Tag Archives: feminism

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 facebook.com/heroinemagazine 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 soulpancake.com

Meme by soulpancake.com

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.

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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.

Reflections on a year abroad

23 Apr

It’s with great sadness that I’m writing my last column for The Daily Gamecock.

Before I departed for South Carolina last August, I was asked to write an article describing my feelings about the year ahead. I called my piece ‘Great Expectations’, and listed all of the weird and wonderful things I wanted to see and do while studying abroad.ImageWhile my year as an honorary Gamecock has fulfilled the aspirations of my bucket list twice over, it’s the lessons I’ve learned within myself that have been truly life-affirming.

There are two things that I’ve discovered in the mighty Palmetto state, for which I’m forever grateful. The first is my vocation as a writer. Writing viewpoints columns throughout the year has not just been life changing because it’s transformed my resume, but it’s been life changing because it’s transformed me as an individual.

Part of the job description as a viewpoints columnist is to stay in the know about local and national news and events. As a small fish in a very big pond, engaging with my host country in this manner has been an essential way to connect with the world outside when everything around me felt unfamiliar.ImageForming my own opinions about my new surroundings has taught me to be my own person, to know myself, and to know where I stand. At many points during the year, writing has been a lifeline- the only thing that felt like concrete under my feet when everything else was like sand running through my fingers. In one year, writing opinion pieces has taught me more about life and about myself than all my years in school and university put together.

The second thing I’m eternally grateful for is a feminist enlightenment. To me, feminism the very simple belief that women and men are equal human beings who deserve equal rights.

Taking women’s self-defense classes has taught me that I don’t have to rely on anyone else to defend myself in the world. I have the right to defend myself, but what’s more is the inner belief that I’m worth defending.

Before I moved to South Carolina, these were beliefs that I held close to my heart. Thanks to my feminist awakening, they’re now part of a living reality than runs through my veins.

But what I’ve come to realise while reflecting on my year, is that these two facets of studying abroad are seamless. The year has not transformed me as a writer or as a feminist, but as both.

Renaissance poet Sir Philip Sidney once ended a sonnet with the words: “Look in thy heart and write.” Writing is not simply about using imitation and sophistry to come up with something entertaining to say. It’s about being in touch with what’s in your heart and sharing that on paper. As a woman and as a writer, never have I felt stronger than when realising that people are listening, and that they value what I have to say. Writing is my empowerment.

Becoming a columnist has allowed me to create my own space in the world and believe in my entitlement to that space. It’s my right as a woman to the freedom of expression, to the freedom of speech and to the rights of the first amendment. It’s my right to write.

In ‘A Room of One’s Own’, Virginia Woolf once said, ““Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.” Thanks to my foremothers who fought tirelessly for women’s rights, I’ve been able to explore the freedom of my mind at the same time as exploring the world.

I’ve always believed in the saying that, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel, read only a page.” My Appalachian adventure in writing has given me ‘A Room Of My Own’, a room in which I’ve started chapter one of that book, and I can’t wait to see where the rest of it takes me. Image

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’.




How women’s self-defense classes changed my life

17 Feb

Since moving to South Carolina I have had a feminist awakening. Taking a women’s history class and participating in a women’s rights seminar has opened my eyes to the realities of women’s issues and the importance of feminism in modern society. Living in the South has brought me face to face with real instances of sexism and discrimination, while the liberal and progressive atmosphere within USC has afforded me the opportunity to express my ideas and write about these experiences.

One thing I have learned a lot about is the dark reality of sexual assault and violence. On January 22nd 2014, President Obama signed a memorandum to establish the White House Task Force on Protecting Students from Sexual Assault, an effort to curb the number of sexual assaults on college campuses.  This came after a report from the White House Council on Women and Girls that stated the current sexual assault statistic for US college campuses is one in five.  The task force has 90 days to come up with ways for colleges and universities to establish procedures that will help decrease the bleak number of assaults currently occurring on campuses nationwide.

This semester, I am fortunate enough to have become involved in South Carolina’s longstanding effort to diminish this worrying statistic. Having enrolled for a Women’s Self Defense credit class over Christmas, I flew back to Columbia in January expecting an interesting and informative, but probably stereotypical self-defense experience.

Little did I know that spending 90 minutes in Blatt 308 every Thursday evening would change my life. Taking women’s self defense classes has been one of the most transformative experiences during my time spent studying abroad at USC. Image

Dr. Ed Carney and Professor Shannon Henry from SASS (Surviving Assault and Standing Strong) train thousands of women in Richland and Lexington counties, including policewomen, SLED and SWAT teams and State Troopers. They teach the women’s self-defense classes at USC, and are two of only three SASS Certified instructors in the entire USA. Thanks to their expertise and training in the area, the state of South Carolina now has the highest percentage of women prepared for attacks in the nation.

