High School Musical: Disney Goes Feminist


Granted High School Musical 3 has a rather unnecessary number of shots of Sharpay Evans’ arse and there is a very clear evidence of bullying by the two main male leads: Troy Bolton and Chad Danforth who steal the clothes of two younger classmates and make them chase them through the school dressed only in towels. In HS-land this gets the bullied boys detention. In my-land, it gets the two bullies an in-school suspension and a ban from participation in after school activities because it constitutes sexual harassment. And, I can’t even begin to describe the horror which is the Tiki song in High School Musical 2: racism a go-go there.

There are also very few non-white actors in the films. The best friends of the two leads are both African-American but they both are stereotypes. Chad Danforth is basketball obsessed and a loyal friend. Taylor McKessie is bossy, demanding and over-organised. Her character is also incredibly intelligent and loyal to her best friend which is a departure from many portrayals of African-American characters in Disney films. But, they are still only supporting characters living stereotypes of what “good” African-American teenagers are interested in: boys do basketball and girls do smart & over-bossy. On the other hand, the main character Gabriella Montez is Hispanic-American, which is a major departure for mainstream Disney programs. Disney does feature non-white actors but only in supporting roles and frequently as crass stereotypes.

We can’t forget the issue of class as every single one of the characters lives in a huge house, including Gabriella Montez whose mother is a single parent. Poverty is never an issue. In fact, the characters can afford to just hop on planes and fly 1000 miles without so much blinking about the credit card charge. Obviously, abuse doesn’t exist and no one has any disabilities. It is the American Dream: a white heteronormative culture.

There are also serious problems with gender stereotyping. The mothers of all the teenagers are shown in kitchens only bringing in groceries, baking snacks, serving food, and interrupting private moments between teenagers. Fathers, on the other hand, are actively involved in coaching sports and being ‘cool’. The drama teacher is OTT in the ridiculous and Sharpay, well, Sharpay is a blond narcissistic ice queen who treats everyone like shit. Because, that is oh-so-original.

Yet, High School Musical is probably one of the most feminist films Disney has ever produced. The main character Gabriella is a “good” girl who wears virginal outfits. But, she’s also intelligent, loyal and prone to speeches on everyone working together. She changes everyone for the better by encouraging them to be true to themselves. She’s also true to herself valuing her education over her boyfriend. Gabriella isn’t mean and she doesn’t take shit from anyone. Yes, there is an unnecessary amount of twaddle about boyfriends and girlfriends and loving one another forever but Gabriella is an inspiring female character. The value placed on friendships between the teenage girls is so very, very different. With the exception of Sharpay, the girls support one another through their dreams, their hobbies and their lives.  They work together for each other and they talk about the importance of valuing yourself as an individual over any potential relationship.

It’s not a perfect feminist film but it’s a start. And, in a complete departure from normal Disney narratives, the boy follows the girl to university.


<this rant is brought to you by my daughters who’ve been watching the trilogy together>


Intersectionality, Elitism and Google

Last night saw several rather distressing conversations on the term intersectionality. I’ve been attacked before  for not being “intersectional enough”. The last time this happened, I wrote this rather rage-induced blog.  Whilst I was angry when I wrote it, I stand by the basic sentiment of the blog. My problem with the use of the word intersectionality has always been with a small group of middle class, white cis feminists who use the term to bully, harass and silence other women.

My Twitter TL is full of feminists practising intersectionality, if not always perfectly. Feminists are human too. We don’t always get things right but most of us are trying the best we can to make the world a better place for other women by listening and learning. So, you can imagine my surprise when it turns out that few members of this group of ‘feminists’ have never bothered to read Kimberle Crenshaw.

Intersectionality isn’t just a word. It’s not the same as hamburger or toast where the etymology is interesting if you’re interested in etymology or hamburgers. Intersectionality is a term which has political power: it cannot be separated from its origins. If you are using the term, you should know where it came from and why Crenshaw felt she had to invent the term.

When I expressed this last night on twitter, I got attacked for being ‘elitist’. If we were talking about Michel Foucault or Judith Butler, I’d agree but Crenshaw’s work is easily available online. The second link which appears when you google intersectionality is a link to Crenshaw’s article on JSTOR; the first is to Wikipedia. This is what comes up when you google intersectionality and Tumblr. There are literally hundreds of brilliant bloggers who write about intersectionality and who engage with Crenshaw’s work in a way which is comprehensible to anyone with basic literacy skills.

Here’s the thing: I don’t expect a lot of people have heard of intersectionality. We live in a patriarchal white supremacy. It’s hardly shocking that the lives of women of colour are erased, never mind theoretical terms defining that erasure. I do expect people who use the term to have more than a passing acquaintance with both the origins of the term and it’s application now. It’s elitist to expect someone living in a sinkhole estate with no access to the internet at home or in a public library to know the term. It’s hardly elitist to expect someone with a good education, access to the internet and who uses the term to have taken 10 minutes to google it.

Using a term which is contextualised within a very specific movement without understanding that context isn’t good feminist practise. I don’t expect feminists to be perfect or know every single feminist writer ever. I do expect feminists who are using terms like intersectionality to at least try to learn why it exists and where it came from.

And, for those of you expressing shock at how intelligent a Black woman could be, the word to define yourself isn’t intersectionalist. It’s racist. Sort yourselves out.

UPDATE: I had an interesting conversation on twitter about the use of the term intersectionality and what Crenshaw’s intentions were when she created the term, which clarified my thoughts. I see the term intersectionality used to mean identity politics and that’s not how I interpreted Crenshaw’s work. When I first read Crenshaw, I understood her to be discussing the specific oppressions faced by women of colour  as a class – not in a hierarchical sense but about the damage caused by a label placed upon a body without their consent because of racism. It is not an identity chosen in the way that sex worker can be used to convey a specific political identity; rather it is an acknowledgement of the reality of the lives of women of colour which cannot ever be removed from public knowledge.

I am a disabled single parent but I can make jokes about practising the art of lying down and people understanding it as a reference to my disability. There will be those who see me as a benefit scrounger [or whatever hateful term they’ve come up with today] but a woman of colour in a similar situation can’t just make a joke and have it reference their disability. The phrase will always refer to deeply racist stereotypes about black bodies and their economic production. This is why I believe people need to read Crenshaw [and some of the excellent analyses of her work available for free online] – you can’t debate how useful a term is if we’re all interpreting it in very different ways. At the very least, we need to be able to understand how we each came to the conclusion we did, even if we fundamentally disagree with one another on the application of the term to ourselves.

UPDATE 2: I love this article from Sara Salem which is a Marxist Feminist critique of intersectionality.

Nottingham Women’s Conference – the facts

The following was sent to me via email by a woman who attended the Nottingham Women’s Conference but who is neither an organiser nor one of the presenters. She is distressed by the obfuscations and outright fabrications about what happened yesterday and she wanted her voice to be heard but was worried about the inevitable attack, as experienced by the conference organisers and a number of other women in the past 36 hours. 

I have also added images of the statement tweeted out by the organisers during the event in response to criticism. They are below.

Nottingham Women’s Conference – the facts.

It became clear that there were there women who are sex workers and active on twitter who chose to come to Nottingham Women’s Conference to protest the inclusion of abolitionist groups such as NORMAS. They had been unhappy about the inclusion of abolitionist groups and exited woman and have expressing their displeasure on twitter. In July, NWC offered them places and they declined.
They were open about their intentions to gate crash the conference on social media so it was hardly a surprise when they arrived.  The conference had sold out some weeks ago, and there was a waiting list of women hoping to attend. I know this as I tried to pull strings to get an extra ticket for a friend and was firmly told no!

The organisers took their legal obligations seriously and refused to let anyone in who had not bought a ticket.
The three sex workers were not allowed in for this reason. Not because they are sex workers. If that was the case, then why would local services for women have been given free tickets? Why would there have been sex workers in the audience? That doesn’t make sense.

I am aware that SWOU contacted the organisers and requested a platform. However, this was only a couple of weeks ago and the speakers & workshop leaders had already been booked. There was literally no room for anyone else.

I am also aware that the organisers contacted Whorephobia after a blog post about the exclusion of sex workers some months ago. An invitation was extended and refused.

Personally, I am not actually sure what else could have been done.

The twitter hashtag was over run by those who felt able (despite not being present) to comment, criticise & attack the decisions of the organisers. It actually started to read like a tabloid headline.

“Sex workers locked in car park!” – well the car park was at the entrance to the venue so maybe we were all locked in?

“Sex workers locked out of venue!” – the door was open all day.

“Sex workers refused entry by feminists who hate sex workers!” – No. They were refused entry because they didn’t have a ticket.

There seems to be an assumption made that, because the three women turned up to the event, they should have been let in. Why? Why should they take precedence over other women? What makes their rights greater?

Just because they are Sex workers does not automatically gain them entry and a platform to speak at a sold out event. Especially, given that other sex workers were already in attendance. Does your activism & presence on twitter give you more of a say than other women?
The fact is, they didn’t buy a ticket. They didn’t ask to be involved until it was too late. 

They are not the only sex workers in the country.
They are not the only ones who can speak on behalf on sex workers.
They do not have more right than any other women.

Yes, there were exited women present who spoke eloquently & articulately about their experiences.

Yes there were organisations there who do not agree with sex work. And? The sex workers who were present were perfectly able to speak for themselves (and did).
And actually, isn’t it just a little bit arrogant and presumptuous to assume that YOU are the expert on sex workers?
To assume that every woman in the conference is a middle class, white non sex worker?
To assume that the sex workers who were present were those who want to exit?

Let’s remember that the conference was a women’s conference. Not a sex worker conference. And as a women’s conference it was brilliant.

