Tag Archives: #thenewfword

The shit “I’m not sexist but…” and why it pisses me off.

By Claire Green 

I’ve been meaning to write something for this blog since it was created, but I couldn’t decide what to write about. Should I write a letter to my pre-feminist self? Maybe talk about something that’s happening on my campus about the wom*n’s movement? Then, at work the other day this old chestnut came to me. We’ve all heard it, and it’s usually (in my experience) followed by a comment that may not have been considered offensive had this not been added to the front.

“I’m not sexist but…” or “Not being sexist, but…”

I never realised how much this pissed me off until I had a really good think about it. Every person who has ever said this to me has been a straight white guy in a position of power (my boss, for example…), and nine times out of 10 has something to do with a task, an observation or statement that traditionally should align with things that I, as a woman, identify with.

That isn’t always the case, and personally this is true. I believe that many times someone’s said this to me that their intentions were genuine. But, then you get the bigots and the assholes who are trying to disguise their shit with this to make you feel like they’re on your side, and not actually being bigoted assholes.

Now I see through it. Now I know how to react: “Claire, not to be sexist but…”

“LALALALALALALALALALALA!! Sorry, but if you’re going to talk to me like that then I don’t want to hear what you have to say” *walks away angrily*

That seems to shut them up pretty quickly.

Now, something else that’s been pissing me off lately is people telling me what they think I should believe in, support, align with, even down to what I study and I think these ideas are connected. I think they have to do with a man (who really doesn’t like to questioned) not liking the idea that I have the power to make my own decisions about everything in my life and won’t let him dictate any part of it. How does this relate to the ‘not sexist’ comment? It’s a man telling me that he believes I should identify with whatever he is telling me, and doesn’t want me to be offended by his assumption.

Well, mister, I AM OFFENDED, AND UNTIL YOU AND ALL THE OTHER MEN ON THIS PLANET WHO THINK THEY KNOW MORE ABOUT A WOMAN THAN A WOMAN DOES, I will continue to be, and will continue to tell you stick your chauvinistic, outdated opinion up your ass! So STFU


The New F Word: A letter from a feminist to her 12 year old self

Written by a feminist who would prefer to remain anonymous

“Dear gum-popping, strawberry lipgloss-wearing, 12 year old self with her Discman spinning the latest N’Sync album while thumbing the pages of Dolly,

While some things haven’t changed, such as your love for trashy 90s pop, a lot of other things have done so and for the better. 

All of that make-up and baggy clothing you hide under? You’re going gain the confidence to show the world who you are and instead use them as tools for expressing your inner self and personality.

Those magazines that make you feel inadequate and invisible? You’re going to learn to ignore them and find new role models that better reflect who you are and who you want to become.

The imperfections and blemishes that you resent? You’re going to learn to accept them as roadmaps that show where you have been in the past, like a tiger earning her stripes. 

That niggling thought at the back of your mind that you never meet anyone’s standards? You’ll learn that the problem isn’t you, that it’s in fact the unrealistic standards of society.

Those friends that tear you down to make themselves feel better? You’re going to meet intelligent, kind, caring, generous, and supportive people who will share their lives with you, some for a short while and others for a long while, and enrich it with their presence.

You already have the ability to do all of the above, but Feminism will help you with the process. It’ll provide you with the language to describe what you’re feeling, the tools to make society better, and friends to support you along the way. That’s just the beginning of it, though, you still have the rest of your life to explore yourself and society and hopefully make both happier. 

Best of luck,

A feminist.”

My Feminist Action Network went to Slut Walk! and all I got was this lousy feeling of discomfort

Written by the Zoe Bush,

When attending the SlutWalk rally on Sunday, FAN was deeply inspired by the bravery of women who shared their stories of sexual assault and agitated for their own liberation from the awful ideas that exist in rape culture. The criticisms in the following blog are in no way directed at the courageous organisers who committed a lot of time and energy to the event, but are rather offered as constructive commentary on how FAN believes we can better serve our mutual goals of liberation for all women.

It is not hard to see the appeal in SlutWalks – in an age where feminist activism often appears dead, women taking to the streets and demanding that enough is enough is exciting and empowering.

The fundamental message behind SlutWalks is also an absolutely essential one – that responsibility for sexual assault always falls on the perpetrator, and that how a person looks or acts NEVER explains or excuses sexual violence. The recent decision by a Manitoba judge to not sentence a rapist to jail time because his victim wore high heels, a tube top and was generally “inviting.”, reveals that this message is one that we still need to fight for (still!).

However, many members of FAN had serious concerns about how SlutWalks goes about making this demand, particularly surrounding the attempt to reclaim the word ‘slut’. But we decided to go – who were we to criticize SlutWalks without even attending the event and seeing for ourselves?

Initially hopeful, we arrived at the event hoping to be pleasantly surprised. However, what we found was an event saturated in post-feminist ideas of individual choice that only confirmed our initial criticisms and hesitations in supporting the event.

