Comments from April – June 2004

From Ali

I am so excited about finding your site. It is refreshing to find a website on contemporary feminism, particularly one that is actually kept up to date and packed with features I can check out.

From Denise

The fact that BBC2 showed the If… Women ruled the world thing as one in a series of “disaster” programmes said it all for me, so I didn’t watch because I knew it’d make me froth at the chops, and who needs that after a lovely yoga session? What the bastards should have done of course was make a programme about how the world’s a disaster because men rule it, but that would have been too bloody much to hope for.

Loved Finn Mackay’s brilliant article [Surfs Up! In praise of the second wave]. You just made one mistake, Finn: it’s not prostitution which is the oldest profession, but pimping!

From Tracey Heynes

I liked Finn MacKay’s piece on the second wave of Feminism [Surfs Up! In praise of the second wave]. Her comments on how we are encouraged to see sex-work as liberating were very interesting – and very true.

I wish she had made some comment on the WOMEN who run bits of the industry. It isn’t just men making profits here. I also think her comments on pay were not quite accurate – I personally know of a woman who chose to do stripping because she could only work part-time and was fed up of the low pay and long hours of other jobs she was able to find. Also, isn’t it true that SOME women do make good money in some areas of the “industry”,albeit for a short time?

I think it’s important not to overlook these things when presenting an argument because those who do not share a feminist point of view tend to use them to bolster THEIR position. This is friendly criticism – I just know how sophisticated some people can be when they attack feminists. We need to be sure that,when we make a statement,we can back it up.

From Helen Butt

Great review by Meera Palia of the If… Women ruled the world programme. Funny and insightful. Can you ask her to watch more TV please?!

From Dee

Re: Handbags and Gladrags

Reading this piece made me ask my partner what he keeps in his bag – we have identical bags…. (Hmmmmm…the Harold and Hilda of the bag carrying world?) He keeps:

keys…so do I… cigs and lighter….so do I… a pen and postit notes……so do I… mobile phone… do I… hand held comp… do I… money and cards….so do I

Ah-ha! But I also had tampons and tissues so I win!! hahaha!

I keep my lip balm in my pocket…..he borrows it….

Love the f word. Thank you so much. xx

From Lorgy

I did like the Handbags and Gladrags article (and incidently I love this site, I’m so glad to know I’m not alone and despite my currently high conversion rate there appear to be few who share the obsession). But I do want to point out that men’s clothes have big pockets; women’s clothes don’t. Those that do are often small and therefore easy to lose things out of. I’d rather have a handbag to tuck under my arm – and I like having a pen with me.

From Sarah Burton

Re: Handbags and Gladrags

Handbags – I’m not a fan, but a bag of some king can be useful. And continental men don’t seem so hung up about such things – spanish, italian men are unashamed to be seen with a leather bag under their arm and its not not a briefcase. Maybe its a new word we need. My partner has what he calls a “manbag” (I think he even bought it in a women’s fashion shop.) Its just a smallish bag for stuff. How many of those men with barely a wallet in their back pocket actually have just asked their girlfriend to carry stuff (umbrella, book, cigarettes etc) for them?

From Kate Pallas

Recently, a reader commented [below], on the subjuct of Yorkie’s ‘It’s not for girls campaign’ [Not For Girls?], that :”This chocolate is for men so just deal with it!”. I think this sort of ambivalent attitude is exactly what perpetuates our society’s habit of conveniently avoiding difficult issues. I currently live in the North East and in many households the attitude still prevails that all the cooking, shopping and cleaning should be done by women. I can equally imagine someone saying ‘Women make the dinner- deal with it.’ I know that it is today quite unfashionable to discuss feminism from an economic standpoint (in comparison to one based on gender as a social structure, for example), but I do believe that there still remains fundamental work to be done. Although I am a young person, everyday I see women who are in their 40s or 50s being forced to live in old-fashioned, patriarchally- driven roles; many of them realise this, but find it impossible to alter their husbands’ attitudes in any other way than divorce, and after however many years of marriage, many feel, ‘What’s the point? Accepting sexist messages in advertising, which has an effect on many people, is no better than allowing sexist attitudes at home or in the work place. It’s often said that one vital way to change attitudes is through education,and isn’t television a means of education today? Sexism should not be taken lightly; isn’t it always with the excuse that ‘it’s just a joke’ that people excuse a chauvinistic or racist slur?

From Martha d

in response to claire’s comments [below] to the yorkie ad feature [Not For Girls?]; i dont think anything, be it a skill, attribute or consumer good, should be partitioned on the basis of gender unless there is a biological reason, e.g. menstrual blood absorbing stuff, but hey if a guy needs it or wants it for any reason then he should feel free to buy it. it is unfair that guys dont feel that chocloate it ‘for them’. I guess Yorkie is trying to capture a market of repressed chocolate lovers, who have hitherto felt too uncomfortable buying something which would identify them as ‘feminine’. now we are entering a phase of chocolate segregation, and soon hopefully we will be able to break down even these boundaries so that men feel safe and secure enough to purchase any confectionary item they wish.

