The Internet Revolution and a Feminist Awakening

By Malene Bratlie

This is the story of how I became a feminist.

Towards the end of my confusing, exciting and awful teenage years, I was browsing around the internet in order escape a ‘How to make a graph in Excel’ class. As I went through my usual list of fashion and creative lifestyle blogs, I stumbled upon a blog post that would change everything I knew (or didn’t know) about womanhood in the patriarchal world. 

It was called ‘Feminist Literature you Cannot Miss’. For me at the time (and was/is the case for many others), the word ‘feminist’ was an unappealing and way-too-radical term that I was afraid to even be associated with. I wanted to be the cool girl and everyone knew that the cool girls were completely cool with patronising comments like ‘you’re actually pretty clever for a girl’ or ‘come on, don’t be such a drag, just suck my dick’. ‘Feminism’ was not for me. But then again, this blogger was the cool girl. And so I checked it out. 

The literature list included everything from Simone de Beauvoir’s ‘The Second Sex’, to a  DJ/It girl/TV host/blogger’s guide on how to become a feminist. I was intrigued. I went to the library and borrowed them all and then I realised that their struggles were mine too. Cat-calling, tacit harassment and unequal opportunities were all issues I experienced too. I was not alone. 

As I was (and still am) as impatient as my five-year-old cousin, I did not finish even half of the stack of books. And this is where the great big internet came in; Google was my professor indeed. Everything about unequal pay or statistics about sexual violence, was revealed to me in a few minutes. And not only that, but feminist blogs, articles, TED talks allowed me to observe — and later participate in — discussions about gender oppression. Women from all over the world in different life situations, different ethnicities, had started a debate about something we are all a part of. Everyone’s voices were allowed to be heard. I was so amazed, so moved by all this knowledge opening up to me through the channels of cyberspace.

In this space, I was allowed to express frustration and anger I did not even realise was related to the everyday experiences of being a woman. And it felt like a safe place, despite all the lessons my mum had tried to teach me about the internet being a poisonous place. To me it wasn’t, because in many of the cases where a guy expressed their hatred for ‘sluts’, ‘uptight girls’, ‘stupid girls’, ‘boring girls’, ‘skinny girls’, ‘fat girls’ — the list of categories we are at risk of being placed into via the male gaze is never ending — clever ladies fought back, telling these dudes to grow some ovaries. The internet allowed me to have a dialogue about female oppression — one I did not dare have with my friends at the time for fear of being labelled as the classic man-hating, bra-burner. 

The internet creates an opportunity for women to reclaim space; if not in the physical sense, at least in the virtual one. It has allowed a debate about all the ways in which women feel oppressed, exploited or harassed, and everyone can be included. The internet has provided me with the chance to learn about the experiences of black women, female porn stars, Muslim women, trans women — the young and the old. No one is being silenced. We can learn from each other’s experiences because everyone is included in the same space. 

The internet has not given rise to the fourth (or fifth, is anyone counting?) wave of feminism because, as discussed by my fellow internet sisters before, waves come and go. They create a turbulence or a minor storm, only to be silenced later. Instead, the internet has partly given rise to another feminist revolution where discussions are opened up and ever-growing. Furthermore, it creates opportunities for women to come together and collectively make change, not just in cyberspace but in the real world. Demonstrations, meetings and live debates are being arranged via Facebook events; petitions can be signed and societies formed. The internet has given women a fresh voice where we can all share our opinions and be recognised.

Internet, bless you. It is here to stay on our side ladies, because we have claimed it as our space. 

Why is Reporting About Violence Against Women so Disjointed?

By Emily Morrison

Recently, we have seen a welcome resurgence of feminism and feminist discourse in the media, however, there is still a lack of awareness and recognition of the spectrum of gender-based discrimination, of which violence against women — for example, stalking, domestic violence or female genital mutilation (FGM) — are just one extreme end.

