Posts, Topics & Meetups

Life Can be Murder in High Heels – Fetishising of Clothing

High Heels

High Heels padlockA fetish fascination, sexist slavery, health hazard, or neo-feminist fashion choice? Are heels demeaning, empowering, fetishising? Should dress codes include height of footwear rules, or just stick with professional, casual, formal etc? Why are high heels such a simultaneous symbol of oppression, femininity, power and domination?

Nicola Thorp, 27, arrived on her first day at PwC in December in flat shoes but says she was told she had to wear shoes with a “2in to 4in heel”. When she said the demand was discriminatory she was sent home without pay after refusing to go out and buy a pair of heels. (The Guardian)

“It’s sexist to insist that women wear make-up to work” – Nicola Thorp

“Forcing women to wear high heels at work is medieval – and no better than calling us witches” – The Daily Telegraph

“High heels aren’t glamorous, they are physically damaging and requiring women to wear them is sick” – The Daily Telegraph

Last year Cannes Film Festival turned away women not in heels!

140,000 signed a petition against sexist dress codes at work.

Does a gendered dress code still exist?

If dress codes were agender and uniform, how would that affect trans people? It’s often been suggested that if a future world were less sexist, binary and clothes were not considered gendered, how would trans people express themselves, or “pass”?

Does the wearing of high heels reinforce a gendered hierarchical oppression or can they be reclaimed?

Can high heels be reclaimed as empowerment not oppression?

Almodovar Life can be murder in high heels
Almodovar “Life can be murder in high heels”

“I love wearing high heels. I am a cis, mostly hetero feminist woman, and I love this dated, potentially oppressive symbol of heteronormative traditional femininity. Because I like performing femininity (glitter, lipstick, and high, high heels). As a feminist and a student of Women and Gender Studies, I often pondered why painful footwear (and the more painful, the better) should hold me in its thrall.” – Everyday Feminism

“Some say high-heeled look reduces women to sex objects. It’s time to change the old-fashioned view and reclaim it as a symbol of empowerment.” – megarip


Free Speech, Fair Speech, Safe Speech, Hate Speech?

Where does Freedom of Expression end, Welfare & Safety Begin?

Criticism Quote by VoltaireFrom politics to history, sex, gender, sexuality, race, disability and more, the subject of free speech continues to raise its banner and is countered by calls for safe spaces and freedom from hate speech. Is espousing hate, bigotry, religious or ideological beliefs, however extreme, ever palatable on the basis of freedom of expression? Or, should all speech be fair speech? Does freedom of speech come with a social responsibility not to hurt or harm? Do trigger and content warnings do more harm than good? Harm, that is, to exposure to all points of view and further education. Or, should education be a safe space, away from exposure to harmful points of view? Should comedy be an exception? Should extreme opinions be given airtime, so long as they are balanced with a variety of opposing views? Who defines extreme? What happens when repressive regimes occupy the role of policing speech and define freedom fighters as enemies of the state, atheists and agnostics as apostates worthy of execution, or women as required to be silent and absent from political life? Is safe speech a luxury of a free society – or the sign of one? Is freedom of speech the holy grail of a repressed one and the sign of an enlightened one? Julie Bindel says that:

“censorship is becoming the new normal?” – Julie Bindel

Stephen Fry tells sex abuse victims to ‘grow up’

Fry subsequently apologised but waded in with oversized feet to this issue prompting social media outrage.

Anorexia assertion apology

Joan Bakewell had to issue an apology after linking anorexia among young people with narcissism. Bakewell said she was “alarmed” by the amount of young people suffering from anorexia, “which arises presumably because they are preoccupied with being beautiful and healthy and thin”. She said: “No one has anorexia in societies where there is not enough food. They do not have anorexia in the camps in Syria. I think it’s possible anorexia could be about narcissism.” After mental health and eating disorders charities criticised Bakewell’s “unhelpful” comments, the Baroness tweeted to say that she was “deeply sorry” for any offence caused.

Can you ever joke about rape?

There’s a passage in Sara Pascoe’s new book, Animal: The Autobiography of a Female Body, in which she debates whether rape can ever be joked about. While at a comedy festival in Melbourne last year, the 34- year-old comedienne witnessed the furore that erupted after a fellow stand-up made a joke about rape. An audience member lay down beneath a table in protest, and when social media caught on, an international debate was sparked about whether rape jokes should be banned. Pascoe doesn’t make her own view clear in the book, but in the meeting room of her publishers’ Bloomsbury headquarters she’s upfront on this and every issue.

“I don’t think there are any subjects you can’t joke about because human beings are forgiving of subject matter when we find things funny. That said there are definitely things I would never be able to make sound funny.” – Sara Pascoe

NUS Free Speech v Safe Speech protests

Hate Speech is not Free SpeechMarch saw a counter protest in retaliation to the Peter Tatchell Foundation’s protest with supporting organisations outside the NUS Headquarters which cited three basic principles:

  1. Freedom of speech should not include giving platforms to discrimination on university campuses.
  2. It should never justify the bullying of others.
  3. It should never support the discrimination and persecution of others.

Open Letter on Peter Tatchell, Censorship, and Criticism

University Censorship

Truth Quote by George OrwellUniversities are challenged to be a safe haven from censorship, a sanctuary of free speech and tolerance, rather than a health and welfare safe space from tough or sensitive debate, argues Peter Tatchell, Julie Bindel, Germaine Greer, Mary Beard, Rod Liddle and others. Should no-platforming be banned or practised?

“We are in danger of making censorship the standard response to anything that offends, argues Julie Bindel. Recent attempts to ban Donald Trump and pick-up artist Roosh V from the UK would have achieved nothing politically constructive, she says. Movements like civil rights and feminism made progress because they were able to hold people to account.”

Student responses showed solidarity with Fran Cowling, the NUS LGBT+ Officer who refused to share a platform with Peter Tatchell.

An Open Letter to Peter Tatchell Regarding Fran Cowling, Power, and Public shaming.

