I remember being in high school and having to wear a skirt. You could wear colottes or a pinafore, but not trousers. No matter how smart. It was infuriating.
Fast forward twenty years and still, society wants to enforce fashion ideals on women. Women in the media, in sport and in general. Stop it, really chuck it up!
The biggest story on the issue right now has to be that of Serena Williams, one of the most successful female tennis players of all time. A woman who has reinvented the women’s game and is an icon of awesomeness. The French Tennis Federation banned this tennis superstar, hall of famer from wearing a specifically designed biotech garment because they deemed it “disrespectful”.
This is the garment:
Just so we are clear tennis fans, Anna Kournikova picking her knickers oot her bum, is ok and worthy of world wide promotion (see iconic poster below) but full body coverage on Serena Williams, not ok?
To make matter worse, Alizé Cornet was penalised at the US Open for reversing her inside out top. She was wearing a well supporting sports bra which is more like a crop top than a sexy under garment. The organisers have since apologised but lets consider the male players who frequently sit topless basking in their multi-abbed glory and regularly change tops during their breaks.
It was an apparent violation for taking her shirt off on the court, even though she walked to well behind the baseline, practically in front of the ballboy. Who by the way reacted more maturely than the commentators on that clip.
Here are some male tennis players also apparently violating some dress code I presume?
To be fair to Andy Murray, he has come out against this sort of shit, wow, when Andy Murray is more of a feminist icon that you could ever thought to imagine, we know the world needs a changing.
But is it just the archaic rules of an old fashioned, traditional sport? Well no not really. Take a winner of a singing competition who now hosts different telly programs. A young woman who was body shamed by a celebrity gossip magazine. Called “boring” and “desperate”. Ah but to be expected from gossip rags you may say, they too have since apologised. That doesn’t take away the hurt and anger that must have had an impact.
What about a less publicised sort of event. A chess meet in Iran? In June, Indian chess star Soumya Swaminathan refused to wear a head scarf and withdrew from the competition. This wasn’t the first time she had refused to be told what to wear.
An 18 year old Malaysian football freestyler defends wearing her headscarf saying “the headscarf is not an obstacle.” She also refuses to be told what to do and what to wear.
When women are being encouraged to stay active and keep fit, why should it matter what we wear. If you can wear an ass cheek revealing short dress but not a medically tight full length cat suit is that right? When you can be penalised for displaying your midriff on court but men not penalised for baring full moobage and abbbbs, should we care? When we compete, whether in a chess competition, a sports ball event or a singing competition, why does it matter what females wear or how we look? When women are going about their daily business what difference does it make to anybody what we wear?
Why is any of this important? Why does any of this matter? Why do you think?
I’ve always found hero worship odd. I’ve never had rock n roll/pop heroes, religious heroes or political heroes.
Back in1979, friends of mine flocked to Knock, Dublin and other places to see John Paul 2. Although I was 13,and not from the community the Pope came to speak to, I saw a spotlight on our place, shone by the entourage of journalists and commentators he brought with him. As I write this, a smaller crowd are greeting the present Pope, who is busy apologising for child abuse meted out by his church, but not apologising for the incredible male-ness of his permanent entourage and decision makers.
As heroes topple, most of them men, its the behaviour of those around them that fascinate me.
Many friends of mine were absolute hero worshippers of Morrissey and the Smiths. As the working class pseud sang about the plight of the “his community,” and their culture in the eighties, millions dressed like him, had their hair cut like him and quoted his lyrics almost as I imagine fans of 18th and 19thcentury romantic poets did. He was of that lineage.
Cut to the late nineties and two thousands, and Morrissey’s increasingly anglocentric, British nationalism and seemingly uninformed sexism was brushed aside almost as “mistakes, flaws,” by their still heroised bard. His more recent behaviour, praising alt-right tropes etc, hasn’t pushed his back catalogue to the back of the record collection, yet. The Smiths and early Morrissey are still untouchable in a way Gary Glitter’s back catalogue will never be. He still has a stage in front of thousands, no, millions of people to whom he can spout his message of “Viva Hate!” Unfair? I don’t think so. Like all monsters, the monster in Morrissey must be denounced. And someone with the huge power of a public voice should be humbled. The price if not, is that more politically vulnerable fans are not given clear messages of what is acceptable politics and unacceptable fascism. How the fans/ex fans react is hugely important.
In the seventies and early eighties, Fascist imagery, lyrics and speeches from the stage were made unacceptable by the superb “Rock Against Racism.” Eric Clapton, has spent years apologising for his drunken racist outbursts, and many fans, radio DJ’s etc, to this day body swerve his music. If you find some of his outbursts on YouTube, fans can be heard booing him. Bowie and others from the avant garde school of pop/rock were forced to abandon fascist imagery and nowadays, no right wing music or bands get beyond backstreet pub gigs.
The fans spoke. They condemned and they refused to buy tickets. Rock Against Racism changed the rock and pop industry every bit as much as Thatcher, Stock Aiken and Waterman, Island or Simon Cowell. An unhealthy and imbalanced relationship between ego-ist, and at best, niave pop stars and unacceptable symbols and politics of hate, was averted by major bands, fans and record labels signing up to Rock Against Racism principles.
