Cambodia’s “Sile Unsafe abortions in Cambodia pose
Welcome to That’s What She Said!
Published by the Bristol Feminist Society. This is the second edition of what will hopefully be an eternal institution as long as Bristol University exists, or patriarchy demands. Our propaganda strategy is threefold: 1. The publication you are currently holding in your hands 2. Our weekly Burst radio show FemFM 3. Our feminist events. If you want to find out more about our shenanigans, find us on facebook at Bristol Univeristy Feminist Society, email us at email@example.com, or try to spot us on campus. Happy Reading, The Editorial Team Alessandra Berti Eleanor Humphrey Georgina Gittens Cover Image: Pussy Power Pop, Jennifer Sullivan, 2007.
Sitting cross-legged on the wooden floor of the Cambodian Prostitute’s Union, in Phnom Penh, Thida describes in a matter of fact tone the two abortions that she had in 2010. “I was afraid that I would get hurt if I had an abortion at the health clinic and my friend told me that I shouldn’t go there” she explained, “I thought that they would open my womb and they would hurt me. Taking the medicine seemed simpler.” Thida spent $7 on three pills that the shopkeeper promised would terminate her forty day pregnancy in seven days time. Eleven days later, Thida was forced to go to her local health centre with a severe “burning” in her abdomen. The pills had induced an incomplete abortion and left her with a $40 medical bill. “I have sorrow over this” she tells me. “I was scared of the medical doctor, but now I know that this is the best thing to do. The clinic was clean and they helped me to look after my health”. Unsafe abortion is common practice in Cambodia and health services report treatment of around 32,000 cases of ‘botched’ abortions each year. The reasons for this centre around three themes. The first is sporadic service availability. International Project Assistance Services (IPAS) report that only 47% of hospitals, 10% of high-level and 5% of low-level health centres have abortion services. The second is the disproportionate cost of safe abortion in compari-
nt” Threat to Maternal Health risks to women’s health and endanger lives, reports Lara Snowdon son to income. Average per capita income is approximately $27 per month and safe abortions range from $10 - $15 for an abortifacient pill, $20$40 for a surgical abortion in the first trimester, to over $100 for an abortion at the “big hospital” in the second trimester. The third is an acute lack of awareness about abortion services and the legality of abortion among the general population. Population Services International reports that 80% of women in Cambodia believe that abortion is illegal and alarmingly 40% of providers from hospitals believe that elective abortion is not permitted by the Ministry of Health. Keo Sichan, a Programme Manager from the Cambodian Women’s Development Agency, and her colleague, outreach worker Toni Masy, describe some of the most common practices of unsafe abortion in Cambodia. They first describe a frequent practice for women in later stages of pregnancy. Using violent hand gestures and wearing a pained expression, Masy describes how traditional practitioners will feel the women’s abdomen to find the neck of the foetus. A strong and precise movement will then break the neck. The foetus dies inside the womb and the woman miscarries. They then describe “Chinese medicine” and what appears to be its counterpart; “Thai herbal medicine”, which has developed the local name “Eleven Tigers”, perhaps hinting at its strength. This costs only thirty cents, comes in the form of a white powder
which is often mixed with alcohol, and is supposed to induce a miscarriage. The final method that they discuss is put across with desperation: “They jump off the bed. The table. They throw themselves down the stairs. They have no money, so they find a way to make it happen”. Maternal mortality currently stands at 461 per 100,000 live births (in comparison the UK’s ratio of just over 8 per 100,000) and unsafe abortions contribute up to 25% of all maternal deaths. Similar statistics, replicated worldwide, have caused the World Health Organisation to describe the practice of unsafe abortion as a “silent pandemic” which will continue to increase unless access to safe abortion and contraception are put into place and further strengthened. In Thida’s case an ill-informed lay culture and poverty prevented her from seeking a safe abortion for the pregnancies that she could not keep. Her experience made her realise the devastating effects of unsafe abortion and she is now a peer educator. Cambodia does have the commitment and the policy but a huge gap looms where appropriate and realistically priced services are lacking, there is a distrust of health services and medical staff and the general public lack accurate information on the law and available services. Lara Snowdon has recently returned from an internship with CWDA in Cambodia
Interview with Serey Phal
Lara Snowdon and Laura Roberts intverview Serey Phal The Cambodian Women’s Development Agency is a small non-governmental organisation with a strong feminist agenda. The organisation aims to promote self-sufficiency in Cambodian communities and the advancement of women’s rights. They run a range of programmes including an anti-trafficking programme, and a variety of projects. Serey Phal founded the organisation in 1993 and it is now one of the longest serving women’s rights organisations in Cambodia. Why did you found the CWDA? After the war in Cambodia there were many widows and very few women had access to education. I want society to understand the burden that women bear. If we support women and raise the status of women, we empower society also. If we can resolve the burdens that women bear we can resolve problems in society. If I was alone I could do nothing but I found myself as part of a group of committed women, women who were devoted to women’s causes. As with anything, alone we can do very little, but together we can make a change. What have been the most significant changes over the past decade for Cambodian women? We can see more and more women participate in a variety of fields, especially in leadership. Although this is a very small number compared to men, women’s participation is increasing. Women used to be quiet and dare not
speak but now they are using their voice. This is one of the changes I am proud of, we see young, brave women in higher education. What would you say are the major challenges for Cambodian women today? Cultural factors still impact our lives, especially the culture of masculinity which means that violence against women is seen to be acceptable. There is also a lack of encouragement for women’s participation in higher education, decision making, leadership and politics at all levels. If we can overcome these challenges we can see a change in society. What is your message for Cambodian women today? “We can do’’ is such an important motto. We should believe in ourselves and believe in change and teach our beloved children to speak out and not be shy. Important changes in society and culture take generations so in order for society to develop we must implant an empowered attitude in early childhood. Civil society and government must support, encourage and provide all means to our children in order to make a change.
