Think of the planet and stop shaving!

50bn litres of water a year wasted by women shaving legs

I don’t have an issue with Thames Water pointing out that we as a species are unthoughtful about using the resources we have. What I do have an issue with is the headline and photo that specifically victimises women. Anyone reading that headline would assume it contains a whole load of information about what else women do that is so dreadfully environmentally unfriendly. It doesn’t, as it happens. But it does give details on how brushing teeth can waste water (hint: don’t leave the tap on when the brush is in your mouth)

A few points:

1) Most women shave whilst showering, so they don’t tend to use that much more water
2) Men also shave, most likely using water in a sink, not a shower.
3) Some people have baths and not showers which also wastes water.
4) There are actually some interesting facts in there about other ways in which water is wasted – why did they not go with a simple headline explaining that there are a variety of ways in which we are inconsiderate with regards to using water?

I’m curious why they created a press release encouraging people to be more environmentally aware, given that Thames Water actually profit from people wasting water.

Abortion counselling ‘shake up’

Abortion Laws to be tightened in the biggest shake-up for a generation

The article says the Department of Health wants to put in place

…A new system of independent counselling for women before they finally commit to terminating a pregnancy

Which sounds fairly reasonable. I think it’s important for these sort of issues to be discussed with those considering abortion with people who are not judgemental, people who have no vested interests, and people whose beliefs do not get in the way. Of course, this would have to be with clear references to what is absolutely recognised and undisputed scientific fact, and what the law states about abortions. It goes on..

Pro-life campaigners suggest the change could result in up to 60,000 fewer abortions each year in Britain. Last year, 202,400 were carried out.

Not going to argue with those figures as I honestly don’t know anything about them but what really grates on me about this is that pro-lifers are concerned about figures, and simply lowering them by whatever means they have at their disposal. The focus on figures entirely circumvents the discussion around the trauma of what abortion actually is and more importantly how deeply it affects women who consider them, whether they go on to or not.

Critics of abortion clinics claim that the counselling they offer is biased because they are run as businesses… Mrs Dorries, a former nurse, claims abortion providers are not independent because they have a vested interest in conducting abortions. Last year, Marie Stopes and Bpas carried out about 100,000 terminations and were paid about £60 million to do so, mostly through the NHS.

I would argue this assertion that they are run as businesses is a fallacy because, at least in the case of Marie Stopes, it is run as a not-for-profit organisation. Which doesn’t really scream ‘business’ to me. It doesn’t really sound like an organisation that will specifically benefit financially from carrying out extra abortions. Nor will it miss out doing less. These are my suspicions. I could be wrong, though.

Lastly, while the majority of us would, I hope, welcome more options for counselling pre-abortion, I would be extremely wary of exactly what the government or Nadine Dorries considers to be ‘independent’. The only adverts I have seen offering ‘counselling’ for women considering abortions are those from charities that are pro-life. Yet rarely in these adverts is this acknowledged. Rarely does it say “We don’t believe in abortion”. Unless you knew the organisation already, you wouldn’t know that they are going to tell you that abortion is wrong. In fact, this blog discusses the issue of pro-life abortion counselling. And The Guardian published a damning report about faith-based organisations offering abortion counselling:

A survey of 10 centres operated by Christian and anti-abortion organisations found evidence in most of them of poor practice and factually incorrect advice, while the quality of counselling differs widely. Advice ranged from scaremongering – linking abortion with breast cancer, for example – to actions apparently designed to steer women away from abortion, such as showing them baby clothes and talking about “the child”.

Independent? I’d like to see a list of organisations, their donors, members and any other allegiances before I believe we are talking about independent in the way that I would like them to be – free of dogmatic ideologies and harsh judgement.

‘Erotic capital’ and feminism

Just Show Me The Money, Honey

I thought I’d recognised the name Catherine Hakim – and it turns out she is the woman who inspired me to start looking into feminism – she had declared that there is no need for feminism now, in her wonderfully named report “Feminist Myths and Magic Medicine: The flawed thinking behind calls for further equality legislation”. Yes, you read that right. According to her, women today “have more choices than men”.. And it goes on. I’m not dissecting this report from the Centre for Policy Studies (a right-wing think tank co-created by Madge Thatcher) – but this gives you some kind of context into her mindset, I think.

The ‘show me the money, honey’ piece (written not by Hakim but by a female journalist) starts out explaining the concept of ‘erotic capital’ (there is really no such concept) – if you believe Hakim, then erotic capital is:

A mixture of beauty, sex appeal, social skills and sexuality, which Hakim attempts to introduce to us via the tale of Anna, who loses her well-paid job in financial services..

