Matriliny != Matriarchal society

I was reading “Why being superior is never the answer” on the women in Meghalaya. I tried to publish this as a comment and for some reason it’s not working so I thought I’d expand and blog it.

What really annoys me about the BBC piece (“Where women rule, and men are suffragettes” – which inspired the blog post) is that it’s total nonsense and we should really be calling the BBC out for that. All of the pieces that I have seen on it are entitled “Where women rule” or “Female-dominated society”. IT’S NOT. Google matriliny for crying out loud. Matrilineal society doesn’t mean that women are automatically in charge. In fact, that’s not even anywhere near the case.

Read this, it’s quite interesting. The women there have very little political empowerment and, so I have read elsewhere, little interest in ‘invading’ politics or the religious system – all priests are still male, for example. They suffer from domestic violence (at the hands of those husbands who are alcoholics, I assume), and in a way they suffer greatly from the very assumption that matriliny automatically empowers women in every way: What charity, or what people would bother trying to protect or champion the rights of a group who are already seen to hold the power?

And – hey, BBC – comparing that to the suffragette movement? Wow. That’s totally not cool.

I’m actually quite annoyed, and the more I think about it the more it annoys me. It’s like everyone who talks about Meghalaya is going “HA! Look, wimmin! When you’re in charge the poor men suffer! THINK OF THE POOR MEN!” and it’s used as an argument against feminism as a whole. These morons completely neglect to actually look into the real situation on the ground and look at the education and health issues that they have there.

Not to mention that I really don’t think a lot of feminists are *genuinely* looking for a female-dominated society in the same way that the patriarchy works. In my experience, it’s a ridiculous argument used by people who have *no* idea what they are talking about, have never bothered reading anything about feminism, and feel the need to attack you personally because attacking the patriarchal system they live in and thrive under is deepy personal to them.


Consent is sexy

Alternative title: “I’ll want to have sex with you more if you want to have sex with me enthusiastically as well” – AKA “If you don’t want to have sex with me that’s fine but I won’t try and have sex with you anyway, because that would make me a rapist”.

Consent is very sexy indeed. I happened across a while ago and not only do I mostly love it, but it also gave me some food for thought. A lot of recent discourse around consent has – for me, at least – been around Julian Assange and his sexual conduct. Consequently, I’ve been reading loads of information and blogs on the subject of consent and I think broadly, the ‘model’ of consent I would go with is that of enthusiastic consent. (There are of course, limitations and some odd situations where it might not apply – I think it’s a good one to keep in mind though)

Enthusiastic consent is basically, I suppose, a way of figuring out if you’re really doing the right thing – are they ‘into’ it in the same way as you? Is their body language a bit off? Are they looking upset or a bit nervous? Ask them if they’re okay. That’s it. Just think to yourself: how is that person feeling? It’s just a check, to make sure that everyone is enthusiastic about what’s happening. I think if everyone followed this honestly, it would help to clear up and perhaps prevent some horrible situations.

I had a whole raft of posts in my browser for ages because, um, I think collectively they explain it better than I could.

It’s not that they don’t understand, it’s that they don’t like the answer – a lot of rape apologism/’misunderstanding’ is around this idea that consent is somehow difficult to understand. You don’t sign a piece of paper, or explicitly say “ok, let’s DO THIS” (Well, you might do…!) but this article talks about research that shows that ‘no’ is very discouraged in our society, and that when it comes to anything, we all hesitate to say a straight-forward no. Rejections are couched in “I like you but”s, or “I would LOVE to but I’m busy then”. We all understand rejections in other social contexts, so why not sexually?

Not saying no is a very, very long way from saying yes – this kind of follows on from the first one. It asks, why are people so reluctant to say no, and why do people think that if someone doesn’t explicitly say no, then it’s an automatic yes? Not saying no is not the same as saying yes!

The (non-existent) terrible, horrible, no good, very bad consequences of enthusiastic consent – this discusses enthusiastic consent in more detail.

Under Duress: Agency, power & consent (part one: “no”) – this discusses consent and the power of ‘no’ more clearly.

