Terri White’s Faux Mea Culpa for Playing the Handmaiden Game

This weekend saw an interesting array of anti-feminist articles written by women. I’ve already complained about Caitlin Moran’s complete lack of understanding about feminism as a political theory [despite professing to be one]. That article was utter twaddle. Then I came across Terri White’s faux mea culpa for her work at Nuts magazine and her part in the massive increase in pornographer. White disingenuously suggests she built her career off other women’s breasts. She did not. She built her career off the pornographication and abuse of other women.

It starts with this:

As the sound of jazz filled the air in the office that night I diligently got on with the task at hand. It was slow. It was laborious. It was tedious. It was decapitating topless women. I was associate editor on the best-selling men’s weekly magazine Nuts and tomorrow was the launch of Assess My Breasts – an online brand extension inviting women to upload pictures of themselves (or rather, their breasts) to be rated out of 10. But first, before we went live, I had to populate it; ensuring it launched with a 100-boob bang rather than a no-boob whimper. Faces were a no-no – part of the “appeal” was anonymity so the girls would feel comfortable with being publicly graded. And so, there I was at 9pm, attempting a mass head-chopping on pictures we kept on file and had sought permission to upload.

Decapitationgate was the peak of the “real girl” phenomenon in men’s magazines – ordinary girls, in ordinary situations, pictured in their underwear. A phenomenon we at Nuts had happened upon several months before and one that had made the magazine a huge success. And along with it, a success of the people who worked on it.

Seriously, where do you even start unpacking that? White worked on a project which reduced women to their breasts (apparently, you weren’t allowed to use the word tits, as if that made the blindest bit of difference) and allowed men to rank them. Let’s be honest with this: they were ranking them for fuckability and nothing else. Any pretence at a different meaning is just intellectual dishonesty masquerading as “fun”.

However, White does attempt a half-hearted attempt to understand the extent of the damage that the lad’s mags made:

While lads’ mags alone didn’t create this sexualised culture, they responded to it and reinforced it, helping it grow into a mass-market monster wearing a glossy mask of normality. We told a generation of young men that a woman’s value lay in the pertness of her breasts and willingness to flash in a public place before going home to have sex. The dirty kind. We told a generation of young women that it wasn’t necessary to get an education or build a career to improve your life. Just be willing to bare your breasts and look what you could win! A pot of gold! And a footballer! And I was a part of that for entirely selfish reasons. I tossed any concerns out of the window in favour of the feel of the monthly payslip and the warm glow of success.

It does lack some serious political analysis but as a concluding paragraph would have at least been an attempt at taking some personal responsibility. Instead, White decides to go for this:

But I still feel awkward at the thought of telling women that they should not and could not participate in this culture. The dominant voices in this debate are still those from the middle class, who can only imagine what it’s like to walk in these women’s 5in heels. I remember what it’s like to feel that opportunities just don’t exist for your kind and that when they come along you need to cling on for dear life. And maybe, just maybe, some of the women who claim to do it and enjoy it really do mean it.

Would I do it all again knowing what I know now? No. We did too much damage. While the magazines themselves may be in decline, the culture they helped to create can still be seen in towns and cities all around the UK – from the Saturday-night porny perspex heels to the casual DIY sex tapes and still-held hopes for fast fame. And, in retrospect, I could have built a career and achieved the financial security I hankered for without my Nuts years and without using other women’s breasts as my stepping stone to get there.

Let’s be honest here. This isn’t really a mea culpa for her participation in an industry which deliberately and maliciously harms women and creates a reduction construction of female sexuality which effectively erases it out of existence. It’s a “it’s not my fault. I didn’t have any choice but anyways the women who did bare their breasts totally had the choice not too” argument favoured by liberal, so-called “sex positive” feminists [that would be sex positive if you think turning over control of human sexuality to Hugh Hefner was a good plan. The term is about as sensible as calling the anti-choice wingnuts in the abortion debate “pro-life” when its patently obvious they don’t give a flying fuck about children since they are the same asshats which vote against universal health care, welfare and education in favour of building more bombs].

So, I’m obviously angry here but its a righteous anger. I want my children to grow up and have healthy sexual experiences with people who love them. I do not want my girls growing up in a society that only celebrates the “accomplishments” of women who have breast implants and sex tapes because those aren’t accomplishments. They are the continuing victimisation and degradation of women. White might be feeling some middle class guilt at exploiting young women but not enough to actually take responsibility for it.

