Comments from June 2010

Sarkless Kitty and the ghosts of misogyny, by Katharine Edgar

From Louise

Very interesting article, I much enjoyed reading it. I wonder whether the KItty ghost story wasn’t just the local’s way of expressing a sense of collective guilt. The fact Kitty proceeded to haunt and extract revenge on the community who had turned its back on her and, by in turn attacking men only, exacted revenge on the patriarchal system that allowed her sad story to unfold could indicate that her death was somehow a shock to the community (indeed, the story has survived the test of time.) Here in Devon we have the famous ghost of Kitty Jay on Dartmoor (Seth Lakeman even wrote a song about her). Kitty Jay was made pregnant by her employer and committed suicide. She was buried at a crossroads on the moors and according to the legend, fresh flowers have appeared on her grave “magically” ever since she was buried. (In fact, the flowers are put there by the locals and tourists, I know, I’ve put some on her grave myself!) I see the devotion she’s subjected to as a popular way to express sympathy for a woman who was failed by her community. The story resonates particularly with me as my great grandmother was also made pregnant by her employer and had to be “married off” to the only man in the village who made an offer to “restore her honour” , a old widower much older than herself. I’m sure lots of us have stories like that running in our families and that is probably why we respond with such interest to ghost stories like Kitty’s.

From Charlotte Revely

Thank you for such an interesting take on general legend and folklore. I hadn’t really considered this before but appreciate the thought and analysis you have put into this. It reminded of reading Philippa Gregory’s “The Other Boleyn Girl” a few years ago. I had never heard of Mary Boleyn and so checked to see whether this account was based in truth. The reality was that the Boleyns appear to have been a scheming family using their daughters to climb the ladders of court. Mary had already been married off at a young age but when Henry set his eye on her she was ordered by her father and uncle to oblige herself as his mistress to assist their rise at court. Anne decided there was more to play for and refused to become the mistress and the rest you know. This is a gripping novel written from a female perspective but when I checked this in Simon Schama’s ” A History of Britain” he refers to Mary as being “notorious as an easy conquest”. The reality is she was a powerless child being used a sexual pawn by a patriarchal order and I found this take by a respected historian absolutely shocking in the lack of understanding and the judgmental stance. Many of our common narratives, myths, histories and legends would bear closer analysis like this and I would appreciate more of this.

Katharine Edger, author of the article, replies

Many thanks for your very interesting comment. I’m glad you enjoyed the article.

You make an excellent point about the parallel with popular historians reproducing without question traditional gender bias. It is something I’ve noticed too, with respect to David Starkey (no surprise there, given his attitude to women’s history….) They should know better!

I have also read The Other Boleyn Girl and agree with you – it is really gripping and I love the way it re-presents a familiar historical story. I had never consciously thought of Philippa Gregory as a feminist writer but perhaps she is and that’s why I love her so much! She is so good on the kind of detail that forces you to think about what it really meant, physically, for these women to be used as political pawns (the scene where Mary is forced back into Henry’s bed shortly after giving birth is particularly memorable.) So that Schama line about Mary is really quite offensive (not to mention a missed opportunity to tell a much more interesting story….)

I had never thought before about writing about this issue but maybe I will now – I will definitely look out for this kind of thing next time I watch tv history. Thanks for a really great suggestion.

Is it time for abortion to return to the political agenda?, by Lisa Ansell

From FeminaErecta

Excellent, well researched and thought out article, pleasure to read.

As a woman who has had an abortion I am all in favour of reviewing the

abortion laws, because until it is pushed in the public’s face that at the

moment a woman’s right to make decisions regarding her own body and her own future are debated on by a parliament of men, or women who do not support other women, then the sooner that abortion stops being taboo, and more women can ‘come out’ as having had one and support each other through a natural grieving process.

Abortion limits have nothing to do with politicians, if a woman wants one, and her doctor thinks it safe (in my opinion if you are a doctor not

willing to support women you shouldn’t be a doctor) she should be able to do what she wants with her body at any time.

From Frances Holland

Does anyone else think it is possible to be both a Feminist and Pro-Life? I am both, and would like to see more education and emphasis on

preventative birth control before abortion even becomes an option.

Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word, replies

My view is that, while it’s possible to be a feminist and not want to choose abortion for yourself, it is not possible to be feminist and want to restrict other women’s reproductive rights, or force another woman to go through an unwanted pregnancy.

