Comments from March 2008

Comments on this month’s features and reviews

From Dee Nic

Re: How to get an activist movement to keep women in prostitution: What a fantastic piece! sometimes I despair of the way the media

uncritically ‘reports’ these groups activism. What’s missing is basic

economic analysis.

So good too to see a real convo with the truth finally emerging. Much of

the legalisation campaign involves nothing but selective ‘happy hooker’


Would love to see this get front page treatment at the Graun……

Well done, Elkis.

From Sarah


you for posting such an honest and insightful look at prostitution.

Ekis, author of the article, replies

Thank you so much for the comment. I’m writing a book on the subject and therefore researching a lot of these “activist groups”. What I’ve found so far, it’s a big scam. Oh yes, there are prostitutes who do believe legalizing will make it better and who honestly fight for it, but if you compare the number of them to how many times they get quoted in the media, it’s like one to 500.

And that also has to do with the internetization of media – today a stressed-out journalist with no previous knowledge who is doing a piece on prostitution, can easily surf his way into an “activist prostitute” who will answer the mail in a couple of hours with answers like “We, the prostitutes, want the same rights as everybody else.” Of course! But what nobody does is search behind; who are these people actually, how many are they, who do they represent – and do the prostitutes who are living in hell have a website where you can ask them questions about it? They have no voice whatsoever. At all. It kind of lies in the nature of the subject. If you have misery, people will be silenced by misery itself. Natasja, who is dead now – there was no way any journalist would have made his way through to her. I happened to rent a room in the same house as her, that’s how we made friends.

Another strange thing is, the “activist groups” you mentioned are often presented as trade unions although, I’ve never heard of a trade union which tries its best to hide the exploitation and violence. In all other sectors, trade unions expose the problems and confront employers. In this case however, the john is “such a nice person” and prostitution is great fun – all that needs to complete the paradise is legalisation! If you think about it, not even the most popular jobs are expressed that way by their trade unions. Which makes you think something is not just the way it seems.

From Jennifer Drew

The article How To Get An Activist Movement to Keep Women In Prostitution

is excellent. The writer through the words of prostituted women shows how

the very vocal and porn financed groups have changed the meaning of words

such as ‘choice, freedom’ individual accountability etc.’ Now slavery does

not exist it is simply a ‘choice.’ Johns are no longer Johns but

customers. Pimps and traffickers are simply business entrepeneurs.

Individualism is a convenient term because it deliberately hides how

societal disadvantages affect predominantly women but not men. I do not

see large groups of men entering prostitution because it is ’empowering.’

‘Choice’ is no choice when so many women have no other option but to become

prostituted women in order to survive. This is not ‘choice’ as this

article clearly proves but rather is the normalisation and increasing

acceptance that men as a group should continue to have the right to buy

women’s bodies in order to rape and sexually abuse them.

From Outrage

No, “unpaid work” is not an alternative term for slavery (the key

characteristic of which is coercion), but “sex worker” is a relevent

alternative to historically demeaning terms like prostitute, which colour

not only a person’s occupation but their whole being. Paid-for sex is not

intrinsically a problem, but human trafficking, worker exploitation,

underage employment, physical violence, workplace intimidation and health &

safety are. These issues are not intrinsic to the sex industry, only to

industries where people turn a blind eye to human rights abuse. This is not

a “woman’s issue” – there are enough male and transexual sex workers out

there after all – it is an issue about respecting worker rights.

From Grainne Tobin

Ekis’s article about prostitution in Barcelona was great – personal and

thoughtful and genuinely informative. I too have heard a lot of that

‘people make their choices’ stuff, justifying sex work as a perfectly valid

career option, and it always seems naive to me. It is not like other work,

and it thrives on the problems in the prostitutes’ lives. I was in

Barcelona recently, having been there a few years ago. There was a visible

absence of prostitutes on the Ramblas, so we surmised that there had been

some kind of street crackdown which has driven it to less obvious places.

As usual. Ekis’ piece explains what has been happening. Selfishly, it felt

good to have a break from my own nice, fulfilling work and not think too

much, as a bland tourist, about others’ difficult, hidden livelihoods in

this city.

From JThompson

Re: Not a happy birthday: The author of “Not a Happy Birthday” relates the account of one traumatic

birth experience with one horrific midwife… then asserts that this

happens to “scores” of women. While I don’t deny that some may women

undergo uncomfortable and unnecessary procedures during birth (because of

ill advised medical professionals) the idea that it’s “rape” is denigrating

to actual rape victims.

I know many medical professionals who work in obstetrics and gynecology –

they got into this field because they love nothing more than helping women

deliver healthy babies. Equivocating their best-intentioned efforts with

rape is both sensationalistic and malicious.

Amity Reed, author of the article, replies

First, you maintain that because I included only one story of birth rape in the article, my assertion that this happens to many other women is somehow unbelievable. You need only look at some of the links I included in my story to see that this does indeed happen to many more women than one would like to believe. The fact that there are organisations and charities dedicated solely to helping survivors of medical mistreatment and birth trauma in particular (such as Witness and the Birth Trauma Association) should be testament to that.

Second, you state that while many women undergo ‘uncomfortable and unnecessary’ procedures (a gross understatement when we’re talking about forcing hands or instruments into women’s vaginas without their consent) during birth, that this does not amount to rape and that equating these acts with rape is denigrating to ‘actual’ rape victims.

What I find most disturbing about this method of thought is that we have come to equate birth with the loss of power. The idea that giving birth is a time to “check one’s dignity at the door'” and accept that unpleasant and unwanted procedures will be performed on you, possibly against your will or accompanied by threats about the baby’s health, is absolutely frightening and appalling to me.

We fight and fight for women’s right to choose whether to carry their foetuses to term or not, but then tell them that their bodies are not their own, that they must submit to the will of others “for the good of the baby”. How does that make sense? We either have full bodily autonomy or we don’t. We can’t pick and choose based on which experiences we deem acceptable and which we think are ‘no big deal’ because they are socially taboo and rarely challenged.

