Rape is not sex

The media has to stop using ‘rape’ and ‘sex’ as interchangeable words.

(Trigger warning: graphic mentions of sexual assault and sex slaves)

Good morning, afternoon and evening. Wherever you are in the world, whatever time it is, I hope you are having a lovely time and that you are not as tired as I am.

I am tired of reading news reports and watching TV programmes that use the words ‘rape’ and ‘sex’ as interchangeable. I am tired of watching journalists and editors alike churn out news about sexual assault and sexual abuse without giving a second thought to the words they are using.

I have a BA in Journalism Studies and it’s shocking to me that so many journalists don’t think about the impacts of their words. If I learned anything in journalism school is that words matter and that journalists can pick and choose how and when words matter. Journalists, editors and sub-editors are powerful in this way even if they don’t realise it.

Today I woke up to yet another piece of writing that used the words ‘sex’ and ‘rape’ interchangeably and I am honestly sick of it. This is undeniably part of rape culture and a gross mistake on the part of the journalists and editors involved in the production of the story. Not only is using these words interchangeably filled with misogyny and the dismissal of sexual assault victims, it conflates sexual assault with consensual sexual activity. This is a dangerous conflation: if even journalists use the words ‘sex’ and ‘rape’ interchangeably, what’s to stop rapists from calling rape a type of consensual sex?


unlawful sexual intercourse or any other sexual penetration of the vagina, anus, or mouth of another person, with or without force, by sex organ, other body part, or foreign object, without the consent of the victim.

Any rape apologist would tell me that sometimes, the line between ‘rape’ and ‘sex’ is a grey area. The definitions of consent in a patriarchal society are hazy, this is why victim blaming and slut shaming are so ubiquitous in any rape case. I won’t waste my time defining consent to people who feel rape is a grey area issue. For this, I recommend Laci Green’s Consent 101 video.

My problem with how these two words are being used interchangeably by the media is when sexual abuse and assault are either obvious in the story or clearly alleged by the victim. I’ll give you an example that had me seething with rage this morning.

rape and sex

I think we can all agree that Daesh are absolute dickheads, the worst people on earth, they just plain suck. But journalists who call the rape of female slaves ‘sex’? They’re doing a disservice to these women who are being force into sexual activity. ‘Sex’ is consensual, if you are being forced to have sex, it’s rape. Call it what it is. By using the two terms interchangeably, you are effectively contributing to rape culture. You are irresponsibly classing ‘rape’ as a type of sex. You are making sure that there’s a grey area where rape apologists and rapists themselves can call forced, coerced and manipulative sex just ‘sex.’

This is a conflation that has been present for centuries: it’s what allows Japanese officials to say ‘comfort women’ were willing participants in providing ‘sex’ to Japanese soldiers. It’s what allowed the systemic rape of black women in the United States during slavery times to be called ‘sex.’ It’s what allows rapists to claim the sexual activity they engaged in was consensual and call it ‘sex’ instead of ‘rape.’

Sex is consensual. Rape is not consensual. Somehow, defining these words for a very experienced media publication is necessary.

 A fear of the word ‘rape’ and all its variations

In October of this year, the BBC aired a documentary called ‘Is This Rape? Sex on Trial.’ The intentions of the programme were perhaps good: the producers wanted to find out if teenagers could identify what rape looks like. It would have been a good opportunity to educate teenagers about consent as well, but it was just a shit show of victim-blaming and the shocking avoidance of the word ‘rapist.’

This is how it went: they showed teenagers some footage of a staged sexual assault where the rapist shoved his penis into the sleeping victim’s mouth. The footage was so horrific that I had to skip it, but the commentary that followed was even worse: while some teenagers immediately identified the scene as rape, others said it was not sexual assault because a) the victim was drunk; b) the victim and the rapist had previous sexual history; c) the victim had been nice to the rapist before the assault (???) and d) the sleeping, drunk victim did not fight back which somehow implies consent (no.).

But the most incredible thing of all was that, even after it was an established fact (luckily for the victim, he texted his friend saying she hadn’t been very into it, so he definitely knew what he was doing) that the man in question was a rapist, all of the teenagers were extremely reluctant to call him a rapist because “he seems like a nice guy” and “rapist is a strong word.”

Except that he is a rapist. He raped someone, therefore he is a rapist.

And it’s not just the public that is afraid of the word ‘rape’ and its variations: the title of the programme itself is an example of how we use the words interchangeably, of how the victim’s credibility is just as much on trial as the perpetrator’s. The title of the documentary, ‘Is This Rape? Sex on Trial,’ implies that rape is sex gone wrong, it implies that rape is sex on trial.

But rape is not sex.

Rape is not sex.

Rape is not sex. 

A person who rapes is a rapist.

Sex with slaves is not sex. It’s rape and continuous sexual abuse.

Call it what it is and do your fucking job like a responsible professional.