And, frankly, the argument that all the men she worked with were “loving, family men” is laughable. It really is. That’s what people say about their next door neighbour who turns out to be a serial rapist, or the violent alcoholic from up the road who kills his wife or the drunk driver. Women say it because we are expected to play nice and never, ever critique men’s roles in propagating and encouraging misogyny. We just get to blame other women. I call bullshit.

Terri White got a financial reward for her participation in perpetuating misogyny; a misogyny that required women at the forefront to prevent those very accusations. White, Lili Harges, Indira Das-Gupta, and Sali Hughes profited off and assisted in the dramatic increase in the pornographication of young women’s sexuality. Sometimes, all we need to hear is: I’m sorry. I fucked up. Feminists know how hard it is to succeed in our Capitalist-Patriarchy which punishes any woman who puts her head above the parapet but false mea culpas are as damaging as continuing to profit from misogyny.

We all know its a game. Let’s just be more honest about playing it.

Why Caitlin Moran is wrong on the Samantha Bricks “saga”

I’ve already blogged about my feelings on the furor over Samantha Brick’s articles in the Daily Mail a few weeks ago. I believe the Daily Mail set her up for a serious kicking because of the misogyny inherent in their organisation. They are the best selling newspaper in the UK because they feed on the very insecurities they encourage in their readers. They are vile.

I was shocked to see Caitlin Moran’s article in the Times today suggesting that the reaction Bricks got was nothing to do with Feminism. I would have thought it was patently obvious that insulting a woman for “not being as attractive as she thinks she is” is pretty much the essence of anti-feminist discourse. The Patriarchy requires women to police other women’s behaviour in order to survive. Buying into the discourse around Brick’s article just reinforces the Patriarchal structures which blame women for just not being fuckable enough: that would be 21 and malnourished.

Moran is a liberal Feminist and I generally disagree with her on a number of political issues, however this column just disappointed me with its lack of political analysis. Moran suggests that those of us who think this is a Feminist issue are deluded and that men are derided in a similar manner to women in these instances and that Brick was just acting like a “div”. Frankly, I think that’s twaddle:

I think we all knew this, really. It’s a Human Behaviour Check Yo’Self 101 not to go around quacking about how great you are, given that it’s wholly self-defeating. People who say, “I’m clever” tend to be thick, people who say, “I’m mad, me!” usually work in accounts and people who say they’re beautiful tend to be fairly average, but apt to spend a lot of money on trouser suits and highlights. 

So, yes: let us be clear. There is a world of difference between “women doing something” and “it being a matter for feminism”. Lest we forget, feminism is “the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of social, sexual and political equality to men”. It’s got nothing to do with a Daily Mail journalist on a deadline pointing to her arse and saying, “See this? It’s hawt.”

Feminism is about liberating women from oppression; an oppression reinforced by a Patriarchy that punishes women for not thinking they are ugly, pathetic and stupid. Any woman who suggests she might actually be anything but stupid is, therefore, asking to be humiliated and belittled.

As for the last part of her article where Moran suggests two subject which aren’t Feminist, well, I’m going to suggest she’s been drinking the Handmaiden Communion Wine.

1) Beauty routines. There’s been a spate of pieces recently questioning whether a true feminist can wax her legs, thread her eyebrows or wear make-up. While the beauty industry is, as all multibillion-dollar industries tend to be, built on trying to encourage profligate consumerist behaviour through unrealistic imagery, there’s nothing inherently un-feminist about wanting to muck around with how you look. How can there be? If there were then, theoretically, feminists wouldn’t be able to dress up at Hallowe’en, or go to fancy-dress parties rigged out as Scooby-Doo, either. While men can grow beards or wear hats, women can wear eyeliner and wax their legs. Besides, David Bowie wore make-up and it was ACE, ipso facto, Barry M. 

2) Housework. “When,” I was asked, recently, “will feminism get my boyfriend to do his share of the housework?” Wow. While my slatternly nature is perfectly happy with putting off hoovering by saying, “I’m just waiting for a wholesale societal change to kick in. Come and hoover the front room, instead,” if you really want it hoovered, that might all take a while. Surely here, as with everything else in a relationship with two people in love, you just need to discuss your mutual wants and needs, then come to an agreement. You don’t need the advocacy of rights on the basis of social, sexual and political equality to men, dude. You just need a rota.

Beauty regimes and housework are the two most obvious ways that the Patriarchy reinforces the oppression of women. There is a reason why women who don’t starve themselves or wear shoes which deform their feet are considered unfuckable and it isn’t because they are frigid. It’s because their existence is a threat; as is the refusal of men to take equal responsibility for the required work to maintain a family. Women will never be equal to men as long as we are required to dress like fucktoys and scrub toilets because men can’t be arsed too.

