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I belly dance. Dancing is in my blood, from the Latin and ballroom sequence dancing of my parents to the disco dancing my sister and I did as a child. Yet, everybody who knows me was surprised when I said I was going to a belly dance class that had just started up in my small town. Mostly when I leave the house I wear baggy clothes that are practical and comfortable rather than sparkly underwear.

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It was something I could do that didn't discriminate based on age, disability or gender. The class is about being included and to have fun whatever your attainment. In my case, I'd do a three minute routine at a non-disabled person's pace and then lie down for 20 minutes to get my breath back and rest my muscles for the next routine.

Some things are the same: there are more women than men in dance classes. Stereotypically, young boys don't belly dance and at the other end of the age spectrum, most men haven't survived as long as women. For workshops, the male teachers get paid more than their female counterparts for the same work.

Some things are blessedly different: in tribal style belly dancing, it's the responsibility of the leader to make the rest of the group look good and everybody gets to be the leader. You actually have to know the people you work alongside and when abilities take a hit with illness, you are very much included - everybody rallies around to show that you matter as a person. Anybody feel like they matter at work and are not a replaceable cog? Anyone?

It's great that we are exposed to different cultural beliefs as to what movements are and we get to pick what we like and make it our own. In Western belief, belly dancing is about entertainment. In Romany Turkish, it's about showing an indomitable spirit in the courts of your oppressors. In the latter, movements are masculine and feminine, not male and female. If you want to have an angular performance, movements will be more masculine. If you want a flowing performance, movements will be more feminine. They are attributes that we all possess and can express rather than being restricted by the gender binary.

Some things I really wish were different: The women in my local class stare at my hairy armpits and hairy legs and lack of makeup and nail varnish. Then some of them they say they wish they had my confidence to have their natural state in public. I say that we can do whatever we like with our bodies and shouldn't fear an external judgement or perceived obligation.

I was asked to be part of an evening show with a paying audience of 150 people. My Western teacher asked me to shave my armpits as, and I quote, "It's more feminine." After the shock of two years of dancing with them for unpaid or small audiences with my body how I choose it to be, I told her that we have different ideas as to what feminine is. I like my pubic hair as it indicates to me that I am adult. I went on to say if people find my body with pre-pubescent attributes appealing, they might want to go home and think about that and we might want to attract money from a healthier attitude audience. I declined to do the dance.

At another evening show, I growled at the person who said I needed stage make up to combat the stage lighting but their will was stronger than my resistance to their brushstrokes. Most of it stained my costume. For weeks afterwards, I had spots as my body pushed out the cosmetic toxins. It's as if cosmetics make spots on purpose so you use more cosmetics to hide the spots - a product that creates demand for more of itself is an excellent business strategy. The person who put the make up on me didn't have to live with the negative consequences of their actions.

I have been asked to do the show this year. After 12 months, who I am and how I dance is being recognised as more important than what I wear and look like, even for the 'big' events. Some things are changing.

Image is of a belly dancer and has been taken mid-movement, so the dancer's face is hazy and there's a swirl of light around her. It was uploaded by Flickr user Krisztina Konczos and has been shared under the Creative Commons Licence.

Love Hotel: UK premiere and review by CN Lester

by Ania Ostrowska // 15 September 2014, 18:57

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There are 37,000 Love Hotels in Japan visited by 2.8 million people every day. With unprecedented access to one of them, the Angelo in Osaka, directors Phil Cox and Hikaru Toda follow everyday people from the intimacy of the hotel's rooms to their outside realities. An ancient Japanese tradition, the Love Hotels exist so people can escape the conservative strictures of their daily lives, to explore their fantasies and desires or just find some privacy.

On Wednesday 17th September DocHouse is hosting the UK premiere of Love Hotel, the critically acclaimed documentary born from this project. The screening takes place at the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Arts, London) and will be followed by a Q&A with directors Phil Cox and Hikaru Toda.

The screening is sold out but you can read the review of Love Hotel by our contributor CN Lester, who says:

"The overwhelming impression I was left with was of joy and the wonder in small intimacies...Love Hotel explores, without fuss, without analysis, a place where people can talk honestly about who they are and what they need, face their desires head on and share them."