Anxiety Masterpost

I have generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) and I’ve been managing my condition for three years now. I hate everything about it, of course, but I have finally reached a place where I am happy and anxiety is an annoyance I have to deal directly with up to three times a week (during a good week).

I have several methods for managing anxiety so I decided to make a masterpost about what makes me feel better, what works and what doesn’t work for me. Maybe it will help someone, somewhere.

Note: I am not a doctor or a trained therapist. If you take my advice, please also seek medical help. I am currently taking medication for my anxiety, so it may be that some of this works better for me because my medication is taking the edge off. 

Why are you anxious?

  • Start monitoring the times and contexts in which you feel the most anxious: for me it’s when I haven’t properly slept, when I haven’t eaten at least every three hours, when I forgot to take my medication, when I have too much caffeine, when I travel.
  • Once you know in what contexts you are more likely to feel volatile, you can start coming up with practical ways to counter them or remedy them: take snacks to class/work, sleep a healthy amount, exercise at least three times a week. You’re smarter than your mental illness.
  • If you have physical symptoms that come with your worrying, don’t give in to them. Your chest hurts but it will pass, your head is heavy but it will pass, it feels like you can’t breathe but you can and it will pass.

On avoiding situations that make you anxious

I get it, anxiety is scary and it makes you fear everything. It’s really difficult to overcome that feeling in your gut that something is going to go wrong or that you’re going to die or something as equally scary is going to happen to you if you go and do that thing. I understand because I’ve been there.

But I am told, again and again, by therapist after therapist, that avoidance makes anxiety worse. There’s a lot of research on this. I personally don’t want to miss out on experiences because of this illness, so I’ve started doing things that scare me or worry me more often: I’ve been travelling by train at least once a month, I have been going out with bigger groups of people, I started a Masters degree (I was terrified), etc.

You don’t have to do everything at once: starting small is key, I think. If you can’t handle it, it’s okay – try next time. But always keep in mind that there should have a next time, however long it takes. You can have anxiety and live a full life.

Non-chemical solutions

As I’ve said before, I am taking medication for my anxiety. I feel that it is unmanageable without it, but you might feel otherwise. If you feel that you need medication, do not be afraid to seek it out – it could save your life. If you’re worried about how psych medication gives you ‘fake feelings,’ remember that anxiety also gives you fake feelings – that’s why it’s an illness, your brain isn’t reacting to the outside world like it should.  Being in constant fight or flight mode is not normal.

Another note on this stuff: it’s useless if you haven’t got at least some grip on your mental illness. I know that the media reports that meditation can be as good as medication for depression but I’ve never found that to be true. Trying to cure my depression with meditation while I felt like the worst person on earth was horrifying – of course I failed (which is 100% fine! If you fail, you just have to find another coping method).

Now that these disclaimers are out of the way, here are a few things that help me when I am feeling anxious.

  • Yoga (mostly vinyasa) – I’ve been practising yoga for two years now and it’s pretty amazing. This is my favourite yoga YouTube channel.
  • Meditation – I meditate on an off, to be honest. But loads of people have told me that meditation has been hugely helpful in controlling thoughts and coming down from a panic attack. I usually use the app Calm (I don’t have a subscription).
  • Snacks – This can be a difficult one because anxious people can be over-eaters. I usually buy loads and loads of fruit which means I am kind of healthy about it. I recommend it.
  • Do something with your hands –  Take up a craft, paint something on a canvas, learn how to knit, buy an adult colouring book. These are all things I have done and recommend.
  • Self-help and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – CBT is pretty much a catch-all for anxiety disorders: it’s good for OCD, for GAD, for social anxiety, etc, etc. Reading self-help books that have directions on how to make anxiety less of an issue in my life has helped me immensely. I love The Highly Sensitive Person and this database of self-help workbooks has been super helpful in teaching myself CBT so far.

Online resources

Disclaimer: I will be adding information to this post as I find more useful resources / have more useful advice.

Dear Facebook User

Dear Facebook User,

It has recently come to my attention that Facebook is mainly comprised of delightful documentations of people’s lives. Eating delicious food and photos of incredible travels are what social media is made for, all glossy and edited with Instagram filters that make everyone look younger and happier than they really are.

If you are anything like me, a real human being with feelings, problems and a mostly unremarkable daily life, this flood of happiness, fun and realizations can make you feel inadequate, boring and unhappy at times. In a perfect world we would all feel happy enough in ourselves not to consider Facebook a battle of “Who is having a better time?” that often makes young people feel lonely.

This feeling of battle is what leads us to always be searching for the best, most incredible thing to be doing on a Saturday night. We always need to find the better thing to do, the thing that will bring us most joy and with social media and technology surely that event is just within our reach. We have become flaky human beings, always looking for the best night out, the best event, the thing that will make us happiest (or make us appear the happiest). If we were purely doing this for ourselves, it may be acceptable but I often feel like there are times that I look for the best angle, the best view just so I can share it on social media. This can lead to a type of unhappiness that is based on comparisons which I personally don’t think is healthy. Here is a common list of things you might think while you are scrolling down your feed.

