TERFS & SWERFS Aren’t Radical Feminists*

*Trigger warning for transphobic language and discussion of sexual assault.

TERFS (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists) and SWERFS (Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminists) have been making headlines of late.

First there was Germaine Greer and the protests surrounding her talk at Cardiff University in Wales over her trans-exclusionary history. Appearing on BBC Newsnight, Greer asserted that trans women “don’t look like women”—a completely regressive and anti-feminist proclamation if ever there was one—and “a man who gets his dick chopped off is actually inflicting an extraordinary act of violence on himself”, ignoring the fact that many trans women don’t undergo bottom surgery and that being trans is about more than what parts you have. Doubling down on her previous comments, Greer spat in a follow up statement to the Victoria Derbyshire Show that “just because you lop off your dick and then wear a dress doesn’t make you a fucking woman.”

While a petition to prevent her speaking at the college garnered over 3,000 signatures, it was ultimately unsuccessful and the talk went ahead late last month.

Meanwhile, rape allegations against the porn industry’s crown prince James Deen by his ex-partner and fellow porn performer Stoya, as well as others, have illustrated how much of the world views sex workers: undeserving of rights and incapable of being raped. Even Lena Dunham, who is usually pretty progressive on feminist issues today, has joined other famous women such as Meryl Streep and Kate Winslet in a bid to urge Amnesty International to reconsider their recommendation to decriminalise sex work, a move that could improve labour conditions in the industry.

While the title of this piece might be triggering for some in this age of click- and rage-baity headlines, you can rest assured I’m not defending TERFS and SWERFS; I’m asserting that the acronyms to describe them need to be rethought because feminists who exclude trans women and sex workers from the equality they’re allegedly fighting for aren’t radical at all. (I would go as far as to say they’re not feminists at all, but that’s another piece for another time.)

What’s radical about subscribing to widely held notions that trans women aren’t “real” women and therefore don’t deserve the rights feminists have been fighting for since the dawn of last century? What’s radical about pushing sex workers even further into the margins of society than they already are? Nothing.

Radical feminism, to me, is one that is accepting of not just all women, but all people. It’s one that supports movements such as #BlackLivesMatter, refugee and asylum seeker rights and labour conditions. It’s as concerned with tearing down the patriarchy that prescribes only one way to be for men as it is for the rigid guidelines for femininity. It wants to give visibility to old women, poor women, immigrant women, trans women, disabled women, queer women, women of colour and women in sex work alongside the predominantly white women who get to voice their opinions and have them heard, at least in some form. I would even go as far as to include environmentalism and animal rights in radical feminism, which have so often worked side by side. Not being in favour of these things, or only being in favour of them for certain people, is conservative, anti-feminist and not radical in the slightest.

Truly radical feminism—which I guess is really just intersectional feminism—needs to continue to stand up for society’s most marginalised people and take ownership of that title once again. Greer and co. are old hat and painfully conservative. It’s the women who started #BlackLivesMatter; women like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera who spearheaded the Stonewall uprisings; women like Laverne Cox and Janet Mock who are giving increased visibility to trans people and, specifically, trans people of colour; young women like Amandla Stenberg and Rowan Blanchard who are showing that young people aren’t ambivalent about human rights; women like the those who started the Sex Workers Project and those who speak out about sexism and violence in the industry, like Stoya; women who work and campaign for Planned Parenthood in the face of defunding and violence, like the post-Thanksgiving shooting; the women who started THINX, period panties for, yes, privileged women who can afford to buy them, but also for trans men and women in rural, developing areas who struggle with the stigma surrounding menstruation; and women who fight for the education of women and girls in the developing world, like Malala Yousafzai, who are the real radical feminists.

Elsewhere: [BBC] Germaine Greer: Transgender Women Are Not “Real Women”.

[The Telegraph] Germaine Greer in Transgender Rant: “Just Because You Lop Off Your Penis… It Doesn’t Make You a Woman.”

[Change.org] Cardiff University: Do Not Host Germaine Greer.

[The Guardian] Germaine Greer Gives University Lecture Despite Campaign to Silence Her.

[The Guardian] Actors Call on Amnesty to Reject Plans Backing Decriminalisation of Sex Trade.

[Thinx]

On the (Rest of the) Net.

