We hosted a wee evening of feminist cabaret in Edinburgh at the lovely Forest Cafe. Here’s a couple of videos from the event, with thanks to Adam Forrest for filming.
How do I feel about my body? What do I think of it? I’m impressed that it works, I guess. Considering the years of total…i was going to say ‘abuse’, but i’m not sure that’s appropriate. The years of total…unhealthiness I’ve subjected it to? Doesn’t have the same ring to it though. As I’m sure anyone reading this will understand, my answer to this question very quickly got very convoluted.
I grew up loving crisps and hating exercise. The older I got, the heavier I got, and the more unfit. The more unfit and heavy I was, the more I disliked exercise. This was down to two things: getting out of breath and sweat. I hated sweating. It’s not easy to describe, that humid, damp, sticky feeling. My limbs slid about on my body like parts of a loose hinge with too much oil. It was uncomfortable; I was ashamed and self-conscious. I felt dirty. Losing my breath to exertion was more severe but I minded it less. It would sting my throat to inhale so sharply, and I couldn’t help but notice the only other people gasping like me were the fat ones.
I was a fat one. As far as I was concerned, I didn’t really care. Of course I dreamt of six-pack abs and slimmer ankles and women swooning when I looked at them. Love. That’s what I wanted – I think it’s all I’ve ever wanted – and in my young impressionable mind, you had to be attractive to make someone fall in love with you. My unfortunately convenient way of avoiding confrontation with the reality of my body was my sexual orientation. I shielded myself from the idea that nobody loved me because I wasn’t attractive with the fact that I didn’t know any other women who liked women. I self harmed, I tormented myself, I convinced myself I’d never be loved or I lived happily in day dreams. None of this was rational; it was my life before the age of 16. Indeed, later diagnoses and treatments have attributed a lot of that behaviour to mental ill health (and of course, general teenage existential crises). But my heart felt much older, and lonely. Then for some reason – unplanned and welcome – I lost some weight. I still felt fat, but I grew into my body and started to think I looked alright, though forever insecure.
Puberty started at 10, followed closely by my period. That, I fucking hated. I still do. Menstruation is inconvenient! As a child I thought my hairy legs were cool – the tomboy I was enjoyed some subconscious perception of masculinity about them, perhaps. At 13 I shaved the words “arse” and “hell” in my hairy shins. Thug life. Then, at PE, I was so self-conscious that I hid them as much as I could. This is an awkward task in ‘shorts’ (aka granny pants in school colours), let me tell you. Oxters, I’m still haunted by the memory of what my armpit hair must’ve looked like at the swimming classes at 13 when I remember how long it was the first time I shaved. My minge fascinated me. I kept it trimmed but hairy. When the world told me that bald was best, I shaved it clean. I had tits. I can’t have been much older than 12 when the 9 year old son of family friends on a trip to the beach looked at me, bloated white cetacean, and proclaimed “NICE BOOBIES BY THE WAY!” to all and sundry. I pushed him in the sand and ran away to hide my hideous mammaries. He’s an accountant at a fairly major [read: evil] firm now.
My nice boobies were a bane from day one. Stretch marks on them from appearing seemingly overnight, having to either wear a bra (OH GOD NO! NOT A BRA?! I’M 11 FFS!) and risk being teased for maturing too fast or wear a cropped top which doesn’t support them and risk being teased for not wearing a bra. Basically there were some mean cunts at my school, but I guess they are/were everywhere. Then there was the mantra ‘big boobs don’t count if you’re fat’. WHAT?! SO ALL THIS IS FOR NOTHING?! YOU BASTARDS! Anyway, as a young androgynous lesbian growing up in a very white straight patriarchal middle class environment, I didn’t *want* big boobs. I didn’t *want* to be attractive to boys. I wanted to be attractive to girls. And what’s attractive to girls in that context? BOYS! I wanted to look like a boy so that girls would like me.
Sadly, things did not work that way. If you are a girl who likes girls and emulates traditional masculinities to try and attract girls, you don’t actually attract girls. You attract homophobia/transphobia/sexism/general shite. What did i think of myself? I don’t know. It’s impossible to know what I thought or would have thought autonomously because I still can’t untangle all those other people’s attitudes from mine. I’ve always resented – and still do – the association between me wearing chiefly non-traditionally-feminine attire and the whispers of ‘is that a boy or a girl?’. Not that it should matter; not that it’s any of their business, not that it should make a difference. Either i’m a boyish girl or a girlish boy in their eyes. Is one worse than the other? Depends on the observer, I guess. Mind you, I’ve reached a vaguely zen stage of quite genuine pathos for people who actually think that gender can be identified through such inconsequential factors as clothing, haircuts, hobbies, interests; a sad and blinkered existence.
