A last word on lad mags: The real reason they closed

by Rachel Bell on January 18, 2016

I was one of the first people to write about the disgustingness of lad mags, along with a brave blogger called Charliegirl, so, ten years later, I thought it fitting that I be one of the last. So FHM and Zoo have closed, joining Loaded, Nuts, Maxim and Front in the ‘end of the lad mags era.’ Generally, mainstream media have attributed this end to boys’ and men’s media habits moving online, where they can see porn for free. Yet lad mags had a strong online presence and even Nuts member of staff, Pete Cashmore admitted in the press that, ‘The official reason given was that the magazine was losing money hand over fist, but we believed this to be so much hooey.’ Attribution should in fact be directed to the human rights activists who campaigned from the moment lad mags appeared on the bottom shelf next to Bob the Builder magazine.

lads mags

The years of campaigning started soon after the founding of Object, a human rights organisation set up in 2006 to challenge the sexual objectification of women and the normalisation of the porn and sex industries, and culminated in Lose the Lad Mags, a joint campaign from Object and UK Feminista. Along with Mumsnet, these organisations gave voice to the girls, women, men and incredulous parents who saw the harm of lad mags. Not only did lad mags tell a generation that being a sexist was funny, cool and the right of ‘real men’, they targeted children. Nuts and Zoo were sold at pocket money prices, around 60p, along with the sweets at the tills of supermarkets, garages or on the bottom shelf with coverlines ‘Incredible new Batmobile’ and ‘Amazing photos of babes getting together’ side by side (Nuts, 2005). It’s the end of lad mags because of this campaign to get them off the lucrative bottom shelf of every supermarket and newsagent in Britain, off the counter and off the endless, invasive window displays of WH Smith – and displayed like all other porn – covered or on the top shelf. As Pete Cashmore also recognised, ‘It was obvious we’d become more trouble than we were worth.’

Photo: Guy Bell

Photo: Guy Bell

Object began by going straight to parliament. They met with the Home office and Department of Culture, Media and Sport and got an MP to raise a debate on lad mags in Parliament. A motion passed, calling for a ‘socially responsible regulation of the press’. Object got the National Federation of Retail Newsagents to issue new guidelines (voluntary) on ‘how lad mags should be displayed to avoid customer complaints.’ Years of campaign work followed, including conga-ing down the aisles of Tesco in pyjamas, asking why the chain banned shoppers in pyjamas as ‘offensive’ but continued to stock soft porn. Men and children joined in the activism and contributed to gains made – the Co-op put an age restriction on lad mags following a petition from Damian Carnell of Nottinghamshire Domestic Violence Forum, who took issue with the police that pornographic material was being sold to boys. When UK Feminista joined Object to forge the Lose the Lad Mags campaign, supermarkets then faced the threat of legal challenge – with their sale of lad mags breaching sexual discrimination laws and supermarkets own ‘no porn’ policies. Finally, the mighty Mumsnet came aboard and supermarkets put their soft porn on the top shelf.

Object succeeded by first getting MPs and the public to wake up to the damaging content of lad mags. Lad mags framed their sexism as ‘loving women’. Zoo loved them so much that they encouraged readers to send in pics of their girlfriends’ tits for assessment to see which one deserved to win a boob job. They loved them so much they made jokes about exploiting prostituted and trafficked women ‘fresh off the boat’. Lad mags defended their sexism by saying, ‘We’re not porn’ but not showing the inside of a vagina or a nipple on the cover was not the point. Like porn they commodified women, telling men that women exist solely for their sexual gratification. Interviews with girls focused on sex acts common to porn, hardcore porn ads ran on the back pages and in, Zoo’s case, a Porn Dictionary including B for Bukkake, taught young men how they could gang together and ejaculate on a woman’s face. FHM online helpfully linked to a video. Photo shoots borrowed from hardcore porn, such as FHM’s cover of Paris Hilton bound naked in microphone lead. Boys could go to the magazine’s websites and watch videos of girls stripping and lapdancing. One Zoo video was set up as if the girl was being stalked as she undressed at home, another showed a girl being severely frightened in a ‘prank’. Lad mags totally normalised and promoted the use of the porn and sex industries. In essence, they groomed boys and men to become johns. Object and UK Feminista were supported by trade unions, equality groups, 18 top lawyers and the End Violence Against Women Coalition, and understood how our culture’s blanket sexual objectification of women undermines equality and feeds into male violence against women. As Dr. Sasha Rakoff who set up Object says, ‘Rape, sexual assault, cat calling, domestic violence, teen relationship abuse, it all happens because of attitudes.’

Lad mags may be gone, page 3 may be gone in print but The Sport, which features pornographic pictures of women on almost every page, is sold as a ‘newspaper’. It equates tits and ass with sport. Object and No More Page 3 may be gone but
Not Buying It have launched to continue the fight against sexist media. As well as a crisis sexual violence against women across our universities, these words from John Stoltenberg, a founder of Men Can Stop Rape, outline what lad mags gave a generation of boys: ‘Lads’ magazines have a low estimation of their readers. They promote self-loathing, and the notion that for them to feel better they have to have power over women.’


Lad mags said they empowered women by giving ‘real girls’ their stamp of approval for being hot enough. True empowerment comes from joining a feminist campaign, changing attitudes, changing the law and keeping feminist history alive.