I Never Said Yes

I’ve only just watched BBC 3’s documentary I Never Said Yes by Pips Taylor. I’ve been putting it off mostly because I knew how much it would upset me but actually it disappointed me far more than it upset me. I wasn’t expecting a radical feminist expose on rape but I was expecting something less, well, naive. The questions Taylor posed were interesting:

… what happens when a victim does want to report an attack or rape here in the UK? Do victims have enough support to help them through their ordeal? What is it like to experience our justice system?

But, they were also self-evident questions to anyone who has experienced sexualised violence or has an interest in the criminal justice system and its treatment of victims. It left me wondering who precisely were the target audience of this documentary. I would have thought that the only people interested in watching would have been people in the two former categories. It’s not a subject matter likely to appeal to those with no relevant experience or interest. The mish-mash of survivor stories, interviews and voice-overs was disconcerting and far too Daily Mail rather than in-depth journalism.
The most powerful part of the documentary was the five survivors Taylor interviewed who, simply, deserved more time. There was simply far too much information incorporated into a one hour documentary: the survivors competed with police and attorneys with the focus flipping between personal experiences of rape, to the failures of the criminal justice system and rape myths. It felt like a whistle-stop tour with the survivors merely addendums to to Taylor’s pontificating. They should have been the focus; not Taylor.

Now, I grant you that part of my problem with the documentary is that it definitely fit into the new “shock-doc” television which takes serious problems and bounces them about like balloons in between voice-overs, bad scene settings and “re-enactments”. It was a documentary on rape. It does not need a re-enactment or scenes cut to pop-art to make a “point”. I loathe this type of television as much as I hate reality television as it assumes the audience is too dim to understand what the “experts” say so it requires, usually, someone incredibly chirpy to repeat their words; as if chirpy makes it easier to understand.

What really annoyed me most was Taylor’s handling of an interview with a group of young men. She was asking questions about consent but let the young men bandy about rape myths without really challenging them and, consequently, it ended with the suggestion that men are just “bad” at reading signals. Taylor even repeats this in her BBC blog on the documentary:

The problem that shocked me most of all was young peoples’ attitudes towards consent and what is and isn’t okay. Young people are the most vulnerable, yet it seems that there is a lack of communication amongst them.

Rape is not a communication “problem”; nor is it about inadequate boundaries. Rape is about power and control. Men who rape, rape because they can. Not because they are confused by a woman in a short skirt dancing with her friends. Frankly, if a man is too stupid to understand the difference between consensual sex and rape then they are too stupid to be having sex.


Taylor may have been looking at the devastating consequences of rape myths on the ability of rape survivors to access the criminal justice system but she let some seriously bad myths go unchallenged; as when interviewing a defense attorney who suggested some rapists deserved lesser sentencing because of their “good” character. Technically, she critiqued this theory in one sentence in a voice-over but she never directly challenged the defense attorney. Having a “good” character should not be a defense to rape; nor should it be considered a mitigating factor. A man who rapes can not, and does not, have a “good” character.
And, ending her blog with this:

Although people regard rape to be a depressing subject, meeting the survivors has shown me a hopeful side – that victims can regain power.

Well, it just made me want to bang my head against the wall. Although, the reference to one of the survivors as an “incredible bird” was equally cringe-worthy.


Really, it just made me wish that Kat Banyard of UK Feminista who was interviewed for her credentials as a feminist campaigner had been in charge rather than used for a sound-bite on porn which wasn’t explored properly. Considering the interest in changing and challenging rape laws and rape myths, this documentary could have sparked a series of thought-provoking documentaries exploring the issues in more detail. Instead, it felt like pulp fiction.

Gok Wan Redux: The Tale of Samantha Brick

I’m going to be completely honest here and say I didn’t read the Samantha Brick article. In fact, I spent most of the past two days somewhat perplexed as to why someone I had never heard of was dominating my twitter feed with comments about how ugly she is. Generally, I assume it’s someone from a reality TV program and then ignore. In this case, the level of misogyny and hatred leveled at a woman surprised me enough to google. Now, I have no intention of reading the article and, thereby, increasing the Daily Mail’s revenue streams as the misogyny, racism, homophobia and disablism they perpetuate on a daily basis is without equal. I do think the fallout of the Samantha Brick article is worth examining though, since it represents everything that is wrong with The Patriarchy.