Is there more to say? Yes; probably more than I could ever say, probably FTL;DR amounts.
I need to say that FGM is a sin against humanity. It is a cliché, I know, but I had to say that anyway. We must know that not only does it break the confidence of women, it also breaks their souls. Please, if you are in a society where it is practised, educate the people on the need to leave souls untouched, in order for them to help the bodies grow. This poem is dedicated to all women who had to suffer through this canker. I need you to know you rock but you must help with your voices so that your children will not suffer same fates. Thank you.
Their dream future is very bright
But they have been given such fright
Who butchers pleasure tools for love?
Who sees blood without looking above?
Who dares to hurt a pure white dove?
There are no sanitizers, let alone glove
A cut, pain, tears, and they are left
Yes, left maimed in inner souls
Bereft of hope for fulfilment
Could this be seeking equality
For pestles shaped to attract and fit?
Aren’t mortars perfect as they are?
Their imperfections grow with age
Why then must they be pushed to age?
My heart bleeds for you who weep
My soul hurts of all half yous
My voice will sing freedom for yours
In years soon to come
Just be assured
And free yourselves from the chains of shame
And I know many also care
Amoafowaa Sefa Cecilia (c) 2014
(Inspired by fola’s blog on Female Genital Mutilation)
You can read more of her poetry at http://amoafowaa.com/
I have gotten to that age where I love babies.
I’m not sure if it crept up on me slowly as I advance towards 30 or if it has hit me like giant hormone fuelled rubber mallet, but in the last 6 months my ovaries have been rocking out. I used to not really care about pregnancy/children/being maternal but suddenly it all seems so appealing. Now the prospect doesn’t fill me with nausea and dread, but rather a feeling of wonder to see if I can do it.
The problem with this though is that the minute I try and talk about this I am instantly met with eye rolls and patronising comments. It is infuriating to be constantly confronted with the expectation that because I want children in the not distant future somehow I cannot be trusted to not get knocked up. Something I have successfully managed all through my adult life. I cannot help but feel that I cannot be trusted with such important decisions. Something that is very obviously highlighted by the slow erosion of female reproductive rights globally. Society does not trust us enough to choose when to have or not have a baby.
There is such a double standard about when you choose to have children now. If you decide when you are younger you are trapping people, giving up on life, like somehow you are letting the team down. If you wait then you are too career orientated, immature and selfish.
Women cannot win!
But what can we do to change this?
We can rally together, to make childcare more affordable, to talk and let people coo and not deride them for wanting to do something natural or equally give them support when they don’t want to.
Content warning for explicit descriptions of kinky sex, including spanking, play piercing, and blood play. Includes mention of misogynistic slurs, but used in a consensual context.
The other night I had one of those one night stands that was totally worth the effort. Sitting at home on a Saturday night after a busy shift at work, I got a booty call from someone I used to fuck a while ago. Initially I said no – perhaps out of a reluctance to revisit the past, perhaps out of internalised slut-shaming; I don’t know – but I changed my mind pretty much immediately and said yes, out of desire for some purely uncomplicated sex, and walked over to his at 1am.
His company was easy, despite the time which had elapsed since we last saw each other, and we ended up having the kind of dirty, sweaty sex that I’d almost forgotten I even needed in my life. Hair-pulling, dirty-talking, arse-smacking sex. He fucked me while calling me a slut, and I left in the morning feeling powerful, sexy, and totally respected.
Some people – still, in 2014 – see some kind of conflict between enjoying this sort of sex and identifying as a feminist. Some particularly misogynistic men see it as somehow “proving” that women don’t really want respect. But, for me, there is no conflict at all. Woebetide any man who sees fit to call me a slut or smack me on the arse in my everyday life – but in bed, with my consent? Bring it on!
When I was twenty, I was with my first proper boyfriend. Although neither of us was having our first sexual relationship, the relationship we had together was one with a lot of space for experimenting with various kinks. We explored many things which interested both of us, and by most standards it was a sexually adventurous relationship. I called him Sir when we fucked, and he called me his dirty little whore. We did a lot of bondage and playing with pain, and I loved looking at the welts the riding crop left on my backside, admiring them in the mirror and tracing them with my fingertips, feeling proud of my pain tolerance. We made our own porn, and experimented with play piercing (the practice of piercing yourself or someone else for the sensation, rather than to have a permanent piercing – I hope it goes without saying that sterile needles should always be used, and that you should either wear gloves or be with a trusted and tested fluid-sharing partner if you’re going to give this a go, but you can never give too much sexual health advice!) Perhaps the hottest sex I’ve ever had in my life was the time that Sir tied me up in the shower and spanked me before piercing his own cock and covering every inch of me in his blood while he called me a whore. Penises bleed a lot, by the way. The bathroom was covered in bloody handprints and droplets and bumprints just from two thin needles through his glans, and it was immensely sexy and satisfying.
