“Over the year that followed I became increasingly angry, until eventually it was all I could talk about. Every time I was shouted at in the street I wanted to shout back, I just wasn’t sure how to.I decided to tell my story in a blogpost, but it didn’t seem quite enough. I wanted to really take ownership of what happened to me, to express how I felt, and to take back the tube for myself and for all women who had been sexually assaulted on it.
So on International Women’s Day I went back to the spot where my incident happened. I held a sign explaining what had happened to me, and I danced. I danced my protest, and it felt right. It was petrifying, exhilarating, and soothing all at once, and it was absolutely fitting.”
Last May Icelanders voted to bring back into power the conservative parties that brought Iceland to the brink of bankruptcy in 2008. Apart from any other implications, this appears to have constituted a significant setback for Icelandic women. Currently, of nine cabinet ministers, only three are female. And gender stereotyping is alive and well. When it first took office, the government’s economic affairs and trade committee was made up of nine men and not a single woman. Meanwhile, the welfare committee was made up of eight women and one man. A token woman was subsequently added to the former, and a second man to the latter, but only after a flurry of criticism forced the (male) coalition leaders to make the change.
The message is clear: our government doesn’t care about women’s health. Politicians can say all they want about trying to protect women from the evils of abortion clinics by enforcing these new standards, but most of us aren’t buying it. While the rich will continue to have safe access to abortion as they always have, poor women of color will be the ones who suffer.
In the real world, not all men want to be “breadwinners”, just like not all men want to be violent, or to have power over women. What men do want, however, is to feel needed, and wanted, and useful, and loved. They aren’t alone in this – it’s one of the most basic human instincts, and for too long we have been telling men and boys that the only way they can be useful is by bringing home money to a doting wife and kids, or possibly by dying in a war. It was an oppressive, constricting message 50 years ago, and it’s doubly oppressive now that society has moved on and even wars are being fought by robots who leave no widows behind.
Laurie Penny, ‘We need to talk about masculinity’
'Who is Bridezilla? Is she a marketing construct designed to sell dresses? It is possible. I know that women are self-hating enough to spend money to cultivate a stereotype that disparages them, because I have seen Vogue, and I have watched women sign up for pole-dancing lessons with my own amazed eyes. But perhaps women exercise control in wedding planning, because they have little to control elsewhere. (I will not bore the boob-honking lobby with the statistics on female employment, prevalence and seniority.) A wedding day is a tiny empire, it is true, but one in which a woman can exercise complete, if tiny, autonomy and this must be mocked – perhaps this is the egg that hatched Bridezilla?' - Tanya Gold
This week the hashtag “#Killallmen” started trending on Twitter – a rhetorical scream of rage that was quickly, unsurprisingly, criticised in the strongest terms. People are right to be wary of anything that promotes an “us and them” mentality, not just because most men clearly abhor male violence, and an enormous number fall victim to it, but because if there’s an us and them in this debate, it’s between those who support and speak up for victims and those who, tacitly and otherwise, support perpetrators.
I’d love more men to get involved in this conversation, speaking out against the threat of male aggression we all live under, pushing the message that victims are not to blame, that issues surrounding consent must be taught in schools, that alleged perpetrators must be named – not to name and shame, but to name and protect, as rape campaigner Jill Saward put it this week. I’m sure there are many men who have felt just as appalled by these stories as I have. Let’s hear more from them.
Kira Cochrane, ‘Men are victims as well as perpetrators of sex crime. So why aren’t they talking?’
Horalek is, of course, wrong to call the passages pornographic. Pornography is material intended to arouse sexual excitement, and I very much doubt that was Anne’s intention when she wrote to her imaginary confidant Kitty about her journeys of self-discovery. But the reason Horalek gives for complaining in the first place is that the passages made her daughter uncomfortable. I can well believe this. I can imagine that if, age 13, I had been asked to read or discuss the passages in class, I would have felt deeply uncomfortable (my own nocturnal explorations notwithstanding).
