Monday, 16 June 2014

36 Ways to Repel Prince Charming

"I ain't no damsel in distress
and I don't need to be rescued,
so put me down, punk"
- Ani diFranco, Not a Pretty Girl

So, this has been doing the rounds recently - 36 Thank You Messages for Your Every Day Prince Charming. I find it both very funny and very offensive. Apparently, though, it's 'sweet' and so it seems I need to explain my position.

I do like the idea of thanking and celebrating one's significant other, of course I do. That's important. No one likes to feel unappreciated. What I have a problem with is how it's done. Firstly, this article assumes we're all in traditional, heteronormative, heterosexual relationships, which obviously we are not. Problem number one.

Problem number two: 'Prince Charming.' Ugh. I am always concerned by people who feel the need to infantilise their relationships, by which I mean they try to turn their lives into a Disney film. Disney films are for children - they simplify everything horribly, including gender and relationships. Everyone who's ever been an adult will know that Prince Charming does not ride in on a white horse. What actually happens is we muddle along together. This is ultimately more beautiful, not less. It is stupid and dangerous to project our childhood fantasises onto our adult relationships. Real life is mundane and vibrant and painful and joyous and oh so complicated in a way that no Disney character is ever going to come close to encapsulating.

Problem three: this whole concept of men as rescuers of women. People do not rescue other people. We rescue ourselves, or we don't. We can support, encourage and love one another, but ultimately our destiny is our own. Adults should not take responsibility for other adults. The idea that men need to rescue women is patronising and unfair to both parties.

On then:

1. Apologising is important. But, guess what, in an adult relationship, both parties do it. A lot. Declaring yourself to be 'stubborn' does not let you off the hook when it comes to taking responsibility.

2. The temptation to be sarcastic about this one is overwhelming, but let it suffice to say that men do not have the monopoly in logic and women do not rely on them to impose it on their hormonal, irrational, 'frazzled' psyche.

3. Likewise, women do not have the monopoly on being 'dorky' or, worse, cute. Men can also take vain photos and overuse social media. Women are not tiresome beings that men patiently endure, and no one deserves a medal for putting up with silly behaviour anyway.

4. Piggy back rides? If my husband tried to give me a piggy back ride, that would end badly for both of us. Women are not children.

5. We all need to set one another straight sometimes, but I hate the concept of the man as some kind of perpetual corrector of the woman. Women are not intellectually or morally inferior. Men do not have the responsibility to steer them or to reprimand them.

6. If your rants are only occasional, good for you. Everybody rants. Ranting is non gender specific and listening to ranting is part of being a friend or a lover or anything other than a hermit.

7. Again, we all do this for each other, unless we're a psychopath.

8. Women do not need to thank men for 'putting up' with the fact that their bodies do not conform to (often unrealistic) ideal specifications. Also, the 'perfect' body - what does that even mean?

9. Consideration for others is not some chivalric notion of men doing nice things for women because it looks good. Shouldn't we all be looking after each other?

10. As with the piggy back rides, if my husband presented me 'like royalty', I would find that deeply, deeply weird. Women do not need to be revered and put on a pedestal any more than they need to be treated like children.

11. Women do not have the monopoly on vanity or self-consciousness or anything else that causes people to take a long time to get ready.

12. Fair enough, I guess.

13. Surely this goes both ways? Romance, or generally making much of someone, is something that we all need, just in different ways.

14. So, the man attempts romance and makes a hash of it in some non-specific way, and oh how they laugh. Presumably because the man is incompetent in a hapless and lovable way? I don't really understand this one.

I'm getting tired of this now, but a special shout out to number 21 - us poor 'moody' (again, hormonal, irrational) women; number 26 - 'chick flicks', because only women can watch films with a female protagonist and it's not like people of different genders can relate to one another or anything; and, of course, 36 - because I'm just bumping into witches and dragons all the damn time and I need a handsome prince to rescue me. I had intended not to be sarcastic about this article but I just can't help it. What planet does this woman live on?

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Raising Boys

It's been a tough week, and I write this with a heavy heart. Yet there is much to be thankful for. Arthur, my son, is three months old. He is healthy and he is a delight. Parenting is certainly a challenge, but it is (mostly) a joyful one. I am led to contemplate, now, the specific challenges about raising boys in our culture and, oh look, I feel a blog post coming on.

There are some brilliant blog posts about parenting. My current favourites are this and this. There is also stuff specific to little boys, like this, which frankly fills me with dread. I'm more interested, though, in stuff like this and this, engaging with the discussion around just how do we raise boys to be respectful of men and women alike.

