A Day to Celebrate All Women

Want to know why we need an International Women’s Day? Look no further than Mhairi Black MP’s speech.

Misogyny is rife in our society. Women are belittled, threatened, victimised, assaulted and overlooked in all areas of society. Every. Single. Day.

This video is one example why, in my opinion, feminism is still relevant as a political movement. It highlights the very real situation countless women are in currently – subjected to violence and degradation simply for being female.

Violence against women is not in decline. If anything, with technological advances, women are faced with evolving dangers and laws that lack adequate protections. For example, the non-consensual sharing of intimate images, known colloquially as Revenge Porn, is on the rise and only recently did Scottish law catch up to it.

The UK Government’s latest Violence Against Women and Girls Digest found that “violence against adolescent girls is understudied, with most research looking only at the impact on one form of violence”.  Child marriage is a huge issue worldwide, and tens of millions of adolescent girls are subjected to sexual violence every year.

Around the world, girls are being denied education. Or unable to attend school because of period poverty. Female Genital Mutilation is a widespread problem – some 24,000 girls are at risk of undergoing FGM in the UK alone.

Findings from the Wave 10 post-campaign evaluation of the Domestic Abuse Campaign 2006/07 found that “[a] domestic violence incident is recorded every 10 minutes in Scotland”.

Penny Mordaunt highlighted a number of other issues faced by women and girls worldwide. That list is anything but exhaustive, but it does light a fire in my belly.

This International Women’s Day, I’m going to be thinking about the women who don’t get a platform.

The abused women.

The exploited women.

The trafficked women.

The sex workers.

The immigrants.

The overworked.

The unemployed.

The disabled.

The homeless.

The victims.

The survivors.

The trans-women.

The lesbians.

The queer.

The Scottish women.

The women around the world.

The women of colour.

The activists.

The grieving.

The strong.

The loud.

The silenced.

The few.

The many.

Une publication partagée par Femislay (@femislay) le

On Women Saying No

I’m signed up to GirlBoss’s newsletter and my weekly email from Sophia Amoruso dropped in my inbox like clockwork. I like Sophia. She is bolschy, driven and badass. Her latest email, though, left me torn.

The power of no

In her email, Sophia talks about the power of saying no. In the context of the email, she’s talking about finding better focus and the rejecting the daily distractions that make procrastination easy and getting shit done all the harder.

Learning the power of “no.” Sure, saying yes can open doors for us, but once we’re focused on what we want to achieve, often “no” is much more powerful…It can help to start saying “I don’t do that” rather than “I can’t do that” when responding to requests from people, so they know that as a rule, you aren’t interested in a particular type of engagement. It can be liberating to go home at the end of the day and not do something. I’ve found that not drinking on weekdays can make me much more apt to decline social events that could distract me from my focus.

In self-care terms, I think Sophia is right. Learning to say no, to prioritise your own needs over others’ is a great skill and one we find difficult to master as a general rule. However, “just saying no” doesn’t always work.

Broken records

While the sentiment of this email initially comes across as empowering and encouraging, it’s kind of missing the point. Women have been saying no for years. We’ve been saying no to telesales calls and street marketers trying to sell us broadband. We’ve been saying no to men who won’t take no for an answer. No isn’t enough. And to tell us to “just say no” is patronising with a touch of victim blaming.

This fantastic article from Jessica Eaton highlights the problems with telling women to “just say no” and I can’t recommend enough that you read it. It’s wholly relatable to women who have been accosted and analyses the reactions we have.

There is no weight behind a woman’s initial No. In fact, most women won’t actually say No in the first instance because we have to weigh up the potential consequences of telling a man no. I’m sick to the back teeth of that. I don’t want to have to put another human’s feelings before my own safety, but many times I do.

rejection

Softening for protection

Clothing. Words. Facial expressions. Reactions. The routes I walk home. The time. My company. The number of strangers.

