Happy International Not-Men Day: men won’t disappear if you stop talking about them

Yesterday was International Women’s Day! And how did we know that? By telling everyone when International Men’s Day was.

This issue has been happening for a few years. IWD turns up and a bunch of people get miffed and ask “When’s International Men’s Day then huh? HUH?” The ideal response being “well, every day is International Men’s Day” but the literal response being “It’s November 19th”.

This year people were ready. They knew when IMD was, they were ready to tweet the date out, to say “Look, you DO have a day all to yourself as well! Don’t complain!” And that’s how Twitter spent most of International Women’s Day talking about International Men’s Day.

This happens a lot. Someone will write a Facebook post about how it’s International Women’s Day and give a shout out to all the amazing women they know, Someone will reply saying “And the men too!” It’s the same mindset of #BlackLivesMatter being turned into #AllLivesMatter – “don’t forget about me!”

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An appropriate image for yesterday.

We know there are good men who do good things. But spending a day talking about women will not make those men disappear. It won’t make the good things they do go away. We just want to spend one day talking about something else: namely, women. If someone has a birthday and everyone gets them gifts, do you moan that it’s not fair because you didn’t get any gifts? No, of course not, you’re a decent human being. It’s not your day.

There’s a reason I didn’t write this blog entry yesterday. And that’s because I didn’t want to spend International Women’s Day talking about men. It isn’t their day. Men are very capable of standing up for themselves – we do not need to spend our day reassuring them that we know they still matter too. Men are capable of managing their egos enough so they don’t fall apart when we spend one day not talking about them. Women don’t have a duty to placate men with “it’s ok, we’ll talk about you soon I promise!”

So, next International Women’s Day, talk about women. Talk about how wonderful they are. Not talking about men for one day will not make them disappear. Women deserve to be talked about without reference to men. Pass the Bechdel test, ladies. Celebrate yourselves.

Happy International Women’s Day 2015!!


This is what a feminist looks like: rich, skinny and white.

I have a great passion that feminism should be for all women. I’ve even written about it before. Feminism must be intersectional.

Last week, ELLE, Whistles and the Fawcett Society bought out a new t-shirt bearing the often-used Fawcett Society t-shirt slogan “This is what a feminist looks like”. The t-shirt sells on both the Whistles website and the ELLEUK website for £45. It’s a charity t-shirt, which means all of that £45 goes the the Fawcett Society. Funnily enough, selling a designer t-shirt on a high-end clothing website brings with it a few issues! Whoulda thunk it.

The first issue I’m just going to gloss over slightly because it really needs its own entry to cover all the problems but to be honest you’ll probably be able to work them out yourself anyway: They got Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband to wear it. When I think of feminism, I do not think of, well, men for a start, but especially two of the most powerful white men in the UK who make a habit of being a destructive force to women.

The second issue is also handily mentioned in that BBC article (also handy because the only other one was a Daily Mail article and I don’t really want to link to the Daily Mail). There’s speculation at the moment that the t-shirts were made in a sweat shop in Mauritius by workers paid only 62p an hour. This is currently only speculation and the Fawcett Society put a response up on their website a couple of days ago.:

“We met with Whistles over the summer to discuss the t-shirt design and production and, upon querying, were assured that the garments would be produced ethically here in the UK. We also agreed that 100% of the profits would be donated directly to the Fawcett Society.

“Upon receiving samples of the range at our offices in early October we noted that the t-shirts had in fact been produced in Mauritius, upon which we queried (over email) the ethical credentials of the Mauritian factory, and the fabric used.

“We were assured by Whistles (over email) that the Mauritian factory:

is a fully audited, socially and ethical compliant factory…”

Now that worries me already – FS were told it was an ethical UK company when it suddenly appeared that it wasn’t. Regardless of the pay issue, this is a t-shirt being made by factory workers in an African country for well-off people in the west. This does not sounds like good, intersectional feminism to me so far. Having a poor woman make a t-shirt for you that she is unable to afford to buy herself, does not look like equality.

My final two points are more personal points. I am currently living on benefits, due to being chronically ill. I receive Personal Independence Payments and my husband and I get a joint ESA claim. This is enough for us to pay our bills, buy our food, keep our cats in cat litter and treats and maybe get the odd cheap DVD or book. This doesn’t leave very much room for me to buy a £45 t-shirt, even if all the proceeds go to a feminist charity. This feminism is clearly not for me – I cannot afford it. And if I can’t afford it, those who are even less well off than I am will certainly not be able to afford it. This is not a feminism for the low-paid, unemployed, sick women.

