Voices is a collaborative project between FXU, Her Campus and The Falmouth Anchor, providing a platform for students whose voices might previously have been lost in the noise.
Trigger Warning This volume contains information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to survivors. If you need to talk to someone, please contact the Student Support Services team or visit thesurvivorstrust.org
VOICES VOLUME FOUR WOMEN MARCH 2018
SH AK I RA M ART I N N US PR ES I D E N T
s a single mother who did not attend university, and the first Black female President of NUS, I’m determined to make sure working-class students are better supported, and to widen the conversation around ‘middle-class feminism’. Let’s not act like I’m a typical student leader, I am different. The way I roll and the way that I work is totally different, and I’m proud to use my adversity and experiences to help other people. I call myself a feminist, I believe in equality and I will stand up for women all day every day, at every opportunity I get; but the language of feminism currently belongs to the middle class. Go to Brockley and Peckham in south London, and the young women in my community are more likely to be talking about Femfresh than feminism. The terminology of feminism is a very middle-class and we need to start breaking down these terminologies that represent people, because they don’t even know that it represents them! When it comes to women’s rights and liberation, there are a lot of things we should never assume that people already know, we can end up being unintentionally very elitist and shutting out the very women who need to be at the forefront of this movement if it is going to be truly transformational. During the last few months as NUS President I’ve given my everything to make NUS an outward facing, progressive National Union; Education gave me – a black woman and single mother – a voice. I was in college one day and saw a poster inside the Student Unions’ office for a Women’s Officer and I thought that was for me. So I ran for it and won, even though I didn’t really know what it would involve; and that was my first chance at really leading on positive change for women in Further Education. Now, as NUS President, I’m determined the voices of all women students must at the heart of every political party’s pledges and every Vice Chancellor and College Principle’s strategic plans. It’s about us educating society on why feminist issues are so important to us, sometimes I think we speak to ourselves and that is our downfall because it makes us look a certain way to the outside world and easier to discredit us as a movement. Recently, we had the 100 year anniversary of some (not all!) women getting the vote, but even after all this time there is so much more to be done. From representation in Parliament to getting more girls into STEM subjects, we must give women the opportunity to be whoever they want to be. This is where Students’ Unions, societies, student reps and liberation groups are so important – they have the ability to give women like me that first platform to create change. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; forget Mrs, the only title I want is PhD or MA. No man can take that away from me.
Al ic e H o r ncast le
eing a woman in a patriarchal society is often frustrating, scary and depressing. I’ve been catcalled and leered at, shamed for what I’m wearing and how much I’m eating. When I was 12, I started removing body hair because a boy in my PE class said I looked like a monkey. I’ve felt objectified when, abroad in a foreign, conservative country, a group of grown men stared openly at my child-self in a swimming costume. More recently, I’ve been called a “b*tch” alongside my friends because we didn’t want to talk to some guys in a bar. On the whole, though, I’ve been lucky. And as a white, middle-class cisgendered woman, I need to recognise my privilege. I’m a feminist because of my own experiences as a woman, but also, more importantly, because of other people’s experiences around the world. I want equality and social justice. I want FGM, child marriage, and domestic violence to end. I want to live in a world where rape victims and sexual abuse survivors (of all genders) are listened to and not blamed. I want equal pay for equal work, better paternity care, and the end of the taboo
around menstruation. I could go on but, to put it simply, I want progress. To misquote a popular slogan, “The future is feminist”. That’s why intersectional feminism is so important: it promotes equality for all, regardless of gender identity, sexual orientation, race, religion, class, ability and age. I’m really proud to be the Charities Officer for the FXU Feminist Society as we are open to everyone and actively encourage inclusivity and diversity amongst our members. I think we should all be more welcoming because life is varied, and we should embrace and celebrate difference. Me, for instance? I’m asexual, a Christian and (sorry!) a vegan. Feminism shouldn’t be about excluding anyone, especially men (a common misconception). Instead, it should be focused on promoting unity. Of course, you get angry and dismayed at all the injustices you see around you. But for real change I think you need positivity. So that’s what I try and strive for.
Rag n h i l d L i n dt n e r
uddenly coming of age, being 12 and very concerned with your own body, is always awkward, especially in school. I remember when I was introduced to talks about puberty, where the teacher took all the girls into a room to discuss periods and hair growth. Pimples and sweat. I was handed a small catalogue with simplistic drawings of teenagers, hairy arm pits, vaginas and penises. The blood rushed to everyone’s faces and we were all giggling. “A penis!.” Indeed. A comment followed up by, “Girls, this is very important. If they have an erection, don’t laugh. They will start touching themselves. Boys cannot control themselves”. Our teacher made that very clear. And so the session went on to a conversation about periods and how we were going to look at our own vaginas in the mirror – and that was it. I was 13 when I started masturbating. I know that now. At the time I thought something was wrong with me. I had this itch that I had to scratch, but why? Pimples were growing on every surface of my skin, and hairs started popping up together with the sudden scent of myself. Could everyone smell my vagina? I ran home and hid myself in my room. My heart was racing and my pants were wet all the
way through. I was out of breath and my heart went so fast – I thought I was going to die. And due to this, I stopped touching myself… for a year. I was ashamed and confused. These feelings are, of course, common. It’s a part of growing up and hitting puberty hard, sure. But continuing school, I never learned that this was masturbation. A normal part of life. That was something boys did. It took two-three more years of confusion before I understood that what I did was masturbation. But I was trying to keep it to a minimum, as I was still under the impression that this was mostly a boy-thing, and that it was unnatural for me to be wanting to do it every day. That’s what you learn: GIRLS HATE SEX! Which is, of course, 100% wrong. It even got to the point where I started debating my gender. Was I a horny boy trapped in a girl’s body? My room became my shelter, where I hid every day in front of my computer, Googling every angsty question I so desperately needed the answers to. I cannot describe how thankful I am for the incognito browser. It wasn’t until I was 16 and started having sex I dared to talk to friends about “what the hell is
happening to our bodies? Are we normal?”. Before this, I only have a vague memory of other girls pointing out how disgusting masturbation was, and that they never did it – which is a big fat lie. Becoming more comfortable in my own skin and communicating with friends about sexuality and experiences through puberty really helped us understand that we were normal. None of us were secretly growing a second head, or tentacles from our hairy vaginas. We shouldn’t be ashamed anymore. But what really struck me was the fact that we were so ill-informed. So much teenage angst could have been prevented if our schools had taught us just a tiny bit more about the vagina. I wish I knew how much pleasure and magic it could bring me before I started hating it so much. The problem is, we’re only introduced to it as a reproductive organ, where the main discussion revolves around periods. I’m glad I knew that I wasn’t bleeding to death every month, but I would also have loved to know the detailed function of my own clitoris! How can I enjoy my body with someone else if I have no idea how to enjoy it on my own? I am 23 years old now, and not ashamed to admit that I masturbate. The fact is, masturbation is great! You can do it in bed, in the shower, whilst watching TV, with a friend, in a car…
I wish that women stopped shaming each other for masturbating, or that they simply don’t do it because they think that it is wrong. It cures headaches, boredom, stress, sadness and even loneliness. It’s basically pure medicine for any occasion. I wish I didn’t meet so many women who didn’t know about multiple orgasms, or about how the clitoris works, or that it’s OK to have a high sex drive as a woman. The educational system fails to tell us that female masturbation is just as normal as male masturbation. I wish someone had taught my 13-year-old self that the clitoris becomes hard, your vagina gets wet and it smells. High sex drive? Treat yourself to some youtime! Women should be able to enjoy their bodies and feel happy about it. That it’s allowed to have great sexual experiences on your own. Sex can be fun with a partner, of course, but it could also be nice to know how to drive before getting behind the wheel. Women, celebrate your sexuality! Masturbate! Get to know yourself, love yourself and touch yourself!
Dai sy Sal mo n
here are so many wonderful aspects of being a woman – having the support of so many fantastic women in my life has really shaped who I am today. However, I noticed from a very young age how differently we are treated than men. The recent stories surrounding the #MeToo movement has really opened my eyes to the scale of the problem. I never knew that so many of my family and friends have experienced harassment too. By writing this I am hoping it might give encouragement to other women to speak out against issues that they have faced and to let them know that they are not alone.
eye on it if I leave it. Only my female friends ever see the need to do this; I was having a conversation the other week with my male friend and he never even thought about the lengths that women go to just to feel safe in their everyday lives. Even with these precautions I cannot begin to count the number of times men in the street have shouted obscene thing at me, commenting on my appearance or saying what they would like to do to me.
At the age of eight, I was raped. As I have gotten older, I see that, although men do experience rape, the majority of survivors are women and I cannot help but wonder that, if I was a man, that might not have happened to me.
