‘Behind Closed Doors’ student conference; Feminism fights domestic abuse

Behind Closed Doors Conference

Student led conference Behind Closed Doors revealed the reality of domestic abuse. A tough topic but someone has to do it. In this case it was Julie Burton, Programme Leader for the Health and Social Care degree, and a fantastic crowd of students who made it happen. It was a brilliant example, not only of student engagement but real world activism. Raising awareness is the first step towards making a difference. Talking is where it all begins.

Keynote Julie Bindel spoke about domestic violence from a feminist perspective. I grew up reading Betty Freidan, Adrienne Rich and Kate Millet. My first MA was Gender Studies; the limitations of gender binaries my research. Julie Bindel made it clear it was not men she was against but the sexism which underpins patriarchal customs and values. It was a blast from my past. All babies are born equal. Society empowers boys and constrains possibilities for girls. Gender specific expectations the most powerful social delineators, kicking in at birth following a cursory glance at the genitals.

Where is my feminism now? Reflecting on the keynote, I can’t remember the last time I labeled myself as feminist. I live it instead. Which is maybe a little too close to taking it for granted.  It was useful to be reminded how this is a position of privilege. I’ve worked hard but my independence as a woman of er… um…a certain age is only possible through the feminist campaigners who fought for equal rights and a life in the public domain.

Who is standing up for young women today? I look at the handmaidens of the cult of celebrity; their false tans, nails, hair, breasts, whitened teeth and impossibly thin bodies – and I think this is the retaliation. Like the 1950’s dream of perfect homes and families was a backlash to the war years where women took the male work role – and did it well – before being pushed back in the kitchen, sedated with valium. The latest oppression is the current reshaping of a young girl’s dreams. It’s not enough to be famous through WAG-hood or reality TV, you have to  exhibit a post baby body after childbirth as well. No signs of pregnancy allowed. As if fecundity has become something to be ashamed of.

We can’t escape hormonal difference. Women have babies. Children need to be looked after. Toilets have to be cleaned. Someone has to wipe the shite. For too long these roles have been designated as female. Yet evidence suggests early civilizations were matriarchal. Women held positions of power and authority. Revered for the same reasons they are now being reviled. Bleeding but not dying. It’s clear from history how femininity was once privileged. Before Lilith was demonised. Before Eve was framed.

Sometimes I wonder if most women have some experience of domestic abuse. Vicariously if not in person. It isn’t limited to men abusing women although research proves this is the dominant model. There are no excuses for harm. All abuse is wrong. It’s perpetrated through an ideology which condones male dominance while trivialising feminist politics, labelling activists as man haters, when this simply isn’t true. It’s the violence we hate. Victims need to be shown how knowledge is power. There is help available. The force of feminism can be with you. This is why conferences like Behind Closed Doors are so valuable and speakers like Julie Bindel should be listened to. The doors need to be pushed open to reveal the horrors within. Alongside information about the help and support which is available to everyone.


Behind Closed Doors website list of organisations who can help victims of domestic abuse http://behindcloseddoors.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/information/

University of Lincoln Behind Closed Doors conference Press Release  http://www.lincoln.ac.uk/news/2014/04/874.asp


Something about this doesn’t feel right

Student Union breast cancer awareness event

I’m all for fighting cancer but something about this breast cancer awareness activity doesn’t feel right. It could be the generation gap I’ve been fighting since my children became teenagers.  Or maybe I’ve gotten older than I feel without realising it. All I know is this image of four young men competing against each other to eat a breast-shaped cake the fastest, hands free, to gain the title Boob King is discomforting.  Partly, it’s the wrongness of all-you-can-eat food competitions. A quick Google search will return a host of them. But there’s another layer which bothers me. It’s to do with the signification of the words. This isn’t being pretentious about language; it’s the way media promote cultural ideology.

The female body is currently undergoing objectification in a way not seen since the 1950’s backlash against women. Rosie the Riveteer, the symbol of women’s liberation in WW2, was pushed back in the kitchen, her waist squeezed in, breasts stuck out and independence crushed under the weight of domestic appliances and patriarchal attitudes.

