Grandpa, you were hunched right over,
You didn’t look how I remembered.
Seven years out of sight
Big. Obstructive; a stroke never fails to get in the way.
Grandpa, you didn’t look right
Sitting there unable to gesticulate widely or boom into the conversation.
You were always taking over; so loud.
But so gentle and caring;
It seems so very unfair.
Grandpa, you looked so small in death;
In life such a giant of a man who could lift me high
And throw me up towards the sky.
Who used a hammer to crush tin cans
And seldom finished any-bloody-thing for wanting to start the next project.
Grandpa, since you’ve been gone I’ve thought about you every day
Old memories floated back to be inhaled.
No longer do I see a sick old man:
I see the man stood at 6”3, who pushed me in the wheelbarrow
And smelt of coffee and imperial leather soap.
Grandpa, I don’t believe in heaven, whatsoever,
But I know you did,
So I imagine that if you are anywhere now
You must be on a cricket pitch at sunset on the warmest day
Where you can bat, and bowl and play
And score runs, forever.
Sigh. It is a shame that I couldn’t talk about this with the attendees of the session at NUS LGBT conference. There were people there who were genuinely interested in and supportive of LGBT women fighting sexism both in and outside our movement.
Sadly, the discussion got derailed by attendees who clearly couldn’t give a shit about the issues that LGBT women face, and care only about the fact that at our annual LGBT conference women get 40 minutes to have a women’s only space, and men don’t. Alex from Edge Hill elaborates on the happenings very well in his blog.
The reason men do not need a caucus at LGBT conference is because they are oppressed for being Gay, Bi, Trans* or Queer, NOT because they are men. Gay issues are discussed on conference floor, and there are already autonomous spaces for Bi, Trans* and Queer people. When a caucus meets there can be nothing else going on at the same time, which means that caucuses take up time in an already packed agenda. The point of the caucuses is for people who define into these groups to talk about their marginalisation both outside the movement and within it. There can be no denying that the LGBT movement has been consistently dominated by gay men and their issues, and the marginalisation of those who do not fit this label is very much in existence today. One woman commented on how disheartening it was that men who were supposed to understand oppression and the need for autonomous spaces were so bad at checking their own privileges.
If gay men wish to meet to discuss issues amongst themselves, they can organise informal meets or fringes outside of conference hours. By demanding a caucus, gay men are refusing to acknowledge their dominance in the movement, refusing to see the significance of marginalised groups having their own space for empowerment and refusing to see how obnoxious it is to make everyone else sit around twiddling their thumbs whilst the most powerful and privileged segment of the movement have an exclusive meeting.
Now, thankfully, I move swiftly on from Men’s Caucus.
Misogyny and lesbephobia in both the LGBT community…
I have had friends say that the sexism they have experienced in LGBT spaces has at times been even worse than that experienced in wider society. I certainly have experienced as much sexism on the gay scene as I have outside it, even if it has manifested itself differently.
Male dominance of social spaces such as bars and clubs is strikingly obvious to anyone who frequents gay villages. In addition to this, the lack of spaces for lesbian and bisexual women makes for a very one sided gay scene. Lesbians are frequently seen as a nuisance; women invading a gay men’s space. They will often find themselves being treated to an icy reception, or under crossfire from misogynist and suggestive comments from toxic drag queens and DJs.
After all, in straight society women are consistently sexually objectified and presented as things to be won. Take away the desire to fuck us and that’s even fewer reasons to show women respect.
and outside of it.
LGBT women are underrepresented in the media, film, and television and when they are they are often portrayed as disturbed, dysfunctional and “bad” characters. Probably someone will end up dying, or at the very least wrecking some poor heterosexual’s home life when they swoop in during the dead of night and finally give his wife the orgasm she’s been waiting on for 15 years. The media still offers up stereotypes of LGBT women on plate, and encourages people to be repulsed. Take the increase in sensationalist, right wing coverage of things like lesbian couples demanding their sperm donor give them money, or of girls finding out their boyfriends have female bodies and have been lying to them all along. These things are such rarities, but these are the things being presented to the public.
Women who look visibly “butch” or otherwise don’t conform to the strict gender rules will find themselves ridiculed and abused in the streets, humiliated when they attempt to use public toilets and blamed for propagating negative stereotypes (rather than people blaming society for othering these women). I have yet to see anything from the mainstream media that portrays butch, boyish or masculine women as attractive, desirable or beautiful.
Problematic door policies; femmephobia.