In the past few weeks, there has been much domestic news coverage focussed on the gruesome murder of 19-year-old Becky Watts at the hands of her step-brother, Nathan Matthews. As usual in such cases, much of the coverage has focused on his character as a “psychopath”, or as a “monster” obsessed with pornography. Such coverage indicates that this kind of crime — in which a woman is murdered by someone known to her, whether a family member (as in this case), a friend, a partner or ex-partner — is a rarity. In fact, statistically speaking, it is the norm.

Of course, the tendency of the media to distort the context is not confined to coverage of gender-based crimes. There is, in contrast, a tendency for the media to highlight and over-emphasise what are often statistically unlikely but more dramatic events. For example, there is the often-touted fact that we are far more likely to die in a road accident than a terrorist attack, and yet media coverage causes people to be preoccupied with the latter. Furthermore, a recent study found that murders of men by women, although far less frequent than the reverse, are disproportionately portrayed in the media.

Whilst the wrongful media portrayal of events is not in itself unusual, in the case of violence against women it can have severe consequences. Not only does the skewed emphasis indicate that women should fear dangers from strangers rather than those closer to home, it also means that our approach to tackling it becomes misguided.

As anyone aware of violence against women and issues of gender inequality more generally knows, these crimes do not happen in a vacuum and are strongly related to societal norms and policies that dictate gendered behaviour patterns and views on women.

In the UK generally, there seems to be little recognition of this. Any feminist campaign not deemed ‘serious enough’, such as that in 2013 led by Criado Perez to have a woman depicted on a banknote, is invariably met (if not with explicit threats of violence) with criticisms of being ‘trivial’. This is then often accompanied by the assertion that there are ‘bigger problems’ facing women. Basically, it’s the equivalent of countering complaints about anything short of nuclear war with a dismissive “first world problems”.

Not illogically, many people simply accept this reasoning. The image on a banknote which few people even consciously notice, hardly seems akin to the crisis in funding for women’s refuges or young girls being subjected to FGM. However, while certainly understandable, this pervasive attitude is unhelpful. They silently (sort of) accept that serious and physical forms of violence against women and girls (VAWG) and the more widespread but subtle forms of discrimination which block women from participation and representation in public life, are quite distinct and not part of a single problem. But, arguably, that is one of the reasons why — alone among violent crimes — the VAWG statistics remain stubbornly high.

Nowhere is this lack of understanding more apparent than in the reporting of domestic violence. Whilst not having a female on a banknote may seem insignificant compared to the average of two women a week who are killed by partners and ex-partners, they are two sides of the same coin and need to be tackled simultaneously.

When domestic violence is reported in the media (and, in the majority of cases, it is not even mentioned), the cause of the crime is usually indicated to be a one-off incident resulting from the character either of the victim or the culprit. There is rarely, if ever, any indication that such crimes are caused by more widespread societal attitudes towards women. This means that many women are simply not aware of the typical warning signs of domestic violence until it is far too late, and, even more significantly, it means that there is little pressure to tackle the root causes of this crime. Official measures in the UK largely focus on dealing with the consequences such as refuge funding or legal measures such as Clare’s Law, rather than prevention.

So what can be done to change this? Although in the UK and in many other countries domestic violence is either ignored or wrongly portrayed in the media, this style of reporting is not uniform. In Spain — a country which has managed to reduce domestic violence in the last two decades — all murders of women by partners or ex-partners are reported in the national news as a running total.

These crimes are then explicitly linked in a way that makes it impossible for them to be seen as isolated or ‘freak’ incidents. While this might seem macabre, it is a clear, and relatively easy, way of underlining that these crimes are part of something much wider and more pervasive. And is, in fact, a measure which is already used in the UK when reporting on gun crime. Of course, a change in media reporting could only represent a single strand of what would need to include a more widespread policy of education and attitude-change. But, in a mature media market, it could nonetheless be a successful and relatively easy way of beginning such a process.
Whether this will catch on in the UK — where domestic violence statistics are not even officially collected — is another question. But we can keep pushing.

