Thursday, 23 December 2010

big day for me!

I've been promoted! Woo hoo!

Funny old year. This time last year, i was temping as a receptionist. Now I've got a lovely job and have a promotion under my belt.

This year was definitely better than last year despite a few hiccups, trashings in the local media, and sadnesses along the way.

A big tribute to friends and family and colleagues and amazing boyfriend who have been there by my side throughout the parties, holidays, laughings, cryings and changes.

I love you all. 

That is all.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Bristol City Council let down women survivors part 2

 I've been sending this to various indy press outlets.

On the 25th November, the UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls was celebrated by the Bristol City Council with an exhibition of art and writing created over a series of women-only workshops by survivors of male violence against women. Events turned sour however when the head of the council, Barbara Janke, questioned why the art on display was only by women, before arguing that the UN day ignored male survivors. When the organiser of the exhibition explained that this day is designated by the UN to recognise that levels of violence against women and girls now constitute the biggest human rights crisis of out time, Ms Janke chose to complain that the exhibition was ‘exclusive’ and walked off without even looking at the art.

Her colleague, Councillor Guy Poultney, was overheard asking why women victims and survivors needed a day at all, yet did not see his confusion as a reason not to have his photo taken by the press. Mr Poultney’s presence in itself was controversial. In his capacity as head of the licensing committee he recently granted a licence to a Hooters restaurant in Bristol, and voted in favour of a licence for a lap dancing club, an application which, in the end, was defeated. Many of the women in attendance felt his presence at the event was hypocritical. When the links between sexual objectification and violence against women are so obvious and so strong, (American Psychological Association) it was very concerning that a councillor who professes to support the aims to end violence against women and men, is happy to license properties that encourage an atmosphere that fosters violence. Like his colleague Ms Janke, he also did not seem to want to engage with the art on display, leaving the women in attendance with the impression that his main purpose in attending was for the press photo opportunity.

When we wrote to the councillors to ask why they had been so hostile to an event focusing on women survivors, by accusing the work of being exclusive and discriminatory towards men, we received no reply. It was with some surprise then, that on the 3rd December, we learnt that Barbara Janke had accused us in the local press of being ‘hysterical’ when we had tried to talk to her about the reasons behind the event.

I am writing this to explain our side of the story, and why we believe in the importance of the 25th November as a day to recognise women victims and survivors of male violence.

The reason only women survivors were represented at the exhibition is because the 25th November is the one day of the year when we are asked to stop what we’re doing and recognise the need to end violence against women and girls. It is the one day in the year that women survivors and victims are given some focus. All too often, women are silenced when it comes to violence. They are silenced because the police don’t believe them when they are raped. They are silenced because their partner may threaten them if they speak out. They are silenced because no-one has ever been convicted of committing FGM in the UK, even though we know that 6500 girls are at risk. They are silenced because they are murdered by johns, partners, ex-partners and strangers. They are silenced because violence against women and girls is so common, it is not even considered to be news.

The UN Day to Eliminate Violence against Women and Girls is not intended to ignore male victims of violence. An exhibition of art by women survivors does not deny that men are survivors and victims too. To suggest this, as Ms Janke did, is ridiculous. All the UN asks, all these women ask, is that we dedicate one day to remembering them, listening to them and recognising that violence against women and girls is happening, every where, every day.

In her statement to the press, Ms Janke went on to accuse the organiser, her colleagues and her friends that they did not believe men were needed to help end violence against women and girls. This is simply not true. This event was never about excluding men. We need men and women to work together to end violence against women and girls. We need men to challenge sexist assumptions, challenge male privilege, and speak out against violence. It is very, very troubling that Ms Janke interpreted a woman only exhibition as a suggestion that we believe the war against violence can be won by women alone. It is ludicrous to suggest that the aim of the exhibition was to exclude men from joining the fight.

She went on to accuse us of being unable to hold or listen to any other opinion. But her argument that the UN day excludes men would suggest that it is, in fact, her who was refusing to hear an alternative opinion: the opinion that it is important to dedicate one day to speaking out about male violence against women. She refused to listen to or attempt to understand why this day was important, and as a result, refused to engage with the art created by the women of the city she is supposed to represent.

The council has increased funding to Safer Bristol’s domestic violence scheme by £150,000, which is fantastic. But money is not enough. We need to know that our representatives understand the issue of male violence against women and girls, if we can ever feel that they can be trusted to treat this issue with the seriousness and respect it deserves.

Here's the evening post take on events:

It's not a great article, and i would like to point out that Janke spoke to the press but never replied to our emails or got in touch with us directly.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Bristol City Council let down women survivors

Nearly a week later and Councillors Poultney and Janke have not replied to my letter. They have also not responded to other letters from other women who were that day.
I do not believe my letter was aggressive or unfair. Neither was my behaviour towards the councillors on the day. Either they are ashamed and embarrassed by their own behaviour, or they simply don't care. They don't care about survivors, they don't care about the women in their city. They care about photo calls in the newspaper.

 yesterday i attended an exhibition of art work by women survivors of male violence. it was beautiful and moving, and gave female survivors of violence a voice.
i was shocked then by the blatant 'what about the men' attitude of two of the councillors in attendance. i have written about the experience below, and hope to outline why responding to the UN's day to eliminate violence against women and girls by asking why no male survivors were represented was inappropriate and callous.

domestic violence against men is awful, a tragedy, just as all gender bases violence is. if there was an exhibition of work by male survivors i would support it whole heartedly. i would wear a ribbon and support a UN awareness raising day. but the 25th November was about women. And the council appeared to want to silence those women, by refusing to acknowledge their experiences and invalidating an attempt to give women a voice.

Here you go:

I was really pleased that the council had chosen to host this moving and important exhibition that gave a voice to the women survivors of violence of Bristol. I assumed that the council understood that yesterday (25th November) was the UN International Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls day ( Therefore I was shocked by the hostility from the leader of the council when she realised that the art and writing on display came from women only workshops, and were recognising, remembering and offering a voice to women victims. Rather than paying respect to the women who had bravely told their stories, the exhibition was instead criticised for being 'exclusive'.

The UN dedicates the 25th November to recognising violence against women and girls, and the need to combat it. This is not a Bristol Feminist Network or Bristol Fawcett or Rape Crisis Centre or Avon and Somerset Police or Women's Forum initiative, but an international event that says to the world that violence against women and girls is one of the 'greatest human rights violations of our time' (Amnesty International). It is not about being exclusive or ignoring that men are victims of violence too (as was intimated by the councillor) but about recognising that violence against women and girls is an issue, a gender based issue, and one that needs to be treated as an issue on its own. It is recognising that the scale of violence against women and girls is so huge, and pledging to do something about it. There are 100 million women missing in the world, as a result of male violence against women and girls (Half the Sky,, 1 in 3 women internationally will be subject to sexual assault or rape, 1.5 women a week in the UK are killed by a former or current partner, 100,000 women a year in the UK are raped and 6500 girls in the UK are at risk of FGM. The 25th November is the one day when this is internationally recognised. To try and make out that there was something wrong with this international UN led initiative showed a troubling lack of understanding about the issues of violence against women and girls. It also left me very concerned about the council's commitment to tackling gender based violence, and supporting victims.

Women are too often left to suffer in silence. This exhibition gave the women of Bristol a voice. It gave them a chance to speak out about what has happened to them. To draw attention away from this, in order to criticise its 'exclusivity', did a great disservice to the women in the exhibition and the women in Bristol. It showed a refusal to engage with the art on display and the issues that are so relevant to the women of this city every day, not just on the 25th November. Furthermore, I felt the tone of the conversation was rude and disrespectful towards the time, effort and money that the organiser of the exhibition had invested in running the workshops, printing the zines and creating the event.

It seemed to me that the Bristol City Councillors were more concerned about having their faces seen and their voices heard in the local press, than listening to the voices of women survivors, on a day dedicated to ending the humanitarian crisis that is violence against women and girls.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

consent, education and rape

This is a bit of a rambling lunch break constructed rant.

You’d hope by now, in the year 2010, that most people would have worked out what rape is. But, in what seems to be a fairly regular happening, a new survey has come out today that, yet again, suggests people are pretty confused about rape.

Today survey says:
Nearly half of young men think that if a woman is too drunk to know what is going on, it is not rape.
46% of men think that if a woman changes her mind during sex, and he carries on, it isn’t rape.
23% of men think that ‘having sex’ with a woman even if she has said no from the start is not rape. (I have put ‘having sex’ in inverted commas because it’s rape, not sex)

Don’t read the comments unless you want to vom.

This survey has come out the week after we see a victim of rape being jailed for perverting the course of justice, because her violent husband threatened her if she continued to press charges. By a judge who has repeatedly released domestic violence offenders because they ‘don’t pose a big risk to society’ (

As you can imagine, this survey has made me pretty angry. And perhaps I am most angry by how much these myths persist, and how, with a bit of education, they could be resolved.

In the past, feminists have suggested that better education about rape and consent would help reduce offences and encourage reporting of rape. This proposal is often met by hand wringing about ‘stolen childhood innocence’ from the Daily Mail, and scorn that ‘education won’t stop people from raping’ from that charming, well informed bunch on CIF (sarcasm :-/). But this survey shows that, actually, many young men don’t even know or understand what rape is. This survey shows that  some young men are committing a gross and inhuman crime, without understanding or knowing that it is what they are doing. And, on the flip side, this suggests that all too often, young women don’t know what rape is. A heart breaking radio phone in had a teenager confusedly asking the presenter whether she had been raped, when her boyfriend and all of his friends raped her. Because she had not been taught about what consent meant, because she had not learnt that she could be an active agent in sex, with real and important desires, she didn’t understand what had happened to her. With better education about what active consent means, and what rape is, perhaps men would think twice about what they are doing.

The key is active consent. Not being too drunk to know what’s going on. Sex is about mutual pleasure and desire, about you both actively wanting it to happen. If one of you doesn’t even know anything is taking place, then how can you be actively engaging in sex?
It is important to move away from the idea that not consenting to sex means clearly and loudly saying no. Commonly, we see situations where women have been intimidated or coerced into sex, threatened if they don’t go along with it. These are situations where saying no could put her in further danger. Perhaps they are in a violent relationship, and are even more afraid of the repercussions of the word no. Perhaps she has frozen, and is too scared to know what to say or do. There are lots of reasons why a woman might not say no. But not saying no doesn’t mean she hasn’t been raped. This is why the issue of active consent is so important. The idea that both parties are actively engaged in and want to have sex. It can be with someone you love, someone you’ve only just met, someone you don’t even like, but it has to be something you want to do and want to be part of.

The myth that men can’t stop once they’ve started is terrifyingly pervasive and as well as being dangerous to women, it is insulting to men. A long time ago I had an argument with a guy at uni about this, who insisted that even if a woman withdrew consent during sex, a man could not stop what he was doing. At this point my friend screamed at him ‘have you ever been penetrated?’ Because, although when it happens consensually it can be great, without consent it is a gross violation of another person’s body and boundaries. If a woman says stop, then you stop. It doesn’t matter whether you don’t want to stop. You don’t have anything inside you that at that moment you don’t want to be there. You don’t know what that woman is going through, physically and emotionally. So have some fucking respect and do what she’s asking. It isn’t hard to stop. It isn’t impossible. It IS rape if you don’t.

And the final point in the survey. The 23% who just rape because they don’t see no as meaning no. The men who see women’s bodies as their entitlement. The men who have learnt that women’s bodies are objects for them to use. A lesson learnt from the sex industry. A lesson that says that women are not active agents when it comes to sex. Just bodies that are to be used. The men who don’t understand and who don’t care, who think that they deserve what they want, with no regard for what that means for the woman on the other side of their body.

Where does this sense of entitlement come from? Well, one place is violent and degrading porn, strip clubs and prostitution. Young men are seeing, from the age of 11 on average, imagery that tells them that sex is something that is done to a woman, that he ‘takes’ from her and that she won’t complain, no matter what you do to her. They experience one of the most intense physical sensations whilst watching a woman being harmed and hurt. They come to view women’s bodies as something they are entitled to, that belong to them no matter what. Young women grow up seeing sex as something they perform, not as something they actively engage in. It’s a toxic combination.

Mix this with an education system that refuses to talk about consent and respect, and that doesn’t discuss desire and pleasure. Add in schools that ignore sexual harassment of its female pupils, seeing it as ‘boys being boys’. Stir in a culture ruled by patriarchy, where women are not viewed as full and equal citizens of the world, where rape is seen as a hazard that women have the power to avoid, and the results of the survey are no longer surprising.

But they can be changed. They can be changed with education. They can be changed by teaching respect. By teaching consent. By teaching that sex is a mutual thing. They can be changed by transforming society’s view of women’s and men’s sexuality. And it all starts with education.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Sex Entertainment Venue Licensing in Bristol

This is the statement that i will be making to the council later on this evening.

We hope that they use the new licensing powers to help protect women, to take into account the gender equality impact of licensing decisions and to ensure that the rights of the women and men of Bristol, rather than business powers, are treated with respect and consideration.

After the embarrassment of giving Hooters a licence in a cumulative impact zone, because its sexist mores and degrading attitude towards women offers something 'really different to the city' we hope that the council uses this opportunity to take gender equality seriously.

Please note that the proposed licensing changes relate to sex entertainment venues, such as lap dancing clubs, not sex shops. Just because it needs to be clear that this is about taking a stand against businesses that treat women as only and always sex objects, not businesses that sell frilly pants!

So here we go:

Bristol Feminist Network, on behalf of the women of Bristol would like to thank Bristol City Council for the hard work undertaken so far in developing its sex entertainment venue policy. The consultation period is drawing to a close and the Council will be considering the final draft of the policy at the December Full Council meeting.

We trust that the Council will take on board the views on the policy and on the standard conditions that have been submitted from those concerned with the safety and wellbeing of women and girls and that any final policy will:

- Redress the current imbalance of power between lap dancing club owners and local authorities
- Reinstate local democracy
- Help to improve conditions and safety for lap dancing club performers
- and will uphold legal obligations to promote gender equality

We would also like to draw attention to the strength of the responses of several other authorities and we hope that Bristol does not allow itself to fall behind in implementing innovative policies which hold real hope for improvements in the treatment of women and girls, and would promote wider beneficial effects on social order in Bristol. London is proud to report that eight of its boroughs, including Hackney and Islington, have proposed to put a nil cap on licensing for sex entertainment venues, to end what one councillor has called 'endless sleaze swamping our communities' (Paul Smith

These councils are led by Conservatives, by Lib Dems, by Labour. This is not an issue that has split parties. This is an issue that has brought men and women from all over the political spectrum together to fight a culture that demeans and degrades women.

Peter Stringfellow has called the proposed nil cap an assault on his human rights to treat women as disposable objects that can be valued in pounds and pence. But, in fact, the opposite is true. The adoption of the nil cap shows that councils from across parties respect women’s human rights. The right to not suffer sexual assault and sexual harassment in the work place, as 100% of sex entertainment venue workers in Vancouver reported. The right for women to not suffer sexual harassment and assault as they walk past sex entertainment venues, as research by Eaves has shown. The right to be viewed in society as full human beings, as full agents in the world, rather than as only and always sex objects.

We hope that Bristol City Council will follow the example of their London colleagues.

We ask that the Council does not miss this opportunity to use the new licensing powers effectively, and that the concerns of local people and issues related to social justice and equality can finally be put at the very heart of the licensing process.

Friday, 29 October 2010

feminism in london 2010

What a day of inspiration! A great gathering of empowered, excited and inspired women and men, over a 1000 of them, in one building, all dedicated to ending gender equality.

We arrived a little late (having got up at 6.30am) and entered the main hall as Ceri Goddard was speaking. Her talk was framed around the cuts and the Fawcett’s challenge to the government. As well as exploring how the cuts will affect women, Ceri suggested that what we are witnessing is a regression into past sexism. That the cuts are part of an ideological push to halt the course of feminism, to halt the liberation of women, and push us back out of the public and in to the domestic sphere. As we witness the child benefit cuts (although – now unworkable? running parallel with proposed marriage tax breaks for stay at home mums, alongside massive penalties for single mums, I can only believe this to be true. Why are women being asked to bear the brunt? Why are more women likely to be made redundant? Why isn’t the impact on both sexes? Because they want women in the domestic sphere, doing unpaid or low paid work, rather than in the public sphere, changing and overhauling the status quo.

She was followed by Helena Kennedy QC, who told us about her feminist story as a second wave campaigner all the way through to today. She highlighted where change has happened, encouraging equality in a way that was out of reach when she started her career. The audience laughed as she described law firms saying ‘oh no, we already have a woman here’ in response to job applications. But once more, her tale was cautionary. We’re going backwards. Women are being pushed out. And it isn’t enough to be a woman in public life, if you weren’t going to change things once you are there. As women waved goodbye to the cabinet, as we watch women’s lives being changed by decisions taken by men in suits, her words rang strong and true. We need to be in public life, to make women’s lives better. And we need to make our presence count.

Lindsey Hills, a young woman from the YWCA spoke next about the prejudice young mums face. She explained the myths surrounding the benefits young mums get, and her struggles to get housing, and support. The ignorance and prejudice she faces are extraordinary. The talk celebrated the work of the YWCA in fighting against this, and supporting young mums.

She was followed by Rahila Gupta – writer, journalist and advocate of the Southall Black Sisters organisation. She explored the issues women in journalism face, particularly in so-called liberal spaces where women face so much prejudice. This especially rang true for me, when I think of all the hostility feminists can face on lefty blogs and sites. You know the score – what about the men-nery and blatant sexism. Coming from her perspective as an Asian woman as well, she explained how she often faced difficulty in getting her stories heard, as they did not always fit the approved Asian woman narrative of commissioning editors. She also told of the work the amazing and wonderful Southall Black Sisters do – an organisation that needs our love and support.

The final opening speaker was filmmaker Virginia Heath who showed us her project ‘My dangerous Loverboy’ about internal sex trafficking. This is an integrated project that works with school children and uses social media, film and music to explore the issues in a way that immediately engages with young women.

I wasn’t booked on to any of the morning workshops so me and some friends went to the talk on reproductive rights, which was open to everyone. We missed the first speaker as we were getting coffee, and came in to hear a talk about mother’s rights during birth, and the crisis surrounding taboos around home births and women’s decision making around her body. It was accompanied by a short film about women’s birthing experiences (produced by Ricki Lake!) and raised important issues about what a natural birth is, how mothers are being informed and cared for, and how hospital practises can cause more complications and harm to the mother. It was very troubling, but also uplifting and fascinating to watch the experiences of women giving birth on their own terms.

This was followed by a woman from Forward who was talking about FGM, the lack of prosecutions and the prejudices around this issue. She argued that when we talk about reproductive rights, we mustn’t forget to talk about women’s sexual pleasure and sexuality, that these are key issues. A stance I completely agree with. Lets not forget about sex! After all, if we empower women to fully inhabit and enjoy their sexuality, then we empower women to say yes to safe sex, we empower women to view their sexuality as vital and alive and not subservient to male desire. Obviously any talk on FGM is going to be upsetting, but she was such a vibrant and positive speaker, you felt hope.

The final speaker was the powerhouse that is Ann Rossiter, a passionate campaigner for women’s right to choose and safe, legal abortion. She opened her talk by announcing that she had had an (illegal) abortion, to cheers and whoops. She went on to tell the stories of women in Ireland and Northern Ireland who were forced to travel to England/Scotland/Wales – and increasingly further afield – to access abortion. She described the cost, the difficulty, the stigma, highlighting the terrible situation for women living just 45 minutes away. The abortion laws in Ireland are draconian.  But thank god for women like Ann. Women like her who offer safe houses, support, money and care for the women coming over to seek medical help. Who have fought and fought, and cared and cared, for countless women. Her strength and her spirit rang through the hall like a tonic, waking us up to the fragility of rights we all too often take for granted.

Lunch saw a protest leaving the building and heading to the M&S flagship store on Oxford Street. M&S have leased their Bristol building to Hooters, and an energetic and powerful group of women and men flyered the store to say that we would not put up with this green light to sexism.

I however, caught up with old housemate and great friend Hannah (, old friend Sian and fellow blogger and twitter friend Hannah ( whose blog is just an amazing collection of writing and feminist inspiration. A quick bite to eat, and then back to the hall for the next workshop.

Which was on porn. Entitled ‘It’s easy out here for a pimp’, it was a challenging subject to me, which came with lots of warnings about explicit content and images we may find disturbing. There were lots of people in the small hall, as Rebecca Morden took us through a slideshow that explored the influence of porn on our lives and the effect it was having on our young children. As a woman with strong views on porn and the sex industry, even I was horrified by the proliferation of images of violence and misogyny that was displayed. It confirmed my belief (backed up by plentiful research) that porn is an expression and visual presentation of violence against women. From porn that showed women’s face contorted in physical pain, to making ‘that bitch airtight’ to ass to mouth – a process that doesn’t enhance male sexual pleasure but does utterly degrade women, and incest porn, accompanied by tag lines that I cannot repeat here in case they are triggering. And, of course, the porn was incessantly racist, playing on nasty, degrading and horrific stereotypes. What was very concerning was the amount of porn that falls under the ‘barely legal’ banner, blurring the line between adults and children. Items such a slut on the bus encourages people to find violence against women as funny. It isn’t funny.

I just cannot agree with porn, so long as we don’t know what is consensual and what isn’t. When you consider that ‘cult film’ Deep Throat is basically the live rape and forced imprisonment of Linda Lovelace, when you look at these images that tell the viewers that women’s pleasure or consent is unimportant, when you consider that no one is wearing a condom – we need to ask these questions and stop saying it is just one of those things, it’s free speech, if you don’t like it you don’t have to watch it. We have a huge problem of violence against women in this country, and a growing rate of STIs in teens, and when you see this stuff it is easy to understand why. Young men are learning from porn that sex is something they do to women, and young women are learning to put up and shut up. The links are there for those who want to see it. (I wonder if my SEO count is going mental for the word p*** now?)

There were moments in the slide show that I took issue with, and I think this was because of its American bias. The final slides were about what we can do to help teens discover and explore their own sexuality beyond learning from porn, with the suggestion that sex should be about love. I don’t think sex should be only and always about love and I really praise Ariel Levy for saying that sex is about that indefinable attraction that can be towards someone you love, or someone you don’t even like. It is my belief that we should teach teens about sex as something they engage in because they want to, because they actively consent to it and because they feel desire, their own, owned desire. Saying you should only have sex with someone you love can cause confusion and even shame. My sex ed (at a secular school) was always going on about ‘waiting for the one’ and marriage when all I wanted to hear was about consent, respect, safety and being an active agent in my own desires. I have had sex with people I love, and people I haven’t always liked, but the hurt was when the sex was coercive or unpleasurable or accompanied with disrespect. This is what needs to be tackled. And, unfortunately, coercion, lack of pleasure and disrespect are all part of the visual and spoken language of porn.

The slideshow was followed by a panel discussion with the incredible and inspirational Rebecca Mott and Object powerhouse Anna Van Heeswijk. I was a bit disappointed with the discussion as I felt the questions were dominated with people asking whether being anti porn meant condemning women who liked rough sex or BDSM, or who liked erotica. Rebecca Mott spoke eloquently on this – that there is nothing wrong with images of people’s bodies, there is nothing wrong with pleasurable and mutually consensual sex. There is something wrong with degrading people and treating them as objects to be hurt. Anna discussed how pervasive porn is and the influence it has on our everyday lives. I just felt disappointed that we seemed to be having a debate about whether feminists are trying to police women’s sex lives (uuh, no!), rather than the very important debate over the affect of porn on our sex lives/society/children/levels of violence against women. I am anti porn because I am pro sex and think sex deserves more respect than being reduced to violence, hate and degradation.

A bit shaken, we went to the closing speeches in the main hall, compered by the fabulous Kate Smurthwaite ( and kicked off by Natasha Walter. She was fabulous. She discussed how, after the publication of Living Dolls, the media approvingly said she wasn’t an angry feminist. Well, she rebuked, I am angry! She told us that women were being denied the chance to explore their full potential, how gender stereotyping still limited our choices. She also told us stories about her work with refugee women and how we needed to do more to help the vulnerable women seeking help in our country. Damn straight sister.

Anna Fisher was up next, who paid tribute to all the amazing women who had volunteered to make the fantastic day happen. She spoke from an anti-capitalist perspective (whoop!), enforcing the message that we did not want equality with the ruling class if it meant we exploited and oppressed other groups. A message which we need to hold on to if we want to avoid what I call ‘margaret thatcher syndrome.

Finally Finn McKay spoke. I have met Finn and have seen her on TV, so I was excited to see if she really was as charismatic and exciting as a public speaker as I had heard she was. And, of course, she blew me away. Feminism has to mean something, she said, or it risks not meaning anything at all. People say we should rebrand feminism, as if the great and incredible changes and achievements in our movement were something to be ashamed of. But it is not. It is something we should be shouting and proclaiming from the rooftops. She paid tribute to the women who are survivors. She told the audience that women are told to be ashamed of the violence committed against them, when it is society’s shame. My eyes were full of tears.