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Could there ever be a same-sex Disney couple? Beauty & the Beast’s Bell and The Hunchback of Notre Dame‘s Esmeralda would make the hottest lesbian power couple EVER. [Mic]  

Can we stop talking about The Muppets having sex because, you know, they’re Muppets? [The Cut]

Netflix has changed its description of Disney’s Pocahontas from its originally sexist and racist write up. [THR, Native Appropriations]

In the wake of Chris Brown’s visa being denied for his Australian tour, it’s important to understand why black male artists are the only violent artists we decry for abusing women. [Noisey]

Planned Parenthood don’t “kill babies”, they save women’s lives. And their vaginas. [Al Jazeera]

The mansplanation of Taylor Swift’s 1989. [New Statesman]

The double edged sword that is Ryan Murphy: he creates roles for minorities in his myriad works but in turn reviles them. [HuffPo]

Do trans women only have value to the cisgender community (so, basically, culture at large) if they’re sufficiently hot? [This Ain’t Living]

ICYMI: How allegations of sexual assault against powerful men by the “wrong kinds of women” go unheard, in regards to Bill Cosby, Hugh Hefner and the publication of Hefner’s former partner and Girls Next Door star Holly Madison’s memoir, Down the Rabbit Hole.

Image via Dopey Beauty.

In Defence of Cosmopolitan.

Cosmopolitan Demi Lovato

Men’s magazines are commonly displayed behind opaque screens in servos, supermarkets and news agents but in selected department and drug stores in the U.S., such as Walmart and Rite Aid, women’s magazine Cosmopolitan will be getting the same treatment.

Victoria Hearst, great granddaughter of the man who bought the title in 1905 and contributed to making it the magazine we know today, William Randolph Hearst, is spearheading a campaign, along with the National Centre on Sexual Exploitation, to have Cosmo shielded from children’s impressionable eyes, giving new meaning to its patented “sealed section”.

The reasoning behind the campaign, entitled Cosmo Harms Minors”, is explained on the Centre’s website thusly:

Cosmopolitan Magazine glamorises things like hookup, public, anal, group, or violent sex in nearly all of their issues. We are asking that Cosmo be sold to adults only and have the cover wrapped like all other porn magazines in retail shops.”

While often overlooked as “just another women’s magazine”, Cosmopolitan in Australia, in particular, has been a bastion for body positivity with the early ’00s Body Love initiative and stories about domestic violence, reproductive rights and career goals.

In recent years U.S. Cosmopolitan has undergone a similarly feminist reawakening of sorts. Editor Joanna Coles identified the magazine as “deeply feminist” in 2013 while in May last year The Wire reported that Cosmo had “hired longtime Feministing blogger Jill Filipovic to cover politics on the website” as well as former Jezebel writer Anna Breslaw. Since then, Filipovic has written longform screeds about why changing your name upon marriage and defunding Planned Parenthood are bad ideas; comedian, filmmaker and musician Lane Moore writes as Cosmopolitan.com’s sex and relationships editor such queer-friendly pieces as what to do when you’re a lesbian in love with a straight girl and “15 Things I Wish I Knew About Being Gay When I Was Younger”; and writers such as Rachel Hills round out the wide variety of sex- and gender-positive women working for the magazine.

Hills says of her work at Cosmo examining things such as dating while trans, painful sex and asexuality, that “Since Joanna Coles took over as US editor-in-chief in 2012, both Cosmopolitan and Cosmopolitan.com have taken on a more explicitly feminist bent, hiring a lot of feminist writers that cut their teeth on the Internet, including myself. And one of the great things about writing online is that you get to cover things that would never end up in the mag—not because they’re too explicit, but because they just wouldn’t sell.”

NCSE thinks that Cosmo promotes “Sex without responsibility is acceptable and desirable” however its emphasis on protection from STIs and pregnancy is high as well as their emphasis on sex not having to be between a man and a woman in a long-term relationship or marriage.

So it’s interesting that they’ve chosen to go after Cosmopolitan now, when it’s publishing some of its most progressive content.

From NCSE’s website:

“While it only has a few nude photos occasionally, this publication has steadily declined from a somewhat inspirational women’s magazine to a verbally pornographic ‘how-to’ sex guide. What’s worse is that this magazine is purposefully targeting younger and younger audiences with Disney stars and teen idols often donning the covers and featured in the headline stories.”

Disney star and teen idol in question Demi Lovato, U.S. Cosmopolitan’s current covergirl, responded to the brouhaha on Twitter, asserting that as a former sufferer of an eating disorder, covering Cosmo made her feel “EMPOWERED” and “the MOST BEAUTIFUL I’ve ever felt.”

In case the campaign’s problem with a more feminist magazine wasn’t obvious enough, the very first thing that blares out at you from the its homepage is that the new Cosmo is harmful to minors.  

However Hills doesn’t necessarily agree. “I don’t think it would be accurate to say that Cosmo used to be anti-feminist and now is feminist. I spent a bit of time in the Cosmo archives last year, and some of those issues from the 1970s are phenomenal—Susan Sontag was writing for them! I suspect Victoria Hearst would have been just as appalled by the Cosmopolitan of 1985 as she is by the Cosmopolitan of 2015.”  

But what about all the other magazines? Sure, Cosmo does have some loud headlines that may draw concerned glances at the checkout (one of the first issues I bought as a teen featured Kirsten Dunst alongside “Oral Sex Lessons” that drew judgemental looks from my parents), but what about other, far more harmful magazines? I’m not necessarily talking about men’s mags in the vein of Zoo Weekly (which could be a whole different article in itself) or Playboy (which is actually publishing more progressive content itself so now it really can be read for its articles), but weekly “rags” such as NW and New Idea which are also aimed at women because we love to gossip and humiliate each other, didn’t you know? A recent survey of the periodicals on offer at my local Coles included stories about One Direction’s supposed gay coverup, “Bikini Lumps and Bumps” and “Crazy Bachelor beach catfights” (because women can’t have level-headed disagreements without them devolving into “crazy catfights”), not to mention the squillionth Jennifer Aniston-pregnancy speculation. So diversity from the heteronormative sex positions “that’ll blow his mind” warrants concealment from the general public, however body shaming, outing and misgendering people is A-OK!?

Let’s hope that common sense prevails in Victoria Hearst and the NCSE’s quest to classify Cosmo as porn. In the interim, we can take solace in the fact that the blinders they intended to conceal Cosmo’s headlines has actually resulted in drawing increased attention to its cover subjects’ decolletage.  

Related: Shaming Lara Bingle.

Elsewhere: [End Sexual Exploitation] Cosmo Harms Minors.

[Politico] Joanna Coles: Cosmopolitan is a “Deeply Feminist” Magazine.

[The Wire] Hot Spring Trend: Hiring a Feminist Blogger at Your Women’s Magazine.

[Cosmopolitan] In the Age of the Internet, Changing Your Name When You Marry is a Terrible Idea.

[Cosmopolitan] Defunding Planned Parenthood is the Opposite of “Pro-Life”.

[Cosmopolitan] 15 Emotional Stages of Being a Lesbian in Love with a Straight Girl.

[Cosmopolitan] 15 Things I Wish I Knew About Being Gay When I Was Younger.

[Cosmopolitan] What It’s Really Like to Date as a Trans Person.

[Cosmopolitan] How to Deal with Painful Sex.

[Cosmopolitan] Asexuality.

[End Sexual Exploitation] Why Cosmo‘s Content Matters. 

[SBS] Coles Bins “Sexist” Zoo Weekly.

[Daily Life] Why is Pop Culture Obsessed with Celeb “Catfights”?

[Cosmopolitan] 28 Mind-Blowing Lesbian Sex Positions.

[The Cut] Cosmo Censorship Accidentally Highlights Boobs.

Image via Go Fug Yourself.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

The return of the teen girl movie. [Daily Life]

What Go Set a Watchman can teach us about contemporary racism. [WaPo]

But Atticus Finch’s racism isn’t a new thing. [New Republic]

The rise of porn gifs (NSFW). [Fusion]

Taylor Swift may have “Bad Blood” with some (most recently Nicki Minaj), but her “feminist selfies” with Karlie Kloss, Lena Dunham et al. shows what it’s like to be close to her. [LA Review of Books]

Speaking of Swift inserting herself into Minaj’s beef with the MTV VMAs for her groundbreaking videos being overlooked in this years’ nominations, it isn’t the first time Swift has both played the white, innocent victim and been at the centre of VMA controversy. [The Guardian, Kevin Allred]

The cultural appropriation of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, and how we perpetuate it by watching it. [The Cut]

Is Lady Gaga normal now? [Vulture]

Let’s clear up that Planned Parenthood selling aborted foetuses nonsense. [xoJane]

The hacking of cheating website Ashley Madison isn’t morally any better than The Fappening. [Daily Life]

In the wake of Good Weekend cancelling an article on Caitlin Stasey because she wouldn’t pose nude for them, she’s taken to Jezebel to tell her side of the story in more than 140 characters.

We need to stop devaluing women’s sports. [New Republic]

Serena Williams is the seminal athlete. [The Nation]

When painful sex continues long after the first time. [Medium]

What it’s like to be an extra on Magic Mike XXL. [Cosmopolitan]

“Pony”, “Closer” and the significance of the strip club soundtrack. [Pitchfork]

How The Bachelorette is changing the way reality TV deals with sex. [Vulture]

Clementine Ford is writing a book! [Facebook]

The Year of Scarlett Johansson.

