I Am a Woman Who Eats on the Tube.

I have a dirty secret to reveal. Except, I didn’t realise it was dirty or needed to be a secret. But apparently I need to stand up in front of the world and say – nay, admit, confess: I am a woman, and I eat on the tube.

I know, horrifying, isn’t it?

Sometimes – if I’ve just been on a train into London for 2 hours, or I’ve been at uni all day, or if I’m, you know, just generally hungry, that function of the human body – and I have somewhere I need to be, I grab some food and take the opportunity of being stationary on the tube, and I eat.

Apparently this is worthy of photographing and publishing on the Internet, entirely without consent, primarily in the Facebook group Women Who Eat on Tubes (WWEOT). There might be a photo of me on there, inhaling my McNuggets and fries like a lion eating a gazelle – I don’t know. I hope not. It has over 20,000 members, so clearly the general public has a real appetite for nonconsensual photographs of women satisfying their hunger. And who can blame them, when it’s just so remarkable for women to be seen eating?

The founders of the group claim that it is ‘observational not judgemental. It doesn’t intimidate nor bully … We celebrate and encourage women eating food on tubes. We do not marginalise them. We always look for the story in the picture.’ Which is presumably why it treats women like animals in a zoo simply because they are performing a natural function in a public place, why it violates their consent and denies them dignity, and why everything on the page is written in an overtly mocking tone. WWEOT gives the women it photographs zero respect at any point in the process, and sends out a very clear message relating to how it expects women to be.

There is no law against eating on the tube, but to place a spotlight on women simply because they are eating on the tube is to say that it is something that they otherwise should not do. Why is that? Because a woman has dared to eat in public. God, how dare she, better photograph her without her consent and post it on the Internet so that people can invariably laugh at her. Because it’s funny when women eat. Because they’re not supposed to.

We are bombarded with this message from all angles. The constant stream of adverts for diet and weight-loss products, almost exclusively aimed at women, serve as a constant reminder that no matter how comfortable we are with our weight or the amount that we eat, we could always be thinner. The prevalence of ideas that can be summed up by Kate Moss’s famous quote ‘nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’ hit this home: eating is not attractive, we should not be seen to eat. Society insists that we are always ashamed by how much we eat, and every woman’s magazine in print recommends a multitude of diets to fix us.

Of course WWEOT fits into this. It has made it a trend to photograph women for the simple reason that they are eating. How many women now feel comfortable eating on the tube, with the knowledge that at any moment someone might take a photograph of them and upload it to the Internet? I know I don’t. Many of us never did anyway, either because of the aforementioned constant societal pressure or perhaps because of an eating disorder; if you feel that you should not be eating or that it is bad to eat, doing so when you know people are watching is incredibly difficult. The idea that someone may now make it so that 20,000 more people on the Internet can see you, and are laughing, makes that so, so much worse.

Presumably, though, the thoughts and feelings of the women in the photographs don’t matter. It doesn’t matter that we might not want pictures of us eating, taken without our consent, splashed all over the Internet so that people can laugh. It doesn’t matter that we have to deal with the threat and prospect of physical, verbal and sexual harassment every single time we venture into public spaces, and that being photographed and shamed online simply for eating is definitely an extension of this. In the world in which WWEOT can exist and not be considered bullying or misogyny, women’s bodies are public property and their existence can be used for entertainment.

But no, I don’t want there to be a Men Who Eat on the Tube. I want people to stop shaming people for eating, and for the food that they eat, and I want everyone to be able to make a journey on public transport without being turned into an Internet spectacle.

As it is though, WWEOT is undoubtedly woman-hating. Those who participate in it are happy to force women to go hungry, and to shame them when they dare choose not to. It tells women to take up as little space as possible, and not to perform the same functions as men, at least unless they don’t want their photograph taken. As if the world wasn’t already uninhabitable for women.

Sexting is not the enemy.

The discussion surrounding young people and sexting is fast becoming a matter of moral panic. In the last month, The Telegraph has reported how one in four teenagers send sexual text messages, Hollyoaks featured a sexting plotline, the BBC posted a series of open letters from parents to their children, and even Kate Middleton broached the topic. Notably, what they all have in common is their depiction of sexting as overwhelmingly negative.

Certainly, sexting can be a negative experience. There is obviously an appropriate age in which sexts should be sent and received, and nobody, child or adult, should feel pressured into engaging in such activity (or any activity). Likewise, using intimate images or texts sent by someone in order to blackmail them, or spreading them around without consent, is a violation of trust and of boundaries. None of these things are acceptable, and all of them need to be tackled. But they are not an inherent part of sexting.

The media time and again fails to acknowledge the fact that sexting is not in and of itself a bad thing. Statistics reported, those in The Telegraph included, often provide information about the number of young people who have sexted without even making a distinction as to those who did so of their own free will. The teenagers in The Telegraph study, for example, are aged 15 to 18. In other words, young people who will be, at a perfectly natural pace, becoming sexually curious and sexually active. There is no reason why, in an age as technological as this, that sexting would not be a part of this. It allows the exploration and appreciation of each others’ bodies from a comfortable distance, and it can be exciting and pleasurable – and, crucially, it can be safe. Yes, there is a huge amount of trust involved in the exchange, and young people should be aware that there are risks, but to actively discourage them from ever participating in it is to place the onus on the wrong party.

