15 Shitty Things That Need to Stay in 2015

[Originally published on VENUSfems at: http://www.venusfems.com/#!THE-GIRLS-ROOM-15-Shitty-Things-that-Need-to-Stay-in-2015/c663/56a21f0a0cf2009838b70cc7 ]

CW: Discussion of sexism, racism, transphobia, ableism, and Germaine Greer.

2015 has a lot to answer for…

1. Meninists and MRAs

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I know this is a broad category, but the men and boy’s liberation movement did enough last year to fill up a whole list of its own. But I’m not about to let them take up that much space, so let’s get them out of the way early. From equating feminism with terrorism (#FemISIS – so catchy) to actually standing in the UK General Election, MRAs have had a busy 2015.

All is not lost for those seeking “gender equality” through meninism – simply googling and reading any article about feminism would be a really solid start. Meninism is a movement that needs to stay in the past tense, please.

2. ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’

“I ought to say no, no, no – Mind if I move in closer?
At least I’m gonna say that I tried – What’s the sense in hurting my pride?
I really can’t stay – Baby don’t hold out”

It may be a very seasonal gripe, but seriously this song needs to stop being everywhere all through the winter. It’s the original, more explicitly creepy Blurred Lines. She says “no” so often, and he spikes her drink and threatens her with causing him “undying sorrow” and/or dying out in the cold if she doesn’t stay with him all night. It really should’ve been left back in the 1940s, to be honest.

3. Bikini Bodies

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It’s damn right that the only thing you have to do to have a beach body is take your body to the beach. The only thing you have to do to have a bikini body is put a bikini on your body. No protein powders or photoshopping required. The idea that women have to look a certain way in order to have the privilege of accessing and enjoying parts of the world is so, so toxic – and so, very unwelcome in my new year.

4. Pick Up Artists

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Men who literally, explicitly, unashamedly, and publicly treat women as sexual objects are the worst kind of human. These people get their sexual kick out of exploiting their privileged position in society – using “tactics” like negging, or push-and-pull to coerce women into sleeping with them. They’re awful. They need to end, and learning what consent means is a great new year’s resolution.

5. School Dress Codes

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Hey, educators! I may be radical, but I think girls deserve an education. Yes, even if they’ve got boobs.

It’s incredibly hurtful to restrict girls’ access to education full stop; but when this is done in the name of men’s inability to stop sexualising them it gets even worse. In 2015, a lot of “dress code violations” made the news, mainly for their ridiculous over-protection of male sensibilities at the cost of embarrassing and ostracising girls; but also because of the awesome people standing up to it (who definitely need to stay in 2015).

6. Donald Trump

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(NB: Sarah Levey drew this using her own menstrual blood, which is fantastic, hands down).

Donald Trump is so problematic I don’t even know where to start. I could trawl through the internet to find examples of him insulting everyone from women, to disabled people, to Muslims, to black and brown people in general (the list goes on) – but I don’t think my mental health could take it.

7. That’s So Crazy

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Remember when people thought saying “that’s sooo gay! :)” was okay. But, obviously it’s homophobic. Well, using “crazy” the same pejorative way is hella ableistic, so let’s all stop.

8. Cultural Appropriation

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This was really prevalent in 2015. With Miley Cyrus’ locks (and in general) at the VMAs; a lot of Kyle Jenner’s Instagram; and whatever the hell was going on with Rachel Dolezal – cultural appropriation was happening a lot. To be clear, it’s never cool for a privileged person, or group, to steal the culture, history, or mythology of the oppressed.

9. Just Look at All the Places Abortion is Still Restricted

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Let’s just take a second to think about all the people who were denied access to basic, often lifesaving, medical procedures in 2015 because in the eyes of the law, they were less human than a foetus.

10. Take Her Swimming on the First Date

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This is another one of those little memes that crawled out of the same group of boys who keep going on about the “friendzone” and how “nice guys finish last”. This time they’re railing against women who “trick” them because they’re wearing “too much” makeup. So take the girl swimming and you’ll get to see how she looks without makeup.

