by Rachel Bell on May 22, 2015Share on twitter
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.
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
If you don’t know much about porn or avoid facing it, you need to know about porn. Porn is sex education. Porn traumatises children who can see it without looking for it on mobiles and tablets. Porn is what a primary school age boy finds when he just wants to see some boobs. Porn is where a teenage girl goes to find out how she should act during sex.
When I say porn I mean hardcore porn because that’s what the mainstream is now. And I mean the porn industry. Porn has been around a long time but we have never before had a porn industry that is bigger than the Hollywood movie industry, that is global big business making deals with mobile phone companies to reach every male in every remote corner of every country. Porn is not about sex. It is about money – taking men’s money and getting boys hooked as early as possible. Porn hates women but it doesn’t give a crap about men either. It is the third biggest cause of addiction and debt among men.
This post is an insight into Gail Dines findings on what a 12-year-old boy will find today, because that’s the age a boy will typically look for free porn on google. It can be younger. And in the words of the anti-porn academic, author and campaigner, the porn he’ll find makes the magazines of the 1970s such as Playboy and Hustler, look like ‘the good old days.’
A common act on free porn websites – so standard sites, not the worst – is gagging. This is where a man shoves his penis so far down a women’s throat she is almost vomiting and choking. He’ll grab her hair and say something like Look at me bitch and there will be an emphasis on the pained expression of her watering eyes. And then it’s time for the money shot – the man coming all over her face. Welcome to Gonzo porn – the type of porn a generation of boys are growing up on. Other standard acts are one woman and three men penetrating a woman orally, anally and vaginally, while pulling her hair, spitting in her face and calling her a whore; placing both hands around a women’s throat while fucking her; bukkake – in which multiple men ejaculate on a woman’s face – and brutal, pounding anal sex, including double penetration of the anus. Porn has normalised anal sex among teenagers so that boys expect it.
Family abuse is eroticised with scenarios called First Time With Daddy. Abuse of teens and racism is central. Women’s equality and security is undermined with bosses abusing female employees and teachers fucking school girls. In porn men are the consumers of female bodies in every race, shape, age and rating. They can fuck saggy, old, skinny, ugly and fantasy plastic Barbie bodies because it’s accessible and it’s anonymous.
The language of porn is key. There are no girls and women. Just bodies. Just cum-guzzling sluts, cum dumpsters, bitches and whores. The acts that men do are framed as punishing. Dines cites this promotional copy from Anally Ripped Whores:
We at pure filth know exactly what you want – chicks being ass fucked until their sphincters are pink, puffy and totally blown out. Adult diapers just might be in store for those whores when their work is done.
Was that 12-year-old boy looking for this? No, he just wanted some shagging and maybe some girl on girl. But the porn industry will groom him. Dines highlights an example of the copy that goes with the images:
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. The porn industry grooms boys to be, ultimately, rapists and johns. (NB. a ‘John’ is a man who uses prostituted women. See Dines’ video below for expansion of this argument.)
To be anti-porn is not to be anti-sex. It is to be in defense of sex, because porn is sexism, not sex. Yet in our commercially sexualised culture, being anti-porn is one of the most controversial stances you can take. It makes you open to criticism and abuse, especially from people who demand the right to be ‘porn stars’, who demand their right to orgasm at a screen, whatever the human cost, whatever the cost to our culture. Anyone who defends porn because women choose to take part in it is having a monumental fail to recognise how culture grooms women from birth to become sex objects. They are too privileged to understand how women’s work choices are limited or how a woman’s value is measured on her hotness alone. When Gail Dines interviewed an incarcerated child rapist who raped his 12-year-old step-daughter, he explained how he groomed her and told Dines, ‘The culture did a lot of the grooming for me.’
Parents and schools need to arm kids against the tide of porn. That means compulsory SRE that talks about porn. I will talk to my boys about porn, beginning with the media images of underdressed women that surround them. I do not want to watch boys and girls continue their slide into a place where teen relationship abuse and confusion about what abuse is is rising, a place where heartfelt or loving or fun or hot or consensual or daft and fumbling sex between equals is replaced with men getting off on sexually abusive power. Where violence is eroticised. For in porn, there are no women that matter, there is no place for female desire and there certainly is no joy.
Porn sites get more visitors each month than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined. (Huffington Post, 2013)
90% of top watched rented scenes have physical or verbal abuse towards the woman.
And see NSPCC’s evidence of porn’s impact on young people
Gail Dines: How Porn Creates The John
Gail Dines: Growing up in a Pornified Culture
Read (and watch if you get the chance):
Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality by Gail Dines
Stop Porn Culture SCP
This speedy 10 step guide is a follow up to my previous post on men and feminism.