Back in early 2005, branches of the then thriving Scottish Socialist Party, of which I was a member, were called to extraordinary meetings in which we were told that our then heroised by many, “Convenor,” Tommy Sheridan, had badly erred. Tommy, at meetings some of us attended, apologised. In those days, Me Too, the movement of support for those who have been victims of abuse, did not exist. Powerful men were the norm. Heroes out to save us from the enemy. There were no subtleties in public discourse. To many of those in the SSP, Sheridan was a hero, and although he had more subtle options, he was going to “fight The News of the World,” which had published details of a visit to a swingers club in Manchester he, some friends and a reporter had made. Sheridan’s behaviour, and those who then sought to gain politically within the Socialist movement were crucial to what then happened in Scottish (and subsequently, UK wide) socialist politics.
Sheridan pursued a tactic of outright denial-which on its own could well have seen this issue blow over. To add to the denial, Sheridan decided to sue the Murdoch empire. Most of the rest of the SSP disagreed with this tactic–to throw our at that time sizeable forces at this would ensure we were caught up in something for years that was far from why activists from across the left had come together, volunteering time, money and energy to the SSP. Activists would burn out totally, if the raison d’etre of the party became the sanctity of “The Great Hero Leader,” who, in fact, was a very naughty boy. But it was those who saw political capital for them and their small factions who turned a small body blow into the destruction of, until then, Europe’s most successful socialist alliance. I won’t go in to detail about what followed, Alan Mccombes book, Downfall does a pretty good job of telling what happened, as does this Thousand Flowers article.
The thing is, during all of this, naively, I thought politics could continue as normal. We could continue to fight the Blairist Government, and fight for amazing socialist reforms. I remember, clearly, going to a small SSP Regional Council meeting in The Piper Bar, in Glasgow City Centre. The main protagonists were there, including Sheridan, and his until this point in time, best friend Keith Baldassara. I was there to ask Sheridan our MSP, advice on a proposal our branch had discussed regarding education, but the entire meeting became an argument between Baldassara and Sheridan about Sheridan’s stance on suing the News of the World. After a long time of intractable argument, I asked could we turn to other business, to which Baldassara told me, “you don’t know what you are talking about here, Neil. This is more important.” And clearly it was, to them. To me, as someone who had joined the SSP in spite of not liking Sheridan’s insincere rhetorical style and obvious ego, the most important thing was politics, not the preservation of the great leader, from whatever side you took.
Subsequently, Sheridan pulled together groups of people whose egos he stroked and factions that hitherto had tried their best to take over control of the alliance. Such was sectarian socialist politics. And those groups and fans who felt Sheridan was a hero or a ticket, wrecked a movement. Sheridan dragged people through the courts, and using his influence in the press, dragged the reputations of women who had been comrades in arms, and innocent bystanders through the mud. Many of us built a group within the party to try to save it, and to support those comrades Sheridan had decided to try to destroy. It had limited success. After 2007, the SSP and the Scottish Socialist movement went into a decline it still has difficulty pulling up from. And that tarnish went on to infect the Independence movement as Sheridan flapped about trying to find income streams and ego stroking crowds.
I watch the current left heroes across the UK, two in particular, through the lense of experience of the SSP and that of Rock Against Racism, and know that if the worst aspects and mistakes of what has become known as “Corbynism” are not called out and addressed, the Labour Party will flounder in its attempts to pull the party left yet again. And here in Scotland as people line up in solidarity with an alleged abuser and victims in the SNP, I can only hope the lessons of the past become the voice of the majority.
One “hero” is not a movement. The refusal of men to admit their fallibilities will wreck all that is good about what has been built. Defending one man should not be our raison d’etre. Change should be. Let’s hope these current heroes and their fans understand that.
Ungagged asked me to write a piece around the latest row on women’s representation in the Yes movement. The story arose after Rhiannon Spear questioned whether any women would be asked to speak at a demonstration and has re-ignited the debate around “manels” – all male panels – and whether it is damaging to have male-only speakers at Yes events or whether feminism is a distraction from the cause of winning independence.
I should start by declaring an interest: I know and like Rhiannon Spear, I have known her since she was an activist with the SNP’s youth wing and she is now a colleague on Glasgow City Council. Her commitment to the cause of independence is unquestionable. I should also declare at the outset that I am firmly in her camp on this one.
Rhiannon was described last week as a “self-proclaimed feminist” which puts her in good company as far as I am concerned, along with Glasgow’s Council Leader and Scotland’s First Minister. But this seems to be a problem for some and that’s not only a pity, I think it is a problem. Let me explain why.
The SNP, and the wider Yes movement, is a broad church and many of the pews are occupied by feminists. I remember the late great Liz Quinn (one of those quiet heroes usually described as stalwarts, to whom the party owes everything) talking at SNP Conference about how she came to join the SNP back in the 70s by making a connection between the personal independence and equality she was fighting for as part of the women’s liberation movement and the position of Scotland. The room was full of women nodding in agreement.
