Comments from December 2007

Comments on last month’s features and reviews

From Karen James

Re: Filling the hole: Thanks Katie for a sane response

about eating disorders. I am so bored of hearing that it is an

‘individual’ response to inner-turmoil. It is not – it is a perfectly

sane response to a very sick society that denies women rights to a

voice and to their own bodies. It is at epedemic proportions and one

would think that if it affected as many men – that there would be a

society-wide and governmental response to such tragedy. Calling them

illnesses are just ways to avoid positive action and yet again – to

pathologize women’s experiences. And I say this as a recovering

compulsive eater. I could never have recovered until I let go of

being ‘ill’ and realized that I had to openly shun patriarchy.

Result? A loud and confident women!! Thanks again.

From Fiona

I just wanted to say this was a great article and i agree that the

mental agony of anorexia is both deadly and is ignored. I was

diagnosed with atypical anorexia over a year ago and although i have

managed to maintain my body weight and eat regular meals every day my

mental torment has been ignored by everyone including professionals at

the eating disorder clinic. It is not enough for me to eat regular

meals everday, thats not really the problem, the problem is that i

have no self esteem – i would say that since the age of ten (i am now

approaching 23)i have hated my body. This self hatred means i live a

very resticted life and its awful to think im not the only one with

this self loathing. Although i have no idea how to promote a more

positive body image unless women are told their bodies are beautiful

and feel empowered anorexia and body dismorohia are not going to


From Kellie

An honest and intelligent article with a new perspective.

From Matty

Re: Revolution Girl Style Now!: Riot Grrrrl completely changed my life. When I first heard about it I

was really into the concept, but at the age of 14 or so I did not

have any particularly formed feminist opinions. I was a little young

to really get into the thick of the movement, but I went to a few

gigs here and there, read a few zines and a few interviews in the


I do remember a women only riot grrl gig being advertised and

thinking “I don’t like that, separatism is not the way”, but was

convinced to go by a friend who had no-one else to go with.

It was that gig that had a powerful enough effect on me to stamp a

feminist mindset on me from that point onward. It took me a long

time to crystallise my views, but they were all born from the

realisation that I behaved, felt and acted utterly differently when

surrounded only by women. It wasn’t, I realised, an exercise to ban

men, but to help me question and understand myself as a woman in a

patriarchal society.

I’m a performer now, and 15 years later it’s memories of the riot

grrl movement that caused me and a friend, Lucy to open a women only

comedy night where I know for a fact I’ve brought the concept of

feminism to women who hadn’t previously considered it. It may have

taken a few years, but Riot Grrrl made a feminist out of me and no

mistake and through it I’m still trying to spread the message to

other women and understand it myself.

From Jessica

Re: Feeling a bit uncomfortable?: While reading Jane Purcell’s ‘Feeling a bit uncomfortable’, I found

myself in a whirlpool of laughing and crying and also flinching, esp.

at the flaming nipple section. My friend has recently fallen pregnant,

and it has given me an opportunity to think about the rituals of birth

and raising the child thereafter. My friend is planning on a home

birth. I’m fully supportive of this, my own mother regretted having

me in hospital, because of the atmosphere, I was not the problem. She

had my sister at home, and although she admits to it being easier in

part because of the second birth phenomena, she also is adamant that

hospitals cause a great part of the discomfort and stress that is

felt. I was reading Germain Greer’s ‘Female Eunuch’ in which she

suggests that lying down is not a position that allows the woman to

harness her potential strength. Greer suggests standing or crouching,

allowing use of the back muscles and gravity. I suggested this to my

mother, and she said this was an absurd suggestion, great in theory,

but women giving birth are so tiered withing the first stages

alone…well she suggested I try it, see how I feel!! It is

interesting to think about just how much of the “medical” rituals are

useful for women during birth and how much Purcell’s “NFI” theory is

in actual fact relevant.

Jane Purcell, author of the article, replies

Thank you for your comments; it’s lovely to get some feedback. Regarding home birth, several of my friends have had one and all said that despite the pain, they felt more in control, because they were in familiar surroundings and felt they could do as they pleased. Hospital routine, hospital smells and sometimes medical staff acting as though a woman in labour is the most almighty inconvenience, can all contribute to birth being an experience to recover from rather than celebrate.

I strongly believe a woman should have the right to whatever birth she wants, including the right to change her mind halfway through and demand more drugs than Eric Clapton is capable of ingesting. And since Germaine Greer has never actually given birth, I’m with your mother on that point! I tried to move around in hospital but the pains were so overwhelming and came so fast that I couldn’t move. As for the NFI – I heard that directly from a doctor I was seeing several years ago.

One more thing. If you get the chance to read your medical notes – read them. And make comments. They especially hate it when you correct their spelling, or comment on their diagnosis. Ha!

From Ruth

I loved Jane Purcell’s article. It’s always great to read an article

about motherhood from a feminist perspective (as I think some people

believe that once you become a mother you instantly stop being

capable of being a feminist).

There was just one part of the article that I might – just slightly –

take issue with.

“But the gap between knowing why you should breastfeed and the

experience of it is enough to drive away 55% of UK women in the first

week.” That’s true. However what’s also true is that of all the women

who stopped breastfeeding in the first six weeks, 90% didn’t want to

stop. I think that’s a real shame. For the ten percent that did want

to stop, it’s fantastic that they managed to breastfeed as long as

they wanted to and stop when they wanted. But for the others?

Just telling women not to beat themselves up about it isn’t enough.

