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We must never look the other way

Author:
Sexual-assault-is-everyones-problem (1)

By Kaylen Forsyth

Content note: Sexual assault, violence against women and girls

People often look out of the window to avoid the problems sat right in front of them. When there is something in need of addressing, we tend to plunge into an irrelevant stream of thought in order to dismiss the matters at hand. Society has reached a point where it would rather silence the oppressed than cut down the roots of the oppressors. Or, injustices are ignored completely.

Ignorance, of course, feels infinitely more comfortable than protest. However, within those reactionary walls of ignorance and comfort, we are only incubating inequality. We are creating conditions in which true change can never occur.

In the past few weeks, the issue of widescale sexual harassment has come to public attention. One high-profile case (the sexual assaults carried out by film producer Harvey Weinstein) has led to many more people speaking out about their own experiences. The accounts were both harrowing and inspiring to read. On the one hand, I was saddened to be reminded that patriarchal power structures still exist that allow this kind of abuse to happen so easily. At the same time, listening to these immensely brave people speak so openly about their trauma was sobering indeed.

Initially, it seemed as though everyone’s stories were taken seriously. There was active effort to make people feel comfortable enough to share. Reading Lea Seydoux’s distressing retelling of her encounters with Weinstein highlighted a sad truth: so many women are made to feel vulnerable, and there are malicious, exploitative men who are eager to capitalise on that vulnerability. The upside that manifested out of these heart-breaking stories was the fact that a discussion had now begun. For a brief moment, I allowed myself to believe that the days of sexual assault being something to hide or keep to oneself were nearly over.

My optimism was ruined very quickly. I had the displeasure of catching a short glimpse of a popular UK panel show – Have I Got News For You. A panel of incredibly privileged men were openly laughing and making light of sexual assault cases. The only female panellist, Jo Brand, was left to defend the seriousness of the situation. Ian Hislop (editor of popular UK political publication Private Eye) made a patronising comment regarding sexual harassment – ‘Some of this is not high level crime, is it?’ – and Jo quipped back: “If I can just say, as the only representative of the female gender here today… I know it’s not high level, but it doesn’t have to be high level for women to feel under siege… And actually, for women, if you’re constantly being harassed, even in a small way, that builds up and it wears you down.”

I admired Jo’s boldness and the accuracy of her comment. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed and disheartened by the fact she had to intercept in the first place. The fact that a group of adult men had failed to understand the severity of sexual harassment on any scale was demoralising. I had thought the entertainment world was making significant progress toward recognising the abuses of power happening behind its closed doors. This seemed like a tragic step back – to have comedians deriding the struggles of women who had been maltreated and exploited. I was outraged.

It may appear like a small issue – a group of men laughing – but the problem runs deeper. A society that can laugh at women speaking out about their discomfort is a society that promotes their oppression. If a panel of comedians can joke about cases of sexual assault, then anybody watching the show at home who may have been a victim in the past will no doubt feel reluctant to speak out and seek help. It’s a violent cycle that needs to end immediately. I wish for all future cases of sexual assault to be treated with the utmost humanity and integrity. No matter the scale. I never want to see a panel of grown men make snide comments about the suffering of women again.

Toxic masculinity fuels this kind of childish, unwarranted behaviour. It is also the reason why so many male victims of sexual assault are made to feel like they shouldn’t speak out. An inundation of groundless patriarchal ideals tells them they should remain quiet. Women are certainly not the only victims of sexual assault to be recognised recently. Actor Anthony Rapp told how Kevin Spacey made sexual advances towards him when he was only 14 years old. This is horrifying to imagine and Rapp’s courage is admirable. The masculine ideals that lead to a culture of shame surrounding male rape and assault need to be fully dismantled.

Obviously, this is not just an issue occurring in Hollywood. Sexual assault happens everywhere. There is a worry that the current discussion ignores issues outside of Hollywood and parliament. Because those who have come forward are privileged in terms of class and wealth, it is essential that people from less privileged backgrounds are not left behind. Many women’s organisations are closing or facing the possibility of closure due to austerity measures. People who rely on these kinds of centres do not have the same platform as multi award-winning celebrities to voice their experiences and gain mass support. They do not have that privilege. Minority groups and working classes cannot be left by the wayside. Patriarchy can’t only cause outrage when it’s happening in The Weinstein Company, it has to cause outrage when it’s happening in the local pub or on the street corner as well.

