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.

My Top Ten Feminist Fiction Texts


At the behest of a lovely friend, I have compiled my Top Ten Feminist Fiction Texts. Not all are necessarily Feminist although all are written by women and have beautiful women as characters.

1. Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton: I first read this at Uni. Technically, we were supposed to be reading Gaskell’s North and South but I loved her work so much I started plowing through her other books. Mary Barton remains my favourite.

2. Dorothy L. Sayer’s Gaudy Night: Probably the first Feminist mystery book. Technically the main character is male, but Harriet Vane is brilliant, funny and her own woman.

3. Fannie Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe: It celebrates female friendships; there is nothing more Feminist than women loving and supporting other women.

4. Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey: I was a historian in a previous life and this is my favourite quote: 

‘I wish I were too. I read it a little as a duty, but it tells me nothing that does not either vex or weary me. The quarrels of popes and kings, with wars or pestilences, in every page; the men all so good for nothing, and hardly any women at all – it is very tiresome: and yet, I often think it odd that it should be so dull, for a great deal of it must be invention. The speeches that are put into the heroes’ mouths, their thoughts and designs – the chief of all this must be invention, and invention is what delights me in other books.’

So, it’s not the most feminist of texts but Jane Austen is brilliant [more so than V.S Naipaul in fact].

5. Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible: The story of the 4 daughters of an abusive “Christian” man; a story of love, family, racism, and truth. It is a classic.

6. Alice Walker’s The Color Purple: Another story of the power of women’s love. It is beautiful, soul-destroying and incredible.


7. Winifred Holtby’s South Riding: Holtby was a Feminist and she writes about Feminism. What else is there to say.

8. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale: No explanation necessary for this one.

9. Andrea Levy’s The Long Song: It is a story of slavery but really the story of an incredible woman.

10. Charlaine Harris’ The Shakespeare Books: Harris is more well-known as the author of the True Blood books but this series is by far the most Feminist. It is, simply, about the systemic level of sexualised violence within our Patriarchal society. Many books deal with rape but very few deal with rape as a crime against all women; the way the threat of rape is used to control and punish women. And, just how common rape really is.

11. Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club: Again, a novel about the power of women’s relationships.

12. Marian Keyes’ This Charming Man: Everything Keyes writes is Feminist. It is an utter travesty that she is frequently dismissed as “chick lit”.

13. Margaret Lawrence’s The Diviners: She only wrote 5 books about the same area of Manitoba. All are brilliant but this is my favourite. 


14. Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. She rocked. 

15. Kris Radish’s The Elegant Gathering of White Snows. The power of women’s friendship and the inspiration for this blog:)

Top Ten Feminist Must-Reads

So, this isn’t the most imaginative or creative Feminist blog post but it is a topic that comes up continuously on Mumsnet. And, for me personally, I do find it incredibly interesting what individual Feminists believe are the most important texts to read. Books are the windows to people souls: even if they just own copies of leather-bound classics which have never been opened. You just know that a man who owns everything ever written by Norman Mailer and has clearly read them multiple times is probably a nincompoop and undateable to boot. A man who reads nothing but mysteries but has never heard of Dorothy L. Sayers is probably a little bit on the serial killer/stalkery side of the not dateable material.
Some of these books were FeMNist Book Club choices on MN and I have linked to those threads where applicable. I also couldn’t limit myself to 10 but it’s my blog so I didn’t; despite the title.

1. Andrea Dworkin’s Intercourse: This is perhaps the most deliberately misread and misquoted second wave Feminist text. The question: “what intercourse is for women and what it does to women’s identity, privacy, self-respect, self-determination, and integrity are forbidden questions; and yet how can a radical or any woman who wants freedom not ask precisely these questions?” is central to her thesis but fundamentally deliberately misread. Read it and judge for yourself.

2. Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences. This book isn’t actually a “Feminist text” but the basic premise behind the book is that sex/gender differences aren’t biological but rather reflect socialization and cultural practises. Or, at least, there is currently no evidence that sex differences are biological and until the point that we can definitely prove otherwise, it is simply bad science to pretend otherwise. Fine argues that the differences we “see” are simply sexist myths dressed up as science. It also contains my favourite debunking of the theory that men need to be taught to be Daddies: the story of the Daddy Rat. You need to read it for this story alone.

3. Susan Faludi’s Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women. This book is 20 years old but basically could have been written yesterday. All you need to do is replace the chapter on kinder-whore fashion with BDSM fashion and replace the names of Right-wing reactionary Handmaidens of the 1980s with people like Ann Coulter, Sarah Palin, Amanda Platell, Jan Moir and Nadine Dorries. Faludi does this herself in The Terror Dream: What 9/11 Revealed About America but Backlash remains as important a Feminist text now as it did 20 years ago. In fact, in many ways, the backlash of the 1980s was nowhere near as destructive as the current backlash which has taken its cues from the pornography industry.

4. Natasha Walter’s Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism: Selling women and girls bodies as “empowerment”: the new Backlash. The real consequences of “choice” Feminism.

5. Robin Warshaw’s I Never Called it Rape: The Ms Report on Recognising, Fighting and Surviving Date and Acquaintance Rape. The title is self-evident. This is one of those books which should be a required text in PSHE.

5. Kat Banyard’s The Equality Illusion: The Truth about Women and Men Today: This is basically a catalogue of reasons why Feminism is more important today than it ever was. The fact that a teenage girl in South Africa is more likely to be raped than literate or that 2/3 of illiterate people are women and 2 women a week in the UK are killed by their current or former intimate partners are statistics that can not be denied; even by MRAs although they do try. It’s not theory but a manual on how to combat misogyny [or at least recognise misogyny]. This should be another mandatory text for PSHE.

6. Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture. This is simply about just how damaging hyper-sexuality and the pursuit of physical perfection as the source of female empowerment really are; empowerment being one of those things that people with actual access to power don’t need to bother with. It’s the terrifying story of mass-consumerism and the destruction of girls. This should be required reading for upper primary children.

7. Susan Maushart’s Wifework: What Marriage Really Means for Women: This should be another set text in school. There are far too many people running about claiming that men can’t be good at housework because they don’t “see” it. The real problem is that men benefit from this myth at the risk to women’s emotional and physical health. The idea that men need to be told what to do take live in their own house is misogynistic bollocks of the worst kind.

8. Sheila Jeffreys’ Beauty and Misogyny: This is another deliberately misinterpreted book and one that you definitely need to read for yourself. The critiques of the fashion industry and the comparison with high heels and Chinese foot-binding are brilliant. Cultural relativism has a lot to answer for.

9. Susie Orbach’s Fat is a Feminist Issue: This is one of the classic second-wave Feminist texts which is more relevant today than when it was first written due to the increase in discourse about women’s value being solely about their appearance and the idea that the only women who have value are “thin”.

10. Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics: This is another classic second-wave text although one which feels a bit dated to those already interested in Feminism and Feminist theory. It was ground-breaking when it was first written and it’s a testament to the power of Millett’s work that we now consider her work “normative.”

11. Marilyn French’s The Women’s Room: This is the only fiction book on my list but it’s the one which demonstrates the true power of Feminism: women supporting and loving other women.

12. Susan J Douglas & Meredith W Michaels’ The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined All Women: It’s exactly what the title says: why mothers are demonized and how that demonization destroys women. It should be given out as a mandatory text at the first midwife/ adoption/fostering appointment.

13. Gail Dines’ Pornland:How Porn Has Hijacked our Sexuality: This is an incredibly distressing book and one that needs to be read but it is triggering and horrifying and utterly depressing. Robert Jensen’s Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity is worth reading in conjunction but only if you are feeling emotionally capable.

