Ladybird and fox

I’m trying out a new blogging format 🙂

A comic showing a conversation between a cute ladybird and a cute fox. Panel 1. Ladybird: The 'Fighting for safer places' blog post really got me thinking... Fox: Me too. My friends sometimes do things that make me unsafe. Panel 2. Ladybird: Like what? Fox: Like laughing when I talk about feminism... Panel 3. Ladybird: Hmmm. Fox: Or saying I should take sexual harassment as a compliment... Panel 4. Ladybird: Oh dear. Fox: Or saying I'm a prude when I complain about women being objectified. Panel 5. Ladybird: But if someone laughs at your political beliefs, are they really your friend? Fox: When you put it that way... probably not. END

The comic is licensed Attribution 3.0 Unported. The animal artwork is by Yurike11.


Why would you want to vajazzle your vagina!?!

At this year’s Southbank Centre’s WOW weekend festival on March 11th there will be a panel ‘debate’ on the topic of ‘Can you vajazzle and still be a feminist?’. I know this as I was nearly a panel participant. I say nearly because unfortunately they found someone else to argue the ‘No’ position before I could send my follow-up email to the panel organiser – missed opportunity – sure. BUT I figured that missed opportunity could be turned into a blog premiere on FAC (some would say an even better opportunity – I would be that person). And rather than just presenting at a panel discussion – I could present to the entire FAC blogsphere for discussion & commentary some of the thoughts I had about the topic of vajazzzling. I would also like to note here thar E-R has already provided a great post on the topic here.

So – can you vajazzzle and still be a feminist? Well – first off I want to say that whatever a women wants to do with her vagina is her own business! If she wants to wax, pierce it, sparkle it or mohawk it with blue hair gel it is none of my business (unless of course it is my vagina – then I will do what I please to it). And whatever she choses to do with her vagina, who I am to tell her if that does or does not make her a feminist!? So clearly I take issue with the premise – but I guess for arguments sake we can let that go – and focus on the ‘spirit’ of the topic – which I think is more/less ‘What would make a women want to vajazzle her vagina – and if she did, could she call it ‘feminism”.

Now – What would make a women want to vajazzle her vagina? What would make a women want to have all the hair ripped out of her vagina and when it is red, swollen and and its most sensitive have dozens of sticky little crystals stuck over the freshly opened pores? Opening one of her most delicate area to potential health concerns of pasting artifical glue over what could be salon bacteria…scary! I racked my brain – I googled it – I asked friends – one of which replied ‘Vajazzling – [insert explanation to friend here] – is THAT what that is !?!- I thought it was a new work-out thing like Jumba or Spinning class – why would anyone do that?!’ Why indeed?

My mind kept coming back to one word – Shame.

SHAME! This notion that women should be aSHAMEd of our bodies. That not only is your body not good enough when you don’t eat those extra pieces of cake, only wear the revealing yet fashionable clothes, when you conform to an unattaiable body images (see: H&M protest at computed generate bodies post), and when you pluck and wax the hair off in all the right places, but THEN you need to roll it all up in a rhinestone package in the (you can even get it in the shape of a bow) so it is not even recognisable to the natural state you started with!

Excuse me – but this ‘beauty treatment’ is going even further than just perpetuating the consistent message I get from nearly every clothes, beauty, and mobile phone ad that a women’s value is barely skin-deep. Vajazzing violates our most personal physical manifestation of ourselves as women – our vagina – and asks us to ‘buy in’ to the notion that it is not good enough without a bit of sparkle. That our worth as women – is no longer confined to what the outside world can see of us – but now is invading our bedrooms, showers and vulvas – and telling us that to ‘look our best’ naked we can never be truly naked – because that would just be gross!

Therefore – when I think about if a women were to vajazzle – could she call this act feminist – I would have to say a resounding NO! When I think of feminism as its most basic level I think of empowering women. And when I think of vajazzling and the message it is sending to me as a women – I do not feel empowered.

I feel degraded. [def. Reduced in quality or value – That my vagina is not something I should value unless it has been changed.]

I feel disgusted. [def. (1) to sicken or fill with loathing (2) to offend the moral sense, principles, or taste of – Infuriated that someone could try to make me feel ashamed with a part of my body that I do not even choose to share with them.]

I feel commodified. [def. (1) to turn into a commodity; make commercial. (2) to treat as if a commodity. Sickened by the financial obligation I should feel as a women to ‘enhance’ myself so I can be worthy of attention and admiration.]

I feel that vajazzling is vile and to quote E-R

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.

Fighting for safer places

Sometimes I feel exposed. So exposed that all I want is a refuge, a shelter. A place, a moment, a relationship I could rest in, and gather enough strength to get back out and fight. Something like a truce. A safe place.

Recently, I have felt this feeling of vulnerability and this longing for safety to be particularly strong. I have been thinking about it a lot, both pragmatically and theoretically. Theoretically – why is it the case that I feel particularly exposed right now ? And pragmatically – what can I do about it, what would I consider as a safe place ?

