The Problems With Trans Exclusionary Feminism

I can honestly say that I can’t comprehend trans exclusionary feminism, if you’re going to fight for the rights of women, that fight needs to encompass all women. In addition, feminism’s technical definition is a movement against gendered discrimination, which in the modern day (with people being slightly less ignorant of how gender actually works) includes far more gender identities than the binary male and female. Of course trans women have a different experience of womanhood to cisgender women, but excluding them from ‘women’s’ spaces is basically denying the entire existence of their identity. How can you properly exist without being acknowledged as a real person for who you actually are?

People have been raising concerns on this topic for a while now but I was recently approached with questions like ‘do you agree that trans women shouldn’t be included in feminist spaces because they haven’t grown up as women?’ to which I accidentally snorted with laughter before remembering I was required to explain the reasoning behind that snort. The fact is, if you’re going to follow the proper aims of feminism and by that I mean intersectionality (as much as many people love to claim this is not the right word), you need to be inclusive. A movement that aims to reduce exclusion, can’t narrow down its permitted participants without becoming entirely contradictory. Women of colour have different experiences of being a woman to white women, disabled women have different experiences to able-bodied women and gay or bisexual women have different experiences to straight women. If you deny trans women space within the feminist community based on the fact that their experience of womanhood is ‘different’ to yours, then by the same logic you should also exclude the list of women above. Once you reach this point you are left with a very small group of women who are not only the least marginalised women in our society but also all face the same issues. This becomes basically worthless and also pretty boring. The idea of excluding trans women from feminism is reflective of starting a world war, then refusing to collaborate with other nations who have the same enemies as you. Our enemies are prejudice, bullying based on identity and inequality in all its forms. In order to even begin to chip away at these elements the first thing we need to do is intersect our models of liberation. This immediately makes liberation groups a million times more powerful and creates a larger body of individuals that will make a larger impact.

Feminism needs to remain a movement for all self-defining women but also for all trans individuals, non-binary individuals and anyone else who may be marginalised on the basis of gender identity. Taking trans women as an example once again, their experiences are actually not only valid experiences of womanhood but also of facing extra prejudice and marginalisation on top of that. I don’t know whether radical, trans exclusionary feminists simply feel threatened by the fact that some people may be even more marginalised than women and particularly straight, white, middle class women, but I seriously struggle to see their logic. People ask whether feminism therefore needs a new name. I’ve had that suggestion posed to me many times, both during serious debates and on nights out when I’ve been drunk enough to just agree ‘sure… whatever’ so that someone will stop talking to me and let me enjoy my night (despite the fact that I’m a politically active person and they therefore see it as my duty to explain things to them). But personally I feel that a name change would eradicate the history of feminism and how much it has already achieved, renaming it stops the movement from existing. It’s not simply a club or a society; it’s a philosophical and ideological movement and a school of thought. Why are we worrying about the name of a theoretical argument when firstly you can’t simply decide to rename something of that category and secondly, it’s insignificant and overshadowed by the more important aim of redefining the movement. Renaming it proves nothing and tacking a new title onto something that has existed for centuries is also damn hard. We should be taking the valuable work done by feminism over the last hundred years and using the pre-existing platform and its strengths to remould it into a movement that is recognised for supporting people against gender based issues of any type.

In conclusion, of course trans women should be included in feminism, for the sake of power in unity and intersectional liberation, but more importantly because trans women are women just like any cis woman despite different experiences to the heternormative, cisnormative matrix of womanhood. You can’t simply turn around and deny someone’s entire existence because it isn’t the same as yours.

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A Tribute to David Bowie, the Legend.

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‘Turn and face the strange’ is in my opinion one of the most powerful lyrics ever written and really summarises the impact of an immense icon. In 1964, a seventeen-year-old Bowie announced during an interview that he intended to start the ‘society for the prevention of cruelty to long haired men’ and from then it became obvious that he wasn’t just an artist but a political activist fighting to help society embrace differences. Sure, this is a semi-comedic example, but David Bowie really did help people broaden their definitions of gender, music, sexuality and appearance. Social media this week has been full of statuses, articles and comments that provide evidence of this impact that he had on the lives of young people of multiple generations. Bowie openly admitted his flaws as well as his oddness and showed the public that there was no requirement to be super-human in order to be significant.

His newest album ‘Blackstar’ was released for his 69th birthday the same week that he passed away having suffered from cancer. The album has been described as a parting gift to his fans, something to remember him by as he was apparently aware he was not expected by doctors to survive another year. Songs from ‘Blackstar’ as well as chart toppers from as far back as the 1970s have taken over the online charts since his death, making Bowie as dominant in this week’s lists as Justin Bieber. I think the reason he stood out so much in the music industry and the reason his influence spanned such a long time period was due to the sentiment behind his music; one of acceptance, differences and the inspiration to believe in yourself no matter what life threw at you. Although they may be the most obvious and I’m willing to admit to being seriously mainstream, my top five Bowie tracks have to be ‘Heroes’, ‘Life on Mars’, ‘Ashes to Ashes’, ‘Let’s Dance’ and ‘Starman’. Despite being released way before my time, these are the songs that got me through my first few months of sixth form as an angsty teen with recently divorced parents and a whole new academic setting. Bowie’s music makes you feel capable of taking on anything and as if you can be whomsoever you wish and still have the potential for success.

He became a timeless mystical figure projecting confidence into people’s lives and even now his music never fails to uplift me no matter how bad my mental health is or what is going on at that moment in my life. His lyrics may sound like he’s totally high but they create a make believe place where the boundaries of social constraints are removed and where people can relax. David Bowie redefined what it meant to be a man, which, considering how much of an icon he was, assisted the blurring of gender boundaries and helped to break down society’s enforced roles of femininity and masculinity. Bowie didn’t care what the media thought of him or about the comments of his critics; he raised awareness of the LGBTQ+ community and openly referenced his own fluid sexuality and gender. People are quick to say that prejudice doesn’t exist anymore but it definitely does, so in the ‘70’s this was even more necessary and a very new concept that was crucial for the progression of humanity.