The first thing that strikes me is I sure as hell can't do it alone. I can teach my son, hopefully, how to muddle through as a human being but I cannot teach him how to be a man. Thankfully his dad is a profoundly sensible and generally marvellous male role model - he is courteous and boundaried and I don't think it has ever occurred to him to discriminate against anyone over anything - and Arthur has two excellent godfathers and a whole host of other men around who we can rely on to model healthy masculinity in a society which can be pretty crushing to boys and girls alike. As has been said before, the best thing you can provide for your child is not Sophie the giraffe: it is a village, a community. Yet, for many parents now, this is sadly lacking. I was horrified the other day to learn that a couple of good friends of ours, who have a little boy a couple of weeks older than Arthur, have not had time alone together since he was born because not one fucker has offered to babysit. This couple are not hermits living on a remote island. They are good people, active in their community, with friends and with - shame on us all - a church family who should have been rallying around. I feel a little embarrassed that, for over a week after Arthur was born, we had someone on the doorstep every evening with a home-cooked meal, that last week a friend from church picked us up from home, dropped Jon and me off at a restaurant, took Arthur home for the evening, then picked us up from the pub at eleven o'clock with our son in a clean babygro, sleeping soundly. I don't know how we would have survived life with a newborn without our village, community, family, and it makes me angry that others have to. But, yes, maybe it's old-fashioned, maybe it's even unfeminist, but I do believe that boys need men around.

Maybe it's a bit premature to worry now about the inevitable discussions we will have to have about gender, about respect, about sex. But I believe we have started already. The main lesson I am teaching my son at the moment is how to love and be loved, how to delight in others. We do this by lying in bed in the morning and smiling at one another, chatting, enjoying each others' company. He is already loving and sociable. He beams at me when I bend over his Moses basket at six in the morning, and when I kiss his little cheeks. We also regularly hand him over to others because we want him to know that we love him but we are not the only ones who love him and are safe. I'm sure this will be harder when he goes through clingy phases but at the moment he's usually thrilled with anyone who will make a fuss of him. Things are easier than they were when he was tiny and I increasingly feel that they are the easiest they will ever be.

So I don't have any answers, really, about how we will both lead by example and teaching, to convey that women are not inferior beings or objects for sexual gratification. I'm sure chats will have to be had at some point and I'm sure they will be awkward. But I'm glad my son has the father and the other role models that he has, and I'm sure we'll get there.

Friday, 3 January 2014

The Courage of Shutting-Up

Props to anyone who gets the Sylvia Plath reference.

I had high hopes for this blog. I had envisioned myself reading reams of feminist literature, engaging critically, and then writing insightful posts which facilitated discussion. I had envisioned myself learning a lot. But I haven't, really. What I've mainly done is what half of all feminists seem to always be doing: bitching and moaning about how it sucks to be a woman in our society, about how men don't understand and are just going about raping and 'mansplaining' and patronising and... yeah. There is some truth to all that. Sexism is real and don't I know it. We all experience that, subtly or otherwise, every day. But at the same time 50% of my most beloved friends and family are men and I don't think it helps to demonise them.

The truth is that I don't have the time, energy or headspace to be a well-read, politically-aware, insightful-post-writing, discussion-facilitating feminist at the moment. I really don't like the rantiness but, gosh, do I feel ranty. I am six weeks from giving birth and I am exhausted and uncomfortable and often in pain and I want to tell everybody about it in a very loud voice. My poor friends and husband have been listening to nothing else for weeks. And it's wicked, really: so many women would give anything to be in my position. But I am running on all hormones and no sleep and everything bothers me so much more than it did. I can't seem to help ranting and that extends to my feminism. Sorry.

It has been particularly bothering me that once a woman is visibly pregnant, her body seems to become public property and half the world (bizarrely, men in particular) want to come over and rub, stroke, pat, fondle or otherwise grope her belly without permission. In what possible alternate dimension is this even conceivably okay? Right, so it's not okay, but it happens, along with all sorts of things, so how should I be reacting? As friends have quite rightly pointed out, I should be politely but firmly pointing out that I don't like it and would you please stop. Is that what I have done, ever? No, because I'm a mess. My usual reaction is to freeze and stand there, baffled, and, once it is over, to work out what has happened and how annoyed I am, and then to complain loudly to anyone who will listen. Sometimes I also post on Facebook and get my friends to rally round me and agree that aren't people bastards. Recently my noisiness has spectacularly backfired and now I don't feel good about my behaviour at all. I am led to contemplate the virtues of keeping one's grievances to oneself. Of course, unacceptable behaviour should be challenged, but it should be challenged compassionately and wisely and in the proper way. Moaning about people to other people is clearly not the way to go. I know that, but I still do it.

This issue, particularly the bit about keeping quiet vs. speaking out and how to speak out well without causing further damage, is a particularly pertinent one for me at the moment. Some years ago, some things happened to me which were traumatic and, as most of us do when traumatic things happen, I muddled through without saying much about it to anyone. Fine. Only not really. Because they continue to bother me, at some times more than others, and now I have reached the point where I am ready to speak out. Sort of. I am ready to speak out to someone (or to several people) whom I would like to carefully select, someone who cares enough to listen but does not care enough to be distressed. I don't want the whole world to know and I don't want to discuss it with those who would be upset, but I do want to discuss it. It would make me feel better. I am sick of lugging these things around as secrets. So theoretically that's fine. I have friends. I could talk to them about it. They could say, "Gosh, I'm sorry that happened to you," and maybe that would help.