UPDATE: Currently, I’m being attacked across twitter for the last two sentence of this piece. Honestly, if you think that it implies that sex workers aren’t women too, you’re just desperate to find something to complain. It quite clearly states that the conference wasn’t just about the issue of sex work and exited women. It was a day-long conference on a multitude of topics relevant to women.

And, how on earth can you tell whether or not the above statement was written by an exited woman, a prostituted woman or a sex worker? It is an anonymous statement. Hence, there are no identifying details of the woman who wrote the statement. 

Statement by the organisers:

UPDATE: I have deleted the comments on this blog and I will continue deleting them as it is clearly stirring from those who were not at the event.

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.

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.

Eat Battery Farmed Chickens and Save Women: Challenging PETA’s Reinforcement of Rape Culture

I know that this flies in the face of common sense and compassion but bear with me here. PETA’s campaigns are based on the idea that the objectification, sexualisation, and torture of women’s bodies are a great way to raise awareness of animal rights. They glamorise, romanticise and eroticise Violence against Women because they refuse to either acknowledge the construction of “woman as object” within the Patriarchy, or take responsibility for the harm they cause to women by their campaigns. PETA usually uses the bodies of young, thin, blonde, white women as a canvas for their protest. Whilst their protests garner public attention, it isn’t because people are interested in animal rights. PETA have become a spectacle; their message lost in medium of their protest. PETA also seem to have completely forgotten what exactly they have been campaigning for and instead have become obsessed with out-porning the porn industry in their objectification of tortured women’s bodies.

PETA’s newest campaign is called “Fur Trim is Unattractive” and it has been getting considerable amount of press for both the level of misogyny and the generalised nincompoopery within it. It isn’t a new campaign though. It is yet another recycled campaign designed to shock; despite being neither original nor interesting. It’s the normal “women with pubic hair are unfuckable” motif, as evidenced by the entire porn industry. One would have thought that an organisation who campaigns against the cosmetic industry’s animal testing practises might be aware of the links between pornography, the fashion-beauty complex, and the unnecessary torture of animals. One would be wrong. The very last thing PETA is, is self-aware. Nor do they care that they are supposedly campaigning to prevent the torture of animals by financially profiting from the torturing the bodies of vulnerable women in porn.

Whilst it is undoubtedly unpleasant, the “Fur is Unattractive” campaign is actually rather tame for PETA. Over the past few years, their campaigns and street protests have become increasingly violent and quite deliberate in their use of Violence against Women. They are no longer content with using the bodies of naked women or even carving up women’s bodies as if we were meat. This year alone they have had one advertisement, developed for the Superbowl, banned for having women simulate sex with vegetables; an ad which was only marginally less offensive from Voina’s ‘protest’ art involving women having sex with frozen chickens. Their second ad campaign this year, entitled ‘Boyfriend Went Vegan and Knocked the Bottom out of Me’, should have been called An Ode to Violence Against Women: The Romance Period. It features a physically and sexually assaulted woman wearing a neck brace and covered in bruises because her boyfriend, newly vegan, has pounded her in every way possible. Apparently some of the unfortunate consequences of veganism and the subsequent “mind-blowing intercourse” are “sex injuries such as whiplash, pulled muscles, rug burn, and even a dislocated hip.” That isn’t sex. It is rape.

A third campaign developed this year to celebrate World Vegan Day involves a large number of men gyrating, in increasingly more violent ways, with vegetables in place of their penis. Surprisingly, nothing makes me want to give up bacon like a Dude with a cucumber for a penis, or so I’m lead to believe. I’m not entirely sure what PETA was aiming for with this but this is pretty much the definition of creepy:

“A cucumber has never looked so good – or so wicked. In honour of World Vegan Day, watch this spicy video that gives a wink to the sexual health benefits of going vegan by showcasing men enthusiastically and proudly showing off some healthy protrusions from their trousers.”

PETA have pretty much become a parody of themselves. It would be amusing if it weren’t for their constant perpetuation and perpetration of rape culture.

So, I say we start eating battery-farmed chickens to raise awareness of the objectification, sexualisation and torture of women’s bodies. After all, PETA doesn’t care how it raises awareness or who funds its campaigns, so why should feminists? PETA have gone so far as to develop their own porn channel to supposedly raise awareness of the abuse of animals. You don’t see feminist groups raising funds by offering to kill rabbits live on the web; perhaps we should.

I believe PETA’s advertising campaigns buy into the hyper-sexualised and hyper-masculinised culture in which women are treated as no more than Patriarchal fucktoys. PETA support, perpetuate, and perpetrate rape culture.

So, if PETA wants to reduce the discourse on animal cruelty to simply objectifying women as an advertising tool and encouraging rape culture, I’m going to start buying battery-farmed chickens.

Flaming Chickens of Mass Destruction

It’s a reference from this book which is fucking brilliant. Everyone should read it. Especially cus I’m not telling what Flaming Chickens of Mass Destruction means. 

[It’s also an excellent name for an anarcho-Feminist punk band but only if you give me naming recognition.]

Dale Spender on Being a Feminist

Another great quote that came via Facebook: