Using ‘Ms’ is still a feminist issue

National Rail don't have a problem with women using Ms

“This will probably seem a bit silly.” That’s how I started the conversation with my bank manager in my hometown of Teignmouth that got me laughed out of his office.

“I want to change the name on my account from ‘Miss Cook’ to ‘Ms Cook’” I told him. At this point I expected him say “yes of course” and within a few clicks I would have the prefix on my bank statement that I use everywhere else. Instead he laughed. A lot. When he composed himself from the devastatingly witty joke he said, “You’re right. That does seem silly.”

My Caitlin Moran sexism alert was going off in my head. “This is sexism!” I thought. “And it’s happening to me.” Why does a bank manager in 2012 find a woman wanting to change her prefix funny? This should be an every day occurrence. I was under the illusion that Ms was the default honorific for women. Perhaps I just read too much of the Guardian, which in their style guide says, “use Ms for women subsequently unless they have expressed a preference for Miss or Mrs”. Well if the Guardian would call me Ms why are you laughing MR bank manager?

I tried to explain to him why I wanted to change it. It was simply because men are called ‘Mr’ their whole lives and I wanted to have a prefix I could use in the same way. Pretty logical I thought.

“But ‘Ms’ is for divorced women. Are you divorced?” – he thought he had me there. “No I’m not but I know lots of women who choose Ms.” He laughed again and dismissed me. I thanked him for his time and stormed out of the office in true Apprentice boardroom style.

I was riled. But I do get that on the scale of women’s rights issues it hardly even deserves a place. Being called ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs’ is not something that’s going to make the pay gap widen, cause the conviction rate for rapists to lower or fuel street harassment. I was still annoyed though. I was at the bank anyway opening a savings account and it would have taken one minute.

When I went in the next week to cash a cheque, I asked the woman behind the counter to change the ‘Miss’ and she left the manager a message asking him to change it. He never did. By this point it was less about wanting to have a prefix and a name I could keep for my entire life – Ms Chloe Cook does have a certain ring to it – but more about the point that bank staff refused a customer’s request because it was a feminist issue.

The inevitable time came when I ran out of money for baked beans and vodka and needed to extend my student overdraft. I went into the meeting determined not to take no for an answer. That conversation ended, Me–“So you won’t change it?”. Him–“No.”

It turns out Bournemouth, where I go to university, is a pretty good place for gender equality. After all the trouble with the bank back in Devon a clerk behind the counter changed it within minutes. “They really wouldn’t change it?” she said. “That seems silly.”

Written for The People’s Republic of South Devon.


Meet the Feminist Beauty Queen

As part of a project about beauty pageants I’ve been working on for university I spoke to one pageant winner who takes women’s rights seriously. Clara Belle is Miss Durham 2011 and a feminist.

Read the article here.

I personally do not agree with her take on feminism as you will probably have guessed from this post but it was really interesting to talk to her. She spoke a lot about what I’ve started calling “individualist feminism” because that’s the only way I can describe it. She says it’s about “doing what you want to whether or not it promotes equality between the sexes. It’s individualism as well as feminism.”

“I’m not damaging. I know I’m part of an industry that could potentially be seen to be damaging. But I personally am not”, she says.

This kind of thinking is alien to me as feminism in my eyes is about making change for the whole global community. Women and men are not equal and so we can’t justify doing these kind of competitions.

I could see the argument for pageants in the UK if women, like Clara with a degree and drive, had the same chance of getting a place in the cabinet or editing a newspaper as a man of the same age, with the same degree and the same ambition. Only then can they be seen as ‘harmless fun’.

I will write a bit more about my experience of watching a pageant and how it is still a cattle market within the next couple of weeks.

Much love,



Podcast: Are modern Beauty Pageants degrading?

Protests outside the Miss World finals last November reignited fierce debate in the feminist community – with some women calling beauty pageants ‘empowering’ and others ‘degrading’.