Finally, to address your third point, that by writing about these assaults I somehow tar all of obstetrics and gynaecology with the same brush, I would challenge your belief that based on the few personal relationships you have with people in these fields (who undoubtedly have the best of intentions and are good people) you can fairly and rationally arrive at the conclusion that no one in these fields harm women, even those doing so with ‘good intentions’.

A rapist or abuser isn’t always a sinister figure lurking in the shadows with a sadistic grin and an insatiable urge to harm – they can be extremely ordinary people who don’t understand that the power they wield must be used with the utmost sensitivity and care.

They are the obstetricians who want to get home to their families and so order more drugs, more oxytocin to increase contractions and then a caesarean, all so he or she can be at the dinner table on time; the nurses who are overworked and tired; the jaded midwives who have ‘seen it all’ and think they know best. Their intentions may not have been evil but they must be held responsible for their actions when they harm and control the very people they are entrusted to help.

Calling the hell these women go through “sensationalistic and malicious” is not only offensive to them but to the very ideals of feminism.

From Shawna

What a fabulous article! I feel the same way myself about the the

“business of birth! ” As a doula I have witnessed many women being violated

in one way or another and from my perspective and in my role, I am unable

to say or do anything about it and it is frustrating and disgusting and

disheartening. I am a mother of 3 and my first was born in a hospital and

left me feeling much the same…I then went on to have 2 beautiful home

births and I highly support and reccommend it to anyone who will listen!

This does have to stop, women do need to take back their birthing power and

protect it from those prying, probing, violating and intervening hands…

Good on you for having the balls to write it how you see it…

From Penny Christensen

Thank you for your well written article on the crime of birth rape. I run

an organization of traumatized mothers in Canada and I find this travesty

depressingly common. We hear from many women with horror stories of their

birth rape in hospitals and in their homes by midwives and by doctors and


For each story we hear we know there are hundreds who can’t speak

up. Keeping it on the back burner is how they cope. You correctly identify

birth rape as a devaluation of women – their bodies, health and minds and

this will not go away until a woman\’s right to decide which delivery

choice (and her particular requirements about that delivery option) is best

for her is respected and legally recognized.

It is an area that has been

ignored too long by feminist thinkers and I’m so happy you, and others

like you, are finally addressing this issue. You also make a good point

about misogyny not solely being a trait associated with cruel and

controlling men. Some of the most horrific stories we hear are about women

abusing women. Systemic discrimination (and gender discrimination is no

exception) remains systemic because everyone participates in it – even

those most negatively affected by it.

From Kimberley

Your article on maternity ward rape was dead on. And it doesn’t just

happen in the UK. In Canada where I work as a Labour Doula, I find I spend

much of my time preparing clients for the ‘war’ of childbirth. I tell

them what could happen and how to protect themselves against the medical

community. It saddens me and frustrates me that birth, while the most

natural thing in the world for a woman to do is treated like an illness and

something to be managed and when things fall outside of the norm, as most

do the labouring mother is subjected to all kinds of horrible interventions

that almost always leads to a section.

When will the medical community back off and let us do what our bodies

were designed to do. Birth a baby!

From Lara

Thank you so much for placing the post “not a happy birthday” in your

blog. I knew a bit about the medicalization of birthing and women’s

bodies, about the utter and total lack of respect for women’s bodies and

their dignity in hospitals, but I never called it “birth rape”. It most

definitely IS rape. Patriarchy’s control of women’s bodies in every way

and at all times is so disturbing and mind-boggling. I am practically

scared of ever giving birth in the future.

From rose_hasty

I was really interested to read this article as I have heard from women

who were disappointed by the attitudes of healthcare professionals during

their births but never heard or fully considered how this affected the way

they treated the women’s bodies. I’m currently pregnant and am a survivor

of rape (not birth rape) and would like some reassurance on this issue when

I go to visit the maternity ward I am registered with. As this is my first

pregnancy I’d be grateful if anyone could give me tips on questions I could

ask and requests I might make that could act as a sort of statement of my

position on this kind of treatment and abuse.

From Karen Law

I am a VBACer and want to thank Amity Reed for providing a voice for so

many women. I know of women who have endured birth rape and those who have

endured Caesareans which should not have been necessary.

The childbirth revolution is gathering momentum slowly but surely, our

voices WILL be heard.

From Michelle

Re: Labours left unfinished: third wave feminism: This is an amazing article and reflects a lot of my own thinking. We need

to seek out and educate ourselves of the feminist her-story that came

before ‘us’; younger feminists today think they’re fighting new battles in

new ways, but most of the time we’re not.

I also agree that we need to advance ‘third-wave’ feminism’s emphasis on

culture (which is inspiring and empowering) into challenging politics/wider

structures, as Red mentioned. We have the ideas, we just need to get more

organised to actually realise what we spend so much time blogging/writing


Thanks for writing.

From moira

Civil Rights activist Fanny Lou Hamer (1917 to1977) said “No-body’s free

until everybody’s free.”

Let’s be even more specific – No woman is free until every woman is free.

Right now it’s still men who get to say, chose, decide, dictate which

women are free and which women are not free. Too many women still think

that’s OK.

We do not yet own ourselves. If even one woman is a sex object, is a

trafficked piece of commercial transaction or is subjected to rape then it

means that all women are still in that man-made category of traffickable,

rapable, object.

It should be a crime for a man to buy a woman. It is no man’s human right

to have sex with a woman, any woman. There is no distinction between a

slut, a slag, a prostitute and a ‘good’ woman – we are all female human

beings – and men should get off our backs and out of our vaginas until we

say we want anything to do with them.

These facts are true no matter what ‘wave’ of feminism happens to be

happening right now.

From Deborah McAlister

As a wise women said to me Riot Grrrl and zines have a very important

function in that they introduce feminism to women who otherwise might not

be aware of it. It should not therefore be dismissed frivolous.

I do agree with the author though as it should be an introduction to a

movement not a movement in itself. We do need to move further, to get

momentum to actually start doing something. Rather than being the lazy

children of those women who actually got up shouted and were heard.

I think the internet is partially to blame for our idleness, it’s an

amazing networking tool, but I think it makes it easy to feel active

without ever having to bother leaving the house and actually DO anything.

Red Chidgey, author of the article, replies

Thanks for your comment on The F-Word article! I do agree, riot grrrl is/was certainly transformative – it totally revolutionalised my own life and set me on my merry way of a feminist life of mischief and action. Plus I think it’s also really important to recognise, which I didn’t really touch on in the article, that riot grrrl was a phenomenal movement which brought feminism to young girls and women – the fact that 11 year-old girls are still making grrrl zines now sends shivers down my spine when i think about the feminist possibility there. The next step for us zine feminists, I think, is to do more and more workshops to bring zine-making to young people – it a very powerful tool for young people to realise how easy it is to express themselves and publish their thoughts. I still see zines themselves as a form of direct action, and feminist media is crucial to any autonomous movement for social change.

I would be very interested to hear more of your thoughts on the role of the internet in feminist movements – perhaps you could write an F-Word article! I also have concerns that feminist dialogue occurs all to often in cyberspace. It is also increasingly important to realise that the internet also excludes the participation of some older feminists – this concern was recently brought up at the Bolton Women’s Liberation Conference that was held on International Women’s Day this year. Charlie Grrl reported back to FAF from the conference that the Bolton group began with two women putting an advert in their local paper and then having regular meetings. Now we just send out some emails and wait for the response (or not)! And sometimes feminists don’t even meet in real time. Charlie made the very good point that there are “differences in the way feminists communication and network nowadays” and that this is an important “barrier to intergenerational networking”.

Which leads me to think about all the other possibilities that we need our media to embrace: newsletters, magazines, films, and radio shows being just a start!

From Greg Davis

I was just reading the article on the ahistorical nature of “third wave”

feminism, and it seems like there were much better opportunities for

historical perspective. I mean, to say that feminism started, even in the

UK, in 1969, seems so short-sighted. What about Mary Shelley? Even if she

wasn’t part of some broader social movement, her contributions to the

concepts of equal rights for women was significant. In fact, I would say

that even the second wave of feminism was well before 1969. I had always

been led to understand that Simone de Beauvoir and her critique of the

underlying masculinity of western culture was the actual start of the

second wave of feminism.

I don’t want to undercut the importance of riot grrl feminism, but it

seems like the idea that 21st century feminism’s main concerns ought to

extend beyond economic concerns. I hoped that Val Plumwood was right when

she said that the third wave of feminism would be about incorporating

feminist critique with environmental, racial, and other forms of critique.

Thank you for the excellent site and its articles. I did enjoy reading

the one I criticize above. I would love to further discuss any of these

issues either in an open forum on the site or via e-mail. Even if you

don’t respond, however, I will continue to enjoy the offerings contained


Red Chidgey, author of the article, replies

Thanks for your reply to the article! I was being slightly provocative pitting the start of the British Women’s liberation movement with the conception of its first conference (not feminism per se, just the WLM). And I do suggest some of the rumbles which were happening at that time…

But, yes, as for feminist history, it stretches way back, as well as sidewards (if we want to be non-linear!), and into the future (we build upon legacies known and unknown right now). And my name drops of women at the end of the article are from an earlier period of modern feminist history then the second wave.

So, I am personally very critical of the ‘wave’ theory of feminist history, though it has been used by women (such as Germaine Greer and, more recently Rebecca Walker) as a strategic device – to name a movement of activism as a way of dislodging the assumption that feminism is dead (I believe Susan Faludi in the Backlash notes that a period of ‘post-feminism’ happened even after the vote was won, that critics were suggesting that since the vote had been achieved there was nothing left for the militants to fight for. Which, of course, we know is not true – the ‘first wave’ was never merely about the right to vote – it was one, certainly driving, aspect of women’s political and legal recognition at that time). So, the ‘backlash’ happens to women whenever this has been a push of feminist activity, and women have been protesting throughout the twentieth century, and before. The ‘wave theory’ is therefore of limited use to us as historians, but is pretty crucial for some activists as a rally cry.

For some, the ‘third wave’ is also used to discuss a diverse type of feminism. Like you point out, for many DIY, anarcha, or grassroots feminists right now, a feminist struggle is interwoven with the fight against consumer capitalism and intersecting forms of oppression – racism, ableism, environmental destruction, transphobia, classism etc. (and whilst these feminist concerns have a long heritage, and merge with socialist feminism in some instances, what gives third-wave feminism a distinctive flavour is that it is located in a specific historical condition. The world changed so much in the last quarter of the 20th century – with information communication technologies, shifts in fertility and marriage ages, changes in labour (who now stays in the same job all their life?), neo-liberalism and the globalisation of commerce, climate change, etc, etc) For some, third wave feminism is a response to the new social conditions we find ourselves in and an consolidation of allies within other social justice movements. And it is important to recognise that feminists have long known about the need to address gender oppression through many lenses (race, sexuality, the environment etc) – sometimes successfully, sometimes not

What would be interesting is to find out more about our feminist histories and to see what events and agendas, in all their multiplicities, were carried out in the first/second/etc waves – there are so many stereotypes and dominant narratives circulating, which I think obscures some of the very real similarities which can, and should, be made between the ‘third wave’ and its predecessors. After all, what is feminism but the theory and practice of freedom for all? I think many women have always practices their feminism as such, and some have not.

From Charlotte Jee

Re: ‘I’m no sad victim. I’ve seen and survived the darkest side of life’: I think Rachel Bell’s latest article was really uplifting, despite the

appalling subject matter and am very glad that she has brought to light a

much misunderstood and ignored yet widespread crime. I would be interested

in how I can get involved in the projects that she mentions – could anyone

give me some advice on this?

From Jennifer Drew

Excellent article Rachel and very powerful in calling the Government and

society to account. Yes, our wonderful society does not care about the

fact too many men and boys are raping and sexually abusing women and girls.

As for the female survivors well they continue to be silenced because

‘rape’ is a taboo word. The female survivors can be ignored because they

are apparently too emotional, too damaged to be respected.

The Amina Project challenges all these areas and proves women survivors

are not simply ‘victims’ but as always, survivors cannot rebuild their

lives without help and support. This is not about dismissing women

survivors of male sexual violence as ‘just victims.’ The Government should

be funding this much needed project but instead it prefers to waste money

targetting female drinkers and informing all women drinking alcohol is bad

for your health. Well so is male violence against women but apparently

this is not as important as keeping women firmly down in relation to men.

From megan

It’s astonishing that all women and girls (whether they have been raped or

not) are made to feel they should be responsible for what happens to them

when it is impossible no matter how virginal, covered up or young you are

to do this. It angers me that our society does not recognise this type of

violence as unforgivable and does not do more to stop it. I have never been

raped however I have been sexually harassed and i was made to feel the

guilty one. it is comforting to know that some women are able to have a

life after rape, seeing as i was always told if you were raped, your life

was over. Obviously being told this has made me terrified of being alone

with any man and has even made me think of suicide just in case rape ever

happened to me. I hope that if it ever did I would be able to lead a normal

life afterwards and reading this article gave me a glimmer of hope that

this may be possible.

From Grainne Tobin

Re: Where the 1967 Abortion Act doesn’t apply: I am the proud mother of the writer of this article. She is, unfortunately, absolutely correct in this account of the legal/political

situation here in Northern Ireland. It is Groundhog Day with no change and

no peace process for women’s freedoms in our godgiven statelet.

Comments on older features and reviews

From S.

Re: UK feminists must address worldwide issues: Whilst I entirely agree with Ruthie Samuel’s claim that “UK feminists must

address worldwide issues”, I also believe that, to start with, we need to

more accurately attend to the specificities of the existence of non-Western

women, rather than assuming the categories ‘woman’, ‘patriarchy’ and

‘oppression’ as universal (whereas, they’re actually very much grounded in

both Western feminist and patriarchal thought). We must be willing to

listen and to understand, but also to appreciate that Western feminist

goals cannot fully facilitate the desires, agency and voices of non-Western

“women”. Sometimes we have to realise that we cannot “speak for

everyone” and that listening to the voices of non-Western women (without

imposing a structure of feminism upon their oppositional thought) is a

perfectly admirable and strategically sound approach.

Ruthie claims that the lack of media coverage on global issues “comes from

an unspoken and perhaps unconscious assumption that the oppression of women

is part of the ‘natural order.'” However, I believe that most attempts

to address non-Western “oppression of women” establishes a “natural order”

of its own – assuming such oppression to exist identically across cultures,

which, although admirable in its aim, only serves to reproduce Western

‘superiority’ over non-Western ‘barbarism’. Instead, we need to

consider the social climate in which these women are established as

“women”, along with the socio-political climate in which oppression takes

place. This means education, listening and accepting the limitations of

addressing non-Western climates from Western perspectives. Assuming a model

of Western oppression as universal will, in essence, do nothing to address

the specificities that occur in this context and, although I appreciate its

difficulty, we need to be more self-critical in our discussion of

non-Western women. Individual feminists are not to blame here, for surely

any consideration of global gender issues is considerably more useful than

none at all. However, social change cannot be effected through surface

change – change needs to happen at the base. For the West to bully

non-Western countries into eliminating oppression will, in effect, do very

little. We need to attend to the *specific* local context – this cannot

be stressed enough. With an approach such as this – featuring a greater

integration of non-Western voices without the presupposition that we can

all come to an understanding of a cross-cultural notion of oppression or

“femaleness” – we can begin to truly address global issues in 21st

century feminist thought.

From Ben Samuel

Sister Ruthie!

Women of the world!

Happy International Women’s Week, it’s your week. We’re receiving the f

word loud and clear up here in Nottingham. Keep us updated on the Saudi


From Lalitha Sundaram

This is a really interesting problem – and one that often comes up when

I’m talking about feminism to my male friends. My answer is usually: why

can’t I do both? More importantly, Why don’t you do either?

But I concede, I don’t do enough: it’s a lot easier to get riled up when

you know you can complain to the ASA about the Rustler’s microwave

hamburger advert and you know you can do so in complete safety. Who do I

complain to about the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia?

The author makes some very good points: media attention is where it’s at.

Or, sadly, where it ain’t. And the same goes for political will. Katha

Pollit has addressed this, in her Open letter from American Feminists

I sometimes use this as an (admittedly far-from-perfect) analogy: At the

heart of apartheid, would you (my male friends) tell a black man in the UK

who had been discriminated against, say in the workplace, “at least you

don’t live in South Africa?”. Fighting for small victories here doesn’t

always – and certainly shouldn’t – detract from fighting for bigger ones

elsewhere. And when those “bigger victories” are basic human rights, it’s

all the more urgent.

One more thing re: the Guardian’s Women section. Why do I have to navigate

through the “Life & Style” section to get there?!

From Eve

Re: Lust, Caution: “Although Wong always has the upper hand in their relationship, in the

sense that Mr Yee is not aware of her part in the plot against him, he is

still able to control her.”

I disagree. In no way does she have the upper hand. He does, and in

several ways: physically (he is stronger, hits her and ties her with his

belt); sexually (he rapes her); mentally (he can separate a sexual affair

from political business whereas she fails to); politically (she may be

rebelling, but it is unsuccesful and in the film, his allies are left

victorious); and financially.

From Alex

I read your review of Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution with interest. I think you

raise some very intelligent points but I diverged with a couple of your

points in my reading of the film.

You write “Wong is ultimately unable to separate sex from love and

equally unable to put her radical politics before her love for Mr Yee. He,

on the other hand, manages to order her execution just fine”. I am not

certain that this is true. The way I see it, Mr Yee is in fact distressed at

having to sign Wong’s death warrant, indeed he is visibly bothered by it

and trying to hide this feeling. The way it appeared to me was that because

of the political power structure in which he takes part, he is obliged to

sign the warrant even though he would rather not and is keeping pent up

about it. Yee is too weak and pathetic to defy the power structure of which

he is a part in order to make a stand over Wong and knows this, hence his

sadness. Wong on the other hand is courageous enough to defy even her

radical politics in the knowledge that she will likely die for doing so, in

order to save what is a form of love at least on some level.

You write “Wong is portrayed throughout as a complex woman and it

disturbed me that the act that prompts her to save her lover’s life is

the purchase of that most clichéd trinket: the diamond ring”. I don’t

recall it being stated or indicated that the ring is really what drives her

to do what she does. It seems to me that through the intense relationship

and mind games that the two characters play with each other a deep, albeit

unspoken, bond must have been formed or else, as you suggest, the whole

thing would descend into cliché. It seems unlikely that such a complex

character, along with an able and intelligent director like Lee, would

allow the whole relationship to be proved by something so obvious and

stereotypical. This is what leads me to think it must surely be more


You write “However, the film seemed to be suggesting that men are

entirely capable of suppressing their feelings for the sake of politics”

yet you do not consider the possibility that it is the social and political

structures that the characters are a part of that defines their boundaries.

Kuang is in love with Wong, yet he allows her to be used in all kinds of

ways because his boundaries are defined by Resistance politics – when he

eventually does speak up, his boss shouts him down. Yet again, a male

character in the film is too weak to break political boundaries for another

cause. Wong, as I recall is the only one to eventually break the mould,

with the ultimate cost.

You write “What left me feeling profoundly sad was this willingness to

offer up Wong’s mind and body for the sake of a cause”. This, I think,

is the effect the film is supposed to bring about. The men clearly are

willing to put politics above all else, yet this attitude is not revered by

the film or supported by it but condemned by it (although not overtly).

Only Wong has the strength to finally say enough is enough and save Yee’s

life, showing that she, unlike the men, will not be slave to politics any

longer. As such the film brings sadness in that Wong has been abused for

political ends in the first place and also in that the men see this is

wrong but do nothing because they are either too weak to redefined their

own boundaries or too afraid of the political structures they inhabit.

I hope you have found these ideas interesting and not tiresome. Just some

thoughts where I differed I suppose. Your review was very well written

though, I hope you don’t think this reply is patronising or anything, I

don’t intend it to be.

From krysta-lee

Re: How the word ‘slut’ oppresses women: what about lesbian sluts?

Jennifer Drew, author of the article, replies

If you re-read my article, I was addressing the fact that it is predominantly men who call

sexually active women sluts and this does incorporate men who term

lesbian women ‘sluts’.

No woman is a ‘slut’ if she is sexually active and this includes

heterosexual, lesbian and bisexual women. But by the same token, if one

believes any woman who is sexually active a ‘slut’ then this degrading

sexual insult applies equally to all men who are sexually active,

including heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual men.

The derogative term ‘slut’ – used by men against women – is designed to

humiliate, degrade, and of course maintain male sexual power and control

over all women. Men, just because they are biologically male, are

not entitled to take the higher moral ground and claim ‘I can be

sexually active without any accountability but you women who are

sexually active are all sluts.’

After all what is good for the goose is good for the gander.

From Daniel

I thought this was a wonderful article.

I had the thought that perhaps man is dominating not just the way men

label women but also trying to put women into this place of judgment

through fashion ads…As suggested.

I find it fascinating on how it was added that indeed when it comes to

homosexuality the word “slut” comes up again. I think only a few men use

the term for themselves…But jokingly of course.

This was something I never thought of before. But now that I think of it.

I wonder why it doesn’t exist for straight men. Because if we were to study

sexual activity in all sections of human sexuality. We would probably find

that homosexual, lesbian, and hetero males each are most likely, equal in

promiscuous activity.

This goal…To create labels, that are beneficial and respectful. Is a

great challenge. Since these terms are so… ground into our skulls.

I would commend the feminist if they were to succeed.

I would also like to be there for brainstorming the idea.

From Adam Halliday

I love sluts. I lost my virginity to a slut and it was awesome. I was 19

and far too passive and shy to finally culminate my long-awaited desire to

fornicate. She was far more sexually aggressive, she knew what she wanted

from me, and she took it. I am not going to say I was an entirely passive

actor in this incident, but it would not have happened had she not been

such an awesome slut. And by slut, I mean she loved sex and went out to get

it when she could; so if she was a slut, then I loved it because I

benefitted from it! In my mind, sluts are great cause they get me laid.

Like your article, my story is based solely on personal experience and

therefore purely anecdotal. Passing off your anecdotal evidence as

certainty mitigates your arguments. Typecasting men’s and women’s sexual

exploits into emotive gender roles becomes self-defining, a trap and a

catch-22 that by speaking out against disgusting and insulting labels that

are applied to women’s sexuality (slut, whore, skank, slag, chicken-head

etc. etc.), you accept the possibility that women may actually be one. In

essence, your outrage gives the word its power. Not to mention embodying

the classic mertonian self-fulfilling prophecy, wherein by accepting these

words as a derogatory absolute you ensure they will forever be used in a

derogatory manner towards women.

Further, linking the use of these words to violent crime against women

seems abstruse. It would be like linking the word “asshole” to the problem

of bar-fights. The mere fact that a word exists to offend does not

necessarily generate violence against its target.

In closing, the essence of your argument is appealing. In terms of

sexuality, if a woman can be degraded by being called a slut, skank or

whore, then men should be degraded by such words as well.

Jennifer Drew, author of the article, replies

You obviously have misread my article. The purpose of my article was to challenge male-centered sexual double standards wherein men who are sexually active are lauded as being ‘studs and players’ but women who even dare to challenge patriarchal misogynistic definitions of what is deemed to be appropriate passive feminine sexual behaviour are called ‘sluts, whores etc.’

No woman is a slut simply because she happens to enjoy sex and actively pursues it for her sexual pleasure and not in order to sexually satisfy male sexual demands.

My article is not based on ‘personal experience’, rather it is about the widespread misogynistic beliefs concerning female and male sexual expression. If you care to re-read the article you will see no anecdotal evidence was contained therein.

I find your claims concerning ‘typecasting men’s and women’s sexual exploits into emotive gender roles etc.’ to be obtuse, unenlightening and totally without any foundation.’

The male-centered misogynistic sexual double standard must be challenged because it is designed to ensure women’s sexuality and sexual autonomy is not only denied to them but kept rigidly under the control of patriarchy. No woman or man is a slut, whore etc. simply because they are sexually active. But since men presume it is their right to term certain women sluts, whores etc. then the sam must be applied to men who are sexually active.

From Lynn

I just read the article by Jennifer Drew regarding sexual oppression of

women by using the words slut, whore, etc. After listening to endless news

on Eliot Spitzer’s use of prostitutes, my blood has been boiling over how

sexist the attitudes of virtually everyone regarding men who pay for sex

and women who charge for sex. Poor Eliot is just considered “stupid, using

misjudgement”. On the other hand, the woman, whom he violated, is called a

“prostitute, whore, call-girl”. She is basically a “nothing”. The whole

victimless crime B.S. that keeps being spewed makes me sick! I got the

impression that poor Mr. Spitzer was a victim of a woman who “knew what she

was doing” and he shouldn’t resign. Ughhh! There has been no balance in

the media regarding this sexist, patriarchic, attitude towards

prostitution. I believe women are truly the victims (not just the

prostitutes) but all women who constantly hear the message that men will be

men and women should stand beside them, stay with them, and support them,

and most importantly, be the sole lightning rod for humiliation.

From Jamee

Re: Fairy tales are Grimm: i think u did very well on explaining youself about your thoughts on fairy

tales. this article will help me durin the fairy tale unit i am in for

english+ class…..thank you so much!! :)

From Michelle Alfano

Re: It’s So You: I really enjoyed this review … conincidentally, I

wrote a blog entitled F Words in a similar vein a few months ago about

feminism and fashion:

It stiil annoys me that everything we put on our bodies/faces etc …

serves as some kind of signifier. Love the site … will add it to my blog


From Wendy Foster-DeGroot

Love the article and will definite look for the book. My love/hate

relationship with clothes began in high school. I would catch on to the

latest trend only after it was considered past and I constantly felt behind

the times. Mean girls in high school have been replaced by the likes of

Trinny and Hosanna and gay guys helping us look good naked. Wear what you


From Val Harrison

Re: Miss LSE or Miss-ogyny?: I AM SO GLAD it’s not just me that’s got

a bee in my bonnet about beauty pageants! Well done Antonia. I think this

is the tip of the iceberg. The pageant industry in the US makes millions

every year from CHILD pageants. There was one over here in 2006 and some

people reacted strongly against it (thankfully) I think this is just

another attempt to find a way in through the side door to gain a more

gradual acceptance. Before you know it age limits will be dropping and

‘little sisters’ will be able to join in. Faludi was right about the

Backlash theory. It’s still going on now!

From Val Harrison

Is anyone else out there fed up of seeing ‘pole dancing classes’ in their

sports centres? I’m just concerned that there may be young girls out there

who sign up to them just for exercise, who then go off to college, need to

earn extra money and use their newfound ‘skill’ in clubs, only to end up in

decidedly dodgy company. We need to admit that pole dancing may provide

some fairly challenging exercise, but ultimately it is there for mens’

titilation and for women to be ogled at. Am I alone in wanting to start a

campaign to get these classes stopped?

From Naomi

Re: Why men should care about gender stereotypes: Thanks Alex for an intelligent article. There is an increasing movement of

men exploring masculinities and going through the same analysis of gender

stereotypes that women have been going through for a century. The White

Ribbon campaign was set up in Canada for exactly this reason and now has representation around the World

including in the UK and Scotland.

From Abraham Anthony

I hope you succeed in everything that you’re trying to do. I believe in

you and everything you people are doing. Just remember that you can never

eradicate sexism. Instead of taking offence from sexist and misogynist men

try having pity for them. Many of those people have something desperately

missing from their life. Perhaps a little understanding could fill the


From Rhona Sweeting

Re: Abortion: still a feminist issue: Thank you for your article.

I had an abortion at the age of 26 and have no regrets – to be honest, I

barely think about it. I have not suffered any depression, post-traumatic

stress disorder (as if!), recurrent health problems or issues with

relationships and am sick to the back teeth of the media reporting every

incidence of abortion as some ‘mini-tragedy’.

While I do feel sorry for the minority of women out there who have

suffered long-term effects as the result of an abortion, I resent a

male-dominated media telling me that I am in some way ‘unfeminine’ and

uncaring for carrying out a procedure that is TEN TIMES safer than carrying

a pregnancy to term wit no ill effects.

I am pro-choice and while I believe it would be lovely if the abortion

rate was zero (due to a total lack of rape, sexual abuse, domestic

violence, unreliable contraception etc), abortion MUST be safe and legal to

protect ALL women from the hell of an unwanted pregnancy.

As many commentators have said before, if men got pregnant, we wouldn’t

even be having this conversation!

I do feel there should be more space for women like me to air their

thoughts and not feel oppressed by some moral group who feel the need to

push women who have had an abortion into some ‘self-regretful sinners’


Thank you again for your article!

Irina Lester, author of the article, replies

Thank you for you great response, the mood of it, angry and unapologetic, is just the way I feel about the issue. I am always annoyed that nobody seem to realize what a hell unwanted pregnancy can be. They instead talk about abortions (when in fact they are just means to correct a horrible mistake instead of living with it!). As I cannot regret not taking my eye out, or not breaking my arm, I cannot regret not having a child when a mere thought of it was hateful.

And guess what? Motherhood, or parenthood in general for that matter, is such a big and irreversible step, it changes life so much, so it can only be justified if it is a voluntary. Some people come to regret having (sometimes yet another) child, it ruins their lives. I have read on forums many parents saying, that although they love their kids, they wish they had them later in their life. Many women arrive into motherhood completely unprepared for what it takes, and it is only now people started to talk about it openly, and they were willing in the first place. Now, who these inhuman morons must be to think, that even if you don’t want to, you must experience all that?! Surely, the agony over unplanned pregnancy is the best indication that this particular woman must not, under any circumstances, become a mother at this point in her life. Maybe later, maybe with another man, maybe never. But not now. It is only those who ruined their own life want you to have a crap one too; many of them are religious idiots who think that not only they are born to suffer, but you are too. It is about the time to tell them where to shove it.

Again, thank you for your reply, I wish women were angrier and there were more feelings like yours spoken out, because enough is enough.

From Grainne Tobin

Re: Ask a feminist – The F Word problem page: I am new to this site (a second-wave feminist) and very pleased to see it,

especially the ‘ask a feminist’ feature. I am a teacher. Last week some

sixth form boys said something baffled about what feminists are supposed to

believe, and I said I thought everyone in the room was a feminist as we

share the belief that women and men are equal. I know it is over-simple,

but it’s a start. They really have grown up believing all the things on the

1969 manifesto, while simultaneously thinking feminists must be some other

kind of person… Incidentally, I once had an astonished male adult

education student tell me he couldn’t believe I was really a feminist

because I was being nice to a baby someone had brought to a class.

Apparently we’re not supposed to like children either.

From Alexandra Dymock

Re: Scarlet’s ‘campaign to make feminism fashionable’: This is really a message for Catherine Redfern, who wrote the article

about Scarlet’s ‘make feminism fashionable’ campaign.

I only just spotted your article (when googling my own name —

narcissistic, I know) and just wanted to let you know that much of the

interview I gave to Scarlet was cut out. It was originally three times the

length and full of words like ‘heteronormativity’, ‘genderqueer’ and

‘hegemony’, so I’m not surprised they cut it. For the record, the ‘I choose

to do this, therefore it’s feminist’ cliché of neo-liberal feminism is

not something I buy into.

However, I understand that Scarlet’s agenda is also out to sell mags

(which contain pornography, to some degree), and therefore they will market

themselves to an audience of women to maintain the notion that it’s okay to

be pro-porn, and leave little room for reflexivity on that issue in case

they lose readership. My own stance is anti-censorship and

anti-decriminalisation, but I suspect that may make things a little foggier

for their readers.

I’m currently a Masters student at Goldsmiths on the Gender & Culture

programme and (funding permitting) hope to be working extensively on

women’s oral histories, generational difference and sexual subcultures over

the next few years.

From Cari

Re: He’s Just Not That Into You: Thank you thank you thank you! I am SO tired of simplistic views of men

and women that make me feel bad for being a woman who “pursues” and which

make men feel badly for enjoying being “pursued”. None of my satisfying

relationships have begun in such simplistic terms. Usually, either I or he

made some kind of signal and it was a complex unfolding of mutual

interactions that led to romance. It is refreshing to read this article,

and it does service to all men and women.

From Dirly

Re: Against censorship: I want to add something to your article, an aspect that a lot of people

aren’t aware of. And that’s how many girls get lured into participating in

porno movies, like happened to a friend of mine. She worked in a night club

and the owner used to get the girls pissed drunk and then persuade them to

participate in sexual things, which he filmed. There were contracts but he

could make them sign anything and then later, tick boxes such as “I agree

to anal sex” , “I agree to being pissed on” etc. When the girls understood

later on what had happened, the films were already out there and they

couldn’t do nothing about it. My friend lives with the anxiety of that film

being shown someplace to someone she knows. Or that a new boyfriend will

recognize her, having seen the film. So think about that not all

participating in porno movies is out of free will and that there are many

women out there with serious anxiety for having “acted” in one.

From Lynette

Re: A feminist guide to ballet: I guess there’s a real huge disparity between the image ballet potrays,

the connotations it conveys and the real physical and mental labour

involved in the training. Having started ballet since I was 6, giving it up

at 15 because my teacher said I was getting “too heavy to jump” though I

was already underweight and then finally taking it up again 2 years ago

when I was 20, I can identify with the writer’s feelings. I still have

overwhelming passion for the dance form and my heart still skips a beat

when I see a tutu and pink pointe shoes but I’ve learnt that I’ll never be

stick-thin/waif-like and unless society broadens its perceptions on how

ballerinas should look like, ballet can never be a feminist activity and i

can never be a ballerina however hard I try. and I’ve learnt to be ok with

that and just dance the best I can.

From Dulce Saenz

Re: As I read your article, I could not help but agree. I realized everything

you were saying had truth in it and you were almost convincing me that I

myself had the wrong idea of women empowerment. However, at the end you

said that this is the way women have been viewed forever and it will still

take time for the women’s appearance to change. However, becasue it

probably won’t change, why not empower it? If we are viewed as beautiful

objects, why not play to our strengths? I feel that Beyonce, along with

other artists have tapped into something. Beyonce is seen as a sex symbol,

however still manages to catch the attention of both men and women. Men

adore her and women admire her. She is strong and powerful, yet still

beautiful and glamorous. It would be stupid to pretend that our society did

not run like this, but it does. Because she has set her mentality to know

it and understand it, she has been successful. She is still making

headlines, still having an influence, and still making a change. I feel

that as gnerations continue, we need to learn to not be ashamed of our

sexuality. Not that we need to promote it or run around naked, but teach

that it is not anything to be embarrassed about. This goes both ways. I

think the Dove commercial did a good job by having women of all shapes and

sizes on their ad. Beyoncce happens to be close to a perfect figure, but

that is not what makes her empowering. What makes her empowering is that

she is comfortable with it. And sometimes, it takes a strong woman like

Beyonce to give us stregth and remind us of that. For example, a song that

is very empowering to me is Can’t hold us Down, by Chrsitina Aguilera & Lil

Kim. By no mean do I dress or look like either of them, nor do I aspire to

be like either one. However, the song itself gives me strength and

incentive to be a feminist. I have seen their video and in no way does it

offend me or make me think they are comforming. Simply, that is how they

are comfortable. Thier comfort with themselves and their sexuality shines

through and that is what makes them believable. In America’s Next Top

Model, their have been a number of plus size models (one in particular I

can think of, however can’t remember her name) who have been successful in

the industry because they become comfortable in their own skin. Its not

about being a size zero, its about comfort. Some women choose to embrace

and promote different sizes or statements. I think that as women we hold

more cards than we think and more than we are given credit for. Personally,

I would like to see more artists, movie stars, and models be comfortable.

Size, shape, and color does not matter. It’s how one feels from within that

makes a difference.

From megan robb

Re: Glamour models made me sick: i am commenting on the article that all glamour models are unintelligent

and have no dignity, should beautiful women have to pour boiling water over

their heads to be taken seriously, is it ok to discriminate against

beautiful women and presume they are stupid isn’t this just as bad as

racism and hmophobia? also comments on airbrushing, airbrushing can be used

for minor imperfections it can’t be used to drop dress sizes or give

someone a whole new head!

From Tina

I totally agree with you! Glamour models portray a terrible image of


I hope that u are getting over ur eating disorder.

good article and good luck to ya!

From doug

Re: First episode of Star Trek: Enterprise: Why is the author of this artical so much like others who can’t cope with

the fact that this is written as science fiction about a time in the not

so distane future for the people of this time frame? Talk about not being

able to see!

From Gunther Clasen

Re: A bride by any other name: You did well discussing the future name with your husband, whatever the

outcome. I can only encourage everyone to do that. We discussed the same

and we decided the same when we got married. Although he didn’t say, I

think my Dad wasn’t particularly happy. But then, he has four more sons to

carry on his name. (Yes, I am male.) I met very few people making

inappropriate comments about me changing name. But then my friends wouldn’t

do that or they wouldn’t be my friends in the first place.

We married in Germany, where we both come from and where it doesn’t matter

which name you chose: the formalities are the same. (It is only when both

keep their names that you have to nominate a “family name”, which is the

name your children will have.)

Problems only started in this country. I very nearly lodged a formal

complaint for sexual herassment (yes, that’s right, it works that way round

as well) when I wanted to change the name on my account: They could only

change the name if I had changed it by deed poll (which I hadn’t) or “by

marriage”, for which one obviously had to be female (which I am not).

Obviously, yes, thanks.

If you want to have it equally easy both ways round, it might help finding

a couple willing to fight it up in the european courts. I have no legal

qualifications, but I cannot believe that the current laws would hold

agains men and women being equal. Remember that it is not only red tape

coming from europe, there are benefits as well.

From MNSwedeGirl

Re: A perfect delusion: Amen! Your article seems to hit the nail on the head. As a reasonably

attractive middle-aged woman (37) I am astounded by the unbelievable

expectations of my physically imperfect male counterparts. I have met a

few reasonably good-looking men who don’t appear to concede to the notion

that they somehow deserve a Bond-esque girlfriend, but then, these men are

married or taken, which says that they have bridged the gap between the

boys and the men.

From David J Smith

Re: Loose Women: Because I work shifts, sometimes I am at home when Loose Women are on. My

wheelchair bound daughter likes to watch it , (as she say’s there’s nothing

else on that’s better!, so I get to see some programmes. You are so, so

right in what you say about this programme. It does not do the cause for

women any good at all.

From james walsh

Re: But What of Us? UK Riot Grrrl – Part 2: Caim acoss your articale I was trying to find out if Vital Disorders had

done anything apart from ‘prams’ (which is on one of the bloodstains


Your comment ‘Throughout the eighties, the punk and post punk related

scenes in Britain and America were characterised by their whiteness,

heterosexuality, and middle class college boy mentality.’ is pretty well

nonsense and it was a hell of alot more mixed than the Riot Girl sceen- as

for being White and MIDDLE CLASS- that was Riot girl not 80’s punk- and in

hind sight it was better (the 80’s punk) sceen that we realised- and alot

more self critical and intreasted in ideas than Riot Girl ever managed and

alot less elitist- which was part of the point of 80’s punk- while riot

girl was covered with rightious middle class elitism.

Maybe that why you still get kids discovering and getting strength from;

Crass, 7 Seconds or the DK’s (or even the Exploited- i guess not your cup

of tea)and not Huggy Bear.

The sort of ‘femminism’ we have left is the sort that comes up with ‘More

than 30,000 women a year in Britain lose their jobs for simply being

pregnant, according to a new report calling for tougher action to stamp out

sexism in the workplace.

The campaign will focus on the experiences of women in the City

She said a change in practices in the City, which is at the heart of UK

economy, would help to set the standard for workplaces nationwide.’


Punk was about ordinary people and human liberty – it wasn’t just boys fun

( hey- theres a 7 seconds song there!)- but it didn’t have any white

liberal guilt trip hang-ups. We leave that for the middle class (in the Uk

sense of the word).

From G Hitches

Re: The Signs of Ageing: I cant believe Mother Theresa is cited as a role model on a UK feminism


Mother Theresa tried to reduce womens rights, intervening on divorce and

abortion (as you might expect, being a conservative catholic).

She had some very strange views on poverty and suffering, claiming that

these were gifts from God. In 1981 in response to the question: Do you

teach the poor to endure their lot?, she replied I think it is very

beautiful for the poor to accept their lot, to share it with the passion of

Christ. I think the world is being much helped by the suffering of the poor


She was a supporter of the Duvalier regime in Haiti, a particularly nasty

dictator who killed approx. 30,000 Haitians during his reign, She took

large donations from Papa Doc, and visited Haiti to say Madame President,

the country vibrates with your life work., recieving the Legion DHonneur.

She was successful in obtaining huge amounts of charitable contributions,

but this money was largely spent on poorly staffed and equipped hospices.

If that money had been spent on hospitals which could diagnose disease then

she would have saved many lives (but of course, she thought the world was

helped by the suffering of poor people…). In the early 1980s the editor

of Lancet visited Calcutta and found that no analgesics were used. E.g.,

in her hospices no pain relief was provided, while she brought in hundreds

of millions of dollars. And when she was sick, she went to a clinic in


I hope thats of interest, anyway. Mother Theresa is very much a sacred

cow. But I think that if you take those points into account it isnt clear

on what basis we should suggest that she is a good role model for women.

Theres something distasteful here in our double standards; if such care was

provided in England in the mid-80s we would have rightly denounced this.