trigger warning for sexual harassment, abuse and rape
– having to physically run away from guys
– having to make assessments like ‘he looks strong but not fast so i will run’
– having to get groups of women to shield me
– having to lie all the time
– being asked where i live by strangers
– being threatened with rape by strangers
– having to assume everyone is an asshole because usually when i am nice to random men they go on to threaten me with rape or become extremely creepy at the very least
– carrying my keys so they stick out between my knuckles in case i have to defend myself
– changing my walk so i look bigger and stronger
– seeing men shouting at their female partners, threatening them, blaming them for things that are not their fault
– challenging those men and getting called all sorts of vile things
– being told to smile
– men thinking they have ownership over me or that they ‘deserve’ to fuck me
– getting blamed for it by all and sunder because i have the audacity to walk home alone
– getting triggered by this over and over again because i was blamed when i was raped
– feeling a lack of bodily autonomy and loss of control over my own body and feelings because other people keep telling me it’s not mine to decide what to do with and my feelings aren’t real
– WHY WE NEED FEMINISM
Trigger warning for body issues relating to gender
So my body has gone all wrong.
It started when I was fifteen and doing my GCSEs. It was a stressful time for a number of reasons, and I ended up having a period that lasted for six weeks.
After that they became sort of normal again, by ‘sort of normal’ I mean heavy, lasting for seven WHOLE days and happening every three weeks. And then, from the age of about seventeen, the whole six-week-period bullshit started again, I even had one that lasted EIGHT WEEKS.
My moods were grim, I had bad ‘PMS’ (if you can call it PMS when you don’t actually menstruate you just BLEED) and shouted at people regularly.
This array of various forms of bullshit went on for FOUR WHOLE YEARS because every doctor I saw said that it was because my periods were ‘settling’ and they would become normal. But they started when I was eleven and still at primary school, and by the age of nineteen they were *still* fucked.
I got anaemia from all the bleeding and had to take pills. Eventually I got referred to a specialist who did an ultrasound and other tests and told me I had Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome – they were actually checking for endometriosis I think, which I’m lucky not to have as the symptoms are often way more severe. But yeah – WEIRDEST PCOS SYMPTOMS EVER. Instead of not getting periods, I was getting periods all the fucking time.
PCOS occurs because one has an imbalance of hormones, usually ‘too much’ testosterone, leading to periods being very irregular/stopping altogether and fertility problems. It can also cause other symptoms including pain and loads of body hair.
I don’t get that much body hair but I get PAIN, so much PAIN, hormones that are absolutely up the wall, periods that can start at any time.THEY HAVE STARTED DURING SEX SEVERAL TIMES. IT IS FUCKING EMBARRASSING. There is nothing wrong with period sex, at all, like seriously guys GO FOR IT. But if you’ve not had that discussion and it just happens mid-way through, then, oh dear Lord.
Although usually, ie when I’m not too lazy, busy or stupid to go to the doctor’s, I am on a particular contraceptive Pill which has the right balance of hormones to pretty much sort me out periods-wise but not always otherwise. It’s Gedarel. But I’ve also tried Microgynon and a couple of others.) When I am not on Gedarel, or on a different pill that fucks me up, I can get incredibly bad thrush, so bad sitting down hurts, worse pain. Cystitis that makes me cry with agony. Ending up in hospital with a fucking kidney infection was a lowlight.
I’m now 24 and old enough to know way better but I recently stopped taking my pill because I haven’t had time to register with or go to the doctor’s.
I am basically living on borrowed time until I go through some horrific experience again.
The other thing about PCOS is that I feel WEIRD about being so infertile. I could potentially get pregnant if I went on a load of hormones. But it’s really taboo, I think, to be nineteen and infertile. Or to be twenty four and infertile.
I don’t even know if I want kids. I’ve never envisaged myself having children and the thought of pregnancy fucking terrifies me, let alone childbirth – it sounds like some sort of dreadful nightmare. Let alone looking after a crying tiny thing that cannot do anything for itself. CHRIST. I can barely look after me.
I am lucky in that I will probably never have to have an abortion. I vehemently defend the right to choose but it doesn’t necessarily affect me the same way.
