February 2007

NHS anti-smoking posterI couldn’t quite believe my eyes today as I spotted an NHS poster – which was presumably professionally designed and produced, by professional poster designers and producers, whose job it is not to cock these things up – with the slogan “There’s never been more ways to get rid of cigarettes” (see right). I had to re-read it two or three times before I believed that I had not just misread it.

The greengrocer’s apostrophe is one thing. But there is something seriously wrong when major, national government agencies, who presumably employ qualified professionals for the purpose of checking everything that they publish, are unable to get their basic grammar right.

[There’s in this case is a contraction of There has i.e. There has never been more ways to get rid of cigarettes. The correct sentence is, of course, “There have (or “there’ve” if you must contract) never been more ways to get rid of cigarettes.”]

Gah. Bring me my hammer.


Pomegranates: not worth the effort.
Fried cheese sandwiches: bingo!

Arrow leftI’ve been thinking a bit lately about transpeople.

I’ve been reading some blogs by transpeople, I’ve been reading something of what feminists have to say about transpeople, I’ve been rethinking some of the ideas I have previously explored myself (see here and here for early stumblings). Quite a lot of people find that first post of mine by googling “What does it mean to be a woman?” and it bugs me, because I’ve had new thoughts since then.

Cards on the table. I’ve never actually (knowingly) met a transperson in the flesh, other than a transwoman who attended this workshop I talked about in my first “What does it mean to be a woman?” post, but who was there more to listen than to speak. So a lot of what I say here is theoretical. And therefore of limited validity and usefulness. Still. I feel the need to say it and so, without further ado – other than an advance apology for any offence caused by my ignorance and general bigotry (plus a request for enlightenment if that should be the case) – here goes.

The way I see it, transpeople are an oppressed group.

Transmen and transwomen no doubt experience that oppression in different ways, and no doubt a lot depends on the extent to which, if at all, you’ve had procedures done to change your body to fit your identity, whether you live full-time in the gender with which you identify, whether you easily “pass” as that gender, whether you are out, how your sexuality fits in with your gender, and a whole host of other complicated things that don’t actually have a whole lot to do with your underlying personhood.

Similarly women, people of colour, disabled people, children and homosexual people (among others) are oppressed groups. Hell, men are oppressed too: the patriarchy oppresses everyone.

Again, how a person experiences that oppression depends on a whole load of factors unrelated to her underlying personhood. Women experience our oppression differently depending on our race, ability, age, sexuality, prettiness, marital status, depending on whether we are mothers, depending on our class and relative wealth, depending on all sorts of things. People of colour experience their oppression differently depending on, again, all sorts of things such as their sex / gender, sexuality, disability, class, and so on.

I could carry on like this ad nauseam, but I’m sure you get the picture.

The point is, most or all people fall into at least one oppressed group, and at least one privileged group. Because everybody has their own, individual collection of characteristics – some of which lead to oppression and some of which lead to privilege – everybody experiences oppression / privilege in their own, unique way.

As a feminist, I am kind of against oppression. With a bit of luck, by the time we’ve got around to overthrowing patriarchy we will have got rid of all forms. (Not holding my breath, mind.)

Being against oppression means that I am opposed to the oppression not just of women but also of people of colour, disabled people, homosexual people, chlidren and, bringing the subject neatly back to its starting point, transpeople.

However. I’m just one woman, with one woman’s experiences. I can’t fight it all.

I must choose my battles. I choose the one that touches me most clearly – the cause of women. Specifically, the cause of middle class white non-disabled women who are more or less heterosexual, with an emphasis on single working mothers. Women like me. I try to educate myself on the experiences of other women, and I hope I support their battles where I can – at least, I hope I don’t get in the way. That is not the same as thinking I can actually fight those battles. I can’t, because they are not my battles to fight.

So. Transwomen.

I try to educate myself on the experiences of transwomen. I don’t try hard enough to really understand their many and varied experiences – because, you know, time is limited. I don’t pretend to fight the good fight for transwomen, but I hope at least that I’m not standing in their way waving my own little Oppression Stick.

Back to a question I was pondering some months ago. Do transwomen belong in women-only spaces? Before, I was wary and unsure. Now I am not hesitant: yes, they do. Yes, they are welcome*.

[* I don’t rule out the possibility of exceptions, of specific women-only groups where the inclusion of transwomen is not appropriate for some reason. I just can’t think of any exceptions off the top of my head, other than groups such as PND support groups – which would exclude transwomen because they don’t have PND rather than because they are “not women”.]

I reach my conclusions in this way – by thinking about the intersecting oppression / privilege matrix in which we all have to find our place. (You see, there was a point to all that waffle up above.) By thinking about why it is OK to have women-only spaces but not OK to have men-only spaces; why it is OK to have spaces for people of colour, but not OK to have spaces for white people.

It is acceptable to have a space for an oppressed group, because they need a safe space to escape from and talk about their experiences. A woman’s voice is often silenced in a mixed-sex group. Similarly, in a mixed-race group, the white people are rarely interested in talking about the specific perspective of the people of colour.

It is not acceptable to have a similar space for privileged groups because they do not need to protect themselves from their non-privileged counterparts. They can discuss their experiences freely even in a mixed setting. And, moreover, to allow such exclusive groups merely perpetuates the exclusion and reinforces the privilege and the sense of entitlement.

Taking this one step further, while it is acceptable to have a space for an oppressed group, it is not acceptable to exclude from that group people who belong to an even-more-oppressed sub-group. In a disabled-people-only group, it would be wrong to exclude disabled women or disabled people of colour, even though it is not wrong for able-bodied people to be excluded.

Similarly, in a women-only group, it is wrong to exclude transwomen – just the same as it would be wrong to exclude lesbians, women of colour or disabled women. It is not wrong to exclude men, because they are privileged relative to women. But it is wrong to exclude transwomen because, even though their experiences of oppression are different from those of other women, they undeniably are a sub-group of the category “women” and because transwomen are not privileged relative to women in general.

I hope I am still making sense.

I had two other things I wanted to say.

Firstly, I would like to acknowledge that a transwoman may be a very unpleasant person, just as womb-carrying woman may be a very unpleasant person. Women-born-women do not have a monopoly on obnoxiousness. And, just as adversity and oppression and discrimination can turn a person into a sensitive and compassionate soul, it can turn her into a bitter and hateful, resentful sourpuss. But unless and until experience shows me otherwise, I refuse to believe the suggestions that I have seen made by other feminist writers that transwomen as a group bring their “male entitlement” – or other unwelcome male perspectives and characteristics – into women’s spaces and make those spaces unsafe for “real” women, and that therefore exclusion of all transwomen from such spaces is justified.

Secondly, I would like to make a specific retraction. I have previously suggested that:

So, it seems, transsexuals want to say: There are gender roles, and this is valid. I belong to gender role X. Unfortunately, I was born, biologically, as gender Y and therefore in order to reflect my true gender I need to switch sides… In other words, by everything they stand for, what transsexuals do does not break down gender divisions. It reinforces them…That means that, yes, I am wary of transsexualism as a principle (if not as a coping strategy used by individuals in seriously uncomfortable situations and in a society where relatively inflexible gender roles are a fact of life) and, as a principle, I feel that it is at odds with my feminism.

I take all that back. It was based on a very limited, nay a wholly inaccurate understanding of “what transsexuals stand for”. Some transsexuals may well uphold and reinforce gender divisions. Many others are more interested in breaking those barriers down. Further, transsexualism is not a “principle” – it is not an ideology that a person can “stand for”. It is a label used to refer to one small but important part of certain people’s identity. That’s all.

That’s all.

Wooden carvingThere has been another blog war, earlier this month.

The subject on this occasion was whether it is OK for a person who cares about women to post comments on a supposedly woman-safe space that link (the way comments do) to the commenter’s blog, said commenter’s blog containing an erotic-query-pornographic image as part of its logo. The issue being, that this kind of image is potentially triggering for the women who usually frequent feminist / woman-safe blogs.

For the record, I see both points of view: and I think that the original point was made respectfully and the commenter responded appropriately by de-linking whilst commenting on the blog in question. It all went wrong after that, somehow.

But never mind all that. I have learned a thing. See, my special interest in this particular blog war is that I got cited. Little me!

The point was made that it is unfair to complain about “pro-porn”* blogs including erotic query pornographic / potentially triggering images without warning whilst NOT complaining about anti-porn blogs which include similar imagery, again without warning.

[* I use inverted commas for a reason. I think “pro-porn” is a loaded phrase. Feminists commonly described by people who disagree with them as “pro-porn” are often, if not always, only “pro” a certain type of woman-positive porn and certainly oppose exploitation and coercion in pornography-making.]

In response to this* post by Renegade Evoluion, Rosarose (whose blog is here and makes good reading) came up with a list of such anti-porn blogs, which cited me. Little old me! Ahem.

[* Er, warning. RE is “pro-porn” and is the one with the image in dispute as her logo.]

The post in question is this one: Boobalicious. [Er, warning. Post contains full frontal breast images.]

In all of my 405 posts so far, I think I have posted once using any photograph that could remotely be described as portraying nudity. This is the one.

So what is the issue with this picture? Let’s see.

It is not pornographic. It is not even erotic query pornographic. It is not even erotic. I mean, much as one may argue about what “pornographic” actually means*, I can’t see any basis on which you could honestly claim that two pictures of breasts, that are in no way sexualised, posed, or intended to be in any way erotic, can be described as pornography. Pornography it aint.