I did these things and more not because I secretly long to be subservient to men, but because they gave me pleasure. Engaging in consensual violence and humiliation was never, for one moment, about hating myself or losing my autonomy. Quite the opposite. I love the freedom and escapism of choosing to surrender aspects of control, while retaining the ability to make it stop at any time. I find the transgression of it erotic, and would never want anyone to call me a whore if I believed that’s what they truly thought – about me or about any woman.
That escapism is something I need in my sex life. Not every time I have sex, but some of the time. Surrendering to the pleasure of sensation and losing myself in this fantasy world are absolutely feminist acts for me. I feel no shame about enjoying being consensually degraded by a man during sex. As long as the situation is emotionally healthy for you – whatever that means in the context of your life right now – and the acts are consensual, go ahead and have whatever kind of sex you enjoy, whether it’s kinky and rough or sweet and loving (and it may surprise some people to know that sex can be all of those things at once).
Bodily autonomy is a central tenet of feminism. The right to contraception, and to an abortion. The right to have sex on your terms – and the equally important right to NOT have sex, whether that means right now or always. The right to dress as you please without fear of attack, and without being judged in the awful event that you are attacked. The right to control what happens to your body is hugely important for everyone, but especially for women, whose bodies in our society – in all societies – are so often seen as the property of men.
So when I engage in kinky sex, I am not being oppressed. I’m not “letting” a man do anything to me – I’m participating, consciously and actively, in something I want to do. It is only an illusion of losing control, and consent is key. My body is my own, and remains absolutely my own through every second of choosing to submit during sex.
There is nothing unfeminist about enjoying whatever kind of consensual sexual relationship you like. There is nothing unfeminist in choosing to surrender control within the fantasy. It is my body, and that can be my choice.
**trigger warning for self harm, depression***
“Don’t cry and cut yourself.”
“Cut yourself like some emo/goth.”
“I hated it so much it made me want to slit my wrists.”
Half remembered, throw away comments that I hear on the regular.
I hear a variation on them I would say probably once a week, sometimes from friends, or colleagues, often strangers.
I work in a bar, it’s very easy to overhear conversations.
I have many scars, of various shapes and sizes on the top half of my right arm.
I cut myself there because I was still in secondary school when I did it, and if I did it there they were easy to hide with my school polo shirts.
I’m left handed, and it just seemed natural to hold the blade with my left hand.
I also cut my wrists a little, but it proved hard to hide them with bracelets.
I cut the inside of my thighs a couple of times too, but that was difficult to hide in the communal changing rooms.
An arm was much easier to make sure I had turned to the wall.
What I didn’t know at the time but have since been told by my doctor is that I over-produce scar tissue.
Even if I were to go for laser removal surgery, I would still have scars.
It is harder to write about this than I thought it would be.
It has been around 8 years since I self harmed, but it’s still difficult to remind myself of how I felt when I did.
People who make throw away comments about cutting oneself “like an emo.” make me want to yell at them.
People who ask me about the scars on my arm, which I do not make a lot of effort to hide because I shouldn’t have to, generally also piss me off.
I do not mind people that I know well, asking me respectfully, in private, about the scars.
I don’t really understand the need, because it’s obvious what they’re from. You can fairly safely assume that the answer to your questions will be: “I have depression, I used to self harm.”
But fine, if you feel some need to have me explain, whatever, I can do that.
But I would like to caution you against asking people.
If they want to talk about it, they will.
If not, please feel free to draw the intelligent conclusion that it’s none of your damned business; silently salute them for being able to brave the stares that not hiding your scars foster.
The whispered comments behind hands, and the brazen (usually drunk) assholes who ask you about the darkest period of your life and the constant reminder that you are stuck with on your body in the form of scars which represent a pain so all-consuming that you did not know how to process it.
These assholes will ask me casually.
As if they are entitled to ask me.
It often happens when I am on a night out, being brave, not hiding them, not hiding something that is inexorably a part of me, trying to have a good time.
Fortunately these outrageous dickheads are fairly few and far between, and fortunately for them, I have a good handle on my temper, and usually I’m able to make them leave me the fuck alone with a few words and a look.
I am strong, I am confident, a lot of people are not.
I’m stuck with these scars, there’s nothing I can do about that.
