Vulvas, gender and the real price of being female

In my living room right now are two little girls playing Monopoly. So far this morning they’ve discussed the following: the existence of God, what happens to your vagina when you give birth, and whether or not they are talking about vaginas and vulvas. Granted, I could have done without the 6:30 am wake up call asking me where I fit on the vagina/vulva debate.

<note for children who may be reading this: it is always too early to wake up to discussions on mislabelling of body parts within a patriarchal culture.>

The first debate could have been any child, but the second is a conversation that little girls have constantly because they are taught from birth that having a vulva isn’t something to be proud of – and if you don’t believe me, just look at the sheer number of threads on Mumsnet by women worried about what to call their daughter’s vulva: a foofoo, front bottom, or flower being continual suggestions. Can we just look at how stupid the term front bottom actually is? We never tell boys they have front bottoms – it’s only girls who are told their reproductive organs are dirty and probably full of pooh from birth. And, flower, besides being linguistically stupid, isn’t a “nice euphemism”. It’s a ridiculous term which makes it difficult for small children to explain if someone is hurting them. After all, the statement “he hurt my flower” could mean anything.

Children need to know basic biology . They need to understand how human reproduction works – and it isn’t like flowers do it – regardless of what you learned from Grease 2. It isn’t basic biology which is harmful to children, contrary to this rather ridiculous article in Slate.  It is the coercive gender roles we assign to male and female which harm children, as Glosswitch so eloquently writes. It is the idea that male children are A and female children are B which damages our children. It is telling boys they can be as violent as they want without repercussions and teaching girls that they are responsible for becoming a victim of male violence. That is harmful; not labelling an infant male or female (unless the child is intersex which, whilst rare, has not been handled appropriately by the medical profession).

When I gave birth to my daughters, I didn’t think they could only be nurses or that they could be whatever they wanted to be. When i gave birth to two girls, I thought about the likelihood they would become a victim of male violence.

When I gave birth, I thought about the increased risk they would live with for being born female:

  • child sexual abuse
  • rape as a teenager
  • rape as an adult
  • sexual harassment in the street, school and workplace
  • their increased risk for contracting STDs through PIV
  • their increased risk of contracting STDs from a male partner ejaculating in their mouth or eyes (as is increasingly common via porn)
  • the fact that most UTI in women are a direct consequence of PIV since men don’t tend to wash their penis after urinating (or hands for that matter)
  • the risk of unwanted pregnancy (and having no access to birth control or abortion)
  • the increased risk of domestic violence, stalking and harassment
  • the increased risk of being killed for being female

I also thought about the “privileges” of being female:

  • earning less than men for doing the same work
  • being fired for being pregnant
  • being forced out of the workplace because of childcare commitments
  • living in poverty because of piss poor pensions
  • living in poverty because they are raising children whilst the father makes no financial contribution
  • being less likely to work in senior management or on a board of a FTSE 500 company

And a 1000 other things which women are punished with for the crime of being born female in male supremacist culture. These punishments are not because we have vaginas, rather its because of the gender coercively assigned to biology which creates women as an inferior class. Gender needs to be abolished – not the biological reality of women’s bodies.

Our girls should be playing monopoly and discussing their bodies without feeling ashamed – but perhaps not at 6:30 in the morning.


Glosswitch’s response: Boy or Girl? Why not have a stereotype instead is a must read.

Fathers4Justice, Mumsnet and Me: #shoutingback

I haven’t written too much about my experience of online abuse with Fathers4Justice last year, mostly because I don’t want a swarm of their buckethead members descending on me. Again. However, the recent violent abuse directed at feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez has made me change my mind on this issue.

My first personal encounter with Fathers4Justice was on Mumsnet. F4J members troll the relationships and feminist board on Mumsnet all the time. They are tedious and completely lacking in self-awareness. They frequently come on threads started by women who are experiencing domestic violence and blame the women for being victims. Members also start threads whining about how they aren’t allowed to contact their children due to the hateful mother. A quick google invariably finds that the man has been denied contact after criminal convictions for violence against the ex-partner and/ or drug and alcohol abuse. Their trolling isn’t restricted to attacking women survivors of domestic violence but also victims of sexual violence and rape. They deliberately misrepresent what is being said on a thread in order to discredit women. It is safe to say I have no respect whatsoever for their organisation.

The incident last year started with F4J announcing a new campaign targeting Marks & Spencer’s because of their advertising on Mumsnet who “promote gender hatred” and labels “men and boys as rapists, paedophiles and wife beaters”. F4J members trolled both Mumsnet’s talk boards and Mumsnet’s Facebook wall making unsubstantiated and libellous statements about Mumsnet. The also attempted to publish the ad below in a variety of newspapers although only the I-Independent actually published the ad in the end.

There were numerous conversations on the Mumsnet talkboards and FB wall between members of Mumsnet and members of F4J. There was rudeness on both sides but Fathers4Justice members went beyond rude and straight to intimidation tactics and threats of violence. They told outright lies about what was written on Mumsnet, took quotes out of context and tried to silence criticism with threats of violence dressed up as ‘concern’. The F4J FB wall was a disgraceful example of male privilege and violence.

