Comments from January 2009

Comments on this month’s features and reviews

Losing my hijab, by Ala Abbas

From Margaret

The article on women and the hijab is wonderful, introspective and

thoughtful. Thank you for writing it and supporting it through your

website. I appreciate your efforts and wish that this site will continue

for a very long time.

From Standtall-The Activist

When I stopped wearing Hijab, I lost a lot of my muslim friends. Those

that were in the same arabic school with me thought I was possessed by the

devil nd couldn’t comprehend my actions.

It was all about me and not about them. If I want to wear Hijab it should

be because I chose to and not because I was compelled to. And that was why

I was wearing it at first. I was compelled. My mother was equally

disappointed before she got used to it.

Well, it was easy for me to do because I was born and raised in the

Southern part of Nigeria, if I were to be born and raised in the North and

by muslim hausa family, it would be a very tough battle to fight

From Claire

Best wishes to you for this decision. I hope you don’t encounter any


Personally I don’t mind what consenting adults wear as long as it

doesn’t frighten the horses or risk life and limb, and if a woman wants

to wear a burkha, it’s up to her (as long as she realises she’s letting

herself in for a life of bone disease due to lack of sunlight). As long as

it is a genuine free choice, mind.

Of course most feminists would find the idea of women having legal or

social constrictions on their clothing or appearance which men don’t have

to put up with utterly wrong – at least the Taliban were just as

dictatorial towards their menfolk what with the compulsory beards and

specifically Islamic clothing!. I can understand that in some societies,

covering up offers some degree of protection, respect, being treated less

like a sex object and more like a human being. The fault is clearly with

society treating people like this, though, and not with women daring to

show their hair to the world! We used to have a saying in the 70s

“whatever I wear, wherever I go, yes means yes and no means no!”

However, I don’t believe the hijab is about modesty. I recall seeing a

young woman in a hijab at a restaurant, her low slung jeans showing the

skimpy underwear, but, hey, at least she’s modestly dressed because her

head’s covered, right? If it really is about modesty why do little girls

wear it? The author says it’s when a girl reaches nine years that she’s

expected to cover up. I’ve seen toddlers wearing little hijabs! I do find

it upsetting that little girls are clearly not allowed to be children, but

instead are required to show their allegiance (something which at that age

they have no choice in) to a religion, or may it’s purely cultural? It is

increasing though, I am sure, and if all the young Muslim women you know

are covering their heads, there’s strong pressure on you to follow suit.

Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word, replies

This post at Muslima Media Watch deconstructs some of the issues around Vitamin D deficiency

From Sheryl

I want to thank you for this post. I enjoy reading about other cultures

and womens’ place in them.

From khadijah

Please change your thoughts for this is Shaytan.

Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word, replies

Yeah, we really got this comment!

IT’s a man’s world? by Sue Schofield

From Claire A

In response to your article about Women in IT – I work in the Service

Management arm of the industry which is one of the more customer service

focused areas, so does seem to have a higher percentage of women than many

traditionally techy areas. Despite this, I attended a conference this year

that had a lady in a ‘sexy nurse’ outfit luring people to one of the

stalls. When my colleague and I went to tell them they had lost any chance

of our future business, we were told that as women were probably about 10%

of the attendees, they weren’t all that bothered! And it was only ‘a bit of

a laugh’ any way.

The weirdest thing was, the lady dressed as a nurse was the lady who owned

the company!

From Ruth Seeley

Reaction to the ‘won’t go down’ ad is interesting to me – and perhaps

indicative of how times have changed in a good way.

Six or seven years ago I worked for a Canadian company with a British

parent. The British company chose to put a rather suggestive photo of a

woman eating a piece of cream pie (an image from an ad campaign it was

running in the UK) on the cover of its internal communications magazine (we

were an energy generator and it was a clever campaign, although I can’t

remember the copy or the tie-in to energy from the ad series).

Women at the Canadian branch were outraged by the image and didn’t

hesitate to take it up via email with head office, whose stance was

basically, ‘we have a different, more cheeky approach to advertising here

in the UK.’ Which is certainly true – Australian and UK ads are often

perceived as sexist and shocking here in North America, the place to which

you exported all your Puritans. ;)

But it’s interesting to me to see that the tide may well be turning in the

UK as well. I do sometimes wonder what the male response to objectification

would really be if it were adopted on a wide scale. Sadly, unless it

affected their employability and pay rates, I don’t think there’d be a

terrible outcry about it.

From Clare

I don’t understand why in several places and from several sources in this

article ‘geeks’ are somehow assumed to be a) male and b) weird. If you work

with programming languages for a living you are by default a geek. There

are plenty of female geeks out there who love science, maths, computers,

reading, gaming, music, etc. I think the problem is less one of ‘geek’

culture and more one of sexist culture.

From Hannah Dee

I’m deputy chair of BCSWomen, the British Computer Society’s “specialist

group” for supporting women in computing, and I’d like to add that there

are all sorts of initiatives going on to support and encourage women into

tech positions and to encourage women to stay in tech when they get here.

I organise the BCSWomen Lovelace Colloquium, now in it’s 2nd year, which

is a one-day event for undergrads; I was shocked last year at how many

attendees were the only women in their department. See for details. Postgrads have the

London Hopper, organised at QMUL, There are big

projects going on around career breaks and returners organised by the BCS

and also by the UKRC see for example

and there are networking events run by us (BCSWomen) and also and girlgeekdinners. There are also a number of

mailing lists and groups for informal support on a day to day basis.

Providing a space for women to talk together and to support each other

(and to complain to advertisers and write to papers and so on!) seems to be

an important thing; if you’re the only woman in the office the sexist

bullshit can begin to seem normal.

From A Fitton

I enjoyed programming at university and seriously considered a career in

IT, but when it came to the crunch I didn’t want to spend my the next

thirty years in such the overtly male and OTTgeek culture that prevailed in

computing at university.

From A different Helen

Sue Schofields article brought back memories. I worked in IT for seven

years and I would not work in that industry again. Every day something

happened to annoy me: another dumb blonde/women driver joke in the email, a

colleague accessing porn at the terminal next to mine, the hiring of a

strippagram for someones lunchtime leaving do (and then publishing the

pictures on the intranet, and having T shirts made of the poor woman), not

to mention all the important things like never being recognized, not

getting bonuses, always last in the queue for a promotion etc etc.

Of course not all my colleagues were hostile and sexist, in fact most of

them werent and I still keep in contact with quite a few of them. The ones

that were though really did spoil things, and made life miserable. I

remember getting up in the morning and mentally putting on a “thick skin”

ready for the day ahead. I stuck it out because I had small children at the

time, and there was an excellent day nursery just down the road, which

meant I could earn money and keep my skills up whilst knowing my children

were happy and safe. After seven soul destroying years the company imploded

(a foretaste of the impending credit crunch) and happily I was made

redundant. I now work in engineering rather than IT, where fortunately the

men are men, and not smutty fourteen year olds.

Breastfeeding: radical, feminist and good for you, by Kate Joester

From Laurie Joanow

Thank you for this wonderful article. It beautifully says what I have

long thought/felt about the intersection of feminism and breastfeeding.


From Laura

Excellent article!

Thank you!

From FilthyGrandeurM

This is a comment regarding your recent breast-feeding article. I found

it very touching, and was crying by the end of it. I have already decided

that when I have my children I will breastfeed, but this article put new

perspective on it. I thought of how breastfeeding is stigmatized in

society, where people are shocked when it happens in public, or how we have

breast pumps to distance that bond without the guilt of formula feeding.

At any rate, this article is wonderful

From Katy Murr

What came through really strongly in this article was a sense that a

woman’s choice to make her own decisions – in this case to breastfeed – is

hers to make alone, whilst being informed of relevant information (i.e.

nutritional value of mothers’ milk vs formula.) I especially like how Kate

talks about herself ‘growing’ into a feminist, an activist, someone who

openly embraces what she wants to fight for. This is the sort of thing

schoolchildren need to be reading – before it’s too late.

From Cara

Fair enough to advocate breastfeeding, but this:

‘Breastfeeding works, in a huge majority of cases, if you believe it’s

going to work. Women with no alternative rarely fail.’

sounds like blaming the women who for whatever reason *can’t* breastfeed

– or understandably, don’t wish to put themselves through intense pain to

do so.

On that, I can’t see how ‘battling through’ breastfeeding when it is agony

is healthy, and it feeds worryingly into patriarchy’s ‘mother as martyr’


Perhaps breastfeeding advocacy would work better if women weren’t made to

feel failures for having trouble, with sentiments such as the quote above

implying it is their fault, but just non judgementally helped to work

through whatever the issue is.

From Evie Wallace

Kate Joester’s article reminded me of how , a few years ago, Jordan

enraged the Breastfeeding Gestapo by stating plainly that she had no

intention of nursing her newborn daughter because it disgusted her, and

furthermore she had been given a large supply of formula in throwaway

bottles. I had to admire her bald forthrightness; she didn’t even bother

with the usual caveat (“I felt so guilty but I just couldn’t manage it.

Truly I feel terrible though . . lash lash . . I am a bad mother . . whip

whip”.) Nope. She didn’t want to do it and fuck the lot of you.

In the backlash that followed the word ‘selfish’ was used a lot. And

I mean – A Lot. It always is when Mothers Put Their Needs First. So

selfish! If you don’t want to make sacrifices why have babies in the

first place! Formula is nutritionally inferior. Selfish Selfish Selfish.

It’s different for feminists. Referring to other women as selfish

isn’t really on, so instead, a form of saintly condescension is used.

“Breastfeeding works, in a huge majority of cases, if you believe it’s

going to work. Women with no alternative rarely fail.” Statistics

please? Or perhaps the women with no alternative watch their babies die.

