Comments from April & May 2011


Comments on the latest features and reviews

The questions journalists ask,

by Hannah Mudge

From Aparna

As the Founder/Editor of an online women’s magazine (Women’s

Web), I found this piece on coverage of feminism in media most

interesting. I do believe that women’s magazines can address feminism

and women’s issues (fundamental ones, not whether one should wear

lipstick or not) a lot more seriously – while having writing that is non-

academic and appeals to a wide demographic. The role of men in

childcare, the expectations from schools for mothers to spend a whole

lot of time on schoolwork (and the assumption that they will be stay-

at-home), changing family dynamics, helping women progress in their

careers – these are all in a sense feminist issues which women’s mags

could easily cover. Yes, magazines have market constraints, but even

within that, as you say, I think they do underestimate the audience.

From ClareM

Slightly off on a tangent, but still in relation to how glossy

magazines cover certain issues, I was pretty horrified to read an article

in last month’s (I think) issue of Glamour magazine that took women

to task for doing ‘dangerous’ things that could get them attacked,

like being on their phone after dark and not paying attention to their

surroundings. The headline was something like ‘Are you acting like

an idiot?’ (seriously) and the article referred over and over again to

women who walked home alone after dark as ‘idiots’ who were ‘stupid’

and ‘careless’. I read it through once and was shocked- and that was

before I began to consider the impact it would have had on anyone

who’s actually been on the receiving end of a sexual attack. I can’t find

it online anywhere, but I couldn’t believe in this day and age the editor

saw fit to publish something like that using those particular terms in a

bestselling glossy women’s magazine. Victim blaming didn’t even cover


The revolution is in you, by

Chloe Stopa-Hunt

From sianushka

thanks for this. i have been planning to read a place of greater

safety for ages, and am even more spurred on to do so now!

i love historical fiction in many forms, and find a lot of it is

surprisingly feminist, especially Philippa Gregory.

I read Marge Piercy’s book when I was younger, but have always

preferred ‘Small Changes’ – her novel about women negotiating life in

the 60s – it was a life changing book for me as a teen, when i really

started to learn about feminism.

In terms of the French revolution i’d also recommend ‘The Glass

Blowers’ by Daphne Du Maurier which tells the story of a family, and

shows how women were part of the movement, but also how the

revolution affected the every day, domestic lives of women and men.

Jess McCabe, editor of The F-Word, replies

Marge Piercy’s science fiction is worth checking out as well!

Princess Kate’s reality TV wedding, by Ray Filar

From Katty

Hi Ray,

When the boot was on the other foot didn’t the Duke of Edinburgh give up his job at sea (comparable to P.William) to marry the queen and follow her around like a demented politically incorrect puppy?

p.s. I love your article anyway. Despite being secretly fascinated by her play-it-safe-wardrobe-code.

From cycleboy

Of all the royal paraphernalia, my own favourite is the sick bag;

The whole razamataz over the royal wedding is just the tip of, what is for me, an insidious industry.

I’m not against marriage – far from it, I’m married myself – but the whole idea that the wedding should consume such vast amounts of both financial and intellectual resources deeply worries me. If only the affianced spent as much time thinking about the subsequent decades…

Another thing that disturbs me is that when you look around the world, the grandeur and complexity of weddings seems to be in inverse proportion to the level of women’s autonomy. A wedding in a culture in which the woman literally has no choice in the matter, seems to be far more elaborate than those in other cultures. I can’t help thinking that grand weddings were constructed as a smoke-screen for the misery and drudgery that could well follow.

That’s not my name, by Jane Fae

From Alex T

As a married woman, you can’t win. I didn’t change my name when I married, for many reasons, and thought that it would be no hassle since nothing needed to change. However, since I still had a few accounts etc with ‘Miss’ on instead of ‘Ms’ – you know, things I’d had for a long time, I thought that getting married was as good a time as any to change it all and have everything with ‘Ms’ on, since that’s the title I use. My credit card company actually wanted to see the wedding certificate! To change from Miss to Ms! But many women do that without getting married, don’t they? Am I missing something here?

Also, although it’s been convenient at times, it still really annoys me that my bank will accept a cheque into our joint account if it’s addressed to Mrs L___ – despite the fact that this has never, and will never be, my name. But because I’m his wife and it’s a joint account, I suppose they think that Ms T___ is merely an alias, and my real name is Mrs L____.

Like I say, whether you change your name or not on marriage, you can’t win (don’t even get me started on people’s attitudes to a married woman with her own name, we’ll be here all day…)

From Jess

Brill post! I agree with everything you said there.