An end must come to the atmosphere of terror we live in, an atmosphere that means women fear being seen or noticed in case that means being hurt. It is not appropriate to deride anybody with the courage to come forward. Nobody should ever feel embarrassed or ashamed about what has happened to them. Right now there is a real chance for change. Everyone has a responsibility toward each other; we must listen and give support… we should never look the other way again.
Help Line Numbers and Sites Available for Support (UK) –

Help after a sexual assault or rape – https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Sexualhealth/Pages/Sexualassault.aspx

Find a Rape/Sexual Assault referral centre-
https://www.nhs.uk/Service-Search/Rape%20and%20sexual%20assault%20referral%20centres/LocationSearch/364

NSPCC Helpline: 0808 800 5000 (24 hours, every day)

https://www.nspcc.org.uk/

https://www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/child-abuse-and-neglect/grooming/

Rape Crisis-

Helpline: 0808 802 9999 (12-2:30 and 7-9:30)

https://rapecrisis.org.uk/

Support for Victims-

Victim Support Supportline: 0808 168 9111

https://www.victimsupport.org.uk/crime-info/types-crime/rape-and-sexual-assault
RASAC (Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre) National Helpline: 0808 802 9999 (12-2.30 & 7-9.30)
http://www.rasasc.org.uk/
The Survivors Trust Helpline: 0808 801 0818

http://thesurvivorstrust.org/
Help Line Numbers and Sites Available for Support (US) –

Help after a sexual assault or rape –

https://www.rainn.org/get-help

RAINN Helpline: 800.656.HOPE (4673), open 24/7

https://www.rainn.org/about-national-sexual-assault-telephone-hotline

Sexual assault helpline – 1800 010 120

http://www.dvconnect.org/sexual-assault-helpline-2/

Sexism: Adaptable to the 21st Century

Author:
5601192190_b925ff49f6_o

By Shira Small

My sophomore year of high school, a dozen freshman boys created a March Madness style bracket evaluating each girl in the school to determine who was the prettiest. The domain they used required individual input, meaning they couldn’t just copy and paste names from the directory—they had to type in all 140 girls’ names by hand. The boys made derogatory puns out of many girls’ names, making fun of the way certain names sounded, or adding in crude language just for fun. Later, they admitted that they had intentionally misspelled the girls’ names so the list would be harder to find, but as with most things on the internet, it didn’t remain hidden for long.

The day the bracket went public, I saw a girl who had been ranked 60th run into the bathroom, tears rushing down her face. Moments later, a girl who was ranked 7th followed suit. It didn’t matter where you ranked; learning your friends had been judging you solely based on your appearance hurt no matter what. But for me it didn’t just hurt to see my name on the list, it changed the way I walked through the halls. Suddenly I was hyper aware of the way I looked and the way I moved; it didn’t matter if I was in class or with friends—I couldn’t stop thinking about the ranking. My mind became a cesspool of self-criticism, and my insecurities dominated every thought. These boys’ blatant objectification had turned me into an object in my own eyes.

Equally excruciating to being placed on this list was the backlash—or lack thereof—from the student body. I figured that people who normally dispute sexism’s existence would be eating their words. Instead, most people shrugged off the incident because “these types of rankings are made all the time.” I was shocked. I thought, really? That’s your defence? Sexism is acceptable because it happens all the time? In the same breath people said sexism wasn’t real, and also that the bracket was acceptable because sexism is unavoidable. Externally, I didn’t feel comfortable explicitly questioning the hypocrisy of some of my classmates. Internally, I was suffocating, furious that I couldn’t relay how hurtful and prejudicial their dismissal of the list was. I found myself at a crossroads: do I keep quiet in my comfort zone, or do I speak out at the risk of being controversial? Looking back, I wish I had spoken out, but in the moment I felt so lost that I did what too many girls who are hurting do—I stayed silent.

I don’t think the whole school considered the bracket acceptable, but it brought out a side of the student body I hadn’t seen before. One of my closest male friends admitted to creating a ranking of all the girls in our grade and discussing it with other boys. A handful of girls were unbothered because they had gotten so used to seeing these types of lists. Many felt rightfully upset, but some misplaced their anger. In response to the bracket, one girl retaliated with a list of her own. She ranked about nine boys in the school, most of whom had participated in creating the original ranking. Although the school punished her as well as the boys responsible for the other bracket, her punishment wasn’t as harsh. The same people who had disregarded the list of 140 girls took great offense to this new list, claiming it was sexist towards men that it was taken less seriously. I don’t condone this retaliatory list, but it was clear to me that it did less damage.

I was a feminist before the list emerged. I noticed daily microaggressions towards women; I saw an underrepresentation of women in power; I knew that not all women had the right to choose; I witnessed my mother’s exposure to sexism in the workplace; I heard about my grandmother not always having the right to vote. However, I never thought I would encounter such explicit sexism from progressive kids my age. People often tell me there’s no longer a need for feminism, and at times it’s hard to disagree. But the list and the troubling responses it elicited sent me a clear message: sexism is real, and we cannot stay silent. Progress isn’t permanent, and in order to protect the advances we have made we must be vigilant, proactive, and supportive — we must be feminists.

This content has been provided by the Jewish Women’s Archive

4 Body positive books to read right now

Author:
bopo1

By Sophia Simon-Bashall

Body positivity – or ‘bo-po’ – has been gaining mainstream momentum in this past year. In some moments, this has seemed wonderful. It is heart-warming and inspiring to be able to scroll through Instagram and see people showing their bodies some appreciation. Conversations have been started in publications and between people that wouldn’t be expected. More people have started to see the problems with the ‘clean eating’ movement, and started saying ‘fuck you, I eat what I want’ to diet culture.

Unfortunately, the body positive movement that has sprung from Instagram has a huge problem – pun intended. The issue is that fat positivity and fat liberation is a movement that has existed for several decades, and it is now being swept aside. The work of fat activists has been overlooked and undermined, and the radical faces of the movement have been replaced by those already privileged in society. The bodies of white, thin or curvy cisgender women are more palatable to the wider world than those of fat people, queer people, and people of colour – but ‘body positivity’ that doesn’t include marginalised bodies isn’t doing the necessary work.

Reading is my favourite tool for learning and growing, as well as something I enjoy as entertainment. Reading anti-diet culture books, fat positive memoirs and feminist fiction has been instrumental to me in reprogramming my brain. I wanted to share some of my favourites, in the hopes that others will support the work of fat activists and learn from them too.

Every Body Yoga – Jessamyn Stanley

bopo1

I love yoga and believe in its value, but I recognise the problems with the mainstream movement. It has turned into a competition, a fitness trend, and something which can feel very exclusive. I love Jessamyn because she isn’t afraid to explain how that doesn’t fit with the philosophy of yoga. She makes it feel like something that everyone and anyone can practice, should they want to – because anyone and everyone CAN. This book provides easy to follow basic yoga poses and routines which are focused on emotional healing. She details how a practice can be done from home – making it accessible to those without the funds for classes at a fancy studio – and shows that yoga isn’t about being ‘good at it’. She is honest about her own challenges with some poses, and provides encouragement and wisdom throughout. It’s wonderful. Jessamyn is wonderful.

Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls – Jes Baker

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Jes Baker – aka The Militant Baker – is my favourite person on the internet. She’s honest and vulnerable about mental health. She posts gorgeous and fabulous outfit posts. She’s unapologetic about living her life, and gives the middle finger to anyone who has a problem with it. She is funny and smart and thoughtful, providing a platform for other marginalised folks through her own work. Her first book is basically a bible, one that I pick up again and again when I need a boost and reminder to not give in to the bullshit. It’s one for people new to fat liberation, and for those who are more familiar with the movement. Read it. It’ll tell you what you need to hear.

Big Girl: How I Gave Up Dieting and Got A Life – Kelsey Miller

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You may have heard of Kelsey Miller. She writes for the popular site Refinery29, and started a column called The Anti-Diet Project. You should check that out, too.
Her memoir is astonishingly funny as it is painful and relatable. For me, personally, it was the first book I read that put intuitive eating into context and helped me to understand it. Reading about a real person – someone who had been in a similar headspace to me – and their journey was invaluable, as it showed it to be imperfect and complicated and ever-changing. It made the journey tangible, and feel more possible.

Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love & Fashion – Virgie Tovar

bopo4

This is an anthology of essays and stories from a diverse group of people about their experiences in their bodies. There’s pieces on learning to love your fat body, finding fat community, fashion as power, sex and pleasure, giving up dieting, and so much more. It’s all well written, and it provides a window into experiences we don’t hear enough about – even though they’re hardly uncommon experiences.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. There’s great fat-positive fiction, there’s academic work in fat studies, there are memoirs and essay collections galore. Fat liberation isn’t a small movement, just an overlooked one. These books are good places to start. They will show you the way to other activists, other work, and more fat babe radness.

Check out our new project: SPARK AGENDA!

Author:
spark agenda

Hey everyone, check out our newest: SPARK AGENDA, a new online toolkit for youth activists!

Like so many, we fell in love with AGENDA, a truly beautiful and creative social action guide for youth developed by activist Emma Renold, Professor of Childhood Studies at Cardiff University in Wales. Working with youth and the Welsh government, Emma built a downloadable curriculum for use in schools across the country. With the support of The Bingham Program, we moved AGENDA online, added new tactics, lots of new examples, wrote detailed instructions, and built in a focus on sexual violence prevention.

Please check out SPARK AGENDA and support youth-fuelled activism everywhere by sharing this toolkit on your social media platforms!

Happy Playland webseries review

Author:
happy playland

By Anna Hill

Do you like musicals? And stories that centre women loving women? Then oh boy is this the webseries for you!! Made by the incredible Candle Wasters who have also made great and queer inclusive adaptations of the Shakespeare plays A Midsummer Nights Dream, as BRIGHT SUMMER NIGHT, Much Ado About Nothing as Nothing Much To Do and Love’s Labour Lost as Lovely Little Losers. Their latest creation is the brightest and most charming of them all!

Happy Playland is the story of 3 people (Billie, Cris & Zara) who work at a children’s play gym – one of those ones you might have played in as a child; with a ball pit and obstacle courses and climbing nets. The story is told in multiple ways – from social networks outside of youtube (namely Cris’ Instagram) as well as within the episodes themselves. Sometimes we glimpse Billie’s internal monologue, or her dream. In another episode Cris is on skype but she’s present within the shot and it works really well – Cris even has a whole song in another episode where she orchestrates some romantic entanglements and narrates them, dancing the whole time. The webseries also shows a really sensitive and accurate representation of what anxiety looks like for some people, which was a bittersweet surprise!

For someone who is interested in arts I found a lot that reflected my experience in terms of chasing my own dreams. I am currently part of an art collective, so when Billie says her parents said that “anything with the word collective in it wasn’t a real job” it hit pretty close to home! How do you “follow your dreams” without losing people you love? And the discussion of success and anxiety was really pertinent too – the idea that you have to “be successful to make it worth it” has made me consider how I approach my own artistic success (whatever that means!).

The characters are so enjoyable to watch and the dialogue is funny and relatable. Zara and Billie are a lot more fleshed out than Cris but in some ways that’s refreshing because Cris is the token straight character in the series. She’s helpful in furthering the development of the two queer women together and is also some comedic relief – mimicking the way that queer characters are often used (and dehumanised!) in mainstream plots.

The aesthetics of the show are super fun! A riot of colours! With each character loosely wearing one of the primary colours (so Billie is yellow, Zara is red and Cris is blue), the clothing and colours make the whole show even more alive and vibrant (plus I have fringe envy over Billie’s cool punk pink/black hair).

The music in the show is melodic and varied and there are some really intense moments that show how talented everyone involved is! The harmonies are really great and the lyrics are generally painfully relatable and/or funny. You can listen to the music here. My favourite songs I think are I’ll Be Here and For Once and also maybe Stop and Think!! (this is hard, they are all so good and fun)

One of my favourite lines comes from Zara: “she talks in all lowercase letters, do you know how sexy that is? that’s like the modern day equivalent of Marilyn Monroe breathing too much when she talks”. This show was probably made for me – a lowercase writer, a queer femme musical lover; its so incredibly awkward and enjoyable (I think lots of us will have felt like the “stakes are too high forgotten how to flirt”). The bittersweetness of the way it represents relationships is what has brought me back to it to watch over and over again.

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