Comments from October 2009

Comments on this month’s features and reviews

Gender in the playground, by Kate Townshend

From Janis

I work in environmental education – admittedly not in the UK – and so see many, many primary school classes with their teachers.

Many of those teachers are fantastic, but, and I know the F-Word has quite rightly visited this subject several times, on a daily basis I see young girls being given the message loudly and clearly that they are the second sex. When their teacher, someone who spends more time with them than their parents quite often, and looked up to by many, and almost always a woman, addresses the class as ‘guys’, that is the message that is being driven home time after time after time.

From gadgetgal

I think we have to all start taking some of the responsibility for this ourselves. There is the very good “Pink Stinks” website but most parents don’t seem to have a clue what it means – in the end it’s us buying them these gender-based toys. We’re the adults – we can always say no!

Also I think this very much applies to children taking on board our own insecurities, such as the weight issues. For example, one of my relatives quite recently went to what is known as “fat camp” to lose weight. There would have been nothing wrong with this except for the fact that she wasn’t fat – she just wanted to be a cheerleader and they have to be much skinnier than is the norm, and they must also have little or no cellulite for the underwear shoots (very different from my day, I can tell you!). This obsession my relative has came from her mother, who inadvertently gave her the impression that weight is the most important thing, through her own obsessive dieting to pointing out how much food her daughter was eating.

The place to start is the parents – and I wonder whether non-parents should get involved too. I’ve taken to pointing things like this out to my sisters (all mothers). People might think it’s none of my business, but as most parents also believe responsibility for children is collective and for society as a whole then I see no problems with voicing my opinion, especially if the children are related to me in some way and I’m worried about them. My sisters appreciate the help, when you’re busy raising kids and working then you don’t always have the time or the energy to keep on top of everything all the time!

Maybe a little more help from others is what’s needed – we place an awful lot of the burden of raising children on parents, more especially mothers, and this seems a little unfair as we’ll ALL have to deal with the outcome (the adult) that is the result. If we shirk the responsibility now it’s everyone who suffers in the future, not just those kids.

From Jennifer Drew

Too true this article is spot-on and whilst individual women teachers attempt to challenge their school’s sexism and deliberate refusal to challenge male-dominant gendered ideas, the school governors and not forgetting the government refuse to accept there is a huge problem.

The fact is our educational system continues to fail girls from the minute they enter the rigid sexist educational system. Take the term ‘sexual bullying’ – the correct terminology is male sexual harassment but that apparently reflects male boys in a negative light so we must never use gendered terms only neutral ones. Guess who benefits? Why boys and males in general of course.

Debbie Epstein, Becky Francis & Christine Skelton all experts in our educational system have conducted numerous research into how our educational system continues to be male-centered and side-lines girls.

But of course central government and schools in general prefer to ‘bury their heads in the sand’ because even mentioning that ‘dirty prhase ‘male sexual harassment’ is likely to be viewed as another attempt by feminazis engaged in male-hating.

The popularist term ‘gender symmetry’ is constantly used to hide the various ways our educational system is 100% biased against girls. Popular culture too reinforces the message ‘little girls are boys’ sexualised

objects and using one’s intelligence and wanting a career is not “feminine.”‘ So we should not be surprised we are raising a future generation of girls who will have received the message they are inferior to boys and their only short-term worth is being ‘sexually hot’ to males.

Very depressing – which is why feminism is essential and yes there is good work being done by educationalists such as Epstein, Skelton et al but we never hear about it.

From sianmarie

great article kate.

it’s so sad that girls have these pressures so early on, but just popping into your local newsagents and scanning the magazine aisles explains why it is so.

can i recommend the WomensAid education pack they have put together to help teach gender equality from ages 5-16? at bristol feminist network we had a discussion about education and this pack is a fantastic resource of

activities and lesson plans to try and teach children about gender stereotyping and, as they get older, domestic violence.

it’s great that there are things like this out ther to help affect change,

we just need to get them out there!

From Kelsey Gryniewicz

Gender in the playground- the F-word is an outstanding article.

I am only 22 and not too long ago I was the little girl striving for acceptance. I tried to look older and “better”; I definitely tried to “fit in.” But, looking at girls these days I wonder, “Is that how I looked?” The over-done make-up, short shirts, tight pants, cell phone glued to hand… Is this how it has always been, or are girls maturing at a faster rate?

Although the media, technology and society are partially to blame, I think that the obsession with looks, dieting and being “better” stems from a bigger issue. It’s the same reason why kids have less play time and adults spend more and more time at work. There is this idea that we always need to be striving for more and doing more. More, more, more. It’s almost frowned upon to have free time. People wonder, why are you not doing more? Are you lazy? Why are your kids not enrolling in more extra curriculars instead of playing hide and seek? So, to manage our time and our kids’ time as efficiently as possible, we rely on technology. Our

blackberry can keep us in line. Our email inbox can receive google alerts on any topic. Our kids can stay occupied with the tv,video games, and toys that dance and talk by themselves. We constantly seem to be “reacting” instead of initiating action. We react to images of airbrushed models. We react to the toy that comes to life with the push of a button. We react to a beep from the iPhone. We react to life. We need to start initiating new action.

Feminism in London 2009, by Charlotte Cooper

From Kate Smurthwaite

Just was a bit thrown by the suggestion that black and ethnic minority speakers at the FiL conference were only featured in the panel on sexism and racism. I didn’t go to all the workshops so I can’t make a statistical comment but I did notice (cos I was hosting it) that only one of the three closing speakers was white.

I’m all in favour of calling out missed opportunities to give a platform to black and ethnic minority women and I think there’s always room for improvement but seemed like maybe the closing speakers had been forgotten about.

Charlotte Cooper, author of the article, replies

I hadn’t forgotten about the closing speeches. But I do think there’s a slight difference between the plenaries and the actual panels – the panels are supposed to be providing a point of reference and discussion about certain topics – racism, motherhood, prostitution – and without a fully diverse board of panelists we’ll only ever hear half a story. And my comment was about inclusivity on panels.

From Laurie Penny

I agree with Charlotte’s basic point, but in the interests of accuracy Anne Travers, who spoke on the What’s Wrong With Prostitution panel, is a woman of colour.

Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word, replies

Many apologies for this oversight – Charlotte’s feature has now been corrected.

Comments on older features and reviews

Feminism and the vampire novel, by Caitlin Brown

From Erica Vendetti

As a fan of True Blood, I’d like to point out Tara, the black female best friend, is not necessarily the “sidekick” of Sookie. Her story line is almost always completely separated from Sookie’s and shows a woman in command of her sex life (though a catch-22 for black women who have been previously portrayed as a “sexual deviant) and with well-above average

intelligence in the town.

Tara, additionally, shows she is able to defeat the odds of growing up with an alcoholic mother and an absent father.

Her character is special in that she is given her own leading-lady role as she battles both literally and figuratively her own demons in the show.

Also, though I know the exception often proves the role, one of the reasons I gravitated towards True Blood instead of any of these other “Vamp-trash” series (which is not to say True Blood is any better, but dare I say that’s why I love it?) is because the leading women in the show are so in control of their lives and its often the men who wind up taking commands. Sookie is constantly standing up to people who could easily take control of her and yet she shows no fear.

Its unfortunate more young adult focused literature and shows don’t focus on a wider range of social roles other than the submissive that are constantly reinforced in society.

From sophia

I’m not really sure what a feminist vampire novel would be like, though Tanith Lee has certainly explored the territory of vampirism through strong female protagonists, both human and vampire.

Where I would take issue though, especially in film and tv, is on the notion that the vampire is some ultimate phallocrat. Surely the ‘crime’ of the vampire is that he/it subverts masculinity and thereby gains power over women. The use of the exoticism of the foreigner, the faux invalids frailty, the evident over-concern for their looks :memory suggests the images of far more bearded heroes than normal as an adjunct to vampire slaying. Is it too hard to imagine dracula as the archetypal jewish east european/latin , seducing women from their otherwise natural attraction to provincial jocks through their artificial theatricality ? Or that these basic lessons didn’t both reinforce xenophobia and lead to generations of men having a core belief in the mystic powers of brylcreem ?

Feminist or misogynist?, by Melanie Newman

From Colleen Ellis

THANK YOU for the article by Melanie Newman on violence in crime novels and thrillers. I recently Read both of Stieg Larsson’s books, based on recommendations from several friends and booksellers. I was shocked by the volume and detail of the descriptions of violent acts against women. Reading Ms. Newman’s article was cathartic for me because she concisely laid out many, many horrible things about these books (not all of them though, by a long shot) and made me feel that I’m not alone in wondering why these books have the immense popularity that they enjoy today.

Turn your back on Page 3, by Francine Hoenderkamp

From mags

i am delighted to see this campaign. i went onto your blog and wanted to post a comment of support but there is no way of doing so? anyway, as a young woman i am sick of being viewed as you describe…well done

Francine Hoenderkamp, author of the article, replies

Hi Mags. It’s nice to hear some kind words about the campaign! Thank you! I’m not sure why you’re unable to post over on the blog. I’ll look into it. Come join the Facebook group too if you’re on there.

“… the oppressor never voluntarily gives freedom to the oppressed. You have to work for it. Freedom is never given to anybody. Privileged classes never give up their privileges without strong resistance”.

(Martin Luther King, Jr)

Embarrassing Teenage Bodies advocates cosmetic labiaplasty, by Bellavita

From Kate

Thank you so much for this article. I have been getting increasingly hung up on the size of my inner labia, and this TV programme certainly didn’t help matters! I’d made an appointment to see a surgeon, but have just cancelled it having looked at all the images of vulvas – it turns out i’m not so weird after all! Thank you again – you’ve saved me pain and several thousands of pounds!

From Polly Stephens

I completely agree with Bellavita, I was agog as i watched the program, as I have what I only now learn are the WORST kind of labia, being hypertophied, I could not believe they were advocating a girl with barely any protrusion at all required surgery!! If that is the case perhaps they should be offering free councelling and surgery for the rest of us who have far ‘worse’ case.

The only problem I have with my labia is the worry of non acceptance and thanks to that program they just made my life and worries about a million times worse!

They don’t hurt and maybe they are a bit bigger, but I can’t choose that any more than my eye colour and that makes no difference to the job in hand does it.

I think this set the whole subject right back and agree a complaint should be made!!

There is NOTHING wrong with us!

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

From lauren

I love this article and the fact that a 10 year old can write about this issue in such an adult way.

This sounds exactly like something I would realize and say, but at age 18.

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

From Sarah Fogg

I’ve only just found this website and wandered across Ms Pythian-Adams’ feature ‘In the name of the father’ while browsing the archives. I realise the article is over a year old but I just had to say how much I LOVE her idea of how to pass on names! I had always planned to change my name upon marriage because I didn’t like my current surname (not to mention I don’t like my father very much), but a few things made me uncomfortable with the idea:

Recently I’ve been getting more comments related to Phineas Fogg than puns about the weather, so my surname is growing on me.

It would only be perpetuating the tradition of going from ‘property of father’ to ‘property of husband’.

I would be sad to lose a name that I also share with my paternal grandmother.

Try as I might I just couldn’t think of a good solution, since I didn’t want my hypothetical children to have to give their children triple or even quadruple names. I really wanted some kind of patronymic/matronymic system, but as someone interested in my own family history I didn’t like how difficult tracing the family tree becomes.

What all this rambling is leading up to is that I like her idea so much that not only will I be informing all my friends of it and implementing it if I marry in future, but I’m seriously considering changing my own surname to Fogg-Norman to incorporate my mother’s maiden name, which would allow me to share a name with my maternal grandmother as well.

Men! Feminism needs you! (Not your privilege…), by Anne Onne

From Josep Almudéver Chanzà

Thank you Anne for such a comprehensive article. I felt somehow hurt to read however that men’s opinions/voices wouldn’t be relevant in a feminist blog. It seems that you have grouped us all in one big fuzzy conceptual bag without bearing in mind that some of us come from minority cultural backgrounds, some of us are gay, some of us are disabled, i.e. some of us experience some kind of disadvantage in our daily lives, a disadvantage rooted in the fact that we live in a society still importantly shaped by harmful patriarchal tennets. Men’s own experiences and strategies developed when dealing with/rebelling against the ‘traditional’ masculinity patterns imposed on us (self-imposed in an abstract sort of way) have points of agreement and methodological similitudes with those of women. I consider myself a feminist, I have read tons of feminist material, from Butler to Angelou, and have spent considerable time talking with mates and family about gender stereotypes and the need for more feminism in our plans for the future of our society. Of course, and as you say at the beginning of your essay, I accept that I am part of those statistics which clearly and truthfully show I am more likely to ‘succeed’ in whatever my aims in life are than other members of society (I am male and white). Ultimately it is up to those ears made up by a minority to chose whether to listen to me or not. However, it would be a pity to miss the subaltern aspect of a lot of males in this society who have a lot to say against patriarchy and therefore for feminism.

He’s a stud, she’s a slut?, a review by Jess McCabe

From Phil

Excellent, well balanced, review of Valenti’s He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut. I found the book a disappointing contribution to contemporary discussions of the position of women is society.

The privileged few, by Helen G

From Donna Patricia

A while back, Kate Smurthwaite said “For me – I object to living in a society where gender roles and expectations are so fixed and inescapable that people feel the need to have extensive surgery simply in order to feel “right” in their own bodies.”

This was in regard to a post >a href=””> on privilege and transsexualism.

I need to correct this viewpoint.

Transsexualism is a birth condition. It is a neurodevelopmental consequent of hormonal development in tbhe womb. There are now three hundred scientific studies supporting this. There’s just no doubt any more.

It is also a catastrophe. It manifests itself early, or late. See Patricia Kelly.htm

In any case, whilst I appreciate Kate’s comments about gender roles and expectations, she perhaps does not appreciate the transsexual woman’s need to transition. You see, the alternative is death. This is no matter of society, this is survival, pure and simple.

Gender identity, the fundamental ‘who you are’, is not determined by anything else but your brain. You wake up in the morning, you do not question who you are . . . but the pre-op transsxual does. Her body says male, but her soul says woman, and she must fix this mis-match, or die. It really, really is that dire.

Transsexual people are not transgendered. They really do have a serious medical problem. It really is a physical problem. The psychological problems are caused by having to rethink your life, by the reactions of those around you, of having to rebuild everything . . . and they are indeed serious issues. But they are nowhere near as serious as coming to terms with the fact that you really are a woman, no matter what your physiology may say.

Fact is, transsexualism is real. Transsexualism is not transgender. The latter is to do with roles and expectations (to return to Kate’s point).

A woman who has been through full transition (and yes, I do believe that surgery is an absolute must), is no more or less a woman that any one of us.

Glamour models made me sick, by Hannah Whittaker

From Jody Thurlow

I could’nt of agreed more on what she said. I have felt the same since i was 16 and now ive just turned 21. I do want to become a model full time and i am neally there. But it doesnt mean to say that I dont have a no self obsession with my apearance and i have very low self asteam. Yes it is all air brushing because garenteed their skin is not perfect as it is seen in magazines and on posters. Men tend to believe that this is what all women should look like and when im browzing the internet and looking at magazines, all i can think is “why cant i look like that” or “why cant men understand”.

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

From Michael

Willingness to take part in a marriage can be useful as a signal- if you abandon the other party, you face financial ruin, therefore taking on that possibility goes some way to alleviate doubts your spouse may have about your sincerity. The threat of this cost, coupled with the knowledge that the other party faces the same cost might be enough to keep some relationships together through a rocky patch.

A way to keep this advantage without the cost of being seen to endorse a patriarchal institution might be a ‘poison pill’ bond: Each party commits a chunk of their savings to an account which in the event of marital dissolution will be donated to charity.

Could this be an alternative type of formal commitment?

General commments

From Lucy Brown

Hi, I’m forwarding you a comment I have just sent to Channel 4, it seems relevant to this site.

I just saw a trailer for an upcoming episode of ‘The Force’ following a rape case. One of the few pieces of dialogue in the trailer was the sentence ‘What else is she lying about?’. In context, this quote may be completely innocuous, but in the framework of a trailer for an investigation into rape it makes it sound like the rape victim is lying.

This is so harmful to rape victims in this country, to propagate the myth that rape victims are mostly liars. Even if in this case the victim was lying – what made you choose this one case to broadcast? Why are you encouraging people to blame the victim, be suspicious of the victim in a way that nobody is in the case of other crimes. And if the quote does not relate to the victim, you must have realised that that is the effect given when you take it out of context. I would like to know the thinking behind this.

From David

I noticed today, that if you do a search for headlines containing either the word “Man” or the word “Men”, the response claims there are no matches. However in actual fact I have seen many articles with those words in the titles. Plus, searching for all sorts of random words usually throws up several results, so it’s obvious this response has been artificially programmed.

Clearly you want to put men who dare to wonder how they fit into the debate firmly in their place, to show how irrelevant they are and how presumptuous it is for them to even imagine they might feature in any article on this site.

It’s disappointing to be so pointedly shut out, but if that is the impression you want to convey, that’s obviously your decision. But then you could at least drop your frequent pretence that this site is not anti-male.

Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word, replies

I promise it’s not a conspiracy. Our search engine doesn’t recognise any three letter words.

Massive thanks once again to Helen G for compiling and coding this month’s comments round up