Browsing Category | feminism

Objects on a t-shirt may be more offensive than they appear

Last week I mentioned, in passing, how angry I was about some t-shirts I saw in the window of a local branch of a cheap menswear chain. I’ve been angry about it all week – ever since I saw them in the window of the shop. They were all world cup themed, having several for different football teams all with one thing in common. Nearly naked women. Some sitting astride footballs. Some with footballs covering their breasts. Some with nation flags as little thongs.

It should tell you something when I have to warn you that those links may be NSFW. Yes, images which are potentially not safe for work – because they are sexual in nature and could get you fired (for A –  having sexually inappropriate pictures on your work computer and B – sexual harassment) are not only available for sale but are proudly displayed in the windows of stores and are also available in children’s sizes

I did a double take when I first saw them. I couldn’t quite believe that here we are, 2014, and somehow it is perfectly OK to sell t-shirts with practically naked sexually objectified women on them? Not just men’s t-shirts, but children’s t-shirts?? And sure, there may be a woman wearing one on the splash page of the shop in question’s website, but just because a woman is wearing it doesn’t render the shirt not sexually objectifying due to some some weird gender waveform cancelling effect.

I became more shocked and disheartened when I started to discuss these shirts with others to find that some didn’t think there was anything wrong with having practically  naked women on a t-shirt. Woah now people. WOAH NOW.

There’s nothing wrong with having a nearly naked woman on a t-shirt.

How did we get here? At what point did we become a society that is so immune to sexually explicit imagery, so saturated with images of the sexualised female form, that we (men and women alike) are able to look at those t-shirts and say “where’s the harm?”

I was born at the end of the 70s – when feminism had been a truly powerful force in the previous decade and wrought powerful changes. I grew up in the 80s, where women started to reap the benefits of that success and as the 90s dawned feminism almost started to seem obsolete. I came of age in the 90s, where women sang in rock bands and wore big shit kicking boots and Kathleen Hanna sang “Rebel Girl” and we started to feel powerful and strong – there was still a fight to have but we were going to bring it…

Then what happened in the 00s I cannot say. Was a big red “reset”  button pushed somewhere on the control desk of “women’s liberation”? It’s like the progress stalled, rolled to a slow stop and then started sliding backwards to the point where sexual objectification is so every day, so normal, so accepted that we see nothing wrong with selling naked objectified women on the front of a t-shirt to a child.

As Laci Green in her excellent video  says:

This is some bullshit. Everyone should be PISSED that this is so normal.

Before we go further, please go back a little and watch Laci Green’s video. The whole thing. Right to the end.

Done?

She says everything in that video I could possibly say about these t-shirts. They exemplify a society which sees women as decoration. As things to be looked at, admired for certain ‘qualities’. And we are bombarded with these ideas on a daily basis. What does this do to us? And I don’t mean “us” as in women, I am talking about all of us – men and women alike – growing up and developing in a world which tells us men are people and women are bodies – a collection of parts. And not only are women a collection of parts, but in order to be acceptable as a women, those parts must be the right size, the right shape, smooth and hairless and flaw free. Even the well meaning “real women have curves” is horribly misguided. I have thin friends. They are still definitely ‘real’. I have trans friends who are also very much ‘real’.

I have struggled with my own body image my whole life. I was a short chubby child with early developing boobs, and have remained a chubby voluptuous short adult. I long to put on some clothes, any clothes, and just go out and not give a shit. It is definitely easier the older I get, but I still care desperately. I care what people think of me. When my eye allergy flares up I “can’t go out” because “I can’t go out without makeup”. I have meltdowns when I am feeling “fat”. I can’t go outside wearing shorts without leggings because I am acutely aware of my big thighs and my stretch marks and my cellulite. Mr RDP was driven to distraction on a holiday we took to a very hot climate; he couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t walk around in just a bikini top, or without leggings.

He hasn’t been subjected in the same way I have from a young age of being constantly told, subliminally and overtly, in a million tiny insidious ways and a hundred massive blatant ways, that the most important thing about me is my  body, my clothes, the way I look and my hair. What I say, what I want to be or become, what I think? All of that is secondary, tertiary, inconsequential even to the way I look.

And the kicker? I KNOW that this is social conditioning. And yet I still feel like this, nearly every minute of every day of my life. The conditioning is so strong, the message so powerful, that even though I KNOW it is wrong, even though I KNOW I am labouring under a false consciousness bourne of a myriad of harmful external messages, I still cannot escape it.

These t-shirts are a kick in the face to every person who believes that men and women are equal beings deserving of equal respect. Anyone that wears one needs to take a long hard look at themselves. And possibly a kick up the arse. And to be forcibly made to watch Laci Green’s video.

This headline  in the Daily Mail sums everything up for me.

George Clooney’s fiancee Amal Alamuddin looks stylish in striking red dress and heels at sexual violence summit 

Someone at the Mail clearly realised at some point that this was perhaps not a wise headline – maybe after the above link had been retweeted 1.5K times – and it has since been changed but the new headline is barely  an improvement.  Amal Alamuddin is an intelligent human rights lawyer, very respected in her field with one hell of a CV – but the most important thing about her, according to the media,  is that she’s pretty, wears nice clothes and is going to marry George Clooney. What sort of message does this send to young women? Is it any wonder, given these sorts of messages, that being a “reality TV star” or “marrying a footballer” are seen as viable career choices for young girls?

It’s the same message as those T-shirts – that women are objects, parts, bodies wearing clothes.  That women are for looking at, first and foremost. Everything else is background data.

This is some bullshit. Everyone should be pissed that this is so normal.

 

 

 

Fired up

So I went along to the “Firing Up Squad” session ran by my MP Stella Creasy that I mentioned last week, partly because I think ourFiringUpSquad MP is awesome and partly so I might have something to write about. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and was quite nervous about having to speak to Unknown People.

 

I walked in to see a screen with I (HEART) FEMINISM. Good start. I do indeed (HEART) feminism, as you probably already know if you’ve been reading for a while, although lately I have been finding it increasingly more difficult to find the confidence to write about it.

Last week I wrote that I was struggling to find things to write about. I now have to admit that this isn’t strictly true. I  have so many things to write about. For example:

  • About how angry I am at some of the vile sexist t-shirts on sale for the world cup  that objectify women and magnify a ‘lad’ culture.
  • About how mind-boggling I find the continued misogyny denial is from all quarters in the wake of the Isla Vista tragedy.
  • About  the incredible impact of the #YesAllWomen hashtag, and how the discussion is pushing feminist discussion into the forefront in an unprecidented way.
  • About how the strange twisted logic of the “MRA”  movement can be seen as a closed ideology echo chamber, much like certain other hate groups, and why we seem to find it so hard to accept sexist groups as hate groups.
  • About how the longer I don’t drink the more I realise that alcohol has far too much od a grip on our society
  • About Rupual’s Drag Race and the light it throws on the concept of the ‘male gaze’…

All of these things were going around in my mind over the last few weeks but I felt unable to write about them and for one reason. I read too many comments “BTL” (below the line) on other wonderful articles about similar subjects by other writers – both male and female – and was so disheartened by those comments that it made me fear putting my voice out there. People can be really cruel, and dismissive, and downright scary in their BTL comments but that wasn’t just what put me off – it was also the sheer volume of comments from people who simply cannot grasp the issues at hand. Who use straw man arguments, whataboutery, demands for ‘evidence’ and their own personal anecdotes to disprove the writer at all costs, without really ever being able – or even willing – to consider the points made by the writer. I started to feel tired and overwhelmed at the task of writing about these things when writers more successful and more eloquent than me have failed. I’d even started to doubt myself in the face of the relentless bashing of feminist ideas on the internet.

In the first few minutes of her introduction Stella Creasy blew away my unspoken fears and doubts. “Let’s get one thing straight” she said. “You are discriminated against.”  CVs are more likely to be considered highly if they have a male name on. Orchestras are increasingly holding blind auditions to eliminate gender bias. Women bosses are judged more harshly and are paid less than their male equivalents. You want evidence? There’s plenty. Stella also discussed how women are not brought up to be ambitious, or celebrate our successes, or put ourselves first when it comes to making big changes in our lives. Her point was proved when she introduced one woman as a “hero” and the woman shook her head and rejected the accolade. And yet, when she delivered a short but passionate talk about her experience of FGM and her ambition to raise awareness of it within the the UK, it was clear she *was* a hero, she just wasn’t able to comfortably hear that.

So far, so inspiring. And to have been inspired to get writing about things I feel strongly about is a pretty big boost. But that’s not all I got out of the evening.