What I can do though is ask this of you; I would ask you to take a second to think the next time your curiosity tries to get the better of you, to think about what the scars on someone else’s body mean to them, and whether you have any right to ask about them.
My name is Rachel and I blog over at College on Crutches. I have a chronic pain disorder called CRPS, so I’ve been on crutches for over 2 years. I am also an Anorexia survivor, and my relationship with my body has not always been great. I recently wrote a post about my change in perspective in regards to my body while dealing with my pain/crutches.
When I look in the mirror, what do I see? Well, first I might casually notice the untimely blemish that has appeared on my face. Or maybe the way my stomach poofs out a bit, evidence of a meal that was just enjoyed. On some days, I see dark brown eyes gazing back at me in the glass. If it’s a bathroom mirror, I look like your average person. Putting my crutches aside, you wouldn’t know anything is wrong. But when I go into my room and see my reflection in my full-length mirror, that’s when it hits me.
“Oh. Yeah. That happened.”
There are some days when it hits harder than others. The days when I stop to look, rather than simply rushing to get ready. I see my compression stocking as fluid leaks through, a reminder that my foot is currently home to multiple ulcers and wounds. I see my calf, thinner than my arm from the muscle that has gone to waste. I see my foot, the size of a football, and wonder if perhaps that’s where the name of the sport came from. I see my lopsided hips, unbalanced from only using one leg. I see my weak muscles, my bent knee, my disfigured limb, and I am once again reminded that I am different.
But then…something changes. There’s a shift in focus as I push the damaged limb aside.
Getting over the reminders of my right leg, I take a glance over to the left one, standing tall. I see the bulging muscle in my calf, making up for the loss in the other leg. I see my thin, bony foot and I am reminded of the weight that it carries each day. I see my thigh, which certainly isn’t “skinny,” but it is built for the task that it is given. Simply looking at my left leg, I look strong. I feel strong. This leg is my saving grace; it is the part of my body that allows me to remain mobile on crutches. It is working double time to make sure I can do what I want.
I then look back up at my arms, ignoring my lower half altogether. I flex my biceps, thinking about the effort that is required of my arms each day. I think about the days when all I wanted was to be able to grasp my hand entirely around my upper arm, desperate to be thinner, searching for control. I ponder how useless they would be if that were the case today. My small, fragile arms would not have held up to the daily beating that they go through on crutches. No, instead, I have strong arms. Muscular arms, something I never wanted but never realized I’d need so badly. I think about my arms, and I am grateful. Who cares if they don’t look perfectly slim in pictures, or if they don’t fit delicately into my hand? They serve an important purpose, one that trumps any desires for the ideal body.
A few years ago, you couldn’t get me to even glance in the mirror without having a complete breakdown. I hated everything about my body, which, in turn, made my life miserable. I used to have an obsession with achieving a certain weight, specific measurement, or tiny clothing size. I thought that if I were smaller, things would be better. But now…well, that just doesn’t seem to matter anymore. Now, I care about how well my body functions. I care about being strong, being capable of completing tasks. I care about using the pieces of my body that do work as much as I can.
When I look in the mirror, I do see the bad leg. I mean, it’s kind of hard to miss. I see the struggle that is still happening on the right side of my body, and it is a bit disheartening, I can’t lie. But more importantly, I see what I have overcome. I see the shift in perspective, in priorities. The bitter reminder of what has happened is softened by the strength of my two arms and one working leg. Instead of crying over that puffy stomach, I smile at the fact that I was able to eat without fear. Rather than hurting myself for having a larger thigh than I “should,” I give myself a high-five for allowing myself to have a muscular left leg.So what if I’m not a size zero? If my body works, then it’s a good day.
Mirror, Mirror, on the wall. We might just become friends after all.
Ailsa Fineron is a photographer based in Bristol and Edinburgh who is currently working on a project about body hair and people’s attitudes towards it and its removal. The Body Hair Project has collected some great photos of women and text of them discussing their attitudes to body hair. Check it out! She’s looking for more people to get involved as well, so if you’re interested her contact details are on her website. Hannah, one of the women who runs Project Naked, participated and it was a lovely afternoon.
I am twenty-three years old and I have never had sex. I don’t know if this is unusual or if most people wait until they’re older as I’m not in the habit of asking people about their sex lives, but anyway. I was never abused, I haven’t had any bad experiences that could have put me off, and I don’t have any of the mental illnesses or conditions with which a low sex drive is often associated. I’m simply not interested. It’s fairly straightforward, and yet many people seem to find it a difficult idea to get their heads around.
