The hypocrisy of calling for anonymity for rape defendants by @sianushka

(cross-posted with permission from Sian & Crooked Rib)

originally published 12.9.13

TW for rape and rape apolgism

I don’t know how many more times I can write this blogpost.

But, unsurprisingly, the not guilty verdict in the Michael LeVell trial has led to more calls across the media to introduce anonymity for rape defendants. From Philip Schofield’s tweet to this frankly disturbing Peter Lloyd piece in the Mail, those who believe that those accused of rape should be afforded the same protection as victims of rape are out in force.

The formula is the same. A man’s life has been ‘trashed’ because – in their belief – a woman ‘lied’. His reputation is in ‘tatters’. In this case it’s the reports of drinking and extra-marital affairs that are the problem. The logic goes that if this girl had not made a rape complaint, no one would know about the affairs and therefore all rape defendants should have anonymity.

The hypocrisy of the press in this matter is astounding.

It’s the press that gleefully reveals the embarrassing personal details such as affairs and drinking, and then use the fact that this embarrassing information is out there as a reason to re-open the debate foranonymity  for rape defendants. In the run up to the trial I saw gleeful headline after gleeful headline on the tabloids in my corner shop on alcoholism and affairs – the very stories that are now seen as reason to change the law in favour of men accused of rape.

As Glosswatch  says in her superb blog, we don’t know what the motivations of his accuser were. But we know what the motives of the press were in reporting his affairs and drinking. And it wasn’t motivated by showing solidarity to the rape complainant, but a prurient delight in celeb bad behaviour.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. It isn’t rape survivors or rape crisis centres of feminists campaigning against violence against women that are ‘dragging a man’s name through the mud’. We just want to encourage victims and survivors to feel safe and supported and for victims and survivors to have access to justice. And part of that involves naming defendants.

Despite the views expressed across the press today, and the increasing results of public polls on the issue, naming rape defendants works in the interests of open justice. It improves justice for victims and survivors. It simply does. The academic research bears it out – with research from Professor Clare McGlynn  published in the Criminal Law Review making a comprehensive case for why naming defendants supports justice and encourages convictions for rape.

In her concluding comments, Professor McGlynn writes:

‘First, there is no justification for singling out the offence of rape for special treatment. There are many stigmatic crimes: indeed that is one of the reasons for labelling an activity criminal. Secondly, while parts of the media may be irresponsible, this alone cannot justify limits on media freedom which may impinge on its ability to report issues of public interest and attempts to catch the public’s attention. Similarly, and thirdly, it may be that the difference between suspicion and guilt are not as apparent as they should be to some people. But this does not include all people, and it would be dangerous indeed if public debate could only proceed at the level of the least able. There is, therefore, no basis on which to single out the offence of rape. The final lesson, and perhaps the most important conceptual message to be drawn from the analysis in this article, is that privacy rights, the mainstay of justifications for reform, are generally not accorded greater weight than freedom of expression, when open justice and media freedom come into play. If the media are to be able to report matters of important public interest, such as rape cases, the choice of method of doing so, often likely to include the personal details of a defendant, is an important element of media freedom and open justice.

It isn’t just academics. Police and legal experts are also of the belief that anonymity for defendants will impact on justice for victims and survivors. Responding to the Stuart Hall case, Lancashire Police confirmed that naming the suspect helped survivors to come forward, leading to his conviction.

The cases like Stuart Hall’s bear out the argument for naming defendants over and over again.RochdaleWorboysGordon Rideout are all cases where naming the defendant(s) has encouraged survivors to come forward, report and secure convictions. Without the ability to name these defendants, without women seeing the reports and feeling that finally, they are able to come forward, these men probably wouldn’t have been convicted. We all know, after all, how often the police knocked back women reporting Worboys, delaying justice as he continued to rape. How often the girls inRochdale were ignored.

And I’m sure we can all agree that we are glad these serial rapists have been convicted and put into prison. I’m sure we can all agree that we would not have wanted anonymity for rape defendants in those cases – anonymity that may have prevented the cases progressing. And yet this is what those calling for anonymity are leading us towards.

But unfortunately it doesn’t matter how much research you quote, how many case studies you give and how many experts you refer to – the belief that anonymity for defendants is necessary sticks. Why? Well, the argument against naming defendants lies in the belief that a rape accusation ruins lives. But it is something else too. It is the belief that has developed that somehow false accusations are equal to being raped, and that false accusations are common. We know the latter isn’t true and in fact false accusations of rape are rarer than false accusations of other crimes. And, let’s face the facts. Being accused of rape is not the same as being raped.

Rape can ruin lives. It does ruin lives. It can lead to depression, PTSD, it can leave women with STDs that impact their physical health or their fertility. The impact of rape is far reaching, and can go on for years. Each woman or girl will respond differently to the violence committed against her and not everyone will feel the same long-term impact. But the fact is rape isn’t just a one occasion thing that happens and then is done with. And it is astoundingly, terribly common. The BCS estimates there are between 60,000 and 90,000 rapes in the UK every year. That’s 60,000 to 90,000 people every year who are living with the devastating impact of rape.

It simply is not equal to false accusations of rape. It certainly is not equal to being accused of rape. And let’s remember that most men who are accused of rape actually committed the crime. In fact, for the handful of cases that make it to court, 63% of defendants are found guilty (the conviction rate from incident to guilty remains at 6.5%).

Of course I know that to be falsely accused of rape can ruin lives too and I appreciate that. But – and there is a but – we only have to look at our popular culture that celebrateslaudswelcomes andsupports men who have been found guilty of rape or domestic abuse to know that men who abuse women aren’t automatically placed beyond the pale. It’s embarrassing just how much our culture is happy to boost convicted rapists and abusers, whilst hounding and attacking their victims. 

The calls for anonymity ignore the reality of what rape is. It places making a rape complaint on the same level as being raped – suggesting that one is as damaging as the other. It argues that rape defendants are victims too, victims of women who have a legal right to make a rape complaint. They’re not. They are defendants. They have been accused of rape. They are not victims.

The calls for anonymity ignore the overwhelming and repeated evidence that naming defendants is good for justice. And that is what matters in the end. Justice. There is no convincing argument out there that supports anonymity for rape defendants. There isn’t. Each one of the arguments ignores the rights of victims and survivors and the voices of victims and survivors. And that isn’t good enough.

Rape crisis helpline: 0808 802 9999

Sian and Crooked Rib I‘m a bristol based blogger who writes stories, talks about feminism and politics and generally muses on happenings. [@sianushka]


Motherhood is not for every woman by @LK_Pennington

Cross-posted from: Louise Pennington
Originally published: 22.06.14

Every single time I read this statement, I twitch. Because I do know what the author, in this case Melanie Holmes, means  but it’s inevitably from a place of privilege. I certainly agree with this statement:

Motherhood is not for every woman. And we shouldn’t assume that it is. It is unjust to view females’ lives through the lens of motherhood. Instead, we should view females through a wide‑angle lens.

Not all women want to be mothers, many become mothers by accident and some want to become mothers but are denied that through infertility or life. Not all mothers are “great” (however you want to define that) but most mothers are “good enough” – a statement which is as patronising as it can be true. Most mothers are doing their best whilst living in a culture which devalues and, frequently, hates women.

The problem I have with the “motherhood is not for every woman” rhetoric is encapsulated in Holmes’s concluding sentences:

When we speak about motherhood, let’s be realistic. No one can have it all. Some don’t want it all. And it doesn’t make them selfish, dysfunctional, or “less than.”

The problem is the phrase “have it all” is absolutely limited to  white, well-educated middle class women who are not disabled and nor do their children have disabilities who live in house free from domestic violence in an area where street violence is minimal and the schools and childcare are excellent. Many women living on this planet are working extreme hours living in absolute poverty with no access to education, healthcare or, in many cases, clean water. There is a vast chasm between white, ‘western’ women who have ‘it all’ (however you define that) and the reality of the lives of most women who become or want to become mothers.

It’s much easier to be a mother when you have money, healthcare, and sanitation. It is much easier to mother your children when they do not have profound disabilities in a culture with very little support for your child and basic access to education for your children, whilst guaranteed by law in the UK, rarely exists. It assumes that you have access to every single specialist that your child needs to support them. It ignores women who have disabilities themselves, who are most likely to be living in poverty. It ignores women living in poverty working 3 jobs to pay the rent whilst their child’s father refuses to pay child maintenance. It ignores the women who are experiencing domestic violence and are desperately trying to protect their children from a violent father and a social structure which blames the mother rather than holding the father responsible for his violence. It ignores women living in conflict zones: from gang-ridden areas of major cities to war zones across the world. Being a mother in an area where violence is the norm is incredibly difficult.

We’ve got to ensure that the “motherhood isn’t for everyone” and “motherhood isn’t the most difficult job in the world” rhetoric don’t end up silencing or erasing women for whom motherhood is indeed like being a soldier – esp when you live in a conflict zone from Iraq to any area where gang violence is endemic.

Motherhood would be easy if we didn’t live in a capitalist-patriarchy. It would be easy if male violence weren’t a real threat that all women live with. It would be easy if access to clean water were actually considered a basic human right and not a commodity to be sold. It would be easy if our government actually invested in our children with well-funded schools, libraries, parks, and healthcare instead of spending £3 billion year on nuclear submarines. It would be easy if mothering our children were valued.

The capitalist-patriarchy harms us all but it disproportionately affects Women of Colour, women with disabilities, and women living in poverty. Not all women want to be mothers, not all women can be mothers and not all women should be mothers. But, we need to recognise that mothering is made harder than it should be because of the culture in which we live.

We need to be realistic about the context in which we live.

India’s Sexual Assult Epidemic- Indian PM says: “Rape… Sometimes it’s Right”

(Cross-posted from The Feminist Writer)

Two young girls were hanged from a tree after being gang raped in the fields outside their home in India, renewing a countrywide outcry over sexual violence. When asked to comment on this horrific act, a state minister from Priminister Modi’s ruling party atrociously stated: Rape “is a social crime… Sometimes it’s right, sometimes it’s wrong.”  A statement that aborrently echos society’s unjust view on sexual assault and unfairly resonates unethical implications with India’s Social Caste System.

Last months gang rape of two girls has since prompted hundreds to march against violence towards women, rallying for PM Modi to take a real stand against this national crisis, although sadly, this has not come without a price. News of the forth woman to die in such a way made headlines this morning (June 12), as the women of Uttar Pradesh fought bravely to condemn the brutality of such violence. Surely we cannot deny that these assaults- the rape and murder of four Indian women- are nothing less than a sexual assault epidemic, put simply as a national crisis that will not or cannot end when the country’s own leader allows for such a heartless response to such acts of brutality and hatred.

The family of the 19-year-old found hanging from a tree in a village in northern India says she was raped, and this news comes just one day after another woman’s body was found, in the same way, in a remote village elsewhere in the state.

Tragically, however brutal these killings, they are not isolated events. They are not the first, and nor will they be the last. Such attacks, according to the BBC, have long taken place in Uttar Pradesh, unreported unsurprisingly (remember rape “is sometimes right”), but recent outrage over sexual violence has resulted in an increase in cases being reported to the police (although the word corruption comes to mind, if we take into account the three suspects and two policemen accused of dereliction of duty and criminal conspiracy held over the lynching of the two young girls). Importantly however, the media coverage gained by these reports, allows us however tragically, to raise awareness of such brutality, although clearly the world still has a long way to go.

Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, with more than 200 million inhabitants, is home to a huge number of poor people, and it is the “poor and the disadvantaged low caste women who are most at risk of such crimes” (BBC News). India must stop denying caste and gender violence.