Sigh. Where to start? First off, this is obviously a load of cis-het boys complaining because waterproof makeup exists and is great. Secondly, these “nice guys” are evaluating women based purely on their looks. And third, it’s part of the horrible shaming culture that exists around women’s presentation in public spaces and ideas of what women “should” look like.

We could do without all these things in 2016.

11. #AllLivesMatter

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To be honest, I don’t think I can say it any better than the woman right up there. Preach.

12. Germaine Greer

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Greer’s transphobia isn’t news, but in 2015 trans rights were in the news a lot, and unfortunately this brings TERFs out of the woodwork too. Her ideas of trans identities are prehistoric, and rooted in the problematic idea that womanhood is somehow rooted in having a vagina. Let’s all resolve to not tell her about the New Year.

13. That Stonewall Movie

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Trans women of colour have enough to deal with already, and the erasure of their part an important chapter in liberation history by a cis white man in a blockbuster movie, no less, adds insult to a long list of injury. Hollywood (and mainstream media on a whole) has such a long history of whitewashing stories, shoehorning male protagonists into plots, and downplaying or caricaturing the parts oppressed people play in order to make them “sell”.

Imho, anyone who doesn’t want to see a movie because there’s not enough white male characters needs to go ahead and leave themselves in 2015. (Or, preferably, 1915)
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14. 50 Shades of Grey

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So, maybe the 50 Shades phenomenon encouraged loads of people to try out new things in the bedroom/kitchen/office/dungeon; and gone some way towards removing the culture of taboo around BDSM relationships. But at what cost?

Twisting an abusive relationship into the mould of erotic fiction, without addressing the abuse directly does a real disservice to the BDSM community, while also just being a really shitty way to romanticise and rehash the notion of silly women needing an overbearing, controlling, and emotionally manipulative partner.

Nope. This is the Campaign for Putting Leaflets About BDSM Resources and Crisis Centres in Copies of 50SOG.

15. Man Buns

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I don’t have anything against anyone’s hairdo ever. It’s the name: “man bun”. 2015’s answer to guyliner, man bag, man cave, man chair (etc etc). There’s literally no reason to prefix a noun with “man” just because a man is using it. They’re not that special.

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How To Compliment People Without Catcalling – A Five-Step Guidebook

How To Compliment People Without Catcalling – A Five-Step Guidebook

[Originally published on venusfems.com]

Maybe it’s the summer sun, or maybe it’s just that I’ve had a busy month and have been out-and-about a lot more than usual, but either way there’s been a lot of catcalling recently. It’s really annoying. And my least favourite response to complaints about catcalling is…”but it’s a compliment”. This is ridiculous for so, so many reasons. In response, I’ve made this handy little guide to genuine compliments – boys, feel free to print a copy to carry with you for those confusing moments when you see attractive strangers; and women, if you’re feeling generous, why not distribute it to those tortured souls.

1.  If you’re speaking above your normal, conversation-level you’re catcalling.

Yup, there are two base words that make the compound word “catcalling” – and one of them is “calling” (I’ll cover the other base word in step five to build suspense). When you shout, or suddenly speak loudly near someone who isn’t expecting it, you’ll startle them. I know this is difficult to understand for some men out there, so bear with me.

Just imagine you need to ask someone for the time. Do you yell across the street “OI! GOT THE TIME, LOVE!?” No. You’re a nice human being, right? You politely ask someone near you and start the conversation with an “excuse me” and end with a “thank you”.

Congratulations! You’ve completed step one!

2. Don’t interrupt people. It’s always rude.

This is where things start getting a bit trickier. Interrupting is where you butt in, uninvited or unannounced into someone else’s space. You can interrupt by starting to talk in a conversation while another’s already speaking, but this is just the basics. Someone could be busy in other ways; like reading something, or trying to carry a lot of things; or even just daydreaming. Get used to spotting people doing these things in your everyday life, so you’re prepared.