In fact I think it almost detracts from the issue. Of course women

shouldn’t feel guilty (although sometimes that’s a bit like telling

the pope not to feel catholic) but sometimes I think saying “oh don’t

feel guilty it’s not the end of the world” is a bit of a fob-off when

what they might be better off hearing is “yes it’s terrible you did

not receive the support you deserved and you have every right to feel

angry, rather than guilty, let’s do something about this so it doesn’t

happen again” and investing money in midwives’ pay (although this

should happen as a matter of course anyway) won’t work (as who is

going to use their own wages to pay for extra training?). We need

breastfeeding to become a priority. Not in a “ram it down your throat

if you don’t want to do it” type way of course, but in such a way that

midwives and health care professionals are actually ALL fully trained

in how to support women who do want to do it.

I do agree that far too much is done to try to persuade women to

breastfeed in comparison to how much support there is to actually do

it… there is support, but it tends to come in the form of unpaid

volunteers (like myself) or the occasional fully-trained

breastfeeding midwife, who might work part-time (like the one at our

local hospital) and be unable to get to you when you’ve delivered.

However I have to say, I never had breastfeeding rammed down my

throat; in fact the opposite was true. I was told by midwives my baby

needed formula in hospital; when I returned home I was told by a

midwife I should give him a bottle to help him sleep, a health

visitor told me he was gaining weight too slowly so I should bottle

feed him… again, all issues that could be solved with better

training of paid professionals.

I think in the main though we see eye to eye on your article! I think

that it really is a woman’s right to have the birth she wants, whether

this is at home with candles and a birth pool, in a birth centre or in

a hospital with all available painkillers, and I think whichever she

chooses she should have access to the best possible appropriate care,

and not treated like a second class citizen.

From Jo

In response to Jane Purcell’s article on Maternity Ward experience.

What a fantastic article! Well written, funny and insightful. This is

exactly the kind of thing I want to hear about to get a better idea

about what having a baby might actually be like. It’s not often you

hear about post birth ‘shock pain and terror’. I loved the

description of the ‘hand grenade’ feeling too! This is a real account

of birth, much more helpful than looking at pictures of smiley smug

‘Alice band wearing’ types. Thanks very much.

From Susan Francis

Re: How not to write your policy on transgender rights: I agree totally with Emma Wood’s article on transgender policies. I’m

shocked that A:gender present such gender-essentialist views at all,

let alone as Truth.

The trans activists I’ve read are allies of genderqueer people. It

seems such an obvious place to stand – does anyone really want to be

tied into those straight-jackets of gender roles that the

gate-keepers in the NHS (used to) demand?

I’ve been puzzled by the attitude of some radical feminists to trans

issues, which seems highly biological-determinist in its turn (and

also ignores the existence of transmen as far as I can tell); I

wondered where those writers got the fantasy from of ex-men playing

up to patriarchal stereotypes of womanhood. Looks like they’re in

adversarial symbiosis with those plonkers at A:gender.

Emma Wood, author of the article, replies

Hi Susan,

This is an interesting point as I’d definitely define myself as a radical feminist, meaning literally that I like to get to the roots of patriarchal society, not as popularly supposed that I’m an extreme feminist. The problem being of course that there as many different definitions of ‘radical feminist’ as there are definitions of ‘Marxist’.

I do think the radical feminist position on transgender issues has often been confused somewhat with a biological essentialist position (though there are no doubt some “radical feminists” who are biological determinists). The radical feminist position, at least my radical feminist position, is that gender is a social construct.

That doesn’t mean bodies don’t matter – there is a lot of very real discrimination based on (perceived) biological sex, just as race is a social construct but there’s a lot of very real discrimination based on (perceived) race. I think this is where a lot of the confusion around the radical feminist position has arisen – not least among radical feminists. I personally don’t believe (biological) males are born to rape and abuse, any more than I believe (biological) females are born to clean kitchens. However in western society as it is currently constructed my position is that females are disadvantaged in economic terms and experience violence (physical and psychological) because of their gender “woman” which is layered onto a biologically female body by the surrounding society.

This has often been perceived as determinism, when what radical feminists have actually been saying is that in a patriarchal society which discriminates based on gender, which is in turn layered onto biological sex, biology is destiny simply because as an individual you can’t transcend the patriarchal social/economic system, and that this must be destroyed before any real change can occur.

From Jennifer Drew

Emma Wood’s article on How Not to Write Your Policy on Transgender

Rights was spot-on. As Wood wrote this policy takes the view that

women and men are all innately different. The answer of course, is

because women’s brain are different from men’s. This is biological

essentalism wherein all humans are either female or male irrespective

of physical features because biology says so.

Such views serve to reinforce sexist discrimination and guess what it

will of course, be women who, because they horrors – differ from men

are therefore less than men. Well done Emma for raising this

biological essentalist nonsense.

Emma Wood, author of the article, replies

Thanks for the comments Jennifer. This is the problem with biological essentialism – there is frequently a hidden agenda behind it whether it is racist, as in the case of James Watson or sexist as in the case of a lot of the stuff you read about the ‘natural differences’ between men and women.

I’m not saying that the people who wrote this policy necessarily intended to be sexist – the problem is that these ideas are embedded so deeply in our society that it’s hard to recognise them for what they are. And we need to recognise the dangers of them.

It’s perhaps unsurprising that after years of being told they had a mental illness some transpeople may welcome a biological ‘explanation’ for gender dysphoria. But even if this is the case, this doesn’t justify extrapolating a whole lot of other things from it about the ‘essential’ nature of men and women.