Laura Roberts is studying for a Masters in Gender and International Relations at Bristol.
Women Unite! Reclaim the Night A report from Bristol’s third annual march
On Friday 18 November around three hundred women and men gathered at College Green to march against violence against women. Reclaim the Night (RTN) is held as part of a global movement to end sexual violence and demands the right for women to walk the streets at night free from fear of sexual harassment, abuse and violence. The march, organised by Bristol Feminist Network, aims to encourage education around consent and respect; improve justice for victims and survivors of rape, abuse, and sexual assault; and to support vital services for victims and survivors of rape, abuse and sexual assault. Marchers argue that asking what a victim was wearing, drinking, or how she was behaving at the time of a rape suggests that there is fault to be found and ignores the fact that a person chose to attack her and be violent against her. The route taken went from College Green via the City Centre to Stokes Croft, and ended at Portland Square in St. Pauls. Banners held by marchers ranged from “Stop telling us ‘Don’t get raped’, tell them ‘don’t rape!’”, “One in four, No More” in reference to the statistic according to which one in four women will experience sexual violence in her lifetime, to the straightforward ‘Fuck Rape’ and ‘Stop Victim Blaming’. Chants accompanied the march:
“What do we want? Safe streets. When do we want them? Now!” “Whatever we wear, wherever we go. Yes means yes and no means no!” voicing criticism of victim blaming. RTN marches first started in England in November 1977 when the Leeds Revolutionary Feminist Group called for vigils across the UK in response to the handling of the Yorkshire ripper case by the police. Between 1975 and 1980 Peter Sutcliffe sexually attacked and murdered 13 women. Police reaction was slow, partially because a lot of the victims were prostitutes, and ultimately told women that it was their job to protect themselves by not going out in public. Organisers of Bristol’s RTN saw these comments reflected in police advice to women not to go out alone after dark in the aftermath of Jo Yeates’ murder last year. The march ended with a rally in the square, with speakers including Nimko Ali from Daughters of Eve, a charity dedicated to ending Female Genital Mutilation; Chitra Nagarajan from No Women No Peace, who spoke about the impact of the invasion on Afghan women; and Lesley Welch from Bristol City Council, who spoke about a woman murdered by her husband only a few days previously. The speeches ended on a positive note: do whatever you can, no matter how small, to make a difference.
Re-engineering the gender balan Laura Ho looks into the gender ratio of the engineering department Bristol university was the first in the country to admit women and men on equal footing. Its student body is currently 52.2% female and 47.8% male. So why is it that only 17% of all student engineers are women?
environment”. Levels of women drop to around 10% at Senior Lecturer level and around 5% at Professorial level. Emily confirms, “I have only one woman lecturer - for business studies - and the rest are men.”
I posed this question to a friend, Emily, who is one of the even rarer breed of female mechanical engineers. She replied, “I think maths is one of the keys as to why women don’t do engineering because they are naturally inclined to be more imaginative rather than logical. Also, the interests of women lie elsewhere - young girls are more interested in dolls at a younger age whereas more boys prefer cars!”
Accordingly, the Engineering Department has been trying to increase its intake of female undergraduates and academic staff. The Department of Engineering Mathematics claims that “particular consideration is always given to female applicants” when interviewing for academic positions. This form of positive discrimination may help with the statistics, and the superficial surface of the problem, but surely it is not a lack of male encouragement which ultimately stops women from applying for roles in SET academia. Societal expectations for women to raise children while (if they really want to) having a career on the side is more the issue. Long working hours, minimal holiday and lack of maternity opportunities all block women’s path to academic success.
