Category Archives: Feminism

Hey, Beauty Industry! I am not a cash cow!

Hey there Beauty Industry! Just thought I’d let you know, Milk Chocolate Hobnobs are currently half price in Sainsburys. 87p. I know this because yesterday I bought some. About half way through the packet, my boyfriend turned to me and asked “don’t you think we should stop now? This is not good for us.” I paused, mid mouthful. That fleeting comment, said out of care rather than out of malice, ripped open a barely healed wound. I am not overweight by any standard but like many women I am incredibly concious of my tummy. Through the tears and hysterical cries of “Why would you say that?! Do you think I’m fat?!” I realised how completely ridiculous I was being – how completely ridiculous the whole situation was.

Bliss magazine ran a survey in 2004 that looked at teenage body image amongst its readers. In 2004 I was 12 years old. Their findings were damning – of the 2000 girls they surveyed only 19% were clinically overweight. However, 67% thought they needed to lose weight. 2 out of 3 of those under 13 years old had already put themselves on a diet. I was one of those girls. It has become clear to me that my generation (and probably the generation before us, although of course I have no first hand experience of this) have a massively warped self image problem. This video, entitled Onslaught, perfectly summarises the issue.

Although the fact this is produced by Unilever (also responsible for those heinous Lynx adverts that do nothing but perpetuate the problem they claim to highlight here) is hypocritical at best, the point I’m making stands. I can very clearly remember sitting in my primary school canteen deliberating whether or not to eat the Jam Roly Poly in front of me. The dinner lady asked me whether I was finished. I sighed in that way that only a 10 year old girl can and said “Yes. I’m on a diet.” It was years until I realised how completely fucking ridiculous that was – not only of the 10 year old me to say no to Jam Roly Poly – the fact that the 10 year old me was already conditioned to feel that she was too fat. I also felt I was too tall (I was the second tallest in my year), that my hair was too curly, that my feet were too small. Of course it transpired I was just an early bloomer. I’m still slightly taller than average but of course, the problem does not lie with my 10 year old form. It lies with an industry that systematically pulls apart the confidence of young women by making them feel they are inferior before they’ve even stopped growing.

To this very day, what with Hobnobgate this morning and the squeezing in to size 10 jeans so I don’t have to admit I’m a 12, I am plagued by a chronic sense of inadequacy. Why is this? It is because from the word go, young people are plagued by advertising and media that paints being fat as a hideously terrible thing, aging as a sign of weakness, imperfections as disgusting. Don’t get me wrong: I love a bit of make up and have been dying my hair for years. But I know and acknowledge that the beauty industry is an evil one where companies point out women’s imperfections and make them feel like shit about them in order to sell a product. Let’s not delude ourselves. Women are being treated like cash cows. Stupid ones too. I for one have had enough of it. Beauty is a social construction, women need to learn to love ourselves a little more and care what others think a little less. You, beauty industry, need to give us a break. Go and bother the blokes for a while. How about a ridiculously patronising campaign for them, full of male stereotypes and buzzwords. Fatigue smashing super energizer quattro stab sex cream or something along those lines. I am off to have another Hobnob. Laters, you fucking arseholes.

1 Comment

Filed under Dieting, Feminism, Rants

A Beginners Guide to Feminism – Can Men Be Feminists?

The debate surrounding whether men can identify themselves as feminists has raged for many years and there are many different view points surrounding it. So, can men be feminists? Does their inherent privilege make them unable to describe themselves as feminists? Should feminism be all inclusive? I think this depends on your definition of feminism and should consider the notion of male privilege as an obstacle to calling yourself a feminist.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, feminism is defined as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.” I like this definition – it’s simple, it’s not convoluted and it’s inclusive of everybody, regardless of gender. Surely, by this definition everybody can be a feminist provided they advocate women’s rights and equality of the sexes? Georgia Luckhurst believes so, telling me that

