Why Women in Power Doesn’t Equate to Feminism

It’s 2016, and the world is on the brink of being run by a lot of women in high places.

Theresa May takes the role as recent Prime Minster, Hillary Clinton as likely and predicted (according to current opinion polls) president of the United States, Angela Eagle a potential labour leader in the recent vote of no confidence, and with Nicola Sturgeon and Leanne Wood needing a brief mention as women who are more progressive and awe-inspiring than the leaders of the ‘free world’.

Surely, this idea should bring joy, with the possibilities ranging from every side of an albeit white woman in a position of significant power.

But it’s undoubtedly a shallow victory.

Focussing more upon the US and UK leaders, of Theresa May and Hillary Clinton – these are not women who have views to support women or the ideological left.

Unsurprisingly, Margaret Thatcher is hardly heralded as the feminist icon of the 80s, stating herself she ‘owed nothing to women’s lib’ – throwing women under the bus as soon as she had the chance. Freezing child benefits, criticising working mothers and wholeheartedly supporting the efficiency of a man over a woman.

The idea of being an ‘iron lady’ is where the issue lies. Compassion is seen as a weakness in women, a typical female feature that would ‘cloud’ their judgement in times of extreme pressure and need. So do women of power become this ruthless, cruel persona to prove wrong the men who decide their path to the top?

I’d argue it’s not necessary, but within the system is it needed to prove your female worth?

Theresa May is notoriously anti-immigration, parading a van with the slogan ‘go home or get arrested’ directed towards illegal immigrants. And her ideas of promoting gay rights is questionable – voting against local authorities ‘promoting homosexuality’, against gay adoption in 2002, and only dropped her opposition to gay marriage in 2013…hardly a shining resume.

Although she has spent time on promoting funding for rape crisis centres and dealings of domestic abuse cases by the police, it still falls short – surely that is the minimum should expect rather than applauding?

She continues to pedal the cuts that severely hit the less fortunate sector of society, with a high proportion of BAME women being hit, because – fundamentally, you can’t be a tory AND a feminist.

Angela Eagle is a politician who I willed forward previously, but her Machiavellian tearing down of Corbyn, who has worked furiously to protect all women within society, has made me question her judgement slightly.

And Hillary Clinton’s chokingly white feminist ideals can’t cover up her support for acts such as her 2008 campaign focussing rhetoric around getting rid of Muslims and Mexicans, and her unanimous support for the Iraq war. Clinton is the lesser of two evils, but one that is grown from rich, white privilege and is far too right wing to be lorded as the feminist’s dream.

Women are getting into positions of power, but at what cost? Giving fuel to the argument ‘sexism is over’ while the females in power pedal the institutions that perpetuate the levels of misogyny and oppression which prevent equality to ever be obtained.

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Rape Culture Alive and Well in Merseyside Police Force

It was yesterday that there was a tweet made by the official twitter of the Merseyside police that frankly shocked me but didn’t completely surprise me.

There was a tweet made towards the twitter account, made by two separate men claiming to have witnessed a ‘rape’ and wanting to report it – in reference to the loss of Sunderland to Everton in a game ending 6-2, and the repeated loss of Chelsea FC in recent weeks.

Already, the initial tweets are beyond problematic and highlight the laddish culture of rape that exists within the male dominated world of football. However, the most disturbing is the acknowledgement of this, and joking response by the Merseyside police, saying: ‘Just to confirm, there was no rape for me? Sunderland were caught with their pants down though’. They also responded to the Chelsea tweet, responding with: ‘Afraid not, it’s not a criminal offence to lose week in, week out’.

Rape is not a joke in any circumstance, and joking about it perpetuates rape culture. When the force that is there to protect rape victims openly jokes about rape in such a blase manner, it really is shameful and disgusting.

Statistics show that in cases of rape, only 1 out of 100 cases an offender ever convicted. Through various stages of victim blaming, and the ordeal of having to relive the assault in court, or even through lack of evidence, many victims pull out before fully prosecuting. The trend is to question and interrogate the victim, and the relationship between police and rape victims is notoriously a negative one.

Therefore, with such a public message of ridicule towards already vulnerable set of victims only further breaks trust. The police force have since apologised, but it still shows that the culture of rape in the environment where a victim should feel most safe is very much alive.

Suggesting losing at a game of football is in any way comparable to rape, and making light of Sunderland being ‘caught with their pants down’ just confirms the victim blaming nature permeating parts of the police force. It brings forward ideas of humiliation and shame for the victim and is a disturbing use of language in reference to rape – from a supposed force of lawful protection.

These tweets don’t in any way show promise to victims or future victims that they will be taken seriously and in no way blamed when going to the police to report an assault. If this idea of rape culture in any way permeates a police force, it’s a huge concern for vulnerable victims in their consequential fear of reporting and dealing with police officials when already extremely vulnerable. More needs to be done to reform the police force in their treatment of rape and its victims.

Rape is not ‘banter’ and the culture of blaming and interrogating rape victims is a surprisingly common occurrence, and the fact the police are perpetuating this sort of behaviour is once again another failure of police forces in protecting the vulnerable members of society,

The ‘Luxury’ That is Sanitary Products

There is nothing luxurious about having a period, it is a monthly occurrence that people with a uterus have no choice or control over, yet women in the UK are being taxed 5% on sanitary products as they are a ‘luxury’.

Despite this ridiculous and frankly misogynistic tax rate, when put to vote in the house of common on whether to keep the VAT rate on sanitary products, MPs narrowly voted to keep tampons and sanitary towels as luxury items.The list of 305 MPs decided that the tax on sanitary products was to be rightfully kept as it is already the lowest rate of tax on luxury items. But the fact is that these products are being taxed as they are accepted as being a luxury item.

The ability to afford sanitary products should be a basic right, and not one that should be taxed as a luxury. As many people who have ever experienced a period will understand, it is impossible to go about your everyday life without adequate sanitary products. The fact that people who menstruate are forced to choose to incorrectly take the free contraceptive pill to unknown health risks as a free alternative to the expense of sanitary products, or choose whether to budget money for food or tampons is ridiculous – and the decision to keep this 5% tax rate is even more outrageous.

The idea that the MPs making decisions on the monetary tax rate of sanitary product are all cis white men highlights the misogynistic and outdated way that these politicians are choosing to hold women’s bodies at ransom with no experience of the effects of menstration or any detrimental effect to their lives in protecting the tax rate.

The decision on taxing of sanitary products should not fall into a demographic of straight, cis men who are removed so completely from the issue at hand. They are not making a decision based upon empathy and understanding of the plight of the period but a decision based upon capital and expenditure – which is exactly why the decision didn’t pass, despite the margin being narrow.

Periods are in no way a luxury. In addition to women being taxed and made to choose between spending money on food or sanitary products, we are also simultaneously shamed for our natural bodily function. When Kiran Gandhi ran the London Marathon on her period and chose to free bleed to highlight the shaming of menstruation. The response to her free-bleed run was the cries of men saying how ‘unhygienic’ and ‘disgusting’ she is, and how they wouldn’t run a marathon after ‘shitting in their pants’. The correlation being made between excrement and period blood is an outrageous one, period blood is not unhygienic and is the material that could help host a baby and is in no way similar to excrement.

This itself highlights how periods are seen as being disgusting and aren’t understood by the male population – why do they need to, right? The reaction to Kiran Gandhi’s decision to free-bleed shows how it is unthinkable to go about your daily life while menstruating without adequate sanitary products.

Sanitary products should not be a privilege, it should not be classed as a luxury to be able to afford sanitary products – they should be offered freely and not have such a ridiculously high price tag.

The fact that this tax rate even exists for sanitary products is ridiculous, and to be put to vote in a male led and male dominated house of commons to vote to keep the tax in place defines how this country’s political system is policed by misogynistic and out of touch cis men. The majority of MPs who had the power to change the tax rate have no concept of the personal inflictions which menstruation can cause. Sanitary products are not as freely available as they should be, especially when people are already having to tighten their budgets in the wake of the conservative government – the very party leading the halt on the reduction of the tax rate. Food banks are becoming much more widely relied on, and in the face of this women are still expected to pay a 5% VAT rate on essential items which are deemed a luxury when items such as crocodile meat and jaffa cakes are seen as an essential item.

I refuse to accept that my natural bodily functions will be simultaneously shamed and taxed by cis men. If only these men saw the 5% tax rate on sanitary products as being as disgusting as period blood, we might actually have some sort of hope for change.

Suffragettes – The Birth of White Feminism?

There is soon to be a new film to be released, called ‘Suffragette’, and as I’m sure many people are aware, it’s been faced with a large amount of criticism for various reasons.

I have a slight issue with political movements such as the suffragettes to be used for means of capitalist profit, and also the danger it creates of people inferring that the struggle of women is over, and they are now equal. In addition to these more generic concerns, is that of the complete erasure of black women in the film and the problematic racism of the Pankhurst’s that unsettled me extremely.

The suffragette movement was significant, and I feel it should in no way be ignored, and having a fully female director and cast is quite exciting. However, there is nothing as quick to dampen this excitement than the white feminist agenda that has supported this film and its promotion.

What has caused the biggest stir, in an already contentious issue, was the promotional t-shirts the cast were pictured wearing. The slogan ‘I’d rather be a rebel than a slave’ was plastered over the t-shirts below Meryl Streep’s beaming smile, as a quote from an Emmeline Pankhurst speech. The suffragettes often problematically used the rhetoric of being slaves to rally support and disenfranchisement with women. Although they weren’t equal and were fighting for a worthy cause, they were in no way near the oppression of slavery. Many people have brought up the fact many black women had no choice to become a rebel rather than a slave – women whose slavery was benefiting the white women who were fighting for the vote as suffragettes.

Despite this, an article by Radhika Sanghani reports in the Telegraph that there were significant suffragette women of colour, in particular an Indian princess – Sophia – who was the god daughter to Queen Victoria. She played an essential part in the suffragette movement and was seen to be hugely vital to Emmeline, who she worked closely with. The suffragettes were seen to on some level accept women of colour, but the issue arises again in the fact that Emmeline Pankhurst went on in later life to support colonialism and became increasingly conservative in her racial politics. This creates a form of confusion in the subtle but evident racism of the UK suffrage compared to the US or Australian movements with more clear cut racial tensions and segregation.

Despite it being less direct, it can’t be ignored that the white women who fought for the vote were also women who were benefiting from colonialism and the continuation of racism and slavery in other countries. Maori women gaining the vote in 1893 angered many white suffragettes; angry in the notion that women of colour in one of the British colonies had the vote before the white women of Britain obtained it. This shows the superiority and white privilege many of the suffragettes still clung to despite fighting for a movement of equality.

Therefore, filmically depicting this hugely problematic white feminist movement, while managing to be so wildly insensitive in promotion, and erasing all women of colour from the script, is nothing short of white feminism. The film needs to critique the downfalls of the movement as well as the successes of it. Emmeline Pankhurst was not a saint, and women of colour were part of the movement. It is the white feminist director’s choice to not emphasise these women – but erase them completely – that is merely testament to the continued flawed feminism which is still upheld today.

The premiere for ‘Suffragette’ was interrupted by the group ‘Sisters Uncut’ lying across the red carpet and refusing to move. They were protesting against austerity cuts affecting women’s services and the affected victims of domestic violence. It was the shockingly stark contrast between the activism of real women of all races against ‘humanist’ Streep and the achingly white cast members looking on that really confirms all that is wrong with this film.

The suffragette movement was the real birth of feminism, but a flawed and deeply racist first wave of feminism. In 2015 we have hugely significant works of women of colour who theoretically prove the importance of race in feminism, with Bell Hooks creating the notion intersectionality and the power of interconnecting struggles between race, gender, and sexuality.