And finally, this t-shirt is sold up to a size L. According to Whistles website, a size L is size 14/16. The average size of women in the UK is a size 16. I myself am a size 20. There is no way this shirt would ever fit me. The feminism I believe in says that it doesn’t matter what size or shape you are, you still have rights. Apparently, I am too fat for this feminism.

So what does a feminist look like? It looks like a skinny, middle-class western woman. Who can afford to buy a £45 t-shirt.

 

 


Your space is not my space.

Imagine organising a women’s conference that included all women. Imagine having a conference on feminism that was a safe space for trans* women. Imagine having a conference that was fully wheelchair accessible, that had signers for the deaf, and braille and large-print handouts for the blind and partially-sighted. Imagine having a conference with adult changing facilities for the profoundly disabled.

Imagine a conference with a sensory safe space for women on the autistic spectrum. Imagine a conference where people with OCD or Tourette Syndrome or autism could stim and make noise knowing they are not being judged but are being appreciated as the women they are.

Imagine a conference that provided a prayer room for Muslim women. That provided free childcare for single mothers. Imagine a conference that was fully open to every woman, no matter what.

Because feminism is becoming distinctly exclusionary. There are trans* women, disabled women, women with mental health conditions and homeless women who all deserve to be in a feminist space. Yet so many people are not willing to welcome them in. Imagine if you were holding a feminist conference and a women who was homeless turned up, having not showered for a week? Would you look disapproving at her as you had your Marks and Spencer sandwich on the lunch break?

These gatherings and spaces are aimed towards educated, money earning middle class people. They are not aimed at the women who live in the high rise in Hackney, or the disabled woman who lives in a group home, or the woman with aspergers who doesn’t know how to be part of a discussion, even though she has a lot to say. Why are we excluding these people? Why are we excluding people who are not like us? Is it because we want our feminism to be powerful yet familiar? Is it because we don’t know how to deal with a woman who chooses to cover her face, or who needs 24 hour care, or who finds it difficult to interact socially with people? And I wonder if we hide behind the excuse of “suitability” of our venues – “Oh, we can’t find anywhere that would suit your needs, health and safety, would disturb people, wouldn’t be appropriate” – to exclude all these women from feminist spaces? Because we shouldn’t be. Every woman deserves to have a role and feminism needs to stop being the exclusive club of the able-bodied white  women it always has been.


It isn’t all about you: Emsy’s Feminism Posts 2

Imagine if you will that you’re walking down the pavement. Just, minding your own business. You walk round a corner and BAM you get hit by a cyclist riding on the pavement coming the other way. You fall over, maybe you graze your elbow. Maybe you even bang your head on the floor. Either way you’re kinda banged up and feeling sore and hurty. The cyclist ignores you and continues on his way.

Later that day you meet up with a friend who’s also a cyclist. You say to him “You’ll never believe what happened to me today, I got hit by a cyclist who was riding on the PAVEMENT! They knocked me over, I’m lucky I didn’t get a concussion!”

“Um, I’m not like that” your friend replies, hurt. “I’d never ride on the pavement.”

“I…know.” You reply. “I wasn’t suggesting that you did…I was just saying that THIS one did.”

“Look, we don’t ALL ride on the pavement, some of us are GOOD cyclists and we ALWAYS ride on the road, so don’t go thinking that we’re ALL like that because we’re NOT!”

“Look, I’ve just had a bad experience with a cyclist and I’m kind of in pain here…”

“GOD will you just STOP badmouthing cyclists it’s UNFAIR!”


How about another scenario? Let’s say, you’re a massive football fan. Huge fan. You follow your team, try and catch every game. Your team has just found it’s way to the final, and you and a friend are having an in-depth discussion about what you think went well this season, the tactics you think they should use, what the new manager’s been like.

Up comes another friend. “Oh, hi, you’re talking about football? I don’t know much about football, what’s the offside rule?”

You blink at him. “Well, I can explain that to you later if you want but we’re kind of in the middle of a conversation here…”

“Hey!” says your friend. “I just wanted to KNOW. Jeez, you people go on about football ALL THE TIME, if you want me to be interested in it you’ll have to tell me how it works!”

“Well, sure” you say “but right now I’m talking to this guy about this season…”

“What’s a season? I don’t understand! How do you expect me to like football if you WON’T EXPLAIN IT TO ME?”

“Look, dude, you could Google it? Or maybe read a book about it? Or, find a website that talks about the basics? But now’s really not the time…”

“Um, no, you’re the one who keeps saying I should like football, so YOU should explain it to me and you should do it NOW, HERE so I can join in your conversation! Otherwise I won’t understand.”

“This isn’t the right time. Maybe you can let us have this conversation here, and then maybe you could go and read up on football?”

“FORGET IT. You always say I should look into football but I GUESS if you won’t explain it to me you’d rather be ELITIST. You complain all the time about how people don’t understand it but now you won’t explain it to me.”


 

The first one involves someone someone being more concerned with their own reputation despite someone having been hurt. The second involves someone wanting to have their needs met despite it not being the correct situation for their needs to be considered. Both of these (somewhat simplified) situations arise wherever women meet to talk about feminism Both online and offline.

The first one is happening right now. Women are sharing their (real, disturbing, traumatic, upsetting) stories of times they’ve been assaulted by men. The response from men is “But not ALL men are like that!” As I said in my last post, this now makes the conversation about the man, not about the woman. It suggests that the man’s hurt feelings are worth more than women telling the truth about their experiences. We know that “not all men are like that.” In fact, very few are suggesting that. But, it’s men’s hurt feelings being more important than women telling their stories.

The second one usually comes up either in online or real-life discussion when feminist theory debate and discussion is going on. Women are having their discussion when a man shows up and says “Hey, I want to join in! Why are you saying we’re all bad? What’s privilege? What’s intersectionality?” and the women say “Um, actually, we were kind of in the middle of a conversation here..” and the response is pretty much always a version of “Well, you want men to learn more about feminism and then you won’t help, what do you expect?”

Firstly. it is not the women’s job to teach men about feminism. It is the up to the individual to educate themselves. There are places you can do that.

Secondly, it’s another example of the man wanting to make his feelings and needs the priority. “I don’t know about the stuff you’re discussing, educate me!” No. This conversation is not for you. As has been proved, there is a habit of men wanting to make the conversation about them.

“But, I won’t make the conversation all about me!” First, see point one. Second, sometimes there needs to be space for women to talk about being women without men present. Unfair, no? Well, no, it’s not unfair, not really. Just think of all the male spaces readily provided in society. The football pitch. The pub. Many company boardrooms. There are so many male spaces that sometimes women need to create a space of their own.

And there’s no risk of men being “oppressed” by this creation of women’s space. Mainly (to quote myself, modestly):

Oppression happens over centuries, through cultural norms, through generations of being taught that you should be a certain way or that you have power over someone else. It doesn’t happen through a hashtag.

There are spaces I don’t get to go into. I don’t belong in spaces for people of colour. I don’t belong in spaces for trans people. Even though I’m married to a trans man! And I probably know more about being trans than a lot of the population! Yet I still don’t get to be in that space! Oh no, poor oppressed me! No. I don’t belong there because that space is not for me. My issues do not matter in that situation.

So, therefore, men’s issues are not relevant in a women’s discussion of feminism.

Again, I welcome comments and discussion. Again, I ask you to work out if you feel pissed off, then think about why you do before you comment. Again, I’m not going to spend my time reassuring men that “they’re not all like that” because that is not my priority. It isn’t all about you.


To the men I know: Emsy’s Feminism Posts 1

Alright. This is a blog post I’ve got to write but I think it’s going to take me a while. Because this is a subject that should take a while.

I am not going to try and reassure men that I’m “not talking about people like them” when I’m talking about women being killed. I’m talking about fellow members of my gender being murdered, my priority is not your feelings. People are going to get pissed off reading this, and that’s 100% intentional. If this pisses you off, I want you to think hard about why it does.

I’m also not talking about the perceived “nerd culture” or “PUA” theories around what happened with the recent shootings. You can read a fantastic piece about that here (and I think you should because it’s very well written) that basically boils down to “Sex is not a zero-sum game. You don’t put enough “nice” in until “sex” comes out”*

*I heard this line somewhere online and thought it was brilliant, I forget where I saw it.

I am, however, going to talk about the #YesAllWomen on Twitter, some of the reactions to it and why, if you’re feeling anger towards the things being said there it might be time to stop justifying yourself, and listen.

Just, listen.

Don’t talk about how’s it’s not you, you don’t do this, it’s not all men, not me. Not me.

And listen. Listen to the women who are harassed, assaulted, harmed and killed. And think. Think about how, if you’re male, this is your gender doing this. It’s part of a group you belong to. And I know, I really do, that it feels so, so awful. Stop saying “it’s not me”, and start saying “it’s my people.”

But why? Why should you, a law-abiding human being who would never dare to rape, to hurt, to kill, why should you take responsibility for these monsters? That’s not fair, surely? Well, no. I suppose it’s not. But speaking as a member of a group who are battered and murdered on a daily basis, I say you should realise that they are part of your group. That’s just the way it is.

The patriarchy is a real thing. And part of it says “Men have voices! They have things to say! They must stand up for themselves if their gender is being hated! Otherwise we’re going to be oppressed!” That same system says to women “you have no voice. You must be quiet. You are not to be heard. You should be talked over.” Trying to get past that is what causes the “not all men” problem. Firstly, men will not be oppressed for being men. Oppression happens over centuries, through cultural norms, through generations of being taught that you should be a certain way or that you have power over someone else. It doesn’t happen through a hashtag.

The other element of it is that men are not taught to listen. They are taught that their voice is the most important, that their feelings are the ones that matter. If a woman says “I’m scared of going out at night because men are rapists” men instantly hear “You are a rapist”. It’s made about them, about the individual man. That sentence is not about the man hearing it spoken. It is about the woman who is afraid of being raped. Hearing that sentence should NOT make you think “well that’s not fair, I’m not a rapist!” it should make you think “what must men have done to cause that woman to feel so scared? There is a reason behind it and that’s awful”.

Stop again. Take a moment. Are you angry? Cross? Frustrated?

Ok, think about why. Are you frustrated for the woman who is scared of being raped? Or are you angry that I’m making a sweeping statement about men? Which one do you think should have the biggest priority?

Women are scared. And they’re scared of men. If you are a man, that means they are scared of you. No matter how nice and kind and wonderful you are, someone will be scared of you because in the past, she was raped, hit, assaulted, harassed by a man. If that makes you feel bad, then good.

So what, I want all men to feel guilty? No. I want men to stop. I want them to stop talking and listen to the women. To the voices that usually don’t get a chance. Go and read the #YesAllWomen hashtag on Twitter. Listen to the stories these women are saying. Think “am I angry that I’m being put into a category or am I angry that this woman was attacked?”

The #YesAllWomen hashtag is a space for women. It’s a space where men need to stop talking, start listening and decide what they can do to stop their sisters, mothers, daughters being attacked on a basis that makes this an ongoing endemic of violence.

I am very interested in discussing this in comments. All I would ask is that, if you’re feeling angry because you feel I’m treating you unfairly is that you wait for a moment, go and read the hashtag and come back later. Discussing through anger is never fruitful.

I’ve another post on feminism coming later. Please leave your thoughts. Please listen to your sisters.

The victims of the shooting of May 23, 2014 Isla Vista, CA were:

George Chen, 19
Weihang “David” Wang, 20
Chen Wang “James” Hong, 20
Katherine Cooper, 22
Veronika Weiss, 19
Christopher Martinez, 20

These young people’s names deserve to be remembered, not the man who killed them.


“Yeah, it’s probably fibromyalgia.”

Oh to hear the words that mean you finally have a diagnosis! Or rather, to be prodded for 15 minutes while you wear a hospital gown and have the rheumatologist say to you “yeah, it’s probably fibromyalgia”. Yey? I suppose? Well, I’m taking that as an official diagnosis as it’s probably the best I’m gonna get.

She seemed to think that fibro, CFS and M.E. were the same thing, which they’re clearly not. I’m not sleeping, I’m female, I’m overweight and I have pain. So, painkillers, sleep aid, get more exercise. Fibromyalgia as a stress/weight/being a female syndrome. Oh, also a nice leaflet from Arthritis UK that has this nice picture of some nice people meditating on the cover. Yoga and meditation for a cure. Yeah, no. I’m no expert, but I’ve read enough to know it’s not a “lose weight, take these pills and have a nice life” syndrome. It’s so much more than that. But there’s no funding for research, no-one wanting to look into fibromyalgia because it’s something that overweight women get so it’s not worth it. Eat better, exercise more, take pain pills. Repeat ad nauseam. Your illness is self-inflicted.

Bullshit.

The unspoken words of “yeah it’s probably fibromyalgia” are “hey, at least it’s not something serious! At least you don’t have cancer, or arthritis, or HIV! At least you don’t have something we can actually see! You’ve just got something we have to take your word for, so y’know, it’s not serious”. It speaks volumes about how women with chronic illnesses are treated. Women aren’t seen as having high priority jobs – we’re all mums, or wives, or dinner ladies or nursery nurses or cleaners. Just pop some pain pills and you’ll be fine. You’ll get through. We’re not seen as executives, as researchers and CEOs and people who undertake “important work”.

A quote from the Kickstarter-funded film about M.E. titled “Canary in a Coal Mine”:

“There’s $16 million in Male Pattern Baldness. And we get $3 million bucks going for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.”

Don’t tell me this isn’t a gender issue, because it is. Remedies for hair loss and research into Viagra get plenty of funding. Diseases that effect mostly women and can ruin their lives? Get very little. It is very much a gender issue. And the people who have to do the research are the women who are in pain, are exhausted and are looking for answers.

