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Kim Kardashian is just another battle in the cyber war over women’s bodies

14 Nov

The naked pictures may not have broken the internet, but they have proven a point about the extent to which the female body has become a digital commodity

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Kim Kardashian’s hyper-sexualised naked body is this week’s internet ballyhoo. Her greased behind, paraded by Paper Magazine as the photoshoot to ‘break the internet’, has been glistening in every dark corner of cyberspace. Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, WordPress- you name it- internet users have been unable to turn a corner without being visually confronted by Kim K in the raw.

As with all nude internet sensations, the photos have sparked a furore of polarising debates. Aside from Kim’s robot fans who have applauded her with automatic adoration, humans with brains have raised a variety of issues with the photos, from the representation of her naked body: completely hairless and oiled up, the backlash against her being a sexualised mother, the way in which a female body in and of itself can create superstardom, and the racial undertones to the images.

Some may well defend the photos as female empowerment- ‘women are entitled to do what they want’, or as just another unsurprising day in the internet world- ‘women get naked on the internet all the time, what’s the big deal?’

Fair play. Just last week, Kiera Knightley got her breasts out for a photo-shoot and comedian Tig Notaro performed an entire set, topless. Sadly, as an internet user of the 21st century, the persistent appearance of women’s bodies in the media has rendered me desensitised to seeing them at regular intervals throughout my day, whether I like it or not.

But the difference between Kiera and Kim is that they’re standing at opposite ends of the internet battlefield. While Kiera posed topless on the condition that she wasn’t photo-shopped, making a point about the great variety of women’s natural body shapes, Kim went nude to break the internet. Bravo. As ever, she wasn’t trying to convey anything inspiring or profound. At most, the photos are a continuation of Jean-Paul Goude’s trademark ‘art’ that sexualises the black female body. At least, they’re a sensational attempt to generate an infamous media reputation. Gossip= clicks, and clicks = money.

The photos are standing in a long line of recent internet battles over women’s bodies. The leaked nude photo scandal brought issues of authorisation and consent under the spotlight. Calvin Klein’s size 10 model begged the question, ‘Which size is plus size?’, and Victoria’s Secret’s ‘Perfect Body’ campaign sparked a torrent of bullets against the promotion of one limiting archetype of the female body. Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 15.26.52

Whether each of these debates have been settled in a positive or negative light- or not at all- the sheer frequency and ferocity with which women’s bodies are being verbally attacked, defended and dissected on the internet demonstrates the disheartening reality that the internet has fast become a battleground for the female form. Women’s bodies are being pushed back and forth in internet spats, as lifeless pawns to be claimed or defended like territory. They’re hostage to cyberspace whether the women behind the bodies like it or not.

I might be a dreamer, but I look forward to the dawn of web utopia: the day that women’s naked bodies aren’t plastered so freely all over the internet. But if they are, the best possible public response will be one of complete and utter indifference. That’s the day we’ll know that women’s bodies have ceased to become the hotly contested benchmark against which we measure the value of women themselves.

In this sense, Kim’s photos are nothing new, just another battle amid a war that’s already raging.

What continues to bother me about the photos is that they edge closer to achieving their lurid goal of ‘breaking the internet’ every time they get talked about- praise or no praise.

So please, can we stop liking, sharing and talking about Kim Kardashian’s body and use the internet for something a little more worth our time? Quick, somebody grab an iPhone and pass me the ice bucket.

A note to the detractors of women’s sports

13 Oct

Having played competitive netball for most of my adolescent life, I’ve never doubted my freedom to enjoy team sports, regardless of whether they’re perceived to be ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’. But as Emma Watson reminded us in her opening #heforshe speech to the UN, some women often feel as though they shouldn’t play particular sports as they fear it will make them too muscly.

Some of my happiest memories growing up come from the netball court

It’s disheartening yet unsurprising that such archaic views exist when people in positions of responsibility continue to perpetuate them in the media. Sports Minister Helen Grant suggested that the way to get more women into sports is through feminine activities like cheerleading and ballet, which make women look “absolutely radiant”.

John Inverdale wrenched the spotlight away from Marion Bartoli in July 2013 when she won the Wimbledon Women’s Singles Final, commenting on BBC Radio that the inspirational tennis player, who had just reached the pinnacle of her career, was ‘never going to be a looker’.

British artistic gymnast Beth Tweddle became the victim of online abuse in January when she participated in a Twitter Q&A session as part of promoting women’s sports, only to be met with derogatory insults such as ‘Are all sportswomen lesbians?’

Why is it that women are repeatedly reminded that their sporting endeavours are married to their appearance and their femininity?

Playing the mixed-sex sport Korfball for Leeds university

Despite the fact that there are a multitude of female sporting idols making ground-breaking achievements in women’s sports, like England winning the Women’s Rugby World Cup or the fact that women won three quarters of the medals in the Sochi Olympics, old-fashioned views that competition and physical strength belong in a male arena continue to rear their ugly head.

Playing sports means different things to different people. Some relish the opportunity to make friends and invest in a team goal. Others take the opportunity to set themselves personal targets and see how far they can push their mental grit and physical strength. Most enjoy the powerful endorphin rush that’s released during strenuous exercise, which brings them back to the netball court, football pitch or athletics track- even after the most bitter of defeats.

To the detractors of women’s sports: stop robbing women of these worthwhile enjoyments and replacing them with your bigoted ideas about what it means to be a woman. You never know, when sportswomen are at the peak of their game, sweating buckets, in the zone, determined to win- that’s the moment they’ll be feeling ‘absolutely radiant’.

Up-and-coming women’s magazine is turning heads in Liverpool

27 Aug

As a long-established blogger and columnist, I’ve managed to pester enough magazines, websites and PR companies to publish my writing over the years. Many students looking to elbow their way in to the blogging world and boost their CVs often ask me for recommendations for who they could submit their work to. I’d like to endorse an up-and-coming women’s magazine in Liverpool that showcases a whole variety of women’s artistic creations.

Heroine Zine's lovable logo

Heroine Zine’s lovable logo

Heroine Magazine, affectionately known as Heroine Zine, was set up just over a year ago by two creative writing graduates, Abi Inglis and Phoebe Dunnett, both 22,  from Liverpool John Moores University. They publish anything that comments on the female experience and explores the history of women’s culture. The duo don’t just publish work from women, though- as they believe that ingenuity and flair are genderless attributes.

Heroine Zine's Issue 3

Heroine Zine’s Issue 3

What started as a Summer project at university and has grown into a print magazine that highlights women’s creativity, ranging from poetry, prose, photography, art and articles. The duo have enjoyed numerous successes over the past year, from holding open mic nights in the city centre, gaining a loyal band of worldwide subscribers and even hosting their very own festival in Chavasse Park, Liverpool One.

Abi said: “We’re so passionate about Liverpool and all the fantastic creative projects that are happening here. We love to support the women involved in these and help provide a space where they can create and perform.”

The magazine even has ‘manifesta’ of principles that outlines the wholesome ethos of its editors. Phoebe explained: “We feature all types of creativity that celebrates women exactly as they are. We want to be the type of magazine that doesn’t feature airbrushing, body-shaming or product placements. Just creative ingenuity.”

Heroine Fest in Chavasse Park, Liverpool One

HeroineFest in Chavasse Park, Liverpool One

HeroineFest in Chavasse Park was a particular highlight for the pair, who brought workshops, discussion groups, stalls and live music to the top of Liverpool One. Many other creative women’s groups from the North West attended the festival, including the Lady Parts Theatre Company, Queen of the Track Zine and a female Beatles tribute band, The Beatelles.

Abi said: “We wanted to celebrate some of the awesome women we know in Liverpool and the North West. It was a great day and we got some fantastic feedback from the public.”

“Having HeroineFest take place in Chavasse Park, a very public space in the middle of Liverpool One, really showed us how open and welcoming people were about the idea of having a women’s arts and culture magazine in the city.”

The editors are now taking submissions for issue 4, which will be published in October. To get in touch, visit or email [email protected]

How Tough Mudder changed my ideas about body confidence

6 Aug

This column has also been featured by The News Hub and can be viewed on their website here.

Battling through the world-renowned mud run gave me more than just cuts and bruises

As a young woman growing up in the 21st century, I’m well aware that the mainstream media is infiltrating my ideas about what the female body should look like. Thirty squats a day and I could achieve the thigh gap. Cut down my calorie consumption to get V-shaped abs. Repeat lunge sets with weights to achieve an instant butt lift. From music videos to Facebook memes to billboards: the modern media is constantly trying to convince me that I’m chasing slightly behind the latest coveted body goal.

Despite the diverse array of body shapes that exist in the world, media firms and advertising agencies are cropping, cutting, highlighting, fixing, shadowing, blurring, streamlining and photo-shopping the hell out of their images to subscribe to the singular Barbie-Doll criterion of the female physique.

Meme by

Meme by

I know I should be exercising because it’s healthy, because I enjoy it and because it’s part of making the most of the one and only life I have. But there’s still a part of me that’s guilty of exercising with the intention of chasing those media-induced body goals.

I’ll go to the gym if I can’t fit into my favourite jeans and I’ll only leave once I’ve burned enough calories. One of my most energising workout motivations is knowing I’ll have to wear a bikini on an upcoming holiday and I’ll start a panic-induced gym regime after watching the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. Whether I’m playing netball or running on the treadmill, I’ve always got an ingrained sense in the back of my mind that as long as I’m burning calories, I must be moving in the right direction.

But I recently completed Tough Mudder and have started to gather very different ideas about fitness and the female body.

For those who don’t know very much about Tough Mudder, its creators describe it as ‘Probably one of the toughest events on the planet.’ Valiant participants are let loose on a military-style 12-mile obstacle course designed by British Special Forces to test mental and physical strength. The obstacles test common fears such as heights, fire, water, electric shocks and claustrophobia- sometimes separately- and sometimes all at once.

What makes Tough Mudder so gruelling is that it requires a combination of physical strength and mental grit to see participants through to the end. I could never have jumped into a pool of ice and water, pushed myself over the edge of ‘Walk The Plank’ or crawled through a trench of live electric wires if I didn’t have the mettle and courage within to just shut my eyes and go for it. What’s more, I wouldn’t have had the energy or the strength to complete the course if I’d been on an unbearable juice diet.

Not only am I proud to have simply survived Tough Mudder but I’ve come away from the course with a life-affirming realisation about body confidence. Having battled through one of the world’s toughest obstacle courses I’ve realised that body confidence isn’t about what my body looks like, but what my body is capable of. While the media would have me believe that I’m always one step behind achieving the perfect body, Tough Mudder showed me that I already have what it takes to be strong. DSC03520

From now on, when I play netball, go running or hit the gym, I’ll be training with a purpose and a new set of goals. I won’t be thinking about the fastest way that I can slim down and look skinny. I’ll be working towards new ways that I can overcome challenging hurdles and develop my strength. The media are targeting women and girls with relentless propaganda that’s pushing our body ideals down a particular path. Thanks to Tough Mudder, I’ve realised that there’s nothing more empowering than taking over the reigns and going in my own direction.

2014-08-03 17.27.13


Sexism & gender stereotyping explained by 5 popular Facebook memes

23 Jul

Facebook memes typically feature a witty expression or phrase written in two parts, typed over a photograph or image that supports the impact of the punchline. The first meme I ever saw was this popular spin-off from the Lion King, in which Mufasa explains to Simba what lies beyond the light, at the ‘shadowy place’. 

Memes have become so widespread that you can create your own meme on a number of meme-generator sites. So instead of the above meme reading ‘The South’, you could insert anything you like, from ‘MacDonalds’, to ‘Malia’.

At best, a meme is a witty quip about some aspect of modern life. But most of the time, people use memes as a way to quickly justify and validate bad decisions or cheap shots at other individuals and groups. For example, the ‘People of Wal Mart’ page has over 25,000 likes on Facebook and is full of memes, but when you think about it, the page is a seriously creepy collection of photos taken of people unawares in order to make fun of their appearance.

There’s something about memes that have social media users hypnotised. Whether it’s the typeface or the supporting image or a combination of the two, memes seem to make hurtful statements acceptable and imbue flimsy observations of daily life with substance. In many cases, if you heard a stranger utter the same words out loud in a restaurant, you’d feel inclined to move tables.

When it comes to gender, sexuality, dating and modern relationships, memes tend to promulgate the gender binary, lock women into double standards, portray all men as chauvinists and relationships as some kind of unhealthy fated fairytale.

There are a select number of popular memes that I keep seeing again and again over Facebook, Twitter and Instagram that really grind my gears because they romanticise harmful and polarising messages about gender. Without further ado, here are 5 popular Facebook memes that have crept all over the Internet and done exactly that: 

I also like the idea,

That someone, somewhere, had just broken up with their partner and made this meme to justify their dating status.