But there are other reasons why essentialism and finding biological causes for things is a bad idea. In 1993 after a genetic cause for homosexuality was supposedly found the Daily Mail ran the headline Abortion hope after gay gene finding.

And as activist Peter Tatchell pointed out – to investigate the ’cause’ of homosexuality immediately implies it is somehow abnormal and undesirable. “If you are investigating the causes of homosexuality, why not look at the causes of heterosexuality? The implication is that heterosexuality is normal, natural and unproblematic.”

From Kate Middleton

An interesting commentary on the Home office policies on so-called

‘gender reassignment’.

You are quite correct that it is disturbing that biological

essentialist views are being promoted in this way by official policy

documents. Like so many of these documents, much of it is a pastiche

of previously published material which includes the ‘the current

medical viewpoint’ produced for the Parliamentary Forum on

Transsexualism by the ‘expert’ psychiatist Dr Russell Reid which

argues that transsexualism is biological. As usual with these

policies it includes unattributed quotes from this document as if

they were fact.

However, the ‘gender is socially constructed’ paradigm of thought is

just as tyranical as biological essentialism in my view and can be

used to argue that ‘gender identity disorder’ is a result of faulty

learning on the part of a child and used to justify ‘behavioral

modification therapy on young children. This ‘diagnosis’ has been

used increasingly to persecute children who are suspected of possibly

growing up to be be gay or lesbian as well as those who might need to

transition to the sex opposite to that which they were identified as

at birth.

In Phyllis Burke’s book Gender Shock, she records how Professor

Richard Green of Charing Cross Hospital believes that homosexuality

is biological in origin but that parents have the legal right to seek

medical treatment to try and modify possible pre-homosexual behaviour.

Green was recommending ‘intense behavioral modification therapy’ as

late as 1987 and was greeted on his arrival at the GMC in March by a

group of women with a transsexual history who were no loner under his

control with ‘look, here comes Satan!’

The concept of gender was promoted by psychatists in the 1950s and

1960s like John Money and Robert Stoller in order to explain people

with intersex conditions as well as transsexualism. Money’s attempt

at reassigning a normal boy as a girl which was used by Kate Millett

in Sexual politics 1969 as evidence that ‘gender’ is learnt and that

male/female behavioral differences are purely social in origin but

this experiment later was revealed as a disaster and academic fraud

and David Reimer had transitioned back to being a man before

committing suicide in 2004.

The stereotypical assumptions revealed in this policy are most

disturbing; anyone who doubts that women can be aggressive should

read Alice Sebold’s Lucky and the poems she wrote about what she

would like to do to her rapist. Or Judith Herman’s Trauma and

Recovery which includes accounts of what certain women would like to

do to the men who had violated them.

I sat in briefly on Dr Russell Reid’s trial in the GMC in March and

listened -to my absolute disgust- to the male ‘experts’ talking about

the ‘female role’. What is that? Flying fighter planes? sailing alone

round the world? Playing Rugby? Women do all these things though this

does not seem to be a fact of which these people are aware.

I would argue that there is a place for biological theories of

causation if it reduces aggressive attempts by the medical

establishment to change people’s sexuality or sense of being male or

female and protect the rights of children and young people to be

treated with compassion and humanity. The study to which you refer

has actually been replicated with 40 more subjects in 2000 with the

same results and, one would hope that it might encourage a new

generation of practitioners to treate the people who they are

supposed to be helping with humanity and humility. Or course, the

danger is that they might just find ways of trying to eliminate what

they perceive as undesirable people if the causes were identifiable.

It was refreshing to read your thoughtful post after reading Julie

Bindel’s incredibly uninformed and prejudiced nonsense on The

Guardian website comparing ‘gender ressignment’ with ‘aversion

therapy’ under the banner of lesbian feminism. As the policy to which

you refer points out, there was about a thirty percent suicide rate

with such treatments.

It is very sad to see such people advocating ‘counselling cures’ for

other people when they might very well be subjected to such abuse

under the psychiatric ‘diagnosis’ of ‘gender identity disorder’ in

order to ‘cure’ them of their lesbianism. It is very sad to see

others who have been persecuted inmoseing their views on others and

spreading misinformation in this way.

The most important thing is that people should be allowed their

personal autonomy over their life, body and expression of personality

without interference and persecution from ignorant people.

Emma Wood, author of the article, replies

Thanks for the remarks (I presume you’re not the same Kate who’s going out with Prince William!). One thing we certainly agree on is that the autonomy of the individual should be paramount. I didn’t know the origins of much of the material – that’s interesting particularly as Dr Russell Reid has been the subject of a disciplinary hearing. Personally I think the huge mistake that’s being made by both sides in this debate is confusing ‘gender’ (socially constructed male and female roles) with a person’s biological sex. I don’t doubt that there are people, because I know quite a few personally, who for whatever reason want to change the physical body/biological sex they were born with and that this isn’t imagination, or internalised homophobia (not least because many of them are heterosexual before transition), or anything else. This may well have a biological origin, at least for some people. Just as homosexuality may have a biological origin

But why should we care one way or another? I’m wary of seeking ‘explanations’ for things – the next logical step is to seek ways to eliminate them. We shouldn’t forget that when a ‘biological’ cause for homosexuality was found as recently as 1993 the Daily Mail ran the headline ‘Abortion hope after gay gene finding’. If homosexuality is genetic, that doesn’t stop people trying to eliminate homosexuality, it just makes the preferred method of elimination more sinister. Curiously the discovery of the ‘gay gene’ was more welcomed in the US than the UK. The US reaction was that a ‘biological’ cause for being gay meant that it was ‘natural’ and therefore somehow ‘justified’. Whereas here Peter Tatchell commented “If you are investigating the causes of homosexuality,why not look at the causes of heterosexuality? The implication is that heterosexuality is normal, natural and unproblematic.”