There were a number of exercises designed to get us thinking about our dreams, our achievements and our plans in a real and confident way. I really struggled at first. It was clear that many of the other women at the event were high achieving, driven, ambitious and skilled. I almost felt like an imposter. I felt that I had no real achievements to speak of, and no real ambitions. I was actually pretty content with my life. I have a job I like which pays enough, somewhere to live and some  hobbies that I enjoy. It started to occur to me as the  evening went on that being “content” with things wasn’t quite true. It dawned on me as the other women spoke, and as we went through the exercises, that the reason I’ve no big ambitions or plans, or that I am not driving myself on, is  because I am *scared*. I am scared of failure, and I am scared of being ill again. I have struggled a great deal with my mental health in the past and realised that I am living with being ‘ok’ because being ‘ok’ is safe. In an exercise about our recent achievements I discussed how I’d had my appraisal at work and got “exceeds” in all areas, and how I’d discussed with my manager how to get more experience in my role so I could perhaps in a year or so apply for a job like one I’d found on the internet I liked the look of, but didn’t think I was quite ready for. I saw this as an ambition to aim for.

My half-hearted ambition that I wrote for the excercise was the inexcusably vague “be more brave about making little changes that could make a big difference”.

It was when one woman said that she felt that it was easier for men to be ambitious because they were less afraid of rejection that I had a revelation. For one, I disagree. I don’t think all men fear rejection less. I agree that society is geared towards instilling a confidence in boys in this regard that it doesn’t in girls; but it doesn’t follow that it is ‘natural’ that men will fear rejection less. I definitely handle rejection better than Mr RDP, I thought. Mr RDP recently got a new job. It’s a great job, a step up from where he is, and he deserves is. But he nearly didn’t go for the interview, as he didn’t think he was ready. He didn’t think he was experienced enough. I told him he should go for it – it didn’t matter if he didn’t get it because it was great experience. That if he didn’t get it he could ask for feedback and work out what he needed to work on to get a similar job next time. It was clearly brilliant advice, I’d been proud of giving it and secretly took a little credit for him getting the job on the basis of my awesome advice.

As I was thinking this through, organising my thoughts to make my point about this out loud, it hit me. Why on earth was I giving such excellent advice, but not following it? Why I am rejecting a job opportunity because I am not ready when if it was anyone else I would be encouraging them to go for it anyway, because the experience is always valuable even if it’s ultimately a ‘no’. Why would I bully Mr RDP (because that’s pretty much what I did) into applying for a job when I am not prepared to take the same steps  for myself?

My partner in the earlier exercise about challenging our ambitions and making them clearer and more focussed obviously saw that something was going on in my head. It must have shown on my face as she leant over with a knowing smile. “Are you ready to talk about it?” She whispered. I grabbed a pen and wrote on the blank piece of paper in capital letters:

TO DO LIST

  • Get back into children’s theatre volunteer work
  • Do my BSL exam and apply for the level 2 course
  • Keep writing about feminism – don’t give in!
  • Get singing again

I stared at the page in shock. I’d been so proud this year of giving up alcohol and sugar and starting a BSL course it hadn’t even occurred to me that there were all these things I wanted to do. But there they were, on the page – things I wanted to get involved in but was too sacred of shaking up the status quo. “You’ve missed one.” said my exercise partner with a meaningful look. I added to the bottom of the list:

  • APPLY FOR THE DAMN JOB

And I have to, because we have to catch up with our partner in a month and tell them how we’re getting on with our plan.

Going into the event I’d had little idea of what to expect. It was astounding to leave having felt like I’d had the biggest, kindest, most loving and supportive kick up the bum you could ever imagine.

And my old List is getting a little longer.

 

 

Allysaurus

If you’ve been following this blog for a little while you may already have picked up that I am both a cyclist and a feminist. Looking back, I became a cyclist about a year before I became a feminist. My very first really angry street harassment rant that precipitated my discovery that I was a feminist was back in 2007 on my LiveJournal, and was prompted by being  street harassed 5 times in one day while out on my bike.

I discussed in my previous post   how I ended up posting less and less about street harassment and feminism, despite it being a subject about which I was very passionate, simply because I couldn’t deal very well with the sheer numbers of comments along the lines of

“Not ALL men are like this…”

“I’ve never seen anyone do that…”

“I got groped in a club once so women do it too…”

“It was probably a compliment…”

“Maybe you shouldn’t wear low cut tops…”

“My girlfriend says this happens to her a lot but it never happens when she’s out with me…”

Trust me. I have heard ALL of these before. REPEATEDLY. None of them are good arguments. All of them are deeply frustrating; particularly as they are usually said by guys who I generally think of as pretty nice blokes. Good sorts, who are on ‘my side’ when it comes to  thinking women are just as good at life as men and therefore deserve a fair shot at it. But what comments like these do  is, at best, derail the point I’m trying to make by niggling over  semantics or, at worst, completely deny my lived experience. I struggled to argue and debate the points raised and after a while grew so very tired of having the same discussion over and over  AND OVER again.  When you are shaking with anger because for the 5th time in a week a random man has said “smile darling” you are really not in the mood for calmly educating someone for the 30th time why this isn’t ok. So over time I just stopped posting.

