Comments from September 2010

Comments on this month’s features and reviews

Jonathan Dean: Rethinking contemporary feminist politics, by Catherine Redfern

From ellie


I’m really looking forward to reading this, but I thought I’d just comment on using the term UK when people mean England. Whilst the author does say in the introduction “it’s a bit of a misnomer” to talk about the UK when really he means England, I wish that was taken more seriously. Please don’t forget about us up here in Scotland, we’re doing great work and it’s incredibly frustrating to find that our contribution to British feminism is often ignored or made invisible. We have had a national strategy for ten years, we have central funding (at the moment) for many services and we have a vibrant activist movement in Edinburgh Feminist Network, Glasgow Feminist Network and others.I know the Soapbox was covered and other events, but in terms of a broader British anaylsis, there is so much going on up here, don’t forget about us!

Empowering just one person: an interview with Zoe Margolis, by Catherine Redfern

From sianushka

‘Women need to stop literally buying into it and supporting it. We need to question ‘why are we always talking about what women look like, what they wear and their sex lives?”

this sentence really stood out for me. i’ve been quoted/attacked in the local press a couple of times this year, and so often the insults thrown at me on their comments boards have been assumptions about my appearance and my sex life. obviously this has involved speculation that i’m gay (im not although i don’t see it as an insult no matter what the people saying it mean), but about what my sex life might be like.

it is so frustrating because it is such a stupid, undermining and

ridiculous way to dismiss any arguments. to put women firmly in their

places. to say, shut up, because you are worth nothing and your opinion is worth nothing unless you look like this and your sex life looks this. i

don’t tell the people who criticse me what i look like etc because i don’t

want to encourage them.

we need to get passed this idea that a woman should be judged by what she looks like and how she has sex. when we get past this, then we won’t be dismissed.

Looking For Leonora, a review by Susan Gilbert

From Jennifer Drew

Comment in respect of article entitled ‘Looking For Leonora.’ A very

interesting article providing details of yet another female artist which

our male dominated artistic world continues to deny exist.

Leonora Carrington cannot be ‘fitted’ into a box and hence the sentence ‘Max Ernst couldn’t tame her’ is wholly inappropriate.

Leonora is an autonomous woman and claiming Ernst could ‘not tame her’ reinforces the male-centric view that women are not autonomous human beings but exist solely to serve men.

The sentence should read Leonora refused to submit to Ernst’s

demands/expectations. This is an active sentence which puts Leonora first rather than as a passive object. Language is very important when

discussing women’s lives and it is very easy to ‘fall into male supremacist writing.’

Max Ernst couldn’t tame her either.

Susan Gilbert, author of the article, replies

Glad you found the review interesting, Jennifer. As you will have seen, I’d already made it quite clear that Leonora was entirely her own woman, my comment about Max Ernst being “unable to tame her either”, was not a claim but a sarcastic and slightly humorous jibe towards him. He couldn’t control her any more than her father could, although that was very much what was expected in those overwhelmingly sexist times. I also try to be as truthful as I can about the women artists I write about, so I couldn’t possibly say as suggested, ” Leonora refused to submit to Ernst’s demands/expectations,” because that is much more personal and I don’t know if it’s true, I wasn’t there. She certainly saw the need for her own independence from him in the end.

I’m a writer, a feminist and an individual. I don’t do much “male supremacist writing” or much “feminist diatribe writing”. I feel free to use any and all styles and genres, including a touch of humour. I do carefully edit what I write and usually mean what I say, bar the odd typo. I probably don’t need to be told how to write, any more than Leonora needs to be told how to paint.

From Jen

Hurrah for Leonora. Her work is amazing, especially if you happen to be a Pagan, I saw some of her work at the V&A surrealist exhibition a few years ago and tried to find a print and failed.

I will go to iPlayer to listen to the programme – thanks for the heads up!

From Charlotte

That was a wonderful article about a very underated yet significant artist. I really enjoyed reading that, thankyou.

Comments on earlier features and reviews

On campus, feminism wavers, by Lizzie Dearden

From Mai

I understand and agree to some extent with your article. However when people in power use the term Feminist to describe themselves and claim to speak for all Feminists everywhere but then go on to lie or disgust by spouting falsehoods, it’s hardly a wonder people don’t want to associate. Or prefer to see themselves as more for equality since feminisms been linked (by those vocal individuals) with sexism itself.

Take H.Harmen for example, guilty of making up rape stats to make her ‘Feminist’ (her claim, she’s more harmful to our cause in my mind) opinions true; she didn’t need to she could have made her points without doing so but by lying she only made people ignore her claims and believe she’s just twisting things for her own agenda (as she was). She was guilty of pushing for positive discrimination despite a backlash from working women who don’t want that ‘leg up’ and find it insulting that she should speak for them-women who know equal oppotunity does not mean equal outcome, but know they are entitled to that equal oppotunity. HH- Someone who claims and agrees with claims that all womans prisons should close because (in her mind) women never commit any crimes.

With so-called Feminists like that, it’s not a wonder people see us as all being of the same mind and want to stay away. Sometimes it irritates me how one vocal individual or a small minority can badly tarnish the name of others.

Only a few months ago I was commenting on a very good livejournal post on rape, i then went to various sources that claimed to be feminist ones agreeing with it. I delighted in the hope that there were more people out there who were interested in being a feminist, knowing it’s meanign and appreciating it. True, some were, but what was the first article I found? It took the livejournal article and changed it from a post about rape, and one for rape survivors to share their stories, and made it into ‘all consensual heterosexual sex is rape’, the author (and cliquey co-forumists) then went on to sneer at feminists who disagreed and protested that the real message of rape was being diluted by it. They cited that the protesters weren’t feminists and became profane and trolling on some of the feminists own blogs. And yes, these people *claimed* to be feminists and cited their way was the only way. I believe the lovely phrase used to those who disagreed was: “Don’t p*** on my leg and tell me it’s raining”.

So when Feminism has become so vocal in that choices are no longer respected, that rights are no longer accepted, and that it’s associated with idiots, what can we expect? When we, as feminists, can’t agree to respect each others choices and don’t rise up in protest when people lie, show intolerance or spread bigotry in the name of feminism-what do we expect.?

Lizzie Dearden, author of the article, replies

The disassociation with feminism I was referring to springs almost purely from stereotypes, rumours and negative presentation in the media rather than the actions of actual feminists. You’re right, actions by those such as Harman take a lot of credibility from the movement. But in my experience, incidents like these do not characterise the views of young people, ignorance does. I don’t feel I can respond to your comments on tensions within the movement and differences within online communities as I have not had enough experience of feminist forums to comment.

From Maia


I agree with much of what you say. For me feminism really dawned in my last year at university and, crucially, in the months after I left. It was only then that I had time to digest what I’d read and apply it to the wide array of news stories i read, and the experience i gained, whilst working and travelling around London.

I think feminism in the UK has a major gap – reaching out to young people (men and women, but particularly women) in a way that makes it accessible and relevant to their everyday lives, and inspires them; to open young women’s eyes to the small but incremental crimes against them, as well as to the broader issues. Whilst lgb organisations run educational/youth programmes and campaigns, and various charitable organisations have stalls at uni fairs or festivals, i’ve never seen one for a feminist organisation. I think this kind of easily accessible and on-point activism would be beneficial. I understand that these activities need funding, but believe they would ultimately be self fulfilling as these activities would pull in more potential funders/givers. We need to show (not just talk about or write in journals/blogs) how feminism is relevant to young people, young women, of whatever background.

Fawcett, perhaps this is where you can step in… I’d be the first to help out and donate my time and money.

From Laura

Right on Lizzie! I had a similar experience doing my degree in Gender Studies. I was amazed that a lot of the people on the course hadn’t even considered their relation to feminism or were wary of actively labelling themselves so. One of the two men on the course even left moaning that it was ‘all about women, not gender’! I do think things like the F Word and Feministing are helping people feel more comfortable with the term feminist but I’m still perplexed when someone who, as you say, agrees with all the tenets so fervently denies the label.

Honeymoon cystitis?, by Hannah Fearn

From Jen

Hannah, what a great article. I too have been in floods of tears in

various GP surgeries and hospitals with debilitating cystitis and been told

‘its just one of those things’. I am 28 and had nearly given up on sex.

