Comments from August 2010

Comments on this month’s features and reviews

On campus, feminism wavers, by Lizzie Dearden

From SallyMarx

Lizzie — I was also at the lecture and remember being equally disturbed by the whole affair — particulaly when, after being asked whether a woman had the right to choose her clothing without fear of being raped, one female member of the hall sat down.

However, on slightly more positive note (and as I think you have

highlighted already), since then, I have noticed an increasing trend

amongst fellow students to appreciate themselves, if not as feminists, then with feminism (one friend even went from being a committed female misogynist to one of the most outspoken feminists I know!), which has been incredibly heartening.

But I also agree that there is a tendency within academia (and perhaps English Literature is more guilty of this than other areas) to produce individuals who may be very rhetorically confident in the history and theory of feminism (or any political movement), and who enjoy the pose that comes with identifying with those politics, but time and time again prove to be glaringly ignorant of how those theories and ideas impact on the world outside of student life. I even realised how guilty I was of this myself after attending the Feminista Summer School last month when Tonya Boulton, an active member of the Women’s Networking Hub, posited the idea that the title of feminist is a privilige to be earned, and not assumed. Which only confirmed for me the suspicion that simply devouring Woolf and De Beauvoir does not, and never has been, an automatic guarantee of a feminist status.

It’s not that I’m ungrateful that these things are being taught on our

course, and in some ways we are luckier than other students, particularly those within the science sector, in that we have such a wealth of feminist/female thinking at our disposal. But a lot of students/young people nowadays (gosh I sound old), are lazy, and are also, I suppose, busy, and I think it’s really important that when approaching any majorly important political movement, that they are encouraged to look beyond the arid grit of theory, and taught to overlap that theory onto the world around them. But that’s difficult to do in one lesson, and shouldn’t be the sole responsibility of our educators.

I suppose my conclusion would be similar to yours, in that I think the main problem is the receptiveness of people to the word, the idea, of

feminism. I know so many people (friends in their thirties included) who

whilst accepting the precepts of active feminism (rights to abortion,

working against domestic violence and rape), have still yet to adopt/are

fearful to accept, the title of feminist, which whilst understandable given

its treatment in the media, is still infuriating. However, pieces like the

Observer produced a few weeks back on positive, and active, feminism within various communities certainly had an impact on my household, and I hope will continue to develop people’s thinking around the subject.

Academia is wonderful, and academic feminism is equally thrilling an interesting for anyone who has time to sit and debate on the nature of

gender and sex etc, but I would really love to see that talk combined with some awareness of contemporary issues, and action, and to see students educating themselves, and push towards a more unified concept of the word ‘feminist’, which breaks with all of its elitist, middle class ties, and actually embraces the work that current feminists are doing in the communities around them.

Because feminism should be for life, not just for graduation.

Anyway, rant over. What I really meant to say was great article!

From LonerGrrrl

Interesting article, particularly given that we’ve also had many reports recently claiming that feminist activism on campus is on the increase! So, it’s good to get a different take on it & I know what you mean, the identification with feminism that takes place in the classroom does not often translate into activist tendencies outside of it.

When I studied for an MA Gender Studies there was definitely some bridges that needed to be built between the texts we were reading and the real life struggles of women, on & off campus.

I also wonder though whether being a student, particularly a younger female one without additional work/family responsibilities, means there’s less cause for women to get active & that contributes to the scene on campus you describe? I don’t mean there’s nothing for female students to take action on – there is! But looking at from the other side, maybe when you’re young, away from home for the first time, and enjoying your student years, feminist activism is perhaps not seen as relevant/interesting to many young women? But it may be different when they graduate & realise the still limited job opportunities/lower pay afforded women & face expectations to start a family, & then to be the main carer for them if/when they do!

Personally, I got more politicised when I left university, and grow more politicised as I get older and notice, and experience, the discrimination and dead-end opportunities women still face in the world off-campus. Perhaps some of the feminist ideas young women are forming on campus will perhaps come to the fore once they graduate? Of course, then it’s a little harder to find the time/resources/people to join with to campaign on the issues they’ll face then. Which is another issue for feminism to engage with!

Compulsory heterosexuality and lesbian existence, 30 years later, by A J Conroy

From polly

RE ‘compulsory heterosexuality and lesbian existence 30 years later’, the author said.

“If we sequester exclusively ourselves within our race, class, religion, sexual identity – or any of the other identities that keep women from one another – then we doom ourselves to continually re-enact the sad, violent histories that created these identities. “

This is only true if the identity within which one is ‘sequestering’

oneself is a privileged one. As a lesbian (sexual orientation, not

political position) I don’t feel that it’s my role to endlessly worry about

the concerns of heterosexual women – if heterosexual women want a

relationship with me it’s up to me, I don’t OWE it to them. I don’t have to accept homophobia and heterosexual privilege if I don’t want to, and I

don’t intend to.

There is a huge difference between those in a position of privilege

maintaining that privilege by excluding less privilged groups and non

privileged groups forming separatist communities for their own protection which the author does not seem to understand.

Honeymoon cystitis?, by Hannah Fearn

From JR

Thank you for this article. I wish I had been able to read something like this when I started having regular bouts of cystitis!

I have not suffered to the degree which you talk of but it did take about 6 months of me regularly going to the doctor before any real action was taken. I was in pain, there was blood and at it’s worst I was literally incontinent. It certainly did not feel like a small problem that would go away on it’s own! They kept giving me short course antibiotics but it kept recurring as soon as I finished the course! I was eventually sent to the hospital. I ended up being given a much longer and heavier course of antibiotics which did help. But I have been left with a much weaker bladder and I have to be very careful because I am still extremely susceptible to flare ups.

My sister also suffers from regular bouts of cystitis and I have been

lucky enough to have her to talk to.