The right to make your own decisions, to form your own relationships, to earn and spend your money as you choose, to have your autonomy respected, to have the same opportunities as your peers, to be an equal partner with your own voice in the world……. Sounds familiar?
It’s not so long ago that women did not have these rights and for far too many women these rights still need to be fully realised. The struggle for women’s autonomy that Liz was speaking about – often a very personal struggle – has helped shape many women’s support for political autonomy for Scotland. The personal is indeed political.
This makes it pretty grim to hear people – usually men – suggest that feminism is a distraction from the Yes campaign. For many of us the values and aspirations which underpin our feminism are also those which underpin our support for independence. That doesn’t mean that supporting independence means you have to be a feminist. It doesn’t. (And the obvious corollary is that being a Scottish feminist doesn’t mean you have to support independence).
But I would hope people can understand and respect that feminism is part of why many women put so much time and effort into the Yes campaign. Others may have different values and motivations which drive them: I wouldn’t question their motives. But neither should anyone question Rhiannon’s motivation or that of any other woman.
In any case, you don’t need to be a feminist to believe that the public face of the Yes movement should be made up of both men and women. The Yes movement IS made up of both men and women. Something has gone wrong if event organisers don’t know enough women to invite. I can completely understand if a particular set of unfortunate circumstances combine to prevent a woman speaker attending. But not if it is a pattern. And I can’t accept people saying it doesn’t matter.
It matters plenty if the Yes movement that exists on the ground is not represented on the platform. And that doesn’t just apply to women but to other under-represented groups as well. People may see complaints about events that only have white men speaking as political correctness but it really isn’t – the issue is that this simply doesn’t portray the Yes movement as the diverse and inclusive movement that it is. It gives a fundamentally false impression of who we are. We are a movement for all of Scotland and when people look at us they should see that. They should see themselves.
Being a movement for all of Scotland means that of course – independence aside – people won’t always agree on everything. That’s fine. The issue of gender and politics can be pretty hotly contested and people have strong feelings. Again, that’s fine. As a veteran of the decades long debate within the SNP around gender balance I wear my scars lightly because by and large the debate was conducted in a reasonable and respectful way. This in no way undermined the passionate nature of that debate but it did ensure that no-one got hurt. There’s a lesson there I feel.
That’s not to say we should impose the kind of rules which govern Conference debate outside that environment or impose a kind of faux-gentility on twitter discussions. That would be impossible. But a little bit of restraint (and possibly self-awareness) would be helpful.
There are no bosses in the Yes movement and everyone is entitled to raise any issue they wish to raise. Rhiannon was perfectly entitled to raise the issue as she did. I can appreciate that people may be tired of the debate about manels – I think we all are, Rhiannon included! But there’s a simple solution to it that would give us all peace, as well as ensuring our movement reaches out to and represents everyone in Scotland, as we must do if we are to win.
I was an enthusiastic participant in the original Pussy march in London on 21 January 2017, along with an estimated 5 million people worldwide – there were over 400 anti-Trump marches in cities across the world that day. It was unlike any other protest march I had previously joined, both in its organisation and its atmosphere; it had been entirely planned via social media which made it feel somehow ‘word of mouth’, organic and democratic. Although there was an organising committee and co-sponsors, it felt like a really populist (in the best sense of that word) occasion, and it is the first march I have ever been on which didn’t feature ubiquitous identikit SWP placards. All the banners and signs I saw that day were home-made, original and overwhelmingly witty; this felt like it was a march of mainly engaged, confident and articulate people. The atmosphere was positive, inclusive, good humoured and warm, despite the freezing winter weather. At that point, Trump’s election as president felt unreal and absurd, like part of the plot of a far-fetched dystopian sci fi film which had somehow bled off the screen and into real life, but there was also such an optimistic spirit in evidence that day that it also felt fixable.
My assumption at that point was that, once Trump was actually installed in the White House, the grown-ups would take charge. I’m just about old enough to remember Reagan, who was also something of an iconoclastic loose cannon on the campaign trail, but whose worst excesses seemed a little tamed once he took office. He was regressive, divisive and, quite frankly, dim, but there was always a sense that there were experienced advisors around him. The fear of nuclear war was very real during his presidency but I always assumed that there were cooler heads around the president and that their wiser counsel would eventually prevail.
However, as far as I can tell – and it is difficult to keep up with the rapid personnel changes around the president – Trump has fired all the grown-ups and either not replaced them at all, or replaced them with his own minions. First rate sycophants with fourth rate minds. He does not listen, he will not take advice which differs in any way from what he already thinks (although I use the word ‘thinks’ advisedly) and he takes capriciousness all the way to the point of perilousness and beyond. The Trump Blimp is absolutely spot on – here is a petulant baby, full of hot air and trapped in the day glo orange body of a dangerous and powerful world leader. On any given day, literally anything could happen in his world which could result in extreme danger to ours.
