1. Samantha Brick, circles of shame & the body panopticon

    Most people will have seen the Samantha Brick article. I don’t think I need to elaborate too much - suffice to say, daily mail writer pens article along the lines of “don’t hate me because I’m beautiful”, explaining how difficult her life is as a beautiful woman, on account of all the jealous haters she has to deal with on a daily basis. They stop her getting promoted, they don’t let her stand in the middle of photographs, they don’t ask her to be a bridesmaid. Along with the article are photographs of aforementioned Samantha Brick, which the nation judge to be somewhat lacking in attractiveness, and much hilarity ensues.

    As an aside, from a psychological point of view, we actually tend to show more liking for attractive people rather than less, regardless of gender, and less liking for unattractive people. The stereotype of ugly bullies hounding the beautiful through life is not a very accurate overview: it must happen, but unattractive people probably come in for a lot more abuse overall. Other characteristics which have a stronger influence on liking, such as perceived arrogance, can overpower the positive influence of looks, however.

    I think it bothered me though didn’t surprise me that most of the commentary I’ve read so far is entirely focussed on mocking her as a delluded individual rather than looking at the validity of her general worldview in terms of the importance of attractiveness. She seems to have internalised everything we get sold from a very young age about the path to female happiness - that happiness can be yours through exact discipline in the pursuit of rigorous control of the body, a sort of modern female cult of the self - without actually sounding that cheerful about it. The article, along with others I browsed through in her back catalogue (including one about how her husband tenderly nursed her through a festive stomach bug with the joyful proclamation of how much weight she would be losing) screamed “validate this existence”. She is being set up as a pinnacle of anti-feminism: a self absorbed misogynist, who smugly prescribes hew own brand of self loathing for any others seeking her level of empowerment (remember, she’s a top TV exec), and yet because she is a woman, ultimately this constant self-policing (assisted, of course, by her helpful chauvinistic husband, who has been clear from very early on that weight gain will result in the end of their relationship, and who loves to draw attention to the shameful imperfections of any unsuitably dressed women who cross his path, in a way which she seems to blindly believe is down to him being French rather than down to him being an arsehole) is the price she has to pay for her piece of the pie. It seems like a very tiring and emotionally fraught existence, specifically because it is so empty of friendship. In Amanda Brick’s worldview, women can’t stand her because they believe her unworldly beauty will lure their husbands away. Men see her as an object of desire. Her husband is her companion only so long as she fulfills his exact requirements of wifedom.

    In the age of reality TV, lads mags, tweenagers and the circle of shame, we could very well be raising a whole army of Samantha Bricks. Young girls are experiencing their bodies in a more self-observing way than any generation before them: the media showing ideal womanhood  (as well as the ability to record, reflect on and transmit the self) is growing and growing by the day, creating a panoptican effect where for many young women, the body is something they experience from the outside as well as from within. For many there is unpassable space between the real self and ideal self. The diet industry offers women control: the illusion that the body will be personal rather than public property with the right amount of discipline. For years we have been fighting the battle that the space is impassable, that the diet industry sets up impossible standards and then lap up the money women waste on trying to reach them. But maybe we haven’t been fighting hard enough to show the loneliness which could be created by the successful achievement of conventional female physical perfection.

  2. Abortion: cultural values of life and choice

    Abortion is one area which I have generally avoided posting about. I’ve avoided it because my views are complex and ambivalent, because for many, due to personal experience, it is a sensitive area, and because in some ways I feel like we shouldn’t have to keep debating it because the debate in itself seems at times to just through existing undermine our cultural confidence in the rights of women to make decisions about their own bodies. However, as twitter seems in the last few days to have been awash with young white uterus-free persons freely and in a non-nuanced way stating their views on what legislation should restrict women’s decisions, under the guise of “reason”, I thought I would post something to explore the issues.

    The first time I became (unconsciously) aware of abortion was down to a vinyl single I bought some time in the late 80s. The single was a cover of “California Dreaming” by “River City People” - I don’t remember much about the group other than that I think the singer had one of those massive velvet skirts that were popular at the time. And maybe a bowler hat. The b-side on the single, which I quickly learnt and can remember bellowing (innocently) in the way that you do with even the most obscure and/or tuneless b-sides when you’re a kid who has recently discovered the top forty, was called “carry the blame”, a sort of pro-life synthesised lament, including lyrics such as

    "Each day I carry the blame
    Cover the cost
    Of those children whose names,
    Forever are lost
    We must be guilty of murder.
    Measure my words
    Of babies whose crying
    Will never be heard.”

    (Full lyrics here: http://www.lyricsvip.com/River-City-People/Carry-the-Blame-Lyrics.html)

    Looking back, it seems a bit odd. A lot odd. About five or six years later, I had bought some vinyl (about the time it was starting to become a bit hip and retro, cds were coming in) and was reaquainting myself with my early (not very hip) PWL vinyl when I came across it again and actually understood what the lyrics were about. I felt a bit sick.

    Women’s rights are increasingly under attack in the land of the free, where evangelist libertarians preach freedom for big business and big state control of women’s bodies, and state legislation is starting to build. Here in the UK, feminist groups have been horrifed at the arrival of US style organisations (such as 40 days for life) who are targetting abortion clinics nationally and have been accused of filming, obstructing and generally intimidating clients on their way in. While there has been little official government comment on the rise of these groups or the need to police their activity effectively, in the last couple of days Nadine Dorries has triumphantly announced the seizure of documents giving evidence of illegal abortion practices which will now be dealt with by people’s health champion Andrew Lansley and the police. Incidentally, the illegality relates to doctors signatures being put onto paperwork in advance, not anything gruesome. In case anyone was wondering.

    I absolutely believe that intimidation tactics have no place in protest - this extends across my political beliefs. You won’t find me angrily challenging people on the picket line. I believe strongly that wealth should be redistributed globally, but I don’t believe violent revolutionary tactics will take us there. I am an animal rights advocate but abhor the tactics used by extremist animal rights groups - tactics which are probably driven by the same passionate beliefs about preservation of life, albeit about animals, as held by pro-lifers. Where an ethical issue is a matter of debate - such as the life issue, both for animals and foetuses - then intimidation or social control are not the way forward.

    My views on abortion are as follows. I would not personally choose to have an abortion, any more than I would personally choose to eat a bacon sandwich. I don’t have any right to judge a person who would do either, because all they are doing is following their own set of values, much as I try (with varying degrees of success) to follow mine. I believe that women are, just like any adult making a decision about eating a meat product, old enough and wise enough to make their own decision on the matter. Oddly, there aren’t any pro-life pickets outside butchers shops, so presumably women’s choices about their own bodies are thought to be less driven by rational logical adult processes than choices about eating meat. Once you take religion out of the picture, the issues are very similar, and relate to ending life of a creature which does not have conscious thought (if anything, an animal has a proven experience of pain, so the foetus is less of a moral issue, as it does not). The different ways in which society discusses and polices the choices people make generally in eating meat and the choices women make about abortion tells us a lot about the extent to which society still has massive advances to make in acknowledging and protecting women’s status as rational decision makers.

    I don’t think that religion should have a place in the argument, other than in terms of advising those who have chosen to follow aforementioned religion, and it baffles me that in a modern enlightened society religious groups, rather than scientists, seem to set the lines for investigation in terms of abortion. A religion is basically an ethical set, much like any other, and I see no reason for privileging any one ethical set over another in state legislation without evidence. I do believe that scientific investigations need (as they already do) to look at the development of the experience of pain and consciousness, the two key factors. I think they could do this more effectively without the influence of religious lobbying groups, who presumably place ensoulment as taking place much earlier than the abortion cut off point any way, so I suspect are being somewhat misleading about their desire to respect medical knowledge in these areas.

    I think eugenics is one extra problematic issue which further muddies the waters. The abortion of babies on the basis of gender or non pain-related disability (e.g. DS) is very very troubling indeed. I understand and agree with the argument that the principle of a woman’s right and ability to chose without the involvement of the state has to be universal, but I find genetic based abortions open a whole can of genetically modified worms. In a way, it would be easier if these things were not revealed until after the abortion mark. Then again, withholding information is in itself a form of restricting women’s choices. Really the battle should be to make a society where genders are accepted equally, and where the disabled are respected as having the same human rights and involvement within society as anyone else - make that society, and you won’t find those kind of genetics based abortions taking place.

    The main thing which the majority of the pro-life right wing gets very wrong is their inability to drive for legislation to support parents. They are happy to paint a glowing picture of the saved innocents, but make no attempt to agitate for the social support of parenthood to make a happy childhood a reality. Dorries’ constant hammering of the pro-life agenda comes hand in hand with a volley of hard hits against mothers: sure start centres closed or internal funding slashed, the health in pregnancy grant gone, front line health visitor posts axed, care to learn (the grant which supports young parents in returning to education or employment) in jeopardy, Access course (which have traditionally provided the pathway to higher education for those with dependents) funding cut, welfare capping which will push thousands of children into poverty, and a hegemonic narrative mainly found across the media but reinforced in official government statements and policy which paints young or single mothers not as democratic participants within society but as scrounging parasites.

    It doesn’t make any sense, but the principle seems to be life itself is very important, but the quality of life once a foetus becomes a child ultimately is not.

    Useful further reading:

    Pro-choice from a Christian perspective: http://petitefeministe.wordpress.com/2012/03/31/christianity-and-the-abortion-rights-battle/

    Why do we abort: experiences of a woman who has worked in women’s services: http://samambreen.wordpress.com/2012/03/30/why-do-we-abort/

  3. Goodbye abstinence ed (for now)

    In the last hour the hated Dorries girls only abstinence sex education bill has been dropped for debate (for now). It wasn’t a serious contender for any kind of legislation but for many, the issue that educating girls only on the benefits of sexual abstinence was even being discussed at this level is deeply troubling.

    A lot of the bill rested on Dorries usual style of unfalsifiable anecdata. Sex education is not aimed at encouraging underage sex, and children and young people are of course given information about relationships - not enough about sexual violence in my opinion, though that’s a different matter - with not a banana in sight. 

    If we are going to look at this purely from the point of view of effectiveness, there is no strong evidence to suggest abstinence education leads to less teenage sex. What it is linked to is less informed teenage sex, higher rates of pregnancy, stds etc. Some have argued that abstinence education adds to the appeal for many teenagers by giving sex the edge of temptation rather than the more rational route of choice.

    Dorries wants to remove the pressure put on teenage girls to have sex. There are a few issues here - she is framing female sexuality as a passive response, something which is done to you, rather than something which you do. However, it is difficult to deny that whatever the pressures are relating to sex for young people (of any gender), girls are in this country socialised into viewing their sexual worth (erotic capital as it was described last year) as a big part of their identity and this has a knock on effect for self-esteem. I think for many teenage girls, the pressure of looking the part, to be desired, vastly over-eclipses the pressure to have sex itself. You only need to read the latest badly spelt twitter hashtag to find out that young people today love to shame a slut as much as anyone. It is probably fair to say that for young women there is quite a bit of conflicting information from all aspects of society, including the peer group, about whether they should be having sex or not. Abstinence education just adds to the mix - it doesn’t empower girls to make choices about their sexual activity, it just reinforces the tired old madonna/whore binary.

    I think that in her own way, Dorries is right to worry about the pressures faced by young people, and certainly right that for young women their induction into a sexualised adulthood can be a tough experience. However, this sexualised adulthood ready-prepared for them, these pressures, have got nothing to do with sitting in a musky science lab listening to Mr Jenkins talking about the dangers of chlamydia, and everything to do with the messages from that adult world. Which is what feminists look at, and if she is that worried, she should join us.

  4. Mother’s milk: the politics of breastfeeding

    I probably should have gone with some sort of breast related pun for the title of this but couldn’t quite bring myself to do it.

    A couple of things have got me thinking back to breastfeeding this week - an article I read looking at the reasoning behind a hospital choosing not to give free formula milk  http://www.thefword.org.uk/blog/2011/10/baby_friendly_b , and a student in one of my groups at work planning a research project looking at a cultural analysis of breasts and their functions (so far called: “breasts: food or sex?” - a bit catchier than my title).

    On the surface, the politics of breastfeeding seem simple. The formula companies exploit the difficulties of early breastfeeding in order to sell women something their bodies could produce, for free, with millions of added bonuses including antibodies and increased lifetime protection from various ailments and conditions. As my student has already spotted at the age of 16, this goes hand in hand with a nonsensical cultural norm system in which breastfeeding is viewed as something which should be hidden from view while shelves are lined up with rows of soft porn.

    When I was pregnant for the first time, I was asked at various stages by both my midwife and various female relations whether I would be breastfeeding. I didn’t have to think about my answer much - I didn’t have any idea that there would be any difficulty involved whatsoever, having some worries about whether the baby would initially latch on and possible soreness but beyond that had heard that after the few days it got much easier. Whenever I replied that I would be breastfeeding I was met with beams of approval.