If the problem with sexting is that some people feel pressured into doing it, or that those messages and images might be spread or used for blackmail, then it is a problem that rests with those who carry out such abuse, and only them. They should be discouraged from behaving in this way, and condemned for doing sonot the people innocently trying to explore their sexuality. In all likelihood, the complete lack of respect for consent and people in general that they have shown will be mirrored elsewhere in their lives; that needs to be changed fast. Vastly improved sex education is probably, as it so often is, a good place to start. But not, as Diane Abbott MP has suggested, because British culture is becoming “increasingly pornified” and his needs to be undone; teenagers having an interest in sex, and wanting to explore their own and each others bodies, is perfectly fine. Sex is fine. And this is the kind of message that should be expressed through sex ed., with a stress on the importance of consent and safety.

Sexting should absolutely be able to form a healthy part of this. When The Telegraph makes reference, with an air of bewilderment, that potential consequences of sexting, like “getting a bad reputation or being blackmailed” apparently don’t deter teenagers from doing it, you have to ask – why the hell should it? There shouldn’t be negative consequences. Sending sexts, and even having someone (or lots of people) see your messages or images, should not result in a bad reputation. There should be no shame in being naked or being sexual, and it should not be used as a weapon against those who are. Undoubtedly, these things are the case now, but we should not assume that they are natural; we should work to tackle them.

Teenagers who are just becoming aware of their desires, of all people, shouldn’t be made to feel like sex, and the outlets like sexting that they use to explore it, are bad. This kind of repression occurs enough throughout society, especially to young women. Including, apparently, from their own parents. Several of those featured in the BBC article refer to the lack of “respect” that their children are supposedly showing themselves by sexting, as though simply being sexual – and being seen to be sexual – is bad. One mother even suggests that her daughters would be showing a lack of self-respect even if they had been emotionally blackmailed or pressured into sending naked photos. This is victim-blaming, and the unhealthy and unhelpful views that these parents have about sex will surely negatively impact those of their children.

When one of the mothers asks her daughter to think before sending a sext, “would you post this on Facebook?” she’s rather missing the point. Her daughter probably doesn’t want to have sex with all of her Facebook friends. But she wants to have sex with the person that she’s sending the sext to, and that’s the point: sexting is merely an extension of sexual activity. The fact that people feel pressured into doing it, and that they may become victim to blackmail or have them spread across school or the Internet, is undoubtedly a huge problem – but the answer is not to discourage young adults from sexting, and certainly not to shame them for it. Sexting is not the enemy. That will always be those who choose to abuse – and at the very core, deep-seated negative views about sex. Dismantling these is the real answer here; not shaming teens for their sexual urges.

Feminist Song of the Day, #3: Yes – Beyoncé

The idea of consent is crucial to feminist discourse. Women can never be considered empowered or liberated if their boundaries and wishes are not respected, both on an individual and societal level. The way that masculinity is currently constructed ignores the consent of women, who are assumed to always want ‘it’ (thank you, Robin Thicke), whilst also negating the consent of men, who are required to be ‘studs’. As well as inherently erasing anyone who isn’t straight, this also leads to the fact that the removal of consent is used as a weapon against all marginalised groups. As a result, any song that extolls the virtues of receiving and establishing concrete, enthusiastic consent is, as far as I am concerned, conveying a feminist message.

Enter, Beyoncé with Yes. The premise is quite simple: a woman meets a man in a club, they exchange numbers and begin seeing each other – until he infringes her boundaries by persistently asking her for sex when she has clearly said that she wants to wait. Not exactly usual pop music fodder, and that’s what makes it so excellent (aside from being a great song, obviously).

I said yes to your number
And yes to you dating me
Yes we can be together
But you gotta wait for me.
The first time I said no,
It’s like I never said yes.

I said yes we can be together
Yes you can stay with me
But when I say “no, not tonight”
You acting so ungratefully.
The first time I said no,
It’s like I never said yes

Certainly you can call me baby
I love to hear from you.
Yes, of course you can come and see me boy
I wanna get to know you more
Sure I’m feeling you.

No baby, not yet
We can’t take that next step.
Why you getting so upset, boy you
Act as though I never told you yes before.
You are so ungrateful
Mmm mmm mmm.

You was at my house
I was sitting on the couch
You was really bugging
So I told you to get out.
I had been misjudging you
You had a lotta nerve, you
Too damn old to be so immature
I hope you learn.

You said I move to slow
I showed you to the door
You said you call me later
I said don’t call no more.
Its cool if you can’t wait for me
I’m glad you let me know
Cuz you showed me your true face baby
The first time I said no.

It is obvious that when Beyoncé invited this guy to her house, he assumed that they would be having sex. When she made it clear that they would not, he reacted petulantly and disrespectfully. Thankfully, Beyoncé saw this as the disgusting show of entitlement that it was and kicked him out, telling him not to call again; this is exactly the right message to be sending out to girls and women. The prevalence of words like ‘prude’ and ‘frigid’, wielded as weapons against any woman who is perceived to not be sexually active – for whatever reason, and whether she actually is or not – are proof of the very real pressure on young women to not just have sex, but have sex in a way that first and foremost satisfies men. When Women and Teen magazines and media are obsessed with the hunt to find and please a man, and not concerned with what the woman herself wants (including whether or not she is even straight to begin with) it is no surprise that this culminates in a culture that pressures women into doing everything they can, whether they are comfortable with it or not, to satisfy men like it’s their duty. It is also no surprise that, as a result, men will receive an identical message, but concerned with what they can expect from women and what they are entitled to.

