Monday, 27 June 2011

Fight Like a Girl

In a previous post, I mentioned a speech made by a relatively young feminist, Poppy.  She has kindly made the speech available online, so I'm going to repost it here.

Hi, I'm Poppy. I'm 16 and I'm here to say:


Enough of my friends being judged by what they wear, enough of my friends being raped and sexually abused, enough of my friends then being  blamed for being attacked, enough of my friends being shamed into internalising that they are responsible for being raped by the way they dressed or acted or walked, Instead of society telling them that “rapists are not blame for rape, not victims”

And what I don't understand is that this is the same society who has told me, via magazines, advertising, television, the fashion industry and  mainstream music  that my only worth as a woman is as a sexual object. The same Society that tells me I should look up to Cheryl Cole, Jordan, Kerry Katona, Lindsay Lohan  or the cast of 'The Only Way Is Essex' . But I don't want to be a WAG. I want to be Tank grrrl, I want to be Lara Croft,I want to be my mother, who has fought for her right to be her own woman, I want to be Athena, I want to be Liz Lemon.  And when i have kids, I will mother like Sarah Connor. I am Hit Girl.  But, society doesn't want me to be any of these strong women, because strong women question, because strong women demand that our voices are heard, because strong women say “I own my own body”.

So society please make up your mind. Do you want me to be Paris Hilton or not? Stop sending me and my generations mixed messages. Don't tell me to reduce myself to a sexual object and then turn round and tell me after I've been raped that it was my fault because I'd dressed in the way society suggested I should.

And so, I choose to say “enough is enough” I choose to stand up and say I draw a line below all the mixed messages society sends us, and I warn you: I fight like a grrrl.

(the next piece of the speech was 'borrowed' from an old 'zine and we haven't been able to attribute it)

 I fight like a grrrl who refuses to be a victim
I fight like a girl who's tired of being ignored and humoured and beaten and raped

I fight like a girl who's sick of not being taken seriously
I fight like a girl who's been pushed too far
I fight like a girl who offers and demands respect
I fight like a girl who has a lifetime of anger and strenghth and pride
pent up in her girly body

I fight like a girl who doesn't believe in fear and submission
I fight like a girl who knows that
This body and This mind are mine
I fight like a girl who knows that


I fight like a girl who will never allow you to take more than I offer
I fight like a girl who fights back.

So next time you think you can distract yourself
from your insecurities by victimising a girl

Think again, that girl might be me and


I'm Poppy, I'm 16 and I've already had enough.

I love this. Those are some of the reasons why I started Krav; so I can fight like a girl.

Ninja Bones

Did you know that you can get calcium from places other than dairy products?

I didn't, before I went vegan, and started tracking my nutrients on MFP.  Even when I first went vegan, I was still relying on fortified soya and rice milks.  Then I realised I was getting calcium from broccoli, and the Vegetarian Resource Group lists "calcium-set tofu, soybeans and soynuts, bok choy, broccoli, collards, Chinese cabbage, kale, mustard greens, and okra" as other sources.

I realised this a few months back, but I mentioned it now, because I've been looking at the USDAs new food plate.  On the whole, I like the idea.  I think it's easier to understand and apply in everyday life than the food pyramid, and I think the focus on nutrition and health is a good thing.  Even so, I am making a squiggly-smile face over the "dairy" portion allocated.

This face.
Image from CommercialModGig.

Dairy isn't the only source of calcium, and it's kind of annoying that all official sources keep insisting that it is, to the point of totally ignoring all other options.  If you click on it, it brings up a list of commonly eaten dairy products, which are varieties of milk, cheese, and yoghurt.

The other groups are better; protein, for instance, lists a number of vegan options, and alternatives.  It's just dairy that's an issue.  Dairy is not a nutrient, it is a product, and I don't think advertising has a place in government supported health projects.

I get that this is a kind of gateway project, a way to get people on the standard American diet eating better.  So, yeah, it's very simple, and it's done in a way that, I think, would make it much easier to incorporate into the average life.  It's not too threatening, or strange.

That said, the point of a gateway like this is that you don't stay there.  Yes, half whole-grains and more fruits and veggies is a great start, and just fine for a lot of people, but I'd like to see more information for people who want to go further.  Even just an acknowledgement that other calcium-rich foods exist would be great, or more information on nutrients, for people who want to go past just sticking to portions, and understand why these foods have been chosen in these amounts, so they can mix it up a bit.

Going back to pure dairy, I've been thinking about how I'd go ahead and redesign it, since, as I said, I don't agree with the inclusion of a product here.  Maybe a 'calcium' box on the plate, and replace the drink with water, since a lot of people don't drink enough?  I drink 4 litres a day, and I'm still thirsty, but, of course, I sweat a lot.  And it would help make the point about getting off soda, or at least not using it as your main source of liquid.  At the very least, I'd like to see some other sources of calcium listed, other than dairy.

In other news, I've decided to take up Parkour.  It's something I've been interested in and admired for a while, but I never quite knew where to start.  Then I read this, and thought, if he can do it, what's stopping me?

I figured, well, I'll just go ahead and work on things like pull-ups, rolls, balance, and core strength, and search for a couple of places in the city that would make good obstacle courses for practice.  So, for that last part, I googled "Birmingham Parkour"...and found classes.

Actual classes.  Held regularly.  Suitable for serious beginners.  And very affordable (£4!  My Krav classes work out at just over £5 each).  And now you know the reason for the title of this post, because, of course, Krav + Parkour = Ninja.  And calcium is necessary for strong bones.

EMP Parkour, who run the classes, recently (as in, yesterday) opened their own training centre, which is doubly awesome.  I'm hoping to attend my first class this week, and I am so excited about this, I keep squeaking to myself.

