Our Weekly Summary: 31/01/13

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Here at the blog we like to roundup the best posts made on our discussion board every week because sometimes it they get buried under piles of even more great debate.

Our most discussed post this week was an anecdotal post made by Jon Bent after hearing the heartbreaking confession of a year 8 pupil who, after being labelled a slut, sket and slag, felt pressured to change her behaviours, her appearance and even self harm. The discussion that ensued shed some light on the appalling treatment of young girls both by their contemporaries and the schooling system itself. Rachel Knott recalled that a vicar:

“recently came into my younger sister’s high school and gave the girls in her year a speech on dressing modestly to avoid gaining a reputation. They were told to be careful of acting ‘tarty’ and that it is unattractive for young women to be too confident.”

Similarly Tilly Wood remembered attending several victim-blaming “uniform talks about how we were basically inviting year sevens to look up our skirts if they were too short and not to distract them…”

In an environment like this it’s no wonder that young kids become the vindictive, misogynists little shits that plague so many schools.

What followed was an eloquent, level headed debate between students and teachers about the limits and uses of dress-codes, it’s definitely worth a read.

As a budding alcoholic and a life-long advocate of £1.50 pints, I can often be found propping up the union bar. I was there this week when, with my bleary eyes, I spotted the consent advert pictured below. Thanks to Sam Clark for posting after finding it on our discussion group. Add this to the current LGBT+ campaign that’s plastering famous faces from Steven Fry to Lana Wachowski around campus and UEA is looking particularly progressive this month.

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Elsewhere Hywel Wilkie linked to a Channel 4 documentary about the different forms of legalised prostitution around the world. It’s a thought provoking watch and links nicely with this week’s theme of “Raunch Culture”.

Another documentary about the international struggles of women is Duma (Dolls), which chronicles the stories of five women who dare to reveal the sexual abuse they endured in their close circle of family and friends in Palestine. UEA’s own Dr. Eylem Atakav is introducing a screening of the film at Cinema City next month, which will be followed by a Q/A with her and the film’s director, Abeer Zeibak Haddad. I’m going, tickets are available here.

Thanks to everyone who contributed to this week’s discussion, I hope to see at our meeting today in Arts 2.03 at 5pm.

 

Ollie Balaam

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A Single Girl Manifesto

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In our relationship obsessed society singledom gets a terrible rap. Particularly in January, the single person faces a lot of scrutiny. You’ve just dealt with the holiday season, bringing with it a barrage of relatives asking prying questions about your relationship status over family dinners. Romcoms everywhere insist that if you didn’t bring in the New Year kissing that ‘special someone’ at midnight, you did it all wrong. Then, of course, there is that looming annual pest, Valentine’s Day, the less said about which the better.

We are taught that being single is just a stepping-stone in between this relationship and the next. It is a stop along the way but never the desired destination. Women in particular are told that we should want to be in a relationship at all times. If we’re not, there must be something wrong with us. Women who engage in casual sex instead of entering monogamous relationships are often said to be ‘missing’ something, engaging in random sexual encounters to fill the void of their supposed unhappiness. The phallocentric implications of this school of thought are staggering and disturbing.

Television shows like Sex and the City, which allegedly portray the lives of successful, independent modern women, are entirely concerned with the pursuit of men. They may have their fun throughout the series but, in the end, all four main characters are settled in committed relationships in typical happy-ending style. Even the polygamous Samantha is shown to abandon her lifestyle of carefree, casual sex to settle down with aspiring actor Smith Jerrod, choosing to dedicate her life to the promotion of his career.

Now, am I professing myself an enemy to relationships and condemning all those who enter them? Absolutely not. Relationships can be great, but they’re not the be all and end all. It is the concept that they are life’s end goal and the only way to be truly happy that I take issue with. Not being in a relationship can have its perks too. There’s absolutely no reason that being single should be viewed negatively when, in fact, it can be a fantastic opportunity to explore your personal freedom and learn about yourself and life. Here are some reasons why.

