On Being a Plus Size Model

17910678_1459046160812190_158277635_n

This blog is the re-transcription of an interview conducted last February with Raphaella Carmen, one of the few French plus size model in the industry. In this interview, Raphaella discusses body positivity, plus size modelling and why we should all love our bodies, no matter how they look.

What is a Plus Size Model?

A plus size model is a model that is bigger than the sample size.

What are the main concepts behind the Plus size movement?

The apparently ridiculous idea that women are allowed to be beautiful and not thin, that we can feel comfortable in our body and yet not be a size 6.

Why is this movement needed?

I think we’ve reached a point in society where women want to define themselves and not be told what they should be, what they should look like, how they should talk and walk…. Women have now decided to take control of their own lives and body, they demand equal pay, equal rights and they also want the ability not to have their bodies shamed by society because they do not look like Victoria’s Secret models.

Young girls who watch TV, browse the Internet and read fashion magazines also need to know that they are beautiful even though they don’t look like the tall, thin girls they see in the media. 

What are the misconceptions people usually have on the Plus size movement and Plus size model?

People tend to think that plus size models are just lazy fatties, potato couching all day whilst eating chips and chocolate. They don’t realise that plus size models go to the gym too, exercise and eat healthy. There’s no calories counting and exercise is not a punishment because you’ve eaten pasta the day before. It’s about listening to your body.

In what aspect are Plus Size models treated differently than mainstream models?

Plus size models come in many different shapes and sizes. Straight size models have a limit on measurements.

Society seems to admire straight size models, and look negatively upon plus size models.

Nike has recently launched a plus size collection; every girl who struggles to fit into sportwear was delighted. A friend on Facebook saw the ad and commented that nowadays there were fat models everywhere.

The usual conception of models is that the “tyranny of beauty standards” pressures them. What is your experience of it as a Plus Size model?

I wouldn’t know the pressures straight size models experience. Most clients, bookers, fellow models I’ve encountered have been perfectly nice; there has been no bitchiness whatsoever. I have been told in the past that I was too small, that I didn’t look plus size enough, as much from customers on websites than by clients. But my agent has never asked me to gained/loose weight. She’s like a mom always telling I’m beautiful so I just don’t believe her anymore!

Apart from that, all models are expected to look their best, therefore looking after our teeth, hair and skin is essential, no matter our size. 

Is there any Plus Size male model?

YES! You can find male plus size models at IMG, Bridge Models, Curve Model Management and a few more agencies I believe.

Have you got any comments on the TED Talk (one of the most popular):Looks aren’t everything, believe me I’m a Model

 I loved it but I kinda prefer Ashley Graham’s TED talk. There used to be this misconception that models were dumb but with social media it has evolved slightly. I think perhaps because plus size models have to work twice as hard to be noticed and get work, people don’t have this specific misconception about us as easily.

Do Plus Size models experience more body shamming than mainstream models?

I believe so. Whilst thin shaming does exist, fat shaming is more widely spread and a          bit more violent. There are also a lot of people out there that seem to think it is ok to pin one body type against another. It doesn’t work this way. There is no right type of body.

How would you define body shaming?

Insulting, putting down one person because of the way their body looks. 

How would you define body positivism?

It’s the appreciation that there are different types of body. No one has the right to decide another person’s body is gross, disgusting or just not right.

What are the main problems regarding women’s perceptions of their body in our societies?

The media. Seeing heavily retouched pictures of models, with the same body types would lead any woman to think her body is not right if it doesn’t look similar.

From you experience as a model in France and the UK, does this perception of women’s body vary from a culture to another?

British men are more respectful of women on the streets. I’ve dressed however I wanted in England and I’ve never had guys trying to grab my ass, whistling or insulting me (“slut”, “you’re showing your legs/tits/ass”, etc). If you try to wear short denim shorts in France you’re in for a treat! I feel like some French men on the streets are more ok to disrespect women.

How do you perceive your body? What kind of comments and attitudes shaped your attitudes toward it? 

I was a skinny outgoing tomboyish little kid up until age 9. Then I hit puberty, my hips and boobs literally exploded, I had stretchmarks. I looked like a 14 years old teenager. I started getting sexual looks and comments and very unwanted attention from older boys and grown men. At age 10 I was almost sexually assaulted. My father started following me to and from piano lessons and sports classes to make sure no one would try and assault me again; as for my mom, she had to set a few boys at school straight about groping and sexual comments.

Because I was still a little girl at age 9, it all felt strange, bothersome and embarrassing. I was not happy with this body which was causing people to look at me, say filthy things and try to hurt me.

