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Some thoughts on safe spaces

Author:
reform

By Issy McConville

You know that scene in ‘About A Boy’, where Hugh Grant turns up to the ‘Single Mothers Alone Together’ meeting in order to meet women, despite not being a woman himself, or even a parent at all? The audience is like  – Hugh! What are you doing there! That is so bad! If you recognise that it is wrong for Hugh Grant’s character to sneak into a women’s support group with underhand motives, then you are understanding the basic concept of a ‘safe space’. A safe space is (more…)

How “Love Actually” Taught Me To Check My Privilege

Author:

By Christiana Paradis

In light of the recent outbreak of racial tensions in the United States—I say outbreak with a grain of salt because I firmly believe these tensions have always existed in the history of the US, but have just been pushed aside the last several years—I questioned how best to support the African American community in the United States. As a white American it outrages me that, “While African Americans comprise 13% of the US population and 14% of monthly drug users they are 37% of the people arrested for drug offenses” – according to 2009 Congressional testimony by Marc Mauer of The Sentencing Project, and that, The U.S. Sentencing Commission reported in March 2010 that “in the federal system black offenders receive sentences that are 10% longer than white offenders for the same crimes,” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bill-quigley/fourteen-examples-of-raci_b_658947.html) or that, “Black women are almost three times as likely to experience death as a result of DV/IPV than White women. And while Black women only make up 8% of the population, 22% of homicides that result from DV/IPV happen to Black Women and 29% of all victimized women, making it one of the leading causes of death for Black women ages 15 to 35” (http://time.com/3313343/ray-rice-black-women-domestic-violence/). Yet I know that these facts can only anger and outrage me a quarter of the amount that they enrage people in the African American community, because despite being able to spit these statistics, I do not live this experience. I do not know what it means to be an African American woman living in the United States and I’m not going to pretend to, but I do believe that I need to do whatever I can to support them and anyone else that is living in a community that is not experiencing equal treatment in the US.

Growing up in a town that is 91.7% made up of Caucasian citizens (US Census Bureau, 2010), I was never Untitledsurrounded by a shortage of white people and though I was always taught to respect people of different cultures than my own. The opportunity to experience some of these cultures was minimum and the opportunities to check my privilege were even less. Therefore, it came as a huge surprise that one of the first situations I encountered that shattered my white lenses came while watching a Christmas movie, Love Actually, in 2004.

One of the main plotlines in the movie is that Daniel, played by Liam Neeson, has a stepson, Sam, who falls in love with a classmate, Joanna, and in an attempt to win her heart learns to play the drums for their school Christmas Show. The entire movie with intertwining plot lines leaves in you in suspense of meeting Joanna until the very end of the movie. Throughout the movie you must make conjectures about who Joanna is, what she looks like, and of course whether she actually likes Sam. In one of the last few scenes in the movie we are introduced to Joanna while she performs “All I Want for Christmas” at the Christmas Show, while Sam plays drums.

I remember watching the movie in anticipation for the first time to see Joanna and remembered being floored when Joanna was a different race than Sam. Though I didn’t have a problem with it, she was just different than I expected. Then I remember thinking, why is she different than I was expecting? Because she wasn’t white? Why did I think that? That is not okay! I’ve had a few moments like this throughout my life, where I’ve had an immediate judgment, had to backtrack and then question where that thought came from or what was encouraging this stereotype/bias/judgment. In the years since I’ve realized we all make judgments about others, it is what we do with those judgments that determines who we are as a person. Do we make these judgments, let them fester and then act upon them or do we question where they came from and challenge them? Our actions in these moments determine whether we check our privileges or enhance them.

Untitled1Being an aspiring ally to any community that is different than you takes work. It is an ongoing process. You can’t just take a webinar and – poof! – consider yourself an ally to that community. You must be constantly working to improve the lives of others around you. You must make advocacy a daily routine. You must challenge micro aggressions that you hear. It is a process and quite frankly sometimes an exhausting one, but one that needs to be done. Recognizing your privilege is important, using your privilege for good and to help the lives of others is even better. This video is a stunning example of the ways in which we can use our privilege to enhance the lives of others and act as an aspiring ally

I encourage everyone in a place of privilege to question it and the judgments we make every day. Use it to improve the lives of others and above all speak up! Please don’t just sit by while millions of people fight for their rights. #BlackLivesMatter #Everywhere.