14. Lundy Bancroft’s Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men: Another required text at PSHE. The ability to identify abusive men is a gift we need to give our daughters. We need to stop pretending Beauty and the Beast is a romantic film and that Norman Mailer is anything but a violent misogynist.

15. I Blame The Patriarchy: Technically, this is a blog not a book but I think it deserves to be considered under the rubric of “must-reads”.

Esther Freud’s Lucky Break


I have to admit here that I never heard of Esther Freud before getting a freecopy of this book from the Mumsnet [non-feminist] fiction book club. I have vague recollections of thinking that I might enjoy watching a Kate Winslet movie called Hideous Kinky but I don’t think I ever got around to actually watching it.

Clearly, this was a massive over-sight on my part since Lucky Break is fucking brilliant [and that’s not just because I’m still cranky about wasting my time reading the misogynist wankfest which was Paula McLean’s The Paris Wife last month]. It is well-written, funny, engaging with a host of characters that you might actually want to be friends with – as well as some men that should immediately put on the list of undateable wankers.Loved the fact that she left the ending open so I could choose their futures. It’s the only disappointing bit of Kris Radish’s The Elegant Gathering of White Snows. The epilogue was unnecessary and ruined my fun of deciding the happiness of the characters. I like the fact that Freud leaves us with an ending which isn’t really an ending. I like being able to believe that Jemma dumps the useless selfish narcissist Dan and waltzes off into her own successful career as a screen writer and actress with 4 children under ten in tow whilst he gets stuck playing a chicken in really bad ads which only air at 4 in the morning. Or, that Nell is actually the successful and incredible actress she deserves to be and finds a real partner and not the usual arsehat that successful actresses end up with in real life. I also hope she waltzes back to the “drama school” she attended and gets to make fun of the directors there who didn’t recognize the real talent when it was in front of them. I like the fact that I can believe that Charlie is finally happy with who she is instead of what she thinks should make her happy. 

So, this is obviously an outstanding recommendation since it does deal with the issue of the “casting couch”; that lovely euphemism for the sexual exploitation of women within the industry and the total failure of the industry to take that exploitation seriously. It deals with being invisible for not being a “proper woman” and reading this in conjunction with Sheila Jeffries’ Beauty and Misogyny for FeMNist non-fiction book club this month was a real pleasure. They meshed so well with Freud demonstrating some of those very real harmful cultural practices outlined by Jeffries [and the suggestion of using spanx as rain gear is just genius].

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.

Sexualised Violence Against Jewish Women in the Holocaust

In December 2010, a fairly significant text on the experience of Jewish women in the Holocaust was published to little to no fanfare. The book, Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women During the Holocaust, wasn’t the first text to address the issue of sexualized violence in the Holocaust. After all, survivors started writing about their experiences in diaries during the war and testimonies published in the immediate post-war era. However, and as with the experience of women in history, these stories were subsumed and eradicated under a Patriarchal discourse which suggests that if didn’t happen to men then it wasn’t important [which is fundamentally bizarre because men were raped during the Holocaust. Rape during warfare is gendered and most victims are women and children but to pretend that men weren’t raped is equally problematic.]. Rape, during the Holocaust, was not a systemic part of the genocide but the frequency with which it occurred suggests, at the very least, a policy of mass-rape as a by-product.

Since it’s inauspicious publication, Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women During the Holocaust hasn’t exactly been getting lots of publicity; partly because its an academic text and academic texts don’t usually make the New York Times Best seller list but, mostly, because of the subject matter. That is until Gloria Steinem, one of the original reviewers of the book, got properly involved. Her outrage at the failure of sexual violence to be located in and considered part of genocide and modern warfare partly inspired the founding of the Women Under Siege online project. Women Under Siege is possibly the most important piece of feminist activism of 2011. It features 6 conflicts during the 20th century in which rape is used as a tactic of war: Holocaust, Bangladesh, Rwanda, Darfur-Sudan, Egypt and Libya as well as blog posts on sexualised violence in other war zones in the 20th century. The erasure of the gendered experiences of women in war from mainstream political and historical analysis is shameful and the most concrete example of Patriarchal-Capitalist Misogyny in practise.

