Comment, Feminism

The Feminists are Reclaiming the Internet

For many years, the media was the enemy of feminism. The movement was mischaracterised, tainted, and exploited, condemned as weird and unfashionable. Undressed and muted like helpless Page Three models dead behind the eyes, feminism was demonised for the advantage of the ruling ‘first sex’. To this day women (and men) still hesitate to self-identify as a feminist, just in case the moment the phrase passes your lips you immediately become a hairy lesbian butch evil angry radical, breasts hanging all over the bloody place.

But 2013 is year of the comeback. It’s the year when feminism gets cool. I mean, it’s always been cool, but you had to be particularly cool to notice it, so like, don’t worry if you missed it. It’s the year of the Vagenda, the Spare Rib magazine, Ladybeard Magazine. It’s the year The New Statesman gets equal female and male columnists. If you weren’t brandishing your Butler Manifesto, now is the time.

If we’re getting technical, I think maybe this cool wave (official technical term) began last year. In 2012, came the wildly, almost painfully successful How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran. Although arguably more an autobiography with some bits about pubic hair thrown in, the book took feminism to the W H Smith top 10, sitting awkwardly between a trashy celebrity autobiography and a diet book. People heralded it as important, but not necessarily because of its content. In a hot rush of discarded shavers and cellulite cream, the book changed the public perception of feminism.

And thus ensued fourth wave feminism. A transition via the internet, to wide spread popularity. It inspired the Vagenda, an online ‘magazine’, created by Rhiannon Lucy Coslett and Holly Baxter, two graduates who thought ‘fuck this, I’m making feminism funny’. And boy did they succeed. Their website had 10,000 hits after the first few hours of it’s launch, and has continued to grow exponentially in popularity, landing the two a book deal. Its ironically pink layout, with the tag line ‘Like King Lear, but for Girls’ taken from Grazia Magazine’s review of ‘The Iron Lady’ is a honey pot of brilliant, hilarious, populist female (and occasional male) writing.

The Vagenda is a particularly effective as a tool to discuss feminism because it works so perfectly in our digital age. It’s humorous enough to post on your friend’s Facebook page (and you make sure not to message it to them, so all can see how gloriously intelligent and zeitgeisty you are to have found such a link). For anyone who thought feminism was unfunny and aggressive, the site undoes all the pernicious stereotyping. All whilst you lol.

A gap has now opened in the market for a new type of female magazine. One that doesn’t tell you to love yourself only if you’re skinny, having precisely enough sex, pretty, exercising, rich, powerful, great at blow jobs and able to make gruyere tartlets. Spare Rib, a magazine that was revolutionary in the 70s, tackling feminist issues at a time when rape was still legal in marriage, is coming back for a revival this year after it bowed out in 1993. Ladybeard, a reaction to shitty magazines like Cosmo and Grazia has recently raised enough money from its kickstarter to get off the ground. Both are testament to the changing attitudes of women, to women, and that this marks the end of the media being a platform used to subjugate.

There is a danger, however, to it all becoming too normalised. A few months ago, the vile that is ‘mumsnet’, a collection of middle class mothers with too much time between managing their pomegranate supply and buying the latest apple product for their 3 year old, published a survey condemning feminism as ‘irrelevant’. Apart from the fact that clearly a collection of women buying into gender constraints are probably not the ones to go asking about feminism, the survey highlighted the apathy that can be cultivated at the point where feminism becomes wide-spread. ‘Well we have the vote, so I mean, what more could we want?’ Well, imaginary-person-solely-created-for-the-purpose-of-derision, there are a few things. There is more female unemployment than male; abortion and contraception is still an issue in places as close as Ireland. Female representation in parliament, boardrooms, even comedy panel shows is abysmal. People still think Thatcher was a feminist – we definitely have a way to go.

Today is age of feminism. Even with the Daily Mail’s side bar of doom, women are reclaiming the media. The internet is a wonderful tool to give a voice to those previously unheard, and spread the hilarity that is emerging with a new wave a young feminist writers. The Vagenda has already been instrumental in this change, and whilst we may still have to combat things like ALL THE PORN EVER, I’m optimistic. Watch this space, feminism is getting trendy.

By Ruby Lott-Lavigna

Written May 2013 for the Leeds Student 

Comment, Feminism

Broadchurch and the Fallacy of the Stay-at-Home Dad

Written for The Vagenda, who kindly gave me permission to reproduce the article here
In the small town of Broadchurch lies a deep, dark secret. And no, it’s not that everyone looks way too middle class to be plumbers. Don’t be distracted by the artsy silhouette shots fellow feminists! Whilst Broadchurch may present progressive female characters, they all, much like Colman’s West Country accent, eventually disappear.
Just in case you’ve missed the hype (where have you been bro?) Broadchurch is this new show (obv) about a kid who gets murdered and we don’t know why or by whom so we spend 40 minutes of each episode looking at pretty scenery of the town and 10 minutes thinking it’s the dog, or maybe the baby, or maybe both. It is in many ways a great piece of British drama. It overpowers my prejudice towards ITV and allows me to listen to Tennant say muhrrr duhrrrr at least 5 times an episode. The cinematography is quite stunning, and the characters, despite the fact the all seem to be either a pedophile, possibly a pedophile or related to a pedophile, are all well written and powerfully acted.One of the best parts of Broadchurch is the character Ellie Miller, and not just because she’s played by Olivia Colman. Miller is a unique portrayal of a working mum on contemporary television. Yet whilst the show gives a great female character, the entire plot seems to mock us, the audience, for even considering the possibility of a successful independent mother. ‘A stay at home dad? Pffff. Men aren’t fulfilled by feeding babies yogurt and going to skate parks. Put a man in that position and he’ll probably resort to grooming a child, secretly develop a relationship of rampant hug sessions and then kill him in a violent rage. Yeah, best stick to the old ways eh?’As with all television shows, my fem-senses perk up, and my brain can’t seem let me just mindlessly imbibe the various cliff panoramas *curses brain*. At every turn, the show endeavors to undermine Ellie Miller. In the first episode, she loses her promotion to DI Alec Hardy, played by a moody David ‘Don’t Trust Anyone’ Tennant. ‘A Man?!’ she says ‘this area needs a female DI – what happened to I’ve got your back?’. The acknowledgement of her struggle only really seems to reinforce how they were probably right not to put her as the DI as she does do a lot of crying (because she’s a woman, obviously). Luckily, Colman does a fantastic job of turning what seems to be a weepy, Carrie Mathison-esque role, into a touching and funny character.Unfortunately, this progressive female character only lasts for about 8 minutes. The show seems so intent on emphasising the fact that it is literally ONLY because Miller’s husband, Joe, had nothing to do that he turned to grooming Danny, the boy who is murdered in the first episode. Notably, his reasons for doing so are as follows: ‘I wanted something that was mine. Ellie has her job, Tom [their kid] does his own thing’. You can just imagine him running through the past time possibilities – ‘cycling?…nah. Embroidery? …too fiddly…grooming a boy? …cheaper than a gym membership…’

It’s not only Joe Miller who can’t maintain a non-conventional male character. Danny’s father is adulterous, whilst DI Hardy literally has a defective heart. Most of the men seem to be cold, unfaithful, or…er…a pedophile and the women, unsurprisingly, are almost all mothers. Although the show gives quite a good opportunity for female actors, the plot is just another example of a failed attempt at progressive depictions of female characters.

It’s just frustrating to see a successful television show make some attempt at inverting gender boundaries, only to undo it right at the end. From the beginning, I was deeply hoping that they’d just leave the stay-at-home dad character be. Don’t make him the killer. And certainly don’t make him the killer because he’s so fatally unfulfilled with his life. Sigh. Well I guess there’s always next series.

By Ruby Lott-Lavigna

Written April 2013 
Comment, Feminism

Why Siding With the ‘Popular Lads’ Means Misogyny, Homophobia and Hatred

Lad culture’ – a topic that pushes buttons for feminists and free-thinkers alike. It’s a term that denotes casual sexism, homophobia and much more, all hidden under the banner of ‘a laugh’. A sugar coated-pill of hatred and condescension, sold as a supplement to ensure socially aptitude. May contain: that’s so ‘gay’, ‘your tits look great’ and ‘rape isn’t rape, it’s just surprise sex’. Nothing dangerous. Just a bit of banter.

What actually does seem ‘a laugh’ is that journalist like Jack Rivlin (who yesterday published a piece in the Daily Telegraph condemning those who critique lad culture as ‘prudish’ and abnormal) are oblivious to the innate irony of articles defending lad culture. Unfortunately for Jack, with every sentence he writes, he reinforces the argument against himself. With every sentence that excuses this kind of abuse that lad culture entails as ‘normal’ or being ‘cool’, with every joke like ‘are you a beer-drinking male who likes sport and having sex? Then I regret to inform you that you, sir, are a rapist’, he further shows why it’s so important to cut down lad culture at every turn. When broadsheets like The Telegraph can’t even see the problem of publishing a piece that defines trying to tackle issues of normalised rape as as ‘moral panic’, ‘hysteria’ and just ‘whingeing about the popular kids’, it just goes to show everyone is taking the pill, without even realising it.

The idiot who makes jokes about “surprise sex” and says women belong in the kitchen? He’s just that: an idiot… The rugby captain who loves casual sex and getting hammered? Sorry to break it to you, but that sounds to me like a normal guy enjoying his youth.’

Unfortunately, lad culture makes the rugby captain and the idiot the same person. It binds drinking, sex and social interaction, with sexism, joking about rape and domestic abuse. It pretends that it’s a ‘cool’, ‘boozy’ and ‘normal’ thing to do and essential to being a guy.  The term ‘lad’ becomes irreversibly attached to the male sense of identity, to the point where defending being ‘a lad’ becomes synonymous with defending being a man – the article constantly interchanges the two phrases. Calling out ‘lads’ as people who normalise rape doesn’t make them rapists, it just perpetuates a culture that undermines the reality of rape, which is destructively ignorant and harmful.

When I began University, I was labeled ‘a slut and ‘a whiney feminist’. In our halls of residence, we had a ‘lad of the month chart’ pinned to the wall opposite a nightclub poster with a girl on her knees and the tag line ‘Tequila: Come and Swallow’ (I presume it was a girl, the poster didn’t show her face, just her thong-clad arse). Women were, very kindly, allowed as contenders on the chart, as long as they were good enough to be branded ‘lads’. As long as they didn’t mind being called a ‘slut’ in place of their actual name, and could have ‘good banter’ as well.

The people perpetuating it by slut shaming and using phrases like ‘that’s gay’ weren’t always sexist; it just seemed like the fine, accepted thing to do, so they did it. And so it became the norm. If you had a lot of sex and were female, that was slutty and therefore bad. If your sexual preference meant you liked people of the same sex, then that was essentially the same as being really weird. If you had sex with a girl who wasn’t up for it, that was just a bit funny. No one questions it, because no one realised the reality of it.

 The irony of an article that justifies lad culture by perpetuating all its harms – the normalization of misogyny, homophobia and rape – is astounding. What people need to see is that eradicating lad culture isn’t specifically for women, or for homosexuals or for rape victims, as Jack seems to think, it’s for anyone who wants to stop being ignorant, and look outside a toxic haze that forces you define your worth by how insulting you can be. People finally need to see the pill for what it really is, plain and simple: hate.

By Ruby Lott-Lavigna

Written April 2013

Comment, Feminism

A Debate From the 1950s

Has someone inadvertently transported the world back in time? Did we eradicate the history of feminism accidently? It’s 3am in the morning and I’m drinking an espresso out of bowl because I don’t have any mugs left?

These are all questions that sprung to mind when reflecting upon the repulsive incident of sexism that occurred this weekend at a debating competition in Glasgow. Last weekend, two female debaters were heckled (by members of the union attending the debate) – not because they disagreed with their arguments, but because they were women.

They were abused for their clothes, their hair, and most importantly, the fact that they were arguing about women’s marginalization in the debate ‘This House Regrets the Centralisation of Religion’. Apparently, the hecklers thought ‘well, the debate doesn’t say ‘women’ so they’re probably just speaking about it because, well, silly women? It does say house, and a house has a kitchen, so, they’re probs confused?’ Unsurprisingly, when a male team further down the table made arguments also about women, they didn’t received any comments from the floor.

This seems quite self-evidently wrong, yes? Well apparently not. Apparently someone who must have recently emerged from an archaic time bubble decided to take to keyboard (what is this funny looking contraption!?) and write this article for the Spectator. To give a snap shot into the brain of this guy, let me pick some important quotes so you don’t have to subject yourself to scrawling through the page utter crap. He claims that ‘the booing was directed at the girls for going off-topic to indulge in feminist rhetoric’, ‘Photographs of the two finalists do not suggest they have anything to fear from assessment of their looks’ and ‘with politics, fewer women want to debate. The rough and tumble of a dialectical free-for-all is not for them.’

It’s political correctness gone mad! Quick, shield the delicate women from this male rough and tumble!

I’m not sure who thinks women can’t argue, that the speakers gave a shit what the audience thought of their looks, or who the fuck uses the phrase ‘rough and tumble’ in 2013, but the straight up sexism is this article is appalling. The fact that it so unashamedly buys into an argument that stopped having any weight about 30 years ago is just simply incorrect. As if it tries to argue that it was the fault of the debaters for not getting into the spirit of the sexism (we all know how fun a spot of misogyny is!), as opposed to the morons themselves.

They article makes the same mistake that many people make: Sexism isn’t sexism, it’s just banter. Don’t be such a sensitive girl and deal with it.  To dismiss female objectification, public heckling and straight-up misogyny as just something to just get used to because it’s part of the ‘real world’ is to perpetuate a myth that seeks to oppress women to an insulting extent. It’s accepting something as absolute when, quite clearly, it’s very wrong. These debaters are some of the best speakers in the world; to think that they couldn’t have taken these hecklers in an instance is to discredit them. They were probably too busy delivering a shit-hot speech.

As president of my debating union, and someone, who, for some reason, finds it fun to get up at 6 in the morning to travel across the country to spend 8 hours arguing publicly, I can safely say this incident is not indicative of the debating community. When I first began debating it was quite male dominated, but the gender imbalance is quickly being solved and the debating circuit is one of the most intelligent, Feminist, forward-thinking groups of people I have ever met. I have never seen a higher demographic of Feminists, both male and female, and the responses to these events have been wonderful. There been over 100 comments on the Spectator article, and they’re all funny, sharp and superbly destructive.

The problem is not the debating circuit, or that women aren’t suited for it, it’s the culture of forgetting that sexism is sexism. The sexists are the ones who need to suck it up, because this is 21st Century, my espresso bowl-cup was fucking awesome, and no ones needs your sexist bullshit anymore.

By Ruby Lott-Lavigna

Written March 2013

Comment, Feminism

I Think the Internet Might Be Sexist

After finishing my exams this term at University, I decided I’d just really like to do the internet. Like properly, forget to have lunch, don’t change out of your pyjamas, what day is it? Internet. And of course, for any internetphile, Reddit was a frequently visited site. For those who haven’t encountered it, it’s like the heroin of the internet – you tighten your belt of procrastination, slap the vein of pointless shit, sit back and watch the hours waste away in a euphoria of cat videos and narwhal memes. It’s called ‘the front page of the internet’ because it’s where people will first upload their junk to, and has various ‘sub-reddits’ to accommodate for all types of interests from atheism to photo-shopping arms on birds. Needless to say, it is the mother of all time-wasters.

Reddit is undoubtedly one of the biggest internet communities, and with comes an interesting representation of human kind. It’s actually quite moralistic, and although sometimes frustratingly self-righteous, it encourages its members to get help and support in generally the right places. With the power of hundreds of thousands of people, it can do some seriously amazing things, and has. It’s raised thousands of pounds for charity, granted people with illnesses their greatest wish, and, created biggest secret Santa, ever. You can piss time away like there’s no tomorrow, but it does have some redeeming features.

However, Reddit is not all good. Upsettingly, it can actually be pretty shit. It’s very sexist, if not very anti-Feminist. It’s demographic is about 75% male, and whilst I know guys can be, and are, Feminists, this inevitably has some impact. Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of boob-orientated subreddits. The most striking thing is how creative reddit can be in objectification. Curvy? Girls with small boobs? Red haired girls…but naked? We’ve got them. In fact, in it’s repulsive subreddit ‘gonewild’ where insecure women post naked pictures of themselves for the validation of a male upvote, there’s a separate subreddit called ‘gonewildcurvy’ where girls get recommended to move too when they’re not skinny enough. Vom.

There was a particular BDSM post that was really unsettling. It’s one of the ‘top all time’ posts, and titles ‘My “How-To” Guide for Men on How To Dominate a Woman in Bed ;)’. Obviously an alarming title, with that awkwardly placed emoticon just makes it look like it’s written by an eight year old. Now, I’m not personally opposed to BDSM, but this post seems to digress harmfully away from my understanding of what BDSM entails. It phrases everything in terms of ‘men’ to ‘women’, encouraging them to ‘degrade’, ‘manhandle’ and even ‘rape’ for domination. It advises ‘call her a dirty little slut/whore/cunt/bitch’. Nothing like someone being a dick whilst you’re having sex. That really gets me hot.

