Feministy Shit

HAPPY HOLIDAYS ALL! Hope you’re making the most of the holiday period (we all need an excuse to take some time off work after all).
Fia x

Part 11 – Feminism VS families
CONTENT WARNING: racism, cultural appropriation, misogyny, trans misogyny.

Flicking through my newsfeed on Facebook today, I noticed a recurring theme. Whilst people were – on the whole – having a jolly time, their posts of festive delights were infiltrated with frustration at comments from family members. Whilst spending time with family members is amazing, there always tends to be that one family member you have to avoid for fear of attempting to murder them with a blunt spoon (I have that uncle, what can I say).

I’m not one for holding my tongue, so I’ve come up with a few examples to help you deal with those on the spectrum between misguided, ignorant and politically incorrect during the festive season, whilst hopefully avoiding those pesky family feuds.

1. “Someone put that Band Aid song on!”

Le sigh. Because only pop music will be able to stop the Ebola outbreak. Sure. I’m not saying it’s not a positive notion, but it’s pretty damn problematic. They lyrics are outdated, and perpetuate negative stereotypes, even though the BandAid30 (2014) version has had a lyric change or two, it is still misguided and patronizing, toeing the line of racism.

In terms of avoiding a family feud, this one is pretty easy. Just ignore their song request. You don’t even need to give a reason. Just put on a better song and they’ll soon forget!

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2. “Don’t play with that doll, that’s for your sister.”

The age old ‘toys are gendered’ argument. Sorry, but unless you operate them with your genitalia, that’s bull crap. Rather than laughing in Great Uncle Albert’s face and telling him that he’s a bigoted old fool, it may be better just to turn to the child in question and ask them if they are enjoying playing with the toy. Surely Great Uncle Albert will shut up when the child responds with “Yes, they’re an awesome superhero whose super power is abolishing ingrained misogyny in society.”

Gendered toy guide

3. Presents encompassing cultural appropriation, e.g, “I bought you a Native American Indian headdress for Christmas.”

At moments like this it’s paramount to remember  that presents are a privilege and it’s the thought that counts. I guess you could argue that they didn’t put enough thought into it if they didn’t recognise cultural appropriation and realise how problematic it can be but, at the same time, they probably spent a lot of time and effort into finding something they (misguidedly) thought you would like. The solution for this one will make you feel uncomfortable, but is quite simple: explain the problem. Best scenario is that they will accept your feelings and might be able to return the item for a gift voucher. Worst case scenario, they react badly, but at least it won’t be sat on your shelf gathering dust and making you feel guilty for all eternity.

cultural appropriation

4. “Who’s that person on OITNB? Why are they putting someone who isn’t a real woman on TV?”

Time to serve up the difference between gender and sex with a side order of cis privilege. The trick here is not to show quite how livid you are. Educate, don’t berate. Explain the leaps and bounds that Laverne Cox is making for the trans community and also that she’s an incredibly talented actress who deserves recognition as a person and as a woman. Why does gender matter if you’re an excellent person?

Transgender actress speaks at Tulane University

5. “Why is there a black person on TV? It’s bloody Christmas!”

Now we’ve moved on to the racist relative. No fun. Whilst, in this situation, losing your shit is totally understandable your argument will be more effective if you react towards the issue, not the person. By exposing their way of thinking and challenging the racist remark made you have a better chance of showing them the error of their ways and preventing these thoughts/behaviors in the future. At the end of the day, most human behavior (including racism) is learnt, and teaching people about equality is the best way to combat racism.

racism_is_taught

Is Feminism a Man’s Issue Too?

We all saw Emma Watson’s amazing speech for the UN’s HeForShe campaign a few weeks ago and it caused controversy and support in equal measure. Her powerful and evocative call-to-arms to the male audience got me thinking about the role men have in a primarily female campaign; how much of a place do men have in feminism, and should they get a place at all? It’s a weighty subject matter which steps on many people’s toes, as many men and male celebrities are showing a great interest in being a supportive ally to feminism; but when does their helpful input become too much input? How can men be supportive without stealing the limelight? I think the answer lies in just that, not overriding the female voice. In true irony, men’s support of feminism can sometimes do the opposite of helping; in being the leading voice in a female issue, men are once again proving their dominance in social, political and cultural life.

