Ann Jones – Access Contact

I am Ann, proudly deaf sign language user, communicating by lip reading, notes and lots of tech. In the current climate I feel strongly that we have an established group who can include and support disabled feminists. I hope that feminists who have mobility or sensory disabilities will make contact with us and that we can find ways to work together.
Let’s show that united we are powerful.

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Communications Officer- Rachael Holter

Hello, my name is Rachael and I’m pleased to be taking on the role of Communications officer for SFN. I have only been involved with the group for a short while but I’m very committed to taking SFN forward by improving how we communicate with members and potential members. It is vital that SFN is accessible to all who are interested in feminism and the work we do. I believe that our new committee structure will help us in our work towards making the Solent region and the world a better place to be a woman.

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Co-chair and Treasurer – Sarah Bland

Hi all, my name is Sarah and I’ve taken on two roles in the new committee, one as co-chair and one as treasurer.  I’ve been an active member of SFN for just over two years and am very excited about the year ahead.  We have a few ongoing campaigns and no doubt new ones will pop up over the coming months, and with the committee now in place I believe we’ll have our most productive year yet!
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New Committee

On Sunday the 17th of March we held our AGM, where among other very important things we elected a new committee! Caroline Storey and Sarah Bland where appointed Co-Chairs, Charlie Dacke as Secretary, Rachael Holter as Communications Officer, Anne Jones as Access Officer and Sarah Bland as Treasurer. Thank you to everyone who voted, the new committee will be introducing themselves via this blog shortly.

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International Women’s Day – Change of location

Due to the weather conditions we will be moving the event indoors to the Southsea Community Centre Sports Hall, St Paul’s Square, King St, Southsea, Hampshire PO5 4EE. The event is still to run from 5pm and will be held in the main sports hall but there will be someone on the door to direct people. Obviously this will no longer technically be a bridge event but we will still be marking and celebrating International Women’s Day, which is the important thing! If you have any questions about the change in venue you can contact Solent Feminist Network via the events Facebook page.

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International Women’s Day – Women on the Bridge

International Women’s Day has been celebrated for over one hundred years and is now a public holiday in countries as diverse as the UK, Afghanistan, Nepal and Russia. International Women’s Day grows each year and many different events are held around the world. One of the most popular events started as the meeting of Congolese and Rwandan women on a bridge that joined their two countries and came to represent the importance of women from all over the world joining together to build bridges of peace and progress. It has become a tradition for groups of women to meet on bridges around the world to celebrate International Women’s Day and to work together to support women all over the world.

On the 8th of March Solent Feminist Network and Aurora New Dawn will be hosting a Join us on the bridge event at Gunwharf Quays, Portsmouth. This will include speakers, live music and a very moving candle ceremony.  The event runs from 5-6pm  on Friday the 8th of March and will take place on the final bridge along the canal that separates the residential part of Gunwharf from the restaurants. Come along and help us celebrate and support women everywhere.

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Womankind Worldwide Speaker

We had a brilliant speaker from Womankind Worldwide at our February meeting. Womankind Worldwide is an international women’s human rights charity working to help women transform their lives in Africa, Asia and Latin America. They partner and support local Womens Rights Groups to campaign, educate and support women within their local community. Please go read about their work, share what they do and donate if you can. A great charity doing very important work.

The speaker from WomanKind Worldwide took a group photo of us to send with messages of support to the strong and brave women in Afghanistan.

Photo taken by speaker from Woman Kind.
If you work for a Feminist or Woman’s Rights Charity and would like to come speak at a Solent Feminist Network meeting, please get in contact.

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Sexual assault is wrong. What do you think this is?

Several months ago, I was out shopping with my girlfriend. We’d had a lovely time, and were standing in a queue waiting to pay for the things we were buying. At some point during our wait, the man behind me slid his hand down my top and touched my breasts. I jumped and moved away from him. My girlfriend knew something was wrong, but had not seen what had happened. I shook and tried not to cry and couldn’t talk until we were in the car and I burst into tears.

When I told her what had happened, she was extremely wonderful in supporting me and making me feel safe again. She was really angry towards the man who did this and immediately recognised it was wrong.

