Are you a…feminist?

To me this sounds like a silly question, I might respond with a statement along the lines of; “Of course I am a feminist, arent you? I mean if you aren’t a feminist, what does that make you? A misogynist?” But unfortunately not everyone has such a high opinion of feminism. In order to undermine the feminist movement a great number of negative stereotypes have been perpetuated such as the man-hating, ugly, lonely, angry woman who is a feminist only because she cannot find a man etc etc. Of course these stereotypes are nonsense, but they have served to give the so called “post-feminist” generations (a term that I particularly abhore – its certainly not like feminism is ‘done’) pause about self-identifying as feminists.

Which is why a film like”Feminist: Stories from the Women’s Liberation Movement” is so important. This independent film, made by Jennifer Lee (@JenniferLeeUSA) documents the significant events of the Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s and talks to a number of prominent feminists including Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan. Its aims to show why feminism was and still is so important and highlight the progress we have made as well as the obstacles left to overcome.

But this is an independent film and as such needs your support. Already 62 people have donated to help get this film made, but more funds are needed. Pledge anywhere from $1 upwards and help to document and celebrate the Women’s Liberation Movement. If you pledge $15 or more you receive a digital download of the film, and there are many other donation categories that include added benefits such as posters, badges and tote bags (and even an Associate Producer credit for the highest category!)

So please visit the kickstarter website for the film (http://tinyurl.com/42z67yc), watch the video and pledge your support!


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Banning the Burqa

I must say that the Burqa ban in France (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-13031397) is one of those issues where I don’t know exactly where I stand. Many people have been online today coming out strongly for or against the ban, but if you will give me a moment, I will try (try, mind you!) and explain why I don’t think it is such a black and white issue.

Firstly, I should say that I am not a fan of Islam. But I am also not a fan of Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism or any other religion that you care to name. I am an equal opportunity atheist, I think all the religions are equally bat-shit crazy. I think that, like most religions, Islam has a habit of subjugating and discriminating against women and I think that the covering of a woman’s head and/or face is just another way that women are shamed because of their sex and removed from society by religion (again, this theme can apply to basically any religion). If it truly was not a way of controlling and subjugating women and their sexuality then please explain to me why pre-pubescent girls do not have to wear it and nor do men.

Having said that, I am not sure that outlawing the burqa in public is the best course of action. The ban is only for face coverings (eg burqa, niqab), so it will be perfectly acceptable for Islamic women to wear headscarves in the street. These women who wear only a headscarf are presumably (and in my own personal experience) more moderate in their (and their families) religious views, and thus would be expected to already enjoy more freedom to interact within society than those who wear the full face veil. So given that Muslim women will continue to wear Muslim headgear in public, what is the true effect of banning the face veil? Well, I would expect that there might be a reduction in the number of women wearing a veil in public, but this is less likely to be due to women going about without the veil and more likely to be caused by these veil-wearing women no longer being able to leave the house, for fear of facing either a government imposed fine or retribution from their families. The women who choose or are induced to wear the veil are more likely to live in a world where the Islamic beliefs and teachings are very strictly adhered to. A government edict is not, I expect, going to be enough for most of the people who live their lives in this way to suddenly choose to discard this tradition. So I suspect that roughly the same number of women will be wearing the veil, but that they will be less visible due to the ban – and therefore more isolated from the people, culture and aid services of society. It feels kind of like liberating these women from the burqa only to have them trapped in their houses. Not exactly a win.

I would love to hear other peoples comments on this issue –  I clearly do not have the answer as to the best course of action, but I think we cannot approach this as a simplistic issue that will go away because of a ban.

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Help us tell Adidas to stop ignoring women athletes

I have been ranting all week about the new Adidas campaign that completely ignores female athletes and makes it look like all women can do is dance on the sidelines (see previous posting). So far they have ignored all comments, emails, tweets and have deleted (or disallowed) most of our comments made on their facebook page.

As such, I am now asking for your help to get their attention. I want them to know that its not okay to treat women as decorative objects that cheer on men, rather than participating in sports themselves.