Not it’s time for me to stop alluding to all these ‘criticisms’ and actually explain.

By endorsing the word ‘slut’ as an empowering and liberating thing for women, SlutWalks facilitates neo-liberal, postfeminist discourses of ‘liberated’ women as  those wearing mini-skirts and high heels in/on their way to professional jobs. It buys into the commodification of women’s sexuality under capitalism, and simply repackages sexist imagery and actions in ‘empowering’ clothes, under the post-feminist façade of choice. It’s time we debunked these neo-liberal ideas of ‘anything-goes-so-long-as-we-call-it-a-choice’, and remember the role that choice plays in feminism.

Choice has been, and continues to be, essential to the feminist movement – it is thanks to feminists pushing for women’s right to choose that I am now able to vote, have a much greater deal of reproductive freedom and can go to university. However the idea of choice that I have to thank for these rights is a different one to that which is used in endorsing practices that have worked to sexually objectify women for decades as suddenly empowering because women ‘chose’ to participate in them. This re-appropriation of choice is done in an un-feminist way – in this discourse, choice is solely about individuals and is removed from any larger context. Not only does this understanding of ‘choice’ fail to address the structural oppression that prevents women from making free choices, this rhetoric is also dangerously easy to manipulate in order to actually limit choices for women.

One person’s freedom to make ‘choices’ may represent his or her feelings of personal empowerment in his or her own life, but in no way does this liberate anyone but that person and, in fact, his or her ‘choice’ may exist at the expense of another woman’s oppression. It is necessary to consider just who gets to ‘choose’ that being a ‘slut’ is suddenly a positive thing, who gets to ‘choose’ to play around with the idea of sexual objectification? These ‘choices’ are only available to those who feel safe enough and privileged enough to ‘play’ with these ideas. As expressed by the BlackWomen’s Blueprint:

As Black women, we do not have the privilege or the space to call ourselves “slut” without validating the already historically entrenched ideology and recurring messages about what and who the Black woman is.  We don’t have the privilege to play on destructive representations burned in our collective minds, on our bodies and souls for generations. [1]

Therefore these ‘choices’ are much more available to those women who already experience privilege.

This criticism of neo-liberal and post-feminist ideas of ‘choice’ is very relevant to SlutWalks. While the ‘choice’ by an individual woman to embrace the word ‘slut’ may be empowering for her in her own life, not only do I fail to see how this ‘choice’ liberates and empowers others, but the danger this poses to other women appears obvious. I’m afraid that I cannot see how embracing the word ‘slut’ presents a challenge to sexist imagery and discourse around women and female sexuality. Further to this, creating a space where it is not only acceptable, but progressive (!) for men to call women sluts seems like a very dangerous thing to do.

Let me use an example.

As the march progressed throughout the city and Northbridge, we were met with many jeers of ‘sluts!’, or ‘Good on ya, you sluts!’ from male passerby, laughing and thinking this whole fiasco was fantastic. Now I don’t know whether I was the only woman in the entire march who felt it, but when those words were tossed at us, it hurt. I did not feel liberated, and I definitely did not feel empowered. Yet in response to these jeers, one of the organisers would always respond with ‘Why, thank you!’.

I think this reveals the problem with Slutwalks. The word slut has been used to police, shame, guilt, objectify and hurt women. It is not our word. It has been a tool of violence against women. The danger is this – when a small group of predominantly white women decide that suddenly the word slut is a positive thing that they want to reclaim, their individual choices, while possibly evidencing empowerment in their own life, comes at the expense of those who have not been involved in that decision process. This can be seen in the anxiousness and resistance to reclaiming the word slut that has been expressed by women of colour. When that small group of predominantly white women take to the streets and inform the world that suddenly all women wear the badge ‘slut’ with pride, this normalizes the use of the word without changing its meaning for what I would imagine to be a vast majority of women, so that it may be used against them in hurtful ways.

Like every other post-feminist attempt to reclaim the sexual objectification women have been experiencing and fighting against for decades as a suddenly new and liberating sexuality for women, embracing the word ‘slut’ really is ‘drinking the systematic kool-aid’[2]. It degrades women to fuck objects – and who wants to give a fuck object rights? Who believes that fuck objects deserve equal pay? And who thinks that fuck objects should have the power to choose what happens to their own bodies? In only drawing attention to woman as sexual objects and ‘sluts’, Slutwalks fails to give women the full respect they deserve – as human beings with rights, hopes, ambitions and achievements. It seriously undermines women’s struggle to make gains in the workplace, the family, and every other aspect of their lives, and brings us back to square one where we are reduced to sexual objects.

But that’s not all – not only is an attempt to reclaim the word ‘slut’ problematic in how it buys into the dangerous discourses of post-feminism, I would argue that it is in fact nearly impossible. The word ‘slut’ only has meaning in the patriarchal ‘whore’ view of women’s sexuality. It is so saturated with the idea that female sexual energy deserves punishment that trying to change its meaning would be one serious uphill battle.