I told a few people why my day had been hard. Unfortunately the responses I received were not like my girlfriend’s. The majority of responses told me to get over it, and that men will be men. It was not like he sexually assaulted me, they said, he was just being a bit unpleasant, and probably couldn’t control it. One person even went as far as to reassure me that, due to the fact I had suffered sexual violence before, this must seem like nothing.

The latter paragraph describes a very common experience for women of all ages. A man touches your bottom on the bus – it’s fine, it’s not rape, it’s just men being men. A man squeezes your knee when you are sitting in a waiting room. It’s okay though, because he was attracted by your skirt. One of your male friends decides to lift your top up or grope your chest. It’s okay, though, because he doesn’t fancy you and therefore it’s only meant in jest. You feel uncomfortable regardless.

I suspect that these situations are fairly common. I can say that they are in my world. I’m very aware that if I go out to socialise I will have to put up with behaviour that violates me space and makes me feel like I want to run away. Sometimes I’ll drink especially so that I can cope better with them.
But what happens if you confront this? Do people try to calm you down in a supportive way, or do they accuse you of being aggressive and hysterical? My experience has been the latter.

Now I want to introduce a concept that I wish was more widely understood. A woman’s body is her own. Touching a person’s body sexually without consent is violating their right to privacy and control over their own body. Whether it’s a quick grope in Ikea, or a spank on the bus – it is violent in the sense that the receiving party has no control or say over what is happening to him or her. The person who is receiving something that they do not want to has every right to scream or defend themselves. Taking advantage of being near enough to touch is, on its own, without rape or other assaults, a type of sexual violence. It is claiming something for yourself which does not belong to you. It is not a five pound note, a piece of jewellery or a slice of cake. It is a human’s body. It is not acceptable. It is sexual assault. Sexual assault is wrong.

Nobody should be expected to accept this just so that they can live among others of the same species. On the other hand, it is also incredibly offensive towards men. There are many men who do not touch women without consent. There are many men who fight against this kind of violence. To say that a woman is making a fuss is also saying that men are not capable of control or decision. This is not fair on the women men assault or the men who choose not to assault women.

The violence will not stop without this being acknowledged. This is why I am writing this. It is in the hope that the next time somebody sees this happen to another woman, they will support her rather than blame her. It is so that innocent men do not get told they are incapable of choice and decision-making. It’s is so that people can listen and comfort without spreading blame. A lot of people recognise that sexual assault is wrong, but far fewer recognise that this is exactly that.

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Women in politics: frumps, feminists and fucking awesome females.

Last Wednesday, during Prime Minister’s question time, Nadine Dorries, member for Mid Bedfordshire, stood up during the 30 minute session to ask a question (one of six women who spoke), and asked about the Liberal Democrats relative influence in coalition. In response to a valid (if loaded) question, the David Cameron said: “I know that the hon. Lady is extremely frustrated”, at which point there was a pause, then laughter from the commons and the PM himself, and he sat down again.

First, a sort of disclaimer: I find parts of Dorries’ politics anti-feminist (for example, abstinence education for girls only), I occasionally find her manner to be offensive (see her ‘logical’ implications that people who were against her abstinence-education programme for girls were in favour of having sex with 13 year olds) and I find her religion to be over influential on issues such as abortion.

However, she is an elected politician, she has worked hard to get where she is, she is clever, determined, dedicated, she faces a whole lot of bile in the press and she doesn’t let it stop her. She certainly belongs in politics.

And yet, when she stood up to ask the Prime minister a question, the only response she got was an innuendo and a roar of laughter. And, on top of that, the papers have had field day with her ‘storming out’, like she’d thrown some sort of hissy fit, stamped her dainty little feet and said ‘all men are bastards!’ before rushing off to buy some chocolate and to watch a chickflick. 

It has always been the case that a woman with a political opinion is seen as uptight, or controlling, or cuckolding, or domineering (as if a woman doesn’t have the right to be domineering). As feminists, we are accused of being bitter and single women, of not getting ‘enough’. It’s like the ideology of feminism somehow only came about because women were sick of men not giving them orgasms. (The other accusation is that we are all lesbians, but that’s another topic entirely).

 The implication is that if a woman was getting a decent shag every once and a while, then she’d stop trying to talk politics, she’d be sated, slumped, happy, in her lover’s arms, and wouldn’t worry her pretty little head about women’s unequal status in society. Because, to be honest, why would you worry about unequal pay when every night you get an orgasm?

