Sexism is on every student’s agenda

Unilad.com churned out tastless rape 'jokes'

TRIGGER WARNING: Rape.

“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.

The curse of the post-modern feminist

Fem 11 was a great event but more suited to newbie feministas

I’m not going to be feminist bashing, so if you thought this was that kind of post click off now (or stay, read and troll, I’m not too fussed). I’m not going to start the whole man-hating-doc-martin-wearing-angry-bitches crap because I am a feminist and proud.

First off I don’t hate men. Proof; my dad’s amazing and I have some great male friends. One even urinated on my radiator and we’re still talking. I also want a family some day. I wear heels, dresses and make up. Basically I look like an average 20-year-old woman. But yes I’m a feminist. Like every self-respecting female should be (my Mother’s words).

Feminism changed my life and I owe a lot to it. But it can be bleeding annoying at times. Currently for me this is all of the time.

Somewhere along the line I’ve wound up in a world where sexism is screaming at me from every corner of life. And it won’t shut up. Everywhere the little gremlin is there, on my twitter feed with stories of yet another atrocity against the female race, someone on Facebook using the word “frape”, people on Tumblr posting pictures of gender insulting fashion ads, even my bathroom has a bottle of shower gel called “clean, girls!” which is just goading.

I while away hours reading “Oh God, another person in America has said something stupid about abortion/abstinence/homosexuality.” No, I don’t have time for this! I don’t want to spend all day reading articles that prove exactly what I already know about the world. How did I get to this state? I have absolutely done it to myself. I’m not looking for it where it isn’t there. It just is and I seem to have put myself at the centre of discussions of where, how and why.

Just please, please eyes, for one day if you see a news report on yet another rape or Nadine Dorries saying something silly, just please stop working. I want a big CENSORED sign across my peripheral. I feel like the biggest bitch in the world when I’m analysing, not purposefully, what my friends, lecturers and everyone on Facebook is saying. Just for one day.

For one day I want to watch a film without applying the Bechdel test. I want to watch Misfits without thinking “there’s a rape joke. Oh and another”.  I want to hold my tongue when someone calls me a girl or ‘young lady’. I want to be able to read the Daily Mail without throwing it across the room. Actually I could leave that last one.

I started out loving feminism, relishing in pointing out the damaging portrayal of women in the media. Now I’m starting to resent it taking over my life. I don’t want to talk or think about it all the time. I was definitely tired of it when I came back from a feminist conference last month.

A friend and I went along to Fem 11 in London. A conference organised by one of the leading feminist groups UKFeminista. We spent six-and-a-half hours talking about and listening to all the ways the world is bad to women. I didn’t learn a single thing. Granted we did talk about how to get involved with activism but it just seemed like I’d heard it all before. It was a great event but not for me. It seemed perfect for someone who had just started out in feminism and I bet they had a crackin’ day. But I came home feeling thoroughly depressed.

So this is the curse of feminism. Don’t let it put you off though. It can be thrilling seeing and recognising inequality that you never noticed before. You feel like you’re making a tiny difference each time you tell someone about what you’ve read or found out. The world needs feminism, every type of it. It would just be a lot less annoying without all the pesky sexism.

Written for The People’s Republic of South Devon.

Why I won’t be going to see Breaking Dawn

Looks normal but their relationship is seriously messed up

Written for The People’s Republic of South Devon.

I didn’t join the queue of friends booking tickets to the penultimate installment of the Twilight Saga last week. The whole franchise leaves me hating Hollywood and vampires and Kristen Stewart. That wasn’t always the case though. I used to be a bit of a ‘Twi-hard’, the name the die hard fans of the books and films have become affectionately known.

I got into the whole Twilight vampires thing from the first film, then read all of the books over the space of about a month. Aside from the dodgy sentence structures and questionable narrative the essential idea is good. I actually couldn’t put it down. But, and it’s a big but, it is completely riddled with flaws from the outset. The more I read the more I worried and the feeling of something being ‘not quite right’ about it grew and grew.

SPOILER: For those who don’t know the cult books, the main characters are Edward Cullen and Bella Swan. Edward is a vampire who only drinks animal blood. We like him, he’s a ‘nice’ vampire. Bella is a human who falls in love with said vampire. Their love is based on the fact that he has an almost uncontrollable desire to kill her. Problematic in itself and I quote, “your scent, it’s like a drug to me. You’re like my own personal brand of heroin”. Someone PLEASE be screaming feminist slurs at the screen right now. They start dating, break up, get back together, get married, have a baby, he turns her into a vampire and they all live happily ever after. There’s also a werewolf skulking around.

There seems one glaringly obvious flaw to those who know the signs when reading the books or watching the films. Strangely though it’s gone unnoticed by millions of people worldwide.

Edward is abusing Bella.

She is in an emotionally and sometimes physically abusive relationship. It ticks all the boxes. He has all the traits of an abusive man, he’s charming, he’s manipulative and has an incredibly short fuse. He shouts. He sulks; he’s a generally moody, brooding character. He glares, all the time! He belittles her and Edward makes sure he always knows where she is. He makes her think she has to rely on him to look after her but in turn she is left responsible for his emotional well being.