The idea that women have a stronger right side of the brain and men have a more dominant left side of the brain is an interesting one that has been highly researched and debated but is not, in this case, the crux of the matter. Ratios of women to men are much higher in most of the other sciences, and even in mathematics. 2011 Alevel results also show that female students outperformed male students in science, engineering and technology (SET) subjects such as Biology, Design and Technology and ICT. So should the Engineering department at Bristol being doing more to encourage women engineers? According to a 2008 report, the Engineering department is, “fully aware of the male-dominated working
Be that as it may, the Department is also taking this into account. The Department for Engineering Mathematics have “stressed a delivery culture rather than an attendance culture” and the Engineering Department as a whole has also adopted an initiative entitled the ‘Women’s Returners Scheme’ which provides for a period of protected research time for women returning from maternity leave to enable them to re-establish their research
n ce career . In 2006, 83% of women who had taken advantage of the scheme said that it has had a positive impact on their research. Despite these efforts, a quote I found on the Bristol University Engineering Department’s website raises a little concern regarding their attitude towards women. In it Georges Pompidou states “There are three possible roads to ruin - women, gambling and technology. The most pleasant is with women, the quickest is with gambling, but the surest is with technology.” Despite being completely uninspiring, if I were a female UCAS applicant considering applying to Bristol for Engineering, this would make me think twice. Of course, this could be seen as harmless banter and my point may be taken as pedantic but a similar quote, perhaps describing men as a ‘road to ruin’ would have no place in a sociology prospectus. It is also a reflection of the audience that the Engineering department assumes it is appealing to. An engineering student I spoke to mentioned no institutionalised sexism, but expressed concern about a few incidents with a lecturer who refrained from discussiong a lecture slide on women in the presence of female students, and making remarks about ‘taking your mother’s advice and studying English Literature.’ Be that as it may, it seems that
despite efforts by the university on a local scale and the Royal Academy of Engineering on a national scale, women in engineering are still a rarity. In academia this may be explained by the impracticalities experienced with pairing academic life with family life. However, this does not explain why so few women apply for engineering in the first place. This links back to Emily’s point that girls play with dolls while boys play with cars. If you walk into any high street toy shop you will immediately be hit by the clash between the pink section for girls and the blue (dotted with army print) section for boys. Evidently, all girls want to do is dress up and fantasise about Prince Charming saving them. And, obviously, if a boy wants to grow up with any chance of becoming a man he must play with the biggest, most violent looking trucks and monsters. I spoke to Rebecca Campbell, a second year chemical engineer at Newcastle University. She said that, as her grandmother was an engineer she “never thought it was weird, although many did”. However, Rebecca’s mother is a strong believer in women’s rights and Rebecca was never allowed to play with Barbies as a child. Make of that what you will. Laura Ho is a Philosophy & Economics student, who can’t ignore the gender imbalances in her own lectures.
Eleanor Humphrey argues that British abortion rights are safe, for the Threats to abortion are much discussed at least yearly an article can be found detailing how worried pro-choice advocates should be. But what has legally changed in the years since abortion was made legal? Whether the act of abortion is legal or illegal is not the end of the story, provision is equally important. Three attempts have been made to change the British 1967 Abortion Act. The first, in 1987, attempted to set the limit at 18 weeks, and was filibustered out of parliament. The second, an amendment to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act (HFEA), 1990, brought the limit down to 24 weeks, but set no limit in the case of foetal abnormality. The third, proposed as a series of amendments to the revised HFEA to reduce the limit to anything from 12 to 22 weeks, failed. In 44 years of legal abortion, the legality of abortion itself has never been challenged; and only three bills or amendments have tried to change the limit, a mere one of which has succeeded. The British Medical Association voted in June 2011 to not campaign for a reduction in the limit to 20 weeks, as its members believed there was no medical reason to do so. Parliamentary convention dictates that a vote on abortion is never proposed by the Government or opposition, but is instead brought by a backbencher. The vote is free, in that no party imposes a whip on its MPs – if this were not the case no Catholic
candidate would stand for a party with a pro-abortion stance. The 1967 Act was proposed by a Liberal backbencher, and although it did receive the support of the Wilson government, the government did not require its members to vote in favour of the bill. Any proposal to change the law on abortion by any government, or any member of a government, would create uproar within parliament. Talk of the threat to the very existence of our abortion rights ignores a very obvious abortion rights issue on our doorstep. Abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland, except in cases when the mother’s life is at risk. The 1967 Act specifically excluded Northern Ireland, assuming that it would make its own provision when the issue came up. Around 70 abortions are performed there each year, but what counts as a risk to the mother’s life is not clearly defined, as this right dates back to the 1929 Infant Life Preservation Act. It never did, and when direct rule returned, the British parliament never addressed the discrepancy. Since 1967, over 54,000 Northern Irish women have come to the England and Wales to have abortions. 1,343 women came in 2007 alone, a figure that does not include those who went to Scotland. Diane Abbott tabled an amendment to the 2008 HFEA Act to rectify the situation, saying that “maintaining different laws is like saying that women in Northern Ireland are second class citizens.” The amendment was timed out during