For non-feminist women, why would you worry about war, or police numbers, or economic stagnation, or benefits, or disability living allowance, or world famine, or any political issue you can think of – why? Why should a woman have a strong opinion on something so serious as politics? Something so outside the home, something so far away from girl’s nights in, so estranged from shoe-shopping.

So she ‘gets her knickers in a twist’ because she’s not getting satisfaction at home. And in public, too, like a woman should only get cross behind closed doors, she shouldn’t ‘make a scene’ (it’s ‘making a scene’ when a woman does it, with her shrill voice and flapping hands. A male politician can shout in the commons all he likes, because it’s manly and passionate and he belongs there). Like politics is something women take up to fill the gaps between being feminine and looking for a man or trying to keep her man, something they do only when they’re bored of doing washing up (unwaged labour), or bored of personal grooming, or when they decide that from now on, they’re swearing off men, they’re going to take up politics (gee, thanks a bunch Bridget Jones. Yes, it is terrible about Chechnya. Funny how you didn’t notice when you had a boyfriend, but I guess coitus does prevent women from reading newspapers, doesn’t it). 

Just think about that logic for a second: women only ever have political opinions when they’re frustrated sexually. So a woman has never felt frustrated at injustice, inequality, war, societal violence, politics, no, they are only ever frustrated because men are so useless at clitoral stimulation. If that was fixed, feminism would collapse in on itself because all the silly, vocal, whining and wittering feminists would finally be happy. We’d forget about unequal pay, rape convictions, FGM, sexualisation, we’d all just slink back to our bedrooms, and stop going on and on about it: the act of cunnilingus would make feminism redundant. 

Politics is still thought of as a male pastime or career, and comments like Cameron thought it fit to make do not help the situation.

And I know, I know, people may justify what he said by claiming the PM would have said the same to a male right-winger, in the same way they justified ‘winnergate’ (‘calm down, dear’, directed at the Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Angela Eagle) by claiming he’d said it to Ed Miliband before. Well, he may well have done, and I’m glad he is so egalitarian in his patronising, but the fact is, he still felt it appropriate to tell a woman her opinion was not justified, like it didn’t belong in the House of Commons, like she was worrying over nothing, like she was only expressing an opinion because some other aspect of her life was lacking.

It is not a harmless innuendo, it is the ridicule of a woman politician that feeds into a stereotype that is so widespread in mainstream media that women are not political beings – that they’re a novelty, or a source of hilarity, that they’re incompetent, or frigid, or bad mothers, or unattractively ambitious. Little wonder we’re still, in 2011, getting stories about how women politicians are being mistaken for researchers or secretaries; hearing sexist ‘banter’ at the dispatch box; getting told feminism is ‘obnoxious’ and seeing bodies that fight for women’s rights abolished or dismissed as ‘red tape’. Why is the equality of women a political issue, if women themselves are not political beings?

I wouldn’t be surprised if Dorries is frustrated: she doesn’t have testicles and is therefore still a novelty in the House of Commons. It doesn’t matter what her questions are on – and I’ve heard Cameron give answers to more ridiculous, less political questions than hers – she has the right to ask a question without being mocked because of her sex or her sexlife.

I’m tired of women’s political beliefs being dismissed as the words of sexually repressed lunatics. My sexlife has so, so little to do with the fact that I vote or read the Guardian or watch Question Time and the Daily Politics, or shout at BBC Parliament, Dorries’ sexlife has so little to do with the fact that she’s an elected member of the Conservative Party, that she votes ‘aye’ or ‘no’ on any issue, that she tables amendments and speaks in debates.

We, women are political beings because we think and feel like everyone else, not because we go through dry spells between the sheets. We have opinions and ambitions and beliefs, whether they’re feminist or misogynist, we have them and we have a right to speak about them. Our frustration comes from being so excluded from politics, from being regarded as a minority, as special interest, as quasi-fascistic, from being laughed at, from being objectified and hated, from being beaten and raped, from being called ‘bitches’ and ‘whores’ and ‘sluts’, from being underpaid, from being stereotyped. That’s why I’m frustrated, that’s why I’m political. Sex or lack of it is pretty fucking irrelevant. 

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May Day 8

May Day 8.

SFN attended the Portsmouth March Against the Cuts. The cuts will disproportionately effect women. The cuts are a feminist issue.

At the march against the cuts.

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