Category Archives: cunts

Biological essentialism: can we not?

Last week, I wrote about why I’m pro trans and pro choice. Given the sheer quantity of comments, I’m not sure I made myself clear enough.

I think that broad judgments based on perceived biology have historically had some bearing on the oppression of women. I also think that biological essentialism is meaningless and can only be deployed oppressively in the present day, as scientific and sociological understanding of gender and sex has progressed. Some time ago, I wrote about evolutionary psychology, and very charitably decided to pretend that perhaps all of the just-so stories explaining differences in behaviour of the sexes were true. And I concluded that even then, that does not mean it is in any way relevant now:

Wisdom teeth, though, were highly useful to humans when we first evolved. Humans were still a long way off inventing dental hygiene, and, so, tended to die once all of their teeth had rotted away and they could no longer eat. Wisdom teeth, emerging in the mid-twenties, gave an extra few years of life: four more teeth meant more time being able to eat. With the advent of dental hygiene, we no longer lose all of our teeth to decay, and wisdom teeth have become an annoyance. When a wisdom tooth grows into a mouth full of healthy teeth, there is often not enough room, and the new tooth impacts. I had a wisdom tooth that solved the lack-of-space problem by growing horizonally. Each time I bit down, it would take a chunk out of the inside of my cheek. I had it removed.

Wisdom teeth, then, are a solution to a problem that no longer exists, and when the tooth becomes a problem we have it yanked out.

If one were to assume that claims regarding gender made by evolutionary psychology were true, these gender roles are as irrelevant to modern life as wisdom teeth. They are a solution to a problem that no longer exists: we shop in supermarkets now; we have modern health care; our children are sent off to school; we have DNA testing for identification of fathers; we can have sex for pleasure with a very low risk of reproduction. The adaptations we developed to childrearing and mating problems no longer exist.

Why, then, would we cling on to the notion that it’s perfectly natural to rape, to cheat, to subscribe to the idea that male and female minds are inherently different, and so such things are inevitable?

We can overcome wisdom teeth, and, if any of the shaky claims of evolutionary psychology regarding gender turn out to be true, we can yank that out of our society, too.

The same is true for biological essentialist arguments. Maybe once upon a time, “woman” was defined only by capacity for childbirth, or only by presence of a vagina, or only by whether she had periods or not–although, you can see by the quantities of “ors” in that sentence that even if we try to trace back through history, what defines a woman is pretty complicated if we’re going on biology alone. And yes, this nonsense has persisted through time, from the bizarre belief that uteruses could roam throughout the body causing all sorts of negative effects to the belief that everything a menstruating woman touched became unclean. It becomes a chicken and egg scenario: society was built upon misogyny, along with its science. Science, after all, is not objective: the questions it asks and answers are rooted in the society asking those questions.

It’s only relatively recently that we have even begun to ask the right questions, and noticed that actually the whole thing is a house of cards, and should rightly come crashing down. We realised that biological sex is far more complicated than the somewhat-complicated way it had originally seemed. Hormones and chromosomes, internal and external biological characteristics–none of it necessarily matched up. Some still cling to essentialism, despite its utter meaninglessness, to produce bad science to suggest that rape is inevitable, or that men and women have different brains and only men can do the logical stuff. But the science is not on their side, and there is an increasing level of criticism levelled at such work because, at its heart, it is terrible science and tells us very little beyond what misogynists believe to be true.

Most feminists are rightly deeply critical of biological essentialism, knowing, as we do, how it keeps us down. And many of us embrace the advances that have brought us closer and closer to liberating ourselves from it. It is fucking lovely not having to be defined by our reproductive status, freeing ourselves from the idea that this is what our bodies are for. Many of us use synthetic hormones to regulate our bodies, and sometimes to eradicate menstruation. Surgery has advanced so that women without cunts can have cunts if they want. Science is looking into the possibility of uterus transplants, so women who cannot bear children will be able to. We are making a hell of a lot of progress, and the hold of biologically essentialist misogyny is slipping.

Unfortunately, some feminists are holding us back. Some feminists have embraced biological essentialism. The motive for this is an attempt to somehow “prove” that trans women are not women, cloaking their transmisogyny in pseudoscientific language by pretending that “female” and “woman” are two different things, and that “female” is somehow a scientifically valid category. Often, this is presented in a way that is even more dehumanising than the way MRAs talk about women, like this gem from Gia Milinovich where she bangs on about “female mammalians” and claims that our understanding of biology is in no way related to culture.

Taking this argument to its logical conclusion leads to some deeply unpleasant thought, like this:

twitter-boodleoops-glosswitch-vaginas-are-for

Twitter   Glosswitch  @boodleoops Bleeding is okay ...