I haven’t read either article written by Brick, but I’m fairly sure Harriet Walker’s article in today’s Independent would sum up my criticisms of the Daily Mail’s incurable misogyny:

Samantha Brick … A glutton for punishment perhaps; woefully misguided, certainly. Doing it for the money? You bet. But Samantha Brick’s message and martyrdom go right to the very heart of a patriarchal culture that we normally just put up with, one that makes everyone a little less well-disposed toward one another. Bear-baiting and cockfighting might be illegal, but woman-baiting is not, and certain institutions are content to cynically set up and sell ringside seats to the most horrid and vitriolic of catfights. … 

Brick is clearly an insecure and socially inept sort of person; she’s also patently not as beautiful as she thinks she is. But that’s the point: Brick is a witless puppet for a male hegemony that derives its power partly from the myth that all women everywhere are endlessly patronising and hurting each other. That women don’t like each other, especially if one happens to be more attractive, is “a taboo that needed shattering”, says Brick. But the real maxim begging to be flouted here is that women – both the bullies and the bullied in this scenario – are set up for this kind of fall again and again. … 

They’re much more likely to be subject to character assassinations because of this – but that has become the system we work by, and we don’t question why the men aren’t getting the same sort of flak. “Why must women be so catty? Men wouldn’t be bothered by this, I’m sure,” snorted one commentator on a radio chatshow about Brick. Yet many of those who were most acerbic about her on Twitter were men: public figures, comedians, TV stars and the like. … 

Generally though, men are immune to this kind of baiting; they are not subject to anywhere near as much scrutiny as women are, either in terms of their appearance or the way they relate to each other. If a woman is sloppily dressed or fat, she can’t be taken seriously; if she’s beautiful, she’s a harpy; if she’s sexy, she’s up for it. The constraints are so embedded now that we take the bait without realising it’s a trap. And the newspaper that perpetuates it all rakes in the cash. …

This is why I find men like Gok Wan so destructive and Patriarchal. Now, I have no idea if Gok Wan has waded into this debate and, frankly, I have no intention wasting my time checking this out. But this situation is precisely why I loathe Wan’s Patriarchy-approved physical attractiveness as the only way to body confidence for women. It’s reductive, arrogant and completely lacking in basic human kindness. Sheila Jeffrey’s talks about women using Patriarchy-approved tools like make-up and high heels as armor against sexualised humiliation and bullying and this is precisely the type of behavior Wan insists is “beneficial” to women. It might be “protective” for women to engage in Patriarchy-approved behavior [and judging individual women for wearing make-up/heels/spanx is unfeminist as Jeffreys rightly points out], but we can not pretend that it’s not a problem for fear of hurting someone’s feelings. That isn’t an excuse to be deliberately rude but rather recognising that the Patriarchy functions by isolating and belittling women.

The Daily Mail set Samantha Brick up to fail as Gok Wan does weekly in his “truss yourself up in some spanx, throw on some high heels that will damage your feet the same way Chinese foot-binding did for a millenium and pretend that make-up is what separates you from poor self-confidence”. Jeffreys doesn’t argue that wearing make-up is the same as plastic surgery or foot-binding but rather that they all exist on a continuum of woman-hating which makes women’s bodies the visible sign of The Patriarchy. What Wan perpetuates is those harmful Traditional Cultural Practices under the UN definition which, as Jeffreys points out, is generally only applied to non-Western practices despite labiaplasty in the “West” having the same consequences as female genital mutilation which is constructing female sexuality as only for the benefit for men by removing/ decreasing women’s pleasure.

We need to stop focussing on whether or not Samantha Brick meets the patriarchal-approved definition of physical beauty and start looking at the reasons why women who do not meet it are punished by becoming unfuckable. We need to stop celebrating breast implants which decrease sexual pleasure and the ability to breast-feed as a “good” thing when it is nothing more than self-harm by proxy. We need to start celebrating women for being women; for being strong, beautiful, incredible and so very intelligent. All that the Tale of Samantha Brick proves is that the Patriarchy hates women. Let’s stop buying into the Patriarchy’s discourse and make our own and be that very powerful Feminist armed resistance of women loving and supporting women.

Twinkling Lights: A Short Story

This is a short story by my beautiful daughter who has finally given me permission to publish it. 

Twinkling Lights.
            Little sparkles filled the dark heavy sky that stretched like a dome over her head. Ellie looked in awe, the back of her neck aching slightly. She blinked and pictures appeared in the night sky. Taking her favourite fairy wand, she traced pictures of people, animals. She imagined a thin sparkly silver trail following the tip of her wand… And the pictures came to life. The great hero Hercules with his sword chased a lion across the night sky. Ellie spun around, her wand wafting in the air and her tutu whirling around her as she pretended to be a lion. Pouncing on Hercules, she jumped onto a chair and clawed the air, growling in the back of her throat. Hercules armour shredded beneath her sharp, mighty claws and then she was Hercules. Raising her sword, she clasped the hilt with both hands and brought it down on the lions’ neck. She jumped around waving her wand and princess cloak in the air. In her mind, the lions’ thick, golden skin was heavy in her hands, and her huge sword glinted silver with red.            