I only started embracing my body after I moved to London and saw other girls literally kneeing and slapping guys who would try and touch them or say disrespectful things to them. I started being less afraid of my body and would wear pretty dresses and heels. Once I overcame my fears I started loving myself more and more.

What are the most common comments made on your look?

I often get told that I have beautiful eyes or simply that I am beautiful. In the industry I also hear that I am all boobs on legs. I still haven’t figured if that’s a compliment though but it does make me laugh: it’s funny cause it’s true…

Has someone ever commented on your weight?

Only my ex actually…. and one man on social media asked me to loose 2 kilos so I could reach perfection so I forgave him! No one I have met in real life has ever made negative comments on my weight or my body as a whole.

Any last comments on women and their bodies?

You only have one body so take care of it and appreciate it. If you were to spend half the energy you spend hating yourself and trying to loose weight actually loving yourself and being unapologetically you and happy you’d be amazed at the difference in your life and self. Our bodies respond to love. Be also mindful that your little girl, little sister or cousin is watching you and learning from you. You are a little girl’s role model; don’t teach her to hate herself.

 

Instagram : raphaellacarmen

Twitter : raphaellacarmen

 

 

When “I don’t want kids” is followed by “You will change your mind”: the response of a woman sick of justifying herself

Image_Kid_blod

I am 21 years old and I have a confession to make. Well actually, not a confession because I’m not guilty. Confession makes it sound like I did something bad, when I really didn’t.

So here it is: I do not want to have kids. Not now, not later.

I’ve said it. It’s out there. I’m just waiting for the usual comments now. Because, trust me, they always come and they are always the same.

It always starts with: “Really?”

(Yes, really.)

Then comes the good old classic: “You’re still young, you’ll change your mind!”

(Don’t worry, I didn’t wake up one day and decided not to have kids. I’ve taken this decision after years of reflection and my reasons are perfectly rational no matter how young you seem to think I am.)

I also often get the ‘guilt’ comment: “How can you say that when some people try so hard and are not able to have any?”

(Because obviously my decision to not have children is not about me, it is about some other “people”. This heavily implies that it is my duty to have kids, rather than my choice.)

When they realise that I’m still not changing my mind, they go for the ‘regret’ comment: “Your life will be so empty, you will regret it eventually.”

(Well, I don’t think so. Having kids is not the only criterion for a good fulfilling life.)

I could go on for a while; this is really just a quick overview.

Eventually the judgement comes. The questions are being asked to give me a chance to retract, to redeem myself from the obscenity I’ve just said. Because really, who could possibly not want children? Everybody loves children!

Well, it might come as a surprise but I do like children. I love children. And, believe it or not, I am good with kids and kids love me. But I still don’t want any. I say ‘surprise’ because people often assume that the only conceivable reason for not wanting kids is to not love them. In reality, that’s only one reason among many.

Personally, I have decided not to have children because I don’t want to sacrifice anything for my kids. This however brings me even more judgement. I’ve been told that it is sad to see it as a sacrifice; it is sad that I prioritize my career; it is sad that I am so selfish and unable to love. And that’s when I start getting pissed rather than annoyed.

This is my answer to those people.

Firstly, and most importantly: Why do I need to justify myself all the time for something that should only concern me? I don’t ask you why you want kids. I don’t judge you on your choice to have a family. And I would never dare to judge what kind of parent you will be. I am not listing all the ways in which children will affect your lifestyle, in ways you might not realise. So why do you get to judge me, when I do not judge you for the choices you make?

Secondly, yes sacrifices. Because you see if I do have children (emphasize on the if, I am still not changing my mind here), I know I will put them first. I will love them and give up anything for them to be happy, because I am that kind of person. I already do it with my family and my friends. And for the life I want, I would need to put my kids second. I know I could not have both, and I know which one would leave me with regrets. I understand all the implications of that decision. Knowing all of that, I know that I could indeed change my mind. But if I do, it won’t be up to you or about you, it won’t be for duty, regret or guilt.

Which brings me to my last point. It is probably the most important one so listen up: This is my choice. My life.

I understand that it doesn’t fit with your concept of happiness. I understand that it doesn’t fit with your norms and values. But you have neither rights nor ground to decide that you know better than me what I want, based on your own values and conceptions.

Because here is the thing: I would like to say that I don’t care about your opinion, but it would be a lie. This constant judgement, and the constant justification that goes with it, exhausts me. I always feel guilty for saying these words. In the end, I don’t think I will have regrets. Being the cool aunty or the last minute baby-sitter is fine by me. But the fact that no one seems to think that I can be happy this way leaves me wondering if I am indeed making the right choice. I don’t feel bad because of my decision. I feel bad because of you.