Here, we see an attempt to define purpose of vaginas, deeply rooted in biologically essentialist misogyny*. Now, I have made the choice to not give birth, and I don’t need to go into why, because it’s my body and my choice, and the world has progressed to a position where I am able to make that choice. My vagina, if I get my way, will never be used for a role in babymaking. As for the bleeding, I find it quite fun**, but I don’t really feel like it’s an essential characteristic of my womanhood, nor would I feel that if my period ever stopped, my vagina would become purposeless. But my vagina is hardly a useless hole: far from it. It’s for shuddering orgasms. This part of my body is a delight to me. A finger or a dildo in there feels like heaven as I feel it brush my G-spot, and I feel my clit grow hard around it. And yes, I tend to prefer dildos, and I am aware of just how horrifying homophobic patriarchy finds that. I don’t use it for reproduction, and I don’t have to because we have moved on enough to no longer be defined and confined by our reproductive organs.***

I am a woman. I am still a woman, despite not even knowing what hormones my body produces due to years of taking synthetic hormones. I am still a woman, despite the fact that I have never given birth and do not plan to. I will still be a woman if, like my mother, severe fibroids necessitate a radical hysterectomy and bilateral oophorectomy at some point in my future.

Once upon a time, biological essentialism was all there was. We grew up. And we are slowly slinging off this burden, leading to the liberation of all women. We must fight biological essentialism wherever we see it, and liberate ourselves fully from these archaic constraints.

Further reading:

Un-gendering sex: a feminist project? (I am because you are)

Writing the Body: Stories of sex and gender (Alice Nuttall)

“The day an extremely popular white feminist advocated eugenics and mass abortion of trans people”  (Red Light Politics)

How Cissexist Partiarchy Works (Alien She)

Duplicitous or £9 notes…? (UnCommon Sense)

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*I am 95% certain that the “ten pound note” reference refers to wanknotegate, which suggests that this Twitter conversation is basically barbs targeted at me, which has been expanded into misogyny.

**It is worth noting at this point that a common trope among transmisogynists is to claim that trans women will not let cis women talk about menstruation. I think it is abundantly clear here that such policing of discussion of menstruation can come just as much from cis women.

***DISCLAIMER: This, of course, refers only to my own relationship with my own cunt.

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Note on comments: I’m not approving TERfy/MRAish comments (I find it impossible to distinguish which is which, because they all just use the word “female” a lot and cast women as walking wombs), as this blog is a safe space for marginalised women. Go and whine about me on your own blogs.


[catchy muff pun title]

Apparently this is the Year of the Bush, or something, which is interminably awful as it means the media will be mostly debating bush, from such nuanced viewpoints as “muff is great” and bizarre advertorials for laser hair removal with bonus fat-shaming and comparing pubic hair to the Gaza Strip. There is an awkward word looming over much of this debate, and it is a word which ought to immediately be purged from any discussion of anything anyone does to their bodies: “should”.

Ideally, we should be free to do what we want with our carpetry. Both the dangers of hair removal and the uncleanliness of keeping hair have been massively overstated: from a pubic health perspective, whatever you do with it is probably relatively benign. Paying money to make modifications to your body is hardly a manifestation of evil: hell, it’s cool that we live in a world where we can use tools–or even lasers–to change what nature gave us. I had my eyes fixed with a laser and it was awesome. Spending time to make modifications to what God gave you isn’t bad, either. There is nothing inherently gross about any quantity of hair: Renaissance smoothness is just as hot as an Age of Aquarius full bush if the person rocking it feels sexy as all fuck. 

Pubic hair should be nobody’s business but the individual who is holding it in their pants. It shouldn’t be political or a subject of hot debate. It should just be a thing, like haircuts.

Except it isn’t. (And neither, actually are haircuts, which come with a whole mess of political implications themselves)

Pubes are politicised by millennia of social conditioning, and in recent times patriarchy, white supremacy, cissexism and capitalism hooked up in a ghastly orgy and found themselves a cash cow in selling the motive and the means to remove body hair. It is not a free choice, what we do with our fanny fluff, because we are not making this choice in a vacuum. We’re making these choices amid a blitz of marketing and social pressure and all of this teaches us that there’s One True Way, and that is to nuke the short and curlies.

Last summer, I went swimming for the first time since I grew my bush back. I was terrified. Cascading curls of cunt-fur poked from the sides of my bikini, and I expected it would only be a matter of time until the villagers were out in force with the torches and pitchforks and silver bullets. But it was a hot day and I wanted a swim, and so I swallowed my nerves and quite literally jumped in at the deep end. I started to forget the nerves. I wandered around and I ate an ice cream. And not once did anyone say anything. Not once did I notice a side-eye. Not once did anyone try and bury me at the crossroads. It turns out, people don’t actually make a habit of staring at one another’s crotches in public spaces.

Feeling that fear was the first time I’d really understood the power of the social conditioning. In my own arrogance, I’d thought myself as above it; being a feminist, I was too enlightened to care what people thought about my muff. I wasn’t, and I don’t think any of us are, because we’ve all lived our whole lives under capitalist patriarchy.

