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Posted by Isadora Vibes

hanging bloomers.jpg

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

helpinghand.jpg

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

Bilbao black.jpg

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
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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
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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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Posted by Milena Popova

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I left the country of my birth at the age of 10. For six years I was only tolerated in my new home because my father had a work visa. My mother, too, was in Austria on a family visa with no right to work. It is telling what I remember from those years. My father's present to my mother for our first Christmas in Austria was a bank card allowing her to access his account. My parents didn't often go through really rough patches in their marriage but the one time they did, when they didn't speak to each other for two months and it looked like they would be getting divorced, my mother asked me if I wanted to stay in Austria with my father or return to Bulgaria with her. I was 11, maybe 12. I knew even then that if she wanted to leave my father she had no other choice - and that I would not go with her. I remember my mother struggling to learn German with very little social contact, and then struggling again to get a work permit. I know what she bought with her first own paycheque in Austria: a dishwasher. My mother, a research chemist originally, is now on her fourth career as a result of our migration; and while her current work is reasonably skilled and highly-paid, it is nothing like her first career.

That said, my mother has been lucky. She managed to get a work permit within two or three years, which gave her some financial independence. After six years, we were able to obtain Austrian citizenship, which meant she was no longer completely dependent on my father for her right to live anywhere outside Bulgaria. The odd rough patch aside, my parents' relationship and marriage has survived my grandparents' meddling, two international moves, a house purchase in their mid-forties, and me leaving for yet another country.

None of this changes the fact that immigration laws are inherently sexist. The way the family visa system is set up, and the fact that men are still likely to earn more and have the "lead career" in a relationship, makes many women immigrants completely dependent on their husbands. This can trap women in poverty and abusive relationships. And of course if you happen to have brown skin, the system only gets more horrifically oppressive.

In case you need further convincing that immigration is an urgent and burning feminist issue, consider this. One of the charities I support is the Abortion Support Network. It provides information and financial assistance to women from Ireland (North and South) to travel to England for an abortion. Back in its March Newsletter, ASN wrote this about women who had contacted them:

Four undocumented immigrants unable to obtain the visas they needed to travel for an abortion. Only one was able to access an early medical abortion via Women on Web. The other three women, despite checking with migrants' rights and other organisations, were forced to continue their pregnancies.

Let the sheer horror of this sink in for a moment. Consider also the lesbian and bisexual asylum seekers, often survivors of rape, which the Home Office deports on a regular basis. Consider the impact the crack-down on alleged "health tourism" will have on immigrant women trying to access maternity health care. Consider trans women who one way or another fail to jump through enough hoops and fall foul of immigration systems, detained in men's prisons.

Every single time someone in government opens their mouth to say "good immigration, not mass immigration", feminists should be at the forefront of challenging that. Every single time the Conservatives try to play off immigrants against the poor, we should be shouting, "Not in my name!" Every single time the government restricts family visas even further, we should be getting on the barricades. The racism of this government - and frankly Britain's entire political class - is disproportionately affecting women, and we should be leading the charge against it.

The photo is by Wally Gobetz and is used under a Creative Commons Licence. Taken in Heathrow airport, it shows a sign on a wall that says "Welcome to Britain" on a Union Jack background.

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Posted by Isadora Vibes

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Yesterday, I read an article on feminist porn and, as a result, followed links to various websites to investigate further. What I found looked rather worthy and not much fun but is this because fundamentally feminism and porn are diametrically opposed? How can pornography be filmed and presented in a way that satisfies feminists? Feminist pornography defines itself as 'a genre of film developed by and/or for women. It was created for the purposes of encouraging women and their self-beliefs of freedom through sexuality equality and pleasure'. Now I do not confess to be a connoisseur of porn but I have been reading and watching erotic/explicit stories and films since my early teens. I know what I like and what I don't like. From what I can remember, some of my consumptions featured or were written by women and some by men. But what they all had in common was the celebration of female pleasure. At least that was the porn I discovered and have been enjoying ever since. But does this make it feminist?

I love to watch women taking and sharing pleasure- either alone, with another woman or as part of a group. When men appear in porn they always seem to get in the way! I want the camera to move and get back to the women. Women achieving orgasm is so much more erotic than a man. After all, in porn and in films we can see a woman climaxing through the sounds they make and their facial expressions - incredibly sexy. With men, the camera has to show us an ejaculating penis - coming on the face, the body but rarely inside the woman (which in reality, is what actually happens during sex). Seeing the sperm seems to be hugely important to the process and perhaps this is why porn is seen as degrading and disregarding of women.