As Miss England regional heats take place up and down the country, I talk to two opposing feminist activists and discuss whether the traditional feminist view is outdated.

Correction: When I say there is a ‘swimwear round’ in Miss England I meant to say ‘sportswear round‘.

Dorset police rape campaign totally misses the mark

One of the scaremongering campaign posters

Written for The Bournemouth Rock newspaper.

Trigger warning: discussion of rape and sexual assault.

Unless you’re a final year student stuck in limbo between the library and your semi-detached in Winton you will have seen the yellow triangles plastered around Bournemouth town centre. They are warning signs reminding us women to keep safe at night. Operation Protect, a campaign ran by Dorset Police, has been linked to the 50% drop in alcohol fuelled sex offences in Bournemouth, as well as winning a national policing award. Maybe there’s no denying that fall in rates and the campaign are linked, but there are still major drawbacks to its methods.

At first glance the main message is neither revolutionary nor controversial. Most of the posters emphasise the importance of getting home safely and knowing your limits – sound advice for everyday living. Two posters however, are misinformed and scaremongering. One of them shows cartoon stick figures captioned, “we met, he bought me a drink, we danced, he raped me”. It suggests that every man a woman ‘dares’ to dance with or accepts a drink from will sexually assault her. Both posters then state, “In most rape cases women know their attacker.” This is true, but Dorset Police have failed to put this in the right context. Most victims know their attackers because almost half of all rapes occur within relationships.

According to statistics by the Home Office about victim and perpetrator relationships, in the majority of all rapes reported the perpetrator and victim are partners at the time of attack. Ex-partners, dates and ‘other intimates’, meaning family members and close friends, commit a further 40%. Strangers account for 11% of attacks and 16% of rapes reported are perpetrated by acquaintances.

Nothing is factually wrong with what the posters are saying. But thanks to skewed media reporting the general public has an idea that rapes are committed by strangers hiding in bushes. Now the police are telling us that most of our male friends are waiting for their opportunity to attack. So us women have to now look out for strangers in bushes and male friends, acquaintances, doctors, lecturers, our hairdressers, that bloke we met at that party once and thought was alright – anyone who we already know. By saying that most rape victims know their attackers without explaining why is irresponsible. Not to mention that it paints all men out to be sexually violent.

The thing that angers me the most is that they had a chance to do something different. The whole campaign focuses on women making the right choices to prevent themselves from being raped and barely touches on telling rapists not to rape. Only in sexually violent crimes do people blame the victim. I could cover up head to foot in a bin liner, stop drinking alcohol and even stop flirting with men unless I wanted to have sex with them within the next half an hour and if I was raped someone, somewhere would still say it was my fault. That’s the kind of attitude rape victims have to deal with everyday and the police should be the first people to try and stop this, not fuel it.

Original article in the Bournemouth Rock page 11

Sexism is on every student’s agenda churned out tastless rape 'jokes'


“I’d say rape only happens because lasses can’t handle the banter”, “No such thing as rape only surprise sex”, “When people ask me what I do, I tell them I test rape alarms. It sounds better than saying I’m a rapist”. Just a choice selection of comments on the Uni Lad Facebook page which has over 77k likes.

I’m not shocked or appalled. I’ve heard it all before. I’m used to hearing rape jokes. They’re just another ‘meh’ moment in the day along with a “the awkward moment when…” Facebook status or anything Holly Willoughby says. The scary thing is that, unlike the Daily Mail, the site hasn’t been created by some patriarchal media overlord. It’s been made by and for supposedly intelligent male students.

One of its articles this week caused a twitter storm after it published. “If the girl you’ve taken for a drink happens to belong to the ‘25%’ group and won’t ‘spread for your head’, think about this mathematical statistic: 85% of rape cases go unreported.” The bottom of the article had this ‘disclaimer’ “Uni Lad does not condone rape without saying ‘surprise’.” Naturally tweeters laid into the site. They faced a backlash from Uni Lad. One tweet even asked if one of the women complaining was a ‘dyke’. Very in keeping with its misogynistic and homophobic style guide.