“I believe men can and should be feminists: feminism is about improving the world for everyone, a benefit that is directly connected to furthering the advancement of women in society, and men should care about that. It’s important that those who have suffered from racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic or any discriminatory diatribe are able to discuss their experiences with others who have shared the same problem. It’s important that these people have spaces to discuss amongst one another how they feel. However, for any movement to succeed, it must include anyone who is truly passionate about the cause, no matter what – and men who support and campaign feminist issues are quite honestly my personal heroes.”
When I posed the question on Twitter, the overwhelming response from a great number of people was that yes of course men can be feminists! We should encourage and welcome male feminists as progressive and helpful to the cause! However, others disagree. Indeed, the head of National Organisation of Men Against Sexism (NOMAS) claims in this article that
“Although I believe that men can be pro-feminist and anti-sexist, I do not believe we can be feminists in the strictest sense of the word in today’s society. Men, in this patriarchal system, cannot remove themselves from their power and privilege in relation to women. To be a feminist one must be a member of the targeted group (i.e a woman) not only as a matter of classification but as having one’s directly-lived experience inform one’s theory and praxis.”
Brian Kloke (the writer of the quote above and head of NOMAS) claims that as men are intrinsically privileged, they cannot be feminists as they have no “directly-lived experience”. Within the article, Brian claims that
A clear analogy can be made between male profeminism and anti-racism. Men cannot really be feminists anymore than whites can be black nationalists. However, men can be pro-feminist and whites can be pro-black nationalists. 
Thomas Wales agrees, tweeting me regarding the article that he agrees with Klokes analogy.
tomwales
The point made by Kloke is that due to male privilege and lack of lived experience of the oppression feminism strives to hault, men cannot truly describe themselves as feminists. We all know what privilege is – a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group. The London Feminist describes privilege as
 “defin[ing] the tussocks and rabbit-holes in the lumpy playing field we’re all on, and where we are on the tilt of it.  (Not very curiously, the people who are most insistent that the playing field is level are the most privileged.)  If there is to be levelling of it, then those of us on the tussocks of privilege need to be leaning over to those falling down the rabbit holes and hauling them up, and likewise when we realise we’re on the way down a rabbit hole, we want to extend a hand and have someone grab it and help us.  And that could be something as major as equalities legislation or something as minor as changing your repertoire of insults to try to remove the ablist ones.”
So does male privilege prohibit men from identifying as a feminist? John Palethorpe says not, in this wonderful piece on intersectionality, privilege and male feminism (set against the backdrop of the Suzanna Moore fiasco). He claims that

Its about inclusive debate, shared experience and sharing experience. The ‘well you’re x so you can’t talk about y’ thing is the antithesis of it. It should be, ‘if you’re x and you talk about y, be prepared for y to set you right on the things you don’t know about, and don’t get in a strop about it’. Yes there’ll be anger, reacting to percieved intentional baiting is – but if you want to do intersectionality and talk outside of your experiences, you’ve got to accept you’ll get it wrong AND you’ll get called on it. And then have a constructive dialogue about it.

So if men want to identify as feminist, they have to bare in mind their intrinsic privilege. Or should they simply not use the term “feminist”, favouring anti-sexist, pro-feminist or feminist ally? The term feminist ally is one that is championed by men and women that feel that men can or should not describe themselves as feminist. I asked fellow feminist Niz Bennett what she thought on the topic and she told me:

“Men can definitely be feminists. Feminism is about equality – if you’re for it, you’re a feminist (congratulations!) It’s true they have inherent privilege and some prefer ‘feminist ally’ or other but privilege-checking is more important. Just as white, cis, able-bodied straight woman can be feminist but may need to check their privilege on occasions, men can be.”