There’s really no connection at all, in my opinion, between the way a person perceives their physical body and ‘gender’. which is what I mean when I say gender is socially constructed. I’ve got absolutely no desire to change my body – well my biological sex at least – I wouldn’t mind being three inches taller and a few stone lighter. But I don’t identify in any way with a conventional ‘female’ gender role – I do loads of things that aren’t ‘feminine’.

I don’t wear skirts, I don’t wear high heels, I don’t wear makeup, I have short hair and I can do jobs around the house – in defiance of all the people who keep warning me I should get a man to do them. And I occasionally get abuse in the streets because as I don’t look ‘feminine’ people assume (correctly) that I’m a lesbian. They don’t of course say that to some of my ‘straight’ looking (ie more conventionally female) lesbian friends, so the confusion is obviously widespread – the assumption being that a ‘masculine’ looking woman is automatically gay when that isn’t the case. I’m not a lesbian because I identify in any way as male, I’m a lesbian because I’m a woman who is attracted to women. And I’m not attracted to ‘femme’ looking women either which destroys another cliche I’m afraid.

So much for cisgender privilege which supposedly I am the proud possessor of. This is defined in wikipedia “a type of gender identity formed by a match between an individual’s biological sex and the behavior or role considered appropriate for one’s sex “. By that definition I am transgendered. But I am not of course transsexual because I don’t wish to change my biological sex in any way. And I wouldn’t really consider myself transgendered either, just someone who ignores what I see as pointless social convention and believes that you need a black and decker and some rawlplugs, not a penis, to put some shelves up.

From Rosemary

Re: Does ‘gender neutral’ language serve to cover up male violence?: 5th December 07. BBC Breakfast ran a story on how young girls are

being duped into prostitution by teenage boys. Did they ask what can

be done to stop boys selling out younger girls? No! They focussed

solely on how we can empower girls to say no. That’s good, but what

about catching the criminals? What about educating boys to respect

their female peers??

Jennifer Drew, author of the article, replies

I totally agree with your views. I have in fact just read this report

and once again male accountability is invisible. Instead we must

supposedly simply tell girls to say ‘no’ to boys’ sexual demands. Such

claims totally ignore how gender inequality operates. These teen boys

receive the same messages as teen girls, namely that male sexual

entitlement is normal and acceptable and female sexualities are for

men’s use/abuse.

I do know that Womankind have been working in a number of schools

challenging the embedded male sexual harassment of girls which continues

unabated and is often dismissed as ‘just boys being boys’ or just ‘boys

trying out their masculinities’. However, girls continue to be socially

controlled and if they deviate from what is perceived as appropriate

feminine behaviour they are punished. Boys however are not punished and

neither is their behaviour or attitudes challenged.

You might want to have a look at Womankind UK’s website because there is

a section on schools. It is interesting reading.

From Ingrid

I was kind of puzzled by the article. Perhaps the lack of references

were to do with the writing form of f-word but it did make me wonder

if you were basing your view on generalisations rather than actual

empirical research of the media. Similarly the framing of rape by

the media is much more complex -and I think it is the unspoken

assumption that the perpetrator is male which the language hides, and

that the portrayal of the victim as a gendered person (woman, she etc)

is done, maybe misleading or poorly, to invoke a connection.

Interestingly I was speaking to a journalist about the legal

restrictions on what the could print before someone had gone to court

and in the initial cases where the police don’t have a suspect they

may be legally unable to confirm that the person is a male/man. And

as to saying that statements about the public being aware/careful, I

wonder if it is indeed the intention of the police to make everyone

aware -in that everyone should look after others they know.

I went on to Google and tried to look for recent articles where the

gender of the rapist wasn’t mentioned and from what I can see the

situation is much more complex that you outline. In some cases the

portrayal of the victim and how she was raped seems aimed at

gathering sympathy and more importantly empathy which heightens the

feeling and maybe preventative behaviour ‘that situation could

happen to me’. This view is based on a brief analysis of the whole

content (i.e. the gender not being specifically referred to as

‘male’ but the person being referred to as ‘he’ and photos of

the ‘accused’ being included).

Similarly with domestic violence -some statistics indicate that as

high as 19% of domestic abuse victims are male, in half of which the

abuser is male. Having grown up in a household where my mother was

violent against my father and now seeing my sister being violent

against her boyfriend, I can only but conclude that gender plays is

far different role that the simple one you wish to outline.

Perhaps you are drawing on more detailed work, in which case I’d be

interested to read it.

Jennifer Drew, author of the article, replies

The article was written for the general reader and therefore empirical

evidence and research which certainly does prove gender neutral language

is never ‘neutral’ would not have been appropriate.

However, I believe I clearly demonstrated by using examples of how the

male perpetrator but never a female perpetrator is always invisibilised

when the media reports on male violence against women and children.

From Deborah Svidler

I really appreciated your article. Thank you for bringing attention to

such an important issue that most men AND women tend to omit. It

definitely sends out the right kind of message we should be getting

in our society, something that is so difficult to encounter nowadays.

Great job.

