21st century feminism

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Feminist Blog Carnival #16 Beauty Edition

Beauty Schooled has put on a great carnival which particularly looks at beauty, the beauty industry and body image (amongst other things). It looks great and is more than enough reading to while away Easter weekend, and, if we're really honest, we're secretly chuffed to have been included too! 

Friday, 26 March 2010

And if you look to your right...

I've just had a link fest. I'm worn out, my eyes have gone a bit crossed and my brain has reached feminist/gender saturation. Anyway, I've started a couple of new link lists. As well as the usual interesting blogs and feminist links, there is now Fancy Studying? and Feminism in Academia. 

The former is pretty self explanatory, it's a list of some of the creme-de-la-creme of British courses in gender and feminism. The Feminism in Academia section may well leave you feeling like I've served you a cardboard sandwich with sawdust filling. Hang in there. Mostly the list is academic journals with a feminist/gender specialism, which have some fascinating articles. Some of them require subscriptions, but most that do have a free sample issue which can while away a rainy sunday afternoon. If you are registered at a University, check with the library provision (Athens and all that stuff), you may well be able to access some for free. If you're a hardcore feminist academic, perhaps you have most of them in your downstairs loo already, for guests to browse, as I do, obviously.    

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Guest Post: Ada Lovelace Day

Yesterday was Ada Lovelace Day, a day for bloggers to celebrate women in technology and the sciences. You can find a list of the blogs that join in here. There is a fantastic little cartoon about Ada Lovelace and the story of the first computer program she developed here

To mark the occasion we're really pleased to welcome Mumsnetter ElephantsAndMiasmas for a special guest post. Mumsnet has recently added a Feminism/Women's rights section to their talkboards.

If you love history, and you are a woman, you probably have – like me – a mental list of the very very few women who are remembered. They dot through history like irregular stepping stones, and their names run through my head, a mantra of women’s worth. Because, even for someone who grew up in the last part of the twentieth century, the insult of misogynists throughout time – where are your female philosophers, your female scientists, poets, artists, mathematicians? – still has the capacity to sting. I shouldn’t have to hold names like HypatiaTheodoraAda LovelaceChristine de Pizan, close to me like a safety blanket to keep out the chilly question of whether women really are capable of great things. But even now, living in a time where nearly every field of study and excellence is theoretically available to women, the litany of great women through time retains its power for me.

Maybe it’s because none of them are exactly household names, being cherished for the most part only by a few academics and the women of every generation who have attempted to trace a history of women as the intellectual equals of men.  Their achievements have been erased, minimised, forgotten and ridiculed over time by succeeding eras of male scholars, haunted by the fear that the recognition of even one woman as a great mind would put a crack in the certainty that only men could or should think, reason, invent and decide.   Their memory feels endangered.


Everything about the way history is recorded helps to erase our female ancestors. With not even a surname to keep with them through life, our grandmothers disappear from the edge of the family tree, subtitled with that saddest of legends: “about whom nothing is known”. Largely absent from the paperwork that forms the skeleton of “recorded” history - electoral records, tax documents, legal agreements - it is almost a clichĂ© to say that women’s history is preserved in the organic, changeable medium of spoken, not written, tales.


But keeping alive the memory of these “great women” is where paper history and oral history meet. Where conventional sources of knowledge – books, school curricula, documentaries – fail, oral history steps in. My mother clips out and sends me the tiny articles or book reviews that she happens across that focus on women in history, an excited loop of highlighter circling the relevant few lines. If the name of a female writer or artist or film-maker or activist turns up in conversation, she will turn to me and give me a 2 minute lecture on that woman’s life and achievements, with the air of one sharing an important confidence. What’s the secret? That women have always achieved against all the odds.


All the little knowledge I hold tight about women’s lives and successes through history has come to me through other women, whether a relative telling me about her grandmother's life in the 1890s, a science teacher refusing to let Rosalind Franklin’s name be missed from our class’s study of DNA, or a female blogger writing with passion about Sojourner Truth’s campaign for equality. Accustomed to a dominant culture where they are not listened to, there is a network of tale-telling between women that passes on the stories of how our foremothers have changed the world. 