Consent is not a light-switch – this is interesting. Consent to one act is not necessarily consent to another. That’s really important. Consent is an ongoing state depending on your interaction at that time. You cannot consent to something later when you are asleep, and it shouldn’t be assumed that because you have consented to one thing, that you consent to anything else.

The only thing I have left to add is a fantastic comment at the end of the consent blog at I Blame The Patriarchy, which is the best analogy of consent, I think:

Nobody asks their friend ‘Want to play tennis?’ then when Friend says ‘I would LOVE to, you know I love playing with you – but I am really tired and I have this thing I have to do really early,’ shows up at 6pm on the court expecting to see their friend. Nor do they just start serving balls at their friend’s face.

Sometimes consent is difficult. It’s not a magical on-off switch, and no one is really going to explicitly ‘give’ you it. You just need to figure out where the other person is comfortable (ie at what level of interaction), which requires ongoing communication and awareness of their responses, even in body language etc. It’s kinda hard at first maybe, but, y’know, consent is definitely sexy.

Understanding power structures

If you’re going to study any isms, the first thing you should really look at is power structures – how society has traditionally structured itself and evolved. In feminism, this is often called the “Patriarchy” (rule of the father/male role models). In terms of intersectionality – which is about where feminism meets anti-racism, meets class issues, etc (ie minorities in different categories) – this is called the Kyriarchy… The interaction between different systems of domination and submission.

I start with the Patriarchy as this is the one I most commonly can relate to. This is the idea that in western society most things are geared towards men – that society values the role of men much more than the role of women, and denies women the same opportunities and equality. There are lots of stats around but what is most well-accepted is that there are more CEOs who are men than women, and more MPs who are men, than women. Why is this? There is nothing in the requirement of being a CEO or an MP that inherently discounts women – it is not an explicit requirement, for example, to have a beard or a penis, or any other thing which we dictate to be ‘male’. Levels of testosterone or maleness should not dictate that you cannot be a CEO or an MP. Yet women continue to be under-represented in these fields. Women are also paid much less in work – again, there are statistics and reports on this out there, should you wish to find them. Yet women are over-represented in the public sector – why is this? This is what feminists talk about as the Patriarchy – that “men” as a group are generally dominating, and much better off than women are. That is entirely different to saying that individual men hold power – although some do, this is clearly an inaccurate generalisation.

It’s a fairly simple concept, once you understand it, and one you can apply to any arbitrary category of society – for example, with regards to sexuality, ‘heterosexuality’ is the dominant group and ‘homosexuality’ is the oppressed. It follows thusly:

- Cisgender people are dominant, transgender people are the oppressed.

- White people are dominant, non-white people are oppressed.

- Men are dominant, women are oppressed.

- Middle class is dominant, working class are oppressed and exploited. You could even take this one further and look at the ‘ruling classes’ (ie politicians, nobility, etc) as dominating over all, including the middle classes. Then the middle class dominate over those below them, and so on – so the lowest class in society is oppressed by all of those above it.

That is not to say that anyone who happens to fit into one or all of these dominant groups is a horrible person – just that society is automatically geared towards giving them an advantage. They are privileged. These are social structures of power. It is easy for one person in the dominant group to have power over someone in the oppressed group. And while it is possible for someone in the oppressed group to be horrible to, or not like, those in the dominant group, I maintain that it is impossible for there to be ‘isms’ in this context. It is in fact entirely understandable why people in the subordinate group may hate those who have been oppressing them. Allan Johnson explains this in The Gender Knot (2005):

“Given the reality of women’s oppression, male privilege, and men’s enforcement of both, it’s hardly surprising that every woman should have moments when she resents, or even hates, ‘men’.”

