We’re a Culture Not a Costume:

I love Halloween. It is my favourite holiday ever. When I was a child, Halloween was about making the most original costume possible. Witches, skeletons and cats were dull. I have been a ladybug, a broken heart, a cabbage patch kid and a punk rocker; my mother being far more artistic than me. Unfortunately, the push to be creative at Halloween involved costumes based entirely on offensive and racist stereotypes. I frequently find myself with clenched teeth handing out candy to small children dressed as “Indians” wondering why their parents thought it was a good idea to dress their child up as a racist stereotype.

Last year, a group of students from Ohio University’s Students Teaching about Racism started a campaign called “We’re a culture, not a costume’ on this issue. These are some of the brilliant posters from this years campaign whose tagline is “You wear the costume for one night. I wear the stigma for life”. For me, this is a feminist issue. The Patriarchy requires racism as much as it requires misogyny to keep functioning. We can not destroy the Patriarchy whilst this type of racism remains socially acceptable.


Femen Redux: Still Conforming to the Patriarchal Fuckability Test

I’ve blogged about Femen before because I was utterly gobsmacked that a photo of a topless Femen protestor without any political context managed to win a World Press Photo award (and the total lack of understanding of the irony of this photo being called The New Amazons). Supposedly, Femen protests against sex tourism, the legalisation of prostitution and the selling of “brides” internationally. How they quite expect the Patriarchy to take them seriously when they protest using pretty basic anti-woman signifiers is beyond me and that’s without getting into them selling prints of their breasts as a fundraising tactic. In using women’s bodies as a canvas of protest, Femen are conforming to the norms of Patriarchal objectification of women’s bodies. Their message is obscured by the medium of their protest because the medium conforms to the normalised construction of the Patriarchal Fuckability Test. As Exiled Stardust says, getting naked or stripping aren’t acts of Feminist defiance. They are exactly what the Patriarchy  wants after all: 

Doing what men want is appeasement. Feminism is resistance. Appeasement and resistance are opposing forces; the more you do of one, the less you can do of the other. That’s why these groups are insidious; they divert feminist energy into meaningless acts that only serve male interests. Men don’t care if you write incendiary messages of revolt all over your naked body, as long as they get to see that body. 

We all have to appease in one way or another to survive, but let’s not confuse that behavior with feminist activism. It’s not. Let’s do as little of it as we can get away with, and as much resistance as we are capable of.

Femen’s activism is the same old Patriarchal twaddle dressed up as “Fun Feminism”. The objectification of women’s bodies to make a political point isn’t new. It isn’t clever. It’s just the Patriarchy trying out a new hat. After all, PETA’s been doing this shit for years and their supporters are a whose who of celebrities with criminal convictions for Violence against Women.

Whilst I’m willing to concede that there might be a reason why using women’s naked bodies as a platform of political protest in the Ukraine is an interesting tactic because I know nothing of the their Feminist movement, it isn’t a new or even interesting tactic in Western Europe. More importantly, I think it’s a tactic deliberately chosen in order to get recognition in the western media because appealing to horny men is really the only way women get any attention. I think Femen are more interested in the attention than they are in achieving specific Feminist goals. They are hopping on far too many bandwagons, such as the Free Pussy Riot movement. Frankly, there are very few attention-seekers who haven’t hopped on the Free Pussy Riot bandwagon. It’s proving to be quite a profitable one for everyone but the two women currently being transported to a penal colony in Russia. Inna Shevchenko demonstrated her “support” for Pussy Riot by destroying a crucifix in Kiev with a chainsaw. This stunt coincided exactly with the court in Moscow finding Pussy Riot guilty of hooliganism; make of that what you will.  Femen also occupied the Louvre to protest the rape of a young woman called Mariam by two Tunisian police officers. This article seems to imply that the Femen protest in Paris was more important than the woman in Tunis who protested outside the courtroom. Maybe I’m over-thinking things here, but I think the women of Tunis taking to the streets despite the crackdown on women in Tunisia is a shitload more important and so much braver than a bunch of topless women running around the Louvre. Thing is, which protest got more coverage? And, which one really deserved the media attention?