She then quotes from Hakim’s book:

She had to work hard at finding a new job. She ate less, exercised, lost weight and looked 10 years younger. She had her hair coloured and cut into a shorter, flattering style, that made her seem younger and more lively. She invested in an expensive suit that showed off her new trim figure and made her look attractive as well as professional – and wore the suit to job interviews. Anna felt confident wearing it. Three months later she had a new job paying 50 per cent more than the old one.

What amused me about this was that Hakim almost ‘gets’ it. The giveaway is the inclusion of the word ‘confident’ in there. Confidence, for me, sums up exactly this supposed ‘erotic capital’ she is talking about. What woman does not feel better about herself when she has had her hair cut, or she looks good? How many times have you had a new haircut, bought something new, and had people say, “hey, you look fantastic!” – it’s not particularly because it is in itself objectively fantastic and improves you, but that you feel more confident in yourself as you have a new outfit or a new haircut.

According to Hakim, there’s a ”beauty premium’’ in the workplace – she cites a US survey that found good-looking lawyers earn between 10 and 12 per cent more than dowdier colleagues.

Again, this misses the point that being told you are traditionally attractive all your life, or just being attractive and getting positive attention, will make you a more confident person. There is no actual cause and effect in this situation, yet Hakim attributes success to being supposedly ‘good looking’. Or, actually, she attributes success in the workplace to spending money on make up, new hair cuts, manicures and new outfits. She endorses capitalism and consumerism as a way to make yourself more successful. The author of this article then lost all credibility and sensibility with:

…Her book should be read out to young girls as part of the national curriculum.

How is telling girls you need to use your body to get what you want in life a positive thing? How is encouraging them to exploit themselves a good and responsible way to raise a mentally sound generation? So, the reason this needs to be on the curriculum is because, according to author, it tells girls that:

…You can be a feminist, you can be strong and independent and clever, and you can wear a nice frock and high heels while you do this

I’m not sure quite what feminist circles she moves in but I’ve never seen any feminists particularly rage about ‘nice frocks’ or ‘high heels’. They generally have more important things to get angry about, like sexual assault. Author then goes into how she started running, cut her hair… Sound familiar?

I am tired of the ridiculous and pervasive myth that women who go to the gym and plan what they wear and sometimes put on a little too much make-up are somehow stupid. If that’s feminism, then count me out.

Who are these ‘feminists’ that tell women to not go to the gym, not wear dresses and not wear make up? Why has their advice been soberly taken to heart? What ever happened to being self-assured enough to realise you are a free agent and able to make your own choices?
Moreover, just how many books on feminism has this author read? Does she even know anyone who is an actual, swear-to-God feminist in the truest sense of the word – ie, one who wants more choice and freedom for women, and less stereotyping and restrictiveness? By the sounds of it the answer to those two questions is ‘none’ because the article is ridiculously misinformed.

Critics say that Hakim’s thesis is really a manifesto for good-looking people, but they miss the point, which is about using what you have to best effect – something men have been doing for centuries. It is not just about physical beauty, anyway.

Making the most of yourself is most definitely not a new concept, and most definitely not constrained to only apply to men. And no you’re right, it’s not about physical beauty. But you have missed the point. It’s about confidence. Feminism is also about creating confidence.

It’s about being who you want to be; expressing yourself how you want to; continually, unapologetically and assertively acknowledging your very essence, celebrating your strengths, reconciling with your flaws, accepting them, and ensuring that others do so too.

Men & feminism

MadamJMo wrote this post about the UK Feminista’s FemSchool which was held recently. The workshop she talks about is one run by Matt McCormack Evans called ‘Mobilising Men Into Feminist Activism’.

I wasn’t at the conference/school, so I don’t want to dissect what was or wasn’t said, but just consider the issues with men identifying as feminist, or men being in the feminist movement. I think a lot of the points she raises are really interesting and worth discussing.

Does feminism need men?
At one point apparently Matt said that “feminism needs men”, and I see why this is hugely insulting to those women who have worked tirelessly for equal rights for women and who still fight against the patriarchy, and other women. I recently joined a small feminist group, and it was decided before I joined that every 3rd or 4th meeting would include men. This decision was reached because the majority of members wanted a safe space where they could discuss issues without worrying about men being there – without feeling intimidated into silence or not wanting to discuss personal anecdotes. I absolutely agree with this, I think women need safe spaces without fear of men interrupting or taking over conversations.