From amx.

I’m completely in support of Lisa Ansell’s call that women’s right to

abortion must shored up. This is particularly pressing given the proposal

announced in the coalition agreement that they will

‘encourage shared parenting from the earliest stages of pregnancy – including the promotion of a system of flexible parental leave’.

The most concerning element for me is the phrase ‘from the earliest stages of pregnancy’. This approach does not specifically address the time limit but threatens to grant a potential father rights over an unborn foetus. This would completely obliterate the bodily autonomy of all woman and I believe marks a clear move towards a shoring up of male ownership of reproduction. If I wanted an abortion at 3 weeks and the man that fertilized my egg disagrees, will the law fall on my side?

The wording of the agreement has been dismissed as incidental by some members of the coalition since it’s publication. I believe these claims to be disingenuous – this was a very carefully constructed document that gives me huge cause for concern.

From Lisa Hostick

Your recent article about abortion legislation brought back memories of an abortion I had 2 years ago.

Each step of the way I was made to feel guilty about my choices.

First, when I told my doctor I was pregnant his first response was ‘And

you’re keeping it!’ To which I had to say ‘no’.

I then had to wait a long time for an appointment for the procedure (I

forget now because it’s made hazy from the anxiety).

Once I was at the hospital (in London) I was told by a doctor that ‘if

you’re not prepared to have children then you shouldn’t be having sex.’ I was 26-years-old!

I was made, at each turn, to feel uncomfortable and guilty about my

decision. It took me over a year before I could bring myself to tell

anyone about what these medical professionals said to me.

Only once I’d shared these experiences with those who are close to me did I realise how insensitive and inappropriate these comments were.

We must continue to oppose those who attempt to take away our rights to make these choices about our own bodies and revert back to the old misogynistic ways of viewing women as non-sexual beings whose sole role is to produce babies.

Lisa Ansell, author of the article, replies

Lisa, that makes me really sad. There is no other area of medicine where that would be acceptable – yet here it is.

Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging, a review by Carina Schneider

From childerowland

I was also disappointed in the film and agree with the points you made in your review.

However, I didn’t think that the film was a fair reflection of Louise

Rennison’s books, which are so much better! The books aren’t hugely

feminist either, but they are a lot more entertaining and certainly portray the girls as being much more multi-faceted and interesting.

For example: in the books, Jas is academic, very interested in the natural world, a collector of cuddly owls and is afraid of getting into trouble. In the film, she is reduced to an airhead stereotype.

The character who disappointed me the most was Rosie. In the books, Rosie is (IMO) laugh-out-loud funny. She is a genuinely weird, imaginative person who doesn’t really care what anyone else thinks of her and is always inventing funny things for the gang to do. In the film she was quite ordinary…I can’t really remember anything particularly interesting about her at all.

In the books the gang call Lindsay ‘wet Lindsay’, not ‘slaggy Lindsay’. As you suggest, ‘slaggy’ denotes criticism of Lindsay’s

sexual behaviour, which is unnecessary.

From a feminist perspective, one of the things I liked about the books was that they portrayed funny girls (in the sense of being intentionally comedic). In real life women are still not often accepted as being truly funny – men are regarded as the comedic ones and women are expected to laugh at their jokes. Ok, so there’s Dave the Laugh in the books, who is considered to be really funny – but Georgia and Rosie are equally funny if not more so. I also think that female friendships are portrayed more positively than in the film.

Another thing I liked was the way in which beauty regimes are treated as time-consuming, expensive and hard work. Like the film, the books don’t ever really *challenge* beauty ideals, which is problematic, but at least the characters have spots and body hair and sweat, and aren’t shown as effortlessly ‘beautiful’.

As I said above, I am not saying that the books are particularly feminist. One thing that was sadly realistic but annoying was the way homosexuality was often brought up in the context of the girls worrying about being considered lesbians. The snogging lessons and the disdain shown towards Lindsay for wearing a padded bra were pretty cringeworthy too.

But the books have a lot more going for them than the film from both an entertainment perspective and a feminist perspective, and I would recommend them. I’d be interested to know what you thought.

One book – three reviews, by Annika Spalding, Jamillah Knowles and LonerGrrrl

From Cycleboy

I was rather puzzled and surprised that Jamillah stated that she was not a feminist, basically because she did not hold to every ponit of view

espoused by ‘feminists’.