1. If you’re a dad or in the company of kids, be mindful of not pushing gender expectations on them. Ease up on the overly sexualised Disney princesses and anti-challenging pink toys that promote preening and domesticity and get The Princess Bride and Ever After out on DVD. When it comes to fancy dress, our kids deserve a chance to play act a wider range of roles than superheroes or Disney Princesses.
2. If a boy says ‘eeew’ because he thinks he’s been handed a ‘girl’s toy’, tell him your big secret, that all toys are for boys and girls and the same goes for colours.
3. Be imaginative about nurturing your child with non-stereotypical films and books – A Mighty Girl and the Letterbox library are good places to start. As the Geena Davis’ Institute on Gender in Media has proven with hard stats, film and television is largely boy-centred with girls serving as eye candy so take your boy to see Matilda and talk about the unavoidable superhero franchises in a questioning way. Start with, where are the women?
4. Don’t follow the herd when it comes to activities. Encourage girls to try football, encourage boys to try dance. Nurture activities that involve boys and girls playing together – den building, camping, forest school, party games. Encourage your son’s friendships with girls. There are too many divisive messages around telling them how different they are, which is damaging to healthy relationships.
5. Openly reject sexist, racist and homophobic bullying. Have a zero tolerance attitude to language that views anything feminine as less, such as, ‘He throws like a girl,’, ‘That’s so gay.’
6. Stop and think about the messages boys are getting about masculinity in popular culture, how music videos and computer games align manhood with violence and feeling power over women. How women are near invisible in the media unless they are hot. Challenge these messages.
7. See why Girlguiding is taking off so massively by allowing girls to speak up about the pressures and limitations they experience. Search for their Girls Attitudes Surveys. And you and your teenage daughter can benefit from a visit to AmySmartGirls.com.
8. Confront the fact that boys first access hardcore porn, which is body-punishing and violent, aged 12-14, and that porn is now young people’s primary source of sex education. Until schools step up to providing comprehensive Healthy Relationships education, talk talk talk to them about what a healthy, consensual relationship looks like.
9. If you have a son, recognise your immense power and responsibility as a role model. Let him see your gentle side as well as your strengths. Show him that parenting is man’s work too. Encourage communication and emotional intelligence.
10. As kids get older, help them challenge the stereotypes that limit us all. And if you don’t want to listen to me, get acquainted with The Good Men Project and follow them on Twitter for loads of really interesting articles to help with dad dilemmas.
There are loads of well established campaigns advocating for freer childhoods without gender-stereotypes… gotta bust a move and collect kids but will add more later
As 2014 was the year that the Fourth Wave of Feminism went mainstream, more men may be wondering what they should and could be saying and doing. Luckily, men, there are a significant number of male-led campaigns and organisations to help you work it out. Because as one young woman at the 2014’s Feminist in London conference said, ‘I’ve had to train up every boyfriend I’ve had and it’s exhausting.’ This woman was no man-hater, she just wanted an ally. She wanted understanding.
Feminism is more than fighting for gender equality. It is a highly politicised movement striving for Revolution. Feminism wants liberation from the patriarchal power of a few men that disadvantages the voiceless many. Male violence in its many forms is a central issue and one that men can make a difference to. Feminism demands liberation from rape as a weapon of war, rape culture, enforced child marriage, domestic violence, honour killings and the extremely odd people and institutions who believe it is their right to control a women’s womb or her sexuality by hacking off a girl child’s clitoris, labia and narrowing the vaginal opening (FGM). Know that when we talk about male violence, we can mean sexual harassment of girls on their way to school, the mental violence of trolls, the controlling words of abusive partners, demand for prostitution and most narratives of porn. And know this, all of these issues are linked. When the news spews out another woman or school girl missing, then found raped and dead in a ditch, these are not unrelated incidents. Male violence is endemic. Our backdrop is a mainstream culture saturated with the sexual objectification of women unlike any point in history. Porn is sex education. Look at the way coverage of male sexual violence is eroticised in The Sun, look at the porn and sex industries, and the language they use to describe women to see clearly how society views us. So don’t buy into the mockeries about ‘radical feminists’. Do not fear the stigma of being labelled anti-sex. Remember the mantra, it’s sexism, not sex.