Since his death a lot of negative press on Bowie has emerged with questions being raised; sexual abuse scandals, appropriation of queer culture and paedophilia have been referenced all over the internet. Despite my respect for social justice, I found myself deciding to save these questions for another day. I need time to mourn the death of a great icon before I mourn the fact that I may have been ignorant of allegations he faced. Many people would quickly condemn this but as someone who very rarely gets emotional over celebrities I doubt I have the mental capacity to find out so much about a hero of mine in one week. A friend suggested we have to separate the art from the artist and I feel this is the perfect explanation. Perhaps as a person, someone could be condemned, but their legacy may still have had a great impact on a variety of people and that on its own is immensely valuable in a world that so often turns us against one another.

Feeling that my own views do not do Bowie’s work justice, I asked people to offer their comments:

‘His whole image projected that he didn’t give a fuck. He was so weird, and embraced it rather than apologising for it, and he was so beautiful. He somehow confused a very judgmental world into admitting that this glorious gender fucking, queer as hell man, was wonderful, and someone we all wanted to be like. And he acted like he loved and accepted all his fans, and created this little space to exist as a freak, knowing that even if no one else would, Bowie would accept you. – Elena

‘He was a magical figure, who seemed to exist outside of the tedious, unhappy world I had to inhabit, who welcomed me into something bigger, something spectacular, effervescent. Somebody who made me realise it was okay to be a walking question mark, that you didn’t need to know the answer to ‘What am I?’ in order to say, proudly, ‘I am.’’ – Quen

‘Bowie did wonderful things for queer and bisexual visibility. Even if only talking openly about his image and experiences, it gave his fans a rare LGBT icon in celebrity culture. Also he just gave no fucks what critics felt about him or wanted of him. He’d kill off personas/images and create new and equally brilliant ones just as critics thought he was only getting started with the last one.’ – Kate

‘The first time I heard him I was eight and our Head Teacher played Space Oddity at the start of assembly, although my first thought was “wow this guy’s poor wife she probably will need to pay the mortgage by herself now” (I was quite an advanced child) it awoke something in me. Some kind of warm fuzzy feeling (I have never been very advanced in the articulation of emotion) and I think a lot of people have that when they hear Bowie for the first time.’ – Ellie

‘Sometimes when I’m having doubts about my social skills he comes and strokes my beard and tells me everything is going to be just fine. Or I’m sure he would, if we ever met, and he hadn’t died. God I miss Bowie.’ – Max

Top 10 Indie Christmas Songs

Every year, from as early as mid-October, we hear the same standard list of Christmas classics; The Pogues, The Darkness, Elton John and Wham!. Christmas basically provides appreciation for artists that the general public happily forget for the rest of the year. A lot of the bands or musicians that people associate with their Christmas hits actually have a whole range of brilliant songs outside of December that tend to get forgotten about. People will look confused when I mention various names until I begrudgingly explain the seasonal number one that they are best known for. On top of this, by the time you reach the age of roughly eighteen, this adds up to eighteen plus solid months of hearing the same ten or twenty songs which really starts to grate.

So this yearly frustration has led me to become the ultimate hipster and put together a list of more obscure Christmas tracks. Some of them may be slightly better known and some might be utterly awful but for anyone looking for something alternative or simply to irritate people at your seasonal events by refusing to play the classic hits, this list may appeal to you.

Zombie Christmas: Emmy The Great & Tim Wheeler (2011)

Emmy The Great is an artist I adore to begin with so that definitely gave this track a head start (hence putting it first). Finding out she has an entire Christmas album full of tracks such as ‘Jesus the Reindeer’ and ‘Sleigh Me’ just made me appreciate her even more. The whole album is pretty brilliant both in terms of sarcastic themes and quality music, but ‘Zombie Christmas’ had to be my top pick.

Christmas Wrapping: The Waitresses (1981)

This one is an older track suggested to me by a friend who heard I was looking for alternative Christmas songs and it’s seriously awesome especially for anyone who loves out-dated, punky female vocals!

Merry Christmas I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight: The Ramones (1989)

Another from the 80s – despite the fact that the 70s are more my era music wise any Christmas song by The Ramones had to be included. The Ramones are fantastic anyway; perhaps that’s why so many people wear their T-Shirts? (sarcastic optimism) and this track doesn’t let them down, of all the songs on my list, this is probably the one I’d listen to even if I wasn’t writing about it.

The Christmas Song: The Raveonettes (2004)

Flashing forward again to the twenty first century, this track almost provides a bridge between the low, indie rock tones of The Ramones and the slow ethereal pace of Emmy The Great. In my opinion this is a great combination and I find it reaches the point of relaxing but manages to avoid the point of tediousness which is always a good thing!

Christmas TV: Slow Club (2009)

The first time I listened to this one I did wonder at first whether it would hit the point of tediousness that I mentioned above, however I was pleasantly surprised. I will happily admit that while faster tracks and indie rock are usually my cup of tea, I can cope with slower, more gentle (or cheesy) tracks if they are alternative enough. That is not a conscious decision just an unfortunately hipster observation that I’ve had to learn to live with. This is definitely a Christmas song that brings out that element of my music taste and serves as a guilty pleasure, but I challenge anyone to seriously hate it. Definitely worth a listen and very Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros!

I Want An Alien For Christmas: Fountains of Wayne (2004)

‘He can live in the bathtub’ is perhaps the best line of this song and one you wouldn’t expect from a Christmas song. It might be no ‘Stacy’s Mom’ but it’s damn good, especially if you’re looking for something a little off the beaten track to brighten your December. Classic Fountains of Wayne: top quality lyrics and a beat that makes you tap your feet whether you like it or not.

Santa Claus: Belle & Sebastian (Date unknown)

This has to be the most obscure or at least the most difficult to get hold of on my list, it’s far easier to find covers by The Sonics or James Brown but if you can chase it down it’s definitely worth the hunt. Belle and Sebastian are always fantastic so if we can have a Christmas song by them, the winter months could be vastly improved.

Last Christmas: Jimmy Eat World (2001)

I’m cheating a little bit here by picking not only a cover of one of the Christmas hits but possibly the most hated of all of them! However Jimmy Eat World are one of my favourite bands and they seriously improve this track simply by speeding it up a little and subtly adding their own style.

Everything’s Gonna Be Cool This Chistmas: Eels (2009)

Eels are fabulous and this track is fabulous, it’s definitely one of my top picks, made all the better by the line ‘baby Jesus – born to rock’ as if it needed improvement. Anyone looking for a little bit of rock or indie to inject into their Christmas playlist should start here, this band don’t need imaginative lyrics to bring something appealing and unique to this time of year.

Xmas Time Is Here Again: My Morning Jacket (2000)

Let’s finish in 2000 with something a tad depressing. I think this last track ties up my introductory promise that at least one of my chosen alternative Christmas songs will be vaguely awful. But if you’re looking to spend December hating Christmas whilst nursing a stiff drink this is the song for you!

Periods are Not a Luxury

The VAT on sanitary products that was maintained by popular government vote a few months back is an insult to over half of our population. However, it is even more of a problem for specific groups of people; those dependent on student loans, those with particularly low incomes or homeless people, for example. For those who experience periods, sourcing sanitary products can be immensely difficult or just plain expensive, despite the fact that they are so necessary. I would argue that tampons or sanitary towels are logistically even more of a necessity that toilet roll if you want to get into picky details, a relevant comparison considering how quick people are to point out that loo roll is also taxed. In addition, I would make the point that many feminists and other political activists have made before me – focussing on one issue does not imply that you aren’t aware of, or don’t care about others. The fact that toilet roll is taxed is just as ridiculous as the tax on sanitary products but firstly does not target a specific demographic, and secondly as previously mentioned, toilet paper is actually easier to go without (given the continuous nature of menstruation).

The government have now switched tactics and begun advertising intent to use the money raised by this tax to support survivors of domestic abuse. But obviously this has only raised more questions and is still problematic. Tying domestic abuse directly to sanitary products is utterly bizarre, if they want to help survivors why not tax cake or other food items, there is a vast range of luxury items that would raise far more money without posing such a problem. The list includes; exotic meat, edible icing flowers, Jaffa Cakes and alcoholic jellies – it would surely make more sense to tax these products that aren’t a basic necessity? It is also not the exclusive responsibility of people who menstruate to support people who have suffered abuse; this should not be singled out as a charitable cause and should be an issue amongst many that is a priority of the population as a whole. The other major problem with this suggestion is the gendered language surrounding it, the government are deeming menstruation a biological event experienced only by women, thus completely erasing the experiences of trans men, non binary people and women who don’t menstruate. This is being followed up by an association that implies that domestic abuse is also an experience and responsibility solely of women. The other point often raised is the difficulty of removing the tax from an item in regards to EU laws, however activists are not arguing that the removal of VAT is simple or straightforward. We are attempting to point out that it should be prioritised more.

These arguments only provide a brief summary of some of the reasons that the tax on sanitary products remains massively problematic. But hopefully it is enough to point out why people are staging such a variety of protests against the tax. Charlie Edge is a strong example of someone who has recently held a protest against the tax (free-bleeding outside the houses of parliament) and received massive media attention from radio stations, newspapers and magazines. Inspired by her and others, Royal Holloway students have spent the last week focussing on the issues surrounding sanitary products. Tegan Marlow (President of the Feminism Society) arranged a collection of tampons and pads for local homeless charities that went down immensely well with two enormous boxes being filled. The society went on to hold a discussion last week on why the tax is a problem as well as how to break the stigma and squeamishness surrounding menstruation in general. This week with the help of Tegan and the Feminism Society, I organised a protest/campaign stall on Royal Holloway’s campus. We made various signs containing slogans against the tax and asked people to offer their comments and take part in photos with the signs or whiteboards on which they could offer their own response. We received a surprising amount of enthusiastic participation and managed to collect a huge number of photographs with the help of The Orbital’s photographer Yasmeen. A massive range of students got involved, not limited purely to women which was great to see and we will be sharing these photos and responses online and through media outlets over the next fortnight.

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An Interview with Charlie Edge

(For Parallel Magazine)

A few weeks back, members of the UK Parliament (including many women), voted to maintain VAT on sanitary products. Sanitary towels and tampons are still on the list of taxed ‘non-essential, luxury items’ that does not include edible icing flowers, jaffa cakes, alcoholic jellies and exotic meats like kangaroo or crocodile. Given the utterly bizarre situation of deeming products used to stem unavoidable blood flow a luxury, but crocodile meat an obvious essential, people have been reacting online and in public with complete outrage. Many protest groups and events have been formed all over the UK but Charlie Edge’s demonstration has received particular media attention, being covered by Cosmopolitan, The Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, The Independent and The Metro to name but a few. She has even been invited to speak on radio shows following this fantastic coverage because her protest was particularly poignant, having realised that regular demonstrations were not going to cut it and the government need to be shown just how ‘luxurious’ menstruation really is.