There is one hauntingly inescapable detail that surrounds these killings: “their deaths were by no means inevitable” (ibid). The cousins- raped and hanged from a mango tree- were members of a Caste System known as Other Backward Classes (OBC), low on the caste hierarchy, leaving them vulnerable (fatally in this case) to the men of the far more privillaged Yadav Caste, who through their ‘power’ gain worryingly even the support of their leader. With no indoor toilets, the girls had gone out into the fields late at night to relieve themselves; sadly, many low caste women must wait until late evening to do this to avoid predators (horrific enough, when you imagine the poor levels of hygiene and sanitation that these women must endure, let alone the fact that they have to consciously avoid using the the bathroom in order to protect themselves from the men who prey on their disadvantages). Sadly this ‘tactic’ does not always work.

When the girls did not return, the father of one went to report the missing children to the police, only to be slapped and sent away by the constable on duty. We must not forget this. Horrendously the caste system of the father fundamentally dictated the way in which the police dealt with the report. Strikingly, if the father had been from a more privileged caste, the girls may have been found before the country brutally allowed them to be murdered.

The last few months have seen their full freight of witch burnings, caste rapes, and acts of terror against women and children from lower castes, not to mention the significant rate of domestic violence and dowry deaths in Uttar Pradesh alone. According to Nilanjana Ray of the New York Times, the recent crimes highlight two significant factors: “the refusal of the chiefly privileged caste police officers to intervene in time to save the lives of victims from less powerful castes, and the determination, however underprivileged, to force a response from an indifferent state and civil society.” After refusing to let down the bodies of their girls until both the authorities and media had payed attention, the families, today, face threats that cynically attempt to pin the killings on them. Such assertions follow the ‘City Rape Case’ Pattern: the intent is to exonerate the accused men and to place the blame onto their own families.

India has a long marked history of overlooking the deliberate sexual violence inflicted on women, as well as ignoring the lynchings and murders of men, women and children from less privileged caste systems throughout the country. One of the most haunting aspects, is that these killings are branded ‘normal’ and fit the general pattern of caste crimes. “The need to end the collective denial is urgent if the country is to acknowledge just how widespread the epidemic of violence is” within India itself.

The Feminist Writer: Soprano. Music Student and feminist. University of Bristol. Identify yourself as a feminist today and you’re automatically assumed to be a man-hating, whinny liberal; we need to challenge this perception. Feminism is misunderstood and it seems important to fight against these misconceptions. @amymarieaustin 

Feminism in a Patriarchal World – Cats vs Dogs

(Cross-posted from Outspoken Redhead)

I was really lucky in being invited to speak at the Fair Play South West Women’s Manifesto Event in Exeter yesterday. I was asked to talk about Women and Power – which I think is really fascinating.  I believe we have a squeamish relationship with power, principally because so often, the socially constructed version of power on offer is generally pre-constructed by patriarchy: from Parliament – 800 years of history and only during the last ten percent of that time, do women get to vote – to private companies, established on the post Industrial Revolution model that in addition to appropriating the surplus value of labour, capitalism also appropriates domestic labour. Nearly every large company or industry operates on a model of each worker having a wife, or paying for the equivalent.  And yet, we are supposed to be grateful for this inclusion, this begrudging offer of so called equality.

But I had seventeen minutes!  How do you do justice to any topic of this breadth in this time.  For me, when I speak, my only aim is to make people think.  I don’t want people to think how clever I am, but how clever we all can be, if we take off our socially constructed lenses and see the world how it really is.  Yesterday, I used the metaphor of inviting women to have equal access to Parliament, but staying the same, with all its traditions and rules developed over hundreds of years is like Crufts opening its doors to cats, but changing nothing else whatsoever.  I didn’t have the time to do this justice yesterday, but here’s what I mean…..
After years and years of canine dominance of the pet world, the Kennel Club eventually relent to pressure and open their doors to cats. It’s not a decision that comes easily, cats have fought valiantly for their rights, while many in the dog community argued this was unnatural – what next, slugs?!!  But the decision is made and cats are invited into Crufts.
The first challenge is the preparation – many cats are horrified at the thought of being bathed and blow dried to look their best.  “I do my own washing,” they say, backing nervously away from the sink.  But to succeed they need to look like the dogs, puffed up and fluffy.  For some cats, always used to lives of luxury, this comes easier; after all, they are pedigree cats, everyone gets washed, surely no one still actually bathes themselves?  But for the street cats, brought up in ordinary households, this is excruciating.
It doesn’t get better, next they must strut and trot into the ring for the judges, on a lead.  “The thing is,” say the cats, “we don’t really strut or trot.  We kind of, well, saunter”. This is Crufts, comes the reply. You want to compete?  You trot and you look bloody happy to be there.  Many cats slink away at this point.  The dogs look at each other and nod.  They knew this would happen.  Cats, you see, don’t really want to compete.  They’re not cut out for it.  They’re emotional and disorganised, not like dogs.
But worst of all are the obedience tests. When first shown the tests, the cats stare in disbelief.  Surely, this is a joke.  What, you want us to run up ladders, jump through hoops and do all of this really quickly??!!! Holy Bastet, are you actually serious?  The dogs face them gravely. We are so proud of our traditions here at Crufts.  For hundreds of years, dogs have bravely run up and down ladders, leapt through hoops and now these Janey come lately felinist types want to change all that.  Because they’re “cats”, sneer the dogs, making quotation marks with their paws.
Of course, it goes badly wrong.  The audience laugh at the cats and they are humiliated, although some bravely struggle through.  The cats representative body call a meeting with the dogs representative body. They prepare carefully.  Above all, they try to seem really reasonable.  The cats are all under instruction not to hiss or make that wonderful low growling sound that they make so well.  They want the dogs to take them seriously and not condemn them as typical cats, hissing, spitting and scratching.  This approach causes arguments amongst the cat ranks, but a common approach prevails.
The cats meet with the dogs.  The cats have made a list of demands and they present these one by one
Change Crufts to Make It More Cat Friendly:  This is resisted firmly. If cats want to be taken seriously they need to be able to compete in the Crufts world. Surely they don’t expect special treatment?  Because they either compete on the same terms as dogs or not at all.  This demand is refused.
Provide Litter Trays and Scratching Posts:  Apparently the cats found it humiliating to defecate on the grass and have it packed away in bags.  One cat on the committee suggests they could use the Fox Hound Hunting Gallery as hunting with dogs is actually illegal, so how is this even still needed? “But it’s our HISTORY!” growls the lead dog.  One litter tray is granted, in the basement.
Change the Culture of Crufts: The cats are nervous about this.  They explain gently, that it is really hard, that whenever they enter the arena, dogs growl and raise their hackles in an aggressive and predatory way and they feel as if they may be chased or bitten at any moment. Some brave cats talk nervously about their own experiences of having to hide in high places, while dogs barked and snarled at them below.  Some were actually bitten, but they didn’t want to make a fuss and didn’t report it, but tried to get back in the arena and hold their heads and tails high.  But if they are to compete, this needs to stop.  Because for so many cats this is a day to day experience of being anxious out on the street, always listening for the next woof or growl, which may well be just day to day banter, but sometimes it does result in the heart stopping sudden chase and the terror of wondering if you can run fast enough to escape.
For the dogs, this is too far.  The Chair of the Dog Committee, barks out “Not all dogs do that!!!  I’ve never chased or bitten a cat – what do you think we are – animals?!! And anyway, what about these cats, walking along high fences with their noses in the air, what do they expect?  We’re only dogs after all.  So what if dogs growl and bark when you walk past – many of them do it to dogs too.  This is the world you wanted and you’re just going to have to dog up”.  Some other dogs talk about the times they had their nose scratched by a cat and all the dogs and sadly, quite a few cats, nod sympathetically.
So, despite winning hardly any demands, a small number of cats persist. Some, especially the pedigrees revel in succeeding in this canininocracy. “Look at me,” they purr, “I’m here because I’m better and I never expect special treatment”. Others carry on because they believe firmly they should be here and this was a hard-won right.  They practice their lead skills and ladder walking, endure the bathing and struggle to find time for the sleeping in the day or the lying out in the sun.  But they secretly feel that they sold out and wish they had done more to change things.
But for many cats they think, Leave them to it.  It’s not a life for me.  And I can’t see any relevance to me in taking part.”  Radical felinists dream of a world which is created by and for cats, but in which dogs will be happier too.  Some dogs support the cats, risking being called pussies by their fellow dogs, but they continue to argue for change.  Because some of them are tired of the need to be constantly loyal, chase sticks and always be so fucking excited at the prospect of a bloody walk.  Some dogs confess that they think they are actually cats and vice versa, but their lives become complicated and dangerous, especially as many cats feel angry at these interloper dogs coming over here and telling them how to meow.
Saddest of all though, is that for most of the cats and dogs, Crufts doesn’t work.  It only benefits a handful of pets, while the vast majority of pets worry about fleas and whether they will be on supermarket basic tinned food or if they will be able to be vaccinated this year.  The unspoken question is whether any cat or dog needs Crufts at all or whether something altogether new would serve everyone so much better.


(Cross-posted from One More Mum)

Originally posted March 13. 2012

I don’t know why I’m writing this. I don’t know why on a Sunday evening, I’m sitting in my home tapping out words on a screen while I listen to the distant sounds of my daughter making lunch for tomorrow, with a gnawing anxiety churning away inside.

I don’t know whether she is making food that she will eat, I don’t know whether she is going through this performance to convince me that everything is normal or whether she really believes that she will eat. I don’t know if she will keep the food down if she eats it.

All the certainty in our lives seems to have gone. Six months I ago I thought I knew my beautiful clever daughter so well. I thought I knew how she felt and what made her happy and sad. I knew that unlike many other 14 year olds, L was sensible, grown up, had her life all mapped out and was indestructible. I don’t know when the day was that it all changed. I don’t know when she looked in the mirror and instead of seeing a slim healthy body, saw a fat loathsome body that had to be punished. I don’t know when she only started to feel safe when she stopped herself eating. I don’t know how she found out how to make herself vomit up the little food that she had eaten. I don’t know how she learned to do it quietly or how she hid the smell.

But worst of all I don’t know how to help her. I know where to find information, I know where the over stretched services are that might, one day, be able to see her. I know, just about that this disease, this illness, isn’t her fault, isn’t my fault and despite the endless displays of underweight models that now sicken me, probably not society’s fault. I know the damage it will do to her and the theories that underpin treatment. But I don’t want theory or information. I don’t want a booklet or a leaflet. I want my daughter back. I want my wonderful, funny, delightful girl to walk through the door and make herself her favourite cheese and ham toastie. If that can’t happen now I want to know that one day it will. I want to know she will get better and that someone, somewhere out there will know how to reach her, how to find the young woman she was and the young woman she will become and bring her back to us. Because I love her and I’ve always solved every problem for her and with her as she got older and now, I know nothing. I have no idea how to help my beloved daughter.

So that’s why I’m writing this. Because perhaps someone will read it and know more than me and know that it will be ok. Perhaps someone might know how this feels, like watching someone you love disappear from view and slip through your fingers, no matter how hard you try. Because we can’t get through this on our own

One More Mum: Blog about my daughters’ struggles with mental health, especially anorexia and anxiety as well as my own experience of depression. I write other things here I’m not yet brave enough to write about openly.


