Monday, 28 September 2009

women! be afraid!

Women! Be afraid!

An email was sent to everyone at my work today warning women about car jackers and offering self defence techniques.

These included using lifts rather than stairs.
Never offering to help anyone.
Never sitting stationary in your car.

It turned out the email was a hoax and not actually offering police recommended advice, but even before I found that out I was furious.

These emails make me really angry. I had a lot of them last year when the Bristol Groper was going around Bristol. Despite his attacks happening in winter, when it is dark at 3.30pm, these emails told women not to go out alone after dark in order to keep safe.

These emails use terror tactics. They frighten, they scare, they point out where women are vulnerable. They use emotive and scary language to suggest women’s vulnerability and make women feel unsafe in places they may have previously felt safe, i.e. their car.

We all know that women get attacked on the streets by strangers. But we also know that men are more likely to be attacked on the streets by strangers than women are. I haven’t got the stats to hand, but 16-24 year old men are the most vulnerable people on the streets. A couple of weeks ago in Bristol there was a tragic stabbing of a young man by a bunch of other young men. Yet, no work place was inundated with emails telling young men to not walk alone in the dark. No police warnings go out telling young men to always be sure to stay in well lit areas.

Men are vulnerable. Yet we do not train men to be afraid. We train women to be afraid.

Although I believe strongly that men and women need to be street wise and self aware when in public spaces, I don’t think that telling women to be afraid is at all constructive. Yet we tell women to be afraid on the streets all the time. And it works. Women are afraid. We’re afraid of the dark, we’re afraid of the man on the street, the man on the train, the man on the bus. We are brought up in an atmosphere of fear. We are given rape alarms that don’t work. We keep to busy streets and don’t walk home alone. We spend money on cabs and then are told not to take cabs alone in case the cab driver is a rapist. Then, if the worst happens and we are raped, we’re not believed.

What concerns me further to this is the way women who are attacked are judged. If a woman is raped by a stranger in the night on the street, we ask why was the woman on the street alone at night? Why was she not obeying the “rules”? What was she wearing? Was she drunk? Now, I am not saying that women or men should take unnecessary risks and put themselves in dangerous situations, but I think we can all appreciate that women have a right to inhabit the streets and shouldn’t be made to feel afraid of walking along the streets, and certainly shouldn’t be made to feel guilty for having done so.

I also think it distracts from the greater issue of violence against women. 1 in 4 women will be a victim of domestic and/or sexual violence in their lifetimes. Most of these women will be attacked by someone they know. So avoiding stairwells and making sure you walk in well lit areas isn’t always going to help.

These scare tactics, these terror emails are not helping women. They are teaching them to be afraid, they are reinforcing cultural myths about rape and they are assuming that women should be the ones to stop rape. That it is a woman’s responsibility to prevent rape. It takes the onus off the attackers and on to the victim.

The first Reclaim the Night marches were born out of an anger that women were subjected to a curfew when the Yorkshire Ripper was raping and killing.

Today we still march on Reclaim the Nights because women are still metaphorically placed under a curfew when their freedoms are curtailed out of a fear of rape and violence.

When an email goes around telling women how to behave in case she gets raped, we need to be asking why an email isn’t being sent round asking why men are still getting away with rape and what can the government, communities and police do about it.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

North Northumberland my heart belongs to you

I spoke to my dad and my auntie last night. my dad is on holiday at my aunt's farm in Belford, which is 5 miles inland from Bamburgh, along the A1.
And now all i want to do is pitch up in the field and stay up there too.

i spent all my summer holidays on that farm, which has sheep, horses, chickens, ducks and of course, long dead now, Abelard the peacock. altho towards my teen years the holdiays were a bit traumatic with rows, all my memories of the farm, the landscape and Northumberland itself is bathed in a hazy glow of joy.

i don;'t even have to close my eyes to picture every square inch of my aunt's land. i can walk up the drive with the fields on my left, dogs scampering around my feet, i can look for the ducks on the stream and i can feel the rough texture of the hay as i look for eggs.

it was a joke in my family that i knew exactly where i was wherever i was in northumberland. i could point in a direction and confidently say that lindisfarne was over there and happy valley was in that direction. ahh, happy valley! or north middleton. it is over ten years since i last went swimming in the river that forms a pool with the tree you can dive from, and i can still see all the lush greenery that keeps the swimming hole from sight, i can feel the water pounding on my shoulders over the rocks as i sat in the shallows.

