Isabel Ashdown’s Glasshopper and Hurry Up and Wait

I read Isabel Ashdown’s Hurry Up and Wait first. It was one of those multiple-narrator-exposing-a-secret books which I generally enjoy. I wasn’t very sure about this one though. I’m never very fond of books which use school reunions as a plot device. It’s too tired a plot device and, unfortunately, the secret far too obvious from the beginning. I wouldn’t have bothered reading her other books had I not been stuck in the car and Glasshopper was the only book downloaded on my kindle app. It was Glasshopper. Glasshopper was just wrong; in many ways.  Unlike Hurry Up and Wait, Glasshopper had a male protagonist and that made the problem with Ashdown’s books obvious.

Ashdown really doesn’t like the women characters in her books. All of the characters are flawed but Ashdown seems to blame the women for not being able to deal psychologically with their trauma whilst the men are forgiven. In Glasshopper’, male violence isn’t even considered a reason worthy of exploring when the real problem is male violence. I would have snarled and then ignored had I not come across this blurb for Hurry Up and Wait which appears on Ashdown’s website:

In her eagerly anticipated second novel Mail on Sunday Novel Competition winner Isabel Ashdown explores the treacherous territory of adolescent friendships, and traces across the decades the repercussions of a dangerous relationship.

There was no “dangerous relationship”.  A violent sexual predator targeting teenagers does not enter into a “relationship” with them. He was a rapist. He targeted young, vulnerable girls. And, he raped them. The moment people start using phrases like “dangerous relationships” is the moment we start obfuscating child rape. Ashdown has done for child rape what Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife did for domestic violence.

I would like back the 3 hours it took me to read both books and the 20 minutes I spent writing this. 

Apparently, "my politics" are the problem: Mumsnet, Vagenda and Feminism

I’ve been struggling to write a proper response to Holly Baxter’s guest blog for Mumsnet. I remain incredibly saddened that Mumsnet chose to run this particular blogpost by Holly Baxter from Vagenda as part of the 16 Days of Activism on VAW.* I am unhappy that they linked my bloghop, which I intended to be a celebration of women’s voices, with a blog post which erases women from the feminist movement. I am annoyed that they locked the thread on the blog post where many of us were raising our concerns. I am disappointed that they dismissed our concerns as irrelevant to the point where they locked a thread and did not return to it. But, mostly, I am hurt that my concerns have been dismissed because of “my politics”, as if my “politics” make me incapable of rational thought. I am hurt that the concerns of other women are also being dismissed. As Lynn Schreiber said when commenting on a draft of this piece “if it is your politics, then it is our politics, as we were just as dismayed and angered by the reaction of Mumsnet.”

There really is so much wrong with Baxter’s post that it’s difficult to know where to start. At best, Baxter’s post was extremely naive but, to be honest, I think I am being over-kind with that description. Using the violent murder of 14 women at the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal in 1989 to start a debate about the role of men within the feminist movement is, simply, offensive. There are valid debates to be had about the role of men in the feminist movement. This was neither the time nor the place.

Baxter compounds this offence by failing to name the 14 women who were murdered.

Geneviève Bergeron, aged 21;
Hélène Colgan, 23;
Nathalie Croteau, 23;
Barbara Daigneault, 22;
Anne-Marie Edward, 21;
Maud Haviernick, 29;
Barbara Maria Klucznik, 31;
Maryse Leclair, 23;
Annie St.-Arneault, 23;
Michèle Richard, 21;
Maryse Laganière, 25;
Anne-Marie Lemay, 22;
Sonia Pelletier, 28; and
Annie Turcotte, aged 21. 

And, that is what is wrong with Holly Baxter’s blog. She makes it about the man rather than the women who were murdered. This isn’t unusual since this is precisely what the mainstream media does when violent men murder women. But, this isn’t a feminist position. It has never been a feminist position. Feminism is a woman-centred movement. 

What Baxter seems to miss is that the man who murdered 14 women for being ‘feminists’ was never going to be a part of the feminist movement. He was never going to understand that the reason he didn’t get into the Canadian airforce or the Ecole Polytechnique was because of his personal failings. Men like that don’t respond to reason or constructive discourse. The men who do, the men we want involved in the feminist movement, don’t need to be told what to do or have to be in charge. They are already involved although sometimes their ‘help’ can be of questionable value as seen in the ‘Walk a Mile in her Shoes’ marches. The point is we don’t have to make a special effort to involve those men. If they want to be involved, they will be. Yet, Baxter seems to be implying that if feminists spent more time worrying about the involvement of men in the feminist movement, then men would be less likely to kill us. So, really it’s our fault that violent, anti-feminist men kill women they identify as feminists because we aren’t nice enough. It’s just another form of victim-blaming. 

Frankly, I struggle to take any self-defined feminist who says this seriously: 

But it’s important to remember that feminism is about destroying patriarchal assumptions (which, incidentally, include the assumptions that men are naturally aggressive, animalistic and hypersexual – insulting, to say in the least.) It’s not about destroying men, or holding innocent men to account for the actions of people who share nothing in common with them except a penis. That’s just biblical.

Feminists are already aware that feminism is about destroying patriarchal assumptions. The thing is feminists aren’t the ones labelling men as “naturally aggressive, animalistic and hypersexual”. That is the position the Patriarchy takes in its efforts to minimise and excuse male behaviour. Jack Layton, one of the co-founders of the White Ribbon Movement in 1991, has been explicit that he was talking about male violence against women. The fact that the White Ribbon Campaign has become gender-neutral is testimony more to the power of those who want to ignore the issue of male violence than it is to men’s interest in the feminist movement. The men I know, who support the feminist movement, are more than aware that the vast majority of violence committed against women and children is by men. They know that the vast majority of violence committed against men is by other men. 


Marc Lepine was not an isolated “madman“. To imply that ignores the lived realities of billions of women across the world. If Lepine were one isolated man, millions of women each year would not by murdered by men. If Marc Lepine was an “isolated” madman, then we have an epidemic of “isolated” madmen causing devastation and mass murder on an almost daily basis. Or, we could start discussing the reality of male violence and start expecting men to take responsibility for male violence, particularly since there are already men willing to address this issue.
The Massacre at the Polytechnique in Montreal was Canada’s Dunblane. This is something that we will never forget. It is something that has changed us all. To conflate it with the issue of men’s participation in the feminist movement is, simply, disrespectful. There are very valid discussions to be had about the involvement of men but this isn’t the time and it is most certainly not the ‘hook’ to use to make a cheap political point.


* I am not going to address the personal attack made by Holly Baxter on Dr. Julia Long. Dr. Long has addressed the issue here. What I will say is that Baxter owes Dr. Long an apology and it’s telling that despite being factually wrong, Baxter has made no public statement retracting her personal attack.

Circus Freak Shows: Bullying Culture, Mass Media and Personal Responsibility

This past Halloween, I watched the film Monster House with my children. It is one of the unnecessary DVDs that we own but one that I had not actively watched before. It is a childrens film about a haunted house. I expected puerile jokes and unnecessary references to films that no one cares about anymore. I was wrong.

The basic plot of Monster House is that a house is possessed by the spirit of a dead woman, Constance, who steals children’s toys, which land on the grass around it. Before being rescued by the man she marries, Constance had spent her life as an unwilling freak show act in a circus where children paid money to laugh, belittle and humiliate her. Constance dies falling into the foundations of the house she was building with her rescuer-husband, after, once again, being belittled by a group of small children, and the house thus becomes both Constances grave and her avenger.

Possessed by the spirit of the abused Constance, the house is portrayed as insane, evil and violent. There is no discussion of whether or not she was justified in her paranoia following years of intense bullying. The house is angry and frightened because Constance was angry and frightened. But, no one listened when Constance was alive and no one listened when she died. Instead, the climax of the film is the complete destruction of Constance.

It is easy to dismiss Monster House as just another poorly executed childrens movie but this film is simply a reflection of our culture. We may no longer have circus freak shows designed to bully and humiliate those who do not fit our gendered dichotomy of human bodies, but our bullying culture still exists in the form of reality television, shock-jock radio programs, the ubiquity of  lifestyle and celebrity magazines, and mass media coverage of news. Much of our entertainmentnow rests on the same constructions as the circus freak show, we are simply unwilling to acknowledge our own personal responsibility in consuming these forms of entertainment and the harm that they cause.

Just as we now blame Mel Greig and Michael Christian for the death of Jacintha Saldanha, we blame Constance for her actions without looking at the context. I do not want to minimize what Greig and Christian did, since anyone who is no longer 15 should know the potential consequences of pranks, but they are not the only ones who are guilty in the death of Saldanha. Focusing our blame on Greig and Christian is a convenient way to minimize our collective guilt as a society that actively encourages the same bullying experienced by Constance.

Greig and Christian would not have made the prank call if there was not an audience for it. We cannot simply blame the two, although their culpability is without doubt, we also need to examine our own behaviour. We need to take personal responsibility for perpetuating and perpetrating bullying culture. Without an audience of consumers buying magazines like Heat and Grazia or newspapers like the Sun and the Daily Mail or watching/listening to shock jocks like Howard Stern and Matthew Wright, there would be no financial incentive for these people to behave in a crass and offensive manner. Before we start blaming others, we need to check our own behaviour, examine our own privilege, and stop financially supporting an industry based on the abject humiliation of others. The harm caused to vulnerable people who participate in reality television is obvious, yet millions of people watch shows like Big Brother and X-Factor and laugh at the judges’ vile comments. Millions of people take to Twitter to insult the physical appearance of contestants.
We shouldn’t need the Leveson Inquiry to regulate the media. We should be holding the media accountable through our financial power. We can change print media simply by refusing to consume misogynistic, racist, disablist and homophobic stories. We can change talk radio by switching off Greig, Christian and Stern. We can change the culture of bullying traumatised families by refusing to purchase newspapers or watch television newscasts that show images of traumatised parents mourning the loss of their children. We can stop buying newspapers that doorstop grieving parents. We can stop consuming media that suggest that women and children are somehow responsible for their own deaths at the hands of violent men for just exisiting.

Monster House is a film, which uses the emotional and physical abuse experienced by a vulnerable woman and then blames the woman for her behavior, whilst excusing the children, and their parents, who bullied her during her life. In fact, the film never makes the direct correlation between the long-term abuse experienced by Constance and her quite justified paranoia. The blame is entirely Constances despite the fact that society had conspired against her for cheap entertainment.

Contemporary mass media from reality television to celebrity culture, from talk shows to shock jocks, together form a 21st century freak show, only now the phenomenon is 24/7 and shows no respect for private boundaries or personal space. We are invited to laugh and jeer at vulnerable people, like Constance, and we pay to financially support their exploitation. We continue to exploit the most vulnerable members of our communities for our entertainment: in reality television, in traditional and online media, in the music industry and in pornography.

Life isn’t a circus freak show. Lets just stop acting like it is.

Good Men Project: Their Misogyny isn’t really a Surprise.

I’ve been quite surprised at the response to the Good Men Project’s* current foray into rape apologism. I thought most people were aware that the Good Men Project was nothing more than a front for Misogynist Rights Activists with an extremely reductive construction of masculinity based on an incredibly harmful gendered binary of sexes. I didn’t realise anyone still took them seriously. I’ve had them on my list of arseholes for years. I had always assumed that their name was just another example of patriarchal hypocrisy. 

Personally, I’m not surprised that they ran an article written by Alyssa Royse which was nothing more than a handbook on how to be a rapist or that they’ve actually ran an article written by a man who is proud to be a rapist. They’ve been waltzing about the issue of rape apologism for a while now. They certainly have form for minimising male violence against women. And, they have form for all sorts of victim-blaming behaviour. The Good Men Project are nothing more than an attempt at mass gaslighting women into thinking that male violence is normative behaviour.

Frankly, I struggle to take anyone who who writes for the GMP seriously. I snorted with laugter at Ozy Frantz’s declaration that he was parting ways with GMP because of the pro-rape article whilst simultaneously calling the editor Noah Brand a feminist. I’m glad Ozy Frantz is leaving GMP. More of their writers need to remove their collective patriarchal blinkers and part ways with GMP, but, no one who publishes an article by a rapist bragging about being a rapist is a feminist. This isn’t a multiple POV issue, like GMP were claiming on twitter. 

There are only two stances on rape: either you support rape or you don’t. It is a dichotomy. There are no grey areas or women who encouraged their own rape. There are only rapists. You don’t get to call yourself a feminist if you make excuses for rape. Yes, we live in a patriarchal society in which rape myths are endemic but the true test of feminism is being called on your  behaviour and then reassessing your stance. Pretending that whatever issue raised isn’t relevant is just the normal reinforcement of the Patriarchy (Vagenda might want to take note of this issue too). And, we all make mistakes. No one is a perfect feminist but when you publish blogs written by people defending rape, you aren’t a feminist. 

I don’t care what brand of feminism you think you are, once you try to defend a rapist, you aren’t a feminist. That is our base line. You defend male violence against women in any form and you aren’t a feminist. So, Ozy Frantz you are just wrong in your defence of Noah Brand. He is not a feminist and he clearly never was. 

UPDATE: Feministe has written a very good rebuttal to the rape apologism at GMP. They are also calling for a boycott of all the writers who either blog for GMP or who cross-post on them. I will be joining them. 

*I’m not going to link to their blog because it will increase their advertising revenue.

Holly Baxter’s Guest Blog on Mumsnet: Some Unpleasant Victim-Blaming

This week’s guest blogger on Mumsnet is Holly Baxter from Vagenda as part of the 16 Days of Activism on VAW. I am genuinely at a loss as how to adequately express my rage and my disgust at the article Baxter wrote. Baxter has used the mass murder of 14 women in Montreal as a way of attempting to make a political point about the inclusion of men within the feminist movement. Now, I fundamentally disagree with Baxter on the issue of men’s involvement in feminism as I have explained here and here, but, even if I did, I can not begin to imagine how the inclusion of men in one feminist event is necessary because one violent man killed 14 women.

This is the image Mumsnet chose to run in conjunction with the blog. On a blog referencing the murder of 14 women.  I have no words for this.

Tonight, I am too angry to write a proper response to Baxters’ blog. Instead, I want to remember the 14 women who Baxter failed to name in her post; 14 women who were murdered by a man who hated feminists:

Geneviève Bergeron, aged 21;
Hélène Colgan, 23;
Nathalie Croteau, 23;
Barbara Daigneault, 22;
Anne-Marie Edward, 21;
Maud Haviernick, 29;
Barbara Maria Klucznik, 31;
Maryse Leclair, 23;
Annie St.-Arneault, 23;
Michèle Richard, 21;
Maryse Laganière, 25;
Anne-Marie Lemay, 22;
Sonia Pelletier, 28; 
Annie Turcotte, aged 21.



Feminism, Men and Women-Only Spaces

The demise of feminism is back in the news again. Carla Bruni-Sarkozy and Katy Perry have both made public statements about how unnecessary feminism is to their personal lives. Suzanne Venker has not only declared feminism dead but claims that there is now a war on men.   Ironically, this death of feminism has coincided with very public demonstrations of feminist activism, as well as increased public debate on the issue of the inclusion of men within the feminist movement. 


Yet, the debate over the inclusion of men within feminism movement has always been important. It has never stopped being important. It has only re-emerged in the mainstream British press due to the backlashto the women-only RadFem 2012 conference in London in June; as well as the no-platforming on the Manchester Women-Up North Conference who chose to have one session for FAAB-women survivors of sexual violence only.


I support women-only spaces. I think they remain fundamental to the success of feminism as a political movement dedicated to the liberation of women. Yet, no one ever seems to ask feminists why they believe women-only spaces are important or why the exclusion of men from *some* feminist events is necessary for revolution. No one asks why feminists are moving back to women-only organising or why feminists are increasingly identifying as political lesbians or lesbian separatists?  Why are women-only spaces, once again, becoming so important? No one asks why there is such a backlash to thought of women-only organising? When people do ask, they don’t appear to be hearing the answer.


Whilst the inclusion of men within the movement is necessary, they do not need to be involved at every meeting and conference. There are thousands of ways that men can be, and are, involved with feminist activism that doesn’t require them encroaching on women-only spaces. They can help financially support women’s organisations like Rape Crisis, Shakti Women’s AidWomen’s Aid, Nia, or Southall Black Sisters. Men can join activist groups like Object, UK Feminista, Fawcett Society, and Abortion Rights. Men can fundraise by holding car washes and bake sales. They can join the White Ribbon Campaign and help to raise awareness about male violence against women and children.


The most important thing men can do to help the feminist movement is to challenge sexism every time they witness it. They have to challenge every rape joke. They have to challenge every man who minimises domestic violence. They have to step up every time; not just once in a while but every time they witness sexism. Sometimes this means they have to challenge themselves and recognise that their own behaviour is sexist. Sometimes it means accepting that they won’t be allowed into every feminist space. As a white, heterosexual feminist it would be hypocritical of me to demand to be allowed into feminist spaces for Black, Ethnic and Minority Women. It would be equally hypocritical for me to demand entry into a feminist space for lesbians-only, just as it would be hypocritical for me to demand entry into a room of male survivors of sexual violence or testicular cancer. Campaigning for women’s liberation to bring about the destruction of the capitalist-patriarchy and the creation of true equality does not mean every person deserves equal access. It means hearing the specific needs of specific groups and taking those into account. Like kindergarten, it’s about learning fairness.


We need men in the feminist movement. We need men who understand the real long-term effects of male violence. We need men who listen. We need men who support without dominating. Male domination of speech, both in public and private, has been well proven in research for thirty years now. Dale Spender wrote about it in The Writing of the Sex? in 1989. Andrea Dworkin wrote about male silencing tactics in her classic text Intercourse:

“Men often react to women’s words – speaking and writing – as if they were acts of violence; sometimes men react to women’s words with violence. So we lower our voices. Women whisper, Women apologize. Women shut up. Women trivialize what we know. Women shrink. Women pull back. Most women have experienced enough dominance from men – control, violence, insult, contempt – that no threat seems empty.”

Margaret Atwood wrote about men dominating classrooms in early 1980s. There have been countless studies in education and within the workplace that demonstrate the silencing of women’s voices within the presence of men. The largest global study on violence against women found that it was the feminist movement that had the biggest impact on tackling the issue; much of this was accomplished with women-only spaces. This is what men need to recognise and understand.


The main reason why I believe women-only spaces are integral to the feminist movement is because the silencing of women’s voices never stops. Sometimes the only way to stop the silencing is to uninvite men and that’s the lesson men need to take from this. If they insist on attending, whose voices are they really silencing?

Published in the Huffington Post here.