These are some of the considerations I make to minimise the chance that I encounter some form of harassment, or worse, on a regular basis. I don’t walk home alone late at night if I can help it. I consider how provocative I look. Whether my actions could be misconstrued. How I present myself to friends and strangers alike.

I soften my rejections of unwanted attention online too, to save myself from a potential, real danger. I’m angry that I have to weigh the pros and cons of telling someone to leave me the hell alone. That, in doing so, I may be putting myself at further risk – not unlike in the physical world.

I shouldn’t be worrying about the consequences of my actions in these cases. I’m furious that, out of fear, I must extinguish the rage. I must hold my tongue, stop myself from flying into a fit of keyboard-smashing fury, and sharing exactly how I feel about these unwanted and unnecessary messages or comments.

It’s not cute. It’s not flattering. It’s not even pathetic or worthy of sympathy. It’s just wrong.

furious baboon

There are so many potential dangers I think about when I reject someone in person. When interacting online, there are always communication barriers and issues in recognising tone, intent and a dozen other cues usually read through body language, vocal pitch and facial expression. However, when you’ve been given your seventh polite No Thanks – on or offline – take the hint.

What you may or may not realise is that through all the polite declines, your conversation has likely put the other participant through the emotional wringer. She may have been flattered at first in your interest. That flattery will soon turn to boredom, then disdain, and then anger. Anger at the fact that she cannot tell you to Fuck Off because you have the power to hurt her, even through a screen.

The threat you potentially pose is not enough for me to relent. You will not wear me down until I say yes. You will exhaust me, though, and force me into the position where I feel I have no choice but to put myself in jeopardy. The pain, anguish and fear such a decision creates as I tell you where to go is on you.

Your intentions may be pure, but your characterisation of those intentions is hugely intimidating. Take a step back and assess the conversation. If I’ve never shown interest before, why would I now? What you’re doing is trying to manipulate me. I won’t ever agree to that.

Take the rejection well, learn from it and promise yourself that you’ll not pursue your next target so relentlessly.

We’re all vulnerable and we’ll all make mistakes, especially by misinterpreting others. Reflecting, assessing and learning from our pasts gives us the opportunity to do it right next time.

Just Say No

Like Jessica Eaton pointed out – telling people to Just Say No is victim-blamey and uncomfortable. It suggests women aren’t pained, emotionally drained, and often physically hurt by saying No. No has become irrelevant. Consent has lost its weight. The conversation needs to change. Why aren’t we asking men why they still keep asking? Why aren’t we questioning men about their shameless pawing and relentless badgering of women? Why aren’t we shaming men for not respecting women’s decisions?

This tired, misogynistic stereotype of the Woman Chaser is so overcooked by Hollywood it’s nothing but ash. It’s not romantic to be chased. It’s not flattering to be harassed. It’s not a sign of love that you won’t give up – it’s uncomfortable. Wearing a woman down until she says yes is not enthusiastic. It’s barely consent.

unamused owl

We need to get rid of this hurtful narrative – it’s teaching women to want to be chased, and promoting harassment as love to men. We all deserve better. We deserve to be treated with respect. We deserve to be listened to in the first instance. We deserve respect as women and as humans, not as someone else’s girlfriend/wife/property.

Learning to say no, for ourselves, is one thing. Learning to listen and respect a woman’s No is vital. Both are valuable lessons and both are necessary steps forward if women are to share space with men as equals.

Homelessness in Scotland

Homelessness in Scotland is on the rise again. In 2016-2017, 34,100 homelessness applications were made. Latest figures saw a 2% increase in applications for housing assistance. There’s been a 10% increase in the number of children facing homelessness in the last year. In August 2017, there were an estimated 800 rough sleepers in Scotland. Analysis from researchers at Heriot Watt University predicts that things are only going to get worse – with an estimated 53% increase to be seen in the number of rough sleepers over the next 20 years.

Shelter published the following diagram, which highlights that single males make up nearly half of all homeless individuals in Scotland.

shelter statistics homelessness

Shelter helped 21,145 people in need last year and actively tackles homelessness and housing problems in Scotland

The Beast from the East

The Beast From the East has hit the UK hard. Scotland has been issued with amber and red weather warnings. This is serious, you guys. Red weather warnings equate to “risk to life”. While most of us rushed home from work to the warmth of our heated flats and excitedly made hot chocolates because any excuse, others are not so lucky.

In this current treacherous weather, the homeless are likely to suffer massively – especially rough sleepers. I’ve put together information on charities and shelters that can provide help and shelter to those in need of a bed and hot meal over the next few nights. If you see someone who looks like they need help, please approach them and offer to reach out to a charity. Even just buying them a sandwich and a coffee would make a huge difference. Compassion and empathy is crucial at times like these, when the homeless are most vulnerable.

Edinburgh

Shelter – www.scotland.shelter.org.uk – 0808 800 4444

Streetwork – www.streetwork.org.uk – 0808 178 2323

Bethany Christian Trust – http://www.bethanychristiantrust.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Signposting-leaflet-updated-Sep-2017-4.pdf

St John’s Episcopal Church

Meadowbank Parish Church

meadowbank parish church night shelter

Glasgow

Glasgow City Mission

Glasgow Night Shelter – 07555 591 466 / 0141 221 2630 – 35 East Campbell Street, G1 5DT

The Simon Community Street Team – 0800 027 7466

Dundee

Homeless Services Unit – 01382 432001 (24hrs) – East District Housing Ofice, 169 Pitkerro Road, Dundee DD4 8ES

Night Ministry – 07999 872 928 /01382 871144 – www.nightministry.co.uk

Aberdeen

Aberdeen Cyrenians – 01224 625 732 / 07870 230 692 (out of hours) – Street Alternatives, 62 Summer Street, Aberdeen, AB10 1SD

Elsewhere

If you don’t know who else to call, please call 111. The Police Scotland phone teams will be able to advise you on the best course of action.

Look out for each other

At the end of the day, we need to have each other’s backs. If you’re passionate about the safety of homeless people and want to push the Scottish Government to do more, contact your local MP. Ask them for their opinions on the effectiveness of current legislation and what they think could be done to improve it. Show you care. Show you’re not going to let this issue slide. Show that you believe every human has the right to more than concrete for a bed.

Profiting From Beauty

The Grid Girls

A few weeks ago, there was a rather noisy controversy around Formula 1’s decision to scrap the Grid Girls. This left many women jobless and caused quite the stir among Formula 1 fans, feminists and many others.

On the one hand, many were exultant because they saw this as progress towards a society free from sexism and oppression – of which the existence of Grid Girls was a symptom. By this reckoning, the Grid Girls were considered to be existing in a male-dominated community. The Girls’ freedoms were devalued because their jobs made them vulnerable to men, and therefore inferior; thanks to the patriarchy.

Others were furious about the decision and accused F1 of pandering to over-the-top pressures from militant feminists and others who are pushing for a puritan ideology to take hold in our progressive, increasingly liberal society. This side of the debate argued that these women were not forced into the jobs they were hired for and that their dismissal was a puritan persecution of those who refuse to accept that humans can profit from their bodies, appearances, and – most importantly – beauty. The slippery slope argument (that if Grid Girls are acceptable then it sets a precedent for misogyny elsewhere) is exactly that; slippery.

Source: Getty Images

Society is heavily divided in arguments like these; consider the divisiveness around conversations about sex work. For some, legalising sex work gives those who sell sex legal protections from harm, while others believe that the patriarchy has conditioned us into believing that sex work is a job we should encourage when it is not. I’m aware that this barely scratches the surface of the sex work debates, but I’m going to save the intricacies of that for a future blog post. To delve into it now would likely result in this being 5,000 words long and I’d still have more to say! Back to Grid Girls…

Here’s a difference between sex workers and the Grid Girls, though: the Grid Girls are capitalising on their beauty. There’s also the fact that Grid Girls were not, to our knowledge, ever trafficked or forced into working against their will. Grid Girls did not face potential prosecution as they earned their wages. Grid Girls did not deal with nearly the same stigma or potential danger that sex workers do.