Tax Credit Cuts and the Missing Word: Gender

By Andrea Sweeney

In the media and in recent political coverage of the government’s proposed tax-credit cuts, one key aspect of this issue was noticeably absent: its fundamentally gendered character. With austerity measures continuing, it is time to reinstate the word ‘gender’ into the economy and address the way in which these measures contribute to the redistribution of wealth away from women and minority groups, towards high-income males.

By looking at the ongoing political reactions to the 2008 economic crisis, and the rationale behind the focus on austerity, the gendered effects of austerity policies become clear.

The priority in response to the crisis has been to reduce the deficit and debt primarily through implementing austerity and cutting public spending. Whilst it was widely reported that cuts would likely negatively affect the worst-off in society, there has been a deafening silence on the fact that the make-up of this group is highly gendered. Women are overrepresented in the lowest paid sectors of the economy and are the largest group of tax credit beneficiaries. Some explanations for this are that, in the UK, women make up the majority of workers in the public sector, the gender pay gap continues to persist and in times of economic crisis, women are often the hardest hit for the longest period of time. There are not only financial concerns here; in times of hardship women are also expected to fill the gap when these services are cut, providing care to family members and taking on extra work with little or no remuneration.

Moreover there are intersectional issues to take into account. A recent Laura Bates article highlighted that in the UK, Black, Asian and minority ethnic workers make up a disproportionate number of people in low-paid jobs, with 23% of Pakistani employees and a fifth of Bangladeshi, Chinese and Black Caribbean workers earning less than £25,000 per year.

The rationale behind austerity is that low levels of inflation and a reduced deficit will benefit everyone equally as it will stabilise the economy as a whole. In reality there is growing evidence that such policies are in fact harmful to the welfare of the majority for the benefit of the few. These policies reflect an underlying, damaging conflation between the interests of the economy — viewed as a separate entity with needs of its own — and the interests of the people. This prioritises stability over economic and social well-being, despite the fact that such policies so far have failed to secure either. These goals must be understood as political priorities that consequently favour the wealthy. The incomes of those deemed responsible for the initial crisis have continued to rise, while income inequality widens and security worsens for those at the bottom.

The current wave of measures make up part of a long history of commitment to classical economic thinking which — despite claims of neutrality — is biased. Taking gender as a focal point highlights these biases. Under this thinking, the economic returns of work supposedly reflect its value and are regulated by the economy in a fair manner. Feminist economists have shown that, in reality, the wages connected to work are influenced by social norms and the values attached to different forms of work. This has led to a devaluation of many forms of labour deemed ‘feminine’, such as care work. Problematically, the social value of such work cannot easily be determined through measurement of output, because of its fundamentally human character. This has allowed it to be devalued and unfairly paid under the current economic system. There is clearly a disparity between work’s value and its returns when a nurse with over 30 years’ experience is paid exponentially less than even the bonus given to a male banker after his excessive risk-taking caused billions of pounds’ worth of financial loss. Is it prudent to trust the economy to reward ‘individual output’ in an objective way? I would argue ‘no’.

Using a gender lens to analyse economic policy is a useful tool that can highlight its inherent underlying biases. This brings to the forefront the importance of questioning the rationale which posits austerity as the best means of guaranteeing future economic stability. Importantly, it shows how austerity breeds inequality by further entrenching gender, class and racial disadvantage.  

The economic recession in 2007/2008 was not only caused by the excessive risk- taking of workers in the financial sector — it was also driven by inequality. Widening inequalities, a fall in wages and the consequent lack of demand for commodities and services, also contributed to the crisis. Austerity is simply widening inequality and contributing to instability. If we are to strive for greater fairness in our society — and in doing so reduce the risk of a future economic crises —  policy-makers need to place social and economic welfare front and centre in their thinking.  Non-orthodox, feminist economists propose alternative measures for long-term stability, they argue that work needs to be valued appropriately and wage inequality must decrease. They propose the ‘radical’ notion that the economy should work for society rather than the other way around.