I’d grown my muff as an act of rebellion, and started to love it as a little pet. I swelled with pride when I plucked out a pube and measured it, and it was just shy of an inch and a half long. I shampoo it as part of my beauty regime, sometimes adding conditioner on special occasions. Sometimes, when I’m alone, I stroke it absent-mindedly because I like the softness of it. And even loving my rug so much wasn’t enough for me not to feel anxious about wearing a bikini in public, because I had been bombarded with the same messages as everyone else: visible bush is hideous, a punchline at best.

It’s interesting because so much of the pubic hair debate hinges on personal preference, locating individual opinions in their relationship with the ideals we are sold. The conclusions drawn on either side are fairly facile: making peace with it and losing the fuzz because it makes you feel better, or defying it by growing in a veritable furry forest. We need to go further than this individual choice: the problem is structural, and so the structure must be torn down.

And unfortunately, it’s going to take a lot more than the individual choices we make to tear this thing down. There will be no critical mass of pubic hair to generate revolution. The reality is a more tedious slog than that, the bitter resistance of fighting multiple fronts at once. The politicisation of bush is a symptom of this system, not a cause. Just like a Brazilian wax, we need to rip it all out at the roots.


GOLD! Somehow it tightens your hole

This is an actual product that actually exists.

A cream being marketed in India promises to make women feel “like a virgin” again. Apparently its mechanism of action is not by restoring sex to awkward fumbling, but, rather, by tightening the vagina.

Its ingredients are all-natural and include gold dust and pomegranates. I have no idea how gold is supposed to firm up one’s cunt, but pomegranate might have an indirect effect as it has historically been used as a contraceptive (admittedly a pretty pisspoor one) so I suppose theoretically it could stop things getting looser by preventing childbirth. But, basically, it sounds like snake oil, unless it provokes a horrid allergic reaction which makes everything swell up a little. Cynically, one would guess that the presence of the gold is merely to bump up the price a bit.

The more crucial issue with this product is not how silly it is, but its intended purpose. Beyond tightening the vagina, it is touted as making women feel “like virgins”. While its marketing department argues that this is purely metaphorical, we live in a world where this is unmistakable for truth. After all, hymen reconstruction surgery is on the rise in India, virginity is prized, and it is still linked to marriageability.

This set of attitudes is not limited to India, though. It’s everywhere, it’s a pervasive part of patriarchy. Hymen reconstruction surgery originated in the West, and virginity is just as fetishised. All over the world, a woman’s sexual behaviour is still seen to be a Big Thing, and factors into relationships, response if she is raped and so on. While virginity might not be the focus, not being a big slutty slut is. There’s still an emphasis on purity.

It’s nonsensical, this archaic patriarchal belief, but sits there humming in the background and we don’t even notice it until we see something as preposterous as a gold-tinged fanny-tightening cream. Yet it’s there, quietly shaking its head at women who enjoy sex.

The publicity material for the gold-tinged fanny-cream says it will empower women, basically allowing them to fuck before marriage and without societal effects. This is a hollow form of empowerment, though; it does not overturn the belief system which prevents women from doing this in the first place. Rather, it continues to perpetuate this cultural fetishisation of virginity and regulation of women’s behaviour, all the while financially fleecing women.

I doubt anybody thought a cream could solve these problems; there is no salve to soothe the problems of patriarchy. The only solution is a revolution.

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Big, big tip of the hat to @MatofKilburnia for thinking of that headline


Putting the “muffs are unhygienic” argument to rest at last

The Great Pubes Debate, two reasons are usually put forward in favour of shaving, waxing or nuking bush from orbit:

  1. It looks nicer
  2. It’s more hygienic

The first argument is purely subjective, with varying preferences to presentation of genitals. Of course, it’s not entirely a free choice: these preferences are to some extent dictated by cultural beauty standards, and in the west, the dominant image we are bombarded with involves very little, if any, hair at all. Sometimes the hair might even be replaced by little glittery things glued on. Beauty standards are weird. Ultimately, though, bodily autonomy is awesome, and if someone wants to do that, they can.

The second argument, though, has been entirely smashed to smithereens by medical professionals. Far from being more hygienic, shaving and waxing one’s cunt increases the risk of all sorts of nasty infections:

In her practice it is not unusual to find patients with boils and abscesses on their genitals from shaving as well as cellulitis, an infection of the scrotum, labia or penis from shaving or from having sex with someone infected.

Herpes is also an increased risk “due to the microscopic wounds being exposed to virus carried by mouth or genitals.”

So why does shaving and waxing lead to such thoroughly revolting side effects? Most of it comes down to the fact that removing hair from a rather sensitive region leads to little abrasions in the skin, and little abrasions in the skin can get infected. It doesn’t help that cunts are warm, moist areas which are rarely aired. It’s like Disneyland for disease down there, and the skin usually does a good job of keeping it out, unless it has been broken by shaving cuts or yanking hair out by the root. Furthermore, bush itself serves an additional protective function:

“Pubic hair does have a purpose, providing a cushion against friction that can cause skin abrasion and injury, and protection from bacteria.”

