1. Revolutionary feminism? The SWP & #RadFem2013

    They are not always the most popular amongst the left but I have personally got a lot of time for the SWP. The activists I know are amongst the most dedicated, organised and supportive. They live their politics more than practically any other political group I know - every political protest is an opening to agitate, and no social injustice is knowingly allowed to pass without a demonstration of support.

    The SWP view of feminism is that they work alongside feminists, and share common short term goals. Ultimately international revolutionary socialism is the goal, and should be viewed as the solution for female oppression (amongst all other forms of oppression) - international revolutionary socialism, and not feminism. This is not to say that large numbers of members do not act with the same values as (marxist) feminists, and members may identify as feminist individuals. If this was all theoretical, then this could technically be a matter of semantics - broadly, any movement aiming to end female oppression could be classed as sympathetic to feminism or even feminist. However, recent events show that the reality is that there is a line in the sand.

    Following the Comrade Delta crisis, it looks as though the party line is that it is time to move forward. Party unity is seen as the ultimate key to revolutionary progress, and affirmation of the decisions made by the CC is seen as the way to continue in a unified way. There are issues surrounding how this has been dealt with which must be troubling for feminists within the party - the questions over how the complainant was examined specifically, as issues surrounding freedom of members to discuss and organise outside of the party structure, which don’t appeal to me but presumably are democratically agreed and known by members as party rules, are in a way separate. Whether this will mean an exodus of feminist members or lead to the intended level of closure remains to be seen. Can you be a feminist within a party that has the stated hierarchical goal of revolutionary international socialism above feminism, and will organise where necessary to reinforce this goal? I don’t know.

    Meanwhile, the radical Fems are organising again. After last year’s backlash it seems they are not specifically barring trans women in their entry requirements this year, though the internet is already kicking off within days of the conference being announced with the rad Fems in one corner and pretty much everyone else in the other. I think in general I probably share many more values with the SWP than I do with rad Fems. I don’t believe in biological essentialism, and I struggle with a feminist movement that excludes any women. I reject an analysis of sex-work which denies sex-workers agency, although I recognise the harm sex-work does to many women. I think it is far too simplistic to see gender as something which always privileges and enables male domination. I view the hierarchical structure of society as the source of patriarchy, not individual males. That doesn’t mean all issues they raise are automatically dubious - apparently they will be discussing how to organise mothers for recognition of labour, for example.

    Like the SWP, Rad Fems are revolutionaries who live their politics with a passion. Like the SWP they tend to reduce revolution to a specific class - in the case of Rad Fems, (cis) women are the slave class - which excludes intersectional nuance. For Rad Fems - or at least those who are particularly vocal in relation to this on the internet, who may or may not represent their sisters - frustration at the patriarchal system is crystallised into rage. Rage is good at motivating and driving, but it simplifies, and when it is directed at vulnerable others who are also restricted by the cultural power assigned to biological sex as a signifier of identity, it could be argued to be working against the overall goal of revolutionary feminism, because it stays within the (non-radical) boundaries.

  2. Feminist top Fives 2012 

    Having made it - at least temporarily - into a top 100 list of independent tweeting bloggers and a top fifteen (top 100 here - http://goo.gl/yZO4h , top 15 here - http://goo.gl/eeibq - I did learn how to use a link shortener this year but still don’t know how to html words to get you there!) I thought I should post something.

    There is a lot of injustice going on very close to me that I want to talk about at the moment and sadly can’t, so instead I thought I would have a go at doing my own end of year round-up. I’ve seen a fair few general political ones so I thought I would go for a feminist one. Please link to any oversights and additions by commenting below and I will add/link. The order is arbitrary. I’ve gone for five blogs, five feminist tweeters who as far as I am aware don’t blog - again, please comment to let me know if wrong or of any additions - and five events. 

    Top 5 blogs

    1) Sarah Graham (@SarahGraham7 - formerly petitefeministe I think)

    Blog here: http://sarah-graham.co.uk/author/petitefeministe/ (there is a Tumblr too)

    Public twitter here: https://twitter.com/SarahGraham7

    Sarah links to a lot of interesting blogs with retweets and feeds through to various feminist takes on issues in the media in her twitter feed. She is studying journalism and has written some good stuff on Leveson and media sexism.

    2) Black Feminists (@BlackFems)

    Blog here: http://blackfeminists.org/blog/

    Twitter here: https://twitter.com/blackfems

    Various authors. Key blog in pointing towards unchecked privilege in mainstream feminist media, from unpicking Guardian articles featuring exclusive images and comments from white liberal feminists, to providing a leading critical voice to point towards intersectional class/ethnicity issues during Morangate.

    3) The F word (@thefwordUK)

    Blog here: http://www.thefword.org.uk/blog/

    Twitter here: https://twitter.com/thefworduk

    Best round up. Lots of guest writers, always on top of the week’s issues. Very good at amplifying different voices. Have done some great work this year in terms of networking different feminists together, which I think was powered by Phillipa (@incurablehippie)

    4) Prymface (@prymface)

    Blog here: http://prymface.yolasite.com/blog.php

    Twitter here: https://twitter.com/prymface

    Dynamic voice for young mothers - her work this year has included the weekly youngmumschat sessions on twitter, campaigning for young mothers in education on issues like the funding cuts, and general advocacy work. Inspirational.

    5) Cath Elliott (@cathelliott)

    Blog here: http://toomuchtosayformyself.com/

    Twitter here: https://twitter.com/CathElliott

    "Outspoken" trades unionist and campaigner against violence against women. I don’t agree with all of Cath’s views - in particular her stance on making prostitution illegal - but she provides a strong media presence for powerful, well reasoned, feminist, trades unionist arguments.

    Top 5 twitters

    1) Shan Kilby (@shankilby)

    Anti-VAWG activist. Links to all the things lots of people probably would rather not read about. She is awesome.

    2) The Astell Project (@astellproject)
    Educational activists who want women and gender studies introduced into schools. As a mother of a child who had already knew her favourite colour was pink at the age of 2, I don’t think it can come soon enough.

    3) Chitra Nagarajan (@Chitranagarajan)

    Socialist feminist. Director of Southall Black Sisters. Highlights international VAWG issues as well as providing a strong critical voice on the need to recognise intersectionality in mainstream feminism.

    4) Women’s networking hub (@drivingequality)

    Do a lot of work in connecting and amplifying feminist voices in the midlands. Have recently been influential in calling for the Nobel Prize for Malala Yousufzai, the Pakistani girl shot in the head by the Taliban for advocating girls’ education. Have also launched Shelve It, a campaign encouraging activists to rate newsagents for display of sexist imagery.

    5) Zenscara (@zenscara)

    Feminist trades unionist, who does a lot of work highlighting the growing issue of casualisation in education. Gets told she how young and small she is a lot, apparently, which says a lot about what we need to do in trades unions to open them up to women activists.

    Top five events

    I’m going to brave some youtube clips here so here’s hoping that the links work!

    1) Pragna Patel speaks on the impact the cuts are having on the most vulnerable at UK Uncut Refuge from the Cuts:
    Pragna Patel is the best speaker ever


    2) Fem Lobby: UK feminista feminist lobby of parliament

    Those of you who are familiar with my ongoing “relationship” with my MP Chris Kelly may be unsurprised to hear that I didn’t get to meet him at the lobby. Watch the video to see why I wanted to.