However, SlutWalks does not even attempt to change the problematic view of female sexual energy that the word ‘slut’ produces. At the march on Sunday, one of the placards stated that ‘A slut is a woman who likes sex, NOT someone who deserves to get raped!’. Let’s get something clear – it is not so strange for women to like sex that, when they do, they are different to ‘normal’ women and require their own label. Buying into the portrayal of women’s sexuality as deviant and troublesome is absolutely not the way to go about challenging the misogynist attitudes that perpetuate the risk of sexual violence that women face. To do this, we need to move beyond this redundant and extremely harmful stereotype.

And so slut is not a word we should (or I would even argue, can) reclaim.

As has already been said by many feminists, we already have a word for women who support a woman’s right to bodily integrity, who condemn victim-blaming, and believe that women should be able to express and experience their sexuality without being shamed or guilted, and that word is a feminist.  Feminism is a word and a movement that was created by women, it is ours. It is not sourced in an attempt to shame, guilt, humiliate and hurt women who exist outside the patriarchal capitalist ‘norm’ of women’s sexuality. Slut was never ours – it belongs to misogynists and was produced by the patriarchy.

Feminism is our word and our movement.  It does everything that the attempt to reclaim the word ‘slut’ does and much, much more.  Let’s take to the streets and demand an end to this bullshit idea that how a person looks or acts can explain or excuse sexual violence. But let’s do it in a way that does nor marginalize and oppress other women in that process. Let’s do it in a way that challenges the structural oppression faced by women as a collective. Let’s not drink the kool-aid. Let’s agitate for change without employing the discourses that are part of the problem. And let’s be oh-so-radical and demand nothing less than our full liberation.

This post first appeared on Feminist Action Network’s blog. You can ‘like’ them on Facebook here

Fuck You Frankie I Don’t Want To Bake


By Rosa Sottile, 

So, Frankie.

I would say I am disappointed, but I’m not. Unfortunately I’ve come to expect this sort of thing.

You, like most media that touts itself as “alternative”, “different” or “independent” from mainstream pop culture is so often just the same stuff wrapped up in hand dyed fabric in front of a soft-focus photograph of a field.

I bought your most recent issue for some plane reading, but I couldn’t even stomach reading most of your articles (apart from Benjamin Law’s) due to the bubbling volcano of impotent rage I felt every time I turned a page.

It’s not just the fact that the only pictures of people (out of 130+ pages) that weren’t straight, thin and white were in one photo of a band, a sexist ad, an article by a fashion designer who said that “traditional feminine clothing” needed to be revived, and some photos of people in Aleppo, Syria, pre-war, photographed by and described by a photographer from London.

(This article, about a woman who took a holiday to Syria, took up 3 pages without a word from anyone actually from there or anything why would you need that guys I mean really this white lady has all the answers.)

So there’s that. Let’s call it what it is guys, straight up racism via total erasure.

The second big, huge, weird oppressive thing this magazine, and so many other parts of this “indie” culture bullshit does: patriarchal gender norms are cool!!!!

Yep, articles about (straight white ladies and dudes) crafting, cooking, about making appropriately “feminine” clothing, home decoration, running clothing and cake shops, fashion and being married (SO MANY ABOUT MARRIAGE OH LORD) and buying accessories to these activities are literally the ENTIRE MAGAZINE.

That and ads.

I have nothing against cooking, crafting, preserving – whatever, you want to do that, that’s fine.

But when an entire magazine, marketed at young women, as an “alternative” culture magazine contains only articles celebrating straight white women doing domestic tasks, you can consider my eyebrows well and truly raised.

Rosa is the National Education Officer for NUS. She’s currently working on the NUS Quality Survey, which she’d sure like you to fill out here. You can follow Rosa on twitter with @nus_education. Rosa is actually an excellent cook and quite likes to bake – but not because Frankie tells her to. 

An Open Letter to Ladies from the loving butch at the end of the bar

By Alex West,

Let’s talk about the pink elephant in the room:

I am Gay.

So Gay.

As Gay as a handbag full of rainbows.

No really, that gay.

A big, fat, leather boot wearing, liberal, dyke on a bike.

I am ok with that.

My mum is ok with that.

But, there is something I wanted to ask: why are YOU not ok with that?

I ask this question with much love and appreciation for my sisters. But there is something that I have noticed: the queerer I look, the more androgynous my bowtie; the less I am able find acceptance from my feminist sisters in some social contexts. Here is a secret that I desperately want you to know:

My having fancies and lust for those of the lady variety does not make me a misogynist.

I do not don bowties or oxfords to conform to the patriarchy, which has been suggested to me of late. I just appreciate the feeling of a stiff collar and dapper wear. There exists in the lady community a misunderstanding. My gender identity and sexuality are not things that I choose or use to my advantage.