 Do people not maybe interrogate why those kinds of things turn them on? It must cultivate such a ridiculously misdirected understanding of women’s ‘fetishes’, and innate sexual desires. A power relationship that predicated women getting on their knees and submitting every facet of their sexual and rational power. Upsettingly, an acquaintance once told me his theory that women were all innately sluts who deep down wanted nothing more than a bit of surprise anal and yearned to blow men endlessly. We didn’t speak much after that conversation.

I once posted a query on Reddit, prefixed with the phrase ‘as a Feminist’. ‘Shut up and suck dick Gloria Steinem’ was the response I got, along with various other hostile and offensive comments (though it did lead me to googling Gloria Steinem, win). The anonymity of the posts allows for people to be dicks, when they wouldn’t otherwise, but it was upsetting that the general feeling of understanding that is met with most posts on Reddit was lost with something about ‘Feminism’.

Whilst r/feminism has around 15,000 supporters, r/boobies (teehee) has 89,648, and r/gonewild has 340,319. I know the Internet is like 98% porn, but sites like Reddit, that are generally quite left in ideology should welcome feminism. My advice? Let’s reclaim the Internet, ladybros.

By Ruby Lott-Lavigna

Written January 2013

Comment, Feminism

International Women’s Day in Norway

International Women’s Day’ – Seems pretty self-explanatory? Well actually, this year in Norway, it’s much more than a, er, international day for women. 8th March 2013 will be will be 100 years since Norway first gave women the right to vote, and established its self as one of the most forward thinking in terms of gender equality across the globe. So men, women, children everywhere, get you’re proverbial feminist hat on and let’s celebrate!

Norway seems to have a lot to celebrate –it on the on the frontier for liberating women in both a social sense and a political sense, and has been celebrating I.W.D since, 1915. Each year the day is given a different theme, and this year it’s ‘The Gender Agenda: Gaining Momentum’. Perhaps not so relevant for Norway, with its gender equality, but for many places across the globe, Feminism has a big PR problem, and is still seen as ‘man-hating’, ‘unnecessary’ and ‘hysterical’.

But Women’s day combats that, because it shows to the world how untrue those pejoratives are. It’s a day that not only shows how much of a unifying force feminism can be (after all, it is at its most basic, a fight for equality), but also how popular and wide spread it is. To have the organisations like the UN endorsing a day that seeks to say to the world ‘Women were oppressed, but every day we should be a fight to undo the unacceptable mess of global sexism’ is just testament to how far the ‘gender agenda’ has come.

However, the work is not all done. Gender imbalances still exist within Norway, as well outside it’s frosty picturesque borders. Although around 40 per cent of boardroom places are women, only around 2 per cent of Norway’s chief executive officers (the ones with real sway) are women. One in 10 Norwegian women have been raped, the New York Times reported in 2011. Around the world, women are still oppressed, their voices unheard, and it is estimated that one in three women will be raped or beaten in their lifetime.

But it’s not all upsetting. Norway is the first country in the world to implement legislation requiring balanced gender representation on both boardroom and in cabinet. Politicians also hold these progressive views, something that isn’t always prevalent in a liberal society (See Cameron’s ‘calm down dear’ debacle). Stoltenberg’s keynote speech at the opening of the UN economic and social council enforced that “…the greatest gains countries can achieve…come with empowering women, ensuring equal opportunity, health care, and increasing the ratio of women’s active participation in working life.” Allowing these ideas to permeate not only into wider society, but into the people implementing policies is one of the most beneficial aims of Feminism, and one that Norway has most certainly succeeded in. Many countries are entertaining the idea of quotas in boardrooms for their economic and social benefit, as well as seeing the rise of feminists everywhere with movements like ‘One Billion Rising’, combatting atrocities like abuse and rape.

It’s hard to overlook the depressing facts that women are still at risk in many places, which is why celebrations like International Women’s Day is so important. To have a day that reflects on how successful the modern society is in combating sexism, as well as reflecting on the struggles ahead for a better future, is an effective way to strive for equality. No matter what gender you align yourself with, make sure you‘re reminded of how essential an equal society is, not only for just women or Norwegians, but for everyone.

By Ruby Lott-Lavigna

Written March 2013 for International Women’s Day. Appeared on The Foreigner.