            George carried two mugs of hot chocolate round the corner, and almost spilled them. A little girl in a tutu was dancing round the balcony, waving her wand and cloak. Her luminous pink outfit stood out against the dark marble floor and plain ledge. The whole house, pinewood, looked out over a cliff: a very steep and dangerous cliff. Sharp rocks jutted out of the grass. But George wasn’t worried about that. He smiled fondly at his daughter as he set the mugs on a table.

            “Careful of the hot chocolate okay sweetheart.” Little Ellie kept dancing, yelling something about victory over a lion. George watched her for a minute then suddenly swooped down and picked her up. He tickled her and she screamed with delight.

            “Daddy, stop it!” Ellie giggled. Chuckling to himself, he put her down.

            “What were you talking about?” George asked her curiously.

            “I was pretending to be Hercules and the lion. You know… That story you told me about last night?” Ellie boasted. “When Hercules killed the lion with his sword.”

            “Actually, Hercules strangled the lion. The lion’s skin could not be pierced by any weapon, remember?” George gently reminded her.

            “No he didn’t. He killed the lion with his mighty sword!” Ellie stamped her foot crossly and folded her arms. Pouting.

            George laughed. “Do you want another story tonight?” He asked gently.

            “Yes please! A Greek Mythology one!” (Ellie felt very big and proud at knowing such big words.) She eagerly climbed into his lap, and looked at him expectantly.

            Daddy looked up the sky, and pointed to a group of stars. Gently he told her another story. It was about a princess called Andromeda. Just then the phone rang. George picked her up, and put her on the balcony ledge to admire the stars.

            “Don’t move.” He said sternly. And left.

            Ellie looked up and traced the constellation of Andromeda with her finger. Craning her neck back, she looked at every little star she could see. She counted them. She wanted to touch them. To name them.
            Cautiously, Ellie stood up on the beam. She wobbled, her balance off… And found it again. Ellie looked up at the stars again. Stretching on her tiptoes, She reached with her finger, and pretended she was touching each little star. She took a step forward.
And fell.

            George listened vaguely, twirling the phone chord around his finger. He wasn’t particularly interested. Just then, he heard a scream. A high-pitched scream of terror of a little girl.

            “Ellie.” He whispered.

            Throwing down the phone, he ran to the balcony… But Ellie wasn’t there. Panic crashed through him like a tsunami. It pulled him towards his daughter. A terrifying force that he willingly gave himself too.

            Ellie felt the air battering her cheeks, her hair. One minute, she was gazing at the stars, and the next, she was watching the ground race towards her at an alarming rate. She felt the wind snatch tears from her eyes, and she tried to look up. Up at the stars that were sure to protect her. Protect her from this nightmare. Squeezing her eyes shut, she tried to imagine it was all a dream. Just a dream. She opened her eyes, and just had time to widen them in fear before she felt the pain of a sharp rock explode against the side of her head.

            George watched in horror at his little girl. He could feel the wind tugging at his clothes, but that didn’t matter. The wind robbed the last of his breath as he tried to take a gasp of air. Tears blurred his vision. But that was okay. He didn’t want to see his precious daughter covered in blood, and limp. Lifeless. Lifeless as she kept falling onto 
more rocks. He choked back a sob of despair as the rock got him too.

            Ellie coughed and rolled over. Her head hurt so badly. It was like a drum was pounding through her head. Her sides hurt. Her back hurt. She tried to stand up, but yelled in pain as her leg collapsed underneath her. A muted thud to her right made her look. Her heart leaped as she recognised the greying hair.

“Daddy?” She tried to whisper. It came out like a croak. The head shifted and looked at her.

            Relief washed through him.

            “It’s going to be okay Ellie. Alright.” He murmured to her. He wasn’t sure who he was trying to convince.  Himself or his daughter.

            Crawling over on his belly, he quickly made an assessment of the damage. A broken arm and leg. Several cracked ribs. A throbbing head. He was sure he could feel blood running down the side of his head. He looked at his daughter and realized she must be broken the same way. He gently pulled her towards him, and cradled her.

            Ellie breathed in the scent of his clothes. She didn’t like the blood, but she could faintly smell his scent. She looked at the stars. Twinkling little lights that filled her life.