An article in the Independent challenges the free-speechers, that they might be the oversensitive ‘special snowflakes’:

“We are witnessing an attack on free speech, we are told. The right of activists and thinkers to express their convictions openly is being curtailed by an oversensitive mob – “special snowflakes”, to be exact.” – Independent

Out-argue bad ideas Quote by Barack Obama

Celebrity Gagging Order/Superinjunction

Mouth Gagging OrderShould someone’s private sex life be public news? Particularly when the Internet is impossible to police making localised injunctions farcical when compared to the power of globalised googling? More interesting was the disinterest shown once the celebrity couple were revealed to be husband and husband, not husband and wife, prompting gagged newspapers to switch to partner rather than wife terminology, and to be less worried about a straight celebrity threesome scoop.

Verbal Hate Crimes

Freedom of Speech and Hurt FeelingsIs psychological injury from freedom to criticise one’s sexual or gender identity from bigotry, phobia or religious condemnation, any less important than physical injury? Do differences of opinion on homosexuality, women, trans etc, based upon ideology or faith, grant free opportunity to judge and challenge, on freedom of expression grounds?


China has banned depictions of gay people on television as well as those portraying adultery, showing cleavage and more as content that “exaggerates dark side of society”

Freedom of Speech and Expression Amnesty International

Religion, Faith & Spirituality on Sex, Gender & Sexuality

The intersection with sex, gender and sexuality, of religion, faith, and spirituality is an issue for many people, both those feeling oppressed or repressed by them, or also trying to celebrate or adhere to a faith whilst still expressing their sexual and/or gender identity, or being female in a world that generally accepts equal rights for women, yet their religion may not agree.

In the 19th century some parts of Christianity were at the forefront of equality and ending slavery, for instance, advocating the rights of women, but now that state and society seem to be ahead of spiritual faiths on equality it is now religions that are behind the times on diversity issues such as sex, gender and sexuality.

Some interpretations of Islam (e.g., tribal Sharia law) still stone female adulterers on paltry evidence yet let off male rapists unless there are multiple witnesses to the victim’s abuse. Gay men are thrown off rooftops by Islamic State yet trans Muslims can end up accepted in other, even conservative, Islamic countries.

Mosques, commonly, like some Jewish synagogues and extreme Brethren churches, still segregate men from women, don’t allow women to speak or go about uncovered. Aren’t most religions male-founded and dominated and thus part of the patriarchy? Should women be free to choose separation and/or subjugation as a religious freedom of choice? How do we regard it, if it is imposed not chosen, and breaches of it are punished?

As the UEA debates religion in May, we ask some similar questions as to whether religion, faith and/or spirituality can be a force for change and good on questions of sex, gender and sexuality, or whether they are the ones needing reforming.

Discussion event in Norwich, Tuesday 5th April, 6.30pm, Millennium Library

UEA Debate on Religion

Is Religion a force for good? Should ISIS be considered Muslim?


Woman’s Hour interviews two Christians on their attitudes to abortion. Recently, a Northern Ireland woman was prosecuted for having an abortion, which would not have happened in the rest of the UK.


LSE Islamic Society has recently held a segregated Muslim dinner by sex, keeping men and women apart.


Even non-Muslim Air France stewardesses are now required to wear headscarves and cover upon arrival from any flights to Iran. Two Iranian women were recently fined a month’s wages each for having “bad hijabs“.

“Not that 7th-century scripture can justify the practice, but wearing a hijab isn’t mandated anywhere in the Koran. Forcing women to wear a curtain — curtain being the literal meaning of hijab in Arabic — is a political act cooked up by nasty, regressive old men, not some time-honoured religious imperative.” – Robert Crampton, The Times

The difference should be whether, wearing anything from headscarf to hijab or burka, the covering-up is by free choice rather than male/divine mandate.

Waria Muslims in Indonesia

Indonesia is profoundly traditional and conservative in terms of Islamic observance yet pockets of diversity exist such as the freedom some waria (assigned male at birth transwomen and/or crossdressed gay men) have to express their Muslim faith without harassment or condemnation.

“Everyone has the right to observe their religion in their own way (…) According to the Qur’an, we are not allowed to classify people based on economic, social, political, gender or theological values”


“It is because they are women and they are Yazidis that they are sold and murdered [by Isis]. What they are experiencing is femicide.”

Foot washing

A Roman Catholic edict suggests that women are not worthy or equal to men or representative of humanity to have their feet washed by a male priest during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday.

Queer Bible

Is the answer a queer rewriting of the Bible?

“I want to make an inclusive, celebratory space within the text that undoes the implicit sexism, misogyny, heterosexism, hierarchical oppression, slut-shaming, etc. and reconstitutes the feminine, the queer, the outcast, the strange.”

Evangelicals on Transgender

A documentary called “Did God give me the Wrong Body?” seeks to give an evangelical Christian response to transgender people.

“Biblical Christians hold that ‘sex change’ surgery desecrates a body made in the image of God…A painful operation cannot solve the mental dysfunction…left with a mutilated body, but the internal conflicts remain.” – Christian Institute

Non-Binary & Trans Youth

The Free Church of Scotland has condemned SNP moves to accept non-binary gender and extend trans self-identification to 16 & 17 year olds:

“It is a policy that will bring untold disaster and harm upon Scotland’s children,” – Free Kirk moderator, Rev David Robertson

New Year’s Eve – A discussion of the sexual assault events in Germany

This is an awkward topic to raise, given the Islam-blaming from some sides, and the intersectional Islamophobia-fearing apologising from another side. In between, victims are being blamed and perpetrators being excused or demonised. Is there a middle path of understanding? Feminists have been eerily quiet and anti-immigrationists decidedly vocal, even leveraging typically feminist women-protecting arguments in their arsenal of arguments to shut borders to Muslim migrants. So, these are some of the sources we are discussing, in a free speech, non-filtered way, which means referencing them does not mean endorsement.

Europe’s Betrayal of Women

Pat Condell gives his suitably angry analysis of events:
Mr Condell has also provided lots of further reading in the video’s description box.

