Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, a day for optimism, hope and solidarity. But the idea of completely eliminating violence against women can also sometimes feel impossible. The statistics are terrifying: here in the UK, 1 in 4 women experience domestic violence at some point during their life, 2 women a week are killed by a current or former partner, 47,000 women a year are raped and over 20,000 girls are at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM).
The end of violence against women is going to take a long time and it’s going to be hard, but we have seen incredible gains just during the last 30 years. For example, rape within marriage was made a crime in 1991. 74% of the population think a woman is neither fully nor partially responsible for being raped if she is wearing sexy or revealing clothing, despite merciless media messages to the contrary. Here in Cambridgeshire, there are 4 women’s refuges and 2 rape crisis centres where 40 years ago there was nothing. All this has been achieved in just one generation thanks to the hard work and determination of feminists and survivors.
We need to carry on this work. We need to work on raising awareness of violence against women, changing social attitudes and placing the stigma on perpetrators rather than survivors. These things can all be broken down into small steps – wearing a white ribbon, and telling people why we’re wearing it. Printing off an awareness-raising poster and putting it up somewhere where plenty of people will see it, or sharing it on facebook or twitter. Challenging our friends and family if they make jokes or comments that trivialise sexual or domestic violence. Educating ourselves – learning the facts and stats, reading women’s accounts of their experiences. Making sure that if someone we know ever tells us that they have been raped or sexually abused, or that they are in an abusive relationship, we will know what to say, what not to say and where they could go for help and support if they want it.
These are just a few simple suggestions: there are so many ways that each of us can contribute. If you have any other ideas for how we as individuals can work to end violence against women, or have taken action yourself, then please share them with us.
I’m going to talk about something a bit mundane but important. Accessibility. This is something I’ve been learning a lot about over the last few months. But before I do that, I’m going to talk a bit about cycling, and then try and link it all together in a clever way (you can tell me if it works or not).
There’s a great book by Ann Oakley, veteran feminist researcher, called Gender on Planet Earth (2002). She starts off by setting up an analogy between being a woman and being a cyclist. Being both a woman and a cyclist myself, I was quite excited by this idea, which is quite simple: roads are designed for cars and motor traffic, so cyclists have to negotiate systems which don’t really take them into account very well. This means that many cyclists do illegal things to keep themselves safe and visible, or have to improvise as they go along in order to figure out what route to take, because there is no clear path for them to follow.
Oakley suggests that being a woman in a society where most institutions are built around the male as the norm is a bit like being a cyclist on roads designed for cars. I love this analogy – the idea that you have to fight for space on the road, you’re expected to just fit into the structures that are already in place, and that it’s really awkward, frustrating and dangerous. (And then there’s the suppressed report by Transport for London which showed that women cyclists are more likely to be killed on the road in London than men because women follow the road rules – so, being a woman AND a cyclist is doubly dangerous).
So, back to accessibility. I’ve had the privilege of organising monthly discussion groups for Feminist Action Cambridge since we set ourselves up in April, and part of this is finding venues. We started off smoothly in the Humanitarian Centre which, thanks to two fabulous feminist members of the group who were working there, was free AND it was accessible for wheelchair users. This was in line with our general policy of being open to anyone who’s interested – trying not to be cliquey or closed in any way. (And accessibility shouldn’t even need to be pointed out as being necessary).
So things were great for the first few months – honeymoon period and all that. Then the Humanitarian Centre got in some engineers who were using the room all summer so we couldn’t use it. The search began for cheap, accessible, central community venues in Cambridge. Well, it’s a frickin nightmare. We used Newnham College for a couple of months – thank you Newnham – but as it was part of the university, it’s not really a community venue and that puts people off, we feel.
We’ve now moved to Romsey Mill, a lovely, friendly accessible venue which isn’t very central, but there was just nowhere that was accessible, central, cheap and available. But then talking to people about accessibility I came to realise that it’s not just about having a lift. In order to be able to use the life, you’ve got to be able to get into the building, there’s got to be parking nearby, and a half-decent properly-wide footpath leading up the entrance. It’s not Romsey Mill’s fault, but it’s pretty hard to get to the entrance there. Hrumph.