            “Thank you stars.” She whispered. “Daddy, tell me another story.”
She heard her father draw in a breath, and felt him wince in pain. And then his voice drowned out the pain. But all the time she kept gazing at the stars. The regular, steady heartbeat of her fathers was slowing down. Smiling at the stars, she closed her eyes and tried to sleep.

            After all, she thought, it’s only a story.

Body Confidence (Or Why Gok Wan is NOT a Feminist or pro-woman)

The first Body Confidence Awards will be held at the House of Commons on April 19th with awards being presented in several categories including retail, fashion, and advertising. I generally ignore these things because they serve only to annoy the crap out of me as its usually an action in narcissism. Frankly, I can’t see how the fashion industry could ever be feted for encouraging body confidence but that may just be because I’ve recently read Sheila Jeffrey’s Beauty and Misogyny.

Really, the only reason I have even heard of this campaign is because Mumsnet is involved with it as a continuation of the Let Girls Be Girls campaign. As a feminist and a mother, the issue of body confidence in children is very important to me so I was pleased to see Mumsnet was behind this campaign including running its own award about promoting body confidence in children. That is, until I saw that Gok Wan was being nominated. Now, I don’t usually watch reality television since I think it is nothing more than the 21st century version of the 19th century freak show. I think they deliberately set out to humiliate and belittle people. But, even I’ve come across Gok Wan and nothing he does makes me think he likes women.

Having confidence in your body is about loving yourself for who you are and regardless of how you look. It isn’t about being trussed up like a turkey in spanx and told to suck it in. As a general rule of thumb, men grabbing your breasts is sexual assault, not entertainment. Or, as the very lovely Mme Lindor said:

Not a fan of Gok since his message seems to be that you are FABULOUS as you are, but here is a corset that will pull in all your wobbly bits, make you feel uncomfortable and restrict blood supply to your vital organs. 

I thought we were past all that.

No idea what his teen program was like, but based on his love of spanx, I wouldn’t say he promotes body confidence.

Wan may use feminist discourse to parade about on television but he’s about as far from feminism as you can possibly get. Feminists do not associate appearance with body confidence. Feminism is about real women who have opinions and beliefs and are intelligent; it is not women stripped naked, belittled, grabbed and humiliated on national television. That’s the essence of the Patriarchy: naked, vulnerable women being humiliated and tortured.

My vote remains for Pink Stinks. They are an incredible, small, but utterly brilliant organization who are all about letting girls be girls (and boys be boys) by challenging pinkification and genderisation. Their campaigns, notably against The Early Learning Centre, have been run successfully by 2 sisters with little budget and a lot of will. They are fighting the destruction of childhood and the idea that girls only have value for their appearance. Gok Wan is all about how women look; not whether or not its healthy to wear corsets [because any nincompoop can tell you corsets are bad for your body and that anything which restricts breathing is a stupid].

The idea that someone who dislikes women’s bodies as much as Gok Wan does could possibly be awarded for increasing body confidence just makes me want to curl up in a corner and cry. Our daughters would be better served with a non-sexist education without sexual bullying and violence and a copies of Jeffrey’s Beauty and Misogyny, Susie Orbach’s Fat is a Feminist Issue and Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender

Vote here for someone who inspires Body Confidence in Children.

In Defence of Women-Only Spaces

I’ve been thinking about the issue of women-only spaces recently but two events have crystallized for me just how necessary women-only spaces are and how much the requirement that “everyone” be included simply excludes women. At least, when I first started thinking about writing this blogpost it was based on my feelings of two protest marches that I had just attended. Then, the unnecessary violent response of a group of MRAs towards the women dominated safe space that is Mumsnet made me realise just how frightening some men find women-only spaces. Or, as my dear friend Blackcurrants, once said:

Honestly, I think some men walk into a space where they are not likely to be (1) amongst other men and thereby automatically treated as ‘in the gang’ or (2) fawned over by women who think they exist to make men feel good and have a complete existential crisis. If the world doesn’t revolve around ME, an insecure man thinks, it can’t be working right! PANNIIIIC!

I suspect that for some men, women-dominated spaces are a threat to their perceived sense of entitlement to be the voice that gets heard. And women-only spaces are threatening because, as the oppressing class has always known when they try to restrict the ability of the oppressed class to gather together unmonitored- they must be up to something. Protecting women-only spaces is more and more important as formerly safe places are lost under the guise of being “fair” to all sex/genders, which is a policy that just ignores the political, social and cultural implications of The Patriarchy as it affects and effects all marginalised groups.

