Category Archives: Politics


Last summer, shortly after graduating with a degree in English, I was mocked for devoting three years to studying this subject. The person who smirked at my choice of study was an academic himself – a professor of genetics. He had scoffed:

“Pfft. Story-telling is all well and good, but, I mean… really?”

My reply at the time was a combined splutter of bemusement and bits of sandwich, topped off with a pained, high-pitched yelp (probably an expression of the growing, post-graduate job market related fear that was enveloping many of my friends and I).

I would like to respond a bit more coherently now.

It was not the first time I had felt the need to ‘defend’ my degree. Judging by the surprisingly not so unusual ‘What are you going to do with that then?’  type remarks, anyone would have thought I had carelessly got myself into debt for studying something as frivolous as tiddlywinks. And last week, education secretary Nicky Morgan actively discouraged teenagers from studying arts and humanities subjects, by suggesting that this choice could ‘hold them back’ forever.

Largely thanks to Morgan’s government tripling university tuition fees, it is no wonder that we have been forced into debating the ‘value’ of studying subjects such as literature, history and philosophy at degree level. The arts and humanities sit uncomfortably on a shelf in the higher education supermarket, awkwardly trying to distract attention away from their hefty price tag that is so at odds with what they represent. As Dead Beats Literary Blog put it:

The substance of a thing’s ‘value’ lies within the context in which the object of concern is assessed. The value of Arts and the Humanities has been assessed under economic and pragmatic terms which are distinct from, and incompatible with, the formative and experiential benefits that are inherent to the subject field.

It seems nonsensical to view the study of literature in terms of monetary value. Back in 2012, the University of Sheffield held an event entitled Against Value in the Arts and Humanities in which the following argument was made:

… the task of the arts and humanities, both in their creative and educative aspects, is to contest, to challenge, to question, to undermine, to satirise, to offend, to violate, to deconstruct, to degenerate, to critique, to undo, or to suspend dominant and dominating assumptions of value. The purpose of the arts and humanities, the purpose of the university, is to think against value.

It is no surprise then, that Morgan and the rest of the political elite want to discourage this kind of deconstructive thinking. One of my lecturers once described feminism (which incidentally, I would not have understood so well had I not taken an arts and humanities degree) as ‘never blindly accepting the prevailing terms for anything.’  Another defined literature as a deeply political subject – but one that is far more exciting that studying politics – because it allows one to engage with notions of authorship and ownership, and to critically question pillars of tradition and power. The existence of the literary canon, for example, is a reminder that ‘value’ is not innate but is instead constructed.

I could attempt to begin listing the ways that studying literature aids personal development: encouraging moral and political agency, and improving transferable skills in ways of thinking rigorously and analytically. But perhaps the most essential and beneficial life skill that is enhanced by reading literary fiction is the ability to empathise. Science, thankfully, has confirmed this, and Morgan and the rest of the cabinet would do well to take note, preferably before they introduce rash policies such as the book ban on prisoners, or make sweeping statements claiming that only the STEM subjects are ‘useful’, and thus disregarding all other subjects as unimportant.

Granted, Morgan’s definition of ‘useful’ is probably quite different to mine. I would say that nurturing the empathic potential in young people through the study of arts and humanities, and through encouraging reading more generally, is more than ‘useful’  – it is vital. I would agree with Roman Krznaric – writer, cultural thinker and founder of the Empathy Library, who views empathy not as a ‘fluffy’ concept, but as a radical force for social change, creativity and innovation. The act of stepping inside someone else’s head and beginning to understand how their experiences and circumstances inform their perspective – this is made possible by art, film and literature in particular. This imaginative leap nurtures an interest in others, helps to break down assumptions and harmful stereotypes, and can even be a first step towards taking positive action. Turns out Krusty the Clown’s slogan for his literacy campaign, ‘Give a hoot, read a book!’ ain’t as silly as it sounds.

Aside from Morgan’s suggestion that arts and humanities subjects no longer have any ‘use’ based on her own limited, economic-driven terms being complete nonsense – the UK’s creative industries are now worth £71.4 billion per year to our economy – by encouraging students to write off arts subjects at the age of 15 so as not to limit their career prospects, she reinforces an old inequality: that the arts are only available to the wealthy. If you’re concerned about getting a job, better not risk getting into all that debt for a degree that might not guarantee you a stable career or high income. Rather than breaking down barriers that prevent young people from disadvantaged backgrounds accessing careers in the arts, such as crippling student debt or unpaid internships, the education secretary would rather they just didn’t bother trying in the first place. It is for this reason that we desperately need charities like Arts Emergency, an organisation that recognises the importance of equal social access to the arts, and the crucial benefits that the arts and humanities bring to society.