But… Personally, I think it’s important to have men on-side – that is, men who understand the aims and issues in feminism, and who are willing to look at those issues from a different perspective than one of male privilege. I would agree with Matt in that, feminism needs men who understand womens’ struggles. Not to particularly be feminists or to be active in the movement on their behalf, but for them to understand their own privilege, and learn how their behaviour affects women. Also, how can feminism be effective, if men are dominant and ‘in charge’, but they ignore feminism? At some point, men have to get involved.

The other thing that is interesting is the idea of ‘pandering’ to men. I’ll admit, I do it. In believing that men simply need to be persuaded that feminism is basically better for everybody regardless of gender, in the same way I tackle any persuasion or discussion, I tread softly. I think something like feminism is overwhelmingly complicated, with so many different views and interpretations, that it’s actually quite difficult to try and understand it all in one go, or to rush into it headfirst. When I talk to men who are interested in it, I don’t shove ‘patriarchy’ ‘rape culture’ and ‘oppression’ down their throats – I try to get them to question their own assumptions and their own views so they can figure it out for themselves. I lead them to articles that helped me when I first started.

Having said this, though, there is a growing trend among men to identify as ‘feminist’ – in the way that burlesque, prostitution and stripping is ‘feminist’. That is, they’re only interested in exploiting you. Of course this is one perspective but the amount of times I’ve heard men say “I’m a feminist, I sleep with girls who are feminist, and I’m respectful” in the course of chatting me up or trying to sleep with me… I’ve heard it a lot, let’s say. The best one was “I want to help you empower yourself”. I didn’t realise sleeping with strangers was empowering!?

This is the kind of male ‘feminist’ we need to be wary of, but otherwise, I would think that there is nothing wrong with men being pro-feminist, identifying as feminist, or in other ways expressing solidarity or agreement with the aims of feminism… Whether they are ‘humanist’ or just ‘for equality’ in general.

Men who are under threat
The idea of men being on the receiving end of sexism was also brought up at the workshop. I think this is a difficult one, because sexism against men can’t be ignored but at the same time it’s not as pressing an issue as inherent, societal sexism against women. In her blog, MadamJMo says:

They’re expected to be uber macho, and to like only football and tits, when they might like something else. Oh, so what?! They should try being a woman in a male-dominated society! I know that men experience sexism… but by turning it into the tired old “what about the men?”, “think about the men” argument, it totally devalues all the good work of hardcore feminism.

I totally agree with this. “Men experience sexism too” is a derailing tactic used by anti-feminists, or men who don’t understand feminism, to try and ‘look at the bigger picture’. The bigger picture, sadly, is that percentage-wise, more women are abused, more women experience sexism, more women are raped. But the difficulty lies in the uncomfortable fact that men are raped too, and actually they are sidelined more than women are when it comes to sexual abuse. When men are abused sexually, it’s not really seen in the same way. While women are blamed for their own victimisation, men are ridiculed because “how can a woman possibly rape a man?!” – of course both of these are dreadful responses.

How do you address these two facts – a lot of women are sexually abused in some way, and some men are raped – without belittling either group? How do you address the fact that men who are transgender, or queer, or who otherwise don’t conform to gender norms, are treated just as badly as women are – sometimes worse? This is why, in my mind, LGBT groups and feminist groups are natural allies. Feminists have a lot on their plate in terms of fighting to have feminism recognised as a progressive movement.. But if feminism can’t fight against male-on-male oppression, and male-on-male abuse, then do men need to organise their own movement to address this?

Feminists not really being feminists

In the post, MadamJMo said:

..there are some women at a feminist conference who want to lose the word ‘feminist’ because it has “negative connotations”

And, discussing the Fawcett picture of Bill Bailey, and the fact that people hadn’t seen it before, she said:

…they’re feminists. How could they NOT have been to the Fawcett website?

I think these comments come down to the same reason: These are people who have probably only just dipped their toe into feminism and feminist concepts. They are right, feminism does have negative connotations in the media. Namely that everyone who is a feminist doesn’t shave, is a lesbian, and hates men. Might be true in some cases but I would imagine in most this is a stereotype that is absolutely not representative of the huge variety of women that identify as feminist. I still feel uncomfortable about identifying as a feminist because it is a label that is constantly ridiculed. With regards to the second quote, I’ve read a lot about feminism in books and online – and I’ve never been to the Fawcett Society website. Why would I, when I can read anything I want to understand, by googling key feminist terms – or reading one of many feminist blogs/books that I know of? I don’t really see the FS as an absolutely integral part of feminist discourse, because I have done perfectly well without it and I feel like I have a good enough grasp on it, and the resources to research new ideas if I need to. But maybe I am wrong.