Click here to read CN's review and comment.

UPDATE TUESDAY 16 SEPTEMBER: Love Hotel will be screened at ICA London 20-28 September. You can get your tickets on ICA website now.

A guest post from SWOU (Sex Worker Open University) about the failure of the upcoming 'Feminism in London' conference to include any sex workers on its sex work panel.

Microphone- for page.jpgUpcoming autumn event Feminism in London is planning to hold a panel discussion about sex work -- without having any current sex workers on the panel. Ironically, this sex worker-free sex work panel was originally called "Suppressed Voices". This kind of exclusion is a common experience for sex workers:

...to name but three examples.

For Feminism in London to include current sex workers on a panel about sex work should be non-negotiable, both in terms of the necessity of hearing the insights that only current sex workers can bring and in terms of simple justice, the logic being tha the people who are most affected by any given issue should play a significant role in conversations about it. Listening to the voices of those most affected is basic feminist praxis. A sex work panel without any current sex workers violates that obvious precept.

We're glad to see that women of colour are represented on the panel and that this is reflected throughout Feminism in London, but disappointed to note that that the organisers appear to have used this to deflect criticism that the sex work panel does not include any current sex workers. A panel on intersecting oppressions within sex work, one that focuses on race and class, should centre sex workers of colour, sex workers living in poverty and sex workers whose identities span both those oppressions and more. Not be populated entirely by non-sex workers.

An argument sometimes used against sex workers' requests to have current sex workers included in discussions about sex work is the misunderstanding that we want or need every person who sells sex to 'out' themselves, in order to participate. We're aware that not every sex worker will feel comfortable being 'out' as a sex worker (literally every sex worker within SWOU is 'out' in some contexts but not others and we are all constantly navigating which spaces we feel safe in). We don't advocate excluding those people from the discussion. People shouldn't have to out themselves to participate. However, it is surprising to us that the so-called 'solution' to this lack of accessibility for sex workers is to pre-emptively exclude all current sex workers from the panel. Sex workers who are in the room are more likely to feel safer, to feel that the diverse perspectives of people currently selling sex are valued and therefore more able to speak up, if there are current sex workers on the panel.

If Feminism in London can't find sex workers who want to be on the panel, it might be worth the conference organisers reflecting on how it is they have made the space feel so unsafe that sex workers aren't comfortable attending openly. But if a space is so unsafe that no out current sex worker feels able to attend, that shouldn't be a green light to the organisers to run their sex work panel without sex worker input. If sex workers feel too unsafe to attend the conference, the conference shouldn't be discussing their issues.

We're conscious that we're likely to be accused of wanting the panel to be cancelled, of wanting to "silence the voices" of activists who 'disagree' with us. As sex workers, we don't have institutional power: even if we wanted to, we couldn't "silence the voice" of the co-ordinator of the European Women's Lobby. But to be clear: we want this panel to happen. We just think that a panel on sex work should have (non-tokenistic) input from sex workers as a basic criteria for going ahead. We're surprised that this is controversial.

We have asked for allies to help us to amplify sex worker voices. We're contacting activists and organisations participating in Feminism in London and asking them to raise concerns about the exclusion of sex workers from the sex work panel. For participants who strongly feel the injustice of this, we've suggested that they could offer to pull out of the conference until this situation is resolved (the principle of women asking pro-feminist men to decline to sit on all-male panels is well established). For people who were considering purchasing tickets, we would be appreciative if you would let the organisers know that you're waiting to see the addition of sex workers onto the sex work panel prior to finalising your purchase.

The underlying 'justification' for deliberately excluding current sex workers on a panel about sex work can only be that those who put the panel together think that people (especially women) who currently sell sex are somehow not equal to people who don't. It implies they think sex workers are dirtier, less trustworthy or less worth hearing from. We can't see any other motivation, once it's down to brass tacks. Viewing sex workers as less insightful or less trustworthy than other women cannot be an acceptable feminist position.

Image description:

Black and white close-up of a microphone, with the head at the front, by Daehyun Park and shared under a creative commons license.

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Since Bradley Wiggins' Tour de France win, the Olympics and the Grand Depart of the Tour de France being held in the UK, Britain has seen a boom in the number of people taking up cycling. This includes more women than ever before, particularly young women aged 14-25, according to British Cycling.

This has led to increased demand placed upon bike retailers and bike manufacturers to cater to the girls' and women's markets.

We've come a long way since the Victorian era, when it was frowned upon for women to ride bikes and they needed to design and make their own attire because there was none available for them. However, a recent online discussion with some of my fellow mountain bike enthusiasts revealed that the modern market may still have some way to go. One of the participants was talking about taking her nine-year-old daughter, Amy, to look at bikes at a well-known UK bike retailer.

Amy had recently been to a local summer youth festival and had seen some BMX demonstrations She decided she wanted a BMX for her birthday. Amy's mother took her to look at some and try them out for size.

They were approached by a salesperson not long after arriving in the children's bike section. Taking one look at Amy's long blonde hair, she immediately ushered them to the candy-coloured end of the aisle. There was one girls' BMX - in black and hot pink. Amy took one look at it and immediately hot-footed it back down to the other end. "I think I like these better" she said. But the salesperson wasn't to be deterred. "Those are the boys' bikes, love," she said. "Wouldn't you prefer a girls' one?"

I loved Amy's response - she fixed the salesperson with a quizzical look, a nine-year-old speciality, and said, "Does it matter?"

Amy's mother did a quick comparison on the bikes aimed at girls and the ones aimed at boys. For the same price, many of the boys' bikes had better components and functionality than the girls - suspension forks and gearing, for example. The girls' bikes focused on appearance and comfort - larger saddles, lower top-tubes and pastel colours with plenty of flower motifs and add-ons like baskets, streamers and sparkly handlebar grips. The clothing and accessories aimed at girls were mostly pink, with the odd flash of white or purple, and again, focused on being pretty rather than functional. Boys' cycling clothing included padding and skull-and-crossbone motifs, sold on its hard-wearing qualities.

I wish I could say the adult market is more enlightened and in some places it is, but if you want to transcend the sea of pink Lycra, you have to spend more time and money searching out brands who acknowledge both the need for women-specific cycling clothing and to have a few more choices on the colour spectrum.

Some in the women's cycling world think that the abundance of pink bikes and pink Lycra aren't that big a deal compared to other issues and just make a joke of it. But there is a real issue of choice and acceptance here. According to the retailers, boys are expected to be rough-and-tumble, ride through the mud and require their kit to be washed by their mothers a lot. Girls are expected to bumble around with their dolls in the front basket.

If the industry really is going to support this women's cycling revolution, it needs to think beyond gel saddles and everything in varying shades of pink and pastels. Girls need to know that it's OK to get dirty and there's enough washing powder in the world to cater for theirs and their brothers' kit. They need to know they'll be welcome in cycling clubs and free to choose any cycling discipline they want to learn or compete in, no matter how physically demanding.

I wonder how many Amys there might be who don't necessarily have the assertiveness or support to tell the world they don't want to be pinkified. I wonder how many Amys might have ended up with a bike - or indeed, other choices in life - things they were told that they should like, rather than what they really wanted and reflected who they were, because they didn't want to be judged for being different.

I am happy to report that Amy now has a new, blue and green BMX - I won't say shiny, because she is spending so much time at her local bike park that it probably isn't so shiny any more.

Amy has also learned how to use the washing machine.

The photo is by Cristina Valencia and is used under a creative commons licence. It shows four bikes lined up, supported by their prop-stands, shot from behind. More bikes are out of focus in the background. The second and fourth bike (looking left to right) have saddle bags. The second one also has a black wire basket.

Mainly a modern jazz soul singer, Sarah Jane Morris is perhaps most known for her 1980s pop cover of 'Don't Leave Me This Way' with The Communards. Chrissy D has a listen to her latest album, a politically charged project produced in collaboration with musicians including Keziah Jones and Tony Rémy.

When Dizzy Gillespie famously observed that "Mama Rhythm is Africa", he was talking about the common heartbeat he heard in the music and dance of the New World, South America and the Caribbean, cultures that had been transformed forever in the 18th and 19th centuries by the African Diaspora...


