I need feminism because EVERYTHING

So recently my university has been taking part in a nationwide campaign run by student unions (though I think it started as a tumblr), where people of all genders are photographed holding up signs that say ‘I need feminism because…’, and filled out however they like. (My sister’s university also took part a month ago, and it made me insanely excited to hear her talking about how inspired she’d been.) The tumblr is here, and I’ve been following it for a while, but it was really fantastic to actually be out there doing it, and seeing people I knew taking part as well. There are dozens of things I could have said, but I couldn’t write all of them, and so since I still don’t have time to do a post on any proper topics, I thought I’d jot down a few of things I definitely wanted to say. Oh, and the series as a whole is brilliant, with lots of people being far more powerful and inspiring and articulate and hilarious than me, so I would definitely recommend taking a look. Okay, here goes.

I need feminism because wanting to be treated like a person does not make me ‘crazy’.

I need feminism because she was never ‘asking for it’.

I need feminism because you can make your own damn sandwich.

I need feminism because men are ‘players’, but women are ‘sluts’.

I need feminism because I said no and he didn’t stop.

I need feminism because your ‘intellectual debate’ is my real life.

I need feminism because my sexual orientation is not for anyone’s entertainment.

I need feminism because I love sex, and won’t be made to apologise for it.

I need feminism because I am more than a sex object.

I need feminism because people like this still exist.

I need feminism because my right to choose is not up for debate.

I need feminism because feminist men are better in bed.

I need feminism because someone else’s gender identity is no one’s business but their own.

I need feminism because I wear short skirts and corsets for me, not for anyone else.

I need feminism because I won’t always be there to protect my little sister.

I need feminism because ‘almost equal’ isn’t good enough.

I need feminism because I still need to remind myself to check my privilege.

I need feminism because I don’t know if I want children.

I need feminism because it shouldn’t be controversial not to shave or wax.

I need feminism because I know men too afraid of being mocked to call themselves feminists.

I need feminism because there are so many people out there who think it’s irrelevant.

I need feminism because I care.

I need feminism because I expect more.

I need feminism because I haven’t given up yet.

A fairytale world where people are nice on the internet?

So you know how the last post was about how the kink community is actually kinda awesome? Well it still is. But it sure as hell ain’t perfect.

I am on FetLife, ‘the Facebook for kinksters’. If you don’t know it, it’s exactly what the tagline says, a social networking site for kinky people. It’s pretty cool, and if you’re at all curious about the community, I would really recommend checking it out. It is definitely not a dating website. You can’t search for matches like you would on a site where the aim is to find people to hook up with. Rather it’s for keeping track of your kinky friends in a way that’s separate from the rest of your life. (And for finding local events. Seriously, the events thing is awesome.)

I am stressing this point to give an idea of how not okay what just happened to me is. You can send messages on FetLife, and it’s usually a good idea to message someone before adding them as a friend, mainly because, unlike Facebook, it’s a site where most people use online pseudonyms. This is pretty obvious, since people upload some very intimate material, which they might want to be discreet about in their everyday vanilla lives. Some people use this online name on the scene, but others use their ‘real’ name when you meet them in person. As such, it’s sometimes really difficult to remember who is who at first, so a quick message saying ‘Hi, it was lovely to meet you last night, hope to see you soon – Phoebe’ goes along way when you get a friend request from mystic_domme777. (I just made that username up, but I swear, it probably exists.)

At the moment, since I’m relatively new to all of this, I’m only adding people I have actually met face to face, or have been introduced to through a mutual friend and had interesting conversations with. Lots of people on FetLife have this rule, it’s a common line on profiles. It is listed on mine.

Here is the following message conversation I had with a certain anonymous FetLifer. My analysis is in italics.

Him: How exactly does one make amazing coffee? [This refers to a line on my profile when I say I’m good at making coffee. It proves he read it. Good for him! On OkCupid, that might be a good opener, but this is not a dating website. It also means he read the bit about me not friending strangers.]

Me: Strong. Also, do I know you? I’m not sure I remember your name from last night. [At this stage, I have checked his profile, seen he’s from the same area as me, and assumed I met him at the munch. Like I said, it’s hard to remember usernames. I was also (I thought) making it clear that I like to know people before I add them, and subtly giving him the chance to acknowledge that and offer a reason why I should make an exception for him.]

Him: Probably not, I’m not in [certain place] at the moment. =) I’m Ceyx. Let’s Skype and explore you a bit more. [Okay, so his name wasn’t actually Ceyx, but that’s less random than his actual username, and also classical! More seriously, note how he deliberately ignores my not-so-subtle hint that I don’t talk to people I don’t know personally. Complete lack of interest. He’s also immediately gone from sending harmless messages to wanting to Skype. Skype means talking by phone, probably video-chatting. I definitely do not do that with people I don’t know well. I certainly wouldn’t do it with someone I’d messaged once on a website. Am I overthinking things to sense sexual undertones? We are on a kink site after all. The jump between Skyping and webcam sex isn’t that huge. The word ‘explore’ makes me feel kinda uncomfortable – I often find it creepy when people say that to me in real life, let alone in a message. From a guy who’s just admitted he’s never met me. Right.]

Me: Um, no thank you. I don’t really talk to people I don’t know in real life, and I get kinda freaked out when people message me for no reason. Sorry. [I debated long and hard about the ‘sorry’. In the end I decided that the message sounded too cold and harsh otherwise. After all, maybe he was just trying to be friendly? At any rate, I wanted to reiterate how I felt, and make it clear I wouldn’t be talking to him on Skype anytime soon.]

Him: Wow. Ok. Enjoy your exploring curiosity goals of 2013.

If I’d been concerned about pre-judging him, the last message removes all doubt. The ‘Wow. Ok’ suggests there is something completely shocking and unexpected about my response, despite the fact that this information was on my profile, and implied again with the first message I sent him. It also makes it look as though this is an entirely unreasonable policy to have, despite the fact that at least half the people I know on FetLife do the same. The second bit is just downright bitchy sarcasm. Had I mentioned anywhere about wanting to explore curiosity goals? No. And even if I had, it would be perfectly within my rights not to want to explore them with him, someone who’d violated my stated boundaries pretty obviously. The snide undertone there is that I’m boring, no fun, maybe even a hypocrite for replying as I did.

Any of this sound familiar, all you non-kinky feminists? This is standard rape culture (no, I’m not for a moment equating this with rape, read the rest of the sentence), where a man feel entitled to a woman’s time and attention, for whatever reason. It is online cat-calling. It’s getting angry when the girl you cat-call ignores you, and shouting after her that she’s a stuck-up bitch for refusing to respond. (Yes, this has happened to me. Several times.) It’s implying that, by being in a certain place or dressing in a certain way or saying certain things, a woman somehow owes you something. And yes, it’s on a kink site, where the atmosphere is generally more sexual, but you know how that atmosphere is maintained safely? Through the respect of limits and boundaries and clear communication.

This is exactly what the kink community would like to believe never happens. It does. I admit that this is a tiny, harmless example, but it stung enough for me to be writing a pissed off blog post about it hours later. This stuff hurts. It erodes confidence and embitters attitudes and generally spoils it for everyone.

The scene may be awesome, but it isn’t perfect. It has all the same bullshit as the real world. I am disappointed, but not surprised.

All I am going to say about Assange

I didn’t want to write about the current drama with Julian Assange at the moment. In fact, I still don’t. I try to avoid high-profile stories, especially since they’re usually not UK-based and what do I know anyway? But my facebook feed has exploded and this is a blog about liberal feminism and what good is talking about good communication and consent and gender equality if I’m too scared to write about something this significant happening in my country? That said, this is going to be short and sweet. Here goes.

I broadly agree with Wikileaks. I do not think Assange should be prosecuted or persecuted for what his organisation did. I think the American politicians who are calling for him to be extradited to the US to face trial there which could risk the death penalty are absurd. Laughable, in fact. Luckily, I think the chances of that happening are highly unlikely. The politicians in question are outraged about what he did, but he did not commit any crime on American soil, and therefore cannot be extradited there. One hopes.

This does not make him innocent of the sexual assault charges he is accused of in Sweden. It is highly possible to be innocent of one crime, and guilty of another. It is highly possible to be a wonderful fantastic talented person in numerous ways, and still be guilty of a crime. Wikileaks and whistle-blowing and all that has absolutely nothing to do with whether he is guilty of the sexual assault charges brought against him in Sweden.

Now, let’s talk about those charges. I’ve seen far too many posts today about how these charges aren’t ‘real’, how they’re either entirely fabricated or that even if they’re genuine they don’t count. He is accused of using his body-weight to hold a woman down and penetrate her against her will. That is rape. He is accused of penetrating a woman while she was asleep, without a condom, when she had specifically said she only consented to sex with a condom. That is rape, twice over (both the fact that she was asleep, and that he did something that was specifically against her consent). The fact that it would be incredibly difficult to prosecute that as rape in some countries, including the UK, does not make it not rape. In Sweden, which is where he allegedly committed these acts, it is legally rape. This is not in question.

Did he do it? How the hell should I know? He hasn’t faced trial. And if it turns out it’s all been fabricated by the CIA and they’re being paid off and none of it’s true? I have faith enough in the legal system to be confident that this will come out in the trial.  What’s more, I think it’s a casual and lazy excuse put forward by people who either believe naively that someone they support so strongly could never do anything wrong, or by people who don’t care whether he raped those women, because exposed US military secrets.

I care. And that is why I think he should be extradited to Sweden to face the very real charges against him. If he is found guilty, he should serve a prison sentence in Sweden, then be released. If he is found innocent, he should just be released.

This isn’t to do with the US and the death penalty and Wikileaks. This is a rape charge, and because it’s a rape charge, and the narratives that women make up rape all the time and it’s not rape unless it’s a stranger and it’s certainly not rape if you consented to one thing but not another already exist, his supporters are ready to dismiss it.

So my plea to all his supporters who are camped outside the Ecuadorian embassy ready to fight the police and who are calling for all charges to be dropped and who believe that the whole thing is just some US-generated conspiracy is this: if you really believe he is innocent, let him face trial. These women deserve to have their accusations heard and evaluated in a court of law. And if you were really that certain that Assange hadn’t done anything wrong, you wouldn’t be afraid of that.

Rape is rape, even if it’s a high-profile progressive liberal forcibly penetrating his lover without a condom. Seriously.

It’s only abuse “if”… (TW for – well, you can guess)

Generally, I like to use this blog for fun fluffy sex-positivity, anecdotes about my sex life and all the random lessons I’ve picked up on the way. When I started, I decided that I didn’t really want to do ‘serious feminism’ much, because there are so many amazing feminist bloggers out there who cover every field, from politics to entertainment, and I really don’t think my voice would add anything to do that. I’ve learnt so much from these bloggers, and I continue to learn more every day, but that doesn’t mean I have to add to the discourse. So I stick to stories about negotiating consent and trying out new kinks instead.

But I started this for a reason, and that reason is in one of the first posts I ever wrote: Three Reasons Why I’m a Feminist Today. After struggling with ‘well it was all just a misunderstanding’ and ‘I don’t think he knew he was doing anything wrong’ for the two years since Tereus and I parted ways, I finally got sick of ambiguities fucking with me head, and I wrote it down. I wrote that essay with no intention of publishing it anywhere, just to try to get it straight in my mind. And through writing it, I learnt one in very important thing: I had been in an abusive relationship.

Looking back, that seems pretty damn obvious. I mean, this is a guy who raped me, then twisted my wrist backwards during an argument. And when I spelt it out in those terms, suddenly I couldn’t fail to see that. But the truth is, up until that moment I was still thinking of it as a relationship that had gone wrong and was partly my fault. The shocked reactions I got when I tentatively mentioned some of the less pleasant aspects caused me to stop and rethink, and once I did that, I started to realise how it wasn’t just the sexual assault and the violence – after all, that just happened once. I say ‘just’ not as an excuse – one time is significantly one too many – but to make it clear that the abusive aspects of the relationship were ongoing, and not centred around those two specific incidents.

Now, if I want to get across what sort of guy this was, that’s the story that I tell, as it makes the point pretty succinctly. But when I think back, that’s not what haunts me most about the whole thing. There were a  myriad of tiny, imperceptible ways that Tereus made my life hell for a year, and if it had never come to violence, those were still collectively enough to cause damage. It’s difficult to explain quite what it felt like, especially since at the time I wasn’t capable of seeing it for myself, but here are a few of the things that I now know to watch out for:

* He refused to acknowledge that we were ever anything more than ‘friends’. I have since been in actual stable healthy friends-with-benefits and fuck-buddies scenarios, and the thing that has worked for all of them is being able to actually talk about the relationship status, and what we both are and aren’t comfortable with. And lets be clear, friends who sleep together are always more than friends, in that there is sex involved, which is pretty different than the majority of friendships. Again, this is not to say that friends-with-benefits doesn’t work – it can work very nicely. Just that if there’s a situation where one partner makes the other terrified of even suggesting that there might be something other than ordinary friendship going on, despite the fact that sex is happening at least once a week, that is a definite warning sign. And that is exactly what Tereus would do to me, acting very sweet and romantic one moment, then telling me how we were just friends and I really shouldn’t get the wrong idea a second later. (He used to sometimes ask me to ‘pretend’ we were making love during sex, which confused the hell out of me. Surely either we were or we weren’t, right?) It kept me on edge, and made me doubt my own intuitions, until I was so confused I just let him dictate the terms of everything, because that way at least I couldn’t get it wrong.

* He constantly told me about all the other girls he was sleeping with, including his on-and-off girlfriend who he was sometimes cheating on with me. In detail. And when I say detail, I mean both explicit sexual detail about what they did and didn’t do and what they looked like, and also emotional detail about how they felt about him. I knew personal details about the life of his girlfriend that I knew she would want to keep private, as well as more than I would ever have wanted to know about other people’s sex lives. And what’s more, I was fully aware that he was telling them similar things about me. But if I asked not to hear about it, he accused me of being jealous, and if I asked him not to talk about me, he accused me of being paranoid. So I shut up about it.

* Sex always had to be entirely on his terms. I’m not talking about that one occasion where he handcuffed me and pressured/forced me into anal sex, but in general, we had sex when he wanted to. I generally really wanted it before bed, but he wanted to sleep. So we slept. He would then wake me up with sex before I was really awake or turned on, and if I objected or wanted more foreplay, he’d lose interest immediately and tell me I was no fun. I remember romantic weekends that I’d planned, only for him to tell me he’d been having too much sex with other girls that week so wasn’t interested. I also remember feeling awkward about doing it while my parents were still awake in the next room, and being told to stop being so stupid. So I did.

* He never seemed particularly concerned that I wasn’t able to orgasm with him. Now, not being able to orgasm with a partner is not in itself a warning sign. I have resigned myself to the fact that I am hugely unlikely to orgasm with someone until the third of fourth time we sleep together, and maybe not even then. And that’s okay – as I’ve said many times before, I can have a really great time without coming. But the fact that Tereus never seemed to care or try anything new in the year that we were sleeping together, well, that’s not a great sign. It sometimes felt like he liked the fact that I couldn’t come, because it saved him having to make any effort. But he was the first guy I’d slept with, and I thought the sex was great, so I convinced myself that I probably just wasn’t able to, and left it at that.

* He was always telling me how stupid I was, about everything. The fact that I didn’t know how motors worked, that I had difficulty opening cereal packets, that I couldn’t play video games – everything. He couldn’t drive, so I would drive us places, and one time I hit a chicane. Though as I said, Tereus didn’t drive, he shouted at me for being so stupid and ‘crashing the car’, then laughed at me when I started crying. The next day, he changed the tyre for me, again laughing at my incompetence, since I had no idea how to do it myself. (He did a terrible job, and I had to call the RAC out to fix it, but I still felt incompetent.) Everything that I could do, especially my academic achievements, was dismissed as useless. And after a while, I really did start to believe that getting good grades at school and getting into a top university really wasn’t that much of an achievement, compared to understanding how a radio worked.

* I was in my final year at school, he was on his gap year, unemployed. And yet it was always me going to see him, driving right across London and back every weekend. Now in fairness, I had a car, but it took just as long to drive as it took on public transport – I know, I   used to go on the tube when my parents needed the car. And little things, like never offering to share the petrol costs when we went places, and expecting me to pay for him if we went out because ‘your parents give you money’, well, they’re not all that important, but they add up. But I had a much better relationship with my parents than he did with his, so I went with it so as not to cause trouble.

* He wouldn’t use condoms with me. This is probably the worst one, and it’s the reason I am so obsessive about condom use now. Tereus made it very clear to me early on that ‘liberated’ and ‘mature’ girls went on the pill, and that requiring condoms was somehow childish. The first type of pill I went on made me physical ill, and the second made my anxiety attacks ten times worse. (In my experience since then, all hormonal birth control increases the severity of my anxiety, but over the years I’ve learned how to minimise it, and which ones are best. Back then, I had no idea what to do, and figured that spending three days straight in tears every few weeks was just the price you paid for not getting pregnant.) Whenever I mentioned this to him, he told me to stop being such a baby about it, all the other girls he was screwing handled it fine. And as for the fact that he didn’t use condoms with them either, so was putting us all at risk of STIs? The few times I brought this up, the result was a furious rant about how I didn’t trust him or his other girls, and how this made me a terrible person. And, as with everything else, my response was to shut up and pretend it was all okay.

If you add all those together, then what you get is a relationship that is not just incredibly unhealthy, but emotionally abusive. What I’ve noticed in hindsight is how often I was told that my opinion was wrong or didn’t matter, and silenced as a result. And what scares me is that I was incapable of seeing any of this at the time. In fact, if it hadn’t been for the violence, I might never have realised that Tereus was not just an immature nineteen-year-old boy who was insensitive and inconsiderate. He was (and probably still is) manipulative, cruel, selfish, and abusive. Even if it wasn’t deliberate, that doesn’t excuse it.

Hindsight is 20/20, they say, and it’s true. Knowing the warning signs isn’t enough to see them when they crop up again in a different relationship, and nor are these by any means the only ones. But the more I think about it, the more I am able to come up with a list of things I will never again put up with, and that’s an improvement. I hope that the other girls he’s dated since and will date in the future are a lot more assertive than I was. I don’t want them to have to learn the hard way.

Ongoing battles with rape culture (TW for rape and sexual assault)

I’ve been meaning to talk about rape culture and my experiences with it for quite a while, but something always puts me off. It’s not a ‘fun’ feminist topic. I don’t get to disclose tantalising details about my sex life and offer tips on how to try some of the kinkier stuff, and I don’t get to justify my writing with ‘this will help you have much better sex!’, as I do with so much else. But I think it’s something more than that. I am proud of my sex life, proud that I have managed to get to a point where I can talk openly about what I want and where I’m not ashamed of what I enjoy. In real life, I sometimes get accused of showing off, and while I don’t mean to, I can see how it might come across that way, because damn it, I have great sex and I know it.

I am not proud of being sexually assaulted. I am not proud of being raped.

Even typing those words took a lot more effort than writing that I enjoy being handcuffed down and lightly choked ever would. I still hesitate using that word. Rape. Was it rape? It didn’t fit into any of the narratives I’d heard all my life about what rape was, so I always assumed it wasn’t. I’m much more comfortable now saying I was sexually assaulted (that that least is certainly true), than of using a word I’ve been attacked for using so many times before. And while if anyone came to me and told me that something similar had happened to them, I would have no problem calling the perpetrator a rapist, somehow I struggle in relation to myself. There is doubt there. Am I misremembering? Did I just change my mind after the event, as so many people claim rape accusers do? Was it all just a big misunderstanding?

I got all of those excuses and many more when I was dealing with the aftermath. The first time, I was reminded that I’d been drunk that night, and that I’d been flirting with Tarquin and just about everyone else. The second time, well what did I expect, getting into bed with Domitian? And the third, Tereas and I were already sleeping together. We had been, for a year. I’d allowed him to handcuff me down, and I even gave in towards the end, begging him to go slower rather than to stop. Clearly it was all just miscommunication, a case of mixed signals, these things can be so unclear. Obviously he didn’t mean to rape me.

And just as obviously, the people telling rape jokes in my presence don’t mean to offend me. Of course it’s just a joke, clearly they don’t mean anything by it. I’m just being over-sensitive, failing to really understand.

And I tell them no. I tell them they have no idea when they tell those jokes whether or not their in the presence of a sexual assault survivor. They look at me oddly, as if I’m exaggerating hugely. I hold my ground. After all, I say, we don’t exactly wear badges.

This is the part of my identity that I most want to hide, and that I am least willing to. I watch eyes widen in shock, people around me stumbling over themselves to take back what they’ve said, desperately trying to reassess our relationship in the context of what I’ve just told them. I hold eye contact and refuse to look away, to laugh and take it back, to make a joke out of it. I get asked if I’m okay, if I want to talk about it. I say I got over it years ago. They ask why, if that’s the case, I choose to bring it up now. I wonder that myself sometimes. But the truth is, no one ever stops to consider whether the person they’re talking to might have suffered sexual assault, why a trivial joke might be more triggering for them than for the teller. The number of stunned responses I get when I admit that I fall into that group tells me one of two things. Either it’s never occurred to them that something like that might have happened to someone they know, which is statistically pretty much impossible, or it is inconceivable to them that anyone might admit it in public, might risk the shame and stigma that goes with it for no apparent reason.

Is it that I’ve been raped that shocks them, or that I refuse to hide and be ashamed and pretend it never happened?

I see where they’re coming from. I know a lot of survivors, and the vast majority of them would never mention something like this in public, among near-strangers. Some hardly talk about it at all. I am certain that I know more, who have never told me, or indeed anyone else. The reactions hurt. The shock, then, if you’re lucky, the pity. If you’re not, the interrogation, a barrage of questions to determine what, precisely happened, and whether it actually, you know, counts as rape. The assessment inevitably ends up being that it doesn’t. I would not ask anyone else to open themselves up to that, especially not someone who has already suffered the actual assault.

But I do it. And it is not because I am braver, or stronger, or more ‘over it’ than anyone else. It is because the only way I can overcome the total humiliation I feel at having let this happen to me, not once, not twice, but three fucking times, is to do my damnedest to try to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else. Part of that is writing this blog, and encouraging my friends to communicate better and have a clearer understanding of what they do and don’t want. But part of it is challenging others, even if I don’t know them that well. Part of that is saying yes, we exist, we don’t blend into obscurity and disappear just because it’s easier for you to think that no one you know could possibly be a victim or a perpetrator, so you can tell your rape jokes in peace. I’m not going to be silent so that you can feel better about yourself, and if my presence, my admission, makes you feel uncomfortable, maybe you need to reevaluate a few things.

It is not strength that makes me do this, it is pride. Fighting the urge to forget it all and pretend it was just ‘mixed signals’ and ‘a drunken mistake’, in the vaguest hope that maybe something I say might stop it happening to someone else. That is the only way I can overcome the humiliation and powerlessness that I still feel today. It still hurts, every time someone tells me it wasn’t ‘real rape’, or accuses me of overreacting and seeking attention. But it hurts a little bit less every time. And that too is something that I am proud of.

Three reasons why I’m a feminist today (TW for rape and sexual assault)

The sex-positivity will happen, I promise. But before I can go into that, I feel like I should explain where I’m coming from, and why. So this is my attempt to describe what happened to me, and why it’s made me the person I am today. It involves sexual assault and rape, and if for any reason you’re not comfortable reading about that, then I completely respect that. If you do continue to read, well, I’ve tried not to be graphic, but I have also tried to be honest. Aside from changed names, every word is true, and I get that that might be disturbing. The next post will probably be about masturbation and porn, and why it’s awesome, so if you’d rather skip this and read about that instead, stay tuned.

Ready? Okay. Continue reading