It’d be nice if we could be more like Norway

In Norway, when loads of innocent people were killed by one man, the Norwegian Prime Minister said that the answer to violence was “more democracy and more openness”. In the UK, when riots happen… Something that doesn’t come anywhere near the tragedy of so many lost lives (though some lives were regrettably lost), our response is… At best, pitiful. At worst, dangerously reactionary. And lacking any semblance of democracy at all.

- The Prime Minister came back from his holiday and announced it was “completely wrong to say there is any justifiable causal link”, suggested the government may shut down social media if necessary, and said that water cannon were available at 24 hours notice. [Full text of speech here]

- Meanwhile Lib Dem MPs (who are in coalition with the Conservatives) warn about knee-jerk reactions.

- There have been ridiculous sentences. One person jailed for six months for stealing a £3.50 case of bottled water. Numerous people have been arrested for ‘inciting violence’ on Facebook. Here, here, and here. There are loads more stories. One lady was given five months for accepting a pair of shorts (she was asleep during the riots).

- The Mayor of London and the PM are at loggerheads over police cuts. Cameron has said he will stick with the cuts despite Boris asking for more police. Though, we have enough money to hire a “crime guru” from America that works in an area where 400 gangs are. So clearly not that efficient or good at his job?

- Police forces have been gloating over ridiculous sentences on social media.

- A well-known historian… (as in, dealing in history, not the present or the future – so I’m entirely bemused as to why he is now a talking head on current social issues) blamed rioting on ‘black culture’ and stokes the fires of racism at a time when community spirit and trust in fellow human beings is shaky at best.

Our collective response to the whole thing is farcical. Over the last few years the pillars of democracy; the things we balance our society on, have shown their cracks and dreadful weaknesses. Bankers screw over ordinary people, politicians fleece the public purse for all it’s got, and journalists illegally hack into phones for the next juicy story to sell to us.

Is it any bloody wonder the country is in a state, and people are rioting? The conditions are perfect for unrest – something which was noted long ago by myself and by others. When we protested against raising tuition fees and the removal of the EMA in November, we predicted this. And, young people predicted there would be riots at the end of July, as youth centres started closing.

What is needed is not short-term pet/vanity projects – we need long-lasting, genuine solutions, with the co-operation of the very people who are involved in rioting. We need to consult young people on this! We need to have a genuine conversation with those involved in looting and rioting and find out exactly why this happened (though this map of rioting laid over a map showing deprivation is a big clue).

In other words – in fact, to paraphrase Jens Stoltenberg, we need more democracy and transparency. Not more ignorance and high-horse speeches.

Disability provisions are worryingly dismal

I always had it in mind to write about my experiences as a disabled student at University but I wanted to wait until I’d totally finished my studying – which I now have.

I’ve been to three different universities. I want to talk about the first one, though – the University of Westminster. By far the worst experience of my life (for several reasons). I worked hard at my A Levels and was consequently awarded a highly sought-after scholarship to study journalism there. I moved to Harrow, North London, to live in halls as I thought this would be better for me in terms of a social life.

When I applied to go to Uni, I ticked the box that specified I wanted to be assessed for the Disabled Students’ Allowance. I’ll explain. I’m high frequency deaf and throughout school I never had any help other than massive hearing aids that used to get ripped out of my ears etc by other children. I was diagnosed when I was a lot older than kids normally are, because I made up for being deaf by learning to lip-read, learning to understand context and deduce meanings from facial expressions etc. Skills that everyone relies on anyway – I was honing them without knowing it. Being deaf was something I ‘just coped’ with. After I had them ripped out, turned up high, or turned off or down by other children, I rarely wore my hearing aids – which generally left me at a disadvantage.

