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‘Sleep In’ @ the Cloisters: sleep deprived reflections

It’s 8am on a Sunday morning and I’ve just crawled into clean PJ’s, into my own warm and cosy bed in my own warm and cosy house while my beloved makes me a hot milky coffee with fresh beans & local honey.

The reason I’m just crawling into bed at this hour is not a return from some hedonistic gathering like you might first think (although my title might have given it away). Rather, I’ve just come back from sleeping (sort of) on the cold, stone floor of the Cloisters in Worcester Cathedral. An act of selfless (?) charity – with around 30 amazing people – to raise awareness & funds for local charities who are working with Worcester’s homeless community.  

As well as the camaraderie we were all moved as we listened to an actual real life story of how one of our number became homeless, not through addiction or their own self destruction, but through a chain of events beyond their control that rapidly spiralled out of control.

So far we have raised just over £3000 – a great achievement but also a mere drop in the ocean for what’s really needed to fix this ‘blight’ on our communities.

So what have I learnt?

That sleeping on a cold, stone floor is actually OK…..If you have a roof over your head and a locked door and you’ve managed to get several roll matts, 2 sleeping bags, an expensive down blanket, 3 jumpers and a coat into your transport to and from the venue.

That sleeping ‘rough’is really quite sociable & fun…..If you’re with 30 other people with generally the same mindset, hot drinks on tap and where everyone’s been vetted & generally assumed ‘safe’. And, however incredibly frustrating 29 people snoring in unison can be, it’s a reassuringly familiar noise that doesn’t carry the potential threat of violence and abuse.

I also learnt that, although our donors were overwhelmingly generous, some of their comments to us highlighted how blinkered we can be when faced with others’ adversity. That some people will give money to charity if it’s via their friends & families acts of crazy…..like choosing to stay the night on a cold January night in the safe confines of an organised ‘Sleep In’. Less inclined to give their hard earned cash to those who don’t have real choices about where to spend a cold January night – last night local shelters didn’t open for street sleepers due to temperatures reaching the great height of 4°c.

And we continue to see austerity cuts to our public services, those much needed, overstretched lifelines for our country’s most disenfranchised. On the plus side Worcester’s other residents & visitors can enjoy faster broadband, new dualling roads & a much needed shopping complex featuring a mass of chain store eateries. At least there might be more doorways to sleep in if security is lax.

So as I snuggle back into my privilege I can’t even really begin to understand the reality of homelessness, nor the vicious cycle of poverty & dispossession. I can only choose to notice that invisible community that our government and our own sense of entitlement has chosen to ignore.

And if I haven’t alienated you by speaking my truth you can still give generously at: 

http://m.virginmoneygiving.com/mt/uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserPage.action?userUrl=Sleep_in_The_Cloisters_Challenge&faId=773006&isTeam=true

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Come and join: Bring Back Our Girls

Birmingham Feminists

In our next meeting, Wednesday 14th, we’ll be making signs and taking pictures to post online in support of the campaign to find the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped by the terrorist group Boco Haram.

By keeping up international pressure, Nigeria’s president Goodluck Jonathan will be held accountable and forced to keep his promise that he will find the missing girls. There’s a Change.org petition that has already provoked an international response here.

Please join us; we’ll be meeting in York’s Bakery Cafe at 6:30pm. We’ll bring paper and pens for the signs, all you need to do is be there and have your photo taken. Nigerian activists have asked people to wear red in solidarity with Nigerian mothers who wore red on public marches, so if you have anything red please bring it along.

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That F*%£ing F Word!!!

FEMINISM

So there’s that f*#%ing F Word debate again. Here’s my considered stance.

I know it sort of alienates some people. I know it can be emotive. I know it makes others scoff and others squirm. Some might even see it as redundant.

And whilst I recognise the power of language, I strongly believe that there is an ever constant need for something pushing against the misogyny and sexism that pervades, to greater or lesser degrees, in all cultures. Inequality, discrimination and stereotyping doesn’t just exist in the minds of so called Feminists it’s an actual real thing. That essential ‘push’ against it is a movement. That movement needs a name.

Feminism is that movement and feminism is it’s name.

8724482576_64bc637c26_b   I think we can all agree and that the word has been given bad press which hasn’t helped it’s image and brand in an increasingly image and brand driven culture. Such is the power of the media when the media generally only offers one main viewpoint.