That’s a damn sight more pleasant a function than the hypothesis that it evolved for babies to hold on to (“ouch”, “ew”, and “but I’ve never even seen a baby try that”, in that order).

So why is something which opens up the risk of all sorts of horrible infections considered to be more hygienic? It’s probable that it’s in part due to the association with shaving an area before surgery, although there is also medical evidence against that:

Surgeons used to insist on shaving the area of the body where an operation was to be performed in the misguided belief that it reduced surgical site infections. Now official advice is to leave hair alone, unless it interferes with the operation, and where removal is necessary to use electric clippers.

It also might be down to sheer laziness in washing. There’s a lot of sweat glands down below, and if one doesn’t wash properly, things can get a little whiffy. The answer to this is, of course, wash more. It will take less time than hair removal, and you’re less likely to erupt in boils in a very sensitive area.

It’s refreshing to finally see an article about body hair in the mainstream media that isn’t negative, and busting a myth in the dominant narrative surrounding body hair. It’s a baby step towards that free choice for what we do with our bodies. And that can only be a good thing.

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I might as well take this opportunity to plug the brilliant Armpits4August–think Movember, but for women. They’re challenging beauty standards and raising money for polycystic ovary syndrome. So far they’ve raised over £1000 of their £2000 target. I’m participating–why not donate?


Love your disgusting, stinky fannymuffins: Femfresh and the backlash

Femfresh are a company that make products to disguise the natural scent of your cunt with an array of soaps and perfumed wipes, which, presumably, then serve to cover up the inevitable bacterial vaginosis or thrush from use of the product.

Now, cunts are great, and there’s nothing wrong with the natural aroma of them, but Femfresh have a product to sell and therefore need to pretend that there is. Instead of going by the “YOUR CUNT IS DISGUSTING AND YOUR HUSBAND WILL LEAVE YOU SO DOUCHE WITH CLEANING PRODUCTS” route, like the Lysol ads of old, Femfresh have alighted upon faux-empowerment.

It’s all about “care”, they proclaim. It’s better than soap, they proclaim. WOOHOO FOR MY FROO FROO, they actually literally say, accompanied by a string of other nauseatingly infantilised synonyms for a cunt. “Whatever you call it, make sure that you love it”, they explain. Then they decided to take the show on the digital road and set up a Facebook page.

What followed was gratifying. The page was over-run by women furious being told that they needed to risk thrush and a cunt that smells like a hospital corridor to be “clean”. Under every post, jokes about bacterial vaginosis appeared. There was also a lot of ire directed at the sickeningly euphemistic turns of phrase used by Femfresh.

Soon, Femfresh backtracked on their “whatever you call it, make sure that you love it” line and became huffy about people saying words like “cunt” and “vulva” on their page. They even, bafflingly, explained to twitterer @GreenEyed82, that “vulva” was offensive to “mums of daughters”. All in all, it was a huge failure in social media marketing. They just couldn’t delete the comments quickly enough.

The problem is, it was always going to be social media suicide for a product like Femfresh. While there is certainly a demographic of women who have become, through marketing, paranoid about the smell of their cunts, times are changing. There are a lot of women around who know that putting something perfumed on a delicately-balanced part of the body can only lead to itching, often because this has happened to them and they have been told by people who actually know what they’re talking about that washing with anything other than water is A Bad Idea. There are a lot of women around who accept that cunts smell and that’s quite all right because they’ve never had a potential lover run screaming and clutching their nose. There are a lot of women around who object to having their cunts infantilised with words like “la-la” and “froo-froo”.

And so we shout. And so we kick up a stink. And so Femfresh’s job of making us hate our cunts becomes just that bit harder.

That can only be a good thing.

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For more on cunt-scent and Femfresh, Girlonthenet has written a stormingly good post.


Who’s afraid of a bit of muff? No Shave November and pube-phobia

This month is No Shave November, a month wherein moustaches are grown and hair is left unshaven to raise money for prostate cancer. It’s a little easier to do than NaNoWriMo, and I’d’ve participated had I had time to get my shit together for sponsorship. I could probably grow a better tache than many of the men I know.

The extension of “growing a moustache” to “not shaving at all” has provoked no measureable rejoicing among women, but a peculiar backlash to such invisible jubiliation.

“Attention ladies,” barks the top tweet in the trending topic, “No Shave November is meant for men not women.” The whole topic is riddled with such shit. “If you are a female participating in no shave November im forced to believe you have no morals,” admonishes one tweeter, using the sexist red-flag “females”. “Ladies,” begs another, “No Shave November doesn’t apply to you. Please”. One bellows, “LADIES NO SHAVE NOVEMBER IS FOR DUDES AND THEIR FACIAL HAIR. So you nasty bitches still need to shave everywhere like normal.”

After immersion in the topic–which I thoroughly do not recommend–it becomes abundantly clear that the hair grown by women that is the subject of such terror is of the pubic variety. Muff is apparently terrifying.