So, if you think that women aren’t excluded from the gay community, that’s probably because you can’t see them, because they can’t get through the front door. Feminine LGBT women find themselves at the mercy of untrained door staff with shit gaydars in many places. They will commonly decide that they aren’t gay because they have long hair, and refuse them entry altogether. Spaces that should be open for women to come and socialise with others who have shared experiences and to be safe from the homophobia and harassment they get in the mainstream are regularly not safe at all, or are made completely off limits.
Such happenings are in my opinion to do with the femmephobia that exists on the scene. In the workshop I told everyone I believed that our collective oppression as LGBT and queer people stems from sexism, and from the fact that the feminine is seen as subordinate to the masculine, and unfortunately this view carries through to queer spaces as well, and manifests itself in negative attitudes towards femmes, and the bullying of cam/effeminate men by certain sections of the community. We could have had a great discussion about this in the workshop, and how to tackle it.
Gay men sexually assaulting women and policing their bodies in other ways.
This has recently been discussed on the blogosphere, and is much better articulated here than any of my attempts. This is a common issue, where gay men seem to be under the impression that their sexuality alleviates their responsibility to ask for consent before they touch a woman. Yes, yes, I know not all of you do this, but a huge number do, so sit down and pay attention. Even if you aren’t guilty of this behaviour, unless you are intervening when your friends do it you are also part of the problem.
Consent is relevant no matter who you are, how you define and who the other person is. It is never, ever ok to grope people like this without consent. Women get enough of this bullshit in straight places from straight men; do you really think it’s ok for you to do it to them in a supposed safe space? It doesn’t matter that you are gay, you’re a man in a patriarchal society; you hold the power in that situation. Sexual assault is an act committed to exert control over another person, and it is a manifestation of the power dynamic in the current gender order.
So pack it the fuck in. Now.
These are just a few of the things I had hoped to start a discussion on during the session we were given at conference; I was even happy to give up my (probably last) chance to be in a room that provided a political space with only self defining LGBT and queer women in it; one of the rarest and most empowering experiences I have ever had, in order to hold this session. It was such a shame that 1) a shit ton of men decided they couldn’t even be bothered to turn up and 2) of those who did turned up the session was dominated by men forcing women’s issues off the agenda in favour of discussing the validity of including a men’s only caucus.
I do want to thank several of the people who were in the room who were engaged, who participated and supported my attempts to get the session back on track and who called out their peers for their aggressive, interrogating behaviour. I’m sorry, because actually you missed out on a chance to really engage with women’s issues, which I know several of you wanted to. It’s not easy to stand alone with no props in front of a room full of people and answer complicated questions, so your input was greatly appreciated. Please keep doing what you are doing.
Women’s Conference 2013. I really should think of titles for my poems.
Performing at Love Music Hate Homophobia in 2011.
The first time I ever did a poem in front of an audience.
This is my letter to Unilad. A website for men students in the UK which jokes about rape, and is horrendously sexist, racist, homophobic and ableist.
TRIGGER WARNING: this poem discusses rape and uses swear words.
Its always quite depressing when you’re caught off guard and put in your place. Often as a woman, a gay woman, a gay soft butch woman you walk around in semi-defensive mode all the time. You think about things that should be negligible - like going into a gendered toilet, or gym changing room, or swimming. Sometimes I alter my appearance on purpose to lessen the risk of agro.
Sadly, we do not live in a society where gender non-conforming people are free to express themselves without harassment, which is why we need LGBT and queer safe spaces to go and relax and lower the shield sometimes.
Last week I went into a pub in Leeds that is not officially an LGBT venue, but has a reputation for being queer friendly and I have been attending riot grrl nights there sporadically for several years. I was on a date, the shield well and truly lowered, with a young, outwardly femme-looking woman. We were sat quietly with a couple of drinks when a man in his mid to late forties came and sat next to us, despite there being a lot of space in the rest of the pub.
“Ey…Ey, are you two lesbians?” he said. In an attempt to disarm him I replied “yeah, pretty much.”
I have found in the past that this can sometimes make people leave you alone, but unfortunately this guy wasn’t having it.
“I’m ok with it, my neice is a lesbian, maybe you know her…maybe you’ve had her.”
“don’t panic, don’t panic, I’m taking the piss.”
It was at this point that I shifted my weight slightly to put myself between him and B, as he was eyeing her like a dog stares at a whole cooked chicken.
He turned to me: “Ey, your mrs…”
”Um, she’s not my mrs”
“Your mrs,” he continued, ignoring me, “She’s got fantastic knockers.”
My stomach dropped out “Don’t say that,” I said.
“Why?” he demanded, because obviously it’s our duty to educate sexist wankers on our evening out.