Further reading:

Lose the lad mags campaign timeline of events 

I’m beginning to think we need to find our idols elsewhere

by Rachel Bell on January 13, 2016

After a youth spent with Jagger and Warhol, Jerry Hall is marrying patriarchal conservatism made flesh, Rupert Murdoch. Of course Jerry’s ex, Mick Jagger, IS the establishment too, accepting his knighthood whereas David Bowie, always the subversive outsider, wanted nothing to do with it. The death of a great idol, David Bowie, and the marriage announcement from Jerry Hall, got me thinking how we really need to find our idols elsewhere. One Direction, today’s equivalent to The Beatles, come from the conveyor belt of manufactured pop, The X-Factor. Women rewarded with idol status in music tend to be those selling commercial sexual empowerment. Taylor Swift and Adele stand out in an identikit landscape where Beyoncé, Rhianna and Miley Cyrus  – and their appropriation of the porn and sex industries – are considered edgy. Lady GaGa may challenge but it’s debatable whether she’d be a star if she hadn’t got her kit off so much. See Madonna. Kate Moss is called an idol because she is an extremely popular model. And some women love her style. I like the way she gets away with partying like a man, but stripping for Pirelli and Playboy and keeping her mouth shut isn’t what my kind of idol looks like. Kim Kardashian is seen as an idol for her beauty, fortune and mastery of digital age self-promotion. Girls and young women have been sold sexism as sexual liberation, and the message that sexual empowerment is the only type of empowerment worth having. As Carrie Fisher tweeted when haters criticised her for not ageing well – youth and beauty are not accomplishments.

Many men idolise men who have made lots of money. Men and boys treat footballers as idols but unless the footballers are using their position to do something useful – Cristiano Ronaldo has been named ‘most charitable athlete’ while David Beckham just got an award for his effort for UNICEF – this is a pathetic indictment of what masses of men value. Footballers could change the world by speaking out against sexism and homophobia in football, but they don’t. Sportswomen are worthy idols because they are breaking down barriers and showing girls and women that there are alternatives to being celebrated for being hot.

Bowie was an idol for me because he refused male stereotypes, was handsome, elegant and made arresting music like Five years. I idolised Micheal Stipe for the same reasons. For my muso friend Janey, it’s always Nick Cave. Our idols were outsiders. Of course, contemporary music is full of intriguing characters with something to say but unlike Bowie, they tend to stay on the edges of the mainstream. Jeremy Corbyn’s swift rise showed there is a movement of youth hungry for anti-establishment figures. Now I admire plenty of women who are pretty and famous – Jennifer Lawrence, Natalie Dormer, Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler – but it’s their words and deeds, sometimes simply the roles they choose and refuse, that make them admirable. But mostly, I find my idols elsewhere. I admire the women who fight for the right of all women to be seen as human. Human rights activists like Finn MacKay, whose speeches showed my younger self that the politics of feminism touches everything – it is anti racism, it is anti war, it is anti poverty, anti Austerity, anti male violence, pro-abortion rights, pro affordable housing, pro environment and so much more. A radical feminist, Finn MacKay, brought Reclaim the Night marches back and is an example of truly owning your own voice: her speeches fire passion and fight, create bonds, mobilise, motivate and move to tears.

Hillary Clinton is an idol of mine for telling the world that ‘Women’s rights are human rights are womens’s rights’, so too is Julie Bindel, Rachel Moran, Denise Marshall, now deceased, and Karen Ingala Smith, just a few of the many devoted to the struggle of ending male violence against women through prostitution, rape and domestic violence. Those who inspire me are outsiders challenging the status quo, such as Sisters Uncut, Southall Black Sisters and Jean Hatchet, using Twitter to take on sexism and rape culture in football. The feminist movement, like many political movements, is filled with courageous women taking on the most controversial stances – anti-porn, women mattering more than a football – in the face of rape threats, death threats and daily abuse. I think many will agree that activists and writers such as Malala Yousafzai and Nawal El Saadawi are indeed idols. With David Bowie gone and idols from Sir Mick Jagger and Sir Paul McCartney embracing the establishment, there’s another chum of Any Warhol who remains one of the true cool cat’s of that era: Bianca Jagger, President and Chief Executive of the Biana Jagger Human Rights Foundation. As Emmeline Pankhurst said, ‘I’d rather be a rebel than a slave.’

Challenge Porn on International Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women

by Rachel Bell on December 15, 2015

Sentencing the murderer of teenager Becky Watts, the judge, Mr Justice Dingemans, broke down and cried. The sixteen year old’s step brother, Nathan Matthews, inflicted over 40 injuries on the school girl and dismembered her body. November 25 is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. In court, Matthews confessed to watching porn on a near-daily basis and the jury learned of a video about the rape of a teenage girl found on his laptop. The judge flagged up Matthews’ obsession with ‘borderline legal’ pornography showing ‘petite teenage girls’ with older men. How many more girls and women must suffer rape and die before society recognises porn as a form of male violence against women? Culture Reframed is leading the way. It the first public health promotion NGO to recognise and address sexually violent pornography as the public health crisis of the digital age.

Whenever I write about the harm of porn, at least one man will send comments demanding evidence that links porn with sexual violence. They want a study, they want facts and figures. There are plenty of cases around the world in which men have raped and murdered women in attacks that mirror the pornographic images they were viewing beforehand. In one case it was a boy raping his little sister. How many girls and women must suffer and die before such men will desist with their aggressive denial? The people mending the broken bodies and minds of children and women at the NSPCC, at Rape Crisis and any organisation supporting victims of sexual violence don’t demand such stats. They have the human stories in front of them. Still, the NSPCC have collected evidence of porn’s impact on young people. More than four in 10 girls aged 13-17 in England say they have been coerced into sex acts, according to one of the largest European polls on teenage sexual experience. Research from the Universities of Bristol and Central Lancashire found that a fifth of girls had suffered violence or intimidation from their teenage boyfriends, a high proportion of whom regularly viewed pornography, with one in five boys harbouring ‘extremely negative attitudes towards women.’

In the absence of up-to-date Sex and Relationships Education, porn is where kids go to learn about sex. In porn, anal sex is the norm. Many other punishing acts are the norm so if you want to know what the 1 in 10 kids aged 12/13 who think they many be addicted to porn are watching, read my post. Allison Pearson wrote about what pornography is doing to girls in The Telegraph this year. In her article, Pornography has changed the landscape of adolescence beyond all recognition, she quoted a GP treating growing numbers of girls presenting as incontinent and with internal injuries caused by frequent anal sex, participated in because ‘a boy expected her to.’ This backs up another study of British teenagers which found that their first experience of anal sex occurred within a relationship yet was ‘rarely under circumstances of mutual exploration or sexual pleasure.’ Science teacher Carol Perry, who set up theCHAT.org.uk to provide Sex and Relationships education, says, ‘Porn sex is a phrase coined by teenage girls referring to non-intimate/loving, aggressive, all about the boy sex that the girls commonly felt pressured to have. theCHAT campaigns to raise aspirations for girls and all young people to have good, mutually pleasurable communicative sex.

Even without the injuries, trauma, rape and deaths of girls and women at the hands of porn-addicted boys and men, the existence of porn that eroticises violence against girls and women is enough. Why does our society in which one in three women will be a victim of sexual violence at the hands of men in her lifetime do so little to challenge it? To challenge an industry bigger than Hollywood in which 90% of top watched rented scenes have physical or verbal abuse towards the woman? To challenge the eroticisation of child rape within the family? Family abuse is ubiquitous in porn with narratives such as First Time With Daddy. When I open Pornhub, the free and accessible site where the UK’s 12 year old boys go (the typical age a boy will look for porn) these are the videos immediately available: Dad wakes up step daughter in bed; teen slut face fucked so hard she drools; Young Blonde Seduces Step-brother. Categories along the bottom include: 18 and abused; College, Young Teen, Virgin and Exxxtra Small Teens. Becky Watts was murdered by her step brother.

In her lectures, and in her book and film Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality, the internationally acclaimed scholar, author and activist, Gail Dines, highlights how porn grooms boys, with examples like this promotional copy for Anally Ripped Whores: Do you know what we say to things like romance and foreplay? We say fuck off. We take gorgeous young bitches and do what every man would like to do.

The pornographers tell the aroused, ashamed and possibly traumatised boy what real men want and do. Porn grooms boys to see violence and power over women as a badge of real manhood. Beeban Kidron’s documentary, InRealLife, enters the world of porn-addicted 15 year old Ryan, who recognises with some sadness that he is unable to see girls as human. They are just bodies. ‘I find now it’s so hard for me to actually feel a connection for a girl,’ Ryan says. Porn harms boys and men too.

To save the lives of women and girls, the solution must lie with educating boys and young men about what it means to be a man. I suggest the Scouts start doing equivalent good work as Girlguiding UK, which produces the largest annual survey of girls’ attitudes and encourages them to reach their full potential. The Scouts could start by promoting masculinity as caring and raise awareness of gender stereotyping. I suggest Pornland is on the national curriculum, as part of compulsory age-appropriate Sex and Relationships Education that challenges porn. According to The Guardian, InRealLife is ‘a film no parent and no teenager should miss.’ Culture Reframed is a multi-disciplinary team of academics and experts developing online education for parents, health professionals and educators to address the role of pornography in sexual violence, unhealthy relationships, Internet addiction, depression and other health problems. 25 November is followed by 16 days of activism. Act.

Unreported rapes of teen girls show smashing sexism and rape myths is essential in school

by Rachel Bell on November 10, 2015

This week The Children’s Society report finds that thousands of sex crimes against 16 and 17 year old girls in England and Wales were unreported last year. With only 1 in 4 cases against children leading to a conviction and a 5.3% conviction rate for rape in the UK, girls, understandably have little faith in the criminal justice system. Girls do not report because of fear of reliving their trauma, the culture of shame, going to court, being judged, fearing the perpetrator and not being believed. But BBCThree’s Sex on Trial clearly demonstrated other deep-rooted factors at play.

Uncertainty about what constitutes rape, sexual exploitation, a crime and consent coupled with a culture of victim blaming is behind the staggering extent of underreporting. The programme showed just how skewed sympathy is towards the perpetrator, with many participants more concerned for the rapist’s self-inflicted ‘ruined’ life (there was a great faith in British justice from participants) than for the female victim. Rape myths are flourishing as participants seemed to expect the victim to fight off the rapist, blaming her for having a previous relationship with him. The Children’s Society report finds that not wanting the perpetrator punished is another reason for non-reporting and this down-playing of rape and excusing of rapists was all too apparent in Sex on Trial. Disturbingly, many female participants disclosed their own unreported experiences of sexual violence on the programme, which gave minimal air-time to the impact of rape. The formal complaint made to BBCThree by campaigning organisation Everyday Victim Blaming is an insight into the rape myths that feed into underreporting and the shamefully low conviction rate.

While society and the law must address why girls’ are not reporting, the question we must ask is what the hell is going on with boys and men? Where does this sense of entitlement to girls and women’s bodies come from? UK Feminista, an organisation that supports people to campaign for a world in which women and men are equal, are developing a project called Schools Against Sexism. This includes workshops with pupils, including giving them the tools to campaign themselves, and training and resources for teachers and parents. The project includes supporting schools to implement a whole school approach to tackling violence against girls including sexual bullying, harassment, relationship abuse, sexting and pornography. This work adds to the End Violence Against Women Schools Safe 4 Girls campaign and the amazing work in schools from charity, Tender.

UK Feminista logo

UK Feminista’s Sophie Bennett says. ‘Demand for workshops and teacher training has been huge. The teachers we meet tell us they are desperate for support to challenge sexism in the classroom. Time and time again, girls and boys tell us they feel pressure to look, think and behave according to harmful gender stereotypes. School is a key site where sexism is experienced and sexist attitudes develop, but it’s also a key site for change.’ The organisation is also building a body of research on the state of sexism in schools. A conversation with a male teacher and consultant living on my street this morning gives a glimpse into how bad it is. He tells me that boys routinely call girls ‘bitch’ and ‘gash’, he recalls a male pupil simulating sex behind a female teacher as she bent over, and of cases of unpunished sexual assault and alleged rape. Then he tells me about catching a twelve year old watching bestiality porn. ‘Do you see a lot of porn on boys’ mobiles in the playground?’ I asked. ‘Of course.’ he replied. ‘They are swamped by it.’ And as Sophie Bennett of UK Feminista says, ‘Porn eroticises non-consent.’

Last month, the Women’s Equality Party launched their first policies and pledged to make age-appropriate Relationships Education – including on sexual consent – compulsory. WEP say, ‘It is reckless and cruel to continue to ask our children to navigate the complexities of sexting, revenge porn and sexual consent with so little support.’ The WEP want to see schools addressing entrenched ideas about gender, help boys and girls challenge what they see in the media, teach mutual respect in relationships and show boys as well as girls that caring for others does not make you weak. Of the 85,000 girls and women raped and 400,000 sexually assaulted each year, only 15% report it to the police. A quarter of these reports are not even recorded as crimes. Unreported crimes of sexual violence means unpunished perpetrators, free to rape again. And they will. We need to talk about rape.

Men! Quit Being Freaked by Feminism and Join its Male Allies

by Rachel Bell on October 10, 2015

On 24 and 25 October I will be at the Feminism in London conference, the Chair of which has received rape threats, death threats and threats to her family. An end to male violence against women is one of the key priorities that has energised the fourth wave of feminism, why this conference exists and has grown to host internationally acclaimed speakers from Shami Chakrabarti to Nawal El Saadawi. Feminists have struggled to end male violence pretty much on their own. When I say feminists I mean the women and girls who are awake to this global pandemic that the media treat as ‘unrelated’ incidents. I mean women who never want to see another teenage girl raped by her boyfriend, wives battered by their husbands, women fleeing stalking ex-partners who want them dead. I mean Rape Crisis, women’s charities and refuges, women campaigning for Sex and Relationships education while hardcore porn fills the gap, women who are academics, artists and activists. We work our asses off through the pain as many of us have been broken by male violence. Yet isn’t this all rather strange? Male violence is a problem with men so why is it side-lined as a women’s issue? Where are the men standing by us? Where are the community voices speaking out against the violent men who kill two women a week and leave their children motherless? At this year’s Feminism in London, there is a line-up of workshops run by men has under the umbrella title Male Allies.


Feminism in London honours the suffragettes with the colours white, purple and green

Feminism in London honours the suffragettes with the colours white, purple and green

The White Ribbon campaign get men involved in ending sexual violence, often getting sports teams to pledge. White Ribbon UK, headed up by Chris Green, a man who for whom no question is too small, have always been a strong presence at the conference. This year they’re running a workshop on Gender and the Arts, debating how limiting, stereotypical film roles for women and a minority of women directors influence gender-based violence. Men, Sexism and Patriarchy, run by the Men’s Development Network, will address the unaware sexism men carry, identify how Patriarchy benefits and deficits men, and show men how to stop being sexist. Engaging Men in Feminism looks at the stereotypes and misconceptions underlying modern masculinity. Participants will leave knowing how to talk to the boys and men in their lives about the pressures to act in certain ways and how to express their whole selves. This is run by the Great Men project, set up by The Great Initiative. The Great Men team have delivered school workshops on gender equality, masculinity and violence prevention to over 3000 teenage boys since the project began two years ago. Another workshop, Men as Carers, asks if men as fathers can contribute to their well-being and women’s empowerment, if boys need male role models to grow into caring, non-violent adults.