Femen’s anti-burkha protests are equally offensive. Regardless of what I, as an individual, think of burkhas, the fact of the matter is that many Muslim wear them. It is utterly arrogant for a group of non-Muslim women to tell Muslim women what they can and can not do. The debate over whether or not the burkha is anti-feminist or whether or not it should be banned is a debate that needs to involve the voices of Muslim women. This does not mean that others can not have opinions. I think the burkhas use as a tool of oppression for all Muslim women in some countries supercedes its use as a tool for freedom for a small number of women in “western” countries. However, Muslim women’s voices need to be central in this discussion. In this case, Femen are attacking an easy target; one which has very little access to mass media. Veiled Muslim women are some of the most frequently silenced of women’s voices. Femen aren’t really doing anything really radical here. They are just doing exactly what western neoliberal men do: attack a visible target with no power. A radical approach would have been for members of Femen to approach Muslim women’s groups and ask them how to support them. Running about in front of the Eiffel Tower stripping off burkhas to reveal young, thin white women in their underwear isn’t radical. It’s not even very interesting. Setting up a “bootcamp” in Paris to teach French feminists how to tackle the Patriarchy using tactics developed in the Ukraine is also not very clever. It’s a reversal of the normal imperialism but, nonetheless, it shows a rather incredible lack of self-awareness.

I would not have bothered to write another blogpost on Femen had I not caught the discussion on Femen live-streamed on AlJazeera called the “Future of Feminism”. I knew from the beginning that the discussion was going to piss me off when the host got herself confused between Radical Feminism, the political theory, and radical forms of protest. Femen are not a Radical Feminist group. Femen’s idea of “sextremism” is not Radical Feminist. This is not to say that they aren’t feminists. Femen clearly defines that way. They just aren’t Radical Feminists. That said, I agree with Chloe Angyal from Feministing that we should be having discussions about the role of women’s bodies in the public sphere but it isn’t Femen starting these conversations. These conversations have been started recently by the Everyday Sexism project, the Turn Your Back on 3 campaigns, the publication of nude photos of Kate Middleton, and the unmasking of violent, predatory internet trolls. Femen are getting media attention for being naked; not for their message. They are just like PETA: equally tedious and utterly incapable of listening to others. And, this is the problem. The issues Femen claims to want to discuss are important. They are so very, very important, particularly the issue of sex trafficking and prostitution in Eastern Europe. The sexual exploitation of vulnerable and poor women is increasing at astronomical rates. But, this isn’t what the media is discussing. Femen’s insistence on baring their breasts, regardless of what they are actually protesting, just reinforces Patriarchal norms. They have become objects for men to wank to rather than feminist protestors. Whatever message they had, is obfuscated. Instead, their breasts are what is deemed important. 

We won’t destroy the Patriarchy by reinforcing it’s constructions of “acceptable” women. We won’t destroy the Patriarchy by targeting one small group of women and demanding that they remove their veil, without even considering the political and cultural structures in which they are either forced or, in some cases, choose to wear the veil. We can not demand the government of Tunisia tackle the issue of rape by police officers by running about art galleries naked. We won’t change the control that the Church has by chopping down crosses half-naked. Protest needs to be vibrant, engaging and culturally specific. Suffragettes marching on Parliament this week was truly beautiful but it would have been a stupid protest in somewhere like Zimbabwe where the symbol of the Suffragette does not have the same political meaning. Femen’s protests lack the imagery that Pussy Riot managed. We will not smash the Patriarchy by reinforcing its belief that the only women who matter are those who conform to the Patriarchal Fuckability Test.

As many a wise feminist has said: if the penis is keen, it probably demeans. And, that’s the problem with Femen. Men aren’t listening to the message. They are wanking to the image.

Watch Porn. Cure Breast Cancer

This rocked up on my FaceBook feed and I genuinely thought it was a joke. I couldn’t believe that the misogynists were now using breast cancer as a way to promote the use of porn. This is actually what Men’s Health writes about Pornhub’s campaign:

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which means every man should do his part in helping to find a cure for the terrible disease that afflicts 1 in 8 U.S. women. And you can start by staring at hot, naked porn stars.