From Noel

As I see it, it’s not specified if males commit acts of violence

(either against males or females) because violence is perceived as a

male thing. If you hear the phrase “…a soldier tortured and

killed…” do you think about a male, or a female? You don’t think

about this picture,


I, as a male, see this as a bad thing, because I’m someone concerned

about the violence against anyone, specially against woman. I don’t

like to be thought as violent just because I’m a male, just as my

girlfriend doesn’t like to be thought as submissibe just because

she’s a woman.

I’m wondering: how should we clearly state when a male attacked a

woman or girl, without tagging the whole male gender as violent,

reinforcing the male violent attitudes?

Anyway, your article made me think =)

Jennifer Drew, author of the article, replies

The image you refer to is a classic case in point. The media focused

solely on this female soldier’s acts of sexual violence against some

Iraqi prisoners and deftly omitted to mention or hold responsible the

male soldiers who also participated in these crimes. So again one has

to ask why? Why was the media’s attention solely focused on the acts of

one individual female soldier, when they knew at least three or four

male soldiers were also involved and one male soldier was clearly

ordering the other soldiers to commit these crimes.

The actions of this female soldier were not an everyday occurrence which

is why the media sensationalised this case. However, male sexual and

physical violence against women is not only a daily occurrence it

happens nearly every hour every day, somewhere globally. But these

cases are rarely reported because male violence against women is nothing

out of the ordinary, rather it is ‘natural’ and ‘normal’ male behaviour.

Only the more sensational acts of male violence against women are

reported with of course always the media reporting a woman was

raped/sexually abused/murdered but with no mention of the gender of the

male perpetrator. We never read reports that a man raped and/or

murdered a woman, instead we read a woman was raped and or

murdered. Which leads me once again to ask did another woman commit

this crime, or perhaps it was was a child?

In fact rarely do we read reports ‘a solder was killed today’ instead we

read about people being killled if the military casualties are more than

one person. Only when a female soldier is reported having been killed

in action do we read ‘a female soldier was today killed etc.’

Overwhelmingly violence is being committed by men and boys against women

and girls but they continue to be reported as isolated cases not ones

wherein men and boys are systematically abusing women and girls because

they believe men are entitled to control and dominate women.

However, women as a group are not in the fortunate position of having

their gender invisibilised. Whenever a

woman or girl is reported as having committed an act of violence, the

media always ensures the reader knows the gender of the woman or girl

within the very first sentence. The gender of male perpetrators is

never mentioned, instead we simply read a woman was

raped/murdered/sexually abused.

Not naming the gender of male perpetrators effectively invisibilises

widespread male violence against women and negates these men’s


It is very easy to state when a man or boy commits violence against a

woman or girl. All that is required is for the media and institutions

to say in the first sentence ‘a man/men/boy(s) raped/sexually abused

etc. a woman/girl. The very wording does not say ‘all men are violent,

neither does it say all men and boys committed violence against the

woman or girl.

The media has no compunction in reporting the gender of a woman or girl

whenever they commit a crime of violence and I have yet to hear women

claim such reporting leads them to believe all women and girls are

innately violent against men/boys/women/girls. What I do hear is that

the female perpetrator is being held accountable and responsible for her

actions. Men who commit violence against women however, are not being

held accountable for their actions.

I’m pleased to note you do not condone or justify male violence against

women but sadly, many men do justify their violence against women. If

you re-read my article you will see that I clearly stated not all men

commit violence against women. The real problem is men and many women

too, become very uncomfortable when they read articles or the rare news

reports wherein the gender of male perpetrators is clearly highlighted

at the beginning of such reports or articles. But hiding the fact men

not women overwhelmingly commit violence against women only helps to

invisibilise the fact male violence against women is men’s problem not

women’s. Women are not to blame when a man or men commit violence

against them but using gender neutral language acquits these men of

their accountability.

Many men do challenge other men’s physical and verbal violence against

women but sadly such men are very much in the minority. For example,

the White Ribbon Campaign is a male organisation which has branches in

many countries. This organisation actively speaks out on male violence

against women and works with women to challenge men’s violence and their

behaviour. These men are not bystanders because they do not believe

male violence is innate but rather it is learned behaviour and as such

can be challenged and changed. But at the same time they recognise the

power imbalance between women and men and how men as a group continue to

hold more power than women. They also recognise how male violence

against women is excused and justified as well as rebutting myths that

women in equal numbers commit similar acts of violence against men.

Your girlfriend rightly refuses to be considered submissive but

unfortunately the media, Government and other institutions still

promote the myth that women as a group are submissive and ‘vulnerable.’

Which of course means women’s submissiveness and vulnerability is the

real cause of men’s violence against women not the fact men as a group

have been given more power and authority than women. Of course, if a

woman or women are perceived to have deviated from what is believed to

be appropriate feminine behaviour, then the woman or women is

automatically held accountable for the man/men’s violence committed

against them. This is not the case however, when men commit acts of

violence against women, instead great effort is made to excuse or

justify men’s violence which includes cleverly omitting those taboo

words male words man, men, boy, boys etc.

Just to reiterate I do not believe men as a group are violent because of

their biology. Aggression is not solely a male trait it is a human one,

but women unlike men are subject to more social control and punishment

if they deviate from their supposed feminine role. Men however, are

taught that in order to be a ‘real man’ aggression and violence is

natural masculine behaviour. It is not and therefore can and must be


From John F.

Regarding the article “Does ‘gender neutral’ language serve to

cover up male violence?” by Jennifer Drew. I actually want to throw

out a comment to Jennifer specifically, for her to think about.

