Robyn Banks

Perspectives section writer
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Self-righteous keyboard warrior. Feminist and cynical optimist.

Articles:

(12.01.17) – Post-Truth Politics and the War on Intellect

Does it follow that I reject all authority? Far from me such a thought. In the matter of boots, I refer to the authority of the bootmaker; concerning houses, canals, or railroads, I consult that of the architect or engineer.”- Mikhail Bakunin

There’s a new buzzword in the air. We are now living, it is claimed, in a post-factual or post-truth society, where facts no longer matter to the general public. At face value it seems like a bizarre claim. But while politicians and the media have always lied to the public, if you consider the audacity of the lies of the last decade in contrast to the sheer number of tools available to us to find out the truth, you begin to see the point.

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(15.12.16) – Bitegate: Student Bubbles and Workplace Professionalism

Jo Swo, UEA Student Union’s Welfare Officer, bit a bouncer at the LCR. Social media went haywire, the anti-SU brigade had a field day and the tab published no less than five articles on the subject. A motion was put to union council for a vote of no confidence, which, if passed, would have resulted in her being removed from her position, but the motion was then withdrawn and it was a controversy. In a surprising plot twist an online petition was started to create a safe space for bouncers on campus. Then the council voted to censure Jo, a public condemning of her behaviour which doesn’t directly affect her position. Some people were happy, some people were angry, somebody started another petition to reinstate the vote of no confidence in Jo, and there was apparently a lot of excitement on all sides. One tab article even successfully mimicked a crime thriller with its dramatic depiction of the council meeting.

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(18.11.16) – After Trump and Brexit, The Left Needs to Rediscover Class Anger

I’m in the break room at work choking on my out of date sandwich. I’ve just been informed by two of my colleagues- good, down to earth working class people who probably think I bang on about my degree too much- that Boris Johnson is a “lad”, and I have no idea what to say. But none of us have any money, I want to shout. And he wants us to have less! Before I can respond, the conversation moves on to laughing about his hair, which is much more tolerable. Later, as I complain about Trumps victory, I am told that all I want is for “everyone to sit in a circle and hold hands”.

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(06.10.16) – 5 Apps and Websites to Bust Your Insomnia

Insomnia is a bitch. It plagued me during my time at university, and many of my friends too. Although I had always had problems sleeping, the long grind of the school day would often wear me out enough to see me getting a few good hours each night. Not so at university- days with only one or even no lectures stretched out endlessly, and with nobody phoning home if I didn’t turn up to lectures, gone was the motivating fear that got me out of bed each morning in the past. The prospect of managing my own time, which had seemed like heaven in my first term, had become a living hell. Bedtimes got later, and mornings became later, until I was essentially nocturnal- living whole months at a time in the miserable dark, unable to access any daytime facilities. Sound familiar?

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(23.09.16) – Freshers Guide #3: Adolescents and Alcohol

This weekend, thousands of fresher’s will descend on University towns across the UK, and pubs, clubs and takeaways prepare themselves for busy nights and big takings. Four years ago I was a fresher in Norwich, and this week my younger sister is hitting the town in Brighton for the first time. Before either of us even arrived in our respective new towns, we knew the score: pre-drinks, pub, club, after-drinks. Our party dresses were the first to be packed and the first to be unpacked.

We grow up in a culture where we know that the first year of university is about drinking, surrounded by tales of students who spend more money on beer than on food and the collective assumption that this is what our maintenance loans are for, and gently edged towards arranging our own priorities similarly. If the entire first year is not about drinking, then fresher’s week definitely is. That’s the first weekend and the first week. And the second weekend. And some of the second week. Fact.

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(08.09.16) – Freshers Guide #2: Ecstasy and the Serotonergic Squad

Ecstasy, or MDMA, has long been a popular student party drug. Despite being relatively safe for use, not many people understand the chemical change in the brain that comes with being high on MDMA, and the rise in students being medicated for anxiety and depression threatens to make a once rare overdose in to an all too common event.