On Friday 6th November Charlie, along with two friends including Ruth Howarth, spent her day protesting outside of the Houses of Parliament whilst free-bleeding. They chose white trousers to make sure people would take notice and posted the following status on Facebook to inform people about their demonstration:

‘Today i am forgoing tampons and pads outside the houses of parliament to show how ‘luxury’ tampons really are.
We are also raising money to buy tampons for homeless shelters, womens shelters and the refugee crisis.
We’re getting lots of dirty looks and someone just shouted at us to get a job.

But everyone keeps saying “haha omg how quickly would we get free tampons if everyone stopped wearing them?!”
So, I’m giving it a go.

Taxes are necessary, i get it.
So are tampons/ pads.

They’re not luxury items, anymore than jaffa cakes, edible cake decorations, exotic meats or any other number of things currently not taxed as luxury items.

Maternity pads are taxed, but incontinence pads arent.
We’ve had enough. Maybe bleeding on their doorstep will get the tories to do something about this?’

Following all the attention Charlie and Ruth have remained cool and collected, posting grateful responses to everyone supporting them via social media and articulate, polite responses to those that have been critical. They have also made sure to keep linking people to articles and information to further their campaign as well as making sure the public are aware that it is not just a women’s issue: not all women menstruate and menstruating does not mean you are a woman. I was lucky enough to get to chat with Charlie, who was very friendly and happy to contribute her message and aims. I asked her to explain what happened and fill me in on the details:

Can you describe your demonstration?

We went to Westminster, popped into a public toilet first to remove tampons an then stood opposite parliament for three hours, whilst posting online about what we were doing and why we were doing it.

What sort of reaction did you get from passers by?

Mostly positive! I was very surprised! One or two people told us “get a job” or “get your tits out” as they drove past but almost everyone who stopped to talk to us was kind and supportive.

What sort of reaction have you had on social media?

It’s been about 50/50. But I’ve already responded to most of the negative comments. All the information is out there and I’m getting bored of saying the same things again and again and linking people to my responses. It’s all out there for anyone interested enough to do the research. We’ve found that generally though, most people who hate us are going to hate us regardless of how polite we are and how calmly we try to explain our argument, so I’ve had to ask a couple of people to stop messaging me and had to block a few more. Some people just can’t help but have the last word. People are reeeeally trying to upset Ruth and me and honestly, they need to re-evaluate their moral compass much more than we need to re-evaluate our political methods.

Why is this such an important issue?

Because it’s a government, made up mostly of cis men, essentially taxing us £100 for the ‘luxury’ of bleeding once a month for fifty years. People keep saying that it’s so small an issue and “think of women in third world countries”. First of all, if you’re using women in the third world as a reason not to deal with sexism in the UK, you probably have white knight syndrome. It is possible for there to be more than one bad thing at a time. If our 5% tax went on free sanitary care for the third world then I’d shut up pronto but it doesn’t, it goes towards necessities like helicopters and crocodile meat. There are also plenty of women living in poverty in the UK. If our 5% tax went on free pads and tampons on the NHS similar to the C-card scheme, then I wouldn’t mind paying it! This is not just a women’s issue it’s a class issue.

If you could summarise in one sentence what you wish to say to the government what would it be?

Try harder!! And also, worry more about protecting people and worry less about protecting money.

Have you got any future plans for the campaign and how would you advise others to contribute?  

Ruth and I are currently raising money and getting donations of sanitary items to donate to shelters. We’re dealing with the response to this before we do anything else. A lot of people have asked me if I’ll do another protest and they’ll join me. We might do another! But you know what please don’t wait for us to take the lead! Start your own protests! All over the UK! Let’s show the government that it isn’t just “two girls outside parliament” but thousands of angry people!!

 

The Conversations We Should Be Having About Anti-Depressants

 

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I’ve been on Fluxotine for almost three months now and it has already helped me far more than I expected. It took me around six months to persuade myself to try anti-depressants for the second time, despite being at times very ill with anxiety and depression. Considering the intensity of what I was feeling, I somehow still found room in my head to add one more worry to the pre-existing ones. I was ashamed at the thought of requiring anti-depressants and terrified of people knowing I was on medication. I should point out that I’m aware many people on anti-depressants are very comfortable talking about it and I admire them enormously. But I am also aware that the popularity of movements like #smashthestigma or #medicatedandmighty stems from a need for encouragement and solidarity against the prejudice surrounding mental health and medication.

When you go to a health clinic for anti-depressants or similar medicine the doctor will explain in detail that they are very safe, side effects should be minimal and so on. But the real questions running through the minds of a lot of us are completely different to those addressed.

I struggled to see anti-depressants as a regular type of medication, imagining that they acted as a cheat for general life and panicking that I wasn’t actually unusually depressed but looking for a crutch to make my life easier than everyone else’s. I took up debates with myself on whether depression and anxiety were simply part of my personality and taking pills for it was a decision to medically alter my genetic make-up. I also wondered whether I’d be on them for the rest of my life and forget what I’m naturally like as a person or perhaps end up stuck in some sort of emotionally dead limbo, having heard people discuss how anti-depressants ‘eradicate any emotional responses’. But mostly I was convinced that being on medication for mental health reasons made me some sort of weak and pathetic human being incapable of coping with regular life.