Let me employ an extended metaphor. I view sex in much the same way I view football (soccer to any American readers). I have a reasonable understanding of the mechanics, I sometimes kick a ball around by myself for a while, I can enjoy depictions of it in fiction so long as the entire work doesn’t revolve around it and I can kind of see why so many people like it, but at the same time I have no interest in trying it myself and don’t really get why so much of our culture revolves around it or how people think they can make serious judgements about a person based on which team they support. Or play for, as the case may be.
I can’t remember where I first came across the term ‘asexuality’. Some time near the end of high school, I believe. I’d sailed through my secondary education with nothing in the romance stakes beyond one crush (on a young man in my year; we were friends, but romantically incompatible, since he was gay) or any particular desire for physical intimacy other than a hug, if that. From my lurkings in online asexuality communities, I’ve gathered that many aces go through periods of thinking they’re in some way ‘broken’, doubtless not helped by well-meaning sex-positive rhetoric that, in its eagerness to assure people that sex is a good and normal thing to want and enjoy (which I’m sure it is), often forgets to mention that it’s also fine not to want it. I am not one of those people, as I have never been less than comfortable with my lack of sexual desire, nor have I ever felt persecuted for it. This is probably the biggest reason why I’ve never really engaged with any of the aforementioned online communities; another is that compared to other aspects of myself such as my creative writing, love of video games and interest in many branches of science, I consider my asexuality to be a fairly small part of my identity and don’t really see much point in speaking to someone if asexuality is the only thing we have in common. I imagine the conversation would quickly turn to other topics. “You’re ace? Cool, me too. Have you ever seen Pacific Rim? No? Seriously, you should watch it.” (This is a little beside the point, but you should watch Pacific Rim.) One of my closest friends is also asexual, but with the exception of one discussion about whether or not an ace could Impress a dragon (it’s an Anne McCaffrey thing), our conversations are seldom related to our shared orientation and tend to be more about things like Harry Potter, cute reptiles, and the cultural differences between the UK and the US.
There are a couple of things that do sometimes annoy. One is a general lack of recognition; whenever I’ve had to fill out an equal opportunities form, the Sexual Orientation section has always given the traditional options of Straight, Gay and Bisexual, leaving me to choose the ‘prefer not to say’ option if it’s offered. If the forms offer One, the Other and Both, why can’t they also add a Neither? Another is the lack of representation of asexual people in mainstream media. Not to say that there aren’t any aces in media; Sherlock Holmes (at least in his literary incarnation, and his Benedict Cumberbatch one as well depending on how you look at it), Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory and Lord Varys from A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones are three that spring immediately to mind, but the keen observer may notice a couple of things they have in common. A, they’re all men. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a female asexual character. B, none of them are exactly ‘everyday’ people in other respects. Both Holmes and Sheldon are eccentric geniuses (genii?), with the implication that their asexuality is due to a devotion to intellectual pursuits or possibly because they both fall somewhere on the autistic spectrum (though I don’t believe there’s a correlation between autism and asexuality, as I’ve spoken to a few sexual autistic people online, it seems to be a common belief that there is), while Varys is a eunuch. I don’t recall ever seeing a character in a book, on TV or in a film whose asexuality was unrelated to some kind of physical or mental medical condition, which is disheartening as it sends a bit of a message that people can only be asexual if they fall into the above categories, which is certainly not the case, and probably makes things worse for the aforementioned ‘broken’ people.
The most common definition of asexuality I see is ‘lack of sexual attraction’. I don’t think this is always particularly helpful. For one, the fuck does sexual attraction feel like? I don’t know. I have a strong appreciation for Jason Momoa’s pectoral muscles, but that doesn’t mean I have any interest in climbing into bed with the man. For another, it leaves the label so ill-defined that people who don’t really fit it start calling themselves by it. Some asexual people are actively repulsed by sex; others are merely indifferent, so yes, asexual people can have sex, and yes, asexual people may enjoy sex; doubtless everyone has their own reasons. Maybe they want to have biological children, maybe they’re in a romantic relationship with a sexual person and do it for their partner’s sake, maybe they like it enough to go ‘eh, OK’ if someone offers, but I still think that if you’re sufficiently interested in sex to actively seek it out, you’re probably not asexual and should consider using another label.
Sometimes I do wonder if I’m actually asexual, or just uncomfortable with physical intimacy to the point that I can’t imagine myself getting that involved with another person. Then I shrug, think ‘fuck it, I’m awesome either way’ and go play World of Warcraft for a while.
I survived abuse,
I have abused myself.
I’ve survived trauma,
Trusted hands still scare.
My body has been broken,
my flesh pierced- not by choice.
I emerged with a louder voice!
I am not a victim,
But I’m in pain every day.
I AM A WARRIOR.
I fight for my body,