This film had the ability to bare the flaws of first wave feminism, or equally to emphasise the downtrodden but significant role of of non-white women in this movement. However, white privilege prevailed to show the problematic nature of white feminism that still conquers over real feminism. Without intersectionality and the acceptance of all women, it purely isn’t feminism. It is a disappointing handling of something that could’ve been so positive, but white women forgot their privilege and ironically replayed the same inequalities of the suffragette movement – to ignore the significance and power of feminist women of colour.

Vanity Fair and Rihanna’s Domestic Abuse

(TW domestic abuse)

About a week ago, Vanity Fair published an article and interview with Rihanna. In this article, they discussed issued of domestic abuse and Rihanna’s involvement with Chris Brown after the infamous abuse case of 2009. It brought up poignant and significant thoughts from Rihanna, through the immediate to lasting impact, and her choice to get back together with Chris Brown.

After the horrific pictures emerged in 2009 of Rihanna’s badly disfigured face from the attack of her then boyfriend Chris Brown, Rihanna was turned into what she herself labelled a ‘poster girl’ for domestic abuse. She was a wildly successful musician and icon, whose relationship with Chris Brown was well documented due to his parallel fame. The surfacing images shocked the world, showing intimately the graphic and extreme injuries that Rihanna had sustained.

Public opinion was firmly on Rihanna’s side, in the perhaps inappropriately public incident. But it was when Rihanna decided to get back with Chris brown that the tide swiftly changed, coloured by disapproval of how Rihanna was showing other women that it was acceptable to return to an abuser. I myself have friends who said how they were disappointed in Rihanna, and many people chose to forget that behind her ‘bad-girl’ and ‘tough’ image is a vulnerable victim of abuse.

In her returning to Chris Brown suggests not that she is disregarding all victims of domestic abuse, but proved that she was still existing in the cycles of abuse. She was caught up in a domestic abuse case that was played out on the world stage, and never herself advocated as a ‘poster-girl’. This assumed image of Rihanna allowed the world to forget that she was still a victim, returning to her abuser due to various psychological and manipulative abusive destruction of her self-esteem.

In this Vanity Fair article, Rihanna says: ‘I was very protective of him. I felt that people didn’t understand him. Even after …’. She was extremely vulnerable and was there to excuse his actions, which is pathological actions of an abuse victim. It’s hugely reductive to view this situation as if he hits you – leave, when abusers use psychological tactics and manipulation on their victim, paired with not merely a one off violent attack. Rihanna wanted to be ‘the person who’s almost the guardian angel [..] when they’re not strong enough, when they’re not understanding the world.’ Rihanna places herself there to protect her abuser, to explain and excuse his actions – excuses that have been fed to her. Even in a retrospective light, she is clearly the victim of abuse, abuse which she couldn’t escape, yet was condemned by the public and forced to recoil into the familiarity which was her abuser.

The interview highlights her move away from the cycle of abuse, and her realisation that she was worth more than the definitions of her abuser, saying ‘they know you don’t deserve what they’re going to give. And if you put up with it, maybe you are agreeing that you [deserve] this.’ She relised her worth and strength above his actions, and broke away. It’s a comfort that Rihanna was able to escape and move away, but what worries me is the rhetoric of the public – condemning a woman who was still actively a victim.

The rhetoric continues, with comments on various articles of this interview still reading like a disillusioned friend, disappointed with the decision to return to an abusive boyfriend. Rihanna dealt with a hugely difficult situation, and was isolated by the majority of the public in her decision to return to Chris Brown, in the time she needed the most support.

Luckily, Rihanna wasn’t defined by this act and has gone on to bigger and better successes, but the infamy will never fully leave her. She still remains a victim of domestic abuse, and the stigma and understanding needs to be broadened. She branded herself as being ‘punished’ for what had happened, an extension of misogynistic leaning to punish the woman. She was blamed for getting back with Chris Brown, he was never accused of continuing the abuse – but she was branded idiotic.

