Million Women Rise in London this Saturday 9 March

(Trigger warning for discussion of violence against women)

Million Women Rise is a march and rally which takes place anually in London (not to be confused with Billion Women Rise, which is a completely different thing). MWR was founded in 2007 by Sabrina Qureshi, a campaigner and former womens’ sector advocacy worker. The event’s organisers are grassroots campaigners, without corporate endorsements or ties to large charities or NGOs.

From the Million Women Rise website:

This year we have already seen the rape of millions of women throughout the world and we are only in February. We have heard the German authorities apologies to a teenage girl for sending her to a brothel to get work… The Gang Rape and murder of a 17 year old girl in South Africa and the protest from our sisters in South Africa… Many of you have been at the ongoing protests supporting the voices of women of India after the gang rape in India of a young woman who is now dead… We have witnessed the Irish government commit murder of a woman who was denied her human rights to an abortion…Women in Egypt have spoken out against state sponsored Violence Against Women…

And we will not ignore the ongoing rape and genocide of our sisters and children across the world from Easten Congo to Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Palestine, Ivory Coast, Mali, Pakistan, Bangladesh, London, Bradford, Bolivia, Brazil, fromTamil women to Wales, East Europe, western Europe to the Americas to name a few.

Male violence against women is pandemic, it is organised and systematic, ENOUGH is ENOUGH!

This year’s event will take place on Saturday 9th March, meeting at 12pm Oxford Street (Outside Selfridges). Oxford Street and Regent Street will be closed as women march through the West End, ending with a rally at Trafalgar Square.

The one concern I have about this event is that the website makes no mention of whether trans women are welcome to take part, and the slogan “One Woman, One Body, One Song, One Love” sounds like it could exclude trans women. I hope that in future years the organisers will make it clear that all self-defining women are invited to come together for this important event, to rally against the misogynistic violence which hurts us all.

Million Women Rise official website

Million Women Rise donations page


Shameless plug: Brandalism and creative resistance to toxic messages about beauty

It’s shameless plug time: I wrote an article on creative resistance to harmful messages about body image in adverts for the Brandalism website. This was a fun one to write because it’s not much text and lots of pictures of amazing feminist art.

A sticker on a bathroom mirror which says: 'Warning reflections may be distorted by socially constructed ideas of beauty'


Abortion Mythbusting

We’re going to send a mythbusting tweet on abortion every day for the next few weeks, and we’ll keep updating this page with the new tweets, along with references and links to additional information.

Abortion Fact #1

Roughly one in three UK women will have an abortion during her lifetime.

A banner ad showing three women, one of whom is holding a baby. The text reads: What do you call a woman who's had an abortion? Mother daughter sister friend. No more names.

Sources:

The 1 in 3 figure actually comes from a US study by the Guttmacher Institute. Here in the UK, according to Department of Health statistics (PDF), the age-adjusted rate of abortions per year (not per lifetime) for women aged 15-44 in 2011 was 1.75%.

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Abortion Fact #2

Legal abortion is one of the safest surgical procedures there is, and carries less risk than childbirth.

It’s important to note that this is only true in the case of legal abortions performed by medical professionals. Globally it is estimated that approximately 20 million unsafe abortions are performed annually, with 97% taking place in developing countries. Unsafe abortion is believed to result in approximately 68,000 deaths and millions of injuries annually.

Sources:

Wikipedia: Abortion

Grimes, D. A.; Benson, J.; Singh, S.; Romero, M.; Ganatra, B.; Okonofua, F. E.; Shah, I. H. (2006). “Unsafe abortion: The preventable pandemic” (PDF). The Lancet 368 (9550): 1908–1919. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(06)69481-6. PMID 17126724.

NHS: Abortion Risks

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Abortion Fact #3

Women can need an abortion at any point in their reproductive lives. In 2010 9% of abortion were for girls under 18; 41% ages 18-24; 36% ages 25-34, and 14% age 35 and up.

Sources:

Department of Health: Abortion Statistics, England and Wales: 2010 (PDF)

Found via Education for Choice’s abortion facts.

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Abortion Fact #4

Abortion is extremely unlikely to cause infertility, and women who have abortions can go on to have children later in life.

The exception to this would be in the case that a woman had an infection after receiving an abortion, and did not get the infection treated: in this scenario it would be possible for the infection to have an effect on future fertility. However this would be an extremely rare situation, and abortion normally does not cause infertility.

There are no proven associations between induced abortion and subsequent ectopic pregnancy, placenta praevia or infertility. Women with a previous induced abortion appear to be at an increased risk of infertility in countries where abortion is illegal but not in those where abortion is legal. Published studies strongly suggest that infertility is not a consequence of uncomplicated induced abortion.

Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists

Sources:

NHS: Can having an abortion affect my fertility?

Family Planning Association (FPA): Abortion your questions answered

Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists: Induced termination of pregnancy and future reproductive outcomes – current evidence

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Musings on roles in non-hierarchical groups, prompted by Slutwalk London

A week or two ago a Slutwalk London member angered many feminists by using the group’s Twitter account, @SlutwalkLondon, to say that Julian Assange should not be sent to Sweden to face trial for rape and sexual assault. (The message has since been deleted, but it can be read at the F-word).

After a storm of outrage, she apologised:

Slutwalk London (@SlutwalkLondon)

Posted Sunday 30th September 2012 from Twitlonger

The recent views expressed regarding the extradition of Julian Assange were my own rather than those of SlutWalk London. I apologise for using this platform to express these views and hope they do not deter from the purpose of SlutWalk, which is to send the message that there is never any excuse for rape and to demand protection and justice for all rape survivors. – Anastasia Richardson http://tl.gd/jfvatv

There are quite a few articles out there addressing why the original tweet was hurtful, for instance at the F-word, Slutwalk Toronto, Brighton Feminist Collective, and The Guardian.

I’d like to use this incident to look at the difficulties that can arise in non-hierarchical groups (like Feminist Action Cambridge) which don’t have clear roles and responsibilities for members. Our activism lines up with our beliefs and passions, and our activist groups often grow out of our friend groups, or we become friends with the people we do activism with. As a result there may be no clear boundary between who I am as a person, and my identity as a member of the group.

In a traditional, structured organisation, like say a charity or a political party, the person in charge of the Twitter feed would be a Media / Outreach / Public Relations officer, and would have a remit from the group to guide them in deciding what sort of messages to send. By contrast, in non-hierarchical groups like FAC, the decision process often goes something like this:

A comic. Character 1 is a sheep. Character 2 is a cow. Char 2: Well that about wraps up the meeting. Just one more thing on the agenda, before we go to the pub, we need someone to do the Twitter. Char 2: Someone? Anyone? Char 1: *Sigh* Char 2: ... Char 1: Oh, OK, I guess I can do it. Char 2: Great!

With so much overlap between our personal selves and our activist selves, it’s unsurprising that we sometimes get the two mixed up. I think the person who sent the tweet probably lost track of which of her beliefs and opinions belonged to Slutwalk London, and which belonged just to her. After all, the reason the tweet was so hurtful was that it came from the official Slutwalk London account. Many people have given time, trust, and passion to the SlutWalk movement, which is why the tweet could have felt like a betrayal. If the same tweet had been sent from an individual’s personal account it would not have generated the same amount of outrage.

I’ve been asked a couple of times to join in tweeting from the FAC Twitter account, and I’ve refused, basically because I don’t trust myself not to get carried away and tweet something inappropriate. I sympathise with the person from Slutwalk London who sent the offending tweet, even though I disagree with her opinion about Assange, because I think it’s very easy to get carried away and forget that what’s appropriate to do as an individual might not be appropriate to do on behalf of the group.

For me at least, the solution is to have a clear separation between when I am being a group member, and when I am just being me. Even though I care passionately about the groups that I’m in, no group could ever be 100% aligned with all of my views and beliefs. Sometimes I’m going to need to say something that don’t fit with the group, perhaps even something that other members of the group would strongly disagree with. That’s OK, as long as I make it clear that I’m just speaking on behalf of me and no-one else.

Things like using the appropriate Twitter account or email address can seem trivial and annoying when you’re continually logging out of one Facebook or Twitter account and in to another, but these online personas can let people know which one of your hats you were wearing when you send the message. And that can make a huge difference to how people will react.


Kate Middleton and Closer magazine: It’s the Patriarchy, Stupid

Given that 1 in 4 women experience sexual violence at some point in their life, and that 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 10 boys experience sexual abuse at some point in their childhood, there are clearly a lot of rapists and child rapists out there. Not as many rapists as rape survivors, because one rapists will almost always abuse multiple women and children during his lifetime, but still quite a lot – somewhere between 6-13%.