There were actually two marches in London today; one organised by Women’s March London, who were behind the January 2017 march and another hosted by Owen Jones and organised by Stop Trump. I was drawn to the first, which was titled Bring The Noise: as they explained:
Bring pots and pans; bring drums; bring musical instruments; bring your voices. We’re taking pots and pans from the domestic space of home into the public space of politics – their purpose transformed for participation, engagement and joyful noise as we bring Cacerolazo
– ‘Casserole protest’ – to the heart of the city.
For someone who was born and bred in London, I am spectacularly bad at Londoning. I’m scared of the entire underground system, and I’m not great in crowds so it took me a while to walk across the city to find the march. By the time I did, it was well formed, joyous and noisy; there were plenty of home-made placards, plenty of wit, plenty of focused anger and plenty of pots and pans.Rather than join the front or middle, I stood at the side of the road to wait for the tail. It took 23 minutes for everyone to pass me, which gives some idea of just how many people there were (later estimates suggest that around 250 000 people were protesting in London today).I’m glad, in retrospect, that I had the chance to do this; in January 2017 I was in the middle of the group and so didn’t get the chance to appreciate the scale, or see all the banners. The march finished in Parliament Square, home of the glorious Trump Blimp and I am really glad that I will be able to tell my as yet unborn grandchildren that I witnessed it in all its orange magnificence. I listened to some moving speeches and poems (although I couldn’t see much, being a small woman at the back of a big gathering) before having to leave in search of shade and water.
The overall mood of the day seemed to me to be as positive, enabling and inclusive as last year, but this was an angrier march too, with a more focused, more determined undercurrent. There were representatives from many organisations (yes, I did see SWP placards this time); if nothing else, Trump has succeeded in uniting a lot of people. There was, of course, aheavy police presence – plenty of helicopters and blue lights – but it was not heavy handed at all, as far as I could see. The officers were mainly observing passively, and giving directions to bewildered tourists, and seemed good natured and relaxed. I like to think that this is because they agree with the aims of the march, but of course I have nothing other than my sunny and/or feckless sense of optimism as evidence for thisbelief. I know the PM has few people other than herself and her government to blame here, but I couldn’t help but have a pang of pity for her. We were on the streets, in the beautiful sunshine, venting our displeasure clearly, cleverly and with cacerolazo, while she has to be in the same room and breathing the same fetid air as this monstrous, maggoty excuse for a man. She has to witness his boorish buffoonery at close quarters, and remain civil and welcoming. I guess this proves that you reap what you sow. I guess this is karma for insulting your 27 closest allies and putting all your eggs in a tangerine, shit shaped basket. I guess this is how her future will look, presiding over the break-up and break down of the increasingly ironically named United Kingdom. Bowing, scraping begging. Humiliating.
There isn’t, apparently, an old Chinese curse which says ‘May you live in interesting times’ – there is no equivalent idiom in Chinese and the phrase was first recorded in the 1930s.It is a saying which has often puzzled me – I’m easily bored, why wouldn’t I want to live in interesting times? – but these last few years have helped me understand more profoundly the meaning; I would now quite like to have a few calm years with no alarms and no surprises. Please.
As Martin Luther King said, light always drives out darkness, and this current darkness will end, but there may be a lot of pain for a lot of people before dawn comes. Meanwhile,I hope Theresa May is extremely unhappy in living through interesting times, though. I hope Trump’s life is nothing but extremely interesting for the rest of his days. I hope they, and the other right-wing enablers who have unleashed the current darkness, intolerance, hatred and fear across the world never have a peaceful day again.
The STUC organised #dumptrump Anti-Trump Rally in George Square, Glasgow was a colourful and enjoyable affair.
I suppose the good weather helped but there was a party atmosphere. Many different groups (there were three I’m a part of) there under the one cause of being against the racist, misogynistic, ruthless capitalist… you know the rest, “The Donald” Trump.
There were Trade Unions (GMB, Unite, EIS and others), pressure groups (like Global Justice Now & Stand Up to Racism), political parties (Scottish Greens, Scottish Labour, Scottish Socialist Party) and ordinary members of the public.
There was a large diversity in those attending. Age; there was a baby in a papoose, who really didn’t have a say whether to attend or not but there were a number of young people from 5 upwards, there, happy and having fun brandishing their homemade placards opposing the presence of the current incumbent of a great office. Also ethnicity (biggest ethnic diversity I’ve seen at a rally), social background (I hate the word ‘class’) – posh folk and ordinary folk like me. And a wide range of politics, albeit all on the left.
As you will see in the pictures there were many home made placards deriding Trump and people were only too pleased to pose with them for my (and many others) pictures. This shows that they didn’t only want their hatred/disdain/etc of Trump to be noticed today at a rally but were happy for it to be shown worldwide, as people know that’s what happens to photographs these days. And everyone with a smile or pose for the camera. I hadn’t intended taking so many shots of banners & placards but they were fascinating, just wish I could have got them all.
If only the left could unite on all causes like it did today. All there, all for one cause, happy, sharing stories, praising each other’s placards/banners and most importantly engaging the normally non-politically active members of the public.
