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Posted by Isadora Vibes

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This morning I heard a news item on Radio 4. It featured a studio discussion/debate around the increase in community resolution as a way of resolving domestic abuse situations rather than prosecution. In typical 'Today' programme fashion, it was set up as a head to head with Yvette Cooper speaking against and a police officer speaking for the resolution method. After driving several hours over the weekend my head was hardly in a state to focus clearly but the subject of domestic abuse/violence and the way perpetrators of this sickening crime are treated, is a subject close to my heart.

The police officer in question was trying to play down the use of resolution. He said this was only used in a tiny percentage of cases e.g. to deal with Facebook/Twitter abuse or similar or if someone had got angry and broken the mirror off a car. Interesting examples I thought to myself. Isn't he aware that if someone gets so angry they commit an act of violence against a car then surely this is a sign that they have serious aggression issues? Domestic abuse often, although not always, begins as a small moment. A chance comment or remark, an over reaction, a slamming of a door or banging of a fist. If this is then normalised then it tends to escalate and fast. Crimes are often not reported until the situation has got to crisis point and bodily harm resulting from assault is reported. And as for internet abuse via email or social media - well an experience like this can be terrifying. The men who perpetrate this kind of abuse can be just as intimidating as someone who carries out physical abuse. We live so much of our lives online that knowing someone can post images or abusive words about you without your knowledge is a massive intrusion into a person's life. And the effects literally last for years - if not a lifetime. They can hardly be sorted out over a cup of tea and an apology.

I am no legal expert but when I hear about crimes against a women I think that really we need either a complete overhaul of our current legal system or indeed a legal framework that deals entirely with female related crime - whether that be domestic abuse, rape or any other form of criminal activity carried out against a woman or women. Surely that would be much fairer than to try and adapt the current legal constitution to deal with crimes that demand a very specific approach. In fact, we need a whole new language and set of laws to even begin to offer a fair and decent solution. The way the media report these attacks also needs to be overhauled. Semantics can make all the difference to the way a crime is reported in a newspaper. I propose banning the use of the word 'victim' for starters. Yes the definition is correct when applied to the experience of the crime but the after effects of this term can be incredibly damaging.

But what of the current situation and Ms Cooper's speech? If you only needed one reason to vote for a new government then start with this. Resolution can never work in a domestic abuse situation. The very idea is laughable. The men who carry out these crimes are at the very least damaged individuals often with other abuse issues going on and at the very worst, violent psychotic criminals. How on earth can the police expect men like this to sort out an abusive situation amicably? In my experience, men who carry out abuse can be incredibly devious and manipulative. They will say or do anything to appear to be making the peace. Things may go quiet briefly but then they will hit out again. Often much harder than on the previous occasion. These men are sick and yes they may need help but the last option they should be given is a resolution option.

Domestic violence will never be eradicated until the sentences are far tougher and the women who report the crimes are able to do so in the full knowledge that they will receive the support and protection they need. The mental and psychological damage sustained during a relationship that features domestic violence cannot be quantified. It is an unimaginable living hell and the most frightening point for the woman can be when she has no choice but to report it. Because, if an afterwards becomes available then this is when men can turn into killers. Listen to Yvette. Listen to women. Because there can be no more needless deaths in the name of the legal systems ignorance and inability to tackle these crimes - every one with the seriousness they deserve.

Picture shows part of a brown wooden front door. Pressed against the window of the door is a hand with the wrd "help" written on it in black ink. Photo taken by Flikr user Jaybird, used under a Creative Comons Licence.


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Posted by Guest Blogger

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This is a guest post by Anne Daly, who wrote and co-produced Mothers Against The Odds (directed and co-produced by Ronan Tynan), a documentary by Esperanza Productions that can be watched at esperanza.ie

Mothers Against the Odds examines maternal rights in Ireland and Kenya, showing what happens when women's rights are ignored. Making this film took director Ronan Tynan and I on a three-year odyssey that opened our eyes to one of the great unresolved injustices against women in modern Irish history: the symphysiotomy scandal we only became aware of when we sought to compare the experiences of Kenyan and Irish mothers.

Mothers Against the Odds was initially conceived as an attempt to compare maternal rights in Ireland and Kenya, in keeping with our approach to directly link the so-called 'developed' and 'developing' worlds, and did not expect to spend so much time uncovering a great injustice against Irish mothers.

The UN statistics suggest Ireland is one of the safest places in the world to deliver a baby, while in Kenya a mother has a one in 25 chance of surviving childbirth. However, we found the Irish experience much more traumatic than the statistics suggest as we discovered the untold stories of mothers forced to endure a level of cruelty, up to recent times, that was both shocking and incomprehensible. Both the procedure of symphysiotomy in Ireland and FGM in Kenya show that when any culture ignores or fails to respect the rights of women and girls, unimaginable cruelty can be inflicted on them.

