current affairs, Statement, Statements in Support, Uncategorized

Letter In Solidarity with Isoc & our Muslim Community at King’s.

This letter is to state that King’s College London’s Intersectional Feminist Society stands in solidarity with our Muslim Community here at King’s following the abhorrent acts that occurred last Friday (04/03/2016). For those who are not fully aware, two white men approached the sisters manning an Islam Awareness Week stall and began verbally attacking them. This eventually escalated to physical threats of violence, and a fellow sister had her niqab (full-face veil) pulled off by one of the men.  For a complete run down on what happened, you can refer to the Roar article or refer to Issa Ruhani’s post on the KCL Islamic Society page. However it is key to note here that not only did security fail to act in protecting Muslim students, but that the University has falsely reported the event to put themselves in a better light, where they have argued that they intervened with what happened. What actually occurred was that it was left to a Muslim brother to place himself in between the sisters and the perpetrators. It was only when senior staff were called that that action was taken, i.e. calling the police

What this letter of solidarity would like to make clear is four things:
(1)  There is a growing atmosphere of aggressive Islamophobia, in not just this University and other educational institutions but across the nation. This attack is just one example of the climate of fear and oppression Muslim students have had to mitigate against and navigate while attending this University.
(2)  The University has proven itself to be racist and Islamophobic in its deployment of ‘safety’ and ‘security’ over the past months.
(3) Right now is the time for our wider student body to rally behind our Muslim community, specifically our Muslim women, and commit to obtaining justice for  what has happened.
(4) Combating racism and Islamophobia at this institution and in wider society is integral to an intersectional approach. We urge all other liberation societies to join us in condemning these events, pushing for a full inquiry, and supporting the Islamic Society during this time.

This attack is unfortunately not a new story for Muslim people in Britain. Already this year we have heard in the news countless examples of Muslim people – frequently Muslim women – being physically assaulted by predominantly white men. From this we can assume that countless more cases have occurred that have not reached national news. It is important to stress that this attack was an explicitly gendered form of Islamophobia,a growing reality for Muslim women here in the West. What we can say however is that at King’s, this event is a tipping point– thanks to the committed work of POC at King’s, and the fact that ISoc have a safe and protected space to organise, this event will not be pushed into obscurity. 

It is incredibly important that people reflect on how this response by the University and the security staff is racialised. This attack has come after countless events where an disproportionate amount of security has been repeatedly brought onto campus for peaceful protests, film screenings, and panel events. When our POC association held a peaceful protest to obtain a meeting regarding the BME attainment gap they were faced with a wall of security and police officers: a message clearly stating that the wider student body was to be protected from them. Yesterday female Muslim students were verbally and physically attacked, and security did not intervene. A clear message that Muslim students are not seen as individuals worth protecting in the same light.

At this moment in time King’s students, and various King’s societies, should be reflecting on this injustice and position themselves to be ready to support ISoc and our Muslim community in whatever call for action is voiced. This is especially  the case for white allies who need to show the University that when they fail to defend Muslim students, and later report falsehoods about what happened, that they will have the scrutiny of the whole student body on their hands.

Sincerely,
iFemSoc Committee.

Advertisements
Standard
Uncategorized

Helping International Students Navigate London: the fantastic work done by the Mexican Society.

 

Being an international student at any British University is not an easy deal, between increased fees, bureaucratic visa hurdles, and being treated as a cash cow by the institution, it is unsurprising that so many student unions have turned their focus to international students issues.

At King’s one of the front runners in providing support is the Mexican Society. In the past year they have created countless guides and support for students, work completed on their own time and focusing on the needs they have learnt through lived experience as international students at King’s.

This blog post’s aim is two fold: 1. To highlight the commitment intersectional feminists should make to our international siblings at University, as they are often hit hardest by the financial and bureaucratic burdens leveled at students. 2. Point you in the direction of two fantastic guides written by our own iFemSoc member Paulina on how to navigate living in London & being an international student.

Navigating the NHS: All-in-One Guide for International Students

The first is a fantastic break down of British healthcare and the NHS. The guide is incredibly comprehensive, stressing the importance of registering with the NHS, as well as many of the questions that are specific two being an international student here in the UK.

“Given that most students are relatively young people, it is frequent for us not to worry too much about our health. However, this is a mistake. One of the first things that you should do when you arrive to the UK is to register with the National Health Service (NHS), the British “public and free” healthcare system, even if it is just to be on the safe side. It is important to register soon for two reasons: many universities and dorms require it and private healthcare is extremely expensive. The lowest fees that a private doctor will charge you will be £80-100 per appointment, if you’re lucky and don’t need any additional test or procedure. Finally, in case of an emergency – yes, we all say it won’t happen – everything will be speedier and better if you know how to use the system.

Just as any other public healthcare system, the NHS is bureaucratic, complicated, and sometimes exasperatingly slow. However, if you know how to navigate it and use it smartly, you’ll get exceptional, quality care which will be nearly or completely free. This is something students in the US can’t say, having to subject themselves to expensive, private health-insurance companies that don’t necessarily cover everything, even if they can be tax-deductible.”

*hit the link above, and on that page will be a gateway to a Spanish version of the guide if that is more useful for you.

I’m an international student moving to London! How do I find a flat?

Housing in London is incredibly difficult for all students, however most home students don’t realise that added loop holes that international students are forced to jump to just to find somewhere safe to life while studying. The guide follows a step-by-step procedure of what Paulina & her housemate did to find an apartment, noting complicating factors & useful sites that they found on the way.

It’s important to note that this guide is slightly more geared towards Mexican students, however in general the advice is very useful for all students.

*The second half of the article is in Spanish, this is just a duplicate translation.


 

To sum up: for feminist societies to truly be considered intersectional they must redouble their efforts to include and cater for international students. In this mind, KCL iFemSoc will aim to be hosting some international students feminist meet ups this semester, and maintain our support of student campaigns that hope to better the experiences of international students here at King’s.

If you have any worries or advice that the society can do to aid international students, do get in touch.

This blog post was written by kcl iFemSoc blog editor Natalie Faber, and references articles written by Paulina Guerrero Gutiérrez, KCL Mexican Society President and iFemSoc member. 

If you want to write for us, come check out our Writing Topics Page. Or if you want to find more fantastic intersectional articles from us, go check out our Contents Page

 

Standard
Article, Guest Post, Mental Health and Disabilities, Reviews, Uncategorized

It’s not manly to be gravely ill – ‘Fake it Till You Make It’ review

 

Depression cuts across the genders, let’s get that straight first of all. But our society has shut off for men many of the methods and opportunities to seek help that are more readily available to women. It is not manly, apparently, to be gravely ill. Sharing with others your personal struggles and anxieties is not something that men can do easily, at least not without feeling that they are compromising themselves in the eyes of their peers.

Fake it Till you Make It (Soho Theatre, 23 September – 17 October) explored this problem. Written and staged by the performance artist Bryony Kimmings alongside her partner Tim Grayburn, a marketing consultant. The play is a biographical performance piece about Bryony and Tim, or perhaps about their relationship. Instead of viewing depression through the individual fighting an illness, the depression is seen in the shape through the destructive effect it can have on a relationship with family, friends, and in this case, partners. Bryony does not ‘take care’ of Tim as a pseudo-nurse, neither does she try to push him to get better one way or another. Instead, the play shows her struggling to keep on living as a mentally healthy individual in a relationship buckling under her partner’s illness, and for them to function normally as a couple without hurting Tim more than the depression already is.

Bryony offers the opposite experience. Raised with the cultural encouragement to open up and talk, combined with her career as performance artist, Bryony made a performance piece aimed to translate Tim’s feelings and for her, as well as an audience, to understand his illness better.

For those who feel like this might be, again, a story about a man and his various problems, perhaps it is important to consider that the narrative is a lesson in the harmful aspects of the stereotypical behaviour that men are pushed into. The main criticism on our culture’s treatment of depressed men comes in the lyrics of a song, “tell him never to talk about his feelings”.

Luckily, there were no stereotypical gender roles in this play. Both Bryony and Tim have full time careers, both carry on, for worse or for better, in those careers as the illness takes its toll.

Even so, I have to agree that it is a pity there is no counterpart to this play where a woman can narrate the effects of her depression. Although I do  agree with the observation made in the play that women have an easier time getting help. But then again, maybe getting help itself has a different impact on the life of women than on men: A woman taking time of work to take her mental health seriously could be at risk of losing a lot more momentum in her career, and damage to her reputation, than a man might. Taking time off from work is in general more harmful for a woman’s career. Also, women are taken less seriously in their ambitions.

The flip-side to the idea of people caring less if a woman gets ill and needs help, is how it shows that people care less if a woman gets ill and needs help. It illustrates how society underestimates the opportunities that are missed for any woman’s life and career to the time and energy spent on getting well again. A play looking at how a someone deals with this situation, maybe with the help of a caring and supportive partner of her own, would be interesting.

Mental health is increasingly becoming more of a point on the public agenda, and hopefully we will see more artistic attention to this issue from both male and female creatives.

This review was written by Saskia Rombach, an ex-King’s student in politics & an avid iFemSoc contributer. Fake It Until You Make It was shown at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as well Soho theatre, and has plans to return to the stage again this year. 

If you want to write for us, come check out our Writing Topics Page. Or if you want to find more fantastic intersectional articles from us, go check out our Contents Page

 

 

 

 

 

Standard
Uncategorized

Getting to Know Our Trans Officer

Hello, do you feel like introducing yourself?

 Hi! So, I’m Lexi: I’m in my third year of Film Studies BA, with my fingers crossed to carry on here at MA level, and I’m the Trans Rep for the Intersectional Feminist Society here at King’s.

Gender-wise: I identify myself as a transfeminine genderqueer person with ze/hir pronouns (pronounced as in “nothing to ze hir”) when in a space in which I can expect the majority of people to understand the language, and I identify myself as a girl with she/her pronouns in every other space.

Non-gender wise: I identify myself as an ex-goth, as a musician and DJ, as a person in recovery from – but not in absence of – mental illnesses, as an anarcha-queer feminist, as a fur -parent and as a raccoon enthusiast, to name but a few.

1504152_10156386425070574_8345009073912701293_n.jpg

(Lexi’s hair colour can change a lot but is at present this colour if you’re looking for hir on campus!)

There is absolutely no doubt that iFemSoc – and any society really – should have a Trans Rep. However, I’d like to know what the iFemSoc having a Trans Rep means to you.

 Perhaps one of the most depressing things I’ve come to realise over the past few months is how wary I often find myself whilst entering self-advertised “Feminist” spaces. For example: a friend and I recently went to an event that was part of the London Feminist Film Festival and then immediately afterwards went to a club, the majority of the space dominated by cis-het men. I realised that I was actually much more comfortable in the latter situation, and the night bus home, than the former. Largely because Feminism as a movement to this day retains some ugly and unaddressed skeletons in its closet, relating to issues of class, race, and gender status, to name but three. In this event, as in many others, I saw deference shown to perpetrators of hate speech and allies of those who have incited violence against children. Both the film shown and the panel discussion that followed gave an insight into a selective memory and a blinkered perspective that we as modern Feminists just cannot afford.

For many minorities – including but not limited to trans people – a space being labeled as Feminist is not enough to allow them to relax their guard in the knowledge they are safe. I certainly hope that seeing an increased number of people who share something of their experience on their society’s committee, striving to represent their community’s interests first and foremost, and ensure that the discourse within and without that society is inclusive and welcoming to them will allow trans students the ability to feel safe in these spaces.

Having spent 2 years at King’s already, I can without hesitation attest to the fact that the KCL Intersectional Feminist Society is a fantastic and safe space, committed to diversity and I consider it a privilege to be part of its committee. When I first came to King’s, even before joining the Film Society – in fact, quite possibly, even before enrolling – I joined the LGBT Society and the Intersectional Feminist Society. It is not inconceivable that the Trans Reps of these two societies in particular may be the first (out) trans people many students will have met. Considering just how isolating and insular being trans can feel sometimes, there simply being a name next to the words “Trans Rep” in the “About” section of a society can be a huge deal in and of itself.

 

How then do you see your role as the iFemSoc’s Trans Rep?

 Put most simply: I am here to be whatever any trans kid walking through the doors of the KCL campus (all my classes are on Strand campus, but I’m always willing to travel!) need me to be. Whether that is as the first port of call following a transphobic incident, or advice needed regarding informing the university of detail changes as they progress through transition, or simply introducing them to more people and spaces, I’m anxious to help. Being a little older than some other 3rdyears, with over ten years of experience as a born-and-bred London queer, I certainly like to think I have enough resources near hand to help out with any issue a student might have.

We create the events we need and I’m currently in the process of asking trans and gender variant / non-conforming peers what they would like to see in the coming year, and I am yearning to hear any ideas! In the autumn semester, I was proud to host a successful, albeit intensely ad hoc and last minute multi-faith alternative to the official London service for the Transgender Day of Remembrance, when I and others grew concerned about its apparent liberalism/commercialism. That was an exceptionally moving moment for me as I saw both  trans and cisgender people of faith step up to the plate when asked a matter of hours before the service if they’d be willing to say the most poignant and beautiful of prayers for our lost.

I was also super happy to be able to host the London date of independent by/with/for transgender publishing house Topside Press‘ first ever UK tour, “Never Mind the Hormones,” with international names like Casey Plett, Imogen Binnie and Aisling Fae reading their material to an almost exclusively trans and/or queer crowd of students and non-students.

On a more daily basis, though, I check in with the iFemSoc facebook page and, where necessary, assist the tireless moderators ensure that trans voices and perspectives are heard on relevant topics, that language used in discussions is inclusive and the general tone within the page and the society consistently avoids cis-centric and/or transphobic bias.

12316522_10156305364505574_1208795465948410795_n.jpg

Other than having a trans rep, what do you think societies can do to make their spaces safer for trans individuals?

 Trans liberation is only going to get so far if the discourse is consistently informed by the belief that there is a thick line drawn between cis people and trans people, and the best we can all do is afford trans people rights to establish equality between the two parties. Gender identity, gender roles, gender stereotypes, gender oppression are phenomena in which we all of us participate and, from whatever side, we all of us experience. Thus, when we discuss an abstract concept like safety, we need to realize that we can put as many trigger warnings in front of posts and advise against whatever slurs or outdated terminology we want, but if the foundation layer’s ideology remains “these are weird people, but we have to treat them nicely,” we’ll have failed before we begin. Viewing transness as being inextricably and eternally linked to dysphoria, depression and victimhood will forever be a self-fulfilling prophecy. A uni society is a small community and, as such, it behooves any society to show its community spirit when a member’s gender, or right to a space, due to a perceived disconnect between their gender and their assigned-gender-at-birth, is challenged. Honestly, extending common courtesy and allowing the dignity of all your members, including the trans ones, is generally all it takes.

 

What would you say to (or, what advice would you have for) new students who are at uni and just starting to explore their gender identity?

Most importantly the nature of gender is not a journey from A->B. There should be no goals with the exception of self-acceptance. There is no need for pronouns that don’t sit right with you, dress styles that don’t best express who you are, or tailoring yourself to meet society’s expectations of how your gender should be expressed; doubtless, you’ve already done that, plenty long enough, again. Your transition is first and foremost about becoming your own true self. There is no original “man” or “woman” model upon which you need to model yourself, and there is no such thing as “failure” in this situation. Your true self is worth working towards and becoming, and your gender or lack thereof is as big or small a deal as you want it to be.

 

This interview was carried out by Natalie (our online welfare officer) & Lexi (our trans rep) with the aim to improve visibility of iFemSoc having a Trans Rep and for Natalie to pick Lexi’s wonderful brain. We are both available to message via the iFemSoc Facebook group or via our personal Facebooks. 

If you want to write for us, come check out our Writing Topics Page. Or if you want to find more fantastic intersectional articles from us, go check out our Contents Page

Standard
Article, Guest Post, Sex Work, sexuality, Worker's Rights

I Criticised the Porn Laws – and Was Targeted For Censorship.

Pandora Blake is an award-winning feminist pornographer, sex worker, activist and sexual freedom advocate.

[Discussion of consensual kink/BDSM activity and the efforts our government has gone to suppress it]

Last November my friend Nimue Allen and I got together with our partners for a week to shoot some porn. We’ve both worked in the BDSM porn industry for years as performers and producers, and we were ready to delve deeper. We spent three days shooting a feature-length explicit documentary about our queer, kinky, polyamorous sex lives. We filmed interviews, video portraits, narrative sequences and hardcore sex scenes, capturing the intimacy and affection of BDSM play between people who love each other. The scenes were spontaneous and unscripted, a natural representation of the sex we have in private, and in the natural course of events they ended up including facesitting, fisting, squirting, caning, needles, breath play, dominance and submission and plenty of hardcore sex. It was authentic, caring and beautiful.

A week later, full of happy excitement about our new project, we learned that every scene we had filmed had just been criminalised under new UK porn laws. It would now be illegal for us to publish any of them. These honest depictions of our sex, pleasure and intimacy had been deemed so extreme that even informed, paying adults couldn’t legally watch them.

Furious, Nimue and I both decided that we wouldn’t do the censors’ work for them. We refused to change the content on our existing sites, Dreams of Spanking and Nimue’s World, to comply with the regulations. Instead we spoke out about the unjust and regressive nature of the new laws; particularly the way they disproportionately target marginalised forms of sexual expression, including fetish play, female sexual dominance, queer sex and unfakeable female pleasure. I debated porn censorship on Newsnight, and gave interviews to every journalist who asked.

In January, sensing the need to strengthen our stance with some cold hard cash, I a organised fundraiser to raise money for Backlash, the non-profit organisation doing invaluable work to defend sexual freedom in the UK.

Nimue and I put our bottoms on the line and volunteered to take one hard cane stroke for every ten pounds raised, to a maximum of 50 strokes each. The pledges poured in. In the end we had to recruit eight additional bottoms to take a total of 383 cane strokes, raising £3836 for Backlash. Each of the canings was filmed, and the video released online under Creative Commons, including interviews and statements from the performers about how why they felt it was important to take a stand against the new laws. Publishing protest films of banned acts, and raising money to fight censorship in the process, was a deeply satisfying act of resistance.

In February at the Women of the World Festival, I debated the social impact of porn on BBC Woman’s Hour in front of a large live audience. That same month I received a letter from ATVOD – the new UK internet porn regulator – regarding my website Dreams of Spanking. None of the other UK spanking paysites – all clearly linked from my site – received a similar letter. It was clear that my outspoken criticism of the new regulations had singled me out as a target. ATVOD CEO Peter Johnson, speaking to The Independent, said quite clearly that sites are more likely to be investigated if they appear in press reports. Does this mean that speaking out against the laws makes you ripe for censorship?

“Peter Johnson, the CEO of ATVOD, said that the organisation has published “clear guidance” on how to comply with the rules. He added that most services are investigated after complaints or “if a service comes to our attention through other means – for example through press reports.”

Let that sink in for a moment: I talked about the porn regulations, and I was singled out for censorship.

My spanking site Dreams of Spanking is unlike any other. It centres female fantasies and the female erotic gaze, shooting performers of all genders without prejudicing one type of body as more deserving of sexual attention than another. The site includes all gender pairings – including male/male scenes, which are often ghettoised into separate physical and virtual spaces by the heteronormative BDSM community. My cast includes trans and non-binary performers, and my films show people of all genders as equally capable of consensual dominance or submission, removing any sexist or misogynistic implications from erotic power exchange.

All of this is underwritten by a strong ethos of fairtrade production, including equal pay for all performers (regardless of gender or body type), and a performer-driven shoot process that centers the preferences, sexualities and informed consent of the participants; particularly of those playing a submissive role. Communication with performers is my first priority on set, limits are always respected, and no-one is pressured to do anything they don’t want to. I started out as a performer, and I still love to get in front of the camera, so I know what it’s like.

I’m constantly aiming to learn and improve my process. I also urge viewers not to take my word for it – I’m only the director – and, if they want to check out my production ethics, ask the performers themselves, or check out their blogs, twitter feeds, unscripted video interviews and out-of-character behind the scenes videos, which are published alongside every scene. Dreams of Spanking aims to be a safe space and an online community promoting acceptance, self-expression and inclusiveness, which affirms and empowers performers and members alike.

So it’s interesting that this site is the one ATVOD targeted for censorship, under the guise of cracking down on “harmful” porn and making society “safer”. It’s interesting that this site – which was doing visible and innovative work to raise the standard of ethical porn production in the UK BDSM industry – was the one ATVOD decided to make an example of. Is their aim to reduce harm – or to stifle free speech?

After a gruelling seven month investigation, ATVOD ruled that Dreams of Spanking was in breach of the new regulations. Firstly, they objected to the transparent site structure, which aimed to destigmatise my kink by making certain materials visible to non-members (behind clearly signposted links) and therefore did not put all explicit content behind a credit card paywall. Secondly, they found me in breach of the regulation against publishing material that is too ‘extreme’ to be classifiable, even as R18, by the BBFC.

Personally I love receiving a hard spanking from the right person, and I fantasise about it even more. As such the majority of my videos include spanking or whipping that leaves welts, bruises or red marks. However, the new regulations ban any material showing BDSM that results in marks that are not “transient and trifling”. It was impossible for me to comply with this rule without removing the vast majority of material on the site; and attempting to do so would go against the core principles of honesty, self-acceptance and kink positivity that underpin my work.

As a feminist pornographer, I aim to make films that authentically depict consensual adult sexuality, with an emphasis on female pleasure and desire. To comply with these regulations would be to become fake. I couldn’t do it while remaining true to myself.

So I didn’t comply, and with the help of Backlash and the inimitable Myles Jackman, I fought ATVOD every step of the way. They made their final decision regardless, and on 27 August I was obliged to take Dreams of Spanking offline. I appealed to Ofcom, and will be waiting many months before they make a decision.

Meanwhile in Europe, the Berlin Porn Film Festival awarded a Dreams of Spanking film which is banned in the UK the first prize in their Short Film Competition – showing that in some EU countries at least, BDSM porn that includes welts and bruises can be held to have have artistic and cultural value.

I still can’t publish the beautiful, intimate film I shot with Nimue a year ago. We have recently learned that ATVOD will be folding next year, and Ofcom will be taking over primary regulatory oversight. So now ATVOD are stepping it up while they still have the chance. More and more brave, beautiful, authentic erotic projects, such as husband-and-wife owned bondage site Restrained Elegance, are coming under investigation. It seems that ATVOD intends to go out with a bang, and Ofcom shows no sign of calling for the regulations themselves to be overturned.

The AVMS guidelines ultimately derive from the Obscene Publications Act, a 56 year old piece of legislation that dates from a time when it was illegal to have homosexual sex, or depict any explicit sex on film. The new list of banned acts isn’t even up to date with the case law on the OPA. It’s a lazy and arguably illegitimate piece of lawmaking that doesn’t affect current social standards in the UK. British consumers can still access material banned under the AVMS by viewing porn published offshore, and so these regulations have no impact on UK society except to close down UK independent businesses, stifle free trade and halt the flow of funds from overseas customers into the UK economy.

We must not give up this fight. The internet has been an invaluable resource in helping my generation come to a more open and accepting view of our own sexuality, and feel more empowered to seek out pleasurable experiences that affirm and fulfil our natural erotic desires. Let’s not undo that good work by accepting these out-of-date regulations that stigmatise sexual expression and stifle free speech.

We must continue to fight for our right to express ourselves sexuality, to enjoy kinky play between consenting adults, and to make porn that reflects our authentic erotic selves. Censorship never succeeds: it only serves to make the banned material more exciting, and young people know better than any of us how to get around online age controls. Instead of censorship, we need age-appropriate sex education that teaches young people about consent, pleasure and porn literacy.

Please write to your MP, write to your local paper, support Backlash and Myles Jackman, and continue being your sexy, kinky, uncensored selves as visibly as you can – until our legislators realise the tide of public opinion is against them, and these regressive, unjust and draconian laws are overturned.

 

 

If you want to write for us, come check out our Writing Topics Page. Or if you want to find more fantastic intersectional articles from us, go check out our Contents Page

Standard
Uncategorized

on testifying, silence, and ghosts

(trigger warning: rape, sexual assault, abuse, trauma)

(A longer version of the conversation around this.)

There is a kind of performative contradiction in speaking about silence, or in being critical of the centering of testimony while putting this on the Internet. Is this testimony about testifying, even while it evades a certain trauma narrative? I don’t know. But H, who knows more about technology than I do, once said to me that what’s on the internet stays there (regardless of any right to be forgotten). Aware of possible contradictions, then –

A primer on where I’m trying to slot this: if we understand discourses to have their own kind of bounded field with internal coherence, logic, rules, and narratives, then we see how within certain discourses it only makes sense to say certain things. Only certain statements are intelligible within the parameters and rules of the discourse. Discourse, importantly, isn’t just linguistic but organises our ways of thinking about the world into the way that we act in the world. Some statements are discursively impossible (though discourses are constantly refashioned and renegotiated, they are never entirely closed systems, allowing interventions to be possible).

What I want to apply this to is the discourse around (and also our societal understandings of) silences and speaking, specifically on the issue of violence, abuse, and trauma. We valorise the speaking “survivor” or subject. We consider “speaking” itself a form of bravery, to speak about the trauma one has undergone or lived through or lived is itself important. We place testimonial at the centre of much of the work that we do. I’ve been troubled for a long time by this – particularly by the frequent Facebook statuses, often from my friends over the last year or so in response to (yet another) rape “scandal” in the papers, urging “survivors” to “report” to save others.

Guilt here is used in the place of political responsibility, and frequently I wondered who was being absolved by pinning blame upon the body that did not speak, the person that chose silence. (The answer is self-evident.) Guilt functions to hold some morally culpable, while absolving others; while if we had chosen political responsibility, it may have asked many of us to stand up against a state that was invoking the death penalty and legislating harsh laws in our name. It is easier to hold rape culture to account by individualising – speaking to accuse. (Maybe this is what can be so threatening about silence – part of what it does is circulate, asking that we interrogate the atmosphere itself, rather than allowing for blame and victimhood to be localised onto individual bodies.)

In Transformation of Silence into Language and Action, Audre Lorde tells us: “I was going to die, if not sooner then later, whether or not I had ever spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you (emphasis added). […] The machine will try grind you to dust anyway, whether or not we speak. We can sit in our corners mute forever while our sisters and our selves are wasted, while our children are distorted and destroyed, while our earth is poisoned; we can sit in our safe corners mute as bottles, and we will still be no less afraid.”

So we will live in fear whether or not we speak, so we have no reason not to. Of course Lorde speaks in the context of speaking out as solidarity-building (and as B pointed out, would probably not see speaking out as an end in itself herself), but her words are often read as supporting a kind of testimonial for the sake of testimonial. The politics of organising around sexual assault and harassment on the university campus often strategises in terms around speaking too: the collection of stories of “victims”/”survivors”, the dissemination of them. Testimonials convince that there is a problem – though the fact that we had to convince is itself telling. Who needed to be convinced that sexual assault was an endemic problem? Certainly not those of us who have lived it. Testimonial accumulation builds “awareness” (and then, of course, there is sometimes a surfeit of awareness and no moving from there). Testifying and speaking out is central to our understanding of justice, whether that’s in courtrooms or activist spaces. We speak in the courtroom, which functions as a theatre of truth-production, that renders some bodies legible and legal, and this is a process of inviting testimony. Testimony is often a form of catharsis – the legal process is intended to heal and provide restitution – and it listens with the air of objectivity or neutrality. It invites speaking out, and the legal discourse goes on to collect evidence, interpret, adjudicate using testimony whether this is in words, or otherwise. Testimony does not always have to be language. My body bore bruises for days; this felt like testimony to me, more than evidence.

The courtroom invites testimony, and often this is the reason why people use the legal process, for the sense of feeling heard (and research on people’s tribunals and the opportunity to speak, as some kind of cleansing, illustrates the need felt to give testimony, bear witness as community healing). The legal process listens with some amount of compassion, but the feminist method does not adjudicate (explicitly, or at least with the state’s coercive power, though it certainly exerts its own strength of coercion) but invites testimony and offers compassion. To listen without compassion is a form of “disembodied deafness”, it negates our ethical responsibility to other people.

In the feminist discourse on abuse and trauma, there are accepted scripts on how to respond to testimony of violence, and within this discourse, its own rules of interpretation. There are things that make sense within this narrative, and some that fall away. The listener is listening for specific things; hears some things and does not hear others. The reaction to a story follows a script, and aims in some way to collect evidence of harm – much like a courtroom. This is speaking out outside the realm of the law, but retains many of its methods of interpretation, evidence collection, its focus on rehabilitation, restitution, apology, statement, and the focus on ensuring that the speaker feels heard.

But what happens when the listener is listening for something? If listening itself, no matter how much it attempts at compassion, is following a discursive pattern, looking for some things? When we listen to a story to identify what parts of it slot into our script or commonplace understanding of trauma, we are negating other possibilities, other parts of the story that are impossible to this narrative, that are illegible within it. Other parts of the story are negated when they fall outside the script. This isn’t just listening, this is hegemonic listening: the speaking itself is meant to be cathartic, but the listener isn’t just listening but is actively looking for certain things. Certain parts of the story register, and others don’t.

Part of my own reluctance to speak (and I suspect this is true for others) is to resist this hegemonic listening: to resist knowing that my story will be slotted into the narratives that we currently have to understand trauma, that some parts will go unheard. Equally, that the response to this story from the listener fits a script ofhow to respond – it invokes a politics of injury and innocence upon the teller of the story, that seems affirmed by the listener. Victimhood can often feel like performance – you are the right kind of victim when you are brave, and braver still if you speak out. If you make your pain legible and articulate it, often for the consumption (sometimes profit) of others.

But who is this fictive audience to whom we narrate our pain? If speaking is catharsis, who do we speak to? (Because here, we certainly aren’t speaking to the state.) To choose victimhood is like asking us to claim injury and innocence at once even when neither fit quite right. And then the act of telling, or speaking out, becomes that much more difficult. How do you speak, affirm that assault happened and trauma resulted, without imputing onto oneself all the narratives that encircle this affirmation?

Speaking is political – we already know this – but then perhaps choosing silence, or choosing not to speak, is as political in the face of the overwhelming compulsion that speaking is a necessary feminist act, an end-goal in itself. A subversive silence might resist the interpretation of injury and innocence, the negation of some parts of itself in exchange for the affirmation of others. A subversive silence deviates from the script by sitting at the margins.

Political awareness can mean having to navigate these ruptures, breaks, and fragments in consciousness. If there are ruptures between our feminist method in collecting knowledge, of finding these stories and making them valid and our lived experience of subversive silence precisely against this method, then the method must either change or account for the existence of its own script of listening. Feminist epistemology reclaims the experiences of those who have never been the speaker of truth-claims, who have been dismissed as incapable of rising above their subjectivities, claims their de-validated words and renders them legitimate and valid as knowledge. Feminist method crucially also looks for silence – but where do we begin to look for subversive silence, silence that precisely resists the logic of feminist method? Where do we account for the existence of subversive silence that resists the hegemonic (even if compassionate) listener? The epistemological difficulty of silence is that it is intangible, entirely out of reach. It doesn’t just exist in the margins, it defiantly refuses to be given shape at all.

It seems like an impossible question to me, simply because there might not be a way to entirely escape hegemonic listening –– even when it is compassionate. Discourses may well always have scripts and the attendant behaviours that come with it: there will always be statements that make more sense within the discourse and others that are impossible to its logic. But part of what I’m trying to challenge is the very idea that knowledge must be tangible, that it exists to be collected in some way. What do we lose with our obsession with testifying? What do we miss in the self-congratulatory way we talk about getting people to “speak up”, “break the silence”? I do also mean in a very real material sense – there are entire industries that secure funding off the claim to empower women in some way, to facilitate a process by which they allow women to speak. We fixate on the testifying subject, or the subject that wants to be heard. Testimonial as activism means that we may be missing those that resist its form.

Not all silence is intentionally subversive (as S pointed out), or even intentional, willed. Many of us do not speak for other reasons – in fraught situations, speaking is not an option afforded to us. Subversive silence is not inherently more valuable as a tool of resistance, and it’s dangerous to romanticise silence precisely because of the possibilities that speaking too offers. But subversive silence againsthegemonic listening is not the silence that feminists are often pointing to when we condemn cultures of silence, and reward the speaking subject (either with our praise, retweets, or money). Picking out subversive silence that operates against our scripts of understanding trauma, however, allows us to see how our methods of listening (or failure to listen) hides people and stories. All silences are often combinations of unintentional silences, reflective silences, and subversive silences – and feminism has a responsibility to account for this. Feminism will never push a person to “report” to the authorities, but still places a premium on speaking as knowledge. My criticism isn’t to glorify silence as resistance – speaking out is something we cannot not want – but I contest that speaking out is the only way to produce knowledge, claim pain, and transcend pain. Silence embodies itself through gesture – passed through knowing glance, offhand comment – between generations and groups.

(And, of course, there are contradictions within this too: my own subversive silence is being enacted, brought to life in my very acknowledgement here that it exists. What’s fascinating about social media and internet feminist activism is that it circumvents the juridical process and its claim to truth, its claim of arbitrating justice, and the ways it fails marginalised groups –– but it continues to affirm testifying. “Reporting” assault and trauma might have different meanings in this sphere; sometimes I think that even acknowledging that it has occurred is a form of recording it, and reporting it. It offers a way of legibility and healing outside the legal process, while still absorbing many of its impulses.)

If justice is an infinite project, and also a project that is continually deferred, then one way of approaching justice might be to resist the use of hegemonic scripts to understand and narrate harassment, violence, and trauma. One possible way of living the revolution is to “live the ethical life” –– in the here and now –– and that requires a listening that does not search, that does more than extend our ears and sight. It might involve being wary of the limits of the discursive understanding of violence that we have (which is limited in so many other ways than the ones I’ve outlined), and it might avoid the script that collects knowledge, that valorises those that speak out, that prescribes a correct method of listening to a story and affirming the injured body.

I’ve been obsessed for a long time with the metaphorical idea of the feminist “surviving” body and the precarity of its silence, as a ghost body. I’m referring to the silence – while acknowledging the danger in engaging in metaphors that seem to suggest that the surviving body is diminished somehow, or less human (seeing as we have patriarchal discourse do enough of that for us anyway). Often, in the aftermath of my own experiences of assault, I would seek confirmation in everyday objects and actions that I still occupied corporeal form: I would look for my reflection, I would check the mirrors above the bus doors before exiting, crane my neck to look at the CCTV camera on the upper deck, bite my lip hard to make sure I was still there. There’s a physicality and an unsureness of it that was generated within my body (though I’m not sure if this fits the standard survivor script; maybe me speaking about it now will absorb it into that script). The idea of the ghostly subversive silences that animate the work that we do, that haunt the projects we embark on might be a useful methodological tool. Not in that we are the ghosts, but rather, that we are aware of their presence when we invoke hegemonic narratives to understand and speak of trauma. If subversive silence, or any silence, is enacted through gesture and omission, then it is the ghost in the house hiding from dominant understandings of violence. Unpicking subversive silences specifically (as opposed to other silences) is not to place it as more valuable, but to demonstrate that it exists against us, not patriarchy.

The ghost shimmers. At night, it might bang on a few creaky pipes. It is tangible enough for us to remember that subversive silences exist, enough for us to alter our method to be quiet enough to hear the pipes, but not enough for us to question, to force testimony out of. It resists our penetrating questions and resists the fitting of its story into a larger hegemonic narrative of what it is to be abused, assaulted, ghostly. It animates the work that we do, because we know it might be around us. It informs our approach by simply asking us to be aware of the bodies and stories that resist our method, while being able to claim silence and intangibility as knowledge itself. The ghost cannot offer testimony, and by definition it mocks the idea of a trial, but it could still occupy the witness stand.

This piece was cross posted with permission from Shruti Iyer’s blog. Click here to see it in its original format. 

If you want to write for us, come check out our Writing Topics Page. Or if you want to find more fantastic intersectional articles from us, go check out our Contents Page

Standard
Events

Intersectionality 101 & Zine Making – how it all went down.

Intersectionality 101.

This was our first event of the year, and was the centre piece of our fresher’s events. We wanted to provide an engaging and powerful event that would help those new to intersectional feminism understand the basics, but also create something interesting and substantial for those who have been working with us – and in their own intersectional circles – for years.

For those of you who weren’t there, our speakers included:

  • Dr. Nina Power, a Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Roehampton. She is the author of One Dimensional Woman (2009) and regularly writes for various publications.
  • Susuana Antubam is an activist, who is currently Women’s Officer at NUS, and was the Women’s Officer at ULU last year.
  • (Unfortunately Malia Bouattia the current the Black Student’s Officer at NUS was unable to make it)

Through the eminence of our speakers alone, we knew this event was going to be good, but my’gosh were we impressed by the turn out! With over 150 clamouring to get in – many more having to be turned down at the door due to space constrictions –  we were bowled over by the enthusiasm and excitement of our iFemSoc members and the level of energy and engagement the event as a whole gave out.

Our proudest moments was hearing feedback from our attendees with comments such as:
It’s really cool to see a femsoc which is not built entirely from a privileged white background and ideology, and be represented as such in its committee and events.” (From Stewart)
It was so engaging! It really made me think” (Friend of a iFemSoc committee member)
“I’m so glad I came, thank you for putting it on, I didn’t really know what intersectionality was before” (iFemSoc member)

So chuffed by this glorious praise, we are already eager for more! Did you come along to the event? What was your favourite part? How did you find it? What can we do next time to make it even better! Send in your comments, and we’ll add them to this page & use it to guide us in all future events.

Zine Making – Body Image.

A smaller and more intimate event, but by no means less effective, our zine making session saw iFemSoc getting crafty with glue, handy with sissors and even the occasional sprinkle of glitter. The theme was body image, a starting point that may have drawn many of us to feminism in the first place, but also continues to occupy the minds and thoughts of anyone navigating today’s image-obsessed world. Armed with glue, paper and magazines, our members took on powerful questions such as: how does aesthetic roles affect those of varying genders? How does race, and colonialism, interact with the body image of young women? What does is mean to be interested in fashion? In beauty? In yourself?

2

The result was some of the most powerful images I’ve ever seen, see below for just a small example of the work (the rest will be put on facebook soon, and we’ll be polling ideas on what exactly we’re planning to do with them next). What began as a space for self exploration and intimate groups of discussion, flowed into a liturgy of expression, liberation and art. As you can see, the topic of body image provided a very rich and varied interpretation, tapping into personal but also inter-personal feelings of representation, alienation, contradiction and celebration. Many of the works go together, or can be read as a story, where as others provided stand alone and breath taking insight into how people see themselves and their bodies, through the lens of society’s perception of body image.

group

We’ve already had cries from many members asking for another session, and with so much material, inspiration & enthusiasm for another go – we’ll definitely be putting together another zine making session soon.

When & what? That’s up to you! Are you ready to make some zines in the next few weeks? Do you think that the topic of body image should be explored some more? Is there something more specific or different we should focus on? Perhaps a response, or development to a zine or piece of art you’ve read or seen recently? If you have answers to any of those questions – or simply got something to say about zine making – get in touch! We’d love to host another event, all we need is you!

(And maybe more glue, because we got through a lot of it last time)

.
1 3 4 6 5

Standard