The reason to get annoyed is that it is yet another piece of communication which states that there is a gender divide between men and women, and that men and women are entitled to different things, or that they need to make careful choices about what they buy and do in order to maintain their ‘femininty’ or ‘masculinity’, which is obviously something we should all be doing. somebody call the gender police there’s a girl buying a yorkie. lets laugh at her. she wont make THAT mistake again. ooh look she’s got hairy legs. god what a lazy bitch. what’s she all about? what’s her problem? why cant she be bothered to shave her legs? because i personally dont want to have to spend that much time and money and effort helping people figure out whether I am male or female thank you very much. i could always just flash my fanny at them if i really wanted them to know.

I’m sorry for the rantage. It’s not anger at claire, i’m just pissed off with various other people who mock me for being a feminist. so apologies for hostility

From Sharon Whyte

After several discussions with friends recently on the subject of marriage (which I’ve always objected to with regard to myself) I was directed to the article by Victoria Duchman-Smith [Are You Married? If Not, Why Not?] as a valuable re-inforcement of my long held views on the subject. I have found myself recently in the strange position of almost ‘forgetting’ why I ever objected to it in the first place; as the number of people I know planning weddings increased, I seemed to become less and less sure of my own position on the matter. I’ve now added the article to my favourites list, as something to refer to whenever the ‘other people’s weddings’ bug starts to take over. On a slightly different note, I just can’t get the words of Alex Neil, the SNP MSP who called for Scottish Women to “breed for Scotland” as an antidote to our falling birth rate out of my head. I’m so annoyed by this comment on such a basic level that I can hardly articulate exactly what I feel about it. I would love to read the opinions of someone capable of formulating a good argument about this.

Finally, I read the comment from another reader [below] about the “If…Women Ruled the World” programme and am delighted that I wasn’t the only person that simply could not bear to watch. My male partner, I’m pleased to say felt it was unwatchable too and was totally dumfounded by the band of disenfranchised fathers running around in the woods with big sticks. I can only assume it didn’t get any better but please correct me if I’m wrong.

From Naomi

I really found Victoria Dutchman-Smith’s article [Are You Married? If Not, Why Not?] frustratingly annoying! Marriage historically was patriarchal, it was about transferring ownership of a woman from one man to another, but in the modern age it doesn’t need to be about that. It can be anything the couple want it to be. I understand that being attacked for her choice would make you very defensive but is it far to slag off those who choose marriage? Her tone is so condescending and patronising. I respect her choice not to get married just as I would hope she would respect my choice as a feminist to get married.

Feminism is about choice as well as equality.

From Joanna Studdert-Kennedy

Dear F-word, I would just like to thank you for a wonderful website. I am curently writing a controversial but humorous novel about men and women’s magazines and regularly use your website not only for information but also to get me angry again if I start to flag! Your wonderful features section has provided me with much information and arguments and when the book is published I will quite rightly give your website the credit it deserves. I am SICK TO DEATH of seeing half-naked women wherever I go – on men’s magazines, car magazines, gadget magazines, in newspapers, newspaper suppliments etc etc etc – ENOUGH!!! No wonder our kids are becoming anorexic and hate themselves.

Well I’m off to write some more – I’m nearly half way through now. I’m determined this will be published. Someone’s got to stand up to this kind of nonsense.

Thanks again and keep up the good work!

From Lorgy

I was interested by the article Feminine Feminism, but even more so by another reader’s response [below] that disliking pink, boys and make up does not make her unfeminine; she is feminine because she has a vagina. I too was uncomfortable with Laura Wadsworth’s definition of femininity; it bought into traditional definitions to a concerning extent, and I think that the reader made a good point. However, I feel that her definitiion of femininity was, if anything, too broad; femininity is about more than possession of a vagina. As women, we have a world of possibility open to us that is not open to men; we can carry children, bear life, and breast feed our children. Whether or not we choose to exercise it, this is an immense privilege that is contained within every one of our bodies. Femininity isn’t just about having a vagina, nor is it about wearing make-up, a skirt and a wonderbra. It’s about being comfortable with the possibilities that are open to us as women and having the confidence to express ourselves as women. It’s about pursuing our sexuality with joy and confidence. It’s about being beautiful each in our own way and being comfortable with our bodies as they are. If we define femininity in these terms, it becomes more than just compatible with feminism; it is part of what makes us feminists, and part of what we are working towards as feminists.

From Johanna Karlsson

hi, i found your site when looking for british riot grrrl pages and it seems great! many thanks to kate allen for critisising the Page 3 phenomenon. i was gutted
when i heard what poor clare short hade to put up with for speaking her mind! cheers.

From Kate Nicholls

Hi, just a quick comment with regards the article about the ‘taboo’ of the word cunt. I have (relatively) recently got more feminist (whatever that means!), more educated about the debates out there in the world. I can remember particular points of change in my (feminist)thinking, and one memorable change was in relation to the word cunt. This change began when I went to see the vagina monologues (last september) and I remember the monologue related to saying the word cunt, and how satisfying it can be to do so, it was about reclaiming or redefining the word cunt. This set me on the road to thinking about the words (and their attached meanings) used to describe mine cunt!. This culminated last week when I searched out the book ‘cunt: a declaration of independence’ by inga muscio. I read it in a few days, finished it yesterday. And it has changed my life. I am still mentally digesting the material. But, for sure, it has changed how i view the word cunt. Before last week I am certain I wouldn’t actually be writing this comment, and certain I wouldnt be using the word cunt so freely.

I recommend everyone read this book!!

From Mark

Hi There, I just discovered your website and feel that I need to comment on the article by Samantha Lister [A Perfect Delusion]. In the article Ms Lister explains how mens attitudes to women are being shaped by such magazines as Loaded, FHM etc as well as the increased circulation of hardcore pornography. Whilst I dont doubt that this is the case at all. In fact some of my close friends are expecting the “perfect” woman before they would be willing to “settle down”. The point I would like to comment on is that Ms Lister conveniently excludes the fact that woman are also just as influenced by the media in terms of their expectations of men and relationships.

Men with washboard stomachs who offer the perfect romantic relationship give woman a false impression of what they should expect from a relationship just as much as hardcore pornography influences mens views of women.

I would say that we have a broad spectrum of expectations from both woman and men….on one extreme we have the men wanting the skinny babe with big boobs who will perform in bed like a bucking bronco….the other extreme is the women whose expectations are a man with a perfect physique who will wine them dine them and when they get to bed its all rose petals over the bed by candle light.

I’m not saying that the article is wrong I just feel that it was very biased!

From Julie

Thank you soooo much for reviewing my favourite feminist book [Refusing to be a


Thinking people everywhere should read all of John Stoltenberg’s work. He highlights that the ONE central aim of feminism should be the termination of manhood. After all, if masculinity did not exist, we WOULD NOT NEED feminism! Masculinity is the cause of most of the world’s problems, and is certainly the cause of ALL feminist problems. War, violence, rape, paedophilia, pornography, body facism, gender discrimination, exploitation, homophobia etc etc etc… ALL caused by manhood.

In the quest to “be a man” and disperse gender anxiety, others must be used and abused to affirm one’s place in a class system. The female gender role simply exists to affirm the masculine one – plain and simple.

Feminists waste so much time debating other issues when THIS is the core problem that we should all be focussing on. It is the foundation of all gendered oppression. The symptoms will never cease until we tackle the cause.

From Kate Nicholls

Re: The Feminist Minefield.

I have always had a gut feeling about pornography being wrong or rather that the majority of main(male)stream pornography is not easily compatible with a feminist agenda. I am still researching my stance on this issue, but i read a very good article in Ms magazine spring 2004, by robert jensen, and this artical really touched on all the feelings I had about why I find most pornography offensive. I believe there is some ‘good’ porn out there! i.e. porn made within a feminist framework, that brings the right of womens pleasure to the foreground. But, as the article confirmed to me, this isnt how most porn is made or what images/power/relationships malestream porn presents. I really recommend anyone who is debating ‘porn’ read this article!!

From David Gooda

Re: Enough with the pendulum!

Your contributor is unhappy with Germaine Greer preferring ‘fraternity’ to ‘matriarchy’ as the opposite of ‘patriarchy’. There is another word: ‘society’, meaning a group of ‘socii’, fellows or equals. You can always rely on the Romans…

From Clare Lean

Whilst researching an essay for my degree, I came across the article on your site about the Pop Idol Winner Michelle Mcmanus [Cutting Women Down to Size]. I am the same size as Michelle, and so automatically my friends assumed that I would feel some sort of ‘big girls bond’ with her and vote for her in competition. While I agree that it is great that she does allow her size to hold her back from doing what she loves, I feel that she just cant sing!! Pop Idol never throws up much talent, but I felt out of them, Suzanne, a size 12 blonde, had a certain something about her that made me compelled to vote for her. All my friends were shocked- surely fat girls are supposed to stick together??!!! In the end, it looks like Michelles career is over before it really began- people are tired of her just being that fat girl and are looking for some talent- which she does not have. Positive role models come in all shapes and sizes- Dawn French was voted as the most inspriational woman in a poll of school children. She is funny, sexy and uses her celebrity status for good through her work for charity. Give me a role model like that instead of a pop puppet whose only gimmick is her weight- thats inspiration!!