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Symphysiotomy is a brutal medical procedure that was performed on Irish mothers up to 1984. Described by one Irish politician in the film as "medicine from the dark ages", it involves breaking the mother's pelvis to facilitate childbirth when problems arise. The key question that survivors and campaigners raise in the film is why such a painful and medically unnecessary intervention was allowed in response to a prolonged labour when the Cesarean section was the safe and available alternative at the time. The symphysiotomy procedure is described by some survivors as "torture" as in sundering the mother's pelvic bone during childbirth, she is left with lifelong medical problems including severe pain, mental trauma, walking difficulties and incontinence.

Campaigning group Survivors of Symphysiotomy (SoS) claims that these operations were carried out without the prior knowledge or consent of the mothers and mainly for religious reasons by obstetricians who were opposed to family planning. Today, there are 250 elderly survivors who endure many severe health problems and filming the stories of some of these survivors was not easy as recalling their stories is very traumatic and painful for them. Our film shows not just the emotional and physical toll this surgery has had on survivors but it also examines the Irish cultural context that allowed such brutal procedure to take place unchallenged up to very recently. The question which still remains unanswered is why symphysiotomy, banned in the rest of Europe, was reintroduced in Ireland in 1944 and performed in some of Ireland's top maternity hospitals.

In Kenya today and Ireland a few decades ago it always seems to be economically vulnerable women who are subjected to appalling treatment when they seek to give birth. One Kenyan lawyer cited the examples of women being "slapped, pinched, and told to shut up" if they complained. Without resources or rights, many Kenyan mothers are forced to remain in the maternity hospital until someone produces the money to pay the hospital for the delivery. In Nairobi's Kibera - one of Africa's largest slums - we discovered that many women are refused help by doctors with the delivery until the money is paid in advance. It was shocking to see the "pay first" sign outside Pumwani maternity hospital in Nairobi, the largest one in the country, where thousands of women deliver their babies each year. One woman told me that if you are unable to pay the hospital bill, your mobile phone and other possessions can be accepted in lieu of payment.

Similarly to Ireland in the 1950s, Kenya today is a very conservative country in terms of women's rights. In Mutomo Mission Hospital - in the district of Kitiu, run by the Sisters of Mercy - a young male paediatric nurse explained how women have " little or no say" over their reproductive health. In many cases when a woman became ill, even during pregnancy, her husband would do the talking for her, especially in rural areas. Women are making progress in asserting their rights in Kenya but they have some way to go: as we are reminded by one very progressive midwife, they are still "traded like cattle" in too many situations.

Talking to women in Kenya about how they are treated during pregnancy, we almost felt we learned more about Ireland than we did at home.

The first picture is a portrait of Anne Daly.

The second picture is from the launch of documentary at Lighthouse Cinema in Dublin. From the left: Anne Daly; Marian Finnucane (RTE presenter & one of Ireland's leading broadcasters); former midwife Laura Mann, who features prominently in the documentary; Ronan Tynan, co-founder of Esperanza and the director of Mothers Against the Odds.

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Posted by Amber Collins

Happy Heart - fauxto_digit.jpg

Recently the "Who Needs Feminism?" tumblr was set up in response to a similarly-named meme by women who didn't understand feminism very well. These women posted pictures of themselves holding up paper bearing such words of wisdom as "I need feminism because I love being a victim!" and "I need feminism because I hate equality!" (Paraphrased, but might actually be real.) "Who Needs Feminism?" has done a great job highlighting the problems we still face in a world that does not yet address the imbalances faced by marginalised people, including women. Feminists help to ensure these problems are recognised, the first step to the eventual goal of getting them fixed.

I've been struggling with the fact that being a feminist blogger means that the vast majority of what you write about is, by necessity, unpleasant. I've caught myself searching for blog topic ideas through newspaper misery, comment rage, anecdotes of injustice, all of which yield essential, worthy posts that can effect real change - but few of which I feel qualified to write about. It can get a little overwhelming.

I'm not going to make that kind of post today. Instead I'd like to talk about the specific positive impact that being a feminist has on your life.

Yes, I need feminism. We all do. But I also LIKE feminism, and I LOVE being a feminist.

When in the middle of a heated discussion with a friend or family member being a feminist can feel like a burden. In fact, it has added more value to my life than any other principle I hold, and I don't appreciate or celebrate that nearly enough.

I love being a feminist because it instantly connects me to a community of people I like, respect and have fun with.

I love being a feminist because it has given me the vocabulary and context to tear apart and neutralise concepts like "bitch" and "slut" that used to make me feel bad.

I love being a feminist because sometimes, when I stand up for what I believe in, unexpected people thank me afterwards for saying what they could not.

I could go on and on, but I'd rather hear from you about the positive impact being a feminist has had on your life. Why do you love being a feminist? Please comment with your experiences!

Image is of a small, 3D, red heart shape with a smiley face on it is held up in front of a blurred background of trees against a blue sky. Image by fauxto_digit, shared on Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.