The man in this song probably thought that Beyoncé “led him on”, another accusation commonly levied at women. The truth is, though, that consent can be withdrawn at any time – even if the other party, or one of the other parties, have already agreed. Consent is not a static event; it is a state of being. It can change at any time. So, sure, Beyoncé consented to giving him her number, and to dating him, and to him coming over – but she didn’t consent to them taking it any further, so she said ‘no’. That’s fine. That needs to be respected. Like she says, “it’s cool if you can’t wait for me” – but pestering and pressurising is not cool. This is something that everyone should feel assured in. We all have boundaries, just as we all have desires – sexual or otherwise – and we should be aware of them, and we should feel confident in establishing and maintaining them. A society that spends too much time ramping up male sexuality for the benefit of masculinity, at the expense of female sexuality, which is repressed and shamed, is never going to achieve that.

#fatshamingweek is #fatshaminglifetime, and that needs to change.

Return of Kings (Google it if you must, I don’t want to give it hits), a blog dedicated to “heterosexual, masculine men” (… lol) declared the past week to be “Fat Shaming Week”, which in turn spawned its own Twitter hashtag. Whilst the blog published post upon post ripping fat people (and especially fat women) to shreds – from propositions for a federal tax against fat people to reasons why fat people are evil – its readership, and anyone else who might fancy it, were encouraged to incite hatred. And that is, essentially, what happened.

Undoubtedly, this was orchestrated in order to generate controversy and upset people; that’s Trolling 101. But it’s so far from being a victimless crime that any implication that ignoring Return of Kings and the neanderthals participating in #fatshamingweek will make them go away, and all will be right with the world, is plain insulting. Any fat person will tell you – and I know, because I was one – that Fat Shaming Week is every single minute of every single day. Fat Shaming Week is Fat Shaming Lifetime. Return of Kings might have created the “event” to create a stir (or, you know, be gigantic dicks), but the sentiments it embodies are present everywhere in society, from institutions to the general public. It’s not that a few people hate fat people; hating fat people is the accepted narrative of the world. You can’t joke about hating fat people, or shaming fat people, when that hatred and shaming is real for them. And makes their lives hell.

The fact is, you don’t even need to actively go out of your way to shame fat people; society does it implicitly (and explicitly) every day, in all kinds of ways. Every other advert on TV is for a weightloss programme, and the adverts that aren’t rarely feature fat people for any other reason than to make them a punchline. Same goes for television shows and films. Plus size clothing exists because fat people are considered outside of the “normal” remit of clothing, and any famous person who also happens to be fat often finds that their fatness inadvertently becomes part of their identity. Basically, fat people are never presented as anything other than abnormal, and very rarely as anything other than negative. Even those who profess to being happy with how they look are so thoroughly interrogated as to why this is, and whether weightloss will ever be on the cards, that one thing is quite obviously clear: nobody should want to be fat. Fat is not a good thing. Fat is bad.

Can someone please tell me why?

Is it because fat is unhealthy? Because, well – what is healthy? If it’s eating well and excercising often – and I know that this is what society deems to be healthy, because fat people are frequently told to “eat less and exercise more” – then you probably ought to speak to the many fat people across the world who eat healthy and exercise enough, if not more than enough. They’re still fat. They might be fat for the rest of their lives, yet they comply with all the Western conditions of health. That’s because healthiness and thinness are not correlative. There are some fat people right now who are far healthier than some thin people. Of course, the inverse is also true, but that’s how life works – everyone is different. They live different lifestyles. It is simply nonsensical to try and generalise, and also really not helpful. Do eating disorders mean anything to you?

Besides, whose business is it if we’re healthy, exactly? Who do we owe it to? What people do with their lives, and what they put into their bodies, is entirely up to them. Anyone who wishes to argue that fat people are a “drain” on the healthcare system would be advised to note that smoking costs the NHS far more than obesity-related ailments – where is the Smoker Shaming Week? Where is the daily verbal and physical abuse for smokers? As glad as I am that this doesn’t happen – because, like, let people do what they want – this whole narrative stinks of hypocrisy. Yes, maybe it is better for ourselves if we keep healthy, but as I’ve already outlined, that doesn’t mean being thin – and if it isn’t something we personally are interested in for ourselves, why force us?

Especially because, in case you hadn’t noticed, some people literally can’t. I’d like to see you tell the person whose disability means that they can hardly move for pain, or the depressed person who finds it a struggle just to get out of bed, that they’re failing because they’re not keeping fit or eating well. I’d say I’d like you to tell the single mother feeding her kids cheesy chips, because sometimes the quickest and easiest food is all you are capable of and all you can afford, that she’s a bad mother for not cultivating a healthy diet for her children, but Jamie Oliver already did that. Healthy is a privilege.

Of course, though, our hatred of fat people goes so much deeper than judgement/faux-concern over a perceived lack of health. Fat is seen to be ugly. A large part of fat hatred is concerned with how unattractive they are considered to be; fat women, especially, are berated time and again, often publicly by strangers and familiars alike (yep, deffo been there), for being unworthy of male attention. On the flip side, their bodies are fetishised, to the point where finding fat women attractive is considered a sexual niche rather than part of a “normal” (that word again) sexual appetite. But that’s the thing: fat people are, for whatever, reason, considered less than human. Finding them attractive, or treating them with respect, is not an acceptable response, unless as some kind of kink. Purely because they carry more weight, or more fat, than someone else.

There is nothing wrong with being fat. It doesn’t hurt you, and it doesn’t necessarily hurt the fat person – and if it does, so what? It’s none of your business. If it bothers you that you have to look at them, cry me a fucking river. People don’t exist to please you, aesthetically or otherwise. Besides, fat is only considered unattractive because that’s what society dictates; there is no empirical grounding behind it. You find fat unattractive because society covets thinness, and it does so for a range of capitalistic, patriarchal reasons. Society isn’t right. It also covets whiteness, and women of colour around the world bleach their skin as a response; is that right? Likewise, if your argument is that it’s just not “normal” or “natural” for humans to be fat – who made you God? This desire to force people into conforming to our perceived idea of what perfect human beings are is sick and fascist.

But you know, even if you are right – even if people aren’t “meant” to be fat, even if there is something inherently unattractive about fat, even if it is deathly unhealthy – so what? That doesn’t make that person less worthy of respect or humility, and it doesn’t make them more worthy of abuse or shame. I can assure you, treating us like shit because you think we need to lose weight doesn’t make us lose weight; it makes us hate ourselves. Pretend like you do it out of concern all you want, we know that this is the real reason why you shame us. In light of which, Social Justice Twitter want this to be “Body Confidence Week” as a response – it should be. And so should every other week, every single day. No one should be made to hate the way they look.

Breast cancer isn’t sexy, and telling women to “set their tatas free” isn’t going to cure it.

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According to this poster, October 13th is No Bra Day, supposedly an initiative to raise awareness of breast cancer (although it doesn’t actually say that; it says it’s in support of breast cancer. But, you know, we all make mistakes, right…). It runs with the tagline “Set the Tatas Free”, which is reminiscent of another breast cancer awareness organisation, Save The Tatas, although there appears to be no affiliation; No Bra Day is apparently lead by something called Boobstagram, a French site that encourages women to take photos of their breasts and upload them, also in the name of curing cancer, or something.

Aside from the fact that for many women, a day without a bra would be incredibly uncomfortable and potentially painful, I shall lay my cards on the table: I detest this kind of marketing. I am well aware that it is meant to be “humorous” and “light-hearted”, and that I am an accomplished humourless femininst, but the angle these campaigns take is sexist, dehumanising, and insensitive. There is a real element of sexing up breast cancer at their heart; using a flirty word like “tatas”, using images of conventionally attractive (white, thin, able) women holding their bras aloft, or sans bra completely, in what is obviously meant to titilate. Breasts are clearly being framed as objects of sexual desire, which is a purpose imposed onto them first and foremost by the patriarchy. Indeed, the whole idea of “saving tatas” revolves around the belief that breasts are inanimate objects which somehow belong to more than just the woman to which they’re attached, and specifically men, and they need to be saved or there’ll be one less pair to ogle. The discourse surrounding Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy illustrates this perfectly; instead of concern for her well-being, and instead of support for making such a huge decision and bravely deciding to speak out about it, many men took to social media to mourn the loss of her breasts, and to offer their commiserations to her husband Brad Pitt.

Here’s a newsflash for you: attached to those “tatas” you care so much about is a woman whose life is on the line. They’re not yours to mourn. It makes not one jot of difference if Jolie has made the decision to show them to you at some point in her career; they do not belong to you, you have no right to them, and she deserves some respect. There are women in this world whose husbands really did leave them after they had mastectomies, because, just like this type of marketing suggests, some men really do only value women for their outward appearance, of which breasts are a huge factor. Women are actively seen as lesser if they do not have breasts, and if they do not have acceptably attractive breasts. I’m not sure that any kind of campaigning that pushes this exact idea should be encouraged.

This is, incidentally, what is so offensive about the whole thing. Not all those affected by breast cancer have boobs – some of them because of the cancer, some of them because they’re not women – and not all of those who have boobs are women, and certainly not sexy, pert women. Even if they are sexy, pert women, they still don’t necessarily want their breasts to be sexualised and objectified in this way without any prior consent. The people affected by breast cancer are so much more important, and so much more than their breasts. Maybe it’s true that more people – and, in particular, more men, because let’s not pretend that these campaigns aren’t designed with them in mind – get involved and raise money for breast cancer research on the back of these campaigns, but if they’re doing that under the premise that they need to save boobs so they’ve got something to wank to, I’m inclined to say fuck them. We don’t care about breast cancer because boobs are sexy; we care about it because it’s a fatal illness. Do we really have to move ourselves towards a cure by moving ourselves away from gender equality?

This criticism is not intended to stop women using their bodies in whichever way they please. If they want to get involved in campaigns to “set their tatas free”, or post photos of them on the Internet, or make their Facebook status something titilating like “I like it on the floor”, which appears to the uninitiated to be a reference to sex, but is actually a reference to the place she keeps her bag – then more power to them. But please bear in mind that these campaigns are orchestrated from way above the women who participate in them, often by organisations and individuals with far more money and clout than those women will ever have. There seems something sinister about those organisations and individuals using women’s bodies – and, most specifically, instructing women to use their own bodies with the threat of seeming uncharitable or uncaring – to generate controversy. I am currently unaware of any even semi-mainstream campaign centred around breast cancer awareness that doesn’t attempt to tell women what to do with their boobs, with the exception of the pink ribbon. Where’s the choice? I know that breast cancer is related to breasts, but I don’t think getting ours out has to be a central part of the campaign; is that what survivors want? And, frankly, this is all the more sinister when you consider that, ultimately, unless these women (and those who somehow work out what their action is in aid of) actually donate to breast cancer research, there is little chance of anything changing. Awareness is great and all, but we all know what breast cancer is. We sort of need to, you know, do something about it.