So, on to practical stuff. First, hone your listening skills. Be mindful to not talk over women. Resist the temptation to jump in and demand proof and statistics. If there are three women in the room, at least one of them has been or will be a victim of male sexual violence. Forget being defensive. You’ll look UNBELIEVABLY tedious and dim. Feminists care about boys and men reaching their full humanity and we want good men to be our allies. Of course we do! Where have you been?! Feminists are stereotypically diminished as irrational or angry, when we are simply speaking up. But know this, our passion for a better world stems from a personal and/or collective experience of pain, trauma and suffering. Our motivation stems from stolen childhoods, stolen opportunities, stolen selfhoods, limitations on our choices and blame and persecution instead of justice and support. Before 2014, being a feminist was lonely, isolating and controversial. Still, it is no easy choice. Feminists ARE courage. When I returned home from a feminist conference, my partner’s lovely and intelligent male friend asked me if it entailed ‘lots of women getting angry?’ Go to a feminist conference and you will meet other men, men who look like you, plenty of cool young women, you will hear experts in their fields, authors, academics and activists, you may hear a woman who was lucky enough to exit prostitution tell of how her head was shoved down a loo while men took turns raping her, to ‘break her in’ , you may hear many a harrowing story but you will be enlightened on the issues, motivated, moved and uplifted by the company.
Next, don’t question a feminist campaign until you are well acquainted with the history of that campaign. An Esquire article on men and feminism belittled the Lose the Lad Mags campaign by arguing that lad mags were on their way out anyway so focus on something more important. Never suggest feminists focus on something more important. Feminism is a multi-issue movement and you need to join the dots. It is global politics, it is global human rights. Each issue is symbolic of women’s inequality, stemming from capitalism, war, privatisation, the banking crisis, from the wallpaper of objectification that surrounds us. As Finn Mackay, the activist and academic who revived the Reclaim the Night march said in a 2014 speech, ‘while not everything is Feminist, Feminism is about everything.’
Back to lad mags. Lad mags didn’t just tell boys and men it’s OK to be a juvenile sexist twat, they told them to feel power over women to be a man – running jokes about rape and trafficked women, ads and features on hardcore porn, linking to porn sites and encouraging boys to act like pimps and johns by glamourising brothels and sharing and rating images of their girlfriends. Lose the Lad Mags was the culmination of years of campaigning. Yes lad mags were losing ground, but the campaign put the word ‘sexism’ back in mainstream dialogue. The stats on sexual harassment and rape across university campuses today shows us how lad mags cultivated rape culture.
Understand what rape culture means: the socialisation of gender roles, pushing men towards hyper-masculine stereotypes who see women not as fully human but as sex objects. Who see violence as a badge of masculinity. Rape culture grooms women to seek validation through their hotness alone. Rape culture blames victims for the male violence against them.
Now, how to act out your feminist leanings on a practical day to day basis? If someone in your workplace makes a sexist joke, or implies a woman is less, call them up on it. Use the word ‘sexist’. Know that your male privilege affords your words more weight. If someone in your social circle talks about going to a strip club, ask them if they’re aware that women in lap dancing clubs work multiple jobs, have to pay to rent a pole, compete with too may girls for too few customers, contributing to their proven links with prostitution. Enlighten sleep-walking men, remind them that addiction to the porn and sex industries is the third biggest cause of debt among men. Tell them that the porn and sex industries care jack shit about men, they care about your money. Start a conversation about the sexist and racist representations of women in music videos, and the macho posturing of men. Google Rewind&Reframe. Challenge anyone using or promoting Grand Theft Auto or computer games that glorify male violence. Talk about the sexism of football, of all sports coverage. Question why football is so homophobic. Don’t let any one get away with saying ‘like a girl’ in a derogatory way. Speak openly against anyone using the word ‘slut’ or ‘gay’ to shame someone.
It is nice to open doors and pay compliments and be romantic and it’s OK if you cry. Show your softer (human!) sides and your strengths. Find out what turns your sexual partner on. Feminists don’t give a toss what other women look like. Some of us prettify ourselves, most of us are sensitive and smart. We’re all born with the pressure to spend extra time and money to make ourselves look like ‘human women.’ (thanks Amy Poehler.) And we’re too busy trying to get a fairer society for all.
Don’t live with your girlfriend like it’s a student house. You are a grown man, clean up. If you have a close female friend or a partner, support, facilitate and encourage her interests. Ask a girl or woman about the precautions she habitually takes every time she leave the house, how she must navigate public transport, the planning required to return home. Respect the need for women-only space. Appreciate your freedom, as a man, to roam the earth, to move, work, live and travel alone. The world is your playground. It is not ours.
Use the male-led organisations below to become familiar with how feminism benefits men. Know that it is about our right to live the full range of humanity. Conformist and limiting gender roles damage men’s potential too. Feminism values fatherhood. Feminism says you can be who you want to be without fear of being beaten up or ridiculed down the pub. Help to challenge the culture that encourages boys to believe that they must distance themselves from nurturing, empathetic and intimate behaviour to be masculine.
Complain to the media about its sexism. Get involved with UK Feminsta, Object, or an organisation like the Good Lad Workshop, working with boys and men. There are plenty of young men who do. Read the Everyday Sexism Project to see what it feels like for a girl. Start your political journey to manhood by ordering this easy-reading book that looks to youth culture by Jackson Katz, The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help. Jackson’s book was one of my starting points and remains a favourite. Every teenage boy and young man should read it. Take a look at this awesome dude’s video and ten ways to help now.
Good men doing good stuff…
And The Good Men Project is a great online magazine that covers everything from flirting tips, being bullied at work to being a dad. Follow them on Twitter and something interesting alway comes up.
Next up: What does a feminist dad look like?
In The After Life something unspeakable happens to my heroine, a fifteen-year-old girl called Paula. This is a novel about teen gang rape. But that’s not giving the plot away. This story tells the world what rape really is – murder of the mind, death of the self. Set in 2006, against a pornified culture of ladmags, mobile porn and sexting, how does a teenage rape victim survive in a world that doesn’t want to know? This book speaks for the one in three girls and women who experience male sexual violence. When they rebuild themselves and rise up they become something awesome.
‘Alright babe,’ Jake said, as Paula opened her front door about twenty minutes later. She smiled at his confidence. Smooth, she thought. It amused her. She liked it.
‘Get yourself in here, my mum’s back at five,’ Paula stood aside, holding Jake’s eye flirtatiously as he sidled past, lowering his body to meet her at eye level for a second, their chests close. He grinned, then legged it up the stairs, three at a time. Paula liked his athleticism. He wasn’t sporty but he had a fit body. Muscly legs, broad shoulders, Jake was gorgeous. Model gorgeous. She envied his poker straight, almost black hair. As soon as Jake showed up at school, everyone said he looked like he was in a band. Like the lead singer. He wore his jeans low and skinny, his tie thin, an Arctic Monkeys badge on his blazer. He just had it, you know. It was all in the walk. He was confident but not a prick, Paula thought. He didn’t love himself, he didn’t need to show off. It was like he knew who he was, and was happy with that. Paula had wanted him as soon as she saw him walk into Biology, but she wasn’t sure she’d get him. In that first week, she was gutted to see he was walking around with Mia before she’d had a chance to talk to him. But by the Thursday he was always smoking with Miles and the emos and Mia was back with Curtis. She made sure Jake noticed her pretty quick. She was confident like that, she could talk to boys. If she put her mind to it, she reckoned she could get most of the lads in her year, even some of the fit ones in the year above, but Jake felt like a challenge. She hadn’t worried about her looks so much in ages. Paula knew she was just about thin enough and she’d bagged two fit boyfriends. Her last boyfriend said she had nice brown eyes and lovely legs. Her hair was long but not as long as Rabena’s, and dark brown. It was quite thick, not quite straight enough and never looked neat or shiny like Rabena’s. And she got spots on her forehead sometimes, not like Rabena. She knew there were prettier girls, especially in the year above. She wasn’t sure if she was pretty enough for Jake. She was the first guy she envied for some reason. But Paula knew she had something that boys liked. Her breasts were kinda medium, but much smaller than Rabena’s, so she didn’t think it was them that did it. Maybe it was because she could talk to boys. She’d got talking about bands and stuff with Jake at break and he seemed to like it when she said she was a singer. Well, sort of. By the next Friday they’d had their first snog, right outside the school gates. Mr Banford had seen them, but that was the point.
Now they were on Paula’s bed and Jake was right at home. He hadn’t even bothered putting music on like the last time.
‘You wear your skirt sexy,’ Jake said, as he slid his fingers under the hem of Paula’s school skirt. ‘Are you doing it for me?’ he spoke slower now, his mouth moving onto hers. He’s so cocky, Paula thought, liking it. She found his tongue with hers and tasted the spliff he’d just had. All the girls rolled their skirts up shorter for school. Paula did hers as soon as she turned the corner after her front door. Mum would yell at her if she saw. Some girls picked on other girls if their skirts weren’t short, but Paula never picked on anyone for that. The ones that had a go at the others just had a problem. Girls can dress how they like, Paula thought. She didn’t care how anyone dressed. Well, within reason. She cared how her mum dressed. But she’d been making an effort for Jake. She’d straightened her hair every morning and put eyeliner on the top as well as the bottom. Paula pushed Jake away teasingly.
