First extract from my new novel, The After Life

by Rachel Bell on December 5, 2014

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.

The only feminist in the village

by Rachel Bell on October 20, 2014

I don’t usually write personal stuff, although as any true (not the Beyoncé kind) feminist knows, the political is inextricably personal and tonight I’m going in for some female opinion in good old rant form. I moved from London to a small town, and last night I went out with two other ex Londoners and our partners and lots of beer and wine was had. My plain-speaking, and lovely, woman friend told me that a mutual friend had said to her, ‘You sure you want to put up with all that feminist stuff on your night out?’ or words to that effect. The implication was that feminists are boring and unfunny and unsexy and just not, yer know, very Saturday night. I’m real sensitive, as well as pissed about the system, so first I felt taken aback and sad, and now I feel annoyed and compelled to rant. That’s what blogs are for, get one sisters!

Most people I meet in small town never mention anything remotely feminist or utter the word. It’s just me. Now it’s properly weird that fellow educated women and mothers, indeed anyone, wants to do anything other than shout feminism from the rooftops, but they don’t. Most want to stay far away from feminism and not think about it, and if I say something feminist, they rarely join in, as if it’s all too serious but you know, sometimes the pink and blue led gender divide that is the wallpaper of childhood just gets too glaring and I dare to speak. But what the hell do they think feminism is? Why do they think I might be a feminist? Well now, because I’m normally too preoccupied with why so many men want to rape girls and women who are a tad pissed, about why women are still not able to make choices about their own reproductive system in 2014, about school girls being called sluts for wanting to try sex or forced to have their labia and clitoris cut or something, here are some answers that I don’t use often enough.

I am a feminist because I want my two sons to grow up and have really hot sex. I want them to have fun sexual adventures with as few or many people as they choose and experience an amazing emotional connection with someone. Their sexual partners will be gloriously uninhibited and body confident. If it’s a girl or woman, she will have grown up believing her body is just perfect the way it is. I am a feminist because I want my sons to enjoy the wonderful, enriching friendship of women. I want them to discover and explore sex by being with a lover, not porn. I want their school to back up the gender education I give them, so they are armed with the truth to combat the plastic lies that tell them they must always demand anal sex from women (this is now the norm among young people as a result of leaving porn to teach sex education). They will not have felt the pressure to notch up lots of shags to demonstrate their masculinity. They will not feel the need to engage in sexism that’s excused as ‘harmless banter’ down the pub to feel man enough with their peers. My boisterous, energetic, affectionate sons will be comfortable to express every facet of their humanity, including the gentle, kind sides, the silly, playful sides and the emotional sides. They won’t feel pressure to conform to any narrow mould of masculinity that is aggressive, shouty, puts other men down or talks over women. That divides men and women, as if one needed to show aggression and exert power and the other needed to be always hot to be valid because the market has told her to. I want my sons to be free to explore and find their true selves, just like the friends and sexual partners they have awesome lovely fun and passion with. They will not be waiting for their girl princess to finish up puking up her dinner in the ladies’ loo at a restaurant, feel saddened and confused about the razor marks on her arm or wondering why such an outwardly social girl is so depressed and lacking in self confidence.  They will not be traumatised by viewing porn at age 7 or 9, leaving me to explain why a multi-billion industry bigger than Hollywood exists in which people pay to watch strangers having sex, why they are watching other people instead of doing it themselves and why that woman’s mascara had run down her face because she was crying from the two dicks in her ass. They will not be one of the nearly 1 in 5 addicted to porn (see recent US Study) and alone and in debt because of it.

Why else do I bother with all this feminist stuff? Because I want every 18-year-old girl heading off to university to have lots of hot, uninhibited sex too, if that is what she fancies. She will have her sexual adventures with young men who understand that she is a human, and if she has not given her consent to sex, it means she does not want to be raped. (A report found that female students in higher education are more at risk of sexual violence than the general female population and freshers week is a particularly dangerous time. Read more here). She will go clubbing and have an amazing time and feel alive with men around her and not one will put his hand in her knickers without her wanting it or take her picture when she has fallen drunk asleep at a party. And these students will have chosen any course they damn like, including engineering or politics or sport or science or computer science, because no one will have steered them away from that route because of the godawful misogyny.