The first step towards a more equitable society could be the simple one of including women’s voices in economic discussions. A recent study by the Fawcett society shows that 80% of newspaper articles on the economy have a male bias in terms of people referenced, spoken to and quoted. If women aren’t included in the discussion we cannot expect to achieve equitable progress any time soon. If these issues do not enter society’s conscience and policy continues to be blindly guided by orthodox economic rationale, we will likely see the continuing adverse effect of economic policy on women, the poor and minorities nationwide.

China: One Child or Two Children?

By Ridhi Malik

On 29th October 2015, news headlines highlighted China’s new plan to scrap the one-child policy and introduce a two-child policy in its place: Chinese couples can now have two children instead of one. The policy will be put into effect after it is ratified at the annual session of the National People’s Congress in March 2016. Until then, there will only be anticipations as to whether the move is confirmed or not. The ending of the policy is attributed to the reduced number of people available for labour as there are now fewer young people in China.

The one-child policy was introduced in China between 1978 and 1980 to curb population growth. China’s population of 1.4 billion beats every other country in the world. The Chinese Government claims that 400 million births were prevented because of the one-child policy. Fines were imposed on couples who had more than one child, whilst child care and healthcare facilities were offered to families who abided by the one-child policy.

Gender Balance in the One-child Policy:

What needs to be known is that the one-child policy is not applicable to the entire Chinese population. Some ethnic minorities such as the Han are exempt from following this policy. In addition, almost half of Chinese couples are allowed to have another child if the first child is a girl. This demonstrates the patriarchal nature of the Chinese community.

A preference for male children is one of the negative implications of the one-child policy. The gender imbalance in Chinese society is a cause for concern and a change in policy would hopefully see a reduction in this discrepancy. It is believed that the one-child policy in China led to some malpractices such as female foeticide, female infanticide and unregistered births. Undoubtedly, the change of policy would lead to a reduction of such practices.

Older Generation Suffering:

Another major issue with the one-child policy is that when parents get older, there is only one child to support them. As the older population is increasing in China and the younger population has declined in the years after the policy was put in place, there is a stronger need for younger people to work. Whatever the reason — economic or social — this change in policy and practice will have material benefits for the Chinese population. Parents will have two children to take care of them in old age and there will be more young people to participate in economic activities.

Rural areas of China, traditionally believed to have larger families, were harder to control in terms of following the policy. There are no financial penalties if twins are born, so many pregnant Chinese women are still resorting to fertility medicines in order to induce the conception of twins.

“Heihaizi” is a term used in China used to refer to children born outside of the one-child policy. These children are unregistered in the Chinese National Registration System. Literally translated as “black child”, the term points to xenophobic tendencies. A change in policy might alter the mindset of the Chinese population, thus reducing the likelihood of racist attitudes.

China’s sex ratio of 1,080 males to every 1,000 females, is higher than the average global sex ratio of 1,016 males to 1,000 females. As can be seen, males outnumber females. This is a cause for concern because in China — a largely (ostensibly) heterosexual society — many men are finding themselves unable to find a wife.

The new policy would be a positive step towards minimizing the practice of some families to abandon their baby girls. Some conventional families still value boys more than girls, as boys are considered to be the breadwinners, whilst girls are seen as a liability. This change in policy will also have a positive effect on pregnant women as it has been reported that some mothers have been forced to undergo an abortion if they conceive a second child.

The impact of the change on policy is yet to be seen and we can only make predictions. However, this seems a promising step in the direction for gender equality and greater workforce participation.