I find that the best way (for me personally, but maybe it can help others) to prevent recurrence is to go to the bathroom after sex and have a wee. I know it’s not quite in the mood of things but it has helped me a lot. Another that is as soon as I feel anything that even remotely feels likes cystitis I either drink those little cystitis sachets you can get or buy myself a load of pineapple juice. I’m probably over-reacting most times but it does seem to help keep it at bay!

Once again, thank you for talking about this.

Hannah Fearn, author of the article, replies

Thanks for commenting, and though I’m sorry to hear you also suffer I’m glad that I could have been some helping in understanding that you are not alone. There are literally thousands of women suffering from the same problems. Do not be afraid to ask for a referral to a urologist. I persisted and have now had a small operation which has helped, as well as taking longer term antibiotics.

Some women who have suffered from persistent UTIs have developed a more serious permanent condition called interstitial cystitis, so it’s worth seeing the specialists if you have ongoing problems. Also do get in contact with the Cystitis and Overactive Bladder Foundation, who offer help and advice to sufferers around the clock.

From Elizabeth

In response to Hannah Fearn’s article on honeymoon cystitis, I can

completely empathise with your experience. I am a sufferer of interstitial cystitis, a condition which causes chronic cystitis symptoms without any bacterial cause (and therefore does not show infection upon dipstick testing and is not responsive to antibiotics). Despite complaining of cystitis symptoms for over five years, four different GPs have repeatedly dismissed my symptoms as simply part of being a woman, and upon my insistence on further investigation, referred me only to gynaecologists (rather than a urologist as I repeatedly asked for) as this was ‘more appropriate’, presumably because I am a woman and any symptoms ‘down there’ MUST be related to my gender. I have been referred to pain management consultants who advised me to stop looking for a cause for my pain and who prescribed strong anti-depressants and tranquilisers that I did not need, a psychosexual counsellor who advised me to ‘grin and bear it’ for the sake of my relationship (as undergoing painful and enforced penetrative intercourse would be less damaging to the relationship than my husband not receiving regular sex apparently), and have undergone countless invasive (and often unnecessary) examinations, often with crowds of medical students staring and poking at my genitalia, usually without even making eye contact or speaking to me at all. It is only now, after several years of pain and distress that I have finally been referred to a urologist who performed a cystoscopy (a procedure which my urologist originally deemed ‘pointless’) at my insistence. When this procedure showed that I have a haemorrhagic bladder, physical evidence confirming a diagnosis of interstitial cystitis that I myself made four years ago, my urologist calmly told me that he was surprised, as my symptoms did not seem ‘severe’ enough to warrant such a diagnosis, and that perhaps if I had complained more I would have been diagnosed sooner. I find it hard to imagine a man being advised his urinary pain is ‘normal’, that the cause of his urinary pain must lie in unrelated organs, that he should willingly undergo pain for the sake of his wife’s sexual satisfaction, that he is ‘hysterical’ when he complains long and loud about that pain and that he has hindered a diagnosis when he does not. I also find it hard to imagine, were such a man to exist, that he would find that his eventual diagnosis would ultimately be the end of the road, as I have done. The lack of medical interest in so-called ‘women’s conditions’ means that I am now left with few options. My concerns about undergoing experimental and unproven treatments have left me labeled ‘unco-operative’ and ‘difficult’ and ultimately I have been told that I will have to learn to ‘live with it’. While you are right in saying that it should not be acceptable to consider constant pain simply ‘part of being a woman’, it seems that it is.

Hannah Fearn, author of the article, replies

I’m so sorry you have been diagnosed with IC. I believe I may have developed IC after bladder damage from recurrent infections, and my cystoscopy also showed a haemorragic and inflamed bladder but – like you – my urologist seems to believe this is no big deal. Imagine if he had to live with the pain and disruption? Please do get in touch with the COB Foundation – they have the best advice on diet and other management tools and can put you in touch with other IC sufferers who can share their experience. I would also advise a referral to an IC specialist – there are some out there (very few, but some). Good luck!

From Jane

Excellent article and my deepest sympathies to Hannah. I’m so sick of childbirth being some sort of great cure all – from period pains to cystitis. My six year old daughter has had a couple of nasty urinary infections and I was so angry at the shrugs and ‘well it’s just the way girls are made’ attitude that I did some research and have found something called Waterfall D-Mannose. I’m not usually a fan of alternative medicine but this is a natural product that works in sync with your bladder rather than stripping out the good bacteria. It’s safe to give to children and my daughter hasn’t had any problems since I started giving it to her. You can get it from a company called Sweet Cures.

From Jennifer Drew

One of the main reasons why so many sexually active women contract cystitis is because ‘sex’ is defined as penetration and given we live in a heterosexist society wherein it is essential that heterosexual women must be penetrated by their male sexual partners this in itself ensures cystitis will occur.

The medical reason for cystitis is because bacteria is passed from the male’s penis into the woman’s body and once this has happened then cystitis will keep re-occurring but given male penetration of the female’s body is what supposedly defines ‘real sexual activity,’ advising women and men not to constantly engage in penetrative sex will not be immediately forthcoming.

Note: I am not saying penetrative sex is wrong but the widespread belief that ‘sex is not sex until male has penetrated female’ ensures cystitis in sexually active women will occur.

Feminists have been saying for years that male to female penetration is medically dangerous for women and always the male supremacist system claims such facts are lies. Lesley Doyal a feminist and Professor of Health and Social Care in her book What Makes Women Sick states that heterosexual penetration is dangerous for women because women’s bodies were never designed to be regularly penetrated by the penis.

Feminists too have long challenged the male supremacist myth concerning compulsory heterosexuality wherein male sexual pleasure always supercedes women’s sexual pleasure. Male penetration of the female body is the sin que of male sexual pleasure and given women not men are the ones who suffer medical ailments because of this practice, that is why medical researchers are not concerned with cystitis.

Instead male-centric researchers are more concerned with creating a pill which will supposedly prevent women suffering from mythical sexual dysfunction, because denying male partners their pseudo right of

penetration is in effect challenging male supremacy.

Remember too, penetration is not the ultimate sexual experience for most women because most women do not experience sexual pleasure via penetration. It is the clitoris which is the centre of women’s sexuality but given this organ resides outside a woman’s body it is derided and considered to be part of ‘foreplay’ prior to the male penetrating the female. Shere Hite undertook research which confirmed the fact most women do not experience sexual pleasure when the penis penetrates their bodies. Likewise Heather Corinna succinctly debunks the phallocentric definition of what supposedly comprises ‘real heterosexual acts between women and men.’ Corinna’s website is Scarleteen and she does excellent work on educating young men and boys that male sexuality does not begin and end with penetration of female.

What will ease the condition of cystitis is for men to cease demanding/expecting to have the right of penetrating their female partners and instead seek out different ways of achieving male sexual pleasure. Men are fully capable of achieving sexual pleasure via masturbation and this rarely involves the penis penetrating an object.

From Jazz

I completely know where you are coming from! Thank you SO much for this post! I have had about three bouts of urine infections in the last year. It is Awful, at the very least uncomfortable and painful. Work becomes near impossible due to the feeling that you need to constantly pee, stomach cramps and lack of sleep due to the previous symptoms.

My heart goes out to you. I hope you find a very understanding doctor who gets how unbelievably annoying and stressful it can be.

Hannah Fearn, author of the article, replies

Sorry to hear that you are suffering too. Good luck at finding a solution, and do share it through the relevant charities if you do to help other women.

From Dr Andrew N Holding

In the honeymoon cystitis article you comment.

“There may be as many women practicing medicine as men, but its solutions, its research, its focus, are still resolutely male-oriented.”

This may be true, I don’t have the data to argue either way. My issue is you get there from a female GP telling you it’s a fact of life. What I find interesting though is the evidence suggest that men are far less likely to go to GPs than women, due to what they feel as poor serivce. Shouldn’t we be asking why are so many disolusioned with doctors rather than making it into a gender debate? If women go and think men get better service, and men won’t go becuase the service is so terrible surely it just isn’t working!

Hannah Fearn, author of the article, replies

Thank you for your response. I do agree that there is a wider problem, and this is something that is discussed regularly in the national media. I’m sure The F-Word would be very interested in a piece looking at how GPs can fail both women and men.

From Tash

Re the cystitis article, thank GOD I’m not the only one! I went through a phase of constantly getting it despite taking all precautions and the antibiotics I was told to take. It wasn’t until one bout where I ended up with excruciating referred pain to my kidneys that my doctor took me at all seriously. Standard. It’s comforting to know others have gone through the same thing.

From Shea

I thought Hannah Fearn’s article was brilliant and timely. I think

cystitis is possibly one of the most painful things I have ever


But please don’t let your doctor write it off. Left unchecked it can cause complications with the kidneys as you pointed out. Change doctors if necessary and push for a viable solution. You have a right to and your

doctor has a duty of care to help you. (This is why women of all ages get

undermedicated when it comes to pain relief, we shouldn’t just accept any pain and discomfort as our “due”. We need to be less afraid to complain especially to medical professionals).

From my own experience I would say the biggest help was abandoning the use of thongs completely. They are a direct route to cystitis by passing bacteria from the anus to the uretha. Urinating after sex helps as does drinking water with a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda mixed in (to make the uretha more alkaline and less favourable to the bacteria). Give them a try and don’t give up, sadly women are more prone for anatomical reasons but it doesn’t mean we are lumbered with it.

From DarkPurpleMoon

In response to ‘honeymoon cystitis’:

When I was younger I had a rather sexy weekend and I got cystitis, only I didn’t know that there was any treatment for it. (I didn’t really get much in the way of sex ed or any information about anything personal from my mum). In a couple of week’s time I was in hospital with a massive kidney infection, on a drip and in for 6 days. It was not pleasant.

Of course, if I had known that there was treatment, I would have been able to avoid the long hospital stay.

I was given a talk on good sex hygiene by a nurse, which really helped me and I have been lucky in that I occasionally have small bouts, but nothing like your author’s experience.

I wholeheartedly agree that there should be further research, but also that young girls should be taught about it as part of sex education at some point, or it should be written regularly about in the equivalent of Just 17, which is where I found out about periods before our sex ed talk at school at age 15.

From Maggie Beaumont

About Fearn’s article on Honeymoon Cystitis:

Back in the 1970s I got this response from the GP who was perfectly

willing to treat me with sulfa drugs 3 weeks out of 4, for months. Finally

I asked for a urology consult and was scheduled for a cystoscopy, which was performed under general anesthesia at my request. Scar tissue was found in the urethra, mostly quite close to the urinary exit from the body. The urethra was dilated, resulting in very mild post-surgical blood in my urine. Within days I was more comfortable than I had been in years.

This was done the year I was 28. The next time I had cystitis I was 35 and had been hiking on a sweaty-hot day in too-tight jeans.

There is no excuse for this doctor’s response to you, and there are plenty of things that can be done about this. A competent urologist should be able to offer several solutions.

Best of luck to you.

From Marie McGowan-Irving

I suffer from a bladder disease called Interstitial Trigonitis. It took me 13 years to get a diagnosis; the dismissive ‘honeymoon cystitis’ excuse was used on me before I ever engaged in any sexual contact. It was sheer luck I saw an ageing GP who recognised my symptoms instantly, or I would still be fighting for a diagnosis.

There is simply not enough research money put into diseases like cystitis; my illness is recognised as a disability all over Europe and in the US, but in the UK there are barely any resources dedicated to it. The last

healthcare ‘professional’ I had to see had had to Google my illness to gain an insight, a situation I consider unacceptable.