By the end of the semester I will be able to defend myself against abduction, sexual assault, rape, violence, stalking and harassment. I will be trained to defend against choking, grabbing, ground fighting, multiple assailants and weapons.

Given that I have shocking upper body strength, sloth-like reflexes and a tendency to freeze in alarming situations, I almost can’t believe it myself.

Not only have my self-defense classes been transforming my physical alertness, awareness and preparedness for an attack, but they have also changed the way I see myself within the world around me.

Growing up with an older brother, I used to bemoan the cautionary warnings I was given before going out that didn’t seem to apply to him. I used to hear, “If someone looks sketchy, call me,” or “Keep an eye on your handbag in busy areas,” and “Text me before I go to bed to let me know what time you’ll be coming home.”

Thankfully, I have never been in any of the frightening or dangerous situations my parents warned me about. But there have been many times that I’ve been walking home at night or out on a run when the streetlights started to flicker and the traffic got quieter. Worst-case scenarios would pop into my head along with the distressing admission that if I was to be attacked or abducted at that moment, I would have been completely defenseless.

Learning self-defense maneuvers that are tailored to the kinesiological structure of women has begun to eliminate this fear. From now on, when I’m walking alone at night I will recite counter-attack sequences in my mind and always seek out the nearest escape route.

Self-defense has given my feminist awakening a strong bite. My belief that women are equal to men has now been fortified with a toolkit to defend against the unfortunate fact that some men chose to use their physical strength against women.

Self-defense has not taught me to be afraid of the world or to go looking for trouble. Rather, it has armed me with a weapon of my own- should I ever need it- that makes the world around me a safer place.

How moving to South Carolina turned me into a Feminist

15 Jan

I’m an undergraduate student from the University of Leeds, England, undertaking my study abroad year at the University of South Carolina. As far as allegiances to feminism goes, before this year I was, to a large extent, agnostic.

I was agitated by music videos that have flashing images of isolated butts and boobs and legs, but didn’t do much about it. I had never been wholly impressed by low-budget, whiny girl-meets-guy romantic comedies- but I love The Notebook. I kicked and screamed about Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’ yet had it on my iPod, and I hated being referred to as ‘girl’, but frequently invited my ‘girlies’ out for drinks. I protested against instances of sexism as much as the next self-respecting woman, but when the cause died down, so did my voice. Perhaps I wasn’t even agnostic, I was just confused.

Then I moved to South Carolina in August and my views gradually changed. The loud-and-proud right-wing ideological climate in SC is so at odds with what I’m used to at home that it immediately became easy to recognise and articulate my views, by way of confrontation, disagreement and debate.

I started coming into collision with drastically sexist views and behaviour. Walking to the Clemson game last semester, there was a campaigner stood by the road with a billboard display next to him that had graphic pictures of abortions and dead fetuses. The boards read, “God is Judging South Carolina for over 360,000 abortions” and “God Bless America?” When my roommate refused to take one of this man’s leaflets, he began to shout “WITCH!” at her as we quickly proceeded down the road.I have also been dispirited by the dancing style infamously known as ‘twerking’, as kindly demonstrated by Miley Cyrus at her twerk-de-triomphe debut during the VMAs. As I watched her gyrate around a foam finger, I winced inside at the thought that media portrayals of women had just managed to take yet another step backwards. The every day effect of her behaviour can be seen crystal clear when venturing on a night out to Five Points to see girls grabbing their ankles and thrusting their butts into the air as if it’s the new Macarena.

Then there was the moment it happened. The moment that the red wax seal stamped down and confirmed it: ‘I’m a feminist.’ In a question and answer session with four of South Carolina’s most famous women’s rights activists, one of the speakers assured us that young women would not remain as ignorant as feminists of former generations like to make out. She professed,

“Don’t worry. The moment that young women come into collision with real-life sexism and discrimination will be the moment they’ll realise how much the world needs feminism.”

My moment came two weeks later, during a presentation about sexual violence and assault. A member of the audience piped up and suggested that, ‘all of the girls who go out to Five Points at Halloween dressed as black cats are asking for it’. With that comment, I went to my dorm room and bashed out my indignant piece ‘Why 21st-century Feminism is a Worthy Fight.’

Realising which allegiances you have to a particular ideology is like going shopping. You browse through shops, trying on ideas, seeing how they fit, horrified by some pieces and elated by others. The bits you like the most you take home and add to your wardrobe. One of the things I cherish the most about moving to South Carolina has been the liberating, educational and invaluable opportunity it has afforded me to have this experience.


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