You’ve probably all heard this word a million times: the patriarchy. Literally, it means “a form of social organization in which a male is the head of the family and descent, kinship, and title are traced through the male line // any society governed by such a system.” i.e. the male force is dominant. In a world where men are the governing force and women are the submissive, gender roles become a binary and, though women arguably do feel more negative consequences of this, men are hurt by this force as well, whilst everyone in-between gets ignored entirely. These strict gender roles that feminism is trying to eradicate affect men too by making them believe that they must be overly masculine and without sensitivity, leading to a high rate of mental health issues amongst men. This binary of masculine vs. feminine not only leaves both groups struggling to attain impossible standards, but also ignores transgender and non-gender-binary individuals. The patriarchy is a destructive force, and men need feminism just as much as women do in order to live a free life of equality; as Emma Watson put in her speech, “if men don’t have to be aggressive in order to be accepted, women won’t feel compelled to be submissive. If men don’t have to control, women won’t have to be controlled. Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong. … It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum, not as two opposing sets of ideals.” Clearly men are part of the solution to end gender inequality, and in this way I think it’s really important for men to not only support feminism for the benefit it will bring to women everywhere, but also for the benefits it will bring to them.

On the other hand, many people believe that men should remain outside of feminism as they believe that it’s encroaching on our space to express ourselves and our discomforts. The fact is, although men are negatively impacted by the patriarchy, they simply will not be able to understand certain aspects of female life that feminism is trying to eradicate; men for example don’t experience micro-aggressions such as catcalling and street harassment that women experience as part of their daily life. Groups such as Men’s Rights Movement, who campaign for men’s issues such as family law, can sometimes take the limelight away from female issues by focussing gender inequalities on themselves. An example of this would be in the media recently, in a discussion about feminism, the twitter hashtag “#NotAllMen” became the focus of debate rather than the female empowerment campaign that was supposed to be the centre of attention. Many believe that feminism should be a female-specific movement simply because it’s our space to have freedom to talk about our issues, and men’s only role in that should be to listen and understand to the problems affecting us as women.

Despite extremist groups such as Men’s Rights Movement, many men believe that in the fight against gender inequality their voice should be heard, as feminist and gender issues impact them as well, and that is absolutely the case. I believe that in a truly equal world, everyone should feel free to express themselves in any way that suits them, regardless of their gender, and therefore men do have a place in feminism. Everyone should have a place in feminism, as it’s campaigning for equality across the gender spectrum, against a patriarchy that negatively impacts everyone. It is true however, that the patriarchy has hurt women in a way that men simply cannot understand, and part of men’s role in feminism should be to listen and understand to women as a way of enabling change.

I strongly believe that men do have a place in feminism; the strong gender roles imposed on us culturally affects every single one of us, making males, females and non-gender binary individuals feel oppressed in different ways. We all have a place in making equality happen, however feminism should remain a predominantly female issue, and sometimes the role that men have in relation to that is simply to stand back and listen. As Watson says, “fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating. If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that this has to stop.” Join the fight men, this is your war too.

Emily C

Why I’m scared of the Dark

A couple of days ago I’d popped round to a friend’s house to watch a film – it’s the Easter holidays, and since my dissertation deadline is looming ever closer, I decided to stay at uni and endure an extra week of boredom and frustration whilst my housemates went home.

The film finished, I said goodbye to my friend and prepared myself to brave the harsh Lancaster climate. At least the walk home would only take around five minutes, that’s not too bad, right?

I’ve never liked walking alone in the dark and it had been dark for a good couple of hours by the time that I left. When I have to walk around on my own at night, my imagination goes into overdrive and I end up visualising the most ridiculous of scenarios; what if I get mugged? What if someone’s broken into my house? What if Slender Man is following me? – You get the picture.

I didn’t bump into Slender Man, but the obstacle I did face was a different kind of horror; a group of men drinking in the park close to my house.