The Anti-Feminist Woman and the Case for Bodily Integrity by @VABVOX

The Anti-Feminist Woman and the Case for Bodily Integrity
by Victoria A. Brownworth

The Oxford English Dictionary, which I rely on regularly for words I don’t quite understand, defines an anti-feminist as “one opposed to women or to feminism; a person (usu. a man) who is hostile to sexual equality or to the advocacy of women’s rights.” The Oxford Online Dictionary defines an anti-feminist as “(adjective) opposed to feminism; (noun) a person opposed to feminism.” Roget’s Thesaurus offers this synonym foranti-feminist: “Misogynist, noun, someone who hates women.”

Sexual equality is the foundation of all feminist theory. It stipulates, unequivocally, that women should be and deserve to be equal to men. So anti-feminist theory or behavior is succinct: it is in opposition to this foundation theory of feminism–equality.

A core tenet of feminist theory–all feminist theory, regardless of wave–is a woman’s bodily integrity. Autonomy. Rights over her own body.


We most often define this as a “woman’s right to choose”–meaning reproductive rights–but bodily integrity also known as bodily autonomy, has also been extrapolated to include lesbians and gay men and their rights to bodily integrity. That was the core argument in the 1986 U.S. Supreme Court case Bowers v Hardwick, which attempted to overturn sodomy laws in the U.S. which were unfairly applied to lesbians and gay men but not heterosexual couples.


The High Court did not vote to do so at that time (that would happen in 2003 in Lawrence v. Texas). The dissenting opinion in favor of overturning the sodomy laws in Hardwick was Justice Harry Blackmun. Blackmun’s opinion was scathing in its rebuke of the majority opinion. Blackmun argued it went against already established law–law he himself had authored in 1973–Roe v. Wade, the law legalizing abortion in the U.S. Blackmun argued that bodily integrity was a basic constitutional tenet. A right for all Americans, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.


In 2003, in writing the majority opinion in Lawrence v. Texas, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that Blackmun had been right, the court had been wrong and he and the majority of the justices overturned the nation’s sodomy laws.


The function of this little history lesson is not to show off my knowledge of U.S. Supreme Court cases, but to point out that the concept of bodily integrity is not new. This is not something a handful of lesbian feminists just decided last week in the midst of some flaming arguments to the contrary on Twitter.


This is law. And not just law in the U.S., but law in most of the West. The confluence of abortion rights for women and bodily integrity rights for lesbians and gay men are aggregate: they have become inseparable in English Common Law which is applicable in both the U.S. and U.K.


This bodily integrity law has been utilized by groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (founded by a lesbian, Jane Addams; I just feel compelled to toss that fact in there) to address issues related to persons with AIDS as well as women prisoners with children.


Bodily autonomy–not just an Internet meme, but a basic tenet of feminism and of English Common Law.


That really should be enough. I should be able to stop right there. That’s the only statement that needs be said.


Except extremism and the extremist proponents of extremist philosophies often contravene law. In civilized society we usually refer to this as terrorism. Like when the Boko Haram kidnapped 300 Nigerian schoolgirls on April 14 because they did not want mainstream Nigerian society teaching girls they had bodily integrity or autonomy because in Boko Haram’s extremist view, girls are things, chattel whose bodily integrity belongs not to the girls themselves, but to the men who “own” them.

Last week Afusat Saliu was deported back to Nigeria from the notorious Yarl’s Wood detention center. Afusat was attempting to gain asylum for herself and her two daughters. Why? Bodily integrity. She did not want her daughters to be forced to undergo the barbaric practice of FGM–female genital mutilation.


I have written about these deportations repeatedly in the last year and a half, most recently about the case of Aderonke Apata, a Ugandan lesbian who was to be deported back to certain death because she is a lesbian and Uganda denies her that bodily integrity.


On International Women’s day 2013, another lesbian who was deported from Yarl’s Wood was killed. Jackie Nanyanjo, who I have written about repeatedly, died after she was deported back to Uganda.

Like Afusat, Apata was claiming asylum because of bodily integrity. And because she does not want to end up like Nanyonjo. Dead.


Prior to engaging in social media, my experiences of anti-feminist behavior and attitudes were relegated to right-wing and religious-right/fundamentalist social and political groups. In the U.S., the Republican Party and the Tea Party; in the U.K. the Tories and the UKIP. These groups regularly try to define women’s bodily autonomy and restrict it to fit their own belief systems, which are not that far off from Boko Haram’s, they just don’t kidnap women or walk around with machine guns. But don’t let their suits and civilized appearance deceive you. These are the same men (and anti-feminist women) who believe rape isn’t really a thing and as one congressman famously said, “Women have ways of shutting down” conception, anyway.


Boko Haram, the magic powers of raped women–it sounds very 16th century and Malleus Maleficarum–when witches spirited men’s penises away.


We could all have a good long wry laugh about this except thousands of women were burnt at the stake, 300 or more Nigerian schoolgirls have likely been sold into sexual slavery, women are being raped every minute of every day not just in conflict zones but in every city and town and hamlet in the world.


So we can’t laugh about it.


But apparently we can’t talk about it, either.


Demanding our legal right to bodily integrity is considered a joke by the Right. We hear every day how you “can’t thread a moving needle” or that “no really means yes.” But it’s not just the right-wing extremists and religious zealots trying to deny women our bodily integrity now. It’s the anti-feminist women in service to men.


It’s no secret I am a lesbian. I’ve been out of the closet since I was expelled from high school for being a lesbian. I had no bodily integrity then. But I have had it since and I fight for other women to have it, too. I defend a woman’s right to have or not have a child, regardless of what I might personally believe. And even if I hadn’t been the victim of rape at 17 while a college student and again recently, I would defend the rights of women not to be raped.


So this column is in defense of women’s bodily autonomy, their right to do what they want with their own bodies. This shouldn’t need to be said. It’s feminism 101. It goes back to the first wave of feminism. It goes back to second-wave feminists trying to make rape in marriage a crime. It goes to current fourth-wave feminists on college campuses trying to get attention for the epidemic of campus rapes. It goes to Afusat trying to save her young daughters’ clitorises and Aderonke trying to save her lesbian life and me constantly having to write about lesbian victims because no one else will. It goes to women who are enslaved worldwide in domestic and agricultural and sexual bondage. It goes to butch and femme lesbians who were regularly raped by police in raids on gay bars. It goes to women in prison raped by guards. It goes to women immigrants in detention centers in the U.S. and U.K. being raped by guards. It goes to everything that was said last week at the London Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict.


It goes to the inviolate nature of women’s bodies.


We own our bodies. The feminist struggle, the global feminist struggle, is about this: ownership of our bodies.

So when you anti-feminist women–because only an anti-feminist would argue this–come on Twitter or Facebook or Pinterest or whatever and try to argue that women do not have that legal right to bodily autonomy? That legal right that was fought for by women and lesbians and gay men who were desperate to be able to control their own lives, desperate to have authority over their own bodies? You anti-feminist women who do this should feel the deepest shame there is to feel. You should feel the shame of the deaths of all the women in back alleys bleeding out somewhere from a botched abortion. You should feel the shame of pain of the butch lesbians who were like my own mothers when I was growing up gay in the bars after they’d been forced to suck some abusive cop’s dick, or worse, be penetrated by him. You should feel the shame every other right-wing ideologue should feel for attempting to steal another woman’s right to her own body.


Stop it. Just stop it. Stop saying that lesbians must have sex with anyone not of their choosing, Stop literally trying to ram both your skewed extremist politics down the throats of lesbians with the penises that go with them. We are not trying to take away your right to choose. Your sexual choices are your own. But so are ours. And you can name call (the right calls us against nature and says we should be rounded up and killed–you call us names and say we should be burned alive–burned alive) all you want but as Angelina Jolie said so succinctly at the ESVC summit, the shame belongs to the perpetrator, not the victim.

Stop victimizing us. Stop demanding we “suck my balls” or “suck my dick” or any of the other vile misogynist demands men have made of women against their will from time immemorial.


We own our bodies. We have a legal right to bodily integrity. And you? You have nothing but the shame of the violent extremists who want women raped and broken to prove that your ideology supercedes the true morality of allowing every woman and girl in the world choice.


It’s your rapey demands, it’s your shame. Own it. If you think you are better than Boko Haram or the Texas state legislature that won’t let women say the word “vagina” on the floor of the House or the Home Office getting ready to send another lesbian back to Africa to be raped and murdered, think again.


We won the rights to our bodies. Women died for our rights to be free from people like you. So call us whatever names you want for claiming what is ours. But don’t dare, ever again, call yourselves feminists. You don’t even understand its most basic tenet.


Victoria A. Brownworth is an award-winning journalist, editor and writer and the author and editor of nearly 30 books. She has won the NLGJA and the Society of Professional Journalists awards, the Lambda Literary Award and has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. She won the 2013 SPJ Award for Enterprise Reporting. She is a regular contributor to The Advocate and SheWired, a blogger for Huffington Post and a contributing editor for Curve magazine and Lambda Literary Review. Her book, From Where We Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth won the 2012 Moonbeam Award for cultural&historical fiction. Her novel, Ordinary Mayhem, will be published in fall 2014. @VABVOX

Masculinities, Femininities, and Socialisation by @SparkEquip

A couple of years ago I sat in a café with a man talking about masculinities. One of the things he said has stuck with me. “But what do you say to a 6 year old boy who asks, ‘Mummy what does it mean to be a boy?’” At the time I had a 6 year old son and so responded by suggesting that I would say to my son if he asked this question (he never has) with asking him, “What does it mean to be you? What are your unique gifts, talents and the things that make you special?”

This man’s question got my brain whirring. As a woman I had never felt overly passionate about the question, “What does it mean to be a girl/woman?” Why was this man so in need of an answer to the question of what it meant to be a man? And an image formed in my mind. This is what it looked like (yes this is how my brain works):

What we find is that men are socialised into a much smaller area of the spectrum that makes up human identity. Although men have access to a much greater amount of power and privilege than women, their access to the spectrum of human character is much smaller. This means that a man’s core identity is much more clearly enmeshed with his gender socialisation than a woman’s usually is. Examples of this include it being socially acceptable for a girl to be a tom-boy, but not for a boy to be a tom-girl.




When men are told that they can have access to the whole of the human spectrum, this may threaten the very structure of how their identity has been built. Unlike women, whose socialisation has been constricted by gender to a lesser degree, men are often unable to see themselves as separate to their gender socialisation. Recognising this dynamic is important in deconstructing hegemonic masculinity and considering the barriers involved in male movements to end violence against women. So many campaigns have focussed on being anti-violence against women equals being a “real man” and many organisations which seek to engage men typically perpetuate stereotypes in order to get men involved. The question of when the perpetuation of stereotypes turns into reinforcing hegemonic masculinities is one each organisation has to grapple with.

Hopefully by considering the ways in which hegemonic masculinity has become so deeply intertwined with male identity, we can begin to see men exploring not what it means to be a man, but what it means to be the best version of themselves that they can be.



17 Things You Should Never Say to an Artist by @MKHajdin

(Cross-posted from M.K. Hajdin)

People say the most unbelievably insulting things to artists.

More than likely these people are just saying whatever comes into their heads and don’t mean to be offensive, but they still are!

Get off on the right foot when talking to an artist by never saying the things listed below.

A storm of abstract colors with purple, red and green being prominent

1. What’s that supposed to be?

Abstract artists hear this all the time.   Abstract paintings are not supposed to be anything but arrangements of colors and shapes on a canvas.  People who don’t have a lot of knowledge about art often get lost without a visual reference to something they can recognize, and out pop unintentionally rude questions like this.  It’s insulting, because it implies that the artist has tried to create a representational painting and has failed at it.
Instead, try saying, “What inspired these colors and shapes?”  Or talk about how the colors make you feel.