    Things went ok initially; he latched on well and was sleepy from the anaesthetic from my c-section. By the second night, however, I was really struggling. He was latched on, dozing without really sucking, but screaming whenever he was unlatched, for about 6 and a half hours. My milk had not come in, and all the skin was coming off my nipples. I was hormonal and teary, recovering from surgery with no sleep having no idea that it was possible to co-sleep while he nursed. After various attempts to change his position, which resulted in the same sleepy sucking, the midwife spoke with me and we agreed to top him up with a few ml of formula. Finally, he was satisfied and went into a deep sleep. I think basically what was happening was that he wasn’t getting enough to fill him up, so he was comfort nursing through the hunger. The supply issue carried on - I would do hours and hours of nursing, finally giving up and topping him up again, watching in tears while a nursing assistant fed him with one of those little cups. Exhaustion, pain, and more than anything, a deep sense of failure. He had mixed feeds till the age of 8 months, when he weaned himself.

    Fast forward to my daughter being born a couple of years later. I had received a good deal of redirected disapproval (mainly aimed at the hospital) for Ben being topped up, as apparently this was what meant I never then managed to get the supply to fill him up. This time I wasn’t going into breastfeeding with the ignorance I approached it with the first time round - I knew that if I just kept at it long enough, my supply would match my babies demands. I knew that there was no need to worry about getting no sleep at night, because my baby could sleep in with me, latched on all night long if she wanted to, and we would both get some rest. I knew there would be pain and difficulty, but that we would work through it and make it work.

    Megan was exactly like her brother, in that she was a comfort nurser who wanted to sleep constantly on the boob. Difficult to manage with a 2 year old who is desparate for attention, a husband with no paternity leave due to a redundancy while I was pregnant, and recovery from another c-section, but by filling the living room with toys, gradual use of slings once she would tolerate them, and c-beebies on for the entire time, we got through the difficult first couple of months. However, there was a problem. Megan had really bad reflux, meaning she was constantly in pain from the acid being thrown back up through her digestive system, rarely kept a feed down, and hardly gained any weight. She was 8lb 8 when she was born, and dropped down the growth charts like a stone. I reassured myself constantly - she was a slight build, like her dad, and was just adjusting now she wasn’t being fed through my placenta. She was very sick, but it would pass in a month or two, and she would be fine.  I also spent nights clutching my baby wondering about whether the lack of growth meant a lack of nutrients which would be affecting the development of her brain in someway. She was getting longer, but skinnier. Every week when I took her to be weighed at the clinic I filled up with a sense of dread. I was still failing - I was achieving the goal of exclusive breastfeeding, but my milk was not enough to give my daughter what she needed to thrive. Initially we tried baby gavascon, which seemed to make her gain weight in the first week before her weight stalled again. At 3 months (by this stage she was waking hourly at night, and was increasingly discontent) the senior health visitor was called to see me, and after assessing the situation she asked that I start giving Megan a bottle a day. I burst into tears in the middle of the clinic in front of a group of strangers. We talked a bit longer, and she commented that she felt health visitors were constantly driven towards looking after the babies’ needs, but mother’s needs were being ignored as secondary or unimportant unless there was some sort of deep psychological issue (in which the baby could be endangered). I gave Megan one bottle a day until she got to 6 months, at which point I was about to go back to work, so gradually transferred her over. She night weaned at about 8 months, the same as her brother.

    Nothing prepares you for the massive changes that motherhood brings, and for the first few months, when meeting the baby’s needs is all consuming, it feels like the choices you make are a big part of what defines you as a mother. I got lots of support and care from friends online (particularly Megan’s due date community), but the wider world of breastfeeding support seems to be unfairly dominated by an all or nothing mantra where even that one bottle a day is failure - explanations for why a baby would ever be given formula seem to be similar to mine to get sympathy, and extreme lactivists would still feel the need to lecture me on where things went wrong. The reality is that the comparison between breast milk and formula is a one horse race, as far as meeting the nutritional needs of the infant go, but the psychological needs of the mother, whether these are the need for non-judmental, practical advice, the need for reassurance that all new mothers are thrown into a whirlwind of emotion, stress and exhaustion and that she is doing fine, the need for a society which either allows her access to her baby in the workplace because she cannot afford to be at home feeding him (pumps are not universally usable) or stops condemning her for choosing a roof over her baby’s head over long term nutritional benefits, are seen as of minor or no importance, and that is decidedly non-feminist. In an ideal society, women would have the support of all their community sisters around them to care for demanding toddlers, help with latches, supply etc, rota childcare when work becomes possible, but life isn’t like that, and we need to make sure it is the system that stops this from happening which is targetted rather than the individual mother.