Rejecting this kind of porn and self selecting other forms of sexual and visceral films and literature, I realize that perhaps I have been consuming 'feminist' porn for years - that which puts the woman or women at the centre of the story or action - but of course would never have framed or named it. Take Anais Nin who was the early source of countless under cover reads resulting in early masturbatory experiments. Was Nin a feminist pornographer? Often eclipsed by Henry Miller as an author - in her diaries and stories she plays with concepts of innocence, power, rituals and perversions. But all with a feminist construct. In many ways I much prefer Nin to Miller. Yes his work is sexually explicit but for me, his cock and the pleasure he perceives he is giving/getting with it, obstructs the story. It reduces eroticism rather than increases it. Perhaps women are far more natural pornographers than men.

Pornography has been defined and produced by men for far too long. The word itself has been debased and degraded by the way it is executed. After all, porn was invented or at least stylized as a means of sexual display and arousal which is something to be celebrated and shared surely. Over the centuries, women have become increasingly exploited: forced to perform degrading and violent acts for the pleasure of men (mainly) but does this mean we end porn? No! Pornography should be available to watch for all of us. But if we reclaim it and define porn as feminist might this mean that the stories and execution thereof have to honour and follow only feminist principles? Or can we still enjoy in play role reversals, extreme fantasies and many of the scenarios that in the real world we would never sanction in our sentient, professional lives?

I pray not. Surely there is space for everything. When I search for porn I look for women and I find them. In comfortable, orgasmic circumstances having a great time - or so it would seem. I have been offered lesbian or group sex porn which has been disappointing for the sheer fact that the women involved are not living or expressing the truth of their sexuality or arousal. They are playing at pleasure for a male gaze and frankly us women see straight through it. Conversely, the women who really get into touching themselves, each other and even men in a fully engaged, ecstatic way is what I want to see and is what I would define as feminist porn. Women enjoying and expressing themselves in a full and celebratory way - with no censor or need for male approval. It is women who are making the choices.

Let's reclaim pornography as a human experience and enjoy it for what it is - the most fun we can have as adults - well almost!

Photo is of a painting called "The Sleepers" by Gustave Courbet which hangs in the Petit Palais in Paris, France. The painting shows two women holding each other, naked and asleep against a dark blue background. There is a table in the foreground with a glass and bottle on it and a vase of flowers in the background. Photo taken by Charles Hutchins on Flikr, shared under a Creative Commons Licence.

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Posted by Megan Stodel

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Welcome to this week's round-up and open thread! This is a collection of links that we've come across that are interesting but not been able to blog about. Linking doesn't imply endorsement - sometimes these are links to things that we find frustrating, as well as ones we find inspiring or thought-provoking! We also try to highlight potentially triggering links but all should be approached with caution.

Feel free to use the comments to talk about these links or anything else you've come across this week.

Accused rapists would have to prove consent in law reversal proposed by New Zealand politicians (The Independent)

Mentally ill people need to be helped, not hounded (The Guardian)

Jack Halberstam's Flying Circus: on postmodernism and the scapegoating of trans women (Feministing)

French Senate's special commission rejects criminalisation of clients (International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe)

Trigger warning breakfast: The morning after I was raped, I thought I could create another story (Medium) Trigger warning

How a 16-year-old rape victim becomes an Internet meme (The Washington Post) Trigger warning

ACAB is a feminist issue (Another Angry Woman)

Forced treatment for depression is beyond satire (Left Eye Right Eye)

The image shows nine ducks of swimming together in a photo by me, available for use under a Creative Commons Licence.

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Posted by fanhackers

For fans of manga, anime, and other Japanese media, pointing and laughing at inaccurate mass media portrayals of Japanese pop culture has been something of a sport for decades. A few weeks ago, however, things took a slightly more serious turn.

The ball got rolling when early in June, the Japanese House of Representatives approved a long-overdue law banning the possession of child pornography. Up to now, creating and distributing child pornography was as forbidden in Japan as anywhere else, but “simple possession” had not yet been criminalized. The new law applies only to “real” child pornography and leaves alone completely fictional depictions of underage characters in sexual situations in manga, anime and other media. This exception came about after vocal protests from manga publishers, creators, fans and free speech rights activists. The story was widely reported in non-Japanese media. However, most of these reports focused on handwringing about Japan’s “failure” to clamp down on sexually explicit manga. Most shared was a CNN article filled with outrage about how the new law supposedly permits Japanese bookstores to fill their shelves with shocking cartoon porn about children.

As the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF) pointed out in a scathing reaction post, CNN’s report was highly misleading and uninformed, misrepresenting manga in general as pornographic and painting the “freedom of speech” arguments against the new law as no more than the lobbying of a large industry bent on making profit from icky virtual child pornography. The comments section of the CNN article quickly filled with anime and manga fans fact-checking the text and refuting its arguments.

Their support, and that of the CBLDF, was of some small comfort to Japanese creators and activists who were aghast at their portrayal in Western media. Simple complaining about “Japanese cartoon porn” is, by now, no more than sadly familiar. Sensation-hungry Western news outlets have been creating miniature moral panics out of that ever since they realized that in Japan, comics and animation are media that are used to express not just “kiddy stuff” but every kind of content, including pornography.