If we could do that, austerity wouldn’t have a chance! Bring it on.
Those of you who follow me on Twitter will have seen me tweet this headline from The Spectator:
With the words “is this real life?” so I apologise if this feels like I’m going over old ground for some readers, but I do feel like this sort of headline is harmful on a number of levels, and some important points are being missed while people’s brains are imploding at the idea of Theresa May as a sex symbol.
I won’t be drilling into the article itself – partly because I couldn’t force myself to finish it, but mostly because we live in an age of tweet length news, rolling 24 hour coverage and attention spans more stretched than a whale’s waistband, so the headline and sub-heading is all most people will see of a lot of news stories, whether that’s digitally as we scroll past on our newsfeeds or physically as we walk past the news-stand, or see someone reading a paper in public.
Almost all of the chatter I have seen about this has centred around denial that Theresa May exudes erotic appeal. Personally, my cup of tea she is not, but it takes all sorts to make the world go round, and life would be very beige and boring if we all found the same people attractive. Desirability is entirely subjective – so it’s a bizarre premise to set an article on.
May’s attractiveness or lack thereof aside, what bothers me most about this headline is the casual sexism. This kind of headline seeps into the collective consciousness and suggests that a woman who has been working in her field for over 20 years and has reached the very top of her profession must have done so because of her sexuality. That she is in her position because of the male gaze – that men still very much hold power over women, however powerful that woman may seem.
Why then should we – having internalized this message – have respect for any woman who has risen in her field? Those who have followed my writing in the past know well that I have no time whatsoever for Theresa May. I think she is an incompetent, floundering politician who has achieved her position purely because no one else wanted the poisoned chalice, she’s a terrible representative and an even worse person. But if we reduce even the Prime Minister to “We Britons have always liked a girl on top” nudge wink, Carry On Westminster, what does that say about other women in professional positions?
Why would people not assume the same about female doctors, engineers, mechanics, or any other traditionally male dominated profession? This fosters a societal attitude of distrust of women’s abilities at all levels, implies that we cannot hold power in our own right, and as such is incredibly insulting – both to the millions of competent, hardworking women this attitude impacts on, and to the men who the writer seems to assume voted for someone to run the UK based purely on the fact they’d quite like to bang her.
This creeping sexism is massively disheartening to those of us trying to teach the young women in our lives that they have a world of opportunity ahead of them, and can be anything they choose. This kind of headline teaches them that’s not true. Whether they want it or not, regardless of how they present themselves, or what job they do, they will still have male fantasy projected onto them, and be viewed through the lens of their sexuality, not their achievements. They will not have a choice in the matter. Even if they become a navy trouser suit wearing, “Christian” Conservative Prime Minister, they will still be viewed as wank fodder by so called journalists who can’t imagine for a moment they may have achieved anything without the help of fawning men who fancy them. Why should our young women strive to be anything other than just sexy if that’s all they’ll be judged on anyway, whether they want to be or not?
I’ve no doubt the writer would say, if asked, that the article was meant to be complimentary, and they had no intention of undermining anyone’s authority or indeed implying anyone’s value lies in whether they are judged to be hot or not by the chattering classes. But this smacks of putting the woman in her place, reminding women that they are welcome at the top table only if men put them there, asserting power. It is, as one of the replies to my tweet said, so grubby.
This “article”, as far as I could see, wasn’t written in response to a survey or opinion poll. It wasn’t written to try and make sense of an unexpected bounce in the polls, or as a reaction to a fluff news piece. Perhaps the writer was asked to write a positive story on Theresa May and this rot was literally all they could think of. If so I’m not sure if I despair more at the competence of the PM, or the editor that thought this drivel was worth printing. I suspect though, that this casually misogynistic word salad was turned in with little thought and used to fill inches and sell ad space and generate outrage clicks.
Why then am I giving the piece further attention here? Because words matter. Headlines matter. And once upon a time, in a land that feels far, far away now, journalism used to matter. Our media is a direct influence on all levels of our society. Its about time that responsibility was taken more seriously.
I’m a heterosexual man. I always have been. I was a child in the 1970s and a teen in the 80s. I have made lots of mistakes in my life and my attitudes have evolved over time – I’m sure that despite my trying to live in a better way, I have attitudes and unconscious behaviours that are far from perfect in regards to equality. But I’ve never raped or assaulted women nor have I wanted to.
Rape, sexual assault and violence are an extreme end of a spectrum of disrespect and abuse and oppression of women. How can any objective person not see that? That there are links between everyday, humdrum inequalities and the kind of violence that the La Manada* case exemplifies.
* (CW: Extreme Sexual Violence)
I think that despite the failings of men like myself, society has changed dramatically in terms of how women are treated and it’s better for everyone that it has. I don’t know about calling myself a feminist – I don’t know if I qualify for that, and its not important, what is important is to support women who are feminists and who have seen that the achievement of equality is political. That feminism is and has been and will be crucial in achieving equality – equality still hasn’t been achieved but is a damn site nearer than it has been in history.
I would say to other heterosexual men, don’t listen to those whining little shits like Jordan Peterson and the other men who claim that feminism is their enemy. Support your feminist partners, mothers and daughters. Nobody has anything to gain by women “knowing their place” Not for them and certainly not for men. I find myself sickened by the lad culture, informed by pornography and entitlement. I find myself reading about men acting the victim – we are being emasculated, we are unsure of our role, we are oppressed by feminist ball-busters getting on at us for not doing things their way and I don’t recognise their complaints.
I don’t want to be saying #NotAllMen or trying to make out I’m a saint or anything. I just find that so many of the gains made over my 50 years on the planet are being attacked by a stupid but influential fringe of more or less alt right, conservatively minded, and often childish men who want women to be their fantasy objects, whether in a sexual sense or in terms of how we all interact.
The countries with the best levels of equality are also the happiest countries. Feminism is not just good for women it’s good for us too! And I know we have all met counter productive, overly ideological and annoyingly strident and judgemental feminists sometimes, but they are necessary too. Sometimes its just that they are telling truths we don’t like to hear, and like any other political position, the extreme fringes tend to shout louder than the rest – but sometimes the extreme fringe has a point too!
We heterosexual men should support and encourage the women in our lives to be political on their own behalf, even if it’s sometimes uncomfortable for us. And we need to not pretend we are victims, but take it like a man when we are criticised for behaviours that we sometimes don’t even see, but which are part of the construction of the inequality surrounding us.
There is a demo today, June 24th 2018, against the release of the La Manada rapists, at 6pm at the Spanish Consulate, North Castle Street, Edinburgh
Perhaps the first serious, scholarly book I ever read for pleasure, rather than as part of a syllabus, was The Female Eunuch. I can’t remember now how I came across a copy or who recommended it to me, but I most certainly can remember the experience of reading it; I had never thought about my place in the world, my life choices as a woman or my body in those terms before. I had never thought there was another way of thinking about these things, to be honest, and I knew instantly that this book was dangerous in my small ‘c’ conservative, large ‘C’ Catholic home. I read it mainly in the library when I was at college or when I was alone in my room, and certainly never dared to leave a copy lying around the house where my parents might find it. Apart from its primary message of female liberation, I was struck by the tone of self-acceptance, of sisterly encouragement and the remarkable idea that we as women can be ‘good enough’ entirely on our own terms. As the kind of teenager who was crippled with shyness, hamstrung by feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, and self-hatred, and who was sure she would never measure up to the standards of beauty displayed on TV and in magazines all around her, it was truly astonishing and empowering for me to read lines such as
“Status ought not to be measured by a woman’s ability to attract and snare a man.”
This book made me a feminist, without a doubt, but it also made me a kinder and more open-minded person too, I think; less likely to judge others by what passes for society’s standards relating to beauty, conduct, achievements or creativity, and more likely to seek out and listen to different and dissenting opinions from all sources.
Iconoclasm has always been one of Germaine Greer’s unique selling points, and of course a degree of this is necessary if any changes in society are ever to occur. For any change at all to happen, someone has to start by thinking the unthinkable, saying the previously unsayable and giving confident and articulate voice to unpopular opinions. Dr Greer has done this all her life, and while I have often disagreed with what she is saying, I have mostly admired her willingness to tackle difficult subjects. Over the years, it has been inspiring to hear her confident delivery of and navigation through problematic issues, particularly in a media world which hasn’t exactly been overburdened with eminent and articulate academic women. If I’ve ever previously thought that what she was saying was nonsense, well, so what? It would be a dull world if everyone cleaved to the same orthodoxy, wouldn’t it? And besides, where is the harm in listening to differing points of view? Surely that’s how we learn and progress?
But not this time. Not this time.
Speaking at the Hay literary festival this week, Dr Greer called for the lowering of punishment for rape, saying that it should be mostly viewed as “careless and insensitive” rather than as a violent crime. Warming to her theme, she said some rapes are just “lazy” and that the penalties for some rapes should be lowered. She suggested perhaps tattooing an ‘R’ on the hand, arm or cheek of rapists, and that community service would be an adequate and appropriate penalty. She also downplayed the trauma suffered by rape survivors, saying she doubted that the figures saying 70% of survivors suffer from PTSD are correct.
While it is worth bearing in mind that she was primarily speaking at the festival to promote her forthcoming book ‘On Rape’, and presumably believes that all publicity is good publicity, it is also likely that these views are included in the book itself. It is therefore almost certain that this conversation is a distillation of her real views, rather than just self-consciously controversial opinions dreamed up specifically to grab the headlines.
