Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Fabulous feminist event happening in Bristol

I'm posting this to promote an event run by a good friend of mine. Go and take part! 

Press Release
For immediate release:
Film Season Celebrating Women’s History month throughout March at Watershed
Over Women’s History Month in March 2014, Translation/ Transmission: Women’s Activism Across Time and Space will host seven screenings at Watershed, celebrating the diverse ways women activists have communicated their struggle through film.  Well-received and less well-known films will be shown together for the first time in a season that explores the potential of film and feminist media to translate across the boundaries of language, genre, time and culture.
Translation/ Transmission features activist documentaries and women filmmakers from the Women’s Liberation Movement in Britain, Jamaica, Palestine, Germany, Vietnam, USA, Iran and France/ Cameroon, highlighting the diversity of different feminisms across geographical locations and historical moments.
Screenings will take place on Sundays at 1pm and Tuesdays at 6pm every week from 9th March.
The film season opens on 9th March at 1pm with a screening of Calypso Rose the Lioness of the Jungle, about the diva of Calypso music and pioneer of women’s rights, Calypso Rose.  There will also be a singing performance from Nia Melody.
Kingdom of Women (2010) screens on 11th March. It tells the story of women from the Ein El Hilweh refugee camp in Lebanon and the screening will feature a response by Rita from the Bristol-based Palestinian Embassy and Nakba Museum. Rapunzel Let Down Your Hair (1978) and In Our Own Time (1981), two films from the Women’s Liberation Movement in Britain, screen on 16th March, with a response from Clarissa Jacob.
Audre Lorde The Berlin Years: 1984-1992 (2012), a film about the poet’s time spent in Berlin will be screened on 18th March alongside a video of Alexis Paula Gumbs reading her letter to Lorde. Trinh T. Minh-ha’s personal documentary Surname Viet Given Name Nam (1989) will be shown on 23rd March, followed by a discussion led by cultural translation expert Dr Carol O’Sullivan.
A film from the Sistren Theatre Collective from Jamaica, Sweet Sugar Rage (1985) will be screened on 25th March. It will be followed by a response from Dr Gail Lewis. Screening on 30th March is Facing Mirrors (2011), set in contemporary Iran, the film is about a relationship between Rana, a traditional wife and Edi, who is transgender.  Elhum Shakerifar, a documentary film maker, will offer her thoughts on this groundbreaking film.
All tickets are £5.50 full/ £4.00 concessions or as part of the season, buy 4 Translation/ Transmission tickets and get a 5th free when bought in person or over the phone.
Translation/ Transmission is grateful to Watershed, Feminist Archive South, Intellect books and University of Bristol for their generous support of the film season.

Friday, 21 February 2014

An honest, too honest, post about being triggered

Before I start this post, I’ll check we all know what we mean by being triggered. It is when something unexpected happens that reminds you of something painful or violent, and it causes a painful reaction in you. Some of the common triggers in feminist writing are discussions of sexual assault, rape, domestic abuse and child sexual abuse. It’s why we put trigger warnings above blogposts that tackle these subjects. It helps to create a safe space for women (and men). 

I am not a victim or survivor of any of the above beyond a couple of incidents of ‘non-severe sexual assault’ and so although I often read articles about violence against women and girls and feel a sense of pain, horror and outrage at the violence committed against women as a class, it doesn’t ‘trigger’ me on the level of a personal experience. 

However I have been a victim and survivor over the years of men abusing me online. And it was this that gave me, the other day, my first experience of being ‘triggered’ in the way I describe it above. 

So, how did this happen? 

A friend of mine tweeted a line-up for a conference and, being nosey and searching for ways to distract me from work, I had a look to see what it was about. The conference had an interesting title, and I wanted to know more.  

One of the speakers shared a name – let’s call him John Smith – with a man who, for a while, persistently left patronising, and then aggressive, and then abusive comments on my blog and, a while later, on my Twitter feed (I blocked him on Twitter pretty swiftly).

Seeing that name, John Smith, made me feel dizzy. I had felt the same when his name turned up in my Twitter @ mentions, after I thought he had decided to leave me alone. I felt sick, and like I wanted to cry. I felt that heaviness in my stomach and that tightness in my chest. I felt angry that he would be speaking at a conference, and then reassured myself that it probably wasn’t the same John Smith. Even so, I couldn’t still the questions in my mind. What if it was same John Smith? What if this conference was giving a platform to a man I knew had written horrible things and had truly upsetting views on women? How could I know for sure? How could I know for sure that he wasn’t the same man, and that he wouldn't be greeted with applause, when all the time he had written these things. My heart was racing and when my colleague tried to ask me something I couldn’t concentrate on what he was saying. 

And then I felt embarrassed. I felt embarrassed to be triggered by an experience of online abuse. After all, I told myself, it’s just online. I have no cause to feel triggered by this, when so many of my sisters all over the world have survived such awful violence. I felt guilty for reacting so seriously. And then I felt ashamed, like I was some kind of coward. And then I felt furious that a name, a name of some unpleasant man who has since disappeared from my online life, could leave me feeling so shitty, so long after it all happened. 

I’ve had worse abuse than the words he dished out to me. In lots of ways, he wasn’t that bad – he didn’t threaten me, for example (it’s so ridiculous that I think it wasn’t as bad because it wasn’t a rape threat but hey, that’s the world of being a woman online). Regular readers will know I went to the police over worse abuse. I think my main upset was caused by the fact that this was the first time it had happened when someone kept coming back for more. While it was happening it felt so persistent. It was the first time I felt that someone was targeting my blog, was watching for everything I wrote, and was using what I wrote as a reason to intimidate me. His words had a pattern, as they went from merely patronising, to aggressive, to outright abusive. 

