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.

Posted in Member Post, Nikki Brown | 1 Comment

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. 

Posted in Clemmie Bazell, Member Post | Leave a comment

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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Flashmob

There are many reasons for doing a flashmob. One is that it is fun and a great way to bring people together. Another is the shock factor and all of the people who don’t know what’s going on. Our reasons include some of those things, but the main one is to raise awareness of violence against women. Awareness is key if women and children are going to get the help they desperately need. By shocking people with this flashmob, the hope is that people will be curious and asking for information, and that if they want it, we can give it to them or point them in the right direction.
Our method is simple: Red hats and freezing on the spot. If only all activism was this easy!
A full update (hopefully with photographs) will be written after the event itself. I hope you’ve all got your red hats ready!

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Solent Feminist Parents

Solent Feminist Network now has a new sister group, Solent Feminist Parents.

Solent Feminist Parents is a group for feminist and alternative parents and carers living in the solent area. The group is a place to discuss all those frustrations of being a feminist parent in our society.

Ideally the group will eventually organise child friendly meet ups and socials.

Go join there facebook group if you’re interested. http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_108608139221463

Or alternatively email us on solentfeministnetwork@googlemail.com and ask for updates on SFP.

Posted in SFN News, SFP | Leave a comment

International Women’s Day 2011

Written on March 8th:

Today is the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. There are a wide variety of things happening around the world today to celebrate how far women have come, and to think about those who are still in need of a voice. I’ve been wondering how people feel about this day – whether it’s a happy occasion or not. For me it is bittersweet. The fact that we need it, and that we have done for a really long time is painful, and it’s hard not to feel worn out by the struggle. But then we make the best of what we have, and today is a day where women are recognised for what they have achieved and can demand attention together to voice their concerns, worries, anger, hurt and the injustices that they face. It is an important day, and one that deserves much more thought than it is probably getting – especially from men.

I think that for some people it’s hard to see how this day fits in with men, or anyone else who does not identify as a woman. This is sad, because in my mind it would be an excellent chance for women and men to come together to discuss how our society can become a more equal playing ground for both. The focus needs to be on women because historically and currently the battle is greater from their side, but in an ideal world we would all work together to better the society we live in for all of the people involved. In an idea society, however, feminism would not be needed like it is here today.

On the 5th of March, a chilly and windy Saturday, women from all over the United Kingdom gathered together in Hyde Park, London, ready to start marching, singing, shouting, talking, drumming and dancing for recognition and solidarity.

Together we can end male violence against women is a bold statement, and one that I’m not sure I can believe. A huge fight in feminism is getting across that men do have a choice as to whether they rape a woman, and that a woman is never to blame for her own assault. Due to this, I’m not sure than anyone other than men can stop violence against women, but I do believe that if we stand together and say loudly and proudly that we are survivors and that we stand united in saying NO, that we can spread the education that’s needed for women to demand the help that they need. A group is stronger than one person, and if feminist and human rights organisations locally and worldwide can stand together and agree to fight this, we can make a difference.

This difference can be:

  • Making sure that a woman knows what she is entitled to.
  • Support in finding a safe place that has shelter and food for women who need to escape violence.
  • Teaching teenagers that it’s okay to say no, and that if somebody ignores that, it is wrong.
  • Making sure that safety measures are put in place to help women who work in the sex industry.
  • Putting things in place that allow women to leave the sex industry.
  • Trying to spread the word that rape is never acceptable.
  • Letting women know that they are capable of far more than they’ve been told.
  • Saying no to the objectifying and possessing of women.

 

There are so many things that we can do that it is not possible for me to list them all. I think that what makes a victim into a survivor is developing a sense of power. That power could be something as simple as knowing how to pay bills or how to protect against sexually transmitted infections, or it could be making sure that girls know when they are growing up that they have the right to say no to unwanted touching and sexual experiences. It is that subtle something that gives the choices and decisions back to women, and then them knowing that they are their own people. This is something that far too often people try to take away.

All that’s left for me to say is happy International Women’s Day. I hope it’s a good time for your own reflections over plates of hot pancakes and maple syrup.

Posted in Member Post, Nikki Brown | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Feminist Flashmob!

SFN are organising a flashmob on Saturday the 2nd of April why don’t you join us? The Flashmob will be a V-day event to raise awareness about violence against women. Email us at solentfeministnetwork@googlemail.com to find out more. Alternatively if you have a video camera and would be available to capture the moment for us, do let us know.

To learn more about V-Day visit: http://www.vdayuk.org/

Posted in SFN News | 2 Comments