Wednesday, 30 May 2012

So you're 'not one of those feminists'?

Today I saw a blogpost written by someone who was clearly just getting into feminism, and something in it made me very mad for a bit. It doesn't matter what the post was or who said it, because this isn't a call-out or a rage piece. You see, after a few hours I started thinking about it again, and yes what the blogger had said was wrong and yes it directly insulted me and lots of people I know and yes it played into big stupid patriarchy-holes and blah blah blah, but I kind of realised that (on this occasion) anger wasn't the answer. Explaining was.

Because I too was once like that blogger. Well, not that blogger, but we all have to start somewhere and we all have to learn things and no one gets it right first time, and this is why the internet is so great. We can read pieces written for people like us by people like us instead of dreary academic tomes on the nature of kyriarchy or whatever. YAY INTERNETZ.

A lot of my beliefs are so far from the mainstream that it's hard to even explain them to newbies, and it's bloody frustrating to try for the eight-hundredth time why CAPITALISM IS BAD M'KAY and so on, so I kind of rarely bother. Most of my readership by now know me and know what I mean when I talk about the kind of weighty issues surrounding feminism, intersectionality, anarchism or whatever I'm rambling about on a given day and so I don't have the impetus to word my posts in ways everyone can understand, and that is not cool of me. I've always tried to link to definitions when I first use a word from the social justice lexicon that people might not have come across, but I shouldn't get mad that not everyone can understand me immediately, I should be more accessible.

Which is why I am not shouting at this blogger or any other blogger who says similar things.

I've always advocated giving people a chance to show their true colours in potential call-out situations. You know, asking them to not, e.g. say the word 'retard' and explain why, then go full on RAGE if they object. I'm usually pleasantly surprised, and I'm not surprised by the people I'm not surprised by, if that makes sense? *side-eyes Vagenda and Jezebel*

Anyway, introductions aside, I'd like to do a bit of a Feminism 101 today. Maybe that blogger will see this, probably she won't, but other people who were about to say or have said the same thing (it's shockingly common) will see it and think 'Yeah actually, Nat has a fair point there and also she likes cats so I'll trust her on this and stop saying it'.

Here is a picture of a cat to prove I mean SRS BSNS:

So today we will be discussing why it's wrong to say things like 
"Yeah, I'm a feminist, but I'm not like, a shaven-headed, hairy legged lesbian bra-burning one."
This is wrong for several reasons, and I'll try to address them as best I can. Firstly, there's the glaring historical inaccuracy - the burning bra thing is a lie. If you are going to smear the more radical actions of a group, at least make them historically accurate please. Also, you had better have a good definition of what is 'too radical' because that vote you have? Won by suffragettes who smashed windowswent on hunger strike and taught themselves ju-fucking-jitsu in order to fight the police. So, you know, radicalism isn't half bad sometimes, especially when it comes to winning basic human rights.

So now that we have our short feminist history lesson out of the way, let's address the rest of the statement...

When you say 'I'm not a shaven-headed, hairy legged lesbian', what you're doing is two things that roll into one big bad thing. Thing one is that you're implying that those of us who shave our hair (or bits of it), or don't shave our legs or are fond of shagging other women don't have legitimate viewpoints and shouldn't be listened to. That what we have to say isn't valid because we're just big weirdos who are probably wearing silly trousers and everything. This is where Thing two comes in, and just like in the Doctor Seuss novel they work together to mess everything up and leave before your parents come home. Like gits. Anyway, torturous metaphors aside, this is also bad because you're buying into an INCREDIBLY patriarchal and misogynist idea which is doing feminism, and so YOU SPECIFICALLY, no favours whatsoever.

Because what you are doing is reducing women - all women, yourself included - into People Who Men (And Patriarchal Society At Large) Deem Fuckable and People They Do Not. What this does is implies that a) this is a correct and good legitimate thing to do and b) only people in the first group deserve to be treated like human beings.

This is a BAD THING.

To start with, who gets to say who's fuckable? Dominant trends and concepts of desirability vary wildly through history and different cultures - hell, even in a matter of decades tastes and concepts change. Still think this is the definitive level of hot?

Thought not. But it illustrates my point. Actually, even if you DO think mid-1990s Nick Carter is still in full possession of the sexyum, it proves my point, because it's rare to see people with hair like that now, so even if your tastes haven't changed, you can see how our society's tastes have.

And why should any of us have to justify our rights because someone doesn't particularly want to stick their penis in us? I mean, there's plenty of men I wouldn't want to sex up, but I still support their right to a basic standard of living. No one thinks men are lesser people if they don't want to fuck them, yet here we still are having to make sure we're boner-ific before someone will deign to give us a job or listen to anything we have to say. Which is very much something feminism, and you as a feminist, should be concerned about.

