WOMEN WHO POST ON MEN WHO POST ON WOMEN WHO EAT ON TUBES

BURN_BOOK

Why posting images of people eating (or naming and shaming those that do) has little to do with feminism

Two Facebook groups have been rocking the internet-boat particularly violently over the past couple of weeks. The first, Women who eat on tubes, encourages members to take pictures of women eating on the tube and post them on the group with three wittily-acronymed pieces of information – Time, food, and Location.

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On the second, Men who Post on “Women who Eat on Tubes“, members post a photo of a man who posted on WWEOT and write a satirical response to their original post or a mocking commentary on their appearance, name or clothing. One member posted a picture of a boy named Stephane, commenting “The brave little lad has not allowed the fact that his parents can’t spell to defer him from posting this unbelieveable guff on WWEOT…”

Both groups are home to endless fighting in the comments (made doubly confusing to the casual viewer, as comments are constantly moderated, deleted and edited), much of which boils down to MWPOWWEOT types calling WWEOT types misogynistic, and WWEOT types calling MPWOWWEOT types mad feminists and bandying around the term ‘hysteria’ as though they were, in fact, a bunch of Victorians.

While the outcry against the original group (including many, many comment articles and a bizarre-sounding picnic protest in which women were… that’s right, voluntarily papped by professional photographers while eating on the tube) is unavoidably justified, woman-hating isn’t really the main issue at stake here.

Laughing at women for eating certainly has its roots in disturbing gender norms, but the wider context goes beyond these two groups. Shaming strangers is just an extension of bullying (sorry to sound like your year 5 teacher), and it taps into a deep fear that has plagued internet users since its inception – namely, the fear that, somewhere on the internet, someone is laughing at you. And that is merely an extension of a millenia-old fear that someone, somewhere, is watching you and laughing.

train

These groups – to which Men taking up too much space on the train (the author of which was described on Buzzfeed as a ‘clever tumblr user‘ – remarkably anodyne compared to the vitriol directed at WWEOT’s founder) and Men who eat on trains can be added – are just high-tech Burn Books, a place to bitch and laugh about people without repercussions. They’re for people who made prank calls on their house phones at sleepovers, just to make their friends or enemies feel stupid.

The punishment doled out by MWPOWWEOT to snap-happy men often does not focus on their original post – instead, it turns the men’s weapons back on themselves. The group mocks men for their hair, their vacant expressions, or the props in their pictures, deriding them for exactly the things they mocked women on the original group for in the first place.

Today, on a train platform, bag of popcorn in hand, I found myself reluctant to  eat. When I examined my thoughts, they didn’t centre around people judging me as a woman for eating in public – they centered on the fear that a stranger would try and take a picture of me to make 22,000 men and women laugh at my expense. If I were a man sitting on a too-small train seat, I imagine I would have felt a similar fear.

So while those posting on either side of the debate may, as a sideline, be feminist or misogynist, they’re mostly just mean. Imagine what Regina George would have done with an iPhone – post unflattering pictures of classmates on public transport, presumably.

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WHY ARE WE STILL SO SCARED OF BREASTS?

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If you spent any time browsing the Daily Mail‘s eponymous sidebar this week, you may have chanced upon two stories about breasts. The two women attached to these breasts, Miley Cyrus and Beth Whaanga, were treated very differently by the publication. One had her “racy” mammaries blocked by a little black box, while the other had her photos shown in full and was lauded as “brave” by commenters for “baring all”.

The difference? Whaanga’s nudity exposed surgical scars from a double mastectomy and hysterectomy. Her photos were posted on her Facebook page as part of the cancer awareness-raising Red Dress Campaign, and 100 of her “friends” promptly deleted her. The Mail rightly came to her defence. But where does this leave Miley and her equally blameless areoles?

As a society, we’ve got our knickers in a twist about nudity. Specifically, female upper-body nudity. Where should it be allowed? On TV, but usually only after 9pm. We can’t be naked in Tesco, but Adele Stephens on page three of the Sun is more than welcome. We can be topless in the bath, unless it’s the big kind, in the Leisure Centre, with other people in it. No breasts allowed on Facebook – unless it’s to raise cancer awareness. Breastfeeding in public? We’re not sure how we feel about that.

It’s easy to argue that nudity is all about context. While you might be happy for your children to see a Caravaggio on a wholesome trip to the National Gallery, you may be less keen for them to flick through Nuts magazine. Yet when it comes down to making laws or social media policies, judging “context” is far from easy.

The image-sharing website Pinterest recently loosened their no-tolerance policy to allow nudity in “art” images, following complaints from artists and photographers. Facebook, however, stands by its policy that “breast or genital” nudity is, in its nature, “pornographic”. Yet they have made an exception for Whaanga, assuring her that her photos will not be removed.

I once posted a picture on Facebook of a burqa-clad Muslim woman bearing her breasts at a protest. She had less square inches of flesh on show than your average woman wearing a jumper and jeans, yet I received a warning from Facebook moderators, who removed the image. This, too, was an awareness-raising photo – yet Zuckerberg and co. (in their infinite wisdom) decide which causes are worthy of a little breast-flashing, and which are not.

Women across the world have protested for the right to be topless. In New York City, topless protests led to police agreeing not to arrest topless women in May 2013. Meanwhile, in the same month, European protesters from pressure group Femen protested topless in Tunisia against the state’s patriarchal regime.

The Femen protesters were arrested and later were allowed to leave the country, while the NYC victory still leaves the rest of the country with their tops firmly on. In a country where gun-wielding is constitutionally encouraged, women are still fighting for the right to bare breasts, protesting annually in 30 US cities on Go Topless Day (24 August this year).

Perhaps it’s time to admit that context doesn’t have the power to make our breasts offensive. Breasts are breasts, and pornographic content should be identified by its participants’ actions, not by the exact pieces of flesh on show. As it stands, we still allow a normal part of a woman’s body to shock and horrify us. Are we really living in a world where it’s unacceptable for women to show their breasts unless they’re riddled with scars?

COVER STORY: WHY FEMALE AUTHORS GET OVERLOOKED

Designing book covers can’t be easy. The expectations of authors, readers and marketers clash, and it’s impossible to keep everyone happy.

But we can’t help feeling like a memo was missed somewhere along the way with the examples below – one that said “It’s OK for a book by a woman to have a plain cover”, or “female readers are not idiots”…

1. The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath

The new cover for The Bell Jar

Plot Summary: a young writer wins a competition, goes to New York, has an existential crisis about the use of the electric chair in Cold War America, returns home, has a breakdown, attempts to commit suicide, is committed to a mental institution, undegoes electroshock therapy.

Cover: Woman blots lipstick, vapidly.

 

 

 

 

 

2. Persuasion, Jane Austen

persuasion

Plot Summary: Anne Elliot is the sane centre of a whirl of snobbish, difficult relatives facing financial difficulty, and by chance meets again a suitor who she turned down eight years ago.

Cover: “What is this horrid black vine preventing me from marrying my one true love?” wailed Anne.

 

 

 

 

 

3. Everything you know, Zoe Heller

everything

Plot:  Willy Muller is accused of murdering his own wife, ghost-writes biographies for a living and is vile to the women in his life. He spends the book halfheartedly trying to make up for these failings; reconnecting with his estranged daughter when he finds her childhood diary.

Cover: SPRING BREAK!!

 

 

 

 

 

3. I know why the caged bird sings, Maya Angelou

maya angelou

Plot: Maya is abandoned by her parents, is sexually abused and raped, becomes a mother at 17, faces constant racist abuse, becomes reclusive and mainly mute, in a seminal work about race in America in the 20th century.

Cover: Birds cavort in a meadow. No cages in sight.

 

 

 

 

 

3. MiddlemarchGeorge Eliot

Middlemarch

Plot: A complex, web-like narrative covering two years in the life of a small English town in the 1830s. At least thirty main characters, spanning from the mayor of the town to its young, marriage-age women.

Cover: Complex hairstyles adorn adorable pink wallpaper.

 

 

 

 

 

4. The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver

the lacuna; barbara kingsolver

Plot: Harrison Shepherd goes on a journey between Mexico and America, meets Frida Khalo, works for Lev Trotsky, and lives through some of the most tumultuous politics of the last century.

Cover: Pretty flowers with a lurking cage – the cage May Angelou’s publishers mislaid, perhaps?

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t get us wrong – there is nothing inherently wrong with pastels, flowers or the use of cuddly illustrations. There is, however, something inherently wrong with the fact that these books share subject matter with their contemporaries – Dickens for Eliot, Franzen or Hornby for Heller, Salinger for Plath – yet these male authors’ stories, even if they were about women, would never be packaged in this way.

The authors used in this post aren’t exactly in danger of being forgotten – they’ve recognised worldwide, and their reputation probably isn’t going to be damaged too much by the odd bouquet-strewn illustration. But if this is how our greatest female authors are treated by their publishers, just imagine how many future classics are hiding under “funky” sans serif fonts and pink graphics in the “women’s literature” section…

HOW TO WRITE AN ANTI-FEMINIST ARTICLE

antifeminist

First, the good news: ANYONE can write an anti-feminist article. There are no barriers – black, white, man, woman, ignorant or educated; you can all get involved. It’s an all-inclusive club.

1. The first step is to explain that you’re all for equality. This is important, as it shows that you are not motivated by misogyny but by real concern for your fellow man and the dangers feminism is exposing him to.

Eg: “I see men and women as complete equals.” – Wendy, ‘I am not a feminist and neither is Melissa Mayer’.

(note: feel free to miss this step out! After all, a little prejudice never hurt anyone. Eg: “It pains me to admit that feminists were successful with their revolution.” – Roosh, Return of Kings.

2. Continue by explaining that feminist campaigns are ineffectual, and then hastily draw out this logic to argue that they are actually standing in the way of equality.

Eg: “As much as I hate to admit, this is still a man’s world. But I don’t think feminism is going to change it. Mention the f-word to many men, and indeed a fair few females, and watch their eyes roll. It’s no longer a dirty word, it’s the punchline of a joke… Ditch the f-word. It’s not doing us any favours. Nor is alienating ourselves from men, which is only what these feminist protests seem to do.” –  Lucy Sheriff, The Huffington Post 

3. Explain that feminists want more rights for women than for men.

Eg:  “One of the main problems with “feminism” is that it exploits the legitimate claims of equal rights as a cloak to usher in its divisive, hateful and neurotic interests. Interests that are plainly anti-male and not at all about equal rights.”  – ‘Feminism is a Hate Group’ on womanagainstmen.com 

4. Insert some irrelevant anecdotes about your own life. Ideally, dredge up a reminiscence about the time a feminist did something wrong – that’ll serve to undermine the entire movement, because all feminists are the same.  If you are a woman, explain that you reject any organisation who is going to force you to abandon makeup and razors.

Eg: “As a diehard devotee of all things feminine, the thought of being separated from my floral dresses physically pains me.” – Melissa Bond, A response to feminism 

5. Use the term “man-hater” liberally, and ideally do not back it up with any examples – that way readers can imagine their own and assume that you’re right.

“[on why you shouldn’t send your daughters to college] we also have to consider that certain feminists will teach our daughters that their fathers and brothers are bad people — their oppressors. They are taught to hate the men who love them most of all, and personally I think that’s pretty sick” – WF Price, The Spearhead

6. Finish up by showing that sexism doesn’t happen anymore and feminism is “redundant”. Explain that there are “lots” of women in the workplace and that appreciative whistles in the street and men wanting to get off with you are literally the opposite of sexism. Support your claims with sentences like “the glass ceiling is well and truly shattered.”