Yet if those of us who truly believe in all that the movement stands for decided to create a brand new word it would not be long before that became a ‘dirty’ word too. Until women are equally represented in the power structures within society and are give equal rights, status and value then the one who’s power it threatens will always find ways to discredit, diminish and disable it as a movement.

I believe that the reason it makes some people uncomfortable is because it insists that we look at something that is uncomfortable, alienating, emotive. And so it should be. Why?

Because it is outrageous (and no coincidence) that half of the population are unequally represented in all the negative aspects of our societies (violence, mental ill health, poverty etc.) whilst being simultaneously unequally represented in all the sectors that govern all of our lives (politics, law, economics, science & technology, media etc.) The fact that 52% of the population are penalised, by virtue of whether they are born with a penis or a vagina, is not only unfair but also ridiculous.

805px-Stencil_Womanpower_0969

I think that we have a perfectly adequate word for what is essentially a demand that the feminine aspect of our species is allowed all opportunities to express itself, to grow mentally, physically and spiritually, to develop and to have equal value and status to that of the masculine.

Once we’ve achieved that then, please, by all means, go ahead and proclaim the word obsolete..

Image: By Moros (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Quote: https://www.flickr.com/photos/quoteseverlasting/8724482576/

Elle’s Feminist Issue, first impressions.

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The first I heard about Elle magazine doing a Feminist issue was when the news hit that David Cameron would not be sporting the new This is what a feminist looks like T-shirt. The Elle part barely registered, on my raised eyebrow. I knew that Elle was one of those glossy, high fashion magazines that I gave up years ago (Yes, I’m feeling much better for it, thanks – healthier, happier, freer in fact) so didn’t for one minute consider buying it, or the T-shirt.

I was mildly curious though when I tuned into the fact that the Fawcett Society was connected to it though tenuously it would seem as  there’s not one mention of them or the work that they do really other than that they are the recipients of any proceeds made from that T-shirt.

image

I’d also found myself recently critiquing the critics of ‘fake’ feminism in all of its guises on the basis that everyone had to start somewhere and believing that we all find our own paths to enlightenment. Also the fact that feminism is getting some positive press in popular culture, well, that couldn’t be such a bad thing…….. could it? It’s not like we couldn’t do with it. This made me slightly curious.

Then I duly forgot all about it.

Then a copy was placed before me by a friend who’d bought it on a bit of a whim.

Of course I opened it, cautiously. Within three pages I was compelled to rage about it but I persevered in the interest of working this blog and did actually make it through to the end.

I confess to not reading it avidly. Much of it was full of the sort of thing one would expect from this genre of magazines – manufactured and unobtainable body shapes and beauty ideals, clothes I could never afford and couldn’t ethically justify, lots of sponsored features about how I ought to be wearing my hair, clothes and makeup to distract me from the important issues like, erm, sexism for example.

I did read all the feminist bits though and I did even guiltily and cynically admire some of the pretty images. Oh, and I learned how to apply that cool pointy eyeliner look everyone’s sporting…..

But I digress.

Here’s a quick synopsis of my experience of Elle’s Feminist issue.

Unless you count the front cover starring Emma Watson in a skimpy top despite it also being the December issue, you have to flick through 70 odd pages of glossy adverts before you get to any actual words about  feminism. In fact you might be forgiven for thinking you’d picked up the wrong magazine as you trawl through the endless, vacant, available, youthful, skinny models in posh, expensive and skimpy clothes, all of the models white unless you count the one featuring Alicia Keyes.

The advert on p58 for an offshoot of the Elle empire confirms that they didn’t want to stick their neck out for too long into this feminist fad. Here they proudly proclaim their Wedding magazine. Out now. Now I’m not suggesting that feminism and marriage are mutually exclusive here but there does seem to be an unintentional irony in its placement here.

The cover feature, an interview with Emma Watson, is OK. I find it difficult to dislike Emma Watson in the same way I find it difficult to dislike Hermione Granger. Make of that what you will, there’s been enough written about EW over the last few months to keep both her fans and haters happy for a while yet, so I’m not going to add to any of that.

However, I couldn’t help but notice that of the 9 (and a bit) pages given over to EW, 6 were purely fashion photos with no editorial. So unfortunately mostly what I learned about her was that she can pull off a high fashion outfit with the best and rest of them. Her words got lost a bit. Of course why would I expect anything else from a magazine that is necessarily a slave to the fashion industry?

I guess I didn’t but just a few 100 pages later we have a similar feature with Benedict Cumberbatch and he gets to speak far more words. More on that later.