Here are some really easy ways you can help us to get their attention:

1. Post a comment on their facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/adidas . A short comment like: “Adidas, please stop excluding female athletes from your ‘all-in’ campaign. http://fb.me/YfPHh6tu

2. Tweet or RT the following (or similar):

@adidasUK @adidasUS want us #allin, unless youre a girl, then you just dance & look pretty. http://fb.me/NLIidGA9 #feminism #gender #fem

3. Email customercareuk@adidas.com or get onto the Adidas website at http://www.adidas.com/uk/shared/help/performance_email.asp?countryid=39 with a letter of complaint. If you wish, you can copy and paste some/all of the below template:

“To whom it may concern,

We are writing to express our concern regarding your recent UK television advertising for the “All in” campaign. We are very disturbed by the poor representation of women in the piece. Women are not only under-represented in the “All in” commercial, but are depicted as only being on the sidelines of sports, rather than actual participants. In the campaign spot that has been airing on UK television, there are only approx. four women that are given any amount of screen time. This includes one model, one singer, a woman dancing and one runner. In the ~1 minute commercial there are numerous shots of numerous men playing actual sports including football, soccer, skateboarding, basketball, BMX and boxing to name a few. Yet there is only one shot that lasts for about one second of a woman in sport (the runner). All other women in the advert are dancing or ‘looking pretty’.

This kind of gender discrimination is extremely detrimental as what you are portraying is that for boys it is cool and great to be sporty, but not for girls. Boys have all these great role models to aspire to, and what do girls get? Katy Perry and a model. Not exactly inspiring. This commercial is subliminally telling girls that sport is not for them, it is something that they cheer for, but don’t participate in.

There are so many amazing sportswomen in the world, it seems ridiculous that you were not able to find a suitable woman to be on par with the men in your campaign. Particularly when another sportswear company recently produced such a good example of female athletes in advertising: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wkt0Q6p33fo

Furthermore, although Katy Perry is popular and well known, her relevance to a sportswear company is a little unclear. But we would like to stress that it is not the presence of a singer like Perry, or the cheerleaders etc in this commercial that is the problem. It is that there are (with the exception of that one second shot of the runner) no other representations of women as active, strong, sportspeople. The men in the advert are shown running, playing, competing and having a laugh even when taking a fall. But the females in the advert seem wrapped in cotton wool and makeup. They are there for the benefit of others, they cheer, they dance, they look pretty. Why don’t you show women doing sport? Why not show women competing, women excelling, women taking a tumble themselves sometime? We are not any more breakable than men, we promise. We are not just display items that make the world prettier and cheer on the men-folk.

What we are asking you is to re-think the portrayal of women in this campaign. Show girls that women can be strong and sporty and someone to look up to. Show the world that you don’t think the sum total of a woman is how much people want to look at her. We understand that advertising needs to be geared to your market to be successful and that men’s sports generally make more money than women’s. But your campaign makes it look like women don’t do sport at all! The advert does not represent women in culture today or tomorrow, it represents backwards stereotypes that would not look out of place in the 1950’s.

The “All in” campaign has been reported to be your biggest campaign ever, please don’t let it be your most sexist campaign ever, too.”

We appreciate any help you can give us with this campaign!

Best wishes,

Feminist Letters.

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Adidas wants us all in – unless you’re a girl.

Adidas has a new marketing campaign called ‘All in’.  ‘Adidas is all in’ is the tag line, and apparently so are (Lionel) Messi, (Derrick) Rose, B.o.B, (David) Beckham and Katy Perry (http://tinyurl.com/4p2xem9). But the trouble is that while everyone is allowed to play, Adidas make it look like only the boys get to play sports and the girls just get to look pretty and dance. The advert is a series of shots of people doing cool stuff – mainly sports (since it is a sportswear company), set to cool music, presumably to make us all want to buy Adidas gear so that we can all play as well and look as cool as everyone in the video. When I first saw this advert on TV I was shocked by the under-representation of women and thought that perhaps I was missing something. So I looked it up online and tried to count the number of girls and make a note of what they did. In the 1:03 long video, this is what I found:

0:17 – The first woman appears on screen. It’s a model walking down a catwalk.
0:18 – The model is immediately followed by a cheerleader, cheering.
0:23 – The next woman appears. It is Katy Perry dancing in a mirrored rehearsal room.
0:25 – A woman is in a dark room (club?) dancing provocatively with a large circle of men behind watching.
0:54 – Thank the stars finally there is a female sportsperson! There is a one second clip of a runner who appears to be celebrating. (or screaming in anger at losing. But I guess it’s supposed to be motivational so lets stick with celebrating)

That’s it. That’s all the representations of women that you get. All the varied and exciting sports that women take part in, all the successful, charismatic, interesting, high profile female sportspeople in the world and you show us 2 dancers, a model and one runner? Really, Adidas? Really??

Now perhaps you think I am over-reacting. Perhaps you think this is not taking the context of the advert as a whole into account. For those of you who haven’t seen the video in question, let me outline some of the activities that men are shown participating in. Running, Boxing, American Football, Football (Soccer), Skateboarding, BMX/Stunt biking, Basketball, and bizarrely some guy shooting a flare into the night sky. Yes there is one male singer/rapper shown (B.o.B), but he is shown onstage performing and he also gets to drive about in a car and shoot a flare! Katy Perry only gets to wiggle her hips then jump into some guys arms. But seriously, it is not that there are girls dancing etc that bothers me, its that they don’t do anything else! The men on screen get to run about, play all sorts of sports that look terribly fun and even fall down and have a laugh whilst doing so. Why are the women stuck on the sidelines looking pretty and cheering on the men?