To people who haven’t experienced these specific insecurities and to myself today, those thought processes seem completely illogical. I also really want to emphasise that I have never for a second looked at anyone else in such a critical way. The fact is it’s far too easy to bully and belittle yourself whilst still admiring the people around you. I saw my medicated friends as brave for coping so well with their mental health issues and taking that step but saw myself as a failure, becoming even more inwardly angry and critical by making comparisons. Once I approached the topic I found that many of my close friends have their own experiences with mental health and therefore could encourage me to view things differently and find the confidence to try things that could help. My mum asked me to consider whether I’ve noticed any of the results I’d conjured up in my head in other people, whilst my friends were very comfortable discussing and comparing their medication and its effects. People also encouraged me to think of it as denying myself a cast for a broken leg or an antibiotic for tonsillitis, which is a comparison that makes anti-depressants far easier to consider. By the time the #medicatedandmighty campaign circulated on Facebook and Twitter it made me immensely happy and proud to feel like part of such a supportive community. When I shared my selfie I did it in a rush of excitement then suddenly realised I had a lot of people on Facebook from work and high school that I definitely wouldn’t talk to about my mental health. However the response surprised me first through the number of likes from unexpected people, but secondly through the number of people who commented saying that they are also on anti-depressants – people I had no clue were using them.

This was the point when I realised how damaging the lack of conversation around mental health and medication is. People should feel comfortable and accepted for whatever illness they have (physical or mental). A large chunk of society still views mental illness as a taboo subject. People often take to social media to express their experiences and find support but that isn’t enough, the general perspective is harmful and putting people off seeking help. Being able to look at myself with more confidence has made me realise that no one deserves to feel inferior because they require medication. Being able to admit that you need anti-depressants and ask for the help, let alone openly talk about it, makes you a strong person in itself and mental health needs to start being taken as seriously as physical illness so people are encouraged to feel comfortable with it. I’m hoping that my attempt to cram my learning curve into this small word limit might contribute to developing that necessary discussion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My First Month As A Spotify Student Brand Manager – What It’s Like To Have The Perfect Student Job.

(For The Founder – Royal Holloway’s student newspaper, as Music Editor)

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Having made it through a three-stage application process over the summer (much to my genuine surprise) I’ve managed to secure myself what many people deem the ultimate student job. The application was intense due to the popularity of the position with 1000s of people applying; an online form followed by a phone interview and then an assessment day including presentations to a group. To break it down, being an SBM allows you both a termly pay package and an incredible series of perks and experiences. Throughout my time in the position I can earn cash bonuses and tickets to festivals, I get to attend amazing events like the Spotify Secret Social and even the assessment and training were brilliant fun with the added bonus of free snacks and a post training party. In addition, I can get special consideration for summer internships and make both great friends and great contacts for graduate job prospects, all while achieving something that will look brilliant on my CV with a big name company. Considering all of the benefits of being an SBM, I should also mention that as part of the job you receive a PS4, a portable Bluetooth amp and various lights, balloons, disposable cameras and general party equipment as well as an ENORMOUS amount of paper cups and then host or support pre-drinks, parties and socials around campus. Considering that I’m a pretty sociable person anyway, this is basically the perfect job for me even without my keen interest in music and spreading music love through my positions at The Founder and Insanity Radio.

Freshers’ week saw the launch of Spotify’s ‘Hello Freshers’ tour, with buses driving around the country to spread the love and give out freshers’ packs for pre-drinks and ice-breaking in new flats. Alongside this was the launch of ‘Spotify Mix Mates’, which allows you to enter your favourite artist and a friend’s and work out how similar your tastes are, whilst creating a bespoke playlist. Overall the campaign was a roaring success and the beginning of term was improved with a little bit of Spotify delight. It was brilliant to start meeting freshers and to get involved in societies starting up for the year. Since term started I was invited to support LGBT+ Society’s first big social and have hosted numerous Spotify themed pre-SU gatherings. Friends and acquaintances alike have been really keen to get involved and help me with the job – from blowing up giant balloons to transporting equipment, which has helped me enormously whilst creating the buzz and sense of community that Spotify aims to achieve.

The company introduced Student Brand Managers not to act as sales associates but simply to help create a love for the brand in an environment where Spotify is particularly appreciated. The successful students are get to ‘enhance student life’ and create ‘incredible music moments’ which is hardly difficult when university life revolves around music so acutely to begin with. Royal Holloway has an incredible musical base with Insanity Radio, musical content in both The Founder and The Orbital, as well as the Red Cup Company events, club nights and a whole host of student bands and artists. These elements allow me even more potential for the role and I definitely hope to incorporate them into my Spotify projects. I am already in love with the position; as it allows me to meet and engage with people, help maintain the sense of community that Royal Holloway is so well known for and promote music (one of my greatest passions) all through creating great playlists and maximising social events. For anyone looking to add something brilliant to their CV, I would definitely recommend the job for next year and that’s after only a month in the role!

The two main events of last year were the Spotify Secret Social and the Spotify Sound Clash, which were run brilliantly by last year’s SBM with Royal Holloway’s Feminist Society being amongst the national winners of the Spotify Sound Clash and receiving £500 sponsorship. This year I will also have the social kit (amp, PS4, disposable cameras, balloons, cups, lights and logo projector) available to support any events, pre-drinks or socials your house or society might be holding. You can follow the ‘Sound of Royal Holloway’ account on Spotify from which I will post Insanity’s weekly playlist as well as the top picks of various societies and lists to hype you up for event nights at Medicine or the SU. So make sure you get in touch if you have any upcoming events you want a little extra Spotify support for or if there’s anything you particularly want to see from the ‘Sound of Royal Holloway’ profile and keep an eye out on Facebook and Twitter for upcoming campaigns!

https://open.spotify.com/user/royalhollowayuniversity

The Darker Side Of Freshers’ Week

High levels of socialising, alcohol consumption and teens living away from home for the first time, make university campuses the prime environments for the rise of lad culture. The freshers’ week influx of younger students high on the excitement of their newfound freedom creates even more space for the problem to exist. For most people, freshers’ week means awkward small talk with flatmates until you start drinking and immediately become best friends, joining as many clubs or societies as you can and grabbing whatever freebies are on offer in-between parties and club nights. It will probably be one of the best weeks of your life: the sense of independence combined with the friendly nature of a campus full of people looking for new social groups, plus the fact that it’s a week designed for nothing but partying, is amazing. But for a lot of people the experience is tainted with sexist comments or harassment on the dance floor.