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(25.08.16) – Freshers’ Guide #2: Weed Etiquette 

UCAS deadlines have passed, interviews are taking place across the country, college students are going through the clearing process. For many, university isn’t just about learning- it’s about the life experiences, the parties, and the new experiences you’ll have within your own minds. That is to say, drugs, and namely those most common university drugs: alcohol and cannabis.

(11.08.16) – We Get the Politicians We Deserve

Since the day the Labour party shot itself in the foot and used the turmoil in the conservative party as an opportunity to break its own ranks, a great divide seems to have appeared among the left. While Corbyn’s election as Labour leader swelled its membership with young and idealistic newcomers, many worry that he is still not electable. After he was deemed too left wing by the PLP and his opposition deemed too right wing for the membership, it became clear that what was needed was a new face- to package Corbyn’s ideas in to a smoother, less radical and more electable politician. Enter Owen Smith. Despite there being no dramatic differences between Corbyn and Smith’s publicly professed politics, the left wing of the internet has spiralled in to bickering about nuances and rumours from the past, dividing itself in to the radicals and the Blairites, the entryists and the game theorists. What was once a political discussion has now become some kind of complex emotional entanglement.

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(30.06.16) – Corbyn or Revolution

They said he was unelectable. Throughout Corbyn’s rise to labour leader, those of us who supported him were continually told not to. Conservative commentators watched in angst, and told us it would never happen, and the right wing of the labour party begged members to vote for somebody more moderate, more appealing to the wider electorate, more ‘electable’. But, still, he garnered 59.5% of votes in the 2015 Labour leadership election. 87,000 people joined the labour party after his victory, and more than half of labour members this January had joined since the last election, with many signing up in order to vote for him in the leadership race. 13,000 more have joined this week to support him. It’s clear that he offers something that many people want.

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(02.06.16) – Forty Pounds

Is this vague dissent I feel?
Or apathy? Resigned to fates
Predicted, and foodbank meals,
By sociologists and states,

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(07.04.16) – Peter Tatchell, Left Unity, and Other Dinosaurs

Once upon a time, there was a period in history when everyone on the left was in agreement. In this time of solidarity many campaigns were fought and won and nobody within the movement felt excluded. The boundaries of race, gender and class were broken down, sectarianism was a distant memory and everybody held hands and formed the party of the glorious left.

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(24.04.16) – Exposure Doesn’t Pay Rent, But Neither Does Snobbery

“Exposure doesn’t pay rent”- it’s something we’ve likely all heard before, whether you’re a business looking to save money on photography, asking a friend for a favour or simply scrolling through Tumblr. The line “We can’t pay you, but it will be great exposure!” has become the bane of every artist’s life, and it’s understandable why. There has never been a sector of the workforce who have been asked so frequently to work for free as the creative sector. However, I don’t believe there has ever been such an individually vocal sector of the UKs exploited workforce, either.

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(10.03.16) – International Womens Day and the EU Shambles

This International Women’s day was supposed to be devoted to refugee women. Well, it was in name — the EU parliament website published a series of articles highlighting the plight of women refugees, such as the fact that two in five are underage. But as EU leaders hammered out a deal on the long night between Mother’s day and International Women’s day, it seemed that the only thing the EU really planned on doing to help women refugees was to use them as fodder for a Brussels photo exhibit.

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(05.03.16) – The Truth of the Jungle Eviction: Separating Fact From Fiction

On Monday, French authorities moved in to begin a mass eviction of the Calais refugee camp known as the Jungle, resulting in ‘clashes’ between the police and activists alongside refugees. Unfortunately, that seems to be about as much as anyone really knows. As my house is currently full with donations for the camp, I was pretty invested in finding out exactly what was going on. Which charities should I contact now? What do they need? Where will all the refugees go and how many of them will remain?