Although I am sure that men experience harassment too, from my personal experience it seems that women are victims of the majority of harassment cases. Even now, at 20 years old, my friends and I are still experiencing harassment. We can’t go to a party or go dancing in a club without men grabbing our asses or our boobs without any warning or consent. Just last week I was dancing with a friend when a man who we didn’t know walked up to us, wanting to kiss my friend. She refused adamantly, so he turned around, grabbed my head and pushed me aggressively towards his friend. I have never heard of any of my male friends experiencing anything like this.
My first experience of harassment in the workplace was when I was 14. Working as a waitress in my local restaurant, I was hoping to gain some experience as to what the world of work was like - and to get a bit more pocket money. I did not expect my ass to be grabbed by drunk, male customers on multiple occasions. Nor did I see my male co-workers experiencing this, or being called ‘darling’.
On a positive note, from my experience, women are much more likely to support other women when it comes to these sorts of situations. Whenever I have gone on dates, the waitresses I have spoken to have always offered to come and help if they can see I’m uncomfortable with my date. If I do happen to get into trouble anywhere I know that if I call my female friends, they are always there to help, as I would always help them.
At the age of 17, I started to believe that I had become a bit more savvy when it came to protecting myself; holding my keys in my fist when walking alone, always carrying a rape alarm. If I’m going anywhere at night, I’ll always go with a friend or talk loudly on the phone. I’ll always make sure my drink is covered or ask a friend to keep an
The little ray of hope at the moment for me is the publicity that stories like mine are receiving; I have felt such a sense of solidarity with women everywhere, knowing that I’m not the only one to have experienced harassment and abuse. And knowing that something is being done to fix the problem is such a welcome change.
For as long as I can remember, being a woman has meant that I have been treated differently to the men in my life.
Mol ly Gr i ffit hs
grew up in a country that, while not stifling, had clear ideas on what a woman should do, say, or how she should act. These did not become evident to me until I moved away. It had been hard enough, when I was living there, being someone who didn’t identify as a French person, and was able to speak a whole different language. I also didn’t really get along with all the girls my age in school because I clearly didn’t like the same things they did, or act the way they did with the boys. We didn’t have the same interests, and I wasn’t a follower of French popular culture, so I never knew what they were talking about. And I know it sounds like I’m generalising, I know I wasn’t the only one. But, sometimes, it seemed like I was. There was an instance, when I was in my second high school in two years, where I realised that, despite being termed a “bilingual” school, all the girls still identified as French. Except for me. This school also proved to me that girls could only be seen as two things: weird or girlfriend material. And I was placed in the first category for not putting as much importance as others on my appearance and the impression I gave to the boys in my classes. Being a woman, even when you’re 13, was about how you looked, but above all, what you represented for young hormonal boys. As I’ve grown older, and definitely wiser, I‘ve realised that my gender isn’t actually important to the way I relate to the people around me, or to the things I prefer, doing or saying, especially in the presence of men. Being a woman, and how you feel about it, should be your business, your prerogative, not society’s. Coming here, I was made more aware than ever that it was OK to have different interests, even ones that didn’t align with my status as a “woman” or as a desirable object, but more importantly it was okay to be confused as to what being a woman meant, and to have your own ideas about the significance of your gender.
girls could only be seen as two things: weird or girlfriend material
Mart h a b et hanâ€“ gat h e rcole
define myself as a feminist because I think that women and men should be treated equally, because we deserve to be. We contribute just as much to society, we have an important role, and, obviously, now we’re getting there but we’re still not equal. When I was younger, I wanted to join the police force, and I’d get stuff like, “ Why do you want to join the police force? You’re too short; women of your height can’t join the police force”. I was like, “That’s not a thing!” It might have been, but now you can’t say stuff like that. Some of my older family members do make comments and a lot of jokes that I don’t appreciate, and they know I don’t appreciate them but they make them anyway, then look at me to see my reaction. I think quite often it’s a generation gap, but then sometimes there are learned behaviours that are passed down. In first year I had a flat mate and we were getting ready one night for a party that we were having in our flat and one of my flatmates said to me, “Oh, why are you cleaning? It’s going to be a mess later”. I was like, “I know, but I’d rather it be tidy when people arrive”, etc. Then one of them pipes up with, “Oh well, it’s good practice for when you’re a housewife!” I’m doing a degree, I’m not here to become a housewife. Not that there’s anything wrong if that’s what you want to do with your life, that’s absolutely fine. I think it’s really horrible when women shame other women for wanting to concentrate on home and family, but I just don’t think that is should be assumed that that’s what all women want. When that happened I was really unimpressed.
At university it’s a bit different; I feel like a lot of people are quite open, obviously a lot of people are becoming more feminist now – men and women – and I think, just as a general rule, people are moving towards being more equal. But I think quite often a lot of men don’t understand how unequal it still is, because they just assume that, “Oh, we’re all at university, we’re doing the same thing”. But I don’t think they realise that there are real, subtle things that still need to change. International Women’s Day is a really important day. I think that it should be celebrated because I think, even though in the West we’re quite lucky in terms of getting towards gender equality, we need to remember that there are a lot of countries that are on a completely different plane to us and have a lot of progress to make. It’s kind of similar to where we would have been like 500 years ago, and we need to recognise that, just because we’re gaining more rights, other people still aren’t. I always write about women. Every single essay. Not so much for history (I do quite a lot of social history, so it’s always talking about other people) but with literature I always go for the gender question. I just think it’s so interesting and there’s so much to talk about, and I just feel like there’s a lot of stuff to do. Obviously, there has been quite a big feminist movement in literature and history, but I feel like there’s still more that should be uncovered. A lot of the stuff you read, like Mary Wollstonecraft, is still quite relevant today – she is so cool. The stuff she says is weirdly relatable even though it was written like over two hundred years ago. I love her.
Mad dy G ez
eing a woman means lots of things but also nothing at the same time, as in I don’t think women should be defined by particular stereotypes or gender norms. So whilst being a woman may be many things that the media portrays, for me it’s that you can be all of those things or none of those things. You don’t have to wear pink to be a woman, but if you want to wear pink then you still are. For me, it’s more asking what isn’t a woman, because we can be anything. Women are just great. Just the term ‘woman’ brings up a whole cohort of ideas and stereotypes which I think can be really detrimental and saddening, and people might feel less of a woman for not adhering to stereotypes things like, “Oh, that’s not ladylike”, or “You’re not very girly, you’re a tomboy”. Being a woman is being whoever you want to be and not having to fit into this kind of box that we call gender, and looking at gender as a spectrum rather than these two opposing ideals, as a fluid, merging thing in which you can do anything and be anything. I feel very empowered to be a woman in today’s society. I would call myself a feminist, and I feel very proud to call myself a feminist. I think the issue with the word is the main issue with the whole thing in general. I think people don’t have an issue with the actual idea of feminism, but
I feel very empowered to be a woman in today’s society
mad dy G ez
I think people have an issue with the fact that it has the ‘fem’ bit - not that we can complain about the fact that ‘human’ has the word ‘man’ in it, you know. People have an issue with the fact that it started with the Suffragette movement. People still go back to that and think it’s still about that, when actually whilst, yes, it started with that, it started with women being very unequal to men. They still are, and right now we do have a gender inequality and, therefore, it is focused on women. It’s not that hard to understand. It’s not about lifting the bar higher than men, it’s about lifting it so that it’s equal; a level playing field so people can just have a fair chance at life. I think looking back that I didn’t know when I was younger that I was being treated differently because of my gender. But I definitely say now, I’m very socially aware when it is happening. When I was younger, I was very sporty and athletic, I was very hyper-active. I used to do Brownies, but they rang my mum up one day and said, “We think Maddy should move to Cubs because she’s just too boisterous”. So I got moved from Brownies to Cubs, which actually was so much fun because we got to build fires, have races and go on walks, and I didn’t want to sit in a room colouring in. I think from such a young age gender norms were just instilled in me that that’s what boys did, therefore I was a tomboy, whereas girls did colouring in and sat and plaited each others hair, when actually there should be no limits. Even just having Brownies and Cubs to me from that age meant I thought