‘Lad culture’ is a term that is becoming well known in reference to the fact that misogynistic behaviour in young men has become an ingrained part of society. Last year The Guardian published statistics showing that around 40% of female students experienced ‘unwanted groping or touching’ as well as ‘unwanted comments about their body’ compared to 12% of male students. Two thirds of female students claimed to have heard unwanted sexual comments being directed at fellow women and just under a third reported ‘gender-based verbal harassment’. The additional problem in freshers’ week is that new students get dragged into this sexist culture believing that it’s the right way to fit in and make friends or simply assuming that at university this behaviour is acceptable. This only increases bad experiences for women and people of other genders who feel intimidated or unsafe on their campus.

When I asked students to give quotations about their experiences of lad culture during freshers’ week I was horrified to receive even more responses than expected. Almost every girl I spoke to had something to say and it’s also not only women who have had these experiences.

“I was seen as bitchy and unfriendly because I didn’t laugh at sexist jokes and leering when I was meeting guys during freshers week.”

“During freshers’ I was consistently regarded to be a bit of a party pooper. The boys in my halls just thought I was a killjoy because I didn’t drink very much, I didn’t want to sleep with any of them and I didn’t laugh at their gross misogynistic jokes. It’s hard arriving at uni and wanting to make friends and be seen as a fun person but not wanting to compromise your principles.”

“Freshers and lad culture are definitely synonymous as people associate freshers’ week with sex. A lot of people are out there to pull, which means “lads” can get a bit out of control.”

“I would meet guys on a night out and have a really brilliant conversation with them but as soon as you go into the SU they try to get with you. It’s really frustrating because I honestly just want to make friends. My friends from home always say I’m really naive thinking that if a male talks to me on a night out that he’s interested in friendship.”

“Just the fact that around Freshers you’d hear the phrase ‘Fuck a Fresher’ floating around is bad enough!”

“ “c’mon, it’s Freshers’, you have to be after a hookup” I was more bothered about Intstagramming and the free T-shirts and pens to be honest!”

“In freshers’ week I was in the car with three guys and as we drove past the SU. There was a girl walking to the SU wearing a body-con dress and one of them said ‘look at that SLUT she’ll take anything she can get what a SLUT she’s just asking for the D in that dress’.”

The launch of projects like ‘Everyday Sexism’ and campaigns aiming to empower women like ‘This Girl Can’ have been received positively and seem to be having an impact on raising awareness of sexist behaviour. However, as the term ‘lad culture’ suggests, gender based harassment is such a major part of our culture that it’s an incredibly tough job to tackle it and the same goes for student based campaigns. Despite campaigns like the NUS ‘I Heart Consent’ initiative and universities training their SU security staff in exactly how to handle complaints of sexual harassment, the problems remain. These projects have definitely raised awareness of the fact that firstly, lad culture and rape culture exist, and secondly that they are an important issue and people deserve to feel safe when they go out. But as the experiences of this years’ freshers show, there is still a lot that needs to change.

(For the Huffington Post)

Kiran Gandhi And Breaking The Period Stigma.

Historically, people’s periods have been blamed for curdling milk, spoiling beer and wine, drying rivers and wells, and killing off plants. The patriarchal society that we live in has managed to make anyone who menstruates feel ashamed and uncomfortable with their own body. Very few people feel able to opening discuss periods but that might be about to change.

M.I.A’s drummer, Kiran Gandhi, decided the best way to make a statement against the stigma surrounding menstruation was to run a marathon without a tampon and found the experience “empowering”. In the last year Rupi Kaur posted a series of photos portraying periods which were taken down by Instagram and Soofiya Andry has created a ‘zine with the aim of informing people about menstruation and breaking down social taboo. Perhaps we are finally starting to see the beginnings of the disintegration of society’s contradictory prejudice against the vagina.

Getting your period just before going to the gym, doing yoga or swimming, let alone running a marathon is most people’s nightmare but this woman saw it as a positive. In that situation our panic tends to stem from not just the discomfort but also a strong fear of having it leak and God forbid, people knowing that you are on your period. We are incredibly conscious of the fact that society deems natural bodily processes, especially menstruation, disgusting, impure and inappropriate. So it’s particularly interesting that a lot of us cringe at the idea of doing what Gandhi did, but for reasons that are created by the same ridiculous stigmas that she was attempting to crush.

She summarised this sentiment perfectly with the statement “By establishing a norm of period-shaming, [male-preferring] societies effectively prevent the ability to bond over an experience that 50 percent of us in the human population share monthly.”

The 26-year-old feminist actually ran 26.2 miles as the blood stained her leggings and ran down her legs. She explained that she put up with the mess and discomfort “for sisters who don’t have access to tampons and sisters who, despite cramping and pain, hide it away and pretend it doesn’t exist”.

“I ran to say, it does exist, and we overcome it every day. The marathon was radical and absurd and bloody in ways I couldn’t have imagined until the day of the race.”

She added, “It would have been difficult to worry about a tampon for that many miles” and felt that “if there is anyone society won’t fuck with it’s a marathon runner”.

When speaking to Cosmopolitan, she also explained that she was actually worried about the effect a tampon would have on her body when running so far and doing so with “a wad of cotton material wedged between my legs just seemed so absurd”. She mentioned that there is little information available on the consequences or health risks especially considering that tampons pose health risks even in normal everyday use. This reinforces how sparse discussion of menstruation really is and how tough it is to seek out advice when you’re faced with the combination of your period and an unfamiliar experience.