From Jo Gibney

I got married end of November. I am still finding various places where my name needs to be changed. I discovered on applying for a new credit card, that I need to let all the credit reference agencies know I’ve changed it (don’t get me started on how much proof Equifax demanded to create an alias in my married name – the other two did it no problem), as without creating the alias I have no credit history and therefore cannot get any credit!

Not only is it the hassle and the inconsistency of who wants what when making this change, it’s the cost. Everything needs to be sent Recorded Delivery at a minimum, in case someone loses your documents. And to change your name on a passport means having to pay for a new passport. Outrageous! At least it looks like I can change my driving licence free of charge.

All in all it’s most frustrating, time-consuming and costly. And my husband has to do none of this!

From Kit

“IT systems, however, tend historically to have been designed by men, who have next to no experience of the sheer inconvenience that follows on a change of name..” People who are taught to design IT systems properly, build databases etc. are taught pretty much straight away that a person’s name is not unique, and not an appropriate unique identifier for a record. All DBMSs I’ve used allow for unique numerical fields for this purpose. It doesn’t need to be said that the IT industry, or the academic side of things in that field, is heavily male dominated either, so I’d be reluctant to put this particular situation (at least the system design side) down to male privilege and more down to people on the design and implementation side of things not knowing what they’re doing technically, and really having no business working on such a thing.

From Jane

In response to ‘That’s Not My Name’ I fail to see how this is prejudice. When I changed my name I sent letters to the appropriate people informing them of this along with a copy of the appropriate documents – that was it, done, sorted.

This is standard practice, it would worry me if call centre staff were to change something as major as the account holders name over the telephone – not to mention most call centre advisers lack the authority to make those sort of changes, and although many are smart some are not so can’t always be trusted to ensure privacy policy is adhered to. Basically if done over the phone anyone could call up and change your account details.

From PEM

You state in the article that this is a sexist practice which would be different had it affected men rather than women. However, I’m not sure what this is based on. Do only women change their name? Sounds to me like an administrative problem that is the same no matter who it is that wants to change their name, but perhaps I’m missing something. It does seem like a pain, having to contact every organisation you’re a member of to have them change your name in their records, though. Perhaps the UK would benefit from a system similar to what we have in Sweden; pretty much everything about a person is tied to your national ID number/social security number, so it’s very easy to update your details. When I got married and took my wife’s surname, all I had to do was send a form to the tax authorities. Most organisations check their records against the census data regularly, so the information gets updated fairly quick.

From Cat

I’m not sure what you’d replace a name with except a code or number. There’s inherent security in not having absolutely everything in your life linked in one way — and there are many people against a national ID for what are probably rational reasons.

Changing a name is, one, a choice. Is it a right in that we should be able to do it for any reason? Sure. Is it so much of an inherent right that we need easy and immediate access to it? Almost never. It doesn’t have to be hard (I changed my name to Cat Rocketship when I got married and, as are the perks of marriage, have never had to show more than a Marriage license to change any other account) — but when it is difficult, it’s not generally because The Man doesn’t want you to change it. They’re just keeping track using a messy bureaucracy — it’s what governments/banks/corporations do!

From Helen G

Interesting article – although, like Kit above, I’m not convinced that poorly-designed IT systems are the most appropriate scapegoat.

I went through the process of changing my documents in the early days of my transition but, taking an ‘ends and means’ approach meant I was able to be fairly sanguine about all the jumping through hoops it entailed. Whether it’s sexist or not is, I think, a moot point given that the same hurdles would presumably have to be jumped by TS/TG men and transitioning intersex people, too.

I think you come close to pointing out a particular issue which has preoccupied me for some time when you say:

The one exception to this – the only part of the NHS to have decided that it knows the law better than anyone else – is the Gender Identity Service, which refuses to acknowledge new names until their bearer has jumped through a number of quite unnecessary quasi-legal hoops

I’d like to unpick that a little. The apparent requirement for a Deed Poll to confirm a name change is one thing – but Deed Polls don’t explicitly mention gender. For me, one of the key administrative aspects of my transition was changing all my documents to accurately reflect not only my name but also my gender. My experience seems to have been similar to yours in many ways, in that the majority were comparatively easy to change – with the exceptions of my birth certificate and my passport. Passports, as we know, include a gender marker and to have that changed required me to submit a letter from my gender doctor along with my application. But, to my mind, the fundamental issue around changing my birth certificate was – as the UK Deed Poll Service website says in its advice for transsexual people:

