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.

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

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#LiveFearless with Bodyform

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This year Bodyform re-launched its #LiveFearless competition which aims to bring women together by inviting them to share what scares them, and what empowers them to overcome those fears. Royal Holloway University London (RHUL) Feminism Society is excited by the opportunity to get involved and asked for self-defining women to take part in a video discussing what fearlessness really means.

A group of us got together to chat about what Live Fearless means to us individually and the conversation that grew was both inspiring and fascinating. What stood out most was that each of us experienced varying levels of fear and needed the necessary courage to overcome it.

As students we are intensely familiar with nerves, anxiety and the major consequences these can have on a person’s life, given the pressure that young people are put under in relation to career aspirations and academic success, amongst other things. At the same time, we are lucky enough to have grown up without facing the fears experienced by young women living in countries at war, or in cultures where they have limited rights and far less freedom than us.

The conclusion we came to is this:

Fearlessness is a relative concept.

We talked about times when just getting out of bed in the morning feels like a major achievement, or when minor things like hurtful comments from other people or a fear of being judged seem to control your entire life. Each of us have our personal battles and coping mechanisms. By talking openly and candidly about them we’re hoping to support Bodyform in a bid to encourage women to take inspiration from each other and share their own stories of facing their fears – whatever that means to them.

The campaign asks women to share a picture or video on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram with a short caption summarising their story. The comfort we found purely through making this video and confiding in each other has helped begin to break down the stigma surrounding mental health and other types of anxiety or fear by encouraging women to support rather than criticise each other.

We want to create a sense of community similar to the incredible worldwide support we received for our recent #UglyGirlsClub project. It’s crucial that we maintain this community, using the modern power of social media to bring us together and help each other through rough times.

I’m personally a big fan of the #LiveFearless campaign and what it stands for. Having struggled with anxiety since my first year of university and knowing so many people with similar experiences, I think it’s a brilliant way to help women take strength from each other and find the courage they deserve.

Bodyform’s Live Fearless campaign is a fun and engaging campaign with a very important message, that could become something much bigger and help make fewer people feel alone in their fears.

Watch our video below and share your own story with Bodyform at http://bit.ly/1Ruc1aA to help create an online community of inspired women and become part of a fantastic cause. Upload a picture or video of your fearless moment for the chance to win the grand prize Trip Around the World. Plus, weekly £100 ASOS vouchers can be won. You can also post your entry to Twitter with #LiveFearless and @bodyformUK.

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