For me, one of the most important points made in the Grid Girls debate was made by Sara Pascoe during her performance for The Guilty Feminist podcast’s Suffragette Centenary Special – Part 1. The perfect-star-alignment of this conversation is not lost on me: we are still debating what women can and cannot do, whether it be voting, sex work (or any work), or breastfeeding in public.

pin up girls spray paint

Sara made a brilliantly eloquent point about 24 minutes in which I’ve done my best to transcribe accurately:

…feminism is this huge thing and some of us are running in different directions…I think that what happened with the Grid Girls is really shocking and I don’t want feminism attached to that kind of thing…I feel like sometimes there are these massive misunderstandings, like, beautiful people of any gender are allowed to make money from that. The difference between the Grid Girls and the Presidents Club where people were being harassed at work – they’re entirely different things. It isn’t about outfits, and I feel like I don’t want to be part of something where some women get to decide who women are based on the bodies that they’re born in. And I feel like something like this is so huge that sometimes in a group we get kind of pulled along – we have to remember that it isn’t…it’s interesting that it’s women in their 30s with money who got the vote first. Quite often in feminism, and I speak as one of them, we are the people who also have a voice.

I bloody love Sara Pascoe. The example she gave comparing the Grid Girls to the women at the Presidents Club is perfect. The Presidents Club dinner in January deserved the media attention. Those men deserved to be outed for the sexist, chauvinistic pigs they were. They were harassing women who were there to do a job. Those women didn’t ask to be grabbed, leered on, or assaulted. They were there to do a job, collect their wages and carry on with their lives.

Beauty as a commodity

I also loved Pascoe’s highlighting of a maddenly uncomfortable truth – people don’t like other people profiting from their beauty or looks. Models have such a bad rep as being vacant or uneducated and that they have no prospects outside their looks. It’s completely unfair, widely inaccurate and drilled into us from a very young age.

I remember a friend of mine at primary school, a beautiful girl with blonde hair, fabulous cheekbones and legs a mile long at age 10 being so upset when others suggested she become a model. She asked if that’s all we thought she was good for, if they didn’t think she was clever enough to expect more in her life. Looking back, that breaks my heart. Why can’t such a young girl have both? Why can’t she want to be a model and be intelligent, conscientious and successful?

Pascoe’s point about profiting from beauty is thought-provoking. Beauty as a commodity makes it valuable, tradable and, most importantly, valuable. It is not vain to admit to being beautiful – it is important for us to recognise and accept ourselves for who we are and what we have. While what we consider beautiful is highly subjective and in the eye of the beholder, when others recognise that beauty, do we not have the right to capitalise it like we would our musical ability or aptitude for maths? What makes beauty so different from the ability to compose or design or build or create? While the questions don’t sit entirely comfortably with me, I’m asking myself whether that discomfort is with the idea of beauty being an acceptable trading token, or whether there’s a deeper issue I’ve yet to articulate.

girls

Grid Girls weren’t scrapped as a concept because the women dealt with workplace harassment, misogyny and potential harm. They were removed from the F1 to give off the impression that the F1 bosses are woke and tuned in to world politics. They were removed under some illusion that sexism can’t exist if the women aren’t there. That the problem is only surface deep, and not in fact ingrained so heavily in society it’s painful when we do exorcise those demons.

Whether you think the Grid Girls were outdated and misogynistic or not should not be the sole focus of this debate. In fact, we may well find that we settle on an answer when we delve a little deeper into the other problem – whether women are capable of making such employment decisions for themselves.