2. That looks just like a photograph!

Realistic and hyper-realistic artists hear this all the time.   It’s insulting, because it implies that there is no element of the artist’s self-expression in it.
Instead, try saying, “That’s incredibly detailed” or “That took a lot of skill.”  Because it does.

3. How long did it take you to paint that?

All of the artist’s career plus how many hours spent applying paint to substrate.
Many artists hate this question, because it implies that art doesn’t take any real skill unless thousands of hours are spent on it.  Only the Old Masters had that kind of time, and that’s because they hired assistants.

An abstract painting with green, pink, black, yellow and red.
Green, Pink, acrylic on canvas, 30 x 40 cm, by M.K. Hajdin

4. What does this painting mean?  What are you trying to say?

A painting is not complete until the viewer reacts to it.  It is the viewer that decides what a painting means, if anything.   If you need a clue, try reading the artist statement.
The artist has done their job; now it’s time for you, the viewer, to do yours.   If you decide it means nothing to you, that’s fine.

5. Wow, it costs THAT much?  No one will ever buy that for that price!

People who say this often aren’t familiar with what art really costs.   Art costs money, often a lot of money.
If it’s beyond your budget, you can say so without disparaging the piece.  Say “That’s beyond my budget.”  Simple.

6. How much money do you make?  Can you actually make a living doing this?

It is rude to ask anybody else how much money they make, or imply that they can’t make a living, so why do you think it’s okay to ask an artist this?

7. Can you design a tattoo for me / make a painting of my dog?

Look at the artist’s body of work.  Do you see any tattoos or pet portraits?  Then the answer is no.    It’s like asking an artist to come over and paint the outside of your house.  (Unless you’re talking about a mural to a mural artist, don’t.)

Abstract painting with a dynamic red background and a light purple swish.

8. Can you design my wedding invitations?  I can’t pay you, but I’ll get you in for free.

Fine art and designing wedding invitations are two seperate skills, both of which deserve to be compensated.  Don’t insult an artist by asking them to work for free.

9. Will you do the artwork/design for my event?  I can’t pay you, but it’ll be great exposure, get your name out there.

Artists die of exposure.”     You go your job every day and expect to get paid, don’t you?  You don’t give away your labor for free, so don’t ask an artist to do it.  Making a living as an artist is hard enough as it is.

10. Will you paint something really cool for me? I’ll give you twenty bucks.

This kind of question is asked by people who have no idea what kind of money a skilled artist is worth.   If you want an artist to paint something “really cool”, it will depend on whether that artist accepts commissions and it is sure to cost you more than $20.  Don’t insult an artist with low-ball offers.

 11. But what is your real job? / What else do you do?

This implies that art is not a real job and the artist is just goofing around in his or her spare time.

12. You’re lucky – you don’t have to work.

Making art is work,  just like any other job.  We may be doing what we love, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t hard work.   A businessperson who loves running a business never gets accused of not working.  I often struggle with paintings.  And I work longer at my job than most people who work 9 to 5.

13. I could do that. / My kid could do that. / I could do that with a Photoshop filter.

But you didn’t.  So don’t say it. It implies that being an artist takes no skill.  If you really think being an artist takes no skill, go ahead and try to do it in Photoshop.
N.B.  Using Photoshop is a skill.

Instead, if you don’t like it, try saying, “That’s not really my thing,” or  “That doesn’t grab me,”  or “I’m not feeling it.”  It gets your point across without being rude.

Purple with yellow ochre in an abstract design

14. Keep trying, you’ll get it eventually.

I’ve already got it, thanks.
You’re not being encouraging, you’re implying that an artist is a beginner.

15. Hey, you are pretty good! My 6 year old loves to draw – can you teach her?

Unless you know that the artist is also a teacher who works with kids, don’t ask this.   And if the artist IS a teacher who works with kids, don’t expect him or her to teach your child for free.  Teaching is a skill that deserves compensation.

16. Can you make me a painting exactly like this one?

It’s unethical to ask an artist to copy another artist’s work.

17. Will you sell me a painting outside of your gallery?  You should give me a big discount, because I’m cutting out the middleman.

Some art buyers try to undercut galleries by going directly to the artist’s studio and expecting a big discount.   Don’t.  Ethical artists won’t agree to undercut their gallery.  It ruins the relationship with the gallery and can negatively impact an artist’s career.   Making a few extra bucks is not worth that.

Want to know more about how to talk to artists?  Click here.

Exiled Stardust: I make art that doesn’t objectify women, and write about women artists. Sometimes I write about feminism. [@ExiledStardust]

Women and Folk Art in the Eyes of Male Artists: Yet more Cultural Femicide by @LucyAllenFWR



(cross-posted with permission from Reading Medieval Books)



This post isn’t my idea, but came about when I read a comment by the brilliant Bee Jones earlier today.

She wrote:

“I have just watched The Culture Show on catch-up. All about a Tate exhibition of Folk Art. The introduction explained that it was going to focus on the real lived democracy of art which has always existed outside the art establishment. Great, I thought, this will be celebrating the explosion of women’s creativity we see every day, all over social media etc etc…but NOPE. You’ve guessed it, the programme didn’t feature a single woman artist, or even mention that women have long been underappreciated for their talent, despite being EVERYWHERE making beautiful things. So this post is about celebrating the fantastic women who regularly astonish me with their creative skills. Please feel free to share this and add your own.”

I think this is a great idea.

I’ve just watched the programme she’s referring to – it’s up for another week, so feel free to check it out if you particularly wish to be patronized by a couple of blokes. They start out with some working definitions of folk art, before oh-so-hilariously ‘insulting’ each other by applying the term to their own work. From this, we moved on to the Tate’s Folk Exhibition, which is open through the summer. There’s a nice review of the exhibitionhere.

Our two presenters, Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane, stared at the first display, which was absolutely fascinating: a wall of objects once used as shop signs, and ranging from a beautiful, giant gilded key, to a teapot marked with fading lettering, to a pair of humble shoes. Apparently, all of this was very funny. “Anything that’s bigger or smaller than it should be is automatically funny,” commented Deller, begging a reference to Freud. After this, “we’re off to Blackpool, perhaps the spiritual home of British folk art today,” and I began to sense a pattern. The presenters explained they were looking for anything they liked the look of, “anything that makes us laugh,” basically. Here we got our first glimpse of women: as the voiceover wittered on about folk ritual, the camera lingered on a middle-aged woman wiggling her bum cheekily at us. Oh, these Northerners and their down-to-earth folk humour! Stopping by a stall selling fake tattoos, Deller tried his hand at the popular voice, explaining, “these tattoos, they’re basically like Warhols … I think, for me, that’s like what artists do, they take something from popular culture and do something with it”. It was about as convincing as David Cameron trying to tell us he, like, thinks that Inbetweeners show is more or less Shakespeare.

Everything to do with folk art, we were told, was ‘fun’. Oh, such fun. A T-shirt, wittily printed with a sexist joke about wives and terrorists, obviously merited being included in all of the hilarity. Seriously, if you watch this bit, it comes with a health warning, because I think I have strained my eyebrow muscles from listening to these two pontificate about unselfconscious art while looking at a T-shirt reading ‘I beat anorexia’ they’d claimed as a ‘public art work’. Nothing so folksy as sweat-shop-produced misogyny.

I’m not going to go through the whole thing – you get the gist. It was massively patronizing, with one eye on the audience snickering along with the Proper Artists. Towards the end, I held out hope we’d left the snickering behind as both men, looking at sculptured figureheads, so far forgot themselves as to sound genuinely impressed. But not for long: “it’s a classic figurehead, to have the top half person, bottom half boat … and maybe with one or two breasts exposed … preferably two! Hur hur”. One of Deller’s childhood highlights, we’re told, was a visit to the Cutty Sark, memorable for “a whole row of these topless women … I thought that was pretty cool!”

It’s perhaps no surprise, given the way this programme treated misogyny as ever so funny, that there wasn’t any discussion of women and folk art.

Back in the Tate exhibition, the presenters mentioned a woman’s name for the first time: Charlotte Alice Springall, who, with her husband-to-be Herbery Bellamy, pieced together a beautiful quilt in just one year (known, you’ll be shocked to discover, as ‘The Bellamy Quilt’). This was, apparently, very funny too: “they obviously didn’t work” sniggered the presenters, before moving swiftly on to discuss another group of people who made art (apparently), because they had nothing better to do: modern-day prisoners.

No, really. I’d say I found the juxtaposition telling of their impression of the restrictions of women’s lives, but I’m not sure they’d thought that deeply.

This was the point where I really got annoyed – because quilting is a hugely important form of folk art, which has historically been practised by women, and which has a very rich social as well as artistic history. Quilts often don’t survive, because textiles eventually wear out or rot, but the V&A tells me this quilt of the story of Tristram and Iseult was made c. 1360-1400. That’s a full century earlier than the most famous writtenEnglish version of the story, in Malory’s Morte Darthur.

In the past, women needed to make quilts – not because they ‘didn’t work,’ but because it was a practical way to recycle fabric and a necessary means of keeping warm. But they also turned quilting into an art form, as the York museum of quilting will show you. It’s only fairly recently that quilts have been treated seriously as art works. In the last century, for example, Lucy M. Boston (who also wrote beautiful children’s books)  declined to have her quilts exhibited at Kettle’s Yard Folk Museum in Cambridge, because she felt they were things to be used, not art to be exhibited.

In fact, barely five minutes had gone by, after Bee posted her response to this show, before women were swapping images of work they’d made. I’ve got permission to share this beautiful quilt, made by the author Cassandra Parkin.



And here’s the one she’s working on now:

quilt 2

Aren’t they beautiful?

I love Bee’s idea, and if you would like to add images or comments about women’s art – whether you’ve made it, your friend made it, or you just happen to love it, I’d enjoy that. And please consider sharing Bee’s post with people you know: we could discover some brand new women folk artists!

There is now a hashtag, Artbywomen, where you can share images, links or anything else you like about women’s art, especially women’s folk art. Enjoy!


Reading Medieval Books! I rant about women in literature and history, occasionally pausing for breath to be snarky about right-wing misogynists. I promise pretty pictures of manuscripts and a cavalier attitude to sentence structure. [@LucyAllenFWR]

The Stolen Cry by Patricia Senteney Floyd Killian

The Stolen Cry by Patricia Senteney Floyd Killian

If I could make music, there would be a lot of drums, stealthy aggressive low horns and winds for the swooping; atonal, high pitched strings creating the screams and dusty springs of the trucks on bad roads. There would be different drums for the yelled commands and caravans rumbling into the bush. Then, the high pitched screams again. There would be heavy minor keys for the despair, punishing loud majors for the victory, perhaps a very few, very tinny, brief twinges of guilt. What noise, what instruments, what sounds would be the music of the rapes?

If I could paint Nigeria’s shame – its Guérnica – the images would be of testosterone-filled AK-47 penises firing bullets and semen; breasts and vaginas in chains, school books torn and thrown into the burning schools, the bodies of teachers and guards strewn about the trucks. Girls running, school clothes shredded by the brush, rape and rape and rape, beatings, rape; food prepared in the bush by stolen girls raped; ripe bellies and births. I would paint money changing hands for some of the girls moved to other territories. Frantic parents searching and demanding action by their impotent, sleeping government.