But the fact it is, it will always be an ‘issue’. It’s a thing to be dealt with, it’s an awkward subject, more awkward even than the fact that I likely don’t even want children anyway. But I would at least like the choice.
I feel really unfeminine. Really un-womanly. It’s really upsetting that this has happened to me, that I have had so many complications relating to it. That a lot of those complications are things you are not supposed to talk about, ie cunt problems, ovary problems, Aunt Flo problems and (whisper it) fertility problems. THINGS WE DO NOT MENTION.
Illnesses that make me feel ‘dirty’. I have a really high sex drive for whatever reason and yet have been parred so many times by my own fucking body from enjoying fulfilling sex.
So yeah. Make me get my prescriptions renewed, because for fuck’s sake, I do not want one of those eight week periods again.
Trigger warning: this post discusses sexual violence
I was given a fucking pink polkadot ‘personal alarm’ that emits a ‘female scream’ sound when activated. No. Do not want.
About a year ago there were some connected stranger rapes in Edinburgh and some friends in a well-meaning way asked me to call them when I got home and things like that. I didn’t appreciate that either.
The thing is that I am fully aware of the fact I might be raped – much more likely to be a partner than a stranger, but still – and I have been followed home, stalked, groped generally terrified by a variety of vile men. I AM AWARE OF THIS BEING A THING.
I don’t want people telling me how to run my own life, how to protect myself or generally what’s ‘best’ in this regard. I find it incredibly triggering and upsetting. The most personal aspect of my life is how I deal with the threat of sexual violence in my life, it has to be my choice, and no one else’s.
I genuinely think it contributes to blame culture because it’s saying it’s a potential victim’s responsibility to ‘take care’ or whatever bollocks. I respect other people’s choices in terms of doing what they think is best for them or what makes them feel safe but what others do does not necessarily work for me.
As far as I’m concerned, if someone strong and reasonably clever wants to rape me they probably will. I take ‘precautions’ like sticking to busy streets, but even busy streets have side alleys and can be quiet at 2am. But I will not stop living my life the way I want to live it because of this – perhaps I am lucky to think like that. But I will still walk about at night on my own and do what the fuck I feel like doing.
Secondary rant about unwanted physical contact
I also find unwanted/forced/blackmailed physical contact triggering and if I say no to a hug it’s because I have personal space ‘issues’ relating to a few people in my past’s lack of respect for my bodily autonomy.
This is another thing that people feel they have a right to criticise you for but should absolutely be under one’s own control and choice.
Everyone who lives in fear of sexual violence will inevitably work out what the best ways are for them in terms of what compromises they are prepared to make or what streets they will walk down or whether or not they carry an alarm. Those choices must be respected otherwise we belittle the agency of victims, survivors and anyone else who lives in fear.
What privilege means
Privilege in the intersectional feminist sense means that you are not oppressed in a certain way. In this way privilege can sometimes mean ‘being treated like a human being’, which isn’t really a privilege as much as a right. ‘Straight privilege’ seems to mean ‘being able to walk down the street with your partner without getting beaten up’, which should just be normal. ‘Cis privilege’ seems to mean ‘walking down the street expressing your gender without getting abused’ which also should damn well be normal. Anyway. This is the terminology we have and to be fair it could be worse.
Privilege doesn’t mean having shit opinions for no reason other than privilege. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again – someone having crap opinions might stem from their privilege and thus ignorance and lack of experience but they don’t have crap ideas just because they’re privileged. It’s because they need telling, or because they need to do some more thinking, or because they are protecting their status. It’s important to recognise this. No excuses for shit opinions.
Debates about anticapitalist ideologies
Left wing feminist women generally know way more about feminism than leftwing men (not in every case though). In addition, we have the insight of experience of sexism in our every day lives. The fact we have that experience – but importantly, also because we just seem to take more of an interest in feminism or maybe even came to be leftwing through feminism (true in many cases) means we can speak with some confidence and a feeling of being right.
Class struggle anarchafeminists and socialist feminists are not just feminists though, and it’s good for our feminism that we’re not, because class oppression is incredibly important. *Sometimes* a man knows more than I do about the history of those traditions – and that’s okay. Because of my gender oppression and general lack of self confidence I also feel less able to discuss things. Also we sometimes get left out because we’re relied on to do ‘the feminist bit’ at every anti-capitalist event ever, meaning we can’t do the class stuff, meaning that we leave that up to the menz sometimes.