We need to highlight that women do have the capacity to make decisions for themselves – we need to remind ourselves that maintaining women’s agency is vital. Women who have agency have the right to decide for themselves what is acceptable and feasible employment and what is not. To start arguing that these women were misinformed or fell victim to the patriarchy or misogynists or whoever else is an insult to women worldwide.

We’ve seen through the patriarchy’s bullshit long enough now – we know our own minds and our own bodies. We should be able to decide for ourselves what we do with them. Isn’t that what feminism is truly about: having the right to choose for ourselves and escaping the patriarchy’s cold, unwavering grip?

solidarity sisters

Our Valentine’s Axe Throwing Date

Yes, you read that right

The last place I expected to be walking towards at 9 o’clock on a Wednesday night (especially in this baltic weather) was the Biscuit Factory. And yet there I was, bundled up in many layers, psyching myself up for an hour of axe throwing with Tam.

An alternative Valentine celebration

Black Axe Throwing Co, here until Sunday, know how to show couples (singles, and groups) a good time. Greeted by upbeat music, the smell of Geek Pizza ovens working hard and long picnic tables seating an assortment of friends and couples waiting to be shown to the Throwing Area.

The venue they’ve chosen is perfect. The Biscuit Factory, if you don’t know it, is hidden in Bonnington. Housing studios, working spaces and an exhibition venue, this refurbished factory is rugged and somewhat unassuming on the outside. No one would suspect there would be axe-wielding couples on the top floor.

The venue

I have to say, apart from holding this event in a field at a music festival, I can’t imagine a better location.Worn metal beams support concrete walls. The rustic vibe is somewhat comforting, if a little chilly, so I was glad for my many, many layers. Three throwing areas are sectioned off by wire attached to metal beams and at the far end of each sit two well-used targets. Tree stumps hold a pair of axes while they’re not in use and our instructor introduces us to the art of axe throwing.

There’s a palpable nervousness born of the unknown, but the high energy and excitement emanating from every eagerly waiting participant creates an infectious buzz and we were (cautiously) ready to throw some very sharp and dangerous objects at some plywood.

The throwing

We soon find out that this is a refined skill and certainly not for the faint of heart. The adrenaline spikes as you pick up that axe for the first time, feeling the weight of it – and the responsibility not to injure or break anyone/thing. A second spike hits as you release the axe and send it hurtling through the air, praying it 1) lands in the target, and 2) doesn’t recoil and wedge in your shin.

Joining five other pairs at our station, we soon started throwing practice shots to get used to the idea of axe throwing. We were atrocious. But so was everyone else, and the camaraderie and sense of group failure created much needed hilarity to take the edge off the adrenaline-induced danger. Our instructor was great fun, approachable and happy to share his knowledge. I’d like to point out now that he did throw an axe once himself and even he missed, so I don’t feel nearly so bad about my lack of axe throwing skills. An axe murderer in the making, I am not.

Following the warm up, a friendly competition ensued. Safe to say, our team lost, but it was a close call (not that we contributed a single point to our team’s combined efforts). Following semi-finals, a final round and eventual axe throwing champion within our group we had the opportunity to throw axes for more practice/chances to sink an axe in some plywood, order pizza and cocktails (on the grounds that we didn’t come anywhere near the axes again). We didn’t order from Pizza Geeks, having opted for Sainsbury’s own pizzas earlier in the evening, but they smelled damn delicious so I would highly recommend on that alone!

The verdict

It’s not a cheap night out at £20 a head for the basic axe-throwing package sans pizza and alcohol shaped bells and whistles. However, considering the insurance they must have to cover, the fantastic venue and tutelage from our instructor – plus the mere fact that we got to fling axes at a wall for an hour, I’d say it’s totally worth it.

I’m tempted to go back – they’re here til Sunday 18th Feb and it was so much fun!! If you have the time and the money, or are able to catch them at a future event, I would highly recommend buying yourself a ticket.