moment. debate and never voted on. Of course, abortion being legal is not enough – it must also be accessible, for the physical and mental well-being of women seeking a termination. There have been several attempts to make an abortion harder to access in recent years, including the recent unsuccessful proposal by Nadine Dorries to change the rules on the provision of abortion counselling. In 2011, BPAS, an abortion and family planning provider, were replaced on an advisory board on sexual health by LIFE, an anti-abortion organisation. These, however, are changes in attitude and official guidance that can be pushed through without a vote in parliament, and while not affecting a woman’s right to a termination, could affect the provision of abortion services. It is here that the availability of good information about abortion to those who really need it is decided, and where a careful eye needs to be kept. Vigilance is required, especially when electing MPs who will vote freely on the subject, but discussion of the supposed illiberality of our abortion laws - condemning the fact that abortion is not available ‘on demand’ as the letter of the law requires that a woman’s life be in danger - risks any genuine future threat to the availability of abortion not being taken seriously. Abortion is in practice available on demand, as a 2003 House of Lords ruling shows: continuing a pregnancy
is more dangerous than having a termination, medically speaking. The issues around abortion that currently require attention, such as provision in Northern Ireland, better access to early abortions, access to contraception and access without parental consent for those under the age of 18, risk being ignored in favour of an approach that says the very right itself is currently at risk. In taking this tack, we ignore the least vocal, those who need their right to abortion protected most.
Eleanor Humphrey is a third year Physics and Philosophy student, who enjoys endlessly arguing points, the more nuanced the better.
The Obedient Wives Club
Harpreet Sekhon asks what the advent of a conservative women’s group means for feminism in Malaysia In a world dominated, governed, and sculpted by men, Emmeline Pankhurst, a suffragette in early twentieth century Britain, was instrumental in creating the world in which we live today; which at least in some Western cultures appears to be less gender biased than it used to be.
In Malaysia, a Muslim state, there have been some slow but gradual advances for women’s rights.The right of Malaysian women to vote was a part of the constitution when they gained independence from the British in 1957. There were demands for better education for girls, amendments to rape laws, and the passing of domestic violence legislation. However, all this took years of fighting for by women’s groups and Malaysian women today are still largely unprotected by law for instance marital rape is not recognised. Culture and religion have been two crucial barriers for women’s rights: in Asian cultures and the Muslim faith, a woman’s main role is as wife and mother; to obey her husband, the head of the household, and to look after him and the children despite her job. It is shocking then when a group called ‘The Obedient Wives Club’ comes out of the woodwork and perverts this belief, to make it one of complete submission to their husbands. They preach that a Muslim husband should take multiple wives to avoid dallying with prostitutes when his wife
cannot give him sex – for example if she is pregnant. They also teach that it is a wife’s duty to sleep with her husband whenever and wherever he wants even if she “is riding a camel” at the time. The young wives that are recruited into this group by marrying men associated with it are even given cooking lessons solely to please their husbands and thus keep the family stable. It is frightening to think that the slow but constant swell of feminism in Malaysia may regress to a trickle because of the anti-feminist message these women are spreading. It is also alarming to contemplate what this will mean for the daughters of the women who join the club. Sisters in Islam, an activist group dedicated to promoting a more modern Islam that recognizes women’s rights, have spoken out against the Obedient Wives Club saying that they are “distorting and abusing the Quran’s teachings”. The Malaysian government has also banned the ‘Islamic Sex’ book written and distributed by this group because its contents infringed Malaysian censorship laws and because the group has been linked to al-arqam, an Islamic religious sect banned in 1994 by the Malaysian government. The Obedient Wives Club president however, has denied any association with al-arqam. Harpreet Sekhon is a Malaysian studying Medicine at the University of Bristol.
Revolution Girl Style Now!
Alice Phillips on the history of a uniquely feminist musical genre The roots of the music genre Riot Grrrl lie mainly in punk, the first major subculture where women were allowed to truly get involved. They weren’t just Teddy Boys or the girlfriends of Mods, they were an integral part of the movement who looked and sounded just as cool as their male counterparts, if not cooler. After all it was a woman, Vivienne Westwood, who was instrumental in creating the signature punk look. Punk gave women a place to be angry and to be themselves. If the Sex Pistols were the start of punk, Bikini Kill was the start of Riot Grrrl. While bands like Babes In Toyland and Hole created a similar raw sound in the early 90s, their music was not as overtly political. Music, art and performance were all key elements of the Riot Grrrl movement. For Tobi Vail of Bikini Kill ‘revolution girl style now’ was “our idea of just getting all these girls to play instruments and change everything”. She describes playing shows as being “like a war because guys tried to beat us up” and that people either “loved us or hated us”. Bikini Kill’s lyrics were certainly controversial, and often overtly sexual, dealing with rape and sexual repression. Bratmobile, arguably the other definitive Riot Grrrl band, handed out zines at local shows and had weekly meetings where women could share experiences and support each other, similar to the feminist groups of the sixties and seventies.