Part of the problem is that we are not taught how to get the best from our own healthcare system. Women don’t know when to ask for a referral and some GPs will only reluctantly refer you for something they consider minor. It doesn’t help that you are often routinely referred to ObGyn services, which are often underfunded and overstretched, when you need a specialist in bladder and kidney conditions.

From Mia

So have to agree on Honeymoon cyctitus, but it’s not just with this sort of problem this happens. My friend experiences extreme discharge and has been told the same thing. Well, after years of being told ‘it must be an STI’ despite being numerously tested. Now it’s ‘it will get better when you become pregnant. And sadly, the fact she doesn’t want kids isn’t registering because-in our doctor’s mind- who wouldn’t? (Sarcasm)

From Claudia

Thank you. Thank you so much for writing this. I have suffered from

recurrent bouts of cystitis for years – it has helped to destroy at least

one of my relationships, and made me live in near-constant fear of sexual intercourse. I had long wondered whether anyone was even bothering to research into recurrence, and now I have my answer. Hopefully, people might start listening soon. As you say, it’s not life-threatening, but spending at least two days chained to your bathroom every time you have sex is no laughing matter.

From julia altar

I had this quite a few times in my twenties, and you’re right, doctors

think it is a ‘female’ problem. Amazing how they never say ‘stop having

penetrative sex’. For me, that was the solution, and now I think unless

I’m dying for it ( and I’d much rather have a guy with a good tongue and

good hands!) I doubt I’ll ever do it again.

In terms of feminism, it amazes me still that in 2010 we are still think that sex means penis in vagina. Can you imagine if feminism was

ubiquitous, how we would define sex? As anything two people do to assist each other to orgasm.

Images of pregnancy, representations of birth, by Sara De Benedictis

From Nina

“Yet, the big elephant in the room is that in depicting motherhood as the most rewarding ‘job’ a woman can do, the series immediately reiterates the discourse of women as child-bearing vessels and this is something that all women should do for a successful femininity.”

One Born Every Minute was a documentary. If it depicted motherhood in that way (and that wasn’t my reading of the programme) it was either because the parents or midwives individually expressed that response. The discourse of parents and midwives in maternity units is bound to reflect women as child-bearing vessels because that’s precisely why they’re in the environment and it has nothing to do with promoting notions of a successful femininity. Childbirth is an achievement because it is hard and painful but that doesn’t have anything to do with femininity either, just the mother’s body and the problem here is that the article is equating feminine and female in a TV documentary which puts the whole article into question. Honestly this part of the article reflects the romanticism of the discourse about childbirth and motherhood that we have to encounter all the time, it’s like the author was so tied up with bio oil that she didn’t think about where her romanticism entered the frame. She promoted that discourse because the article suggests and emphasises that feminine-female link and I find that distinctly irritating.

In addition, on a more personal level, I think there’s a lack of

recognition in this article concerning what a disconcerting thing it is to

have a foreign body inside you. The level of consumerism surrounding

pregnancy in a society that basically exists within that consumer bubble is reassuring for women who are pregnant for the first time. Products like bio oil market themselves as preventing stretch marks but they’re more about providing a cosmetic product that recognises how frightening that changing body is. As an anti-capitalist I would like to get rid of the entire shebang but in the context of the society that I experience everyday I think the author isn’t acknowledging that those type of products allow women a window to understand the changes pregnancy enacts on their bodies (rather than those happening to the foetus). There’s something to be said for oiling up your bump a few times a day- it creates a bond with your poor, pregnant body. Acknowledgement of pregnancy’s affect on individual women is what I think this article completely and utterly missed which is a bit of a shame on a feminist website.

From lisa

Many thanks for your thought-provoking, well-researched article. I have just one point to raise. Some women have turned away from popular culture and the media precisely because it does not reflect their personal experiences and they have had enough of being lied to and manipulated. It would have been interesting to include some reference to the ways in which women are creating their own culture and social groups in the physical (‘real’) domain. Not only would this have provided some practical examples for other women but it would have provided a refreshing change from the ‘talking trap’ – talking about other people talking about other people talking … I do appreciate however that you may well be a media studies student or focusing on social constructionism etc and I am sympathetic to your choice of perspective. It’s just that the vast majority of commentators lose sight of the fact that there are women who don’t watch TV; read so-called ‘women’s interest’ (a bad joke if ever there was one !); read ‘chick-lit’; watch mainstream films; participate in popular culture etc.

From Sarah

Corsets and bras were invented by a woman And it was a french queen who insisted that women had to have a small waste when in court. To blame men for corsets is very silly. Men did not make women wear them. Women not only invented them and encouraged them. They also wore them because they wanted to be attractive. Lets take some responsibilty as women for some aspects of history and not patronise ourselves.

Sara De Benedictis, author of the article, replies

Thanks for your comment but perhaps I was not clear. As you point out the corset was felt to be attractive by both men and women, however, in my view, the reasons behind why this was the case were began in the Victorian age.

Women had to show restraint and control over their bodies and sexuality (physically and metaphorically) to emphasise their purity and chastity as defined by (middle-class) femininity, simultaneously highlighting their breasts and hips as these secondary sexual characteristics were felt to attract men and lead to marriage.

This was the main way that women survived economically at that time. It was part of what was felt to be a correct and attractive femininity. Simultaneously, Pregnancy was medicalised in this age and was something that was abject, discounted and masked within the home or hospital, some feel that this is related to the fact that pregnancy showed that a woman has had sex, yet as sexuality was repressed in the Victorian age it didn’t quite tally (Imogen Tyler’s forthcoming chapter that I referenced describes this brilliantly).

Similarly, without rehashing the whole thrust of my argument, what is felt to be attractive to women and men (in the mainstream popular culture) is defined by many different and complex social and cultural determinants at that point, which I describe in my article. I did not ‘blame’ either of the sexes, the individual and the social are intertwined. Yet, equally within what society dictates to be the ‘right’ femininity, it always seems to be women who take the fall out.

From Monica Bower

“Images of pregnancy, representations of birth” is simply the best essay I have ever read on the subject, and I have read many. I wish you had a ‘share on Facebook’ link, etc for easier mass sharing, as the piece

certainly deserves to be broadcast as widely as possible.

From Michael

Profound sympathies – my wife has suffered from a similar problem

on-and-off since we first met 14 years ago and I’ve seen how horrible it

can be. Her first bout required hospitalalisation and an operation, which

worked only temporarily.

One question though – are you sure its bacterial cystitis and not

(non-bacterial) inflamation of the bladder caused by pressure during sex? I ask because in my wife’s case it is the latter, and usually has been caused by (vigorous) intercourse. This sounds like it might be similar to what you’re experiencing given your description. In our case it mainly seemed to happen after really good sex where she orgasmed.

We’ve only recently realised that we can manage it by ensuring that we stop all intercourse as soon as she cums. Since we tried / discovered this she’s not had a single bout (two years now).

Sorry for the intimate details but I hope this might help manage your condition.

From Kimberley Gibson

I enjoyed your article. However, I should point out that anti-biotic

resistance is becoming a problem for an increasing number of pathogens. A larger number of bacteria are now carrying antibiotic resistance genes that counter the effects of a range of commonly used antibiotics. Fewer classes of antibiotics are proving effective against some serious pathogens. People are dying in hospitals after contracting multi-antibiotic resistant Pseudomonas, Tuberculosis, or Staphylococcus infections. New classes of antibiotics are difficult to ‘discover’ but believe me, scientists are working on it because the medical community is scared “shitless” by the fact that many easily treatable bacterial pathogens are now evolving into untreatable nightmares. In that respect, this is not just a women’s issue.

I do recognize that many female health problems have been marginalized in the past, and sadly in the present. It is a pity and downright frustrating that these issues are presented as ‘problems that only women experience’ and are therefore sub-categorized as “women’s issues” and are thus, left to the wayside. I do believe that not all female doctors would respond the way that this one doctor has responded to you. I have had very positive responses from many female doctors, whilst others have been negligibly interested in caring about my medical issues. One finds a wide range of ‘personalities’ in the medical profession, as in any field of interest.

To give you and others a little more hope, there is some research being performed on the development of a Vaccine against Urinary Tract Infections, although, they are very preliminary.

All the best.

Comments on older features and reviews

Rape: treat the cause, not the symptom, by Amy Nicholson

From Wanda Zyborska

Well done Amy Nicholson for writing a great article on rape. It is so good to see those arguments clearly made. The focus on the victim has been making me see red for years.

From toni miramontes

finally, a person who has finally expressed exactly what i feel. why do we have to turn our lives upside down by learning how to defend ourselves, we have to be careful what we wear, cant go to a damn park at night, teach us how to prevent date rape,all this bullshit to protect our selves from another human being. take family violence, a woman gets her ass kicked, while 3 kids watch and when the police come the woman is expected to pack up her kids, leave her home in fear of her life and live in a room with 5 other families while the FUCKING MAN gets to stay home and drink beer from his lazyboy. it makes me sick. we are not the weak, cowards causing all this tormile. so why should we have to train ourselves and assure nothing we do may tempt a man. men are the problem not us.

From Vicky Jones

I too was at the Latitude festival and agree there should have been some kind of official announcement about the rapes that happened and an official denouncement of the actions of the men involved.

Instead I read about it in the times, and heard about it in the queues for the shower and I was in Red camping where the first rape happened. Yes there was a police presence in camping on Saturday night but by Sunday nothing.

Nothing on the website just swept under the carpet and like you said women at festivals advised not to wander alone. So much for freedom and equality in 2010!

From Anonymous/h4>

Thats an amazing article!! i can’t believe how people react to these kinds of disasters!! Theres so much blame passing! They need to be more active and do everything they can to stop this from happening again! My heart goes out to that girl. Thanks for a great article

Amy Nicholson, author of the article, replies

Thanks so much for your comments. Following on from this article, one of the readers has petitioned the White Ribbon Campaign to have a more active presence at festivals. I am hoping next summer we’ll start to see a shift in attitudes from organisers come festival season. If enough of us shout loud enough, they can’t ignore us!

From BookElfLeeds

CANNOT praise the article about attitudes to ‘rape prevention’ enough. She says exactly what we have been banging on about after the Latitude festival brilliantly. Pay this woman to write for you more. Thank you xx

Amy Nicholson, author of the article, replies

Thanks so much for your comments – I’m really pleased you enjoyed the article.

Hopefully if we all continue to bang on, and loudly, next year we’ll see a return to the lovely Latitude atmosphere we all know and love, plus less patronising, retrogressive ‘advice’ from the organisers.

From Amy

This, sadly, reminds me of this sickening thread on the Wacken Open Air forums (link in German)-

There is a disgusting tendency to take women’s clothes off whilst they’re crowdsurfing, and even to finger them. Almost as bad are the reactions in that thread, which are largely along the lines of “If a woman crowdsurfs in a mini skirt and a bikini top, she’s asking for it”, “Women should know the effect that bare flesh has on drunk men” and “Half the girls who do that want to be groped and stuff anyway”. I don’t even know where to begin fighting hordes of people who think it’s OK to rape women like that.

A woman engineer, by Hayley Martin

From Elizabeth Donnelly

In response to “A woman engineer”, I’m sorry that you have experienced such sexism in the workplace, and pleased that you are continuing with your engineering career.

Companies are really missing a trick by not employing women engineers as it has been shown that women and men working together in equal numbers increases productivity – and therefore profit.

I work in the aerospace industry and I’m a member of the Royal

Aeronautical Society’s Women in Aviation & Aerospace Committee. We produced a report last year on the lack of women in the industry and we have plans to increase their numbers. You can read the report here:

Engineering is a great career for women with its good pay and prospects. We need to drive out the sexism, and encourage more women to become engineers. It’s not an easy task, but in the 21st century, we should be respected for our work.

