As lexicographers, our duty is to report the language as it is used… Whilst we do welcome all feedback received from our users, any changes we make to our definitions are the result of a detailed review process and evidence-based linguistic research.
Another correspondent who raised the same subject got a different response:
Thanks again for contacting us about the definition of ‘woman’. …We are currently reviewing all our gender-related vocabulary to make sure that we accurately reflect the evolution in the vocabulary of gender and sexuality. This review will be completed in the coming months, and your comments will most certainly be taken into account. We always welcome feedback from our users, so do not hesitate to contact us if you notice any other inaccuracies and omissions.
The subject of both communications was whether a dictionary entry for ‘woman’ should define the word as meaning ‘an adult female human being’ (as Collins currently does), or whether it should (also) inform users that ‘woman’ denotes a person who identifies as a woman. The first correspondent wanted the lexicographers to maintain the traditional definition; the second wanted them to change it. Read more Politics, by definition, by @wordspinster
Cross-posted from: White Heat
Originally published: 11.08.17
Five years ago, Silicon Valley was rocked by a wave of “brogrammer” bad behavior, when overfunded, highly entitled, mostly white and male startup founders did things that were juvenile, out of line and just plain stupid. Most of these activities – such as putting pornography into PowerPoint slides – revolved around the explicit or implied devaluation and harassment of women and the assumption that heterosexual men’s privilege could or should define the workplace. The recent “memo” scandal out of Google shows how far we have yet to go.
It may be that more established and successful companies don’t make job applicants deal with “bikini shots” and “gangbang interviews.” But even the tech giants foster an environment where heteronormativity and male privilege is so rampant that an engineer could feel comfortable writing and distributing a screedthat effectively harassed all of his women co-workers en masse.
If you haven’t spent the last decade living on another planet, I’m sure you will recognise the following sequence of events:
A powerful man says something egregiously sexist, either in a public forum or in a private conversation which is subsequently leaked.
There is an outpouring of indignation on social media.
The mainstream media take up the story and the criticism gets amplified.
The powerful man announces that he is stepping down.
His critics claim this as a victory and the media move on—until another powerful man says another egregiously sexist thing, at which point the cycle begins again.
The most recent high-profile target for this ritual shaming was David Bonderman, a billionaire venture capitalist and member of Uber’s board of directors. It’s no secret that Uber has a serious sexism problem. Following a number of discrimination and harassment claims from former employees, the company commissioned what turned out to be a damning report on its corporate culture. At a meeting called to discuss the report, Arianna Huffington (who at the time was Uber’s only female director) cited research which suggested that putting one woman on a board increased the likelihood that more women would join. At which point Bonderman interjected: ‘actually what it shows is that it’s likely to be more talking’. Read more ‘Men, shut up for your rights!’, by @wordspinster
Cross-posted from: glosswitch
Originally published: 14.11.16
I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with glossy magazines. The reason this blog is called Glosswatch is because I originally conceived of it as a place where I’d go to rant about the publications to which I was still, inexplicably, subscribing in 2012.
I knew how these magazines functioned. I could see the way in which, like a toxic best friend, they eroded your confidence by drip-feeding you advice on ways in which to improve yourself. I knew that the solutions they offered were to problems you hadn’t even realised you had. I knew they didn’t really want you to be happy with yourself, since a woman who is happy with herself does not spend vast amounts of money on trying to make herself look like someone else. But I bought them all the same. I’d been buying them for decades. Read more Toxic best friend: Glossy magazines and me by @glosswitch
The recent image out of France that show policemen surrounding a woman who is removing her veil have struck many people because of how overtly Islamophobic they are. France – a country that constructs itself as being open and secular – recently imposed a fine on women who wear a ‘burqini’ at the beach. This announcement was controversial, and seeing images of this fine in action is bringing even more attention to the new rule. Read more Race/Class/Gender: French secularism and Whiteness by @saramsalem
Solidarity between women is vital for liberation. If the feminist movement is to succeed, feminist principles must be applied in deed as well as in word. Although intersectionality is used as a buzzword in contemporary activism, in many ways we have deviated from Crenshaw’s intended purpose: bringing marginalised voices from the periphery to the centre of the feminist movement by highlighting the coexistence of oppressions. White women with liberal politics routinely describe themselves as being intersectional feminists before proceeding to speak over and disregard those women negotiating marginalised identities of race, class, and sexuality in addition to sex. Intersectionality as virtue-signalling is diametrically opposed to intersectional praxis. The theory did not emerge in order to aid white women in their search for cookies – it was developed predominantly by Black feminists with a view to giving women of colour voice.
My mum was twenty eight when she had her first baby. That was quite late for a first baby in those days, especially as she had been married for a whole five years at that point, but she and my dad wanted to wait till they could afford a baby and had their own home to live in first. Finally they got a mortgage on a narrow two-up two-down terraced house with damp on the walls, silverfish in the fireplace and a toilet in the back yard, and then they started their family.