David Brockwell, Great Men Project Manager

David Brockway, Great Men Project Manager

Since the first Feminism in London conference in 2008, I’ve noticed the smattering of men in the audience grow. Could some of the twenty-somethings simply be clued up to where all the coolest, smartest girls go? Last year I decided to ask. I met Clive Eley, who runs the Good Lad Workshop in universities, teaching young men about positive masculinity and consent in reaction to Lad Culture and the rape crisis on campus. Good Lad Workshop joins international male-led campaigns such as HeForShe, A Call To Men and the long-standing US organisation Men Can Stop Rape. And while Twitter has brought a tidal wave of male violence and silencing tactics on women, it has allowed feminist men like @mydaughtersarmy to speak out with us.

November 25th is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Why do we need it? The website has all the sorry statistics. The fact that 1 in 3 girls and women will experience some form of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime is a cause and consequence of inequality. This is a problem with ordinary men, powerful men, famous men, with the school boys accountable for 5500 sexual assaults including 600 rapes in the last three years, as revealed by a BBC Freedom of Information investigation last month. So what every man should be asking is this: ‘What can I do to help end violence against women?’ If men are bystanders to sexism and other men’s violence, we fuel the culture in which it thrives. Ending male violence is the feminist issue that men can really help with, and really make a difference to.

You can start simple and you can start today. Hear the gobby one in your beer crowd throw about some sexist banter? Call him up on it. If he’s a dad, ask him if he wants his son to grow up believing he’s better than his mother, if he wants his daughter to grow up in a world where no matter what she achieves, she doesn’t matter unless she’s hot. Challenging everyday sexism puts you in good company: Ryan Gosling, Daniel Radcliffe, John Goodman, Byron Hurt. Question why Punishtube exists. Question why addiction to the porn and sex industries is the third biggest cause of debt among men. Listen to women. Ask a woman close to you what she does to guard against male violence every day. Talk to boys and young men about what it means to be a man. Start challenging the hyper-masculine culture of hip hop, of the World Wrestling Federation, of war, the sexism and homophobia of football, the tough guy stereotypes in video games. Show boys that they are allowed to be kind, caring, gentle, sensitive, to like My Little Pony. Allow them their full humanity. Don’t let anyone get away with saying ‘Like a girl’ in a derogatory way.

Look up the organisations above to get ideas to help. Order The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help by Jackson Katz and read his 10 Things Men Can Do To Prevent Gender Violence right now. Going to Feminism in London will awaken and motivate the proactive, good man in you. It will disprove beliefs about ‘angry feminists’. We are passionate. We want a fair world. We want a safe world. This is a conference to fuel your intellect, fire your humanity. I’m serious. You’ll find guys just like you there.

For further insights on how to stop being freaked out by feminism, read this on being a male ally or feminist dad.

Speak up like a woman

by Rachel Bell on September 27, 2015

I had never heard of the BBC broadcaster Barbara Sturgeon and now I want to be one of the girlfriends who do karaoke with her, and I’ve never cared much for that. This week I met Barbara as she trained a group of women, including me, in public speaking. We are to become a group of Ambassadors for the Oasis charity, a domestic abuse service based in Margate. Barbara is funny. She has an intelligent, easy wit and humour. She made us feel safe. She made us laugh out loud. This confident speaker with more than twenty years experience persuaded us to use a microphone and really own our voices. All the women in the group felt passionately about ending male violence against women and girls. Some appeared wonderfully confident at public speaking already. Others less so. Some had experienced some form of male sexual violence – unsurprising since the odds are 1 in every 3 women.

Giving a woman the confidence to use her voice is a beautiful feminist act – a beautiful womanist act. As girls, we speak up less in a classroom with boys. Boys can get more attention from teachers and their presence and behaviour can intimidate girls. In the workplace we watch as men’s opinions win more recognition, they dominate discussions and talk over us. In social situations, we sigh as they talk over us some more, talk louder and the things we say disappear. We retreat from challenging things in public or being impolite to those who annoy us when we see how those that do are regarded as unfeminine, weird or bolshy. In her book, Do It Like A Woman, Caroline Criado Perez recalls tempering her personality at school, saying, ‘… I was talking and the boys were talking – but the other girls were more or less silent…it came to me in a flash that the boys didn’t like that I was as loud as they were. Somehow, even at the age of eleven, I knew that it mattered what boys thought of me.’ Do It Like A Woman interprets the gender dynamics of our public voices from school to the workplace, including conferences where men outnumber women. Following a talk on astronomy, attended by one woman for every 15 men, astrophysicist Sara Seager recalls, ‘I was the only woman who asked a question.’

Domestic violence, that can begin with controlling words and put-downs, serves to strip us of our sense of self, to destroy our identities. Many women have described rape as murder of the mind. Men’s desire to silence us leads them to kill two women every week in England and Wales. On Twitter, men try to silence us with threats of rape, torture and fatal violence. So helping women’s voices to rise up is deeply symbolic. And we owe it to the collective of women to tell our stories, to demand our human rights and speak for those who cannot.

For any women in the group who have experienced male violence, becoming an Oasis ambassador can transform suffering and give it meaning. The opportunity to speak up about male violence against women can turn their intimacy with pain and anger into a force for good, purpose and change. The groundbreaking Amina Scheme gave women this rare opportunity. The brainchild of the brilliant Denise Marshall, the recently deceased chief executive of the charity Eaves for Women, it gave survivors of male violence the chance to use their experience to peer support other victims. To truly comprehend women’s suffering is their strength, their power. Denise Marshall saw this, she saw beyond the victim, she saw a valuable resource, she saw women who know a hell of a lot, women who could educate the police force, the justice system, the government about tackling men’s violence. Thank you Oasis and Barbara Sturgeon for giving women a voice.