I don’t want to be the queer feminist at socialist events. I’m a queer socialist feminist, with emphasis just as much on the socialist as anything else. Not everyone finds it easy or has the time to plough through thick tomes, and no one should judge you if you can’t or haven’t yet read x book in the canon of class politics. And P.S. – often people pretend they’ve read more than they have to look important or clever, and often people have read more than you realise but don’t go on about it because they don’t think themselves especially important or clever.
Someone for the love of God please produce some good notes on some of the tomes. Thanks. I’ll give you some notes on Judith Butler or some other ludicrously hard-to-read feminist writer.
Intersectionality: not quite materialist enough
Intersectionality seems to be incredibly popular at the moment among young leftwing feminists, and for very good reason. That reason is basically that way too many socialists, anarchists and general lefties are sexist or even misogynistic – and also way too many people, including feminists, are racist or white-ethnocentric, classist, ablist, transphobic, etc.
But in my view the version of intersectionality I keep seeing underplays the importance of class politics. Class politics is not just about checking your privilege and stopping saying horrible things or stopping being homophobic or judging people for their class or something. It’s about destroying capitalism and overthrowing capitalists – and creating a classless, communist society. Although I think men benefit from sexism, patriarchy doesn’t work in the same way. Its effects are materially felt but it is a much more blurry thing, less structured, perhaps partly because it’s older.
Racism and orientalism are kind of similar in that – discounting actual fascism – they are loose collections of vile ideas used to justify disgusting actions. Materially felt but not materially upheld in a conspiratorial way. Poor black people in the States for example might be poor partly because of racism but that’s because racism is keeping them in the working class or from getting well paid jobs. Some capitalists are racists but their main ‘thing’ is self-interest and profit.
That doesn’t mean it isn’t keenly felt, disgusting or disturbing. It does mean that those forms of oppression are incredibly hard to shake. But nevertheless I think class oppression is visibly different from other kinds of oppression – not worse, just different.
Sorry this isn’t as clearly written as it maybe should be. I tried…
I would be interested to hear people’s thoughts.
Feminism Has A Problem
I just read this pretty awful article in Vagenda about feminist men. I was looking into one of their writers’ racism, and though I think it is my responsibility to spread the word as a white feminist, instead of adding my own crap to the debate for the sake of SAYING SOMETHING I’d rather direct you to these excellent articles.
The piece in Vagenda on feminism for men I read, entitled, ‘Let’s hear it for the boys!’ was so problematic I barely made it through. If the writer ever reads this, though, I really would encourage her not to give up or get angry at me for pointing this out, but instead to be inspired to read more widely, especially stuff from our trans* sisters, Black feminists, queer feminists and socialist feminists.
Things That Are Wrong with ‘Let’s hear it for the boys!’
It equates being a man with having a penis. It talks about being an angry hairy ugly lesbian as if that is a bad thing. It says that Plato and Kurt Cobain were feminists. (WTF?!) It thanks men for supporting equal rights when not doing so is sexism. It talks about ‘top blokes who deserve a biscuit’.
Fun feminism – liberal, middle class, white, cissexist feminism
This kind of feminism exalts men who are even vaguely supposedly ‘on our side’, as if we owe them something. We don’t. Feminists have fought for gains that women should already have had, and won them through struggle. They have been imprisoned, gone on hunger strike, been tortured and the rest of it in order to gain the most basic rights.
Obviously Julie Bindel is a scumbag transphobe – but we should criticise ‘fun feminism’, by which I think she means contemporary liberal populist feminism, although not for the reasons she suggests. We should criticise ‘fun feminism’ because the wishy washy, shallow feminism of Jezebel, The Vagenda, Caitlin Moran et al ignores serious problems like racism and cissexism in the feminist movement in order to ‘avoid in-fighting’ and avoid any uncomfortable self-criticism. (Personally though I think an anti-racist, trans*- positive feminism is a lot more ‘fun’ than a racist transphobic one.) I also think they ignore the effects of capitalism on women.
The reactions against this kind of men-appeasing feminism tend to be that men have no place in feminism, that men should shut up, that they should just support whatever women decide.
And while I strongly sympathise with this, and probably used to broadly advocate that position, it doesn’t really go far enough.
‘Feminism is for everybody’ – bell hooks
The concept of feminism being for everyone doesn’t mean giving men biscuits when they’re vaguely nice. It does mean that everyone should know about feminism, learn about feminism and work towards more equal power relations.
Men shutting up and staying out of it means men feel they can be lazy and ignorant and lets dickheads off the hook. We should have women-only spaces where and when we want (and men shouldn’t complain about that) but I think engaging with sympathetic men isn’t a bad thing at all, if they are genuinely sympathetic and not fauxmenists. Saying ‘men can never understand’ is a good way for men to just be wankers and blame socialisation for their behaviours instead of improving. Maybe they can’t understand everything – but they should try.
The other problem is, if men should just support women feminists, which women feminists should they support? I understand that sometimes people say ‘another group says this’ in order to justify their privileged rubbish – but equally, feminism is full of vibrant debate and ideology. We value experience more than other traditions, for sure – but we also have a huge amount of rich theory.
Expect more of men
Yes, we’ll be constantly disappointed by them – aren’t we always?! But they are more than capable of not being arseholes, as occasionally is proven. I always think that it’s generally feminists who recognise that men can change, whereas the proponents of male power actually just think men are violent scumbags who can’t be trusted. Rapists think all men are rapists. Feminists actually distinguish between rape and sex (discounting some pretty vile radical feminist texts that count all heterosexual sex as rape). [Most] feminists and all good social theorists emphasise socialisation and social structures over ‘human nature’.
Being a man who believes in equality for women is not something to be exalted – it should be normal. But some men genuinely are feminists. Now – off you guys should pop to do some self-education rather than waiting around for women to teach you everything.
There’s a particular phenomenon in contemporary popular culture regarding the depiction of women characters.
Very few women characters are allowed to be totally independent from men. There is nearly always something lacking, missing, or dysfunctional about women without men.
New Girl is one of the starkest examples of this, with the character Jess stumbling through life with the occasional help of her (male) flatmates and the odd boyfriend. She is also a manic pixie dreamgirl – a particular specialism of Zooey Deschanel.
Penny from Big Bang Theory is another, living from month to month (in an apartment unrealistically expensive for a waitress, but TV magic) with the support of Leonard and cameos from sporty-but-thick boyfriends.
Bridget Jones is a classic example, with her oversized pants, blue soup and bunny ears, bumbling through life waiting for a man to save her.
Carrie Bradshaw – spending thousands on shoes, relying on rich friends to pick up the pieces, perpetually late and disorganised and ultra-neurotic is the ‘relatable’ character in Sex and the City. Despite being a capitalist, I much preferred the joke character of Samantha, who is presented basically as a woman with the same instincts and needs as a stereotypical man – meaningless sex, business and profit, control. But she’s the exception and Carrie is supposedly the everywoman.
And in Girls, too, Lena Dunham’s character is unable to cope by herself.
Caitlin Moran, who is also pretty fucking racist – and cissexist – makes hay out of this adorably-useless kind of womanhood, where obsessing about your thighs and getting chewing gum in your hair is somehow an inevitable part of How To Be A Woman.
And that’s just a few examples of this fucking endless phenomenon.
I’m a pretty dysfunctional woman who always spends a bit too long in bed, has spots and unbrushed hair; whose finances are in an absolute state. Who eats cheese until she feels sick. Men to save us though? No thanks, we’d be doomed.
Others have written good stuff about the childishness of these idealised feminine tropes, in which another whole subject area of analysis arises.
I don’t wish to fetishise ‘independence’ or ’empowerment’ in the sense of success under capitalism, which is anti-feminist and ablist in my view. It’s okay not to be able to cope, it’s okay to need help. It’s okay to not want to exploit people to gain your own so-called ’empowerment’. Instead, I wish to draw attention to the way heterosexual (monogamous) women characters are attractive to their ‘dream men’ when they are unthreatening, vulnerable and dependent.
The way many writers of different genders fetishise the dependency, vulnerability and neediness of women characters is deeply disturbing – keeping women down in order for them to need men.