July 2014 playlist

23 July 2014 21:09
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Posted by J Whitehead

Natasha Khan - July 2014 - MEDIUM.jpg

Feeling the heat, feminists? Martha and the Vandella's 'Heatwave' struck me as a glaringly obvious, but entirely appropriate choice, along with Marlena Shaw's 'California Soul' - a song surely made for the sunshine.

The Claude Violante and 10LEC6 tracks were both taken from a compilation called Colette Loves Andrea Crews. A bit of research suggests that Andrea Crews is a fashion-art collective. I don't have a clue who Colette is - answers on a postcard, please. The compilation is well worth a listen and pretty amazing, with the exception of one track which, despite having some good and bouncy bass, gets tired get pretty quickly with its "I got pussy on my mind/all the time/all the time" refrain. Change the record, kids. Claude Violante is one half of Haussmann, who some listeners might be familiar with - read an interview with her here.

You may already be familiar with Beverly, the all-female super-group composed of Frankie Rose, formerly of Vivian Girls, Dum Dum Girls and Crystal Stilts and Drew Citron, formerly of Avan Lava. You can watch Frankie talking about their new album Careers released earlier this year here.

Bat For Lashes' 'Sarah' reminds me of wailing sirens, mermaids and swimming underwater. A dreamy song to cool off to when it gets too warm.

Click here to be re-directed to this month's Spotify playlist. You can also view the track-list here.

Stay cool.

The image is of Natasha Khan from the band Bat For Lashes. The image is an upper-body shot of her wearing a black and white top, with stripes on the arms and blocks of black and white down the front. Her hands are held in front of her chest, touching at the tips, with her palms facing down. She looks towards the sky. Image by Neil Krug, shared under a Creative Commons licence.


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Posted by Isadora Vibes

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At a recent party, I got talking to a friend about the relative benefits of going sans knickers, panties, undergarments - whatever you wish to call them. She was, in the main, all for it but did draw attention to certain biological factors that perhaps required the protection of a gusset. And no, I won't go into details on this as I am sure we are all familiar with the practicalities of the female condition. Rather, I am interested in the reasons the majority of us wear knickers every day. Is it for hygiene or is it just learnt behavior? Do we reach for the knicker drawer because it's what we are taught to do when we could be just as comfortable (if not more so) without? And what does it say about us as women if we choose not to wear knickers? Is there a direct correlation then made about our attitudes to sex?

The relationship we have as women to our knickers/underwear has been going on for centuries. And as always, I must point out that I am writing this article only through my known experience as a European woman. Culturally, I am not aware of undergarments other than my own (!). Prior to the French Revolution, women simply wore heavy skirts with petticoats under their dresses. It was only in the Regency era when pantaloons were invented, that a need to cover up and keep warm was instigated. Early forms of underwear were very long and similar in style to ankle-length men's trousers. As time went on and fashions changed, so knickers and underwear developed until by the 1970's 'no leg' knickers were born and have continued to be adapted into smaller and smaller versions ever since.

But what are knickers really for? Yes they keep us warm (thongs excluded) and yes they keep us protected (thongs excluded again!) but do we actually need to wear them everyday? I would argue not. And if many of us actually chose not to wear knickers then would we perhaps feel more comfortable and liberated? The sensation of being without pants is one to be celebrated and of course it saves on washing. I have been choosing to wear knickers less and less as time goes on. In fact some weeks I do not wear them at all. And it feels good! Not just because it is my personal preference but I also feel a sense of empowerment. I am choosing this. I am choosing not to wear a piece of clothing that I think is loaded with meaning. If we knowingly choose to walk around with unclothed genitals does this sexualize us more? Are we judged as sexually promiscuous if our vaginas have one less layer covering them? Of course not! Why would this make us any more open to sex than if we were wearing knickers? Ridiculous.

Going commando - and what that means - is an oft told joke. It is a male centric term from army days which has been stretched to include women. Whenever I hear it being used it is usually with a giggle and a whisper behind closed doors. I also discovered when researching this piece, that the act of not wearing underwear in Chile has been called "andar a lo gringo" (to go gringo-style) for decades. Perhaps the Chileans caught on to the fact that not wearing underwear is incredibly comfortable long before we did. And yes, not wearing underwear can be arousing on occasion. But as women isn't it important to own this arousal without judgment or discrimination? And let's not forget that not wearing underwear is practical in many ways - particularly if you are conscious of lines showing (although why that should matter I don't know). Now I have started this piece I can see what a political minefield knickers can be. The VPL debate could be a whole article on its own!

So - mandatory or meaningless? I guess it all comes down to personal choice. What I would like to remove from the decision is any reference to sexual morality or indeed judgment of hygiene. With thrush infections on the increase perhaps not wearing knickers is a health benefit rather than a hindrance. I think I fall part way in between. Some days I want to, some days I don't. And that is entirely my choice. So let's think again about what underwear really means to us as women. Protection or privilege - it's up to you.

Photo shows three pairs of off white bloomers pegged up onto a washing line. Photo taken by Flikr user compresif, used under a Creative Commons Licence.

An invasion of five

21 July 2014 21:30
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Posted by Megan Stodel

westminster bridge.jpgI've heard a lot over the past week about Cameron's cabinet reshuffle. This time, it's all about the women, I've been told. That's what coverage focuses on, whether it's The Guardian saying it's too late, The Express hoping for new role models for girls or Clegg decrying the Daily Mail's sexist coverage.

You'd be forgiven for thinking that, this time around, there were actually rather a lot of women in the cabinet.

You'd be wrong.

There are now five women cabinet ministers. That's out of 22 in total, which comes to a hearty 23%. I can see how that might look smashing after the previous numbers, when only three out of 24 were women: a mere 13%. When 84% of Conservative MPs are men, this could indeed be a brave new world. In fact, in a rather gasp-worthy turn of events, the percentage of women cabinet ministers actually matches the percentage of MPs who are women.

If you add up the women who didn't quite make the ministerial cut but are going to be permitted to attend cabinet meetings, things get even brighter. There are three more hiding in this section, which veritably balloons the proportion of women cramming into the cabinet-related area to, er, 24%.

OK, so it's progress. An area that was very recently catastrophically bad in terms of representing women is now less so. But let's get some perspective. It can have escaped nobody's notice that women still make up a hefty half of the population. Yet to pay attention to the media hubbub, you'd think that it wasn't just the case that a couple of women were added to the cabinet - by the sounds of it, we've practically taken over.

Here's a fun game (and yes, I'm great at parties). Head over to the BBC's visualisation of the new cabinet line-up. Click the tab that says "Women". Click back to "All". Click back to "Women". Now try to wrap your head around the fact that this is what represents a reshuffle that has been called "female-friendly". And then try not to throw whatever device you're reading this on against the wall.

Why is it that a net gain of two women has generated such focused coverage? It's an improvement, but surely if we're totally honest with ourselves, this is still...kind of outrageous? And having five white women (who as far as I'm aware are also straight, cis and not disabled) in one of the most important groups in the country makes a mockery of representation?

But instead, the messages we're getting are that women have arrived. And that upsets me. Not just because it's so obviously not true, but because all this discussion is a distraction. For meaningful change in parliament, there has to be outrage. People have to be able to look at what's happening and say - no, this is not right, no, I do not want this. Whether that's through tweets to MPs, petitions, protests or a cross scratched with fury on a ballot paper, we need the passion to pursue change.

What happens instead when the discourse changes so that it's in the back of most people's minds that there's been some sort of elemental shift in power towards women in parliament? I, for one, doubt that there will be as many retweets or people ready to march in the streets. I imagine that articles debating the merits of gender quotas will be met with more eye-rolling and page-turning. I can just hear the patronising tone of the next person to tell me we don't need feminism in the UK.

The media coverage of the reshuffle has been sexist; it's been demeaning; it's been childish. But it's also been just about as misrepresentative as the cabinet itself.

There are many deeper questions about this specific reshuffle, as well as some of the concerning records and beliefs of the individual women and men who are now part of it.

But on a very basic level, I think we need to keep saying this:

Five is not enough.

The photo is by Lucy Hill and is used under a Creative Commons Licence. It shows the Houses of Parliament on the bank of the Thames and the start of Westminster Bridge, with dark clouds in the sky.

Pragmatism 101 for activists

21 July 2014 20:08
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Posted by Milena Popova

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So many times as an activist I have run into the conflict between pragmatism and idealism. One of the more useful people on the doomed Yes to Fairer Votes campaign for instance was Nigel Farage - a man whom otherwise I find thoroughly despicable. Another example is my work on QUILTBAG+ issues in the workplace. It's easy, when confronted with a corporate environment, to tackle the "low-hanging fruit" of lesbian and gay issues first and save what a friend of mine calls "the gold-plated conversation" for a "later" that somehow never comes.

I've been guilty of this myself. Last year I very nearly stood up in front of an LGB conference to talk about bisexual issues and played the respectability card of "Well, I am the good monogamous kind of bisexual." I was saved from myself at the last minute by another friend.

The urge to simplify issues, as well as to present ourselves in the "best" possible light to the powers that be, is understandable. If said powers can see that we (no matter who that "we" is in any particular context) are not that different, that we too are human and that our issues are reasonably straight-forward and easily solved without a lot of effort on their part, some success can be achieved.

The problem with this approach is that the line between pragmatism (focusing on finding quick and practical solutions to specific issues) and respectability politics (making ourselves look "respectable" in the eyes of those with power, often by disavowing the more marginalised members of our own community) is in places very thin indeed. I have learned over the years that pragmatism which isn't built on a solid foundation of principles and ideals generally yields the wrong solutions and that there is a fine art to practising pragmatism without engaging in respectability politics.