The Elle Inspire list (‘not a power list‘ apparently but a ‘compilation of voices you…..need to hear’) lacks inspiration for me. True it features many admirable women – Nicola Adams, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Gamma Mohammed, Bridget Christie, Tavi Gevinson, Malala, Yousafzai, Laura Bates and Shami Chakrabarti – but of the 50ish women featured around a quarter of them are from the beauty/fashion industry and only around 9 could be considered from a non white ethnic group and none with disabilities.

The Once Upon a Time feature is entertaining and probably, in my opinion, the only section of the magazine worth reading, though interspersed with models and seductive fashion imagery. First up is Fay Weldon with a cautionary tale about a skinny model and her matriarchs. Given the context of Elle magazine, an unexpected ironic story. This is followed by a possibly sarcastic contribution from Audrey Niffenegger. A great tale of female empowerment from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is well worth the read. Finishing with an excellent contribution, a twist on the traditional Red Riding Hood classic, ending with a call for change, from Kate Mosse.

Then we’re back to fashion: about 20 pages with a nod to the ‘active’ woman (a few running shots) morphing into a set for the ‘modern woman’ looking as passive as ever despite the editorial suggesting otherwise – oh, I see sorry, it’s supposed to be ‘relaxed’.

There are eight pages given over to Benedict Cumberbatch,  one less than Emma Watson. His photos cover less page space and are more about him looking cool and with decidedly more skin covered and decidedly less come get me gazes than the images of EW. But less expected was that the interviewer seems to have forgotten to ask him about feminism at all. This is particularly curious given that he’s one of the men photographed sporting the £45, ethically controversial       t- shirt.

Then there’s another 50 odd pages of ads and beauty features until we get a ‘real life’ 2 page feature on Cheryl Strayed who impressively completed the Pacific Crest Trail. A true story of personal emancipation from grief and self destruction. It would have been cool to hear a bit more from some of the other remarkable women paid lip service to in the aforementioned Inspire List

Finally there’s a few more ads for good measure, more beauty features, a travel section featuring places that most of us could only dream of, more ads, more fashion etc. etc. etc

So, in the end we have all we can expect from a magazine like Elle, nothing less and not much more: Lots (and lots and lots more) of adverts and features that use images and techniques that simultaneously make you feel inferior whilst managing to create a desire to have what you see whilst despising yourself for even caring.

In summary – the usual fayre interspersed with a bit of editorial about feminism, seemingly aimed at those who might be a bit curious but too busy striving for an impossible beauty ideal to want to be challenged too much.

Overall a bit disappointing! It seems a huge shame and a missed opportunity to highlight some of the real feminist issues that Lorraine Candy (editor in chief) eludes to in her ‘Welcome’ section.

So, Sorry Elle, I think that you just didn’t really try hard enough this time, leading me to the conclusion that you just didn’t really care.

image

Elle’s Feminist Issue, first impressions.

image

The first I heard about Elle magazine doing a Feminist issue was when the news hit that David Cameron would not be sporting the new This is what a feminist looks like T-shirt. The Elle part barely registered, on my raised eyebrow. I knew that Elle was one of those glossy, high fashion magazines that I gave up years ago (Yes, I’m feeling much better for it, thanks – healthier, happier, freer in fact) so didn’t for one minute consider buying it, or the T-shirt.

I was mildly curious though when I tuned into the fact that the Fawcett Society was connected to it though tenuously it would seem as  there’s not one mention of them or the work that they do really other than that they are the recipients of any proceeds made from that T-shirt.

image

I’d also found myself recently critiquing the critics of ‘fake’ feminism in all of its guises on the basis that everyone had to start somewhere and believing that we all find our own paths to enlightenment. Also the fact that feminism is getting some positive press in popular culture, well, that couldn’t be such a bad thing…….. could it? It’s not like we couldn’t do with it. This made me slightly curious.

Then I duly forgot all about it.

Then a copy was placed before me by a friend who’d bought it on a bit of a whim.

Of course I opened it, cautiously. Within three pages I was compelled to rage about it but I persevered in the interest of working this blog and did actually make it through to the end.

I confess to not reading it avidly. Much of it was full of the sort of thing one would expect from this genre of magazines – manufactured and unobtainable body shapes and beauty ideals, clothes I could never afford and couldn’t ethically justify, lots of sponsored features about how I ought to be wearing my hair, clothes and makeup to distract me from the important issues like, erm, sexism for example.

I did read all the feminist bits though and I did even guiltily and cynically admire some of the pretty images. Oh, and I learned how to apply that cool pointy eyeliner look everyone’s sporting…..