“Because it’s not ok to comment on people’s bodies like that, don’t do it.”
“Oh sorry, I’m a bit pissed.”
B and I started to drink our pints very quickly in order to escape as fast as possible, when he addressed me again:
“Your girlfriend, she fancies me,” to which I replied “I don’t think she does, I think she’s into women,” all the while painfully aware that in the absence of a man he had drafted me into the role, and was talking to me about the woman sat next to me whilst she was there, but as if she wasn’t, as if I was a straight lad down the pub.
And then he said again: “She’s got fantastic breasts.” At which point B said “Don’t say that please, I don’t like it.”
“Oh sorry, I’m pissed.” I don’t think he was pissed, I think he was a sexist wanker.
We got up and left the pub, and the barman apologised to B on the way out. I think I’d have rather he intervened and stopped the harrassment of his customers than offered a flaccid apology as we left the pub.
B, unfortunately used to unwanted and inappropriate comments from men, was remarkably calm as walked back to her house, and even a little bemused by my cursing and spitting bile as we made our way home.
I felt so angry at the situation, and I’m used to feeling angry but this time was different because I was so angry on so many different levels. I was raging at the degrading comments he had made about B, I was angry at how powerless I was to stop him, I was furious that we had been slyly forced out of the pub because we were too gay women, but something else was nagging me.
I was feeling repulsed that he had forced us into boy/girl roles, and that having placed me into the “boy” role had tried to get me to be complicit in his sexism and sexual harassment. He had talked about B as if she was my property. I wanted to rip my butch skin off and start again - it was like I’d been given a perverse kind of male privilege, and yet had not felt empowered to challenge him aggressively out of a fear of how he might react to a woman standing up to him.
There’s been a lot of discussion recently about femmephobia on the LGBTQ scene, and masculinities being celebrated over femininities, which is true and a real issue. But there is also an issue with some bois being all too complicit in propagating sexist attitudes towards femme queer women, and as someone who falls loosely into the “soft butch” bracket, it is important that we stamp out misogyny, wherever it rears it’s head, especially in our own communities.
It also needs to be noted that outside of the queer scene female masculinities do not garner unadulterated privilege in the way it does on the scene.
My gender expression means that when I am alone I seldom receive unwanted sexual advances from men. I am rarely groped or preyed upon. I do not have to endure comments about my chest, because it’s quite flat and unnoticeable. But I do get spat at in the street, abused for being gay and men threatening to fuck me straight. I do get manhandled and thrown out of Womens toilets by huge male security guards. I am privileged on a queer scene that prizes androgyny; the rest of the world is a different story.
The point of this was to try and show how complicated and inexplicably, intrinsically linked sexism and homophobia are, and how present both still are in society.
We may have been granted the right to marry, but apparently we still don’t have the right to enjoy a drink down the pub in peace.
This article just went up over at Boldly Go, a relatively new blog I’ve been reading for a while. A few excerpts:
I cannot count how many times in many poly communities I’ve come across the ever fun figure of the Poly Patriarch. A white, economically privileged male “ally” of “the gays” who appropriates queer struggles, queer blood, queer death, and queer hatred because if he tells his mean ex-wife about having two girlfriends in their 20s, she might go all harpy on him and tell the courts and he *could* lose custody. While I won’t deny that there are real threats that non-monogamous people face due to slut shaming, misogyny, and general heterosexist cispatriarchical bullshit, I seriously doubt that Poly Patriarch who snorts at mentions of feminism and who probably has never got shit for who he loves in his life is going to be one of the first ones that the hammer falls on. I’m sick to death of “allies” telling me that they have a right to call themselves queer just because they date more than one person, especially when they have lipstick parties in middle class suburbia while queer kids are forced into homelessness, nonconsensual sex work, and death…
The third huge problem that I’ve run into is something that I see in a lot of communities: the perpetuation of abuse and abusers. This is a similar problem to what I’ve run into with the BDSM community, where people swear up and down that abusers are eliminated by some sort of Darwinistic natural selection within communities – that no one of course would put up with that sort of awful behaviour! And I run across a similar sort of sentiment within poly, except there’s little to no actual acknowledgement about how poly is kind of ideal for abusers…
Olympic Sexism Roundup – week one.
Actually, it started before week one, with the news that the Olympic Committee will be testing any women athletes that are too good at their sport or too “masculine” looking for hyperandrogenism. This is a condition where a woman’s androgen levels are “too high”. Androgens, which include testosterone, are hormones commonly considered to be “male” hormones, although all women have a certain amount in their system. The IOC is arguing that if a woman has a naturally raised level of androgens she has an unfair advantage over her peers.
It’s an extremely over simplistic view of things because there’s plenty of research to suggest that raised testosterone levels alone do not provide any significant advantages. This was articulated very well on Women’s Hour this week. Lots of women who have hyperandrogenism also have a complete immunity to the effects of testosterone, so although they have higher levels than the supposed average woman, they’re bodies do not respond to it in any way.
There also hasn’t been a rush to test high performing athletes for any other kind of genetic condition that might give them an advantage, like mitochondrial conditions that result in increased efficiency in respiration which has been found in some runners, or Marfan’s Syndrome, which can be an advantage in sports like swimming or basketball.
Nope, it seems its sex and gender that people have got their knickers in a twist about. Mostly because women, now that there are fewer barriers to their participation in sport, are performing some pretty outstanding physical feats, and a lot of people can’t believe they’re doing it. So obviously, they must be men in disguise. How else can they be SO GOOD?
This brings me smartly onto the case of Ye Shiwen, a 16 year old Chinese swimmer, who absolutely smashed the 400m individual medley and won gold. She beat her personal best by five seconds, and swam the last 50m of the race quicker than the men’s champion. The first assumption was that she was doping. The USA swimming coach was quick to label her performance as “disturbing”. Which speaks volumes; obviously a girl beating a boy at sport can’t be anything other than disturbing. She’s upsetting the idea that women are and always will be weaker and slower than men, and the patriarchy does not like it. She passed her doping test, but how sad that when a woman performs such an amazing feat of athleticism, she is immediately assumed to be cheating. When Usain Bolt did something similar on the track, he became an instant hero. Clearly, many people are not as pro-woman as they think they are.
And Thursday we were treated to an article in the Telegraph that would have made a Victorian physician look like a moderate, pragmatic feminist. Andrew Brown shared his insights on women’s judo with us, and very gripping it was too (aha!). It seems that, rather than celebrating a display of immense skill, strength, co-ordination and discipline, which lead to a medal for Gemma Gibbons of Team GB (the first for GB in judo for 12 years), Andrew was a tad more concerned for their “soft limbs battered black and blue with bruises”. Andrew wonders whether watching two women fighting is a “wholesome” spectator sport. I put it to him that it is as wholesome as watching two men beating the crap out of each other in the boxing ring, or smashing each other on a rugby pitch. If you don’t like fighting or contact sports, that’s fine, but don’t be a massive sexist about it, it does nothing for your argument.
Sport is an arena where sexism still, largely, goes unchecked. Where mainstream society does not question the chronic poor funding, crap reporting and downright abysmal amount of respect that women athletes get, or rather, don’t get. Women athletes are constantly reduced to their appearance, expected to balance out their athleticism by presenting as very feminine, and are ripped by the gutter press if they don’t. Olympic weightlifter Zoe Smith articulated the situation very well when she ripped some sexist tweeters apart on her blog.
And so, there is a long way to go, but to leave you on a happy note; in women’s football GB played Brazil, at Wembley Stadium in front of a crowd of 70000 people. That, sisters and allies, is something I never expected to see in my lifetime.
The printed media and blogsphere are all abuzz with the issue of gender testing in the Olympics. As I return to full time study this September in an attempt to finish my undergrad in Sports Science, I thought this might be a could time to blow a few academic cobwebs away and write about gender testing and why what the Olympic Committee is saying is absolute crap.
Well, there is that, but also as a woman, feminist, athlete (ha!) and overall decent human being I am absolutely OUTRAGED.
Gender testing for the Olympics began in the the 1920’s, and was introduced fully in the 60’s when women were ALL required to undergo invasive, humiliating tests administered by a physician in order to compete. However, the idea of gender testing in this manner probably wasn’t even in the thoughts of the modern Olympic Spectator until 2009, when 18-year-old Caster Semeya was investigated and interrogated by the press because she was too good at sport.
Those responsible for throwing her gender/sex into question say it was necessary because if a woman had a level of androgens (male hormones) that was high enough to be within the ranges considered normal for a man, it gave her an unfair advantage over other female competitors.
The reason they’re saying this is because androgens (which include testosterone) help in the development of muscle, strength, power and speed. All women have some amount of androgens in their system, the same way that men have some amount of oestrogen in their systems. The gender police are claiming that a woman with naturally high levels of male hormones gains an advantage as if she was doping (abusing steroids to achieve higher feats of athleticism).