A woman not wanting kids in our society is still seen as abnormal, unnatural. But I’m not sorry for thinking this way and I don’t believe that I am wrong just because society thinks I am. I know I am not the only one feeling this way. I know I am not the only woman having to deal with those comments. I know that, no matter the woman, no matter her personal reasons and beliefs, the reactions remain the same. I know that if I stick to this decision, I will have to justify myself until I hit the menopause.

So, to all those people that believe we could be ‘a great mother’, to all those people that think they can decide what will make us happy, I actually have one final response: you cannot. I don’t need your help to make the right decision, because my decision is the right decision. Let me live my life the way I want. And trust me, you don’t know better than me.

 

Article by guest contributor Manon Siméon.

Male and Muslim: This is what a feminist looks like

17204400_10154727207207535_563842992_n

I am a feminist, do I agree with the oxford english dictionary definition that is ‘The advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes’?[1] Yes, but does it fully encapsulate the feminism that I see at our university and in the streets of Bath? No.

So why am I a feminist and why do I see it as still relevant and important? I am a half Arab who is bisexual and muslim who has a mother who was a disability rights campaigner in the 80s and 90s. I know that throughout my life I will be discriminated against because of one of those intersections if I haven’t already. My mother tells me stories about her years of activism and the discrimination she faced, whether it be about the racism or sexism she faced as an Arab in the disability rights movement, or the ableism she faced every day but that is exactly why this current form intersectional feminism is so important, it shows that none of us are equal until we are all seen as equal.

There are many misconceptions and stereotypes about what it means to be a feminist, whether it be that we are all man haters or angry. But really these just distract from what we actually want to achieve, which is to ensure that everyone has equal opportunities in the society we live in. Another misconception we face as a movement is that some men don’t believe that feminism and gender equality affects them, but that is simply not true, we are all part of the system that perpetuates these inequalities and it is all of our responsibilities if we want to change it. Our feminism isn’t about pushing people down for advantage of others it is about pulling everyone up so we are all at the same standard.

So do we have gender equality? Even at this University we can quantify the answer as a no. At the University of Bath, SU research found that 26% of students feel they have been discriminated against because of their gender. The same report also showed that 73% of women at this uni have been inappropriately touched or groped compared to 33% for men. These actions which can be classed as sexual assault and the fact that these things are happening on our campus is distressing but the fact that disproportionately women are the victims illustrates how gender inequality is present on our campus. [2]

The inequality on our campus can also be traced through to the courses that we study. For example the Engineering and Design department has an undergraduate student body that is 78% male [3]. However, when you look at the gender split for the Humanities and Social Sciences the statistics are flipped. This is not because women actively don’t want to become engineers, it is just that historically that society has told women that engineering is not a field they are going to end up in.

You are left with these subjects that are historically male; engineering, politics etc and subjects that are predominantly female; arts, social policy etc. This system also means that when looking at those traditionally male subjects, female role models  are few and far between which in turn perpetuates the split in the courses. Our University is working on closing the courses’ gender splits by being a member of Athena SWAN, a charter that promote the involvement of women, men and trans people where they are under represented [4], which stripped back is what our intersectional feminism is about. It is about about bringing people into the courses, not pushing them out.

Often it is also the case that course that are stereotypically female are seen as lesser or requiring less skill or intelligence. This is evident here in how our university’s student body treats Bath Spa University, an institution that caters more towards the arts and those historically female courses. Perpetuating these views ensures that women are paid less and are more rarely seen in positions of power and more heavily criticised when they are.

When you look at the majority of women that are portrayed in the media, whether it be adverts, films or tv, most of the time women are seen as sex objects, victims or secondary to the plot. In 2014, 1 out of the top 100 grossing films in the US was directed by a woman, out of those same films only 30% for all speaking characters were women. And out of that 30%, 74% were white [5]. This lack of representation in the industry then means that the media we consume has a gender biased lens across it and then perpetuates the system that keeps women out of the jobs in the first place.

Our intersectional feminism tries to break that cycle, with our friends at the Bath Film Festival setting up an F-Rating system that promotes films that are directed by, written by and/or heavily feature women [6]. This is not about putting films by men down it is about addressing the gender imbalance that can be found in the film industry.

Is feminism still important? yes it will be important until full equality has been reached. Is feminism outdated? no! it has evolved and grown into a new manifestation that encapsulates so much more than the original definition, and even if feminist actions aren’t done under the banner of feminism, they are still feminist and take an active part in our society.