    There seems to be a class divide in breastfeeding, with a distinctly higher levels in middle class than working class women. This may be in part about work (middle class women can afford to take more time off), partly about education, but could also be due to the level of trust these groups have in the state and authority in general. It is very likely that (some) health visitors will be able to transmit information in a more level way to middle class women whereas it can be at least perceived if not given out as judgement when working class women are being assessed. Surestart had a great role in getting community women involved as breastfeeding buddies to give a much more accessible information and support point but the whole system is under threat and levels of working class breastfeeding will almost certainly drop as a result, leading to bigger profits for the formula companies and a bigger weekly bill for those no longer being supported.

    My daughter will be 2 in November and I don’t feel any guilt about either of my babies any more - I know that I did my best for them, just like the vast majority of mothers. They are both thriving, are no more sickly than any other children, advanced with their language skills, moving on to new challenges constantly that make that sleep-deprived blur of early motherhood fade into the distance. I like to think that I am more confident both as a mother and as a feminist activist than I was 2 and 4 years ago and should I have another baby will be more robust in dealing with criticism. I think we have to go with the same principles for breastfeeding as abortion - woman’s body, woman’s choice - recognising that the needs of a mother are important, not simply because they will impact on a child, but because she is an equal human being. If the hardcore breastfeeding activists really want to achieve a higher level of breastfeeding for all babies, they need to learn from others within their movement and look at targetting a selfish society which often does not provide the support new mothers need rather than accusing mothers themselves of selfishness.

  5. In defence of slutwalks

    Years and years ago, some time in the late nineties, I remember seeing an article in a glossy (Marie Claire maybe? Probably my sister’s as back in those days I used to always buy the music mags for the free cds) which caught my eye. It was a photograph of 2 female Italian MPs (or equivalent) dressed in their jeans. They were wearing their jeans to parliament (or again, whatever the equivalent was) in protest against statements made by a prominant male MP (or was it a judge? too long ago) with regards to the opinion that a rape victim should not have worn her jeans cut so close to her curves. At the time I remember feeling very impressed with and moved by the protest, and also being glad that our politics/judicial system were not so openly chauvinistic. Though in hindsight, maybe open chauvinism is easier to fight.

    Fast forward 15 or so years, and where are we? Well, as most people are aware, there is an international display of solidarity springing up at a grass roots level in response to an incident in Canada where a police officer made the comments:

    women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized”.

    Of course, it is not just about the reaction to one individual man’s beliefs, or it would not have rippled out so widely across the world. In the last couple of weeks the slutwalk has hit the UK, with protests in London, Newcastle, Manchester, and another taking place this Saturday in Birmingham which I will be going to.

    So, what is it all about? Obviously for every different person attending there are different reasons and motives, although the common cause is an end to victim blaming, worldwide, specifically in relation to rape and other sexual assaults. Not everyone is going to be coming at this from the same point of view - I look at things from the point of view that the wider issue is a society that encourages the female body to be viewed from a predatory point of view and also a society that condones the view that women should police the way they dress in order to avoid rape. There will be others at the slut walk who believe that sex offenders are not punished effectively. It is a different viewpoint from mine, but the wider issue is the victim blaming.

    For some reason, critics in the left as well as the right seem in places to be getting their collective knickers in a twist (do you see what I did there?) about the whole thing. I have heard a number of different arguments from a number of different sources, some better expressed and reasoned than others, against the slutwalks. Not a single one has convinced me that slutwalks are ill-thought out, irrational, trivialising, demeaning, although these are the points they have been trying to make. There may be more and you are more than welcome to put them to me, but here are the five main ones that seem to be bobbing about the place online. I will deal with them one at a time.

    1) Slutwalks are stupid because it is logical to dress appropriately to avoid assault. You wouldn’t go out and leave your door unlocked/valuables in the window would you?

    2) Slutwalks are stupid because people will not be able to tell the difference between “sluts” and Sluts.

    3) Slutwalks support a good principle but the way they are done trivialises the issue. I don’t like “slut” as a concept.

    4) Slutwalks support a good principle but are attention seeking and will be misrepresented in the press.

    5) This is an overblown response to something that happened hundreds of miles away and has nothing to do with us in the UK.

    Ok then, argument number one. The “you wouldn’t leave your house unlocked” metaphor. Clearly this argument comes from the right. Nothing irritates me like a poor analogy, and the analogy between the body of the rape survivor and and an unlocked/valuables-in-the-window house is particulary poor. This is for three reasons.

    a) First and foremost, guess what you are likely to be wearing prior to an assault? Is it a mini skirt and a boob tube? No, it’s a pair of jeans. Are you likely to be out in public when it happens, and is the person assaulting you likley to be someone you don’t know? No. So the analogy is not evidence based and does not reflect the reality of rape.

    b) Secondly, even if it was the case that there was a strong statistical link between skimpy clothing and sexual assault, this does not mean that ethically there is a responsibility on behalf of the survivor to dress “appropriately”. A body is not bricks and mortar, clothing is not as simple as property, it relates to identity. The reponsibility is on the society to educate that clothing or lack of it is not an invitation, or alternatively, if you come at it from a different point of view, to police the offender.

    c) Thirdly, the argument that the offender is given poor signals from the clothing and is somehow unable to control his natural virile urges is invoked here. How many sex offenders are incapable of the language comprehension to understand the word no? And, as someone put it on the birmingham slutwalk site the other day, how many boyfriends have you had who would not be frozen mid-action like a rabbit in the headlights if they heard the words “I think I can hear my dad coming”?

    As far as leaving valuables on display goes, I don’t think anyone with the mindset capable of rape is going to temporarily forget that you have a vagina (or anus because of course not all rape is female) provided that you wear some nice sensible jogging bottoms. As far as leaving the door unlocked goes, what is the alternative? A chastity belt? To my mind this analogy would be closer to the reality if the argument was as follows

    "It’s like not painting your house in drab colours because a police officer told you to under the misguided impression there was some kind of statistical link between decor and burglary."

    Ok then, onto the second one. How will our audience know the difference between “sluts” (feminists dressed provocatively in protest) and Sluts (you know, those slaggy girls who go up town on a night and are more interested in a shag than becoming a lawyer. This argument really repulses me - it invokes class-based misogyny and has no place in feminism, although I have heard it spouted by supposed feminists (in the Independent, notably). I’m not planning on dressing provocatively for the slutwalk, but guess what? Feminism is for everyone who believes that the genders should be equal. It isn’t the reserve of middle class intellectuals, and I have no time for anyone seeking to either attack those who are educated for their education, as though it somehow automatically makes you distanced from reality, or anyone seeking to make ideological differences between a hen-night “gaggle” and a group of “respectable professionals” in terms of who does and who doesn’t deserve to be derided for their clothes, or, more seriously, raped. I don’t like it when men go out wearing socks in sandals but if a man dressed like this got his laptop stolen I wouldn’t say it was down to him dressing like a geek.

    The distinction between the groups is probably much bigger on paper than in reality, quite apart from anything else. Believe it or not, you do get plenty of educated feminists who like to dress in a boldly sexual fashion, and you do get feminists who are not extensively educated or who come from lower down in the social-economic strata. So yes, I don’t dress in skimpy clothes as a rule but I will absolutely defend the right of anyone else to, and I would applaud anyone who is going to dress up for the slutwalk for their visual protest. 

    On to the third argument then, and the view that the reasoning that women should wear what they want is sound but the slutwalk is trivial and/or the use of the terms slut is wrong. I’ll start with the trivialising argument. As some of you may have noticed, I have been quite outspoken on the topic of victim blaming in recent weeks (first there was Dorries, then there was Clarke, then Hitchens - but I’ll come to that later). I have received very strong support from the rape survivors who I happen to know. They supported me on Dorries, they supported me on Clarke, and they support me on the slutwalk. So, if anyone was in a position to tell me that the slutwalk is a trivialisation it is these people (and I am more than aware that there may be other people amongst my circle who are also rape survivors who have not given an opinion either way, as it is so often invisible, but I can only go on what is shared). At the London slutwalk last weekend a leading member of the prostitution support group spoke out about the violence she and her colleagues experience - and believe me there are plenty of people out there who believe you cannot rape a prostitute, and that it is just negation of payment and a separate offence. Is that trivial to you? Is dressing up as a “slut” trivial?

    Again I would say to critics that you know absolutely nothing about what these people do or wear in day-to-day life and the idea that it is somehow dress-up is a crass simplification - it is visual protest at the very real prejudices about women, especially women from a certain class group but also women in general, experience, with regards to how something as ever-present as the way you dress effects how you are viewed and what rights you are perceived as having. As far as the slut thing goes, the movement rose out of solidarity with the original Toronto group and the wording of the original police statement. If the movement had sprung up in Britain, maybe it would be called the Slagwalk. Different word, same double standard. We are marching in solidarity with our sisters (and brothers) in Canada, and that includes not calling it the “We don’t like what you have called it originally so we are changing it something more sterile and palatable like the league of annoyed ladies-walk”.

    There seems to be a misinterpretation that the movement aims to reclaim the word “slut” (maybe the same arguments you get, usually from white middle class people, about why black gang-members shouldn’t call themselves the n word -while I wouldn’t be diametrically opposed to that, I think it is more to do with highlighting the politics of everything that the term slut represents. Although maybe that is a part of the whole n word thing too.

    Right, so, onto the argument about misrepresentations in the press. There have been arguments made that the slutwalks will be misconstrued and misrepresented by the right wing press. This is an ethical issue - do you do the thing which you believe expresses your view fully, or do you try to tailor your argument to make it most possible to reach out to and educate the ignorant. The older I get, the more I see the folly in playing ball with the right wing press. Stay at home and write a letter to your MP about how you don’t believe victims should be blamed - I have done this (hmmm, how many weeks now, and still no reply?) and will continue to do this on every issue I have strong beliefs about and it is absolutely a good thing to do, but I am under no illusions that murdoch and the mail will suddenly have a journalistic epiphany, decide left wingers are actually civilised rational people, and start printing liberal reasoned articles in which we are fairly represented. They will never like protest. I don’t believe in pandering to ignorance. I also don’t believe in arguing aggressively (I know I may have been guilty of this, as we all are, and the line between passion and rage is quickly crossed and difficult to step back over) although I’m all for emotive expression. I will be true to my views, I will not avoid expressing an opinion on the offchance it is misrepresented, and I will not hide my views just because they coincide with those of others who are opposed to me in other areas. In this instance, I suppose I’m talking about my firm belief that Clarke should have been made to apologise regardless of if this view was shared by people who believe rapists should be castrated, because we both agree that the blame does not lie with the victim and have strong views that victim blaming is one of the most emotionally damaging aspects of rape and sexual assault.

    Well, this leads me to the final point. Why are we slutwalking in the UK? Well, a number of reasons.

    1) We live in a society of double standards, as far as sexual behaviour goes. Where is the justification in condemning a woman who enjoys sex? I am alarmed at the gradual creeping in of the religious right in the matter of deciding who plans the policy for how our sons and daughters are educated about sex. The view seems to be that sex is a female responsibility and that all sex outside of marriage is bad (unless like some of the backers of Dorries’ 10 minute bill including Dorries herself it is outside your already existing marriage or inside someone else’s - although of course typically we tell our young people do as I say, not as I do). I have every respect for religion as a support system and I will defend the right of anyone to practice and worship as they see fit but it has no place in guiding education.

    2) As I said at the start of this post, there is a nasty undercurrent of chauvinism in the higher echons of our society and the media which I will absolutely protest about and oppose. We saw it in Clarke’s comments about date rape, but these were nothing compared to a couple of further articles I read (one from Peter Hitchens, in which he explained that the majority of rape is actually drunk women deciding the next morning that she didn’t actually want to have sex or was too drunk to be sure if she was having it or not, and one from an MEP who explained how rape was down to teasing behaviour where women offer up the goods and then expect red-blooded males to suddenly stop mid thrust.

    Back in the 70s, feminists marched on the streets to proclaim “Whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no”. 40 years later, we have had progress legally, but we must continue to fight for the rights and freedoms of women (and men) - freedom to dress how we want, freedom from assault, and the freedom to express our disatisfaction with a system which covertly views our bodies as property and our survivors as responsible for crimes which have come from the mindset of their attackers.