Comments from August 2008

Comments on last month’s features and reviews

In the name of the father…, by Sarah Louisa Phythian-Adams

From peggy

Added to what name will I use…So who needs /or wants/ somebody to “walk

them down the aisle” and GIVE THEM AWAY! Well, here is the way I think it

should go… everyone is seated in a semicircle… No Aisles! The 2 people

to be marrried enter at the same time, from opposite sides, one fom the

left and one from the right. They meet in the center where the vows are to

be made. Don’t stand there and expect me to come to you. It probably won’t

happen. And know I wil not stand around and wait for you! That definately

will not happen. So lets meet in the middle, at the same time. You keep

your name and I will keep mine.

What to name the baby? Well, the Native Americans had a grand idea.

Whoever makes the baby laugh for the first time gets to name the baby.

I am 67-years-old. Married once. IN 1959. I hated to lose my last name.

I took it back in the 70’s and used it (without a hyphen )as part of my

official signature.

Sarah Louisa Phythian-Adams, author of the article, replies

Both my partner and I love this idea and have just agreed that whoever makes the baby laugh first gets to choose the first name. (P.S. I really hope it’s me otherwise our first born is going to be called ‘Agamemnon’!!!)

From Heather Leila

I consider myself a feminist, and my husband even considers himself a

feminist- but I was happy to change my name when we married. The great idea

you had about hyphenating children’s names is not new at all. Hispanic

cultures have always done that- and they are no less paternalistic, are

they? It’s only a symbol of something sinister if you let it be. Having

grown up with a single mother whose last name was not they same as mine, I

want to assure my children don’t have the same experience. Having one name

means you belong to one family. Otherwise mum would be on the out because

of a choice she made. If you dismantle ever aspect of culture you’re left

with nothing but your own made up world. It’s isolating.

Sarah Louisa Phythian-Adams, author of the article, replies

I always struggle to reply to people who start sentences ‘I consider myself a feminist, but…’ This is because it is invariably followed by a qualification or statement generally in opposition to something feminist – or indeed someONE that challenges the status quo. Which leads me back to my point about tradition and the status quo – which is indeed ‘quo’ because – as feminists have always objected – tradition is tradition because it suits – and invariably the people that tradition suits are men. And then of course, rather than debating the issue, the dispute turns into one of what is acceptable feminism and what isn’t – and then I fear slippery slope to negating the validity of our own discourse… which I think in turns suits the traditionalists and the status quo.

Therefore – I will politely agree to disagree with you. I would say though, that if your child shared one name with their mother and one with their father, if the marriage did then break down (and let’s be honest – the statistics are heading for 50-50 now), then the children would still have a shared identity with both parties, so I think you are rather biting the tail of your own argument there!? I’m also not sure what would be so bad about the breakdown of a tradition that oppresses one party. After all – culture is at its very essence our own ‘made-up world’ – that’s why there are so many across the world – why not make sure it is one we do consciously and with a sense of equality that we do not compromise because of the made-up-world of the people that went before us?

From Sandra

I kept my surname when I got married and naively thought no one would care

much either way. The receptionist at my family doctor asked for my new

name, and told me that I couldn’t possibly be a Ms because ‘that is only

for divorced ladies’. She then quite loudly insisted on calling me Mrs C

each time she spoke to me, although she had previously always called me by

my first name. I couldn’t decide whether to be amused or annoyed.

From Bex

What an interesting, well considered article. I was actually pondering the

same question the other day, as to what happens a generation on, if you

choose to hyphenate your names. My husband and I married 6 months ago, and

I have kept my name (much to the consternation of my mother, who wants to

know when I’m going to “stop being silly”!). I’m the same person as I was

before the wedding, why would I need to change my identity?! Although we

don’t want kids, I can completely understand wanting both parents and the

child to share a name, and I think this article offers a brilliant

solution. I’ll certainly be suggesting it to any of my friends who choose

to marry and have kids in future!

From Cate

I loved this article, and the idea of gender mix&match double-barreled

surnames is certainly something I’ve wondered about.

However, 3 problems I can see straight away:

1. Not everyone has the type

of surname that suits becoming half of a double-barreled name. For example,

my surname is Laithwaite, if I were to have a baby with someone whose

surname was, lets say, Williams, our child’s name would be

Laithwaite-Williams, which is a mouth-full to say and can you imagine my

poor child having to spend it’s entire life spelling that out over the

phone whenever (s)he wanted to book a table at a restaurant or whatever?

2. People will get into the habit of only using one of the child’s

surnames, especially in secondary school or during team sports where

everyone ends up being called by their surname anyway.

3. Double-barreled surnames make me cringe. They have a habit of instantly

making everyone’s name sound really posh – which I would hate.

My method involves deciding on the child’s christian name as a couple and

then seeing which of the surnames fits best. Failing that – flip a coin.

Sarah Louisa Phythian-Adams, author of the article, replies

I’m not sure I agree that ‘Laithwait-Williams’ sounds bad at all, but then I grew up with two surnames and it didn’t really bother me. I have to admit I smiled to myself when I read your other objections, particularly the cringe-worthyness of two surnames. The notion of what is ‘Posh’ is simply a cultural one. As noted – in Spain it is totally normal to have two names, (sometimes even more) and would be considered quite ‘Posh’ to only have one!

I also chuckled over the idea of being called only by my second name – particularly in team sports. It reminded me of old episodes of Grange Hill. I played A LOT when I was at school and found that it was mostly nicknames that were shouted. Funnily enough, it has been noted that I have had quite a few throughout my life – and I think my name, rather than making me ‘posh’ has encouraged amusing and endearing offshoots perhaps more suited to my ‘identity’ as a human being… I was also never referred to by just my second name in school! I think that’s a bit of an out-dated practice now, as is more commonly used in situations where the relationship is intentionally de-personalised – like in prisons, and at least secondary schools are now trying to move away from modeling themselves quite so much on them

From Laura Woods

As another (anecdotal, totally unrepresentative) example – I spent a few

years working as a wedding photographer. At every pre-wedding meeting one

of the questions I always asked (the bride) was: “will you be changing your

name?”. This was mainly so that I could make sure all the post-wedding

paperwork/correspondence was addressed correctly but was also, admittedly,

out of curiosity. About three quarters of the responses were along the

lines of “of course, why on earth are you asking?!”, the other quarter was

“well, um, er, we- I- haven’t quite decided that yet” (which I always

understood to mean “don’t ask, it’s a sore subject”). In the space three

years, not a single couple I worked with deviated even slightly from the

“Mr and Mrs Husband’s Name” format (I don’t even remember any brides using

Ms!). Depressing.

I’ve always said that if I get married (if, if, if!), I will still be Ms.

Woods, as I am now. When I’ve mentioned this to people reactions have

ranged from mildly amused, “oh how adorable, she’ll forget all about that

when she’s older”, to bemusement, to outright hostility. Previous partners

have also seemed to take it as a personal attack on them. Fortunately my

current gentleman friend is a little more enlightened (possible because

he’s a Smith, so less of a worry about his “name dying out” – the usual

reason I hear from defensive men).

Sarah Louisa Phythian-Adams, author of the article, replies

I can SO believe this! On my one and only trip to a bridal fayre [feminist hell]… I was there one minute before someone said ‘so are you the blushing bride then?’, and where, when I was asked to sign in was thrust a form which notably had ‘Miss…’ in big letters. I was furious and crossed it out and wrote ‘Ms’ in even bigger letters. However, this didn’t stop me receiving emails and postal offers from every Tom, Dick and Harriot addressed to ‘Miss Phythian-Adams’. I concluded that either whoever input it onto the mailing list didn’t care for my sensibilities, or that ‘Ms’ just wasn’t set up to be inputted on their database. Indeed – this isn’t the first time this has been a problem of late. Earlier in the year I entered a 10k race online and ended up entering as ‘Mr’ Phythian-Adams because (of course) the default option for the honorific dropdown was set up for ‘Mr’, but when I scrolled down I couldn’t believe it – THERE WAS NO ‘Ms’! Well there was no way I was going to optionally choose ‘Miss’ so my race pack came addressed to ‘Mr’ and I sent them a stern letter back!

From Olivia Campbell

I changed my name after my parents divorced to be the same as my mother.

Except we didn’t revert to her maiden name – she went back along her

maternal line until she found a name she liked. And whilst it may have been

at one point a male name we have made it our own and it has become such an

integral part to my identity I won’t be changing it again. Unless both me

and my partner decide to double-barrel our names. Either we both change or

we both stick. And daughters can take Campbell on as their half of a future

double-barrel name and sons can take my partner’s name. Sounds fair to me!

From Amity

I think it’s a fantastic idea and wish I had thought of that before

changing my name to my husband’s. I didn’t change it upon marriage but when

I became pregnant with our first child five years later, I decided that she

should have the same last name as both of us, not just him or me.

My husband’s name situation is a bit unique in that he grew up with a

double-barreled surname and then dropped back down to one (his mother’s,

incidentally) as an adult because he didn’t like the long surname and

wasn’t getting along with his father at the time. So now, the name being

passed down to our children is his mother’s, not his father’s.