Let’s go back to our trusty asking-for-the-time analogy. If someone seems deeply engrossed in their book, or maybe they’re having a really intense-looking conversation (with another person there, or on the phone) you should ask someone else to give you the time. It’s only polite.

Top tip: If you’re struggling with this one, try practicing on your friends and family.

3. Remember: You’re not entitled to anyone’s time.

Steps three and four are a little different from the other three. To give you a break from all the practical advice, these are some more theoretical methods to get your compliment across. Step three ties in with step two – so if you’ve already mastered that one give yourself a pat on the back, you’re half way there! Essentially, this just means that if someone doesn’t want to talk to you (i.e. to give you the time) they don’t have to. Wow – simple right!

I bet that was too easy for you, guys. So, let’s think about it in terms of compliments again. If someone doesn’t want to respond to it, or make it into a conversation – that’s fine. It’s human and natural. Obviously, men are nothing if not their egos, so this may take some time to grasp. But practice makes perfect!

4. Be aware of women’s safety concerns.

This one can be tricky. I won’t exhaust you with all the details (you’re working hard at this, champ!) so here’s the basics: women have a lot of things to worry about in this world. Think way back to step one, when you were still yelling at people – it’s things like that. So, try really really hard to not do things like: approach women at night, be in their personal space, or try to compliment them as a group. That would be really great.

There are some subtle methods women can use to let you know they feel safe around you, so be sure watch out for these before trying out any compliments. These signals include: talking to you, offering to shake your hand, and actively trying to meet you. Keep your eyes peeled!

5. Use your words.

Phew – take a break – it’s been a long journey, and to make the final step even easier I’ve broken it down for you!

i.   Don’t whistle or make mouth noises that aren’t words.

Drum roll please…the second base word in “catcalling” is “cat”! Who guessed it? If you’re making any noise that you’d make to summon a pet to try to compliment a person – you’re catcalling! This can be easily avoided by simply using some words to express yourself (remember to still follow steps one to four while doing this!) It’s not a compliment if it’s not words.

ii.  Don’t use pet names. It’s super creepy.

Look! This links back to the “cat” word too! Pet names are only ever okay for pets and people you’re close to. If you don’t think using pet names for strangers is creepy, next time a new lad joins your group, why not start as you mean to continue and just call him “love/babe/sweetie”? Take your pick!

iii.  Don’t focus on your own ideas of attractiveness.

If you’re trying to start up a conversation with an attractive stranger by complimenting them try going with something thoughtful (this can be tricky for some!) Things like “that colour really suits you”, “I just really like your style”, or “you have a fantastic smile”. Things like “nice ass/tits/booty/etc.” are a definite no-no! You’ll be right back to catcalling. And be sure to keep everything else you’ve learned in this guide in mind when attempting this final step.

Congratulations! You made it! Now you understand how to compliment people, you could be ready to act as a productive male member of society!

I tried calling someone out for the “What about your parents?” question and now I’m really angry

Any person of colour living in a place where white is the dominant skin colour is probably done as hell with the “but where are your parents/grandparents/ancestors from?” question (I’ll refer to it as WARF = Where Are you Really From). I know I am. And it’s been pissing me off for as long as I can remember.

Usually, when someone asks the dreaded WARF question I either pretend I don’t understand the question (before giving in and offering some vague explanation of my skin); or *sniffs and rubs eyes* “I never knew my parents…” is the best someone will get out of me; or pick a really white country for my parents to come from. I usually reserve the latter two for when I’m alone or abroad, with no consequences to think of.