After ardently defending the article it was eventually taken down, an apology issued and the whole website closed. More pearls of wisdom from the site have been passed around from blogger to blogger since then. .

This is not an isolated case of a messed up uni student, who is now facing disciplinary action from his university. Articles like this keep being printed. Like the London School of Economics newspaper article  that promoted ‘donkey punching’ and included the standard “it’s not rape if you shout surprise” line in there.

Exeter University Students’ Union has also been in trouble for printing a joke in one of its leaflets about the number of calories a man could burn by stripping off a woman without her consent. These leaflets were handed out with every ticket bought to the Safer Sex Ball, the biggest event in the Exeter Uni calendar. If the university bodies themselves are jumping on the sexist bandwagon can we be surprised that more and more students are becoming outwardly patriarchal? I mean none of this is new. These jokes have been printed for years in the original Lads’ Mags.

A lot of this LAD culture is harmless ‘banter’ but there seems to be an undercurrent of misogyny where women are just sex toys. To quote the Uni Lad article – if a woman “happily” has sex with a “male after one date” she’s branded a slut. But really the words ‘slut’, ‘slag’ and ‘whore’ are interchangeable with the words girl or woman. With student shops still selling Lad’s Mags and some university presses printing these kinds of things it’s not surprising more people are responding to the ‘jokes’.

I’m sure no SU shop would stock racist publications so why are sexist magazines any different? By using sexist and objectifying advertisements for SU club nights and running events with pole dancers and strip teases just reiterates the view that women, female university students, are there to be had. And like a truLAD you should ‘man up’ and ‘go for the gash’.

For something to change Student Unions need to take a ‘brave’ stand against sexism by doing everything they can to rid Universities of hateful views. Only by addressing this on a national level through an organisation like the NUS will uni students get the message that sexism is not okay, that women are not on this earth to make sandwiches and that saying misogynistic crap definitely won’t land you that graduate scheme.

Written for The People’s Republic of South Devon.

Dorries’ bill is dangerously misguided

Mean girls sums up the ridiculousness perfectly

Today a bill will have its second reading in Parliament. A bill which would see girls aged 13-16 have extra sex education lessons as well as compulsory lessons stressing abstinence. Abstinence as in “just say no” to sex. Nadine Dorries is proposing no such education for the boys.

This is the political equivalent of debating whether we should make otters wear top hats on a Tuesday. It’s all scarily vicTORYan. Not only is this one of the most insulting bills to have ever been put forward but MPs are actually bothering to give it a second look. This has been written by a woman who said, “If a stronger ‘just say no’ message was given to children in school then there might be an impact on sex abuse… if we imbued this message in school we’d probably have less sex abuse”. Yes she actually said that. Apparently child sex abuse takes two and this is the kind of twisted logic she applies in this proposal.

What I can see from the bill is that I, as a woman, should have more “self respect” and say no when men want to have sex with me – even if I want it too. I have also learned that boys have uncontrollable sexual desires and can take no responsibility if I get pregnant. I’m a 20-year-old woman and I know this is ridiculous. At 16, 15, 14 and 13 I would know that was ridiculous too.

Even if it’s not meant to be an assault on morals it feels like it. She is trying to turn slut shaming into legislation. The bill is offensive to both men and women. It pays men a disservice by saying they are slaves to their hormones and it implies that women have no sexual desires of our own, that we simply put up with it. I do agree with her on one thing though, sex education needs a shake up.

Ms Dorries argues that in a highly sexualized culture abstinence is the way forward so women can become “empowered”. Right now young women are living in a Britain where the majority learn more about sex from pornography than anywhere else. In porn, contraception is rare, women are submissive and the stars are fake.

To truly empower these girls to be able to say yes when they genuinely want to instead of when they think they should, they need more details. They need to know the ins and out of it before they chose whether or not to. Making an informed choice is at the heart of empowerment.