‘Think what you like,’ she said back, pulling her T-shirt over her head and unfastening her bra. Jake moved back to look at her breasts. Paula saw how her confidence didn’t faze him. She moved to straddle him and pulled him up to kiss her so that their chests were touching. She took off his tie, untucked his shirt and began to unbutton it. She looked at his chest, taut, boyish, hairless, the olive skin flawless. Beautiful, she thought. She kissed his hard, muscly shoulders, smelt the skin above his nipples. Paula was turned on, she could feel it in her knickers. Without turning away, Jake began to undo his trousers. Did he have a condom? Paula wondered. Jake pulled his dick out and she sensed he wanted to do it straight away. Paula pulled back.
‘Have you got a condom?’ she asked. Jake looked bemused, then laughed a little.
‘Don’t worry baby,’ he said. She smiled and put her tongue back in his mouth. She was gonna let him do it this time.
– – – – –
The sex had been OK. Different than with Pash. Jake didn’t have a condom and Paula had asked him to stop half way through. He’d moaned, Paula couldn’t tell if it was because he was pissed off or getting off. Then he’d quickly come on her stomach. Paula lost her virginity about six months ago, in December, with Pash, her boyfriend of three months. They’d done it three times and even though she’d been nervous, she couldn’t see what the big deal was, what was so amazing about it. But she was happy to be with someone she really liked. Then she thought she was pregnant, she’d been really scared and panicky when the doctor examined her and said yes, it looked like she was. But all Pash could say was ‘We can’t tell my dad.’ Turned out she wasn’t pregnant but when Pash moved back to Leicester, Paula wasn’t that bothered when, soon after, he stopped talking to her on Facebook and replying to her texts. Without his pretty brown face to look at, without him there to snog, she saw what a coward he was, that he hadn’t even thought about how utterly scared she’d felt. She hardly knew Jake but she fancied him like mad and just wanted to snog him, like forever. She’d given him a blow job the first time they’d met after school, to let him know she was, you know, cool with sex and experienced. It wasn’t like anyone had ever called her frigid but she wanted to prove what she could do. It was their first time after all. Paula was standing in her Snoopy knickers now and rummaging in her wardrobe for her black skinny jeans and that bright green tee with capped, puffy sleeves that came into a low V at the front. She felt happy to be alone with Jake, listening to her favourite Lily Allen track. Jake was wiping himself with the tissues she’d just handed to him, but he was looking at her.
‘You know, you’d have a body just like an FHM girl if your ass was smaller,’ he said. Paula turned around and looked at him. She was pleased that he’d complimented her body, but now, standing in just her knickers, she felt self-conscious. No-one had ever said she had a big bum before. Did she have a big bum? She didn’t want to look at it now, with Jake there. In fact, she wanted him to forget about it.
‘Lets go to the Boneyard,’ Paula said, disappointed that the happy feeling she’d felt just a moment ago had been lost somehow.
by Rachel Bell on October 10, 2014Share on twitter
Wow, a 17 year old school girl has just been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Malala Yousafzai is the youngest person to receive the prize. AND SHE IS A GIRL. She was shot in the head by the Taliban for publicly campaigning for girls’ right to education. The Taliban want to keep girls as domestic sex slaves with no place or power in the world. They wanted to silence Malala. Instead they gave her voice a new power with global reach.
More female courage in the news this week, as Jennifer Lawrence denounced the nude photos hack as a ‘sex crime’. This is major progress. Instead of being shamed into making an apology for sending nude pictures of herself to her then boyfriend, and seeing them exposed to the world, Jennifer, rightly, got angry. ‘I didn’t tell you that you could look at my naked body,’ Jennifer said in an interview with Vanity Fair. The coverline ran, ‘It’s my body and it should be my choice.’ Let’s hope Lawrence’s refusal to be shamed leads to widespread recognition that this is an act of violence against women. Historically, men have kept women down by body shaming them and in this age of internet trolling, upskirt shots in the tabloid press and the Daily Mail sidebar of shame, a woman’s naked body is used against her if she dares to take up too much space. Jennifer Lawrence is already a leading female role model for girls, having played strong leads in films such as Winters Bone and the Hunger Games to speaking out on weight issues, body confidence and the oppressive body policing of women.