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Talking About Men

Author:

By Livvy Murphy

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Sexism is a term used when someone is discriminated against because of their gender.

So, if a boy is told to ‘man up’ and ‘stop behaving like a girl’, that is sexist.

If a boy is treated differently, or considered ‘odd’ because he wants to wear eyeliner is that sexist? Of course it is.

If a father fails to secure that promotion from his boss at work because he chose to take paternity leave and care for his newborn alongside his wife, is that sexist? Hell yeah.

And for the record, eating disorders or the ‘slimmers’ disease’ doesn’t just affect girls. They affect all genders.

These examples emphasise that men’s issues have one common denominator: the patriarchy – the perception, treatment and behaviour towards women. A combination of tradition, lack of evolution and lad culture is discriminating against both boys and girls. This is why I wish to stress: it is not a men vs women issue; it’s about people vs prejudice.

Let me explain myself. As an example, the #fitforsummer #summerbod trends affect not just us girls, but our men and boys too. With billboards of David Beckham stripped down to his briefs, David Gandy swimming seductively in his next-to-nothing swimmers for a Davidoff advert and Channing Tatum exposing his toned torso more times than not in his film ‘Magic Mike’, it is unsurprising that gym membership statistics are at their highest ever. Want to look like ‘The Rock’? Then be prepared to consume 4000 calories of lean protein and endure three rigorous workouts a day. If you fail to do so you are just not good enough.

It is this sort of pressure that is stimulated, perpetuated and fuelled by ‘lad culture’. For example, alcohol consumption (or at least the amount of ‘alcohol stamina’ one can take) gives boys massive ‘lad points.’ Such messages are prolific in the media nowadays; take reality show ‘Geordie Shore’ for example. By day the boys are in the gym ‘getting massive’, by evening they drink as much alcohol as possible without ‘getting mortal’, and by night the real success depends on whether a ‘lucky lass’ (or two, or three or four) will be staying for a sleepover. Bonus points if you ‘take one for the team’ and get with the ‘ugliest’ girl in the club.

It is this normalised misogyny that must change, and we must never underestimate the influence of societal expectation. Perhaps we should stop segregating the world into two genders and just see ourselves as ‘people’. Sexism affects all sexes and is instigated by all too. Yet, if we are so similar, why do we continue to feel the anger and desperation of men who feel it is their fundamental right to be superior to women? Ashamedly, I have been on the receiving end of comments such as: ‘if you had just stuck to the kitchen, none of this shit would have happened’. I feel it is about time that such backward thinking is abolished.

As I emphasised in my previous blog post, feminists are not man-haters. It is a particular shame that many men’s rights -activists are guilty of this misconception too, despite having so much in common with us. I feel that the majority of men feel threatened by feminism, setting themselves in stubborn and angry opposition to us, when really we could work towards equality together by sharing our stories and finding a mutual appreciation and love for one another.

Unfortunately, there is a fear that ‘male privileges’ are at risk of being taken away. The thought of abolishing page 3 for example, means abolishing a male tradition that the majority of men feel is rightfully theirs. But we should not be too quick to judge this reluctance to change. Why? Because we are conditioned to behave in ways that cohere with society. Male and female individuals adhere to societal convention to essentially ‘fit in’. I wish to increase the awareness of learned behaviours, because I believe the majority of men and women who are occasionally sexist do not do it deliberately. We must not blame these people, but the rules, traditions and conventions that govern our world. Our patriarchal culture influences all sexist behaviour, therefore in most cases sexist behaviour is not intentional. The solution is to be bold enough to challenge concrete expectations and norms, for if we don’t challenge, we will never change. We are all in this together, therefore we must work towards re-educating and reconstructing society, to make a new world where all genders are mutually respected, harmonious, and protected. Only then may we be able to truly live life to the fullest, and fulfill our potential as human beings.

*Note: This is Livvy’s last blog for PBG. We’ve been honoured to have her as a member of the team and wish her all the love and luck for the future

Thoughts From Latitude – Feminism, Class Politics, and Checking Your Privilege

Author:

By Cora Morris

latitude

British feminism has a class problem.

When I’d looked into going to Latitude in Suffolk earlier this summer I’d been pleasantly surprised to note the number of women performing at the festival. The stand-up comedy line-up at Latitude was almost two-thirds female – suggesting brilliant progression within an industry that is known to be (more than occasionally) sexist. Musical acts ranged from Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders to Lily Allen (who we all undoubtedly have opinions about) and Haim, the trio of Californian sisters who’s lyrics I’m yet to find too much feminist fault in. There was cabaret, theatre, and even an appearance from the English National Ballet. The poetry area was a favourite, with Hollie Mcnish’s spoken word stealing the show entirely. It was safe to say I was catered for – I felt incredibly lucky to be in a place where so many of the arts came together in a way that was of such a high quality, and where female performers were not dismissed or looked down upon in the slightest.

It is pointless to deny that Latitude is anything but a very stereotypically middle-class festival, and this is clear from the sheer scale of variety throughout the acts and attractions – are literary stages and quinoa stands really abundant in other festivals? We, as crowds, were referred to as ‘Latitude Lefties’ several times and ‘Guardian Readers’ at least twice – the privileged lives of many of the festival-goers was obvious. I’m not sure where the association between academia and class formed but it seems to be a false attitude in England which we supposedly can’t quite get away from. The problem is, feminism gets added into the equation too by way of being wrongly perceived as academic in its subject matter.

Awaiting a panel with Laura Bates (of The Everyday Sexism Project), Laurie Penny (PBG Blogger Sophia reviewed her new book, Unspeakable Things, last month) and Zoe Pilger (whose new novel, Eat My Heart Out, is becoming a personal favourite) regarding feminist fiction I look around to see who I’m sharing the literature tent with, and who is sticking around for a talk that I thought would have been one of the less popular of the schedule. I’m met by the unsurprising sight of mainly middle-aged women, a selection of younger, artsy looking types and a scattering of men – boyfriends, maybe, though I’m glad to see a few raise their hands when and we are asked who in the crowd identifies as a feminist. Some of them scurry away hilariously when Penny begins criticising Facebook page The LAD Bible, followed by her sniggering that ‘Maybe they run it… we’re scaring away the men, everyone!” Naturally, we all laugh. The talk continues and I begin to consider whether this evermore middle-class seeming crowd reflects the limited demographic feminism reaches out to and engages in Britain. Yes – the answer is yes.

I think the examples speak for themselves – to quote Marianne Wright-Eldman, ‘You cannot be what you cannot see’. The fact that significant numbers of this country’s most prolific feminists appear frequently as writers for newspapers such as the Guardian – a wonderful and insightful left-leaning publication, but one that undeniably primarily appeals/sells to Britain’s (if only slightly) privileged – says a considerable amount.

We do not have voices in this country at present that are speaking to everyone else. Not prolific ones, at least. Feminism is becoming almost trendy amongst the middle classes whereas it is much less so elsewhere. Intersectionality is so key – the ways we are increasingly considering the oppression of everyone is vital to the progression and expansion of feminism and its values. However, as I find myself being told more and more frequently that I’m ‘a privileged white girl with nothing to complain about’, thus ‘pretending men are causing problems because they’re easy targets’, I am wondering whether awareness of feminism’s modern form is really being reflected as what we’re all about. It has become a movement that strives for intersectionality, and space in the conversation for people other than ‘privileged white girls’. The problem is that in the public eye, we are represented by what are as a majority people who fall into this ‘category’ (so to speak). I don’t think that we can expect to engage a majority if we are being solely represented by a relative minority.

I am not by any means suggesting that the voices are not there. They are. They are all over Tumblr and Twitter and WordPress and LiveJournal. They are writing papers and reports. They are posting blogs, and getting angry with MRAs, and scanning zines they’ve drawn into their computers. Lots of them have been oppressed in different ways. Lots of them are angry. They are angry because their invaluable voices which make up substantial proportions of the population are not being heard in the public eye. Why are they not represented by our media? They are essential voices in this brilliant and potentially revolutionary conversation we are having, and to an extent, they are probably bored of being spoken for rather than doing the speaking themselves.

There is a great deal to say for checking privilege. A good number of feminist journalists in the public eye are semi-militant about this, with Laurie Penny claiming that she is “constantly checking” her privilege “in the manner of an anxious homemaker constantly checking that the gas is off’”. However, when Caitlin Moran says she “literally could not give a shit” about the representation of people of colour in Lena Dunham’s show Girls – well, that statement speaks for itself.

