Why is feminism a dirty word?

Having recently started university, a place of education and thinking, what has struck me most is the ignorance of otherwise intelligent people – especially when it comes to feminism.

To start with, let’s clear up a few myths, as it seems that many who consider feminism to be a dirty word do not even know what it’s about. Feminists do not hate men. Feminists are not all lesbians. Feminists do not all have hairy armpits and legs. In short, we are not hairy man-hating lesbians constantly looking for something to moan about. We believe in a simple concept: gender equality.

It is a concept that the vast majority of people believe in, yet it is rare to find someone who will openly say that they are a feminist. When discussing gender equality, most people will say “I’m not a feminist but…” because they don’t want to use the ‘dirty word’ and separate themselves from the crowd – they do not want to be ostracised. For identifying as a feminist, I am the butt of pejorative jokes on an almost daily basis. It is both intimidating and exhausting to defend myself against these comments whilst attempting to point out sexism, which stems from the same thing: ignorance.

Many people think that the work of feminism is done, and that it is no longer relevant in modern society. Women can vote, women get equal pay, women can own property… we are, in the eyes of the law, equal. However, just as anti-discriminatory laws have not stopped racism in society, they have not stopped sexism either. Therefore, feminism in the 21st century tackles sexist attitudes in everyday life – it is now about pointing out the awkward, uncomfortable things that people don’t want to hear. For example, if I point out that I shouldn’t bImagee called a ‘slut’ for sleeping around when a man would be called a ‘lad’ or a ‘player’, I am met with a chorus of groans. Everyone knows that it’s wrong, but they don’t want to put their neck on the line to change it.

There are also many people who think that feminism is anti-men. Whilst this is of course not true, the prefix ‘fem’ gives people the wrong idea that feminism is some sort of women-only-man-hating club. The reason for this prefix is simple – feminism was born from the women’s rights movement; men already had those rights. As feminism now tries to tackle sexist attitudes, it can help all genders. For example, a friend of mine is training to be a children’s nurse and for the second year running they have had no male applicants. She explains this to me simply – men are called paedophiles for showing an interest in helping children. It is a similar story for many men who wish to become primary school teachers. Some people would claim that it is feminism that has caused this by ‘hating men’ and making them ‘villains’. This could not be further from the truth – as these men are being judged because of their gender, this is exactly the kind of issue that feminism can help with.

There are, of course, those people who do not call themselves feminists because it is a dirty word, but because they do not agree with the issues modern feminism considers important. To an extent this is understandable, and it is true that there are aspects which are not important to me personally, and that I don’t agree with. However this does not stop me identifying as a feminist. It is the same in many situations – for example, my Catholic friend has had sex before marriage. Whilst she does not agree with her Church’s teachings on this particular issue, she still identifies as Catholic because it boils down to her belief in God. In the same way, feminism boils down to a belief in gender equality. By splitting ourselves into feminists and people-who-believe-in-gender-equality-but-don’t-want-to-be-called-feminists we are only splitting the power and resources that we hold as a group with the same basic aim.

So, what can be done to stop feminism being a dirty word? It all comes down to attitude – feminists aren’t only fighting sexist attitudes, but derogatory attitudes about their own movement. Chances are, the feminist you make jokes about is actually trying to help you. Heck, give a feminist a break!

Rape Culture Strikes Again

How was your Halloween? Did you go to a party, a club, or just turn the lights off to avoid the trick-or-treaters? I hope you had a good time, whatever you did. I hope, unlike me, that the prospect of rape culture didn’t even cross your mind. Because Wednesday night was my first experience of rape culture in Bristol.

So, I was at a club with my friends. We were drinking, and we were wearing costumes – neither of which should make any difference. It gets to about 3, and seeing as I have a lecture in the morning, I think it’s probably time to go. Except I’ve lost my friends. Some have already gone home, and I’ve no idea where the others are. I text and call, but my phone is running out of battery – for all I know they’re not even in the club anymore.

It’s at this point that I realise I’m being followed. I turn round and shake my head at him. He carries on following me. I go to the loos – he tries to follow me in. Luckily, a bouncer stops him. When I come out, I think he’s gone, but as soon as I sit down he’s there again. He sits so close to me I can smell his repulsive aftershave and cigarette ash breath. He keeps asking me why I look sad. I tell him it’s none of your business but he doesn’t get the hint. He tries to touch me and I yell I HAVE A BOYFRIEND. This seems to resonate because, finally, he leaves.