It is not possible for women to be ‘sexist’ against men. It is not possible for non-whites to be ‘racist’ against white people. There is a distinct difference between group interactions (ie systematic oppression from society and its rulers – who are, incidentally, mainly cisgender, straight, white, middle class men) and individual interactions. There is a difference between me growing up in society, feeling that the message I’ve heard is “as a woman you are worth less than a man” – and me insulting an individual man, telling him he is not good at something/making generalisations. That might be wrong and not-very-nice, but it is not sexist; it is not misandrist (I have already argued that misandry doesn’t exist here and here). It is me disliking an individual man. Whereas a man doing the same thing to me, does so in a generally anti-women and hostile environment that affects me to a large extent and has a negative effect on my behaviour and the way I perceive myself (see street harassment that happens worryingly regularly if you happen to be a woman and go outside your own house). That’s sexism, and that’s why women need to fight back.

The reason that women – and other oppressed groups – feel the need to have women-only safe spaces, and should be allowed them, is that they can achieve much more without the interference of the aggressors. Some women feel deeply uncomfortable discussing feminist ideas in front of men, because they feel that men will dominate the conversation – this aggressive hijacking of the conversational thread or debate happens all the time in every day life where the dominant groups take over. It’s called derailing, and as a ‘privileged’ member, it takes a while to see that you’re doing it. This is why, when people discuss racial issues, I fully support them and I add my two cents if need be – but I’m more intrigued about following what the people who have to live with abuse due to their skin colour, have to say about it. I try to listen more and speak less. What can I possibly have to add? I have never been the victim of a racial attack and I never will be, and I suspect they are fed up of white people claiming the mantle for themselves.

What is really interesting about power structures is that once you see one (of course, I started with the patriarchy) you begin to see all. I once would have considered myself the victim of a ‘racist’ attack, where I was called a “white whore” “white prostitute” “fucking white slag” and so on by a group of young black men. I was shaken up by the experience – but the more I thought about it later on, the more I realised that, had they called me “whitey” I wouldn’t have had an issue. There is no historic meaning or basis for insults against white people – whereas there is a rich, awful history and background to, for example, the ‘N’ word. What was hurtful and awful about me being shouted at was that I was being called a prostitute, a slag, and a whore, simply because I was female. It didn’t matter what colour my skin was – it was sexism rather than racism. I think this really sums up my understanding of power structures, and it’s why – among a great many other things – Diane Abbott isn’t a racist.

Thatcher’s unique brand of feminism

Curse whoever thought up The Iron Lady film. I have to put up with sycophants banging on about how great she is, and lefties banging on about how awful she is. She’s back in public consciousness, when I really would rather she wasn’t.

So, the Guardian asked people, “Was Thatcher a feminist icon?” – one of those questions to which the answer should be “no”. Should be. Yet people still look to her as an inspirational figure, apparently. Or, according to some Tories, they should do. ‘Cos she was a woman and she did things.

Thatcher is a feminist and a supporter of the feminist movement in the same sense that I’m a big fan of gouging my eyeballs out. Which is to say, I have never done it, I never want to do it and I hope to Christ I never have to. She hates feminism. She even once said “I owe nothing to feminism”. She was resolutely anti-feminism, anti-women’s lib.

What people don’t get… The most infuriating part about this whole thing, is the assumption that women who ‘do’ things are feminists. By this definition… Why, we are all feminists! I’m a feminist because I once opened a jar by myself. Hugh Hefner is a feminist because he’s empowering women by allowing them to be photographed naked. What a guy! David Cameron is a feminist because he is married to a woman.

Feminism is not about doing things yourself and achieving. It is not about the small things. It is not even about doing big things. It is about being acutely aware of, and contributing to, a wider group of women – the ‘sisterhood’. It is about doing things in the realisation that your actions have an effect on how other women are perceived. She participated in and propogated the patriarchy – what use is complicity in oppression to any other woman?

What did Thatcher contribute to the wider movement of liberation for women, but disdain and contempt? From what I can tell, she hated women, she presented herself as a man and thought of herself as a man, and she didn’t care much for those women whose lives were ruined by her policies. There is no semblance of common-ground with other women, or any idea of solidarity – that together we are stronger; that one’s suffering is the suffering of all. Put simply, she was in her own league and that’s the way she liked it.