Rape in schools and universities is killing girls’ education

by Rachel Bell on September 8, 2015

In the last decade I’ve heard myself and other feminists refer to our culture as a ticking time bomb. We call our culture ‘rape culture’ because the conditions for rape are facilitated through the sexualisation of girls, a narrow masculinity that tells boys that violence and power over women is the way to be a real man, and victim blaming. The backdrop is a popular culture that takes its cue from the porn and sex industries. The publication yesterday of a BBC Freedom of Information investigation that reveals more than 5,500 alleged sex offences in UK schools were reported to police in the last three years, including more than 600 rapes, signals that the bomb has exploded. Daily existence is life threatening if you are a girl or a woman. While 1 in 3 women and girls experience male sexual violence and two women a week are killed by their boyfriends or exes, this war on women never makes the news. Sure, this week we also hear that the Government has ordered an inquiry into male violence against women at universities, but like the media, it fails to recognise male violence as endemic, instead presenting it as unconnected random acts.

The feminist movement and women’s services knew what was coming. Young men who are disrespecting, harassing and raping their female peers at universities across the country today grew up when lad mags reigned with their ‘ironic’ sexism, extolling and advertising hardcore porn. They grew up with New Labour who allowed lap dancing clubs to proliferate on the high street, and with mainstream hip hop artists who glamorise being a punter and a pimp. For the generation now in education the horse has bolted. Young boys and men think its fucking funny to rape bitches and ho’s. Total sexual objectification of women and gender stereotyping has led them to believe they have rights to women’s bodies. Blanket inaction by successive governments to address male violence against women – the UK has yet to ratify the Istanbul Convention and austerity cuts hit women and women’s services the hardest – has left Britain in rape crisis. Another generation of girls are paying the price. The cost is life-long. Sexual harassment and rape from primary school through to campus are devastating women’s education, their mental health, their career opportunities, their capacity to participate in life.

While the government fail to make SRE (Sex and Relationships Education) compulsory from primary age, including a programme to arm them against the onslaught of porn, boys are drip fed punishing ‘sex’ on Pornhub where they can immediately go to ‘extreme’ Punishtube. Mainstream porn is hardcore and if you read or watch Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked our Sexuality by Gail Dines you will learn that more than 80% eroticises sexual violence. In mainstream porn, family abuse is eroticised, rape of school girls is eroticised, racism is eroticised and gang rape, multiple men pissing on a woman, cuming in her eyes, stretching her anus with double penetration, holding her throat with both hands and making her gag til her mascara streams is as everyday and accessible as a packet of Quavers and a can of coke. Sexual bullying in schools has long been rife with girls being called ‘slags’, ‘slappers’ and suffering unwanted groping. This level of sexual bullying is so completetly normal it goes unnoticed, unmentioned. Now male pupils are assaulting and raping. The 600 rapes will be the tip of the iceberg, the ones we hear about. The NSPCC know that hardcore porn is the fuel. The End Violence Against Women Coalition describe this reality as a ‘national emergency’. Gail Dines and feminist organisations including Stop Porn Culture are working to halt the exploitative billion dollar porn industry. Men’s organisations such as Men Can Stop Rape, White Ribbon Campaign and The Good Lad are trying to give boys and men their sexuality, their humanity, back. Some feminists also refer to our culture as like The Matrix. It’s time to take the red pill. It’s time to be awake to the hell around you. Only when you are awake can you fight back.

The Guardian reports on the rise of sexual assualts across schools

Read about misogyny freshers face and why the government inquiry into lad culture at universities is too late

Petition for compulsory SRE and read response from End Violence Against Women Coalition

Oasis Domestic Abuse Service and Tender can bring healthy relationships education to your school or college

The Chat was set up by a Science teacher to address sexualisation, pornography and male sexual violence in schools and universities


Kids day in: Dreamland’s Octopus Garden

by Rachel Bell on July 6, 2015

The coolness of Dreamland just keeps on coming as me and my Pocket Rocket, who is four, discovered at the Octopus Garden today. People are calling this place a soft play, but there’s so much more to this indoor kids play area – which all made me think: Why don’t other kids play areas ever think of this?

Octopus G entrance

‘Hello you guys, have you been to Octopus Garden before?!’ Vicky leans over the front desk to address the kids enthusiastically, while we all gawp up at the big octopus above. Immediately the kids are engaged and we all feel welcome. £3.50 later and you’re met with huge tree trunks with faces, a row of pastel-painted beach huts, wonderful wall art, everywhere, and smiling staff. Most are women in forties headscarves and turned up T-shirt sleeves, as is the Dreamland staff dresscode. A woman asks the kids if they want to be shown around and I say ‘Yes we do!’ loudly for everyone because the place has so many intriguing doorways and rooms and nooks and crannies and everything to fire up a child’s imaginative play.

Octopus G booth

We start with the circus tent where the woman encourages the kids to try some circus tricks. The kids are four so they’re willing but it’s not a quick fix and we’re all excited to take everything else in. Neave bounds into the dressing-up room of every child’s dreams and another member of staff helps her to find an outfit while the rest of us explore Mini Margate, a mock up of a shopping street.