After reading Dee’s blog, I have reflected on some women’s reaction to noticeably queer or butch women. We are perceived as objectifying and preying on women in the same way some men do in seedy bars that play, “I’m sexy and I know it!” while wearing square toed fake leather shoes. This perception exists whether I have acted inappropriately or come on too strong. Like most women, I dislike rejection, and try to use my “gaydar” to ensure that women of the same persuasion receive my attentions. My clothes do not make me a man that touched your arse in the corner of the silent train carriage.

Don’t get me wrong, like women.

I love girls with tattooed décolletage, high heels and lipstick. I like to make you laugh and buy you red wine, open the door, pull out your chair and basically just Mr Darcy the fuck out of you. I do all this not to get into your pants, objectify or trick you; but to show appreciation. And because my mumma raise me to be a gentlewoman.

I love ladies, but I also love myself.

By Alex West.

The loving butch at the end of the bar

Alex is the Tasmanian State Branch President of the National Union of Students. Tasmanian University Union Sexuality Officer and Producer of Edge n Bacon and Tom, Dick and Harriet on Edge Radio. She is also apparently gay and when she was 7 wanted to be Marry Poppins. You can friend the show here

Sorry, you’re what a feminist looks like??? Thoughts on the NUS Women’s Department “The F Word” Campaign

 By Emma Di Bernardo

Earlier this year, the NUS Women’s Department ran a campaign called “The F Word”, encouraging debate about why women who believe in women’s issues don’t like to call themselves feminists, and encouraging women to become the new f word.

It got me thinking how feminists are perceived, and how feminists “really” are. We are forever going to try to steer away from the negative overused idea and visual image that feminists are all white, hairy-underarmed, unnecessarily angry, lesbian women – because we are never seen as people of differing genders or non-genders and ethnicities, hairy-underarmed or not, passionate for a reason, who don’t see lesbianism or any other sexuality and identity as a negative other to be called.

The F Word campaign was a hard task by NUS – to try and encapsulate what being a feminist is – and I think by focusing on what feminists in Australia ultimately stand for in a general, broad sense was an excellent way to go. As anyone knows, putting a set definition on what an identity is can be problematic, have negative consequences as almost certainly something will be missed or have less emphasis in this definition. NUS’ campaign wasn’t about projecting a certain image of feminists visually, but textually – something that I think was great by stopping any definitions being underpinned by what feminists look like or appear to be.

There were three main posters (which you can find under the ‘resources’ tab on this site!) which were all black text with a white background. No images – just awesome phrases like, “I’m just as good as you are, just as valid.” It managed to encapsulate issues feminists stand up for, like equal pay, and not being victimised or villainised for choices around sexuality. It wasn’t about projecting a certain visual representation of a woman, which would send messages of the ‘ideal’ feminists and obviously would be targeting an audience, whether intentional or not. Although I think the campaign could be potentially read as being more focused on cis-gendered women, there is room for interpretation because of the textual nature.

My idea of what a feminist is always changing and growing to fit identities – I think feminists are undefinable, and I like that. However, I also realise how problematic that becomes when it comes to recruiting new people to hop aboard The F Word train. Focussing on issues rather than image or confined definition, I think, is very feminist to the core.

I’m sure someone will disagree with that definition, however!

Emma is a member of the UQ Women’s Collective and the editor of their Zine Wom*n’s news. The new edition comes out today! You can read past editions in the ‘Resources’/Zines tab of the blog or on their blog here. If you’re interested in the new f word campaign the posters are here

What’s your childhood trauma?! Women CEO’s and what makes them good at being men

By the University of Queensland Women’s Collective,

A member of the UQ Women’s Collective was recently surprised and dismayed to come across an article in ‘Momentum’, the magazine of the UQ Business School. The article profiled male and female CEOs, essentially arguing that virtually all female CEOs have had dramatic or traumatic childhoods, which equipped them with the leadership and adaptation skills necessary for success in the business world. Meanwhile, male CEOs were seemingly endowed with these skills naturally – which, the author seemed to suggest, was largely due to the presence of a stay-at-home mother. As a collective, we were upset with the researcher’s methods, tone, assumptions and conclusions, and so we wrote a complaint letter to the magazine to tell them so.

To whom it may concern

On behalf of the UQ Women’s Collective, I am writing to register my disappointment at the publication of a recent Momentum article – ‘Women at the top’, by Dr. Terrance Fitzsimmons. While we welcome the fact that new research is being conducted on the phenomena of Australia’s embarrassingly low rate of female CEOs, we found this article to be offensive and damaging.