My sister took a whole day to be born, she was a big baby, and my mum had to have stitches after the birth. However, that didn’t prevent her from getting pregnant again within a few months. It has to be remembered that rape within marriage was not a crime in those days, and although I am not casting aspersions on my dad, I do think that those ideas, that a wife owed her husband regular sex whenever he wanted it, were strong enough at that time to ensure that most women would see sex as their duty (and most men would see it as their right). Even after a difficult and painful birth. Read more What My Mum Went Through by @HelenSaxby11
Cross-posted from: HerstoryArc
Originally published: 21.08.15
As the push grows for more women and girl protagonists in storytelling across all media forms, more artists and studios are starting to rise to the challenge. While these media creators are getting better at avoiding the more glaring misogynistic mistakes, more subtle ones keep rearing their heads. As our culture continues to shelve old stereotypes and tropes in search of new and fresh ideas it is not surprising that we are having some growing pains.
The mistake I want to discuss today is when a woman protagonist uses benevolent sexism as a vehicle to show her power and agency. If you are unfamiliar with the term benevolent sexism, I highly recommend checking out the links I’ve provided. Benevolent sexism is sometimes referred to incorrectly as “female privilege” because it is misunderstood as something positive*. In actuality, it can affect and harm both men and women. Some assumptions about, and reinforced by, benevolent sexism include:
In the last week almost 60,000 individuals signed a petition to have Protein World’s now infamous yellow bikini advert, used to sell food-replacement shakes, taken down from London public transport outlets. In light of this much reported petition and the upcoming Taking Back the Beach protest planned for Saturday afternoon, you used your Wednesday afternoon LBC radio show to ask listeners what all the fuss is about with this advert. In light of a widespread consumerist culture in which unattainable body images sneer down at us at every angle in almost every public space, what is it about this particular advert which has caused so much offence? The problem, one of your listeners volunteered, is simply that hard-core feminists are getting their knickers in a twist. This is because, another suggested, we live in such a politically correct society these days, that fat people just can’t stand being told that they need to lose some weight. Jealousy is SO unattractive.
Listening to your show at my office when I should have been working, I couldn’t very well call up to provide an answer to your very reasonable question and so, in an attempt to clarify where your callers completely missed the point, I am addressing this open letter to you.
The problem with the advert is not with the photograph of the model in a bikini, oozing unrealistic sex-appeal and making us all feel bad with the way we look on the way to work, when we’ve barely had enough time to brush our hair and wipe the toothpaste from our mouths let alone hit the gym. We’ve seen these images before. We’ve seen this model before. We all know that adverts make people feel pretty lousy; one of your listeners, in fact, wrote in about the mental health implications that pressures to appear ‘macho’ have on men. He was right to raise this. Presumably this listener is also aware that eating disorders are one of the leading causes of ill health for teenage girls. Perhaps he read the research that the number one wish for girls aged 11 – 17 is to be thinner.
No, the problem is not the image, and it’s not even the particularly intense visuals of the image – in blazing yellow, this giant woman glaring down at us like some sort of fantasy Godzilla reeking havoc and judgement wherever she goes. No, the problem with this advert is the tagline that accompanies this image and what this says about the role of women in public space. By asking “Are you beach body ready?” the question this advert puts to women is this: do you have a body deemed by mainstream western notions of female beauty to be sexually attractive enough so as to be aesthetically pleasing to men when on the beach? If not, buy our product or else do not come to the beach.
Do you think that this is a leap to go from the advert’s tagline to the message to women to kindly leave their not-beach-ready bodies at home on the sofa where they belong? Because this is certainly the message that a very large number of women take home and this was certainly the conclusion drawn in a large global study conducted by Girl Guiding and Dove, which revealed that two-thirds of women and girls have avoided actually going out and doing certain activities because they feel bad about their bodies (including, incidentally, 29% who do not go to the beach or pool for this very reason). The CEO of Protein World himself certainly knows that women often feel uncomfortable occupying public space without first altering their appearance; this is what sells his product.
Sure, ok, men don’t just roll out of bed in the morning and out on to the street and, sure, ok, they are made to feel ugly too. But considering the fact that the women who are shown in the media are almost entirely models posing for the benefit of the viewer, whereas the men we see are primarily politicians, business leaders, and sports professionals actually doing stuff, what this says about women specifically is that their primary role in public space is to serve as a sex object.
The reason, then, that feminists are *quote* getting their knickers in a twist *end quote* about this advert in particular is because this is the advert which makes explicit the link between female attractiveness and a woman’s right to occupy public space. It is a) this relationship between women’s subjective sexual attractiveness and public space that is problematic, and this is b) particularly problematic because it feeds into a continuum of violence against women and girls. In government-commissioned research it was made explicit that if boys grow up being repeatedly told by advertisements like this that women’s primary role in public is to provide for their sexual gratification, they are more likely to engage in aggressive and violent behaviour towards women and girls.