“I didn’t really have good information about what happens when you run on your period,” she said.

As if that wasn’t amazing though, Gandhi managed to finish the race in 49 minutes and 11 seconds and raise $6,000 (£3,877) for Breast Cancer Care with the help of her friends and claims that this “greater cause” is what helped her make it to the finish line. She was proud to have done something that she considered “a stretch”, for the sake of raising money and feminism.

Responses to Gandhi’s marathon have varied and it’s clear that period activists still have a lot of work to do in order to completely break down the taboo nature of menstruation. Across social media platforms comments have varied immensely, as per usual on such a ‘contraversial’ topic. One user, Demiurgic, wrote: ‘you are one AWESOME woman! Thanks for boosting my confidence and clearing my equivocal mind.’ Nilima Achwal echoed her sentiments, writing: ‘Whoa – kudos your courage and resilience.’ However, Bellyrina wrote: ‘I don’t know about you, but I don’t find this feminist. Just unsanitary,’ whilst Mark Byron added: ‘I think people are already aware of periods and I think she is a vulgar capital V.’

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The executive editor of HuffPost UK, Poorna Bell described the event as “nonsense” and the Daily Mail completely contradicted themselves by writing an article on a woman who attempted to break down the social stigma surrounding periods in which they censored out her blood stains. This reaction is far from unusual considering the historic taboo and oppression of periods, as recently reinforced by everyone’s favourite patriarch, Donald Trump. On the back of Instagram banning Rupi Kaur’s photography, people appear to have had enough. When Trump recently decided to do as many men have done before him and blame menstruation, following particularly tough questions asked by female reporter Megyn Kelly, the “period revolution” seemingly began.

People have taken to twitter to ‘live-tweet’ their periods at Donald Trump, possibly the best protest in the history of social media. The politician has had to fend off an onslaught of detailed updates on the periods of the public and despite trying to claim he was referencing a metaphoric blood flow from the “ears” of the reporter, he has not succeeded. Out of this glorious rebellion a hashtag has even emerged – #periodsarenotinsults which perfectly summarises how periods have been used against women for centuries to portray them as irrational, disgusting or weak.

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Considering the pain, discomfort, emotion and general side effects of menstruating, let alone the inconvenience of large quantities of blood running down your legs, it makes so little sense that we are also forced to hide them away and feel embarrassed. Can we dare to believe that between Soofiya’s ‘zine, Rupi’s Instagram photos, #periodsarenotinsults and now Kiran’s marathon, the taboo is beginning to be broken down?

Kiran Gandhi pointed out that coping with a period once a month is tough enough, so running a marathon on hers felt like an immense achievement and making it through the anxiety and cramps was what really empowered her. This is what we should be celebrating, the difficulties that people with vaginas face. Soofiya Andry has created her ‘zine to do exactly this, celebrate and inform people about menstruation by opening people’s minds to the fact that not only women menstruate and the people that do should be supported and find it easy to converse on the subject.

More material and open discussion is required considering as Gandhi commented more than 50% of the world’s population have periods and they should not be made to feel ashamed. She added, “it is intelligently oppressive to not have language to talk about it and call it out and engage with it. I really can’t think of anything that’s the equivalent for men, and for this reason, I believe it’s a sexist situation” and described the running course as somewhere “where the stigma of a woman’s period is irrelevant, and we can re-write the rules as we choose.”

Soofiya has extended her support to Kiran following the marathon and commented “Kiran is so fucking badass! I think it was a great example of what I call ‘period activism’. The whole thing was really empowering, her autonomy and strength as someone who menstruates was further reinforced by her statement of solidarity. Not only did this action challenge taboo but brought the discussion into the wider public consciousness; which is vital to helping shift the ‘shaming’ narrative which surrounds menstruation.”

Pages from Soofiya's 'zine.
Pages from Soofiya’s ‘zine.

Given that many people don’t even have access to the products they need to cope with menstruating and this needs to chance, as well as the myths and insults that arise about periods, it is absolutely crucial that we begin to talk openly about the subject. Hopefully, after the media attention it has received in the last year, things are about to start changing and we can maintain the conversation that has begun online and encourage people to break the taboo.

Why Kim Kardashian Is Good For Feminism

Whether or not Kim Kardashian calls herself a feminist has been a hotly debated topic for a long time now. Half of the people commenting online are frustrated that she refuses to actively say ‘I am a feminist’ and the other half are confused as to why those people care so much. It seems to me like a lot of them are entirely missing the point, I do find myself getting irritated by powerful women who avoid the term but then I stop to think it’s not up to me to push people out of their comfort zone and label themselves. To be honest can you really blame them with all of the false negative connotations the movement has become shrouded in? When someone does choose to call themselves a feminist it acts as a tiny step towards removing those connotations. However when a person of a marginalised gender demands equality with men (even if they still refuse to refer to themselves as a feminist) it is a step towards smashing the patriarchy. This is what stands out most to me, the first is positive but the second is more important. If feminism continues to be stereotyped and criticised but also continues to (however slowly) break down patriarchal standards, it’s still achieving its goal. Six months ago, I would never imagine I’d be able to tie these ideals to Kim Kardashian, I was just as judgemental as the next person and firmly believed she was simply superficial and irrelevant, but when my sister persuaded me to watch her TV show I found my views began to change.