Whether someone is hairy or smooth, pretty (according to your and society's subjective standards) or not, long head-haired or short head-haired or paints themselves bright fucking blue and wears ponchos on the weekends, they still have thoughts, opinions, feelings and rights which they deserve to have listened to.

So please stop apologising for being a feminist, and stop trying to justify being one by essentially saying 'I'm a feminist but you can still stick your penis in me!', because reducing women to objects who can be fucked never did us any favours.

I'm giving this about three comments before someone tells me they don't want to stick their penis in me so therefore I am a) wrong about everything and b) jealous and hate sex, thus proving my point perfectly.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Intersect, Bristol 2012

Last Saturday saw the (possibly inaugural) Intersect conference in Bristol, which was a feminist conference featuring speakers from different communities discussing the intersecting oppressions they face and what we, as feminists and allies, should be aware of and what we can possibly do to help them. Before I talk about the day and the fantastic speakers we had, I'd like to talk about why I decided to put on Intersect, and the logistics of actually doing it, in the hope that it encourages others to do the same.

About six months ago, I applied for a job with a well-known feminist organisation where one of the roles would be to organise talks, conferences and other events. I really liked the idea of it and started thinking about the kind of things I'd like to put on, but also started thinking about the problems I'd had with feminist conferences in the past, which had put me off attending*. I didn't get an interview for the job, but the ideas I'd had wouldn't leave. Now that I'd thought about My Super-Ideal Feminist Conference, I wanted to make it happen. I wanted to see a space which a) wasn't based in London, b) was explicitly intersectional and didn't exclude anyone on any grounds but instead promoted them and gave them a platform and c) went some way towards making people aware of and tackling some of the biggest problems facing women and didn't feel rooted in academia or theory.

I began to consider the logistics of organising such an event myself. There were several barriers to overcome, but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a good idea. There's a lot to be said for pointing out problems, but a lot more to be said for doing the best you can to get off your arse and offer a solution. So I mooted the idea on Twitter to gauge people's interests, and it all seemed really positive. Now that I knew there was a desire for such an event, I started looking into doing it. I've got a fair background in gig organisation and promoting, so I started thinking about it from that perspective. The first step was to find a venue. At the time, I was living in Bristol so it seemed obvious to hold it there - there's a great feminist community in place, so I knew people who'd offer help and advice too. I searched the internet and asked people I knew for suggestions about venues. Eventually I stumbled across the perfect place - Hamilton House in Stokes Croft. It's a fully-accessible, non-profit community space which was very much in keeping with my desire to have a relaxed setting where people could discuss their lived realities comfortably and not feel like they were being incredibly formal. Also it is attached to one of my favourite pubs.

Here came the first stumbling block - I needed a 50% deposit to secure the room, and I was on the dole. So, buoyed by the interest that people had expressed in the event, I put out an appeal to crowdsource the deposit. I gave it two weeks to reach the required amount, and said that if we didn't get it, I'd accept the lack of interest and scrap the whole idea. Thanks to people's incredible generosity, I reached the target in six hours. Obviously this meant I was now totally committed to the event which was terrifying, but also tremendously exciting.

I began to look into groups that I'd like to see speak at the conference. The basic idea had always been to give a platform to women who faced intersecting oppressions that I and many others are privileged enough not to face, in order for us to learn and to push towards making feminism more accessible to all. I began researching and speaking to several groups I had particular interest in, as well as people who didn't represent any specific group but faced intersecting oppressions because of their identity as women as well as another factors. I already knew Nimco Ali, Ariel Silvera and Paris Lees. A call-out on Twitter provided me with Emma Round and Becki, and after asking Kate Smurthwaite to host, she put me in touch with Women Asylum Seekers Together. A dream team was born, and I can't thank these women enough for their dedication and tremendous talks.

So eventually I'd found enough people who were able and willing to share their stories and experiences to fill a day's worth of talks. There were groups and people I'd have loved to have seen talk who weren't able to make it, which is part of the reason that, despite the hard work, I wouldn't rule out holding another one. So many tremendously important stories and ideas were shared on Saturday, but we only scratched the surface.

After this, I needed to sell tickets. I created Facebook, Twitter and email accounts for the event, so I could provide people with information and ways to contact me. My partner Chris designed a logo and a website and sorted all the techy things that I have no idea how to do, and we were off.