Particularly now, it is essential that empathy, moral agency and experimental thought are encouraged through a good arts education, rather than schools and universities producing depoliticised students, and what the writer Henry A Giroux calls a “technically trained docility”. Giroux has spoken out about the relationship between the context of neoliberalism and a perceived breakdown in forms of social obligation. Within the neoliberal project, capital rules, and ‘compassion and concern for others are viewed as a weakness.’  Recent growing support for UKIP and the rise of extremist parties elsewhere in Europe amidst austerity can be interpreted as a form of collective empathic collapse. Our media continues to tar people with unfair labels, stirring up prejudice within communities.

The arts and humanities promote a just society. Nicky Morgan needs to realise this, and prove that she does give a hoot.


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Do you Love Yourself Enough? By Olivia Atkins

Valentine’s Day is typically a celebration of love. What better way to celebrate this national holiday than to attend an event that stresses the importance of loving yourself?

London’s One Billion Rising did just that. On Friday afternoon at London’s iconic Trafalgar Square, a stage was set up ready to host an array of inspirational speakers and powerful musicians.

Lynne Franks, coordinator of the London event, introduced herself and unveiled the day’s programme, adding that the event was “owned by no one and directed by everyone”. A crowd quickly gathered around the stage, keen to participate and listen to the empowering words being spoken.


Following on from the introduction, Leyla Hussein took to the microphone. Ms Hussein is a psychotherapist and a self-professed survivor of female genital mutilation (FGM). She used her personal and professional experiences to talk with the crowd. She claims that 66,000 British women have undergone FGM and that over 20,000 girls are currently at risk of being sent abroad for circumcision. Ms Hussein was born into a family where FGM was important and considered culturally significant. She too underwent the surgery but instead refuses to be acknowledged as a victim. She speaks on behalf of those who cannot or will not speak out, and for those who are ashamed of what has happened to their bodies. Ms Hussein now recognises the importance of education and works on campaigns to protect the female body. Although she did not originally think of the operation as violent, as it was accepted and encouraged within the family, now she realises it was child abuse. Responding to Ms Franks’ opening question asking participants why they were here, Ms Hussein says:

“I’m rising today for my grandmother who was married off at twelve; I’m rising for my mother, for myself, for my children and for my future grandchildren.”

Whitney Iles, aged only 26, was applauded onto the stage where she introduced herself and her job with Project 507. The project aims to dispel violence amongst youngsters aged between 8-18 by creating workshops and challenging the way they relate to one another through education. From her experience, she had encountered women as second class citizens. For, even if women are not subjected to physical violence, they can fall victim to self-judgement, psychological violence and social stereotypes, which contribute to damaging self-esteem. Ms Iles admitted: “we don’t see ourselves how we deserve to be seen” and urged the audience to improve their personal outlook. She demanded the audience to chant that they would not accept mistreatment of women any longer, and shout: “I will not be anything less than Brilliant!” Ms Iles asked the audience to look past their imperfections and to love themselves…arguing: “After all it is Valentine’s Day”.

She said, “I will rise for love because when we love ourselves we love each other” and “we become an unstoppable force.”

Wannabe Girl-band SHE17 consisted of TV personality June Sarpong, Baroness Patricia Scotland and local MP Stella Creasy. As a trio, they spoke about the importance of ending violence against women in society. They claimed that cooperative responsibility can eliminate violence, particularly in domestic violence cases where victims often seek an ally to support their decision. The audience was encouraged to do the thing they were most scared of, despite the difficulties that come with questioning patriarchy. She rallied that only through determination can gender-equality become a possibility. Ms Creasy said:  “Speak out and dance, regardless of the possibility that you might sink.”

Next up, Jude Kelly walked onto the stage and introduced herself as the artistic director of Southbank’s Women Of the World Festival (WOW). Since starting 4 years ago, she has acted as a pioneer for advocating feminism, believing that the only way to succeed is through re-educating the younger generation. WOW festival is a collection of workshops and talks spanning the International Women’s Day weekend in March, where people come together and exchange ideas about what feminism means. Ms Kelly claims that no society has achieved complete equality as of yet, but this should remain a goal to strive towards. She encourages men to become feminists too, reminding the audience that this is true equality and the reason for her rising: “Lets rise as women and men, and come together as humans.”

Human Rights Journalist and BBC Special Correspondent Sue Lloyd Roberts stressed the importance of bringing media attention to gender-related issues. She believes this would increase public awareness and improve female mistreatment through education. She claims often “we women are” treated as “another minority, when actually we make up 51% of the world population.” Ms Lloyd Roberts encouraged a greater demand for female coverage in the media, saying that if there is an interest, it would be possible to “get violence against women on the top of the news agenda” and talked about more openly.