In the end, I posted a link to the Advertising Standards Agency’s complaint form on Mumsnet’s wall. I did so because the ad below is clearly in breach of ASA standards. I received hundreds of abusive messages from members of F4J on Mumsnet, Mumsnet’s FB wall and F4J’s FB wall. One member of F4J responded to my post by stating that I deserved to shot in the head.

According to the senior members of F4J posting on the wall, this does not count as an actual threat of violence because the member didn’t say he was going to shoot me in the head. Instead, this man suggested he’d help pay someone to shoot me in the head. But, this isn’t a “violent threat” and I was told I was over-reacting, whining and being a drama queen for demanding that this man remove his post. Mumsnet staffers deleted the whole wall post at my request. They also deleted almost the entirety of my personal posting history on Mumsnet at my request.

I had my posting history deleted because I don’t trust men who think its acceptable to threaten, intimidate and abuse women online. I don’t trust F4J to remove violent men from their organisation and I don’t trust the police to have taken the threat seriously.

A member of F4J threatened to shoot me in the head after a week of harassment and intimidation by other F4J members. Numerous members got in line to congratulate the man who threatened to have me shot. I have never received an apology from the organisation. Nor have they ever taken responsibility for the threats of violence and abuse made in their name against other members of Mumsnet.

My experience with F4J is commonplace. This is the abuse that all women face online. It was my first experience with a potential death threat [and by no means the last, even from F4J members]. In retrospect, I should have screencapped the threat and reported it to the police. But, at that point, it never even occurred to me. I just wanted the threat gone and my posting history deleted for the safety of my children [which MN did despite the fact that deleting a history as huge as mine was time-consuming and difficult!].*

As awful as that weekend was, I was also very lucky. I was surrounded by a thousands of women members of Mumsnet who stood with me. This is true feminist activism: standing up for other women. Being surrounded by women who have your back is a truly powerful and amazing gift.

This is why I am saddened by those attacking Caroline Criado-Perez as “attention-seeking” and insinuating that she’s over-reacting. I had one serious death threat in a 2 day period of intense harassment and intimidation. Caroline has had literally hundreds; not to mention the sheer number of rape threats. We should all have her back, as we should have the back of every single woman threatened by male violence.

The only people responsible for male violence are the men who perpetrate it and those who minimise it.

Criticism is unsisterly and divisive and it does nothing to destroy the patriarchy. It also ignores the perpetrator.

*A huge thank you to smallwhitecat and HelenMN for their personal support that weekend.

Mumsnet statement about Fathers 4 Justice

Written by Justine Roberts, CEO of Mumsnet, on Saturday 17 March
Some of you may have noticed that a group called Fathers 4 Justice has been saying some pretty unpleasant things about us over the last couple of weeks. In an ‘advert’ which appeared first on Facebook and then in Friday March 16th’s edition of the I, the group claims Mumsnet “promotes gender hatred”, and labels “men and boys as rapists, paedophiles and wife beaters”. It calls on advertisers to suspend advertising on Mumsnet.
Most people, I’m quite sure, will see the adverts and the ‘campaign’ behind them for precisely what they are: a naked attempt to court publicity by a group of people who, for whatever reason, appear to have tired of climbing cranes in superhero outfits. (And, just coincidentally, in the run-up to Mother’s Day). In fact, it feels a bit like having a particularly irritating toddler repeatedly prodding you with a stick to get some attention.
By and large, it seemed most sensible to ignore them, not least because we’ve had our hands quite full with stuff that actually matters, like Mumsnet’s We Believe You campaign to dispel rape myths.
But since Fathers 4 Justice appear to have attracted some grown-ups’ attention, we thought we should tell you a bit about the background to this attack, the truth behind their allegations, and how they are trying to bully us and other organisations.
Here are 10 things you should know…
  1. On 3 March, a Mumsnet user started a conversation about a poster campaign being touted on Mumsnet’s Facebook wall by Fathers 4 Justice, and the fact that Fathers 4 Justice was bombarding a number of sites with this troubling image.
  2. A conversation then ensued on Mumsnet about Fathers 4 Justice and their tactics, which some members of Fathers 4 Justice joined. Some Mumsnetters said some pretty harsh things.
  3. We deleted a number of posts that broke our forum guidelines regarding personal attacks. In total, we deleted 70 posts from the thread, which went on over the next few days and reached 1000 posts in total. Sixty of the deleted posts were posts were made by regular Mumsnet members; ten or so were made by new joiners we believed to be from Fathers 4 Justice. Our community managers reminded users to follow forum guidelines on nine separate occasions, and at least one prolific Mumsnetter left the site in protest at our deletion policy.
  4. On 7 March and 8 March, MNHQ received a series of emails from the Campaign Director of Fathers 4 Justice containing threats of legal action and a threat to contact our advertisers. At the same time, comments on the Fathers 4 Justice Facebook page describing Mumsnetters as “barking mad harridans”, “weird sex obsessed paranoid perverts” and “child-abusing contact blockers” were left unmoderated. As were comments that described me variously as a “dried up old hag”, “an evil woman” and having an “IQ that would return a negative score”.
  5. On 11 March, Fathers 4 Justice posted another attack ad this time accusing M&S of “sponsoring hateful, bigoted and prejudiced comments about men and boys on Mumsnet” and demanding that M&S withdraw all advertising on Mumsnet or face a boycott. It accused the company of “serving up gender hatred for Mother’s Day”.
  6. Other organisations have experienced similar bullying tactics. In recent weeks, Fathers 4 Justice have targeted the lone parents’ support charity, Gingerbread, jamming up its telephone helplines. Senior NGO staff have told us they felt too intimidated to speak out against them.
  7. The suggestion that Mumsnet encourages gender hatred would be funny if it were not so offensive – and plain silly. The central aim of Mumsnet is to make parents’ (mothers’ and fathers’) lives easier. There are many and varied opinions on the site and no one Mumsnet party line prevails, save for the view that we respect diverse opinion. We do not pre-moderate or vet comments made to our discussion boards, of which there are around 30 000 every day.
  8. Men are and always have been extremely welcome on Mumsnet – and we have a Dadsnet forum for Dads to talk directly with other men, should they wish. We estimate that around 5 to 10% of our 2 million odd monthly users are men. Of course you can always find plenty of Mumsnetters whinging about their male partner’s shortcomings – more than there are whinging about their female partner’s shortcomings – but generalisations are swiftly pounced on and we do not tolerate gender hatred, or any other kind of hatred for that matter (save maybe hatred of Fruitshoots). We encourage people to be civil and supportive and, in the main, most people are.
  9. Fathers 4 Justice campaigns for fathers to have access to their children following separation or divorce. Its founder, Matt O’Connor, says parents have “fewer rights than a terrorist”. The organisation was temporarily disbanded in 2006 after it emerged that some of its members had plotted to kidnap Tony Blair’s son Leo. Fathers 4 Justice boasts that it is “the most controversial and high profile pressure group of modern times” but it has struggled to win public attention since abandoning its eye-catching tactic of scaling tall structures in superhero costumes. In recent weeks, it has targeted Cafcass, the body responsible for protecting the rights of children in court proceedings, Gingerbread, the charity for single parents (which it claimed supported “the abuse of children”), and Mumsnet. It has also, somewhat mysteriously, branded London 2012 “the fatherless games”.
  10. We believe that the issue of a father’s access to his children is important and needs to be discussed. We understand that many Fathers 4 Justice campaigners are driven by intense personal anger over what they feel is injustice they have suffered in their own cases. But the recent actions the group have taken against Mumsnet and others constitutes plain and simple bullying and intimidation, and only harms its cause.
  11. Reading this as a Mumsnetter, you may well already be spitting tacks by now. Please do remember that’s precisely what Fathers 4 Justice want. If you post on the subject, please keep it civil. We won’t be bullied, but we don’t want to be dragged into the mire either.

