Category Archives: covering up bodies with clothes

#NoBraDay: Oh ffs.

Today, the trending topics on Twitter inform me, is #NoBraDay, a day where women are encouraged not to wear a bra because… breast cancer awareness, or something. You can probably feel me rolling my eyes through the page.

I’ve tried to discern where this meme came from. It doesn’t appear to have originated with any actual breast cancer charities or campaigns. All I can find is that some dude invented it in 2011. And even that article manages to conflate it with an actual breast cancer awareness project, Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day, which falls on the 15th and is marked by breast cancer survivors talking about their experiences and their decisions about reconstruction after mastectomy.

In short, this “awareness day” is full of shit. Everyone enthused by it is just banging on about “setting their tatas free”, and it smacks of how Page 3 in the Sun now runs a “Check ‘em Tuesday”, where, by the medium of a topless woman, we are encouraged to check our boobs (I am not sure the Sun got the target audience of this message quite right).

This is a quite common thread in breast cancer campaigns, the line which goes “boobs are great, make sure they stay great, yay boobs”, and it’s a crass one. It’s a classic patriarchal line, the notion that our bodies and our tits are there as sex objects, and nothing more. Forget about health, the message is that breasts are cute and sexy.

So today, do whatever the fuck you like with your norks, as I hope you always do. Go braless, wear a bra, bind them, get surgery… whatever the fuck you want. They’re your boobs, and what you do with them isn’t going to kill someone from cancer.


This is the most misogynistic thing I’ve seen today

Above is a video for the No More Page 3 campaign, and it is the most misogynistic thing I have seen today.

In case you don’t want to watch it, the narrative centres on a man buying a copy of a certain tabloid newspaper, and being stalked around by a topless woman every time he opens the fucking thing, which has a devastating impact on his family and leads to his young daughter making some paper mache norks. It’s so fucking ghastly and misogynistic I’d think it an April Fool, were it not uploaded a few weeks ago.

The whole thing reeks of largely discredited scarlet woman tropes as well as deliberately sexualising children. It’s the sort of thing I’d expect to see made in the 1950s: sexy lady destroys innocent family, and it’s all her fault. The man is not held accountable; indeed, he looks just as perturbed at being relentlessly tailed by the Page 3 girl as the video invites us to be. The blame is laid squarely on the woman, not anywhere else as we are invited to stare at her and mutter to ourselves that she shouldn’t be there.

And let’s talk about sexualising a child, because you know what publication has never, to my knowledge, put out images of little girls wearing false breasts? The Sun. Or, indeed, anything else I can think of, except that fucking video. Yes, we’re meant to be horrified by it, but do you know what I really don’t want to look at? Images of little girls wearing false breasts. Most of the internet and print respect this. Of course they couldn’t have gone for a girl just taking her top off and being cool with it: it was their intention to sexualise this child’s body as much as possible while simultaneously saying “look how terrible this is”. It’s like the Sidebar of Shame in the Daily Mail, except they’re seriously expecting us to fall over and applaud their feminism for this.

It’s sadly not uncommon for initiatives like this to fall back on objectification and sexualisation. In Playing The WhoreMelissa Gira Grant explains that this is the dominant discourse in carceral feminist initiatives against sex work: that sex workers are expected to be seen but not heard, that when they are not being held up as victims, they are being held up as the enemy. One can also draw parallels to PETA, who like to treat women like meat in order to make people eat more vegetables.

Make no mistake: this is what is going on in this video. Somehow, No More Page 3 have managed to produce something that manages to be more objectifying and misogynistic than what they claim to oppose.

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ETA 1553 01/04/14: The “official” campaign account have distanced themselves from this video following complaints due to its misogyny. This marks a reversal on their original position, where they tweeted it excitedly. It is worth noting that while the “official” campaign do not endorse it, this video is not incompatible with any of their campaign talking points.

ETA 1612 01/04/14: The official account also allegedly deleted a tweet describing the video as “fantastic”. As I said before, there is no way this video is incompatible with the main talking points and aims of the NMP3 campaign. I would really like for NMP3 to engage with and talk about why using the imagery and tropes in this video is as misogynistic, if not more so than NMP3.

I’d also like to clarify that, when I refer to “No More Page 3″ throughout this post, I’m not necessarily referring to the “official” campaign, but the movement itself, which, being ostensibly grassroots, ought not to be limited to a single Twitter account!


A rant about street harassment


In which I review a book that I read: Playing The Whore

Since I heard that Melissa Gira Grant wrote a book about sex work, I’ve been desperate to get my grubby mitts on it. Having now read Playing The Whore: The Work Of Sex Work, I want to recommend that every single one of you reads this fucking book.

Weighing in at just 132 pages, I’m astounded Gira Grant managed to pack in so much vital–and radical–analysis in such an accessible format. Central to her thesis is the concept of a “prostitute imaginary”, a cobbled-together bundle of myths which occupies our minds. These myths are systematically examined and dismantled through a feminist lens. Everything you thought you knew about sex work is a lie, it seems. Did you know, for example, that among a sample of over 21, 000 women who do sex work in West Bengal, there were 48, 000 reports of violence perpetrated by police, but only 4000 perpetrated by customers?

Gira Grant has a theory as to why this may be the case. The forces of public imagination surrounding sex work run strong. Misogynists, law enforcement and feminists alike view a sex worker as always working, as nothing but a sex worker. She (as Gira Grant points out, this stereotype is always of a cis woman) is somehow deviant and subjected to stigma for her deviance. Simultaneously, focus is on representations of sex, rather than the concrete. We only see sex workers being arrested, or peek through a peephole to see what we want to see. With all of this going on, the voices of sex workers can easily be ignored, creating this situation:

These demands on their speech [in testimony in court and the media], to both convey their guilt and prove their innocence, are why, at the same time that sex work has made strides toward recognition and popular representations that defy stereotypes, prostitutes, both real and imaginary, still remain the object of social control. This is how sex workers are still understood: as curiosities, maybe, but as the legitimate target of law enforcement crackdowns and charitable concerns–at times simultaneously. And so this is where the prostitute is still most likely to be found today, where those who seek to “rescue” her locate her: at the moment of her arrest.

The book travels in a spiral, revisiting the same points over and over again to the joint problems of violence and coercion from law enforcement, and how other women, especially feminists, aren’t helping–and in fact, attempts to rescue can often make things worse, such as demonstrated in a case study in Cambodia, where attempts to “rescue” sex workers have led to many women being dragged away to “rehabilitation camps”, repurposed prisons where women have died or set to work long shifts behind a sewing machine.

A lot of what we as feminists have been doing wrong is related to “whore stigma”, which Gira Grant explains goes beyond simple misogyny:

The fear of the whore, or of being the whore, is the engine that drives the whole thing [a culture which is dangerous for sex workers]. That engine could be called “misogyny”, but even that word misses something: the cheapness of the whore, how easily she might be discarded not only due to her gender, but to her race, her class. Whore is maybe the original intersectional insult.

It is a desire to reverse away from “whore stigma”, which predominantly affects sex workers, but can also hit women who are not sex workers, which links with a lot of problems within mainstream feminism: Gira Grant theorises that it is no coincidence that feminists who are anti-sex work are also often transphobic. And, likewise, anti-sex work laws are often used against trans women and women of colour, from unfair targeting for stop and search, to disproportionate incarceration.

It makes for uncomfortable reading at times, this litany of our own mistakes as feminists, and perhaps nowhere is it clearer than in an analysis of objectification, and the feminist line that sex workers increase objectification of women. The evidence upon which these assumptions rest is dealt with in short order, and Gira Grant highlights the dehumanisation and objectification of sex workers at the hands of women, as silent props, and, often depicted in a frighteningly demeaning fashion.

In dismantling the myths, Playing The Whore offers glimpses of the reality of sex work, the diversity of all that this umbrella covers. The book explains neatly how sex work fits in among other forms of work, of how once upon a time, sex workers and housewives were sisters in arms. At times, I wish the book were far longer, as I feel as though there are tantalising hints of analysis to come which never quite develops but is merely teased. Although this book is neither explicitly anti-capitalist nor explicitly ACAB, conclusions of this nature bubble under the surface, never spelled out, for this is not quite within its scope in its current form.

This book is a must-read feminist book. I would go so far as to place it as a crucial Feminism 101 text. The first feminist book I ever read way Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs, whose ideas I am still struggling to unlearn, as it gave me a shameful attitude towards sex workers and femmes for years I will never get back. Playing The Whore casts a critical eye on patriarchy while actively dismantling the stigma many women face, and teaches the central feminist values of listening, and solidarity. For readers more versed in feminist theory and praxis, it allows us to evaluate our past mistakes and encourages us to rebuild on more solid ground. By rights, this book could and should shake up feminism for the better.

But sadly, I fear it will not, for I fear the forces Gira Grant outlines are too powerful to be brought down by this smart little book. We have had centuries of clinging to a prostitute imaginary while coming up with numerous excuses to silence the voices of sex workers. I believe that this book will largely be ignored by the mainstream with their stake in speaking for and over sex workers. A recent review of Playing The Whore by a liberal cis white feminist took umbrage to Gira Grant’s centring of sex workers in a book about sex work, and decided that she would rather read about “demand”. Mainstream feminism wants sex workers decentred from discussions directly pertinent to their livelihood, it wants to keep sex workers on the margins. It will not listen.

Gira Grant knows this, which is why she concludes with a rousing cry for decriminalisation, in the hope that the rest will follow. This conclusion, and the solidarity Gira Grant asks for are concrete things which we as feminists who do not do sex work can support.


A bra that springs open for true love? Nope.

Content note: this post discusses rape culture

Good afternoon. Have you felt like your day was devoid of pseudoscientific sexist bollocks? Well worry no more. Let me tell you about some fresh nonsense: a bra that will only spring open if the wearer is experiencing true love.

The promotional video opens by demonstrating the sort of men this product is supposed to protect us from, those awful gropey creeps. Fortunately for us, they will no longer have access to our norks, because this bra will not unhook for them–as demonstrated by footage of awful men trying to yank the thing open. You see, SCIENCE informs us that there is some sort of physiological marker for true love based on brain chemicals and heart rates and there’s a graph and everything, so we don’t need to worry that our baps will fly out every time we go for a run (not that the product looks like the sort of bra one should run in, ever). And so we can rest easy. Our tits will only pop out if we’re in love. Hopefully that won’t happen while in the middle of a date, because it would be profoundly awkward finding oneself suddenly topless in Nandos.

I’m going to pretend this is a real product, because the media are treating this as though it is, and even if it were just a conceptual joke, it’s still mostly fucked up for the exact same reasons.

Conceptually, this device is basically a high-tech chastity belt. The key is replaced by some pseudoscientific waffle, sure, but the principle remains the same: we can only be sexual when we are in love. Even the patronising protective language is the same as the underlying ethos of the chastity belt: rape and sex outside of “true love” are constructed as the same thing, and something that we must be defended from with a fortress.

I don’t think anyone needs to point out that a bra that won’t unhook for unwanted attention is hardly going to deter potential rapists, but it also probably won’t deter general creepers because, bluntly put, a guy harassing you in a bar probably isn’t expecting your bra to spring open and whap out your norks right there and then. The problem is more one of entitlement rather than keeping visibility of tits to a minimum. Like a chastity belt, the wearer is provided no means of getting out of the bra (although I reckon a cheeky wank would probably do the job). It subscribes to these two conflicting notions: that of an imaginary true love, but that we’re all sluts who cannot be trusted.

But let’s imagine for a second that we do live in this dystopic world wherein Fort Knox-style breast protection is required to deal with the hordes sacking all available boobies. This thing, as far as I can discern from the Highly Scientific graphs presented, pops open in response to a sustained elevated heart rate which is lower than that caused by exercise. Yes, that can be caused by pleasant social interactions, or being really turned on, or kind of getting giddy over someone. You know what else can cause it? Fear. Anxiety. The gut instinct telling you to get the fuck away from this creep as soon as you possibly can.

And now imagine, when you’re in this horrible situation, that your bra just pops open, and everyone in the room cheers because you’ve found your true love, the key to emancipating your mammaries.

As I said earlier, I have no idea if it is a real product or a satire which perfectly fits in with capitalist patriarchy. It feels somehow inevitable, nonetheless.


2013: The year of the hollow gesture

There is a certain fashion now to define a year and What It All Means as a comment piece. And so, in an attempt to be down with the kids, here is what the last year has meant to me.

To me, 2013 has been a year of Big Grand Media Gestures which do absolutely fuck all to change any of the system, as Big Grand Media Gestures are wont to do. Most recently, we saw this with the pardon of Alan Turing. Almost 60 years after the state drove Turing to suicide through their homophobic laws and “experimental” forced hormone administration, they have issued a royal pardon. Alan Turing is forgiven for being gay, to rapturous applause from precisely no-one paying attention.

It is not hard to see the hollowness of this gesture. Alan Turing was but one of the thousands of men persecuted in this fashion in the past, and it just so happens that he was the one who made himself most useful to history. This pardon was stage-managed by Chris Grayling, a man who believes B&Bs should be able to turn away gay couples. Homophobia is not a thing of the past, it is a thing which is still actively perpetuated by those in power, and they should be the ones on their knees, begging for forgiveness for the wrongs of the past, the present and the future. They should grovel at Turing’s grave, and prostrate themselves before those who–alive or dead–still bear the convictions that Turing did. One cannot magic this away, and all of the bits of paper rubber-stamped by the Queen in the world will not make up for it.

Maybe, instead of pardoning Turing, they should have stuck him on a banknote as a convicted criminal. Alan Turing, the queer who saved the world, convicted criminal. After all, it’s clear they wanted a war hero on a banknote, and unfortunately the only one they could think of was Churchill, the notorious racist and architect of genocide, whose major achievement was appearing the lesser of two evils next to Hitler. It was this that pissed me off when the face of the new five pound note was announced earlier this year.

Churchill’s jowly visage will be bumping off Elizabeth Fry, a social reformer who made conditions better for prisoners. A large campaign with a feminist flavour was outraged by this, framed only around how we need to have another woman on a banknote. Eventually, the Bank of England issued a press release earlier than they otherwise would have saying they’d be sticking Jane Austen on a tenner. Job done, women!

Except, once again, we see a certain hollowness. Elizabeth Fry is the sort of person who, in current conditions, would never make her way on to a banknote. She saw humanity in prisoners, while today the government are doing all they can to make the lives of those in prison as much of a living hell as they can get away with. The faces on our banknotes are a political decision. That is why they got rid of the woman who cared. It’s why they replaced her with a warmonger. And it is why they were perfectly happy to use the image of the relatively-inoffensive Jane Austen.

The state’s response to the banknotes campaign was a hollow gesture, but the campaign itself had a certain hollowness in a climate where many women just need some banknotes in our purses. Austerity is hitting women hardest, and many of us can’t hold on to a tenner for long enough to care whose face is on it.

The other large feminist-flavoured media campaign of the year has been No More Page Three campaign. I’ve written before about the myriad problems with it, so I’ll spare the screed and link you to this and this instead. As with the banknote campaign, I don’t doubt that those involved think they are doing good work, but as with the banknotes campaign, they are asking for something paltry which does nothing to change any of the underlying social conditions. It is for this reason that such campaigns are popular with the media. No More Page Three has been supported by almost every media outlet, with the notable exception being The Sun (obviously). Let us remember that the media is owned and run by the rich and white and male, who have a vested interest in the system changing as little as possible. And they’ll allow attention to be thrown over such campaigns because they know it won’t unseat them from their comfy thrones. It benefits them to reduce feminist discourse to simple requests for a page of a newspaper to be removed, or a woman–any woman–to be depicted on a tenner.

The media support is a hollow gesture, and playing the media support game is, ultimately, hollow feminism. It’s misdirected noise. There is a lot of good work going largely unnoticed, as Lola Olokosie notes here.

What we need is a revolution. Now, I’m not talking about the kind of revolution envisioned by Russell Brand, the kind which just magically comes if we wish hard enough for it. Brand’s words were hollow, only words, with little thought for what he was actually asking for other than something else. To watch people shitting themselves with joy over a millionaire sexist waffling an analysis which might have been pretty good if it came from a twelve year old was absurd. Brand wasn’t bringing the idea of revolution to the masses, he just said the word “revolution” on the telly.

Those of us who actually talk the detail and the process, those of us who translate these ideas into praxis–we are labelled at best “divisive” and at worst “criminals”. Even articulating the problems is frowned upon, so how can we build a solution?

These are the things that are likely to come up in the nostalgia shows of the future when we talk of 2013. These grand, yet hollow gestures, this token resistance. I am not saying it is a year where nothing has happened, because loads has. From the achievements of Black feminism to the gains made by the 3Cosas campaign, small victories are being won to little, if any popular attention. And this is what I hope to see more of in years to come, turning our backs on the Big Grand Media Gesture and moving towards the highly unmarketable organising and activism that is essential to immediate survival, and building a better future.


What does “popular support” mean? A case study of No More Page 3

It’s no secret that, like many other feminists, I’ve been somewhat sceptical of the No More Page 3 campaign. Since its inception, I’ve been squabbling with liberal bourgeois feminists about the worth of pouring so much time and energy into getting rid of a single, solitary page of a single, solitary newspaper.

The thing is, I love to be proved wrong. I really, really do. Just once, I’d love for my critique of something to turn out to be completely off the mark. Just once, I’d like to be able to say “Whoops, my bad, I’m a pessimist, I expected the worst and that didn’t happen.” Just once, I’d like to be unassailably and objectively wrong in my doomy, doomy predictions. But no. I’m fucking Cassandra.

The main defence used by NMP3 supporters is that the campaign has “popular support”. And they’re right about that, I suppose. They’re popular among the high-profile media feminists. They have the support of charming individuals like Alastair Campbell. And they even have trade union support! The official campaign website trumpeted proudly about UNISON passing a motion in support of the campaign. Unfortunately, they remained rather tight-lipped about another motion rejected at the very same conference: where UNISON voted against starting from a position of believing women who reported gendered violence.

This strikes me as pursuit of popularity at the expense of getting anything done. Yes, they have some big-name backers, but many of their big-name backers are demonstrably no friends of women, and no allies in the fight against structural misogyny. And all the while, the Sun is continuing to print things which make the lives of many women actively worse, dumping all over poor women, disabled women, women of colour. And Page Three is still going strong.

We need to ask ourselves why NMP3 is so popular. On the face of it, it seems quite nice that a campaign resonates with everyone. However, let’s take a minute to think about who this “everyone” includes. This is a cause that has united a warmonger, a union that doesn’t think rape survivors should be believed and Caitlin fucking Moran. And the reason that they’re all united in their opposition to putting a pair of tits on a particular page of a particular newspaper is because No More Page 3 isn’t creating a challenge against patriarchal hegemony.

Gaining popular support, by default, means making oneself as palatable as possible to the status quo. It means becoming appealing to those who directly benefit from the structures of power and privilege, so that they will allow you to have your minute on a soapbox with your paltry demand.

It will never be popular to articulate a structural critique which highlights how things are broken and wrong all the way down, because that means that major changes will have to happen. With mass communications controlled by the most privileged, the message will not get out through these means. With a system of government controlled by the most privileged, the changes will not come through this channel. With businesses working only for themselves, they will only do the best thing for themselves.

Some may decide it’s worth it to work within this system anyway. Perhaps they knew all along that what they wanted posed no direct threat to the status quo. Perhaps they watered down what they wanted to make it sweeter. Either way, whether they win or lose, little difference will be made.

But for true change, to really dismantle these structures of power, a lot more is needed. We need to be creative and robust with our demands. We need to be fearless: we will be loathed and despised by the powerful. What has been won so far was not won by being popular, and we still have a long way to go.


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