Instead, we should be exploring worlds without men as saviours, worlds where gender relations are changed and stories involving women who will muddle through without men or, better still, find their place in struggles to improve their conditions. Or at least exploring gendered lives in a more interesting way.
And that’s why Christina Aguilera and the Pussycat Dolls have better gender politics than half of people in popular culture who profess to be feminist or “pro-equality”.
Trigger warning for descriptions of rape and sexual violence
A note before I start
I’ve used personal experience in this blog post. I don’t think that my personal experience is any more valid than anyone else’s. I don’t think it’s a substitute for other forms of evidence. But I just find it useful to use examples sometimes. I hope people can respond to the theoretical content rather than presuming I’m trying to shut down debate by mentioning my own experiences. I’m genuinely not. If you think I’m lying, then fuck you, but if you think I’m wrong, that’s more than fine.
Queering the debate
Second Council House of Virgo has repeatedly asked for a queer feminist response – here is one. It’s not representative of queer feminists, though.
This is a contribution to discussions going on amongst the Glasgow left and others regarding comments that were made about what constitutes rape.
On privilege and apologising
We all do shit things sometimes, whether it’s due to our privilege, the internalisation of our own oppression, or whatever structural or other reasons.
Proper apologies – those that include an admission of doing something wrong, a genuine feeling of regret and a resolve to do better in future – are valuable and important. ‘Sticking to your guns’ or having ‘resolve’, when it would be better to admit wrongdoing and apologise, is not admirable.
I’ve done shitty things and apologised – not that I’m being self-congratulating, because not apologising would’ve been very wrong indeed.
On the issue of what defines rape
The way rape is normally spoken about is strange. I certainly had no idea up until about six months ago what constituted the legal or other definitions of rape, and I’ve since realised that I’ve been raped in those legal terms more than I thought I had.
Rape is forced sex.
How you define rape CAN be heteronormative and homophobic, because the definition of rape depends on the definition of sex.
Sex for me has nothing to do with penetration and this is fundamental.
And that’s why bourgeois courts and international law defines rape as it does – because it doesn’t count non-penetration as sex. Because of heteronormativity and heterosexism. Not because they know best.
The fact that Second Council House of Virgo has deemed the definition of what strictly constitutes rape – beyond forced sex – so important that she has continued, continued to stick to this, is pretty bizarre to me.
If someone feels like they’ve been raped, defines what happened to them as rape, and they have been forced into sex in any way, why go about telling them they weren’t raped?
Rape is not necessarily ‘worse’ than sexual assault
Who knows what people mean when they say they have been ‘sexually assaulted’? (Not that anyone should have to define it, ever, obviously, unless they want to.) I used to say I’d been ‘sexually assaulted’ when in reality I’d been forced into penetrative oral sex, which I have since found out is included in many establishment definitions of rape.
A lot of the time people think they know what you mean when you say you’ve been raped, and people react accordingly. It’s SERIOUS. So imposing strict penetration-dependent definitions on rape is actually pretty minimising, because if it’s not rape it’s not SERIOUS.
I’m incredibly uninterested in sorting out what happened to victims of sexual violence into what’s ‘worse’ or ‘more serious’ – but the way rape is perceived is intrinsic to people taking things seriously, and therefore people are allowed to (and should) have broader definitions!
Sexually predatory women
They exist. I have encountered two, as opposed to hundreds and hundreds of sexually predatory men (hence being a feminist). But they exist. They are just as bad as their men counterparts.
This argument on the Glasgow left has got more and more heated because of failure to admit wrongdoing and make amends.
Instead of addressing legitimate concerns, people were dismissed out of hand. When those people got angry they became ‘bullies’. After still nothing, they called for action to be taken, this was called ‘trashing’.
On rape apologism
When other people have tried to define what rape is along misogynistic lines that minimise women’s (and others’) ability to consent, they have rightly been called rape apologists.
The person who feels like their experiences are being marginalised and minimised is being told she is not a rape victim, when she is. I don’t know how Second Council House would define it, perhaps as sexual assault? But really, it’s just not good enough.
Trashing the sisterhood
Being a feminist is not about being nice to other women. It is, however, important to respect each other’s experiences and acknowledge them.
It’s pretty clear that Second Council House should’ve apologised long ago and tried to make up for being unthinking and offensive (unintentionally or not).