I felt instantly uneasy but told myself I was being ridiculous and decided just keep my head down and hurry home. I was almost passed the park, inwardly scolding myself for being so judgemental, when I heard it.

“Hey up, Blondie! What’s the rush?”

Just ignore them. I’d thought to myself. They’re just drunk and bit rowdy, it’s nothing.

“Don’t go ignoring me, Blondie!”

His tone changed slightly the second time he shouted after me. It made me feel nervous. I quickened my pace.

I heard a thud and, despite myself, I turned around. One of the men had jumped over the park’s fence and was staring right at me.

I felt physically sick.

In 2011, out of 25 towns and cities outside of London with two or more universities, Lancaster was ranked the third safest in the UK. I remember quoting a similar statistic to my mum who’d been worried about me moving back to the UK when I’d been accepted into university. It was true, I’d often let my guard down maybe a little too much in Lancaster, like when we’d go out drinking or when I’d happily leave my bag and purse unattended in the library when I went to grab lunch.

But in that moment I was genuinely scared.

“I was speaking to you,” the man said. His friends laughed.

My first instinct was to ignore him and carry on walking but I didn’t want to anger him further.

“Sorry,” I mumbled. I was apologising to this man who was harassing me in the street.

He laughed at this point. “You carry on, darlin’, just remember your manners in future,” he grinned.

I practically sprinted back to my house. I was shaking as I tried to place the key in the keyhole, looking over my shoulder to make sure they hadn’t followed me home.

After I got inside and double checked that all the doors were locked I went up to bed. That’s when the gravity of the situation hit me.

Why did these men target me? Frighten me? Almost threaten me?

Was it because they were drunk and I was the only person there? I thought back, he’d called me ‘Blondie’. ‘Blondie’ is a term I’ve always loathed. Yes, I have blonde hair. No, I’m not ecstatic that you’ve chosen to characterise me based on a minor feature of my physicality. What was it with seedy men shouting ‘Blondie’ at me and my other blonde friends? Then it hit me; those men probably didn’t approach me because I was the only person around, no, it was most probably because I’m a woman. I thought about all the stories friends had told me and of other encounters I had experienced myself; being beeped at and jeered at through a car window, being called a variety of disgusting sexually-orientated slurs, being physically groped in nightclubs, being drugged in nightclubs – only a month ago a woman had been raped in Lancaster when she’d asked a man for directions.

I was stupid to walk home alone, I should have gotten a taxi – but then again, why should I have had to pay for a taxi to drive me five minutes down the road at ten o’clock in the evening? Why should any of us have to worry about being targeted or harassed in these kind of situations at all?

I’m not trying to say that all men are evil harassers or that men don’t suffer equally horrible forms of harassment themselves; it is a well-known and unfortunate fact that many men will be victims of violent assault, after all.

What I am trying to say is that this is still such a massive problem, and I challenge anyone who claims that it isn’t; it’s happened to me before, it’s happened to my friends, my family, women all over the country. Hell, it happened to me again two days ago. We have a fundamental right as human beings to go about our daily lives without fearing aggressive, vulgar and downright unacceptable forms of harassment.

It’s great that organisations such as Anti-Street Harassment UK are working towards making the streets a safer and less daunting place for women, but the problem is still ever-present for most of us. I’ve overheard people stating that it’s ‘no big deal, feminists just love to over-exaggerate’ and that ‘we’re lucky to be in the UK because in India loads of women get full-on groped in the street’, and of course this is barbaric, but verbal harassment is notokay either. Just because it’s a lesser form of a horrific problem it doesn’t mean that what a vast majority of women in the UK experience should be dismissed.

Hopefully more bystanders will start calling harassers out on their actions and a day will come when street harassment is no longer loosely considered as a cultural norm. But until that time comes all I can say is that I won’t be walking home on my own in the dark next time.

Maybe I’m mistaken and they didn’t target me based on my gender. Maybe I’m just being paranoid and I’ve got it all wrong, but based on numerous similar experiences I guess I’ve just become a bit cynical.

Becca

Feministy Shit

Hello, Fia here! I’ve been thinking about starting blog entries about random feminist thoughts and issues and have never actually had the guts to do it… Until I was incredibly drunk that is. So yes, welcome to the first installment of “Feministy Shit,” an article I wrote whilst incredibly inebriated and edited whilst incredibly sober.
Cheers x

Part 1: Begin at the beginning.

When I’m not doing this godforsaken maths degree, I’m playing around with feminism. This has caused a little bit of a stir back at home, both with my friends and family, and I feel like I have to almost ‘come out’ as a feminist. So this is the first instalment (quite possibly the only instalment if I never find the time again) of ‘Feministy Shit’ . And yes, you’ve guessed correctly, that is literally a title I’ve pulled out of thin air while drinking copious amounts of alcohol.

This first chapter/chronicle/blog is going to start at the beginning. Yes. I’m going back to the first time I really ‘got’ what feminism means. I imagine this is a topic I’ll return to a million and one times, but it means a lot to me, so just let me ramble, K THX BYE.

When I was 18 and had just started university, I went to a friend of mines poetry reading, afterwards there was wine and a drunken party (obviously). I got chatting to this girl. She was older than me by about 5 years or so and I mentioned that I had a part in ‘The Vagina Monologues’ next term. She said that was nice, that she’d been a part of it before (oddly enough, with the same monologue as me) and that it was cool that I was getting into feminist things.

This made me pull a face. Me, feminist things?

That’s where I put my foot in it: ‘Doesn’t feminism mean that you think women are better than men?’ (I’d been drinking at the time, so this is a loose translation, but you catch my drift.)

Little did I know that the next few sentences she said would change my perspective forever: ‘It makes me so sad you think that, Fia. So many people think like this. All I’m asking for as a feminist is equality between men and women. Men and women should be treated the same.’

That was it. Drunk, at a party, I’d been told an undeniable fact that was previously warped to such an extent that it had lost all positive connotations. And no, this isn’t just some feminist myth I’m making up. If you Google ‘define feminism‘ it will tell you what I just said, albeit with better grammar and the general sense of sounding more official.

Feminism means equality.

I can safely pinpoint that moment as being the moment I realised that I was a feminist. I’d believed strongly in equality between race, genders, religion, sexuality, economic class etc (in no specific order) since FOREVER. I’d been brought up in a scientific family and I was told constantly to question the society and ‘facts’ presented in the world around me (high-five, parents!). I’d been told not to accept any so called ‘information’ I heard in the newspapers, and instead to explore grey areas.

And that was it. I was a convert. I was a self-defining feminist.

I’ve been lucky enough to drown myself in feminism and throw myself into pits of feminists since then, but I still have a few friends who are vaguely bamboozled by this ‘feminist’ thing I’ve become involved with. Why are they confused? Well…

I don’t hate men and they know this.

I shave and they know this.

I’ve never burned a bra and they know this (they’re expensive things, burning them is super counterproductive. If I really hated bras surely I’d just not buy them in the first place?).

Being naked is something I’m distinctively awkward about – in fact, I’m rather self conscious and won’t get changed in front of people – and they know this.

I love makeup and they know this.

I love fashion and flowers and dresses and skirts and high heels and looking feminine, and they know this.

What some people still don’t seem to understand is that by being a feminist, I’m asking for the ability to make my own choices. I’m asking for the choice to shave; I’m asking for the choice to revel in my sexuality; I’m asking for the choice to wear makeup or be bear skinned; I’m asking for the choice of wearing whatever the fuck I want; and I’m asking for these choices to be fulfilled without a single moment of judgement.

Choices free of judgement.

Choices free of judgement regardless of ANY constraints that have been encouraged by society. Women deserve to be able to make the same choices as men, and men deserve to be able to make more choices without judgement. In this day and age, who on this earth has the arrogance to dictate that any kind of sexuality or decision should be questioned? Why the hell should my religious beliefs or the colour of my skin encourage someone to restrict my decisions or choices, or oppress me in any way?

I’m sick of inequality. I’m sick of oppression. Let us all be equal. Give me equality. Give me the freedom to make my own decisions without your judgement.