The second(!) step is to err on the side of inclusion rather than exclusion. Not sure if a particular group should be part of your community? Invite them in, open the dialogue and work it out together. One of the tricks I learned from the above conference incident is how to use language to open up spaces even when trying to present a united front to those in power. If your language firmly presents the "respectable" side of your community only, then chances are you are throwing people under the bus and the oppressors will rightly conclude that they have divided and conquered you. If your language, however subtly, leaves an open space for the diversity within your community, then your community will be stronger and you will open minds.

Another step is to realise that while pragmatism demands a certain amount of focus on particular issues, it can never be a question of either/or. When we campaign for better representation of women in leadership positions, we cannot stop campaigning for equal pay and better conditions for the millions of women in low-paid jobs. When we campaign against and provide services for those experiencing domestic abuse or sexual violence, we cannot ignore the simple facts that trans women of colour are by far at the greatest risk of such violence, or that in some cases the perpetrators of domestic abuse are women too. When we campaign against trafficking and sexual exploitation, we cannot deny the agency and jeopardise the safety of sex workers who are in the industry voluntarily.

And the very first step when trying to practise pragmatism without the respectability politics? Simple: be an idealist. Take the time to work out what your ideals and principles are, what you are trying to achieve, why and for whom. Talk them through with others in and outside your group, take feedback, listen, rework them if necessary; and when you're happy, write them down and put them up for everyone to see. That way, whenever you have to make a pragmatic choice, you can look at your principles and ideals and ask one simple question: Given those, what is the right thing to do? Once you know that, you'll work out how to do it.

Not doing harm to parts of our community is never a gold-plated conversation. Sometimes we need to make pragmatic choices, to simplify in order to engage, but there is always a way to do that without throwing people under the bus. Our diversity is not a weakness that we must eradicate in order or present a united front - it is a strength that we must build on in everything we do.

The photo is by JerodW and is used under a Creative Commons Licence. It shows two silhouetted hands reaching for each other.

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Posted by Shiha Kaur

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Welcome to this week's round-up and open thread. The following are links that we have found that might interest you. If you have found anything that you think other readers will enjoy, please add links in the comments section below. As usual, please note that a link here doesn't imply endorsement or agreement, and some links might be triggering.

Why women's aid is no safe haven for trans staff(Gay Star News)

Most rapists and murderers aren't ill. Don't call misogynists "mad" (Feminist Times)

Rapists aren't monsters (and that's why they're scary) - on the Cards Against Humanity creator's response to being accused of rape (The World of Lilith T. Bell) There is a statement from the woman alleging rape in the above case.

Why does everyone feel so sorry for men accused of being predators? (The Guardian)

Bounty Mutiny victory for Mumsnet: sales reps should be banned from NHS maternity wards (Telegraph)

10 reasons to fight the 'Assisted Dying' Bill (Disabled People Fight Back)

An Orthodox Brooklyn clothing line shared a photo of a woman in a hijab and their customers flipped out (The Village Voice Blogs)

The attack by self-identified radical feminists on trans people's participation in feminism and the LGBT movement has never been a response to any bad behavior by trans women or trans men. (The Advocate)

Men only?! A couple experience gender discrimination at a Sikh holy site (Kaur Life)

Single mothers 'do just as good a job as couples' (Guardian)

Photo shows a street art stencil of a woman and a priest. They are having a tug of war over a key. The woman has a keyhole in her stomach area. The figures are in black against a white background. Photo taken by Denis Bocquet
on Flikr, used under a Creative Commons Licence.

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Posted by D H Kelly

Grotesque Old Woman.jpg
[Content warning for body shaming.]

There's a Huffington Post article by Robin Korth entitled My 'Naked' Truth which is making the rounds on social media. The author is a 59-year-old woman who describes a brief relationship with a man called Dave who complains that her body is too wrinkly and offers advice about how she might remedy this:


He spoke of special stockings and clothing that would "hide" my years. He blithely told me he loved "little black dresses" and strappy shoes. He said my hair was not long and flowing as he preferred, but that was okay because it was "cool looking."

After ditching the reprobate, Korth goes on to examine her naked body in the mirror:

...I claimed every inch of my body with love, honor and deep care. This body is me. She has held my soul and carried my heart for all of my days. Each wrinkle and imperfection is a badge of my living and of my giving of life.

Which is fantastic. The only point that's missing is that Dave is almost certainly lying.

It's not that all bodies are attractive to all people, or that nobody is ever disappointed by physical aspects of a romantic or sexual partner. Many if not most of us will at some point be rejected because of the way we look (or smell or the sound of our voices).

Yet it's a rare lover who, confronted with something that genuinely turns them off, will point it out. We make our excuses and shuffle away. Not criticising a person for something beyond their control is a fundamental rule of polite conversation, applied doubly for those whose feelings we give a damn about.