Thatcher’s unique brand of feminism, then, was actually what we would normally, in any other human being, characterise as ruthless individualism. She did things for herself, she didn’t further the cause or lay the path for other women to succeed in politics. On the contrary, I think she has harmed the cause.

If she’s a feminist icon then she’s an icon to the already selfish and ignorant. She will never stand beside me as a sister, and those who consider her to be a feminist icon are no sisters of mine either.

How to be a good feminist

1. Don’t tell others they are bad feminists, or how to be good feminists, because this makes you look like you reckon you are the arbiter of what makes feminism ‘right’. Which makes you look really arrogant. And arrogance isn’t an attractive or useful trait.

2. I lied about there being a second thing. That’s it.

Women, sports and equality

A conversation about the BBC’s Women of the Year on Twitter (one of the entries is a female panda) turned into a little reminiscence over the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year – where not a single woman was picked. Later, someone at the BBC wrote, “Do we value women’s sport in the UK?” – that’s one for John Rentoul’s Questions To Which The Answer Is No, surely?

I’m not massively into sports myself but someone asked me the following:

I hadn’t actually put forward any of my thoughts about women in sport at this point; merely linked to the last BBC link where sportswomen talk about the value of women’s sport in the UK. But, my thoughts go something like this: Mainstream sport is dominated by men. There are all-women football teams and tournaments, but they are not widely appreciated or known or celebrated (or paid as much!) as all-men football teams. I, personally, would like to see mixed gender/gender-blind football teams competing internationally. But this is problematic – it would need to be agreed and happen internationally. Perhaps we could start with national mixed-gender football teams?

Straight Bat then said that sport is dominated by men because they are “generally physically superior…With true equality, there’d be no chances for women in sport.” I’m not sure I agree with that analysis of the differences between women and men. I don’t know much about sport but I would imagine (hope?!) there are sports in which women outclass men.

Ultimately, it really depends on how you define equality or how you want to ensure equality for all. There are two different ways of looking at equality – and two philosophical terms that, to me, are applicable to it: deontology and consequentialism/utilitarianism.

Deontology is Kant’s idea that the morality of an action is based on the whether or not the action in itself is good, and adheres to rules. Thus, telling the truth is good – regardless of whether it hurts someone and other consequences. In deontologism, lying is therefore inherently ‘bad’ – regardless of the outcome of the lie, ie if people are saved from being hurt. Deontology can be morally absolutist, which I find to be problematic – as I believe morals are flexible depending on circumstances – and I find it hard to believe that anybody could be a full-on Deontologist.

In terms of equality, you could argue that deontological equality is equality-in-itself. So in this case, you would argue that there should be absolute equality in sports (and other matters), regardless of whether or not women can compete at the same level. It’s totally equal, and it doesn’t matter what the consequence is. ie it doesn’t matter that – if you believe men to be biologically stronger than women – men will always win. Because women are equal at the first instance.

Consequentialism is generally considered to be the opposite to Deontology, and unsurprisingly holds that the morality or right-ness of an act is determined by the outcome. So, if lying saves someone from being hurt, then it’s ethically sound. If telling the truth will hurt someone, then it’s better to not tell the truth, because no one will be hurt.

Applying consequentialism to equality would mean that you would pretty much artificially create equality where there isn’t any. See: All-women shortlists, all-women sports, rules that require a 50/50 split gender-wise, and so on.

With regards to sport I would like to see mixed gender sports teams taking over all-men sports teams, and due prominence given to women in sport. I would like mainstream media to cover women in sport in a way that isn’t patronising or condescending. I would like to see the general public to respond to women in sport in a positive way, without making them out to have male attributes (see Fatima Whitbread as an example of this)

Having thought about this for a while, it’s occurred to me that I am for the most part a deontological egalitarian. I want there to be a level playing field and equal opportunities for all. This is my ideal. No one would need to be given artificial prominence in order to appear equal. But I don’t think that the playing field will be levelled to such a pure extent for a long time – if ever. So I suppose consequentialism and creating what is essentially ‘false’ equality is the only way to tackle gender inequality – for now.

Why The Good Men Project Sucks

Trigger warning for rape/sexual assault.

The Good Men Project has been getting on my nerves for the last fortnight or so, and I’ve struggled to really put together some coherent thoughts about it. But there’s a couple of blog posts by co-founder Tom Matlack that I just have to take issue with. He first wrote “The Feminist I Used To Know“, and then “In The Beginning, It Was About Storytelling“.

I’ll start with the first. Not only is the title insulting, but the standfirst begins:

The Good Men Project started with the goal of empathy. Empathy for other men. Tom Matlack hopes that today’s feminists can understand that.

Because feminists really struggle with basic concepts like empathy, because they are all nonsensical, stupid harpies that don’t understand human emotions. The post begins off in a patronising tone. Not really started off on the best foot, has it? Then he screenshots this:

If that isn’t the definition of antagonism-parading-as-ignorance then I don’t know what is. Of course he knows what feminism is. It’s disingenuous of him to suggest he doesn’t. He even says at one point that he grew up with feminists and he considered himself one.

He whinges about how women don’t really understand that he really is a good guy, and that he’s done nothing wrong – and then says:

Even the idea that women, or some women, would prefer men to be more like them than more manly sends the twitter-sphere into orbit. The idea that it’s not okay to treat all men as rapists, despite the preponderance of rape committed by individual men, is wrong.

I assume by this he is saying that he feels women, or feminists, treat all men as rapists. I am going to guess that this is based on the wonderful, must-read essay Schrödinger’s Rapist. The point of the essay seems to have flown entirely past him, though. The point of Schrödinger’s Rapist is that women do not know what rapists look like, and therefore cannot predict that they will be raped, or act accordingly (by presumably protecting themselves) – because they look exactly like other men. Contrary to popular belief, the ‘rapist’ is not someone who jumps out from behind the bushes, and looks distinctly evil; he is the man in the suit you work with every day; he is the friend you’ve known for years; he is that charismatic and charming man from the house party last week. He is a familiar acquaintance. Until he rapes you.

But I don’t know a single woman that treats a man differently because of this idea. All they do, is act a bit wary. I don’t hear stories of women attacking men for assuming they are rapists. Do you? It’s almost like Tom kind of likes missing the point. He seems to do it so often. How any man could possibly be offended by or misunderstand the idea of Schrödinger’s Rapist is really beyond me. And the second men say that it’s offensive, they lose any kind of credibility with me. I’m sorry – how does your wish to chat me up/stare at me/touch my arse trump my right to be left alone and feel safe? Why is it offensive that I want to live my life in peace, feeling safe and unharassed?

He says he is a feminist, then says:

I don’t understand being angry at men at-large, or to criticize those of us who are trying to get really honest in hopes of building a stronger foundation for intimacy and relationships and goodness in the realm of fatherhood and husbandhood.

Being angry at ‘men at-large’ – this is called the patriarchy, no? This is exactly what feminism is about – fighting the patriarchy; the unwritten, widely-accepted rule that men are better than women. If you don’t understand that and you can’t tell the difference between singling out individual men, and looking at ‘men’ as an entire group (ie as oppressors) then I’m sorry but you don’t get it, and you’re not a feminist. As for the last bit of that sentence – writing about ‘feminine power‘ and how women are the ‘rivers’ to the ‘mountainous’ men, and how being a woman is sexy and powerful – is not going to endear you to any feminist that I know. That’s an actively backwards step in the world of gender, in fact.

Another post I’ve read, “Is It The End Of Men?” the female author asserts that the problem with feminism is:

I was taught to believe that the plight of women was so difficult that I failed to see that men had problems too.

I don’t know a single feminist who would not admit that men suffer under the patriarchy too. What kind of feminists had she been surrounding herself with? The difference is that one cannot take on the world at once, one must pick the battles they feel they are more interested in. Of course, most people are more interested in what directly affects them. But I don’t think any feminist worth her salt would read something like The Rape Of Men and say that men being raped is not an issue. What is interesting is that where the common ground is, is that men are nearly always the perpetrators (again, not always – women have raped men, but not in the numbers that men rape women, men and children). So in short, of course men have problems – no feminist denies that. Again, someone missed the point here.

In the “In the beginning it was about storytelling” piece I can accept that the GMP was created in order to document stories that mainstream media were not interested in. This is great – just don’t start talking about gender issues that you don’t know anything about. That’s all I ask. I don’t doubt that Tom has good intentions. I don’t doubt that there are some genuinely heart-warming posts about how hard it is to be a man, on there. But every single thing about the Good Men Project that I’ve seen (even the name – geez, want cheese with that whine?) gets my back up, and I wish he would see that for what it is, rather than bitching that nobody understands him – again.

@Hubbit has written something about the GMP here, too. I recommend reading it.

Gender dysphoria and female chauvinism

One of the great things about reading so much about feminism is that I’ve been able to roughly plot where I fit on the scale, and I’ve shuffled around on it a lot now. I’d say I would probably understand most theories, I’d be able to debate what feminism means to me and what I think about certain things from a feminist perspective – I’ve read enough and talked enough about it, to be able to do that. I hope.

A while ago I wrote about wanting to look at things a little differently, wanting to learn more about things I feel I’m lacking in. One of these was trans* issues, I remember, because I specifically set out to find some good blogs on it, and I found some people who were willing to discuss it with me from a reasonable perspective (ie they were nice and explained things when I acknowledged I was ignorant).

I feel I have to confess something that has been bugging me and been a source of internal discomfort and conflict, for a long while. Something I don’t really know how to reconcile with properly but I hope I am already. The reason it makes me feel uncomfortable is because I have never really known many people to feel the same way – at least no one that I know – so I feel a bit weird about having experienced it.

The crux of it is that when I was growing up, I really didn’t like women, or girls. I looked up to my mother, my sister, and my grandmother, as rare outposts in an otherwise pink and fluffy world of barbies and hairdressing. It’s not that I didn’t like them as such, it’s more that I found them so totally at odds with my own experiences and beliefs that I just didn’t really associate myself with that gender at all. I considered myself not male, not female, but somewhere in between. Just a Soph. I hated the colour pink, wearing dresses, looking ‘pretty’. I was told off for looking scruffy. I wanted to play in the dirt, climb trees. I wanted train sets and things to build. I wanted to get my hands dirty. I emulated Power Rangers, and was freakishly knowledgeable about dinosaurs.

Perhaps this is not an isolated experience but growing up it really left me in what I perceived to be a tricky situation. I definitely wasn’t a boy because I didn’t look like them and they had extra bits that I didn’t have, but I also definitely wasn’t a girl because girls weren’t brave, they liked fairies, and they needed to be rescued by princes. I planned an alternative Princess Rapunzel in my head: Were I in her shoes, I would have cut my hair, make a rope out of it, secured it to the bed, and gotten out of the damn tower myself! As if I would wait for some dopey prince to come along and do it for me!

I feel like I experienced a extremely mild phase of gender dysphoria (can’t find a better word for it, but what I actually mean by this is where your perceived gender does not align with which gender you feel you are – in my case, both were equally alienating). I did actually start thinking at one point that perhaps I wasn’t supposed to be a girl. That maybe I was born in the wrong body. It seemed to me, to be easier to be a boy, because they could do all the things I couldn’t but really wanted to. They could be scruffy and not be told off. They got train sets and Meccano and Lego and nobody said they were being silly for wanting them. They could be dominating and loud and disruptive, and that was seen as okay; when I tried to do the same, it was ‘unladylike’ and inappropriate.

I also went through a patch of realisation where I could count my female role models on one hand, and I even struggled to do that. Then I realised that most, if not all of these female role models were gay, or represented as if they were, because they were strong women. I figured that you are probably more likely to emulate/look up to those that you most identify with. I most identified with and related to men, and gay/butch women. Therefore, I must be gay! It was confusing for a time, as you may well imagine. Suffice to say that I am definitely into men (yes, despite being a man-hating lesbian feminist – so tedious an accusation) and my friendship circles tend to be male-dominated too. I still find men a lot easier to speak to than women, and they tend to like and trust me more immediately than women do (I have had more than my fair share of jealous girlfriend drama, thankyouverymuch!)