From Mel

What do this site’s visitors think of the recent media coverage of celebrity women “standing by their men?” Despite rumours of David Beckham playing around, his wife Victoria did not give him a good public hiding like she should have, instead she moped and simpered while rumours of infidelity were flying, then displayed him like a trophy when she was sure she had him again. And Leslie Ash? Rumours of domestic violence? Of course not, they were just having an energetic sex session, Leslie was injured by accident and she is standing by her man. Let’s hope for her sake that’s the truth. What kind of messages are these women sending out to young girls? I am a (happily single) thirty-something and my formative years were the 1980s when feminism wasn’t the dirty word it is now. Unfortunately things seem to have changed and the media is telling us all to be skinny botoxed Stepford wives (1) patiently enduring infidelity(well, he just can’t help himself when so many younger, prettier women are throwing themselves at him) and (2) covering up brute-inflicted bruises with pan-stick and PR (it was my fault because I interrupted him when he was sending his mistress text messages and I really shouldn’t have done that). What next – a revival of Victorian corsets and 18 inch waists? But we don’t need corsets now when all we have to do is go to the plastic surgeon and get him to remove our lower ribs and put in some breast implants when he’s at it. When is the next wave of feminism going to come and sweep all this simpering nonsense away?

From Brenda Cavanagh, Ipswich Real Nappy Network

Very interested in article on fleece pads. I’m researching washable sanpro and setting up a display to be shown at monthly cloth nappy coffee mornings. On the funky, trendy side, I’ve found a website which sells thong-style sanitary pads. Have just mailed for a sample, so haven’t tested them yet. I use Mooncup and Wemoon, and it has been totally liberating! Best wishes

From Feminist Leonie

Hello F-word buddies,

As a relatively ‘new’ feminist (and how glad I am at last that I can call myself thus) I cannot trace my interest in feminism, I don’t know how or where it began but I have for a long time been interested in my position and submission as a female. My introduction into university life bought me to much more coherent argument of what I meant when I talked about feminism with my friends but it is through articles and authors at the F-word that I have found the real courage (and it is a sad fact that I need use that word) to call myself and indeed begin involving myself with feminists.

It is a sad and horrific fact that young people like myself find a stigma attached to calling ourselves feminists, but for now, and just as a short note, I would like to thank all the feminists that are carrying us, safely, in cupped hands. Thank you for being patient, thank you for arming us with information and advice and thank you for your gentle coercion and at times your radical anger. I’m angry that you need do this for my generation but so thankful that my mothers, fathers, uncles and aunts have not given up.

We have revolution in our blood thanks to you and when more and more of us realise how beautiful the ground is (as opposed to your safe hands) and shout from the rooftops “I’m a feminist and proud!” I promise we’ll look after you in your old age ;)

From Katherine Cowan

I’ve been engaged in a ferocious correspondance war with the ASA over the vile Nuts ads. They refuse to accept responsibility for the potrayal of women in advertising. I’ve asked them if the ads would have passed had they been mocking people with disabilities, or black and minority ethnic people, but they’ve evaded the question. I’ve also shoved domestic violence stats under their noses, and the outcomes of the Zero Tolerance pilot, in which little boys said it was ok to hit/rape a woman in certain circumstances. They think the ads are humorous and not in any way detrimental to the public perception of women. They’re morons, but I haven’t given up yet! I love the F-Word!

From Karen Whiteside

Well, whadaya know? I’m not alone! I’ll be interested to read more.Well, whadaya know? I’m not alone! I’ll be interested to read more.

From Claire

I was just reading your article on Yorkie, not for girls. It made me laugh how people can get so annoyed at stupid stuff like advertising features. Do you not realise how much chocolate is aimed at woman. For example, double cream, Galaxy, etc. I thought the advertisement was incredibly effective and increased nestle’s sales by 20%. This chocolate is for men so just deal with it!

From g.m.

Was any body else really annoyed with the BBC If Programme.. If Women Ruled the World? After watching for only 5 or ten minutes I had to switch off as it was so bad! If they believe that women will have overtaken men in just 16 years they must be hopeful thinkers. The point that made me switch off was when they were saying that as men lose their place in society they will become violent and take ultimately take it out on women. Maybe I am wrong but I got the impression that if this happens then it is women’s fault for wanting a career etc.

From Gemma

WOW – I an sitting in my office at work and whilst surfing the net under ‘sexual healing‘ found this article.

I read three-quarters of it and will read the rest later – this is soooo interesting, vital, relevant and refreshing to see. I have long since had the feeling that all is not right with the images of sex with which the media/magazines/TV etc etc likes to constantly bombard us but to read such an eloquent argument exploring this phenomenon is wonderful.

The main crux of my instintual response is to agree wholeheartedly that we are all missing something undefinable in the sexual relationships that we have with each other regardless of our gender or sexual persuasion. My natural inclination is that love needs to go back to the centre of sex. This probably sounds v simplistic and could perhaps be rephrased as the love of oneself and the consequent desire to love others as part of the pleasure seeking activity that is sex.