[* According to Merriam-Webster, it means “1 : the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement. 2 : material (as books or a photograph) that depicts erotic behavior and is intended to cause sexual excitement. 3 : the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction “. ]

Nor can I imagine any way in which this picture could be described as triggering or potentially triggering. They’re just two people with uncovered breasts. There is no motion, no action, no suggestion in the picture, no posing, no anything that, to me, could honestly be described as triggering. Or, if it is, then the human body, the female body is inherently triggering to the person upset by these images.

Did the women whose breasts these are consent to their images being on my blog?

Well, no. Hands up. Their images were taken from a medical website advertising breast surgery. (I’ve tried really hard to find the site again but I can’t. Damn. Shoulda kept a link.)

I think it is fair to assume that they consented to having their pictures published on the original website but I accept that (1) they didn’t consent to me posting their pictures on my blog and (2) given the potential for exploitation that is inherent in the cosmetic-surgeon-to-“patient” relationship, it is probably also questionable whether the original consent was itself free of exploitation. If I don’t use images of potentially exploited porn models, similar thinking should probably apply to images of potentially exploited surgery patients.

My bad.

And another thing that I was directly called on was the fact that these are disembodied, headless breast pictures. Well the post was about breasts, about bras and about breast reduction surgery. And it is in the nature of the beast that before/after shots culled from cosmetic surgery websites are going to be headless, disembodied breasts.

The problem is that by reducing those two women to their constituent body parts, in this case their breasts, am I not objectifying them and dehumanising them in exactly the same way that pornography objectifies and dehumanises women? The method is different, the purpose is different, but the result – for those two women – identical. And the objectification of all women, the reduction of all women to their constituent body parts – how does posting disembodied breasts further our freedom from that particular problem?

In fact, it never occurred to me to wonder how these women would feel to stumble upon their disembodied breasts on my blog. If it were me? Weird and upset, is how I would feel.

My bad. Again.

The lesson I have learned is this. Next time, before I post a similar kind of image again, I will think really hard about (1) whether the woman depicted has truly and freely consented to being published any old where on the internet and (2) whether the depiction of that woman’s body or body parts objectifies or dehumanises her in a way that I would dislike if somebody did it to me.


Anti-Porn Blogger Gains Insight From “Pro-Porn” Feminists.

It happens.

Millie Ballance black sheep painting“Baa Baa Black Sheep
Hab-oo habble woo
Yes sir Yes sir Yes sir
Baa Baa Black Sheep
Habble Habble woo
Yes sir Yes sir Yes sir full
One for master
Baa Baa Black Sheep
Hab-oo habble woo
Yes sir Yes sir Yes sir yes
One for master
One ah dame
One ah doodle oo down lane”

[Words: Ariel]
[Picture: Millie Ballance]

Lately, I’m feeling somewhat overwhelmed by all the things I want to write about, and completely lack the energy to do those topics justice. So, today, a cop-out.

What Colour Should Your Blog Be?

Your Blog Should Be Green

Your blog is smart and thoughtful – not a lot of fluff.
You enjoy a good discussion, especially if it involves picking apart ideas.
However, you tend to get easily annoyed by any thoughtless (er – make that “stupid and misogynist” and I’ll agree) comments in your blog.

Any votes for a change of colour scheme?

Take: some ready-made pancakes (yes, I know); some Hotel Chocolat drinking chocolate; a few blueberries.

1. Place the pancake palest side down in a dry frying pan. Sprinkle on some chocolate. Squish some blueberries between your fingers and scatter the remains on top.
2. Heat the pancake on a medium heat until the chocolate has gone melty. (Hint – Hotel Chocolat drinking chocolate doesn’t go runny, it just sort of goes glossy.)
3. Fold the pancake*.
4. Transfer it to a plate and eat it with a fork. Mmmm, messy.
5. Repeat until full.

[* A flipper and a fork are the ideal tools (fork optional, but you’ll need it if the pancake has gone a bit, er, crispy). Just turn the “bottom” in a little bit, and then turn the “sides” in so that they overlap completely i.e. you are folding it in thirds. This sounds more complicated than it is, but it is important to fold it right for the authentic eating experience.]

Makes… enough!

Bananas, and/or blackcurrants, and/or raspberries instead of blueberries.
And/or add thick gloopy cream.

For a savoury choice, you could try grated cheese, with a few drops of Worcestershire sauce.
And/or mushrooms, very finely sliced (or pre-cooked).
And/or garlicky olive oil.
And/or, break an egg on top and hope it is cooked before the pancake burns. Tricky one, this – you need a low heat and a lid on the pan.

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