I know things need to be sexy to garner attention, and I know sex sells. That doesn’t mean this sort of thing should go on unchallenged. There’s women being sexy for empowerment, and there’s women having sexy imposed on them, and these kind of campaigns undoubtedly feel like the latter. Go braless if you want, on October 13th or otherwise, but don’t let them kid you into thinking that doing that alone is going to help anyone. And let’s face it: cancer isn’t sexy. It kills.

If it’s “our bodies, our choices”, then we can choose to be naked and lick sledgehammers.

miley-cyrus-wrecking-ball

“My body, my choice” is easily one of the most notable feminist slogans today. Predominantly, it is used in reference to abortion, with the crux of the argument in favour of the procedure being that those who are pregnant should have full right to decide whether or not they go through with that pregnancy. It is their body which carries the baby, and their body which gives birth, so it should be up to them whether it is something they go through. Most feminists seem to get behind this just fine. But extend the concept to other matters, and it’s a different story.

The crucial element of “my body, my choice” is that women get to choose what they do with their bodies. That means they get to choose everything that they do. If they want to go out and have lots of sex with lots of different people, or dance around in their underwear in a public place, they are perfectly entitled to. If they want to earn money doing either of these things, that is also totally fine. It is their body, their choice. So as I’m seeing women telling other women, in the name of feminism, that they disapprove of the actions or career choice they’re making, I fail to see how we’re moving towards a world where the lives of women are not dictated by external forces, namely those of the patriarchy.

Case in point, perhaps unsurprisingly, is Miley Cyrus. Sinead O’Connor last week wrote an open letter to Cyrus warning her that she is being “pimped” by the music industry, advising her against “prostituting” herself, and telling her that she is worth more than her body or her sex appeal. This comes a month after The Guardian also featured Michael Hann talking about Miley, and how her video for the song Wrecking Ball promotes the idea that “young women should be sexually available” – because she is naked in it. Jameela Jamil, on the other hand, took to writing a blog post in which she point-blank accused Miley of “aiding our slavery”.

What these people, and the many like them, seem to be forgetting, is that it is Miley’s body, Miley’s choice. Certainly, Sinead is right – women and girls do feel pressured into being overtly sexual, and into taking off their clothes, in order to gain popularity or success, and nowhere is that more true than in the music industry. From album covers to promotional videos to live performances, both male and female artists use the bodies and sexualities of women in order to make money. Sex sells. Undoubtedly, Miley is influenced by this. She has been keen to shake off her Disney Channel-Hannah Montana-good girl image, because sexy is commercially viable, and neither Disney Channel or ‘good girl’ is considered especially sexy. So, she is orchestrating a new image for herself: sex, drugs, and lolling tongues – and nudity. No doubt, there are men advising her and overseeing this, and, crucially, profiting from it. But “pimped” and “prostituted”?

Sinead’s continuous allusions to sex work are just plain whorephobic. Sex work is a job of choice for many women and men. Certainly, there are people in the industry who have not chosen to be there, and they desperately need help; Sinead seems to be working on the assumption that all people in sex work do not want to be there, though, using it with negative connotations to add to the already heavy stigma. And, just as anti-sex work lobbyists often remove the agency of sex workers who wish to choose the work, saying they cannot make that informed choice in patriarchy – that is what people are saying to Miley. They are saying that because she operates within a sexist industry and a patriarchal society, where women feel that they have to be sexy to earn money, she cannot ever be considered to have chosen to be naked and sexual.

If that really is true, then I fail to see why we are pointing so many accusatory fingers at her. If she has little choice than to use sex, then why are we not respecting that she’s doing what she needs to in order to get by? The open letters shouldn’t be addressed to her, they should be addressed to the music industry and bosses pressuring her into it. Is it really feminism to blame a woman doing what she has to for the fact that she has to do it in the first place? Yes, there are some female artists seeing success without using their sexuality – Taylor Swift is frequently the example given – but she is very much in the minority. Continuously bringing her up is only reinforcing that “good girl/slut” dichotomy that is influencing Miley in the first place.

Besides, the simple fact is, sexiness and nudity are things that women can want to partake in. Yes, in the patriarchal system Miley does not have a whole host of options as to whether she does partake in it, but she still knows what she’s doing. She’s not stupid, and she’s not a child. She can probably do this exact same feminist analysis. That isn’t going to stop her from doing what she needs to, and it isn’t going to stop her doing what she wants. She is actively involved in the creative process. And while sexy is a construct designed to cater for male pleasure, and used to control women, we still have to live with it. Some women are trying to claim it back for themselves, and maybe make money from it. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. There seems to me to be little anti-feminist about enjoying being naked, enjoying our own bodies, being confident in our own skin, and being proud of our sexuality. I would like to see evidence that suggests that Miley’s actions are not about this as much as they are about exploitation by others. Which, by the way, is the same exploitation all of us enter into when we go to work. We use our body, our labour and our skills to make someone else money, just like Miley. For some, sex is a skill just like any other.