Yep, men can help cure breast cancer by participating in the degradation and objectification of women’s bodies. They can help cure breast cancer not by financially supporting cancer research but by financially supporting the rape and torture of women’s bodies. And, Pornhub is being totally generous with their campaign and are going to donate a whole penny for the  every thirty videos watched under the two channels “Big Tit’s” and “Small Tit’s”. That’s right 1 penny for every 30 videos. Call me cynical, but I’m guessing that that one penny won’t cut too much into their profit margins. Thankfully, the charity named on Pornhub’s media release, the Susan G Komen Foundation, have refused to take the donation.* 

As ever, I am behind the times since this campaign started on the first of October. I may have been aware of it then and just filed it under “shit that will make me incandescent with rage” and then thought of it no more. I probably would have missed it completely if the link to the article in Men’s Health wasn’t making the rounds of FB. I can safely say I have never perused that particular magazine before and won’t be doing so again. It is an appalling example of heteronormative misogyny. Men’s Health is quite clearly just another Lad’s mag. This is something I did not need to know. And, seriously in an article on raising money for breast cancer was it absolutely necessary to sneak in a reference to teaching your girlfriend to love porn? Really? In this context, “teaching” sounds a lot like brainwashing. And, calling the (extremely limited) donation “porn pennies” is freaking creepy. Really, really creepy. But, hey, if that doesn’t creep you out, this will:* 

Meanwhile, here’s one more awesome way to save breasts: Touch ‘em! Men’s Health partnered with the charity Fuck Cancer, and we want you to pledge to be a gentleman. If you find something fishy on your favorite pair of breasts, you could save a life—90 percent of cancers are curable if caught in stage one. Click the image below and take the pledge to touch some breasts now!**

And, if the above doesn’t depress you, Men’s Health seems to be running a campaign with a charity called Fuck Cancer called Fuck Cancer: Touch Some Breasts which calls for men to take a pledge on Facebook to touch some breasts to help identify breast cancer in its early stages. Because a bunch of creepy men are so much likely to help identify breast cancer by grabbing their partners breasts. Their is actually no information easily visible on how to check breasts effectively or what the other signs of breast cancer might be so mostly this is just a cheap trick to abuse women’s bodies and tell them it’s for their own good.

Having read Men’s Health’s sex tips, I think it is safe to say that none of the staff are having sexually satisfying relationships with their partners. Well, they may be. I suspect their partners might be balancing their cheque books during coitus instead.***

* I may be over-using the word creepy here. It’s becoming somewhat of a habit. I promise to invest in a thesaurus tomorrow.

*** There was a link here. I have taken it out. They don’t need anymore aattention.

** Men’s Health has an article on words not to use during sex. I’m reclaiming coitus because they are too weird for words.

UPDATE: FeministCurrent has written about the problematic breast cancer campaigns here, as has I Blame the Patriarchy here.

Dear Pussy Riot Supporters,

Dear Pussy Riot Supporters,

Increasingly, I have become concerned about your inability to see the woods for the trees. Your desperate attempts at out-cooling each other as the Great Defenders of Free Speech seem to have come at the cost of your critical thinking skills. Frankly, I’m still disturbed by the articles which seemed to suggest that the only people who shouldn’t be deported to the Gulag are the women of Pussy Riot because they might be raped or killed. I know you can’t really mean that. No one deserves to be raped or killed because they committed a crime and, let’s be honest, Pussy Riot aren’t the only Russian citizens being deported for questioning the state. I have no idea what the statistics are for convictions and deportation but I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that Pussy Riot aren’t the only political prisoners. So why are they important and others not? Why is it important they not be raped or killed in prison?

This case is manifestly not about “free speech” or the right to protest. What this case has demonstrated, time and time again, is that we, as a society, are essentially a bunch of hypocrites. The ‘Western’ support of Pussy Riot is not because we are the great defenders of Free Speech. Anyone who believes that is, frankly, completely deluded. Pussy Riot has not garnered support because they are feminists who are critical of the power of the state and church. In fact, their feminism, which is actually a fairly patriarchy-approved brand of feminism, has been written out of much of the media coverage. They have gotten support because they are young women dancing in public. They have been supported because they don’t really challenge the status quo; although they do wear all their clothes which puts them ahead of Femen’s soft porn protests. If Pussy Riot were challenging the Patriarchy in any way, they would have been slaughtered in the Western Press. They certainly wouldn’t have Madonna, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and half of Hollywood lining up to support them. Personally, I think a lot of their support is because of their name. It appeals to the juvenile; those who haven’t progressed emotionally from being 5 and yelling penis in the playground. And, yeah, I sniggered the first time I heard a right-wing journalist say ‘pussy’ on air but that’s not a good enough reason to support Pussy Riot at the expense of others.