    3) Reclaim the night, Delhi

    After the slutwalk movement of the last couple of years, we are facing ongoing battles against sexual assault survivor blaming both nationally and internationally. Here thousands of students, teachers and activists take back the streets of Delhi following the horrific events of the last month


    4) Malala Yousafzai shot

    The teenage activist and campaigner for female education was shot by the Taliban earlier this year. This footage shows her explaining why she risks her life:


    5) March for a Future that Works

    As we approach the third year of coalition rule, austerity Britain continues to take from the most disempowered within society to enhance the wealth for the few, with cuts falling disproportionately on women in terms of cuts to jobs and services, and retroactive ideological moves to put women’s bodily autonomy up for debate. Women now form the majority of trades union members, with the first General Secretary Elect Frances O’Grady about to take the lead. In October trades unionists marched on parliament to demand a better future, but can we recognise our power and act collectively to stop the all out assault on workers, the poor, women and minorities? Let’s hope so.


  3. War on women: three reasons to march on Westminster tomorrow #femlobby

    1) Cuts hitting women hardest

    Austerity isn’t working. There is no evidence that cuts are being made in an intelligent way to boost the economy - instead, we are seeing an ideological attack on the big state and social welfare being forced through tactically at a time of economic crisis. However, you don’t need to be a Marxist or share my views on economics to see the stark evidence that cuts are disproportionately impacting on women, (along with children, the disabled, and ethnic minorities), increasing the hierarchical structure of society. Cuts to public services - health services such as breastfeeding support, childcare at Surestart centres, cuts to public transport - hit women harder because women are more dependent on these services. Pay freezes hit those at the bottom economically (disproportionately women) harder. Public sector pension reform will increase the gender gap in old age poverty. Cuts to jobs across the public sector again fall disproportionately on women. Benefits reform is set to take away financial autonomy for women who work in the home and will again hit women hardest in terms of who stands to lose the most. On top of this, women are having to provide care labour for free to replace services where care is being cut.

    2) The “bonfire” of equality legislation and employment rights

    Attacks on legislation mean equality in the workplace will be hit hard. For example, the introduction of costs at the beginning stages of the employment tribunal process will price many out of justice. Changes to legislation will also mean employers found to discriminate no longer have to make substantial changes to the workplace as a result of a tribunal. The slashing of the EHRC will have long term consequences for the makeup of our society.

    3) Bodily autonomy up for debate - again

    In the last couple of months we have had many a soundbite from politicians talking about their difficult moral choices over abortion. The thing is, their opinions are irrelevant. Abortion ethics belong to the realm of medical science - anything else is religion, opinion or supersticion: a personal choice, not a valid argument for controlling others’ bodies. We have also had rape apologism across the political spectrum over and over again. Our bodies - our choices.

    I will be joining with other feminists tomorrow to march on Westminster and take part in a mass lobby of MPs. I’m going to take the message to politicians to stop concerning themselves with my uterus and instead to look at the mess they are making for my living breathing daughter. See you (if not my non-responding MP, Chris Kelly, Dudley South) there.


  4. As Tories arrive in Brum, 5 reasons to take to the streets this Sunday

    1. Rising child poverty now standing at 34% - and it’s going to get worse

    In a report submitted to Birmingam City Council this September, the Birmingham Voluntary Services Council (BVSC) presented evidence from 17 local charitable and non-profit organisations that changes in benefits will mean another climb in child poverty. Low income families are being hit from all angles, including cuts to tax credits for those in employment, high unemployment and job cuts, and cuts to the services which improve health such as sports facilties, free school meals, and Sure Start Centres. While tax cuts at the top mean even more spare money for the elite our coalition support to spend on their children, Birmingham has more children in poverty than any other local authority.

    2. Youth unemployment at just under 50K - with cuts to education, youth housing and jobs

    Youth unemployment in Birmingham currently stands at just under 50,000. While there is much talk of improving chances for young people, the opportunities in terms of education and employment are shrinking. In education, low income students are being hit by the removal of EMA in FE, and here as elsewhere the introduction of £9k per year fees in higher education are shutting working class young people out of the system. Changes to housing benefits mean vulnerable young people are being put at risk - I spoke to LGBT activists at this year’s Pride who reported they are hearing from a number of young LGBT adults who fear being forced to return to abusive family homes as a result of the changes, which will strip the right to independent housing from under 25s. There has been a 32% increase in homelessness in the city over the last year, with 4,574 young people reporting as officially homeless.