Fun, therapeutic and completely different – this Valentine’s date will be tough to beat!

Couples who throw axes together stay together

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Lady Doritos? Seriously?

BREAKING NEWS: Women Are Too Complicated For Men

Do you ever read a headline and think it’s a hoax? Recently, I’ve been finding myself checking whether the publisher of articles is The Onion or Reductress, because separating fact from fiction is becoming increasingly difficult. Today was no exception when I was confronted with this headline:

doritos for women article headline

facepalm

It’s almost comical. Almost.

In trying to prove how complicated women are, Doritos have managed to make women out to be so simple.

You’d think brands might have learned by now that people find unnecessarily gendered products insulting. There seems to be no real point to it, unless you consider the company’s profit margins. All it seems to do is drive up the price of a product while “male” or gender-neutral counterpart. The cost of razors depends on whether you’re standing in the men’s aisle or the women’s, we pay more for tampons than condoms, and BIC found out the hard way that women don’t need their own pen.

This latest attempt by Doritos to make “lady-friendly” crisps that are quieter, less crumbly and “handbag” sized tells me three things:

  1. there were no women high up in the decision-making process at Doritos HQ
  2. the men behind this idea really don’t understand women
  3. sexism is alive and well

What’s the problem?

By creating this female version of the wonderous golden triangle snack, Doritos must have made several assumptions about women:

  1. women hate crumbs
  2. women’s handbags are too small/full of other things
  3. women dislike making noise/are embarrassed by loud eating sounds they make
  4. women, alone, take issue with the above problems (i.e. men don’t have the same relationship with a bag of Doritos)

While this blunder may seem somewhat insignificant, it’s only a snapshot of a bigger picture that represents the everyday sexism women face. When women are distilled down,minimised and stereotyped by brands to sell a particular product, a message is sent out to the masses that this is an acceptable way to view women. This kind of behaviour from brands also harms worthwhile activism by distracting the public from issues that matter. Rather than working with women to shed light on real issues like violence, poverty and trafficking, it perpetuates the notion that women are superficial and care more about perception and appearance than they do about the real problems we’re facing today.

This particular product from Doritos promotes the idea that women should be quiet, clean and endorses the “ladylike” shtick that women have been actively trying to shrug off for years. Ladylike is a term that is often used to stifle female expression – be that emotional, intellectual, creative or sexual. Thrown around when a woman’s actions lie outwith society’s restricted ideals of how a “proper” (read – oppressed) lady should behave, ladylike has long been used by the patriarchy to keep a handle on women and their acts of societal defiance.

It’s about damn time people started treating women as human and not as empty shells.

It is not a woman’s duty to shrink herself to satisfy the patriarchy’s ego and obsessive control issues.

A woman is not defined by her looks, her femininity or her ability to placate others.

When will society accept that women are complex, multifaceted and unique?

Why do brands continue to pedal antiquated ideas of what a woman should be or how she should behave?

Can we just get rid of the patriarchy already?

A post shared by La Huesera (@laynearlina) on

Personally, I’m pissed off because Doritos are one of my go-to snacks. I don’t want to be giving money to a company that values women so little. Then I’m reminded that most companies are the same and, like with ethical clothing brands, if I was to cut out all the businesses with crappy ethics I’d end up naked and hungry. Neither of those things are what I want.

What next, then? Well, for starters, keep making noise. Keep proving to these decision makers (regardless of gender) that you will be heard and your opinions matters. Keep rallying, writing, tweeting, sharing – use whatever tools you have in your belt. This is about so much more than those delicious corn triangles. This is about representation and forcing brands to gain a better understanding of half the human population (which would be easier if they were hiring more women to become those decision makers).

From now on, I’m asked why I choose to label myself a feminist, this Doritos debacle will be added to the laundry list of issues I have with how women are treated in society.

Oh, and Doritos? Next time you want to make a product for women, try asking them what they want first. It’s not as hard as Mel Gibson made it out to be.

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