So, the grand denouement: you’ve probably picked up on the link here between being a women/a cyclist/differently-abled – we’re all trying to fit into structures that weren’t designed for us. It’s an obvious point which has been made many times before, but I’m repeating it because (being a sociologist) I think it helps us think in terms of the way structures – physical, psychological, institutional, or whatever – get in the way of us being able to do what a ‘normal’ citizen is supposed to be able to do. – the ‘normal’ citizen being cis-male and able-bodied. Women have to negotiate masculine norms of competitiveness, confidence, lack of provision for childbearing and caring responsibilities in most career structures… even the school day is designed in a totally ridiculous way for people who have jobs. And there are plenty more examples – add your own ideas in the comments!
Now I should put some jokes in to reward you for having read this far, but instead I’ll just finish with another picture of a ridiculous cycle lane.
I have been noticing that some people in my life, who happen to be masculine-type people, are doing polyamory wrong. Could this be you? Read on to make sure you are polyamoring correctly.
- If, over the course of a few weeks, you go on dates with a person, have sex with them, have conversations with them, and act like you are really into them, then you are in a relationship. It’s a relationship whether or not anyone explicitly says “Let’s be in a relationship together”. Just like if you mix together eggs and bits of ham and mushrooms and grated cheese in a bowl and then pour the mixture in a pan and fry it, the thing in the pan is an omelette whether or not you say: “I am making an omelette”.
If you are in a relationship with a person you have to:
Make time to spend with them regularly.
Put time and effort into dealing with any logistical or emotional problems that might come up within the relationship.
Prioritize the relationship: spend time on the relationship even if you have other things to do. This often involves using one of those little day-planner books that people carry around.
If you don’t want to do these things you have to end the relationship.
- The correct way to end a relationship with someone is to say: “I don’t want to be in a relationship with you anymore. I understand that this will probably make you feel bad and I’m sorry about that.”
- The wrong way to end a relationship with someone is to just stop calling them and ignore their calls, texts and emails. This relationship-ending-method makes life easier for the relationship-ender, since they avoid an awkward conversation, but it makes life much harder for the relationship-endee, who doesn’t know whether their partner wants to end the relationship, or is just busy, or is angry or offended for some reason, or has died in a horrific skiing accident. If you do this to someone, you’re kind of an asshole.
You can earn extra asshole points if you tell the other person that there never was a relationship in the first place. Even more bonus asshole points if you tell them they are being “unreasonable” or “irrational” when they disagree with you. Super-mega-bonus asshole points if you can get them to actually question their own perceptions and judgement.
- Let’s have a little review of the meaning of the word “polyamory”.
Polyamory (n): Having relationships with more than one partner.
I get the feeling a lot of people are focusing too much on the “more than one partner” part and not enough on the “relationships” part.
If you agree to be in a polyamorous relationship with someone, you are agreeing to be in a relationship and do all the relationship maintenance tasks listed in Part 2. This is because “polyamorous relationships” is a subset of “relationships”.
Here’s a Venn diagram:
If Person A consents to be in a polyamorous relationship with Person B, Person A has NOT consented to any of the following:
Being suddenly dropped if Person B’s schedule gets busy or if Person B finds another partner
Being told that their emotional wellbeing is not Person B’s responsibility and is not a priority for Person B
In fact, if you agree to be in a polyamorous relationship, you are specifically agreeing that those things won’t be happening, since all of them represent a failure to carry out the relationship maintenance tasks listed in Part 2.
- If you would like to convey to someone that you are interested in being their friend and occasionally having sex with them, without any commitment or responsibilities and while reserving the right to drop them without warning, then DO NOT say “I’m polyamorous”, because that’s not what “polyamorous” means.
Here are some alternative suggestions:
“Lets be friends with benefits.”
“Let’s be fuckbuddies.”
“I don’t want a relationship but I’d still like to sleep with you.”
- Why is it that I am giving you a lecture on how to behave? Is it because I am a mean nasty fun-killing sex-hating moralizing control freak who wants to create some sort of dystopian future where no-one is allowed to have sex outside of the strict rules determined by some sinister all-powerful all-knowing dictatorial feminist hive-mind?
Actually, no. It’s because behaving like an asshole has negative consequences for the person on the receiving end of the assholish behaviour. Some of the possible consequences are:
Sadness and / or rage
Lower self-esteem and self-confidence
Doubt their own judgement
Find it harder to trust people
Neglect their own work / studies / activism / projects
- Erm, this is where I should put some snappy final statement that kind of ties it all together, but I can’t think of one. Actually I’m kind of exhausted from the effort of holding back all the angry and sarcastic stuff I wanted to add to this piece. What’s that you say? You think it sounds angry and sarcastic already? Oh man, you should have seen the stuff I held back.
- Thanks for reading!
MEN! MEN! MEN!
Are your balls looking disappointingly ordinary? Is your scrotum mundane? Need to add some sparkle back into your morning glory? Add some dazzle to your dongle? Some jazz to your John Thomas?
Now you can with a PEJAZZLE. Its the latest thing in fun sexy body art, available at all the best spas.
Your favourite celebrities love it :
Johnny Wilkinson- ‘my team mates were so jealous when I showed them how amazing my Pejazzle looked’
Rio Ferdinand ‘I was able to choose just the right colours to compliment my skin tone’
Jeremy Clarkson- ‘I was really impressed with the intricate beadwork they did, especially in those hard to reach areas’
Sir Alan Sugar- ‘I think my Pejazzle makes me look younger- my wife says it’s knocked 10 years off my penis’
Peter Stringfellow- ‘Nothing surprises the ladies like a Pejazzle under a quality thong’
I was writing this little ridicule piece when I discovered [thanks to Sensei Google] that pejazzles are real…
It might seem like Pejazzles represent an equality in male/female body adornment. Its not about gender its about glitter…
But as you can see from the article, Pejazzling is intended to be super masculine in its cock worship [which is the only way Pejazzling can be justified]- ‘treat your penis like a star’ ‘adorn your manhood with diamonds’ ‘make it glitter and shine like a Twilight Vampire standing out in the sun’ [wow wtf?]. Pejazzles are supposed to exaggerate masculine traits of cock pride and sexual assertiveness which are seen as dominating and good, and Vajazzles exaggerate feminine traits which have a low value i.e. vanity, flirtaciousness- being sexually teasing, cute girlishness. Men who object to Pejazzles do so not because shaving and decorating your genitals is weird, but because they see it as too close to Vajazzling, as connecting them with the class of people who exist for the sexual entertainment of men- The Fuckables:
”Now it might be ok for girls– they shave, wax and remove hair from all over their bodies, so why not add a touch of sparkle. I can live with that. But when it comes to adorning your tackle, I have to stop you right there… most of us are hairy down there… They could be great for a hen-do and might be a great way to spice up your sex life. But for men, it could be just one step too far”
If sparkly genitals can be gendered masculine-sparkly-genitals or feminine-sparkly-genitals and then made into a patriarchy-sparkly-genital-hierarchy then literally anything can. [As a side note- is this a harbinger of the apocalypse?]
Vajazzling is meant to convey a coquettish, girlish, almost twee level of cutesy. Prepubescent hairlessness is required. Dominant design themes seem to be hearts, butterflies, red lips, stars- and anything else that can be found on clothes for 8-12 year old girls [including the playboy bunny]. More elaborate designs aim to disguise the vulva with decoration and give a smooth-as-Barbie/bacon-trimmed-as-a-porn-star/DIY Vegas Showgirl look.
The sexual aggressiveness of showing off the genital area and the prepubescent girlishness of the chosen designs/colours/hairlessness is an uncomfortable clash. Needless to say the level of tautness of stomach and low slung-ness of jeans required to hint at a Vajazzle means it’s only really acceptable for some kinds of women to have. HAWT thin women [but that's ok, the other kinds don't matter]. And the aim of course is to have it seen by men, either by ‘sexy accident’… ooops reaching up/bending down… or by showing it off as proof of sexual liberalness.
Of the sexes, only women actually get this kind of body art done in any numbers. I can see some men in the gay community Pejazzling for a laugh, but if a single straight man gets a Pejazzle because he thinks it looks attractive or fun ill eat a bucket of self adhesive crystals. And there is the obvious downside for our man pictured with the article of not actually being able to do anything sexual with a heavily Pejazzled penis, no matter how attractive it makes your penis look. Ouch.
In fact the man featured on this website looks like he’s just made sweet love to a mirror ball, or slipped in a craft shop and accidentally rolled first into PVA glue and then the aisle marked ‘make your own mosaic’.
Vajazzles are the latest sexxxiest thing in a long line of False Life Enablers for women. The daddy of them all is the Extreme Makeover: catch-all solution of Chick Flicks since the beginning of time. Lets not forget: thongs and tongue piercings in the 90’s, ‘power heels’ and shoulder pads in the 80’s, Bikini’s in the 50’s, make-up and cigarettes in the 20’s- made for ‘The New Woman’ of every era to take control of her life/career/body/sexuality with. They give the illusion of empowerment without any change whatsoever in the power dynamics in society at large, and they distract you from thinking about who it is that has control of your life/career/body/sexuality and why.
They mean you spend time money, and labour in pursuit of a fascist beauty ideal. The Beautifying/feminising/sexxxualising of yourself genders you even more female and compounds the patriarchal oppression you were trying to escape by buying that empowering thong in the first place.
Imagine if, instead of a focus on the exterior of female genitals- i.e from the male point of view [and thus a focus on prepubescent hairlessness, infantilising Vajazzle/underwear designs, and the 'minimising' of the vulva to match smooth characterless porn vulvae] we had something else that was an expression from inside-out; sexually celebratory without the traditional sexual submissiveness. There is the irritating sense that we have to choose to be for or against something that patriarchy ‘offers’ us but not create something new patriarchy cannot think of. [This is probably because each time something new is created patriarchy is quick to colonise it and use it against us, especially as sexxxay merchandising, so why give patriarchy a weapon right?]
Assuming that bejewelling the vulva is not intrinsically linked to oppressive patriarchal paradigms in itself, I’d think that in a female-centric non-patriarchal world Vajazzles would be very different if they came to exist. The same is true of Tattooing and other forms of body art.
Id imagine designs would be elaborate and creative, not carbon copy and not ‘tramp stamps’. They could portray female sexual/genital experience from within, rather than decorating those parts that men like to look at from outside and ignoring the entirity of what’s going on biologically in that area.
Perhaps they would depict on the belly a beautiful glittering womb and ovaries. Or describe in pattern and colour- like an intimate map- the experience of sexual arousal. Vajazzles could extend outside the tiny area designated ‘genital’ to include the belly, lower back, thighs, stomach, breasts etc. Each design is unique to the wearer, like a painted-on Orgasm.
Perhaps the practice would have evolved from a long tradition in which young women decorated the belly, genital and thigh area to celebrate their first menses, or ‘show their menses off’ each month. Or one where women are decorated/tattooed by mothers to show the unbroken female line of inheritance that stretches back to the earliest human ancestor. Vajazzling would be one small modern expression of a larger tradition in which the womb, ovaries and menses were given respect and cultural space: designs might give the effect of round bellied pregnancy rather than flat bellied virginity? They might celebrate pregnability as the ultimate human power [rather than pregnability as a weakness/otherness with fuckability as the ultimate goal]? Vajazzles could be about Womb-Pride.
In Germaine Greer’s The Whole Woman she makes a brilliant point in the chapter called ‘Womb’. Notice how the phallus is depicted everywhere- from childish graffiti on toilet doors, scribbled on schoolbooks and carved into desks, to latent symbols and metaphors of power in the highest art and literature. By comparison the womb and ovaries are depicted nowhere, we live in a wombless culture. There is no excuse in saying that the womb is internal, the heart is also internal and yet we refer to it constantly. The heart shows its presence by beating and the womb by shedding blood.
In a female centric culture there would be respect for women as owners/controllers of a special apparatus, the most crucial of all in fact. The womb and ovaries would culturally replace ‘sexy-external-appearance-of-the-vulva-and-breasts’ and ‘vagina-is-thing-for-the-penis-to-go-in’ as the principle definers of femaleness.
It makes it more clear what the Vajazzle symbolises, when you imagine the extreme alternative. In fact, an entire parallel universe has to be created around the premise that Vajazzles didn’t have to be oppressive-porno-culture-merchandising.
Paying £25 to have a baby-pink playboy bunny logo glued onto your hairless crotch by a tangerine woman in a salon is not empowerment.
So, porno-culture merchandisers [and associated celebrity puppets] can take their Swarovski crystals and glue them where the sun don’t shine. That’s right, Assjazzle yourself. I’d love to see you try and make Ass Crystals ™ a craze.
~Talking of imagining a parallel universe, here is a fantastic imaginative exercise by Laurie Penny, guaranteed to bend the gender in your own mind to its limit…
Trigger warning: discussion of rape/sexual violence
This post is going to be really boring. I’m sorry. But apparently, we need to keep saying exactly the same thing, over and over again, because some people still don’t get it:
Women are not responsible for being raped.
That means that we can’t prevent rape by producing posters like this:
Neither of these posters will prevent one single rape from taking place. This is because women do not ‘cause’ rape by being drunk, walking home alone at night or dressing provocatively. Rapists cause rape. They choose to do it, because they want to and they think they’ll get away with it.
What these posters will achieve, though, is:
1) Making survivors of rape feel stupid and blame themselves. Any woman who has ever been raped when she happened to be drunk is now, on top of everything else, being officially told by Hertfordshire County Council and South Wales Police that it was Her Fault. It wasn’t. She chose to go out with friends, dance, drink and enjoy herself. Thousands of women do this happily every night. The only difference is that she just happened to come across a rapist. He chose to rape her. It really is all his fault.
2) Making women feel scared to go out. Restricting women’s freedom and taking away our choices about how we live our lives by telling us that if we go out at night and drink alcohol we are at risk of being raped and it will be our fault if we are. We are always at risk of being raped. It’s called being a woman in a patriarchal society.
3) Telling rapists that it’s OK to prey on drunk women or women on their own, because it’s their stupid fault for being drunk or alone in the first place. Reassuring them that even if it does get to court, they will get found not guilty or given a lenient sentence because everyone knows it was Her Fault Really.
4) Normalising male violence. Telling us that there are scary rapists out there, there’s nothing we can do about it, so women are the ones who need to take responsibility and change their behaviour to fit around the inevitable nasty rapists out there. Male sexual violence is not normal. Most men are not rapists. Every night, thousands of men come home and don’t rape their partners. Thousands of men walk past drunk women in miniskirts and fail to spontaneously rape them, because they aren’t rapists.
What would be really great would be if Herts County Council or South Wales Police had produced a poster that said “Rapists! We know that you are completely responsible for your actions. We know that you rape because you enjoy power and control over women. We find this disgusting. Society finds this disgusting. That’s why, whenever a woman reports a rape to the police, we believe her. That’s why, when you’re in court, there’s no point your lawyer coming out with pathetic victim-blaming excuses, because no-one will believe them. That’s why, if you ever rape a woman, you WILL go to prison.”
The conviction rate for rape in this country is 6.5%. 85% of rapes are never reported to the police. It would be great if they could produce a poster like that. But first, it would have to be true.
For support around sexual violence, the Rape Crisis national helpline is available on 0808 802 9999, open every day 12-2.30pm and 7-9.30pm.
Feminist Action Cambridge was out and about yesterday, with our Verbal Self Esteem and Assertiveness workshop (yes, a catchy name, i know) followed by a Boastful Women action in Market Square.
It was a real privilege to co-facilitate the workshop (with the glorious E-R) for ten fabulous women. We worked on body language and using your voice; verbal self defence (including E-R.’s five stage theory of harassment, which I hope she’ll blog about soon); and then finished off with boasting practice, which was great fun. I’m now dying to run the workshop again, so that we can do it even better.
We finished off the workshop with some real boasting in Market Square with a fabulous megaphone, fliers and a banner, highlighting the gender pay gap which is marked by Equal Pay Day on Nov 4th. I have to say, for getting a feeling of power there’s nothing like a good megaphone. Especially when we’re using it for boasting. We did a good stint of boasting and fliering, even getting one or two passers-by to throw in their boasts, and then went for lunch at Clowns. Thanks to everyone who came along for making it a really good event.