Only not, and, believe it or not, this is relevant to feminism. It's the society we live in. We cannot tolerate anything that makes us feel uncomfortable. We shame and shut down anything that makes us squirm. So there's no forum for these kind of discussions. There's no way in, no way to raise the topic, even if I could get the words out of my mouth. I cannot abide the thought of taking any of my friends aside and saying, "Look, this happened to me and I need to talk about it," because initially they might be fine with it but as soon as I started it would be oh God, no, why are you telling me about that? I'm not saying my friends are heartless, far from it, but they wouldn't know how to react because we don't teach people how to face this stuff. Some of them might suck it up and do their best but the whole thing would be so horribly awkward. And I would feel incredibly selfish, exposing people I care about to excruciating conversations purely because I need human contact to help me heal this. And, I think, deep down, I'm afraid that I would tell someone and they just wouldn't care at all, which would be as bad as telling someone who would care too much and be devastated. Both are intolerable. So what do I do? I have spent most of my life cultivating a whole series of unhealthy coping mechanisms for occasions just like this, but I am trying to be a mother and a better person. Can I manage without, whilst still embracing the safety of silence? I guess I'll have to try.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

"This one goes out to the one I love..." : Communicating with Loved Ones

It's hard to call the people we love on their attitudes sometimes. It's particularly hard when we know that they're really not misogynists or homophobes or racists etc. etc. but I feel it's these very people we have the most responsibility to check when they say or do something inappropriate; they are, by and large, good people who we want to be a part of our safe spaces, who we want to be around and who hurt us badly when they behave in a way that betrays those wishes.

The people I have the most difficulty confronting are my family members because they tend not to take my concerns very seriously. A different but more pressing challenge is my boyfriend, who usually takes my concerns seriously (except the ones like running out of apple tea, but I'm okay with that even though it's a tragic fate). He's not sexist. He's mostly very considerate and, generally speaking, we have a great relationship. Every so often, though, he comes out with something that causes me almost-tears of frustration and I often seem to fail, in the heat of the moment, to explain why.

Before I come to the remark that inspired this particular post, a few more general comments: I'm still working on the ability to choose my words so that I express myself without upsetting him - not because I think we're beholden as women or feminists not to upset those who disagree with us* but because I care very much about him and I don't like him to be upset, which I consider an important distinction. No, we should not have to hide or fetter our feelings because they make others uncomfortable, but that does not mean unleashing a full tirade every time anyone upsets us. As people, human beings, I have come to agree that we have a duty to think about our language and the way it affects those exposed to it. Can anyone deny that "you're just repeating ideas you've picked up from other people" sounds patronising as all hell? I've had it said to me and it made me feel both furious with the person who said it and, at the same time, about six inches tall - like I was a child who couldn't possibly be responsible for their own opinions. Surely, women have to deal with enough of that shit not to add to the mass of it already in the world? So what is the best way to explain that "No, I'm not saying you're being deliberately sexist, but that doesn't mean that what you just said wasn't sexist"? If you have any suggestions, please share.

On the other hand, there are also things our loved ones could try to remember before they take offence... What they just said might well be the only possibly sexist thing they've said this week, this month, this year! But what they have to understand about where we're coming from is that it is by no means the first sexist thing we've heard. It could be the tenth slur we've heard that day, more even. Our interactions with them do not take place in a vacuum but rather form part of a wide context that encompasses everyone we interact with and everything we experience. It's not necessarily that we see no difference (I think there is one, I know others would say there isn't), but it cuts deep to hear, said carelessly by someone we love and trust and respect, something that is often trotted out by others deliberately to belittle or hurt us.

So, what did my boyfriend actually say that caused this digital invective?

 Brief context: I suffer from depression and anxiety disorder and have chronically low self-confidence when not hidden behind a computer. I was recently made unemployed. I've been trying to find a job while cultivating whatever sanity I've held onto. My boyfriend and I have lived together for three years; he is well aware of all these things.

Walking past the pub opposite our flat yesterday, I mentioned the sign in their window advertising for bar staff. I was hoping to discuss the pros and cons of my possibly applying. The response I received was, "Are you going to be a busty barmaid?" If a stranger had asked on the internet, swearing would have ensued. As it was, I tried to explain more or less calmly that I was hurt by that response because it reduced me to a pair of breasts rather than a complicated, complete human being who was trying to have a conversation with him. I don't think I explained very well. I certainly wasn't satisfied by his reaction which was to complain that I knew perfectly well that that's not how he thinks of me and that I have big breasts and was proposing to work behind a bar so describing me as a 'busty barmaid' was accurate and fair enough in context. I do know that's not how he thinks of me. And I do have big breasts. But I don't think that's fair enough at all.

The problem as I see it is that my breasts are one aspect of my being, by no means the most important and not one that was actually related in any way to the comment I'd just made. If I'd said something like "Do you think I've got big enough boobs to be a barmaid?" then, yeah, fair enough; the difference is that my physical shape, my breasts in particular, are clearly something I feel is relevant to my possible application for that job. For them to be the first thing he picked out of the air in response was insulting. He could have commented on various things: my anxieties about talking to strangers, the fact that I do have a history of over-coming this in professional situations, the fact that I have zero experience of hospitality jobs and am terrified of drunk people, the convenience of working just across the road from our flat... He's got a good imagination - I'm sure there were hundreds more options. But what he chose to focus on was my breasts. He took a subject that was of some concern to me, enough to bring it up with him, and seamlessly turned it into a typical het male sexual fantasy. And I was accused of being 'over-sensitive'.