And when these young women graduate after a degree course free from sexual harassment, I want them to find a lovely job that doesn’t pay nearly 20% less than my son’s, because then she can be an independent woman with a nice home, money to spend in Top Shop and money to buy a round, without having to clean or care or cook or strip to make ends meet or spend thousands she doesn’t have on new tits and a new vagina. I want all young people to have this start in life and this is tonight’s reason why I am a feminist. And for the record, research tells us that feminists have better sex. We are very pro sex. Many of us are anti porn, because so much porn is not sex that takes two human beings. Most porn sex is a man taking what he wants in a way that ignores female pleasure, eroticizes female degradation and sees women who want pleasure as cum guzzling bitches who want spunk and piss in their eyes and shafting in the anus and who gives a fuck because she doesn’t say it’s painful because porn tells her it’s expected because her vagina is not tight enough. In Pornland, only men have adventures and the women are less than sex objects, they are fuck holes as porn has zero to do with female pleasure, emotional connection or seeing your partner as a human.

I am a feminist because I want men and women to be free to be themselves, free of gender limitations. Because girls and boys deserve better than this cult of hyper masculinity and sexual objectification of women. I want a future that is bright and joyeous, where gay people are never bashed, where lesbians are never corrective-raped, where the word ‘gay’ and ‘slut’ are never used to bully kids at school who don’t conform. I want a future where little boys and girls with beautiful big eyes do not experience war, forced marriage, domestic and sexual slavery instead of school and have their families and childhoods stolen. Oh, and a society in which rapists and murderers who do sport for a profession do not frame themselves as the victims and get away with it all. (Think feminist aren’t funny? Hadley Freeman’s piece on Ched Evans and Oscar Pistorius will give you a laugh out of this tragic state of affairs).

I am awake to the urgent need for feminism and why a single page 3 is linked to inequality for all women, and why inequality for all women is linked to global poverty and warmongering. Sure it is isolating and full of anger and sorrow to be feminist but I refuse to sleepwalk through life. And in truth, I am not the only feminist in the village. Like everytown, the wreckage left by men in domestic violence is picked up by feminists here. And I can count at least four friends who are wide awake. I laughed from the heart and danced on a cocktail-drenched Saturday night with one of them doncha know, and in case you are interested, we didn’t mention the f-word and she is naturally sexy, more alive than most people I’ve met and, unlike me, funny as fuck.

Interesting stuff:

Read this on one mother’s dilemma about porn stealing her child’s experience of sex

‘Pick one newspaper at random on any day of the week. Evidence of cruelty and violence against women is to be found on almost every page.’ Read more

Why page 3 is much more than one page of sexist tosh

Malala and Jennifer Lawrence make it ‘Role models for girls week!’

by Rachel Bell on October 10, 2014

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.

Stalking as sexy? Adam Levine pushes Robin Thicke off top spot as pop hero for misogynists

by Rachel Bell on October 2, 2014

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, 2014

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 this…

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

Why a pole dancing display at a primary school fete is wrong

by Rachel Bell on June 20, 2014

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.

Instead of What would you like to be? it’s Which Disney Princess would you like to be?

by Rachel Bell on January 30, 2014

Cinderella and her princess pals have been taking over girlhood for a while but now it really is time to desist. There is no alternative for little girls to dress up as, no alternative for little girls in the role play castle at school, no superheroine, no female space detective, no astronaut, firefighter or pirate. No Bex the Builder. On a good note, CBeebies have finally noticed that females make up over half the population and have brought us Katie Morag. Inquisitive, adventurous, at times grumpy, with the female line of her family a focal point. When will everymum and everydad start to question the body policing limitations of Disney Princess, and see it as the capitalist machine it is? Disney Princess makes girlhood a sexualised stereotype where prettiness is all. The endless pink products to live in ‘princess culture’ promote obsessive grooming and self-decoration as the highest achievement, so you better wax it all off , stop eating and get that boob job if you want validation. Let’s not forget the favourite Disney princess films were made in the fifties, a frightening time of domestic curtailment for women. The power of Disney is truly awesome. Is your little darling good enough to be a princess? I say tell her she’s better than that, and get Gravity and Hunger Games on DVD (OK, start with Whip It). News of artists casting Disney princesses as porn stars isn’t shocking,  it seems like their inevitable career trajectory. I recognise that recent films Frozen and Brave depict their princesses as having agency and adventures. But they still lead girls back to the all pervasive, self-grooming pink world of princess culture. The girls still want to sit pretty and be rescued by the boys in the playground. It’s the monumental lack of alternatives that is the problem. Here’s the letter I sent to my son’s nursery school when, on a dressing-up day, it was overrun with princesses. The nursery believed in reading real stories to the children, not fairytales.

I’m writing today in regard to the fancy dress for charity days, which of course is a fantastic and fun idea. I noted that Superheroes are not allowed. I am no fan of the superhero ideal for boys as it promotes an alpha male ideology that entails fighting and weaponry. Plus there are no superheroines celebrated in the general consciousness, so it is pretty sexist. I would be interested to know why the nursery does not permit the Superhero, yet the Princess is not questioned. As we can all see, an extremely high percentage (all?) of girls have come as Princesses or very similar such as Little Red Riding Hood and Fairy. The Princess model, like the colour pink, is not a problem in itself, the problem is where it signposts girls to. The problem is that girls are given almost no other role models. While toys for girls and boys have become gendered, pink toys are largely about self-grooming and domesticity. In contrast toys marketed at boys stimulate more learning, such as building and science sets. A double page spread in the Early Learning Centre catalogue showed FIVE girls seated at mirrors. Pink of course. The princess model tells girls, and boys, that girls’ value is all tied into their appearance, and if they work hard at being pretty, then a boy will notice/rescue them and make them worthy. Storybooks about Princesses being rescued by Princes ingrain children’s understanding of what is expected of boys and girls.

The gender debate has moved on from just giving girls equal access to boys. Girls need diverse and positive role models, they need to know that the Princess narrative, like the fifties housewife, is no longer relevant, and they can be an adventurer, pirate, firefighter, astronaut too. Disney Princess is so overwhelming prevalent in the media that girls need help to see that alternatives exist. It’s worth considering the morals of a just a few Disney Princess stories. For example, Beauty and the Beast tells us that it’s acceptable to be an ugly male but not an ugly female. Cinderella tells us that a man with lots of money will make you happy, but only if you are beautiful as well as good. It’s a huge challenge as few parents are able to see the limitations and pressures they are placing on their daughters. They want them to be Princesses too and enjoy the dressing up. Most of the girls will grow up to see they are not Princesses and therefore lacking.  An APA study showed that poor body image affects girls’ academic performance and contribution as well as their mental health. While girls are increasingly told to view themselves as objects, boys learn to objectify and disrespect girls too.  Will you consider setting the girls and parents a challenge next time fancy dress day comes along?

The end of cool: Kate Moss and Playboy, making misogyny glamorous

by Rachel Bell on December 9, 2013

I can think of few thinks more embarrassing than having my picture taken with Cooper Hefner, the 22 year old son of Hugh Hefner, who wants to be just like his pornographer father. Pictures in the press of Kate Moss cosying up with Cooper, following her first shoot for Playboy, signals the end of cool. Lending your name, and body parts, to Playboy is lending them to corporate misogyny. That’s a lot more harmful than just sprinkling your hipster dust on a monumentally naff brand.

Playboy has marketed itself as the acceptable, child-friendly face of porn – using its cute bunny motif to sell Playboy pencil cases and single duvet covers to school girls and opening a store on Oxford street with pink clothing. Playboy has become a global brand by selling women as  ‘Piss Loving lesbian Sluts’, ‘Bound, Gagged and Shagged’, ‘Extreme Insertions’ and ‘Barely 18 Anal Virgins’. Playboy operate several porn channels in the UK and often refer to women as ‘bitches’, ‘sluts’ and ‘whores’. They market their pornography with language that implies coercion or violence against women. As the campaign group, Bin the Bunny rightly describe it, Playboy are ‘grooming’ girls into believing that being a bunny or ‘playmate’ is something to aspire to. Meanwhile, in what academics and feminists call ‘rape culture’ (in which lad mags, Grand Theft Auto, Robin Thicke and rape myths create a wallpaper to the everyday reality of violence against women) boys are groomed as the consumers of porn. Anytime free access to hardcore porn is the best thing about the Internet according to a 15 year old boy in Beeban Kidron’s film, InRealLife. With gonzo porn the most popular, that’s anytime free access to male sexual violence against women.