Anne is going through puberty, and she describes her changed vagina in honest detail, saying, “until I was 11 or 12, I didn’t realise there was a second set of labia on the inside, since you couldn’t see them. What’s even funnier is that I thought urine came out of the clitoris.” (Oh Anne, we’ve all been there.) She continues: “In the upper part, between the outer labia, there’s a fold of skin that, on second thought, looks like a kind of blister. That’s the clitoris.” It’s beautiful, visceral writing, and it’s describing something that most young women experience.
And yet I can understand that the junior Ms Horalek would have squirmed and wished herself elsewhere when this was read in class. We live in a society in which young women are taught to be ashamed of the changes that their bodies undergo at puberty – to be secretive about them, and even to pretend that they don’t exist. Breasts, the minute they bud, are strapped into harnesses, and the nipples disguised from view. Period paraphernalia must be discreet, with advertisers routinely boasting that their tampons look enough like sweets to circumvent the social horror of discovery
Emer O’Toole, Anne Frank’s diary isn’t pornographic, it just reveals an uncomfortable truth’
Within the feminist movement, the answer is less clear than one might hope. Trashing each other and exclusion have been hallmarks since the movement began, and each generation of feminist activists seems to suffer the same in-fighting. But contrary to simplistic ideas about catty, back-stabbing women, feminists don’t fight each other because women are uniquely competitive or cruel. Though we care about the movement, it happens because we’ve internalized a narrative of scarcity: we act as though we’re fighting for crumbs.
Jill Filipovic, ‘The tragic irony of feminists trashing each other’
"I didn’t have time to see if they looked good or not, whether they were blondes or not" – such were the words of Putin after our most recent act of diversion, when Femen activists confronted him in Hanover, shouting to his face, “Fuck you, dictator!” Putin was quick to smile, but a Kremlin official was already demanding that Germany punish our activists. Within half an hour, four criminal cases had been opened against the dictator’s assailants.
This is our reality. Femen activists are arrested, beaten up or even kidnapped, as happened to us in Belarus after our protest ridiculing president Alexander Lukashenko in Minsk.
We asked our readers for their thoughts. They replied - and here’s two picks:
As a single working mother with a 13-year-old daughter, I couldn’t really not be a feminist. Seeing the pressures my daughter will face as she progresses into adulthood makes me realise we all have a way to go. But it’s not feminism that runs the world, it’s money. The media, Guardian included, tend to fixate on the number of women in boardrooms, or whether some neoliberal rightwing politician is a feminist, rather than looking at the reality of working life. I’ve also been quite shocked at the hostility shown to parents, mothers especially. Some of the comments found on this very website have a real venom to them; there is at times a sense that if you are a mother, and especially a working-class mother, then by default you should not have embarked on parenthood at all.
I don’t think the issue is about how feminism represents working-class women at all, it’s how the media and politicians choose to portray them. It’s not feminism that has the power to control what advertisers, the music industry and the media tell us; if anything, feminists tend to be the ones pointing out how damaging it can be.
I come from a white working-class single-parent family. I was a soldier and a teacher, and I worked with working-class white boys in the penal system. I would see myself in the third wave of feminism. I am sick of the second-wave dinosaurs who are currently in power, lecturing me on my undeserved privilege, berating me as an oppressor, excluding me for being male – when by and large I am sympathetic with the majority of their goals. I just don’t like the way they have turned what should be the greatest civil rights movement in history into a single issue lobbying movement which furthers their unearned privilege as wealthy white western women, ignoring everyone else who has suffered from patriarchy (including working-class men).
With my work, I saw working-class boys being treated as disposable war assets by the government, or as disposable criminal problems by the penal system. If eight times more women than men were in prison, it would be a feminist issue. If three times more women killed themselves every year, it would be a feminist issue. The lack of support in men’s mental health is terrible; my (male) doctor does not even know who to refer a male patient to for support. This impacts me personally, but these issues impact all female family members too. There is so much more we can achieve as a team.