Niz draws the point that although their is certainly the point of argument that as men have inherent male privilege they are in no position to hold opinion on something that they have no experience of, privilege takes many different forms. Niz believes (as I do too, incidentally) that men can be feminists – as long as they understand their privilege and keep a check on it. Lyndsey Gormley agrees, telling me that

“Feminism can only work if privilege is acknowledged and used to benefit the masses, not the individual. It is about acceptance of all minorities, and unlike Julie Burchill in recent weeks, does not discriminate or ‘simply decide’ who is a feminist and who is not.

So, why do I believe that men can be feminists? Because those who are fighting patriarchy, stereotyping, homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexual assault, the glass ceiling, misogyny, body shaming, pornography, domestic violence, sexual harassment, reproductive rights and inequality do so, not because of their gender binary, but because of their ability to see the difference between right and wrong. Feminism is humanism.”

However, a great number of people disagreed. I was lucky enough to witness a great discussion surrounding this topic and was struck by the number of feminists who claimed that they prefer the word ally, for exactly the reasons discussed above: intrinsic male privilege and lack of lived experience of oppression. Ben Pike claimed that he describes himself as a feminist when in the company of men/non feminists, but is happy to use the word ally when in feminist company. He says that

 I think people’s problem comes from that some have had bad experiences with men who self identified feminist which I completely understand and am happy to count myself as ally with these people. It saves pointless and unproductive arguing or hurt over semantics. I’ve found it puts people more at ease, some people aren’t comfortable with men identifying as feminist for whatever reason, I’m ok with that.

with @planetpavs remarking that any true ally would have no problem at all with describing themselves as such. Angela Towers emailed me her thoughts on the matter, saying:

When asked this question I am reminded of Natasha Walters description of current feminism; a stalled revolution. The revolution did stall, and not only that it began barking up the wrong tree. I think it’s time we climbed out of the tree. Feminism needs to be all-inclusive, it needs to be; understanding, but not complacent, powerful but not aggressive. In short; it needs to rise above and unite the many.

[…] For me Feminism is not about women or men, it’s about all of us. We really are in this together. I think we should not be fighting one another, but holding up a collective mirror to the face of society, and the more people to lift the weight the better.

Another side of the arguement that one must also consider that sexism does in fact work both ways – although I personally would argue that it’s more of a one way street than it appears. Katie Sinclair messaged me her view on the subject, saying

One point that [is] interesting to consider is the concept of “egalitarianism” vs. “feminism”, as some men agree with the concept of gender equality but take issue with the word (as do some women, of course). I would say it’s necessary to use the word “feminism” because most instances of male discrimination come about as a result of men expressing traits/occupations/interests that the gender binary dictates as exclusively “feminine” and therefore “lesser” e.g. a man who wants to go into hairdressing might be patronised/bullied for choosing a career trivialised because it’s seen as a woman’s work. Socially constructed terms “masculine” = good, “feminine” = bad. Feminism therefore concerns all genders, as all are affected by patriarchal concepts.

This is an excellent point and one that I have to admit I hadn’t really considered until Katie messaged me. Although I personally disagree with the notion and feel that the patriarchy is far more harmful to women than to men by its very nature, male discrimination does exist as a result of the patriarchy and for some men it is in their personal interest to end this gender binary. Perhaps then, as Katie points out, the term egalitarian may be more apt?

What have we learnt? Well, to start of we have learnt that this is a far more complicated issue that it appears on its surface – although ideally we’d like to think that everybody can and should identify as feminists, there are those in the feminist community who simply do not believe this to be the case. This is something that everybody needs to decide on themselves. Personally, I feel that if somebody is sincerely dedicated to women’s liberation and empowerment then of course they’re a feminist, regardless of their gender – although for arguments sake, identifying as a feminist ally is a-okay by me too. Will Brooker, a Twitter friend of mine, tweeted me his contribution saying:

“Men can certainly identify as feminist and be part of feminism but I think that is for women to decide. In any case, men’s principle role within feminism is to shut up and listen.”