But I digress.

Here’s a quick synopsis of my experience of Elle’s Feminist issue.

Unless you count the front cover starring Emma Watson in a skimpy top despite it also being the December issue, you have to flick through 70 odd pages of glossy adverts before you get to any actual words about  feminism. In fact you might be forgiven for thinking you’d picked up the wrong magazine as you trawl through the endless, vacant, available, youthful, skinny models in posh, expensive and skimpy clothes, all of the models white unless you count the one featuring Alicia Keyes.

The advert on p58 for an offshoot of the Elle empire confirms that they didn’t want to stick their neck out for too long into this feminist fad. Here they proudly proclaim their Wedding magazine. Out now. Now I’m not suggesting that feminism and marriage are mutually exclusive here but there does seem to be an unintentional irony in its placement here.

The cover feature, an interview with Emma Watson, is OK. I find it difficult to dislike Emma Watson in the same way I find it difficult to dislike Hermione Granger. Make of that what you will, there’s been enough written about EW over the last few months to keep both her fans and haters happy for a while yet, so I’m not going to add to any of that.

However, I couldn’t help but notice that of the 9 (and a bit) pages given over to EW, 6 were purely fashion photos with no editorial. So unfortunately mostly what I learned about her was that she can pull off a high fashion outfit with the best and rest of them. Her words got lost a bit. Of course why would I expect anything else from a magazine that is necessarily a slave to the fashion industry?

I guess I didn’t but just a few 100 pages later we have a similar feature with Benedict Cumberbatch and he gets to speak far more words. More on that later.

The Elle Inspire list (‘not a power list‘ apparently but a ‘compilation of voices you…..need to hear’) lacks inspiration for me. True it features many admirable women – Nicola Adams, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Gamma Mohammed, Bridget Christie, Tavi Gevinson, Malala, Yousafzai, Laura Bates and Shami Chakrabarti – but of the 50ish women featured around a quarter of them are from the beauty/fashion industry and only around 9 could be considered from a non white ethnic group and none with disabilities.

The Once Upon a Time feature is entertaining and probably, in my opinion, the only section of the magazine worth reading, though interspersed with models and seductive fashion imagery. First up is Fay Weldon with a cautionary tale about a skinny model and her matriarchs. Given the context of Elle magazine, an unexpected ironic story. This is followed by a possibly sarcastic contribution from Audrey Niffenegger. A great tale of female empowerment from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is well worth the read. Finishing with an excellent contribution, a twist on the traditional Red Riding Hood classic, ending with a call for change, from Kate Mosse.

Then we’re back to fashion: about 20 pages with a nod to the ‘active’ woman (a few running shots) morphing into a set for the ‘modern woman’ looking as passive as ever despite the editorial suggesting otherwise – oh, I see sorry, it’s supposed to be ‘relaxed’.

There are eight pages given over to Benedict Cumberbatch,  one less than Emma Watson. His photos cover less page space and are more about him looking cool and with decidedly more skin covered and decidedly less come get me gazes than the images of EW. But less expected was that the interviewer seems to have forgotten to ask him about feminism at all. This is particularly curious given that he’s one of the men photographed sporting the £45, ethically controversial       t- shirt.

Then there’s another 50 odd pages of ads and beauty features until we get a ‘real life’ 2 page feature on Cheryl Strayed who impressively completed the Pacific Crest Trail. A true story of personal emancipation from grief and self destruction. It would have been cool to hear a bit more from some of the other remarkable women paid lip service to in the aforementioned Inspire List

Finally there’s a few more ads for good measure, more beauty features, a travel section featuring places that most of us could only dream of, more ads, more fashion etc. etc. etc

So, in the end we have all we can expect from a magazine like Elle, nothing less and not much more: Lots (and lots and lots more) of adverts and features that use images and techniques that simultaneously make you feel inferior whilst managing to create a desire to have what you see whilst despising yourself for even caring.

In summary – the usual fayre interspersed with a bit of editorial about feminism, seemingly aimed at those who might be a bit curious but too busy striving for an impossible beauty ideal to want to be challenged too much.

Overall a bit disappointing! It seems a huge shame and a missed opportunity to highlight some of the real feminist issues that Lorraine Candy (editor in chief) eludes to in her ‘Welcome’ section.

So, Sorry Elle, I think that you just didn’t really try hard enough this time, leading me to the conclusion that you just didn’t really care.