The Rape of Europe

Paul Joseph Watson provides a short, yet comprehensive, introduction to events and the wider political reaction:

The 2015 New Years Eve Attacks in Cologne

Sargon of Akkad provides an in-depth analysis of events and the aftermath:

Aftermath of the Cologne New Years Eve Attacks

One contributor to the discussion asks: “With the authorities, politicians, and regressive “Progressives” playing hide the ball with the facts, blaming the victims and doing/saying anything to minimise the situation – and with the Feminist reactions ranging from Political Correctness Paralysis, all the way through to repulsive attempts to label ALL men and boys as dangerous rapists that need a curfew… What hope is there for a serious public conversation about what happened in Germany on New Year’s Eve?

What impact will the importing of a real “Rape Culture” into Europe have? Is it possible for this breakdown of society to be avoided? Or, is it just inevitable that Europe will deteriorate and become more and more like Sweden?”

An online commenter writes in response to an article:
German Police Investigate Dozens of New Years Eve Sexual Assaults By Pack of 1,000 Men

Feminist Kittenjoy
“This isn’t an immigration issue; this is a male issue. See also: rape culture; patriarchy; misogyny; domestic violence; crime statistics; sexual assault statistics; gun violence statistics…
Yes, I know, not all men are offenders. But an overwhelming fuckton of offenders are men.”
Reply from Potatoe666 to Feminist Kittenjoy
“It IS an immigration issue. When I get hit on in a really disrespectful way here in western europe, it is almost always from men from the middle east or nothern africa. Their culture IS more patriarchal – denying that is just positive racism. I am sorry, I grew up in a middle eastern family, I know the culture at least of my home country very well, and although there are exceptions everywhere our culture is WAY more macho. BUT!! The idiots who are only criticising sexism when it comes from foreigners and else pretend that sexism does not exist are stupid racist bigots. So, I guess, let’s be balanced, it’s not entirely black and white…”

Initial reports suggested 1000 men, 500 crimes: More Than 500 Crimes Committed On New Year’s Eve in Cologne, Germany:

“with 40 percent involving sexual assault… BBC News reports that “the crime spree led to criticism of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door immigration policy.” Most suspects, police note, are “asylum-seekers and illegal migrants from North Africa.”
Thus far, the police have been met with harsh critique for the way they have handled these investigations. The attacks seemed to yield little immediate response from authorities, and the chief of police for North Rhine-Westphalia, Wolfgang Albers, has been suspended for allegedly concealing information, including the suspects’ origins. On New Year’s Eve, Germany saw attacks of a similar kind in both Hamburg and Stuttgart.”

However, later reports on the Cologne Sex Attacks: Only Three Out Of 58 Men Arrested Are Refugees, Prosecutor Reveals that:

“Just three of the 58 suspects arrested in connection with January’s mass sex attack were refugees, local public prosecutor Ulrich Bremer has confirmed. Those of migrant descent did make up large numbers of the arrested; a full list of nationalities of those accused stands at 25 Algerians, 21 Moroccans, three Tunisians, three Germans, two Syrians and an Iraqi.”

“This is about violence against women and should be addressed as such, regardless of the status and background of those suspected of having committed such acts.”

It was pointed out in the group discussion that Sweden’s sexual violence/rape rate had soared during the period of Muslim migrant influx – figures and contexts that need further examination, particularly with the scare-stats producing vigilante anti-migrant violence. In response it was made clear that only a “tiny fraction” of sex crimes in Germany are related to refugees and migrants according to a leaked police report:

“Anti-immigration campaigners and far-right groups have used the assaults in Cologne and other cities on New Year’s Eve to claim that the arrival of more than a million asylum seekers in Germany is putting women at risk. But figures from the Bundeskriminalamt (Federal Criminal Police Office) showed under 1 per cent of crimes committed by migrants in 2015 were sexual offences.”

Feminist views have ranged across the spectrum just as male responses have. One in Breitbart Says Migrant Rape Is ‘Islamic Terrorism’, Claims Cologne Police Covered Up Problem For 20 Years:

“a leading German feminist has … argued that the “grotesque” contradictions in modern feminist discourse, namely the tendency to excuse Muslim violence against women, was in fact a form of racism. She insisted that feminists should not “patronise” Muslims by apologising for their intolerance and crimes.
“Political correctness should not prevent us from free thinking,” she said, “Because it’s not about people, but about ideology.”
“You should tell [migrants]: ‘You have the same rights – but also the same obligations!’”

Other feminists seem to be avoiding the subject thinks Lara Prendergast who asks in the SpectatorWhy are feminists refusing to discuss the Cologne sex attacks?

“if the actual attacks aren’t enough to merit a reaction, then how about the suggestion by Cologne’s female mayor that women should adopt a ‘code of conduct‘ to prevent future assault. Is that not the very definition of ‘victim blaming’?”

Gaby Hinsliff in the Guardian writes that we should not shy away from asking hard questions about the Cologne attacks, but what are the hard questions?

“Just because xenophobes are fanning the flames doesn’t mean we should censor the discussion about the assaults in German cities on New Year’s Eve”

“So no wonder liberals would do anything to avoid fanning these flames, since we see in all this righteous indignation a blatantly racist old trope about barbarians at the gates. We bend over backwards to report it responsibly, to moderate the frothing rage bubbling up below the line. Quite rightly, we argue that punishing millions of refugees for the actions of a few criminals of unknown origin makes no more sense than branding all white men paedophiles because of Jimmy Savile. Or we say there have always been muggers and gropers, they’re only global news when they’re not white.

But by trying not to give succour to racists, the risk is that we end up miserably self-censoring, giving the “why can’t we talk about immigration?” brigade ammunition for their conspiracy theories. Journalism isn’t really journalism when it avoids stories for fear of how some might react. The parallels between German politicians’ discomfort over Cologne and Britain’s response to predominantly Asian gangs grooming girls in Rotherham for sexual exploitation aren’t exact, but there are lessons to be learned.

The first is that pushing victims under the carpet for the sake of cohesion is dangerous.

But the second important lesson is that, perhaps surprisingly, confronting the links between ethnicity or culture and crime doesn’t necessarily change the response all that much.

“Liberals shouldn’t be afraid to ask hard questions.”