that I didn’t fit into this box of gender. I’ve been put somewhere else because I act like a boy. Just generally with sports, a lot of my friends tended to drop out of sport at a young age. I was told that I was too muscly, just because I did so much. I used to play for the boys teams, and I remember when we did GCSE PE the boys were allowed to get marked on their rugby but girls weren’t, even though I played rugby for my town. It wasn’t on the curriculum that girls could be assessed on that. In the sporting world I found that to play for boy’s teams people go, “Wow”, but why should it be? Why should it be, “Oh, because you’re playing with boys that must mean that you’re so good”. It shouldn’t be like that and everyone should be judged on their own ability and merit, regardless of gender. The general comments throughout school, especially teachers, I think can be quite sexist but you haven’t realised it. Stuff like, “Oh, you girls are gossiping or nattering in the corner”, whereas for boys the language that was used is always very different, like, “Lads, stop messing around”. Whereas if girls were messing around, it would never be treated in that way, it’s just “girls being girls”. If there was ever anything serious that went on in school it was always dismissed as ‘just girls’ and never taken seriously, whereas if a boy punched another boy then there’d be serious consequences. I was bullied in school and that was never taken seriously, and I do
think my gender did influence that. That’s not to say that genders bully in different ways, but girls bullying does tend to focus on more verbal and social bullying. That’s harder to distinguish and is easier to brush aside, because it’s just a ”Catty girl fight, so let’s just leave it”, dismissing it because of gender. Whereas I’ve seen firsthand that when there were guys having issues and it was physical it was taken more seriously. I was discriminated based on my gender throughout my education. Then there are just general comments in life. Men wolfwhistling at me from a very young age, even when I was on a family holiday with my mum. To have that done to you when you’re at that age and to think that that’s what’s normal, I got very confused when my brother didn’t have that. We were both wearing holiday clothes and my brother would never get beeped at or whistled at, but I would just because I was a woman. I guess it took me a long time to realise that it was a gendered thing and not a human thing. Men telling me to smile when they’re wolfwhistling at you is not fun. Being in a university environment, there’s a lot more talk about these issues. Every lecturer that I have, whenever it’s a guy talking about feminism, they do it with such care and really do try to understand. Someone gave a lecture the other day and acknowledged that they’re a white, straight, Oxford-educated guy giving a lecture on gender, and the fact that it’s even pointed out now at
this level rather than it just being accepted as how it is does acknowledge the issue itself. I’ve had other lecturers bringing up the difference in pay; people aren’t scared or afraid anymore to say that this is what’s happening and it’s wrong, so I’m going to speak out about it. Even just being discriminated against the whole period thing, I mean God forbid that a tampon would fall out of your bag at school. That was just such a weird thing to me, because as home it would just be a normal thing that happens, then I’d realise that some people couldn’t even bring it up to their parents or talk about it. That was so bizarre to me and it’s one of the biggest issues facing women. Women’s bodies are the most uncomfortable and yet most natural thing that people have an issue with. My gender doesn’t necessarily limit me but there are more hurdles. It doesn’t limit me from applying to something or going to an interview. But I’ve always got in the back of my head that you need to step up maybe five times more to get it, or that you should really appreciate the fact that you’re at uni because women at a certain time weren’t allowed to have this kind of education. There are still women all over the world who can’t have this. I feel like I am in a position of power, which is ironic because I’m just having the same opportunities as men, yet because I’m a woman I feel privileged.
R e b ecca H aigh
There is great power behind the anger of women
want to talk about women.
More specifically, I want to focus on women as a concept—a sum of their parts. Because that is something that both fascinates and angers me. I’ll preface this now with the fact that I am very much a cis, white woman, so the experiences I talk about are through a limited lens. I wasn’t a confident or beautiful child; I was a smart kid, but a shy one. I was blessed with an outdoor childhood, and some of my best friends were the farm children we used to stay with. Around the age of seven I could disappear for the day, climb into grain silos and sink up to my elbows, and climb trees, and trap ducks (I feel terribly guilty about that one). I could stay out til after dark and light fires. There was no difference between Dexter and I—he was my accomplice. We were equals in our tomfoolery. But when I started getting older, this freedom faded. I don’t blame my parents, but it only really dawned on me in my later teens that my brother and I were treated rather differently. At an age where the ‘cool’ thing to do was hang out at the park and drink, I had to be back before dark and he had to be back before midnight. When I walked home from school in my blazer and skirt, my friends and I would scream and clutch our skirts as lorries roared by and honked at us. We were 14. Men would lean out of their cars and whistle at those long, leggy girls. You’d have to walk faster as they’d pull up and “ask for the time.” I live in a small town—I can only imagine what it must be like in cities and on buses. With the fear came the shyness, and I no longer felt as though I could stay out after dark and light fires. As for my parts? I was what people call “early.” I was ten years old when I got my first period. There was blood between my legs after dance class and I went home crying in horror to a mother that cried with me. But she was happy. I was a woman now—so they say. It’s what they always say. I was ten. It was a right of passage. Mum took me to Pizza Hut and bought me my first CD. It was Kelly
Clarkson’s Breakaway, if you must know—how apt. We shopped for my first bra at H&M and Tammy Girl (RIP), and we quickly discovered that I was ‘advanced’ in that department. My first bra had Minnie Mouse on it. You don’t really forget things like that. So, at ten years of age, I was considered a woman. And it went from there. I had the chest of a secondary schooler before I’d even broken out of primary school, and I’d say that it is here that I started becoming aware of gender. All of a sudden, girls and boys no longer got changed for PE in the same room. We were separated. When we studied sex education, we were again separated so that the boys could learn how to put a condom on a cucumber, and the girls could put pads in pants. I excelled in that by the way—obviously. And as I became aware of my body, so did others. Girls looked in PE because those who wore bras were suddenly elevated to a higher social standing. It blew minds. We hadn’t changed as people. I was still the Hermione with the busted teeth and the bird legs. But I had these things on my chest that I did not want and had to dress. Underwires hurt. But that was how it was. And so, I find myself here, at this strange age where I am beating people in a race that I didn’t really want to participate in. And it was at 11 that I was sexually assaulted by another 11-year-old who had also entered that very same race, if only to repeatedly molest the winning sprinter. This is a truth that so few know, and something I only opened up about recently as the #MeToo movement really took hold. I didn’t tell my mum until about three years ago and she was distraught. When you tell people that, they look at you and aren’t really sure how to react. Would it be different if I was 17, or 25, or 30? I think so. Most think 11-year-olds don’t really have much of a concept of true right or wrong, of sex or of gender. But I can tell you they do. I can tell you that some boys have cruel hands, and will look your mother in the eye and smile as you try to get him expelled. But you’re forced, at 11, to admit defeat as the powers that be tell you “he’s been through enough already”. I never told them what he
R e b ecca H aigh
used to do to me every Wednesday in dance class, only that he bullied the girls relentlessly. I was scared. I felt dirty and violated. Remaining silent is one of my deepest regrets. He’s a father now—to a little girl. I just thought that might be interesting to know. I think about it more than I should. I have, for so long, viewed my body as an enemy. These bits and pieces of myself I wanted to cut off, hide away and destroy. When I was 12 and 13, I harmed myself because I didn’t know how to handle the feelings that I was feeling. Boys are taught they can w*nk—can I say that? I’m going to say it anyway. No one sits down with a young girl and tells her she will feel these urges too. Boys are given a box of tissues, a pat on the head, and are encouraged to “have at it”. I thought they were wrong—I was scared. So, when they appeared, I made myself not want them. And that’s terribly, terribly sad. And I fast forward now to my current ‘struggles’. I am skipping a lot, though I want to pause briefly on my girlfriend and my adventures with bisexuality. There has only ever been one girlfriend in my life, and she allowed me to experience what it is to be a ‘woman’ in an entirely different light. I think this is about the time I learned to love my body, because I loved hers. I think that’s rather lovely. Ugh! I think each person needs a Voices to themselves— honestly. I am going into the games industry and that is a whole article in itself! But I have come up against people that tell me that we’ve nothing to complain about
in this country. It’s over. You won. You have the vote, you can divorce, and own property, and the pay gap is an illusion—blah blah blah. “Others have it so much worse than you.” “You don’t get stoned for thinking!” “Saudi women can’t even drive.” Well, they can now, so ha! For them, the #MeToo movement has only gone and shown how prevalent an issue this is—for all of us. For me, the above argument is like comparing the less of two cancers. Oh, yours is in your breast? Do you know the survival rate for breast cancer? You get far more funding for it. See that poor bastard over there? His is pancreatic—now he can complain! See how ridiculous that sounds? Cancer is cancer. A pay gap in the western world, those whistles I got as a 14-year-old school kid, and the girls that are (in some cultures) forced to hide away during their periods are all issues that need cutting out. They are the issues of women, and therefore they are my issues. I am happy to say I have embraced my body, though she still bears scars. I have covered her in art, and I feed her well with mac and cheese, and tell her now and again that she looks pretty. I have delved into make-up land, bought heels and tight-fitting clothes. I started modelling. I’ve always been tall enough, and I’ve been painted nude by artists, and appeared in fashion magazines and worn gowns. To be able to look at yourself and go, “That’s me”, is amazing. These are all plasters on the face of a larger problem, but they are still chunks of armour I’ve assembled over the years to allow me to get through each day as it comes. I know so many other women who are the same.