Feminism, Choice and Mummy Bloggers

I wasn’t overly surprised to learn that the panel entitled “Can you be a mummy blogger and still be a feminist?” went badly at the Mumsnet blogfest yesterday. Questions of motherhood and feminism always go badly on Mumsnet. I didn’t attend BlogFest because I don’t feel that my blog fits in with Mumsnet’s ethos anymore. To be honest, I’m not sure my blog ever fit in. And, even if I did want to attend, I couldn’t have afforded to entry price for BlogFest, never mind the hotel or train fare. As with Mumsnet Academy, BlogFest was outside the price range of a lot of Mumsnetters

We live in a capitalist-patriarchy where women are considered not-quite-human. Motherhood is the only role which gives women value, or at least, supposedly gives us value whilst simultaneously making us subhuman. Being a woman in our culture can feel like shit and we attack one another because it’s safer to attack each other than to fundamentally question the structure of our lives.

We all react defensively because we are judged wrong for everything we do: breastfeeding, formula-feeding, working, not working, – the list of things which women are found wanting is endless.

We all do it but we but that does not make it right.

Understanding why women attack each other instead of listening to each other is simple at one level but it still hurts. A lot. And, frankly, booing at women you disagree with is just rude. I can understand women with young children being so caught up in their role as mothers that any deviation from their pattern is viewed with suspicion. I can understand being afraid and hurt. I can’t understand low level booing or insulting a woman who “chose” a different path.

I’ve been reading some of the blogs written by women who attended BlogFest and I’m just shocked at how women have interpreted each other’s words. The following are a selection of blogs by those who attended BlogFest:

I will keep adding links to blogs as I come across them. I do think it’s important to read every woman’s understanding about what happened, even those who clearly have taken offence at statements neither made nor implied.
Even though I wasn’t at BlogFest, I’d like to weigh in on a few issues.
Firstly, a panel on “Mummy bloggers” and feminism is important. We absolutely need to be having this conversation and I’m glad it was there. Discussions on feminism and motherhood are always fraught with tensions and it was a brave decision to include it.
I understand why “celebrities” were invited too. Mumsnet needs to make a profit in order to pay their, mostly female, staff. Having Jo Brand sold tickets. I wasn’t overly thrilled with Liz Jones attending last year but she sold tickets and made media headlines. It may not have been an overly feminist choice to invite Jones but it was a practical one. And, I cannot state enough how much it pains me to say that. Financial considerations are paramount; without money the Mumsnet talk boards would not exist. Without them, my PND would have never been diagnosed. I may be anti-capitalist but women need to eat and that means using celebrities to fund talk boards.
This panel was absolutely necessary but it was also always going to end badly. This isn’t the fault of the organisers. We expect women to be all kinds of sweetness to one another and we forget too easily how common it is for women to lash out at other women. As a feminist, I’m acutely aware of how much we ignore women’s poor treatment of other women. I’m aware of my own guilt in replicating this behaviour but, sometimes, when we are hurting or afraid we lash out at the very people who are being kind to us.
I am also aware that part of my reaction to what happened yesterday is because Sarah Ditum and Glosswitch were both on the panel and I have tremendous respect for them. The thought of them being booed on stage makes me so very sad. They have been nothing but kind and generous to me and I don’t like the thought of them being attacked. I didn’t write this blogpost last night because I knew it wouldn’t be kind or helpful. I would have ranted. Ranting is important sometimes but this isn’t one of them.
My feelings on the panel going wrong are because of the name “Mummy bloggers”. I hate the term “Mummy Bloggers”. I find it patronising, rude and dismissive. It’s the equivalent to “yummy mummy” and “MILF”. It’s about the denigration of women rather than an acknowledgment of the realities of women’s lives.  Equally, I find the vitriol directed at “Mummy Bloggers” patronising, rude and dismissive. It’s the exact same vitriol directed at every single thing women do: it’s patriarchal bullshit at it’s most dangerous. Forcing women into taking “sides” instead of supporting each other.

I am still rather cross about this piece in the Huffington Post Canada written by a member of the women’s blog Purple Figs but it encapsulates all of the problems with the concept of “Mummy Blogging”: that women are shit no matter what we do. What the debate over “Mummy bloggers” does demonstrate is the misunderstandings of “choice” rhetoric.

Every “choice” a woman makes is not a feminist choice just because a woman made it. It just doesn’t work that way. All of our choices are constrained by the culture we live in. Having money makes a huge difference to individual women’s “choices”. Having access to a good education  makes a huge difference to individual women’s “choices”. Having a supportive family  makes a huge difference to individual women’s “choices”. Unfortunately, the list of things which constrain our “choices” is much larger.

Too many women simply don’t understand how much poverty constrains women’s choices. The women at the Mumsnet BlogFest had the ability to pay to attend. A huge swathe of Mumsnet would not; nor can they afford the Mumsnet Academy. Many are raising children with little to no help. Being able to afford to attend does not make one a bad woman; it just means they have privilege at that exact moment. There will be a million other ways in which those women have no privilege starting with the fact that they are women. But, equally, class, sexuality, trauma, race, disability, all change women’s abilities to make “choices”.

I don’t allow advertising on this blog. That is a feminist choice I made. It’s a choice made easier by how relatively small my readership is. If I were getting 50 000 hits a day, would I be so cavalier about advertising revenue? Probably not. Choosing to take advertising revenue at that point wouldn’t be a feminist choice but one of survival. That doesn’t make it a bad choice or a wrong choice but one necessitated by living in a patriarchy.

Making jam and homemade baby food because it is something that you enjoy and something that brings you pleasure is a good thing but that doesn’t necessarily make it a feminist choice. This doesn’t mean there is something inherently wrong with making jam or wearing high heels but these are “choices” that are made within patriarchal constraints. Women who behave as a “good mother” get more rewards than women who do not and the definition of who is and is not a “good mother” changes drastically from literally one minute to the next.

Feminism isn’t just about equality. If it were, there would be no pay gap between men and women as that is entrenched in law. The pay gap exists because equality in law in a culture which classes you as subhuman will never work. Feminism is about liberating women. It is about recognising women’s basic humanity. It is about recognising that all our “choices” are seriously constrained and denied in our culture. It is about recognising that most women are just trying to survive the best they can. A woman who makes a different “choice” from you isn’t inherently wrong, but insulting that woman for her “choice” will always be wrong.*

This said, those who attended BlogFest and were rude need to apologise to the panel members.

*And, if people did attack Sarah Ditum for having the unmitigated gaul to continue uni whilst pregnant, you can add me to the list of “bad mothers” too. I did it as a single parent of a toddler whilst barely a teenager. Judge us all you want but don’t be surprised if we defend ourselves.

UPDATE: Here are links to a video recording of the panel. The disconnect between what was said by the panel and what the audience heard is quite astounding. It’s also clear from the commentary on the video that the woman recording had already entered the session with a fixed idea about feminism and members of the panel.

This post by Lynn Schreiber is an excellent analysis of the difference between feminist theory and individual choices as understood by the panel and the audience.

Mumsnet: Just Another Story of Victim-Blaming

A friend brought this thread from Mumsnet to my attention.

The basic premise is a mother of a new baby who is being bullied by her in-laws over her refusal to get into a car with them after they have “had a few gin and tonics”. Hardly a controversial stance since drunk-driving is illegal for a reason. Yet, the thread is full of women trying to blame a new mother for not doing what she is told.

This might not seem a classic case of victim-blaming but it demonstrates all the normative behaviour with which we engage in when blaming victims. A new mother is being insulted for putting the safety of her new baby over the desires of others to meet the baby. It is her fault for not getting into the car with her drunk father-in-law [or coming with one of a thousand complicated ways of travelling with a 4 month old on public transport during one of the biggest holiday seasons in the US]. The fact is that her baby is being treated as a toy by others for their personal viewing pleasure. They aren’t willing to travel to see the baby so she is selfish for not putting her child in danger to visit them.