Kate is angry that women have fallen victim to the Nestle patriarchy. Why

can’t we just believe in ourselves? “I hate that so many women don’t

believe that of themselves and bemused that handing that capacity over to

someone else is seen by some as liberating.” Don’t feel sorry for me

Kate. I don’t need your bewildered pity. I’m well aware that

breastfeeding is nutritionally superior but I also thought that feminism

was about choice and respecting each other’s choices. I bottle fed two

children who are both strong and healthy. To my friends who have breastfed

I have nothing but respect because it’s their choice. Motherhood has

taught me tolerance.

From Kez

Thank you, thank you for writing this article, which expresses so much

that I feel. It had me in tears. I find it so disappointing how

breastfeeding myths are repeatedly peddled and believed and not

questioned… it’s wonderful to read something written from the heart about

what breastfeeding can and does mean for many women. No, it’s not always

easy, especially in the early stages, but with the right support,

information and advice (sadly often not forthcoming even from health

professionals), virtually any woman can successfully breastfeed. And it is

so very worth it.

The framing of breastfeeding as just another “lifestyle choice” renders

invisible the powerful business interests which benefit from women

believing they can’t or shouldn’t breastfeed. There’s money – lots of it –

to be made from selling infant formula, both at home and abroad, and

contrary to what many people believe, the unethical marketing practices

used by certain companies have not ceased. Gabrielle Palmer’s “The Politics

of Breastfeeding” (new edition out round about now) makes it very clear

some of the reasons why feminists should be concerned about this.

Thank you again for a wonderful article.

From Ruth Moss

What a refreshing change to read an article focusing on the “radical and

feminist” side of breastfeeding.

I loved the part about “getting your body back”; I too have always found

that a strange idea as while nursing my little one, my body finally feels

like my own; nice to know I’m not the only one.

It’s interesting you mentioned you were not the first in your family to

breastfeed, and I think that outside of the formula companies (who do their

very best, as you say, to wreck breastfeeding and make women doubt their

own bodies) this is one of the reasons that many women stop in the early

days. I think that when your relatives and peers have all fed babies in the

same way, this seems like the normal course of action to take, and when

things get difficult (as often they do) the recourse is to the default

family position… so if everyone else has nursed their babies, then you

believe it’s possible and almost always find a way. However if not, then

you are much more likely to bottle-feed.

I think lack of support is such a huge reason for giving up in the early

days, especially familial support. I think this is why, in the absence of

this support, groups like LLL and other mother-to-mother support

organisations are so important. Trouble is, people often don’t find out

about these types of groups when they need to.

I really enjoyed this article. I think you may get some stick, as anyone

does when they openly state that breastfeeding is better than the

alternatives (“you’re making women feel guilty!”), but good on you for

saying it.

From Jenny

Fantastic article about breastfeeing as a feminist act, Kate! I totally

agree with you, that it is shameful how an industry is built on telling

women they can’t do something that they are designed to. I breast-fed my

two kids through thrush, mastitis, bitten, cracked nipples and emotional

pain and fear of failure through sheer blood-mindedness and will to do the

best thing but I can understand why some women back down in the face of the

lies and crap spewed out by the formula pushers. Anyway – I just wanted to

say I loved this article and thanks for writing it.

From Sarah

Thank you Kate for such a well written article. I find it difficult to

understand why so many women don’t get angrier at what happens to women’s

bodies whether through bottle feeding or lewd pictures of women’s bodies in

newspapers, etc. Do we acquiesce because it is easier than to fight.

Anyway I particularly liked what you said in the last paragraph about women

getting their bodies back.

From Clare

Thank you so much for writing this, Kate. It articulated something I’d

felt but was unable to put into words. I also felt that my children gave

me my body back and discovered a new sense of joy in it – something I’d

never felt, even at my most conventionally “attractive” and “sexy”.

Suddenly I accepted myself. Some people have found that hard to take

(mostly relatives and female friends) who find it hard to accept that I’m

not stressed out at all about how I look now. However, now I’ve tasted

ownership of my own body I’m not willing to concede it to anyone else.

Feminist progress: undermined by the media? by Anna-Kate

From Clare

It makes me angry sometimes, girls everywhere are so frustrated that their

tummy’s not flat. Why are girls so obsessed with their appearance anyway?

Because of male culture causing them to be? Or because they’re obsessed in

the first place?

Confusing and annoying!

Our culture kinda makes women think their only value is in youth and in

how perfecr they can be – media does have influence. No wonder women of all

ages are desperate to look good against all wit.


This was an excellent article showing exactly how the media systematically

undermines and ensures patriarchy in all its forms continues unchallenged.

However, I strongly believe pornography can never be acceptable but I do

not advocate censorship. What is needed is media education and it is vital

media education is taught as a compulsory subject in all schools from

primary school upwards. But – the government, media and male-dominated

institutions which profit from representing women and girls as men’s

sexualised commodities have and continue to oppose such a ‘radical feminist


We need to ask why is pornography now mainstreamed and why are so many men

and boys accessing these images and why far too many boys and men are

accepting such violent, misogynistic and women-hating pornography as

‘fantasy,’ ‘harmless’ and even as realistic portrayals of how women and

girls as a group are defined. Concisely, why are women and girls all

reduced to men’s and boys’ sexual commodities?

The answer is complex and whilst I do not criticise women and girls who

aspire to become men’s sexual commodities by way of glamour modelling or

becoming lap dancers, such roles are limiting and serve only to reinforce

patriarchal power over women and girls.

We need to go to the source or root of the problem and that is men and

masculinity. Men are still defined as human and it is the male-defined

view which is promoted as ‘human’ and in no need of self-criticism or


The myth of ‘girl power’ is a myth promoted by media and advertising

industries as well as government institutions. The reality is very few

women and girls can become the mythical creatures media and advertising

promotes. ‘Girl power’ is not about ‘power’ it is about reducing women and

girls to men’s sexual commodities and also ensuring women and girls remain

focused on not measuring up to male-defined standards. Telling women and

girls they need to buy this or that product in order to be accepted by the

‘male gaze’ keeps us all in a constant state of worry and also renders

invisible the many acts of discrimination, women-hating and male violence

committed against women and girls.

Still, not to worry if a woman or girl is suffering from low self-esteem

or poor body image, there are plenty of products for the woman/girl to buy

which will supposedly make her feel better. Or the woman/girl can always

seek counselling in order to address her supposedly ‘individual negative

feelings.’ What this does of course is sends a clear message that if a

woman/girl is experiencing problems around her self-esteem and inability to

conform or achieve a good education or career then it is an individual

female problem not because our society is patriarchal and determined to

enforce female subordination and male control over women and girls.

As Anna-Kate demonstrated there are huge profits regularly made by

advertising, cosmetic, media and of course the porn industry which all work

to keep women and girls in a constant state of fear and worry because they

do not match up to the male ideal of what women are supposed to be and


Such misogynistic messages do negatively affect all women and girls

irrespective of their class, ethnicity etc. because central is the fact

women and girls are still represented as ‘deviant from the male norm.’

Rather than viewing women and girls who buy into these misogoynistic

messages as ‘poor creatures’ or ‘consumer obsessed’ we must continue

challenging the media and its obsession with profiting from dehumanising

women and girls.

Patriarchy which is all about men’s power and control over women and girls

will not be overthrown by believing women and girls have a choice when in

fact there is no choice. Peer pressure works to subtly make women and

girls conform to male-defined ideas and the media is a propaganda tool of

patriarchy. Not all women and girls accept such messages but it is very

hard when everywhere we see the only mythical way for women and girls to

achieve fulfilling lives is by becoming men’s and boys’ pornified sexual

objects. Ones who have no emotions, feelings or individual views but whose

sole purpose is to sexually service and serve men’s and boys’ needs.

Whether it is emotional/relational/sexual or whatever – the message is the

same – men and boys first second and last.

Two books which analyse the complexities of how the media is used to

reinforce and uphold male power over women is The Lolita Effect by M. Gigi

Durham and also The Gender Knot by Allan Johnson. Also, the Report of The

APA Task Force On The Sexualisation of Girls very astutely analyses and

dismantles claims ‘girls and women have now achieved full human status.’

May be one day women and girls will achieve full human status but it

certainly will not be in the next decade or so. In the meantime we must

continue to challenge media misogynistic representation of women and girls

whilst simultaneously not blaming women and girls for accepting these

women-hating myths.

Men will not give up their power to define what is supposedly human which

is still claimed to be ‘male,’ without a huge struggle. This is why the

latest attempt at eliminating feminism and keeping women and girls firmly

under the heel of male oppression is so widespread. It also partially

explains why pornography is now mainstream because pornography is a tool of

the patriarchy and porn’s central message is women and girls are

dehumanised beings – who can be sadistically and callously sexually

degraded by males because these non-humans do not deserve to be treated

with respect and dignity. That right is still reserved for males only.

From Barnaby Dawson

I think one good way to deal with the biases in the pornography industry

and the media would be to illegalize discrimination on the basis of

appearence (and extend existing discrimination laws to the media). Then

porn mags would have to present a proper cross section of men and women

from all walks of society and all aesthetics.

In addition picking news readers, waitresses, secretaries and laywers for

their looks would become illegal.

This won’t solve all the problems but might go along way in that


From Lisa

Action plan:

1. Stop buying/watching the media. Even broadsheets like the Guardian are

sliding down this slippery slope.Try ‘International Herald Tribune’, ‘The

Economist’, ‘The Financial Times’ – it’s not just Finance and specialist

press e.g. the sport, hobby you’re interested in. Get rid or make TV as

invisible as possible (mine’s in my cellar so I have to make a real effort

to watch – usually for a rented DVD).

2. Make your own realistic media (photos, art work, film including

pronography if you want – I live in Berlin where alternative pornography

and art work made by women makes a refreshing change !)

3. Supervise your children’s internet use. If you wouldn’t let your

daughter wander through a sex shop on her own, why let her wander through

the internet on her own. You’re also within your rights to question her

friends’ parents about the internet in their home and if you’re not happy

no going round to play.

3. Actively promote a wide range of media not only in your own home but at

your children’s school – teachers are always keen to discuss books,

periodicals etc. Help out in the school library and let subscriptions to

Teen Mags lapse !