If Rihanna is the un-elected poster girl of domestic abuse, in 2015 she emerges stronger and recovered, and the completed image of a ‘poster girl’ that people sought for in 2009, but the process takes more than a restraining order. The cycles of abuse she followed shows the simple but destructive patterns of domestic abuse which need to be realised, rather than simply giving up on the victim in their tendency to return to their abuser. Rihanna showcases the issues surrounding the stigma of domestic abuse, she was a victim and needed recognition – not condemnation.

Domestic abuse needs to be understood, with 1 in 4 women experiencing some form of abuse in their lifetime. Support and understanding of the insidious nature of abuse needs to grow, to remove the culture of blame and isolation for the victim, such as with Rihanna. Understanding the nature of abuse and its victims is essential to help end domestic abuse.

Should Shaming the Thinner Woman be a Way to Improve Body Image for the Larger Woman?

I’m writing today about something that’s been on my mind for a few months now. If you cast your mind back to the infuriatingly catchy Meghan Trainor song – ‘All About That Bass’, there was something with the song that troubled me slightly and I wanted to explore it really, and see if anyone had any thoughts.

Obviously, the song was positive in the sense it was employing thoughts on body positivity, with lyrics such as ‘All the right junk in all the right places, I see the magazines working that Photoshop, We know that shit ain’t real, Come on now, make it stop’ and of course this is wonderful!

However, my issue comes with the song a little bit later on with the lyrics ‘Go ahead and tell them skinny bitches’. It’s in the promotion of body acceptance for larger women, that the skinny women are pushed under the bus.

Personally, when I was younger I was very skinny and was often faced with comments such as ‘OMG look at your ribs!’ and ‘are you anorexic or something’ and other insensitive comments such as these. I had a healthy and regular diet, yet never gained weight, and these comments did affect my self-confidence to some extent. I’m not here in any way to suggest that slimmer women are facing the same systematic abuse and erasure that plus-sized women, (or even averagely sized women!!) face, but my question is this: in raising up the downtrodden larger women, should we tear down the naturally slimmer framed woman?

Meghan Trainor’s song does follow with ‘No, I’m just playing I know you think you’re fat, But I’m here to tell you that, Every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top’ which does change the meaning slightly. However, the ‘skinny bitches’ is still slightly troubling to me.

Again, in Nicki Minaj’s song ‘Anaconda’ she sings ‘Fuck them skinny bitches,
Fuck them skinny bitches in the club’. Now Nicki herself is a wonderful image for girls everywhere, with her mantra being to stay in school, and never depend on a man for anything to all her young fans – and to note that I love this woman. Which is why this troubles me, do thin women have to bear the brunt of the masculine gaze and internalized misogyny which has torn down the larger woman? Minaj is well versed in feminist rhetoric yet includes this in her song.

Minaj’s song does take on another level, as a woman of colour her acceptance and love for her curvier body is acknowledging the different body types of black women and the usually associated curvier figure. In this sense, Minaj has more right to criticise if referring to the cultural appropriation of skinnier white women of black culture and figures (see Miley Cyrus and Kylie Jenner). However, assuming it isn’t referring to race, as it isn’t directly referenced throughout the song, Minaj’s ‘fuck the skinny bitches’ is troubling.

Body positivity and the rise of plus-sized models is amazing and I support it wholeheartedly, but having issues with my self-esteem when I was younger, these poster girls of body positivity for the larger women should continue their amazing work without attacking other women. Skinnier women don’t have any sort of a similar struggle as larger women, and press and media depict beauty as being thinness. However, this isn’t necessarily the thinner woman’s fault – and should we work on breaking this rhetoric of attacking the thinner woman and more criticise the creators of this image through the twisted male gaze in media?

It’s easy to attack society’s ‘ideal’ but it doesn’t solve the issue at hand, it may be an attack on the skinnier women who have personally attacked and belittled these larger women, but this cruelty does extend to the thinner women – perhaps moreso in adolescent when comments are more cruel.

But in conclusion – body positivity should be positivtiy to all body types, it’s hard to achieve self love and larger women have it the hardest, but women struggle throughout their lives to love their body. Men and the media are troubling enough in the body type of ‘beauty’, so please other women – don’t drag down other women to achieve the love of plus size women!