This uproar went further in the sense that it represented manga creators and free speech activists as money-grubbing child pornographers. CNN and other news sources seemed unaware that in Japan, unlike in the United States, laws that restrict depictions of sexuality in media actually are a very serious freedom of speech issue, and have been so since immediately after WWII. Japanese creators and publishers of sexually explicit material who yell about free speech rights are not just demanding the right to do whatever they like; they are continuing half a century of protests against arbitrary and outdated censorship laws.

A look at Japanese legal history

Japanese authorities have used and continue to use laws against “obscenity” to attempt to control what gets published in the country. Before and during WWII, such laws were among several used to suppress any speech that did not support Japanese militarism. After the war, freedom of speech was guaranteed in Japan’s new constitution, but still restricted by only one remaining bit of pre-war legislation: Article 175 of the Criminal Code of Japan, which prohibits the sale or distribution of materials that contain “obscenity” (waisetsu).

Other countries at the time also attempted to legally curtail “obscene” media, of course, but Japan’s anti-obscenity law turned out to have bigger teeth than many others. For instance, in the 1950s and 1960s, the US, Britain, and Japan all held separate trials about obscenity contained in the D.H. Lawrence novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover. In the US and Britain, the trials ended in acquittals, greatly reducing the subsequent relevancy of obscenity laws for media in those countries. In Japan, however, Lady Chatterly was judged obscene. The victory of the prosecution in this first postwar Japanese “obscenity” trial was an important precedent, because it confirmed that obscenity laws were a stick that authorities could beat publishers and authors with whenever they were displeased with the direction Japan’s creative sector was going in. Lady Chatterley was the first in a series of protracted and much-publicized “obscenity” trials that covered many different media, from books to film to photographs to manga. (See Cather for in-depth analysis of censorship in Japan.)

Far from being discouraged, the Japanese media industry made dodging of the censors into an art form. Manga creators, for instance, got very creative in figuring out ways to depict naked bodies and sex without showing pubic hair (long a no-no) or genitalia. Article 175 and related laws and local ordinances were applied so rarely and so inconsistently that the creators and publishers who did end up getting charged were usually very surprised to be singled out. Still, many of the obscenity trials turned into platforms for broad swathes of Japan’s literary world and media industry to try and wrestle back their right to publish freely from the state. Many feel that bureaucrats and police have no business deciding what people are allowed to read in order to protect a vague and constantly-shifting idea of “public morality”.

No matter how rarely used, laws against obscenity, and (especially since the 1990s) a mushrooming multitude of local ordinances against “harmful” media, do influence what can get published, what can be on library shelves, and what people can write and draw. The chilling effect of even potential legal troubles was – and still is – considerable for authors and publishers. Only weeks ago, a new manga by an assistant mangaka working on the popular series Attack on Titan was cancelled because its publisher feared that it might run afoul of a local ordinance in Tokyo aimed at curtailing the spread of “unhealthy publications”.

The fandom effect

Censors’ attention turned to manga and fan culture after 1989, when a serial killer turned out to possess large amounts of sexually explicit anime and be a participant inComiket, Japan’s largest convention for fan manga (doujinshi). This led Japanese media to engage in what fans called “otaku bashing”.

Although stigmatization of fans as socially maladjusted and possibly dangerous loners has lessened much since then, its effects are still felt. The most recent high-profile “obscenity” trial, a five-year legal battle that ended in 2007 with a guilty verdict from the Supreme Court of Japan, was about a manga (more on that trial). Commentators and scholars argue that manga has become a target for censorship, at least in part, because anime, manga, and Japanese fan culture in general have been gaining much attention and acclaim overseas. The Japanese government has been trying to turn that attention into money with various “Cool Japan” campaigns aimed at promoting Japanese media products and tourism to Japan.

Polemics in foreign media about the less photogenic parts of Japanese pop culture, like adult manga, are then unwelcome indeed. Some warn that with the Tokyo Olympics coming up in 2020, local and national authorities in Japan may get even more sensitive to foreign handwringing about “Japanese cartoon porn”. However valid that fear may or may not be, last month’s new flap about manga and anime highlights how uninformed many media outlets still are about Japan, and how little any articles about non-English fandoms in the mass media can be trusted. Shallow and alarmist reporting by major and (somewhat) respected news sources like the BBC and CNN reinforces orientalist stereotypes about Japan and its people being somehow lacking in sexual morals. Clearly, it also does great harm to the cause of activists who are fighting to keep bureaucrats and police from gaining tools to control what can be published by the Japanese media, professional and amateur.

Last month’s incident also highlights the growing importance of free speech rights to fan communities. Laws against “obscenity” or so-called “virtual child pornography” are still low on the radar of many English-speaking fans, especially compared to copyright woes. However, the example of Japan shows that these laws can and do have a very direct impact on what fans can make and distribute.