 

[1] https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/us/feminism

[2] http://bathimpact.co.uk/2015/02/08/one-in-three-girls-sexually-harassed-at-university-of-bath-lad-culture-survey-suggests/

[3] http://www.bath.ac.uk/statutory-bodies-committees/jointcouncil/edc/minutes/140416.pdf

[4] http://www.ecu.ac.uk/equality-charters/athena-swan/

[5] http://womenintvfilm.sdsu.edu/files/2014_Its_a_Mans_World_Report.pdf

[6] http://f-rated.org

Why we should change the meaning of doing something #LikeAGirl

The meaningful advertisement by always confronts us with our own perception of the statement #LikeAGirl. This ad, which is based on a social experiment led by documentarian Lauren Greenfield, shows us how the alleged value-neutral statement #LikeAGirl becomes labeled at some point of our lives. It is no longer value-neutral. It becomes an insult, a demotivating slogan. As always states „using #LikeAGirl as an insult is a hard knock against any adolescent girl. And since the rest of puberty’s really no picnic either, it’s easy to see what a huge impact it can have on a girl’s self-confidence.” Another example for such a derogatory statement is to describe something as ‘gay’. Terms like ‘gay’ and ‘girl’ are not synonymous with being weak or stupid, these are identities! We must urgently stop to use identities to describe or evaluate something. It is discriminating and inhumane.

The ad or the underlying social experiment is great to show the social dimension of the category gender. What we learn to relate to the terms of “boy” or “girl” is not what we necessarily know about them. It is mostly what society teaches us to relate to them. We can know as many girls, who are good in sports as we want, if society teaches us to believe that girls are bad in soccer or running, this is what we become to find. Such stereotypes are so persistent, because they are reproduced constantly. Not only by men, but also by women, which makes them even more convincing. Our task as feminist therefore is to rewrite the rules, as always says. Girls should not be disempowered by statements such as #LikeAGirl. Women should step up to be role models for the next generations and show their competences and skills as women with pride.  It is important to empower girls and young women to keep their confidence throughout puberty and to show them that actually doing things #LikeAGirl is downright amazing.

 

 

 

 

I am an angry feminist and that’s okay

We have all heard of the myth of the angry man-hating feminist. Most people would admit that it is a caricature of what feminism really is about, yet this caricature dominates how feminism is talked about and how self-proclaimed feminists are treated. We have to justify ourselves constantly to prove that we believe in gender equality, that we are not targeting men. Many people argue that we should get rid of the term “feminism” altogether and replace it with a less controversial term. I have been told that in order to change things in a society dominated by men, I need to play nice and to do that I can’t use a word that make men feel uncomfortable. When I discuss gender issues with men, I try to be extra careful not to sound angry, not to talk over them, not to impose my opinion because I have been criticized for it. I have been told that I won’t get any positive response if I adopt an aggressive tone.

But, see, there is one truth to the caricature I mentioned before: I am angry. I am a woman and just because of that, I have grown up with less freedom than my brother, I have experienced sexual harassment, I have had to deal with male co-workers who tried to make me feel inadequate, etc. All those examples are so common, everyone has heard them a million times. But those experiences are mine, they have happened to me. I have personally felt scared, hurt, diminished, objectified because I am a woman. I have a right to be angry, I am entitled to my anger and being told off for being angry makes me angrier.

Dismissing someone’s argument because of their tone rather than for the legitimacy of the argument is called tone policing and it’s used too often to silence women. We are told that an aggressive tone makes it impossible to hear us, we are told that there is no place for anger in a rational conversation between adults. We are reduced to the caricature of the crazy ‘feminist’ and once again the reality of our experiences is ignored.

My anger is not irrational, my anger makes me speak out against an unjust system. In the world we live in, men are privileged. Even when they believe in the feminist cause, they still benefit from a privileged position in society. So when a man tells you to calm down, he might as well tell you to play by the rules of patriarchy. What he is saying, whether he is conscious of it or not, is that you are making him uncomfortable by showing him how deeply his privilege has affected your life, how much it has upset you. But if I bow down, if I try to make men feel comfortable then nothing will change. My anger is justified and it is powerful. Don’t tell me to calm down, instead listen to my reasons for being angry. If my anger makes you uncomfortable, find out the real reason why that is. Then we can talk.

S.

