Consent not coercion, romanticising abuse

kateleth2014[Image description: A pair of hands are bound at the wrists with red rope that then encircles them in a heart. Credit: Kate Leth 2014]

As the release date for ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ gets closer and closer, there are a lot of people nervous about the negative repercussions that this story will create. The two main issues being the story’s poor portrayal of what a BDSM relationship is and how the abusive, controlling nature of the main character, Christian Grey, is normalised and even romanticised. The producers are advertising this film as a ‘romantic’, with its release date around Valentine’s Day, reflecting the franchise’s appreciators who see it as nothing more than a bit of risqué, taboo fun. When in reality it is an emotionally and physically abusive relationship romanticised for a day that is meant to represent love and intimacy.

A healthy BDSM relationship not merely involves communication, but realises that it is paramount to a fulfilling and consensual role-playing scene. The Submissive and Dominant would both engage in a conversation of what the submissive wants to receive, what their soft-limits are (something that they have hesitations about but places strict conditions on with specific informed consent relevant to a situation) and what their hard limits are (things they will not enjoy and do not want to engage in under any circumstances – what is off limits). The Dom(me) may discuss what they’re willing and not willing to do and they will both agree on a ‘safe word’ for either of them to use, particularly, only because they will be in the more compromising position, for the submissive to use if they feel uncomfortable, scared, unsafe, unhappy, are in pain and/or they want to stop. Anyone engaging in consensual role-play would then immediately stop and move into the ‘after-care’ period of a play scene, which will vary for each couple, depending on how intimate they are usually, but could involve things like cuddling, talking, soothing, letting the Sub have silence and space but ultimately letting them know that they are there for them and there in a caring capacity.

Abusers use anything they can in order to create an ‘excuse’ for abuse. Christian Grey uses the traumatic experience of his childhood to justify his actions, using coercion and scare tactics to make Anastasia engage in sexual acts she isn’t comfortable with. He also manipulates her emotionally and financially to gain control in every situation. This is in no way a healthy representation of any relationship, let alone a BDSM relationship. What is worrying is the number of people who will go and see this film, with their curiosity for BDSM whetted by the books, and think that that is acceptable behaviour, or the other half of serious viewers who will have even more reason to believe the myth that people who engage in BDSM are all traumatised, mentally damaged or ill or need saving and that that’s their reason for engaging in it. From what I can gather from the film’s trailer and others’ reviews, the film strives to suggest that if Christian and Ana could just have a loving, ‘vanilla’, relationship all their problems would be solved. Guess what? People who engage in healthy BDSM can have and are having loving relationships built on trust, affection and respect.

This film is going to create damaging repercussions because it will give men who want to find proof the reason they need to argue that women do enjoy being dominated over, and that women should submit, sexually and emotionally to a man’s needs. There will be men who will try replicating scenes, some to women who asked them to go to the cinema and watch it with them, but some who will give the woman they enact them on no choice – exactly as Christian does. In America, a campaign has been started called ’50 Dollars Not 50 Shades’, urging people to donate money to domestic abuse survivor’s shelters, rather than giving their money to the Fifty Shades franchise. This is because a lot of people are acutely aware of the negative impact this will have on abusive relationships. If you want to explore your curiosity towards BDSM play find the community of kinksters in real life around you, sign up to an online Fetish community forum or social media site. There you can find people who can engage you in informative conversations and experiences of healthy BDSM play. But just because this film is the only mainstream representation of BDSM anyone has ever really seen, don’t think that that’s how it’s done. Don’t support this representation of a manipulative, abusive, relationship.  

 

Reclaim the Night Southampton!

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[Text: Southampton Reclaim the Night, A march to end gender-based violence and sexual harassment. November 29th, 2014. Meet Guildhall Square 7pm. Rally, march, sing, shout, chant and dance through city centre. Finishing at Friend’s Meeting House, 1 Ordnance Road SO15 2AZ. Welcome to ALL gender identities and sexualities.]