I don’t have a boyfriend, actually. But it says a lot about our culture that the only way I can get a guy to leave me alone is by saying I do. He didn’t respect me and my wishes enough to leave – but he respected another imaginary man enough to do so. If he’d touched me against my will, it wouldn’t mean anything. But if he’d touched another man’s woman, then that would be wrong. Newsflash: just because I’m single, it doesn’t mean I’m automatically available. If I say no, I’m not playing games. If I walk away, I don’t want you to chase me. I want you to respect me as a person and leave me alone.

It’s at this point that I decide to just leave the club. I don’t want to be in that environment, I just want to go home. But how on earth do I get home? I’m on my own in the middle of town, miles away from my halls. Shit. If you’re a woman, you’ve probably experienced that moment of panic when you realise you have to go home alone. Your head is full of questions – is it safe to walk? Do you have enough money for a taxi? Is it even safe to get a taxi on your own?

Okay so I couldn’t walk, but surely I could get a taxi, right? I walked over to a taxi rank and the drivers started shouting and whistling at me – I wasn’t going to get in one of those on my own. I asked groups of passing girls whether I could share with them, but no one was going to my halls. As I stood on the street deciding what to do, groups of guys walked past shouting at me. I forgot that standing is really sexual and deserves comments on what your body parts look like. Silly me. And here’s the thing – what do you say? If you say nothing, you’re a bitch. If you respond, you’re a slut who’s asking for it. What’s the solution? Oh, I know, piss off and don’t make sexual comments about my body. Yeah, that sounds about right.

Luckily, a friend of mine agreed to meet me and take me home, for which I am unbelievably grateful. Even on the short walk to meet him, a man started shouting and chasing me. When my friend left me for five minutes to get some food, a guy came up to me and pulled a knife out. That was what happened in a few hundred metres – what would have happened if I had to walk the 2 miles home alone? I might not even be writing this now.

So what the hell can we do about this? Try these ‘Lauren Life Lessons’:

  1. Don’t follow women around in clubs. You have no right to force your attentions on her – it’s creepy at the least, and she’s well within her rights to call the bouncers over and get you kicked out. She might even call the police.
  2. If you’re in a group of guys, don’t shout at a woman on her own in the street. Even if you mean no harm, you’re going to scare her. It won’t kill you not to do it.
  3. If you feel compelled to stop a woman in a vulnerable situation and tell her how amazing a particular part of her body looks, punch yourself in the face. Yep.
  4. Can’t believe I even have to say this, but don’t carry knives. And if you do, don’t get them out and point them at people in the street. That’s not cool.
  5. If your friend tells you she’s stuck and she’s scared, please help her. I don’t know what I would have done if my friend hadn’t come to meet me.

And one final suggestion – female-only taxi services. I know a lot of towns already have this service in place, but as far as I’m aware there isn’t one in Bristol and there definitely needs to be. If there had been a female taxi driver that night, I wouldn’t have experienced half of what I did. This isn’t going to stop rape culture, but it will help a lot of women feel safer on a night out. That’s what we need – not posters telling us to drink less and not wear short skirts.

Girls in Paris: Starring Your Favourite Feminist Blogger

Okay, okay, it’s not a Hollywood blockbuster. Nope. It’s better!

Earlier this year, back when I was still in sixth form, our French class went on a trip to, you guessed it, France! And my best-friend-in-the-whole-wide-world-ever, EK McAlpine, spent the entire trip sticking her video camera in our faces and generally making a nuisance of herself via the medium of video. Anyway, after many strenuous months of editing and espresso drinking, THIS is her trailer for the movie of the year: Girls in Paris. I’m the one pulling all the funny faces, in case you didn’t realise.

EK McAlpine is Editor-in-Chief of HI! Magazine. Alongside being a badass feminist, she is very interested in the media. If you like her work, please do not hesitate to get in contact with her at her twitter, @whatkatie_did, or leave a comment on this post.

Freshers Against Rape Culture

Don’t worry fellow bloggers, I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth – I have just moved to uni and am currently experiencing Freshers’ week. Actually, we get Freshers’ fortnight, because apparently Bristolian livers can endure a higher level of abuse.