When Korth finishes with Dave, he is surprised:

When I told Dave that I never wanted to see or hear from him again, he was confused and complained that I was making a big deal out of nothing. He whined that I had taken a small part of our relationship and made it a major event.

Of course he did; he wanted her to stay, on permanent probation, trying to live up to an impossible ideal. Not because he needed her to change to get a hard-on, but because he needed to have control. Any honest man who found wrinkled skin so drastically unattractive would simply not be dating a middle-aged woman.

One effect of our culture's saturation with images of a very particular version of white, young, thin, feminine beauty is the idea that this is the only thing a straight man could be happy with. It's not - no more than the only kind of man who can turn a woman on is a ripped young beefcake, an actual prince or Benedict Cumberbatch. Straight men face additional social pressure when it comes to their selection of partners - I've never heard of a woman having a secret affair with a fat man, afraid her friends will see them together - but men are a varied bunch and not quite so influenced by culture as our culture would have us believe.

What our culture does provide is a great deal of power to any man who wants to say, "My boner determines your worth as a human being. You don't look like the women in the magazines, so you need to step up your game to impress me."

This is an enormous power trip. You see a fragment of this delight when men hold forth on the internet about how unattractive this or that attribute is. To be able to say this to a real woman who cares about your feelings? That's a ride.

I was eighteen when my new boyfriend told me that my breasts were a saggy disappointment. I'd already received this message - Korth herself boasts of breasts that are "nowhere near my navel", but mine have never been far off.

He was only being honest. It didn't matter much, and there was nothing I could do about it - except, maybe try and exercise my upper body; get some muscles to help hold everything up.

Acne made my face resemble a pizza. I'd heard this at high school and a few short years later, I was hearing it from a 34 year old man. I probably wasn't washing properly. I was probably eating the wrong foods. I touched my face too much; resting my cheek on my hand, which couldn't be hygienic.

Men, my boyfriend explained, are very visual. He was only trying to be helpful. Helpful and honest.

Blonde hair would suit me better. I should wear sexier clothes. No, not like that - I needed to disguise my lumps and bumps. And no, not like that - I looked like his grandmother.

And then there was my weight. Had it increased as often as he said it had, instead of a divorce, I could have waded into the sea and declared myself a republic.

It was all a big trick. The only reason you might stay with someone who had so many flaws would be in order to point them out and enjoy watching their unwinnable struggle, not, in the end, to impress you, but to avoid offending you. That's the turn on, that's the buzz.

This, I'd guess, is Dave's MO. It may never have been so extreme. There are men who merely dabble in the power play of "Maybe if you lost a few pounds..." or joke about their lover's hang-ups as if to say, Stay on your guard. However, the vast majority of times I heard or read about this story, it's early on in relationships. It's establishing a power dynamic.

[Image is the sixteenth century painting "A Grotesque Old Woman" or "The Ugly Duchess" by Quentin Massys. It depicts a cheerful and bright-eyed elderly woman, possibly with Paget's disease, in a lavish costume. It can be seen at the National Gallery, London and is out of copyright.]

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Posted by Laura

 Today, Lord Falconer's assisted dying bill, which would allow doctors to prescribe a lethal dose of drugs to terminally ill patients judged to have less than six months to live, is being debated in the House of Lords. The bill is viewed by many disabled activists as a huge threat to disabled people: it represents but a first step towards the wider laws that right-to-die advocates are campaigning for, further devalues the lives of people who are sick and disabled and, some argue, defines terminal illness in such a way as to bring people with chronic illnesses and impairments into its remit. The bill is also particularly concerning given the current climate of "scrounger" rhetoric, cuts and entrenched societal disablism. I have blogged previously about how I changed my own views on assisted suicide through listening to disabled people's voices, so I would like to share some of their arguments here.

In a New Statesman interview, Tanni Grey-Thompson challenges the idea that assisted dying is simply about individual choice:

"I think it'll always be difficult to create legislation in this area that'll protect vulnerable people," she tells me. "We can say it's about individual decisions but I'm not sure it's that easy. That individual's affected by everyone around them, whether they think they're a burden, or a hindrance, or they're not getting the care they want but don't feel like they can say anything. With the welfare cuts, people are really worried about their care."

Grey-Thompson also mentions that people have come up to her and said they wouldn't want to live if they were like her. This theme is picked up by Penny Pepper, who highlights the fact that disabled people's lives are devalued to the extent that suicide is seen as an "understandable" option:

I was unhappy and badly needed mental health support to treat depression. Sad to say that the standard response was to link my illness and disability automatically to my depression - and my "understandable" suicide attempt. There is a link, but not the one perceived by mainstream thought, medical or otherwise. I was stuck in an isolated dead-end existence within the family home, and my mother was my only carer.
It felt like there was no chance of escape from a pointless existence; frustration dragged my depression into a downward spiral and I attempted suicide. I was in despair with barriers, with limits on personal freedom, and lack of independence - issues that can be alleviated by proper social care and the adaptation of physical boundaries.