I’ve been on lots of protest marches: against the war in Iraq, nuclear weapons, against the current destructive cuts in the Welfare Bill, in support of youth and leisure centers, Reclaim the Night, and Million Women Rise. Of these only the Reclaim the Night and Million Women Rise marches in London have been advertised as women-only. There is a very real difference in being in a woman-only protest march. It simply feels safer because the organisers make the effort to include vulnerable and marginalised women. This starts with allowing disabled women to march at the front in a protected space. It does have secondary impact of slowing down the march and ensuring that the march take up as much space as possible for as long as possible. More importantly, however, it ensures that disabled women are considered an essential part of the protest and not simply an inconvenience.

The two events which crystallised this for me were the Million Women Rise March 2012 and the International Women’s Day: March Against the Cuts. Million Women Rise was inclusive with transport arranged for those who did not feel physically able to complete the march. This included women who were pregnant and had mobility problems as a consequence. This is a group of women normally ignored because pregnancy is a “choice” and it isn’t “permanent.” Both of these theories require a refusal to acknowledge just how much damage pregnancy can do to a woman’s body. More importantly, no one was bumped into or knocked over and children were free to bounce about shouting slogans and dancing because they were safe. They were safe because they were in a protected space where everyone’s particular needs were catered for and attended to. Being knocked and bumped is a very real problem for many women due not only to physical disabilities which make it extremely painful but also the added trauma of women who have experienced sexualised violence. Being knocked into by men does not make these women feel safer or feel like the protest respects their bodily integrity and personal experience. It simply further marginalises already marginalised women.

The International Women’s Day: March Against the Cuts held in Glasgow on the Saturday following Million Women Rise was a very different atmosphere. It was specifically organised to recognise the very deliberate gendered effect of the cuts on women but it was not a women-only space and it showed. Two men holding a large banner kept walking over women in order to get closer to the front of the march. Having a large banner bash you in the back of the head is hardly a pleasant experience. It is also completely defeats the purpose of a march about gendered political experiences when two men decide that their voices must be more visible that women. There was no attempt to make sure that the march was inclusive of marginalised women and resulted in disabled women being left behind and trailing the march whilst the police tried to hurry us on. The police always try to hurry marches up; in a protected march this doesn’t happen because the organisers are aware of the issue. This is not the deliberate fault of the organisers themselves but is what happens when men are involved and women’s [and other marginalised people] needs are not addressed. Men take over the space and make it about them. They marginalise women without even being conscious of doing so because they are so used to being in charge and being heard.

The last two Reclaim The Night marches in Edinburgh resulted in similar behaviour with the distressing addition of the male band conductor repeatedly banging into several disabled women without ever once apologising or making an effort to be more aware of the effects of this behaviour. When men are involved, women’s voices get silenced. We need to stop that. One of the best academic examples of this type of male behaviour is a study of classroom behaviour of men and women undertaken at Harvard. As feminists, we need to stop pandering to these men and make sure that all our sisters are involved and heard.

The second problem with including the men who whine about not being allowed to participate in women-only marches and demonstrations is that they never ever show up nor do they bother to take responsibility for organising their own protests. If they did, I would show up because I truly believe that the Capitalist Patriarchy is harmful for everyone. But, they never do and that is the problem. Women are asked to be “inclusive” which allows men to abdicate responsibility for standing up and being counted. The notable exception to this the White Ribbon Campaign which is organised by men in response to the Ecole Polytechnique massacre in Montreal in 1989 wherein a male gunman killed 14 women, injured 10 more women before killing himself. However, it is not surprising that when we think of the massacre of these beautiful and talented women, we can immediately name the perpetrator and not his victims. These are the women who paid with their lives for the “privilege” of entering male-space:

Geneviève Bergeron (born 1968), civil engineering student
Hélène Colgan (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
Nathalie Croteau (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
Barbara Daigneault (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
Anne-Marie Edward (born 1968), chemical engineering student
Maud Haviernick (born 1960), materials engineering student
Maryse Laganière (born 1964), budget clerk in the École Polytechnique’s finance department
Maryse Leclair (born 1966), materials engineering student
Anne-Marie Lemay (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
Sonia Pelletier (born 1961), mechanical engineering student
Michèle Richard (born 1968), materials engineering student
Annie St-Arneault (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
Annie Turcotte (born 1969), materials engineering student
Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz (born 1958), nursing student

We need only-women rooms to give us space to breathe, to love and support one another and to hear one another. Unless we start hearing each other, we won’t ever be able to support one another and that is what women-only spaces give us: the opportunity to just be.

School Uniforms: Reinforcing Patriarchal Norms?

