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

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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 

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