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Kim is the perfect example of a figure with an enormous amount of power, possibly the most influential celebrity of our generation, who doesn’t necessarily identify as a feminist but is definitely a good influence for the movement. What many people don’t realise or refuse to say in such frank terms is that Kim Kardashian is a victim of revenge porn. Her sex tape was posted online without her consent and she had to deal with that situation and the associated trauma in exactly the same way other victims have. Overcoming this violation and finding the confidence to move forward with your life is incredibly impressive in its own right, so turning it around completely and using the unwanted attention to help you create a multi-million dollar empire is mind-blowing. Kim is now one of the most successful business women on the earth with two clothing lines, nine seasons of a television series, a book, a chain of boutique stores, her own mobile game and a hair-care range, amongst other achievements. In addition to this, although it may seem surprising, she has branched out into industries that are massively male dominated. The game/app that she created may be about fashion, hairstyles and Hollywood but it’s still an app and people don’t tend to realise that she was present for its design, creation and programming. It also allowed her to speak at tech conferences, which she described on her television show as one of the scariest experiences of her life. She explained how it felt more terrifying than any other appearance she had made because it was an environment where people aren’t used to hearing from women, let alone a woman who is constantly deemed unintelligent or superficial by strangers who don’t know her. When she did speak at these conferences however, social media was buzzing with comments on how “surprisingly clever” she came across as it suddenly dawned on people that she’s a perfectly intelligent human being.

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People love to judge and slut-shame the Kardashians, Kim in particular given how easy the public always find it to castigate someone who has had nude photos or videos leaked. How it’s possible to victim blame like that is beyond me, whether they are intimidated by the success of a woman or are simply snobby, draconian misogynists who like to degrade women for exposing their bodies whether accidental or deliberate. Every day people complain that it’s not acceptable that she “gained an entire career from getting her ass out” or “received billions of dollars for being a whore”. And those people need to accept that firstly, she did not choose to have her trust and privacy violated in such a brutal manner. Secondly even if she had released nude images of her own accord or decided to make a career directly using her body, for example through pornography or sex work, that is her prerogative and it’s her body to do with whatever she likes. Finally, in this specific case, Kim does not have an incredibly successful career and a net worth of $85million because she’s attractive or because her sex tape was released. Her success is down to the fact that she made the best of an impossible and traumatic situation and because she is creative, intelligent, hardworking and likeable. Careers don’t spring from nowhere just because people see your naked body. She turned it around to her advantage and few people are lucky enough to have such success come out of their hard work and determination so it deserves a lot more respect than people tend to give.

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When the Kardashians are branded superficial and self absorbed, they’re also ‘blamed’ for the rise of the ‘selfie’ which people believe perpetuates a ‘self absorbed generation’ of teens and young people. Let’s be honest it’s easy to see that Kim Kardashian can be held mostly responsible for encouraging more people to take up a habit of photographing themselves. But the question is, how negative is this trend really, in its influence on society? When people take a photo of themselves and post it online, they are deciding how they want to be seen or perceived as well as who they want to see it and when, therefore maintaining personal control. This is the exact opposite of having images or video material uploaded against your will that allows the world to judge you. It’s not just fighting back against the specific case of revenge porn that Kim faced, but against slut-shaming or superficial judgement in general. People seem desperate to tell you that liking how you look, being confident about your body and enjoying sharing that are bad things and vanity is a problem. But how much is really wrong with being content and confident? Through taking ‘selfies’ people can reject the idea that being vain or loving your appearance is a negative thing and move away from the fact that society expects women to be filled with self loathing and constantly striving to improve their appearance.

Kim, as well as all other people who enjoy sharing photos of themselves, is reclaiming the rights to her own body and her own confidence that were not only stripped away from her when her video was leaked but risk being crushed every day by ignorant people who pick out her flaws. This is a fantastic influence on young people, especially considering that between the age of about thirteen and twenty five, people are often more insecure than ever and are bombarded every day with images of perfection and how you “should’ look. Eating disorders and body dismorphia are particularly common around this age and especially in women. There is a strong possibility that people of varying appearances sharing their confidence and how beautiful they feel can really help and inspire people who aren’t lucky enough to feel that way at a certain point in their life. This statement and influence is also made all the more powerful by how Kim captions her photos with comments like “first they say I’m too skinny so I have to be faking it…Now they say I’m too big so I have to be faking it…” or “no matter what rumours or comments you throw my way this time they truly don’t affect me”.

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Body positivity is a major topic for the Kardashians and the foundation of some strong messages that come out of their TV show, as much as people tend to see it as superficial rubbish. In the latest series an entire episode focuses on the criticism that (then) seventeen-year-old Kylie Jenner received for using lip fillers. Kylie was condemned for adjusting her appearance in this way at such a young age and understandably for a long time she didn’t feel comfortable admitting to it, being aware of the inevitable abuse. The ridiculous contradiction is that the media makes people incredibly insecure and then criticises them for trying to tackle their insecurities. Within this episode, when her younger sister is seeking her advice, Kim, as well as the other siblings explains to Kylie that there is no reason to feel insecure about her appearance but assures her that it’s just something you often can’t help. She adds that there is also no reason to feel ashamed of altering your appearance because it’s your body and your decision. This isn’t an unusual message for the show, it’s similar to many of the themes that run through it and although to older people it may seem like drivel, these points are not drilled into young people enough and they need to be equipped for the judgement and misogyny that is unfortunately still present in modern society.

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The women of the Kardashian/Jenner family not only promote confidence and happiness but also through supporting each other promote an ideal unity. This has only become clearer through their unified encouragement of Caitlyn Jenner. Their mother acts as their manager, allowing more trust and personal support than most client/manager relationships and they survive the criticism they face by being there for each other as successful women. When each of the sisters were disrespected by their partners at various points, the others were there to respect their decisions but protect them. As some of the most influential people in our culture, whether we like it or not, these women are powerful and automatically become role models for the teenage girls of our generation. Considering that Kim is the most followed woman on Instagram and she and her family have monopolised the media so enormously, shouldn’t we be glad that of all the people to achieve this, these are the messages young people are receiving from the Kardashians?

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