It is important to bear in mind that changing your name and title does not change your gender. This can only be achieved by obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate […]

And there’s the rub. Although the perception of many people is that anyone can apply for a GRC, regardless of their name, surgical status and the configuration of their genitalia – indeed, the framing of the Gender Recognition Act seems to back that up – my experience was that it’s simply not the case in reality. Tucked away in the Gender Recognition Panel?s document “Guidance on completing the Application Form for a Gender Recognition Certificate” (direct link to PDF) in the explanation of the need for two medical reports is the following:

This report must include specific details of treatment ie whether you have undergone, are undergoing or are planning to undergo surgery for the purpose of modifying sexual characteristics.

If you have not undergone surgery the report must explain why not.

Those two lines are crucial, I think. When I discussed it with my specialist gender doctor, he was of the opinion that the only reasons someone might not have undergone surgery would be medically related – for example, if the surgeon felt that you were too old or too unwell.

My experience was that I was able to change all my documents (passport, driving licence, Deed Poll, Council Tax, bank, NI, HMRC, you name it) except my birth certificate without having undergone surgery. To change my birth certificate required a full GRC, and to meet the criteria for Report B, I had to include with my GRC application a formal letter from my surgeon confirming I had undergone surgery. And of course, part of that surgery required that I was sterilised. Under current surgical methods, I don?t believe it?s possible for a transsexual woman or man to undergo SRS without being sterilised. This raises wider issues around reproductive justice for transsexual people which, I accept, are probably outside the scope of your article.

Whilst I agree with you that the name change process is an unnecessarily complex and un-unified thing, the fact is that the one single document that we all have – our birth certificate (not everyone has a passport, driving licence, supermarket loyalty card, etc) – also clearly states both our gender and our name. My concern is this hidden link between our legally recognised gender and the need for major abdominal surgery – especially when obtaining that surgery is in itself a fiendishly long-winded process, particularly if one transitions under the aegis of the NHS.

To my mind, it would be more efficient if all the documentation changes you mention were based on the production of one’s (correctly named and gendered) birth certificate, at least in those instances where proof of identity is required at all. But for that to be accessible to transsexual people, then it seems to me that the fairest thing would be to decouple this linkage between our surgical and medical statuses and allow anyone to change their birth certificate. Of course, this still leaves non-binary identified people in a quandary – again, outside the scope of your article – and, to my mind, the most inclusive and equitable solution would seem to be to allow everyone to self-define their gender as easily as they can self-define their names. The production of an up-to-date birth certificate as the benchmark for all documentation changes would, I think, go a long way to resolving the numerous vexations experienced by many people who wish to change all the various combinations of ‘official’ documents that we seem to gather in the course of our lives.

From cycleboy

This is a topic I’ve given much thought to, though actually from the opposite perspective. Even today there are many women (and men) who are not even aware that keeping the name you were born with is actually an option for married women. Often the reasons women give for ‘wanting’ to change their surname are spurious, illogical or simply incorrect.

I managed to change my surname to a combination of mine and my wife’s, without any real difficulty. Indeed, I found the utilities the easiest, using their bills as proof of the name change (though we did also have our marriage certificate).

As someone who gets irritated when women are expected to change their surname, or accept the change without thinking, I find myself instinctively resisting anything that makes the process easier; so reinforcing the status quo.

However, if someone has changed their sex then I have every sympathy

From Barbara Henderson

Don’t forget that some women are also put under undue pressure TO change their name, when they get married, when they may prefer not to. This then leads to all sorts of complications re. what to name any children and gets even worse if the marriage then breaks down. I strongly support the idea that women should keep their names on marriage and not become ‘property of’ a partner – and that children should be named after the mother’s surname too, as in the majority of cases that is where they remain if the marriage ends.

From Gale

I changed my name when I got married and again after I seperated from my partner. I had a very similar experience, with some organisations allowing me to change my name over the phone, some requiring a certified copy of my official change of name certificate. The fact that I did not revert to my maiden name, but instead decided to choose a new name and change it by deed-poll, confuses people to this day and I often find standardised forms fail to allow for the eventuality that a person may change their name more than once.

From Zoe Fairbairns

Re the article on changing of names – can you please explain the terms “cis woman” and “cis man”? Thanks.

From Jessica Baily

Just thought I would share some of my own experiences…

I have never changed my name but recently changed my title from Miss to Ms and had significant difficulty getting my bank to change my title on my bank statements and cards. It turns out that they have two separate systems (which the people operating the phones were not aware of) and they had changed my title on one but not the other. I have also found that some people are unaware of, don’t understand or are reluctant to use the title ‘Ms’.

In slight contrast to the overall thrust of your argument, although men change their names more rarely than women, I think that in certain circumstances it can be more difficult for them to do so. If men change their name on marriage, some companies are happy to accept a marriage certificate as proof but others require a deed poll. I got the impression that for women a marriage certificate would suffice as the expectation is that they are the ones who will change their names upon marriage.

Jane-Fae, author of the article, replies

First off, I am pleased to find that others agree that there is an issue here – and to have identified other aspects to this process that lead to women having to spend time and energy that the other half of the population mostly doesn’t have to.

Thanks, Jo, for highlighting the cost of recorded delivery.

There is the fairly standard response of “this can’t be prejudice if the same rule gets applied to everyone”. No. Just not the case – else any establishment wishing to discriminate against women would apply a rule restricting applications to those of more than six foot in height. Its called “indirect discrimination” – applying a rule that affects specific groups differently – and is well-established in UK and international law.

But wouldn’t this breach security? Er, not really: the arguments around that are a bit technical, but if name is tied back to an underlying reference number (as I think suggested by the Swedish poster), there would be no issue. Besides, as my own research bears out, the security value of the documentation requested by organisation is approximately zero.

There is no central process for executing deed polls – and no legal penalties for falsifying them. The marriage certificate states clearly that it is “not to be used for identification purposes”.

IN other words: if the documentation requested actually did help out in security terms, organisations might have a point: it doesn’t.

The piece was not intended to get into issues of whether women get forced to change their name, though it is clear that that happens and absolutely wrong that it should.

Is the current set-up caused by the preponderance of men in the IT industry. Dunno. Personally, I think some, but not all of the problem does derive from the fact that men are far less likely to worry about changing name.

One poster asked about “cis”. There is a simple and a complex explanation.

The simple is that it is just a word used by the trans community to denote the opposite of trans (it’s the exact opposite latin prefix, so makes sense to be used in that context). However, it does come with political baggage that not all people like. It does, occasionally, get used in a slightly derogatory way (which I totally disagree with).

More subtly, its used in the term “cis privilege”, which is a political argument about how the world is constructed in a wholly normative way, with trans seen as a departure from the norm. “Cis” is therefore inserted into debate in the same way that “straight” gets inserted: to underline that cis and trans are two equally valid ways of being, as opposed to there being a dominant one and a less ordinary one.

I’m aware of controversies over that view – and I’m not going to derail this particular debate by getting into them here.

Last point: neither I nor anyone else is asking that you can “just” phone a call centre and change name. I’m simply suggesting that where you have satisfied organizational security sufficiently to do other stuff (like transfer £10,000 between accounts, or change address) that should be sufficient security for a name change. That’s all.

Bloody marvellous, a review by Mathilda Gregory

From Keren

This is a great article. I am a huge horror fan and am interested in the way women are portrayed in this genre, and how horror films can be sexist and degrading, or liberating for women. So good to hear about this Festival and the debate, and the names of women directors and their films.

Comments on older features and reviews

Against censorship, by Laurie Penny

From Diane Purkiss

But isn’t it inconvenient for your argument that so many women of

all sexualities are attracted to BDSM plots in erotica? Who are you to tell

them they are wrong?

Men and women: are we really worlds apart?, by Kitty Sadler

From Liz

Great article on the history of gender and language! To get an up to date view I can’t recommend Deborah Cameron enough: “The Myth of Mars and Venus” is a fantastic book, definitely take a look.

Kitty Sadler, author of the article, replies

Hi Liz

Thanks for your comment. I’ve read extracts from this and it’s on my to read list!


From Oana

It was quite refreshing to read Kitty Sadler’s article on language differences between men and women..and it was reassuring to see that other people do embrace the idea that we, both men and women, focus too much on the differences artificially created and passed on from generation to generation…

Who was it/why was it that somebody somehow decided that girls should wear pink and boys inevitably blue?!And we are stuck to that up till today..we ended up desperately wanting to be different from the opposite sex and fight one another instead of choosing to love and cherish our differences(the real ones) as a valuable means harmony and progress?

Kitty Sadler, author of the article, replies

Thanks so much for your comment. I completely agree: we can’t deny that there are some biological differences but the wide array of ‘gender characteristics’ these apparently spell just do not have to exist – in a modern world, where brawn isn’t the single pre-condition for success, we should be socially and culturally androgynous. Cordelia Fine makes a great stand against gender stereoptying in childhood (my personal bugbear) in this article:

Breaking the silence around miscarriage, by Emelyn Thomas

From louis

interesting article. i never thought of the implications on employment / redundancy. parts of your article are vaguely similar to my wife’s stillbirth. 10 days before birth our daughter died for no particular reason, apparently…..below, a brief account

From Grainne Tobin

Miscarriages are indeed commonplace and women are blamed for them – they bring us back, at work, to a time when any married woman was expected to be pregnant and therefore unemployable. I think prudence and self-protection are wise, if painful. But support from friends outside work, or those collegues you trust, are vital. And the first few weeks afterwards can leave you limp and weepy as if postnatal. I have had two miscarriages and two babies. Best wishes to all going through this.

Dark angels, by Roxanne Bibizadeh

From Doreen McGeady

I can see both points of view but cannot agree with the idea of the cloak liberating women from sexual harrasment. If it is only the cloaked that do not suffer then the rest of us continue to. Should all women of the world be cloaked and become invisible because of this problem? No, this is evasion, it needs to be dealt with head on. Sexual harrasment is not a problem of our causing and by cloaking ourselves we ignore the fact that the problem lies with men and their attitudes to women. I find it utterly shocking that in the 21st century the answer to sexual harrasment is to render yourself invisible, utterly shocking. What have feminists fought for? Men of these cultures that support cloaking and veiling should be ashamed that they are passing the buck and not challenging each other to their attitudes, sexual dysfunction and behaviour.

What Not To Wear say to your co-worker, by Kelly Draper

From Julia Calish

Let me introduce myself. I’m an 18 year old, American college girl and your article has changed my life. I have felt horribly about my appearance since I was about seven years old. Reading your article made me realize that I can rebuild my shattered self-esteem. I have to power to not base my self worth off of other people’s perceptions of me. Thank you so much for your article. It was exactly the wake up call I needed. You have changed my life.

A perfect delusion, by Samantha Lyster

From ELL3

I think it depends upon the man, if you follow sheep then what do you expect? I have friends who follow these mags and books on Dating, crazy yes but that’s their problem. I hope your well Sam?

Taboo for who?, by Kate Allen

From Pat Bourke

Why analyse this to the point where you are comparing which is the less offensive? ie be called a dick or a cunt. Context is everything and it depends how you say it. It can be a term of endearment but not over tea with the vicar. Too many people get offended when there was never any offence intended. Too many people are on the defensive 24/7. Too many people look for any negatives when there are really none there in the first place and as a result scare people away from interacting with them after a while.

What’s in a word?

I suggest we all shut the fuck up and let the cunt get on with it.

Orgasm Inc, by Mathilda Gregory

From Julia

Really? What a load of rubbish. The female orgasm is wonderful and unique. Any woman feeling unfulfilled should practice a bit of self love, talk to other women about their experiences and definitely never listen to marketing or men who obviously have other agendas.

Baby beauty queens, by Eleanor M

From Miyla

you are being to dramatic! all they do is a dance how could you then go see that in an adult way. it is not them being wrong, it is you looking at it that way and seeing them that way.

Could Britney Spears be the feminist icon of our

generation?, by Theadora Jean

From Luna

Hi, I just wanna say GREAT JOB! No one could have said it better. I

am a HUGE fan of Britney, I love her through the ups and downs. I hate

it when people criticize her, she doesnt deserve it. She is amazing and

deserves much more respect!

General comments

From Bev Jenkins

I’m a stay at home mother, and a feminist and would love to take a Gender Studies/Women’s Studies course but…it costs nearly five thousand pounds. Does anyone know of any specific funding streams for women’s studies?

From David Beauvais

I am as disheartened as anybody that so many misogynists are uncovered within the atheist community. We need to be asking where this hatred emanates from and challenge it whenever it raises its ugly head

From Julia Haltrecht

what is your twitter name? couldn’t see it anywhere on the website!

Helen G replies

You can follow The F-Word on Twitter at (@thefworduk)

From Jem Wright

Hi there, F Word: Just writing to let you know (although you probably already do) about the BBC’s new programme, ‘Misbehaving Mums to Be’ which is dedicated to shaming pregnant women about their habits and hammering home the evils of drinking, smoking and eating fatty foods during pregnancy. The incubators (uh, sorry… women) are shown premature babies and shocking props in order to stir feelings of guilt and anguish, whilst mournful music plays. Hope you’re as outraged by this as I am.

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