Omitting the “male” in “male-perpetrated violence,” as I see it, is

somewhat the opposite of what you describe, yet at the same time can

make the same negative contributions.

People tend to not mention the sex unless it’s NOT a man for the same

reason a straight person will assume others are straight unless told

otherwise: Because our limited viewpoints cause us to expect the

default. Hell, the act of widespread social expectation itself

defines what a default will be.

This means that it’s more a normal thing to most for a man to commit

violence, and a more abnormal thing for a woman to do so. This can

be seen by masculists as the “assumed guilt” of all men and a

lowering of their social status. Or some can see it as, such as you

say, excusing (through normalizing) the actions of men as less

important/fixable/problematic than the violent actions of women.

But of course all this only comes from the fact that yes, men are

more apt to commit physical violence than women, but there are only

two sexes and one is most likely going to be better or worse at any

one thing than the other gender is. Beyond that, more reasons for

this go back to animal nature itself, and the checks-and-balances of

nature’s gender system of reproduction.

No, it’s not meant to be between pure equals, men and women are

slightly different in just the right ways, and have their more-unique

gender-specific positive and negative traits, coupled with many we

share more commonly as basic human traits.

And that’s what this is all about, traits, the same traits we see

every day in society and can see clearly through history, as well as

in nature. Some feel the need to criticize/fear those with whom they

don’t share enough traits, but that view is slowly becoming less

popular over the centuries.

From Eddy

In response to your article about the gender of words becoming neutral

in order to protect men:

I’m a gay male, and was raped by the same. He was also my best


So yeah, women are commonly the ones being raped, but not all the

time. Rape is not just a crime against women. A woman and be raped

by another woman, a man by and man, and any combination of the two.

If words are becoming neural, they should be done so to both, ie XX

were committed in 2007, so on and so forth.

Jennifer Drew, author of the article, replies

Thank you for your comments. However, if you carefully read my article

you will see that ‘gender neutral language’ does in fact invisibilise

those men who commit violence against women.

You state a male friend raped you. The gender of the rapist was once

again male. Like women, you too were a victim of male violence, but

overwhelmingly male violence is committed with impunity by men against

women. Whenever cases of male violence against women are reported, the

language used is always the same, wherein the male perpetrator(s) gender

is always invisibilised. Instead we read a woman was raped/sexually

abused/physically attacked but the word man, male, boy is never used.

So, one has to ask why? Why are these words taboo ones. Perpetrators

must be held accountable for their crimes but unlike women the male

gender is rarely explicity stated. In doing so it invisibilises male

accountability. Women however, are not protected. Whenever a woman is

reported as having committed a violent crime, within the first sentence

the media ensures readers know the perpetrator is a woman. Not so in

cases of male violence against women. Why is society so afraid of

holding violent men accountable for their crimes against women but has

no hesitation in blaming women for violence they have committed. Of

course, it makes many men uncomfortable knowing that many men do commit

violent sexual and physical crimes against women but this does not mean

all men are responsible. Invisibilising the gender of the male

perpetrators helps to make male violence against women normal whereas in

fact it is not normal but must be challenged.

Cases wherein a male(s) rape another male are always reported with both

the perpetrator and victim’s gender being named, usually within the

first sentence. This does not happen when women are victims of male


Yes, a woman can rape another woman and yes men do rape other men, but I

repeat women do not rape men to the same extent as men rape women. Nor

do men rape men to the same extent as men raping women. Rape is

primarily a crime committed by men against women. This is a fact but

the media and Government by using gender neutral language effectively

invisibilise male violence against women.

From arvan

I could not agree more.

I agree that accountability is missing. I will personally use the

language that you suggest, for the very same reasons that you stated.

Generally, in life, I find that when accountability is ‘missing’ – it

is no coincidence: it is being avoided.

It is no coincidence that media outlets neglect / omit / or “forget”

to make overt statements of male accountability for acts of

aggression or dominance to women. Men enjoy greater wealth and

freedom over women, worldwide. Men control the media and government


I see that the state of women, as a whole is still that of a slave or

livestock. For every one woman who stands her ground, claims her

space in society and makes her own way, career and choices – there

are probably one hundred that are enslaved by brutality, religion,

deprivation of education and the bribes that come from dressing up

pretty for the “master’s” (man’s) favor over others.

The message you have drawn attention to here, is one of millions of

messages that reaffirms both the desired subservient state that men

relegate women into – and elevated state that men place ourselves


I am not optimistic that this will change without catastrophe.

From Mia

Re: How to Look Good Naked: How is this show good for the women on it? I love Gok, he is

f-a-b-u-l-o-u-s. And I love the idea of showing the reality of what

most women in the UK look like, and normalising it within the media.

What don’t I love? I don’t love the way a group of women are lined up

in a row, going from thinnest to fattest, with the contestant (if you

can call her that) asked to indicate where on the weight scale she

thinks she lies. The fact that she may be smaller than she thought is

a moot point; there are women in that row who are larger, and by

framing the situation in such a way as to make the contestant happy

that she is not as fat as the woman on the end, one inevitably ends

up destroying that womans confidence for being bigger than is

acceptable for the show.

What the hell? It also disturbs me that it is seen as ok to line ’em

up and use them as dehumanised indicators of attractiveness. As is

they are not people, as if the only way to feel good is to feel

thinner than you are.

Would YOU want to strip down to your panties and act as an example of

what NOT to look like? Didn’t think so.