If I could make a movie, I’d focus on three girls and their families. We’d get to know them and their aspirations, their dreams and plans and their life styles. The attack on the school would be swift, dusty and brutal with the girls trucked off and adults dead or injured. Most of the trucks would go out into the bush to the terrorists’ camp, horns honking. Other rebels would surround the trucks shouting and laughing at the prizes brought back. Some of the trucks would cross borders to other countries where the girls would be sold to become wives. In the camp, the terrified girls are taken down from the trucks. Would there be an auction-like atmosphere with girls handed out by rank? Would they be herded into an area while their fates are discussed? The newspapers said they were forced to cook for their captors. Once separated, are the girls allowed any contact with other girls? Is friendship still possible? What about their clothes? How long do school clothes last in the bush? When do the rapes start, because you know they do? Is anyone kind? Does any man think about what he is doing? Our three girls, each with different temperaments and strengths – same treatment, different results? Same ending for each? How do they survive? Do they survive? Are they sold? There will be no good ending here.

But I write. I can’t sleep, so I write. I can hear the stolen cry. Screams when their school was first invaded and they were rounded up. Sobbing in the trucks, terrified of the unknown and afraid their fears are right. A few, brave enough to take an opportunity, get away somehow. And the rest who disappeared, how old are they? They were students at a boarding school with dreams and plans to be educators, inventors, doctors, scientists, thinkers, artists, chefs, wives and mothers, or not.

I can hear them crying, mystified at their surroundings in this horrid destination. They are wearing school clothes, in the bush. I can see any defiance quickly smashed, an example to the others. I can hear the fear in their sobbing.

Did each captor choose one or another girl for himself? Did the girls become communal sex slaves right away? Were there faked ceremonies to alleviate some misshapen sense of religion? How soon were they raped? Were they beaten into submission? Were they beaten if they cried out or just cried?

How soon will some of them become pregnant? What will happen to the children born? How many of the girls will try to run away? Will any succeed? What will happen to the girls if they ever find their way home or are ever rescued? Will there be honor killings? Will they be shunned and closeted for the rest of their lives because they were “ruined?”

I can hear them crying quietly to avoid a beating but the tears well up and fall as they are raped or forced to go about their chores. I can hear them crying quietly as they think of home and family as they realize those lives and dreams are gone forever, that they will live in brutality and fear and desperation for the rest of their lives and, if freed somehow, they will be forever changed. Will there be resignation for some because they were so young or frail and just went numb? Will some take their own lives? Will some be shot or beaten to death because they would never fully bend to the will of their captors? Who will bide her time and wait for the opportunity to flee? Who will escape? Will any be rescued?

I can hear them cry out, railing against their government and communities and parents for not protecting them, railing against all governments for not helping them, not finding them or bringing them home, and for not obliterating their captors.

I hear them cry.


© Patricia Senteney Floyd Killian
Warren, Vermont

The Abduction and Sale of Women-Is Here in the UK too.

(Cross-posted from Shack Diaries)

originally published 18.05.14

While the world has been rightfully focused on the kidnapped girls of Chibok, Nigeria, it is important to consider that the abduction and sale of women and girls  for exploitation and economic gain is also evident in the West, including the UK. This is a devastating, and escalating practice of male violence assaulting the human rights and dignity of women and girls.


The exploitation and sale of women is frequently presented as though it is an entirely ‘foreign’ phenomenon. However the UK and Western Europe, US etc are major destinations for trafficked women due to Western male demand. Trafficked women and girls are commonly forced into prostitution, pornography and other forms of exploitation. In schemes which have legalised prostitution, in countries such as the Netherlands, trafficking of women has actually increased.

According to research the number of British men who admit to using prostitutes has more than doubled in the last decades. The growing popularity of ‘stag weekends’ is recognised as one factor in this research. However the overall mainstreaming of the ‘sex industry’, lap dancing clubs , the accessibility of porn through internet sites etc …have all played their part in allowing utilising women as merchandise for sexual gratification as acceptable and even applauded ‘red blooded male behaviour’.

It is estimated that thousands of women have been brought into the UK and forced to work within the ‘sex industry’. Trafficked women are found all over the UK, not just in metropolitan areas. The gangs behind the trade buy and sell the women for between £2,000 and £8,000. Some women have been forced to work for 16 hours a day. This can mean they may be raped up to 30 times a day.
Many trafficked women in the UK are from Eastern Europe and also the Far East, South America and Africa. Often, women are lured by adverts in their home countries for jobs such as restaurant staff, maids and child minders. Many women are from poor economic backgrounds. Suffering from poverty and deprivation greatly increasing vulnerability. Some are sold by family members, fathers, husbands….

Poorer women and girls are more easily bought and sold as commodities as trafficking gangs have a firm foothold in areas of economic deprivation where people can be ensnared by the promise of ‘a better life’. Women’s worldwide face a lack of access to the same economic assets, benefits and opportunities as men. Inequalities are found to exacerbate the vulnerability of women and girls. 70% of the world’s poor are female . To eliminate or alleviate poverty requires attention to sex inequality and women’s human rights.

The age of the trafficked women varies widely, but most are between 18 and 24. Many girls under the age of eighteen have been identified however, indicating many younger girls are also involved.Trafficked Women can end up in any town or city where the sex industry operates. The women are moved about the country frequently and may be sold and exchanged between a number of different gangs.
Migrant women may also be involved in the ‘sex industry’ without being trafficked, however decisions to enter this work may be induced by destitution, lack of opportunity and repressive border controls. ‘Consent’ therefore is not necessarily aligned with ‘choice’. (The same is true of any woman in the ‘sex industry’). The state often says that all foreign prostitutes are trafficked and uses this to excuse more oppressive border clamp downs. These controls actually force more migrant women into prostitution and under worse conditions as they are denied access to other work and benefits and may owe ‘debts’ to people smugglers.

When dealing with trafficked women and migrating women the state often basically suits it’s own political aims.

The traffickers typically use children who are trafficked with their mothers for blackmail purposes. The men who control trafficked women routinely use threats of violence against their families to guarantee their silence. In Europe and in other parts of the globe, the behaviour of police towards trafficked women has led to their reluctance to come forward. Police have also been discovered to collaborate with the traffickers.
Unlike drugs this is a low risk, high income trade – you can sell a female many times over. It can be viewed as the woman or girl’s fault in the eyes of the police and the traffickers can pay for good lawyers. In one UK raid more than 84 trafficked women were picked up. Two were 14 and pregnant. Many women have legal documents but these are taken from them as soon as they reach Britain. Others are smuggled in without authentic papers. Women are often sent back from the UK but then left without support, with the knowledge their traffickers may be waiting for them.

Trafficked women often suffer severe physical and mental health consequences including injuries from beatings and rapes, psychological trauma, HIV/AIDS, and alcohol and drug abuse either introduced by pimps or by their attempts to reduce physical and mental pain.

Sex trafficking won’t stop  until there is a an end to male demand.

It is implicit in the demand for the sale of women on any level that women are inferior…… merchandise, commodities, goods…sexual exploitation viewed in the light of these facts, is not a deviation from the norm. It represents mainstream values: The logic of domination and subordination that is central to patriarchy.

How to deal with demand remains mostly unaddressed. State authorities have often allowed men found in brothels with trafficked women during police raids to leave, without consideration of whether they should face charges, while the women – victims of forcible detention and multiple rape – often find themselves in detention centers, prior to quick deportation.

The rise in demand for prostitution has become a major incentive for trafficking gangs to provide ‘the goods’ to satisfy these requirements. Traffickers would not go to the trouble of transporting young women here if there were not increasing numbers of men in the UK willing to pay for sexual services. Paying for sex is so increasingly popular, information is even exchanged about prostitutes on websites, posting ‘reviews’.

The difference between trafficked and non-trafficked women is not obvious to men who use prostitutes and porn etc. In an ‘industry’ which sells women, often presenting rape, torture and enslavement of women as entertainment for male pleasure, ethical concern for women is evidently not any sort of priority.

‘It is true, and very much to the point, that women are objects, commodities, some deemed more expensive than others – but it is only by asserting one’s humanness every time, in all situations, that one becomes someone as opposed to something. That, after all, is the core of our struggle’ – Andrea Dworkin ‘Woman Hating’


Shack Diaries: I blog about feminism, lesbians, art, photography, politics, kitsch and more…

I’M ABSOLUTELY KNACKERED … CFS/ME by @extremecrochet

(cross-posted from A Woman Alone)

originally published 12.05.14

Apparently it is ME/CFS and Fibromyalgia Awareness Day ….. I hope so anyway. Having chronic fatigue can sometimes make me a little absent minded, the whole brain fog thing!

Over the last 25 years or so I have had three different diagnosis’s (spelling?!)
Post Viral Syndrome
ME and now chronic fatigue. To be fair, I haven’t got a clue what is wrong with me now.

I have all the classic symptoms: unrefreshed sleep, brain fog, joint pain, rib pain, migraines, IBS, depression, lethargy etcetera It’s no fun at all and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I really mean that!

What really annoys me is the lack of recognition of these conditions, to the point where many health professionals still do not except it exists at all. I can tell you now, it’s very real and incredibly debilitating. Why would anyone want to make up such a nightmare illness?

Then there is the problem of benefits. I haven’t applied for any benefits relating to my CFS because I’m not sure I have the energy to cope with the process. My illness fluctuates so wildly, one day I could go climbing but for the next month I will be dragging myself about. It’s quite invisible and so sufferers go largely unnoticed and without proper help. I’m not sure that I would class myself as disabled but there are times when I wish my illness was more visible, like when I have to stand up on a bus journey despite being so exhausted that just breathing is hard.

I don’t want to sound like a moany woman. I’m just highlighting a few of the things that I and many others deal with every day. Today is a good day, today is day where I can say that I have Chronic Fatigue and that I find life quite hard at times and maybe someone with influence will listen.

Love, hugs and tea


A Woman Alone: A reflection on my life as a single parent in the UK. Twitter: @extreme_crochet

Objectification: The Cause Of Slut Shaming by @slutocracy

(Cross-posted from Slutocracy)



First published on on 8/2/14.

“Objectification.” It’s a word we hear all too often. The charge of “objectification” is levelled at films, the news media, lyrics, art, and of course porn. Sometimes we intersectional or sex positive feminists might feel like it’s a catch-all term which silences those who have sex industry careers- especially since it is used to silence sex workers and take away our freedom to consume pornography. No wonder some women feel the word is overused or that objectification doesn’t exist. But the irony is that for all the rage against the sex machine, radical feminists are less vocal about the way objectification impacts on women’s basic freedoms.


I’m talking about the freedom to be a single mother. A teenage mother. A sex worker. The freedom to have poly relationships. To be single and “older” without beng pitied or called a spinster. To openly and unashamedly consume porn. And, dependent on region or area, the freedom to be a nonvirgin.

Think about it: why are “sluts”, sex workers or even nonvirgins persecuted? Because women are seen as objects valuable only for our bodies. Valued for how “new” we are. The more partners we’ve had, the more “second-hand” and therefore worthless we become. In the USA, abstinence “education” lessons include teachers using a strip of sticky tape or a chewed up piece of gum to represent a girl getting dirty and unlovable by having sex. The teacher sticks the tape to a boy’s arm and then demonstrates how the tape won’t stick to a second or third boy’s skin. The girl is dirty- and that’s why kids girls should stay new pure. And who hasn’t heard of honour killings as a result of a girl being found not to be a virgin? Egyptian women buy fake hymens from China even if they are inexperienced, just to make sure they bleed on their wedding night. The government has criticised this enabling of immorality, but the Chinese aren’t that much better off; nonvirgins are stigmatised there too. Whether it’s Muslims in Egypt, Christians in America or atheists in China, the idea is the same: women are valued only as pieces of fresh meat.

Andrea Dworkin described how pornography reduces women to their genitals through objectification. But objectification has the power to do this without the vehicle of pornography. Why else is a piece of membrane valued more than character, brains, even beauty? Valued so much that women are murdered over their lack of it? Slut shaming and whorephobia are simply less intense versions of the ideology behind honour killing, and they also equate the whole woman with her genitals: how often she has sex, in what circumstances, with whom, her attitude towards it.

As for lone and teen mothers, they’re often stigmatised as “sluts”, which shows that the stigmas against lone and teen mothers are at least related to slut shaming even if they’re not just an extension of, or form of, slut shaming. If a woman is an object, she should be with a man, and this idea of a free, autonomous woman might be what makes some people uncomfortable. The same goes for “old maids” and “spinsters” who’ve been “left on the shelf”- bachelors are cool and desirable but the older single woman is seen as desperate for a hubby and kids. I don’t think I really have to explain how misogynists- and a lot of society- sees poly and openly kinky women: If you’re an object, you don’t get to have sexual agency or take control of your sexuality (being poly or kinky). And you certainly don’t get to objectify men by consuming pornography or using men for pleasure (casual sex or how some people see being poly).

That’s why women are assumed not to be pornography consumers- and sometimes stigmatised if they are. We are objects, things that exist to have stuff done to us. We’re not supposed to have sexual agency, to seek out pornography and want to do things, to be subjects or autonomous agents. And of course objectification, which leads to slut shaming, brands us sluts for watching porn.

We’re not real people, so if we’re queer it’s hot, it’s a male fantasy, because our sexuality isn’t “real”. We can be desirable as sex objects in revealing outfits, but also simultaneously despised because we’re “sluts” for daring to bare an inch of skin. We’re supposed to be available but if we are, we’re worth less- hence the whorephobia and slut shaming.

And that’s where whorephobia, slut shaming, and stigma against teen and lone mothers stems from. If women weren’t objectified, we couldn’t be equated with our genitals and thereby evaluated on the basis of our sexual activity. Slut shaming and whorephobia could not exist, and the stigma of lone and teen mothers would exist in a different form, if at all. The contribution of objectification to slut shaming/whorephobia, limited family choice freedoms, and limited sexual freedoms is not recognised enough by mainstream feminism. There is a disproportionate focus on pornography and the sex industry while the more immediate and daily-life effects of objectification are not recognised as a form of objectification.

Slutocracy is a political blog with a focus on feminism. The blog includes both articles and interviews with campaign groups, activists, and individuals. Topics include teen pregnancy stigma, the Department of Work and Pensions, lone motherhood stigma, sex worker rights, internet freedom, internet security, the EU and anything else Slutocrat feels like ranting about. The blog is written from an intersectional sex-positive feminist viewpoint.

Women: we must be nouns, not adjectives by @jessiecath

Bonnie Tyler once sang that she needed a hero. Well, so do I.

It was a white knight upon a fiery steed that she wanted, but I’d just prefer it if my heroes were wearing really great shoes.

Not plain, boring and black shoes like David Cameron or Jeremy Paxman. Shiny as they are, it would be better if they were wearing glittery high heels with ice creams on. The heroes I mean. Not the PM or Paxman.

OK, I like shoes – but what I really mean is that I want more women. I’m don’t want to get all Germaine Greer on you (for one thing it upsets my dad), but where are they all?

I know for a fact there are great women everywhere: J.K. Rowling (and Hermione Granger), Jane Austen (to the dismay of the Twitter trolls), Octavia Hill (although remembered far less than John Ruskin) and the secret women whose stories we don’t yet know.

Globally, when it comes to getting the gender balance right, no figures of leadership are anywhere near 50/50, and I expect you can guess who the ratios tip in favour of. Kathryn Bigelow remains the only female director to have won an Oscar, the International Olympics Committee has still never been led by a woman, we’ve never had a female Secretary-General of the UN, and, according to the top 10 jokes of Edinburgh Fringe this year, women aren’t very funny.

But surely that’s not true of this civilized little island, where we’ve had a female prime minister, not to mention an all female final of The Apprentice?

Unfortunately, we’re no better in the UK. Women in this country gain 57% of undergraduate degrees, so they’re clearly capable. All too often, though, they end up invisible, fulfilling the terms of ‘the Paula Principle’ – the idea that women often end up working below their levels of competence. Last year’s  comprehensive Sex and Power report showed women to be worryingly absent from public life: only 22.5% of Parliament are female, and only a third of public appointments are female. Even in national newspapers, only 5% of editors are women.

So why is there this gender gap in our country’s leadership? Whose fault is it?

Well, men, obviously – they are the natural enemies of women and must be exterminated.

No. I’m joking. And even as I, a woman (or something resembling one), write this article about women, for women, I also write it for those women’s fathers, brothers, boyfriends and husbands.

Since it’s proven that women outperform men throughout their education, why do women not surpass, let alone equal, men in the workplace? It isn’t that there is a lack of talented women, so why aren’t we getting to the top more often?

It’s worth pointing out that obviously not every woman wants to be the next Sheryl Sandberg or (er… erm… ). We’re not all the same, and we all want different things.

There are also structural obstacles to be taken into consideration, such as having children. Yet this shouldn’t be the defining factor that holds women back. As Sandberg suggests in her feminist career guide, Lean In, it’s not necessarily about working longer hours and sacrificing time with your family – it’s about being unafraid to take opportunities, or to speak up a bit louder.

I promised myself once I would jump out of bed every day and shout ‘Girl, YOU ARE AWESOME!’ into the mirror, but unfortunately sometimes I forget. Sometimes I don’t feel awesome. Sometimes I feel that I have hardly any confidence at all, and want to get a full body William Morris tattoo so that I can blend into the wallpaper.

I think – I mean I’m not sure – I don’t want to be too controversial here – if you don’t mind me saying so –  I suppose what I’m trying to suggest is – that the problem is confidence.

It’s been proven that women systematically underestimate their own ability, are overly harsh when judging their performance and suffer badly from ‘imposter syndrome’ (feeling fraudulent when praised for achievements). It’s been found that women will only apply for a job if they meet 100% of the criteria, whereas men will try at 60%. Research showed that when women are in the minority at meetings (usually around the 20% mark as reflected by our public institutions), they speak for only 60% of the time that men do.

And is it any surprise, when the reward that female bank-note campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez and MP Stella Creasy got for speaking loudly were hundreds of violent rape and death threats from an army of Twitter trolls?

Looking at this research saddens me, and makes me determined never to doubt myself. But it seems I always have done, and, although now I hope I am more resistant to my own criticism, I still do.

In my school reports, my history teacher wrote in 2009 that ‘Jessie is still sceptical of her own talents’, and my English teacher warned that I had ‘a tendency for self-deprecation’. Consistently teachers encouraged me to offer my opinion more often in discussion, coinciding with research that girls at school are less likely to volunteer contributions in class. Further irony comes from the fact that when I asked people I knew for their opinions on this issue, men were a lot more forthcoming than women.  It seems, sadly, that even when talking about female confidence, men are more confident.

Juliette, the University of Sussex’s education officer, has had a great year. She won her current position with an overwhelming majority, as well as achieving a first class degree. However, she told me that many of these issues hit home with her. “I often feel like I’m about to get found out! I feel perpetually underqualified, and am just learning to become more assertive.” Sussex’s sabbatical team is unusual in comprising of five women and one man. Juliette says, “Having a five women officer team is incredible in terms of what women can do when given the chance and space to work together.”

The absence of women from our policy making institutions doesn’t just leave us with a democratic deficit then – it means we lose out on a whole different way of working, an entire area of perspective and insight.

But what about men? Do they have a role in all of this, or should they just sod off to the pub and watch some football while we sort everything out for once?

In the men that I asked, there was no consensus. PhD student Will said, “I would personally feel very patronizing if I made an explicit effort to make women feel more confident,” whilst IR graduate Ben felt that men “definitely” had a role to play. He told me of an instance where a female friend had pointed out how often men interrupt and speak over women – something he had never noticed. He said, “Unless men are brought up on these things which undermine women’s confidence then there is no hope.”

James, a Labour councillor, rejected the idea of all female shortlists, suggesting, “If women are not able to compete with men on a level footing then it is not equal.” However, Juliette, having election experience herself, points out that it is the climate of elections that can deter women, not necessarily a deficiency in ability.

“The elections process is also very aggressive and requires an overt confidence in yourself which is generally more embedded in a boy’s upbringing than a girl’s,” she said.

Even when women do gain the confidence to pursue leadership roles, the battle isn’t over. Research shows that for women, success and likability are negatively correlated, so as proud as they might be of their success, they won’t necessarily be making any friends. One test asked people to assess identical CVs, but named one ‘Howard’ and one ‘Heidi’. Although they were both found to be equally competent, all thought that ‘Howard’ would be nicer to work with.

When the preface ‘very ambitious’ isn’t being used in a pejorative way towards women with goals, reductive characterisations can demean and derail them. Culture has leant on time-old lazy dichotomies of ‘the virginal sweetheart’ and ‘the domineering sexpot’ from Thomas Hardy’s Sue and Arabella, all the way to Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie, but even the 2008 American election saw articles about Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin given headlines like ‘The Bitch and the Ditz’. Ed and Dave get off lightly in comparison – at least they’re referred to by their names.

Although many scratched their heads when I asked them to name female role models in public life, almost all stressed admiration for their mothers, and felt indebted to them for the support they had provided. David, a Scandinavian Studies graduate, made the point that perhaps, “It’s about the everyday things you do, not just grandiose political statements.” Women will benefit from female solidarity networks and the equal sharing of responsibility at home, but more than anything, they will benefit from encouragement and support. Let us all be kind to one another, because that way, we really could change the world. Because the more women are reminded of how wonderful they are and can be, the more they will start to believe it.

In the sphere of public role models, many were quick to suggest Green MP Caroline Lucas. David suggested that she was “one of the best role models in general,” regardless of being a woman.

Alongside this, the massive rise in female playwrights has begun to be celebrated and acknowledged by the media – to name Lucy Kirkwood, Nina Raine, Abi Morgan, Lucy Prebble, Lolita Chakrabati, Debbie Tucker Green, Laura Wade, Polly Stenham and Penelope Skinner, as well as veterans Caryl Churchill and April de Angelis, barely scratches the surface. What’s more interesting though, is that their hugely successfully plays are in no way obviously written by women. Kirkwood tackled the relationship between China and America, Prebble has written about clinical drug trials and infamous financial scandals, and Wade hilariously parodied old boy’s clubs.

This suggests that when women truly succeed, they transcend discussions of their gender. It’s not being a woman that’s the important thing here – it’s what women do. When (not if!) the image of power and decision-making is no longer seen as something archetypally male, women in these positions will be normal. In fact, they will just be people.

Gloria Steinem once said, “Whoever has power takes over the noun – and the norm – while the less powerful get an adjective.”

Women: let our adjectives be awesome, loud, bright and strong. Let what we do become our noun.

Girl IgnitedSassy political rants from a very cheerful feminist. Twitter is @jessiecath

What Are We Waiting For? by @PortiaSmart

(cross-posted with permission from Portia Smart)

Whenever a male celebrity is in the media because the Crown Prosecution Service is pursuing allegations of his abuse and violence against women and children, I momentarily stop. And wait. 

I am not sure what I am waiting for, I don’t dare to believe that those accused of male violence will be foundguilty in a court of law. That those who ARE found guilty will receive a sentencing that comes fractionally close to the impact of their violence. That the general public will believe that a guilty verdict actually equals guilt. That even if the public believe the guilty man to be guilty, that they won’t hold the victims partially or wholly responsible. I don’t dare to believe because this never, ever happens. Ever. Moreover, this cannot be the best possible outcome, surely? Wanting justice to be done and for the general public to agree with the decision? That is the end result of male violence. No. I need for there to be no crime in the first place. My hope, my desire, is for male violence to stop.


Can you imagine? Can you contemplate a world without male violence?

Recent guilty verdicts of Stuart Hall and Max Clifford do make a difference. They do. Yet they also remind me that women, and girls, and boys, are commodities for men. There is no getting around this. We, for the most part, waltz in a haze of cognitive dissonance because facing the brutality of this reality is just too hard, too much, too painful. So we disconnect. We say “not all men”, “not MY brother/boyfriend/colleague/mate/father”, “she LIKED it rough”, “she’s a fantasist”. Only those of us who start to unpick the position of women and children in a patriarchy seem to “get” this. And even then, we can still choose to ignore, minimise and even disbelieve.

Women are human beings. We deserve safety, care, respect, value and to be free from male violence. It is our RIGHT not to live in fear of men. OUR RIGHT. Yet these overwhelming stores in the media of male celebrities being accused again and again of abuse and violence and rape illustrate that women Do. Not. Matter. Why are we having to fight for our lives here? We look to those in power to protect us. They don’t. So we set up the women’s liberation movement, install rape crisis and refuge shelters, start to gather in safe spaces, start to share in order to try and support each other. It works but it’s never enough. Those who can stop male violence – men – choose not to. So we need someone, anyone in a position of power to make a stand and to say ENOUGH.

We need to make the sexualisation, abuse, neglect, degradation, humiliation, destruction and murder of women and children abhorrent to every single person. People need to feel the horror, understand the truth, and experience the reality of living in a patriarchy for those of us oppressed by it. We can start in schools, in the work place, in the criminal justice system through education, raising awareness, challenging, supporting and enforcing justice, it is possible. It has to be.

I cannot state as to whether Oscar Pistorious or Rolf Harris are guilty of the crimes that they are accused of. I can’t predict the judgement that Judge Thokozile Masipa may impose. But I know this. The verdicts of these and thousands of other cases are VITAL in the message that we are sending. The whole world is watching. Including survivors. Including perpetrators. We need the culture of male violence against women to end. So what are we waiting for?

Portia Smart: I write about feminism, politics, male violence and mental health & wellbeing. My blog is women-centred [@PortiaSmart]



Heartbroken by @croxus

(Cross-posted from Girl Shaped Guitar)

She could hear her heart break and he raised an eyebrow at the crunching sound, his hand twitching like he wanted to reach out to her, but he didn’t.

“Ow.” she whispered into the night and her own hand clutched her chest. Her movements were stiff and sluggish when she walked away from him and towards what was now her own house.

He yelled something after her but she couldn’t hear it. He had spoken of differences and how they had grown apart and she was no longer as she was when they met. He had wanted to encase the seventeen year old girl who was unafraid and brave and she was the meek twenty three year old who checked the water before she jumped. Her heart made another sickening crunching sound before it settled into the old beating rhythm, she could feel the jagged edges tear inside her and she continued to hold her hand over her chest as she curled up in bed. “Ow.” she whispered into the pillow as it became wet with tears.

When she woke she felt strange, her chest was heavy and when she reached up to touch it she realised her skin over her heart had swelled out into a blister overnight. It felt squishy under her fingers, the skin tight and stretched, as terror rose in her throat she could hear it make a sloshing sound.

The inside of her little house was dark so she stepped into her small patch of garden where they had planted flowers together while he was still there. There was another crunching sound from her chest and the blister broke open, dark blood ran down her chest and dripped on the flowers below. She panicked, her screams came out in short bursts but there was no dying, no open wound. As quick as the bleeding had started it was over. Only streaks down her breasts remained as the ground underneath her feet drank the blood greedily. When she washed the red streaks off her skin remained untethered and nothing seemed amiss had it not been for the still thumping jagged pain from her heart.

She sat down in the middle of the garden, it was very small, she could walk from one end to the other in three large steps and it was a perfect square. The flowers grew along the fence, different kinds from roses to bluebells. They had just planted seeds and hope they stuck, much like how they got together in the first place. The blister started to grow under her fingers again and she breathed in shaky sighs.

The days started to follow a pattern in the next few weeks, she would wake up, blister ready to burst on her chest and walk out into the garden and bend over the flowers while it broke apart. The flowers grew outwards into the garden, their colours more brilliant than anything she had ever seen before. What used to be fragile petals where now leathery and strong and they rocked back and forth in the breeze. She thought of how they had danced in the garden during the summer, a bottle of wine and a pack of cigarette and bare feet over the soft grass. They had made love once, in the night time when no one could peek over the fence and afterwards lied on their backs, hands intertwined and saying nothing while looking at the stars. The love they shared had hummed happily between them. Her heart crunched again, blister filling up and she worriedly thought if she had to empty it before bed as well.

Then one day she woke up, months after he had left, and the blister was gone. She stroked her fingers over the smooth skin, nothing there and when she looked around in the room she could no longer see the shadows of him lurking in every happy memory she had ever had in this place. When she walked outside to the garden the flowers quickly turned towards her, teeth had grown between the petals and although she was not afraid as she stroked the head of a dandelion she wondered what she would water them with and if they would go back to their own fragile self after a few weeks of rainwater. Her brows furrowed and the flower beneath her finger purred as she stroked it.

He came over late in the evening after she had called for him. Holding a glass of wine towards him and clutching her own glass tight to her chest she told him the box was out in the garden, giving no explanation to why it was there. “How are you holding up?” he asked, his voice was laced with worry and slight condescension and she shrugged. “I’m fine.” She smiled up at him and he nodded, uncertainty in his deep set eyes. He walked out the door to the garden as just as he was taking in the scene in front of him she pushed him towards the flowers. There was a series of ripping sounds as he screamed, his screams were wild, beautiful and without abandon and she sipped from her glass and looked up at the stars. Afterwards the flowers all hummed happily towards her and she smiled into the night.


Girl Shaped Guitar:  I write poetry often about love and recovery, but also other things. My twitter handle is @croxus

Stages by @croxus

(Cross-posted from Girl Shaped Guitar)

Oh something wonderful has broken.
Like the first morning in May, like a teenage girl’s heart over and over again.
It’s the chains of guilt I didn’t know I was carrying,
miles and miles wrapped around my heart and mouth.
Wrapped around the ways I twisted my mouth while saying sorry,
wrapped around my tongue while I gave in to demands that weren’t his to make.
Gone are the endless explanations, justifications and normalisations of situations out of my control.
And here is the anger I’ve not let out for so long.
It’s like a living thing under my skin, a snake that hisses through my mouth.
It’s a small child and a giant, stomping it’s feet in defiant destruction.
The city was quiet for so long and it’s silence is broken by a shouting, screaming voice proclaiming it’s not fair.
And here is the silence after,
the heavy limbs and shaky breaths.
Oh something wonderful has broken and it wasn’t me this time.

Girl Shaped Guitar:  I write poetry often about love and recovery, but also other things. My twitter handle is @croxus

Weaned Gently, but Completely by @HisFeministMama

(cross-posted with permission from Our Feminist Playschool)

Well, it has happened. Aodhan has weaned. Fully and completely. I knew it was comingAnd so did you.

Three weeks ago I was feeling touched out and Aodhan was restless falling asleep after an evening with friends. I asked him for some space after he had nursed for twenty minutes without falling asleep. He rolled over and was out like a light.

A little bell went off inside me and I just knew that he was ready to wean, but the routine of our ‘boobies at bedtime’ was holding him back. There was something in my tummy that was telling me that it was time. We were done.

I admit that I laid in bed that night, with my hand on his back and I cried. Big silent tears. Grief wouldn’t be the right word, but it was a similar emotion. Something less black than grief; it had been 4 years of nourishing him. First as an embryo and then as a growing human. My milk fed him, the smell of my skin calmed him, my milkies helped protect him from illness. That’s a heavy mantle to wear. So much of who I am, who I have become, was wrapped up in the idea of Aodhan nursing. And suddenly, right there in that dark bedroom, I knew it was over.

The next morning I made a big deal about his accomplishment of falling asleep without a boobie and I mentioned that maybe we could have a weaning party for him and that his friends and family could come by and help celebrate him making this move into the next stage of his life. He looked at me a little skeptically over his peanut butter toast and raised an eyebrow.

Will there be cake?

I was nonchalant about it but said that of course there would be cake – why not?

So, three weeks have gone by and he hasn’t even asked. I gave him a couple of boxes of lego to celebrate his achievement and have pointed out that this is a genuine thing to be proud of.

I have an ache in my heart though. I mean, nursing was never for me – you can’t force a kid to nurse – but, this has signaled to me the obvious: my son is growing up. He is no longer a baby and needs a whole new set of gentle parenting tools. He needs my patience, my understanding, my compassion and my calm. He needs to be able to keep trusting me and to know that even when he smears mud all over the carpet, my arms will still be a safe place to rest his overwhelmed head.

Breastfeeding my son until he was ready to stop is something that I will never regret. None of the looks or ignorant words could have ever diminished my confidence in mine and Aodhan’s right to nurse as much and as often as we needed to – no matter where we were.

I hope that when Aodhan is a grown man that he will continue to fight for a mama’s right to nurse her children whenever and wherever – whether he does this as a father or an ally. I don’t judge women who choose, after educating themselves, not to breastfeed, but I do judge people who make it difficult for women to nurse in public or people who use fear or false information to encourage a woman to stop or not even start nursing.

Kids need to eat and there is no way that a woman should ever be asked to feed her child in a bathroom, closet or even the isolation of her own house – if she wants to be out and about. No one else eats their tofu in the crapper, so why should I ask my baby to nurse where other people poop?

Even though my kiddo has passed up the boob for straight up chocolate almond milk, I will continue tosupport, love and fight for women and babies who are breastfeeding. If you want to talk or share a story or just need a little help – don’t hesitate to contact me!

I don’t know when his feet got so big. I don’t know where almost 3.5 years have gone. I don’t know how I ended up with a little boy beside me – I could have sworn I just gave birth to a tiny little babe. But, there it is.


Our Feminist Playschool : I’m a Feminist. I write about feminism through the lens of parenting. I push myself to consider all intersections, connections and disconnects inside the issues I explore. I am one of those Feminists: white, educated, anglo, urban, well-traveled and heterosexual; I do my best to work against the limits of our society that suggest that these things are the ‘right’ things. I want to unravel and reshape the world around me. I am a gentle-parent and take to heart the writing of bell hooks that reminds us: the oppression of children is a component of the patriarchy. I reject the notion that one can’t be a radical feminist AND an attached-parent. I am raising an ally, I am raising a feminist. [@HisFeministMama] You can also find us at Syndications on the Rights of Women

Just Why Were Renaissance Babies so Ugly? by @LeArtCorner

(cross-posted from Le Art Corner)

originally published 22.10.2013

Just Why Were Renaissance Babies so Ugly?

This excellent Tumblr is responsible for cementing the Ugly Renaissance Baby into popular imagination.

Before I read Ugly Renaissance Babies,  I had noticed that these babies looked just a bit fucking weird. But as everyone oohed and ahhed at Renaissance paintings so much, I felt that pointing out their disturbing oddness would render me some kind of philistine. Now that Ugly Renaissance Babies are out of the closet, let’s have a look at how they got so darn ugly.