"Women’s history should make up half of the plain ordinary history that we learn as we grow up."

But while these stories are precious I do not want to see them remain a secret history in this century. The lives and works of women should be printed loud and proud in textbooks,  and shown large as life in art galleries and museums for everyone, both men and women, to see. Women’s history should make up half of the plain ordinary history that we learn as we grow up. So I’ve made it my resolution and my pleasure to tell the men and boys I know the same stories, to make sure my brother knows that the computer programme he uses every day traces its history to Ada Lovelace’s brainpower, to speak to my friend about the woman running a key part of the Hadron Collider he reads about so avidly. One day, I want to look into their faces as I tell them and see no flash of surprise.


Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Iceland bans profit from nudity

Legislation in Iceland bans stripping. Iceland Review reports,

A legislation banning striptease in Iceland and barring clubs from making profit from the nudity of employees of will take effect on July 1, 2010. The legislation was passed with 31 votes. Two MPs of the Independence Party abstained but no one voted against it. 

Monday, 22 March 2010

Frankly Brilliant #1 Camila Batmanghelidjh

Camila Batmanghelidjh is an amazing woman. She has singlehandedly created the children’s charity Kids Company and helped thousands of disadvantaged children and young people in London.

Her story is well rehearsed. Born into a wealthy Iranian family, as a child she never travelled without two bodyguards. At aged 9 she announced she wanted to start an orphanage. When she reached 11, she was sent over to a private girls’ school in the UK. Tragedy struck when her father, back in Tehran, was imprisoned during the Iranian revolution in 1979. Because of a kind bank manager, her fees were maintained, but she was unable to return home and family were unable to join her. She was left alone, with only her brother, in London. After time her mother arrived, via France, but until University she believed her father had been killed.

Her childhood experiences were formative. Stranded in London, without any income she began to work with children in her school holidays to earn extra money. Slowly she built up her skills and reputation, and ended up offering private problem solving to rich parents who didn’t want their children seen publically in a clinic. During her late twenties, her concern and energy began to be directed at some of the most desperate and poverty-stricken children and families in the UK’s capital. In 1996 she formed Kids Company. 14 years later it provides help and support to 13,500 children. It has a staff of 336 and 5,600 volunteers. 

What is particularly inspirational is Camila’s can-do/will-do form of pragmatism. Faced with dire situations, terrible stories of neglect and abuse, rising youth crime and violence, she continues to believe anything is possible, even change.

In a recent interview in Vogue magazine she states:

“It’s terrible, it’s like being in a warzone. But it’s all fixable. We just need to change the model slightly. We need to help one million children who are at risk. We need to set up street level centres where staff function as surrogate parents, and we need them to be open seven days a week. The kids should know they have a place to go and we should take care of them.”

Her ethos is love. Camila Batmanghelidjh created a new model of social work which she has proven to be overwhelmingly successful. 

For more have a look at...

March 2010 Guardian Debate 

Aug 2009 How to Make a Difference interview

Jan 2009 Independent interview

Frankly Brilliant is a feature I’m starting here at Frankly Feminist. In it I hope to highlight some of the inspirational stories of women who have made a difference, taken a stand, swam against the tide, triumphed in the face of adversity etc etc. You get the picture!

Saturday, 20 March 2010

15th Carnival of Feminists

Shut Up Sit Down has put on a glittering carnival here

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Thanks Lady Gaga for that triumph of misogyny.

A number of things struck me about *that* video, not least that it does real people no favours whatsoever. Hyper sexualising women, female prisoners, female prison guards and crime, is a negative and dangerous discourse in popular culture which Gaga has capitalised on. 