From Abigail

In response to Sarah Louisa Phythian-Adams “In the name of the father” – I

like your solution, but unfortunately my name is not one that

double-barrels well, and trying to mix it with my boyfriend’s name just

doesn’t work.

My reason for wanting one of us to change our name is so we can have the

same name – I don’t mind if we use his or mine or a new one, although I

would feel a bad feminist if I changed my name to his.

From Audrey

Great article: both my partner and I do not wish to marry as we don’t want

to buy in to, and reproduce, a set of conventions we are completely opposed

to. There was an article in the Independent on Sunday last saying that only

50% of women in the UK now change their names.

Most people get married now because someone on the pages of ‘OK’ did; not

because they actually have an understanding of what it means, tradition


From Fabien

I’m afraid your brand new system reinforces the gender binary (ie

male/female) and is kind of straight-centered!!!!

From Lauren O

Well, I, for one, hail your solution with a resounding “how clever.” If I

planned on having kids, I’d begin its implementation.

This piece was quite timely for me; I was just hanging out with a female

friend and a male friend earlier. None of us are married, and she and I

were saying we’d both keep our last names. The male friend thought this was

horrible for the following reasons: It’s a tradition, a family should have

the same name, the man can’t change his name because everyone would laugh

at him. He also said that if a woman doesn’t change her name, it means she

doesn’t really love him. I think I will send him your piece and see if he

can find some way to disparage your solution through rhetorical acrobatics

for the sake of male supremacy.

From zoe wheeler

I have another solution to the children’s name problem; all the children I

have will get their own surname, unrelated to me or the other primary care

giver, a name chosen with the intent of being purely their own identity,

but through the act of careful choosing becoming a part of their heritage,

this way we can make a clean slate with patriarchal naming traditions but

still preserve identity. Afterall the concept of a fixed surname is only a

relatively recent cultural development.

If people want to have the same name as their offspring both caregivers

can change their name to reflect the name of their children or potential

children, this is fairer because no-ones surname is being given up.

This is my plan and I’ve already decided the surname I’m giving them if I

have offspring (other primary caregiver can debate it with me if needs


Sarah Louisa Phythian-Adams, author of the article, replies

I think this is another equally valid option. I think we just need to persuade more people that there are such options!

From Janis

I honestly feel as though I’m on my own sometimes making this same

argument about surnames. I was previously married and changed my name

because I was too young and stupid to even think about it. Well it hit me

in the face like a wet fish the first time I was addressed as Mrs. His

Christian Name then Surname. I wrote to all the offending Christmas card

senders and explained that I wished to be addressed by my own first name,

even if I had taken his surname. Some of those people I never heard from


This time around, it didn’t occur to me for one second to change my

surname. Like Sarah-Louisa, I still get addressed by his surname

occasionally, but it’s more easily dealt with now.

I think it all feeds into the underlying misogyny which is sometimes

directed at women by other women and we need to get to the bottom of why

this happens.

Sarah Louisa Phythian-Adams, author of the article, replies

I’m so glad to find out that I’m not the only one who returns post address to Mrs Husband’s name, or indeed things address to ‘Miss’. I’ve been accused of being petty before, but to be fair, if a man received something addressed to ‘Miss’ or ‘Mr Wife’s name’ I’m pretty sure he’d rectify the fault and the person at the other end would be only to happy to note that it was an error worthy of rectifying. Deciding that women are being ‘petty’ over the same thing is I think an issue of respect more than anything, under this annoying assumption that women’s names and titles don’t warrant the same regard.

From Stephanie

I got engaged at 19, and am 22 now (waiting to finish Uni before getting

married) and since getting engaged I have realised that marriage is full of

things that as a now fully fledged feminist I disagree with. It’s quite

difficult to plan a wedding and a marriage which fits with my feminist

ideals. I would prefer a Civil partnership to be honest, but that is not

open to heterosexual couples, but it seems to feel much more equal than the

traditional marriage! Thanks for this article, I have several strong,

independent friends who have recently got married and taken their husbands

name – I feel very much like the *angry feminist* when I talk about things

like keeping your name.

From Mhairi McAlpine

The best solution to the naming issue that I have heard is “meshing”


So Mr Smith and Ms Jones would become Mr&Ms Smones, and Mr Jones and Ms

Smith would become Mr&Ms Joth.

That way you have a family name which is shared by all family members, but

the “female” element passes down the female line and the “male” element

passes down the male line. So if the son of Mr Smith and Ms Jones (Mr

Smones), hooked up with Ms White, they would become Mr&Ms Smite; while if

the daughter of Mr Jones and Ms Smith(Ms Joth), married Mr White, they

would become Mr&Ms Whith.

From Riotstar

I loved reading your article ‘In the Name of the Father’, Sarah Louisa. I

kept MY name when I got married and we plan to name our kids by both our

last names, too. As a person, not just as a feminist, I felt I would lose

part of myself if I changed my last name, and so did my partner/husband. I

still struggle with his family rejecting my choice, but it is just that,

the choice to be married to someone and the choice to retain my identity.

From P

I got married in May and had no hesitation whatsoever about changing my

name to my husband’s. My own family is dysfunctional to the point where I

was more than happy in fact very much looking forward to not keeping my

maiden name, as it serves only as a reminder of many failed marriages &

other unhappiness. It’s not an excuse for changing my name. I don’t have

any reason to excuse myself for changing my own name! I have not lost my

identity in any way at all nor do I feel I’m bowing down to a patriarchal

system, I just made a choice, and I chose my husband’s name over my own

or any combination of the two. I consider myself to be a feminist in a

feminist marriage. We are equal in every way that matters, from deciding

when & how to get married (we eloped) to financial matters to housework to

where & how we will live. These are the things that really do matter.

(Incidentally in Scotland we put both parents names and occupations on the

marriage certificate & the woman signs the certificate with her maiden

name. After that nothing happens unless you choose to notify banks etc that

you’ve decided to change your name, otherwise by default it remains the

same as it was before you got married).

Also I just wanted to say that I love the F Word!

From Alison

I found this article very interesting as I got married a few months ago.

On our wedding website, I clearly stated that I would not be changing my

name, which I perhaps naively thought would be all that was required.

However, my husband’s family find it ridiculous and my mother-in-law in

particular insists on addressing us as Mr-and-Mrs Husband’s-Name. On my

side of the family, most people continue to use my name (except my

grandma). However, a lot of people were surprised initially and said they’d

never thought about keeping their own name. Several of them also said they

didn’t like their original name (but not to the extent that they’d

considered changing it by deed poll). I have two younger sisters who both

intend to change to their future husband’s name upon marriage, “because

it’s tradition”. Like the author, I also felt that my own name is strongly

connected to my identity and that a part of my identity would be to a

certain extent lost if I changed to this “new person” who had not

previously existed.

Sisters! Some of us are mothers, too!, by Ruth Moss

From Jane Purcell

I thought Ruth Moss’s article, Sisters! Some of us are Mothers too! – was

excellent and timely. I’ve often felt that because the F-Word encourages

younger women to have a voice (quite right too), these women who have not

had or don’t want children can sometimes write articles or blog entries

where children are dismissed or disparaged. Referring to them as

“screaming shit sacks” was one choice phrase I remember. Either that or

piously intoning that we who want to grow a baby instead of adopting one

are “selfish”.

Personally I have never assumed that women who choose not to be mothers

are ‘missing out’, so please extend me a similar courtesy and don’t presume

that my brains dribbled out of my uterus when I had my children. Besides,

having babies has actually focused me way more than pre-baby days. I no

longer dawdle at the computer; I get on with it as my time is infinitely

more precious. I’ve written two series in between baby naps and am now

embarking on my first novel now that she’s off to school. So when the

non-mothers or childfree complain about being ‘sooooo busy’ I find my lip

curling. Yeah you’re really really busy . . . .

From Rhiannon

I can really, really relate to this article. Often on the F-Word responses

to blog posts which touch on motherhood read along the lines of ‘well I’d

never have children but if I did…’. It just makes me feel like

disregarding the comment. I’ve really enjoyed Ruth Moss’s article and her

writing style.

From Mooska

I’m sure it’s been said many times, but the media obsession with

divide-and-rule: mothers “versus” childless women, stay-at-home mums

“versus” working mums; even just old versus young women, has been a

depressingly successful tactic.

All of us need to remember that, despite what the media says, none of us

have to justify our choices. And just as important, other women’s choices

are not a negative comment on our own.

Thanks for a timely reminder of this important point.

From Habladora

I feel like this article, while it is well written and brings up some

interesting examples, is slandering feminism a bit. Most big feminist

blogs do talk extensively about motherhood. Some smaller blogs do too,

including my own! You can find many posts about the concerns raised here

under our family label.

Sure, I’m tooting my own horn a bit, but publishing a whole piece on

feminism’s (perceived) failings while ignoring the majority of the feminist

blogosphere, which does include motherhood as a central issue, seems to

support some nasty myths about feminism.