Scarlett-Johansson-winter-soldier

2014 has been a big year for Scarlett Johansson.

It didn’t begin all that positively, though, with the actress drawing heat for her association with soda water company, Sodastream, whose headquarters are based in Israel, specifically the Israeli-occupied Palestinian West Bank. Boycotts of the product damaged both Johansson and Sodastream’s reputations, leading the actress to resign from her position as an ambassador for Oxfam in order to appear in the company’s Superbowl commercial. Get your priorities in check, girl.

Another stance Johansson took that arguably damaged her reputation in the eyes of many was her defence of Woody Allen who, earlier this year, had child molestation charges against him resurface. Johansson said about Allen’s daughter’s allegations, in which she called out Johansson and other actors associated with her alleged abuser, “I think it’s irresponsible to take a bunch of actors that will have a Google alert on and to suddenly throw their name into a situation that none of us could possibly knowingly comment on. That just feels irresponsible to me.”

Irresponsible isn’t the word I’d use, but I digress.

Johansson attempted to smooth over her feminist faux pas by designing a line of t-shirts for Planned Parenthood in August.

And finally, before we get to the work she’s actually known for—acting—Johansson demonstrated her assertiveness in an interview in Glamour’s May issue in which she laments the nickname ScarJo:

“I associate that name with, like, pop stars… It sounds tacky. It’s lazy and flippant…There’s something insulting about it.”

Perhaps Johansson’s biggest film this year was Captain America: The Winter Soldier in which she reprises her Marvel universe role of Natasha Romanoff or The Black Widow. But her most creatively satisfying projects, at least from the audience’s viewpoint, weren’t as big budget as The Winter Soldier.

While both Her and Under the Skin were released in the U.S. last year, they made their Australian big screen debuts in 2014, and both films were a departure of sorts from Johansson’s usual fare. The sexy husky voice Johansson has become known for was the star of Spike Jonze’s Her, in which Joaquin Phoenix’s character, Theodore, falls in love with his artificial operating system, voiced by Johansson. The film was a different kind of romantic comedy that spliced futuristic sci-fi into the mix.

Speaking of sci-fi, Under the Skin is certainly an otherworldly experience that leaves the viewer unsettled. For those who haven’t seen it, Johansson plays an alien who seduces men off the street, the reasons for which are unclear. You may remember controversy surrounding the reality-based filming that left audiences unsure of who was an actor and whom Johansson actually accosted on the streets of Scotland. It is also one of the films in which Johansson bares her naked body, but sexy, it is anything but.

The film for which Johansson garnered the most buzz, though, was probably Lucy, another sci-fi action flick about what happens when we use parts of our brains that are usually dormant that kicked butt at the box office. Like Frozen, Maleficent and The Hunger Games, Johansson is helping to prove that action films and blockbusters starring women can make bank.

While Johansson was a prominent fixture at the cinema this year, she also had a banner year personally. Johansson and her partner, Romain Dauriac, welcomed baby girl Rose Dorothy in September.

Beyonce will probably make many of the year-end lists but we can’t forget the prevalence of Johansson in pop culture this year. I certainly haven’t.

Related: The Year of Beyonce.

Elsewhere: [Salon] Scarlett Johansson’s Awful Defence of Woody Allen & SodaStream.

[E! Online] Scarlett Johansson Designs T-Shirt for Planned Parenthood’s New Women’s Rights Campaign.

[SMH] Scarlett Johansson’s Fuse Shorts Out Over Nickname.

[News.com.au] Scarlett Johansson, Romain Dauriac Welcome Baby Rose.

Image via Poejazzi.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

 

Did Madonna call Britney fat? [The Vine]

Clementine Ford’s take on the Australia Day protest hullabaloo. [ABC Unleashed]

And here, what really went down outside the Lobby restaurant. [RedStache]

All the single ladies: are you sick of continuously being asked why you’re single? Bailey Elliot is, too:

“Why is it socially acceptable to comment on someone’s single status, but definitely not OK to comment on someone’s relationship? There have been many times when someone has said something offensive to me, and I will look at their relationship and wish that I could fire something judgmental back. Some of the people who have said the worst things to me are the ones in the most dysfunctional relationships: married to a raging alcoholic who abuses pets while drunk, a patronising and controlling man, or a man who refuses to communicate in any real way. Are we so enamoured with the idea of marriage that we believe that any marriage, no matter how dysfunctional, is better than singledom?” [Jezebel]