Past and recent cases

In Japan, the extremely popular fan-made manga called doujinshi have to follow the law just as much as commercially published manga. Fans are free to draw what they like in private, but if they want to distribute their fanworks in any way, they have to apply censor bars or mosaics to anything that might possibly catch the attention of censors. Just like with professional manga, the law is applied only rarely and inconsistently, but anti-obscenity laws have still led to legal troubles for individual fans and disruptions of fan activities and fannish infrastructure.

For instance, in the midst of a “harmful books” polemic that followed the arrest of the “otaku” serial killer in 1989, “police confiscated thousands of doujinshi from merchants in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward and arrested several shop owners” (Japan Times). In 1991, doujinshi convention Comiket was forced to move out of its convention site Makuhari Messe because police had received complaints about the fanworks being distributed there (Comiket welcomed over two hundred thousand visitors around that time and hosted 11,000 fanwork creators). Doujinshi conventions began to enforce anti-obscenity measures and check every fanwork on sale to make sure it followed guidelines about obscuring genitals and warning buyers of sexual content on the covers. Still, in 1994 and on several other occasions, further conventions had to be cancelled or moved because of complaints about possible “harmful material” being distributed.

“Obscenity” issues were shown to be connected with copyright problems in 1999 when a a female creator of sexually explicit doujinshi for the popular children’s game and anime series Pokemon was arrested for copyright infringement, apparently after someone complained about the explicit material to copyright holder Nintendo. In 2007, a doujinshi creator was arrested and eventually fined because his self-censorship of his works was not sufficient. This lead doujinshi conventions (and online doujinshi shopDLsite) to tighten enforcement of censorship regulations, and the Japan Doujinshi Printing Group to issue self-censorship guidelines for all fans who wanted to have their doujinshi printed by its member printing companies. Later in 2007, a building which had been used by several doujinshi conventions was closed to conventions that feature sexually explicit doujinshi. In 2009, the manager of a doujinshi shop shop was arrested on suspicion of distributing obscene material (NSFW link). Today, various links in the creation and distribution chain of doujinshi – doujinshi printers, conventions, and doujin shops – continue to impress upon fans the importance of “self-regulation” (jishu kisei, in practice “self-censorship”) when distributing fanworks.

Unsurprisingly, censorship issues are at least as important as copyright issues for Japanese fans. Around 2010, for instance, Japanese fan communities were actively involved in a battle to defeat a local ordinance in Tokyo that attempted to forbid the distribution of material containing sexual depictions of ill-defined “nonexistent youths” (more inthis TWC article).

Worldwide effects

Japanese laws are not the only ones causing problems for fans. Outside Japan, several fans have gotten in serious trouble because the manga they love were considered “child pornography” by authorities. The CLBDF has been particularly active in chronicling these cases and sometimes providing legal support to fans. In 2010, for instance, a U.S. manga fan was sentenced to jail because manga in his collection contained “drawings of children being sexually abused”. Also in 2010, another U.S. manga fan was arrested at the Canadian border for similar reasons, at least the second time this sort of arrest happened in Canada. Several more fans have reported online that they were questioned at the Canadian border because they were carrying manga. In 2012, there was a small victory as Swedish manga translator Simon Lundström was cleared of child pornography charges brought on by several manga on his computer.

This string of worldwide incidents surrounding manga, and the uproar in Western media about Japan’s “refusal” to criminalize “virtual child pornography”, shines a light on how little attention most countries outside Japan have paid to the question of whether it makes sense to extend anti-child pornography laws to depictions of entirely fictional children. Some countries, like Australia and Canada, do extend their definitions of “child pornography” to media that contain absolutely no real children, only fictional characters. In the US, this cannot be prosecuted as child pornography, but it can be prosecuted under general obscenity laws if it meets the standard for obscenity (as judged by community standards, patently offensive sexually explicit depictions that lack literary, artistic, political, or scientific value).

However, these laws mostly passed with very little public consultation or debate (see McLelland). There was often no serious inquiry into the question of whether “virtual child pornography” is actually harmful to anyone, and why it should be banned while fictional depictions of other crimes are fine and dandy. Objections about a lack of scientific evidence to link “virtual child pornography” to real harm, and objections about potential censorship, are easily brushed aside in the midst of moral panics about “protecting children”. According to Kotaro Ogino of the Japanese free speech organization Uguisu Ribbon Campaign, this problem is occurring in Japan as well, leading to the constant battles about potential criminalization of “virtual child pornography” that are taking place there today (personal communication).

Also problematic is that, unlike in Japan, many citizens of these countries are not aware it may be illegal for them to make fictional depictions of sexual situations involving minors. Many fandoms such as Harry Potter or Attack on Titan have thriving shipping communities around underage characters. In theory, that puts some fan creators in the crosshairs of anti-child pornography laws. The fact that laws against “virtual child pornography” are rarely or inconsistently enforced does not mean they are harmless. The outcome of the constant fight that Japanese fans, mangaka, and publishers are waging against censorship laws may turn out to be very relevant for non-Japanese fans as well.