Finally found a doctor who has given me a low dose of nitrofurantoin

antibiotics, possibly for life. I have never been a fan of taking

antibiotics but 3 years later and I have not had a problem. Great article –

shocking that women are being told ‘it’s just one of those things’. Thanks

Hannah Fearn, author of the article, replies

Sorry to hear you’re in the same boat, but it is somehow reassuring to realise there are so many of us out there. It can feel very lonely in the midst of an attack so knowing other women understand and sympathise can be helpful. I too am on long-term antibiotics and am feeling better than I have in years. I will be coming off them in two months and am anxious about that, but I believe that a long term underlying infection may now have been treated. You too may find that, in time and with care, you may be able to manage your sex life without antibiotics again. I wish you luck!

From Rachel Baylis

This is a very timely article as I have been in polite (!) dispute with my daughter’s surgery as they repeatedly fail to take this condition seriously, almost as if it’s normal for young women to continuously need antibiotics for over a year, and she just has to get used to it. One doctor says that there is a stronger drug but won’t prescribe it unless my daughter has an std test, with no explanation as to why this may be necessary!

From Karen Saxby

Regarding the article about recurrent cystitis……. I too suffered from this over a period of about 3 years in my early fifties when I began an exciting new relationship. After consulting my GP in some despair several times, I took to carrying a spare box of the latest antibiotics with me all the time. The last time I had cystitis though was whilst on holiday in France. I’d run out of antibiotics and was in so much pain, I could barely walk. The French doctor I saw there looked at the antibiotics I’d been taking and scoffed at them, saying they were nothing like as strong or appropriate as they should be and prescribed me some others. In addition, he prescribed anti spasm and painkilling medication. He was sympathetic and attentive. He suggested that I also drank a large glass of water before sex and to make sure I urinated as soon after sex as possible. After years of faffing around in the UK, that was to be the last time I ever had cystitis (7 years ago). My condition was taken far more seriously in France than in the UK…. Perhaps there, the effect that cystitis can have on a relationship is taken rather more seriously!!!

Hannah Fearn, author of the article, replies

That’s a very interesting perspective, thank you. I often wonder if I would have a different experience if I tried seeking help abroad or paid for a private consultation. I am pleased to hear that you found relief before any long term damage was done.

From Edel

I’m writing in reponse to the article on cystitis and have to say I

completely agree with the author. I, too, have suffered from recurrent

bouts of cystitis for years and have it to be distressing and debilitating.

I developed a fear of intercourse and relations with my partner disimproved greatly. I went to my (male)doctor and was also fed the usual jokes about ‘honeymoon cystitis’ and could not believe how trivial he made it sound! How could be know how awful a condition it is when he has never experienced it! I am glad that someone has spoken out about it but wonder what can be done to change these attitudes towards this problem??

From Deborah

I agree very much with the cystitis article – my mum and I have both suffered greatly with this. Please pass on this message to the author – my mum discovered a book that explains a method to eliminate cysititis! Please read Cystitus by Angela Kilmartin – follow the pre and post sex routine exactly and you can be free! Doctors don’t recognise her work but my mum and I have found it works for us. Good luck, x

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

From Lu

Thank for the brilliant, insightful and thoroughly eye-opening article:

Images of pregnancy, representations of birth. I too found myself sobbing at each new birth on One Born Every Minute and really admired what the program set out to do. But it is interesting to look back at it now the emotions have passed and really think about what it tried to say to its audience.

I have several friends who are pregnant or have young children and the pressure, from all sides, to be the perfect, glowing, sexy, healthy, slim woman you’ve always been told to be, at a time when the odds may be against you with the added concerns, exhaustion and expectations new motherhood can bring, is shocking. Thank you for this excellent piece.

From mags

excellent article – after just having my second child and expereinces the consumer take-over of pregnancy and all alse involved i loved your article

From Marianne Woods

This is a fantastic article. I have the same experiences with my classes in W. Texas. No one wants to be a feminist but they want equal pay – equal rights. Interesting how feminism has become the F-word.

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

From White Ribbon Campaign UK

Thank you for a very useful article which we have added to our UK blog. We also are trying to work with festival organisers along with Respect. Please visit our website.