Being a woman under patriarchy is exposing, in itself. By definition, patriarchy is everywhere, the patriarchal social structures pervade and rule all dimensions of a woman’s life. When she is seen and acts as a worker, a teacher, a student, a tennis player, a singer, a unionist, a friend, a partner, a mother, a sister, a daughter, a lover, and so on, she is a woman, in the political and social meaning of the word. She is part of an oppressed group, and as such, experiences domination both as a wide social phenomenon, and as an intimate matter. As such, she is exposed. At all times, in all places.

To me, feminism is about fighting this exposure, or rather, the social structures which enable it to happen. It is about making the world a safe place for women, for all women. By safe I mean physically safe, but I also mean, psychically, psychologically, economically, linguistically, affectively, sexually safe. In fact, I mean domination-free. I mean political safety. Read the rest of this entry »

FAC takes our anti-objectification message to H&M

After our discussion last month on feminism and advertising, a few of us decided to plan an action to talk back to all the body fascism that we see around us.  (This is partly why we originally decided to call the group Feminist ACTION Cambridge – so that we would remember that we want to do actions, not just talk about everything that’s feministly wrong with the world).

We decided to target H&M because of the recent scandal about their use of computer generated models for their ads… actual women’s bodies obviously aren’t perfect enough for them.  (and also because it was easy to get into their store window).  So, three of us (with a fourth filming and taking photos) met up for coffee and placard-making, before traipsing into town for a bit of Saturday morning feministing:

Picture shows three women standing in H&M window, holding placards which say 'Object!', 'Your body is amazing', and 'My body is NOT computer generated unlike H&M ads'.

You can also see a video of a couple of minutes of the action here. 

We got a lot of interest from passers-by, which you don’t really see from the video footage as most of them were too polite to get between the camera and the window – this being Cambridge, after all.  We got a few thumbs-ups from women passing by, a few people taking photos, and lots and lots of people doing double takes as they walked past the store.  We were in there for probably a bit under 15 minutes in total.  What I particularly like about this picture is the way that our bodies contrast with the models on the picture above our heads.  It’s a whole conversation going on just there.

But as well as talking about what a great action it was (and it’s a really great feeling doing this kind of action; we came away with a real buzz and a great sense of solidarity between the four of us), I wanted to write a bit about the politics behind it.  While we’d planned this action in the pub after the discussion group, my current policy being that we aren’t allowed to leave the pub until we have an action in the diary, there were also some serious considerations expressed among us as to whether we were adding to the objectification by putting our own bodies in an objectifying space – the store window – thus contributing to what we were trying to denounce; we were displaying our bodies in a space normally inhabited by mannequins, a space which by its nature objectifies female bodies.  So one interpretation of the action is that we are then objectifying ourselves.  Read the rest of this entry »

Participatory Democracy and the Occupy Movement

I’m thrilled to introduce this article by the brilliant KM, discussing questions of organisation, hierarchy and transparency in activist organisations.  While she is writing about the Occupy and Climate Camp movements, these questions of hierarchy and group structure are equally integral to feminist organising.  The second wave discussed how to organise both effectively and non-hierarchically, most famously in Jo Freeman’s seminal article, The Tyranny of Structureless (very much worth reading), and so it’s great to see this line of thinking continued here on our blog.  he feminist blogosphere recently has been resonating with discussion of how to respond to rape and sexual violence and intimidation within the Occupy movement.  The questions of organisation that KM discusses here are the building blocks towards creating the kind of groups that we will be able to participate safely, effectively and happily in.  And finally, of course, there is plenty to think about here as regards the organisation of our own group, and reading this article has made me start thinking really critically about what we can do better – which is a lot.  Happy reading!

1. Intro and motivation

The Occupy movement began in New York City’s Zucotti Park in September 2011, as a protest against economic inequality and specifically against the banks of Wall Street. Occupy quickly spread, and around the world camps were set up in public spaces, protesting against economic inequality, and organising themselves non-hierarchically, with decisions made in leaderless General Assemblies. The occupations are notable for their lack of a platform or list of demands, as shown in this statement from Occupy Oakland:

To the Politicians and the 1%: This occupation is its own demand. Since we don’t need permission to claim what is already ours, we do not have a list of demands to give you. There is no specific thing you can do in order to make us “go away”. And the last thing we want is for you to preserve your power, to reinforce your role as the ruling classes in our society.

What does it mean to say that “This occupation is its own demand”? I would argue that this expresses a desire for Participatory Democracy; a political system characterised by a lack of hierarchy, in which people participate directly in making decisions that affect them. This is in contrast to Representative Democracy, in which people vote for their rulers once every four or five years but apart from that have few opportunities to participate in decision-making. At least for some participants, the purpose of Occupy is not to influence government, but to replace it.

However the form of participatory democracy practised within the Occupy movement is far from perfect, and despite the best of intentions what happens in General Assemblies falls short of full and equal democratic participation for all. Many people are drawn into this movement by the promise of openness and equal participation, and so when these promises are not realised, people drift away.

In this article I’m going to look at how participatory democracy is practised within Occupy and related movements, show some of the problems that often come up, and suggest some improvements. I’m also going to talk more generally about how Participatory Democracy can be used in other types of organisations. Finally I’ll argue that Participatory Democracy isn’t just something that just happens in meetings, and that is requires a cultural shift in the way we think and related to each-other. This shift requires hard work, but in my opinion it’s definitely achievable.

Read the rest of this entry »