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 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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Why Academic Feminism is Full of Shit

Feminism is not an academic theory. Feminism is a grassroots movement of women.

Universities, like all institutions in society, are patriarchal – they are run by men, for men, to further the interests of men and to oppress women. This means feminism and academia are opposites in every way. Trying to bring feminism into academia is like capturing a beautiful, vibrant butterfly, putting a pin through her heart and putting her on display in a museum. She will look pretty impressive and lots of people will marvel at her, but she is also dead.

Feminism is a war on patriarchy not a war between women

Academia is based on competition. The aim is to win, to outwit your opponents, to overturn past theories and come up with new bigger better shinier ones.

Academics love to divide feminists into competing theories – radical feminists, liberal feminists, Marxist feminists, post-deconstructivist-neo-radical-genderqueer-antediluvian feminists… and then set these theories arguing against one another. We are too clever to fall for these divide and rule tactics.

Academics love to divide feminists into ‘waves’ – first, second, third, fourth… as if each generation overthrows the last. Young feminist students are encouraged to write essays mocking feminist ideas from the past, seeing ‘second wave feminists’ as the enemy or patronising them – they had a few good ideas, bless them, but we’ve moved on now. How dare they try to turn us against our own feminist foremothers? How dare they try to turn our role models into our enemies? Feminism is not like water, it does not come in ‘waves’, each one washing over the debris and wreckage of the last. Feminism is a fire, passed down by generations of women for thousands of years, and sometimes it’s a tiny little ember and sometimes it rages so powerfully that whole countries are set alight but it’s the same fire and it never goes out.

Feminism is Real

You don’t need to read books to be a feminist. You don’t need to be able to read at all. If you go looking for feminism in lecture halls and academic journals and books you won’t find it there, because that isn’t where it lives. Feminism is in you. It IS you. And every other woman and girl who ever lived, or is living, or will live… feminism is born from us women, from our life experiences, from our feelings, from our experiences of sexism and oppression, some of which are shared with millions of women and some of which are unique to us. If what you are told to read does not either speak directly to you as a woman, or teach you about the life experiences of other women, or give practical and workable ideas for destroying patriarchy, it is not feminist. Unlike academics, feminists are not interested in questions like “To what extent does ‘queering’ theory deconstruct feminist conceptions of agency?” A feminist exam paper would ask “How can we destroy patriarchy?” and the correct answer would be for all the women to simultaneously storm out of the room, occupy the University buildings and call a global woman-strike.

Feminism rejects authority

Academia is built on the idea of expertise, of all-knowing authority figures educating the next generation of bright young things. This is because patriarchy needs hierarchies, it needs to tell young women that their thoughts and feelings and intuitions are not enough, that they need to be quiet and obey and learn from their superiors. No woman needs an expert to teach her how to be a feminist, what feminism is, or which feminist ideas are the ‘right’ ideas. Feminism is about women’s lives. Every woman is the expert on her own life. Every woman’s knowledge and experience is valuable in its own right. All women are sisters and we listen to one another and respect one another and celebrate our shared experiences and celebrate our differences in a way that all the theories and academics and ‘experts’ in the world could analyse for one thousand years and still never begin to understand.

Feminism rejects academic privilege

Academic training is training in how to use privilege to oppress and dominate others. Academia uses specialist language that the vast majority of women do not understand. This is not because women are stupid. This is a deliberate tactic to exclude us, to ensure that we do not know what is being said about us, to silence and humiliate us in discussion. No matter how hard we try to learn the language, we will never be good enough, we will never quite understand, we will never win the arguments. Patriarchy depends on women never being good enough, always being to blame for their own oppression.

It is not women’s responsibility to learn academic jargon. It is feminist academics’ responsibility to communicate to us in language we can understand. If you are a woman who has been subjected to academic training you need to recognise the tactics you have been trained in. By learning how to use inaccessible academic jargon in conversation and refer to books you have read and theories you have learnt, you have been given the tools to enable you to defeat other women, to make them feel stupid, to come out on top not because you are right and they are wrong but because you have academic privilege and they do not. It is your responsibility to work on yourself to undo this training. Stop assuming everyone has read the books you’ve read. Stop assuming everyone became a feminist because they read a load of books rather than because they were sexually abused and feminism helped them to understand their experience, or because they have a new baby girl and don’t want her to grow up in a world full of shitty misogynistic crap, or one thousand other reasons that have everything to do with experiencing oppression and nothing to do with the University Library. Stop starting sentences with “We all know…” “We’ve all read…” “We all agree that…” You cannot read other women’s minds or know their lives – don’t assume anything about other women and what they know, think or read.

Deeds Not Words

Academia values theory over practice. The more abstract and detached from real life your work is, the better. The more inaccessible your ideas and the less likely the woman who’s been cleaning your lecture theatre every day for the last ten years whose name you don’t even know could understand a word of it, the better. The aim is to create exclusivity in order to acquire and maintain power.

The end result or goal in academia is theory. Fieldwork or research is done in order to produce theory. In feminism, theory is written in order to produce action. Writing a book about rape culture is good, but organising a protest against a notorious rapist is better, volunteering at your local Rape Crisis Centre is better, boycotting corporations that use rape jokes to generate ‘controversy’ and sell their products is better. The best feminist academics are those who work for the grassroots, who ask activists, survivors and women’s organisations what they need and then put the needs of those women on the ground before their own careers and egos. They produce studies that will convince the government to fund more women’s shelters, or research that will help dispel rape myths. Feminism isn’t just something we are or something we have, it’s something we DO, every day. When feminists are concerned about an issue, we don’t write a paper or organise a conference. We get out there and campaign for change and don’t stop until we get it.

Academia encourages inaction. Social justice movements are either ignored completely or else analysed, criticised and sneered at by middle class white academics. Our own concepts and language are appropriated by academics and used against us, used to criticise feminism not in order to improve it but in order to paralyse it, to kill it off before it becomes too big and threatening. Too late. Feminism is big, it is threatening. We will continue standing together and fighting for freedom from male violence and oppression. It must hurt to watch from the sidelines, writing your snide pompous articles that most of us will never read and knowing that you can’t keep us down.

Academia oppresses women. Feminism liberates us!

Graffiti on Cambridge Union Society building saying 'Women Deserve Better'

Million Women Rise!

A group of us from FAC went down to London on Saturday to Million Women Rise 2012 – an annual women only march ‘against male violence in all it’s forms’. The great thing about the march is it’s positive, carnival-like atmosphere – a celebration of International Women’s Day, of sisterhood, of feminism and of women and girls around the world.

There was a huge diversity of organisations represented there – with some amazing and artistic banners from London Feminist Network, Object, Hebden Bridge Feminists, Rape Crisis England and Wales, Forward, LGBT Labour, East London Women’s Institute, NUS Black Students’ Campaign….

After marching, chanting, singing and dancing right down the middle of Oxford Street, we gathered in Trafalgar Square for powerful speeches a teenage survivor of domestic violence, a group of Congolese women speaking out about rape and war, and many others.

Following on from Murenne’s post on safety and women-only spaces – an important part of the march is that it is organised by women for women and girls. As the organisers say:

“On this particular day, we want women to come and feel the strength, the exhilaration and power of being with other women, to celebrate ourselves, to sing, shout and chant at the top of our voices, in all our diversity, to demonstrate however we want because we’re women in the company of other women.”

As women, our experience of street harassment means we are often made to feel that we are on display for the male gaze whenever we go out in public – it only takes one out of every 50 men who walks or drives past us to leer, sneer, stare, whistle or yell ‘dyke’ out of their car window to make us feel that we’re under siege every time we try to pop out to the co-op for a loaf of bread. Luckily for the sexist patriarchy, there were plenty of men keen to make sure that just because we were a group of thousands of women, on a women-only march, on International Women’s Day, we shouldn’t for a minute forget our womanly purpose as display objects – by lining the entire route with great big cameras, getting up in our faces and taking hundreds of pictures for who-knows-what-purpose without our consent. I personally must have been photographed well over a hundred times by random men. This was completely unwanted on my part and I genuinely have no idea who these men were – journalists, anti-feminist activists, random passers-by who just happened to have fancy cameras in their bags, or misguided male allies?

Anyway, I got a bit fed up and decided to turn the lens on them – so please everyone enjoy this little gallery of shame:

Please bear in mind that these photos represent just a handful of the scores of men photographing us at every turn.

Not that we were going to let them spoil our mood  – I will certainly be going back for more next year and I look forward to marching with my sister Cambridge feminists under our brand new Feminist Action Cambridge banner. Join us in 2013 – and don’t forget your camera. Smile!

Feminism: Who Needs It?

Anyone who is out as a feminist will probably have had some puzzled reactions along the lines of:

  • “But don’t we have equality now?”
  •  “I think feminism’s gone too far. It’s the men who are oppressed.”
  • “Why don’t you like men?”
  •  “This country is pretty much OK, it’s just in the Third World where women don’t have rights.”
  • “I don’t feel like being a woman has ever held me back.”

Sexism is so much a part of our society, that we take it for granted, accept it as being natural or don’t even notice it when it happens. If you’re not convinced, let me explain.

If you know a woman who’s been raped…

If you know a woman who feels ugly, and insecure about her body…

If you know a woman who does ALL the housework in her house…

If you know a woman who stays in a bad relationship because she’ll feel like a failure if she’s single…

If you know a woman who wanted to be a plumber, but the careers advisor told her to be a hairdresser…

If you know a woman who’s in an abusive relationship (and 1 in 4 women experience domestic violence at some point in their life, so if you don’t think you know anyone then trust me, you do)…

If you know a woman who was mysteriously made redundant after her employer found out she was pregnant…

If you know a woman who was sexually abused as a child…

If you know a woman who hates that her boyfriend looks at Page 3 but can’t say anything to him about it…

If you know a woman who has to keep quiet about the number of people she’s slept with so she won’t get labelled a slag…

If you know a woman who has to pretend she has more sexual experience than she has so she won’t get labelled a frigid bitch…

If you know a woman who can’t get back into work after taking time out to have kids because she can’t find an employer willing to be flexible…

If you know a woman whose only sex education came from watching porn because no one ever had an open conversation with her about sex and relationships…

If you know a woman who’s always on a diet but can never quite get thin enough…

If you know a woman who’s tried to speak out against something she was unhappy with and been ignored and patronised because ‘she’s obviously just got PMT’…

If you know a woman who doesn’t get the respect and the pay she deserves because she works in a traditionally female area like childcare or retail which is undervalued by our society…

If you know a woman who used to get bullied at school for being too fat, too clever, for wearing glasses, for being a tomboy, for wearing the wrong clothes, for being a slag…

If you know even one of these women, or if you are even one of these women, then you know why we still need feminism.

Seriously though, where DO they do cock vajazzle?

One of the most fun things about having your own blog (if you’re a little bit geeky, anyway) is the stats section. There are counters for how many people read your blog each day, how many people share posts on Twitter or Facebook, but best of all is ‘Search Engine Terms’ where you find out what people typed into Google to find your blog. Most of them are pretty much what you’d expect (people searching for ‘Feminist Action Cambridge’, ‘abortion rights’ or ‘feminism and men’) but there are some special gems in there which I wanted to share with you all. Think of it as a very very late Christmas present.

My Top 5 Feminist Action Cambridge blog search terms

5. First off, to whoever searched for “porno and sexy women angirls.” – this blog was DEFINITELY not what you wanted. BUT, it may have been just what you needed… it particularly concerns me that you specified women and girls, this makes me wonder if you were looking for child porn, in other words images of children being raped. Anyway, I hope we managed to raise your consciousness in some way.

4. This is possibly slightly self-promoting, but I hope the people who searched for variations of ‘how to prevent rape’ were reassured by my post that it is not our responsibility as women to prevent rape, and that women who do experience rape are absolutely not to blame in any way no matter what they were doing, saying or wearing and no matter what their relationship with the rapist was or is.

3. “painting of woman with underwear visible” I’ve chosen this one because I’m intrigued by such a specific request. Particularly, why does it have to be a painting? Please come forward, visible-underwear-seeker, you will not be judged, just tell us what you were looking for and why.

2. E-R’s magnificent post on vajazzling has led to some pretty eccentric  search terms, and I’m very taken with ‘where do they do cock vajazzle’, ‘assjazzle’ and ‘who invented vaggazale?’ but feel I have to award second place to good old ‘vajazzle’ as it’s the second most searched-for term that leads people to this blog. Judging by the popularity of all these search terms, it seems glittery genitalia is definitely on the way in. One day unsparkly vaginas like mine will be viewed as disapprovingly as E-R’s hairy pits are today.

1. Finally ladies and gentlemen, first prize goes to someone who is worried about the important things in life. While some of us are fretting about trivia like ending violence against women and girls, defending abortion rights and demanding equal pay, thank goodness there was someone out there with the vision to ask what is perhaps the most urgent question for feminism in the 21st century *drumroll*: “does the rio wax take off all the hair around the cpenis and balls?” Feminists around the world must all drop everything and rush to solve this one immediately. We deserve the truth, sisters.