THE STRUGGLE FOR FREEDOM: To veil or not to veil? That is not the question

15328133_10205850398538484_128057865_n

Intellectuals are often pointing towards a “clash of cultures” or a “clash of civilisation” to analyse the French controversies surrounding Muslim women. This testifies of a perceived gap between Muslim women’s values and western feminism. Western politicians tend to adopt the view that Islam is inherently patriarchal, and the veil fundamentally oppressive. This issue highlights two problems. The first is that feminism has not moved on from its colonial and patronising premises that guided Western feminism throughout the 20th century. The second is that feminists are too openly divided between a fight against racism and a fight against sexism. By making it seem like there is a side to pick, feminism has lost some credit. In a context of growing fear of what is conceived as the “other” -the Muslim community- Muslim women are particularly vulnerable to stigmatisation. Yet, they are too often excluded from feminist debates. Our two guest writers A. (student, British, Muslim and wearing hijab), Zaynah (student, Bangladeshi, brown, Muslim and not wearing the veil) and myself (J., student, French, Christian, white and middle class woman) want to remind our readers that the focus must not be on our differences, but on what we have in common. We believe that clothing should be a way to express your freedom no matter what it is that you are wearing. This is a call for unity between feminists, for solidarity between ALL women. Feminism is about freedom: the freedom of choice and agency. Patriarchy controls our sexuality, whether it does so through asking you to “veil” or to “unveil”.

THE STRUGGLE FOR UNDRESSING written by J.

 In the West, feminism often refers to women’s sexual liberation in the media, popular culture and people’s minds. To me, choosing to undress means choosing to say yes to a sexuality that has been denied to women for so long. This is being topless on the beach. This is going out wearing short skirts, high heels and backless tops. In an ideal world, all of this we could do without fear of being judged or even assaulted. But instead we are met with the structures of patriarchy, constantly attempting to control our sexuality through slut shaming and the objectification of women’s bodies.

Slut shaming:an act of making any person feel guilty or inferior for certain sexual behaviors or desires that deviate from traditional or orthodox gender expectations, or that which may be considered to be contrary to natural or religious law”.[1]

Sexual Objectification: the “act of treating a person as an instrument of sexual pleasure. Objectification more broadly means treating a person as a commodity or an object without regard to their personality or dignity”.[2]

In Western societies, on the one hand, women are called to free themselves sexually. The problem is that the distinction between sexual freedom and the hyper-sexualisation of women is blurry. The media often portray women as sexual objects. Social experiments[3] widely demonstrate that breasts are regarded as sexualised objects of desire rather than as a human organ necessary to feed babies. Women are often pressured to engage in sexual interactions and to fit in this over-sexualised society. In that respect, women might be “forced to be free”. Coy[4] (2009, p.376) rightly argued that the hyper-sexualisation of society “fixes sexualisation as such a normal route that there is little space outside of it” for women. At the same time, women are subjected to ‘slut-shaming’ and asked to repress their sexuality by dressing up in a more “appropriate” way, in order to avoid being categorised as a “whore”. Slut shaming justifies sexual assaults, almost making it socially acceptable. So I am in the middle of a paradox here. I am called to engage in sexual intercourses and to show my body to prove that I am liberated, whilst being openly stigmatised for doing so through slut shaming.

In both cases, this is an attempt at controlling my body and sexuality. Still, I am grateful for women’s sexual liberation. It can’t be denied that sexual liberation brought major advancements for women’s rights. It is a freedom that is still denied to so many women around the world. In 2013, the World Health Organisation counted that more than 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in the countries where the practice is concentrated (Central African Republic, Kenya, Somalia…). Even in England and Wales in 2015-16, there are an estimated 137,000 women and girls with female genital mutilation.[5] For women, being able to “undress” and explore their sexuality put and end to the idea that sexual desires and needs were reserved to men. Slut shaming and the sexual objectification of women are founded on patriarchal stereotypes, which encage women. When you freely choose to pursue your own desires, it means empowerment and that is what feminism really is about.

THE STRUGGLE FOR HIJAB written by A.

In this hyper sexualised society, the struggle for Muslim women is intense. My question to the readers is why? Why does a piece of material, which blows with the wind, affect you?