We are a movement, I thought. We are a movement.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Getting VAWG reported in the news - part 2

A while ago I blogged about a project where i would try and get violence against women reported in the news for one month (November) to try and highlight how this issue is rarely given press attention on account of it being so common so as not to be news.

With help from enthusiastic volunteers, I have come up with the following statement to be sent to the news outlets. Please let me know any feedback and if you have any good press contacts, then please let me know!


Join our Campaign to report Violence Against Women and Girls in the Media in November

Join our Campaign to report Violence Against Women and Girls in the
Media in November

Did you know that 25th November is the UN International Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women?

To mark the date, we’re asking the media to dedicate ONE day for every week of November to report the terrifyingly high levels of violence against women and girls in the UK and around the world.

We ask you to dedicate a small space in your reporting once a week throughout November to say the following:

‘It is estimated that this week in the UK 1.5 women have died as a result of domestic violence. A further 500 women who have experienced domestic violence in the last six months will commit suicide this year. Every minute in the UK the police will receive a call from a member of the public relating to domestic violence, resulting in over 570,000 calls each year. Domestic violence has the highest repeat rate of any crime and approximately 77% of domestic violence victims are women. An estimated 100,000 women in the UK will be raped every year, yet the conviction rate relating to reported attacks remains at only 6.5%. Rape is recognised internationally as a form of torture and weapon of war, and 1 in 3 women across the world will be raped or sexually assaulted in their lifetime. An estimated 6500 girls in the UK are at risk of FGM.’

The level of violence against women and girls is news. The levels of rape, of abuse, of murder. But it generally isn’t reported as news, precisely because it is so common. When it is reported, it is framed around ideas of provocation or a ‘crime of passion’, or the victim is painted as somehow to blame.

There are many ways in which this information could be incorporated into your reporting. You could report the whole paragraph, once a week throughout November. For 2 weeks you could report the domestic violence statistics, and then dedicate 2 weeks to reporting about rape. You could dedicate the 25th November to the issue of violence against women and girls, running a comprehensive feature on the subject.

We need to spread the message that violence against women and girls is everywhere, and needs to be stopped.

We need to emphasise the message that a victim of violence is never to blame.

We need to enforce the reality that the only person at fault is the perpetrator.

Amnesty International has called violence against women and girls one of the greatest human rights violations of our time. We ask you, for the month of November, to join us in condemning this epidemic of violence, and to call for its end.

Statistic sources:

Friday, 15 October 2010

The Trouble with Hooters

The trouble with Hooters

Degrades men.
Objectifies women.
Sexualises babies.*

We are living in a society that increasingly treats women as only and always sex objects. Passive, to be looked at, and consumed, by a (male) audience. The result of this increasing view of women as disposable sex objects (disposable in that once they stop being ‘sexy’ the are rendered useless and invisible) is:

·       A rise in violence in teen and adult relationships (NSPCC, Bristol University)
·       A rise in low self esteem and mental health issues in young women (APA)

Hooters is part of a spectrum that sees women as objects designed to serve and entertain a predominantly male audience. They proudly claim that the Hooters concept is based on female sex appeal, however the sexuality they are referring to is a narrow and confined definition decided by Hooters’ bosses. It has nothing to do with celebrating women and female sexuality, and everything to do with commercialisation that degrades men and objectifies women. 

Hooters encourages the view of women as sex objects, rather than as whole citizens of the world. This feeds in to a fantasy of the world before feminism. Where women are always and only sexually available. Where they laugh at the jokes that degrade them, and accept sexual harassment. Where women are subservient to men, where women wave goodbye to their rights and independence.

This refusal to see women as human, this insistence to see women as only and always objects, leads to violence, sexual confusion, mental disorder and low self-esteem. The Hooters concept is part of a culture that degrades men and damages women. This is our objection to their brand. This is our objection to a culture that degrades men and women. We are asking for it to end. We have had enough. 


Wednesday, 6 October 2010

I'm back

Barcelona was so wonderfully amazing.

Real blog posts to follow soon

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Sian is on holiday

So I won't be moderating comments until Saturday 2nd October.

if i was a superhero

I should warn you that this is an angry post filled with rage, anger, a desire for revenge and a deep sadness about what I see happening in the world. But I know what people may comment so please be assured that I am not talking about all men, or all women, or all of anything, I am just expressing an anger. There are lots of great men and women, and terrible men and women. There are lots of men and women working to solve the world's problems, and I am grateful to them. But I am angry today and this is me being angry.

If I was a superhero...

I would start by finding all the men that have hurt, abused, sexually assaulted and raped my friends.

I would make them parade through the city streets, whilst we pelted them with rotten veg and fish. I would make sure everyone knew what they had done, so they could never lift their heads in pride again. I would make sure that they knew that they were guilty of a great crime, that they would pay for for the rest of their lives.

And then I would take on the men who hurt, abused, sexually assualted and raped all my sisters all over the world. I would make the world stand up and notice. I would tell them that they were the scorn of society, lower than the dog shit on my shoe. I would make sure they never ever did it again.

And i know it is not just men that commit these crimes, and  i know women who have been assaulted and hurt by other women. I would make that stop too.

And then I would find all the millions of women who are missing, as described in Half the Sky. All 100 million of them. I would stop them from being left to die.

And then I would raid the brothels all over the world that are full of trafficked women, and full of vulnerable women, and all the strip clubs where customers can retreat in to their pre feminist fantasy of dominance and I would wait outside the doors and I would make the leaving punters listen to the stories of these women. The stories of the women who are beaten, who are raped, who give birth in a brothel and know their daughters will be forced in to prostitution too. The stories of all the women who live in fear, who are hurt, who are left with PTSD...The stories of the women who are sexually assaulted, the women who feel trapped in an industry that sees them as disposable objects...I would make them listen. And once they had listened I would make them apologise, until they were so sad and sorry and ashamed, they would stop seeing their need for sex as more important as a woman's life and freedom. No one died from not having sex with a prostiture or not going to a lap dancing club.

And I would find the cinema owners who showed 'deep throat' because it is a 'cult classic' and i would raid the cinema and i would stand there and read to them what happened to linda lovelace, and make them see that they are watching live rape, over and over and over again. I would make them say sorry for validating the rape of a woman and calling it art.

And I would raid the offices of the daily mail and friends, and make them print an apology every day to women every where for endlessly printing false accusation of rapes, and not covering the issue of rape. And I would make them apologise every day for insinuating that women are to blame for the violence committed against them, unless their rape or attack happened according to the strict definitions believed by the daily mail.

And I would stop religon being used as a tool to attack women, and i would stop so-called honour killings and rapes, and I would stop the view of women as being male property who do not deserve rights.

I would build schools to educate women and girls and men and boys, so that the endless cycles of poverty and degradation would end. 

If I was a superhero...

But I'm not.

And yet, we have insititutions in places that could achieve this.

We have the police, who have had the funding cut for powers to prevent domestic violence, and the funding cut for an investigation in to their handling of rape.
We have the PCC who could regulate the media and ask them to not print lies about women being liars.
We have the UN who could have maybe done something to stop what is happening in the Congo.
We have a government that have decided to hold women to ransom.
We have an EU directive to stop trafficking that the government has decided not to sign.

We have wonderful charities and aid organisations who work tirelessly to make the world a better place for women and men and children, against all the odds. Thank god for them.

And thank goodness for all the women who survive, and the women and men who are there to ensure and enable survival, the mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers and everyone who says no to the scourge of gender inequality. The fathers who stand up to outdated tradition and the brothers who stand up to the people who want to hurt their families, the women who face horrors i cannot even contemplate and who survive. And mourn for the women who don't survive, and the men too.

If I was a superhero, I would do all the things the leaders of the world should be doing anyway.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

DJ-ing at Brisfest

Hey all

If you want to dance very early in the morning, and get in to the mood for a fun time fabulous day of Bris Fest, then why not start your festival times by coming to see me DJ at 11.30 am (in the morning) at the Ovi Music stage.

It's going to be a great lineup, including two of my favourite Bristol Bands, Countryside and the Kick Inside.

Be there, or be square. As they say.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Why did you become a feminist?

Please tell me what it was that inspired you to become a feminist.

What was that light bulb moment where you realised, yes, i am a feminist.

I am collating people's stories and experiences to try and put something together that explores what inspired men and women to become feminists.

Whether it was a growing realisation, or a flash of lightening moment - share your introductions to feminism!

Sunday, 19 September 2010

I'm in the telegraph

Those are some words i never thought i would say.

But the Sunday Telegraph have written a fair and balanced article about the Hooters debate. (take note, Evening Post. that's fair and balanced)

Although they call me the founder of the campaign, which i am not, it's a good piece.

Comments are already moronic though. Stop calling me ugly! And, although i am having an age crisis, what with my birthday coming up next week, I'm turning 26. So i'm not middle aged and jealous either.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Thursday, 16 September 2010

i'm in a list!

Thanks to inspirational feminist, blogger and amazing woman Cath Elliott, my blog has been put in a top blogs list!

woop woop!

take that hate mail senders! You are in the minority my dears.

you can read the full list here:

And you will also find listed a whole panoply of inspirational and fantastic feminist and leftie blogs to peruse, enjoy and learn from.

As well as sister blog to myself,

Cath, and so many feminist bloggers, are such inspirations to me. It is through their words that I first started feeling connected to other feminists all over the country, and the world. A true honour on what was actually a rather bleak day (woken up by nightmares that have left me blue all day).

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

The government's war against women continues

This is bad news

The Inquiry in to Police Handling of Rape Cases has been shelved due to funding being cut.

Coz, you know us women. We just lie about it anyway. don't we?

How many women a year need to be raped for the government to take us seriously?
How many men need to not go to jail and rape again and again before the government take women seriously?
How many false rape accusation articles can the daily mail write?

Theresa May stood on stage at the womens aid conference and said 'actions, not words' when dealing with violence against women and girls.

Actions that include, so far,

Proposing anonymity for rape defendants
Slashing domestic violence police powers funding
A budget where 70% of those worst impacted are women
And now this.

The funding for this was £441,000

That's a drop in the ocean for the government. When you think of the billions of pounds spent on trident, the money lost by tax evaders employed by the government, the private fortunes of our leaders.

So we will continue with this ugly road where women are not believed. Where police don't arrest rapists because they are 'respectable men'. Where the rape conviction rate is 6.5% and the annual number of rapes is 100,000. Where women don't report to the police because they know there's 'no point'.

Actions, not words. Thanks Theresa. Thanks LibCons.

Daily, you betray the women of Britain.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

this video is amazing

Having lived in Dalston pre-trendy era, and spending too much time in start the bus wondering what the hel is going on, and having had my old local nambucca taken over by johnny-two-hats, i love this video

It's called 'being a dickhead's cool' and is the next generation of nathan barley.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

what about my freedom of speech?

I realised that i didn't post something on this blog (but did on UK Feminista) because i didn't want to deal with the comments that attacked me.

I realised i will no longer talk to journalists from the local media because i don't want to have to deal with the comments that attack me. These included verbal attacks on my family, as well as attacks on my perceived personal appearance, perceived sexuality and even a discussion about my breasts.

The blogosphere is such a wonderful example of free speech in action. We can write our thoughts, opinions, share them with the world, and challenge the mainstream media.

But people abuse this free speech by using the commenting section in blogs to abuse and shout at people. They use the cloak of anonymity to say things they would never dare say to my face. They intimidate, frighten, dominate and derail debate.

It isn't fair. Why should my freedom to write my thoughts be repressed because people don't have the common decency to be polite, fair and sensible? Why should i be made to feel scared of writing? Why does having an opinion and daring to express it mean i deserve to be called names, why does it mean my family deserve to be called names?

My family, for fuck's sake! Who have nothing to do with what i write.

I'm tempted to think it's a gender thing. In fact, more than tempted. Male bloggers and male activists - do you get called names about your looks? I'm not saying you don't because i don't know, I would like to know because I want to see how the insults are different or the same. I know male bloggers/commenters get called homophobic names too.

We live in a country or society where we have freedom of speech. it isn't cheap. it is a luxury, a privilege, in a world where many don't have the simple right to speak out. As a woman, my sisters all over the world are denied a voice. men all over the world are denied a voice. We are lucky.

Think about that luck, think about that privilege, next time you use your freedom of speech to call me fat, or crazed, or insult my family.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Stop calling me ugly

It’s time to get personal.

The last year has seen me get a lot more, shall we say, public, in my feminist activism. This has, of course, opened me up to a lot more criticism. And, as is so common when people want to criticise people they don’t know, but make assumptions about, they have criticised my appearance. Or, to put it more correctly, what they imagine my appearance is.

This cumulated for me yesterday when someone posted a picture of what they imagined I looked like on the comment section under an article on the Evening Post website.

I’m not going to tell you what I look like. And I try not to care when people who have never seen me tell me I must be fat and ugly, a lesbian, jealous of pretty girls, in need of a boyfriend or whatever (and, my favourite, that I am not an “intellectual”! Which reminded me of Fanny and Lady Montdore in Love in a Cold Climate). Because, apart from jealousy, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being fat, not stereotypically attractive, gay or single (or not being intellectual!). But I know that the people who call me that do see something wrong with it, and mean it to be offensive and upsetting, and mean it to hurt me. And no matter how many times you say ‘sticks and stones’, it isn’t really true, is it.

But it got me thinking about a number of things.

Why do people think that to criticise a woman’s appearance is the worst thing they can do? Why do we still put so much value in appearance? And why is being told I am not beautiful, from someone who has never seen me, so upsetting?
Society (I know, it’s a big word) value women’s beauty. From Naomi Wolf’s PBQ to the fame and celebrity a woman with a nice bone structure (Kate Moss) gets, women are valued for their beauty. Beauty – a certain type of it – is synonymous with femaleness or femininity. To call me ugly is a weapon. It suggests that I am an anti-woman, I am the pits, I am a disgrace to my sex. It is a callous and lazy method to devalue and silence what I say.

To accuse me of being jealous of other women is the same thing. Because by calling me ugly, you are saying I have somehow ‘failed’ as a woman, you say I must be jealous of ‘successful’ women, women who are considered (by you) to be beautiful. By making the issue being about my jealousy, you are derailing the point of the argument I am making. You are saying the issue, e.g. sexual objectification, is not a problem in society, but my problem with jealousy.

Why do people rely on tired stereotypes when arguing about really important issues? Again, it is to devalue the point, to turn it into my problem.

It also got me thinking about women and our relationships with our bodies. It’s no secret that women are often insecure about their bodies and their appearance. I’m not going to lie, I am one of them. I’m in good company, something like 70% of women internationally aren’t happy with the way they look (Dove survey). But after ten years of swerving between violent hate, and general distaste, I like the way I look. I put to bed my insecurities, I made a decision to stop hating my body and to start loving it. I look in the mirror and I am happy, I get dressed in the morning and dress up in the evening and I am happy.

It has taken me years and a lot of pain and hassle to reach that point. It’s a fragile point. And reading over and over again from idiots who think it is ok/funny/whatever to call me ugly over and over again is exhausting. It’s upsetting. Even though I know to pay no attention, it is still hard to ignore. It’s still hard not to take it personally. I cried when I saw that picture on the Evening Post forum. I wanted to know what I had done to deserve someone thinking it was ok to be so goddamn mean to me. I hadn’t even commented on the thread.

And that’s me. Someone who is happy with the way I look. But what if I wasn’t? What effect would your words have then? What could you be doing to someone?

There are people who say ‘well, you put yourself out there, you have to deal with it, no-one forces you to blog.’
This argument is bullshit. I should be able to blog about whatever I like, without having to deal with abuse about my supposed personal appearance. Even if I wrote a load of shit you didn’t agree with, you could disagree with it without saying ‘you’re just jealous’ or ‘you’re probably really ugly’ etc etc.

There are people who say, ‘well you shouldn’t put yourself out there, doing activism.’ I’m sorry, but so long as I see the injustice of gender inequality, I am going to keep doing my activism. Again, I should be allowed to campaign for equality without people making snide and spiteful remarks about what they imagine I look like.

What is it about the internet that allows people to think they can be so rude? To say things you would never say to my face? The power of anonymity is massive. But it is inexcusable and stupid. Stchoopid.

So, in summary. We need to stop using appearance as a stick to beat women with. We need to stop thinking the best way to win an argument is ‘uuh well you’re probably a minger’. We need to stop thinking beauty is women’s most important possession, and that to not have beauty is shaming.

And we need to stop and think and say ‘what if this really hurts the person writing?’

Criticise away. Argue back, have healthy debate.

But please, stop calling me ugly.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Airbrushing and advertising

The last few months have seen the issue of airbrushing and image retouching rarely out of the news, following calls from Lib Dem politicians Jo Swinson and Lynne Featherstone to add health warning labels to airbrushed images aimed at children, and the launch of their Campaign for Body Confidence ( Debenhams have led the way, ( in introducing non-airbrused images of models, and we are now waiting to see whether other brands will follow suit.

Image re-touching is used in my industry all the time – making the sky bluer, making the grass greener. However, we now uniformly airbrush images of people to make them fit a beauty ideal that increasingly fails to reflect reality. The result is that airbrushed imagery is now so ingrained in our collective consciousness, we no longer see them as ‘not real’ and accept re-touched photos as presenting reality.

The politians’ argument is that the use of unrealistic and idealised images of a caucasian, skinny beauty-type is causing harm and distress for young people, who are growing up surrounded by unrealistic representations of men and women’s bodies. They argue that the advertising industry need to take responsibility for the imagery we use, and that we need to produce images offering a wide range of body types, ethnicities and appearance, as opposed to a single, homogenized ideal.

In turn, the media industries have argued that customers and potential customers respond better to images of slim women and thin, muscular men, and that we need to use these images because they are what people want to see. However, studies from UWE’s Centre of Appearance Research ( debunk this claim. They argue that so long as the model used in advertising and media imagery is attractive, the customer will still respond positively whether the model is slim or not. This was tested by measuring responses to images of the same model, some airbrushed to look like a size 8, and other images of her own size 14 figure. Therefore the idea that we need to use one type of model in order to gurantee a positive customer response does not hold water.
If the government do introduce new regulations to the way we approach image retouching of models, it could revolutionise the way men and women are portrayed in the media and in advertising. Already, Debenhams have exposed the amount of airbrushing that each image receives, and are arguing that ‘not only does it make sense from a moral point of view, it ticks the economic boxes as well,’ by saving time and money on needless retouching.

The research suggests that using skinny or average sized models doesn’t effect customer response. We know that this change could save us money. And, perhaps most pressingly of all, the evidence is persuasive that ending our culture of airbrushing could have a very real and positive impact on the self esteem of young men and women.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Please don't open hooters

I've written to the council to object to Hooters opening in Bristol. The licensing committee sits on 1st September so all late representations need to be in by then.

This whole issue is making me depressed.

Feel free to copy and paste my letter as you wish:

I am writing to you to lodge my objection to the proposed opening of a Hooters restaurant in Bristol City Centre. I understand that the licensing committee is sitting on the 1st September and I hope you will take my late representation in to account.

My first objection rests on the impact on the environment surrounding Hooters.

It is well documented that where sex entertainment venues open, women moving around in the surrounding environment suffer from increased levels of sexual harassment and violence. I understand that Hooters is not an SEV, however it does make its money through presenting women as sex objects for entertainment. This would, therefore, have a similar impact on women in the area surrounding the proposed Hooters site. It is not acceptable for a business to open that would make women feel unsafe in city centre spaces, because they would be at risk of, or fear verbal and even physical harassment. Hooters encourages its customers to indulge in sexual innuendo and asks their waitresses to play along. We need to ask how can we know whether this 'innuendo' will spill out of the restaurant and result in customers harassing women passers by in ways the women may perceive as threatening.

Many women would not feel comfortable walking past an establishment that so clearly treats women as little more than sex objects. They may find the atmosphere around the restaurant hostile, or even threatening. It is not acceptable that women should feel excluded from public spaces that are, after all, for all members of the public.

My second objection is to the blatant disregard to equalities law that Hooters has. I would like to know whether the equalities team have been consulted in order to assess the impact on women and minority groups in the city? Hooters refuses to employ male waiting staff, and would also discriminate against trans people, women who choose to wear religious dress, older women and women with physical disabilities. It is simply not acceptable that a business should be permitted to so blatantly ignore anti-discrimination practise enshrined in UK law when hiring waiting staff. These laws are in place to ensure that everyone has equal opportunities to get work. It is for this reason, for example, that you are not asked your age when applying for a job. A company's brand values should not be allowed to trump equality law and it is clearly unacceptable to have an employment policy that so clearly discriminates against so many groups of people.

Finally I would like the licensing committee to ask the Hooters' representatives how they plan to deal with any incidents of inappropriate touching of waitressing staff. The correct way for a business to deal with inappropriate touching of an employee is to report the offender and incident to the police. Please note that ejecting the offender from the establishment is not appropriate action.

I understand that licensing applications do not take moral objections. Therefore all my objections are based on environmental impact and legal ramifications of Hooters opening in Bristol.

Thank you

Yours sincerely,
Sian Norris

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Get domestic violence reported in the news

2010 has been a pretty horrifying year for domestic violence in the news. Arguably the biggest crime story this year involved the man hunt for a perpetrator of domestic violence, who has since been lionized by some and condemned by many. Yet little of the news coverage seemed to address the big elephant in the room of Raoul Moat’s history of domestic violence, whilst the polices’ initial lack of response to Susan Stobbart’s pleas for help and protection resulted in 1 murder, 2 more shootings and 1 suicide.

And the biggest sports story of the year has been the World Cup, a tournament during which rates of domestic violence shot up by 31%. On 27th June, when England was knocked out, the highest incidences of domestic violence in the year so far were recorded. Although news outlets did report this increase, it didn’t receive that much prominence. It seemed to me that rather than have half time beer ads, it would have been far more sensible and far more pertinent to have ads promoting an anti domestic violence message.

Anyway. All this has brought back into my mind a plan I conceived of a while back to get the mainstream media to dedicate one month to reporting domestic violence.

Once a week, for one month I would like to see the following report.

“This week it is estimated 2 women were murdered by their current or ex partners. It is believed that 1 in 4 women will be victims of domestic violence in their lifetimes.”

The final week would finish with:
“Over 100 women this year will die as a result of domestic violence. Violence against women kills and injures more women aged 16-45 than cancer or road traffic accidents.”

More or less detail can be added as the news agency prefers. Perhaps the final week could even feature a special report!

This isn’t a big ask. Most news programmes have a ‘summary of the rest of today’s news’ where this can be slotted in. Most papers have a column with 4 or 5 news stories briefly reported. With news agencies reporting Penelope Cruz’s marriage and Lindasy Lohan’s arrest, there is surely space available to reiterate this devastating statistic. News agencies could give the story as much or as little prominence as they like. But for one month, news consumers would hear that women are dying as a result of domestic violence.

I wanted to set up a campaign like this because once on a news website’s comments, someone complained that ‘violence against women was in the news all the time’. If this was the case, then these 2 deaths a week would be reported without fail. Clearly, they are not.


I want to contact:
Channel 4 News
Woman’s Hour
BBC News
Sky News
Radio 1 Newsbeat
Sunday Times
The Sun
The Independent
The Telegraph
The Mirror
The Daily Mail

I think I have contact details for Woman’s Hour and I have a contact at the Guardian. Can anyone help me out with advice on how to contact the other news agencies? And is there anything you would like to see in this campaign that I’ve missed out?

I will also be contacting CAADA and WomensAid for advice and support. If you work for a women’s organisation please get in touch with me if you would like to endorse or sign up to this campaign.

Monday, 26 July 2010

article on liberal conspiracy

Hi there

I;ve had an article put up on Liberal Conspiracy here:

You can also read it below:

We live in a society that has very successfully sold the sex industry to us as an empowering ‘lifestyle’ choice where women exploit men’s ‘need’ for sex in order to extract money from them.
We are told that it’s a free choice and feminists who criticise that choice are prudes, anti sex and anti women.
This cultural narrative is a chimera that disguises the real story of the sex industry, a story that involves PTSD, sexual assault, drug abuse and sex trafficking.

A recent article on Libcon accused Bristol Feminist Network and Object of being motivated by nimby-ism in members’ objections to the sex industry.
It suggested that feminists who oppose the sex industry do so out of ‘distaste’ and deny women who work in prostitution a voice. I would like to show why these accusations are false.
The rhetoric of free choice is also a chimera that hides how, in a world with decreased social mobility, where the pay gap still stands, and where women’s worth is still too often calculated on their physical appearance, women’s choices can become very limited. The sex industry is very much a class issue.
A recent application in Durham to open a lap-dancing club is a good example. During the planning process, the applicant was asked how they would deal with ‘inappropriate touching’ in the club.
The applicant replied that the offender would be ejected. However, this response completely ignored the fact that ‘inappropriate touching’ is, in fact, a criminal incident. It is either selling sexual contact or its sexual harassment. The appropriate response would be to report the customer’s crime. The magistrates turned the application down.
We all know that ‘inappropriate touching’ occurs in lap dancing clubs. In fact, one report in Vancouver found 100% of dancers surveyed had been inappropriately touched by customers. The report ‘Challenging men’s demand for prostitution in Scotland’ found that prostitution was routinely offered in lap dancing clubs – a claim supported by Channel 4′s Dispatches programme interview with Philip Kolvin.

It is a fact worth repeating that most women in prostitution do not enjoy the lifestyle depicted by Belle de Jour, and most don’t get their stories published in glossy magazines selling the ideal that prostitution brings with it Prada handbags and Jimmy Choos (Marie Claire, March 2010).
Behind the fa├žade lies the knowledge that women in the sex industry are 60-100 times more likely to be murdered than women who aren’t in the sex industry (Salfati, James, Ferguson), and that trans women who work in prostitution are at an even higher risk. We know that 2/3 of women who work in prostitution routinely suffer client violence (Church, Henderson, Barnard and Settings).
We know that 1.2 million people are trafficked as sex slaves and that 500,000 – 600,000 people every year are trafficked into the sex industry over national borders (International Organisation of Migration). We know that 68% of women who work in prostitution suffer from PTSD (M Farley) and that between 50-75% enter prostitution before they are 18 years old (Paying the Price).
So when feminists campaign against the sex industry it is because they want to end the very real and horrific dangers that these women and men face every day – violence, coercion, rape, trauma. It has nothing to do with nimby-ism or distaste. It has everything to do with ending the idea that it is ok to put someone’s safety, and mental and physical health at risk so that someone can pay to masturbate in or over her/him.
Offering a voice

The accusation that feminists deny women who work in prostitution a voice is an accusation that is borne out of ignorance and an unwillingness to engage in the evidence. For example, in The Equality Illusion and Living Dolls, two books on feminism published this year, women who work in the sex industry speak out.
There are many blogs where women who have exited prostitution talk about the horrors they faced. On Object’s website you’ll find voices crying out to be heard and taken seriously, voices ignored by our dominant cultural narrative that tells us prostitution is empowering.
In Bristol, women from charity One25 go out on the streets and talk to women who work in prostitution who have been sexually assaulted, listen to them, and let them speak about what has happened to them. And there are many more examples.
I believe that it is, in fact, those who promote the sex industry who more often deny women their voices. Because they are so invested in supporting and propping up an industry that too often makes its money from violence and exploitation, they refuse to give space to the voices that contradict their narrative.
Whilst I recognise that some people enter prostitution and find it empowering, many more do not. In refusing to hear the stories of the men and women who are damaged by the sex industry, and only giving space to the voices that support their agenda, the pro sex industry lobby are doing a grave disservice to the men and women who feel trapped and silenced, as their bodies are sold to be used for the sexual pleasure of others.
This closing quote is taken from an interview with a lap dancer in The Equality Illusion.
Lap dancing is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I’ve found it tough, soul destroying… you are forced to behave in a way which is completely demeaning and submissive…The last thing they want is a clever lap dancer. You have to play dumb, that’s the way to make the most money…and perhaps most importantly pretend to find them attractive when you do not find them attractive. (pg 136-37)
Please don’t silence her voice.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Latitude Festival - campaign to prevent rape

Suggested action?

As many people know, 2 women were raped at Latitude this weekend. As a result, the UK’s biggest festival organisers are launching a personal safety campaign for female fans.

Melvin Benn, chief exec of Festival Republic has said:
"It is fair to say that in the future we will be making much more high profile the issues of being alone at night, particularly if you are a girl – definitely,"

As well as the problematic use of the word ‘girls’, we yet again have a situation where women are being told to be cautious as a result of the actions of a number of men – two male rapists and a group of men who aided in one of the rapes.

One of the rape victims was attacked after going to the toilet. The second was raped in a tent.

As I am sure many of you appreciate, it is impossible to not go to the toilet, and not be in a tent during a festival. So, apart from warning women to not go to festivals, or to not at any point leave the side of a ‘buddy’ even when going to the loo or going to sleep, a campaign telling women to ‘keep safe’ wouldn’t have prevented the attacks.

It seems to me that men such as Benn, who I am sure has the best intentions, do not understand that every where they go, festivals, clubbing, walking home from work, walking to the shops, walking to school, being in school, being at home, everywhere they are women are aware of the threat of rape. Telling women again and again to be careful in case they get raped is never going to change anything.

If Festival Republic want to make sure no other woman is raped at one of their festivals, then they need to do a public safety campaign that targets rapists.

I would like to suggest that we send a letter to Melvin Benn explaining and suggesting this. I couldn’t find an email address but they have a contact us page on their website.

This is the letter I am going to write. As ever, please feel free to use and send yourselves.

Dear Melvin

I read in the Guardian today that as a response to the two rapes at the Latitude festival you and Festival Republic will be launching a public safety campaign to raise women’s awareness of the risks of violence at a festival, with advice on how to keep safe.

Although I appreciate this campaign comes from the very best intentions, and indeed it is certainly necessary for men and women alike to understand how to keep safe from crime at a festival, I do find it troubling that your campaign is targeting women, and advising them how to prevent themselves being a victim of rape.

Women are consistently given warnings about how they can and should alter their behaviour to prevent rape. But rape is not a natural hazard, such as falling off a cliff, something that women can protect themselves from. Women cannot prevent rape from happening to them by following a set of rules. The only way rape can be prevented is if the rapist chooses not to rape.

I would like to request that you consider running a safety campaign that instead of telling women to keep themselves safe from rape, actively encourages potential rapists not to rape. Women the world over know themselves to be vulnerable to rape, in a society where it is estimated 100,000 rapes happen every year. The rapes at Latitude happened when a woman was returning from the toilet and when a woman was in a tent. Unfortunately, no public safety campaign aimed at women is going to stop women from having to go to the toilet, or to sleep. And a safety campaign aimed at telling women to ‘be safe’ is never going to prevent a rapist from raping.

Rather than putting the onus onto women to prevent rape by curtailing their own freedom of movement at a festival which should be fun and exciting, it would be wonderful to see a campaign that pushed forward the idea that the only person who can prevent rape, is the person/group of people who is planning to rape.

Please consider this strategy as a way to make Latitude, and your other events, a safe and positive space for women to be.

Best wishes

Sian Norris, Bristol Feminist Network.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

me at the women in psychology conference

Tomorrow (friday 16th july), Dr Helen Mott, Anna Brown and me will be presenting 3 papers at the British Psychology Society's conference on Women in Psychology.

Helen will be talking about her PHd research on sexual harassment, Anna on the importance of intersectionality in activism and i will be presenting a paper co-written by Dr Sue Tate called 'Performing the Erotic Body' which covers issues of representation, misrepresentation and absence of representation of women. It will look at Pauline Boty - a pop artist, our own BFN and Fawcett research on representation of women in the media, and the Dita Von Teese debate in Bristol. It explores how women can be sexual subjects and agents of the world, but how so much of our culture is invested in seeing women's bodies as only sexual and only as objects.

Once i work out how to upload a word document as a link, i'll post my paper. it's 10 pages long so won't be posting it here!

Monday, 5 July 2010

a response, a rant, a moan

Bristol Feminist Network, Sex work and blogger responsibility

Last week on the Liberal Conspiracy website, a blogger named Elly accused the Bristol Feminist Network of nimby-ism, and suggested that, as a network, they were opposed to sex work and sex workers, and that their protest was motivated by a distaste for the sex industry.

This was untrue.

To substantiate her claims, the writer went on to compose various tweets, including one that made up a quote from the BFN website, stating that on the home page we had written, in relation to objecting to a planning application for a strip club, 'write your objection NOW', when in fact, the website home page said 'Urgent can read the appeal documents can make your own objection here.' The 'urgent' was included in the headline because if you did choose to file an objection you had to do so by the 28th June.

Why is this important? Lets start from the beginning.

Last year, a businessman applied to open a lap dancing club on Old Market street, a road that is generally considered to be Bristol's red light district on the outskirts of the city centre, between Barton Hill and Easton. A number of women from BFN and Bristol Fawcett went and campaigned against the application and won. Not least because in the planning application the club owner had written that he would be opening a restaurant that would become a strip club at 9pm, however he had not remembered to include restaurant equipment in his 'restaurant' plans.

He has since appealed, and the women originally involved in the protest emailed the members of BFN inviting them to object to the appeal if they wanted to. These are the key words. BFN does not decide on behalf of its members what their opinions are and what they think. Instead, we let people know about campaigns, we give people access to resources and we run discussion groups to talk about issues so that we can all work together to form our own individual view points.

Because of my own personal views on the sex industry I decided to object to the appeal. My friend who had alerted me to the appeal sent me the objection statement she had written and I adapted it to reflect my own views. I then posted my objection on my blog and on UK Feminista as a resource, so that should other people wish to object, but didn't have the time to write their own statements, or wanted some ideas, they could use mine. This was exactly the same practise I had used when writing model letters to MPs or the PCC etc – allowing people to access resources that might help them make their own complaints. I wrote clearly at the top of the statement that I was writing as an individual who was a member of BFN. This is because of the importance of explaining your own interests, but as my views did not represent the views of all my BFN colleagues, I was not able to write that I was representing the network.

Makes sense? Right. Back to Liberal Conspiracy, Firstly, on the blog post, Elly quoted a line from a statement that I had written as an individual, and presented it as being a quote from the Bristol Feminist Network. She has since apologised to me, but the fact is this was a serious misrepresentation of the view points and the actions of the network. By presenting my statement as coming from the whole network, a group of well over 500 people, she was suggesting that me – just me – was deciding the agenda and speaking on behalf of a big group. A group who don't all agree on sex work or the issues surrounding the sex industry. At BFN, we go to great lengths to ensure that we do not speak on behalf of members, and that our own personal views do not take precedence over the members. So, for example, on the website home page we clearly say 'we do not subscribe to one type of feminist thought' and, in relation to the 'urgent action' we wrote that BFN are not against consensual decisions around sex and sex work. It is not for us to tell people how to think and we take so much care to make sure this happens. Therefore, for Elly to quote BFN, when she meant me, was damaging to the network's representation.

The quote that was used was in answer to the objection's questions about environmental impact on Old Market. This is a very specific question, and I answered it by explaining that streets where sex work establishments abound are often isolating to women – leaving them feeling vulnerable and unsafe. I wrote that the abundance of SEVs on Old Market leave me feeling that I cannot walk down the streets of a city I have lived in since I was four.
I can understand why this quote comes across as NIMBY-ism. Indeed, taken out of the context of the fact:

• That it was from a planning objection

• It was in answer to a question of environmental impact

• I don't live near Old Market

then you could see why it would read as NIMBY-ism. However, as in so many issues of feminism, context is vital here. Within the context of asking how a new business will impact the environment around it, it is particularly pertinent to suggest that women will feel unsafe in their local environment. When talking about a planning application, it is vital to talk about impact. And seeing as I live a good few miles from Old Market, the lap dancing club isn't opening in my back yard. When you take these elements into account, NIMBY-ism becomes rather a flimsy accusation.

Further, this was one moment in the objection statement where I talked about how the opening of the lap dancing club would effect me, giving connotations of NIMBY-ism. Elsewhere in the statement I discuss the problems of violence against women where we find SEVs. I talk about the illegal activity – such as sexual harassment and prostitution that happens in SEVs. I talk about how the idea that SEVs provide great employment opportunities to women is a chimera, especially when we see how women have to pay to work in SEVs, often leading to competition with the other women, leading to breaking of the no touching rules in order to get bigger tips. I talk about how the plans for the smoking area haven't been thought through, and questions remain unanswered about how the surreal lap dancing club/restaurant dynamic will work. None of these discussions are about NIMBY-ism.

Therefore none of these points were raised in the critical blog post.

The result was a complete misrepresentation of my motivation for objecting to the lap dancing club, and a reputation damaging representation of BFN's views and beliefs. Coupled with the incredibly loaded word 'distaste' and readers of the blog post were left with the impression that I – and by extension BFN – were some kind of outraged Mary Whitehouse NIMBY figures, rather than as an individual with very real and informed concerns about how the normalisation of the sex industry is effecting women of all ages, class and backgrounds. My objection to the sex industry isn't motivated by distaste.

It's motivated by the following points and more:

• Female sex workers are 60 to 100 times more likely to be murdered than women who are not sex workers (Salfati, James, Ferguson)

• The Ipswich and Bradford murders, and the disgusting reactions in the press

• A study in England and Scotland that 2/3 of 240 prostitutes had experience client violence (Church, Henderson, Barnard and Settings)

• The fact that trans sex workers are in even greater danger of abuse

• Inequalities faced by immigrant sex workers, compared with native sex workers

• The 1.2 million people trafficked as sex slaves (International Organisation of Migration)

• The 500,000 – 600,000 people trafficked every year over national borders to enter the sex industry (International Organisation of Migration)

• 68% of prostitutes suffer from PTSD (M Farley)

• 88% of pornography portray physically aggressive acts against women

• 50-75% of prostitutes enter sex work before they are 18 years old (Paying the Price – a consultation paper on prostitution)

• Prostitution takes place in lap dancing clubs (Challenging men's demand for prostitution in Scotland)

This is a snapshot of the reasons I object to the sex industry.

NIMBY-ism is emphatically not among them. Neither is distaste.
But anyway, back to the blogpost.

One of the accusations laid against me was the idea that by objecting to a club opening on Old Market I was pushing the sex industry out of the city centre and into the less salubrious areas of Bristol. This is absurd, not least because Old Market is not in the centre of Bristol and is, in fact, one of the less salubrious areas of the city. When I picked Elly up on this, she explained that she hadn't checked where Old Market was and she didn't know Bristol. This is completely ridiculous. If you're going to write for a national website, and make accusations on the website about an organisation's motivations, you need to get your facts checked. I imagine that most people reading the website don't know where Old Market is, so a completely false impression was given in order to support the writer's agenda.

It's just unfair isn't it? It's just unfair to write a post to support your own agenda (that women who oppose the sex industry do so out of NIMBY-ism and selfish reasons) without taking into consideration the actual facts of the matter. People who read that post would have a real skewed and warped opinion on the great work of BFN and my own views. It's easy to write something sensationalist by taking quotes out of context. It's much harder to try and express the subtleties.

One of the issues Elly has with feminists who object to the sex industry is that they silence the voices of sex workers. But so do the men and women who support the sex industry. In fact, they are so busy pushing their pro sex industry agenda – that, as Elly puts it, it's the same as working in McDonalds, (which, if nothing else, ignores the fact that no-one pays McDonalds a fee for the privilege of working there) and the 'look at Belle de Jour, she's done alright' angle, that the women who are harmed by the sex industry are completely silenced and ignored.

Take this quote in Kat Banyard's book, from a prostitute who is angry about the comparison that the sex industry is the same as stacking shelves:

“Whoever says that prostitution is just ordinary work has never walked even a minute in my shoes, or any other [call] girl's that I know. Prostitution is far from ordinary. It's demeaning and degrading and by no means a way to an end. It's actually a trap.” (The Equality Illusion, pg 145)

Or this lap dancer?

“Lap dancing is one of the hardest things I've ever done. I've found it tough, soul destroying. You are constantly lying about who you are, because you don't want to tell these men about your real self. You don't know them, and yet you are exposing yourself sexually and physically. Worst of all, for me, you are forced to behave in a way which is completely demeaning and submissive...The last thing they want is a clever lap dancer. You have to play dumb, that's the way to make the most money...and perhaps most importantly pretend to find them attractive when you do not find them attractive.” (The Equality Illusion, pg 136-37)

Most sex workers don't get glossy TV dramas made about them. They don't get book deals or interviews in shiny magazines where we are sold the myth that sex work is an empowering choice. They get mental health problems, they get PTSD, they get infections, bruises, broken bones.

The women who walk past sex entertainment venues get harassed or attacked.

When pro sex work advocates say that feminists deny women in sex work a voice, they forget that in fact they are doing exactly the same thing. Yes there are sex workers who enter in the industry and enjoy it and get something out of it. But their voices seem to ring louder in the cultural consciousness than the voices of the women who don't fit the empowered model. It seems to me that feminists who object to the sex industry seem more prepared to allow space for that alternative voice, the voice that isn't on TV billboards, the voices that slip through the cracks.