Have we really arrived at a place where a new mother can’t prioritise the safety of a new baby without being treated like a nincompoop for doing so? Do we really have to make excuses for the behaviour of others?  There are women on the Mumsnet thread blaming a new mother for not travelling across state lines with a new baby and a drunk driver. They are blaming her for being selfish; just like we blame victims for being victims.

Mumsnet’s #Bounty Campaign: This is Feminist Activism

I support the Mumsnet Bounty Campaign.

I wouldn’t have bothered writing this since I assumed most people were against capitalist intrusions on new vulnerable mothers. But, it turns out, the anti-Mumsnet whiners who have to complain about absolutely every freaking thing Mumsnet does have been whinging about the Bounty campaign. I’ve had some serious differences opinions with MNHQ. Who hasn’t? You can’t have a community of a couple of hundred thousand people without having the occasional difference of opinion. Or, barney. Really, both words work there. 

There comes a point, however, when the phrase “grow the fuck up” becomes necessary. Not liking Mumsnet talk boards or a group of Mumsnetters or Justine’s hair or Helen’s taste in beverages or whatever the hell it is that gets up your nose is not excuse to belittle an entire campaign to help other women. Yes, I get that once upon a time someone on Mumsnet was rude to you so you feel justified in slating absolutely everything they do. But, come on, nothing shouts “I’m a nincompoop” more than continually dredging up the same thing over and over again as evidence that Mumsnet is a harem of Satan-worshippers.

Sometimes, when a group of people suggest you are behaving like a buckethead, well, you might just be acting like a buckethead.

Equally, you could have wound up on a thread full of bucketheads. That’s not outside the realm of possibility either. 

The thing is, it’s not normal to hold a grudge for so long that you feel the need to whine and complain about every single campaign Mumsnet runs to try to make the world a better place for women [and don’t think I didn’t notice those of you who attacked the We Believe You campaign. That was just pathetic]. Yeah, Mumsnet doesn’t get everything right but slating a campaign because some woman was mean to you once upon a time is mostly evidence that you need to deal with your anger issues.

The Mumsnet Bounty Mutiny is a small campaign that will only help a limited number of mothers but that is no reason to slate it. The commodification of childbirth is a serious problem that needs to be addressed. Preventing Bounty, and it’s rather unfortunate inability to hire people with some basic empathy skills, from accessing vulnerable new mothers, including ones with seriously ill babies or whose babies have died is an important feminist campaign. The systemic and cumulative effects of misogynistic practises means we need to support all feminist activism, regardless of whether or not one specific issue impacts on you personally. Bounty has continued to violate women’s boundaries despite years of complaints. It needs to stop.

No one should have the right to flog anything to new mothers in hospitals. Ever. 

I don’t care if that’s Bounty, Mumsnet or Gove trying to sell his dignity. No one should be allowed to sell any product to a patient when they are in their hospital bed either ill or recovering.

Bounty does not belong in a hospital ward. 

Bounty has continually made it clear that they are uninterested in the welfare of patients by continuing to allow bad practise. They had a chance to fix this years ago. They chose not. Their choice: they need to suck up the consequences.

Mumsnet Woolly Hugs : Real Power of Sisterhood

The Mumsnet Woolly Hugs are incredible. Mumsnetters give up their time and their talent to knit blankets for children with terminal illnesses, families in grief and those just needing a hug. The talent and the kindness of Mumsnetters who are involved is so inspirational. They are incredibly generous. 

This is the mission statement from their website: 

The beautiful blankets shown through this website have been made by a community of Mumsnetters wanting to show their love and support to fellow Mumsnetters and their families facing heartbreaking and devastating loss. Some contribute by crafting, others by donating funds or wool, all playing a full part,  It is hoped that the blankets can offer some comfort to the families. If they get one ounce of love from their blanket then it’s all worth it. 

The blankets have come to be known as Woolly Hugs.

This is the real power of sisterhood. Not all the women involved would define themselves as feminists but this is what feminist sisterhood entails: caring for other women. 

I’ve included some images of the beautiful quilts knitted by Mumsnetters:

So that Steve Biddulph MN webchat: WTF?

Because, honestly, it was a gigantic pile of nincompoopery. It is safe to say that I am not a very big fan of Steve Biddulph to begin with. His normalisation of gendered stereotypes in order to sell books just pisses me off. There is very little scientific evidence to support the nonsense that boys and girls are somehow inherently different; just lots of people claiming they “observed” gendered behaviour.  This ignores the very real evidence of the cultural and historical construction and contextualisation of gender. It also conflates biological sex with gender, as if there were somehow a hormone which decides what type of child likes playing with dinosaurs. It leads to Hannah Evans claiming, in the Guardian no less, that sticks are essential to the raising of boys. It’s possible Evans has never actually met a girl child, because I’ve got two and they most definitely play with sticks. In fact, I don’t think I’ve met a girl who didn’t understand the importance of sticks. It’s called imaginative play; something that Steve Biddulph should know about considering his work with Collective Shout.

I have a number of problems with Biddulph. The first is his apparent amazement that, after spending 25 years specialising in the raising of boys, he’s discovered, rather miraculously, that “its GIRLS who are in trouble“. Yep, as a man whose spent 25 years arguing that  boys are “different”, he’s now discovered that girls are “different” too and in TROUBLE! This would be more convincing if I thought Biddulph had spent the last 25 years living in a cave because I genuinely can’t imagine how any intelligent, well-educated adult could have missed the fact that the Capitalist-Patriarchy is toxic for ALL children; unless, of course, they were planning on financially benefitting from stating the bleeding obvious. After all, it’s not like there’s ever been a single book published about the toxicity of childhood on young girls, raising girlscampaigns on the sexualisation and sexploitation of young girls, or the fact that feminsts have been saying this for years. We know that our culture is deeply destructive for girls and girls mental health is suffering because of it.  We don’t need another “expert” jumping up to tell us. We’ve already figured it out.