4. Critically discuss the media with your children and other women and

plan boycotts or activism if you’re particuarly angry.

5. Take practical steps to guide your daughters in their choice of

clothes, cosmetics etc. e.g. offer to buy her make up with her and take her

to an organic cosmetics shop to buy high quality, natural, not tested on

animals make up. Explain to her that (whether we like it or not !) some

clothes are better than others in certain situations and that there is a

time and place for the short skirt, high heel, revealing top combination.

Explain to her when, where and why. We do our daughters no favours by

remaining silent and leaving them ignorant.

6. Talk about pornography in an age-approriate way. Just because a child

ought not to be able to access it doesn’t mean that they won’t. Far, far

better that she knows what it is in advance, what that the ‘porn’ look is

and why it must be her choice if, when and where she copies it.

From Jenni P.

So true! I can’t count the number of times I’ve flipped open a woman’s

magazine only to put it down before actually reading anything because every

article deals with how to make yourself more desirable for a man some way.

And the really dangerous thing is that these magazines promote themselves

as being for and by modern empowered women, but then the content seeks to

empower women by teaching them how to better please a man, lose weight, or

become some kind of sex goddess. As if being able to give a great blow job

and look good in a thong is all a woman needs to feel like a whole complete

person worthy of love. Its almost disturbing when you compare a man’s

magazine to a woman’s magazine. I’ve never seen a Maxim with an article

about how to read your woman emotionally (at best, I came across an article

once that attempted to help men identify a fake orgasm from a real one) but

its almost guaranteed that any given issue of a woman’s magazine will have

an issue about how to make a man happy, whether sexually or emotionally.

Most mass media outlets seem to transmit the value that a woman’s self

worth is ultimately determined by her ability to attract and keep a man and

its seriously disturbing. Thanks for writing the article.

Challenging sex object culture: definitely needed, definitely lively and definitely a key issue for 2009! by Sandrine Levêque


I go to my local shop and its like walking into a raid at a warehouse.

The so-called

“top shelf” is so low down they ought to give away a packet of sweeties

and a

“fun frisbee” with each copy of “Dirty Teens”. This does at least prove 1

thing which is that “real porn” is not that different from the weekly

supply of bosoms and bums offered by Zuts and Noo.

I walk to work and along the route I pass the city centre

“Gentlemens Club” which is supposedly no different from a coffee shop.

Ever tried asking for a lap dance in Starbucks. No, me neither.

I click on to the internet to be told by AOL the hot searches are Lucy

Pinder (big knockers of interest to DA LADS and thery’re real what a

novelty) and Claire Sweeney (shes on a diet or rather she isn’t but shes

gaining publicity for her weight so thats of interest to THE GIRLS

obviously). I switch on BBC2 where “Sir” Phallus Sugar spouts his contempt

for women at Fiona Bruce and refers to a certain lady journo as a “nasal

hag” , but hey he is a “great British entreuprener” and he’d make a good

Prime Minister and mealy mouth drivel to that effect

Anyway this is not merely an attempt to put as many dumb phrases in

inverted commas as possible. Really its a modest plea to those of us female

or male who are sick of all this. Lets make 2009 the year when we really

raise our voices. We’re at the end of a decade and its time for a new

attitude. Wear your duffel coat with pride.



Reference article ‘Challenging Sex Object Culture. Ah that much used term

‘sex culture’ or the other claim ‘we live in a culture which is sex


Both phrases are wrong and are used deliberately to hide the fact it is

women and girls who are being reduced to men’s sexualised commodities. So,

term should not be ‘sex object culture’ but ‘female sex object culture.’

Where are the images of men and boys being portrayed as dehumanised

sexualised commodities I ask myself? Answer there are none because men and

boys are individual human beings unlike women and girls.

Also, misogyny and racism cannot be separated out because sexism/misogyny

and racism are primarily about reducing women of all ethnicities and

cultures to men’s and boys’ sexualised slaves. How this occurs varies from

culture to culture but its aim is always identical – women and girls are

supposed to exist to serve men and boys.

Pornography plays a central role in reinforcing misogynistic myths

concerning women and girls and we must not forget pornography also promotes

racist hatred of women who are not white.

I see no ‘agency or choice’ when all women and girls are constantly being

sold a very narrow and patriarchal message – which is in order to achieve a

miniscule of respect and dignity, all women and girls must dehumanise

themselves and turn themselves into men’s sexualised masturbatory objects.

And we wonder why so many men are committing sexual violence against women

and girls, knowing their crimes will be condoned/justified or excused. Ah

but women have achieved full human dignity and respect and are now

supposedly seen as equally human compared to men. So, this explains why

women and girls are still being blamed for men’s violence against them. It

is all due to ‘individual wrong choices!’ Looks like an exciting and

challenging year for Object – but I know Object will continue to grow and

be a ‘thorn in the side of male-dominated media and male-dominated


The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet, a review by Jess McCabe

From Ruth Moss

Thanks for this review – it sounds just brilliant – when I find a bit of

spare cash from somewhere it’ll be the first thing I buy!!

Comments on older features and reviews

Maid of the manor, by Amity Reed

From Jackie Bather

Having just read the article”Maid Of The Manor” by Amity Reed, a thought

springs to my mind.Men don’t essentially want to do the boring

stuff…which includes housework…and would much rather someone else did

it…anyone, really.End of story.This work has no status attached to it and

many men are hung up on status, aren’t they ? If doing jobs around the

house became a high-status social activity, with much acclaim attached,

they would be in there like a rocket, I think.

The Virgin Daughters, by Dawn Kofie

From Megan

Seems to me this article explores the possibility that girls would want to

“sexually explore”. Girls want respectful relationships, exploration as a

means to an end, all while the male end in ultimately imposed. Rarely is

it respectable. It is time you embrace the fact that as times would have

it, post sexual revolution, your efforts would be better spent guiding

youth to the realities it exposed instead. Simply put, “fuck her and leave

her” mentality, s.t.d.’s, and degradation, all of which we are persecuted

by others and worse our own selves. Once again accept that you need to

teach self-reliance, not exploration as the means to an end. My best sex

has occurred only after I was able to take action in my life, find love in

my mistakes, not while sitting around waiting for somebody to do those

things for me. Show care not ignorance. Educate what is feminism today,

not how to have an orgasm. I can do it but so can you. Thank you for your


Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word, replies

I’m not really sure what the point is – yes, it’s a good idea to teach girls that there are some difficult realities they will may face, but it’s also crucially important in my view to teach girls to explore and own their sexuality, have orgasms, seek sexual pleasure on their own terms.

The Perfect Vagina, a review by Amy Clare

From Christy Garrett

Thank you for your very liberated and beautiful perspective. I was

struggling with this issue and as I read your article I felt my fears

slipping away. Why should we change ourselves to please another? That

makes no sense! Men need to accept us the way we are and that will only

happen if we first accept ourselves as we are. I refuse to change myself!


‘Men are back’ – but where did they go? by Sheryl Plant

From Johnny

OK, now this is getting blatantly stupid.

Does Ms Plant have better things to do? I grew up with ads lampooning men,

the phrase “men! They’re all the same!” has been launched on TV on

unsuspecting screens so many times I forget to count!

Personally, I think the McDonalds ad sounds depressing but the peugeot ad

is a bit of a relief, to be honest after all this time!

I think feminism should now be shut down since it has outlasted its

usefulness. No longer trying to gain equality for women like it should, but

bitching about phallus substitutes (which could be anything – cars to

coffee) when it’s fairly obvious who took the damned phalluses in the first


And I’ve said this before. What about the Taliban controlling towns and

locking girls in burning buildings because they’re not wearing burkhas, or

being burnt half to death in honour killings? What about women being owned

in Saudi Arabia as property by men? Where are your articles on these, or

don’t they matter to you anymore? (Don’t forget, it’s not only women who

say these things.)

Feminists, you’d better prove to existence that you actually CARE about

women in the third world (lack of education, no birth control, AIDS, etc)

than a group of complaining idiots who need to get your damned priorities


Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word, replies

Why do I even bother? Yes, there are problems with how men are portrayed in advertising. But I can’t even begin to address that, given the rest of this comment. First of all go here, then here, then try setting aside your male privilege and putting yourself in someone else’s shoes for five minutes.

So, you really think we’re stupid, do you? by Ananya

From Catie Gutierrez

This is a message for Ananya to commend her article “So, you really think

we’re stupid, do you?” I believe this article raises a very important issue

and has explained it very well. You have identified the mentality behind

the content of these magazines in a way that people five times your age

still don’t begin to think about. Well done!

Why feminists shouldn’t have to keep mum, by Victoria Dutchman-Smith

From Anonymous Harridan

“Why feminists shouldn’t keep mum” – brilliant article, with very good

points aptly spelled out. Yes, i agree, many mothers make virtue out of

necessity, and media sells them this cheap notion that it is fabulously

important and rewarding to, basically, stick to traditional role

distribution in family where a woman ends up doing the most. Again, it is a

glorification of less than happy living of women as mothers, instead of

being more critical of father’s involvement, or encouraging mothers to get

out of their men more instead of just moaning and feeling inadequate. And

Victoria is also spot on that criticizing the burden put on mothers is not

the same as diminishing what women do.

If you think it is then you are most likely to be trapped in notion that,

in order to think well of yourself you need to kill yourself in the act of

selfless serving others. When the ideal is to do much less, not to forget

enjoy yourself along the way and, obviously, think you are being fantastic

(as mother, woman, human being, employee etc)

From Gillian

I thought your article was brilliant and expressed many of the feelings I

have had in my year of maternity leave. My time off work was my choice and

enabled myself and my partner to make parenting choices together to suit

our needs and the needs of our child and has been great. However, like

you, I have avoided many of the ‘support’ groups due to the self

depreciating nature of it all – as a confident and education woman I did

not buy into a lot of the self criticism or talk on the lack of choice in

activities and support. I am now currently fighting a tide of ‘Oh, you

must be SO devastated/disappointed/upset to be going back to work’, when in

reality I’m not, and I say I’m not – I’m an educated woman with a good job

and great colleagues and I enjoy it all – this seems difficult for many

people to accept, but it is the truth. I enjoy my family and love my

child, but have not lost my head, brain and sense of self worth since

becoming a mother! Thank you for such a refreshing article and confirming

what I had supsected all along – that I am not the only feminist in the


Time to end parental leave discrimination, by Jennifer Gray

From Ruth

of course parental leave should be givena nd the needs of fathers should

be considered more. However, it is disingenous to compare maternity or

parental leave with sick leave.

Small business owners like myself routinely ask possible employees about

their past sickness record and take this into account when considering

whether to employ someone. Many also limit paid sick leave to one month or

even less. So employers do take actions to minimise the negative effects of

an employee being off ill.

In many ways though it is easier to fill a vacant post if staff have taken

substantial maternity or paternity leave of 1 year, rather than trying to

fill a position for 3 or 6 months.

Glamour models made me sick, by Hannah Whittaker

From Libby

I totally understand how you felt about the models cause I was exactly the

same. I was always trying to look like that “perfect” women and I never

could which made me so depressed and made me self harm, which made my

family and friends worry about me so much.

Even though everyone now knows about airbrushing, you don’t think about

models like that, you just want to be like that. When I think back to how I

was I would never want anyone to feel like what I felt like and because I

have a younger sister I always make sure she knows that those women aren’t

real and she doesn’t need to aspire to look like them. I’m now a healthy

size 12 and happy with how I am.

Of corset matters, by Laurie Penny

From SashaGarwood

For me, at least, corset-wearing is an ultimately successful attempt to

manipulate the male gaze to which i feel i am, as a young and relatively

normative female, subject to at all times. I’m sufficiently pessimistic to

perceive the attention I get due to my gender and self-presentation as

inevitable; I recognise that this may be defeatist and imay not be proud of

it, but it is true. To consciously and obviously shape myself, therefore,

into a physical ideal essentially unattainable by normal circumstances

eables me to wrestle back my own subjectivity, because i feel, however

erroneously, that when iam that shape i am beyond criticism. People will

not look at me and find my body wanting in all the ways i feel it to be

suchdespitemy best efforts; they will (and are) instead struck by its

supposed ‘perfection’. Given that I haveverystrict boundaries concerning who

touches me and in what circumstances, i find the consequent manipulation it

enables empowering andreassuring.

Like I say, i’m not proud of it. But it’s true.

‘Who… me? I’m just a housewife’, by Samantha Jay

From Monica Gambino

I totally agree with the author of this article. I am as well a woman who

believed in feminism, who went to college, got a master degree and thought

of making a nice carriere. Then i married a foreign man, a Dutch, because

of his job we have to live in The Netherlands and I can not find a job

after two years hard trying. I have a four year old son and by the moment

“just a housewife”. It is quite frustrating, because all what I do at home

is priceless, literally: It doesnt have a price. In todays life peoples

works are valuable according to how much money they produce. I work hard at

home, but I can not help but too feel as a charge on my husbands


He’s Just Not That Into You, a review by Holly Combe

From julie Law

I agree with Holly re”He is just not into you” If you are in your 40’s and

you are still playing these games, well, you should so be not into him or

HER. Games,games,games, what happened to manners,kindness, and honesty? Is

it so hard to just say ” I like you” It makes me livid. Well, I just got

dumped and I resent “he is not into me”, there was nothing wrong with

me……how about him? Why is it always the pursuit? Life is short, lets

move on. I think where I went wrong, I just did not see the real him, my

issue, but to blame women to back off?! to ask for honesty?! Nothing wrong

with that ever!

From eve

what a well articulated argument to ‘he’s just not that into you’. I

wholeheartedly agree with all of what you said!

‘Hasn’t anybody ever told you a handful is enough?’ by Samara Ginsberg

From Peaches


Thanks for telling me everything I wish I could have put to words on my

own, thanks for giving me the words I will have to put to use in the


My situation has been much the same as yours, except I am still 17.

Fortunately or unfortunately, I am not as skinny as you, (I have 32 inch

waist), and so I haven’t suffered rudeness to the same degree as you.

Probably part of the reason is actually because I had such low self esteem

in my early years of maturity that I gained weight, though I recently did

lose a lot (yay!). I can empathize with you, and I would tell you how sorry

I am for the harrassment you’ve been through, except that you don’t seem

like you’d like any pity (but if for some reason you do, you can have it

anyway =P). I just wanted to tell you how much I appreciated your article,

and to thank you, again, for showing me the attitude I am going to love

having now.

From stacia briggs

On the subject of being annoyed by other people’s reactions to your cup

size, I found this about how women are sometimes other women’s worst

enemy…”>Think big breasts are fun? Try owning a pair like mine

From Joanna

In response to Samara Ginsbertg’s article entitled ‘Hasn’t anybody ever

told you a handful is enough?’ may I just say how utterly disgusted I was

to read of your treatment – it made me so angry. Your teachers were

unbelievable, your peers deserved a good kicking, and I think you come

across as a very wise, intelligent person who deserves to be treated with


I read a wonderful quote – from a man, incidentally – which described

feminism as ‘nothing more than the radical idea that women are also people’

You are a person, but with our porn fixated society there will always be

problems for women with figures such as yours. I wish you all the best, and

I loved your article.

From James Sinclair

Get A LIFE!!!

Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word replies

You’re only embarassing yourself, James Sinclair.

From david mustafa

It’s really weird and sorrowful to have such experience in a high school

or in the earlier years. The people who behaved to you are such mean or we

can say such immature, that they lost the mind of self integrity. They

invaded a particular personality with regardless responsibility. I am a

man, but I know how to respect motherly individuals. Having unusual body

figure is not someones fault, and if some one considers it as a fault than

indirectly he/she is accusing the God himself. We should always treat and

behave with everyone by the same eye as to get a positive response from

God. I am really sorry for what you’ve faced and I wish god bless you and

give peace in your mind. Let God Forgive us all.

From Lex

When I read more than a handful is enough I practically cried! I am in

nearly the exact same postion as Samara Ginsberg and reading what seemed

like my own words on the screen had me feeling like I had suddenly been


So often have I heard “how can you complain about your boobs/figure your

gorgeous” or “you get so much attention Lex! GOD!” from friends while I

have been fleeing attention from a male on a night out. Thank you so much

for this artical and for reassuring me that being me isn’t a crime!

From Tania

I just wanted to thank Samara for her article I thought that I had

suffered with 36jj’s and I am ashamed that what I think I suffer on a daily

basis is nothing compared to her please thank her for me.

From Bee

I am replying to Samara Grinsberg’s article “hasn’t anyone ever told you

that a handful is enough?”

I just wanted to say yes to every word she said. I face the same problem,

though I deserved less commentary and groping, maybe because I grew up in a

very catholic, prudish environment. However, I certainly recognize the

general tone of what she describes. It is about the fact that large sized

mammaries get in the way of everything. Conversation, respect and the fact

that you’re being treated as a person, not a cup size. A friend of mine

faces the same predicament, and she refuses to dress herself down in high

collars and scarves that cover up everything, and the sh*t she gets from

other woman is incredible: “it’s like she likes to flaunt us with what we

have not” and I have heard several guys say: “well, what do you want, I

can’t stop staring when they are so… obviously there!” What nobody seems

to realize is that they have a choice. Guys don’t HAVE to keep staring, and

women can keep their tongues.

Personally, I walk with a crooked spine for the rest of my life, because

the only solution I found was ducking my chest between my shoulders while

curling up my back, so they appeared smaller. People who happen to see me

in a bathing suit suddenly feel allowed to say “they never realized they

were so big” and “why do you never show them?”

I have tried to explain many of these women that I do not enjoy being the

center of attention, especially for something as unfair as genetics, I’d

much rather deserve it through intelligent conversation. I don’t like being

stared down the street, because I know that those that do it are not

assessing my worth as a potential friend or intelligent conversation

partner, but as a sexual object. Staring is impolite, we’re told. You

don’t stare at people, my mother told me. you could only stare at an

object. Apparently that is only true until you grow big breasts. From then

on, it’s fine.

Just as my well endowed friend, I often get the message: “they’re guys,

they have hormones, they can’t help the fact they look at it, I don’t see

why you feel bad.” And thus, I am the one who is faulty for feeling bad

about something that is presented as a fact of nature. In a way, this is

another impossible equation. Show them, and you’re “flaunting”, hide them

and you’re “anal retentive”.

From Pascal

just to comment on the big bulge for man.

Actually the equivalent, in term of actractiveness, of big breast for

women is for men to be tall.

Being tall doesn’t carry all the bad moment, I know, but you get free pass

with girls because they like tall guys, more or less the same way guys like

big boob.

I can tell you that being small is as if you don’t even exist in the eyes

of women, or that your not boyfriend stuff. Different but as much victim of

the instinct for partner seeking. We are just animal remember ?

very sorry for you that you had to suffer all that BTW.

From Jane B

I have so much sympathy for the author of this piece. As another shy

geeky teenager with large breasts, I suffered similar teasing – though not

the physical assaults, possibly because I’ve pretty much been overweight

since puberty – I have overeating/binge-eating disorder, which developed I

believe partly as an attempt to hide from the unwanted attention – ‘fatty’

and related insults were painful but at least I was largely left alone and

ignored, rather than constantly being picked on by girls and leered at by

boys. There are advantages to being fat in this society – it makes you

sexually neutral, it keeps you safe from the game-playing and intensity of

school ‘social life’ (and university to some extent), it means that the

insults you get are much less threatening – they’re about how ugly you are,

not about what random strangers want to do to you.

I was really happy to enter my 40s. Now I’m older, even if I was thin,

I’d be less ‘interesting’. Maybe now, with age to shield me, I’ll be able

to work out how to let go of the ‘fat girl’ body I hide behind…

From Aimee

Samara, this is a brilliant, horrible, thought provoking and well written

article. Throughout the whole thing I had to actually, almost physically

stop myself from thinking that you were a stuck up bitch, however ashamed

that makes me feel about myself. It’s almost as if we’re conditioned to

think that no woman should be happy with her body, and even though you have

every right to be, on a very small scale I still find myself resenting that

you are. That makes me so angry, because no one has the right to undermine

someone for being comfortable with themselves. So I commend you for being

brave enough to be happy with yourself, despite the horrible things you’ve

been through and despite this prevailing culture which dictates that you


I … can almost not bring myself to say that I identify with you. How

wrong is that? I too have… large breasts and you know.. an alright

figure. I am happy with myself. But I feel as though I shouldn’t be. I

never experienced the disgusting and horrendous sexual harrassment that you

did, mostly because I went to a positive and friendly all girls school, but

I have experienced the public leering and humiliation that comes with

having a couple of appendages that make you appear accessable to men. It

makes me sick. It’s almost as if people feel that because you are built in

a way that appeals to men, you must have been designed for them and are

therefore fair game for any kind of treatment people wish to exact upon


If I may return to this issue of not being ‘allowed’ to be happy with

youself. When I said i was happy with myself… I am, but I find it

uncomfortable to say so. I find it uncomfortable to say that I have a good

figure, that I am beautiful, that I think I am attractive. That I look at

pictures of myself and like what I see. I think everyone should feel like

this, but instead we are all taught to feel nothing but disgust at

ourselves. This doesn’t change. I work in a school and the girls there, who

are primary school age all think that they are ugly and somehow wrong. Even

the ones who are what we might consider attractive. I think we need to

begin to stop looking at the so called perfect beauty. I know it sounds

cliche but I think everyone is beautiful. Our perception of beauty is so

narrow and has become so whittled down to a few, stupid things that so many

people feel that they are not beautiful. Something needs to change, because

your whole aritcle made me feel so disgusted with the way women are

treated. I hope the male teacher you mentioned is not still a practising

teacher. Other wise I think you need to let him knwo what a stupid prick he


From Carrie

I would like to thank Samara for writing this article as I have never

heard my own experience articulated in any magazine or newspaper until now.

I have F cup breasts (and a post graduate degree in Philosophy) and I

really identified with this article. People notice my breasts first and my

mind last. I would like to point out that it does get easier as you get

older. I’m now 32 and while my boobs are nowhere near my ankles, thank you

very much, men do not shout filth in the street at me as much any more

(maybe they are more likely to hrass a youner woman or girl wjho is less

confident and wont argue back?).

The envy of other women etc is more complicated. While my own sisters

constant bitter references to my breasts hurt & confused me especially as a

teenager, I would say that men leering have been worse by far.

I would also like to say that some men can see beyond the breasts and

appreciate a woman for her wit and intelligence. My top tip would be to do

what I did – meet your husband online. By he time he meets you and sees

your cleavage he will already have fallen for “the real you”.

Choice and disability, by Victoria Al-Sharqi

From Daniel

Just wanted to say I thought that Victoria’s artical on disability and

abortion was one of the best I have read. Kudos to the fword for putting

it up as well, as from reading this blog it stikes me that this article

argues against the the stance of the majority of the fwords contributors on

the subject of abortion.

From Irina

Choice and disability: the author argues from the point of how abortion of

disabled foetuses makes her, a as a disabled person, feel, and how society

doesn’t value her.

I think a more productive (and not destructive) way would be not to force

unwilling women to bear disabled children but to campaign with many

disabled and abled men and women to improve life for ALREADY LIVING

disabled. While leaving legislation on selective abortion alone, where it

should be.

There must be a way of improving one set of people’s real lives without

causing misery and pain to, and violating others’ (because, yes, forcing

somebody to keep unwanted pregnancy and going through birth IS a

violation). Alex Kemp is right – you cannot advance somebody’s rights at

the expence of other’s rights. And by “rights” I mean rights for the

living. I wish grown-up people stop comparing themselves to foetuses, it

doesn’t do any credit to their perceived sense of self-worth!

(Besides forcing people to be parents when they don’t want to might result

in the opposite of what Victoria dreams about – child abuse. )

But she seems to be keen on gaining at the expence of other’s ruined lives

– because yes, being forced to become a mother is a life ruined, doesn’t

matter with abled or disabled child. And while already living disabled

people directly don’t suffer from someone somewhere aborting a disabled

foetus, those women (who, unlike foetuses, are aware of what’s going on

with their life) who will be forced into motherhood against their will –

if we have the legislation Victoria wants us to have – will feel the pain

every day of their lives DIRECTLY. A tiny difference, eh?

and the last one: pro-lifers don’t love disabled or care about their

rights. it is women making desicions about their bodies and lives they

hate, and will do anyhting it takes to curb it, disability being only a

minor card in their play.

Victoria Al-Sharqi, author of the article, replies

Thank you for your response to my article on The F-word. There is one paragraph in particular that stood out for me:

And while already living disabled people directly don’t suffer from someone somewhere aborting a disabled foetus, those women (who, unlike foetuses, are aware of what’s going on with their life) who will be forced into motherhood against their will – if we have the legislation Victoria wants us to have – will feel the pain every day of their lives DIRECTLY. A tiny difference, eh?”

Already living disabled people do suffer from ‘someone somewhere’ aborting a disabled foetus, as whenever such a termination takes place a particular set of harmful and negative ideas about disability is reinforced. The purpose of my article was not to compare myself to a foetus, or to argue that the rights of a foetus ought to take precedence over the rights of an adult woman, but to highlight the ways in which selective abortion affects disabled people. And it affects us in some very tangible ways. Current attitudes towards disability have led to a preoccupation with cures and prenatal testing, rather than a willingness to accept disabled people as we are and to provide support that respects our dignity and enhances our independence. When people look at your life, decide that certain aspects of it are miserable (usually without consulting you), and use these things as reasons for selective abortion, they are saying that your life isn’t worth living as it is, and that your existence is all about making the best of a bad job. Disabled people come up against this attitude in all areas of life: in education, in employment, in medical care, in relationships. The existence of selective abortion is not the sole cause of this attitude, but it is a contributor, and it is incompatible with disability rights.

“I wish grown-up people stop comparing themselves to foetuses, it doesn’t do any credit to their perceived sense of self-worth!”

As I have pointed out, I’m not the one making the comparison. It is grown people who look at the ultrasound scan, then look at me (or rather, dissect my symptoms – I don’t think they actually look at me as a person at all) and say: “This is what could happen if this pregnancy is carried to term.” I am a reason for selective abortion. Whenever this topic is raised in the press, I inevitably come across highly emotive descriptions of my symptoms and difficulties, calculated to evoke pity and/or revulsion in the reader. The supposedly private choice to have a termination on grounds of disability isn’t private at all, not when intimate aspects of disabled people’s lives are taken without our consent and reinterpreted as scenes from a tragedy.

The worrying thing is that people are so used to seeing selective abortion as a private choice that affects nobody but the woman in question that they can’t seem to comprehend the wider ramifications that I tried to outline in my article. Perhaps this is because people don’t feel those ramifications if they are cushioned by able-bodied privilege, as I can’t see any other explanation for the belief that the existence of selective abortion has no bearing on the lives of disabled people whatsoever.

I don’t believe that anybody should be forced into motherhood. But I don’t believe that disabled people should be written off as tragedies and used as illustrative material to support a stranger’s ‘private choice’ either, not when such choices contribute to the disabling barriers that they face in society every day. This is a dilemma that I have grappled with for years, and there are no easy answers. I don’t claim to offer instant solutions. I do, however, acknowledge that discussion and debate on this topic is necessary and long overdue – although I doubt that meaningful discussion will be able to take place until people realise that the arguments against selective abortion amount to much more than ‘woman versus foetus’.

From Isabel

I have to say, having become the mother of a child with a disability, that

I agree with Val’s article. I can no longer personally claim to be

pro-choice when it comes to selective abortion on the basis of impairment,

and in fact had a stand-up row with a consultant after being told my son

might also have Downs Syndrome (my response being ‘so?’). The selective

abortion of DS foetuses is particularly distressing to me.

From Cara

Victoria, you make some good points in your article, but spoil it with

your anti-choice rhetoric.

I believe in choice. It doesn’t matter whether I personally agree with any

given woman’s choice to have an abortion; I don’t have to have one if I

don’t want, that’s why it’s called choice. (Your phrase ‘pro-abortion’

thrown in betrays your anti-choice stance, by the way; no-one is

pro-abortion, just that pro-choice people believe it a better option than

women dying through backstreet abortions and unwanted kids being abused).

Furthermore, the ‘how do you think people with Down’s syndrome feel?’

argument is simply emotional manipulation – including of people who may

not have the mental capacity to understand the issues. 90% of KNOWN

foetuses with Down’s are aborted…ignoring those women who chose not to

have the tests, yes, nice manipulation of the statistics there.

I am all for the rights of disabled people and yes, I agree that society

should adapt to them; I am all for people with disabilities fulfilling

their potential.

That is NOT incompatible with being pro-choice.

Again, I repeat: choice. No-one is asking women to have abortions when

they don’t want to, or even to have pre-natal tests if they don’t want.

Some women genuinely don’t care if their child will be disabled: good for

them, great. The option must be there, however.

What I object to is your proposal for modifying or removing (you don’t

specify) the disability grounds for abortion. There is a reason that there

is no time limit for severe disability, and that is that tests for many

disabilities can’t be done before 20 weeks or more, so it is impossible to

get the results and make a decision within the 24-week limit.

I cannot support forcing any woman to undergo a pregnancy and birth she

does not want. I cannot support forcing any woman to bring up a child she

does not want.

You blithely dismiss Marin’s and others’ decision to have terminations as

being lazy and selfish, not caring how difficult that decision is.

You pontificate on the word ‘cope’ – it is perfectly legitimate for a

woman to decide she cannot cope with a disabled child, when she could with

an able-bodied one

You dismiss women who choose not to carry on with pregnancies when the

baby would be disabled as silly, ignorant, prejudiced; assume they either

don’t know enough about the disability in question to judge, or are simply

selfish. You sound just like most anti-choicers, claiming that women just

can’t be trusted with decisions about their own bodies, with our fluffy

lady brains; we’ll only regret it later. Most decisions to have an abortion

are well considered, difficult and not in fact regretted. The point is

though that if we are rational adults, we must be entrusted to make

decisions, no matter how difficult, even if they turn out to be wrong.

Otherwise women are not treated as fully human.

Have you actually considered how grindingly difficult life can be with a

severely disabled child? I mean severely disabled. If the law is being

misused, and I don’t agree with terminations for such minor and fixable

problems as cleft palate, that is one issue. It doesn’t mean the law sould

be changed, just that it should be applied properly. I am talking about

children who will never speak or respond in any way, never walk, never even

sit up; who smear faeces around the walls, sleep for 2 hours max at a time,

rampage around the house at 3am, attack family members. That’s the reality.

And WOMEN bear the brunt of it, women are expected to be noble, selfless

carers, sacrificing their lives to the child, changing the nappies of their

offspring of 20, 25, 30, 40 years old…never having that offspring so much

as look them in the eye.

I do know not all disabilities are like that, but you seem to object to

‘labels’ so I can only assume that you object to terminations for even the

most profound disabilities. Even when the infant may only live days or

weeks, and that short time will be full of pain and misery.

The thing is, yes, I know some people have been very dismissive of

disabled people or not bothered to adapt to make their lives easier. I know

the medical profession can be arrogant, priveleged, label and dismiss,

treat people with disabilities as less than people.

None of this, I am afraid, means that disabilities are great, or do not

exist. Disability by definition means impairment in day to day functioning.

I mean, if I fall and break my leg going home tonight, I may as well not go

to hospital and get it set, because who cares about the pain and lack of

mobility…it’s all social, isn’t it? Damn doctors, labelling me!

How you can link to Cripchick’s blog about not owning her own body…as

I’ve acknowledged above, the result of mistreatment by the medical

profession means many people with disabilities feel like that…many women

without, in fact…yet aren’t you in telling women not to have

terminations, taking away their ownership of their bodies?

You sound like anti-choicers whining ‘but Mozart/ Einstein/ whoever

wouldn’t exist if his mother had had an abortion!’ Well, no, he wouldn’t.

Someone else would do the great things he did, make discoveries, write

music; or close enough; or maybe not, but the world would go on turning.

The thing is that ghosts do not make an argument. Hypothetical babies with

disabilities who will not be born if women have terminations do not exist

and do not have rights. If you think every potential baby should be born

then you are reduced to the absurdity of the Monty Python ‘no sperm should

be wasted’ sketch.

Being pro-choice is NOT saying disabled people are inferior, of less value

and should not exist. Even if there was some conspiracy to make sure

disabled people were wiped out, how could it possibly work? People born

able-bodied become disabled through accident or illness; there are no

prenatal tests for many disabilities, and some women don’t want such tests.

Of course, *once they exist* disabled people must be valued and helped to

contribute to society. Isn’t the ‘disabled people add so much to the

world!’ just another form of the patronising ‘brave heroes, saints,

battling on’ meme you describe in your article? As you seem to say, people

with disabilities are no better or worse than people without, just people,

doing the best they can…instead of infantilising them as angels, so

people can feel good about themselves, why not treat people with

disabilities as adults big enough to understand that actually, life for a

person without disability is on average less difficult and painful than

with one?

Like all anti-choicers, you seem to demand that these babies are born

without calling for measures that will make life easier for their mothers.

Carers, as I’m sure you know, get pathetically low benefits and little

respite provided by the state; if more support was available, more women

might feel able to bring up a severely disabled child.

You are not invisible; rather than making anti-choice pronouncements, why

not get out there and educate the general public on your condition – then

maybe expectant mothers won’t be so scared when they learn their child will

have it?

You simply haven’t considered the women – the mothers of disabled babies –

who you ask to take on so much. I find this odd coming from a

self-described feminist.

Victoria Al-Sharqi, author of the article, replies

While I was genuinely interested to read your e-mail about my article (its purpose, after all, was to promote debate), I think that you have missed the point of most of what I was trying to say, and that your feedback addresses the article that you expected to read rather than the one I actually wrote. For example, you say that my use of the term pro-abortion reveals ‘my anti-choice stance’. But that phrase doesn’t appear in my article anywhere, and for good reason – like you, I don’t believe that anybody is pro-abortion. I have written about ‘proponents of selective abortion’, yes, because there are people (Minette Marrin amongst them) who believe that women have a moral and social duty to abort if the foetus has impairments. That is a separate issue.

You write that I assume that women who abort on grounds of disability are being ‘silly’ and ‘selfish’. I think no such thing, and have never written anything to that effect. I do think that they are prejudiced, but this is not intended as a personal slight on their decision-making capabilities. It is an indictment of the prevailing social attitudes towards disability. Prejudicial notions and stereotypes about disability are ingrained in society’s fabric, and ingrained so deeply that most people do not even realise they exist unless they have to bear the brunt of them. And that is what my article is about: how damaging and often dehumanising attitudes lead to selective abortion, and how the existence of selective abortion reinforces the negative ways in which disabled people are perceived and treated within society.

I wrote it as a disabled woman who feels those effects. You seem to have missed the part of my article where I state that I am classed as severely disabled, and you then go on to employ one of the silencing techniques that I condemn in my article: “Have you actually considered how grindingly difficult life can be with a severely disabled child? I mean severely disabled.” You are implying that my own disabilities are far too mild for me to have any understanding of such a life, thereby disqualifying me from writing about the issue. Then you go on to define what severe disability really is. (It takes a non-disabled person to be able to define it, of course.)

“I am talking about children who will never speak or respond in any way, never walk, never even sit up; who smear faeces around the walls, sleep for 2 hours max at a time, rampage around the house at 3am, attack family members. That’s the reality.”

According to my assessment reports I have the mental age of a seven-year-old. My performance IQ is 54. I poo myself on a regular basis. Until mid-adolescence, I did smear my faeces. I sleep as and when I can, which is rarely. I can’t be left unsupervised, partly because I’m prone to outbursts of the sort you describe. (Incidentally, such ‘attacks’ are usually my efforts to communicate extreme pain and distress when I have no way of articulating it orally and am unable to control my body. And along with a lot of people with my cognitive impairments, I find many seemingly everyday things acutely painful and disturbing, which is why outbursts are frequent.) My arms are covered in scars from my biting compulsion. I am a part of the reality.

I’m not saying that “disabilities are great, or do not exist”. I’m saying that I would like people to stop hijacking my everyday reality and using it as a justification for selective abortion, when the mere existence of selective abortion means that people are encouraged to see those of us with disabilities as objects of pity or tragedies who would be better off if we weren’t around – with some unfortunate consequences. This is seen most clearly when it comes to service provision.

You then go on to say, “You seem to object to ‘labels’ so I can only assume that you object to terminations for even the most profound disabilities.” Actually, I don’t object to diagnostic labels. They can be very helpful. I do object to the way that labels are distorted and misapplied. There are no clear boundaries between what constitutes ‘mild’, ‘moderate’, or ‘severe’ disability, as so much depends on the situation – and on the eye of the beholder. Regarding situation, I don’t consider myself to be severely disabled when I’m writing, thanks to the assistive technology that allows me to express myself. Going to the supermarket or using a public toilet is another question, as neither of those places are properly accessible to me and using them independently would require skills that I don’t possess. However, there are adaptations that could be put in place to make these places more accessible and significantly reduce the difficulties that I experience. That is what I mean when I talk about the level of disability being an interaction between the impairment and the situation.

Regarding other people’s perceptions, please look back to your own definition of what it means to be severely disabled. Others would disagree with you and state that your definition is too strict, that they themselves would terminate a pregnancy if the foetus were shown to have cleft palate or another impairment that you consider ‘minor’. I have friends who have tried to compliment me by saying that when they first met me they were unnerved, but now they “don’t consider me to be seriously disabled at all”. What they mean is that the sight of me made them uncomfortable at first, but that they’re desensitised now – so desensitised that they have changed their personal definitions of serious disability. Yet the nature of my impairment hasn’t changed at all.

This is the kind of labelling that I condemn so roundly in my article. It stems from the degree of fear that people experience when they think about a particular condition. It exists for other people’s convenience, as is evidenced by the way a doctor trying to have a child removed from its parents’ care might emphasise the severity of the child’s disability while the funding bodies that are meant to be providing monetary support will be keen to bracket the child as ‘moderately’ or even ‘mildly’ disabled. The arguments for selective abortion hinge on the judgements that strangers make about disabled lives, the assumptions that they carry about our labels, and the definitions that they impose on us. This is dehumanising. The fact that I acknowledge this and refuse to allow my everyday experiences to be co-opted and turned into a story of misery and despair does not make me anti-choice.

“I mean, if I fall and break my leg going home tonight, I may as well not go to hospital and get it set, because who cares about the pain and lack of mobility…it’s all social, isn’t it? Damn doctors, labelling me!”

This is a complete misrepresentation of the social model of disability. No disability rights advocate has ever claimed that disabled people should reject medical treatment or support. However, we do ask that the treatment and support that we receive be based on the needs that we actually have, and not the needs that other people perceive us to have. When I was assigned a mental age of seven, I was locked into limbo. The professionals involved in my care decided that I couldn’t progress beyond this point, and that the best option would be for me to move into a residential home. That is not the kind of help I needed, but the kind of help that they decided that I ought to have – based on a set of tests that aren’t reflective of how I think or what I think, but on how closely my thought processes tesselate with those of a ‘typical’ person. The equivalent would be your broken-legged individual being sent to the operating theatre to have the offending limb amputated instead of to the X-ray department for an X-ray and some plaster of Paris.

I work in a college for people with learning disabilities, primarily Down’s Syndrome, which is why I find your comments regarding manipulation and mental capacity particularly disturbing. The argument that a certain group of people ‘lacks the mental capacity’ to think something or feel something is an argument that has been used to justify some horrific events in the past. Anya Souza is an activist with Down’s Syndrome who has spoken out against prenatal testing on numerous occasions. Her views have been dismissed again and again, for no other reason that she can speak – and is therefore not qualified to talk. The fact that she talks at all is manipulative and disrespectful towards those people with Down’s Syndrome who can’t talk. She doesn’t represent their interests. Other disabled rights activists don’t represent their interests. Only non-disabled professionals and carers, together with the odd journalist and politican, are truly qualified to speak about Down’s Syndrome without being ‘manipulative’. I see that you defend Minette Marrin, who writes so emotively about the devastation that ‘damaged’ children inflict on their imprisoned families and who accuses women who deliberately give birth to children with Down’s of placing a burden on society. Presumably she isn’t being manipulative at all.

It is not manipulative to ask that people be treated with respect. It is not manipulative to ask that disabled people be included in conversations that up till now have been held about us, without us. It is not manipulative to ask that people try and acclimatise themselves to the notion that nonverbal individuals – yes, even those with learning disabilities – might have other ways of communicating, and that excluding them from discussion by either saying that they lack the capacity to participate or that they aren’t ‘representative’ of other people with their disabilities is just an excuse, and a prime example of able-bodied privilege to boot. Because it’s always able-bodied, neurotypical people who decide who is representative and who is capable.

“And WOMEN bear the brunt of it, women are expected to be noble, selfless carers, sacrificing their lives to the child, changing the nappies of their offspring of 20, 25, 30, 40 years old…never having that offspring so much as look them in the eye.”

Disability rights advocates don’t expect nobility or selflessness of anyone. As I wrote in my article, the idea that being disabled or caring for a disabled person requires heroism or sainthood is just another damaging myth, again the product of people’s fear. Your graphic snapshot of a woman having to change her 40-year-old’s nappy is a particularly common image that is brought out in the debate on selective abortion. Now, I wear nappies, along with millions of other adults. They are tools in the same way that sanitary pads are tools. There is nothing shameful about needing them. They don’t reduce you to perpetual babyhood. All they mean is that you have bowel problems or difficulties with recognising certain neurological signals.

And if people could come to accept this, and start providing practical help to disabled people and their parents instead of shuffling uncomfortably and looking the other way, the women you speak of might not be in such a difficult position. I recognise the truth of what you say in the paragraph above, but I don’t see disability as the cause of it. When I think of the cause, I think of the strangers who have stopped my mum in the street to congratulate her on her bravery in horrified tones. (It did not stop with strangers – the family’s thinly disguised uncertainty and revulsion left my parents on an island.) I think of the Minette Marrins of this world, who reinforce the notion that disability is such a dreadful fate that anyone with any sense should run away. I think of the politicans who state sorrowfully that severely disabled children are very expensive to provide for and that their parents are financially unable to cope. (The government can afford to replace Trident, but it can’t afford decent respite centres and an increase on Carer’s Allowance? Does the problem lie with severe disability or with mistaken priorities?)

If there weren’t such a stigma surrounding disability, and if people actually believed that respite, special education and assistive technology were more deserving of funds than the development of prenatal tests, the distressing situations that you outline might never arise. Unfortunately, I don’t see how the continued promotion of selective abortion as the de facto option is going to do anything to reduce that stigma, or to convince general public and government that disabled lives are worth investing in.

“You sound like anti-choicers whining ‘but Mozart/ Einstein/ whoever wouldn’t exist if his mother had had an abortion!’ Well, no, he wouldn’t. Someone else would do the great things he did, make discoveries, write music; or close enough; or maybe not, but the world would go on turning. The thing is that ghosts do not make an argument. Hypothetical babies with disabilities who will not be born if women have terminations do not exist and do not have rights.”

I’ve never made the Einstein argument, so I’m not going to reply to it. In fact, when I write about disability I deliberately keep away from geniuses – I write about ordinary disabled types, who, like their ordinary non-disabled counteparts, are never going to be the next big thing in physics or compose a brilliant concerto. Once again you’re rebutting the points that you think I’ve made rather than the ones that I have actually raised. And once again, my article isn’t about the rights of the foetus. It is about the tangible impact that selective abortion has on the lives of disabled people who are already on the planet. And as this article is about disabled people, I did not write much about the women involved. This doesn’t mean that I haven’t considered them; it means that the arguments in favour of selective abortion have been heard thousands of times before, whereas the voices of disabled people have not. Your objections remind me of the men who start squawking about the disadvantages and difficulties that men face and accusing feminists of being sexist if somebody has the temerity to devote a whole article to women’s issues.

The learning disability charity Mencap has been running a campaign called ‘Death by Indifference’, in which it highlights the stories of people with learning disabilities who have died in hospital as a result of deliberate medical neglect. One such story is that of nine-year-old Daisy, who was admitted with a tooth infection. She developed septaecemia and died. Later her parents discovered that the doctors had known that Daisy was dying. They had deprived her of water for hours at a stretch, even though dehydration is fatal in cases of septaecemia. And when her parents asked why this had been permitted to happen, the response was that the hospital had “misjudged Daisy’s quality of life”.

In other words, they had taken the unilateral decision that Daisy would be better off dead. They allowed a simple tooth infection to become the cause of her death. One doctor, comforting Daisy’s grieving mother, said, “It’s almost like losing a child, isn’t it?” Because of course Daisy was not really a child. She was a justification for selective abortion. When people talk about the misery experienced by non-speaking learning disabled children, they describe Daisy’s symptoms. The chilling question is this: if doctors present termination as an option in the case a foetus that has the potential to grow into another Daisy, where is the guarantee that an actual Daisy will be treated with respect when she is admitted to hospital for her tooth complaint? There is no such guarantee.

Daisy’s death was the result of the ‘quality of life’ mentality that fuels selective abortion. That mentality affects disabled people in numerous other ways, but this is one of the worst manifestations of it that I have ever come across. I wrote my article with people like Daisy in mind, people who have no guarantee that they will be seen as fully human. (I am one of them; somebody once asked me I felt upset at not being ‘whole’… My denial was taken as a sign that I am too disabled to know that I am disabled.)

You say that once disabled people are born, they should receive all the support and assistance that they need. Unfortunately, so long as selective abortion and the way of thinking that underpins it exist, I don’t think that this will be possible.

You state that I am not invisible, yet you have ignored or distorted most of what I wrote originally – including the fact that I am disabled, which you leave until the last line of your e-mail. Then you suggest that instead of writing about selective abortion, I put my supposed visibility to good use and start educating prospective parents about my conditions. Apparently I am only visible in certain lights, such as when I am prepared to be a self-narrating zoo exhibit for the benefit of certain other women. If I want to write about something different, such as selective abortion and the impact that it has on disabled people, I’m no longer worthy of being listened to. I am ‘anti-choice’.. I am visible only so long as I’m saying what people would like to hear, and sticking to the topics that are acceptable to you.

Unfortunately, at the moment I would rather speak about what is unacceptable to me.

From Mobot

This article unsettled me, and I’m glad it did – thanks. I’m the daughter

of a disabled woman who chose to have me despite strong recommendations to

terminate the pregnancy… I work with children and young people with

disabilities, most of whom are *severely* or *seriously* disabled and whose

company and opinions I value. I am also pretty fiercely pro-choice. I

completely agree that the people who experience a situation first hand are

the experts, and I am saddened at society’s apparent dismissal of the views

of people with disabilities. However, I’m inclined to believe that a wider

sea-change is needed in terms of attitudes towards disability (education

presumably being the most promising tool with which to bring this about),

and not an attack on reproductive rights. In the same way that my mother’s

right as a disabled woman to choose to be a mother was fundamental to her,

all women’s right to choose what she does with her body is equally so.

Surely we can’t pick and choose when it’s ok to allow women freedom of

choice. I think the key is informed choice – if women were educated in a

way that resulted in less panic about bringing up disabled children,

wouldn’t we be likely to see less selective abortions on the basis of fear

of disability? Ultimately I can’t say that I’m completely comfortable with

these particular terminations per se, but I am equally if not more

uncomfortable with the concept of placing any further restrictions on what

women, disabled and otherwise, do with their bodies. I appreciate the fact

that a negative view of disability feeds into many abortions on the basis

of *severe abnormality*. But when we’re talking about potential and not

actual people (i.e. foetuses) it’s the emotive language and moralising that

upsets me most. Clearly, that’s what it’s designed to do but ultimately

it’s not the act of abortion that’s the problem unless you believe foetuses

to be *human* or *viable*. It’s the patronising and often hypocritical

messages society sends out about disability that’s the issue as far as I

can see. At the end of the day I do believe that phobic attitudes towards

different groups are linked, so we need to find a way of reconciling

conflicts of interest. Surely it’s possible to be feminist/pro-choice and

pro-disability (if that’s the appropriate term) at the same time?

Now That’s What I Call Misogyny! by Molly Lavender

From Anonymous Harridan

I agree with Molly Lavender on most things in her article “Now, that’s

what I call misogyny!” but i think her reading Leona’s “Bleeding love” song

is too far reaching. I don’t think it is about a woman being hurt

physically or emotionally by a man. All this bleeding is an allegory to

becoming vulnerable when you are in love, and, as classic fiction has us

believe, it is not only down to women to be so – men are also made

vulnerable by love, think “The end of the affair” by Greene or “Women in

Love’ by LAwrence.

So no need to rush with bandage to Leona or call domestic violence unit

yet. But Molly is right that love is portrayed in mass culture as a fucking

masochistic disaster, as if it is not true if it doesn’t hurt. I hate this

bullshit, and hate it passionately as only someone who is happy in love

can, as it is a blasphemy against love. I, even being a very romantic

person, always say that love in relationship is like a pair of shoes – if

it hurts, then it is not right, ditch such relationship. Hurting is an

indication that it is definitely not love.

as to not enough women playing rock – true, i hate it too and feel starved

by it, and Pink, Courtney Love and GArbage (plus Le Tigre and occasionally

The Slits) are my lean female-rock diet. Courtney Love once lamented “why

not many women pick up guitars and start screaming” and it’s so true as

rock is music of anger and discontent and women have more to be angry about

than men!

pop can be mild as baby soap in the question of misogyny in music, it

is rock that is the most offender here. Most horrid example is Jimi Hendrix

“Hey Joe” – despite its harrowing lyrics (“I … shot my old lady ,You

know, I’ve caught her messin’ around with another man”) it became a number

one hit! And in the song there is sympathy towards this Joe and wish that

he “runs away” and “be free”.

I was sick when i finally got to read the words. It put me off Hendrix to

soem extent. Now, imagine, some female singer happily belting away

something about how liberating it might be for that woman from the news to

chop off her cheating boyfriend’s cock? To hear that would be fun.

so. rock music can be such shit that you start loving Kylie even more and

in the new light.

From Molly O’Doherty

I enjoyed reading Molly Lavender’s article entitled “Now that’s what I

call misogyny!”. I thought it made some really good points. I can even see

personal examples. Last week I watched my dad and stepmother receive

christmas presents from my sister. My dad sneered at my stepmother’s choice

of the Abba: Gold album whilst he clutched his Joni Mitchell CD.

From Jay McCauley Bowstead

As a twenty six year old man with interests in fashion, design and other

areas of popular culture not stereotypically considered masculine, it was

easy for me to relate to Lavender’s article ‘Now That’s What I call

Misogyny’. Her analysis of the way in which magazines are subdivided in

shops may indeed seem frivolous at first glance, but (as the author

suggests) it is indicative of powerful gender normative forces in

contemporary culture. In the same way that retrograde assumptions around

“appropriate” interests and behaviours for women abound, boys and men are

in some ways even more limited by assumptions around masculinity in popular

culture. For example most parents would be much keener to send their

daughters to karate than their sons to ballet class, indeed our culture

increasingly seems to classify any interest in aesthetics as effeminate –

just look at the drab, unhappy, depressing clothes that little boys are

dressed in today, in contrast to the much brighter clothes that girls

habitually wear. To reinforce Lavender’s arguments, this subdivision of

magazines, music and even fiction in to masculine and feminine interests

exerts a pernicious effect across society on men and on women. While women

are taught to be passive, decorative and to defer their needs, men are

alienated from their emotions, have their interests narrowly prescribed and

are discouraged from being involved parents or compassionate partners. It

strikes me that not only is a renaissance of feminist thinking required in

our popular culture, but also a more developed critique of how inauthentic

models of masculinity are reproduced (and how they can be countered).

Molly Lavender, author of the article, replies

Thanks for writing in. I just had to reply to the point you make about hobbies for girls and boys. Yes, most parents would probably rather have a daughter who was into karate or football than a son who was into ballet or horseriding. It’s seen as somehow understandable for women to want to emulate men, but almost freakishly unnatural for men to want to emulate women. Tomboys are tolerated, even celebrated; ‘sissies’ are not. As long as we keep elevating the traditionally masculine, whilst sidelining the feminine, society will remain an inequal and, dare I say it, rather dull place to live.

From Megan

I agree with your article apart from two points:

1. Whilst not musically connected my boyfriends (and boyfriends of my

friends) have had to stand and wait whilst we ride our horses and this has

not detracted anything from our competitive spitits

2. also i thought i ought to mention that “bleeding love” was written and

performed by jesse mccartney before leona lewis – he is a young male and

did not intend this song to go to another artist (female or not) when he

wrote it. However i do agree that the music industry is sexist in both its

lyrics and its videos.

Confidential? by Karen James

From Molly O’Doherty

I experienced a similar problem a few years ago when I went to get

emergency contraception at a surgery. I wasn’t able to phone to make an

appointment so due to the layout of the surgery I had to explain my

situation to the receptionist with the whole waiting area in full earshot.

If I hadn’t been with a friend and less confident I would easily have been

too embarrassed and would have left without even trying to get emergency


Karen James, author of the article, replies

Thank you also for sharing your own experience. Unfortunately, I do not think that the lack of privacy afforded to you and myself, is rare. I think that it is country wide. There really should be better ways for medical facilities to organise their space so that people who wish to discuss such issues can do so with confidentiality. Private reception rooms, perhaps?

I will give you another example I have found of lack of privacy. A couple of years ago, I had to go to my local STI clinic for checks. There are seperate waiting rooms for women and men… however, the women’s is upstairs and you have to walk through the men’s to get to it! Imagine how embarrasing that must be for some women. And also, I imagine, quite intimidating to have lots of men staring at you. Imagine if a woman had previously been raped and then had to walk through a room full of men before reaching the women’s waiting room!

As you can imagine, I mentioned this to the staff who looked quite surprised that I would have a problem with this. To date, I believe it has not been changed. So thank you very much for your response; I have heard many similar stories.

From Irina

Although the usual logic behind validity of complaints is that if at least

one person doesn’t like something/feel intimidated/unwelcome etc – and it

is enough reason to change behaviour/practice, here i really was thinking:

author should not feel so ashamed/humiliated about the incident.

I could see it from the nurse’s point of view – she is a practical

grown-up woman trying to help who thinks that it is normal to come for a

morning-after pill and there is no shame in it, someone with healthy

matter-of-factly attitude about it. Someone who doesn’t think that soem odd

old-fashioned sensitivities must not stand in the way of birth-control. Why

the hell did Rachael feel so embarassed? So what if others understood she

is here for a pill?! That’s not their business. If it was a centre for

emergency contraception/family planning clinic, then everybody in that room

was there for more or less similar reason as her in the first place, and

therefore are not to be embarassed by. If it was an ordinary surgery, how

on earth will those patients know she came for a pill?

Honestly, author displays too much of very silly shame for no reason. This

situation is, if anyhting, an occasion to tell anybody who mutters “oh,

she came for a mornign-after pill” – “So what? any problem with that?” in a

nonchalant or defiant way.

see it this way: if you are not embarassed to have sex, you shouldn’t be

embarassed to deal with occasional side-effect of it. The only people who

should be embarassed here are those who want to heap shame on you.

Karen James, author of the article, replies

You make some good points and there are some I would like to address. First, I know you were unsure about the type of facility I went to to get the morning-after pill. Well, it was a general NHS walk-in centre not a family planning one. So there were people there with a variety of physical ailments. It was a weekend so I couldn’t go to my usual GP.

Second, I have absolutely no guilt or shame about the sex I had. This was never really an issue of sex. It was an issue of privacy. Every woman has the right to collect the morning-after pill and enjoy confidentiality and privacy.

Third, the nurse you mentioned did not act in a confidential manner, hence why people in the waiting room worked out why I was there. The nurse in question has since apologised for this breach and is in totalk agreement with my issues.

Fourthly, yes, you are correct that I should not have felt guilty when people figured out (and commented rudely) what I was there for. But you try not feeling totally ashamed in front of 40 people staring at you!

I am ganerally an extremely confident women who loves sex and my sexuality, but I have feelings too. And those people should not have had a clue why I was at the walk-in centre. The fact that they were given this knowledge is a clear breach of NHS rules – and my privacy.

My reactions to what happened are NOT the issue (and I reacted in a very normal way to being humiliated). And to be perfectly frank, the fact that you focus on my reactions sounds more like victim-blaming. The issue was always the totally inappropraite way that the NHS – and wider society – judges women and sexuality.

Refusing to Be a Man, a review by Catherine Redfern

From Jose Sentmanat

This is an excellent review of an excellent book, one that

fundamentally changed my life when I first read it some years ago. For

what it’s worth, I am a man, and I have been referring to myself as a

feminist for years–it raises eyebrJust wanted to say thanks for such a great article, and I agree with your

analysis of BDSM protocol where consent and negotiation is concerned.ows now and again, but if challenged, I

simply reply that anyone who believes in gender equity and treating women

as human beings, and rejects differences based on sexual identity, is a


In any case, thanks to Ms. Redfern for an excellent, thought-provoking


Kink 101, by Kit Roskelly

From Clair Lewis

Just wanted to say thanks for such a great article, and I agree with your

analysis of BDSM protocol where consent and negotiation is concerned.

General comments

From Ana

Dear feminists,

I’m sorry to waste your time with this useless e-mail, its purpose is only

one: I want to thank you all for putting such a brilliant site online. My

name is Ana, I am 18 years old and I’m a fan of yours from Portugal (so

excuse me if my English is not perfect…). I was raised to believe that

feminist were nothing more than a bunch of grumpy women who hated men, and

worst of all, hated being women, so they fighted to be men. Thanks to you

(and other websites like this) I realized that actually feminist are women

who love themselves so much they aren’t letting men take advantage of them,

and what’s more, most of them are married/dating men. I came across your

website on a day I was particularly furious at this guy I know, who is the

embodiment of woman-hate, despite being married (to a woman of course). I

was very pleased to see that this website isn’t men-hating at all! Since I

have a boyfriend that respects me and that I love, and lots of male friends

that treat me decently, I sincerely dislike those websites. Please keep up

the good work, I’ll do my part and try to spread your men-friendly,

women-loving message!

Your avid-article-reader,


From Cathy Cox

I’d like to get in touch with 16-year-old Virginie in Costa Rica, and tell

her that neither Britain nor the U.S. have reached “enlightenment,” though

it may appear that way compared to Latin America. She needs to know that

SHE is a builder of the future, and the best advice I can give her is to

get the very best education she can, and try to help other girls in her

country do the same – find your talent and work at it. She should avoid

marriage and pregnancy at all costs, and not let it bother her when they

call her a lesbian. (Maybe she could respond that she has high standards,

which none of the boys she knows is able to meet.)

You GO, Virginie! Best of Luck!