This International Women’s Day, we need to stand up for these women and make sure their voices are heard; that their experiences are no longer white-washed out of history in order to support the aims of the destructive military-industrial complex and the Patriarchy.

Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women During the Holocaust Contents

1. Aspects of Sexual Violence

Death and the Maidens: Prostitution, Rape and Sexual Slavery during World War Two by Nomi Levenkrom

Sexualised Violence against Women during Nazi “Racial” Persecution by Brigitte Halbmayr

Sexual Exploitation of Jewish Women in Nazi Concentration Camp Brothels by Robert Sommer

Schillinger and the Dancer: Representing Agency and Sexual Violence in Holocaust Testimonies by Kirsty Chatwood

2. Rape of Jewish Women

“Only Pretty Women Were Raped”: The Effect of Sexual Violence on Gender Identities in the Concentration Camps by Monika J. Flaschka

The Tragic Fate of Ukrainian Jewish Women Under Nazi Occupation, 1941-1944 by Anatoly Podolsky

The Rape of Jewish Women during the Holocaust by Helene J. Sinnreich

Rape and Sexual Abuse in Hiding by Zoe Waxman

3. Assaults on Motherhood

Reproduction Under the Swastika: The Other Side of the Glorification of
Motherhood by Helga Amesberger

Forced Sterilisation and Abortion as Sexual Abuse by Ellen Ben-Sefer

4. Sexual Violence in Literature and Cinema

Sexual Abuse in Holocaust Literature: Memoir and Fiction by S. Lillian Kremer

“Stoning the Messenger”: Yehiel Dinur’s House of Dolls and Piepel by Miryam Sivan

Nava Semel’s And the Rat Lauged: A Tale of Sexual Violation by Sonja Hedgepath and Rochelle Saidel

“Public Property”: Sexual Abuse of Women and Girls in Cinematic Memory by Yvonne Kozlovsky-Golan

 5. The Violated Self

Sexual Abuse of Jewish Women during and after the Holocaust: A Psychological Perspective by Eva Fogelman

The Shame is Always There by Esther Dror and Ruth Linn

Other Academic Texts Discussing Sexualised Violence During the Holocaust
Elizabeth R. Baer & Myrna Goldenberg, Experience and Expression: Women, The Nazis and the Holocaust, (Detroit: Wayne University State Press, 2003)

Judith Tydor Baumel, Double Jeopardy: Gender and the Holocaust, (London: Vallentine Mitchell, 1998)

Renate Bridenthal, Atina Grossmann & Marion Kaplan, When Biology Became Destiny: Women in Weimar and Nazi Germany, (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1984)

Jonathon C. Friedman, Speaking the Unspeakable: Essays on Sexuality, Gender and Holocaust Survivor Memory, (Lanham: University Press of America, 2002)

Esther Fuchs, Women and the Holocaust: Narrative and Representation, (Lanham: University Press of America, 1993)

Marlene E. Heinemann, Gender and Destiny: Women Writers and the Holocaust, (New York: Greenwood Press, 1986)

Esther Hertzog, Life, Death and Sacrifice: Women and Family in the Holocaust, (Jerusalem: Gefen Publishing House, 2008)

R. Ruth Linden, Making Stories, Making Selves: Feminist Reflections on the Holocaust, (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1993)

Dalia Ofer & Lenore Weitzman, Women in the Holocaust, (Yale: Yale University Press, 1998)

Carol Rittner & John K. Roth, Different Voices: Women and the Holocaust, (Minnesota, Paragon House, 1993)

Rochelle Saidel, The Jewish Women of Ravensbruck Concentration Camp, (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2004)

Zoe Waxman, Writing the Holocaust: Identity, Testimony and Representation, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006)