I am a Muslim, a Muslim who also chose to wear the hijab. This means that it was not my father nor my brother who got to make this decision, no one but myself. I wear my hijab for God, not for his people. So believe me when I say there is nothing more patronising than when men in politics, or men in media, or men who have never met me tell me that what I cannot wear. Although a choice, at times in England it can prove to be ugly, inconvenient and uncomfortable. There are days when I don’t even get the door held open for me and for what? Because I don’t look as good as the girl in front of me, I’m covered and therefore somehow disregarded. This is tough. What everyone needs to understand is that the hijab and feminism can be unified through the notion of empowerment. There is more to me than my face, than my outward appearances, which will deteriorate with age. I have a mind, I have a character, I have a culture, I have morals and I have principles. There are qualities in me which I will carry with me to the grave but then why is it when I cover my beauty I am seen and treated differently. I am liberated in the sense that when people talk to me, I’m not entertaining them for their shallow desires, I am reassured that people spend time with me because of who I am, not just because of features which can be changed by chemicals bought off amazon. To me, hijab is a mean of expression, it is not about oppression or blindly conforming to expectations, it is an expression of identity, which is further amplified when incorporated into e.g. fashion. It voices the same message feminism does; to stay unapologetically true to yourself because being a woman does not harm anyone. 

THE STRUGGLE FOR MODESTY, written by Zaynah.

Feminism is one of those terms nowadays that makes many uncomfortable. What was supposed to be a movement towards gender equality and hence unbiased towards both men and women quickly became controlled by the agenda of a particular type of woman. Think white, middle class, ‘liberally minded Christian’ or is an inconvenience to feminist goals, cis gendered. This however, is problematic. If feminism in essence is about achieving equality for both men and women by protecting women from patriarchy of all sorts in all corners of the globe, there needs to be representation. For too long now the orientalist ideas of veiling/covering being a sign of oppression have made the rounds in Western circles. As a Muslim, Brown, Bangladeshi girl, I consider myself a feminist. But, my feminist struggles differ vastly from that of the women whose voices are heard the most. Often people would comment on my way of dressing, describing it as “forward thinking”, “chill” or “liberal” whatever those words may mean, because, you see, despite being Muslim I am not visibly so. Even though I don’t show a lot of skin, there is no scarf covering my head and this apparently makes me easier to accept. In my opinion though, the hijab far from being a sign of oppression, is a symbol of the agency Muslim women hold. Although popular media has reduced hijab to the scarf women wear on their heads, the actual meaning of it is far deeper, it calls for modesty, not just in dressing but also in behaviour. The scarf on the head is amongst the various ways that make up the hijab and so for the sake of clarifying, my decision on how much skin I don’t show also comes down to my hijab, that is to say my personal practice of modesty. The same society that slut shames girls for showing skin, bashes Muslim girls in scarves and modest outfits for not showing enough of it. This is patriarchy, it has nothing to do with upholding secular values as it is often argued. But as a Muslim feminist my fight is also against the patriarchy that exists in Muslim states where veiling and covering is not a choice but a requirement by law. In those states, it is a man again who dictates how a woman should dress, twisting religious doctrine to suit his own desires for masculine dominance. There is however a risk in looking to such states as representational of the conditions of the Muslim woman. It oversimplifies the choices and agency that the majority of Muslim women worldwide have. Insisting that Islamic values around women’s rights are archaic leaves a significant population of women out of the feminist discourse. Feminism strives for freedom of choice, by forbidding women to cover/veil the media and the West contradict this important principle. We should ask ourselves: has the masculinisation of sexuality really ended or did it just shift to focus on other social groups? Islamic feminists argue that veiling can in many ways free women from objectification; it makes them feel safer in cultures that are very different from Western society. I believe it is a personal decision and a Muslim woman’s right to practice her faith as she pleases. I am a feminist because I stand up to fight for the girls who want to cover their heads despite the backlash from the West, for those girls I stand up against patriarchy masked by principals such as Laïcité in France.

To conclude, patriarchy is about controlling women’s bodies and it operates at different levels, whether you decide to “veil” or to “unveil”. We are tired of still having to explain that it truly exists, that it is real and that we all suffer from it everyday. Feminism is about freedom, and we need to understand freedom in terms of agency. This is about your freedom to choose your identity and sexuality. This is not a clash of cultures, values or civilisations. This is not a struggle between Western principles and Muslim morals. The real fight is against the patriarchy affecting us all: this is the struggle for freedom.

May women remember they all are sisters.

J, A & Zaynah.

References

[1] http://www.yourdictionary.com/slut-shaming

[2] https://feminismfortnight.wordpress.com/2016/08/04/day-5-sexual-objectification/

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sKjO0jZWkx4

[4] Coy, M., 2009. Milkshakes,
Lady Lumps and Growing Up to Want Boobies: How the Sexualisation of Popular Culture Limits Girls’ Horizons. Child Abuse Review, 18, pp.372-383.

[5] https://www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/child-abuse-and-neglect/female-genital-mutilation-fgm/fgm-facts-statistics/

I’ve got nothing to wear (!)