Why am I writing this post? Partly because of the confusion of emotions I felt after seeing that name – the confusion of horror, upset, guilt, shame and anger. I still feel guilty even writing this. I feel I have no right to these feelings over something that seems so trivial. I feel like I have to keep pointing that out. I have to apologise for being over-sensitive, I have to apologise that something so relatively small on the scale of violence against women had an affect on me. 

And I wanted to write this because I also want to say something about the impact online abuse can have on you. It doesn’t disappear when you delete the comment, or hit the block button on Twitter. There’s some feeling that remains, after you know someone has targeted you with such rage and hate. There’s a feeling that remains. 

But I think most of all I wanted to write this because I don’t want this to happen again. I don’t want some stranger with a common name to have the power to make me feel that shaken. I don’t want him to have that kind of power over me. 

I hope that I won’t allow him to have that power over me again. I am determined he won’t have that power over me again. 

It’s just a name. He was just a nasty coward. He has no right. He has no power to upset me. 

This post is very honest, and as such it’s not that well written. But I needed to write it. 

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Feminism and the language of abusers

What do you call a man who tells a woman online that she’s a cunt for writing a blog post expressing her opinion? What do you call a man who says a woman should be slapped for something she tweeted? What do you call a man who tells a woman she needs to shut the fuck up and die, needs a good fuck, needs some dick, should be burnt at the stake, for daring to voice an opinion?

I would call a man who says those things a misogynist. I would call him an abusive man.

I have had nearly all of these things said to me by abusive men at one time or another because I have been outspoken, because I have challenged rape culture, because I have dared, as a woman, to have a voice while living in patriarchy.

It hurts. It hurts when men say these things to you. It makes you feel afraid. It knocks your confidence. It happened last week and I shook all over, and wondered if I could carry on writing. It makes you hesitate before checking your @ mentions, before opening your blog dashboard to read your comments. Seven years of abusive men trying to silence me online, and it has never stopped affecting me. It doesn’t stop.

Yesterday, I saw someone online call a woman blogger a cunt, another saying she should be banned from the internet. I saw another person online tell another woman that she should burn in a fire. I saw someone else making “jokes” about how a woman blogger is probably frigid.

Now, because I have had many abusive men say those words to me, I assumed the perpetrator of these insults were abusive men.

But they weren’t abusive men. They were ‘feminists’.

So I ask the question now. Why are feminists using the language of oppression, using the language of misogyny, using the language of abusive men, to attack other feminists? What does that achieve? How is calling a woman a cunt and saying you hope she burns to death – as thousands of women through history have at the hands of patriarchy – compatible with feminism? What are we hoping to achieve by using the words that have oppressed us, silenced us and harmed us for centuries against other women?

I don’t understand it. I truly don’t. However much you disagree with a woman, however much you want to challenge her views, when you decide to silence her with the words of abusive men, you are putting yourself on the side of patriarchy.

When a man who claims to be feminist writes that his hand is itching to slap a woman who is writing online, that ‘feminist’ is using the tactics that abusive men have used for centuries to silence women. When a woman who claims to be a feminist mocks a woman’s sexuality, she is using the tactics that abusive men have used for centuries to shut women the fuck up. When someone claiming feminism calls a woman a cunt and doesn’t mean it in a ‘hey cunts are beautiful and powerful and awesome’ way, that ‘feminist’ is using the tactics of abusive men to intimidate and silence women.

We know that 1 in 3 women are survivors of sexual assault, rape and domestic abuse. We know that. And yet we seem willing to ignore it when we use the language of abuse to attack other women. We ignore that it might be triggering, that we might be repeating words used towards them in violence, that it might be happening offline as well as online.

We know this is the case when an abusive man does it. That’s why we argue against online abuse.

I don’t believe that there is ever really a good reason to use a misogynist’s language against other women. After all, there are enough misogynists out there already trying to shut us up.

When I started thinking about this post, I remembered when Nadine Dorries was humiliated by David Cameron in the House of Commons, as he ‘joked’ about her being ‘frustrated’. As feminists, we rose up in her defence. We agreed that her views are abhorrent, that her beliefs on abortion are dangerous. But we also agreed that it wasn’t ok for the most powerful man in the country to use sexism to shut her up in a male-dominated parliament. So we defended her. We said that however much we condemn her views, we would not accept the use of misogyny to silence her.

I guess what I’m asking is for something similar to happen today. Other feminists, other women, might have views that we don’t like. They might say things that we totally disagree with, that we find horrible. But that doesn’t mean we act like abusive men. That doesn’t mean we use the tools of patriarchy to silence one another.

This isn’t about not being angry, or about silencing our own anger. It’s not about tone policing or trying to silence women’s voices. Because patriarchy is always trying to shame women’s anger, or minimise it, or refuse it. We need to be angry, and we need to be able to express our anger freely. We have a right to our anger, always. This isn’t about saying that abusive language is ‘unladylike’ etc. etc. It’s about understanding how as feminists, using the language of abuse, the language of misogyny, to silence other women is colluding with patriarchy’s project.

I know I’m not going to make any friends writing this blogpost. But as feminists, I think we always need to think about how our actions, our words, our language works in patriarchy. How our actions collude with patriarchy and how we confront and challenge it.

Audre Lorde famously said that the ‘master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house’.

I am remembering her words, because I believe using patriarchy’s words will never dismantle patriarchy. Adopting the tactics of violent men will never dismantle the structures that enable violence against women and girls.

We need to be angry. We need to fight. We need to shout and scream and yell. But I have had enough of hearing the language of abusive men used to silence women. I don’t care who is using it. Because if you call me a cunt, if you say you hope I get slapped, if you say I need dick, if you say I should die, I will always assume you are an abusive man. Because that’s what abusive men say to me. I don’t put up with it from them. And I won’t put up with it from you.