She is right, of course to start a discussion about how the current judicial system is failing when it comes to rape. Here are some 2017 England and Wales statistics illustrate the scale of the problem:
• 1 in 5 women aged 16 – 59 has experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16
• Only around 15% of those who experience sexual violence choose to report to the police
• Approximately 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped in England and Wales alone every year; that’s roughly 11 rapes (of adults alone) every hour
• Only 5.7% of reported rape cases end in a conviction for the perpetrator
• Around 80% of murders in the UK result in convictions
However, I cannot fathom how she thinks that the way to fix this appalling state of affairs is to minimise the crime itself, and trivialise the experience of the survivors. Blurring the lines like this is dangerous. Rape is never about bad manners, laziness or insensitivity. Rape is always an assault against and invasion of the person, and by ‘the person’ I of course mean your body. Someone physically invading your space in the most intimate way possible without your consent is an attack on your physical autonomy, whether accompanied by physical violence or not, and is always, always an abuse of power. It is worth repeating at this point that rape is always about power, and frequently about humiliation, and never about desire or lust alone. Men rape essentially because they can. Because they are stronger and more powerful than the survivor, and feel entitled to exercise that power to take what they want, when they want it.
The one characteristic shared by all the laughably few convicted rapists in this country (and presumably everywhere else) is denial. While some degree of remorse, and acceptance of culpability is necessary for most other prisoners before they can be considered for parole, this does not seem to happen with rapists. They can seemingly return to the town where their crime was committed on completion of their sentence, still denying that a) it was rape b) it was them or c) both of the above. This being the case, how on earth does Dr Greer think her remarks will be received by these men? Warmly, I would guess, as they will surely add her incendiary opinions as evidence to justify their warped narrative of events by adding d) it was no big deal anyway, so why the big fuss? to what passes for their worldview.
Dr Greer is a noted academic, a world-famous writer and broadcaster, and probably one of the world’s most celebrated feminists. She does not and never has claimed to speak for all women, but her position of prominence carries with it real responsibility for her words, and their message, and I cannot believe that she does not understand this. What she has said this week is dangerous, disingenuous, damaging, divisive and disgraceful; if it has been said with one eye on the headlines, it is also desperate. I never did believe in bra burning – neither did she, to be fair – and certainly would never advocate book burning, but that charring smell I can now scent is the bonfire of her reputation. She has forfeited the right to be taken seriously as a commentator by voicing these crass, insensitive and wrong-headed opinions, and I will never give credence or respect to a word she utters or writes again.
On May 25th, in the late evening, Ruth Davidson tweeted that at lunchtime she had been followed through the streets by a man shouting Indy slogans while filming her as his dogs barked.
As someone who has experienced my fair share of street harassment (I speak about it on this podcast, skip to 1hr 10mins in if you want to listen), my heart went out to Ruth. I’ve got four children myself and I well understand how vulnerable pregnancy makes you feel. Ruth’s account of events reads as an incredibly scary experience – being chased by someone yelling slogans at you while dogs bark at you must be terrifying . My mental image of a pregnant woman running away from someone shouting at her while dogs terrified her further was powerful, as I’m sure a skilled orator like Davidson was well aware.
And then the footage of the incident emerged. I’ll link it here so you can come to your own conclusions,
@RuthDavidsonMSP being economical with the truth again. Firstly, she described the individual as "a man". A bit rude considering she knows who he is. Also, he wasn't shouting anything of the kind. In fact all he did was ask a question of his MSP. Which she didn't answer! #Scotrefpic.twitter.com/XWTuXuLVaj
But what I see in that video is very far from the events described by Ruth in her tweet. I see a constituent break into a slight jog in order to catch up with their elected representative and ask them a valid question in a respectful tone. At no point was the questioner rude, abusive or even loud. At no point did they cross into Ruth’s personal space – they were never in arms reach of each other.
Granted, some people are afraid of dogs, but the dogs in question were small, and well under control -at no point do they approach Ms Davidson – and cannot be heard barking on the video at all. Also, Ruth Davidson doesn’t appear to have a debilitating dog phobia:
And she doesn’t appear to feel at all threatened by the questioner. She turns her back on him, and walks away at a relaxed pace, surrounded by her colleagues. He wasnt intruding on her leisure time, or following her into a medical appointment, or bothering her on a bus – she is very obviously out at work, doing her job as an MSP.
On parliament.uk, it states that an MP (so presumably also an MSP who is leader of the Scottish branch of her party) “generally try to meet as many people as possible” so that they can gain “further insight and context into issues they may discuss when they return to Westminster”
It seems only fair then, to assume that answering politely worded queries from probable constituents is a key component of an elected representatives job.
Some may say that demanding time and attention from women on the street is harassment. In the vast majority of cases I would wholeheartedly agree. Indeed I make that same argument on my podcast about street harassment. But Ruth Davidson was not a lone woman on the street being harassed and intimidated for attention. She was a woman at work, and being asked questions is her job.
So surprise surprise, Ruth’s telling porky pies. Why am I moved to write about it? It’s not exactly new behaviour.
Well, quite apart from the fact that if that man hadn’t been filming the encounter, he could’ve got into serious trouble – either through legal means or the knock on social effects of having people erroneously believe you are an abusive man who chases terrified pregnant women through the streets with your furiously barking dogs; a woman with power was prepared to sacrifice the quality of life of a stranger in order to present a narrative, and that’s both cruel and breathtakingly manipulative.