We’ve been busy working with other local groups organising a Reclaim the Night March in Southampton. Marching against gender-based violence and sexual harassment the event will be in Southampton this Saturday the 29th November. All genders welcome. Visit our facebook event here for more details or email the event organisers at  reclaimthenightsoton [at] gmail [dot] com

Please share far and wide. We hope to see you there.

Southampton Transgender Day of Remembrance Candelight Vigil

TDOR banner

7.30 p.m., Thursday 20th November
The Edge, Southampton SO14 0BH
Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) is an annual international event to remember all those around the world who were victims of, and lost their lives to, transphobic violence.
We are gathering for a candlelit vigil where the names of trans people (or people perceived as trans) who have been killed throughout the world in the past year will be read out. This will be followed by readings and a collection of donations for two local trans charities, Breakout and Chrysalis.This year’s vigil is being held at The Edge in Southampton. Staff will let you in via the main entrance if you explain you are there for the vigil. There is disabled access via ramp through the side entrance.

The Facebook event is here. Please share widely with anyone who might be interested.

People of all genders, races, colours and abilities are warmly invited to this remembrance event. Please email hampshirefeministcollective (at) gmail.com or comment in the Facebook event if you have any questions or would like to share a lift/meet up with others in advance so you don’t have to travel to the event by yourself.

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS, RECLAIM THE NIGHT: A ZINE ABOUT GENDER-BASED OPPRESSION & SEXUAL VIOLENCE

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[Image description: A black and white photograph by Francesca Woodman. Image shows a woman from the waist down sitting on a wooden chair, naked expect for a pair of Mary Jane shoes. The chair is set on bare floor boards where a black imprint/ shadow of a body can be seen lying at her feet.]

[Text in image: Hampshire Feminist Collective: Call for Submissions: Reclaim the Night. A zine about gender based oppression, sexual violence, & fighting back in a hostile world. Send poetry, visual art, essays, stories, letters & ephemera to hfczine@gmail.com by 30/09/14]

Possible topics include:
– ‘talking back’ to street harassment
– personal accounts of survival
– rape culture & the media
– the meaning/role of self-care in ending gender-based oppression
– intersections of sexual violence, race, & prisons
– sexual violence in ‘radical’ spaces
– the role of capitalism in perpetuating gender-based oppressions
– intersections of illness and violence
– past reclaim the night memories
– compulsive (hetero/)sexuality
– feminist parenting
– white-washing of anti-rape campaigns
– healing as a male survivor
– histories of trans women’s resistance to sexual violence

SEND POETRY, VISUAL ART, ESSAYS, STORIES, LETTERS & OTHER EPHEMERA TO HFCZINE@GMAIL.COM BY 30/9/14

The legacies of Orientalism and the exoticizing of women

[content note: Discussions of Orientalism, with mentions of racism,  sexualisation, rape, violence, slavery, genocide, and colonialism]

Orientalism is a way of thinking that gives rationalization for European/Western colonialism based on the oppressive history in which “the West” constructed “the East” as “exotic”, “backward”, less “enlightened”, and in need of imperialism to be rescued. Part of it involves seeing Arab culture as exotic, uncivilized — representing a widespread socialization of which Europeans/Westerners are seen as inherently superior in comparison.

A part of Orientalism includes exoticization against the “Orient”/”Other” (East), which also involves seeing women of color as needing to be liberated via hypersexualization. In history, Orientalism hugely affects religious women of color and seeks to suppress certain religious rights. For example, historic colonialist violence relies on Orientalism to unveil religious Muslim women of color. This is found in the example of when Lord Cromer, a British leader in Egypt, accused the Egyptians of degrading women through veiling. Thus he attempted to unveil Egyptian women, which can be said to be a form of hypersexualization; and he attempted to show himself as liberating the “Orient”, whilst using the opportunity to end the pre-existing Egyptian practice of training women to be doctors and furthering colonialist interest at the expense of women. However, due to the large legacies left behind by historic colonialism, Orientalism can encompass many things globally and is not exclusively a religious issue; thus it extends to structures of institutional racism that are still alive today, which also effect non-religious women of color.