From Emer O’Cathaoir

Hi Hayley I enjoyed reading your article. I agree that girls are often

encouraged to do languages and not maths or physics. I always had a mental block about maths until I had to do it in my first year of college, applied myself and actually enjoyed it. I am an architect and worked on a building site in a supervisory role two days a week. I was the only woman apart from the site secretary on a building site with about 60-80 men. My approach was to always be polite if a bit formal. If somebody made a stupid joke, I stared at them or ignored them. Sometimes it could be good to say very politely that you didn’t hear them and could they repeat what they just said. At site meetings, I would always be very polite, if there was an issue that I wanted to discuss and I was being ignored, I brought it up again and again, in a polite manner. I also think that some men can be very nice and that while they might be intimidating as a group and act in a laddish way together on their own they are fine. Anyway, Good Luck!

From Mark Walker

I am a male electrical engineer who has been working in Defense for 30 years. I have had a number of female colleagues over that period. I work in the US, so some of this may not apply to you.

Actually, 10 women out of 90 is a very good ratio for Chemical

Engineering. When I graduated from college (early ’80s,) there was one

woman in 300 chemical engineers. It was better in Electrical Engineering, we had seven women in 300.

You could aspire to be like Grace Hooper. She was an amazing woman who was one of the first computer programmers. She changed the world. If you want to find someone to talk to, look up the Society for Women Engineers (SWE.) Here, they are very active in recruiting female engineering students and supporting female engineers.

I knew a female manager who would not let her female staff wear dresses. She felt anyone showing off “shapely 21-year-old legs” was not dedicating her attention to her work. One time, I asked one female intern to show less flesh. Her short skirt was distracting the male interns from their work. Of course, that was why she wore the skirt.

Humans are sexual creatures and work is a non-sexual environment. Deal with it. Every one needs to mute their sexual displays, including you.

In the US, a “slap … on the arse” is sexual harassment; at many

companies it carries severe penalties. A complaint to the corporate

ombudsman would bring some action.

Are you supervising engineers? It is amazing that you are supervising people at 21, with no degree, and three months of employment. If you were working for me, I would put you in an assistant engineer position until you got your degree. Even if you were an amazing engineer, I wouldn’t put you in a supervisor position until you’d been there for at least 7 years.

Engineering is a difficult, but rewarding discipline. Not everyone can do it. It sounds like you are having the normal number of problems for a new engineer. Keep at it and you will get to build some amazing things.

From Mairi

I was horrified, although not surprised, at the sexual harrassment

described by Hayley Martin in her article about being an engineer. I would urge her to join a trade union immediately, if she has not done so already. Sexual harassment in the workplace is illegal and has been since 1975. Unions can give advice and support on challenging sexual and other forms of harassment and can represent members at tribunal, if it comes to that.

Ms, Miss or Mrs?, by Amelia Sage

From Dr Sweetpea Smart

As to Miss, Mrs, Ms, I started using Ms in the 1970s. I was married but refused to take my then husband’s name or the title Mrs. Apart from the building society (who having been advised by me to consult their legal dept. agreed I could use whatever name I chose) no-one questioned this. Since 2000 I have used the title Doctor as I now have an EdD. One’s name is one’s own. Use it with pride whatever you decide it should be. Its all part of asserting yourself as a human being.

From Irina

I think precisely for that reason that some people will try to make you out as “petty, insecure and unnecessarily political” when refusing to style yourself in relation to registered relationship with a man, the title Ms exists – as a good alternative to giving them two fingers. It is indeed an outdated system of defining a woman by which man she belongs to – a father or a husband, it in in fact an anachronism and I wish there was some agreed convention of not offering Miss or Mrs as options on papers. Where I come from there is no defininition between a title of a married woman as opposed to an unmarried one: the best I can transtate it is Madam and Sir. “Miss” or “Mrs” was originally something specifically English for me, something coming from 19th century English literature, Jane Austin novels, for example. When I had to style my title here, I actually dind’t think of feminist issues but it makes sense now. What I hate though is the awkward sound of it – “Mzzzzzz”, how do you pronounce it without it sounding too much like Miss? Written though, it is a brilliant respectful formal way to address a woman. I was quite lucky that nobody gave me flak for being a Ms on papers. I guess if you get a particularly dumb bank clerk dealing with your papers who cannot get that you are Ms, you can just say “OK, love, make it a Doctor. You know how to spell that title?” I’ll tell you where titles are handy, as opposed to not having any: say you are treating a bloke for a meal and put your card on a table for payment, how would a waiter know whom to hand over a payment terminal? You’d hate it if they assumed it is the man who is paying. They can actually see (well, the bright ones) from the title on a card. Without it, all this multitude of foreign names from which you cannot make out the gender will make more confusion. What annoys me is when at work somebody writes in addressing us “Dear Sirs” – now, what to do with this? Should I make a polite point at the end of my response that this is unaceptable? What do you think? What would you do, given the constraints of formal correspondence where one is representing an organization?

From Siren of Brixton

I was interested to read Miss, Mrs, Ms. I find the UK quite old-fashioned in this regard. In a number of cases I have been forced to complete forms that only supply Miss or Mrs as an option, which I find offensive.

I am firmly Ms. and have been since high school. I see it as no one’s

business whether I am married or not.

Sarkless Kitty and the ghosts of misogyny, by Katharine Edgar

From Gemma

In response to “Sarkless Kitty and the ghosts of misogyny”. I really

enjoyed reading this article and totaly identified with the message it was

putting across. I recently picked up ‘Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales’

a compilation of folklore from around the world all concrning women. I was interested to find that certain cultures had very different ideas of what constituted a clever or cunning heroine. Asian folklore tended to praise a more soft spoken, cunning woman who covered herself up whereas Russian folklore idolises a womanm who could swig as much vodka as the men surrounding her. most interesting was the innuit reprisentation of women who were sexy and unabashed by their vaginas and sexuality, often enticing younger women to have sex with them and thouroughly enjoying it. The heroines of these stories seem to be totaly aware of their sexuality and most importantly comfortable with using it. i found these differences utterly fasinating and know now that we can learn so much of our own culture and those surrounding us by the reprisentation of women in folklore and as the writer has proved: ghost stories. Thanks for sharing this great piece with us all.