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(25.2.16) – Scam Calls and the Death of the Landline

I ditched the landline when I first came to University in 2012. With my mobile phone almost surgically attached to my hand, it didn’t seem to make sense to pay money I didn’t have every month for a phone with no caller ID, and which in order to answer I had to jog across the house on a time limit only to find it wasn’t actually me they wanted to speak to. I’ve lived quite happily without one since then, and I didn’t really think about landlines again until this term, when I spent 2 days a week sitting next to one.

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(28.01.16) – Paganism: The Next Generation

I’m a pagan.

You’re probably thinking of Satan worship or Ouija boards right now, right? Or figuring I must just be really in to Marilyn Manson. What if I told you I was a witch? Would you think of Hogwarts and broomsticks? Are you laughing yet? If you’re a Dawkins loving new atheist, fair enough. But if you’d defend anybody else’s right to their faith, you’re probably a hypocrite.

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(14.01.16) – There’s No Such Thing As A Fucking Student Bubble

Once upon a time, a man named Tony Blair looked in to a mirror, turned out the lights and repeated ‘Education, education, education’. Little did he know at the time that this event would herald the eventual downfall of civilisation through the birth of a whole new kind of student totally unlike the hardy and privileged students of old. If you come on to UEA campus at night you’ll see these new students, sleeping peacefully in their incubated pods in the library and the lecture halls, wrapped in blankets of bubble wrap and trigger warnings. They’re a bit like adults, these students, but not quite. They’re certainly adult enough to have a tabloid smear campaign waged against them, but, unlike other adults, these students have never seen the outside world.

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(01.01.16) – UEA: A New Year’s Resolution

Raise your hand if you have ever criticised a foreign nation over their attitude to human rights. Keep it up if you’ve ever thought it a good reason to break aid or trade links with another nation. And now, raise your hand if you’ve ever thought that the UK couldn’t ignore an aspect of the human rights convention without serious consequences.

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(18.12.15) – The Poppy Is a Symbol of War

If I believe something, does that make it true? If you believe that the poppy is a symbol of peace and remembrance, does that mean you’re right and I’m wrong? Is the meaning of a cultural symbol decided by its creators, by the powers that be who would use it, or by the culture at large who see and understand the symbol? Or, is it simply enough to repeat something over again until it means what you want it to mean?

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(05.11.15) – When Respect Gets Prejudiced Part 2: People Who Call Other People Negative

Last time I ranted about people in the corporate world who hold everyone to extraordinary levels of time management and efficiency because the God of capital accumulation dictates that it must be so. This week I want to rant about the flip side of that coin, self-care culture. You know what that is. Articles that pop up on your newsfeed such as ’10 ways nobody should make you feel’, ‘tips for looking after yourself’ and ‘How to get negative people out of your life’, right? People involved in this crap might call themselves ‘highly sensitive people’ and talk about other people as ‘energy vampires’ or as ‘toxic’. You know who they are.

This might sound all fine and dandy, if it wasn’t just as dogmatic and unyielding as corporate culture and also just as susceptible to replicating societal inequalities as every other movement. And the people who suffer most when others act on this ideology are the very people the movement claims to be protecting- people with mental health issues. If you struggle with low moods and feel that it’s important to keep negative or toxic people out of your life, think about how it feels to be struggling with low mood and characterised as a negative or toxic person.

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(22.10.15) – When Respect Gets Prejudiced

Last year, I dropped out of uni. My life was falling apart around me, I’d run out of new excuses for extension requests on my assignments, I was failing to meet any of my responsibilities. My finances were in chaos, I wasn’t eating and I was totally failing to prioritise by continually allowing my grades and self care to slip in order to meet my obligations to other people, which I was barely doing anyway. I was always late, I couldn’t sleep, I managed to check my emails about once a month and consequently fell further and further out of the loop. I pushed my friends away, clawed them back, worried they all hated me and yapped on and on about just how irrevocably miserable I was. I was afraid of my lecturers, assuming they all had some kind of report card about me in their heads in which they totted up all of the missed classes, late assignments, and failings on my part and were sure to judge me for it. I became so depressed I couldn’t get out of bed, so I asked if I could drop out and try the year again in September.

