We hear this over and over and over again. Every single time a male actor, athlete, musician, artist, politician, chef (and the list goes on) are alleged to be perpetrators of domestic and sexual violence and abuse, the refrain is “oh, everyone knew”.
… Yes, she is sort of naked a lot of the time, but this isn’t objectification so much as a cultural reset: having thighs, actual thighs you can kick things with, not thighs that look like arms, is a feminist act. The whole Diana myth, women safeguarding the world from male violence not with nurture but with better violence, is a feminist act. Casting Robin Wright as Wonder Woman’s aunt, re-imagining the battle-axe as a battler, with an axe, is a feminist act. A female German chemist trying to destroy humans (in the shape of Dr Poison, a proto-Mengele before Nazism existed) might be the most feminist act of all.
Women are repeatedly erased from the history of classical music, art and medicine. It takes a radical mind to pick up that being erased from the history of evil is not great either. Wonder Woman’s casual rebuttal of a sexual advance, her dress-up montage (“it’s itchy”, “I can’t fight in this”, “it’s choking me”) are also feminist acts. Wonder Woman is a bit like a BuzzFeed list: 23 Stupid Sexist Tropes in Cinema and How to Rectify Them. I mean that as a compliment.
… To me, whatever chance Wonder Woman had of being some kind of feminist antidote to the overabundance of superhero movies made by and for bros was blown by its prevailing occupation with the titular heroine’s sex appeal. Characters frequently note that Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, who goes by Diana in the film, is “the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen.” Her male companions in the fight against Germany’s WWI forces drool behind her back at the notion that there may somewhere be an island full of women who look like her, with no men in sight. When she walks into a room, even dressed in a plain gray suit and bowler hat instead of her usual sensual armored leotard, men go silent and stare. “I’m both frightened and aroused,” goes one character’s response to Diana’s ass-kicking moves, prompting one of the audience’s loudest, longest laughs at the screening I attended.
“Her femininity is part of the story, for the way it makes even the other heroes in the movie underestimate and discount her. But her gender is never the story’s primary thrust,” wrote a critic at the Verge this week. Disagree. By the time the action got too fast-paced and loud for any more characters to marvel at Diana’s fine bod and bone structure, I was about an hour past being sick of the “sexy lady is also hypercompetent” joke. …
… However, wherever there is a mainstream feminist victory, there are racial undertones that need to be addressed. Women’s March, is that you?Wonder Woman’s epic tale is no exception, historically and as a Hollywood Blockbuster. Noah Berlatsky at The Establishment did a great job of documenting the intentions of Wonder Woman’s creator William Marston on creating an ideal woman. That woman was white and, Berlatsky noted, based on some casually sexist essentialist ideas about women.
In fact, women of color typically only showed up on Marston’s Paradise Island in heavily stereotyped representations. I would go so far as to argue that the introduction of Phillipus — the Black woman who trained Wonder Woman in combat when she was young and served as an advisor to her mother, Queen Hippolyta — in 1987 had him turning in his grave. Serves him right. By casting Gal Gadot, an Israeli actress to play the title role in this film, Jenkins and the producers are also deviating from the white blueprint made by Marston. …
That huge pile of receipts busted the record for the highest-grossing opening weekend for a film directed by a woman. (The previous record was held by Sam Taylor-Johnson’s Fifty Shades of Grey, which made $85 million in its 2015 opening weekend.) It also debuted in the top spot in many countries, including China, where it made $38 million. ….
In 2016, just 7 percent of the 250 top domestic grossing films were directed by women. Among high-ranking roles on film productions (like producers, editors, writers, and cinematographers), that number was higher, but not by much: Only 17 percent of those roles were filled by women. …
Imagine you star in a movie that is widely considered to be one of the greatest fantasy films of all time. The movie has your name in the title. You are the character whom the whole story revolves around, a story told to a sick little boy in need of a distraction as he lays in bed, home from school. You are the two most important things for a fictional woman to be according to societal standards: beautiful and marriageable.
