Wednesday, 24 August 2016

The History Of Hobbling Women.

Along with two of my dearest feminist friends, Camilla Mills and Sue Veneer I visited this exhibition in Bowes Museum last week titled "Shoes - Pleasure and Pain". It is a touring exhibition from the V&A Museum. It will be going around the world subsequently and the message it gives to women and men is damaging and unacceptable.

The curator is Helen Persson. We are surprised by this because we all assumed it would be a man. A man who found the pain of women amusing. A misogynist. As we know ....some women internalise men's misogyny. Helen.... step forward for your cookie.

The presentation of the opening to the museum itself gives it context.... that context is a sex show. This is how men are enticed to view women who are sexually exploited is it not?

Because it looks very much like this and that is not a random choice by the curator....

And that normalises the exploitation of women and the acceptability of shoes as a uniform worn for that exploitation. The entrance is reminiscent of a portico to a venue where women may have been trafficked. The title of the exhibition suggests that there will be some sort of analysis of the painful aspect of all this. The blood red that bathes the exhibition would tend to suggest that there will be a balance. There isn't.

The exhibition celebrates and admires footwear which has inflicted upon women pain, degradation, suffering and control. It celebrates whilst offering virtually no criticism. This should be a history of the horrors that have existed throughout time to disfigure the feet of women. An effort to destabilise them, to sexualise them and to stereotype them. This should be a comment on binding women for male pleasure. This should be a comment on the need to disempower them by literally "wrong-footing" them. It isn't. There is absolutely zero of critical value in the presentation of these oppressive symbols.

The shoes themselves as historical artefacts are not the problem. The imposed narrative is. Let's have a look....

"Stripper Heels"....

"Strippers" are sexually exploited women and the shoes they wear as uniform are a symbol of that oppression. The V and A... a well-respected museum will surely offer a balanced view of that?
It seems that the V&A think that being an exploited woman is something we should emulate. We should mimic a woman who is being paid for by men. It can't be a bad idea. Helen Mirren does it? The term "stripper" itself trivialises the process of exploitation. It makes it "entertainment" and not objectification and degradation. 

Surely there can be a critique of the historical element of oppressing women via shoes? Something that makes the systematic oppression of women, including that embedded in the clothing they have been forced to wear, obvious. Surely...?

"The Naughty Nineties"

 Not a word of criticism from the V&A. The shoes are "naughty" as are the times. But in a sexually provocative way. Words like "fetish" and "pornographic" go unchallenged. The word "naughty" implies exciting deviance. It does not discuss the accompanying oppression and manipulation. The word "eroticise" is used about the heel. This is something a woman must balance on, often painfully, in order to sexually please a man's desire to see her leg displayed at its most aesthetically pleasing. To him.

Tight Laced

This is often used to suggest sexual repression. It is frequently presented as an unattractive characteristic in women who should of course make themselves sexually available to men.

 Again there is a lack of any challenge to the obvious message of the binding of women. Women are bound in order to tantalise males. The description of the way the shoes mimic corsets is fine with the V&A. Big tick. The fact that corsets disfigured women. Made them faint. Stopped their periods and changed their spines. All totally ok. Doing that to feet? Its just a massive turn on. Look at the words and how positive they are.... "excites" "desire" "promise" "daring" "flashed" "tantalisingly". Not one word about the constraint. The pain. The restriction of women's freedom. Not a word of it. Which brings us on to one of the cruellest types of footwear.....

Fashionable Binding....

One of the cruellest and most barbaric practices to be inflicted on women in history was the binding of the feet of Chinese girls. It was a breathtakingly brutal practice. The feet of young girls were tightly and very painfully bound to stop them growing. This led to disability. They were hobbled. Unable to walk without pain. This was seen as "beauty". By whom? For whom did young girls need to remain young girls in order to be beautiful? For men. This is how a damaged foot would actually look. The bottom of the foot shows toes. Not blisters. The 2 images below i have selected. They were not included in the exhibition. They were conspicuously absent.

These images make me sob. The V&A chose to present it thus......

Note the choice of vocabulary that is prominent and the absence of words of cruelty and oppression. Words like "wishes", "aspiration", "desirable" are not balanced with any criticism of this appalling practice. This was sickening to observe and the V&A should be thoroughly ashamed of the neglect of criticism which acknowledges the suffering of Chinese women.

What of the men who design the shoes?

Sexy Soles....