For more information

More news and information about censorship problems that impact Japanese and non-Japanese fans of anime and manga can be found on the CBLDF website, the blog of translator Dan KanemitsuAnime News Network, and in the articles tagged with “censorship” in the OTW’s fan studies bibliography.

(by Nele Noppe. Also posted on the OTW’s main blog.)

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Posted by Amber Collins

Commenter 1: This is a ridiculous post. Sorry. Banal and slightly patronising, most people have the common sense not go home with strange guys who raise red flags via online dating. 1. Double standards on sti's, "don't care if I get them in the mouth though because I like giving bj's" is just...what. 2. Using the term 'mansplaining' is disgusting.
This isn't feminism.

Commenter 2: Totally agree. Although there is some good advice here, it is no way to avoid a 'rapist'. You can talk to someone online (someone you've known or seen around your social circles for years) and they can come across kind and trustworthy. Once you spend a night with them, you can discover things you would have never been able to identify with a check list.. I'd like to see less articles directed at women about self protection and more directed at men on 'how not to become a rapist'

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In light of these two comments on Facebook responding to my post yesterday, How I made sure I didn't go home with a rapist, it seems there are some points I need to clarify.

1. This post was an answer to a question

To take you back to a comment on my first post on online dating:

Do you ever worry for your physical safety? I think the main thing that would stop me from doing something like this would be concern that I may not be safe going home with total strangers.

Not only is this concern not "ridiculous", it is also a question that would appear in the FAQs of Amber's Sex Life, if that were a website I were so inclined to make. This is a question people ask often, and it is a valid concern for which I wanted to give a considered and helpful response beyond "I took risks all the time, it's impossible to guarantee safety." If you weren't curious about the problem raised in the title, this post wasn't for you. That's fine! It doesn't mean that the question, or anyone who has asked it, is ridiculous. It means you should have scrolled on by. 

2. This was not a post on how to avoid rapists

I'm sorry if the "How I" title decision threw anyone. I thought it was a cute callback to my first post and might be an easy way to pull this series together within my wider body of written work.

That's obviously a decision I'm now reviewing given that it seems to have come across to some as a "How to" guide.

My list of red flags was not a recommended "checklist". It was not some guide to "self-protection" from rape, as if that's even possible. It was a personal account of my experiences (as I'd ironically hoped would be implied by the words "How I").

I'll be honest, I really resent the implication that I was in some way contributing to victim blaming with this post, especially since I deliberately incorporated explicitly anti-blaming statements. Victim blaming is NEVER acceptable, and that includes making comments like "most people have the common sense not go home with strange guys who raise red flags". It's actually not that simple, because...

3. Not everyone recognises what appropriate boundaries are or how to enforce them

Hollywood, television and other media teach women that they should give the Nice Guy(TM) a chance, give the lovable loser a chance, give the socially awkward guy a chance, give the guy you've only ever thought of as a friend a chance, give the guy you suspect you'll never be physically attracted to a chance, give the guy who just won't stop pursuing you a chance. Those who do not give these men a chance are uptight and those who require that the men tick certain boxes before even meeting them are clearly superficial and incapable of love.

Growing up immersed in this media teaches us that when we recognise red flags and code a guy as 'creepy' - or even just uninteresting or unsuitable for whatever reason - this is an instinct we should overrule. Women are trained to give men the benefit of the doubt BY DEFAULT, even if they are anonymous strangers who have not yet earned that privilege. I certainly did when I first started this adventure, allowing men to cross lines repeatedly until I realised that now I was only arranging to meet them to prove a point, even when I wasn't enjoying our conversations or looking forward to being naked with them.

I don't think it's unusual for people to drop standards developed for romantic relationships when you're only planning a one-night stand, especially if, like me, you were deliberately attempting to explore, experiment and push your boundaries. However, lowering my usual requirements considerably in order to personify some open-minded ideal just led to boring conversations at best, blocked nuisance callers at worst. In this post I had hoped to remind people that it's okay to decide you have limits and expect others to stick to them, especially if you are concerned about safety.

It is not narrow-minded to require your partner to meet some kind of criteria. It is not irrational* for these criteria to seem obvious to one person and unreasonable to another. It does not make you a bitch to adhere to these requirements strictly, nor does it make you a bitch to decide to make an exception. We do not and cannot have guaranteed safety, but we do have agency. Recognising that agency and using it to make yourself feel more comfortable with the people you meet is one tool that can help you enjoy the online dating experience more as you avoid prolonging the inevitable for people who were not born with the right to your attention.

Finally...

"don't care if I get them in the mouth though because I like giving bj's" is just...what.

IT'S A DECISION.

When guys dodged condoms, their preference was to put me in a situation that I deemed to be of unacceptable risk. That was their preference. I refused.

No part of this is a double standard. All of it is a decision. An informed, independent decision which actively handed my partner options and free rein to consent or not. I made the call to risk herpes in my mouth. (And, for the record, I got tested every three months and I never contracted anything.)When I offered the option between oral sex without protection, vaginal sex with protection or no sexual contact at all, that was my compromise to reduce the risk to a level I deemed acceptable, having done my homework and reached a thoughtful conclusion. The guy was always free to refuse. And some did - but always those worrying about when my last STI tests were, not those who were trying to fuck me bareback. 

Moving on. For being "slightly patronising", I apologise. I'm new to blogging and I'm still figuring out my voice. I'm trying to be relatable, informative and interesting, and it's entirely possible that I'm misfiring on one or all of these. I will of course continue to keep working on this.

I make no apologies for using the word 'mansplaining'. It's a widely-used word with an accepted and specific definition.

You know what's actually disgusting? Telling a woman talking about her own experiences that this is "not feminism." You should take a good hard think about what you said there, and perhaps question your place in a movement that deliberately encourages women from all backgrounds to have a voice and a platform on which to use it.

As a final note, I don't use Facebook, and I won't. I would much rather have the opportunity to address concerns directly, especially if I really have miscommunicated and these comments represent a much larger number of readers who think I'm victim blaming or feel patronised. If you have a comment for my posts I would ask that you please make them here, where I can respond and we can actually come to an understanding.

*ETA: Thank you to those who called me on my use of the word 'crazy' instead of 'irrational' here - I try very hard to avoid using disablist language but crazy', 'mad' and 'insane' are words I still use far too frequently. I will continue to work towards removing these words from my everyday vocabulary and appreciate those who help me by pointing out when I slip up. 

[Image is of a yellow post-it note on a white background with a small, three-dot ellipsis written on the very bottom-right corner. Photo by Don, shared under a Creative Commons licence on Flickr.]

Writing Joan...

9 July 2014 22:23
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Posted by Isadora Vibes

joan of arc.jpg

This week is PRIDE in Bristol - my new adopted city. To celebrate I submitted a monologue I wrote some time ago - inspired by staying at a boutique B&B in the Lancashire town of Chorley. I had chosen this place to stay at random and wasn't expecting it to be owned and run by a lesbian couple. And when I say lesbian - what I actually mean is two women in a relationship. One thing I am learning as I begin to my own and explore my 'queer' status, is that labels come with their own instructions. But I digress..

Back in Chorley, as the evening progressed, I got talking to Joan and, as all good writers do, her story was revealed to me. She told me of her aggressive husband and how she left him - firstly for a friend of hers and then for a younger female artist who she now runs the B&B with. Joan of Chorley I thought. What a great idea for a play. And so several months later I wrote her story - or my interpretation of it. And yes, at the time I did ask her permission and she did agree. And so Joan will forever be immortalized on stage tomorrow evening in Bristol as what is being called the 'Queer Shirley Valentine'. An apt description. But behind the humour of the piece lies a poignancy and raw truth of what many women experience - sometimes over a lifetime.

Trapped in relationships with men they no longer love or want. After years of being 'heterosexual' what does it mean to leave this normative societal safety to set up home with a woman. We may think of this as a modern phenomenon but in fact I suspect it has been going on throughout history. When I look back at my sexual history and romantic life I can see that the pressure to be follow the normative path is huge - all embracing. The prince on a horse - the mighty conquering cock - the great protector provider. Who wouldn't want that?! When we throw in the inequality of opportunity, unequal pay, little or no value assigned to birthing and raising children by society is it any wonder women to cling to men for dear life. What alternative is there without an independent income and a career?

Inflammatory statements I know but in 2008 a report in the Daily Mail stated that 59% of women would leave their husbands if they could afford it. But what does this have to do with Joan? Why did she fall in love with a woman and why are same sex relationships on the increase? Why? Because if the normative is questioned and even taken away then what is left?

Space? Choice? Love? Love between two people. Love between two people who happen to be women. If choice of sexual preference were supported the world would be a very different place. But I am not writing this piece to raise a political point or to begin a debate around sexual identity and gender. I am writing this to raise awareness and to pay homage to women like Joan. When she told her husband she was leaving he literally told her to never darken his door again. Dirty bitch. And other choice words that are more or less unprintable. But Joan is happy. She is living a new life. I am sure many would envy her. She is brave and chose love. No relationship is perfect but if we could choose and be valued for alternative loves and lives then the world would indeed be a very different place.

Happy PRIDE everyone.

Photo shows Milla Jovovivh as Joan of Arc in the film "The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc". The photo is hlack and white and shows a woman with short hair with soldiers wearing armour. Photo by flikr user luvi, used under a Creative Commons Licence.

It's not all about you

9 July 2014 10:20
[syndicated profile] thefword_feed

Posted by Gemma Varnom

disabilitymeme.jpg

The Facebook Meme: An unattributed photo of a woman in a wheelchair on the beach. Superimposed on top is written: "Never ignore somebody with a disability. You don't realise how much they can inspire you!!"