I must explain here that there are hidden disadvantages that come with being deaf, that people don’t really think about or realise. Of course, you miss out on a lot of things. For me, group situations are the worst. I can’t cope with people talking over each other, I can’t hear anything and I find it extremely overwhelming. Being deaf is tiring. You’re constantly reading lips and body language or other signals, constantly trying to figure out what people are saying. I always visualise myself as one step behind other people. Instead of hearing > understanding > responding like normal, I feel like my brain goes hearing > no idea what they said > what did I actually hear > can I make sense of the missing part using context > understanding what they said (or not) > response. You have to concentrate really hard to try and hear and make sense of everything. So it gets exhausting, being in busy social situations, where I can’t let up for a second or I’ll totally miss a hilarious joke. It happens all the time, and then I have to ask, and then they have to explain, and it’s not funny, and everyone’s annoyed because I’m ‘too stupid’ to understand it. That’s the assumption that people make on my behalf when I don’t hear stuff. I’m stupid. I don’t have the energy to explain to every single person that I meet, that I’m deaf. Usually, people overcompensate and over-exaggerate the way they pronounce words. Let me tell you for future reference: exaggerating your lip movements whilst talking louder does not help someone who is mainly relying on reading your lips, because you distort the movements and make it more difficult. The way I live my life now is to just cope with the fact that people assume I am stupid all the time.

Anyway, I felt that by the time I got to University I was old enough to say “Look, I need help with this” and I felt I should be able to get as much help as possible to help get me through my degree. I had my needs assessment done nearby – it’s an interview where you talk to someone about what you’ll need at University (for example, note-takers, special software for your computer, and so on) – and that went well. I was pleased with the assessment, because I felt like the guy had covered all areas, but I remember him asking if I wanted a note-taker, and I did my usual thing of “Well, I don’t know that I’ll need it, and I don’t want to waste anyone’s time…” I was trying to do someone, somewhere, a favour – from my point of view, I wanted to (excuse the pun) play it by ear and see if I definitely needed it or not. I didn’t want special treatment if it wasn’t absolutely necessary. So he put down on my needs assessment something along the lines of “If Sophie feels that she needs anything else she will ask for it – please give her anything she needs”.

Fast forward a couple of months and I’m at Westminster. Without going too much into it, my circumstances at the University were not great. I was isolated, because I was surrounded by overseas students in my halls, and in my classes. I couldn’t really connect with anyone. I started missing classes, struggling to do work, not going to lectures. I rarely spoke to people. Eventually I stopped eating. Somewhere, in the middle of this spiral into what was later diagnosed as severe clinical depression, I realised that I needed note-takers for the lectures. In part because I found them difficult to hear and follow, and in part because I was getting to the point where I just could not physically bring myself to go. Anyone who has experienced depression will realise it is not laziness, it is not unwillingness to work – but when you’re in a bad patch, sometimes getting out of bed is a genuine achievement for you.

I went to the people who dealt with disabilities, and I said to them I needed to have a note-taker because I was struggling to hear in my lectures. I explained everything to them, and I knew they had a copy of my needs assessment so it should be fine. So it went something like:

“Well, it doesn’t say here that you need a note-taker.”
“Oh, I know it doesn’t, but I wasn’t sure that I would definitely need one, because I didn’t really want to waste anyone’s time. I am really struggling at the moment though, I can’t really hear or understand what’s going on and they don’t have hand-outs for some of the lectures.”
“It doesn’t explicitly say that you need a note-taker.”
“Yes but that was before I started University, and I was hoping I would be okay and wouldn’t need one.”
“We can’t give you a note-taker if your needs assessment doesn’t explicitly say that you need one. It doesn’t explicitly say here that you need one.”
“But it also EXPLICITLY SAYS that if I need help, to give me what I ask for! I am asking you for help, because I desperately need it – and it says if I ask, to give me it. I was hoping that I would be okay when I came here but I’m really not, I can’t hear lectures, I am struggling to understand what they’re saying, and my work is suffering as a consequence.”
“We can’t help you.”

After that conversation, I went back to my room and cried in despair. No help whatsoever. And this rejection actually actively contributed to the decline in my mental state. Eventually I left the University of Westminster and got a full-time job. I was on anti-depressants for two years after that, when it eventually was diagnosed (more about that later).

My point with this is that a lot of people who work in those areas – ‘Additional Learning Needs’ departments and all that – don’t actually understand enough about the different disabilities, or the different ways that disabilities can affect people. Why on earth would someone working in a department like that refuse to even consider giving someone help when that person has come to you, almost in tears? I don’t understand. And this is what really concerns me about the current political climate. People with disabilities are generally ignored. They cope, like I did, in their own ways, and people don’t really understand how the smallest things can affect them in a totally different way. Or how they experience life differently. They just get on with living, because that’s all you can do. But when they desperately need the help that they, by rights, should get – the people they go to aren’t trained, or due to cuts, the departments are short-staffed, or perhaps they have been shut altogether. The disabled are among the most vulnerable in society; the most overlooked and misunderstood. It really worries me that the current government seems to have an agenda that seeks to alienate them and cut them off from the help they need the most.

We are failing them.

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