But today, I thought I’d try something a bit new. Maybe it’s that The Man in question and myself had managed to hold up a pretty interesting impromptu discussion about religion and spirituality, or maybe I’ve magically become some super confident magical being who will soon actually become Nicki Minaj ~who knows~ Either way, this is how it went down:

Him: So, where are you from?
Me: Oh I’m from Brighton originally but I live in Edinburgh now.
H: But what about your parents? Grandparents? Ancestors?
M: I just…I’m from Brighton.
H: But your parents? I mean you’re obviously not…
M:… Okay, I’m actually going to let you know, that’s a pretty rude question to ask.
H: How is it rude? I wouldn’t mind it.
M: But you’re white.
H: I’m not racist! You’ve obviously had some kind of bad experience with someone. You shouldn’t tar everyone with the same brush.
M: I didn’t call you racist. I’m just trying to explain-
H: It’s not my fault that you’ve had some bad experiences. I’m not rude.
M: I didn’t say you were rude, just that the question was.
H: Same thing. *exit stage left*

So it didn’t go down how I planned. And as someone who really really doesn’t like direct confrontation (ever, at all, please) it was actually pretty upsetting, especially as it was so sudden. We’d managed to discuss our different views on god (and the powers of trees) without getting angry , so I genuinely thought there’d be room for discussion here too. Obviously not.

Insistent WARF-askers are really sending out some pretty crappy messages about themselves to POC which are only amplified if they refuse to be called out with grace:

1. “I am entitled to your body.”
This is white people, believing that my body and the stories that make up “me” are public property. Long story short: stop asking personal questions to people who haven’t invited them.

2. “I don’t trust you.”
When someone tells you they’re from somewhere, that’s where they’re from. Skin colour, accent, and mannerisms aside “I’m from…” is not a debatable issue. Think of it like this: your favorite food can always be pizza – even if you’re not Italian. And if someone said “you like pizza!? Is that because your parents are Italian?” you’d think they were pretty stupid. Right?

3. “My ideas > your lived experiences.”
This one’s pretty common in most forms of privilege. In this context, this is you saying that as a white person you’re idea of offense is more important than me telling you than my feeling of offense. And in this case, I’m offended by something pretty personal – a stranger telling me that I don’t look like I belong, that I need to explain my presence as a POC. It’s not a nice feeling, but to then be told I’m wrong about this, just makes it all the worse.

Let me be clear, the WARF-question comes in many forms: “but you don’t look gay/disabled/like a (wo)man” etc. You get the picture.

It’s a nasty expression of privilege and people need to stop.

Maia Reviews: The Smooth Faced Gents’ Othello

Maia Reviews: The Smooth Faced Gents’ Othello

#FeministFest

The Smooth Faced Gents’ production of Othello breathes life into Shakespeare’s tragedy. With the aid of only a few simple but intelligent props, each actress portrays their parts with polished ease. The minimalism of the set only adds to the characters’ tension. It isn’t a wholly perfect show – beginning a little awkwardly and with some over-acting and oddly segmented sentences. But this settled down quickly, and the Shakespearean language felt natural and clear.

In many ways, having an all-female cast gave a different reading to Othello’s tale of love and betrayal. Without emphasising the fact that the players were all women (the original pronouns are kept), having women expressing traditionally masculine sentiments, such as the jealousy of a spurned suitor, made the words far more poignant and somewhat eerie.

One flaw with this play is its method of marking male characters from female. The actors portraying the story’s women…

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Maia Reviews: Jewish Cockney Caribbean Female

Maia Reviews: Jewish Cockney Caribbean Female

My first review with #FeministFest at the Edinburgh Festivals!

#FeministFest

Michelle DeSwarte is cool. I mean really we-should-hang-out-sometime cool. Her set was a lot like a tipsy night in with girlfriends, laughing through every ex-lover and wild night out you’ve ever had, with every crude detail intact. She was relaxed and bold on stage, involving the audience in the discussion she was trying to create – this together with the intimate venue made the gig feel really chatty.

But unfortunately, this is where it all falls apart. DeSwarte is, by her own admission, “winging it” and it shows. Her delivery was distracted. She paused regularly to check the door and welcome every late-comer; finding them seats and updating each party on what they’d missed, making the first quarter incredibly repetitive and jumbled. Some of the material also crossed the fine line between jovially poking fun at sexism, racism, or classism, and actually partaking in that oppression.

From an opening joke…

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#FeministFest Writers’ Workshop

I’ve got a really exciting month lined up for myself at the Edinburgh Fringe, and topping the bill is (…drum roll please) blogging for the wonderful women at Feminist Festival! YAY! Okay, let me bring you into the loop: it’s a pilot online magazine of reviews and think pieces about shows and life in Edinburgh during August. Set up by these cool folk so a diverse group of women* can get on their soap box and rave, (or rant,) about a diverse group of female performers highlighting feminist issues.

Yesterday, we had a mammoth meeting to properly introduce ourselves, get some pro blogging/reviewing tips, eat food, and watch a pretty awesome preview of Emma Bentley’s new show. Honestly, when I got the e-mail asking me to attend a five-hour workshop I wasn’t enthused. Like anyone whose ever done almost anything I’ve had to sit through my fair share of bone crushingly awful inductions; but the #FeministFest organisers had lined up a real treat.

Somehow, they managed to come up with ice breakers that were a welcome break from the usual, anxiety inducing games that are the domain of group interviews and the seventh circle of hell. If anything, the first ninety-odd minutes of socialising made me feel excited to get stuck in. It was a genuinely inspiring space to be in; around like-minded women from all sorts of different walks of life (and at various stages on those walks). It was confidence-building and compelling, especially to a young, impressionable feminist such as I, to get to meet and spend time with all these marvelous ladies. The afternoon just flew by!

Educate Yo’ Self: Responsiblity and Debate

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This summer BBC Three are running a brilliant documentary series on disability: Defying The Label (GO!) I’ve not had much personal experience in the way of disability, so learning more about the lives of people with various forms of disability has been really eye-opening. I’m a strong believer that it’s incredibly important to actively seek out knowledge in order to educate yourself, especially in areas concerning human lives and ways of living that are different to our own.

It’s a common microaggression oppressed people suffer; being expected to explain to (more privileged) others exactly how their lives are effected by and the problems surrounding ableism, transphobia, sexism etc. Not only can this get to be really taxing on any individual, but it’s actually pretty hard to effectively explain such complex issues in conversation settings.

Just imagine that your friend is asking you for restaurant recommendations. Despite enjoying eating out, you’re not much of a foodie. As it happens, the other day you went to the best curry house in the known universe, so you rave on about their infinite greatness to your friend. She doesn’t quite get it. She tries to get you to explain: What do you mean ‘nice atmosphere’? How can their spices smell sharp? Why would you presume I wanted fast service? As you’re not really a foodie, you’re not equipped with the right vocabulary or inclination to properly answer these questions, so the conversation comes to an end.

Something like this is frustrating for both parties involved (you don’t communicate the information you wanted to, and your friend doesn’t get the information she wanted). But it also shows massive disrespect towards the explainer’s experience. In any situation similar to the one above, recommending books, films, holiday destinations etc. we don’t expect a full interrogation requiring us to justify our experiences. It’s alien that in the case of oppression this is normalised.

To be sure, the best way to learn about different types of oppression is from the oppressed people themselves, but this has to be based on consent. There are an awful lot wonderful people (like those on the BBC Three documentaries) who have chosen to spend their time communicating their experiences of oppression. So, the information needed to educate yourself on such issues is widely available online. I doubt my google is faster than yours.

Debate is super important to developing and extending our ideas about the world, but we have a mutual responsibility to come to the table educated and prepared. It’s normal to expect to unpack some terms and positions when in discussion. However, it’s pure laziness (and cowardice) for people to refuse to research this, while still expecting to be taken seriously in debate. It’s an exercise and extension of privilege.