I know he didn't mean to offend me, either with the comment itself or the aftermath. I know he's not sexist. He does not think of women purely in terms of their physical attractiveness or their appeal to men. But his coming out with that remark just goes to show that he's not immune to the pervasive culture that commends doing so. I think I came across as condescending when I attempted to suggest that last night. I do not mean to insult anyone's individuality or intelligence. None of us live in a cultural bubble. It's difficult and exhausting to start dismantling the messages we receive and examining which ones we allow ourselves to internalise. We who have arrived at calling ourselves feminists have usually struggled with it and, in most cases, are still struggling. We know how onerous it can be, right? But if we can't expect the people who care about us to make the effort, how can we expect anyone else to bother?

This post has a couple of purposes. As usual, I hope I'll have succeeded in putting down in words something others have felt but been unable to share or articulate - that someone will read this and say, "Yes, that's exactly what it is!" The other purpose is to explain myself, because I write better than I speak and this is something that it is important to me that my boyfriend understands. Maybe one of you will have the same problem and may find it useful in explaining your feelings to someone important to you. I hope I can help. But I also hope you don't have the problem.

*The hypocrisy trap inherent in this attitude will have to wait for another post.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Motherhood Approaches

Firstly, I should apologise for the lengthy silence. It was my turn to blog, and blog I did not. But I hope you'll understand, when I fill you in on some of the crazy shit that's been happening. Like, we moved house. But that's not really important. What's important is why we moved house.

I'm going to be a mother.

I know, right?

Writing this, I am 23 weeks pregnant. We are going to have a little boy. He's (hopefully) going to be born around February 15th. We're going to call him Arthur. I am overjoyed. And freaking out a little bit. And, while I could happily blather away about pregnancy and babies for a whole series of posts, I will spare you that and instead muse on some of the issues pertaining to feminism I have encountered in my pregnancy journey thus far.

I had no idea. Firstly, I had no idea that I would feel like this. I wanted a baby, sure, but I never dreamed I would love him so completely before he was even born. That little boy is the first thing I think of when I wake up and the last thing I think of before I go to sleep. He's with me constantly and I daydream about him all day. His name is like a talisman. And if I never do or achieve anything else in my life, if I never have any more children, if my career never happens, that's actually fine by me. I feel like I've found my purpose, and it's him. I will dedicate my life to him. Which is probably not very traditionally feminist, but it's how I feel, and so much of how I understand feminism is to do with choice. It's my life, and if I want to focus it completely on this baby (at least for now), I'm free to do so. And I think it's shit that mothers of small children are sometimes forced to return to work for financial reasons. What happened to the choices that our predecessors fought for? If mothers want to work, then all power to them, but childcare is so expensive that, unless they're quite high up the ladder, they may well end up paying more than they're earning. I know we got a lot wrong in the past, but a man used to be paid with the assumption that he was supporting a family. Why have men's wages gone down, instead of women's wages going up? Please don't get me wrong: I'm all for stay-at-home dads as well. I think it's good for under-fives to be cared for by one of their parents at least some of the time. I think that individuals should be paid enough to make that possible. I guess the solution is the 'village approach' pioneered in this excellent article on babies' sleep: as a society, we need to get behind young families and all pitch in. Which works if you're in a church community like mine, or if you have really good friends, or live in an actual old-fashioned village community, or live near your family, or something. Otherwise, I'm not sure how it works. We're trying to work out what we'll do when my maternity leave ends. I'd like to finish my PhD, if they'll let me go part-time. We're in a privileged position: Jon works four days a week so he could have Arthur one day. My friend is thinking of starting up childminding and says she'll charge us not very much to have him one other day. So maybe that'll work.

Another thing I had no idea about was that EVERYONE has an opinion on everything and anything to do with children: how to raise them, and how to birth them. I've had near-strangers chiming in on Facebook with their supposed wisdom. Sometimes I've asked for input, sometimes I haven't. Arguably, when one posts something to Facebook, one invites comment and participation, but I have felt a little scrutinised, a little attacked, when I'm questioned about my choices. We have decided to have a doula attend the birth. For lots of reasons. But, gosh, some people disagree. There you go. I'm also not going to breastfeed. Not because I don't want to but because I'm on medication, and if I don't take that medication, I will become very ill very quickly, and if I feed the baby that medication... well, obviously not good. But I don't half feel shit when this sort of thing gets posted:

Yeah, that's really helpful. Feminism is supposed to be empowering. Mmm. And let's just get a reality check here. Baby formula is a formula designed for babies. It's not liquid crack. We do the best we can for our children. Feminism 'in its purest form' should honour that, and facilitate it, not guilt-trip us because we cannot live up to the ideal, whether that be breastfeeding, vaginal birth, or whatever.

This blog does seem to get a bit ranty. I apologise - I intended to be thoughtful rather than ranty. But can I just have one more little moan? When you step into a shop that sells baby stuff, be it Mothercare or Matalan, why is the shop divided in half with everything blue on one side and everything pink on the other, with one sad-looking rail of white stuff for the parents who chose not to find out their baby's gender until the birth? It just seems like outdated, heteronormative bullshit to me. It's not like a baby is even aware of their gender. And, if gender is social performance rather than just what genitals you have, do babies even have an established gender? Do they care?

Anyway, those are just a few thoughts!

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Male Privilege and Non-Rapists: in which men expect cookies for keeping it in their pants.

Trigger warnings: rape

I had other plans for this post. The more academic instalment I have in the works has been delayed by the discovery that the little snowdrift I'd been planning to dismantle turned out to be masking a glacier. But am I working on that post, which appeals to my own non-feminism-related interests, enjoying my research while covering some serious topics? No. Because of another uneducated (and I'm not taking a dig at non-academics, here - you can have a PhD and still be ignorant) wanker, I'm fuming over my keyboard, derailing all my other projects with this. I am, frankly, worried what condensation damage will result from the steam boiling out of my ears.

It begins with this article. For those not checking it out in another tab right now, it covers a fairly anecdotal study that suggests most men cannot distinguish between interviews with convicted rapists and quotes from 'lad mags'. Nothing wrong with the piece to my mind, except that the content makes my head hurt and, honestly, makes me a little more scared of men in general. My problem isn't with the article itself, though Jezebel and I have decency-related issues that are subject enough for another day; it's with something I came across in the comments. I often lament the fact that I continue to read comments on on-line articles. It almost never does me any good. His screen name says it all, really...

“I'm going to address another issue raised by this article. Obviously forcing sex on a woman who is unwilling is wrong, but are any of the acts done by the woman that have an effect on men wrong? I'm not saying they cause rape or make them responsible for being raped, but do they bear any responsibility in society at all for intentionally turning men on?

What is the reason for the short-short skirts, they may not be "asking for it," but they are turning men on. Why? What are average, non-rapist men supposed to do about that? Just ignore their natural instincts to want it? What is the reason for the statement, "what burns me up sometimes about girls is dick-teasers. They lead a man on and then shut him off right there." We all know that does happen, so is it right or wrong for women to do? If not, why do they do it? Why do we allow them to do it?

Finally, some of the statements clearly go too far, but there are some acts listed that are part of normal sex between consenting partners. "Girls love being tied up . . . it gives them the chance to be the helpless victim." That's true of some women. Some women will go to bed with a man on the first date and like this kind of thing. "Filthy talk can be such a turn on for a girl . . . no one wants to be shagged by a mouse . . . A few compliments won't do any harm either . . . ‘I bet you want it from behind you dirty whore' . . ." That's also true of some women. I've been with several different women in my life and most of them have liked things dirty or rough or wild, not all the time of course, but it's part of a normal sexual relationship with most women. Other times these same women want things gentle or affectionate or comforting.

How do you reconcile normal sexual behavior with the same exact words or acts being used in a way that makes women think you are objectifying them or encouraging non-consensual sex?” - In-Informed

Deep breaths, everyone. We’re taking the plunge.

“Obviously forcing sex on a woman who is unwilling is wrong…”

Maybe this is a candidate for ‘taking unnecessary offence’ on my part, but I doubt I'm the only one whose first reaction is, “Well, thank you for bestowing your superior male confirmation of this fact. We hysterical wimminz thought rape wasn't really on, but you've given us a whole new level of confidence in our convictions.” It’s possible that I have a sarcasm problem, but it’s equally possible that this guy has an unconscious male privilege problem.

I'm going to have to break the next bit up a whole lot, so that I don’t choke on my rage and pass out at my computer.

“…are any of the acts done by the woman that have an effect on men wrong? I'm not saying they cause rape or make them responsible for being raped, but do they bear any responsibility in society at all for intentionally turning men on?”

Let me get this straight, you’re considering ‘being inconveniently turned on’ and ‘being raped’ in the same breath? I'm not saying the former isn't a problem but it’s very much like a journalist reporting “Millions of people were massacred in their homes, but let’s not forget to feel sorry for the ones who had penises drawn on their foreheads.” isn't it?

Obviously, some women dress provocatively with the express intention of drawing reactions from men. I make no judgement about those women at all. It’s just a fact. Crucially, the reaction they are after is not To. Get. Fucking. Raped. Think a woman is dressing deliberately to attract you? Fine, go start a conversation. Ask her out. Exchange numbers. Go home with her if that's what you both want. And if you have trouble working out via one of the first two options whether she does indeed want to go any further with you, which you might – social interactions are a bloody minefield, you may find a respectful way to ask. Or you could try holding off on kissing her, or groping her, or having sex with her until you are sure.

You might also stop to entertain the possibility that she is dressed that way because she likes the way she looks in those clothes, because she's comfortable in them or any other reason that shockingly has nothing to do with you? Maybe she’s a lesbian/bisexual trying to attract other women? Maybe the world doesn't actually revolve around you and women think about something other than attracting a sexual partner from time to time?