the water is uniformly cold in northumberland, particularly in lynhope spout, the waterfall that crashed from the moors and mountains into a seemingly depthless pool that could take you to the centre of the earth. peaty and brown, but as crisp and fresh as icicles. wooler common, the pine woods with the silent floor of moss that looks as if it is a home for fairies. heather on the moors that buzzes with bee communities that makes the freshest, tangiest heather honey. the cattle at chillingham which will kill each other if touched by humans. the ford at ford and etal.

but mostly there is the sea. i think a part of me forever will live on stag rock, or crouched behind watching the crabs and shrimps wade through the rockpools. the sea of the coast of bamburgh has a wild and frightening quality that i have never seen replicated. pulled in by an army of white horses, flecked with green and blue and grey and white, swirling with a dynamism and rage that has sent it from the far north to this strange little sea side town famous for a castle and a heroine. fish and chips and picnics and digging holes and emerging from the sea covered in sea weed and dregs of sand, running from jellyfish.

different from the golden sands of embleton, and the eery green brown mudflats of budle bay.

there are more sheep than people and there is a silence, a solitariness in my memories, a feeling of peace and a sense of one-ness with the landscape. the drama of the moors and hills that fall out of sight into more land and heather, an endless parade of rugged, lonely and frightening beauty.

standing in the fields of the farm, costalot or quest or raffles nudging my hand or shoulder, sheep eying me suspiciously, a chicken exploding with eggs.

i love north northumberland with a strange passion that i don't feel for any place i have lived or holidayed in. i love bristol and paris and i have a love hate relationship with london, i adored nice and think barcelona is tops, i was crazy for rejkavik and went crazy in tokyo and i have a fond affection for plymouth and cornwall. but there is something in my very soul and heart that craves northumberland, something that makes me feel wholly home when i am there. part of me lives there. i dream about it vividly, in a way i have never dreamt of another place, and i can see it more clearly than i can even picture the streets where i live. it is my place.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Book review on the f word

I've started writing book reviews for the f word site, a great favourite of mine.

you can read my first effort here

Thursday, 10 September 2009


i have decided to add ads to my blog in order to raise me some pennies.

i hope this is ok with everyone

love sian xx

ps - i have NO power over which ads are shown. please remember that any ad on this blog does not reflect my personal beliefs or are products i agree with. i am at the mercy of google. and if anyone offers me a well paid job, i will be able to afford to remove the ads.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Why tampax pearl needs to change it's thinking

Since I bought my Mooncup and since I read the Cunt book that changed my life, I have been thinking a great deal about periods and my body and the way tampons and towels are advertised.
And I have come to the conclusion that the advertising is both damaging and, well, plain stupid.

My current bugbear is the advert for Tampax pearl, where a woman dressed in a green Coco Chanel suit plays Mother Nature, and interrupts a fashion shoot where a woman is dressed all in white on a white set. She informs the model that she can no longer participate in the fashion shoot because she is delivering her period. Because of course, when a woman has her period, she is completely incapacitated and should not in any circumstances participate in real life and go on with her day! (the sarcasm is heavy in my pen here). Anyway, the model tells her male model companions to stick around and finish the shoot, as she has bought tampax pearl, a product which means she can go on with her day. Oh poor women who don’t have the pearl product! cries the ad. How will you survive each month!

I am going to use this ad as my starting point for the many, many multi faceted issues I have with advertising for period products. (I refuse, point blank, to say sanitary protection. This is the only time I will say it).
Firstly, I take issue with the aforementioned point that Tampax are suggesting that without the magic of the pearl product, women can’t get on with their lives when they are on their period. This is a clever marketing ploy (“buy our product and you can live your life the way you want to!”), but also taps into a greater, historical and cultural anxiety about menstruating women. Traditionally, women on their periods were shunned, hidden away, and in their religious situations prevented from going to the place of worship. Why? Because your period was seen as something unclean, shameful, to be hidden. Ahh, patriarchal religious structures, and you ask me why you piss me right off? So, very subtly, Tampax are playing into this idea. They are saying that without the Tampax pearl, women should not be able to continue with their day, they should leave the public space, hide away until they are clean again, and they must never, ever, NEVER wear white! Unless, of course, they buy this pearl thing-a-ma-jig.
Now, the next question I have is what the fuck is this pearl thing-a-ma-jig anyway? What’s wrong with your regular old tampax? The answer of course is that tampons and towels as products are kind of a one trick pony. Women only need them once a month. They do the job whether you dress them up in a skirt, give them wings, add a “silken” layer or, make them in the shape of pearls. So all period companies have had to come up with all the aforementioned ideas to keep women buying the more expensive alternatives to their products. It’s a big con. A big, big con. And the biggest con of all is the pantyliner, doing the job that knickers have done for ages. The pantyliner is the period companies’ way of making sure that women buy their products all the time, whether they have their period or not. We then have the numerous femfresh products, the biggest sinners of all in my opinion. There is so much whatthefuckery going on with femfresh. They are products with only one goal in mind – making profit from women shaming. It’s not big and it’s not clever.

The problem I have with the way period products are advertised taps deep into the way women are taught to feel about their periods in our culture, and that is that they are something to be ashamed and embarrassed by, a “curse” that makes women become “hormonal” and “irrational”. This way of thinking is all wrong. I mean, think about it. Once a month, for between 3-7 days, for an average of 30-40 years, women have a period. That’s a hell of a lot of time to spend feeling embarrassed, ashamed and fed up. That’s a lot of time spent thinking your body has turned against you with its “curse”. It isn’t healthy to think this way!
Period advertising re-enforces these ideas.
Think about it. There’s an ad where a woman is with her boyfriend, who thinks her tampon is a sweet in her handbag. Thew! Because that could be embarrassing couldn’t it? Your boyfriend, the man you have sex with, might realise you are a woman with a womb and periods and everything! Man, I can’t imagine anything worse! (again, sarcasm). There’s an ad where blue water (blue??!!) is poured on a towel and women squeal at how absorbent it is. There are towels that are decorated in flowers and have been scented. It is all one massive WTF!
What are these ads saying to us? They are telling us that your period is something to be embarrassed about and must be kept hidden at all costs. It is saying that we must be discreet, we must be coy, we must be shy of our bodies.
And then, to top off this mouldy cake with a sour cherry, we have the famous tampax lady. The lady who Tampax, the company, send to schools to educate teen women about their periods, but most importantly, to educate young teens to buy tampax, and to feed them the message that Tampax thrives on, keep your periods hidden and feel ashamed!
When the tampax lady comes on her visit (in year 7 and year 10) she gives everyone a pack of tampax products, including a little holder so that no one will know you’re carrying a tampon in your bag.
Says it all really, doesn’t it.

This is what I would like to see. Firstly, I want period advertising that isn’t so women and body shaming that it has to use blue water to signify blood. I’m not saying we should use blood, it’s not like we use shit in loo roll ads, but something less anodyne and coy would be better. I want ads that don’t treat periods as some dirty secret that women have to keep hidden from men’s eyes. I want companies that don’t come up with endless much of the same products that are overpriced even when nearly all women from puberty to menopause need to use them.

But changing the rules of advertising these products can only go so far. Ads may shape our view of things, but ads are in turn shaped by cultural mores. What we really need is a big cultural overhaul in the way we look and think about periods.

I read about Barbara G Walker describing menarche parties, celebrations that her community would throw for a woman when she starts her period. How amazing is that? How amazing would it be that if from day one, we told women their periods weren’t bad or gross or smelly or shameful, but were a step in the road of life and part of being a woman, of becoming a woman, and our bodies way of preparing women for potential motherhood.

Instead of having the tampax woman come to schools to spout her propaganda, what if we told women all these things? What if social ed was dedicated occasionally to teach boys and girls about periods in a positive way, rather than splitting up the class so the boys don’t get embarrassed by “girl talk”.
If we talked about periods properly and didn’t see them as female shame, then this embarrassment would not be an issue in the first place. There would be no embarrassment around the subject because we would all be open about our bodies and therefore no embarrassment would exist.

When I started using my mooncup, my whole concept of my periods changed radically. I made a conscious effort to stop seeing them as this evil pain that was ruining my fun. It was hard. My periods are painful and always have been. Even now that I am on the pill (and my issues with the pill are a whole other story), they still hurt. I also had a decade or more of negative messaging around my period and my body that told me that I was right to be embarrassed and annoyed with my uterus. But I persevered because I really believed that changing my attitude towards how my body works would make my life easier. And it has. My body is no longer the enemy setting out to ruin my fun, it is no longer the “leaky vessel” that means my day is ruined. It is now my body, part of me, and part of my sense of who I am. Learning to see my periods as a positive thing has made me a much happier person. I think the mooncup helped. The mooncup means you have to get up close and personal with your periods. There’s no applicator or pearl or skirt or wings. It taught me more about how my periods work and behave far more than the tampax lady did.

I wish I could switch all the ads for woman positive messages from companies such as mooncup and lunar pads that tell women not to be ashamed about their bodies and instead to celebrate this one aspect of femaleness (disclaimer – obviously not all women have periods, this is therefore just one potential aspect of what can be seen as encompassing femaleness). Ads would not proudly disclaim how subtle and discreet their products are, they wouldn’t hand out little secret holders. They would tell women to love their bodies and to live happily in their bodies.

And they would never, ever, NEVER refer to “sanitary protection”.