I wondered why. I asked. I got some jokey replies. @Commuterist suggested that “a lion might hide in it and eat me”. I got some serious replies. @sredniivashtaar proposed “what frightens them is the idea that women might not perceive themselves solely as sexual subjects of men”, while @Cruimh postulated in a Freudian fashion “the reason men are scared of lady muff is that we exit through balded ones”, referring to the traditional practice of shaving before birth.*

Why are so many people so averse to a bit of bush these days? My guess would be that it is related to porn: younger men are exposed to plucked-chicken porn quims long before they encounter a real cunt. And so the expectation rears up: there’s not meant to be hair there.

And it trickles down into women, many internalise this expectation. I invite you to guess which tweet came from a man, and which from a woman.

A. No Shave November… God, my sex life will suffer with the bush down there…

B. Lol at someone writing “Bring the bush back” In the No Shave November trend! I am against this.

In truth, it doesn’t really matter, but click the links if you want to find out. The fact is, we’re all participating in the double standard for a binary that shouldn’t exist.

And it’s fucking ludicrous. As @mortari succinctly puts it,

I don’t care much about body hair. But seeing the reaction of absolute horror to No Shave November has convinced me to ditch the razor.

Quite. We have nothing to fear from a bit of fanny-fluff. Pubes aren’t disgusting. Society’s reaction to them is.

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*It is now not routine to shave women before birth. In fact, removal of hair from the perineum leads to an increase in maternal infections after birth, so a full Brazilian is inadvisable.


Me and my menstrual cup

I decided to experiment with a menstrual cup. It was mostly motivated by a somewhat puerile desire to send an angry letter to a politician written in menstrual blood, but I decided against that plan as it was a bit of a silly idea. The desire to send blood-stained missives to politicians obsessed with my uterus was only one reason, though. I was also sick of spending money on tampons.

When I unpacked my shiny new menstrual cup, I had a good look at it. It looked like a very fancy rubbery egg cup, possibly procured from the kind of shop I am usually priced out of. It was the same size and shape as an egg cup, though made of a squidgy, rubbery material. A rubber stem protruded from the base of the cup, and inside the cup were volume markings, like the world’s stingiest shot glass.

After boiling the cup for a few minutes to sterilise it, it was time to insert it. As per the instructions, I folded it in half, then in half again, rendering it approximately the width of a large tampon. I squatted slightly, and began to push the cup inside me. . It was going well. In it went. “I’m doing it!” I thought to myself with joyous rapture. “I’m actually doing- oh.”

Perhaps a salient aspect to this story is that I do not have the best coordination. I was in special needs for my early years at school on account of the fact that I could barely hold a pencil. These days, “Stavving it” is a simile for buffling something in a comical fashion.

And I totally Stavved my first insertion of a menstrual cup. The thing sprang open aproximately half of the way in. With a sigh, I practiced my first removal. It was probably a good practice run seeing as it was not completely inserted.

As per the instructions, I squeezed the cup. There was a hiss of air as the seal broke; for some reason I was reminded of the explosive bolts in 2001: A Space Odyssey. I folded the cup again. This time it went in.

For the next two hours, I kept checking. I could not believe that a rubbery little egg cup stuffed up my cunt could possibly be up to the task, yet there was no leaking. Despite the lack of leakage, my curiosity got the better of me and I had to take it out.

With grim determination, I re-read the instruction booklet. I slightly squatted, fingers poised at cunt. I squeezed the cup. I pulled the stem. And nothing happened. “Oh fuck,” I thought to myself. “I have an egg cup stuck up my fanny.”

I tried every angle I could think of, performing a gymnastic display all over my bathroom floor. In the end, the original position, a semi-squat proved to be The One, in conjunction with a little bit of Kegeling (a push then a squeeze). I looked at the contents. Over two hours, I had barely filled the bottom of the cup. I was nowhere near the 6ml marker, the first of the volume markers. I felt disappointed. My uterus was clearly not up to the task of filling a little cunt-cup.

My first night of sleeping with a menstrual cup exceeded my expectations. I had heard that some women experience a little leakage due to rolling around in their sleep, but this did not happen to me. It actually functioned better than a tampon. I was pleasantly surprised.

Over the next few days, I became familiar with a few quirks of the cup. First, I discovered that sometimes after I went for a wee, it would leak slightly. It was not a leakage problem with the cup; it was something to do with the relaxation of my pelvic floor muscles while pissing.

I also became familiar with the noises the thing made on removal, and eventually learned to stop giggling like a four year old. You see, when something with a rubber seal is removed from a cunt, it makes a noise that is a cross between an airlock opening and the meatiest queef imaginable. It is absolutely hilarious, a loud fffPARP which I am sure was probably audible for miles around. If not, my laughter certainly was.

I had two minor incidents with the cup during my use of it, and both were attitubutable to human error. The first was removing the thing while drunk, with the hiccups. Hiccups, as it happen, affect the pelvic floor, making the task slightly more difficult: each time I had a good grip, I would hiccup and the cup would move itself back up again. With some good timing, I finally managed to get it out, and *hic*! The jolt caused a minor spillage.

The other incident was a morning removal. The cup had worked its way slightly further up than usual, and I Kegeled away. I may have Kegeled a little overenthusiastically, and it slipped out quicker than expected, cheerfully spilling an entire night’s contents of menses all over the floor, causing a scene reminiscent of one of those terrible torture-porn films.

Even after these accidents, though, I did not end up with blood on my hands. The cup does a brilliant job of catching everything, and the seal means that everything is inside the cup and nothing outside, on the bits that you touch. As long as one is not too squeamish about the sight of a small cup of blood, it is absolutely clean.

Will I use a cup again?

On the whole, absolutely. The minor accidents aside, it was very convenient. I often forget to bring tampons out with me, so end up spending a fortune on back up supplies. With a cup, there is no such issue here: it’s inside, and all it needs is emptying once in a while. It also seems to have a better capacity than tampons, and I have not seen anything about a risk of toxic shock.

Yes, it’s fiddly, but isn’t everything? Towels require alignment and faffing about with stickers. Applicator tampons are quite possibly the most confusing thing I have ever tried to use. Non-applicator tampons are fine, but require a bit of practice. And so does the cup.

I would say, this is probably not for you if you have any problems with touching your own cunt. It requires a lot of intimate handling. It is also not for anyone who dislikes the sight of blood.

I would consider myself a cup-convert. With a little practice, I think I can avoid the accidents. And if I ever need to write letters to politicians in menstrual blood, I am ready.


When not reporting a rape seems like a sensible option

Trigger warning for rape and systemic abuse of rape survivors

Some years ago, I was raped. I never reported it.

I am not alone: the vast majority of rapes are not reported to the police. Some estimates suggest up to 95% of rapes are unreported. The thing is, a lot of the time, not reporting a rape seems like a sensible option.

When a woman reports a rape, forensic evidence is gathered using a rape kit. This procedure is highly invasive, consisting of a full, intimate physical examination and sampling from parts of the body which have only recently been violated. It is highly understandable that many survivors would not want to subject themselves to this intrusive procedure following a traumatic experience. There is also questioning, sometimes with an insensitive or disbelieving tone from the police. Between half to two thirds of rape cases never make it past investigation, and there is a paltry 6.5% conviction rate. A convicted rapist will serve an average of eight years in prison.

Then there are horrifying stories like this. Layla Ibrahim was attacked and raped by two men. She was courageous enough to report this to the police, even though the police had a track record of repeatedly arresting her twelve year old brother and failing her sister after a beating, due to being a mixed-race family in a predominately white area. Despite overwhelming forensic evidence, the police chose not to believe Layla. She was sent to prison for three years.

This did not happen in Iran or Sudan. This did not happen many years ago. This happened last year in the UK.

It is yet another story of rape culture. It differs from others in magnitude, not substance. We live in a world where survivors of rape are not believed.

Rape culture falsely differentiates between “serious rape” and other rapes. This dichotomy alone is enough to ensure that many rapes are not reported. I did not report my rape because rape culture had taught me that what happened to me was not rape. So many women I know have had a similar experience.

When a woman does identify that she has been raped, she faces disbelief from others. This is particularly true if she has been raped by someone powerful: the treatment of the women who accused Julian Assange and Dominique Strauss-Kahn of rape are testament to this. It is also true if she has been wearing “the wrong” sort of clothes, or being “the wrong colour”, or behaving in a way that rape culture dictates is a “definite sexual invitation“.

Layla Ibrahim was accused of “wasting police time” with reporting her rape. Meanwhile, 450 London detectives have been pulled from their usual work to go over CCTV footage of rioters with a view to prosecute them. What, here, is more of a waste of police time? Seeking justice for a person brave enough to be in the minority of people who report rape, or sending a kid to prison for nicking a pair of trainers?

Not reporting a rape seems to be the best possible option in a culture which allows rape, sometimes encouraging it. Not reporting a rape seems to be the best possible option in a broken justice system where barely any survivors see justice served. Not reporting a rape seems like the best possible option where the survivor can be sent to prison while the rapists walk free.

What, then, can be done for rape survivors seeking justice?

In her fantastic book Cunt: A Declaration of Independence, Inga Muscio proposes a solution: Cuntlovin’ Public Retaliation:

The basic premise of C.P.R. is publicly humiliating rapists. Since rapists count on a woman’s shame and silence to keep them on the streets, it seems to me an undue amount of attention focused on rapists would seriously counter this assumption.

C.P.R. can be employed when a woman is sure of her attacker’s identity. Since most attacks are not perpetrated by strangers, this is a highly relevant factor.

There is safety and power in numbers.

A group of two hundred women walking into the place of employment of a known rapist would have an effect. If each of these women were in possession of a dozen rotting eggs which were deposited on the rapist’s person, the rapist might well come to the conclusion that he had committed a very unpopular act, one which was not tolerated by the community. If a rapist had to walk through a crowd of angry, stating, silent or quietly and deadly chanting women to get to his car in the grocery store parking lot, he might feel pretty uncomfortable.

This technique would require a vast degree of solidarity among women and allies. Were it to happen, though, it would feel a damn sight more like justice than the current shambolic system.

The risk to survivors is considerably lower in Muscio’s admirable proposition. Here, they do not risk further invasion with no justice served. They do not risk imprisonment for daring to report a rape to a morally bankrupt police force. They do not become passive pawns in a game of patriarchal power. It is justice for survivors, by survivors.

Muscio stresses non-violence, and I thoroughly agree. Violence is not a solution to violence. Showing a rapist that such behaviour is thoroughly intolerable, reminding him that his behaviour is thoroughly unacceptable, through a supportive network of the community–that is more like what justice looks like.

Were this to happen, rape culture would topple. For this to happen, we need to fight rape culture. Then, perhaps, we will see true justice.


How To Be A Woman: in which I review a book that I read

I have just read Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman, a semi-autobiographical book which has been hailed as The Next Big Thing in feminism, and has received rave reviews from noted feminists such as Jonathan Ross and Nigella Lawson. On the back, it says that Moran “rewrites The Female Eunuch from a bar stool and demands to know why pants are getting smaller”. Overall, it seems exactly like something an angry feminist such as myself should despise with all of the burning fires of hell.

The short review is that I didn’t hate it. I only hated some of it, actually quite liked some parts, and the rest only left me with a bitter tinge of disappointment.

The writing style veered from engagingly, chattily conversational to annoyingly CAPSLOCKY and RIDDLED! WITH! EXCLAMATION MARKS! It is easy to tear through, in the manner of a sunlounger bonkbusting tome, and I found myself rather liking Moran: she has a good sense of humour and an honesty about her own flaws.

Moran is absolutely spot-on about some issues, and I found myself nodding in agreement in sections on pornography and lapdancing, where Moran argues that while there is nothing inherently wrong with fucking on film or stripping, but it is a problem with the industry. I also very much liked her discussion of what to call one’s cunt (Moran favours “cunt”, but was reticent to teach it to her daughters as it is still a taboo word), and her very frank account of her abortion and her suggestion that this is something we should talk about honestly and openly, and it is all right to feel good about having had an abortion. Moran also puts across good points about society’s expectation about how women should want babies, and this is not right, and not reproducing is perfectly all right, too.

This last good point, though, is sullied by a massive clanger. Talking about childbirth, Moran says:

In short, a dose of pain that intense turns you from a girl into a woman. There are other ways of achieving the same effect–as outlined in Chapter 15 [the chapter on abortion]–but minute for minute, it’s one of the most effective ways of changing your life.

Right there, Moran has declared that use of one’s reproductive organs is the only way to truly become a woman. This line of reasoning is a minefield: it automatically writes off the experiences of infertile cis women, of trans women, of cis women who have been fortunate enough with contraception never to find themselves pregnant. It jars with the rest of the book, the “anything goes” approach, yet it says it there as clear as day. Reproduction is the only path to womanhood. Before that you’re a girl.

When I read that paragraph, I considered rethinking my embargo on burning literature and setting fire to that book there and then. I decided to plough on. Perhaps Moran did not mean what I thought she had meant. Indeed, this is never mentioned again. I still cannot think of another way to interpret that sentence, though.

No other individual part of the book is quite so starkly, shockingly problematic: much of the rest of my issues with it lie in the tone. It smacks of privilege: an amusing point-and-laugh at the working classes here, a throwaway usage of ableist language (“retard”, “thalidomide pasties”) and fat-hating (Moran draws the distinction between “fat” and “human-shaped”) there, and a sort of vaguely patronising view of gay men as nothing more than arbiters of excellent taste in music bars. I prickled in rage each time I saw these.

This privilege also fans out into what is part of the central thesis of the book: that perhaps everything would be improved if we treated humankind as “The Guys” and sexism as “just bad manners”. For a woman in Moran’s position, perhaps this is possible. For many, it is not, and sexism is not dead, and is unlikely to be killed without confronting it head on. I take umbrage to her phrasing viewing everyone as “the Guys”, too, particularly as it jarringly occurs pages after I had been smiling in agreement at Moran’s acknowledgement that men are viewed as “normal” with women as the other. This hypocrisy goes unmentioned, perhaps unnoticed by the author.

The thing is, for much of the book, I was not angry. I was just disappointed. Firstly, Moran seems to have a confused relationship with feminism and feminists. She identifies as such, and, indeed, encourages her readers to identify as feminist as it is not a dirty word. This is laudable. Unfortunately, Moran seems to have a rather dated view of feminist writing, falling back frequently on Germaine Greer as though this is the only feminist she has ever read, and beginning statements with “feminists think”, then falling back on to a straw feminist trope. While Moran wishes fervently for more women to identify as “strident feminists”, the book itself is not particularly stridently feminist.