I wanted to write this because I was reminded of it when talking about privileges that cis people have over trans people. I am probably doing trans people a gross injustice but I do feel like in a small way I have been through perhaps part of what that feels like – to feel totally at odds with your given gender. To look around and be like “I don’t fit into any god damn box there is! Why do we even have boxes anyway?” Even now, I sometimes think: “But do I have to be female? REALLY?” It always seemed to me that gender was a hindrance to what I identify as and want to be, rather than something that I am totally on board with and want to have celebrated. I am quite fascinated with the idea of how I’d be received differently if I identified as male; if I mixed up gender assumptions. I don’t like the idea of genders – I think it’s harmful to expect people to fit in the blue box or the pink one. I’ve always more strongly associated myself with male characteristics, but to be honest I’d quite like to smash the whole gender thing.

So, this was my confession – I didn’t like women growing up, and I’ve never really liked or understood gender, either. As an adult I’ve obviously changed and I see things more for what they are – that I didn’t like women because of what I saw in popular culture and what I saw around me, and I rejected femaleness because it didn’t fit in with my view of myself – rather than blaming myself entirely for it. That helps to assuage some of the guilt. I do honestly think my negative feelings towards women/being a woman myself (for I assume they are interlinked issues) is because of gender socialisation that I saw around me and didn’t fit into. I’m just frustrated that the world is so strongly conditioned to continue in one way, that it took me two decades or so of existence to realise that I am not a total bitch for feeling the way I did.

Guest post: Religion and the sex lives of women

This guest post has been written anonymously.

Last Friday I stayed at a male friend’s house. I’ve done this a few times before but this time, after one too many glasses of wine, we made some ill-advised decisions which led to me spending Saturday lunchtime in an NHS sexual health walk-in clinic, due to what I like to think of as a “communication break down”, but what other people may choose to call plain stupidity. They’re probably right.

Sexual health clinics are not places I frequent and I felt judged just because I was there. I convinced myself the friendly, helpful receptionist was secretly attaching a hundred and one labels to me as she read through the form I filled in in the waiting area – I know this is illogical, but it did not feel that way at the time.

When I got into the nurse’s room I sat opposite her and my eyes were quickly drawn to the cross necklace around her neck. People wearing crosses is not usually something I take offence at, it’s an acceptable way to express your faith – but was this really the place to be wearing it? The Bible’s stance on any sort of sexual relations outside of marriage is not one you need to read deep into to discover – you don’t do it. I felt vulnerable and judged enough as it was without my nurse making it very obvious her strong beliefs (as those held by Christians, or people of any faith for that matter, usually are) did not agree with my actions. However, this probably would not have been a big deal – certainly not one big enough to warrant a blog/rant on it, had it not been for what she said during the session.

As is the way with sexual health clinics, you don’t just get the treatment you need and get to leave within 5 minutes – they usually want a run-through of your sexual history. The first thing that offended me was the comment she made after I told her I’d previously had a relationship with another female. I told the nurse that I knew her sexual history and trusted that I’d been told the truth as we’d always been very honest with each other. I was told I should ask again and tell her to be completely honest with me this time. The implication being that she was either promiscuous, lying or both.

As if her prejudiced comments about my sexuality weren’t enough, she insisted on referring to the man I spent the night with as my “boyfriend”. I told her he wasn’t – I didn’t have a boyfriend – to which she replied “well you do now”. I was shocked. Clearly she felt sex should be confined to relationships; a view shared by many. But was it appropriate for her to try and push this view on me in such a patronising manner? I don’t think so. I strongly hold the belief that other people’s sex lives are their business. I resist judging people based on their personal lives generally and if I do find myself doing so, I certainly wouldn’t belittle them for their decisions. It is simply not my place. How lovely it’d be to live in a world where other people – especially those in positions of trust, as this nurse was – extended me the same courtesy.