Rahela Siddiqi, a human rights activist in Afghanistan spoke about her time working with incarcerated female asylum seekers. She claims that despite their sentencing, offenders are often not treated with the respect and dignity they deserve. Instead, women that have faced trauma in their home countries and sought asylum abroad are met with further problems. Ms Sidiqi said that they can be offered indefinite detention, half of all victims are subjected to rape and two thirds face prosecution. Furthermore, they can be detained during any stage of their prosecution process, and are often exploited as they lack legal assistance. Female asylum seekers are rarely given time or sensitivity towards their cases. Ms Sidiqi urged the audience to rise up for female solidarity in Afghanistan.

The last speaker of the day was Marrissa, who spontaneously spoke out about domestic workers. Although she was not scheduled in the programme, she spoke about exploitative employers, who submit their workers to atrocious conditions. Her friend Lanee read out a poem which challenged the rights of undocumented workers. She attended the event to rise against ongoing slavery in the UK workforce.

Ms Franks returned to the microphone and introduced the bands Skin and Black Voices who collaborated and provided a soulful backdrop for the audience to dance to. Despite the rainy weather, there was a lot of people smiling and beginning to love themselves!

One Billion Rising Official Website

Leyla Husein advocating an end to FGM

Whitney Iles & Project 507

Jude Kelly’s Women Of the World Festival


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Il Corpo delle Donne- ‘Women’s Bodies’ but where are women’s voices? By Joanna Brown

The representation of women in Italian television has been widely discussed over the past thirty years; notably as part of the larger debate over women’s position within the media. The controversial power division within the Italian media, especially TV channels, forms the backdrop to the recent light shed on this subject.  Lorella Zanardo’s 2009 documentary “Il Corpo delle Donne” is said to confront the representation of women in the Italian media.  Zanardo stated that her motivation behind the project was to educate and change the younger generation.  To offer a different insight into perceiving women beyond the television screen.  However, could it be that as much as Zanardo’s documentary is true and eye-opening, it lacks room for exceptions and tends to generalize and make martyrs of women who may be very conscious, of what they are doing and actually enjoy their position and role within the media?

In Italy,  women’s presence in TV and how they are represented creates a great diversity of opinions. Sergio Rodrigez, group creative director at the advertising agency Leo Burnett Italy, referring to the excessive presence of women in advertisements, confirms that “in Italy when you don’t have to use women, you use women.”

Women have a tendency to be placed at the centre of media discourses. Yet, the representation of women has historically been noted as contradictory and double-standardised, emulated through virgin/whore binaries. Where have these perceptions stemmed from and why have they come about?  How have these factors influenced today’s representation of women and does Zanardo’s documentary take these into account whilst criticising Italian TV?

Through her documentary, Zanardo creates a montage of various Italian TV programmes which she analyses and critiques with the help of her own voice-over. One of the main issues that comes through her documentary are the talentless women who are used in television as decoration, simply to accompany men. By showing scenes of women sat at the feet of a table, and splashing around under a shower in a white dress, Zanardo wishes to highlight the objectification of women in such programmes.  It is essential to break this trend and re-educate the population through TV.

Another imposing issue which emerges from the documentary is the increase in plastic surgery which she claims replaces real women by masks.  Zanardo focuses on the need to constantly look younger, calling it a humiliation only imposed on women, not men.  A further concern of Zanardo’s which stimulated once more her wanting to create the project was the absence, if not the pollution, of female role models for younger women.

Zanardo stresses the impact of these images may have on girls who may “aspire to the role as a way to get rich quickly.” In reality, this fear of lack of role models can be reflected beyond the television screen. In an interview with Adrian Michaels (2007), 19-year-old student Caterina Preti compares young girls in Italy who “link beauty with success” and “still have the example of their mothers who don’t work” with their counterparts in the UK who are “much more determined, they are career-minded.” The idea of linking success with beauty which she very much disagrees with is at the centre of Zanardo’s argument.

As much as Zanardo’s documentary was a necessary cry for attention and has served many purposes, I wish to argue that it is insufficient in presenting the situation of women in TV in Italy, rather generalised and in somewhat one sided and suffering from ‘tunnel vision’. Zanardo passes over essential representations present in Italian TV and seems to ignore the fact that the roles women tend to be placed in may be a consequence of deeper meaning rooted within their culture. Furthermore, it could even be suggested that these women may enjoy their positions and representations, embracing their identity through their physical appearance and attributes.