    3. Foodbanks reporting pregnant women skipping meals, and huge rise in working poor coming for help

    Earlier this year, Gateway Family Services, a local non-profit organisation,reported how bad conditions are getting for families they work with - with pregnant women skipping meals because they cannot afford to eat. Birmingham foodbanks are finding big increases in the numbers of people forced to rely on this kind of support just to get by. For some, the service provides a lifeline in a time where we have high levels of unemployment, household debt, and escalating costs of living. Many people coming to charities are actually employed but still struggling under coalition cuts which have seen low income households hit hard, with worse to come as we move over to the Universal Benefits system. Meanwhile, huge multinational organisations are getting cheap labour subsidised by the tax-payer in the form of low waged staff, with massive profits and bonuses for those at the top.

    4. Cuts to domestic violence services mean local women’s lives are being lost

    Birmingham has been hit hard by the national 30% cut to domestic violence spending. Earlier this year I attended a conference at Birmingham University where DV organisations reported on the impact austerity is having on local women (and men) - and the picture is very very bleak. Anyone who works in domestic violence can tell you that one of the most difficult issues support workers face is in helping survivors to make the decision to leave an abusive partner. What we have in Coalition Birmingham is a situation where survivors who make this decision are being turned away. In April, Birmingham and Solihull Women’s Aid reported that waiting lists for services have nearly trebled from 100 to 270 since 2010, with only half of women who seek help able to get space in refuges. The cuts to DV services are being compounded by cuts to other services including the police and social services. As well as a cut to support, the increase in poverty and unemployment is correlated with increased violence in the home - so there are more survivors seeking help.

    5. Government attacks on the disabled, including ATOS quack assessments, cuts to benefits, and the closure of 3 local Remploy factories

    This April, a Birmingham man, Paul Turner, died of a serious hear condition: just weeks after being deemed fit to work by ATOS assessment. He is just one of a huge number of disabled people whose lives have been lost in the ongoing ESA reform process, which has seen the terminally ill stripped of benefits and massive ignorance about mental illness which I believe will lead if it continues in the long term to increases in institutionalisation. Birmingham charities and non-profit organisations warn that changes from DLA to PIP will have a huge detrimental effect on local disabled people, leading to decreased mobility, more social isolation, loss of financial autonomy which increases the potential of abuse, fuel poverty, inability to finance care in the home, and increase in mental health problems as a result of stress. At the same time as this is taking place, the same governemt which seek to stigmatise the disabled as “workshy” and “scroungers” through their policies and the media are axing 3 Remploy factories locally - effectively getting rid of the biggest local provider of employment designed around meeting the needs of disabled people.

    Children, young people, the working poor, domestic violence survivors and the disabled: Our government is attacking the weak to keep the money flowing in from the powerful, and the picture in Birmingham tells us the devastating impact these policies are having on people. It it time to stand up against austerity. Join the demo in Birmingham this Sunday to tell the Conservative Party we do not accept what they are doing to the vulnerable, we do not accept the ongoing failed economic policies of neo-liberalism, and we do not welcome them to our city.



  5. Tits & class: page 3, the Duchess, & public bodies

    There is one main reason why News International have been under fire this week. Not that they seem to ever be sinkable - tapping dead children’s phones, blackening the names of a whole city, none of it seems to actually matter when you have enough money and power to continue to push your way through the public letter box like some kind of credible media. 