By leading a sustained campaign of nonviolent protest against forced evictions, Cambodian housewives are changing the country’s political map. Excerpt:
Western feminists should not lose sight of the fact that in many countries around the world, women’s role as wife and mother remains central to their family and societal status. When homes are threatened with destruction, it is women who are disproportionately affected. While women are commonly framed as defenceless “soft targets” in forced evictions, Vanny and her fellow housewives complicate this assumption. Harnessing softness as a strategy rather than a hindrance, these women have committed themselves to a sustained campaign of nonviolent protest. Worried that involving men would only encourage violence, “turning men into goldfish clashing with each other”, they are using their positions as wives and mothers to co-opt riot police through their songs of suffering and to morally shame them when they are publicly beaten.
On Friday, the Mail and Star were good enough to publish a spread of Reeva Steenkamp’s lingerie shots, as befits a family newspaper. If you’re asking what sort of family demands the sexy-ing up of stories about murdered women, I’m drawing a blank. (The provisional wing of the Manson family?) Doubtless they’ll claim they used these pictures because modelling was one of Steenkamp’s jobs – and the next time they illustrate a story about a murdered hairdresser with pictures of her cutting hair, or a murdered student working in the college library, we can treat that justification with something other than a tired: “Bull. Shit.” In this age, many female victims’ social media imprint would yield an image of them at their place of work, and you should totally, totally expect news outlets to use it if the choice comes down to that or a beach snap of them scantily clad.
In the light of this week’s row between two prominent feminists and the trans community, we asked four trans writers to reflect on what feminism means to them
Paris Lees: 'At college, most people thought feminist meant man-hater'
There were plenty of feminists on TV in the early 90s, and I always sided with these tough ladies, the ones that didn’t see men as their superiors. Raised by my mum, my gran and my aunty and bullied by a father I despised, child-me was certain that women couldn’t be the inferior gender. Teenage me wondered why there even have to be an inferior gender – or, in fact, gender at all. Couldn’t we all just do our own thing and be nice to each other? At college, most people thought feminist meant “man-hater”. This excluded men from feminism, including me, because, at the time, I looked like a boy.
It was a figurative kick in the teeth being born male – but when I was younger, I also got actual kicks in the face for “acting girly”. Feminists have long fought to protect women from violence and I wish more of those with big platforms would discuss the very real abuse trans people suffer, often daily.
Early into my transition, I read Germaine Greer’s The Whole Woman. It contained polemics about trans women in female toilets; suggesting we were men pretending to be women, trying to invade women’s spaces. It’s good to read authors one disagrees with. Greer caused me to question my identity, and form a more complex one. She was right: I am not a woman in the way my mother is; I haven’t experienced female childhood; I don’t menstruate. I won’t give birth. Yes, I have no idea what it feels like to be another woman – but nor do I know what it feels like to be another man. How can anyone know what it feels like to be anyone but themselves? Strangely, thanks to Greer, I now know that I am happiest as me.
I do feel sorry for some of the feminist old guard, though. That fire they had in their bellies, that righteous indignation… it must be a shock to find they’ve joined the ranks of a chattering establishment, complicit in the oppression of others. I’m sure they never planned it.
I’m trans and feminist. Most of my female friends in their 20s are feminist too, though few call it that. We see ourselves as equal to others, even if they don’t. We struggle to earn the same as our male peers, to be heard as much, to see as much of ourselves in public and political life. But we’ve progressed, through feminism and the idea that people should be treated equally despite what fate pops between your legs at birth. Who wouldn’t support that? As Dale Spender so eloquently puts it:
"Feminism has fought no wars. It has killed no opponents. It has set up no concentration camps, starved no enemies, and practised no cruelties… Its battles have been for education, for the vote, for better working conditions, for safety on the streets, for childcare, for social welfare, for rape crisis clinics, women’s refuges, reforms in the laws. If someone says, "Oh, I’m not a feminist!" I ask, ‘Why? What’s your problem?’"
Well, here’s the thing. The trans movement, fuelled by the radical notion that trans people are valid humans, hasn’t fought any wars either. No killing. No concentration camps. Our battles are for dignity, not to be ridiculed, abused, and murdered for who we are; to have our privacy respected by the media, to be free from harassment under the law; free to use the toilet – free to pee.