The small scene in Olympia spread, with Huggy Bear in the UK pushing Riot Grrrl into the public consciousness with an appearance on ‘The Word’. The media were quick to judge Riot Grrrls as extremists, and its true that they were not always good at preaching equality. Jo Johnson from Huggy Bear is quoted as saying, “Man-hating is simply the attitude that most men suck, and they do”. Such a quote shows the immaturity of the movement, as did their self-imposed media blackout in 1992. What was the use of this revolution, if you could only take part if you were part of the elite, if you lived in Olympia? While they preached “every girl is a riot grrrl” the movement was inevitably cliquey as well as predominantly white and middle class, and the original scene was based in colleges, alienating those who were not able to pay for college fees or music lessons. Despite this, Riot Grrrl was an important contribution to the punk scene, and its influence can still be felt today. Beth Ditto of The Gossip cites Bikini Kill as her favourite band and the movement has inspired over a hundred ‘Ladyfests’ around the world, which pioneer feminist music and art.
Alice Phillips studies politics at Bristol, and plays in the Riot Grrrl inspired band Drunken Butterfly.
Jess Wingrad on ladies who lunch and women who work Returning home from the summer holidays this year, I was sitting on a plane feeling the obligatory ache to be home in an instant without having to suffer through the next twelve hours praying that the guy next to me was not a talker. The captain of the plane piped in with the monotonous announcement welcoming everyone on board. Nothing about this announcement was out of the ordinary yet my neighbour chimed in loudly that he felt uncomfortable with the flight and wanted to disembark from the plane. Why such concerns? Because the pilot was a woman. As a student I have been doing my research into the competitive world of internships, CVs, interviews and careers and although there are factors which will restrict my choice of industry, my sex will in no way be a hindrance. Pre-1900, the role of women in English society was to find a husband, pro-create and be faithful and obedient to their husbands thanks to the suffragette movement this role has been revised and women are no longer considered secondclass citizens. The examples of women such as Aung San Suu Kyi, who led the Burmese democracy movement in the late 80s, should be followed and admired by women universally. Yet, Aung San Suu Kyi herself said that “it cannot be doubted that in most countries today, women in comparison to men are still underprivileged”. Peo-
ple today think that social stereotypes about women in certain jobs are non-existent, especially in the West, but the comments of that man on the plane suggest otherwise. Despite alterations in how women are regarded in legal terms, there is still evidence that the social consciousness influences women to choose certain jobs simply because they are traditionally dominated by women. These stereotypes rely on assigning certain characteristics to women, to name a few: women are naturally caring,gentle, calm, emotional and feeble. These gender essentialist comments are hurting men equally by suggesting that men do not possess these qualities. In the same way that women should not be assigned to certain jobs, so men should not be excluded from them. I completely understand that there are physical limits to what job a person may do ,however, these are not defined by gender. This should not mean that I cannot hope to become the next Angela Merkel or Condoleezza Rice. It should be matters of intellect and determination which decide people’s futures.
Jess Wingrad is an Ancient History student, who truly hopes that she’ll live to see sexism become an embarrassing memory.
The Art of Asking
Alessandra Berti thinks feminism is about answering these questions
Why do you think your mother has never told you about feminism? Are you concerned about the underrepresentation of women in politics or do you think it has no effect on policies? Do you think having an all female parliament will have a negative effect on men? Why do we question the bias of female-only shortlists but are unconcerned about male-only shortlists? Do you think that portraying women in a sexualised way has no effect on the acceptance of violence against women? Do you think that you can see someone as a sexual object and simultaneously respect their humanity? Why is the sexualisation of women used as a narrative of submission? Why is it acceptable for men to have hairs on their legs but it isn’t for women? What is the essential woman? Do I want to meet her? If you think the gender pay gap is down to choice, do you think it is questionable that the work traditionally carried out by women is valued less in society? Would you advocate paying women for raising children? And should women be paid for washing the dishes if we remunerate cleaners to do the same job? Is there a price tag on a parent? Are you willing to support a movement that asks you to question and give up your privilege for equality? If you are a woman, are you willing to question your own privilege? Do you think all oppression is interconnected? Or do you believe in a hierarchy of issues (first we need to solve pov-
erty!)? Who invented patriarchy? Why don’t we know about women’s history? Are we afraid of strong women? Is a lack of role models something we should be concerned about? Do you ever catch yourself being surprised when you read about a Professor and her work? Do you think the lack of female roles in theatre and literature and movies has an impact on our psyches? Are women being misrepresented or unrepresented in the media? Do we have a situation of cultural femicide on our hands? Is gender a useful unit of analysis? If I told you that gender was a construct would you agree? What are the advantages of essentialising gender? Can you tell me what the importance is of the difference between men and women? Where can men and women get together and talk about gender roles and how they affect and maybe divide us? Are we really from different planets? Why has sexual freedom come to look so much like sexual repression? What does female sexuality look like? Why is it depicted as a negative thing? What are women’s issues? Are women’s issues problems everyone creates but only women have to solve? Are men’s issues problems everyone creates and everyone solves? Is feminism a women’s issue? Alessandra Berti thinks that achieving gender equality is not about men versus women but about a system which both men and women are complicit in upholding, and where ‘everyone always has a choice’ in ending it.
If Penguins Can Do It... Lizzy Szekely’s mums, dad, and feminism. In 2009, two male penguins adopted a baby chick! Delightful. Can two women be trusted to do the same? There is a strong argument that same sex parenting is not in the best interests of the child. Kristi Hamrick of the Family Research Council puts the point bluntly: “A child needs a male role model and a female role model.” Furthermore, concern surrounding the importance of fathers casts a dark shadow over the suitability of the lesbian-parenting unit. Henry Biller’s ‘Fathers and Families: Paternal Factors in Child Development,’ includes a bibliography of almost 1,000 separate articles or books on the positive effects of fathers on children. Can women raise a child without a Daddy Penguin in sight? I am no authority, but I have some anecdotal evidence to offer. I have been raised in a household headed by my lesbian mother since I was six, with a lesbian stepmother since I was 14. My dad lives several hundred miles away, but was very much involved, albeit more through Skype than washing my P.E. kit. I was raised in a feminist paradise. There is feminist propaganda up in our bathroom. We own three hardback copies of Bridget Jones’ Diary. Gynaecology was discussed freely. Abortion, contraception and sexual politics were discussed over dinner. We do not own bathroom scales as they are ‘oppressing’, and the toilet seat is quite simply never up.
My brother, my sister and I are happy (ish), successful (ish) and normal (ish). We are not criminals, drug addicts or Tories. I have never been ashamed of my mother or my stepmother; have never been bullied because of my family; am happy and proud to be female; and think that two women are capable of being a great parenting team for the simple reason that mine were. But we have a Daddy Penguin, who I spoke to every day of my upbringing; who taught us about football and religion; who showed us that the pun is by far the most sophisticated and hilarious comedic device available to humans. Would we have been alright without him? The feminist in me wants to say yes, and its probably true, but maybe having a Dad-sort around wouldn’t be a bad idea for lesbian couples with children. I suppose the real question is, what did my brother make of all this girl-talk when growing up? I texted him: “Do you think lesbians can raise boys with no dad around?” Reply: “Probs. Did you take all of the Sopranos DVDs to uni with you? biiiitch.” Clearly this is an area to be explored further, but I can’t help but think lesbians should be given a little more credit when their parenting abilities are scrutinized. Lizzy Szekely is a social policy student who loves nothing more than a good ‘that’s what she said’ joke, the cruder the better.
Ménage à Moi
Rosslyn McNair on why wanking is a feminist issue Women like to wank. There, I’ve said it. It’s even alliterative. Female masturbation is a completely normal part of being a healthy, sexually aware woman. And yet, no girl will have a (or rather be willing to tell you) hilarious anecdote about bashing one out under the table as her maths teacher bent over, or getting caught in a compromising situation with a tin of baked beans and a box of tissues. When girls are together, they are typically open about absolutely everything. From the tiny goblins that cause havoc in your uterus every month, to shaving relating mishaps and the time that one night stand guy wanted you to meow like a kitten and call him ‘Dr KitKat’. But even with that level of honesty, it feels like the subject of female masturbation is off limits. For some reason the idea that a woman can get sexual pleasure on her own is seen as a dirty ‘hush, hush’ topic, like crying in public or drowning kittens. The simple fact is there is a stigma against a woman’s indulgence of her sexuality that there isn’t for men. To me, this suggests that women are still only perceived to be as chaste and innocent as a Cath Kidston cooking apron; or that sexual activity is to be performed solely under the supervision of a man. Masturbation is about sexual confidence, knowing what you want sexually and being fearless about achieving it. And I think that society really struggles with the radically full frontal image
of feminine sexuality. Consequently masturbation is something that many women feel ashamed that they participate in and would certainly under no circumstances discuss openly with anyone else. Compare and contrast this to the borderline self indulgent wankgasm of honesty with which men can express their sexual needs, and you see that that the taboo around female masturbation is in itself a form of sexual inequality. Sex it seems divides women in a way that it doesn’t divide men. We compete against each other for the best mate, we bitch about those of us who succeed a bit too much for our liking and we scorn women who we perceive to be too overtly sexual. Society’s view of female masturbation can be seen as a microcosm for society’s view of female sexuality in general. Madeline Albright said that there was “a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women” and in terms of this issue she’s absolutely right. We need to loosen up and not condemn ourselves or other women for either the primal possession of a sex drive or how they get their sexual kicks, whether it be rabbit shaped or rugby player shaped. Personally, I advise we keep the Cath Kidston apron on, because things could get messy. Rosslyn Mcnair is a firm believer in sexual liberty and equality even if that just manifests itself in phallic shaped jokes.