 

Gavin De Becker’s The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals that Protect us From Violence


The February Non-Fiction Mumsnet Feminist book club was Gavin De Becker’s The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals that Protect us from Violence. It isn’t an explicitly feminist text [and, obviously, not written by a woman] but I was so incensed by the absolute misogynistic twaddle being peddled as “romance” in Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife that I think the following information can not be stressed enough:

(T)here are many reliable pre-incident indicators associated with spousal violence and murder. They won’t all be present in every case, but if a situation has several of these signals, there is reason for concern:

1) The woman has intuitive feelings that she is at risk.

2) At the inception of the relationship, the man accelerated the pace, prematurely placing on the agenda such things as commitment, living together, and marriage.

3) He resolves conflict with intimidation, bullying, and violence.

4) He is verbally abusive.


5) He uses threats and intimidation as instruments of control or abuse. This includes threats to harm physically, to defame, to embarrass, to restrict freedom, to disclose secrets, to cut off support, to abandon, and to commit suicide.

6) He breaks or strikes things in anger. He uses symbolic violence (tearing a wedding photo, marring a face in a photo, etc.).

7) He has battered in prior relationships.

8) He uses alcohol or drugs with adverse affects (memory loss, hostility, cruelty).

9) He cites alcohol or drugs as an excuse or explanation for hostile or violent conduct (“That was the booze talking, not me; I got so drunk I was crazy”).

10) His history includes police encounters for behavioral offenses (threats, stalking, assault, battery).

11) There has been more than one incident of violent behavior (including vandalism, breaking things, throwing things).

12) He uses money to control the activities, purchases, and behavior of his wife/ partner.

13) He becomes jealous of anyone or anything that takes her time away from the relationship; he keeps her on a “tight leash,” requires her to account for her time.

14) He refuses to accept rejection.

15) He expects the relationship to go on forever, perhaps using phrases like “together for life,” “always,” “no matter what.”

16) He projects extreme emotions onto others (hate, love, jealousy, commitment) even when there is no evidence that would lead a reasonable person to perceive them.

17) He minimizes incidents of abuse.

18) He spends a disproportionate amount of time talking about his wife/ partner and derives much of his identity fiom being her husband, lover, etc.

19) He tries to enlist his wife’s friends or relatives in a campaign to keep or recover the relationship.

20) He has inappropriately surveilled or followed his wife/ partner.

21) He believes others are out to get him. He believes that those around his wife/partner dislike him and encourage her to leave.

22) He resists change and is described as inflexible, unwilling to compromise.

23) He identifies with or compares himself to violent people in films, news stories, fiction, or history He characterizes the violence of others as justified.

24) He suffers mood swings or is sullen, angry, or depressed.

25) He consistently blames others for problems of his own making; he refuses to take responsibility for the results of his actions.

26) He refers to weapons as instruments of power, control, or revenge.

27) Weapons are a substantial part of his persona; he has a gun or he talks about, jokes about, reads about, or collects weapons.

28) He uses “male privilege” as a justification for his conduct (treats her like a servant, makes all the big decisions, acts like the “master of the house”).

29) He experienced or witnessed violence as a child.

30) His wife/partner fears he will injure or kill her. She has discussed this with others or has made plans to be carried out in the event of her death (e.g., designating someone to care for children).

De Becker’s book is not without criticism particularly in its use of “choice” discourse in discussing intimate partner violence [IPV]. There are two clearly competing and conflicting theories: one in which women need to trust their instincts to prevent being victims and one in which women are being held responsible for being victims. He’s quite honest about his abusive father and I wonder how much of the second theory is [unconscious] unresolved anger at his own mother for not “protecting” him even though he [consciously] understands the pathology of IPV. However, the psychological IPV in The Paris Wife is so constant and insidious that the idea that it can be “romantic” is dangerous, destructive and the reason that Mumsnet has such a well-used Relationships board.