The True Power of Sisterhood or When MN has got your Back

I don’t want to rehash the proceedings of the past two weeks and the behaviour of a certain male organisation. They have wasted far too much of the time of everyone who isn’t clinically stupid. They are a joke and everyone but them knows this.

What I want to say is thank you to the women of Mumsnet who stood up for me and who stood up for each other in the face of some extremely aggressive bullying. It is incredible being part of a network of women who really talk to one another and share and support and love; who are willing to fight for that support. I am not going to name the hundred or so MNers who got my back either by defending me on FB or by sending me private messages of support because I don’t want them to become targets for abuse. They know who they are and they know how much I love them [even a certain newbie I’d never met before].

This is what the FeMNist sisterhood is really about; no matter how much we disagree with one another’s politics or parenting choices, when it comes to the Patriarchy’s Baboons we are there for one another.

So, thank you. 🙂

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The following is an amended rant from a post originally made on the Mumsnet talk boards: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

We Believe You

The FeMNist section of Mumsnet celebrated its second birthday this month. Since it’s inception, we’ve expanded from a few regulars into a large community with sub-sections on Activism and two monthly book clubs. FeMNists have been represented at FEM ’11, the UKFeminista Summer Schools, Go Feminism, Muff March, Challenging Porn Conference, Engender, LFN ’10, Reclaim The Night marches in London, Glasgow, Leeds, Edinburgh and Dundee and Million Women Rise London. Members have started new feminist groups across the UK. We have campaigned against Hooters in Bristol, Top Shop’s offensive t-shirts, Harvey Nichols’ Walk of Shame campaign, Pepsi’s End of the World pro-rape ads, the Boots “Here come the Girls” ads and literally thousands of letters and emails of complaints to MPs, MSPs and the judiciary about the suggested “anonymity” for rapists clause that the ConDems thought might be fun. We’ve actively supported Mumsnet’s other official and unofficial campaigns including Let Girls Be Girls against premature sexualisation of children, the Miscarriage Code of Practice, stopping the abolition of the DLA, banning Page 3, removing/ hiding “lad’s mags” from the view of children, better respite care for parents of disabled children, against Nadine Dorries anti-choice bill, and the fight to save the NHS. For this, we have been trolled something ridiculous by Misogynist Rights Activists [MRAs] from all over the internet [but mostly the basement of their parent’s house] and ridiculed by a small number of MNers always willing to stick the boot in. [It has to be said here that the Special Needs forum on Mumsnet is subject to the same vitriol; usually by the same group of trolls.]

The FeMNists are some of the most amazing and inspiring women I have ever come across. They are beautiful, strong, intelligent and real sisters but I have never been so proud to be a FeMNist as I am with the We Believe You campaign. This campaign is/ was ours. It came out of the hundreds of threads written by women asking for support in dealing with their experiences of rape and other forms of sexualised violence; threads where FeMNists were ridiculed for suggesting that most men are not sex-starved beasts. It came out of threads written by FeMNists discussing their own experiences of sexualised violence and encouraging others/themselves to believe that those “small” acts of sexualised violence weren’t really that small. It came out of the theoretical basis of feminism: women supporting women.

But, the real origins of the We Believe You campaign was the Julian Assange rape trial and extradition. Between Assange, Roman Polanski, and the suggested anonymity for rape defendents, the rape apologists were having a field day labeling women as lying whores. FeMNists took a beating from MRAs but also other Mumsnetters who kept insisting that *some* women lie and, anyways, famous leftist-socialist dudes don’t *rape* people. They are falsely accused by evil feminists. It was a distressing period and it did feel like Mumsnet was no longer a “safe space” in which to support one another through our experiences.

In the midst of this discussion and, frankly unnecessarily aggressive trolling by other MNers and MRAs, our lovely Christine de Pizan undertook an informal and anonymous survey of the experiences of sexualised violence of MNers. I don’t think anyone was prepared for the consequences of the survey. Yet, from these competing strands of debate and lack of support came the idea of a campaign about rape myths that Leningrad christened with the name I Believe You. FeMNists took this campaign across the talk boards of MN supporting and grieving with other women.

Last October, we asked MNHQ to run a formal campaign with 2 basic premises: to educate people about rape myths and to make the default position that rape victims are telling the truth. MNHQ more than surpassed our wildest thoughts on this issue. The support for the campaign has been phenomenal with so many amazing women standing together supporting each other. I am proud to be part of Mumsnet and humbled to stand with such an amazing group of supportive and loving women.

The media attention of the campaign, run in support with Rape Crisis and the End Violence Against Women Coalition has been incredible but, more importantly, the campaign’s success in the various forms of social media has given a voice to women who had previously been silenced. The twitter hashtags #webelieveyou and #ididnotreport have been trending with stories of sexual violence and supportive statements [and a couple of misogynistic asshats but they mostly make themselves look like pillocks]. These are just some of the blogs written: saltandcaramel, Gentle Otter, Bidisha, toomuchtosayformyself, Too Many Cuts, and Alreethinny.