Ruth Moss, author of the article, replies

Many thanks for taking the time to read and respond to my article. And thanks also for sending me the link to your excellent blog.

As an aside I really laughed at your being told to wean and being made to feel guilty about your little one “not sleeping through the night”; so, so true. My 16-month-old also does not “sleep through the night” yet – far from me – and yes of course it is all the fault of breastfeeding and co-sleeping.

Anyway, aside over, I did say in the opening remarks to my article that perhaps the sort of feminism I was talking about was a “straw man”. I don’t think feminism itself is to blame for alienating mothers but after hearing yet another comment from an intelligent woman about how SAHMs had been failed by feminism, I had to ask questions as to why they believed some of these “nasty myths”.

As I pointed out, I don’t think the blogosphere has totally ignored mothers’ issues. But almost all the articles on motherhood I read over the last few months were completely focussed on combining career with motherhood, and the lack of cheap childcare.

As for the other points in my article; the language some feminists use to describe motherhood and those who haven’t had children making pronouncements on how they felt mothers should behave or feel… I do see quite a few examples of this within feminist blogs and it does irk me so I wanted to ask for it to stop.

I wanted my article to come across not as a rebuke but as a plea to feminists just to be mindful about mothers when writing.

From Amity

Absolutely spot on, Ruth. As an active and committed feminist and also as

a stay-at-home mum, the frequent dismissal by childless/child-free

feminists of motherhood as a valid sphere within the cause, just as worthy

of our attention as equal pay and street harassment, saddens and frustrates


As much as modern feminists strive to be inclusive of the transgendered,

non-white, and women of all ages, incomes and abilities, mothers are freely

given the cold shoulder and offensive terms still used to describe them and

their children. Nothing irritates me more than hearing someone who has

never given birth casually reference ‘popping one out’ or ‘hatching a

sprog’, phrases dripping with disdain and made out of ignorance. I am a

birth activist and believe me ladies, babies don’t just ‘pop out’ or

‘hatch’ like eggs. We are not the sum total of our biology but ridiculing

and abhorring those processes which are uniquely female is not feminist

behaviour. It really needs to be addressed and stopped, in my not-so-humble


Thanks for bringing this issue to light, hopefully it will get some women

thinking about the language they use and the attitudes they adopt towards

their sisters who are mothers.

From Morgan Gallagher

Great article Ruth. Feminism is about sure you are treated equally,

regardless of your sex. Women who are mothers, are often treated as if

they have somehow let down the cause, by giving in to their biology. This

is madness. Children, and mothering, may have once been a problematic area

for feminists, in a world without contraceptive, and having loads of kids

was one way to keep you under control. But we can choose to not have

children now. Mothers, and mothering, is one of the most powerful, and

empowering roles a woman can undertake. We raise the next generation of

feminists. We raise our children to believe in equality and dignity for

all. We hit partiarchal concepts of control of our icky woman’s bodies,

day in and day out. We are constantly told our bodies are for sexual

gratification only, and how dare we feed a child with it! You can chose to

not have children – that is your right. But the right to have children and

not be treated as second class in doing so, is also our right. And the

right of our children. Patriarchy is not the rule of men, it is the rule

of fathers. And the dichotomy that women are worthless, but also needed to

bear male children, has never been resolved by the patriarchy. And too

often feminist theory supports the patriarchy! That men leave women to rear

the children is not a sign that rearing children is worthless – it’s a sign

that not taking part in the rearing of children is self-defeating. You

may not have kids of your own – but you’ll look damn silly down the care

home, covered in poo and not able to eat as your hands have givn up to

time. Children are not a luxury – they are tomorrow’s doctors, care

workers and tax payers. Our children will be responsible for your care, in

your old age. You may wonder if you’re not putting enough respect into a

system that will be in charge of your care, one day. :-)

From Ruth

I’ve been saying this for YEARS! Motherhood is by FAR and away the

biggest feminist issue facing western women today, and so many feminists

seem to talk about it like it’s some sort of specialist sport! There’s

nothing wrong with not wanting kids, but most women, even in the West, will

be mothers at some point – and I think this is really the point where a

women realises what an unfair society we still live in! Yes, there are

sexist issues facing women when they are young but I believe these pale in

comparison to the struggles mothers face in the workplace once they have

children and the pressures of combining work and family. It’s a huge, huge

issue, and because so many feminists are quite young, and/or childless

(including me) we are quite blind to it. And secondly, the graduate birth

rate in this country is really very low – fair enough if all these women

have decided they just don’t want to have kids at all, but I think we now

live in a society where having a child, if one has a graduate career and

with the high cost of non means assisted living, has become a huge

financial burden relative to the past, and relative to many other countries

– so many women who may quite have liked to have children are just not

doing so. Did you know the cost of nursery childcare is equivalent to Eton

fees in some parts of the country? That in most parts of the country,

nursery fees (which have been rising far above the rate of inflation for

years) take up most of one person’s wage in a dual income family – and yet

these families cannot support themselves on a single income because of the

insane house price inflation of the last decade! It’s an UTTER disgrace,

and you NEVER hear anything about it in the media! In Sweden I believe

childcare fees, by law, are not allowed to be more than 2% of a family’s

income! Now there’s a real feminist country! I think these are huge,

huge issues, and it’s absolutely flabbergasting that you don’t read about

them in the media more. I mean the Guardian will make a big fuss about one

Aussie guy asking beauty disadvantaged women to live in his town, which is

fine, but they never seem to talk about issues of motherhood in a

proportional way. I heard this panel interview on Radio 4 which included

famous feminist Julie Bindel the other day, and they were mentioning some

new scheme which would allow working mothers to have their children looked

after a little longer in school (and so presumably not get fired by their

employers and be able to pay their mortgages) and Julie Bindel was saying

(I’m paraphrasing) “Well I’m more concerned about the rights of people who

don’t have children. These women should not have children if they can’t

afford to look after them.” Right Julie, so only the rich – women whose

husbands can afford to keep a whole family on one wage – should have

children? The feminist default is just not to have children? There aren’t

going to be many of us left one day are there? I’m sorry but I just think

that is stupid. For whatever reason, the most vocal feminists are the

young and/or childless and I believe this has lead to the biggest feminist

issue in Western society being ignored.

From Natalie Newman

Regarding Ruth Moss’s piece on feminism and motherhood.

What newspapers are you reading, Ruth? Everything I read suggests that the

sum of womens issues = access to child care, maternity leave, work life

balance, support for working mothers, etc. Things which have absolutely no

interest or relevance to me. Judging by everything I read, I’d say most

feminists are mothers or plan to be. Don’t fear, Ruth; you ARE the norm,

not a voice in the wilderness.

Ruth Moss, author of the article, replies

With respect to what I’m reading; obviously, I don’t want to slip into name calling and publically criticising individual bloggers and feminist writers. However, you asked what I read and to give you an idea, I tend to use the f word, and carnival of feminists, as a “jumping off point” and read on from there.

Perhaps it comes across incorrectly in my article for which I apologise: I’m not saying there are no feminist articles at all out there about “mothers’ issues” (for want of a better phrase) but that the number is certainly low when you consider how many women are mothers and that when they are written they tend to focus mainly on the problems faced by mothers who work outside the home e.g. childcare issues etc.

And these issues are still vital but there are so many other “mothers’ issues” too that need addressing from a feminist angle.

I am concerned by what I see as the alienation of many mothers from feminism – especially those that take a long break from paid work to look after their children.

And this is something that should concern you, and me, and everyone else. Because, if feminism doesn’t address the problems these women are facing, the right wing neocons with their “family friendly” policy think tanks are just waiting in the wing to offer supposed solace to them. And if they get into power this will affect women everywhere regardless of whether or not they have children.

Also, sometimes, you may think something is only a mothers’ issue and of no relevance, but the issues it raises affect women everywhere. For example; I appreciate birth choice may be of no direct relevance to you, but the medical profession’s control over women’s bodies is. The right to breastfeed in public without the constant exhortation to “be discreet” does not affect you directly but objectification of women’s breasts and supposed male ownership of them does.

I certainly didn’t want to come across as “a voice in the wilderness” though and I’m sorry if it came across like that; perhaps I got a bit carried away with my own rhetoric for which I apologise!

As for most feminists being mothers, or planning to be, there was a really interesting blog entry on The F-Word this week about “men who want to make you pregnant” and the prejudice and pressure faced by women who choose not to have children, or who are undecided, which you might enjoy.

Again, many thanks for taking the time to read and respond to my article.

From Andie Berry

Until i became a mother i never gave feminism a second thought. After

having baby #2 my eyes were really opened to the fact that as a working

class woman, the means of raising my economic status were virtually nil

(isn`t that one of the basic ideals in feminism?). I went to the sure start

centres and was given advice on how to apply for tax credits so i could

apply for childcare and therefore gain employment, but does any employer

want to give a single mother of two an entry level position?. NO.