A woman engineer, by Hayley Martin

From Sarah Jones

Hi Hayley. You do seem to have had a harder time than most. I am a 51 year old professional engineer. I, too, was at an all girls boarding school, so had to get used to operating in a predominantly male environment. I have a brother, which I think helps!

In my experience, and those of other female engineers I have met, we encountered no obvious sexism at university and little in my professional working life (even all those years ago!). Your company, or the section you are in at least, seems to have prehistoric attitudes! The worst I encountered was older men calling me ‘my dear’ and mistaking me for a secretary in meetings. The ‘my dear’ was always said in a kind avuncular way, not meaning to talk down to me. And they soon realised I wasn’t a secretary when I contributed to the discussion. My bosses usually introduced me as the project engineer, which avoided confusion. This was at ‘professional engineer’ level. Inevitably at workshop/contractor level there’s always considerably more banter – but it was usually kinder (less sexually explicit, certainly!) than that meted out to the lads, and not meant insultingly or cruelly! I learned to give as good as I got and was accepted, although never quite as ‘one of the lads’. And don’t dismiss mild flirting as a useful tool for making people want to do your work instead of other people’s – it can be very effective provided it’s not abused or used to excess!

I will concede that for a female in some areas of engineering it probably helps to have slightly more self-confidence and determination than average. But female engineers are out there, accepted without hesitation, enjoying their careers and generally not subjected to the kind of casual sexual harrassment that you were, which is totally unacceptable whatever your role.

I agree that there aren’t many female engineers at the top levels. I think that is at least partially due to the disruptive effect childbearing has on one’s career as well as on one’s priorities. I have 3 boys and have managed to juggle a career and children, although I have necessarily had to make adjustments for my family. I also changed my priorities – did I want to be working all hours, away from home, etc, or did I want to spend time with my family? Childcare and flexible working are so much easier to organise these days, so I would expect to see many more of today’s engineers making it to the top in due course.

In my experience, women go into engineering because they like the subject. It’s an active choice – more so than with men, I think. Also, it becomes increasingly difficult as you advance up a company to maintain the technical contact. The people who you hear about in high profile roles are the senior managers. The technical experts are, if not hidden away, then less visible. So maybe women don’t WANT the high profile roles? I don’t, but then I have no idea whether I am typical or not! But in my last job (which I left for a number of reasons, including the travelling and the work was boring!), I was told at my interview that they would expect to promote me to Technical Director in a few years – without any prompting from me about possible career paths!

So there may not be a high proportion of us out there, but there are some and we’re doing our best to make women in engineering the norm rather than the exception. As you point out, it’s an extremely interesting and rewarding profession so I hope your experience doesn’t put others off. And don’t give up!

From Kristen Salzer-Frost


Thank you for your article “A woman engineer”. As another woman engineer, I just wanted to reassure you that not all work places have the same level of sexism that you have experienced. I am in the construction industry, which is also notorious, but it is getting better everyday. As you have so ably demonstrated, we can make a difference, and that benefits not just ourselves, but our companies and the industry as a whole. I hope you have a fulfilling and inspiring careeer.

From Alison

In respsonse to Hayley Martin’s ‘A Woman Engineer’ I have to say that as a female company director, and laboratory quality manager there is still a fear of women in the industrial sector. I still have cases where men will ring up and refuse to speak to me, they want to speak to a man. I try to make a joke out of it and say they can speak to me I am a nice person, and make the point that at the company I am the only one with the technical knowledge to help them. In giving technical and quality training to other companies, the groups are predominently men and there will always (and I mean ALWAYS) be one who makes a derogatory remark about women. My response is to take the high-ground, be totally calm, look them in the eye and say simply “There is always one, and it is very boring. There is nothing to be afraid of you know. Shall we move on?” You would be amazed how this works. Be businesslike, never be flirty – it may get something done once but

you’ll never get that respect back. And as physical touching and sexual

remarks go that is a serious and criminal: No. Also the comments by a

manager about her clothing is rediculous – the only time I talk to staff

about their clothing is when they may be in danger with some of our

equipment! I bet Hayley Martin’s ‘large’ company have an equal

opportunities policy and probably a sexual harassment and harassment

policy. I don’t believe in ‘put up and shut up at all’ for any staff

member with a problem. I advise she talks to the HR Director or Quality

Manager – company workers or subcontractors must comply with the policies to protect all staff, and if they in breach of those policies then the offenders don’t get to stay. In our company it is as simple as that. Best of luck to Hayley, I hope she keeps with it because if you want high

quality, a willingness to learn and the ability to accept responsibility,

then in my experience best hire a woman.

Ms, Miss or Mrs?, by Amelia Sage

From Claire

I complain when I’m forced to give a title online and only offered Mr, Mrs or Miss as options. New Internationalist was a culprit in their online

subscription section. I note they’ve amended it to include other options. I bought a computer from PC World, I note they still only offer Mr, Mrs or

Miss even after my complaint. They claim that banks need this information for security purposes. What nonsense. What if your bank knows you as Doctor? Or they maybe address you by your given name, which mine does? Why is it necessary to know your marital status in order to buy a computer?

I had a discussion with a work colleague once who was of the opinion that this is PC-gone mad rubbish (though he didn’t call it that, this was before the PC-gone-mad lobby reared its head). I told him I’d be happy to be known as Miss if he accepted being known as Master, at least until he got married!

From zak

It’s always good to know that you are not the only one who tries to

re-establish your title: not as your father’s posession, and not as your

husband’s one either, but just as you.

I am French, and in France we don’t have an equivalent for Ms, you are either Miss (Mademoiselle) or Mrs (Madame).

Ever since I was a teenager ( and a very strong’headed one), I always made sure I was not called by any title but just by my name: zakia. As a result was called a weirdo more than once. But truth is: I never had a father around, being titled as his posession was weird ( and even if I had one, it would have been but…) and I dont have a husband yet so Mrs is not possible either.

What am I then?

In the UK, at least, you have an alternative at but in France, I will have to stay zakia …

Sarkless Kitty and the ghosts of misogyny, by Katharine Edgar

From Afshan Heuer

Great work Katharine!I really appreciated the article.

Women of the punk era, by Cazz Blase

From Emma

Hi there

I just read your women in punk series and felt compelled to write in to tell you how much I enjoyed it. My heart leap when I saw it. Thanks for this – I hope someone out there sees sense and commissions you to write a

book on the subject.



Cazz Blase, author of the article, replies

Your comment was a pleasure to receive! It’s always really, really nice to know someone appreciates something I’ve written. I have had an unusually (for me anyway) keen response to the punk women series, and it has been that response that has made me think about turning it into a book. I am very tentatively exploring the idea.

You might be interested to know that one of my interviewees, Helen McCookerybook, is updating her book on women and punk at the moment (The Lost Women Of Rock Music), and that a biography of The Slits was published last year (by Zoe Street Howe). My focus was on interviewing women who were (mostly) involved with the punk scene, who have since written about women and punk, or made films about women and punk, or were writing about punk at the time it was happening, and I will be discussing those books and films later on in the series, so that might be of interest to you as well.

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

From Yembu71

I always envied girls with smaller breasts then mine when I was growing up..I was a d cup even before I hit 12! My secondary school life was not at all enjoyable..I was very shy and insecure because of the way I looked, I was humiliated by the way older men and sometimes my teachers propositioned me..constantly feeling like I had done something wrong… a lot of girls had guy friends who they would just hand out with, I never did…the ones who did approach me wanted sex….(!) I was happy to read your article.. I too am a size 32 E now and I was doing a search on the internet to find a way to solve my ‘problem’ when I came across your article.. After reading it I think now.. what the heck! I am married now and my husband loves the way I look…the hell with what society thinks!

What a load of wank, by Sophie Platt


Sophie – what a great article on female masturbation – as a huge fan I

completely agree that the stigma needs to be removed!

However, I disagreed with the emphasis in your article on the importance of the female orgasm. I find orgasm extremely difficult to achieve with a partner or just with my hand, and despite being sexually active since 17, did not have an orgasm until I was almost 21. I was lucky enough to have two brilliant boyfriends, dedicated to ‘making me cum’ but for me, this created awkwardness more often than pleasure as it just would not happen. Many women find it hard to orgasm for reasons other than male ineptitude. The emphasis in today’s women’s magazines on the importance of reaching orgasm has often left me, and I’m sure many other women, feeling inadequate for not being able to achieve it. The assumption that a lack of orgasm is the man’s fault for being selfish in bed has also left many men feeling inadequate as they assume that a little bit of effort will always achieve results! It is perfectly possible to enjoy sex without an orgasm…!

Why are women so critical of each other?, by Rosjke Hasseldine

From A. Sultana Al-Saud

I find this article very helpful. I have had some issues with women where I was criticised for standing up for myself or not taking verbal nonsense. I even had one female friend make like it was no big deal that the neighbour was making me feel weird with certain comments.

Your article of how women treat each other makes a lot of sense. I find men to be easier to deal with but have been called a Queen Bee for having that attitude. Well, the facts speak for themselves.

If women want the “Queen Bee” syndrome as they see it to stop, they need to look at how their actions drive away a lot of nice women who would love to have nothing more than a good female friend, which is indeed hard to find these days.

Why not feminism?, by Emma Cosh

From steve johnson

I stumbled onto this post while trying to sort out the whole feminist

thing. I think you made some great points. I’ve been so frustrated with

extreme feminists telling me I’m setting women back simply because I’m

willing to do things to help my husband’s career. I also don’t subscribe to

some of the ideology, but I certainly believe women have a right to be

happy and successful.

If being a feminist means having to stop acting kindly toward my husband, having to give up my right to be against abortion, then I’m in the market for a new term!

Awra Amba, a review by Philippa Willitts

From Paulina Tervo

Hi Philippa,

I just read your review of my film and wanted to say thank you. I am currently working on a longer version of it as well as a web project with the community.

As well as being free to download from, the film is available on

DVD through the awraamba website at £10.

All the best,


Feminist or misogynist?, by Melanie Newman

From Stephen Thompson

Re. Melanie Newman’s postcript to her article Feminist or Misogynist? about Stieg Larsson, she and your readers may be interested in the interview Larsson’s partner, Eva Gabrielsson, gave to Swedish TV. It has subtitles and can be seen on:

Is Tarantino really feminist?, by Emma Wood

From Holly Hockaday

I have to comment on your article about quentin tarantinos death proof because i totally disagree with it.

I think his films do empower women and at the end of the day there are worse films out there that you could be attacking. Films where women are getting raped and violently killed. Yes there are elements of violence in Death Proof and in all of Quentin Tarantinos films, however if you were a film lover , whcih you clearly arent. You would realise that it IS JUST A FILM. Atleast the women arent all being killed and are begging for their lives throughout. At the end the girls kick arse and kurt russels chracter is utterly defenceless. You keep talking about eroticised violence but itsonly eroticised because of how the girls look, you wouldnt be saying that if the girls were ugly. atleast the girls are not tiny stick thing women with no shape what so ever.

I think you should be attacking films such as saw and the last house on the left. Where girls are getting raped and killed and never get revenge. Also attack magazines with endless amounts of stick thin models which are causing countless eating disorders and ruining lives.

X-Men: The Last Stand, a review by Shelley Rees

From Eric Spence

To begin with, it is JUST a movie. Get a grip. Jean Gray was not beyond redemption in the movie, she made a choice. Wolverine is depicted as a merciless unredeemable killer in every one of his manifestastions, in case you missed that. In your view, Magneto dispensed of Mystique, when she no longer served his purpose, which is accurate and judging by the way you write, you have experienced something similar in your life, but let us be perfectly clear, this is not meant to depict reality, it was a fantasy movie and women in the real world, do precisely the same thing to men. What I don’t understand, is why you, a person with a literary Ph D, should spend so much time, ranting about an unrealisitc movie, when there is little or nothing to be gained from it. But before you respond, if you respond, please spare me the altruistic female equality blather. It won’t fly and I won’t bite. I neither stand for or against it and yes, I can be neutral. I have seen both sides of that coin,

Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word, replies

Saying “it’s just a movie” (or TV show, game, book, whatever), is both incredibly dull, and also, not really saying anything. Do you think Shelley wasn’t perfectly aware she was writing about a fictional superhero film?

To flip this around, why are you so defensive about a critique of this film?