 Rosie the Riveteer   advertisements from 1950's If your husband finds our advertisement  advertisement - don;t worry darling you didn't burn the beer

We see a 21st century version of this  control over the female body with the cult of celebrity thinness; the promotion of unrealistic and false body images – most worrying is the current obsession with post-baby skinniness. It isn’t natural and ultimately it can be dangerous for your health. 

Reading Man vs Boob in the Lincolnite http://thelinc.co.uk/nl2013/10/man-vs-boob/ made me realise I’m out of date on the charity front. Younger people reading this will think I’m out of date full stop,  When I worked for British Epilepsy there were a handful of ‘big’ names.  Content management systems mean smaller organisations with smaller budgets can now have a prominent web presence and it’s interesting to examine their ‘newer’ identities. The name of a leading charity for penile cancer is http://www.orchid-cancer.org.uk/ The Testicular Cancer awareness charity is http://www.yourprivates.org.uk/ Compare this to the name of charity behind the Boob King event http://www.coppafeel.org/ I know I’m years from their target audience of 18-30 year olds – I have children older than that – but I remember when the expression ‘copping a feel’ was something you wouldn’t hear anywhere other than behind the bike sheds. 

I know about breast cancer and the importance of early discovery. If this event saves the life of one person it will be worth while. I’ve attended too many cancer caused funerals not to support anything which raises awareness of this devastating disease. If I’d passed the SU event I would have donated – but there ‘s still something about this which worries me.  Of course, an equivalent held for Testicular or Penile Cancer awareness with four young women competing to eat the appropriate shaped cakes would be ok – wouldn’t it?  



Who will clean the toilets after the revolution?

I learned about feminism the hard way. Through divorce. There’s nothing like custody to make you appreciate where discrimination lies. Today we face a mass of social and economic problems. Capitalism takes as much as it offers. The state of the NHS, the future of higher education, the media manipulation of welfare claimants are all cause for concern. Yet a life in the UK remains an aspiration for people across the world. We have space to campaign.  Call for greater equality and social justice. Higher education can challenge and change. Maybe not the world but enough small parts to make a difference. The danger is seeing class as the only discrimination. A Marxist framework was useful for rising awareness of gender divides, but gender continues to divide society, deeply and silently. Economics is only one strand of the ideological oppression of women.

My feminist education was less work based than home based. Women find it hard to separate historical materialism from biology. Divorced, I faced the dual predicament of childcare plus the one issue feminism has never answered – toilet cleaning. The reality of women and work rarely sit well together. Work is problematic for mothers – regardless of their status. Whether married, single, divorced or widowed, without a support structure, usually made up of other women, the greatest load of childcare, housework and toilet cleaning is in the female domain. It has always been like this.

I fell out with feminism in the late 20th century because it denigrated the role of motherhood. In prioritising career opportunities and equal pay for women, the status of stay at home mother was downgraded. When it came to domesticity as a career choice, there was no sisterhood. I was lucky. I worked because I wanted to as well as needed to. At the same time I returned to my own education. These were the days of Women’s Studies where feminism was often theoretical. Political activism is safer on paper. In terms of bringing issues of ideological oppression of women into the public domain, there is much to thank the academics and campaigners for, but feminism took away the woman’s right to choose. It privileged work over housewifery. If feminism had invented, patented and given away self-cleaning toilets – every home should have one – it would have been a significant step towards gender equality. For every man who claims to be a toilet cleaner there are a thousand who’ve never wielded a loo brush in their lives. Power politics are played out not only in government but in the rooms of the home; the bedroom, dining room, kitchen room, bathroom.

Cultural attitudes have deep roots. Men still patronize. Women still get paid less for doing more. The ideology hasn’t changed. Gender discrimination is a powerful social tool and I don’t see how Marxism will change this. Who will clean the toilets after the revolution?