My own personal response (as the organiser of the group but not the convener of this discussion) would be that those questions need to be asked without demonising any group in a stereotypical way, whether migrants, Muslims or men.

I agree with Condell that parts of Islam, like Islamic State/ISIL and Saudi/Iranian repression appear to be, if not are, stuck in the middle ages with their beheadings, stonings, and territorial rape in geographic and human terms. However, importing migrants into Europe could lead to liberal enlightenment rather than radicalisation or taking Europe back to the 1500s! There will always be the few, though, but that shouldn’t lead to stereotyping of all men or all muslims as rapists (nor all trans for that matter, Greer, Jeffries, Bindel etc, one of the daftest, least provable arguments ever). Inevitably most men coming from many North African and Middle Eastern countries will be Muslim, meaning that most of the rapists among them will also be Muslim. It does not make all Muslims rapists – but even Paul Joseph Watson was clear to point out he was not saying that, though he goes on to outline that Islamic texts could lead to rape culture or sexual entitlement.

I also agree, though, that intersectional feminists need to be cautious about unilateral activism against Islamophobia without distinction between versions of Islam – Sufi, Sunni, Shia, Wahabbi, Sharia (law) etc; also the distinction between Islam as faith, ideology or ruling system (Feminism and Islamic Fundamentalism: The Limits of Postmodern Analysis, Hiadeh Moghissi, preface).

Is the essential question here whether Islam includes a culture of rape? Rape as spoils of war/women as property, as part of that, goes back to biblical times, not exclusively Islam.

Equally, go back 150 years or less and men could legally rape their wives as women were property in marriage. Marriage gave conjugal rights to a spouse without question until very recent protections in law.

Only in 1993, did the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights publish the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women which established marital rape as a human rights violation.

The countries which chose to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, the first legally binding instrument in Europe in the field of violence against women, are bound by its provisions to ensure that non-consensual sexual acts committed against a spouse or partner are illegal. The convention only came into force in August 2014!

In the UK, the Criminal Law Revision Committee in their 1984 Report on Sexual Offences rejected the idea that the offense of rape should be extended to marital relations. Five years later, in Scotland, the High Court of Justiciary took a different view, abolishing the marital immunity, in S. v. H.M. Advocate, 1989. The same would happen in England and Wales in 1991.

Germany outlawed spousal rape only in 1997, which is later than other developed countries. Female ministers and women’s rights activists lobbied for this law for over 25 years. Before 1997, the definition of rape was: “Whoever compels a woman to have extramarital intercourse with him, or with a third person, by force or the threat of present danger to life or limb, shall be punished by not less than two years’ imprisonment”. In 1997 there were changes to the rape law, broadening the definition, making it gender-neutral, and removing the marital exemption.

Countries which were early to criminalize marital rape include the Soviet Union (1922/1960), Poland (1932), Czechoslovakia (1950), some other members of the Communist Bloc, Sweden(1965), and Norway (1971). Slovenia, then a republic within federal Yugoslavia, criminalized marital rape in 1977. The Israeli Supreme Court affirmed that marital rape is a crime in a 1980 decision, citing law based on the Talmud (at least 6th century). Criminalization in Australia began with the state of New South Wales in 1981, followed by all other states from 1985 to 1992. Several formerly British-ruled countries followed suit: Canada (1983), New Zealand (1985), and Ireland (1990).

The point of mentioning the above is to realise that the cultural and chronolgical gap between fundamentalist misogynistic Islam and Western marriage-culture is not 500 years but less than 50!

Self-Identified Gender revolution, a social or surgical trans & non-binary construct?

The Norfolk Gender & Sexuality (GAS) Discussion Group meets at the Norwich Forum Library, 6.30pm Feb 2, to debate “Self-Identified Gender revolution, a social or surgical trans & non-binary construct?”. (Facebook event)

After an extensive inquiry the UK government is considering extending full protection to gender identity as well as the existing protected characteristic of gender reassignment and bringing in an Irish styled self-declaration of gender statement. It ‘may’ also being to degender official documents including passports by adding options like ‘other’ or removing gender altogether.

International sports bodies, like the IOC, are also easing the requirements for trans athletes to compete under their identified-gender subject to low testosterone levels that may still exceed that of a natal woman.

Will this create a gender free-for-all with more backlash from the Daily Mail, Jeremy Clarkson, and Germaine Greer? Last month Clarkson accused parents of poisoning the minds of young trans kids by supporting their gender identity ‘delusions’.

Meanwhile ‘trans‘ (Collins English Dictionary) and ‘identity‘ (, along with singular ‘they‘ (American Dialect Society) were all declared words of the 2015 by various social word watchers. The Washington Post updated its style guide to include ‘they‘ for people not identifying male or female. The New York Times and UK Parliament now accept Mx as an honorific title and the OED has added it to the dictionary.

The transgender tipping point has become a trans landslide with more trans in film and TV roles and portrayals. There is also an emerging non-binary gender revolution in fashion, goods, and identity. Will this increased trans visibility ease society’s acceptance or create yet more criticism from trans-exclusionary radical feminists and tabloid columnists, some of whom are are oddly united on this.

Is this the beginning of self-declared gender or the end of gender itself as having any meaning at all? Is gender a construct, or can it now be surgically and verbally constructed without any lived experience?

Government Transgender Report

Maria Miller interview on Trans inequalities

International Olympic Committee on Trans Athletes

Jeremy Clarkson criticises parents of trans kids

2015 year of transgender visibility

Word of the Year

‘Transgender’ word of the year

‘Identity’ word of the year

Singular ‘they’ word of the year

Mx enters the mainstream

Diversity, Equality & Authenticity in Film portrayal & representation

The Norfolk Gender & Sexuality (GAS) Discussion Group meets at the Norwich Forum Library, 6.30pm Jan 5, to debate “Gender & Sexuality, Diversity, Equality & Authenticity, in Film”. (Facebook event)

2015 has seen the female-led Hunger Games end, a black Hermione announced, along with a black stormtrooper and strong-female roles in the new Star Wars (sadly erased by Hasbro’ Action Figures). It also has a cis-male actor playing an intersex-trans woman in The Danish Girl, a film which also features a trans woman playing a cis-role. Can Doctor Who regenerate as a woman? Could James Bond be black? Do diversity and representation matter or does acting trump accuracy? Has 2015 been the year of film equality, and if so for whom?