Now there’s a couple of ways to respond to that statistic. The feminist way – set up rape crisis centres, campaign for legal changes, raise awareness. And then there’s the patriarchy way – how can we make some money out of this and encourage it to flourish?

6-13% of men is a significant target market, after all. 5% of the population are lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans, and that’s enough to have ‘the pink pound’. Because being LGBT isn’t disgusting (whatever some people say), corporations can speak openly about ‘the pink pound’. But they have to keep quiet about another, much bigger group of consumers who they nevertheless knowingly target – rapists. A significant amount of products and advertisements are covertly targeting ‘the rape pound’.

It has been made very clear that the topless photos of Kate Middleton published in the French magazine Closer* today were taken without her knowledge or consent. She is said to be ‘saddened’, to consider the photos ‘grotesque and unjustifiable’. She and her husband are suing the magazine. And yet, Closer are expecting, and will no doubt see, “a big increase in sales”. Think about it. They know that large numbers of people will buy a magazine they don’t usually buy, for the pleasure of participating in the sexual humiliation of a young woman. That their readers will be fully aware that the photos were taken without her knowledge or consent, and that she does not wish for them to be published, and that this will only add to the titillation and fleeting sense of power they will gain from looking at them. This is the power of the rape pound.

Closer couldn’t resist also throwing in a dose of mansplaining. Their spokesman mansplained that the photos “are by no means degrading” and “show a beautiful, in love, modern holidaying young couple, in their normal life.” “I would love a photo of my bollocks to be taken in secret, printed in a magazine and viewed by thousands of women across the country,” he did not add. Women, let us not forget, do not get to define their own reality or have the last say on their own feelings or experiences. Kate making clear that she considers the photos degrading is not relevant if a man has decided that they are not. Closer’s female editor has also described the photos as “not in the least shocking”, using that classic tactic of wheeling out a woman to defend misogyny, a gay person to defend homophobia or a black person to defend racism, which is so unimaginative even the BNP are at it.

The same misogyny has carried over into the British press, who have been at pains to quote ‘royal officials’ that “the couple could not have chosen a more secluded spot in France for their private holiday.” Again, the fact that Kate does not want the photos published is not enough. There must be proof that she made sufficient effort to avoid being photographed, as women out in public are fair game for the male sexual gaze and it’s our responsibility to try to protect ourselves from it, not theirs to view us as people not prey. Of course the British media need to propagate this view in order to justify their own shitty treatment and regular sexual humiliation of countless other women.

The outrage over this incident is not feminist but nationalistic. We do not like to see foreigners humiliating and degrading our women. That is the job of British men. The French have their own women to use.

This is a privacy issue and a press ethics issue, but it is also a feminist issue. Kate Middleton is a royal and a celebrity, but whatever your opinion of the royal family and the system of class and race privilege it represents, she is also a woman, living in a patriarchy, being humiliated and controlled by that patriarchy. And no-one hurts our sister and gets away with it.

 

*And the owner of Closer magazine in France? None other than notorious misogynist Silvio Berlusconi.


Another small act of censorship by our corporate overlords

Two young women both wearing 'NO MORE PAGE 3' t-shirts

No More Page 3 is a campaign against the inclusion of topless photos of young women of page 3 of daily newspaper ‘the Sun’. I’ll admit that I’d never heard of this campaign until their Twitter account, @nomorepage3, was shut down. What did @nomorepage3 tweet that led to the suspension? Was it really bad enough for this act of censorship to be warranted? There’s no way to find out, and those tweets have hidden and thus removed from our collective memory.

Twitter screen-capture that says: 'Everyone: please contact @support to complain about @nomorepage3 account being suspended.'

A screen-capture of twitter.com with the message: 'Account suspecded. The profile you were trying to view has been suspended. To return to your home timeline click here.'

I have the greatest respect for people who take the time to contact Twitter’s @support about this, but I’m not going to join in. I find myself wondering, why do we have to ask Twitter nicely if we can please communicate online? Why do we have to plead with them to recognise that a feminist campaign against a newspaper’s day-to-day portrayal of women as objects is not offensive – why does Twitter INC get to decide that?

We can’t know for certain why @nomorepage3′s account was suspended, but I think I can make an educated guess: News Corporation solicitors contacted Twitter’s legal department, complaining that @nomorepage3 had infringed on their rights in some way (perhaps copyright infringement or libel) and threatened a lawsuit. When a large company makes a threat like this it doesn’t actually matter to Twitter whether the complaint is real or not – just going to court in a case like this would be hugely expensive. In order to avoid such a lawsuit, Twitter suspends the account first, and investigates second. This is how we end up in a situation where threats of violence against feminist bloggers on Twitter are so common that it’s seen almost as a rite of passage, and are ignored by Twitter’s moderators, yet even very mild criticisms of corporations often result in account suspensions.

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A feminist response to Michael Albert’s visions for the Occupy Movement

This is an XKCD comic which I modified. Panel 1: A man stands next to an open box holding a growling cat. A woman says 'What are you doing?' and the man replies 'Making the world a weirder place.' Panel 2: The man is wrapping tape around the box, with the cat inside it. The man says: 'Starting with my EBAY feedback page'. Panel 3: A bruised person surrounded by debris sits at a computer, typing. In the original comment it said 'Instead of office chair package contained bobcat.', but I've altered it to say 'Instead of feminism package contained Patriarchy'. Panel 4: Same image as panel 3, with the person typing: 'Would not buy again.'

Background

This post is a review of two free ebooks: “Occupy Theory” by Michael Albert and Mandisi Majavu (PDF), and “Occupy Vision” by Michael Albert and Mark Evans (PDF). As the names suggest, these books are being put forward as a potential unifying ideology for the Occupy movement, and for the anti-capitalist movement more generally. The ideas in these books also form an ideological basis for the International Organisation for a Participatory Society (IOPS).

A key figure in all this is Michael Albert, an academic and lifelong activist who co-authored both books. In the dedication to “Occupy Theory”, it’s made clear that the ideas in this book are being put forward as a potential unifying ideology for both the IOPS, and for the Occupy movement itself.

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Heartwarming example of someone getting called out for using oppressive language on Twitter and being classy about it

Screencap of a Twitter conversation: Ben Goldacre: Sorry about that disgusting advertising auto-tweet from @taptu, im uninstalling. Don't ever trust an app that rapes you feed. Vile. Foul. The F-word: That's not rape. Ben Goldacre: Apologies, I was angry, you're absolutely right, rape not a good word in this context, sorry.

No fuss, no drama, no “I didn’t mean it that way” or “I’m sorry if anyone was offended”, no flamewars, and no lasting hard feelings either way. Nice.


Another Bloody Woman Moaning

I hate my periods. I hate having no control over when they start. I hate washing bloodstains out of my clothes and bedding. I hate pain. I hate that I have decades to go before they stop. I hate that I have to put up with them even though I don’t want children anyway.

If your periods make you feel connected to your mother and grandmother and women all around the world throughout time and space, I feel happy for you. If your periods make you feel fertile and womanly, I’m glad. If you accept and celebrate periods as part of the cycle of life and nature, then great.

I do not feel this way. My periods make me unhappy and that isn’t going to change. As a woman, it needs to be OK for me to not like periods. I don’t need to be cheered up or convinced that they’re actually fun and awesome. Herbal medicine and mooncups will not make me feel better, because my feelings are so much deeper than that. I know that as a woman, I am not allowed to be unhappy as my purpose is to service the emotional needs of men and children, not to have any myself. I know that it is unacceptably selfish for any woman to be cross when it is so much more pleasant for those around us when we are happy and smiley. I know, but I don’t care.

Tampon advert showing Serena Williams on a tennis court punching the air in triumph, while in the background 2 stewards drag away a woman labelled 'Mother Nature'. The slogan says 'Game, Set and Match Serena'

You may not show or express pain or discomfort while menstruating. You can even win tennis tournaments when on your period through a combination of will power and expensive branded sanitary products.

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Cambridge Reclaim the Night, 11th May 2012

Apologies for taking a week for getting round to writing about this(!), but I wanted to share a quick report on Reclaim the Night for those who weren’t able to make it.

Reclaim the Night marches have been taking place around the world since the 1970s, giving women a chance to come together and protest against street harrassment, rape culture, victim blaming and all forms of violence against women. In Cambridge last week, over 100 women met up on Parkers Piece, including a group of FAC women with our two beautiful new banners. The group marched through the streets of Cambridge, making plenty of noise!

Large banner with the words 'Cambridge Reclaim the Night'

Group of women marching with placards reading 'Women Unite Reclaim the Night'

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