I also took a look at some Parkour videos set in Birmingham, with the goal of recognising the locations used, for ideas.  Then I got blown away by the sheer awesomeness of these guys.  Take a look.

I chose this one because I like the hats.


Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Squirtle Used Storm of Links! The Gender Neutral Edition

So, in my wandering about the intarwebz, I came across a thread entitled 'Why Men Have It Easy".  This was a list, which contained such items as "you know stuff about tanks", "you can go to the bathroom without a support group", "three pairs of shoes are enough", and "everything on your face stays its original colour".

This list is a joke, but it did get me thinking.  All of these things are choices.  They are not inherent to being a woman, or to being a man.

(Before I get into discussing gender, I would like to point out that I am, as far as I know, biologically female, and have always identified as such.  So, I apologise for any bias due to this.  Now back to your regular programming.)

Culturally, though, these stereotypical beliefs are still held.  Manly men are supposed to act and look a certain way.  Feminine women are supposed to act and look another way.  It's all bullshit.

Human gender may seem simple on the surface.  XX chromosomes = female, XY = male.  However, according to Anne Fausto-Sterling's Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality (2000) approximately 1 in 59 people, or 1.7%, are born intersexed, that is, neither fully male nor female (in the biological sense).  To quote from the book (with this specific quote being found on wikipedia);

While male and female stand on the extreme ends of a biological continuum, there are many bodies [...] that evidently mix together anatomical components conventionally attributed to both males and females. The implications of my argument for a sexual continuum are profound. If nature really offers us more than two sexes, then it follows that our current notions of masculinity and femininity are cultural conceits. [...]
Modern surgical techniques help maintain the two-sex system. Today children who are born "either/or-neither/both" — a fairly common phenomenon — usually disappear from view because doctors "correct" them right away with surgery.

1.7% may not seem like many.  But there are other things that many not make someone traditionally male or female.  For instance, Chimerism.  A chimera is a creature which is made up of cells from two different beings, is the simple explanation (a more complicated, scientifically-worded explanation can be found at the top of this article).  In human beings, it can occur when a pregnancy begins as twins, either fraternal or identical (although, it is far, far harder to spot with identical twins, as the DNA is so similar).  If one twin dies before a certain point, its cells can be absorbed by the other twin, resulting in a person who has the organs or body parts of their dead twin.  This is often not discovered, so we have no idea how prevalent it is.  It is generally found by genetically testing different body parts of the same person, which is not often called for.  Incidentally, this is quite common in marmosets.

A few famous cases of Chimerism in humans include those of Lydia Fairchild and Karen Keegan.  Both women found that their children, genetically speaking, were not their children.  Returning to the topic of gender, I keep finding reports of a teenage boy, treated by Scottish doctors in 1998 for an undescended testicle...which turned out to be his dead sister's ovary, but no one seems to have a source on that.  However, anecdotal or not, it does illustrate the fact that, for all you know, you may well contain DNA from another person, who may or may not match your gender.  In fact, if you've ever had a successful allogeneic bone marrow transplant, then you definitely are; your blood, genetically speaking, belongs to the donor.

My point here is, you may not even be one person, so how can you pin down gender?

This may not seem relevant to everyday life - unless you stray far from traditional gender norms.  Gay men and women still face prejudice, for instance, nevermind those who identify as something other than their biological gender.  I would recommend taking a look at Transgender Day of Remembrance, but please be warned that the accounts of those who died over the previous year are harrowing.

To link back to the start of this article, a 16-month-old toddler was violently killed by his mother's boyfriend for "acting too much like a girl".

I don't understand people who can think like this.  Gender stereotypes are a cultural thing, they're not genetic.  The ideas we hold about how to "act like a girl" are a mass delusion; they don't exist outside of our minds, they have no objective value.  Ideas like, 'pink for a girl, blue for a boy' (something that has been the case for less than a hundred years, incidentally).  Or -

I was going to say something about clothing here, but I have no clue how to phrase it.  "Men wear trousers, women wear dresses"?  Obviously not the case; consider kilts, robes, women's jeans.  "Men wear clothes designed for men, and women wear clothes designed for women"?  Yes, I think we can safely say that that's an embedded cultural stereotype.  But, seriously; the person the designer had in mind does not have to have anything in common with the person who eventually wears the outfit.  Taller, fatter, thinner, different skin-tone, even different gender (hey, they might not even be one person, or have a gender, you don't know).

Anyway, as I was saying.  Ideas like, "women paint their nails, men don't", or "men should play with toy cars and trains, and should women have dolls" are bullshit.  They are nonsense.  They have no place in a civilised society.

How can someone kill someone else over that?

A more famous example is that of Brandon Teena, who was portrayed by Hilary Swank in the film Boys Don't Cry.  When acquaintances of Teena found that he was biologically female, he was raped and later murdered.

The following video is an animated version of a letter from a transgendered woman to her father, and, while not exactly happy, shows great strength.

The only time gender should be relevant is in matters regarding sexuality or fertility, both of which are really only to do with yourself and the person you've chosen to share it with.

Of course, that may not always be practical, for instance, in the everyday case of using a public bathroom or changing room.  Or in the case of sports; you may remember the controversy over Caster Semenya, who inspired debate over whether or not she was fully female.  Perhaps sporting events should be separated by something other than gender?  In some cases, perhaps height/weight/body fat percentage would work?  I'm just throwing out ideas here, I'm not seriously suggesting ways to reconfigure competitive sports (though I do think reconfiguring competitive sports to be less gender-focused is worth thinking about).  As for toilets/changing rooms; perhaps lose the urinals, and have stalls with a shared washing area, something like that?  Our society is highly gendered, and I don't have a solution for the things I'm mentioning.  At this point, I think raising awareness, and thinking about it, is a good start.

Another issue is how to address people whose gender may not be readily apparent.  I think the best solution there is simply, if you don't know, ask, and, if you are asked, don't take offence at a honest mistake (happily, most of the non-typically gendered people I've met tend to be very accommodating about those mistakes).

Returning to the issue of pink for a girl, and blue for a boy, there is some evidence that children are treated differently from birth due to gender.  The Baby X Study indicates that  people treat infants differently depending on whether or not they are introduced as male or female.

Incidentally, in that first thread I mentioned, I was accused of wanting people to all be the same when I pointed out that the list was offensive.  Insisting that not every man or woman has to subscribe to a list of stereotypes is not wanting everyone to be the same, and nor is supporting the idea of acknowledging fluid gender roles.  It's about as far from wanting everyone to be the same as you can get.  People are individuals; not genders or races, although cultural ideas about these things will shape them dramatically.

Furthermore, sexism is not simply spouting the idea that one gender is better than another.  It also applies when insisting that someone of a certain gender has to act a certain way, or they're "not real men/women".

An interesting book I read a while ago was Norah Vincent's Self-Made Man, the true story of Vincent's year spent disguised as a man.  During this year, s/he joined a male bowling team, worked as a salesman, stayed at a monastery, visited strip clubs, and dated women (Vincent identifies as a lesbian, and revealed herself to her dates if they reached a third date).  Her account of the differences she noticed is incredibly interesting.  Her world is very different to mine, in many ways; she's from an older generation, and another country, with different cultural norms and attitudes.  However, some things were similar, and her findings where interesting even when they seemed to apply less to my world.

She made the point that people who identify as male can often be just as trapped by gender norms as those who identify as female.  Many of the men she met, for instance, felt unable to express their feelings; for most, the only emotion which it was appropriate to voice was anger, except in the case of sporting events.

I would like to live in a world where people are people, and everything else is a secondary concern.  After participating in the Slutwalk, and meeting so many strong people, of varying genders, I think it's possible to build that world; not easy, but possible.

Speaking of changing the world, let's end on this article, about parents who are choosing to raise their children without advertising their gender.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Birmingham SlutCamp

We weren't able to get permission to walk, in the end, as the streets we planned to use were full of stalls for the international food fare.  So, instead, we set up camp in Centenary Square, spoke to a few people who were curious, and listened to some great speeches.

This is what I originally planned to wear;

Only 8% of rapes are commited by strangers.
These are not crimes of lust, or opportunity.
The objective is not sex, it is pain and violation.
There are a million ways to be sexy.
None of them will turn you into a rapist.
Not even this one.

...and here is what I actually wore.

I was going to dress up for this...
...then I remembered that most women are raped in their own homes, by their husbands or partners.
Is it because they looked slutty?

I changed because I felt that my pyjamas said what I wanted to say more effectively.  My logic is, if I were attacked, this is what I would be wearing (only not really, because those are so warm that I'd wake up sweating).  They gathered just as much attention, and they got people to read the sign, and, hopefully, to think about the point it made.  That said, I was very envious of how good everyone else looked!  On the other hand, I was lovely and warm, right up until it rained, and that corset doesn't really fit any more anyway.  Swings and roundabouts.

One of the organisers, Sara Jane Russell, who is also a member of my feminist group, had written a speech,  She asked me to read it for her, since my pyjamas were getting so much attention, and because she was so busy behind the scenes.  It was not the most elegant moment of my life - one hand on my sign, the other hand tightly gripping the speech while the wind tried to steal it, hair over my face - but the speech was excellent, and I was very proud to read it.  We had a number of other speakers, including a teenage girl, a lady with a transgendered history, Barbara Nice, Salma Yaqoob, and a few others.  Barbara Nice actually pointed out my pyjamas, and read my sign out to the group, which was quite cool.  I didn't manage to take any pictures myself (that one above was taken by another person who took part!), and I didn't manage to note down all the speakers either, unfortunately.  The Birmingham Mail have a report on the event, but they didn't write them all down either.

We got a lot of support from the members of the public who stopped by, though I am noticing less support for SlutWalks in general from the media.  Quite apart from the people who believe that we're protesting the right thing, but going the wrong way about it, other people seem split between "This is ridiculous, it's obvious that women aren't raped because of what they wear, why make such a fuss?", and "This is ridiculous, it was just good advice".  It's a shame we can't pit that first group against the second, really.  They just seem to be invisible to one another, and it's very tiring, facing both.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Colour Me Happy

Because, in this week of researching sexual violence and abuse, I needed a little bit of cheerfulness.

I highly recommend this as the soundtrack for this post.

When I Stumbled Upon this recipe, I simply had to try it.  It looked so happy!  (Speaking of trying things, try Stumble Upon, it's a great way to spend half an hour).

Rather than try to veganise the recipe given, I searched for a white cake recipe instead.  I usually make chocolate cakes, and although I could just leave the cocoa out, I felt like trying something new.  I went with something based on this recipe, which, unlike other vegan cake recipes I've tried, contains no vinegar or oil, though it does call for vegan margarine.


  • 2/3 Cup Demerara Sugar
  • 1/4 Cup Vegan Margarine (I use Vitalite).
  • 1 and 1/2 Cups of Flour (I used white flour, but wholewheat would be interesting to try).
  • 1/2 Tablespoon Baking Powder (powder, not soda!)
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1 Cup of Non-Dairy Milk (I used soya, but rice milk would be nice).
  • 1/2 Tablespoon Vanilla Extract
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Almond Extract
  • Various food colouring - I used red, blue, yellow, and green.

You'll also need a few empty, clean glass jars (I used peanut butter jars, and I needed three for this mixture, as I found later.  I only had two.), and some spare bowls, for mixing up different colours.

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit/180 Celcius/Gas Mark 4.
  2. Cream the margarine and sugar. 
  3. Mix the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl, then add to the creamed mixture.  Add the soya milk, mixing together thoroughly.  Finally, add the vanilla and almond extracts.
  4. Separate the mixture into however many different colours you want, and add the food colouring.  I had a go at making indigo using red and blue, but it came out burgundy, for some reason.
  5. Spoon the mixtures into the jars in layers.  As you can see, I didn't divide mine terribly well, so I have lots of red and burgundy, and relatively little blue and green.
  6. Bake for 40 minutes.

Do NOT fill your jars this full.  This cake rises quite a bit, and mine ended up overflowing.  I ended up having to pick cake out of the pan and eat it.  It was torture!

Afterwards, you can slice the tops off, or scoop a bit out, and ice them (I didn't, since I'm out of icing sugar).  Maybe add some rainbow sprinkles, if you can find any vegan versions?  Then give it to someone who needs cheering up.

This should keep for about five days in the fridge.  And doesn't it look happy?

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Another Rape Myth: A Thought Experiment on SlutWalks

This is an expansion of this post.

There's a great deal of confusion surrounding the SlutWalks, what their goal is, and what they stand for.  As I've explained in the linked post, they began because a Canadian police officer advised women to avoid rape by not "dressing like sluts".

Some people think this advice is reasonable.  It is true that women will often gather more attention when provocatively dressed, and they believe that this makes women more likely to be raped.  That isn't the case.  Firstly, the men catcalling at you, and trying to persuade you to talk to them?  They're trying to persuade you.  They are unlikely to suddenly attack you against your will.  You have time to extricate yourself from this situation before it gets this far.  The people who will attack you against your will, who will carry on even after it is made blindingly, obviously clear that you are unhappy with the situation, are the people who do not care how drunk you are, or what you're wearing.

(We are not, of course, discussing drink here, but it often becomes entangled in the argument, presumably because people assume that drinking goes along with "dressing like sluts".  My thoughts on drink are; it clouds the judgement of both attackers and victims.  Let's teach our children about alcohol in the context of harming no one, including, but not limited to, themselves, huh?  How about that?).

Rapists do not rape you out of lust.  They do not rape you because you are too sexy for them to resist.  Rapists rape because they enjoy being in control, and hurting other people.  If they wanted sex, they could get it without rape; rape is not the same as consensual sex, and does not have the same origins.  Rapists prefer rape to sex because of the differences, the violence, pain, and violation, not the similarities.  If they wanted consensual sex, they could pay for it.  They could seduce someone.  They could masturbate.  They do not choose these options; they choose rape.  It is a violent crime, not a physical release.  It has nothing to do with what you're wearing, or how desirable you look.

Furthermore, nobody thinks they "dress like a slut".  Nobody looks in the mirror and thinks "I look so slutty, I'm going to get raped tonight".  So advising us not to do this is patronising, insulting, and unhelpful.

Let's try a thought experiment.  Let's pretend that this policeman was right, that women should avoid dressing "like sluts", and that this will prevent a significant number of rapes.

Firstly, statistics.  44% of rape victims are under eighteen, so, presumably, we can discount this group from the "too damn sexy" classification.  (These are US statistics from various points over the last fifteen years, but we can presume that there has been no great change in rape demographics since then).  If someone enjoys raping a child or teenager against their will that is an hebephile or paedophile, which is an entirely different problem, and, again, if someone isn't already this way inclined, seeing a "sluttily" dressed ten-year-old will not change their mind.  Besides which, 34.4% of these children were assaulted by family members, who did not need a specific occasion or opportunity, and were unlikely to have made the decision impulsively.  Even those children who were not attacked by family members were likely picked out beforehand, because of repeated opportunities for grooming, online or in person, not because of how they were dressed on one occasion.

From here.

The most likely person to rape me is Anthony.  For any of us heterosexual women, our most likely attacker is a partner or husband.  Again, I presume we can exclude this group from the "too damn sexy" demographic, since our attackers are unlikely to be raping us from a sudden onset of lust.  This is a scenario in which the attacker would have gained trust over time, rather than making an impulsive decision.

In short, the only rape experiences we can include in this "too damn sexy" group are those where the rape was committed impulsively, that is, by a stranger who was overcome by your clothing, or saw you as an easy target because of how you were dressed (and for that last thing?  Let's make being a kick-ass woman more important than being a thin one, huh?).  Only 8% of rapes are committed by strangers, and this includes situations where someone has broken into your home.  Again, these break-ins are unlikely to be impulsive attacks, and the rapes are equally unlikely to be impulsive.  Going from burglary to rape is a huge jump.

Let's be incredibly generous.  Let's say that 5% of rapes are impulsive, that is, they occur because the rapist saw a "slutty" woman and thought "I'll have some of that".  Even in these cases, the rapist must have lured the victim somewhere private.  He must also have chosen her because she is the most "sluttily" dressed of the women "available", in order for clothes to be a viable factor, as we are trying to prove in this thought experiment.  For this, we must make the following assumptions; that this person, the most "slutty", is equally unaware of her own safety, and willing to walk away with a stranger.  We must also presume that she is intoxicated, or otherwise easy to control.  We must also presume that the rapist did not previously intend to rape anyone - if he planned it beforehand, and was willing to rape any of the "available victims" then clothes were not a factor, as he would have made the decision before he saw any.  Okay?