Firstly, we found Dr Fitzsimmons’ research methods to be questionable in the following areas:

a)    Self-selecting participants with no subject matching criteria.

b)   No verification of participant responses (e.g. the claim that most male CEOs were football captains. It is no secret that people can and do invent past achievements – for instance, the CEO of Yahoo blatantly lied about having a Bachelor’s Degree.)

c)    Bias introduced by having the interviews carried out by the investigator rather than a question script presented by a blind actor.

d)   Bias introduced again by the investigator coding his transcripts without using multiple blind.

e)    No consideration of the type of life events considered significant by patriarchal gender expectations (e.g. social emphasis on women; achievement emphasis on men). Instead the investigator asked only about significant life events.

f)     Interview times were significantly longer for female participants (70 minutes, as opposed to 48 minutes). If the interviewer emphasised certain areas repeatedly with only the female participants, the results are no longer valid.

g)    Conclusions not supported by statistics or even raw numbers of the contextual categories between groups, although they were supposedly coded. Statements are supported solely with exemplar quotes and blanket statements such as ‘a trend emerged’.

Reading Dr Fitzsimmons’ thesis, we were particularly troubled by page 184, which contained a diagrammatic representation of the different roles prescribed by male and female CEOs to their (heterosexual) parents. While female CEOs prescribe a spread of values to both their fathers (including equality) and mothers (including integrity, work ethic, leadership and self-efficacy), male CEOs label their fathers’ roles to include ‘dominance’, ‘maleness’ (as if maleness were a widely accepted trait as opposed to a contested social construction) and ‘self-efficacy’ and prescribe the sole value of ‘supports male’ to their mothers.

Dr Fitzsimmons presented these traits as fact, rather than participant opinion. We find it difficult to believe that there exist so many women who have no values at all except to support men, and would postulate that these data in fact reflect the blatantly sexist attitudes of male CEOs. From which one might pose the alternative hypothesis that such attitudes from current (male) CEOs either affects, or are representative of the attitudes of the executive boards that appoints new CEOs (and executive board members, and upper management roles etc), resulting in the under-representation of women in these positions.

Furthermore, we were troubled by Dr Fitzsimmons’ assertion that “[t]here is nothing you can do right now to fix the problem, no matter how much legislation you ram through, because you are talking about a deep-seated cultural issue”. This statement seems to offer an excuse for governments, companies and current CEOs to not even attempt drafting equal opportunity laws, employing more women in higher-level positions, or fostering a workplace culture that encourages and supports women.

As is surely obvious, people in positions of power do not willingly give away that power. They must be forced to, and often the only way this can take place is through changes to the law. In asserting that the CEO gender gap is a “deep-seated cultural issue”, Dr Fitzsimmons discounts and ignores the enormous possibility of legislation (as a tool and reflection of culture) to effect cultural change. (He also contradicts himself later, by stressing the importance of governmental support for extended childcare hours.) We offer the situation of Norway (now one of the most ‘equal’ countries in the world, following the introduction of a quota system) as an example of successful change through legislation.

We were also extremely disappointed by the lack of attention paid to men’s roles. The ‘conundrum of the working women’ is a trope that too often ignores the immense capability of men to assist with child-rearing and housework. Thus women find themselves working two jobs – one in the ‘formal’ workforce, and one in their own homes. Dr Fitzsimmons seems to recognise this latter point, but encourages increased childcare subsidies, instead of an expectation that men take an equal role in looking after the home and children that belong to them just as much as to their female partners.

Furthermore, childcare and housework services bring their own problems – although useful for working women, it is largely ignored that childcare workers, nannies and housekeepers are women of a lower socio-economic status, often women of colour. This perpetuates gender and race stereotypes at the expense of allowing a certain type of woman (white, upper-middle class) to ‘get ahead’ in the workforce.

We were especially disheartened by the lack of solution offered by Dr Fitzsimmons. If he discounts legislation, what is left? Does he wish to let time pass and hope the issue will resolve itself? As mentioned before, power is never given willingly – it must be taken, often after generations of perpetuating the ideal of a more just, inclusive and equal society. We feel that Dr Fitzsimmons’ research insults and damages the work that many are doing to advance towards such a society.

In disappointment

The University of Queensland Women’s Collective

The UQ Women’s Collective meets every Monday at 11am in the Women’s Room (Building 21A, upstairs). If you’re interested in heading along. You can greet them on Facebook by clicking here or send them an email here. Their fantastic women’s zine is available in the resources tab or by clicking here. You can read the original article http://uqbs.com/momentum/women-at-the-top/

NeuroSex: Or, The “delicacy of the brain fibers” in women prevents complex thought

By Boo Patrick

“The delicacy of the brain fibers” in women prevents complex thought.

            Nicholas Malebranche, 17th century

Seeing that the average brain-weight of women is about five ounces less than that of men, on merely anatomical grounds we should be prepared to expect a marked inferiority of intellectual power in the former… the inferiority displays itself most conspicuously in a comparative absence of originality, and this more especially in the higher levels of intellectual work.