Yet instead of providing the rights, care and support that disabled people need, society views disabled people's impairments as the sole source of their problems and too many view helping disabled people kill themselves as a "humane" way to alleviate suffering. This approach is rooted in disablism, as Clair Lewis argued in 2010:

When healthy people are suicidal, the usual response is to try to help them live better lives, not provide a solution which encourages them to die. It seems that disabled people are the only people who can be suicidal and mentally competent at the same time. Help offered to people with suicidal feelings is often inadequate. But however strapped for cash the NHS is, the one thing they won't do is offer to finish the job off properly.

In When "No" Means "Yes" For "Your Own Good", Mik Scarlet shares his story of medical professionals acting against his wishes and his fears of what this could mean if assisted dying were legalised. He also draws on his own experience of becoming disabled to argue against assisted suicide:

People such as Paul Lamb or the late Tony Nicklinson both campaigned for a law that allowed for sick and disabled people being able to request assisted suicide. If this was to happen then another teenager who was going through the same experience as I did back when I was fifteen [when he became disabled and felt suicidal] could call on the medical profession to assist them to die, stating they could not face the quality of life they had to look forward to as a disabled person as a reason. This in itself is worrying for so many disabled people, but now consider that there are surgeons out there who carry out procedures without consent or after consent has been withdrawn.

The title of this piece, written by Christopher Jones six months before he died of cancer, speaks for itself: "Right to die: There were times when I would have ended my life if it were legal - coming out the other side I'm glad it wasn't".

Stephen Drake at Not Dead Yet considers the "slippery slope argument", showing how right-to-die campaigners in the US view assisted dying for terminally ill people as just a starting point for the extension of that "right" to others, while this has already occurred in Europe:

...advocates try to steer clear of discussing the Benelux countries, which have embraced the euthanasia of nonterminally ill people, people with depression, old people who say they're tired of living and the euthanasia of "severely disabled" infants - in the Netherlands, children with Spina Bifida have been the main target of medical killing according to reports.

Finally, Miss Dennis Queen offers ten reasons to fight the bill, ranging from discrimination against severely sick and disabled people to the fact that the people this law will relate to almost never have all the things they need to live a good life.

Follow NotDeadYetUK on twitter for more. You can sign their petition against the bill here.

The image shows a likeness of James Bond pointing a gun, next to the words "Don't give doctors a licence to kill" and "Disabled people say NO to Falconer".

Singing and self recovery

17 July 2014 20:18
[syndicated profile] thefword_feed

Posted by Stephanie Phillips

mhs.jpg

Like most people stress can get the best of me. Project after project, priority after priority: it can eventually become too much. I started to look for ways to tend to my depleted emotional wellbeing and put an end to the monotonous cycle of stress I had become caught up in; but what should I choose? Yoga just confused me and meditating made me sleepy. I thought I was at a loss until I discovered a local women's singing group.

While it may be a pastime usually relegated to the stage or the shower, depending on the singer, singing is proven to be incredibly beneficial to your mental and physical well being. The Sidney De Haan Research Centre for Arts and Health recommends singing as a way of promoting mental wellbeing and researchers at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden have discovered that choir members' heartbeats synchronise when they sing together. This brings on a calming effect similar to yoga.

As soon as I walked into class the difference between the rushed, noisy world of central London, where no one dares crack a smile or show any sign of weakness, and the class was immediately apparent. Instead of the usual averted gaze and complete lack of acknowledgement I was used to when going to events or meetups in London, I was greeted with smiling faces and welcomed like an old friend.

The choir in question is My Heart Sings, a women's community choir based in London. Choir leader Shilpa Shah discussed why she decided to start MHS: "I've seen how singing can help create positive social change - relationships are strengthened and there is a sense of personal growth and wellbeing which can spill into every-day life and work. I started My Heart Sings to bring women together to create more of that magic for ourselves."

After attending for only a few months I have to say I feel a huge difference in my state of mind, which Shilpa puts down to the effects of singing in a group as it gives us "time to be really in the present moment - when you're focusing on singing in harmony with others, any thoughts of to-do lists or worries go out the window for a while."

She adds: "As one of our singers says 'I love to sing because it beats my PMT and grumpy face'."

Whilst the benefits of singing are undeniable there is also something to be said about being in a creative space with a group of women. Although Shilpa has led mixed gender groups previously she felt there was a need for women to come together in this form.

"In a patriarchal society where there is structural discrimination against women and girls, it's important for people who may have similar experiences to be able to spend time with each other."

