Comments from June 2009

Comments on this month’s features and reviews

Some body to love, by Lara Williams

From Helen Ewing

Like many of my friends I crave celebrity magazines. I tell myself I just

want to keep up with the latest gossip, but the truth is I’m searching

out female bodies to pore over and scrutinise. I’m like an addict who

needs a hit or like an itch that needs a scratch. As I plough through

pages searching for bodies and faces and hair like mine, my scratch ceases

to be soothing or satisfying, it becomes sore and coarse.

It’s a form of self harm. We seek out these images with which to

punish ourselves as though we want to prove that we are undeserving and

inferior. But it’s not the bodies themselves that are the problem. Like

Lara Williams, I believe it’s the sheer volume of body analysis taking

over our cultural space which has created our poor self image.

Celebrity magazines fill dentist waiting rooms and supermarket shelves.

Newspapers celebrate or lambast the latest body size ‘trend’ or eating

fad. Primetime TV takes up our homes with “Supersize vs. Super Skinny”

and “How to Look Good Naked”. Most of these discourses come shrouded

in the guise of health and wellbeing or style and fashion, but really

they’re Capitalism’s tool to convince us we need to better ourselves

and buy more. I’ll bet advert slots during “10 Years Younger” sell

at a premium rate because viewers sat scrutinising their bodies will be far

more vulnerable to the power of advertising.

But it’s too easy to class this as a sociological issue. We can blame

Capitalism and its bullying consumerist agenda but it’s unrealistic to

think that a top-down solution will happen any time soon. Instead the

revolution needs to come from below. We need to take matters into our own


It is up to women themselves to change the channel, to ignore ‘Heat’,

and to boycott ‘The Sun’. TV companies and publishing houses will have

no choice but to cut back on body propaganda. In the same way that

consumer power has begun to reduce the packaging of our foods, if we act en

mass we can stop this constant barrage of body obsessed messages. If we

act fast enough we may even give our daughters the gift to indeed know that

they are “more than just a body”.

From Lillian

I have just read the article ‘Some body to love’ by Lara Williams. The

article is brilliant and is spot on. I too share her frustations on this


Thank you for such a wonderfull article.

From Itala

Probably the best article I have read in a long time. It was about time

someone showed how absurd this all is, and how it’s just another way of

controlling the bodies and minds of women. Thanks for this!

From Sara Gold

Sometimes it takes a

near-tragedy to help us realize that ‘I am more than just my body.’ For me

it came home when I was lying in a hospital with ulcers that would not stop

bleeding. The prospect of giving up part of my insides, and carrying the

visible scars, to save my life made me realize that I am not my body.

Losing an arm does not diminish me. Losing my hair does not diminish me.

Never having a fashionable figure does not diminish me. Thinking of my own

health first certainly does not diminish me. Fashion is about someone

else’s desire to prop up his or her own fragile ego by showing the world

that they can control me. It’s not even about attractiveness. The visible

manifestation of control is body size and clothing. I’m sure you can easily

list a half-dozen hidden manifestations. All are destructive.

From sianmarie

what a great article! i agree with you. women are so terrifyingly defined

by their bodies…and praising curvy is just as patronising and damaging as

praising thin. one thing that i hate about the whole debate is “real women

have curves” – what if you don’t have curves? are you not a real woman?

at bristol feminist network our last meeting was a workshop on body image

and it was so inspiring – we all got together with lots of new members and

talked about our bodies and the pressures we recognised about our bodies –

it was such an inspirational moment, as we spoke honestly about this

personal issue. so many of us felt the same about our bodies, and the way

our bodies have been portrayed, and by talking about it we began to break

the myths down.

we have also done a big project on representaton of women in the media

which looks at women in magazines (as well papers, tv etc) – you can see

the results on the bristol fawcett society website.

From Kim

I found Lara Williams’ article about the objectification of the female

form by other women a really powerful read. Incredibly well-researched and

moving, it encapsulates the way in which the modern media is still obsessed

about making women into nothing more than their physical bodies. An article

worth reading by any intelligent woman out there.

As an aside though, I have to say that I find the DIVA (the UK’s only

publication aimed at lesbian and bisexual women) seems to be far less

focused on the weight/shape/size/diet/exercise regime of it’s readers and

contributors and more on their achievements and the issues their readers

face. Perhaps other publications can learn from this?

From Polly Boon

A huge thank you to Lara Williams for her article on the female body,

‘some body to love’.

It was fantastic and I completely agree with her. As long as we are

healthy who should care about how we look?

From Zoe Bremer

It’s all very well saying that body shape is not important but anyone with

a BMI of more than 25 is at great risk of developing type 2 diabetes – and

all its complications such as heart disease, stroke, blindness and kidney

failure. We should all be concerned about the way we look if it affects our

health and most of us could do more to take responsibility for keeping fit.

Why should any woman be admired for being obese? Perhaps Lara Williams is

unaware of the cost of obesity to the NHS and how the average diabetic foot

clinic patient only has 8.25 toes. The cost of treating obese patients

comes out of OUR taxes. I’m sure the NHS has got better things to spend our

money on than people who can’t be bothered to take care of their own


Lara William, author of the article, replies

Whilst I think you make some good points about the cost of obesity and the health implications of BMI’s over 25 – the article was not addressing female body types – rather the media’s excessive fixation on the female body.

I was not suggesting any woman should ‘be admired for being obese’, reversely I was suggesting highlighting and applauding curvier or larger female forms is just as damaging as glorifying the very thin.

I’m sure you’ll agree the media scrutiny of female bodies – thin and otherwise – is completely counterproductive in combating obesity with evidence continually revealing the effect of ‘super skinny’ models on eating disorders.

Eating disorders, which of course, will include compulsive eating, binge eating and bulimia, many of which could account for many of the obese patients being treated with ‘OUR’ taxes.

In a culture where we are bombarded with images of female figures, of varying shapes and sizes, where food products are advertised to women as a ‘sexy secret’ or a ‘naughty treat’, there is little wonder we’re a nation with a somewhat messed up attitude to food, health and body image. Not to mention the social implications of obesity including poverty, lack of education, alcoholism… I’m afraid I don’t think it’s as simple as ‘people who can’t be bothered to take care of their own health’.

Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word, replies

Just to add to Lara’s response: Fat people don’t pay taxes?!

Comments on older features and reviews

For the good of the species? by Eirwen-Jane Pierrot

From Matt Miller

In the ‘For the Good of the Species?’ article, the author seemed to be

portraying the research and the website as one in the same. The actual

study, according to this web article, was titled “Why Men Matter: Mating

Patterns Drive Evolution of Human Lifespan,” and (as far as I could tell)

seemed aimed at addressing issues of post-reproductive survival among

humans, which had up to now focused only on female reproduction.

I absolutely agree that the way the web article’s author approached this

was highly misogynistic, and this this is a classic example of the

misappropriation of science for an agenda. But I think we should be

careful in implying this collusion between the study and this article

author’s agenda; as far as I could tell, the study itself isn’t making the

normative claims the article does. Yes, it says that continued

reproduction by older males can be beneficial to the species, in much the

same sense as infanticide of rival offspring could be a positive for the

preservation of one group’s genes. It can be, and may even have

historically been. But based on the quotations(again, in the web article),

the study doesn’t say that we should do this. That, sadly, is the

manipulation on the part of the article author and not the study itself.

Raising boys? Help yourself to some gender stereotypes, a review by Clare Gould

From Anna Whiteway

I commend you on writing this inspiring article but am ashamed that it

needs to be written at all. It’s just absurd that women are still treated

like such scapegoats. Not only that, but our right, abilities, and wishes

are both construed and ignored, and as a result we continue to be pushed

back by society, inhibited from doing what we otherwise could. Anyway, I

appreciated your article.

From Trish Renard

I just read Clare Gould’s article and had to respond. I have three sons

and two daughters, and have lived through what she is talking about. I

have had many people tell me that because of my nuturing of my sons they

will be clinging to me, some have said that I will make them become gay;

that raising my sons to care about women will somehow make them less manly

than they should be. So much garbage. My oldest son is 28, is very

successful in his job and is a very happy heterosexual. My feminist

influences have not hurt any of my children at all.

Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word, replies

Not that if your son was gay or bisexual, or “less manly”, that would constitute “hurting” him.

From Roi des Foux

When someone ask if your baby is “a boy or a girl”, I think the correct

response is “It hasn’t decided yet.”

From Ruth Moss

Thanks for this review – I had heard some good stuff about the book and

was considering buying it. I won’t be now!

It’s a pity in a way; I’ve read one or two articles by Biddulph that have

actually been pretty good.

I think raising boys (actual raising of boys, rather than the book, I

mean) is an interesting subject that should be covered though. I mean – is

it any different than raising a girl? Not at all? A little? A lot? No

difference at all until testosterone kicks in?

Personally, while my little one is so little, and at this stage we don’t

even know 100% even if he is a boy, I like to opt for gender neutral

parenting as much as possible. If anything with a slight bias on – I guess

you could say the “feminine” but I’m not sure that’s exactly what I mean –

more like, I try to redress the more violent aspects of the masculine

messages he receives from society (and his father I suppose, to an extent

But as he gets older, if he turns into a little boy, then a teenage boy,

then a young man? Is that going to be a very different journey to one a

girl would take? How can I prepare myself for any differences? Does

testosterone really have all the effects its considered to have in popular

culture (you know, hyper competitiveness, anger, whatever)? The peer

pressure from other boys to do stupid and possibly dangerous stuff – is

that a different challenge to the one girls and young women face? How do I,

as his mother, especially as a single parent which I currently am – deal

with that?

I do think a book would be helpful (I also read a lot of books; I don’t so

much see it as “mummy wars” though – to me it’s more like, if I started any

new and difficult/involved job, I’d read the leaders in the field even if,

as in other fields, they often contradict each other) obviously one with a

feminist slant, and a well researched one that acknowledges not everyone is

in a Mother/Father/2.4kids relationship at that… and maybe even one that

points out not all kids born with a penis grow into men…

Also. I just wondered if you had ever checked out Mothers for Women’s Lib? I think you might like it there.

Clare Gould, author of the article, replies

Firstly, thank you so much for all the kind comments. This is my first article for The F-Word (in fact my only published article!), so it was great to get so much great feedback. One reader made a brilliant point about the homophobia in Biddulph. It is a problem that I find often arises whenever parenting talk turns to how we should bring up our sons. “Female” attributes are considered so “other” and male attributes so normal that a certain type of hysteria often creeps in when discussing children who are not keen to conform to rigid moulds. The fear generally seems to come down to preventing boys from catching “girl” and arises firstly from a deep discomfort with any gender role that is challenged but also an exceptionally limited and insulting understanding of homosexuality.

Ruth –

Your questions regarding whether we can expect our sons to take different paths from our daughters through life, were very interesting. For my tuppence worth, I don’t seek to deny the obvious. Men and women will have radically different experiences in life – whether in their jobs, their peer group, their family life. However, I don’t see this as the natural consequence of innate differences between the sexes. Society segregates and different social and peer pressures will all combine to give a different perception of how the world is. What I desperately want to do for both my son and my daughter is to give them the opportunity to explore their strengths and weaknesses as people, first and foremost – and not through some warped gender stereotype of how they should be. I also want to give them the empathy and skills to think critically that will allow them to question society and the status quo. As to the how – that’s a whole different ball game!

[Ed: Response to comment posted in last month’s roundup]Lisa –

I thought your contribution from the green movement in feminism was interesting. I can certainly see potentially problems in a society that ignores pregnancy and childcare as legitimate and worthwhile occupations. The undervaluing of “womens work” in caring for children and the elderly (for example) is exceptionally convenient for a society that rests its economic system on so much unpaid labour. However, I cannot agree that taking issue with gender stereotyping is “narrow and prescriptive” – quite the reverse! I firmly believe that some of the great strengths in the Swedish system arise from a less rigid adherence to gender roles and a society that is more willing to accept individuals for their humanity first and foremost rather than concentrating on their sex.

Once again, thank you so much for the comments. It’s been great to develop my own understanding in this area and your thoughts have helped to crystallise my own arguments as well.

From Joy Wood

In response to Clare’s review of Biddulph’s books on raising boys, I found

it homophobic – a whole chapter, if memory serves correctly – telling

parents how to avoid turning their sons gay if they raise them correctly,

ie the Biddulph way. I’m angry the Guardian and mumsnet promote him. I

recommend “Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys” by Dan

Kindlon and Michael Thompson. I heard about it through the Children Are

Unbeatable! Alliance (a human rights organisation for children’s rights)

Breaking the circle, by L

From Annika

Wow! What a powerful article you have written here. This must have been

very difficult and emotional for you to write. I think you will find that

alot of women will have stories similar to yours, and will be able to

relate in some way to you.

I won’t give you my life story (not enough time in the day, lol), but I

will tell you something.

Last year I took part in some helpline volunteer training for a small

organisation which offers a variety of support for men and women who have

experienced rape, sexual violence and childhood sexual abuse. On doing the

training, I learnt something new about my childhood experiences, and give

some of these experiences a new name. Completely threw me. I always knew I

had been abused as a child, had no doubts about that. But with that

training, I was able to break this down, and realised I was actually raped

as a child.

Powerful stuff really, when you get to a point where you really look at

these experiences, and see how it has affected or moulded you as a person.

It isn’t easy.

Well done for writing this, for raising some awareness, and for helping

others by telling your story.

L, author of the article, replies

Thank you for your message. I think it is important for victims of abuse to be able to speak up, even though so far I am not able to speak up about it in public. There is still this ‘shame’ attached to it, the fear of being classified as a victim which is what usually happens when one shares such experiences.

I think you did a good thing by facing your past, it is the only way towards a cure. I only wish that more women would do so… I am sick of hearing of similar stories, though I am obviously glad that women speak up. We need to put an end to this violence, I have faith that it is possible. If not in the short run, in the long run.

From Ms Alison Black

Your storry was heart wrenching. I know abuse & violence causes problems

with GENDER confusion as the abuse hits the gender your living in, then you

feel by switching or feeling the opposite gender will it be smoother or

better, or was it the way your dressed are the way that you are.

There the ones who should hold the head in shame, you shouldnt blame


From Tobi

‘What follows is one of the reasons why I never reported it to the police:

in the morning – though it might have been later on that night – I

initiated sex with him and got pleasure out of it. Only last summer would a

close feminist friend of mine help me understand why I had sex with the

person who raped me. She helped me understand I was trying to gain back my

territory, reappropriate myself my private space… That I was going at

great lengths to negate the event.’

This has really shone a very scary bright light on my current situation.

Thank you ever so much.

The biological clock, by Catherine Redfern

From Anonymous

I don’t seem to have a biological clock. I ran across this page while

Googleing the phrase “some women don’t have biological clocks” and etc. to

see if there might be anything different (not “wrong” ) about me I am just

curious. (Because surely, I don’t want one!) And I am almost 40. and I

don’t now nor have I ever really wanted childern. And my family (what

there is of it) doen’s care at all. In fact they have always wanted me to

“stay out of a mess” with some unsuitable man (i.e. don’t get married to

him, and “for God’s sake don’t have children with him.” My mom has often

joked (but not entirely) she wouldn’t want grandkids as they would make her

feek “old” anyway — well she is somewhat vain you’d have to know her. And

I am in the UNITED STATES that’s right the USA not to mention the South

too. Where I was born and raised. By my parents who are not too well

educated or sophisticated but have been together for — oh, it ‘ll be 40

years in October. I am actually one of the few people I know of who is not

from a “broken home!” Yes I guess am kinda an “only child Irish-American

spoiled princess” just ask the person I was married to who was British.

Which is main reason I married haiom we had similar values — Socialist I

don’t frankly like most Americans. That is one of the reasons we split up

HE wanted kids and I didn’t, trust me he was not father material. I really

believed this (and still do) though I could never make him understand that.

And in the end wasn’t even husband either. I loved him — still do,

probably always will, you don’t stop loving someone you REALLY love, I

think, but he turned out to be just like that guy from England, that Elaine

met on “Seinfeld” that time, if you have seen that episode you know exactly

what I’m talking about. I am not kidding. He didn’t look like him but he

sure acted like it. Sorry to say that but he was. Now I am

internationally disgusted with men and don’t know if I will ever marry date

or even have sex again it is so pitiful. But I know I ain’t gonna have no

baby. So I’m happy about that!

Anyway what do you think, “ma’ams?”


Rockin’ (hah I wish)

in the USA

Reply to Nigel Planer, by Jen Clarke

From Andrew Austin

In the essay, “Reply to Nigel Planer,” I want to say that the points

raised by Jen Clarke are quite excellent. And I want to add this: we

should not let it escape our grasp that men like Planer are concerned with

jettisoning masculine traits they assume are innate, when in fact these

traits are learned through socialization in a patriarchal system that

requires preservation and entrenchment of these traits to secure its

hegemony over women.

On kickboxing, women’s aggression and self-defence, by Jessica Burton

From Sarah

Just a quick response to the kickboxing article- at the martial arts club

where I train (and am a 3rd Dan), more than half the black belts are women,

and there’s certainly no supposition that women shouldn’t train or

shouldn’t succeed in the martial arts. I’m aware that in wider society

there may be, but the arts themselves don’t necessarily fall foul of it!

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

From Cara Klempner

Thanks for the insightful, provocative and grounded article on

breastfeeding and feminism. It gives voice to so many of the varied

thoughts and emotions I’ve had after becoming a mom 4 years ago, and my

extremely satisfying struggles through lots of breastfeeding.

Mind your language, by Sarah Louisa Phythian-Adams

From Lesley

Great reasoned issues raised by Louisa. I believe

that her central theme “: the need for feminists to better challenge to

gendered stereotypes written , spoken and signed or else they are

reinforced could equally reply to the reporting of male violence against

women. Exemplary of this lack of challenge are these reports of murdered

victims of male violence. where I see rehashed reportage of women and

children who have been victims of male violence

which is a blog is a link from the

website .

There, I read unchallenged statements. In relation to the 2005 murder of

toddler Milly Hall, I read “Millie was murdered by Hall to punish his wife

for her infidelity.” why are we rehashing such words? why are we inferring

a reasoning for the crime ? Another , in relation to the Monika Szmecht’s

murderer, Anthony Clarke I read “Clarke’s jealousy was completely

unfounded.” so what if is was founded? Why are these reports (mostly

rehashed from the Daily Mail and the BBC ) not being challenged in “how”

they are written? as they are from a particular engendered style of

reporting . Surely we as feminists have a duty to challenge and discredit

them rather than rehash them ?

Not a happy birthday, by Amity Reed

From Kafia

Amity Reed’s article about rape in childbirth was harrowing. I had a

similar experience following my second homebirth with a retained placenta.

One midwife kept repeating the word ‘epidural’, the other ‘symptometrim’

which sent me into hysterics. If it weren’t for the presence and support of

my birth partner, I really don’t know what would have happened…There

seems to be a systematic lack of privacy and real ‘care’ of women giving

birth. As the author points out, for all the high technology, the NHS

doesn’t deliver in terms of personal care.

From the front lines, by Ella Alexander

From shellyvortex

After years in one and then another abusive relationship- my friends and

family so often asked me ‘why don’t you leave?’ – ergo the responsibility

was with me to stop the violence. Not my partner to stop. So ‘why doesn’t

he stop?’ is indeed a far more pertinent question. Yet domestic abuse is

rarely discussed openly outwith fashionable politics of blame.

However, in answer to why not leave? this article predictably talks of

threats of violence and intimidation as reasons for staying but does not

cover the more complex reasons of love, familiarity and to a degree an

internal fear -not of violence- but of facing the future alone. Violence

becomes familiar, and you are dealing with a known quantity, so to an

extent it becomes a comfort zone…you know what happens next.

Love, well, unpalatable as it may be nobody (including violent men) is

simply good or evil. So of course there are many many tender reasons women

will stay, believing as we are taught that love will conquer all. If it

doesn’t then what is left? our faith on our ability to love or be loved

will be non-existent.

I am a little tired of articles that skate around the emotional positives,

and the grey areas of domestic abuse. It is not an issue that can be

dichotomised, woman= victim/vulnerable/good Man=


Since domestic abuse is about power and control, there are battle lines

that involve love and tenderness- and in reality what relationship does not

involve some form of power struggle ?

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

From christine mohan

I am sorry that you have had to endure so much unpleasantness and down

right harrassment. I just don’t get it when women injure each other like

this, the mens comments/behaviour – no surprise there but the women?

I have also had my share of unpleasant comments by women because of my

figure, being a size 8-10 even after 6 children and then having the

audacity to eat a biscuit/cake on my break – you would think I was the

devil incarnate!

For me though is when things get more serious and others are prepared to

turn a blind eye to abuse, that I find difficult. I was married to an

abusive man for 20yrs, he was a self absorbed individual who would spend

our last pence on beer and thought that I was there solely for his own

enjoyment. He would abuse me (my 2 youngest children were concieved

without me consenting to sex) and tell me I should be pleased that he still

found me attractive. I spoke with my female friend and told her of my

plans to leave him she was astounded. She too thought that I should find

his attention flattering! This has deeply wounded me, when I did indeed

manage to rid myself of my husband she proceeded to support him (do his

washing for him etc) while I struggled alone with the children.

I just don’t understand why women do this to each other, why to some women

is mens approval/acceptance so important?

I am glad you have learnt to love your body and hope that you have

strength to face any future negativity directed your way.

‘Feminists are sexist,’ by Catherine Redfern

From sianmarie

hi catherine and f word

i have come back to this article many times over the years and still each

time i read it i feel refreshed and inspired.

i have experienced this problem over and over and always refer back to

your article to try and help me express why caring about women’s rights

isn’t bad or meaningless, and that it isn’t a case of ignoring one group in

favour of another. i commented on a blog on the guardian recently about

women in france after d day, all these commenters were shouting “d day

affected men too you know!” – yet no one said it didn’t! the article was

about women – apparently that wasn’t good enough! there were plenty of

articles about men in the d day landings and one on women, yet this focus

on women was deemed unacceptable! no one complained that the male focussed

articles didn’t mention how women were affected.

one point i would like to make is how i agree that it would be arrogant of

me to talk on men’s behalfs. recently at a feminist meeting we talked about

men’s issues for about 20 minutes, even though no men were present! if a

group of men sat in a room discussing how women were affected by certain

issues, with no women present, i would feel patronised. yet, even as

feminists we feel we have to talk about how men are affected otherwise we

feel we’re not being fair or that the issue isn’t really important.

i hope articles like yours help change people’s views on this, as it is

not a fair criticism and it is exhausting having to deal with these

criticisms over and over.

General comments

From JaneD

Dear The F Word,

I’m a 17 year old girl living in Australia, attending a girls’ Catholic

high school – the most misogynist of institutions. Just wanted to let you

know that you’ve made the feminist that I am and if it weren’t for you, I

may never have stopped shaving, come to terms with my sexual assault, come

out as lesbian or developed the skills to deflect and

repel sexist remarks from chauvinist male teachers.

So thank you!!!

From Lotus

Hi, I’m a long time reader and sporadic commenter. Last night, I was

making a point to a friend (that bodies in the media don’t teach us about

the diversity of bodies in real life) and, after finding the normal breast

gallery, I went looking for normal vaginas and couldn’t find any. I was

wondering if anyone knows of an effort to create a gallery of normal

vaginas and figured you were the people to contact, and if not if anyone

would be interested in starting such a project. I’m eager to try but a

small voice in the blog sphere with no experience of hosting this kind of

thing so would need help to do so. Any help would be appreciated.

Jayne, F-Word blogger, replies

Thanks for getting in contact; this site is along the lines of what you’re looking for I think.