One unexceptional day, I decided to wear a white t-shirt, with shorts and tights. As I was walking down the street, two men whistled at me, another stranger whispered ‘sexy’ and an old lady even asked me if ‘I was not too cold in that outfit’. When I came back home and complained about what had happened, my mother told me bluntly ‘well, have you looked at how you are dressed though?’.

See, my mother identifies as a feminist and she raised me to be one as well. She taught me that women’s issues matter. But still her first reaction when I told her I had been judged by complete strangers on the street was to put the blame on me. In her mind, it seemed obvious that if I dressed like that then I should be ok with that kind of behaviour. And if not, I should just change my outfit.

I am writing this blog to talk about something that society tends to ignore, or accepts as “the way it is”. Why is it that if I wear an outfit that’s deemed sexy, I am “looking for it”? And what exactly is it that I’m looking for?

According to a French study about rape culture published this year, 27% of French people think that a rapist do not bear the whole responsibility for his actions if the woman he attacked was wearing “sexy” clothes. 27% is more that 1 out of 4 people, men AND women included.

I knew something was wrong when my first thought upon reading this was “I am not even that surprised”. I am not surprised that people think a woman can bring rape on herself since they already think a woman is partly at fault if she gets sexually harassed on the street.

What does it mean to dress “appropriately”? Does it means that I accept a stranger’s right to make inappropriate comment about my appearance? I don’t think that’s okay. How is that actually acceptable? How is that supposed to be a norm?

Being called a whore, or indecent, stared intensely at or assaulted, it all comes down to the very same problem. It all comes down to society teaching us that women’s bodies are something that should be objectified and labelled. When I get harassed on the street, I don’t feel pretty/smart/confident/sexy, instead I’m made to feel ashamed and insignificant. I know that this is happening because society dictates the way we think. What I don’t know is why so many people are unable to see that this is happening and that it is wrong. Why are so few people acting to change this?

I think the problem starts with us, men and women, staying silent when we are confronted with those realities. Even though women have started talking about it, there it is still a LOT of slut-shaming and judgement between girls. And on the men side….there is still too much silence. We are still in a society dominated by men, a society where men have more power. It means that they have a bigger responsibility to speak out, they have better chances to make a change. It is a men’s issue as much as a women’s issue.

I watched a really interesting Ted talk on this topic. Jackson Katz explains that talking about “gender violence issues” puts the focus on women because people read “gender” and think “women”. Thinking that gender violence is a women’s issue only is a big part of the problem. This shifts the responsibility away from men and if men don’t feel concerned little progress can be made.

In Jackson Katz’s words: “One of the powerful roles that men can play in this work is that we can say some things that sometimes women can’t say, or, better yet, we can be heard saying some things that women often can’t be heard saying. Now, I appreciate that that’s a problem. It’s sexism. But it’s the truth. And so one of the things that I say to men, and my colleagues and I always say this, is we need more men who have the courage and the strength to start standing up and saying some of this stuff, and standing with women and not against them and pretending that somehow this is a battle between the sexes and other kinds of nonsense. We live in the world together.”

I will finish with one last point. Why do I mix sexual harassment and sexual assault in this post when one is way more serious than the other? Because from associating sexual harassment with the fact that a women was dressed a certain way to putting the blame on her if she is raped, there is only one step. And that is something we should be worried about.

Article by guest contributor Manon Siméon.

 

Manon Siméon is studying Politics and Economics at the university of Bath. She has been a feminist since she discovered Batgirl, Wonder Woman and the other badass heroines of DC comics.

Who would you be if the world never gave you a label?

Let’s be honest. Everybody has been confronted with one or more of those labels that people put on us so carelessly. Some labels might suit us more than others, but in the end labels are just another attempt at simplifying complex human beings. Putting people into boxes makes our lives much easier, but we should face the fact that the world isn’t easy, and human individuality can neither be classified nor simplified. Gender is one of those labels that is permanently present in our everyday lives. There is the label ‘woman’ or ‘girl’, and ‘man’ or ‘boy’. Everybody knows  women like to go shopping and men like to play soccer. Girls like to play with dolls whilst boys like to play video games. We try to tell ourselves that we already know something about the person based on a label. This is just untrue. Yes, everybody knows that some women like to go shopping, but everybody should also know that it’s not all women. Yes, some boys like to play video games, but some boys also like to play with dolls. Deep inside, we all know people can’t be labelled just like products in a supermarket. Still, we are doing it on a daily basis. So the question is: What is hindering us from seeing people first and foremost as persons, before labelling them? If we manage to get rid of our own labels and question them, we can manage to make this world more humane. We are not a label. We are not a gender. We are individual human beings.