There's a quote someone or other will decide to share every so often on Facebook - by pure coincidence about 30 seconds before I permanently block them - that goes: "Never ignore somebody with a disability. You don't realise how much they can inspire you!!"

Mawkish platitudes like this trouble me no end, not only because using more than one exclamation mark is usually a sign the author is about to implement a nefarious scheme to take over Gotham City, but because it unthinkingly implies the only reason not to ignore a disabled person is because their uplifting story of triumph over adversity can enrich your life. Not ignoring disabled people is a decent enough message, but implying they're worth having around solely to boost your morale and warm your cockles is insulting. Who these disabled people are, what they feel, want or need, seems to be irrelevant.

The word "inspirational" in this context has rankled with me (and many others) for a long time, but the rise of social media and the likes of Buzzfeed and Upworthy means this stuff is everywhere now, right alongside all those videos of plucky three-legged kittens with the tearjerking plinky-plonky soundtracks.

So, to those people taking pictures of triumphant Paralympians and adding the caption, "Excuses: yours is invalid".

To the people who shared the video of Joanne Milne hearing for the first time with the comment, "This has really made me think about how blessed I am."

And to whichever overpaid numpty writes those hyperbolic, click-bait headlines like "This Happy Little Girl With A Scrotum For A Face Will Make You Totally Re-Evaluate Your Outlook On Life."

To all these people, a polite request: can we stop making it all about you, please?

I don't want to be your inspiration. I don't want to "put things into perspective" for you or remind you of everything you "take for granted". I don't want to prompt you to think long and hard about how 'lucky' you are to have a fully functioning body and mind. Frankly, I'm a bit flippin' busy starting a business, battling the patriarchy, reading ridiculously detailed philosophical analyses of Breaking Bad, fancying inappropriate blokes, eating too many Magnums and generally being a human who does ordinary human-y things. Things, incidentally, which do not automatically become extraordinary just because I am doing them.

It's not as if anyone's ever 'inspired' enough to actually do anything anyway, other than have a long and indulgent session of counting their blessings. I wouldn't mind being inspirational quite so much if the result was, "You've inspired me to read up on the social model of disability" or, "You've inspired me to cancel my standing order to the Conservative Party." But nope, that never happens. The definition of 'inspirational' is twisted here to become, simply, "makes me feel better about myself".

And making you feel better often ends up making us feel worse. It makes those of us who can't (or don't want to) nip up Kilimanjaro every other weekend or win a Paralympic gold look like we're just not trying hard enough. It makes those of us who don't particularly feel like smiling every moment we're out in public appear to be letting down all the non-disableds with our depressing negative attitude. "Focus on what you CAN do, not what you CAN'T!!", the serial quote-sharers chirp, thinking they're being all inclusive and encouraging, yet the true meaning behind it always seems to be, "It makes it all so much NICER for US!!"

What all these (probably quite lovely) people are doing, without realising it, is erasing our status as human beings who not only have opinions, passions, desires, kinks, loves, hates and occasional stinkingly foul moods just like everyone else, but who often also have additional requirements that need to be met. We - and in my experience it's women and girls who seem to bear the brunt of this - are reduced to objects and saintly shining examples, as people with the very best of intentions place us on the very worst kind of pedestal.

It's raising awareness, yes, but from a wilfully ignorant perspective. It's making disability more visible, sure, but through a completely warped lens. They mean well, bless their hearts, but we know what the road to hell is paved with.

When you make our disabilities all about you, you take no notice of what they mean for us.

I guarantee anyone who views disabled people as 'inspirational' has absolutely no interest in aiding us in advancing our rights or achieving equality. They have no interest in what we have to say, not just about disability-related issues, but about anything. I could give a staggeringly erudite lecture on the development of the women's rights movement in the 19th century (well, OK, I couldn't, but that's beside the point) and this sort of person would just turn round and say - in a tone of voice suggesting several exclamation marks - "Wow, she knows all that despite not being able to see. Amazing!!!"

"Never ignore someone with a disability"? Give over. That's exactly what you're doing.

[syndicated profile] thefword_feed

Posted by Amber Collins

Red Flag Day - tuchodi.jpg

When I was online dating for sex I was fortunate enough to meet many interesting, funny, kind young (and not-so-young) men who wanted to orgasm in, on or around me. These traits were not always combined in the same human, but I considered one out of the three to be a decent success rate in the anonymous promiscuity lottery.

So how did I make sure I chose men like this and didn't go home with a rapist?

It's a trick question, because I obviously didn't. None of those men raped me, but I don't know their sexual histories or futures, and I certainly didn't know when I met them at stations and got into their cars or followed them into their homes or workplaces before they shut the door behind me that they definitely wouldn't rape me. I was lucky, but I don't like to say that because it implies that 'not being raped' is a state of great fortune when it should be the bare minimum expectation for encounters with fellow humans.