Edward is in complete control of her life. Sure Bella ‘chooses’ to become a vampire, she ’chooses’ not to see her friends as much. But, just like real life abusive relationships, we have to ask – can these choices really be down to her if she has someone niggling in her ear, watching and criticizing her every move? Are they really her thoughts if everything she does she’s doing for him?

The part of the series that I was most shocked and appalled by was the physical abuse Bella is put through. In Breaking Dawn, the film that’s just been released, Bella and Edward finally have sex. Notice only on their honeymoon, his decision, after they are married – also his decision. Afterwards Bella is left with bruises all over her body because he’s a rock hard vampire. She seems strangely proud of these bruises. Not even purple handprints all over her body could bring her down on “this most perfect of mornings”. The writer, Stephenie Meyer, goes so far as to repeatedly describe these bruises as ‘decorations’.

Even the film’s actors take on this sexist view. In an interview on This Morning with Holly Willoughby this is what Robert Pattinson, the man millions fantasize about, said:

Holly: “The first three movies he [Edward] spends his whole time trying to protect Bella’s honour. And now that he’s a married man obviously things can progress…”

Robert interrupts: “He does whatever he wants… he owns her!”

Really? So now you’re advocating rape within marriage. Or at least making a poor joke about it. What a wonderful message to send to a 13-year-old girl.

There are examples of emotional abuse in virtually every chapter of the four books. Why isn’t there a huge uproar? Are people just not noticing this? Or if they are why are they so precious about a story where the main character is literally a monster?

Twilight is as damaging to young minds as porn. Like porn, young consumers of it may create a sense of what is expected from them and in turn what to expect from others. With Twilight it’s relationships and with porn it’s sex. Imagine a whole generation growing up with misogynistic views on sex and misogynist views on relationships. It’s almost like an attack on women and society itself. Thinking about it and analysing needs to go further than ‘there’s something not quite right here’. The books romanticise sacrifice and suffering for a man something which, frankly, scares me more than the thought of a vampire penis.

If you’re still not convinced the books are dangerous drivel read this quote from Nikki Gassley then say these books won’t make the slightest difference to the way these tween Twi-hards think.

Here is what we learn from Twilight.
Women should want to cook and clean, and stay in the home, forsaking education for family.
Women must expect men to invade their privacy and, what’s more, they must desire this.
Women should accept that they are incapable of making even small decisions in their own lives and they must, instead, submit to the will of a man.
Women must understand they are worthless without a man.
Women must understand they are nothing without a man.
Women must understand they will never with anything without a man.
Women must believe these things are done out of love.
If Reasons 1-6 don’t strike you as a big deal, Reason 7 should be a red alarm.
Stephanie Meyer claims her book promotes feminism because it all centers on Bella’s choices.  When I look at Twilight, I see a list of things I will never teach my children. I see a list of warning signs for unhealthy relationships. I see a detailed description of a severely sexist worldview.

David Cameron needs to listen to us women

Back to the 1950s?

Last week the Fawcett society, a leading women’s rights organisation, unveiled its “life raft for women’s equality”.  That’s a fancy way of saying that we, as 50% of the population, need a fairer deal.

Firstly they want funding for Sure Start centres to be ringfenced. Then they want local authorities to ring fence their domestic violence service budgets. They also want child benefits for low income families to be restored back to what they were before April 2011. This all sounds pretty marvellous and crucial to improve the lives of millions of women.

I’m worried this may all be too little, too late as the government has already taken a hacksaw to child benefits and domestic violence support funding. Like here in Devon where the county council has reduced its funding by 100%. Yes 100%, as in all of it. Just how can they justify doing this when in 2010 there were 18,940 reports of domestic violence in Devon and Cornwall? (Devon and Cornwall police figures.) It’s mind-boggling and downright disgusting.

Now yet another damaging proposal has just been revealed; to lower the age that young parents can receive some cash to help with childcare costs. Currently parents aged 20 and under can receive up to £175 a week to pay for childcare so they can go to college, undertake training or go job hunting. Now the Department for Education is considering lowering this age to 18.

I don’t know about you but most of the young parents I know had their babies around the age of 17. Under these plans that would only give them a year at most to start a career, or at least get a job. That’s just not going to happen. It’s not enough time to do a course, especially one that’s part time, which they will have to do because of the child.

Now I know the cuts aren’t about preserving long-term financial stability (or maybe they are, I sometimes get distracted by Cameron’s smugness) but all of this leaves me livid. If funding is constantly cut like this us women may as well go back to the kitchen sink and stay there. Every single cut they are making says to me that they want us back at home with the children with no way out. Back stuck in abusive relationships with no refuge. Did someone say 1950s? If the government and local authorities keep cutting our lifelines this is what’s going to happen.

Last weekend a hash tag on twitter put feminism firmly on the social media spectrum. It was #feministwishlist, designed to highlight inequality and misconceptions of feminism.

@leenie909 summed it up perfectly in one tweet.
“#feministwishlist For people to realize [sic] that women are not a “special interest group.” We’re half the planet.”

You hear that Cameron? No? Well I’d start listening.

Written for The People’s Republic of South Devon