Category Archives: General Rants

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). 

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.  

The issue of abortion (part II)

Further to my previous rant, I thought I’d rant a little more. Though maybe slightly more coherently (though maybe not). The reason for this is that I got a few Facebook comments from ‘friends’ the last time, making jokes about feminists, jokes about man-hating, and generally chiding comments about being a bit, you know, over the top. Call me a humourless feminist, but I didn’t find it it funny. And this is why…

The thing that underpins my whole feminism is a belief that patriarchy is underpinned by violence against women – it is this violence that allows patriarchy to function and perpetuates the power of patriarchy, though it plays no small part in also propping up capitalism. And I see violence against women everywhere, everyday, when I just want to go about my business quietly, which has made me into someone who is often sad, often angry, but always determined to be vocal about it. I don’t think this makes me some sort of wierd, incoherent social outcast but it does make lots of people – male and female – uncomfortable and unwilling to admit that they see the same things. It’s like Andrea Dworkin said: ‘People are willing to cluck empathetically over the horror of rape as long as they are not made responsible for punishing the rapist’.

Why does this relate to my post about abortion? Well.

When I was working for various Women’s Aid groups and people asked what I did and I explained, the reaction was generally positive. They thought, oh, those poor battered women, what monster could beat someone like that. People could disagree with that sort of violence against women, as long as they can also ignore the nuances within the whole concept of domestic violence, because it’s so visible and visibly disruptive. Get on to rape and things start to change. Hmmm. ‘Stranger rape’ (the Ken Clarke version) is bad, especially if it’s done to sober women who were dressed properly. The sort of rape that is what the vast majority of women who are raped experience – the sort that is perpetrated by a known man, often in the home – doesn’t really exist in mainstream public consciousness. Is it because it so uncomfortably brings it right into our front rooms? Is it because it is thought that in excess of 50,000 women are raped each year in the UK and there can’t be that many psychotic strangers lurking and someone has to be doing it? We don’t want to think about that.

Which brings me on to abortion. For me, denying a woman the right to choose whether or not she carries and gives birth to a child is violence. Just as rape is a violation of someone’s body, their mind, their humanity, so is taking control of someone’s womb. We could spend all night analysing the research about when a foetus begins to feel pain but we, as a thinking, philosophising, feeling society, have set a time limit for abortion which reflects that rational thinking. I don’t see the anti-abortion lobby jetting off to India to tackle the shocking sharp rise in the practice of aborting female foetuses – but maybe this is because all those non-white people are barbarians who don’t know any better? Or maybe it’s understandable because they’re not good Christans either – wierd idol-worshippers? Or maybe it’s because there, like here, girls and women are not valued, are an underclass, are not worth the effort? Whatever, the anti-abortion lobby concentrates its efforts on flyering university campuses – like they do here in Swansea – or insinuating their beliefs into parliamentary policy making. And it makes people who may think that domestic violence is wrong, that rape isn’t justified, think twice about whether women should have the right to an abortion. Take away that right and you violate someone’s body. You take away her autonomy and you deny her humanity – you privilege a formation of cells over the rights of a thinking human and turn her into nothing more than a vessel. You tell her that she doesn’t matter. Denying a woman’s right to an abortion, it seems to me, is a violent culmination of the messages a woman gets everyday about society’s rights to comment on her body, to consume that body as it sees fit, to sexualise, dehumanise and discard her. And that’s why I’ll be protesting in London in July. I wouldn’t care if I had to go by myself because I will not be complicit in pretending that the government’s appointment of Life to the sexual health forum is anything but a sinister, underhand attack on the rights of woment to live free from violence.

Call me a reactive, humourless feminist if you like…

#prochoicedemo2011 

https://www.facebook.com/#!/event.php?eid=175470995844914

This is a post written by SFN founder Adele.  All opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual writers and not necessarily those of the SFN, its committee or its membership. 

The issue of abortion…

…is one issue guaranteed to make me very angry. Furious, in fact. Which is why this post is a rant, not an analysis of the facts and statistics. If you want to see what made me so angry yesterday and today, have a look at:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/may/24/abortion-sexual-health-coalition

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/may/25/labour-challenge-anti-abortion-group

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/edwest/100089532/outrageous-we-cant-have-people-who-disagree-with-the-liberal-consensus-thats-so-victorian/

and then have a look at:

http://www.lifecharity.org.uk/home/

Why is it that this organisation feels able to hold forth on what is right for women and children? Why is it that women’s bodies are available for public consumption? Why do they not recognise that better sex education in schools from a young age is crucial in bringing down the rate of pregnancies amongst young women? Why are they not looking at the links between hypersexualisation of young girls and the resulting pressure of engaging in sexual activity without proper sex education (which won’t be provided at all when Nadine Dorries gets her way)?

There are a hundred other questions I could list, but it all boils down to just a few basic facts. Our society feels that women should not be allowed to, and indeed, cannot responsibly, make their own choices about what happens to their own wombs. Our culture infantilises women at the same time as sexualising them in order to allow it to perpetuate those ridiculous beliefs.

Whilst the right to an abortion (and I use the term ‘right’ loosely, because begging two doctors and having to be deemed a little bit crazy in order to get an abortion doesn’t really count as ‘having a right’) is under threat in this country, women are under threat. Women are not valued. Women are not seen as citizens who can make their own decisions. This is not about ‘helping’ all those desperate women brainwashed into aborting a screaming, pain wracked foetus by kooky liberals without morals: this is about the right-wing, Christian ideology that is being fed to us by a Government that wasn’t even properly elected.