The UK has recently banned protest outside of Parliament. If there is any physical space in the UK where the right to protest should be paramount, it’s outside of Parliament. Yet, we let the government deny us this right with very little complaint. Trenton Oldfield was sentenced to 6 months in prison for jumping in water to disrupt a boat race. His crime: prejudice against prejudice. You literally couldn’t make it up. As Nina Power writes: “The message is blunt: if it’s on TV and aristocrats are involved, then the state can deprive you of your liberty for as long as it likes.” The correlations between Oldfield’s conviction and that of Pussy Riot are pretty clear, yet I doubt there will be any protests to have Oldfield’s sentence over-turned. Certainly, there was very little campaigning about the ridiculously harsh sentences given out in light of last years riots with people being sentenced for 6 months for, basically, shoplifting. If we incarcerated every shoplifter in the UK, prisons would be overflowing. We’d have to move all prisons to the Outer Hebrides and let them fend for themselves since no country can afford to imprison that many people. 

I think the Pussy Riot case matters. I think it matters a lot. These women do not deserve to be arrested or imprisoned for what was a political protest. Political protest against the government should be a fundamental human right but let’s not be hypocritical here. The right to political protest really exists nowhere. There are limits everywhere on the right to protest and Russia isn’t the only country guilty for imprisoning people for political reasons. Pussy Riot aren’t the only activists whose voices are being silenced by repressive regimes. Oldfield isn’t the only protestor being silenced in “democracies”. You only need to look at the 3 activists currently imprisoned in the US for refusing to testify in a grand jury case. Maya Evans was incarcerated in the UK for having the gall to read aloud the names of British soldiers who died in Iraq across from the Cenotaph in Whitehall. That garnered very little support. There has been very little media coverage of the attempted silencing of Mexican journalist Lydia Cacho by drug cartels. In Cacho’s case, I suspect the almost total lack of media coverage has something to do with the fact that she deliberately targets the Patriarchy in her research into sex trafficking.  Yolanda Ordaz De la Cruz was murdered because of her activism as a journalist. The murder of journlaist Anna  Politkovskaya was covered by the media but she had no celebrity endorsements about her right to free speech [or the right to life for that matter].

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be protesting or standing up for Pussy Riot. I’m saying we don’t get to choose whose “free speech” we defend based on their relative attractiveness or the fact that their name inspires giggles. If we are defending the right to protest all political structures, then we damn well had better be defending everyones and not just a group of young girls in Russia.  We also need to ensure that our defence of “free speech” does not happen at the expense of harming vulnerable members of our society. The use of free speech to defend pornography and prostitution is basically the acceptance of state-sponsored rape. It’s the Patriarchy defending itself.

And, all those celebrities lining up to support Pussy Riot, how about you put your money where your mouth is and pay their legal representation. How about  you pay for the childcare of their children required whilst their mothers are in prison? How about you financially support the grassroots activists in Russia fighting to end the Gulag system? Why aren’t you financially supporting Sara Kruzan who was imprisoned for life as a teenager for killing the man who raped and trafficked her?


Some articles which need to be read:*

Why the Pussy Riot case still matters.

CeCe McDonald vs. Pussy Riot: Political Imprisonment and Perspective

Q&A: Pussy Riot’s Yekaterina Samutsevich on Their Fight for Freedom

Pussy Riot’s Act of Faith

From Pussy Riot to Todd Akin: The Claiming—and Silencing—of Language and Speech

“Underage Girls”: Victim-Blaming by Proxy

I always have these half-formed blogs posts that I never quite finish and then some journalist, in this case Deborah Orr, comes along and writes it. With this piece, it was partly my lack of confidence in my ability to explain what I meant but also the realisation that naming men, especially celebrities, would inevitably involve naming the young women they abused. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to write about child rape in a manner that would label another woman’s experience as part of the spectrum of sexualised violence. Do I have the right to do so without their consent? On the Relationships board of Mumsnet, there are frequently posts by women asking if their experience constitutes rape or some other form of sexualised violence. In those cases the answer is, inevitably, yes and the threads become both places of support and places to share stories safely. But, taking the story of someone famous (or identifiable in their own community) and labelling it as child rape without them using the term feels invasive. But, at the same time, is it not silencing to refrain from discussing these stories which leads to further normalisation of unhealthy relationships and sexualised violence? I’m loathe to label experiences for other women whilst simultaneously believing we need to. I’ve had these conversations before but I am never sure where the line should be drawn: insisting that we do not obfuscate or minimise sexualised violence whilst worrying about harming those who have not yet labelled their experiences.  