Octopus G sandpit

‘And this is where you can fix things!’ the nice woman says and I say, ‘Wow, power tools!’ as my son and his friend grab plastic drills and plonk themselves on vehicles. Opposite is a grocery store and the boys embrace the role play with gusto, while the nice woman joins in and asks to buy a can of tuna. There’s a mini gallery with chalkboards and chalk to create your own work of art, a deep-sea themed baby soft play area, and two fantastic sand pits complete with giant sandcastle doorways to make house or hide in. The magically lit beach huts draw you in, offering booths to eat in, colour in or chill in the mini library.

Octopus G staff play

‘Come and do a puppet show for Mummy Rachel and Mummy Natalie!’ I say and sit down on the row of ornate wrought-iron benches. Seating is plenty here. The kids give it 100% with the hand-puppets inside the recreation of a Punch & Judy box – there are chests full of goodies all around it seems – but someone spies the tube slide and they charge off to climb inside the main soft play. Meanwhile I find a nice member of staff playing ball with Neave, who is standing atop a Tellytubbie hill with meadows painted behind, wearing a clown ensemble. Neave boots the ball through a pop-up tunnel and the woman throws it back.

Octopus G tree

‘It’s so nice that there are so many staff around and you actually play with the kids,’ I say. She woman tells me how great it is to get paid to play with kids and it does feel genuine because the kids are so very eager and alive with excitement. I mention how brilliant it is that Dreamland has created so many jobs for local people and the woman says what I feel is on everyone’s mind when they come to Dreamland, Margate.  ‘There’s this feeling of hope’.

Octopus G puppetshow

The staff aren’t there to look after the kids but when you have a babe in arms who needs a feed or nappy change and a toddler who runs, this sort of friendly help is like gold dust. Another employee is planting pretend plants in the allotment area. She tells me that the large empty ‘greenhouse’ will soon be used to show kids how to pot real plants to adorn the gardens and beds in Dreamland. Did I mention the cakes? They looked so good I took a photo. This is newsworthy because aside from the Cup Cake café and Turner Contemporary, good homemade cake is pretty hard to pin down in this town. I mean, they have orange and polenta. The sandwiches look like the sort you can buy in the V&A café, they sell yoyo’s and fresh fruit pots and there are no fizzy drinks. This is a Mumsnet kinda place. This is the kind of thing DFLs with babies like me miss in Thanet. Helter Skelter soft play in Broadstairs had been saving us all with its sideline of baby sensory and musical toddler classes, it’s focus on mums by offering decent food and a first name terms friendly environment. Now the Octopus Garden gives us another exciting option, and another haven through the long seaside winters.

Octopus G cakes

Of course, Margate, becoming known as Shoreditch-on-Sea, is on its course into London level café culture. Dreamland will speed up the development that the Turner and the creative community have begun. I yak away to the woman at the till about how it’s clear a lot of thought has gone into the Octopus Garden so that parents get something out of it too. The childminder I’m with has one gripe though. ‘It’s wonderful but the one thing I’ll say is that you can’t see kids. There are so many places they could be.’

True, we parents like to use indoor play areas as an opportunity to sit and have a chat as these opportunities are rare, but there’s a joy about watching your kids let themselves go in this place that you wouldn’t want to miss.

Dreamland digested

by Rachel Bell on June 23, 2015

Dreamland entrance

Dreamland is a candy-coloured, retro fusion of theme park and cool place to hang out with quirky festival sideshows thrown in. Environmental pleasure counts as much as the rides as the pastel graphics and glorious attention to every little detail, such as the Rachel Wilberforce light installation created from original glass Dreamland neons, charm and delight.

Wall of Death

The Wall of Death left me gobsmacked, in a good way, which never happens. He high-rides that rickety vintage motorbike side-saddle, swinging his legs casually, with no hands. Mouths were wide open in disbelief all around me. Even the teenagers. The park has done a thoughtful job catering for littler kids, with toddler-freindly rides that ten year olds could still enjoy and free space to muck about on the astro-turfed playland while parents hang back and drink tea. It was in the little kids area that my boys, age six and four, got their fastest laughs, thanks to the crew’s mean spinning on the teacups. The camp entertainment kept me smiling while I was queuing. Those guys look like they’ve finally landed the jobs they were born for. When I was obliged to attend press trips to Disney theme parks, my smiles were all fake. Dreamland has got soul already. Food is many a step up from the junk on offer at Disney World and the same can be said for the covetable souvenirs.

Dreamland info point

This is no Alton Towers or Thorpe Park and I say woo-hoo!  The entire Dreamland project cost the same as one modern ride there. Dare-you rides and tat are replaced with nostalgia and novelty with a fresh twist. So what if some rides are yet to open and the staff are getting to grips with putting on wristbands, it’s day two – cut them some slack. They’re all super enthusiastic and friendly and creating this artful space of what looks set to be a community and cultural hub so swiftly is an incredible feat. I was compelled to write this review after reading the disappointed negativity on Trip Advisor.

Me&Indy Dreamland

Dreamland could have better managed expectations about what attractions are actually ready, but I hope visitors who have travelled some distance can be big-hearted enough to know that they are helping regenerate a classic seaside town, lift the spirits of its people, enhance tolerance and diversity and put Margate on the global hipster map. My money’s on Dreamland being the happiest place to work in Britain. What an ace job for a youngling. People of Margate will rejoice – their church has risen!