But this wasn't it by a long shot. As mentioned above, I wanted to make the event as  accessible as I could, and just making sure a wheelchair could get into the venue doesn't automatically mean you've catered for all people with disabilities! Chris managed to find a way we could livestream the event and record it for people to watch later (available here**), which meant that those who couldn't attend could still participate and hear what was being said. I continued to take donations so I could make the ticket prices as low as possible so as not to economically exclude anyone, and spoke to a local friend who works with women in extreme economic difficulty to offer them some free places. I tried my hardest to source some British Sign Language interpreters, but was unsuccessful, so I've also provided transcriptions of each speaker's talks on their pages on the Intersect website. We also live-tweeted the event and used the hashtag #INTERSECT on Twitter to enable people to see what was being said and offer their own contributions from home. I don't list what I did in order to give myself a pat on the back, and I know I'm not perfect. I'm just trying to demonstrate what I feel we should be aiming to do all the time, and welcome suggestions as to how I can improve. 

My final big task was to compile a programme, in which I also included articles on the topic of feminism and intersectionality from other groups and individuals - Women's Views on News, s e smith and Black Feminists UK all contributed to this. I wanted to do this to allow voices other than attendees and speakers a place at the conference. These articles are available on the Intersect website, along with my introductory piece, but if anyone would like a physical copy of the programme, I have a few left, so please get in touch.

Finally, six months of work came to a head as Saturday rushed towards me. I had some great volunteers helping, my mum came down from Bradford, an attendee called Syca offered to lend whatever help necessary on the day and Chris was his every-generous self, sorting out all the tech issues and calming me down as much as possible (by 08.30 I was so stressed that I'd already burst into tears because there was some stuff I'd forgotten to do and I couldn't get a cup of tea. Both issues were rectified quickly though). 

Eventually, we'd all settled in and Kate opened the conference, talking about the need to talk about the issues we'd be discussing on the day as they are 'the coalface' of feminism, which is exactly the way I feel. She then introduced Nimco, who with typical flair and enthusiasm discussed the problem of FGM and the difficulty of stopping it, with focus on girls in the UK who are at risk of it. After Nimco came Emma, who delivered a wonderful talk on the rights of disabled people and how feminism can exclude a lot of women with disabilities, whether consciously or unconsciously. She also discussed the issues facing people with disabilities as a result of the government's austerity measures and the media's demonisation of them with the 'scrounger' rhetoric. After that, I read a piece from my friend Becki about her experiences of trying to escape an abusive relationship as a disabled single mother of five. After lunch, two women who are involved with WAST spoke heartbreakingly about their experience of the asylum system. Ariel followed them, talking about trans and queer rights in Ireland, and the place of trans people in activist circles. Finally, Paris discussed her work as a trans rights activist with Trans Media Watch, Trans Media Act and META mag.

I couldn't have asked for better speakers. They all opened our eyes and really helped us see what we need to be fighting against. I knew vaguely what to expect from them, but the information they gave to us was shocking. More than anything, it absolutely hammered home the point that "our feminism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit".

And that was that. I couldn't be more grateful to everyone who spoke, helped, donated, attended, watched online or just took notice of what happened on Saturday. I left knowing just how much we have to fight, but also just how damn important it is that we do, and that we can do it!

Some people have asked me about putting on another event, or talked about putting on their own conferences, and I'd really encourage them to do that. I'm happy to help out in any way I can - even happy for people to use the Intersect name and branding to do so, as long as they keep to the spirit of the original. If you're interested in doing this, drop me a line at and I'll give you as much or as little help as you need.

*I'm not saying no feminist conference does this, because there are some great events out there. Just not enough of them.
**Except Nimco's speech, which is transcript only.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

On Laura Gabel and transphobia in 'alternate' scenes

The singer of Against Me! has come out as transgender in an interview with Rolling Stone. She announced she's about to start hormone and electrolysis therapy soon and wishes to be known as Laura Jane Grace, and will remain married to her wife Heather. YAY HER.

I mean, we don't need to know all that. I don't really care about her hormones or her hair or her relationship. All I need to know is her gender is female, and what pronouns she wants to use, so that if I'm writing something about her I get it correct. The rest of it is none of my damn business or yours.

I'm thrilled for her that she's happy and that she's managed to come out and that her wife supports her. Hopefully her profile will make it easier for other people in her situation to feel able to come out, and make their transitioning easier because others are more aware of the issues.