- John Fordham (extract from liner notes for Bloody Rain)

 The title track of Bloody Rain has an ambling rhythm and warm instrumental intro, while the ambiguous lyrics make this a song that unsettles as much as it comforts. It sounds like a sad but matter-of-fact goodbye, peppered with hope. This seems to be in keeping with the overall statement in the forthcoming liner notes that Sarah Jane Morris hopes the songs "will lift your spirits", while anticipating that "some will make you weep".

With the continent of Africa as the central theme, this 15-track album features a number of African musicians in collaboration. Included are Nigerian singer/songwriter Keziah Jones ('I Shall Be Released'), the London-based, Zimbabwe-born vocalist Eska ('Here Comes The Rain') and Senegal's Seckou Keita (playing the Kora on 'Wild Flowers'). Morris bridges different settings through her music and there are also collaborators on Bloody Rain from Europe and South America; many of the tracks showcase input from UK-based guitarist Tony Rémy, while Brazillian Adriano Adewale features on percussion for 'Wild Flowers'.

Lyrically, Bloody Rain embraces Africa's splintered history of colonisation in a matter-of-fact manner and attempts to draw on the common human experiences that have grown out of its brutal past. As a charity project teamed up with Annie Lennox's SING venture, raising money for their Voice for HIV/Aids Women and Children campaign, the theme of rarely-heard voices runs through every track, with the subjects covered managing to be universal, local and individual all at once.

Click here to read the rest of Chrissy's review and comment

Image description:

Forthcoming cover of Bloody Rain. This shows a painted blue and green background, speckled with large flecks of red and black. The title is in white and in the bottom right-hand corner. Shared under fair dealing.

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I appear to live in an ageist culture that believes that getting older necessarily implies worse health. The younger you are, the less people believe what you say or feel. I became disabled by a chronic health condition when I was 19 and it has been a consistent uphill struggle to get the full extent of the severity of my health condition recognised.

The disbelief factor was definitely experienced with my GP. He decided that I should keep my muscles mobile so refused to recommend an electronic wheelchair. My main condition is fatigue and I didn't have the energy to use a manual wheelchair or a walking stick. Essentially, my GP only wanted me to be independently mobile to the end of my driveway. I needed someone with me from that point to pick me up off the floor when my muscles wouldn't keep me upright.

My GP also prescribed swimming to help with my muscle mobility. He said three times a week for 20 minutes a time. That was textbook guidelines with no consideration for my disability. With fatigue, you start the day with a limited amount of energy and have to budget how you spend it. It gets spent travelling to the leisure centre, getting changed, the 20 minutes in the water, getting changed and getting home. That was my day spent, beyond eating and toileting. I managed to maintain that twice a week.

My nearest leisure centre had two hour-long disabled swimming sessions, when you didn't have to deal with lanes cordoning off the pool or the waves non-disabled people make when they agitate the water. It also had gendered changing rooms. There were two disabled change areas - one within the ladies changing and one on the poolside for male and unisex. My carer was male, so we had to use the unisex/male. But so did all the other men with disabilities. Understandably, it was a long queue as disabilities often slow things down.

I was the only woman to use the disabled session. The staff asked me to have a female carer so I could use the ladies changing room. They expected me to conform to an idea of gender binary. I explained to them that I put my disability care only in the hands of those I know and trust and leisure staff or agency staff didn't come under that. In the end, I had to prove my disability was more severe than everyone else - with Disability Living Allowance decisions - in order to use the changing room last to get in the water and then first to get out. There was a row of people sitting in towels getting cold waiting for the disabled session to start, sometimes for over an hour.

Thankfully, another leisure centre opened nearby that had entirely unisex changing with cubicles of various sizes and adaptations. If you wanted total isolation, there were separate bricked areas for your security. But some features still remained.