Hollywood sexists watch out – actresses have had enough

by Rachel Bell on May 22, 2015

Since #feministoscars, actresses are on a roll naming and shaming sexism in Hollywood, culminating this week in Cannes

Wasn’t it way cool when Patricia Arquette used her best Supporting Actress win at the Oscars, a wholly sexist and racist love-in, to call for women’s wage equality, and Meryl Streep sat bolt up to point and shout ‘Yes’ in a ‘You said it sister!’ way.  Since that moment, at what became known on social media as  #feministoscars, many of the biggest actresses in the business have been naming and shaming sexism in Hollywood at an ever increasing rate, culminating this week with an incredulous high heels ruling at Cannes. Here, Emily Blunt led the voices of opposition at the retrograde ruling that women must wear high heels on the red carpet. Blunt takes the lead role as an FBI agent in drug war thriller Sicario, the makers of which revealed that they had been pressured into rewriting the female lead as a man.

To me, blatant sexism and Hollywood have always been synonymous. Growing up it seemed that only a handful of narratives exist in the mainstream – all of which centre on the male experience. Boy meets girl, boy has coming of age journey, boy meets boy in buddy movie, boy saves the world. From my teens I noticed the totally strange, audacious and at times frankly eerie absence of women in movies, other than bit parts as hotties, strippers, rape victims and dead hotties – but what is depressing is that I knew my white male friends, and probably the majority, didn’t. Geez, even when Hollywood patronises us with a romantic comedy, the female lead is a Happy Hooker.* Pretty Woman nicked Cinderella and seemed intent on grooming young women into prostitution.

But just as sexism is now being named in the mainstream on a daily basis, Hollywood’s biggest female talents are batting away questions about their dresses and nails and using every opportunity to name and shame the shocking sexism they face. Michelle Rodriguez used an interview with N.J.com to complain about the clichés she encountered and having to be really picky about parts, saying, ‘I can’t be the slut. I cannot just be the girlfriend. I can’t be the girl who gets empowered because she’s raped. I can’t be the girl who gets empowered and then dies… like Million Dollar Baby – why she got to die at the end, man?’ Rodriguez notes that she hasn’t led a movie since Girlfight.

Kirsten Stewart used an interview with Harpers Bazaar to highlight how women have to work so much harder than men to get taken seriously, saying ‘Hollywood is disgustingly sexist. It’s crazy. It’s so offensive, it’s crazy.’

Cate Blanchett has spoken frequently on Hollywood sexism, bringing attention to Sony’s leaked emails that revealed a pay gap between male and female actors. I’m still mad that Amy Adams, who totally owned American Hustle, got paid less than her male co-stars. Blanchett used Cannes to call up the media obsession with her own – and all women’s – sexuality.

Cannes also became a platform for the awesome Salma Hayek, a prolific fighter of male violence against women, who used a Variety event to speak about the sexism, pay gap and general backwardness of Hollywood, saying, ‘For a long time they thought the only thing we were interested in seeing was romantic comedies. They don’t see us as a powerful economic force, which is an incredible ignorance… the only kind of movie where women make more than the men is the porno industry.’

Charlize Theron spoke about the dearth of decent roles for women who have to wait so long for the right acting opportunities. Isabella Rossellini, heading up the jury of Un Certain Regard, pointed the finger at directors for only addressing an audience of young, banal, males, bemoaning, ‘a lot of films where people punch each other… I’m not interested.’

One young actress who flags up sexism at any opportunity and has enjoyed one of the greatest contemporary feminist roles, without being given micro shorts and cartoon breasts is, of course, Jennifer Lawrence. Along with Reese Witherspoon, Scarlet Johansen and Amy Poehler Smart Girls, Lawrence used the Oscars to push #AskHerMore onto the agenda. With films increasingly failing to pass the Bechdel test – to pass this test a film must features at least two women who talk to each other, and the topic must be about something other than a man – and women comprising just 7% of the directors on Hollywood’s biggest grossers, we need more women writing and directing women in roles that tell the female experience. Women are a huge cinema-going audience. We want to see portrayals of women, for we lead amazing lives and survive with amazing deeds. Hollywood is a sorry waste of incredible female talent. As Oscar nominee Maggie Gyllenhall revealed this week, she is one of many who’ve had the door shut in her face because of Hollywood’s almost laughable sexist ageism. ‘I’m 37 and I was told recently I was too old to play the lover of a man who was 55.’ Meanwhile, on the blockbuster front, a trend for female superheroes is coming, but watching the Wonder Woman trailer, her tits and ass look like the money shots. I’ll hold out for the new Ghostbusters.

Read on….

Despite the high heels business, Cannes actually featured a great many female directors and protagonists this year. Read up

Positive stuff to come out of Cannes and the #Seehernow twitter campaign

Hollywood’s sexist ageism is a joke. Check out these pairings

Research showing drop in films passing Bechdel test in 2014

*’Happy Hooker’ is a term used by those with the common sense to know that the international ‘sex trade’ is modern day slavery. ‘Happy Hookers’ are those women who feel their choice to prostitute themselves is more important than ending demand for the global market for prostituted children and women