I’m sure many people all over the world ‘like’ the idea of soulmates but this meme promulgates the fantasy that modern relationships are like Disney films. In reality, there may well be one person you can spend your life with, but it takes hard work, co-operation, sacrifice, patience, acceptance, humility, negotiation and maturity to make a life-long relationship work with anyone. This meme typifies everything that is wrong with expectations of modern dating, thanks to happy-go-lucky sitcoms and chick-flicks. 

If a guy sleeps with ten women, he’s a stud. If a woman does the same, she’s a slut. This is one of the most tired double standards in the history of sexism that’s yawning so hard its jaw hurts. But this meme expresses the prejudice through a viral image, which re-inflamed the toothache like never before. A woman is not a territorial conquest. She is a human being.

I’d much rather be understood than loved, thanks mate

I’ve seen so many women and girls re-post this meme on social media sites. I’m not sure if it’s suggesting that women are so complex that it’s easier to just love them, or that women are simply not worthy of human understanding, but either way, it traps women in a binary. The fact that the quote originates from Oscar Wilde does nothing for me. Literary prowess aside, Wilde lived in a time when women’s status was entrenched within economic, political and social barriers that do not exist now, so the fact that the quote has been re-generated via memes in a modern context is completely anachronistic.

I like to think of myself as a kind of straightforward, reasonable person who means what I say, but the Internet has other ideas. Apparently, because I am a woman, my vocabulary is imbued with double-meanings that send warning signals to men everywhere. I am so truly complex and manipulative, that men have created memes to help other men figure out what I might mean. Huh, who knew? 

I saw this meme on Instagram and felt how much of the nation felt while watching Nick Griffin on Question Time- there are so many aspects of it that incense me that I don’t know where to begin. The concept of ‘gentleman’ and ‘lady’ teeter upon archaic, chivalric expectations of behaviour based purely upon gender. I would much rather that somebody held the door open for me because it is polite, not because I’m a woman. If society, meme-users or a man believes that it is his entitlement to ‘smack my ass’ when I have walked through that door because I am ‘his’, then they’ll be met swiftly with a door to the face. Some gent.

10 basic facts you should know about feminism

19 Jul

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The original Buzzfeed article that exploded over social media

            Buzzfeed recently released a post called ’14 Women Say Why They Don’t Need Feminism’. The article was a photo compilation of various women sympathetic to the ‘Women Against Feminism’ camp, holding up signs explaining why they’ve shunned the women’s rights movement.

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Just a selection of the hundreds of women who back ‘Women Against Feminism’

The reasons varied from ‘I don’t need feminism because I respect all humans, not just one gender’, to ‘I don’t need feminism because I am not a victim’. Every explanation portrayed feminism as an outdated, irrational, man-hating monstrosity that promotes entitlements and supremacy over liberty and equality. The article promulgated an ugly and unforgiving stereotype of feminism that feminists everywhere have worked tirelessly to refute for decades. 

Thankfully, the article was met with a stream of retorts over Twitter, explaining how these ‘women against feminism’ have dreadfully misconceived ideas about what it means to be a feminist. American actress, writer and singer Molly Ringwald was re-tweeted 853 times when she wrote,

‘This “women against feminism” trend perplexes me. Feminism is not female chauvinism, it is equality. Pretty simple concept.’ Screen Shot 2014-07-19 at 14.18.27

In a later tweet, Ringwald highlighted the irony of the ‘Women Against Feminism’ motion: the perplexing fact that the majority of this anti-Feminist polemic rests squarely upon the bricks and mortar of feminist values. 

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A sample of a ‘Women Against Feminism’ selfie

Feminism is the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of gender equality. Women declaring that they refute feminism because they don’t hate men, or because they are not victims, or because they support equality, are therefore feminists themselves. Women Against Feminism is promoting the same principles that feminists have been shouting about for hundreds of years- it’s just a damn shame that the stereotype of 21st-century feminism is causing them to shout about it from a separate soapbox. 

Feminism’s grossly distorted public image must be reconciled with its straightforward, clean-cut principles. In order to fight for a future in which women and men are treated equally, we must first fight for a world in which the word ‘feminism’ is treated positively. 