First, the conversation with reception staff:

"Two for swimming, please."
"It's disabled only until 4pm."
"I know. That's why I'm here with my carer."
*Blank look that is still disbelieving even after they have scanned your leisure card and read the note on your file that registers you are in receipt of DLA*

Second, there was just one solitary winch to hoist people in and out of the water if you couldn't cope with the staircase - needless to say, it was in high demand for the disabled sessions. Third, there was the shower that didn't stay on and gave no indication as to the temperature. When you don't have the energy to keep pushing the button, and either get red skin or seized muscles from inappropriate shower temperature, an experience 'prescribed' by your GP can do more harm than good. This is also true of the pool temperature. I've sat in Blackpool sea and it's easier on the body!

Then, the public transport provider decided to stop buses going to the leisure centres from the largest bus station in the area. As I'm unable to drive a car due to health and poverty, I can't get there unless my neighbours are free to take me and bring me back.

Annoyingly for me, this situation could have been avoided if my Primary Care Trust funded the medication that the NHS knows to be of significant benefit to people with my fatigue disorder. I live in the wrong area to get the medicine I need so I can do these things more independently. It could also have been avoided if hydrotherapy was available for more than 13 sessions a year and the waiting lists were short enough to let that happen every year. Then there's the mobility scooter - a symbol of independent mobility - which I haven't been given access to. I rely on the sporadic kindness of strangers. I'm being denied vital health and independence opportunities. Now we're in a recession, it's getting worse.

Image is of Blackpool sea - there are a few low waves, the shore and some buildings can be seen in the distance, the sky is partly cloudy with blue patches. It was uploaded by Flickr user Szczepan Janus and has been shared under the Creative Commons Licence.

FVM_VM Self Portrait Round Mirror Repeating Image_©Vivian Maier_Maloof Collection_online.jpgThe F-Word's contributor Hayley Ellis Jones reviews a 2013 documentary Finding Vivian Maier that you can still catch in selected cinemas. Earlier this year Hayley reviewed another documentary about outstanding woman photographer Jane Bown. Hayley asks:

"What was Vivian Maier's motivation for taking thousands of photographs of people in the streets of Chicago? Why did she never seek a wider audience to see her beautiful images? Who should be profiting from her belated success? These are some of the questions raised, but only partially answered, by the 2013 documentary Finding Vivian Maier directed by John Maloof and Charlie Siskel.

The film reveals an intriguing tale of a Chicago nanny and prolific street photographer who captured fascinating snaps of daily life but never pursued or received recognition for her work during her lifetime."


Read Hayley's entire review and comment.

The picture is black and white self-portrait by Vivian Maier in front of a round mirror, with the image repeated ad infinitum.
© Vivian Maier Maloof Collection online

A closet heterosexual? Discovering my sexuality

by D. T. Dragon // 4 September 2014, 15:16

Tags: aromantic, asexuality, sexuality

I'd like to share my sexuality with you, or the lack of it. Currently, I identify as aromantic and asexual.

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My first experience in the non-straight community came when I was 21. My sister subscribed to New Scientist magazine and in the August edition the magazine arrived with the cover titled 'The Asexual Revolution'. I always read the magazine from cover to cover anyway, but reading the centre pages about David Jay promoting awareness of asexuality beyond the biologist's definition of self-replication led me to the AVEN website - the Asexuality and Visibility and Education Network.

It was a very dial-up Internet friendly website (showing my age here). The people on the community forums were equally friendly. They offered me virtual cake in the welcome thread, because that's what asexuals crave in their pillow forts at 2am.

It struck me very quickly that there was a whole bunch of people who were just like me - I wasn't the only one! During my teen years, I didn't have any answers for people who expect you to have sexual interest in others (preferably of the opposite gender binary) and for it to have a label.

My sexual labelling went thus: I'm not interested in men so I must like women. One week later: I'm not interested in women either, so I must be bisexual. A day later: Bisexual is to have an interest in both, and I don't have an interest in either, so jokingly I'm an apathetic bisexual. Many months of persistent questioning later, I would say I was a closet heterosexual and run away before people had time to question why anyone would be in a closet about being straight.

Being on the AVEN forums gave me peace from other people's aggressive questions about must liking people sexually. It gave me chance to read about other asexuals' experiences in romantic relationships and it was then that I realised I'm aromantic too. This makes me a minority in a minority but people accepted at AVEN without question.

I discovered AVEN at a time when leaflets had just been produced to educate the wider community about asexuality. I had a bunch of them posted to me from America to distribute at my local gay pride event in Birmingham. I got chased down the parade by the people from the Brook Advisory Centre as they were relieved they could offer teenagers something that said it was okay not to be interested in sex with other people. I realised then it was important for me to be open about my disinterest in sex with others as well as my romantic disinterest. Discovering AVEN came after I became chronically ill, which was a shame, as people assumed I was asexual because of my illness. I know differently, of course.

So yes, in a culture that uses sexuality and romance as marketing tools, I find myself immune. It has never interested me to change my appearance or my personality to attract someone romantically or sexually and this has saved me a small fortune in cosmetics and fragrances and fashion. Lacking an inherent interest, I haven't been drawn into the hyper-sexualised selling of products that creates a sense of inadequacy using Photoshop. Imagine how many industries would collapse if people were secure in themselves and celebrated diversity rather than thinking that we all have to align to some external ideal, that we are carbon copies like cars off a car production line.

Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.

The image above is from Pride London 2010. It shows two people carrying a purple banner which reads 'AVEN asexuality.org' and has an inverted triangle symbol. Other people participating in the march can be seen too. The image has been uploaded by Flickr user Peter aka anemoneprojectors and has been shared under the Creative Commons Licence.

Welcome another guest blogger for September!

by Asiya Islam // 3 September 2014, 18:44

Tags: monthly guest bloggers

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As we say goodbye to August and hello to September (it's September already!), we welcome new monthly bloggers. Chella said thank you to the August bloggers - Abigael Watson and Mag the Blag - and welcomed G* as our September blogger.

I'm pleased to announce, following confirmation yesterday, that we will also have D.T. Dragon blogging for us this month. Here's more about D.T. Dragon -

D.T. Dragon is an eccentrically English cat slave who lives under castle ruins in the Midlands. A supporter of diversity - they drink both tea and coffee, have equal ability in environmental science and photography, and alternate between a long hero coat and belly dance outfits - it is no surprise their fiction muse is a great believer in the unlikely coming together. When not writing, D.T. Dragon campaigns for equality, the environment and the community... Something has to occupy their time as an aromantic asexual!

Welcome D.T. Dragon - look forward to your posts!

The image shows a wooden bench with green and red bushes and trees surrounding it, a bit of sunshine can be seen on the trees and the bench. It was uploaded on Flickr by JR P and has been used under the Creative Commons Licence.

Welcome to the guest blogger for September!

by Chella Quint // 1 September 2014, 21:40

Tags: monthly guest bloggers

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Hello! Each month, we invite guest bloggers to contribute regular posts from their unique perspective. Many thanks to Abigael Watson and Mag the Blag for their thought-provoking contributions during August! It gives me great pleasure to introduce September's guest blogger, G*. As the new school year starts, it is particularly apt that G*, a primary school teacher, takes on the role. I have asked him to write a bit more about himself in the third person by way of introduction:

G* has been a primary school teacher for five years, training first in Scotland and now working in the North of England. Before that he worked in a number of national retail establishments after finishing his (really useful) degree in sociology. In his spare time he enjoys stand up comedy, reading and fine-tuning his zombie apocalypse survival plan. He can often be found cooking up wonderful meals before ruining them in some culinary disaster and eating hula hoops for dinner instead.

G* has been an active member of the LGBT community through volunteering and activism work and has supported the feminist movement by shutting up, listening and speaking out when appropriate.

He'll be writing about gender and sexuality in the primary school and about being a male feminist in a predominantly female but frequently anti-feminist workplace.

Welcome, G*. We look forward to your posts and wish you well at the start of the new term!

Photo description: The photo is by Chella Quint and has been used with permission: all rights reserved. The photo is a view of the Peak District taken from the train between Sheffield and Manchester. In the foreground there is a ramshackle barn in the grounds of a working farm. Some hedgerow-divided fields rise up into a tree-covered peak in the distance. The day is so bright and the sky is so blue that it appears white, and two low clouds drift by. There is an almost intangible sense of movement that seems to capture that this picture was snapped from the train - the lack of blurring serendipitous and entirely by chance.

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