Emma Thomson notoriously and visually criticised Christian Louboutin at the Golden Globe awards by showing the soles of his shoes, which are "humorously" blood red by taking them off, holding them up to the audience and saying "See this? It's my blood." before throwing them over her shoulder. Louboutin is the king of high heels. Here is a shot of some of his shoes. You know the things we wear to keep our feet protected from the elements.

Or is it so that we can be "supremely sexy" while we navigate the "dramatic pitch" (have our arches painfully angled) over a "superfine stiletto heel" (balance our wide heels on a needle) ? The blood red soles are a "joke". An in joke by a man who hates women. There is nothing funny about convincing women to spend hundreds of pounds in order to please men while in extreme pain. Look at this sketch from the exhibition. He obviously enjoys the thought of a pool of a woman's blood beneath his shoes.

The V&A however are comfortable celebrating his continued abuse of women both physically and financially. Likewise the way they present shoes from cinematic history.....

For the V&A to accompany the description of shoes which disable women and force them to crawl with the adjective "erotic" is offensive to women everywhere. The use of "impossibly" is not offered with any trace of irony. It is impossible to wear the shoes so a woman is forced to crawl at which point a man can see her vulnerable. He can see her sole/soul. She is powerless, weak and open to sexual assault. The accompanying pornographic image is freely on display for children at eye-level.

Further on the subject of pornography and shoes, and much of this exhibition focuses on how lovely it is for women to be sexually available and shaped for the pleasure of men right down to their toes, the V&A calls it "naughty". It likes the word "naughty". There is nothing "naughty" or "mischievous" about pornography. It is degrading, dehumanising and is currently ruining the potential sex lives of boys and girls up and down the land. Ask them. The V&A however think it is "chic". Possibly in a trendy, cute way. A woman being repeatedly anally raped on camera isn't cute.

Inspired by the footwear of a "certain clientele". Prostitutues then? That would be women whose bodies are bought by men. Slaves some might say.

Dangerous Heels...

Then comes a nice little venture into victim-blaming. "Women eh? You sell em ridiculous and dangerous shoes and they wear em and then their feet hurt and they can't walk properly. Silly women." Might I also take the time to remind the V&A that women who have been conditioned into wearing high heels are also unable to run away from predatory men. Missing a bus is really the least of our worries. We need to fight off misogynist shoe designers first.

Cinderella Shoes....

The V&A is very proud of having on display the glass slipper from the latest Cinderella film. As a piece of cinema history this is indeed interesting.

but let's look at the accompanying message.

So the message is very much that there is "no margin for error" if you want to be the perfect woman and find the "prince" who will free you. You need to be able to wear a shoe which is made of the hardest of materials and is unforgiving and painful. This is the perfection women should aspire to. 

This gets worse. This is a museum where young girls were happily wandering and this is the message the V&A were happy with. 

There is no criticism of this narrative offered. True love awaits a perfect girl. Shoes can "transform" her from her imperfect self so that she can be married and become the possession of a rich man. Is this really something we want to "teach" our girls? The final line of this is editorial. It is not tongue in cheek or dripping with sarcasm. It is offered as fact!

The Men..... 

So what was there available for comment on men's footwear?

Here's some trainers. They are comfy. They come in different colours. Crack on. 

The V&A should be ashamed of the curation of this exhibition. 

[The Bowes Museum itself is very beautiful and I recommend anyone to visit it. It displayed a fine collection of paintings by Josephine Bowes. Unfortunately the Bowes website describes her as a "talented amateur" despite some extremely skilful and striking landscapes and works of cliffs and the sea which were stunningly moving. She wasn't a man though. Just a woman with a box of felt tips or something. ]

Doffing my cap to a "talented amateur" with a few felt tips. #JosephineBowes  

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

The Bloodline.

(Written about a day at the beach when a girl finally came to understand the fight and the love.)

Her first bikini,
Don't look style.
Stood out a mile.

In the sea we smiled
And swam
And chattered the easy layers
Of growing up and apart
We faced together.

Blue green glimmers
Of her future
Lapped at her hair
I held her
I must let her go

She stayed briefly beside
the waves
I sighed
Sat with my sister
Her beautiful,
Clumsy, quiet, youth.

Soon, splashing to shore
She brought her gold
Back to my spot
The shine to my side
My sparkling jewel girl.

Blood came then.

It was not slow or shy,
It rushed down her legs
Launched by the sea
A river roar.

Women saw.

Stranger women circled
around and beside us,
Tried to hide us.
Offered up towels
As shrouds of kindness

I gently rocked her
Stroked her cheek and hair
Told her of proud red
and why women had said
They care.

We rocked her
mopped her
Staunched the flow
Patched her up
And caught her.

Women are swift
And deftly handle
Other women's distress
Like darning a damaged
Cloth of fine wool

She, held head high,
Firm of heart,
It was another part
Of the war
She never saw start.

She is a warrior my girl,
She comes from the brave
Uncowed, unbowed, firm
She will go on to save

This is what women know
There is a flow
From woman to woman
A gift of shared blood
Of shared battle
Shared flood.

No man came near
Men have fear
Of uniting women
Who link with centuries
Of other women
Bleeding their love
On each other.

We can touch
At times like these
We can put our fingers
On blood not lips
And dip our sleeves
In the work of sisters
From before
It's in our core
To tame our blood.

This, my sisters
Is shared girlhood.

Jean Hatchet

Friday, 29 July 2016

Dear girls. Your perfect hair is the perfect distraction.

Have you heard of baking your face? How about contouring? How about shaving your entire face?

To young girls... very young in some cases.... these are now just a thing you do. If you want to look "perfect" that is. Or even just acceptable. Even just "normal".

I was speaking to the 14 year old daughter of my friend yesterday. She was interested in what I was saying about male violence. Suddenly though, her face contorted and she leaned across the table in a concerned fashion with her voice lowered to impart a bit of advice.

She whispered to me, "The left side of your hair is hanging in curtains!"

What this meant was that I had tucked my hair behind my ear as I spoke and it wasn't falling quite perfectly.

I launched into a discussion of airbrushing, photoshopping, the media's unrealistic presentation of a woman's body and fragmentation of the female body and male gaze theory etc etc. My friend's daughter could hear not one word. She could only focus on my hair. She was unable to see or hear me. I pointed out that men murder women with perfect hair. Men rape women with imperfect, unruly hair like mine. Men rape women who have or have not tucked their hair behind their ear. Men murder women they love who have all kinds of hair. They do it at a rate of more than 2 a week. We should stop that. Not the hair.  

We have all been horrified at the increased sexualisation of the bodies of young girls. We have long seen the advent of plastic surgery and injectables as a norm that even poor women should aim for. Ageing is not allowed. That is nothing new. Aiming for impossible beauty ideals established by the media is nothing new. Women cutting themselves up to please men. This is old hat and 'The Beauty Myth' lies yellowing on feminist shelves all over the globe. 

But this accelerated and extreme type of pressure on young girls is new. I've heard it creeping in. Another young girl told me of a girl at her school who shaves her face every morning so that she can get her foundation to look perfectly smooth. Another of "baking" where girls apply a full face of make up then put lots of white powder over the top, which they then allow to "set" into any cracks or pits in their skin. They then brush this off and have a sort of cement effect under the eyes and the natural creases around mouths and cheeks etc. Contouring allows you to use a variety of beiges to make your face have contours it normally does not and can make you look entirely different. Let's not doubt there is also embedded racism in this too. Look at this. This is how you turn a beautiful woman into a doll. The racism in the message is obvious too. Skin needs to be white if it is black. This is what our children are learning is normal. This is the new assault on our girls....

How do we save them? Vloggers and You Tubers and online magazines and print media and an endless stream of instagram posts by celebrities are brainwashing our girls into a prison within their own bodies. They cannot walk freely without the thought that a camera is snapping them. They are always a magazine front cover. They are always still in their heads. They must not move or the "perfection" is out of control. I weep with frustration at the fact that a young girl cannot see patriarchy, cannot hear her sisters telling her a thing, because she is thinking of how to erase her nose with brown powder. 

It seems to me that the more feminist work has been done on this, the more efforts have been stepped up to freeze our beautiful warrior girls in their tracks. This is a new war and men are shooting our girls with new guns. This is my message to 14 year old girls everywhere. 

"My darlings. You are beautiful. Your hair is long and smooth or short and curly or short and smooth or you are bald. Your eyes are shining in a way mine have forgotten. Your skin is bewitching, growing, breathing whether light or dark Your lips are plump as peaches, your skin is soft and magical like finely shifting sand. Your cheekbones hang like Italian alps above a face that swirls with a lake of promise. 

But inside your head is a brain that can be president of the United States of America or Prime Minister of the UK. Inside your fingers are beautiful paintings and novels. Our future buildings and roads and bridges are in your hands. You have the potential to change the world for women forever. You can heal others. You can stop wars. You can save children from poverty. You can stop men murdering women. You can stop men raping women. Inside you is our future world. Be a warrior my girl. Stand up. Move forward. Start running from this trap. Don't stop until you are free."

JH x

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Rotherham Must Come Clean, Get Clean and Stay Clean on Child Abuse. Start with Jahangir Akhtar.

I will try to keep this clear and simple. Clear is hard when Hell is murky.

In Rotherham, for many years, young girls have been sexually exploited, raped, abused and trafficked. They have been ignored and neglected by social services, the police, politicians and the press. We have seen 3 men jailed for a total of 79 years this week and it feels like a tide has turned.

It has ....and it hasn't.

At the time when Rotherham's secrets were first blown apart and much abuse was exposed the whole country centred on who might be to blame. Feminists, myself included, demanded that those responsible at institutional level were held to account alongside those who abused. They allowed it to happen by their inaction. I consider them culpable by their neglect and poor practice (at best) and I want to see them brought to whatever justice is appropriate and available. 

Shaun Wright was the Labour Police and Crime Commissioner and only resigned after extreme pressure after the Alexis Jay report confirmed what many in South Yorkshire had known all along. He had not acted to help young girls who were being raped under his official nose whilst he allowed reports to float across his desk untouched. He was thrown out of the Labour Party but he clung on. He tried desperately to cling to his job but eventually resigned. He had been Cabinet Member for Children's Services at a time when crucial failings were made. Where is he? Why has he not been held to account?

Joyce Thacker was Director Of Children's Services throughout the time investigated and took a £40,000 payoff upon leaving. She only left after extreme pressure following Professor Alexis Jay's report. She was responsible for keeping girls from the hands of abusers like the 3 who have been jailed and she did not. Why was that? Where is she? Why has she not been held to account?

Martin Kimber was the Chief Executive of Rotherham Council and paid £160,000 which he clung onto for dear life until he was forced to leave and took a £26,000 pay off. He CLUNG ON. Didn't they all? Where is he now? Why was he never brought to account for his failings?

Roger Stone was leader of Rotherham Council and highlighted as a bully in the Jay report. He resigned eventually. He had presided over the entire culture of ignorance, neglect and inaction. Where is he now? Why was he never held to account. 

But when Hell really gets dark. When the fires really ignite. It is this man that needs to get his arse burned fastest I think.

Jahangir Akhtar.

Let's take a look at this man. 
  • Jahangir Akhtar was Deputy Leader of Rotherham Council. The council charged with appalling inaction and neglect by the Alexis Jay report. 
  • Jahangir Akhtar refused to apologise for any part he may have played in the child sexual abuse scandal. He refused to apologise to girls that were neglected by a council of which he was Deputy Leader.
  • When Shaun Wright left his post as Children's Services Cabinet Member he was given a place on the Police Authority. This was the body in charge of scrutinising the police. The same police who currently have 54 outstanding investigations into officers who may have been involved in covering up child sexual abuse in Rotherham. The Police Authority was scrapped and replaced (sort of) by The Police And Crime Panel. 
  • In October 2012 Jahangir Akhtar was elected chair of the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel. The Police And Crime Panel would be the body that scrutinised the South Yorkshire Police And Crime Commissioner. That would be Shaun Wright. You can see where I'm going with all this?
  • Jahangir Akhtar was investigated for his part in handing over a girl to the police on a garage forecourt after she had been reported missing. The man who had "taken" her was Arshid Hussain. He was a relative of Jahangir Akhtar's. He allegedly "brokered" the deal that she be handed over to police and Hussain would not be prosecuted. This is Arshid Hussain - who has just been found guilty of raping numerous girls in Rotherham and sentenced to 35 years in prison. Briefly let that sink in. If you can. 
  •  Jahangir Akhtar shuffled quietly away from the council and went back to driving taxis in Rotherham. Taxi drivers were a huge part of the investigation into child sexual abuse. Jahangir Akhtar was Leader Of The Taxi Driver's Association at one point. 
  • A girl has accused a Rotherham councillor named Akhtar of rape - this was reported shortly before the recent trial where a trio of his relatives were sent to jail for a total of 79 years. 
  • Jahangir Akhtar has had his taxi license suspended. Not revoked. 

Hell is Murky. So is Rotherham. 

Here is a relative of the convicted men discussing how Hussain could not possibly have committed any abuse .... it is very hard to watch.

Let's be having you Jahangir Akhtar. You need a time being asked a lot of questions. A lot of questions. Why has he not been arrested yet? Let's keep asking. On behalf of raped girls in Rotherham... let's keep asking. 

Relevant articles and reports.....

Saturday, 6 February 2016


Yet another person in my life pointed out to me the other day that I am always saying that I'm sorry.

I'm sorry I haven't cleaned up ...(my own house) I'm sorry I haven't dried my hair ...(my own hair).  I'm sorry I haven't cooked.. (my own food). I'm sorry I haven't bought stuff for the fridge ...(my fridge). I'm sorry I look awful ...(my own face and body). I'm sorry I haven't got changed out of my work clothes ...(my clothes, my work). I'm sorry I need more time ....(my time). 

The person, whom I love, is sort of bemused. I apologise all the time. I apologise for things that just don't matter. I apologise for things that I probably can't or shouldn't change. I start a lot of sentences sorry. 

Well I'm not bemused or amused. I am angry. 

Even after all this time has passed (2 and 1/2 years) since I escaped my abuser, I subconsciously still carry that bloody unbearable memory around of constantly feeling like I have done something wrong. The fear that I will be found out for some unknowable trespass. The fear, really deep inside, that I am going to be punished. The feeling that I have to preempt any possible accusation or attack by countering it first. The fear that I'm not even aware of what I have done wrong but that it is bad. Digging around inside myself to find what it is that I might have said, or done, or misplaced, or forgotten to do. It doesn't seem to go away. It surfaces in "sorry".

Just last week I sent a text apologising for upsetting someone and therefore upsetting the person I was texting. I got back a text "You wally. You haven't!"

I hadn't. Only in my own head. 

If you have been abused you will know.... you are constantly 3 steps ahead in any mind game. You have to be. You work out what you might have said and how it might be misconstrued and you work out in advance how to put right the thing that you think you may have done which will lead to you being accused of something you haven't done or can't remember. 

That sounds very complex doesn't it?

It is. It is a lived nightmare. It is a daily dying. "Walking on eggshells" doesn't cover it and it is worse the longer it goes on. It is like you are wearing lead moonboots 4 sizes too big in a densely packed minefield with millimetres between each one.  You've got no chance. You are going to step on one and it will explode. You just try to work out how to keep both boots raised at all times. You never realise that this is impossible. You just keep trying and falling over. And getting blown up. Have you ever played "Operation" and tried to get the bones out of the little holes without getting electrocuted? Same thing. Except they are your own bones knocking against the electric shock as you try to move them to safety. 

Have you have ever waited and paced a kitchen and wondered...."What is it? Who might have said something against me? What has he found out? What haven't I done around the house? What might he see that he won't like? What haven't I hidden? What haven't I bought? How do I look? What have I forgotten to do? Who has seen me somewhere he won't like?" 

There are other questions. Thousands of them. It paralyses you. You try to focus. You try again. You sharpen the lens you always have trained on yourself. You bend yourself into the shape he likes. All kinds of ways. You try different shapes. You try different jobs. Or 2 jobs. He likes you best with no job. You are of course useless with no job. A drain. A burden. You try different friends. He likes you best with no friends. You are of course not worthy of friends. They don't like you. People don't like you. You should change. You should stop changing. All this whirrs around your brain as you try to think of the next 3 moves. 

Then he comes back. Late. early. Both are bad. Your heart stops. Your children stop. The walls hold their breath and brace themselves. The world outside turns away. You didn't have time to get it all right. You didn't calibrate yourself perfectly. The click of the fridge. The pull of the can. He's cocked and loaded. You're under fire.

This is no way to live. It isn't living. I was dead for a very long time. 

I am living a beautiful life now. I wake up and smile at the sky. No reason. Total happy madness. Clouds drift past and I laugh inside. I can hear the traffic start and know that I can get out in that world and feel it with my fingers and love it. I do love it all so very much. Some mornings a loved one is beside me and we talk and read and laugh and plan. A life. I am planning a life.  Not how to escape a death. I have done nothing wrong and I deserve that future. 

So I am not sorry. I am not sorry for that man's behaviour. I'm not sorry because he broke parts of me. I'm not sorry that it will take time to fix. I'm not sorry that I'm angry at a world that allows men to break women and girls. 

Women. You have done nothing wrong. He lies. You have said nothing wrong. He lies. You have forgotten nothing. He lies. Your friends love you dearly. He lies. Your family think the world of you. He lies. He is not perfect. He lies. He is not good. He lies. You don't deserve his mistreatment. He lies. You aren't ugly. He lies. You aren't stupid. He lies. You aren't crazy. He lies. 

He is a liar and you deserve the truth. 

I am not sorry. 

Peace sisters. 

JH x