I’ve been frantically running around tonight making sure my children’s school uniforms are ready for tomorrow morning. This activity never fails to make me cranky; not because of the “laundry” aspect but because it reminds me just how much I hate the whole issue of uniforms. Inevitably, anyone who is acquainted with me will have heard sections of this rant because I truly believe the only reason for school uniforms is to reinforce capitalist-patriarchal norms.

The following is an amended rant from a post originally made on the Mumsnet talk boards:

This might be very disjointed and take several points to get across because I’ve come to this point from several areas: a background in education, as a mother, as a feminist, and as someone who is beyond angry at how children, and more specifically teenagers, are demonised in Western culture.

1) Educational aspect: the theory is that children in uniforms learn better because they aren’t concerned about clothing and that uniforms denote respect and causes children to behave better.

As a teacher, I think the theory that children behave better in uniforms is horseshit. Children respond to adults who respect themselves, their colleagues and the students. Behaviour is better in schools which have effective management teams with good teachers who are supported. The best uniform in the world won’t make up for shit management. It can’t compensate for serious social problems in children’s families or poor teaching. Kids in jeans in a good school with a good headteacher will preform well because they are respected and want to not because they are wearing or not wearing a tie.

Many, many countries do not use school uniforms and have just as much good behaviour, bad behaviour and ‘results’ as UK school. It must be noted that most schools will still have a uniform policy banning offensive t-shirts, non-existent skirts, and, in inner-cities, banning gang colours.

2) Poverty: The theory is that all children in the same outfit means that kids won’t get bullied over clothing. This is wrong. If your school has an expensive uniform available from only one shop, the poorest parents won’t be able to afford it anyways. Kids can tell the difference between clothes from Tescos and clothes from M&S even in schools which have generic cheap uniforms. They can tell the difference between boots bought from Clarks and knock-offs from ShoeZone. If they are bullied for clothing, they are just as likely to be bullied for wearing thread-bare too small uniform as they are for wearing Tescos brand jeans.

This argument also fails to address the issue of bullying. Bullies go after the weakest link. If it isn’t uniform, it will be something else. The problem is not that the children are dressed the same or not; the problem is that the school has a culture of bullying which is not being addressed effectively. That’s the definition of a shit school. Pretending that clothes will make it go away is naive and disrespectful to the children who are victimised by bullying. It makes them responsible for being bullied because they aren’t dressed appropriately rather than blaming the bullying on the bully and the school environment which allows them to continue without intervention.

Bullying and our bullying culture is part of the patriarchal structure of our society which sets up everyone in a hierarchy of importance. It also marginalises any child who does not ‘fit’ the mold.

3) Conformity: I think maintaining conformity is about maintaining our hierarchical society. I believe it is misogynistic as well as classist: setting out a clear difference between those who are important and those who are not.

4) Material Culture of Uniforms: Uniforms tend to be of poor quality, prone to die problems and rip easily. it is more expensive to keep replacing cheap items of clothing that it is to purchase new better quality clothes. jeans from Tescos (£10) last a lot longer on a physical child that a pair of cheap nylon trousers. If you have more than one child, you are more likely to get more wear out of Tescos jeans than you are the cheap nylon trousers.

5) Respect: This is where I think the issue of uniforms moves into questions of patriarchy. I think, in many ways, they are outward emblems of social control designed to make children ‘others’. If you think of the work which requires uniforms, most are of low status and equally low pay [sanitation workers etc]: jobs which are frequently preformed by women.

I think it is also the outward signifier of respect: those in power require these to make themselves feel better. Its like the idea that you can never be rude to your ‘elders’ because they are old, they must be obeyed. Why should you have to respect a 90 year old man because he’s old. He may also be a paedophile, have committed severe violence against his wife or children, be a violent alcoholic. Requiring respect for being old means that the opposite, children, require no respect.

I think, as a society, we are reaping serious social damage due to our lack of respect for our children.

There are so many other things that schools need to worry about [children who are being abused at home, being bullied, ensuring that all kids leave literate even if they have serious social problem which makes continuous school attendance difficult] that arguing over a tie just seems petty. The argument becomes you must wear the tie because I told you to not because it is of any benefit to you.

The other part is the more time we spend faffing about over uniforms, the less time we spend actually ensuring that the kid who is lashing out isn’t lashing out because he’s just testing boundaries [normal for teenagers] but is lashing out because of abuse, poverty, fear or a 101 other reasons. Uniforms are form of hierarchical social control and, fundamentally, only serve to reinforce Patriarchal norms at the expense of our children’s education and their self-respect.