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The thing is chap……

What follows is inspired by an exchange I had at work with a male senior manager recently about the relevance of feminism, initiated by a discussion about the Robin Thicke video that was playing in one of our centres. We work in a multi-disciplined targeted youth support environment somewhere in the South West of England.

I thought that I heard you say…

  • Doesn’t Robin Thicke have the right to express himself?

And I wish I’d said …

  • Of course he does but with rights come responsibilities. Offering to: 

    give a ‘good girl (you know you want it)…something that’ll split your ass in two,                                                  

    whilst visually cavorting with naked supermodels (in his  video) & with half naked woman child (at the MTV Awards with Miley Cyrus – young enough to be his daughter) shouldn’t, in my opinion, be an acceptable form of expression fed into young people’s mainstream culture. I appreciate that maybe they are yet to hear about James Savile OBE in the U.S. of A but they surely heard about Steubenville, Ohio? Extreme examples, I know, but all show a fundamental disrespect for women, particularly their bodies and sexualities.

  I thought that I heard you say…

  • Oh so you propose censorship?

And  I wish I’d said …

  • I’m not sure, how far do you want to go with that argument? Does a paedophile have the right to view sexual images of children? Does a racist have the right to express their hatred of peoples of a different race? Should we protect our children from sexual & violent media?

I thought that I heard you say..

  • It should be about fairness NOT striving for equality. Equality necessarily denies difference.

And I wish I’d said …

  • Fairness is a value laden concept and judgement of it would depend largely on your social position as well as your beliefs, values, needs and desires. Ideological fairness would surely need real parity in how girls & boys, women & men are perceived, nurtured and valued in the world.
  • I am not aware of any part of the world or recent history where women are not denied the same rights, privileges and opportunities as men without having had to fight very hard for it.
  • In fact in some parts of the world girls don’t even get to be born; or they are sold as wives to men old enough to be their father’s grandfather; or are not allowed a basic education; or are bought (by men) to traffic for a whole host of chilling reasons (usually involving the sexual objectification of women by and for men); or their genitals are cut to ensure their marriage & dowry; or are otherwise unequally represented in the statistics on domestic & sexual violence; or are largely represented in media as one dimensional, sexually objectified, others; or are not equally represented in the top most powerful & influential positions in the areas of religion, science, economics, law, politics, media & industry – despite being at least as equal in numbers and proving to be at least as capable as men wherever they get a fair chance.
  • And these things are often accepted by the communities they take place in, or else are afforded a blind eye by the ones who might have the power and influence to change things
  • And why…oh yeah, I know… we’re back at that ‘biology’ and ‘differences’ dichotomy again. The one where women are reduced to mere body parts to explain the clear disparity and unfairness of the world

I thought that I heard you say…

  • We should be able to just celebrate our ‘biological?!’ differences instead of arguing for a place on the board

And  I wish I’d said …

  • I agree but I also believe that women should have a place on the board if she deserves it on merit and wants it. Oh OK, let’s talk biology…does the tenuous fact that I am physically capable of carrying a foetus and feeding it ( and  that I might have certain balance of hormones to help me with all that), really disqualify me from operating in positions of power and influence. Can it really be the root cause of the misogyny in the world? And is it fair that it is only the women who seem to get reduced to their body parts in this discussion? Never men, oh unless they rape people, then we are likely to judge his level of responsibility in relation to what extent we judge the female was ‘asking for it’.
  • It’s also yet another ‘entitled’ point of view posed from the ‘privileged’ position of being a successful white man living in a relatively affluent part of the world. It also serves to be (deliberately?) provocative and divisive so successfully evades any real dialogue that might further the discussion in any useful way

I thought that I heard you say…

  • Some women say they don’t want what the men have, they are happy as they are

And I wish I’d said …

  • It is true that ignorance can often be blissful & my personal experience of enlightenment has often been painful but I have never wished to go backwards. I also believe that true feminism is about equality of opportunity based on differences where relevant, call it fairness if you will. It’s also about personal choice so good on those women who feel they are happy with their status quo. But I also feel strongly that it’s only really fair if people are able to make choices and decisions that are well informed .

If you at any time had stopped offering your opinion long enough to allow me to process my thoughts.. I might have said those things. Instead, you went home holding the same opinions you started with which was your intention all along and, of course, your absolute right.

At least we didn’t have a discussion about how the word feminist makes you feel…

Link

The Girl Effect: Ending Child Marriage

The Girl Effect: Ending Child Marriage

A bit of good news….