Comment, Feminism, The Vagenda Articles, Travel

Trip Advisor Thinks Sexism isn’t ‘Relevant’. Tell that to Female Travellers.

Written for The Vagenda, who kindly gave me permission to reproduce this article here. 

All too often, I find amongst my female friends that the idea of travelling alone without a trusty male companion is deemed a total no-go, lest your alluring three-day-no-shower look and sunburn garners threaten unwanted attention.

Well, fuck me (consensually). I’m not even that into travelling and I find that annoying. The mere idea that it’s actually a serious, risky choice to decide to travel alone because a collective of sexist arseholes thinks women are irresistible objects for their pleasure really gets me (call me crazy.) And I don’t blame those women who choose not to travel alone because of it. A persistent sense of entitlement, lack of respect for female autonomy and routine victim-blaming means that the majority of – if not all – countries make perusing their fair isles just do much of a bloody hassle. It’s sad but true that male friends then end up standing in as a form of bodyguard.

I have recently been travelling in Denmark, with a female friend. Denmark. You know, the one with a female prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, along with an ass-kicking queen who has about three degrees and speaks five languages fluently. According to some random website that corroborates my argument, Denmark’s first feminist movement started in the 1870s. THAT IS SO LONG AGO. Considering Denmark has a culture of powerful, impressive women in high positions, my friend and I were not especially worried about encountering high levels of sexism, hoping that maybe this understanding and respect for women would manifest itself amongst day-to-day Danish people with not so much as a wolf-whistle to destroy our holiday in what was clearly a veritable misogyny-free utopia.

Needless to say, we were wrong. On a free walking tour that we took to legitimise more pastry eating, our tour guide, who initially seemed pretty nice, became increasingly – and incredibly – sexist. He congratulated Berlusconi for objectifiying Thorning-Schmidt, because lol she’s fit. The look on our faces when he impersonated the gesture of looking her up and down and nodding in approval of her fine, legislature-passing arse: disgust, teamed with the creeping social anxiety that we were going to have to do something, along with the sheer despair that we still had two hours left to go. As a strange aside, he also joked about how the birth of twins by the Danish Prime Minister was a sign of impressive masculine jizz virility on the part of her husband. My friend and I decided to not tip, and to complain on TripAdvisor (#theenglishway), where we hoped it would make the most difference.

TripAdvisor have decided to remove my review, twice. On the first instance, unsure of what could possibly be so controversial about ‘our tour guide was sexist’, I perused their generic email for reasons why it was taken down. They stated that my review was not ‘relevant for other travellers’, and that ‘users should refrain from including personal political, ethical or religious opinions, discussion or commentary in reviews.’ After emailing them, they said that it had ‘inappropriate language’ (…I had used the word sperm (!!!!!!!!!!!!)), so I took it out. Then they removed it again.

How long will it take for people to realise that being anti-sexism is not a radical position, because I’m getting pretty fucking tired waiting here? A website like TripAdvisor should be hypersensitive to the benefits of creating a travelling community that makes it safe for women to travel alone. Surely the reason it exists at all is to facilitate travel for, y’know, travellers. On top of this, my review was flagged as a ‘helpful review’ by two readers. It seemed to matter to them.

I’m lucky that I took this trip with a fellow confident feminist friend, because had I been alone, I think the whole charade would have been a lot more distressing. And that’s why sexism is relevant to travellers, no matter what TripAdvisor may think. Sometimes, something as apparently innocuous as a creepy tour guide can knock your confidence to explore the world. And it’s a travesty when we let this happen to women and girls, sucking up their sense of adventure and disposing of it at the airport with all liquids over 100ml, and ending up confining them to places they find guaranteeably safe instead, like, y’know, the home. Let’s not do that to each other. Let’s fight for our sense of adventure.

P.S. Fuck you TripAdvisor, see how you like having an article written about how shit you are. Probably should have replied to my tweet. Gutted.

By Ruby Lott-Lavigna

Comment, Feminism

A ‘Fuck You’ to the Mainstream Press

Recently, Laurie Penny, a journalist I respect for her unwavering commitment to making women feel less shit, published a piece on Rebecca Adlington entitled ‘Dear Rebecca Adlington, they’re the ugly ones’. It was an open letter to Adlington, in light of the media coverage she was having for supposedly getting plastic surgery on her nose.

It was spot on, but as any masochistic Guardian-reading feminist must do, I turned to the comments. Obviously, OBVIOUSLY a mistake, but there’s something about Adlington’s public attacks that I find deeply upsetting, so I was kinda hoping for a reflection of my own feelings. Have a little read, fist pump the air, feel weird about fist pumping the air because I’m in a public library, then go back to writing my Victorian essay.

What a shocker, but lo and behold, ignorance reigned high in the world of the comments. ‘Perhaps it’s her decision as to whether or not she has cosmetic surgery on her nose and not anyone else’s business at all?’ was the top comment, with other insightful notions such as ‘If she did it just because she thinks it makes her look better, what exactly is wrong with that?’

Yeah, how totally non-problematic that an OBE, world-record holding Olympiad feels the need to have a medical procedure to relieve the pressure from the mainstream press. How absolutely normal to willingly subject oneself to physical pain to achieve some sense of self-worth. It’s not like she’s a fucking gold medalist or anything.

Well, ‘pollystyrene’, who ever you are, the reason it’s other people’s business is because Rebecca Adlington’s totally justified decision to subject herself to something like this is just the biggest example of the way women are hated. Of the expectations that exist. Sometimes, I feel shit about my body. But then, I read pieces like Laurie Penny’s, I think about Adlington, and I remember, oh yeah, it’s all bullshit. It’s bullshit because no matter how successful you are, no matter how unbelievably talented, or impressive, or unique you are, you can still hate yourself because of the media. You can be the first British person in nineteen years to win a gold in swimming for Britain, and you can still end up disliking yourself.

Watching Adlington in ‘I’m a celebrity’ makes me teary. No matter how successful you are, our society still will not let you be happy because you don’t look like Amy Willerton– a girl so vacuous she seemed to be genuinely interested in explaining hair flicking to her fellow celebrities. I shouldn’t give her a hard time, though, because Amy is just another person under these pressures, except she’s on the other end. She conforms to the expectations, and is told she’s beautiful, and that’s what’s important. Don’t bother having a good old chat about the issues of perpetuating a homogenous and almost unachievable body image, just enjoy your soft silky hair as it flicks across your neck. Amy hasn’t won an Olympic gold, but she probably knows what Rebecca knows: you better be good looking, because even sporting success isn’t going to save you from self-hate.

 Adlington’s difficulty with her body image is one of the most crushing things to watch. To think that you could be so objectively amazing, to be able to literally quantify yourself in gold, and still think yourself not worth anything because of people on twitter or publications like the Daily Mail is horrifying. It’s no doubt that this kind of publicity makes it hard, but I’m glad that dissenting voices exist. I’m glad that I found out about this because it reawakens my passionate hatred toward any niggling thoughts that I’m not worth enough because I have thigh fat. Rebecca Adlington shouldn’t have to subject herself to public scrutiny to make other women feel better, but she should know that there’s actually some good in the shit she gets. It reminds me that even the most impressive women of our age still get doubts.

I’m glad that this is my business. I’m glad that I’ve been reminded how women are nothing but a body to the media. Fuck you, mainstream press, for making women like Adlington feel body conscious, but fuck you also for making women who aren’t as talented, who don’t have numerous medals, feeling like their only achievement can be measure in the number of calories they’re not eating.

People need to stop pretending the sexism today is subtle and unimportant. There’s no ‘undercurrent’ of misogyny in our society – it’s right there, unashamedly, and as clear as Adlington’s talent.

By Ruby Lott-Lavigna

Written February 2014

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