Indigenous feminist Andrea Smith has said that the logic of Orientalism is considered the third pillar of white supremacy, and thus Orientalism has been used to defend the logics of slavery and genocide. An increasingly globalized, all encompassing Orientalism further strengthens widespread violence against women of color in this world.

Thus, relating back to exoticization, the socialization of the “exotic Other” not only gets passed down through certain explicit imperialistic agendas but also gets transmitted via worldwide entertainment industries like Disney.

Just one small example can be seen from this:

Disney's Jasmine. An example of the exotic and sexualised portrayal of WoC in western media.

Disney’s Jasmine. An example of the exotic and sexualised portrayal of WoC in western media.

“Often times, white people think they’re complimenting me by saying I look ‘exotic’. They don’t realize that the word ‘exotic’ itself is bloodstained with a history of colonial rape, or what it means for me, as a WOC, to be the exotic Other in a white supremacist world. Or white women will sigh with longing over Jasmine tropes and evince a desire to embody/consume the Other: darkening their hair, wearing black eyeliner, big earrings or saris. They like to play at being what they think I am, what they think Jasmine is. For them, Jasmine is a an exciting adventure, a garment they can put on and take off at will. For me, she’s real, she’s my everyday, she walks in my skin and looks through my eyes. The degradation and violence that she endures is done to me. The brilliant Emi Koyama once said “There’s no innocent way of being in this world”, meaning that no one, not even the most enlightened among us, can exist outside of history, outside of the legacies of colonial violence that shaped the world we inhabit.” — Tassja, The Jasmine Diaries Part II: ‘Exotic’ is Not a Compliment.

Why is this relevant to feminism? This is because Orientalism is very much tied with racism, xenophobia and violence against women, especially women of color. This particularly impact women of color as Orientalism involves an imperialistic mindset which normalizes historic colonialist violence against the “Orient”.  As Tassja quotes, “This is how the First World regards the lands and people of the Third World whose resources they have gleefully plundered and monopolized, and this is how women of color are symbolically, culturally and sociopolitically situated in white colonial hegemony. Thus the politics of land theft and resource usurpation, of cultural imperialism, systematic rape and dehumanization, intersect on our bodies and shape our sexual self-awareness.”  Today, similarly imperialistic mindsets still thrive. Such oppression tend to be tied in with today’s Othering and Western privilege, as Kamali says that the legacy of Orientalism demonstrates itself in governmental and communal policies for integration of immigrant groups in host societies. The assumption is that “they” are different and culturally the opposite of “us”. ‘Knowing is to subordinate’, therefore, “we” must understand “them” in order to be able to change them and make them adjusted to our society. “We” already know that “they” are different and strange, since they come from “the Orient”. When the element of exoticization is added to the Othering, it becomes an added form of fetishizing of conquest, of which women of color experience a threefold discrimination of patriarchal rape culture, cultural discrimination in the form of xenophobia, and white colonialist supremacy. Although this disproportionately affects of women of color, this also impacts women with white privilege. This is because Orientalism supports the idea that the European/Western cis male should remain the overseer of women’s issues over centuries, even if it requires imperialism and genocide.

For further reading and references, here are a few links:

Conceptualizing the “Other”, Institutionalized Discrimination, and Cultural Racism
What is Orientalism?
Heteropatriarchy and the Three Pillars of White Supremacy.
The Jasmine Diaries Part 1: Colonial Legacies and Modern Dilemmas.
The Jasmine Diaries Part 2: ‘Exotic’ is not a compliment.
The Jasmine Diaries Part 3: Beyond the ‘Exotic.’

In Tory Britain, women’s issues are rarely seen or heard in the media

By Megan Sherman

[content note: domestic violence, abuse]

Murderer Mick Philpott’s judicial and media trials could have given his victims the dignity and justice of a frank discussion about the social disgrace of gendered violence which formed the crux of the case, but by men’s politicking and posturing in the media, the sadistic abuse of women and children has been denied the oxygen of public debate. In its place hard-right rags pulled Philpott’s state benefits centre-stage and the left by necessity took the bait, calling bullshit on the most cynical of anti-welfare propaganda.