In an attempt to undo some of the damage caused by ‘Women Against Feminism’, here are ten basic facts that everyone should know about feminism:

  • Feminism is the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social and economic equality to men. 
  • Female emancipation does not thrive on male emasculation. Feminists do not seek to demonize or disadvantage men on the road to empowerment, only to achieve the same level of equality as men.
  • Not all feminists agree with each other. There are liberal feminists and conservative feminists. Pro-sex feminists and anti-porn feminists. Pro-choice feminists and, you guessed it, pro-life feminists. If you hear a feminist promoting a particular cause or argument, it doesn’t mean the rest of us automatically fall in line.
  • Feminists stand against the subordination of women. This means that we oppose any individual, group, organisation or movement that supports female inferiority. We do not confront those individuals, groups, organisations or movements without reason, but because they stand up for the destructive ideas that obstruct the path to our goals.
  • If a man believes that women and men deserve to be equal, he is a feminist.
  • Some women give feminism a bad name. They throw the word around recklessly as a justification to demonize men. Feminists hate this just as much as men do. 
  • Feminists come in all shapes and sizes, ethnicities and creeds, occupations and ages.
  • Feminist history began hundreds of years ago. It was not born in the 1970s. 
  • Feminists can be feminine. We don’t have to emulate masculinity in order to prove our worth.
  • If you ‘don’t need feminism’ because you see yourself as having achieved equality, that’s great. But other women all over the world are mentally, physically, socially, economically and culturally subordinated every day, so don’t chastise other women for carrying on the fight. 
    Repping my Chimera (women's self-defence) t-shirt in Yosemite National Park

    Repping my Chimera (women’s self-defence) t-shirt in Yosemite National Park ‘It’s not the woman in the fight, it’s the fight in the woman’

Social construction of gender creates rigid, harmful stereotypes

21 Apr

I enrolled to study a Joint Honours degree in 2010 in the hope that it would make me a more rounded intellectual. During my first three years of university, studying both English and History has certainly come with challenges, like trying to meet the needs of both academic departments and learning how to consider and incorporate views and information from contrasting perspectives. This semester, despite having studied periods of history that are centuries apart, and works of literature from authors all over the world, one lesson in particular has shone out from each and every one of my classes.

A couple of weeks ago I was in my Renaissance class and we were discussing Shakespeare’s comedy ‘Twelfth Night’. The main character, Viola, disguises herself as a young man in order to find a job. My teacher remarked: “Shakespeare was drawing attention to ingrained assumptions about gender, making us aware of the fact that gender is a performance in itself.”

With ideas about the social construction of gender brewing in the back of my mind, I thought back to my very first women’s self-defense class. My instructor told us: “You don’t have to emulate men in order to execute these moves. You can be the strong and independent women that you want to be without losing sight of your feminine side.” But as a class of 25 young women, it took many of us a couple of times before we were able to shout ‘DON’T BOTHER ME!’ at the top of our voices, without smiling. Attending these classes has made me acutely aware of gendered expectations of behaviour, and defying these expectations with uppercuts and pendulum kicks has been an eye-opening and liberating experience.

But it was in my literary theory class that lessons about gender performativity became especially apparent. During the week we were studying gender and sexuality, my professor opened up the floor for discussion. My classmate said something particularly important: “I feel like nowadays everyone just wants to put everyone else away in boxes and categories. Like when people become obsessed with trying to figure out if someone else is gay or straight. Can’t we just be people?”

Can’t we? Judging by the long string of disheartening personal anecdotes that were shared in class that day, sadly, the answer seems to be no. Modern society is disturbingly preoccupied by the need to categorise, to classify and to stereotype. Gender and sexuality have become such a guessing game that the word ‘gaydar’ has made it into the dictionary. ‘Legally Blonde: The Musical’ even has a number called ‘Gay or European?’ splitting sexuality and identity into two easily identified boxes. But couldn’t he have been gay and European? Or neither?
Just yesterday I was completing an application form. Under the subheading ‘gender’, the form offered three categories: ‘male’, ‘female’ and ‘prefer not to say’. Rather than properly acknowledging the existence of transgender applicants, the form chose the usual ‘male’ and ‘female’ boxes and lumped everything else together in one indeterminate limbo space.

In a modern world that is so strongly characterized by diversity and difference, wouldn’t the best option be to leave the boxes open so that we can write our own identities? Definitions of gender and sexuality should be set free, so that we can be who we want to be without having to conform to ideas of what is ‘male’ and what is ‘female’.




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