From sian

hmm, surely the real issue is why women have low self esteem, tackle

these reasons and you help solve the problem. fake tan doesn’t do

that! and so, unlike nicky hambleton jones, he doesn’t suggest

invasive surgery, and says you can look good with your figure, but

still involves slapping on fake tan, waxing, dying, fake hair to

achieve the ideal “feminine” look. this isn’t really celebrating

women’s natural beautty. and why does he have to say “my girl” all

the time? she’s not your girl gok – she’s her own!

From Marina Tyndall

I love love love your new shop. That is all.

Comments on blog posts

From Diane

Re: Men want ‘lobotomised’ women: O.k., is it really? I don’t think so. I want to know why more

feminists aren’t focusing on ageism(sp?)?. I hail from America,

unfortunately, and have witnessed many insults to the female,

especially the “aged” woman. What ever could they mean? They clearly

mean that a woman beyond a certain age (30?!!) is not worth the

chromosomes she hides within that all-important mitochondrial dna.

Men are no where near as important genetically, sorry. When we as a

species can decipher the merits of existence beyond reproductive age,

I will quit the cycle of self-destruction imposed (self-imposed) at

age 16! What a waste. Women should concentrate their efforts on so

much more than the latest anti-aging serum. Why preserve yourselves

for those that do not appreciate your cognizant contributions? There

is no minority that has been more abused than the female of the


From Genevieve

Re: Who to blame for sexist Xmas cards? Feminists, obviously!: n response to the ‘sexist Christmas cards’ article–I was once sent a

card that showed a picture of Mary resting while Joseph held the baby

Jesus. Even though I don’t consider myself Christian anymore, I

still think this was one of the most positive cards I’ve ever

seen–portraying the ‘Holy Family’ as more like a normal family, and

Mary as a normal person with normal human needs (such as taking a nap

after having given birth) rather than some perfect saint-woman.

From Yvonne Douglas

Re: Testosterone causes humour? Oh, please: So if male competition for women is the reason the unicycling man gets

laughed at, what is the reason that I, a short fat woman on my bike,

also experience the same thing? Do they think that I am a lesbian

who may be competing for female attention? And how a concern for

other’s feelings translates into a lack of humour is anyone’s guess.

How does the researcher know what funny remarks the women were

thinking when they chose to be kind or encouraging instead? And why

do negative male traits always seem to get justified away with

evolutionary explanations that remove all personal responsibility for

their behaviour? Female anti-social behaviour = the masculating

tendancies of feminism. Male anti-social behaviour = necessary evil

for the wonders of human reproduction…. yeah right.

From dnx-x1

”It’s sort of ridiculous how easily scientists leap to the

conclusion that all observed results can be traced back to the womb

and/or hormones and/or DNA.”

It’s sort of ridiculous how easily feminists leap to the conclusion

that all observed results can be traced to the patriarchy, and/or


I’m not going to say whether or not I agree with them, but I will say

this: men are more varied than women.

From Faintly Puzzled in London

Are you spoofing the fact that the BBC got taken in by a joke

article? Or has the BBC mislead you as well?

Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word, replies

I sincerely hope this is a spoof, but I was unable to find anything to back up your suggestion.

From Julie

Re: On the Tube: I completely sympathise. In the summer I spent some time in New York,

and during one extremely crowded Subway journey, a man fondled my

backside. I immediately started shouting and making a fuss; I was

completely shocked and disgusted by this violation. A few weeks

later, during another Subway ride, this time on a deserted carriage

at night, a man approached myself and my female companion, making

lewd comments and refusing to leave us alone. We were completely

intimidated and struck dumb by the situation. We got off at the next

station and got a taxi to our destination, chiding ourselves for

making such a poor personal safety decision.

Why could I speak up about the first scenario and not the second?

Perhaps I felt that I felt in some way that we had invited the

latter; we were dressed up for a night out. In retrospect, however, I

was outraged by the first man because he violated social norms not

only by touching me, but by doing it in public. I felt almost as if I

had invaded the second man’s territory, by presenting myself to him in

a ‘private’ context.

From Yvonne Douglas

Just a quick word – don’t ever doubt yourself, if you

are in a situation where a person is making you feel uncomfortable,

there is almost certainly a very good reason for it – your testing of

the situation by walking around to see if he followed you was

absolutely correct – I would add, for what to do in a similar

situation, don’t be afraid to walk into a local shop or pub and ask

the manager to call the police as you believe you are being followed

– no reaction is an over-reaction where you may be in danger. For a

fantastic book read The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker – the first

chapter is absolutely harrowing and has put off many people I have

loaned it to but it is one of the best books I have ever read and

gave me great confidence in judging why a particular person or

situation was making me feel nervous, and what to do about it. It

also has some very good advice on how to deal with

unwanted/threatening male attention both from strangers and people

known to yourself and, refreshingly, recognises the phenomenon of

male violence in relation to women. It’s also important to remember

that a good, non-violent man will almost never become violent due to

your actions – no matter how crazy or paranoid he might think you

were it you started screaming at him to stop following you – so if

causing a confrontation or calling the police does then result in

violence, you can be fairly sure it was a possibility all along and

that your intuitions were correct.

