Tag Archives: Feminism

Just how seriously should we take #Gamergate?




It started with a jilted lover and a vengeful post. It then spun off into what is arguably a rabid hate group against what they perceive as ideological corruption. Since its inception in August, #Gamergate has led to at least three women leaving their homes in face of death threats over Twitter, Intel pulling their ads from gaming website Gamasutra, and a shooting threat at Utah State University. Gamergaters claim to be ethical crusaders; their opponents say they are at best trolls, at worse digital terrorists.

I’ve stared into the abyss – the endless feed of #Gamergate and #StopGamerGate2014 tagged posts, online imageboard 8chan and gaming forums, in an attempt to find what is the common thread in this movement. And what, in fact, is #Gamergate.

A confused and angry bunch

If it can be said that #Gamergate has a “base”, it is internet message board 8chan (a.k.a. “hatechan,” as 8chan users themselves call it), which came to be after the far better known imageboard 4chan started curtailing doxxing (the public release of personal documents to facilitate harassment) attempts – mostly focused on female game producers, critics and journalists. In itself, 8chan is contradictory: they claim to be a free-speech site, yet use their speech in attempts to censor so-called “Social Justice Warriors” – feminists, LGBT activists, anti racism activists, etc; its users claim they are not misogynists, yet the site contain numerous boards dedicated to harassing women, and to “destroy feminism”.

8chan is central to much of the #Gamergate movement; users are referred to as “Leaders of gamergate”, its largest board is “/gg/” – dedicated solely to #Gamergate – and may users see it as their safe haven against “political correctness”. Their worst fear is the end of gaming as they know it due to pandering to “feminazis” and the creation of a Comics Code Authority-style censorship board. Some of them seem sincere enough in their claims against “corruption in gaming journalism” – the problem is what they perceive as corruption.

A recent example of thier incongruity came after the release of Bayonetta 2. In response to the website Polygon’s less-than-stellar review of the Wii U title, which noted issues regarding objectification and over sexualization of women as problematic, #Gamergate started a campaign to get the gaming website blacklisted by Nintendo. In a way, their notion of corruption is “discourse I don’t agree with” – while ethics mean cronyism, as Polygon ought to be punished for the “crime” of not giving a perfect score to an AAA game (a large budget, mainstream title). Meanwhile, older and well known cases of actual corruption in gaming media – such as the firing of Jeffrey Gertsmann over his negative review of “Kane&Lynch” in 2007, which suggested a cosy relationship between news outlets and gaming companies – are ignored in the name of those perceived cases of ideological corruption. In fact, one of their main gripes is with the criteria set for game reviews. In short terms, they want “objective, unopinionated and impartial reviews” – a complete oxymoron. Another point of major contention is the alleged collusion of journalists with feminists and minorities to “fix the system” and “force their political agenda” onto the game market. . 

“A hate group”

The targets of gamergaters harassment are well known by now: Game developer Zoe Quinn, feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian, who’s been on their radar for the past two years, and game developer Brianna Wu. The movement started with the harassment of Zoe Quinn over her alleged sexual misconduct.

Quinn had already faced harassment earlier this year, when her award-winning game Depression Quest became the target of a harassment campaign led by “wizardchan” – an online imageboard frequented by male virgins who blame “society” and “feminism” for their inability to have a relationships, who claimed Zoe was exploiting depression and mocking their pain. Then, in August, her ex-boyfriend Eron Gjoni came out with “thezoepost”. In this 9000 words blogpost, Gjoni claims Quinn cheated on him with five people connected to the gaming industry and the gaming press, to “ascend in her career”. One such partner supposedly was gaming journalist Nathan Grayson – whom according to Gjoni, she slept with to get favorable reviews of Depression Quest. The fact that Grayson never reviewed Depression Quest nor ever wrote about the game was seen by most gamergaters as irrelevant.

While maintaining their main concern was about ethics, gamergaters have discussed, judged, and condemned Quinn’s sex life, genitalia and behaviour. All three were forced to leave their homes over concerns for their own safety.

As a whole, the movement alternates between denying responsibility for the threats and harassment, denying the latters’ existence, or even claiming the victims themselves created the threats. While recently condeming doxxing on twitter, 8chan has at the same time being used to expose the id and home address of those women who #Gamergate perceive as enemies.

Other women have been caught in this debacle, too. Social researcher Jennifer Allaway was targeted by what she calls a “hate group” in late September. While conducting a study on the importance of diversity in game content, she was targeted by gamergaters with attacks and insults. “If members of gamergate took my study seriously, I would have welcomed them. The fact that they used my own study to mock the purpose of it and harass me shows that, to them, anything or anyone asking questions about diversity deserves mockery,” she said.

The whole environment has become “exhausting”, Allaway noted: “I have multiple friends in the game industry who have faced far worse harassment than I, and seeing what they go through makes me want to speak out more. The worst is seeing your friends leave. Women have worked so hard to make the industry a safe space for themselves, and now that feels threatened.” Among those who have quit due to the harassment, is award winning journalist Jenn Frank, who abandoned gaming journalism after being repeatedly threatened, insulted, and having her personal info posted online following an article she wrote for The Guardian regarding the harassment faced by Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian.

More than a vocal minority

The persistence of threats and harassment brings into question whether the angry and hateful side of the movement is simply a minority. Game developer Molly Carroll has doubts on how “minor” is the hatred in #Gamergate. While she notes that the official cause of #Gamergate is indeed worthy, as gaming journalism is in need of refinement, she is skeptical of whether people are truly in it for that cause. As she notes, the hatemongers have gained prevalence over whatever rational segment there ever was: “Sadly, one cannot deny that the actions of the anti-women portion of Gamergate have outnumbered and gained attention over that of any other,” she says.

Due to the way things progressed and escalated, as the focus increasingly shifted from claims about “ethics” to the position of women in gaming, #Gamergate was joined by women-haters and neo-nazis, who used it as an outlet for their hatred: “It isn’t even about games any more, its just an outlet for these kinds of people [to act] without consequence,” Carroll claimed.

#Gamergate in itself, in her perception, has accomplished nothing. At least, not anything the movement aimed for. “I suppose the situation has offered food for thought, but an actual tangible effect? No. At least not yet, and I highly doubt anything will come from it,” she said. If anything came out of this, is that the treatment of women is gaining more attention and sympathy than ever before. However, as Allaway noted, one must not keep silent over #Gamergate: “Silence is acceptance. If we are silent against the actions of #gamergate, then we are saying that we consent to the threats and harassment to our community. They have the ability to impact our culture if we do not put a stop to them.”

A “Culture War”

Some gamergaters themselves are no longer defining their “war” as one against corruption in gaming journalism, but as a “culture war” to keep gaming culture unaltered, to curtail any attempts at moving it towards a more inclusive environment, and to end critique of it – all the while maintaining they are the ones being oppressed. A recent post on 8chan read:

“Gamergate is about drawing a line in the sand and stating that ‘We will give up X freedoms to make you comfortable, but that is all we will ever give you.’ Freminists [sic] are demanding games be more inclusive for women. Black action groups are demanding games have more black protagonists. Gays are demanding more gay characters, and Trans are demanding trans characters.

The point of gamer gate is us stating that we have a culture independant [sic] of other cultures. That we will maintain our culture despite newcomers asking for more and more stipulations and changes to it. They have taken our right to speak freely in public. They have taken our right to debate freely in acadamia [sic]. They have taken our right to pubic [sic] expression and art. We are drawing the line at the edge of the internet and any one who tries to further force us to concede our freedom of expression will face us there.”

This kind of claim is nothing new: it harkens back to moral outrages over minority rights, and the reversal of blame so common in them. To Allaway, this indicated a “knee-jerk reaction” by people that until now were the only ones being catered to. “This is of course ridiculous, because there will always be games that cater to them more than women and other minorities” she addsed, “but they fear what this dialogue will do to games as a whole, and are willing to silence anyone who is a part of changing that.”

According to Carroll, another leading factor are misconceptions as to what is causing changes in gaming. “Currently some of the bigger figureheads spearheading these efforts and getting the most media attention are women. So naturally people assume that its women who are changing games in what they see as a bad way”, she noted, adding that those changes are still very slow. “For every step they [gaming companies] take forward, such as the removal of booth babes – skimpy clad women used to promote products in events and conventions –  from gaming events, there is a step back,” she said.

The “War” narrative has been used before, in an interview conceed by Zoe Quinn’s ex-boyfriend Eron Gjoni (the author of the “zoepost” and arguably, the catalyst to #Gamergate) to Buzzfeed, Gjoni claimed he “quit his dayjob” as waging “internet warfare” took too much of his dedication. Nowadays he focuses mainly on coordinating #Gamergate – and says he would do it again – although in the same interview he said he regrets the harassment. According to him, the threats against his ex girlfriend are not his faullt: she should’ve done more to prevent that. Sadly, is another feature of some gamergaters: shifting the blame unto the victim, while portraying themselves as the ones being persecuted.

An online “war” over games might seem like a silly thing – and in many ways, it is – yet since its inception #Gamergate, either intentionally or by irresponsibility, has led to fear, harassment and aggression online. Whatever they think their intentions might be in theory, in practice their behaviour is little more than that of an angry mob – and should be treated as such.


Written by Pedro Leal

Image credit: gamergate365

The pitfalls of Italy’s abortion law

ON PAPER, Italy’s law on abortion seems flawless – but reality is much different due to the existence the loophole known as conscientious objection.

Abortion was illegal in Italy until May 1978, when Law 194 was passed and introduced the right to terminate a pregnancy safely and with the minimal risk for women’s health. By law, any woman is allowed to terminate a pregnancy on request during the first 90 days for whatever reason they see fit. Once obtained proof as to the state of the pregnancy, all that it takes is making an appointment with a structure authorized to terminate the pregnancy. This may be either a public hospital, where the whole procedure is free of charge, or in a structure authorized by the regional health authorities. Should carrying the pregnancy to term endanger the woman’s life or health, or should the foetus’ health turn out to be seriously compromised – thus putting strain on the mother’s emotional and psychological state – the termination can be carried out up to 20 weeks after conception.

All in all Law 194 seems flawless, allowing women to terminate an undesired pregnancy with minimal risk for their health. Reality, however, is quite different. The most obvious loophole is that of conscientious objection: the possibility for any doctor to refuse performing an abortion on ethical or religious grounds. As a result, while Law 194 grants women the right to a safe abortion, doctors are also allowed to refuse performing it.

The volume of objection

What raises an issue is the sheer amount of conscientious objectors. While the percentage varies depending on the region, it only goes below fifty percent in one region. In several regions conscientious objectors are 80 – 85% of the medical personnel qualified to perform abortions. These numbers are at odds with people’s general attitude toward the issue: in 2012 a Censis report found that only 26% of individuals interviewed were against the right to abortion, with 60% being pro-choice.

As a result of the high percentage of objectors, booking an appointment can be far more difficult than it should be – with the risk of getting past the time limit of 90 days after which a pregnancy can only be terminated under special circumstances. While any attempt at changing the situation has been rejected by Catholics and pro-life movements as an attack to the medical personnel’s conscientious freedom, Claudio Crescini – of the Italian Association of Hospital Obstetricians and Gynecologists – says that it often isn’t a matter of personal belief.

“Abortion is overused in electoral and political debates, and there’s a lot of pressure on us,” he says.“While it’s not explicitly stated, someone who’s not an objector doesn’t have the easy career an objector makes – and they’re often forced to perform nothing but abortions.” In short, conscientious objectors have less of a work load than non-objectors with no risk of damaging their career by avoiding a loaded issue. It’s no wonder that many choose not to perform abortions for convenience rather than because of a religious or ethical issues.

An even bigger obstacle comes from those who take their right to conscientious objection well past what the law allows. Objectors have the right not to personally perform an abortion – but that’s all. Emergency contraception, like the morning-after pill or RU-486, isn’t covered by the right to objection; there is no right for the doctor to refuse prescribing it, or for any medical professional to refuse giving it to a woman who asks for it.

At what cost ? 

And yet that’s precisely what happens and women’s right to safely terminate or avoid a pregnancy is constantly under attack. Despite it being against the law, many doctors downright refuse to prescribe emergency contraception. Last week in Voghera, a town in Lombardy, a nurse kept two young women from accessing to the hospital when they said they wished to get a prescription for the morning-after pill. It’s not uncommon for objectors to try guilting women into not terminating the pregnancy, adding strain to what’s already a stressful situation. Some were even left alone through part of the procedure because the doctors and nurses who started their shift were objectors. As a result, women have to leap through fire hoops for a chance to terminate a pregnancy – a right granted by Law 194. Some doctor go as far as refusing to certify their state, knowing that without a certificate they cannot terminate a pregnancy without medical proof that there is indeed a pregnancy. The practice is so widespread that Nicola Zingaretti, President of Lazio, had to introduce new rules in his region stating that medical personnel in public structures could not refuse to certify a state of pregnancy or to prescribe emergency contraception.

This raises the question of what pro-life movements precisely hope to accomplish by trying to force women into carrying undesired pregnancies to term. If they think it would make abortions stop, they’re sorely mistaken: history and common sense tell us it wouldn’t be the case.

A 2000 survey by Istat – the Italian National Institute of Statistics – estimates that at least 20,000 illegal abortions were carried on every year prior to 1978, when Law 194 was passed and abortion became legal. The fact most illegal abortions were obvious carried on in secret makes it difficult to give exact figures; Istat doesn’t rule out the possibility their estimate may be lower than the truth.Before Law 194 abortions had been happening under wraps in the entire country as illegal, unsafe procedures that could easily result with the woman’s death due to haemorrhage and infections. Fear of social stigma would lead many unmarried women to risk their lives to terminate the pregnancy; fear of punishment would keep them from seeking medical help afterwards. Even for those who sought help, it was often too late.

This is what comes out of taking away women’s right to choose whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term: not only it fails to keep abortions from happening, but it also puts women in the position to risk their own health and lives to terminate a pregnancy.

So much for pro-life.

Written by Allessandra Pacelli 

Image Credit: Paolo Margari 




Unsafe Abortion kills – the dangerous ‘pro-life’ war in Europe

Europe has a reputation for being one of the most liberal places in the world when it comes to sexual and reproductive rights. However, laws on paper do not necessarily reflect attitudes on the ground.  Ariane Osman investigates the growing attempts to repress abortion rights across the European Union and the consequences this could have on its women and girls.

On Sunday 21st of October, Savita Halappanavar, a dentist from India who was expecting her first child with husband Praveen, was rushed to hospital in severe pain. The medical staff informed her that she was going through a miscarriage and that – at 17 weeks – the foetus would not survive outside the womb. On Monday, Savita was in such a state of agony that she requested an abortion. She was denied due to the existing foetal heartbeat, which rendered the procedure illegal unless it was judged that there was substantial risk to her life. Savita spent the following day vomiting repeatedly and consultants continued to deny her repeated requests for the procedure. She collapsed that night but still, the foetal heartbeat meant that nothing could be done. On Wednesday the foetus died and its remains were surgically removed. Savita was placed under sedation in an intensive care unit with systemic blood poisoning. On Saturday her heart, kidneys and liver stopped functioning. On Sunday October 28th – she was pronounced dead. This scene did not unfold in an Indian hospital, it took place in Ireland, where abortion has never been legal and can land you 14 years in prison.

Hundreds crossing the Irish Sea each year

According to Amnesty International, over 12 women a day from Ireland went to the UK to access a safe termination between 1980 and 2012; however, these numbers, which are recorded by the UK Department of Health, are a gross underestimate according to Mara Clarke, founder and Director of the Abortion Support Network. “It only gives the number of women who attended a clinic in England and gave an address in Ireland or Northern Ireland,” she said. “It doesn’t count the women who give the address of a friend or family member in England, [or] the women who give a fake address.”

Savita’s death is a stark reminder that conservative reproductive laws are not only relegated to the developing world but are present within the European Union as well. Unknown to much of its population, legislative changes, which would make abortion illegal have been growing within member states over the past three years.

“One of us” citizen’s initiative

A European Union initiative has recently been employed to try and make abortion illegal across all member states.

On April 10 2014, citizen’s initiative “One of Us” was heard at the European parliament. According to the initiative’s report submitted to the European commission. the main objectives were that the EU, “establish a ban and end the financing of activities which presuppose the destruction of human embryos, in particular in the areas of research, development aid and public health”.

It utilised the European Citizens Initiative (ECI), which allows European citizens to propose new legislations to the European Parliament if they have support from one million people from across seven member states.

The European Commission struck down the initiative on May 28, stating that their campaign would destroy life-saving scientific advances as well as life-saving sexual and reproductive heath rights.

Although rejected, “One of us” reflects the potential for democratic processes such as the ECI to pass laws that could take away rights granted to European citizens at a state level.

Restrictive legislation being debated

Women who undergo illegal abortions could be sentenced to up to three years in prison under a proposed law currently being debated in the Lithuanian parliament.

The ‘Law on the protection of life in a prenatal phase’ would only allow for an abortion if the woman’s life is in danger or if she is pregnant due to rape. Allowance for rape would only be granted if the woman can prove that she has been raped by the 12 week gestation limit.

But legislation is not only being rolled back in Eastern Europe. The Spanish population has shown outrage at the attempt to backtrack on recent advances made to Spain’s abortion legislation.

The existing law, which was introduced by the Socialist government in 2009, allows women and girls to terminate their pregnancy. The proposed reform, by the conservative Popular Party (PP), would make abortion illegal in all circumstances, unless the health of the woman is in danger or if the pregnancy is a result of rape.

“We can’t allow the life of the unborn baby to depend exclusively on the decision of the mother,” Ruiz-Gallardon, the Spanish Justice Minister told reporters in December 2013.

Women and girls seeking abortions also have to consult two doctors and produce a police report if they have been raped. Abortion providers also have the choice of refusing terminations, decreasing access to facilities.

Various polls have shown that 70-80 per cent of Spaniards oppose the reform; however, the rightist government has pursued the change in legislation.

If the bill is implemented, Europe risks repeating the trends that existed before abortion became legal, including a rise of maternal mortality. “We will come back to the previous years where the women from Spain were travelling to France and to the UK to have safe abortions,” explains Dr. Luc de Bernis, Senior Maternal Health

Adviser at the Technical Division at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). “Certainly we will see an increase of maternal mortality and morbidity.”

Not everyone holds this view. “The life of an unborn child cannot be sacrificed without a proportionate reason,” said Gregor Puppinck, Director of the European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ), in an analysis of the Spanish proposal. US evangelical media mogul, Reverend Pat Robertson, founded the anti-choice organization in the 1990s.

France bucking the trend

Unlike their European neighbours, French lawmakers voted to ease access to terminations on January 21 2014. The previous law, which was passed in 1975, stated that all “pregnant women whose condition puts her in a situation of distress” had the right to an abortion.

The wording was changed to a “woman has the right to choose whether or not to continue with her pregnancy” and does not force women to explain their choice in seeking a termination. “Abortion is a right in itself and not something that is simply tolerated depending on the conditions,” said minister of women’s rights, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem.

Abortion rights are widely supported in French society: according to a 2010 IFOP poll, 86 per cent of women support it, although there has been backlash from the Catholic Church.

European Union: Abortion is a human right

The European Union has made note of the growing threat to sexual and reproductive health in member states and re-confirmed it’s unwavering support for full sexual and reproductive rights for every citizen.

A 2013 draft report on sexual and reproductive health rights by the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM) states that sexual and reproductive rights are “human rights” and any obstructions are “breaches of women’s and girls’ rights to equality, non discrimination, dignity and health, and freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment.”

Dr. de Bernis explained that the importance of making abortion legal and accessible stems from the consequences of unwanted pregnancy, which can result in child abuse and mental health issues. However, advocating for the legality of abortion does not equal taking the procedure lightly. “We (UNPF) are not promoting abortion, certainly not,” he said. “Abortion is not a means of contraception […] but abortion has to be considered if the women don’t want to be pregnant.”

Disparities between States

Despite recommendations by the EU, there remains disparity between the sexual and reproductive rights granted by member states.

According to official EU figures, 21 of the 28 member states allow for abortions on demand, mostly within the first 12 weeks.

In, Luxembourg, Cyprus, Finland and the United Kingdom (England, Scotland and Wales) abortion is available, but with limitations: including if the life of the women is in danger, health, social and economic reasons and if pregnancy is caused by rape or incest. Most circumstances call for two doctors to approve the termination.

In Ireland and Poland, abortions are severely restricted, with Polish law only permitting the procedure if the woman’s life or health is in danger, if it is the result of rape or if there is a malformation of the foetus.

In Malta, abortion is illegal under all circumstances.

Barriers regardless of legislation

But even in countries where the laws indicate that abortion is easily accessible, the facts on the ground tell a different story. Women must surpass multiple barriers including mandatory waiting periods, unregulated counseling services and conscientious objection’s practice to be granted a termination. The practice describes the ability of a healthcare provider to deny women access to a range of sexual and reproductive services.

According to the FEMM report, in Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Poland, Ireland and Italy 70 per cent of all gynecologists and 40 per cent of all anesthesiologists conscientiously object to providing abortion.

The report explains that these barriers hit the most vulnerable women and girls the hardest. Having to travel long distances within their own countries due to lack of local services or having to travel to other EU states due to total bans adds to financial strain, which contributes to growing health inequities throughout the European Union.

Furthermore, the report states that making abortion illegal does nothing to decrease the amount of abortions that take place.

This is seconded by research conducted by the World Health Organisation (WHO). They found that although some western European countries have the lowest rate of abortion in the world (12 of 1000 women), countries in Eastern Europe including Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia, had more abortions than live births in 2003 (103 abortions per 100 births) giving them the highest estimated abortion rates in the world.

“Unsafe abortion kills”

The FEMM report does describe a relationship between the legality of abortion and the safety of the procedure, which is supported by the WHO’s Fact and Figures about Abortion in the European Region. It concludes that, “women seek desperate measures if they cannot obtain safe abortions.”

According to WHO, common methods to self-abort include the insertion of tubes or liquids into the uterus, coat hangers, knitting needles and the insertion of a flexible rubber catheter into the uterus to stimulate labour. The report into unsafe abortions states, “the more invasive the technique, the more dangerous it was to the woman and the more likely it was to disrupt the pregnancy.”

Short-term effects are listed as life-threatening sepsis or haemorrhage, which may lead to a hysterectomy and gas gangrene from Clostridium perfringens and tetanus.

Long-term effects are more difficult to come by. WHO estimate that 20-30 per cent result in reproductive tract infections and 20-40 per cent in upper-genital-tract infection and infertility. Unsafe abortions also risk reproductive problems in the long run including ectopic pregnancy, premature delivery, and spontaneous abortion.

Why the backlash?

The question now is: why, having being liberalized in the majority of the EU, are governments changing their minds on abortion rights?

According to the FEMM report, the decreasing demographics across Europe are changing policies focusing on sexual and reproductive rights to so called “family policies” in order to increase the number of births.

The number of anti-choice movements in the EU has also increased. “ [It] has expanded and professionalized over the past ten years,” said Neil Datta, Secretary of the European Parliamentary Forum of Population Development. “Many anti-choice organisations themselves feel that their set of values is under threat from what they perceive as an overly ‘progressive’ EU.” He also notes that they have learnt from the tactics of the US Christian right. “ There have not been non-religious organisations involved in an anti-choice initiative.”

The Catholic Church’s links to anti-choice groups, as well as it’s own influence, is also adding pressure. The midwife looking after Savita Halappanavar admitted at the inquest into her death that she told her patient the reason she could not have an abortion was because Ireland is a Catholic country. “It was the law of the land,” she told the inquest, “there were two referendums where the Catholic Church was pressing the buttons.”

The re-interference of the church in governmental affairs across Europe raises questions regarding the enforcement of laws separating Church from state.

According to Dr. de Bernis, attempts to make abortion illegal are reminders that sexism is still rampant in European society. “It’s just because […] the fight for gender equality is still not fulfilled,” he says. “A number of groups […] want to maintain a number of rules which are making women dependent […] with less rights and this means that certainly even in the most developed country, gender equality is still not fully established.”

Remembering Savita

The lives and health of women and girls in the European Union have benefited greatly from the legalisation of abortion and it is up to member states to protect this right.

“The EU can facilitate the exchange of good practice,” said Neil Datta.“So that national decision-makers may benefit from the best practices across the EU and adapt their legislation and policies accordingly.”

Whether the legislation’s currently being debated pass, the case of Savita Halappanavar is a constant reminder of the possible consequences banning abortion can have on women and girls.

“I am distraught, I have lost my soulmate,” Praveen Halappanavar, Savita’s husband, told The Irish Times. “I hope they change the law and make it more people-friendly [rather] than on the basis of religious beliefs, no other woman should have such a tragic unexpected end like Savita.’


Written by Ariane Osman
Image: informatique

Emma Watson’s speech was remarkable, but nowhere near game-changing

THINKING OF FEMINISM, how many see women marching in the streets compared to performing in TV shows and conferences? Feminism has usually been a bottom-up movement, its arguments brought to public attention by grass-roots activists. However, recently an increasing amount of celebrities have become spokespersons for the feminist cause. Beyoncé brought the word and its definition to the houses of millions of Americans (especially young Americans) during the VMAs last August, and last week Emma Watson delivered a powerful speech at the UN.

Given the hostility that many self-proclaimed feminists face online and in real life, the British actress recent speech at the UN was remarkable. Even if she did not speak for everyone, she spoke candidly and openly to everyone. Her speech was significant not just for the way it put feminism even more in the (positive) spotlight, but also because it touched upon a crucial, often debated issue in feminism, the role of men: “Gender equality is your issue, too,” she said.

Celebrities’ involvement does not fail to raise criticism, as they are accused to portray a more “mainstream” version of feminism than the one advocated by “radical” feminists. To some, Watson’s speech was diluting the essence of feminism, to others the idea of “HeforShe” reiterates the idea of women needing men’s support and protection. Yet, showing that men suffer from gender stereotyping does not necessarily mean prioritising their issues or putting them at the centre of the movement, it simply means showing that feminism is a movement that men too can and should embrace. Watson firmly called for ceasing to see gender as binary, and appreciate it as a spectrum instead.

Her words are fair, her intentions are good, and she should receive the media attention that she has, but she’d probably be the first one to reject the idea of being a “game-changer.” In fact, many of what some magazines consider her “best quotes” are things that a lot of people have been saying for a lot of time already. Given the audience and the attention receive, Watson actually missed an opportunity to properly discuss the issue at the heart of the fight for gender equality worldwide: the idea of privilege, both in terms of gender, and also in terms of social class.

Watson started one of her sentences with the words “I am from Britain…” and went on to explain how lucky she was to grow up in a society that valued her development as much as that of a man. The emphasis on her country of birth was problematic because it suggested that the Britain, a developed, Western country, was somewhat of an oasis of equal opportunities. Having access to equal opportunities though, is often not a matter of where you are born, but of which family you are born into.


In fact, while many so-called developed countries, including the UK and the USA, face gender inequality issues of their own, high barriers to good education, health services, and good jobs hardly allow the same opportunities to all citizens. Ms. Watson comes from a background that allowed her to attend private schools and receive the best and most exciting possible education. Actually, children born out of prosperous families in developing or less developed countries also share these same privileges. If Ms. Watson had been born from a family of a different social background, this may not have been the case, or her path to success would have likely been steeper.

The acclaimed “genius response” of the 15 year old boy who wrote a letter to The Telegraph in support of Watson’s speech is no better in this sense. Its opening sentence is “We are lucky to live in a Western world where women can speak out against stereotypes.” Granted, he’s only 15 years old, but even then, he should consider what happens to those women, in the West as in everywhere else in the world, who speak out against stereotypes. They get bullied, they get harassed, they suffer violence. Some women in fact are not that free to speak out to begin with. Not everyone is a Beyoncé, or an Emma Watson.

The recognition of privilege and the fight against it is essential in moving towards a more equal society, one that truly grants equal opportunities in the sexes and within those sexes, too. Emma Watson’s speech is a timid step in that direction, but hopefully one that will encourage more and more people to look at these issues, and to move on from there to dismantle the ubiquitous system of inequality together. That, is what feminism is all about.

Written by Sofia Lotto Persio
Picture Credits: UN Women Gallery 

Emma Watson, not everybody needs to be a feminist

OR SHOULD I say, feminism doesn’t need everybody. We have recently seen an overwhelming push to get anybody and everybody to adopt this label. We cheer when a celebrity comes out as a feminist. The internet went absolutely mental when Emma Watson said to the UN, in quite simple terms, that she subscribes to ‘feminist’ ideology in its simplest, whitest, most capitalist incarnation:

“I am from Britain and I think it is right that I am paid the same as my male counterparts. I think it is right that I should be able to make decisions about my own body, I think [applause break] … I think it is right that women be involved on my behalf in the policies and the decisions that affect my life. I think it is right that socially, I am afforded the same respect as men.”


We nevertheless applauded Emma’s simplistic claims, as if they were novel or exciting – ignoring the fact that feminism has moved on from this basic ideology. Intersectional feminism, transgender feminism, queer feminism, Laurie Penny’s “feminism that challenges”, etc. are now staples of the online feminist’s diet.

Feminism as a movement has accepted that empowerment isn’t about cheerleading from the sidelines, or about teaching women how to succeed in a white, capitalist men’s world. It’s about creating a new system and environment that’s conducive for all types of people to obtain fulfilment. Feminism is (or should be) intersectional, and it should question the systems that have led to inequality, rather than viewing the issue as a numbers game.

But for some reason, we still don’t consider these points as essential components of feminism as it applies to the public sphere. This becomes apparent whenever a female celebrity insists in public that she is not a feminist. The response is an assumption that the celebrity in question doesn’t “understand” feminism as basically “equality for both the genders”. But as always, over-simplification is the enemy of precision.

In all likelihood, celebrities do understand that feminism is essentially about “equality”. However, having already achieved basic “equality” in the West (the right to vote, the theoretical ability to do what they like with their bodies, the ability to pursue whatever career they choose), they don’t believe there are any battles left to fight. They prefer their gender lines binary and defined. They want to feel like “women”, so that males can feel like “men”, and they are satisfied with the status quo.

When these celebrities finally adopted the label, as soon as it became en vogue, their justifications often left something to be desired. Katy Perry said something to the effect of “not having realized that feminism was about loving men”. Not that feminism is incompatible with loving men, but it might be a stretch to say that that’s what it’s about. We accepted this lacklustre definition nevertheless, but perhaps we shouldn’t have.

There is nothing essentially wrong with having people like this – but we absolutely must stop diluting the definition of feminism in order to get them on board with the cause. We similarly need to stop compelling men to join the movement by appealing to their protective natures (“protect women because every woman is somebody’s daughter or wife!”) Feminism doesn’t need to be stretched and re-shaped and over-simplified to include everyone. Feminism is complex and difficult – anyone that is unwilling to grapple with this complexity should get off board.

No movement has ever needed everybody on board in order to be successful – feminism is no different.  Nay-sayers, as well as people happy to perpetuate the status quo, will always be present. Inevitably, despite these people, the world will progress and move on. There is no need to water down a powerful message in order to get more people to sign up to a cause that has already got a substantial amount of manpower and brainpower behind it.

Written by Sahar Shah

Picture credit: ursulakm 

Fighting sexual harassment in Egypt

WOMEN ARE HOUNDED everyday while walking down the street, or even at home where they suffer from harassing phone calls. Sexual harassment is one of the main problems within post revolutionary Egyptian society. Years ago this was a taboo topic, not for men –the stalkers– but for women who were ashamed of making something like that public. The silence was broken after the Arab Spring when a CBS journalist was raped during the protests in Tahrir Square.

When Mubarak got the power in 1981 nothing really changed. And it didn’t so with the elaboration of the new constitution after many demonstrations in 2011, despite the active role of women in the revolution -as in social media as in the streets-. Women were still excluded from the public sphere. However, they weren’t intimidated and kept fighting for their rights. A few weeks before the coup d’etat that toppled Mubarak and established Al-Sisi as president, women taking part in Tamarrud movement (known in the West as Rebel) were collecting signatures with the aim of requesting a referendum.

Little by little the fight against sexual harassment was getting stronger, reaching the big screen in the launch of the movie Cairo 678. Social media was also a very important platform to be heard. ‘Cocoons’ or ‘echo chambers’ were created on Facebook, as well as ‘HarassMap’ and ‘Voice of Egyptian women’. Organizations like International Amnesty and Dignity Without Borders also raised their voice; the last one launched a campaign against “sexual terrorism” where children (boys and girls) were inquired in front of the school about their opinions on sexual harassment.

These answers showed that the country of pharaohs needs a deep social change. Fortunately, a men movement created after the Arab Spring became aware of their sisters, mothers and all Egyptian women situation. Some people already talk about the ‘new Arab man’ that instead of fighting against women achievements in terms of social rights, support them. Men and women fighting shoulder to shoulder has transformed this issue into a real and shared problem by the whole Egyptian society.

Another example of it is the role of social and mass media to spread the image of what many people call “sexual terrorism”. The last public case of sexual harassment took place once again in Tahrir Square during the celebration of Al-Sisi’s victory for the presidential elections. A witness filmed with his phone the sexual aggression of a woman by a group of men. The video went viral, first in social media and later for the rest of the world.



A few days later, the elected president visited the victim of the brutal sexual assault at the hospital and this event was publicly condemned for the very first time in the history of Egypt. He gave flowers to the woman and his apologies: “We are sorry, we are not God. I am apologizing to every Egyptian woman (…) Our own flesh is being assaulted on the streets and that is unacceptable”, reported on Egyptian Streets

Afterwards, seven men were arrested. Overall, this is not just a case apparently condemned by society: this is an offense, punishable nowadays by law.


Words by Andreyna Valera.
Edited and translated by Ana Escaso.
Feature Image: rouelshimi.

Nude Protesting

Using nudity in protests as a tactic to attract more attention to your cause might not be for everyone, but it is normal day-to-day business for the women of Femen. Femen is an international women’s movement founded in the Ukraine in 2008, yet currently based in Paris.

The women of Femen have taken control over their own bodies, for the good of protesting against patriarchy and other related subjects. Their internationally well known topless protests have related to sex tourism, sharia rights, religious institutions, sexism, gay rights, political policies and other social, national and international topics. Even thought, Femen claims to be a non-violent movement; their protests are controversial as provocative slogans are painted on their skin. The police regularly detain Femen activists in response to their protests. Besides, some Femen members have been subject of violence, threats and other forms of intimidation. The regular media coverage on Femen shows that this does not stop the movement from exhibitionist protests.

Pandeia has collated a number of pictures of Femen protests in the first half of 2014. It is believed many other protests will follow in the second half of this year. Credits: femen.org

 Femen uses their bodies for non-violent acts of resistance 

Protest against the Olympic games being held in Russia


Photo: femen.org

Femen Spain protests against the Catholic Church and for the right to abort

Femen Turkey protest against Prime Minister Erdogan and his policy of shutting down Internet resource

Protest photo shoot against child marriages in Iraq

Femen France protests against Front National, an extreme right-win party, launching its campaign for the European elections 

A protest in Paris with Femen activist from all over the word, holding slogans condemning sharia ruling that prevails in certain Middle Eastern countries against girls and women

In a protest Femen demands Putin to take a step back from sovereign Ukraine


By Lotte Kamphuis

I URGE YOU: Start watching amateur pornography and make the world a better place

Photo: Roco Perna

Photo: Roco Perna

I awoke one morning aged 13 and had a profound epiphany – profound by 13 year old male standards anyway. It struck me with a degree of considerable sadness that the pretty red-haired girl, with a gap in her front teeth, who I had seen in a video the day before, probably didn’t want to be spreading her legs at all. I faced the realisation that I was almost certainly gaining sexual gratification through some poor woman’s misfortune – through her lack of alternative career choice. Such is the tragic nature of commercial pornography. I sipped my cocoa that morning with a feeling of considerable self-disgust, before throwing my uniform on, shoes on the wrong feet no doubt and cycling off to school in the pouring rain to tell all my friends.

It goes without saying that commercial pornography is a huge business. Not even the most boring member of the Christian union will be surprised to hear that Montreal University’s 2009 survey on porn in modern society, failed to find one man, who hadn’t watched it at some point in the last year. When it comes to blokes, everyone’s watching it – from your dear grandfather, to your lecturer to your younger brother. Yet if you have just a modicum of humanity, you should be able to recognise that it is a loathsome business – as the “Queen of porn”, Jenna Jameson, poignantly puts it, it is a business which debases the performers to being mere “products”.

The Adult Industry Medical Heath Care Foundation estimated that 7.7% of “performers” had Chlamydia, 2% had gonorrhoea, 66% had Herpes and an unlucky 7% had HIV.

In 2001, in California – a neon Mecca for porn stars, The Adult Industry Medical Heath Care Foundation estimated that 7.7% of “performers” had Chlamydia, 2% had gonorrhoea, 66% had Herpes and an unlucky 7% had HIV. Does that sound to you like the sort of industry that anyone gets into intentionally, perhaps as an alternative to a grad-scheme at Linklater’s, or a Ph.D? Of course not.  The famously beautiful feminist, Catherine MacKinnon, recognises the coercion in the commercial porn industry, noting that the career “isn’t chosen for the sex. Money is the medium of force and provides the cover of consent”.

Whilst it would be easy to write 300 pages on how terrible the commercial porn industry is, it would be an utter waste of time, for I assume, and I sincerely hope that you all know it anyway. But note the word “commercial”. It may well be that the internet surfing, one armed bandit doesn’t have to give up his habit just yet – I strongly believe that the genre of “genuine amateur” provides a humane, preferable and far less socially destructive alternative to commercial porn.

“Money is the medium of force and provides the cover of consent”.

There are many easily found websites out there which people submit their own videos to. Think of it as a sort of sexual YouTube, or peeking through your neighbours’ bedroom window. There is a remarkable, sexual symbiosis about these websites; the performers are gaining exhibitionistic gratification, whilst the viewer is gaining voyeuristic gratification. I can’t pretend that we can ever be sure that each performer is appearing with equal willingness, yet it appears that the emotions are real; there is often visible, genuine, mutualistic enjoyment, as well as visible frustration when the poor, middle aged man struggles in vain to maintain his erection. But isn’t that so much better than watching some poor girl contract chlamydia, whilst pretending to have multiple orgasms in order to fund her coke habit or feed her children.

We must recognise too, that for most young males born post the “.com” phenomenon, their first encounter with sex is on a screen. Long before they grow up and have a mutually enjoyable sexual experience, and certainly before they are old enough to consider gender relations in a meaningful way, almost all of them have witnessed scenes of men with absurdly large penises, objectifying and degrading airbrushed blondes. This becomes the young male’s notion of what sex is -the female becomes a facilitator of male sexual enjoyment. Amateur porn, whilst being produced largely for a male audience too, presents sex in a far less degrading and far more realistic manner. I am not mindless enough to suggest that watching amateur porn as a young teen is not harmful but due to the content and tone of the genre it is certainly less harmful.

Further advantages of the amateur genre are apparent – where commercial pornography dangerously warps notions of bodily normality, creating a female paradigm of perfection which is neither realistic nor natural, amateur porn raises a glass to soft white tummies and unremarkable boobs. I must confess that whilst I came to realise some time ago that not every girl has two matching breasts that point skywards, I have only just come to terms with the fact that unlike the heroes of my pre-epiphany childhood, I don’t have a 9 and a half inch penis.

I of course don’t expect all of you to cancel your Brazzers accounts this minute, yet I urge you to consider the inherent exploitation and degradation in what you’re watching, as well as the social harm that commercial porn causes, and to recognise that in amateur, a healthier, less destructive, even mutualistic and preferable alternative can be found.

Written by Patrick Galbraith, originally published on www.epigram.org.uk

Gender in the land of the Pharaohs

Having been ranked as the worst country for women’s rights in the Arab world, Egyptian women are certainly not having the time of their lives, especially in the post-revolution period. Shorouk El Hariry showcases a few illustrations and photographs from Egypt that actively capture the status quo.

Egypt is a country where a girl on a bicycle is considered inappropriate and unladylike, where getting catcalled is the nicest thing an Abaya-wearing female can hear on Cairo’s streets, where it’s more common to hear of mob-raping in Tahrir Square than of the cabinet’s plans to rebuild the nation.

A chant for justice

Women Holding Flags


The revolution was built upon the shoulders of its women. If we follow the trail of mass protests, from January 25th, 2011, to June 30th, 2013, the female scream for justice was the loudest. Yet sadly, the scream for justice transformed into shrieks for help that go unheard on a daily basis.


With the groping hands of men, there is zero safety

Esraa Mohamed


Esraa Mohamed, the average Egyptian young Cairene, was sexually harassed in broad daylight. Her derrière was chemically burnt by an unidentified corrosive substance, disfiguring her body. And what is being done about it? So little; not to undermine the efforts of the strong women behind these initiatives, but to say that the society is rather irresponsive.


HarassMap: Creating an Egypt free of harassment?

harassmap logoRebecca Chiao has lived in Egypt for around ten years. What she witnessed everyday in Cairo’s streets was that women were being increasingly annoyed, whether by catcalls, comments, facial expressions, indecent exposure of male genitals, comments, ogling, harassing phone calls, sexual invites, touching, stalking or following, all the way to being raped, amounting to 98% of Egyptian women admitting to have been harassed by any of the forms above. Using the Ushahidi mapping technology, Chiao cofounded HarassMap.org, a tool for anyone who has been harassed or assaulted and for witnesses to harassment and assault all over Egypt to anonymously share and report their experiences.


Being forced to take virginity tests is okay, but a willingly nude woman isn’t 

Aliaa El Mahdy


Samira Ibrahim: 35 years old. She was forcefully stripped off of her clothing and was tested for her virginity before police and military officers. Refusing to not stand up for her dignity, she filed a lawsuit in Egyptian criminal courts. No media attention, no public support, and absolute silence.

Aliaa El Mahdy: 21 years old. She willingly modeled, naked, and posted it on her personal blog. Her nudity gathered public attention like mosquitoes over blood, with over 3 million views on her blog post, around fifty news articles and numerous television talk shows with her as the topic.

The situation speaks for itself.

And what’s even worse…


Women circulating ads that reinforce sexual harassment

lollipop ad


The scariest and most complex side of this is justification. A large percent of Egyptian women themselves justify sexual violence against their own gender, blaming it on the girls’ attires, rather than the sick attitudes of psychologically-challenged men who give their hands the rights to touch what is not theirs. With lollipops being the girls, the flies being the men, these women find that covering up a lot more is the answer.

The truth is nothing like that. I personally recall hearing a teenager stalking a woman in a burka down the street, audibly saying “I wish to see what’s beneath that”.

Egyptian women are locked beneath the ruins of a patriarchal society, one that neither defends them nor lets them be. Perhaps there is a lot to be fixed about the Egyptian society, before the revolutionaries actually start reaping benefits.

(Images Courtesy of Ahmed Hayman, Las Vegas Guardian Express, Wikimedia Commons and HarassMap.org)



Gender Equality: Let us not forget about the men

Oslo University is spending more money on gender equality – but the money, as Ingunn Dorholtis investigates, is not always being spent the right way.

Let us rewind to 2004: For the first time women are dominating higher education in Norway. It has been 89 years since women got the right to vote. The same year the University of Oslo makes a two-year plan of action for gender equality, and specifies that a substantial part of their budget will be spent on projects promoting gender equality. The University of Oslo will be “the world’s first gender-equalised University” by 2011. The University’s director for equality at the time, Long Litt Woon, is happy that there is finally a plan of action for equality, but is worried that the money is not going to be spent according to the plan of action.

The plan of action for gender equality at The University of Oslo forgot about one factor, argues Helle Gannestad, in an article for Universitas: time. To become the world’s most gender-equal university you need the gender ratio amongst the University’s employees to be 50/50. A report from the Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education (NIFU) in 2006, showed signs that this was an unattainable goal by the end of 2011. In 2004, 78,4% of the employed were men. To achieve the goal of a 50/50 ratio of men and women,  99% of all new employees would have to be women until the year of  2011, and that would mean that the University would have to discriminate against men significantly, in order to achieve gender equality.

According to the head of the department at the equality and discrimination commission, Arnfinn Andersen, it would actually be a breach of the Norwegian Gender Equality law, and EU legislation. So, the University simply had to continue their hiring process where they are weighing the qualifications of the applicants,higher than their gender.

Now, fast forward to 2013: The money has been spent according to the laws and another 3 million kroner is placed in the budget for 2013, a number that will increase with 400,000 kroner next year.  At the Institute of Informatics (IFI) men are the dominating gender, while the number of women is decreasing. The institute has opened a new room that can be used for an extra day of teaching – for women only. But can it be true, that the original purpose of this extra money was to see them being spent on rooms for women only? It is unlikely.

 Giving the female students their own room to stop the development of a decreasing number of female students might be the right thing to do, if the social environment is not good for them. But money that is supposed to secure gender equality should not be spent on projects that are pushing the genders further apart – it is not the right place to focus. One thing is certain; Oslo will not have the world’s most gender-equalised university by opening pink rooms that smell of tea and girls perfume. To give special treatment to one of the sexes means upholding the differences in academia and if the goal is gender equality, the University should not forget about its male students.

Original article written by Helle Gannestad