But then I made the mistake of going below the line on PunkNews (I'm not linking to it, because fuck PunkNews), and my hopes... didn't so much as wane as were beaten to death with a big stick. When I looked, there were around 500 comments, each falling into one of five categories. I'll list them and discuss them separately:

Firstly, there were some good comments. And by 'good comments' I mean 'fully supportive and used correct pronouns'. Unfortunately, there weren't many of those, but they were definitely there. Secondly were the people who were broadly supportive but kept saying 'he, him, s/he?' etc. This was probably about half of the commenters. I get it, you think this is a Good Thing, but it really isn't fucking hard to say 'she', or whatever the person wishes. I know not everyone is clued up on trans issues, and at least you're trying...but you don't get a cookie.

Then cometh the trolls. The first camp under the bridge insisted on referring to her as 'he', because BIOLOGY, YO. The one's who were, y'know, just 'keeping it real' and telling the 'truth'. Cuz like, it's just 'not natural'. And as we all know, punks are all about natural. That's why none of them ever dye their hair, or get piercings and tattoos....OH NO WAIT.

And then there were the second type, who were Against Me!'s 'biggest fans', but were either a) 'worried' that hormone therapy would make Laura's voice change and OH NOES WHAT SHALL WE EVER DO, THERE'S NEVER BEEN ANY GOOD WOMEN VOCALISTS IN PUNK EVER or b) so totally fucking 'disgusted' that they just wouldn't ever be able to listen to the music ever again. Poor babies. Just to clarify, here are some good reasons to be so disgusted you don't want to listen to music you enjoy: the singer is racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic/ableist/a capitalist, and you find their views so objectionable it stops you enjoying their music (see me and Amanda Palmer). Here are shit reasons to stop listening to music you enjoy: you give a fuck about what's in the singer's pants. GROW UP. Newsflash: If a singer's gender identity stops you being a band's 'biggest fan', you're not their biggest fan.

And finally, we had the dudebros who managed to make this all about their dicks. Now, amazingly, these people managed to (presumably unintentionally) completely transcend cissexism, and just go straight back to regular sexism. You see, the problem these guys have, the deep, burning problem that's just so fucking great that they must shout about it on the internet is that they won't fancy Laura as a woman. Someone call Amnesty International, this is truly the greatest human rights violation of our time. Apparently unconcerned with Laura's face/clothes/body when they thought she was a dude, this is now what is actually important. Because as we all know, women only get into punk for bonerification purposes, and if a woman does not immediately make the crotch of your jeans burst open at its seams, she's not doing her job.

So, a message to anyone who recognises themselves in those latter categories:

Punk's supposed to be about tolerance, acceptance and embracing other people's lifestyles, and more than anything - it's about choice. If you're going to be a shit to people because of their gender, their sexuality, or any other expression of themselves, you're about as punk as Nick Clegg. Ooh, you want to preserve 'traditional' repressive notions of fixed binary gender roles, how fucking radical. Go fucking cut your hair, start listening to Skrillex and shit off out of my scene, you posers.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Who are the men's rights activists?

Today I saw a BBC article titled Who are the men's rights activists?. It contains interviews with several MRAs on the so-easily-refutable-it's-dull pressures they perceive themselves to be facing thanks to the lady-fascist gynotopia they reckon they're living in, including 'men always lose custody of their children' (no they don't), 'men are more likely to be victims of violence' (at the hands of other men), and 'men are more likely to be conscripted into the military' (by other men because women are perceived as too weak).

Special mention has to go to the seemingly indefatigable Tom Martin, the man who spectacularly failed to sue the LSE for 'sexism against men' earlier this year. Tom's got some fairly interesting ideas when it comes to discrimination against men, including 'hard chairs are a feminazi conspiracy against men', 'Saudi Arabian men are victims of the lazy whore Saudi women' and 'women who don't know who their baby's father is should be sent to the gulag'. Believe me, I'm missing a lot of his other views out there, including 'female penguins are whores' (see second link). So, what utterly traumatic event happened to young Tom to make the scales fall from his eyes to realise we're living in a whoriarchy (his word!)? Well, brace yourselves:
He says he was radicalised while working as a barman in a club in Soho. "I could see that male customers were being abused at every point," he says.
Men had to queue and often pay while women got in free. They were goaded by bouncers to leave, while women were treated with respect. But worst of all, he believes they were used by women to buy drinks.
THE HORROR. I mean... I.... the POOR MAN. Where will the scandal of women being allowed into clubs free because they're seen as bait to entice men in end? If you thought it was with the poor lads offering to buy women drinks in order to get into their knickers, you're sadly mistaken. As Tom continues:
"Since the pill, women have been told they can and should be having orgasms. And because they haven't been, they categorise that as men's fault."
He concludes that "it's women's job to make themselves sexually happy, it's not a man's burden.
Those bitches, wanting sex to be enjoyable for all concerned. Those evil, evil harpies. Now, far be it from me to pass comment on someone's sexual prowess (but I'm totally going to), it's not a conspiracy against Tom that he apparently can't make women come. Most people, if they realised their partners weren't enjoying themselves, would talk to their partner and discuss what their needs were. See if there was any way they could improve. Work on their techniques. Maybe get a new partner who they were more compatible with. But no, Tom just (apparently) screams 'FUCK YOU, YOU WHORE. THIS IS YOUR PROBLEM, NOT MINE', and that's women's fault. Somehow.

Now, it should be pretty self-evident that Tom Martin and those of his ilk are boring, self-entitled whiny nitwits who couldn't argue their way out of a paper bag filled with scissors. But do I think that's true for all of those campaigning for men's issues? Of course not. Big props go to the seemingly only sensible man mentioned in the BBC's article, An Broc, who is founding a men's refuge in Ohio. That's great. Men can be victims of intimate partner violence and they shouldn't be afraid to speak up and get help. The fact that this is apparently the first men-only shelter in the US is a scandal (as far as I'm aware, usual procedure is for women's shelters to provide a man with a hotel room, which gives him an escape but doesn't get him access to other services provided by the refuge).

But people like Broc are a tiny, tiny minority in the festering bog of misogyny known as the 'Men's Rights Movement'. This is literally the first positive thing I can think of someone described as a 'men's rights activist' having done. Because all I have ever seen of them is a group of laughable bigots who think that not holding women as property is the biggest affront to human rights since WWII. A check on provides daily updates of the streams of hatred towards women - often so extreme that the SPLC have named the MRM as a hate group.

The MRM as a whole manages to hold extremely hypocritical, disgusting views on women - we're apparently simultaneously entitled cunts who steal men's jobs and should be kept in the kitchen or the bedroom, and lazy bitches who are living off our partner's dime while he breaks his back at work. Sluts who are ruined after our first encounter with cock and so deserve to be raped, or teases who torture men by not sleeping with them and deserve to be raped. Women are demons who will 'murder' or 'kidnap' men's children and not give them any custodial access but also spermjacking hags who trick men into impregnating them and then live the high life by 'enslaving' the men into child support payments. Women secretly control the world and all the governments in it, all while being ridiculous, hysterical, over-emotional vagina-babies who are too stupid to breathe on their own, for the most part.

I wish I was making this up. It's not even the half of it. I haven't even begun to mention 'all rape claims are false/women can have men locked up FOREVER on a whim' and shit like that. This is what they think 'men's rights' are. A gender war for the right to get their dick wet on demand. And the fact that the BBC is reporting them - a fucking hate movement - with any sense of legitimacy is fucking disgusting.

When your fight for 'rights' boils down to 'WHY CAN'T I STARE AT WOMEN IN THE STREET WITHOUT BEING CALLED A CREEP?!? THAT'S SHAMING LANGUAGE, YOU MISANDRISTS', frankly you deserve to be laughed at. When it's 'PUBESCENT GIRLS DEVELOP EARLY JUST TO ENTRAP MEN INTO SLEEPING WITH THEM AND SEND THEM TO JAIL', you probably should be in jail. When your 'moderate' sites advocate that 'female babies should have their voiceboxes torn out at birth'...well, fuck. But no one in the MRM bats an eyelid. They all goad each other on instead. If a feminist blogger came out with this, they'd be condemned straight away - by other feminists.

I'm all for tackling some of the shit that hits men. Western cultural notions of masculinity, like femininity, are pure bullshit. We should be tackling the endemic problem of prison rape. We should be offering help to men in danger of suicide. We should be fighting for shared parenting to become the norm. But it's not feminism or women's rights that's causing these things, it's the bullshit 'GRR I AM A MAN I DO MAN THINGS, MAN NO HAVE FEELINGS LIKE STUPID BITCH WOMEN' trope that lies at the fucking heart of the dolts in the MRM.

TL;DR - until your movement actually pretends to give a shit about men instead of just whining on the internet about how rights should be taken away from women, you're not 'men's rights activists', you're whiny, nasty misogynists.

All links in this post, except the SPLC one, are from, a site dedicated to mocking misogyny. There are two reasons for this: 1) it's a great site, with a brilliant set of well-informed and funny commenters, who are well worth reading, 2) I don't particularly want the scum I quote to find this blog and put me on the feminist equivalent of Redwatch (it does exist, it's called Register-Her and is dedicated to providing details of women they don't like to be used for harassment/stalking purposes). The links I have provided contain links to the original sources.