Of course, these are just the role models we hear of. Schools and universities and Girl Guide groups across the country are doing amazingly brave acts by starting feminist societies and making their voices heard. Yes they are rejecting the limiting stereotypes that surround them, yes they are demanding a school day or a student night out free from harassment and rape and yes they are being attention-seeking. Having a voice is a courageous act for any girl or woman today. These girls are standing up and making demands and risking persecution but these girls are awake to how much the alternative sucks.
This year saw the launch of the Girlguiding Girls Matter campaign. The gloriously feminist Girl Guides are fighting for equality, and they have some specific and urgent demands. They are calling for a modernised gender education in schools, demanding that schools take a zero tolerance approach to sexual bullying and harassment and that they teach body confidence. They want to halt children’s exposure to harmful sexualised content in media, they demand the equal representation of women in parliament and want to see the prioritisation of girls’ rights in the UK’s approach to international development. Teenagers like Yas Necati, campaigning for a modern gender education and an end to page 3, and Fahma Mohamed, who made Michael Gove address FGM are role models gloriously close and attainable to school girls.
Malala Yousafzai, Jennifer Lawrence and young feminists are showing us that male violence against women comes in many forms. Young girls are joining the dots of a systematic, patriarchal and global violence against them. They are showing us that the ‘choices’ girls are given are not enough and ‘choosing’ to be ‘bootylicious’ like Beyoncé is not empowering, that ‘choosing’ to be a sex object does not make Miley Cyrus or Gaga a role model. Or much use.
Two years ago, the UN declared 11 October International Day of the Girl Child to end the cycle of discrimination and violence against girls. Wake up to feminism today and do something that really is empowering tomorrow.
Read more on this, go on..
More on Jennifer Lawrence rightly calling nude hack scandal a ‘sex crime’ in Vanity Fair.
by Rachel Bell on October 2, 2014Share on twitter
The fact that most people think feminists are man-haters is just incredulous when male-dominated culture spews women-hating narratives in our faces everyday. In collective women’s raped, tortured, butchered, abused, oppressed, stalked, harassed, shamed and blamed faces, everyday. Misogyny steals our lives and hurts so deep that dying becomes preferable to living. It hurts even more when an extremely famous pop star voted ‘sexiest man alive’ makes music and video about stalking, raping and butchering us like meat. As if it needed the promotion. This is what Adam Levine from banal band Maroon 5 has done. This man is so yawnsomely predictable that he married a woman who models for Victoria’s Secret, the pinnacle of female purpose in our monstrous, patriarchal, hyper-masculine culture. In Maroon 5’s video, Animals, Levine is trying really really hard to be edgy by playing a butcher by day and a stalker by night. His new wife plays his victim. I have just signed the petition on Change.org calling for a stalkers register. This will help police to track stalkers instead of putting the onus on the victims in the run-up to their murder. Levine sings that he will ‘hunt you down’ and ‘eat you alive’, photographing his victim and getting in her bed while she sleeps sexily. We see him in his abattoir/basement getting intimate with hanging meat. Women, meat, what’s the difference? In the end our hero gets to sexually conquer his victim in a blood-drenched crescendo.
The glamorisation of stalking, is not new and edgy. Justin Timberlake did it with Cry Me A River and again in 2007 with Timbaland and 50 Cent in Ayo Technology. Stalking is torture. Many stalkers are exes. It involves terrifying threats that stop you sleeping, stop you working, stop you living. It involves 24 hour harassment and ends in murder. Jane Clough’s stalker stabbed her 71 times. The blood-curdling rape and mutilation of girls and women internationally is routine, everyday and of no importance to most people. Most people see it as isolated incidents at the hands of freaks. They sleepwalk through life without joining the dots of a structural and cultural male violence against women. Feminists have to swallow this truth whilst men work hard to silence and shame us as man haters. No more apologetic soothing to convince men we don’t hate them, to convince them that our culture dehumanises them too. As Emma Watson addressed men in her speech for the HeForShe campaign, ‘gender equality is your issue too’ and it’s high time to get on board. Tell the world you are not ‘animals’ and stop this shit. Reclaim your humanity from the narrow model of aggressive masculinity that needs to feel power over women. Join groups like Men Against Violence, who have spoken out against Levine on Twitter, Men Can Stop Rape and the White Ribbon Campaign. Get acquainted with The Good Men Project.
Robin Thicke may be relieved or attention deprived to know that he can step down as prime pop misogynist for a while (just ker-azy that Pharrell Williams, who brought us Lapdance, and probably wrote Blurred Lines not only escapes this label but got mistaken for a feminist!) The Rewind&Reframe campaign is calling for music videos to be age rated in the same way as films and video games. This awesome project from young girls calls on the music industry to stop making videos that represent women as sex objects and stop pushing racist stereotypes. This week, news is that UK record labels are piloting a scheme to apply for ratings from the BBFC. It’s a step in the right direction but does not include the US and voluntary codes don’t work. Meanwhile normcore Maroon 5 make rape and mutilation porn and it is presented as love, it is presented as sexy and it is called ‘pop’.
Jessica Valenti on the harm of ‘Animals’
As Loaded relaunches, a bunch of new books by feminist writers signal the feminist movement is going mainstream
by Rachel Bell on July 4, 2014Share on twitter
Loaded is back, twenty years after it launched as the original lad mag, but this time it’s without cover girls and with Julie Burchill, the prolific feminist journalist, as a columnist. In the publishing world, three equally outspoken feminist writers and journalists bring out books. First Julie Bindel, awesome fighter of all forms of male violence against women releases Straight Expectations: What does it mean to be gay today? Then Caitlin Moran, releases her first novel, How To Build A Girl and Laurie Penny gives us Unspeakable Things: Sex Lies and Revolution. With Bindel and Penny’s challenging questions about patriarchy and capitalism and Caitlin Moran’s comic talent for introducing feminism, these writers are reaching a varied audience of readers interested in gender.
While the Lose the Lad Mags campaign, set up by Object and UK Feminista in 2013, is working to get pornographic and harmful lad mags off the shelves (The Co-op stopped selling Nuts, Zoo, Loaded, Front and The Sport thanks to the campaign, Tesco have called on lad mag publishers to tone down the objectification) and sexism is finally being named on a daily basis, in the world of sport, in entertainment and through the explosion of feminist activism such as the Everyday Sexism Project, Loaded returns with a new look. A spokesperson at Simian Publishing says it will drop the scantily clad models who were ‘lowering the tone’ and drop the ‘lewd content’. Calling the content ‘lewd’ as if the topless babes were dirty slags, looks like distancing itself from responsibility for its sexism. The content was sexist. The tone was sexist. Don’t imply the ‘real girls’ and female celebs are to blame for the attitude to women you peddled. My guess is that in the new Loaded, women will still only feature because they are hot. They’ll just be wearing a bit more. And sexism can still thrive if the women wear clothes. Will the new Loaded challenge the current narrow mould of masculinity? Will readers be challenged to look beyond their job and status to define their identity? Be encouraged to find friendship and growth in the company of women? I hope so, because it will be mainly women who read the books by feminist writers and heterosexual men looking to Loaded for guidance on how to be a modern man. I hope so, because lad mags’ pornographic reduction of women, like all objectification of women, has impacted on a generation of males. Studies show that objectified images of women make male attitudes towards them more callous and their actions more violent. Lad mags gave young men a license to act like puerile idiots who need to feel power over women to feel good about themselves. Lad mags said it’s OK to be immature. The pressure to be all metrosexual and sophisticated or courageous enough to be a true individual or a responsible man who enjoys the company of women as equals is all too much effort. Join us, be a little twat again.
While lad mags were about cowardice, feminism is about great courage in the face of injustice, abuse, suffering and repression. Those who have helped bring about the beginning of the end of lad mags nearly a decade ago did so in the face of intimidation. When I was involved in Object’s campaign against The Sport and wrote about the harm of lad mags, I felt afraid reading the printed threats made by Zoo magazine against those who complained. An extract from Laurie Penny’s autobiographical book tells us that finding feminism is to be awake to the truth, and then having the courage to face it and not be silenced. And as all feminists know, the truth isn’t pretty – it’s hard-going to face our oppression day in day out – but feminists choose to live by their true identity (and face persecution for falling short of the narrow gender stereotype) rather than die inside and smile for capitalism’s rules for perfect, passive girls. Julie Bindel questions the gay community’s embrace of capitalism and patriarchy, leaving radical feminists among the few brave enough to seek something other than acceptance in the status quo. Caitlin Moran’s courage stems from using brazen, unapologetic humour to smash the myths about femininity and female sexuality.
With feminist comics winning awards, a trend for strong roles for women in TV and feminist books adding to the now energetic fourth wave of feminism, it is officially cool to be a feminist. And deeply sad to be seen with a lad mag. Keep up people. Only another twenty years before men who believe women are human just like them might start identifying as feminists.
Read Hadley Freeman in The Guardian on Loaded, Robin Thicke and how moronic ironic sexism is
Read Hannah Pool in The Independent on the demise of lad mags and the rise of feminism
by Rachel Bell on June 20, 2014Share on twitter
A few days ago a headteacher at a primary school in north Kent arranged a pole dancing display for the school’s summer fete. The youngest performer was four years old and The Daily Mail reported that a twelve year old performed in gold hot pants and a crop top with one shoulder cut off. The show associated itself with children’s popular culture by using songs from Disney movies, including The Lion King and Frozen. A commentator and pole dancer at Kentonline.co.uk believes a father’s criticism of the event is ridiculous as we allow kids to do maypole dancing. Another asks what’s the problem, we allow kids to do the splits in leotards.
I wrote about the trend for pole dancing clubs at university campuses seven years ago. The student clubs rebrand pole dancing as pole fitness or pole exercise yet I remember York University Pole Exercise Club selling stripper shoes on their website, branded with a sexy lady logo. As the drive to get pole dancing seen as an Olympic Sport continues, seeing four year olds watch four year olds pole dancing is the result seven years down the line.
So, let’s start with the Maypole comparison. Pole dancing and maypole dancing are incomparable. The original motivation behind Maypole dancing no longer exists. The historical motivations behind pole dancing do still exist. Pole dancing is rooted in the sex industry, which harms all women. (It makes no difference is boys get involved in pole fitness, it’s girls and women who suffer because of its place in the sex industry). Pole dancing and lap dancing usually go hand in hand at the same strip club. If it wasn’t for the work of Object, there’d be a lap dancing and pole dancing club on every high street, as they used to be licensed in the same way as cafes. Object drew on research from Julie Bindel’s report, Profitable Expolits, and interviews with lap dancers and pole dancers to expose the truth about pole dancing in the sex industry. And it is not glamorous or empowering or well paid. As a general rule, you’ll only hear positive stories about pole dancing in the media because the many women who had a soul-destroying, degrading, horrible time to work second jobs don’t want to tell the world about it. And it doesn’t make for a sexy story.
I write about very unsexy stories so, like Object, I wanted to get the common reality of pole dancing out there, and interviewed a former pole dancer who was willing to admit how utterly shit the job made her life. Read her story here of how dancers have to pay rent to the clubs just to be there or prostitute themselves to get picked for a dance. She says that the empowerment and liberation that pole dancing promises have no value in the real world. The porn and sex industries love to use the language of feminism to sell us their objectified view of women. And I say, hey sisters, that’s great you want sexual empowerment, really super, but there are other types of empowerment y’know! Equal pay, equal childcare, the right to go out at night free from fear of rape, the right for a school girl to walk to school without being sexually harassed, the right to be free of porn culture in every shop and street, this is what true empowerment looks like.
As well as being a devastatingly crap experience for many women working in the clubs, lap dancing and pole dancing clubs promote all women as sex objects. When I say this, I mean objects that are not seen as fully human and deserve to be harassed and hurt and abused. Objects that men have rights to. Throwaway commodities. Just look at some porn and you will see how the porn and sex industries make squillions from telling men to see women as valueless fuckholes. Promoting sexual objectification of women is not OK when one in three girls and women experience male violence and even mild objectification is proven to make men more callous towards women. It not OK when we live in a dangerously sexist society. Women don’t just live in fear of male violence (and that includes verbal abuse and controlling behaviour), we are subjected to harassment at work, surviving life on low wages, and the consequences of appallingly low representation in all halls of power.
While the ‘pole-exercise’ community quibbles about what clothing to ban to gain acceptance in the Olympics, how, in this pornified culture does pole-dancing really enter the lives of little girls and teenagers? Could it be through a music video showing hyper-sexualised black women? Kylie, Robbie and Justin Timberlake all feature overtly sexualised pole dancing in their videos. Could it be through Tesco’s toy department, which sold the Peekaboo pole kit complete with sexy garter? Could it be through the videos and pole kits sold by Carmen Electra? She’s so pretty! Or by wanting to be like Kim Kardashian, Paris Hilton or Kate Moss? All these women are valued for their sex appeal. Mummy might take them to ‘pole-fitness’ but the cultural messages are impossible to ignore.
Let’s be clear, the sex and porn industries are inextricably linked. For some reason few fail to recognise that they are prostitution. This is about so much more than a pole dancing display at a school. It’s about joining the dots between all forms of sexualisation and women’s unequal place in the world. The former underpins the latter. Alas, like most people, pole fitness enthusiasts have zero clue how sexist the world is. So here’s my one easy step to follow: as long as the harmful sex industry continues to exist, just find another way to keep fit. Oh and find a truly effective way to be empowered. Join campaign group Object if you’re not sure where to start.