So when Sinead, Jameela and Hann bemoan that Miley is presenting herself, and consequently other women as only worth sex – is that really the case? A woman being naked, or a woman being sexy, should not automatically mean that this is all she’s worth. Yes, it might become a core part of their identity if it’s what they lead with, but if that is what a woman wants, and she is in control of it, then where is the issue? The real problem, for me, is that it has suddenly become a part of feminism to tell women that they must act in a certain way, or they are to blame for the oppression of all women. No. The patriarchal society and the men who grow fat off of it are to blame for the oppression of women. They need to be told to stop valuing women for only their sex, stop assuming that women who are naked or sexy are automatically sexually available, to stop assuming that women exist to please them – and let women be sexy, as well as anything else they want. Jameela says “in every walk of life, execute first with the asset you consider your strongest” in response to Iggy Azaela complaining that nobody in the music industry takes her seriously – really? Women should be taken seriously even if they’re sexy and naked. We’re fucking complex beings. We can be what we want to be. If we have to be sexy to make it in the music industry, of course we’re going to be pissed off when no one wants to listen to us once we make it. Why are we blaming women for misogyny?

Miley is actively saying and doing things right now that are harmful; racism, cultural appropriation, and, in response to Sinead, openly mocking mental health. If we really want to help a lot of people – and a lot of women – then we should be criticising her for that, whilst simultaneously aiming punches at the sexist music industry. Telling Miley – and Iggy, and Rihanna, and any woman – that the way they are acting is hurting liberation, so they’d be doing us all a favour if they put some clothes on and put their bums away? That’s helping no one. Their bodies, their choices.

A Statement of Trans-Inclusive Feminism and Womanism

tillyjean:

This is so important, and I’m proud to sign. If you haven’t already, definitely check it out.

Originally posted on feministsfightingtransphobia:

We are proud to present a collective statement that is, to our knowledge (and we would love to be wrong about this) the first of its kind.  In this post you’ll find a statement of feminist solidarity with trans* rights, signed by feminists/womanists from all over the world.  It is currently signed by 790 individuals and 60 organizations from 41 countries.

The statement can be found here in English. It is also available in French, Hungarian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Russian and Serbo-Croatian.

The complete list of individual signatories is available here, or alphabetically or by country. The signatory list of organisations and groups is available here. We would love it if you signed it too. You can either use this form, or email us, or post a comment on this post or on the statement.

Our continued thanks to everyone for your support.

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Why #ibelieveher, and don’t believe rape suspects need anonymity.

We have this slogan in feminist Twitter circles: #ibelieveher. It means that, when a woman comes forward with allegations about rape or sexual assault, we believe her until given reason not to. The culture we live in is so adamant that women only experience rape in very specific circumstances, or are somehow responsible; the reality is very different. There are an estimated 78,000 rapes a year in the UK, and the main reason we can only estimate is because so many survivors choose not to come forward, because of the aforementioned culture. Only 16,041 of these rapes are reported. Women live in fear of rape, and of pursuing justice when it eventually does occur. #ibelieveher is the antidote to that. We, as people, stand up and say – “It’s okay. You have our full support”. When you’ve been raped, whether you decide to try and press charges or not, it can feel like the world is against you. Because it quite literally is. That rape culture is as entrenched into our institutions – our police force, our judiciary – as it is the people you meet on the street. People don’t want to believe you; people have it ingrained by the society around them that they shouldn’t believe you.

Don’t get me wrong, we know that false allegations happen. They are not, however, nearly as prevalent as the media and common opinion would have you believe. The percentage is literally a single figure, and is a statistic which also includes cases which are dropped for whatever reason – so the survivor could have been pressured, could have given up, anything. Rape is common. We believe her so resolutely because it is statistically much more likely that she has been raped, than that she hasn’t. Yes, even if the accused is found ‘not guilty’.

This might seem unreasonable to you. It is down to the court to prosecute, and if they find the defendant not guilty, why would I ask for more? They did their job, right? I wish. Out of the 16,041 rapes reported each year (which, again, is only a fraction of the 78,000 estimated to occur), just 2873 result in prosecution, and only 1153 convictions. Yet so very few are actually false. Something doesn’t add up. Well, consider the reports of policemen completely and purposefully failing to investigate rape cases, the accounts of judges revealing themselves to be firmly of the belief that victims of rape bring it upon themselves (even when those victims are children), and those policemen doing the raping themselves, and it becomes clearer. There is corruption and misogyny everywhere the eye can see, not to mention where it can’t. People don’t care about rape. Especially the people who are paid to care about it.

So, Michael Le Vell, Coronation Street actor, was found ‘not guilty’ last week of charges relating to child rape and other sexual abuse, and whilst I have no desire to comment on whether or not this is actually the case – I simply do not know – I am nonetheless hesitant to stop believing the girl who accused him. I am certainly refraining from holding the same opinions of her that other members of the public decided to take on, namely that she is a “lying bitch”. I hold my hands up here: I don’t know if she lied. I probably won’t ever know. But I do know that, for me at least, it seems unlikely for a 17 year old to completely fabricate accusations like this. The defence may have found her evidence “inconsistent”, “unbelievable” and with an “agonising lack of detail”, but none of these things guarantee a vindictive liar; she is a teenager now, she was a child at the time the alleged abuse took place, and the legal process is harrowing. Not to mention the fact that, if she is telling the truth, having to remember, think about and talk about the things done to her would take a huge mental toll.

Besides, Le Vell could still be innocent and her not be a vicious fantasist. As Lord McAlpine found out, mistaken identity happens. It is not a mark of evil. It could be the product of a number of things, including mental illness. It might not be relevant here, but it should always be kept in mind. Especially as people increasingly hold a belief that those who make false rape accusations should automatically be prosecuted, or, as Christine Hamilton argues, have their anonymity stripped from them. There is no black-and-white in these cases. There is often a very vulnerable person at its heart.