I will say that arranging to meet and sleep with strangers, especially when you have a rule that they arrange the venue so as to never find out where you live, is not an activity with any guarantees of safety. I accepted the risk and did my best to minimise it. For me, that worked. I was not assaulted. If it didn't work for someone else that is NOT under ANY circumstances or to ANY degree their fault.

What little vetting I did (and I didn't always) was based around principles of respect. I had a one-strike policy for any sign of disrespect, which tended to fall into three red flag categories:

1. Disrespect of boundaries

HIM: Hey, you should come over tonight.
ME: I'm sorry, I have plans. Are you free tomorrow instead?
HIM: No. Come tonight.
ME: I can't. When else are you free?
HIM: I'm free tonight.
ME: ...We're done here.

This is obviously the big one - if a guy doesn't respect the boundaries you set before you've even met him how can you trust him to respect your boundaries in person?

Everyone sets different rules, but for me this problem most often emerged relating to phone calls. I did not want horny strangers thinking they could booty call me at a time when I might be enjoying a relaxing evening at home or spending time with someone who actually means something to me, so I would refuse to answer my phone to these guys without a good reason and tell them flat out that I don't do phone calls.

Some still called. Of course they did. Even when I told them I was taking a break from online dating and needed to be left alone for a while the power of the boner was so strong it apparently overruled any wishes I had expressed. When I reactivated my profile these guys were told that they had blown their chances and I would not be meeting with them. They didn't understand the connection between the limits I placed in one activity as being relevant to another activity. This is male privilege: they can afford not to.

2. Disrespect of STIs

ME: So shall I bring condoms or do you have a preferred brand?
HIM: Oh... Do we really need them, do you think? Aren't you on the pill?
ME: Why, does the pill protect me from chlamydia now?
HIM: I know, but you're clean, right? And so am I!
ME: ...The very fact that you've just tried to dodge using barrier protection puts that statement into serious question.

Someday I will discuss the other end of this spectrum, where he would gingerly ask me if I'd had my filthy whore body tested for dirty diseases that might taint the purity of his peen. I did not appreciate that approach either, for reasons that deserve their own entry, but at least such guys were actually aware that having sex is a health risk in itself and wanted to avoid that risk if possible. (SPOILERS: It's not.) I have a lot more patience for that attitude than "Yeah, yeah, potential blistering sores, BUT IT CHAFES."

Most frequent excuse, I'm sure you'll be unsurprised to hear: "I'm just too BIG for normal condoms, they're really uncomfortable..."

To which they were told they could have a high-quality swallowing blowjob* or they could fork out whatever money it took for whatever brand would fit comfortably around their enormous dong. (Funnily enough, the biggest guys I slept with did not ever use this excuse. They just fucked me with a damn condom on.) If they continued to whine or attempt to persuade me of the virtues of their bodily fluids or I got the impression they might try to weasel out of it at the time, we were through.

*Yes, I understand that there is a risk of contracting STIs from unprotected oral sex. I did my research and decided it was a risk I could live with. I really like giving blowjobs. (That is yet another post.)

3. Disrespect of women

This red flag category can probably be summed up as 'gut feeling', because most guys aren't out and out misogynists. Most guys are perfectly decent human beings who have never had the need to educate themselves on what classifies or should classify as unacceptable behaviour towards women. So this is a bit hard to pin down beyond "He said something that made me uncomfortable," but again, this approach worked in my favour.

The guy who started mansplaining to me about how I was a feminist because I just didn't understand society? Out.

The guy who proudly told me he was particularly good at manipulating secretaries to get access to their boss's contact details? Out.

The guy who would use the terms "crazy" or "bitch" with regard to an ex or previous date? Out.

It took me time to figure out what I consider to be dealbreaker-level red flags, but once I did I became hyper-aware of them and formed minimal-tolerance policies in response.

After realising how important these values were to me I began putting those personal policies into my profile as dealbreaker rules. By the end of my time there, my profile was deliberately designed to be somewhat off-putting. After all, better to let the worst ones take themselves out of my potential dating pool than to waste time vetting them myself only to come to the same conclusion! (A tip you probably already know: including the statement "I am a feminist" in your profile works as an excellent litmus test in that regard.)

Did I also put off some decent guys who just thought I was being too harsh? Almost definitely. But there were also plenty of men who would read my profile and think, "Yeah, fair enough. I bet these rules come from bad experiences she's had." 

I am not obliged to offer my time and energy to someone who thinks that a fundamental expectation of respect is in any way unreasonable or unfair. None of us is. If you're dating via any format and for any purpose, figure out what your own red flags are and don't be afraid to follow them strictly or make them known. This isn't guaranteed to protect you from rape, but it should reduce the number of unpleasant interactions you have with people who aren't worth your time. 

[Image is of a row of red flags flying above nondescript buildings. Photo by tuchodi, shared on Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.]

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