Gender Fictionalism: How I Learnt to Love Eyeliner and Live My Own Life

By Georg(ia) Penfold

I wear my hair long, my eyeliner thick and I shop ever more frequently in the “women’s section”, but I’m not trans, nor do I identify as any of the other ever-growing gender categories that are used within queer culture. The reason behind this is simple: I’m a gender-sceptic.Years of personal and academic philosophy have pushed me more and more towards the conclusion that identity, and with it gender, are no more than fictions which we construct to try and make sense of who we are and our place in the world. This may seem somewhat out of place on a blog specifically about gender, but this is to assume that I take these fictions to be useless, and this could not be further from the truth.

I personally don’t identify as anything. I don’t eat meat but I don’t identify as vegetarian. I’ve only slept with men but I don’t identify as gay. I was born in England but I don’t identify as English. I don’t identify as these things because I feel that they fail to tell you anything about who I am and about who I am becoming. Yet I hold the belief that these identities have some importance, much like how even the most sceptical person still accepts that they have hands. The reason for this comes from the fictionality that I take to be my basis for rejecting self-identification, for although by being fictional there is nothing that it is to be a certain gender, there is something to identify with a character in fiction even if it’s just a small part. From this, ‘man’ and ‘woman’ (I use the binary genders for ease and emphasis as they are most prevalent) are not ways of being. The stories we tell of them are not guides to how our sexed bodies should be, rather they are characters in fiction through whom we tell our stories, but what we so often forget is that we can create and live stories that have never been told before.

Familiarity, by nature, is comforting — it makes us feel safe. Many of us are taught from a young age to shy away from the strange and distinct, and in so doing we tighten the realm of possibilities. Existence precedes essence: there is nothing that we are meant to be, no destined fate, or prophecy to follow, we are all our own beings. But the familiarity of gender roles that we see around us obscures this and we fall into line too often out of fear and uncertainty, fear of our own freedom. By following the familiar fictions that have been told through generations, we fall under the illusion that our lives will be carried out in the joyous and happy way that those fictions so often present. That marriage, kids and family dogs are not ways our lives could be, but the way they need to be for us to be happy, complete and have our place in the world. But these are just fictions and, like any old story, so rarely do they come true.

These fictions of gender, seen in this way, can become dangerous, causing harm to the self and to others. For example, taken to the extreme, one might feel that they cannot truly be who they take themselves to be until they have had sex with a member of the opposite sex, therefore building an ever more aggressive and hateful set of feelings out of the frustration which not feeling ‘complete’ can manifest. Feelings that, in an even more extreme example, can force one to feel a need to cause violence. Another example is a life followed without thought to how else it could be lived — doing everything right by society because that’s all you were ever told to do; reaching middle age with everything that you were ever meant to have, but ending up feeling empty inside with no understanding as to why.

To follow these fictions as truth, to see them as the way one’s life needs to be, is clearly destructive, harmful and stagnant. It casts aside any thought of Darwin’s theory of evolution — for how can we evolve if we always repeat that of old? However, as I said earlier, I still think there is some use to gender (at least for the time being). It allows us to understand the way the world has been, to grasp why things are the way they are, and hopefully how we can change them. It’s useful to recognise parts of ourselves in others, to begin to understand what we might want and desire. My own experience has shown me this for, as I departed from manhood, I found stories of women who I identified with, whose stories made sense of my own life and so helped me develop who I am. Yet those stories still left me wanting (as did many stories of men), for I only ever saw parts of myself in them. I could have tried to follow one of these fictions, to find their ways of being happy, but I knew that I would then have to create a new fiction — a new way of being that would depart from the fictions so frequently told.

However, this is not a fiction I tell, it is a ‘fiction’ that happens to me, as my life takes its blind twists and turns, throwing new people and emotions at me. I know there is no way to tell this fiction, no point in trying to tell myself where it will go and how it will end, for it is all yet to happen. Life, then, is not a fiction we tell ourselves, but one that others tell about us; a fiction in which gender is there to suggest but not to guide us, to make sense of the part but not the whole.