Luciana Litizetto is a famous Italian comedian who does not fit into the categories of women Zanardo denounces. Her latest monologue at the San Remo Festival (14th February 2013) saw her giving an alternative vision into Italian women’s media discourse rather than objectified women under glass tables. Litizetto’s monologo sull’amore proclaimed her support for homosexual rights (SR 06’01), sarcastically listed reasons why women love men (SR 02’40) (thus confirming her position as a female comedienne), and demanded respect for all women (SR 06’45) as an act of support against violence against women: “un uomo che ci mena, non ci ama” (SR 07’22). Litizetto represents a free-spirited woman who is not afraid to publicly speak her mind “un uomo che ti picchia è uno stronzo” (SR 08’17). At the end of her speech, in which she is informally seated on the stage, Litizetto, wrinkles and all, stands up and joins a group of women who start dancing as part of a flashmob “contro la violenza contro le donne” (SR 08’30). In contrast to other comparable instances, for example in L’Eredità where women interrupt the show to dance around wearing barely any clothes, these women are dressed and are dancing for a cause.

In addition, some women enjoy their position of femininity. The patriarchal sexist media hierarchy that Zanardo depicts in her documentary, is not as one sided as she suggests. Zanardo seems to make a generalisation about how women are represented. Danielle Hipkins claims that “the argument that these young women do not know their own minds and need re-education is more than redolent of paternalistic, puritanical attitudes towards female sexuality”  Furthemore, the writer Lazar has explored and defined this phenomena as “’power femininity’” in which self-objectification is not an indicator of the power of cultural expectations about how women should look, but in fact a strategy of “empowerment.” In fact, Zanardo’s portrayal of women in TV, conforming to such aesthetical standards, could be seen as an attack.

Continuing with the causes of such representation, Adrian Michaels explores deeper cultural effects which may influence women’s positions within society. In his  2007 article, Michaels calls up upon many different powerful women’s opinions, notably Laura Frati Gucci, head of Aidda the Italian association of top women managers and entrepreneurs, “Women in Italy are held back not by chauvinism but by rules and customs that inhabit their participation in work.”” Gucci explains how mothers complain about the lack of nurseries. Mario Draghi, the governor of the bank of Italy, confirms that “better designed policies to support families would have raising female employment rates. ” Michaels even demonstrates how “one female criminal lawyer (who prefers not to be named) argues that the lack of recognition of a modern woman’s needs is even visible in hospital obstetrics units.” This same anonymous lawyer estimates “that 10 per cent of women in her profession dress sexily because it is a weapon and because they like it.” Graziella Parati, head of comparative literature at Dartmouth College, claims that “television is still in the hands of men” but also that “women have bought into male paradigms of what femininity is, so they pay particular attention to their appearance; but they have also grown up in a country full of art and beauty and their attention to aesthetics in general can come from that.” From the wide range of opinions expressed by these women, we can see that women’s position in society is ambiguously controlled by social structures and services. In this respect, it could be suggested that before TV representation can be changed, more structural work needs to be done in order to better encourage women to `fight back’.

It is indisputable that Zanardo’s work has been essential in drawing Italian media discourse to the attention of its viewers regarding women’s role and representation. However, Zanardo, lacking crucial feminist critical knowledge and neglecting other sociological aspects of Italian culture, generalises the effects and the causes of such images of Italy’s population.

Women do have a choice, and if they do not voice their discontent it is not a simple question of whether or not they are willing to do so.

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Old masters and old mistresses: the BBC’S ‘Great Artists in Their Own Words- The Future is Now’ by Ruth-Eloise Lewis

The HIS-tory of art, as a discipline, adheres to a strict theoretical canon based on a process of constant innovation, progress and avant-garde advancement. Movement follows movement, -isms spiral into –isms. As time unfolds, so does the reduction of the canvas- style is unpicked, colour is unleashed, linear perspective and historical narrative deconstructed and transformed into an explosion of subjectivity that peaks with the onset of modernity.

This canon thrives on the romantic notion of genius as a singular individual overwhelmed with radical raw talent. This individual is often posed as depressed or neglected, misunderstood in their own time frame, only to be rediscovered after their death. Excavated like a golden nugget. But this concept of genius is not neutral. Genius follows a pattern in the history of art- white, heterosexual and masculine. Tick these three attributes off your list and you’ve got yourself a modern master. This is the history of art we’ve all been taught at school: Manet led to Cezanne who led to Picasso who led to Matisse who let to … you get the point.

The BBC often has interesting art historical programmes based (loosely) outside the parameters of this model, like Andrew Graham-Dixon’s focus on the art of Russia, that new preppy young chap (James Fox, I think his name is? I typed ‘preppy young art historian’ into Google but I realized this made me sound about 100 years old and did not surface any answers) who looked at the history of art thematically in three colours. That was interesting. Not radical, but interesting enough as a one-time formula. However, on Iplayer this week the Beeb have a brand spanking new art program called ‘Great Artists in Their Own Words- The Future is Now’ (1907-1939.) The program “unlocks” the BBC archives in order to “tell the story of the birth of modern art, in the words of the artists who created a cultural revolution” which all sounds very impressive and dramatic, so I thought I’d give it a whirl.

The notion of documentation and archiving is interesting just in itself. When you look at documentation in the light of say, 1970s feminist performance art, it becomes clear how dominant myths of modernism are perpetuated in the acts of interviewing or recording. The 1970s performance works were not well documented, and they were not supposed to be. This is because the emphasis was placed upon the ephemeral and transitive experience of the performance, as something that took place in front of an audience and then disappeared. Photographs or videos would always stand in place as a substitute for the corporeal act, becoming a tangible object that could be placed within the art institutional system of production, consumption and capital. The downside of this is that feminist artworks often remain unexplored underground, their complex meanings never to be debated within mainstream discourse. Interviewing is based on a decision; somebody has actively decided that the artist has something to say that needs to be recorded and validated. They often do. But, what about the artistic voices that were not always given (or refused) a platform for discussion? What does the history of art omit in its inclusion?

So, this program was set in the hub of late 1920s/early 30s Paris and started with a charming biography of Picasso, the man who “set the standard of what it was to be an artist” due to the fact he “shattered conventions” through the creation of cubism in a “fever of creativity” (get ready for a lot of speech marks.) Rivalry! Picasso was supposedly jealous of another artist named Matisse, who also possessed “dazzling gifts” and a “revolutionary vision.” Then along came Duchamp, who was equally as transgressive, who “completely changed human art expression” through one “simple gesture” of the ready-made. Just like that, startling really. This one man bought about a revolution! He “swept away” old art and replaced it immediately with “his idea that anyone could be an artist.” So along came Max Ernst, the lonely solider fighting on the front of WW1, he offered a “startling new direction” to the mix “like nothing anyone had seen before” which “lay the foundation for Surrealism” and “unlocked a new visual world.” Jump to photography and to Man Ray, his innovations and “incredible versatility dazzled his contemporaries.” What’s this? Leonora Carington, A WOMAN!? Have you never heard of her? That OK though because she’s a weird anomaly  “strong enough” to mix with masculine Surrealist circles. She also had a personal love affair with Max Ernst, of a sexual nature- ooh la la. Oh, and she’s also apparently a witch as it was said she “didn’t paint her pictures but brewed them up in a cauldron at night.” Nice. Then Magritte. Usurped by Dali, who eventually sold out and did loads of bizarre Alka Seltzer adverts. The end.

Apart from brief mentions of the world wars, this documentary completed omitted any references to the social, cultural or political circumstances of that time period. It relied solely on biography and personal antidotes. There was no mention of scientific discoveries, the urbanization of new modern spaces of leisure and entertainment or the rapid development of industries and production based upon capitalism. No discussion of the circulation of new forms of accessible media such as magazines and newspapers, the fact that women gained the right to vote in 1928, no mention of Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf, Claude Cahun, Hannah Hoch, Remedio Varo, Frida Kahlo, Meret Oppenheim, Louise Brooks, Josephine Baker or Dorothea Tanning. Not even a hint at the emerging deconstructions of binaries of sexuality and gender or the discussion of lesbian identities in Radyclyffe Hall’s novel The Well of Loneliness. No psychoanalysis, which actively began questioning the formation of the self in symbolic structures of language and the murky realm of the unconscious. I get that the program is supposed to be a brief introduction, a quick summary of the Western art of this period, and so maybe there simply wasn’t enough time to critically converse with those issues. But, then again, I don’t really buy that. The discussion of the work itself, the actual art, was so minimal. The paintings appeared on the screen for a few seconds, and then disappeared without any real analysis or interrogation.

The amount of hyperbole used was excessive, and quite frankly, ridiculous. Not to mention boring. Art history, when studied as a practice invested in the meaning of works placed within a sociological, cultural and political framework, can be so rich and complex on both philosophical and psychological levels. Biography after biography like some kind of gossip-y  Chinese whispers is embarrassing, and it’s why art history often has a bad name. It does a disservice to the artists mentioned, reducing their work to two-dimensional conceptions of revolution and change, propping them up as some other-worldly god-like masters with innovative powers beyond the realms of human understanding. But, even more so, it falls back upon the same-old canon of artistic progression; completely negating and undermining the deconstructive practices of so many incredible feminist, post-structuralist and post-modernist thinkers.  Art history is better than that, you’ll just have to believe me.

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Many of you may think that I am wishing you a happy Valentine’s Day and I do wish that you all have a great day with your loved ones whether single or attached. However, today I am thinking of the other V day. Today is the day of ‘One Billion Rising’.
Violence against women is not something that occurs in one country. It is a worldwide epidemic. We are living in a time when a woman is raped and beaten to death in India, where she is put on trial herself rather than her rapist. A time in which the police insinuate that it is a woman’s fault if she has been sexually harassed and where in the UK alone an average of 2 women a week are killed by a current or former male partner. And new statistics keep emerging; one suggesting that 1 in 3 women will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. This is almost a hundred years after women gained the vote in the UK, an act that reinforced the fact that we are equal citizens. These acts of violence suggest otherwise.