St Nicholas Refusing his Mother's Milk

1. Context

Renaissance paintings weren’t there to look pretty on the living room wall. They were commissioned to live in high up in churches, glittering and  golden and striking awe and fear into the hearts of the lowly congregation who shuffled in metres below, raising their eyes to the almighty spectacle. Candlelight enhanced the effect, meaning that often all that was visible were the gold-encased silhouettes of the holy orders. Mary and Jesus would have been right at the top, of  course. So for a start, Renaissance painters had to go for extreme features that would stand out from a distance.

2. Symbolism

Renaissance babies weren’t always supposed to be realistic. Renaissance art is all about religious symbolism. The figures are meant to be awe-inspiring and other-worldly – the church was all about keeping society under control, and using art to cement the greatness of god, and the church, in people’s minds.

Wealthy patrons – i.e. the church, commissioned artists trusting that they would use a certain visual language; a symbolism that the common, illiterate churchgoer would be familiar with. Thus, Jesus was often depicted as a “little adult” to symbolise his precocious wisdom.

Screen Shot 2013-10-22 at 18.17.52

More grown-up J-Crizzle. Madonna and Child. Duccio di Buoninsegna 1290–1300; Tempera and gold on wood

Albrecht Durer, Weeping Angel Boy, 1591

3. Realism

This one’s going to be controversial, but I’d argue that a good number of the Renaissance Babies aren’t especially misshapen, they’re just harshly true-to-life. Perhaps we expect people, including babies, in paintings to look a bit “enhanced.” Well the Renaissance artists obviously didn’t. I think they were just painting what they saw, without the need or inclination to apply any kind of “cute baby filter”.

4. WTF?

I’m not sure what’s going on here. Can anyone enlighten me?

1.Why is the boob so high up?


 2. Why does the baby have boobs?

Unknown Dutch Painter, 15th century, Virgin with Angels

3. Why?

Nature forging a baby.” Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun, c.1490-c.1500.


Le Art Corner: I blog about fine art. Twitter: @LeArtCorner & Facebook

The Penis Monologues by @VABVOX

The Penis Monologues

by Victoria A. Brownworth

 copyright c 2014 Victoria A. Brownworth



There was a little rhyme about Barbie and Ken when I was growing up: “Their love life was a failure/’cause they had no genitalia.”

Fast-forward a few decades and I read a blogpost asserting that genitalia are irrelevant to one’s “love life.”

No. Just…no. It took literal millennia for women to be at a place in historical time when we could claim the right to our own genitalia and what we want to do with said lady parts. We are not about to forfeit that right. We’re not forfeiting it for the GOP and Tea Party in the U.S., the Tories and UKIP in the U.K., and we’re damned not forfeiting it for random bloggers with rapey constructs of who and what women should do with our vaginas, vulvas, clitorises, cunts, pussies, vajajays, what-have-you.

The sleazy, creepy little blogpost by yet another anonymous blogger claiming to be feminist even as she spews the most anti-feminist of rhetoric takes all women to task for their lack of imagination in daring to put their own desires and their own bodies first, rather than devote them to the service of penises.

No. Just…no.

It begins innocently enough. The blogger as a three-year-old apparently ran about asking everyone in sight if they had “a willy or a vagina.” This is either precocious or disturbing, depending on your parenting and language techniques, but in either case, she was taught or learned randomly that this was bad form.

Now our blogger is obsessed anew, just as she was at three. This time she’s obsessed with what other people might be calling genitalia. So obsessed, she has to project her obsession onto others, insisting it is us, not her, who can’t stop talking about it.

No, it’s not us, it’s you.

She cites male obsession with female genitalia.

This is where–and in only the second paragraph, too–things begin to go off-kilter. In reality, where most women live (but not our blogger, who lives in a “Vampire Castle,” which would be clever if she were, still three, less charming in an adult), men are not obsessed with women’s genitalia.

Men may be obsessed with getting laid, but if they are obsessed with any genitalia, it is their own. Men like to fiddle with their penises in public. (When was the last time you saw a woman adjust her crotch while walking down the street? Yes, that would be never.) They like to talk about their penises endlessly. (Yet in the U.S. a woman was actually banned from saying the word “vagina” on a state legislative house floor when discussing a reproductive rights bill and there was a recent protest over a “Night of a Thousand Vaginas,” a benefit for reproductive rights in Texas.)

Women pretty much never talk about penises unless some man brings up the subject. And that’s actually the case about our own equipment as well. We don’t just randomly discuss our vaginas, as in, “Hi hun–how are you and your vagina today?”

This is in stark contract to men who do go on about their penises–and on and on. Women generally need a context, and that context isn’t just breathing or a day ending in y.

Yet our blogger would have us believe this is a constant and unending discussion for women. Genitalia. Men’s and women’s.

No. Just…no.

Maybe on the Interwebs among your 12k followers, dear, but not in real life. In real life we have far more pressing concerns and interests.

Our blogger contends the alleged male obsession with female genitalia means, “Among misogynists, it’s a classic male entitlement to sex: they believe our bodies to be public property and they are therefore allowed access to every inch of them.”

I agree with the statement, just not how she got there. Men do believe they are entitled to our bodies. That is why I and nearly every woman I know is a rape or child-sex abuse survivor. That is why women have to fight for reproductive rights. That is why women can’t actually name their own genitalia in public spaces without men trying to shut us up.

But our blogger doesn’t see men as the problem. Like most women with deeply internalized misogyny, she believes women are the problem. In particular, lesbians who want the same bodily autonomy we’ve helped heterosexual women attain.

After stating, unequivocally, that she knows men believe women’s bodies are public property, our blogger then goes on to tell us we must give in to acculturated male entitlement and accept that anyone who wants to should indeed have control over our bodies.

Our lesbian bodies.

I don’t think so.

It wasn’t being raped and nearly killed recently that turned me off men. I’ve had sex with men in the past and it was fine. Perfectly adequate. Not terribly inventive, but then that’s men.

That’s not women.

Now here I want to say I am not dissing heterosexual/bisexual women in any way. Your desires are your own. I want you to have the same thrilling sexcapades every woman deserves in 2014. Mine are with women. With vaginas. My interest in penises is, as a lesbian, nil.

Our blogger, however, thinks that’s bigoted. And limited. And unimaginative.

No. Just…no.

This same blogger, from the ivory tower of her Vampire Castle, asserted, “I’ve known for a long time that men are often thinking about my cunt, and that’s why I don’t really enjoy the company of men that much.”

So–you don’t like the company of men that much. Many women would understand that–straight, bisexual and lesbian.

But then we are informed–no, told–that the real problem is women are also thinking about our blogger’s cunt. Obsessively. And in women-only spaces, no less. And it makes her feel”unsafe.”

I’ve been a lesbian for a long time. I was expelled from my all-girl’s high school for being a lesbian when my girlfriend’s mother discovered our affair and called the school. I’ve been a lesbian activist since then. And yet rarely, outside of the Westboro Baptist Church crowd or a meeting of an ex-gay group have I heard such a repulsively, outrageously lesbophobic/homophobic/queer-fear statement.

It’s possibly the most appalling thing I’ve ever heard a self-proclaimed feminist say.

She’s saying other women are rapey. She’s saying women in women-only spaces make these spaces unsafe. She’s saying lesbians are predatory and might sexually assault her. She claims that these women–these marauding, uncontrollable and uncontrolled lesbians–are terrifying her. They are, she asserts, far more frightening than men.

Lesbians are more frightening than the men who rape women every 22 minutes in the U.K. and every 8 minutes in the U.S.? Who kill women ever day?

No. Just…no.

She writes, “Knowing that there are women who do this too [think about her cunt] makes me feel less safe in women’s spaces, like they might just suddenly ask me about my cunt or grab at my crotch to make sure I have correctly-shaped equipment.”

There is, of course, not only no statistical evidence to support this outrageous claim of women randomly sexually assaulting other women. It’s actually just something she’s imagined. It is not in fact true. She’s simply told us that she believes this. And so we should believe her.

I don’t believe her.

Quite simply, she’s lying. She’s invented a lie about lesbians and she’s spreading it as far and wide as she can.

I have never been in any space, public or private, with rapey women. I don’t believe they exist. I think the scary bulldagger virago of 1950s pulp fiction was an invention of men who felt threatened by the idea of lesbians “taking their women,” and in any event, that trope has long disappeared off the landscape except in right-wing, neo-fundamentalist settings. It might be the bogey-woman under our blogger’s bed at the Vampire Castle, but on Planet Earth where feminists and lesbians reside, it’s a figment of the blogger’s imagination.

A dangerous, damaging, vilely homophobic figment that she’s spreading among her 12k followers as if it were fact. Like gay men being pedophiles. Or Jews killing Christian babies. Or Muslims being terrorists.

It’s that despicable. It’s that wrong.

I’m not sure who this blogpost is in service to. It’s barely been tweeted or liked on Facebook, but our blogger sent out a series of vicious, slur-filled tweets to match her vile post, asserting that radical feminists were destroying the Western world by wanting sexual autonomy and other similarly hyperbolic claims.

I don’t know what to do with anti-feminist women. Feminism is the only rational political tool for women and it’s the only thing that will eventually humanize masculinity. But this lesbophobe calling herself feminist takes us back literally 50 years to Betty Friedan’s purge of NOW from the curse of the “lavender menace.”

The basic tenet of feminism is now, was a century ago and will be in perpetuity that women get to control their bodies. That’s fundamental. We get to decide who touches us and where and when. We get to decide who we fall in love with, who we desire and who we don’t desire. We get to decide what we will and will not allow in our vaginas. Consent matters. It can’t be forced. Not by men, not by random bloggers.

In 2014, no matter how many variations on a sexual identity theme there are on Facebook, in the real world, off the Interwebs, women have fought hard and long and desperately for autonomy and agency. Women have given their lives for it. A century ago Emily Davison gave her life so that women could have agency, so that women could have freedom.

The anniversaries of D-Day and Davison’s death should call to mind the importance of fighting against fascism in all its invidious forms. That includes attempts to wrest choice from any woman.

The struggle for women to own our bodies is still being waged across the globe. We are still being forced by rape and FGM, forcible marriage and punitive anti-lesbian laws, lesbian corrective rape and even murder to succumb to the pervasiveness of male violence. But what we won’t be forced to do, on the anniversary of Davison’s death or any other day, is to fuck someone just because some lesbophobic blogger tells us if we don’t, we’re less evolved than she is.

Feminists don’t tell other women who to fuck. That’s what men do. That’s what men have done for millennia. And when we haven’t done as they’ve told us, they’ve forced us.

It’s not lesbians and feminists in women’s spaces who are the danger here. It’s an historically illiterate blogger who thinks women should submit to penises because we have for millennia when we had no choice. That was never an acceptable dictate. And still isn’t.


Victoria A. Brownworth is an award-winning journalist, editor and writer. She has won the NLGJA, the Keystone Award, the Lambda Literary Award and has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. She won the 2013 Society of Professional Journalists Award for Enterprise/Investigative Reporting. She is a regular contributor to The Advocate and SheWired, a blogger for Huffington Post and a contributing editor for Curve magazine, Curve digital and Lambda Literary Review. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times. She is the author and editor of nearly 30 books including the award-winning Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic and Restricted Access: Lesbians on Disability. Her collection, From Where We Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth won the 2012 Moonbeam Award for Cultural/Historical Fiction. Her Y/A novel, Cutting will be published in fall 2014. @VABVOX