Eg:  This video.

7. Avoid, at all costs, any mention of non-Westernised countries in which women are still without rights. This will really get in the way of your argument.

 The best thing about writing an article like this is that you show how sexism is actually feminists’ fault, not the partiarchy’s. The patriarchy may have been making mistakes for thousands of years, but little mistakes feminists make in the here and now are far more damaging – make sure you communicate this to your readers!

Happy woma-I mean, feminist-hating!

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Appendix: Special tips for public figures

i: If you are Prime Minister, it’s best to be on the safe side and say you are not a feminist, because that way more people will like you.

ii: the same goes for you, Susan Sarandon

iii. and you, Lady Gaga

iv. and you, Katy Perry

See also: Taylor Swift, Marissa Mayer, Juliette Binoche, PJ Harvey, Madonna

WHY PEOPLE WHO HAVE A PROBLEM WITH TWERKING ARE NOTHING NEW

dancing

 “Encouraging twerking is wrong. It’s a stripper’s move.”
– Ed Sheeran, musician, 2013

“[dancing is] an abnormal, unnecessary and even harmful kind of entertainment”
– A. Stratonitskii, Vvoprosy Byta V Komsomole, 1926

“Twerking is… a sad attempt by women and girls to hyper-sexualize themselves in order to get attention from men.”
– Wendy, blogger, Families in the Loop, 2013

“There are many evils antagonizing the work of a parish priest in this region, but I deem one a principal: dancing of any kind comprehending square dances, which in some respects are worse than round dances. “
Father Sartori, “Immorality of Modern Dances”, 1903

“Please take your booty elsewhere, this is a designated twerk-free zone.”
Katie Notopoulos, Buzzfeed2013

“Twerking is a defiant act against Jesus and his teachings. The rest of the country can keep their heads in the sand about this sexual act before marriage, but not the great city of DeQuincy.”
Maynard Wilkens, Mayor of DeQuincy, California, 2013

“The fashionable amusement of Dancing, is contrary to the spirit and aim of the Gospel, and, therefore, is opposed to the revealed will of God.”
John F Mesick, a sermon, 1846

“MTV continues to sexually exploit young women by promoting acts that incorporate ‘twerking’ in a nude-colored bikini… the Miley Cyrus/Robin Thicke performance simply substituted talent with sex.”
– Parents Television Council, 2013

“The dance is one institution I’ll rip from hell to breakfast and back again from lunch. Nothing causes the ruin of more girls than the damnable rotten dance.”
-Evangelist Billy Sunday, 1917

“godforsaken ‘twerking’”
Gabriella Swerling, The Vagenda, 2013

Keep dancing, Miley.

WOMEN THIS WEEK – 14/10-20/10

Aside

daisy coleman

Why Maryville is the new Steubenville, why The Times had to quietly change its Booker headline, why Hannah C. Price’s portraits look so uncomfortable and why the BBC thinks it’s giving a voice to the 3.5 billion. Quite a serious week – but then some weeks just are. 

1. CITY OF LOVE?

The portraits in photographer Hannah Price’s latest series are beautifully composed, but awkward to look at. In many, there seems to be a distance between photographer and subject, or a strange kind of vulnerability in the men (and they are always men) she photographs.

This is because the collection, City of Brotherly Love, turns Philadelphia’s motto on its head by photographing men moments after they have verbally harassed her in public. Some look defiant, others embarrassed, while a few seem more relaxed – Price explains in the video above that she would try and speak to the men and connect with them “on a human level” while taking their portrait, perhaps trying to overcome the very distance that allowed them to feel they could catcall her in the first place. She mentions that “urban areas” seem far more prone to harassment than other areas, and the portraits are a spellbinding exploration of what it is to be an individual in a city, called to account completely unexpectedly in an environment in which you expected to be anonymous.

2. #justice4daisy

maryville, missouri

If it weren’t for their respective dates, it would almost seem like what happened in Steubenville over the past year was being aped by the citizens of Maryville, Missouri. The ingredients are all the same: wealthy, sporty, older boys versus younger, silenced and terrified teenage girls. Rape. Phone recordings. A failure to prosecute despite (what seems like) conclusive evidence, including a video of what happened which made its way around the local high school, but somehow didn’t make its way into the hands of the prosecution. Anonymous’ intervention (with its announcement of #OpMaryville).

The world press have even done the victims the service of reliving their response to the Steubenville Case in all its bizarre, victim-blaming glory. The defence attorney who appeared on Fox News saying “I’m not saying she deserved to be raped, but she [left] her home at 1am in the morning and nobody forced her to drink,” for example.  The families of the alleged perpetrators being given a platform to complain about the way the “glare of publicity” is affecting their sons. But this time, Daisy Coleman, one of the two victims, has decided to take advantage of the media coverage, breaking her own silence and right to anonymity to come forward with her story and her identity.

While the decision must have been difficult, and is in some ways heartbreaking – you have to wonder whether she felt it was necessary, just so people would listen to her rather than the mothers of her alleged abusers or the ‘experts’ interviewed by national news networks – we can also hope that it was in some way cathartic. She had been silenced by an entire town, but now her story is being read all over the world – and, as she writes, at the end of her piece on xojane, “I not only survived, I didn’t give up.”

3. LIT BY CHICKS

the luminaries

On October 17th, The Times newspaper ran a piece on Booker winner Eleanor Catton titled Does Eleanor Catton’s Booker mean the death of chick-lit which also featured winning descriptions of the author such as “[she had] a pretty, user-friendly, Glee-like nerdiness” (hard to think of a creepier epithet than ‘user-friendly’…) Within a day, they had changed the online headline to ‘Eleanor Catton: My Booker triumph that was written in the stars’, but not before hundreds of people were left wondering whether the author had ever read a book by a woman before and why she was so seemingly surprised that a woman had won the Booker at all.

The Times’ Sunday counterpart also ran a front-page headline on a new Radio 4 Presenter this week which read ‘Putting the Phwoar into Radio 4′- perhaps they’re running some kind of gender norm throwback week?

4. SAVE THE WOMEN

100

And yet, however we may worry about mysteriously closed rape cases, misogyny in the literature world or street harassment, we can rest assured that the good old BBC has our back. This month, they are running something called “100 women”, through which, they boast, they want to “hear from half the world.”

This blogpost is late this week mainly because, try as I might to navigate the campaign’s homepage, the whole thing seems completely incomprehensible. Its mission statement reads like the introduction to a documentary on some kind of rarely seen, endangered animal whose habitat has recently been destroyed by an iceberg:

“Women around the world have achieved extraordinary things during the past century. But despite major steps forward in securing political, cultural and social rights, women everywhere face steep challenges compared to their male counterparts…So how can we tell this complex, nuanced story – the story of 3.5bn people in more than 200 countries? Can 3.5bn women beat the odds?”

They then go on to appeal for a “global network of correspondants” to report back on what “women” are up to. Women are silenced in lots of ways, but things aren’t so bad that we need special “correspondents” to venture into the realms of womanhood and report back, are we? There are 3.5 billion of us. We’re right here.

Soberingly, while they claim to be giving a voice to the unheard, the titles of the videos on their homepage follow a strange pattern in which any white, usually blonde women (Marilyn Monroe, Chelsea Clinton, Kate McCann) are named and anybody else is called “Syrian widow”, “Afghanistan woman”, or just “one woman.” White, already over-heard Western woman are being heard…more, and are interviewed for no reason in particular, while nameless women from the rest of the world are known only by the ‘HIV’ she has given to her children, the ‘abuse she escaped’ or her forced ‘migration’ –  used only as a news story to further emphasis the plight the BBC thinks they’re going to save us all from.

Answers on a postcard about what on earth this campaign is about – so far my only theory is that they’re playing along with The Times’ gender throwback week, with an added twist of colonialism.