Are you really trying to tell me men never intentionally try to turn women on? Do we expect them to ‘bear any responsibility’ for that? What the hell does ‘bear responsibility’ even mean in this context? It seems to me that, for all you might not think of yourself as a victim-blamer, you really are.

I’ll point out right now that if you (male or female or however else you identify) deliberately go out of your way to lead someone on and then tell them ‘no’, because it’s a laugh, you’re messing with their feelings for your own amusement. I, personally, don’t find that okay. That doesn't mean that you can’t or shouldn't say ‘no’ at whatever point you feel uncomfortable continuing. What I'm talking about is a form of sexual bullying, because your intention was to play with them and make them expect something there was never any possibility of them getting. That's my opinion. I'm genuinely interested to hear whether others agree with me on this, or if you think I'm being unreasonable.

“What are average, non-rapist men supposed to do about that? Just ignore their natural instincts to want it?”

Actually, that’s exactly what I expect. I don’t think it’s in any way unreasonable to expect it. My dog can overrule her natural instinct to eat anything that’s dropped on the floor near her and to chase any small furry thing that moves. I don’t understand why men continue to imply that they are just animals who can’t possibly be expected to control the urge to mate. I know this is a feminist blog, but I'm not in favour of dehumanising any group of people and I just don’t get why men do it to themselves with this argument.

Of course you’re allowed to be turned on by a pretty (whatever your definition of pretty may be) woman. If you weren't  the human race would be in serious trouble. People get turned on by people. Not all people but the majority. I don’t expect you to be asexual. What I do think I and every other human being deserve from you is the ability to control how you act on that attraction. Do I punch misogynists in the face when I get the urge? No, I don’t. See? I didn't allow my anger to result in a violent reaction. So why is it okay for men to shirk any responsibility not to damage their fellow human beings because of a primitive instinct?

“Why do we allow them to do it?”

Oh. My. God. Someone's about to choke on his own privilege. It baffles me that men can talk this way without hearing the superiority they're awarding themselves. You know what? You 'allow' it because you have zero right to control it. Zero. None. We don't try to tell you how you may dress; no way is it your call to tell women what we can wear or in what circumstances to wear it. Unless she's wearing a top with chariot-style blades attached to the shoulders or a miniskirt made of buzzsaws, I don't believe the way a woman dresses can possibly have any violent effect on you. Dressing provocatively is not, or should not be, a crime. I don't think men realise how much control they already have over the way women dress, even unintentionally. Think about it: men are free to wander around the streets topless all summer long, with absolutely no thought as to whether they're making anyone else uncomfortable. If a woman did the same, how long do you think it would be before she was either assaulted or arrested for public indecency? And why do you think that is? Is it because other women can't handle the sight of breasts? I don't think so somehow. We somehow manage not to tackle you to the ground in public when you take your shirts off*. Why can't we ask the same of you?

"...there are some acts listed that are part of normal sex between consenting partners. "Girls love being tied up . . . it gives them the chance to be the helpless victim." That's true of some women. Some women will go to bed with a man on the first date and like this kind of thing."

First, yes, there are all sorts of rough, even violent, practices that can be part of enjoyable, consensual sex. I make no pretence of understanding the attractions of all of them, but - hey, I don't need to. It's none of my business. Whatever floats your boat. That said, I do have a couple of problems here.

One problem is the implication that if some girls like being tied up, we all do - maybe the rest of us are just too frigid to bring it up? Okay, that was me unfairly putting words in the commenter's mouth. But the point remains, that several of these statements are promoting an image of women that suggests all women want to be treated roughly at least some of the time. And that's just not true. And it's a much more damaging assumption than the opposite.

What's this 'chance to be the helpless victim' thing all about? Is that a thing? Maybe it is. I obviously can't speak for anyone's kinks but mine.

I just don't want to go home with a guy and have him immediately assume that I'm okay with being tied up. Bondage requires trust. How much trust does a guy think he deserves on a first date?

"How do you reconcile normal sexual behaviour with the same exact words or acts being used in a way that makes women think you are objectifying them or encouraging non-consensual sex?”

Yeah, it's a problem, isn't it? This is one of the ways misogyny screws everyone, not just women. It can be very difficult not to be defensive and mistrustful when you're so used to being objectified and treated as though men have a right to expect what they want of you. It's difficult to negotiate functional social interactions against that backdrop and there isn't an easy over-night, one-size-fits-all solution. The answer, as best as I can suggest, is to be sensitive to the feelings of the women you interact with.Get to know whether they enjoy dirty talk and rough sex before engaging in it. Don't objectify. Don't slut-shame. Or prude-shame. Treat women as humans and equals rather than tools for your sexual gratification. And confront other men when you see or hear them doing it. That way, we can gradually develop an environment where women, and everyone else for that matter, can feel safe to express their sexual preferences and we don't need to fear misunderstandings resulting in assault. If that sounds like too much effort, you may need to re-evaluate your own attitudes.

* I need to state for the record that I am well aware that men are sometimes raped by women. I don't mean to trivialise or artificially rarefy that fact. It remains the case, however, that the vast majority of rapes and sexual assaults are perpetrated by men against women.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Bad Language: Coming of age - or not.