The actions of women like Ruth Davidson who exaggerate and fabricate encounters like this are harmful to women and girls everywhere, and perpetuate rape culture by giving weight to the idea that women aren’t to be believed when we talk about very real instances of street harassment and abuse that we face every single day.
Every single time we talk about harassment and abuse, women are shouted down by people who talk about false allegations that ruin lives. For a woman in the public eye to make a false allegation of harassment is unforgivable. To make one that is so easily disproven shows, at best, political naivety that makes her unfit for her post, at worst a malicious streak wide enough to throw a probable constituent under the bus while simultaneously trashing every woman who has been brave enough to talk about their experiences of #everydaysexism , street harassment and abuse. Frankly put, how dare she trivialize our experiences in this way?
In the UK we have a woefully low conviction rate for rape and sexual assault, we have a culture of blame surrounding the victims of street harassment, any displays of solidarity or supportive dialogues women try to set up online are swamped by MRAs and “egalitarians” sliding in to derail conversations with cries of “well, actually…” And “but what about..?”, gaslighting survivors of abuse and suggesting the majority of accusations of abuse and harrassment are false, and Ruth Davidson has just handed them yet another weapon to attack us with. So much for sisterhood.
As a survivor of abuse, an endurer of street harassment, the mother of a daughter, a feminist -I will always instinctively #BelieveHer. Which is why I’ve nothing but contempt for those in the public eye that muddy the waters by weaponising an image of vulnerability in the way Ruth Davidson did in that encounter and the subsequent, clearly well thought out tweet that followed some hours later.
Shame on any woman that would throw us all under the bus by polluting dialogue about our very real experiences of street abuse with spurious accusations like this. I can only conclude with what those before me have said – Ruth Davidson, You Ain’t No Feminist, Sis.
It’s not until you start paying attention you realise how ridiculous it is. £2 for a tampon out of a machine. You must have the right change – 2 individual pound coins or you’re goosed. And that’s one of the cheaper scenarios!
If you use the women’s toilets, have a look next time. Are the machines stocked? Are there machines at all? You’d be surprised at how often the answers no to either one of the two. A number of restaurants and bars don’t have sanitary product machines, but they have machines which vend condoms, vape refills, even disposable toothbrushes.
So why is this? Why is it you can always access toilet roll and soap free of charge and not sanitary products? Why is it that sanitary products are categorised as luxuries that you have to pay to vend, the same way you do if you’re after a condom, some shifty scented lube or a candyfloss vape refill?
It’s the price you pay for having ovaries. It’s that simple. The previously mentioned products are used either by both men and women or men specifically. Sanitary products are a necessity for anybody with a female reproductive system, just as essential as toilet roll and soap is to everybody! There is no reason we should have to pay for tampons, anywhere. In shops, in pubs, in public places, museums, dancings, stadiums, train stations – nowhere!
It’s this realisation combined with the current political momentum behind the concept of ‘period poverty’ which made me take my own action. I love football, and I love politics – so it seemed only right to mix the two! With football being a male-dominated sport, we thought it would be particularly significant if we were to increase the visibility of football fans in football grounds by pushing for free sanitary products provision in football stadia – starting with our own team, Celtic.
Two female season ticket holders Mikaela McKinley and Orlaith Duffy, along with myself started an online petition encouraging Celtic FC to make sanitary products free of charge in their stadium. With Celtic being the top of the league for such a considerable time, with the profit margins and reputations that they have – it seemed only natural that Celtic lead the way with this initiative.
It is no secret that sanitary products are expensive. It is the harrowing truth that not all women and girls can afford them, and many find themselves choosing between food or menstrual hygiene. This has to change. Work to increase accessibility to sanitary products in Parliament currently has a primary focus on schools, colleges and universities which is absolutely essential – ensuring that no women or girls have to miss out on education. However, we believe that social inclusion is just as important as education and free sanitary products should be provided in all public places so that females are not prevented from participating in social activities – an important factor in lifestyle, wellbeing and mental health.
This isn’t a problem specific to Celtic, it is across all teams and all leagues. However, it can’t be ignored that women have always been the minority gender in football grounds, although our numbers are increasing! Females are often overlooked in terms of football merchandise, the female representation in lower league football is not massive compared to young boys participation and we’re often considered to follow the sport for male validation. We hope that by starting this campaign, if it is a success, that we will be able to highlight our deserving female presence at football grounds.
We have faced considerable backlash, and a lot of the arguments bare great similarity. Women demanding their essential hygiene needs are met isn’t greedy – its an absolute human right. Nobody should have to leave a football match halfway through because their needs weren’t met, nobody should have to compromise opportunities to socialise because they cannot access sanitary products. Nobody should be made to feel ashamed about their body’s natural functions.
Even if this campaign is not a success, it has started a lot of debate and discussion – which is a victory in itself. Social attitudes need to change towards menstruation. Once it is a normalised subject, we can improve accessibility and ensure nobody’s day at school, trip to the swimming or matchday experience is compromised.