1. Being single = Ultimate freedom
You have no ‘other half’ to consider, your time is entirely your own to do with as you wish and it feels pretty good. This is not to insinuate that relationships are some kind of prison, but having one less person to consider does make doing what you want that little bit easier. You don’t have to take into account another person’s feelings before you do something, so wear what you want, go where you like, eat what you like, see who you like. You get the picture. Explore new things you’ve always wanted to try, spend more time on hobbies, become better friends with yourself. You are the most important person in your life, so embrace it. You’re pretty great too, y’know.

2. Being single doesn’t have to mean being ‘alone’ 
Just because you don’t have a significant other, doesn’t mean you’re going to be totally alone. Chances are you have some wonderful friends, or even family members, and being single means you have more time to spend with them. If you’ve previously fallen into that trap of seeing your friends less when you’re in a relationship, being newly single is an opportunity to make up for lost time.

Show some love to the people who care about you, because platonic relationships are just as important as romantic ones. Or, if you’ve grown apart from your friendship group or feel unhappy with them, find new friends! Yes, this can seem really frightening but remember that you are an interesting, wonderful person that plenty of people would love to be friends with. They just don’t know it yet. Plus, they’re likely to be just as anxious about branching out and talking to new people as you may be. It’s not so difficult, especially if you’re still at university where there are a plethora of clubs, societies and alcoholic soirées for you to join and meet new, like-minded people.

3. Unless you want to be alone, and that’s cool too
There should be absolutely no qualms about being alone and doing things on your own, if that’s what you want to do. So many people are afraid of being seen to do things on their own. But there’s nothing wrong with taking yourself on a date to the cinema or to get some food. We all have to eat, and you only sit in silence once the film starts playing anyway. Make time for yourself, self-care is important too.

4. It also doesn’t have to mean being celibate
For a lot of people, a major concern about single life is, understandably, whether this means a long, unwanted stint of celibacy. It doesn’t have to if you don’t want it to. Obviously casual sex, as with relationships, doesn’t suit everyone. However, if you want to, there is no reason why you should not use being single as an opportunity to explore new avenues of your sexuality, as long as everything is safe and consensual. Go out and kiss who you want to kiss, have fun, try new things, all without the need for emotional attachments or commitments. If you’ve found yourself in a series of monogamous relationships in the past and have become disenchanted, or even if you consider yourself not a naturally monogamous person, being single is a chance to get out there and explore your sexuality in a way that you had perhaps never considered before.

Being single doesn’t have to mean being unhappy. It’s an opportunity to get to know yourself better, have a lot of fun, and there is no need to view it as the end of the world. Many people, including myself, think being single is great. Am I saying that I would never be in a relationship? No, but I’m also not waiting around for if and when I enter one. Enjoy being single, even if you do eventually end up in a relationship. It is in no way a bad thing to not be romantically involved with someone at a given point in your life, so don’t let it get you down.

Rachel Knott

Our Weekly Summary: 23/01/13

Here at the blog we like to roundup the best posts made on our discussion board every week because sometimes it they get buried under piles of even more great debate. We’ll start with the story of Mary Beard, a professor of classics at the University of Cambridge, she appeared on Question Time and said […]

Don’t mind me ladies, it’s just a bit of banter.

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A few months ago an article appeared in Concrete, UEA’s student newspaper, called “Lads, you’re an affront to feminism”. It led to a lot of discussion on both the feminist society Facebook page and the paper’s own online comment section. The article managed to attract attention from both critics and defenders of lad culture and within a few days one of Concrete’s editors had posted on our Facebook page asking if anyone wanted to write a response article. Being one of the world’s lazier humans I missed the submission deadline and quickly forgot about the whole thing; but since last week’s topic was lad culture I thought that my response could be shamelessly recycled as a blog post.

Just as a quick disclaimer the tone of the article might be a bit different to what it might have been were it originally written for a feminist blog. An article in Concrete would have been addressed to lads just as much as to those of you who are already feminist converts. But I hope it still comes across that I originally wanted to write more of a clarification and evolution of the original article, rather than a straightforward attack. Here it is.

So we’re all aware of the fact that recently there’s been a lot of discussion in the media and online about lad culture and its impact on university life, work life, the universe and everything. Sites like Unilad and Truelad claim around 8,000 hits a day and articles on lad culture are being written in both national and student newspapers; providing enough food to keep a family of comment section trolls well fed through the winter.

So what exactly do we mean by lad culture, and isn’t “culture” a little bit of a grandiose term? If I was a lad could I apply for dual citizenship? Do these people have any cultural holidays? Did I miss the episode of Human Planet where David Attenborough told us all about them? Is our ethnic minorities officer paying attention to their needs? To be honest I doubt most of the people who read articles on Unilad would consider their status as a lad something worthy of putting on a census form, so calling it a culture is a very strange way to characterise what is already quite a strange phenomenon.

Before I started to write this I obviously had to have a browse through Unilad and frankly what I found was both intensely creepy and weirdly hilarious. There were a good few minutes where I was pretty sure I’d been redirected to some kind of spoof website which was mocking the lad stereotype. Are there actual human beings reading articles called “lost in translation, the difference between lad brains and girl brains” and “Fifty Shades of Grey? Target acquired: Milfs.”

There are apparently grown up men who will sincerely read this stuff, men who’ve evolved to have thumbs and have the ability to read. If this is what lad culture is, surely it was invented by people so wholly lacking in self-awareness, that they don’t know Harry Enfield and Al Murray have been mocking their entire persona since before they were tall enough pick Nuts magazine off the top shelf.

But if we take a step back from gleefully tearing apart lad culture and look at the kind of bizarre standards that young women are supposed to live up to elsewhere, it’s apparent that circumstances aren’t much better. Let’s compare the articles on Unilad with those from a female-oriented counterpart, Cosmopolitan.com for example. A quick browse will bring you such heart-warming articles as “Are your co-workers making you fat?” “Is booze making you fat?” and of course the burgeoning question of our generation, “Is your man a sexy sleeper?”

Why, it’s nearly enough to convince you that a minority of people working in the media are writing articles aimed at caricatures of men and women that teach us that we have to live up to bizarre gender standards while at the same time viewing members of the opposite sex as an alien species. Perhaps Unilad’s idea that all men should be lager-marinated sex daleks is just as ridiculous as Cosmopolitan’s idea that all women should be skeletal shoe-craving nymphomaniacs whose hair follicles stop at their necks.

In all seriousness, there is a caustic standard being pushed upon a lot of men which encourages them to think of women as lesser beings, but the way people are going about fighting it is all wrong. For one thing we shouldn’t be telling women that it’s their responsibility to be strong and independent Amazonian warriors and fight back against the big bad men. Telling an oppressed group that it’s their sole responsibility to stand up against their oppressor is like smashing someone in the face with their own fist, shouting “Stop hitting yourself!” Instead we, and the media that represents us, need to stop treating these “lads” like they’re mindless gorilla men and the only way to stop them is a social revolution. This is one large problem that consists of many small acts. Putting an end to lad culture can be as easy as once in a while telling your friend that his joke wasn’t funny, or that maybe the girl he thinks he’s chatting up genuinely isn’t interested. It’s not a case of going to war with a culture; it’s a case of saying “come on mate, now you’re just being a dick.”

Hywel Wilkie

Gender is Just a Lazy Way of Avoiding Talking about what you Really Want

I am currently reading Helen Boyd’s book She’s Not The Man I Married. In this book, Boyd describes what it is like to be married to a transgender woman, and how that relationship has completely rewritten the ways she thinks about her own gender and sexuality, both of which are thrown into question by her husband coming out – if she plays the man’s role from time to time, does that make her less of a woman? If she is now married to a woman, does that make her gay, or at the very least queer? As a feminist, Boyd is keen to dismiss the labels and the gender roles now that they no longer fit her precisely, but is unable to do this if her husband is to transition… gender plays a very concrete role in their relationship, and so she has to explore it, and tackle it head on, rather than ignore it.

 When gender is such a large facet of your relationship, Boyd tells us, you find yourself thinking about it all the time, which means it throws up problems all the time. But the problem with using gender as the framework for issues in a relationship is that the language we use is so inexact. Boyd writes:

“As a writer, I’m often offended by how inaccurate our language is when it comes to gender. ‘Feminine’ is used to stand in for all kinds of other words – like gentle, permissive, empathetic, kind, nurturing. Those are also the traits people imply when they say ‘woman’. ‘Masculine’, likewise, is used to mean strong, athletic, protective, gruff, or authoritative. Sometimes I feel like a writing teacher walking through the world – and the trans community – because I want to stop all the time to explain, ‘Say what you mean, because ‘feminine’ doesn’t mean anything.’”

Even words that don’t describe gender, such as “nurturing”, are so gendered that you soon realise they mean a lot more than they’re saying. To “nurture” something is to provide it with what it needs in order to grow; in this sense, is the typical ‘breadwinner’ masculinity any less nurturing than the femininity that slices the bread and feeds it to the family?

It made me realise how often, when it comes to relationships, I find myself thinking about myself in highly-gendered terms and then don’t bother to unpick what that means. Social conditioning tells me that asking a guy out is no way to start a relationship, that it is ‘emasculating’… but just think about that word for a second. There’s no feminine equivalent. All the other words that I might use to describe a person who would ask another person out – ‘confident’, ‘flirty’, even ‘forward’ – are words I don’t mind being described as. But if you suggest I’m in any way less ‘feminine’ because of it, I back down and go back to sitting in the corner looking pretty and waiting to be asked to dance. I like being feminine, and it’s a huge part of how I construct my identity – in the films I watch, the music I listen to, the clothes I wear, the way I present myself. However at the same time I don’t like playing games or messing people around; I am a pretty straightforward person and I prize honesty above most other virtues and it turns out that applied to the world of dating, those qualities turn me into a “man”. What’s with that?

Gender is important for a lot of people, and I’m not going to go all Judith Butler and say we should stop thinking about it all together. I don’t want to take anything away from people who, unlike me, have a strong sense of their internal gender. I’m just saying that we should start being more precise about what we mean by it. In my last relationship, I often complained to friends that I wished my ex would be “a bit more manly sometimes”… by which I meant, I wished that he would stick up for me more if his friends were teasing me. When I thought I wanted to “feel more like a woman” in bed, I really meant I wanted him to be slightly more sexually aggressive. By using gendered terms when I was talking about our problems, I was ducking the real issues and ignoring the question of what I really wanted. Luckily, I learned this lesson early; though, judging from the way he complained about being ‘whipped’ without ever telling me what exactly I was doing wrong, he didn’t.

Gender roles are imprecise because they encompass so many things. ‘Dependency’ is clearly associated with femininity in relationships, but would we call the role of mother ‘dependent’? Surely it implies the opposite, because ‘mothering’ someone means they are entirely dependent on you. I have heard many times girls with clingy boyfriends voice the wish that they’d just “man up”, but what if the ‘man’ they are being is a son relying on his new maternal figure? Instead of bringing gender into it, call it what it is, and then you won’t be misunderstood.

When it comes to sexuality, gender becomes even more complicated because we define our sexuality by what gender we are attracted to. I’m heterosexual, but what does saying that even mean? I’m certainly not attracted to every man by virtue of them being a man. The problem with the labels of heterosexual and homosexual is that they are creating a gender binary that doesn’t exist in the real world; where do the thousands of gender non-conforming people fit into this narrow idea of sexuality? Again, isn’t it easier to be honest about what we are really attracted to – I like narrow hips and body hair and stubble; it’s rare to find a woman with these qualities but I won’t rule it out in the future – after all, body type and genitals don’t define our gender.

The problem with a binary is that you have to fit into one side of it, or the other; if I take the role of ‘man’ by asking people out, I should expect to be the one who “wears the pants” in the relationship; when in reality, we all have a huge range of personal qualities, some of which are masculine, some of which are feminine; some of which we’ll like in others, and some of which we won’t. Being masculine in some senses doesn’t stop me being feminine in others – gender is not a scale, like hot and cold. If we become more precise in describing these things, not only do we make our relationships stronger, but we stop excusing all kinds of unacceptable or even abusive behaviours because “that’s just what men/women do”. There are almost three quarters of a million words in the English language; let’s start using them.

Hattie Grunewald
UEAFS President