“2015 was the year everyone called ‘a benchmark’ for women in film. Rey to Imperator Furiosa, Cinderella to Katniss Everdeen. The powerhouse performances of Carol’s Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, or Joy’s Jennifer Lawrence. 2016 – Ghostbusters: the female-fronted movie of the year” – The Independent

Thelma & Louise film poster 1991
Thelma & Louise film poster 1991

Geena Davis has had swashbuckling and assassin female roles in Cutthroat Island and The Long Kiss Goodnight, been the eponymous and iconic Thelma in Thelma & Louise and been the US President in Commander in Chief and is not a woman to be messed with if her screen roles are anything to go by. In 2005 she helped launch a venture aimed at balancing the number of male and female characters in children’s TV and movie programming and in 2007 founded The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media:

“for every one female-speaking character in family-rated films (G, PG and PG-13), there are roughly three male characters; that crowd and group scenes in these films — live-action and animated — contain only 17 percent female characters; and that the ratio of male-female characters has been exactly the same since 1946. Throw in the hypersexualization of many of the female characters that are there, even in G-rated movies, and their lack of occupations and aspirations and you get the picture.” – Geena Davis

Tomorrowland film 2015
Tomorrowland (2015)

Tomorrowland (2015) had not one but two strong female leads who talked to each other, and not about men or sex at all, easily passing the Bechdel Test – popularized by Alison Bechdel’s comic Dykes to Watch Out For, in a 1985 strip called ‘The Rule’. A test that has come in for its own criticism for failing women and feminism.

The film’s main lead was originally written as male though:

“There is a completely false perception of, “Well, our main character is interested in space travel, so it’s gotta be a boy,” but the first time I said, “Well, what if it was a young girl …

It just felt like it was exactly right for us. I also think that if you have a female lead, people suddenly go, “Oh, there has to be a romantic entanglement.” Like, if you’re doing Hunger Games, it’s not enough that you’re dropped into an arena and everyone’s trying to kill you — there has to be not one, but two romantic entanglements! So Brad and I thought, What if she doesn’t get distracted by romantic entanglements? What if her “romance” is with the future?

It’ll be nice in 10 or 15 years for this not to be a thing anymore. I think we’re now in this post–Hunger Games, post-Twilight, post-Insurgent era where these movies make tons of money, you don’t even think twice about it, and they’re great characters. But for us, it was always more interesting — particularly the energy for Frank to be pulled along, kicking and screaming, by these two young women.”

Does film give us the opportunity to experiment and fantasize? We’ve had more female Presidents of the USA in film and TV than in reality (none) and 2016’s forthcoming Independence Day sequel “Resurgence” is to portray another woman as POTUS.

Star Wars

Star Wars was one of the original gun-toting films for Sci-Fi fantasy as Princess Leia was less a princess and more an armed rebel leader, despite the other sort of fantasy scene where she is chained as a sex slave for Jabba the Hut. Well Han Solo also got encased in carbonite… The prequels Epsiodes I-III feature a strong Amidala, Queen of Naboo, despite impossible outfits to battle in, and in the latest release The Force Awakens, we have Rey, a female lead, though she has been completely erased by Hasbro action figures and the new Star Wars Monopoly set.

Meanwhile Carrie Fisher felt it was sexist that film pressure, fans, twitter and social media commented excessively on her age, beauty and weight, not on any of the returning male stars.

Jennifer Lawrence

Jennifer Lawrence has written about gendered pay equality in Hollywood, despite being the highest-paid female actor of 2015 and in the upcoming film, Passengers (2016) is paid more than her male co-star:

“When the Sony hack happened and I found out how much less I was being paid than the lucky people with dicks [in American Hustle], I didn’t get mad at Sony,” she writes. “I got mad at myself. I failed as a negotiator because I gave up early. I didn’t want to keep fighting over millions of dollars that, frankly, due to two franchises, I don’t need.”

She writes that a need “to be liked” and the fear of seeming “difficult” or “spoiled” kept her from demanding more money.

“This could be a young-person thing,” she writes. “It could be a personality thing. I’m sure it’s both. But this is an element of my personality that I’ve been working against for years, and based on the statistics, I don’t think I’m the only woman with this issue … Could there still be a lingering habit of trying to express our opinions in a certain way that doesn’t ‘offend’ or ‘scare’ men?”

Lawrence joins a long list of actors including Patricia Arquette, Cate Blanchett Meryl Streep, and Emma Thompson, who have hit out about misogyny and inequality in Hollywood’s film industry.

Chris Rock has responded by suggesting they try being a black woman if they really want to experience inequality.

Can Cis Actors play Trans or Intersex Roles?

Transparent features a cis-male playing a trans woman and an older trans actress playing a cis-role. Boy Meets Girl features a trans actress playing a trans woman, hailed as a breakthrough in the UK, yet she also plays a cis-gendered female nurse in The Danish Girl – the trans/intersex lead of which is played by a cis-male actor, Eddie Redmayne – but originally offered to Nicole Kidman. Rebecca Root has shed light on the film’s consulting of trans people and casting of some in. Redmayne had played Viola in Twelfth Night before, one of several Shakespeare genderbending roles, of course, originally, all female parts in Shakespeare were played by men and boys.

Intersex activists have complained about Redmayne’s character’s historical intersex erasure as too have the trans activists!

There is a lack of opportunity for trans actors in cis and trans roles. Director, Tom Hooper, explained that:

“Lili is presented as a man for two-thirds of the movie, and her transition happens quite late on, so that played a part in coming to a decision.” Hooper also said that the production had reached out to the trans acting communities in the cities where they shot – London, Brussels and Copenhagen – and ended up casting “40 or 50 trans supporting artists” [in 2 roles]. He said: “I’m pleased we achieved what we did, but I’m sure there’s more to do.””

heteronormativity also most certainly shapes what Hooper, the film’s director, refers to as the problematic lack of “opportunity for trans actors to play cis and trans roles.””

Orange Is the New Black has featured a trans actress playing a trans role, and her brother playing her pre-transition, and has now added a non-binary genderfluid actor, Ruby Rose, to its groundbreaking cast.

Acting is acting though and ability should trump lived-experience surely, unless telling a true story, perhaps.

We don’t automatically look for disabled actors to play disabled roles, nor even gay to play gay and straight to play straight. In the past gay actors played straight roles and vice versa, but is that still acceptable now?

Can Doctor Who regenerate as a woman?

Could/should the Doctor regenerate as a woman? We’ve had a sex-change Time Lord and Master/Missy.

“In ‘The Doctor’s Wife’, the Doctor mentioned that The Corsair was sometimes a bad boy…or girl depending on his mood. Apparently Time Lords/Ladies can change their gender at will.”

Do we need a female Doctor when the companions continue to evolve into feisty intelligent scene-stealers and Missy and River Song put the Doctor in his place so easily?

Should Sherlock or Watson change sex or Moffat be more feminist?

As with Doctor Who there is much fanfic around a female and or gay Sherlock Holmes or John Watson, but we already have a female Joan Watson in Elementary.

Some people think Moffat is a ‘feminist writer’ because he writes *strong female characters*. This article…pretty much proves Moffat’s views of feminism:

“Moffat, unsurprisingly, doesn’t agree. “In the original, Irene Adler’s victory over Sherlock Holmes was to move house and run away with her husband. That’s not a feminist victory.” He says he found Jones’s argument “deeply offensive”. “Everyone else gets it that Irene wins. When Sherlock turns up to save her at the end it’s like Eliza Dolittle coming back to Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady: ‘OK, I like you, now let me hack up these terrorists with a big sword.’”

Moffat has bizarre views on what is feminist or unfeminist…”

Is Sherlock a “misogynistic throwback…you’ve got to worry when a woman [Irene Adler as dominatrix fantasy rather than female adventurer] comes off worse in 2012 than in 1891″, “In Moffat’s hands the power of Irene Adler, Sherlock Holmes’s female adversary, was sexual, not intellectual. A regressive step” – Jane Clare Jones, Guardian

Can Harry Potter’s Hermione be Black?

Canon: brown eyes, frizzy hair and very clever. White skin was never specified. Rowling loves black Hermione”

“Is Hermione Granger black? This is the question prompted by the casting of a black actor, Noma Dumezweni, as Hogwarts’ cleverest pupil in an upcoming theatre production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The answer is twofold. First, why the hell not? Second, what a stupid question!

A better one to ask is whether Hermione – or indeed any fictional character – is necessarily white. The answer is no. The decision to cast Dumezweni, an Olivier-award winning actor currently performing at the Royal Court in a lead intended for Kim Cattrall, challenges our assumption that characters are white unless we’re told otherwise.”


Can James Bond be Black?

Could Bond be black? for example, Idris Elba, Denzel Washington or Chiwetel Ejiofor. He was only made Scottish after Sean Connery played him, whilst David Tennant dumped his Scottish accent to play an ‘English’ Doctor Who.

The reasons why and why not are a battle of story versus bottom line. The issues include those of “the power of the default” and the power of “commercial argument”.

Historically, we had blacking-up in film, now considered a no-no (despite Anthony Hopkins in Othello, 1981, and more recently Ridley Scott’s white cast in Exodus) with the range of BAME actors now available, perhaps the question should be availability of quality actors with appropriate experience, but acting skill and character research/consulting with represented people groups for better accuracy and understanding, as with The Danish Girl.

Prison, Gender, Trans, Violence, and Women’s Spaces

The Norfolk Gender & Sexuality (GAS) Discussion Group meets at the Norwich Forum Library, 6.30pm Dec 1, to debate “Prison, Gender, Trans, Violence, and Women’s Spaces”. (Facebook event)

With the furore over Tara Hudson, a trans woman, being sent to a male prison and her eventual transfer to a female one, and another – Vicky Thompson, who took her own life because she was sent to a men’s prison, and another Joanne Latham, 2 weeks later, we look at gender based violence in prison. Hudson was sent to prison for violence against a man but presented and identified as female, Latham for murder.

Prison is an area of mandatory sex/gender segregation based upon the presumption of two sexes and a majority heterosexual population. Separation based upon sex is presumed to aid management, deny sexual privilege, improve safety and risk of sexual and physical violence. All on the basis that men are more likely to harm, harass, or worse, women more than other men. If that is based on size and strength, or merely sex, we should be housing people according to height, weight, and sexuality as well! Where is the protection for gay, lesbian and bisexual, inmates? Trans prisoners, as some intersex prisoners would also, present a binary dilemma.

Inmate violence in US prisons is actually more common between women than between men, up to three times higher for sexual victimisation. What are the facts and myths of gender-based violence and does prison distort them? For instance men are more likely to attempt suicide outside of prison but inside it is women that are more at risk where a higher proportion have mental health issues and concerns.

Where is a safe place to send trans prisoners? In the US they are 50% likely to be raped in prison. Italy has a dedicated trans jail. HMP estimates around 20-30 trans people are in UK prisons but that is likely an underestimate as I’m aware of 10-15 in my local counties.

It is, however, the argument of Germaine Greer and others that women’s spaces need to be kept safe from “men masquerading as women”. The verbal vitriol is almost violent of her anti-trans rhetoric and is something that has led several universities to no-platform her in the name of creating safe trans-inclusive female spaces for students.

What risks are acceptable in the name of free expression (that may contain verbal violence), gender identity, legal sex definition, and how should we balance them with creating safe spaces in universities, DASV/rape crisis support centres, society at large and during incarceration – for all people?

Trans Detention Experience in the USA

“According to a study by University of California Irvine professor Valerie Jenness, more than half of all transgender inmates experience rape. Prison culture also creates an atmosphere where transgender inmates may submit to sexual assault for protection from physical violence – all under the callous indifference of prison authorities.” The Guardian

“Transgender prisoners are unfathomably at risk for sexual abuse,” Chris Daley, Deputy Executive Director at Just Detention International, an advocacy group that works to end sexual abuse in detention, told VICE News. “It’s a crisis”

“A recent US study said transgender women in male prisons are 13 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than in the general population, with 59 per cent reporting sexual assaults.”The Independent

“When we are talking about trans people, we are talking about a population who are among the most vulnerable in our prisons,” Rebecca Earlbeck, lawyer representing Sandy Brown.

“Among former state prisoners (US), the rate of inmate-on inmate sexual victimization was at least three times higher for females (13.7%) than males (4.2%)… Following their release from prison, 72% of victims of inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization indicated they felt shame or humiliation, and 56% said they felt guilt.”

Many transgender inmates are placed in “involuntary administrative segregation, which keeps them separated and safe from other inmates.”

“I was forced with no options to be in protective custody, locked down for 23 hours a day,” said Christopher D’Angelo, a transgender male who spent six months in MCSO [Arizona] custody. He likened his detention to solitary confinement. “It just added to my isolation,” D’Angelo said.

Earlier this year, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was looking to relocate around 25 of the nearly 70 transgender women (there are also a half-dozen or so trans men) that it houses on a nightly basis somewhere more permanent and together, incorporating the 2015 revised trans policies that it has been trying to improve since 2009 and 2011. Barely two-thirds of US facilities are even following the 2011 guidelines.

“The transgender detainees will likely be housed in their own area of the women’s facility, but may be allowed to “mingle” with other female detainees, according to ICE officials.”

Whilst the declared trans women detainees may make up just 0.22% of the 34,000 held, they account for 20% of the sexual abuse cases in detention, and that’s the confirmed reported ones – many are not.

“[US] Immigration officials say they have a model facility in Southern California that only houses gay and bisexual men and transgender women. While some 75 transgender detainees are housed across the country every night, the California facility only houses an average of 44 gay, bisexual and transgender individuals at a time.”

ICE has now cancelled those plans leaving trans immigrants and asylum seekers at risk until improved policies are adopted, although LGBT and immigrant-rights advocates had actually opposed the move because the facility in question had a notorious reputation, disputed by GEO Group and its apparent 100% standards accreditation. Instead, the updated ‘Transgender Care Contract Modification’ policy would allow trans women detainees to be housed in facilities matching their gender identity – a policy the UK adopted in 2011/12, though judging by recent cases, not wholly adopted.

Trans Detention Facilities in Italy

It is thought that Italy has a total of some 60 transgender prisoners but a specialist centre in Tuscany was planned to house about 30 people. The BBC’s Duncan Kennedy, in Rome, said that until now [2010] transgender prisoners have been located in women’s prisons where they are often segregated for their own safety. Guards were to undertake special training in how to treat transgender prisoners before the prison block was to open near Empoli, in Tuscany, in March 2010.

“It’s a great idea. It will not be a ghetto but a way to avoid the experience of isolation in ordinary prisons,” said Regina Satariano, the head of the Italian Movement for Transgender Identity.

Sadly the Pozzale facility, near Florence, was put on hold. An academic case study – ‘Section D: a Tertium Genus of Incarceration? Case-study on the Transgender Inmates of Sollicciano Prison‘, was recently published (Dec 2014) presenting “a socio-legal analysis of the condition of transgender inmates and of the policy choices (or the lack of them) concerning their incarceration in Italy, based on our case-study of Section D of the Italian Prison of Sollicciano, Florence.”

“…different scenarios share the same conceptual roots: normative binarism and the resulting impossibility of engaging in a political discussion concerning the condition of transgender inmates. Therefore, the second consideration lying at the heart of our study and defining its theoretical and practical framework consists in the necessity of interpreting the complex relations between law and gender, and prison and gender… The condition of transgender inmates globally is evidence of the failure of essentialist policies, grounded on normative binary categories, and the reduction of the social world to the male/female opposition. Employing theory, i.e. critically rethinking the categories of our social space, seems the most logical solution, but logic is not the strong suite of the law (nor of politics). As a result, while legislators envision solely male and female prisoners (and the corollary male and female issues), many correctional institutions are confronted with troublesome ‘specters’ who fail to conform to the legislator’s rational, biopolitical plan…

…Sollicciano is one of the few Italian prisons in which a
tertium genus of incarceration, not provided for by law, has been informally established. The second consideration is the high percentage of non-EU inmates housed in Section D, and the predominance, within this group, of Latin-American inmates, with a significant majority of Brazilians. The last consideration, which lies at the heart of our study and defines its theoretical and practical framework, is the necessity of interpreting the complex relationship between law and gender, and prison and gender. This ‘critical triangle’ defines the object of our study: the theoretical and practical interrelation of law, gender, and rights.”

Trans Detention Experience in the UK

Government estimates of numbers are vastly under-reported. 20-30 is just the tip of the iceberg when there are around 10 in one county alone, to my knowledge, and often 2 or more in each prison, and there are 136 prisons, 82,000 male inmates and 4,000 female inmates. Based upon typical trans statistics that would indicate a few hundred trans inmates, at least. Self-inflicted deaths in custody this year number 43, at least 2 of which were trans, 5% of the total from a population of perhaps 0.5% of inmates (less than 1 in 2000 according to the Government, 0.05%), so at least 10-100x more likely to take one’s life when imprisoned in facilities not matching their gender identity.

Trans and prison reform activists petitioned the Government for over a decade before the PSI 07/2011 Care and Management of Transsexual Prisoners guidance (March 2011) was brought in. I met with prison officers in the few years leading up to that and found that some were taking common sense into their own hands already and in one instance allowing trans women, both pre and post-op, to be moved to the female estate. That, it is not being followed fully 4 years on is a scandal that has led to several high profile deaths in custody.