She continues: "The current Tuesday night group includes incredible women who are nurses, social workers, teachers, mental health advocates, campaigners, community activists, lawyers, artists, writers, carers, volunteers, supportive friends, mothers and all sorts of other things. In these roles, and others they might play, they use a lot of their energy, often to benefit others. My Heart Sings is a space for women to do something for ourselves."

Although group singing also has a strong connection to politics and protest movements Shilpa is quick to point out that protest songs are not the only link between singing and politics: "Whatever we choose to sing, for me the radical change potential is in the personal growth and development that happens as a result of the creativity and inclusive connection with others.

She continues: "Since My Heart Sings started in November, singers have reported getting into work after a long period of unemployment, an improvement in their health, discovering well-being through taking up other musical hobbies, learning about social justice issues and different cultures or being more confident at work. After one performance, one woman said she 'felt a few cm taller'."

In Sisters of the Yam bell hooks declared that "choosing wellness is an act of political resistance". As activists we can overburden ourselves with too many projects, which on top of work, relationships and daily life can mean that we are unable to fully sustain all of our projects. To remain committed to activist work and to our own wellbeing we owe ourselves that day off, that massage, that chance to fully feel the strength of our lungs intertwine with the strength of twenty other women. Whatever way you choose to de-stress, I'll be singing my heart out.

The image shows a group of women with some children standing outside, holding a sign that reads "Happy International Women's Day from My Heart Sings"; it belongs to My Heart Sings and is used with permission.

Marriage: a cry for help?

16 July 2014 19:56
[syndicated profile] thefword_feed

Posted by Isadora Vibes

cheryl cole wax.jpgThis week we read that Cheryl Cole had got married. For the second time. To a French man. Nothing unusual in that and why not? Good luck to her and I am sure we would wish her every happiness. But of course in our celebrity cramped world we are forced to know or at least be aware of every minute happening in a person's life - we also know that Cheryl's previous marriage was torrid and difficult and so why would she do it again? Is it to show the world she is OK now or is it more a cry for help? And for the record, I am not judging Cheryl in any way shape or form for the decisions she has or hasn't made.

But the fact remains that after only three months of dating she has wedded this new man in a discreet and quiet ceremony (always concerning). Now I only really get to catch up on these kind of stories when I am at the hairdressers spending money I haven't got on a high maintenance short bleached hair do. So I have to read something while waiting for my roots to lift. In fact this could be described as very much a 'roots lifting' story. It was only last Friday when I read about Cheryl's new man and how he was turning up to all her work appointments and other events unannounced and basically being with her at all times. An alarm bell went off in my head as I thought that, rather than being romantic and supporting, he actually sounded controlling and needy. Not good attributes in a boyfriend. Or in any person. And now she has married him.

On the very next page was another article/expose about Jordan and her serial relationships. Crashing through from marriage to baby to affair to marriage to baby to affair she is the human equivalent of a truck that has lost its steering mechanism on a highway filled with chest busting hunks each one willingly stepping out to be hit head on by this thunderous pneumatic machine. Oh how we love to read about these ensuing and inevitable RTA's the fallout of which keeps magazines in business. We commiserate with Cheryl and then question her logic in marrying a man she has only know for a few weeks? But what I see on reading these stories are not two women who many bitch about and envy for their jet set lifestyles and unending string of attractive boyfriends - rather I see two desperately unhappy and insecure women who believe that marriage will solve all their problems and their happy ending will be achieved. But happy is a state of being- something to be worked on every day. Alone and with others.

Marriage is often seen as the answer to everything. The Holy Grail that marks the end of the search for a lifelong mate. This may be true in a handful of cases but it is my belief that marriage can also be a cry for help. In a celebrity's case it can be a way to make a pretty decent income if the pictures are sold into the right publication. But it is also a way of announcing publicly that you are happy. You have made it and are officially, a success. In reality, we are many people with many different needs. The pressure to find and stay with one single person for the whole of your life is not only wildly optimistic and usually unattainable, it can mean you can miss out on lots of other ways of loving and being. The model of one person for life is hugely damaging to women (and some men I guess also). It can give us false expectations but also not allow us to be at the centre of our own worlds responsible for our own choices.

In Cheryl's case her recent marriage may actually be a cry for help for people to notice that she is in crisis. Marriage is so much more than the grand gesture of a wedding and perhaps celebrities marry -divorce-marry again so quickly partly because they can afford it! Marriage is an institution and with this of course comes certain responsibilities and commonalities that can be stifling and difficult to maintain. Like all institutions it has rules and regulations that are not rooted in the lived experience. Human beings are complex people. They need to experiment, change their minds, live and love and make mistakes without judgment or disapproval. So let us be kind to the Cheryl and Jordan's and give them a break. After all, they are sending up a bat signal into the sky that we should all heed.

Photo is of a wax model of Cheryl Cole at Madame Tussaud's. The model has brown hair and wears a pink dress. Photo taken by Michael O'Donnabhain on Flikr, used under a Creative Commons Licence.

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