Walking in Peace
Street harassment is still a real issue, writes Ruth Davies The other day I went out in the city, and since it was stiflingly hot, I decided to wear shorts. This may not seem particularly shocking, but apparently wearing shorts in public on a hot day gives men the right to say obscene things to you. On at least six occasions that day - I gave up counting men of various ages said things to me as I walked past, ranging from ‘you look stunning love’ to ‘I’d give you one sexy’. This is street harassment, and is all too common. The British public are supposed to be reserved and reluctant to talk to each other, but all our social conventions seem to go out of the window when a woman or girl walks past a man in the street. There will be those who say ‘if you don’t want people to notice you then you shouldn’t wear revealing clothes’ but there is a problem with this statement. I don’t have a problem with being noticed nor do I have a problem with people looking at me. But there is a huge difference between someone ‘noticing’ you and the kind of obscene remarks that get thrown at women on the street every day. It is completely inappropriate for someone to invade a stranger’s personal space and make crude sexual suggestions to them. Another problem with the suggestion that women who wear revealing clothes are ‘asking for’ street harassment is that it doesn’t just happen when you’re wearing revealing clothes. I was walking to the shop
wearing jeans and a loose grey Tshirt, with no make-up on and neglected hair. A car full of young men went past, and the driver shouted something at me through his rolled down window. Clearly this is not primarily about attractiveness, it is something that men do in order to make themselves feel powerful. Even though it is common, it still catches me off guard and I feel humiliated and insulted, and certainly not complimented. The idea that men think it is acceptable to treat women in this way betrays a view that we are not in fact human beings to be treated with respect, but pieces of flesh parading around. It is part of the macho culture that makes men think they have the right to reduce us to our physical attributes, with no regard for how it makes us feel. Obviously I am not suggesting that all men behave like this. There are plenty of men who never would, but very few who will call out their mates when they do it. If men want to stop being viewed as sexist pigs, they need to take a stand on street harassment. They need to realise how degrading and humiliating it is, and not just put it down to ‘banter’ with the lads. However far we have come in recent years, women will never be truly equal until we can walk down the street without being intimidated and harassed. Ruth Davies is a second year English student, lifelong feminist, and UBU’s Women’s Officer.
Ping Pong - Just Wrong Megan Stodel’s experience of Thai sex shows
Oh, come on – everybody goes to a ping pong show in Bangkok.” I am in Thailand, and I have heard this sentence more times than I care to count. It does seem to be true though. I can’t walk down Koa Sahn road without being accosted at least twice to ask if I’d perhaps be interested in attending one. It’s not confined to the seedy old men who shuffle the streets ogling the local women; in fact, it’s embraced by the young, the cool, male and female, who go because – well, because everybody goes. For the uninformed, a ping pong show involves but is not limited to women holding and shooting out objects from their vaginas. Obviously, these include ping pongs, but also used at times are items such as razor blades, live frogs, or cigarettes that are ‘smoked’. Unsurprisingly, women have been seriously injured in this line of work. It is unusual, certainly, and this might be the draw, or the reason why so many people seem to think it as socially acceptable. But we should face up to what ping pong shows really mean for the women involved. Too many people think that these women have a choice (if they think about the women at all). Some performers have been trafficked others do it after realising that they cannot make a living wage otherwise. Some women in rural areas are promised an unspeci-
fied lucrative job; but once they are in the city and find out the reality of their situation, they are forced to work to pay for their transport – and then their room – and then their meals. They are kept dependent on their so-called employees, in a trick all-too-familiar in the sex industry. Because the work is so shameful there is often a reluctance to seek help from their families since that would involve divulging the kind of work they carry out. Most of those who attend ping pong shows are Western tourists, and would probably not visit sex shows in their home countries. It’s acceptable because they are on holiday, and probably also because the women in the shows they watch are from South East Asia and ‘exotic’. The shows encourage racial barriers, and encourage people watching to objectify not just women, but specifically South East Asian women. The shows wouldn’t exist without tourist demand. It’s hard to resist peer pressure, but if you go to Bangkok, make sure you don’t go to one of these horrible and damaging shows, and if you know somebody going, try to tell them the truth. Most people have never thought about what really happens; I hope that if they knew, they would exercise their privilege to choose and boycott ping pong shows. Megan Stodel is a former Bristol student.