The first odd thing about the MN webchat is that Biddulph tried to claim he was not an “expert”. Please credit us with a modicum of intelligence, he was clearly invited as an “expert”. His disavowal of that role in an attempts to “debate” rather than answer any of the real questions he was asked was, well, rather pathetic. After all, this was the introduction to the webchat:

We’re delighted that Steve is returning to talk to us about his latest book, Raising Girls. This was written as a response to the ‘sudden and universal deterioration in girls’ mental health, starting in primary school and devastating the teen years’. The book is both a call-to-arms for parents and a detailed guide through the five key stages of girlhood to help build strength and connectedness into your daughter from infancy onwards. Join the discussion and you will be entered into a draw to win one of five copies of Steve Biddulph’s Raising Girls.

There was NO reason for him to come on to a MN webchat if he wasn’t setting himself up as “expert”. The whole point of the Mumsnet chat boards is the sharing of information. Why would they have a paying guest on if the guest weren’t trying to flog something to us? In Biddulph’s case, this is both a new book called Raising Girls and the one day seminar he is running as part of the Mumsnet Academy. Mumsnet is a business. They have never pretended to be any different so why Biddulph is waffling about the issue is just perplexing.

Secondly, Biddulph didn’t seem to answer any of the questions. Several of the answers read as though they were written in advance without Biddulph reading any of the pre-chat questions. Also there is the pesky issue of one particular cheerleading poster on the thread who was rather upset at the criticism of Biddulph and who has only posted on that name on that thread. If I were to think charitably, I would suggest he fundamentally misunderstood how a MN webchat runs, which would be quite odd since he’s done previous webchats (and brought his wife along). His answers were vague, patronising, pretentious and, well, twaddle. He deliberately refused to answer one question which was asked repeatedly, first by MmeLindor:

In your book, ‘Raising Boys’ you state ‘At the age of four, for reasons nobody quite understands, boys receive a sudden surge of testosterone, doubling their previous levels. At this age, little Jamie may become much more interested in action, heroics, adventures and vigorous play… At five years of age, the testosterone level drops by half, and young Jamie calms down again, just in time for school’ 
I have often seen this used – both on Mumsnet and on other parenting websites and blogs – to explain why boys are aggressive at age 4 to 5 years.  

Despite extensive searching I have yet to find a scientific research paper that supports this theory. Could you please link to the evidence of this.  …  

I am concerned that falsely interpreted statement in your book may lead to parents accepting the aggressive behaviour of their sons, to the detriment of their daughters. 

It worries me because we are teaching our girls from a young age that the right way to react to aggression is to walk away, and we are teaching our boys that aggressive behaviour is in some way acceptable, and to be expected.
Could you please clarify your statement about this hormone surge.

I would have thought that anyone making such a claim would be capable of backing it up with links to peer-reviewed research. It’s ethically and scientifically unacceptable to make claims of this nature without any evidence. It’s an incredibly dangerous statement to make because it does imply that boys are predisposed to violence and, therefore, not responsible for their actions. Small boys are not inherently aggressive or violent. We live in a culture that expects men to be violent. We reward them for their violence; one only needs to look at the careers of Charlie Sheen and Mike Tyson for evidence. But, boys aren’t inherently violent. They aren’t born violent or aggressive. That is how our culture socialises them. 

Next up on the list of things that annoyed me was this little speech: 

Girls are usually much more wired for social awareness, and even as babies they focus more on faces and reactions. This is a strength except when they are very anxious and then friendship problems can tip them over. THEY NEED HELP WITH FRIENDSHIP because its the most complex thing we do.  

It all begins in babyhood. The secure attachment of mother and baby (or dad and baby) lays the foundations for being trusting, available to love and closeness with others. If your daughter was close to you, she will know how to be close to others. 
But its from 5 – 10 that friendship is the uppermost topic for girls, because this is their primary learning goal at this age. HOW TO GET ALONG WITH OTHERS.  

There are seven core skills involved in being a friend.  

1. Enjoying the company of others – lightening up and treating company as a chance for fun.  

2. Learning to take turns and share -you have more fun if you play together, but you have to give a little to make that work.  

3. Being able to empathize – imagining how you would feel in your friend’s shoes, and being happy for them when they “win” or “star” in the game. This is a more advanced skill, it doesn’t always come easily.  

4. Being able to regulate aggression – not screaming or clobbering your friends when you disagree. Not storming off because you are losing the argument.  

5.Apologizing when you are wrong, or have hurt a friend’s feelings.  

6. Being able to read emotions. Seeing when someone is angry, sad or afraid and adjusting your behaviour accordingly. You can even teach this with drawings of smiley, frowny, teary and shakey faces, helping your daughter recognize them, and applying this to situations when her friends have been upset.  

7.Learning when to trust or believe someone, and when not to. That people can be deceptive for reasons of their own. Your daughter will be shocked and hurt when a friend lies or deceives her. You will need to comfort her and explain that some people have not learned the value of being trustworthy. Don’t lose heart, just be a little careful.  

Each of these will arise often in your daughter’s day to day life. When she comes to you hurt or bewildered, you can pinpoint which skill is called for, listen to her feelings, but then talk to her about how that skill can be done. It will take a few goes to get right, so follow up with her over a few days or weeks. Even we adults often don’t get these right, so have respect for the hugeness of what she is having to learn, and praise and affirm her for even small steps.  

I hope this helps a bit. A just seven years of age, a lot of learning is going on, it takes years, and so calmly listening to her as she talks it through.

Ignoring the unbelievably patronising comment at the end, Biddulph has clearly not read his Cordelia Fine because this idea that baby girls are “wired for social awareness” is utter twaddle. And, if girls are really are “wired for social awareness”, then surely it should be boys who need help developing friendships? Or, are they so socially incompetent that they don’t know they are supposed to have friends? I can’t keep this crap straight. I mean, seriously, are we supposed to believe that boys don’t need help learning about human emotion or who to trust? Are they not affected by these issues to? Biddulph doesn’t even try to answer a question raised about “neuronal plasticity, experience and reinforcement as determinants of behaviour and observable trait” despite the fact that this research basically proves that these studies into “observable” gender differences are, at best, inconclusive and, at worst, inherently flawed making Biddulph’s gendering of children wrong.

And, honestly, I howled with laughter when I read this bit: 

In babyhood – to feel loved and secureIn toddlerhood and pre-school age – to be exploring and curious and have an adventurous approach to the world – especially important in girls, to not be restricted (by attitudes, or fussy clothes) and for adults to show and teach enthusiasm about the world.In school – aged five to ten – to learn about friendship and getting along with others. In the early teens – 10-14 – to find your SOUL, your true self.In the late teens 14-18 – to practice for being an adult woman. And finally to step into adulthood, take responsibility for your life.

These are the stages of “girl”. Now, maybe it’s because I don’t have a son, but I’m pretty sure these stages correlate to the development of boys. I like to call this process “growing up”; as I mentioned in a comment Mumsnet deleted (which seems a tad OTT considering I said worse on the Naomi Wolf webchat).

All this webchat made me want to do is reread Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender as she brilliantly debunks all this twaddle whilst being incredibly funny and missing the whole patronising, mansplainin’ thing. Delusions of Gender is worth the price just for the Daddy Rat story. Honestly. 

Do also read this piece by Glosswitch in the New Statesman and this post by SaltandCaramel.

But, don’t bother with Biddulph. If you feel you need support, ask the parents around you. After all, that line about it taking a village to raise a child is true. We just need to stop paying experts to spout shite and start taking advantage of our communities. 

The Mumsnet Secret Santa: Thanking Those Women Who Have Changed Our Lives

The Mumsnet Secret Santa has been going for several years now. It was started by members as a way of thanking others who had helped them but also as a way helping others. Along with a Mile for Maude and the MN Woolly Hugs, it is the real side of Mumsnet: women supporting women. It is the real meaning of sisterhood. 

I was honoured this year by being nominated. It is such an incredible feeling to be nominated; to be thanked for helping someone else. It is a beautiful feeling. 
Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of nominating other women who have supported me through my PND and my crisis of confidence following some rather misogynistic twaddle with my career. I am so lucky to be surrounded by some amazing women. 

We need to start telling each other how amazing we are.

We need to start doing so publicly and loudly. 

This year, my Secret Santa sent me an Amazon giftcard. I spent several happy hours downloading some amazing books onto my kindle. Obviously only books written by women:

Lola Shoneyin’s The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives
Carol Shield’s The Stone Diaries
Andrea Levy’s Fruit of the Lemon
Andrea Levy’s Never Far From Nowhere
Aminatta Forna’s The Ancestor Stones
Kamila Shamsie’s Burnt Shadows

Thank you My Secret Nominator. 

Thank you to my Secret Santa.

And, thank you to all the amazing women in my life. 🙂

Apparently, “my politics” are the problem: Mumsnet, Vagenda and Feminism

I’ve been struggling to write a proper response to Holly Baxter’s guest blog for Mumsnet. I remain incredibly saddened that Mumsnet chose to run this particular blogpost by Holly Baxter from Vagenda as part of the 16 Days of Activism on VAW.* I am unhappy that they linked my bloghop, which I intended to be a celebration of women’s voices, with a blog post which erases women from the feminist movement. I am annoyed that they locked the thread on the blog post where many of us were raising our concerns. I am disappointed that they dismissed our concerns as irrelevant to the point where they locked a thread and did not return to it. But, mostly, I am hurt that my concerns have been dismissed because of “my politics”, as if my “politics” make me incapable of rational thought. I am hurt that the concerns of other women are also being dismissed. As Lynn Schreiber said when commenting on a draft of this piece “if it is your politics, then it is our politics, as we were just as dismayed and angered by the reaction of Mumsnet.”

There really is so much wrong with Baxter’s post that it’s difficult to know where to start. At best, Baxter’s post was extremely naive but, to be honest, I think I am being over-kind with that description. Using the violent murder of 14 women at the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal in 1989 to start a debate about the role of men within the feminist movement is, simply, offensive. There are valid debates to be had about the role of men in the feminist movement. This was neither the time nor the place.