I left the clinic feeling about 2 feet tall. However, I considered myself relatively fortunate after reading this. A 29 year old woman was refused the morning after pill because the chemist she was served by had religious objections. When I first heard about it I figured the woman was living in America’s Bible Belt, where women being refused contraception or an abortion due to their doctor’s beliefs is not unheard of. But no, this was in a Boots store in Hartlepool.

Why, in 2011 in the Western World, are women still having other people’s so-called moral values thrust into their sex lives? The fact that it is acceptable to judge, and even to prevent a woman from taking responsibility for the actions of herself and who she has slept with – and then to be able to use religion as an excuse for doing this – is an example of how far we have to go in securing full reproductive freedom for women even in the West. I hope that Boots and the General Pharmaceutical Council reviews their policies. Why should someone’s “ethics” come before another person’s well-being? I also hope that next time (if there is a next time) I go to an NHS walk-in clinic I get a nurse who does his or her job without making me feel like I should be ashamed of decisions that are my business.

#Fem11 Pt 2: Challenging Sex Object Culture

This seminar was really popular, and held by the activist group OBJECT, which opposes the sex object culture. That is, the objectification of women – through lapdancing clubs, sexist advertising, and the media in general. What is objectification? The following words and phrases explain how women are objectified/the characteristics of objectification:

  • Instrumentalism (eg, only to provide sexual gratification)
  • Denial of autonomy
  • Inertness
  • Fungibility (that women are interchangeable)
  • Violability
  • Ownership
  • Denial of subjectivity (dismissive of feelings, perspective)
  • Reduction to a body
  • Reduction to appearance (as discussed at the Endangered Bodies seminar)
  • Silencing

The group have already worked on several campaigns including staging a protest against lapdancing clubs, and this hilarious anti-lad’s mags stunt in Tesco (best to watch from 1min30 as the beginning is the preparation):

The group, along with the Fawcett Society were also heavily involved in the campaign for the reclassification of lapdancing venues as “sexual entertainment venues”. This meant stricter regulation on who could and who couldn’t open lapdancing clubs – they were previously classified in the same group as coffee shops. Their latest campaign is ‘Stop Press Porn’ and aims to stop porn from being so easily accessible in supermarkets etc. In this video, which was also shown in the seminar, the spokeswoman for Object argues about lad’s mags with a former editor of one:

While I generally agree with their point about porn and about objectification, and I quite like the way they have tackled some issues (the pyjama Tesco protest is hilarious and creative) there’s something I can’t really put my finger on that I’m not sure about. Sorry, that’s a really useless analysis of something that was very interesting and very prevalent in society. Reducing women to objects is restrictive and harmful but I think that this comes across wrongly as prudish, and that perhaps some of the language used is inaccessible and hard to follow. When we say objectification, what we mean is the general societal idea that women are to be looked at, to be touched, and admired, and they should be passive and inert. Of course, this strips women of their autonomy and ability to make decisions, it is part of a wider culture that says it is ok to rape, and that it’s ok to do whatever you want to a woman as long as you get your rocks off. So you see, it’s not a good thing at all.

I don’t really have much to add to this really, other than to raise the point that this is an issue, and very harmful to women (and men in some circumstances – the best example I can give is that teenage boys don’t really learn how relationships work, how to respect their female peers – because in porn and in lads magazines, the sex is on tap and freely available). I realise that there is an argument that most people realise films are not realistic but I dismiss this entirely because a) this is probably most people’s first introduction to sex when they are at an impressionable age b) sex, and the reality of it, is rarely discussed in mainstream education and media. My sex education film was one video of a man and woman rigidly laying side by side holding hands, then having awkward, technical sex (man on top of course) – and then it cut to a cartoon image of the mechanics of sex. So who is going to make feminist porn or sex education videos purely for the purpose of adding it to the school curriculum to show boys/young men how sex really works? Who is going to sit down and explain to a bunch of teenaged boys that women come in all different sizes and shapes, that pornstar bodies are not the norm? Exactly. We are setting them up for disappointment and encouraging misogynistic attitudes.


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