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

From olivia

The message in this article is amazing, to say the least. I have always had this feeling in the back of my mind about the way men and women were held in society and I’ve finally found what I felt expressed in your article.

I have recently started taking kickboxing classes for self defense (for reasons I do not wish to disclose) and to feel safe and empowered. Like the dedicated student I am, I googled “kickboxing for self defense” to look for ways to truly get the best out of my kickboxing classes and stumbled about an article. I believe the message and the argument (point of view) to be sound and am glad I happened to read what she had to say. I am woman! FEAR MY ROAR!!

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

From Deepshika

Hey,Ananya..your name sounds indian. :)

seriously,all my juniors go crazy about stuff like this.They think the

world is all about make-up and parties..

Agree with what you say. =)

What a load of wank, by Sophie Platt

From Amy

Just finished the article by Sophie Platt on masturbation and how it’s

taboo for girls and fine for boys.

This brought to mind a conversation I had with a friend of mine and her fiance. Apparently, it was fine for him to practice self gratification, but should she try it, he threatened to with hold sex for an extended period of time. While it was (probably) in jest, it left me wondering just where he got the idea that it was fine for him to do what he wanted while they were apart (my friend and I were attending university at the time over 120 miles from her fiance), but if she so much as tried, the outcome would be refusal on his part for any sort of sex. It’s rather alarming to think that this sort of thinking is considered okay.

Walking on eggshells, by Alex Brew

From Alexis Hunter

Responding to Alex Brew’s excellent essay on photographing mature male strangers. They should see more of themselves through our eyes.

Why men should care about gender stereotypes, by Alex Gibson

From Radha Spratt

Response to Alex Gibson’s article entitled: ‘Why Men Should Care About Gender Stereotypes’

I believe that your discussion of societal stereotypes will be enhanced by considering the part that ‘class’ plays in all these ideas that you consider damaging to the image of men as a group.

When you talk about, for instance, an interest in poetry being frowned upon, you’re referring to a very specific section of society in which such an attitude towards ‘high culture’ is the dominant one.

‘Class’ is considered a dirty word nowadays, and largely ignored in

discussions of this nature. I think, however, that a frank and

unembarrassed appraisal of how it affects and often dictates the behaviour of people, is much needed.

‘Honey! Your vagina needs a mint’, by Samara Ginsberg

From John Jones

I just want to send my appreciation to the author for such a humorous well written article. The website she describes is patently ridiculous. In fact, I thought she was joking at first. I myself Oh, and for the record, I have had never had any visual “problem” with any vagina I have been fortunate enough to entertain. In any event, well done. Thanks, John Jones

Yummy-mummy or pramface?, by Abby O’Reilly

From Louise Hampton

It is also worth noting that in the same way ‘Yummy Mummy’ perpetuates ideas about perfect childhood and good parenting, ‘Pramface’ implies neglect and irresponsibility. As a community development worker in Gt Yarmouth working with teenage mothers I can reassure you that teenage mothers are as good a mother as any other age bracket. The young women I work with are reposibsible, ambitious, caring and driven. ‘Pramface’ dehumanises these young women and homogenises them into a classist stereotype.

A Bride by Any Other Name, by Eleanor Turner

From Liz Stephens

I’m getting married in a couple of weeks and also not changing my name (my husband will be keeping his, too.) I’ve had similar reactions to the ones described in the article: everything from a disbelieving stare, to a confused ‘Why?’, to an inquiry as to whether I was ‘marrying a lesbian’, to, ‘How bad is your fiance’s name?’

I’m perfectly happy to explain to people why I’ve chosen to keep my name, but it really frustrates me that people seem to be completely unaware of the concept of women not adopting their husband’s name.

I’d be interested to know, seeing as Eleanor’s husband has taken her name, was it more important to her to have a family name, or for her to keep her surname? The question of what to name the children is definitely going to be a difficult one for us…

The New Breastfeeding Taboo, by Cathryn Dagger

From claire

I had the same experience, breastfeeding was rammed down my throat. For 14 hours they left my daughter determined to breastfeed as she wouldnt latch – i took it on myself to get a bottle to satisfy her, thankfully. I ignored them and expressed straight away at home even though they told me not to. I have been combination feeding and it has worked but nothing but painful – same problems, lumpy, swollen, having to rush home to express or desperately having to whilst out. Now defecting to the bottle myself as it fills her properly. I think that breastfeeding is a nice idea – but reality is that you would have to have them attached to you permanently as it goes through them so quickly.I believe you find your own way and I trust my mum more than the midwife/health visitors. I applaud you for doing what you feel is right. There is too much pressue for breasfeeding and nothing to help you if you are not able to or if the baby will not latch. Indeed they dont have anything you can have if this is the case and the baby starves. Surely this is child abuse.