I’ve been thinking about the line between obfuscation and the power of labelling since the documentary on Jimmy Savile was first announced. In particular, I’ve been thinking about the use of language to label and define child sexual abuse since I’m increasingly concerned as to how language is being used to obfuscate both the sex of the children and their age in an attempt at victim-blaming-by-proxy. I think its important that we identify the sex of the victims. All to often the calls to remain gender neutral, designed to ensure that male victims of sexualised violence aren’t omitted, serve only to silence the fact that the vast majority of victims of sexualised violence are women and girls. It also elides the fact that the vast majority of sexual predators are male. Frankly, I’m getting more than slightly angered by the constant attempt to be gender neutral. No one disputes the fact that men are victims of rape. No one disputes the fact that male children are victims of rape. All we are asking is for the acknowledgement that the vast majority of victims of sexualised violence are women and children and that the vast majority of perpetrators are male. To argue otherwise, silences victims and lets perpetrators continue to get away with harming others. 

I’ve also become increasingly concerned by the the conflation terms of “paedophile” and “underage girls”. Now, I do believe that paedophilia is a psychiatric illness but I find it incredibly bizarre that every man who rapes a child is called a paedophile when it is simply not true. The term paedophilia is used indiscriminately to obscure the fact that many men, perhaps even most, who rape children do so because they want to without having any underlying psychiatric condition. In fact, men who are paedophiles also rape children because they choose too. A psychiatric illness does not always negate criminal responsibility. There are some which limit or restrict personal and criminal responsibility but paedophilia isn’t one of them and, technically, Savile wouldn’t be classed as a paedophile since the girls he raped were post-puberty. Conflating paedophilia with child rape allows rapists to elide and conceal responsibility for raping 15 year olds because they aren’t “children”.

The competing use of the term “underage girls” also feels like its obfuscating the fact that these are children. We can’t use the term “girl” anymore to label a female child since it now refers to adult women; effectively erasing the question of legality and the definition of child rape. The use of “girl” confuses the boundary between adulthood and childhood making it easier for male sexual predators to claim ignorance about the exact age of the child they are abusing. “Underage girls” puts the focus on the victim, not the abuser. The abuser makes it all their fault. It is not a compliment to be labeled a “girl”. It is a way of silencing criticism of male predatory behaviour towards teenage girls. If all women are “girls”, then there is no reason why an adult male can’t have sex with a 16 year old. 

The use of the term “underage girls” has simply evolved into victim-blaming. It is their fault an abusive man groomed and then raped them. It is their fault for looking 18 instead of 15. But, we never question why men who are 25 or 35 or 50 want to fuck 18 year olds. It is about power. It is about control. Why are these men worried about the very fine line between legal and not legal. A sexual relationship between a 15 year old girl and 35 year old man is illegal. A sexual relationship between an 18 year old and a 35 year old may not be illegal but it is still creepy.  The power dynamics are wrong. This isn’t about love relationships. It’s about fulfilling a desire for power and control. We should be criticising and questioning these men; not congratulating them for joining Hugh Hefner in the abuse of young women.

We need to stop obfuscating with language and start using words like child rape to refer to relationships between 15 year old girls and 35 year olds. We need to start asking men why they find an 18 year old sexually attractive because it isn’t just about women who pass the Patriarchal Fuckability Test. It’s about the real definition of the Patriarchal Fuckability test: being young, frequently malnourished, sexually available at any time but only to fulfil the male orgasm. The male orgasm is the only point that matters in sex. The sexual desires of adult women are eroded and subsumed into a rhetoric of domination. 

But, then we also pretend that teenage girls should be pleased that middle aged men find them sexually appealing rather than being utterly creeped out by it. We groom them into thinking that being desired by older men is something to aspire too; that their only value is in their sexual availability. We need to stop celebrating men who date young women barely out of childhood. We need to start asking these men why they can’t date women their own age. What is the difference between an 18 year old whose birthday has just passed and a 17 year old a week away from her 18th birthday? What makes adult men think this is reasonable behaviour? What are we teaching our girls if we are raising them to believe that having sex with a man old enough to be their father is all that they deserve. If women and girls were truly valued, we would not be obfuscating the line between consensual sex between two competent adults and the sexual abuse of young women and girls by older men.

And, let’s be clear here. The level of child rape in the Jimmy Savile case isn’t confined to the BBC. It’s everywhere. We’ve just been pretending it doesn’t matter for so long that we have completely silenced our childrenPretending that it was a problem for the BBC in the past is a vile lie which simply serves only to perpetuate and perpetrate rape culture. Our children deserve better than this.