George Romanes, 19th century

[On why there is a lack of women in high-end science-related positions] ”…in the special case of science and engineering, there are issues of intrinsic aptitude… reinforced by what are in fact lesser factors involving socialization and continuing discrimination”

Lawrence Summers, Harvard President, 21st century

Neuroscience has been used often in history, to give bullshit a sense of credibility.  This article in no way intends to disavow the many researchers who treat their material with discernment, and, dare I say it, delicacy; I hope only to make evident the raging fictions abounding in popular science, and to stress the significance of human agency when confronting gender issues.

Brains are elastic…

And we are only just beginning to understand to what extent.  Just as, with blindness, the visual cortex is automatically used to processes tactile sensations,[i] people can train their brains to become more adept at certain activities.  Such is evidenced in the work of Barbara Arrowsmith-Young, who, after hearing about a study that contrasted the brain development of rats in stimulation-rich cages, with those in sterile environments, figured that if rats could grow their brains, so could she.  Born with a severely asymmetric brain, which allowed her to remember entire news shows, but not to tell the time – she repetitively performed the tasks she found the hardest.  This method proved so successful that she opened a school, and has seen many children achieve similar results – all through her claim to a better brain.[ii]

…and we don’t understand everything about them…

The idea that the abilities of one’s brain are both fixed, and determined by biological sex, saturates western media, as do the assertions that males are naturally better at maths and science, and females more adept communicators.  Through the course of my research, it has become increasingly obvious that this is oversimplification at its finest, and that, when performing complex activities, many different parts of the brain are in dialogue with each other.

Rather than attempting to explain gendered gaps, ‘neuroscience’, as it appears in popular culture has become a buzzword in itself, and a way of selling sexism, without appearing sexist.[iii]  Rather than reading, “Women are better drivers than men” (an incorrect statement, in case you were wondering) one can state that “Women have less developed spatial awareness stemming from their underdeveloped left hemispheres”.  Sounds legitimate, right?

…but some people pretend that they do, and it sucks.

Many studies have been used to retrospectively explain why things are the way they are, namely, why the achievements of women have been dwarfed by men.  In order to do so, ‘scientists’ throughout history have attempted to track down the source of woman’s inferiority, and, with the emergence of neuroscience in the seventeenth century; the brain was increasingly used as the site of weakness.

In the nineteenth century, many women were institutionalized for suffering from “hysteria”.  Used to encompass any illness experienced by women, biologists asserted that it was caused by a woman’s ‘wandering womb’, as the womb would move around inside the body, searching for a sexual outlet.[iv]  Though the theory sounds ridiculous now, its core principle – that women are controlled by their hormones, and cannot be angry without being irrational/PMS’ing – remains commonplace.  In this sense, neuroscience has been used only to justify social attitudes, without telling us anything.


If our brains are as ‘plastic’, or susceptible to change as has been indicated, it is perhaps more fruitful to explore how thought is influenced by social conditioning, rather than merely projecting social hierarchies upon data.

In 2008, Science magazine published an article called ‘Culture, Gender, and Math’, which argued that internationally, as female emancipation rises, the gender gap in mathematics is removed, explaining the disparity as being due to sexist social attitudes, rather than biology.[v]

In another study conducted by Angela Moe, participants were told to complete a mental rotation test, for which men typically account for 75% of the top scores.  The test is often used to explain men’s dominance in math/science fields.  They were split into three groups; the first group was told that men had a genetic advantage in taking the test, the second group was the control, and the third was told that women were more adept at the task.  In both the first and second groups, the men came out ahead, while in the third, men and women performed equally.[vi]  When scrutinized, the results of these studies show the significance of cultural factors in determining people’s abilities.  They illustrate an idea that should be considered obvious – that without self-belief, and a supporting network, it is much more difficult to achieve success.  Stereotypical generalities, that men make bad communicators and women bad inventors, can therefore behave as self-fulfilling prophecies and suppress ability, as they force people to identify with a position of weakness.

…and Intervention

Curious as to why women are still so underrepresented in science/engineering fields in Australia,[vii] I interviewed several female engineers, employed at a major international biotech company.  Each person believed that talking to female high school students, and ‘demystifying’ engineering and what such jobs entail, is the most effective way of enhancing women’s involvement in the field, as getting people started is the critical step.  One engineer commented that many of her intelligent female friends were flabbergasted at the prospect of being an engineer, as they had the impression that it must be beyond their capabilities.  Having been profiled so long as the domain of eccentric, white male geniuses, it is understandable that some girls, living in a culture still marked as patriarchal, could feel inadequate, and intimidated by science.  Groups such as RoboGals have sought to remove from science its sense of mystique, as they show female students how to program robots, showing them an accessible engineering, and presenting them with more diverse role models.

One scientist noted that the advertising used to entice school-leavers into engineering programs often relied upon traditionally male visual codes, as they focused on the large and fast machines that engineers build – a model that potentially alienated female viewers.  She suggested that, by representing other facets of an engineer’s role – such as their potential to benefit third world communities – a wider selection of people could be attracted.