Anyway, whilst I have heard the words ‘slut’, ‘whore’ and ‘slag’ a horrifying amount of times, I did see this when I was queueing up for the Freshers’ fair. (Yes, I joined Femsoc. Obviously.) This poster by the Bristol Anarchist Federation sums up everything my fellow freshers and society need to know – no means no. They’ve even included some handy alternatives for the word ‘no’, just in case you weren’t 100% sure!

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I would like to say a big thank you to Bristol AF – this poster really restored my faith in society this week. If you would like to read more about the group, you can find their blog here.

Trigger Warning: Rape

This article could not be more true, and needs to be compulsory reading for both genders.

It is an excellent summary of the threats women feel when approached by strangers, and how men can understand and combat this. As pointed out in the article, this is not difficult – all it requires is a respectful, common-sense attitude. Also uses the term Schrödinger’s rapist which is, quite frankly, perfect.

Shapely Prose

Phaedra Starling is the pen name of a romance novelist and licensed private investigator living in small New York City apartment with two large dogs.  She practices Brazilian jiu-jitsu and makes world-class apricot muffins.

Gentlemen. Thank you for reading.

Let me start out by assuring you that I understand you are a good sort of person. You are kind to children and animals. You respect the elderly. You donate to charity. You tell jokes without laughing at your own punchlines. You respect women. You like women. In fact, you would really like to have a mutually respectful and loving sexual relationship with a woman. Unfortunately, you don’t yet know that woman—she isn’t working with you, nor have you been introduced through mutual friends or drawn to the same activities. So you must look further afield to encounter her.

So far, so good. Miss LonelyHearts, your humble instructor, approves. Human connection…

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Chris Brown’s Tattoo: Leaving a Legacy of Domestic Abuse

Welcome to the cult of celebrity, where pop stars can beat up their girlfriends and end up even more popular! Let’s get this clear… Chris Brown is not cool. Domestic violence is not cool. And getting a tattoo of a beaten up woman on your neck is definitely not cool.

Since Brown assaulted his then-girlfriend Rihanna in 2009, their domestic violence case has been all over the media. Celebrity gossip magazines are constantly scrutinising the current state of Brown and Rihanna’s relationship – should she take him back? No! No she damn well shouldn’t! Are we seriously questioning whether a domestic violence victim should get back into a relationship with her abuser? Well, yes, apparently. In the UK, a domestic violence case is reported to police every single minute, and on average 2 women a week are killed as a result of domestic violence. By writing about Brown and Rihanna as if they are a pair of star crossed lovers destined to end up together, celebrity magazines are romanticising the danger of domestic abuse.

You might think that this is an exaggeration, but I have seen this effect with my own eyes. In a small school in the middle of the countryside, thousands of miles away from Chris Brown and his violent actions, I overheard a group of teenage girls discussing him. Far from condemning his actions, most were saying how ‘beautiful’ he was. When a couple of the girls pointed out that he had been convicted of assault, the others replied Chris Brown is so fit I’d let him beat me up! No, really. This is genuinely what they said – I couldn’t believe my ears! These are teenage girls taking their first steps into the world of sex and relationships, and they have been taught that it’s okay, heck, that it’s romantic even, to be a victim of domestic violence. The fact that Brown has been accepted back into the music scene and has even released two more albums since the events shows how little regard is given to victims and potential victims of domestic violence where money and fame is concerned.

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So, why is this all surfacing again? Well, Chris Brown has only gone and got a tattoo that looks just like the infamous picture of Rihanna’s battered face. On his neck. I know, right? As far as I’m concerned, this couldn’t be more of a two-finger salute to the world for ever daring to question his actions. If he ever regrets this audacious decision, how’s he going to cover it up? I’m not sure polo necks are particularly in at the moment… Brown, of course, has denied that his new tattoo is of Rihanna. Well, he’s hardly going to admit it, is he? Mind you, he pleaded not guilty to charges of assault before releasing a video admitting his actions and apologising to Rihanna, so who knows what he’ll come up with next. Either way, Brown has managed to successfully court media attention and further his career off the back of a domestic abuse case. Which, quite frankly, is shameful.

Next time you listen to Chris Brown’s music, think of the two women that die every week in this country as a result of domestic violence, and make the right decision.

You can donate to Women’s Aid, which helps victims of domestic violence by following this link.