See video “I am NOT black, you are NOT white

L.

“Mirror Psychosis”

 

I admire women, their convictions, the way they fought for their rights.

This painting represents a very slim women who portrays herself as fat in the mirror. The mirror (or her mind?) limits the amount of fat she can actually consume. The women is feeling so compressed, she is about to burst. This is how I believe many women see themselves nowadays. Body-shaming is everywhere. It encages women. But they only deserve happiness. Women are all seductive as they are, whatever what the criteria of beauty are.

I have witnessed the continuing oppression of my father over her, through domestic violence during my whole childhood. She has confronted her fears with a bravery I  now praise everyday.

This piece of my art (and heart) is a tribute to women’s bravery.

14599712_1698128823742995_325268322_o

Jason Blak

 

Jason Blak is a French modern artist. He defines his art as “the beauty of tolerance, the beauty of difference”. He only paints women. He exhibits his works in Paris. 

The B doesn’t stand for bees: on being a bisexual

Last week was Bisexual Awareness week. Like all queer sexualities, bisexuality shares general problems that come with simply not being straight, as well as its own distinct problems. Markedly, along with trans-people, bisexuals often find themselves left out of both heterosexual mainstream society and the homosexual community that has come to be at the forefront of the queer movement. This is my view on this issue as a bisexual woman.

The point of this article is not to criticise all the work the gay/homosexual community has done to fight for queer rights and recognition, nor is it to say that such community does not have its own individual problems that are equally valid. I rather argue that for bisexuals, our attraction for both our own and opposite sex means they suffer stereotypes, abuse and micro-agressions from two fronts – from heterosexuals and the queer community.

Bisexual discrimination and aggression can generally be put into three categories – homophobia, biphobic stereotypes and biphobic discrimination from the queer community. Regarding homophobia, bisexuals suffer equally from this injustice as the gay community does. Indeed, when in an opposite-sex relationships, bisexuals do advantage from open straight-passing privilege. However, the inherent and ever-present homophobia that exits in our society is just as damaging to bisexuals as it for homosexuals, as same-sex attraction (and other gender attraction) is equally central to their identity.

The second act of biphobia, bisexual stereotypes, stems from the harmful and offensive misconception that bisexuals are promiscuous by default due to their attraction to two (or more) sexes. To make it clear, promiscuity is not a bad thing, but making the link between one’s sexuality and their sensuality is. Indeed, it has been said to me a number of times that I was expected to have had a long string of sexual partners simply because I was bisexual. The assumption that being attracted to multiple genders automatically increases your sexual drive is hilariously ludicrous, but also offensive.

Another damaging stereotype is that bisexuals “can’t make up their minds”. Only a number of weeks ago, on Big Brother, Christopher Biggins called bisexuals “the worst type of people” because they were people “not wanting to admit they’re gay”. Bisexual girls in particular are also often passed off as heterosexuals trying to “experiment”. Statements such as these imply that bisexuality is not a legitimate sexuality, rather a “phase” between heterosexuality and homosexuality. Certainly, this depiction is demoralising and make us feel invisible.

This feeling of invisibility is furthered by biphobic discrimination from the queer community. Bisexuals have often described how they have felt cast out of the queer movement, due to their attraction to the opposite-sex. They have been told not to bring their partner of the opposite sex to Pride marches and rejected from Gay Bars due to their sexuality. Those in the queer community too often refuse to accept that bisexuality is a sexuality in and of itself. When dating someone of the opposite sex, I remain bisexual; just as I remain bisexual when dating someone of the same sex. Accepting bisexuals only when they are in a homosexual relationship implies that their sexuality is only permissibly queer when they are gay. LGBTQ “safe spaces” will never be “safe” until everyone under the queer umbrella is fully accepted.

Unfortunately, it seems that bisexuals are thought of as not “straight” enough to be considered acceptable by mainstream heterosexual society, nor “gay” enough to be accepted into the queer community. Indeed, the former act of discrimination is more problematic than the latter given the implications, however, it does not make the latter any less hurtful. As Tangela Roberts explained for the Daily Beast, it is like “two people are yelling at you, but one voice is a decibel higher”.

Article by guest contributor Alexandra Iciek.

 

Alexandra Iciek is studying Politics and International Relations at the University of Bath. She is the campaign coordinator for the Gender Equality group on campus and she is in her own words “always a slut for feminism and Steven Universe”.