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(08.10.15) – Bahar Mustafa’s Charge Shows Why Feminism Shouldn’t Respect The Law

‘It all started with a Facebook event. Goldsmiths Student Union Welfare and Diversity officer, Bahar Mustafa, wanted to find out how she could help women and non-binary students of colour at her university. Aware that the voices of these minority groups were often difficult to hear, she decided to organise an event to talk to women and non-binary BME students alone. She created Facebook event and politely requested that men and white people did not attend the event for people who weren’t men or white people. I don’t pretend to understand the reasons that white men at Goldsmiths were so upset that they weren’t wanted at the BME meeting, but they were, and before long the story had made it in to the right wing press and Bahar was splashed across the pages of the Daily Mail. After being put under harsh scrutiny and being the subject of a campaign of harassment, Bahar tweeted that familiar sentiment which has come to epitomise the frustration of third wave feminists, from Bikini Kill to Jezebel, in the form of a hashtag: “#Killallwhitemen”.’

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(03.10.15) – I Did My Best to Learn the Rules

‘I did my best to learn the rules.
The world was a nice place,
children shared, we waited our turn,
we helped those in need and said thankyou and please.

The board was black and the chalk was white,
together we learned to read and write,
I tried to learn the rules.
There used to be racism,
there used to be war,
there used to be poverty and workhouses and suffering
but Martin Luther King had a dream and women won the vote
and everyone shared now, and waited their turn
and Tony Blair painted rainbow children on my primary school walls.’

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(26.09.15) – The Migrant Crisis Does Place Europe Under Threat

‘The migrant hoard was coming, a swarm of extremist middle Easterners desperate for new teeth who were going to simultaneously take all of the jobs and all of the job seekers allowance and probably wouldn’t even take a can of lager to the job centre like a proper British. They were going to threaten our way of life, make us all Muslim and were probably responsible for the recession. But somewhere along the way something changed and they became refugees — women, children, young men escaping war torn countries — deserving of our help and accommodation.’

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(10.09.15) – Stalkers Are Not Trolls

‘A man overhears you saying something he doesn’t like, and yells abuse at you. You leave, but later on he looks up all of your personal information- your work address, home address, your parents’ home address,- and sends it to you with a threat to come over to rape and/or kill you. How would you describe this kind of person? A stalker? Possible axe murderer? Would you contact the police? How would you feel if the police told you to just ignore it?’

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(27.08.15) – Are We Nazis Now?

‘On the anniversary of VE day this year I tried to drive to the supermarket in my home town and was met by crowds of people in Sunday dress, lining the roads leading up to the war memorial and laying down wreaths of poppies as they waited for the procession, which I could hear approaching even from my car, complete with marching band. They were doing so to honour the soldiers lost in WW2; those who fought for our country, or, more ostensibly, those who fought for ‘freedom’.’

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(13.08.15) – The DWP Figures Won’t Matter In Our Cult of the Public Purse

Over the past few months, a lot has been made of the apparently soon to be released DWP statistics on the number of people who have died after their benefits were stopped. Over 235,000 people signed a petition asking for them to be released, but the government has been accused of constant stalling in an effort to keep the real number hidden. The DWP claims they are stalling because they plan to release the statistics in a more contextual and understandable fashion, arguing that the statistics alone “. . . were likely to be misinterpreted. Specifically, incorrect conclusions were likely to be drawn as to causal links between assessment outcomes and mortality. Such misinterpretations would be contrary to the public interest, particularly given the emotive and sensitive context of mortality statistics”.

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(08.08.15) – If Katie Hopkins Really Ruled the World

Katie Hopkins new show, If Katie Hopkins ruled the world, debuts on TLC this Thursday 6th August. While a Mail article claimed that the show had trouble garnering any guests, Hopkins herself claimed that people were so desperate to align themselves to her overall image of petty hate and kneejerk reactions she had to turn people away, which doesn’t really explain why the first guests include a washed out daily fail columnist, a reality TV star and a woman so irrelevant she’s been denounced by even the darkest corners of feminism.

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(30.07.15) – An Open Letter to Another Angry Voice

CW: Domestic violence

Like so many other politically engaged people I know, I follow the blog Another Angry Voice. A couple of days ago one of his articles appeared on my timeline, and it seemed to be about feminism. Yay, feminism, my favourite subject! I agree with about 90% of what is written on his blog, frequently share his infographics and articles and generally understand him to be a well meaning, intelligent and rational man who’s work I admire. Naïve, I clicked the article.

Over the next few days the article resurfaced on nearly every feminist group or page I follow, and I wish that was where I had first seen it because most of these groups use trigger warnings which could well have saved me from having to drive to work 20 minutes after reading, late, choking back angry tears and almost killing cyclists. But those tears will be useless if I don’t direct them in to something productive, so here is my open letter to Thomas G Clark, creator of Another Angry Voice.

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(06.07.15) – Third Place for England, First Place for Women in Sport

‘In previous years, you could be excused for not realising the women’s world cup was on. Not this year. We have been one of the few countries to broadcast every game live, albeit that games were only moved from soon to be online only BBC Three to BBC One for the quarter final, and the games have attracted a lot more attention than they have in the past. An unnecessarily sexualised image of a female footballer didn’t even cross my path, and FIFA announced that for the first time women’s football teams will appear in their annual playstation game. Perhaps it’s because we did so well, coming in third place, and everyone loves a winner, or perhaps it signifies greater steps towards the equality of women’s sports in culture.’

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(02.07.15) – Caitlin Jenner Can Have Her Gold Medal Cake and Eat It

Caitlyn Jenner’s controversial coming out made headlines this month, and attracted hate and support in equal measure. While transphobia is always difficult to accept, the worst kind of bigotry has to be from those who veil it behind half-arsed logic and think they can justify their hate with a rational argument. It was in this vein that #givebackthegold was born.

This petition to persuade Caitlyn Jenner to give back the gold medal she earned competing in the 1976 Olympic men’s decathlon has garnered over 15,000 signatures on change.org. The accompanying text reads “Ms. Jenner (as talented as she is) claims that she has always believed herself to be truly female, and therefore, was in violation of committee rules regarding women competing in men’s sports and vice versa. Therefore, it is with a heavy heart that we must ask whether or not it is proper that Ms. Jenner should retain her olympic records in light of this”.

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(18.06.15) – I’m Proud to Be a Feminist ‘Bully’

‘Last week Nobel Prize winning scientist, Sir Tim Hunt, addressed an audience of senior female scientists at the World Conference of Science Journalists in South Korea. “Let me tell you about my trouble with girls”, he said, “Three things happen when they are in the lab: you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them, they cry.” This was reportedly met with stony silence, which is hardly a surprise. He later clarified that, although the comments were intended as a “joke”, he meant what he said and was just trying to be “honest, actually”. Women present at the conference took to twitter to voice their discomfort, sparking a twitter storm of derision, humour and critique. The story made the national press and less than 48 hours later, Sir Tim Hunt had resigned from his faculty position at University College London.’

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(23.04.15) – Focus E15 Are On the Front Line of Women’s Liberation —

Feminism should be giving them more support

The Focus E15 campaign began suddenly in August 2013 when 29 young or expectant mothers, who had been residing in the Focus E15 hostel for homeless young people, were served eviction notices by East Thames Housing Association after Newham council severed its funding. Appealing to the council for help, the E15 mums were told that due to cuts to housing benefit and a lack of social housing, they would have to be relocated as far away as Manchester or Birmingham and suffer the consequences of being plucked suddenly from their homes, families and support networks.’