Baxter compounds this offence by failing to name the 14 women who were murdered.

Geneviève Bergeron, aged 21;
Hélène Colgan, 23;
Nathalie Croteau, 23;
Barbara Daigneault, 22;
Anne-Marie Edward, 21;
Maud Haviernick, 29;
Barbara Maria Klucznik, 31;
Maryse Leclair, 23;
Annie St.-Arneault, 23;
Michèle Richard, 21;
Maryse Laganière, 25;
Anne-Marie Lemay, 22;
Sonia Pelletier, 28; and
Annie Turcotte, aged 21. 

And, that is what is wrong with Holly Baxter’s blog. She makes it about the man rather than the women who were murdered. This isn’t unusual since this is precisely what the mainstream media does when violent men murder women. But, this isn’t a feminist position. It has never been a feminist position. Feminism is a woman-centred movement. 

What Baxter seems to miss is that the man who murdered 14 women for being ‘feminists’ was never going to be a part of the feminist movement. He was never going to understand that the reason he didn’t get into the Canadian airforce or the Ecole Polytechnique was because of his personal failings. Men like that don’t respond to reason or constructive discourse. The men who do, the men we want involved in the feminist movement, don’t need to be told what to do or have to be in charge. They are already involved although sometimes their ‘help’ can be of questionable value as seen in the ‘Walk a Mile in her Shoes’ marches. The point is we don’t have to make a special effort to involve those men. If they want to be involved, they will be. Yet, Baxter seems to be implying that if feminists spent more time worrying about the involvement of men in the feminist movement, then men would be less likely to kill us. So, really it’s our fault that violent, anti-feminist men kill women they identify as feminists because we aren’t nice enough. It’s just another form of victim-blaming. 

Frankly, I struggle to take any self-defined feminist who says this seriously: 

But it’s important to remember that feminism is about destroying patriarchal assumptions (which, incidentally, include the assumptions that men are naturally aggressive, animalistic and hypersexual – insulting, to say in the least.) It’s not about destroying men, or holding innocent men to account for the actions of people who share nothing in common with them except a penis. That’s just biblical.

Feminists are already aware that feminism is about destroying patriarchal assumptions. The thing is feminists aren’t the ones labelling men as “naturally aggressive, animalistic and hypersexual”. That is the position the Patriarchy takes in its efforts to minimise and excuse male behaviour. Jack Layton, one of the co-founders of the White Ribbon Movement in 1991, has been explicit that he was talking about male violence against women. The fact that the White Ribbon Campaign has become gender-neutral is testimony more to the power of those who want to ignore the issue of male violence than it is to men’s interest in the feminist movement. The men I know, who support the feminist movement, are more than aware that the vast majority of violence committed against women and children is by men. They know that the vast majority of violence committed against men is by other men. 

Marc Lepine was not an isolated “madman“. To imply that ignores the lived realities of billions of women across the world. If Lepine were one isolated man, millions of women each year would not by murdered by men. If Marc Lepine was an “isolated” madman, then we have an epidemic of “isolated” madmen causing devastation and mass murder on an almost daily basis. Or, we could start discussing the reality of male violence and start expecting men to take responsibility for male violence, particularly since there are already men willing to address this issue.
The Massacre at the Polytechnique in Montreal was Canada’s Dunblane. This is something that we will never forget. It is something that has changed us all. To conflate it with the issue of men’s participation in the feminist movement is, simply, disrespectful. There are very valid discussions to be had about the involvement of men but this isn’t the time and it is most certainly not the ‘hook’ to use to make a cheap political point.

* I am not going to address the personal attack made by Holly Baxter on Dr. Julia Long. Dr. Long has addressed the issue here. What I will say is that Baxter owes Dr. Long an apology and it’s telling that despite being factually wrong, Baxter has made no public statement retracting her personal attack.

Holly Baxter’s Guest Blog on Mumsnet: Some Unpleasant Victim-Blaming

This week’s guest blogger on Mumsnet is Holly Baxter from Vagenda as part of the 16 Days of Activism on VAW. I am genuinely at a loss as how to adequately express my rage and my disgust at the article Baxter wrote. Baxter has used the mass murder of 14 women in Montreal as a way of attempting to make a political point about the inclusion of men within the feminist movement. Now, I fundamentally disagree with Baxter on the issue of men’s involvement in feminism as I have explained here and here, but, even if I did, I can not begin to imagine how the inclusion of men in one feminist event is necessary because one violent man killed 14 women.

This is the image Mumsnet chose to run in conjunction with the blog. On a blog referencing the murder of 14 women.  I have no words for this.

Tonight, I am too angry to write a proper response to Baxters’ blog. Instead, I want to remember the 14 women who Baxter failed to name in her post; 14 women who were murdered by a man who hated feminists:

Geneviève Bergeron, aged 21;
Hélène Colgan, 23;
Nathalie Croteau, 23;
Barbara Daigneault, 22;
Anne-Marie Edward, 21;
Maud Haviernick, 29;
Barbara Maria Klucznik, 31;
Maryse Leclair, 23;
Annie St.-Arneault, 23;
Michèle Richard, 21;
Maryse Laganière, 25;
Anne-Marie Lemay, 22;
Sonia Pelletier, 28; 
Annie Turcotte, aged 21.