And you’re also a princess, because that’s how these stories always work. …
Those who know the secrets of William Goldman’s The Princess Bride know that he started writing the story for his daughters, one who wanted a story about a bride and the other who wanted a story about a princess. He merged those concepts and wound up with a tale that didn’t focus overmuch on his princess bride, instead bound up in the adventures of a farmboy-turned-pirate, a master swordsman in need of revenge, a giant with a heart of gold, and a war-hungry Prince looking for an excuse to start a terrible conflict. It was turned into a delightful movie directed by Rob Reiner in 1987. …
…. The film does have flaws. It’s a little too long and there is an effects-smothered, super-powered punch-up towards the end that is familiar from dozens of other superhero films. There are other ways to end a blockbuster – think of Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade’s puzzle-solving or The Poseidon Adventure’s escape scenes. Diana’s such a good character that she doesn’t need so many bells and whistles.
But there is such power to seeing a woman up there, facing down armies and bounding into the air to smash a tank or take out a sniper, that it hardly matters. If you have daughters (older than five or six, say), bring them along – this will make young girls feel like they can fly. There have been 30 superhero films since 2005 and every single one had a male lead. Studios thought women just couldn’t lead superhero films. Wonder Woman proves them wrong. ….
…. This is the first major superhero movie directed by a woman, Monster’s Patty Jenkins, and a lot rides on it. If Wonder Woman can knock it out of the park, commercially and critically, that success will help women in Hollywood – both behind the camera and in front – and it’s tempting to suggest that it’s every feminist’s duty to go along on the opening weekend just to prove that women can make, and lead, giant action movies. …
Diane Abbott was the first Black woman elected to parliament. Here are 4 love letters to Abbott and, in her own words, the racist and misogynist abuse she has received over the years for standing up for her constituents and women across the UK.
Diane Abbot was the first black woman elected to the House of Commons as a Member of Parliament in 1987. Bridget Minamore’s article on The Pool outlines clearly and succinctly “racism and misogyny explains why there are so few black women in politics.” Minamore details Abbott’s experiences of misogynoir (the intersection of racism and sexism) as an example of the challenges all black women politicians face “all Members of Parliament (especially the female ones) get online abuse. But still, I’ve never seen a white female MP get abuse at the scale Abbott does.” The online abuse Minamore’s article focuses on isn’t from your average, backwater troll. It is public figures “journalists who write about her and her parliamentary peers” and so confident are they in the acceptance of misogynoir by the British public, they do not even seek the protection of anonymity online trolls enjoy. …
Diane Abbott – the first black woman to be elected to the House of Commons – is easily one of the most well known female politicians in the UK. She is also, arguably, the most attacked; if you want to look into the pits of world wide web abuse, try having a scroll through her twitter mentions. Saying that, all MPs (especially the female ones) get online abuse. But still, I’ve never seen a white female MP get abuse at the scale Abbot does from people who should be relied upon to show a decent level of respect: the journalists who write about her, and her parliamentary peers. …
Like all women, the way we look is often disparaged, but brown skin takes any sexist mocking or criticism and adds a grimy layer of racism to it – like the icing on a particularly shitty cake …
… Diane was first elected as an MP in 1987, the year before I was born. She has been dedicated to serving the British public for longer than I have even been alive. Hold that thought. Understand it.
Diane was the first black woman to have a seat in the House of Commons. She MADE HISTORY. Her father was welder, her mother a nurse. How many working class kids do we have in politics these days? Fuck all, really.
Diane went to Cambridge University to study history. IN THE SEVENTIES. In 2017 only 15 black kids went to Cambridge. Sit down and listen.
Diane worked for the Home Office in 1976. She was so smart they put her on a course to fast-track her career. (I’m just getting started.)
Diane was Race Relations Officer at the National Council for Civil Liberties from 1978 to 1980. (Big fucking job. Bet you couldn’t do it.) …
Diane’s political career began in 1982, on Westminster City Council. Then in 1987, I’ll say it again, she became the first black female MP.
In 2008, her speech on civil liberties in the counterterrorism debate won Parliamentary Speech Of The Year in the Spectator awards.
Diane Abbott is, as Stephen Bush recently wrote, an astronaut. She has gone where no-one like her had gone before. It is worth remembering why: the first black woman ever to be elected to parliament 30 years ago, British politics has been transformed in her lifetime, partly because of what she has achieved. Being black female and working class make life difficult enough now: in the 1970s when Diane graduated from Cambridge and joined the Home Office fast-stream she was smashing barriers, for others to follow. You don’t have to like her, or agree with everything she says, but you have to admire her grit and resilience, not least these past few weeks. …
The Nobel prize-winning author Toni Morrison once said, “If there is a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” And as a young woman the “book I wanted to read” was a narrative where a black woman could be a member of the UK parliament.
It was an extremely unlikely aspiration. After the 1983 general election, out of 650 members of parliament in total, there were no black, Asian or minority ethnic MPs – and only 23 women. But I ignored the odds and was elected in 1987, the first ever black woman MP. The campaign was tough. A brick was thrown through a window at my campaign HQ. Many Labour party members worked hard to back me, others went missing. The Times had marked my selection by complaining about my “rhetoric of class struggle and skin-colour consciousness”. Judging by the wariness with which I was treated when I entered the House of Commons, many MPs agreed with the Times. …
I bought this book partly because I was so attracted to the beautiful manga style cover art centred on a gorgeously drawn black woman’s face. While her necklace looks African to me, her rakish curls of hair, sceptical eyebrow and thick gold earring give her a cartoon romantically piratical air! Meanwhile, two white women on the phone look as if they’re either dealing with a crisis or plotting some intrigue, but as it turns out, the protagonist, Ellie, isn’t a swashbuckling renegade and the other women are just gossiping. Their chatter, often cruel, is McPartlin’s vehicle for working through the harshness and bigotry of a rural mid-’60s Scottish setting. While the ‘pairty line’ vents toxic racism and ignorance, its status as a space for friends to speak openly enables some healing and changes of mind to take place. Religious fissures are bridged by family relationships, and the speakers feel comfortable enough to contradict each other and repent of previous convictions. Read more Against the Party Line by @RoseAnnaStar
A brief foreword: the following was delivered at Glasgow Caledonian University on the 25th October, 2016, as part of Black History Month. The subject was Race, History and Brexit: Exploring the politics of erasure and documenting the experiences of Black and minority ethnic communities in Scotland post Brexit.
I was proud to speak alongside Dr Ima Jackson and Dr Akwugo Emejulu – both due to their scholarship, and because it was the first time in my career I had sat on a panel composed entirely of Black women.
I am Black. I am Scottish. To some, it’s obvious that the two are not mutually exclusive. To others, Black Scottish identity is a contradiction in terms: either you’re of this place, Scottish and therefore white, or Other, Black. Rest assured, the two fit together – admittedly there are tensions, but those mostly arise from the expectations of other people (read: white people) rather than any aspect of what it actually is to be Black and Scottish. The plurality of Black identity often gets lost in how this discussion is approached, because constructions of national identity are so often treated as binary and static.
“Where are you from, originally?” Five words that plague people of colour across Britain. It’s essentially code for “if you’re here, then why aren’t you white?” When I was a child that question left me feeling sick, scared. I dreaded it, and have developed something of a sixth sense for when it’s coming. What caused me discomfort was that it positioned me as Other, and was often asked because white people couldn’t wrap their heads around the idea of a Black child belonging in an otherwise white family. Now, having grown up and inhabited this world as a Black woman for 24 years, I have a much thicker skin when it comes to micro-aggressions. But people still ask it. Random strangers still feel entitled to ask that, completely out of the blue, their curiosity outweighing basic courtesy. Read more Race, History, and Brexit: Black Scottish Identity by @ClaireShrugged
Cross-posted from: Mairi Voice
Originally published: 12.08.16
The Guardian recently published leaked documents of hundreds of pages of abuse and sexual assault of women and children on Nauru’s off-shore refugee detention centre. Much of this abuse appears to have been at the hands of the Wilson’s security guards at the facility.
There have been articles since condemning the Australian government’s treatment of asylum seekers and its blatant disregard of these abuses, such as that written by Jennifer Wilson.
The Immigration Minister, Mr. Peter Dutton’s response to the publication of the leaked files was:
“some people do have a motivation to make a false complaint”…”I have been made aware of some incidents that have reported false allegations of sexual assault,”
A brief foreword: this is the conclusion to my series of essays on race and the feminist movement. Parts 1, 2, and 3 can all be accessed here. The following knowledge was acquired at great personal expense. Use it how you will. Dedicated to every woman – Black, brown, and white – who has sustained me through sisterhood.
Whenever I discuss racism in the feminist movement, this question is invariably asked as a result: white women wonder “what, specifically, can I do about racism? How can I create solidarity with women of colour?” It’s a complicated question, which I have been considering closely for over a year now, and there is no one simple answer. Instead, there are many answers, of which none are static and all of which are liable to shift in relation to context. The reality of the situation is that there is no quick fix solution for the hundreds of years’ worth of racism – racism upon which our society was built, its hierarchies of wealth and power established – that shape the dynamic between women of colour and white women. That imbalance of power and privilege colours personal interactions. It creates the layers of justifiable mistrust that women of colour feel towards white women – even (perhaps especially) in a feminist context. Read more For the White Woman Who Wants to Know How to be My Friend: A Black Feminist Guide to Interracial Solidarity
“At a challenging moment in our history, let us remind ourselves that we the hundreds of thousands, the millions of women, trans-people, men and youth who are here at the Women’s March, we represent the powerful forces of change that are determined to prevent the dying cultures of racism, hetero-patriarchy from rising again.
“We recognize that we are collective agents of history and that history cannot be deleted like web pages. We know that we gather this afternoon on indigenous land and we follow the lead of the first peoples who despite massive genocidal violence have never relinquished the struggle for land, water, culture, their people. We especially salute today the Standing Rock Sioux.
“The freedom struggles of black people that have shaped the very nature of this country’s history cannot be deleted with the sweep of a hand. We cannot be made to forget that black lives do matter. This is a country anchored in slavery and colonialism, which means for better or for worse the very history of the United States is a history of immigration and enslavement. Spreading xenophobia, hurling accusations of murder and rape and building walls will not erase history.” …
“Friends, sisters and brothers, all of you who are before me today and in 370 marches in every state in this country and on six continents and those who will be communing with us in one at 1 [p.m.] in a silent minute for equality in offices, in kitchens, in factories, in prisons, all over the world. I thank each of you, and I especially want to thank the hardworking visionary organizers of this women-led, inclusive march, one of whom managed to give birth while she was organizing this march. Who else can say that?
Thank you for understanding that sometimes we must put our bodies where our beliefs are. Sometimes pressing send is not enough. And this also unifies us with the many in this world who do not have computers or electricity or literacy, but do have the same hopes and the same dreams.
I think that because I and my beloved co-chairs, the Golden oldies right?–Harry Belafonte, Dolores Huerta, LaDonna Harris–all these great people, we may be the oldest marchers here today, so I’ve been thinking about the uses of a long life, and one of them is you remember when things were worse. …
Cross-posted from: Feimineach
Originally published: 26.06.15
On the 23rd of June, 2015, the PRISON REFORM TRUST LAUNCHED A REVIEW to examine why children aged 10 to 17 who are in care are more likely to offend than children who are not in care.  The Trust acknowledges that the majority of young people in care do not offend or come into contact with the youth justice system; however, “children and young people who are, or have been, in care are over five times more likely than other children to get involved in the criminal justice system.” The Trust continues: “In a 2013 survey of 15-18 year olds in young offender institutions, a third of boys and 61% of girls said they had spent time in care. This is despite fewer than 1% of all children in England being in care.” The review aims to identify why young people in care are disproportionately represented in the youth justice system and, importantly, how to respond to this problem. Read more YOUNG PEOPLE IN CARE AND OFFENDING: A BROKEN SYSTEM
One of the more interesting debates that has come out of Trump winning the US presidency has been about the role of the white working class in perpetuating racism. Although the white working class did not constitute the majority of white votes Trump received, they have been scapegoated by some as being the reason for why Trump won. This scapegoating, I believe, is wrong, particularly since in this particular case most of Trump’s support came from the white middle class. A class that has increasingly been confronted with the neoliberal reality of the “American Dream” and who have lost more and more as they have become deeply embroiled in a system of debt, credit, and precariousness. However, this class can’t only be analysed in pure class terms, since it is precisely the white middle class that voted for Trump in large numbers. Part of the story is also a backlash to Obama – the first Black president – as well as to the increasing focus on racism in public debates following the excruciatingly high rates at which Black men and women are being killed and imprisoned. As Christina Sharpe has argued in her new book “In the Wake: On Blackness and Being” the Atlantic slave trade is a living, breathing part of the United States; it is not the past nor a historical legacy; it is what has formed the US today; Black people are not left out of the system; Black exclusion is the system. ….
Justin Trudeau is a feminist. We all know this since he says it every single time he’s interviewed. The media is obsessed with this narrative and Trudeau is regularly accused of ‘trolling the internet’ for posting pictures which revel in hyper-masculinity.
Much of Trudeau’s appeal is that he is a conventionally attractive white male who does yoga, charity boxing and loves kids. Almost as much as Barack Obama does. This is not ‘trolling the internet’. It is part of a deliberate campaign of image management – just like every other politician on the planet. David Cameron taking up yoga would not make him a better prime minister – nothing can compensate for the destructive and deeply misogynistic and racist policies that the Tory party has developed. Likewise, an attractive prime minister who enjoys a photo opportunities with babies – of the human and panda varieties – does not automatically guarantee good policies or even a commitment to feminism. Read more Justin Trudeau is not a feminist superhero by @LK_Pennington
According to CNN, 53 percent of white female voters voted for Donald Trump. Fifty-three percent. More than half of white women voted for the man who bragged about committing sexual assault on tape, who said he would appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade, who has promised to undo legislation that has afforded health insurance to millions of uninsured Americans, whose parental leave plan is a joke, who has spent his campaign dehumanizing nonwhite people, who has spent 30-plus years in the public eye reducing women to their sexual attributes. More than half of white women looked at the first viable female candidate for the presidency, a wildly competent and overqualified career public servant, and said, “Trump that bitch.”
What leads a woman to vote for a man who has made it very clear that he believes she is subhuman? Self-loathing. Hypocrisy. And, of course, a racist view of the world that privileges white supremacy over every other issue. …
On the personal and political implications of misogynoir.
I should be writing my dissertation. I should be writing the abstract for that conference paper. I should be preparing the workshop on feminist voice I am to deliver. There are a hundred and one things I should be doing – things essential to my life that I am not doing, because I am curled under my desk having a panic attack. The abuse I receive online has reached new heights. For the first time (and probably not the last) I feel physically unsafe because of it. Along with the persistent misogyny, the overt racism, the steady drip drip drip of “shut up nigger”, there is something new: the threat of violence.
A white man told me that he wanted to hit me with his car. He wanted to hit me with his car and reverse over my body to make sure that I was dead. The scenario was so specific, the regard for my humanity so little, that it felt more real somehow than any of the other abuse I have received. It shocked me in a way that nothing on Twitter ever had before. I could hear my bones crack. He believed I deserved to die for being Black and having an opinion different to his own, that endorsing Black Lives Matter made me a legitimate target of violence. Seconds later, another white man appeared in my mentions with a chilling casualness to say that my being ran over would be “fair enough.”
It is not ‘just the internet’. This abuse does not fade from the mind when I close my laptop, when I put down my phone. It is a part of my life. It has altered my way of being. It is, at points, debilitating. There is a clear pattern: it is when I am most vocal, most visible as a Black feminist woman, that the abuse occurs most frequently, is the most vitriolic. Not a single one of the accounts I have reported in the week (for calling me nigger, for threatening me, for telling me to go back to Africa, etc.) has been suspended. Twitter Support’s failure to penalise accounts spreading racist threats and harassment creates the impression that people are free to abuse others with impunity – and Black women are so often the targets of that abuse. Read more Self-Care or Speaking Out? A Black Feminist Dilemma by @ClaireShrugged
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. …
A brief foreword: this essay is the second in a series on race and racism in the feminist movement. It is a work of personal reflection. No individuals, organisations, or events are/will be named or directly identified. My objective is neither to call out nor to heap praise on any woman, but rather to highlight some realities of interracial dynamics between women in feminism. Part one of the series The Outsider Within: Racism in the Feminist Movement is available here.
The personal is political. So goes the rallying cry of second wave feminism, a perspective which has characterised a significant body of feminist theory. It is for this reason that I have decided to share a reflection upon my experience as a Black woman within the movement. There is a theory within Black feminism that being an outsider on the grounds of both race and sex positions Black women as watchers, gives us particular insight into dominant power structures and the means by which they manifest (Hill Collins, 2000). With this in mind, I aim to live up to the standards set by my foremothers and improve this movement for the women of colour who will follow after me.
Feminism is for everybody – so says bell hooks. (Note: hooks is not arguing that the movement should prioritise men, or any other dominant class, but rather be fully inclusive on grounds of race, class, and sexuality.) This text was critical in my development of a Black radical feminism, the moment when black became Black. Feminism is for Everybody outlined the importance of acknowledging race and class alongside sex if white supremacist capitalist patriarchy is to be dismantled, and provided a blueprint for true interracial solidarity between women. Here, hooks posited that sisterhood can exist between women of colour and white women provided that race is acknowledged as a hierarchy, racism as a system of power, from which white women benefit. If white women continue to deny the privilege of whiteness, disregarding countless testimonies delivered by women of colour, we have no reason to trust them as political allies – this is hooks’ perspective, and one with which I agree wholeheartedly. Read more The Outsider Within: Racism in the Feminist Movement by @ClaireShrugged (Part 2)
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.
Cross-posted from: Sarah Graham
Originally published: 29.03.16
Lucy was 23 when she fell pregnant, following a brutal gang rape by three men in her home country. After receiving threats on her life, she fled to the UK, believing she would be safe here – only to find herself locked up in Yarl’s Wood detention centre at five months pregnant. This is her story, as told to Sarah Graham.
After the attack, I knew people were after me. I was getting threatening letters, I saw men in front of our house, and my mum and I knew the police would not help. I told her it was too much for me; my life was in danger and I had to leave. We sold almost everything we had for me to escape, and friends and relatives contributed to the cost.
I didn’t know what to expect from England. I never thought in my life I would travel, so when it happened I didn’t think of anything except that I had to find somewhere safe for myself and my baby.
Commit to maintaining London’s pioneering Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy.
Women’s groups in London published a ‘manifesto for ending violence against women and girls in the capital,’ recently and sent open letters to Mayoral candidates highlighting the endemic levels of domestic and sexual violence in London, and asking them to make specific commitments on ending female genital mutilation (FGM), on prostitution, on ensuring support services are maintained, and the effective policing of these crimes.
A new ‘mayorwatch’ website, which will track all relevant mayoral and Assembly candidates’ pledges has also been launched.
The manifesto and open letters precede an ‘ending violence against women and girls hustings’ in central London on 12 April, with Sian Berry, Green Party; Yvette Cooper MP for Labour; Stephen Greenhalgh for the Conservatives; Annabel Mullin for the Lib Dems; and Sophie Walker, standing for the Women’s Equality Party, on the panel. Read more Manifesto on VAWG for London mayor candidates by @newsaboutwomen