Motherhood, mental illness and beyond

Posts tagged ‘feminism’

No More Skinny? No More Scrutiny!

This week the Sun, that proudly misogynistic excuse for a newspaper, launched a campaign called No More Skinny. Fronted by 3 supposedly famous men (I haven’t heard of any of them but then I’m not really the Sun’s target demographic) it claims to be demanding that model agencies and fashion shows stop using models who are “stick-thin”. Now, the idea of campaigning to stop the promotion of generally unattainable thinness & the normalisation of disordered eating is one I could definitely get behind. But I’d that’s the case, why not call it “No more skeletal models” or similar? Well, because No More Skinny is all about men’s perceptions of women’s bodies . I shouldn’t be surprised, really, seeing as this comes from the “newspaper” that considers soft pornography suitable for a supposedly family-friendly title. The intentions of the campaign’s apparent founder, Dan Wootton, may have been good (he writes in this article that as a gay man who struggles with his weight, his concerns are genuine) but the result is not.

Mr Wootton’s co-campaigners are Olly Murs and Professor Green, and their attention seems focused on the attractiveness of the women concerned. “Sometimes skinny women can look attractive – but it is too dangerous. It is ridiculous when you see size-six, even size-four, girls on stage” worries Mr Murs. Professor Green (real name Stephen Manderson) chirps helpfully that “The most important things are health and happiness” and frets about women (he calls them girls but I assume he means women) who crash diet and have unnecessary cosmetic surgery. At some point Marilyn Monroe is cited as a desirable body shape.

And this is why the No More Skinny campaign is so useless. It’s not about discouraging the use of skeletal models, it’s not about encouraging girls and women to be body confident whatever their shape, it’s not even about the dangers of restricted eating and excessive dieting. It’s about what men find desirable. Let’s ignore the fact that female bodies come in a variety of shapes and sizes – some naturally thin, some naturally podgy, most somewhere in between. Let’s ignore the objectification and othering of women that the Sun encourages on a daily basis. Let’s instead focus on what men find desirable in a female body and campaign for that.

For years women have been given conflicting messages about what men find attractive. There are two main points I wish to make about this. Firstly, men find a variety of body shapes attractive, they’re not a legion of robots programmed to admire only one type of figure. Secondly, and far more importantly, women and girls are far more than merely a lump of flesh for men to judge as aesthetically pleasing. Women run, walk, rest, have sex, dance, bear children, climb, work and many other things – and at no point is the superficial appearance of our bodies relevant, only their function.

Body confidence is just that, having confidence in your body. It doesn’t necessarily mean loving every inch of it nor ceaselessly working to maintain it. But it does mean finding the strength to ignore what society says is desirable and focusing on what works best for you. Ignore No More Skinny, ignore “real women have curves” (which always makes me wonder if non-curvy women are imaginary or maybe holograms) and use the body you have. Tall, short, fat, thin, hourglass, apple, pear, taut, wobbly, buxom, athletic, whatever your body looks like the only person whose opinion about it matters is you.

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Not all men!

Recently there seems to have been a lot more discussion of feminism, sexism and misogyny online than usual. This is partly due to stories in the press; these include the trial of Oscar Pistorius for killing his girlfriend, the rapist Ched Evans reportedly being offered a £3m contract with Sheffield United Football Club before he’s even released from prison and the murder of numerous individuals by Elliot Rodgers after posting hate-filled and misogynistic videos online.

It’s also due to more and more women speaking out about their experiences. The Everyday Sexism Project has shocked a lot of people, featuring as it does the uncomfortable, unpleasant and often harrowing experiences of millions of women and girls across the world. In addition to this, several recent hashtags on Twitter have also been eye-opening for many – I suggest you have a look at #Grabbed and #WhyIDidntReport in particular.

According to the World Health Organisation over a third of women (35% to be exact) worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence at some point in their lifetime. A third. In some countries girls are more likely to be raped than they are to attend school; whatever country you live in I can pretty much guarantee that you know at least one woman, probably more, who has suffered rape, sexual assault or physical violence.