Not all socialists agree. Catholics disagree with Protestants but still

call themselved Christians. Shiite-Sunni, Orthodox-Liberal, the list is


My own test would be to ask Jamillah; would you think it perfectly OK to pay a man more than you get for the same job? Obviously not (she did say she was for equality). By my definition that’s a feminist position. Period. Everything else is detail.

Jamillah Knowles, author of the article, replies

I think there is a lot of indecision around the semantics and definition of the word “feminist”. I’ve wrestled with the idea for a long time and still come back to the same conclusion. Though I support feminists the details are very important to me, which is why I am still not comfortable with the label and prefer equality instead.

That’s a personal choice though and one I hope I am at liberty to make for myself, in the same way that I hope that feminists who have made an equally clear definition to adhere to can also feel comfortable celebrating.

Comments on older features and reviews

Back to burlesque, by Chloë Emmott

From Ruth Moss

I’ve often felt a bit like (straight) burlesque is just a more middle

class version of stripping (I’m not anti-stripping, though, by the way).

Reading this, it looks like maybe it wasn’t always, but it’s kind of turned

into that.

I wish we had more (or even any! Maybe there is some in London or

thereabouts but in Liverpool I’ve never run into it) queer burlesque here,

but it seems like it’s destined at least for the moment to remain a very US phenomenon.

From Susan Gilbert

Very interesting article, the comment on burlesque artists being powerful only when they work independantly of male managers and directors goes right back to Gypsy Rose Lee, whose only manager was her stage struck mother, Rose Hovick. Gypsy broke free in her 20’s and became very much her own boss. She became known as “the Literary Stripper”, she published several books and lived in a literary commune for a while. Her show was much more tease than strip and her major success was achieved through her rapport with her audience. She had great wit and comic timing, and was very much in charge of both the show and the audience, entertaining them with parody and humour as much as sex-appeal. BY the time she moved to New York in the late 1930’s her show was regarded as suitable entertainment for both men and women. Gypsy was exploited by theatre owners and film producers,

but then so is every type of act. I hope she is still a hero of today’s

burlesque artists.

What happens when you don’t like what the doctor orders?, by Bryony Long

From Ingrid Holme

I have great sympathy with Bryony’s experiences however, having taught sociology of health and illness to both physiotherapy and social studies students there are a number of things worthwhile adding. The

doctor-patient relationship has changed considerably in the last few

decades and the NHS has pushed towards a more consumer relationship, often leaving consultancy times for minor complaints very short. However I would advocate a relationship based on mutuality -recognising that both doctor and patients are people, with their own experiences, demands and expectations from the interaction. This means that when you go to a doctor or nurse it is important to think through what you want to get out of it -as well as wear appropriate clothes! As much as a I sympathies with anyone who feel self conscious stripped down to their underwear I think it is also important to recognize that male and some female doctors might feel uncomfortable dealing with female patients wearing thongs.

The article highlighted situations marked by discomfort around sexual issues but it more often that poor communication leaves the patient feeling that their problems have been ignored. To be an active and informed patient is hard and not only requires a willing doctor but, more importantly it requires the patient to question and to make sure they fully understand what the doctor is saying. In the last case the doctor might have been able to explain that doctors listen to the heart in the lower left area of the chest because that’s where it is most exposed and easiest to be heard. She was asked to turn around because from the front the heart is covered by the sternum and lungs. Unfortunately due to time pressure doctors and medical staff don’t normally explain background reasons unless directly asked.

My advice to anyone who feels uncomfortable or unsatisfied for whatever reason is to approach medical staff as knowledgeable living people who do a job which requires them to touch and prod strangers’ bodies. Good communication in this interaction not only requires medical staff to be suitably primed but also that patients share their concerns.

Dr Ingrid Holme.

The woman engineer: are we really that incompetent?, by Wisrutta Atthakor

From Zoe Bremer

Whenever I hear the comment that “Women are no good/rubbish/useless at…” I reply to say that they seemed to manage perfectly all right doing that very thing through two world wars.

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

From Cathy K.