I tend to agree. I’d like to end on another quote from the wonderful Lyndsey Gormley:

The biggest myth concerning feminism is the notion that we hate men and that all men in return, hate us. Feminism, to me, is the fight against patriarchy towards the equality of both genders. It is the acknowledgment of privilege and oppression in order to campaign towards the liberation of straight, LGBTQ, cis-gendered, gender queer, able bodied, disabled, white, WoC, working class, middle class and upper class women.

That concludes our whistle stop tour of the issue surrounding male feminists, male privilege and feminist allies – I don’t pertain to have covered everything here and if it is a subject that interests you there is a plethora of articles, opinion pieces and blog posts out there on the internet on the topic. I hope to have outlined all the major talking points. If you have anything to add, feel free to post a comment below or contact me on Twitter (@nitramarual). I will be publicising the next Beginners Guide on Well Behaved Women and on Twitter if you’d like to be involved.
Twitter handles of the contributors
:

Laura Martin: @nitramarual (author and editor)

Angela Towers: @MissesTea
Ben Pike: @BenCPike
Georgia Luckhurst: @secretactivist
John Palethorpe: @JohnPalethorpe
Katie Sinclair: @katiemsinclair
Lyndsey Gormley: @LyndseyMG_
Nick: @NickehBee
Niz Bennett: @NotASquib
Terica Adams: @danceTEAdance
Thomas Wales: @tomwales_
Tilly Grove: @tillyjean_
Will Brooker: @willbrooker

For general support and definitions:

Little Tweets: @stfumisogynists
Pavs: @PlanetPavs
Stilli: @Stillicides

24 Comments

Filed under A Beginners Guide to Feminism, Feminism, Feminist Allies, Intersectionality, Male Feminism, Privilege

Body confidence, magazines and the patriarchy

It rained an awful lot today. Not entirely unusual for London but today my umbrella was broken and in an attempt to escape the elements I dashed in to the nearest shop to warm up. Whilst inside the shop I decided to have a look at the magazines – I was amazed and appalled. I don’t know if they’ve got worse, it has something to do with the time of year or whether my post-Christmas mind has been warped and waterlogged by the perpetual drizzle but it seemed to me that literally every single magazine I was faced with was shouting at me. Not in an overt, hysterical way; more a subtle, soul destroying way.

Every single magazine (in the “women’s interest” section anyway) included a feature designed to help you kick start your new year detox, shift those last few pounds, beat the Christmas bulge. Let me make this clear and plain: I am not overweight. I am within the healthy weight category of every Body Mass Index I’ve ever looked at. Standing tall at 5″5′ (and a half!) and weighing in at roughly 10 stone – admittedly sometimes more, particularly at this time of year – I am the correct weight for my height. Medically I am perfectly fine and normal. By the time I’d flicked threw a few of these magazines I had convinced myself I was morbidly obese and was walking along sucking my tummy in, just in case another human being looked to closely and spied the little food baby I was carrying. By the time I was home I’d resolved not to eat anything until at least tomorrow lunch time, I’d consumed far too much. I had some cake and felt so bad about it that I genuinely considered making myself throw up. This was when I realised – this is madness.

It has come to my attention over recent weeks and months that we women are living in a very unfair world. I don’t think I know a single one of us who’s happy with how she looks. We bleach and pluck and tan and exfoliate ourselves to within an inch of our lives but seemingly this is never enough. We are bombarded with images of a completely unattainable perfection. To exemplify this I will tell you about my eyebrows – bare with me, I have a point. My eyebrows are the one remnant of my natural hair colour. The hairs on my head have been bleached Loreal Recital Preference Oslo Natural Blonde once every 2 months since I was 14. I come from a long line of bushy haired women with a proud heritage of fuller eyebrows. They’re fine. I’m proud of them. They don’t look out of place on my face.