– I could have gone to that party, it seemed to be better than the one I actually went to.
– Wow, Janet always travels to such incredible places. I wish I could do that.
– I can’t believe Johnny is moving to New York City, that sounds really cool and a lot better than where I am right now.
– Oh, Lucy got a new job and it’s better paying than what I got right now. Ugh.
– How the hell can Janet afford to travel so much? Why can’t afford to do that?
– Why does everyone else seem to be having a better life than I am?
– Aw, Jenna and Julien just moved in together. Too bad my last relationship came crashing down like a thousand waves.
– Ugh, Julie looks so much prettier than I do in this photo

Technology is incredible and I’ve made and kept a lot of friends through it. But the psychological effects of being on Facebook are real: we always think other people are happier, prettier and more fulfilled than we are. It’s a heightened version of “The grass is always greener on the other side” because we can see much more than the grass. We can see the food, the travelling, the embraces, the kisses and the smiles.

The absolute worst is when we can see other people moving forward and we feel like nothing is happening in our lives or we feel like we’ve gone back a few steps. It sucks, because sometimes there isn’t anything we can do to make our life move forward, we just have to wait until our next move is a possibility. So we sit there, in our modern-day anxiety, unhappy and bored, scrolling down through our friends’ accomplishments.

Because of technology we are unable to live in the present, we are unable to understand that what we have right now will not last forever and that we can be content with it for the time being, even if we feel like we are stuck or unhappy. Sitting with your pain or your boredom or your unfullfilment is necessary so you can one day move forward. Comparing yourself to your Facebook friends’ can make you want to rush through the phase you’re in which can be become destructive in the future.

Facebook User, I am writing this to you in the hope that you start realizing that we all have pain and that we all go through phases where we wished we could just give up. I am writing this to you so that you understand that the photos your friends put up on Facebook are selected, edited and tailored to make them look a certain way. You can be sure that behind the photo of that couple that just moved in there is hard work put into a relationship. You can be certain that behind your friends’ travels there were hours of work and planning and even home-sickness. Everyone has a thing, no one’s life is perfect and we all move at different speeds to achieve what we want.

Late night thoughts on Birdman and mental illness

After watching Birdman, I have come to the conclusion that my mental illness is not Hollywood material. My depression, my anxiety and my panic attacks are not caused by any kind of artistic existential crisis. Rather, my mental illness simply exists and it does not need a reason to be.

Unlike the Hollywoodian type of mental illness, my inner voice makes me lethargic and uninspired. I do not ponder about my reason of being nor do I feel the need to prove myself to the world. In fact, I think about not being at all, ceasing to exist in the most discrete and painless way possible.

It is scary to think that numbness can strike out of nowhere, for no particular reason. In movies, there are always actions and reactions: character A is depressed because of X. That’s the easiest way to understand another human being suffering from mental illness. But what if there is no particular reason for mental illness? What if something starts to go bad inside you and you cannot point to a cause?

Before committing suicide, Robin Williams gave an interview to The Guardian where he talked about him mental state. I always think back on this interview because I resent the ‘tortured artist’ trope: Robin Williams did not kill himself because he was a disturbed artist with too many ideas. Robin Williams killed himself because he was sick and he was in pain, and thousands of people across the world who are not artists or actors go through that every day.

What stood out for me was the following, when he is asked if his alcoholism and drug dependence are about his friend Christopher Reeves’s death.

“No,” he says quietly, “it’s more selfish than that. It’s just literally being afraid. And you think, oh, this will ease the fear. And it doesn’t.” What was he afraid of? “Everything. It’s just a general all-round arggghhh. It’s fearfulness and anxiety.”

Of course the interviewer had to ask what he is afraid of, but this kind of fear is not palpable or definable. I do not know what I am afraid of or why my chest hurts or why I want to sit at home by myself for a few days when I am depressed. It has never been as simple as a career crossroads like Birdman’s Riggan.

Obviously, when someone kills themselves you want to ask: Why? – the possibility of someone taking their own life because of an illness is way beyond our grasp. Why? Was he disappointed with his career? Was he disturbed by one of his parts in his recent movie? Why? How could he? He was so talented! The idea that the crushing pain of mental illness comes without reason is disturbing. The idea that this pain can override everything we have achieved in our lives, everything that we are, is scary. I get that.

I enjoyed watching Birdman: it was interestingly done, the acting was incredible and I wasn’t bored. But as a sufferer of mental illness who has lived with a separate voice from my own in my head, I resent that Riggan’s issues were glamourized in the usual ‘tortured artist’ format. It felt like the subject of mental illness was avoided when it was in plain sight and isn’t that how we already treat it in everyday life?

I would like society to reach a place where depression is understood as an illness, not as a kind of crisis that can be fixed with picking the right path or impressing the right people. It is uncomfortable to stop searching for a reason why our idols or friends or family harm themselves in such a way but I am sick of the tortured artist trope. It’s repetitive and I doubt it has done much to help people who suffer from these illnesses. It means we are constantly searching for what is making us hurt, as opposed to getting treatment for something that is completely curable or in the least manageable.