Let me explain that last paragraph further.  For clothes to make a difference, the most "slutty" woman must be "slutty" by an objective standard.  To make this clear, let's see what happens if she is the most "slutty" comparatively.  Let's give these imaginary women a "slut rating" of 1 to 10.  Now, we can state, within the confines of this thought experiment, that the most "slutty" woman in the room is the most likely to be raped.  In this case, if there is a group of 8s, and one 10, that 10 will become the victim.  But what if it's a group of 2s, with one 3?  Or a group of 1s, with one 2?  Where is the line drawn?  It becomes apparent here that we cannot simply say the "most slutty" is the victim.  If we do, we end up with a scenario where, if a group of women go out covered from head to toe, and one shows a flash of ankle, she is therefore being "slutty" and provoking an attacker.  I would hope that we all know this is ridiculous.

So let's say that all women who are above an 8 on the objective "slut scale" are more likely than any women lower than an 8 to be attacked.  Let's accept that presumption as accurate within the scales of this thought experiment.  We must now decide what an 8 is on the "slut scale".  What does it look like?

Women are not capable of judging this by themselves, then.  As I said above, no one leaves the house thinking they look "slutty" enough to be raped.  Clearly, if we are to accept that women are more likely to be raped if they look like sluts, then at least some percentage of women are not capable of judging this for themselves, since they are leaving the house in this state.  So we must arbitrarily define "slutty" and send out guidelines for women to dress appropriately.

Okay, so in our imaginary world, this has been done.  No woman now appears in public dressed above an 8 on the slut scale.

We haven't changed anything else.  The rapists are exactly the same.  Do they now go home disappointed, since they don't see a victim who looks slutty enough?  Does rape never cross their mind?  Or will they simply choose a target from the women available?

I suspect that the later will occur.  After all, women were raped in Victorian times, when the fashion was to have as much skin covered as possible.  Women are raped while wearing burkas.  Women are raped in their pyjamas, in workout clothes.  If we accept the clothing argument as true, that objectively "slutty" women are more likely to be raped, then nudist colonies should be a hotbed of sexual violence.  There are no statistics available for rape and sexual violence in nudist colonies, but I imagine there'd be a far greater uproar at their existence if there were.

Even if we assume that "impulsive rapists" firstly, exist, and, secondly, only rape women above a certain number on the "slut scale", then is telling every single women in the world how to dress to stay below that level really an effective and reasonable method of policing it?  Bearing in mind that, even with an incredibly generous estimate, and with all those assumptions, it would only prevent 5% of rapes?  You'd prevent a whole lot more by keeping children away from all adults, including those they are related to.  You'd prevent more by outlawing marriage and living together, or, for a less extreme option, offering better education on abuse and violence within relationships, to both genders.  People generally learn about relationships from their parents, mimicking the roles of attacker and victim.  You would prevent more rapes by offering sources of information on healthy relationships and romances than you would by policing everything women wear.

Then there is the harm that paying lip-service to this idea offers.  Law officials are already confused as to the causes of rape, and what it looks like.  The pervasiveness of this false and ridiculous idea, that women can prevent a significant amount of rapes by dressing differently is what leads to victim-blaming, and slut-shaming, both abhorrent behaviours that have no place in a civilised society.  Nobody deserves to be raped because of what they were wearing.  They did not cause it.  They did not provoke it.  That rapist was already inclined to hurt someone, and could have chosen anyone.  That or they were specifically obsessed with one person, and did not care what they were wearing.  If someone is going to attempt to rape you, it will not be because of your clothing.  How many times, before that sinks in, and we stop punishing the victims?

Friday, 10 June 2011

Squirtle Used Storm of Links! The Female Body Edition

Today, I want to link to articles and other media about how women from feel about their bodies, and their worlds.  I've tried to include links to other cultures, but please forgive the western bias here.

This image was taken from the Any Body blog, specifically their post about the Endangered Species campaign, whose objective is to save future generations of women from hating their bodies. You can read more about the Endangered Species campaign here.

There are several interesting posts on that blog (which I highly recommend checking out, if you have an interest in the subject), but one that stands out to me discusses the way that the media focuses on one single female ideal.  For years, if not centuries, the media has focused on one example of female "perfection" at a time, leaving the many, many of us who do not fulfil it (and, often, those who do) feeling inadequate.  At the moment, the fashion is for very tall and very slim women.  A few years ago, height was less of an issue.  Now, larger breasts are fashionable, while, previously, smaller breasts were.  This isn't getting into the more constant ideas, things like women removing all hair from their bodies.

This document discusses the history of the fashion of female body hair removal, particularly over the last hundred years.  Although there had been fashions of hair removal before this, such as in Ancient Egypt, where men and women would both remove all body hair, the hair removal culture we are familiar with today began to take shape in the 1920s.  Nowadays, women will resist engaging in basic parts of their daily lives, such as dating or exercising, if they have not "adequately" removed their body hair.  Personally, I would find it extremely difficult to wear anything which showed hair upon my legs or underarms, purely due to how condemned the practice of not-shaving is in our society.

Not here to be accepted by you.

Here's a secret; I don't always shave my legs or underarms before a krav lesson.  Instead, I wear longer t-shirts, and long socks under my sweats, so no-one can tell.  The idea that my natural body hair is disgusting and unfeminine is so deeply imbued in me that I feel deeply ashamed at the mere thought of anyone noticing this.  Which is ridiculous, especially since I don't want any of the men I train with to find me attractive, or even pay attention to the fact that I'm female, if I can help it.  To paraphrase a quote from Good Hair, why would it be so controversial for me to simply keep my hair exactly as it grows out of my skin?

That paper also includes a brief explanation of why men began shaving.  The writer found that it was for combat situations, rather than vanity, in which a beard would give the enemy something to grab.

To quickly return to the issue of female perfection;

From the Daily Mail, linked below.