Christine Hamilton is also a vocal proponent of the argument that rape suspects should be granted anonymity alongside their complainant. I simply cannot agree with this – unless, of course, this is going to be something that is applied to suspects for all crimes. To single rape out as a crime that needs suspects to hold anonymity suggests to me that it is a crime where extortionate amounts of people are falsely accused; as has already been discussed, this is not true. The idea, too, that a false accusation of rape can ruin a life falls a little flat, too. If this was the case, surely rape as a crime would need to be taken seriously? The police don’t investigate it when it is presented to them, everyone from the stranger on the street to the High Court judge thinks women bring it upon themselves, people accuse the complainant of lying long before anything is proven – from about the time the allegations are put forward, in fact. Michael Le Vell might have been known as a potential rapist during the trial, and people might remember the fact that the trial happened, but that’s all.

So, when Hamilton argues that Le Vell’s name has been “hauled through the mud”, I’m not convinced, especially when she later says that “it’s now far too easy for a woman to cry wolf”. If that’s the case, Christine, why don’t they? In the same article, solicitor Nick Freeman argues that rape suspects should have anonymity over other crimes because it carries a different “degree of social revulsion and stigma”. I actually wish that was true. But his example of people being more revolted by child rape than murder is disingenuous; it is the fact that the survivor is a child that is the horrifying part for many, not the act of rape. Make it a woman, and they can’t wait to find ways to destroy her.

If we’re going to change anything, let’s change that, please. I believe her. And him. And you.

[Disclaimer if such a thing is needed: I know not all victims of rape are women. I know men are affected by it, and this toxic culture, too. But there is a special brand of hatred reserved for women, who are by far the primary victims; it is this which I discuss here. Let's just end rape full stop, shall we?]

Miley Cyrus and Sexy Selfies: A Love Letter to Attention-Seekers.

Miley_Cyrus_VMAs

I want to preface this post by saying that Miley Cyrus’ much-talked about performance at the MTV Video Music Awards a couple of weeks back was far from okay. Not because of what the mainstream media reported; not because it was “raunchy”, or “trashy”, and not because she was in a latex bikini, not because she is skinny, not because she kept sticking her tongue out, not because she feigned masturbation with a foam finger, and generally speaking not because her dancing was “provocative”. None of those things bothered me in the slightest. Maybe that says more about me than it does anyone else, I don’t know. I don’t care. She is a young woman exploring her sexuality, doing what she wants, and more power to her – it’s just unfortunate that it has to be played out in the public eye.

At the same time, however, her dancing, and her desire to play with being sexy, were also what made it problematic. Not because it was “unladylike” or “inappropriate”. No, Miley’s obsession with twerking that she was so keen to showcase at the VMAs is just one of several ways she is appropriating the culture of black women, to the extent of being outright racist. She used black women – in fact, she used a black woman’s arse  - as props, dehumanising them entirely. She has, essentially, adopted blackface in order to display her “new-found” sexuality; when black women already live in a culture which sexualises their bodies against their will for the benefit of both white men and women, this has huge implications. But I am a white woman, and a multitude of People of Colour – whose lives this kind of behaviour directly impacts on – have already written about this, and I certainly can’t add to that. So please read BattyMamzelle, Amy LaCount for Bust Magazine, and Maurice McLeod for Comment is Free for more on this.

But one thing I do feel I need to talk about is related to the backlash that Miley received, and has been added to by a couple of recent posts: “Unpopular Opinion: “Liking” Women’s Sexy Selfies is Bad for Women” by Meghan Murphy, and “FYI (if you’re a teenage girl)” by a Mrs. Hall. Both are about the act of taking a photograph of yourself – a ‘selfie’. Both of them focus exclusively on women and girls doing this, even though this is far from the reality. And both of them act like taking a selfie and posting it on the Internet is a bad thing to do (for different reasons).

This reminds me of Miley not because she takes a lot of selfies – although, in fact, she does – but because one specific complaint I remember about her performance, even from feminists, is that she was “obviously” doing it for attention. Google ‘Miley Cyrus wants attention’ and the top four results are ‘Don’t you think Miley Cyrus just wants attention?’; ‘Miley Cyrus’ most attention-seeking moments’; ‘Miley Cyrus crying out for attention’; and ‘On Miley Cyrus’ X-Rated, Attention-Whoring Teenboppery’ (which, incidentally, is problematic for a multitude of reasons).

Here’s a newsflash for you: Miley Cyrus does want attention. So do I. And I don’t want to be presumptive, but I think you probably do too; we are human, and we need to be loved just like everybody else. If nobody gave us attention, we’d feel neglected. It’s a human desire. That’s nothing to be ashamed of. We all do things to gain other people’s attention, to have them show interest in us, and to have them indulge us, because it’s nice. This isn’t a bad thing, it isn’t revolutionary and it isn’t obscene.

Who exactly do you think Miley Cyrus is, anyway? She’s a celebrity. Her fucking livelihood comes from people paying her attention. She would not have been on that VMA stage if people hadn’t paid her attention in the past, and weren’t interested in paying her attention in the future. She has to make sure that she keeps that attention. She has to pique interest. So, she did something that was inevitably going to create a stir; sex sells, sex outrages. From a feminist perspective, it’s very sad that both of these things are true, because it means women may have to utilise their sexuality in ways they otherwise wouldn’t like to in order to make their way in the world. Miley and her team clearly feel she has to reinvent herself as sexy because otherwise the pop world has little space for her, and they’re almost certainly right. That’s not to say that Miley isn’t comfortable being so overtly sexual – she looked like she was having fun, and that’s great. But she wouldn’t have literally needed to put on a performance like that if society wasn’t obsessed with these bullshit ideas about female sexuality to begin with. To exemplify, Rolling Stone helpfully ran a slideshow entitled The Evolution of Miley Cyrus: Follow the pop star’s rapid transformation from Disney kid to dirty girl“. That’s right: “dirty girl”. Sexual Miley is tainted, slutty; pre-sexual Miley was pure, virginal. Although she’s being ripped to sheds for being the former, it is that which makes her more attractive to the music industry and wider society.

How does this tie in with selfies? Women and girls take selfies for attention. I’m certainly guilty of that, if I must feel guilty. We take selfies because we think we look good, because we like to look good, and because we want to share it. Is there really something wrong with that? We’re taught from an early age that we have to look good to be worth anything, but we’re shamed for vanity if we ever try and enjoy that; clearly, our bodies are not for us. Although it is a problem that we’re taught to value our appearances above all else, and that society really does value us in this way – and no one, especially young girls, should feel pressured into taking sexy pictures – there’s still nothing wrong with us revelling in it. Society also constantly makes us despise everything about our looks. We should be celebrating them.

So, Murphy suggests men refrain from ‘liking’ women’s selfies and instead “‘like’ the photos that are witty, interesting, smart, stupid … we should be encouraging girls and women to be interesting/ethical/smart/funny human beings - not American Apparel models” – but why not have both? Women and girls can be all those things whilst looking pretty, and last time I checked, American Apparel models are human beings too, and it’s perfectly fine for women and girls to want to be one. Mrs. Hall too makes a similar assumption, when she comments that the teenage girls her sons associate with online are “lovely and interesting, and usually very smart”, so why do they need to post sexy selfies? “You don’t want our boys to only think of you in this sexual way, do you?” But these girls can be lovely, interesting, smart and sexual. There’s nothing wrong with that. It doesn’t make them lesser, or unworthy, as the post goes on to suggest. If the Hall sons – and, indeed, any boy or man – is incapable of thinking of a girl in a sexy way and valuing her for all her other attributes, then who has a problem, exactly?

From one selfie-taking attention-seeker to another: keep taking photos of yourself, keep liking the way you look, keep being who you want to be. You deserve it.

Feminist Song of the Day, #2: The Pussycat Dolls – I Don’t Need A Man

It’s not hard to locate the feminist message in this song. Heteronormative patriarchy dictates, by making men the dominant agents in society and placing their needs and desires as most important, that women feel lesser and thus need to validate themselves by being with a man. Girls are taught from a young age in the magazines they read and the television shows that they watch that getting a boyfriend should be their main goal, and that we are somehow not whole unless we have one. Men, meanwhile, are encouraged to think of themselves as entitled to women – because, why wouldn’t they be? Women are taught to think that they need to be with men to matter, so men get the pick of the bunch.

The Pussycat Dolls say no. This is significant, because in pop music especially, there is a recurring theme of women seeking, pining for, and fawning over men and their affections. This song is the very opposite of that.

I don’t need a man to make it happen,
I get off being free.
I don’t need a man to make me feel good,
I get off doing my thing.
I don’t need a ring around my finger
To make me feel complete,
So let me break it down,
I can get off when you ain’t around.

Women are told constantly that they are only truly happy when they are in a relationship or otherwise in reception of male attention, and this is all kinds of wrong. For a start, many women are simply not attracted to men (god forbid!); and even when they are, they are perfectly able to exist as individuals who are equally as fulfilled as men, without men. It is only patriarchal propaganda that suggests otherwise.

This chorus is also, one can presume, referring to sex. Women are taught from all channels that their sexuality is both subordinate to a man’s, and just plain wrong. Despite an exorbitant amount of pressure placed on women to be sexy and sexually attractive to men, they are only allowed to enjoy sex in very specific, limited circumstances, and preferably keep it on the down-low when they do. It is unseemly, unladylike, to be perceived to enjoy sex. So discussion about masturbation, when a woman can give herself pleasure without the help of the almighty man, is definitely off the cards. Not for The Dolls. They can get off without you, and they’re very happy; they don’t need you.

You know I got my own life
And I bought everything that’s in it.
So if you want to be with me,
It ain’t all about the bling you bringing.
I want a love that’s for real,
And without that, no deal.
And baby I don’t need a hand
If it only wants to grab one thing.

There is a very common conception of women as being dependent on, to the point of leeching off of, men. They belong in the kitchen, certainly not in a workplace earning big money, so they need a man to keep them afloat. Except, nope. This is not the reality that many women choose for themselves. Nicole Scherzinger is representing such a woman. As she says, she has her own life and her own income. Which means, amongst other things, she’s not easily impressed. Especially by gross displays of male entitlement.

I see you looking at me
Like I got something that’s for you.
And the way that you stare,
Don’t you dare,
‘Cause I’m not about to
Just give it all up to you.

It’s clear that this guy is interested (why wouldn’t he be?!); he’s leering at her like she’s on a buffet table. This is a look that any woman who has been in a club – or in the street – basically, any woman who has been out in public, will be familiar with. And we know that it very often leads to further unwanted attention, like vile comments or unsolicited touching. Nicole senses this, and she clearly dictates that she wants none of it. She is not his to stare at, as though women exist in a constant parade for men to view, enjoy, and take their pick from. If she isn’t interested, she has nothing for him. As The Dolls repeat: let it go.