Rather than hiding behind the sexist generalities of popular science and culture, major technology-based institutions – through starting female leadership programs, and encouraging paternal, as well as maternal leave – are taking responsibility for gender imbalances, and attempting to rectify them.

The best, and also the worst thing, about neuroplasticity?  Things can change, but it’s up to us.

Boo is a member of the University of New South Wales Women’s collective. You can check them out on Facebook here. They’re doing a call out at present for Art works for a national competition ‘What is a woman?’. Contact them on Facebook to express interest. 

[i] S Begley, ‘Math is Hard, Barbie Said’, in Newsweek Magazine, October, 2008.

[ii] J Hawley, ‘How to rewire a brain’, in Good Weekend Magazine, March 2012.

[iii] C Fine, Delusions of Gender: how our minds, society, and neurosexism create difference, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2010, p. 168.

[iv] M Schutzman, The Real Thing: performance, hysteria, & advertising, Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1999, p. 34.

[v] L Guiso, F Monte, P Sapienza and L Zingales, ‘Culture, Gender and Math’ in, Science, Vol. 320, 2008, pp. 1164-1165.

[vi] C Fine, op. cit., p. 28.

[vii] In 2009, women made up 9.6% of the engineering workforce. Engineers Australia Statistical Overview, 2009.

Hey Slut! On loathing slut walk and the rest of it.

There are a few things that I really, really loathe about what’s happening in the feminist movement at the moment. Katy Perry as a feminist icon, thinking that ‘cos you’re a feminist you can totally put other women down without it being problematic and the ‘reclamation’ of the word ‘slut’. 

I would literally give all of the money in the world (which I’m relatively sure sits at around negative $2,000 plus HECS debt) if someone could just make it go away.

I loathe it for so many reasons, but the most recent comes from an unnamed source which broke my heart, I won’t say much except to say that outside of our contained world, where political correctness reigns and the tiniest misstep can lead to ostracisation from the ‘sisterhood’ slut hasn’t been reclaimed at all. ‘Slut’ is hurled at the feet of young women and it makes them feel dirty, ashamed and worthless.

There is no male equivalent, there is no way to make a supposed promiscuous nature into a reduction of worth for men. ‘Man Slut’ applied to men holds none of the same hatred, none of the same connotations, it can be held up as a badge of honour.

While we were marching chanting ‘I’m a slut, slut, slut’ young women in schools and their late teens/early 20’s were getting the same thing told to them, but they didn’t have the same luxury of chanting it proudly. For them they know what it means, it means being used, being abused, being worthless.

I understand that the point of slut walk is to try and make those connotations go away, but that’s not really how it works. We should be challenging the use of the word at all, not try and reclaim it. ‘Reclaiming’ the N word in the United States hasn’t make it feel any better when people hurl it at the feet of people. Relaiming the word ‘Wog’ in Australia hasn’t meant that racists using the term no longer feel free to use it.

More importantly, it keeps meaning the same thing regardless, should we really be willing to accept there being a word for women who have ‘a lot’ of sex when there isn’t one for men? Not to mention, that ‘slut’ isn’t really about sex anyway. It’s about the fact that men think they have the right and the ability to make you dirty with one word alone. “Don’t be like that, everyone knows you’re a slut”.

Slut Walk got a big crowd, I didn’t go. I got called a slut in high school. I know what it feels like, how they use it to make you into something less. There’s been studies done which show that for young women, particularly young low SES women, the label of ‘slut’ has similar symptoms as those exhibited by people with post-traumatic stress disorder. You didn’t feel that way? Good for you, other people do, and reclamation doesn’t work, it just makes it more acceptable for other to use to word.

I haven’t been called a slut for a lot of years, but I remember what it felt like. I know what it feels like for young women who are still called it today. Slut Walk didn’t even appear on their radar, they were too busy knowing what it really meant to be called that.

One of my friends went to slut walk in Melbourne in 2011. I asked her how it was and she said, “Yeah, at first it was really fun, but after a while you’re just yelling slut over and over again” and crumpled her face.

I’ll bet you all the money in my pockets, against all the money in your pockets, that her feeling won’t change no matter how many times we march. Make it go away, some words shouldn’t be reclaimed because some feelings can’t be. Slut is absolutely an example of this. We need to make it stop.



Why Being Crude, Rude and Damn Well Inappropriate Is Something Women Should Aspire To

An opinion piece by Ruth Horsfall, Member of the UQ Womyn’s Collective

This piece was first published in Wom* News, The Zine of the UQ Wom*n’s Collective. Issue 4: Sex Through a feminist lens. Find a copy of the zine in the new ‘Zines/Collective Resources’ Tab


There are two things in life that are thoroughly enjoyable to me: a) having a good argument about something that means a lot to me and b) being deeply inappropriate when it comes to all matters of sex, bodily functions and other things that when you talk about them crudely and in graphic detail, can be uproariously fun (we can also add watching endless episodes of ‘Parks and Recreation’ and wishing I was Amy Poehler to the list of ‘Thoroughly Enjoyable Life Activities’ – but that’s for another time). If you have like-minded friends, which I am lucky enough to, this activity is probably one that happens on a daily basis – especially if you’re all having a myriad of very enjoyable health problems such as Urinary Tract Infections.

