the man gets to pick which woman he goes on a date with.

The Year of Making Love is a series which has recently started on BBC3, and it’s a different kind of dating show. It’s essentially a social experiment in which a few hundred single people were brought together in January 2012 and matched using ‘science’ (I haven’t seen an explanation of what that science is… it seems to be some sort of personality profiling) with someone who is theoretically a compatible partner. Each programme then follows the stories of a few of the couples for a year, to see if any of them stayed together.

The main problem with Take Me Out is the way women are reduced to being virtually identical, with the representation stripping them of both their intellectual and physical individuality. The men know very little about from their looks. There is often a sense that women are being ‘dumbed down’ in order to provide entertainment. Their physical appearances are also generally very similar, or made to be so. With a few exceptions, they are young, slim, white women, wearing short dresses and heels and fake nails. The older and black and minority ethnic women they do have on the show are still presented the same in terms of their make-up, clothing and accessories. The women who fall outside of this standard appearance are generally the ones that don’t get dates.

This is not to say, however, that the women on Take Me Out are actually as generic as they are made out to be. There are instances when real personality shines through, most notably at the stage when the man is about to pick he who is going to take on a date out of the two remaining women, and the presenter reveals an interesting fact about one of the two women, but doesn’t say who it is about. Sure, sometimes the facts are things like ‘one of these girls once kissed her boyfriend’s twin brother because she couldn’t tell them apart’, which further perpetuate the idea that the women are stupid. Often, though, they’re quite funny things, like that a woman won a competition for how many grapes she could get into her mouth at one time, or that she named her cat after a character in Fireman Sam – things that make the woman they are about stand out, make her more than her appearance, basically identical to the woman standing next to her.

In contrast, The Year of Making Love has a bit more emphasis on variety, and concentrates more on personality than Take Me Out does. There is not the same presentation of women as stupid or so desperate for a date that who they are doesn’t matter. The more flexible format means that it is much less heterosexist, with gay couples being included in the same way as heterosexual couples, and not being sidelined to their own show, as is the case with Take Me Out.
It still has its fair share of horrific, with one guy on the show using the chat up line “if you were a car door, I’d slam you,” when talking to the girl he’d been matched with, but generally watching it is far less alienating than watching Take Me Out. There have been women I can identify with, which I guess is what I was unconsciously looking for in representations of single women.

I wouldn’t say that the women on The Year of Making Love are necessarily really any more or less articulate and interesting than the women on Take Me Out, but what’s refreshing about it is the way it shows that it is not necessary to represent single women as stupid.

I appreciate that a lot of these differences stem from the different remits and audiences of the two shows. Take Me Out is pure entertainment where it’s all about the ‘game’ of the selection process, whereas The Year of Making Love presents itself as an experiment, and, at least on the face of it, aspires to create long-term relationships.

However, despite the differences in their representations of single women, what both shows do, deliberately or not, is reveal that single women can be intelligent, interesting and attractive. Single women are not ‘defective’ (as I think is so often a cultural assumption) – they are just single. And with that in mind; populated with all kinds of women (some of whom can name all 52 original Pokémon characters), the ‘shelf’ feels like a much less shameful place to be.

This is a guest post by SFN committee member Kirsty, originally published in the SFN zine Pandora Press #5.