For most of my life I’ve been perceived as a brainy chick but certainly not a “hot” one. I’m now 44, still slim but with a 32A chest–and thoroughly ashamed of it. This despite the fact I have a husband who loves my shape, a fairly good mind, and some talent at the violin. Sometimes it would be nice just to be the object of desire for “men in general,” but that’s not going to happen in this lifetime. Sorry to kvetch, but I would trade places with the writer of the article in a heartbeat. I’m still trying to live with a body that doesn’t look the way a woman’s body should look.

Are women and girls vulnerable?, by Jennifer Drew

From Suzanne

Nice job elaborating on this argument. It’s clear that our

characterizations matter.

‘Feminists are Sexist’, by Catherine Redfern

From denise marleyn

I have considered myself a feminist for the last 20 years and I work as a therapist with a leaning towards a feminist social constructionist agenda – this is in response to what I have learnt from my women clients about their lives.

However, I am uncomfortable with a number of, what seems to be, mainstream feminist arguments which centre around women’s rights and, for me, this really seems to boil down to the acknowledgement that along with a need to push for women’s rights there also needs to be more responsibility by women for the continued limitations of of feminism to produce the holy grail of equality.

I speak of:

a)the need for responsible fertility in realizing that sex can ALWAYS lead to pregnancy and this is something that should be at the top of the agenda in women’s education.

A focus of feminism should be encouraging women’s RESPONSIBILITY for their fertility and not just stretching the abortion limit to way beyond the time limit accepted in other civilised countries. Yes, I absolutely believe in, and support, a womens’ right to choose, but that right extends to a woman’s responsibility to always use contraception to avoid pregnancy if she doesn’t want a baby – not just a right to abortion to clean up the mess after. Can I be the only feminist who considers that there is something profoundly wrong with our abortion laws when some women are having multiple abortions therefore using it as a form of contraception? To state the ending of another life is simply the concern of the Christian Right is also to deny the reality of the, often lifelong, suffering many women having terminations experience – and many counsellors will testify to this if asked.

b) In the discussion about women’s roles (marriage, motherhood/childcare/working mothers) let’s admit that women (particularly older women) continue to police each others’ (and their daughters’) choices and actions as a form of social control. This is reflected in social disapproval when a woman doesn’t conform to society’s accepted model such as social support and approval for marriage and motherhood and disapproval of women who don’t conform to these stereotypes. A good example of this was, rather suprisingly, the comments by celibrated feminist Jenny Murray recently on Radio 4 when she supported an argument that women who don’t have children do so because ‘they are selfish’.

c) On the issue of women’s body image, again, it is other women (not just men) who police this area and compete with each other to increase their own self-esteem or standing. Note, it is women columnists in the gutter press who, sometimes quite viciously, critiscise other women’s appearances as well as women who compulsively devour the endless magazines obsessing about celebrities’ weight swings. To put all the blame on men is to collude in the denial of how we as a gender go along with this objectification of ourselves and compete with our

‘sisters’ to feel better about ourselves.

Whilst the media is hugely influential it is insulting to suggest we are just unthinking lemmings (or are we?)who have no choice but to follow the crowd. Women have a mind of their own and can choose not to buy into the ‘beaty’ industry (both practically and philosophically) and make a choice to accept their humanity instead of buying into the myth of the perfect body. Many therapists have been working with these issues for years – women have a choice therefore whether to spend their money on beauty products and surgery and weight loss aids or on therapy to raise their self-esteem so they can accept and love their real body and deal with their eating problems. Our gender can change this , one woman at a time, if we take responsibility for our feelings and actions and do the inner work,instead of deflecting the blame on men and the media for OUR part of the problem as well as their own.

Yes,we need to change society but we need to change ourselves AS WELL. The media and salesmen can only sell us this stuff because WE BUY IT! We can stop choosing it instead of saying we have no choice: after all we’re told the media etc are only giving consumers what they want.

As the Buddhists say, when we accept 100% responsibility we gain 100% power or as Ghandi put it ‘You are the change you want to see in the world.’

NB: I will be most interested to see if my email makes your comments page!

Bloody disgrace, by Lindsay

From Kate

I totally agree with Linsday, it would probably bring tears to my eyes to work out the amount of money I have spent on menstrual products over the years! I work as a nurse and deal with women on a daily basis, often coming into contact with women with uncomfortable vaginal symptoms, often thrush, sometimes recurrent BV amongst others. I am becoming increasingly concerned by the number of sanitary products on sale that ‘protect against odours’, ‘keep you fresh all day long’ etc. So, are we to believe that up until the invention of sanitary towels with odour control and fragrant cores, we poor, naive women have been walking around smelling to high heaven of the dreaded curse? do people know when you have your period beacuse you smell so bad? it is so totally insulting to constantly have products designed to make women more attractive, more feminine, that are aimed entirely at the

menstrual woman! Forget the fact that using scented products increases the chances of vaginal thrush and is associated with recurrent BV! just don’t get me started! Is it not one of the few products that ‘celebrity women’ haven’t actually brought out their own range of or endorse?! However, this does bring me on to an alternative menstrual product that I just have to sing the praises of…the menstrual sponge (the Jam Sponge is the particular one I rave about). Comfortable, hardwearing, absorbent, fit for purpose, cost effective (can last up to a year), environmentally friendly (can be composted), easy to use, safe, and best of all it promotes the fact that having a period is not dirty or needs to be disguised with perfumes, if the paper bag we have to wear over our heads doesn’t fit! I recall mentioning my using a sponge to some [nurse] colleagues at work…it was met with a huge look of disgust on their faces, together with various comments along the lines of, you’re so boho! oh dear, I thought, there is much work to be done here! I have made a start, my wonderful 11 year old daughter thinks the sponge seems like a marvellous idea. She doesn’t think it is gross or disgusting, in fact it seems entirely natural to use a natural product for a natural biological event. That must have been one of the things women used many years ago before they invented tampons, she said!

All about eve, by JoJo Kirtley

From Joy-Mari Cloete

I’m curious to know whether the writer still stands by this position?

Surely we should fight all types of oppression and not ‘rate’ oppression on a scale of ‘benevolent’ and ‘evil’?

Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word, replies

As this article is from 2002, I wasn’t able to get in touch with JoJo to pass on this question – however, I would say that personally I am of the view that the ‘oppression Olympics’ is hugely damaging.

Feminist or misogynist?, a review by Melanie Newman

From Bryan Taylor

Thank you for writing this critique. I only wish that I had encountered it before viewing this film with my wife last evening. We found its misogyny despicable — its faux-feminist ethic of depiction-as-critique quickly devolved into sensationalism-as-implicit-endorsement. As a result, we have grown even more disturbed after appreciating its embrace by audiences. In the future, I’ll be much more cautious before accepting the claims of mainstream media reviews in this genre.

From Kathryn O’hehir

Thank you, thank you, thank you for your insightful review. Everyone at work is reading the triology, and after GWDT, I found myself alone in feeling, this dude is a sick puppy. You have validated my intuition to avoid men who profess to be “feminists”. It’s as silly as a woman professing to be a “masculinist,” and roar on about the injustices women have done to men, which, until Lisbeth came along, did not include anal rape and torture.

I love a good crime story, real or fiction, but the author’s self-righteousness is about as attractive as Salman Rushdie before he’s brushed his teeth.

The Perfect Vagina, a review by Amy Clare

From lara

i found this article while researching about having a labiaplasty myself.

i have been huming and harring about getting it done and i have to say that i am now 99% sure i wont get it done. you have raised some real spot on points and i agree with them. “why does no one els speak like you do?” why are we confronted with all these sexual images for men? why isnt there a page 3 with naked men on? i thought these days women have equal rights and all that but how wrong was i. where can i hear more from you ladys?

The Descent, a review by Jess McCabe

From shumon rahman

I read the article on “the descent” and I cant help but feel the reviewer was reading into things that aren’t there.

The fact that someone thinks about the film is probably an indicator of good writing, and while the women “don’t pull through”, aren’t there many many films where the men don’t pull through either? In fact the reviewer even stated that the male is despatched very early on – doesn’t look like anyone pulls through…….so why is this an issue only when its women?

Jess McCabe, author of the review, replies

shumon, it is five years since I saw the film and wrote the review so I am a bit too fuzzy to provide a second close textual reading of The Descent – however, of course the main point isn’t that all the women die. (Although it is fairly rare in male-focused movies, really). It becomes problematic because of the overall misogyny of the film.

General comments

From Cassie

Hey there, I have been reading through this site and find I relate to a lot of the issues raised. I am a feminist and proud of it. I am interested

in starting up and maintaining communications with people concerned with issues of gender equality. Please feel free to look at and comment on my blog to get a better idea of what I am about.