However, they’re argument falls down, because the people who are into this theory don’t seem to be willing to apply it to anything elese. Yes, some women/female people are predisposed to having higher than average levels of androgens in their systems, which could make it easier to develop muscle/be faster/be stronger.
But…some men are genetically pe-disposed to be like, seven feet tall. I mean, wow, that is really tall. And totally taller than what is considered normal for an adult male, right?
And actually, although around 8% of female Olympic athletes are found to have androgen levels that fall into the normal male range, 25% of male athletes have androgen levels that fall into the normal female range. Surely, if the theory is correct, these lads shouldn’t be competing in the men’s events? They’re at such an inherent disadvantage; what if they hurt themselves? At the very least they should be able to get, like, a two second head start in the running races.
What desperately needs to be recognised is that sex, like gender, is not as clear cut as society thinks it is. There is a huge spectrum that stetches from “normal” male to “normal” female. On that spectrum there is a much bigger overlap in terms of genetics, hormones and physical characteristics between men and women than the patriarchy wants to admit.
If you want to ban women with above average levels of androgens, then you’d better be ready to ban men over 6 ft 6 from playing basketball, and swimmers who have enormous, flipper-like feet from competing in human swimming races, because they will have an advantage over the other humans who only have tiny, mediocre human feet. You also should check that no one has a genetic mutation that results in having high numbers mitochondria meaning that they have a more efficient respiratory system. Should people with mitochondrial conditions be banned as well?
The fact of the matter is that elite athletes of any gender or sex are not normal people. They train for fucking hours and hours a day. They’re physiques are not the physiques of the average human being. The elite athlete has a genetic pre-disposition to be a certain shape. Successful long distance runners have a genetic pre-disposition which results in them having a higher proportion of slow twitch muscle fibres (which are good for endurance). Shotputters have genes that result in them having a high ratio of fast twitch muscle fibres (for short, explosive bursts of power and strength). They are two extremes of human physique. There is nothing average about them. My genes mean that I am quite skinny, fairly lean and slightly stronger than average. I was never, no matter how hard I tried, going to be a successful shotputter, because of my genes. Does it make me angry that other people have genes that mean they are naturally better than me at shot putting? NO!
The reason that women athletes are scrutinized so much, and men athletes aren’t, is because the elite male athlete’s body is held up as the ideal masculine body. It is to be admired, adored, and emulated. Look at the euphoria displayed when Usain Bolt absolutely caned the 100 metres, beating all his male competitors by a huge margin. No one questions that fact that he might have an unfair genetic advantage. Or suggests he’s “more of a man”, which is unfair. He is idolised. Yet when Caster Semeya performs a similar feat, she is viewed immeadiately with suspicion by sexist people who simply cannot beleive that a woman can achieve to that level. The male athlete’s body is a physique that has been worshipped for millennia. The female athlete’s body is not. The female athlete challenges the status quo; she demonstrates that women are not, as the patriarchy would have us believe, weak, fragile, physically illiterate or in need of physical protection (and therefore control) from a male person. Women athletes often find themselves under intense pressure to prove their femininity; “don a frock, put some make up on and for gods sake turn up with a male partner.”
Thanks to some advances in attitudes, women are allowed to participate in sport and physical activity these days without doctors telling them they’re destroying their wombs or having sex with the devil. The problems arise when a female athlete gets to good.
There are plenty of studies to show that, while in general men are stronger and faster than women because of the higher proportion of lean muscle they have, the actual differences in performance and ability have a lot to do with the psychology of it. If a woman has been told her whole life that she won’t ever be as fast as a man, she will do a lot worse in a race against them than if she has a belief that she could be as fast as a man. The physical differences between men and women, in general, are not so great, and the sexes are certainly not polarised, but the fact that the world thinks they are so big is what keeps them so big. This supports the notion that all women are pre-disposed to be athletically inferior to all men.
Think of all the money and investment there is in male athleticism; a lot of people could lose a lot of money if the value and emphasis of male sport was to shrink due to a shift in interest towards women’s sport. Is it any wonder that when women start to perform to the point where they could be beating a lot of men, people start to get twitchy?
I also find it hilarious that these people are so terrified of elite female athletes being able to beat elite male athletes, when they can beat the vast majority of the male population already anyway.
All this gender/sex testing business is about sexism, plain and simple. The belief that women are a homogenous group with limited abilities, so when a woman starts disproving that, she can’t possibly be a woman, because women can’t match or beat men. Because they’re women.
Now tell me we’re living in a post feminist world.
EDIT: these two women on Woman’s Hour these week sum up the science perfectly http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01l7pv3/Womans_Hour_30_07_2012/