No More Page Three protest London

Gathering outside News International

On Saturday my boyfriend and I went along to a protest outside News International, the owners of The Sun, organised by No More Page Three and OBJECT.

It was protest against Page Three on the 42nd anniversary of its launch.

For anyone outside of the UK Page Three is feature found in some tabloid newspapers, like The Sun and The Daily Sport, where there’s a large photograph of a topless female glamour model on the third page of the paper (hence ‘Page Three’).

When we were there everyone signed a card to give to the editor of The Sun, Dominic Mohan. We did a bit of chanting and then the front of the card was revealed (see picture below).

We were all asked to ‘spot the difference’ between the two sides. Then some of the activists tried to deliver the card through the doors of The Sun. Security wouldn’t have it. One woman was hurt during the scuffle but seemed OK afterwards.

We did some more singing and chanting and then moved peacefully back to the pavement. This is when my boyf and I left to grab some food.

I’m gutted that we left early because after we went the police were called and ended up signing the petition. A policeman said they’d banned The Sun from the police station because it’s degrading to women and left a comment on the petition saying ‘women deserve respect from the media’. AMAZING.

East London Lines did a great report on it and you can sign the petition here.

Card for Dominic Mohan for page three’s 42nd birthday

Singing the card

Trying to deliver the card to The Sun

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15 things…the Daily Mail taught me

I read the Daily Mail for six weeks (for research, that’s why there are scribblings on some) and here are the pearliest of the pearls of wisdom I found.

[Click on photos to enlarge]

1. Boys should be BOYS and avoid things that are ‘feminine’ so they aren’t called a girl.

2. That thing where I quite like the woman who gave birth to me, that, that’ll end in tears.

3. When (not ‘if’!) I get married I’m biologically programmed to dictate my husband’s eating habits.

4. Getting back in the kitchen will make everything better.

5. As well as the kitchen, dusting will make us feel better and show our men we love them.

6. We should be worried about “foreigners” getting life changing health care.

7. There was no point getting that degree.

8. If you’re a size 12 you’re obviously having too much fun and should stop it immediately. (I MUST BE HAVING SHIT LOADS OF FUN).

9. If you’re curvy your dress is hard working – not bejewelled and fabulous.

10. YOUR PARTNER’S (potential) INFIDELITY IS YOUR FAULT.

11. Feminism is about being ‘honest’ with ourselves and accepting the status quo.

12. Being a working mother is dangerous.

13. It’s OK to be a bigoted homophobe.

 14. Stuck in a dead-end marriage? GRIN AND BEAR IT.

15. Loads of, like ALL, career women feel like they shouldn’t be there.

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.

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.

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.