Rape in schools and universities is killing girls’ education

by Rachel Bell on September 8, 2015

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

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

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

The Guardian reports on the rise of sexual assualts across schools

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

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

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

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


Kids day in: Dreamland’s Octopus Garden

by Rachel Bell on July 6, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dreamland digested

by Rachel Bell on June 23, 2015

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

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

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

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

Hollywood sexists watch out – actresses have had enough

by Rachel Bell on May 22, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read on….

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

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

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

Research showing drop in films passing Bechdel test in 2014

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

Know about porn… because your kids will

by Rachel Bell on May 5, 2015

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 is what a feminist dad looks like

by Rachel Bell on February 10, 2015

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 hypermasculine superheroes or Disney Princesses. Oh, and don’t call a girl a ‘Tomboy’. It’s like saying she’s an ungirl, like denying her celebration of her authentic and marvellous girlhood. She just doesn’t worship Frozen and she loves her jeans, OK?

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…

Let Toys Be Toys
Let Clothes Be Clothes
Pink Stinks
Culture Reframed!

A man’s introduction to feminism

by Rachel Bell on February 5, 2015

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…

The Good Lad Workshop
White Ribbon Campaign
Anti-Porn Men Project

Men Can Stop Rape

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?

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.