But my body is still not mine. I am marrying, and I am taking my fiancé’s name because I love him, and I want to be a part of that family. But I am asked when I will be having his children, and I am asked about our wedding night and our plans for it. I am told my body will “yearn” for a baby. The only thing I am yearning for is to be left alone! Why is my body now open for comment? Even if you wish to adopt, there are still those that question even that act. It is one of the most selfless acts on Earth. How dare they! When—and if—I am pregnant, I will have people in bus stops asking me the gender of my child, or how far along I am as we wait for the next shuttle. Family members will touch me without my consent because they want to “feel it kick.” And, when the child is born, I will be made to breastfeed despite not wanting to. And I will be judged by mothers and nurses alike. Or if I choose to breastfeed my child until it loses its milk teeth I will be judged for feeding too late. If my child misbehaves, it reflects my parenting and not the child’s demeanour. If I lose the “baby-weight” I will be told I have “bounced back.” And if I remain the same, I will have “let myself go”. As I grow older, my Facebook ads will switch from weekend getaways and hair extensions to anti-ageing products that will allow me to look “plump” and “pert” for longer. Hair ads will give me 100% grey coverage but, if I reach an age and say that I plan to go grey naturally, I’ll be told I’m brave.
I am brave, but not because I plan to “age gracefully”. I realise now, as I re-read my early enthusiasm for this Voices issue and the opportunity it has given me to say what I please, that I am so very tired. That I have been saying this same sh*t my entire life, and will be fighting it again in the future. There are so many things left unsaid, and I know I will wake myself in the middle of the night and curse myself for failing to mention this, that or the other. I dread the other stories in this issue, as I dreaded reading the stories of hope and pain in Pride. Tomorrow, there will be another man charged with assaulting a woman. Ruining her career; silencing her; whatever. And we will keep on going until the next #MeToo, and the next, and the next. If there is one thing we can rely on, however, it is that women are angry. It is not an anger that drops bombs on foreign nations, or builds walls against the unknown. But it is an anger that fuels marches, progress and compassion. We will remain angry as long as there are those that antagonise us and, as we have already seen, there is great power behind the anger of women. And I will end in saying that my body is mine, not something to be debated over or picked at unless I personally invite the critique. We are more than the bits that make us up—though it may take our entire lives before we accept the bodies we were given, or change them to an extent that we can. Womanhood is not a democracy; we are, and always should be, a dictatorship.
Th ai s Car do n
am French and the French experience of being a woman is very different, obviously. I only lived there for three years, when I was 10-13 years old, so I didn’t experience it as much as other girls my age did. I grew up in London and we had very different experiences. There’s a huge problem with harassment on public transport and micro-aggression is much worse in France. I think it’s the same in Latin countries as well; there’s this macho idea and it’s more OK to disrespect women publicly and nobody says anything. Last year, the French government decided to criminalise street harassment but there’s a lot of problems with that, including the fact that it’s hard because often women aren’t believed and then you also have the issue of proof, so when a woman walks up to a police officer and says, “This guy I just saw in a red cap and blue shirt just harassed me”, it doesn’t make it any easier for us. And then after all of the #MeToo things, there was an equivalent hashtag thing in France called #reportonyourpig, and there were 100 middle-class, wealthy, white, famous women who signed a letter and published it in a famous French newspaper saying, “Stop attacking these men; they don’t deserve it and they’re just living in sexual misery. We should pity them instead. Nobody really minds that much if a guy grabs your bum on public transport or rubs himself against you”, and I was really horrified. I feel like my country is decades behind on the way that it treats women, and regards women, and I just find it scary and it doesn’t make me want to live there. It doesn’t bring me joy or make me want to go back to my home country.
I feel like my country is decades behind on the way that it treats women
Kat h ry n Tho m p s o n
’ve never felt discriminated against because I’m a woman, but I think that’s luck more than anything else. I’ve grown up in an environment where I’ve been surrounded by a lot of strong women. I have an older sister and my mum was always a big inspiration; she was such a big influence on so many people. My dad never pulled us back or told us not to do anything when we were growing up, so I was playing rugby, I was playing cricket. I was doing all these sports. Then, when I went to secondary school, I started to realise that I wasn’t able to do them anymore. The girls were all playing netball - and I didn’t want to play netball but there wasn’t much opportunity for girls to do anything else. I remember we had a rugby coach come in and say he was going to set up a girls’ rugby team when we were in Year 8, but it was tag rugby, and we all wanted to play proper rugby. So we practised proper, but when we got
set up for matches it was tag. Looking back on it now, the fact that the boys got to play proper rugby while we had to play tag was one of those small things—those microaggressions. I don’t think it shaped me though, because I remember looking at it and thinking, “Well, that’s wrong”. So now, any time anyone says that a woman can’t do something, I think, “Why the hell not?” What’s stopping me from doing it? I like studying history because it used to be a very maledominated career with very male-dominated fields of study. But now there are a lot of women writing, not just about women, but about everything. It’s nice that they’re not limited to having to write about women—they’re able to write about anything.
Why the hell not?
Rosa Par k er
omen are great; I love being a woman. This might sound weird but I love being a woman now, in this time. I was watching this TV series and it was talking about how the future is woman, so, for me, being a woman means the future, and being more empowered now than we ever have been before. Even if it doesn’t seem like it right now, I feel like it’s starting to come together a bit more. I label myself as a feminist, 100%. I get very upset when I hear someone say, “I believe in equality, but I’m not a feminist”. I then try and explain the oxymoron of that statement. There can sometimes be positive experiences to being treated differently because you’re a woman, but then it’s also weird afterwards. You realise that someone might have been politer to you when something goes wrong because you’re a woman, so at the time you feel happy about it but then afterwards you think, actually, I’d rather they just be nice to everyone like that. Recently I had a situation where I was in a group setting and there were a lot of men there, and I felt very outnumbered and looked down upon, and I do think it was due to me being a woman and disagreeing with them, and not being taken seriously.
My main problem is that I feel that a man who looks different to the stereotypical, attractive conventions can still succeed in the business world. I had a friend say to me once, “You’re going to have to learn how to do makeup, paint your nails and wear heels if you want to succeed”. She was like, “I’m not being horrible, but that’s what I’ve learned I’ve got to do”. I felt quite troubled by that, that a woman might not succeed if she doesn’t live up to the conventions of what a woman ‘should’ look like. I find Tess Holliday to be inspiring - she’s a plus-size model in America. I’m happy to live in a time where there are platforms now for promoting positive body images, but I do think there are some negatives that come along with it. My concern is that there are still young girls who will not see themselves represented in many ways: colour, size, even personality. A lot of the time it’s someone standing on the edge of a cliff in a bikini, but sometimes you just need to have someone who’s in the workplace as well. I feel like we’re getting closer to representing everybody, but there are still gaps that, hopefully, we can fill and our children can fill. I have a lot of hope for the next generation. I see it in the young people I know who have children and the way that they’re raising their children. It’s already starting, I see it.
Kac ey G ay lo r
o, I basically hate my body. That’s what being a woman means to me, has pretty much always meant to me, and will probably always mean to me, because I have a horrible relationship with the female parts of my body. “Woman” is a term I’ve never really associated with because it sounds so grown up and far away, but I suppose womanhood is something that was shoved on me from a young age when I first realised that my body was developing at an alarming rate compared to the slim, flat-chested girls around me. I was wearing padded bras and figuring out how to use tampons by the age of 12, forever trying to stretch my school shirts to accommodate the mountains sticking out from my chest. And experiencing monthly panic over whether blood was going to leak out onto those horrible, sticky plastic chairs in class. From the first days of secondary school to the last, the whole “woman” thing was a series of embarrassments just waiting to happen.
I find myself getting really sad when I look back at pictures of myself from when I was younger. It turns out that I wasn’t fat, or ugly, or a disgrace to look at. And I wish that I could go back and tell that girl that there is absolutely nothing wrong with her—despite that being something I can’t completely come to terms with even now, aged 20, every time I look in a mirror. The issue isn’t with myself, but the society my body has to live and grow within. I remember having to walk straight past the Tammy clothes section in BHS that was supposedly specifically designed for young girls up to the ages of 15–16. I don’t think anything from that range ever fitted me even before I was a teenager. All the other girls from school would wear these really pretty, ‘trendy’ clothes, but I’d usually end up borrowing my mum’s clothes for parties and stuff, because I couldn’t find anything that made me look nice. I’d spend the hours before a party crying at the sight of myself, then wanting to go home as soon as I arrived because the
Kac ey G ay lo r
The issue isn’t with myself, but the society my body has to live and grow within.
feeling of the material clinging unflatteringly to my body would make me want to throw up. It was a downright revolution when I realised that clothes didn’t have to be snug or even ‘fit properly’. They can be as oversized as I want them to be. Who cares if the jumper I’m wearing is three sizes too big for me? I am quite proudly the queen of the baggy jumper. The way I perceive my body is filtered through the clothes I put on it, and the way clothes are designed for women tells me that every part of me should be flat or small. Apparently the size of my body shouldn’t change; I should be wearing the same clothes and bras that I’ve had for years, right? That is so flipping wrong. I feel like I have to punish myself for the fact that my cup size has steadily increased over the years; that, whilst my waist is the same, my hips have inevitably widened, and that
those skinny jeans I used to love can no longer house my thighs. Clothes shopping is such an unnecessary struggle for my body shape. Just last week I went up to Exeter for a shopping trip, determined to find a nice dress for a formal event I had coming up. I ended up spending half the day fighting back the tears in the changing rooms of every clothes shop on the high street: with every dress I tried on, I’d either struggle to zip everything in and still be able to breathe up there, or it would all be at risk of falling out. I walked out of every shop sorrowfully shaking my head, consoled by my godsend of a boyfriend with the reminder that it’s not me, it’s the clothes. It’s the numbers on the hangers that have taken over my life too many times, and the brands that promote such a homogeneous perspective of the female body. Chests, breasts, boobs and cleavages are all a thing—so why aren’t clothes designed to reflect that?
Alongside encouraging the diverse shapes of women’s bodies, body positivity radically needs to extend beyond that to the way our bodies function. When I was around 14, I decided that I was going to be as natural as possible. So, I stopped wearing makeup and straightening my hair—I was really liberated by that for a while, quietly rebelling in my own way. I started taking the pill when I was sixteen, so I immediately had to confront this idea of being a “natural” woman head-on when my periods stopped. I haven’t had a period for over four years, and whilst that has also been liberating, I’m not realising how unnatural that is. On the one hand, I’ve taken control of my body and have removed the traumatising bits, which I recognise as a privilege that, unfortunately, more women are yet to have. On the other, part of me feels guilty for denying my body of its natural cycle. Am I less of a woman because of that? It’s an ongoing question I’m having to grapple with as I get older.
There are so many things that I want to say to the little girl burying her head in books, trying to escape all of these anxious questions. I’d tell her that the anxiety will pay off; that she will go on to get the best grades in her school and that, despite whatever she feels about her body, her brain is a gold mine of power and strength. That she will live in a world where Doctor Who will be led by a woman that she can idolise instead of a man. That she can be Hermione Granger if she wants to be, and that no one will ever take that away from her. Most importantly, she will find someone who will always love her body, even when she doesn’t, and will remind her everyday that she deserves all the love in the world.
fat um a m oham ud
Each time a woman stands up for herself, she stands up for ALL women
eing an ethnic minority woman I often felt that my voice was not represented in the feminist community, as many of them fail to recognise that women of colour are significantly more likely to be disadvantaged than their white counterpart. It is therefore crucial that we stand in solidarity with one another, as recently demonstrated by Hollywood actress, Jessica Chastain, who stood up for her African American co-star so she would be paid the same as her. From an early age, I was exposed to strong and resilient women who have shaped the person I have become today. My mother has always been a role model of mine. At a young age, she left the only country she called home to seek refuge after a brutal civil war erupted in Somalia. A distressing period in history, unfortunately, many women were not so lucky and faced appalling acts of discrimination and rape. I would later found out, while doing some interpreting for a woman who was a failed asylum seeker, what it was like to be a woman during the civil war. While handling her case file and doctorâ€™s note it came to my attention that I was dealing with a difficult case because of the sheer amount of torture and rape she experienced. Rape during wartime is hardly ever discussed, and often becomes a taboo subject to engage within certain communities, as women are blamed and ostracised for the acts committed by the opposite gender. From that particular interaction, as Maya Angelo eloquently pointed out, â€œEach time a woman stands up for herself, she stands up for ALL womenâ€?, I realised that I had a duty and a
fat um a m oham ud
moral obligation to speak up and stand in solidarity with all women who face inequality of any sort. There has been a paradigm shift towards challenging gender norms in many societies and gradually beginning to manifest the role played by both men and women. Up until the 19th-century, womenâ€™s contribution to society was relatively limited, not by choice but rather not being given the same opportunity as men. Most women suffered a great deal of social, economic and political disadvantage. On 6th of February this year we celebrated a momentous occasion in marking the 100 years anniversary since some women got the right to vote under the Peopleâ€™s Act in 1918. It is important to note that, without the collective Suffragette movement and the long-standing struggle for equality, this moment would not have been possible, thus it is significantly important that we remember and thank
all the fearless women that paved the way for us. Women can be said to be actively engaging in the political process, economy and international affairs. In various countries, we see women holding high positions in leadership and becoming change markers. However, we must not become complacent as some societies still practice a patriarchal system that oppresses and marginalise women in a number of spheres. Research shows that relatively few women get top executive positions, thus showing the extent of inequality within the workplace. Certain countries, for example, still practice Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) which is a form of gender-based violence. I have been a long-time campaigner in ending this barbaric act through education and advocating for greater protection for young girls and women alike. In 2015, I was privileged enough to have
travelled to a refugee camp in Kenya, where I countered many horrifying and heart-wrenching stories about FGM, which led me to start a project and create a women’s group which aimed to educate and empower women to challenge cultural norms. Furthermore, ongoing campaigns led by women have made it into mainstream in confronting gender pay gap and stressing an equal opportunity to thrive. The #MeToo movement has certainly ignited a conversation around the world about sexual harassment, consent and accountability, which is an important step in addressing attitudes towards women. My inner optimism says that one day women will be equal, however, whether we will reach full equality anytime soon is debatable. However, the tide has shifted and we are seeing a number of movements demanding immediate changes, whether it is in Hollywood or the
average woman fighting for equal opportunity. Many governments, NGOs and institutions have recognised the importance of empowering women to be their own agents. In developing countries, for example, certain programs that boost community awareness about women’s issue is supported and welcomed. Moreover, looking at today’s generation it is obvious that they want to create a more equal and brighter future for all. There are many projects and strategies in progress to empower women but the outreach is insufficient to impact regions across the world. One way to empower women is to provide them with the platform to engage in discussions and raise awareness of issues that impact women. The 2017 women’s march gave me a significant hope that one day we will win this battle and that their time is up.
Cal l i e Edwards
s an Events Management student, my
The inequalities between men and women are
course is completely dominated by women. It’s
something that you see in some relationships. There
actually quite funny; there are so many girls and then
were so many girls when we were younger who
there’s just a tiny handful of guys. But there is never
would get a boyfriend and then fall off the face of the
really an issue with us all being here because I think
Earth. I don’t see it happen as much anymore as we’ve
there is nothing that pits us against each other when
grown up, but there are still some girls who will just
we’re on the course; we’re all just there, and we’re all
devote themselves entirely to their boyfriend and it
there to learn, so I don’t think that anyone has any
will not be reciprocated, I feel that many girls need
discriminative ways. In terms of the sector of work, I
to empower themselves to make sure they are getting
don’t think I’ve been that deep into it, but I do think
the same out of a relationship than they are putting
that it is a mix. It could be more male-dominated the
in, without even realising how inferior it makes them
higher up you go, but I don’t really know that yet.
Truthfully, I haven’t ever felt like I’ve missed out on
I think it is possible that, for the privileged white
something because of men, or because I am a woman.
female at the moment, we are at a very strong point
I am a feminist, but in the true sense of it being for
right now—especially in terms of education and
equality for everybody. Feminism is an interesting
being able to pick and choose what we do. We can
subject; I think there’s a lot of ignorance surrounding
often see from the get-go if something looks like it’s
it. The extent of feminism is huge, especially in
going to present an equal opportunity for women
terms of international feminism and the differences
and, if not, we can avoid it. Although I think that, if I
between white woman feminism and minority
were to go into the job sector and see that there were
feminism. And I think that there are a lot of people
inequalities between men and women, I would want
who are completely educated on the left, and that’s
that to change and be cut out, like the difference in
the issue; there are a lot of white women who just
pay for men and women. The fact that a woman can
hear these mainstream statistics about men high up,
go and do the exact same job as a man and get paid
and actors, and celebrities, and they get caught up
less is just unexplainable. It’s ridiculous; we should be
in that part of feminism. But they’re not educating
getting paid equally.
themselves about the experiences of minorities. I have a Nepalese friend who is constantly sharing
I definitely feel like it’s quite possible that we, as
information about equality and feminism and it
individuals, are in a strong position to keep our
makes me realise that I’m not as educated as I’d like
equality. But, obviously, such is not the case for
women who aren’t as well off as we are, which is why it’s important that, as a privileged white woman,
I think you could say that the main struggle we
people like us recognise that things still need to
have as women is the inequality of being sexual. In
change. It is strange that still, in the 21st century,
secondary school, for example, there was always that
people aren’t waking up to recognise the inequalities
thing where boys had to make the first move. But
regarding feminism especially for minor things like
I think that, moving to university, I realised that it
this. It just makes you think that, if we can’t solve
doesn’t have to be that way; it’s really great seeing
things as simple as gender equality, how are we going
girls going out and getting what they want in the
to tackle the bigger issues?
same way that men do.
AN O N Y M OUS
that one Christmas I got a bike doesnâ€™t really make up for getting strangled on the staircase
y dad’s a bit of a c*nt to be honest. It feels nice to say that. Growing up you forgive things because you don’t know any better, like getting smacked for bringing a boy home or shouted at for talking too much. I never really stopped to consider that it was any different for any other girls, or that my dad treated me differently to my brother. But the more I write the more I think, huh. F*ck. Maybe my brother did have it better. I try and pass it off and think of the good things but honestly, now I’m a bit older, that one Christmas I got a bike doesn’t really make up for getting strangled on the staircase. I should probably describe my dad’s relationship with me and my brother first. We had a pretty normal upbringing; we all had arguments and so on but early life is so hard to remember. Who knows if we were treated differently then? All I remember is the awful dress I had to wear in my pre-school pictures and getting angry because my brother got to choose his outfit. The stuff I remember starts when we both became teenagers and started high school. My brother was put through sports academies and bought season tickets, whereas I was left to my own devices. This kind of thing doesn’t bother me so much. I always knew my dad had a favourite, why wouldn’t you they both liked sport and so on, so of course they got on much better. So why, when he brought home a girlfriend he was applauded, but when my I got my first boyfriend I was screamed at in Asda for 15 minutes, then smacked when we got in the car?
So why, when he chose to do sport at college he was patted on the back for following his passion, but when I decided to pursue mine I was told not to come home that night? So why, when he stood up to my dad he was hailed as strong willed, but when said I didn’t like being slapped on the arse every day for fun I was told I was being prude and a b*tch. Honestly, I just sound jealous of my brother. And I f*cking am. He never got shouted at for not cooking dinner or not doing chores, because it was my job. Not because they needed doing right then and there, but because it was the woman’s job to sort it out. I’m fortunate and lucky enough now to have a loving partner who, like a normal human being, wants to share the housework evenly, but even then, my dad calls him whipped. I’m fortunate and lucky enough to be away from that household, but I still have to have this article made anonymous just in case he would hurt me or someone I love again. I’m fortunate and lucky enough that I will stand up to him and throw a punch if one is thrown at me, but another girl might not be. That’s what scares me more than anything. More than anything my dad has done to me. I can take it. I don’t care that it happened to me because I can wipe blood away and bruises heal, but another girl might not be able to do that. Because, through no fault of her own, she is in a situation that is stacked against her. No one deserves a dad like mine.
Jasm i n J el le y
omanhood is hard to underpin. There are systems implicit in the fabric of our social structure which, whether passively or actively, attempt to pin down: restrict, restrain, stigmatise, discourage, mould, and weaponise the notion of what we understand to be ‘woman’. We’re taught that our bodies are dangerous, but passive; encouraged to be ourselves, whilst being constantly fed media-enhanced configurations of what a ‘woman’ should be or look like. At the same time, I think that there are definitely winds of change blowing; female empowerment being carried with them. Being a woman in the present is exciting. I can’t wait to be a part of the generation of women who, hopefully, enter a workplace with equal opportunity (and pay) with men, can thrive in life without limitation and can embrace our womanhood with honour. I also look forward to a world where we have total freedom of choice with our bodies; where rape culture, assault, coercion and grooming are eradicated, and ‘woman’ is not secondary to ‘man’ in any sense of the word. I’m very thankful to not be born into a culture where the systemised subjugation of women is every-day and brutal: where, for example, female genital mutilation
is practiced, or young girls are forced to marry. I am definitely thankful to be in such a privileged position- to be studying a degree, to have freedom of voice. More definitely needs to be done to provide these opportunities to all women. Last year, I spent some time volunteering in a hospice and care centre in South Africa; founded by Ivonne and her husband Tommie, who turned their own home into the care centre to provide medical care, a home, and respite for the local residents of Britstown and the surrounding areas. Through spending time with the female patients, I was faced in a very intimate and startling way, with how womanhood, in the wrong circumstances, can be inhumanely abused. It is shattering to realise what some girls are put through because they are born into the body of a woman – as if womanhood makes us automatically a means for acquisition, victim to abuse and a commodity to be bargained for. Brutality is real and it is present in very extreme and horrific ways: the sheer number of friends that I have here in the UK who have been victim to some form of sexual assault is alarming. One girl at the care centre had been abandoned by her family for contracting HIV- transmitted to her by her rapist.
Jasm i n J el le y
Despite this, she was a glowing young woman with a child-like, radiant joy- testament to her powerful, womanly strength and resilience. The care centre itself has a similar glow about it; the sheer love perpetuated by Ivonne makes it feel like a family. Experiencing and watching the way that she cares for her patients, fights the failing governmental systems for appropriate access to medication and treatments, and laughs in the face of racism and prejudice is nothing short of incredible. The world needs more women like Ivonne: women who, unrestrained, can achieve unbelievable feats. I am lucky to have been brought up to embrace my womanhood fully and unapologetically, but that is not to say that I haven’t also experienced the negative implications that are attached to ‘woman’ by society, or noticed the male-centric nature of our world. This is pretty personal, but if, as many people say, a girl becomes a woman when they begin menstruating, then I’ve been a ‘woman’ for over eleven years. I’m only twenty-one. I remember the moment when I first started bleeding so clearly – I was mortified and frightened. I was wearing white trousers, and was terrified that people would know, or be able to see, that I was bleeding. Shame is something which is definitely perpetuated by the idea
of bleeding in a school environment, and in society as a whole. I was terrified at the time, thinking that there must be something wrong with me: I didn’t know why I was bleeding. I was so early that we hadn’t yet been educated about periods. Something which has stuck with me from the time is being told that ‘all women get them (periods)’. So, I was, by social standards, a ‘woman’ when I was definitely a child, and started developing a ‘womanly’ figure really prematurely, especially for my height. Along with that came the leering gaze of men who probably thought I was older than I was (not an excuse), and a change in that way I was perceived at school, which was difficult to navigate – it made me feel constantly exposed and awkward. Later on, the pains that accompanied my period were so bad that at times I wouldn’t be able to stand, and would sometimes faint and vomit – something which nobody prepared me for – and I used to be ashamed to tell people why these things were happening to me. I thought it would make me look weak because it was ‘just my period’ and we’re expected to just ‘get on with it’ and ride the painful wave until it subsides. Now I look back and see the power and endurance of my body and think it’s pretty amazing. A body is such an intricate and complex thing which just shouldn’t be taken lightly. Something so natural being so
deeply stigmatised is an issue which affects the self-esteem and self-worth of so many young girls, and that really needs to change. The association with menstruation and womanhood, and the implicit sexualisation of the body from that point forth is unquestionably problematic. A ten-year-old girl just shouldn’t be objectified in that way- a ten-year-old, period or no period, is not a ‘woman’. I think that education about the unpredictability of the body needs to come earlier. There’s something powerful in that too... To think that my body, as a woman, is capable of physically creating, nurturing and transforming is pretty unbelievable. I feel that change and growth typify womanhood. I am thankful to say that I have grown up surrounded by inspirational women who have encouraged me to embrace the slippery qualities that make me a woman. My mum, for one, has never told me that I can’t do something just because I’m a woman, and always taught me that it really is what’s inside that counts – that there is power in how you cultivate what’s inside and let it out to the exterior world. If I were to identify the qualities which make these women so inspirational, I would centralise their unerring capacity for compassion; their intuitive and empathetic qualities; value placed in genuine relationship, love,
passion, emotional transparency, the intensity of their sheer presence, and a selfless, unfaltering patience. There’s a lot to be said about the strength in vulnerability. There’s also something toxic in the tripartite association of vulnerability with weakness and an implicitly derogatory notion of femininity. Stereotype masculinity, and its’ aversion to vulnerability (and femininity by association), is damaging- men suffer equally with the negative connotations that society places on vulnerability. There is such a deeply entrenched stigmatisation of emotion and vulnerability which simply needs to change. I think that these qualities are definitely being embraced more at the moment- we’re really feeling a shift into something close to authenticity. In the same way that the female body grows and changes, I think that we’re seeing growth and change in the way that womanhood is perceived. I also think that, thankfully, it is being made clear that to restrict human qualities and abilities to a single gender is limiting. Maya Angelou, in her poem Phenomenal Woman, proclaimed ‘I’m a woman. Phenomenally.” Let’s make a more active effort to empower women – let’s nurture womanhood and embrace change. Phenomenally.
Me ah H ow le tt
Being a woman has never been an obstacle
n terms of university, I haven’t found it that challenging being a woman. I’m friends with women who are very strong-minded, and I’m surrounded by strongminded women within my classes and societies, so I don’t feel like we have to try and be women against men, but to just be students at university. As a journalism student, it’s a little bit different. The most obvious disadvantage is the lack of female representation within our team of lecturers within the journalism school, this is also reflected in the selection of guest speakers that attend our sessions. I mainly come into contact with gender inequality when I meet people in the journalism industry. Whenever I’ve visited a news room or radio studio, it’s rare that I see a female in a managing role or an editorial role; they are more likely to be in admin or producing, which probably reflects a bigger trend. I know that doing journalism isn’t going to be the easiest thing after graduating, as I’m going to be faced with a system that has always been propped up by male leaders and male creatives. This sentiment is heightened at the moment by the discussions of the Gender Pay Gap. This is seen in the media society I’m in as well. I know that before I got the role of Deputy Editor at the Falmouth Anchor, it was very male-led and the President, at one point, was the only female on the committee. So I know that my job as the Deputy Editor is not only important for providing my journalism skills, but also
to make sure that other members of the society, whether they are there doing editorial, or just here to have fun and learn skills, feel like they can come to me not just because of my understanding of journalism, but because of my committee role as a woman and how I might read different stories, or pick up if other women are feeling uncomfortable in a situation. Just recently with a story we covered on the President’s Club scandal, it was important for me to sub-edit the piece as a female, as well as having a male read it, because there were certain ways that sentences were structured or the way that subjects were approached that could have needed a feminine touch to it, especially as the story centres around female hostess workers and how they are treated. It’s important in these situations to give men the opportunity to have empathy in those situations, but also to make sure that they have female co-workers around them to help explain a difference of point of view, and vice-versa I need help understanding more male-focussed things that we touch upon as well in our stories. Despite that, having been brought up with a strong mother, a strong sister, and strong female friends around me, being a woman has never been an obstacle. I’ve never felt like I can’t do something because I’m a woman, I’ve just been aware of how society and my profession is at the moment and if anything, it’s probably going to be a good thing if I push myself and make a small change in that sense.
Y von n e Caro ll
or me, being a woman is inextricably linked with feminism. It’s through finding feminism that I have been able to experience my most exciting and fulfilling memories and moments here at university. One of the formative experiences in my relationship with feminism was being at secondary school and having a history teacher who said, to my class of entirely teenage girls, “You don’t need to worry about going to university. You can just get married and have babies”. I had only just started to think about feminism and what it meant to be a woman at this point, but I remember feeling so powerless and frustrated that there were these conceptions about girls that I could do very little to change being passed on to young girls. For me, being active in feminism is doing something to change that. Joining the Feminist Society at university, and getting involved with the committee, has allowed me to meet so many incredible people, and have such interesting discussions with them about anything from, “How sexist is Love Actually?” to, “How can we make our feminism more socialist?” Granted, not everyone on campus has always been the kindest when they hear the term “Feminist Society”, but I feel that seeing that, and then seeing all the Freshers who come to university, eager to hear and learn about feminism, makes it feel like it still matters.
Jac q ue l i n e Gâ€“ M
It goes beyond my gender and flows into my identity
omanhood. To be honest, it took me quite
which not only includes my sisters but my best friends,
a while to try and define what womanhood means to me
where you learn to give unconditional love and simply
because it’s my experience as a woman, and there’s a lot
appreciate their existence. I’m here to help them develop
more to be said than just a few words. Being a woman has
into who they are, which may require some pink hair dye
had its impacts on my life from the day I was born: the
and late night DMCs. I’m here to listen, cuddle and talk, or
way I grew up and was conditioned to think and act; the
even shout at. I’m here to make sure they know that they
way I developed into the person I am today and what I am
can be whoever they are no matter what, love whomever
aiming to do in the future, which all comes down to my
they want and be passionate about anything they have their
experience: my womanhood. It goes beyond my gender
heart set on. Womanhood to me is being an activist and
and flows into my identity. Being human alone comes
making sure that you know it’s OK to express who you are.
with complexities; being a woman comes with ascribed characteristics and expectations.
You are strong, independent women, which doesn’t mean you can’t show weakness or ask for help and support,
I’ve grown up within a strong, female-empowered
but rather demonstrates the power you hold over your
environment, where I was taught from an early age that
own life. I say that a lot, and it’s sometimes a reminder to
my gender was not going to decide how successful I was
myself that I got to where I am today because of who I have
going to be in the world. I’ve also been very privileged in
become through my experiences, my womanhood. This
terms of my education and upbringing, so I’ve been able
doesn’t mean I never needed or asked for help; it means
to experience so much of the world and its possibilities.
that I had the courage to let others in and be so incredibly
My mom is one of my main inspirations: not only did she
raise three children and had a full-time job but, at the same time, achieved her teaching degree. She followed her goals
Vulnerability is unfortunately perceived through negative
and fought hard to get where she is today. The strength
connotations, but I am telling you that it is not a weakness!
she had to decide that she wanted to follow a different
It takes enormous strength to be completely open to
path, while already being a qualified scientist…. She taught
someone and express all the thoughts that are going on in
me that it is never too late to start something new, and
your head without fear of judgement. Vulnerability is about
that there is nothing wrong with changing your mind and
trust, which you have let me feel. Not only do you guide me,
pursuing something different. Even now, while fighting
but you’ve let me grow into the woman I am today. I want
breast cancer, she has the incredible strength to be there
you to know that I want to be your advocate and the person
for me and encourage me. The support I’ve received from
you come to when life gets hard, or when it’s going really
her is endless, and I’m only just beginning to reciprocate.
well. You’ve taught me more about what it means to be a
This, to me, is womanhood: providing infinite support,
woman than you can imagine. Womanhood, to me, is having
encouragement, and not giving up. Teaching me every day
the strength to make my own way in the world and letting
that I can actually achieve anything I put my mind to, and
myself be vulnerable.
that it may be hard. Womanhood is what you make of it. For me, it’s not one Being the oldest of three girls, I learned the importance of
specific thing but a combination of many, to reflect the
being a role model - not in terms of my achievements, but
complexity of what it means to be a woman. As cliché as it
rather my personal development. I also experienced the
is, I’m going to end this by asking: what is womanhood to
value of growing up within such a strong sisterhood,
B RAN W EN C LE AVE R
’ve had a lot of obstacles that have come from being a woman. I don’t want to reflect too much on the negatives, but there are negative parts of being a woman and we have to recognise it. I have personally had experiences, and my friends have had experiences, of sexual assault and rape and we have to recognise that these are, predominantly, women’s issues. Although they can be everyone’s issues, I think that rape culture is perpetuated towards women. That is a negative side to being a woman, but I believe it shows strength to overcome these things and I know a lot of strong women. I would also say that, as a woman, you don’t really see many females in power or in our society to look up to from a very young age, but I do feel like that’s changing. Some people look up to Beyoncé because she’s a strong woman. I look up to Lady Hale, who is the only female in the Supreme Court. She’s had a very ordinary education and she has inspired me because, as a woman who wants to go into law, seeing another woman with a similar background to me in the Supreme Court (the highest court in the UK) is so inspirational because I do feel like I can get there now and it’s more achievable. It is really important to see powerful women setting an example for other women to look up to and it has been really nice for me to have that. The role of women has changed a lot and I think that society is understanding the capabilities of women more. Women were traditionally seen as weak and subservient and not as worthy of things as men,
you have to take that power back
B ran w en C LE AVE R
especially in ancient Greek societies, and that has continued even in to this century, with things such as the one child policy in China leading many families to prefer male children over female children, but I do feel like women are being seen as more capable. In the World War, women were taking on the roles traditionally done by men and they did a great job and that’s so empowering to remember. It’s also been 100 years this year since women got the right to vote and since then there have been a lot of positive changes, and, although there is still a long way to go, hopefully we are heading in the right direction. Growing up, I was in a family with three brothers and we were all just equal. We’d always play together and I never felt any less than them or any different. When I was about 11 or 12, I started to realise that I got treated differently; there was more of a focus on my weight, on the way that I looked. I used to swim competitively and people were very critical of girls’ bodies, which made me really self-aware. I’d look at other girls’ bodies and I’d compare them to mine, which was a very warped way to think at that age, but that was just the sort of community I was in. As I got older, I started working in a men’s suit shop and I had a lot of negative experiences there. One day I was pulled aside by the manager who told me he was glad to have me there because men would buy what I said looked good on them. That was really hard for me as it made me realise that I wasn’t there because I was good at my job; I was there because I was a female and because of the way I looked. I’d worked there for a year and that made me feel like that entire time I was only there for men to look at and to make them buy things; I wasn’t there for myself, I wasn’t there because I had been working hard. I was there for a whole year, I worked hard but I never progressed, and yet, men who had been there for less time than I had managed to work their way up. I definitely noticed inherent bias, which was a difficult lesson to learn and I left because of it, because I really didn’t feel comfortable, and I’ve been more aware of it since.
It’s a difficult thing to learn that women are treated differently; it makes you question yourself and view yourself as less than men or there for men to look at, but I think that you have to take that power back. I use it to empower me now, I try to exceed in everything that I do, for myself. I didn’t see many strong women growing up, but I was aware of how hard my mum worked and some of the women around me worked, and I want to be the same; I want to work hard and get to the same positions as the successful men I saw. I want to work in politics and law, so seeing the majority of high up lawyers and barristers being men is difficult, but I know that as society is changing hopefully I’ll be able to get there myself. I think the definition and experience of being a woman has changed so much over the years. It’s definitely progressed to become a more positive thing as our society has changed. Yes, there are still setbacks, but I think our society is recognising that now and we are trying to overcome them collectively. I do think equality is something that will happen, but we need to continue to progress as a society. 100 years since women getting the vote is still fairly recent when you think about it, and if you compare our roles now to our roles in 1918, we have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. There is a definite community with women and we look out for each other; we have each other’s backs. So, although there are negative sides, there are also positive sides. Our role as women is ever-changing, I’ve found it to be a really empowering, but also difficult experience to be a woman, just because I’ve witnessed so many horrendous things, but I’ve also witnessed the beauty of being a woman. Being able to have a female community of fellow women, having women to look up to, and enjoying being a woman is very empowering and I think that we can use our differences for good.
MEG an Lon ge vi lle
think that, being a woman in this world, I haven’t really faced much ‘big’ discrimination. I’ve had an education, I’ve had opportunities, I’ve made it to university. But, while there’s nothing really big that has stood in my way, I have noticed that things are different when you’re a woman. I would often leave university early so that I could walk home before it got dark, and I’m always aware and sensitive when I’m in a pub or a club. I always have to be watching—I can’t just let go and have fun, because there’s someone there. Not always, but sometimes. Someone who doesn’t stop staring, or who walks up to you, and you’re not in the mood for that. I haven’t experienced being discriminated against, but I’m aware of the little things that keep reminding you that you always have to be watching yourself. It’s difficult because, even when you try to make plans as simple as going to your friends’ houses, you can never fully switch off. You’ve got to get yourself home. You have to be aware, and capable of defending yourself as you’re doing it. One thing I did notice when I was in school was that they started introducing a dress code for sixth form. For boys, it stayed mostly the same: trousers and a shirt. It might as well have been their school uniform. For girls, it was skirt below the knee. No strappy tops. I understand that it’s a professional dress code but it’s also as though they’re protecting their teachers and not their students. The students should be able to wear whatever they want to wear. It’s not your students’ fault if you cannot trust your teachers. You’re that age and you’re trying to figure out who you are—how you choose to present yourself is a big part of that. Girls dying their hair and having piercings is part and parcel of not really being sure who you are, or where you’re going. You’re coming closer to the end of school, when you’re going to have to go out and do something, and it’s scary. But one of the things you can control is how you look, and to have that taken away from you so that your teachers don’t stare…. It’s not the girls’ fault. They should be able to wear what they feel comfortable in, not what you feel comfortable for them to wear.
lYd i a Al l eg re tto
’ve been thinking about what part of being a woman I want to talk about, and it’s difficult. I think that, in many ways, my experience of being a woman has been extremely privileged. I will have been discriminated against many times but so many suffer it on such a scale that I likely cannot even imagine. Growing up in Italy, ever since the age of 11 or 15, I have been catcalled on the street. Sometimes it’s something as simple and innocent as “Ciao, bella”, but on other occasions the comments have been much more imaginative. When it started happening, I didn’t think much of it. It was part of the norm; it happened to all my friends, and we all had coping mechanisms or hypotheses on how to reduce the likelihood of it happening. How those middle-aged men could believe such behaviour to be appropriate and acceptable remains a mystery to me. Instead of seeing me as a child, they treated me as an object of sexual desire. After a while, what fear they might have initially caused faded as I reassured myself with phrases like, “A barking dog never bites”. In Falmouth, I felt so much safer as that never happened, until a few weeks ago. When I was sat at the Truro train station, someone threatened to rape me. It was almost disturbing how unafraid I was. I
you shouldnâ€™t have to go through any of this
lYd i a Al l eg re tto
didn’t leave; I kept sitting there, only texting my sister so that she would phone me. The accumulation of little things that I had experienced over my life had practically numbed me not just to comments on the street, but to a genuine threat. Ultimately, whatever you might say to me, I (stupidly) won’t be as scared as I should be. On a night out last year, I vastly overestimated my drinking abilities and proceeded to drink enough to blackout the entire night. And someone took advantage of that situation. Men had touched me without my consent before, but I had been sober and able to get away. This time, I had no control while it happened. But I also felt powerless in the aftermath. I had no control over the experience, because I couldn’t remember it. I didn’t know what it was I was trying to cope with and, besides, so much worse happens to women and men all over the world every day. It didn’t really seem worth anyone’s time. When I finally started processing what had happened, I kept looking online to try to define it. To try to understand what it was and if it was even anything in the first place. There was an element of it feeling as though it was my fault—no one had forced me to drink that alcohol, so surely the responsibility for the events of the night
was mine. I felt ashamed; as though I would be a disappointment to the people I care about. When I accepted that it was ultimately sexual assault, I finally managed to talk about it with a couple of friends. Even now, I have a voice in my head saying that I’m being dramatic; that I’m making a mountain out of a molehill. That it wasn’t that bad. But then I believe we should have a more open conversation about what consent is, because it really shouldn’t be a blurred line. Whether it’s harassment, assault, or worse—it’s wrong. I guess I haven’t explicitly said it so far, but what I’m trying to say is that what I have experienced has been horrid. I still carry it with me, and it still affects me from time to time. But my experiences of harassment and assault have been extremely privileged and sheltered. Not only do I have supportive friends and family I can go to, but I have support services, helplines and information available to me whenever I need them. I get to share my story and have people listen to me. However, the vast majority of victims of abuse do not have any of this and suffer through it alone. Ultimately, whatever your situation is, whether sheltered or not, my point is that you shouldn’t have to go through any of this. We shouldn’t have to cope with a lifetime of harassment. We should be allowed to live.
SARAH R E D MAN F X U PR ESI D EN T– ELECT ST UDENT EX PERI ENCE 2018– 19
’ve had moments in my life where I’ve looked in the mirror and hated what I see because I don’t live up to expectations of what a woman should look like. I’ve had moments where I’ve watched friends restrict their diets to single pieces of gum over twenty-four hour periods. I’ve had moments in lectures where my voice isn’t listened to as much as a man’s or where I’ve felt like I’m imposing on the class with my opinion. I’ve had moments where I’ve run away from a man following me home on the train and then on the platform and then on the next train and then on my walk home. I’ve had moments where, when running a session for a society, a man has commented to my co-President “why do you let the woman wear the trousers”. I’ve had moments where I’ve been sexually assaulted in clubs and then been yelled at by another woman for protesting. I’ve had moments where a friend’s told me to make more of an effort with my appearance, because no one would date a woman with no time to put on make-up. I’ve had moments where I’ve seen where a girl cut “frigid” into her skin because of the guilt she felt when she didn’t want to have sex with her boyfriend. I’ve had moments where friend after friend has told me about an experience where she was harassed or assaulted or worse. I’ve had moments in my life where, when talking about experiences in a bar, my male friend said sexism doesn’t exist.
ACKN OW L EDGE M E NT S
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Published on Mar 8, 2018
Published on Mar 8, 2018
Voices is a collaborative project between FXU, Her Campus and The Falmouth Anchor, providing a platform for students whose voices might prev...