That was until I was told otherwise. I became aware that a lot of my colleagues and peers were having their eyebrows tinted and threaded. I colleague of mine got out a special eyebrow serum she uses to set hers in perfect place. I was perplexed and I was worried. Should I be doing these things to my eyebrows!? Mine are certainly bigger than hers and god, they ARE a very different colour to my hair! Jesus! I must look like some sort of idiot walking around with my eyebrows just blowing around in the wind, ungelled! “Look at that tramp, her eyebrows are brown and the rest of her hair blonde!” they must be thinking. Oh god oh god oh god! Laura, your eyebrows are perfectly fine and normal! The only reason you’re worried is because the world is telling you to be! Now snap out of it. The same is true of this obsession with weight loss. It seems to me that people are far more worried about looking thin than they are with being healthy. Fad diets and detoxes pollute our society and force us to feel inadequate. There are entire sections of bookshops dedicated to it. Here’s some home truths dieters:

1) Stop eating so much crap.
2) Start exercising more.
3) Make this a permanent change not a fad.

Now I am no dietician or expert in any way but I think it’s safe to say that those three steps are at least putting you on the right path. Do not do the carrot juice diet. Do not starve yourself. Unless you believe you are at risk of becoming overweight, don’t let it eat you up (pun not intended) because chances are you’re fine. The problem is with the world, not with your love handles. Society is leading us to believe that in order to be successful, happy and healthy we all need to look like Scarlett Johansson. The emphasis needs to be on being healthy. We should be pursuing the ability to be the best versions of ourselves that we can be, not angling after a truly unattainable image. We should be pursuing longevity and happiness and laughter, not crying in to our jam doughnuts because we don’t look like Kim Kardashian. Magazines and TV need to stop trying to sell us things that perpetuate this problem – I don’t want to wear Spanx, I don’t want to paint myself orange, I don’t care how fat and pale this will make me look. I am not fat. Yes, I am pale but I am pale because that is the colour that I am. If I look fat and pale it is because we are all being socialised to believe that being stick thin and “sunkissed” is the very epitome of beauty. Sorry to disappoint you world but I am not a six foot, six stone super model. I am a 5 foot 5 slightly chubby pale girl. Now deal with it.

If women are to be taken seriously, we need to take ourselves seriously and get our priorities straight. We’re being distracted from the real issues. We have bigger fish to fry than under eye circles. We need to kick some patriarchal arse. I intend to do so with my eyebrows still in tact.

For more from me, follow @nitramarual on Twitter. I tend to rant about feminism and women’s empowerment a lot.

2 Comments

Filed under Dieting, Feminism

You’re probably a feminist too. [LTAF3]

My newest hobby (call me pathetic and obsessed if you must) is typing the words “I’m not a feminist but” in to the search bar on Twitter and depressing myself with the sheer number of young women who have completely misunderstood what feminism is. I’ve come across some frankly upsetting statistics during these searches. Netmums recently surveyed 1,300 women of a range of ages and found that only 1 in 7 of those surveyed would describe themselves as a feminist – only 8% of 20 – 25 year olds.

As a 21 year old feminist I find this very very upsetting. Personally, I think that a large part of the problem is the stain on the word feminism in recent years that seems to have given it negative connotations.When people find out I’m a feminist, there are often raised eyebrows. People assume I hate men. I don’t hate men. People assume I hate women who chose to stay at home with their children. I don’t.

What I DO hate is going to a restaurant with my other half and while he is addressed as “Sir”, I am addressed as “darlin'” “sweetie” and even one particularly heinous occasion “sweet cheeks”. I hate the fact that he is automatically given the card machine when it comes to settling up and the surprised look on the face of the waiter when I calmly take it from him and enter my PIN. I also hate waiting for the bus on the way home and having leering men stare at my legs and shout inappropriate things at me. I hate that people assume I’m a slut because I dare to bare skin. I’m not. I hate that men can brag about their sexual exploits and be dubbed a “lad” where as a woman is dubbed as easy. I hate the double standards. I hate Page 3. It is not news that women have breasts and we are not meat to be leered over. If you want that, buy a porno not a newspaper. I hate that women are so grossly under represented in the House of Commons and on the boards of FTSE companies (16.5%! Shameful!) I hate that if a woman chooses to pursue her career she comes up against the glass ceiling and poor promotion prospects but if she chooses to stay at home with her family she is looked down on – that is not feminism, that is arseholery. I hate that Moira Stuart got shafted for looking too old but Jeremy Clarkson is still by some horrible twist of fate being broadcast. How!?

Now listen up ladies – if even two or three of these things bother you then I hate to tell you but you my friend are a feminist whether you choose to label yourself one of not. And while I have your attention, what exactly is it about feminism that you DON’T fancy?! The right to vote? Or be able to wear jeggings if you so wish? Pursue your career? Not be owned by the man you marry? Seperate from an abusive partner? Own your own home? Have control of your own money? Did all that good shit just annoy you?! I’m failing to see WHY you would use that horrid term “I’m not a feminist but.” Sorry. If you agree with equality, you’re a feminist. Come to terms with it. Move on.

For more on perceptions of feminism, I recommend following @YouAreFeminst and @EverydaySexism. And me (@nitramarual) while you’re at it 😉

8 Comments

Filed under Feminism, Rants

Am I over sensitive? Or is every body else blind? [LTAF2]

Over the past few weeks I’ve managed to get a bit of a reputation. I’ve made a bit of a scene, caused a few arguments and at one point walked out of a lecture to stop myself making a complete spectacle of myself. It’s left me wondering – am I over sensitive? Or is everybody else just blind?

In keeping with my last post, this blog is about feminism. I have always been an advocate of feminist ideals but it wasn’t until about two or three weeks ago (roughly the time I published Lets Talk About Feminism part 1) that I started openly describing myself as a feminist. I hadn’t liked the perceptions held by many people. I love men, I wear a bra, I am not hairy. Then something inside me just exploded and I decided I couldn’t give a flying fuck any more. I hoisted my feminist flag and made it very bloody clear that I wasn’t going to tolerate this bullcrap that everyone else seemed so content to just sit there and allow.

It didn’t take me long to realise that when you start to openly call yourself a feminist people will raise eyebrows. My first big battle was that of the monstrous ASDA advert. I, like many people, was appalled. I assumed that everybody would be. I was wrong. Despite the clearly outdated portrayals of gender roles within the family unit and frankly offensive portrayal of the husband in not only the ASDA advert but also Morrisons and Tesco while we’re at it, lots of people I spoke to couldn’t see a problem. “That’s just Christmas in my house” I was told on more than one occasion. That’s fine, it really is. I believe one of the keys of feminism is that a woman has the choice – if you chose to dedicate yourself to your family then that is very admirable! My mum did the same. I was told that sexism in adverts is nothing more than a reflection of society. Well. If you can’t see the problem with that I can’t help you. Clearly that means that society is inherently sexist. That is not a justification.

I was told chill out. Clearly Laura, I was told, your problem with these adverts is a very personal one.   You’re being over sensitive. It’s only an advert. Move on. Get over it.
For a while, I wondered whether these people were right. My main issue with these adverts is that it is completely unhelpful with regards to the issue of womens empowerment. How are we ever going to be viewed as equals when these adverts clearly do not show us to be? I think that these small cases of underlying sexism perpetuate the problem, rather than helping it and that if we allow this sort of thing to pass unremarked upon that we are going to make more brazen examples of sexist behaviour (such as the gender pay gap, the glass ceiling and the RyanAir Charity Calender) more acceptable. We need a zero tolerance policy if things are ever going to change.

Maybe they’re right and I am being over sensitive but I don’t think so. I’m not going to shut up about it. Spreading some FemLove ❤

[Psst! While you’re here if you’re a twitterer, follow me (@nitramarual) the Everyday Sexism project (@EverydaySexism) and YouAreFeminist (@YouAreFeminist)! We’re all great I promise.]

7 Comments

Filed under Feminism, Rants