The welfare issue dominated post-trial analysis at great expense for feminism. Facts about Philpott’s profile as an abuser and the heightened vulnerability of women whose key support services are being cut and closed wilt from the public scene. A scrap of information here and there in the New Statesman and Daily Mirror sadly doesn’t drown out the din of the talking heads of privilege, aka. the Tory commentariat, the morality makers in an age of corporate owned, right-wing mass media.

Imagine an objective documentary of Philpott’s crimes (trigger warning): over the course of the protagonist’s life, his chronic, violent hatred for others mutates. He becomes ever crueller and humiliating to the young women he romances. First he beats one with planks. Later he’s imprisoned, after repeatedly stabbing a girlfriend who threatens to leave him, puncturing several of her major organs — an outcome which only at the hands of somebody as nasty as Mick Philpott one could entertain the thought of calling something glib like a ‘lucky escape’.

After being released, Mick continues to charm and exploit multiple partners, living with many of them in the same house at the same time. He attempts to control their reproduction, manipulates them for his own material gain, and, not content with beating women himself, he teaches children to hit their mothers. It’s a rotten life. Finally, he burns down a house in which six children are asleep for the very last time, incensed by his partner’s threat to emancipate herself from his tyranny.

It’s a sad account of callous abuse and control which reflects a bloodcurdling reality for women in Britain. Two women die each week as a result of domestic abuse, and countless more cower through a life immediately threatened by the terrifying sadism of their partners. Society’s ethic can be gauged as much by what’s ignored in public debates than by their obvious content. Silence, fear and ignorance gives power to domestic abuse, and still frank conversations about misogyny are largely uncharted by — actively avoided by some of — the mainstream media.

Only the most decadent tabloid consumer would look at the facts of the Philpott case and bark questions about the abuser’s benefits as if they were a determinant of criminal action case. His criminality was symptomatic of a particularly extreme and violent misogyny, not welfare — a seemingly obvious point which events have shown it’s sadly necessary to continue pointing out. It’s worth noting however that the link between socio-economic poverty and imprisonment can be supported, and, crucially, it reflects entirely on the deep-seated problems of intersecting inequalities and not at all on the wisdom of supporting those trapped in the peripheries of the social net.

Conservatives — who in the same breath endorse cuts to Sure Start, rape crisis centres, domestic abuse shelters, and stigmatise single or poor mothers — laughably demand with indignant fury that all feminists languish in the putrid memory of Margaret Thatcher, macho-power incarnate, hetero-normative nuclear family extraordinaire, who wheeled back just about everyone’s rights, stigmatised LGBTQ identities and upheld the most calcified prejudice in public, not least calling feminism ‘poison’. That the media could wheel out feminism in their inevitable slip-shod hagiography of Thatcher, but barely mention it during the post-trial analysis of Philpott highlights the ignorant, lax attitude towards gender equality in Tory Britain.

It’s depressing that the politicking of men in the media drowns out the most salient feature of the Mick Philpott narrative, the safety of women and children. In the long term, any media model with a chance of being socially progressive must move towards democratic control, by which the marginalised can allocate resources to media that can prove it is acting in the public interest, best representing diversity, giving scope to the fullest possible range of narratives and discourse, and, ultimately, actively busting stereotypes and prejudice. Until then it falls upon feminists to keep on challenging anyone who denies that it’s Mick Philpott’s violent misogyny, not his welfare status, which makes him a burden on society.

An open letter to American feminists on the death of Margaret Thatcher

So yesterday was a Big Thing for Brits on the Internet. And then this happened, a statement that needed saying:

A couple of HFC members have become dismayed at some American feminist pages’ lauding of Thatcher as a feminist icon. This is not the case. She described feminism as poison. But in lauding her they are often at pains to make clear that they ‘don’t agree with the politics but as a woman in power she deserves celebrating’. This is reducing her to her gender, and ignoring the harmful effect she had on women, on the LGBTQ community, and her supporting of racist, classist and genocidal regimes. One cannot laud someone’s office whilst ignoring the crimes they do whilst there, and to reduce anyone to their gender is being sexist.