As the opening credits fade of Lady Gaga and BeyoncĂ©'s Telephone video, you quickly realise that this video is about oppressive sexual fantasy: hot, caged, prisoners with killer (literally?) heels, prison bars make convenient pole dancing substitutes, sexy guards, a brutal strip search… there’s something for every male gaze. Gaga cowers on the bed, and then responds like a caged animal climbing the bars and revealing all. When Papadopoulos recognises that sexual objectifying, pornographic images that eroticize violence against women, are mainstream she means mainstream. Gaga is at the peak of the music industry, recently scooping up 3 Brit awards, including best international female, and there is speculation that the Telephone video is the most important video of the year, the most important video ever, the heir to Michael Jackson's Thriller. Well, as you’ve probably deduced we’re not following the populist crowd here.

So what about those ‘real’ people? Real women inmates (like many male inmates) are often from socially deprived backgrounds with a catalogue of other problems. Violence against women of any background depicted as glamorous helps no one. Papadopoulos states:

Research has shown that adults – including women – who viewed sexually objectifying images of women in the mainstream media were more likely to be accepting of violence. The evidence gathered in the review suggests a clear link between consumption of sexualised images, a tendency to view women as objects and the acceptance of aggressive attitudes and behaviour as the norm. Both the images we consume and the way we consume them are lending credence to the idea that women are there to be used and that men are there to use them.

Real women do no look, dress or act like that. But surely I’m not stupid enough to think Gaga is even trying to depict real women or comment on the US penal system? No, I’m not, it’s art isn’t it, silly? I’m all for art, I even studied it once upon a time, but art which contributes to a normalization of pornographic images and objectifies women, needs to be rejected as such. Art, and Gaga’s bisexuality, can’t be used as a thin veil to excuse her depiction of exploitative violent sexuality.    

In this video all Gaga’s offering is a parody of reality. It’s not girl power by any stretch of the imagination. Just because a woman is producing/performing it, saying she’s liberating female sexuality in the process, doesn’t make it liberating, and certainly does not make it feminist. Sorry Gaga, but you’ve added fuel to the popular fires of misogyny, in this video at least.

I wanted to focus my comments on the gendered aspects of the video, but I need to finally mention the mass murder. A deep contradiction at the heart of popular culture is the acceptance of a glorified depiction of a mass killing incorporated in a pop video (funny/colourful/sexy) and the public grief and outcry when one actually happens, “how could this happen? Who could do this?” (terrible/upsetting/heartbreaking). Those unstable enough to plan and perpetrate them are unstable enough to be encouraged and influenced by a pop video.    

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Sexualisation of Young People: Linda Papadopoulos' Research

Dr Linda Papadopoulos published her research in to the sexualisation of children and young people, commissioned by the UK Government, in February. I didn't get round to blogging about it at the time, but to be honest I hope this research will be talked about for a while, and I know I certainly will be referring to it in the coming months. You can read a pdf of it here. It is a sterling piece of work and I'm slowly digesting it. If you've got the time, it is worth a read (or if not, pages 1-16 will give you a good summary of the rest of the document). I am hoping that her work wont just get put on a dusty shelf in Westminster and forgotten. She particularly highlights: 
  • young people's lack of awareness of gender equality
  • the insidious presence of unreal body images
  • the increasingly accepted sexualisation of children and young people
  • and the availability of, exposure to, and increasingly extreme nature of pornography.
For me one of the key recommendations she makes is the improvement of the formal education of children and young people in gender awareness, and not only this but the increase of education and support for teachers to tackle this subject. I have felt for some time that the UK curriculum fails to properly instill a healthy and developed critical awareness of matters of gender, feminism and equality and have been surprised at young people reaching graduates level with little or no understanding of what is without doubt one of the most significant discourses of the twentieth century. In this particular area she recommends,

1) All school staff to have training on gender equality. Specialist training should be given to those who teach Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education and citizenship.

2) The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) to issue statutory guidance to schools to promote a ‘whole school’ approach to tackling gender inequality, sexual and sexist bullying and violence against women and girls.

Monday, 8 March 2010


image: flickr

82 years, 4 nominations, 1 oscar. Kathryn Bigelow takes home the first best director oscar awarded to a woman. The Guardian reports here. This has been in the media all day, it is fantastic news and Bigelow will go down in oscar history as well women's history. But it is a bitter-sweet triumph, 82 years is a long time... 

Sunday, 7 March 2010

British TV... Good if you're a man.

A new piece of research out tomorrow highlights the gender gap on TV in the UK. The Observer reports on it
here. There are various ups and downs but generally speaking one woman appears for every two men. 
  • in soaps women are represented just about equally
  • in comedy and drama they make up just 4 in 10 participants
  • in serious broadcasting they go down to one third
  • in news they make up just 31% and when women do feature 69% of their representation is to discuss softer topics, like heath, cookery, or culture.
The research is set to be released to coincide with International Women's Day tomorrow. Interestingly, Sky News are planning an all women line up for the day too. They say they're "pushing the boundaries" to me it feels a bit tokenistic. Are they just letting the women take over for a special day and then expecting them to resume the usual marginalization? 

The place of women on UK television leaves much room for improvement. For me the two big issues are the pubic discourse which marginalizes women's roles, voices, perspectives and stories. And, of course, fewer women's roles means fewer jobs for women in the industry, so qualified and experienced women, along with women wanting to build up that experience and reputation, are hindered. And I've not even mentioned the ageism which rules women's representation on the box. We can talk about that another time.

Question Time have also taken the step of announcing an all women audience on March 11th. Everything in me wants to cheer with the Fawcett Society, but I can't help feeling that inviting an audience of women to address the usual mixed panel and male chair doesn't address the bigger issues of women in power (especially in light of the stats I mentioned), or on TV (in light of the report). But it is, of course, a step in the right direction. 

After 40 years of feminism I sometimes can't help feeling we've not got very far. Rosie Boycott expresses a similar sentiment and some interesting reflections in an interview here

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Studying Gender

Friday 12th March is Cambridge University's Annual Gender Symposium put on by their Centre for Gender Studies.  This year it is entitled, Gender and Scales of Empowerment: subjectivities, connections and belongings. This would definitely be worth a trip for anyone engaged in formal study of gender or feminism. And, even better, it's a free event, just sign up through the link.  

Thursday, 4 March 2010

sarah maple: the heir to tracy emin's throne?

I came across the impressive Sarah Maple over at bluemilk. Maple's work is fresh and challenging as she reinterprets and reflects upon herself as a woman who was raised as a muslim in the UK. What makes her especially interesting is the way she uses comedy. She displays a quirky and confrontational wit in her work that leaves you reconsidering boundaries, norms and opinions. Just what good art should do.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

seriously... every frock, heel and cardi counts?

I came across this classic piece of sizing up the wives to measure the men. This time it's Sarah Brown and Samantha Cameron in light of the coming UK election.

I would like to say that I’m shocked by it, but I’m not. It’s in the air. It seems there is an unspoken assumption that the wives need to raise their game for their husbands to gain additional political advantage. Are they slim enough? Are they well dressed enough? Are they independent enough? Are they motherly enough?

I love Michelle Obama, but I’m afraid that all we have imported from her incredible story, is the desire to have a sassy, well dressed wife as a freebie with our (male) head of government. Someone to go round the girls' schools and encourage them to aspire. One day they too could marry a powerful man...

Personally, I’m looking for the women actually in government, rather than the ones married to it. We have some wonderful female MPs, but they only make up 19.5% of elected members of parliament. Where we rank on the international scale is a sobering read.   

Monday, 1 March 2010

Mary Daly: A mother of twentieth century feminist theology

Feminist thinker and theologian Mary Daly died in January this year. Her impact in feminist thinking, particularly feminist theology, was immense. Read more about her: 

Rape, gang weapon of choice.

The BBC covered the story here

Having experienced working with marginalized young people in the past, I am acutely aware that the issues around gang culture and youth crime are a hot potato for councils, youth workers and governing bodies. The prospects of addressing gender-specific issues within that complex culture rarely make in onto  the radar. It is good to see the issue of young women's sexual vulnerability in gang culture raised here.