Why is it that everywhere you turn (family restaurants, the gym, the bowling alley), there’s a Pussycat Doll spreading her legs, asks Mia Freedman. [MamaMia]

For the U.S.’s Black History Month, let’s remember that Rosa Parks did much more than just refuse to give up her seat on the bus. [Ms. Magazine]

What the?! The banning of naked A-cup adult breasts lest they promote pedophilia?! Granted, this story is two years old, but interesting nonetheless. [Crikey]

How to be a celebrity in this era of “16th minute”, “I am me”, reality fame. [New York Magazine]

The apparent conservative agenda of the Susan G. Komen foundation which has come to light in their refusal to funnel through donations to Planned Parenthood. [Jezebel]

It’s all happening in the world of MamaMia: no more SkyNews show, but an e-publishing sector instead! And deputy editor Bec Sparrow had a baby! [MamaMia]

Erica Bartle’s thoughts on the whole Melinda Tankard Reist debacle. I’m still ruminating over her post, and I might be back with a response of my own. [Girl with a Satchel]

Image via Pop Sugar.

TV: Private Practice—Pro-Choice?

 

I’ve recently finished watching the latest series of Private Practice, the final of which aired here just over a month ago. The season dealt with the brutal rape of Dr. Charlotte King, about which you can read here and here, as well as the abortion debate that is raging across the world, but particularly in the U.S., with the rise of the über-conservative Tea Party, and 2012 presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann.

The second last episode of the season was said “abortion episode”. A woman named Patty came to see Dr. Addison Montgomery with pain, cramping and nausea after getting an abortion a month or two prior. When Addison does an ultrasound, she regrettably informs her patient that she’s still pregnant: the abortion didn’t take.

Patty’s foetus is now at 19 weeks, which would make the pregnancy in its second trimester, at which time an abortion is dubbed a “partial-birth abortion” by pro-lifers, as Dr. Naomi Bennett points out. Addison chides her for using political terminology, and that an abortion at 19 weeks is still perfectly legal, reiterating Patty’s right to choose, especially since she already made her decision the first time around several weeks ago.

Television and the media have a responsibility to present both sides of the story on such a contentious issue, even if they don’t live up to this most of the time. That’s why, when a show like Private Practice represents the abortion debate in such a refreshingly honest manner, it can be seen as revolutionary. (And it’s not the first time, either.) Not as revolutionary as Maude’s title character choosing to abort her unwanted pregnancy back in 1972, before the groundbreaking Roe VS. Wade decision, as this article points out, but still.

Naomi is a character I’ve never been a big fan of. She overreacts to everything (granted, overreaction may be warranted when your 16-year-old daughter gets pregnant and your best friend starts dating your ex-husband) and has a self-righteous, holier-than-thou attitude to most things, and her interference with Patty is no exception.

She uses her granddaughter Olivia to potentially guilt Patty into going ahead with her pregnancy, completely ignoring that Patty is single, after her deadbeat boyfriend took off when she told him she was pregnant, works two jobs, is poor, and is on her feet eight hours a day.

I had a real problem with this. Doctors should not push their personal beliefs on patients. If I were to fall pregnant tomorrow, I would be hitting up my nearest abortion clinic in a second, expecting to be given the care I’ve chosen, not to be lectured or threatened. As Addison says:

“… Even after you make the most difficult and personal decision that there is, it’s still not safe. Because you have some fanatic who claims to value life who can walk into an abortion clinic and blow it up.”

She continues:

“Why can’t Patty get what she needs, a safe and legal abortion without judgement?  Why does she have to go through this?  Why do I have to go through this?  I hate what I am about to do but I support Patty’s right to choose.  It is not enough to just have an opinion because in a nation of over 300 million people there are only 1700 abortion providers.  And I am one of them.”

The statistics are grim.

But, while trying to express the “pro-life” argument as well, Private Practice manages to remain pro-choice, which is no mean feat in the wake of reproductive rights being ripped from women across the world, and another PP, Planned Parenthood, being defunded en masse.

Related: Grey’s Anatomy Final Asks “When Does Life Begin?”

Cristina Yang as Feminist.

Elsewhere: [New York Magazine] Emily Nussbaum on the Rape Episode of Private Practice.

[E! Online] The Morning After: Let’s Talk About Private Practice.

[Feminist in the City] Private Practice Tackles Abortion.

[Televisual] The Changing Economics of the TV Abortion.

[Fuck Yeah Choice] Just Keep Swimming: Abortion on Private Practice’s “God Bless the Child”.

[Dakota Women] And the Abortion Portrayal Award Goes to… Private Practice?

Images via Kate Walsh Fan.