In ‘Rethinking gendered prison policies: Impacts on transgender prisoners‘,
Sarah Lamble co-founder of Bent Bars Project and a lecturer at Birkbeck School of Law, says:

Law enforcement officials have a long history of targeting, punishing and criminalising people who do not conform to gender norms. As feminist criminologists have shown, for example, women who fail to conform to femininity norms are often policed and punished more harshly in the criminal justice system than those who adhere more closely to societal gender expectations (Carlen, 1983, 1985; Heidensohn, 1996). Likewise, traditional norms around masculinity and femininity still operate as key modes of discipline, power and regulation within carceral settings (Sim, 1994; Carrabine and Longhurst, 1998; Crewe, 2006). Although the role of gender norms within the penal system is widely recognised, little attention has been paid to their specific impact on transgender people.

Joanne Latham

A transgender prisoner was discovered dead in her cell at an all-male prison, the BBC reports. Joanne Latham, 38, serving life for two attempted murders, was found hanging by a prison officer at HMP Woodhill (category A) in Milton Keynes in the early hours of Friday 27 November. That she was a patient at the secure Rampton Hospital in 2011 may evidence mental health issues. She had apparently only publicly identified as female this year.

Vicky Thompson

Transgender woman Vicky Thompson was found dead on Friday 13 November at “England’s most overcrowded prison” all-male HMP Leeds (category B), where the infamous violent prisoner Charles Bronson was briefly held. It currently holds 550 more people than the 669 person prison was designed for, with the contingent additional health and safety risks that brings. Thompson identified as female and requested female prison incarceration for her 12 month sentence. She said if she was sent to a male prison she would likely commit suicide. her solicitor described the 21 year old as vulnerable. So sending her to Britain’s second most suicidal jail was not clever thinking. HMP Leeds is second, to HMP Brixton, with “77 self inflicted deaths in custody since 1978. There has been at least one death every year since 1986. From 2010 the number of prison officers has fallen from 383 to 260.”

Tara Hudson

Transgender woman Tara Hudson was moved from a men’s to women’s prison after protests. She was imprisoned for assaulting a bar manager. She had been living full-time for 6 years as a woman since the age of 20.

A petition that called for Tara Hudson to serve her sentence in a women’s prison attracted 159,000 signatures. At the same time another petition by Cardiff University SU Women’s Officer, Rachael Melhuish, wanted to no-platform Germaine Greer from speaking due to her transmisogynistic views.

Greer’s view has been labelled as radical by those feminists who embrace intersectionality, but Hudson’s treatment at the hands of the Prison Service shows the opposite. If anything, Greer’s disdain is indicative of how we view transgender people as a society. By denying Hudson the right to serve her time in a female prison, our legal system is entirely aligned with statements from Greer such as “Just because you lop off your penis… it doesn’t make you a woman.” – Ella Griffiths in The Independent

Paris Lees

How The Prison Service Is Failing Trans People by Paris Lees

Germaine Greer

Paris Lees on Germaine Greer and whether she should be “no platformed”.

Abigail Tarttelin on Germaine Greer:

When you tell Germaine Greer to sit down and shut up because of her views on transgender women, you become a misogynist too. Trans women’s and cis women’s issues intersect, but they are not identical.

Whether you agree with Greer or not, she is not inciting hatred or violence. She is not disregarding the rights of trans people to transition, or to be referred to by their chosen pronoun. She is exercising her freedom of speech.

Feminism is essentially about freedom. Freedom from oppressive gender roles, freedom to be who you are, and to say what you think. Trans politics have benefited enormously from feminist politics; because of feminist agitators, traditional gender boundaries have been destabilised, and legislation such as the Equality Act 2010 protects trans people from discrimination.

Some material above has been borrowed from Katy Jon Went‘s article – Sex & Gender in Prison, Time to Think outside the Binary for Trans Prisoners.

Just For Men – Marketing, Masculinity and Male Stereotypes

The Norfolk Gender & Sexuality (GAS) Discussion Group meets at the Norwich Forum Library, 6.30pm Nov 3, to debate Masculinity and Male Stereotypes as portrayed in Just for Men Product Marketing. (Facebook event)
For something so ‘tough’ masculinity seems so fragile. For many years, feminist critics have questioned and challenged the ways in which capitalism profits from unnecessary and oftentimes damaging gender stereotypes. Men and masculinities can be said to suffer greatly from the impact these stereotypes have.
In this group we will discuss the current state of masculinity, and examine the impact they may have on people’s lives. Topics of discussion could explore the impact that ‘toughness’ has on the mental health of men, how some masculinities become marginalised under the assumed (hetero)sexual virility of men, and the ways in which some boys are literally ‘dying to become men’.
Man Size Buttons Yorkie
Yorkie – Man Size Buttons

As a means of exploring these topics, we will look at advertising across the ages. We will look at how recent campaigns market to men and question the impact this may have on not only the lives of men, but everyone else too. We will ask: why is Coke Zero for men, but Diet Coke for women? Why are men being sold ‘man crisps’ (McCoys), ‘not for girls chocolate’ (Yorkie) and ‘smell like a man’ (Old Spice). We will ask, where does irony end and harm begin in some of these campaigns? Is it just to make money, or are men fundamentally different, requiring different products?

We will think about how all of these little everyday reminders in advertising build an overarching idea of gender, one that impacts everybody.
Those coming to the discussion might like to explore the following links:

Gendered Products



“Recent research shows that loyal customers often get upset when a brand associated with men expands to include products perceived as feminine. Senior Lecturer Jill J. Avery discusses the problem of ‘gender contamination.'”
“Marketing companies take on gender contamination, the idea that when women flock to a product, men flee.”
Men buy Mars, women prefer Galaxy via the Independent (2011)
“Gender targeting is advertising industry’s secret weapon. If you thought food choices had nothing to do with gender – think again.”
The Selling Of Masculinity via Dr NerdLove (2013)
“many men look to popular culture for sources of information what male behavior is supposed to be and how we’re supposed to display it. Unfortunately, mass media doesn’t send the greatest of messages about how to be a man. In fact, we are regularly bombarded with messages selling the idea that masculinity is violent, physically aggressive and sexually domineering and that anger and stoic toughness are the only appropriate emotions for men to display…”
[tw: suicide] “A report by the mental health charity CALM has found that men are struggling to cope with the pressures and expectations of their personal and professional lives…”