For those not in the UK, it’s easy to see her as an abstract landmark event. For the people living in the UK we have her legacy, it isn’t historic. It’s going on NOW. It’s a pretty fucked up legacy, that is hurting women, people with disabilities, and is making the UK a more and more unequal society. This is not an abstract to us. We are living this.

When a couple of us took the page in question to task on these very issues, they ignored the testimony of a 33 year old woman who was raised in poverty in Thatcher’s Britain. But in a bizarre possible form of sexism reserved all their replies for the male member of HFC.

We find the idea of forced solidarity with Thatcher based upon her gender highly patronising, and would rather celebrate the women of Greenham Common, the miner’s wives and all other women who opposed Thatcher, not because of their gender, but because of what they stood for.

(SC + PIX + IZZI) [from our Facebook page]

When we as feminists call out Caitlin Moran for racism, when we call out transphobic radical feminists — we hope to make some points about how a feminism without intersectionality isn’t a feminism we want any part of, and why bigotry isn’t feminist.

When we call FEMEN out for racism, we hope to do the same. Izzi is a Muslim and a feminist; no one is asking her to stand in solidarity with FEMEN just because they are women.

One of these pages on FB has a massive focus on intersectionality normally; we were BEYOND pissed off. Pix is the member raised in poverty by a single mum and DV survivor. Pix’s mum used to go without food to feed her and her siblings. And Pix’s mum and women like her were vilified by the government of the time. (See study here)

Pix is 33 and joked, ‘I feel like aping the bad Vietnam movie trope of “YOU WEREN’T THERE, MAN.”’

When you laud Thatcher as a feminist icon, you erase that experience. You uphold a racist, homophobic, classist woman who was probably one of the best examples of internalised misogyny to ever hit the halls of power in the UK, or as one of our members put it, ‘Holding Thatcher up as a feminist icon is like kicking intersectionality in the stomach.’

Thatcherism is alive and well in the UK today. We dare American feminists to say that she is a feminist icon to feminists with disabilities in the UK, when they fail to consider her legacy, in the demonization of the working class and people on benefits, disability hate crimes as result of Tory rhetoric, and the ATOS medical tests that have deemed people fit for work who later died, or committed suicide in 2012. We dare them to say that to women like Pix, and her mum, who lived in social housing whilst it was being sold off, and communities in these less affluent areas crumbled. (An excerpt from Owen Jones’s Chavs: The Demonisation Of The Working Class)

Another member found this today, from Tumblr. And it says what we were attempting to say so, so well.

My feminism doesn’t support women who go to immense lengths to cut services that directly help and benefit other women.

My feminism doesn’t support all women simply because they’re women.

My feminism doesn’t support women who use their power to plunder, steal and exacerbate class gaps.

My feminism doesn’t support warmongering and bigoted propaganda wielding.

My feminism doesn’t support anyone who upholds an apartheid state as the beacon of civilization while referring to resistance organizations as “terrorism”.

My feminism doesn’t support white supremacy, exploitation of the proletariat, imperialism and misogyny (wow, shocker, women can perpetuate misogyny!!!!) all of which thatcher was disgustingly guilty of.

My feminism doesn’t support women who reinforce the idea of a heteronormative nuclear family structure, while publicly referring to feminism as poison.

My feminism doesn’t support systematic oppression, full stop.

maarnayeri

So, American feminists, please THINK before you get all misty eyed about ‘The Iron Lady’. Please, don’t patronise British people in marginalised sections of our society. Please don’t erase our experiences, and don’t forget your intersectionality when it comes to Lady T.

With thanks,

Hampshire Feminist Collective

Further things you may want to read as to the political landscape of the 1980s in the UK: