Friday, 27 April 2007


I tried to post a comment on witchywoo's thread to point out that these blog wars DO affect real life activism, but it didn't make it through. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. Anyway, here it is, with some grammatical clean-ups and clarifications:

verte // Apr 26th 2007 at 9:34 pm (edit)

I’m a latecomer to this, and I want to point out something:

These blog wars DO affect feminist activism in ‘real-life’. I was one of the organisers of that workshop at Ladyfest.

It was a workshop on porn and censorship. I am anti-censorship, but my stance on porn is neutral and I advocate massive changes to the sex industry. When Charliegrrrl went digging aruond she noted that two of the organisers are also part of the BDSM community and therefore our views on porn were misinterpreted as being ‘extreme’ pro-porn, which was unfair and untrue. A press release was eventually put out to every newspaper and magazine, naming and shaming us, again conflating and misinterpreting us and Ladyfest organisers.

It went on and on, and some of the insults hurled our way were distressing and unpleasant. I admit I said some pretty angry things on Charliegrrl’s blog, but I felt she was personally insulting and targeting me, and also told an outright lie about a speech I gave at another feminist event. I admit it - I got angry and defensive. I did not agree with everything said by the BDSM community either, to be honest, but that's the problem: I sit in the middle. To begin with we - both Ladyfest organisers and workshop facilitators - attempted to communicate with and invite anti-porn feminists to take part in the discussion by email, but were met by silence or dismissal.

What was most ridiculous about the whole furore is that BDSM was hardly brought up at all in the workshop - because it was on, guess what, PORN AND CENSORSHIP. So why did it matter what our personal sexual preferences were? Why was a big deal made of that in the OBJECT press release and on the blogs, and why did Charliegrrl and co carry on lying despite being told they had misinterpreted our stance on porn? To be honest, it made me and other SM feminists angry. Really angry. It was obviously slanderous, but because comments were censored we had no chance to defend ourselves. Sorry, I got defensive in my own space. I apologise to Charlie for accusing her of shouting at me at a conference if it wasn't her. It's just very odd that the picture of her in a newspaper and the girl who made me cry in front of 150 people looked startlingly similar, and others agreed..

Eventually a threat was made over on Theda's blog saying there were going to be attempts made to sabotage the workshop. Whether this was intended as a joke or not, Ladyfest spotted it and had no choice but to take it seriously and warn the venue. So Ladyfest (which IS a third wave feminist event, to be honest) ended up wasting over £100 on security because the venue demanded it. £100 which was supposed to go to charities promoting gender equality.

So you see, this shit DOES affect stuff in the real world. It isn’t just about hurt feelings. Please, no more threats, no more convenient lies - from either side. When it affects our collective efforts, the things we all agree on and fight against, it’s really, really not worth it.


So there is is. I want to post more succinctly on why I have some personal issues with radical feminist activism because, I'm afraid, I was rejected, chastised and pushed away when my sexual preferences were 'outed', and it's only recently I've had the courage to try and stand up for myself and other feminists who don't fit exactly into the rad fem mould.

But that's for later.

While I remember, here's another speaker, Sofie, from the same panel at Fightback writing on the Ladyfest furore:

Feminists who ally with the right

Aaaand, here's Ladyfest's statement on the whole thing:

Ladyfest's position on the Feminism, Censorship and Pornography workshop

Wednesday, 25 April 2007


Recycled from an old blog of mine, but it amused me.

I was reading an old scientific journal (1890s?) the other day that amused and horrified me in equal measures. On the subject of (specifically! not women in general!) wives, William J. Robinson, a doctor of Genito-Urinary diseases declared that women who are satisfied with occasional relations - not more than once in two weeks or ten days are considered normal, but that:

there is an opposite type of woman, who is a great danger to the health and even the very life of her husband. I refer to the hypersensual woman, to the wife with an excessive sexuality. It is to her that the name vampire can be applied in its literal sense. Just as the vampire sucks the blood of its victims in their sleep while they are alive, so does the woman vampire suck the life and exhaust the vitality of her male partner - or victim. And some of them - the pronounced type - are utterly without pity or consideration.

Not that I have much desire to be a wife, but...

*bears fangs*

Thursday, 19 April 2007

Reply to Ladyfest discussion...

Following on from the discussion on the Ladyfest forums, in case what I write is triggering or offensive to some...

This is a prime example of the narrow-minded bigotry that is being expressed in the sparklematrix forum. It is so infuriating to see people expressing these lies with absolutely no facts to even support the legs they stand on!

Precisely. The whole BDSM 'cult' comment just spelled out to me how ignorant some people are regarding BDSM. It's no surprise because we're portrayed pretty poorly in the media for the most part, and the edgier queer SM scene is pretty much ignored. I genuinely think it's because 'verte' and 'elderflower' are BDSMers that we got so much beef, not because of our position on porn (which I think is fairly neutral - I'm just anti-censorship and also fight for the rights of sexual minorities). Places like Berlin and San Francisco have a 'queerer' scene, but you'll see all kinds of people of all genders, sizes, races and sexualities at bigger clubs like Torture Garden, and there are also women-only fetish nights like Purrr (yet to go, but can't wait!) where again the diversity is huge. A lot of the scene also has quite a DIY feel to it.

On the whole, I think the UK fetish scene is pretty inclusive, and the male dom/female sub stereotype is just not very accurate at all (btw, the International SM Women's Conference - again, women only - is coming up in Manchester in May). There are a lot of people into SM who have some pretty dodgy gender politics. Check out the odious and it's understandable why a lot of feminists have a problem with BDSM! But it's again up to the feminist SM-positive types to challenge all that crap, and believe me we really try.

What I wonder is - do we have a 'right' to shove it in people's face? To be open about it? Is it likely to upset a lot of women or remind them of abuse or prove triggering? As a teenager I was involved in radical feminist politics and was pretty much 'shoved out' because I started going to fetish clubs. And in the 80s women who were sadomasochists were not permitted to enter the London Women's Centre or take part in feminist politics at all, really. I must admit I was quite shocked that this particular battle does not seem to have budged an inch in 20 years when I read those blogs and comments and it's partly why I'm an activist and take these opportunities where I can no matter how much crap we're likely to get (after all, many radical feminists said lesbians were a danger to their cause in the 70s, and that seems to have changed somewhat!). I went around with the Feminist Guilt hanging over my head for a very long time, though. It kind of strikes me that a lot of the more radfem stuff relating to sex is about shaming other women, which is exactly what Object is trying to do right there. It's an exercise in naming and shaming. I have real difficulty understanding how this relates to any feminist agenda. It makes me extremely uncomfortable and, frankly, livid when I see this shaming process happening to other women, even though I've grown more immune to it myself.

I think most radfems don't concede that most sexual fetishes or fantasies to do with power exchange or giving/receiving pain are 'natural' or 'normal'. They think it's because we're UBER repressed by teh patriarchy or are using BDSM as self-harm or a refuge to deal with past trauma. Well, the trauma part is right in lots of cases, possibly including my own, but it's only proportionate to the number of women who've been abused in general. And yes, I have no doubt that for some of those women SM isn't healthy, but that's not the case for most. The anti-SMers also assume we're all sub, and are therefore submissive to ALL men ALL the time, which is just nonsense. One of the most common words you see on female sub profiles is 'feisty'. Although I hate that word, most female subs I know are pretty fucking ferocious and don't sub to anyone but their partner/s (male or female - there are loads of bi/queer/lesbian femsubs out there). And another trend in femsubs is a tendency towards control-freaky-ness in the rest of their lives. Many of us (male and female subs) feel TOO dominant, find ourselves TOO controlling of other people. It's a way of negotiating a balance, perhaps. Many femsubs have powerful jobs, just as the stereotyped male sub who visits professional female dominants is a politician or a lawyer. Also, there are many, many more male subs than female subs, but I think the anti-SM feminists think female dominants are just emulating men, and male subs are just emulating feminine passivity. Can we please stop assuming that all women are and have always been passive little victims in the bedroom? It's insulting. Besides, female sadists have been around for as long as male sadists. Sappho's poetry indicates that she was quite the SM dyke!

The other critique is that we're basically a bad influence because our sexuality does not contribute to the general feminist Good. They say we're selfish, that we should take responsibility for our sexuality and become 'good girls', effectively. I have a massive problem with this because I think, through history, the idea of having 'moral' sex has always been imposed on women and never on men. We are supposed to uphold some kind of moral sexual code - whether it's about NOT losing your virginity before marriage, or NOT having rough, animalistic, sometimes anonymous sex, or NOT finding pleasure/pain combined irresistable and erotic and liberating. Some men have tried to make us into madonnas and whores for centuries and I'm damned if women are going to start doing the same thing. Can sex ever be 'moral'?

I would really, really love to know how some of these radfems have sex. I assume it involves no sex toys, no bondage, no pinning anyone up against anything or down on anything, no dirty talk, very little teasing and no oral if your partner happens to have a cock. I'm sure whatever it IS they do, it must be fucking great otherwise many of them wouldn't claim to be sex positive and make the rest of us have sex like them - I just can't envision it. Shame they don't make porn, really. I could be educated! But still, I have real difficulty understanding how we can 'politicise' our fantasies and fetishes without seeking to repress a lot of them completely. I tried doing this for years. It wasn't liberating. Through my interest in BDSM I find I am constantly exploring, negotiating and attempting to understand my sexuality a little better, as well as other people's through various means (porn being one of them). I'm endlessly curious when it comes to sex. I am aware I have some pretty dark thoughts and fantasies, some of them genuinely troubling, many that I will never enact. But I have shared all of them, attempted to understand some of them and enacted the ones that are moderately safe and sane (consensual? well, it's my fantasy we're enacting, isn't it? Of course it's consensual!). Sharing these thoughts and feelings with other women, other feminists, and them being accepted, was life-changing for me. No more shame.

I don't see why I shouldn't share this experience with other feminists. I'm not abnormal. I'm a woman who enjoys edgy consensual sex, sometimes likes really fucking rough animalistic sex, sometimes likes slow, ritualistic SM, shibari rope bondage and sometimes is even greedy enough to throw a little vanilla in with my chocolate and hundreds and thousands. No, this isn't the norm, but it's still not that unusual and it's certainly not new. Even as I write this I feel tempted to write about some of the more unusual things I get up to, but again feel like I can't. Even in my own webspace. Perhaps I'll be brave enough at some point, but at the moment there's still some shame there. STILL.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

On being a terrible feminist

And another thing: why are they so worried about the porn, or the women objectified by porn work?

Let's get some things straight:
1. In my day job I work as a secretary in a hospital. I've been there since last June and am counting down the days until I can quit at the end of June this year. I loathe it, but it'll ensure I can go and do my Masters in September, and at least there's some satisfaction in knowing I'm contributing to a system that genuinely improves people's lives - or at least intends to. The consultant I work for has made plain that he regards me as a silent, typing object. He never asks me questions, he barely speaks to me, and I think we have had one proper conversation - ever - and it was about stripclubs in Leeds. I have no idea how that came up or what was said, but anyway, it was definitely about strip clubs (maybe it is all about the porn). But still, I've found this experience incredibly degrading, even humiliating. Even though he is not my boss and I know what I do is really for his patients, and it's probably because he's just a rather odd, awkward person, every letter I type for him gives me a tiny surge of anger. And I even keep my mouth shut while I do it. I think this makes me a terrible feminist.

2. In the evenings, I often life model. For all sorts of people, in all sorts of places. I effectively 'sell my body'. That's what they're drawing, aren't they? A figure? A body? There's one tutor at a college I won't model for and have complained about because he treats us like dirt. He hired only elderflower and me (young female models, of course) for an entire term, and during that time it became clear he got some pleasure in directing poses he knew would cause pain. In one session, he asked me to pose on all fours under - and I couldn't help but notice the phallic implications - a ladder. Another time he asked me to pose pushing a broom along the floor nude. After that I said I wouldn't work with him again. He's a great tutor and a wonderful artist, but he's also a misogynist pig and I have zero tolerance for them, especially when in the nude in front of a bunch of people.

However, at its best, life modelling can be transcendent. If I'm in a good headspace, and I'm running the poses how I choose, and I still get to be exhibitionist - which is one fetish that will never, ever go away - it's bliss. No matter how painful it is, there is something about concentrating on stillness and the buzz of creativity around me that unleashes all sorts of interesting rhetoric in my head. It's powerful; I'd go as far as to say it's important and sort of ritualistic to me. And I'm also fascinated by how terrified people are by nudity, but that's another story.

There was one pose I was given where I was to be Ophelia, drowned in the river (a la Millais). I have no idea what any of the artists were thinking about as they drew me. Maybe one of them was thinking about fucking a woman and dumping her in a river until she drowned. How is anyone supposed to control that? How on earth do we know what stimulates those kind of thoughts? I suspect most artists have watched a fair amount of 'erotica' I suspect Object might disapprove of. Is that likely to affect what they think when they draw a nude girl, posed dead?