    Beyond the headlines - the details of the full horror, the shameful cover-up, and the pathetic apologies - another group have been trying to take on the Sun for different reasons. This week saw a campaign, based on one woman’s attempts to get page 3 removed by asking very politely if it could go, gathering pace. You can read about the campaign and sign the petition here:


    The likelihood of a group of feminists winning in a power-struggle with News International seems pretty slim. As mentioned above, this is a media corporation so powerful it seems they can do the most vile and disrespectful things to the British public and still wash it all away with a bit of populist banter and some free holidays. NI are almost certainly otherwise engaged at the moment but no doubt if/when enough of a ripple happens to catch their interest current campaigners will receive the same abuse that was dished out to smear the Labour MP Clare Short when she made the same arguments - that any dislike of Page 3 comes from a combination of jealousy, prudish dislike of sex, and a general busy-body nature found in those who like to gain power by restricting the freedom of others. I’ll look at each of these three contentions in turn.

    Jealousy. Do people like Clare Short and the current campaigners actually harbour resentment for the page 3 lovelies, and seek to drive them out of the public consciousness for this reason? After all, we all know a lot of feminists don’t diet. Some of them don’t wear make-up. Some of them Don’t Even Shave Their Body Hair. All of these are prime signs of not being a Stunner, so it is natural that these kinds of women would be jealous of the male attention attracted by a more conventionally attractive woman’s naked torso. Well, the answer here is probably multiple. Some women don’t actually care what men think of them (shocking!). Many hetero women probably like male attention from men they find attractive but wouldn’t extend to wanting it from the entire Sun readership (some of whom also have issues with lifestyle/exercise and excessive body hair) - I’m conscious here of taking a heteronormative view of things but I don’t even know where to start in extending this, so am probably better leaving that to someone else. Many more women feel massively insecure about their bodies in a way that is shaped by the proliferation of the public female body - not just in the Sun or lads mags but women’s magazines too - as something which is owned by all, open to continual scrutiny, and must fall into very specific boundaries of what is not what is not an acceptable form. If these women are reacting to this by trying to challenge the thing which causes them some of this body angst, I’m struggling to see what the problem is.

    Prudishness and dislike of sex. I’m not really sure what to say to this. I know a lot of feminists. Most of them like sex. A lot. Some of them don’t, though they have no interest whatsoever in whether other people do or not. It’s a tired old allegation that is always used whenever women campaign within anything relating to the sex industry - for example, it is apparently pretty prudish to look into the huge amount of human trafficking and internal injuries involved in many prostitution rings.

    Freedom and censorship. This seems to be the main liberal argument used against this type of campaign (ironic, when liberal feminist groups such as UK Feminista and the Fawcett Society are generally fully behind this type of campaigning compared with more politicised issues). Censorship does not generally win over minds, it’s true, but it is incredibly reductionist to see women’s attempts to control what they are exposed to on a daily basis in their home, workplace etc as a form of censorship and an unfair attack on the freedoms of a multi-billion corporation in controlling what is in that environment. 

    The main dimension which seems to be missed in a lot of these arguments is class. What exactly makes the mass printing of working class woman’s tits a national treasure but the publication of a national treasure such as the Duchess of Cambridge’s tits a terrible disgrace? Consent, in a way, because obviously in one case it is there and the other it isn’t. I think it goes beyond that though - the old distinctions between the earthy and the sublime, all the age old Madonna/whore rubbish that we get spoonfed from an early age. Probably life would be a lot easier all round if we didn’t have all this public/private fetishisation surrounding tits and had the same norms for women as men, but I can’t see that happening any time soon. The women who work Page 3 are put up for public display as simple, good-hearted creatures, and there is a danger that this form of patronisation is extended into any feminist analysis in which they are pitied as unintelligent. Time and time again we get raw intelligence confused with educational opportunity and the norms supported by consumer based class system of capitalism. It is not as simple as poor silly girls being exploited, but it is also not as simple as free agents choosing from a wide array of equally weighted life choices.

    So, I am supporting the campaign. I think women (and men) should have the right to control what they are exposed to in their day to day life if it continually shapes the way they are treated by society and the way they treat themselves. News International is still one of the biggest global forces there is so I don’t have much hope for the success of this particular campaign: it will almost certainly be seized upon and smeared. That said, political change in general doesn’t happen if we don’t have the argument or, more importantly, give the alternative and share the hope for change.