I imagine that Kate Moss, who can do no wrong even in the eyes of a cool feminist and fashion journalist like Hadley Freeman, is likely to boost Playboy’s cool factor and in turn, normalise sexism a whole lot more. Many of London’s Grimrose Hill set (Nick Grimshaw, who reportedly paid for a stripper to amuse Harry Styles’ on his 18th, is in the club) considered by the media as the capital’s cool crowd, were also in attendance at London’s Playboy Club, the venue for the British Fashion Awards after party. Daisy Lowe (a Playboy stripper before Moss) Pixie Geldof, Alexa Chung, Harry Styles, Poppy Delevinge and Rita Ora joined Moss at the pornographer’s Mayfair club.

From stripping for the Pirelli Calendar to pole dancing in a White Stripes video, is Moss, one of the few role models available to girls,  glamorising the porn and sex industries?  Moss joins a bandwagon of celebrities who have aligned themselves with Playboy: child friendly stars including Justin Timberlake have filmed music videos at Playboy Mansion, where child friendly actors like Lindsay Lohan party. Model Lily Cole posed in a particularly girl child-like Playboy shoot.

As the feminist movement is flourishing, firing young women into activism against mainstream sexism and winning prizes in the arts, Moss and north London’s in-crowd appear blind or uncaring to what is truly counter culture, and cool.

I don’t agree with singling out women for responsibility for the institutionalised and ingrained sexism that limits, hurts, destroys and kills girls and women. It is the work of men, and men in power. Men making money and power off women’s backs. But I’m tired and angry that our so few female icons and role models fuel the misogyny machine. A recent Girl Guides survey found that 6 out of 10 girls have had comments about their appearance shouted at them at school, 7 out of 10 girls aged 13 and over report sexual harassment at school or college and 75% of girls aged 11 and over think sexism affects most areas of their lives. Laura Bates describes the Girls’ Attitudes Survey 2013 as an ‘urgent wake-up call’ reflecting the ‘sexism and harassment on a regular basis’ experienced by girls and young women who contact the Everyday Sexism Project she founded.

Now Katniss, there’s a role model…

Read more about Playboy grooming girls and the school girls who rejected the porn brand

Want more facts about how much Playboy hates men as well as women? Go to Bin The Bunny

Evening Standard sits back as model condones domestic violence

by Rachel Bell on September 22, 2013

When models speak, they have the power to shatter the myths that shroud their jobs at clotheshorses. In the fashion industry sexual abuse is as common as it is everywhere else. Teenage girls are sent far from home to find the ‘job’ is actually hanging about with rich guys at a pool. Racism is rife. Kate Moss has never used her influence over girls and women to say anything useful. But this week, the Evening Standard gave Russian model Katia Elizarova the power to say something extremely damaging – to normalise male violence against women.

The 27 year old, who is appearing in Fox programme Meet The Russians, says, ‘You can see why girls want to escape from their depressed towns. But when they come to the West, they often expect their men to be like their provincial men: yes he might beat her, but he would make sure there was a roof over her head and that she was protected. There is a saying in Russia: If he beats you, then he loves you. So when an Englishman asks for half the rent, she thinks… ‘Uh-oh, maybe I was better off in Russia.’

Journalist Richard Godwin lets the model make her message that she would rather be beaten than pay her way or be a self-sufficient woman without question or comment.

In contrast, model Jordan Dunn used her interview with The Fashion, the Guardian’s new magazine, to speak out against racism in the fashion industry and blast a few myths. Dunn, 23, says ‘I want to talk about what goes on. A lot of people are scared to speak up. People think it’s all glamorous and good and that all models get treated the same, but there is still a lot of BS that happens. I speak up.’ Dunn says that in Paris she is often cancelled because of her skin tone, adding, ‘the people who should be talking about it, and can make a difference aren’t. The people higher than me, the stylists, the designers, the casting directors – they’re the ones with the power to change this. They say if you have a black face on a magazine cover it won’t sell, but there’s no real evidence for that.’