However, the greater population does not always welcome this kind of talk, and that is a problem. Women are still expected to uphold a certain degree of modesty and decorum, even amongst friends (often male) and can be made to feel shameful and humiliated talking about perfectly natural occurrences.

Obviously for such uncouth talk, there is always a time and a place. I doubt the job interviewer will appreciate your monologue on how you were late because you were, to quote Cher Horowitz, ‘surfing the crimson wave (Clueless, 1995)’. However, even among close acquaintances in informal social situations, it is considered ‘icky’ or ‘gross’ if a female was to mention something personal about her body – men say, ‘we don’t want to hear about your periods, or if you’re constipated; it’s disgusting’.

They seem to enjoy stories of you having sex, in a way that a voyeur enjoys hearing a dirty story, but they shy away from specific details of a vagina, or if you experienced something like say, bleeding post-coitus. And I mean, everyone is shy and nervous in those first few months of a relationship, but you still hear of that girl who, years into her relationship, has never gone for a number two at her boyfriend’s place – I mean, god forbid that he know you have an arsehole and a functioning bowel movements, LIKE EVERYONE ELSE.

Women shouldn’t have to feel this way – it shouldn’t have to be embarrassing to talk about your body. If something you have said has made someone uncomfortable and they mention this discretely to you, that should be fine; but under no circumstances should you have to feel dirty or abnormal because someone has reacted so negatively to something you told them, possibly in confidence.

This unwillingness to know their bodies and be comfortable with the weird and wonderful things, often negatively impacts women in regards to having sex. Sex is a deeply personal activity and if something unexpected happens, and the partner isn’t willing to address or discuss it, it can be incredibly traumatic. Often you just need to be able to laugh about it, and women shouldn’t be made to feel like lesser people.

Talking about sex brings almost as much joy as the act itself and can go a long way to reassuring each other that you’re perfectly normal – it’s like when you finally got the courage to talk to your friend about masturbation and were shocked (and pleasantly surprised) to discover they did it too. Derision from men towards women who are comfortable talking about their bodily functions, sex and how much they enjoy it, reeks of the old adage, ‘women should be seen and not heard’.

Men are still confronted and deeply intimidated by women who are open about their sexuality. Just last week, Fung (2012) wrote about how American talk back radio host Rush Limbaugh (a man so hideous I hate to even type his name) called Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke a ‘slut’, ‘prostitute’ and suggested if the government were to pay for her Pill that she should have to film herself having sex and put it online for viewing purposes – after she made public her support for government funded insurance that would cover free contraception. He is not alone. His sentiment was echoed by Republican candidate Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum (the same Santorum who said: ”[Contraception] is not OK. It’s a licence to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” – The Age) and a number of other conservatives.

Men like Limbaugh are not even really worth our time because they are so old-fashioned and cruel-hearted towards any sort of minority, let alone women, that their perspective will never be changed – but it is a sad indictment of society that they are allowed to say those things and indicates that there is still simmering antagonism towards female sexual freedom. Not only that, women who state that they enjoy sex, and have sex frequently, are STILL humiliated and stigmatised in this outdated manner.

On a more hopeful note, last Sunday, arguably the most well-known feminist of our time, Germaine Greer, spoke at ‘The F-Word’ in Sydney, about all things feminism. Sarah McDonald attended and wrote a follow up article in The Daily Life about why women should be more difficult. After observing Greer on Sunday evening (and probably for years before that), McDonald noted what most of us are already aware of – Greer is incredibly controversial. And she is controversial because she refuses to pander to anyone’s opinion but her own – and in the author’s words: ‘She genuinely doesn’t care if she annoys, alienates or threatens men. Or women. And in not caring she shows us true liberation’.

What Greer speaks of is patriarchal repression, which still sadly reverberates with women – a belief that they should always be pleasing and compliant. As a result, she believes (and so should we) that women should be ‘difficult’ – and being difficult is talking about your period even though people may think you’re disgusting, being difficult is wanting to discuss the gross noises vaginas make when you have sex and being difficult may just be not shaving your legs, because you honestly just don’t care.

Talking about these sorts of personal and confronting issues may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but no woman should ever have to feel ashamed or humiliated in any capacity simply because she has chosen to vocalise about something relevant to her, something she may have been working up the courage to talk about for a while.

Openness breeds more openness, and the more wildly spread the message that ‘talking about your bits is cool, kids!’ is, the more comfortable women can all be with their bodies, the things it puts them through and most importantly, being able to enjoy sex on your own terms. It leads to better sex and stronger relationships and (hopefully) the proliferation of hilarious terms such as ‘lady boner’, which is something all women deserve.