I think Caitlin Moran is brilliant – really, I do. She has done a lot for the cause in this country and elsewhere, which makes her inspirational by default. Besides, as Penny also mentions – “It’s easy to fuck up, especially when you live in a world that tells you, repeatedly and often, that as a white, straight middle-class woman, yours is the only story about women worth articulating.” But, again, it means we are getting representation that is presumed to speak for the majority and yet does not do much more inclusive opinions any justice.

We are not different species. Class shouldn’t be an issue. The idea of it probably shouldn’t exist. But unfortunately, it does. In Britain, it means a great deal to some, as I’m certain it does elsewhere. I use it as a means of acknowledging my privilege, though I’m always conscious of coming across as snobbish. It is there, albeit as another way of putting all of us into boxes by those who wish to do so.

Feminism is valuable for all of us, in all of the boxes. It is just as valuable for the CEO that raised her hand in the Q&A in that literature tent complaining that she was not listened to in the office as it is for the millions that are not in similarly highly paid positions. Again, there are different kinds of oppression – some of those might affect particular boxes more than others. All of the voices are there, and they are all speaking. But at present, not all of them are being amplified quite as loudly as others.

The Unspeakable Things Have Been Spoken

Author:

By Sophia Simon-Bashall

unspeakable

Laurie Penny. If you’ve not heard the name before, it’s about time you paid attention. I’m a little biased perhaps, as Penny is nothing short of a hero to me. But honestly, she’s great. She’s recently released a book in the U.K., to be released in the U.S. in September. It’s called ‘Unspeakable Things’, and hell, she talks about exactly what girls are told not to. If you’re looking for an easy going, ‘yes you can be a feminist, love pink, wear false eyelashes and shave your legs’ book, this is not for you. Laurie Penny in general, is probably not for you. She is not interested in sugar-coating this movement, making it appealing to the masses. In her eyes, its appeal should just be a given. Frankly, she thinks this kind of lipstick feminism is rather silly. For her, it’s about the nitty-gritty, the things that nobody likes to talk about. But she’s talking about them, and she certainly won’t be silenced any time soon.

Penny interlinks serious analysis of a range of issues, with the ways in which she has personally been affected, making for a very interesting and thought-provoking read. However, the personal side is no sob story – it’s a cold, slightly bitter narrative, at times, relaying the harsh truths of eating disorders, rape culture, and more. There’s no sugar coating, it’s completely honest. And yet, she’s not claiming to speak for everyone, which is an irritatingly common mistake in discussion of these topics. In fact, she regularly stresses otherwise, pointing out that she is a white, middle-class woman; therefore privileged, and unable to tell every woman’s point of view. It is often assumed that feminist texts speak for all women, and often writers assume this ‘voice of the people’ stance. It is incredibly refreshing that Laurie Penny openly refutes this.

The book is in many ways a rant. It is an intense outlet of anger about the world; about neoliberal capitalism; about patriarchal constraints; about transphobia; about white/male/heterosexual/cis-gender/middle-class privileges – you name it, Penny is probably pissed off about it. But it’s still very eloquently written, aside from the regular effing and blinding. She covers ground such as mental illness, single motherhood and abortion. It’s true, these are all topics covered before, but here is the view of a young woman – a view from someone of this generation. However, more importantly, she attacks things barely touched upon before like issues with modern feminism, cybersexism, and uniquely, men’s issues. But it’s not what you think. The chapter on guys is actually the best part of the book. If you only read one part when you pick it up in the bookshop, make it the ‘Lost Boys’ chapter. It’s genuinely eye-opening, and you won’t regret it.

Her unrelenting wit and her ingenious prose style make this book brilliant. Though it was a moving and engrossing read, there were moments when I found myself laughing out loud, because, yes, Laurie Penny kicks patriarchal ass. It is full of dry humour – fitting for the mood of the book and the nature of the issues discussed. Highlights include; “those who are so eager for women and girls to go back to the kitchen might think again… you can plan a lot of damage from a kitchen. It’s also where the knives are kept” and “Having it all now means having a career, kids, a husband, a decent blow-dry – and that’s it.” And that’s only in the introduction.

I’m not saying I agree with every little detail in the book. In fact, there were several points made that I frowned at and found myself strongly disagreeing. But that doesn’t mean I don’t value what’s said – quite the opposite. It’s a reminder that we don’t all have to agree on everything. It’s a necessary aspect of this movement – differing opinions, challenging others and being challenged, that’s how the Suffragettes arose! What matters is that, at the very core, we are united in ideas and are willing to fight for social change. This is how we will make equality a reality.

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