What We Believe You has accomplished in just over 48 hours has been to make women’s voices heard.

The survey (completed by over 1,600* women) shows that, of respondents:

  • One in 10 had been raped (10%) 
  • Over one-third (35%) had been sexually assaulted 
  • Almost one-quarter (23%) reported being raped or sexually assaulted four or more times 
  • In two-thirds (66%) of cases the women knew the person responsible 

Many women felt unable to report rape or sexual assault:

  • Over four-fifths (83%) of respondents who had been raped or sexually assaulted did not make a report to the police 
  • Over one-quarter (29%) didn’t tell anyone at all, including friends or family, about the assault/rape 
  • Over two-thirds (68%) said they would hesitate reporting to the police due to low conviction rates 
  • And over half (53%) would not report due to embarrassment or shame 

The results also reveal that most women feel that rape victims are treated poorly:

  • Nearly three-quarters (70%) of respondents feel the media is unsympathetic to women who report rape 
  • Over half (53%) feel the legal system is unsympathetic 
  • And over half (55%) feel society at large is unsympathetic 

Women’s History Month


March is Women’s History Month. I did have an almost finished blog written on my laptop however I’ve just poured a whole cup of hot sweet tea on the keyboard. I’ve borrowed the teenager’s IPad to write this but it swears I haven’t saved the blog. 


But, it’s Women’s History Month and while there is an argument for it further marginalising the history of women, we need to take every opportunity possible to celebrate women. This is an opportunity we can take from The Patriarchy and make women visible. I’ve already got some great books lined up but I am always looking for more recommendations especially ones about the history of non-European women of which I know very little.

My choices so far are:

Sonja M Hedgepeth and Rochelle Saidel’s Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women During the Holocaust

Rosalind Miles’ The Women’s History of the World

Bettany Hughes’ Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore

These are some great online resources celebrating Women’s History:

National Women’s History Project

Women’s History Month: What About Her Story?

Reading Only Books Written By Women

This is a Feminist blog but it is one inspired by a man: V.S. Naipaul to be exact. Inspired isn’t quite the right word to use here since it does imply some sort of artistic vision and a lack of anger. Mostly, it inspired a lot of rage; I’d like to think righteous rage. And, really, I don’t actually want to give Naipaul any real credit for inspiration when it was his dismissal of all women writers for their “sentimentality [and] the narrow view of the world” that made me froth with rage. Naipaul is obviously entitled to his opinion, even if it is misogynistic and all kinds of stupid, but the real problem is that his opinion is reflected in the purchasing and reading habits of men across the world. This is what we need to challenge: the erasure of women from the literary and cultural world. Feminist writer Bidisha calls this cultural femicide. I’m inclined to agree with her.

As Bidisha puts it so eloquently in her blog piece “Literary women, literary prizes. Not often found in the same room:”

… women are everywhere in the book world and even on the bestseller lists. We are the overwhelming majority of book buyers, book readers, book editors, agents, PRs, event attendees, festival-goers, champions of literature, literature teachers, writers and book club members. We read the comically major majority, in a really major way, of all fiction. We support the entire industry from within and without. We are everywhere except in the nicest place: the prestige podium, that zone of acclaim furnished with prizes, honours, respect, speaking invitations, special commissions, credit, mentions, recommendations and a place in the canon.

Women read and buy more books than men and we read with a fairly close approximation of gender parity. Men do not give women the same respect. Most men who read only read books written by men. J.K Rowling is the most well-known example of this phenomenon in the 20th century: she published the Harry Potter series under her initials because her publisher felt they could not market the book to boys if it was written by a woman. The fact that it is one of the highest selling series of books ever seems beside the point: written by a woman and it simply wouldn’t sell. Even if the books are brilliant and engaging.

Strangely, women are the majority of employees in the book industry: everything from publishing companies to literary prizes to conferences. So why do we support male literary efforts when they do not accord us the same respect? Why do we not take advantage of the biggest tool for activism that we have in a capitalist Patriarchy and stop financially supporting male authors? Why don’t we demand publishing companies spend as much money advertising books written by women as they do by men? Why do we still buy anthologies of poetry, plays and short stories when the default is always male? Why do we still live in a society where some of the greatest writers are accorded no respect because they have vaginas? Why are we still in a system that forced the Bronte sisters and Mary Anne Evans [George Eliot] to publish under male pseudonyms? Why do we support an industry that required the same of Joanna Rowling 200 years later?


This blog, then, is a piece of feminist activism because it is about celebrating the literature written by women and about women: about our friendships and our lives. I’m not going to stop reading books by men altogether [mostly because I run the Mumsnet Feminist Book Clubs and we’ve already picked this year’s books which do include some by men writing about domestic violence and porn] but, rather, this is about only buying books written by women. It is about taking the only stand possible in capitalist patriarchy and financially supporting brilliant women writers with a view to ending this cultural femicide. It is about loving literature and loving the brilliant women who write it.

On twitter: #readingonlybookswrittenbywomen