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  

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton. Apply the law.

Bear with me on this. I'll get onto Trump and his vile incitement.

This week "it seems" that a man has encouraged other men to kill me. As far as those who love me can see, there's no ambiguity. Legal colleagues have checked the law and think it could confidently be applied in court to the statements he has published. The focus of the relevant CPS legislation is the crime of "encouraging or assisting a crime". It is a piece of legislation in the Serious Crime Act 2007. It replaced the now obsolete one of incitement. It is different. It is an inchoate offence. This means a crime has been committed whether or not the crime it is "encouraging or assisting" actually takes place. If it can be determined that the intent of the perpetrator is that it should, then they have committed that crime. 

Mostly I ignore this man. I have tried every tactic possible over the years. Ignoring is a good one and means I get on with my life doing the things I love with the people I adore. Unfortunately, sometimes, feminists who care about me have to show me his stuff as they are worried about me and about how real the threat of him is. 

I pushed him recently I think. Just one mistaken tweet. That's all it took. I used mention of the old pre-2007 law. It was a slip. A slip he didn't miss and within minutes was all over his blog and multiple twitter accounts leaping up and down about it. Here is the tweet.

I won't show you his tweets or direct you to his blog as that would promote his attacks on me and give him credence. It is also essential that I am not seen to engage with him. He is a worryingly obsessed man and I ignore him most of the time as any attention makes him worse. This will make him worse. How much worse? Who knows. I can either write or not write. It is irrelevant. He is still watching me constantly and I know it. He will still be back on Twitter directing people to the piece where this encouragement is. I have never made any threat against him. I have at worst laughed at him or hoped he will be caught and jailed. He isn't just any old troll. It is a whole other level to that. You have to have been a target to understand. 

For example.... here is one of the comments below the blog piece. It is most likely the obsessed man himself as he probably has multiple accounts which talk to himself. 

Regarding the threat to my safety? It is real. A man who stalks your every word and move for more than 2 years? A man who harasses anyone who you come into contact with? A man who posts about ejaculating on your body? This is impacting on your safety. This is a man who could kill you. This is a man who knows no boundaries. This is a man who is a danger to himself and to society generally. He is certainly a danger to me. If he manages to convince someone else to come and kill me, or if he is actually so dangerously obsessed he may do it himself, is irrelevant. I am facing that threat. 

How do I deal? I work. I write. I get out on my bike. I have dinner with friends. I chat, laugh and drink a glass of wine in the sun with my best friend. I curl up listening to Radio 4 and eating chocolate with my lover. What else can I do? I like to think that getting on with my life is the biggest revenge for the hell he tries to inflict on my life. 

Donald Trump is a much "bigger" version of "my" man, though I consider them both small and low. 

Donald Trump has encouraged a whole section of the gun-owning American public to consider taking a gun as a way to stop Hilary Clinton. 

Here is what he said - bear in mind that the second amendment is the right to bear arms.....

Hilary  wants to abolish, essentially abolish, the second amendment. If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the second amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know. But I’ll tell you what, that will be a horrible day.”
There is no ambiguity there. Trump has very clearly said that a way to stop Clinton from preventing Americans bearing arms is to use the right to bear arms against her. If someone did this that would involve shooting her. Possibly until she was dead. 
The defence he advocates will be free speech and the ambiguity of the threat. 

The American test of Free Speech v Incitement is the 'Brandenburg Test'. This is from a test case in Ohio where a member of the Ku Klux Clan was charged with inciting violence. The decision to convict him was overturned and left the precedent in US law as this....

"The Court held that government cannot punish inflammatory speech unless that speech is directed to inciting, and is likely to incite, imminent lawless action."

The key feature of this is the degree to which it is believed the provocation might be acted upon and whether that is "imminent".

I think it is. I think that some Americans feel so strongly about the second amendment that it is something they will kill and die for. We see this every time a Black life is taken by police officers. We see it in the comments online. We see the racial hatred. We see the political hatred. We see the systemic hatred and how that spills over when people have guns. 

Here in Britain we see how strongly people feel when a crucial political issue is debated. Brexit brought out strong enough hatred that a man killed the MP Jo Cox. He brutally murdered her in the streets because of her political views which clashed with his own. 

4 American presidents have been assassinated. Hilary Clinton is not yet President but Donald Trump knows very well that with a historical track record like the American one shows.... the potential for someone to assassinate her is real and imminent if the provocation is there. If that provocation comes from the Republican Presidential Candidate ... then the risk is significant and undoubtedly imminent and I would like to see that tested by the Supreme Court. 

This is male violence. This is a man inciting others to murder a woman. The words "incitement", "encouragement" "suggestion" "implication" are synonymous in the case of this law. This is a man who would like his opponent dead. Not least because she is a woman. 

Someone get him before a judge and let the Brandenburg v Ohio judgement be replaced by a judgement against Trump.

This man must be stopped by law not the second amendment. And soon. 

JH x

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

The Bloodline.

(Written about a day at the beach with my daughter when she 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