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(09.04.15) – The Male Gaze Won’t Cure Eating Disorders

‘Eating disorders and low self-esteem in women and girls have been making headlines in both feminist discourse and the mainstream press for years, usually being linked in a variety of ways to the media, be it advertising or the homogenous representation of women. 1.6 million people in the UK suffer from some form of eating disorder, of which 89% are female, and anorexia nervosa has been reported in girls as young as six.’

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(17.03.15) – International Working Women’s Day – Erasing Class Struggle From Feminism

‘The United Nations began celebrating International Women’s Day on the 8th March in 1975, but the day actually has its roots in a variety of strikes and class struggles across industrialised nations long before.’

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(26.02.15) – Freeze Speech

‘The narrative of free speech has become increasingly complicated. It would be easy to assume that only teenagers and the most reactionary bigots would be likely to claim their right to free speech had been violated after having their views disagreed with, protested against or denied a prestigious platform. But as this misunderstanding was repeated time and time again- cries of censorship followed UEA union shops decision to stop buying a newspaper it couldn’t even sell, legitimate protest was written off as silencing and oppression- it seems to have seeped in to the public consciousness. Today, even the most critical thinkers seem to forget that the right to free speech doesn’t grant them the right to say whatever they like, wherever they like, and to be granted whichever platform they consider themselves worthy of. I have no right to walk in to my local KFC and preach vegetarianism on their property, just as I have no right to claim I am being silenced because The Guardian refused to publish this article.’

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(12.02.15) – On Rupert Read

At the end of last month Green Party parliamentary candidate Rupert Read caused widespread offence by posting a series of tweets appearing to question the validity of trans women’s gender identities and claimed to be ‘troubled’ by use of the word cisgender, in opposition to the term ‘transgender’. He then tweeted a blog post he’d written in January 2013 in which he defended feminist writers, such as Julie Bindel, who had been accused of transphobia, and described trans status as a sort of “opt-in version of what it means to be a woman”. His tweets were a response to a controversial and transphobic poster seen in women’s toilets in Bristol University, which heavily implied that allowing trans women in to women’s toilets would lead to them assaulting cis women, and he seemed to be defending that position. He has since issued an apology, and responded to criticisms by saying that he only meant to “discuss a hypothetical philosophical position”. He further stated that “All that I have done is join many feminists in saying that it is up to women, not anyone else- and certainly not me- to decide who gets let in to women-only spaces, such as womens toilets”.

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(29.01.15) No More Breasts – A “Huge Step for Challenging Media Sexism?”

“Topless page 3 models have been a seminal feature of the Sun newspaper since 1970, less than a year after it was bought by Rupert Murdoch. You would have had to have been living under a rock to miss the media furore surrounding page 3 last week as the Times, the Sun’s sister paper, reported that the paper would be pulling the feature, before the Sun revealed it had all been a spectacularly banterous effort to make women with dissenting opinions look stupid. Most media outlets were reporting that this move had been met with delight by feminist campaigners, but from my feminist perspective it would have fundamentally missed the point.”

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(08.01.15)  Let’s check our thin privilege- again! A response to Matilda Carter’s “Check Your Privilege A Little More Thoroughly”

‘It doesn’t take a long look at society to see that ‘fat-shaming’ is a problem. Katie Hopkins recently put on 4 stone for a TV project called ‘To fat and back’, going from 8 to 12 stone (am I the only one who thinks she looks great?) with the express purpose of ‘proving’ to fat people that being fat is their fault for being ‘lazy’. And while her particular brand of in-your-face nastiness might not be representative of the entire country, her attitudes towards size are unfortunately widely held. Despite the average size for women in the UK being 16, shop mannequins and clothes models are nearly always a size 6 to 8, a ‘plus size’ model wears a UK size 12, and moral judgements about body size and shape are rampant in our media. This particularly affects women, who are taught from an early age that we are entitled to a smaller physical space than men. Being big, strong or tall are compliments for men, but women are always encouraged to be small, cute, dainty and precious.’

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