This lady, lingerie model Daisy Lowe, feels that she is not thin enough.  I hope that, rather than make the rest of us feel even more inadequate, this serves to show how ridiculously high the standards for "female perfection" are.  Daisy Lowe has earned a great deal of professional success, in a business where her major assets are her looks, and she still feels inadequate.  This is insane.  Love your body, take care of it, try not to hurt it.  That's enough.

The Century Project is a wonderful expression of different female bodies.  Created by photographer Frank Cordelle, the images are of women from birth to nearly one-hundred-years-old.   When asked "Why women?", Cordelle responds;

Women’s bodies undergo more radical changes over the course of the biological continuum than men’s. Women go through immense changes at puberty, can get pregnant, bear children, nurse them, and go through menopause. All of these changes are accompanied by hormonal shifts that may radically change a woman’s body. Men can’t come anywhere near that; we change as we age, to be sure, but that pales in comparison to the changes that a woman’s body can go through. Yet on the whole we fail to appreciate these immense and profound shifts in women’s biology and rather scrutinze her every body part in pursuit of an impossible ideal based purely on aesthetics.

 The project shows a huge variety of body types.  The examples shown on the site include women who are recovering from eating disorders, a woman who has had one of her breasts removed, a m-to-f transsexual woman, and another woman with muscular dystrophy.  The collection has also been released as a book.

Another collection of photographs of women's bodies is the My Beautiful Cervix collection.  I believe the site was originally started by a student midwife, who felt that clear pictures of a cervix throughout its natural cycle would help her to understand women's bodies.  There are also photographs donated by other women.

This page, entitled When I Was a Girl in China... contains a number of personal experiences of foot-binding, the practice of binding one's feet to prevent them from growing, and to give them a particular shape.  This practice seems extreme to us now, but for many years it was simply what women did in China.  It was painful and often inconvenient, but necessary for that concept of beauty. From the site;

My mother told me that the smaller one's feet, the better, and that I had to bind so that when I reached marriage age it would be easy to find a husband. People felt that only women with small feet were attractive. But now I think the big feet girls have today are pretty, too.

This post on Racialicious focuses less on body image.  It's a letter from a Nigerian woman living in Brooklyn, discussing how she is treated by some men of her race.  The lady in question finds that many men treat her as if they have a right to her attention and time, purely because of their shared colour and presumed culture, and the fact that she is female and desirable.  This hinders her daily life to the point where she avoids interactions where, in her experience, this attitude is likely to occur.

Moving on; I liked the sarcastic Annie Lennox cover of the following song, but the original is far more problematic.

(I would hope it was obvious that this video is racist and sexist, but the youtube comments appear confused on the issue.  It is racist because the blackface is a caricature of how black men were presumed to look (and calls to mind other offensive portrayals), and yet it was accepted as real until it began to wash off.  Black people do not look like that, and it is offensive to portray the disguise as adequate.  It is sexist because it consists of a man telling women that they need to "keep young and beautiful" in order to be loved, and that it is their "duty".  This judgement is internalised by the women in the video, to the point where they repeat these lines themselves.)

A post on Feministing discusses female eating disorders, and other mental disorders within the United States military, and the scant help available for these problems.  On a similar note, Love My Rifle More Than You is a fascinating account of a female linguist and former intelligence officer in the United States Army, Kayla Williams.

What sticks with me are the themes that, I think, occur for most women in male-dominated groups.  I've seen it on gaming forums, which tend to be heavily male-dominated.  Women take on shades of stereotypes, generally the Slut, the Mother-figure, or the Bitch.  There is movement between these roles, particularly over time, but not so much outside of them.  Women may object to this, but also feel possessive of it, feeling threatened by the entrance of new women to the group.  As a vegetarian, Williams also discusses how difficult it sometimes was to find food she could eat, but that's a topic for another time.

For those interested in reading more from US Army veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, you may wish to check out Vet Voices, which Williams is involved with.

Finally, something from SlutWalk Manchester's wall, which, has, unfortunately, received several nasty comments over the past few days.

Incidentally, this jakass studies Contemporary Art at Leeds Metropolitan.  That advice is clearly displayed on his profile.  I did not think Leeds Met went in for threats of sexual violence.  Of course, perhaps they're simply unaware of his behaviour.  His head of department's email address is  Have at it.

SlutWalk Manchester took place this evening, and was covered by Northwest Tonight.  For those in the Midlands, a member of the Birmingham Femms will be appearing on BBC WM tomorrow morning at 10am, discussing the ridiculous question of whether or not men can help committing adultery (it's ridiculous because, firstly, it presupposes a major difference between the likelihood of men and women committing adultery, and, secondly, it implies that men have no self control).

If you still don't like your body, listen to this guy.  He says it so much better than I ever could.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Rape Myths

The rape myth, as I see it, is this pervasive idea that rape is something that happens out of lust, by a stranger. Rape is never about lust; it's about control.

This video was made by a friend of mine. Please take the time to watch it.

So many people believe in this. They believe, deep down, that women invite rape. That something they do invites it, or causes it, or means that they didn't fight as much as they could, so they obviously didn't mind. It's not limited to men either - after I was attacked, I spoke to a female police officer, who told me that my story "didn't ring true". I can't explain that; I told her the truth. Perhaps it didn't ring true because it wasn't the kind of thing that she believed could happen.

Rape happens because you're in an abusive relationship. It happens because you're on a date with someone who was already predisposed to believe that "no" meant "yes", and "get lost" meant "take me, I'm yours". It happens because some people believe that rape only ever occurs one way, and since what they're doing doesn't look like that, it isn't.

Sometimes, women don't scream. They don't want to believe it's happening, they want it to be a mistake, they want him to stop, so it's just a rejection, it's not an attack, and no one has to know that this is happening. And then it's too late.

Sometimes, women don't struggle. They're too drunk or confused to give consent, or to struggle. They're too young (and you can be too young, however old you are) to realise that they can struggle, that they have a right to say no, that they can refuse access to their bodies without being hated, without being frigid, without being a bitch.

Rape has low conviction rates because so many people fail to understand this. They're lucky enough to live in a world untouched by this experience, and they simply don't understand. They focus on the wrong things; how someone acted towards the rapist before it happened. Someone's sexuality before it happened. They think we should have seen it coming, should have known, and should have reacted beforehand. We don't. We don't see it coming. We're naive, or optimistic, and we don't see it coming.

It's not more likely to occur because of what you're wearing, or how much sex you've had previously, or even whether you've consented to sex with that partner previously. You could be anyone.

To quote from the info page for that video;

The belief that if it was 'real rape' then the victim will gain justice. Rape cases aren't even allowed a chance at trial unless it is proven beforehand that they are very likely to get a guilty verdict. That more or less means having video evidence as the amount of evidence required to reach court is extremely high. A signed confession in an acquaintance rape case is not 'enough evidence' to take it to trial.

Our world is so fucked up.

By the way, if you do find yourself in a threatening situation while on the street, your voice can be your greatest weapon.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

I Am a Slut

...but what does that word mean to you?

This post covers incidences of rape and sexual assault. Please be aware that this may be triggering for some readers.

Colloquially, I find that "slut" often refers to a certain kind of dress, or a certain kind of behaviour that the speaker believes the subject engages in.  It is a negative term.  In other words, you (you being the generic, colloquial speaker) believe a woman sleeps with "too many" people, or "sleeps around", and disapprove of this behaviour, deeming it "sluttish".  Or, you believe that a certain way of dressing indicates that a woman is willing to or does engage in such "sluttish" behaviours.

The problems I, personally, have with this viewpoint are as follows.  Firstly, how many is "too many", and who are you to judge?  Seriously.  Who gets to judge?

This image is taken from Laci Green's Sex +, which I highly recommend.

In my opinion, the person in question.  That person, and that person alone, is the one who can decide if they are sleeping with "too many" or "too few" people.  While their potential sexual partners do get an opinion on this, ie, whether this is, to them, an acceptable level of risk for them to engage in (as you do, in a very real sense, have intimate sexual contact with your partner's previous partners), or an acceptable level of experience for them to be comfortable in seeking a relationship with this person, that should not be a judgement.  It is a decision, based on factual information and a personal opinion.

A personal anecdote to make this clearer;  a previous sexual partner of mine had had many more sexual partners than myself.  He had had twenty-three, while I had had ten.  This made it uncomfortable for us to engage in a relationship, because, in my opinion, this discrepancy in experience was too great.  The fact that, in sleeping with him, I would have intimate sexual contact with twenty-two other women was too many for me personally, despite all precautions taken.  It was a personal judgement call, but it was not a judgement on him.  More, an acknowledgement that we had different opinions regarding sexual intimacy, and my lack of comfort with this discrepancy made it a bad idea for us to engage in this with each other (we did anyway; it really did not end well.  Always trust your personal judgement in these cases, it has your best interests at heart).

So, if you think I've had "too many" sexual partners, great.  Good for you.  We probably shouldn't attempt any kind of romantically intimate relationship with one another.  It's no reason for name calling.

"Slut" is also used to describe people who engage in what the speaker deems unsafe sexual habits - for instance, multiple partners with inadequate precautions.  Although STDs are a concern, again, name calling is not appropriate.  Rather than label the person in question, why not either offer help or keep to yourself?  There should really be no other options.

SlutWalks are marches through cities in which women attempt to reclaim the word slut, much like some racial slurs have been reclaimed.  Although the onus should not be on the victim to decide not to be offended, if we do, if we shrug and say "so what?" when we are called sluts, the word will lose power.

As an example; you have green hair.  Imagine someone saying that to you, or whispering it about you, or telling someone else that they think that of you.  You'd shrug, think that they were strange, and move on with your life, because you know perfectly well that you do not, in fact, have green hair, and, even if you did, so what?

(Of course, if you do have green hair, you may wish to reread that previous paragraph imagining another colour).

Now imagine if we could all react to sexual slurs like "slut", or "frigid", or "homo", or "lesbo", or "trannie" like that.  Just shrug, and be puzzled, and know that either you're not, or that there's nothing wrong with it.  Imagine if being called a homo had all the impact of someone shouting "You love your mother!" and expecting a reaction other than "yeah, and?".

As I said above, the onus should not be on the victim to decide not to take offence, or to fight back.  But, unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world, with people who know that sexual slurs are inappropriate, inaccurate, and none of their business.  An analogy; I would love to live in a world in which I do not expect to be attacked.  Since I do not, however, live in that world, I study Krav Maga.

The above video is another way of achieving a similar goal.

I would love to live in a world where no one cast judgement on other people's sexual choices or clothing or anyone else, where it was understood that this was not acceptable.  Since I do not live in that world, I want to help strip the word of all meaning, to have everyone understand - particularly younger girls, who may be more vulnerable to internalising such judgements than adults - that they can simply think "I sleep with more people than you deem appropriate, and/or my clothing makes you believe that I sleep with more people than you deem appropriate?  And?". 

I wish the world would understand that this was unacceptable. However, I feel it will work better to make the word unusable for the current purposes described in this post.

To explain another reason why I wish to make this viewpoint, that 'slut' is not appropriate thing to call people, mainstream, and to strip it from all power, I must explain where the idea of Slutwalks originated.

When a police officer from Toronto went on a routine visit to Osgoode Hall Law School to advise the students on personal safety, little did he know that he would unwittingly inspire a movement that has caught fire across Canada and the US.

"You know, I think we're beating around the bush here," Michael Sanguinetti began, blandly enough, as he addressed the 10 students who turned up for the pep talk. Then he said: "I've been told I'm not supposed to say this – however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised."

This statement - "women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised" - is the problem.  It is both inaccurate and dangerous.

It is inaccurate because it makes the assumption that women are raped, or sexually attacked, because of how they dress.  The fact of the matter is, that the concept of a stranger raping a woman from lust is so rare as to be a total fiction.  Women are commonly raped by people they know - according to the US Department of Justice, 73% of rapes are committed by a non-stranger.  Even if they were due to lust, that lust was highly unlikely to have suddenly arisen from a change of clothing.  And how likely do you think it was that the decision to rape the person in question came from what they happened to be wearing one day out of however many the perpetrator knew them?

In short, telling women to avoid dressing "sluttily" to prevent or reduce the chance of rape is like telling someone to stay home to reduce accidents.  Most accidents occur in the home (quite a few rapes, too - 40%), and it is totally unreasonable to blame someone for not taking that insane level of precaution.  

The sad fact is that far too many people believe this deluded and inaccurate viewpoint.  One person felt the need to explain the following;

Of course, as I have pointed out above, this advice isn't practical, and nor is it comparable to keeping an iPod hidden.  It is impractical because so few rapes occur because of a sudden lust brought on by clothing.  It is not comparable to keeping an iPod hidden for the same reason.  People are not going to suddenly decide to rape me because the way I dress make them realise I am female or desirable.  Rape is not a crime of opportunity in the same way that theft is.

Nor does dressing in a stereotypically sexy way impede my safety - in fact, it would be far easier to run away in a miniskirt, or to injure someone with heels in self-defence (as one fellow Krav Maga student found out a few weeks ago, when a few well-placed kicks punctured her would-be attacker's testicles).

The silly thing is, this young man was so certain that this viewpoint was right that he didn't look at the statistics, or examine the statement.  Instead, he assumed that the group of woman involved in the Slutwalk - many of them with personal experience of sexual assault - would be unaware of what the policeman was getting at.  This is obviously not the case.  We know what he meant.  We simply disagree, and find the viewpoint quite dangerous, which is why we want to expose it as the ludicrous fallacy it is.

Why dangerous?  Well, firstly, it leads to the idea that women can prevent or reduce the likelihood of sexual attacks by a change of clothing.  This blaming of the victim - particularly if it becomes internalised - can be incredibly damaging.  Many women who feel that they caused their rape, or could have prevented it, will injure themselves in some way.  Some develop eating disorders, and others - including myself - will attempt to disfigure themselves, in order to destroy their looks, which they see as the cause of the attack.  Then there's the fact that, if internalised in others, it can negatively affect the chances of a rapist coming to trial, and being found guilty and sentenced appropriately, something that already occurs far too rarely.

Warning: This poem using imagery which is far more triggering and powerful than anything I have written.

The current use of the word 'slut' promotes this viewpoint, as well as the idea that dress and sexual activity is something that it is appropriate for other people to pass judgement on.  It isn't.  It is, generally speaking, and much like sexual orientation, absolutely none of your fucking business.*

In short, my point is this;  to some people, I am a slut.  To some people, you are.  That women who has had one sexual partner all her life is a slut for sleeping with him before marriage.  That girl who has never had sex is a slut for flirting with someone.  That girl wearing a mini-skirt, a cleavage and naval-bearing top, and thigh-high boots is a slut, and so is that girl with one button undone to show a bit of chest.  That girl with the pierced naval is a slut.  That girl who could use a good friend rather than an unasked-for judgement is a slut.  That girl who wanted to feel pretty today is a slut.

Not one of them is asking to be raped. 

*pun not originally intended, but then noticed, and intentionally kept in.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Accidentally Vegan: Rachel Berry and Shaggy Rogers

Did you know that Shaggy Rogers, the best friend of Scooby Doo, was vegan? From 2005, he was.

Casey Kasem played Shaggy for a time where Shaggy was portrayed as a vegetarian, by request of Kasem, who is a vegan. In the past, Shaggy had a tendency to overeat and eat anything he could. Kasem disagreed with this portrayal, and in 1995 he walked out on the role when Shaggy and Scooby-Doo were to be portrayed in a Burger King commercial. He also did this because the producers of Scooby Doo would not turn Shaggy into a vegan, which Kasem is. Therefore he quit, later to rejoin the crew when they allowed Shaggy to be a vegan, only ten years later, in the series What's New, Scooby-Doo?.

From here.
What I like about this is the fact that you probably didn't know that. It's not an important part of the character. It's not used as shorthand for 'hippy' (Shaggy was very 60s/70s influenced, but his original portrayal was as an omnivore, and didn't use veg*nism to symbolise this), or for him being a coward, and unwilling to hurt other creatures for this reason. It's just a totally unnoticeable, insignificant part of who he is. Shaggy's a vegan. That's it. It's not a big deal.

Rachel Berry, of Glee, has a similar reason for her veganism. Actress, Lea Michele, is vegan, though she classes herself as 'strict vegetarian'. I gather that she has been vegetarian for a while, and stopped eating diary products and eggs in order to lose weight and become healthier, rather than for moral reasons.

The character, Rachel Berry, is shown to eat veal and pepperoni early in series 1, but, by the end of the series, identifies as vegan. This entire transformation takes place off-screen; it just isn't a big deal.

I'm hoping that this is the future of veg*nism in the media. Although, yes, if a character is a veg*n for moral reasons, this is likely to be reflected in their other actions and beliefs (ie, Aggie, of Penny and Aggie) it doesn't have to be. Veg*nism doesn't have to be unusual, or noteworthy, or weird - it can just be a totally nondescript part of a character.
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