When I was a littlun, I wanted so badly to be taken seriously. When I'm a grown up, I thought, people are going to listen to me; I won't be a child, a girl, I'll be able to sit at the metaphorical adult table and I'll finally be a fully fledged human being. I expected this to happen in my late teens, or maybe at the magic golden 20 at the very latest when I would stop being a 'teenager'. I assumed there would be some kind of sensible progression from child-teenager-adult.

Fifteen or twenty years on from these musings, apparently I'm still a 'girl'. Long after 'boys' have been upgraded to 'men' (or the more informal but still adult - or at least adolescent - 'guys'), adult women even into their thirties are still stuck with their child-status. This, to me, seems extremely strange. It's so widespread and ingrained that it so often goes unnoticed, but the more I think about it, the more irritated I am by it. My previous landlord began all correspondence with my two housemates and I (all women in our mid twenties) with 'Hello girls'. Why did she think this was acceptable and appropriate, where a very similar 'Hello boys' would have clearly been unprofessional, extremely condescending and maybe even a little predatory? What would she have said to a more diverse gender group? Yes, there are occasions where adult men get called 'boys' - 'old boys' for alumni or elderly men, 'city boys', 'our boys' for soldiers: these are all very specfic usages with some kind of qualifier. They cease to be 'boys' outside of these contexts; by contrast, a younger woman might escape the 'girl' label in some specific contexts, but it remains the default; a stranger would probably describe her first as a 'girl' (that girl over there, the girl I saw on the bus, a girl in my year- replacing 'girl' with 'boy' suddenly feels uncomfortable).

You might say I'm reading too much into it, that words are just words, but I think it reveals something very odd about attitudes towards women in the younger-rather-than-older box. A child - whether a girl child, a boy child, or a child somewhere else on the gender map - is someone who isn't ready to take responsibility for themself and their own wellbeing, someone who is still in an early stage of their mental, emotional, intellectual, everything-else-al development, someone who probably doesn't have a whole lot of agency as far as most things go. Someone who is not taken seriously enough. When I am called a girl, I feel as if this is what I am being told I am. Whatever I do to earn adulthood (and for me that's mostly collecting more degrees than anybody really needs and gaining recognition in my small but wonderful corner of academia for hard work and new ideas), I can't seem to shake off this weirdly clinging girlhood. (And yes, girlhood more specifically than childhood: to add insult to injury, because the category 'person' was already too crowded, we must cram everyone into inadequate binary constructs of gender, or civilisation might collapse.)

I'm still working my way round these ideas (maybe I will have been upgraded to 'adult' by the time I get there!), so I'm presenting them here as more 'food for thought' than as a fully worked out essay. There's plenty more to say on this subject, and I'd gladly welcome any comments.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

An open letter to the one who 'just wants to learn' or "Why I am so Goddamn tired".

There's always one. Sometimes it's a troll getting kicks out of acting stupid. Sometimes it's a genuine request. But they're always there. And when the issue under debate is a feminist one, it's almost always a man. If you've been anywhere near a feminist discussion thread (or just about any other social issue debate for that matter), I'm willing to bet one of these guys has waded in. Oftentimes, they deliver their two cents' of barely literate 'wisdom' then, and here's the kicker, expect to get a dollar's worth (or local currency of your choice) of knowledge from anyone foolish enough to argue with them. They usually adopt the position that you're the one 'being argumentative' (read: disagreeing with them) so you'd just better explain yourself.

I'm talking to you, now. You, those people who do this over and over again, whenever a woman has the temerity to be offended by something outside your white/male/cis/thin/hetero/other-privileged sphere of experience. You want us to explain ourselves, well listen up.

What you don't seem to realise is that we women, on the whole, don't love this. We don't enjoy being treated as second class citizens. We're not looking for excuses to mouth off about how oppressed we are. We don't get up in the morning, stretch, sharpen the castration shears and head out looking for fights to pick. Of course, some might, but not me and not any woman I know.

On the whole, we're just tired.

We're emotionally, mentally and physically exhausted with the whole thing: the stupid, unthinking misogyny and the calculated viciousness; the rape jokes; the victim-blaming and slut-shaming; the derision, the degradation, the objectification; the pressure to conform to a type of beauty chosen, marketed and demanded by men but absorbed by just about everyone and the vilification if we decide to resist.

Most of all, I'm tired of explaining.

"What is rape culture?"
"How am I victim-blaming?"
"What do you expect?"
"Why is it okay for women to feel that way, but not for men?"
One I had flung at me just today, not for the first time, "It's hard to believe people can be so passionate about something and yet so unwilling to explain or discuss why they have said opinion(s)."

And the clarion call of your type, "Come on, then, educate me!"

Educate yourself. I'm tired.

I admit that some feminist issues are difficult to get your head around, to say the least. I only became familiar with a lot of the terminology recently myself and, guess what, I still make a lot of mistakes. I used to use 'rape' to talk about losing a video game. I used to use words like 'lame' and 'retarded' and 'slut'. And you know what else? Sometimes I slip up and catch myself using one of them again. But I'm trying. I'm trying not to hurt or threaten anyone else by what I say or do.

