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

by Rachel Bell on November 10, 2015

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

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

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

UK Feminista logo

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

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

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

by Rachel Bell on October 10, 2015

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


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

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

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

David Brockwell, Great Men Project Manager

David Brockway, Great Men Project Manager

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

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

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

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

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

Speak up like a woman

by Rachel Bell on September 27, 2015

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

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

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

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




Rape in schools and universities is killing girls’ education

by Rachel Bell on September 8, 2015

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

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

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

The Guardian reports on the rise of sexual assualts across schools

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

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

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

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


Kids day in: Dreamland’s Octopus Garden

by Rachel Bell on July 6, 2015

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

Octopus G entrance

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

Octopus G booth

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

Octopus G sandpit

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

Octopus G staff play

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

Octopus G tree

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

Octopus G puppetshow

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

Octopus G cakes

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

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

Dreamland digested

by Rachel Bell on June 23, 2015

Dreamland entrance

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

Wall of Death

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

Dreamland info point

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

Me&Indy Dreamland

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

Hollywood sexists watch out – actresses have had enough

by Rachel Bell on May 22, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read on….

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

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

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

Research showing drop in films passing Bechdel test in 2014

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

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 pro-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 pro-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 pro-feminist’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 pro-feminist dad look like?