When I started university I shared a flat with 4 other women. Of the 5 of us, aged just 18, 2 of us had been raped and 1 had been sexually abused by a family member. And we’re not unusual. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that in England and Wales an average of 85,000 women are raped every year while over 400,000 women are sexually assaulted. Of course, these figures are only for those cases where the victim reported the attack; it is widely understood that there are many more cases that go unreported, as this well-known graphic shows:

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In addition to this, 2 women per week in the UK are murdered by their male partner; in the first 4 months of 2014 over 50 women in the UK had been killed by men. That’s one every 2.5 days, roughly. In addition to this there’s the harassment – being groped, having comments made about our appearance, verbal abuse when a man’s advances are declined. It’s not just adult women who experience this either; a survey for Girl Guiding UK found that 70% of girls aged 13 and over report sexual harassment at school or college.

So why am I writing about all of this again? It’s because I’m increasingly seeing the phrase “Not all men!” cropping up in discussions about male violence against women. It seems that many are insulted by the perceived implication that all men are violent, evil, rapists and murderers. It’s those people that I really want to read this post. Because you see, when we’re talking about issues like male violence and I refer to “men” (and obviously I can only speak for myself) I’m not saying that all men are the same. That would be ridiculous. What I’m doing is referring to men as a sociological group, in the same way that I might refer to the middle-class or the white population. And men, as a class, are a threat to women, as a class. What I’m not saying is that any individual man is a threat. With me so far? Good.

When women talk about instances of misogyny, their experiences of rape, sexual assault and harassment, the “not all men” should be implicit. Obviously not all men rape, assault, grope or harrass women – do we really have to say it every single time? Seriously? Because the fact is, although the men who abuse women are the minority, they are the ones under discussion. Not the good guys. And if we have to qualify every single discussion of misogyny and abuse with “Not all men” for fear of offending someone, then the discussion may well stall and be stifled. And it’s a discussion that needs to be had by everyone, whatever their gender.

Some men find it hard not to feel personally insulted when “men as a class” are being discussed. I get that, I really do. I sometimes feel the same when I see discussions among the trans* community about how they’re treated by cis people, or discussions by people of colour about their experiences at the hands of white people. But do you know what? It’s a group of people relating their experiences at the hands of the dominant group as a class. It’s not an attack on me personally. Similarly when we’re discussing misogyny, abuse and male violence against women, it’s not an attack on any of the good guys either. So please stop yelling “Not all men!'” and join in the conversation instead.

Is International Women’s Day really necessary?

Today, March 8th, is International Women’s Day. This is an annual event and every year there are people who ask, is it really necessary? Isn’t it sexist to have a day dedicated solely to women? Women have equality, what more do they want? So this year I want to explain why I believe that International Women’s Day is not just necessary but essential.

We live in a world where women perform 66% of the world’s work and produce 50% of its food, but earn only 10% of its income and own 1% of its property. This is easy to dismiss as being a problem that’s only relevant to developing countries where manual labour is far more common, but the fact is that even in the UK women are paid significantly less than their male counterparts. Women are also a rare sight in boardrooms and on the benches of Parliament. We live in a world where the vast majority of lawmakers are male and frequently pass laws restricting the rights a woman has over her own body.

In recent years global awareness of female genital mutilation (FGM – also known as female circumcision or female genital cutting) has increased. This is not a procedure akin to male circumcision, which involves the removal of the foreskin only. FGM involves the removal of part or all of female external genitalia, often without anaesthesia and without any medical need. Indeed, it’s difficult to conceive of a medical condition that would require a young girl to have her clitoris or labia cut away, or her vagina stitched closed, without anaesthesia or pain relief but this is often the reality. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 140 million women and girls worldwide have suffered FGM. Again, this is easy to dismiss as an issue that only exists elsewhere but it’s estimated that even in the UK 20,000 girls are at risk of FGM every year.

Everywhere we turn, women are objectified and treated as men’s property and sexual playthings. WHO figures show that over a third (35.6%) of women worldwide will experience physical or sexual violence at some point in their lifetime. In some places girls are more likely to be raped than they are to attend school. Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that in England and Wales an average of 85,000 women are raped every year while over 400,000 women are sexually assaulted. This is merely the tip of the iceberg as it is believed that there are many cases which are never reported. The Everyday Sexism project has exposed the frighteningly commonplace harassment that women and girls in the UK (there are now Everyday Sexism projects in other countries too) suffer on a daily basis. It makes sobering reading, as does the survey carried out in 2013 by Girl Guiding UK. Shocking statistics from this survey include the fact that 60% of females aged 11-21 have had comments about their appearance shouted at them in school and 62% have been shouted at or whistled at in the street. Even worse, “70 per cent of girls aged 13 and over report more intrusive forms of sexual harassment at school or college, including: sexual jokes or taunts (51 per cent), seeing images of girls or women that made them uncomfortable (39 per cent), unwanted sexual attention (28 per cent) and unwanted touching (28 per cent)”.

It’s not just sexual harassment, assault and rape that women face. Research carried out by the charity Women’s Aid concluded that in the UK an average of 2 women per week are killed by their current or former male partner. According to data gathered by @CountDeadWomen (a valuable and eye-opening project on Twitter) 22 UK women were killed through suspected male violence in the first two months of 2014 (that’s roughly one woman killed every 2.5 days).

I’m not denying that men suffer sexual assault, rape, domestic abuse and harassment. Of course they do and these incidents are just as unacceptable as those where women are the victims, but these cases are a very small proportion of the overall figures. Personally I have suffered rape, sexual assault, abuse at the hands of a boyfriend and harassment as I go about my daily life. I don’t want this to be my daughter’s experience; I don’t want her or my son to grow up in a society where the oppression, abuse, harassment and violence that women suffer is so pervasive that to some people it is not only the norm but it is becoming invisible.

(In anticipation of the inevitable comments, yes there is an International Men’s Day; it’s on November 19th. Now read this post again and ask yourself why that was the first thing you thought worthy of a comment).

When is a toy not just a toy?

Late last year I was privileged to be part of the founding of the Let Toys Be Toys campaign. Growing out of parents’ increasing frustration at the labelling of toys as being for boys or for girls this grassroots campaign has had a lot of publicity and a fair amount of success at persuading some major stores to change their signs and websites so that toys are categorised by function (science toys, construction toys, home play toys etc) instead of by gender. Although I am no longer involved with the campaign I follow and support them avidly.

However supporters are increasingly being attacked by people who accuse them of all sorts, from not having enough to worry about to being told that “The women complaining are probably tree hugging,vegetarian, stone henge visiting eco pricks!! What boring lives you must lead!!! Get out more, let your hair down,stop revolving your lives around things that dont matter, bloody pale faced, plain jane cunts!” (That was on the Boots UK Facebook page today).

Even a former friend who is an intelligent mother of two and teaches a male-dominated subject felt that this campaign was a waste of time when there are more important issues to worry about. To her and all the other people who genuinely can’t see what the fuss is about, I would like to explain.

The fact is that advertising influences people. We all know that. But children are more vulnerable to it than adults because they haven’t developed the kind of critical thinking and scepticism needed to see through advertising. Children are literal and if they are led to believe that a toy is meant for only one gender then they will accept that as a fact.

A common argument is that just because, say, a science kit is labelled as being for boys it doesn’t mean that it can’t be bought for a girl. And of course this is true. However it is an overly simplistic attitude and fails to recognise the socialisation that takes place during childhood. Many parents have tales of a child being put off a toy or activity once they perceived it as being for the other gender.

Major retailers in the UK habitually classify dolls and home play toys as for girls. Because of course men don’t have children or do housework do they? Oh wait… Meanwhile science and construction toys are commonly labelled as being for boys. Even toys that you would assume even the worst offenders would think were gender neutral, such as craft kits and board games, are segregated (craft is for girls and board games for boys, apparently).

Did you know that only 13% of STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) jobs in the UK are occupied by women (source: WISE)? Labelling STEM toys as being for boys is not going to help change that. We need to put a stop to this idiotic trend and we need to do it now.

I have both a daughter and a son. I am raising them both to be kind, loving, nurturing, able to do housework and know that they can achieve anything, have any job or career they want to. I don’t think this is unreasonable, so why do toy manufacturers and retailers?

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