This week I posted  link to an interesting article about cyclists cycling in the middle of the road. It prompted a number of comments from acquaintances who drive using my post as a platform to inform me that they hated cyclists because they go through red lights, and ride on the pavements, and hold them up. Several quoted various clauses from the highway code to counter the idea that cyclists might possibly have an equal right to be on the road as them (this argument boiled down to ‘we’re faster so you have to let us pass’). I dealt with this very badly. I got upset, frustrated and had to back right out of the thread before I told them exactly where they could shove their dipsticks.

Being an overthinking sort of person, I had a long ponder (after I’d had a cup of tea and some chocolate and a bit of a stamp around the house saying AND ANOTHER THING but to the cat rather than the people on the internet and therefore calmed down a bit) about why it was I had reacted with such frustration, anger and irritation. I realised that the overall tone had made me feel exactly the same way I felt when I posted about street harassment. The comments were the same ones I always hear when I post about a near miss on my  bike, or when I witness some truly dreadful dangerous driving; cyclists somehow ‘deserve it’ because of the behaviour of ‘those other cyclists”.

“I’ve never run a red light…”

“I always give cyclists room…”

“I saw a cyclist yesterday going through a red light…”

“You were probably in his way…”

“Maybe you should wear a helmet…”

I’d heard them all before, and debated them all before, and countered them all before, and PEOPLE WERE STILL GOING ON ABOUT IT. So I got cross and disengaged.

What interested me, once I’d calmed down and re-read the comments, is that these commenters had inadvertently pushed the anger and frustration back onto the cyclist, in the same way that the negative comments on an article about street harassment  can push back against women’s experiences. The writer feels unheard and frustrated, the commenters feel misunderstood and attacked.

When I am cut up on my bike by a dangerous driver, I don’t assume that all drivers are dangerous. But perhaps when I discuss this I I make drivers feel as though I am attacking them. They react with their frustrations about ‘bloody cyclists’ and that they are not one of  ‘those drivers’  and so I then feel like they are attacking me – after all I am a cyclist – so I take great pains to point out I am not one of  ‘those cyclists’ and thus we end up back in our infinite loop of mutual frustration.

The common enemy here, for us ‘not those cyclists’ and those ‘not those drivers’ is of course ‘those ones’. The bad road users that made the rest of us look bad. I shouldn’t pick fights or have long debates over semantics with a driver who uses the road well and is respectful to cyclists and that driver shouldn’t squabble with me; we actually all agree that bad road users suck. The same rings true for those men making defensive comments on articles about feminism. The ‘enemy’ here is not the woman raising the problems she faces on a daily basis. The ‘enemy’ are ‘those men’ which are giving the majority of men (who would never even consider going ‘smile darling’ or ‘show us your tits’ to a woman on street) a bad name.

Looking back to my last post about cycling I’d made the point (in my typically rather longwinded way) that just SOME road users being shit is not an argument against improving the infrastructure for ALL road users.  We ALL agree that shitty behaviour is shit behaviour. So perhaps instead of having these repetitive and cyclical arguments amongst ourselves we need to recognise the real enemy and join forces against that; be it a poor road infrastructure and road use culture that encourages bad driving and dangerous cycling or be it a patriarchal society that tells men they must be tough and never cry and tells women that ‘oi nice tits’ is a compliment.

If you are a member of  (x majority group) and you find yourself angered by something someone from (x marginalised group) raises, before you respond ask yourself this: Are you really angry/hurt by the words or actions of (x marginalised person) or are you angered by the actions of the (x majority person) that has reflected badly on yourself? If the answer is the latter, consider being an ally, rather than an adversary.

It’s very easy to debate and belittle the experiences of a minority or  marginalised group; and it’s easy to shut down that debate by saying “well I am (x marginalised group) and you are (x majority group) so you wouldn’t understand”. It’s much harder to step outside of those well travelled debates and realise the common interest to become allies, but perhaps it’s the best way to effect real change in an unequal society.