Contraception and Control – Teenage Rights, by Megan

From Lisa

I am one of those parents whose daughters have been perscribed the pill without me knowing, until recently, and without my consent. I am also a mother who has tried against to odds to be there for my daughter emotionally, physically, spritually and which ever other way she chooses to need me, even to the extent of having my daughter’s friends/boyfriends confide in me. Do you not believe a mother has the right to know if her daughter’s health is at potential risk? You forgot to mention the side effects of taking the pill – possible blood clots on the lungs, heart, brain – which can cause a stroke or even death. Would personal and private sexual freedom be as important as the right of a parent wanting to preserve the life of her underage minor child? I have had already had to deal with many side effects of my daughter having been on the pill witout even knowing – I have been up in the night with her when she has had severe lumpy painful breasts, I have had to deal with her severe mood swings to the point of her being violent, I have had to tend to her numerous migranes are to name just a few. This is not about sexual freedom but about the potential health risks to a in the eyes of the law a child, whom I still have to legally care for and sign for. And how am I supposed to do that to the best of my abiltity when I do not even know about a perscripton that could have potential short term and long term health risks (eg increased risk of cervical cancer, high blood pressure) to my daughter?! I too had underage sex and was on the pill before 16, but my mother was aware of it. I also have had several abortions and a baby as a teenager. At the time I did not like my mother knowing and being involved in so many personal things, but I am glad she did know as when I myself had complications, she was right by my side able to help whenever I needed it. I cannot imagine now how I would have coped with any number of those physical and emotional things if I hadn’t been made to have my mother invloved. I was and a smart and wise but have made many mistakes sexually. It is only through retrospect that I can say how glad I am that my own mother was given the natural right to be involved in my lack of maturity in my sexual ‘freedom’ and choices. I think the key here is that when someone chooses to have an adult sexual relationship then that choice does not just effect them, and every choice has a consequence whether it be good or bad. Ownership of our sexuality needs to closely linked with the safe keeping of our and other’s health. Where safe keeping involves a minor then possible life saving information should not be withheld from those with parental responsibilties.

25 burning questions, by Holly Combe

From Bridget

Ms. Holly Combe,

You are one of the funniest people I have ever had the pleasure of

reading. This article had me laughing and thinking, and I would like every man on Earth to read it. You are so direct and have cleverly said so many important things in this one article that many women and men will not realize or admit to (insecurities, egomania) in their entire lives. Bravo!

Thank you for this joy of an article.



The signs of ageing, by Catherine Redfern

From Elizabeth

One word: HALLELUJAH Catherine. You have taken the words right out of my mouth. I am actually designing an installation for a competition in our local art gallery and I’m calling mine “The Seven Signs Of Ageing”. I’m including photographs 7 older women I know who I find inspirational and who represnt seven qualities that are POSITIVE about women ageing. MAN this STUPID slogan gets up my nose, and “you’re worth it” is almost as bad (oh YEAH?? we’re worth it?? worth WHAT? to be tormented by models that we are supposed to look like – you’re telling us we’re actually worth nothing). It’s such cr[at]p and brain washing rubbish. Every day I’m ranting (mostly to myself unfortunately) about why older/ordinary women are so INVISIBLE yet older/ordinary men aren’t. I’m trying to design ideas to push positive messages about older (and real) women. I just SO SICK of the b*shit we are fed night after night about “what women want”. My [at]rse women want “perfect skin”, “to get rid of unsightly wrinkles”, “to hide ugly age

spots”. I’d argue if women were asked what we REALLY wanted it would be to stop hearing how revolting we are in our natural state and start hearing that we are amazing for our natural selves. Thanks for this article you’ve spurred me on :)

From Elizabeth

‘Ello again sorry!!! Just saw that you asked for our ideas on the ‘real 7 signs of ageing’ so here are mine:

1. Wisdom

2. Confidence

3. Compassion

4. Perspective

5. Self Acceptance

6. Independence

7. Achievement


Never Kiss a Man in a Canoe, a review by Sian Norris

From Megan

Whilst the Tracey Cox article as a stand alone can be interpreted in that way, anyone who has read her books would know that she believes men should do the same if the situation was reversed.

The difficulty is that in our current society, men do not necessarily see sex as an equal give and take and, to an extent, neither do women and they are “happy” to accept that.

Until we can redefine sex roles and expectations, it is a difficult area

not only to give advice on, but to exercise your sexuality safely and

comfortably within.

We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Janet Phillips

From chantal

I don’t think Eva is a victim. Society blames mothers for everything. Most women know that before they have children. The problem with Eva is that, all the qualities which made her a successful, interesting women, didn’t mean squat when she had Kevin. Her baby didn’t care about whether she had travelled the world, or foundered a successful company, or whether she was witty or ironic or sarcastic. The baby wasn’t there to underpin her achievements. Kevin owed Eva nothing. In addition, I don’t believe he was inherently evil either, she created an adversary in Kevin. He was against her from the start, according to Eva. What rubbish. Kevin did what all babies do. Take what they need with complete disregard to your feelings and needs. He rejected her breast, so what! He felt more comfortable with Franklin, tough. There wasn’t an emotional pay off with a new born that would justify her sacrifices. And, if she was finding it difficult, it sounds like Kevin’s experience as a newborn mirrored her own.

What I found disconcerting was their habit of putting upon Kevin all their prejudices and opinions, without censorship or regard to what the outcome might be. Kevin’s diatribe during the prison interview seemed to reflect, in an exaggerated fashion, Eva’ own world view. It’s something else that I learnt as a mother. All our foibles, nueroses and bad habits can be reflected back to us. Sometimes the outcomes aren’t what we expected. I don’t think that the book is about mothers being scapegoats. Maybe the message of the book is that even the most well meaning and outwardly quailfied parents, (men and women), can mess up thier children,

General comments

From Morrigan Crowley

I was quite excited to find a feminist website like this but it’s not

taken me long to treat it very warily. My idea of feminism has always been women getting together and chatting, working together for change and working through differences with a recognition of differences of experience and viewpoint. Sadly, it doesn’t seem to happen here. Moderated comments, no discussion areas, and comments like those of Jess McCabe, “editor of The F-Word,” who wrote in the comments section, “I’m posting this as our regular example of ridiculous comments on this article .” In response to a woman’s opinions. So much for debate, so much for a recognition of the wonderful variety of female identities.

I’m really sorry but your website comes across as a small clique of middle class university girls stuck at the , “Slugs and snails and puppy dogs’ tails,” stage of gender politics with little of interest for women who live in the real world and who are capable of respecting each others’ beliefs.