I respect people’s right to have a faith and to practice a religion, and respect the fact that the Tories and Lib Dems have a right to hash together some sort of half functioning Government (though clearly I don’t repsect the result of that hashing together). Why can’t they respect my right not to have their insidious, outdated ideology worm its way into my body?

If you agree with me, check out this hashtag on Twitter #prochoicedemo2011 and join us in July.

I will come back and attack ‘the facts’ when I’m feeling more analytical…

This is a guest post by founding member Adele. All opinions expressed are those of the individual writers and not necessarily those of the SFN, its committee or its membership. 

A small gripe

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I find myself having to unnecessarily justify my personal/political beliefs on a daily basis. It’s an extremely unfortunate state of affairs to be honest.

I mean, being casually racist, in my opinion, for example, is intolerable. What’s even worse is not saying anything about it. Yet, when such a point is made to the offender, all of a sudden you’re guilty of trying to shove your ‘liberal shit’ down other peoples’ throats. Suddenly, your personal politics are the problem, not the issue at hand.

Let’s make a few things clear shall we?

1. Posting racist crap is not cool and it certainly isn’t going to make people like you, regardless of how much it’s dressed up as a ‘laugh’.

2. Reacting aggressively to someone’s criticism of the aforementioned puerile postings and calling them a ‘toffee-nosed twat’ is not only a bit O.T.T but pathetic, and is a poor reflection of the ability to handle yourself. If such appalling social convictions are held, at least have the cojones to back them up.

Or maybe being criticised by a woman, who happens to be a feminist, liberal, plant-lover and all-round kick-ass person is too much for one person to handle. It’s a conundrum alright.

To me, it’s just slightly irritating. Why am I the bad guy? I’m not perpetuating any racial stereotypes.

This is a guest post by SFN founding member Kat. All opinions expressed on our blog are those of the individual writers and not necessarily those of the SFN, its committee or its membership. 

SlutWalk…

via womensviewsonnews.org

http://www.ottawacitizen.com/entertainment/Sensible+shoes+grey+cardigan+SlutWalk/4587385/story.html

http://www.womensviewsonnews.org/wvon/2011/04/is-slutwalk-an-effective-third-wave-feminist-protest/

http://www.slutwalktoronto.com/swto-in-the-press

Shoot me down in flames if you like, but I don’t like this. And I don’t like the comments in most of the articles about SlutWalk. Of course I agree with the reasons why they’re doing it and I admire them for getting off their arses and challenging terrible police attitudes towards rape and sexual violence experienced by women. But SlutWalk? So many problems.

First off. What’s with the consistent, constant generational divide you so often see in stories like these? “Feminism is the new F-word for many young women, who associate it with dourness, hairy legs and man-hating. Third Wave feminists, like Griffiths, say it’s important to show a sense of humour. If you can approach people with a smile, you can get them to open up more”, says Griffiths”. Yes, I’ve never met a woman over fifty who smiles. Certainly not one with a sense of humour (don’t think the older feminists will get off lightly, I’ll get started on that later). The problem is not that older feminists are ugly, hairy lesbians, but that younger women like Griffiths are unquestioningly perpetuating a (largely) media constructed stereotype. There doesn’t seem to be a questioning of how and why the ‘F-word’ is portrayed as it is. Yes, yes, I know stereotypes have to be based on something, but I bet you wouldn’t believe the myth of the rapacious black man, or the paedophilic gay man, just because some black men rape and some gay men happen to abuse children and the media told you so? Actually, I think that portraying a feminism that has come before as something undesirable, unfashionable and already done with, is part of a more sinister social, cultural and political strategy to undermine an ongoing need for feminism. Oh, look at those hairy old dykes! The Daily Mail cries gleefully, stuck in the Seventies! You pretty young ladies don’t need that sort of thing. Ok, The Daily Fail would be more likely to say ‘unhappy spinsters’, but you get the point. The point is this – we are still fighting for the same things. There is still a gender pay gap. Women are killed on a daily basis by their partners and ex partners. Rape convictions are on the floor. More women live in poverty every day. Women are chronically under-represented in Parliament, in business, in all the male-dominated workplaces they were in the Seventies. Feminism isn’t over and done with – it’s more needed than ever. So yes, we do need exactly that sort of thing, exactly the same as we needed it before. And younger women who dismiss what feminism has been working at for the last forty years play into the hands of those who seek to pretend that it is and always has been irrelevant.

Which leads me on to my second point. Third Wave feminism (as portrayed here) is a fun, ironic, playful, liberated way of doing things. We can protest about rape and rape culture in a happy, fun way, they say. Sure. But where’s the questioning? “Griffiths admits the S-word makes her feel a little squeamish, too. ‘It refers to any sort of female sexuality as dirty and deserving of criticism,’ she says. ‘I don’t think that the word matters too much. It isn’t the word, but the idea behind that word that can be reclaimed”‘. Dude! The problem is precisely the word. Instead of getting onto the streets ‘dressing as sluts’ why aren’t we questioning what it means to dress as a slut? Why is walking around with my arse hanging out and my cleavage on display dressing as slut? It’s because patriarchy is telling us that this is what it means to dress as a slut – we need to unpick all the connotations and start challenging the meanings that have been attached to different types of femininities. We need to refuse labels like ‘slut’ not challenge them within a patriarchal framework that ultimately retains control over what it means to be a woman.

Anyway, as I said, anything that gets women out on the streets to challenge institutionalised sexism can’t ultimately be a bad thing. I just think the notion of SlutWalk is problematic and needs to be questioned…What think you?

This is a guest post by SFN founding member Adele.  All opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual writers and not necessarily those of the SFN, its committee or its membership.