Dunn is mates with model of the moment Cara Delvigne, the antithesis to the princess type embodied by Russian model Elizarova. Delvigne is more celebrated for her daft antics, expressive face and love of loud street style off the catwalk. Her clothes may cost a small fortune but they are comfy clothes that you can run in. Yes all her friends are too cool, all her hang-outs are too cool, but she represents an uninhibited sense of youthful female energy and fun, something other than the sexualised object that so many of her peers conform to. In contrast Elizarova drones on in the Evening Standard about her double standards when it comes to gendered behaviour. ‘Oh my God, Oxford Circus in the evening! When I see those girls, it’s shocking. You wouldn’t catch a Russian girl walking in bare feet because she can’t be bothered to wear heels any more. Drunk men can lie on the street because boys will be boys. There are some borders that women shouldn’t cross and that is one of them. It’s just so unattractive.’ Of course Elizarova is a product of a society where the misogyny makes the UK look positively Nordic.

In advance of the Leveson Report, the hugely important report, Just The Women, found that Rape Culture, that is, the glamorisation and trivialisation of rape and violence against women, to be prevalent in the British newspapers, with no coverage of the scale of male violence against women in the UK or commentary by experts. In presenting no commentary in the Elizarova interview, The Evening Standard are fuelling and colluding in this Rape Culture.

Miley Cyrus and Major Lazor’s double assault on black women

by Rachel Bell on September 8, 2013

Nicola Adams may be in the M & S ad campaign, a symbol of her acceptance into mainstream Middle England, but racism and sexism in music videos is taking black women’s status hurling backwards.

Miley Cyrus has joined pop’s sex industry bandwagon by stripping and objectifying herself and framing it as ‘shocking’, when, from Gaga, Perry and Madonna to Britney, Kylie, Xtina and Beyonce, this route couldn’t be more conventional. With her Wrecking Ball video – revolting, artless rumpelstiltskin-like pornographer Terry Richardson directs so it’s an overused formula anyway – Cyrus is merely continuing the Disney kid tradition (Justin Timberlake being a very keen follower) that female nakedness objectified is outré. Cyrus is adopting ‘twerking’, the black women’s dance move with PR gusto. Before her performance with Robin Thicke at the VMAs in which she accessorised the male artist by twerking at his crotch, Cyrus was using black women twerking in her video for ‘We Can’t Stop’. Like the black and white male rap artists before her, Cyrus is sexualising black women at the expense of their humanity, turning them into faceless creatures whose butts define them. In response to the media attention of the VMA’s, Cyrus cringily boasted that she ‘made history’. Unable to desist from exposing her new gluten free body, she appears to believe that ‘amazing body’ makes her ‘amazing’ too. Nothing new there I guess. But Cyrus has simply taken history in the same shitty direction it’s always been for black women. The bottom of the pile. Nicola Adams made history in the Olympics Miley.

The sexism and racism that infuses the representation of women in porn and has long been adopted by pop, has sinked a level deeper in the video from Major Lazer.

Here black and white women are pitted against each other, with the underlying message that skinny, dippy rhythm-less white girls need to learn how to do sex from black women. The video uses comedy and violence to get away with a rape scene. The black woman is cast as an oversized alien with black snake-like tentacles coming out of her mouth. She forces her tentacles into the white women’s anuses to inflate their asses to ‘black women size’. Message: with their new oversize asses, the white women are now as ripe for sexual reduction as the black bitches.

I heard about this video by reading a Guardian blog by Ikamara Larasi, who, along with Object and End Violence Against Women and Imkaan, are getting 17-24 year olds to speak out against sexism and racism in music videos by developing a site and mobile app. From Robin Thicke’s stereotyped message that good white girls need a good rape to Major Lazer using the sci-fi comedy model to devalue rape, violence against women is integral to the racism and sexism in modern day pop.