The fact that this seems to be a peripheral issue, as my new favourite hero Rosario Dawson put it, is horrific given that we are in 2013. So, this is why I believe that V day may be my new favourite holiday. Personally, I view it as a chance to show strength and solidarity without shouting and without violence but through an activity I get a lot of joy from. As I dance around my room to my favourite songs I count every one of my blessings that I have not truly suffered at the hands of a man, that I have managed to get out of situations that were potentially harmful to me, and for the fact that I feel like a happy and confident woman. Not every woman is as lucky as me and I hope that this day is a chance for all of us to show our irrepressible strength through something as simple as dancing and to remind us (both genders) that as human beings we should be treating each other with kindness and respect. I don’t believe that this is too much to ask and I also don’t think that this should be an annual occasion; but an everyday one. So, whilst I happily eat my Chinese food and watch a Whitney Houston film tonight I will be thinking up some new dance moves for my every day tribute to ‘One Billion Rising.’ Rise with me. It’s about time.

By Susie Taylor; currently boogying on down in her living room to India Arie:

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ONE BILLION RISING. Rape culture has got to stop by Ruth-Eloise Lewis

Sometimes it’s easy to live in a bubble. You wake up, you get on with your day and the cycle spurs and spurns you on. I find that as every twenty-four hours pass by, the bubble sucks you in and keeps you contained.
Not long ago, six men held a 23-year-old woman and her male friend in a bus for hours in Dehli. They assaulted her so brutally that her intestines were removed as they tortured her with a rusty metal rod. After several surgeries to attempt to repair her insides, she sadly died. Sometimes it’s easy to live in a bubble. Sometimes that bubble has to burst.
The fact is that I felt anxious writing this article. What if I didn’t get all the facts right? Who am I, as a white middle-class woman, to write about the situation in India? I’ve never been to India. My judgment is surely just founded on what has been trickled down through the Western media, perpetuated and distorted. But let’s scrap that. I’d rather be speaking than silent. That way, discussion can get circulating and anyone can correct me if I’m wrong. On a humanist level, it’s impossible to ignore what is happening in the world. And let’s take a look at some hard facts: in Delhi, of 635 rape cases reported in the first 11 months of last year, only one ended in conviction. These issues should not automatically be unimportant because they are not close to home. And yet, this flux of sexual violence is not just apparent in India; let’s think about Jimmy Saville abusing hundreds of girls under the passive nose of the BBC, let’s not forget how women in the US military are being raped by their comrades, let’s take a moment to reflect about a group of boys allegedly raping a girl in Steubenville, Ohio. So what on earth is going on?

According to the activist Eve Ensler,

“There is a rape culture – a mindset that seems to have infected every aspect of our lives: the raping of the Earth through ecological destruction by the corporate powerful, pillaging resources for their own coffers with no concern for the Earth, or the indigenous peoples, or the notion of reciprocity; the rape of the poor through exploitation, land grabs, neglect; the rape of women’s bodies through physical violence and commodification, where a girl can be purchased for less than the cost of a mobile phone. The modelling and licensing of this rape culture is done by those protected by power and privilege – presidents, celebrities, sports stars, police officers, television executives, priests – with impunity.”

However, Ensler is aiming to create a direct uprising against this epidemic. On February the 14th the global campaign One Billion Rising will speak out for the one billion women who have been beaten or raped. Across 182 countries, communities are planning to rise, dance and speak their minds; becoming a part of what the Indian activist Kamla Bhasin calls a “feminist tsunami”:

“Now is the time. 14 February. Rise in the streets, in the schools, on the buses, in your homes, in the dark alleyways, in the offices and factories and fishing boats and fields. Let our rising reveal our understanding that, until women are equal, safe and free, no society can prosper and life is diminished. Let our rising announce our commitment to make ending violence against women and girls the central concern of our times.”

Others have responded to the horrors in India in different modes, aiming to disseminate the way we think about women and the effect this has on culture. Aswini Aswini Anburajan writes at Buzzfeed that much of India still imagines that the violation she endured was one against her chastity. The old myth about rape that a face is face with a depilating and overwhelming urge to possess a woman is still present; this is a degrading stand to both men and women, posing all men as sexual predators without any emotions or control. There are many commentaries that expose India’s culture of street violence against women, a violence that instills fear into women’s daily lives. And as they walk down the street, they feel every pore of their bodies being watched, analyzed and examined. This violence is all about threat and boundaries. Women are made to feel demoralized when they cross certain boundaries that others feel should not be crossed; the traditional boundary of role as a mother and a wife, the boundary of the home which they are bound too. The street, a space of modernist capitalist culture dominated by patriarchal systems, operates as a site of masculine inclusion. When women step into this bounded space, they become a target of anger. They are out of place. An anomaly. An aggregate.

At CNN Opinion, Lauren Wolfe writes that women are rising up against this brutal street harassment other parts of the world such as Egypt and Somalia. The terror women feel in India, and indeed, in many parts of the world can no longer be tolerated. You wake up, you get on with your day and the cycle spurs and spurns you on. On February the 14th, there is the potential to do something with that day. There is the possibility to take your bubble, your privilege and your fortune and to rise up with women from all over the world. Let our rising announce our commitment to make ending violence against women and girls the central concern of our times.

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That’s what I go to school for by Jo Taylor


I start my lesson with, what appears to be, pornography: a naked girl stands provocatively, covered by a meagre sign. No, I haven’t, in a moment of self-sabotage, begun showing inappropriate images to children. What would have been seen as completely unacceptable for teachers to show ten years ago is, now, simply showing the cover of an album to a class of fifteen-year-olds. Rihanna’s ‘Rude Boy’ cover is just one of the many sexual images that confront Western children on a daily basis. This is simply (and worryingly) soft porn that they are used to – they hardly even blinked. My question to the class was, ‘what does this cover tell us about how women are viewed in Western culture?’ Here the class was flummoxed.

It has been two years since I tried to issue a detention to a twelve-year-old for singing ‘Come here rude boy, can you get it up?’ only to find it is, in fact, a lyric to a No. 1 song. Our children are singing about blow jobs and, should they wish to begin early, are able to take up pole dancing as a hobby (Tesco’s were kind enough to produce such a pole in their children’s section, 2006) whilst pushing up their (lack of) cleavage to the full using padded bras, courtesy of Primark. While such items may have now been taken off the market, there is no shortage of overtly-sexualised products in the line-up to take their place. Their removal is an after-thought based on parental complaint, rather than on any sense of moral responsibility from the corporations themselves.

Worse still are the sobering statistics on pornography. Despite David Cameron’s public claims to shield children from early sexualisation (National Action Plan, 2011: DfE), reports suggest that children in the Western world begin consuming hardcore pornography at an average age of 11, with four out of five sixteen-year-olds regularly accessing such material. Thirty per cent of internet traffic is currently pornography and children are at risk of watching it even by accident, with the increase of pop-ups that seem to side-step even strict parental controls. So-called ‘sexting,’ where students actively choose to send pornographic pictures of themselves, is also on the rise, as is the number of young people convicted of distributing child pornography as a result. That young people are being prosecuted for paedophilia is another example of how quick our government is to tackle the symptoms of an epidemic, rather than the underlying cause.

Furthermore, where ministers, such as Liz Truss, have encouraged teachers to present lessons on pornography, little is being done within schools to prepare students for the emotional, rather than merely the physical, aspects involved in sex and relationships. Focusing on relationships as a whole would be inclusive (relevant to heterosexual and homosexual students) and might actually help to tackle our worsening STD and teenage pregnancy rate. While the media teaches women to take pride in their ability to ‘take it, take it’ (Rihanna, 2010), we must surely teach young girls to love themselves. Years since women were given the right to go to university, I wonder why so many teenagers are queuing up to get ‘vajazzled’ rather than go to Oxford or why, even at Oxford, so many take part in the prestigious FHM competition (University Edition). So, whilst Nicky Minaj and Rihanna compete for who can get the closest to nudity without being pushed past the watershed, let us teach children about self-respect. Flummoxed the children may be, but that’s what I go to school for at least.

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Goodbye 2012… let’s be having you 2013

At the end of last year (yup, I can’t quite get used to saying that either!) Miss Representation made an excellent campaign video about the presentation of women in Hollywood, which you can view here:

This video shows there is still a long way to go until read equality is achieved, both in the mindset of the individual and the portrayal of women in the media.  Miss Representation achieved a lot in 2012, combining forces with the SPARK campaign in order to pressure Seventeen magazine to eradicate Photoshop images.

Also, in 2012 the media critic and creator of Feminist Frequency, Anita Sarkeesian became the target of a horrific online hate campaign. All because she dared to plan to create a video series that would explore the representation of women in video games. The online harassment she received just proves that, even in 2012, a large group of people still wanted to crush the voices of strong and intelligent women. However, here you can see Anita kick back in a dignified and inspirational way:

I have shown you these two examples as a demonstration of how WE can control the media. The Miss Representation campaign reminds us that WE CAN’T BE WHAT WE CAN’T SEE and as it’s rapidly growing and increasing, more and more women are responding to the distorted images that surround them. Anita Sarkeesian saw the dark side of the media, one that threatened her life and tore her work to shreds- yet her powerful response proves that she is not quite ready to give up yet. So then, what do we want from 2013? Firstly, the belief that feminism is not dead. We want loud and confident voices, expressing their opinions and involving themselves in discussion and debate. We have the powerful tool of the social media easily available to us, so let’s have you 2013…

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Dial A Hubby by Susie Taylor

Having been sat in a dark (cheers winter weather) room for the past one and a half weeks typing up essay plans on subject as diverse and cheery as instances of rape in India and colonial attitudes towards prostitution, I have found myself reading a lot of feminist literature. This has led to me becoming very aware of cases of sexism all around me. This is not to say that this rant is in fact solely due to reading feminist literature, many of the writers are quite happy people. However,mixing Laura Mulvey with my argumentative and sometimes aggressive nature has led me down the path of rant.

And so I present to you this abomination of a website I discovered the other day as I was waiting to enter a roundabout. I was already feeling a bit, let’s say strained, due to my car Arthur deciding that today was the day he was going to make his way slowly to his car grave, and I see a pink van coming towards me. I don’t like the colour pink. Not the point but it adds to the impending sense of annoyance that I felt. Then I saw the name of the company on the side….Dial a Hubby.

Yes, that’s right ladies there is a company devoted to all of the porn based fantasies where your husband’s unsatisfactory DIY skills lead you to be frustrated, especially if you need a light bulb changed, and in comes a hunky DIY handyman with whom “you will be amazed at what can be achieved by one of our handymen in a one hour booking”. I’m not sure that I’m even going to address how ridiculous this company is. Yes I understand that fitting on to the van “Dial a person who is infinitely more competent than you at DIY” would be hard and is not nearly as catchy but seriously, SERIOUSLY, if something in my house breaks do I really have to dial a company that provides me with a husband, as such, to rescue me from my trials and tribulations? I can’t fix  my oven when it’s broken and I also don’t deal very well when there’s a spider in my bathtub but I will persevere and face my arachnophobia before dialing a company that tells me that one I cannot do it due to my gender and two because of my marital status. And for the cooker….I’ll call the repair person.

dial a hubby 2

The van that started it all

Susie Taylor

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The Invisible War #NotInvisible

The documentary The Invisible War is not exactly what you would call easy viewing. Sitting down with my friend on a lazy hungover day, popcorn and daily milk ready- well, we knew we weren’t in for a fun-filled ride exactly. But, I don’t think we quite prepared ourselves for the raw shock of what we were about to see. Firstly, I’d urge everyone to see this if they have half the chance. Screen it, share it, even bloody stream it from the internet…  it needs to be seen to be believed.

The Invisible War is the film about how in the US Military today, a woman serving  is more likely to be raped by a fellow service member than to be killed in the line of fire. This is the army for the supposed leaders of the free world. I have no other words apart from what. the. actual. fuck.

And here are some more hard facts just to emphasize how bad it really all is, despite the “Zero Tolerance Policy” claimed by the Department of Defense-

  • Since 2006, more than 95,000 service members have been sexually assaulted in the U.S. military
  • More than 86% of service members do not report their assault
  • Less than five percent of all sexual assaults are put forward for prosecution, and less than a third of those cases result in imprisonment

Yet, despite all the numbers and figures what really resonated with me from the film was the stories of the victims. One poor lady was assaulted so bad that her jaw broke. She can’t even go outside and play with her daughter if it’s too cold in case it freezes.  One woman thought that hanging herself from a flag point would finally prove a point and make her voice be heard. They all went in to the army which such hope for the future, they all had their lives totally ripped apart.

We became so angry watching this that we were screaming at the screen, enraged.  The documentary also included interviews with high-ranking military officials and members of Congress . One of these spoke about the publicity plans for “rape prevention.” This followed a classic victim-blaming approach, urging the women to never be walking alone without a “buddy.” No one single word about how you know, it would be a good idea to teach humanity that raping people and breaking their sense of selves down to a pulp is, you know, a despicably awful unthinkable thing to do? No?

And it isn’t  just women , one percent of men in the military— nearly 20,000 men —were reportedly sexually assaulted in 2009.

And while rape victims in the civilian world can turn to an impartial police force and judicial system for help , rape victims in the military must turn to their commanders.  Many rape victims find themselves forced to choose between their careers and justice. Just eight percent of military sexual assault cases are prosecuted. Without prosecutions, it will just keep happening again and again and again.

Please, please take the time out to watch this film. It may not be pretty, but it is real and it is happening.  Have the popcorn, chocolate and tissues ready and then take action by signing this petition:

Raise awareness, sign and share.  This has gone on far too long.

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