When I was 13 we had one sex education lesson in a year, our nurse told us a bit about contraception then we all got the chance to put questions in a box and she would answer them. I put in two; “What is the pill?” and “do men have orgasms?”. She answered the first – it wasn’t even included in the contraception talk. The second she threw in the bin. She read it out but said she wouldn’t answer it. I’m still not sure whether this was because she thought it was a joke question or she was too embarrassed.

This is the kind of sex education we have in the UK. It’s vague and the information that is given has gaping holes. Homosexuality was never even touched upon during my time at school. It’s not enough when the basics aren’t explained or teachers are too embarrassed to answer the questions students really want to know.

It’s been proven that abstinence education does not work. So why even go there? There are ALWAYS going to be teenage pregnancies because teenagers have sex. But how about teaching girls that they can do anything, that motherhood isn’t the be all and end all of a woman’s life? Also let them develop a healthy, informed and equal attitude to sex. Only then will teenage pregnancy rates fall.

Shaming girls who are of age into saying no when they want to and will be safe about it is wrong. I think Dorries needs a lesson on sex education from this young woman. Even at 13 she knew that a woman’s sex life has nothing to do with who she is as a person. Now that is empowerment.

UPDATE: The bill has just been withdrawn!

Written for The People’s Republic of South Devon.

¡Viva la–Feminist–Revolución!

Do you know feminism is fashionable? ©gaelx Flickr

I’m not a fairy and I don’t intend to become one. This isn’t new, I wasn’t a fairy when I was five either. Nor was I a princess or a massive pink marshmallow.

Really I should have been Thumbelina’s best mate from what the shops were trying to sell my Mum. I was a child who liked to play with Lego and that Lego didn’t need to be pink.

The thing is more and more people are seeing the damaging ways marketing executives are using gender stereotypes to flog their wares. Boys and girls are boxed in when it comes to buying for them and the way people treat them.

If you’ve taken a stroll down the toy aisle in Debenhams or any shop selling toys you will see what I mean. Doctor’s dress up outfits labeled ‘Boys’, green nurses outfits ‘for girls’. One aisle dedicated to building things, chemistry labs, toy cars. The other aisle has make up, tea sets and kitchenettes.

Boys are aggressive and make things happen whereas girls fritter away their time working on their looks and planning the perfect princess tea party. Surely no parent would tell their daughter that they can only ever be a hairdresser or beautician so why let it happen through the toys you choose?

More people are asking this question and this is in no way a new observation. The press has been a wash with stories on gender stereotyping recently. One charity set up to combat the ‘pinkification’ of girls is Pink Stinks and the founders, Emma and Abi Moore have been everywhere this week, Daybreak, Loose Women and the Independent magazine to name a few. People seem to have realised this is a problem.

So feminism is becoming fashionable. And people are listening to us. Just last week Hamley’s removed their ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ floor labels after blogger Laura Nelson wrote about it. If we carry on like this feminism could go mainstream. Even if it is just Liz Jones from the Daily Fail claiming she’s a feminist in a twisted and ill-informed way it’s something. It’s putting feminism back on the agenda when it was denounced for so long.

I run the feminist society at my university. In the first year we started we shied away from the word ‘feminist’ and used the cop-out name of Bournemouth University Students Against Sexism Society. Since calling ourselves Bournemouth Students’ FEMINIST Society we’ve doubled our membership. Grassroots activism groups have popped out all over the country and organisations like UKFeminista now run summer schools and have regional officers.

It’s not just a fad and it’s not just feminism. My generation is becoming increasingly politically minded. It’s more common now to have a proper chat about the government in the pub rather than who’s going out with who. Politics is catching out of desperation and dissatisfaction. There seems to be some kind of energy to it. At last people are getting het up and angry about things! There’s a socialist worker society and an activist society at Bournemouth University, possibly one of the least political institutions there is. Things are a changing and it’s about bloody time.

Written for The People’s Republic of South Devon.