So what’s the harm in all this? It’s just an advert for a sportswear company. Well there is no harm, unless of course you want girls to grow up thinking that they can be sporty, can be active and can be something more than a bloody cheerleader! For good or for bad, we are all influenced by the society that we are in, and moreover by the society we grow up in. If the media and all your fave sports heroes are subtly telling you and all your friends that boys do one thing and girls do another, it’s no surprise that kids grow up thinking that they have an inherent set of options and likes to adhere to. Its subliminal and its subversive and its not even representative of our culture today. Sure women’s sports generally don’t get nearly the money, attention or cred that they deserve, but this advertising campaign makes them look like they don’t even exist! Its bad enough to reinforce existing gender stereotypes, but please Adidas, don’t try and make them worse.

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Authors note: Thanks to Jen Shewmaker (@drjenshewmaker) for the recent pointer to this amazing advert (below) made by another sportswear company (Underarmour) that GETS IT RIGHT! You can read her blog which looks at women as agents vs objects and compares the Adidas and Underarmour ads, here: http://dontconformtransform.wordpress.com/ Highly recommended!

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Feminist Fail

Today I watched a woman being hit by her partner and I couldn’t stop it. I wanted to write down what happened partly as a reminder of how common domestic violence is and partly as an apology to the victim that I should have been able to help. I have lots of excuses for why I didn’t do anything, but ultimately they are just that…excuses.

I sat on the tram to work this morning and a couple got on that were arguing enough for me to look up, despite the music playing in my earphones. A few seconds later the guy, who had the girl pushed up against the wall of the tram, raised his fist and punched her in the chest. It was a small, rapid movement, unnoticeable to any one who wasn’t looking directly at them, but I almost felt the blow as he hit her. I watched them intently, not sure what the best course of action would be next. My initial reaction was to yell at him, but I remembered that I am in a country where I don’t speak the language (excuse number 1). They started to walk further down the tram away from me and my second reaction was again to yell at him. But then I thought, you have to think about the woman – she wouldn’t want to draw attention to this, to have her personal life shouted about in a tram. I bet she is already embarrassed about the whole incident. I know screaming out would be the feminist thing to do, but would it be the best thing for her? (excuse number 2) So I thought again, what to do, what to do. I got out my phone and decided to take a photo of this guy. But what would that do, besides likely provoke him to attack me. We already know this guy doesn’t mind hitting women.

So I decided on a different course of action. I would go to the other end of the tram, where the couple were now sitting, quietly ask the woman if she spoke English and hoping that she did, I would, as gently as possible, ask her if she needed any help. If he decided to become aggressive with me then, well I was fairly happy to take my chances. I waited until the next stop as I am on crutches at the moment and staying upright whilst trying to walk on a moving tram isn’t the easiest thing to do (I think we are up to 4 excuses now…). The woman sitting opposite me kept looking at me and looking at them, shaking her head and muttering something in German. Right before the stop I stood up and said to her “I’m sorry I only speak English, but I am going over to ask her if she is alright”. She stood up too and I thought ‘Yes! Solidarity! She is going to back me up!’ She wasn’t backing me up. She was getting off the tram. So here I was, hobbling up the tram aisle towards this couple and before I could reach them they got off the tram via a door further ahead of me. I was stunned for a minute. What should I do? Do I jump off the tram and confront them there? But the moment of indecision had been enough time for the doors to close and the tram to set off again (keep counting those excuses!).

I was horrified. I talk a good talk about feminism, but when action is needed I completely dropped the ball. I tried to console myself by reasoning that even if I had managed to speak to her, she probably didn’t speak English and probably would have told me to mind my own business if she did. It didn’t help. I know enough women that have experienced domestic abuse to know the sort of environment that she is going home to. That thought alone brought me close to tears. And the more I thought about it, the angrier I got at him, at the other people on the tram who did nothing, and at myself. I thought about the punch. It was swift, sharp, almost a practiced move that was on a part of the body where bruises wouldn’t show when clothed. And I thought about every other person on that tram, male and female alike. Half of them didn’t notice, but there was a big group that did. There was almost a gasp that ran through our section of the tram and everyone turned to stare. However, apart from some head shaking and disapproving clucks and murmurs, every single person sat there and let a man beat his partner in public.

Including me.

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