Most of the issues discussed in the book were very trivial concerns. An inordinate amount of space was dedicated to clothes and shoes and bras and knickers. Rape is given a cursory mention in one sentence somewhere. At no point in the discussion of whether marriage is necessary was it acknowledged that perhaps romantic relationships or traditional monogamous relationships may not be necessary either. The truth is, it all feels a little superficial: talk about handbags is favoured over broader feminist issues. For many women, after all, there are a lot of things more worrying than pubes or ill-fitting knickers.

Take, for example, a point where Moran recounts the story of having met Jordan and being struck by how obsessed Jordan was with selling things and selling herself as a brand. At this juncture, it seems like a fairly obvious place to segue into discussion of the relationship between capitalism and feminism. Instead, Moran just tells the story, then contrasts it with meeting someone whom she considers to be a genuine feminist icon: Lady GaGa.

I sometimes wonder if perhaps Moran knew she could have done this. Much of the book seems to be driving at good points which are never made. Perhaps the editor of the book cut all of the good bits out? Certainly, the editing of the book was poor; I noted numerous typos and the editor was very lenient about allowing all of the CAPITALS and ENHUSIASTIC! PUNCTUATION! to stay in. As I said earlier, I rather like Moran, and I wanted this book to be better than it was.

In the conclusion to the book, though, it becomes abundantly clear that Moran’s feminism–at least, as presented– is shallow, bourgeois feminism, concerned with consumerism: just don’t buy the things you think might be oppressive, is her message. I was thoroughly disappointed by this message. I had hoped for much better, much more. I had hoped for depth.

If this book is our generation’s The Female Eunuch, as it says on the back cover, we are well and truly fucked. The good news, is, I do not think we are. This book is not harmful, it is simply trivial, inconsequential fluff. It is something to read on holiday, and then forget about once the tan has all peeled off. Had the book ended with a list of other (better) feminist books and resources to check out, I would probably see it as a decent, readable, primer to feminism for those who had never thought about the issue before and may be inclined to learn more. It may have also been improved vastly by shaving out the patronising bits and replacing them with something vastly more substantial.

As it stands, though, it is just fluff. This book will not change the world, for better or worse. For that, I am thoroughly disappointed.


Cunts, bitches and weeping syphilitic chodes

In a recent post, I called Brendan O’Neill a weeping syphilitic chode, and I was deluged by complaints that I had used a gendered insult. Hypocrite!  Twitter harrumphed. Look at the big mean feminist saying nasty things about men! 

I received more complaints from that one remark than I have ever received for using the word “cunt”, which, Cursebird tells me, has been 640 times on Twitter alone. A more detailed breakdown of my swearing was unavailable, but I imagine a large proportion of that was during episodes of Question Time, where I tend to tweet prolifically about how the entire panel is comprised of terrible cunts.

In fact, had I called O’Neill a weeping syphilitic cunt, I doubt much would have come of it.

I swear a lot, then. I will gleefully throw around cock, cunt, bellend, twat and ballbag with impunity. To me, anatomical terms are, as Forty Shades Of Grey puts it, just words

I use other body parts as insults too: arsehole, and its derivatives, for example. “You big shitting arsehole”; “you sphincter”, “you ringpiece”, e.g. I heard a fantastic anecdote which culminated in a thoroughly odious person being put down with being called a “little finger”.

I am not convinced that using a body part as an insult can be gendered. Gender is, after all, nothing to do with what is hanging between one’s legs. Men can have cunts; women, cocks; and moving beyond traditional binary notions of gender, anything goes. Anyone can have a weeping syphilitic chode.

To me, there are some slurs that do have gendered connotations. They are not disembodied parts of the anatomy. They are the words used to regulate behaviour of those who do not conform to their prescribed gender roles. Take, for example, “bitch”, which, with a variety of different uses tells women how to behave. Don’t set boundaries, or you’re a mean bitch. Don’t show more than the “correct” amount of emotion, or you’re a crazy bitch.

Some of these words are not even rude, but used to tick off women for behaving in a certain way: prima donnas, divas and drama queens. These are women who draw too much attention to themselves rather than sit meekly in the shadows.

Although I walked in the SlutWalk and self-identify as an ethical slut, I have misgivings about the word. We are in the process of reclaiming the word; it is still thrown as a weapon to attack women who fail to conform to society’s sexual expectations. I believe this word to be salvageable–a person who enjoys consensual sex–but we have far to go before the word becomes neutral.

These words are all thrown at men, too, once again to enforce gender-appropriate behaviour: if a man is a drama queen, a bitch, a diva, he is like a woman, which is supposed to serve as doubly insulting. Some feminising words are developed entirely to be hurled at men, like “sissy“. I am unfamiliar with any words which are used to enforce behaviour for men which do not feminise. If there are any, I would like to know.

It is the weapons to force me to behave in a manner which is acceptable to society that I truly find offensive. A floating anatomical part cannot hurt me. Behavioural enforcement can.


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