21 April, 2010

Are you feminist in public?

People clearly aren't afraid to be sexist in public. Sexist attitudes are so prevalent today that men and women have deeply misogynistic conversations in public, seemingly without having a clue that there's anything remotely offensive about what they're saying.

Example - at work today a couple of blokes were flicking though the Metro at lunchtime and started passing comment on the appearance of some female celebrity or other. It started off harmlessly - if depressingly - enough; all "Cor, look at her" and "She's a bit of alright" and the suchlike. Then in moved onto "But she can only get away with it because she's young", "Yeah, just wait until everything starts going south, hahaha". Charming. Still, not quite as bad as "Anyway, someone's probably going to rape her, dressed like that".

So, from objectification to ageism to rape apology in one idle lunchtime chit chat. The worst thing is, I don't think these men were genuinely misogynists - such views are so widespread that people do make these throwaway comments without even thinking about them. Sexism has become part of our lexicon.

The reason why, so far as I can tell, is simple frequency of use. People are sexist in public because other people are sexist in public, until it becomes an acceptable way of passing the time. One way to combat this, and to halt the dissemination of sexist views is to start being more feminist in public. I'm probably guilty of not being "out" as a feminist with everyone, when it comes to colleagues and acquaintances. I don't hide my views and I'm not afraid to call people out on their sexism where necessary, but I don't use feminist language with the thoughtless ease that people seem to spew misogyny. I don't make idle gossip about sexual discrimination and the objectification of women by the media. Because people aren't used to hearing such views, the last time I aired them in public with a group of strangers I was accused of being deliberately contrary.

But if these views were repeated loudly enough, often enough, surely they could become just as commonly accepted as the current trend for casual misogyny? If we're all feminist in public, with friends, with colleagues, with strangers on the bus and we treat this as though it's completely normal, maybe, just maybe, one day it will be.

Urgent abortion support appeal: help a teenage girl in Northern Ireland

As publicised by the wonderful Penny Red:

Whether it’s a shortage of mange tout at the supermarket or a friend stranded abroad, we’ve all been affected by the cloud of ash from Iceland. But imagine if you had only a few weeks to navigate your way to England for a safe and legal abortion.
This week, we’ve heard from a number of women who were due to have travel to the UK this week for terminations, including a very young teen who is extremely close to the 24 week time limit for abortions in the UK. She had to miss her appointment earlier this week and is now coming next week by ferry and train – a roundtrip journey of more than 24 hours. Her mother solely supports her and her siblings with a part time job and now has to cover costs of £2,300 (procedure + money lost on cancelled flights + last minute ferry and train tickets).
Due to these extraordinary and extremely difficult circumstances, ASN has made a pledge to fund this young woman £500, much more than we usually commit to a single case. This is less than half of the costs she is facing. We would like to help more. If you would like to help cover more costs for her and women like her, please pledge to make a donation today.
You can do this by donating via PayPal (http://www.abortionsupport.org.uk/donate/), writing a cheque (email info@abortionsupport.org.uk for our postal address), or by making an online transfer (HSBC/Abortion Support Network/Sort Code: 40-11-18/Account Number: 64409302).
Please mark the donation “Iceland”.
Thank you in advance for any amount you can give – your donation will make a real difference to this family or to one of the other women who have had to re-purchase tickets to travel to England.

20 April, 2010

Virgin/Whore/Lunatic then?

Company have re-printed a quiz published in Ellie Levenson's book The Noughtie Girl's Guide to Feminism. The original may well have been presented as a tongue-in-cheek bit of humour, but it comes across as a bit... shite, really. Instead of embracing the different facets of feminism and womanhood, it gives three answers for each question: doormat, man-hater, "normal" girl. It still presents the option of being a radical feminist as both foolish and wrong. It's not wrong, if that's how you roll - after all, marriage is a patriarchal tradition. Holding the opinion that more women should hold management and board positions in a company isn't radical feminism, it's fucking feminism.

Let's take a look at question four
"Your partner offers to take the male contraceptive pill as part of a trial study so you can give your body a break from the extra hormones. Do you...
  • Say "Actually honey, women's bodies are designed this way in order to bear children. We should be stopping contraception altogether and making a family - that's all I want in life."
  • Say "Why make the empty gesture, every time I sleep with you the act of penetration feels like a crime against women anyway?"
  • Say yes, but because you don't trust him to remember you secretly get fitted with a coil as well.
Where is option four - "discuss it reasonably, including whether you would be prepared to take the risk of an unwanted pregnancy and whether or not a second back-up method of contraception should be used"? Why the fuck do I have to choose between caricature doormat, caricature feminist, or distrustful woman? Why the fuck is it assumed I'm shagging a man anyway?

Why does each "normal" option, the one women are supposed to choose, include a slightly negative side. Why do I have to be secretly pleased when I'm wolf-whistled at by strange men? Why does offering to split the cost of dinner exclude the possibility to have sex with the dinner date in question? Why do I have to be a man-hating lunatic to be a feminist? I get that Company/Levenson are trying to say that feminism doesn't have to be scary, but - to borrow a phrase from a friend,
"Feminism IS scary because it questions the gender stratification of society and that's a good thing, scary is good when looked at that way"
The quiz makes feminism fluffy instead - like the book, it presents feminism as pink and fluffy and "girly"; it buys into the fallacy that women are supposed to (only) like pink fluffy girly shit, that their brains can't cope with long words like patriarchy - it seems to say that feminism needs to be fun and fluffy for women to understand. In patronises women. We do not need pink fluffy to make something understandable or attractive.

Today's feminism doesn't mean you have to hate on men. But it doesn't mean you should embrace being "feminine" (whatever the fuck that is). It doesn't even mean you need to have ovaries. Feminism doesn't need to be fluffy. It needs to be scary enough to make a bloody difference.

In an attempt to answer the question "are you a feminist?", Feminazery presents another version:

Question One: Do you think that an individual's rights and opportunities should be limited due to any of the following factors: their biological sex, their gender, their choice in sexual partners, whether or not they are mentally or physically disabled, what colour their skin is, what their surname is, how old they are, whether or not they are presenting as the same gender as the one they were assigned at birth, where they were educated, the accent they speak with, whether they fit a narrow definition of beauty, or whether they are over- or underweight?
  1. Yes
  2. No
If you chose option two, you're a feminist. How radical you are is up to you! If you want to hate all men, wear high heels, have kids, watch porn... whatever, it's YOUR CHOICE. As long as you take a moment to think about why you're choosing whatever, and decide if that choice is one that doesn't harm anyone else, then carry the fuck on.

If you chose option one, you're a twunt.

04 April, 2010

Feminist Rage™ - the brand you can trust?

The Big Bad Feminist. It’s a cliché we all know and loathe – ugly, hairy, either too fat (and therefore minging) or too thin (and therefore bitterly bustless), lesbian because she’s been rejected by men (because we all know that’s how sexuality works!) and yet somehow hoping for some nice chap to “turn” her, possessed of a Victorianly hysterical victim complex, possibly vegan, and probably wearing organic hessian dungarees. But above all, angry. Not in a torrid, “feisty one, you are!” fuck-or-fight kind of way, but... well, dear me, pass the smelling salts, in a terribly unseemly, unfeminine way.

And of course, it’s all that ire and bitterness that makes her not only angry, but pathologically enraged almost to the point of statemented disability. To your left, ladies and gentlemen, the lesser-spotted Feminazi! See her (because it is always a “her”, naturally) stalk through free-range lentil markets! Witness her trade communist propaganda leaflets for mung beans! Recoil in horror as she kicks random innocent men in the balls! ...Yawn, verily. Haven’t been there, will never get the T-shirt, because it’s a load of groundless bollocks. Where exactly this stereotype comes from is more of a mystery (oh yeah, apart from the fevered imaginations of tabloids and louts’ mags) and I have yet to meet an avowed anti-feminist who’s ever met a real live feminist, let alone one like that.

... Are you waiting for a “but” yet? Because the problem is, there is one. Passion is integral to any kind of conviction or activism, usually on the angry side; strong belief in anything engenders a will to fight for it. And what a telling phrase that is in its aggression, for ’twas ever thus; when societal evolution goes awry, revolution is always against its status quo, whether that be slave-trading or whaling or serfdom or rule by monarchy.

Or sexism. I was struck reading Kira Cochrane’s interview with the author of Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism with how struck she was by Walter’s apparent calm; the article even opens, “I'm trying to establish just how often the feminist writer Natasha Walter gets angry”. Of course, Cochrane is no numbNuts, quickly championing the validity of feminist rage, and I am not about to rehash her article – but it got my pretty little head thinking. So much feminist debate and defence (even on this blog of late) centres on dismantling the fictional bully-girl/self-appointed victim who roams the organic markets of our adversaries’ imaginations, and in some ways, rightly so. Certainly none of the feminists I've met conform to this stereotype – if anything, quite the opposite.

Whether it’s contentedness born of having worked out what they believe and want in life, the independence and originality that tend to accompany openness to unpopular ideas, the fact that a well-developed sense humour is so essential to sanely navigating an insane world, or what, I don’t know – but all the female feminists I've known or met are confident, positive, witty, and generally just fun. What’s more, a great many (if not most, in my personal experience) are also – shock and rocky horror – in fulfilling, stable relationships. Mostly with – nurse! the sal volatile and a fan, at once! – heterosexual feminist men. It also bears mentioning that, on the whole, they’re a pretty damn good-looking bunch too (not “just” to their fellow feminists, I might add; a fair few models grace our ranks, donchaknow. I think that says a lot about how society treats even the “lucky” women who conform to its beauty myth). Overall, feminists are generally pretty productive, happy people – quite strikingly so.

And this is all fine and dandy except that, directed to non-, or (more to the point) anti-, feminists, it falls on frantically-plugged ears further deafened by the sand in which their owners’ heads are buried. Deciding whether to engage with these people at all is of course a Hobson’s choice between preaching only to the converted and trying to reason with what is often the intellectual equivalent of a brick wall, but if any debate is to be undertaken, I think we need to change its terms.

There is a tendency (understandable given the PMT-ridden, irrational-not-intellectual popular “bloody women” construct) to shy away from our emotions in feminism, to show how detachedly logical it all is. I think this is a mistake because it can be not only transparently disingenuous, but also a spectacular own-goal. Maintaining the kind of Socratic serenity needed to argue protractedly for feminism is a noble but (for a good 99% of us, anyway) impossible goal, and I would challenge most human beings of any socio-political persuasion to defend something they’re passionate about that dispassionately without an unholy amount of Valium.

Ironically enough, I think we stand a better chance of maintaining calm by acknowledging turmoil; in a debate so popularly (gender-)constructed as women’s emotional overreactions vs. what “everybody knows” the world is “really” like, as passion vs. reason, we’re missing a trick by buying into that binary. It’s a truism that the personal is political; I believe passion and reason are just as intertwined. “Angry” is an adjective not an insult, and even our worse dismissal, “bitterness”, cannot be triggered in a vacuum; we shouldn’t be trying to explain how feminism isn’t angry and bitter, but why it has reason to be. There are few more logical laws than that of cause and effect.

So really, so what if they call us us angry feminists; what's it to us when we can cogently articulate why our anger makes perfect sense? But wait, what’s that rustling in the bushes? To your right, ladies and gentlemen, the greater-spotted “make me a sandwich” brigade! Watch in amazement as they fail to argue their way out of a Subway bag.