Best of luck xxx

From Helen

Re: A lesson from on the application of gender stereotypes: There have been a number of articles of the F-word recently

criticising the view that men and women think and behave differently,

and the “Men are from Mars, women are from Venus” attitude. Whilst I

can agree that gender stereotyping is a bad thing, I am not sure it

is entirely in women’s interests to promote the view that men and

women are exactly the same in thoughts and behaviours. I went to a

girls school for seven years and then went to University to study

science in a very male dominated environment. It took quite a while

to adjust to the change in culture, which was very different. Whether

the differences are down to social conditioning or are innate I would

not like to say, but I was immediately struck by the fact that men

are (on average) very much more egotistical and aggressive than

women. This is not a small difference, it is huge. It took me

somewhat longer to realise that because of this, men and women also

tend to judge themselves and each other very differently. Men tend to

take other people very much at face value, and when judging

themselves, tend to put themselves towards the top of the ability

scale. Women on the other hand tend to be much more self critical,

and rather more supportive and generous in their judgements of other

people. I think this is because in female culture (at least at the

school I went to) big-headed people tend to be disliked and

disapproved of, and a degree of modesty and support for others is

expected. In male culture however, being modest is often simply taken

as an admission of being rubbish. The point I am trying to make here

is, that if we do not understand and accept that these differences

exist, whether down to social conditioning or not, women’s abilities

will always be underestimated. Because of this, I prefer the Fawcett

Society’s “equal but different” approach, which I think is more

helpful in this respect.

From An Edinburgh Feminist

Re: Nativity shmativity: I am a feminist and a Christian. If Charlotte Cooper wants to provide

a serious critique of the Nativity, that\’s fine. I am dismayed,

however, that she saw fit to publish something that betrayed

ignorance of the biblical passages that she dismisses. Ms Cooper

states that \”God impregnates the young woman without her consent, or

even her knowledge.\” If Ms Cooper had actually read the Gospel of St

Luke, she would have found that the angel Gabriel appears to Mary

*before* she becomes pregnant, to tell her what is going to happen.

Mary discusses God\’s message with Gabriel, who leaves only after she

has *consented* to what is proposed, with the words \”May it be to me

as you have said.\” (Luke 1:38). You could argue that Mary just does

as she is told, but so does Joseph when he plans to break off his

engagement to Mary and is *commanded* by an angel to marry her as

planned (Matthew 1)! You could also argue, as Ms Cooper does, that

\”The Nativity reinforces ideas of the male heir \” but that is

hardly surprising given that the story (whether you believe it or

not) is set 2000 years ago in a patriarchal, patrilineal society,

under the occupation of Rome, another patriarchal, patrilineal

society. This makes it all the more astonishing that Jesus grows up

to treat women as equals (Jewish or not), have female followers

(Martha; Mary; Mary Magdalene; Joanna; Susanna and others) and

actively intervene when women are being abused (e.g. when a woman is

about to be stoned for a sexual transgression – John 8). Please do

critique Christian beliefs on this site but please show some respect

by: a) reading the biblical passages that you are discussing, and b)

considering the historical context in which they were written. Thank


Charlotte Cooper, author of the blog post, replies

I would love to be able to perform a serious critique of anything in such a short space. Alas, I cannot.

I thought the article quite obviously a joke at the expense of the rigorous shake down at this time of

year of the Nativity: if it’s neccessary/harming our kids/part of being British, all of which always

include crossed wires about the Bible/religion/Christmas/whatever. I’ve never seen it done from a

feminist perspective and just thought it would be awfully jolly.

I’m sorry if you found it offensive and find it more so that you think me so rude and dense.

Best Regards, Merry Christmas.

From Diarmuid

Re: Ronaldo named as footballer in rape case: Just read that article you wrote about how Christiano Ronaldo “raped”

a woman in a london hotel last year. Its typical that a feminist site

would condemn a man as soon as he is accused by a gold digging tramp

who wants to fleece him for all he’s worth. You took a woman at her

word purely because she was a woman and condemned a man because he

was a man, which surely you realise is most ironic from people who

claim they want equal rights with men. The claim was proven to be a

lie as i’m sure todays case against johnny eagles is which is why i

felt the need to email ye before you condemn another innocent man,

which im sure he is.

A little more responsible editing of your rag might be in order.

Louise Livesey, author of the blog post, replies

Thanks for your comments, it’s always nice to know people are trawling our archives. Sadly on this occasion you are mistaken. I’ve just rechecked the article and I consistently used the term “alleged” to describe the allegations. I’m not sure how the consistent use of “alleged” (and it’s derivations) escaped your attention but thanks for making contact. At The F Word we are always careful that we abide by the legal standards preventing defamation.

It’s rather sad that anyone would pre-judge the allegations – I made very clear that “whatever the rights and wrongs” of the situation the FA needed to start taking the run of allegations as a series and systemic issue rather than as individual cases. Unfortunately you decide to denigrate a woman I have no doubt you have no knowledge of whatsoever. As far as I remember (and I may be wrong on this) the Ronaldo case never got to trial so it wasn’t “proven” either way. There are several good texts which investigate the process of attrition in the legal system for sexual violence cases but I’d recommend CWASU’s Gap or Chasm? report and Sue Lee’s Policing Sexual Assault as important documents.

I’d also draw your attention to the fact that CWASU found only 5.8% of reported rapes resulted in conviction. If you add that to the number unreported (according to the Government’s British Crime Survey) then the figure is even smaller (less than 2%). Most cases remain unproven because they never get to court. As for feminists always taking women at their word, it’s a sad misconception that feminism is somehow about “man-hating” which couldn’t be further from the truth. As a feminist I believe patriarchy (the systematic privileging of masculinity) warps life for both men and women.

Obviously I hope you’ll proof-read my forthcoming blog about the latest Man U rape allegations as well. By the way, it’s Jonny Evans not Jonny Eagle. Jonny Eagle appears to be a tennis player.