When you become a mother you get the full force of patriachy…from

employers to the division of domestic labour within the household.

On the breast feeding issue,its not just a `mother` issue its the right

for all women to not have their breasts seen as sexual objects and only on

the body for (ahem) titilation.

Its seems that these days there are inumerable ways for women to compete

and fight amongst themselves , and thats the way the system wants

it….bitch amongst yourselves girlies whilst the big boys get on with the

business of running the world.

From Kate

Hooray for Ruth Moss! I’m a feminist mother too, and mothering has

deepened my feminism.

One of the most eye-opening moments of my life as an activist came before

I was a mother. At an event, we were all telling how we came to activism.

One woman said it had “come to her with her mother’s milk”. The next woman

said: “It came with mother’s milk, too, but not my mother’s – my own.”

Motherhood as a radicalising experience – that was the first time I’d

thought of it! And now I’m living it. Every day I have to explain this

sorry patriarchal excuse for a world to my daughter and my son, I become

more committed to changing it for them, for me and for all of us.

Also, just interested to note that there is no “motherhood” or similar

category for articles here: Penni was able to talk about her two-year-old

son under “men”, but she herself, his mother, gets no mention.

Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word, replies

Good point, although the feature was also tagged “family”. As Ruth alluded to in her article, the terms “mother” and “father”, as opposed to “parent” are not uncontested. Personally, I think family is a better category, because not everyone actually does grow up with a mother as their primary guardian or parent.

From Rachael

Interesting article ‘Some of us Are Mothers,too!’ by Ruth Moss but I think

she has the enemy in the wrong place. I am sure she has suffered bias by

some feminists but it was a very defensive portrayal of how many feminists

think of motherhood.

Yes thanks – I did know that many women have recently campaigned about the

right to breast-feed – it has been on many feminist sites actually! And so

it should be. But most feminists would not tell other women how they should

or should not talk to them. We are all adults here and have to defend our

corner in logical ways!

Also the idea that because I do not have children, that I somehow

understand less is ridiculous!

I campaign for mother’s rights (for mothers are women) as much as women

who are childfree.

And my personal belief is that although mothers indeed suffer from

discrimination that I as a childfree person, do too. What about my rights

not to have to bend my will to parents? Not to have to take on extra work

because their children are ill? Not to be told endlessly by them that “one

day I will want children too”??

There is just as much discrimination towards people like me as to people

like Ruth and surely femisim has to be about ending ALL discrimination

against women, whatever form it takes…..not creating factions and


Ruth Moss, author of the article, replies

Many thanks for taking the time to respond to my article.

I am not trying, with my article, to create factions and in-fighting – in fact, I’m trying to do just the opposite, or at least, spark a debate about doing the opposite.

There was an interesting comment on a blog entry (about “men who want to get you pregnant”) which gave me food for thought. It was from a woman who said that perhaps some of the antagonism towards mothers comes from those who have chosen not to have children, who are fed up with nasty comments from those who do. And maybe that is the case – in which case those of us with, and those of us without, children, both need to buck our ideas up and watch our language.

“Also the idea that because I do not have children, that I somehow

understand less is ridiculous!”

I did not intend any disrespect with this comment, but I am not sure it is “ridiculous”. As a straight, cisgendered, white, able bodied young woman, there are many forms of discrimination that I understand less than someone who has been through them.

There is enough discrimination against women as it is without feminists also discriminating against one group of women within them! I can well believe that as a woman without a child you have suffered forms of discrimination. But have you suffered it from your fellow feminists? Are there feminist blogs out there critiquing your choice not to have a child? If there were, and it happened a lot, wouldn’t you feel compelled to say something?

“But most feminists would not tell other women how they should

or should not talk to them”

My article was more of a plea than to tell other women what to do. More of a reminder to feminists everywhere that – as you rightly say – mothers are women too. And mothers are feminists, too. I am sorry if it came across the way you saw it. Perhaps I was carried away with my own rhetoric? But I think the underlying message still stands.

I had to be careful in the examples I used. As the editor of The F-Word pointed out to me, which I must admit I had not realised at first, using an example of what another feminist has said can also be seen as a public rebuke. But there are many, many more examples floating around in the feminist blogosphere of language which discriminates against mothers. So I do think the time is right for someone to speak up and say, “er, hang on a minute” which was what I was trying to do.

I did not see any articles about the recent breastfeeding picnics or the legislation intended for the single equalities bill which caused the furore in the first place in any of the feminist web sites I visit regularly. So it seems I’m looking on the wrong web sites. And as I’m only ever to happy to add to my “favourites” bookmarks I’d very much appreciate it if you could take a moment to send me a few links!

From Shea

want to thank Ruth Moss for a great article on Motherhood. I’m one of

those commentators who is prone to insensitive generalisations

(unintentionally) mainly because I can’t imagine ever having or wanting a

child myself. But I see how much crap mothers seems to come in for from all

corners and so I will try and be a bit more sympathetic and respectful in

future. An interesting aspect that Ruth hinted at is the fact that

“motherhood” more than fatherhood has become a public debate, with everyone

having the answers. As much as women’s bodies have become public property

anyway (something to be resisted) this is especially true with child

bearing and rearing and is found in the abortion debates and debates on

breastfeeding and infertility. It has become much more pronounced than I

ever remember. So thanks Ruth for an enlightening piece.

From Iola

I remember being scared off from interacting with other feminists in the

80s and 90s because I got the impression that they only cared about child

related matters and balancing career and children and saw parenting as a

mothers issue. I couldn’t relate to this as I’ve never experienced the

desire to have children. I do still find Germaine Greer and her “all women

are defined by their ability to procreate” approach as put forward at Fem08

a challenge. I’m not a parent, and never will be but I know I only have

this choice because of feminism. Plus I need other people to choose to

become parents so I know I will be looked after in my dotatge. I find the

idea that for many women who are mothers that feminism is a turn off a

facinating change of dynamic, and really quite sad that from what you say

it seems to have gone full circle back to my mothers attitude (which is

firey on the subject of equality but she sees to be described as a feminist

as the worst kind of insult).

From LauraR

Completely agree. I too hate the fact that important, valid issues which

mothers face everyday are consigned to the ‘women’s pages’ of

mainstream newspapers. How bloody patronising that is. How bloody

patronising that there are ‘women’s pages’ in the first place.

I am the mother of a small child, with another on the way. We are

discriminated against all the time. People talk of the ‘school run’ in

a disparaging manner, as though the white van man or the company

car-driving salesman has much more right to be on the road than a mother

taking her kids to school. Because their work is so important, isn’t it,

and our children’s education isn’t of course. They also completely

overlook the fact that a mother often has to rush off to work as soon as

she’s dropped her kids off at the school gates, hence the car journey is

even more necessary. Ever tried to be in two places at once? The working

mother has: the school opens at 9am and, due to the inflexibility of her

boss, she needs to be at her desk at 9am. I’ve nearly killed myself on

several occasions trying to get from school to work in about 0.25 seconds.

Shop doorways are not built to accommodate a pram, nor are pavements.

There is a train station near where I live which can only be accessed by a

long flight of stairs – so pram-pushing mothers can go to hell (not to

mention people with mobility problems). If I take my daughter to a café

or restaurant, only rarely will there be baby-changing facilities. I have,

before now, been forced to change my child on the floor of a public toilet.

As for the sinks, don’t make me laugh: the soap dispenser, taps and

hand-dryer are always way out of a small child’s reach, as though small

people don’t exist. Ever tried to wash a child’s hands whilst

simultaneously lifting said child up to reach the taps? Then they go and

have those taps which you need to press down continuously in order to get

some water: just as you get your child’s hands to water, the water

disappears. Aaaaarrrrgh!!

Now that I am pregnant again people are, as with my first, presuming to

tell me what I should and shouldn’t be eating, what I should and

shouldn’t be drinking – oh, as well as helpfully pointing out to me the

increased size of my breasts. I mean, as though I hadn’t noticed myself.

I am looking forward once again to having the lecture from healthcare

‘professionals’ about breastfeeding and how I will be letting my baby

down if I choose not to. No doubt I will once again be reminded how I

should feed on demand (but not if I’m breastfeeding and in a public place

– I might cause offence. This is because I will be forced to breastfeed

in a dark corner of a café or restaurant, so as not to put other diners

off their dinner, as the establishment does not have a breastfeeding area

– unless you count the toilets?)

Too right ‘mothers’ issues’ are feminist issues.

From Sue Gilbert

And the issue of breastfeeding, which can only be done by mothers (well

almost only..!) is to my mind, a crucial feminist issue. It’s about

doing what’s best for the health of ourselves and our babies, not

what’s best for the patriarchal society that tut-tuts and the

multinational corporations that would just love us to buy their powdered

cow juice. Cow juice is best for baby cows, not so good for baby people –

people who are intolerant or allergic to dairy products were very unlikely

to have been allergic to their mother’s milk, but many of them never got

any. This is not their mother’s fault, it is society’s and probably


Breastfeeding is about reclaiming our breasts for our purposes, not just

handing them over to page three and gossard. My boobs have fed three

children, which in spite of certain common mis-conceptions has not rendered

them droopy, time does that. Mine are large, saggy, a bit hairy, not at all

page three material and I’m immensely proud of them.