I'm not a terrible feminist because I don't think censoring porn is a good idea, or because I like to explore power exchange in consensual adult relationships, I like exploring fantasy.

I'm a terrible feminist because I consent to being treated as an object in an office environment by a man. That's feminism gone rotten and what we should really be worried about and challenging, not enjoying watching consenting adults having sex, or thinking about sex, or seeing the naked body.

So please, have a go at me because I'm a secretary who lets herself get treated badly by the man she works for, not because I choose to sell my body and often love every second of it.

Monday, 16 April 2007

It's clear that this bullshit is just beginning

Latest press release on Object's website. What a load of shit. Ladyfest is a majority Queer festival. Loads of the organisers are kinky. Loads of them watch porn. Some of them make it too.

Urgh. It's all too boring.

Ladyfest Leeds - Men and Feminism discussion and thoughts

Well, I can't say I didn't come away from Ladyfest without new ideas and things to think over. The day before our own workshop it seemed pretty clear to me there were some sex-negative types there; in the women-only Men and Feminism workshop, many said they felt more comfortable being in a female-only space because they felt even feminist men were sometimes unconsciously sexist and they felt they couldn't speak up because these men were more articulate or dominant.

I don't know if I buy that. I tend to get impatient with shrinking violet types. Most of my friends are nigh on ferocious and pretty assertive. It's not difficult to confront men (or women!) if they start using odious gender stereotypes or make sexist comments. Just correct them! Making a fuss in 'I'm awfully sorry, but thou art a sexist pig' tones, probably on the verge of tears, is hardly productive. And Sexist Guilt (?) in the menz is not productive either. This is the christian-style feminist stance on men I find really troubling. They seriously seem to think men should all confess their sins and acknowledge their privilege.

Just, no.

One of T's friends used to make 'ironically' misogynist jokes until I confronted him, and he started asking me about feminism. When you explain to most men that feminists are not braless, veggie, man-hating, sex-hating, hairy lesbians, they will usually shrug and say, "Oh, well I'm a feminist then." And T's friend suddenly seemed far less puzzled and frightened by me, too. Anyway, suffice to say I'm perfectly capable of asserting myself and I sometimes forget that not all women are.

Something that seemed to piss off and even upset the male feminists when we joined them in a mixed space to discuss the same topic were the women saying that men should constantly remember how privileged they are, and how they will never understand female experience. I can appreciate that point, but what feminism is most basically dealing with is oppression and inequality, and anyone who tells me men never experience those things from other men because being born with a penis means they are inherently 'privileged' is talking bullshit. Many men I know feel pretty uncomfortable in male-only spaces. My brother and I both went to single-sex schools from the ages of 5 to 18. How has that affected our gender politics? Well, though my brother is a smart, witty bastard, he is a chauvinist rugby-playing twat as well. My school was part of a national trust of girls' schools with the philosophy of the best possible education for girls from less wealthy middle-class families, set up in 1890. I guess its philosophy was feminist from the off. Although the headmistress was a drippy conservative, the deputy and politics teacher was a rabid radical feminist. Twice a week, from the age of 11 to 18, I would sit in assembly and she would tell us some uncompromising tale of sexism - in the media, in literature or religion, or an experience from her own life. If anyone managed to leave the school with no appreciation whatosever of the world through a feminist lens it sorely disappointed her. When I bunked off her politics lessons to go on some kind of feminist march or other, I think she was secretly rather proud.

But anyway, I do know a lot of feminist-identifying men who went to single-sex schools, most of whom were picked on for the same reasons we claim men target or dominate women: for their looks, race, their lack of strength or athleticism, their sexual prowess or general awkwardness, never mind if they identify as gay, transgendered or queer. Although T attended co-ed schools all the way through, he was horribly bullied all the way through, never gave anything back, and it continued until he finally shoved the nastiest of the bullies down the stairs. And then, having asserted some sort of 'masculine' prowess it suddenly stopped. The idea that men will never understand sexism or misogyny - which are based on almost entirely the same structures of oppression as any other - just isn't true. It's unfair to have that prejudice, I think, even if we did agree that the existence of some woman-only spaces is positive and even compulsory.

The idea of organising an entire Ladyfest festival without including men, though? Not at ALL convinced that's progressive or inclusive...