So, why won't I educate you? A number of reasons.

1. It's not my job to turn you into a decent human being.

2. When you ask this question on a comments thread, what you're asking me for is the cliff notes of an issue that rules my life and the lives of just over half the world's population, that keeps me awake at night, that gives me panic attacks, that makes me fear for the lives of friends when we split up to go home after a night out. I can't reduce a lifetime of experience to 140 characters and I shouldn't be expected to do so for your convenience.

I believe I speak for most of my feminist friends (and if you are a feminist who disagrees with me, feel free to call me on it) when I say that, if you come to us saying, "I was doing some reading about rape culture but I still don't think I fully understand this part...", we will try to make it clearer for you because we want you to understand, so long as you're prepared to do your share of the work. But most of us do not want to hold your hand from the get go. We have shit to do! I'll repeat this one more time: it is not our job to make you into a decent human being.

I don't mean to discourage anyone from trying to learn, quite the reverse. But if I point you to an article that's already been written, do the courteous thing and read it and try to understand what it says and why I sent you there. A phrase I keep hearing today is that "it is the duty of the informed to educate the uninformed". I actually agree with that. I don't expect men to know exactly what my experiences of being a woman are without ever being told and I'm not trying to say we never need to explain why we feel the way we do. If no one did that, no one would ever understand anyone else at all. The point is, we've tried. We publish justifications and explanations every day. The people this post is addressing don't care about that. They won't read the blogs or the articles or the books. They won't listen open-mindedly to the debates. If you really want to understand, if you really want to avoid causing offence and have others feel safe and comfortable in your company, you need to do your homework.

The internet is full of blogs like this, many of them probably more articulate and most of them more frequently updated. You could do a lot worse than starting with our list of recommended blogs, which you'll find on the right hand side of this page. There are articles all over the place. Once you start clicking a few links, you'll get some idea of how deep the rabbit hole goes. There are even books, remember those? Don't worry, you can always get the electronic versions if you suffer from pixel withdrawal.

Basically, the information is there, ready and waiting for you. It only needs a little application.

The discrimination faced by women for no better reason than that we are women is naturally a tense subject. People tend to get angry when they're dehumanised and demonised. That is why things can get a little heated when you complain that we don't jump at the thankless job of tutoring you in manners and sensitivity.

Basically, we are so Goddamn tired.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

What is feminism?

Pretty basic question, I know. Perhaps it's even a stupid question. But, also, perhaps it's good, in the early days of this blog, to address the fundamentals.

This is a question I'm asking, not a question I intend to answer, by the way. Some people are really hot on feminist literature and have read all the stuffs. I haven't. I have read zero feminist literature, except for some PhD-related stuff on medieval women, if you count that. So I know very little and so this is an honest question.

So far in my life I have come across two, wildly differing but both fairly simplistic, definitions of feminism. The first is basically the belief that men and women are equal and should be treated equally. I think most reasonable people would agree with this assertion. I was at a gig once - I think it was Ani DiFranco - when Ani or whoever it was screamed out into the audience that any reasonable person should call themselves a feminist. But they don't, do they? I know lots of people who are very reasonable and who believe that women should be treated as equal to men, and yet they don't call themselves feminists.

That's because those people have subscribed to my second definition of feminism: the angry feminist. I recently claimed not to be an 'angry' feminist and my (male) friend replied, "Is there any other kind?" Yes, most of the time I am quite an amiable feminist. Though there are issues of inequality and mistreatment about which, I think, some righteous anger is justified. But there's still this bra-burning, man-hating stereotype which makes me sad and with which I am reluctant to associate myself. Some of my favourite people are men, and I'm up for a feminism which empowers men and women. But am I really qualified to say that the stereotype, that this definition of feminism, is 'wrong'? To get all postmodern for a minute, if that's what feminism means for you, is that not at least partially what it means?

What does feminism mean for you?

A Welcome Most Hearty

Welcome, one and all, to Unable to Move for Drums, a feminist blog by three female human beings trying to make sense of feminism (and/or Feminism) and stop our heads spinning with rotational bewilderment. I don't really expect to come out of the experience much less confused, but we can at least have some friendly and outraged and incredulous and surreal times on the journey, right? We hope that your input will help to educate us and stretch our horizons while we, in turn, try to raise some interesting points for thought and discussion.

Each of us has her own personal take on feminist issues (and environmental issues... and pizza toppings...), so there probably won't be a totally unified outlook across the blog, and we each have particular issues that are important to us; I, for instance, am trying to write a fantasy novel and struggling not to succumb either to the well-known genre-inherited misogyny of female barbarians in metal bikinis etc. or to a whole range of more subtle pitfalls such as the unrapable heroine. This is something I'll be posting about quite soon.

You can (or will soon be able to) read a little about each of us on the 'Your Authors' page and about our basic request for comment etiquette on the 'Comments Policy' page.

So, read on, kind visitors. Please try to take adequate care of your blood pressures.

A Note About Trigger Warnings:
It would be impossible for us to predict everything that could possibly be triggering to anyone but, if you feel we've missed an inexcusable one, please let us know and we'll fix it.