Sexual harassment and assault in public is a grave issue in our society. Of the 1 in 5 women who will experience a sexual offence in her lifetime, a significant portion of these offences will take place in public. The British Transport Police estimate that 15% of Londoners have experienced unwanted, intimidating, and threatening sexual behaviour on the city’s transport network, and I’m willing to bet that this problem is even worse than these stats suggest. I do not know a single female friend who has not at some point in her life been subject to sexual harassment or assault ranging, in the collective experiences of my friendship group, from cat-calling, jeering, and verbal abuse right through to inappropriate touching (and I am using this term euphemistically), being masturbated over, and being pissed on.
I am sure that you, as much as I, want this kind of behaviour to stop, and we can make a start by taking that bloody poster down.
The Joy in my Feet: Inspired by Maya Angelou’s poem, my blog The Joy in My Feet is about celebrating the work of women activists and artists around the world campaigning to end gender oppression. I am an intern with Equality Now working on a campaign to end FGM in the UK, so most of the posts you’ll find are covering current issues of sexual or gender based violence against women, interspersed with poetry and art.
(SHE READS A LOT OF WEB AND PASSES A LOT OF REMARKS, SO SHE DOES.)
On October 31, 2014 by feimineach
As feminism becomes more mainstream, there’s been a great deal of discourse online regarding different cultural perspectives for various feminist issues. The more I read through these discussions, the more I become aware of a trend among feminists, which is the idea that a Western society is the ideal that other cultures should strive to duplicate. “Why does your culture do that?” “Your culture is so backwards.” “Your culture is oppressive.” These statements, along with others that share similar sentiments, not only alienate a huge portion of the feminist population, but also create divides among feminists that really shouldn’t exist in the first place.
You may not realize it, but the idea that Western women are somehow “more feminist” or “more liberated” than women from other cultures has existed for a very, very long time. This phenomenon stems from the concept that can most basically be summed up by cultural imperialism: the idea that Western society is ahead of other societies, and these “other” cultures need to catch up. Not only is this claim false, it also enforces marginalization of all cultures that don’t follow a Western framework.
This sort of cultural imperialistic mentality is dangerous for a multitude of reasons, the first of which is quite simple: it encourages prejudice and racial stereotyping. A Pakistani woman dressed in traditional garb should not be written off immediately as “oppressed by her culture.” She is only celebrating the country she identifies with by honoring it in the simplest way possible: by dressing in the clothes that reflect her nationality. By assuming that anyone dressed in accordance to their ethnicity is somehow not as “liberated” as the Western woman, we set up a system where the West has to try and “rescue” these “culturally oppressed” women. Notice, for example, that the West is referred to as “Western” or “Western society,” while most other forms of society are “cultural,” “ethnic,” or “exotic.” All of this helps propagate the believe that Western society is the default, and all other groups are anomalistic variations.
I was interviewed by BBC Radio Tees this morning on whether feminism is necessary following Emma Watson’s speech to the UN. I spoke with a male journalist (who clearly doesn’t like feminists) and Angela Epstein who has made a career out of belittling feminism. These are the notes I wrote just before the interview:
More obviously, feminism is important because a young woman stood up in front of an international audience and said women are equal to men. For this, she has had threats of sexual violence through the theft and release of private images and all manner of abuse. This is why feminism is necessary – because women have no right to an opinion in the public sphere.
Reasons for feminism pertaining directly to Emma Watson:
The threat to release of photos of Watson nude which have been stolen and then released publicly: this is sexual violence
Count down clock to Watson being “legal”
the fact that the Daily Mail published an article on her outfit rather than the speech
My issues with Watson’s speech:
no practical advise on how to change,
very little structural analysis: remains embedded in neoliberal discourse on choice
the word feminism is important. There is a reason why that word is derided and insulted – it’s because the word has power. It makes it clear why women are trapped in continuing cycles of poverty, male violence and child-bearing and rearing,
Watson calls for men’s inclusion but ignores why men do not want to support women’s rights as it challenges their power,
real male allies do not need to be coaxed into clicking a button on a website. They are already doing the work by reading and listening to feminists and then putting their knowledge into practise by supporting women’s liberation,
We need to stop stroking men’s egos and worrying about their feelings. We’ve had 10 000 years of human history where women have been raped, tortured and murdered. Men have the power to change this and have chosen not too. We need to stop focusing on being inclusive to men and start actively challenging them,
This statement is odd: “If men don’t have to be aggressive in order to be accepted women won’t feel compelled to be submissive. If men don’t have to control, women won’t have to be controlled”
Women aren’t compelled to be submissive, they have no choice. Men do have a choice to be controlling and they make the choice to engage in this behaviour within the home and within the public sphere. Men absolutely do suffer because of gendered stereotypes but we need to be clear that men who use violence are making a choice to do so – if we think otherwise, we insult all the men who make the choice to act like a decent human being.
I do have criticisms of Watson’s speech but more importantly, I am dancing with joy that she stood up in front of an international audience and said women are equal to men. As a mother of members of the Harry Potter generation, I am ecstatic by this speech. As a feminist, I am happy that Watson stood up and defended women. I do have concerns about her speech, particularly the idea that we don’t need the word feminism, but I am so fucking glad she made it.
Here’s a great post from Clementine Ford on Watson’s speech.