Images that try to mould or dictate to us how we should ‘do’ sex can only be negative – surely we are born with such innate knowledge and if we only let it grow and develop on its own then it couldn’t go too far wrong. There seems an unquenchable desire to ‘name,’ and to ‘know’ everything about sex and sexual relations – I feel that the most exciting part of sex is the personal discovery and the exploration and gradual understanding of another person’s sexuality. If it is true to say that we are all unique then why cannot our response to sex be just as singular – human need to quantify, detail, name and shape seems instinctive and yet limits us all and builds barriers around us and our society. Freedom of expression should extent to the freedom to express ourselves through our minds, bodies and if we so wish, our spirits.

It’s also interesting to think about the idea of perceived weakness & vulnerability – they are just that, and perception is an incredibly powerful yet fallible thing. We cannot avoid the need in people to translate others’ actions in a way that we understand, and that inevitably involves stamping our own thoughts and ideas and prejudices onto each other. Acceptance and the desire for understanding and insight seem to me to be the way forward – surely the best way, at the very least, to open a debate and to allow people to be ‘real’ in their expression of sex.

I have to go but I will be reading more about this as it has reignited my passion for such debate.

From k_S

Re: Feminine Feminism

In principle I agree that a feminist doesn’t have to be a dungaree-wearing lesbian who has renounced razors in favour of going ‘down the mine’. However, i do take issue with your defintion of feminity. You seem to be suggesting that if I dislike pink, boys and make-up that I cannot be described as feminine. I am feminine because I have a vagina.

From Catriona Gallacher

In response to re-classifying rape. I do agree that rape should be reclassified as a violent crime rather than a sex crime. I would also like to see rape being presented as something that doesn’t just happen to women. There are men who get raped and it must be hugely under reported. I think if maybe the media can portray rape as a crime that can happen to anyone then society would have to change their view about it. The fact that most people do have feelings that women are often to blame for rape could be changed when they realise that grown men who can and do get raped as well.

From Kate Pallas

Re: Enough With The Pendulum!
The article quotes this letter:

‘After years of protesting about the matter myself, I was hugely gratified to discover that all the irritation that men have with man-bashing marketing techniques have finally reached critical mass… The long term solution [is]… we have had a feminist movement but not a masculinist one.’ – Letter to The Independent

A masculinist movment? Wasn’t that just every century upto the last one?

From Ian Richards, Vice-President, Lancaster University Feminist Society

I read with great interest Lizzie Garcha’s article on ‘Men In Feminism’. As one of said men, I’ve had a wide range of reactions from other blokes who have found out about my commitment to this cause. I’ve had everything from a genuinely intrigued, “why feminism?”, to an acquaintance who collapsed in fits of laughter, and then proceeded to text everybody he knew, telling them in detail about the idiot who spent his time hanging out with feminists.

I invariably meet these reactions with rational arguments, enlightening the ignorant, engaging critics in debate, and challenging misconceptions wherever they arise. Yes, it’s an uphill struggle, and divisions within the feminist movement as to how extensive men’s roles should be don’t exactly help matters, but with a new generation posed to dominate popular culture and activist circles with fresh ideas, I believe there’s hope yet for us all.

Cheers, and I hope to hear more from Ms. Garcha in future.

From Val Moore

How I do agree with your article about the demeaning portrayal of women in the media. I am fed up of turning over, in newsagents, pictures of women in a degrading pose, I would appreciate more women doing the same. So why not? I have had much comment from various men but I stil carry on. I recently said to my usual car mechanic that I would not be using his garage again as he displayed a calendar exposing female genitalia in the workshop my partner then began to tell me off for pointing my finger at the garage owner. Obviously not really understanding what is the problem. Here I am one woman with 3 men and a picture of female genitalia in full view.

From Aideen Johnston

Re: Feminine Feminism

I have never doubted for a second that feminists could be feminine. Being girly and feminine has always been a major part of my identity and self-expression, and I enjoy putting on make-up, getting nice clothes, taking plenty of pride in my appearance. I feel that my friends and I have a pretty healthy attitude towards looks, in that we alays compliment each other on looking good rather than behaving with jealousy. There can be major problems with femininity and beauty, though – we spend a lot of money on products to help us look how we want, feeding capitalism and the clothes companies whose products are produced in sweatshops in third world countries, without noticing our natural beauty. However, Laura’s article was well-worded, and portrayed a more healthy attitude towards femininity and beauty in general than we are normally presented with.

Re: Comments on Kill Bill, Thanks to B for the comments made about my article. I have been thinking and reading an awful lot about the impact and social relevance of women in action films lately because I have been working on a zine on the subject, and I accept your criticism. I admit that there are major problems with violent films such as Kill Bill, and have witnessed the effects first hand. My 11 year old brother is, and always has been, obsessed with horror movies (as well as books) of the exceptionally violent/gory kind, and has seen so many violent films (not that we haven’t tried to prevent him) that I feel he has been desensitized quite a bit. He doesn’t really care about the characters onscreen, and just sees them as cannon fodder. I think that many action movies discourage us from getting in touch with our emotions, something which I heartily object to, which is why I feel that action movies such as Kill Bill should be balanced out with other action movies which *do* encourage us to care and feel emotions deeply, such as the excellent Japanese film Battle Royale (if anyone hasn’t seen it, I highly recommend it. It’s quite violent, but between balletic fight sequences it highlights the brutality of the violence and encourages you to really think about the characters feelings and motivations. I cried several times throughout. The leading male character is portrayed as caring and emotional, not macho and stupid, and the main female role is seen as tough because of her strong conscience. Male female ratio: 50/50, although there is a wee bit of bullshit about protecting certain female characters). Although Kill Bill does glorify violence, I still enjoyed it immensely…I was definitely not suggesting that violent women define female empowerment, or that beating up men or other women would help us achieve equality, nor was I condoning “president” Bush’s actions. I guess I just really like action movie genre, and seeing physically powerful women onscreen makes me feel less victimised. However, I am totally open to other people’s points of view. If anyone has any views on the subject, and would be willing to write an article on their views and/or voice their opinions, I’d be more than happy to include it in my zine (sorry for the shameless plug!). For more details, go to

From Flo Harman

Re: Feminine Feminism, Laura Wadsworth highlights a problem I’ve struggled with myself ever since my own feminist enlightenment. I’m well aware of the Beauty Myth, but I still keep falling for it time after time. And the truth is, I do feel good when I think I look good.

Problem is, there’s a flipside to this: If I feel good when I look good (obviously a matter of taste), how do I feel when I’m less then ecstatic about my appearance? Believe me, that bit isn’t so fun.

I can’t deny that I want to look good, or that I love wearing cool clothes and getting my hair cut, but I don’t want my self-confidence to be based on my appearance. These things should be the icing on the cake, not the cake itself. Someone said (I can’t remember who) ‘Men act, women appear’: I’m not going to stop enjoying my appearance, like it or not it’s part of my identity, but I don’t want to just ‘appear’, especially when it comes to sex!

Laura writes that being a sex object empowers a woman – I couldn’t disagree more. I know that when you feel attractive it can make you feel great, like you have a power over men as a woman (a rare thrill). But, firstly, being attractive is not the same thing as being a sex object . Being a sex object means that you have no subjectivity: you exist to be acted upon, not to act. Secondly, where has that power gone when a woman is being sexually harrassed? Being seen ‘mainly in terms of sexual attractiveness’ isn’t so great when you don’t get to choose it.

Yes, women who pose for lad mags are free to choose (though only as free as unequal pay and gender ideology will let them be), yes they may make lots of money, and of course we shouldn’t dismiss them as airheads or sluts. But what they choose to do does affect all of us. Like it or not, lads mags are part of popular culture, so we have a culture where young men are encouraged to see young women as sex objects. The fact that women can make money from modeling (but maybe not as much as is assumed, and don’t forget all the men involved as agents, photographers, publishers etc.) doesn’t change the fact that they are part of the system that makes it OK for men to lech, grope and generally treat all young women as sexually available. And no, the fact that men can be centrefolds, albeit on a far smaller scale, doesn’t make it OK. My vision of equality isn’t objectification for all!

Popular culture would have us believe that men want sex more than women, and that naturally men do the desiring while women compete to be the desired. Well that just isn’t good enough for me. I want to enjoy being desired, but be a desiring sexual SUBJECT too. And I hate feeling like we women are in competition with each other.

I would like to think that we could be feminist and ‘girly’ if we want, but I’m not sure that we can take just the positive side of it without the negative. While I don’t consider enjoying my appearance to be a fundamental part of my ‘female identity’ (whatever that is), I do at times enjoy it, but I think maybe we need to learn how not to care so much about our appearance to be free from the patriarchal gaze.
Flo Harman, who does and doesn’t care how she looks.

From Jamie

I just wanted to say that Victoria-Dutchman Smiths’ article [Are You Married? If not, why not?] was really good, even though I’m actually quite pro marriage, I think she makes a valid case. Marriage can tend to leave women a lot worse off. Although I would say this, as disagreeable as it seems, marriage does provide the necessary legal standing in which to raise a family. If you want to have kids, it is a good idea if only for them that your partner and you demonstrate some firm commitment, and the law sees this best as marriage. Nobody really knows what the future brings, and your partner could leave, or die, you need some of the back up that marriage gives you, financially, legally, economically.

I don’t consider that I’m buying into an outdates institution by getting married. I think I’m working with the system to ensure that my loved one and I can enjoy our relationship to the full in the present socio-legal context.

From Rowena

Hi, I wanted to comment on Laura Wadsworths article, Feminine Feminism. How refreshing and did she know what I was thinking about this morning!! I work for Women’s Aid and I absolutely thrive on my work. I’m 32 and I completely regarding myself as a feminism. However, I like to dress nice, I like to put things in my hair, I like to paint my nails, I like to wear make up. I wouldn’t say I’m a girly girl but I like to do these things and sometimes I have felt unwanted amongst the ‘original’ feminists. I have worked alongside colleagues who have made comments such as ‘oh she’s probably too busy painting her nails’…and I’ve challenged them on this too!!

I’m a woman and I feel good when I’ve looked after myself, not just outwardly..i feel better after a body scrub and yes, it’s not for a man, it’s for me, i like it when I smell of coconut and I hate it when my blue nail varnish is chipped!!

It’s wrong to continue the old fashioned feminist look…..what is the look? Feminism is for everyone and surely that is what we want to get across? It’s how you think and what you put back into the world and your own self belief about women that makes you a feminist, not what you wear or what shade of lipstick you have on!

Thanks for a fab read! xxxx

From John Burridge

Re: Jo Knowles’ article ‘Cutting Women Down to Size’.

Some years ago a women’s magazine (unfortunately I can’t remember which)tried to alleviate their readers’ body image anxiety by featuring pictures of ‘average-looking’ women, rather than the usual ‘conventionally perfect’ types. However, they found that sales actually fell rather than rose. This suggests that the readers wanted the fantasy of beauty to aspire to, even if it made them feel inadequate about their own bodies (if indeed it did


From Sam

Dear Catherine (i do hope i can call you catherine without fear of a rolling eyed emoticon)

My name is Samuel and i’m studying “Gender, Culture and Identity” as an elective module at Leeds. i stumbled over the ‘Feminists are Sexist’ article and had a giggle reading it. Whilst i understand that your not a man hater please be aware that i am no women hater. However i would like to point out that whilst justified to take a stand against men with something to say about sexism they are equally justified in doing the same. The difference is that we are speaking from a side that has not had to deal with this aspect of there sex for very long. May i suggest that educating them on how to handle their grievences is perhaps a better way forward then mocking them. Men can become terribly defensive when made a fool out of, its one of those things we’ve got to get over. So on behalf of the men who giggle with me when reading this we request alittle more patience and a little less scorn.

From intisar ali

I am glad that there are women who care.
Good job.

From willy richardson

As a feminist and fan of yours I wanted to point out to you that there are Muslim women in the world who do not have the same freedoms won from women’s liberation movements in the West.

As a figurehead and role model for feminists around the world, I wanted to bring to your attention that 700,000,000 Muslim women need your support.

From Mara

Re: Why Irma Kurtz is wrong about Rape

Dear F word, last night I watched a programme on travel in the Mediterranean . The presenter was a lady by the name of Irma Kurtz. Her name rang a bell and I looked her up on the internet to get more information. I liked her,I found her erudite, self effacing and with an appeal that stemmed from the fact that she appeared to be comfortable with herself and the perceptions that she made. Then I read your letter about why Irma Kurtz had been wrong had been wrong in a response to a letter from a reader of the magazine Cosmopolitan with regard to whether or not she had been raped. (June 2001)

I am a confident 36 year old white woman in a loving relationship, one child of my own and 2 two stepchildren.I am well informed and certainly experienced and yet it never fails to amaze me. How stupid women can be (men too,this isn’t by any means restricted to one sex.)You talk about Camille Pasglia and you make very selective references to what various judges and other “experts” have said when making comments that go against the woman concerned. People do horrible things, this happens whether they are male, female, or not entirely sure! Why put yourself in a position when you are giving out the wrong signal. This woman lay down with a man she knew, feigned sleep and didn’t stop him before he entered her.maybe she does feel violated but Christ she can’t be terribly bright, or has such severe self loathing that she felt she merited this “intrusion” as she saw it.

When I was 23 I lived in a shared house in the East End of London. One of the girls that I shared with had a friend (also ex lover)who was heavily involved in the Southend drug culture. She had been but had moved away. This man who incidentally died of a heart attack 4 years ago was very charismatic, well educated and charming. He was often around at our house and drugs would be available upon request. There is always a price to pay and this was also strongly inferred. My friend warned me against him, I grew up in the North West of England in a small market town where you knew everyone and more importantly everyone knew you. I was naive but I put myself in a situation where we were alone. it was a summer evening we were in the living room and he offered me a smoke. It was skunk and after I had smoked it I couldn’t focus, never mind make a constructive decision.I am nearly six feet tall and very capable of taking care of myself, I knew what was happening but was in such a detached state that I couldn’t do anything to stop it. we didn’t have full sex he performed oral sex on me and there was no interaction on my part. He was very matter of fact about it. I was stunned yet fully aware that I had made choices that had put me where I was. This is my point we all make choices and we all of uu know that whatever action we take that there will be a reaction. It is so important that people understand that to live a blameless existence is impossible think before you act and don’t accuse somebody of something when you have put them in a position when they maybe don’t beleive they are doing something wrong or that you really do want it. Maybe what we need to learn is how to communicate and condone rather than conceal and condemn. who knows? Please note that I am in no way condoning Rape. I really do beleive that we all have to be more accountable and that includes women.

From Jason

you moan a lot about a lot of stuff i dont have time to think about. i hope you aren’t really as unhappy as your site makes it appear. i dont like sexists or racists or any of the other ‘ists’. i think it helps them when i dignify their positions by becoming a ‘crank’, so i dont, ( besides, i really dont have the spare time). as long as im living , breathing earning, contributing, and have time for a bit of fun in between i’ll survive. best of luck with what you are doing, if it will bring you some happiness or peace of mind – when all is said and done- there isnt anything else.

Re: Real Men Drink Pints, I honestly dont like malibu and coke and neither does my girlfriend, i’m partial to an archers and lemonade and i admit it at the bar, I’ve never been scoffed at or mocked yet. people can say what they like, i cant stop them and i cant change them so i won’t try. sincerely,

From Richard Hewitt, Berlin, Germany

Dear thefword, first can I say that since discovering your site about a week ago, I’ve been avidly reading it any time there’s a spare moment. It’s a marvellous idea. As a 26-year-old gaining independence I’m coming to the certain conclusion that to confront and deal with the issues of feminism is what we all damn well need. However, the patterns of society oppress men as well as women, certainly not in the same ways but to seriously damaging effect. Perhaps by forcing ourselves out of our cosy complacencies and received ideas there is a chance for a new ‘liberation’ for all of us. I certainly hope so.

I am writing, having seen Richard Kern‘s exhibition in Berlin, to say that the tone of your reviewer Lucy Gollogly’s critique, if such an elevated word is deserved for such a base piece of spleen-venting, is not in the spirit of an open and human-loving attitude. I am tempted to agree with Star of Venus’s comments that, had the labels been swapped so that it appeared Annie Sprinkle had produced Kern’s work, Gollogly’s attitude would have been seismically transformed. As it is, may I make my point: the reviewer completely ignores the crucial point that Kern claims that he doesn’t tell the models what to do. He doesn’t pressure them or coerce them. That is crucial because it rather implies the women, (the ones who are young and pretty and actually have something to show off) actually like getting into the poses you see them in. I thought this was part of the genius of the show, forcing us to accept that they love posing like that. And, moreover, we like to see them. Including the reviewer who spent most of her time talking about Kern and failing to say anything much about Sprinkle. Gollogly moreover “had a good look” at his website (her reply to Star of Venus), clearly not having seen enough at the show. She (the reviewer) also seems to ignore anything Kern himself has said, choosing to rely instead on her own infallible judgement, and her implicit certainty that she is superior to the women modelling for Kern. Moreover, of course if he does maintain there to be a difference between his work and Razzle, then he’s simply lying to cover up for his paternalistic, sexist views and his rape fantasies. Better warn the models then that they’re in such mortal danger … Can’t Lucy distinguish between an artistic representation (a piece of steak), and her ingrained (and unhelpful) feminist ideology? Seems to me what she objects to is that the women are _attractive_ and showing their gash, and, especially, that it’s a man taking the photos. Had the women been obese, physically unattractive, or had it been a woman taking the photos, that would have been less of a cause for derision. All this to me suggests an incredible set of predetermined opinions in the reviewer, even sexism in the sense that it would be ok for a woman, but not for a man to produce these photos.

To conclude, the essence of viewing Kern’s work is to challenge your notions of pornography, not to paint your predefined notions onto the canvas Kern provides. Nakedness is not pornography; photographing the genitals is not pornography, so what is? The answer is it all lies in the interpretation. If Kern is porn, then fashion modeling is porn, of a far worse kind, as is, for example, perfume advertising. But Kern’s work is not porn. Precisely because it is not porn, or fashion modeling, or advertising trying to sell us something, it allows us to appreciate the images for their own value. It frees us to enjoy female nakedness — and why not? — as a form, without being expected to masturbate, buy a product, or participate in the societal role as consumer or oppressor that someone else defined for you. Rather it is up to us the interpretation we put on it. Kern’s work is groundbreaking because it points the way to a future where such images are freed of exactly the nexus of nastiness that Gollogly seems unable to shake off.

From Alan

Re: Page 3, Just to argue a few points:

1) “It’s not the nudity it’s that it makes women into commodities or sex objects.” Exactly how does it make women into commodities? I think there is some circular reasoning here – you can’t actually find a justification for your argument so you produce this commodity argument. Also what is a sex object? I’ve always thought that this term was an emotive term which means whatever the writer wants it to mean. All men see women as sex objects
therefore any picture of a naked woman is a sex object – circular reasoning.

2) Men should by porn instead – but don’t people who oppose Page 3 also oppose porn? It’s like saying when we ban hunting people should fish – but we’ll come after fishing next.

3) Women see male nudity as a laugh, men take it seriously – this old chestnut reeks of sexual stereotyping. This argument is so annoying – women can go to strip shows and grope strippers and behave in almost any loutish manner they choose and it’s “just a bit of fun,” but a man who goes to watch a strip show and is well behaved is still a sleazeball.

I adore Page 3 and have done for over 20 years. I think your anti-arguments are based on prejudice rather than feminism.