Hip Hop: Hate it or Love it
Azeezat Johnson investigates her relationship with hip hop I used to love mainstream hip hop. Listening to Eminem talk about his dreams of killing his ex-wife, or 50 Cent’s control over various women as the ‘pimp’, infuriated me but didn’t make me want to cut my ties with the genre. This changed when I heard Bridget Grey’s poem ‘My Letter to Hip Hop’ and started to have a conflicting relationship with a genre that so far had me lip-synching every rhyme. The controversies are not new – the objectification of women has been witnessed again and again. Other than the elderly mother/innocent daughter who are adored and revelled, women in these young rappers’ age group, have any number of phrases used to demean them: Bs, Ho’s, freaks, gold diggers, etc. These derogatory roles limit female characteristics to that of a sexual nature and no more. This is furthered by the women who are used (and yes, I mean USED) in music videos where their body parts are zoomed into and fetishized. This continues to support a society where women and girls are told that the only important goal worth aspiring to is that of sexiness and limited patriarchal notions of beauty. There is also a clearly dangerous image of masculinity that is sold to young boys. In order to be a ‘man’ you need to be strong, virile, emotionless, willing to dominate over women and other men through the threat and the use of violence. If we look at where hip hop stems from, the history of enslaved Black men who clearly suffered under systems of oppres-
sion, who were/are living in ghettos where opportunities are scarce and choices are few, this helps us understand the context under which these empty characters were developed. In order to escape that oppressive reality they assert their existence and independence in the one way that has become acceptable and expected in our society; they assert their right to be “men”. If you don’t do this, then you’re (unsurprisingly) put back into the category of effeminate that colonisers and oppressors alike used to describe oppressed men. However, this is not excusing their oppression of other people. bell hooks has spoken extensively on how this form of ‘freedom to be a Man’ contradicts any true freedom that oppressed communities could hope for; using extreme versions of manhood to assert yourself may assist in alleviating your position temporarily, but it does not and cannot permanently change oppression. But the real problem I have is much deeper than any rapper. Michael Eric Dyson asks why we look to these 20-something year old rappers as pseudo-activists rather than individuals who were looking for any way to make money and improve their lot in life. It can’t be about them anymore; we have to see them as symptomatic of a much larger problem of oppression in society. Even with these arguments, friends who are better versed in the history
Last Word by Cynthia Rodríguez
and sociology of hip hop would point out the painful truths that the music does speak of at times. You only need to listen to Jay-Z’s Minority Report to hear the anguish felt towards the treatment of fellow African-Americans following Hurricane Katrina. For me personally, Nas as a self-educated rapper who speaks so fluidly about his experiences and the reality of the ghettoization of the young black mind is a powerful story that cannot be ignored. I guess this is where hip hop scholars would divide the genre into two, between conscientious hip hop (Nas, Immortal Technique, Dead Prez) and mainstream hip hop (Snoop Dogg, 50 cent - you know it when you hear it). And so while holding both accountable for the oppression which they are implicit in, to completely dismiss and ignore the harsh reality that conscientious hip hop artists portray would be choosing to remain ignorant about the social inequalities that inform their lyrics because they are so difficult, controversial and conflicting. This is my dilemma; their content pulls me between feeling for them as people dealing with a system of oppression themselves, and hating them for putting me in the position of having to listen to their (at times) explicitly oppressive lyrics in order to get to that truth. Azeezat has just finished a Masters and is currently dreaming up new ways to make copious amounts of tv-watching relevant to her academic pursuits.
You know who I want to boycott? Naomi Wolf. Her book, The Beauty Myth, was a light-bulb moment for many young feminists. Maybe she’s the reason you fight for gender equality now. But do you remember Julian Assange? Well, Wolf defended him against accusations of rape and sexual assault. Never thinking about the victims’ well-being, she went as far as writing on The Guardian that the ‘sex-crime accusers deserve to be named’. I don’t care how relevant Wikileaks is in spreading hot gossip about world leaders, to challenge the anonymity of the accuser just because Assange is a famous man and incapable of rape is bullshit. The other day I was having breakfast with some people. One of them said he only liked Star Wars because he wanted to shag Hayden Christensen. Someone mentioned it would not be possible because of Hayden’s preferences. This guy’s answer: ‘It would if I raped him, but it wouldn’t count as rape because he would like it’. Is that the kind of mentality we want to continue festering? Rape against men is not less dangerous than rape against women. In both cases lives are ruined and mental stability threatened. P.S.: stop using the phrase ‘Facebook rape’. It’s offensive and annoying.
We would like to thank The Alumni Foundation for their generous grant which has enabled this magazine to be published, all the writers who have submitted articles and shared their stories and opinions, everyone who submitted art, and last but not least the Unionâ€™s Info Point team for accommodating us for several planning meetings.
The Autumn 2011 edition of Bristol University's Feminist Society magazine 'That's What She Said' with features, comment, art and culture and...