Boobs of the world unite! Not to mention bosoms…

From lucy lowe

Absolutely agree. As a mother and – gasp – a wife, who works from home, I

need the feminist movement behind me. It’s all supposed to be about

choices, so don’t exclude mine. I was very much part of the fold when

single, working in London, living the so-called feminist dream. Now I’ve

shifted I seem to be forgotten. I’m proud to call myself a feminist, now

can the feminist movement be proud of me too?

From Diane

I totally agree that women’s issues are feminist issues; I don’t have

children but I still care passionately both about women’s right to

breastfeed in public AND women’s right to choose not to breastfeed at all

(recent celeb campaigns aimed at persuading/brainwashing new mothers have

driven me barmy), to name just two issues relating to motherhood.

I just hope mothers don’t think that those of us without kids, who may

never have kids, don’t care — many of us still want to form a sisterhood

and for there to be no “us and them” divide.

Million Women Rise – Reflections, by Louise Livesey

From Ruth Moss

Unbelievable that this was ignored by the mainstream press. Thanks for

writing about it extensively here.

From Pam Isherwood

have posted some photos of the march here which links to

another page, slow to open as it has 30+ pics. My agency Photofusion has

these photos and will be able to sell them over the years; though I don’t

work as a news photog (ie going for daily papers) these photos will be seen

in features and books as time goes on. The archive is there….

From Thierry Schaffauser

I wasnt unfortunatly present at the last million women rise but I am happy

to read that all voices count within the feminist community. As a sex

worker, I wanted to send a message to express my disagreement with the

swedish model because I dont think penalizing our clients will help us. I

think that even if working can be hard, repressing our clients will have a

bad impact on our lives due to the lack of incomes and the need in working

with pimps as a result.

I think it will be more helpful to work for women and minorities

employment and give us more opportunities to make money rather than

preventing us to work as prostitutes.

I am currently learning English with XTalk which is a good example of an

empowering strategy for migrant sex workers like me.

dont want to choose between feminism and my work. Both of them are part

of me and give me more force and indenpendence.

Without sex work I wouldnt be able to migrate, to learn another language,

to do studies, to have more time for me and people I love.

Of course, I would prefer not to work at all but I did many jobs in my

life and I didnt find any other that is more worthy for me.

I am not a complice of men’s violence for that and I try to educate them

in my work. If sex workers try to organize themselfs nowadays it is due to

the feminist movement which showed us the way of liberation. I cant

seperate these two strugles of my life.

Thank you to hear our voices and not to exclude us from the movement even

if we disagree.

keep fighting sisters !

From Cara Grayling

NO – why give representation to the awful ECP?

They are not even actual prostitutes. They are pimps who want to continue

to exploit women as men’s sexualised commodities.

Why my son wears pink, by Penni F

From hh

I had long curly hair as a kid and it was cut when people convinced my mum

it wasn’t boyish enough. I don’t know if that affected me in any way. I

know what affected me – it was being told to stay out of ranking

competitions in primary school, to be the wise one, the one who doesn’t act

like the others. It made my feminist mother proud, made me feel superior to

my peers and a rather lonely boy from high school on when it became

apparent that male ranking had only one purpose – appealing to girls. It

took years to rid myself of the psychological problems my “alternative”,

feminist education had caused in me.

I suppose there’s no right way to educate one’s child, male or female. And

of the ways available, I am sure you will find the best one for your child.

But if I were asked to give one advice to a feminist mother raising a boy,

based on my personal experience, it would be, don’t encourage your son to

not compete, to not want to be a part of the boys club because he’s

different in your opinion, or because it would make you proud.

All the best to you and your son!

From Chris

wow! You could not have said it any better. I am a 59 year old hetero

crossdresser. I started dressing in my sister’s and mom’s clothes when I

was 4. I learned to hide it as best I could and have become very good at

keeping my secret even to this day. I wonder who I really am to this day as

I was never allowed to be myself. I am ok with life but who knows how it

could have been had I had a mom like you. Thanks.

From Alex Gibson

People do tend to make assumptions about that sort of thing. A friend of

mine took to putting a pink bow on her baby’s head because she was sick of

people cooing over her “little boy”.

Penni, I wouldn’t worry too much about the pressure that Austin will be

under as he grows up. It sounds like you’ve been wonderful in giving him

the freedom to express himself without pressure to conform to people’s

gender expectations and that kind of upbringing stays with you. If he

carries on the way he is now he’ll find his own happiness regardless of

what other people think of how he chooses to dress or act. I for one am all

in favour of more caring men, for whom being masculine and being sensitive

and emotional is not an ‘either or’. Good luck and best wishes to you and

your son!

From Andrew

What a brilliant article on the boy that wears pink. Loved it, thank you

very much!

From Leigh Woosey

I am just dropping a line to congratulate you on raising your sone to be

so free and open with his positive feelings. I wish you the best of luck

for when he goes to school and has to face the pressure of his peers and

teachers expecting him to wear blue and behave ‘as a boy’. I hope you can

prepare him to understand that a lot of people have very silly ideas about

what boys and girls are allowed to do and that he can be tolerant of them

and still be himself. By way of encouragement I can only paste ina story

from my old journal, which hopefully show’s it’s never too late to change


My Housemate’s god daughter came around yesterday to help her make a cake

for her boyfriend’s birthday. She came into my room to say hello and, upon

a second visit, noticed my big pink suitcase.

“Why do YOU have a pink suitcase?” She demanded with all her six-year-old


“Because I thought it was a jolly colour and I wanted it.”

“Bwha?” Astonishment was hindering her understanding, so I repeated

myself. A pause “But boys don’t have pink.”

“Evidently they do, just like you can have blue or green o r whatever

colour you like.” She looked suspicious, so I cast about my room for some

thing pink to show her. “Look, I have a pink folder and… pink


This was the limit of all the pink things I could think of, aside from a

David Lodge book which was still unpacked. “I used to have some pink

clothes but I lost them when I moved house.”

She went out to the hall I followed and she restated her position. “Boys

have Blue and Green and Yellow.”

“Evidently some boys have Pink.”

She seemed satisfied and went to spread the news “Mum, Leigh’s got a pink


From Ellie

It seems too often a lot of feminists forget about the male experience of

the gender divide and it can often be just as stressful for boys growing up

as it can for girls.

Anyone who claims that feminism should focus on women’s issues alone needs

to realise that men are a part of the gender system (as victims and

perpertrators) that is to blame for the way women are treated. Any analysis

of domestic abuse, for example, should focus on the male abusers and how

their gender has influenced their behaviour.

Well done for letting your son do as he pleases, it always angers me when

I hear people telling their sons to put a toy back because its ‘for girls’

or something. I’m sure he’ll grow up to be intelligent, emotionally

competent and self confident enough to realise he doesn’t have to act like

a ‘man’ if he doesn’t want to.

From Ruth Moss

You said everything I was thinking. Actually the other week I wrote a

“note” on my facebook page about buying my son his first pair of Clarks and

the lack of choice, with words to similar effect.

My little boy is 16 months old and he loves trucks and cars –

traditionally “masculine” persuits – he adores animals, the teletubbies and

books(gender neutral?) and loves picking flowers and putting them in his

hair, wearing my necklaces, carrying my handbags and playing with blusher


And he can “get away with that” I think for a bit longer before I start

getting the looks and the comments.

How old is your child, out of interest?

I’d also be really interested to know your thoughts on where the pressure

to “masculinise” (for want of a better word) comes from. Because the

pressure I get to wean him, to cut his hair, to “toughen him up a bit”,

etc. seems to come very much from the male direction… and it seems a

similar story with a lot of my other friends too.

Thanks again for this fab article.

From Jade

I completely identify with what you are saying. my son is just coming up

to 6 and recently wanted to attend a family wedding dressed as a ‘wedding

fairy’. He did and my family were fine about it- although I did have to

follow him round heading of people who tried to tell him boys couldn’t

dress as fairies. at this age he isn’t teased by other children but is

discouraged by adults ‘protecting’ him from teasing…

I’ve also found it suprising that so few of my sons friends mums consider

feminist issues in relation to their sons. They seem happy to create a very

‘male’ world for their sons whilst complaining about the men they know. We

need to act early to make sure our sons turn grow up into full human


From lauren

I can sense your worry over what he might suffer in school – and if I were

a mother, I’d be worried as well. I think boys learn sexism mostly from

other boys and the pressure to conform.

Your son sounds like a beautiful spirit and a modern day freedom fighter!

From Pete

Sounds to me like you’re doing a fantastic job and have a great son. Your

post reminds me a lot of what my sister tells me I was like when I was

little. Although I don’t read as many books about fairies anymore I’ve

stuck with the principles that my parents instilled in me. Respect yourself

and respect other people. Do what you want so long as it harms no-one and

all will be good. I had to be taught a lot during adolescence about how to

deal with those who would see me as less manly and therefore less worthy –

but so long as your lad always feels he can talk to you – and there’s no

reason to suspect he won’t – I think things will be Ok. I really believe

that the freedom I had to express myself as I chose when I was younger has

had a great impact on who I am today so I’d just recommended carrying on as

you’re doing now.

From Lauren O

First of all, I just want to say that the phrase, “Would Mummy like a

friend?” is probably the cutest thing I’ve ever heard.

Really, though, I admire that you let your son wear pink and have long

hair. I don’t have any kids, nor do I plan on having any, but I imagine

that it would be difficult to stand strong on that issue. I would be

tempted to dress a son in blue and keep his hair short regardless of his

wishes, just so that people could more easily identify his gender, as it’s

more difficult to identify gender at that age. The real point, though, is

that gender doesn’t even matter at that age.

As I said, I have no parenting experience whatsoever, but maybe when your

son is a teenager and feeling more pressure to be manly, you could

introduce him to more adult icons of cool who have done some gender-bending

(Prince, David Bowie, Morrissey, etc.). I know that my conversion to

feminism as a teenager was facilitated by PJ Harvey and other music that I

listened to; music has a huge impact on the way teenagers think.

Good luck! You sound like an awesome mom!

From Helen G

I wish Penni F had been my Mum.

What Not To Wear say to your co-worker, by Kelly Draper

From Natalia Lara

I take my hat off for you. I’m 19 and only recently spent everyday with

girls who seem not to be able to drop their make-up bags, gossip magazines

and handy mirror. Apparently, the faker you look, the better.

I agree with you 100%, about how we should love our bodies the way they

are. But the reality just doesn’t go for that, does it?

Just so you know, my favourite teachers were the ones that cared more

about the impact they had on the students, not the way they dressed.

From Claire

I stopped reading women’s magazines ages ago because they are unspeakably

dull and self esteem eroding. Have been playing with google as a home page

– you can basically add feeds and things and create your own online

magazine with only what you want on it. For me that’s world news, books,

real ale, America, Cooking, Facebook, This site, NSS, Italian news

sites…Its not perfect but its almost bliss :)

From Ruth Moss

When Kelly finds that magazine, would she let me know please? Sounds like

one I’d love to read!

From SM

As a sixteen year old

girl, I get a hell of a lot of judgement on every aspect of my appearance

constantly. I used to get really depressed about looking different to

everyone else, but then realised the absurdity of my feelings. Curly hair

isn’t the greatest affliction in the world, and not putting on loads of

slap each day FOR SCHOOL doesn’t make you a failure as a human being. It’s

depressing when people can’t disguise their dismay at how you choose to

look (or worse, are OTT in their wonderment if you doll yourself up once in

a while) but they should be pitied, not you. Mind you, it gets wearing

being famous for being the only one in school who’s scruffy, vegetarian AND

feminist. They all think I’m a lesbian too.

From katarina

I really appreciated Kelly Draper’s article. I wouldn’t mind seeing this

topic explored further.

It drives me mad the way people feel they are somehow helping a woman by

commenting on her appearance, and I think there’s an assumption of

authority on the part of most commenters.

My best response is the one I got out of “Alice in Wonderland”: “It’s rude

to make personal comments”.

From Cazz Blase

I wholeheartedly agree with every point you made here. Even though I have

never read women’s magazines (I grew up reading Smash Hits and NME, then

later Q and Mojo, and Record Collector, which are all problematic for

women, albeit slightly more subtley and insidiously… I now read Private

Eye, The Big Issue and The Economist, which are better) I once overhead

some boys hassling a teenage girl after she got off the bus about how she

supposedly needed electrolysis, and having worked in the public sector/with

the public for many years now, oh, how well I know those looks when you are

deemed to not be up to scratch visually… Is it getting worse? I’m not

sure, I think there has always been an element of this sort of behaviour

and attitudes, we see it also with attitudes to designer labels and second

hand clothing (before it became vintage and trendy) but it does seem to be

becoming more and more vicious as time goes by. I do think TV has a lot to

answer for, and women’s magazines. I think the issue with Nuts and Zoo is

slightly different because they are about fantasy, and the problem there,

aside from them being porn and degrading to women, is when their readers

can’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality, an issue that also

comes into play with womens mags. Compare the models in women’s mags to the

ones in catalogues for those who take a 12 and above, and the difference

really is striking… Obviously, it would be, but a direct visual

juxtaposition would surprise many people I think. In the latter case, the

models do not look fat, but in the former case, when seen side by side, the

artifice and unhealthiness of the former becomes more apparent. Perhaps

there is a subvertising opportunity here?

From Soirore

I didn’t realise before you posted this but the same has been said to me.

I had colleagues suggesting I go on What not to Wear when I was completely

happy with my “style”.

I remember a male friend telling me once that “the problem with women’s

clothes is that they always have to be flattering”. I realised then that

actually, I want to wear clothes that feel nice or create a certain image

(I like old style librarian too although I’m too scruffy for it these days)

I’m not remotely bothered if a particular skirt length makes my calves look


I agree about the danger of those magazines. They are evil.

From Amity

Kelly Draper gives a wonderful commentary on how women are being held

hostage by standards of perfection perpetuated by the media, society and

themselves. I too dream of the day when the self-hate magazines disappear

and having self-esteem becomes de rigeur.

From HB

Some women use fashion to boost their confidence or just to have fun. And

some use it to feel like victims. Everything you wear is a choice. Even if

it’s jeans and tshirts. Enjoy the choosing and if you care what others

think about your choice then it’s your confidence that needs an overhaul

not the media.

Blaming the media is a cliche. Face up to your motives for craving other

people’s approval. You may find they are not so pretty.

This is what the punk movement was all about. Dye your hair green and hold

your head high. Or dress like a librarian, but with a knowing smile.

Kelly Draper, author of the article, replies

I think you are right, it isn’t so much the media which is at fault for pressuring me to look a certain way but in fact the people I worked with.

My point was more “why don’t the boys get this pressure?” and my answer was “the media encourages people to be overly critical of women”.

Cliche or not, it is what I believe. I would love to see other ideas about it in The F-Word.

You are also right that I should not care at all what people think of my appearance and though I do not care enough to change it.

It is true my motivations for not wanting people to be rude to me about how I look are not nice, it is a long story and it involves decades of being told that how I look is important by people I care about.

It won’t be solved by hair dye or even just deciding that I don’t care. I would also love to see a piece about how women can build up their self-image when it is constantly being knocked even by people you love and respect.

From Nicole

Kelly, I too work with adolescents and young adults, and the disapproval

in their eyes at the way I look is sometimes frightening. I am not thin. I

am not conventionally pretty. What I am is an accomplished writer and

lecturer with excellent experience in the media industry that they could

learn from. But all they’re interested in is do I look fat in my clothes

(yes, probably) and do I need a haircut (always).

I’m laughing as I type this because I’m having the same reaction as you –

raging against this treatment and at the same time wanting desperately for

people to know I am not an unkempt mess by a long shot!

Kelly Draper, author of the article, replies

It is funny… we want it both ways: it doesn’t matter how I look and I think I look alright.

I was okay (ish) with children and adolescents passing judgement because what the Hell do they know, right? But with adults…. argh.

I really do wonder if people got so “hands-on” in the old days about badly dressed women. I bet they didn’t. I bet they just talked behind the poor soul’s back. I would prefer that.

From Dulcinea

I loved Kelly Draper’s article and I would like to tell her that while her

refusal to conform to a style of dress acceptable to 14 year old boys from

Peckham makes her a target for a lot of childish and adult stupidity, there

are bound to be people in the school who also notice what she wears, and

feel a little bit freer because of it. A female teacher at my school

always wore (and wears) comfortable, practical, soberly unconventional

outfits. She had wild hair, and some of it was on her legs. When she was

promoted, a colleague took her aside to inform her of how senior women

dressed, as if she hadn’t noticed. Each fresh intake of students brought

more horrified little boys into contact with the idea that women’s legs

don’t shave themselves. Her indifference to other people’s reactions to

her appearance was something popular culture doesn’t even present as

possible, and it was happening all the time in our classrooms! It was one

of the reasons she was such an influential teacher for me, and for lots of

others. She once received a letter from a man she had taught as a young

teenager, in which he apologised for being such a brat about her leg hair

and assured her that as an adult, he finally got it. Good luck Kelly, and

don’t let Trinny and Susannah get their paws on you!

Kelly Draper, author of the article, replies

In my school one of the girls (from a more strict upbringing) was in the play. She had to be a ballerina and had unshaven armpits. The PE teacher told me that she had taken the girl aside to have a word. When I expressed my surprise that she thought it necessary the PE teacher insisted it was to “protect” the girl from “comments” and made a lot of fuss about exactly how long the armpit hair was.

I have shaved my pits and legs since I was 14 but before then everyone made a massive fuss… even my Mum got involved and called me a “gorilla” (I have really dark hair, go me!) Before I even knew what feminism really was I would tell other kids “I know who I am, I don’t need to change my appearance for you”. I just got tired of it though and gave in.

I will consider going “au naturel” in future… for the sake of the children!

It’s funny, I had thought of myself as a role model, (for instance, I take a lot of effort to show how an adult acts, I am very aware that being female and a science teacher is a big deal…) but I hadn’t thought of what you said. Thank you so much!

From Rhiannon

I loved Kelly Draper’s article and have just read her blog. All of it. I

heart her writing.

Kelly Draper, author of the article, replies

Thanks so much! <3

From Amanda Robinson

“I am sat here writing…” and you are a teacher… aaaaaaggghhhhhh….

However, like the writer, I don’t have a TV and only saw “How to look good

naked” for the first time a few weeks ago. It has totally sent my

feminist-o-meter haywire as I agree with her that idea that it’s necessary

for women to look their best at times “for their self-esteem” is just an

insidious reworking of the old beauty myth. But on the other hand, it’s

refreshing to see some body types outside the usual skinny/big boobs being,

erm, exposed on the TV.

‘Freedom always has a price’, a review by Cazz Blase

From Jhael

I had grown up with many refugees who had fled Iran due to religious

persecution. Sartrapi’s film really brought home to me the difficulties

faced by those who chose not to leave, but also illustrated the rationales

of the people who chose to persecute one group in order to avoid being

singled out themselves. The scene where Marjann draws attention away from

herself by accusing another and the subsequent loss of self respect was an

incredibly touching way of addressing that issue. I think this film should

be required watching for all those who think that a war with Iran is the

next step for the west’s ambitions in the Middle East. It humanises the

Iranians in a way that our media has desperately tried to avoid doing.

From Soirore

Persepolis is undoubtedly beautiful and interesting in book and film but I

wonder why you didn’t fully explore the problems in transfering to screen

in relation to time and narrative focus.

Watching the film it seemed to have a hurried feel as many of the

subtelties and sub plots had to be omitted due to the acceptable screen

time of a film. Where it is clear in the books that the story is Marjane’s

the lack of depth that the film goes in to – of her relationship with God,

her development into woman and much more – means that her life story feels

at times little more than a series of anecdotes.

What also caused problems for me was the absence of characters outside her

family. In the books there is at least mention of neighbours, colleagues

and so forth but on screen the non middle class characters get left out

entirely. This makes it a less powerful film due to the focus on the

wealthy and priveleged in Iran (although the book does suffer from this to

a lesser extent)

Comments on older features and reviews

What a load of wank, by Sophie Platt

From Celia

My experience of many years of working with women, and especially working

with teenage mothers and mothers to be, is that women don’t learn much

about their bodies at all and especially not their bodies can give them

pleasure. In deed what they learn is that their bodies are either

“dirty” or just for men’s pleasure or both. I can’t tell you how

many pregnant girls are shocked at the idea of having the father of their

child present at the birth because they don’t want him “seeing down


Not only are women deprived of years of pleasure by this but also it

dis-empowers them in their sexual relationships and potentially makes them

less able to negotiate safe sex, thus leading to our high rates of teenage

pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease and low rates of breast feeding.

From Jo Richards

Thanks to Sophie Platt for her excellent piece on masturbation. I had my

first orgasm at the age of 27, having been married for seven years to a man

who assured me that ‘everyone knows women don’t have orgasms’. Finally, I

decided to take matters into my own hands, as it were, and I bought myself

a little egg-shaped vibrator and discovered that I was capable of multiple

orgasms – up to a couple of hundred in a session lasting an hour or so.

I’ve never gone in for a phallus shaped vibrator, because I’ve never felt

the urge to penetrate myself with one. My clitoris is the site for my

pleasure. I have, subsequently, had orgasms during sexual intercourse with

men (I’m in my mid-fifties now), but masturbation still works better for

me. And it has the added benefit that I find myself sexy just as I am,

under nobody else’s gaze and without the pressure to answer the question,

‘How was it for you?’

From Roselle Birkbeck

Excellent! on all counts. Not only do i agree with your line of thinking

but you have discussed the issue with nuance, breadth and precision. well

done and – more please! xxr

From Lizzie

I know i’m a bit late to comment on this but was spurred on but a

conversation with some of my friends.

The contrast between the acceptability of male and the taboo of female

masturbation has angered me for a long time so thanks for the wonderful


I would have discussed the topic with my friends before but i couldn’t

quite pluck up the courage. But the drinking game ‘i’ve never’ answered the

questions for me.

I was with a small group of close friends, male and female. When a male

friend brought up the subject of wanking, the guys spoke and joked freely.

My three female friends didn’t have a problem with this but immediately

said they would refuse to answer any such questions themselve and seemed

very awkward and embarrassed by the topic of female mastubation, just like

the teens in the article.

At 18, I and my friends are surrounded by discussion of all things sexual.

Their aversion to this one area shows how outdated ideals of female

sexuality remain even in the youngest members of society.

I hope the next generation of 18 year olds will be more enlightened.

Are you married? If not, why not?, by Victoria Dutchman-Smith

From Andy Cullen

I read that article and was going to comment at length on it , ( and

generally expose it as the drivel that it is ) but as you didn’t publish my

last lettr in your comments page , I won’t make the effort .

Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word, replies

Oh well…

The future of activism, by Deborah McAlister

From tom Martin

On Deborah Mcalister’s article regarding the future of feminist activism,

she celebrates the anti-war protests, so presumably is against war, but

then promotes the idea of women organizing in female only spaces. Is that a

good/peaceful idea, I hear you ask. No. Here’s why. When women sex

segregate (and it is WOMEN who choose to sex segregate preferring the

company of other women four times more than the company of other men, men

showing no preference for either sex (Moxon, S. 2008))… when WOMEN sex

segregate, this causes physiological changes in male brains, leading to

greater brain capacity for aggression and less for empathy and higher

thought (New Scientist, 2007). It also causes similarly increased

aggression in females (for infanticide) Townsend, S. 2007). So next time

you feel like patting yourselves on the back as you sit in your all-girl

knitting circles, virtual or actual, remember, until you integrate with

men’s equality movements, you are the problem, and the f word, is a twit.

Of course, in Saudi Arabia, where men are forced to sit separately at the

back of the bus, it is justified by suggesting men cannot be trusted, as

they are all perverts/monsters, etc – then, of course, by segregating, the

culture does its evolutionary worst to fulfill the monster/pervert

prophecy. McAlister’s article for instance, berates the low rape conviction

rate, without mentioning the majority false allegation problem – in effect,

further fueling misandric stereotypes of men as monsters, perpetuating

women’s false justification and ready willingness to further sex-segregate,

rather than associate FREELY with men, as peaceful nature intended (note

the word freely, meaning fully, and without financial coercion).

Anyway, I guess you are all too busy to get back to me on this one, what

with the important work you’re getting on with. I won’t hold my breath for

a reply but consider one other thing. If you think you are in any way being

radical by sex segregating, think again. The most backward societies on

Earth sex segregate, and the most forward, progressive, environmentally

considerate, female economically active and peaceful societies DO NOT.

McAlister mentions doing an impressive two years at college, and receiving

a bunch of feminist literature without ever being informed it was feminist.

You could spend 10 years in feminist orthodox discourse, and unless you

engage with science-based reality discourse, you will have no idea of what

you’re supposed to be subverting, and no idea WHY.

From Hannah Nicklin

I think the blogosphere is

invaluable for reminding and reassuring people that they are not alone – it

should definitely not be disheartened that it has no *direct* effect, and I

believe it is out of these spheres that a new wave will be born, we need

only discuss and push boundaries, work out how to use new forms and refresh

old. new forms of protest are emerging from this sphere – particularly

‘flash mobs’ where people gather almost ‘randomly’ and do strange and

wonderful things, then disperse. I am certainly up for country-wide flash

mobs in major cities, where men, women and children suddenly reveal ‘this

is what a feminist looks like’ t-shirts, for 3 minutes, then pop their

coats back on and disperse- that is a way to take ourselves into the public

eye. Likewise direct action online can be taken by mass comment protests on

blogs and websites… if people take no notice of traditional forms of

protest, let’s invent new methods.

Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word, replies

What a great idea :-)

Of corset matters, by Laurie Penny

From Corset Lover

This article upset me. As I read through it I understood and recognized

the points it was making, but it was missing a point. I wear corsets often,

having bought my first one in February this year. But I do not wear them to

shape my body because I think there’s something wrong with it, I already

have an hourglass figure and big breasts. I wear corsets because they feel

good. It’s not sick, others as well as myself enjoy the feeling of a

restricting item of clothing, personally because I love anything eccentric.

But there’s also the mental pleasure that comes from corsets, they look

sexy. They send out the message of sex. Not just to men, to other women

too. And that in turn makes me feel good about myself because I know they

are looking at me and getting that message. If anything, I wear corsets

with reasoning opposite to their original purpose. I don’t wear them to

make my body seem better to other people, I wear them to get a kick out of

knowing they make people look at me. It’s entirely self-focused. So please,

don’t just say corsets are a symbol of male oppression and women being

insecure, they can bring pleasure and confidence to the wearer. And if you

don’t like them, don’t wear them! There are plenty of others who will

happily take the burden from your waistline.

‘Feminists are sexist’, by Catherine Redfern

From Richard Jobin

Miss Redfern. I’ve seen how you’ve responded to those guys who sent you

emails. I’m not surprised that, as a feminist, you do not admit what

they’re saying is true about male bashing in the media. In fact, you

completely moved away from the subject when you commented on them. Why is

that? If those adverts they talked about were portraying women instead of

men in those male bashing commercials, you wouldn’t dismiss them the way

you did. I think you’re afraid of facing those facts because it would

challenge your beliefs. You have double standards, and as long as you’ll

do, you’ll never know what sexism is all about.



The Boy, a review by Holly Combe

From Hero_of_da_house

i find this rhetoric disgusting and hypocritical. don’t you realize that

the images of those “beautiful boys” are completely unrealistic and

unattainible for your average male? don’t you realize this can have serious

effects on the self esteem of boys and men? instead of putting a stop to

the objectification of women, we are only starting to do the same to men.

do people realize that people end their own lives over things like this? we

are not moving forwewards, we are moving backwards.

society appreciates the beauty of WOMEN, whether they are in their 20s,

30s, or 40s, but fails to recognize the any beauty or aesthetic value in a

male, unless he matches this unrealistic and pedaphillic standard set by


The signs of ageing, by Catherine Redfern

From Elin Ross Pedersen

Loved your article about ageing! I have been shocked lately by all the

adverts and bombarding of the message that ageing is bad. Anyway – I was

inspired by the onslaught to write something on my blog, and maybe you want

to read it (it links to your article).

From elle

All well and good when you’re still young and visible and have partners.

All the role models you listed are OLD women. What about midage women?

What if you’re 40-ish and your livlihood depnds on looking young or if

you’re single and you’re competing with women half your age for men your

own age? What then? This is where I reside. Thankfully, I look about 36

and have a younger partner. But every time his eyes wander to a woman his

age or younger it pains me. I know the day is coming fast when I’m no

longer youngish. And I nakedly fear this. What do you say to me?

Every girl wants a stalker, by Rachel E

From Kerstin Åkare

I just read the article “Every girl wants a stalker”. I agree with

everything that Rachel E says. I’m a volunteer in our local women shelter


a women who is aexposed to stalking phoned.

I realised that I don’t really know anything about stalking. I know a lot

about mens violens against women, but stalking is a weak spot.

I found your site rachels article.

When searching on the web I realised that i have heard a song that I

thought was romantic. You hav heard it “Every breath you take” by The


When I look att the lyrics and think about all the women that comes to our

shelter because they have been beaten for years I get shivers.

Knife crime and masculinity, by Jennifer Drew

From Ettina

I don’t think referring to ‘children’ rather than boys carrying and using

knives on each other is necessarily due to not wanting to blame


Firstly, though less common, there are girls knifing people and getting

knifed as well. To say ‘boys’ erases them, and they, too, need help.

Secondly, if it was a predominantly female problem being referred to in

this way (eg, ‘children with eating disorders’) I doubt you’d say this was

unwillingness to say anything wrong about femininity. Just because it’s

boys instead of girls doesn’t automatically mean they are doing the same

thing for a different reason. You need evidence to say that.

Self harm, by Nino

From Ruth Moss

I really would like clarification on what Nino means by referring to

giving birth as self harm.

Because without clarification or explanation I actually think it comes

across as pretty offensive.

Some women have the most dreadful experience of childbirth; often at the

hands of an uncaring, overloaded or even downright misogynistic medical

establishment but to suggest this is self-inflicted is very unfair.

And there are many more mothers who would feel very insulted that

something they considered an empowering and overwhelming experience could

be considered “self harm”.

I do not know if perhaps Nino was referring to some women who might get

pregnant (and carry the baby to term and give birth) as a result of some

kind of low self-esteem issue (?) but if so she really should have given an


I do think it is a pity this was included as such a throwaway comment

because otherwise I think the article was an important one that needed to

be written – but I found it hard to look past this one comment without

knowing what it meant.

Nino, author of the article, replies

First of all I would like to thank you for highlighting a point perhaps I should have clarified and being honest about what you thought of the article. Criticism is something I beg for.

However, I think you may have got the wrong idea. The piece was not fictional. It was my opinion. My subjective opinion based on what I have seen and what I personally believe, you are open to agree for disagree with me and still appreciate the article as a whole. It would be impossible for you to agree entirely. I did not intend anything to be a throwaway comment. I mentioned giving birth because I do believe that, for some women this is a form of self harm. Just like certain things may be self harm to one and not to another. I think giving birth falls under that. Because, personally I know a great deal of women who have gotten themselves pregnant or carried pregnancies through, mainly as a way of punishing themselves for an action they regret. And it works from so many angles.

For example, my friend who was trafficked over to the UK and even when she managed to leave her pimp, ended up turing to prostitution. She blames herself for what other people have done to her. Even though originally she had no choice. She is too damaged to see that. And she has been looking for an alternative hara kiri, a way of redeeming her existence or such in her own eyes. She knew how child birth was painful and would affect her forever. So she stopped taking birth control and she got pregnant. She had a miscarriage. And luckily has returned home to try rebuild her life. But that was the surface intent of her pregnancy.

There are several other women I know who are of a cultural background where child birth is seen as more of a duty as opposed to a gift. And when they have doubted their beliefs or internally questioned their husbands intentions, they have felt so guilty that they have absorbed themselves in childbirth and the less appealing aspects as a way of milking what they have been brainwashed into thinking, is a wrong way of thinking.

I see what you mean about child birth being a beautiful and incredible thing to some and am in no mean trying to undermine that. I think it is a horrific idea that something so immense can be used as a form of self harm at all.

I apologise if I offended you by my lack of explanation. And I will take this as a lesson to be more accurate and explanatory in my future writing.

Thank you

Stay free



p.s. please feel free to check out and respond to any of my spoken word pieces…there is a piece called ‘Lamb’ on my blog i would love feedback on

Hair Women, a review by Lindsay

From Akintuyi Abike

As a Nigerian young lady.I am impressed with the documentary ‘Hairy Woman’

.Believe me when i say that many women here would do anything to conceal

their hairy status. It is a luxury we cannot afford. No we cannot

Taming of the Shrew, a review by Ealasaid Gilfillan

From Lucian Maxim

I don’t agree with you classifying shakespeare work as being impregnated

with misogynic content. Petrucchio is the challenger that Kate always

looked for. Deep inside she knew he was the One for her. All her opposition

were just tests to see if he will give away his power. When she finally

understood Petrucchio is a real man, confident, strong, she was no longer

resistant to him. Remember the final “Kiss me Kate!”.

A feminist guide to ballet, by Jess McCabe

From elizabeth

Im 13 now and ive been dancing for 10 years lots of people my age give up

and quit because its not cool and not with it. But this means that im now

the second eldest and more advanced than everybody else.When your little

all you think a ballerina is is a elengant lady which is pretty and kind

and many of them want to live this dream but next to none of them get there

and wish they did. all that they need to know is that its not all about

standing there in a tu tu and looking pretty it takes alot of hard work and


thank you for writing this article its really brought back the reality to

alot of my teenage friends.

thanks again bye

Page 3 – Ban It!, by Kate Allen

From maria cottage

Women will never be equal in this country while men can look at a naked 20

year old daily, for 20p.If you cannot ban it, at least get it off the front

covers and restore freedom of choice to those who don’t want it. I am

sickened by seeing a very young woman all but naked, on the covers of the

same newspapers that go mad about degenerates like Gary Glitter. How are

they any better? I have daughters aged 14 and 18, and I would be just as

angry at a man leering at either, but they regularly put women not much

older on their front covers for all to see. Also, why are these women

always white? We live in a multi-cultural society, from the outside it

looks like only white women are fame hungry sluts, and believe me, many

young women are treated as such. Another point I would like to make is why

are these women almost always the same shape? women don’t often naturally

have a 40″ bust and 23″ waist. I am a professional dressmaker, so I know

this. The attitude to page 3 should not be that it has become a British

tradition, rather it should be looked upon as out-dated. It has had it’s

day, get rid of it and let the women of this country finally have a chance

to become truly equal.

General Comments

Germaine Greer

From Noel Eyres

HI I am a 61 yr old male ( by chance an Australian like my subject ) I

have for years observed Germaine’s contributions, and in most cases I have

agreed with all she portrays . Germaine ,like myself is ” Getting on ” and

I would like to propose some recognition for her . I feel that Germaine has

done more to change womens and mens lives for the better than any other

person in history.There have been many people who have effected more

peoples lives but it was usually violent . I would in my small way like to

suggest that the Noble Peace prize or some similar form of recognition be

accredited to her . Do I have any support ? Regards Noel