The myth of free speech in the Western world

The attacks on Charlie Hebdo cartoonists this week were atrocious and unfair. There is never any justification for the cruel massacre of 17 people and the terrorizing of a whole city for three days. But I am not Charlie and I feel very uncomfortable with the global endorsement of that hashtag. Although it has been pointed out to me that the hashtag is just a show of solidarity for the victims, I am extremely uncomfortable in supporting free speech that makes fun of Boko Haram sex slaves – sexually abused children – to make a (racist) point about welfare.

In a breath of fresh air, the leaking of internal Al Jazeera emails to The National Review revealed that they have privately positioned themselves against the global support of Charlie Hebdo. One of the quotes that most stood out for me was the following by journalist Omar Al Saleh: “Journalism is not a crime [but] insultism is not journalism. And not doing journalism properly is a crime.”

In the fast-paced world of online journalism and Twitter, a condemnation of the attacks and an unquestionable support for free speech was demanded left and right. It has become a matter of “If you’re against Charlie you’re pro terrorism/against free speech,” whereas the question here should really be: “Free speech is great, how do we use it responsibly?”

Even if free speech is an unquestionable right the Western world prides itself in, the right to publish anything you want doesn’t excuse the use of irresponsible, racist, polarizing cartoons. You are free to make fun of Boko Haram sexual slaves but the question is – should you? (Hint: No.) David Brooks of the New York Times puts it well:

“(…) Whatever you might have put on your Facebook page yesterday, it is inaccurate for most of us to claim, Je Suis Charlie Hebdo, or I Am Charlie Hebdo. Most of us don’t actually engage in the sort of deliberately offensive humor that that newspaper specializes in.

“We might have started out that way. When you are 13, it seems daring and provocative to “épater la bourgeoisie,” to stick a finger in the eye of authority, to ridicule other people’s religious beliefs.

“But after a while that seems puerile. Most of us move toward more complicated views of reality and more forgiving views of others. (…) Most of us do try to show a modicum of respect for people of different creeds and faiths. We do try to open conversations with listening rather than insult.” – David Brooks, I Am Not Charlie, The New York Times

The thing about freedom of speech is that it does not exist in a vacuum where it has no impact, especially if you are a journalist exercising your right in a major publication. Once your words appear in a magazine or newspaper, those words matter and they will influence the people who read them. You may tell yourself that people will decide for themselves to be racist and that you had nothing to do with it – but if you publish a racist sentiment you are validating thousands of racists who already feel that way and you might influence people who don’t know much about the subject.

Some people have claimed that Charlie Hebdo’s racist cartoons have spurred on debate about Islam. And here, I ask: who was part of this debate? Was Islam presented accurately by white cartoonists who probably don`t have any Muslim friends? Through the medium of the depiction of the prophet with a star on his ass, was Islam represented fairly or was it vilified? What use is a debate where only one side is heard – the side of the voyeurs?

Free speech is not about petulantly publishing offensive content that adds nothing to difficult conversations we should be having about religion, race and oppression. And neither is it “brave,” like many have claimed – it is actually pretty cowardly to incite Islamophobia in a country where Muslims are increasingly discriminated against. It is ignorant and reeks of white privilege.

Religions are not beyond reproach but the Charlie cartoons were very racialized and polarizing – they othered a group of people. Extremism can and should be questioned but not to the expense of generalizing an entire group.

The Myth of Free Speech

Much has been said about how free speech is under attack in the Western World because of this attack. Frankly, this is extremely hypocritical when, as a woman online, I see the silencing of people of colour and women every single day.

It can be through extreme harassment in orchestrated attacks or just a woman being pushed out of a forum because of gendered slurs aimed at her. It can be through the prominence of racist cartoons over the voices of real Muslims where Islam is concerned: and the erasure of these voices and the lack of positive representation of Muslim characters in the media can result in violent Islamophobia and othering. I have heard of female journalists being told their content was “too women centred” or too “politically correct” for the broader media. As the brilliant Sunny Hundal puts it:

“(…)Let’s also stand up for free speech when Muslims are being threatened. Some of the voices I hear piping up about free speech only do so when Muslims are the perpetrators not victims.

“That isn’t just inconsistent, it also makes me think you don’t really care for the principles at stake. And that also makes it much harder for all of us to convince Muslims about why they should embrace more free speech and the right to insult their religion.” – Sunny Hundal, Why do liberals find it so hard to persuade Muslims about free speech?, Liberal Conspiracy

It must be pointed out that in France, the use of the hijab is forbidden. In 2012 several Muslim institutions sued Charlie Hebdo for their racist content but the case was dismissed. To me, this is a clear double standard: racist cartoons inciting hate? Okay. Embracing Islam as a religion publicly? Not okay. This is only one instance in which free speech is exposed as a myth, or rather a selective right: it is only available to the powerful majority.

We are kidding ourselves if we idealize journalism as some kind of noble profession when a lot of the content is produced for profit. Of course, the fact that it is for profit does not mean it cannot be used for good and for the public interest but your commitment to free speech is extremely polarized if you think everyone has the same footing when joining in the conversation.

Journalists, I am sceptical about your commitment to free speech if you are not seeking diverse voices to include in your work. Editors, I am sceptical about your commitment to free speech if you are not striving for a more diverse pool of writers. I am sceptical about the commitment of most of the press when their opinion sections look like this:

The Times, June 2014.
The Times, June 2014.
The Times, January 2015
The Times, January 2015
Question Time panel after the attacks in Paris.

Go ahead and say “But I am pro-diversity!” but this is not about you or your opinions. This is about systemic violence that silences women and people of colour across the Western world and the fact that people aren’t outraged about that. I am not Charlie Hebdo because I believe a diverse set of voices – not polarizing racist cartoons – will set us free.

UPDATE: Adding this helpful read about the two-layered type of humor Charlie Hebdo is all about – as well as an explanation of how it is also exploitative and racist.

My thoughts are with the friends and family of the victims of the massacre and the Muslims who will undoubtedly suffer Islamophobia as a result of these attacks.

On being a ‘perpetual victim’

A recent trend of anti-feminists and violence against women apologists has been to say feminists treat women like ‘perpetual victims.’ This assertion is completely untrue and can be very damaging if we are ever to have a society where women feel comfortable speaking out against what bothers/has traumatized them.

The ‘perpetual victim’ trope is usually used to delegitimize women when they speak out against something they dislike or something that has traumatized them. I have seen it be used against women in all kinds of situations. Calling out abusive behaviour online, speaking out against sexual assault, pressing rape charges, any mention of street harassment, sexism or misogyny, etc etc etc – these will all warrant a “stop making yourself into a victim!” speech from someone.

In the real world, where we are all human despite how society treats us, we are all vulnerable to becoming victims. Despite this general vulnerability, actually owning up to the fact that someone or something harmed you is seen as a weakness. That weakness is not only considered to be a bad thing, but a ‘trait’ usually knit together with femininity.

‘Being a victim’ (or speaking out against the status quo) is supposed to be a shameful thing. But feminism gives women a safe space to speak out as opposed to being silent. When women raise their voices to say ‘Hey, I don’t like this!’, they are very much challenging the status quo of patriarchal oppression. They are challenging the submissive role imposed onto them that teaches them not to make a fuss. Because making a fuss means you are a perpetual victim, as opposed to a human being who wants to be heard.

The biggest current example I can give you of a submission to this trope is Emma Watson’s UN speech about feminism. Instead of centering women in her speech, she centered men, pandering to them. It felt like she was saying “We are really not so bad, we don’t have it that bad!” Bad Girl Dangerous’s Mia McKenzie has written about Watson’s speech way better than I ever could, and I really recommend you check that out.

In the context of a patriarchal society it means that masculinity is the winner ticket: so the less you act ‘like a woman’ (whatever that even means) the better. The less you complain about abuse, the better. You know that sexist joke you disliked? And that inappropriate sexual comment you co-worker made? Stop playing the victim and take it.

And then there’s the strong woman stereotype, which (in my opinion) is more damaging than helpful. Being perceived as strong often implies that you can or should accept abuse because you are equipped for it. The strong woman stereotype is extremely one-dimensional and it doesn’t leave a lot of space for humanity.

The thing about feminism is that it defines women as humans who are complex, not as one-dimensional robots. Feminism allows women to be strong and empowered, but also vulnerable and imperfect.

On misogyny in the gay community

[Content note: mention of anti-blackness slur, misogyny and homophobia]

Sometimes I get asked to go on BBC World Have Your Say, an awesome international service radio program that seeks to cover news and opinions around the world. Right before the World Cup I got asked to speak on the ridiculous World Cup song (and video) by J-Lo, Pitbull and Claudia Leitte.

Predictably, the video was full of damaging images of Brazilian women which I have no doubt encouraged foreign men to harass Brazilian women during the event. Brazil has been capitalizing on the bodies of Brazilian women for decades, particularly marketing the image of the ‘mulata’ as sexual, welcoming and easy. This stereotype is damaging in many ways that I won’t go into right now.

During the BBC segment that discussed the video, I was clear about my position: the cheap, lazy representation of Brazilian culture was extremely damaging, especially for women, who are routinely street harassed by both local and foreign men. After a lot of searching for a person who enjoyed the song to stimulate both sides of the debate, the producers of the show were able to find one guy.

After presenting my case, based on real life experiences of harassment (and again, I repeat: both from local and foreign men) and self-censorship because of my nationality’s sexualized stereotype, the guy broke in and said I was exaggerating. The exchange that followed went something like this:

Me: “As a man, you can`t speak on my experiences.”

Dude: “Bitch, I’m gay.”

Yep, this guy was so entitled that he thought it would be a good idea to call me a bitch on international radio. He had to assert his maleness with his oppression, because his sexual orientation somehow means that he can’t silence women (spoiler: he can, because he has male privilege).

This is why, when Rose McGowan said that “gay men are more misogynistic than straight men,” I didn’t bat an eyelash to defend gay men. It was wrong to quantify misogyny in such terms – I can’t do that, to go as far as to say that one is worse than the other. But this is something I have come into direct contact with.

Even if I could say which group is worse, that’s not the point (and it will never be the point). Misogyny in the gay community exists and it has to be addressed. The worst way to go about it is to say: “Wah! But straight guys are even worse!” That’s just shifting blame and denying that, even though you are oppressed in one instance, you were still raised in a patriarchal society that teaches hatred of women and femininity.

This is not, in any way, to deny that gay men suffer homophobia, prejudice and oppression daily. Part of this is perpetuated by straight women, as well – and that’s something we need to work on. We are all complicit to micro and macro aggression in everyday life but dismissing a genuine piece of criticism as ‘homophobia’ (thanks Stonewall) is not helpful to the deconstruction of these prejudices.

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The Dismissal of Womanly Pain and Pressure to be the Strong Woman

When I was thirteen, my fellow classmates made fun of my moustache and bushy eyebrows. The feminist woman I have become would like to say I ignored them and wore my facial hair with pride, but that is not what happened. I started waxing off the hairs on my upper lip and shaping my eyebrows – two things I continue to do today.

There is absolutely nothing remarkable about that. Women all over the world wax, shave, bleach and laser body hair to look smoother and more feminine. As a feminist, I have nothing against women who choose to remove body hair – after all, I do it myself – but it’s important for me to think about why I submit to the pain of waxing every month.

As I grew up from my moustached thirteen-year-old self, I started waxing other places too: my legs, my bikini line and even my toes. And it hurts. Oh, how it hurts. Why do I have to do this every month?

When I recently complained about this, someone told me: “Just don’t do it anymore, then.” That sounds pretty simple right? Just don’t obey the patriarchy. Just go to the beach with a hairy bikini line. Just look unprofessional with your bushy eyebrows. Just wear shorts and let your hairy legs show. Just make your body into a political statement.

The simplicity of that statement made me wonder about female pain and how it is often dismissed as unimportant. Both sides of this situation would bring me pain. If I own up to my body hair, I will be judged by a sexist, misogynist society. If I continue to remove it, I will have to deal with the pain of waxing and shaving and the medical issues that come with it.

This dismissal happens when going through pain to achieve smooth legs is considered normal and even required.

It happens when women are told street harassment is something they have to accept, even though women who are victims of it say they feel uncomfortable, objectified and afraid.

It happens when nine women accuse a man of abusing them, but we are still told to ‘hear both sides’.

It happens when nine out of ten women feel pain when their uterus is contracting to get rid of its lining but talking about periods and period pain is considered gross or ‘making a fuss’.

It happens when women are told they should’ve thought about the consequences of their actions when seeking abortion, even though all kinds of birth control can fail.

It happens when women are paid less but people argue that the wage gap is actually a myth.

It happens all the goddamn time.

While men are taught not to show their pain, women are routinely told their pain is not important. Women’s pain is normal because women are more emotional and hormonal, so why pay any attention to it? Often, women hide their pain away so as to not be annoying or be perceived as weak or too feminine.

We are asked to be the Strong Woman, which is an image I truly resent. No one ever says “He is a strong man” because men are presumed to be strong because of their masculinity – or the societal enforcement of said masculinity. This necessity to be a Strong Woman reinforces the idea that not being feminine and being more like men is better.

And let’s not forget that being the Strong Woman can be dangerous, speaking your mind, as a woman, can be life-threatening – on the internet or otherwise (Mary Spears was definitely strong when she told a man “no” and was killed for it). I see women who are perceived as Strong Women being harassed on the internet every day. Not to mention that a Strong Woman is often mistaken for a Bitch.

Women cannot win either way.

The Pro-Choice Fight in Brazil


This is an edited and cut down version of this piece. It is part of my Beyond the Sex and Sunshine series, where I write about Brazilian women and try to change the sexualized narrative around them. To read the full text please click here and support my work.

Jandira Magdalena dos Santos Cruz, 27, was last seen alive on her way to an illegal abortion clinic in Campo Grande, Rio de Janeiro. Weeks later, her body was found carbonized in a burnt car, without limbs or a dental arch. A divorced mother of two daughters, Jandira resorted to abortion when her boyfriend refused to take responsibility for the pregnancy.

Abortion is illegal in Brazil except in cases of rape or if the mother’s life is in danger. This illegality what led Jandira to pay USD$1,200 for a procedure in an illegal clinic. Her case is not a rare one: according to the World Health Organization (WHO) one woman dies every two days because of unsafe abortions in Brazil. Brazilian public health care estimates indicate that 1.5 million women get abortions yearly while the Ministry of Health’s calculations reveal that 3.7 million Brazilian women between the ages of 15 and 49 have had at least one abortion in their lifetime. In Latin America, 95% of abortions are considered unsafe by WHO.

In Brazil, having an abortion is punishable by law and could result in one to four years in prison. In 2005, a proposed bill of law threatened to take away the already existing provisions for abortions and to make abortion a heinous crime. The law would also forbid stem cell research.

In an election year, the subject of abortion is curiously absent from electoral campaigns and debates. Despite Jandira’s death and that of thousands of women which has caught the attention of mainstream media, advocating for the legalization of abortion is considered political suicide in a country where 79% of people are against any change in legislation.

“Abortion is a taboo, religion and the media display dead babies of eight or nine months and say this is abortion, which causes discomfort in any person,” says activist Isabella Medeiros, organizer of a pro-choice march in Rio de Janeiro on September 28. “This image of taboo that the media shows the population is very fictitious; the rate of women who get abortions is immense. In truth, it is a great manipulation because of religion, more so than politics, where conservative values are predominant.”

Mariana* says this predominant attitude in society makes it harder for women who have abortions to speak out or even heal mentally from the procedure. She got an abortion after paying R$12,000 ($5,000) to a doctor who instructed her to go to a high-class hospital and pretend she was having a miscarriage so she could be operated safely.

“He told me to come to a hospital – a good hospital in Rio – and pretend I was having a miscarriage. I would have to arrive in the early hours of the day. I was lucky – we paid a lot of money. My father got a loan from the bank, my mother didn’t go on a planned trip. I was lucky to have a family that was looking out for me, that supported me. They understood it wasn’t the time for me to have a kid.”

While Mariana was fortunate to have the procedure done in a proper hospital, this is not the reality of most Brazilian women.

“Jandira’s case is an example of what we call unsafe abortion,” explains Dr Ligia Bahia in an interview to newspaper O Globo. “It’s an abortion performed outside of a medical unit with proper credentials. In Brazil, because abortion is illegal, interventions in illegal clinics are more common. Women put themselves in a situation of extreme risk when they seek this kind of operation. Ideally, society would debate this theme without an ideology, focusing only on the grave issue of public health.”

Since the legalization of abortion in Uruguay, the number of abortions has decreased and there have been no deaths as a result of the procedures. Despite this positive result, political leaders in Brazil seldom mention a direct change in legislation, with presidential candidate Marina Silva only going as far as proposing a referendum on the issue. According to Uruguay’s Public Health sub-secretary Leonel Briozzo, “that’s not the best way to solve the problem.”

“For the life of women,” they chanted


On September 28, Latin American and Caribbean Day for the Legalization of Abortion, women took to the streets in several cities across Latin America to protest for their bodily autonomy. In Brazil in particular, organizers of the movement hoped to bring attention to the issue in times of election.

At the end of Copacabana beach, a small group of feminist activists painted pro-choice signs for the march later in the day. They were of all colors and backgrounds, but all of them recognize that the criminalization of abortion is a bigger danger to low-income women of color. One of the signs read: “The rich women pay, the poor women die.”

Besides remembering the death of thousands of women across Latin America who died from unsafe abortion, the march in Copacabana had as an objective to start a political conversation about the legalization and decriminalization of the procedure.

Protester Desirée Carvalho, 23, said: “We think this is something to be debated since we are in an election year and this is a subject that isn’t debated, even though we have more than one woman running for president so our objective is this, to talk about the need of the legalization of abortion by the public health system.”

The march was peaceful, but also met with a bit of hostility. Many people shook their heads in disapproval when the protesters chanted pro-choice songs to call attention to the march. A few others observers pumped their fists and joined in, but the march was mostly met with silence.

In a Lugar de Mulher (A Woman’s Place) blog post that went viral last month, Brazilian feminist writer Clara Averbuck summarizes an approach to the legalization of abortion that might work for Brazil.

She wrote: “Your personal opinion about abortion doesn’t matter. Women will continue to have abortions and to risk their lives while it’s not a legal and safe procedure (…) You hate the idea of abortion? OK, so don’t have one. Your opinion won’t change that women have abortions (…) All kinds of women have abortions and there is not one personal opinion that will change that.”

*Not her real name.

This is an edited and cut down version of this piece. To read the full text please click here and support my work in changing the narrative around Brazilian women.

Let them cry

david luiz

I am sick of football right now and not because Brazil lost 7×1. I am sick of its exclusionary attitude towards minorities and the aspects that reinforce the heteropatriachy standards of society. I am sick of seeing the international media making fun of players crying, of homophobic slurs being thrown around because supporters can’t come up with anything better, of women being shown on TV purely because of their looks.

A couple of years ago I wrote about how the concept of masculinity represses the emotions of men for the sake of enforcing power over women. Men are supposed to be the strongest, the bread-winners, better and more capable than women. They’re supposed to hold it together in situations where, if a woman breaks down, it is acceptable. This hurts men.


It’s not ‘embarrassing’ to cry. If you think that, you have warped ideas of humanity and compassion. Crying is human, especially when losing at home with a score of 7×1 in an incredibly controversial tournament in a country full of poverty. In a country where thousands of people were removed for the sake of football stadiums that will barely be used in the future.

It is incredible pressure to win a World Cup at home and the emotional states of the Brazilians were understandable. It makes me rage when things like this become banter because it makes football exclusionary.

It is why the stigma of ‘softness’ often descends into homophobia and sexism. In these aspects football is perhaps the most delayed sport in the world. In the US a few gay men have recently come out of the closet – Michael Sam and Derrick Gordon for example. This is progress, despite the onslaught of harassment they got after their courageous actions.

In football there aren’t any openly gay men.

Why is that? Because any kind of softness and femininity is considered ‘embarrassing’ or ‘gay’. And guess what? The slurs you shout in the stadium make LGBT persons uncomfortable, excluding them from the matches for fear of violence or anger to hear words like ‘f*g’ be thrown around like it’s the worst thing ever.

This is also closely linked to why women often feel excluded from football. They are women so they have to prove they know what the offside rule is or know more football trivia than men to prove they are ‘real fans’.

It doesn’t help that Sepp Blatter, president of FIFA, thinks the key to making female sport more appealing is women showing more skin.

“They could, for example, have tighter shorts,” he said. “Female players are pretty, if you excuse me for saying so, and they already have some different rules to men – such as playing with a lighter ball. That decision was taken to create a more female aesthetic, so why not do it in fashion?”

Carrie Dunn, football fan, academic and author of the book Female Football Fans, thinks this is the kind of thing that makes football an unwelcome environment for women.

She told Jezebel: “Basically because men’s football is so very male-dominated in the stands (and in its administration (…) and its media (…) but that’s another story) female  fans tend to be very wary of doing anything that makes them stand out as “female” or “feminine”. So that means they’ll wear trousers to games, not skirts; flat shoes, not heels; they won’t wear too much make-up; they don’t want to be accused of what you’re saying – that they’re there to look at the boys, not to watch the football. It’s almost as if this gendered/sexualised element of watching football would detract from how much you enjoy the sport.”

Football is incredibly exclusionary, sexist, homophobic and racist. You can prize the players on the pitch for having sportsmanship but the problems go way beyond the pitch. I am incredibly tired of seeing these ‘isms’ so intricately woven into football. It ruins the game for anyone who is not a white, cisgender, straight dude – but sure keep enforcing the heteropatriarchy because that’s what makes you comfortable.

“I wanted to give happiness to my people, who suffer for so many things so I ask for forgiveness.” – David Luiz

PS: Not all football fans.
PS2: Click here to support my project to change the face of Brazilian women around the world.


Coletivo Papo Reto


Travelling, living abroad and seeing more of the world. And adjusting to all the culture shocks along the way.

Mikki Kendall

Proud descendant of Hex Throwing Goons

Olivia A. Cole

Author. Blogger. Bigmouth.

Dr. Rebecca Hains

Author, professor and speaker | Children's media culture, media literacy, and media criticism

Aida Manduley, MSW

presenter | therapist| educator | activist

The Belle Jar

"Let me live, love and say it well in good sentences." - Sylvia Plath

{FAVEL issues}

urban informality + urban development

days like crazy paving

the life, times and ramblings of jaythenerdkid. probably not safe for children.

Black Women of Brazil

The site dedicated to Brazilian women of African descent

The Travelling Chopsticks

A story of love, life, food and travel!


she thinks. she says. she writes.

Texan in Tokyo

Comics and stories from a American gaijin (foreigner) and her Japanese husband, living in rural Japan

Road to Brazil 2014

World Cup News, Opinion and Guide

Movimento Passe Livre - Rio de Janeiro

Por uma vida sem catracas!


Coletivo Papo Reto


Travelling, living abroad and seeing more of the world. And adjusting to all the culture shocks along the way.

Mikki Kendall

Proud descendant of Hex Throwing Goons

Olivia A. Cole

Author. Blogger. Bigmouth.

Dr. Rebecca Hains

Author, professor and speaker | Children's media culture, media literacy, and media criticism

Aida Manduley, MSW

presenter | therapist| educator | activist

The Belle Jar

"Let me live, love and say it well in good sentences." - Sylvia Plath

{FAVEL issues}

urban informality + urban development

days like crazy paving

the life, times and ramblings of jaythenerdkid. probably not safe for children.

Black Women of Brazil

The site dedicated to Brazilian women of African descent

The Travelling Chopsticks

A story of love, life, food and travel!


she thinks. she says. she writes.

Texan in Tokyo

Comics and stories from a American gaijin (foreigner) and her Japanese husband, living in rural Japan

Road to Brazil 2014

World Cup News, Opinion and Guide

Movimento Passe Livre - Rio de Janeiro

Por uma vida sem catracas!