So my next step? Is to research. Research everything I can. Read everything I can and learn to understand it all because this is my health. No-one wants to become an expert in my health, so I’m going to have to. Those of us with chronic illnesses have to become our own specialists, because no-one else wants to.


The Lib Dem case: Sexual harassment reporting and how Radio 4 makes me shouty.

On Monday, I happened to be in the situation where I caught two of Radio 4’s flagship news programmes. I was driving in to work as World At One was on, and driving home as The World Tonight aired. (I’m a youth worker, my working hours are bizarre at best.)

The main story of the day was, of course, the claims around sexual harassment in the Lib Dems. Channel 4 News had run a story at the end of the previous week, stating women who worked for the Lib Dems had made allegations against Lord Rennard. They had accused him of sexual harassment through inappropriately touching and propositioning them, and nothing had been done about it. On World At One, Jasper Gerard, a former Lib Dem speech writer, was asked to comment on the allegations. After spending approximately five seconds saying “if these claims are accurate then it was a terrible abuse of power”, he then goes on to say “but isn’t it so convenient that these claims are coming out now, with a by-election on the horizon, hmmm?” He then used the words “not a major crisis” and “blown out of all proportion” in relation to the claims. At 20.30 on the show, he said:

“We’re still now going on about whether somebody put his hand or didn’t put his hand on somebody’s knee, this isn’t a Jimmy Saville case.”

21.13 into the programme, he says:

“I think there’s an element of sexism in a lot of this coverage, having met a lot of the female Liberal Democrat prospective Parliamentary candidates I think they’re pretty well capable of looking after themselves to some extent here…I think it’s been dressed up as some sort of Edwardian melodrama where young damsels are running out of a room fluttering, terrified that this beast Lord Rennard is after them. I think it’s a bit patronising about these women. I think most of them are quite capable, if somebody does make an inappropriate pass at them, to put that person in their place pretty sharply.”

So, not only does he say that this is being blown out of all proportion – effectively saying “well, it was just touching, it’s not like he raped them”, and putting a level of what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate onto sexual harassment which, as far as I can tell, all falls under the umbrella of “NOT APPROPRIATE AT ALL” – he then goes on to say that these women should’ve dealt with it themselves. That only frail and weak women are affected by sexual abuse and everyone else should just brush it off.

I’ll say it again in big letters just to push the point.

He then goes on to say that these women should’ve dealt with it themselves. That only frail and weak women are affected by sexual abuse and everyone else should just brush it off.

If you were driving through the South Cotswolds at any point during Monday afternoon and you saw a woman driving down the country roads screaming at her radio, I do apologise. A little Google work shows that there have been some repercussions for these comments.

It was also mentioned that these allegations had been brought to Nick Clegg’s attentions about five years ago, and that his response was to ask his Chief of Staff Danny Alexander to “have a word” with Lord Rennard about these allegations. The discussion then continued with Simon Hughes, the deputy leader, who spent a long time saying “well, if these women didn’t say anything about it, what were we to do?” and reiterated Jasper Gerard’s point of “Funny these allegations should spring up now, right?”

Senior members of the party went onto national media and said “we didn’t know. What do you want from us?” At no point did any of them say “We should be looking into WHY these women didn’t report it sooner” rather than shrugging their shoulders and saying “what more do you want from me?”

I felt furious all afternoon, and then I drove home with The World Tonight on the radio. Tim Farron, Party President, said the words “we screwed this up”. I cheered. Then Sandra Gidley, former party spokesperson on women’s issues, came on and repeated that point.

“I must admit I do think that was a slightly strange strategy, it smacks of Yes Minister and this really is not a funny situation at all. You send somebody off to ask if it was true: “Did you do this, old chap?” “No of course I didn’t old chap.” “That’s alright then, let’s have a drink.””

Finally. Sense. An admission that there were no processes for these women to report their worries. No formal structure to deal with the allegations. In every organisation I’ve ever worked in, any allegations like these would involve at the very least a formal meeting, and a probable suspension while they were investigated. The idea that the response to this was a quick chat is, quite frankly, terrifying.

There are people who are speaking about these allegations who are speaking sense, but there seem to be just as many, if not more, who are focusing on the fact that the allegations didn’t come out sooner. I understand that news stories are released at times when they are likely to cause the most harm to an opposing party. But to accuse that means accusing the women of spitefully raising issues of sexual harassment as political gain. The story is not “these women kept their allegations until they knew it would cause most harm”. The story IS “sexual harassment is still happening in politics, and that’s not acceptable.”

We need to have voices like Sandra Gidley’s in response to this story. Not like Jasper Gerard.